Trời sinh voi sinh cỏ, nhưng cỏ không mọc trước miệng voi. (God gives every bird a worm, but he does not throw it into the nest. )Ngạn ngữ Thụy Điển
Cho dù người ta có tin vào tôn giáo hay không, có tin vào sự tái sinh hay không, thì ai ai cũng đều phải trân trọng lòng tốt và tâm từ bi. (Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn't anyone who doesn't appreciate kindness and compassion.)Đức Đạt-lai Lạt-ma XIV
Chỉ có một hạnh phúc duy nhất trong cuộc đời này là yêu thương và được yêu thương. (There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.)George Sand
Bất lương không phải là tin hay không tin, mà bất lương là khi một người xác nhận rằng họ tin vào một điều mà thực sự họ không hề tin. (Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving, it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.)Thomas Paine
Đừng chờ đợi những hoàn cảnh thật tốt đẹp để làm điều tốt đẹp; hãy nỗ lực ngay trong những tình huống thông thường. (Do not wait for extraordinary circumstances to do good action; try to use ordinary situations. )Jean Paul
Nụ cười biểu lộ niềm vui, và niềm vui là dấu hiệu tồn tại tích cực của cuộc sống.Tủ sách Rộng Mở Tâm Hồn
Tinh cần giữa phóng dật, tỉnh thức giữa quần mê.Người trí như ngựa phi, bỏ sau con ngựa hèn.Kính Pháp Cú (Kệ số 29)
Chúng ta phải thừa nhận rằng khổ đau của một người hoặc một quốc gia cũng là khổ đau chung của nhân loại; hạnh phúc của một người hay một quốc gia cũng là hạnh phúc của nhân loại.Đức Đạt-lai Lạt-ma XIV
Sự giúp đỡ tốt nhất bạn có thể mang đến cho người khác là nâng đỡ tinh thần của họ. (The best kind of help you can give another person is to uplift their spirit.)Rubyanne
Rời bỏ uế trược, khéo nghiêm trì giới luật, sống khắc kỷ và chân thật, người như thế mới xứng đáng mặc áo cà-sa.Kinh Pháp cú (Kệ số 10)

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Common Buddhist Text - Guidance and Insight from the Buddha
»» CHAPTER 8: MEDITATION

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Phật Điển Phổ Thông - Dẫn vào tuệ giác Phật - CHƯƠNG 8. TU ĐỊNH

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THERAVĀDA

The purpose of meditation

While ethical action restrains external expression of the defilements, meditation weakens, and with wisdom ultimately overcomes, the mental impulses rooted in craving and spiritual ignorance that lead to any such actions, as well as to future rebirths, with all their sufferings. The relation of meditation to the overall path can be seen in passages *Th.97–101.

Th.121 The nature of mind

These verses highlight the fickle nature of mind, its need for training, and how this will bring happiness. Here Māra, or the ‘Deadly One’, is a tempter-deity that is seen to embody both death and sensual desire, which leads to rebirth and re-death, as well as māra being a term for the defilements. The ‘realm of Māra’ is also anything subject to impermanence and hence death.

Just as an arrow-maker straightens an arrow shaft, likewise the wise person straightens the mind: so fickle, unsteady, so difficult to guard, and so difficult to restrain.

As a fish born in water cast on land throbs and quivers, likewise this mind gets agitated.

Therefore, one ought to abandon the realm of Māra.

Taming the mind that is difficult to control, that alters fast, and that falls upon whatever it likes, is commendable. A tamed mind brings happiness.

Let the wise person guard the mind, so difficult to discern, extremely subtle, falling upon wherever it likes. A guarded mind brings happiness.

Those who restrain the mind that travels afar, that wanders alone, that is devoid of a body and lying within the cave (of the heart), are liberated from the bonds of Māra.

Wisdom never comes to fulfilment in one whose mind is not steadfast, who knows not the Good Dhamma and whose faith wavers.

There is no fear for the wakeful one, whose mind does not tend towards faults and is unagitated, and who has gone beyond both karmically beneficial and karmically harmful actions.

Realizing that this body is as fragile as a clay pot, and fortifying this mind as a city, one should combat Māra with the weapon of wisdom. One should guard what has been conquered and remain unattached.

Before long, for sure, this body will lie upon the earth, cast away being rid of consciousness like a useless log.

Whatever harm an enemy may do to an enemy, or a hater to a hater, an ill-directed mind may inflict greater harm on a person.

Neither mother, nor father, nor any other relative can do one greater good than a well-directed mind.

Citta-vagga: Dhammapada 33–43, trans. P.D.P.

Th.122 The need to train the mind

This passage emphasizes how harmful the mind can be when unwholesome tendencies in it are left unrestrained, yet how beneficial it is when cultivated by meditative training.

Monks, I do not observe anything else that is so immensely conducive to harm as an undeveloped, uncultivated mind. An undeveloped, uncultivated mind is immensely conducive to harm.

Monks, I do not observe anything else that is so immensely conducive to benefit as a developed, cultivated mind. A developed, cultivated mind is immensely conducive to benefit. …

Monks, I do not observe anything else that is so immensely conducive to harm as an uncontrolled, unprotected, unrestrained, untamed mind. …

Monks, I do not observe anything else that is so immensely conducive to benefit, as a controlled, protected, restrained, tamed mind. …

Akammanīya-vagga, suttas 9–10 and Adanta-vagga, suttas 9–10: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.6–7, trans. P.D.P.

The mind’s negative underlying tendencies but also bright potential

Th.123 The innocent mind is not completely pure

This passage shows that even the mind of a baby, prior to having any negative mind-states, has the latent, underlying tendencies to later develop these. Being born a human is a good rebirth, and is the product of past good actions, but unenlightened humans are still fettered by various tendencies that keep them within the round of rebirths, and their pains.

A young tender baby lying on its back does not even have the idea of ‘personality’, so how could view on personality454 arise in him? Yet the underlying tendency to view on personality lies latent in him.

A young tender baby lying on its back does not even have the idea of ‘states’, so how could vacillating doubt about (wholesome and unwholesome) states arise in him? Yet the underlying tendency to vacillation lies latent in him.

A young tender baby lying on its back does not even have the idea of ‘rules’, so how could clinging to rules and vows arise in him? Yet the underlying tendency to clinging to rules and vows lies latent in him.

A young tender baby lying on its back does not even have the idea of ‘sensual pleasures’, so how could sensual desire regarding sensual pleasures arise in him? Yet the underlying tendency to attachment to sensual pleasures lies latent in him.

A young tender baby lying on its back does not even have the idea of ‘beings’, so how could ill-will towards beings arise in him? Yet the underlying tendency to ill-will lies latent in him.

Mahā-mālunkya Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.432–433, trans. P.H.

Th.124 The brightly shining mind

This passage, though, describes the basic nature of mind as ‘brightly shining’, even though it is often defiled by defilements which ‘visit’ (which often act like visitors to a house that then behave like they owned the place). In the Theravāda tradition, the commentator Buddhaghosa refers455 to this radiant mind as the ‘naturally pure latent resting state of mind’. In the Mahāyāna traditions, much more is said of it and it came to be equated with the Buddha-nature (see passages *M.12–13, 111–112), or embryonic Buddha within beings. When unobscured by defilements (which meditation facilitates), the brightly shining basic nature of mind can be a basis for the attainment of the liberating insight that leads to the experience of nirvana; otherwise, defilements will in time return and the various kinds of rebirth will follow, though some in the bright heavenly realms where the defilements are weak.

Monks, this mind is brightly shining, but it is defiled by defilements which arrive. The uninstructed ordinary person does not understand this as it has come to be. So, I say, there is no meditative cultivation of the mind for the uninstructed ordinary person.

Monks, this mind is brightly shining, but it is free of defilements which arrive. The instructed disciple of the noble ones understands this as has come to be. So, I say, there is meditative cultivation of the mind for the instructed disciple of the noble ones.

Accharā-saṅghāta-vagga, suttas 1 and 2: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.10, trans. P.H.

The five hindrances and other defilements

Th.125 The five hindrances as the main ‘defilements which arrive’

This passage shows that the key defiling ‘visitors’ to the mind are the five hindrances.

