Lesson
16

Baizhang

3 of 6

Baizhang's teachings on sudden illumination

Baizhang's writings on are a significant new aspect of Chan history, since his work represents one of the oldest documents actually composed by a master—as compared to a sermon transcribed and edited by some follower.

It is said that when Mazu read his treatise setting forth the theoretical basis of sudden enlightenment, he compared Baizhang to a great pearl whose luster penetrated all time and space. Curiously, Mazu himself appears not to have made a great fuss about the meaning of sudden enlightenment, seemingly taking the "theory" for granted, and moving along to the "practice."

That which contains no single thing is true Reality.

Baizhang's The Zen Teaching of Baizhang on Sudden Illumination addressed the question of sudden enlightenment and the specific problems a person might encounter in trying to prepare for it. Baizhang stressed that one of the most important things to do was to suspend making value judgments about things, since this leads almost directly to splitting things into camps of good and bad, likes and dislikes. This opens one to the world of categories and dualities, just the opposite from oneness.

According to Baizhang, the first thing to do is strive for:

. . . total relinquishment of ideas as to the dual nature of good and bad, being and non-being, love and aversion, void and non-void, concentration and distraction, pure and impure. By giving all of them up, we attain to a state in which all opposites are seen as void. . . . Once we attain that state, not a single form-can be discerned. Why? Because our self-nature is immaterial and does not catch a single thing foreign to itself. That which contains no single thing is true Reality.

The desire to avoid love and aversion is inextricably tied with the freedom from distinctions, duality, judgments, or prejudices:

Wisdom means the ability to distinguish every sort of good and evil; dhyana means that, though making these distinctions, you remain, wholly unaffected by love or aversion for them.

Elsewhere he described this goal as:

. . . being able to behold men, women and all the various sorts of appearances while remaining as free from love and aversion as if they were actually not seen at all.

In this manner we can operate on the principle of unity, even in a world where appearances have multiplicity.