Critical Considerations on Zen Thought

Shiro Matsumoto (松本史郞)


Professor of
Komazawa University


Critical Considerations on Zen Thought


I. Zen thought and "cessation of thinking"


It cannot be denied that the tradition of dhyaana(Ch’an, So.GIF (312 bytes)n, Zen) has its origin in pre-Buddhist Indian philosophy,
because it seems quite definite, according to Buddhist
scriptures, that the Buddha has practiced dhyaana and
asceticism before the enlightenment(bodhi).(1)

When dhyaana theory, or Zen thought, was introduced into
Buddhism, it is most probable that the theory was modified
from the standpoint of Buddhist philosophy. Therefore, if
we try to understand the original or genuine form of Zen
thought, we are obliged to clarify the meanings of Zen
thought in its pre-Buddhist stage.

Then, what were the essential characters of pre-Buddhist
Zen thought? The essence of Zen thought in those days, I
think, lied in its idea of "cessation of thinking"(2) and its
inseparable connection with aatman(self) theory. It seems
certain that the goal of dhyaana theory then was "cessation
of thinking", because we can find, in the early Buddhist
scriptures, the various theories of dhyaana or samaadhi,
the goals of which can be construed as "cessation of

For example, the word "sa^n^naa-vedayita-nirodha"(想受滅)
of the sa^n^naa-vedayitanirodha-samaapatti seems to
mean "cessation of thinking and sensation." We can also
understand that, it is "sa.mj^naa"(sa^n^naa 想)," the
thinking faculty, that was denied by the
Moreover, because the term "nimitta"(相) of the animitto
ceto-samaadhi(無相心定) means the object of "sa.mj^naa."
Thus, we can understand that, in this samaadhi also,
"cessation of thinking" seems to be aimed at as its goal.(3)

However, against the argument above, it may be objected
that the dhyaana theories above mentioned are not those
practiced in pre-Buddhist stage, because they are found in
Buddhist scriptures. But we cannot assume that all the
theories found in Buddhist scriptures are of Buddhist
origins. As for the dhyaana theories mentioned above, it
seems that they have their origins in pre-Buddhist stage of
Indian philosophy. In those days of India, the practices of
asceticism(苦行) and dhyaana were quite popular among
ascetics(^sramana 沙門), as is shown by the fact that
asceticism and dhyaana were two chief virtues practiced in
Jainism, which I think was the typical example of
pre-Buddhist ascetic philosophy.

According to Buddhist scriptures, the Buddha himself
practiced dhyaana and asceticism for six years before his
enlightenment. It is stated that he studied the
aaki^nca^n^na-aayatana-samaadhi(無所有處定) from the
master AA.laara kaalaama, and studied the
nevasa^n^naanaasa^n^naa-aayatana-samaadhi from the
master Uddaka Raamaputta. So if we rely on this scriptural
statement, we can conclude that the
nevasa^n^naa-naasa^n^naa-aayatana-samaadhi, which was
counted as the last of the four formless dhyaanas(四無色定)
in the early Buddhist classification of dhyaanas, was of
pre-Buddhist and non-Buddhist origin.

It goes without saying that we cannot entirely rely on the
scriptural statements concerning the two masters of the
Buddha in question. But I think it is most probable that the
dhyaana theories, which the Buddha studied before his
enlightenment, had as their goals "cessation of thinking."

In the case of the theory of the four dhyaanas in the
material world(四禪) also, I think the leading idea was
nothing other than "cessation of thinking and sensation,"
because, in the theory, the process of gradually calming and
suspending all mental functions including "thinking and
sensation" is explicitly stated. In fact, in the
Majjhima-Nikaaya(MN), it is stated as follows:


Having separated myself from desires(kaama)
and evil properties, I have accomplished the first
dhyaana, i.e. the joy and happiness(piiti-sukha),
which[still] possesses "vitakka" and "vicaara."

Then, owing to the extinction of "vitakka" and
"vicaara," I have accomplished the second
dhyaana, i.e. the joy and happiness born from
samaadhi, inwardly pure and concentrated, which
no longer possesses "vitakka" and "vicaara."

Then, owing to the separation from joy, having
become indifferent and composed, rightly
conscious, I have enjoyed happiness by my

Namely, I have accomplished the third dhyaana,
of which the sacred(aarya) explained "[one
becomes] indifferent and composed, abiding in

Then, owing to the abandonment of both
happiness and pain(dukkha), and owing to the
former extinction of joy and sorrow, I have
accomplished the fourth dhyaana, which is
purified by indifference and composure, without
pain and happiness.



In this passage, I think "vitakka" and "vicaara," which are
made extinct in the second dhyaana, both mean the faculty
of conceptual thinking(4), while pain and happiness,
abandoned in the fourth dhyaana, are the variaties of
sensation(vedanaa). So we can understand that, by the
theory of four dhyaanas of the material world expressed in
the passage above, "cessation of thinking and sensation" is
definitely meant as its goal.

Moreover, I think Fujita Klong_o.GIF (526 bytes)tatsu is right when he claims
that the theory in question as well as the theory of the four
formless dhyaanas was of non-Buddhist origin. Further,
according to Fujita, the sa^n^naavedayitanirodha or the
nirodha-samaapatti(滅盡定) could not have significance
from the original standpoint of early Buddhism, because we
can distinguish it from mere death only because it still has
life(aayu), bodily heat(usmaa) and clarity of sense

Thus, we may have the conclusion that the leading idea of
the original form of Zen thought was "cessation of thinking
and sensation," aimed at as the goal of the various dhyaana
theories of non-Buddhist origin.

Later, in the fifth century A.D., it was stated in the
Yogasuutra as follows:


Yoga is the cessation of mental



This definition of "yoga," I think, shows clearly the
fundamental idea of the whole Zen thought, namely,
"cessation of all mental functions including thinking and
sensation." However, it should be noted that "cessation or
denial of thinking" especially has played the central role in
the whole history of Zen thought. In other words, we can
say that "thinking" has been regarded as something like
"original evil" in the history of Zen thought.

