Whenever we are treated to a book written by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, the late Japanese academic scholar and Zen practitioner, we can count ourselves as being in the capable hands of a master expositor of the original Zen tradition of Buddhism. With this book, _The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind, The Significance of the Sutra of Hui-neng (Wei-lang)_, we are taken into the inner sanctuary of the Zen teachings as they were expressed by one of its greatest early propounders, Hui-neng, the Sixth -- and last -- Patriarch of Zen. As Suzuki tells us, Hui-neng was somewhat of an unlikely hero of early Chinese Chan/Zen as he was an illiterate day-worker in the rice mill at the monastery of his master Hung-jen, the Fifth Patriarch of Chan/Zen. Hui-neng had overheard someone reciting the Diamond Sutra one day and had an awakening. He immediately decided to seek the way of Buddhahood, and eventually spent a month travelling on foot to reach the Patriarch's monastery in the mountains.
In the opening paragraph of the book, Suzuki pays the highest tribute he can to Hui-neng by comparing the effect that his legacy had on the tradition of Zen as second only to that of its founder, Bodhidharma: "Without Hui-neng and his immediate disciples, Zen might never have developed as it did in the early T'ang period of Chinese history." He then goes on to praise the work attributed to Hui-neng, the Platform Sermons of the Sixth Patriarch, as an important addition to the Zen tradition overall, saying that: "It was through this work that Bodhi-Dharma's office as the first proclaimer of Zen thought in China came to be properly defined." It is interesting to note that this work that has been attributed to Hui-neng has been, as far as scholars are concerned, under suspicion as it may have been written by his disciples, and the fact that there is little evidence to link its composition directly to him. Although it is generally accepted that its contents were expounded (or at least recalled by those who compiled them) by Hui-neng.
Be this controversy as it may, there is no doubt in the history of contemplative literature of the authenticity of this message. And by the time the attentive reader finishes reading _The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind_ there is equally no doubt in his mind either. What we find here on many occasions is corroboration and parity with the teachings of the original Buddha, Siddhattha Gotama, thus validating, at least in part, Chan/Zen's link to the authentic Dharma as taught by Gotama. In modern times, Zen has been generally noted as having a slightly eccentric and different way of approaching its training and explanation of the meaning of its teachings. But here, we come across passages that could conceivably have come from the mouth of the Originator of the Dharma. We can see this similarity in a passage from the author such as the following:
"So long as the seeing is something to see, it is not the real one; only when the seeing is no-seeing -- that is, when the seeing is not a specific act of seeing into a definitely circumscribed state of consciousness -- is it the 'seeing into one's self nature.' Paradoxically stated, when seeing is no-seeing there is real seeing; when hearing is no-hearing there is real hearing. This is the intuition of the Prajnaparamita." Suzuki goes on to clarify: "When thus the seeing of self nature has no reference to a specific state of consciousness, which can be logically or relatively defined as a something, the Zen masters designate it in negative terms and call it 'no-thought' or 'no-mind', 'wu-nien' or 'wu-hsin'. As it is 'no-thought' or 'no-mind', the seeing is really the seeing."
What he is referring to here is a seemingly complex and paradoxical idea of perception and cognition which is relatively simply expressed by the Buddha in the following passage: "Herein, Bahiya, you should train yourself thus: 'In the seen will be merely what is seen; in the heard will be merely what is heard; in the sensed will be merely what is sensed; in the cognized will be merely what is cognized.'. . .When, Bahiya, for you in the seen is merely what is seen . . . in the cognized is merely what is cognized, then, Bahiya, you will not be 'with that'. When you are not 'with that', then you will not be 'in that'. When you are not 'in that', then you will be neither here nor beyond nor in between the two. Just this is the end of suffering."
What both of these passages are pointing toward is the cessation of extraneous mental proliferation while attending to the phenomena of existential experience. When one can look and see only the bare experience of seeing the object of sight without bringing in associative ideas and abstractions to color and flavor what is being seen, one sees merely what is there in front of the eye and nothing more, which is akin to the Buddha's famous statement of "seeing things as really they are." When the mentally proliferating mind can be restrained and quieted such that only seeing takes place, the mind is then able to comprehend the bare object without the added highlight of imagined phenomena (in the form of ideas and thoughts about the object) to muddy the field of vision. "Just this," Gotama says, "is the end of suffering."
Compare these with a quote on this same subject taken in the book from Hui-neng: "Dhyana (tso-ch'an) is not to get attached to the mind, is not to get attached to purity, nor is it to concern itself with immovability. . . . What is Dhyana, then? It is not to be obstructed in all things. Not to have any thought stirred up by the outside conditions of life, good and bad -- this is tso (dhyana). To see inwardly the immovability of one's self-nature -- this is ch'an (dhyana). . . . Outwardly, to be free from the notion of form -- this is ch'an. Inwardly, not to be disturbed -- this is ting (dhyana). When, outwardly, a man is attached to form, his inner mind is disturbed. But when outwardly he is not attached to form, his mind is not disturbed. His original nature is pure and quiet as it is in itself; only when it recognizes an objective world, and thinks of it as something, is it disturbed. Those who recognize an objective world, and yet find their mind undisturbed, are in true Dhyana. . ."
Wherever in Dharma study there is found a discussion of the Three Characteristics (Anicca or impermanence, Dukkha or dissatisfaction, and Anatta or selflessness) and their continual awareness during mindfulness practice, there one will find the authentic teaching as handed down by the Buddha. And wherever there is found the importance of the development and cultivation of the threefold summary of the Eightfold Path (Sila or ethics and morality, Samadhi or concentration-meditation, and Panna or wisdom-insight) there too one will find the authentic teaching of Gotama. And of course, the Noble Eightfold Path itself is an indispensible element of any practice intent on replicating the authentic teachings.
For those interested in Chan/Zen it is in the early years of its history where most of the authentic teaching of the original thesis of Zen can still be found in its pristine form, untouched by modern interpretation and undiminished of its original grandeur. This would include the teaching of such Zen luminaries as Bodhidharma and Hui-neng as well as such other ancient Zen masters as Seng-T'san, Hui-hai, Ma-tsu, Huang Po, Lin-chi, and Dogen, who came a bit later but was nonetheless quite influential and effective in the writings he left. In the present book one finds these teachings on the mind as seen through a Zen lens gathered together in unparalleled fashion. Suzuki has wrought a masterpiece of Zen wisdom with examples from many of the ancient sources all tied together with his exquisite commentary. If one were forced to find one source in order to learn about the inner workings of Chan/Zen, one would be hard pressed to find a better representation than _The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind_ .