Would zen Buddhists agree with this quote from Chih-I?

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Quoted in T'ien-t'ai Buddhism and Early Madhyamika p110

I've not read the original material, so am not sure where Chih-I makes these points (about the four alternatives) from. But they do seem to make sense to me, and (potentially) be what matters most about meditation etc.. But I have no means to really study tendai, only some local zen schools.

  • I can't see why they wouldn't agree. The quote seems to cover the Three Turnings with the Buddha's view as the third for which all distinctions are denied. . .
    – user14119
    Jan 13, 2019 at 12:50
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    The voices of torrents are from one great tongue, the lions of the hills are the pure body of Buddha. "Isn't that right?" he said to the teacher. "It is," said the teacher, "but it's a pity to say so."
    – Codosaur
    Jan 13, 2019 at 16:45
  • that's pretty @Codosaur
    – user2512
    Jan 14, 2019 at 23:06

2 Answers 2


I think Zen Buddhists would agree. Tiāntāi had been hugely influential on Japanese Buddhism especially through it's Tendai iteration. Consider: Venerable Shinran was a Tendai seminarian, as were Venerables Nichiren & Eisai. Venerable Hōnen was also ordained as a Tendai priest. As we can see, many later schools/sects of Japanese Buddhism actually sprout from Tendai as their mother.

The above quote is from Mahāśamathavipaśyanā T1911.38.661c-662a.

A lot of this discourse is to-do with identification, suchness vs differentiation, real vs unreal, ultimate vs provisional, nirvāṇic vs worldly.

The book you are quoting from compares Venerable Zhìyǐ's round fusion with the Madhyamaka's teaching. it seems.

This seems relevant in light of that, from the Sinitic recension of Venerable Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā:

All Buddhas either speak of self or speak of no self. All dharmas’ true aspect, within this, there is neither self nor no self. All dharmas’ true aspect is defined as mental activity’s and spoken language’s ending. There is no arising and no cessation, there is calm extinction, such is nirvāṇa. All is real, all is unreal, all is both real and unreal, all is neither real nor unreal: this is called all Buddhas’ dharma.

(Āryanāgārjunasya Mūlamadhyamakakārikāyām Ātmaparīkṣā, T1564.23c16 : 諸佛或說我 或說於無我 諸法實相中 無我無非我 [etc.], section 18)

Compare the above with the Venerable Vimalākṣa's commentary on that section, for his or her Mādhyamikaśāstra, one of the three theses of East Asian Madhyamaka (三論宗 Triśāstravāda, "the School of the Three Treatises"), which would have been well-familiar to Venerable Zhìyǐ:

Reply: Those who are attached to dharmas classify dharmas into two kinds, some being worldly, some being of nirvana. They say that the nirvana dharmas are calm and extinct, but do not say that the worldly dharmas are calm and extinct. In this treatise it is taught that all dharmas are empty in nature and have the characteristic of calm extinction. Since those who are attached to dharmas do not understand this, nirvana is used as an example. Just as with your assertion that the characteristic of nirvana is emptiness, with no characteristics, calm extinction, and no vain thoughts, so it is with all worldly dharmas.

Question: If the Buddhas do not teach self, non-self, and the cessation of all mental activities and the cutting-off of ways of verbal expression, how do they make people understand the real character of dharmas?

Reply: All the Buddhas have unlimited powers of skilful means, and dharmas have no fixed characteristics. In order to save all living beings, they may teach that everything is real, or they may teach that everything is unreal, or that everything is both real and unreal or that everything is neither unreal nor not unreal. If you search for a real nature of dharmas, you will find that they all enter into the ultimate meaning and become equal, with identical characteristics, which is to say no characteristics, just like streams of different colour and different tastes entering into a great ocean of one colour and one taste, which is to say no taste. At the time when one has not yet penetrated into the true character of dharmas, each one can be contemplated separately as unreal, existing merely by the combinations of conditions. There are three levels of living beings; superior, average and inferior. The superior person sees that the characteristic of dharmas is that they are neither real nor unreal. The average person sees the characteristics of dharmas as either all real, or all unreal. The inferior man, since his powers of perception are limited, sees the characteristics of dharmas as a little real, and a little unreal, regarding nirvana, because it is an inactive dharma and does not perish as real, and regarding samsara, because it is an active dharma, empty and false, as unreal. Neither unreal nor not unreal is taught in order to negate ‘both real and unreal’.

(Āryavimalākṣasya Mādhyamikaśāstre Ātmaparīkṣāparivartaḥ T1564.24a15: 有人說神。應有二種。若五陰即是神。若離 五陰有神。[etc.], translation Brian Christopher Bocking)

Furthermore, returning to the source text of the commentary above, we later have this, a passage Ven Zhìyǐ would have been very familiar with:

Between nirvāna and this world there is not even a slight disparity. Between this world and nirvāṇa there is also not even a slight disparity. From nirvāṇa’s true apex towards this world’s apex, like this, there are two apices, like this, there is not the smallest sliver of disparity between them.

(Mūlamadhyamakakārikāyām Nirvāṇaparīkṣā, T1564.35c27: 涅槃與世間 無有少分別 世間與涅槃 亦無少分別 涅槃之實際 及與世間際 如是二際者 無毫釐差別, section 25)

  • this is a difficult answer, but probably good. i'm going to have to read it a few times, thanks...
    – user2512
    Jan 14, 2019 at 23:05
  • i'm going to accept it as an answer, even-though all three of its quotes woosh over my head entirely. maybe you could provide more commentary on them?
    – user2512
    Jan 14, 2019 at 23:09
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    I think for the terms of service for this forum we're supposed to keep conversation to a minimum and mostly answer questions. What about the above was confusing? It's mostly a "yes, and look at some similar quotes the author would have been very familiar with". What particularly went "whoosh"?
    – Caoimhghin
    Jan 16, 2019 at 18:18

A Rinzai monk might simply grab the book being read and knock the monk on the head with it, asking, "what Realm is this?" wack

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    not gonna upvote, but i agree, thanks!
    – user2512
    Jan 14, 2019 at 23:05
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    I studied Zen for many years. However, Zen is more effective with the suttas, especially the EBT's. The most important consideration I have found is not actually the realms. It is Identity View. The illusion of identity fuels so much suffering. Desire, forms and non-form are all bound up to lesser degrees in identity. This is why the wack is important. It cuts to the chase and points out the core conflict. Identity. wack
    – OyaMist
    Jan 15, 2019 at 14:22
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    What does "Zen is effective with the suttas" mean? Does studying Zen include studying suttas? Does it typically exclude the study of suttas? Do you find you're better able to explain Zen's mission if if you study the suttas 'on the side' (i.e. not as part of but as an adjunct to the Zen curriculum)?
    – ChrisW
    Feb 1, 2019 at 10:18
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    I studied Zen to be rid of suffering. It didn't work. I read the suttas. They work. Now I understand how I should have studied Zen.
    – OyaMist
    Feb 1, 2019 at 14:15

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