Great Harmony and Chod
Talk in Chinese and Translation into English by Guru Yutang Lin
Talk on Great Harmony
Disciple Sun Fa came only to Kun Ming but will not follow me to Bei Jing, and in Bei Jing the talks will include one on "Great Harmony," hence he asked me to talk a bit about this topic here. Therefore, I will briefly talk about it now. This topic is about the availability of various kinds of teachings in the Dharma; usually it is classified into teachings of Hinayana, of Mahayana, and of Vajrayana. Besides, there is also the so-called "transmission besides teachings." The so-called "transmission besides teachings" refers to the Chan (Zen) School; what it means is that, even when we are completely independent of the teachings (wordings) of Sakyamuni Buddha, we can still attain the enlightenment that Buddha realized. This is indeed correct because if it is insisted that one need to depend on certain set of sayings, then we would not know whether such a matter is really the truth or not. But, this is something that, indeed without others' telling me about it, it is still possible for me to grope and discover it, then this is certainly a matter of truth. Of course, herein there is a problem, namely, what you regard as correct, whether it is truly so, that is questionable.
Nevertheless, Dharma is superb in that it does not require that unless one follows words in some books…; it even can say that it is possible for us to go on without books (wordings)—This point is indeed truly so. What it intends to teach is not a system of thoughts—what it ultimately deals with is not a theoretical matter. Besides, in Tantric Buddhism at the highest levels there are so-called "Mahamudra (Great Seal)" and "Dzogchen (Great Perfection)" teachings; and these are teachings on Dharmakaya, or the states of Buddhahood. Hence, these are said to be the ultimate or final practices because unless you have come close to these states, how could you comprehend what they are dealing with? If you consider yourself as practicing these, but actually you are only grasping to some wordings, then that is simply useless. Well, then, how to distinguish Mahamudra and Great Perfection? Mahamudra assumes that you have had the experience of the whole Dharmadhatu in oneness, and then you practice concentration on that oneness of the whole Dharmadhatu. As to this oneness of Dharmadhatu, according to the teachings based on experiences, it is a state in the absence of everything except blue radiance that permeates everywhere. Usually, it is referred to as "cloudless sunny sky"; however, it does not mean that only the space above is "cloudless sunny sky" but that everywhere is blue sky, and, of course, one's physical body has already disappeared (during one's meditative state).
These states are indeed very difficult to attain because for one to be able to enter such states, first of all, the meditator should be able to—of course, long since no thoughts will—messy thoughts have long since stop arising. And then gradually, when one enters meditation, oh, the external breathing ceased; while the external breathing ceased one's belly slightly moves outward and inward, and that is called "internal breathing." This kind of states is also known to Taoists practitioners, and even whoever that can enter into meditation deeply and whose mind is pure enough that no thoughts arise will be able to achieve this kind of states. Nevertheless, to really attain the state when Dharmakaya light emerges, according to Guru Chen's experiences, even one's heart beats will have stopped, and that can be attained only by very few practitioners. Isn't it so? For one to enter meditation so deeply that even one's heart beats stop. Therefore, these are very rarely attainable experiences. Guru Chen revealed (to me) that throughout his life he had had such experiences four times—merging into Dharmakaya. And merging into Dharmakaya amounts to—he said, there was once when it was complete darkness with nothing present but black everywhere. Then, if we follow Vajrayana texts, it is said that during one's dying process there are stages called "appearance, increase, and attainment"—at first white brightness appears, then red brightness, and then black brightness. The so-called "black brightness" means actually there is no light at all. Isn't this description closely corresponding to his experiences? If we reckon that, when even one's heart beats stopped, then that amounts to arriving at the border of death. Ordinary people will not be able to practice up to such an extreme end; as one approaches such a state one will be scared and dare not continue to enter it; isn't is so? When you have complete disregard for this physical body and for matters of life and death, only then will you be able to enter that state.
Then, what Mahamudra is teaching about is that, having had the experience of merging into Dharmakaya, one may then practice to become able to abide in that state for longer periods, and in addition, one should not become attached to that state, and eventually at any time in one's daily life one will remain in harmony with (and inseparable from) that state of boundless oneness. Namely, in this oneness which indeed cannot be divided into stages, the teachings still set out stages for practice.
