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Huangbo's reply on "What is conventional truth?"

My translation of Huangbo's 'Essential Dharma of Mind Transmission'




Someone asks: What is conventional truth1 ?

Teacher says: Why talk about kudzu2 ? What’s originally clear and pure does not depend on words-and-speeches or questions-and-answers. Just be without all possible minds; this is then called jnana with no-asava3 . Every day, in moving-standing-sitting-reclining and talking, just do not be attached to conditioned dharmas. Then your verbal utterance and blinking of eyes will all be equivalent to no-asava.

In these days of the dharma-ending age, most students of the Way and zen are all attached to sights and sounds. Why not allow your own mind to be one that’s identical to empty sky, to be like that of withered wood and rock, to be like that of cold ash and dead fire? Then there can be some small bit of resonance. For if not, there will be that someday when you would be tortured by old Yama4 continuously. But if you leave and abandon all dharmas of existence and non-existence, with mind like a round sun constantly in the empty sky, this radiant clarity will naturally not shine so that there can be shining/reflection. Doesn’t this save energy?

When it is as such, nestlessness is thus the practice of the Buddhas’ practice. This is the mind that arises without any place to dwell in5 . This is your clear-pure dharmakaya6 that is called anuttara-samyak-sambodhi7 .

If the meaning of this is not understood, even if you attain great erudition from studying, [even if you] diligently practise asceticism – wearing only grass clothes and eating only plants/fruits – without recognising your own mind, they are all called improper practices which will definitely make one a member of the family of heavenly beings and demons. What benefit then can there be in practising so?


  1. There are two types of Truth mentioned in Buddhism – that of Conventional Truth and that of ultimate truth. Conventional truth describes our experience of a substantially existent world. Ultimate truth describes reality as empty of substantial existence.

  2. Kudzu is a climbing and coiling vine. It climbs over trees and shrubs, and can grow so fast that it kills them by heavy shading. It is generally considered an invasive plant and a noxious weed. Check out this picture of the plant:

  3. Jnana can mean Proper Knowing. Asava can mean influx, canker or defilement. So jnana with no-asava can mean a proper knowing that is untainted and uncorrupted by any defilement.

  4. Yama is a lord of hell.

  5. This is a quote from the Diamond Sutra. It refers to the clear-pure mind.

  6. Dharmakaya refers to the dharma body of Buddha.

  7. Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi means unsurpassed equivalent and perfect awakening.

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This post first appeared on Bodhisatva India, please read the originial post: here

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Huangbo's reply on "What is conventional truth?"


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