The Rabbit’s Horn is a new English translation and commentary on the Platform Sutra, one of the foundational texts of the meditation (chan) school of Buddhism, and contains the teachings and life story of Venerable Master Huineng Born in the seventh century to a poor family and raised in the backwoods of southern China, Huineng became the Sixth Patriarch of the Chan School and exerted a remarkable influence on the history of Buddhism. A polarizing force in his own time, Huieneg emphasized looking past even the “rabbit’s horn” of textual knowledge to look within and understand one’s true nature and the potential for sudden awakening.
Venerable Master Hsing Yun was born in Jiangdu, Jiangsu Province, China, in 1927. Tonsured under Venerable Master Zhikai at age twelve, he became a novice monk at Qixia Temple, a monastery in Nanjing, China.
After arriving in Taiwan in the spring of 1949, the Ven. Master became the chief editor of Life journal, Awakening the World, Buddhism Today, and a host of other publications. In 1952, while at Leyin Temple in Ilan, he established chanting groups, student and youth organizations, a children’s Sunday school, and various Dharma teams that eventually laid the foundation for his future efforts in Buddhist propagation.
In 1957, the Ven. Master established a Buddhist cultural center that became today’s Foguang Cultural Enterprise Co., Ltd. that publishes a variety of Buddhist books and audio-visual training tools. The founding of Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order in 1967 actualized the Ven. Master’s vision of Humanistic Buddhism through education, cultural activities, charity, and religious practices that “foster talent, propagate the Dharma, provide aid, and cultivate morality in people.” Since then, over one hundred and fifty branch temples have established worldwide. Among them are His Lai Templ, Nan Tien Temple, and Nan Hun Temple, the largest Buddhist temples ever built in North America, Australia, and Africa, respectively. In addition to art museums, libraries, publishing houses, and bookstores, the Ven. Master also established a free medical clinic, a Buddhist research institute, two high schools (Zhi Guang and Pu Men High Schools), Hsi Lai University, now University of the West, in the United States, as well as Fo Guang University and Nan Hua University in Taiwan. In 1970, 1975, and 1987 respectively, Great Compassion Nursery, Fo Guang Senior Citizens Home, and the Compassion Foundation were formed to provide for orphans, abandoned children, and senior citizens, as well as the poor and needy in Taiwan. Today, about two thousand monastic disciples have been tonsured under Ven. Master Hsing Yun who has a million followers worldwide. Throughout his life, the Ven. Master has dedicated himself to propagating the ideals of being a global citizen and developing Humanistic Buddhism in which the teachings of joy and harmony, integration and coexistence, respect and tolerance, equality and peace are widely disseminated. Upon the inception of Buddha’s Light International Association on February 3, 1919, Ven. Master Hsing Yun was elected to assume its presidency. As of 1997, over one hundred international chapters of the BLIA have been established to carry out the Ven. Master’s ideal of “letting the Buddha’s light shine over three thousand realms and the Dharma water flow throughout the five continents.”
Over the years, the Ven. Master has been recognized with numerous awards. In addition to the highly acclaimed honors received in his home country, the Republic of China, the Ven. Master has also gained international attention for his selfless dedication and Contribution. He is the first person from the R.O.C. to be granted an honorary Ph.D. by the University of Oriental Studies in 1978, and was awarded the Buddhist Gem Award by the Indian National Buddhist Assembly in 1995. In May of 1997, Taiwan’s Ministry of Internal and Foreign Affairs honored him for his extraordinary contribution to society, his country, and Buddhism at large. In February of 1998, the Ven. Master hosted the Triple Platform Full Ordination Ceremony along with the Five Precept and Bodhisattva Precept Ceremonies in Bodhgaya, India to restore the Theravada bhiksuni precepts, which had been lost for over a millennium. On April 8, 1998, he accepted the Buddha’s tooth relic which he personally escorted from India to Taiwan where it would remain. The Ven. Master’s contribution toward Buddhism is truly phenomenal, and has helped society gain a better understanding of Buddhism amidst current trends of institutionalization, modernization, humanism, and globalization.
For more information about the life of Venerable Master Hsing Yun, please see Handing Down the Light and Bright Star, Luminous Cloud Fu Zhiying.
This translation of the Platform Sutra was guided by the principle of being a “practitioner’s translation.” Thus, the sutra has been rendered in clear, accessible language to match Huineng’s unpretentious style. Nonetheless care has been taken to grant the reader access to the original text, even its more difficult passages. Rather than gloss over obscure passages with interpretation. we have endeavored to make the reader aware of the translation issues at play and of the variety of possible interpretations. It is hoped that this translation is one that can be approached both for guidance and for contemplation, and that it will inspire those who read it to practice in accordance with Huineng’s teachings.
While history is not the overriding concern of this translation, an understanding of the religious context the Platform Sutra operates within helps to highlight what makes this sutra special. One way the Platform Sutra is unique is that it is the only Buddhist text not attributed to the Buddha which is elevated to the title of “sutra.” It is also the only sutra written and conceived of entirely as a Chinese text rather than as a Sanskrit translation. The workings of the Chinese language is a concern throughout the Platform Sutra, even though Huineng is described as illiterate. Hongren tests his disciples by asking them to compose a gatha, with Huineng’s gatha functioning as a literary commentary on Shenxiu’s gatha as much as it confronts its teachings. When speaking to his disciples Huineng explains Buddhist concepts in Chinese next to their paralles in Sanskrit transliteration, as well as structuring many of his teachings around a character-by-character analysis of Buddhist doctrine. The specifics of language are essential to the Platform Sutra, and as such it is a unique product of the Chinese language.
