Systematic and Practical
A Talk by the Buddhist Yogi
C. M. CHEN
Written Down by
REVEREND B. KANTIPALO
First Published in 1967
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
THE QUESTIONS OF BHIKSU KHANTIPALO
In answer to a list of
questions of general interest presented by the transcriber to Mr. Chen, he said
Khantipalo, out of compassion for the readers, has given me some questions on
their behalf. It is indeed worthwhile to answer them, for the body of this book
is a discussion upon the whole three-yanas-in-one system of meditation, with
the hope that there are some persons who can follow all of it; on the other
hand, these questions are particular points which may be useful for many people
who cannot accomplish the aim of our meditations—Buddhahood in this one
lifetime. So there will be more benefit from the bhiksu's question than from
our whole book.
At this piece of modesty
on the yogi's part, the transcriber exclaimed, "No, no!" Said Mr. Chen laughing, "We'll just say something at first to
make you happy!" We all laughed.
these twenty questions, I have tried to classify them with the particular
sorrow which is their source. We shall find that they may be grouped under
three of the Five Sorrows (see Ch. VIII, F). Because none of these questions
stem from anger and all of them are concerned with
doubt, for their classification only three remain: pride, lust, and ignorance.
Under these categories we shall find it easy to review them.
A. Questions Stemming from the Sorrow of Pride
1. What are your
instructions for those who desire to meditate but have no guru to guide them?
How can they choose suitable meditations? (See Ch. II, A, 3).
Buddhism is a religion of law. Its philosophy is based on this; it is not a
system that encourages the glorification of persons and certainly it actively
has many times spoken of those Enlightened ones known
as pratyekabuddhas (Solitary Illumined Sages). They have achieved their
Enlightenment without a guru and in the absence of a Perfect Buddha (Samyaksambuddha).
They have worked out their salvation through reflection upon the twelve-fold
links of the chain of causation (pratityasamutpada).
should remember that in Buddhism, there is a wisdom called "non-guru
Wisdom"; that is, wisdom not gained by contact with teachers, either human
on non-human. If there is a guru, that is very good, and desirable for most
people, but even if one is not available then the exoteric meditations may
still be practiced.
choosing suitable meditations, those in whom wisdom is very highly developed
may choose a subject from Chan. After reading many Hua Tou in books on Chan,
they may select one for their practice. The question here is not really about
the selection of a meditation, but as to how it will be practiced. If a truly
wise man takes a Hua Tou but only devotes a short time to it each day, then it
will do him no good. A Hua Tou (or Gong An) requires
full-time practice coupled with perfect renunciation. If one only reads Chan
books and then practices a Hua Tou for one hour a day, even in one's whole life
it would not be possible to succeed. It is not bad to start by reading a book
or two, but one cannot make progress by continuing in this way. Read a book,
get the method, and practice with complete renunciation and with the whole mind—this
is the order to follow. Those who take up practice in this way (and very few
can do so) have for their guru the Dharmakaya, for Chan is just this. If they
practice earnestly and their time of mature comprehension has come—then, a Chan
guru will appear to give them personal instruction.
For those of
medium wisdom: Recognize the nature of persons and dharmas as voidness. Having recognized this, take a method from our book (see Ch. X, Part
One) to make this abstract philosophy into concrete realization. With
the perfect renunciation which is demanded by sunyata philosophy, and with
earnest faith in the great guru Nagarjuna, begin practice. Faith and heartfelt
prayer to him, combined with the clarity and precision of his sunyata teachings
applied to one's life, will cause Nagarjuna to appear to the practitioner, as
he has done so to many yogis in the past.
Those of low
wisdom may safely choose the meditations on Amitabha (see Ch. XI, D) for with
faith their obstacles may be cleared away. As many examples testify, Amitabha,
Avalokitesvara, and Tara may all be seen in this very life. Meditators then
have a good chance to make swift progress to Enlightenment when after death
they arise in Sukhavati, Amitabha's
"This is the Kali
Age, when very few good gurus are to be found." With tears in his eyes,
the yogi said: "It is sad indeed that the Dharma has only become
established now in the West, now when it is so late. For Westerners, I fear it
may be difficult to find accomplished gurus. Still," said Mr. Chen very
strongly, "it is for readers first to reduce their pride—then a guru will
appear. Then they will be fit to benefit from a wise teacher's personal
instructions. They should not indeed think, 'Hinayana is not worthy to be my
guru!' Such thoughts are the highest conceit. Everyone new to the Dharma can
greatly benefit from Hinayana instructions. If there were no pride among this
book's readers, this question would not have been formulated."
question may be added another, as many of the points are similar:
2. How can Vajrayana
meditations be practiced without a guru and his initiation? Even if the
visualization practices are described in outline in this book, without
initiation, mudra or mantra, will not these meditations become like the
exoteric practices of the Mahayana?
If one has
passed through all the foregoing meditations in the Hinayana and Mahayana,
then, by the grace of the Buddha and the bodhisattvas and one's own earnest
prayers, one might find a guru of the Vajrayana. As mudra, mantra, yantra and
dharanis are not the highest doctrines in Vajrayana, if one clearly recognizes
the principle of six-element causation and the four voidnesses and blisses,
such a sincere and diligent meditator will get a guru, though he may not be a
person, but will appear in the light of meditation, or in dreams.
3. To become a Buddhist, is it necessary formally to take the three refuges and five
precepts from a teacher (or recite them oneself), before taking up the
practices of Buddhist meditation?
The transcriber said
that he had asked this question as it was reported that some non-Buddhists had
been practicing specifically Buddhist techniques of meditation and it was
claimed that good results had been obtained by them even though the meditators
had not become Buddhists.
exclaimed Mr. Chen. Bhante broke his usual silence by remarking, "Just as
a student wanting to learn mathematics would not see much point in first being
converted to the religion of his math teacher (for he can surely learn
mathematics without taking such a step), so these people think that one can
learn Buddhist meditation without becoming a Buddhist, as though Buddhism and mathematics
were on the same level!"
not a cold, impersonal physical science. Not at all! We should understand the
three refuges properly. To make our meditation succeed, we need the grace of
the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha; and without taking the Refuges, we have
no such help. Meditation is quite difficult enough for most people, so it is
important for them to use all available methods which might aid them. The three
refuges can help—for has not Buddhist meditation come down from the Buddha's
Enlightenment? How ungrateful we should be if we failed to acknowledge the
source of our practice! Regarding the Dharma-refuge, Buddhist meditation is
both the practice and way of realization of that Dharma. As to the Sangha-refuge,
the bhiksus and bodhisattvas are those who have both transmitted and realized
the practices of Buddhist meditation.
person not practicing meditation may do everything in daily life, providing it
is not against the law, and it is fairly easy for many people to control their
bodies and speech to this extent. But the meditator has more to do. He has to
control the mind, which he soon finds is full of all sorts of impure thoughts
and sorrows. Let us take one sorrow as an illustration: suppose anger arises. This
is likely to be very difficult to control. At the time of its arising, the
meditator has not only destroyed his own meditation,
but also stands in danger from other outside sources. Our minds are open books
to some gods and spirits and they may be attracted or repelled depending on the
state or level of a person's mind. A god of say, the pure abodes, may only
approach a meditator when the latter's mind resembles that god's world of
purity; on the other hand, demons will approach him if his mind is overcome by
anger. Some other bad spirits may be attracted by lust, some by ignorance (as
in seances), and so forth.
still subject to these sorrows is without any sort of defense, and unless he
has properly taken Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, he is at the mercy
of these evil hosts. If they can catch his concentrated mind, he is then said
by others to be "mad."
state often occurs among meditators in Taoism where there are no effective
Refuges to guard one, but where they have nevertheless developed quite a number
of powerful meditation techniques. They emphasize particularly keeping the
whole mind one-pointed, which is of course very good, but it is at this time
that one is most prone to attack by these bad spirits, ghosts, demons, and so
is most in need of a good strong defense.
described the refuges above and the meditational reasons for taking them. When
one has done so, at least there will be no trouble from these beings, and one
may peacefully make real progress, protected by the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
are the five precepts. We have already said that the gods are attracted to
purity, and they protect more carefully a meditator who keeps the precepts
pure. Meditators will soon find that if they do good deeds—that is, keep their
precepts—the mind becomes quiet and relatively easy to control. Anyone who
hurts and kills, takes what is not given, commits sexually unskillful deeds
(such as fornication or adultery), utters false speech, or takes beer, wines,
spirits, or drugs and yet tries to meditate, will find out how impossible it is
thus to control the mind. This is because one who does not keep the moral
precepts has a constantly agitated mind. A person like this loses the protection
of the gods, whereas all neophytes need to benefit from every aid to their
danger exists in the West: meditation is sometimes spoken of as though it were
just a technique or science. This quite divorces it from the faith which is necessary
if it is to succeed. No refuges, no firm faith; no faith, little progress but
may see clearly that not wanting to take the refuges has its source in the
sorrow of pride—as though to take them were a shameful thing. Westerners here
require a little humility. They must recognize that however much they have
progressed in the physical sciences, they really know
nothing about the inner world of the mind. If they wish to know about this
world and even to have some control over it, then the Buddha, who is the Fully
Enlightened One, is their best teacher, the truth of his long-enduring Dharma
is their clearest teaching, and the Sangha who point out the best way to follow
at any one time are their good guides. They should acknowledge these refuges,
and should certainly not be proud, thinking, "This guru does not have
enough general knowledge, does not know the sciences, and speaks only poor
English. Why should I take the refuges from him?" All this is the sorrow
If one has no
guru and cannot find any bhiksu from whom to take the refuges and precepts,
then as an expedient means, one may use an image or picture of the Buddha.
Prostrating oneself with reverence and humility, one should recite the formulas
in front of this representation of the Buddha. However, this is just temporary.
Afterwards, when one meets a Buddhist monk, then one should request him to
administer them out of compassion.
another way to limit the sorrow of pride and obtain good meditation.
4. Can one progress in
Vajrayana or Chan without pure silas? Why do people think that one can progress
without moral observance? What, for instance, might be the result (in this life
or in the future) of many initiations but broken precepts?
question on precepts, and again stemming from pride.
and Vajrayana, besides having as a basis observance of the Hinayana precepts,
have sets of silas of their own. It is only foolish people who can ignore both
these facts. Throughout the different yanas of Buddhism, morality (silas) is
the foundation for meditation. The three trainings (trisiksa) always apply:
first sila, then samadhi (in the sense of dhyana), followed by prajna.
equally important in the Vajrayana where, if after one gets an initiation (abhiseka,
wang) and the Tantric silas are then broken, then that initiation has lapsed.
One must go to the guru, humbly confess to him, and then ask him to give that wang
again: this is absolutely necessary.
Chan, if it
is accomplished, includes silas. The four conditions, (see Ch. XIII, Part Two, A,
2, d), given as the silas of Mahamudra, apply also in Chan, and they are indeed
hard to keep unless one has realized the Dharmakaya. It is certain that Chan is
not a common meditation—on the contrary, it is the highest realization—and it
therefore includes silas, samadhi and prajna. In my "Lighthouse in the
" there are many stories
illustrating renunciation and impermanence. If one can attain the heights shown
by these stories, then not only will these four conditions be observed
naturally, but all the silas will be kept purely.
It is only
false Chan gurus who talk of there being no need for morality in Chan. This is
quite wrong. Chan silas are not common ones, but include all of them. One may
say that it is not only by keeping silas that one attains Chan, but that the
special silas of Chan include all silas.
"little" mistake about the silas of the highest Vehicles in Buddhism
comes a great deal of trouble.
5. Many Westerners do
not see the point of prostration before the shrine of a Buddha or in front of
one's teacher. Since they are unaccustomed to this, please explain the value of
this practice. (See also Appendix II, B.)
question we are still concerned with pride. What is the main reason for
prostration? To cure the sorrow of pride. You ask for
the benefits from this practice, and I give them here in order:
a. To reduce
the sorrow of pride.
b. To please
one's guru by showing respect for him. This means that a disciple has humility.
c. When he is
happy with you, the guru will, from his grace, give you many meditation
instructions, particularly in the Tantras. There are many such special, secret
instructions which are never imparted even upon the occasion of ordinary wangs,
but only when the guru sees in a disciple earnest faith and deep devotion.
When I was with
Gangkar Rinpoche, even though we were living in the same monastery, both in the
morning time and in the evening, I went to worship him. I never failed to do
this. Now, sadly, he has died. My guru, seeing at that time my faith in him,
put himself in a very deep concentration and then gave me his bestowal. When I
worshipped him, it was always done with deep devotion and very slowly.
The yogi rose from his
seat and demonstrated. "Those who are in a hurry or who make prostration
out of habit and without deep faith, just do it like this."
Standing, he very
rapidly raised his hands to his forehead, slid them down to his chest, dropped
down onto his hands and knees, bringing his forehead to the ground. Then he
rose without straightening his back, dropped to the ground again; the third
time he did it was even more perfunctory. "With real reverence," Mr. Chen then
said, "Worship slowly. You saw," he said, addressing the transcriber,
"how I made obeisance to Dhardo Rinpoche when he came to my hermitage."
The transcriber did indeed see that Mr. Chen's act was one of true devotion,
performed slowly and mindfully. His hands were raised above the head
(signifying the body), brought to the throat (speech), and then lowered to the
chest (mind). In this way, all three parts of the personality are employed in
showing one's reverence. The prostration was made slowly. Mr. Chen's arms, from
the elbows to the hands, were completely on the ground. This is the
"small" type of prostration. Mr. Chen resumed:
I have always
done prostrations as though I were in the presence of the Buddha himself and
worshipping him. It is certainly my experience that gurus appreciate such a
disciple and give their best instructions to him. Thus bestowals do not depend
entirely on the merits of the guru, but also upon the disciple's. It depends
upon whether or not one goes to him as though he were the Buddha.
There is a
story showing the power of devoted prostrations. A pious old woman and her
merchant son lived far away in the steppe lands of
. From time to time the son traveled to
Tibetan products and from their sale acquiring Indian wares. Being a Buddhist,
he went to Buddha Gaya several times to venerate that holy place. Each time
before he set out, his mother implored him to bring back a relic of the Buddha
for her to worship, so that she might gain more merits. Every time he returned
without one, for such holy relics were not easy to get, and also he would
forget his mother's request. On one such journey, the son was nearing his home,
when he suddenly remembered. "If I do not have a Buddha-relic this time,
she is certain to strike me," he thought.
Then he saw
an old jaw-bone of a dog lying by the roadside. Picking it up, he extracted one
of the teeth, and went on his way toward his home. His mother first asked him,
"Did you get…?" "Yes," he said, "one of the Lord
Buddha's teeth." His mother was overjoyed. First she placed it on top of
her head and then put it in the family shrine, where she prostrated herself
many times. After that, she had it mounted with the finest gold and silver work
and placed in a little golden bejeweled stupa (reliquary). Regularly, the old
woman worshipped it with great devotion. She gave much of her time to this
practice, and the tooth first began to glow and then to radiate a holy light
which all could see.
Such is the
power of this practice performed with great faith.
d. From this
prostration practice, devotion is increased and from this one sheds crudeness
and attachment to gross pleasures. In turn, from this renunciation arises the
ability to keep one's precepts pure. Thus, a mind of devotion and the
performance of these prostrations are conditions also for maintaining unbroken
morality. This is emphasized not only in Buddhism, but is recognized in every
e. If one
worships with the "great" prostrations, then the secret wheel is
For readers who have not
seen Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhists performing this strenuous exercise, we
give a short description. For regular practice it is best to have thick
polished planks of wood made up to the length of one's body plus the length of
one's (outstretched) arms. When joined it should be two or three feet wide. It
should be raised three or four inches at the head end. The practitioner binds
pads on his knees and elbows and uses pieces of cloth for sliding his hands
along the boards. One begins as in the "small" practice described
above but does not remain on the hands and knees. The hands are slid along the
board and the arms extended fully, so that the whole of one's body touches the planks.
