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Sutra 4, Chapter 7 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Sudden Enlightenment and Gradual Attainment


Sudden Enlightenment and Gradual Attainment 1

CONTEMPORANEOUS WITH the Patriarch when he was living at Po-lam Monastery was Grand Master Shin-shau who

was preaching in Yuk-chuen Monastery of King-nam. At that time the two schools of Hui-neng in the South and

of Shin-shau in the North were both flourishing. As the two schools were distinguished from each other by the

names, Sudden, and Gradual, some Buddhist scholars were troubled as to which school to follow.

One day the Patriarch addressed his assembly as follows:--

"So far as the Dharma is concerned, there can be only one school. If a distinction is made, it exists



the fact that the founder of one school was a Northern man, and the founder of the other was a Southern

man. While there is only one system of Dharma, some disciples realise it quicker than others but the reason

why the names, 'Sudden' and 'Gradual,' are given is because some disciples are superior to others in their

mental dispositions. So far as the Dharma is concerned, the distinction of Sudden and Gradual does not


(Between the two leaders there was mutual respect but) the followers of Shin-shau often criticised the

Patriarch. They discredited him by saying that he was illiterate and could not distinguish himself in any

respect. Shin-shau, on the other hand, admitted that he was inferior to the Patriarch in one respect, namely,

that Hui-neng thoroughly understood the teachings of the Mahayana, even if he had attained that wisdom

without the aid of a teacher. "Moreover," he added, "my Master, the Fifth Patriarch, would not have

personally transmitted the robe and bowl to him without good cause: I regret that, owing to the patronage of



[paragraph continues] Court, which I by no means deserve, I am unable

to travel far to receive instruction from him personally. You should go to Tso-kai to consult him. Do not


One day, Shin-shau said to his disciple, Chi-shing, "You are clever and witty; I wish you would go to

Tso-kai and attend the lectures there. Try your best to keep in mind what you hear, so that on your return

you may repeat it to me."

Acting on his teacher's instruction, Chi-shing arrived at Tso-kai. Without saying anything about where he

came from, he joined the company attending the Patriarch's lectures. When the Patriarch came to address the

assembly, he said, "Some one has come here secretly to learn my teaching and later to plagiarise it."

Chi-shing at once came forward, made obeisance, and told the Patriarch what his mission was.

"You come from Yuk-chuen Monastery, do you?" said the Patriarch. "Then you must be a spy."

"No, I am not," replied Chi-shing. "Why not?" asked the Patriarch. "If I had not told you, I would have

been a spy," said Chi-shing. "Since I have told you who I am, I am no spy."

"Tell me, how does your teacher instruct his disciples?" asked the Patriarch.

"He often tells them to concentrate their minds in a meditation on 'purity'; to keep up the dhyana

position constantly, and not to lie down."

Said the Patriarch, "To concentrate the mind on a meditation on 'purity' is an infirmity and is not

Dhyana. To restrict oneself to the cross-legged position all the time is logically unprofitable. Listen to this stanza:--


"A living man sits and does not lie down;

But a dead man lies down and does not sit.

On this physical body of ours, why should we impose the task of sitting crosslegged?"

*        *        *

Making obeisance a second time, Chi-shing remarked, "Though I have studied Buddhism for nine years under

Grand Master Shin-shau, my mind was not awakened for enlightenment, but as soon as you speak to me, my mind

is enlightened. As the question of continuous re-birth is an important one, I wish you would take pity on me

and give me instruction as to that question."

The Patriarch said, "I understand that your Master gives his disciples instruction as to 'disciplinary

rules' (sila), meditation (dhyana), and Wisdom (Prajna). Will you please, tell me how he

defines these terms?"

"According to his teaching," replied Chi-shing, "to refrain from all evil action, is Sila; to practise

whatever is good, is Prajna; and to purify one's mind, is Dhyana. This is the way he teaches us. May I ask

what your system is?"

The Patriarch replied, "If I should tell you that I had a system of Dhyana to transmit to others, I would

be deceiving you. What I try to do to my disciples, is to liberate them from their own bondage, by such

device as each case requires. To use a name, which after all is nothing but a makeshift, it may be called

'Samadhi.' The way your Master teaches Sila, Dhyana, Prajna, is wonderful; but my way is different."

"How can it be different, Sir, when there is only one form of Sila, Dhyana and Prajna?"


"The teaching of your Master," replied the Patriarch, "is for the guidance of the general followers of the

Mahayana; my teaching is for the more advanced followers. It is because some realise the Dharma quicker and

deeper than others, that there is a difference of interpretation. Listen while I explain and see if you think

my instruction is the same as his. In expounding the Dharma, I do not deviate from the authority of my

intuitive mind. To do otherwise would indicate that the expositor's Mind-essence was obscured, and that he

was competent to teach only the phenomenal side of the Dharma (but not its essence). The true teaching of

Sila, Dhyana and Prajna, should be based on the principle that the function of all things derives its virtue

from its essence. Listen to this stanza:--

"To free the mind from all improprieties is the Sila of Mind-essence;

To free the mind from all perturbations is the Dhyana of Mind-essence.

That which neither increases nor decreases is the 'diamond' of Mind-essence.

'Going' and 'coming' are only phases of Samadhi."

Having heard this instruction, Chi-shing felt humiliated and thanked the Patriarch for the


The Patriarch continued: "The teaching of your Master on Sila, Dhyana and Prajna, is fitted for minds of

wise men, it is true, but my teaching is intended for minds of a more advanced type. He who has realised

Mind-essence, himself, may dispense with such doctrines as Bodhi, Nirvana, and Knowledge of Emancipation.


