A Summary of the Dull Bird versus the Bright Tortoise

The Venerable Xiao Pingshi

Editor’s Note

The Dull Bird versus the Bright Tortoise is composed by the venerable Xiao Pingshi through thorough research on the extensive works of Chan Masters Dahui Zonggao and Tiantong Hongzhi. This compendium of the book focuses on the following four aspects:

  1. At an early stage, Chan Master Dahui Zonggao strongly refuted the Mozhao Chan [Chan of Silent Contemplation] taught by Chan Master Tiantong Hongzhi because its practitioners tended to fall into thoughtless, pristine awareness of the conscious mind.
  2. The literature on the recorded sayings of Chan Master Tiantong Hongzhi  shows that the essence of the realization within Mozhao Chan and Huatou Chan taught by Chan Masters Tiantong Hongzhi and Dahui Zonggao, respectively, shares the same basis of the eighth consciousness, tathāgatagarbha, attained by both masters.
  3. Soon after presiding over Yuwang Mountain in Mingzhou, Dahui visited Tiantong Hongzhi in Tiantong Mountain, which was only 20 lis [Chinese measurement of distance] away, and they eventually became lifelong best friends.
  4. In his final hours after falling critically ill, Chan Master Tiantong drafted a will that was delivered to Chan Master Dahui, and Dahui traveled overnight to conduct the funeral service for Master Tiantong

A Summary of the Dull Bird versus the Bright Tortoise aims to highlight the fact that the essence of realization of both Huatou Chan and Mozhao Chan propagated by Chan Masters Dahui and Tiantong, respectively, shares the same goal of realizing the eighth consciousness, tathāgatagarbha, as the essence of attainment. They became lifelong best friends as their same realization is the eighth consciousness. This excerpt serves to clarify some false records regarding Chan Master Dahui Zonggao.


The dull bird flies against the wind
The bright tortoise swims with the current


The above two dictums were well known in ancient Chan tradition. In the past few hundred years, however, hardly anyone has ever heard about it anymore. Dull birds, despite their swift flying ability, often die halfway during the journey as the result of exhaustion from flying against the wind and are rarely able to reach their destinations. The analogy refers to most of the Chan practitioners who become arrogant and think too highly of themselves due to their worldly intelligence. They refuse to follow the instructions and teachings of their virtuous mentors and attempt to attain enlightenment through their own effort throughout their whole lives but to no avail. They are the ones who often fall victim to mistaking the state of consciousness for the state of enlightenment and end up damaging the wisdom-life of the dharma-body – never realizing the flaws of their alleged enlightenment their whole lives. Another type of Chan practitioners insist that achieving the thoughtless state of meditative concentration is attaining enlightenment and erroneously regard those who have the ability to instantly end their lives with the aid of meditative concentration as the enlightened ones. For their entire lives, they hold on to the notion that the state of samadhi is tantamount to the state of enlightenment and hence forgo the chance to realize the true wisdom of prajna and squander the wisdom-life of the dharma-body. Both types of Chan practitioners are like dull birds flying against the wind.

In contrast to the swift-flying bird, the slow-moving, bright tortoise, who is neither witty nor silver-tongued, but is guided by real wisdom, chooses to swim with the current in the right river, and effortlessly reaches the ocean of the true essence. This metaphorically refers to the humble practitioners who do not have excellent worldly intelligence, eloquence, or the skill of samadhi to show off the ability to end their life at will to delude the public; yet they have the ability to distinguish a truly enlightened mentor from the false and choose the right direction to practice Chan. Through the assistance of the enlightened mentor, they are able to quickly achieve the goal of awakening and realize the ultimate reality of prajna wisdom; they are hence said to be the bright tortoises that swim with the current. For the Buddhist practitioners of prajna, trying to be a dull bird or a bright tortoise is a matter of choice in just a single thought-moment.

