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Huángbò Xīyùn (simplified Chinese: 黄檗希运; traditional Chinese: 黄檗希運; Wade–Giles: Huang-po Hsi-yün; literally: "Xiyun of Mt. Huangbo", Japanese: Ōbaku Kiun) was a Zen master of the Tang Dynasty, a disciple of Baizhang Huaihai (720-840), and the teacher of Linji Yixuan (died 866).

Translations of Huangbo's Record

Chinese text

Life and Teaching

Huángbò began his monastic life on Mt. Huangbo in Fujian province, receiving the Buddhist name Hsi-yun. As was the custom of the times, he traveled around seeking instructions from various Chan masters. He visited Mt. Tiantai and sought teachings from the National Teacher Nanyang Huizhong, a great critic of Mazu's teaching that "Mind is Buddha". Mazu (along with his contemporary Shitou), was the most significant inheritor of Huineng's "Southern School" Chan. However, it seems that Huangbo later may also have studied under Nanquan Puyuan (748-835), a student of Mazu Daoyi, and Huángbò’s main teacher was Baizhang Huaihai, another Mazu student. and it was from Baizhang that Huángbò received Dharma transmission.

Very little about Huángbò‘s life is known for certain as, unlike other Transmission of the Lamp literature, there is no biographical information included with Huángbò‘s collection of sayings and sermons, the Ch’uan-hsin Fa-yao (Essential of Mind Transmission) and the Wan-ling Lu (Record of Wan-ling: Japanese: Enryōroku).

In 842, a prominent government official in Kiangsi province, Pei Xiu (Wade–Giles: P’ei Hsiu), invited Huángbò to take up residence at Lung-hsing Monastery. Pei was an ardent student of Chan and received teachings from Huángbò, eventually building a monastery for Huángbò around 846, which the master named Huangbo (Vulture Peak) after the mountain where he had been a novice monk - it is from this mountain that he takes his posthumous name. Before Huángbò died, he named thirteen successors, the most prominent of which was Linji Yixuan, the founder of the Linji Sect which still continues in China and flourishes widely in Japan. Huangbo is in some sense regarded as the founder of this great Branch, although the Obaku sect in Japan claims more direct lineage from him. Like all Chinese monks, he had several names, being known in his lifetime as Master Hsi Yün and as Master T‘uan Chi.

Encounter with Baizhang

According to Yuanwu Keqin's commentary in The Blue Cliff Record, when Huángbò first met Baizhang, Baizhang exclaimed, “Magnificent! Imposing! Where have you come from?” Huángbò replied, “Magnificent and imposing, I’ve come from the mountains.”

The Wild Fox

Whenever Master Baizhang held a meeting, an old man used to listen to the teaching along with the assembly. When the people of the assembly left, the old man would also leave. One day the old man stayed behind, and the master asked him who he was.

The old man said, "I am not a human being. In the past, in the time of a prehistoric Buddha, I used to live on this mountain. As it happened, a student asked me whether or not an enlightened person is also subject to causality. I said that they are not subject to causality, and I fell into the state of a wild fox for five hundred lifetimes. Now I ask you to give me a turning word, so that I may be freed from being a wild fox."

Then, the old man asked, "Are enlightened people free from causality?"

The master said, "They are not blind to causality."

The old man was greatly enlightened as these words. Bowing, he said, "I have shed the wild fox body, which remains on the other side of the mountain. I am taking the liberty of telling you, and asking you to perform a monk's funeral."

So the master had one of the group hit the sounding board and announce to the community that they would send off a dead monk after mealtime. The community debated about this, wondering how it could be so, seeing that everyone was fine and there had been no one in the infirmary. After the meal, the master led the group to a cave on the other side of the mountain, where he fished out a deasd fox with his staff, then cremated it.

That evening, the master went up in the hall and recounted the foregoing events. Huangbo asked, "An ancient who gave a mistaken answer fell into the state of a wild fox for five hundred lifetimes; what would have become of him if he had made no mistake?"

The master said, "Come here and I'll tell you."

Huangbo then approached and gave the master a slap.

The master clapped and said, "I thought that the foreigner's beard was red; but there is the red-bearded foreigner right here!"

Significant Teachings

'Dharma Original Dharma Not Dharma'

You do not see that the fundamental doctrine of the Dharma is that is are no Dharmas, yet that this doctrine of no-Dharma is in itself a Dharma; and now that the No-Dharma doctrine has been transmitted, how can the doctrine of the Dharma be a Dharma?

Mind as Void

Question: How, then, does a man accomplish this comprehension of his own Mind?

Huangbo: That which asked the question is your own Mind; but if you were to remain quiescent and to refrain from the smallest mental activity, its substance would be seen as a void—you would find it formless, occupying no point in space and falling neither into the category of existence nor into that of non-existence. Because it is imperceptible, Bodhidharma said: ‘Mind, which is our real nature, is the unbegotten and indestructible Womb; in response to circumstances, it transforms itself into phenomena. For the sake of convenience, we speak of Mind as the intelligence; but when it does not respond to circumstances, it cannot be spoken of in such dualistic terms as existence or nonexistence. Besides, even when engaged in creating objects in response to causality, it is still imperceptible. If you know this and rest tranquilly in nothingness—then you are indeed following the Way of the Buddhas. Therefore does the Sūtra say: ‘Develop a mind which rests on no thing whatever.'

Final Message in the Record

[Realize] that, though you eat the whole day through, no single grain has passed your lips; and that a day's journey has not taken you a single step forward — also… uniformly [abstain] from such notions as ‘self' and ‘other', do not permit the events of your daily lives to bind you, but never withdraw yourselves from them. Only by acting thus can you earn the title of ‘A Liberated One'.

Never allow yourselves to mistake outward appearance for reality. Avoid the error of thinking in terms of past, present and future. The past has not gone; the present is a fleeting moment; the future is not yet to come. When you practice mind-control, sit in the proper position, stay perfectly tranquil, and do not permit the least movement of your minds to disturb you. This alone is what is called liberation.

Ah, be diligent! Be diligent! Of a thousand or ten thousand attempting to enter by this Gate, only three or perhaps five pass through. If you are heedless of my warnings, calamity is sure to follow. Therefore is it written:

Exert your strength in this life to attain!

Or else incur long aeons of further pain!