Hong-ren said: ‘Who are you? Where are you from? What are you looking for?’
‘I come from the south. I want to be a buddha.’
‘Ah,’ said Hong-ren, ‘if you come from the south, you must be a barbarian. How can you be a buddha?’
‘Southerner or northerners – in Buddha-nature there is no north or south. I may be a barbarian, but what difference does that make to our Buddha-nature?’”
~ Zen Mondo
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A mondo is a recording of the dialogues that took place between pupil and master.
This mondo reminds us that – regardless of gender, race, physical geographic location, or social economic status – we all have the same Buddah-nature within. The Buddhist term Buddah-nature is synonymous with other religious terms like spirit, atman, and universal self.
No matter what your external circumstances, no matter what your past experiences, and no matter what path you are currently on, the truth of universal consciousness always has and always will pervade within you. All you need to do is turn inwards to seek it. This can be easier said than done, especially with all of our worldly thoughts, emotions, and attachments getting in the way. This is one reason why studying meditation with a Master has always been an important part of spiritual growth and cultivation.
Master Hong-ren was testing Hui Neng when he said that Hui Neng must be a barbarian if he came from the South. A less spiritually-aware student would have turned in shame and given up his quest to become a Buddha after having been turned down by a Master like that. But Hui Neng passed Master Hong-ren’s test; he knew that the external circumstances made no difference on one’s Buddah-nature. He proved himself worthy of instruction.
*Note: There are often several correct ways to spell ancient Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit names and words in English. Hui Neng and Hui-nen are the same person, as Padahastasana and Pada Hasta Asana are the same asana!*