Sudden Enlightenment in Chan

The most famous is the Platform Sutra that advocates for "sudden enlightenment" that is a hallmark of Chan teachings. Just look at how Huineng begins:

'The Great Master told the assembly, "Good friends, bodhi is fundamentally pure in its self-nature. You must simply use this mind [that you already have], and you will achieve buddhahood directly and completely. Good friends, listen well! This is the story of how I practiced and attained the Dharma."'
(Platform Sutra, ch 1, BDK ed, p 17)

Then throughout the scripture he explains the sudden teaching.

'To use wisdom to contemplate all the dharmas without grasping or rejecting is to see the nature and accomplish the enlightenment of buddhahood.'
(ch 2, p 31)

'Transcending delusion and transcending enlightenment, one should always generate prajñā. Eradicating the true and eradicating the false, one sees the buddha-nature. This is to accomplishthe enlightenment of buddhahood upon hearing these words.'
(ch 6, p 49)

The central method of Chan, translated here as nonthought, is itself equated with buddhahood:

'Good friends, to be enlightened to the Dharma of nonthought is for the myriad dharmas to be completely penetrated. To be enlightened to the Dharma of nonthought is to see the realms of [all] the buddhas. To be enlightened to the Dharma of nonthought is to arrive at the stage of buddhahood.'
(ch 2, p 34)

And to be clear, it talks not only of sudden enlightenment, but also sudden cultivation:

'The self-nature is without error, without stupidity, and without disruption. In moment after moment of thought, prajñā illuminates, constantly transcending the characteristics of dharmas. Independent and autonomous, he apprehends everything—how could there be any positing? The self-nature becomes enlightened itself, sudden enlightenment and sudden cultivation. There is no gradual progression. Therefore, one does not posit all the dharmas. The dharmas are quiescent—how could there be a progression?'
(ch 8, p 75)

On that point, here's Buswell's summary from the introduction of Bird in Flight Leaves no Trace:

'The answer of both Subul Sunim and Huangbo is deceptively simple: just stop thinking there is something we need to practice. Then the enlightenment inherent to the mind manifests itself naturally, and we spontaneously receive the transmission of the mind-dharma. In this way, religious practice is perfected through, and simultaneously with, enlightenment itself. This is the quintessential “sudden awakening accompanied by sudden cultivation” (Chinese dunwu dunxiu, Korean dono donsu 頓悟頓修) approach that has inspired Seon practice throughout much of its history.'

A bit more from Buswell (and Lopez) on the topic of sudden enlightenment: Slow-Motion Satori.

In Huangbo's words:

'Trainees who wish to achieve Buddhahood [should understand that] it is completely useless to study any of the Buddhist teachings — just study nonseeking and nonattachment. Nonseeking is for the mind (i.e., moments of thought) not to be generated, and nonattachment is for the mind not to be extinguished. Neither generating nor extinguishing—this is Buddhahood. The eighty-four thousand teachings are directed at the eighty-four thousand afflictions and are only ways to convert and entice [sentient beings into true religious practice]. Fundamentally all the teachings are nonexistent; transcendence is the Dharma, and those who understand transcendence are Buddhas. By simply transcending all the afflictions, there is no dharma that can be attained.'
(Essentials of the Transmission of Mind, ch 4, in Zen Texts, BDK ed, p 20)

Further on the path of sudden enlightenment, this one from Huangbo's teacher Baizhang Huaihai:

