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The Dialectics of Nothingness: A Reexamination of Shen-hsiu and Hui-neng
Hakuin's Daruma

Steven W. Laycock, The University of Toledo
Journal of Chinese Philosophy
Vol.24 (1997) Pp 19-41
Copyright © 1997 by Dialogue Publishing Company

I have long been intrigued by the facing gathas of Shen-hsiu and Hui-neng, the one an apparently inverted "image"of the other. As legend has it, Shen-hsiu stole into the quarters of the aging master, Hung-jan (c.601- 675), at night and affixed the following poem to the wall:

Body is the Bodhi tree,
Mind is like a bright mirror-stand.
Take care to wipe it continually,
And allow no dust to cling.(1)

The next night, Hui-neng, described no doubt apocryphally as a barely-literate rice pounder from "the South" (perhaps Vietnam), tacked the following rejoinder on the Fifth Patriarch's wall:

There never was a Bodhi tree
Nor bright mirror-stand
Orginally,not one thing exists
So where is the dust to cling?(3)

The two gathas seem to fit hand-in-glove, the one denying precisely what the other affirms.And, indeed, my initial impressiong of the diptych went little farther than this.The two verses merely stood in a relationship of logical contradiction. If one was true,the other was false. And the point of the Hui-neng legend was simply to demonstrate the doctrinal superiority of Hui-neng's position over that of Shen-hsiu. Since Hui-neng had clearly won the mantle and begging bowl of Master Hung-jan, Shenhsiu's view was by the principle of bivalence, flatly false.

While my earlier interpretation was, as it now appears to me, gravely naive, I am nonetheless somewhat comforted to have found myself in the company of no less illustrious an exegete as D. T. Suzuki, according to whom the practice of "dust-wiping" sponsored by Shen-hsiu lent itself to a dissociation of the innately integral and inseparable conscious functions of dhyana (meditation) and prajna (wisdom):

…Dhyana became the exercise of killing life, of keeping the mind in a state of torpor and making the Yogins socially useless; while Prajna, left to itself, lost its profundity, for it was identified with intellectual subtleties which dealt in concepts and their analyses.(4)

Thus separated, meditational ''dust-wiping" was seen to be a necessary prerequisite for wisdom. Dhyana and prajna were sequentially ordered, the one required before the other could arise. Hui-neng's portrayal of this relationship appears to conflict with the stepwise attainment of wisdom which Shen-hsiu maintained. In Hui-neng's address:

Good friends, how then are meditation and wisdom alike? They are like the lamp and the light it gives forth. If there is a lamp there is light, if there is no lamp there is no light. The lamp is the substance of the light; the light is the function of the lamp. Thus, although they have two names, in substance they are not two. Meditation and wisdom are also like this.(5)

Only by overcoming the conflictual duality of meditational practice and the profound "seeing" (which is "theory'' (theoria) in a sense akin to that which this term held for the Greeks) could the transaction of ordinary life (samsara) be rendered consistent with the attainment of supreme insight (nirvana).

An important aspect of the story which, at that time, escaped my notice and which Suzuki seems to have neglected as well, is that when the master awoke and discovered Shen-hsiu's gatha, he is reported to have called his disciples to him and to have burned incense before the verse, saying that anyone who put Shen-hsiu’s words into practice would surely attain enlightenment. The difference between the two poems was not, then, simply that of straightforward contradiction. Both, in fact, were accorded the master's approval. The verses differed, rather, in "level" or "standpoint," and, as I then thought, were no more inconsistent than the "duck" and "rabbit" aspects of the celebrated Wittgensteinian duckrabbit. Shen-hsiu’s gatha is not simply the poetic articulation of an egregious doctrinal error, a doctrinal falsehood in contrast with Hui-neng's doctrinal truth, but expresses, rather, the standpoint of practice. Huineng’s gatha expresses the standpoint of attainment. "Body,'' "mirror" and "dust" belong to the ontology of the means. The "ontology" of the end is, in consonance with Nagarjuna's profound insights, a non-ontology. Originally, not one thing exists.(6) Practice, like Wittgenstein's ladder, is of no use once the ascent has been made, and, indeed, turns out to be indistinguishable from the elevated vision itself. Still, as it then appeared to me, one could entertain only one perspect at a time, and the view articulated in Hui-neng's poem, if not endowed with an elevated alethic status, was at least preferable precisely because it was given voice from the very standpoint of enlightenment.

