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Ceremonies: Long Readings for Afternoon: Yongjia Xuanjue’s Song of Enlightenment


Song of Enlightenment  —Yongjia Xuanjue   There is a leisurely one, walking the Dao, beyond […]

Song of Enlightenment 

—Yongjia Xuanjue


There is a leisurely one,

walking the Dao, beyond philosophy, 

not avoiding fantasy, not seeking truth.

The real nature of ignorance is buddha nature itself;

the empty, illlusory body is the very body of the Dharma.


When the dharma body awakens completely,

there is nothing at all.

The source of our self-nature

is the buddha of innocent truth.

Mental and physical reactions come and go

like clouds in the empty sky;

greed, hatred, and ignorance appear and disappear

like bubbles on the surface of the sea.


When we realize actuality, 

there is no distinction between mind and thing

and the path to hell instantly vanishes.

If this is a lie meant to fool the world,

may my tongue be cut out forever.


Once we awaken to tathagata Zen, [ta-TA-ga-ta]

the six noble deeds and the ten thousand good actions

are already complete within us.

In our dream we see the six levels of illusion clearly;

after we awaken the whole universe is empty.


No bad fortune, no good fortune, no loss, no gain,

never seek such things in nirvana.

For years the dusty mirror has gone uncleaned;

now let us polish it completely, once and for all.


Who has no thought? Who is not born?

If we are truly not born,

we are not unborn either.

Ask a robot if this is not so.

How can we realize ourselves 

by virtuous deeds or seeking the Buddha?


Release your hold on earth, water, fire, wind;

drink and eat as you wish in nirvana.

All things are transient and completely empty;

this is the great enlightenment of the Tathagata.

Transience, emptiness, and enlightenment—

These are the ultimate truths of Buddhism;

keeping and teaching them is true sangha devotion.

If you don’t agree, please ask me about it.

Directly cut out the root of it all—

this is the very point of the buddha seal.

I can’t respond to any concerns about leaves and branches.


People do not recognize the wish-fulfilling jewel.

Living intimately within the tathagata womb,

it operates our sight, hearing, smell, taste, sensation, awareness;

and all of these are empty, yet not empty.

The rays shining from this perfect wish-fullfiling jewel

have the form of no form at all.

Clarify the five eyes and develop the five powers;

this is not intellectual work—just realize, just know.

It is not difficult to see images in a mirror,

but who can take hold of the moon in water?


Always working alone, always walking alone,

the enlightened one walks the free way of nirvana,

with a melody old and clear in spirit

and a naturally elegant style,

but with a body that is tough and bony,

passing unnoticed in the world.


We know that Shakyamuni’s sons and daughters

are poor in body, but not in the Tao.

In their poverty, they always wear patchwork clothing,

but they have the jewel of no price treasured within.

This jewel of no price can never be used up,

though they spend it freely to help the people they meet.

Dharmakaya, Samboghakaya, Nirmanakaya,

and the four kinds of wisdom

are all contained within.

The eight kinds of emancipation and the six universal powers

are all impressed on the ground of their mind.


The best student goes directly to the ultimate;

others are learned but their faith is uncertain.

Remove the dirty garments from your own mind;

why should you show off your outward striving?


Some may slander, some may abuse;

they try to set fire to the heavens with a torch

and end by merely tiring themselves out.

I hear their scandal as though it were ambrosial truth;

immediately everything melts

and I enter the place beyond thought and words.

When I consider the virtue of abusive words,

I find the scandalmonger is my good teacher.

If we do not become angry at gossip,

we have no need for powerful endurance and compassion.


To be mature in Zen is to be mature in expression,

and the full-moon brilliance of samadhi and prajna

does not stagnate in emptiness.

Not only can I take hold of complete enlightenment by myself,

but all buddha bodies, like sands of the Ganges,

can become awakened in exactly the same way.


The incomparable lion roar of the doctrine

strikes fear in the hearts of all other animals.

Even the monarch of elephants will run away, forgetting pride;

only the heavenly dragon listens calmly, with pure delight.


I wandered over rivers and seas, crossing mountains and streams,

visiting teachers, asking about the Way in personal interviews.

Since I recognized the Sixth Founding Teacher at Cao Qi, [Tsao-Chee]

I know what is beyond the relativity of birth and death.


Walking is Zen, sitting is Zen;

speaking or silent, active or quiet, the essence is at peace.

Even facing the sword of death, our mind is unmoved;

even drinking poison, our mind is quiet.


Our teacher, Shakyamuni, met Dipankara Buddha

and for many æons he trained as Kshanti, the ascetic. [Kuh-shahn-tee]

Many births, many deaths;

I am serene in this cycle—there is no end to it.


