The Teaching Which Directly Reveals That the True Mind is the Nature

Zen Master Zongmi said that,

The one word ‘Awareness’ is the gateway to all mysteries.

The teaching which reveals the Nature, is geared to advanced students and those of superior ability, “Because it causes them to forget words and apprehend the essence, a single word directly reveals [the essence].”

This teaching propounds that all sentient beings without exception have the empty, tranquil True Mind.

From time without beginning it is the intrinsically pure, effulgent, unobscured, clear and bright ever-present Awareness.

It will abide forever and never perish on into the infinite future.

It is named Buddhanature; it is also named Tathagatagarbha and Mind-Ground.

All dharmas are like a dream, as the various sages alike have explained.

Thus deluded thoughts are intrinsically tranquil (chi) and sense objects are intrinsically empty (k’ung).

The Mind which is empty and tranquil is numinously aware (lingchih) and unobscured (pu-mei).

This very Awareness which is empty and tranquil is the empty tranquil Mind transmitted previously by Bodhidharma.

Whether deluded or enlightened, the Mind is intrinsically aware in and of itself.

It does not come into existence dependent upon conditions nor does it arise because of sense objects.

When it is deluded, it is subject to defilements, but Awareness is not [these] defilements.

When it is enlightened, it displays supernormal powers, but Awareness is not [these] supernormal powers.

The single word “Awareness” is the source (yuan) of all mysteries.

Openly Shows the Nature

There is the teaching that openly shows that the true mind is the dharma nature.

It points directly to the realization that one’s own mind is the true nature. 

It does not show in terms of phenomenal characteristics nor does it show by eradicating characteristics. Therefore we say “Is the nature.”

It does not involve teaching devices or a hidden, cryptic meaning and therefore we say; “Openly shows”

This teaching says that all sentient beings possess the true mind of sunyata and calm that is intrinsically pure from without beginning.

It is not a case of becoming pure by cutting off the depravities and therefore we say, “Intrinsically pure.”

Bright and never darkening, it is clear and constant Knowing/Awareness.

Exhausting the limit of the future, always abiding and never extinguishing, we call it the Buddha Nature.

It is also called the Buddha-in-Embryo (Tathatagharba) or mind ground.

Bodhidharma’s transmission was this mind.

From beginningless time thought of the unreal forms a screen over it so that never self-realized it sinks into the rebirth process.

The one of great awakening, feeling sadness at this, appears in the world in order to say that all the dharmas of samsara are void/empty and to openly show that this mind is identical to all of the Buddha’s.

It is as the “Chapter on the Appearance of the Buddha’s of the Huayan Sutra says, “Buddha sons and daughters, there is not one sentient being who does not possess the wisdom of the Buddha. It is just that sentient beings do not realize they posses it because of thought of the unreal and grasping. If thought of the unreal is removed then complete wisdom, spontaneous wisdom, unobstructed wisdom can appear. 

This Knowing/Awareness is not like the consciousness that takes sense objects as objective supports and discriminates. It is not like the wisdom that illuminates substance and comprehends. It is just that the nature of thusness is spontaneously constant Knowing/Awareness.

Therefore Asvaghosa Bodhisattva says, “Thusness is the self substance and the Knowing of reality.”

The Chapter on Dedication of the Huayan also says, “Thusness takes illumination as its nature.”

There is a difference between wisdom and Knowing. Wisdom is limited to noble ones, it does not pervade common people. Knowing/Awareness is possessed by both common persons and noble ones; it pervades both principle and wisdom.

Manjushri in the Chapter on Questions on Enlightenment in answering about Knowing/Awareness said, “It is not something that consciousness can be conscious of. It is not an object of mind. This nature from the outset is pure. Knowing/Awareness is opened up and shown to all sentient beings.”

One cannot by means of consciousness be conscious of it because consciousness belongs to discrimination and discrimination is not true Knowing/Awareness. True Knowing/Awareness is only seen in no mindfulness.

It does not become pure after the removal of stains and extinction of the depravities. It does not become pure after cutting off the hindrances and congealing turbulence. This is why we say, “From the outset pure.”

The Ratnagotra Sastra calls the purity that does not require the removal of stain that, “intrinsic purity”. Therefore we say, “This nature form the outset is pure.”

Knowing/Awareness is opened up and shown to all sentient beings.

It has already been said that it is from the outset pure, that it does not require the cutting off of hindrances and thus we know that all beings from the outset have possessed it.

It is just that because of a screen of the depravities they are not spontaneous Knowing/Awareness.

Therefore, the Buddha opens it up and shows them and enables them all to gain entrance to awakening.