Monks, there are these five defilements of gold, defiled by which gold is neither malleable nor wieldy nor brightly shining, but brittle and not properly fit for working: … iron ... copper … tin … lead … and silver. …

So too, monks, there are these five defilements of the mind, defiled by which the mind is neither malleable nor wieldy nor brightly shining, but brittle and not rightly composed for the destruction of the intoxicating inclinations. What five? Desire for sensual pleasures … ill-will … dullness and lethargy … restlessness and worry … vacillation.

Kilesa Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya V.92, trans. P.H.

Th.126 The hindrances as detrimental to wisdom

These passages emphasize that the hindrances weaken wisdom and make the mind unclear and unable either to understand what leads to true happiness or to attain liberating insights. They are often opposed to the seven ‘factors of awakening’ (see end of passage *Th.139).

Monks, these five hindrances are makers of blindness, causing lack of vision, causing lack of higher knowledge, detrimental to wisdom, tending to vexation, and not conducive to nirvana. …

These seven factors of awakening monks, are makers of vision, makers of knowledge, promote the increase of wisdom, without vexation, and conducive to nirvana.

Nīvaraṇa Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya V.97, trans. P.H.

When a monk has not abandoned these five obstacles, hindrances that overwhelm the mind and weaken wisdom, with his powerless and weak wisdom it is impossible for him to understand what is for the true welfare of himself, others, or both, or to experience superhuman distinction in knowing and seeing appropriate to the noble ones.

Āvaraṇā Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya III.63–64, trans. P.H.

Monks, suppose there were a pool of water that was clear, calm and undisturbed, and a man with good sight stood on the bank: he could see the oysters and shells, the gravel and pebbles as they lie, or the shoals of fish as they dart about and are at rest. Why? Because of the water’s clarity. So too, it is possible for a monk with clarity of mind to know what is truly beneficial for himself, for others, and for both, and to experience superhuman distinction in knowing and seeing appropriate to the noble ones.

Paṇihitācchanna-vagga, sutta 6: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.9, trans. P.H.

Th.127 Overcoming the five hindrances

This passage likens the hindrances to five things that limit one’s freedom: desire for sensual pleasures is like being in debt – one owes energy to the objects of one’s habitual desires; ill-will is like being ill, so that one has no appetite for anything – for when one is angry, nothing pleases one; dullness and lethargy are like being in prison – for one is stuck in lethargy and cannot rouse oneself to apply oneself to and enjoy anything; restlessness and worry are like being a slave – one is bossed about by one’s emotional highs and lows; and vacillation is like travelling through a desolate land – for it is a barren period of indecision and wavering doubt. Suspending the five hindrances is done either by hearing a step-by-step discourse (see passage *Th.28) or, as here, by meditation, which then allows the mind to enter the meditative absorptions (see *Th.140).

Abandoning worldly longing, he dwells with a mind without worldly longing, and his mind is purified of it. Abandoning the fault of ill-will, he dwells with a mind without ill-will and, sympathetic to the welfare of all living beings, his mind is purified of the fault of ill-will. Abandoning dullness and lethargy, he dwells without them, perceiving light, mindful and clearly comprehending, his mind is purified of dullness and lethargy. Abandoning restlessness and worry, dwelling unagitated and inwardly calmed, his mind is purified of restlessness and worry. Abandoning vacillation, he dwells with vacillation left behind, without uncertainty as to what things are wholesome, his mind is purified of vacillation.

Just as a man who had taken a loan to develop his business, and whose business had prospered, might pay off his old debts, and with what was left over could support a wife, might think: ‘Before this I developed my business by borrowing, but now it has prospered ...’, and he would be glad and be happy about that.

Just as a man who was ill, suffering, terribly sick, with no appetite, and weak in body, might after a time recover, and regain his appetite and bodily strength, and he might think: ‘Before this I was ill …’, and he would be glad and be happy about that.

Just as a man might be bound in prison, and after a time he might be freed from his bonds without any loss, with no deduction from his possessions. He might think: ‘Before this I was in prison …’, and he would be glad and be happy about that.

Just as a man might be a slave, not his own master, dependent on another, unable to go where he liked, and after some time he might be freed from slavery, able to go where he liked, might think: ‘Before this I was a slave …’ And he would be glad and be happy about that.

Just as a man, laden with goods and wealth, might go on a long journey through desolate country where food was scarce and danger abounded, and after a time he would get through the desolate country and arrive safe and sound at the edge of a village, might think: ‘Before this I was in danger, now I am safe at the edge of a village’, and he would be glad and be happy about that.

As long, sire, as a monk does not perceive the disappearance of the five hindrances in himself, he feels as if in debt, in sickness, in bonds, in slavery, on a road through desolate country. But when he perceives the disappearance of the five hindrances in himself, it is as if he were freed from debt, from sickness, from bonds, from slavery, from the perils of a road through desolate country.

Sāmañña-phala Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya I.71–73, trans. P.H.

Th.128 The four intoxicating inclinations and their interweaving with spiritual ignorance

The deepest faults in the mind are each called an āsava (Pāli, Skt āśrava): something which ‘flows’ in a certain way, and ferments, so as to be akin to a festering sore, leeching off energy from the mind, and something which brings intoxication. Sometimes translated as ‘cankers’ or ‘taints’ or ‘outflows’, they are best seen as ‘intoxicating inclinations’ – just as a leaning towards drinking alcohol leads to intoxication, when acted on. The arahant, or enlightened person, is often defined as one who is totally without these. They are tendencies which flow or reach out towards three things: sensual pleasures, a way of being or identity, and spiritual ignorance. Sometimes a fourth is added: towards fixed, dogmatic views. The following passage sees the intoxicating inclinations as interwoven with spiritual ignorance: they sustain ignorance, one of them is itself the inclination towards ignorance, and ignorance itself sustains the inclinations. One can see the inclination as deep-rooted, ingrained bad habits that need deep spiritual insight to illuminate them and so dispel the shadows in which they breed. When the mind’s radiance is uncovered in meditation, one must use the light to examine things very carefully.

With the arising of the intoxicating inclinations there is the arising of ignorance. With the cessation of the intoxicating inclinations there is the cessation of ignorance. …

There are three intoxicating inclinations: the intoxicating inclination towards sensual pleasures, the intoxicating inclinations towards a way of being, and the intoxicating inclination towards ignorance. With the arising of ignorance there is the arising of the intoxicating inclinations. With the cessation of ignorance there is the cessation of the intoxicating inclinations.

Sammā-diṭṭhi Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.54–55, trans. P.H.

The importance of attention

Th.129 Attention makes the difference

What makes the crucial difference regarding whether or not defilements ‘visit’ or stay in the mind is how the mental faculty or mind (mano) is applied to objects, with attention (manasikāra) literally being work-of-mano. Hence the need for mindful heedfulness or alert, wise attentiveness, so as to avoid mishandling the mind’s relationships with its objects and so inviting defilements to visit or remain.

Monks, whatever states are unwholesome, have a part in unwholesomeness, are on the side of unwholesomeness: all these have mind as their forerunner. First arises mind, and those unwholesome states follow after.

Monks, whatever states are wholesome, have a part in wholesomeness, are on the side of wholesomeness: all these have mind as their forerunner. First arises mind, and those wholesome states follow after.

Monks, I do not see a single thing that so causes unwholesome states to arise and arisen wholesome states to decline as heedlessness.

Accharā-saṅghāta-vagga, suttas 6, 7 and 8: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.11, trans. P.H.

Mind is the forerunner of all mental states456. Mind is their chief; mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with a sullied mind, because of that, suffering will follow one, even as the wheel follows the foot of the draught-ox.

Mind is the forerunner of all mental states. Mind is their chief; mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with an unsullied mind, because of that, happiness follows, even as one’s shadow that never leaves.

Dhammapada 1–2, trans. P.H.

Th.130 The role of wise, probing attention in undermining attachment, hatred and delusion

Wise attention is key to overcoming the mental defilements that lead to life’s pains. These defilements are sometimes summarised as: attachment (sensual lust, but also any kind of lusting after things), hatred, and delusion. The destruction of these three marks the attainment of awakening, and greed, hatred and delusion are the roots of unwholesome actions (see passage *Th.102).

