Three-Yana Meditations in One System Related to the Five Poisons
(Chapter XVII of Buddhist Meditation: Systematic and Practical)
Yogi C. M. Chen
We will give here a simplified account of the whole Three-in-One system
showing how through purification of the gross poisons affected by the Five
Meditations in the Hinayana, these passions, now subtle, may be sublimated
in the voidness meditations of the Mahayana and then finally transmuted
into the functions of Buddhahood in the Vajrayana. So one by one we will
take each of the five Hinayana Meditations and show the gradual processing
of the poisons in the different Yanas.
I. First Meditation
This is on the Impurity of the Body. Everyone is born a layman, born from
the craving for a body of flesh. Craving this physical body, one has impure
lusts and passions. So the first thing necessary to bring about a cessation
of pain (duhkha) experienced because of the action of the passions is quite
simple: RENUNCIATION. If one does not renounce the objects both mental
and physical upon which the passions arise, how will one get rid of either
these cravings and desires or their accompanying sufferings?
Following renunciation, comes purification which is threefold: of the
body of flesh, considered as a whole; of the 36 inward parts composing
it; and most inwardly, of one's volition toward the body. The first
is purified by meditations on the decay of the body, the Cemetery contemplations,
the second by contemplating all the messy bits and pieces which compose
it; and the third by the purification of the Sharp Driver of "own-body-view"
through seeing the body's voidness.
All this process is contained in the Hinayana where renunciation and purification
are very much stressed. It is important to understand that none of these
body meditations aim at "mortifying the flesh". All of them are
skillful means which aim at purification of the body so that one may progress
to higher stages of the Path. The body, which is neither to be attached
to, nor to be "mortified" (which is a kind of self-hatred), but
should be used as the vehicle to Full Enlightenment.
To gain this, meditations of the Hinayana are not sufficienthey
only remove the sorrow of lusto that one finds that the practices
of the Mahayana are necessary. These affect a sublimation of the body from
being a human body of flesh to becoming the Buddha-entity body.
While the nature of the void (Sunyata) is the source of the Dharmakaya
(the ultimate truth considered as an unmanifest body of the Buddhas), the
conditions of Sunyata are the source of the Rupakaya (the variously manifested
bodies of the Buddha). The aspirant has to labor many long ages while acquiring
slowly all the necessary Sunyata-conditions before he can actually realize
his aim (Full Enlightenment, Buddhahood, the Dharmakaya). It is like cooking
food: The water boils and all becomes steam, but here we are not satisfied
with that steam, which after all still contains the smell of the food,
nor can we wait so long for the meal to be ready.
For this reason we take up the Vajrayana where we are at once initiated
in the actual position of consequence of Buddhahood. To obtain the Glorious
Body of Buddhahood (Sambhogakaya, in which the Buddhas preach to the Holy
Bodhisattvas) it is necessary to use one of the many methods found in the
tantras. One should not think that the highest body among these three,
the Dharmakaya, is something dead because it is inert and unmanifest. No,
indeed! For the Dharmakaya must manifest as the other two Buddha-bodies,
as the Sambhogakaya and the Nirmanakaya (appearance-body which is seen
by men and animals, as the Buddha-forms on this earth). All the functions
from these two latter forms are the complete salvation found only in the
II. Second Meditation
The Great Compassion and the Four Kinds of Boundless Mind in the Hinayana
teachings can cure the sorrow of Anger. The methods used in this yana to
control hatred is by the observation of the Moral precepts (and by the
Vinaya for Bhikshus), which is indeed only an outward suppression, together
with these Boundless Mind meditations which will only subdue this sorrow.
As there is but little wisdom of Sunyata taught in the Hinayana so this
process cannot be finished there.
So once again we see that there are three steps of which the meditations
above constitute the first. Why must we go in? Hinayana Sunyata teaching
is not thorough-going enough to pull up completely all the roots of anger.
Some subtle fragments of this sorrow still remain which will surely sprout
again as soon as the conditions are favorable. Thus we come to the Mahayana
meditations of Sunyata, where inwardly one gets rid of this notion of a
personal self and outwardly abandons ideas of selfhood in phenomena. When
both these types of no-self have been realized, then it is easy to get
rid of this sorrow.
This is a kind of negative approach. The real questions is: How can anger
be transformed into mercy? The same four Boundless Minds are practiced
in Mahayana conjoined with Sunyata and then become truly boundless. When
they are truly boundless then real Compassion emerges.
How is this? Great Compassion comes from the cultivation of the Bodhicitta
and this in turn derives from Sunyata. In Sunyata there is no self and
no others, so neither of these can be distinguished in the Sunyata of the
Dharmakaya. Most people do not recognize this and make some division into
"I and mine" and "You and yours" and from this false
discrimination, anger is produced. But the Great Compassion of the Same
Entity arises in the opposite way when one knows the void nature of all
persons and events and the impossibility in reality of distinguishing any "self" or "thing."