Recently, however, I have come to see the two gathas as standing, not in a relationship of frontal contradiction, nor simply in an hierarchical relationship of doctrinal superiority, the "theoretical" vision preferable to the "practical" postulation, but rather, in a relationship illustrated by the perennial paradox of the coincidentia oppositorum. Confronted by a static two-dimensional photograph of our planet, one might readily hypostatizen " East" and ''West, " identifying them, perhaps, with the right and left equatorial extremities, and assuming them to be determinate punctal locations in an absolute space. Yet the three-dimensional globe allows the familiar and unsurprising recognition that one can arrive at the "East" by going "West, '' and conversely. In two-dimensional space, a second point may be arrived at from a first only by approaching it directly. In global space, any point on the globe can be arrived at from a given point either by proceeding directly toward it or directly away from it. Taking "'toward" and "'away'' as representing, respectively, truth and falsehood relative to some given "point" (proposition) as formulated within a local, two-dimensional "logical space," we could not, on pain of forfeiting the principles of bivalence and non-contradiction, admit the possibility of arriving at a given "point" circuitously.(7) For this would amount to regarding a given proposition as at once both true and false. Understood thus "two-dimensionally ,'' Shen-hsiu and Hui-neng do quite flatly contradict one another. Assuredly, if there never was a Bodhi tree, the body could bear no resemblance to one. And if, from the first, "not one thing exists," then, surely, there could be neither mirror nor dust.(8) Thus my initial interpretation, and that of Suzuki, is unobjecctionable insofar as its relativization to a "flatland" logical topology is clearly understood. Nonetheless, it seems to me that, in order to comprehend the relatedness of the two insights, we must abaondon the "flat" logic of analysis in favor of a certain dialectical logic which will enable us to see both their simultaneous contradiction and reciprocal entailment. I shall argue respectively in the following two sections (1) that Shen-hsiu's position entails that of Hui-neng; and (2) that Hui-neng's position likewise entails that of Shen-hsiu. But more than simply this, I wish to show that the dialectical interinvolvement of the two contrasting insights has serious ramifications for contemporary occidental phenomenology.


Let us confine our attention for the most part to the second lines of both poems: "The mind is like a bright mirror-stand," and "there never was… a bright mirror-stand." And let us suppose that Shen-hsiu is right. The mind, on this supposal, is, indeed, like a mirror. But in eliciting the tacit implications of this view, we must carefully note that an ideally flawless mirror is itself utterly devoid of visible properties. An ordinary mirror betrays itself as an object in virtue of its imperfections. A slight discoloration of the glass, light refracted from its surface, barely perceptible ripples and gaps in the silvering, make manifest the mirror itself as one object among others. Yet it is precisely such features as these, features which lend objectivity to the mirror, which are to be accounted " flaws." And to the extent that a mirror is thus flawed, it is not, properly speaking, a mirror at all. Hence, an ideally flawless mirror is in no way manifest as an object.

Moreover; if a red apple is set before the mirror, the mirror does not itself become red, nor is the reflection in any literal sense itself red. The mirror serves merely as an "occasion" for the appearance of a reflection-of-red.(9) Generalizing, then, the mirror does not instantiate any of the visible properties of its object.(10)

Suzuki offers the following alternative metaphor on Shen-hsiu's behalf:

The mind… is like a crystal ball with no colour of its own. It is pure and perfect as it is. But as soon as it confronts the outside world it takes on all colours and forms of differentiation. This differentiation is in the outside world, and the mind, left to itself shows no change of any character. Now suppose the ball to be placed against something altogether contrary to itself and so become a dark-coloured ball. However pure it may have been before, it is now a dark-coloured ball, and this colour is seen as belonging from the first to the nature of the ball. When shown thus to ignorant people they will at once conclude that the ball is foul, and will not be easily convinced of its essential purity.(11)

Ignoring objectifying imperfections, an ideally transparent crystal ball placed against a red surface would be phenomenally indistinguishable from a crystal ball made of red glass. And likewise, an ideally flawless mirror set against a red surface would be phenomenally indistinguishable from a red surface. It could, it seems, be no part of a strictly phenomenological investigation to discriminate such cases. The task of discernment would belong to "metaphysics" of the sort deplored by serious and consistent practitioners of phenomenology. Phenomenology aspires to "presuppositionless" insight. And this can only mean the assumption of an absolute equipoise, the vigilant treading of the via media, the way of the valley, between metaphysical summits. Already, in what I take to be the more consistent phenomenology of Hui-neng, we find the admonition to "separate yourselves from views."(12)