It is not uncommon to finish 100,000 of such prostrations in three or four
months. To complete this basic Vajrayana foundation, one of a group of four
practices, (see Biography and App. II, B), one should worship in this way one hundred
Said Mr. Chen, laughing:
Why is the
secret wheel easy to open after this? Even though the Gelugpas say that it can
only be done through the third initiation, these prostrations are also a
method. When performing them, one shoots all one's limbs out, thus using the
all-pervading energy, and the center of this energy is in the secret wheel.
f. When this
center is open and this energy becomes strong, then the outermost knot around
the heart-wheel is relaxed, and the heart-wheel itself becomes easy to open.
benefit is that one gets rid of all sorts of troubles and dangers. Even disease
may fail to attack a person whose mind is centered purely upon devotional
practice. In a Commentary by Confucius on the Yi Jing, he has written: "If
three bad men burst into your room, what will you do? Reverence will give you
Mr. Chen then smiled
very sweetly, clasped his hands together reverentially, and made little bows to
his imaginary intruders. "In this way, " he said, "with a meek manner and humble mind, treat them as honored guests. Very much trouble
will then be avoided. Even sinful people, if respected, will not give one any
h. It also
gets rid of misdeeds. When the impulse arises to commit some unskillful deed,
at that time the five sorrows are uppermost in one's mind. However, when the
mind is full of devotion and the body occupied with worship, while words of
holy homage appear upon the lips—at that time no precept can be broken, and no
practices make the gods happy and so it becomes easy to attain rebirth among
them. A good friend of mine was a devoted Buddhist who repeated Amitabha's name
thousands of times every day. On the vacant spaces on the walls of his room and
on the walls of many others, he wrote the holy name. Every time he met a
person, he asked them also to repeat this Buddha's name. In addition, he formed
societies for Buddhist laymen. This
was his Buddhist practice.
On the other
hand, he worshipped the gods of
One of these, a Taoist deity, is called "Sze-sung-ching-yin" and is
always depicted as looking intently downwards.
Mr. Chen sat up
straight, clasped his hands in his lap, bent his head down, and knit his brows.
"He is like this," he said.
When this god
was a human being, he performed many good deeds, but died before his old
mother. Instantly achieving a heavenly state as a result of his goodness, he
quickly directed his gaze down to earth to see how the elderly lady fared. He
is thus beloved of many people who worship him to avert disease and so on.
occasion, many village people had gathered to worship this god for a number of
days. At the close of the ceremonies, the god's image was to be returned to the
temple. Before this was done, my friend made his final prostrations, and while
he was doing them, he died peacefully. He had no disease, it seems, and the
villagers concluded that the god had taken him to heaven. Of course, this is
not a good result for a Buddhist, but I give it here as an example of great
devotion to the gods.
At that time
I was living in a cave and I dreamed one night that my friend had a shining
golden body. At this, I thought, "Perhaps he has gone to heaven."
Later, a voice in meditation told me that he had died, and so it was proven. Of
course, in achieving his state, he had not been able to go beyond the three
worlds (of desire, form, and formlessness), and certainly Taoist philosophy
cannot take one beyond these three. As regards his Buddhist practice, although
he was very kind, he had not yet realized the truth of sunyata, so he could not
go directly to the
. However, it is true
that in heaven one may remember Amitabha and meditate,
thus gaining rebirth in Sukhavati.
If, even from
the worship of a god, one may experience a blissful death, then what indeed may
be the result from venerating a Buddha?
example: My guru in the teachings of Confucius, Mr. Liu, was a very humble man.
He would never rebuke anyone, but only laughed at his pupils' mistakes. Every
day he practiced calligraphy by writing out some of the good words of
Confucius. He taught us that when we sat down to write, our bodies should be
erect and our minds concentrated, without wandering from our task; our whole
attitude should be one of reverence. One Chinese New Year's Day, he had sat
down and with his brush written some auspicious message for that occasion. He
was still sitting there many hours later, when his family discovered that he
was dead. Heaven was no doubt pleased with such a venerable teacher.
j. If one
worships Amitabha, then one gains birth in his
There are three conditions for this:
Complete faith in the saving power of Amitabha's merits.
An intense desire, almost will, to gain birth there.
iii. Practice of the
meditations described, conjoined with a realization of sunyata and a
development of the bodhicitta. (See Ch. XI, D.)
All three are
connected with an inward reverential attitude and an outward worship, in the
form, for instance, of prostration.
On the subject of pride
and worship, Mr. Chen had some further comments:
bhikkhus have the idea that they alone are the true disciples of the Buddha,
and with this pride they do not revere the bhiksus of
who are also bodhisattvas and
may, moreover, be followers of the Vajrayana. It is true that the robe worn by
the monks of the Southern Buddhist tradition more nearly resembles that worn by
the Buddha than do the red robes of
or those of
but this matter seems to be another source of pride for the Theravadins. With
the two prides of name and of robe, they sometimes say to the bhiksus who also
practice the Great and the
, "I am a pure bhikkhu—you are not!"
Even if monks from
senior to them in ordination, the Southern monks do not worship them as they
would their own mahasthaviras (Great Elders). Such small-minded but greatly
proud bhikkhus must mend their manners and reduce their pride! Even if they try
to learn the other yanas, they will never be able to gain a good understanding
of them while such conceit is present. To learn, one has to be humble.
Such monks as
this in the Theravada should know that other countries have their bhiksus, with
equally good ordinations, bowls, and robes, even though these may be a little
different in shape and style. Did not that great Indian bhiksu, Bodhidharma,
bring with him the bowl and outer robe of Lord Buddha himself to
revered relics are still in the monastery of the Sixth Patriarch of the
Every monastery has a special bowl and robe that belonged to its founder, as a
symbol of the holy transmission. One very good bhiksu is chosen as the
custodian of these treasures. Narrow-minded Theravadins should take note of
there were not so many who are so proud, still, if there were only reverence
among all Buddhists, I should not have to say this. I do say it because there
are now a few bhiksus in
and they may, knowing these facts, avoid narrow sectarianism which only stems
I hope that
all this will make clear that the inward mind of reverence and the outer sign
of devotion, such as prostration, strengthen each other, and that from their
combination comes truly unshakeable faith in the
teachings of the Buddhas.
6. What is the relation
between the regular performance of puja and that of meditation? As some Western
Buddhists are against "ritualism," please explain how necessary puja
is for advance in meditation.
From the last
question, appropriately, we pass on to consider puja. We are still dealing with
problems arising from the sorrow of pride. Puja is of several kinds and here we
may distinguish four.
is that made by a person with some worldly desire: an old
woman for long life, a young one for love, a merchant for money, and so
on. This is the gross puja.
this is Inward Puja. This is when, in samatha, one holds a mudra, recites a
mantra, intones a puja to the Three Gems, etc. A powerful state of calmness is
needed for this, so that the mind will not stray from its concentration. For
those who are well-realized, puja can even be performed in samadhi.
sort of puja is the "secret" one. Here the puja is held while in
union with one's yogic consort in the third initiation. This is a very
wonderful vajra-love accomplishment, but is not possible unless one is very
well practiced. Suppose that one is performing with a dakini the puja of the
Buddha of Long Life. One should then visualize in the female reproductive organ
(the lotus), a mandala. In this mandala is seated White Tara, the object of
worship. In one's own body in the head-wheel is a mandala with Amitayus, the
Buddha of Long Life, at its center. This Buddha pours out from the vessel he
holds many streams of nectar which pass down the median nerve to the male organ
(in the Tantras called the vajra) and in the action of vajra-love this offering
of nectar is sent to White Tara. This secret puja may be performed for the
benefit of the yogi and yogini or its merits may be transferred to a patron.
called "most secret" is the fourth. This occurs on the occasion of a
meeting between an Enlightened Chan Master and his disciple. At this time, if
the disciple sees by the guru's grace the Hua Tou (or Gong An)
on which he has been working, then this puja is well-performed. Full
Enlightenment is the highest puja here.
Do not think
that puja is just like a boy playing, though even the outward puja may be done
with a noble purpose while unaccompanied by samatha. The other three kinds are
certainly worthy of our attention and respect. If readers have such a question
in their minds as this one, then they should know that this is due both to ignorance
about puja and to pride. These cause doubt concerning the value of puja. All
Buddhists should recognize outward puja as a skillful means initially used to
put one in a good frame of mind for meditation.
There are two
purposes in meditation: self-Enlightenment and the Enlightenment of others. For
both, puja is helpful. Before meditation has become established, do not perform
a lengthy puja, as it will only disturb the practice. On the other hand, one
should certainly not sit down to meditation without doing any puja at all. When
one's meditation is well-established, with deep samatha and a free samapatti,
then long pujas may be performed with great benefits. At this time, the samapatti
may be directed into the meaning of the puja. We must notice that a Buddhist puja
must involve body (mudra, asana, prostration, etc.), speech (mantra, chanting,
etc.), and mind (concentration upon the meaning of all that is done and perhaps
Enlightenment of others, we transfer our merits to them after performing the puja
itself. Who can say now that puja is not valuable?
7. Should gods of
religions opposed to Buddhist ideals be honored, subdued, or merely ignored? If
they should be honored by practicing Buddhists, then how should
this be done? (See Ch. VII, A. 1.)
It is true
that the Christian God, absolute in conception, is somehow opposed to Buddhist
ideas. But readers will soon realize, after they have read some of the Buddhist
scriptures, that the Buddha did not deny the existence of gods, that is, of
super-human beings in states happier than the one in which we live. He often
taught such beings his Dharma, and later countless such gods became protectors
of Buddhism, took the refuges and precepts, or entered various stages of noble
realization. On the other hand, the Buddha taught that the existence of an
absolute creator-God is a delusion, and that any one of the conditioned gods
who thought of himself in this way was also gravely deluded.
be respected even thought they are samsaric beings, because they have only
achieved their purified state by acquiring many merits. With these merits one
may gain many powers which may be used to help our meditations. The Buddha was
once asked by a disciple, "Bhante, how did you acquire so many supernormal
powers?" The Enlightened One gave two reasons in his answer: "By the
strength of my samadhi and by the help of the gods." Even though the
Buddha's powers were primarily the result of Enlightenment, still we find that
on many occasions the devas also helped him.
At one time,
before he took refuge in the Buddha, the great Kasyapa was in his hermitage
with many of his followers and the Blessed One came to visit him. The Lord
preached to them all and Indra, a king of the gods with hosts of attendants,
came to listen. The whole grove was alight with the radiance of these devas. Kasyapa
was very much surprised, though still proud, and it took many mighty wonders
performed by the Buddha with Indra's help to finally subdue his pride. At last,
becoming humble, he took the Refuges and bhiksu's precepts from the Lord.
should not forget that after the Bodhisattva (Buddha-to-be) had married, he then renounced all and fled from his palace.
According to some accounts, the gods greatly assisted him. They appeared to him
as the four great warnings: an aged man, a sick man, a corpse, and a wandering
religious man. Gods showed Siddhartha his woman attendants asleep in disgusting
and repulsive attitudes, and his servant was a god disguised, another god took
on the form of a horse and conveyed him beyond the city, after which the
horse's form disappeared and that god arose again to his heaven.
gathered from many sources all the occasions when the gods helped the Buddha,
and I have written a long hymn on this subject. The question is: Why did they
help him? Both as a Buddha and bodhisattva, sakyamuni had far more merits than
the gods, yet in every lifetime they served him. It is because many gods feel
it is their duty to help one who declares that his aim is nothing less than
So do you
think that there is no need for their help? If you think this, you suffer a
great loss by your own conceit!
talks about "subduing" but this does not apply to gods—only to
demons. Gods will obey and help anyone bound for Enlightenment, while demons
hinder. Demons' powers are used only to further evil purposes and it may
occasionally be necessary to use some method to quell them.
never honors an absolute God but he does revere some of the conditional gods,
and for this purpose there are many rituals prescribed in the Vajrayana. Among
these gods, the four great kings are very important. As guardians of the four
quarters, they truly protect the Dharma and as a result, have their place in
the vestibule of every Tibetan temple. It was the great Guru Padmasambhava who
recognized their mighty power and established them in this high position.
Even if one
has not seen any gods, still this does not mean that they do not exist. Whether
we talk in this way or not, the gods see us.
Chen, "They have already seen this book for it appeared in the light of my
meditation lying on my shrine to the four great kings (see Ch. VII, Afterword). And you have seen my offerings to them:
regularly I offer candles, incense, and flowers."
neglected in Tibetan offerings, whereas in
too much is burned. However,
has some special kinds of incense containing healing medicines. Other incense-sticks
contain ingredients to drive away demons or arouse passionate love. But the
gods like a little white sandalwood incense. Why is this? Because the gods of
the various heavens breathe a scented air and their bodies are always fragrant.
If you want them to approach, then make the place of meditation fresh and sweet-smelling;
otherwise they cannot bear to come near you." Mr. Chen laughed and said,
"I do not know whether the gods like the smell of butter, especially the
butter with which some monks in
used to smear themselves—ugh! Chinese temples and monks are usually
This is the
last question arising from the sorrow of pride. One should not be conceited and
think that no greater beings exist than mankind. That is just pride, just the
sorrow of pride.
B. Questions Arising From the Sorrow of Lust
1. Those who are
sceptical about the advantages of meditation often ask: What are the benefits
to be seen sooner or later from its practice? (Ch. II, A. 2.)
I could point
out increase of digestive powers or the ability to overcome small diseases
without trouble, but such things should not be sought deliberately, not even
the mental joy one may feel.
real benefit is that with meditation one can establish a central thought upon
the Dharma (see Ch. II, B and Appendix II, A). This is a benefit both of
philosophy (which we can then understand better) and practice (which we may
perform with more concentration). After all, there are not only benefits to be
gained in the physical and psychic aspects but also in the realm of philosophy.
have a religion incorporating all these aspects; furthermore, one which also
shows how to get out of birth-and-death. Through Hinayana Buddhist meditations
we can do this.
But we do not
want to save only ourselves—there are all the other sentient beings to be
saved, and our ability to do this depends on our practice of the Mahayana
rescuing them from the three realms comes with our accomplishment in the Vajrayana.
the sorrow of lust, or greed, want to get everything for themselves, so to
begin with they have to learn to desire only their own salvation—nirvana. When
their greed for things is converted to this alone, then they may begin to think
about saving others. They should choose the highest view and the distant goal
and should not take things too easily. The highest benefit is in the highest
goal—Buddhahood. Smaller goals and lesser ideals give lesser benefits.
I should warn
meditators that before attaining Enlightenment the benefit of quickly acquiring
some supposed signs of progress in practice may easily become a hindrance.
After one has gained such signs, they may soon disappear and no amount of
practice is able to bring them back. The danger is that after this, feeling
discouraged, one gives up practice altogether. This is very bad!
much for the first question on the lust sorrow.
2. Is it possible,
especially at the beginning, to try to do too much meditation, which might
result in some mental strain or other trouble?
