Monday, 11 June 2018


Below is the first English translation of the Tiantai Patriarch Zhanran's essay the 'ten Non-duality Gates' (十不二門) that I am aware of.  The translation was done as a collaboration between myself and Li Jinyi.

TEN NON-DUALITY GATES  (See Appendix One for Chinese version.)
  1. Appearance and essence are not two gates
  2. Inside and outside are not two gates
  3. Cultivation, or affirmation are not two gates
  4. Cause and effect are not two gates
  5. Stains and purity are not two gates
  6. Circumstantial and direct are not two gates
  7. Oneself and others are not two gates
  8. The three karmac activities are not two gates
  9. Truth and expediency are not two gates
  10. Suffering and happiness are not two gates

In other words, form is emptiness, emptiness is form, or 'sec shim bul ee mun (色心不二門)', or emptiness is not different from form and form is not different from emptiness; or appearance and essence are not two gates.

A fuller explaination based on the Chinese Buddhist Dictionary (see Appendix Two) is as follows.

 1. Form (Body) mind. What has appearances and subject to growth and decay and not ascribed with consciousness, this is named form. The formless phenomena which result in consciousness, this is named mind. This is the first non duality gate to investigate. That is the body and mind are distinct yet non dual.. (not Separable? Self existing? Self contained?) 

 2. Internal and External. Sentient beings and Buddhas are named external. The phenomena occurring without our mind are termed internal. This is the second non duality gate.

3. Cultivation and affirmation - the Labors required in our practice is named cultivation. The truth that is unchanging is named affirmation. This is the third non duality gate.

4. Cause and effect, formations that can arise are named causes. Resulting fruits are named effects. This is the fourth non duality gate.

5 Taint and Purity - Actions taken in ignorance are named tainted. Actions taken in line with the nature of the Dharma are named pure. This is the fifth duality gate.

6. Circumstantial and Direct - Karmic rewards/retribution are of two types, circumstantial and direct. The realm and necessities of sentient beings are named circumstantial retribution. The mind and body of beings are direct retribution. This is the sixth non duality gate.

7. Oneself and others. From the perspective of the Three Dharma, the dharmas of the Buddha and the dharmas of sentient beings are named others. The dharmas of one own mind are named oneself. This is the seventh non duality gate.

8. Three Karmic Activities - Deeds undertaken by the body is named body karma. Deeds undertaken in speech is named speech karma. Deeds undertaken in the mind is named mental karma. This is the eight non duality gate.

9. Expediency and Truth. In the nine realms (6 in Samsara, 3 Savakas, Pratyekabuddhas, Bodhisattvas), the seven Skilful Means dharmas (need more research to identify what they are) are named expediency. The Buddhas complete true dharmas are named truths. This is the ninth non duality gate.

10. Received moisture. Received feelings and experiences, metaphorically speaking, are like the three herbs and two trees (in the Lotus Sutra, practicing the Dharma, leads to rebirth in the Heavenly realm is like a small herb, attaining the dharma without outflows, Nirvana,and six psychic powers, three knowledge, leaving the world, practicing meditative concentration, and realizing dependent origination are like the middle herb, striving to attain buddhahood, cultivating the buddha path is the great herb, those sons of Buddha who concentrate on the path of the Buddha, always practicing love and compassion, self realizing as Buddhas, decisive and without doubt are the small trees. Those living in divine powers, turning the non returning wheels of Dharma, liberating uncountable hundred thousand million sentient beings are the Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas of great trees) of the Five Vehicles are named received experiences. The moisture, all that were taught by the Tathagata in the four times and three teachings of law are such as the rain of clouds, they are the nourishing moisture of all the herbs and trees. This is the tenth non duality gate.

This is to say, in my view, the received/attained experiences/realization of the forests of gods, Arahants, Pratyekabuddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas while in diversity are ultimately in line with the single taste of freedom Rain clouds Dharma! Although there is but one taste of Nirvana, but the attainments of beings differ due to the differing conditions of the beings.