These insights achieve fuller articulation and resonate with greater significance when the "fallacy" (if I might avoid the opprobrium of designating by this term a position with which I wish to take issue) of assuming the visibility of the reflecting medium is located within the setting of occidental phenomenology and the deleterious consequences of this "fallacy" for phenomenological philosophy clearly noted. Accordingly, I wish to propose, as notable counterparts of the planar "Shen-hsiu" and "Hui-neng," the luminary Western phenomenologists, Husserl and Sartre. Both are culpable of the " fallacy" in question, and both, by committing this error, thereby abandon at crucial points the very methodology which would make their views genuinely "phenomenological.'' Western phenomenology, even as represented by the patient, rigorous and minutely painstaking efforts of Edmund Husserl, or by the less sober but perhaps more sobering, pronouncements of Sartre, lapses into "metaphysics" at just this crucial juncture. Intentionality, as Sokolowski suggests, is the "dimension" in which the world and its objects present themselves.(13)Yet in the very act of intending an object, it is impossible to discriminate, in terms of purely phenomenal and descriptive features, between the objectual referent as it presently presents itself and features of the "medium" of intentionality itself. To take up the one side of the issue is utterly to "evacuate" consciousness, to make of it a "nothingness" in the Sartrean sense. Consciousness, for Sartre, is "all lighteness, all translucence."(14) But it is also to promulgate a view difficult to distinguish from a certain "naive" realism, a view according to which the manifold perspectival "looks" of a thing are, in whatever sense, "there" awaiting intentional revelation. Consciousness becomes a passive "openness" to the attendant objectual "views.'' To take up the opposite side of the issue is to adopt the contrasting Husserlian theory of "constitution." The profiles through which the intentional object are given are not simply "there'' independent of the act. The object's alternative modes of giveness are accounted for, in essential part, in terms of certain phenomenologically describable features of the act itself. Invoking the contrasting models suggested by Suzuki's remarks, Sartre presents intentional consciousness as a crystal ball placed against a colored surface, and Husserl sponsors a theory of constitution which would tint the crystal. Sartre plays two-dimensional ''Shen-hsiu" to Husserl's two- dimensional ''Hui-neng."

Nothing could have more profound consequences for the very project of phenomenology itself than a decision in favor of either "Shen-hsiu'' or " Hui-neng," Sartrean quasi- "realism" or Husserlian quasi-"idealism.'' The Sartrean portrayal of consciousness as "nothingness, " pressed to the extremities of its implications (farther, in fact, than the early Sartre himself had pressed it), entirely subverts the very possibility of phenomenological reflection. If consciousness is, indeed, "nothing, " then, in reflection, there is nothing to see. Reflection, itself a specific mode of intentional consciousness, would have no "object."

The story, of course, is somewhat more complicated. For Sartre, what is subjectivity objectified in reflection becomes, in The Transcendence of the Ego, "the psychic,'' a tertiary order of being, neither subject nor object, "laminated," as it were, immediateiy against consciousness. If the for-itself is, as Sartre would depict it, a "bubble" rising in the medium of worldly being, the psychic is the enveloping "boundary'' which belongs neither to its inner vacuity nor to the surrounding plenary integrity of the in-itself. "The psychic," Sartre says, "is the transcendent object of reflective consciousness."(15) The"third-realm" ontology of the psychic possesses the advantage of offering employment to reflection. Yet, while reflective and prereflective consciousness differ, expectably, in " object,"' the "object" of the former is not subjectivity itself, but the psychic. This, however, is simply a more sophisticated (not to say sophistical) way of denying the very possibility of reflection. A philosophy which proceeds merely in virtue of an investigation of the " outside"(16) of consciousness has not advanced beyond the "realism" which Sartre, in Being and Nothingness, claimed to have overcome. "We have," he there maintains, "ruled out a realistic conception of the relations of the phenomenon with consciousness."(17) Yet this is belied by the sheer phenomenological impossibility of establishing a correlation between the " inside" and the "outside" consciousness.Reflection can only reveal consciousness "from the outside" precisely because, "from the inside," there is nothing to "see" but the intentional object. Consciousness itself is invisible.And there can be no phenomenological warrant for positing a relationship between the psychic and that which, in principle, cannot appear. The assertion that consciousness and the psychic are related as " inside" and "outside" is thus "metaphysical."

For Husserl, on the other hand, the noema is undeniably manifest to the reflecting consciousness.Indeed, as one must say, only if subjectivity is constitutive in the Husserlian sense can there be anything "there" for a strictly reflective consciousness to "see." Consciousness affects itself with different "tints," as it were, and it is the manifold "hues" of the "crystal" which are presented in reflection. The epoche enforces silence with regard to the existence of the object. But no such reserve is in force with respect to the object-as-it- appears. The noema is inseparable from constituting subjectivity. To be thoroughly consistent, Sartre would have to claim that the noema is " discovered." In Husserl's view, it is, as it were, "created"-an assumption which spells phenomenological disaster no less than Sartre's regrettable abrogation of reflection. For Husserl here maintains a tacit and fateful presupposition. Like the tinted crystal which can be either seen or seen- through, consciousness functions either "opaquely" (for reflection) or "transparently"(in its "natural" posture) as a semidiaphanous medium of revelation. And Husserl assumes that, just as its coloration continues to permeatre the crystal when the latter is seenthrough, so, also consciousness is imbued with noematic "sense" in the straightforward prereflective revelation of intentional objects.What is "there" in reflection is equally "there" in prereflective consciousness. This is "metaphysics" not phenomenology. In the natural attitude, the noema cannot be thus "located" on one side or the other of the subjectl object divide.