We may say
that there is no need to do too much at the beginning. There are some people
who meditate with the greedy desire that within a few days they will reach
Buddhahood. They want to get everything quickly, but the practice of the seven-day
Great Perfection (see Ch. XIV, B) is the highest meditation and not meant for
the neophyte. The beginner should slowly and thoroughly make the preparations
we have described in this book, and then he should practice regularly, neither
doing too much, nor too little.
person, quick by nature, may pick up this book, read it, practice hastily, get
some signs, think that he has realized that meditation, and then stop, which,
again, is very bad.
mental trouble is perhaps the discouragement of one who has tried to practice
without having made the preparations or having the necessary patience. A person
like this may shrug his shoulders and say, "I have tried and got
nothing!" If one is too earnest in the beginning, then practice is easily
abandoned after a short time.
course of action is to practice and progress step by step, from the bottom to
the heights. If it is possible, get a good guru who can give sound advice from
his own experiences. An accomplished teacher will make one see clearly exactly
what the Way is; he will choose suitable meditations and through his grace one
will come to see the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and the gods.
Day by day,
one may increase one's practice—but not too quickly. The great yogi Milarepa
slowly, gain sambodhi quickly.
singly, gain dakini duly.
basically, gain samadhi loftily."
also said: "If you desire to reach a place quickly, you will not attain
it." Practice slowly, and eventually you may reach even the highest goal.
3. What are the signs
which might warn a person of mental-physical breakdown due to wrong practice of
meditation or lack of proper preparation?
that all is not well from one's practice are: weariness, doing everything
hurriedly, being quick-tempered or easily excited, laughing to oneself, talking
to oneself, longing for signs of progress in meditation, longing for such signs
in dreams, having too much desire to gain supernormal powers, and desiring that
others do not progress as much as oneself (even if they are "brothers"
in the same mandala and learning under the same guru). All these are bad signs
and arise because of the sorrow of lust.
4. Why is it necessary
to renounce? Please give a clear guide on the different objects to be renounced
and the different levels of renunciation—material, mental, and spiritual.
Renunciation? This is a
very hard thing for a Western person to do. Desires have so much increased,
since there are so many more objects of desire. Life has become very complex
and not only are there many things to get, but so many things to do and places
to see. For these reasons it is hard these days to make a perfect renunciation.
Step by step, renunciation should be practiced as follows:
half an hour out of one's family life or worldly existence and devote it to the
puja and meditation of the Buddha. Just close the door of the puja-room (if one
has a separate place for this), or do it in one's own room. So much is surely
easy to do. Do not make puja and meditate with other members of the family
present who might create a disturbance or arouse the wrong sort of thoughts.
One should practice alone, having for that time renounced everything to
concentrate upon the puja and upon one's meditation (see also Ch. X, Part Two, B). The time that a meditator is able to give for this
purpose depends on his devotion, renunciation, and the strength of meditation.
b. A serious
meditator will take advantage of holidays and renounce Sundays and other such
days free from work. Notice the real meaning of "holy day." A day
cannot be holy without meditation, whereas the common man's idea of using his
spare time for picnics, football, and taking pictures, makes a holiday unholy. People
think that enjoying themselves and gratifying desires
means that they are resting or relaxing. But the real rest or relaxation is in
meditation practice, not elsewhere. So many things are wasted in most people's
holidays: time, energy, money, and life itself; but the meditative man saves,
and stores up incorruptible treasures. Regular practice on days free from work
becomes easy to do if one's renunciation is firm and determination to meditate
c. Use all
one's winter and summer vacations as time for meditation. Western persons like
to travel everywhere, to see this thing and experience that. All this means so
much time and trouble, lost meditation time, and many troubles experienced.
Instead of this, devote long holidays to meditation, a profitable use of time
and a freedom from troubles. When I was a professor, every holiday in summer
and winter was given over to solitary meditation. We can see that there is a
good progress in these three steps, renouncing first part of the day, then
whole days, and after that weeks and months.
d. When one
has progressed that far, even though one still goes out to work, household
duties should be renounced. If the wife is the meditator, then she should hand
over the cooking, dishwashing, and babies to her husband. If he is the one most
interested in practice, let him give over his part of the household work to
her. All these things can be done by either man or woman; there is no
difference between them in such matters. Women may hold on to babies because
they love them too much, while men may be attached to their garden work. A
meditator, even while still in the household, has to learn to be like a hermit,
living simply. One should be like the great lay bodhisattva Vimalakirti who,
although living amid his family, did nothing in that house except practice meditation.
e. Now comes
the time to renounce one's work. Whether it is the husband or the wife who goes
out to earn money, until now practicing only in spare time, it is proper now to
give up one's job. Completely renounce one's family contacts and go away to
live in solitude. If one wishes, and if this is possible, one may become a bhiksu
(or bhiksuni) or else remain a lay-yogi (or yogini). At any rate, the outer
renunciation to family, property, money, and such things must be comparatively
complete. So far we have only dealt with the renunciation of outward things.
it is now the right time to renounce many things: the desires for good, long
sleep, desire for expensive and beautiful clothes, and for all other attractive
and artistic objects.
renounce the signs which sometimes delude people into thinking that they are
progressing in meditation. Renounce: lights (nimitta), the quietness of mind
(false samatha of drowsiness), some joyful feelings (piti), and such
experiences. Give up also views which are false because they are misleading.
h. The fourth
of these inward renunciations is the Most Secret. At this stage one should
renounce: the supernormal powers, the Hinayana nirvana, the four virtues of
nirvana (according to Mahaparinirvana Sutra: permanence, joy, self, and purity)
until one succeeds in gaining the Non-abiding nirvana (see Ch. V, C, 6).
When this is
attained, renunciation is complete because Enlightenment is complete.
on the different stages of the subject are given in my "Lighthouse in the
" Of course, false Chan
masters have deluded many people with their very harmful talk about there being
no need to renounce in Chan. They talk quite blithely about practice in daily
life and from what they say, it does seem as though nothing need be given up.
This is foolishness. Practice of Chan in everyday life is not for ordinary men;
it is the highest rank of attainment. Why is this? Because such a meditator has
subdued every hindrance arising in his practice during both work and pleasure.
Even on occasions when lust would normally arise, he is able to practice Chan.
This is the Chan of no desire really experienced only by the Noble Ones, but
conceited fools imagine that they too have this ability. While both of them are
outwardly in the world, the difference lies inwardly, where the Chan sage is
beyond the world. This latter achievement is not possessed by common men, who
sometimes think that without renunciation, everything may nevertheless be
gained. (See App. II, D.)
connection, there is a common mistake made in books on the life of the Buddha.
They relate how when he was a bodhisattva, he practiced severe asceticism for
six years. Usually the books criticize this, as though it were time wasted, a
useless part of his life and having nothing to teach us. Then they tell how the
bodhisattva took a cup of milk and from the strength he gained, achieved
Enlightenment. Now, wisdom-beings and Enlightened Ones never show an example in
vain. This period of asceticism is to emphasize to us that renunciation must be
complete before Enlightenment can be attained. Even though we may take many
cups of milk a day, still neither we nor they become enlightened thereby! How
easy would Enlightenment be if this was all one had to do! But the renunciation
comes first—and before his Enlightenment, Gautama had renounced all comforts,
even clothing, and had very nearly given up taking any food at all. He took
only one or two grains of rice each day, and after such fasting, even a cup of
milk has very great powers of nourishment.
Mr. Chen added in a
two thousand years after the Buddha's parinirvana, the great Tibetan Milarepa
experienced similar results from his long periods of fasting or near fasting,
having only nettle soup. When he took a single cup of milk, his median channel
was opened. One cup of milk for the common person has not the highest power,
but for one who over many years has lacked substantial food, it has a great
power to help his meditation. Readers should recognize this point clearly, and
not be confused by those who talk disparagingly of these long periods of
The six years
of suffering should not therefore be criticized like this; they were not
useless but show us that the bodhisattva was willing to renounce everything and
did give up everything almost to the state of starving himself to death, in
order to gain Enlightenment. Is this not complete renunciation? As it was
complete, so Full Enlightenment could easily be attained. The fault here lies
in thinking that moderation lies before renunciation—it does not, it follows
I have also
experienced something a little comparable to the effects of that cup of milk.
When I was living in a cave in Hu Nan, my food was only a little rice with no
good vegetables to accompany it. It was a thin diet, though not as meager as
Gautama's or Milarepa's. Then one day a relative of mine sent
me a bowl of very good beef. After taking this, I noticed that the power
of my meditation was decidedly increased.
never make the mistake of thinking that renunciation is unessential—there is
always something to give up until one becomes a Buddha. Nor should one imagine
of the Buddhas may be used as an excuse for hanging on to this and that.
Renunciation comes first, and then the sorrow of lust or attachment may be
C. Questions Derived from the Sorrow of
1. What effects would be
likely to occur from prolonged meditation on the rise and fall of the diaphragm
(limiting concentration during sitting practice to this area alone)? Or what
effects might be produced from samatha meditation on the center of the body two
fingers' widths above the navel?
2. Can insight,
vipasyana or samapatti, be obtained by any method
where samatha practice is not first accomplished?
questions arise because one does not recognize clearly the principles and practice
of meditation. We have emphasized many times in this book that there can be no
samapatti (investigation, insight), without the initial development of samatha
(tranquility). (See Ch. VII, C.)
All good samatha
techniques teach the gathering of the whole mind upon one point, and this is
what is being done in these methods. It is easy to gain calm by practice in the
region of the abdomen. In that region of the body is the earth-circle, and this
element, having the characteristic of steadfastness, is therefore a suitable
base for meditation practice.
reason for this practice is that the disturbed mind is caused by too much
energy rising up, and concentration above this midpoint of the body may only
increase this. On the other hand, one-pointed-ness established lower than the
navel may easily stimulate thoughts of lust and even lead to a seminal
At the middle
point, the mind may be safely and usefully concentrated and then held there, a
practice known to many religions where the necessity of developing calm is
with the rise and fall of the diaphragm must lead to the development of calm;
it cannot be usefully practiced without this. Lacking samatha, no insight is
possible. Meditators should learn to discriminate correctly the different types
3. What is the
importance of transferring merits after one's practice of meditation? How can
they be transferred for the benefit of other sentient beings?
If a person
asks this question, he has not yet recognized the entity of Dharmakaya. If one
recognizes it and does not distinguish individual minds, then one is a sage;
that is, one whose mind is linked to all through the Dharmakaya. Hence, as in
Enlightenment separate minds are not to be found, separate merits do not exist
either. Ordinary persons are only influenced by those around them with whom
they have some connections. Even the Buddhas, to save beings, must have some
conditional link with them or their saving merits cannot be effective.
can influence beings by one's merits or else one has not realized that all are
in the entity of Dharmakaya. One in many; and many in one.
when practicing meditation in the company of a number of yogis of the same mandala,
one of these "schoolmates" in the Vajrayana asked me a question of
this sort. At that time I was studying the
philosophy and so answered him in this way: "The eighth- or store-consciousness
is not restricted to individual minds, and does not belong to any 'person'.
Common to all sentient beings, it is vast and impersonal. Though belonging to
nobody, it is filled with everybody. As this is the case, providing one has
come to realize this consciousness through meditation, then merits are easily transferred." He was much pleased with my explanation
and praised it to other fellow yogis.
shall not be content with that explanation here. What, then, is to be done so
that merits may be truly transferred? Many persons imagine that they are able
to give away their merits, while other people do not believe that it is
possible to do so at all. What is the explanation? First of all, the meditation
practitioner must destroy the self, atman, etc. that is an obstacle to the
attainment of the entity of Dharmakaya. This means that one must have practiced
thoroughly the Hinayana meditations and have arrived at the stage of sunyata
realization in the Mahayana. When one has realized the Dharmakaya, then he is
in a position to influence others, since the self-idea has been purified in the
Hinayana and transmuted in the voidness of Mahayana meditations.
little can be done in merit-transference, for common people think of "my
merits," "I am transferring merits," "By me other beings
are benefiting." All this is because they have not realized sunyata in the
Hinayana sense, not to speak of the Mahayana. This matter is therefore very
important in true merit-transference.
It is not
enough for a person to be kind, generous, and have other beneficent virtues.
Such persons cannot transfer merits, since the sunyata realization is lacking
while the idea of self is still firmly established.
really means is that unless sunyata is realized, there is no possibility of
saving others. Two points clearly stand out here: that the self or soul as an
ultimate or unchanging "thing" is taught by all other religions
outside Buddhism, and that sunyata and the way to its realization are taught
nowhere except in Buddhism. One corollary follows from this: The merits of
saviors in these religions can only save beings within samsara. They cannot be
of help in taking them beyond. Only perfectly Enlightened Ones have the
transcendental merits which may aid one in crossing over sentient beings.
on merits and salvation are all the results of ignorance of the Dharmakaya and
4. In order to
accomplish well the first three paramitas, what practical methods of giving,
morality, and patience may be used in everyday life? (See
X, Part One, C and Appendix III.)
another lack of knowledge of the Vajrayana and its methods. Knowing these
techniques, even if one is poor and without money, much may be done to help
others, for this is not so much a matter of means as of mind.
When we get
up early and put on our shoes, there is a mantra to recite so that insects and
other small creatures shall not be killed by us, and if they are, as a result
of the mantra they attain birth in the
This is an almsgiving of fearlessness (abhaya dana).
There are many practices of this sort which in fact constitute a yoga of daily life.
another example: when we make water, by using a mantra it can be transformed
into nectar. And when we pass stool, the excrement may be converted in the same
way into good food. But why bother to do this? In latrines and bathrooms many
unhappy ghosts and hungry spirits gather. For them that place is not at all unpleasant,
for they see it as full of good food and drink. They try to take this
"food" but find out that it is only filthy. To give them the
nutriment they so badly need, these mantras are recited. This is a good way of
giving (dana) even if one has no money.
food, the belly is visualized as the hearth of a fire-sacrifice and one's
chopsticks, or spoon and fork, etc., are seen as the vajra-ladles for offering
that sacrifice. In the navel-wheel, the yidam is visualized receiving the food
as an offering. This is called "the inner fire sacrifice."
A poor man
can still place aside seven rice-grains from his plate and, putting them in
water, take them outside so that the ghosts and spirits may then partake of
this food and out of gratitude take refuge in the Buddha. There is, in fact, a
mantra which is used for the transformation, purification, and multiplication
of such gifts and its recitation is necessary to make these available to the
ghosts (pretas). Buddhist monks and other devoted followers always put aside
food in this spirit of the Mahayana, while using a Vajrayana method, before
they take it themselves.
Then one can
give food to birds and cattle. This act is easily done. This reminds me of a
story: There was once a famous and well-learned scholar monk who could preach
very well. Despite this, no one had enough faith in him to become his disciple.
He asked his guru, "How is it that monks much less skilled in preaching,
and with less learning, have many followers while I have none?" His teacher
replied, "In previous lives you failed to give to others. You must have
been mean and stingy. Now, quickly, feed as many animals each day as possible,
but before giving the food to them, this mantra must be used." And he gave
the mantra. Thus, every day that learned monk earnestly fed those animals,
giving them food which he converted through his meditation and the mantra into
nectar. When they died, these beings were released from their evil condition
and came to human birth. Growing up, by their strong karmic connection, they
came to that learned monk as his disciples. Within ten or twenty years, he had
many devoted disciples to teach.
In the Mahayana
too, there are many things practiced to help others, for the central concept in
this yana is that of the bodhisattva, one who
selflessly and in every way helps everybody. Even small things which no one
asks you to do should be performed: when you see a worm crawling across the
road, pick it up and put it among the grass, or if you see a banana-skin that a
small child might slip on, put it out of the path; and so on. Then the merits
of such actions should be turned over to all beings by the alliance of the
perfection of wisdom with the first three perfections.