In case of Great Perfection, the teachings state straightforwardly that even the stages just mentioned (in the case of Mahamudra teachings) are completely non-existent. Their view is that, originally there is no reality of "self"; since there is no "self," hence nothing to grasp on. In other words, there are no problems whatsoever, and hence all are originally "perfect." Note that, this is not assertion without rationality—oh, in view there are clearly good, bad, etc., why one says that all these are Great Perfection? The intention of the teachings is that, whatever we have in view are of limited scopes, and within such scopes we consider this as the cause, that as the result, and this as good and that as bad, so we produced a lot of opinions. Nevertheless, the vision of those teachings is fundamentally boundless, and when it is boundless, then all are mutually connected and mutually affecting one another; so, how could one say which is good and which is bad then? It is similar to what appears on a silver-screen—now it shows this and now it shows that, whatever it shows, it remains only this screen. To the screen itself, it could not tell which scene is good and which scene is bad, it's all the same. And it is in this sense they claim it to be "Great Perfection." The teachings stem from a boundless point of view, and from such a point of view, fundamentally even the teachings of Dharma on suffering, impermanence, etc., all are matters of no substances, and what is called "transmigration in the six realms," etc., also fail to stand as problems. As something that is originally and constantly evolving, where can be reckoned as the beginning and where can be reckoned as the ending? There is no need to make any distinctions because in that point of view there is also no concepts of "this individual sentient being," "that individual sentient being" that we ordinarily hold.
Therefore, in that way, it is said that Great Perfection is simultaneously views, practices, activities and fruits all in oneness. It no linger—no way to distinguish stages; the stages in the ordinarily so-called "view, practice, activity, fruit" classification no longer stand. It is clearly stated that in Dharma there are all sorts of classifications of stages; in all the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana mentioned earlier there are stages laid down in theory. "Exposition on the Stages of the Path of Purification," "Exposition on the Stages of the Path of Bodhi," and "Exposition on the Stages of the Path of Vajrayana" are monumental classics in Buddhism. And they all have stages set out for all to follow. For us ordinary people, of course, we need to follow these well-set stages to practice. In case one fails to practice solidly the fundamentals, and yet one still attempts to practice the more advanced ones, then one would not be able to really reach those practices. And then, due to your lack of solid foundation, soon you will fall back to where you used to stand—it simply would not work like that. However, now I am proposing this notion of Great Harmony; why is it called "Great Harmony"? What are its special characteristics? What it deals with is that, traditionally all teachings in Dharma, either set rigorous stages for one to follow step by step, or it is too high that there are no stages at all. As in the cases of Great Perfection and Chan, and Mahamudra—even though it describes stages for practice, but to us ordinary folks we can hardly discern distinctions among such stages. So we are faced with the dilemma of absence of stages on the one side and rigorous distinctions of stages on the other side. Then, what do we ordinary folks do? Therefore, I propose "Great Harmony" to help practitioners by pointing out that one needs to comprehend that at the ultimate level of attainment there are no stages whatsoever, and while we are practicing according to the well-set stages, at each stage one should not be just grasping to that stage. This is because when you insist on stages of the path, you are looking at things from the point of view of an ordinary being, and from such a point of view even climbing up one stage is very difficult. If you always think, "I am progressing slowly step by step"—that's why the Sutras state that it will take "three great Asamkhyeyakalpa (endless long time)" for an ordinary being to attain enlightenment, then you will have to keep climbing slowly forever. For an ant to crawl all over China, how long, you think, will it take? It will take more than its lifetime, so it has to continue in its next life, and next life….