Sartre betrays phenomenology by rendering its fundamental method, that of reflective description, impreacticable. Husserl, in his very effort to preserve reflection, thereby abandons it. The vital and profoundly fruitful method of phenomenological reflection is thus rendered impossible so long as the phenomenon is thought to belong either to the realm of the subjective or the domain of the objective. Only a phenomenology which remains rigorously faithful to the "things themselves'" precisely as and only as they appear can hope to navigate between the Scylla of Husserlian subjectivism and the Charybdis of Sartrean objectivism.

The intentional act, understood as a relatively concrete phenomenon ( the appearing-of-the-object, for Sartre, the appearing-of-the-object-toan- egological-subject,for Husserl) is only one of the two highest-order species of immanence which, as Husserl would have it, together, comprise the "real" ( reel) and fully concrete flux of consciousness. The second, an abstract aspect of the act, is the sensation. And here we find Husserl moving, during the course of his philosophical career, toward a position somewhat closer to a view which Sartre himself might find felicitous. In the relatively early theory represented by Husserl's Logical Investigations, there is "no difference between the… conscious content and the experience itself. What is sensed is, e.g., no different from the sensation."(18) This does not, of course, imply that sensations have no content, but simply that they are their content. For the hyletic Rotempfindung, redness and the sensing of redness are identical. The appropriateness of the colored crystal ball model is compelling. From the beginning, Sartre himself expelled certain crucial phenomenal features of immanence from consciousness. He argues powerfully and cogently against Husserl's earlier theory of sensory hyle:

The hyle in fact could not be consciousness, for it would disappear in translucency and could not offer that resisting basis of impressions which must be surpassed toward the object… How can it preserve at once the opaque resistance of things and the subjectivity of thought? Its esse cannot come to it from a percipi since it is not even perceived, for consciousness transcends it toward the objects. But if the hyle derives its being from itself alone, we meet once again the insoluble problem of the connection of consciousness with existents independent of it… In giving to the hyle both the characteristics of a thing and the characteristics of consciousness, Husserl… succeeded only in creating a hybrid being which consciousness rejects and which can not be a part of the world.(19)

Moreover, as one might ask, how could a red-sensation differ from a bluesensation? The relevant difference could be found only in the manner of the sensing-event. The sensing of the red-sensation is a "redwise" sensing. And the sensing of the blue-sensation is a "bluewise" sensing. Husserl assuredly would not wish to maintain that the "manner" of the redsensation, for example, quite literally instantiates redness. And it thus becomes exceedingly difficult to account for the "red-mannered" demeanor of a sensation except by recognizing it as a sensation of redness. Redness must be expelled from the sensation. The "crystal ball" must be placed against something "contrary to itself,'' in Suiuki's words. And this, in fact, is later acknowledged by Husserl himself in the lectures on timeconsciousness. There the fusion of sensing and sensed is relativized to a given framework of consideration:

Sensation here is nothing other than the inner consciousness of the content of sensation… Thus it is understood why in the Logical Investigations I could identify the sensing and the content of sensation. Since I moved inside the frame of inner consciousness, there, naturally, we did not find any sensing, only what is sensed.(20)

And accordingly, "sensation, if we understand this as consciousness (not the immanent, enduring red…)… is untemporal, viz. it is nothing in immanent time."(21) The "not" in this latter passage carries the freight. Here Husserl tacitly recognizes a distinction between the sensing- consciousness and "the immanent, enduring red," i.e., the redness which serves as its content. Sensing, far from being imbued with the quale which serves as its content, turns out, on a more profound analysis, to be "empty." The expulsion, while distancing Husserl from one untenable model of sensation, serves, however, only to rivet his commitments to an equally "metaphysical" (and thus phenomenologically indemonstrable) position. Colored crystal and crystal transparent to color are, as I have urged, phenomenologically indistinguishable.

Returning, then, to Shen-hsiu: mind is like a mirror. And pulling solidly at the inner logic of this simile, we can add that mind is like an ideally transparent crystal ball, the presence of which is not betrayed even by minor refraction or discoloration. The ideally flawless mirror, the perfectly transparent crystal ball, cannot itself be seen. It is not a manifest "form" (rupa). Visibility would be a flaw. Thus, if Shen-hsiu's insight is to be credited, then Hui-neng must also be right. There never was a mindmirror. Phenomenologically considered, there is simply nothing-no thing-to see. Thus, far from representing a denial of Hui-neng's standpoint, Shen-hsiu's gatha clearly entails its truth.


