Zen: What is the Buddha Devil?

The deeper message in so many ancient texts is the same. I find, however, that to contemplate this message from various enlightened authors allows it to “sink in” more and more. In the words of Swami Parthasarathy, “The whole theme of the scriptures is to introduce your Self to yourself, nothing else.”

Here is that deeper message this time from the Zen master Lin Chi.

Someone asked, “What is the Buddha devil?”

The Master said, “If you have doubts in your mind for an instant, that’s the Buddha devil. But if you can understand that the ten thousand phenomena were never born, that the mind is like a conjurer’s trick, then not one speck of dust, not one phenomenon will exist. Everywhere will be clean and pure, and this will be Buddha. Buddha and the devil just refer to two states, one stained, one pure.


Artist Julia Watkins, Sentient Beings II

“As I see it, there is no Buddha, no living beings, no long ago, no now. If you want to get it, you’ve already got it – it’s not something that requires time. There’s no religious practice, no enlightenment, no getting anything, no missing out on anything. At no time is there any other Dharma than this. If anyone claims there is a Dharma superior to this, I say it must be a dream, a phantom. All I have to say to you is simply this.

“Followers of the Way, this lone brightness before my eyes now, this person plainly listening to me (1) – this person is unimpeded at any point but penetrates the ten directions, free to do as he pleases in the threefold world. No matter what environment he may encounter, with its peculiarities and differences, he cannot be swayed or pulled awry. In the space of an instant he makes his way into the Dharma-realm. If he meets a buddha he preaches to the buddha, if he meets a patriarch he preaches to the patriarch, if he preaches to the patriarch, if he meets an arhat he preaches to the arhat, if he meets a hungry ghost he preaches to the hungry ghost. He goes everywhere, wandering through many lands, teaching and converting living beings, yet never becomes separated from his single thought. Every place for him is clean and pure, his light pierces the ten directions, the ten thousand phenomena are a single thusness.

“Followers of the Way, the really first-rate fellow knows right now that from the first there’s never been anything that needed doing. It’s because you don’t have enough faith that you rush around moment by moment looking for something. You throw away your head and then hunt for a head, and you can’t seem to stop yourselves. You’re like the bodhisattva of perfect and immediate enlightenment (2) who manifests his body in the Dharma-realm but who, in the midst of the Pure Land, still hates the state of common mortal and prays to become a sage. People like that have yet to forget about making choices. Their minds are still occupied with thoughts of purity or impurity.

“But the Ch’an school doesn’t see things that way. What counts is this present moment – there’s nothing that requires a lot of time. Everything I am saying to you is for the moment only, medicine to cure the disease. Ultimately it has no true reality. If you can see things in this way, you will be true men who have left the household, free to spend ten thousand in gold each day. (3)

Followers of the Way, don’t let just any old teacher put his stamp of approval on your face, don’t say ‘I understand Ch’an! I understand the Way!’ spouting off like a waterfall. All that sort of thing is karma leading to hell. If you’re a person who honestly wants to learn the Way, don’t go looking for the world’s mistakes, but set about as fast as you can looking for a true and proper understanding. If you can acquire a true and proper understanding, one that’s clear and complete, then you can start thinking of calling it quits.”


1. The individual listeners in the assembly.

2. One who has reached the highest stage of bodhisattva practice.

3. That is, you will be worthy of the alms you receive.

Source: I-Hsuan, The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi: A Translation of the Lin-chi lu, Translated by Burton Watson (Columbia University Press, 1999), section 14, pgs. 33-35.


3 thoughts on “Zen: What is the Buddha Devil?

  1. Pingback: Zen: A Cup Of Tea | heartflow2013

  2. I didn’t realize just how much I needed to hear that. I find myself getting quieter, less questioning and more centered with each passing day. Thank you Tomas.
    Much Love, Sandy

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