Understanding Tien Tai Sect (Part 4)

Understanding Tien Tai Sect (Part 4)

The Practice in Tien Tai Sect

The Tien-tai sect emphasized the contemplative insight into mind [觀心]. Contemplation and wisdom are just like legs and eyes respectively. One cannot reach the destination without one of them.

There are two aspects in contemplative insight into mind, one is ‘Chih’ [止] and the other is ‘Kuan [觀]. Both are required to attain enlightenment. As the view of being large and small, kind or evil, right or wrong, etc. is due to the discriminative illusion of our mind, it can only be eliminated only by spiritual cultivation. It is systematized by Chih-i [智顗], who wrote the influential meditation book called ‘ The Great Calming and Insight’ [摩訶止觀], in which he outlined the path of practice that begins with cultivation of morality leading to the Supreme Enlightenment.


‘Chih’ is the pronunciation of the Chinese word [止], which means ‘stop to an end’, ‘cease to rise’, ‘calm to rest’. In Sanskrit, it is called Samtha. Literally, it means the analytical meditation for perceiving the emptiness of a thing or a phenomenon, and thus all Dharmas. It is a practice of concentration to put an end to the erroneous thinking by making clear that all Dharmas are devoid of self-nature, and hence their existence are impermanent without reality.

The Threefold Cessation is explained as follows:

  1. Cessation as Insight into the True Essence of Reality [體真止]

One understands the substantial existence of objective reality, and the emptiness of all beings and the lack of any substantive being.


  1. Cessation as Insight into Expedience Conditions [方便隨緣止]

One realizes the conditional existence of all beings which arises through conditioned co-arising.


  1. Cessation as an End to Both Discriminatory Extremes [息二邊分別止]

This refers to the contemplation of and insight into the synonymous nature of both ‘extremes’ of emptiness and conventional existence. Both ’emptiness’ and ‘conventional existence’. if correctly interpreted, refer to the same thing, and that reality is simultaneously empty of substantial beings and conventionally existent.



‘Kuan’ is also the pronunciation of the Chinese word [觀], which means ‘contemplate’, ‘insight’. In Sanskrit, it is called Vipasyana. Literally, it means the stablizing meditation for developing the ability to maintain focus on one meditative object. It is a practice of contemplation to realize that all Dharmas are produced by the mind, thus the mind can manifest the Buddha nature through some inanimate things, such as the sun, water, a Buddha statute, or even a tiniest particle of dust, so as to attain the Supreme Enlightenment. The ‘insight’ refers to the full penetration into the ever-changing characters of all Dharmas and the abode in the Absolute Mind.

The Threefold Contemplation has been discussed in last section. The relationship is simplified as follows:

  1. Contemplation of entering emptiness from conventional existence [從假入空]
  2. Contemplation of entering conventional existence from emptiness [從空入假]
  3. Contemplation of the Middle Path of supreme meaning [中道第一義諦觀]

Perfect and Immediate Chih Kuan [圓頓止觀] – The most superior contemplation is called Perfect and Immediate Chih (Cessation) Kuan (Contemplation). The three aspects of emptiness, conventional existence, and the Middle are contemplated simultaneously and spontaneously, and immediately perceived as being integrated, non-dual and synonymous.

Twenty-five Expedient Preparations

According to the Four Doctrines in Tien-tai sect, each has its own expedient preparations and correct cultivation in the path of cultivation. These are called the Twenty-five Expedient Preparations [二十五方便] and the Ten Modes of Contemplation [十乘觀法]. As for the former, they are grouped into five categories:

1. Fulfillment of the Five Favorable Conditions [具五緣]
2. Reprimand of the Five Desires [訶五欲]
3. Removal of the Five Hindrances [棄五蓋]
4. Regulation of the Five Activities [調五事]
5. Practice of the Five Virtues [行五法]

Fulfillment of the Five Favorable Conditions

They are generally set for the practices of the monks and nuns, as follows:

1. Upholding the precepts with purity [持戒清淨]
2. Adequate food and clothing [衣食具足]
3. Staying quietly in a tranquil place [閑居靜處]
4. Giving up all dependencies [息諸緣務]
5. Associating with good spiritual friends [近善知識]

Reprimand of the Five Desires

The Five Desires are the desire for

1. form,
2. sound,
3. smell,
4. taste and
5. touch.

