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PMZC Winter 2024 Class Syllabus: The Platform Sutra

Description: In this class, we will study the foundational elements of the Buddha Way as expressed in The Platform Sutra, 6th Zen Ancestor Huineng’s teaching composed by his followers in 9th century, many years after his ascending into the role from humble illiterate beginnings as a rural woodcutter in the agrarian South and then arising eventually to full Zen presence in northern China. The Platform Sutra is one of the fundamental texts in Mahayana and Soto Zen Buddhism, studied widely at many temples around the world. In this story, Huineng overhears a monk reciting a gatha or verse from The Diamond Sutra, the teachings of mind in Mahayana Buddhism, one of the most challenging and puzzling of all Buddhist texts. Yet upon hearing it, Huineng awakens to the path and ascends the hill to a nearby monastery, home of 5th Zen Ancestor Hongren. With study and practice, gradually we will come to understand the sutra as a profound guide to the practice and awakening at the heart of the Bodhisattva Way, the inheritance we all receive from the Everyman Huineng, the ability of any person to awaken.

On this journey, we recognize, study, and gradually transform the presence of dukka or suffering in human life. In the practice of zazen and the study of the sutra, we also discover that this transformation happens both in the moment and gradually over time, as we deepen our practice and realize experiential understanding. Always, Huineng, like all the best Zen teachers, encourages us to practice; above all else, this is his central teaching: practice IS enlightenment. As in earlier classes, we actively engage the practice-based elements of gratitude, faith, and compassion in ending that suffering and dis-satisfaction. And, in studying and practicing with the The Platform Sutra, we actively let go clinging to self, embracing emptiness and complete inter-dependence.

We will study and practice with Red Pine’s book The Platform Sutra; The Zen Teaching of Hui-neng  (2006). Each week, after zazen, we will investigate the teachings and puzzling methodology of the The Platform Sutra, investigating practices and insight together during our evening class session. Week by week, we can reflect on and investigate two chapters of the fascicle, contextualizing it both historically and at the center of daily zazen. Each of us incorporates the practice and study of zazen as it opens into experiential realization of emptiness, the deepening understanding into emptiness of self, and the deepening of compassion in our moment-by-moment practice. 

Meeting and studying the presence of dukka or suffering plunges practitioners into three inter-related aspects: their difficulties to awakening to fundamental truth in this life; the challenges that facing directly presents; and the profound openings that direct, active practice of compassion manifests. Studying the sufferings of the self, we inhabit and become intimate with them. Turning towards practice, we concentrate, practice, and deepen our vows by active practices in the emptiness of all dharmas, all beings.


This 6-week class at Prairie Mountain Zen Center will be online via Zoom for any interested practitioners. Reverend Chikyo Ryunin Ewan Magie will offer the class on Thursday evenings after zazen for 6 weeks starting early February 2024 and concluding by the end of March. Zazen begins at 6:30pm and the class runs from 7-8pm. Each week there will be brief presentation followed by group sharing to keep classes interactive. And the class atmosphere involves respectful use of Right Speech, judicious selection in personal sharing. It is not a confessional or tell-all group.


Texts: The Platform Sutra: The Zen Teaching of Hui-Neng  by Red Pine (2006) 


Supplemental Texts

Everyday Zen Study Guide (


Week 1: Stories of Early Life and Transmission: chapters 1-11.


Week 2: Meditation and Wisdom –Ch.12-19.


Week 3: Transmission of the Precepts– Ch.20-23.


Week 4: Prajnaparamita–Ch.24-37.


Week 5: Exchanges with Disciples – Ch.38-44.


Week 6: How to Transmit this Teaching –Ch.45-57.



Concluding Remark: Incorporating The Platform Sutra: The Zen Teachings of Hui-Neng (2006) by Red Pine into our zazen enhances our understanding of Zen practice, the way to “study the self” in relation to our suffering and struggles in the long spiritual journey. Ideally, we practice them together to enhance our moment-to-moment awareness and deepen both wisdom and compassion. Each of us can engage these practices both in the zendo and in daily life as a way to deepen our experience of Zen practice. Learning by ourselves and with others helps nurture the Bodhisattva spirit within each of us, manifesting wisdom and compassion amongst all beings in the ten directions. 

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