Cheng Sungbon

Dongguk University


In general, it is erroneously assumed that the patriarchal Ch’an is an easy-going religion which, appropriating the declaration of Ma-tsu Tao-i (馬祖 道一, 709-788), who is an outstanding Ch’an master of the T’ang Dynasty, saying, ‘Tao lies in ordinary human mind (平常心是道)’ does not require a cultivation, for it is embodied in the ordinary human mind of everyday life. And the dictum, ‘the mind itself is no other than the Buddhahood (卽心是佛)’ has also been regarded as a supporter of the foregoing oversight.

In fact, in the patriarchal Ch’an tradition of the T’ang Dynasty, we may come across numerous statements which, in its face value, seems to thoroughly deny the cultivation or even the enlightenment itself: for instance, the assertion of Ma-tsu, ‘Tao does not call for the practice (道不用修)’, or the phrase found in the Pao-lin chuan (寶林傳), and in the Lin-chi lu (臨濟錄), ‘there is neither practice nor verification (無修無證)’ typically shows ostensible negligence of practice or enlightenment in the Buddhist religion.

It is the same case as the Tso-ch’an (坐禪, meditation in sitting position): Records found in the Ch’uan-teng lu (傳燈錄), or the Ch’an-yu lu (禪語錄) tell us that Ch’an masters could achieve the enlightenment through insignificant incidents run across in the ordinary mundane life, or through the dialogue with Ch’an masters, or through routine chores, not even mentioning the practice of Tso-ch’an. It is, therefore, no wonder to assert that, as the juncture of the enlightenment can be ‘spontaneously’ encountered without any artificiality, the practice of Tso-ch’an is not imperative in the Ch’an Buddhism.

The anecdote of Ma-tsu Tao-i may even deepen this sort of misunderstanding:

When Ma-tsu Tao-i practice Tso-ch’an in Mt. Nan-yueh (南嶽) to attain Buddhahood, the master Hui-jang (懷讓), severely criticizing the practice of Tso-ch’an, says; “if you are determined to be the Buddha through the practice of Tso-ch’an, it is as absurd as you are to make a mirror by grinding a particle of a tile.”

These specific examples mentioned above, however, do not necessarily mean that practice is of no use in the system of patriarchal Ch’an Buddhism. It is true that those who have distorted view on the patriarchal Ch’an and its catechism, often claim such view as Ch’an does not call for any practice or cultivation whatsoever because ordinary human mind, which we are inherently granted, stand for the Buddhist truth. By doing so, they, advertently or inadvertently, have undermined the true spirit of the patriarchal Ch’an Buddhism.

Thus, this work, in its attempt to set what is misled right, will be mainly focused to criticize those possible misunderstandings and, hopefully, to serve the re-establishment of the fundamental spirit of the patriarchal Ch’an Buddhism. In order to achieve present task, it will be concerned with a few questions as follows:

– What the Master Hui-jang criticized Ma-tsu’s practice of Tso-ch’an which the latter thought would lead the attainment of the Buddhahood for?

– Is the practice of Tso-ch’an useless in the system of the patriarchal Ch’an Buddhism?

– On what ground did Ma-tsu assert that ‘Tao does not call for the practice,’ claiming that ‘Tao lies in ordinary human mind (平常心)’?

– What is, then, the definition of the ordinary human mind?

– As a whole, how is the patriarchal Ch’an practice systematized, and how does the claim, ‘Tao does not call for the practice’ get the validity in this system?


– Tao lies in ordinary human mind –

It is often said that the patriarchal Ch’an Buddhism is ‘the religion of everyday life’, ‘the religion of mundane life’ or ‘the religion of self-enlightenment.’ To validate these statements, it is necessary to examine the definitive dictum of patriarchal Ch’an Buddhism, which is ‘Tao lies in ordinary human mind.’

According to the Ch’uan-teng lu (vol. 28), the juncture around which the dictum, ‘Tao lies in ordinary human mind’ was produced, is described as follows:

The practice is not necessary to achieve the Tao. All that is required is non-defilement. What is defiled? If one arouse the disposition of the life and death (sa?s?ra) and get deliberately intentive (to be the Buddha), it is called defilement (of the mind). If one wish to know the Tao, it (Tao) lies in ordinary human mind. The ordinary human mind means, by definition, the mind without deliberate disposition, without the dichotomy of right or wrong, without adoption or rejection, without the attachment to either permanence or impermanence (of the dharmas), or without distinction of the ordinary man or the sage. The S?tra says; ‘the bodhisattva practice is neither that of the ordinary man or that of the sage. What is confronted with things and events and what is associated with daily circumstances (that is ordinary human mind) is nothing other than the Tao. Tao is dharmadh?tu, and every mysterious functions as countless as the sands of Ganges river are not ruled out of the dharmadh?tu.

