VS: The Ch’an Factor


The opening blog of this series touched upon the Ch’an usages of shou-i, or “Keeping the One”:

To “guard the one without wavering” means to be intent on viewing the one thing [the Buddha-mind] with this void and pure eye. Without asking whether it is day or night, devote yourself to remaining constantly unmoving. Should the mind be about to gallop off, quickly work to rein it back in. It is just like a cord binding a bird’s foot, which would hold the bird fast should it try to fly off. View the whole day through, unceasingly. Then, extinguished, the mind will become concentrated on itself. (Buswell, The Formation of Ch’an Ideology in China and Korea…pg. 142)

This succinctly touches upon the Unmoving Principle. Mind must realize that the Buddha is in fact Mind—motionless and undisturbed in the Void. Buswell states that “shou-i may be the one of the first attempts within Ch’an to transform the Tathāthagatagarbha ideology into a practical contemplative technique.” (ibid, pg.144) Hence, this “guarding the One Mind” one awakens to the Unmoving Principle and voids the extremes of existence and nonexistence. This is initiated through the contemplative practice of Tathāgatadhyāna. The One singularity of Mind intuits Itself and No-thing else. Wŏnhyo interprets this in the opening to his commentary of the VS as, “the fountainhead of the one mind [the single taste, inclusion mine] (ekacitta), is distinct from existence (bhava) and nonexistence (abhava), is independently pure. Profoundly calm, it subsumes dualities and yet is not unitary… This alone can be called the ultimate principle that is free from principles and the great suchness that is not-such. This is said to be the main idea of this sutra.” (emphasis mine) When entering into Tathāgatadhyāna Mind is not-two yet neither is it One. IT is thus a Singular-Spontaneity. The following will be relayed in the fifth chapter of the VS, “Approaching the Edge of Reality”:

“Bodhisattva! [You should] urge those sentient beings to preserve the three and guard the one, in order to establish tathāgatadhyāna. Due to this concentrated absorption, their minds will come to be free of panting.”
Taeryõk Bodhisattva asked, “What do you mean by ‘preserve the three, guard the one, and access the tathāgatadhyāna’?”
The Buddha replied: “‘Preserve the three’ means to preserve the three liberations. ‘Guard the one’ means to guard the thusness of the one mind. ‘Access the tathāgatadhyāna’ means the noumenal contemplation (igwan) on the thusness of the mind. Accessing such a state is in fact what is meant by accessing the edge of reality.”

Buswell marvelously ties this all in with the Lanka:

The casual relationship with the Vajrasamādhidraws between guarding the one and access of the tathāgatadhyāna is also indicative of the connection it makes between the East Mountain practice and the ideology of the Laṅkāvatāra-sūtra, one the principle scriptural inspirations of early Ch’an. The concept of tathāgatadhyāna, the last (1. fourth-dhyāna) and most profound of the four types of dhyāna discussed in the Laṅkāvatāra, also appears prominently in such Ch’an oriented apocrypha as the Vajrasamādhi and Śūraṃgama sutras. In this dhyāna, the full noetic experience of the enlightenment infuses the bodhisattva’s active work on behalf of all beings, bringing about the perfect fusion of knowledge and conduct (vidyācaraṇa). By equating access to the tathāgatadhyāna with access to the bhūtakoṭi, theVajrasamādhi seeks to show that Ch’an enlightenment involves seeing both the interconnection of wisdom and action and the nonduality of the conscious subject and perceived object. (Buswell, ibid, pg. 148)   

The whole soteriological efficacy of entering into Tathāgatadhyāna is reflective of the “noumenal contemplation of the thusness of the mind ][means] that, by means of the true principle of one’s own nature, one looks back on the one mind’s essence of true thusness.” (Buswell’s reference to Chu-chen, ibid, pg. 153) This all hinges on the Mind’s direct-realization of the “nonproduction” of dhyāna. Thus the VS will marvelously expound upon the following:

All will be calm and extinct, pure and nonabiding. He need not access samādhi; he need not persist in sitting in dhyāna. (emphasis added). This is nonproduction and freedom from practice…The nature of dhyāna is to linger nowhere; it leaves far behind the agitation caused by trying to linger in dhyāna. Know that the nature of dhyāna is free from agitation and calmness, and you will immediately attain nonproduction and the prajñā that produces nothing. But also do not rely on, or linger over, this. Because of this knowledge, the mind also will not be agitated. For this reason, you will attain the prajñāpāramitā that produces nothing.” (from VS, Chapt 3)

(1) Tozen describes this as:

Fourth dhyana level:
The Mind once so lost
among the conceptual
and the non-conceptual
The form and the voidness of form
the real and the non-real
even the dangerous belief in
voindess itself as the absolute,
this Mind now transcends all this
timeless foolishness
and enters
the Gateless Gate of Great Light.

It is the great principle
which thoroughly precedes
all these phenomena

This Mind is now unable to move
even one step, not one inch with this unbound
and limitless body of light.

With a pure consciousness
perfectly unstained
by position or possession
high above guilt or affections
This Mind is now free
from any obsessions.

Even one single pure bodhi-wave
known to mortals as a thought
instantly confirms
the blissful power of Tathata [suchness].

The relative moment of samsara
is not anymore there is only
the yet-un-born.

Here The illusions of
Time and Space are crushed
like a false mirror-house.
Broken down, revealing the
single candle of Truth.

The great Essence of the Unborn
appears now in its perfect singularity,
perfect, unstained, tranquil in itself.
Yet a mighty dynamic builder of worlds,
a boundless creative ocean of infinite light
perceived by the blind as images.

Images which they fear and fight
like a madman who fights his own shadow
with knives and spears
hoping to make it die or go away.