Attachment is blameable to a small degree but its removal is slow; hatred is blameable to a great degree but its removal is quicker;457 delusion is blameable to a great degree and its removal is slow. …

For one engaged in unwise attention as regards (an object’s) attractive aspect, unarisen attachment will arise and arisen attachment will increase and become strong. … For one engaged in unwise attention as regards (an object’s) irritating aspect, unarisen hatred will arise and arisen hatred will increase and become strong. … For one engaged in unwise attention, unarisen delusion will arise and arisen delusion will increase and become strong.

For one wisely attending to (an object’s) unattractive aspect, unarisen attachment will not arise and arisen attachment will be abandoned. ... For one wisely attending to the liberation of mind by loving kindness, unarisen hatred will not arise and arisen hatred will be abandoned. ... For one wisely attending, unarisen delusion will not arise and arisen delusion will be abandoned.

Aññatitthiyā Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.200, trans. P.H.

Th.131 Five ways to remove distracting thoughts

This passage suggests five ways to overcome an unwholesome thought captured by negative desire, hatred or delusion: turning the mind to a counteracting wholesome thought (as in the above passage); seeing the disadvantage of the thought; turning the mind to something else to engage its attention; slowing down and stilling the thought-process (the commentary suggests doing so by tracing back how the mind frothed itself up into its state, making a mountain out of a molehill, so to speak); and finally using will-power to eject the thought. Later methods are only to be used if the earlier ones have not worked, so the last one, forceful will-power, is the last resort, to be used only when there is something in the mind that remains gripping onto the negative thought.

When a monk is intent on the higher mind, there are five focuses he should attend to at the appropriate times. What five? There is the case where evil, unwholesome thoughts mixed with desire, hate or delusion, arise in a monk while he is referring to and attending to a particular focus. He should attend to another focus, apart from that one, connected with what is wholesome. When he does so, those evil, unwholesome thoughts mixed with desire, hatred and delusion will be abandoned, will come to an end. When they are abandoned, the mind settles within, becomes quieted, one-pointed and composed. This is just as when a skilled carpenter or his apprentice would use a small peg to knock out, drive out, and pull out a large one …

If evil, unskilful unwholesome thoughts mixed with desire, hate or delusion still arise in the monk while he is attending to this other focus, connected with what is wholesome, he should scrutinize the drawbacks of those thoughts thus, ‘Truly, these thoughts of mine are unwholesome, blameworthy and ripen in suffering.’ When he does so, those evil, unwholesome thoughts … will be abandoned … the mind settles within, becomes quieted, one-pointed and composed. This is just as a young woman or man fond of adornment, would be horrified, humiliated, and disgusted if the carcass of a snake or a dog or a human being were hung from her neck …

If evil, unskilful unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, hate, or delusion still arise in the monk while he is scrutinizing the drawbacks of those thoughts, he should try to forget them and pay no attention to them. When he does so, those evil, unwholesome thoughts … will be abandoned … the mind settles within, becomes quieted, one-pointed and composed. This is just as a man with good eyes, not wanting to see forms that had come into range, would close his eyes or look away …

If evil, unskilful unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, hate, or delusion still arise in the monk while he is trying to forget them and paying no attention to them, he should attend to the stilling of the thought-activities of those thoughts. When he does so, those evil, unwholesome thoughts … will be abandoned … the mind settles within, becomes quieted, one-pointed and composed. This is just as when the thought would occur to a man walking quickly, ‘Why am I walking quickly? Why don’t I walk slowly?’ So he walks slowly. The thought occurs to him, ‘Why am I walking slowly? Why don’t I stand?’ So he stands. The thought occurs to him, ‘Why am I standing? Why don’t I sit down?’ So he sits down. The thought occurs to him, ‘Why am I sitting? Why don’t I lie down?’ So he lies down. In this way, giving up the grosser posture, he takes up the more refined one …

If evil, unskilful unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, hate, or delusion still arise in the monk while he is attending to the stilling of the thought-activities of those thoughts then, pressing the lower jaw with the upper jaw and pushing the tongue on the palate, he should beat down, constrain, and crush his mind with his mind. When he does so, those evil, unwholesome thoughts … will be abandoned … the mind settles within, becomes quieted, one-pointed and composed. This is just as when a strong man, seizing a weaker man by the head or the throat or the shoulders, would beat him down, constrain, and crush him …

Now when a monk ... [composes the mind by applying the above methods], he is called the monk who has mastery over the pathways of thought. Whatever thought he wants to think, that he thinks, whatever thought he does not want to think, that he does not think. He has cut off craving, removed the fetters and rightfully overcoming conceit made an end of suffering.

Vitakka-saṇṭhāna Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.119–122, trans. P.H. and P.D.P.

Calm (samatha) and insight (vipassanā) meditations

Th.132 The need to overcome both affective and cognitive defilements

Suffering and the round of rebirths are sustained by unwholesome forms of two aspects of the mind: the ‘affective’, to do with the emotions, and the ‘cognitive’, to do with how one sees and understands things. These are interrelated, for emotional turbulence makes it difficult to see things clearly, and confusion and deluded misperception feeds emotional turbulence. The key unwholesome emotion is craving, which can be seen to encompass attachment and hatred: craving for and craving to be rid of. The key cognitive fault is spiritual ignorance or delusion. The following passage makes clear that both affective and cognitive defilements must be overcome, respectively by meditative calm (samatha) and insight (vipassanā). Working together, these bring about a state in which direct knowledge can arise in a calm, clear, peaceful mind. One may develop deep calm then insight, insight then deep calm, alternate them, or just develop insight with sufficient calm to dampen any excitement that comes from this (see *Th.138 introduction).

Monks, these two things pertain to higher knowledge. What two? Calm and insight. When calm is developed, what benefit is experienced? The heart-mind is developed. When the mind is developed, what benefit is experienced? That which is attachment is abandoned. When insight is developed, what benefit is experienced? Wisdom is developed. When wisdom is developed, what benefit is experienced? That which is ignorance is abandoned.

A mind defiled by attachment is not liberated, and wisdom defiled by ignorance is not developed. Thus, monks, through the fading away of attachment there is liberation of mind, and from the fading away of ignorance there is liberation by wisdom.

Bāla-vagga, sutta 10, Aṅguttara-nikāya I.61, trans. P.H.

Th.133 Meditative absorption and wisdom are mutually dependent

In this passage, the meditative absorption that arises from intent samatha meditation is seen to be mutually dependent on wisdom, which most typically is seen to develop from vipassanā meditation.

There is no meditative absorption for one lacking in wisdom, and no wisdom for one lacking meditative absorption. One in whom there are both meditative absorption and wisdom is, indeed, close to nirvana.

Dhammapada 372, trans. P.H.

Recollection of the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, and of the reality of death

Th.134 Recollection of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha

A set of practices which are seen as very helpful for suspending the five hindrances is that of the recollection of the Buddha, of the Dhamma and of the Sangha: mindfully contemplating the qualities of these three (see *Th.1 and section introduction before 8, and 137 and 181). The second of these passages is from a post-canonical meditation manual.

When a noble disciple recollects thus, on that occasion his mind is not taken up with attachment, hatred or delusion; his mind is straight, focused on the Tathāgata or Dhamma or Sangha. A noble disciple whose mind is straight gains inspiration of the meaning, the inspiration of the Dhamma, gains gladness connected with the Dhamma. When he is gladdened, joy arises; for one uplifted by joy the body becomes tranquil; one tranquil of body feels easeful pleasure; for one who is at ease, the mind becomes composed. This is called a noble disciple who dwells evenly amidst an uneven generation, who dwells unafflicted amidst an afflicted generation, who has entered the stream of the Dhamma and cultivates recollection of the Buddha … of the Dhamma … of the Sangha

Mahānāma Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya III.285, trans. P.H.

