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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]


Here, abide[3] 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').[4]

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')[5] 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 Indian 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.)[6]

Huineng then responded that self-natures are intrinsically pure, cannot be genereated 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.[7]

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.[8]


  1. Sanskrit-English Dictionary, by M. Monier William
  2. A Dictionary of Buddhism, Oxford University Press, 2003
  3. 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).
  4. The Spoken Sanskrit Dictionary
  5. Soothill, W.E.; Hodous, Lewis (1937). A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms. 
  6. 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. 
  7. Schlütter, Morten (2007). "Transmission and Enlightenment in Chan Buddhism Seen Through the Platform Sūtra" (PDF). Chung-hwa Buddhist Journal. Taipei (20): 396. 
  8. The Platform Sutra, chapter 4.
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