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 sufficienthey only remove the sorrow of lusto 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 Vajrayana.

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 Vajrayana meditations.

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 identified.

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 thoroughly.

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 Enlightenment!

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!

[Home][Back to main list][Back to Chenian][Go to Dr. Lin's works] [Related works:  Buddhist Meditation Systematic and Practical Chapter XVII  佛教禪定實修體系 第十七章]