The Zen Teaching of Huang Po on the Transmission of Mind

Dhyana-Practice (From Blofeld’s introduction to his rendering of The Zen Teaching of Huang Po on the Transmission of Mind):


The book tells us very little about the practice of what, for want of a better translation, is often called meditation or contemplation. Unfortunately both these words are misleading as they imply some object of meditation or of contemplation; and, if objectlessness be stipulated, then they may well be taken to lead to a blank or sleeplike trance, which is not at all the goal of Zen. Huang Po seems to have assumed that his audience knew something about the practice – as most keen Buddhists do, of course. He gives few instructions as to how to “meditate,” but he does tell us what to avoid. If, conceiving of the phenomenal world as illusion, we try to shut it out, we make a false distinction between the “real” and the “unreal.” So we must not shut anything out, but try to reach the point where all distinctions are seen to be void, where nothing is seen as desirable or undesirable, existing or not existing. Yet this does not mean that we should make our minds blank, for then we should be no better than blocks of wood or lumps of stone; moreover, if we remained in this state, we should not be able to deal with the circumstances of daily life or be capable of observing the Zen precept” “When hungry, eat.” Rather, we must cultivate dispassion, realizing that none of the attractive or unattractive attributes of things have any absolute existence.

Enlightenment, when it comes, will come in a flash. There can be no gradual, no partial, Enlightenment. The highly trained and zealous adept may be said to have prepared himself for Enlightenment, but by no means can he be regarded as partially Enlightened – just as a drop of water may get hotter and hotter and then, suddenly, boil; at no stage is it partly boiling, and, until the very moment of boiling, no qualitative change has occurred. In effect, however, we may go through three stages – two of non-Enlightenment and one of Enlightenment. To the great majority of people, the moon is the moon and the trees are the trees. The next stage (not really higher than the first) is to perceive that moon and trees are not at all what they seem to be, since “all is the One Mind.” When this stage is achieved, we have the concept of a vast uniformity in which all distinctions are void; and, to some adepts, this concept may come as an actual perception, as “real” to them as the moon and the trees before. It is said that, when Enlightenment really comes, the moon is again very much the moon and the trees exactly trees; but with a difference, for the Enlightened man is capable of perceiving both unity and multiplicity without the least contradiction between them!

Conceptual Thinking:

To make use of your minds to think conceptually is to leave the substance [of Mind, Buddha] and attach yourselves to form.

The Mind is no mind of conceptual thought, and it is completely detached from form…. There are those who, upon hearing this teaching, rid themselves of conceptual thought in a flash…. But whether they transcend conceptual thought by a longer or shorter way, the result is a state of BEING: there is no practicing and no action of realizing. That there is nothing which can be attained is not idle talk; it is the truth.

If you would spend all your time – walking, standing, sitting or lying down – learning to halt the concept-forming activities of your own mind, you could be sure of ultimately attaining the goal.


…If you students of the Way seek to progress through seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing, when you are deprived of your perceptions, your ways to Mind will be cut off and you will find nowhere to enter.

Do not keep them nor abandon them nor dwell in them nor cleave to them. Above, below and around you, all is spontaneously existing, for there is nowhere which is outside Buddha-Mind.

One Mind:

Only awake to the One Mind and there is nothing whatever to be attained.

This pure Mind, the source of everything, shines forever and on all with the brilliance of its own perfection. But the people of the world do not awake to it, regarding only that which sees, hears, feels and knows as mind…. If they would only eliminate all conceptual thought in a flash, that source-substance would manifest itself like a sun….


Ordinary people look to their surroundings, while followers of the Way look to Mind, but the true Dharma is to forget them both. The former is easy enough, the latter very difficult. Men are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall. They do not know that the Void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma.


So you students of the Way should immediately refrain from all conceptual thought. Let a tacit understanding be all! Any mental processes must lead to error. There is just a transmission of Mind with Mind.

The Place of Precious Things:

That which is called the Place of Precious Things is the real Mind, the original Buddha-Essence, the treasure of our own real Nature…. Where is the Place of Precious Things? It is a place to which no directions can be given…. All we can say is that it is close by.

The Ignorant Seeker:

Many people are afraid to empty their minds lest they may plunge into the Void. They do not know that their own Mind is the void. The ignorant [seekers] eschew phenomena but not thought; the wise [seekers] eschew thought but not phenomena.

The World-Transcendor:

If an ordinary man, when he is about to die, could only see the five elements of his consciousness as void; the four physical elements as not constituting an ‘I’; the real Mind as formless and neither coming nor going; his nature as something neither commencing at his birth nor perishing at his death, but as whole and motionless in its very depths; his Mind and environmental objects as one – if he could really accomplish this, he would receive Enlightenment in a flash. He would no longer be entangled by the Triple World; he would be a World-Transcendor.

The Supreme Way:

…To awaken suddenly to the fact that your own Mind is the Buddha, that there is nothing to be attained or a single action to be performed – this is the Supreme Way….