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Sutra 4, Chapter 3 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Discourse on Dhyana and Samadhi


Discourse on Dhyana and Samadhi 1

THE PATRIARCH, on another occasion, addressed the assembly as follows:--

Learned Audience: Samadhi and Prajna are fundamental. But you must not be under the wrong impression that

they are independent of each other, for they are not two entities, they are inseparably united. Samadhi is

the quintessence of Prajna, while Prajna is the activity of Samadhi. At the very

moment that one attains Prajna, Samadhi is present; when one enters Samadhi, Prajna is present. If you

understand this, you understand the "Oneness" of Samadhi and Prajna. A disciple should not think that there

is a distinction between "Samadhi begets Prajna," and "Prajna begets Samadhi." To hold such an opinion would

imply that these are two characteristics in the Dharma.

For one whose tongue is ready with good words but


whose heart is impure, Samadhi and Prajna are useless because they are not in balance. On the other hand,

when one is good in mind as well as in word, and when the outward appearance and inner feelings are in

harmony with each other, then Samadhi and Prajna are in balance.

To an enlightened disciple (who has realised Prajna in Samadhi) discussion about it is unnecessary. To

argue about Prajna or Samadhi as to which comes first, places one in the same position with those who are

under delusion. Argument implies a desire to win, it strengthens egoism, it binds one to belief in the idea

of "a self, a being, a living being and a person." But we may liken Samadhi and Prajna to a glowing lamp and

its light: with the glowing lamp there is light; without it there is darkness. Light is the quintessence of

the glowing lamp, the glowing lamp is the expression of light. In name they are two things, but in reality

they are one and the same. It is the same with Samadhi and Prajna.

The Patriarch continued: To practice samadhi is to make it a rule to have the mind in concentrated

attention on all occasions (that is, not to let the mind wander from the thing in hand),--no matter what we

are doing, walking, standing, sitting or reclining. The Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra says: "Straightforwardness

is the holy place, the Pure Land." Do not let your mind be "crooked" and try to be straightforward with your

lips only. People should practice straightforwardness but should not attach themselves to anything. People

under delusion believe obstinately that there is a substance behind appearances and so they are stubborn


in holding to their own way of interpreting the samadhi of specific mode, which they define as, "sitting

quietly and continuously without letting any idea arise in the mind." Such an interpretation would class us

with inanimate objects; it is a stumbling-block to the right Path and the Path should be kept open. How can

we block the Path? By attachment to any definite thought; if we free our minds from attachments, the Path

will be clear, otherwise we are in bondage. If that practice of "sitting quietly without letting any idea

arise in the mind," is correct, why on one occasion was Saraputra reprimanded by Vimalakirti for sitting

quietly in the forest? (That is, it is not thinking that blocks the Path, but attachment to definite


Some teachers of concentration instructed their disciples to keep a watch on their minds and secure

tranquillity by the cessation of all thought, and henceforth their disciples gave up all effort to

concentrate the mind and ignorant persons who did not understand the distinction became insane from trying to

carry out the instruction literally. Such cases are not rare and it is a great mistake to teach the


It has been the tradition of our school to make "non-objectivity" as our basis, "idea-lessness" as our

object, and "non-attachment" as our fundamental principle. "Non-objectivity" means, not to be absorbed in

objects when in contact with objects; "idea-lessness" means, not to be carried away by any particular idea in

our exercise of the mental faculty; ("non-attachment" means, not to cherish any desire for or aversion to any

particular thing or idea). "Non-attachment" is the characteristic of Mind-essence.


We should treat all things--good or bad, beautiful or ugly--as void (of any self-substance). Even in time

of dispute and quarrel, we should treat intimates and enemies alike and never think of retaliation. In the

thinking faculty, let the past be dead. If we allow our thoughts, past, present and future, to become linked

up into a series, we put ourselves under restraint. On the other hand, if we never let our mind become

attached at any time to any thing, we gain emancipation. For this reason we make "non-attachment" our

fundamental principle.