The Analogy of Water

Tsung-mi emphasizes this distinction in another passage from the Ch’an Preface. He begins with an analogy, remarking that “water” is the name for that which has a certain set of properties:

“when it settles, it becomes clear;
when it is stirred up, it becomes turbid;
when it is dammed up, it becomes still;
when it is released, it flows;
it is able to inundate all things and wash away all dirt.”

The ignorant are satisfied with knowing its name,
but the wise want to know its essence,
which, is wetness (shih).

“Mind,” likewise, is merely the name for something with a certain set of properties:

“when it is deluded, it is defiled;
when it is enlightened, it is pure;
when it is neglected, it is ordinary (fan);
when it is cultivated, it is sagely (sheng);
it is able to produce all mundane and super-mundane dharmas.”

As in the analogy of water, the ignorant are satisfied with knowing its name, but the wise want to know its essence, and the essence of the Mind, of course, is Awareness (chih).

As Tsung-mi comments,

“[‘Awareness’] points to its essence. This word is right on the mark, no other would do.” Just as “‘water’ is [merely] a name, not water [itself], and wetness is water [itself], not a [mere] name,” so “‘Mind’ is [merely] a name, not the Mind [itself], and Awareness is the Mind [itself], not a [mere] name.” Moreover, just as one who understands the wet nature of water thereby also understands all of its various conditioned forms, so, too, one who understands Awareness thereby also understands all of the various conditioned forms that the Mind can assume.

Manjusri on Awareness

In the Avatamsaka Sutra which Zongmi claims differentiates between Awareness (chih, Mathews #932) and wisdom (chih, Mathews #933), pointing out that “wisdom is not shared by the ordinary person” (fan), whereas “Awareness is possessed by both the sage (sheng) and the ordinary person” (13).

He first quotes Manjusri’s answer to the bodhisattvas’ question,

“What is the Wisdom of the realm of Buddhas?”

Manjusri answers,

“The Wisdom of all Buddhas freely [penetrates] the three times without obstruction.” (Since there is nothing within the past, present, and future that is not utterly penetrated, [it is said to be] free and unobstructed.)

He then quotes Manjusri’s answer to the question,

“What is the Awareness of the realm of Buddhas?”

“It is not something that can be known by consciousness.
It cannot be known by consciousness.

Consciousness falls within the category of discrimination.
Were it discriminated,
it would not be True Awareness.

True Awareness is only seen in no-thought.

Nor is it an object of the mind.
It cannot be known by wisdom.
That is to say, if one were to realize it by means of wisdom,
then it would fall within the category of an object which is realized,
but since True Awareness is not an object,
it cannot be realized by wisdom ….

Tranquil and Aware

Tranquility is the Awareness which is tranquil, and Awareness is the tranquility which is aware.

Tranquility is the essence of the self-Nature which is aware, and Awareness is the functioning of the self-Nature which is tranquil.

Ho-tse (Shen-Hui – Zen Patriarch) said, ‘The functioning of the essence is aware in and of itself and the essence of this Awareness is tranquil in and of itself. Although the terms are different, essence and function form a unity’

Like A Mani-Jewel (and No-Thought)

Zongmi uses a mani jewel to represent the One Numinous Mind (i-ling-hsin);

its perfectly pure,
luminous reflectivity,
empty tranquil Awareness;
and its complete lack of coloration,
the fact that this
Awareness is intrinsically without any differentiated manifestations.

“Because the essence [of the jewel] is luminously reflective,
whenever it comes into contact with external objects,
it is able to reflect all of their different colors.”


“because the essence [of the Mind] is aware,
whenever it comes into contact with conditions,
it is able to differentiate them all into good and bad,
pleasurable and unpleasurable,
as well as produce the manifold variety of mundane and super-mundane phenomena.
This is its conditioned aspect (sui-yuan-i).”

Tsung-mi continues,

“Even though the [reflected] colors are themselves distinct, the luminously reflective jewel never changes.”

And he comments, in his interpolated note,

“Even though ignorance and wisdom, good and bad, are themselves distinct, and anguish and joy, love and hate arise and perish of themselves, the Mind which is capable of Awareness is never interrupted. This its absolute aspect (pu-pien-i)” (436c17-d3; K 322).

Tsung-mi then considers the case of when the mani jewel comes into contact with something black:

its entire surface appears black,
just as the intrinsically enlightened nature of the Mind
appears totally obscured by the presence of ignorance (436d3-7; K

Tsung-mi claims that proponents of the Hung-chou line would maintain that the very blackness itself is the jewel and that its essence can never be seen.

Because such people do not apprehend the luminously reflective jewel, when they see something black of similar size and shape, they misidentify it as the mani jewel.