The Buddha says that every normal person possesses eight consciousnesses, no more and no less. The first six consciousnesses enable one to see, hear, smell, taste, feel, or perceive; they are of the other-dependent nature and are dependent arising without intrinsic nature. Furthermore, the Buddha says that the seventh consciousness, which is the driving force behind the manifestation of karmic seeds, is the mind with the nature of pervasive attachment to erroneous discrimination; it is named the representation-consciousness, mental faculty, or manas. It is also the committer of karma, the source of the transmigration within cyclic existence, and is hence called the karmic consciousness. The Buddha also states that the eighth consciousness is the fundamental source of all phenomena; the form body, the first seven consciousnesses and all other phenomena arise and cease from the eighth consciousness. The Buddha also says that the nobles of the Two Vehicles are able to realize the remainderless nirvana and not fall into the nihilistic state because of the existence of the eighth consciousness; He further teaches that the bodhisattvas of Mahayana are able to attain Buddhahood based on the eighth consciousness—the nature of emptiness, the ultimate reality, the nirvana, all phenomena—also named tathāgatagarbha or ālaya consciousness.

This demonstrates that the content of enlightenment in the Chan School is the eighth consciousness; any other realizations are merely taking the deluded, false mind as the True Mind. It is only by personally realizing one’s eighth consciousness and subsequently aligning one’s first seven deluded consciousnesses with the tathāgatagarbha [the eighth consciousness] and subsuming them under the eighth consciousness can one then really understand the principle that “the mind-kings consisting of the eight consciousnesses are subsumed as one mind, namely the ālaya consciousness, retribution consciousness [vipāka-vijñāna], or immaculate consciousness [amalavijñāna]”; only can such a person be called an enlightened sage or noble. Without the personal realization of this eighth consciousness—the True Mind, the tathāgatagarbha—any claim of having realized the True Suchness or attained the enlightenment of the Chan School in the Great Vehicle is to commit the grievous act of false speech and fall into the category of “the unawakened pretending and claiming to be awakened.”

I. Refutation of Mozhao Chan by Chan Master Dahui in the Beginning

The reason that Master Dahui opposed Mozhao Chan initially was that its practitioners would easily fall into thoughtless, pristine awareness of the conscious mind. In order to protect the practitioner’s wisdom-life of the dharma body, Master Dahui strongly urged them to stay away from that practice. Before having visited Master Tiantong Hongzhi, Master Dahui, then staying in the Minnan region [current Fujian province], criticized the practice of Mozhao Chan as perverted due to what he heard about Mozhao Chan from the falsely enlightened disciples of Tiantong. The realization they alleged was totally different from the realization of tathāgatagarbha, taught by Master Tiantong himself.

Even though Master Tiantong had personally realized the tathāgatagarbha—True Mind, it was extremely difficult to attain enlightenment using his method of Mozhao Chan. Dahui always liked to use the most straightforward way to help practitioners attain awakening; he taught the method of guarding a Huatou (“the beginning of speech” literally) without dropping it and contemplating it during all occasions at all times. It is the easiest way to attain sudden enlightenment, to realize and genuinely ascertain the existence of the tathāgatagarbha with full certitude, to experience its true nature, and never regress. Experiencing and observing the suchness nature of the tathāgatagarbha, one’s wisdom gushes out like an endless fountain.

To attain enlightenment through the practice of Mozhao Chan is not impossible but is extremely difficult. Although the methods of Mozhao Chan and Huatou Chan have varying degrees of difficulties in terms of achieving enlightenment, it is possible to attain enlightenment through either. When the causes and conditions present themselves, sudden enlightenment can occur during a knock or a halt; one will spontaneously realize the entity and functions of the True Mind—tathāgatagarbha.

Master Tiantong sometimes taught people to sit silently and contemplate particularly because after the practice of Chan became popular, there were those smart practitioners who were not willing to put in the effort to eradicate the thinking mind and cultivate the essential concentration power. Those practitioners, even if they had an actual awakening at some point, would only become superficial followers of the Chan School and would fall prey to what was called “Wild Chan”, in which they could only imitate the superficial acts and appearances of ancient enlightened patriarchs without really understanding their underlying intentions. Hence, Master Tiantong sometimes had to advocate the practice of silent meditation to rein in practitioners’ bodies and minds in order to subdue their restless wild minds. He would then follow up with the teachings of the correct Chan knowledge to enable practitioners to have a chance of attaining enlightenment but not fall prey to “Wild Chan.” Such was Chan Master Tiantong’s compassionate and painstaking effort. However, both the name and method of Mozhao Chan practice could easily lead to misunderstandings. This is why Master Dahui reproached such method for good reasons because it was not the best way to attain enlightenment.