Is there a similar passage from Hui-neng to Shen-hsiu? If it is the case that "originally" (ben lai(d)) "not one thing exists" (wu i wu),(22) Then this generality must include the mind itself. Does it follow that the mind is like a mirror? The facile response is, of course, the negative. If the mind fails to exist, it certainly cannot be "like" anything. There is nothing "there" to bear the relationship of similarity. But this response misconstrues the import of the ostensibly "existential" denial.

We must recall the path traversed from Shen-hsiu to Hui-neng. Why does the 'non-existence" of the mind follow from its mirror-likeness? Precisely because ideal reflectivity entails the utter impossibility of objectual manifestation.To say that the mind mirror-in its "original," phenomenologically clarified manifestation, undistorted by conceptual "presuppositions''-is " not one thing" (wu i wu), is simply to say that the mind cannot be given as a "thing." Shen-hui contributes insightfully to the issue:

A bright mirror is set up on a high stand; its illumination reaches the ten-thousand things, and they are all reflected in it.The masters are wont to consider this phenomenon most wonderful. But as far as my school is concerned it is not to be considered wonderful. Why? As to this bright mirror, its illumination reaches the ten-thousand things, and these ten-thousand things are not reflected in it. This is what I would declare to be most wonderful. Why? The Tathagata discriminates all things with non-discriminating Prajna (chih(f)).If he has any discriminating mind, do you think he could discriminate all things?(23)

Fixing upon just one of the "ten-thousand things," an object (wu) standing before a mirror is reflected within it in virtue of the Gestalt duality of figure and ground. A condition of "thingly" manifestation is the discernible difference between object and non-objectual context. Both are reflected within the mirror. Thus, the mirror "underlies" both, and is "indifferent" to the duality of reflections. A "thing" is reflected in our mirror only in virtue of the indifference of the mirror to the difference of thing and thing-complement, figure and ground. Neither the tenthousand things, nor, indeed, even a single thing are, in this sense, reflected in it. To say that ‘originally, not one thing exists” is not to say that the dualistic condition of manifestation is in no case operative. It is, rather, to say of the "origin," the primordial indifference of conscious "reflectivity," that the Gestalt duality makes no difference to it, and that it, itself, is not manifested as things are.

Once again, then, we must ask about the passage from Hui-neng to Shen- hsiu.This time the answer is patent. If "originally" (ben) there is no bright mirror-stand," if, that is, the "origin" cannot be presented as figure upon ground, does it follow that the mind is like a mirror? Clearly, yes.The mirror is made "present" precisely in its ineluctable "absence.''

Hui-neng is emphatic that "When you sit quietly with an emptied mind, this is falling into a blank emptiness,"(24) and characterizes as a "confused notion" the assumption that "the greatest achievement is to sit quietly with an emptied mind, where not a thought is to he conceived."(25) Thus, Hui-neng admonishes his followers:

neither to cling to the notion of a mind, nor to cling to the notion of purity, nor to cherish the thought of immovability, for these are not our meditation."(26)

Indeed ,

Purity has no form, but, nonetheless, some people try to postulate the form of purity and consider this to be Ch'an(i) practice.People who hold this view obstruct their own original natures and end up by being bound to purity.(27)

Hui-neng did not, of course, have at his disposal the technical phenomenological concept of intentionality.Yet there could scarcely be a more decisive proclamation of the ineluctable intentionality of consciousness. " Purity," understood as the non-intentional, and thus "objectless," self- luminosity of consciousness, is described as a mere "notion," in evident contrast to a realizable experience. But the point of Hui-neng's vivid declaration is not simply to demonstrate that an adequate understanding of "self-nature" is hindered by the supposition that the mind itself serves as a manifest "form" (rupa) The real "obstruction" is our failure to discriminate form from the formless, our failure, that is, to recognize the difference between indifference and the differents which are differentiated out of it"( 28) (a failure recognizably akin to the obscuration of the "ontological difference" in Heidegger's phenomenology). It is precisely the function of indifference to permit the manifestation of difference.And if indifference is always and inescapably different from its differents, then, of necessity, the former requires the latter as much as the latter the former.The " nothingness," the radical non-thingliness of original mind requires, as a condition of its very being, the "ten-thousand things." Mind is, then, ineluctably intentional. The very "essence" of mind, according to Hui-neng, is "a state of Absolute Void, "(29) an insight inescapably reminiscent of the early Sartrean characterization of consciousness as "translucent." Consciousness utterly and completely exhausts itself in its abject without remainder. It is nothing but objectual revelation.There is no "purity" without intentionality. Hui-neng's ostensibly ''ontic" denial (wu i wu) is, at bottom, a phenomenological claim. Far from importing the simple non- existence of the mind, Huineng's assertion, "There never was… a bright mirror-stand, '' entails the being of the very non-objectifiable " nothingness" or "emptiness" (sunyata) which stands as the ineluctable condition for thingly manifestation. The voidness of consciousness is "the voidness of non-void."(30) Considered ontologically, consciousness is "non- void." It is only as considered phenomenologically that consciousness is " void." To say that there is nothing to "see" is not to say that there is nothing '"there." What is "there" is precisely the revelation of the object. But to "see" consciousness itself is to "see" nothing at all. Shen- hsiu's ontological claim entails Hui-neng's phenomenological claim. And, conversely, the phenomenological claim entails the ontological.

