Treatise on the Supreme Vehicle
by Chan master Hongren
In: Minding Mind: A Course in Basic Meditation
Translated by Thomas Cleary
Boston, Mass. : Shambhala, 1995. 2nd Revised edition edition, 2009, pp. 1-15.

In aiming for the enlightenment of sages to understand the true source, if the essential issue of cultivating the mind is not kept pure, there is no way for any practice to yield realization. If any good friends copy this text, be careful not to omit anything, lest you case people of later times to err.

The basic essence of cultivating enlightenment should be discerned: it is the inherently complete and pure mind, in which there is no false discrimination, and body and mind are fundamentally pure, unborn, and undying. This is the basic teacher; this is better than invoking the Buddhas of the ten directions.

Question: How do we know that the inherent mind is fundamentally pure?

Answer: According to The Ten Stages Scripture, there is an indestructible Buddha-nature in the bodies of living beings, like the orb of the sun, its body luminous, round and full, vast and boundless; but because it is covered by the dark clouds of the five clusters, it cannot shine, like a lamp hidden inside a pitcher.

When there are clouds and fog everywhere, the world is dark, but that does not mean the sun has decomposed. Why is there no light? The light is never destroyed, it is just enshrouded by clouds and fog. The pure mind of all living beings is like this, merely covered up by the dark clouds of obsession with objects, arbitrary thoughts, psychological afflictions, and views and opinions. If you can just keep the mind still so that errant though does not arise, the reality of nirvana will naturally appear. This is how we know the inherent mind is originally pure.

Question: How do we know the inherent mind is fundamentally unborn and undying?

Answer: The Scripture Spoken by Vimalakirti says that suchness has no birth and suchness has no death. Suchness is true thusness, the Buddha-nature that is inherently pure. Purity is the source of mind; true thusness is always there and does not arise from conditions.

The scripture also says that all ordinary beings are Thus, and all sages and saints are also Thus. “All ordinary beings”, refers to us; “all sages and saints” refers to the Buddhas. Although their names and appearances differ, the objective nature of true thusness in their bodies is the same. Being unborn and undying, it is called Thus. That is how we know the inherent mind is fundamentally unborn and undying.

Question: Why call the inherent mind the basic teacher?

Answer: This true mind is natural and does not come from outside. It is not confined to cultivation in past, present, or future. The dearest and most intimate thing there could be is to preserve the mind yourself. If you know the mind, you will reach transcendence by preserving it. If you are confused about the mind and ignore it, you will fall into miserable states. Thus we know that the Buddhas of all times consider the inherent mind to be the basic teacher. Therefore a treatise says, “Preserve the mind with perfect clarity so that errant thoughts do not arise, and this is birthlessness.

Question: What does it mean to say that the inherent mind is better than invoking other Buddhas?

Answer: Even if you constantly invoke other Buddhas, you will not escape birth and death; but if you preserve your own basic mind, you will arrive at transcendence. The Diamond Cutter Scripture says that anyone who views Buddha in terms of form or seeks Buddha through sound is traveling an aberrant path and cannot see the real Buddha. Therefore it is said that preserving the true mind is better than invoking other Buddhas. The word “better”, nevertheless, is only used to encourage people. In reality, the essence of the ultimate realization is equal, without duality.

Question: Since the true essence of Buddhas and ordinary beings is the same, why do Buddhas experience infinite happiness and unhindered freedom, without birth or death, while we ordinary beings fall into birth and death and suffer all sorts of pains?

Answer: The Buddhas of the ten directions realized the true nature of things and spontaneously perceive the source of mind; errant imagining does not arise, accurate awareness is not lost. The egoistic, possessive attitude disappears, so they are not subject to birth and death, they are ultimately tranquil; so obviously all happiness naturally comes to them.

