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Tathagatha Dhyana and Patriarchal Ch'an

Discussion of Chinese Chán (禪) Buddhism.

Tathagatha Dhyana and Patriarchal Ch'an

Postby LAO_Z on Sat Nov 21, 2015 1:15 am

Words in Chinese Buddhist literature usually have various meanings. An example of this is Ch'an.

Ch'an (禅, 禅那) originally was a Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word Dhyāna. For instance, the Mundane Ch'an and the Supramundane Ch'an, which Master Chih-i talked about in his work Explanation of Dhyanaparamita, refers to Mundane Dhyana and Supramundane Dhyana. Similarly, the word Tathagatha Ch'an (如来禅) in the Chinese Lankavatara Sutra should be understood as Tathagatha Dhyana.

Ch'an also mainly refers to Ch'an School which emerged from other Chinese Buddhist traditions. In the West, when it comes to Ch'an School and its lineages, the word Zen is often used. Ch'an school, a special transmission outside of scriptures, is part of the Buddha's teaching but with a style focusing more on direct pointing to our Buddha nature.

Master Yang Shan (仰山) was known as the first to use the word Tathagatha Ch'an (Dhyana) and Patriarchal Ch'an (Zen) together:

Master Yang Shan asked Xiang Yan: “What have you seen recently?”
Xiang Yan answered, “It is not something one can speak with words, however, it can be expressed with a verse: Last year’s poverty was not really poverty and this year is the start of poverty. There was no place left to hold the tip of a drill in past year's poverty. This year, there is no drill left.”
The master replied, “You got only (through) Tathagatha Ch'an (Dhyana), but not (through) Patriarchal Ch'an”

---- Volume 11 of The Records of the Transmission of the Lamp

In the above conversation, Xiang Yan revealed the journey of gradual cultivation towards the realization of the emptiness of self and phenomena. But Master Yang Shan, from a Ch'an's perspective, had expected Xiang Yan's words to be completely free of duality.

There is saying that ancient Chinese masters would not allow the use of the word Ch'an before the Eighth Bhumi and above. But throughout the history, the word Ch'an has been widely used in different levels both inside and outside of Ch'an school tradition. The same is true for the word Dhyana. Therefore, a comparison between Tathagatha Dhyana and Patriarchal Ch'an boils down to the difference between Ch'an school and other Buddhist traditions based on scriptures.

When asked about the difference between Ch'an and the scriptures, Monk Zhao Zhou (赵州) replied, "Once the Patriarch's intention is fulfilled, the scriptures are grasped (会得祖意, 定会教意). " (It could also be translated to "if one is enlightened under the guidance of Ch'an lineages, scriptures become one's treasure.") The practice of Ch'an does not require any study of scriptures, however, as a result of this practice, one enlightens into the Buddhist principles as illustrated in the scriptures.

Similarly, the enlightenment obtained by following teachings in scriptures is Ch'an (由教入宗). Practitioners who have mastered scriptures get the essence of Ch'an teaching. (会得教意, 定会祖意)

Both Ch'an school and other scripture-based traditions were transmitted by Shakyamuni Buddha through Mahakasypa. For instance, Patriarchs of the Tian Tai school listed in The Great Cessation and Contemplation (摩诃止观) are essentially the same as those found in Hui Neng's Sutra. Therefore, when Han Shan (憨山) was asked about the Xiang Yan Gong An (公案), he replied that the Tathagatha Ch'an (Dhyana) in the Lankavatara Sutra is essentially the same as Patriarchal Ch'an and they are not two.

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edited: wildly changed to widely
Last edited by LAO_Z on Sat Nov 21, 2015 11:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Tathagatha Dhyana and Patriarchal Ch'an

Postby desert_woodworker on Sat Nov 21, 2015 1:39 pm

Hi, L_Z,

LAO_Z wrote:...the word Ch'an has been wildly used in different levels both inside and outside of Ch'an school tradition.

I wonder if you really mean "wildly". Perhaps you do! "Widely" would work there, I mean. But, I think they both work.

--Joe
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Re: Tathagatha Dhyana and Patriarchal Ch'an

Postby LAO_Z on Sat Nov 21, 2015 7:29 pm

desert_woodworker wrote:Hi, L_Z,

LAO_Z wrote:...the word Ch'an has been wildly used in different levels both inside and outside of Ch'an school tradition.

I wonder if you really mean "wildly". Perhaps you do! "Widely" would work there, I mean. But, I think they both work.

--Joe


Hi, Joe,

Yes. "Widely" used inside the Buddhist traditions but "wildly" used outside of it, for instance, by the Outer Path. There is a local Sushi store I pass by almost everyday called "Sushi Zen" which I have not checked out yet. I hope it will not give me a wild taste.

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