In the familiar strategic transition which Sartre effects, consciousness is no-thing," since it is-not (nihilates) and, in principle, cannot be, any of its objects-even those immanent objectivities encountered in reflection. Sartre's argument cuts even deeper then the expulsion of hyletic content. It is not simply that consciousness is "nothing" inasmuch as it nihilates the entire realm of positional objectivity. Consciousness is subject to " the absolute law of consciousness for which no distinction is possible between appearance and being."(31)The for-itself is-not itself. The very being of consciousness, its very non-positional immanence, is itself nihilated. There are, of course, no objects "in" consciousness. But neither is there any " consciousness" in consciousness. Consciousness is utterly vacuous, utterly devoid even of itself. And this realization must inform any consistent reading of the doctrine of nonpositional (self-) consciousness articulated in Being and Nothingness. Sartre affirms that

if my consciousness were not consciousness of being consciousness of the table, it would then be consciousness of the table without consciousness of being so. In other words, it would be a consciousness ignorant of itself, an unconscious-which is absurd.(32)

Yet the very vacuity of consciousness ensures that reflectively to look "at" consciousness is thereby to look "through" it. There is nothing "in" consciousness to see—not even "consciousness of the table." Thus, a nonpositional consciousness of "being consciousness of the table" must be phenomenologically indistinguishable from the positional consciousness of the table itself. The very distinction between "positional" and " nonpositional' consciousness thus turns out to be "metaphysical." The transition from The Transcendence of the Ego to Being and Nothingness is marked by a shift in the sense of "being'' which consciousness enjoys.

In the earlier work, consciousness simply is the appearing of the object. In the later, consciousness becomes non-positional self-presence. The dialectic of Shenhsiu and Hui-neng dispels the later Sartrean error. If there is an 'gbsolute law of consciousness" endorsed by the two masters, it must not be understood as the claim that the being of consciousness is indistinguishable from its appearing.


If successful, our reflections have shown that, while "Shenhsiu" and " Hui-neng" do, like cymbals, clash resoundingly when interpreted within the "flat" logic of metaphysics, the two positions nonetheless reciprocally entail one another within the "global" logic of a consistent phenomenology. Yet it cannot be denied that Hui-neng did inherit the Master's mantle. And we cannot not rest content until we have accounted for this fact. One path is blocked by the preceding considerations: the supersession enjoyed by Hui- neng is not alethic. Hui-neng's view is not to be preferred because it is " true" (or "truer") in contrast to the purportedly "false" (or "less true") assertions of Shen-hsiu. Where, then, shall we look for the basis of preferability?

Shen-hsiu's claim, "Mind is like a bright mirror-stand," leads to Huineng's view only when the logic of the "mirror" is relentlessly pursued to its very end. It is doubtful, however, that Shen-hsiu himself pressed these imqlications to their limit. Mind is represented as a "mirror-stand" (ching t'ail) And the ambiguous suggestions which this expression holds may well have mislead the scholarly and respected monk. Is mind to be conceived on the model of a stand (t'ai~), and thus as one "thing" among many? Or is " mirror" (chin) to receive the emphasis, and "stand" to recede from primary significance as a merely pleonastic complement? The latter, as I have assumed throughout, represents the best of Shenhsiu. Yet Shen-hsiu seems also to have fallen prey to the former. Mind seems not simply to be "mirror-like, " but also "stand-like." And possessing ontic status, mind-pure mind~ould serve as a locus of attachment, the practitioners of meditational "mirror-wiping" thus earning Hui- neng's epithet. "purity-bound." It is exactly this supposal, that mind is " ontic," a "being" among others, and thus visible to introspection, which would effect the logical collision with Hui-neng. Falling prey to the " ontification" of mind, Shen-hsiu thereby seems to have assumed the very "two- dimensional" logic of contradiction in which his view could conflict with Hui-neng's. It is not that Shen-hsiu failed utterly to recognize the passage to Hui-neng. This recognition no doubt subsisted in semine. But at least one important sense of "confusion" (and the "mirror"/"stand" ambivalence is surely a case of such) involves the simultaneous, and perhaps unwitting, commitment to contradictory points of view.

