From Kuan-ting's Introduction to Chih-i's Mo-ho chih-chih

translated by Neal Donner and Daniel B. Stevenson

[1c1] Chih-i transmitted Hui-ssu's three kinds of calming and contemplation: (1) the gradual and sequential, (2) the variable, and (3) the perfect and sudden. These all belong to the Mahýyýna. They all take ultimate reality (shih-hsiang) as their object [of contemplation] and are alike called calming and contemplation. The gradual [calming and contemplation] is shallow at the beginning but later becomes deep, like [climbing] a ladder or stairs. In the variable [calming and contemplation],1 the earlier and later [stages] mutually shift around, just as the color of a diamond thrust into the sunlight varies depending on its position.2 In the perfect and sudden [calming and contemplation], beginning and end are not two [different things], so that the practice is comparable to someone with supernatural powers mounting into space.3 It is for the sake of three basic types of [spiritual] capacity that we teach these three approaches to dharma and cite these three similes.4 Having finished the abbreviated explanation of the three kinds of calming and contemplation, we continue now with the expanded explanation.

Gradual and Sequential Calming and Contemplation

[1c6] Even at the beginning of gradual [calming and contemplation] one is aware [of the nature] of ultimate reality. This reality is difficult to understand, but the gradual and sequential method is easy to practice.5 One begins by taking refuge in the monastic code (kuei-chieh), thereby turning away from depravity and approaching the good. [The paths of] fire, blood, and the knife6 are brought to a halt, and one reaches the three wholesome destinies.7 At the next stage one takes up the practice of meditative concentration,8 through which one restrains the far-ranging net of desire and achieves the concentrations of the realms of form and formlessness.9 Next one cultivates [insight that brings] freedom from outflows (wu-lou),10 thereby terminating one's imprisonment in the three realms and reaching the path to nirvýža. After that one cultivates loving kindness and compassion, disregarding one's own progress toward enlightenment and reaching the bodhisattva path.11 Finally one cultivates [the vision] of reality [itself], thereby arresting in oneself the biases of the two extreme views and achieving the eternally abiding way.12 These are the features of the gradual and sequential calming and contemplation, which is shallow at the start but profound at the end.

Variable Calming and Contemplation

[1c12] There is no particular sequence of stages in the variable calming and contemplation.13 At times it may employ the gradual method, which we have outlined above, and at times it may employ the sudden method, which we discuss below,14 alternating between these two, now shallow and now deep. Sometimes [it focuses on] phenomenal distinctions (shih), at other times on principle (li).15 In some cases it points to the worldly [siddhýnta] as the [siddhýnta of] ultimate truth, or treats the [siddhýnta of] ultimate truth as the individualized and therapeutic [siddhýntas].16 It may involve the pacification (hsi) of contemplation (kuan) in order to achieve calming (chih); or it may involve the illumination (chao) of calming (chih) to achieve contemplation (kuan).17 That is why it is called the "variable" calming and contemplation.

[1c16] Q: A skeptic might say, "[These three types of calming and contemplation] belong to the same [Mahýyýna] teaching, have the same [reality] as their object, and have the same name.18 But in terms of the features [of their practice] they are still utterly different."

[1c16] A: Though they are the same, they are not the same; and though they are not the same, they are the same.19 There are six [distinctions within the first stage of] the gradual calming and contemplation: three each of good and bad destinies.20 There are three general aspects to [the cultivation of] freedom from outflows, so that we have in all twelve points of difference.21 The reason we adopt the name "variable" [for this calming and contemplation] is that we are speaking from the perspective of its manifoldness.

[1c19] Q: The types of calming and contemplation discussed in this section are in the same Mahýyýna, they aim at the same ultimate reality, and are the same in being called "calming and contemplation." Why then is this section called "elucidating differences?''22

[1c20] A: Though they are the same, they are not the same; and though they are not the same, they are the same. Within the [stages of the] gradual and sequential [calming and contemplation] there are nine23 points of difference, while within the variable [calming and contemplation] there are four points of difference,24 making in all thirteen points of difference. The reason we use the expression "not the same" is that we are stressing multiplicity in our choice of words. It is the same idea as saints treating unconditioned dharmas25 as having differences.