Still something remains to be done for one should not be content to do
good to sentient beings by one's compassionate will alone, one must
give them some actual benefits. This is possible in the Vajrayana where
there are many methods in the position of Consequence. Here it is practicable
to benefit beings by the functions of salvation of Buddhahood. To save
them all from the woes of samsara is surely at once the highest good and
the most complete transmutation of the poison of anger.
III. Third Meditation
The samapatti on causation in the Hinayana is to cure the sorrows of self
bound up with ignorance. The twelve factors of Dependent Origination (pratitya-samutpada)
are very much stressed as the system which explains the conditional production
of ignorance (avidya). It is negative since it lists all those factors
which lead to our continuous living and therefore suffering in the world
of birth-and-death. This doctrine shows clearly how one's action
contains within it the possibility of certain results and is thus a guide
for the purification of deeds by mind, speech and body.
The power of meditation must reverse the usual order of the twelve factors
so that a stopping of one of these factors automatically leads to the inhibition
of the following one. In this way, these factors all depending on ignorance
and craving (trisna), are destroyed one after another. This system of causation
corresponds to the Four Noble Truths taught by the Buddha but it is not
deep enough to reveal Thatness (Tathata) which is the Lord's causation
teaching in the Mahayana.
In the Great Vehicle, all sorrows are sublimated in Sunyata. From the
Sunyata arises knowledge of the causation by Tathata. This is not merely
a stopping but a discovery of the merits of Buddhahood from realization.
At that time it is not only easy to attain Arhatship but more than this,
to become a prince of the Buddhas, a Bodhisattva.
But according to the holy salvation of Buddhahood, all holy causation
has some correspondence with all sentient beings which are to be saved
in this life. This cannot be done in the Mahayana. The six perfections
(paramitas) can only be regarded as skillful means for those who wish to
follow the Buddha as Bodhisattva. Even to reach up to the first stage of
Bodhisattva is very difficult, taking immense time, because so many things
have to be done for innumerable beings. Bodhisattvas find it impossible
to make much headway with their meditation in Sunyata as they are too much
pre-occupied with doing things. For this reason they may even pass many
lives totaling a kalpa of years but still fail to develop a deep samatha
of Sunyata; and not having this they can make little progress towards Buddhahood.
We see from our examination that neither the causation of Dharmas and
human beings (in Hinayana) nor the Mahayana causation of no causation are
easily realized in the causations of a Bodhisattva's life.
Indeed, the Bodhisattva who wants to experience quickly the functions
of salvation must use the Vajra Vehicle. The methods there in the position
of Consequence of Buddhahood make the ultimate salvation of all beings
possible. A Buddha, even while sitting down, can cause many things to happen
for he can do everything for beings in the whole Dharmadhatu through his
IV. Fourth Meditation
This is on the Discrimination of Elements and in the Hinayana it is the
way to cure the sorrow of pride. Through its practice one comes to know
that the whole of one's personality is just five heaps, the first
of which is form or materiality which is in turn composed of the five elements,
while the other four heaps (of feelings, perceptions, mental tendencies
and consciousness) are the mental components. Pride of self may definitely
be purified through this meditation yet still one cannot positively use
the six elements. So one must pass on to Mahayana teachings.
On the other hand, concerning the mental heaps, one may keep one's mind
in the silence of Sunyata to convert them into the Dharmakaya. On the other
hand, the materiality of five elements may be sublimated and produce the
mystic power to save all sentient beings. Such methods are not to be found
in the Hinayana-they are only obtainable in the Great Vehicle.
This is still not enough, for even if one gains some magical power over
the elements, for instance by pointing at iron and turning it into gold
to be given away to those in need, still this merciful act is a worldly
action of a Bodhisattva and certainly not the way to bring beings to ultimate
salvation. If one wants to do this, then not only must the mind be changed
into Truth, but the flesh must be transmuted into Light and the techniques
for accomplishing the latter are known only in the Vajrayana. In this Diamond
Vehicle there are many methods using the Five Elements and converting them
into the Five Wisdoms. An instance of this is the Torga doctrine found
in connection with the Great Perfection.
V. Fifth Meditation
In the Hinayana the breath is just used to quiet the disturbed mind
and to subdue the various doubts arising from the accumulated delusions.
The sorrow of doubts is cured by meditation on the breath but if we make
a fair comparison of the use of the breath in other yanas, then we see
that Hinayana instructions are incomplete in this respect. It is true,
though, that this forms a good basis for breath meditations in the Mahayana.
Mahayana breath meditation is also used to make the mind quiet but this
is in the samatha of Sunyata and does not concentrate on physical breath
but becomes the breathing of a Buddha through Sunyata. The basic methods,
however, are all taken from the foundation laid in the Hinayana.
