One day the nun Wu-Jincang asked the sixth Zen patriarch Heineng, “I have studied the Mahaparinirvana sutra for many years, yet there are many areas I do not quite understand. Please enlighten me.” Heineng said to her, “I’m illiterate. Please read out the characters to me and perhaps I will be able to explain the meaning.” Wu-Jincang exclaimed, “You cannot even recognize the characters. How are you able then to understand the meaning?” Heineng replied, “Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. But the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger.”
We know the Zen sixth patriarch Heineng is illiterate but it does not harm his wisdom. Heineng heard the sentence, ‘One should use one’s mind in such a way that it will be free from any attachment’ while listening to the fifth patriarch Hongzen expounding from the Diamond Sutra. He at once became thoroughly enlightened, and realized that all things in the universe are the Essence of Mind itself.
Sometimes I think absorbing too much information is not good for practicing. For instance if you only know one way to do meditation then you will just keep on practicing this way to the end. But if your mind has a lot of information about meditation then sometimes this will affect your focus. Maybe after you’ve been sitting for ten minutes your mind starts to think that this breathing don’t feel good and you should try another way to breathe… or that this posture don’t feel comfortable and should be switched to another method… All these thoughts just keep your mind busy. In this case I think a simple mind is better than a knowledgeable one.
Language and words can describe the truth but they are not the truth. If we stubbornly stick to just one interpretation of the words then those words will puzzle us. Have you ever repeated a word so many times it becomes meaningless? It is the meaning that is important, and that meaning is not always the same. Why could Heineng hear a sentence from the Diamond Sutra just once then can became thoroughly enlightened when we could read the same sentence over hundred times, even read the whole Diamond Sutra, yet still cannot reach enlightenment?