The Fourth Patriarch: ‘The Abandoning of the Body’

Tao-hsin: I ask for the Master’s compassion. Please instruct me on how to achieve release.
Third Patriarch Seng-ts’an: Is there someone who constrains you?
Tao-hsin: There is no such person.
Seng-ts’an: Why then seek release when you are constrained by no one?


The following is from Masters and Disciples of the Lanka (a Tun-huang MS); translated by D. T. Suzuki.

Tao-hsin (580- 651):

‘The method of abandoning the body consists first in meditating on Emptiness, whereby the mind is emptied. Let the mind together with its world be quietened down to a perfect state of tranquillity; let thought be cast in the mystery of quietude, so that the mind is kept from wandering from one thing to another. When the mind is tranquillized in its deepest abode, its bonds are cut asunder. How unfathomable! How abysmal! The mind in its absolute purity is the Void itself. How almost unconcerned it appears! Like death there is no breathing. It abides in the utmost purity of the Dharmakaya, and is no longer subject to a future becoming.

‘When a mind is stirred and ignorance is born in it, one cannot escape suffering another form of existence. Therefore, let a man discipline himself first of all in the realization of a perfect state of quietude in his mind and also in its world. This is the way the discipline ought to be carried out.

‘But in this discipline there is really nothing to take hold of as a definite achievement, and this non-achievement is what is achieved by the discipline, for the Dharma is grasped by non-striving, and non-striving is truth itself. Therefore, we read in the sutra, “Emptiness, non-striving, desirelessness, formlessness — this is true emancipation!” For this reason, the Dharma is non-striving.

‘The way to abandon the body is to have a penetrating insight into its provisional nature, when [this happens] the mind, together with its world, becomes transparent and its functions are illuminated.

‘Further,’ said the master, ‘according to Chuang-tzu, “Heaven and Earth are one finger, and ten thousand things are one horse.” But this is not right. The Dharmapada says: “The One is not to be thought of as one. In order to destroy the idea of multiplicity, the One is said to be one, but this is meant for the shallow-minded.” Thus, we can state that Chuang-tzu fails to go beyond oneness.

‘According to Lao-tzu: “How unfathomable! How abysmal! Within, there is Essence!” With Lao-tzu, an outside form is gotten rid of, but he still holds on to a mind within. The Avatamsaka states, “Do not cling to dualism, because there is neither one nor two!” The Vimalakirti states, “Mind is not within, nor without, nor in-between — this is realization.” For this reason, we know that Lao-tzu still stands on the idea of a mind-essence.’

. . .

‘Reflect on your own body and see what it is. It is empty and devoid of reality like a shadow. It is perceived, but there is nothing there to take hold of. Prajna rises in the midst of these shadowy objects: it is unchanging; it has no ultimate abode. Remaining itself immovable, it enters into relations and endlessly suffers transformations.

‘Out of the midst of Emptiness there rise the six senses, and the six senses too are of Emptiness, while the six sense-objects are perceived as like a dream or a vision. It is like the eye perceiving its objects; they are not located in it. Like the mirror on which your features are reflected, they are perfectly perceived there in all clarity; the reflections are all there in the emptiness, yet the mirror itself retains not one of the objects which are reflected there. The human face has not come to enter into the body of the mirror, nor has the mirror gone out to enter into the human face. When one realizes how the mirror and the face stand to each other, and that there is from the beginning no entering, no going-out, no passing, no coming into relation with each other, one comprehends the signification of Suchness and Emptiness.’


D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism: (Third Series). Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1971 (p. 28).


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