[paragraph continues] It is only those who do not possess a single

system of Dhyana, who can formulate all systems of Dhyana; these who understand what this means, may rightly

use such terms as Buddhakaya, Bodhi, Nirvana, Knowledge of Emancipation. To those who have realised

Mind-essence, it makes no difference whether they formulate all systems of Dhyana, or dispense with all of

them. (Because of this non-attachment) they are at liberty to come or to go; they are free from all obstacles

and impediments. As circumstances arise, they take appropriate action; they give suitable answers according

to the varying temperament of their questioner. They see with a comprehensive glance that all 'Bodies of

Transformation' are inseparable from Essence of Mind. They attain liberation, psychic powers, and Samadhi,

which enables them to perform the arduous task of universal salvation as easily as if they were only playing.

Such are the men who have realised Mind-essence.

*        *        *

"By what principle are we guided in dispensing with all systems of Dhyana?" was Chi-shing's next


The Patriarch replied:--"When our Mind-essence is free from improprieties, infatuations and perturbations;

when we look inward from each momentary sensation to another, with Prajna; and when we no longer cherish

attachment to objects, or to words, or to ideas; then are we forever emancipated. Why should we formulate any

system of Dhyana when our goal may be reached no matter whether we turn to the right or to

p. 303

the left? Since it is by our own effort that we realise Mind-essence, and since the realisation and

practise of Dhyana are both spontaneous and instantaneous, the formulation of any system of Dhyana is

unnecessary. All Dharmas are intrinsically Nirvanic, how can there be gradation in them?"

Chi-shing made obeisance and volunteered to be an attendant of the Patriarch,

in which capacity he served faithfully.

*        *        *

SINCE THE Two Dhyana Schools, that of Hui-neng in the South and Shin-shau in the North, were flourishing

at the same time, in spite of the tolerant spirit shown by both Masters who hardly knew what egotism was,

there naturally developed a strong sectarian feeling among the disciples. Calling their own Master,

Shin-shau, the Sixth Patriarch on no better authority than their own wishes, the followers of the Northern

School were jealous of the rightful owner of that title whose claim was supported by the possession of the

insignia, the robe etc., and was generally acknowledged. (In order to get rid of the rightful Patriarch) they

sent a lay member of the order whose secular name was Chang Hang-chong, a native of Kiang-si, and who as a

young man had been fond of adventure, to get rid of him.

With his psychic power of mind-reading, the Patriarch was able to know of the plot. One evening Chang

entered the Patriarch's room intending to carry out his instructions. The Patriarch, after placing ten taels

near his side, bent his neck forward and waited the


blow. Chang made three attempts, but strange to say no wound was made. Then the Patriarch spoke to him,


"A straight sword is not crooked;

A crooked sword is not straight.

I owe you money only, but life I do not owe you."

Chang -was taken by surprise and, remorseful and penitent, he asked for mercy and volunteered to join the

order at once, but the Patriarch handed him the money and said; "If my followers should learn of it, they

would harm you; you must not remain here. Some other time come to see me in disguise and I will take good

care of you." As directed, Chang ran away that night and subsequently joined the order under another Master.

Upon being fully ordained, he proved himself to be a very diligent monk.

One day recollecting what the Patriarch had said, he made the long journey to see him and to pay him

homage. "Why have you waited so long?" said the Patriarch, "I have been expecting you all the time."

Said Chang, "Since that night you so graciously pardoned my crime, I have become a monk and have studied

Buddhism diligently. I can only show my gratitude adequately by spreading the Dharma for the deliverance of

all sentient beings." Then he asked a question as to the meaning of "eternal and non-eternal," which the

Patriarch answered and then said, "You have now thoroughly realised Mind-essence; hereafter you may call

yourself, Chi-chai."

Chi-chai made obeisance and departed.


297:1 NOTE By EDITOR. When Hui-neng, who

afterward became the Sixth Patriarch, came to Wong-mui to interview the Fifth Patriarch, he was a

comparatively uneducated country boy and not yet a member of the order of monks. He did not remain there very

long but before be left his insight into the Dharma had been recognised by the Patriarch and he was initiated

into the Patriarchate and given the insignia of the robe and begging bowl. While he remained at the Monastery

he served as a lay-helper in the granary, hulling rice. At the same time he was

there, the Master (or Dean as we would call him) of the Monastery was Shin-shau, a notably learned monk of

the Dhyana School. After Hui-neng left Ung-mui he lived in retirement for a number of years, but Shin-shau,

in disappointment at not receiving the appointment of Sixth Patriarch, returned to his home in the North and

founded his own School which later, under Imperial patronage, came into great prominence. But after the death

of Shin-shau, the School steadily lost prestige and later dropped out of p. 298 importance. But the different principles of the two

schools, "Sudden Enlightenment- of the Sixth Patriarch's Southern School and "Gradual Attainment" of

Shin-shau's Northern School, have continued to divide Buddhism and do so to-day. The principle in dispute is

as to whether enlightenment comes as a "gradual attainment" through study of the scriptures and the practice

of dhyana, or whether it comes suddenly in some ecstatic samadhi, or, as the Japanese say, in some sudden and

convincing and life-enhancing "satori." It is not a question of quickness or slowness in arriving at it:

"gradual attainment" may arrive sooner than "sudden enlightenment." It is the question whether enlightenment

comes as the culmination of a gradual process of mental growth, or whether it is a sudden "turning" at the

seat of consciousness from an habitual reliance on the thinking faculty (a looking outward), to a new use of

a higher intuitive faculty (a looking inward).

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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