In the Tiantai versions, it is said that 'appearance' and 'form' are not two gates (是故空中無色). They go on to list another nine things that people commonly see as dualistic but are in reality non-dual.
'不二門' Literally, means 'not two gates' or 'these are not two gates'.
不 (Korean: 'bul' English 'not');
二 ('ee' 'two');
門 ( 'mun' 'gate').
色心 means appearance, essence; 色心不二門 means appearance and essence are not two gates
內外 means inside and outside (ie, inside and outside are not two gates)
修性 - cultivation, or affirmation (are not two gates)
因果 - cause and effect (are not two gates)
染淨 - stains and purity (are not two gates)
依正 - circumstantial and direct (are not two gates)
自他 - oneself and others (are not two gates)
三業 - the three karmac activities (are not two gates)
權實 - truth and expediency (are not two gates)
受潤 - suffering and happiness (are not two gates)

。無色 聲香味觸法



Friday, 1 June 2018


The question of why Mañjuśrī could not see outside the gate but Buddha could bothered me for a long time.  This story came from a Koan:
One day as Mañjuśrī stood outside the gate, the Buddha called to him,
"Manjusri, Mañjuśrī, why do you not enter?"
Mañjuśrī replied, "I do not see myself as outside. Why enter?"
Why was Mañjuśrī, the Bodhisattva associated with wisdom and insight (prajñā) unable to see anything outside while the Buddha could?  Well, one reason is that Buddha was acting out of compassion and thus could see the big picture!

Mañjuśrī was correct in recogoinising that 'inside and outside are not two gates' (內外不二門), but in abiding in non-duality he turned his back on the situation whereas Buddha just entered.  Had it been another, such as Samantabhadra or
Kwanseum bosal they would have entered out of compassion without comment.

It is important to meet Mañjuśrī in our dealings, but we must not get stuck there.  We need to go beyond wisdom and see the big picture.

No doubt there are other reasons too.  Please leave your thoughts below.

Friday, 25 May 2018


This short post is to counter the often made claim that a certain way of approaching meditation is the right way, whereas in practice there are lots of practices and many ways.  It is not the case that there is a certain order, or certain path that we must follow.  In fact, the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment notes 39 ways to combine the different types of meditation and makes it clear it considers different paths suitable for different practitioners.

The two types of meditation found in the famous Buddhist eightfold path are concentration (samadhi) and mindfulness (sati) although there are more types such as super-mundane powers (abhijna), tranquillity (samatha), and insight (vipassana). And despite some schools emphasising one form of meditation over the others there is not one way to achieve enlightenment and the tradition has insisted that you can do it by first doing concentration or mindfulness. 

The traditional Therividia view, found in the Visuddhimagga and elsewhere is that there are those who follow the 'wet-method' or ‘way of calm’ (samathayana), and in contrast there are those who work in ‘pure insight’ (visuddhimagga) which is called the dry method [1] [3]. Buddhaghosa says these are the two roots one must master before turning to the purification of view engendered through insight practice [2] [3].  And, as already stated the Mahayana is much more flexible and admits multiple ways and practices to reach the same goal.

Jhana is the Pali word that describes a series of cultivated states of mind, which lead to a "state of perfect equanimity and awareness (upekkhii-sati-piirisuddhl). Further, it must be noted that the jhana's have mindfulness factors.

The Pali-cannon says quite a lot about the Jhana’s such as noting that it is extremely difficult to obtain even the first Jhana and in the Upakkilesa Sutra there is a detailed account of the Buddha's struggle to obtain the first absorption and the case is similar for others monks (eg, A.I.12).

The first Jhana is not just a relaxed state of being or merely feeling happy but a deeper state of meditation where one does not hear any sounds and one cannot speak (cf, A.V.13). The experience of the first absorption is an otherworldly experience (cf, A.IV.430) constituting another world in the psychological and cosmological sense (cf, D.III.215 and S.V.56) and to reach here is to enter a 'Superbly Extraordinary State' (cf, M.I.159 and M.I.147). The absorption of the first Jhana is beyond mere reflection and conceptual thought. Concentration is essential for full awakening (cf, A.III. 426).

Over and over again in the Pali-cannon right concentration (samma samadhi) is equated with the four absorptions (eg, D.II.313) however, as the Buddha's former teachers show despite deep concentration/absorption one has not reached enlightenment without combining it with right view (cf, A.III.19; A.III.200; A.IV.99; A.IV.336; A.V.4-6 and A.V.314). It is worth noting that it is possible to enter a jhana and still have all the hindrances obsessing the mind (cf, Gopakamaggallana Sutra).

A sotāpanna ("stream-entrant") is a person who has seen the Dharma and consequently has dropped the first three fetters that bind a being to rebirth. A Sotapanna will reach full enlightenment within the next seven lives. Perhaps the biggest difference between a sotapanna and Buddha is the lack of absorption. According to a discourse in the Itivuttaka the hindrances can be removed during walking meditation (a posture not suitable for attaining absorption - cf It.118) and listening to the Dharma (cf, S.V.95) and for people who have never meditated (D.I.110; D.I.148; M.I.380; A.IV.186; A.IV.213).