Hui-neng's pronouncement, "Originally, not one thing exists,'" is not, as I have claimed, an existential denial. Indeed, consciousness is to rise "above existence and non-existence."(33) "There never was…a bright mirror(- stand) " has both ontological and phenomenological implications: Mind, though not ontic, is assuredly not precluded from ontological status; but the very being of mind is such that to "see'' it is to "see through" it. These insights were merely implicit in Shen-hsiu's text, tacit in his understanding. But they were entirely explicit to Hui-neng. It was thus Hui-neng who fully comprehended the "global" and dialectical logic in which the two positions circularly entail one another. To say, however, that "originally" there is no "mirror" is to say that "originally" there is no mind. "Mind'' is the fundamental deliverance of reflection. And the very sense of mind, lucidly and properly understood, entails its (self-) effacement before the object. Once again, we must return to the strictly phenomenological impossibility of discriminating "colored crystal" from "crystal transparent to color," mind- as-seen from mind-as-seenthrough. It is mind itself which underlies the two "speculative" views. Or, if I might hazard an interpretation of a crucial operative concept of Buddhist phenomenology, it is "suchness" (tathata) which "grounds" the ostensibly opposed perspectives. Suchness is the " ground"-indeed, the "globe"-which makes possible the global-logical passage from Shen-hsiu to Hui-neng, and conversely. Without suchness, we have lost the dimension of reconciliation, the dimension of depth. Without suchness, we find ourselves with only a "flatland" logical geography. Phenomenology becomes metaphysics. And it may be simply this, the lucid experiential realization of tathata, the very "ground" whereby reconciliation with Shen-hsiu becomes possible, which won for Hui-neng the transmission from Hung-jan.


1.In the Wade-Ciles transliteration: Shen shih p u t'i shu. Hsin ju ming ching t'ai. Shih shih ch'in fu shih, Mo shih jo ch 'en ai.

2. In an address delivered in Los Angeles on June 12, 1985 , the Venerable Thich Man-Giac, President of the Congregation of Vietnamese Buddhists in the United States, remarked:

In the books it's always related that the sixth patriarch, Hui Neng, was Chinese, but I know he was Vietnamese.... Before he became the sixth patriarch, when he first came to the fifth patriarch to ask for the teachings, do you remember what the fifth patriarch said? He said,''You barbarian from the south, what do you know?' The sixth patriarch replied, "Buddha nature is in everyone, so what's the difference if I live in the south?"

‘The Branch That Gleams in the Dark: An Introduction to Vietnamese Buddhism’ (Los Angeles: The First American-Vietnamese Buddhist Monastery, 1985) pp. 10-11. The word "Nam" appearing in 'Viet-Nam" meaning "south," the compound, 'Yiet-Nam," bears the dual signification of "southland of the Viets" and "transcendence [vuot] toward the south."

3. Again, the transliteration:

P'u t'i pen wu shu, Hsin ching i fei t 'ai. Ben lai wu i wu. He ch u jo ch 'en ai.

4. Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, The Zen Doctrine of Nc-Mind: The Significance of the Sutra of Hui-Neng (Wei-Lang) (York Beach: Samuel Weiser, 1981), pp.32-3.

5. Philip B. Yampolsky, The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967), p. 136.

6. In Suzuki's view,

What distinguishes Hui-neng most conspicuously and characteristically from his predecessors as well as from his contemporaries is his doctrine of....from the first not a thing is'----this was the first proclamation made by Hui-neng. It is a bomb thrown into the camp of Shen-hsiu and his predecessors. Suzuki, op. cit., p. 22.

7. The conditional with a true consequent holds under the supposition of either a true or a false anteceedent. Our altogether rudimentary model would, of course, require an additional "dimension" to accommodate both possibilities. We have here assumed a logical cartography locating "false' to the East and "true'' to the West of a given proposition, ignoring the implication of the true by the true. But an alternative map can be given, ignoring the implication of the true by the false, by stringing truths along the equator. For our simple purposes, the former option seems preferable.

8. No discussion of mind as mirror could be complete without reference to Rorty's significant (if erroneous) claim that

[w]ithout the notion of the mind as mirror, the notion of knowledge as accuracy of representation would not have suggested itself. Without this latter notion, the strategy common to Descartes and Kant-gctting more accurate representations by inspecting, repairing, and polishing the mirror, so to speak-would not have made sense. Without this strategy in mind, recent claims that philosophy could consist of "conceptual analysis" or "phenomenological analysis' or "explication of meanings" or examination of the "logic of our language" or of "the structure of the constituting activity of consciousness' would not have made sense.

Richard Rorty Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princetor: Princeton University Press, 1981), p. 12. Phenomenology is quite certainly not a form of representationalism. Intentionality, is not the activity of re-presenting, but rather, the activity of presenting. To intend is to be immediately in the presence of the intended object, not to dwell upon some metalogical stratum of ghostly simulacra. More than this, however, it is, and can in principle be, no part of the task of phenomenology to compare appearance with reality.

