Song of Enlightenment Lecture 1

Lectured by Rev. Heng Sure on December 3, 2021

Lecture summary: The very first lecture of the Song of Enlightenment lecture series introduces the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua’s verse for the Song of Enlightenment and the biography of Great Master Yongjia.

Good morning, everyone. How are you all doing today?

My name is Heng Sure. Good morning to you. Good afternoon. Good evening to you if you live in Europe, or any place else where it’s evening. It is early in the morning here in the Gold Coast of Queensland and I am going to be with you for an hour as we discuss the Song of Enlightenment 证道歌 (Zhèng Dào Gē)永嘉大師證道歌 by Great Master 永嘉 (Yòngjiā)of the Tang dynasty.

This is our very first lecture. Today is Saturday, December 4th here in Queensland. And it’s Friday the 3rd back in California. Adjust your calendar accordingly. We are about to embark on a series of lectures about this remarkable piece of literature from the Tang dynasty, 1300 years ago, called the 證道歌  (Zhèngdào gē), Song of Awakening, Song of Enlightenment, Song of Realizing the 道 (Dào), different translations of that title.

And to get us going, we’re going to request the Dharma. I will ring the bell three times. I’m going to make three half bows, here from my seat and invite you all to do the same. And then Peggy is going to request Dharma, and I’ll ask her in just a minute.

Here is our Dharma request. Let me ring the bell three times and make three half-bows.

[bell rings three times]

[Rev. Heng Sure]

Okay, Peggy, if you would like to request Dharma, please do it now.



  恭     請   大  德   僧    聽,

Gōng qǐng dà  dé  sēng tīng,

 為   此 法 會 及 一 切     眾       生.

wèi  cǐ   fǎ huì jí  yī  qiè zhòng shēng.

  請     轉     妙   法 輪   教   導  我   們,

qǐng zhuǎn miào fǎ lún jiào dǎo wǒ men,

如 何  了     生     脫  死 離 苦  得樂,

rú  hé liǎo shēng tuō   sǐ  lí   kǔ dé lè,

速    證    無    生。

sù zhèng wú shēng.

Will the Sanga with great virtue,

Out of compassion,

For the sake of this assembly

And all living beings,

Please turn the wonderful Dharma-wheel,

To teach us how to leave suffering,

And attain bliss,

And end birth and death and

Quickly realize non-birth.

[Rev. Heng Sure]

Namo Tassa Bhagavato, Arahato, Samma Sambuddhassa


Namo Tassa Bhagavato, Arahato, Samma Sambuddhassa

[Rev. Heng Sure]

Homage to the Blessed, Noble, and Perfectly Enlightened one


Homage to the Blessed, Noble, and Perfectly Enlightened one

[Rev. Heng Sure]

南  無  薩  怛    他

Na mo Sa Dan Tuo

蘇   伽   多  耶

Su Qie Duo Ye

阿 喇 訶 帝

E  La He Di

 三     藐    三  菩  陀   寫

San Miao San Pu Tuo Xie


南  無  薩  怛    他

Na mo Sa Dan Tuo

蘇   伽   多  耶

Su Qie Duo Ye

阿 喇 訶 帝

E  La He Di

 三     藐    三  菩  陀   寫

San Miao San Pu Tuo Xie

[Rev. Heng Sure]

          開    經  偈

          Kāi  jīng jì

  無   上      甚    深    微    妙  法

Wú shàng shèn shēn wéi miào fǎ

  百  千    萬  劫  難   遭    遇

 bǎi qiān wàn jié nàn  zāo  yù

我   今  見    聞  得  受    持  

Wǒ jīn jiàn wén dé shòu chí

 願    解   如  來   真    實  義

yuàn jiě   rú   lái  zhēn shí  yì

       Verse for Opening a Sutra

Supreme and wondrous Dharma, subtle and profound,

Rarely is encountered even in billions of eons.

But now we see it, hear it and accept it reverently;

May we truly understand the Buddha’s actual meaning.

All right, thanks, Peggy. I appreciate that.

I am still in awe of the Internet and what we have created, and I wanted to say how amazing it is that our Dharma requester is in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, while I am sitting here in the jungle, the rainforest of Southeastern Queensland, If you’re just listening, you think we’re in the same room. That is a marvel indeed. Golly Mr. Science! What humanity has achieved. Now if only we could use this incredible ability to do good!