Perfect and Sudden Calming and Contemplation26

[1c23] The perfect and sudden calming and contemplation from the very beginning takes ultimate reality (shih-hsiang) as its object.27 No matter what the object of contemplation might be, it is seen to be identical to the middle.28 There is here nothing that is not true reality (chen-shih). When one fixes [the mind] on the dharmadhýtu [as object] and unifies one's mindfulness with the dharmadhýtu [as it is],29 then there is not a single sight nor smell that is not the middle way.30 The same goes for the realm of self, the realm of Buddha, and the realm of living beings.31 Since all aggregates (skandha) and sense-acceses (ýyatana) [of body and mind] are thusness, there is no suffering to be cast away.32 Since nescience and the afflictions are themselves identical with enlightenment (bodhi), there is no origin of suffering to be eradicated. Since the two extreme views are the middle way and false views are the right view, there is no path to be cultivated. Since sa¸sýra is identical with nirvýža, there is no cessation to be achieved. Because of the [intrinsic] inexistence of suffering and its origin, the mundane does not exist; because of the inexistence of the path and cessation, the supramundane does not exist. A single, unalloyed reality (shih-hsiang) is all there isóno entities whatever exist outside of it. That all entities are by nature quiescent (chi) is called "calming" (chih);33 that, though quiescent, this nature is ever luminous (chao), is called "contemplation" (kuan).34 Though a verbal distinction is made between earlier and later stages of practice, there is ultimately no duality, no distinction between them. This is what is called the "perfect and sudden calming and contemplation."


