The Sixth Patriarch of Zen: Eno

The first Patriarch of Zen was Bodhidharma, who passed his mantle and alms bowl to the Second Zen Master Shen Guang(神光), then to Seng Can(僧璨)、Dao Xin (道信), Konin ( 弘忍), and then the to the Sixth Zen Master Eno(慧能)。

Eno lived in the seventh century A.D. He lost his parents when he was young and earned his living by gathering firewood. One day when he was in the marketplace he heard someone reading the Diamond Sutra. He asked where such books were to be had and was told “From Master Konin on the Yellow Plum-blossom Hill.” Accordingly he went to Konin’s Monastery in Anhui and presented himself before the Master. “Where do you come from?” “From the South.” “Bah! In the South they have not Buddha in their souls.” “North and South,” replied Eno, “are human distinctions that Buddha knows nothing of.”

Konin accepted him as a lay-brother and put him to pound rice in the bakery.

Konin was growing old and wished to choose his successor. He therefore instituted a poetical competition in which each monk was to epitomise in a quatrain the essence of Zen. The favourite candidate was the warden Shinshu, who sent in the following verses:

The body is the trunk of the Bodhi-tree;
The mind is the bright mirror’s stand;
Scrub your mirror continually,
Lest the dust eclipse its brightness.

Eno, as a lay-brother, was not qualified to compete. Someone told him of Shinshu’s quatrain. “Mine would be very different,” he exclaimed, and persuaded one of the boys employed in the bakery to go stealthily by night and inscribe the following poem on the monastery-wall:

Bodhi is not a tree;
The Mirror has no stand;
Since nothing exists.
How could dust rise and cover it?

The authorship of the poem was discovered and the abbot Konin visited Eno in the bakery. “Is your rice white or no?” he asked. “White?” answered Eno, “it has not yet been sifted.” Thereupon the abbot struck three times on the rice-mortar with his staff and departed. Eno understood his meaning. That night at the third watch he came to Konin’s cell and was invested with the abbot’s mantle, thereby becoming the Sixth Patriarch of the Zen Church. He died in 712 a.d., without having learned how to read or write.

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