(T. vol. 52, p. 440a)

This celebrated sermon of Ma-tsu is recorded in his autobiography in the Ch’uan-teng lu and the Yu-lu (語錄). Let us, then, investigate the ordinary human mind as is adopted in his sermon. The sermon has it that the ordinary human mind is ‘that of neither deliberate disposition, nor the dichotomy of right or wrong, nor adoption or rejection, nor permanence or impermanence, nor distinction of the ordinary man or the sage.’ In short it designates unbiased, non-deliberate ‘fundamental mind (本來心).’

Likewise, the Hsin-hsin ming (信心銘) signifies the same idea:

The ultimate Tao is of no difficulty

It is only repugnant to discrimination

(至道無難 唯嫌揀擇)

Consequently, ‘the ordinary human mind (平常心)’ defined by Ma-tsu indicates non-biased, non-fixed, or non-discriminative original human mind (本來心). And this original human mind is the Tao, and, at the same time, is the Buddhahood (卽心是佛).

Nevertheless, a historical survey on the thought of Shen-hui (神會, 684-758) of Southern branch of Ch’an Buddhism and the Liu-tsu t’an-ching (六祖壇經) provides us with a little different information as to how human mind may be defined: That is, both of them advocate ‘true nature of mind (眞如自性)’ which is originally pure. As they discriminate delusive mind (妄念) and pure mind (眞如自性), the former is inferior and is to be criticized in favor of the latter. The system of practice, accordingly, advocates the abrupt realization of the true nature of mind, which is so called abrupt seeing one’s own nature (頓悟見性).

On the other hand, Ma-tsu does not discriminate the delusive mind and true nature of mind. He integrates two different minds into one ‘ordinary human mind’ that functions in the everyday life. Given the standpoint of Ma-tsu, there is no true nature of mind apart from delusive mind. In other words, ‘the ordinary human mind’ proclaimed by Ma-tsu is none other than ‘the true nature of mind (眞如自性)’ or ‘true nature of originally pure mind (自性淸淨心). Let us examine his own remarks cited in the Ma-tsu yu-lu (馬祖語錄):

(He) again asked; “what attitude do we have to keep to attain the Tao?”

The Master Ma-tsu replied; “the true nature of mind is inherently secured in us. Only those who are not entangled with things and events (i. e., external objects) may be truly called practitioners. If one takes what is good at the cost of what is evil, or practices meditation to cultivate insight into the emptiness, it is deliberate mind. Furthermore, if one seeks after the Tao outside, he would be only alienated from it.

(Zokuzokyo, vol. 119, p. 406a)

The ordinary human mind, as Ma-tsu asserts, is equivalent to the true nature of pure mind which all human beings immanently keep within themselves. In fact, the ordinary human mind of everyday life is boundlessly fruitful and perfect and it is, at the same time, naive and normal mind. As mentioned above, the ordinary human mind of Ma-tsu does not indicate the discriminative, biased, and defiled mind, but the originally pure, unbiased and non-discriminative mind.

Ma-tsu’s own sermon confirms again this very point: “The practice is not necessary to achieve the Tao. All that is required is non-defilement. What is defiled? If one arouse the disposition of the life and death (sa?s?ra) and get deliberately intentive (to be the Buddha), it is called defilement (of the mind).”

Asserting that ‘Tao lies in ordinary human mind’, Ma-tsu clarifies that the Tao is to be realized by the ordinary mind detached from defilements. In the Ma-tsu’s system of thought, the defilement means the mind of sa?s?ra (transmigration) stained with kle?a (lust), or deliberate, discriminative disposition of mind with which one practices to attain the Buddhahood. Only if the mind is dispense with such defilements, the original pure mind will be revealed of itself. And it is so-called ‘the ordinary human mind.’

In the chapter for Hui-neng of the the Ch’uan-teng lu (vol. 5), it is said that ‘Tao is realized by virtue of the mind (道由心悟).’ Again, in the Tsu-t’ang chi (祖堂集, vol. 3), there is such a phrase as ‘no deliberate mind is identical with the Tao (無心是道)’. As such, Tao lies in the awakened mind, not in any place or things in the external world. In short, these statements emphasize that the most crucial factor in the realization of the Tao is the self-awakening of the original pure mind.

It should be reminded here that the term of defilement (汚染), which seems to be Ma-tsu’s own innovation, as mentioned before, was adopted with the presupposition that ‘the ordinary human mind’ is identical with ‘the true nature of originally pure mind.’ To be sure, the ordinary human mind asserted by Ma-tsu is not defiled, discriminative ordinary mind (衆生心). If so, does the practice, which seems to have been a effective device to wipe out such discriminative defilements, not necessary?