Since I abruptly realized the unborn,

I have had no reason for joy or sorrow

at any honor or disgrace.

I have entered the deep mountains to silence and beauty;

in a profound valley beneath high cliffs,

I sit under the old pine trees.

Meditation in my rustic cottage

is peaceful, lonely, and truly comfortable.


When you truly awaken,

you have no formal merit.

In the multiplicity of the relative world,

you cannot find such freedom.

Self-centered merit might bring the joy of heaven itself,

but it is like shooting an arrow at the sky;

when its force is exhausted, it falls to earth,

and then everything goes wrong.


How can this be better

than the true way of the absolute,

directly penetrating to the ground of Tathagata?

Just take hold of the source

and never mind the branches.

It is like a treasure-moon

enclosed in a beautiful emerald.

Now I understand this wish-fulfilling jewel

and my attainment is the attainment of everyone, endlessly.


The moon shines on the river,

the wind blows through the pines—

whose providence is this long beautiful evening?

The buddha nature jewel of morality

is impressed on the ground of my mind,

and my robe is the dew, the fog, the cloud, and the mist.


A bowl once calmed dragons

and a staff separated fighting tigers;

the rings on this staff jingle musically.

These things are not to be taken lightly;

the treasure staff of the Tathagata

has left traces for us to follow.


The awakened one does not seek truth,

does not cut off delusion.

Truth and delusion are both vacant and formless,

but this no-form is neither empty nor not empty;

it is the true form of the Tathagata.


The mind-mirror is clear, so there are no obstacles.

Its brilliance illuminates the universe

to the depths and in every grain of sand.

All things in the cosmos

are reflected in the mind,

and this full clarity has neither inside nor outside.


To live in nothingness is to ignore cause and effect;

such chaos leads only to disaster.

The one who clings to emptiness, rejecting the world of things,

escapes from drowning but leaps into fire.


Holding truth and rejecting delusion—

these are but skillful lies.

Students who practice meditation by such lies

mistake a thief for their own child.

They miss the dharma treasure,

they lose accumulated power,

and this disaster follows directly upon dualistic thinking.

So Zen is the complete realization of mind,

the complete cutting off of delusion,

the power of wise vision penetrating directly to the unborn.


[End of Part One]


Students of vigorous will hold the sword of wisdom;

its prajna blade is a diamond flame.

It not only cuts off useless knowledge

but also exterminates delusions.


They roar with dharma thunder,

they strike the dharma drum,

they spread clouds of love that pour ambrosial rain.

Their giant footsteps nourish one and all;

shravaka, pratyeka, bodhisattva—all are enlightened; [SHRAH-vaka,

people of every kind are emancipated. praht-YEH-ka]


High in the Himalayas, only feini grass grows. [fay-nee]

Here cows produce pure and delicious milk,

and this is the food I am continually enjoying.

One complete nature passes to all natures;

one universal Dharma encloses all dharmas.

One moon is reflected in many waters;

all the water-moons are from the one moon.

The dharma body of all buddhas has entered my own nature,

and my nature becomes one with the Tathagata.

One level of awakening contains all levels;

it is not matter, mind, or activity.

In an instant eighty-thousand teachings are fulfilled;

in a twinkling the evil of eons is destroyed.


All categories are no category;

what relation do they have to insight?

Beyond praise, beyond blame—

like space itself it has no bounds.

Right here it is eternally full and serene;

if you search elsewhere, you cannot find it.

You cannot grasp it, you cannot reject it;

in the midst of not attaining,

in that condition you attain it.


It speaks in silence;

in speech you hear its silence.

The great way opens and there are no obstacles.

If someone asks, What is your sect

and how do you understand it?

I reply, The power of tremendous prajna.


People say it is positive,

people say it is negative,

but they do not know.

A smooth road, a rough road—

even heaven cannot imagine.

I have practiced meditation for many eons;

I do not say any of this to confuse you.


I raise the dharma banner and set forth our teaching;

it is the clear doctrine of the Buddha,

which I found with my teacher, Huineng. [Hway-nuhng]

Mahakashyapa became the buddha successor, [Maha-kash-YA-pa]

receiving the lamp and passing it on.

Twenty-eight generations of teachers in India,

then over seas and rivers to our land

came Bodhidharma as our own first founder;

his robe, as we all know, passed through six teachers here.

And how many generations to come will gain the path, 

no one knows.


The truth cannot be set forth;

the false is basically empty.

Put both being and non-being aside,

and even non-emptiness is empty,

the twenty kinds of emptiness have no basis,

and the Tathagata’s nature is oneness,

its essence the same.


