The Platform Sutra has been a great help to me. It’s not filled with impossible riddles and flowery symbolism. It’s direct and easy to understand. However understanding the concepts is one thing; Putting it into practice in daily meditation and life is quite different. I’m still working on that and I suppose will be for what ever time I have left. The core teaching is: “let go of attachment to external things and see your pure Buddha nature, mind-essence. Sounds easy but it may take life times of determination and practice.
But this post is not about the practice itself but some notes on what we know about how we have come to have the versions that are available to us today.
For many years the English versions that were available were based on a Chinese edition that was edited by the monk Tsung-pao in 1291. As far as I know the first english translation of this edition was produced by Wong Mou-lam in 1930.
The Buddhist Translation Society produced an English version from this Tsungpao version titled The Sixth Patriarch’s Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra. The first edition was published in Hong Kong in 1971. A second edition was published in the USA in 1977.
In 1932 Dwight Goddard published a version based on Wong Mou-lam’s translation in The Buddhist Bible.
Upasake Lu K’uan Yu (Charles Luk) produced a series of three books titled Ch’an and Zen Teaching. His translation of the of the Platform Sutra is found in Series three published in 1962 and is titled The Dharma Treasure of the Alter Sutra.
In 1923 a shorter and older version of the Platform Sutra was found in the British Museum. This document was one of many brought back from the Tunhuang/Dunhuang caves. This version was arranged differently and was shorter than the Tsungpao version. It was believed to have been written sometime around 850 and was based on an earlier version dating back possibly as far as 780. According to history the Platform Sutra was originally written down by a disciple of Hui-neng, Fa-hai. This Tunhuang version was found by a Japanese scholar, Yabuki Keiki. Keiki produced an edited version that was included in Volume 48 of Taisho edition of the Buddhist Canon published in Japan. In 1934 Daisetz Suzuki produced an improved edition and in 1963 Wing-tsit Chan gave us an English translation of Suzuki’s edition. Philip Yampolsky again translated Suzuki’s work into English in 1967 with the title The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch.
Red Pine’s translation was published 2006 and was based on a Tunhuang copy found in the Chienfotung Caves in 1935. This copy was more legible and had fewer mistakes than the copy found in the British Museum. Red Pine’s notes and commentaries are extensive and thorough. One can spend a lifetime absorbing the wisdom he has brought together in this book. I am no scholar and I only pass along the work of other brilliant men in hopes that you will look into their work yourself and experience your own Buddha Nature.
All of these teachers from the historical buddha up to the present day masters are trying to convey their experience of reality in order to help us find liberation from suffering. There is no short cut to understanding the emptiness (shunyata) of all dharmas including our own bodies. We must study and meditate and we must live moral lives with loving kindness and compassion for all beings. Red Pine tells us that Hui-neng did not teach concepts but only sought to free those in his audience from concepts that blocked them from seeing their Buddha Nature. We too must be determined to find this freedom.
Loving Kindness to All.
R C Hess