Those people who have gained the ability to enter absorption at will are never going to return to this world (A.II.126) and the difference between a once returner and never returner is the development of concentration (cf, A.IV.380; A.I.232; A.I.233).

[1] Wunnita (1957), 7
[2] Turner (2009), 67
[3] Braun (2013),The Birth of Insight: Meditation, Modern Buddhism, and the Burmese Monk Ledi Sayadaw, University of Chicago Press

Sunday, 9 July 2017


'Adhishthana' means power of the Buddha.  The Lankavatara sutra describes it thus:

"...sustained in two ways by the power (adhishthana) of the Buddhas... What are the two ways? __ One is the way a Bodhisattva is made to attain states of mental tranquillisation, and the other is that by which the Buddha personally appears before the Bodhisattva and anoints him with his own hands."

The Lankavatara further states that, "it is thus due to the power of the Buddha (adhishthana) that the Bodhisattva at the first stage attains the Samadhi known as the Light of the Mahayana and that having attained this [he] finds himself now blessed by the personal presence of all the Buddhas..."

The Lankavatara then goes on to explain that it is through the power of the Buddha that the later stages are also obtained.  D.T Suzuki described it thus:

 "The Buddha is creative life itself, he creates himself in innumerable forms with all the means native to him. This is called his adhisthana, as it were, emanating from his personality.  The idea of Adhisthana is one of the Mahayana landmarks in the history of Indian Buddhism and it is at the same time the beginning of the 'other-power' (tariki in Japanese) school as distinguished from the 'self-power' (jiriki)."

Suzuki, D. T. "The Shin Sect of Buddhism". Journal of Shin Buddhism. [accessed 9th of July 2017]

Friday, 23 June 2017


We all know there's a difference between 'knowing' and 'experiencing' and people can be at various stages of each - I will try to tease out the difference here and apply it to Buddhist awakening. 

Knowing is intellectual and is always knowing "about" - it is second-hand and all about theories of something.

Experiencing by contrast merges the 'knower and known' into one and at this point one gets to understand directly. Experiencing does not require one to have theories 'about' the subject one understands and is experiential and direct.

For instance, Professor D.T. Suzuki (鈴木 大拙 貞太郎) was a great Buddhist scholar who was instrumental in spreading Zen to the West and a prolific translator of Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit literature but he was not enlightened and had no enlightenment experiences. Suzuki knew a lot about enlightenment, but never got to understand and experience it himself directly. There is also always the possibility for someone to not even know about enlightenment even in theory.

So, it is possible not to know or experience/ understand, but it is possible to know but not understand, and also it is possible to experience but not know.

Buddhism is about knowing and understanding, but it's about a strange kind of paradoxical knowing since any theory about it has to account for it being subjective and unique to each person. The experience of knowing about enlightenment is what Neitzsche described as becoming "a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred 'Yes'" and when you finally understand you do not become someone or something else, but become who you really are which seems a bit paradoxical as who else could one be?  In a nutshell enlightenment means going beyond knowing about buddhism, and puting into practice Buddha's teaching about becoming who one is - it is about understanding, finally, oneself!

Sunday, 21 May 2017


Park Kunsunim: highly trusted teacher
Ideally you need a meditation teacher, but not any teacher, a knowledgeable teacher and one you trust also. A tall order especially as many who set themselves up as teachers are ego-driven with little or no insight creating an epistemic catch-22.

This catch-22 is a problem since to assess a potential teacher you need to find someone who knows a lot more than you, is more spiritually advanced then you,  with much to offer, but to know this you need to be closer to enlightenment than they are. This is analogous to the advice paradox: in order to know who to go to for advice, you practically have to already know what kind of advice you'll get and that it is the right type, in which case you already know what advice you will hear.
Legendary teacher:
Taego Kunsunim

One thing that we should ask ourselves is, "What is in it for Buddhist teachers?" Why do they want pupils so badly? Is wanting students counter-evidence to their suitability?  If so, when, and how can you tell?

