Huang Po – One Mind

Our whole civilization rests on the premise of ‘doing good’ (or at least trying to). However, there are nuances to these noble actions – just doing good for the sake of showing others our ‘good’ nature, will get us no rewards. Here is what the Bible has to say on the matter

Matthew 6:1-4

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

While the Bible admonishes righteousness for the sake of ‘self-glorification’, it has no real problem with righteousness itself. In fact, it advises all men to practice good deeds, albeit without any self-glorification.

In contrast, Zen Buddhism’s take on the matter is a little…well..Zen. For those familiar with Zen, the idea of ‘locking’ your mind in any action – good or bad – is anti-Universe. The Universe simply demands you be present – and not actively interfering. Performing good deeds – is also a form of interference. Here is what an excerpt from Huang Po’s teachings (from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po: On the Transmission of Mind :

The building up of good and evil both involve attachment to form. Those who, being attached to form do evil, have to undergo various unnecessary incarnations; while those who, being attached to form, do good, subject themselves to toil and privation equally to no purpose.

In either case, it is better to achieve sudden self realization and to grasp the fundamental dharma. This dharma is the mind which is the source of everything, and which, appears as sentient beings or as Buddhas, as the rivers and mountains of the world which have form, as that which is formless or as penetrating as the whole Universe, is absolutely without distinctions, there being no such entities as selfness and otherness.

Huang Po, Zen Master (9th century)


We take the infallibility of ‘righteousness’ and ‘noble acts’ as a given. However, major religions point to some subtleties; Christianity warns against self-aggrandizement through righteousness; Zen Buddhism goes a step further and dismisses righteous actions as a waste of effort!

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