Also, one may
earn merits by speech; by saying something agreeable to a person, for instance,
or by praising good workmanship. Usually if someone has done something or
enjoyed some success, others may be envious—this is common, for envy is hard to
destroy. But the bodhisattva will never react like this. He will always have a
good word, a sympathetic happiness with others' pleasures, and comes in this
way to make others glad and destroy envy in himself.
others should abuse or strike him, the bodhisattva takes no notice.
Mr. Chen poured more
water on our Chinese tea and then said by way of illustration, "In Tibetan
monasteries they do not make tea like this! Enormous cauldrons of water are
boiled and kept boiling, being replenished by buckets of ice-cold snow-water.
But so fierce is the heat that the cold water instantly becomes hot and boils
with the rest. So it is with a bodhisattva strong in patience. His warmth of
compassion is such that no amount of cruel knocks and unkind words can upset
There is much
inexpensive merit to be gained in this world. An old man may see youngsters
dancing and go and dance with them—they may be delighted that he can also enjoy
himself in this way. Really such a thing is only a little action and yet there
is much merit from it since others are pleased.
sympathize with others' losses and sufferings. In this way one takes their
sufferings from them. Always readily excuse them when they do wrong. Always
think, "Others can do better than I can myself," and speak and act
with this firm conviction. This is real inward and outward humility. Always
wish that they may get grace from the Buddhas and attain Enlightenment before
us. Always make one's speech soft and gentle; then, one encourages loving-kindness
to develop in others. When others are in some distress or suffering illness,
ask after them and pray that they may recover.
has given many
examples of this sort of action. Many are also found in Nagarjuna's Prajnaparamita
Sastra. These matters depend on us. If we really have the desire to do them, we
may find many things, and certainly there are many examples to stimulate us in
Buddhist literature. We may, therefore, correct our ignorance of the practical
methods in the three paramitas, if we truly wish to do so.
5. How can one be saved
from the effects of unskillful actions by the belief in and praying to a
savior? How is the doctrine of karma affected by such a belief?
really two questions here and they concern the Buddhist teaching of karma more
than meditation. I shall answer them together.
think of causation by karma too narrowly and rigidly, so that the bad must be
punished and the good rewarded. This is, of course, quite right, but one's
ideas should not be limited to this. In the universe no one person stands alone
and unconnected; on the contrary there are many fine interrelations which are
not obvious to most people. If karma were merely a mechanical matter—do good,
get good; do bad, get bad—then no Buddha or god could give grace or merits to
us. But we do recognize that this is possible. Similarly, we speak about the
beings in the hells as judged by the ten great and fearful yamas (hell judges),
so that it seems that they, and not karma, are bringing about the states of
suffering. But really beings would not see the great yamas if they had not
committed those crimes. Karma not only influences this mind and body but seems
to have its effect on our surroundings, or we may say that it conditions us to
see things in a certain way. Besides karma individually experienced, there
appears to be another kind. This is where beings have committed similar actions
and thus come to reap similar fruit—it is often called a "common"
karma. This sense of common karma brings about the experience of the judges of
the hells. From these examples, it is evident that we must think of wider
principles and should not be too narrow in our ideas on karma.
Why does this
question doubt the power of God? Buddhists also hold that such beings exist
(though not as stable absolute entities). All the gods, who are nevertheless
impermanent whatever their followers hold, have many merits. One cannot doubt
that Jesus, whose power of self-sacrifice was like that of a bodhisattva's,
also acquired great merits and, with them, the power to help others within the
domain of the three worlds. Certainly he may extend his mercy and save those
who have committed worldly sins and ensure that they enjoy life in a heaven.
But Jesus did not have the realization of sunyata (such is not evident from the
Gospels) and thus could have no transcendental merits, as Buddhas or great
bodhisattvas have; so his power of salvation is limited to the six realms of samsara,
whereas the latter, with the hook of voidness and compassion, draw beings out
of samsara. Sins against the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are naturally more
serious than even great worldly transgressions, and Jesus has no power to save
those who commit such sins against the Three Jewels.
karma of this type, there are the thirty-five Buddhas of Confession arranged in
One day Mr. Chen had
shown the transcriber a board he had made with thirty-five candle holders on it
arranged in the pattern of this mandala. This was placed before the mandala
itself and a candle lighted in the corresponding position to the Buddha
connected with any particular precepts broken. Mr. Chen has examined the names
of these Buddhas and determined from their meanings which Buddha is connected
with the confession of which offence. He has written verses of confession for
each one and performs their puja whenever this is necessary. Respecting the
commission of unskillful deeds, Mr. Chen said:
People of the
three different times of life should adopt quite different attitudes towards
the commission of evils. The young practitioner of meditation should not commit
any evil at all, so that the puja of these Buddhas is for him or her
unnecessary; one who is old never knows when he or she is going to die and
should be diligent in clearing himself or herself of even the slightest fault
by performing their puja, while a dying person must not think that he or she
has committed any unskillful deeds at all.
confession, there is also a special Vajrayana mantra of the Buddha Akshobhya,
which is especially effective even in the case of heavy sins where an immediate
and usually inescapable fruit follows upon the commission of the deed. This
Buddha is so merciful as to save beings if they repeat his incantation with
deep faith and a concentrated mind. It is indeed worthwhile knowledge to
forget that they meet this or that god to receive his cruel punishments, or to
be received into his bliss, just because there exists a karmic connection between them.
Thus a few
points may have been made clear concerning karma and salvation in this question
rooted in the Sorrow of Ignorance.
6. What precautions
should be taken before meditating in a new place to ensure the sympathy of the
gods dwelling there? (See also Ch. IV, F, 2.)
This is a
question of not knowing the right thing to do in this situation. When one comes
to a new place, first go into the room or house to be used for meditation and
just sit there to get the "feel" of it. If anything special comes
into the mind to disturb it, this is a bad sign, while it is good if the mind
is tranquil and one notices the natural humming noise in one's ears. This is a
test for daytime; for the time of darkness, one should arrange to sleep there
for one night. Before sleeping, perform a puja and ask the Buddha to show one
either a good dream or a bad one. According to the dream—good or bad—one gets,
so that place is to be judged.
Once I had a
desire to make my hermitage in the cave formerly occupied by one "Mad
Lama" as he was known, though actually he was really a sage well-accomplished
in Mahamudra. As he had died, his cave was vacant and certainly seemed a
favorable place for meditation. Before I established myself there, I asked for
a sign to be given in a dream. In my dream I saw a dakini lying down across the
entrance of the cave. She said, "You should not build anything here, as
this will be a holy place for pilgrims to worship." So I gave up my idea
of having my hermitage there.
to be done in a new place is to ask the local people if there are any stories
of ghosts or other wonderful or disturbing things seen or heard there. Find out
where are the nearest shrines, temples, and churches, either existing now or
just ancient ruins. Notice the presence of large and flourishing trees, and
also look for dead trees, specially marked stones, or peculiarly twisted or
outstanding rocks. As these things may indicate the presence of tree and earth
spirits, offerings should be made to them to start with so that they are
pleased. Also offerings should be made to the gods worshipped in the temples,
churches, etc., and one should also make sure what the religion locally
predominant is. Then, another consideration not to be forgotten is the history
of the building—this should be carefully investigated.
If all signs
are favorable and one decides to meditate there, then one may make a vow not to
go outside certain boundaries. One must ask the gods of the four directions to
witness that "This is my northern boundary, etc." When, perhaps after
many years of practice, one wants to go outside these boundaries, it is proper
to inform these gods first. If one's patron or other visitor comes and wants to
enter the boundaries, then it is customary in
for the yogi to leave a white
stone outside—as a sign that he has informed the four great kings and then they
will also protect the visitor.
concludes the instructions for meditating in new surroundings.
7. If one waits to
accomplish all the many preparations in the meditations of the three yanas
listed here, many lives will pass and it is not certain that one will not fall
down into the states of suffering before accomplishing any realization. On the
other hand, your instructions in this book state quite clearly that firm
foundations in all the three yanas are necessary and that one should not start
too soon upon either Vajrayana or Chan. What, therefore, is to be done?
8. How can one achieve a
state from which there can be no fall at the time of death to rebirth in the
realms of suffering? How far has one to go along the path until these unhappy
states are automatically closed so that rebirth in them is impossible (unless
9. How is it possible to
be able to choose one's rebirth and what attainments in meditation will be
necessary before this can be done? (See also Ch. XVII, B, 3.)
questions may be rather quickly dealt with together.
First, get a
quick renunciation—this means a short course in the Hinayana. Secondly, develop
the bodhi-heart quickly, thus shortening one's career in the Mahayana. Thirdly,
be reverent, gentle, and humble towards one's guru—this will compress one's
practice of the Vajrayana. This is one way of accomplishing the whole system of
practice in one lifetime.
if one wants to practice meditation and at the same time has the idea of
gaining a good birth in the next life, one should not deceive oneself. Be quite
sure what it is you are aiming to achieve and then ask for a suitable
meditation to attain that goal and resolutely practice it. If one's
renunciation is thorough and one finds a good guru—and both these conditions
must be accomplished—then one may directly take up the Mahayana or Vajrayana
renunciation is not strong enough, one cannot take instructions of the
. Though one has in
fact not renounced worldly surroundings, it is very necessary to have made a
thorough renunciation in the mind (but be warned: the latter is never easy
without the former). One must have renounced one's dependence on worldly mental
states to gain the great faith essential if one is to see Amitabha. Although
the sutra talks of a short time of practice, only ten repetitions of his name
being sufficient, still I do not emphasize this, as the conditions under which
those ten must be made are certainly exacting. If one is to gain the
both sunyata and bodhicitta are necessary realizations. However, much may be
done with the repetition of the Holy Name and this way of practice does ensure
a good rebirth.
desiring a regulated rebirth, there is the Tantric phowa technique, for which I
refer readers to our Chapter XIII, Part Two.
transcriber does indeed thank Mr. Chen for his clear and painstaking answers.
On behalf of all readers too, who may profit from his replies, he gives their
thanks. May they, by reading these good instructions and practicing the Buddhas'
teachings, come in this life to Perfect Enlightenment!
THE QUESTIONS OF BHADANTA SANGHARAKSHITA
readers with some experience in meditation, our great merciful Bhiksu
Sangharakshita had given me some problems on topics mentioned in our book, and
these I shall now discuss. I was very much encouraged to prepare answers to
them and I have done so under three classifications, which we shall deal with
one by one.
A. PROBLEMS OF PHILOSOPHY
1. Christ's Teaching is
much more than a "heaven-and-man" yana. He
claims that he is the only-begotten Son of God and that ultimate salvation can
only be gained through faith in him. How can this be a foundation for Buddhism?
Surely a Western Buddhist should reject such teaching. If not, why should he
become a Buddhist? He will remain a Christian. (See
I, B, 3.)
This is a
question of preparation and I have answered it in two parts, the first on the
principles of philosophy and the second based on circumstantial reasons.
inconceivable, the Dharmakaya, has a sacred and secret function by which it has
skillfully arranged a religion as preparation for the final liberation taught
in Buddhism. In all countries, a religion of heaven-and-man yana is found, wherein some aspects of the Truth are taught. By practice of these
religions one may gain some insight into small parts of the Truth, leading
thereby to an understanding of the complete Truth of the Dharmakaya as taught
by the Buddha. Buddhists, in fact, by knowing their own religion well, see that
the other faiths—all those in the whole universe, are not incompatible with the
Dharma but are bases upon which it may stand and grow.
remember our definition of a heaven-and-man yana. Such
a teaching tells people how to lead a good life here, so as to gain heaven in
the next birth and thus avoid the torments of hell. Our book is for the West,
and the heaven-and-man yana established there is
Christianity, so this religion is the preparation for our Dharma in those
religion has its own pride, and each one says, with varying degrees of
emphasis, that it is the only way to salvation. The question is whether these
religions are ever justified in making such statements. In the past, when
communications were difficult and slow between different parts of the world,
each religion could make its claims more or less unchallenged by the others.
Now the position is very different, and besides this, the study of comparative
religion is pursued in many places. In this way we can easily see from unbiased
studies that many of the great religions present similar features which justify
us calling them as a group, "heaven-and-man" yanas. Of course, just as
they do not agree with each other about each one's exclusive claims, so we do
not agree with them that any one of them, or all of them together, constitute
the way to salvation.
particular, Christianity's claims of exclusive salvation were originally made
in the days when it was establishing itself amidst a host of cults worshipping
idols, the forces of nature, and even offering human sacrifice and other such
practices harmful to man's spiritual growth.
instance," cited Mr. Chen, "there are still in
primitive beliefs that by killing men one gains in strength and cunning.
Against such practices, is it not correct to say that teachings such as
Christ's offer a real spiritual reward? This attitude of exclusiveness, then,
is justified in such cases, but would have no point against Buddhadharma which
in any case worships no idols and teaches positively non-harming and a noble
path of spiritual development."
confessed (as we noted in Chapter I, B, 4) that he had not taught everything.
What he kept back and what his disciples were not prepared to receive were
perhaps doctrines along the lines of Buddhism. Neither his disciples then, nor
the Christian West until recently, were spiritually mature enough to understand
and profit from the teachings of the Buddha. His disciples expected to be told
about an almighty God in the tradition of Jehovah, and Western countries up to
100 years ago were still rigidly bound to the dogmas of the Christian churches
and could not think of religion apart from such concepts as God the Father,
Jesus Christ the Savior, the Holy Ghost, the Trinity, and the "Book of
Books"—the Bible. Now horizons are wider and some people feel dissatisfied
with the limited teachings of Jesus preserved by the Christian churches.
In the light
of this, not only Buddhists, but Christians also should try to re-estimate the
value of Christ's religion (as we have suggested in Chapter VII, B).
Reassessment of values, of course, alters the status of the absolute God
considerably and shows that he is in the same position as the many powerful but
transient deities in the various heavens.
different is the position of the Dharmakaya and its relation to this small
world, one of many in a celestial group. The all-pervading Dharmakaya is not
limited by anything and this planet, for thousands of years known to Buddhist
cosmology as minute, is now confirmed by science to be a mere speck of matter.
How could there be any part of this tiny mote where the Dharmakaya is not
present? One must conclude that the Western continents are not beyond the range
of the Dharmakaya, and that this body of the true teachings has also
established there foundations for its further growth when conditions become
suitable. Such is our philosophy of the relation of Buddhadharma and the heaven-and-man
Regarding facts rather than philosophic principles, what do we find?
In the West
four kinds of persons are found:
(a) The first
among them doubts all religious teachings. He scoffs at God, Soul, Jesus as
Savior, a life after death, as well as at the smattering of ideas he may have
of other religions; having no faith, for example, in karma or in transmigration.
Some scientists and many who have received the usual secular education hold
views of this sort.
are those people who are already Christian and do not deny the truth of the
Bible, salvation by Jesus, etc., but because they have read many books on other
religions, they have some doubts about the completeness of their own faith and
feel that they might progress more in the Buddha's Teachings.
there are some young people who although they have been born in a Christian
family, have never had any deep devotion to that religion and after reading a
book or two on Buddhism, decide quite definitely that they are followers of the
there are many who know about Christianity but reject it outright. They have
the same mind of unbelief as the first type of person but have come into
contact with some books on Buddhism like the second group. They have already
thrown away such "trifling" matters as the ten
commandments, so that when they get acquainted with a little Buddhism,
they feel no attraction towards the Buddha's ethical teachings such as the Five
Precepts. Repelled from these they are drawn to other things. They like the
sound of Chan or Zen, and eagerly endorse views which say it has no doctrine of
causation, or that salvation comes naturally. They like to read Chan sayings
denying the need of precepts, or any writer who proclaims that in Buddhism
there is no soul and no belief in gods. When they read in books on the Tantra
of Great Lust and Great Pride, this seems to please them. Finally, they often
talk about there being no need of "little" preparations such as
renunciation, purification and meditation; for, after all, we are Buddhas
sort of person is well known among young people, in
especially. I have many
friends, some of whom I have met, and some encountered through correspondence, who think and talk in this way.
