May 05, 2017

17 Profound Quotes From an Ancient Zen Master That Will Make You Think Deeply About Life

Among the most important texts of Zen literature, the Lin-Chi lu details the insights and exploits of the great ninth century Chinese Zen master Lin-chi. Lin-chi’s words and wisdom have outlasted other forms of early Chinese Zen to become dominant throughout China to this day.

He is known as being one of the most influential Zen masters who was quite direct and strict on his students in leading them to enlightenment. Below are some of his most powerful quotes that will change your perspective on life.

Just be yourself

“When it’s time to get dressed, put on your clothes.
When you must walk, then walk.
When you must sit, then sit.
Just be your ordinary self in ordinary life,
unconcerned in seeking for Buddhahood.
When you’re tired, lie down.
The fool will laugh at you
but the wise man will understand.”

“Just be ordinary and nothing special. Eat your food, move your bowels, pass water, and when you’re tired go and lie down. The ignorant will laugh at me, but the wise will understand.”


“The real being, with no status, is always going in and out through the doors of your face.”

“If you want to be free, get to know your real self. It has no form, no appearance, no root, no basis, no abode, but is lively and buoyant. It responds with versatile facility, but its function cannot be located. Therefore when you look for it you become further from it, when you seek it you turn away from it all the more.”

On reality and delusion

“If you live the sacred and despise the ordinary, you are still bobbing in the ocean of delusion.”

On the present moment

“Just put thoughts to rest and don’t seek outwardly anymore. When things come up, then give them your attention; just trust what is functional in you at present, and you have nothing to be concerned about.”

On detachment

“If you want to perceive and understand objectively, just don’t allow yourself to be confused by people. Detach from whatever you find inside or outside yourself – detach from religion, tradition, and society, and only then will you attain liberation. When you are not entangled in things, you pass through freely to autonomy.”

On determination

“Where the student is exerting all his strength, not a breath of air can pass, and the whole thing may be over as swiftly as a flash of lightning or a spark from a flint. If the student so much as bats an eye, the whole relationship could be spoiled. Apply the mind and at once there’s differentiation; rouse a thought and at once there’s error. The person who can understand this never ceases to be right before my eyes.”


“Followers of the Way, if you want to be constantly in accord with the Dharma, you’ll have to begin by learning to be first-rate fellows. Be weak-kneed and wishy-washy and you’ll never get there.”

Independent of all that is

“Things like the twelve divisions of the scriptures all speak of surface or external matters. But students don’t realize this and immediately form their understanding on the basis of such surface and external words and phrases. All this is just depending on something and whoever does that falls into the realm of cause and effect and hasn’t yet escaped the threefold world of birth and death. ”
“The buddhas are born from the realm that leans on nothing. If you can waken to this leaning on nothing, then there will be no Buddha to get hold of.”

On the mind

“Followers of the Way, this thing called mind has no fixed form; it penetrates all the ten directions. In the eye we call it sight, in the ear we call it hearing; in the nose it detects odors, in the mouth it speaks discourses; in the hand it grasps, in the feet it runs along. Basically it is a single bright essence, but it divides itself into these six functions.”

“If your mind entertains a moment of doubt, it becomes obstructed by the element earth. If your mind entertains a moment of craving, it becomes drowned in the element water. If your mind entertains a moment of anger, it is seared by the element fire. If your mind entertains a moment of delight, it is tossed about by the element air. If you can understand that this is so, however, you will not be swayed by the environment but can utilize the elements wherever you may be.”

On non-seeking

“Seek the Buddha and you’ll lose the Buddha. The more you search the farther away you get, the harder you hunt the wider astray you go. This is what I call the secret of the matter.”
“Outside the mind there is no Dharma, and even inside the mind it can’t be grasped. So what is there to seek for?”

“The way I see it, there’s no call for anything special. Just act ordinary, put on your clothes, eat your rice, pass the time doing nothing. You who come from here and there, you all have a mind to do something. You search for Buddha, search for the Dharma, search for emancipation, search for a way to get out of the threefold world. Idiots, trying to get out of the threefold world! Where will you go?”

“You can’t seem to stop your mind from racing around everywhere seeking something. That’s why the patriarch said, ‘Hopeless fellows — using their heads to look for their heads!’ You must right now turn your light around and shine it on yourselves, not go seeking somewhere else. Then you will understand that in body and mind you are no different from the patriarchs and buddhas, and that there is nothing to do.”

Originally published on The Power of Ideas.

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  1. Hi,

    I have always liked Lin -Chi. This is a small essay I wrote to Daniel Dennett on the hard problem of consciousness. I thought your readers might like it.
    Hi Mr Dennett,

    I am writing to you as I found the article in the New York Times (May 27, 2017) about consciousness very interesting. I am on your side ( materialist) point of view with regards to consciousness. But where I differ is I see consciousness and the self as different processes operating in the brain. I see the self as an evolutionary construction after you were born, and consciousness, or the conscious presence as the impersonal machinery you were born with.

    I think where Mr Chalmers is wrong is he can’t see how the felt experience is really only the illusionary process of I and Mind. The reason I think the illusion happens, and I believe it happens at birth, is to give the organism meaning. The “I am the body image”is a very powerful concept to the mind.

    I have studied the mind and consciousness from a scientific perspective and from a Hindu/Buddhist perspective for the past seventeen years.

    I have done a lot of meditation, especially absolute samadhi, where you spend many hours just observing the movement of thoughts and perceptions. What I have found is when one can forget the world, forget the self/body there seems to be a lot to learn about what we call the mind. Absolute silence is a great teacher.

    My question is “what exactly is the hard problem of consciousness”?

    Another thing have you ever considered that we are just the content of consciousness. That we are really just bodies or objects that each of us appears in each other’s consciousness.

    Consciousness seems to me is all we really are. The rest is just a fantastic magic show playing on the surface of dark matter and dark energy. The majority of the substance in which this univers is created.

    Another interesting thing is when people talk about enlightenment it’s not something you get. It’s more like the self disappears, and is replaced with something more like a cosmic consciousness, although I haven’t reached that stage yet… maybe, I never will in this life. But I am fairly confident based on scientific evidence and my mediation practice. That I was never really born, nor will I really die…and this is the key. Because the only object that was born was the impersonal body and consciousness. That’s it. Everything else was an elaborate magic show or living dream of the illusionary selves.

    Ps. Looking forward to reading your book consciousness explained. I just ordered it.

    Kind Regards,
    Mark Jamison

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