For instance, we can read the strongest aversion to
"sa.m^naa"(想) in the whole of the A.t.thakavagga chapter of
the Suttanipaata(Sn). A typical example is found in the
following verse of the chapter:


For him whose "sa.mj^naa" is
abandoned(sa^n^naa-viratta)(6), there are no



It seems undeniable that the main theme of the chapter was
"cessation or denial of thinking."

In the texts of Chinese Ch’an Buddhism we can find many
passages where "cessation or denial of thinking" is
preached. For example, by the passages in the Ratification
of True Principles(正理決), we can understand that
Mo-ho-yen摩訶衍, who is considered to have participated
in the well-known bSam yas debate held at the end of the
eighth century in Tibet, taught that one can attain
Buddhahood merely by abandoning "sa.mj^naa." In fact, in
the Ratification of True Principles it is stated as follows:


If one becomes separated from false
"sa.mj^naa"(妄想) without giving rise to false
mind, the true nature, originally existent, and the
omniscience [of the Buddha] will be naturally
manifested [to him].(7)


Mo-ho-yen’s rejection of "sa.mj^naa" was based on the
following two passages of the Diamond Sutra:


[A] Some people, if they become separated from
"marks"(相),are called Buddhas.

[離一切諸相, 則名諸佛]

(Taisho, 8,750b)

[B] All "marks"(相) are false.

[凡所有相, 皆是虛妄]



Here the original Sanskrit for "mark" in Passage[A] is
"sa.mj^naa," while that for "mark" in Passage[B] is
"" However, because Mo-ho-yen, when he quoted
these two passages in the Ratification of True Principles,
altered "mark"(相) into "sa.mj^naa"(想), he was able to mark
the passages the scriptural basis for his theory of
"separation from sa.mj^naa."(8)

Here we must remember the fact that "nimitta"(相, mark)
was held to be the object of "sa.mj^naa"(想) in the Northern
Abhidharma treatises.(9) So we have good reasons to
consider that the Chinese words "hsiang"(相) and
"hsiang"(想) are sometimes interchangeable in the texts of
Chinese Buddhism in general. Thus, although Mo-ho-yen
was wrong in understanding the original meaning or the
Sanskrit meaning of Passage[B], his interpretation of
"separation from sa.mj^naa" was quite consistent
concerning the Chinese translations of the two passages in

As to Mo-ho-yen’s understanding of "sa.mj^naa," it must
be noted that all "sa.mj^naa" are, according to him, totally
false without exception. In other words, he did not accept
the difference between true "sa.mj^naa" and false
"sa.mj^naa." This theory seems to contradict with our
common sense ideas, because we ordinarily think that there
are two kinds of judgement, i.e. wrong judgement and right
judgement. But Mo-ho-yen thought otherwise. Every
judgement or every thought is wrong without exception,
according to him.(10) So for him "thinking" or "sa.mj^naa"
was something like "original evil," as is known from the
following passage:


[Question] What is the defect of "sa.mj^naa"?

[Answer] The defect of "sa.mj^naa" is that it
covers the omniscience which sentient
beings(sattva) possess originally and makes
them reborn in the three evil destinations so that
they have everlasting transmigrations.(11)


It seems noteworthy that Mo-ho-yen rejected, as
something like "original evil," not only "sa.mj^naa"(想) but
also "kuan"(觀) in the Ratification of True Principles. So he
was famous for his advocation of "pu-kuan"(不觀).(12) Then,
what was the meaning of "kuan," which he rejected so
vigorously? His theory of "pu-kuan" also was based on a
passage of a sutra. It was the following passage from
Kumaarajiiva’s translation of the


[C] "pu-kuan"(不觀) is enlightenment(bodhi)
, because it is separated from
"yüan"(緣) [i.e. aalambana-pratyaya].

"pu-hsing(不行) is enlightenment, because it is



Mo-ho-yen quoted the phrase "pu-kuan is enlightenment"
in the Ratification of True Principles.(13) But because the
original Sanskrit text of the sutra is not available, it is very
difficult to ascertain the original Sanskrit words for
"kuan"(觀) of "pu-kuan" and for "i-nien"(憶念) of "wu-i-nien"
in Passage[C].(14) However, according to Hsüan-tsang’s
translation(15) and Tibetan translation,(16) it seems certain
that the original Sanskrit for "i-nien" is "manasikaara," while
that for "kuan" seems "samaaropa," according to Tibetan
translation, because the Tibetan word corresponding to
"i-nien" is "sgro btags pa."(17) But my opinion at present is
that we cannot deny the possibility that the original Sanskrit
for "kuan" was also "manasikaara," because it seems
improbable that Kumaarajiiva translated "samaaropa" by the
word "kuan."(18)

Anyway, I think we can assume that Mo-ho-yen meant, by
advocation "pu-kuan," the rejection of "manasikaara." In
fact, it might be an indirect evidence that kamala^siila’s
opponent in the third Bhaavanaakrama, who is generally
considered to be Mo-ho-yen, advocated "amanasikaara" and
"asm.rti" there.

