Please Pacify And Liberate My Fettered Mind!

过去心不可得,The past mind cannot be attained,
现在心不可得,The present mind cannot be attained,
未来心不可得。The future mind cannot be attained.

– 金刚经 (释迦牟尼佛)
Diamond Sutra (Sakyamuni Buddha)

Here are three famous Chan (Chinese Zen) stories to share, with the similar theme of pacifying and liberating the fettered mind, followed by reflections on them.

How To Pacify Your Mind

In the year 527, when Master Huike (慧可) met Master Damo (达摩), the (Chinese) Chan Tradition’s First Patriarch (禅宗初祖) near Shaolin Monastery (少林寺), this dialogue ensued.


Huike: Of all Buddhas’ seal [essence] of the Dharma [truth], can it be attained by hearing about it?
Damo: Of all Buddhas’s seal of the Dharma, not from man is it attained.
Huike: [confused] As my mind is yet to be at peace, I beg Master to pacify it.
Damo: Bring me your mind, and for you, I will pacify it.
Huike: [after searching] Having sought for my mind, it cannot be attained.
Damo: I have for you, pacified [put to peace] your mind completely.

Hearing this, Master Huike attained awakening, realising that just as there is no actual (unchanging or substantial) graspable unenlightened (unpacified) mind to be pacified (没实在的不安心可安), there is no actual graspable enlightened (pacified) mind to be attained to pacify the mind too (没实在的安心可得). Both notions of an unpacified and a pacified mind (不安心与安心) were from grasping at his delusional thought (妄想). He then followed Master Damo for six years, before receiving the title of the Chan Tradition’s Second Patriarch.

How To Liberate Your Mind

In the year 592, when Master Daoxin (道信) met Master Sengcan (僧璨), the (Chinese) Chan Tradition’s Third Patriarch (禅宗三祖) at the ‘Monastery Of The Mountain Valley’ (山谷寺), this dialogue ensued.


Daoxin: May Master be compassionate, and liberate me from my fetters.
Sengcan: Who is it that fettered you?
Daoxin: No one fettered me.
Sengcan: Since no one fettered you, why do you still seek liberation from fetters?

Hearing this, Master Daoxin attained awakening, realising that while there is no actual (unchanging or substantial) graspable person (such as himself or someone else) or thing (such as the three poisons of attachment, aversion and delusion) that fettered him, it was only from grasping at his delusional thought that he was fettered by many, that truly fettered him. He then followed Master Sengcan for nine years, before receiving the title of the Chan Tradition’s Fourth Patriarch.

How To Be Fettered

Commemorating the above koan (gongan; 公案: public record of a Dharma teaching) in the same but renamed ‘Monastery Of The Third Patriarch’ (三祖寺) is a huge rock labelled as the ‘Rock Of Liberation From Fetters’ (解缚石) with the big words ‘Liberation From Fetters’ (解缚) carved onto its top flat surface. After sharing the koan with us during a visit, the Abbot added that as many do not understand its message, they settle with circumambulating the words by walking on the rock. Some even created formulaic superstitious beliefs that going around ‘x’ number of times can help this or that mundane wish to come true. How ‘unzen’!

To my surprise, despite what said, many did indeed walk on the rock… with spiritual aspirations and reverence I hope! Would doing so be meritorious, while wearing out the rock with worldly desires be demeritorious? Snapping some pictures to remind myself to write about this, it seems that many did miss the point of the koan? Instead of reminding themselves to not be fettered by anything, did they, with incredible irony, become additionally, even if just for a while, fettered to a gigantic and heavy rock with some deluded desires? If so, is this not a literally ‘big’ and ‘solid’ lesson missed? And am I not also fettered to wanting to speculate and share about this? It seems appropriate then, to end with the next dialogue between two other Chan Masters.

How To Be Unfettered

藏门: (指庭院石头) 三界唯心,万法唯识。你且说说看,这块石头是在心内呢?还是在心外?
雪斋: 在心内。

Zangmen: (pointing at rock in courtyard) The three spheres [of existence] are of the mind only, the ten thousand dharmas [of all phenomena] are of the consciousness only. Why don’t you tell me, about this piece of rock – is it inside the mind, or outside the mind?
Xuezhai: Inside the mind.
Zangmen: Why should one who travels [to seek the truth] put a piece of rock in the mind?

So, is the rock truly inside or outside your mind? When thinking about the rock, is it not inside? Yet, how can something so bulky be inside your mind? Or is it only there when fettered to and weighed down by it? If not attached to, is it still inside your mind? If not, how can it not be linked to your mind that perceives it? Or is it inside and outside at the same time, or neither, or beyond? Is the full realisation of the answer, of how we should relate to all phenomena not liberation itself? What are your mental rocks, your spiritual blocks? What fetters you now?

That said, since our minds are habitually attached to this or that delusional thought, which makes it difficult to be fully unfettered within one lifetime, we might as well cultivate pure mindfulness of Buddha (e.g. Amituofo; Amitabha Buddha) more diligently now, so as to unfetter ourselves from delusional thoughts as much as we can, through sincere and constant refuge in his blessings. Upon reaching his Pure Land and receiving his further guidance, total liberation from all fetters is guaranteed!

The universe is selflessly seamless,
while self-centred beings draw lines,
being attached to self and not-self.
Yet, the universe flows on freely,
like how liberated beings do.

Stonepeace | Books

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