So I would like to do some housekeeping before we get started and let people know that you can listen to today’s lecture in Vietnamese if you like. Go to the chat box and you’ll find a Vietnamese link, a special Zoom link, and say the same thing about Chinese, only slightly different. 如果大家想聽中文普通話,有辦法,我們有義工發心翻譯,你的控制版這個右下角有小地球,那裡就可以選擇中文可以聽中文. (Rúguǒ dàjiā xiǎng tīng zhōngwén pǔtōnghuà, yǒu bànfǎ, wǒmen yǒu yìgōng fā xīn fānyì, nǐ de kòngzhì bǎn zhège yòu xiàjiǎo yǒu xiǎo dìqiú, nàlǐ jiù kěyǐ xuǎnzé zhōngwén kěyǐ tīng zhōngwén.) So also if anybody would like to, in the future, request Dharma as Peggy just did, there’s an opportunity for you to do that. It’s in the link as well in the chat box how to request Dharma.

Hope you’re doing well. We’re all awaiting the CDC’s report on the new COVID-19 variant worldwide. The whole world is focused to see whether last year’s experience of coping with the Delta variant in the previous year’s experience of the original COVID-19 bug circulating, whether we have to repeat that whole process. We don’t know yet so it’s a time of dis-ease, of discomfort, and dismay as well.

These are not simple times. We’re not through our upheavals yet. There’s more to come. This era we’re in is a time of transition. On one hand, it’s been a total disaster. But if you use today’s text, 證道歌 (Zhèngdào gē) this song of realizing the Dao as a measure, one thing we could say is this experience has given us a chance to really look at the nature of things, to look at the nature of our bodies, and how our minds react to the fragility, the frailness, the vulnerability of our bodies to face the existential crisis of old age, and sickness, and death, and rebirth. So is that a good thing? Sobering, isn’t it? Certainly, it’s a kind of awakening and, yet that’s not the case universally. There are people who in the face of this crisis will simply bury their heads and go further into confusion and denial. They will resist every opportunity to wake up, but that’s how people are.

So okay, our text at hand, 證道歌 (Zhèngdào gē) Song of Awakening, Song of Enlightenment.

Now, here’s the title right here. I don’t know if folks can see it, bigger. Here’s the title. Three characters 永嘉大師 (Yǒngjiā Dàshī). The Great Master, the outstanding teacher from 永嘉 (Yòngjiā), 永嘉 (Yòngjiā) is a place and the custom in China was that out of respect for the teacher, you don’t use his Dharma name. You use the place that he is from so our teacher’s name as a monk was 玄覺 (Xuánjué), Mysterious Awakening, and he left behind this collection of epithets, collection of direct pointings to the mind.

A lot of them, a big number, over 60 verses that were called the Song of Awakening, the Song of Enlightenment. So what I want to do today, here is the deal. I am going to talk not about the text itself today, we are not going to get there. We’re gonna talk first of all about our teacher’s response to this text, Master Hsuan Hua’s response, how I heard about it, and then about Master 玄覺 (Xuánjué), Great Master 永嘉 (Yòngjiā). So we won’t get to the actual text until later in the series but there’s a lot to learn about the man, the human being who came up with this text, and how Shrfu, how Master Hua presented it to us.

Here’s what I had in mind for our lectures. We’re going to talk about Master 玄覺 (Xuánjué) and how he met his teacher, Master 慧能 (Huìnéng),  六祖大師. We’re going to talk about the text itself. It’s a song, it’s not a 論 (Lùn), it’s not a 經 (Jīng), it’s not a 偈讚 (Jì Zàn). This is a 歌 (), a song meant to be sung as a vehicle for carrying wisdom. It’s a very different form of literature, interestingly. We’re going to talk about some of the aspects of songs and is there a melody? We don’t have a melody from the Tang dynasty. It was too long ago but certainly it’s singable so we’re going to assign it a melody, and we’re going to sing it.

We’re going to talk about where 證道歌 (Zhèng dào gē) came from. Master Xuanjue, Where did the Song of Enlightenment come from? It came from his awakened nature. We’re going to talk about the kind of literature, no, that’s not, the kind of teachings not written down. The kind of oral teachings floating around, try again, the oral teachings floating around a monastery in the air, like culture, the kinds of things you would hear in the kitchen or out in the picking tea, out in the fields.