1. Literally, "unfixed" or "unspecified" (pu-ting).
2. From the Nirvýža SÂtra, T12.75a. Here it is stated that the "color" or outward appearance of one in the state of vajra-samýdhi is like the color of a diamond thrust into the sunlight. When among the populace, such a bodhisattva is seen differently by each person who looks at him. Vajra-(upama-)samýdhi is here equated with calming and contemplation. For a discussion of the vajra-samýdhi, see Buswell, The Formation of Ch'an Ideology in China and Korea, pp. 104-115.
3. Chan-jan (T46.150a28-b3) says: "'Perfect' means perfectly interfusing or perfectly full. 'Sudden' means reaching its furthest limit 'all-at-once,' or 'instantaneously' becoming fullfilled. Furthermore, 'perfect' means complete. . . . Because its essence (t'i) is not established gradually, it thus is 'sudden or instantaneous.' But although in essence it [is already] fulfilled or at its limit, one still must use the twenty-five techinques as preliminary expedients and rely on the ten modes of discernment for cultivation [of contemplation] proper."
4. Chan-jan (T46.150b6-8) says: "These three approaches to calming and contemplation apply to spiritual capacity differently. Although from the phenomenal perspective (shih) there are differences [among them], they take the same sudden principle (li) as their object. Beyond [this principle of] the perfect teaching there is really no other capacity to speak of. Thus one should be aware that the three [approaches to calming and contemplation] all orient themselves to the perfect principle and that their distinguishing of three courses of practice [on this basis] is referred to as 'three types of spiritual capacity.'"
5. Chan-jan (T46.150b19-23) says: "Five stages are enumerated here, but in concept they actually include thirteen distinctions. The five are: (1) submitting to the precepts, (2) meditative concentration, (3) [cultivating insight or wisdom] devoid of outflows, (4) kindness and compassion, and (5) ultimate reality. As for the thirteen subsidiary points, the first stage contains six, which are the three evil [destinies] and three good [destinies]. The third stage contains four, which are the two [tripiÒaka and shared] teachings and the two vehicles. Together with the previous six they make ten. Add in the remaining three, without any changes to their number, and the total comes to thirteen. Throughout the thirteen, ultimate reality remains the object of focus. But taking into consideration the fact that [this reality] is the same as for the sudden, it should not be counted as a point of difference [among the three calmings and contemplations]. It is for this reason that later in the questions and answers [the text] speaks of 'twelve points of dissimilarity or difference.'"
6. Standing for the three painful destinies of hell, animals, and hungry ghosts.
7. Asuras, humans, and devas.
8. Cultivation of mundane states of dhyýna and samýdhi.
9. This refers to the three realms of (in ascending order) desire, form, and formlessness: kýmadhýtu, rÂpadhýtu, and arÂpadhýtu. States of mundane meditative concentration are charted according to them.
10. "Outflows" (ýsrava) are equivalent to kle—as, the passions or afflictions that bind an individual to cyclic birth and death within the three realms. Cultivation of techniques for eradicating the defiling "outflows" (i.e., the techniques of insight or vipasyaný peculiar to Buddhism) lead to deliverance from the mundane condition of the three realms of sa¸sýra. In T'ien-t'ai parlance, this represents "entering emptiness from the provisional" (ts'ung-chia ju-k'ung). Hence Chan-jan associates this stage with the two vehicles of —rývaka and pratyekabuddha or the tripiÒaka and shared teachings.
11. Here the practitioner vows to return to sa¸sýra and work toward the enlightenment of other beings. In T'ien-t'ai parlance, it is equivalent to realization of the provisional truth or "reemerging into the provisional from emptiness" (ts'ung-k'ung ch'u-chia).
12. Traditionally the most common representation of the two extreme views is eternalism —ý—vatavýda) and annihilationism (ucchedavýda) of the self and/or dharmas. In T'ien-t'ai discussions, however, they are usually presented in terms of the "three truths"óemptiness, provisionality, and the middle. Thus the two extremes are "emptiness" and "provisionality," which are "simultaneously eradicated and simultaneously illumined" (shuang-fei shuang-chao) in the realization of the perfect "middle" truth that is ultimate reality.
13. Chan-jan (T46.150b29-c1) says: "The term 'variable' is devised in reference to the two previous [approaches of] the gradual and sudden. Sometimes it is gradual; sometimes it is sudden; it does not focus exclusively on any one approach. Thus it is 'variable.'"
14. Following Chan-jan, T46.150b26-28.
15. Originally an indigenous philosophical concept developed by early medieval Confucian and Hs¸an-hs¸eh thinkers, the distinction between "principle" (li) and "phenomena" (shih) was adapted to classic Indian Buddhist polarities of emptiness (—Ânyatý) and existence, or "ultimate truth" (paramýrtha-satya) and "conventional truth" (sa¸vÁti-satya). In Hua-yen and later T'ien-t'ai the nuances surrounding these terms become quite complex. Chih-i himself frequently uses shih to refer to concrete features of religious practice, ritual activity, and cultic lore. Li, on the other hand, represents an interior insight whereby one sees these very distinctions as devoid of any absolute status in and of themselves (i.e., empty) and experiences them as intrinsically identical to the transcendent "middle truth." Hence li (as "principle") may be taken loosely to mean "essential principle of truth or reality"; and shih, "phenomenal appearance." Chan-jan (T46.150c4-6) says: "As for 'principle' and 'phenomena,' sometimes the mundane realms [of sa¸sýra] are considered 'the phenomenal'; and the supramundane, 'principle.' Or [the pairs of] conventional truth (sa¸vÁti-satya) and ultimate truth (paramýrtha-satya), the three siddhýntas and the one siddhýnta [are identified with the phenomenal and principle, respectively]. [Here in the variable calming and contemplation] they also mutually shift around."