'Question: What is the essential method for sudden enlightenment in the great vehicle?
The master said,
You all should first put an end to all involvements and lay to rest all concerns; do not remember or recollect anything at all, whether good or bad, mundane or transcendental - do not engage in thoughts. Let go of body and mind, set them free.
With mind like wood or stone, not explaining anything with the mouth, mind not going anywhere, then the mind ground becomes like space, wherein the sun of wisdom naturally appears. It is as though the clouds had opened and the sun emerged.
Just put an end to all fettering connections, and feelings of greed, hatred, craving, defilement and purity all come to an end. Unmoved in the face of the five desires and eight influences, not choked up by seeing, hearing, discerning or knowing, not confused by anything, naturally endowed with all virtues and the inconceivable use of all paranormal powers, this is someone who is free.
In the presence of all things in the environment, to have a mind neither still nor disturbed, neither concentrated nor distracted, passing through all sound and form without lingering or obstruction, is called being a wayfarer.
Not setting in motion good, evil, right or wrong, not clinging to a single thing, not rejecting a single thing, is called being a member of the great vehicle.
Not bound by any good or evil, emptiness or existence, defilement or purity, doing or nondoing, mundane or transcendental, virtue or knowledge, is called enlightened wisdom. Once affirmation and negation, like and dislike, approval and disapproval, all various opinions and feelings come to an end and cannot bind you, then you are free wherever you may be; this is called a bodhisattva at the moment of inspiration immediately ascending to the stage of Buddhahood.'

(Sayings and Doings of Pai-Chang, p 78)

And from Baizhang's Dharma-brother Dazhu Huihai:

'Sudden Enlightenment means liberation during this lifetime. Just as a lion-cub, from the moment it is born, is a real lion, likewise anyone who practices the Sudden-Enlightenment method has, from the moment he begins his practice, already entered the Buddha-Stage. Just as the bamboo-shoots growing in springtime are not different from the parent bamboo-shoots, because they are also empty inside, likewise anyone who practices the Sudden-Enlightenment method to rid himself suddenly of false thought abandons, like the Buddhas, the sense of an ego and a personality forever. Being absolutely deep, still and void, he is, then, without an iota of difference, equal to the Buddhas.'
(Treatise On Entering The Tao of Sudden Enlightenment)

See more from two modern Chan teachers:
Enlightenment and Buddhahood by Sheng-yen
Gradual Cultivation and Sudden Enlightenment by Wei Chueh


Dogen's Zen

Here's my fairly simple and straightforward take on Dogen's Zen. Shikantaza has two elements: body posture (taza) and mental posture (shika). The physical posture requires little elaboration (kek/hankafuza). The mental part is hishiryo, what I like to put as "neither-thinking", although the usual wording is "non-thinking", but the meaning of it is not different from what Changlu Zongze (in Zuochan Yi, the source of Dogen's Zazengi), Guifeng Zongmi (in Chan Letter (see: Zongmi on Chan, p 88)), and Dajian Huineng (or rather Heze Shenhui) identified as the very essence of Zen: no-thought (wunian/munen). Now the definition of hishiryo/munen, as provided in the Sotoshu's website (How to do Zazen): "When various thoughts arise in your mind, do not become caught up by them or struggle with them; neither pursue nor try to escape from them. Just leave thoughts alone, allowing them to come up and go away freely." And Okumura (Zazen Instruction): "That means you let go of whatever thoughts come up, and you also don’t sleep. This is the point in our sitting practice." How does that equal enlightenment (or rather confirmation-realisation)? Because it directly perceives that appearances are unobtainable (anupalabdha / fukatoku), i.e. empty.
The idea of practice-enlightenment is another instance/version of direct/sudden enlightenment, and Dogen's twist on the matter, as I see it, is rather a reaction to correct the possible mistakes of Kanna Zen and other misinterpretations that can be associated with it, hence his rejection of kensho as well.
So, is Shikantaza a shamatha practice, a vipashyana practice, both, neither? Partly, that is irrelevant, because those terms need further clarification, and then one just ends up comparing one interpretation of them with Zen. If one wants the general Zen answer, then check out the Platform Sutra on samadhi and prajna in chapter 4 (BDK ed, p 42): "It is like the light of a lamp. When the lamp exists, there is light; when there is no lamp, there is darkness. The lamp is the essence of the light, and the light is the function of the lamp. Although the names are different, in essence they are fundamentally identical. The Dharma of meditation and wisdom is just like this."
Why are there no thousands of buddhas already if merely sitting in zazen is enlightenment? The question is quite like the legendary story about Dogen's reason for travelling to China (i.e. Why practise if we're already buddhas?). And the answer is not that enlightenment needs to be enacted (at least according to me, contradicting the popular Soto idea of the matter), but because of what Zongmi and others talked of regarding "sudden enlightenment, gradual practice", that one needs to work on one's habitual proclivities and attachments. This is rather standard Buddhism, where a stream-enterer (or 1st bhumi arya-bodhisattva) has the certainty about the path and the goal, but still has to walk that path with the correct view already established.


