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Zen Buddhist Text : Hsin-hsin Ming

By Third Ch'an Patriarch Chien-chih Seng-ts'an



The title of the Hsin-hsin Ming may be explained in the following way:


Hsin means "belief" or "faith." This is not the faith in the ordinary sense, it is a belief that comes from firsthand experience, a faith which arise out of supreme knowledge and wisdom of enlightenment. This "believing" is an affirmation that all existence or reality is essentially the Buddha mind, which is our true nature. Hsin is the conviction that at the bottom of all phenomena lies the One Mind, the Buddha mind, which is one with our real nature, the Buddha-nature.


Hsin literally means "heart." It means mind, not the deluded mind of the ignorant but the Buddha-mind. Hsin is the mind that merge with the all-encompassing One Mind.


Ming literally means "inscription." It means written expression or record. Ming also means warnings or admonitions.



        Hsin-hsin Ming is one of the earliest and most influential Zen writings. It is usually referred to as the first Zen poem. It consists of 146 unrhymed four-character1 verses2 (lines), total 584 characters3. The Hsin-hsin Ming was composed in shih4 form. Shih was the principal poetic form in use in the early period, it is first used in the Book of Odes5 (Shih-ching, Shikyõ). Like the early shih, the Hsin-hsin Ming consists of lines that are 4-characters in length, but contrary to most shih, no end rhyme is employed in the poem.

         As a characteristic of shih, one line usually constitutes a single syntactical unit. Since one character represents one syllable, and since classical Chinese is basically monosyllabic, this means that there are usually four words to a line. Lines tend to be end-stopped, with few run-on lines, so that the efffect is of a series of brief and compact utterances.

         This concise form of four characters a line is shorter than the general run of Chinese verse, which usually has five or seven characters per line. Economy, even starkness of expression is a characteristic of the Hsin-hsin Ming. It is more of a verse than poetry and its brevity is one of the peculiar characteristics of this famous work. Its contents is closer to the Buddhist sutras than poems. In fact, the Hsin-hsin Ming can be regarded as a sutra. Many verses are like a short Zen saying and therefore can be taken as if they are a single-sentence Zen maxim. The original text was not divided in stanzas. Some translators divided the poem in different ways, with or without adding numbers to them.

         The Hsin-hsin Ming has an important place In Ch'an Buddhist tradition. The poem has been very influential in Zen circles and many important commentaries were written on it. The opening stanza, "The best way is not difficult. It only excludes picking and choosing," is quoted by many Zen masters as well as in the classical Zen works such as the Blue Cliff Records6. Along with the following influential poems, it is considered as a poem which reveals the essence of Zen philosophy:


The Hsin-hsin Ming

 By Third Ch'an Patriarch Chien-chih Seng-ts'an


Inscribed On the Believing Mind


Translated by Daisetsu Teitarõ Suzuki


至道無難  The Perfect Way knows no difficulties

唯嫌揀擇  Except that it refuses to make preference:

但莫憎愛  Only when freed from hate and love,

洞然明白  It reveals itself fully and without disguise.


毫釐有差  A tenth of an inch's difference,

天地懸隔  And heaven and earth are set apart:

欲得現前  If you want to see it manifest,

莫存順逆  Take no thought either for or against it.


違順相爭  To set up what you like against what you dislike –

爲心病   This is the disease of the mind:

不識玄旨  When the deep meaning [of the Way] is not understood

徒勞念靜  Peace of mind is disturbed and nothing is gained.


圓同太虚  [The Way is] perfect like unto vast space,

無欠無餘  With nothing wanting, nothing superfluous:

良由取捨  It is indeed due to making choice

所以不如  That its suchness is lost sight of.


莫逐有縁  Pursue not the outer entanglements,

勿住空忍  Dwell not in the inner void;

一種平懷  When the mind rests serene in the oneness of things,

泯然自盡  The dualism vanishes by itself.


止動歸止  When you strive to gain quiescence by stopping motion,

止更彌動  The quiescence thus gained is ever in motion;

唯滯兩邊  As long as you tarry in the dualism,

寧知一種  How can you realize oneness?


一種不通  And when oneness is not thoroughly understood,

兩處失功  In two ways loss is sustained –

遣有沒有  The denial of reality may lead to its absolute negation,

從空背空  While the upholding of the void may result in contradicting itself.

多言多慮  Wordiness and intellection –

轉不相應  The more with them the further astray we go;

絶言絶慮  Away therefore with wordiness and intellection,

無處不通  And there is no place where we cannot pass freely.


歸根得旨  When we return to the root, we gain the meaning;

隨照失宗  When we pursue external objects, we lose the reason.

須臾返照  The moment we are enlightened within,


勝卻前空  We go beyond the voidness of a world confronting us.


前空轉變  Transformations going on in an empty world which confronts us,

皆由妄見  Appear real all because of Ignorance:

不用求眞  Try not to seek after the true,

唯須息見  Only cease to cherish opinions.


二見不住  Tarry not with dualism,

慎莫追尋  Carefully avoid pursuing it;

纔有是非  As soon as you have right and wrong,

紛然失心  Confusion ensues, and mind is lost.


二由一有  The two exist because of the one,

一亦莫守  But hold not even to this one;

一心不生  When the one mind is not disturbed,

萬法無咎  The ten thousand things offer no offence.


