Question: “If one becomes [a Tathgata] without transformation and in one’s own body, how could it be called difficult?” Answer: “Willfully activating the mind is easy; extinguishing the mind is difficult. It is easy to affirm the body, but difficult to negate it. It is easy to act, but difficult to be without action. Therefore, understand that the mysterious achievement is difficult to attain, it is difficult to gain union with the Wondrous Principle. Motionless is the True, which the three [lesser vehicles] only rarely attain.”[?] At this Conditionality gave a long sigh, his voice filling the ten directions. Suddenly, soundlessly, he experienced a great expansive enlightenment.
The mysterious brilliance of his pure wisdom [revealed] no doubt in its counter-illumination. For the first time he realized the extreme difficulty of spiritual training and that he had been uselessly beset with illusory worries. He then sighed aloud: “Excellent! Just as you have taught without teaching, so have I heard without hearing.
This text is significant for at least two reasons. First, and most important, it depicts the interaction between teacher and student as the latter begins the quest, attains an intermediate realization that is momentarily mistaken for the goal, and then achieves final enlightenment. This is only one of a number of texts from the latter half of the eighth century that are devoted to explicitly fictional depictions—that is, dramatic scriptings—of this process. It was not yet conceivable that written texts should include the words of actual, historical students. This observation is relevant to the emergence of written transcriptions of Chan “encounter dialogue,” and we return to this point in the next chapter.
Second, we should pay attention to the threefold structure of this passage. In contrast to Shenhui’s simple, dualistic value system of gradual vs. sudden, here there is a threefold pattern of beginning questions, intermediate hesitation, and final achievement. A close examination of Ox-head school writings suggests that their teachings were frequently written using a threefold logical format, which resembles Zhiyi’s scheme of the three truths of absolute, relative, and middle. It is also structurally similar to Hegel’s thesis-antithesis-synthesis pattern, but in this case the second element achieves its impact by the application of the fundamental Mahyna concept of nyat, or emptiness. Indeed, the same tripartite structure is apparent in the thought of at least one important Indian Mdhyamika philosopher. That is, an expression of Buddhism is made in the first element, the terms of this expression are erased in the second element, and the understanding of Buddhism is thereby elevated to a new level of profundity in the third element. The significance of this pattern will only become clear when we we examine the greatest masterpiece of early Chinese Chan Buddhism, the Platform Stra. The Platform Stra as the Climax Text of Early Chan The Platform Stra appeared in about 780, over a century after the events it describes were supposed to have taken place. Many scholars have struggled to identify the contents of some “original” or “core” version of the text that might date back to Huineng himself, but the utter failure of these attempts has only confirmed the late provenance of the text as we have it. Barring some miraculous discovery, we must consider the text as we first discover it, in its Dunhuang version. But we really should be satisfied with this, for this earliest version of the text.
Mcrae, John R.. Seeing through Zen . University of California Press. Kindle Edition.