Excerpts from the Mahayanasutralamkara


Bodhisattvas, going beyond infinite merit and wisdom,
Perfectly gather the accumulations, and then
Reflect and gain perfect certainty with regard to the Dharma.
As a result, they realize objects to be the products of expression.
Once they see that things are merely expressions,
They dwell in the truth that it is mind alone that appears as those things.
After that they gain direct realization
Of the expanse of reality, free of the characteristics of duality.
From intellectual understanding that there is nothing other than the mind,
They then realize that neither does the mind exist.
Once the wise have seen that both do not exist,
They abide in the expanse of reality devoid of those.
The power of nonconceptual gnosis in the wise
Constantly extends to everything in equal measure,
And clears away the dense jungle of the faults they bear
Like a universal antidote removing poison.


That which does not exist
Is held to be the sublime existence.
Not conceptualizing in any way
Is held to be the sublime conceptualization.
Meditation that does not look at aspects
Is held to be the sublime meditation.
The attainment of those who do not look
To attain anything is also held to be sublime.


Sentient beings born as humans,
In infinite numbers, in every instant,
Attain perfect enlightenment,
So do not give in to losing heart.


Of false imagination,
We say it is like a magical illusion;
And of dualistic delusion,
We say it is like the forms in a magical illusion.
In the same way that there is nothing in an illusion,
We accept the ultimate truth.
And in the same way that it is perceived,
We accept the relative truth.
Just as when the illusions are not there
And their causes are clearly seen,
When transformation takes place,
One perceives the false imagination.
Undeceived people
Use the illusion’s causes as they wish.
So too, those who are diligent in the precepts, undeluded,
Experience the transformed state as they please.
Though they are there in appearance,
It is not that they really exist.
Thus we say that in magical illusions and the like
Things exist and do not exist.
It is not that what is there does not exist,
Nor that what is not there exists.
In magical illusions and the like
We do not distinguish between their existence and nonexistence.


Because it is to be known by oneself, Lord Buddha did not teach the Dharma;
Yet with the breath of his teachings, rationally explained, the embodiment of compassion, like a python,
Draws beings onto the path, setting them perfectly in the mouth of total peace,
Utterly pure, vast, common, and inexhaustible.
Consequently, no practitioner’s meditation is pointless,
And thus neither are the teachings of the sugatas pointless.
If one could see the meaning simply by listening, there would be no point in meditating,
And if one could practice meditation without having listened, there would be no point in teaching.


Phenomena do not exist yet are perceived;
Defilement does not exist and yet is purified;
Know that they are like magical illusions and so forth,
And likewise that they are like space.
Just as on a well-drawn picture
There are no different planes, yet there seem to be,
To the false imagination, duality,
Though never there, appears in different ways.
When muddy water becomes clear,
Its clarity is not something produced from the muddy state,
But rather the removal of the dirt contaminating it.
So it is with the purity of one’s own mind.
The mind is held to be eternally natural clear light;
It is coarsened by adventitious faults.
The mind is ultimate reality, and there is no other mind but clear
We speak of this as the nature of mind.


Bodhisattvas feel for sentient beings
A heartfelt love as great as that
Felt for an only child—
Their constant wish is to bring them help.
Because it brings benefit to sentient beings,
The fondness bodhisattvas feel does not become a downfall.
But hatred in them will always violate
And act against all beings.
Like doves who love their young the most,
Staying with them and holding them close,
With not the slightest place for anger,
Are those whose hearts are full of love for beings, their children.
Because they love, there’s never room for rage.
Because they pacify, malice is out of place.
Because they benefit, they never think deceitfully.
Because they comfort, they’ll never terrify.