As there are
these four types of persons, I hope we may give them some good guidance:
(a) The first
and the third above may be grouped together. They have both left their
traditional religion and perhaps feel some animosity for it. To the first group
of persons we can say nothing except to invite them to harness their powers of
examination and criticisms in a fruitful way in Buddhism. For this they must
acquire some faith, or no good will result.
I do not mean
that either group must take the Christian teachings as a basis, though the
third group would profit spiritually if they did not adopt an attitude of
critical hostility to their old religion. Only for protection (if they live in
predominantly Christian areas), they may have some faith in Christ and his
teachings. Of course, if they live in
, protection there may be
sought from the gods of the Hindu religion. The spiritual world is similar to
the political one: if one wants protection in any country, then one abides by
its laws. Just so with religion: practicing Buddhism in the West, one seeks
some protection from the spiritual power there (the Christian God), or in
powers there. We are, kindly note, only asking these various gods to protect
our meditation, not to give us salvation, which, in the Buddhist sense, they
cannot in any case grant. By their help, even if it is only passive, demons
will not be able to come and hinder our efforts.
(b) Of the
second person, I should say he is a hopeful case. Why? Because when he was
Christian, he took all the goodness in that religions and has only come to
Buddhism because he is aware that the Bible is lacking in some respects. But we
should guide him to make a re-estimation of the Christian religions (as in
Chapter VII, B). Certainly, we cannot accept the view that Western religion (or
any one sect of it) offers the only way to salvation as it claims—this is not a
correct idea, for other religions also have merits equal to or greater than
that of Christ's.
merit of this type of person is that, having kept the ethical commandments of
Christianity, he is easily able to receive and practice the Buddha's five
precepts. Already he has some background of doing good and has belief in a happy state after death as a result of this. All we have to
do is to guide him and point out that this is a limited teaching and that the
spiritual path stretches far beyond the rather narrow limits of Christianity.
book, and such guidance, a person like this may fall into the trap of making
false comparison and equations. He may, for instance, equate God with the
Dharmakaya, or declare the salvation in all religions is the same. Without
putting obstacles in the way of interreligious peace, we should say quite
frankly that such a non-discriminating attitude is never encouraged in
Buddhism, where instead of turning a blind eye to all the differences which
exist between the various faiths, one is encouraged to mature one's wisdom through
a proper evaluation of religions.
this one! These people (the fourth group) do not believe in Buddhism at all.
They just get hold of a bit of Chan terminology, talk about "living
Zen" or practicing Zen in daily life, or again hear something of Tantric
vajra-love. They leave aside the precepts and go so far as to deny the Hinayana,
calling them "heretics" or "non-Buddhists." Such persons
are not Buddhists and they just thoroughly mistake Chan and the Tantras.
country," said the yogi, referring to the listener and transcriber,
"it is good, for Hinayana (Pali Canon and Theravada) is established."
is Hinayana, the Vinaya will be observed. This means that the other silas of
the lay-people are well kept. And the basic five precepts are, after all, for
the good of oneself and others. Such Buddhists will not treat Christians as
enemies or vehemently deny the limited truths of Christianity. It is certain
that Buddhists like this will not do as the fourth type of person: the latter
does not care to know, but the former will have thoroughly investigated and
practiced the preparations necessary prior to taking up Vajrayana or Chan.
Then the listener
offered an evaluation of the various heaven-and-man yanas to Mr. Chen. He said,
"Of all these, Confucianism is perhaps best the
basis for Buddhism and Buddhists may accept 95% of its teachings. Notably,
animal sacrifice is the only thing we must reject as against the teachings of
the Buddha. The emphasis on ethical conduct in this life and the lack of
speculation about after-death states are both admirable. Next best among the
great religions to act as foundation for Buddhism is Hinduism. Perhaps 50% of
its teachings may be acceptable to Buddhists and some of its ideas such as
reincarnation and its doctrine of karma, have something in common with Buddhist
teachings, though the latter are still in many ways different, being much
clearer and more precise. Coming to Christianity regarded as a basis, only 25%
of its doctrines could be acclaimed as even approximating to useful truth. So
many doctrines have been developed by the Church which are quite opposed to
Buddhist principles, and overlie, indeed obscure, some of the original
teachings of Jesus which Buddhists can endorse—such as the good Sermon on the
Mount. If we consider the case of Islam, almost everything there would be
rejected by Buddhists—it would perhaps be the poorest basis for Buddhist
growth." (The writer thought that perhaps the one common point might be
the emphasis on giving in both these religions. Almsgiving, one of the duties
of a good Muslim, is also stressed as the beginning of the way in Buddhadharma,
as an easy spiritual means to open the heart, as in the triad preached to lay-people
in Buddhist countries: dana, sila, samadhi (in the
sense of dhyana).)
2. Could you elaborate
further upon the difference between the true or great self of Buddhism and the
higher self of Hinduism? After the former has passed through the fires of sunyata,
in what sense is there a self at all? (See
X, Part Two, C.)
This is a
very important question and has perplexed many in the West who have continually
mixed these up. In my long book "Discriminations between Buddhist and
Hindu Tantras" I have been particularly concerned to bring out the main
differences which result from a fair comparison. We should elaborate upon this
matter so that readers may clearly distinguish these two. Even educated readers
clear regarding this, not to speak of the confusion existing in the minds of
some Westerners, especially those with Theosophical ideas. Our reasons for the
difference between these two concepts are:
"higher self" of Hinduism has never passed through the stage of
sublimation by sunyata, whereas the question of Self,
self, etc., is many times dealt with in Buddhism at different levels of
practice. First there is the purification effected by the Hinayana meditations
on gross ideas of "I" and "Mine": these two are not allowed
as truth in this vehicle. The Vinaya practiced by the bhiksus of all Buddhist
schools contains some silas specially directed at the destruction of self-centered
ideas, while the sutras taught in the Hinayana are full of injunctions aimed at
the destruction of the self. Such are the teachings of non-self in the skandhas
or the uprooting of pride-in-self by analysis into the elements.
Buddhist schools, there are many treatises (sastras), the contents of which are
all directed at the destruction of self. For instance, groups of self-views are
frequently given and refuted, not merely as wrong theories, but as basically
wrong ideas leading on to wrong practice. In Mahayana, not only are the
personal components declared to be without self but the dharmas are shown as
void, sunyata in their nature, thus destroying the idea of self in relation to
one's surroundings. To make perfectly clear the non-self of dharmas, there are
so many lists of different conditions of sunyata, from two aspects of sunyata
up to eighteen different kinds.
by analysis in the Hinayana and sunyata sublimation in the Mahayana hit at one
point, at only one point—to destroy the self.
It is true
that in Hinduism, the lower self is said to be a bad thing, but no theory
appears to exist to destroy it and the various philosophies of Hinduism are not
fundamental in this respect. Why? Because they still carry a "high"
or "pure" self on their backs and make no attempt to root out the
self idea completely. It is a well-known law of psychology that from the
concept of self held in the mind derive ideas, emotions, and subsequent
actions. Even though Hindu doctrine distinguishes such concepts as "high
self" and "low self," fundamentally the self-idea still remains.
"High" and "low" are just adjectives, relative terms, and
as such are only suitable for describing varying degrees of height. The self is
still there, whether you call it by this or that name.
Buddha has taught (and we must emphasize again) that no self can be found in
persons, and no self in dharmas either; so how can people, unless they are
badly deluded, compare the two religions and loudly bray that Buddhism and
Hinduism are the same? Particularly in respect of the "great self"
occasionally mentioned in the former and the "higher self" of the
latter, we, by an account of these processes, understand that these words mean
quite different things.
b. The Buddha
has only mentioned the "great self" in his teachings in the Mahaparinirvana
Sutra (a Sanskrit work, not the Pali sutra of the same name). At that time he
was about to disappear from this world, and many of the disciples gathered
about him were weeping bitterly. In their minds, he was about to pass away into
nirvana, which they took to be space, nothingness; the Buddha as they knew him
would, they thought, be gone, finished. Thus the Enlightened One preached,
assuring them on the true nature of things, and to correct their bias in
thinking of nirvana as annihilation, he preached the mark of great self.
completely destroys the twofold self idea and gains the realization of the
Dharmakaya. Really one gives a false name to that experience of truth or
reality. How is this? Whatever one calls this realization it is a false name,
since by the nature of our language and our minds which govern its use, all
names are false. There is not a single name for reality, not a single one is
true. Even anuttara-samyak-sambodhi (the Unexcelled Perfect Enlightenment of a
Buddha) is a false name. Of course, the name "great self" is not
excluded from this. It is just a mundane term attempting to describe something
of spiritual truth.
description, great self, is in the position of consequence and is never used in
the positions of cause or course. It is very important to understand this. In
the yanas of cause and course, it is said that there is no self and one always
trains to destroy self-ideas and to realize this.
there are self-ideas of varying subtlety in all three positions. For instance,
in the cause position there are the individual souls (the higher self), in
course one practiced yoga to unite with Brahman, while Brahman is in the
position of consequence and towards this end all efforts are made with the higher
one never practices with the "great self'; one never seeks it, though it
may be used as a relative name for nirvana, as the Buddha skilfully used it.
(Readers should see our definitions of nirvana in Chapter V, C, 6; after which
they will understand that Hinduism has no such ideas and that it is improper to
compare the "higher self" with nirvana.)
c. As we have
said, "great self" is used in the sense of Dharmakaya but there is no
doctrine of Dharmakaya in Hinduism. There is certainly the theory of an all-pervading
self (sutratma) but this is allied with ideas on the creation
of the universe. (First Brahman created the universe and then he entered into
it.) Buddhadharma never teaches that Gautama Buddha was responsible for such
creation—all Buddhists would laugh at this idea! Yet many make mistakes even on
this point. Our Dharmakaya is based on the no base of sunyata, but their
"higher self" is rooted in the theory of the god Brahman. We do not
allow any creator, so there is a great difference here.
conclusion, we may say that for the propagation of Buddhism, including Mahayana
doctrines, the term "great self," even in the sense of sunyata,
should not be used very much, for it results in too much confusion arising in
students' minds. Because of this, in my works I have never used this term; and
it is not frequent in Buddhist canonical scriptures, being found only in the Sutra
of the Great Passing Away. When we are Enlightened (that is, in the position of
consequence), we shall know thoroughly the meaning of "great" self as one of the
four virtues of nirvana (the others are permanence, happiness, and purity)—until
then, we need not worry ourselves over this matter.
Of course, if
one engages in debate with a Hindu, he may talk about many things which sound
similar to the Dharmakaya. Then one must ask him: "Through what processes
have you progressed to destroy the self—which is certainly necessary before one
can come to the experience of the Dharmakaya? We can show such stages in
Buddhism. Have you effective methods equivalent to them? Please show me your
doctrine to accomplish this."
always hold to doctrines of a "high self" and such concepts, and
never allow the no-self teachings of the Buddha, they will be puzzled to answer
such a challenge.
3. How should
one deal with people who claim: "No need to practice, already Enlightened"? It may be very difficult
to convince them! (See Ch. IV, A.)
This we must
carefully explain. What they say is according to Chan doctrine and we cannot
say that they are wrong. But they have not recognized the three positions.
Their statement is from the position of consequence but made in the position of
cause. It is quite correct for Enlightened ones to
speak like this, but worldlings who have no renunciation, purification, or
sublimation in sunyata—and certainly, therefore, no functions of Buddhahood—cannot
speak in this way.
(claiming, as they do, Full Enlightenment), should be questioned thus:
"Where is your all-knowing wisdom, your great compassion, the eighteen
special dharmas of a Buddha (avenika-dharmas), your thirty-two marks of a great
person, or the eighty minor characteristics? Where are your functions of
salvation? Come, show these to me!"
tongues of those adhering to such "Mouth Chan" are very sharp. They
might say, quite unruffled: "Oh! my supernormal
powers? To chop wood and bring water!" Then some other questions are
needed; "Why are the powers limited to this? Where are your six abhijna
(higher powers)? The Buddha Gautama possessed these; is he worse than
Mr. Chen, smiling
throughout this imaginary debate, now laughed heartily and said, "They may
answer: 'To make water and to pass stool—these are supernormal powers!' One
should say to this: 'Even the Buddha's stool had a sweet smell; how is it that
yours stinks? '"
All those who
want to understand even a little of Chan must know our three C's. With these in
mind, one should honestly examine oneself to find out where one is now. Am I
really a religious person or do I just deceive myself?
Bhante here interjected,
"'Mouth Chan' would say that to distinguish 'religious' from 'not
religious' is to 'stink' of Zen." Mr. Chen, again laughing, agreed,
"Yes, such persons may deceive themselves with such Gong An as 'Even to speak the word "Buddha" is to utter
a bad word.' But they must examine themselves very carefully."
If one really
has faith in Chan, one should believe the gurus who have said: "To say
that one has realization without having it will result in long and painful
existence in the tongue-cutting hell." Again, those interested in
practicing Chan will read the biographies of the great Chan Masters and take
good note of their ardent practice of the Hinayana, how thorough was their
renunciation, how patient they were to destroy the gross poisons, how upright
was their observance of the silas, how modestly they hid their supernormal
powers, how humble were even the greatest of them, how long they meditated,
unshaken by desires for "quick results." If you have such a
character, then you are their equal; if not, you are a worldling, a "Mouth
Chanist." If, on the other hand, you have already attained Enlightenment
and have supernormal powers, we worship you; indeed, we hope that you are what
you claim to be. Sincerely, we have no envy for you but only ask you to be
faithful to your claims!
During these last few
sentences, Mr. Chen was smiling ever so slightly, quite sincere but a little
mischievously. He went on:
there is a correspondence with the fifth poison, that of doubt. The common
poison of doubt relates to worldly matters, while the Great Doubt cultivated in
practice with a Hua Tou only concerns the truth itself and does not concern
anything else. From Great Doubt upon the truth, one gains some realization (see
Ch. XV). Thus we have a connection here with another question:
4. What is
the significance of Great Pride, Great Lust, etc.? Have these been explained in the Vajrayana
chapters as promised? (See
X, Part Two, E.)
already given the meaning of one of these characteristics of Buddhahood, we
should now define the other four. But first, what is the sense of this
connection of the word "Great"?
faith in the Tantra must be great and so must be the will to gain
Enlightenment. One has great faith in the Tantric methods of transmuting the
five poisons in this very life, while one's great vow to save all beings
ultimately as a Buddha is the Great Will. Because of these two, we speak of
poisons have passed through the purification of Hinayana doctrine and so are no
longer human poisons, not small and limited, but "Great."
c. Because of
sublimation in sunyata, the poisons have become "Great." While the
latter are in the consequence position, still they have some affinity with
d. One who
practices these doctrines has passed through sublimation by sunyata and
transmuted the condition of sunyata into bodhicitta. Such a yogi wishes to
increase his power to save others, and as his bodhicitta becomes great, thus
connecting him with the wisdom-heart of others, so these Poisons have in him
also become "Great."
methods of the Vajrayana are in the position of consequence of Buddhahood and
are therefore Great Methods; so the poisons are "Great."
above all refer to our philosophy; now we should talk about the poisons
separately and from the point of view of practice.