When a monk is devoted to recollection of the Buddha, he … conquers fear and dread. He is able to endure pain. He comes to feel as if he were living in the Master’s presence. And his body, when the recollection of the Buddha’s special qualities dwells in it, becomes as worthy of veneration as a shrine room. His mind tends to the plane of the Buddhas. When he encounters an opportunity for transgression, he has present moral shame and concern for consequences as vivid as though he were face to face with the master.

Visuddhimagga of Buddhaghosa, VII.67, pp.212–13, trans. P.H.

Th.135 Recollection of death

Passages *Th.75–77 contain reflections on death, and *Th.138 includes reflections on the stages of decomposition after death. The passage here is a specific meditation on death, used to encourage spiritual effort here and now.

Monks, mindfulness of death, when developed and cultivated, is of great fruit and benefit, culminating in the deathless … Here, monks, when day has receded and night has approached, a monk reflects thus: ‘I could die on account of many causes, such as snake bite … falling … food

poisoning … disturbance of bile … phlegm … or wind …’.The monk should reflect thus: ‘Do I have any bad, unwholesome qualities that have not been abandoned, which might be an obstacle for me if I were to die tonight?’ If he sees that he has, then he should put forth extraordinary desire, effort, zeal, enthusiasm, indefatigability, mindfulness and clear comprehension to abandon those unwholesome qualities.

Maraṅa-sati Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya III.306–07, trans. P.H.

Meditation on the four limitless qualities: loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity

Th.136 Cultivating loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity

This passage concerns the meditative cultivation of what are known as the four ‘limitless qualities’, as when fully developed they are of limitless scope, breaking down the barriers between oneself and all other beings. They are also known (*Th.114) as the ‘brahma-vihāras’ – ‘divine abidings’, that when developed to a high degree bring a mind-state akin to that of the brahmā deities, and which lead to rebirth at their level, if one does not attain awakening in the present life.

He abides pervading one direction with a mind imbued with loving kindness, extensive, lofty, unlimited, free from envy, free from malice, and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth direction, and thus the entire world, everywhere, above, below and across in relation to every individual living being.

Just, Vāseṭṭha, as a mighty blower of a conch makes himself heard in four directions without much difficulty, similarly when loving kindness is so developed, whatever action is applied within a circumscribed range, it does not remain in that context, it does not stay in that context. This too, Vāseṭṭha, is a path leading to union with Brahmā.

Further, Vāseṭṭha, a monk abides pervading one direction with a mind imbued with compassion ... the entire world … with a mind imbued with empathetic joy…with a mind imbued with equanimity … This too, Vāseṭṭha is a path leading to union with Brahmā.

Tevijja Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya I.250–251, trans. P.D.P.

Th.137 The shining mind and loving kindness

The first of these passages comes immediately after passage *Th.124, suggesting that loving kindness is a quality of the brightly shining mind, a point then reinforced by the second passage.

If a monk were to cultivate the emancipation of mind by loving kindness even for the duration of the snapping of the fingers, such a monk is called one who is abiding not empty of meditative absorption, practising the message of the teacher, practising in accordance with the teacher’s advice, partaking of the alms-food of the land not in vain. What to speak of those who practise it intensely?

Accharā-saṅghāta-vagga, sutta 3: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.10, trans. P.D.P.

The liberation of mind by loving kindness … shines and glows and radiates … like the radiance of the moon.

Mettā-bhāvanā Sutta: Itivuttaka 19–20, trans. P.H.

The four foundations of mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna) as ways to cultivate insight (vipassanā) and calm (samatha)

Th.138 The four foundations of mindfulness as the direct way to liberation

This passage concerns a crucial kind of meditation practice developed by the Buddha, the four satipaṭṭhānas: ‘foundations’ or ‘applications’ of mindfulness (sati). These are to calmly observe and note various qualities of the body (kāya), feelings (vedanā), mind-states (citta) and reality-patterns (dhamma), the latter being key mental and physical processes according to the Buddha’s analysis of reality, the Dhamma. A repeated refrain concerns contemplation of the relevant quality as it arises, and as it ceases, both internally, within oneself, and ‘externally’, which may mean in other persons. The practice of the satipaṭṭhānas is sometimes equated with vipassanā meditation, but in fact it is relevant to both samatha and vipassanā, each of which require strong mindfulness. The various objects of contemplation described in this sutta perhaps comprise the earliest Buddhist list of meditation objects. They can be the objects of focused calm or discerning insight, or both. The ones under the ‘reality-patterns’ heading are particularly linked to vipassanā. In a particular meditation sitting, a meditator may focus on only one of the objects, or several.

These contemplations described here help to suspend the five hindrances. Once this is done, they may be utilized in one of four ways (Aṅguttara-nikāya II.156–158): i) they may be used to develop the four absorptions, with an emphasis on samatha, before being opened out to observe in a vipassanā mode; ii) they may continue to be applied on the brink of the first absorption, with an emphasis on vipassanā, though allowing the absorptions to develop in time; iii) they may be used to develop the absorptions, though applying vipassanā to each before moving on to the next; or iv) they may be done in a purely vipassanā mode, without entering the absorptions.

In recent years, ‘mindfulness’ has become a popular idea, and a secular adaptation of it is being applied in many spheres, such as Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy. These take certain aspects of the full-spectrum Buddhist mindfulness as a way to help people stand back from their thoughts and feelings so as to calmly observe them and not be drawn into negative thought patterns. The emphasis here is on a non-judgemental awareness of present experiences and thoughts. This is an important aspect of Buddhist mindfulness, though this also includes clear recollection of the past and of beneficial qualities and teachings. Cultivating a discerning, though non-blaming recognition of the difference between harmful and helpful states of mind is also important.The eight-week courses in secular mindfulness have been criticised for not going very deep, though a course of Buddhist mindfulness can also only go so far in eight weeks.

At one time the Blessed One was living among the Kuru people, in the hamlet named Kammāssadhamma in the Kuru country. There the Blessed One addressed the monks: ‘Monks, this is the direct way for the purification of beings, for ending grief and lamentation, for ending pain and unhappiness, for attaining understanding and for realizing nirvana, that is, the four foundations of mindfulness. What four?

[Mindfulness of the body: breathing]

Here monks, a monk abides, in respect of the body, reflectively observing458 the body, possessed of effort, clearly comprehending, and mindful, removing intense desire for and unhappiness with the world. He abides, in respect of feelings, reflectively observing feelings, possessed of effort ... in respect of the mind, reflectively observing mind, possessed of effort … in respect of reality-patterns, reflectively observing reality-patterns, possessed of effort …

Monks, how does a monk abide in respect of the body reflectively observing the body? Here, the monk gone to the forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty house, sits cross-legged, the body erect and mindfulness established in front. He breathes in mindfully and breathes out mindfully. Breathing in long, he wisely knows, “I breathe in long.” Breathing out long, he wisely knows, “I breathe out long.” Breathing in short, he wisely knows, “I breathe in short.” Breathing out short, he wisely knows, “I breathe out short.” He trains, “reflectively experiencing the entire body,459 I breathe in; reflectively experiencing the entire body, I breathe out.” He trains, “Calming the bodily activity,460 I breathe in; calming the bodily activity, I breathe out.” Just as a clever (wood) turner or his apprentice, making a long turn wisely knows, “I pull it long”, and making a short turn wisely knows “I pull it short”,461 in the same manner, breathing in long, he wisely knows “I breathe in long”; breathing out long, he wisely knows “I breathe out long.” Breathing in short he wisely knows, “I breathe in short”, and breathing out short he wisely knows “I breathe out short.” … He trains, “Calming the bodily activity I breathe in, calming the bodily activity, I breathe out.”

[Refrain:] Thus, he abides in respect of the body, reflectively observing the body internally, or he abides in respect of the body, reflectively observing the body externally. Or he abides in respect of the body, reflectively observing the body internally and externally. Or he abides reflectively observing the arising nature in the body or the passing away nature in the body, or the arising and passing away nature in the body. Or for him mindfulness is established to the effect, ‘There is the body”, merely to the extent of knowing, to the extent of reflective mindfulness. He abides unattached and does not grasp at anything in the world. It is thus, monks, that the monk abides, in respect of the body, reflectively observing the body.