The practice of Mozhao Chan taught by Tiantong Hongzhi is a method that can be easily misunderstood. In general, people erroneously view the situation in which the conscious mind silently observes a thoughtless state for an extended period of time as the state of true enlightenment. As a result, whenever they hear people speak about the state of enlightenment through verbalization, they will criticize them in the following way: “You have already left the state of enlightenment (through your verbalization); whatever you assert about enlightenment and whenever you speak about it imply that you have already left the state of enlightenment.” Such a misunderstanding of Mozhao Chan occurred among each generation of practitioners and impeded the wisdom-life of the dharma body, which is indeed pitiful!

Chan Master Dahui emphatically refuted the state of thoughtless pristine awareness for the following reason: at that time, learners misunderstood the meaning and purpose of the Mozhao Chan practice preached by Master Tiantong Hongzhi whenever they heard about it, believing that the silent meditation with thoughtless pristine awareness was tantamount to this practice. Before the actual encounter and interaction between the two masters, Dahui thought that Tiantong’s Mozhao Chan was just like the way it was being propagated by the mistaken practitioners of Mount Tiantong—with contents that fell within the scope of the thoughtless pristine awareness—and therefore refuted it.

To attain thoughtless pristine awareness was never the purpose of the Mozhao Chan taught by Master Tiantong. Before the actual encounter between Dahui and Tiantong, Dahui’s censure of Mozhao Chan focused only on its difficulty in leading its practitioners to true enlightenment but not on the essence and goal of enlightenment achieved by Tiantong. The reason is that the Mozhao Chan as propagated by Master Tiantong Hongzhi was indeed based on the tathāgatagarbha; it did not regard the attainment of the thoughtless pristine awareness of the conscious mind as its ultimate goal. Therefore, although it is difficult to realize the tathāgatagarbha through Tiantong’s Mozhao Chan, the method itself is not completely at fault. The real fault lies with the practitioners during that period and thereafter who misunderstood the target of Tiantong’s realization, mistook the content of his realization for the thoughtless pristine awareness, and henceforth practiced the method of thoughtless pristine awareness in the name of Mozhao Chan. Nevertheless, practitioners of Mozhao Chan need to be aware of the fact that it is extremely easy to mistake the method of silent contemplation as a practice whereby the conscious mind silently contemplates the state in which no delusive thoughts arise.

Chan Master Tiantong’s instructions on Mozhao Chan are as follows: “Silently observe and contemplate the imperfection of pristine awareness with thoughts and the imperfection of pristine awareness without thoughts, silently observe and contemplate the impermanent and unreal nature of the decision maker, manas, and silently observe and contemplate the illusory nature of the various aspects of the conscious mind. Having made thorough observations and contemplation into the imperfection, impermanence, and illusory nature, could it not be that only the tathāgatagarbha is the True Mind? As a result, one will not be too far away from attaining awakening.” Unfortunately, practitioners at that time all misunderstood Master Tiantong’s original intent and mistakenly treated the state of absolute purity in thoughtless pristine awareness as that of enlightenment attained through Mozhao Chan. They did not believe Chan Master Dahui’s remarks of true enlightenment being beyond the thoughtless pristine awareness and claimed that the term “enlightenment” was only a posit, an expedient teaching to attract practitioners. In short, what Master Dahui berated as “erroneous Mozhao Chan” was the misinterpreted practice rather than the Mozhao Chan preached by Master Tiantong.

What are the flaws of practicing Mozhao? The practice cannot bring forth the prajna wisdom. Chan practitioners should be fully aware of this! Mozhao will inevitably lead to the state of thoughtless pristine awareness, with the meditative concentration on neither perception nor non-perception as its ultimate achievement. However, most practitioners of Mozhao Chan in the past and present alike even have difficulties attaining the first dhyana, let alone the meditative concentration on neither perception nor non-perception. Even if one could attain the latter, it would be impossible for them to attain nirvana, realize the reality of True Suchness, or, even more so, to generate prajna wisdom.

