Systematic and Practical
SHOULD MEDITATION BE PRACTICED DIRECTLY WITHOUT PREPARATIONS?
A Talk by the Buddhist Yogi
C. M. CHEN
Written Down by
REVEREND B. KANTIPALO
First Published in 1967
MAHABODHISATTVAS KSITIGARBHA AND SARVASOKA MONIRGHATAMATI
MEDITATION BE PRACTICED DIRECTLY WITHOUT PREPARATION?
an open window we saw Mr. Chen sitting on his low stool with his back towards
us. Sitting opposite him was a young man listening to the yogi's words. When we
too were received and seated, Mr. Chen explained that he was answering some
questions raised by the young man who, we discovered, was Chinese and a
Confucian school teacher. For a few minutes, our host continued his Dharma-talk
in Chinese to his questioner, who was obviously deeply interested, pointing out
to him passages in a little book which contained the life and some of the
teachings of the Buddha illustrated with traditional drawings. When he
finished, he gave two of these books to the schoolmaster, and after more
greetings, ushered him out. Returning, Mr. Chen explained that he had been answering
questions on the seven wings of Bodhi, the Four Noble
Truths, and the Noble Eight-fold Path.
he said, "we must come to the subject of our talk today, as it is also
very long." He picked up his notebook in which all the subjects of his
discourses were systematically worked out, sat down, and began.
A. DOUBT AMONG MEDITATORS ON THIS MATTER
If we first
ask whether any preparation should be made, it is indisputable that the answer
is YES. The whole of this section will deal with this question and show how
essential preparations are for meditation, a subject requiring great
earnestness, and hence great preparations.
Even among meditators there are two doubts about preparation. Some
doubt concerning the devas,
for they exist always in a state of meditation in the realms of form and
formlessness; what preparation have they made for their achievement? It is true
that they were not born from a womb, and just rose up into that state. However,
they came to achieve it in the human life preceding their deva condition, when they practiced meditation. Their birth as devas depends on the level achieved by them previously in meditation practice.
Although they have no fleshy body in their devi-life,
they do have a body of meditation (rupa- or arupa- kaya) which is a
continuation of this world's practice. There is no practice for them in that
state because all their preparation has been done here. (See Chapter III, C. b.,
Attainment by Birth dhyana).
doubt is whether Chan always has a preparation. Chan, say the doubters, always
emphasizes that Enlightenment is not newly created by one's practice. It is
always here and now; not made by any amount of preparation. The enlightenment
obtained from preparation is not the real Enlightenment—such things they say.
(See Appendix I, Part 2, A. 3).
words like these are from Enlightened Masters and it is not appropriate for
neophytes to play with them. Beginners have much preparation to accomplish,
such as searching for an enlightened Guru and doing everything according to the
commands of that guru. But many misunderstand this, as I know from friends in
write: No need to renounce, for everything is void; no need to practice, for we
are already enlightened. (See also Ch. II, 1st error). Sayings like this are
not for neophytes, and can only come rightly from the mouths of Buddhas and Patriarchs.
Among all the
different kinds of meditations gathered in the last chapter there are only
these two where it is even possible to doubt whether or not preparations are
essential. We should know therefore that without doubt even in these cases
preparations are involved, as indeed they are with all meditation.
B. PREPARATIONS FOR MEDITATION IN BUDDHISM AS
TAUGHT BY THE BUDDHA
the Buddhas' instructions, what is the preparation
for meditation? The Buddhas have set forth all in an
orderly sequence in their teaching of the Dharma. First, let us see what the
Buddha has said in the Hinayana teachings. Under this
heading we find many different classifications: each of these we shall examine
to find which factors are the preparatory ones leading to the remainder
concerned with practice.
1. The Three
Wisdoms. These we have already mentioned several times, the first and second
being the preparation for the third. That is, hearing (or reading), plus
reflective thought prepare the mind for the practical wisdom gained through
2. The Three Knowledges: perception (samjna),
consciousness (vijnana) and wisdom (prajna). The first is obviously preparation for the
second—if one has not received any instruction, it is impossible to meditate.
Many in the West make this mistake and try to practice without receiving good
precepts from a Guru. They have not made the necessary preparation.