Thus, it seems evident that not only "sa.mj^naa" but also
"manasikaara" was rejected as "original evil" by Mo-ho-yen.
Then what is the meaning of "manasikaara"? It is needless
to say that this term has been quite important from the
beginning of Buddhist tradition, because it is stated in the
Mahaavagga chapter of the Vinaya that the Buddha did
"manasikaara"(manasaakaasi) on
Dependent-arising(pratiityasamutpaada) in regular and
reverse orders at the first portion of the night of his
enlightenment.(19) So if we can rely on this scriptural
statement concerning the Buddha’s enlightenment, we may
conclude that the Buddha’s enlightenment was nothing
other than "manasikaara" of Dependent-arising. It goes
without saying that we cannot accept the scriptural
statement in question as expressing literally the historical
facts. But at least we can understand that the compilers of
the Mahaavagga chapter of the Vinaya seem to have been
of the intention to express the interpretation that the
Buddha’s enlightenment lied in "manasikaara" of

Anyway, at least we can say that "manasikaara" has been an
important technical term from the beginning of Buddhist
tradition. However, the Abhidharma definition of
"manasikaara" as "cetasa aabhoga" (directing mind [to
objects])(20) seems insufficient. In Japanese Buddhist
studies, "manasikaara" is generally translated by Chinese
word "tso-i"(作意), and sometimes translated by English
word "attention." But I cannot approve these translations.
As to the Chinese word "ts-i," although it is well-known for
being used by Hsüan-tsang for translating the term
"manasikaara," it is just a word-for-word translation of
"manasikaara," and besides is not the sole Chinese
translation of the term. The following is a list of examles of
Chinese translations by diffrent translators for


Kumaarajiiva: 念·憶念

Paramaartha: 思惟·思量·觀

Hsüan-tsang: 作意·思惟·觀


Among the examples shown above, "ssu-wei"(思惟) seems
to be the most appropriate for translating "manasikaara,"
because I think "manasikaara" primarily means "thinking,"
like "sa.mj^naa." If we consider that the meaning of
"manasikaara" is merely "attention," we cannot exactly
understand the meanings of Mo-ho-yen’s denial of
"manasikaara" and Kamala^siila’s vindication fo
"manasikaara." Thus we can reach the conclusion that
Mo-ho-yen advocated "separation from thinking," and
rejected "sa.mj^naa" and "manasikaara" as the terms
meaning "thinking."

It is quite noteworthy that Mo-ho-yen’s denial of
"sa.mj^naa" and "manasikaara" was evidently under the
influence of Shen-hui 神會(684-78)(22), the famous
advocator of the so-called "Southern School." He quoted, in
his Platform Speech 壇語, Passage[A] of the Diamond
sutra(23) and the underlined parts(不觀是菩提無憶念故) of
Passage[C] of the Vimalakiirti-suutra.(24) Moreover, he
stated in the Platform Speech as follows:


The mere "pu-tso-i"(不作意, amanasikaara),
without mind rising, is the true "we-nien"(無念).
— All sentient beings are originally
markless(wu-hsiang, 無相). All marks(相) are
false minds(妄心).

If mind becomes markless(無相), it is
immediately the Buddha’s mind.(25)


We must remember here the interchangeability of
"hsiang"(相) and "hsiang"(想) in Chinese Buddhist texts. In
other words, the word "hsiang"(相) used in the passage
above must be interpreted as "hsiang"(想) which means
"sa.mj^naa." According to this interpretation, it is quite
clear that Shen-hui’s message in the passage above is
totally based on Passage[A] and Passage[B] of the
Diamond Sutra, because "all marks are false
minds"(今言相者,幷是妄心) in the passage above is merely a
modification of Passage[B] (凡所有相,皆是虛妄), and
because "if mind becomes markless, it is immediately the
Buddha’s mind" there is simply an alter ation of
Passage[A] (離一切諸相. 則名諸佛).(26)

Thus it is clear that Shen-hui, like Mo-ho-yen, denied
"sa.mj^naa" and asserted that one can attain Buddhahood
only by abandoning "sa.mj^naa," based on Passages[A] and
[B] of the Diamond Sutra. Moreover, shen-hui also stated,
in the passage above quoted, the denial of "manasikaara,"
i.e. "amanasikaara," by the word "pu-tso-i"(不作意). But it
shoud be noted that the word "wu-nien"(無念) used there
also means "amanasikaara," because it seems improbable
that Shen-hui was not aware that there had been some
cases where the term "manasikaara" was translated by
Chinese word "nien"(念). Therefore, we may conclude that,
for Shen-hui, the terms "pu-tso-i" (不作意) and
"wu-nien"(無念) are synonymous, both meaning

To sum up, Shen-hui’s theory of "no thinking" was
expressed by three words, i.e. "wu-hsiang"(無相) meaning
"a-sa.mj^naa," and "pu-tso-i"(不作意) and "wu-nien"(無念)
both meaning "amanasikaara." This theory of "no thinking"
was, needless to say, representing Shen-hui’s central
position, because he stated in the Platform Speech that he
erected "wu-nien" as his central thesis(立無念爲宗).(27)

The influence of Shen-hui’s theory of "no thinking" is to be
found almost everywhere in Ch’an texts later than
Shen-hui. We have already seen an example in the
Ratification of True Principles. But Mo-ho-yen, because he
belonged to the so-called "Northern School," did not use the
term "wu-nien,"(28) The direct influence can be found in the
Li-tai fa-pao-chi歷代法寶記(774). According to the text,
Wu-chu無住 (714-774) stated as follows:


If [one becomes] "wu-nien," he will see the

If [one is] "yu-nien" (有念), he will

[無念卽是見佛. 有念卽是生死]


Moreover, in the text, Wu-chu is described as the person
who have "exclusively stopped thinking"(一向絶思斷慮).(30) It
goes without saying that Shen-hui’s influence was found in
the Platform Sutra 六祖壇經(Yampolsky ed.), according to
which it is stated by Hui-neng慧能(638-713) as follows:


This teaching has established "wu-nien" as its



In Japanese Zen Buddhism also, the theory of "no thinking"
or "cessation of thinking" has been the central idea. For
example, Dogen道元(1200-1253), stated in his earliest work
Fukan-zazen-gi 普勸坐禪儀 (1227), as follows:


Suspend the functions of "citta," "manas" and

Stop the conceptions of "nien"(念), "hsiang"(想)
and "kuan"(觀).(32)

[停心意識之運轉, 止念想觀之測量]


Here the terms "nien" and "kuan" must be interpreted as the
translations of "manasikaara," while the word "hsiang" is to
be construed as that of "sa.mj^naa." It is clear that Dogen
meant here the cessation of all mental function, especially
"cessation of thinking."