16. This sentence refers to the second and third of the four siddhýntas (hsi-t'an)ófour strategies for expounding the teachings and guiding beings to perfection. They derive from the TCTL, T25.59b-61b. Chih-i, following his teacher Hui-ssu, understood the term hsi-t'an as a mixture of Chinese and Sanskrit, meaning "universally giving" (i.e., interpreting hsi in its ordinary Chinese meaning of "universal" and t'an as the Sanskrit dýna, "giving"). In fact the whole word, and not merely half of it, is a transcription of the Sanskrit word siddhýnta. The four siddhýntas are: (1) the "worldly siddhýnta," where one instructs beings in accordance with their existing (conventional) desires and motives; (2) the "individualized siddhýnta," which devises instruction in accordance with the capacities of beings to receive the teaching; (3) the "therapeutic siddhýnta," which takes the approach of preaching dharma in accordance with specific evil mental states and behavior that need to be counteracted; and (4) the "ultimate siddhýnta," or preaching in direct accordance with the true nature of reality.
17. Chan-jan (T46.150c13-14) says: "In some cases, by applying illumination to calming, calming [itself] becomes contemplation. By applying pacification to contemplation, contemplation becomes calming."
18. Calming and contemplation.
19. Këgi (1.86-87): they are the same in teaching, object, and name but different in details of practice (hsing-hsiang).
20. Hell, hungry ghosts, and animals; asuras, humans, and devas.
21. These distinctions are made only with respect to the gradual calming and contemplation. Cultivation of freedom from outflows is, as above, the third stage of the five. Each of the other three stages remains undivided, thus giving a total of twelve. The three aspects of freedom from outflows are not clearly explained by commentators, although Chan-jan (T46.150c26-151a1) suggests that the three are a condensation of four, possibly the four fruits of stream-winner, etc. The fact that this list differs from Chan-jan's previous analysis of the gradual path into twelve points (not including "reality," the thirteenth) (T46.150b) makes the passage even more confusing.
22. Chan-jan (T46.151a19-20) explains that the title for this section was used in earlier editions of the MHCK (i.e., the Y¸an-tun chih-kuan). Although the title has been dropped here, its name is retained in the text of the question and answer.
23. Sic. Ko\d\ba3()\s\up4(-)gi (1.93) informs us that this figure is arrived at by counting the first of the five stages as six, and each of the next three stages as one (the fifth stage is here omitted from the computation). Again the meaning of the computation is unclear.
24. Again the precise meaning of this enumeration is unclear (see Chan-jan, T46.151a22-15b19). Këgi (1.90) suggests that the four represent the two pairs of the worldly siddhýnta/ultimate siddhýnta and calming/contemplation, in which each member of a pair can be considered from the point of view of the other, making four permutations.
25. Asa¸skÁta-dharmas. The Buddhist schools posited various numbers of unconditioned dharmasóthree in the case of the Sarvýstivýdins and Sthaviravýdins, and six in the case of the Yogýcýrinsóalthough they were all in agreement that ultimately there was only the one reality.
26. This paragraph is known as the "core" statement of the MHCK, its distilled essence. For centuries it has been chanted by T'ien-t'ai and Tendai monks as a part of their daily religious offices.
27. Chan-jan (T46.151c16-17) says: "[The passage from] 'from the [very] beginning takes [ultimate] reality as its object' to 'true reality' [in the line that follows] represents the object that calming and contemplation focuses on."
28. That is, whatever phenomenal event or experiential condition (ching) one may encounter or produce (tsai) in the course of contemplation. The term "object" should be understood in light of the ten experiential spheres of discernment.
29. The line originates from the Wen-shu shuo-ching (T8.731a-b). Chan-jan (T46.151c18-20) says: "'Mindfulness' itself is the constant illumination that attends [the mind] in quiescence. "Affixing' is the constant quiescence that attends the illumination of [unified] mindfulness. Since subjective and objective [aspects] are one, how much the more so calming and contemplation."
30. Chan-jan (T46.151c20-23) says: "The middle way is itself the dharmadhýtu. The dharmadhýtu is itself calming and contemplation. Calming and contemplation are not two separate things; wisdom and the object it perceives are a mysterious unity. Subjective [contemplator] and object [contemplated] are spoken of together in order to clarify [the quality of] quiescent illumination." Chan-jan subsequently remarks (T46.151c): "There are two meanings to the term 'middle way.' The first, which simply means to depart from [the two extreme views of] annihilationism and eternalism, belongs to the two vehicles. The second, which is [the middle way of the] Buddha-nature, belongs to the two subsequent teachings [of the separate and perfect doctrines]. The latter together present two approaches to Buddha-nature: one provisional expedient, the other real. Thus there is the [concept of Buddha-nature as something] 'apart' [from phenomena and the afflictions] and the [concept of Buddha-nature as] 'identical' [to phenomena and the afflictions]. Here the text takes the perspective of the 'identical.' Therefore it says 'every sight, every smell is the middle way.' People today unanimously take these words 'sight' and 'smell,' etc. to signify the insentient. But while they admit that 'every sight, every smell can be the middle way,' they disclaim the notion of the intrinsic Buddha-nature of the insentient as deluded and excessive." Chan-jan, of course, is renowned for elaborating the theory that the Buddha-nature is also intrinsic to the insentient. In the lines that follow in the commentary he offers ten points in support of his position (T46.151c28-152a21). For a discussion of Chan-jan, his works and ideas, see Hib“, Tëdai tendai-gaku kenkyÂ.
31. The "three dharmas" of the Avata¸saka SÂtra (T9.465c)ópersonal mind, sentient beings, and the Buddhaówhich according to that sÂtra are utterly identical.
32. Beginning here, the four noble truths are discussed from the standpoint of the sudden calming and contemplation.
33. ¯amatha: calming, concentration, stopping, cessation, serenity.
34. Vipa—yaný: contemplation, insight. Three Kinds of Calming and Contemplation Kuan-ting Kuan-ting Three Kinds of Calming and Contemplation