There is a well known dialogue between Hui-neng, the Sixth Patriarch and Nan-yueh Hui-jang, his disciple, in which, along with the term ‘defilement’, the pivotal point of the theory concerning practice and verification in the Ch’an Buddhism is referred. It is found in the chapter for Nan-yueh Hui-jang of the Ch’uan-teng lu (vol. 5):

The Sixth Patriarch; Where are you from?

Hui-jang; I’m from Sung-shan.

The Sixth Patriarch; What kind of a thing thus came?

Hui-jang; Even if you say it ‘a thing’, it (your designation) is not proper.

The Sixth Patriarch; Is there any necessity do you think to practice and to verify?

Hui-jang; Even though neither of them is not necessary, what is the most important is non-defilement.

The Sixth Patriarch; Only this non-defilement is what is secured and cherished by all the Buddhas. You’ve got the point and so do I.

(T. vol. 515, p. 240c)

This is the juncture where Nan-yueh Hui-jang inherited the Buddhist Truth from the Sixth Patriarch.@@@ When Hui-jang says “Even if you say it ‘a thing’, it (your designation) is not proper”, it is derived from his own experience. By virtue of this insight, Hui-jang could inherit the authentic tradition of Ch’an Buddhism which stemmed from the Sixth Patriarch. This remark, which has been often cited by Ch’an masters, is believed to have been the philosophical foundation by which the Hui-neng’s stanza of the mind was altered into the line, ‘there is nothing by nature (本來無一物)’ in the Liu-tsu t’an-ching.

Both of the dicta, “Even if you say it ‘a thing’, it (your designation) is not proper (說似一物卽不中)” and “there is nothing by nature (本來無一物)” convey the same idea: As everything is by nature impermanent and lacks of their own being, that is, is empty, there is no entity or form that is self-existent. The idea that ‘there is no self-consistent dharma (無有定法)’

bore in the Diamond S?tra manifests the same way of thought. In other words, the dictum, ‘there is nothing by nature (本來無一物)’, indicates the truth of emptiness entertained by Mah?y?na Buddhism. Consequently, the Sixth Patriarch verified Hui-jang of his full enlightenment, because, the Sixth Patriarch thought, the latter declare the truth of emptiness by his dictum, “even if you say it ‘a thing’, it (your designation) is not proper (說似一物卽不中).”

Subsequently, when the Sixth Patriarch asked again to make sure Hui-jang’s stage of enlightenment, “Is there any necessity do you think to practice and to verify (還可修證否)?” Then, Hui-jang answered, “Even though neither of them is not necessary, what is the most important is non-defilement.” At this juncture Hui-neng, fully satisfied, verify his authenticity of enlightenment saying, “Only this non-defilement is what is secured and cherished by all the Buddhas. You’ve got the point and so do I.” In this episode, Hui-neng explicitly advances that the content of enlightenment of all the Buddhas is no other than the non-defilement. Whoever achieves the non-defilement (of mind), Hui-neng acknowledges, is undoubtedly the enlightened one.

Here, it may be safe here to summarize the Ch’an Buddhist point of view concerning practice and verification: The non-defilement (of mind) means the originally pure mind detached from any discriminations, prejudices, and so forth. This mind is, however, not different from that of everyday mundane life. All human beings are inherently granted this fundamental mind. Accordingly, this fundamental mind is not acquired through practice or any kind of deliberate effort because it is already seated in them. Only within this limited meaning, the assertion ‘the Tao does not call for the practice, could have the right place.

It is clear, therefore, that the mind declared by Ma-tsu in his dictum, ‘Tao lies in ordinary human mind,’ does not indicate the defiled human mind (衆生心), but originally pure, fundamental mind which functions in daily life without any defilement of lust, ignorance, hatred, or even the desire to be the Buddha. What, then, constitutes the practice of non-defilement?


The fundamental spirit of the Ch’an Buddhism needs to be realized in everyday life of ordinary human beings, who freely interacts with men and their circumstances, whether it is a predicament or a favorable situation, without any impediment. It is a life of freedom and wisdom even in a worldly level. The Ch’an Buddhism signify the life of ordinary human mind, and thereby fulfill the world of the Buddha which is original mind. The basis of the patriarchal Ch’an Buddhist practice consists of Tso-ch’an, Ch’an dialogue and daily chores. Let us examine one by one.

1) The practice of Tso-ch’an

Tso-ch’an is regarded as the essential practice of the Ch’an Buddhism.

Basically, the practice of Tso-ch’an is a device by which one elucidates the original state of one’s own self. It is the practice carried out in a quiet place, mostly in the hall of meditation, either individually or collectively. Through the practice of Tso-ch’an, which is self-awakening meditation, the mindfulness is secured. Again, through mindfulness, the path leading to enlightenment is cultivated.

