Zhiyi and Bodhidharma

There is a beautiful translation of the Mohechikuang available. The translation was done by Bhikkhu Dhammapala who was also working on the Gandhara texts some time. In case you don’t know who Zhiyi was, here a little Buddhist history:

A contemporary of Bodhidharma (the Indian monk who founded Chan/ZEN in China) Zhiyi was a Chinese monk who practice samatha-vipassana, in the very spirit of the Tipitaka, well, in accordance with the Prakrit-Sanskrit-Chinese translation of the same. He went into the mountains and practiced with some friends for years and then wrote a couple of books on proper samatha-vipassana meditation still kept in high regard in china.

Vipassana has several meanings around the common field of “observation,” “insight,” “introspection,” “intuition,” etc. It is often translated as “insight meditation.” One thing that bothers me is that some American Insight Meditation teachers seem to have tried to separate vipassana from samatha. Samatha-vipassana is the traditional meditation method of Buddhism. In Chinese they are translated as 止観, written in our alphabet as “zhiguan” in Pinyin and “shikan” in Japanese. In the Mahayana 止 (zhi, shi) is stopping or cessation and 観 (guan, kan) is observation or introspection. Bodhidharma taught “wall gazing” meditation which is a metaphor for zhiguan, “wall” meaning stopping (calming, cessation, samatha) and “gazing” meaning introspection (insight, observation, vipassana).

In Chinese Zen, zhi-guan was seen as the method of meditation and samadhi-prajna were the respective outcomes or realizations from the method, That is, zhi/samatha is realized in samadhi, and guan/vipassana is realized in prajna. The Sixth Ancestor Huineng made a point to instruct that samadhi and prajna are inseparable and one cannot be realized without the other. At that time there was debate in Buddhist circles that argued that samadhi was a prerequisite for prajna with the idea of first samadhi then prajna. Others argued that prajna was not related to samadhi and prajna could be realized without samadhi and only after prajna was realized would one know real samadhi This is like saying vipassana could be realized without samatha, that is, that one can practice insight meditation without practicing cessation meditation or vice versa. Huineng cut off all such claims and said samadhi and prajna could not be separated.

In Chinese Zen, zhi-guan was seen as the method of meditation and samadhi-prajna were the respective outcomes or realizations from the method, That is, zhi/samatha is realized in samadhi, and guan/vipassana is realized in prajna. The Sixth Ancestor Huineng made a point to instruct that samadhi and prajna are inseparable and one cannot be realized without the other. At that time there was debate in Buddhist circles that argued that samadhi was a prerequisite for prajna with the idea of first samadhi then prajna. Others argued that prajna was not related to samadhi and prajna could be realized without samadhi and only after prajna was realized would one know real samadhi This is like saying vipassana could be realized without samatha, that is, that one can practice insight meditation without practicing cessation meditation or vice versa. Huineng cut off all such claims and said samadhi and prajna could not be separated.

The Platform Sutra, Chapter 4 wrote:The master instructed the assembly saying, “Learned and virtuous ones, In this Dharma door of ours samadhi and prajna are considered to be the root. Great assembly, do not be confused. The words “samadhi” and “prajna” are different, but samadhi and prajna are one substance and are not two. Samadhi is the substance of prajna; prajna is the function of samadhi. Immediately at the time of prajna, samadhi is in prajna. Immediately at the time of samadhi, prajna is in samadhi. If one knows this meaning, then samadhi and prajna are equally learned. You various people who study the Way, do not say, ‘First samadhi, then comes prajna,’ or ‘First prajna, then comes samadhi,’ to separate them. Those with this view make the Dharma have the characteristic of duality.

Dogen, the creator of designating shikantaza (只管打坐) as a method of meditation, was trained in the Tendai branch of Buddhism that centered its meditation practice on the traditional method and practices of shikan (止観) as expounded by the Tiantai Master Zhiyi whose teaching was edited by his disciple Kuan-ting in the classic Chinese opus treatise on samatha-vipassana called Mohezhiguan (Maha Samatha-Vipassana, 摩訶止観, Moho Chih Kuan). I’ve never seen scholarly discussion about this but it has always been my position that it was no coincidence that Dogen named his method of shikantaza using the same homonym of shikan (只管, “only minding”) as the shikan (止観, “samatha vipassana”) of the traditional Tendai meditation method. I see this as Dogen’s sly pun saying “I’m talking about the real ‘shikan’ here.”

But Dogen’s protestations aside, there is less difference than similarity between his shikantaza and the shikan he was trained with in either his Japanese Tendai training or Chinese Chan/Zen training. In his introduction to Zhiyi’s Mohezhiguan, Kuan Ting says that Zhiyi passed on the teaching transmitted from his teacher Hui-su the three kinds of zhiguan that are responsive to the three degrees of capacity in practitioners: (1) gradual and sequential, (2) variable (indeterminate) and (3) complete and sudden. These are not three different types of zhiguan as they are three avenues or ways of approaching zhiguan. The complete and sudden zhiguan is the core of Zhiyi’s teaching and Kuan Ting summarizes it saying within the Dharmadhatu there is not a single sight nor smell that is not the middle way, no suffering that may be discarded, no path that may be cultivated, no path that may be cultivated, no being of the world, and no leaving the world, Realizing the serene tranquility of the nature is called cessation (samatha, zhi) and the illumination of the serene tranquility is called insight (vipassana, guan).

The method of Dogen’s shikantaza is notoriously elusive to direct description. Mostly people describe it by what it is not, rather than what it is. Shikantaza is not really a beginner’s method because it is more akin to the complete-sudden shikan (zhiguan) than to the gradual or variable shikan stages of the beginner or intermediate capacity practitioners. It is generally characterized as goalless meditation, that is, it is the methodless method of meditation or the method of no method. I have neither read nor seen anything written by Dogen that actually and substantially distinguishes Dogen’s shikantaza from the complete and sudden zhiguan (shikan) of Zhiyi nor from the themeless concentration of awareness of the Pali canon. What does distinguish it is only the manner of talking about it as if it is distinguishable. That is, Dogen distinguishes shikantaza from shikan in the same manner that Zhiyi distinguishes the complete and sudden zhiguan from the gradual zhiguan.

So I would conclude that to the degree that vipassana is not the complete and sudden samatha-vipassana, i.e., the unified samadhi-prajna of the Sixth Ancestor, then vipassana is different from shikantaza, but to the degree that vipassana is the complete and sudden samatha-vipassana of the themeless concentration of awareness that has gone beyond the eight jnanas of form and the formless and is the realization of the unification of samadhi and prajna and actualization of the meditation of no method, then there is no substantial difference or distinction between vipassana and skikantaza.

Sources:

http://wonderwheels.blogspot.com/2009/07/samadhi-and-prajna.html
http://www.bupedu.com/lms/admin/uploded_journal/In%20the%20quiet%20of%20the%20monastery.pdf
http://tkwen.theravada-chinese.org/A%20Study%20of%20Sukkihavipassaka%20in%20Pali%20Buddhism_final.pdf
http://tkwen.theravada-chinese.org/http://wonderwheels.blogspot.com/2009/07/samadhi-and-prajna.html
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