Thus it is now clearly known that Zen thought, from the
pre-Buddhist stage to Dogen, has rejected "thinking" as
something like "original evil" and has advocated "cessation
of thinking." But why was "thinking" rejected so ardently?
My opinion is the following. It is undeniable that the essence
of Zen thought lies in its idea of "concentration," or "cittasya
eka-agrataa"(one-pointedness of mind),(33) to use the
Abhidharma definition of "samaadhi." It is quite noteworthy
that the word "eka"(one) is used here. The term seems to
indicate that the idea of "concentration" cannot be
established without conceiving the existence of something
one(eka). In other words, the theory of "concentraion," or
Zen thought, presupposes the existence of something which
is ontologically one(eka) and equal(sama) without
distinction(nirvikalpa). In this sense, it is also to be noted
that the word "sama"(34) (equal) is found in both terms
"samaadhi" and "samaapatti."

Thus, to state rather extremely, it seems evident that Zen
thought is possible only when it is based on monism. And
this is why Zen thought has been inseparably connected
with aatman theory. Then why is "thinking" rejected in
monism? It is because both "thinking" and "language," which
makes "thinking" possible, have the function of
dichotomizing or differentiating objects. Thus, roughly
speaking, "thinking" and "language" are antagonistic to
monism. Zen thought, based on monism, denies "thinking"
and "language."


Back to Top



II. Zen thought and aatman / Buddha-nature


It is generally considered that the connection of Zen
thought with aatman theory or monism is not fully evident.
In fact, Jainism, the chief representative of pre-Buddhist
ascetic philosophy, and the Yoga school, whose definition of
"yoga" as "cessation of mental functions" has been discussed
above, are based on dualism. However, it is undeniable that
both Jainism and the Yoga school have evidently admitted
aatman theory. Especially, Jain theory of asceticism is
theoretically not possible without accepting the difference
of impure body(B) and pure mind(A), i.e. aatman. This
theory is indeed dualistic. But I believe that this is the
simplest or the most general form of aatman theory in
India. The monistic aatman theory of ^Sa^nkara, although
held to be the most orthodox theory, cannot be considered
to be the general idea in India. Without accepting two
mutually opposing existences, i.e. (A) and (B), even the
theory of "liberaton"(35)( cannot have been
established in India, because "liberation" was conceived
there primarily as that of aatman(A) from impure body(B).
Jain asceticism was nothing other than the endeavor to
reduce impure body(B) to nothing and to liberate aatman(A)
from the body.

Then, what is the meaning of "thinking" in this dualistic
aatman theory? In the theory, it is evident that "thinking"
and "aatman" are considered to be opposed to each other,
because the former is dichotomizing function, while the
latter is one and the same ontological existence(eka, sama).
So it is doubtless that, among two principles, "thinking" was
regarded as Principle(B), impure, false and to be reduced to
nothing. Here lied the logical ground for establishing the
Zen theory of "cessation of thinking."

The connection of Zen thought with aatman theory is also
found in the A.t.thakavagga chapter of the Suttanipaata. We
have already discussed the rejection of "sa.mj^naa" in the
chapter(Sn,v.847). Besides, in the chapter, there are many
passages where the existence of "aatman" is positively
admitted.(36) For example, the following expression are
found there:


"the abode aatman" (bhavanam attano)

"the nirvana of aatman" (nibbaanam attano)

"the stain of aatman" (malam attano) [Sn,v.962]

"possessing aatman uncovered" (abhinibbutatta)


The strong aversion to "thinking"(B) and the positive
acceptance of "aatman"(A) are not mutually incompatible in
the chapter, because the leading idea there was the dualistic
aatman theory explained above. Thus it goes without saying
that we cannot directly reconstruct the fundamental ideas
of the earliest form of Buddhism, simply relying on the
accounts of A.t.thakavagga or the Suttanipaata, which
principally was but a Buddhist version of the ascetic
literature quite popular and prevalent in those days of

Moreover, as for the two masters, from whom the Buddha
studied two kinds of dhyaana, the accounts in the twelfth
chapter of the Buddhacarita are not to be ignored. In fact,
the master AA.laara, who taught
aaki^nca^n^na-aayatana-samaadhi, was there described as
a Saa.mkhya phlosopher, and the master Uddaka also was
there stated to have admitted the existence of "aatman." It
goes without saying that we cannot simply accept the
accounts in the Buddhacarita as representing historical
facts. But I think they are improtant because they seem to
indicate that the two samaadhis in question were of
non-Buddhist origin. It is also to be noted that Saa.mkhya
philosophy was the basis for the fundamental ideas of the
Yoga school. Moreover, "aaki^nca^n^na"
(possessionlessness, 無所有) was one of the five chief
virtues of Jainism, and theoretically presupposed the
distinction between "aatman"(A) and "non-aatman"(B),
because "aaki^nca^n^na" was the theory enjoining people
from possessing and adhering to "non-aatman," being
impure and transient.

In early Buddhism, "dhyaana" was placed at the second level
of "three studies" (tisso sikkhaa, 三學). In other words,
"dhyaana" was merely the means to attain "praj^naa"(right
cognition). The final goal of Buddhism was considered to be
"praj^naa," or the right cognition of Buddhist philosophy. It
seems clear that this evaluation of "dhyaana" contradicts the
general "dhyaana" theory of "cessation of thinking," because
right cognitions cannot be produced from "cessation of
thinking." However, I do not think that the "dhyaana" theory
of "cessation of thinking" has never been preached in the
whole history of Buddhism. On the contrary, the theory has
been taught quite often within Buddhism, as is shown by
the arguments above.