Huineng also lived during a time when Buddhism had split into many schools, most of which focused on and elevated a subset of the Buddha’s teachings above others. The two most prominently featured in the Platform Sutra are the Chan School, which highly featured values meditation, and the Pure Land School, which draws its teachings from the Amitabha Sutra. Amitabha Sutra. The teachings contained in the Platform Sutra went on to define the Chan School, but Huineng’s words on the Pure Land were also influential. The central practice of the Pure Land School is the mindful recitation of the name of Amitabha Buddha with the wish to be reborn in his Pure Land of the West. In Chapter III, Huineng tells the assembly that to arrive in the Pure Land they must engage in proper conduct; that to only recite the Buddha’s name without changing one’s behavior is not enough. This view of the Pure Land is still highly influential in modern Humanistic Buddhism, with its emphasis on creating a Pure Land on earth.
Huinenhg challenges the assembly’s assumptions about the Buddha’s teachings throughout the Platform Sutra. The systematic Buddhist worldview of the six realms of existence, the five aggregates, and the six senses is repeatedly redefined and framed in terms of inintrinsic. AN attempt to supply the conventional understanding of this worldview would only serve as groundwork for Huineng’s swift redefinition, but in the interest of supplying new readers with the information to understand the impact of Huineng’s teachings a brief explanation should be given.
The Buddha described reality as made up of many different realms inhabited by beings with varying levels of agency and self-awareness. Upon death these beings are reborn among these realms in accordance with their karma: the moral accumulation of all that we say, think, and do. Beings who have acted in wholesome ways and benefited others may be reborn in heavenly realms where they live at ease, while those whose actions are mostly harmful are reborn in realms where life is a constant struggle.
The Buddha and later commentators group and analyze these many realms in different ways, but one of the most common is to group them as the “six realms of existence.” The six realms are made up of three “higher” realms in which life is generally pleasant, and three “lower realms” that are filled with suffering. The higher realms include our own human realm, the realm of jealous deities called asuras, and the heavenly realms in which beings live long lives of careless pleasure. Of these three realms the Buddha said that rebirth in the human realm was the most fortunate, because it is in the human realm that we are most likely to encounter and understand the Dharma, the Buddha’s teachings. The three lower realms are the realm of animals, in which life is short and dominated by instinct; the realm of hungry ghosts in which beings live in sadness and scarcity; and the hell realm, in which suffering is constant.
While the Buddha spoke of these realms and their moral dimensions, much more of the Dharma is dedicated to how we experience the world. The Buddha understood that we can only come to learn more about the world we live in empirically, and dedicated much of his teaching to understanding our senses. The Buddha spoke of six senses: the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch with the addition of the mind. Each sense is associated with a sense organ (the eyes, nose, tongue, body, and mind) and with a particular sense object (form, sound, smell, taste, feeling, and dharmas), When one of these sense organs encounters a sense object, sense consciousness is created, and it is by this sense consciousness that we come to understand the world.
The Buddha said that we suffer for three main reasons: greed, anger, and delusion. As soon as consciousness arises we develop greed and desire for those experiences we enjoy and develop anger and aversion towards those experiences we dislike. The major driving force in developing these preferences and distinctions are the five desires shared by all sentient beings: wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep. It is our ignorant pursuit of these five desires that leads us to suffer.
For most people the greatest delusion is the delusion of a permanent and unchanging self that is fundamental to who we are. The Buddha analyzed the self as constructed from the “five aggregates:” form, feeling, perception, mental formation, and consciousness. The Buddha said that while we may mistake each of these as our self or as belonging to us, they are impermanent, subject to change, and arise from a myriad of causes and conditions.
Since our perception of the world is mired in desire, affliction, illusion, and ignorance, we seldom see things as they truly are. However, the Buddha taught that through practice we are able to purify ourselves, develop wisdom, and remove these things which obstruct us from knowing things as they truly are. A person who has awakened and removed these impediments can see that world “such as it is,” and this understanding of the world is called “suchness.” Suchness is reality as seen by the Buddha and other awakened beings; it is the true form of the word unfiltered by bias or discrimination.
Accompanying this translation is a commentary on the text by Venerable Master Hsing Yun, the founder of the Fo Guang Shan Monastic Order and a leading proponent of Humanistic Buddhism. The commentary was edited from a series of lectures on the sutra, and does an excellent job of placing Huineng’s teaching in the larger Buddhist context as well as giving examples for how to practice in everyday life. The platform Sutra is especially relevant to Humanistic Buddhism, since it was Huineng who said:
Good Dharma friends, all sutras and teachings of both the Great Vehicle and Small Vehicle, the twelve divisions of the canon, were established for the sake of human being. It is due to the nature of wisdom that the sutras have come to be. If there were no people there would be no teachings. Therefore, all teachings were established for people and all sutras were spoken for the sake of human being.
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