Ma Tsu Record (excerpts)

from the Ma Tsu Record

Translated from chinese and commentary and notes by
T.C. Nguyen, 1998. (1)


One of the zen masters I like is Ma Tsu (708-807). To
me, he is a quiet man, in contrast with Lam Te ( La^m Te^’), the noisy
one. His name given by the emperor is Dai Tich Thien Su (DDa.i thie^`n
su+); the great silence zen master. I think it’s an adequate name for him.

My chinese language is not good, I am Vietnamese. I used
the chinese version Giang Tay Ma To Dao Nhat Thien Su Ngu Luc (Giang Ta^y
Ma~ To^? Dda.o Nha^ât Thie^`n Su+ Ngu+~ Lu.c ) (2),
but compared it with a vietnamese version: the work of Tran tuan Man (Tra^`n
tua^’n Ma^~n) , the Ma To Bach Truong (Ma~ To^ Ba’ch booklet,
An Tiem (editor) first edition, 1974.

Due to my intention to keep the zen style of speaking
straight without formality, some ungramatical phrases may be used.

I don’t know how to transcribe proper names. I use vietnamese
transcript, one without accent for western people (for easy pronunciation)
and one with accent for Vietnamese people.

Biography from Ma Tsu Record

Zen master Dao Nhat (DDa.o Nha^’t) of family Ma (Ma~),
Thap Phang (Tha^.p Pha?ng) native, of province Han Chau (Ha’n Cha^u), was
an ordained monk at La Han (La Ha’n) pagoda , in his natal village.

The master had a unique body: walked like buffalo, eyes
like tiger, his tongue reach past nose, and two spirals on soles of feet.

When child, he was apprenticed to the temple of master
Ven Tu chau Duong (Tu+ cha^u Ddu+o+`ng). He was ordained a monk under ruler
Du chau Vien (Du cha^u Vie^n).

Under Khai Nguyen (Khai Nguye^n) year (713) of T’ang (DDu+o+`ng)
Dynasty, he praticed zen at Vien truyen Phap (Vie^.n Truye^`n Pha’p) of
Hanh Nhac (Ha`nh Nha.c ) mountain. There he met Hoai Nhuong (Hoa`i,
successor of Hui

Dharma of Hoai Nhuong (Huai-Jang) to Ma Tsu

Hoai Nhuong, knowing Ma Tsu was a dharma tool (3),
asked : Dai Duc (Great Virtue), what are you doing ?

He replied: I plan to be buddha.

Hoai Nhuong sat in front of his hut, picked up a tile,
and began to grind.
Ma Tsu asked : Why grind ?
Hoai Nhuong said : make mirror.

Ma Tsu asked : How can it be, grind tile to make mirror
Hoai Nhuong replied : If grinding tile cannot make mirror, how could sitting
make you buddha?

Ma Tsu asked : What should I do ?
Hoai Nhuong asked : If a cart pulled by ox does not move, what will you
do , beat cart or beat ox ? (4)

Ma Tsu did not reply.
Hoai Nhuong told him : You study how to zen sit ( zazen ) , or become buddha
? You learn how to zen sit, but zen has nothing to do with sitting . You
want to be Buddha, but buddha cannot not be seen as any shape. If you sit
to be buddha, it only means you kill him. If you stick to the sitting posture,
you will not know what I mean.

Ma Tsu after hearing this, seemed like one who just drank
the juice of milk (5); He kow-towed (bowed) and asked:
What should I do to know the no-shape samadhi (6)?

Hoai Nhuong said : Learning the dharma of the heart (center)
soil (7) is like sowing seeds. To teach key of opening
dharma, is like gift dropped from heaven. If you have resonance, you would
know what I point to.

Ma Tsu asked: Buddha has no shape, how could I see ?
Hoai Nhuong replied : The dharma eye of the heart has this ability. The
no determined shape samadhi is same.

Ma Tsu asked: Is it impermanent ?
Hoai Nhuong said: If you see something impermanent, it’s not that.