3. In the
Four Noble Truths, pain (dukkha) and the arising of
pain (dukkha samudaya), are
preparatory to the fourth Truth—the Path (dukkha nirodha gamini patipada), while the practice of meditation belongs to the
factor, Right Concentration, of the Path.
you do not recognize the pain bound up with existence in this world, then
meditation will not be pursued as the way towards its extinction. Westerners
often just meditate for worldly purposes, as a tonic or for relaxation, without
knowing why they should practice. Without recognizing and deeply investigating
the first two Truths, there is no adequate preparation for meditation.
4. Next come the well-known Thirty-seven Wings of Enlightenment (bodhipaksadharmas), each of which can be examined from
three positions which have been described in the last Chapter (See Ch. III, B).
Here we are only concerned with the causal position of theoretical knowledge
and reflection upon it, which must precede the meditation process as preparation
a. The first
group of the thirty-seven are the Four Kinds of
Mindfulness (smrtyupasthana, satipatthana). (See Chapter IX). These stand at the beginning and are
in the causal position for the later practice of meditation; they are its
preparation. (Note: This is a different interpretation of satipatthana than that found in Theravada works.)
four, no great differentiation can be made between Buddhism and non-Buddhist
systems. If a neophyte does not learn these thoroughly at the beginning, then
he will surely stray away from the true Teachings of the Buddhas.
b. The Four
Diligences (samyakprahana): if one has not well
developed these four, then many obstacles may be experienced in meditation. In
Taoism also there is great emphasis on laying down good foundations of this
sort, though the stress there is on concentration rather than on wisdom. First,
say the Taoists, good actions should be done and increased, so that in this way
maturity comes and meditation can be successfully practiced. Otherwise, they
say, although powers may be obtained by plunging straight into practice without
preparation, heaven may be displeased and make a great roaring, killing the
practitioner with its thunder!
If we examine
the Four Diligences, we notice that they are mostly concerned with morality (sila) and its development, which are necessary preparations
for meditation practice. Furthermore, abundant good actions cause the gods and
protectors to guard the meditator from harm.
the Four Bases of Psychic Power (rddhipada), some
explain that all of them belong to meditation. If we examine them in detail, we
see that the first three are the preparation for the fourth; they prepare the
ground for the concentrated investigation, the deep samapatti,
which occurs in the process of meditation.
d. In Chinese
this group is called the Five Roots (panca indriyani, usually translated as the Five Spiritual
Faculties). Faith, diligence, and mindfulness, the first three, are the
preparation for the fourth, dhyana. From the cultivation
of these Five Roots spring:
e. The Five
Powers (panca balani) the
same as the Five Roots but apply to a higher level of practice. They are
sometimes treated serially, one factor leading to another in the Pali Suttas.
them come the Seven Bodhyangas: beginning with how to
discriminate dharmas (dharma-pravicaya sambodhyanga) and four other factors, these first
five are preparatory to meditation, the sixth.
and most important, is the Eightfold Noble Path (arya asta marga), which should
be mentioned in some detail.
Mr. Chen picked up a red
book, Dialogues of the Buddha, Part III (translation by T. W. Rhys Davids). Opening this at a turned-down page, he showed the
writer a page of the Sangiti Sutta,
where the factors are grouped according to numerical categories. Under the
"sevens" there are listed, "Seven Requisites of Concentration"
which are none other than this Path without its last factor, Right Meditation.
Thus the first seven steps are all preparation for the eighth.
important to emphasize Right Livelihood. Many beginners do not care about this
and go on doing bad deeds. They may want to meditate, but do not want to give
up these unwholesome habits. It is very dangerous for them not to give them up—they will have trouble
in their meditation. Demons and bad ghosts always congregate where there are
rotten things, and such evil beings will continually trouble people like this. Without
perfecting one's livelihood (which should not be harmful either to others or to
oneself), it is impossible to practice meditation properly. One whose
livelihood is pure, however, is always protected in his practice by the
factor of importance is Right View, which stands first in the list. Without
learning what is Right View (what Buddha really taught), and what are False
Views, one has no secure foundation for Right Concentration. People without
Right View may sometimes believe Hinduism and sometimes have faith in
Christianity, thus wandering among all sorts of beliefs, but this vague kind of
faith is not a good condition for meditation. One should have a proper
understanding of the Buddha's Teachings (from which a balanced faith will
arise) and not go here and there to different systems, the result of which can
only be a confusion of teachings and a bewildered state of mind.
preparations as given in the Hinayana are now
finished and we come next to the Mahayana instructions. It would be a mistake
to suppose that the Thirty-Seven Wings of Enlightenment are taught only in the Hinayana, as they are well known in the Mahayana, too,
though admittedly emphasized more by the former.