1. Great Lust
a. Why is it
so called? The pleasure arising from the identification of the four blisses and
the four voidnesses is sixteenfold, compared with that of ordinary sexual
intercourse, so this is proof that it is "Great."
b. All Great
Lust is well-accompanied by the four sunyatas, so it is "Great." Such
things are never heard of in human love.
c. The merit
of realization through the identification of these two groups of four is the
Full Enlightenment of Buddhahood, so the result is "Great." When the
pleasure passes from one wheel (cakra) to another in the body, great merits
d. To have
the company of a dakini is to be with a great and holy person, quite different
from a human wife, and so we say "Great Lust."
In the sense
of tummo, one has a great will to burn all sins through straightening and
clearing the median channel. It is said that where human anger exists this channel
is never untangled with the "demon channel" and that men who commit
many sins have their median channels tied up with sorrow. A straight mind is
our temple or mandala and untwists our channels, but a crooked mind tangles
Anger is for destroying sins and for vanquishing demons, quite opposite to
human anger, which only creates sins. The latter is like a fire which burns
down a forest of merits, while Great Anger destroys only demerits. Why are some
Buddhas shown in a wrathful manner? This is the Great Anger of Buddhahood
destroying the demons who persecute sentient beings—such
as those of ignorance (avidya) and self (atman), thus making salvation
It seems that
sentient beings fall into the round of rebirth by the strength of avidya—they
are weak in Buddhahood and never wish to have the nature of a Buddha; they just
stick to their old, defiled self. But the highest doctrine has been pointed
out: You are a BUDDHA! Few people are really prepared for such teaching. There
was the case of old Vairocana, the Translator, at whom Padmasambhava pointed
his finger as they met for the first time. Vairocana instantly understood, or,
as is said, attained Full Enlightenment. But such men are as rare as their
cases are truly amazing. In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha announced that he will
predict the Buddhahood of even those persons whose sins are very great. Five
hundred Arhats [Note: In the Sutra it is stated that five thousand bhiksus,
bhiksunis, upasakas and upasikas], because they had no such faith in the Buddha
nature, walked out of the assembly. People like this lack the Pride of Buddhahood,
but we must emphasize that Buddha-nature is possessed by everyone and that by
the methods of the Vajrayana, this may be recovered. It is people who are not
holy enough to hold to such a name. The stress in Vajrayana is that one should
have the mind of a Buddha, the will of a Buddha. All one's actions should be
like those of a Buddha, and one should keep this Pride of Buddhahood—but not,
of course, hold to pride in worldly things. One should have the Great Pride of
the Buddha's character of Great Purity, Great Wisdom, and Great Compassion.
This is an excellent part of the Buddha's teachings: he encourages you to
become a Buddha like himself. The founders of other religions have not said
that you should become the equal of themselves or of this or that god whom they
worship. Nor indeed have these gods encouraged their followers to gain a
position equal to their own, but the Buddha constantly urges us to become
Buddhas. If we always hold to this excellent Pride, it will result for us in
much happiness. Suppose we meet an enemy and we keep the Pride of Buddhahood, our attitude is naturally to want to save him and not to have hatred for him.
So all this is very good.
ignorance means that one is stupid or dull. However stupid such a person may
be, he still has some worldly wisdom of discrimination while he is awake. But
in sleep, the brain stops much of its functioning and this is a condition of
extreme ignorance. In the Vajrayana, there is a method to practice even during
sleep, and so gain the light of the Dharmakaya. The degree of ignorance at that
time is very high but is transmuted into the Great Light of the Dharmakaya, and
for this reason we speak of Great Ignorance.
There are ten
occasions when this light may be experienced—such as in deep samatha,
drunkenness, swoon, death, and when one has attained the third bliss (the bliss
of no bliss). All these are states of Great Ignorance. However, unless one has
the necessary initiations and has practiced well, one will not be able to keep
this Dharmakaya light. My friend, who was in extreme pain, had to have an
emergency operation in the course of which he passed out and experienced a
great and brilliant blue light. Not having practiced these meditations, it
appeared and quickly vanished without his being able to utilize it.
concluded: Is the Dharmakaya not great? Is there anything greater than the
5. Could you explain in
greater detail the "causation by the six elements" in the Vajrayana?
How, precisely, does it differ from the causation theories of the other two yanas?
(See Ch. XII, B, 3.)
To see how
the six elements in the Vajrayana differ from the way they are treated in the
other two yanas, it is best to review their position in all three vehicles.
a. In the Hinayana,
six elements are mentioned but always with atoms remaining. What is said there
about non-self in the body is quite right, but the Hinayana never takes
advantage of the six elements, merely classifying urine as belonging to the
liquid element, or this and that organ to the earth one. The elements are only
treated in relation to analyses, such as: for analysis of the
"person" into the five skandhas, for impermanence meditation, for
diseases caused by imbalance of four out of the six elements, the first two of
the Four Noble Truths (suffering and the arising of suffering), for the fourth
(mind and form) and the fifth (the six sense-bases) links of conditioned co-production,
or for the analysis into the twelve ayatanas (six sense-bases plus their sense-objects);
but all these are only thought about for the purpose of analysis. No Hinayana
doctrine really takes the opportunity to utilize the four great elements.
b. In Mahayana,
there are two great schools:
Idealists (Vijnanavada), who do not allow any elements outside the mind, for
all phenomena are, they say, consciousness.
Middle Way followers (Madhyamika) who do not say that all the elements are
consciousness. In their philosophy of bhutatathata they seem to include all the
elements, though again, they do not take advantage of them.
Idealist school lays more stress on consciousness, the
emphasizes suchness, and both
seem to be monistic systems.
c. The Vajrayana
philosophy of six element causation, however, is neither monism nor dualism.
Here we are not only concerned with consciousness or suchness, but with the
whole of the six elements, of which, we should note, all the first five are
material, and only the last one is mental. This is the anuttarayoga of Vajrayana:
energy (materiality) and mind are identified and no difference can be seen
between them. In the lower Tantra in the yoga of the six elements, they are not
regarded separately but as six-in-one and one-in-six. In the yogatantra
practice there are the dual pagodas of the person and of the reflection
(surroundings), and these symbols of the Dharmakaya utilize directly the five
material elements and have many correspondences with the sixth one—consciousness
(see Ch. XII, E).
nor matter is stressed as more important than the other. Both the universe and
persons have been gathered from these six elements, and because of this, they
are equal to causation and also to sunyata. Neither the first five are the main
cause, nor the last one—this is a system of interrelated causation.
practice with the first five material elements, in Vajrayana these have
correspondence with the five wisdoms and one never finds the one without the
other. Because the five elements have been sublimated in Mahayana
sunyata meditations, so one may come to the Vajrayana and there meet some
methods in the position of consequence allowing one to take advantage of them.
elements also have two powers, positive and negative, male and female, and by
using the appropriate methods it is easy to convert the physical body into one
composed of holy light. We say in Chinese, "Guang Ming", (Guang:
fire, light—this is elemental; and Ming: clarity, wisdom—this mental), but in
English it is difficult to get a combination to give this meaning.
It is as
though the word "Enlightenment" could be split up to give this
meaning "en" (elements) and "light" (wisdom).
meditations using deep breathing and vajra-love, all the elements are very
skillfully employed, so that one may come quickly to Full Enlightenment.
6. Have the various
meanings of "Xin" been settled according to context, as promised? (See
Ch. III, A, 1.)
I am very
sorry; our talks have swept down the main lines of our system, the longitudes
of our three-yanas-in-one, laying more stress on these, while the latitudes of
individual meditations and information about them have been rather less
complete than I should have liked them to be.
still some matters not treated fully, and particularly in Chapter III. As the
talking is by me and the writing by you, all the latitudes are not so well
mapped. We should, then, further explain "Xin" as a supplement to
what we have already said. Apart from the worldly meanings given in Chapter
III, its definitions for meditation are as follows:
minds are dominated by the sorrows—and by the Hinayana meditations one may
speak of wanting to cure the "Xin" of sorrow.
(2) In the
five meditations of the Idealist school, the eighth consciousness is also
called the king of consciousness—another meaning of "Xin."
concentrated mind in samatha—though this meaning is not given in the Chinese
meditative mind, not taught in Confucianism, of samatha-samapatti.
(5) The mind
(6) The mind
The last two
are not the same as mind in the
, for even though
they do not emphasize the five elements, still they are included. These
meanings do not have the sense of consciousness-only for the tathagatagarbha
includes the material elements. Such meanings as essence, truth and center are
found in Mahamudra and Great Perfection. The mentality-materiality of the six
elements is the essence of truth.
interesting to note here that the two main schools of the Mahayana approach sunyata
in different ways. In the Vijnanavada, the elements are only indirectly seen as
sunyata since they are said by the Idealist to exist by being dependent on
: element (as the form
part of consciousness)—consciousness—sunyata. The position is different in Madhyamika
where both elements and consciousness are directly seen to be sunyata:
itself carries so many meanings, one should read the sutras carefully to
determine precisely what is meant.
a "Xin" of "Xin" occurs in the Great Perfection, meaning a
heart in the heart, an essence of the essence, or, we may say, an excellent
This is a term of the Great Perfection (see Ch. XIV, B) and it needs a little
explanation to understand it. "Boys" refers to non-death;
"bottle" is the flask of nectar held by Amitayus and so signifies
long life; while "heart" here also means essence or place in the
heart. The essence of channels, of energy, and of the secret
drops are all gathered in the heart-wheel.
naturally pure mind, also found in Great Perfection, has the meaning of essence
of truth as naturally pure, apart from "mind" or "heart."
Buddha himself said, "I have a mystic nirvanic mind and this has been
transmitted to Mahakasyapa." This is the first and well-known story of Chan
and the meaning is again "essence", not heart or mind.
Thus all our
definitions of "Xin" with regard to meditation are finished.
B. PROBLEMS OF TRADITION
1. Do you regard Acarya
Nagarjuna and Siddha Nagarjuna as one and the same person? (See Ch. VI, B.)
are different translations of the name Nagarjuna, one being "Dragon-trees"
and the other "Dragon-fierce." Although there are these two
translations, we cannot say that there are different persons. In
persons are not distinguished.
opinion, even though there were two persons, by their thought they might be
made one. Though the records do seem to be of different persons living many
years apart, still Nagarjuna by tradition lived a very long time. (Western
scholarship usually distinguishes Nagarjuna the philosopher living about
.E. and the Siddha Nagarjuna living
about 700-800 years later.) Also Nagarjuna is recorded as having passed away in
the moon samadhi which is the symbol of sunyata in Mahayana and of the
bodhicitta in Vajrayana. It is also well-known that the first Nagarjuna taught
Mahayana sunyata philosophy while the second instructed in the lower Tantras.
So we see that the teachings of these two are not opposed but are a progressive
course of training. In fact, when we review the philosophy, realization and
long life, they seem to belong to one and not to two people, for the scholar and
the practical meditator are complementary.
reason we might give is that Nagarjuna went to the Palace of the Dragons and
got the Avatamsaka Sutra, a canon which is called esoteric-in-exoteric work. We
see here the actual marriage of outer and hidden doctrines within a single sutra
connected with Nagarjuna's name. It is therefore difficult to say that
different Nagarjunas founded the Madhyamika and Vajrayana schools.
judge in this matter according to knowledge and doctrine rather than by birth,
etc. If we rely only on archaeology to solve this question, then it is a
problem concerning history but not religion.
Did not the
Buddha give the example of a man wounded by an arrow? A wise man when wounded
does not ask whether it came from the East or from the West, or what sort of
arrow it is, he only wants to get rid of it. The thing is first to get the
arrow out, the arrow of all our troubles.
If there is
some difference in this matter—let it be, I cannot decide.
2. What are the
interrelations between the four initiations and the four yogas? Are the four
initiations practiced separately for the Maha-, Anu- and Ati-yogas?
four initiations in anuttarayoga but not in the other three lower yogas. The
latter, practiced in the
tradition, have initiations similar to the five small initiations given in the
first initiation of anuttarayoga. The difference is that the former are
concerned with the five Buddhas in the peaceful dhyana mudra whereas the latter
have different subjects (holy water, vajra, crown, bell, and name). The former
never have Buddhas in heruka-form.
has also the
tradition of initiations in the lower-three yogas and there is no need to get
the four initiations of anuttarayoga, there is a distribution of practices.
After one has already received all the four initiations, one may practice on
three levels, keeping the same yidam but with the different methods taught in
mahayoga (in the first initiation), anuyoga (covering the second and third
initiations), and Atiyoga (practiced in the fourth initiation). The differences
are not explained here since they are not meaningful unless one has practiced
to that level.
3. Do you know,
personally, any cases of yogis who have practiced the Anuttarayoga meditations,
leaving no physical body behind them at the time of death? (See
Ch. XII, H.)
I have never
seen any myself but I have heard of them from my guru and read of cases in
biographies. After all, we have not seen Gautama Buddha but we believe that he
lived on this earth.
What I have
seen is the body of Orgyan Yeshe, a Nyingmapa lama. After death, his body
retracted into a compact mass about one foot in diameter which could easily be
held by a disciple in one hand. He was a lama of a sort not easy to find. I
cannot say that he was very learned, and certainly very few people knew him or
remember him now except in that part of Kham where he lived. If someone brought
him tsampa (roasted barley flour), butter or cloth, or anything else, he would
immediately divide it and give to his disciples. He never kept anything until
the next day.
(Bhante said regarding
this, "That is said in the Pali Canon to be the mark of an arhat.) If
anyone offered food, or anything, on the next day, he and his disciples would
take it, but if nothing was given, they would not be troubled by having
high attainments of Nyingmapas in ancient times—rarely seen, also today—there
was in quite recent times my guru's teacher. He instructed his servant:
"You should not open my door!" For seven days he intended to sit in
the torga so that his body might all be transmuted into the light. However, by
the sixth day the curiosity of that attendant became too strong and he opened
the door. His teacher's body instantly shrank into the ball we described above.
Nyingmapa is said to have closed his door in the same way and when it was
opened at the end of the seventh day, only hair and nails remained.
"Why do hairs and
nails remain?" asked the transcriber.
Mr. Chen explained:
In hair and
nails there are no channels which may be turned into wisdom-channels. They are
dead matter and so more difficult to transmute into light.
to the Patriarch of Koya whose body still remains
intact, having to be shaved every month. If a yogi meditates in seclusion and
has a really high attainment, then hair will not even grow on his living body
not to speak of still sprouting from a dead one! The great sramana Kasyapa is
still meditating in a cave near Rajagriha, so should we suppose that a barber
comes regularly to cut his hair? The same applies to another famous monk,
Bhavaviveka. He rejected Dharmapala's philosophy and, learning some Tantric
ritual, met Guan Yin. He was very doubtful about his attainment but the great
bodhisattva assured him that he had the highest one possible. Still doubtful in
spite of this, he was told by Guan Yin: "You may go. I give you this
mantra. With it fly to the heavens and put your problems before Maitreya."
"No, No!" he said, "I shall settle all my problems here."
So he is still meditating but it is doubtful whether he was to worry about
To make this matter
clear, Mr. Chen said:
There can be
neither physical nor mental remains unless clinging (upadana) persists. Not
more than a thousand years ago, Marpa, at his end, transmuted his body into
light. He had nine yogic consorts and these, one by one, were absorbed into the
light of his body. Biographies giving facts are very reliable; they are not,
you know, novels. All these facts were well kept in memory by the disciples of
the various Tantric gurus in
, and soon
written down. They are not matters we may seriously doubt.