To free ourselves from dependence upon externals is called, "non-objectivity." In as far as we are in

position to do this, the path of the Dharma is free. That is why we make "non-objectivity" our basis.

To keep our mind free from defilement under all circumstances is called "idea-lessness." Our mind should

always stand aloof and on no account should we allow circumstances to influence the functioning of the mind.

It is a great mistake to suppress all thinking. Even if we succeed, and die immediately thereafter, still,

there is reincarnation. Mark this, pilgrims of the Path! It is bad enough for a man to commit blunders by

cherishing false ideas of the Dharma, how much worse to teach others. Being deluded, he is blind himself, and

in addition he misrepresents and puts to shame the Buddhist scriptures. Therefore we make "idea-lessness" our


There is a type of man who is tinder delusion who boasts of his realisation of Mind-essence; but being

influenced by circumstances ideas rise in his mind, followed by erroneous views, which in turn become the


source of attachment and defilement. In Essence of Mind, intrinsically, there is nothing to be attained.

To boast of attainment and to talk foolishly of merits and demerits is erroneous and defiling. For this

reason we make "idea-lessness" the object of our school.

(If "idea-lessness" is not the cessation of all thought) what ideas should we get rid of, and on what

ideas should we focus our mind? We should get rid of all "pairs of opposites" of all conceptions of goodness

and badness (that is, of all discriminative thinking). We should focus our mind on the true nature of

reality. (The word used is "Tathata," which means, "True Nature," or Mind-essence, or Prajna, or "Oneness,"

or "Suchness," or anything else that is ultimate.) Tathata (considered as the ultimate "suchness" of

Mind-essence) is the quintessence of "idea"; "idea" is the manifestation of Tathata. It is the function of

Tathata to give rise to "ideas." It is not the sense-organs that do so. Tathata (considered as the

Intellective Principle) reproduces its own attribute, therefore, it can give rise to "idea." Without Tathata,

sense-organs and sense-objects would disappear immediately. Because it is an attribute of Tathata to give

rise to ideas, our sense-organs, in spite of their functioning in seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and

knowing, are not tainted and defiled under all circumstances. (It is the cherishing of "attachments" that

defiles.) Our true-nature is "self-manifesting" all the time. (The Path to self-realisation of Mind-essence

through Samadhi and Prajna is present to all, even though for some it may be blocked for a time by

"attachments.") Therefore, the Sutra says: "He who is an adept in appreciation of that which lies


behind things and phenomena, is established upon the Ultimate Principle (Prajna).

The Patriarch one day preached to an assembly as follows:

In our system of Dhyana, we neither dwell upon our mind nor upon its purity; neither do we seek to

suppress its activity. As to dwelling on the mind: the (functional) mind is primarily delusive and as we come

to realise that it is only a phantasm we see that there is no reason for dwelling upon it. As to dwelling

upon its purity: our nature is intrinsically pure, and just as far as we get rid of discriminative thinking,

there will remain nothing but purity in our nature; it is these delusive ideas that obscure our realisation

of True reality (Tathata). If we direct our mind to dwell upon purity, we are only creating another delusion:

the delusion of purity. Since delusion has no abiding place, it is deluding to dwell upon it. Purity has

neither shape nor form, but some people go so far as to invent the "Form of Purity" and then treat it as a

problem for solution.' Holding such an opinion, these people become purity-ridden and their Essence of Mind

is thereby obscured. Those who are training themselves for serenity of mind, in their contact with the many

types of men, should not notice the faults of others. They should be indifferent as to whether others are

good or bad, or whether they deserve merit or demerit. To assume a discriminatory attitude toward others is

to invite perturbation of mind. An unenlightened man may seem outwardly unperturbed, but as soon as he opens

his mouth and criticises others and talks about


their merit or demerit, their ability or weakness, their goodness or badness, he shows that he has

deviated from the right course. On the other hand, to dwell upon our own mind and its purity is also a

stumbling-block in the true Path.

