Key Terms


Early Ch'an (Zen) and the Platform Sutra


 Mark Unno

Buddhism entered China between the first and third centuries but did not really begin to develop until the fourth and fifth centuries. Zen (or in China Ch'an) Buddhism traces its origins to the sixth century and the mysterious figure of Bodhidharma, and Indian monk who is said to have meditated "nine years facing a wall" after a disappointing encounter with the Buddhist ruler of China at the time, Emperor Wu.


Ch'an Buddhism. A school of Chinese Buddhism which emphasizes the direct transmission of religious knowledge over scriptural study

Patriarch. Buddhist master who is in the lineage of a particular school. Hui-neng is the sixth patriarch (sixth master) of Ch'an Buddhism descended from the first patriarch Bodhidharma.

Great Perfection of Wisdom (125) (Sanskrit: Prajna-paramita ) This refers both to a group of scriptures and an aspect of Mahayana Buddhist thought, emptiness and the two-fold truth.

Dharma (126). Buddhist teaching, Buddhist truth.

Diamond Sutra. An Indian sutra belonging to the Prajña Paramita, which is regarded as the basis of Nagarjuna's theory of the two-fold truth of form and emptiness.

buddha nature (127). All beings are said to possess buddha nature, the potential for awakening.

prajna intuition (128). Intuitive insight into the two-fold truth. Virtually synonymous with awakening or enlightenment.

bodhi (130). Awakening or enlightenment.

Buddha-land (131). Land of enlightenment or enlightened beings.

Meditation and wisdom (ting and hui) (135). Two of the three learnings necessary to attain enlightenment. The other one is precepts. Meditation refers to meditative oneness or concentration, samadhi, and wisdom is prajna.

samadhi (136). Meditative oneness.

kalpas (137). Aeons.

cycle of transmigration (137). Cycle of rebirth through various realms, including human, animal, and spirit realms.

nirmanakaya, sambhogakaya, dharmakaya (141). These are the three bodies of the buddha. The nirmanakaya is the body of form, the physical body. The sambhogakaya is the body of bliss, a subtle level of body experienced as blissful liberation from the realm of suffering into the realm of awakening. The dharmakaya is the body of absolute truth, of formlessness and emptiness.

sudden/gradual awakening. This is a major innovation in Mahayana thought introduced by the Platform Sutra. Thenceforth, virtually all of the East Asian Schools of Buddhism embraced the sudden teachings while incorporating the gradual perspective. Gradual refers to the gradual cultivation of enlightenment. Sudden means the sudden realization of enlightenment or awakening. Sudden means: 1) all at once, 2) instantaneously, and 3) her and now.