9. Reginald Allen's incisive comments are to the point here:

The very being of a reflection is relational, wholly dependent upon what is other than itself: the original and the reflecting medium.... The reflection does not resemble the original rather, it is a resemblance of the original.

Reginald E. Allen, "Participation and Predication in Plato s Middle Dialogues,' in Gregory Vlastos, ed., Plato= A Collection of Critical Essays, I= Metaphysics and Epistemology (New York: Doubleday, 1971)

10. I owe a certain hesitation regarding this claim to Professor Sandra Wawrytko. In a previous paper, "Sartre and the Chinese Buddhist Theory of No- Self," I had remarked that ''vacuity.. seems little more than a three-dimensionalization of mirroring. And the additional dimension is conceptually otiose." In her response to the paper, Professor Wawrytko wisely and helpfully pointed out that, whereas light travels through a crystal ball, it is remitted, turned back, by the mirror. Metaphors are notoriously limited in their application, and it is best to specify from the outset that the course of illumination is a metaphysical ' issue. As I shall claim, both the perfect mirror and the perfect crystal ball. are invisible, and thus, in this trivial sense, indistinguishable. The usefulness of either metaphor extends no farther than its visibility.

11. Suzuki, op cit., p. 17.

12. Yampolsky, op. cit.,p.136

13.For Sokolowski, "meaning," in the phenomenologically significant sense reflected in the German "meinen",is a "dimension''' or "slant" upon perceptible objects, present or absent, not by any means a fleshless specter haunting the equally spectral chambers of the mind. Robert Sokolowski, ''Exorcizing Concepts," The Review of Metaphysics 15 (1987) p. 458. Indeed, one of the most destructive effects of the tendency we have to psychologize or mentalize meanings is the withdrawal of the formal possibilities of presentation from beings and the confinement of these possibilities to our mental and psychological makeup, as though our minds were something else besides the presentation of things. Ibid, p. 459.

14.Jean-Paul Sartre, The Transcendence of the Ego: An Existentialist Theory of Consciousness, Forrest Williams and Robert Kirkpatrick, trans. (New York:Farrar, Straus and Giroux), p. 42.

15. Ibid, p. 71.

16. Ibid, p. 84.

17.Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness. An Essay in Phenomenological Ontology, trans. Hazel E. Barnes (New York: Washington Square, 1971), p.26.

18.Edmund Husserl, Logical Investigations, J. N. Findlay, trans. (New York: Humanities Press, 1970), V. section 3, p. 540.

19. Sartre, Being and Nothingness, op. cit., p. 20.

20. Edmund Husserl, The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness, Martin Heidegger, ed., James S. Churchill, trans. (Bloomington: Indians University Press, 1971), Appendix XII, 176-7.

21.Edmund Husserl, Zu Phanomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstseins, Rudolf Boehm, ed. (Husserliana X). The Hague: Nijhoff, 1966, no. 50, pp. 333- 34, n. I, as cited in Robert Sokolowski, Husserlian Meditations: How Words Present Things (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974), p. 133.

22 While I view the philosophy of the Platform Sutra in a somewhat different light since its publication, I still maintain, as I suggested in ''Hui-neng and the transcendental Standpoint," that The operator, "originally'' (pen lai) determines the way in which the statement "Not one things exists" is true." "Originally'' is a mode of truth, but riot, obviously, for the Ch an tradition, a mode of propositional truth. "Originally" is more faithfully understood as a mode of conscious revelation, a way of being conscious, an attitude or stance of mind. Whatever stance "originally" may refer to, it must be such that, for consciousness engaged in that mode of conscious life, "not one thing exists." P.40

23.Suzuki, op. cit., p. 51.

24.As quoted in Suzuki, op. cit., p. 26.

25.Ibid., pp 26-7. 26.Ibid., p. 27.

27.Yampolsky, op. cit., pp. 139-40.

28.In Prufer's tightly-worded characterization,

[t]he differentiated (those which are different, the differents) are different from each other and from the undifferentiated or indifferent matrix out of which they are differentiated and which they cover over and hide. The matrix, however, is by anticipation the matrix of the differents, but as matrix it itself is different from them by its indifference. The differents, as differentiated, are still indifferent by recapitulation, by remaining being different out of the matrix from which they were not different and in which they were not different from each other.

Thomas Prufer, 'Welt, Ich und Zeit in der Sprache, " in Philosophische Rundschau 20(1973) p. 226.

29.A F. Price and Wong Mou-Lam, translators, The Sutra of Hui Neng (Boulder.Shambhala Publications, 1969), p. 26.

30.Price and Wong, op. cit., p. 26.

31.Sartre, The Transcendence of the Ego, op. cit., p. 63.

32.Sartre, Being and Nothingness, op. cit., p.11

33.Price and Wong, op. cit., p. 27.