Then, why was Buddhist evaluation of "dhyaana" as the
means to attain "praj^naa" altered into the general theory of
"cessation of thinking"? I think it was due to the influence of
monism or "aatman" theory. For instance, is is generally
believed that Buddha’s cognition(j^naana) is "distinctionless
congnition"(nirvikalpa-j^naana 無分別智).(38) But the
concept of "distinctionless cognition" is not so old in
Buddhist philosophy. I do not think that the term
"distinctionless cognition" (nirvikalpa-j^naana) was used
before the rise of Mahaayaana Buddhism. At the second
century A.D., when the oldest form of the
A.s.tasaahasrikaa-praj^naapaaramitaa-suutra was
translated into Chinese for the first time(179), it seems that
the term "distinctionless"(nirvikalpa) was found in the text,
and not the term "distinctionless
cognition"(nirvikalpa-j^naana). The same can be said about
the Muulamadhyamakakaarikaa of Naagaarjuna(c.150-250),
where only one example of the term "distinctionless" can be
found(ⅩⅧ,9). However, the Yogaacara philosophers of the
fifth century used the term "distinctionless cognition"
(nirvikalpa-j^naana) quite often. These facts seems to
indicate that the concept of "distinctionless cognition" was
preceded by the concept of "distinctionless" in Buddhist
tradition, and that the term "nirvikalpa-j^naana"
(distinctionless cognition) originally meant "the cognition of
what is distinctionless." It goes without saying that what is
distinctionless means the single substance or the highest
reality, postulated by monism.

Thus we can understand how the concept of "distinctionless
cognition" was formed under the influence of Hindu monism.
At around the latter half of the fourth century A.D., the
theory of Buddha-nature(buddha-dhaatu) was formed in
the The sutra is well known
for its accpting "aatman" theory openly. The following
statement is found in the first Chinese translation(418):


The [term] "Buddha" means" aatman.(39)"



According to my understanding, the theory of
Buddha-nature or the theory of Tathaagatagarbha was
nothing other than a Buddhist version of "aatman" theory in
Hinduism. When the theory of Buddha-nature was
introduced into China, there were some cases where the
theory was modified under the influence of Taoist
philosophy. Thus, two types of Buddha-nature theory(40)
was formed in China.

One is Buddha-nature Immanence theory 佛性內在論, and
the other is Buddha-nature Manifestation theory
佛性顯在論. the former is the original type, or Indian type,
according to which Buddha-nature is considered to exist in
one’s body, like "aatman." In fact, it is stated in the as follows:


All sentient beings possess Buddha-nature,
which is in their bodies.

[一切衆生皆有佛性, 在於身中.]



The latter, Buddha-nature Manifestation theory, is the
developed or the extreme type, according to which
Buddha-nature is wholly manifested on all phenomenal
existences, including insentient beings such as trees and
stones. In other words, the phenomenal things(事), as such,
are regarded as Buddha-nature itself, and thus absolutized
totally, according to the theory.

Without correctly making distinction between these two
theories of Buddha-nature, it seems difficult to understand
the philosophical meaning of Ch’an Buddhism. Of these two
theories, we will at first discuss Buddha-nature Immanence
theory in Ch’an Buddhism. This theory is found in the
writings or the analects of Tao-hsin道信, Hung-jen弘忍,
Shen-hsiu神秀, Hui-neng慧能, Shen-hui神會, Ma-tsu馬祖,
Pai-chang百丈, Ta-chu大珠, Huang-po黃檗, Lin-chi臨濟,
Tsung-mi宗密 and so on.(41) For example, the Hsiu-hsin
yao-lun 修心要論(42) and the Kuan-hsin lun 觀心論(43) have
the following passage:


Sentient beings have diamond-like
Buddha-nature in their bodies.

[衆生身中, 有金剛佛性]


It is clear that Hui-neng’s central position was
Buddha-nature Immanence theory, because he stated in his
commentary on the Diamond Sutra, i.e. the Chin-kang
ching chieh-i 金剛經解義,(44) as follows:


There is Buddha-nature, originally pure, in one’s
own body(自身中).(45)


In the commentary, he also admitted that Buddha-nature is
identical with "aatman" as follows:


"AAtman" is [Buddha-]nature, and
[Buddha-]nature is "aatman."(46)

[我者性也, 性者我也]


As is stated above, Buddha-nature Immanence theory is
not other than Indian Tathaagatagarbha theory, which in
turn is a Buddhist version of "aatman" theory in Hinduism.
So, because the theoretical structure of Buddha-nature
Immanence theory is nothing other than "aatman" theory,
Hui-neng’s identification of Buddha-nature with "aatman"
was correct.

It is needless to say that Buddha-nature Immanence theory
is stated in the following passage of Shen-hui’s Platform


Everyone has Buddha-nature in one’s body.(47)



The connection of Buddha-nature Immanence theory with
"aatman" theory seems evident in the case of Lin-chi. In the
Lin-chi lu 臨濟錄, his famous teaching is found as follows:


On your lump of red flesh, there is a true man of
no rank, always going in and out of the face-gate
of every one of you.(48)

[赤肉團上, 有一無位眞人, 常從汝等諸人面門出入]


As I argued before,(49) I consider the word "lump of red
flesh"(赤肉團), or the corresponding word "heart of
flesh-lump"(肉團心) in the Sung version of the Ching-te
ch’uan-teng lu景德傳燈錄, to mean "heart"(h.rdaya) and
think that the "true man of no rank" means "aatman,"
because, in Indian "aatman" theory from the times of the
Atharva Veda, it has been considered that "aatman" exists
in "heart" (h.rdaya). Moreover, ^Sa^nkara(c.700-750), the
chief representative of the Vedaanta school, explained the
word "heart" found in the B.rhadaara.nyaka Upani.sad as


The term "heart" (h.rdaya) means a lump of flesh
(maa.msa-pi.n.da) possessing the shape of


The Sanskrit word "maa.msa-pi.n.da" (lump of flesh) was
translated by Hsüan-tsang as "jou-t’uan"(肉團). So it is
clear that the "lump of red flesh"(赤肉團) means "heart"
(h.rdaya) and that "true man"(眞人) means "aatman."

It does not seem so inappropriate to say that the
mainstream of Chinese Ch’an Buddhism has lied in
Buddha-nature Immanence theory. But if we ignore the fact
that the other stream of Buddha-nature manifestation
theory(51) was definitely found in the history of Ch’an
Buddhism, we cannot reach the correct understandings.