If, however, they were to see the mani jewel as it is in itself when it is not reflecting any colors at all, they would not be able to recognize it.

Tsung-mi goes on to explain that the state in which the jewel is not reflecting any colors means,

being without thoughts” (wu so-nien).

When only its luminous reflectivity is in evidence, furthermore, this refers to

“the absence of thought, which is thoroughly aware in and of itself”

We have already seen that earlier, in his quotation from the Wen-ming chapter of the Avatamsaka, he had quoted Ch’eng-kuan’s comment that

“true Awareness can only be seen in no-thought“.

No-thought also represents the intrinsic condition of the Nature, which is devoid (k’ung) of all phenomenal appearances (hsiang), just as the Awakening of Faith characterizes the intrinsically enlightened Mind as being without thoughts.

It is this ontological dimension of No-thought that is behind Tsung-mi’s characterization of Awareness as being “empty” in the phrase “empty tranquil Awareness.”

How is it Practiced?

Question: Having awakened to the true mind of this open teaching style how does one practice it? Does one use cross-legged Zen sitting?


The person who is prone to turbulent, uncontrollable emotions that are difficult to control, such as heavy depression and extreme excitability, passion, anger etc then one makes use of all sorts of skillful means gradual path according to the disease.

But the person of weak depravities and strong mind relies on the one-practice samadhi of Zen. (Comment: Whereby in all activities one just rests in the radiance of the empty, clear luminous Knowing/Awareness that was pointed to by a good friend/teacher)

Sudden & Gradual

Zen Master Zongmi said that,

“Although this mind is intrinsically pure, one must always be awakened to it and cultivating it. Only then will one attain perfect purity of nature and characteristics.

Among present-day people whose learning is shallow, some know just the purity that results from the removal of stain and the liberation that results from the removal of hindrances and so they criticize the Zen gate’s “Mind is Buddha.”

Others knowing just intrinsic purity and the liberation coming from awakening to intrinsic purity make light of the teaching of characteristics that is the doctrinal formulations and reject such (gradual) practices as holding to the disciplinary rules, cross legged Zen sitting, breath control, etc.

They do not know that one must all-at-once awaken to intrinsic purity to attain intrinsic purity to attain intrinsic liberation and then engage in step-by-step practice as to attain the purity that results from the removal of stain and the liberation resulting from the removal of hindrances, becoming perfectly pure and in ultimate liberation. Free from obstruction in both mind and body, one is then identical to Sakyamuni Buddha.

This teaching opens up and shows the mind of spiritual Knowing/Awareness – that is the true nature, no different from the Buddha. Thus, this is called the teaching that openly shows that the true mind is the dharma nature.

Bodhidharma Silently Revealed Knowing/Awareness

Zen Master Zongmi explains why Bodhidharma didn’t use the one word awareness…

It was only because [people] in China, being deluded about the Mind and attached to the written word, mistook the name for the essence that Bodhidharma skillfully selected the phrase “transmission of mind.” and, in making the name known (Mind is the name), silently pointed to the essence (Knowing/Awareness is the essence).

He illustrated it by using wall-gazing to have [his disciple Hui-k’o] cut off all conditioning (yuan).

When he had cut off all conditioning, [Bodhidharma] asked, “Have you gotten rid of it or not?”

He answered, “Even though I have cut off all thought, I have still not gotten rid of it.”

Bodhidharma then asked, ”What proof do you have to say that you haven’t gotten rid of it?”

Hui-K’o answered, “It is utterly self-evident (liao-liao tzuchih); words could never get at it.”

The Master thereupon sanctioned (yin) him, saying, “Just this is the intrinsically pure Mind. Have no further doubts.”

Had his response not been fitting, he then would have pointed out his error and had him meditate further.

He never spoke the word “Awareness” before him, but simply waited for him to realize it for himself. Only after he had truly experienced it and intimately realized its essence did he sanction (yin) him, causing his remaining doubts to be cut off. He was thus said to transmit the Mind Seal (hsinyin) silently.

The word “silently” merely means that he was silent about the word “Awareness,” it does not mean that he did not say anything at all.

Such was the transmission throughout the [first] six generations.

When it came to the time of Ho-tse [Shen-hui, however,] other lineages were spreading contention.

Even though he wanted to reach a silent understanding the situation would not allow it.

Moreover, reflecting on Bodhidharma’s prediction of the dangling thread (Bodhidharma had said, “The fate of my teaching will, after the sixth generation, be like a dangling thread”) and fearing that the cardinal principle would perish, he thus said that the single word “Awareness” is the gate (men) of all mysteries.

This open style of transmission was easily comprehensible. He just dispelled doubts through the spoken word.