5. The most obvious category to consider here are the Six Paramitas. We can easily see that the first four (giving,
morality, patience, and energy) are preparations for the fifth, samadhi. This is the usual sequence of these Perfections,
but their order is especially well expounded in one sutra.
Mr. Chen searched in his
notebook where he had written the Sanskrit name, and found it: Sandhinirmocana Sutra. In Chinese it is called Profound and
Secret Truth Explanation Sutra. He jumped up and opened his bookcase, from
which he brought a slim volume. Thumbing through the pages, he said, "This
Sutra is one of the first that I read when I came to Buddhism. There is a brief
When I began
to practice Buddhism, I was a professor with very little time even for worship;
my puja then was just to light some incense sticks. I
had little time for reading, either, but what I did read was always done in
earnest. I saw this sutra and thought, "The name is good," and after
reading it, I dreamed one night about its real aspect. I saw the whole universe
above me like a brilliantly illuminated sky. From the direction of the
brightness came a splendid image of the same magnitude and from this again were
projected many lesser forms the size of human bodies. I recognized immediately
from this vision the Three Bodies of the Buddhas (Trikaya). It was very inspiring.
seventh chapter of this sutra, the Paramitas are connected
together in this way:
Guan-Yin (Avalokitesvara) asked the Buddha: "For what reason do
you preach the Six Paramitas in such a good
sequence?" He replied: "So that the sentient beings in the future may
receive reliable instructions, I teach in this way. If the Bodhisattva does not
care for or cling to the body or wealth (this implies dana) he may then keep his morality (sila). In order to keep firmly the moral precepts, he
should practice patience (ksanti). If he can
practice, it is possible for him to be diligent (virya).
With diligence, he is then able to acquire dhyana.
After he has this, he can then develop supramundane wisdom (prajna). That is why I teach the Six Paramitas in this order."
6. After the
Mahayana, we turn to the Vajrayana. According to the Tantras, one should know the system of the Four Yogas and be able to distinguish which are the preparatory
parts and which concern meditational practice.
a. The first
of the Yoga groups contains the Kriya Tantras. These are mostly concerned with action,
particularly with the service (ritual worship) of the Buddhas.
Let us try to
divide each Yoga into three parts. If we do this with
the Kriya Tantra, then all
three parts are seen to be devoted to this ritual action or puja.
This ensures that our later practice of meditation is not without spiritual
guidance, but is well protected by the inward results of these external
practices (for instance, the four Vajrayana Foundations, see Autobiography and Appendix II).
b. The Carya Tantras are in the second
group. They are sometimes known as ubhaya-carya-tantras,
that is, the practice of both sides, both of rituals and yogic concentration.
Here, if we make three parts, two of them will refer to karma and one to
c. In the
Yoga Tantras, only one part out of the three is
devoted to karma, while two would be given to meditation.
d. With the Anuttarayoga Tantras, all three
parts concern the practice of meditation.
understand that in the Tantras also there is a
gradual process of preparation, the first three yogas leading up to the practice of full samadhi in the Anuttarayoga. To make this explanation quite clear, the
following diagram is given.
Fig. 1 THE FOUR
YOGAS AND THEIR THREE PARTS OF PURPORT
My guru, Rona Rinpoche, gave a good parable to us, his disciples.
He said, "It is like building a pagoda of nine stories; the lowest three
are Hinayana, in the middle are three of the
Mahayana, while the highest are the three Vajrayana stories.
Those at the base are most important for the support of the higher ones: each yana is preparation for the one
above." This is good instruction for us now.
C. PREPARATIONS ACCORDING TO THE PATRIARCHS'
whole system of teaching has been described and we next examine what the
Patriarchs have taught. By them, the sequence of the Path from the ordinary
unenlightened worldling to the attainment of Buddhahood has been very clearly delineated.