What were the monks chanting themselves? What did they repeat? What kind of songs were kind of in the hallways of the monastery? Because they pop up in the Song of Enlightenment. The wisdom of the Chan Hall, what kind of teachings were passed on.

We’re going to talk about the translations of the 证道歌 (Zhèngdào gē), the fact that it’s NOT, the translations should not reflect the 证道歌 (Zhèngdào gē) as a poem. It’s not poetry. Poetry in China was well- defined. This is not that. It’s certainly not stuffy and formal. And I have seven translations of the 证道歌 (Zhèngdào gē) available including our BTTS translation, which has gone through several versions and there is a variety of translations. And my take on the 证道歌 (Zhèngdào gē) is that it’s meant to be sung, it’s meant to be awakened to, it’s meant to be swallowed like bitter medicine but it’s so joyful and so spunky. The 证道歌 (Zhèngdào gē) has got 氣 (), there is a feeling around it that you’re looking at the awakened nature, the awakened state of mind of somebody who has truly realized the 道 (Dào).

The teachings that this text contains are so direct and bracing. They’re like cold water in the morning when you wash your face, splash, oh. That’s brisk. They come from the mind-ground of an awakened monk. The flavor of 禪 Chan is there in the 證道歌 (Zhèng Dào gē). You have the sense that Master Xuanjue is looking directly at his nature and is letting us look too. And it is not a scholarship, although it contains profound Dharma.

We’re gonna talk about Shrfu’s instructions, Master Hsuan Hua’s verse, how I first heard the 证道歌 (Zhèng Dào Gē) in this life, his Master Hua’s instructions about how to use the 證道歌 (Zhèng Dào Gē) and how I first taped Master Hua of reciting that 證道歌 (Zhèng Dào Gē) at Gold Buddha, that versus, that version is still available, luckily I had my handy tape recorder in my hand. I don’t know if it was a Sony or who made it but it was a little portable battery tape recorder, Master Hua was willing to recite the 證道歌 (Zhèng Dào Gē) and I taped him, I got the whole thing, what luck! Five minutes earlier five minutes later, I wouldn’t have had the whole thing. To talk about the melody for chanting the English 證道歌 (Zhèng Dào Gē)  and we’re going to have the experience of going back and forth balancing Master Hua’s original chant where he’s singing the 歌 () and our English version and then when we’re done, we’re going to talk about the wisdom of 禪 (Chán) in presented in the Song of Enlightenment that will be a constant reference as we go through.

So that’s my plan, I don’t know how long it’s going to take us but one of the joys of this lecture series is the time is flexible.

Certainly here is a real life image of 六祖大師 (Liù Zǔ Dà Shī) as he is preserved.

one of the things that Master hua told us was when he was at 南華寺 (Nánhuá sì) following Master 虛雲 (Xū Yún) his Dharma Teacher, that at 南華寺 (Nánhuá sì) there are three what are called 肉身 (Ròu Shēn),金剛不壞身 (Jīngāng bù huài shēn). Their flesh bodies, that’s a Chinglish translation, preserved mummies. One of them is the Sixth Patriarch, this is it. His body didn’t decay. There are stories and stories and stories but how amazing. He died but he didn’t, he didn’t. Here is another artist’s interpretation.

I think this is interesting. An artist is giving us what he thinks the Sixth Patriarch may have looked like. And he’s nice. What can we say? The Sixth Patriarch, the teacher. A flavor of these old Buddhists.

The Sixth Patriarch. Getting a feeling for, a long time ago.

Now let’s jump in here. Shrfu, Master Hsuan Hua, in 1985, at Gold Wheel Monastery explained the 證道歌 (Zhèng Dào Gē). And before he did so, Master Hua said some remarkable things.

Look at his humility. What did he say? He said:


This is Master Hua’s very lovely, classical prose. What did he say? What did he say? He said:

“Since the wonderful meanings of the Ch’an School are beyond traces of words, and beyond the mind and its conditions, Bodhidharma did not leave behind any literature when he came from the West. Instead, he pointed directly to our minds, so that we might experience our nature and become Buddhas. Where could a song come from, and who could explain it?

All the same, in the midst of Chan, Master 玄覺 Xuánjué’s meditation, a thought moved, and, although silent, still he opened his mouth. He had left the characteristics of words and speech behind, yet he still spoke words. His kind heart compelled him to use a playful samadhi to express what was inexpressible. He explained this secret formula, this Song of Enlightenment, from a wish to guide living beings, as he had already done, to reach the state of the Sages.