From the historical point of view, there is no doubt that the formation of the Chinese Ch’an school initiated by the group of the practitioners of Tso-ch’an. Letting aside the case of the Buddha ??khyamuni who practiced meditation under the bodhi tree and the legendary story of Bodhidharma who is believed to have practiced meditation against the wall at the Shaolin temple in the Mt. Sung-shan (嵩山) for nine years, Tao-hsin (道信), the Forth Patriarch, who established the Tung-shan teaching, is supposed to have lectured the Tso-ch’an i (坐禪儀) at the Mt. Shuang-feng (雙峰). Hung-jen, the Fifth Patriarch, who practice Tso-ch’an under Tao-hsin’s instruction, is believed to have worked in the daytime and to have practiced Tso-ch’an in the night.

It is also well known that the tradition of retreat of both in summer and winter has been observed since the time of the historical Buddha. In the retreat, the most essential practice is Tso-ch’an. It is confirmed that the practice of Tso-ch’an has been essential practice at least in the Chinese Ch’an Buddhist school when we look up the Ch’an-yu lu in which the practice of Tso-ch’an is often taken the theme of Ch’an dialogue, or the Lin-chi lu which bear the information about the practice of Tso-ch’an of Huang-po and Lin-chi.

Nevertheless, as we have seen in the previous chapter, there are many who misunderstand that the patriarchal Ch’an Buddhism reject the practice of Ch’an. It is no wonder considering such phrases as; ‘Tao does not call for the practice’ (by Ma-tsu) ‘Tao is realized by virtue of the mind, why Tso-ch’an?’ or ‘The originally pure Buddhahood is universal presently and inherently. So the adoption of the practice of Tso-ch’an is not necessary’ (by Hui-neng) Above all, the Ch’an dialogue between Ma-tsu and Hui-jang, so called ‘making a mirror by grinding a tile,’ which is recorded in the chapter for Nan-yueh Hui-jang of the the Ch’uan-teng lu (vol. 5), shows a typical example:

During the Period of K’ai-yuan (開元), Ma-tsu Tao-i was practicing Tso-ch’an at the Chuan-fa yuen (傳法院). The master (i. e., Nan-yueh Hui-jang), noticing he was a promising practitioner, approached and asked him, “what are you practicing Tso-ch’an for?”

“I want to be the Buddha.” replied Ma-tsu.

Thereupon, the master brought a tile and began to grind it against a rock in front of the hermitage. Seeing that, Ma-tsu asked, “what are you doing with it?”

“I’m going to make a mirror.” answered the master.

“How can you make a mirror by grinding a tile?”

“How, then, can you make the Buddha by practicing Tso-ch’an?” retorted the master.

At this, Ma-tsu asked, “What should I practice then?”

“When a farmer drive a cart, if the cart would not proceed, to which one does he have to take a whip, the cow, or the cart?” the master asked in return.

Ma-tsu could not answer for the question.

Then, the master gave him an instruction as follows;

“Do you practice the Tso-ch’an (坐禪, sitting meditation) or learn to make the Tso-fo (坐佛, sitting Buddha)? If it is Tso-ch’an, Ch’an has nothing to do with sitting or reclining. If it is Tso-fo, fo has no established posture (or form). Just dwell on the non-residing truth and never arouse the mind of adoption or rejection. If you learn to make the Buddha, you will end up with suffocating the Buddha! If you attach to the posture of sitting meditation, you will never realize the true purport of the Buddha-truth!”

On hearing the master’s sermon, he felt as if he drank the ghee (clarified butter).

(T. vol. 51, p. 240c)

This is the juncture in which Nan-yueh Hui-jang transmitted his Buddha-truth to Ma-tsu. It is well known, and typical example showing the practical feature of the patriarchal Ch’an Buddhism which emphasize the dicta, ‘neither practice nor verification is available’ or ‘the Tao does not call for the practice.’ This anecdote also points out wrong views related to the practice of Tso-ch’an. For instance, the practitioner should not have prejudice or fixed ideation as to the sitting position or even the deliberate purpose to be the Buddha. In this context, the Sixth Patriarch emphasizes the practice and verification without defilement, and Ma-tsu also asserts the ordinary human mind without defilement.

Even though the patriarchal Ch’an Buddhism seems to have denied the practice of Tso-ch’an in appearance, it should not be forgotten that it always presupposes the practice of Tso-ch’an. At any rate, Tso-ch’an is one of the Three Teachings of the Buddhism, which are precept, meditation (or concentration), and wisdom. In Ch’an dialogue, masters never asks how long one have practiced Tso-ch’an in the monastery. They always asks how long one have been there, because the practice of Tso-ch’an is a part of daily routine.

The Tun-huang (敦煌) version of the Liu-tsu t’an-ching systematically establishes the practical spirit of the practice of Tso-ch’an. The S?tra presents the practical spirit of the Southern branch of the Ch’an Buddhism as follows:

What is the characteristics of the practice of Tso-ch’an in the Southern branch of the Ch’an Buddhism? In this teaching, the practice of Tso-ch’an regard as of great importance not to be hindered by things and events in the external world. Not to arouse delusive mind toward the external world is called Tso (sitting), and, by virtue of realization of the Buddhahood, not to be confused is called Ch’an (meditation).