Ordinary people lose sight of the nature of reality and do not know the basis of mind. Arbitrarily fixating on all sorts of objects, they do not cultivate awareness; therefore love and hatred arise. Because of love and hatred, the vessel of mind cracks and leaks. Because the vessel of mind cracks and leaks, there is birth and death. Because there is birth and death, all miseries naturally appear.

The Mind King Scripture says that true thusness, the Buddha-nature, is submerged in the ocean of cognition, perception, and sense, bobbing up and down in birth and death, unable to escape. Effort should be made to preserve the basic true mind, so that arbitrary thoughts do not arise, egoistic and possessive attitudes vanish, and you spontaneously realize equality and unity with the Buddhas.

Question: If the Buddha-nature that is truly Thus is one and the same, then when one is deluded, everyone should be deluded, and when one is enlightened, everyone should be enlightened. Why is it that when Buddhas awaken to this nature, the ignorance and confusion of ordinary people remain the same?

Answer: From here on, we enter the domain of the inconceivable, beyond the reach of ordinary people. Enlightenment is realized by knowing mind; confusion happens because of losing touch with nature. If conditions meet, they meet; no fixed statement can be made. Just trust in the truth and preserve your inherently basic mind.

This is why The Scripture Spoken by Vimalakirti says that there is neither selfhood nor otherness, that reality has never been born and does not presently perish. This is realizing the dualistic extremism of identification and alienation, thus entering into non-discriminatory knowledge. If you understand this point, then preserving the mind is foremost among the essentials of the teachings on practical knowledge. This practice of preserving the mind is the basis of nirvana, the essential doorway into enlightenment, the source of all the scriptures, and the progenitor of the Buddhas of all times.

Question: How do we know that preserving the fundamental true mind is the basis of nirvana?

Answer: The essence of nirvana is tranquil, uncontrived bliss. Realize your own mind is the true mind, and errant imagining ceases. When errant imagining ceases, you are accurately aware. By virtue of accurate awareness, dispassionately perceptive knowledge arises. By dispassionately perceptive knowledge, one finds out the nature of reality. By finding out the nature of reality, one attains nirvana. This is how we know that preserving the fundamental true mind is the basis of

Question: How do we know that preserving the fundamental true mind is the essential doorway into enlightenment?

Answer: “Even if you draw a figure of a Buddha with your finger, or perform countless virtuous deeds….”-teachings like this are just Buddha’s instructions for ignorant people to create causes for better future states, and even for seeing Buddha. As for those who wish to attain Buddhahood quickly on their own, they should preserve the basic true mind. The Buddhas of past, present, and future are infinite, but not one of them attained Buddhahood without preserving the basic true mind. Therefore a scripture says that if you keep the mind on one point, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished. This is how we know that preserving the basic true mind is the essential doorway into enlightenment.

Question: How do we know that preserving the basic true mind is the source of all the scriptures?

Answer: In the scriptures, the Buddha explains all the causes and conditions, results and consequences, of all sins and virtues, drawing up even the mountains, rivers, earth, grasses, trees, and other beings for countless parables, similes, metaphors, on occasion manifesting countless varieties of spiritual powers and emanations. This is all because Buddha teaches people who lack insight but have all sorts of desires and innumerable different mentalities.

On this account, the Buddha uses means suited to individual mentalities in order to lead people into universal truth. Once we know that the Buddha-nature in all beings is as pure as the sun behind the clouds, if we just preserve the basic true mind with perfect clarity, the clouds of errant thoughts will come to an end, and the sun of insight will emerge; what is the need or so much more study of knowledge of the pains of birth and death, of all sorts of doctrines and principles, and of the affairs of past, present, and future? It is like wiping the dust off a mirror; the clarity appears spontaneously when the dust is all gone.

Thus whatever is learned in the present unenlightened mind is worthless. If you can maintain accurate awareness clearly, what you learn in the uncontrived mind is true learning.