Nevertheless, Dahui never held anything against those who fervently supported and propagated Mozhao Chan but wanted instead to help liberate them with wholehearted passion. As a result, many of them who emphatically preached Mozhao Chan and censured against Dahui were actually saved from committing grievous false speech and became enlightened bodhisattvas after being delivered by the wise, selfless and compassionate act of Dahui. For instance, Zhengang, a government official in Song dynasty, who vehemently opposed Huatou Chan taught by Dahui and embraced Mozhao Chan for his entire life, was saved by Master Dahui through Huatou Chan and became an enlightened bodhisattva. Before meeting Dahui, Zhengang had misunderstood the essence of Mozhao Chan, the teachings in Buddhist scriptural texts, and the implications of Chan patriarchs, using them to prove himself a truly enlightened person. Eventually, Dahui guided him towards realizing the state of ultimate reality, tathāgatagarbha. He is a typical example of Mozhao Chan’s follower who fell within the scope of the pristine thoughtless awareness, yet erroneously claiming himself to be enlightened and refuted Dahui but ended up being saved and guided by Dahui to attain awakening.

II. The Eighth Consciousness, Tathāgatagarbha, Is What Chan Masters Dahui and Tiantong Both Had Realized

Chan Master Tiantong stated:  “Not a thought arising in sitting meditation is like dead water; one should not be immersed in such dead water.” Thus, it is quite clear that his state of enlightenment certainly does not refer to the state of sitting meditation without a thought arising, namely the state of thoughtless pristine awareness. Master Tiantong disapproved of those who took the state of thoughtless pristine awareness void of any arising thoughts achieved during sitting meditation for enlightenment and rebuked them, including all the nominal Chan masters who misunderstood the principle of the Caodong School during his era. Thereafter, successors of the Caodong School regarded the wordless perceptive state of mind during sitting meditation as the true and permanent mind; one is considered to be enlightened during such sitting meditation and becomes unenlightened when any word or language arises. All the Chan masters who preach Mozhao Chan ought to firmly bear in mind the words of Mozhao Chan’s founding father, Chan Master Tiantong Zhengjue.

Tiantong further commented: “If one can extinguish the physical body, the conscious mind, and the thoughtless pristine awareness,  one is not left with nothingness but with the most numinous and responsive mind that clearly and constantly detects what one thinks even when one is in the state of thoughtless pristine awareness. Although it is formless like the infinite space, this mind is not within the sphere of nothing whatsoever or absolute nothingness. The true meaning of Mozhao Chan is to silently contemplate that all is illusory and realize that beyond those, what remains is a mind that truly exists—the tathāgatagarbha, the True Mind, which, according to Tiantong, “was what patriarch Aśvaghoṣa spoke about.”  This is the practice of Mozhao Chan taught by Master Tiantong Hongzhi. It does not consist of silently contemplating the following: the states of the conscious mind with or without thoughts, the state in which no thoughts arise for an extended period of time, or even less, “the brief moment of thoughtless pristine awareness experienced when the former thought has ceased and the subsequent thought has not yet arisen.” However, people often misapprehend the recorded sayings of patriarch Tiantong Hongzhi, mistake the illusory mind without a single thought for the True Mind and thereby inevitably become perpetually trapped in the cyclic existence.

It is only through the form of verbalization, language, sound, letters and words, and acts that the thoughtless pristine awareness cognizes the mentation of sentient beings. On the other hand, the permanent True Mind is able to gain knowledge of the mental activities of sentient beings without any of these forms. It is not necessary to elicit the help of spoken languages or the functions of seeing, hearing, feeling or knowing to connect with the True Mind. Such unique characteristic is described by Master Tiantong as “that which transcends languages as well as the functions of seeing and hearing” and is in fact entirely different from the thoughtless pristine awareness, which necessarily operates  amidst the existence of languages as well as the functions of seeing and hearing. From these teachings of Chan Master Tiantong, it is evident that the mind realized through Master Tiantong’s Mozhao Chan is definitely not the mind of thoughtless pristine awareness.