This utterance invokes the question of the form of the Ch’an tradition observed by the Northern branch or traditional Ch’an in general except the Southern branch. The Northern branch of the Ch’an Buddhism, the latter thought, was only concerned with the elimination of lust (kle?a), or, at best, was interested in the state of quiescence the practice of the Ch’an brought about. Though the same idea as this is found in the Shen-hui yu-lu (神會語錄) for the first time, in the course of editing the Liu-tsu t’an-ching, he inserted in it this definitive Southern Ch’an idea, thereby the essential philosophy of the Southern branch of Ch’an Buddhist school was firmly established in the history of Chinese Buddhism.@@@

‘Not to be hindered by things and events in the external world’ indicates the practice of the emptiness. That is, Tso (sitting), it is said, means the state that the original mind is not obstructed by the external world. That, by virtue of realization of the Buddhahood, not to be confused is called Ch’an (meditation) indicates the state of the ‘abrupt enlightenment and seeing true nature’ which is asserted by the Southern branch of the Ch’an Buddhism. Enlightening of the Buddhahood may be understood, in this school, as the experience in which the practitioner does not give up the subjectivity of the enlightenment and, on the ground of the self-enlightenment, and exerts the wisdom of enlightenment freely and without obstruction through the jungle of things and events.

The definition of the Southern branch of the Ch’an Buddhism, as represented in the Liu-tsu t’an-ching of the Tun-huang version, integrates the thought of emptiness of the school of Prajñ? and the thought of the Buddha-nature into the practice of the Ch’an which is the essence of the practical spirit of the Mah?y?na Buddhism. Based on this definition of the Tso-ch’an, Tsung-tse (宗?) of the Sung Dynasty wrote the Tso-ch’an i, and Lin-chi, in his Lin-chi lu, also made exposition as to the practical spirit, the self-enlightenment of the ordinary human mind, of the practice of Tso-ch’an:

If you admire the sage and dislike the ordinary man, you never will come out of the sea of birth and death (sa?s?ra, the transmigration). As the kle?a (passion) is aroused by the delusive mind, if you can do without the delusive mind (that is, if you do not exert the deliberate mind), how are you hindered by the kle?a? Only if you do not attach to the form by discriminative disposition, you would immediately obtain the Tao. Even though you seek after (the Tao) elsewhere for three asa?khya period, you are never freed from the transmigration. You’d better practice Tso-ch’an in lotus position on the meditation board at the Ch’an monastery.

(the Lin-chi lu, vol. 13, p. 13.)

Birth and death here means, as in the sermon of Ma-tsu, the arising and disappearing of the kle?a (生滅心). The desire that seeks after the Tao in the external world and the discrimination of the sage and the ordinary man – all these defilements should be eliminated through the practice of Ch’an in the Ch’an monastery. In this context, Lin-chi discourses no deliberate mind (無心): ‘The place where your delusive mind of an instant is pacified, is the tree of wisdom. And the place where your delusive mind of an instant is not pacified, is the tree of ignorance. The original mind without delusive disposition is equal to no deliberate mind. Living at ‘this very place’, ‘without deliberate mind or action’ is the life where the dictum, ‘Tao lies in ordinary human mind’ is realized. Subsequently, the Lin-chi lu reiterates the concrete method for Ch’an practice in the following way:

You, monks! Only yourself that is working in front of you is none other than the Patriarchs and the Buddhas. Not knowing this, you are looking for the Tao outside in vain. Don’t be awry! You can not get at the dharma outside nor can you get at anything inside. Even though you are trying to get something from my own discourse, you would simply fail. The most important thing for you to do is to pacify your delusive mind, and by doing so, you would live freely without any deliberate intention. Do not let the delusion that has arisen last and let the delusion that is not yet arisen be as it is. If you practice the Tso-ch’an in this way even for an instant, it is far better than you do otherwise for ten years.

(T. vol. 47, p. 500c)

The Buddhist dharma is the dharma of the mind aiming to realize the mind as Hui-neng said, ‘the Tao is realized by virtue of the mind.’ So Ma-tsu and Lin-chi always emphasize that one should not look after the Tao (or truth) outside (莫向外馳求). The assertion, ‘do not let the delusion that has arisen last and let the delusion that is not yet arisen be as it is,’ manifests the core idea of the practice of the Tso-ch’ang. It says that, letting aside any delusion or things and events whatsoever, one should be well aware of himself and this very situation in order to live in accordance with the original pure mind. There is a dialogue in the chapter for Tung-shan in the Tsu-t’ang chi (vol. 6).

Question; what is the ailment?

