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.

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About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg is an independent dharma teacher living in Kansas City. He gives online teachings through the Open Heart Project. He also runs the Monday Night Zen Group at the Rime Buddhist Center. His writing has appeared in Lion's Roar, Patheos, Tattooed Buddha, and Elephant Journal.

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