Now I, Hsuan Hua, chatter on, heedless of my untutored rusticity and dearth of learning, speaking like one who groans when he isn’t even sick. And so, with the intention to “cast out bricks to attract jade,” exhausting my stupid sincerity, I’ve briefly commented, describing what I see as if looking through a hollow reed. Is this meritorious or is it an offense? Nobody knows!”

This is Shrfu having fun and stepping into the flavor of Chan.

The challenge goes: he is challenging himself before we can, to say, like the Buddha when he passed on the Dharma to Mahakasyapa. It was 以心印心 (Yǐ xīn yìn xīn) using the mind to realize the mind. The wordless teaching passed on from mind to mind. So if you have the wordless teaching but you talk about it, you’re contradicting yourself immediately, isn’t that right? Doesn’t that  make sense? So with that in mind, and you add one more element which is the Bodhisattva’s resolve, because the Bodhisattva says, I am going to help living beings to wake up, you still have to talk. So you see how he’s acknowledged that there’s a little bit of contradiction, it’s sort of ridiculous, sort of absurd to talk about the ineffable with words. If it’s ineffable 不可說 (Bùkě shuō) then it means you can’t say it but then we go ahead and talk about it. So okay, we understand it.

He’s established, what’s this? Prajna. This is really the flavor of Prajna, and that I think, if anything is the characteristic of Chan, you don’t find it, you don’t find it, honestly, in the Pali teachings. This is the realm of Mahayana.

When you get to Prajna, when you get to that Sixth Paramita, then there are two levels of truth. Even though your six senses are still functioning, you’re still looking, you’re still listening, you’re still breathing, at the same time, your mind realizes something that doesn’t come, that doesn’t go, it’s not born, it doesn’t die, it’s invisible, it has no smell, has no flavor but there’s nowhere that it’s not. It surrounds you. That’s the Prajna Paramita. These two opposites reconciled in the awakened human mind. It’s the 道 (Dào) in language.

So that’s what Shrfu is doing here. He says, see the contradictions, the dualities that he is working with. So he’s got Master 玄覺 (Xuánjué) meditating and who is talking when you’re meditating, and he’s beyond thinking in words but a thought moves anyway, and he’s silent but he still talks. That’s the Bodhi Resolve, the wish to help others wake up.

He could’ve just been silent. And then there’s no song, there’s no others, there’s no listeners. His kind heart compelled him to, in the midst of meditation, still come out and teach. He explained the secret formula, this Song of Awakening. Thank you for doing that, for telling us. His wish to guide living beings, the bodhisattva path, so we can like he has done, reached the 圣域 (Shèngyù) the state of Sages.

As he said 登聖域 (Dēng shèng yù) to ascend to 聖域 (shèng yù) the state of Sages. Okay, that’s the first part.

Now, Shrfu says, I, 1400 years later, I am doing the same thing which is, I, golly, I don’t know very much on my untutored rusticity. This is lovely language, beautiful Chinese for humility, for he is saying, I really shouldn’t be doing this. I am not qualified, I haven’t learned very much, and I am not scholarly. I am just making sounds like somebody who is groaning, who’s not really sick but still making noise. This is beautiful written humility.

And so I am going to force myself to do it, and here’s this terrific phrase 拋磚引玉 make sure I got the… don’t wanna get scolded by Shrfu. 拋磚引玉 (Pāozhuānyǐnyù) 拋 (Pāo) 不是 撇 (Piē). 拋磚引玉 (Pāozhuānyǐnyù) She has corrected me. Thank you. I depend on that. I need corrections. I missed some other words here too. I am sure you heard me. If I read it in Chinese and I kind of skim over this because I didn’t know the tone. 不揣孤陋寡聞 (Bùchuǎi gūlòuguǎwén), so yeah ok, sorry, this I do not know either, 呻吟之說 (Shēnyín zhī shuō).

So Master Hua is using these beautiful phrases that are appropriate when you wake up, you realize how much you don’t know. That’s the sign of an educated person is to realize how much knowledge there is and how little you actually bring to the table. Shrfu is reflecting that beautifully, and so different from scholars.

