The Four Prajnas of Buddhahood
[Excerpted from “Lesson 13” –Free Online Course: Classic Teachings of Zen Buddhism]
Hui Hai: On the Four Buddha Wisdoms
Q: Regarding the quotation ‘Transform the eight states of consciousness (parijnana) into the four Buddha-wisdoms and bind the four Buddha-wisdoms to form the trikaya, which of the eight states of consciousness must be combined to form one Buddha-wisdom and which of them will each become a Buddha-wisdom in itself?
A: Sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch are the five states of consciousness which together form the perfecting wisdom. The intellect, or sixth state of consciousness, alone becomes the profound observing wisdom. Discriminative awareness, or the seventh state of consciousness, alone becomes the universal wisdom. The storehouse of consciousness, or eighth state, alone becomes the great mirror wisdom.
Q: Do these four wisdoms really differ?
A: In substance they are the same, but they are differently named.
Q: Yet, if they are one in substance, why do their names differ’? Or, allowing that their names are given according to circumstances, what is it that, being of one substance (with the rest), is (nevertheless called) ‘the great mirror wisdom’?
A: That which is clearly void and still, bright and imperturbable, is the great mirror wisdom. That which can face defilements without love or aversion arising and which thereby exhibits the nonexistent nature of all such dualities is the universal wisdom. That which can range the fields of the senses with unexcelled ability to discern things, yet without giving rise to tumultuous thoughts, so that it is fully independent and at ease, is the profound observing wisdom. That which can convert all the senses with their functions of responding to circumstances into correct sensation free from duality is the perfecting wisdom.
Q: As to ‘binding the four Buddha-wisdoms to form the trikaya’, which of them combine to form one body and which of them each becomes a body in itself?
A: The great mirror wisdom singly forms the Dharmakaya. The universal wisdom singly forms the Sambhogakaya. The profound observing wisdom and the perfecting wisdom jointly form the Nirmanakaya. These three bodies are only named differently to enable unenlightened people to see more clearly. Once the principle is understood, there will be no more three bodies with functions responding to various needs. Why? Formless in substance and by nature, they are established in the basically impermanent which is not their own (true basis) at all.
~ The Zen Teaching of Instantaneous Awakening, John Blofeld
Huineng: On the Three bodies and Four Wisdoms
Bhikshu Chih-tung, a native of Shao-chou of An-feng, had read the Lankavatara-sutra a thousand times, but he could not understand the meaning of trikaya and the four prajnas. Thereupon, he called on the patriarch for an interpretation. “As to the three bodies,” explained the patriarch, “the pure dharmakaya is your [essential] nature; the perfect sambhogakaya is your wisdom; and myriad nirmanakayas are your actions. If you deal with these three bodies apart from the essence of mind, there would be bodies without wisdom. If you realize that these three bodies have no positive essence of their own [because they are only the properties of the essence of mind] you attain the bodhi of the four prajnas. Listen to my stanza:
The three bodies are inherent in our essence of mind,
By development of which the four prajnas are manifested.
Thus, without shutting your eyes and your ears to keep away from the external world
You may reach buddhahood directly.
Now that I have made this plain to you
Believe it firmly, and you will be free from delusions forever.
Follow not those who seek enlightenment from without;
These people talk about bodhi all the time [but they never find it].
“May I know something about the four prajnas?” asked Chih-tung.
“If you understand the three bodies,” replied the patriarch, “you should understand the four prajnas as well; so your question is unnecessary. If you deal with the four prajnas apart from the three bodies, there will be prajnas without bodies, in which case they would not be prajnas.”
The patriarch then uttered another stanza:
The mirrorlike wisdom is pure by nature.
The equality wisdom frees the mind from all impediments.
The all-discerning wisdom sees things intuitively without going through the process of reasoning.
The all-performing wisdom has the same characteristics as the mirrorlike wisdom.
The first five vijnanas [consciousness dependent respectively upon the five sense organs] and the alayavijnana [storage or universal consciousness] are transmuted to prajna in the buddha stage; while the klishtamanovijnana [soiled-mind consciousness or self- consciousness] and the manovijnana [thinking consciousness], are transmuted in the bodhisattva stage.