無咎無法  When no offence is offered by them, they are as if not existing;

不生不心  When the mind is not disturbed, it is as if there is no mind.

能隨境滅  The subject is quieted as the object ceases,

境逐能沈  The object ceases as the subject is quieted.


境由能境  The object is an object for the subject,

能由境能  The subject is a subject for an object:

欲知兩段  Know that the relativity of the two

元是一空  Rests ultimately on the oneness of the void.


一空同兩  In the oneness of the void the two are one,

齊含萬象  And each of the two contains in itself all the ten thousand things:

不見精  When no discrimination is made between this and that,

寧有偏黨  How can a one-sided and prejudiced view arise?


大道體寛  The Great Way is calm and large-minded,

無易無難  Nothing is easy, nothing is hard:

小見狐疑  Small views are irresolute,

轉急轉遲  The more in haste the tardier they go.


執之失度  Clinging never keeps itself within bounds,

必入邪路  It is sure to go the wrong way:                     

放之自然  Let go loose, and things are as they may be,

體無去住  While the essence neither departs nor abides.


任性合道  Obey the nature of things, and you are in concord with the Way,

逍遙絶惱  Calm and easy and free from annoyance;

繋念乖眞  But when your thoughts are tied, you turn away from the truth,

昏沈不好  They grow heavier and duller and are not at all sound.



不好勞神  When they are not sound, the soul is troubled;

何用疏親  What is the use of being partial and one-sided then?

欲取一乘  If you want to walk the course of the One Vehicle,

勿惡六塵  Be not prejudiced against the six sense-objects.


六塵不惡  When you are not prejudiced against the six sense-objects,

還同正覺  You in turn identify yourself with Enlightenment;

智者無爲  The wise are non-active,

愚人自縛  While the ignorant bind themselves up;

法無異法  While in the Dharma itself there is no individuation,

自愛著   They ignorantly attach themselves to particular objects.

將心用心  It is their own mind that creates illusions –

豈非大錯  Is this not the greatest of self-contradictions?


迷生寂亂  Ignorance begets the dualism of rest and unrest,

悟無好惡  The enlightened have no likes and dislikes:

一切二邊  All forms of dualism

自斟酌   Are ignorantly contrived by the mind itself.

夢幻虚華  They are like unto visions and flowers in the air:

何勞把捉  Why should we trouble ourselves to take hold of them?

得失是非  Gain and loss, right and wrong –

一時放卻  Away with them once for all!


眼若不睡  If an eye never falls asleep,

諸夢自除   All dreams will by themselves cease:

心若不異  If the mind retains its oneness,

萬法一如  The ten thousand things are of one suchness.

一如體玄  When the deep mystery of one suchness is fathomed,

兀爾忘虚  All of a sudden we forget the external entanglements:

萬法齊觀  When the ten thousand things are viewed in their oneness,

歸復自然  We return to the origin and remain what we are.


泯其所以  Forget the wherefore of things,

不可方比  And we attain to a state beyond analogy:

止動無動  Movement stopped is no movement,

動止無止  And rest set in motion is no rest.

兩既不成  When dualism does no more obtain,

一何有爾  Even oneness itself remains not as such.


究竟窮極  The ultimate end of things where they cannot go any further,

不存軌則  Is not bound by rules and measures:

契心平等 The mind in harmony [with the Way] is the principle of identity

所作倶息  In which we find all doings in a quiescent state;


狐疑盡淨  Irresolutions are completely done away with,

正信調直  And the right faith is restored to its native straightness;


一切不留  Nothing is retained now,

無可記憶  Nothing is to be memorized,

虚明自照  All is void, lucid, and self-illuminating,

不勞心力  There is no stain, no exertion, no wasting of energy –

非思量處  This is where thinking never attains,

識情難測  This is where the imagination fails to measure.


眞如法界  In the higher realm of True Suchness

無他無自  There is neither 'other' nor self':

要急相應  When a direct identification is asked for,

唯言不二  We can only say, 'Not two.'


不二皆同  In being not two all is the same,

無不包容  All that is is comprehended in it:

十方智者  The wise in the ten quarters,

皆入此宗  They all enter into this absolute faith.


宗非促延  This absolute faith is beyond quickening [time] and extension [space].

一念萬年  One instant is ten thousand years;

無在不在  No matter how things are conditioned, whether with 'to be' or 'not to be',

十方目前  It is manifest everywhere before you


極小同大  The infinitely small is as large as large can be,

忘絶境界  When external conditions are forgotten;

極大同小  The infinitely large is as small as small can be,

不見邊表  When objective limits are put out of sight.


有即是無  What is is the same with what is not,

無即是有  What is not is the same with what is:

若不如此  Where this state of things fails to obtain,

必不相守  Be sure not to tarry.


一即一切  One in all,

一切即一  All in one –

但能如是  If only this is realized;

何慮不畢  No more worry about your not being perfect!


信心不二  The believing mind is not divided,

不二信心  And undivided is the believing mind –

言語道斷  This is where words fail,

非去來今  For it is not of the past, future, or present.




(from Essays in Zen Buddhism, by D.T. Suzuki – First Series 196-201)



Zen Buddhist Text : Hsin-hsin Ming

By Third Ch'an Patriarch Chien-chih Seng-ts'an




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