What does humility really mean?
In hui neng’s sutra we find the answer.
Bhikkhu Fa Ta, a native of Hung Chou who joined the Order at the tender age of seven, used to recite the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra (Lotus Sutra of the Good Law). When he went to pay homage to the Patriarch, he did not lower his head to the ground. Because of this abbreviated courtesy, the Patriarch reproved it by saying, “If you refuse to lower it to the ground, wouldn’t it be better to stop doing the salute at once? There must be something on your mind that makes you so full of yourself. Tell me what you do in your daily exercise.”
– “I recite the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra, ” replied Fa Ta. “I’ve read three thousand times your entire text!”.
” Had you captured the meaning of the Sutra,” the Patriarch commented, “you would not have assumed such a pride, even if you had read it ten thousand times. If I had understood the text, you’d be walking the same path as mine. What you accomplished made you a smug, and besides, you don’t seem to realize this is wrong. Listen to my verses:”
Since the purpose of the ritual is to restrict arrogance
Why didn’t you put your head down to the ground?
‘Believing in an ego’ is the source of the error,
But ‘treating all realiation as Emptiness’ strikes a
The Patriarch asked for his name then, and upon learning that this was Fa Ta (meaning To Understand the Law) commented, “Thy name is Fa Ta, yet you were not able to understand the Law.” He concluded by creating other verses:
Your name is Fa Ta
Diligently and without giving up recites the Sutra.
Repetition of text through the lips only serves for verbalization,
But the one whose mind is enlightened by capturing the meaning,
Because of Pratyaya (conditions that produce the phenomena) in our past lives
I’ll explain it to you.
If you just believe that the Buddha doesn’t speak a word,
Then the Lotus will bloom in your mouth.
Having heard these verses, Fa Ta repented and apologized to the Patriarch. He also added, “From now on, I will be humble and courteous at all times. Since I don’t fully understand the meaning of the Sutra I recite, I have doubts about its formal interpretation. With your deep knowledge and great wisdom, will you kindly grant me a small explanation?”
The Patriarch replied, “Fa Ta, the Dharma is quite clear; It’s your mind that’s not clear. The Sutra is free of dubious passages; it is only your mind that makes them doubtful; Reciting the Sutra, do you know its main purpose?”
– “How can I know, Sir, ” Fa Ta replied, “being so confused and stupid? All I know is how to recitait it word for word.”
The Patriarch then said, “You will please recite the Sutra, since I cannot read it. I will then explain the meaning to you.”
Fa Ta recited the Sutra, but when to the chapter entitled “Parables”, the Patriarch stopped him and said, “The key point of this Sutra is to clarify the goal and goal of the incarnation of a Buddha in this world. Although parables and illustrations are numerous in this book, none of them go beyond this main point. Now, what is this goal? What’s your goal? The Sutra says, ‘it is exclusively for one goal and, a single goal, truly a high goal and a great goal that a Buddha appears in this world.'”
(extracted from Hui Neng Sutra)