Hongzhi's 'Guidepost of Silent Illumination'

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  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39459

    Hongzhi's 'Guidepost of Silent Illumination'


    I 'laid down some beats and rhymes' (heh heh, do I have the lingo? 8) ) on the "Guidepost of Silent Illumination" by Master Hongzhi (Wanshi Zenji, d. 1157), the greatest of Teachers of Silent Illumination/Shikantaza in the Chinese Soto/Caodong line. I used a wonderful translation by Taigen Dan Leighton. I don't do this kind of thing too often, nor am I very good with words, but I felt inspired. It is a kind of Dharma-rap battle, a freestyle Sutra-slam, I suppose. One thing though is that I'm not much the poet ... I leave that to Hongzhi, Taigen and our Taigu! 8)

    One practical point always worth mentioning when endeavoring anything like this is that Chinese "Chan/Zen speak" of certain historical periods (in trying to convey both time and the timeless) developed its own styles, inner puns and jokes, standard allusions (like "upright and inclined" in the following for the "absolute and relative") and symbols (e.g., white cranes in the snow). Although also beyond all thought of "time or place", the great distance of time and cultures, and the resulting gap in shared cultural references and language may actually make some phrases more "mystical and mysterious" than they were at the time to readers who recognized the references, "got the puns" and the shared code. Often Zen phrases seem "cryptic", mysterious and profound simply because many old Zen stories were written in 1000 year old "slang", citing forgotten Chinese legends (like the stories of Ho, Xiangru and the Jade in the lines below) or poetic references, all of which was sometimes then poorly translated or remembered over the years! It is as if I were to create a Koan now using such 'Americanism' terms as "bling-bling", "shake your booty", "here goes nothing", "Thomas the Tank Engine" (Britishism) and "Casey at the bat" and expect folks 1000 years from now in Lithuania to "get the reference". They might take "Bling Bling" to be a mysterious Mantra thought to have fantastic magical powers. :P

    Oh, please do not misunderstand! I am not saying that there is not a timeless, miraculous teaching in the words of Hongzhi, infinitely profound and subtle! FOR IT IS THUS, THE TREASURE HOUSE OF THE PURE DHARMA EYE! It is simply that not every mysterious phrase was once so darn mysterious.

    So ... here goes nothing ...


    Silent and serene, forgetting words, bright clarity appears before you.
    Dropping judgements and names, sitting serene, Prajna Wisdom lights up the you-before-world.

    When you reflect it you become vast, where you embody it you are spiritually uplifted.
    Vast without boundaries, uplifted yet securely grounded in one's seat.

    Spiritually solitary and shining, inner illumination restores wonder,
    Wholly Holy Whole, for there is nothing other ... Just what remains to wonder about?

    Dew in the moonlight, a river of stars, snow-covered pines, clouds enveloping the peak.
    Each separate thing never apart in emptyness-dance.

    In darkness it is most bright, while hidden all the more manifest.
    In darkness, all branches become one ... while the trees do not hide the forest, the forest does not conceal the trees.

    The crane dreams in the wintery mists.
    A pure white-on-white, yet we are our silhouettes; At the pivot point, we live this dreaming.

    The autumn waters flow far in the distance.
    Life's time-river comes from somewhere, seems to roll off into some future unknown ...

    Endless kalpas are totally empty, all things completely the same.
    Yet all moments of time are both empty and totally realized ... just this, just this, just this.

    When wonder exists in serenity, all achievement is forgotten in illumination.
    How wonderful to live-sit serene, no achievement needed at all ... as all illumination is achieved.

    What is this wonder? Alertly seeing through confusion
    All becomes ever clear and alert, even amid/as/right through and through life's fog and crazy chaos.

    Is the way of silent illumination and the origin of subtle radiance.
    Noise yet silent, dark is light, origins without beginning ... radiance in old rusty radiators!

    Vision penetrating into subtle radiance is weaving gold on a jade loom.
    This life is what we weave with the mind-body, from the thread and cloth fate hands us.

    Upright and inclined yield to each other; light and dark are interdependent.
    The Pieces are Wholly-Whole, Pieceful, One beyond One. So, do not fear the broken pieces.

    Not depending on sense faculty and object, at the right time they interact.
    When the time is right, no thought of time and place ... yet everything in its place and time.

    Drink the medicine of good views. Beat the poison-smeared drum.
    In sickness or health, whether life's sweet or bitter ... the poison, seen rightly, is just medicine.

    When they interact, killing and giving life are up to you.
    You create the vision of "life and death". Amid birth and death, there is no life or death.

    Through the gate the self emerges and the branches bear fruit.
    Oh, the fruit is just a dream ... yet so very tasty!

    Only silence is the supreme speech, only illumination the universal response.
    Hongzhi's well chosen words speak silence, the universe lightly answers.

    Responding without falling into achievement, speaking without involving listeners,
    Nothing to achieve, no place to fall, no words to speak, no speaker or anyone to be heard ...

    ... So, watch your step, watch what you say!

    The ten thousand forms majestically glisten and expound the dharma.
    Fences, walls, tiles, and pebbles are the mind of Buddha, preach the Dharma.