As Tiantong commented, “It [the tathāgatagarbha, True Mind] simply reflects distinctly and transcendently without being affected by any dharma on this shore or being restricted by the state of quiescence and cessation on the other shore.” What does “this shore” mean? It means that the tathāgatagarbha, True Mind, has never been influenced by any phenomena of the six sense objects during the cyclic existence of sentient beings within the three realms.  What does “the other shore” mean? It refers to the state of nirvana; the tathāgatagarbha, True Mind, of arhats that abides in nirvana without remainder is also not restricted by the state of quiescence and cessation. What does “reflects distinctly” mean? “Distinctly” means that the tathāgatagarbha, True Mind, exhibits luminous detection beyond the six sense objects; it does not perform the functions of seeing, hearing, feeling and cognizing within the six sense objects, and yet distinctly reflects  the various phenomena that it generates, hence the use of the term “distinctly.”  The True Mind never becomes lethargic or falls asleep; it always distinctly detects all dharmas other than the six sense objects that it reflects. In other words, whether it is in the state of dreamless sleep, thorough death, unconsciousness, or in the embryo state, or in the meditative absorption of cessation, it always remains distinctly clear and never becomes lethargic; such is the exact meaning of distinctiveness. What does “reflects” mean? It refers to the True Mind’s capability of detecting the mental activities of sentient beings as well as the mountains, rivers and landscapes of all worlds included and the timely execution of the causes and conditions of karmic fruitions. In a narrow sense, the tathāgatagarbha, True Mind, thoroughly detects all acts and intents of the first seven consciousnesses, hence the term “reflect.” In a broader sense, all mountains, rivers, and landscapes as well as all phenomena in the worlds of the ten directions are all within the scope of the True Mind’s silent reflection.

“The one that simply reflects distinctly” mentioned by Tiantong refers to the tathāgatagarbha that is not afftected by any phenomenon on this shore nor restricted by the quiescence and cessation on the other shore. It is not about the state in which the perceptive mind remains thoughtless for an extended or a short period of time, nor the brief instance of thoughtlessness that occcurs between the previous thought and the subsequent thought. All these states are within the scope of the six sense objects, which are observed by the conscious perceptive mind, and therefore do not transcend the states of the six sense objects. As a result, the conscious mind is constantly under the influence of the six sense objects and all phenomena. When the mind of thoughtless pristine awareness dwells in a silent, tranquil, and thoughtless state, it is precisely restricted by this thoughtless tranquil state.  Tathāgatagarbha, however, remains quiescent in noisy and bustling states; despite being in a quiescent state, it is still able to handle the first seven consciousnesses as well as the mental activities of the thoughtless pristine awareness. Therefore, the tathāgatagarbha always operates freely without being restricted by the state of quiescence and cessation. The mind of thoughtless pristine awareness never operates in this way and is therefore not the True Mind set forth by Tiantong.

The teachings of Tiantong are extensively based on the essence and functions of the eighth consciousness, tathāgatagarbha, which correspond exactly to the content realized by Dahui. Their enlightenment was not attained through an extended period of thoughtless sitting meditation but rather through awakening to the True Mind in an instant. Since it is extremely difficult to attain enlightenment through the practice of Mozhao—it is easy to fall into the state of thoughtless pristine awareness after sitting in silent meditation for a prolonged period of time—Dahui called this method “erroneous Mozhao Chan” before his encounter with Tiantong not without reasons. The erroneous Mozhao Chan refuted by Dahui in later period pointed to learners who misinterpreted Tiantong’s  teachings of Mozhao Chan but not to the actual Mozhao Chan.

Tiantong stated: “The tathāgatagarbha is not obstructed by any substance or influenced by any phenomenal dharma of the six sense objects, and freely dwells in the state of quiescence and cessation at all times. While permanently dwells in the state of quiescence and cessation, it still operates unceasingly without hindrance within spoken language, written word, and noisy happenings. Even when the perceptive mind is in  topsy-turvy dreams, in dreamless sleep (a mindless state) or in the state of absorption of cessation, the tathāgatagarbha remains in the state of quiescence and cessation, yet it functions constantly. Having realized and directly observed the tathāgatagarbha and its characteristic of the ultimate reality being unimpeded and unconstrained by any substance or quiescence, one realizes that all phenomena can be subsumed under the tathāgatagarbha, and they all naturally come under one roof in the same family. Likewise, the illusory mind and all phenomena of the six sense objects also belong to the tathāgatagarbha and at this point, what difference could there be between the True Mind and the illusory mind? That is indeed the mind realized by Master Tiantong. On the other hand, thoughtless pristine awareness could never reach the same level or possess the same state.

