Oct 6, 2020
Martin Goodson

The Story of Eno Daikan (Huineng)

Part I - Introduction

In this introduction, to the life of Eno Daikan, is discussed the importance of testing insight with a qualified Zen master.

Liang Kai, The Sixth Patriarch Cutting the Bamboo, Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD)



The Sixth Chinese patriarch is called Huineng in Chinese and Eno Daikan in Japanese. He lived 638-713 C.E. originating from Southern China and lived through the ‘flowering’ of Zen during the Tang dynasty.

What makes Eno stand out in importance for the Zen tradition is that his teaching is considered equal to the narratives of the Buddha himself, at least in the Zen school.

Indeed, the story of his life and his collected sermons are the only canonical texts to have the title ‘sutra’, just as the Buddha’s own sermons are called.

In translation, Eno’s Platform Sutra is often coupled with a translation of the Diamond sutra as the latter played such an important role in initiating the spiritual journey for the former.

His teaching centres on ‘Prajnaparamita’ or the Wisdom-gone-beyond, which is the sixth of the Six Paramitas, the practice of the Bodhisattva path to the Full and Perfect Enlightenment of the Buddha himself.

Prajnaparamita is the teaching expounded in the collection of sutras of the same name, the most famous being the rendition in 8,000 lines, the Diamond sutra and also the distillation of the essence of this teaching in the ‘HANNYA HARAMITA’ or Heart sutra.

This last one is chanted in all Chan/Zen and also Tibetan lineages, such is its potency, culminating in the mantra embedded at the end:

“Gone, gone, gone beyond, altogether beyond over to the other shore. Enlightenment Supreme!”

Iconographically, Prajnaparamita is shown in female form and is called ‘Mother of all the Buddhas”.

The traditional story of Eno Daikan says he is both illiterate and from humble beginnings.

His father, an exiled court official, died when he was young and the boy looked after his ageing mother. He would earn his living by collecting firewood and selling it in the marketplace.

One day, on his way from making a delivery of wood, he overheard a monk reciting a passage from the Diamond sutra. Eno instantly saw into the meaning of the verse and had a profound awakening to the truth of sunyata or the emptiness of self-nature in all things.

Having enquired as to the name of the sutra he then asked where the monk came from?

The monk replied that he was from the monastery of the Fifth Patriarch who was called Gunin Daiman (jp) (ch. Hung jen ) which was based in the North of China.

Eno made up his mind to go and visit the monastery and pay his respects to the patriarch.

Having arrived he gained an audience with the patriarch who enquired where he had come from?

Eno replied that he had come from the South, was a simple commoner and wished for nothing more than to realise the Buddha nature.

Gunin retorted: You are from the barbarian south, how can you become a Buddha!

Eno replied: A man may be from the north or from the south but the Buddha nature has no north or south in it.

We might be puzzled by this exchange, why would the fifth patriarch make the mistake of saying that where you come from means whether or not someone may attain Buddhahood?

In the Mahaparinirvana sutra the Buddha declared on his awakening:

“How wonderful, how miraculous, all beings, but all beings are fully and completely endowed with the Buddha nature.”

The fifth patriarch knew this. However, he was testing the young man before him.

Just as Rinzai was tested by Obaku who slapped him when the former enquired ‘What is the essence of Buddhism?” and as Bodhidharma ignored Eno who stood outside the cave where Bodhidharma sat, leaving him standing out in the snow all night.

This initial testing still goes on today; when a monk comes to a training monastery he is generally refused entry several times.

After this he is allowed into the entrance hall where he takes up a position of supplication, kneeling with his hands folded on top of his knapsack and his forehead bowed down touching his hands

He may be left here for days.

This may seem rather extreme but this testing is very important. The Zen training, traditionally is very tough and the monk will be pushed to his or her limits. If the resolve is weak then it can be disastrous and disturbing for all concerned so better find out early on if sufficient inner determination is present.

It can also be a time for the monk to find out if s/he is sufficiently motivated.

(to be continued... )

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