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: https://terebess.hu/english/hsin.html 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.