Hence, now it teaches you that, if you have already comprehended that in theory all are ultimately in oneness and mutually dependent in causation, then with such a great insight even though right now you are like a small ant taking its first steps, whichever step you take, if you don't consider it from the viewpoint of this small ant but look at it from the ultimate point of view of an accomplished being, even though you are taking the same steps one by one, each step will be connected in some way—at least, in concepts—with the ultimate oneness. Practicing in this way is called "Great Harmony," namely, originally when we talked about stages of the path it seemed as if each stage could not be connected with the ultimate one; on this side it is limited while on that side it is limitless—how do you connect them? However, whenever we practice at some stage, at each step we think thus: from the outset it is not the case that I practice alone—I think of parents, all beings connected with me through personal karma, all beings in the six realms of transmigration, the holy beings such as Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Sravakas, Pratyekabuddhas, Gurus, Yidams, Dakinis, and Protectors, namely all beings in the ten realms of the whole Dharmadhatu are all present. Each time at the beginning of your practice sessions, whether you are reciting refuge formulas, performing prostrations, etc., you think that the whole Dharmadhatu is present and all beings are attending the session. Thus, it differs drastically from the practice of one person who keeps grasping in mind—I am here, today I have recited this one thousand times, the merits thus accumulated is to be dedicated to my father…. For this practitioner, as soon as he thinks about it, it is the whole Dharmadhatu doing the practice together. And then, during the practice session, of course, the practitioner concentrates on his practice of, say, repeating "Amitabha," doing prostrations, etc. At the end of the session, while dedicating the merits he again recalls the whole Dharmadhatu as present and dedicate the merits to all beings in the Dharmadhatu. Thus, whenever he is practicing Dharma all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are bestowing blessings on him and all beings gain some help through his efforts. In this way, you see, even though it is still accomplished step by step—no one less full prostration is to be performed, the required hundred thousand times is still there, and the number of Mandalas to be accumulated remains one hundred thousand, nevertheless, the hundred thousand accumulated are drastically different from those done without such an insight but are constantly tied to thoughts on "myself, mine." Those done with constant grasping to "self" will find it very difficult to connect with the ultimate reality. Now at the very beginning you already act with the insight that all are boundless, and so, accordingly, sooner or later, before you realize it, you are already in oneness of all already.
Therefore, this is the special characteristic of the so-called "Great Harmony" that I am proposing. Here, indeed, this does not amount to a claim that I have suddenly invented it—I simply have pointed it out for all to be aware of it. The visualization practice of "Oneness of Dharmadhatu" was taught by Guru Chen. In short, the essence of this insight is that, once you have comprehended it, your view point has already moved to Buddha's side. When you review Dharma from that ultimate viewpoint, you will realize that the correct way to engage in Dharma practices is actually like this—indeed one need to practice in this way and only then can one eventually merge into union with the final attainment. The special characteristic of Great Harmony is this: it simply points out that, no matter which kind of practice you are engaging in, don't forget to connect, at least conceptually, the practice with the ultimate attainment. Thus, your life of Dharma practices will become completely different, and soon you will gain some results. Let's consider this matter: if a person's perspective remains constantly so panoramic, then for such a person to practice Impermanence, Renunciation, etc., will be much easier than for one who is daily preoccupied with his own affairs in some minute sphere and thus can never really let go of his preoccupations. Day in and day out your view is so open and wide, then when you reflect and realize that eventually it will be death—and even if you ignore it now, eventually you still cannot avoid facing it. When one has realized such matters earlier in life, then it becomes rather easy for one to engage in Dharma practices through solid ways. So, my talk on "Great Harmony" stops here.
Exposition on Chod
A while ago disciple Ben Jing mentioned that he also would like me to comment on the practice of "Chod." In fact, in the book "Great Harmony" I also included my writing on the practice of Chod. Why did I do so? The reason why a few years back I did come up with "Great Harmony," it was because—when I reflected on what I had been doing in this life, I realized that the talks I gave here and there, e.g., "The Six Paramitas in Limitless-oneness," it was bridging the practices of Mahayana with the ultimate attainment. Then, as I looked at another work which is on Chod—I was also writing on Limitless-oneness. In fact, throughout this life, the literary works that I have been doing are mainly writing articles on this subject; and it was simply a matter of eventually conferring on them a coinage. Isn't it so? At the outset I was not aware of my pursuing on this subject; afterwards, in reflection, I realized that I was indeed working on this subject in all areas of the Dharma; namely, I was pointing out to people that in whichever Dharma practice that one is undertaking one need to connect it with the ultimate attainment.