According to the tenets of the Chan School, the target of realization is nothing other than the tathāgatagarbha. Therefore, if “practitioners of the Chan School” truly want to achieve enlightenment, they should quickly abandon the erroneous view that the thoughtless pristine awareness is tantamount to the true and permanent mind. Instead, they should use the thoughtless pristine awareness of the sixth consciousness as a tool to seek out the eighth consciousness, tathāgatagarbha, which co-exists with the sixth consciousness. Master Dahui’s statements refer to the objective of realization in the Chan School: practitioners cannot enter the Chan door without realizing the storehouse consciousness [ālaya consciousness]. In other words, those who wish to follow the Chan approach to bring forth the true prajna wisdom can only achieve it by realizing the ālaya consciousness. By highlighting the content realized through Tiantong’s Mozhao Chan, we aim to demonstrate that what Master Tiantong realized was the tathāgatagarbha and not the thoughtless pristine awareness of the sixth consciousness. We hope that contemporary Buddhist masters and practitioners can have confidence and faith in it; only then does the effort towards realizing the essence of prajna Chan of Chan School becomes a hopeful possibility.

That which is realized does not have cognition within the scope of the six sense objects. Rather, it possesses immeasurable merits of detecting countless external phenomena that are not discerned by the six consciousnesses. Indeed, it is the eighth consciousness, the tathāgatagarbha, and therefore can be called the True Mind. Such a mind does not discriminate within, observe, or cognize the six sense objects; it can be said to transcend the materiality of sound and form; this is the true meaning of the statement that the seeing and hearing functions of the eighth consciousness—tathāgatagarbha—wondrously transcend all forms and sounds.  Hence, Chan Master Tiantong specifically taught the intrinsic nature of the True Mind as follows:

Such a mind does not possess the characteristics of a regular mind known to sentient beings: it is free from the natures of seeing, hearing, feeling or cognizing the six sense objects, i.e., free from the natures of seeing, hearing, feeling or cognizing that pertain to the six consciousnesses and that are known to sentient beings; this mind always detects beyond the six sense objects. As such characteristics are different from those of the conscious mind known to  sentient beings, this mind is named the “non-mind mind.” Only those who have realized this non-mind mind can be referred to as genuine non-mind practitioners.

Chan Master Tiantong arduously promoted Mozhao Chan throughout his life. His Mozhao Chan, however, does not teach practitioners to achieve the state of thoughtless pristine awareness through sitting meditation. Rather, it teaches practitioners to contemplate and observe the nature of the seeing, hearing, feeling, and cognizing of the six consciousnesses in order to thoroughly understand all the varying states of the mental consciousness or the six consciousnesses. Thereby practitioners will be able to rule out those varying states of the perceptive conscious mind, and can naturally correspond to the eighth consciousness, tathāgatagarbha, which does not fall within the characteristics of the six consciousnesses. Such is the true meaning and teachings of the Mozhao Chan.

Chan Master Tiantong further elaborated these teachings: “During each and every manifestation of the law of causality, the permanent True Mind presents itself clearly at all times; there are no other places other than the manifestations of the law of causality that the permanent mind can be found.” Furthermore, he emphasized that having found the permanent True Mind, one, even more, should eliminate,  extinguish, and subdue one’s mind—the mind of the six consciousnesses.  Once this mind is detached from the states of the six sense objects and the clinging nature of the six consciousnesses is eradicated, practitioners are then liberated from transmigration in the three realms and then re-enter the three realms freely to help liberate sentient beings. All the aforementioned show that Chan Master Tiantong did not take the mind of thoughtless pristine awareness as the permanent mind. Therefore, one should utilize one’s conscious mind as a tool to search for the eighth consciousness, tathāgatagarbha, that co-exists with the other minds. Hence, the correct practice of Chan method does not aim at eliminating the functional nature of the seeing, hearing, feeling and cognizing consciousnesses, but to use the perceptive conscious mind to search for the eighth consciousness that does not see, hear, feel or know.  This is the way of practice to attain awakening to the True Mind in the Chan School.

Based on the teachings of Master Tiantong, it is clear that what he realized and taught was not the thoughtless pristine awareness of the conscious mind but the fundamental mind king that is “wondrous though quiescent.” Quiescent means that it is detached from the functions of seeing, hearing, feeling or cognizing the six sense objects whereas wondrous means that it can instantaneously correspond with the illusory perspective mind and reveal its wondrous features that are known to those truly enlightened ones. These wondrous features are equally present in ordinary people and the noble practitioners of the Two Vehicles but are not known to them. That is why Chan masters said: “That which we make use of every day without even being aware of it.”