But even though I call it real learning, ultimately there is nothing learned. Why? Because both the self and nirvana are empty; there is no more two, not even one. Thus there is nothing learned; but even though phenomena are essentially empty, it is necessary to preserve the basic true mind with perfect clarity, because then delusive thoughts do not arise, and egoism and possessiveness disappear. The Nirvana Scripture says, “Those who know the Buddha does not preach anything are called fully learned.” This is how we know that preserving the basic true mind is the source of all scriptures.

Question: What is meant by ‘indifference’?

Answer: When people who concentrate their minds focus on outward objects, and their coarse mentalities stop for a time because of this, they inwardly refine their true mind; when the mind is not yet clear and pure, and they examine it constatnly in whatsoever act they are enaging in, and are still unable to perceive the mind source independently, this is called an indifferent mind.

This is still a contaminated mind which as yet does not escape the great sickness of birth and death. As for those who don’t preserve the true mind at all, they sink nto the bitter sea of birth and death. When will they ever escape? How pitiful! Work, work!

The sutras say that if people’s true sincereity doesn’t arise from within themselves, even if they meet countless Buddhas of the past, present and future, they can do nothing. The Sutras also say that when people know the mind, they liberate themselves; Buddhas cannot liberate people. If Buddha could liberate people, why have people like ouselves not attained enlightenment despite the fact that here hve been innumerable Buddhas in the past? It is because true sincereity does not come from within that people sink in the bitter sea. Work, work! With diligence seen the fundamental mind; don’t allow for random polution. The past is not your concern; we can never catch up with what has gone by. I urge all those who have been able to hear, at this present time, this subtle teaching to comprehend these words: realize that perceiving mind is the greatest path.

If you are not willing to practice with great sincerity in the quest for enlightenment and the experience of infinite freedom and happiness [it brings], and rather start making a lot of clamor following after worldly things, searching after honor and profit with greed, you will fall into a vast hell and suffer all sorts of pain. What can you do about it? How will you cope? What will you do?

Work, work! Wear crummy clothes, eat plain food, and preserve your fundamental, true mind with perfect clarity. Appear stupid and inarticulate. This will conserve all energy, and is very effective. This how very earnest people are.

Ignorant worldly folk who don’t understand this principle will go through many hardships in ignorance to carry out apparent good on a large scale. They wish to be liberated, but return again to birth & death. Those who maintain perfectly clear right mindfulness and save others to, however, are most powerful Bodhisattvas.
I am clearly saying to you all that preserving the mind is the main thing to do; if you don’t make any efforts to preserve the mind, you are very, very foolish. By rejecting the here & now, you will suffer misery all your life; by hoping for the future, you suffer misfortune for myriad kalpas. If I indulge you, I don’t know what else there is to say. The one who remains unmoved by the gusts of the eight winds is the real Jewel-Mountain. One who knows the results just does and says with
skillfullness, like water, adapting to all circumstances, giving out antidotes in accord with illnessess; one who can perform all this and not bring about false thoughts, so that egotism and the desire to possess die out, has truly gone beyond the world.

When the Buddha was still living, there was no end to his praise of this; I tell you about it now to encourage you diligently. If you don’t bring to mind vain thoughts and are empty of egotism and the desire to possess, then you have gone beyond the world.

Question: What is the disappearing of egotism and the desire to possess?

Answer: When you have any desire to surpass other people, or any thoughts of your own ability, this is egotism and the desire to possess. These are an illness compared with nirvana. Thus, the Nirvana Sutra says, “Space contains all things yet does not hold the thought it can contain all things.” That’s a metaphor for the disappearing of egotism and the desire to posess, from which you can go on to indestructible concentration.