1. The first
of the great teachers whom we shall mention, one who has shown clearly the
different preparatory and practical elements, is Jetsun Gampopa. His famous work on the Stages of the Path
(Lam Rim) has been translated into English as "The Jewel Ornament of
Liberation." In this book, Chapters One through Seven concern hearing and
thinking, that is, the acquisition of philosophic knowledge. In Chapter Eight,
one takes Refuge and various subjects follow in good order up to Chapter
Sixteen, which deals with meditation. The first fifteen chapters, then, are
preparatory to the succeeding ones. English readers should make good use of
this book and gain great benefits in their understanding of Buddhadharma.
Unfortunately there is still no translation available of the Great Stages of
the Path (Lam Rim Chen Mo) by Jetsun Tsong Khapa, the
founder-patriarch of the Yellow Sect. This exhaustive work, dealing only with
the exoteric Mahayana tradition, (his exposition of the Tantra being contained in another and even larger book, The Stages of the Tantra) gives the divisions of the Path according to
peoples' capacity to practice. Three types of practitioners are given:
a. The lower
practitioner for him there are four stages of
i. He should
first consider how impermanent life is, how rare it is to receive a good birth,
how difficult among all other states it is to become a human being, and even
then how few have the chance to hear the Buddha's teachings.
ii. He then
reflects upon the miserable states of birth lower than human: the realms of
ghosts, beasts, and dwellers in hell, and their miseries: respectively, insatiable
craving, ignorance, and tortures.
every dharma is void, karma still has its result and this he should ponder. If
one does not realize sunyata, then experience of
karma-fruits, painful as well as pleasant, must continue.
the lower practitioner has to confess sincerely all his evil deeds.
b. For the
middle practitioner there are two principal subjects for reflection: the Four
Noble Truths and understanding the teaching of the Twelve Links (nidana) of the causal chain (pratitya-samutpada).
distinct stages are shown for the highest practitioner. First comes the Bodhicittopada, or the arising
of the wisdom-mind and its development. Then follows the Bodhicarya, the performance of noble deeds by the practice
of the Six Paramitas, and also the four Samgrahavastu (means of conversion). The latter are
all preparatory: Giving (dana),
loving speech (priyavacana), doing good to
others (arthakrtya), and treating others
like oneself (samanarthata). Among the paramitas, which are treated in great detail in this book,
the first four, as already mentioned, are of a preparatory nature.
3. Last to be
considered here is the Chinese patriarch Zhi-Yi, who
lived for long upon the
. The school of
teachings originated by his master, but which he spread wisely, is also known
by the mountain's name.
knowledge of his teachings would be most useful to Westerners who
have not only a great need for meditation, but have also unfortunately many
misunderstandings, particularly about meditation practice. Zhi-Yi
has given very fully the basic necessities for this.
Mr. Chen here remarked
with some sharpness:
Many in the
West seem to have been misled by Japanese scholars who have told them something
of Chan, or Zen as they call it, but very little about the foundations upon
which a beginner should base his practice. As a result, there are many who
think that they know a great deal about Chan but know almost nothing about the
preparations which must be most thoroughly completed before there can be any
true Chan experience. The necessary groundwork is well laid out in the Tian Tai doctrines, very suitable to the West and to those
having false ideas such as: the rejection of all gods, rejection of a
conditioned "soul," of an afterlife, or of the need for renunciation.
All false views due to lack of preparation are well-combated by the
thoroughness of Tian Tai.
The huge book
written by this patriarch, Great Concentrations and Meditations, is a very
practical and comprehensive account of the various stages and their division
into preparation and practice. Very helpful to the neophyte is his shorter work,
Meditation for Beginners, translated in Dwight Goddard's Buddhist Bible, and
later by Lu K'uan-Yu in his Secrets of Chinese
Meditation. In this concise survey with ten chapters, the first four are:
"Gathered Conditions of Meditation," "Subduing the Five Sense Desires,"
"Giving up the Five Hindrances," and "Harmonizing
Conditions" (of mind, food, sleep, etc.) The fifth deals with resolve,
diligence, mindfulness, skill in meditation-conditions, and making one's
insight clear. All five are preparation for the remaining chapters on
meditation. This small but useful book should be read by all those beginning to
take interest in meditation and its preparation.
Buddhism we have treated the three yanas: from the
teachings of the Lesser Vehicle, passing on to that of the Greater, and finally
coming to the Diamond Vehicle instructions. In all, we have found that
preparation precedes practice.