4. What is meant by
saying that the lower tantras are "derived from the two great sutras"?
(See Ch. XIII, Part One, C.)
As we have
already said, Nagarjuna opened the
and took out these
two sutras. Some say that the
is a symbol of his
Dharmakaya. Usually we speak of two main sutras, the Mahavairocana Sutra (from
which comes the garbhadhatu mandala) and the Vajrasekhara Sutra (which is the
basis of the vajradhatu mandala). The rituals and practice associated with
these two mandalas may be thought of as developments of the sutras themselves.
However, the latter are the philosophical foundations for the yoga we have
described as belonging to the
Some sutras are connected with other Tantras but none contain doctrines higher
than these two.
The listener mentioned
that there were Prajnaparamita Tantric sutras in which she is described as the
mother of all the Buddhas.
other Vajrayana sutras which basically describe each yidam and are included in
the Kangyur (Tibetan Tripitaka). These were preached by the Buddha's Sambhogakaya
in the Ogmin (Akanistha) Heaven. They have either been found in various parts
of the earth (in
) or they
have fallen down from the heavens—none of them were actually preached in this
world. The Yellow Sect only allowed that the translations from Sanskrit are
genuine, disbelieving in these found in the earth of
Bhante noted that recently
many Nyingmapa Tantras, previously thought to be Tibetan
"Discoveries" had been found in Sanskrit manuscripts in
continued our yogi:
We should distinguish
two traditions. The "distant" tradition may be defined in two ways:
either as coming down from a school's first patriarch and then being passed
from guru to guru, or the tradition from the Buddha up to the time of Padmasambhava—these
are called "distant" traditions. The "near" tradition comes
either from some patriarch's meditation, or from those
sages after the time of Padmasambhava who were inspired by him. If I give you
some mantra or mudra which has appeared in the light of my meditation, then
this is the "near" tradition from me.
5. For the practice of the six element meditation, must one get the appropriate abhiseka
or will the corresponding Tibetan wang (i.e., of yogatantra) suffice? (See Ch.
meditations, mantras and mudras of the third yoga are available from
is no need to ask the Japanese for them. But we should remember that more
stress is laid on this yoga in
it is neglected. If one can find a learned guru in the Tibetan tradition who
has read the Tripitaka, he will know these sutras and the meditation-rituals
deriving from them, and will certainly be able to impart their tradition to
you. On the other hand, it will be easy to get it from
detailed instructions, and if one is a Chinese, there is the possibility of
getting these practices from either tradition.
There was one
Tibetan guru, Palpung Khyentse Rinpoche (1890-1946), who emphasized the
importance of the Japanese yogatantra practices very much. He established a
hermitage for their practice and asked monks to carry them out for the good of
all dead persons. They are easily saved with the power of the third yoga by the
Buddha Vairocana and for this purpose are given a confession of sins and a
ritual for the dead.
C. PROBLEMS OF PRACTICE
1. As to formulating
one's own vows: should these refer to one's spiritual practices here and now,
or to what one will do after gaining Buddhahood, or both? (See
V, C, 3, a.)
A vow is certainly
a dharma in the Position of Cause, because in every person, vows will come
first and conduct follows after, so vows are neither in the Position of Course
nor of Consequence. The being who was to become the Buddha Amitabha was, ages
before, a bhiksu called Fa Zang (Dharmakara). He was very learned and in the
presence of his guru he made forty-eight vows. From the merit of observing
these, when he gained full Enlightenment he established his
(Sukhavati) for the good of so many sentient beings. The Buddha Gautama, before
his Enlightenment, made four great vows during the time when he was a tenth
stage bodhisattva, and this was in the Position of Course.
These are as
a. May I
release beings from the bonds of birth, old age, disease, and death, thus
coming into the world to rescue them from lust.
b. May I
develop the eyes of wisdom and so be able to see every dharma, both inward and
outward, as equal, and so to save all the sentient beings from hatred.
c. May I
become able to teach sentient beings so that they abandon self-pride and false
views and all come to Complete Enlightenment.
d. May I
discourse to the five kinds of sentient beings (gods, men, hungry ghosts,
animals, and hell-beings), thereby cutting off for them the current of repeated
birth by freeing them from ignorance.
Manjusri, and Bhaisajyaguru all made vows when they were in the Position of Cause.
Further, there is a sutra, the Karuna Pundarika, in which many vows are gathered,
so our readers may first consult this and then get some ideas of suitable
subjects for the formation of vows. Nagarjuna has also made his ten vows in
Middle Way Sastra (Mulamadhyamaka-shastra). These I have read and appreciate
boundless minds are included in every ritual and are a kind of vow; they are:
sentient beings gain happiness with its causes,
from all grief with its causes,
parted from the happiness wherein no grief is,
And dwell in
the condition of Equanimity.
these, there are the five common vows which are very important:
sentient beings are countless, we vow to save them.
sorrows are endless, we vow to cut them off.
are numberless, we vow to learn them all.
is boundless, we vow to traverse it.
Buddhas are infinite in number, we vow to worship them all.
last one is not given and they are then called the "Four Vows." They
are also known as the "Bodhicitta Vows" (mentioned in App. III, A, 3,
and App, III, E. Conclusion).
It is not
enough to want to save every person in one's own time, age, world, family, etc.
If one truly wants to be a bodhisattva, one's own vows should be developed to
save all, regardless of time and space. One should not always merely follow the
Why do you
think that the Pure Lands of so many Buddhas are different? It is because of
the difference in their vows, since the lands they bring into existence are in
accordance with these vows. As the vows of the bodhisattvas of the past are not
enough for a meditator's own practice, thus it is necessary, once one's own are
established, to aid fellow-yogis in formulating their own.
Vows apply to
(As the listener said:
"May I give so many robes to bhiksus; may I build so many monasteries; may
I support so many meditators; etc.")
or to future
lives. As you are aiming at Full Enlightenment, vows should not be limited to
this life when a meditator may or may not gain Buddhahood. Precisely what one
is aiming at is this: from this human body to become a Buddha. This is most
important and should never be forgotten. The function of this attainment is the
production of a
. One may vow that it
should occur in the far distant future or not, just as one wishes. It may or
may not be in this life, though the Vajrayana says that attainment is always in
this life. (Which other one could it be in?)
from the point of view of the three yanas: One should vow to get rid of all
sorrow—this is in the Hinayana spirit; and one should vow to help all others—this
is a Mahayana vow. Such vows as these must accord with the
different yana's doctrines; for instance, it would be
un-Buddhist to vow to become a creator God! Thirdly, we must know the functions
of Buddhahood and make vows to produce things which we wish to have in our
though these must agree with the principles of Vajrayana. Suppose that one
wishes: May there be no females in my
This is not according to Vajrayana practice, though even Amitabha's Sukhavati
is like this. This is because Sukhavati is produced by the merits of the Nirmanakaya
who is always shown in a monk's robes. The Sambhogakaya Amitabha has a Land
where in splendour he is attended by sixty-four sisters and on this account is
based the "sister samadhi" practiced in
. It is not good to make vows
excluding women from one's
. To worship the
numberless Buddhas, as one has vowed to do, one might set out from Sukhavati
and come to Lands where there were many females—then how would one control the
mind if it could not be done in the seclusion of Sukhavati!
I have made
nine no-death vows, and this idea is not permissible in the exoteric yanas,
being contrary to the teachings of impermanence there. With these vows I aim to
get in this life a wisdom-light body in which to accomplish numberless Bodhi-karmas.
Whenever it is obtained it will, of course, be in this
Now I want to
introduce my Ten Fundamental Vows to readers:
(1) May I
abide in the highest mystic Buddha stage to reward with gratitude the four
benefactors (the guru, the Buddha, parents, and one's patrons—sometimes the
last one is all sentient beings).
(2) May I
abide in the non-self nature of Dharma to save all the beings in the three evil
realms of existence (of hell-beings, animals, and ghosts).
(3) May I
gather the victorious and perfect light of the Dharmakaya and thereby attain a body of
light like a rainbow.
(4) May I,
from life to life, accumulate the voice of dharani of anuttarayoga.
(5) May I,
from life to life, accumulate the highest will of Buddhahood.
(6) May I, with my meditative wisdom-light, lure all the demons and
non-Buddhists into the Dharma-gate.
persons who have no connecting conditions, either good or bad, with past
Buddhas—may I establish good connections with them as they are the most
difficult to save, and through their connection with me, may I save them. (This
is a very special vow.)
(8) May I
inherit the merits of the past Buddhas and may this force enable me to discover
the Dharmakaya of sentient beings.
(9) May I
establish on my ground of wisdom the right Dharma, accumulating the merits and
abilities of Buddhahood for universal salvation.
(10) May I,
in this lifetime, gather all the realizations of the Vajrayana to have enough
experience to teach all followers.
were made at the age of twenty-five. When I made them, I recited them one by one
in front of Wei Tuo and then worshipped him, asking him to protect my vows. I
was very much inspired by him at this time. Afterwards, I worshipped the Buddha
and asked him to witness my aspiration. As there is a statue of the guardian
god Wei Tuo in every Chinese temple, so in each one I have asked him for his
My guru, Nuo
Na Rinpoche, went to
and was impressed by
the favorable aspect of the place. He saw there eight small mountains like
lions, and so instructed that, after his death, his ashes should be brought to
that place and a pagoda built there to enshrine them. After a few years he died
and Gangkar Rinpoche duly brought the remains and established the pagoda. At
this time I had just written out my vows on blue silk with a special red
medicine-ink. As my guru's heart remained unburned, a silk pocket was made for
it and the heart together with my vows were placed inside and these relics were
then enshrined in the center of the pagoda. What a fortunate circumstance that
these vows might be preserved with my guru's holy remains! Shortly after this,
the Japanese Army came, destroying many things. Many small stupas suffered from
their pillaging, but this great pagoda still remained intact. After that, the
Communists arrived, but even they, though destroying many Buddhist monuments
and temples, have left my guru's reliquary alone.
I am indeed
sorry that my vows are still so far from realization. I have made no progress
and so also, I have not repaid the kindness of all my gurus.
Every man has
his own special ideas regarding vows. My special vows are numbers six and
seven. When I read that the Buddhas cannot save those who have no connecting
conditions with them, I cried out in sorrow. I thought then: "I must make
a vow about this." So many Buddhas have passed and yet they have not been
able to save so many unfortunate beings who are
without even an evil connecting condition. Even with such a bad condition,
people may be saved. There was, for instance, the officer who persecuted Padmasambhava.
When that officer died, he was reborn in one of the hells. But because he had
established some connection, when Yeshe Tsogyal, Padmasambhava's consort, found
out that he was in hell she was able to rescue the unfortunate officer and effect his salvation. A good condition is good, but a bad
connecting condition is better than none. An aspiration to save those with no connecting
condition is not to be seen among the ancient vows. Certainly there are many
things to do as a bodhisattva, but this particularly is my great work.
always be remembered and never forgotten. If one forgets them, they cease to be
Mr. Chen then told the
listener and transcriber: "You have read many books and have a good
foundation of Buddhist knowledge, so you can make some vows. You practice
Buddhadharma as well, so you, too, must formulate some. Most people cannot make
them as they lack the necessary knowledge and neophytes easily make the wrong
sort of vows."
2. What are the five
signs of a Buddha-body and their significance in Vajrayana ritual and
meditation? Are they the same as those described at Ch. XII, F?
these five signs, we have described them, but we should perhaps say that there
are two ways of practicing them. The first is by the foolish monk, who quickly
runs through the text and never meditates, even though the instructions are
there. He only recites the details of the meditations! He is only a
professional chanter doing his pujas for money or food. You may hear him
rapidly murmuring some words he does not understand. "Ta…ta
ta… ta… voidness!" It is quite common in this way of
"practice" to omit whole sentences or even pages!
method is that of the earnest meditator secluded in some cave or hermitage. He
does not omit anything, but faithfully endeavors to practice whatever
instructions are contained in the text.
yogatantras are, in
usually treated in the first way and few there practice the proper methods.
3. Some say that Vajrayana
corresponds to the tenth bhumi; do you agree? This view would imply that one
has first to traverse bhumis one to nine. (See
X, Part Two, J.)
(Akanistha) the bodhisattvas there are at least on the eighth stage and as they
listen to the preaching of the Sambhogakaya Buddhas, come directly to the third
initiation of anuttarayoga practice. This they can do because they have the
Dharma-patience of the Non-born. But, by the Buddha's grace, on this earth the
standards have been reduced, and he has set forth the Hinayana and the Mahayana
within the Diamond Vehicle.
In the first
case, the eighth stage is very hard to realize, and when one has it, this very
special patience is one of the accompanying merits. Where there is such
complete sublimation, the Vajrayana may very well be studied. Here, we are not
in such a heaven, but by the blessings of Gautama Buddha we may practice Vajrayana
if we have settled all the preparations in due order, even though we are not
eighth-stage bodhisattvas. Of course, we may use the Mahayana sunyata
sublimation, but going along in this way will take a very, very long time to
complete Perfect Enlightenment. Using the Vajrayana, time will be shortened as
our methods are more direct. By mantra, mudra and other Vajrayana devices, we
may in this life directly touch the Great Perfection.
are recognized in exoteric Buddhism, but above these lie some other special
stages in which the four voidnesses and the four blisses are identified. Even
though one has not passed the Mahayana stages, but is very wise and diligent in
practice, then Full Enlightenment may be won, though every stage may not be
seen very clearly. Which way one proceeds depends on experience.
4. Is there any
objection to completely closing the eyes while meditating? (See Ch. II, A, 4.)
stress very much
that the neophyte must close them, but in my opinion this is not certain. If a
person's mind is more disturbed than sleepy, then he should close or half-close
them, to be rid of disturbance. Again, if a meditator chooses an inside point
for his concentration, such as the navel or at the tip of the nose, then he
should close his eyes. If the tendency to sleepiness is more than that of
disturbance, then open them fully. When sleepiness is so persistent that it is
hard to dispel, then stare, stretching the eyes open. When the body is tired
the eyes should be half-open. This matter is not fixed, therefore, and the
meditator should do whatever is necessary for the good of his samatha-practice.
If one is
practicing the samapatti on Mahamudra and one wishes to abide in the
Enlightened Entity, then closed eyes are never recommended. Why? Because the
inner light, the channels of which are two special channels coming to the eyes;
and the outer light of the sun, together with the light of the samapatti of
voidness—all these three lights must be identified in voidness. If there is no
wind, go outside and sit upon a mountain, opening eyes widely and leaning back
a little to gain the maximum light from the blue sky. This is a practice of Mahamudra
and Great Perfection, in which open eyes are essential.
Again, there is a Thodgal practice of Mahamudra
which resembles the seven-day Great Perfection. It is, however, to be practiced
in the darkness of a hermitage. One should put a black stone on the ground and
visualize the sunyata light coming from this and then lure it into the body.
Before this occurs, the eyes must be open, but once it is inside then they
should be closed.
For the seven-day
practice, the eyes must also be closed. We see from these examples that this
question should be decided according to the purport of the meditation.
practice, if one's samatha is very good, then the eyes may be opened. Even in
sleep we notice that some have their eyes open. This reminds me of a story:
time of the Three Dynasties in
among the three states one was called "Shu." At
the head of the army of Shu was a very learned marshal named "Chang Fei."
