The Mind of Absolute Trust-Seng-Ts’an

One of the most beloved teachings of Zen is the Xinxin Ming (Hsin Hsin Ming) by Jianzhi Sengcan (Seng-ts’an), the Third Patriarch of Chinese Zen.

Over the years, the title Xinxin Ming has been translated numerous ways: Inscription on Trust in the Mind, Verses on the Faith Mind, On Believing in Mind, Inscribed on the Believing Mind, On Trust in the Heart, and The Mind of Absolute Trust.

The poem was apparently written as a kind of polemic against the idea that one could gain enlightenment by faith in an outward Buddha. In Chan/Zen, mind and Buddha ultimately are seen as one, and so the direct experience of enlightenment cannot come from faith in another, even in a Buddha, but through one’s own direct experience of mind as Buddha, even as Shakyamuni Buddha did.

The Tao of Zen - Ray Grigg

This beautiful poem is especially interesting to me because I‘m reading a fascinating book entitled The Tao of Zen by Ray Grigg. The book’s premise is boldly stated in its Preface:

“Zen is Taoism disguised as Buddhism. When twelve-hundred years of Buddhist accretions are removed from Zen, it is revealed to be a direct evolution of the spirit and philosophy of Taoism…the similarities between original Taoism and pure Zen are…striking: the simplicity, the directness the intuitiveness, the paradoxes, the importance of being natural, and the prevalence of natural images, the skepticism about words and explanations, about institutions and dogma. Zen is Taoism.”

I’m fairly far along in the book, and I find Grigg’s argument’s compelling and his scholarship and research seem sound. Where I think Grigg falls short is in his analysis of how much Buddhism molded and shaped Zen in China and Japan.  Zen as we know it today seems to me to be much more of a blend of Buddhist and Taoist ideas than what we find in the original Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. (To be fair, Grigg does note important distinctions between what he sees as “Zen” and “Zen Buddhism.”)

In an earlier post here, “The Roots of Buddhist Romanticism,” Thanissaro Bhikkhu notes in a similar vein:

“Just as the Chinese had Taoism as their Dharma gate—the home‐grown tradition providing concepts that helped them understand the Dharma—we in the West have Romanticism as ours. The Chinese experience with Dharma gates, though, contains an important lesson that is often overlooked. After three centuries of interest in Buddhist teachings, they began to realize that Buddhism and Taoism were asking different questions. As they rooted out these differences, they started using Buddhist ideas to question their Taoist presuppositions. This was how Buddhism, instead of turning into a drop in the Taoist sea, was able to inject something genuinely new into Chinese culture.”

Anyway, if you’re interested in the history and evolution of ideas, I recommend The Tao of Zen as an interesting window of how cultural ideas and beliefs shape can dharma and religion.

And now, without further discussion or ado, here is the beautiful Zen poem, The Mind of Absolute Trust as translated by Robert F. Olson.  Read, ponder, and “taste” these words and images.  And keep in mind what an alternative translation of the ending of the poem says:

“Words! The Way is beyond language, for in it there is no yesterday, no tomorrow. no today.”

The Mind of Absolute Trust


The Great Way isn’t difficult
for those who are unattached to their preferences.
Let go of longing and aversion,
and everything will be perfectly clear.

When you cling to a hairbreadth of distinction,
heaven and earth are set apart.
If you want to realize the truth,
don’t be for or against.

The struggle between good and evil
is the primal disease of the mind.
Not grasping the deeper meaning,
you just trouble your mind’s serenity.

As vast as infinite space,
it is perfect and lacks nothing.
But because you select and reject,
you can’t perceive its true nature.

Don’t get entangled in the world;
don’t lose yourself in emptiness.
Be at peace in the oneness of things,
and all errors will disappear by themselves.

If you don’t live the Tao,
you fall into assertion or denial.
Asserting that the world is real,
you are blind to its deeper reality;
denying that the world is real,
you are blind to the selflessness of all things.

The more you think about these matters,
the farther you are from the truth.
Step aside from all thinking,
and there is nowhere you can’t go.
Returning to the root, you find the meaning;
chasing appearances, you lose their source.

At the moment of profound insight,
you transcend both appearance and emptiness.
Don’t keep searching for the truth;
just let go of your opinions.

For the mind in harmony with the Tao,
all selfishness disappears.
With not even a trace of self-doubt,
you can trust the universe completely.
All at once you are free,
with nothing left to hold on to.
All is empty, brilliant,
perfect in its own being.

In the world of things as they are,
there is no self, no non-self.
If you want to describe its essence,
the best you can say is “Not-two.”

For the mind in harmony with the Tao,
all selfishness disappears.
With not even a trace of self-doubt,
you can trust the universe completely.

In this “Not-two” nothing is separate,
and nothing in the world is excluded.
The enlightened of all times and places
have entered into this truth.

In it there is no gain or loss;
one instant is ten thousand years.
There is no here, no there;
infinity is right before your eyes.

The tiny is as large as the vast
when objective boundaries have vanished;
the vast is as small as the tiny,
when you don’t have external limits.

Being is an aspect of non-being;
non-being is no different from being.
Until you understand this truth,
you won’t see anything clearly.
One is all; all are one. When
you realize this, what reason for holiness or wisdom?

The mind of absolute trust
is beyond all thought, all striving,
is perfectly at peace; for in it
there is no yesterday,
no tomorrow,
no today.


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

3 Responses to “The Mind of Absolute Trust-Seng-Ts’an”

  1. The truth is within, within darkness we find the path.

  2. excellent poem needs re-reading – and learning

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