The theoretical founder of Buddha-nature Manifestation
theory may have been Chi-tsang 吉藏 (549-623), because
he admitted, in his Ta-ch’eng hsüan-lun 大乘玄論
(taisho,45,40b) that grasses and trees also have
Buddha-nature, and that they can attain Buddhahood.(52)
The attainment of Buddhahood by grasses and
trees(草木成佛) thereafter had become the central tenet of
Buddha-nature Manifestation theory, because the
attainment of Buddhahood by insentient beings cannot be
established in Buddha-nature Immanence theory.

In Ch’an Buddhaism the attainment of Buddhahood by
grasses and trees was admitted in Chüeh-kuan lun 絶觀論
as follows:


Not only human beings but also grasses and
trees have been predicted [by the Buddha to
attain Buddhahood(53)].

[非獨記人, 赤記草木]


However, the most confident advocator of Buddha-nature
manifestation theory was Hui-chung 慧忠 ( -776), because
he not only advocated the theory but also denied
Buddha-nature Immanence theory. In the Tsu-t’ang chi
祖堂集, he stated as follows:


The insentient things such as walls and tiles are
the mind of the old Buddha.(54)

[牆壁凡礫, 無情之物, 普是古佛心]


Here "the mind of the old Buddha" means Buddha-nature or
something regarded as absolute. Therefore, because
phenomenal things including insentient beings are here
considered to be Huddha-nature, it is evident that
Buddha-nature manifestation theory is stated here.
Moreover, in the same text Hui-chung stated as follows:


My [theory of] Buddha-nature is that body and
soul are identical —, while the southern [theory
of] Buddha-nature is that body is impermanent
and that soul is permanent.(55)

[我之佛性, 身心一如, 南方佛性, 身是無常,


Here the second theory is Buddha-nature Immanence
theory, because in the theory the dualistic contraposition
between Buddha-nature(A) and body(B) is indispensable.
For instance, it is considered that Buddha-nature(A) is
permanent and pure, while body(B) is impermanent and
impure. Moreover, it goes without saying that, according to
the theory, Buddha-nature is considered to be pure mind or
soul, because Buddha-nature is but a Buddhist version of
"aatman." Therefore, it is quite evident that Hui-chung
criticised Buddha-nature Immanence theory in the passage

It is to be noted that Buddha-nature Immanence theory is
obliged to have the dualistic structure, like the general idea
of "aatman" theory which we have discussed above. On the
contrary, Buddha-nature Manifestation theory has the
structure of extreme monism, where all distinctions,
including that between body and soul, are not admitte.
Because phenomenal existences or things are, as such,
absolutized by the theory, it seems clear that the theory is
an ultimate form or an extremity of the theory of "affirming
the realities"(56)(現實肯定).

Anyway, after Hui-ching, the advocators of Buddha-nature
Manifestation theory repeatedly criticised Buddha-nature
Immanence theory. For example, it is well known that the
criticism on Lin-chi’s theory by Hsüan-sha 玄沙 (835-908)
is found in the Ching-te ch’uan-teng lu(Taisho,51.345a).
But it is not correctly recognized that Hsüan-sha’s
phiolsophical standpoint was Buddhapnature Manifestation
theory, In the Hsüan-sha kuang-lu 玄沙廣錄, he states as


Mountain is mountain. River is River.—

There is no place, in the whole world of ten
quarters, that is not true.(57)

[山是山, 水是水…盡十方世界, 未有不是處]


Here every phenomenal existence, especially insentient
being, is affirmed as absolute.(58) So it is doubtless that
Buddha-nature Manifestation theory is stated here.

In Japanese Zen Buddhism, Dogen, before his visit to
Kamakura(1247-1248), was an ardent advocator of
Buddha-nature Manifestation theory. Based on the theory,
he criticised Buddha-nature Immanence theory in his
Bendlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)wa(59)   弁道話 (1231). It is evident that his criticism
there was strongly influenced by Hui-chung’s criticism on
Buddha-nature Immanence theory, because Dogen
mentioned there Hui-chung as his authority and expressed
his own position by the words "body and soul are
identical"(身心一如). But of course Dogen’s criticism was
not actually directed to the upholders of Buddha-nature
Immanence theory in China. His criticism there, the
criticism of the so-called "shin-jlong_o.GIF (526 bytes) slong_o.GIF (526 bytes)-metsu"(心常相滅)
theory, was directed to the followers of the
Nihon-daruma-shuu 日本達磨宗, because its position was
Buddha-nature Immanence theory.(60)

Therefore, because Dogen’s own position in the Bendlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)wa
was Buddha-nature manifestation theory, the extreme type
of Buddha-nature theory, I cannot approve of Hakamaya
Noriaki’s interpretation that Dogen criticised "original
enlightenment thought" (本覺思想) in the Bendlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)wa.(61) I am
rather sceptical of the validity of the term "original
enlightenment." Hakamaya’s definition of the term seems
indistinct. My opinion is the following. If we do not make
distinction between thetwo types of Buddha-nature theory,
and if we do not recognize that Dogen’s own position in his
early days was also one type of Buddha-nature theory, we
cannot stop praising Dogen as the excellent philosopher
who denied the general interpretation of Buddha-nature as
something substantial and permanent.(62)

It is quite noteworthy that Dogen criticiced his former
position, i.e. Buddha-nature Manifestation theory, after his
return from Kamakura. In fact, in the Shizen-biku 四禪比丘
volume of the Twelve-fascicle Shlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)blong_o.GIF (526 bytes)genzlong_o.GIF (526 bytes) 十二卷本
正法眼藏, he criticised Buddha-nature manifestation theory
as follows:


Some people say that —–to see mountains
and rivers is to see Tathaagatas.