So “exhausting my stupid sincerity, I briefly commented, describing what I know as if I were 略述管見 (Lüè shù guǎn jiàn), looking through a reed. Looking through a straw to measure the sky. We’re looking through our recyclable straws, certainly not a plastic straw, single-use plastic straws. I think they’re illegal now in California. So you’re looking through a recyclable bamboo straw. 此舉 (cǐ jǔ) should get on that and create some recyclable straws. And measuring the sky. How much sky is there? Well, there’s just that much. See, I guess when I look up that’s all I can see. No. Remove the reed, remove the straw and halor. Sacre bleu. Look at the sky. Aiya. 萬里青天萬里雲 (Wànlǐ qīngtiān wànlǐ yún). Ten thousand miles of blue sky. Then Shrfu ends by saying “ Am I doing good by doing this? Am I creating offences? Who knows? 非所計也 (Fēi suǒ jì yě). Nobody, nobody, nobody knows. Lovely. This is so good.

We are in the realm of ageless scholarship. Ageless commentary on Wisdom. What a gift! What a blessing that we should meet in our lives a teacher like 上宣下化老和尚 (Shàng xuān xià huà lǎo héshàng) who takes us back to this World of Awakening Sages, puts us directly in the line of the Sixth Patriarch and Master Xuanjue and the Buddha and all the men and women over the centuries who also 證道 (Zhèngdào). So Shrfu by giving us this verse is giving us the true flavor of this line of incredibly brilliant human beings.

So what have we got here? We’ve got the teacher and the students.

You see the lotus? This is not this year’s lotus. That’s last year’s lotus. They come in generations (banjo music).

(Dharma Master Heng Sure chants):

Namo Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva

Namo Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva

Namo Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva

Namo Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva

Guan Yin Bodhisattva

Guan Yin Bodhisattva,

Guan Yin  Bodhisattva,

Guan Yin  Bodhisattva,

Guan Yin  Bodhisattva,

Guan Yin  Bodhisattva,

Guan Yin  Bodhisattva,

Guan Yin  Bodhisattva,

Guan Yin  Bodhisattva,

Guan Yin  Bodhisattva

Exercising the right brain helps all those words go down.

Hope folks will comment in the chat box. Please raise questions.  Please raise comments. Please contribute resources. I didn’t mention it; I should, that this is a group effort.

Shrfu is so learned and skilled that he is able to say “I am not”. You can be falsely modest. In Shrfu’s case, it is genuine humility from somebody who has seen limits of knowledge and beyond them and comes back and says that “I don’t know very much; I am aware how much there is; I don’t have it all.”  By doing that it truly opens up the center of learning itself, so there is always room for more. He is not full of himself, with no room to fit in anything.

So when you are humble as our teacher was in his preference, you create the potential for eternal, constant learning, there is always room to grow. It’s the heart of spring, infinite potential for wisdom. How beautiful!

Compared to somebody, according to my research, this is false, Sixth Patriarch didn’t really exist. That’s another style, another way of dealing with this incredible wisdom. But it is not Master Hua’s way. He is not full. As a result, he draws us in and there is room to explore and to look around and to learn.

Back in 1965. As I understand, I don’t know the answer. Maybe, maybe today’s moderator Yihuan could help investigate this. I understand Shrfu explained this twice, or more than once. Certainly, once was at Gold Wheel down in LA, in 1985. Butvwe’ll look into it this morning. But as I understand there’s more than one occasion when Shrfu explained the 證道歌 (Zhèng dào gē).

This says in, on December 7th, interestingly. Look at that. 1965 from 2021. So and then four days we’re in December 4th already. So we’re on what anniversary? 50-plus year anniversary. Shrfu said:

宣化清淨身口意 (Xuānhuà qīngjìng shēnkǒuyì)

皈命頂禮佛法僧 (Guī mìng dǐnglǐ fófǎ sēng)

乃至十方三世佛 (Nǎizhì shí fāng sānshì fú)

過去現在未來中 (Guòqù xiànzài wèilái zhōng)

諸尊菩薩摩訶薩 (Zhū zūn púsà mó hē sà)

西方東土歷代祖 (Xīfāng dōng tǔ lìdài zǔ)

古往今來賢聖燈 (Gǔwǎngjīnlái xián seshèng dēng)

惟願三寶垂加護 (Wéi yuàn sānbǎo chuí jiāhù)

啟我正覺轉法論 (Qǐ wǒ zhèng jué zhuǎn fǎlùn)

見聞精進證不退 (Jiànwén jīngjìn zhèng bù tuì)

倒駕慈航救同倫 (Dào jià cí háng jiù tóng lún)

一切眾生皆滅度 (Yīqiè zhòngshēng jiē miè dù)

還我本來法性身 (Huán wǒ běnlái fǎ xìng shēn)

覲見威音古慈親 (Jìnjiàn wēi yīn gǔ cí qīn)

Hsuan Hua purifies his body, mouth and mind,

Dedicated his life and bows to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,

And to all the Buddhas of the ten directions and the three periods of time.

