For many Chan Buddhist the Platform Sutra is our primary guide. Although Hui-neng, the supposed author tells us to study the Diamond Sutra. It was upon hearing a line from the Diamond that he realized enlightenment. He claims to have had a deeper experience after Hungren, the fifth patriarch explained the Diamond Sutra to him. This is all explained in the first few sections of the Platform Sutra.
The English translations that have been made are based on Chinese editions found at two different sites. They are the Tunhuang and the Tsungpao editions. The Tunhuang version was written between 700 and 860 depending on which scholar’s guess you think is most accurate. The Tsungpao edition was written in 1291. This seems to be a solid agreed upon date. Red Pines translation is based on a version from Tunhuang site. He gives far more detail concerning what various scholars believe about which is most original and addresses the controversies concerning authorship. I recommend that you read his book. I am only posting here to point you to the moon.
What are the key points of Hui-nengs teachings. The story is that Hui-neng was a poor uneducated boy and was delivering firewood to a customer when he heard someone reciting the Diamond Sutra. He had an enlightenment experience when he heard a line about not being attached to anything and having a mind that does not abide anywhere. His teaching is that all beings have Buddha-nature and we do not have to cultivate it through study. If we create concepts about enlightenment and Buddha we become attached to them and they prevent us from experiencing our true Buddha-nature (mind-essence.)
Hui-neng is constantly leading us out of the world of form into the formless. He gives us the formless precepts: to take refuge in enlightenment within our own bodies, to take refuge in the truth and to take refuge in purity, all within our own bodies. He is continually warning us that if we are looking outside ourselves for some other Buddha or for some experience we are creating concepts that prevent us from seeing our true Buddha-nature.
Hui-neng teaches that when we have good thoughts we are Buddhas and when we have bad thoughts we are ordinary people. In his teaching on the three bodies he tells us that good thoughts come from our dharma-body and because of the transformation-body we are transformed. When every next thought is good that is our realization body. One thing that is apparent here is the connection between mental formations, an object of the mind (one of the six sense gates) and our absolute nature. Thus we can see one-ness or non-duality in operation. It should be noted here that there are differences of opinion as to how much of the Platform Sutra is Hui-neng’s teaching and how much is the teaching of Shen-hui and other deciples.
His teaching on meditation is not what I would have expected. There are no instructions for sitting and he does not present the traditional circle of sila (morality), concentration, and prajna (wisdom or insight). These aspects of meditation are often presented as a sequence beginning with morality and leading to a calm or still mind with leads to wisdom. However Hui-neng tells us that meditation and wisdom are one. One does not lead to the other. He says where there is wisdom there is meditation and where there is meditation there is wisdom. This reminded me of Dogen’s teaching that our practice is enlightenment.
Another Mahayana theme that Hui-neng presents is non-duality or oneness of things. We should not divide things into good and bad, right and wrong, love and hate, etc. This was also the teaching of Sang T’san, the third patriarch in his poem Hsin Hsin Ming.
Traditional Mahayana teachings are woven into the Platform Sutra such as the four Bodhisattva vows: to liberate all beings, to end all afflictions, to master all teachings, and to attain Buddha-hood. He also elaborates on the teaching of Mahaprajnaparamita. Maha means great in sanskrit and prajna is wisdom. Prajnaparamita is ultimate wisdom or the wisdom that leads to the other shore beyond the cycle of birth and death.
OK I’ve mentioned a few key points. I hope this causes enough interest that you will get your own copy of the Platform Sutra or like me will acquire all the different translations you can find. This along with the Heart Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, the Lankavatara Sutra and the Vimalakirty Sutra are my guides. Best Wishes and Loving kindness to you ALL.