[Mindfulness of the body: postures, movements, bodily parts and elements]

Monks, further, a monk, while going, wisely knows, “I’m going”, while standing, wisely knows “I’m standing”, while sitting, wisely knows “I’m sitting”, while lying, wisely knows, “I’m lying.” Whatever posture the body maintains, that he wisely knows. Thus … [Refrain].

Monks, further, a monk acts with clear comprehension when going forward or turning back, looking on, or looking around, bending, or stretching. He acts with clear comprehension when bearing the outer robe, the bowl and inner robes, when eating, drinking, biting, or tasting, when attending to the calls of nature, when gone, having stood, having sat, having lay down, having woken up, having spoken, when being silent … [Refrain].

Monks, further, a monk reflectively considers this body up from the soles of the feet, down from the hair on the head, surrounded by the skin as full of various impurities, as: “There are in this body,462 head-hair, body-hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, veins, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, lower intestines, bowels, stomach, excreta, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, eye secretions, saliva, snot, oil of joints, and urine.” Just like a bag of provisions having openings on both sides, is filled up with various grains such as rice, paddy, green grams, beans, sesame, and fine rice. A man who has sight would untie it and see reflectively, “This is rice, this, paddy, this, green gram, this, bean, this, sesame, and this is fine rice.” Similarly, a monk reflectively sees this body up from the soles of the feet … [Refrain].

Monks, further, a monk reflectively considers the body in whatever posture it is in, in terms of elements as, “There are in this body the elements: earth, water, fire, and wind.” Just as a clever butcher or his apprentice would be seated in a hut at a place where four highways cross, having a slaughtered cow and dissecting it into separate parts; similarly a monk reflectively sees this body … in terms of elements … [Refrain].

[Mindfulness of the body: a corpse and its stages of decay]

Monks, further, a monk draws a parallel concerning this body itself with a body that could be seen cast away in the charnel ground, dead one day, two days or three days ago, bloated, turned blue and festering. He draws a parallel with this same body as: “This body, too, has the same nature, is liable to be like that, does not transcend that.” … [Refrain].

Monks, further, a monk, as he would see a body cast away in the charnel ground, being eaten by crows, hawks, vultures, dogs, foxes, or by numerous kinds of vermin, he draws a parallel with this same body as, “This body too has the same nature ….” … [Refrain].

Monks, further, a monk, as he would see a body cast away in the charnel ground, a skeleton, with flesh and blood and connecting veins … a skeleton without flesh, smeared with blood and connected with veins ... a skeleton without flesh and blood connected by veins ... a disconnected skeleton with bones scattered everywhere, the hand bone in one location, the foot bone in another, the knee bone, in another, the thigh bone, in another, the hip bone in another, the back bone in another, and the skull in another location; he draws a parallel with this same body as, “This body too has the same nature ….” … [Refrain].

Monks, further, a monk, as he would see a body cast away in a charnel ground, the bones become white, the colour of a conch shell, the bones over a year old heaped up, the bones rotten and becoming powder, he draws a parallel with this same body as, “This body too has the same nature …” … [Refrain].

[Mindfulness of feelings]

Monks, how does a monk abide in respect of the feelings reflectively observing the feelings? Here, monks, a monk while experiencing a pleasant feeling wisely knows, “I’m experiencing a pleasant feeling”, while experiencing a painful feeling wisely knows, “I’m experiencing a painful feeling”, while experiencing a feeling neither unpleasant nor pleasant wisely knows, “I’m experiencing a feeling neither unpleasant nor pleasant”; while experiencing a pleasant feeling associated with material things he wisely knows “I’m experiencing a pleasant feeling associated with material things”, or while experiencing a pleasant feeling not associated with material things 463 wisely knows “I’m experiencing a pleasant feeling not associated with material things”, or while experiencing an unpleasant feeling associated with material things … not associated with material things … or while experiencing a feeling neither unpleasant nor pleasant associated with material things … not associated with material things … wisely knows … [Refrain, replacing ‘body’ with ‘feelings’].

[Mindfulness of the mind]

Monks, how does a monk abide in respect of the mind reflectively observing the mind? Here, a monk wisely knows a (state of) mind having attachment as, “It is a mind having attachment”; or a mind freed from attachment he wisely knows as, “It is a mind freed from attachment”; … [likewise for hatred, and for delusion]; a mind that is cramped he wisely knows as “It is a mind that is cramped; or a mind that is scattered he wisely knows as, “It is a mind that is scattered”; or a mind that has become great (through meditative development) he wisely knows as, “It is a mind that has become great”; or a mind that has not become great he wisely knows as, “It is not a mind that has become great”; or a mind for which a superior mode is found he wisely knows as, “It is a mind for which a superior mode is found”; or a mind for which no superior mode is found he wisely knows as, “It is a mind for which no superior mode is found”; or a composed mind he wisely knows as, “It is a composed mind”; or a mind not composed he wisely knows as, “It is a mind not composed”; or a freed mind he wisely knows as, “It is a freed mind”; or a mind not freed he wisely knows as, “It is a mind not freed.” … [Refrain, replacing ‘body’ with ‘mind’].

[Mindfulness of reality-patterns]

Monks, how does a monk abide in respect of reality-patterns reflectively observing reality-patterns? Here, a monk abides in respect of reality-patterns reflectively observing reality-patterns with regard to the five hindrances.464 And how …? Here, monks, a monk having sensual desire within wisely knows, “There is within me sensual desire”, or not having sensual desire within he wisely knows, “There is no sensual desire within me”; and he also wisely knows how sensual desire that has not arisen is likely to arise, as well as how sensual desire that has arisen is likely to be abandoned, and how abandoned sensual desire is likely not to arise again. … [In the same way he wisely knows about the other four hindrances: ill-will, dullness and lethargy, restlessness and worry, and vacillation]. … [Refrain, replacing ‘body’ with ‘reality-patterns’].

Further, monks, a monk abides in respect of reality-patterns reflectively observing reality-patterns with regard to the five grasped-at categories of existence.465 And how …? Here, the monk abides observing, “This is material form, this is the arising of material form, this is the ending of material form. … [Likewise for feeling, for perception, for volitional activities, for consciousness].” … [Refrain, replacing ‘body’ with ‘reality-patterns’].

Further monks, a monk abides in respect of reality-patterns reflectively observing the reality-patterns with regard to the six internal and six external spheres of sense. And how …? Here, monks, a monk wisely knows the eye, wisely knows visual forms, and whatever fetter occurs depending upon the two, that too, he wisely knows. He also wisely knows how a fetter that has not arisen is likely to arise, how a fetter that has arisen is likely to be abandoned, and how a fetter that has been abandoned is not likely to arise again. … [He wisely knows in the same way about ear and sounds, nose and smells, tongue and tastes, body and tactile sensations, mind and mind objects]. … [Refrain, replacing ‘body’ with ‘reality-patterns’].

Further monks, a monk abides in respect of reality-patterns reflectively observing the reality-patterns with regard to the seven factors of awakening. And how …? Here, monks, a monk while the awakening factor of mindfulness is found within, wisely knows, “The awakening factor of mindfulness is there within me”, or while the awakening factor of mindfulness is not found within, he wisely knows “The awakening factor of mindfulness is not there within me”; he also wisely knows how the awakening factor of mindfulness that has not arisen is likely to arise, as well as how it is likely that the awakening factor of mindfulness that has arisen becomes perfect through cultivation. … [He wisely knows in the same way about the other factors of awakening: investigation of Dhamma, vigour, joy, tranquillity, meditative concentration and equanimity]. … [Refrain, replacing ‘body’ with ‘reality-patterns’].

Further, monks, a monk abides in respect of reality-patterns reflectively observing the reality-patterns with regard to the four Truths of the Noble Ones. And how…? Here, monks, a monk wisely knows as it has come to be “This is the painful”, “This is the origin of the painful”, “This is the cessation of the painful”, “This is the way leading to the cessation of the painful.” … [Refrain, replacing ‘body’ with ‘reality-patterns’].’

Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.55–62, trans. P.D.P.