To all the honored Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas;

Throughout the past, the present and the future;

To the succession of Lineage Ancestors of the East and West,

And to the lamp of holy sagehood that is still passed on from long ago.

I hope that the Triple Jewel will confer aid and protection,

And explain for me the Right Enlightenment and then turn the Dharma-wheel,

So that seeing, hearing and persevering, I may become irreversible,

Turning the boat of kindness around to rescue my fellow beings,

Until every living being is taken across to Nirvana,

And I return to my original Dharma body

And behold the ageless, kind visage of the Buddha Awesome Voice!

This was Shrfu’s commentary, from 1965, 50+ years ago. 

Lets see here the question: 為什麼人會得精神病,打坐可以好嗎? (Wèishéme rén huì dé jīngshénbìng, dǎzuò kěyǐ hǎo ma?)

Ok, there is a question from Beijing, “why do people get mentally ill and can meditation cure them?”

That’s a question that I am not really qualified to answer beyond a shallow response. I can’t tell you deeply, but the same way if you ask me for medical advice.

So, the question is “why do people experience mental illness and can meditation help them?” People get mentally out of balance for the same reason that we get physically out of balance. That is to say, we lose the harmony of the elements.

So if you know, what makes up our bodies, from a Chinese point of view – Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. When we are healthy, those are all in balance. So we intake nutrition through our mouth, we eat food, nourishes the body, we sleep at night, we get up, we feel energized. We can get through the day without requiring support like medicine and such things. Food and drink fill us and nourish us and our lives are in harmony and balanced. When we are sick, that process is disrupted. And we have to supplement the normal intake of nutrition. We have to take medicine but that’s the physical.

But there is another part of our lives, the invisible, mental, and spiritual; our thoughts and our energy, our breathing, our 氣 (Qì) that comes in through the air, and goes out through the nose. When that’s disrupted, when that’s out of balance, we can experience mental illness or spiritual illness. Doctors in the past addressed all parts of the human experience. Doctors both in Europe, India, China were trained in mental and spiritual illness as well, because it was understood traditionally that physical illness can be caused by something other than the four elements. So, illness has to do with body, mind, and spirit as well. So, if that’s out of balance, then illness can result.

So, question: can meditation help that? Stillness, looking within, being quiet, reflecting upon your mind, your life, your environment, that’s good for you. Will meditation help somebody who is already sick, who is mentally unbalanced? Not for sure. And sometimes it can make it worse. 

When we’re talking about Chan 打坐參禪 (Dǎzuò cānchán), meditation Chan style, it requires physical, mental health and balance to do it well. To think that Chan itself is medicine for someone who’s ill, the preparation for Chan is good. And helpful for everyone; that is to stay food, drink, 太極 (Tàijí), stretching exercises, 氣功 (Qìgōng), yoga. Those are all 助道法 (Zhù dào fǎ), Dharmas that aid the way.  Preparation for Chan. But the real Chan, real meditation requires us to be healthy.  It’s not for kids you could say.

Now, mindfulness, the new form of meditation peering world wide, that can help. That can be a preparation, but the 禪 Chan practice in the Chan halls of China or your local monastery, that requires us to stay in balance. So, I would say first get well. Then, practice 禪 (Chán). Will meditation help you when you’re mentally ill? Not for sure. What it takes is a good guide, a therapist, a doctor, someone who understands the mind, who has been there and come back. That’s what I would recommend for somebody who is experiencing mental illness. Find a good therapist, find a good doctor, talk to him. Ask him for help. To go directly to chemical interventions, pills, mood altering drugs? Well, if somebody is acting out in harmful ways, maybe that’s okay. But find a good friend, find a therapist. That’s the best thing.

Now, let’s take a look what have I got? I have a Chinese Wikipedia version of biography of Master Yongjia. It says that Master Yungjia was born in 665, in the seventh century, early years of the Tang Dynasty. There are debates about his birth date 675, is another proposed date. So when you’re looking back into history we don’t know exactly.