The master; The delusive mind of an instant is the ailment.

Question; What is the remedy?

The master; To keep the delusive mind not to arise is the remedy.

This is also cited in the Tsung-ching lu (宗鏡錄, vol. 38), and the same idea is also expounded by Shen-hui in his discourse based on the Ta-ch’eng ch’i-hsin lun (大乘起信論). Moreover, Tsung-mi (宗密), in his Tu-hsu (都序), and Huang-po, in his record of discourse, account the same philosophy of mind. In this way, pacifying the delusive mind is thus the main structure of the practice of the Tso-ch’an. Tsung-tse of the Sung Dynasty systematizes it in his Tso-ch’an i in the following way:

Do not take into account good and evil. If the delusive mind once arise, be fully aware of the fact that the delusive mind has arisen. If you are aware of it, it will disappear right away. If you practice in this way for a long time and ignore all cause and conditions (of your dispositions), the objective world and your subjectivity will be integrated. This is the essence of the Tso-ch’an.

The maxim, ‘do not take into account good and evil,’ which is for the first time exposed in Shen-hui’s discourse, is later appeared in the Liu-tsu t’an-ching as the Hui-neng’s own wording to Hui-ming who chased him to the uphill. What is then the practice of not taking into account good and evil? As we have examined in Ma-tsu’s discourse, any discrimination, between the sage and ordinary man, or between good and evil, is a defilement of mind. The defiled mind taking adoption or rejection is discriminative mind. And, finally it is the delusive mind.

It is important not to arouse the delusive mind. And the particular practice not to arouse the delusive mind is ‘to be fully aware of the fact that the delusive mind has arisen.’ If one can not be aware of the fact that the delusive mind has arisen, he will be submissively drifted in the sea of birth and death (i. e., in the transmigration). On the contrary, if one is able to be aware of the fact, by means of the practice of Tso-ch’an, that the delusive mind has arisen in him, the delusive mind will disappear at once and the practitioner will restore the fundamental, pure mind. That is, the essential function of the practice of the Ch’an is the self-realization and restoration of the fundamental pure mind which is, by the definition, not discriminating good and evil, the sage and ordinary man, the adoption and rejection, and so forth.

2) The practice by virtue of Ch’an dialogue

In the Ch’an dialogue a master and his disciple encounter, where the former provides the latter with the opportunity to realize the enlightenment. It is an extension of the life of Ch’an practice. What then is the origin and function of the Ch’an dialogue?

As Ch’an is an self-enlightened practice based on the original pure mind, Ch’an dialogue can be defined as the dialogue between original pure minds. It is quite different from those between delusive minds of the ordinary sentient beings. In short, the way of Ch’an life in which the function of the original mind is inter-communicated is called Ch’an dialogue.

Ch’an dialogue begins with the affirmation of language and verbal expressions as they are the revelations of original mind or the Buddha nature. So, with the activation of the Ch’an-yuan ching-kui (禪院淸規) in the Ch’an monasteries, the convention of public Ch’an dialogue has been regularly evolved as one of the pedagogical method since the T’ang Dynasties. Some of the devices are Si-jung (kor. 示衆), Sang-dang bup-mun (上堂法門), So-cham bup-mun (小參法門). The tradition of the Ch’an dialogue in monastery has been established through this dialogues and sermon.

The characteristics of the Tso-ch’an may be summarized as the self-enlightenment of original mind through establishment of self integration by oneself, while Ch’an dialogue is formed primarily through encounters between masters and practitioners. Through mutual interaction, whether it is a verbal expression or any physical activities, one may confirm the original mind without being entangled by the objective world.

Through Ch’an dialogue, the practitioner may experience a great conversion. Sometimes one may ask himself who he is or what he is doing at the moment in question. And, by so doing, by specific cause and conditions, he thoroughly realizes the original mind which is beyond the dualism of subject and object.

The maxim of Ch’an Buddhism, ‘directly pointing out the mind of human being, one makes him see the true nature to be the Buddha (直指人心 見性成佛),’ typically stands for the spirit of Ch’an dialogue. The phrase, ‘To point out the human mind,’ indicates pedagogical method by which the masters point out the original mind of the disciple and thereby makes the latter enlighten the Buddhahood.

The reason why the method of Ch’an dialogue is brought about as a part of Ch’an practice is to affirm the original pure mind in the everyday life. The practice of Tso-ch’an is focused on the individual, speechless meditation by cutting off any activities in daily life. But we can not live without physical or mental activities such as going, staying, sitting, reclining, speech, silence, acting, stillness, and even relieving oneself nature. The Ch’an dialogue is a device not to lose the original pure mind within these activities of daily life.