These so-called transmutations of vijnana are only changes of appellations and not a change of substance. When you are able to free yourself entirely from attachment to sense objects at the time these so-called transmutations take place, you will forever abide in the repeatedly arising naga [dragon] samadhi.
[Upon hearing this], Chih-tung realized suddenly the prajna of his essence of mind and submitted the following stanza to the patriarch:
Intrinsically, the three bodies are within our essence of mind.
When our mind is enlightened the four prajnas will appear therein.
When bodies and prajnas absolutely identify with each other
We shall be able to respond [in accordance with their temperaments and dispositions] to the appeals of all beings, no matter what forms they may assume.
To start by seeking for trikaya and the four prajnas is to take an entirely wrong course [for being inherent in us they are to be realized and not to be sought].
To try to grasp or confine them is to go against their intrinsic nature.
Through you, sir, I am now able to grasp the profundity of their meaning,
And henceforth I may discard forever their false and arbitrary names.
~The Diamond Sutra & The Sutra of Hui-Neng, A. F. Price & Wong Mou-lam
The Three Bodies of Buddha and The Four Wisdoms of Buddhahood
Question: The Buddha has three bodies—how are they attained?
Answer: The three bodies of Buddha are attained from the eight consciousnesses, by transforming the eight consciousnesses into the four wisdoms. When you reach these four wisdoms, you soon achieve the three bodies. Proceeding from cause to effect, we distinguish the three bodies like this. The five consciousnesses of eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body become the subtle observing wisdom. The sixth consciousness, the conceptual consciousness, becomes the accomplishment of action wisdom. The seventh consciousness, manas, becomes the wisdom of inherent equality. The eighth consciousness, alaya, becomes the great mirror wisdom.
Question: What is the meaning of the “four wisdoms” that you can make this statement?
Answer: The first five consciousnesses are also called the five sense faculties. In this case the five sense faculties are the gates of wisdom through which wisdom is aware of the objects present, but without any falsity or defilement. Thus we take these five consciousnesses and make them into subtle observing wisdom. The sixth consciousness is also called the conceptual mind faculty. Here in the gate of wisdom we must work intently on awakening. Awakening means purity, and accord with the Dharma. With the real and the conventional equally in view, we perfect wisdom, transforming the conceptual mind into wisdom. Wisdom’s awareness is able to know clearly without differentiating, and transform knowledge into wisdom. This is called the accomplishment of action wisdom. When manas, the seventh consciousness, has no grasping, it naturally has no hate or love. Since there is no hate or love, all things are equalized. Thus it is called the wisdom of inherent equality. As for alaya, the eighth consciousness: when it is empty in the storehouse, defiled seeds are all pure. It is like a clear mirror hung in space. All the myriad images appear in it, but this bright mirror never thinks, “I can make images appear,” nor do the images say, “We are born from the mirror.” Since there is neither subject nor object, we call this wisdom the great mirror wisdom.
Question: If the four wisdoms are this way, what about the three bodies?
Answer: The great mirror wisdom is taken as the dharmakaya, the body of reality. The wisdom of inherent equality is taken as the sambhogakaya, the reward body. The accomplishment of action wisdom and the subtle observing wisdom are taken as the nirmanakaya, the physical manifestation, the transformation body.
Question: How do you know it to be so?
Answer: We say that the great mirror wisdom is taken as the body of reality because it is fully equipped with all stainless virtues, round and full with complete truth: it is like a worldly mirror that can show diverse images without differentiating.
The wisdom of inherent equality is taken as the reward body because when false mind is totally exhausted, everywhere-equal reality-nature is achieved and the myriad practices are perfected.
Accomplishment of action wisdom and subtle observing wisdom are taken as the transformation body because when the six sense faculties are stainless, you deliver sentient beings on a wide scale, detached from self and other, letting them share in your understanding and cultivate a basis [for enlightenment].
~Zen Dawn, J.C. Cleary
[Excerpted from “Lesson 13” –Free Online Course: Classic Teachings of Zen Buddhism]