Mindfulness of breathing (ānāpāna-sati)

Th.139 Mindfulness of breathing

This passage describes the practice of mindfulness (sati) of in-and-out breathing (ānāpāna), and of various states that arise from this, in some detail. It has sixteen modes, the first four of which develop mindfulness of the body (in the same way as in passage *Th.138), the next four develop mindfulness of feelings, the next four develop mindfulness of the mind, and the last four develop mindfulness of reality-patterns. As with the satipaṭṭhānas, mindfulness of breathing can be cultivated to develop samatha, vipassanā, or both.

Monks, mindfulness of in-and-out-breathing, developed and constantly practised, is productive of great fruits and great benefits. When it is developed and constantly practised, the four foundations of mindfulness get completed. When the four foundations of mindfulness are developed and constantly practised, the seven factors of awakening get completed. When the seven factors of awakening are developed and constantly practised, knowledge and emancipation get completed. Monks, developed in what manner and constantly practised in what manner, is mindfulness of in-and-out-breathing productive of great fruits and great benefits?

[The sixteen modes of mindfulness of breathing]

Here monks, a monk, gone to the forest, or to the foot of a tree, or to an empty house, sits in cross-legged posture. He breathes in mindfully and breathes out mindfully. (1) Breathing in long, he wisely knows, ‘I breathe in long’; breathing out long, he wisely knows, ‘I breathe out long’; (2) breathing in short, he wisely knows, ‘I breathe in short’; breathing out short, he wisely knows, ‘I breathe out short.’ (3) He trains, ‘reflectively experiencing the entire body, I breathe in; reflectively experiencing the entire body, I breathe out.’ (4) He trains, ‘Calming the bodily activity, I will breathe in; calming the bodily activity, I will breathe out.’ 466

(5) He trains [in each of the following ways], ‘reflectively experiencing joy, I will breathe in’; ‘reflectively experiencing joy, I will breathe out’; (6) ‘reflectively experiencing easeful pleasure,467 I will breathe in’; ‘reflectively experiencing easeful pleasure, I will breathe out’;

(7) ‘reflectively experiencing the activity of mind,468 I will breathe in’; ‘reflectively experiencing the activity of mind, I will breathe out’; (8) ‘calming the activity of mind, I will breathe in’; ‘calming the activity of mind, I will breathe out’;

(9) ‘reflectively experiencing the mind, I will breathe in’; ‘reflectively experiencing the mind, I will breathe out’; (10) ‘increasingly gladdening the mind, I will breathe in’; ‘increasingly gladdening the mind, I will breathe out’; (11) ‘composing469 the mind, I will breathe in’; ‘composing the mind I, will breathe out’; (12) ‘releasing the mind, I will breathe in’; ‘releasing the mind, I will breathe out;

(13) ‘reflectively observing impermanence, I will breathe in’; ‘reflectively observing impermanence, I will breathe out’; (14) ‘reflectively observing non-attachment, I will breathe in’; ‘reflectively observing non-attachment, I will breathe out’; (15) ‘reflectively observing cessation, I will breathe in’; ‘reflectively observing cessation, I will breathe out’; (16) ‘reflectively observing relinquishment, I will breath in’; ‘reflectively observing relinquishment, I will breathe out.’

[The modes and their related foundation of mindfulness]

Mindfulness of in-and-out-breathing developed and constantly practised in this manner is productive of great fruits and great benefits.

Monks, developed and constantly practised in what manner does in-and-out breathing complete the four foundations of mindfulness? Monks, at whatever time, a monk … [does 1–4 above ] … at that time a monk abides in respect of the body, observing the body, possessed of effort, clearly comprehending, and mindful, removing intense desire for and unhappiness with the world. I say that in-breaths and out-breaths are certain activities in bodies. Therefore, monks at such time, a monk abides in respect of the body, reflectively observing the body, possessed of effort, clearly comprehending, and mindful, removing intense desire for and unhappiness with the world.

Monks, at whatever time a monk trains … [as in 5–8 above] … at that time a monk abides in respect of feelings, reflectively observing feelings, possessed of effort ... I say that close attention to the in-breaths and the out-breaths is an activity (that occurs) in relation to feelings. Therefore, monks, at such time, a monk abides in respect of feelings, reflectively observing feelings, possessed of effort ...

Monks, at whatever time a monk trains … [as in 9–12 above] … at that time a monk abides in respect of mind, reflectively observing mind, possessed of effort … Monks, I do not speak of in and out breathing to the person whose mindfulness is lost, and to him, who is lacking in clear comprehension. Therefore, monks, at that time a monk abides in respect of mind, reflectively observing mind, possessed of effort …

Monks, when a monk trains … [as in 13–16 above] … at that time a monk abides in respect of reality-patterns reflectively observing reality-patterns, possessed of effort … Having seen with wisdom the abandoning of intense desire and unhappiness, he is one who closely looks on with equanimity. 470 Therefore, monks, at such time, a monk abides in respect of reality-patterns, reflectively observing reality-patterns, possessed of effort ...

Monks, when mindfulness of in-and-out-breathing is developed and constantly practised in this manner, the four foundations of mindfulness become complete.

[The foundations of mindfulness develop the factors of awakening]

Monks, developed and constantly practised in what manner do the four foundations of mindfulness complete the seven factors of awakening?

At whatever time a monk abides in respect of the body, reflectively observing the body, possessed of effort, clearly comprehending, and mindful, removing intense desire for and unhappiness with the world, his mindfulness becomes closely established and it is not lost. At whatever time mindfulness becomes closely established and is not lost for a monk, at that time a monk develops the awakening factor of mindfulness. At that time for a monk the awakening factor of mindfulness becomes complete through development.

He, in this way, abiding mindfully investigates that state with wisdom, examines it, and enquires into it. At whatever time a monk in this way abiding mindfully investigates a state with wisdom … a monk has ventured into the awakening factor of investigation of Dhamma. At that time a monk develops the awakening factor of investigation of Dhamma and for a monk it becomes complete through development.

He who investigates a state with wisdom, examines it, and enquires into it, ventures into unshaken vigour. At whatever time monks, for a monk who investigates, examines and enquires into that state, there is venturing into unshaken vigour, at that time a monk has ventured into the awakening factor of vigour. A monk develops at that time the awakening factor of vigour and it becomes complete for him through development.

For the person who has ventured into vigour arises joy unconnected with material things. Monks, at whatever time for a monk who has ventured into vigour, arises joy unconnected with material things, at that time he has ventured into the awakening factor of joy. At that time a monk develops the awakening factor of joy and it becomes complete for him through development.

For the person who is joyful, both the body and the mind are calmed. At whatever time both the mind and body of a monk are calmed, a monk ventures into the awakening factor of tranquillity. At that time a monk develops the awakening factor of tranquillity and it becomes complete for him through development.

The mind of whom the entire person is tranquil and is at ease, becomes composed. At whatever time the mind of the monk whose entire person is tranquil and who is at ease, becomes composed, a monk has ventured into the awakening factor of meditative concentration. At that time a monk develops the awakening factor of meditative concentration and it becomes complete for him through development.

He closely watches with equanimity the mind that has been so composed. At whatever time a monk closely watches with equanimity the mind that has been so composed, for him, there is venturing into the awakening factor of equanimity. At that time he develops the awakening factor of equanimity and it becomes complete through development.

[The above is then repeated for the situation of one reflectively observing feelings, the mind, then reality-patterns.]

When the four foundations of mindfulness are developed in this manner the seven factors of awakening become complete.

[The factors of awakening lead on to emancipation]

Monks, developed and constantly practised in what manner do the seven factors of awakening complete knowledge and emancipation? Here, monks, a monk develops the awakening factor of mindfulness supported by seclusion, non-attachment, and cessation, turning towards relinquishment; … [Likewise for each of the other six factors of awakening.] … The seven factors of awakening, developed and constantly practised in this manner complete knowledge and emancipation.

Ānāpāna-sati Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya III.82–88, trans. P.D.P.