How to prove the fact that the content realized by Tiantong was the same as that realized by Dahui? Master Tiantong specifically cited a Gong’an taught by Chan Master Dongshan Liangjie. This Gong’an uses an eighty-year-old woman as a metaphor for the permanent tathāgatagarbha and a three-year-old boy as a metaphor for the thoughtless pristine awareness. The True Mind, tathāgatagarbha, is like an “eighty-year-old” woman married to this three-year-old child, who endlessly obeys the boy’s orders without its own will; nevertheless, it is never been bound nor confined. Practitioners who have attained enlightenment through Dahui’s Huatou Chan can ascertain that this teaching from the patriarch of the Caodong School fully matches the doctrines of Dahui. It is evident that the contents realized by both Masters are identical.

III. Dahui Zonggao Initiated a Visit to Tiantong and Became His Lifelong Best friend. After Tiantong’s Death, Dahui Zonggao Travelled Overnight to Preside over Tiantong’s Funeral

Soon after having settled down as abbot of Yuwang Mountain in Mingzhou, Dahui visited Hongzhi Zhengjue in Tiantong Mountain—the two mountains were only 20 lis apart; Chan Master Zhengjue welcomed Dahui at a pavilion outside his temple and both cordially, repeatedly took bows and greeted each other. This episode of their friendship was extolled by many at that time.

According to the record of Shengjiantang Shugu, in the latter part of his life, Chan Master Dahui met up with Tiantong Hongzhi Zhengjue regularly. According to the formal historical records of the Chan School, there were only three documented encounters between the two: two planned visits in Tiantong Mountain and one unexpected encounter at the residence of Cheng Jinke (a governmental official), which was officially accounted in Volume 1 of Shengjiantang Shugu.

During his second visit to Tiantong Mountain, Master Daihui was again invited to give a Dharma talk to the assembly, just like during his first visit. This can also be traced historically.

All historical records of the Chan School indicate that Dahui visited Tiantong Mountain three times but none was for the purpose of paying Tiantong visit as the result of his illness. During the first two visits, Dahui was invited to give Dharma talks to the assembly. Chan Master Hongzhi attended the entirety of those lectures in good health and banged the gavel throughout their process; evidently, the reason for those two visits by Dahui was not because Chan Master Hongzhi was ill. The third visit to Tiantong Mountain took place around midnight, about six to eight hours after Hongzhi’s death, when Dahui received Tiantong’s will at Yuwang Mountain at the early evening hours and rushed over to preside over Hongzhi’s funeral as requested by him.

According to historical records, during the two visits to Tiantong Mountain that he initiated, Chan Master Dahui left behind some teachings. After Chan Master Tiantong’s death, Chan Master Dahui wrote a praise on Tiantong Hongzhi’s portrait and composed a verse to extoll him (based on Volume 12, “Praising the Buddha and Patriarch,” by Chan Master Dahui Pujue).

Sometime between 8 to 10 a.m. in the morning on the eighth day of the tenth month in the fall of the twenty-seventh year of Shaoxing, after bathing and changing his clothes, Chan Master Zhengjue sat upright in meditation position and told those in the audience that he was going to pass away. He then asked for ink and pen from his attendant to write a letter to Chan Master Dahui requesting Dahui to preside over his funeral. In the letter, he composed the following verse:

Dreams, illusions, and sky flowers,

Sixty-seven years of life;

The white bird disappears into the mist,

Autumn water merges with the sky.

After he finished writing, Master Zhengjue tossed the pen and passed away. Master Dahui received the letter that night and rushed immediately to Tiantong Mountain. On the fourteenth day of the tenth month, the body of Master Zhengjue was interred in the Donggu Pagoda. Laymen and monks and nuns packed the valley to mourn and pay respect to him.

According to the historical records of Chan, Dahui presided over the funeral for Hongzhi at Tiantong Mountain on the night of the eleventh day of the tenth month in the twenty-seventh year of Shaoxing.

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A Summary of the Dull Bird versus the Bright Tortoise