The summarization of the scriptures in their titles
Should be understood as being the path of sustained calm.
The path of profound insight
Should be understood as the analysis of their meaning.


From striving for preternatural knowledge,
They are purified and become supremely fit.
By using the preternatural powers
Gained through concentration,
In order to venerate and listen to
Countless buddhas
They travel to different worlds.
Thus they venerate infinite buddhas
For infinite kalpas.
And because they have venerated them,
Their minds become supremely fit.


Next, bodhisattvas like these
Remain in evenness, and by doing so,
No longer see any objects
As anything other than mental expressions.


An individual is to be expressed
As existing as a designation; it is not substantial.
It cannot be perceived, is a mistaken notion,
And is the cause of the defilement process and the defilements.
On account of two faults, it cannot be described
As identical to or different from the aggregates,
For they would then be the self
Or it would be a substantial thing.
If it exists substantially, it is necessary to provide
The reason why it cannot be described.
To say that it cannot be described as being the same or different
Without giving a reason is inadmissible.

(All quotes are from the Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras, published in A Feast of the Nextar of the Supreme Vehicle, translated by the Padmakara Translation Group)


Essence and Function of the Zen Mind

Zen deals with the mind, and the mind is often described with two concepts: essence and function. In essence the mind is empty and pure. In function it is whatever occurs, all phenomena. Essence and function are not two different things, not two separate minds, but simply one common way to describe the mind. There is no essence without function, and there is no function without essence. But one can make the mistake of grasping only one of them, or dividing them.

Delusion is being fooled by function, where one is attached to one's thoughts, feelings, and sensory impressions.
Beginning practitioners are often fooled by essence, where they want only peace, motionlessness, transcendence, the absolute.
After some experience one recognises that dealing with function is inevitable, so there is a process of harmonisation, of balancing, of integration of the two sides.
Further on one can arrive at the point where essence and function are inseparable, where non-thought is in the midst of thought, and it becomes possible to cultivate genuine Zen.
The final stage is simply that there is no more cultivation done, no more effort needed, as essence has never been apart from function, nor function from the essence.


Keep Calm and Enjoy

Keep your eyes open and the back straight. These help to keep one grounded in the body. The breath should serve as an anchor to one's attention, what one is focused on, instead of getting lost in ideas, images, feelings, and other mental content, or sensory impressions. When the breath is not perceived, just go back to it, that's why mindfulness is important. The first goal of breath awareness is calm, stable, clear, and aware mind. The two main hindrances of torpor and agitation should not be allowed to take over. The feeling that can be relied upon is the serenity of joyful peace resulting from the relaxation of body and mind.


Direct Cut at the Root

The basis of attachment is the mistaken belief in the reality of thoughts, particularly regarding the existence of a person and an object. Thoughts are not grasped when they are seen to be unestablished, without thought there is no view or interpretation, and without view there is no emotional disturbance. Hence the direct and sudden way is recognising thoughts for what they are, how they conjure a world, and thus there is no identification with them. The gradual way leads to the same, but it is about calming the mind enough to be able to recognise how the process of thought-view-emotion-action-etc. happens.

So, when it comes to Zen, as a sudden teaching, it is simply about no-thought (or no-mind, etc.), that is cutting the root of delusion directly, i.e. seeing the nature of mind. Everything else apart from that are gradual skilful means.


Nothing Moves

(inspired by Sengzhao)

Senses are never defiled,
Since things don't ever abide,
Nor is there anywhere a place
Where anything comes, goes, or stays.
The one speck of dust in the eye,
This singular thought of an I,
Is an unestablished concept,
So just don't reject or accept.
Give or take, hold fast or release,
Searching in stillness for some peace
Is a futile self-amusement,
As there is nothing but movement.
Every moment ungraspable,
Run to or from, so laughable.
Look at this thought and see right there:
It's already gone who knows where.