Huineng (638-713), the founder of southern
school of Zen, was a famous Buddhist reformist and the
Sixth Patriarch of Zen.
Huineng lived a miserable life as a boy
since his father died when he was young. He had to sell firewood to make a
living. On his way home Huineng heard something about Buddhism, which attracted
him much. He left home and apprenticed to Hongren, Fifth Patriarch of Zen, to
study Buddhism in 670. He developed his own opinions on Buddhism through his
hard study. Later, Huineng traveled all over the country to spread Buddhism and
the number of the audience sometimes exceeded 1,000. His disciple Fahai compiled
The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch according to the records of his
words, which can be seen now.
After his death, Huineng's body remained
fresh. His disciples painted the body to preserve its figure. The Rou Shen
Xiang (remained body) is kept in Nanhua Temple of Guangdong Province
Huineng and Shenxiu, the founders of the
north tradition of Zen, were disciples of Hongren. They were different with the
opinion on Zen so that two schools of Zen, namely the southern school and the
northern school, came into being. The northern school existed among north nobles
while the southern school was popular in the south. Afterwards, the northern
school declined while the southern school prospered.
Huineng was not a literary patriarch like
the former ones so that his theories were plain and direct. He employed the
Diamond Sutra to explain his thought. He thought samadhi and prajna are
analogous to a lamp and its light. With the lamp, there is the light. Without
it, there would be darkness. The lamp is the quintessence of the light, and the
light is the expression of the lamp. In name they are two things, but in
substance they are one and the same. It is the same case with samadhi and
prajna. Readers can easily comprehend the vivid analogy. Huineng also assured
that the true path to Buddha hood isn't the direction of hard work and the
acquisition of even more knowledge and scriptures. The truer path is along the
road of intuitive insight, where we progress beyond mere logic and reasoning and
become one with wisdom and understanding.