Meditative absorptions, higher knowledges and formless attainments

Th.140 The four meditative absorptions

Samatha meditation uses strong mindfulness focused on such qualities as loving kindness or the process of breathing to suspend the five hindrances and so develop very concentrated, composed and calm states of mind. With the hindrances suspended, the mind can become joyful, happy, calm and focused, and thus enter the first of the four meditative absorptions (jhānas). This can then be refined to reach up to the fourth meditative absorption, in which the mind is profoundly clear and calm, temporarily totally free of even the subtlest defilement, open and ready for liberating insights. None of the meditative absorptions themselves bring a final end to the defilements, and on their own they just lead to long-lasting and relatively peaceful rebirths, still subject to death and open to worse rebirths. They do, though, weaken the roots of the defilements and make it easier for insight to cut through them. For this to happen, attachment for even such subtle but conditioned states needs to be abandoned. The Buddha’s awakening came after remembering having attained the first meditative absorption in his youth (see *L.15), and then using this and the other meditative absorptions as a basis for such insight.

(1) To him who observes himself when these five hindrances have been abandoned, gladness arises. To him who is gladdened, joy arises. The entire frame of him, having a joyful mind, becomes relaxed. With the entire frame being relaxed, he experiences easeful pleasure. The mind of him who is at ease becomes composed. He, secluded from sensual desires and secluded from unwholesome qualities, enters and abides in the first meditative absorption, which is comprised of the joy and easeful pleasure associated with mental application and examination, and is born of seclusion. And with this joy and easeful pleasure born of seclusion, he so suffuses, drenches, fills and irradiates his body that there is no spot in his entire body that is untouched by this joy and easeful pleasure born of seclusion.

Just as a skilled bathman or his assistant, kneading the soap-powder which he has sprinkled with water, forms from it, in a metal dish, a soft lump, so that the ball of soap-powder becomes one oleaginous mass, bound with oil so that nothing escapes – so with this joy and easeful pleasure born of seclusion, this monk suffuses, drenches, fills and irradiates his body so that no spot remains untouched. …

(2) Again, a monk, with the stilling of mental application and examination, enters and abides in the second meditative absorption, which is comprised of the joy and easeful pleasure born from a composed, concentrated state, devoid of mental application and examination, bringing inner clarity, being a one-pointed state of mind; and with this joy and happiness born of meditative concentration he so suffuses his body that no spot remains untouched.

Just as a lake fed by a spring, with no inflow from east, west, north or south, where the rain-god sends moderate showers from time to time, the water welling up from below, mingling with cool water, would suffuse, fill and irradiate that cool water, so that no part of the pool was untouched by it so, with this joy and happiness born of concentration he so suffuses his body that no spot remains untouched. …

(3) Again, a monk, with non-attachment towards joy abides with equanimity, being mindful and with clear comprehension, he experiences happiness with the body and enters and abides in the third meditative absorption. (When in that state) the noble ones describe him by saying, ‘he is possessed of equanimity, he is mindful, a person abiding in happiness; and with this happiness devoid of joy he so suffuses his body that no spot remains untouched.’

Just as if, in a pond of blue, red or white lotuses in which the flowers, born in the water, grown in the water, not growing out of the water, are fed from the water’s depths, those blue, red or white lotuses, would be suffused … with the cool water – so, with this happiness devoid of joy, the monk so suffuses his body that no spot remains untouched. …

(4) Again, a monk, having formerly given up pleasure and pain, with the disappearance of happiness and unhappiness remains in the fourth meditative absorption, which is without any pleasant or painful (feeling) and purified by equanimity and mindfulness.471 And he sits suffusing his body with that mental purity and clarification so that no part of his body is untouched by it.

Just as if a man were to sit wrapped from head to foot in a white garment, so that no part of him was untouched by that garment – so his body is suffused.

Sāmañña-phala Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya I.73–76, trans. P.H. and P.D.P.

Th.141 Knowledge and vision and supernormal forms of knowing

This passage continues from the above. From the fourth meditative absorption, the application of probing insight can lead to a variety of supernormal knowledges. Of the ones listed below, nos. 3 to 8 often form a group known as the six abhiññās, or ‘higher knowledges’, and nos. 6 to 8 are known as the tevijjās, or ‘threefold knowledge’ that the Buddha is said to have attained on the night of his awakening (see passage *L.15), the last of them bringing his experience of nirvana.

When the mind is thus composed, purified, bright, without blemish, the defilements removed, malleable, wieldy, steady and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines the mind to knowing and seeing. He wisely knows thus:

(1) ‘This is the body of mine having form, comprised of the four great elements, having its origin from mother and father, growing with boiled rice and gruel, having the nature of being subject to impermanence, (needing to be) perfumed and massaged, getting broken up and scattered, and this is my consciousness which is attached and conjoined to it.’…

(2) When the mind is thus composed … he directs and inclines the mind for the purpose of specially creating a mind-made body. From this (existing) body he specially creates another body having form, mind-made, having all the main and subsidiary parts, not lacking in any faculty. It is just as if a man were to draw out a reed from reed-grass … or if a man were to draw out a sword from its sheath …

(3) When the mind is thus composed … he directs and inclines the mind towards the (acquisition of) supernormal powers. He experiences numerous forms of supernormal power (such as), having been one, he becomes many, having been many he becomes one … 472

(4) When the mind is thus composed … he directs and inclines the mind to the acquisition of the element of the divine ear. With the element of the divine ear which is purified, and transcending that of the human, he hears both human and divine sounds, far and near …

(5) When the mind is thus composed … he directs and inclines the mind towards the acquisition of penetrative knowledge of (other) minds. Having penetrated with the mind into the mind of other beings, other individuals, he wisely knows a mind with attachment as a mind with attachment, a mind free from attachment as a mind free from attachment, a hating mind as a hating mind, a mind free from hate as a mind free from hate, a deluded mind as a deluded mind, a mind free from delusion as a mind free from delusion … 473

[For 6, 7 and 8, see *L.15 on the three knowledges attained by the Buddha at his awakening.]

Sāmañña-phala Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya I.76–84, trans. P.D.P.

Th.142 The formless attainments and the cessation of perception and feeling

An alternative to developing the above knowledges, on the basis of the fourth meditative absorption, is to take the process of calming (samatha) further, to develop the four formless attainments. Prior to his awakening, the Buddha was taught a way to attain the top two of the formless states (see *L.10 and 11), but he saw these as not reaching awakening. In the meditative system he taught, the four formless states are entered via the fourth meditative absorption, which brings to them qualities developed through the meditative absorptions, such that they can then still all mental activity in a way that prepares for deep insight. They tune into the very roots of perception, respectively: one’s sense of three-dimensional space within which one ‘locates’ anything with form; consciousness as that which makes any kind of awareness, including of space, possible; the no-thingness or not-something that is the contrast to anything in particular, especially things one fixates on due to attachment, hatred or delusion; and the very attenuated perception that is aware of even nothingness. Beyond the fourth formless state, the Buddha discovered a further state, the cessation of perception and feeling, developed through mastery of both samatha and vipassanā to high degrees. Attainment of this is another route to liberation.

And further, Poṭṭhapāda, with the transcendence of all perceptions/ideas474 of material form, putting an end to the idea of (sensory) impingement, with non-attention to ideas of variety, thinking: ‘space is infinite’, he enters and abides in the sphere of the infinity of space. For him, whatever previous perception/idea of form was there, ceases. At that time there is the subtle and real idea of the sphere of the infinity of space. He actually becomes at that time a person possessed of the subtle and real idea of the sphere of the infinity of space. In this way, too, one idea arises due to training and another idea ceases due to training.

And further, Poṭṭhapāda, the monk transcends entirely the sphere of the infinity of space and, thinking: ‘Consciousness is infinite’, enters and abides in the sphere of the infinity of consciousness. For him, whatever previous subtle and real idea of the infinity of space was there, ceases. At that time there is the subtle and real idea of the infinity of consciousness. He actually becomes at that time a person possessed of the subtle and real idea of the infinity of consciousness. In this way, too, one idea arises due to training and another idea ceases due to training.

And further, Poṭṭhapāda, the monk, by transcending entirely the sphere of the infinity of consciousness, thinking: ‘There is nothing’, enters and abides in the sphere of nothingness. For him, whatever previous subtle and actual idea of the infinity of consciousness was there, ceases. At that time there is the subtle and real idea of the sphere of nothingness. He actually becomes at that time a person possessed of the subtle and real idea of the sphere of nothingness. In this way, too, one idea arises due to training and another idea ceases due to training.

