“Meditation and wisdom are of one essence, not different. Meditation is the essence of wisdom, and wisdom is the function of meditation. At times of wisdom, meditation exists in that wisdom; at times of meditation, wisdom exists in that meditation. If you understand this doctrine, this is the equivalent study of meditation and wisdom. All you who study the Way, do not say that they are different, with meditation prior to and generating wisdom or with wisdom prior to and generating meditation. If your view of them is like this, then the Dharma would have two characteristics. This would be to say something is good with your mouth but to have that which is not good in your minds. “
(Master Huineng in The Platform Sutra*)
The key to this extract from the Platform Sutra is the word ‘understand’, for no ordinary understanding is meant by it. If we intellectually grasp the meaning of Master Huineng’s words, we have yet to penetrate to the heart of what he is saying. Indeed, from the conventional understanding of meditation, wisdom, and the relationship between them, to state that they are one and the same is unorthodox, and somewhat nonsensical. The Chinese Zen Master is referring to another kind of understanding, or a direct apperception of experience that precedes intellection.
When we see beyond these personalities that we apparently are, we tune in to something that transcends the differences between activities, opening up to the underlying unity of phenomena. As Master Huineng goes on to say in the sermon quoted above, if we gain this ‘understanding’, everything we do becomes a meditation, and wisdom accompanies each action. So, what exactly is this wondrous understanding? Well, no one can reveal it to another, only hint at it, hopefully sowing a seed that will later sprout into the flower of wisdom.
Hinting at that which lies beyond the reach of words involves much spontaneous invention, and what works for one may well not work for another. But, if the Platform Sutra is not to be a kind of fossilized scripture, we need to become this understanding that it makes reference to. One way to reach this understanding is to look for the face we had before our parents were born (an image that Master Huineng invokes in the Sutra). Enough words already, I hear him shouting. So, without intellectualizing, point at your ‘face’ right now, dear reader – what do you see?
*Published by Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai as ‘The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch’, & translated by John R. McRae. Available from the following link: Numata Center Digital Downloads