Now from this
pinnacle, we shall pass downwards again in examining preparations, first in the
various religions outside Saddharma and then with
regard to worldly learning.
D. PREPARATIONS IN OTHER RELIGIONS
religions apart from the Dharma of the Buddhas, even
though as systems they contain only incomplete spiritual instructions, must
still contain some preparations made for the practice of their own meditations.
The little evidence of this offered here is not intended to be comprehensive
but only as selected examples to call attention to necessity taught by all
religious teachers of first laying down secure foundations before commencing
the eightfold training of Patanjali, known as Astangayoga, is widely known and frequently referred to in
books on the yoga of that religion. The first four degrees are preparation for
the later stages, thus: Yama (control), niyama (restraint), asana (posture), pranayama (breath-control), pratyahara (withdrawal); are
preliminary to dharana (concentration) dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (equanimity).
in the last three terms, one sees a correspondence to Buddhist training, their
descriptions showing a similarity to the Buddhist samatha, samapatti, and samadhi.
However we should not think that because the sequence appears the same, the
meanings are, also. (Even within Hinduism, there are numerous schools using the
same terms, but attaching to them quite different meanings).
2. In the
Jain religion, six steps have been laid down, four of which are preparatory for
the last two. Thus we have: Repentance, renunciation, praising the venerable Jinas (Conquerors), and making obeisance to them; when
these preparations are complete, one proceeds to the practice of equanimity,
and lastly, relinquishing bodily attachment.
taught preparatory steps to his disciples. These are:
about it accurately."
These are the
preparation for the final process:
clarify his meaning, he has said:
have their roots and their branches. Affairs have their ends and their
beginnings. To know what is the first and what is the last will lead near to
what is taught in the Book of Great Learning."
In detail, he
the Book of Great Learning teaches is to be illustrative of high virtue; to
improve people; and to rest in the great excellence."
The point of
rest being known, the object of pursuit is then determined; and that being
determined, a calm unperturbedness may be attained
(corresponding to our samatha). To that calmness
there will succeed a tranquil repose (corresponding to peaceful feelings
experienced in samatha). In that repose there may be
careful deliberation, (corresponding to our samapatti)
and that deliberation will be followed by the attainment of the desired end
(corresponding to our samadhi). ("The Great
Learning," in The Four Books, translated by James Legge,
correspondence is evident in the progressive steps here expounded, though not
in the depth of their Buddhist meaning. However, we may see the wisdom of this
teacher from his clear insistence on beginning at the beginning.
4. In the
Testament and Gospel of Christianity, there is very little to suggest that
meditation was practiced. Where the world "meditate" does occur in
the Bible, and it is very uncommon, it is not used in
the Buddhist sense. In the English of the King James version,
"meditate" occurs 13 times but with definition of "think
about" or "ponder."
There is even
the phrase "meditative evil" which has a very non-Buddhist meaning.
is only found six times in the whole Bible, two references being in the New
Testament, but the word is really not used in a religious sense. The Christian
term most nearly corresponding (though loosely used compared with the precision
of Buddhist terminology in Pali and Sanskrit) is
In the Roman
Catholic prayer-book, a description of the Fourteen Stations of Meditation on
the Crucifixion is given. Meditations, or rather concentrations of this sort,
are discursive in content and use only the normal workings of the six
consciousnesses. They lack the force derived from the practice of true samatha.
A manual of
the Church of England doctrine and practice lays down four elements of
meditation development: attention, aspiration, application, and action. The
first means discursive thought upon a text; the second that the mind is turned
to inward prayer upon whatever is the subject; in application one considers, ''What
does this mean to my life?''; finally, action is the practice of what has been
taught by one's inward communion with God.
here seems to be a partial parallel to meditation, and the other three stages
seem to be rather unsystematic preparations and sequels to this (See The Catholic Faith, by W.H. Griffin Thomas, page 99).
E. PREPARATIONS IN WORLDLY MATTERS
come to worldly matters and even in them it is plain that there are
preparations to be made before the accomplishment of whatever the task may
be—from eating to dying.