When the mind is Sunyata, then the breathing is Sunyata. There are many
methods to settle mind and breath through meditation. Breath has not
the same meaning in Mahayana as it does in Hinayana for in the former
practice, breath is Sunyata transformed into wisdom-energy, though Mahayana
has no specific practices taking advantage of this fact.
The Arhat of the Hinayana may gain purification through breathing meditations
though this is not a Buddha's breath. The latter occurs when the
mind is identified with the Dharmakaya so that the breath is similarly
The Vajrayana, however, contains many breathing techniques quite distinct
from the instructions in the other two yanas. It is because the Bodhisattvas
of the Mahayana have no access to such meditations that their way through
samsara is so very long.
Not only do the Vajrayana methods aim at transforming the practitioner's
breath into that of a Buddha but also they take advantage of the use
of a yogic partner (either physical or visualized) to bring about a
combination of energy to form a complete Heruka breathing. There is
no gross breathing in the Consequence position of Buddhahood, all of
it having been transmuted into light. This applies to the Sambhogakaya
where the breath, both in and out, is of light. In the Dharmakaya,
the Holy Light includes everything. But in the Buddha-body seen by
most men, the Nirmanakaya, there is both gross and subtle breathing.
When the flesh is transmuted into rainbow light, then all actions are
produced by light and not in the ordinary way by breath. In Buddhahood,
there is talking and working but this is all by means of light.
VI. Summary of the Five
There cannot be Hinayana without Mahayana, nor the latter separate from
Vajrayana. Why? Because these contain the three processes in our unified
system of Buddhist Meditation. We have talked many times already about
these processes. They are, of course: Purification, Sublimation, and
Function and each of them can be compared to one of the three stages
of the silkworm. When it is a caterpillar, it slips off its skin four
times (Purification). When it makes up a cocoon it extrudes many strands
of silk, which together form a continuous thread. During this process
it moves its head right, right is space, left, left is space, up and
down--so it moves its head in all directions in space. The cocoon
it makes is thus shown to be void in every part. Each condition of Sunyata
is the combined, though different strands of silk, the many strands forming
the cocoon (Sunyata nature); so Sunyata is the causation, causation is
Sunyata-- this way the caterpillar is sublimated to become a chrysalis
(Sublimation). After this, the complete moth breaks out of its chrysalis
and goes to find a partner and so produce eggs (Function in Vajryana).
Readers should pay great attention to these three stages of our whole
system of meditation, then it will be easy to see the most important
point of our book. It is my own opinion and one never talked about by
the ancient Sages, either those of Tibet or from China. So all who read
this book must not only recognize the unity of the Buddhist tradition
of meditation and wisdom but practice accordingly, and moreover, practice
As regards the time which should be spent over these various yanas;
Hinayana meditations should be given three years continuous practice
and the same amount of time should be allowed for the realization of
Sunyata in the Mahayana; then at least six years should be devoted to
the Vajrayana for the attainment of Buddhahood. Altogether this makes
up a twelve year meditation course for hermits and yogis who are really
serious about their practice. From such concentrated attention to meditation,
one will surely get enlightenment in this life.
It may happen that one is so fortunate to meet a Vajrayana guru well-learned
and experienced in the disciplines of all three vehicles. If so, he may
guide one through the whole system and one may be saved the trouble of
finding first Hinayana teachers, then going to others for Mahayana teachings
and finally gurus for the tantras. Time is also saved in this way as
it is not then necessary first to visit Hinayana lands and then those
where the other yanas are also taught.
VII. The Good Wishes
In Chinese we have a proverb: "Try to learn the highest and you
will gain at least the middle one, but try only for middling attainments
then you will gain only the lowest and the highest remains beyond you." Therefore,
we hope that readers will decide to win the highest, that is, Buddhahood
in this life. We hope that to aid them in this noble endeavor the tantric
doctrine will spread to the West and become firmly established there.
Buddhism is well-founded in any country where all three yanas are combined
harmoniously in the whole system of Buddhist teachings. May this be the
case in Western lands.
Also, may the reading and practice of the doctrines contained in this
book lead to the long life of all its readers. May this book be a guide
for their practice through many years. May they all quickly gain Full
Again, we hope that all learned and studious persons may pick up this
book and by reading its contents come to know the whole system of meditation
in the Three-Yanas-in-One and then decide to practice what they have
learned in theory.
Finally, it is my earnest wish that all the world may turn away from
the path of materialism which is a blindness, towards the glorious bliss-bestowing
Teachings of the Buddha. May his Noble Teaching spread everywhere throughout
the world. And may this Dharma of Enlightenment preached by the Enlightened
One remain in this world for a very, very long time!
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[Related works: Buddhist Meditation Systematic and Practical Chapter XVII 佛教禪定實修體系 第十七章