Question: Adepts who seek the true, everlasting peace, but who only care about impermanent, base, worldly virtues and don’t care about the true, everlasting, subtle virtues of Absolute Truth haven’t seen the principle, and only want arouse the mind to focus on doctrines which are thought about; as soon as conscious awareness arises, it is polluted. But if one just wants to forget about the mind, this is the darkness of ignorance; it isn’t in accord with the true principle either. And if one only wants to neither to stop the mind or focus on principles, this is to incorrectly grasp emptiness, and living like a beast instead of a human. When this happens, if one doesn’t have any methods of concentration / insight and can’t understand how to clearly see the Buddha-nature, the adept only gets befuddled – how is one to go beyond this and arrive at total nirvana? Please point out the true mind.

Answer: You only need to have total confidence and effective determination. Gently quiet your mind, and I will teach you once again.

You should make your own mind & body uncluttered and serene, unentangled in any objects whatsoever. Sit straight, rightly aware, and fine-tune your breath so it is well adjusted. Examine your mind to see it as neither inside nor outside nor in between. Watch it calmly, carefully and objectively; when you master this, you clearly see that the mind’s consciousness moves in a flow, like a water-current or like heat waves rising without end.

When you have seen this consciousness, you find it is neither out nor in: without hurry, objectively & calmly observe it. When you master this, then melt and flux over and over, empty yet solid, profoundly stable, and then the flowing consciousness will disappear.

Those who get this consciousness to disappear will then destroy the obstructing confusions of the Bodhisattvas of the ten stages. Once this consciousness is gone, then the mind is open and still, quiet, serene and calm, perfectly pure, and enormously stable.

I can’t speak about it any further. If you want to attain it, take up the chapter in the Nirvana Sutra on the indestructible body, and the chapter in the Vimalakirti sutra on seeing the Immovable Budha: contemplate and reflect on them without hurry, search them carefully and read them thoroughly. If you are totaly familiar with these sutras and can actually maintain this mind in whatever you are doing – even in the face of the five desires and eight winds – then your pure conduct will be set firmly and your task will be complete; in the end you will no longer be subjected to a body that is born and dies.

The five desires are for images, tones, aromas, tastes and tangibles. The eight winds are gain and loss, praise and blame, honor and insult, pain and pleasure. This is where adepts polish and refine the Buddha-nature; it’s no wonder that they do not attain freedom in this body. A sutra says, “If there is no place for a Buddha to abide in the world, Bodhisattvas cannot actually function.”

If you desire to be free of this conditiond body, do not discriminate between the sharpness or dullness of your faculties in the past; the best require a single moment, and the worst take countless eons.

If you’ve got the strength and time to develop a altruistic roots of virtues according to people’s natures so as to help your own self as well as others, adorning a Buddha-land, you must comprehend the Four Reliances and find out what reality actually is like. If you rely on clinging to the letter, you will miss the true source.

For monks learning to study the Path as renunciants, the fact is that “home-leaving” means leaving the fetters of birth & death: that’s real “home-leaving”.

When right mindfulness is totally present and cultivation of the path is successful, even if your limbs are cut off, so long as you don’t lose your right mindfulness at the time of death, you will instantly attain Buddhahood.

I have written the foregoing treatise simply by taking the sense of sutras according to faithl; in truth, I don’t know by perfectly complete experience. If there is anything opposed to the Buddha’s principles, I will willingly repent and get rid of it; whatsoever is in accord with the Buddha’s path, however, I donate to all beings, hoping they all will get to know the fundamental mind and attain enlightenment at once. May those who listen to this work become Buddhas in the futuer; I hope you will save my followers first.

Question: From start to finish, everything in this treatise reveals that the intrinsic mind is the Way; does it belong to the category of actualization or practice?

Answer: The heart of this treatise is to show the One Vehicle. Its main intent is to guide the ignorant so that they may free themselves from birth & death. Only then can they save others. Speaking only of helping oneselves and of helping others is characteristic of the practice-category; whosoever practices in harmony with the text will be the first to attain Buddhahood. If I am lying to you, in the future I will fall into 18 hells. I promise to heaven and earth: if I am untruthful, let me be eaten by tigers and wolves life after life.