As a first
example, the case of new pupil going to school may be taken. Before he goes to
a school, many things are to be done by himself or by his parents: the school
has to be chosen, application made to the Headmaster, an appointment made with
him, sitting arranged for the entrance examination, new clothes bought for the
student, and so on—a host of things to be thought out and acted upon before the
child actually enters the school as a pupil. All this preparation is necessary
for a worldly achievement; how much more will be required for the attainment of samadhi?
still more from this example. Each stage in the training is the basis for the
pupil's further progress. Thus by his primary school training, he is prepared
for study in a grammar school or technical school, and this in turn prepares
him for a university. Therefore, we should avoid thinking of preparation and
attainment as being static factors, but see our practice as training for some
further practice. Life in this way becomes very fruitful.
There is a
poem where preparation is mentioned before eating.
Mr. Chen smiled,
referred to his notes, and then began to read. After hearing the first line,
the listener and the writer also smiled, for this is what they heard:
of bread," the Walrus said,
we chiefly need;
and vinegar beside
very good indeed.
Now if you're
ready, oysters dear,
We can begin
in Wonderland, by
Mr. Chen laughed
heartily, an infectious laugh in which we both joined. But he continued
A question is
here being asked: "Are you ready?" Upon examination, our whole life
seems to ask this question. Even in very hurried moments, as when a person
crouched on the grass before a race begins is asked: "Are you ready?"
Even in a moment like that there is need for preparation.
even at the time of our departure from this existence, whenever and however it
occurs, there are things to be done, little preparations to make, as the great
Shelley so movingly wrote about in his tragic play "The Cenci." At
the play's conclusion and before the death by execution of the heroine, she
yourself no unnecessary pain,
dear Lord Cardinal. Here, mother, tie
My girdle for
me, and bind up this hair
In any simple
knot; any, that does well.
And yours I
see is coming down. How often
Have we done
this for one another; now
We shall not
do it any more. My Lord,
We are quite
ready. Well, 'tis very well."
the question: she is ready.
of this chapter should convince everyone that before any attainment can result
from meditation, it must be practiced, and before this is possible, secure
roots in the various preparatory factors must be established. Now, for the sake
of clarity, the material of this chapter is summarized.
F. SUMMARY AND SOME PRACTICAL CONDITIONS
1. Personal Conditions
At least some
of the following conditions should be well-fulfilled by all who follow the
Buddha's Way. The last four in the list should certainly be practiced upon
opportunity by those in whom resolve and renunciation are strong; the former
should be practiced by all Buddhists.
thoughts necessary for everybody's deep and long
recollection: the fear of death and the impermanence of the body.
b. One must
believe that after death there is some afterlife or rebirth. It is a false and
harmful view to imagine that at the death of a "person" there is no
continuity of actions and their results. Holding this view (ucchedavada),
a man sees no reason for any preparation; but with the prospect of future lives
ahead, there is the greatest incentive to prepare oneself.
c. Also one
must search for a good future birth (not merely passively accept its
existence). This can best be done by thoroughly knowing the Buddha's
instructions. For many people, the easiest way to learn what these are is to
read some of the reliable books on Buddhism and translations now available. All
the publications of the Pali Text Society of London
should be read and thoroughly absorbed; then one will know well the doctrine of
the Hinayana. For the Mahayana, study Gampopa's Jewel Ornament of Liberation and Suzuki's Essence
of Buddhism; also, the Oxford Tibetan Series of four books translated under the
editorship of W.Y. Evans-Wentz give a good idea of the Vajrayana.
(Note: Read only the translated text of these four books, for ideas given in
the commentaries and introductions are very frequently misleading and certainly
not Buddhist). For Zen, read Paul Reps' The Gateless
Gate and my Light House in the Ocean of Chan.
d. Your book
should be read.
The writer paused
uncertain of whom the "your" referred to. "Why, this book,"
said Mr. Chen. "This book is yours. My talk is only a voice, which has
already vanished as its own nature is sunyata. Your
record is in words forever available to the readers." "No, no,"
protested the writer, "it is yours, from your practice and your experience."
