The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch

The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch

with translation, introduction, and notes by Philip B. Yampolsky
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 276
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  • Book Info
    The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch
    Book Description:

    Dating back to the eighth century C.E., the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch is a foundational text of Chan/Zen Buddhism that reveals much about the early evolution of Chinese Chan and the ideological origins of Japanese Zen and Korean Son. Purported to be the recorded words of the famed Huineng, who was understood to be the Sixth Patriarch of Chan and the father of all later Chan/Zen Buddhism, the Platform Sutra illuminates fundamental Chan Buddhist principles in an expressive sermon that describes how Huineng overcame great personal and ideological challenges to uphold the exalted lineage of the enlightened Chan patriarchs while realizing the ultimate Buddhist truth of the original, pure nature of all sentient beings.

    Huineng seems to reject meditation, the value of good karma, and the worship of the buddhas, conferring instead a set of "formless precepts" on his audience, marked by embedded notes in the text. In his central message, an inherent, perfect buddha nature stands as the original true condition of all sentient beings, which people of all backgrounds can experience for themselves. Philip Yampolsky's masterful translation contains extensive explanatory notes and an edited, amended version of the Chinese text. His introduction critically considers the background and historical setting of the work and locates Huineng's place within the history and legends of Chan Buddhism. This new edition features a foreword by Morten Schlütter further situating the Platform Sutra within recent historical research and textual evidence, and an updated glossary that includes the modern pinyin system of transcription.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50134-7
    Subjects: Religion, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword to the Reprint Edition
    (pp. ix-xii)

    Widely read and retold in East Asia since the eighth century, the Platform Sūtra of the Sixth Patriarch is a foundational text of Chan Buddhism (known in Japan as “Zen”). The origins of the text can be traced back to the beginnings of Chan itself in seventh-century China, but for centuries the only known editions of the Platform Sūtra dated to 1290 or later. However, in the first decades of the twentieth century an early manuscript of the Platform Sūtra was found in a hidden temple library at Dunhuang in western China. This text, dating to ca. 780 and in...

  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xiv)

    The Platform Sūtra of the Sixth Patriarch is one of the Translations from the Asian Classics by which the Committee on Asian Studies has sought to transmit to Western readers representative works of the major Asian traditions in thought and literature. These are works which in our judgment any eduated man should have read. Frequently, however, this reading has been denied him by the lack of suitable translations. All too often he has had to choose between excerpts in popular anthologies on the one hand, and heavily annotated translations intended primarily for the specialist on the other. Here we offer...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    • I. The Formation of the Legend
      (pp. 1-57)

      By the time that the T’ang dynasty had gained control of a unified China in 618, Buddhism was already firmly entrenched on Chinese soil. From its modest beginnings as a religion introduced by traveling merchants and both Indian and Central Asian missionaries in the first and second centuries, it had spread throughout all levels of Chinese society. Vast temple complexes, awe-inspiring in their magnificence, stood in the cities and towns; great monastic communities graced the top of many a lofty mountain. Imposing works of sculpture and painting and an elaborate and ornate ritual stirred the hearts and minds of the...

    • II. The Birth of a Patriarch: Biography of Hui-neng
      (pp. 58-88)

      We have seen how Ch’an in the eighth century began with a school that emphasized the Lankāvatāra Sutra, under the direction of an illustrious and learned priest, Shen-hsiu. He was revered as few were in his time, and honors were heaped upon him; gradually his power and position grew. Among his disciples were priests of no less fame, who carried on his teachings. To assure its newly acquired position among other Buddhist sects, this Ch’an school was in need of historical records to prove its legitimacy and to attest to the antiquity of its teaching. To this end records of...

    • III. The Making of a Book: The Platform Sutra
      (pp. 89-110)

      By the end of the eighth century the Ch’an legend that was to persist had been established. The Pao-lin chuan, written in 801, had adjusted the list of the twenty-eight Patriarchs, presenting them in an acceptable form, and had helped to solidify the legend of Hui-neng. The version of Ch’an it furnished was, of course, not adopted at once, nor did variant legends simply die out when the Pao-lin chuan was written, but because the later Ch’an histories followed its theories, the story it presented came eventually to be the official one. But while the legend was, by the beginning...

    • IV. Content Analysis
      (pp. 111-122)

      All the difficulties encountered in attempting to place the Platform Sutra in a positive historical setting repeat themselves when one attempts to deal with the thought and ideas contained in the work. One can, however, make a few remarks about the thought and structure of the Platform Sutra as a whole. There is a certain plan of arrangement detectable; some sections have been added by the compilers, as has been previously noted, with a specific purpose in mind. At the risk of occasional repetition, let us examine the work briefly in terms of the content of the various sections.


    (pp. 123-184)

    1. The Master Hui-neng ascended the high seat at the lecture hall of the Ta-fan Temple and expounded the Dharma of the Great Perfection of Wisdom, and transmitted the precepts of formlessness. At that time over ten thousand monks, nuns, and lay followers sat before him. The prefect of Shao-chou, Wei Ch’ü,⁵ some thirty officials from various departments, and some thirty Confucian scholars⁶ all begged the Master to preach on the Dharma of the Great Perfection of Wisdom. The prefect then had the monk-disciple Fa-hai record his words so that they might become known to later generations and be of benefit...

  9. Glossary
    (pp. 185-194)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 195-208)
  11. Index
    (pp. 209-216)
    (pp. 217-250)

    A photographic reproduction of the Tun-huang manuscript of the Platform Sutra contained in the Stein Collection (S5475) was used as the basic text.

    In correcting and emending the text, the following method has been followed:

    The text of the Tun-huang manuscript, as found in the original work, is given in large-size type. Square brackets are used to indicate characters I have supplied when there is a lacuna in the text; parentheses (curves) are used to indicate superfluous characters in the text.

    Corrections to the text are in smaller-size type, and are placed to the right of the text itself. These...

  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 251-260)