They do not know the way of Buddhas and


I do not think that Dogen’s criticism here is not fully
logical. Nevertheless, it is evident that he tried to criticise
Buddha-nature manifestation theory without declaring that
the object of his criticism was nothing other than his own
position in his former period.(64)

In the Twelve-fascicle Shlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)blong_o.GIF (526 bytes)genzlong_o.GIF (526 bytes), the word "busshlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)"
(佛性) was never used. On the contrary, he stressed the
theory of "inga"(因果), meaning Dependent-arising,
according to my interpretation. Although it goes without
saying that Dogen was not freed from the way of thinking
influenced by Tathaagatagrabha thought, it can not be
denied that his philosophical position was gradually changed
from Tathaagatagarbha thought to the theory of
Dependent-arising(pratiityasamutpaada), which I consider
to be the essence of Buddhism.


Back to Top



III. Conclusion


According to the Eiheiklong_o.GIF (526 bytes)roku 永乎廣錄, Dogen stated in a
"jlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)dlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)"(上堂) [No,437] in 1251 as follows:


Ordinary people(凡夫) and non-Buddhists (外道)
also practice Zazen (坐禪). —– If one’s
understanding(解會) is identical with that of
non-Buddhists, it is useless [to practice Zazen]
even if he troubles his mind and body [by
practicing Zazen].(65)


I think this message of Dogen is most important. It seems
that Zen practice is to be directed to attaining correct
understanding of Buddhist philosophy.


Back to Top



CZ = Critical Studies on Zen Thought(Zen shislong_o.GIF (526 bytes) no hihanteki kenkyuu),

DE=Dependent-arising and Emptiness(Engi to kuu), Matsumoto,1989.



(1) Cf. MN(26), MN(36).

Return to the text

(2) Cf. CZ,pp.2-85.

Return to the text

(3) Cf. Schmithausen L., "On Some Aspects of Descriptions
or Theories of ‘Liberating Insight’ and ‘Enlightenment’ in
Early Buddhism, "Studien zum Jainismus und Buddhismus,
Alt- und Neu-Indische Studien, No.23, 1981,

Return to the text

(4) Cf. CZ,p.84,n.106.

Return to the text

(5) Cf. Fujita k., "Genshi Bukkylong_o.GIF (526 bytes) niokeru Zenjlong_o.GIF (526 bytes) Shislong_o.GIF (526 bytes),"
Satlong_o.GIF (526 bytes) Mitsuyuu Hakase Koki kinen Bukkylong_o.GIF (526 bytes) Ronslong_o.GIF (526 bytes), Sankiblong_o.GIF (526 bytes),1972,pp.300-308; CZ,pp.59-64.

Return to the text

(6) The word "viratta" was interpreted as "pahiina" in the
Paramatthajotikaa(Ⅱ,p.547) and translated in the Chinese
translation by the word"捨" (Taisho,4,180c).

Return to the text

(7) Ueyama’s text(Ueyama D.,Tonklong_o.GIF (526 bytes) Bukkylong_o.GIF (526 bytes) no Kenkyuu,
Hozlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)kan,1990),p.549. Cf. CZ,p.6.

Return to the text

(8) Ueyama’s text,p.548,p.545. Cf.CZ,pp.7-8.

Return to the text

(9) Cf. the definition of "sa.mj^naa" as
"vi.saya-nimitta-udgraha" in the

Return to the text

(10) Cf.CZ,pp.8-10; Philosophy of Tibetan
Buddhism(Chibetto bukkylong_o.GIF (526 bytes) tetsugaku,

Return to the text

(11) Ueyama’s text,p.546. Cf. CZ,p.57.

Return to the text

(12) Cf. Ueyama’s text,p.546,p.549; CZ,pp.14-21.

Return to the text

(13) Ueyama’s text,p.546.

Return to the text

(14) Cf. CZ,pp.15-17.

Return to the text

(15) The corresponding word in Hsüan-tsang’s translation
seems to be "作意" (Taisho, 14,565a).

Return to the text

(16) The corresponding word in Tibetan translation seems
to be "yid la byed pa" (P.ed.Bu,198b7).

Return to the text

(17) Cf.P.ed.,Bu,198b7.

Return to the text

(18) On this point, my view has a little changed. Cf.

Return to the text

(19) Cf. Vinaya,I,p.1.

Return to the text

(20) Cf. AKBh,p.54,1.22.

Return to the text

(21) Cf. CZ,pp.18-20.

Return to the text

(22) Cf. CZ,pp.36-48.

Return to the text

(23) Hu Shih’s text (Taipei,1968),p.235.

Return to the text

(24) Hu Shih’s text,p.236.

Return to the text

(25) Hu Shih’s text,pp.246-247.

Return to the text

(26) Cf. CZ,pp.41-42.

Return to the text

(27) Hu Shih’s text,p.241.

Return to the text

(28) On this problem, cf. CZ,p.53.

Return to the text

(29) Yanagida’s text(Zen no Goroku,3,Chikuma Shoblong_o.GIF (526 bytes),1976),p.170. Cf. CZ,p.50.

Return to the text

(30) Yanagida’s text,p.170.

Return to the text

(31) On the formation of the Platform Sutra, I have two
main perspectives. The first is that the Platform Sutra was
formed on the basis of Hui-neng’s commentary on the
Diamond Sutra, i.e. Chin-kang-ching chieh-i, and the
second is that rather strong aversion to Shen-hui is found
in the Platform Sutra. On this problem, cf.CZ,chap.Ⅱ. In
this respect, it seems that the phrase "立無念無宗"(p.6.1.14)
at the beginning of the seventeenth chapter of the Platform
Sutra of the Tun Huang manuscript must not be altered into
"立無念無宗" by the Klong_o.GIF (526 bytes)shlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)ji edition, because the passage "if
there is not yu-nien (有念), wu-nien (無念) also can not be
established"(p.7,1.8) in the chapter can be interpreted as the
message which rejected Shen-hui’s thesis. On this problem,
cf. CZ,pp.223-224.