As to the practice of Chod, what is the most outstanding characteristic of it? Long since had some practice of Chod been available in India. Nevertheless, what was the greatest contribution to such a practice by Patriarch Machig Labdron (of Tibet)? First of all, come to think of the practice of "non-self"—practicing "non-self" is very difficult because, after all, where can one find the "self"? However, this one—a person's grasping to one's body—is readily discovered; besides, usually people consider this physical body as one's "self." So she made use of this, and taught that to practice "non-self" one starts with renouncing one's preoccupation and grasping to one's physical body. Ordinarily one thinks only about how to enhance its appearance, to render it more comfortable, and to offer it better protection; how could anyone think of cutting it into pieces? This is completely—for those who have never thought about it, such a teaching would shock him into disbelief—how could one do this kind of practice? But the skillful point of this practice is that, it does not really ask you to kill people or harm others; it teaches people to practice only in visualization: instead of doing what one was used to—as soon as one thinks about the body, one intends to protect it, wish it well, etc.; on the contrary, now one intends to make use of the body for Dharma practice. How to do so? On the one hand, using it to renounce one's grasping, and on the other hand, whatever one owed one's karmic creditors in the past one will repay them through making good uses of this body. According to the Law of Causation, without paying back, how could one resolve those karmic debts? Hence, in short, what is dearest to one, one need to be able to give it up, and whatever one owed others one need to pay off. Both aspects she made use of in her teachings on Chod; furthermore, the sharpest point of her skillful means is that—as she pointed out already, it is to be called "Chod of Mahamudra," and that means the main contribution of hers is that—she no longer takes the body that we usually grasp on as the "body" for Chod practice, rather, she takes whatever there is that we can perceive and sense as the "body." She associates the physical body with everything in the Buddhist cosmology such as the Mount Meru, the four great continents, all the treasures in the Buddhist universe, etc. What does this view (association) amount to? She has already, even though basically it seems that one is only cutting (in visualization) one's physical body, but in fact made uses of one's grasping to all things in the form or formless worlds, and let go of all those grasping. Not only being able to let go of, but also making good uses of, all one's grasping. She is not saying only, "Oh, I gave it up." She is saying, "Not only I can offer it up, but also I will offer it to benefit all sentient beings." Therefore, her teaching—at that time she was, indeed, propounding "Chod of Great Harmony"; she comprehended this approach already.
Therefore, she is indeed very wise—there is no step she takes that works on only one side; it is not the case that she only gives it up. Giving it up will be only a useless throwing—neither one nor others getting anything. She gave things up to make offerings and almsgiving, to pay off karmic debts. You see, indeed in each step, what others could not let go through thousands of attempts at renunciation, she can give up. Not only can she give up, but also she makes good uses of this renunciation to cultivate her great Bodhi mind and to nurture the great Bodhi career of salvation of all beings in transmigration—such is her wisdom. Furthermore, she is not confined in dealing with only one physical body; in Chod this physical body, the one that is dearest to the practitioner, represents all there is—whatever is good and of value, one need to be able to give up. When in daily life one is already accustomed to, facing things one likes or prefers, still giving them up, and not giving them up carelessly but with intention to use them for meaningful purposes, for charity, and for paying off debts. So you see, isn't it wise? Oh, genuine wisdom! Furthermore, once one comprehends the spirit of this approach, one may apply the same considerations in dealing with daily-life matters. Now I am facing such a situation, how should I deal with it? Usually, people are—I cannot give it up, I wish that I can get it—bound by such thoughts, and hence it is rather difficult to handle any matter in life. She turns it around; she considers the matter from the point of view of the whole situation, and realizes that anything can be given up. And hence, whatever will be most conducive to the final good for all, she adopts that; this is wisdom indeed. If we comprehend the spirit of her view, then in all areas in our daily lives, whether those are considered as related or unrelated to Dharma practices, our dealings will become very wise. We will become lively and be able to act freely beyond the confinements of personal preferences and prejudices, and know to learn how to make good uses of matters and situations. So we will become smarter in life.
Well, then, the real essentials are only these that I have just mentioned; the rest are—once one has comprehended it, one thinks it over, and then apply it. How can one apply these ideas in daily life and in one's Dharma practices? OK, that's it.
Transcribed on July 28, 2012
Transcript revised on October 25, 2014
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