The Ch’an dialogue is philosophically founded on the Ma-tsu’s Ch’an thought, embodied in his dictum, ‘Tao lies in ordinary human mind,’ which asserts that Ch’an practice should be carried out in everyday activities because they are revelation of the original mind. In other words, the Ch’an dialogue has been evolved as a practice of everyday activities, in which the original pure mind should not be buried by things and events of the external world. ‘Inquire into the meaning of a thing by pointing it out’ in the Leng-chia shih-tzu-chi (楞伽師資記) too is one of the Ch’an dialogue. To be sure, as the records of Ch’an dialogue shows, everything of mundane world, whether it is animal, plants, tea meeting, etc., can be a theme of Ch’an dialogue.

That our daily activities is, as a whole, a manifestation of the Buddha-nature (or original pure mind) may well be expressed by Ma-tsu in his dictum, ‘Tao lies in ordinary human mind,’ or by Lin-chi in his aphorism, ‘be the subject everywhere you go, be truthful any situation you are placed (隨處作主 立處皆眞).’ A stanza for the transmission of the Buddhist dharma by the venerable Manara, the 22th Patriarch of the Ch’an Buddhist school, was produced based on the practical spirit of the patriarchal Ch’an Buddhism:

The mind is shifted as the objectives shift

And the juncture of the shift is truly mysterious

If one realize the true nature following the stream of the objectives,

he would not hindered by joy or sorrow.

As the Liu-tsu t’an-ching says, the true nature of mind would not be colored by the objects of the external world. This stanza recites the same idea as the patriarchal Ch’an Buddhism. So to speak, in every situation, one should not forget original mind in order not to be attached to the objective world, such as joy, sorrow, or discriminative dispositions.

3) Duty and labour in the monastery life

This is a Ch’an practice in daily activities, the evolution of the original mind.

In fact, the labour of monks was prohibited in the Indian Buddhist precept, whereas in the Chinese Ch’an Buddhist monastery, it was a duty for monks to do daily labour under the regulation of the Ch’an monastery (禪院) since it was branched out of the Precept monastery (律院).

Pai-chang (百杖, 749-814), in his Ch’an-men kui-shih (禪門規式), prescribes that ‘the universally required labour (普請) should be adopted by all the members of the community for co-operation.’ The same rule is found in the Tai-sung-seng shih-hueh (大宋僧史略) compiled by Ts’uan-ning (贊寧), and in the autobiography of Pai-chang in the Sung kao-seng chuan (宋高僧傳). The universally required regulations is a responsibility of labour for all, from the elder to novice, to co-operate in the daily chore as well as productive labour to run the monastery. In a sense, it is a Ch’an practice through which the original mind is cultivated. The practice of labour is, along with Ch’an dialogue, the Ch’an practice composed of daily activities to sustain mindfulness. It is, therefore, called cultivation within things and events.

This feature of the Chinese Buddhism differs, in a large amount, from that of the Indian Buddhist tradition where Buddhist practice consists of mortification, meditation in a retreat, or mendicant wandering. There are lots of episodes concerning labour in monastery: Hung-jen, the 5th Patriarch of the Chinese Ch’an school, participated in labour during daytime; Hui-neng, the Sixth Patriarch, laboured in the mill of the monastery for several years From these legendary episodes, it is supposed that the labour was a part of the Ch’an practice. The chapter for Pai-chang in the Ch’uan-teng lu, records following dialogue on the labour:

Yun-yen (雲巖); For whom are you working so hard?

Pai-chang; For the single person.

Yun-yen; Why don’t you have him work?

Pai-chang; He is not able to make a living.

The single person is a true personality with no ranks (無位眞人), that is, the self-enlightened one. In this context, it is clear that the labour is another form of the Ch’an practice. Ch’an means the life of the Tao – the life living with the original mind in all the activities. Here, the discrimination between labour and Ch’an practice does not make sense.

The patriarchal Ch’an is not so much as the negative practice of mere elimination of kle?a and discriminative dispositions as the practice within everyday activities awakening original mind to the enlightenment. As the Buddha-nature is universally granted to all sentient beings regardless their race or status, according to the idea of the S?tras, there should not be any discrimination on either the kinds of activities or on varying ranks of the member of the community.

Both the dignity of human beings and the ideal of the original mind can not be reified by means of mere speculative reasoning; Only through the practice of mental or physical activities may the ideal be realized by the practitioner. Due to the universally required regulations, the Ch’an school of the T’ang Dynasty could, both economically and orderly, secure its survival. This trend is well informed by the maxim of Pai-chang, ‘no work, no meal (一日不作 一日不食).’ It stands for a harmony of daily life and Ch’an practice. In this manner, the Chinese Ch’an Buddhism put its root into the daily life of the Chinese society.

As the universally required labour consists of cutting wood, plowing land, practitioners always interact with the nature. This aspect also colored the Chinese Ch’an Buddhism. The record of activities in the Lin-chi lu shows an anecdote where Huang-po and Lin-chi have a talk during the universally required labour:

At the universally required labour, Lin-chi was working behind Huang-po. Looking back Lin-chi, Huang-po noticed that the former doesn’t have a hoe in his hand.