This being so, and given how rare it will be that an individual will have just enough spiritual knowledge to be able to identify a teacher that is good enough to thoroughly and reliably trust, it is doubtful that beginners are best served by being told to not proceed along the path without teachers. Better advice, perhaps, for beginners would be to be wary of teachers, of those who profess to know the way, but to consider the potential benefits of a trustworthy teacher as one advances enough to be able to recognize one.

Perhaps even better advice is to make sure as you practice and evolve yourself you are surrounded by a variety of teachers who identify with solid traditions which contain a core of people who have gained enlightenment. Lone wolfs are usually alone for a reason and there's much benefit in organizations with deep roots and solid foundations.

This article was co-authored by BupSahn Sunim and Professor Rick Repetti after a private conversation about the difficulty of finding a suitable teacher.  Professor Repetti is professor at New York City University and Kingsborough Community College and has professional interests in the areas of agency, ethics, philosophy of religion, Buddhism, and contemplative practices.

Saturday, 20 May 2017


The Buddhist version of the Dark Night of the Soul is little advertised (for obvious reasons) but universally experienced by advanced meditators. In Buddhist terminology the Dark Night is called the dukkha-nana (dukkha meaning suffering, and nana, pronounced "yah-nuh," meaning knowledge.)

In the tradition, there have been many formulations of this process found in both the Theravada and Mahayana. The experience of the Dark Night is a process where the mediator becomes inconsolable where nothing in life feels worthwhile, and everything seems pointless to an intensity that seems bottomless. It’s an experience of the fundamental suffering of duality causing a crisis of identity. The duration of this process varies from days to years and “some may get run over by it on one retreat, fall back, and then pass through it with no great difficulties sometime later. Others may struggle for years to learn its lessons” (Ingram, 2007). In the Zen tradition this stage is called 'rolling up the mat' because the yogin finds they can no longer meditate and wants to quit the whole process.

The Vimuttimagga (解脫道論) is an early meditation manual by the arahant Upatissa (Sayadaw, 1994) and describes the stage of ‘misery’ thus:

[T]he "knowledge of misery" will arise in him before long. [Then all] objects noticed, or ...states of consciousness engaged in noticing, or in any kind of life or existence ...will appear insipid, ...and unsatisfying. So he sees, at that time, only suffering, only unsatisfactoriness, only misery. Therefore this state is called "knowledge of misery."

Another stage is described as the knowledge of misery:

“Seeing thus the misery in conditioned things (formations), his mind finds no delight in those miserable things but is entirely disgusted with them. [H]is mind becomes, as it were, discontented and listless. [He] spends his time continuously engaging in it. He therefore should know that this state of mind is not dissatisfaction with meditation, but is precisely the "knowledge of disgust" that has the aspect of being disgusted with the formations. Even if he directs his thought to the happiest sort of life and existence, or to the most pleasant and desirable objects, his mind will not take delight in them, will find no satisfaction in them.”

When in this state it is pretty bad with pains, sickness and unbelievable suffering and it is impossible to even to meditate which is exactly what you need to keep doing. In the Zen tradition, this part of the path is called the “rolling up of the mat” for just that reason because there is a great desire to quit the whole process and for me I really did resign from the sangha, and quit being Buddhist for about one year only later to rejoin. Again from the Vimuttimagga:

“[T]here will usually arise in his body various kinds of pains which are severe, sharp, and of growing intensity. Hence his whole bodily and mental system will seem to him like an unbearable mass of sickness or a conglomeration of suffering. And a state of restlessness will usually manifest itself, making him incapable of keeping to one particular posture for any length of time. For then he will not be able to hold any one position long, but will soon want to change it.” 

This can be considered “the entrance to the third vipassana jhana, or perhaps its the entrance to the fourth vipassana jhana” (Ingram, 2007). The worst thing is the Dark Night begins after a period of profound clarity, equanimity, bliss, focus and mystical style experiences.

For people practising in a monastic setting the dukkha-nana would be recognized and worked through but in a secular setting it is not always so easy and hence one reason why a teacher with knowledge and experience is so needed on the path answering common questions about mediation and the necessity of a teacher. Well, look at it like this: you can lift heavy weights by yourself and that works until the day that something goes wrong such as pulling a muscle and finding there’s no-one around who can help you up or call an ambulance. Well, there are dips in meditation and without a knowledgable teacher to help you though it it can be extremly difficult and it is not recommended.


Mahasi Sayadaw, 1994, The Progress of Insight (Visuddhiñana-katha),, accessed 4/2/2017
Ingram, Daniel, 2007, THE CORE TEACHINGS OF THE BUDDHA: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book,