He was named 戴 (Dài). His surname was 戴 (Dài). 明道 (Míngdào) was the name that he got as a young boy becoming a monk. Later on took the name 玄覺 (Xuánjué) Mysterious Awakening and he was also called Great Master of True Awakening and also he was given the name by the Emperor. later 無相 (Wūxiāng), Traceless. No marks, no features. He grew up in a place called 溫州 (Wēnzhōu). Now is in 浙江 (Zhèjiāng). And Shrfu in his commentary describes this as a place that’s with a dialect. Folks who come out of 溫州 (Wēnzhōu) speak a dialect that’s very hard to understand, interestingly.

And he, one of the remarkable things about Master 玄覺 (Xuánjué) was his encounter with the Sixth Patriarch, the Great Master 慧能 (Huìnéng). And then, that he left behind two works. One called The Collected Works of Master from Yongjia and Song of Awakening.

Now let’s go down and look at his life. What we know comes from various sources. Inscribed biographies and in one called the 祖堂集 (Zǔ táng jí), The Collection of the Pall of the Patriarchs. It says that Master 玄覺 (Xuánjué), together with his mother and his sister, lived in 開元寺 (Kāiyuán Sì), a monastery called 開元寺 (Kāiyuán Sì). So he was surrounded by Buddhism. His mother, his father’s stories aren’t recorded here, but his mother and his sister and the young man who became Master 玄覺 (Xuánjué) were residents of the monastery. Now, monasteries in China at the time vere vast. They covered sometimes miles. The 開元寺 (Kāiyuán Sì) that I know in 石家莊 (Shíjiāzhuāng), who was once, just actually covered a mile, they say, the surrounding buildings. So it was an entire, entire community. So to say he was living amid the monks, no, he wasn’t, but he was in the monastic community. His mother, I’m sure, was a devout Buddhist who’d show up at ceremonies and such.

So, we know that Tang dynasty Buddhism included lots of folks. He, a story that we find out later, was that the 高僧傳 (Gāosēng Zhuàn) from the 宋 (Sòng), says that master 玄覺 (Xuánjué) left home at age four. Four years old he was already 小沙彌 (Xiǎo shāmí), right, he was a 小和尚 , a young monk. And he left home with his brother. His  (xiōng)  also left home together with him. We’re learning more about this. So, he says here, according to the 宋 (Sòng) dynasty’s account that he lived at 龍興寺 (Lóng Xìng Sì), Dragon Rising Monastery. The Fostering Dragon Monastery.

At age 31 he met a monk whose name was 玄策 (Xuáncè). 玄策 (Xuáncè)was a recruiter of talents. He was a recruiter for the Sixth Patriarch. And he met this young man, had a conversation with him, and the two of them heated off. Master 玄策 (Xuáncè) said: “You, you want to come see my teacher?” And: “Who’s your teacher?” He said my teacher is the Sixth Patriarch, he lives at a place called 曹溪 (Cáoxī), Tsao Creek, at Flower of the South Monastery, 南华寺 (Nánhuá Sì). Come and meet him. He’s got the Buddha’s robe and bowl.

So this encounter with 玄策法師 (Xuáncè Fǎshī), who was wandering around looking for talents or a recruiter you might say. Wanting to fulfill his vows to teach the Dharma, met Master Xuan Jue and said let’s go together. So they did. They went to see the Sixth Patriarch and had an encounter, a remarkable meeting that is recorded in the Sixth Patriarch Sutra. And says here, he stayed one night. What’s that about? He became known as the “Overnight Enlightened One.” Then look, it says he died at age 39.

Okay, another account, 宋高僧傳 (Sòng Gāosēng Zhuàn), the records of the stories biographies of the noble monks says that he died at age 49. But in either account, before the age of 50, Master 玄覺 (Xuánjué) had already passed away. So he was known as the Overnight Enlightened One. The one who got enlightened in a single night. He also went to see Master 神秀 (Shénxiù). And then 713, age 49 passed away. There’s another account that says that he died in 712, and not 713.

The story, this is a collection of biographical accounts and says that while he was in training as a monk. He understood, he studied the 止觀 (Zhǐ guān), the 天台(Tiāntái) teachings of 止觀 (Zhǐ guān), stopping and contemplating, which was uniquely Chinese. At this point Chinese Buddhism had largely separated itself from its Indian heritage. Buddhism had been in China for maybe 600 years and it had become its own theme at this point. And the 天台 Tian Tai teachings Master 智顗 (Zhìyǐ), 智者(Zhìzhě)were really responsible for forming, not the first but among the most distinctly Chinese flavors of Buddhism.