“What is the matter with your hoe?”

“The single person took it with him,” answered Lin-chi.

“Come on, let us talk about on this matter.”

When Lin-chi neared, Huang-po, raising his hoe, said, “No one ever cannot take this one.”

Thereupon, Lin-chi snatched the hoe from Huang-po’s hand and said, “How did I have it in my hand?”

“I have seen one who did the universally required labour pretty well,” then Huang-po returned to the monastery right away.

This dialogue shows that labour is not mere a labour but an experimental station where the original pure mind is perpetually put into a trial. As mentioned above, the interaction with nature is a feature of the Chinese Ch’an Buddhism. And this interaction in the long run leads to the integration of subject and object. The stanza of Su Tung-po (蘇東坡) pictures this integration;

The sound of the stream is the lengthy sermon of the Buddha.

How is the form of the mountain not the body of the Buddha?

(溪聲便是廣長舌 山色豈非淸淨身)

Su Tung-po, well versed in the Ch’an philosophy, sees in the objects of the nature the manifestation of the truth, i. e., the Buddha-nature or the original pure mind, whatever it may be called. All the objects of nature found in the Ch’an literature is not mere objects but reified truth that is emptiness, or oneness of all the existences.


So far, we have surveyed the system of Ch’an practice in terms of Tso-ch’an, Ch’an dialogue and Ch’an as a daily labour. As a matter of fact, they are classified as such for the convenience’ sake. The basic spirit common to all is the living Ch’an cultivating the original pure mind in any circumstances. In the patriarchal Ch’an, the life of Ch’an is called Ts’an-ch’an (參禪) which signifies the life living with the original mind that is not to be defiled by the external world. The Cheng-tao ke (證道歌) resounds the Ts’an-ch’an as follows:

Wandering over the rivers and the sea,

Crossing the mountains and the streams,

(I) sought the masters and the Tao, practicing Ts’an-ch’an.

Since I found the path of the Ts’ao-hsi (曹溪, referring to Hui-neng, the Sixth Patriarch),

I have been fully convinced that there is nothing to worry about birth and death (transmigration).

Going is the practice of the Ch’an, and sitting is also the practice of Ch’an.

Whether speaking, keeping silence, moving, or being still, the original entity is in peace.

This stanza of Yung-chia Hsuan-chueh (靈嘉 玄覺, 675-713) recites the life of the Ch’an practitioner who wanders about to seek masters all over the country, and, at the same time, it presents the spirit of the patriarchal Ch’an free from all fetters of transmigration. This absolute freedom is obtained through Ts’an-ch’an, the sincere effort to resolve the question of life and death in this world of impermanence.

The lines of the stanza, ‘whether speaking, keeping silence, moving, or being still, the original entity is in peace,’ relate the stage of the sage who lives daily life with absolute freedom and full self-enlightenment. As he transcends all hindrances, he can live leisurely in peace under the light of the original pure mind. Both of the phrase in the Li-tai fa-pao chi (歷代法寶記), ‘Ch’an is cultivated all the time,’ and the phrase in the Tun-wu yao-men (頓悟要門), ‘to those who understand, either one of the going, staying, sitting, or reclining is the Tao,’ delivers the same idea.

The practice of Ch’an is self-practice of the original mind immanent in the practitioner, the the practice restoring the original pure mind by removing the cloud of delusive mind through practice of Ch’an. So, it consists of self-questioning process. The episode of the venerable Jui-yen (瑞巖) tells us the the way of self-questioning practice of Ch’an Buddhism:

He always calls himself, “host!.”

Then, he himself replies, “yes!”

“Are you awakened?” he again asks himself, and adds, “Anywhere, by anyone, you should not be deceived at all.”

He always resolved not to be hindered by the external objects which covers the light of the original pure mind.

The place where practitioners seek after the Tao should be the original pure mind. If one pursues the Tao in the hope of finding it in the external world, he would never realize the Buddhahood. This is why Ma-tsu and Lin-chi emphasized the introspection into the original mind, saying, ‘Do not search for (the Tao) outward.’ The Buddhist truth in general, letting aside the practice of the Ch’an, call for the exertion of a practitioner himself; as though he seems to inquire the Tao of his master, he virtually inquires it of himself. The purport of the Ch’an Buddhism is, as Lin-chi advanced in the Tsung-men tung-yao (宗門統要, vol. 5), ‘to achieve the Buddhahood and to make the Patriarch’ by elucidating the original mind immanent in all beings. Summing up, deliverance of all sentient beings, which is the final goal of the Buddhism, is initiated by the Ch’an practice centered on the cultivation of the original mind.

Leave a Reply