Two Entrances and Four Practices of Zen (Chan) Buddhism provides an in-depth exploration of these fundamental principles attributed to Bodhidharma, the founding figure of Zen Buddhism. This piece illuminates the profound wisdom embedded in the “Two Entrances” – the entrance through principle and the entrance through practice – and the “Four Practices” – repaying injury with virtue, compliance and adaptation, no-seeking and accordance with the Dharma.
Offering not only theoretical understanding, this article also provides practical guidance on how these principles can be applied in everyday life, fostering personal growth and harmonious co-existence.
Meaning of “Two Entrances and Four Practices”
“Two Entrances and Four Practices” is a pivotal doctrinal text in the Zen tradition of Buddhism, traditionally attributed to Bodhidharma, the tradition’s founding figure. This text encapsulates the essence of Bodhidharma’s teachings, providing an accessible framework for understanding and practicing Zen Buddhism.
The “Two Entrances” refer to two approaches or methods of entry into the Zen path, delineated as the entrance through principle (also translated as “reason” or “doctrine”) and the entrance through practice.
- Entrance through principle: This approach involves the realization of the fundamental truth that all sentient beings share the same true nature. It implies an understanding of the emptiness of self and phenomena, recognizing that all things are manifestations of the same Buddha-nature. This entrance is essentially an intellectual or cognitive approach, requiring profound insight into the nature of reality.
- Entrance through practice: This is a more pragmatic approach, emphasizing the importance of action and conduct. It involves four distinct practices, which are the “Four Practices” referred to in the title of the text.
The “Four Practices” are:
- Practice of repaying Injury with virtue: This practice involves responding to harm or injury with compassion and benevolence, rather than retaliation. It’s about transcending the cycle of harm and revenge, embodying instead the principles of forgiveness and compassion.
- Practice of compliance and adaptation: This practice encourages acceptance of circumstances as they are, without clinging to any desired outcome. It’s about adapting to the flow of life and embracing change with equanimity.
- Practice of no-seeking: This practice discourages the pursuit of personal gain or attainment. It underlines the futility of desire and encourages practitioners to abandon the pursuit of personal gratification.
- Practice of accordance with the Dharma: This practice involves the complete immersion in the Dharma—the teachings of Buddhism. It’s about internalizing the principles of Buddhism and living in accordance with them.
Collectively, Two Entrances and Four Practices provide a succinct and practical guide to the philosophical and practical tenets of Zen Buddhism. They encapsulate the essence of Bodhidharma’s teachings, emphasizing the unity of understanding and practice in the pursuit of enlightenment.
Benefits of practicing the Two Entrances and Four Practices
The “Two Entrances and Four Practices,” as outlined by Bodhidharma, serve as foundational principles in Zen Buddhism. The diligent practice of these principles can confer a variety of psychological, spiritual and ethical benefits, contributing to the individual’s personal growth and their interaction with society.
Enhanced self-understanding: The “Entrance through Principle” encourages a deep exploration of one’s true nature, facilitating a profound understanding of self and the interconnectedness of all phenomena. This understanding can lead to a significant reduction in egocentric behaviors and attitudes, promoting empathy, compassion and a sense of unity with all beings.
Equanimity: The “Entrance through Practice” promotes the development of equanimity through acceptance of circumstances as they are. This practice can lead to enhanced emotional resilience, improved stress management, and overall psychological well-being.
Compassion and forgiveness: The first of the Four Practices, repaying injury with virtue, fosters compassion and forgiveness. Practicing this principle can bring about inner peace and promote harmonious relationships, reducing the tendency towards anger and resentment.
Adaptability: The practice of compliance and adaptation encourages flexibility and adaptability in the face of changing circumstances. This quality is invaluable in navigating life’s challenges and transitions, enhancing resilience and promoting a positive outlook.
Reduction of desire: The practice of no-seeking discourages the pursuit of personal gain, thereby reducing the grip of desire and attachment. This practice can lead to contentment, simplification of life, and the reduction of stress associated with materialistic pursuits.
Ethical conduct: The practice of accordance with the Dharma encourages ethical conduct and principled living. This practice can result in the development of virtues such as honesty, integrity and altruism, enriching personal character and contributing to societal well-being.
Enlightenment: Ultimately, the diligent practice of the Two Entrances and Four Practices may lead to the realization of enlightenment, the ultimate goal in Buddhism. Enlightenment, or the awakening to the true nature of reality, is characterized by boundless compassion, wisdom and inner peace.
How to apply the Two Entrances and Four Practices in daily life
Two Entrances and Four Practices outlined by Bodhidharma provide not just theoretical principles but also practical guidance for incorporating the essence of Zen Buddhism into daily life.
Entrance through principle: To apply this entrance in daily life, one must cultivate mindfulness and awareness of the interconnectedness of all beings and phenomena. This may involve meditation and contemplation on the nature of self and reality. Endeavor to see beyond superficial differences and recognize the shared Buddha-nature in all beings. This understanding can foster empathy, compassion and a sense of unity in daily interactions.
Entrance through practice: This approach emphasizes putting Buddhist principles into action. This can be incorporated into daily life by consciously adhering to the Four Practices in all activities and interactions.
Practice of repaying injury with virtue: When confronted with harm or negative actions, instead of responding with anger or seeking revenge, aim to respond with kindness, understanding and forgiveness. This doesn’t mean allowing oneself to be mistreated but rather, to handle such situations with wisdom, compassion and non-violence.
Practice of compliance and adaptation: Life often brings unexpected changes and challenges. Instead of resisting these, strive to adapt and flow with the circumstances. This practice can be applied by accepting things as they are, not as we wish them to be, thereby reducing stress and discontent.
Practice of no-seeking: This practice encourages letting go of excessive desire for personal gain or gratification. In daily life, this can be applied by practicing contentment with what one has, reducing the craving for material possessions, and focusing more on inner growth and meaningful relationships.
Practice of accordance with the Dharma: Strive to live in alignment with the principles of Buddhism, such as compassion, wisdom, and ethical conduct. Make conscious choices that reflect these principles in all aspects of life, from personal interactions to professional decisions and societal engagements.
Applying the Two Entrances and Four Practices in daily life involves both internal cultivation through meditation and insight, and external application through ethical conduct and compassionate action. This integrative approach allows the teachings of Zen Buddhism to permeate all aspects of life, fostering personal growth and contributing to societal harmony.