Now hear my stanza : The heart (center) keeps all seeds
which, When drenched with water, will germinate. The no determined shape
samadhi is a flower, Which has never been born, nor died.

Ma Tsu received the lesson and transcended all mind and
thought. He served Hoai Nhuong ten years. His realization grew deeper and

Once Hui
had told Hoai Nhuong: Indian Bat-nha-da-la (Ba’t nha~ dda la )
predicted that under your feet, there will be a horse which will step people
to death. The horse (Ma) points to Ma Tsu.

Hoai Nhuong had six students, only Ma Tsu received tam
an (ta^m a^’n) (heart imprint)(8).

First, he lived at mount Phat Tich (Pha^.t Ti’ch ), of
Kien Duong (Kie^’n Du+o+ng), then Lam Xuyen ( La^m Xuye^n ), then mount
Cung Cong (Cung Co^ng) of Nam Khang.

At that time, Lien su (9) Lo tu Cung (Lie^n Su+ Lo^. tu+.
Cung), admiring his wisdom, went to obtain the dharmas from him. After
that, students everywhere followed.



1. TC Nguyen (wanted to make clear that he) has no affiliation with
DAbase or Adidam but is generous with his work. helped
make it more readable to westerners. He wishes all to Realize All; the
State of Purest Love-Bliss; the Heart (on the right side). For indeed We
Are That (Ultimately).

2. The chinese original work title : Giang Tay Ma To Dao Nhat Thien
Su Ngu Luc. If translated to english : Giang Tay ( area name ) Ma Tsu Dao
Nhat ( name ) thien su ( zen master) ngu luc (record ).

3. dharma tool: points to one who has the ability to attain the buddhist
teaching goal, and expound it to others.

4. Beat the cart or beat the ox ? Any one could have the answer easily.
But is it really easy here? Beat the body-mind, make it works by sitting?
If not, where is the ox? If you could find out the ox, then will you still
sit ? Ask the monk.

5. De ho : juice of milk : special food made from milk.

6. tam muoi: samadhi : a state of mind (or realization).
Like some one who is obcessed with making money, he attain the money making
samadhi. Day, night, sleep, working, his state of mind is how to make money.

Vietnamese language has a characteristic intonations. By varying the
tone, the meaning changes. Example: The^? : Be The^’ : Being.

samadhi is translated as ddi.nh. we see : ddinh : nail, ddinh ninh :
take for certain (like the nail well sitted in wood) ddi’nh : to attach.
ddi`nh : stop ( nail can not move), stay. ddi?nh : top, heavy burner ddi.nh
: to determine, to intend, to expect . ddi.nh me^.nh : destiny.

They use the noun ddi.nh to translate samhadhi, because samadhi has
the attribute of staying. If you decide to make money, you “stay ”
at this stage, although you move to earn it.

The unborn–unmade–unfabricated is the ultimate samadhi. They have
three aspects:

6.a. kho^ng tam muo^.i : emptiness, voidness samadhi. If you know and
see that every thing is changing, there in not any thing of this moment
which could last at the second next, you act accordingly, accept the outcome,
then you are in the external emptiness samadhi. Not the truly emptiness,
voidness samadhi.

6.b. vo^ tu+o+’ng tam muo^.i : no determinated aspect samadhi : this
unborn–unfabricated could not be identified with any aspect, so it has
the name of no determinated aspect samadhi.

6.c. vo^ nguye^.n tam muo^.i : no aspiration, no vow samadhi : this
unborn–unfabricated is not the vow, like if someone vows to save all sentient
beings, he will incarnate to be a bodhisattva. That is why Avalokiestevara
is bodhisattva instead of buddha.

7. tam dia (ta^m di.a) heart soil : soil is something
that bear and feed, heart is centre.

8. ta^m (heart) a^’n (the imprint) : the imprint of the heart (center).
When Hui Neng received the ta^m a^’n from Hoa (`ng Nha^~n), he did not
receive anything beside his master acknowledgement that they were of the
same source. I don’t think that his master acknowledged that he had the
same understanding, but that he was from the same source.

9. Lien su ( Lie^n Su+ ) : title?


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