    All objects certify it, every one in dialogue.
    No mundane thing is not sacred.

    Dialoguing and certifying, they respond appropriately to each other;
    Can you hear the beautiful conversation? Silent, yet always spoken.

    But if illumination neglects serenity then aggressiveness appears.
    Don't be an armchair Buddhist, with all the "Buddhist ideas" stuffing your head and ready for debate.

    Certifying and dialoguing, they respond to each other appropriately;
    The Sixth Patriarch said ...

    (Silent) Meditation itself is the substance of (Illumination) wisdom ... at the very moment when there is meditation, then wisdom exists in meditation.

    But if serenity neglects illumination, murkiness leads to wasted dharma.
    Equally dangerous: get lost in "emptiness" or in dull "quietude", and you miss the point too.

    When silent illumination is fulfilled, the lotus blossoms, the dreamer awakens,
    The mud blossoms from the lotus, the dreamer lives a lovely dream within a dream.

    A hundred streams flow into the ocean, a thousand ranges face the highest peak.
    Sail your boat, hike that mountain.

    Like geese preferring milk, like bees gathering nectar,
    Everything in its natural place.

    When silent illumination reaches the ultimate, I offer my teaching.
    When is the teaching not being offered? Taught even if unheard.

    The teaching of silent illumination penetrates from the highest down to the foundation.
    No up or down. Just ride the great roller coaster ride!

    The body being shunyata, the arms in mudra;
    This body is your body, so live it! Arms can hold up a flower or a weapon.

    From beginning to end the changing appearances and ten thousand differences share one pattern.
    This constantly changing world-self-life is the one-going ongoing dance. So dance it!

    Mr. Ho offered jade [to the Emperor; Minister] Xiangru pointed to its flaws.
    From old stories, we demand the prize although already in one's hand. These flaws are flawless.

    Facing changes has its principles, the great function is without striving.
    Great endeavor done sincerely, push on forward without striving or destination.

    The ruler stays in the kingdom, the general goes beyond the frontiers.
    There is a time when stillness sits still at home, a time it goes out and moves around to get the job done.

    Yet, always Still At Home.

    Our school's affair hits the mark straight and true.
    We got the key to the doorway. Yippee! :dance:

    Transmit it to all directions without desiring to gain credit.
    Nothing lacking, so spread the word!

    Guidepost of Silent Illumination
    Pointing the Way on this Pathless Path.

  • Seiryu
    • Sep 2010
    • 620

    Re: Hongzhi's 'Guidepost of Silent Illumination'

    清竜 Seiryu


    • Myozan Kodo
      Friend of Treeleaf
      • May 2010
      • 1901

      Re: Hongzhi's 'Guidepost of Silent Illumination'

      I'm going to print this out and stick it on my wall.
      Gassho with thanks.


      • Shokai
        Treeleaf Priest
        • Mar 2009
        • 6391

        Re: Hongzhi's 'Guidepost of Silent Illumination'

        Not to speak of Shaun the Sheep or Wallace and Grommit :lol:

        Priceless; without likes or dislikes, who needs Master Card.

        I too printed it, only Allah knows i need more wall paper :lol:

        Thank you Jundo-oso, for your burst of inspired creation; it gives insight to many ancient readings

        gassho, Shokai

        仁道 生開 / Jindo Shokai

        "Open to life in a benevolent way"



        • Kaishin
          • Dec 2010
          • 2322

          Re: Hongzhi's 'Guidepost of Silent Illumination'

          Thank you, _/_

          Namu Kie Bling Bling!
          Kaishin (開心, Open Heart)
          Please take this layman's words with a grain of salt.


          • Heisoku
            • Jun 2010
            • 1338

            Re: Hongzhi's 'Guidepost of Silent Illumination'

            Thanks Jundo.
            Heisoku 平 息
            Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. (Basho)


            • Hans
              • Mar 2007
              • 1853

              Re: Hongzhi's 'Guidepost of Silent Illumination'

              Hello Jundo,

              thank you for this.

              You and Master Honghzhi rock.

              Every time Dogen frustrates me with his extremely dense "I'm an intellectual pundit" way of putting things, I pick up Taigen's "Cultivating the empty field" to give myself a healthy dose of Hongzhi Obviously nothing beats straight sitting....but the attitude with which we approach the cushion can sometimes do with some setting straight through the medium of some old masters' masterpieces.


              Hans Chudo Mongen


              • Dokan
                Friend of Treeleaf
                • Dec 2010
                • 1222

                Re: Hongzhi's 'Guidepost of Silent Illumination'

                Originally posted by Hans
                the attitude with which we approach the cushion can sometimes do with some setting straight through the medium of some old masters' masterpieces.
                +1 Thanks Hans!

                We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.
                ~Anaïs Nin


                • Risho
                  • May 2010
                  • 3179

                  Re: Hongzhi's 'Guidepost of Silent Illumination'

                  Email: risho.treeleaf@gmail.com


                  • Shohei
                    • Oct 2007
                    • 2854

                    Re: Hongzhi's 'Guidepost of Silent Illumination'

                    Wonderful! Thank you!