At another assembly the Patriarch spoke as follows: What is dhyana? It means, first, to gain full freedom

of mind and to be entirely unperturbed under all outward circumstances, be they good or otherwise. What is

the difference between Dhyana and Samadhi? Dhyana is the effort to be mentally free from any attachment to

outer objects. Samadhi is the realisation of that freedom in inward peace. If we are attached to outer

objects the inner mind will be perturbed. When we are free from attachment to all outer objects, the mind

will be at peace. Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure; the reason we become perturbed is simply because

we allow ourselves to be carried away by the circumstances we are under. He who is able to keep his mind

serene, irrespective of circumstances, has attained true Samadhi.

To be free from attachment is Dhyana; to realise inner peace is Samadhi. When we are able to hold the mind

concentrated, and to rest in inner peace, then we have attained both Dhyana and Samadhi. The Bodhisattva Sila

Sutra says: "Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure." Learned Audience: let us each realise this for

himself from one momentary sensation to another. Let us practice it by ourselves, let us train ourselves, and

thus by our own effort attain Buddhahood.


249:1 NOTE BY EDITOR. The three words,

Prajna, Dhyana and Samadhi, have a very close relation to each other. Prajna, as

we have noticed, is the Principle of mingled Oneness and diversity; Prajna cannot be perfectly

understood, but it can be realised intuitively because Prajna is Essence of Mind. Dhyana is the

active effort to gain self-realisation of Prajna, while Samadhi is the passive, receptive,

realisation itself, of Prajna, that is, of one's own Mind-essence. Dhyana and Samadhi

are both used for the Eighth Stage of the Noble Path, as such they are usually translated "Concentration,"

but Dhyana refers to its active aspect and Samadhi to its passive

and realising aspect. Samadhi used alone is translated, "exalted ecstasy," or is thought of as "the

blissful state of self -realisation that accompanies Right Contemplation of Mind-essence."

Sutra1 Chapter1 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Discrimination
Sutra1 Chapter2 - The Lankavatara Sutra - False-Imagination and Knowledge of Appearances
Sutra1 Chapter3 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Right Knowledge or Knowledge of Relations
Sutra1 Chapter4 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Perfect Knowledge, or Knowledge of Reality
Sutra1 Chapter5 - The Lankavatara Sutra - The Mind System
Sutra1 Chapter6 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Transcendental Intelligence
Sutra1 Chapter7 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Self-Realisation
Sutra1 Chapter8 - The Lankavatara Sutra - The Attainment of Self- Realisation
Sutra1 Chapter9 - The Lankavatara Sutra - The Fruit of Self- Realisation
Sutra1 Chapter10 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Discipleship: Lineage of the Arhats
Sutra1 Chapter11 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Bodhisattvahood and Its Stages
Sutra1 Chapter12 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Tathagatahood Which Is Noble Wisdom
Sutra1 Chapter13 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Nirvana
Sutra2 Chapter1 - The Diamond Sutra - The Diamond Scripture
Sutra3 Chapter1 - Sutra of Transcendental Wisdom - Sutra of Transcendental Wisdom
Sutra4 Chapter1 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Autobiography of Hui-Neng
Sutra4 Chapter2 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Discourse on Prajna
Sutra4 Chapter3 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Discourse on Dhyana and Samadhi
Sutra4 Chapter4 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Discourse on Repentance
Sutra4 Chapter5 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Discourse on the Three-Bodies of Buddha
Sutra4 Chapter6 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Dialogues Suggested by Various Temperaments and Circumstances
Sutra4 Chapter7 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Sudden Enlightenment and Gradual Attainment
Sutra4 Chapter8 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Royal Patronage
Sutra4 Chapter9 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Final Words and Death of the Patriarch

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