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In Buddhism, especially the Chan (Zen) traditions, non-abidance (in Sanskrit: apratiṣṭhita, with the a- prefix, lit. ‘unlimited’, ‘unlocalized’[1]) is the practice of avoiding mental constructs during daily life. That is, other than while engaged in meditation (Zazen).

Some schools of Buddhism, especially the Mahāyāna, consider apratisthita-nirvana ("non-abiding cessation") to be the highest form of Buddhahood, more profound than pratiṣṭhita-nirvāṇa, the ‘localized’, lesser form.[2] According to Robert Buswell and Donald Lopez, apratisthita-nirvana is the standard mahayana view of buddhahood, which enables them to freely return to samsara in order to help sentient beings, while still remaining in nirvana and being a buddha[3] via the usage of nirmanakaya and sambhogakaya.


Here, abide[4] is used to translate pratiṣṭhita, meaning "to be contained in [a locale]" or "situated", from the prefix prati- ('towards', 'in the direction of') and ṣṭhita ('established', 'set up').[5]

To translate pratiṣṭhita, Chinese Buddhists used zhù (住), literally "to reside, lodge, remain". Both wúsuǒzhù (無所住 'no means of staying') and wúzhù (無住 'not staying')[6] are used for apratiṣṭhita.


The Diamond Sutra, a classic Buddhist text, is primarily concerned with the idea of non-abidance. The concept seems to have originated with the 1st-century Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna, whose version of śūnyatā, or emptiness, entails that entities neither exist, nor do they not exist.

Realizing the depth of this concept was also responsible of a Chan master's sudden enlightenment. The Platform Sutra relates how the spiritual patriarch Huineng was enlightened after hearing his master Hongren reciting from the Diamond Sutra:

Responding to the non-abiding, yet generating the mind.
(應無所住,而生其心。 Yìng wúsuǒzhù, er sheng qi xin.)[7]

Huineng then responded that self-natures are intrinsically pure, cannot be generated or extinguished, are self-sufficient and capable of generating dharma. However, this key incident, though found in the majority of texts, is absent in the older Dunhuang version.[8]

The scholar-monk Qisong (契嵩) also noted in his foreword of the Platform Sutra:

The formless is the essence. (無相為體 wúxiang wei ti)
Non-thought is the tenet. (無念為宗 wúnian wei zong)
Non-abiding is the fundamental. (無住為本 wúzhù wei ben)

Non-abiding leads to prajñā (wisdom), as it enables one to consider that worldly issues are empty, so there is no point in retaliation or disputes.[9]


  1. ^ Sanskrit-English Dictionary, by M. Monier William
  2. ^ A Dictionary of Buddhism, Oxford University Press, 2003
  3. ^ Buswell, Robert E; Lopez, Donald S. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism Princeton University press. Entry: apratiṣṭhitanirvāṇa.
  4. ^ From wikt:abide: "To stay; to continue in a place; to remain stable or fixed in some state or condition; to be left."
    From wikt:abidance: The sense of 'continuance; dwelling' is older than 'compliance' (19th century).
  5. ^ The Spoken Sanskrit Dictionary
  6. ^ Soothill, W.E.; Hodous, Lewis (1937). A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms.
  7. ^ McRae, John (2000). The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. Translated from the Chinese of Zongbao (PDF). Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research. p. 34.
  8. ^ Schlütter, Morten (2007). "Transmission and Enlightenment in Chan Buddhism Seen Through the Platform Sūtra" (PDF). Chung-hwa Buddhist Journal. Taipei (20): 396.
  9. ^ The Platform Sutra, chapter 4.