(Hence this correction: Everyone interested in meditation in all its aspects
should read Mr. Chen's book.) He continued:
this, there will be some foundation for practice, as everything inside these
covers is only concerned with this one subject.
e. If it is
not possible to give up the worldly life and become a bhikshu,
then at least activities attaching to the world should be reduced. The time
thus left free should be devoted to the regular practice of meditation.
f. If one
cannot renounce everything to go to live with a guru, it is essential at least
to have contact with one from time to time, and to take the Refuges from him so
that he becomes one's personal guru. As often as possible, one should receive
and then practice his instructions. (See Appendix II, A, 2).
g. If it is
impossible to live as a hermit for long periods, then one must take advantage
of every opportunity to practice in solitude, even short periods during
weekends and holidays (See Appendix I, Part One, B, 4, b &c).
h. If one has
not been to the holy places of Buddha-dharma and found there suitable sites for
a hermitage, then at least one should choose a solitary place for the purpose.
point leads to some further considerations regarding the conditions for retreat.
for a Hermitage (See also Appendix I, Part One, C, 6.)
a. Food must
be easily obtainable.
b. The place
must be free from all environmental dangers.
Mr. Chen mentioned
robbers, tigers and lions; to these might be added freedom from the noise made
by all forms of modern transport, away from nuclear power stations, military establishments,
should be no diseases endemic to the place selected.
and medicines should be available without difficulty.
geomancy of the hermitage should be auspicious:
i. At the back of the
hermitage, a higher mountain as a reliable support, like the back of a chair.
in front, hills should be lowest near the retreat, becoming increasingly higher
in the distance.
should flow in curves from the distance toward the hermitage.
iv. From the
left and right sides, two arms of hills should embrace the hermitage.
v. Close to
the hermitage in front, there should be a wide plain of grass.
are general conditions, and many particulars in the complex science cannot be
Mr. Chen said, "made a special study of geomancy under many famous
He spent much money and many long years of learning, and finally became an
expert. He knew very well what was and what was not an auspicious place, and
then," said the yogi sadly, "he was killed by the Communists, never
having had a chance to apply all his knowledge to his own practice."
f. The Earth
gods of that place should sympathize with your intentions to meditate there and
be kind to you.
mentioned in every religion as indispensable as a background to meditation.
Buddhists, to have good knowledge and instructions in Dharma. For meditators everywhere, this means knowing what to meditate
b. To have
good friends who help one and do not obstruct, and to be surrounded by those
with right views or at least by those sympathetic to one's aspirations for
c. To possess
sufficient wealth to provide for necessities; or better, to have patrons who
guarantee to supply one's needs, thus leaving the yogi completely free for
practice in an auspicious place. This means that we should practice only in
those places favorable by reason of geomantic features and sanctified by some
especially holy event. Bodhi Gaya, Rajagriha, and Sarnath are all sacred
to Buddhists and suitable.
conditions are stressed by Taoists but are certainly very important also to
anyone practicing the Buddha's Teachings.
Conditions for Westerners
practicing meditation in Western countries there are some special obstructions.
These should be well known and guarded against:
fresh air is necessary for breathing in meditation; that is, air not polluted
by industrial fogs, nor made too hot or too cold by central heating or air
b. Do not use
a rubber mattress to sleep on or as a seat for meditation, for the natural
currents of air cannot pass through it.
rubber shoes may lead to diseases of the feet and so should be avoided in favor
of those made with leather or cloth.
d. It is
common sense not to wear nylon clothes or to have curtains of this material as
it catches fire easily.
heating, where this is necessary, and for cooking, use coal, charcoal, or wood,
but not electric or kerosene stoves. These latter are unsuitable since they
produce only the pure heat element. With wood and coal, heat is combined with
earth, wood, and water elements, thus producing a balanced heat (which in
experience does not give rise to fevers, a hindrance to practice).
and eating utensils should not be of aluminum, though iron, brass, porcelain,
and earthenware are good. Aluminum tends to be affected by acids in the food
and may cause mineral poisoning in the body.
g. No canned
food should be eaten, and food should all be as fresh as possible. It is best
not to take food possibly contaminated by poisonous sprays and other harmful
artificial products. Besides, a meditator should have
pity for beings and not encourage the killing of them done by farmers and
upheld by governments just out of greed for more money.
h. Clothes to
be worn while meditating must be loose, without causing any constriction, and
allow complete relaxation of all muscles for the easy attainment of yogic
postures. Bhikshu's robes are of course especially
suitable for this, but they can only be worn by ordained monks. For laymen,
loose jackets with wide sleeves and armpits and very wide trousers cut in
Chinese style are comfortable, as are the sarong, the loose, full "skirt"
worn in many Southeast Asian countries. During cold weather, a good garment for
meditation is the practical Tibetan coat called "boku"
or "chuba," with its wide, side-pleated
skirt and wrap-over front.