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11 Responses to VS: The Ch’an Factor

  1. Mr.Nobody says:

    The quality of this blog, at times, causes myself to reflect on how amazing it is and at times I wish I could pay you money for this; then I remember i’m broke and I am glad for it’s free access.

    I could express gratitude for a thousand life-times and still not reach up to even one millionth of the gratitude that is felt for this. I see that this will help many, many more than you even realize, continue and I shall not be surprised when reality itself beckons you to the shore of nirvana.

  2. JB says:

    Practice is the best form of gratitude.

    • Mr.Nobody says:

      Oh I shall practice, I do practice, I will practice, I have practiced; each and every day, without fail, all day regardless of what appears to the senses, there is only this practice.
      May the merit accrued from this practice, benefit all those here as well as all those beyond.

      Oh, happy days, to see the dharma of a single taste and to know it purely as such.

    • n. yeti says:

      Indeed so, JB. Hearers of the dharma are like the roots by which bodhisattvas flower into buddhas.

  3. Tozen says:

    Until you have come to know your own true Mind,
    like the back of your hand,
    in a reality of
    no-time, no-form and no-space,
    practice of the true dharma,
    cannot be said to have even begun,
    or least of all verified itself,
    in a sheer blaze of bodhi,
    by the ineffable light of your own deathless,
    inherent nature.

    • Mr.Nobody says:

      Knowing one’s own true Mind
      Seeing it clearly, like an image-less reflection
      You see it was never gone, You see it was never gained
      It was there when you were at your lows and it was there when you were at your highs
      Always there, always pure, always knowing
      Once false-mind of conceptual thought is dropped
      One sees that no-mind was the only mind there ever was
      There is nothing to think, for thoughts are truly empty in and of themselves, being purely imaginary
      However, caught up in identifying with thought, conceptualized mind represents fragmented intellect
      Pure awareness, what is mistakenly called silence, is pure thought, pure wisdom
      There is nothing to conceptualize for it was complete from the beginning
      To conceptualize is to interpret that which cannot be interpreted, that which cannot be explained
      Interpreting Mind, there is delusion
      Abiding in Mind, there is nothing to think, there is nothing to interpret
      What was called thought was truly no-thought, and what was called no-thought was truly pure-thought.
      Seeing Mind as it truly is, as purely such, one abides serenely and calmly; there is no more effort, no more struggle.
      One focuses on the center, the primordial root, which was always there for it was what was once called “You”.

      • Vajragoni says:

        Most nice, friends. 🙂

        • Mr.Nobody says:

          I only speak from within, which would not be possible without your help and guidance throughout all stages of my practice.

          I have one, somewhat off topic but definitely related question: Looking at the 52 stages of enlightenment (knowing of course that they happen on their own, that gradation is not really there, nevertheless) looking at the last two stages, near-perfect enlightenment and perfect enlightenment; am i correct in that near perfect enlightenment/virtual enlightenment is what is meant by “Knowing Original Enlightenment” where one then perfumes the remnants of the mind-body construct with the samadhi of suchness which then leads automatically to “Perfect” or “Wondrous” enlightenment?

          I realize the details don’t really matter in the end, but I am still curious. I remember reading something in this blog where either you or a person you were discussing commented on these things but I cannot find it (I thought it was in the bodhidharma section or tsung-mi, but i have yet to find it).

          • Vajragoni says:

            Stay-tuned to upcoming segments in this present series; all really compliments the Awakening of Faith (see that series as well) which gets at the crux of your inquiry.

  4. Tozen says:


    You are probably referring to
    The two last stages on a bodhisattvas path known as;

    Sadhumati (ch. 善慧地 ) –which is the 51st stage of the finest wisdom, i.e. possessing the noble wisdom found in the pure Mind Essence of the Unborn Mind as to determine where and how to save others, and possession of the Ten Powers (of which one is the ability to use said essence as to instantly make a Manomayakaya body acceptable by said sentient and the conditions in its enviroment). This satge also is known as the stage of near perfect enlightenment, which means the [Maha]Bodhisattva at hand has come to reckognize the complete enlightened nature of the Unborn Mind [Essence], which has been so since beginningless time because it is in its iunherent nature 😉

    At the 52nd stage, which equals Dharmamegha ( ch. 法雲地 ) bhumi, the stage of the Dharma-cloud or
    highest knowledge of the Minds true nature/essence – i.e. the bodhisattva is now in complete identification with the Original Enlightened Body/eesence known as the Unborn Mind, Buddha Mind, Tathagata etc…

    This is why the ancient sentence “thus he attained [the] supreme perfect enlightenment [body/reality of Dharmakaya]” is often used in scriptures or in discourses by Chan Buddhist Masters.

    When the worldings [putthujhana] or ignorant [of the true dharma] , often claim that there is nothing to attain, they are highly mistaken, to the fact that when they experience physical death for a very brief moment, when their bardo consciousness rebbots in the afterlife, the first things they come to see is the very Marvel they denied in life, and thus curse themselves of having denied their own being, such a golden opportunity to know and attain this body that alleviates their Spirit from any and all ignorance and consequently. all suffering.

    Hopes this helps.

    • Mr.Nobody says:

      This helps a lot, thank you. I will read and reread what you’ve written so that i can digest it fully. Vajragoni, thank you as well, I look forward to upcoming segments of this series; and yes, while I have read your TAOF before, I re-read the series this morning after the thought of “TAOF, this may provide details that I seek” came to me.

      Thank you again Tozen and of course, vajragoni; I will probably be rereading material found here anyways, I’ve found that after each successive insight that is realized; the material that i’ve read before reads much differently. There is no use in talking about my own personal insights at this time though, nevertheless, this is all immensely helpful:)

      Thank you and warm regards.

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