This series will be a loose commentary on what is believed to be the first Zen (Chan) document, the Xin-Xin Ming (“Treatise on Trust in Mind”). As with most every other document with which we treat, this one is also embedded in ambiguity. It is purported to have been written by the (legendary) Third Patriarch of Zen, Jianzhi Sengcan (Seng-ts’an) (529-613 CE), but this is widely disputed. Even the correct translation of the title and its meaning is completely ambiguous.


All this works to our advantage, needless to say. We can make of it whatever we wish. It’s of only scholarly interest what the author actually intended to say. We don’t believe in any case. This is not scripture. We care nothing for the passing of the torch of Truth. We take all claims of Realization of some Absolute as a mythical trap which can only entangle us in religious self-deceit. We slap Zen upside the head—just as Zen would have us do. We laugh at any offence taken, and take it as the proof of our assertion.

Yet what a beautiful document it is. It never ceases to inspire. Numerous translations can be found at: I will take Richard B. Clarke’s “provisional” translation (Hsin-Hsin Ming: Verses on Faith-Mind, White Pine Press, 1973) as my standard.

Though the work is Buddhist through and through, the vocabulary is distinctly Daoist, which serves to illustrate the origins of Zen as a confluence of Daoist and Buddhist thought. This commentary will be as through the eyes of Zhuangzi as I understand him; the Buddhism will thus doubtless suffer. And, of course, all I say will be completely innocent of any claims to practical personal realization and thus of the authority that that is thought to bring.

The goal is to be inspired and to inspire—and inspiration is an open-ended experience.

2 thoughts on “TRUST IN LIFE I”

  1. Hi Scott,
    Hope you’re well. I just wanted to say that this is a brilliant post.

    It surprisingly makes a pleasant change to discuss somebody other than Zhuangzi. Reading this post prompted me to dig out my copy of Seng-ts’an’s Faith in Mind. It has probably been at least a decade since I last read it. As I was reading it, it became evident to me how much Seng-ts’an had plagiarised Zhuangzi. In fact, there seems to be slightly more Daoism than Buddhism. Interestingly when we get to the sixth patriarch Hui Neng’s Platform Sutra, we’re heading into Mahayana Buddhist territory with a much higher ratio of Buddhism to Daoism. I’m referring to the Song dynasty text as opposed to the Tun-Huang text.

    I think it’s unfortunate that most of those Chan Buddhists didn’t give any credit to Zhuangzi. Master Dogen was the worst culprit. In the Shobogenzo he is very critical of Chan Buddhists who are influenced by Laozi and Zhuangzi.

    However many Chan/Zen poets such as Han-Shan and Ryokan are more open and honest about the pleasure they get from their readings of Zhuangzi and it clearly shows in their poetry.

    1. Hi Again. I’m truly glad to hear you enjoyed the post. I have to admit that I worried that the negative edge I put on it might have put people off. But the way I see it, that’s what a lot of Zen is about–giving the whole business a good slap.

      You clearly have much more knowledge of Buddhism that I do–I admit that I find it overwhelming. Thus your insights are very helpful. Thanks.

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