Removal of the Five Hindrances

The Five Hindrances are

1. desire,
2. anger,
3. drowsiness,
4. restlessness and
5. doubt.

Regulation of the Five Activities

The Five Activities are:

1. To regulate your mind not to drown nor drift
2. To regulate your body not to be sluggish nor tense
3. To regulate your breathing not to be harsh nor to be light
4. To regulate your sleep not to be short nor to be restrained
5. To regulate your eating not to be full nor to be hungry

Practice of the Five Virtues

The Five Virtues are:

  1. Resolve [欲] — to resolve to abandon all the false discrimination and wrong views, and to gain entry into mindfulness and wisdom
  2. Zeal [精進] — to uphold the precepts strictly and to remove the Five Hindrances diligently
  3. Mindfulness [念] — to reject the deceptions of the world and to treasure the wisdom and meditation
  4. Skillful Wisdom [巧慧] — to assess the pros and cons of the worldly happiness and the happiness of meditation and wisdom
  5. Single-mindedness [一心] — to see clearly the evil in the world, and be conscious that the merits of meditation and wisdom is valuable

Ten Modes of Contemplation [十乘觀法]

As the Tien-tai doctrines are classified as the ‘complete and sudden’ teachings, the ten modes represent different dimensions of the experience in contemplating, which imply accessibility for all of us to the same, the Absolute Mind, no matter what our ‘roots’ are. The Ten Modes of Contemplation are explained according to the Complete Doctrine.

  1. Viewing Inconceivable Reality [觀不思議境] — This means viewing completely and perfectly the Three Thousand worlds in a single moment of consciousness [三千性相]. It is the realization of the Triple Truth, with vast and complete freedom in every direction.
  2. Correctly Arousing the Mind of Enlightenment [真正發菩提心] — This means arousing the Bodhi Mind, taking the Four Great Vows with the compassion to liberate all sentient beings and seeking the Buddha’s Way simultaneously.
  3. Skillfully Calming the Mind [善巧安心止觀] — This means meditation in constant serenity, and thus wisdom in constant illumination by realizing the supreme Truth.
  4. Destroying Attachment [破法偏] — This means the destruction of the Three Delusions [三惑] by the Threefold Contemplation [三觀].
  5. Distinguishing the Passageways and the Obstructions [識通塞] — Obstructions means the Suffering [苦] and the Accumulation [集] or the Cause of Suffering, the Twelve Links of Causes and Conditions [十二因緣], the Six Hindrances [六蔽], the Fundamental Ignorance [無明] and innumerable delusions. Passageways means the Path [道] to Nirvana and the Cessation [滅] to Suffering, the Six Perfections [六度] and the Threefold Contemplations [三觀]. One should destroy the obstructions and uphold the passageways.
  6. Integrating the Thirty-seven Limbs of Enlightenment [道品調適] — This means adjustment to the Thirty-seven Limbs of Enlightenment one by one, and ‘enter’ into them.
  7. Curing Hindrances and Assisting Enlightenment [對治助開] — If one comes across the hindrances to the correct practice, one should cure it by cultivating secondary aids, such as the Five Meditations for Settling the Mind [五停心] and the Six Perfections, etc, which will assist one to attain Enlightenment.
  8. Knowing the Sequence of Stages [知位次] — This means the practitioner avoids the arrogance of being superior than others.
  9. Having Patience [能安忍] — This means tranquility and calmness under favorable or adverse conditions, which will lead the practitioner to the practice of Five Preliminary Grades and enter the Stage of Purification of the Six Sense Organs.
  10. Free from Attachment to Dharmas [無法愛] — This means non-attachment to the Ten Degrees of Faith and the Way of Identity through Outer Appearances. It is the entrance of the First Abode in the practice.



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