A New Translation of the Hsin Hsin Ming, the classic poem by the Third Patriarch of Zen, Seng-Ts’an
The Great Way is not difficult,
Just don’t pick and choose.
If you cut off all likes or dislikes
Everything is clear like space.
Make the slightest distinction
And heaven and earth are set apart.
If you wish to see the truth,
Don’t think for or against.
Likes and dislikes
Are the mind’s disease.
Without understanding the deep meaning
You cannot still your thoughts.
It is clear like space,
Nothing missing, nothing extra.
If you want something
You cannot see things as they are.
If you stop moving to become still,
This stillness always moves.
If you hold on to opposites,
How can you know One?
If you don’t understand One,
This and that cannot function.
Denied, the world asserts itself.
Pursued, emptiness is lost.
The more you think and talk,
The more you lose the Way.
Cut off all thinking
And pass freely anywhere.
Return to the root and understand.
Chase appearances and lose the source.
One moment of enlightenment
Illuminates the emptiness before you.
Emptiness changing into things
Is only our deluded view.
Do not seek the truth.
Only put down your opinions.
Do not live in the world of opposites.
Be careful! Never go that way.
If you make right and wrong,
Your mind is lost in confusion.
Two comes from One,
But do not cling even to this One.
When your mind is undisturbed
The ten thousand things are without fault.
No fault, no ten thousand things,
No disturbance, no mind.
No world, no one to see it.
No one to see it, no world.
This becomes this because of that.
That becomes that because of this.
If you wish to understand both,
See them as originally one emptiness.
In emptiness the two are the same,
And each holds the ten thousand things.
If you no longer see them as different,
How can you prefer one to another?
The Way is calm and wide,
Not easy, not difficult.
But small minds get lost.
Hurrying, they fall behind.
Clinging, they go too far,
Sure to take a wrong turn,
Just let it be! In the end,
Nothing goes, nothing stays.
Follow nature and become one with the Way,
Free and easy and undisturbed.
Tied by your thoughts, you lose the truth,
Become heavy, dull, and unwell.
Not well, the mind is troubled.
Then why hold or reject anything?
If you want to get the One Vehicle
Do not despise the world of the senses.
When you do not despise the six senses,
That is already enlightenment.
The wise do not act.
The ignorant bind themselves.
In true Dharma there is no this or that,
So why blindly chase your desires?
Using mind to stir up the mind
Is the original mistake.
Peaceful and troubled are only thinking.
Enlightenment has no likes or dislikes.
All opposites arise
From faulty views.
Illusions, flowers in the air —
Why try to grasp them?
Win, lose, right, wrong —
Put it all down!
If the eye never sleeps,
Dreams disappear by themselves.
If the mind makes no distinctions,
The ten thousand things are one essence.
Understand this dark essence
And be free from entanglements.
See the ten thousand things as equal
And you return to your original nature
Enlightened beings everywhere
All enter this source.
This source is beyond time and space.
One moment is ten thousand years.
Even if you cannot see it,
The whole universe is before your eyes.
Infinitely small is infinitely large:
No boundaries, no differences.
Infinitely large is infinitely small:
Measurements do not matter here.
What is is the same as what is not.
What is not is the same as what is.
Where it is not like this,
Don’t bother staying.
One is all,
All is one.
When you see things like this,
You do not worry about being incomplete.
Trust and Mind are not two.
Not-two is trusting the Mind.
Words and speech don’t cut it,
Can’t now, never could, won’t ever.
Seng-Ts’an was the third Chinese patriarch of Zen, having received transmission from Bodhidharma’s successor, Hui K’o. The poem attributed to him, the “Hsin Hsin Ming” (lit. “Trust Mind Inscription), is one of the earliest and most influential Zen writings, blending together Buddhist and Taoist teachings.
The translator, Zen Master Hae Kwang, teaches Zen at the Kansas Zen Center and Classics at the University of Kansas.