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The Sutra of Hui-Neng or

Platform Sutra

The Sutra of Hui-Neng or Platform Sutra. Buy the book at Amazon online store. Download free pages Translation by Thomas Cleary

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Review of dnunes from Hawaii

The best available translation of the Sutra of Hui-Neng

Thomas Cleary's translation of the Sutra of Hui-Neng is not only a worthy but long over-due successor to the original translation into English by Wong Mou-Lam, completed in the 1920s. The original has stood the test of time well, but there is little doubt that Cleary's is the more compelling and accessible of the two, to this late 20th century reader, at least.

Hui-Neng lived in the 7th and/or 8th Century A.D. and there is debate as to how much of what has been handed down to us as coming directly from his students and dharma heirs is truly his. In both translations, it is difficult to distinguish the man himself. This is to be expected, of course, given the surviving Chinese text's provenance (it was cobbled together from many different texts, since lost, by a Zen monk in the late Sung Dynasty, some 400 or 500 years after Hui-Neng's death). Even so, it is interesting to contrast the two Hui-Neng translations with that of the Blofied translation of the "Teachings of Huang Po," who lived just a century after Hui-Neng. While Huang Po strides from the page with as much force and presence as as does the late Shunryu Suzuki in his "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind," written in 1970, Hui-Neng seems to swim in a thin fog of myth and fact in the Sutra that bears his name.

But this is seminal Zen work, and my intent is not to challenge its authenticity but to forewarn the reader who expects to find the familiar hard edge of Zen in a master's book that is more personal and mythic than we modern Zen adherents are used to studying.

For those of us who are still looking for a teacher, it is worth noting that Hui-Neng does not insist that a "teacher-less" student is bound to failure. Coming from the last of the Patriarchs, isolated Zen students may find that reassuring.

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