So Master Yòngjiā, 玄覺法師 Xuánjué Fashr had read the Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sutra 維摩詰經 (Wéimójié Jīng)and 發明心地 (Fāmíng xīndì) had seen his own mind, the ground of his mind. And having done so, what did he do? He went to Jade Spring Temple to look for Master 神秀 (Shénxiù) and asked him about the Dharma and didn’t get satisfied. I think it’s interesting here that he’d already gone to see, you know in our Sixth Patriarch story how they had the great poetry contest, and Master 神秀 (Shénxiù) doesn’t pass, and Master 慧能 (Huìnéng) does. So after that Master 神秀 (Shénxiù) set up at 玉泉院 (Yùquán yuàn), Jade Spring, Spring of Jade, and so Master 永嘉 (Yǒngjiā) went to see him, and asked about Chan and there’s no account of their meeting but then he went to 曹溪 (Cáoxī) to see the Sixth Patriarch and woke up. Now, their conversation, their encounter is the stuff of Buddhist legend indeed.

Next week, we’re going to look into what was said. It’s as if we got some remarkable, completely remarkable account in the Sixth Patriarch Sutra of the conversation between Master 玄覺 (Xuánjué) and Master 慧能 (Huìnéng). It’s as if we had a tape recorder, fly on the wall they say as if you were there in the room with them, and we get to overhear this Ch’an dialogue that is truly carried on from century to century because it’s so remarkable. I have to say it’s hard to grasp, it’s not opaque, it’s not transparent, it’s not immediately clear what’s going on especially because it’s recorded in Tang Dynasty in Chinese. But we’re going to compare various versions of what was said between Master 慧能 (Huìnéng) 六祖大師 (Liù zǔ dàshī) and Master 玄覺永嘉大師 (Xuánjué yǒngjiā dàshī) to see whether we can make the most of their 禪機 (Chánjī) their Ch’an banter of the dialogue between them because the enlightened mind is on display. You can see their awakening right there on the page.

Then, after we do that, previews of coming attractions, what are we going to do, we’re going to look at this, Song of Enlightenment.

Here it is in English. How much of it is there? By my count 63 verses. We’re going to have a beautiful formatted lecture text to work with. This is just the current draft. How does it go? It goes like this.

(DM Heng Sure sings part of Song of Enlightenment)

Suddenly you taste the Chan of the Thus Come One, Perfections Six, the Myriad Gates inside you now are done. While you dreamt you lived them all, the Six Destinies, now you’re awake the whole wide world is empty as can be.

Goodbye to good and evil, goodbye to loss and gain. In stillness and tranquility you never ask again; your wisdom mirror was coated thick, you never wiped clean; now it shines without a flaw; there’s nothing you can’t see.

That’s coming up with my own preface here imitating but not equaling my teacher. So we got a lot to look into and we get to open a window into the awakened nature of ageless men and women who study and 證道 (Zhèng dào) realize the Dao. The Song of Enlightenment.

Now, until then, we’re face to face with a global pandemic, we can help if we invoke the Medicine Buddha, his Mantra and send it out as a transference of merit. Thank you all for joining, everybody more to come.

Om namo bhagavate bhaisajyaguru

Vaidurayaprabharajaya tathagataya

Arhate samyaksambuddhaya tadyatha: om

Bhaisajye bhaisajye bhaisajya samudgate svaha om


Here is a picture of the Buddha Hall at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. We can bow three times to the Buddhas if you like to join me. Here we go. First bow, second bow, third bow.

Here’s an image of Master Hsuan Hua. Bow in respect to the Venerable Master. (Three bows)

Thanks for joining everybody. More to come. We just dipped a teaspoon of the joy and the wisdom of the Sixth Patriarch and his disciple, Master 玄覺 (Xuánjué). Please come back next week for more great stories ahead. Be well, everyone. Amitofo. Bye bye.

Contributors of this transcribing this lecture:

Helene Imislund, Yan Ming, Vera Cristofani, Susan Chai, Peggy Yeh, Susan Chai, Susan Jiang, Annie Tran

Comments Off on Song of Enlightenment Lecture 1