His brother died, and so in remembrance of him, he wished in his next battle to
wear a suit of white armor. Only three days remained for the armor to be made,
and so the marshal instructed the blacksmith to finish the work within this
time or he would cut his head off. The blacksmith was in great fear, wondering
how to make the armor so quickly, and fearing also the loss of his head. Then
he thought: "He is threatening to cut off my head, why should I not cut
off his first?" So he hired a murderer. That man went at night to the
marshal's room. There he saw Chang Fei lying down quite still but with his eyes
wide open. He did not, therefore, dare to approach. Waiting, he saw that the
marshal did not move so he came a little closer. The marshal did not see him.
Then hearing a snore, he knew that he was asleep and quickly cut off his head.
Even while dead the eyes continued staring. Sleeping with eyes open is a sign
of a man of anger.
It is a bad
doctrine where rules are a hard and fast certainty. Students of yoga must
distinguish this matter by their own wisdom, and by their own self-examination
use whatever is beneficial.
5. Is it correct to say
that in the Hinayana, "samadhi" is used in the sense of Mr. Chen's "samatha"?
(See Ch. III, B.)
is a common term applied to a number of meanings, such as dhyana, samatha, and
even may be used to describe the meditative states experienced by non-Buddhists.
We have already settled for the highest sense of the word (Full Enlightenment).
necessary to decide what one means by terms with such a wide range of meanings.
The Hinayana, for instance, speaks of all the dhyanas of form and the four of
formlessness as being samadhis. Even between these two groups there are
stopping and never thinking of philosophy
visualization and thinking of these spheres
In the Hinayana,
these may be called "samadhi," for the Buddha was using the Brahmanical terms
which his listeners might understand. Our book, however, is according to the
teachings of the Sandhinirmocana Sutra, which has settled all these states and
their names in a very good order, though this sutra is predominantly idealist
in its exposition. In Maitreya's sastras, the same principle is followed as in
the Lord's teachings in this sutra.
6. Are all
visualizations of deities in the anuttarayoga connected with the first
Yes, the main
practice of the first initiation of anuttarayoga is visualization, though in
the third yoga, visual practices are also found.
In the first
initiation, the visualization is "outside"; in the second it is
"inside" and may be a dakini but not in the double (heruka) form;
while in the third initiation practice, the visualized form is always in yogic
four main practices in Vajrayana: mantra-repetition, visualization, deep-breathing,
and Mahamudra. According to these four, in the first initiation, repeating and
visualizing are most important. After practicing this for many years and
becoming well matured and realized, it is said that a spiritually great lama
may, when going out riding, place his left foot in the stirrup and the growing
yoga of the first initiation is finished; swinging his right foot over into the
other stirrup, the yoga of perfection (second and third initiation doctrines)
is accomplished. So quick may attainment be! But for this, the preparations
must have been very well carried out.
In the second
initiation, the most important practice is deep breathing, and in the third, one
uses this breathing in conjunction with vajra-love. If there is not success in
deep breathing, there will be no attainment in vajra-love. In the fourth
initiation, most important is the tathata of Mahamudra.
7. How should the yidam
be selected? What Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, etc. may function as yidams?
8. What is the
relationship between meditation on one's yidam and on some other deity?
9. Does one meditate
upon the yidam invariably in a wrathful or invariably in a peaceful form? Does
one stick to form of the yidam?
10. Does one keep to one
yidam throughout one's practice of all four yogas?
11. Are meditations on
the yidam all of the same type, or is there a different type for each Yidam?
how to select the yidam.
commonly used method is for the lama to have some dice and by shaking these
determine with a book on divination which yidam to select for a disciple. The
disciple kneels and takes out the dice and the yidam is decided accordingly.
This is the lowest method and similar to those used by non-Buddhists.
way is for the disciple to be given a stick or flower and then, standing
outside the mandala, to throw it inside. This mandala has the Tathagata family
at the center, while to the East is vajra-family, in the South, Jewel-, West,
Lotus-, and to the North is the Karma-family. All yidams are associated with
one of these five families. This method may show which department is suitable
for a disciple; for example, a meek person may get a yidam of the Vajra-family,
or an angry man one from the Lotus-family. Still, this method is open to
several objections. Firstly, each initiation has a special yidam, so the
question of yidam is not settled properly. Again, the yidam will not be the
same every time, as its selection may be influenced by one's faith; not being
settled, this is bound to be rather unsatisfactory. Also, it may create
uncertainty in one's mind and thus disturb one's practice.
Vajrayanists have taken many initiations and therefore many yidams are possible
for them. A devoted practitioner may want to choose a definite yidam and he
should do this according to what he thinks is suitable for his temperament. I,
too, have taken many wangs and after each one I found its meditation suitable for
my practice, and therefore I was worried as to which deity to choose as yidam.
At last I dreamed of the Karmapa, who instructed me to go to him; otherwise, he
would depart for
I went to him immediately and with his advice I settled this problem. I told
him that I had practiced this and that yidam and got good results with all of
them. The Karmapa said, "I shall see what is best for you." The next
morning he told me what he had seen. Then in my dreams I saw that deity
embracing a boy—and that boy was me. Since then, I have not changed my tutelary
d. One may
ask a guru who has supernormal powers; then he may settle which
is the disciple's yidam in a dream or by his meditative light. This last
way is the best and highest.
with the yidam:
chooses Tara as yidam, then one must always visualize oneself as
when practicing the sadhanas of other deities. Not
only this, the relationship between the yidam and other deities must be known
so that they may be placed accordingly—for instance, protectors appear below
the deity. If both the yidam and the deity to be visualized are in the same
family, then they should be seen in their correct positions, as when Avalokitesvara
or Amitabha are visualized on the head of
of Mahakala is Sri Devi, but she is also the protectress of
so she always remains below the Lotus-throne of that yidam. Again, if one
practices with Amitabha, while the yidam is White Tara, the two must be seen in
heruka-form, White Tara embracing Amitayus.
must be possessed:
a. Lama: the
teacher or guru. From among one's teachers one selects a root-guru who should
be identified also with a great spiritual teacher such as Tsong-khapa or Padmasambhava.
tutelary deity. Determine this from the guru, as his yidam is usually selected.
Single forms of a yidam will save one from many dangers, but those in union
with a dakini should be taken to accomplish Full Enlightenment.
consort or dakini. Selected according to one's yidam. All the yidams in anuttarayoga have a dakini embraced in the heruka-form.
In the histories of the various deities preserved in sutra-form, we find
recorded the vows of different gods to protect the yidams. The latter may have
more than one protector.
four things must be known in the Tantra and their importance recognized:
a. Root of Bestowal
(initiation, wang, abhiseka): This is the guru.
b. Root of Achievement
or Accomplishment: This is the yidam.
c. Root of Sunyata
and Bliss: This is the dakini. This is most important—I have always emphasized
this! First one should make oneself like the dakini (through visualization) and
then the yidam will quickly be attracted. It is the same as among human beings!
The dakini, representing prajna, is like the mother of truth (Prajnaparamita
herself) and without this quality, how can one realize sunyata? It is therefore
very important to know how to make the dakini happy. In my essay on this
subject, I have made a special point-by-point worship of her
"physical" body. Most hymns only praise her spiritual qualities and
heavenly symbolic ornaments but the root of pleasure is in the physical body
and sunyata alone can penetrate it. Thus these two factors are very completely
balanced. By praising only the spirit, realization may be one-sided on the side
of sunyata alone.
d. Root of Karmic
Salvation: This is the protector. If one does not possess this, then one has no
power to save sentient beings. It was mentioned as important also by the gurus
By these four
you may know the status of a guru. First ask a lama: "Who is your yidam, dakini
and protector? Then you will know all his Dharma-treasure. If you search
earnestly and with right intention to get this treasure from the guru, he will
give it. Moreover, one should get the wang of his yidam—it is sure that in
these meditations he will be well practiced and be able to give good guidance for one's own practice.
Bhante then said: "We are
finding out all your little tricks and secrets!" Replied Mr. Chen: "I do
like to offer them to you!"
The Form of
wrathful or a peaceful form of the yidam is selected will be according to one's
own choice or that of one's guru; with either form, one may gain Enlightenment
in this life. It is not a case of "one good and one bad," as some
have misconceived. In case there are many forms of the yidam, as there usually
are, one form only may be taken as yidam. That many forms may have the same
name does not mean that they are all the same in practice. For instance, of the
bodhisattva Tara there are twenty-one forms and each possesses quite a
different mantra. Once a peaceful or a wrathful form is chosen as yidam, one
must only worship that one as the yidam. One may also practice other forms of
the same deity, but these cannot be the yidam.
may have the same yidam throughout all four initiations of anuttarayoga. In the
lower three yogas there is only a method of offering to one particular Buddha
(etc.) who is "outside" oneself; this differs from the highest yoga
where oneself becomes the yidam.
these two may seem similar, in fact, the yidam only appears in the first
initiation of the fourth yoga, and Tibetan works never talk about yidam in the
lower three yogas where there is just devotion to one particular spiritual
Some of these
deities have no heruka-form and such is Green Tara. If she is one's yidam, it
is good for the first initiation and she may again be worshiped in single form
in the fourth initiation; but in the third, the yidam must be in heruka-form.
Of course, there is no reason why Green Tara should not be seen with a partner
and if one is really skilled in meditation, she might be seen in this way,
though traditionally she is single. In this case another form of
may be practiced in the Third Initiation (such as
12. What are the signs
and characteristics we should look for in a meditation guru in each of the
three yanas? How may one tell a true guru from a false one?
this question, there are no references in ancient sources and so I have composed
this reply according to our Buddhist philosophy.
a. The signs
of a good Hinayana guru are:
i. He has
practiced the twelve dhutagunas (see Ch. VIII, C, 2), and from his conduct we
see that his Vinaya is very good.
ii. He does
not like to gather many disciples.
iii. He does
not collect many worldly objects, even though these may be permitted according
to the Vinaya.
iv. Even in
his old age, he still lives among mountains or amid forests.
v. He does
not like to read books or to give preaching—he always meditates.
vi. The five
poisons are reduced in him.
vii. He has
the compassionate concern for persons and for Dharma-conditions but not the
compassion of the same entity of non-condition.
b. The marks
of a Mahayana guru:
i. He has the
Great Compassion of the Same Entity.
ii. He has
made great vows.
iii. He does
every good thing without becoming tired.
possesses courage and perseverance.
v. He likes
to guide disciples.
vi. He is
skilled in explaining the Dharma-teaching of sunyata and knows both its nature
vii. Also, he
has skill in discussion to subdue the outsiders.
viii. He has
written some books according to right view and his own experience.
ix. He has
carefully and thoroughly read Hinayana and Mahayana sutras and their
commentaries (in both Chinese and Tibetan collections).
x. He knows
well the facts relating to at least two countries (to enable him to preach the
Mr. Chen exclaimed,
"You have them all!" At which both listener and transcriber
of a capable Vajrayana guru:
i. He has
accumulated the first two yanas' conditions but may not completely maintain
ii. He has
the initiation and tradition of both the old (Nyingmapa, Sakyapa, etc.) and the
new sect (Gelugpa) of
iii. He has
the great bodhicitta with special knowledge of the fifth bodhicitta.
iv. He has
been a hermit for at least ten years—or better twelve.
v. He has
seen his own yidam.
vi. He has
practiced at least the second initiation and has experienced the signs of
opening of the median channel.
vii. At least
he has tried to practice the third initiation with a visualized dakini.
viii. He has
seen the holy light of the Dharmakaya.
merit has been accumulated by him to develop and maintain certain favorable
Dharma-conditions, such as health, long life and wealth—and these enable him to
x. He has
read and knows well the Tripitaka of Tibet and also knows and speaks Chinese, Pali,
Sanskrit, and English. These qualifications are specially important in this age. Without a great effort to learn them, he can speak every
xi. He is
able to distinguish rightly the characteristics of any Dharma-instrument and
what will be suitable for him—which yoga, initiation, etc.
possesses supernormal powers and has received doctrines directly from the
Buddhas, dakinis and protectors.
observes a strictly vegetarian diet if he is a guru of the first three yogas.
For Amitabha, Avalokitesvara and Tara, even in anuttarayoga, meat is never
taken on the days of their pujas or when giving their initiations. For the
ritual of other deities, however, it is usual with anuttarayoga practice to
xiv. He is
skilled not only in giving the initiation (wang) but also in conferring the
permission to read a text (lung), and most important, in the explanation (tri).
d. A False
i. One who
knows the Hinayana Tipitaka (for instance a monk of the Theravada), but who at
the same time rebukes the Mahayana. Such is a kind of
false guru and not a Hinayana guru in the sense of our book, not a Hinayana-in-triyana
ii. Next is
one who recognizes both the sutras of the Hinayana and of the Mahayana but
criticizes the esoteric Vajrayana. He is also a false guru, according to our
Following from the last is one who knows the three yanas but speaks harshly
about Chan—he is again false.
Mr. Chen then recognized
that language difficulties have in the past been responsible for many
misunderstandings between different schools. "Now," he said,
"there are many translations and this excuse is hardly valid any longer.
Despite this, our age has many false gurus of the above three types and it is
indeed difficult to find a real one."
iv. The last
knows the three yanas and has a knowledge of Chan but
his defect is to keep some "Mouth Chan." For lack of realization in
this respect, we must also label him a false guru.
e. If such
complete conditions are gathered in one person, how is one to get such a guru?
i. First one
must get a personal and living guru in a physical body. From him, the mantra
and mudra may be obtained, for the tradition of them is still maintained and
handed down. Choose a comparatively good guru who is complete in at least some
of the above respects, even though he is not perfect in all of them.
ii. From him,
get all the instructions and practices. Then the meditator, to achieve the
highest goal, should make the guru identified with the yidam, and for the
quickest results make the yidam into the guru. After this, practice for a long
time and then a real guru will come, to be seen in the practitioner's dream or
meditative light (nimitta). The guru will appear in a human body and may appear
to fly into the nimitta from
as happened in the case of many Tibetan sages and about which we may read in
identification which follows from the above is to have the guru-yidam
identified with an ancient Enlightened teacher such as
Milarepa. If one succeeds in practicing in this way, then that guru of old will
appear as a voice or be seen in a dream and directly give one instructions.
our guru is Gautama Buddha, who is now abiding in nirvana. If we practice
enough to gain a deep sunyata realization and develop compassion—then why
should he not appear as our guru?
In the West,
a good guru in the flesh is hard to meet, and so one should take an image of
Gautama or Milarepa, even if it is only made of paper, and worship it
sincerely. As a result of such devotion, images have been known to speak
clearly on the subject of meditation, either in the light of one's practice or
once an Indian teacher who engaged in debate with another. The latter felt
certain that he could defeat the teacher. Sure enough, the former met with
defeat but prayed earnestly that night to the stone image of
She then instructed him and that image's arms even moved into a teaching mudra.
This image is famous and may still be seen in the unusual mudra which it used
to teach him the answers. The teacher was victorious the next day, using the
methods he had been given to defeat his opponent.
instructions we receive and the gurus we get depend on our devotion. We should
not worry about getting a guru but only about our own merits and meditation. We
should ask ourselves whether we are fit for a real guru or not. If we do not
gain a good teacher, then it is not his fault, for the grace of ancient gurus
is always here. For instance, Padmasambhava, who never died, promised before
his departure from this world to come on the tenth of every lunar month
wherever he was worshipped. Many times he has appeared in my dreams and given
many holy instructions, together with his divine consort Yeshe Tsogyal to aid
him on the occasion of a wang (initiation). So, if we continue long without a
teacher, we should know that the answer lies within ourselves: we are not yet
ready to be able to profit from his presence. What we have to do is clear: not
passively to accept this situation, but to strive earnestly to make ourselves
fit for practice under a teacher.
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