Mind is the mirror stand, phenomena are dust;

yet both are like a flaw in the mirror.

When the flaw is wiped clean,

the light begins to shine.

When both mind and phenomena are forgotten,

we become naturally genuine.


Ah, the degenerate materialistic world!

People are unhappy; they find discipline difficult.

In the centuries since Shakyamuni, false views run deep,

demons are strong, the Dharma is weak, disturbances abound.


When people hear the Buddha’s doctrine of sudden awakening,

if they accept it, the demons will be crushed

as easily as a roofing tile.

But they cannot accept—what a pity!


Your mind is the source of your actions;

your body is the agent of calamity—

no pity or blame for anyone else.

If you’re not seeking an invitation to hell,

never slander the Tathagata’s true teaching.


In the sandalwood forest, where there are no other trees,

only the lion lives in such dense, luxuriant woods,

wandering freely in a state of peace.

Other animals and birds stay far away.

Just lion cubs follow their parents,

and three-year-olds already roar loudly.

How could the jackal pursue the monarch of the Dharma

even with a hundred thousand demonic arts?


The Buddha’s doctrine of sudden awakening

is not a matter of human emotion.

If you doubt this or feel uncertain,

you must discuss it with me.

This mountain monk isn’t just giving free rein to his ego;

I fear your training may lead to wrong views

about a permanent soul or complete extinction.


Being is not being; non-being is not non-being;

miss this by a hair,

and you are off by a thousand miles.

Understanding it, the dragon-girl instantly attains buddhahood;

misunderstanding it, the greatest scholar falls into hell.


From my youth I piled studies upon studies;

in sutras and commentaries I searched and researched,

classifying terms and forms, oblivious to fatigue,

just as futile as diving into the sea to count its sands.

Then the Tathagata scolded me kindly

as I read, “What profit in counting your neighbor’s treasure?”

My work had been misguided and entirely useless;

for years I had been dust blown by the wind.


If your seed-nature is wrong, misunderstandings arise,

and the Buddha’s doctrine of sudden awakening cannot be attained.

Shravaka and pratyeka students may study earnestly,

but they lack aspiration.

Others may be very clever,

but they lack prajna.

Ignorant ones, childish ones,

they suppose there is something inside an empty fist

and mistake the pointing finger for the moon.

They are idle dreamers lost in form and sensation.


Not supposing a single thing is the Tathagata.

This is truly Guanyin, the bodhisattva who sees freely.

When awakened, we find karmic hindrances are empty.

But when not awakened, we must repay all our debts.


The hungry are served a royal feast

but they cannot eat.

The sick meet the sovereign doctor;

why don’t they recover?

To practice Zen in this greedy world

takes powerful discernment,

but the lotus lives in the midst of the fire

and is never destroyed.

Pradhanashura broke the gravest precepts [PRAH-dana-shura]

But went on to realize the unborn.

The buddhahood he attained in that moment

lives with us now in our time.


Oh, the incomparable lion roar of the Dharma!

How sad that people are stubborn in their ignorance,

believing that crime blocks enlightenment,

missing the secret of the Tathagata’s teaching.


Long ago, two monks were guilty of murder and carnality.

Their leader, Upali, had the light of a glow-worm; [Oo-PA-lee]

he just added to their plight.

But Vimalakirti cleared their doubts at once, [Vee-ma-la-KEER-tee]

as sunshine melts the frost and snow.


The remarkable power of liberation

works wonders countless as the sands of the Ganges.

To this we offer clothing, food, bedding, medicine.

Ten thousand pieces of gold are not enough;

though you break your body

and your bones become powder,

even that is not sufficient repayment, 

but one vivid word surpasses millions of years of practice.


The Ruler of the Dharma deserves our highest respect.

Tathagatas, countless as the sands of the Ganges,

all prove this fact by their attainment.

Now I reveal to you the wish-fulfilling jewel,

and those who believe will attain it:


When we see truly, there is nothing at all.

There is no person; there is no buddha.

The myriad things of the universe

are just foam on the sea,

wise sages like flashes of lightning.


However the burning iron ring revolves about my head,

with the bright completeness of samadhi and prajna

I never lose my equanimity.

Even if the sun became cold and the moon hot,

evil cannot shatter the truth.

The elephant carriage moves like a mountain;

how can an insect block the way?


The great elephant does not travel on a rabbit’s path,

and great enlightenment is not concerned with details.

Don’t belittle the sky by looking at it through a pipe.

If you still don’t understand, I will settle it for you.


(Version by Joan Sutherland based on Robert Aitken)