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Huike's teachings

Legend of Huike's teaching includes an exchange with a layman who was to become the future Third Ancestor, Sengcan, that recalls Huike's first exchange with Bodhidharma, save that the roles are reversed. The text implies that Sengcan was suffering from leprosy when he first encountered Huike and that he implored the Master for relief in a most un-Zenlike way, saying:

The layman: "I am in great suffering from this disease; please take away my sins."

Huike: "Bring me your sins and I will take them away."

After a long silence, the layman: "I've looked, but I cannot find them."

Huike: "Behold, I've absolved your transgression. Now you should abide in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha."

The layman: "Seeing you here, I know what is meant by 'Sangha,' but I still don't know what are called Buddha and Dharma."

Huike: "Mind is Buddha. Mind is Dharma. Buddha and Dharma are not two different things. Along with Sangha they comprise the three jewels."

The layman: "Today, for the first time, I realize that my transgression was not internal, was not external, and was not between these two states. It was entirely within mind. Buddha and Dharma are not two things."

As Huike studied the Lankavatara and preached, he gradually acquired a reputation for insight that transcended his deliberately unpretentious appearance. Huike taught a return to one's original nature, to the primal man without artificial learning or doctrinal pretense.

This is the only authentic fragment of Huike's thought to have survived:

The ignorant and the enlightened are of one essence, they are not really to be separated. We should know that all things are such as they are. Those who entertain a dualistic view of the world are to be pitied, and I write this letter for them. When we know that between this body and the Buddha, there is nothing to separate one from the other, what is the use of seeking after Nirvana [as something external to ourselves]?

All the words of the Buddha evolve around the mind as its axis.


Huike insisted that all things spring from the one Mind, nd consequently the ideas of duality, of attachment to this or that phenomenon, or even the possibility of choice, are equally absurd. Although he knew all too well that enlightenment could not be obtained from teaching, he still did not advocate a radical break with the traditional methods of the Buddhist dhyana masters. His style was unorthodox, but his teaching methods were still confined to lectures and meditation. This low-key approach was still closer to the tradition of the Buddha than to the jarring techniques of "sudden enlightenment" destined to erupt out of Chinese Chan.