should avoid stiff-collar shirts, belts, and tight jackets or trousers; women
should avoid tight-waisted skirts or closely-fitting
upper garments. In general, anything that does not permit of easy, relaxed
posture should be avoided.
i. Posture is
important. The seven conditions of meditation sitting have already been
outlined (see Ch. II, A, 4). We have already mentioned the great effect of
bodily posture upon the mind, and for our practice there is no doubt that the
full-lotus position is the best bodily aid to yogic attainment. Some say that
it is not necessary to sit in this position, and recommend that one be
comfortable and relaxed with an upright spine while sitting in a chair.
However, according to my experience, one should try hard to attain this
lotus-seat. Westerners who find this difficult should change their trousers for
Chinese ones and practice little by little every day, using a firm cushion
under the buttocks and first adopting the half-lotus posture. When this becomes
easy it is only a matter of patience and practice before the full lotus becomes
I could not
sit in the lotus position until I was twenty-seven, so for any Westerner under
thirty years old it should be easy to learn.
with the special problems of the Occident, I should like to say a few words on
our dedication. In the West there are many things to desire and so much evil
springs up. (See
I, D). Western countries are like hells of
materialism. Of course, some Oriental countries are more or less the same.
sufferers in these hells cannot be saved by us but rather by the Three Gems and
by you who are Bodhisattvas. Just as Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha has the great resolve and courage to go to hell to save all the tormented
beings there, so you (Khantipalo) are writing this
book, which can save so many from the great hell of materialism.
great Wisdom-being has the power to subdue demons and remove all obstacles. He
will prepare the way for those who practice.
and removal of obstacles are important in the steps preliminary to samadhi attainment—hence our dedication
of this talk to these two great Bodhisattvas.
Dharma-nature is void and already present and certainly no dharma can be found
called "the only preparation." Nevertheless, for our practice (which
must precede our realization) we must prepare ourselves properly. We may for
ease of memory say that there is a formula of "Three P's" (they
correspond to the "Three C's" of the last chapter; see Ch. III, B, 2).
They are: prepare, practice, and progress. Progress becomes then the
preparation for the following practice, and so on. Preparation in Buddhism does
not imply any absolute factor to be once accomplished and then finished with;
this set of "Three P's" are all related one to another and follow one
from the other.
beginning of the Dharma-path, many things are taught to neophytes but they
should not think that these may be forgotten when a little progress has been
made. Early learning conditions become the cause for further practice and
progress, and are explained in this book. A good example to illustrate this may
be found in the musical scale: do, re, mi. etc. This starts upon any particular
note which is then called "do.'' However, equally well the "re"
of the first scale would then become the "do" of the next scale. In
this way it is easy to see that there is no limitation to preparation. We
should therefore bear these three instructions in mind:
the goal desired the more preparation necessary. The more preparation
established the higher one attains. The sounder the preparation, the earlier
one will gain.
The Dharmakaya is already always prepared in anyone and in any
place, but we must be always awake to it and making ready by removing
obstacles. We should always be ready.
of spring and summer asks us: "Are you ready?" Autumn comes, with
yellow leaves dropping, blown down by even slight breaths of wind. They too are
saying, "Are you ready?"
Mr. Chen said in a
trembling voice: "And have you heard the crying of neighbors over a dead
child or an old person? In our ears their crying repeats, 'Ready, Ready?' When
black hair becomes gray, it only questions us, 'Are you ready?' All our
surroundings say this to all of us all the time but who takes notice? People
are always ready for living but not for dying though it is sure that everyone
"Now I shall give
you a little poem in Chinese." The yogi closed his eyes and sang this poem
with great compassion:
Lord, why shouldst Thou keep me
in this world of pain?
Only pity have I for mortals
tears that fall like rain.
long, long journey awaits me
over to Thee I've crossed,
could I leave them behind me
in the mountains lost!"
Mr. Chen translated it
into English and we expressed our deep appreciation, our talk concluding with
"So that is why I
hope every person in the West is ready for meditation."