The Perception of Sages

· Articles & Essays · ,

by Zen Master Xiatang


To learn to be a Buddha, first you should break through the seeds of habit with great determination, and then be aware of cause and effect so that you fear to do wrong. Transcend all mental objects, stop all rumination. Don’t let either good or bad thoughts enter into your thinking, forget about both Buddhism and things of the world. Let go of body and mind, like letting go over a cliff. Be like space, not producing subjective thoughts of life and death, or any signs of discrimination. If you have any views at all, cut them right off and don’t let them continue.

The Scripture on Infinite Light says, “Rivers, lakes, birds, trees, and forests all invoke Buddha, Truth, and Communion.”

In a moment of awareness without discrimination, great wisdom appears. This is like pouring water into the ocean, like working a bellows in the wind.

Furthermore, how do you discriminate? ‘Buddha’ is a temporary name for what cannot be seen when you look, what cannot be heard when you listen, whose place of origin and passing away cannot be found when you search.

It covers form and sound, pervades sky and earth, penetrates above and below. There is no second view, no second person, no second thought. It is everywhere, in everything, not something external.

This is why the single source of all awareness is called ‘Buddha.’

It doesn’t change when the body deteriorates, it is always there. But you still cannot use what is always there. Why? Because, as the saying goes, “Although gold dust is precious, when it gets in your eyes it obstructs vision.” Although buddhahood is wonderful, if you are obsessed with it it becomes a sickness.

An early Zen master said, “It is not mind, not Buddha, not a thing—what is it?” This says it all. It has brought us the diamond sword that cuts through all obsessions.

Another classical Zen master said, “The slightest entangling thought can cause hellish actions; a flash of feeling can chain you indefinitely. Just end ordinary feelings, and there is no special perception of sages to seek—the perception of sages appears where ordinary feelings end.”


Zen Master Xiatang, a disciple of Master Yuanwu, was a twelveth-century Ch’an Master.

Thomas Cleary is an author and translator of Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and Muslim classics. He lives in Oakland, California.

From Zen Essence: The Science of Freedom, edited by Thomas Cleary, copyright ©1989 by Thomas Cleary, used by permission of Shambhala Publications, Inc., www.shambhala.org

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