Return to the text

(32) Dlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)gen Zenji Zenshuu(Chikuma Shoblong_o.GIF (526 bytes),1969,1970)Ⅱ,p.3.

Return to the text

(33) AKBh,p.54,1.23.

Return to the text

(34) On the meaning of "sama," cf.DE,pp.243-246.

Return to the text

(35) On the theory of "liberation," cf. DE,pp.191-194.

Return to the text

(36) Cf. DE,pp.200-202.

Return to the text

(37) On my criticism of Nakamura Hajime’s method of
reconstructing the earliest forms of Buddhist thought by
uncritically relying on the verse portions of the early
Buddhist scriptures,cf. Matsumoto, "Critical Considerations
on Buddhism(Bukkylong_o.GIF (526 bytes) no hihanteki Klong_o.GIF (526 bytes)satsu), Sekaizlong_o.GIF (526 bytes) No
Keisei(Ajia kara kangaeru 7), Tlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)kylong_o.GIF (526 bytes) Daigaku Shuppan

Return to the text

(38) On "nirvikalpa" and "nirvikalpa-j^naana," cf.

Return to the text

(39) On this passage, cf. Matsumoto, "The
and aatman" (Nehangylong_o.GIF (526 bytes)to aatman), Ga No Shislong_o.GIF (526 bytes),
Shunjuusha, 1991,p.150.

Return to the text

(40) On the two types of Buddha-nature theory, cf.

Return to the text

(41) Cf. CZ,pp.97-103,pp.193-194,n.34.

Return to the text

(42) Tanaka’s text(Komazawa Daigaku Zen Kenkyuusho
Nenplong_o.GIF (526 bytes), No.2,1991), p.37.

Return to the text

(43) Tanaka’s text(Komazawa Daigaku Bukkylong_o.GIF (526 bytes)gakubu
Kenkyuukiylong_o.GIF (526 bytes),No.4,1986),p.49.

Return to the text

(44) On my study on this commentary, cf. CZ,chap.Ⅱ.

Return to the text

(45) Enlong_o.GIF (526 bytes) Kenkyuu(Daishuu-kan, 1978),p.431.

Return to the text

(46) Enlong_o.GIF (526 bytes) Kenkyuu,p.422.

Return to the text

(47) Hu Shih’s text,p.232.

Return to the text

(48) Iriya Y.,Rinzairoku, Iwanami Bunko, 1989,p.20.

Return to the text

(49) Cf. CZ,chap.Ⅲ; Matsumoto, "On Criticising Zen
Thought"(Zen shislong_o.GIF (526 bytes) hihan nitsuite), Komazawa Daigaku Zen
Kenkyuusho Nenplong_o.GIF (526 bytes),No.6,pp.55-91.

Return to the text

(50) Ten Principal Upanishads with ^Saa^nkarabhaa.sya,

Return to the text

(51) It seems that Buddha-nature Manifestation theory has
been dominant among the Ch’an masters belonging to the
lineage of Ch’ing-yüan 靑原 (673-741). I think the position
of Tung-shan 洞山 (807-869) also was Buddha-nature
Manifestation theory, because he affirmed
"Dharma-preaching by insentient beings" (無情說法) On this
problem, cf.CZ,pp.102-103,p.198,n.55.

Return to the text

(52) Cf.CZ,pp.101-102.

Return to the text

(53) Yanagida’s text(Zenbunka Kenkyuusho,1976),p.91.

Return to the text

(54) Sodlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)shuu(Chuubun Shuppansha, 1972),p.61a.

Return to the text

(55) Sodlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)shuu,p.64a.

Return to the text

(56) I consider the philosophical position of the so called
"Tendan Hongaku Hlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)mon" in Japan to be Buddha-nature
Manifestation theory. Cf. Matsumoto, "Dogen and
Tathaagatagarbha Thought"(Dlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)gen to nyoraizlong_o.GIF (526 bytes) shislong_o.GIF (526 bytes)),
Komazawa Daigaku Bukkylong_o.GIF (526 bytes)gakubu Kenkyuukiylong_o.GIF (526 bytes),No.56,pp.136-160.

Return to the text

(57) Genshaklong_o.GIF (526 bytes)roku I(Iriya ed., 1987),p.12.

Return to the text

(58) I cannot approve of the interpretation that Hsüan-sha
in his later days denied his former position(cf. Genshaklong_o.GIF (526 bytes)roku I,p.14,p.68,p.101). On this problem, I am planning to
argue elsewhere.

Return to the text

(59) Cf.CZ,pp.587-597; "Dogen and Tathaagatagarbha
Thought" (cf.note 56 above), pp.128-136, pp.145-148.

Return to the text

(60) Cf. "Dogen and Tathaagatagarbha Thought,"

Return to the text

(61) Hakamaya N.,Critiques of Original Enlightenment
Thought(Hongakushislong_o.GIF (526 bytes) Hihan), Daizlong_o.GIF (526 bytes) Shuppan, 1989,p.141.

Return to the text

(62) On my criticism on Hakamaya’s theory, cf.

"Dogen and Tathaagatagarbha Thought," pp.128-132,p.150.

Return to the text

(63) Dlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)gen Zenji Zenshuu I,p.711.

Return to the text

(64) Cf. "Dogen and Tathaagatagarbha Thought,"

Return to the text

(65) Dlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)genzenjizenshuu(Shunjuu-sha version),
Ⅳ(1988),p.26. I was influenced by Ishii Shuudlong_o.GIF (526 bytes), who
repeatedly stressed the importance of this "jlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)dlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)." Cf. Ishii
S., "Dogen in His Last Days" (Saigo no Dlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)gen), Issues
concerning the 12-fascicle Shlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)blong_o.GIF (526 bytes)genzlong_o.GIF (526 bytes) (Juunikanbon Shlong_o.GIF (526 bytes)blong_o.GIF (526 bytes)genzlong_o.GIF (526 bytes) no Shomondai), Daizlong_o.GIF (526 bytes) Shuppan, 1991,pp.359-365.

Return to the text


Leave a Reply