The Altar Sutra: Dhyana

The Patriarch gave this teaching:

In our system of meditation we don’t dwell on the mind nor do we dwell on purity. Also we are active.
As to dwelling on the mind, the mind often leads us to delusion. When we realize this, there is no need to dwell on it.

As to dwelling on purity, our true nature is pure, so there is no reason to dwell on it. Dwelling on purity is to create a problem where none exists.

On another occasion the Patriarch gave this teaching:

What is sitting in meditation?
In our school, to sit means to gain freedom and to be mentally undisturbed by outward circumstances.
To meditate means to sit, dwelling in our Buddha nature.

What are Dhyana and Samadhi?
Dhyana means to be free from attachment to outer objects and Samadhi means to have inner peace. If we are attached to outer objects then our minds will be disturbed.
When we aren’t attached to outer objects, our minds are in peace. Our true nature is pure and the reason we are disurbed is because we allow ourselves to be carried away by circumstances and external objects.

One who is able to keep the mind undisturbed regardless of circumstances dwells in Samadhi.

To be free from attachment to outer objects is Dhyana and to attain inner peace is Samadhi. When we are in a position to relate to the world in Dhyana and to keep our minds in Samadhi, then we have attained Dhyana and Samadhi.

The Bodhisattva Sila Sutra says, “Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure.”

Let us realize this for ourselves and train ourselves to practice it and attain Enlightenment.

The Altar Sutra: Samadhi and Prajna

On another occasion the Patriarch gave this teaching:

In my system Samadhi and Prajna are fundamental.

Samadhi means Concentration or Single-Pointedness of Mind. Prajna means Wisdom, our intuitive understanding of things.

But don’t think that Samadhi and Prajna are two separate things. In my system they are inseparably united. Samadhi is the fundamental essence of Prajna. Prajna is the activity of Samadhi.

When we attain Samadhi, Prajna is there. When we engage Prajna, Samadhi is there. If you understand this, then you dwell in Samadhi and Prajna.

A student should not think there is a difference between Samadhi comes from Prajna or Prajna comes from Samadhi.

To hold an opinion that these are separate is to dwell in duality.

For one who speaks good words but has an impure heart, Samadhi and Prajna don’t help because they don’t balance each other.

But when we are good in mind and good in language, when our outward appearance and inner wisdom are in harmony, then we are dwelling in Samadhi and Prajna.

An Enlightened student doesn’t need to debate the importance of Samadhi and Prajna because argument only strengthens the ego and causes us to remain in duality.

Samadhi and Prajna are like a lamp and its light. With the lamp there is light. Without it there would be darkness. In name there are two things, but in substance they are the same. It is the same with Samadhi and Prajna.

There have been some sects in Buddhist history who suggested only cultivating concentration or only cultivating wisdom. Hui-neng is challenging this philosophy. He is saying that both Samadhi and Prajna are of equal importance and we must cultivate them both.

On another occasion the Patriarch gave this teaching:

To practice Samadhi is to make it a rule to be devoted to mindfulness in all occasions.

The Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra say, “Mindfulness is the holy place, the Pure Land.”

Don’t practice mindfulness only in meditation. Practice it in everything that you do.

People are under delusion when they think we only practice on the meditation cushion.
When we free our minds from attachment, the path becomes clear.

On another occasion the Patriarch gave this teaching:

In true Buddhism the distinction between ‘Sudden’ and ‘Gradual’ does not really exist. The only difference is that some have an easy time clearing away their delusion and others have a hard time.
Those who have an easy time, who are very mindful already, realize the truth suddenly. Those who have a difficult time have to train themselves slowly.

But such a difference disappears once we realize our True Nature.
So, these terms, gradual and sudden, aren’t real in any meaningful way. They are just labels.

It has been the tradition of our school to take ‘Idealessness’ as our object, ‘Non-objectivity’ as our basis, and ‘Non-attachment’ as our fundamental principle. ‘Idealessness’ means no to be carried away by any particular idea. ‘Non-objectivity’ means not being absorbed by objects when we come in contact with them. ‘Nonattachment’ is the characteristic of our true nature.

All things, whether good or bad, beautiful or ugly, should be treated as void. Think of friends and enemies as the same because all are one. In thought, let the past be dead. Dwell in the present instead.

Hui-neng is pointing out something that we often do. We put artificial labels on things and then assume those labels are real.

Because of this we take ‘Non-attachment’ as our fundamental principle.
To free ourselves from attachment to external objects is called ‘Non-objectivity’. When we can do this, our true nature is clear.

Keeping our minds free of delusion is called ‘Idea-lessness’.

We should also not let our minds get carried away by circumstances.

We take ‘Idea-lessness’ as our object because there is a ype of individual under delusion who boasts of their great Enlightenment, but is attached to erroneous views.
To say there is attainment and to talk thoughtlessly about it is also a form of duality.

In ‘Idea-lessness’ we should overcome duality.

If we are adept at overcoming duality, then we can be Awakened.

Samadhi represents a state of mind that is

Samadhi represents a state of mind that is completely clear and free of delusion. There’s not really a good, simple translation for the word Samadhi, so I just prefer to use it. The Buddha experienced this kind of state when before he gave the teachings on impermanence and interconnectedness. It’s when the distracted and delusional thoughts in our mind are temporarily stilled and we have moments of clarity. It’s like part of the ocean where all the waves have stopped and the water is still. When the water is still, you can see very clearly what is beneath it. There are several ways the achieve this stilling of the mind, including meditation and yoga.

Reality is waiting just beneath our delusions. It’s there if you know how to look for it. Not the reality that we think is there. The real one.