So from the time, Poṭṭhapāda, that the monk perceives his own (inner states), moving gradually from one stage to another, he experiences the peak of perception.475 To him who stays on the peak of perception, this (thought) occurs: ‘It is worse for me to go on mentally intending. It is better for me if I were not to mentally intend. If I were to intend and make volitional constructions, these ideas of mine would cease and other gross ideas would arise. Suppose I were not to intend and not to make volitional constructions.’ He neither intends nor makes volitional constructions. To him who neither intends nor makes volitional constructions, those ideas themselves cease and other gross ideas do not arise. He touches cessation. In this manner, Poṭṭhapāda, occurs the attainment of the state of clear comprehension of the gradual cessation of higher (levels of) perception.’

Poṭṭhapāda Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya I.183–184, trans. P.D.P.

Again, by transcending entirely the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, a monk enters and abides in the cessation of perception and feeling. And his intoxicating inclinations are destroyed by seeing with wisdom.

Cūḷa-sāropama Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.204, trans. P.H.



MAHĀYĀNA

Preparatory meditations

M.109 Preparatory meditations, suitable for different character types

This passage recommends particular meditation methods as appropriate for people whose character is strong in a particular defilement. The same approach is found in the Theravāda tradition.

The meditation on contemplating the impurity of the body, when taught in the correct way to the correct kind of practitioner, will cause sensual desire for what is impure to subside. Someone who is filled with sensual desire should practise the contemplation of the impurity of the body. Someone who is filled with hatred should practise the meditation on loving kindness, as this will cause their hatred to subside. Someone whose mind is restless should practise mindfulness of breathing, as this will cause their restless thoughts to subside.

Śrāvakabhūmi of Asaṅga’s Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra, Taishō vol.30, text 1579, p.462c18–22, trans. from Chinese by D.S.

Not being attached to meditation

M.110 A warning not to be attached to inflated ideas about one’s meditation

When the foolish practise meditation, and enjoy the pleasures of meditation, they become inflated with high opinions of themselves, and believe that they have attained the fruits of renunciant practice.

Mahā-ratnakūṭa Sūtra, Taishō vol. 11, text 310, p.180c1, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.

The radiant mind

M.111 The brightly shining mind

This passage explains that faults such as greed are not an inherent part of the mind, but are temporary obscurations of its natural brightness, arising due to various impermanent negative conditions (cf. *Th.124).

Son of good family, take the example of the sun and the moon. If they are obscured by smoke, dust, clouds, fog, an eclipse, or the demon Rāhu,476 living beings cannot see them. Although they cannot be seen, however, the nature of the sun and the moon is not the same as these five kinds of obscuration. It is like this with the mind. Although, when attachment arises, living beings say that the mind is the same as attachment, the true nature of the mind is not the same as attachment. If a mind which was attached had attachment as its nature, and a mind which was not attached had non-attachment as its nature, then it would not be possible for a mind which was not attached to become attached, or for a mind which was attached to become non-attached. Therefore, son of good family, it is not possible for the bonds of attachment and desire to defile the mind. All Buddhas and bodhisattvas have permanently broken the bonds of attachment. This is what is meant by the liberation of the mind. In dependence upon conditions, the bonds of attachment arise; in dependence upon conditions, the mind can be liberated.

Mahā-parinirvāṇa Sūtra, Taishō vol.12, text 374, ch.32, pp.516c27–517a07, trans D.S.

M.114 The pure Buddha-nature

In these passages, the Buddha says that the natural radiance of the mind is that of the Buddha-nature (see *M.12– 13).

750. The mind which is clear in its essential nature is the pure Buddha-nature. Living beings grasp at it, but it eludes limitedness and limitlessness.

751. Just as the beautiful colour of the gold present in ore is seen by refining it, living beings see the storehouse consciousness477 amongst the categories of existence.

756. When dirt is removed from clothing, or when gold is separated from impurities, they are not destroyed, but remain. In the same way, one is not destroyed, but remains, when one is freed from impurities.

Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, Sagāthakam vv.750–51 and 756, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.

I teach, Śāriputra, that just as the inconceivable expanse of phenomena is bound by the defilements, but not united with them, living beings are contaminated by non-intrinsic defilements. The nature of the mind is pure, like that of the inconceivable expanse of phenomena.

‘Buddha Pronounces the Sūtra of Neither Increase Nor Decrease’/Fo shui bu zeng bu ian jing, Taishō vol.16, text 668, p.467c04–c06, trans. D.S.

Meditation on loving kindness and compassion

There have already been described many contemplations encouraging compassion (*M.71–3). An associated quality to develop is that of loving kindness.

M.113 Loving kindness for all living beings

This passage, in praising the deep and pervasive loving kindness of the bodhisattva as infusing every aspect of the path, is a contemplation for cultivating it.

Mañjuśrī said, ‘Son of good family, if a bodhisattva should regard all living beings in this way,478 how is he to develop great loving kindness for all living beings?’

Vimalakīrti said, ‘Mañjuśrī, when a bodhisattva regards all living beings in this way he reflects, “I should teach the Dharma to all living beings, so that they will understand the Dharma.” In this way, he cultivates true loving kindness for all living beings: loving kindness that seeks to help living beings, because it is not based on anything; loving kindness that is tranquil, because it does not grasp at anything; loving kindness that is free from feverish longing, because it is free from defilements; loving kindness that sees things the way they are, because past, present, and future are the same to it; loving kindness that is free of conflict, because it is not possessed by defilements; loving kindness that is non-dual, because it is neither involved with the internal nor the external; loving kindness that is steadfast, because it is completely firm; loving kindness that is strong, because its intentions are unbreakably strong, like diamond; loving kindness that is pure, because it is pure by its very nature; loving kindness that is the same everywhere, because it is of the same nature as space; the loving kindness of an arhant which defeats its enemies; 479 the loving kindness of a bodhisattva which unceasingly brings living beings to maturity; the loving kindness of a Tathāgata which understands reality;480 the loving kindness of a Buddha which wakes living beings from sleep; 481 loving kindness that is self-arisen, because it has awakened from itself;482 loving kindness that is awakened, because it has no preferences; loving kindness that makes no assumptions, because it has got rid of attachment and aversion; loving kindness that is greatly compassionate, because it expounds the Mahāyāna; loving kindness that is unwearying, because it regards everything as empty and devoid of an essential self; loving kindness that gives the gift of the Dharma, because it does not have the closed hand of a teacher who does not wish to share his knowledge; loving kindness that has ethical discipline, because it cares for ethically indisciplined beings; loving kindness that is patiently acceptant, because it protects both self and others; loving kindness that is vigorous, because it carries the burden of all living beings; loving kindness that is meditative, because it does not relish any experience; loving kindness that is wise, because its attainments come at the right time; loving kindness that is skilful in means, because it shows the openings in every situation. Loving kindness that is not hypocritical, because its intentions are completely pure; loving kindness that is not dishonest, because of its sincere intentions; loving kindness that is determined, because it is spotless; loving kindness that is not deceitful, because it is not false; loving kindness that is happiness, because it establishes living beings in the happiness of a Buddha. This, Mañjuśrī, is the great loving kindness of a bodhisattva.’

Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch.6, section 2, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.

Recollecting the Buddhas

M.114 Seeing Amitābha and other Buddhas in one’s meditation

This passage is from perhaps the earliest text focused on the Buddha Amitābha (see *MI.5), and describes how one may see him in meditative visualization.

The Buddha said to Bhadrapāla, ‘If one practises in the following way, one will attain a state of meditative concentration in which all the Buddhas of the present will appear before one instantly. A monk, a nun, a layman, or a laywoman who wishes to practise in this way should observe their precepts faultlessly, and dwelling alone in one place, should focus the mind on the Buddha Amitābha, who currently resides to the west. In accordance with what one has been taught, one should also focus one’s mind on his realm, which is called Sukhāvati, the ‘Realm of Happiness’, and which lies beyond a thousand billion Buddha-fields. One should focus one’s mind on Amitābha in this way with one-pointed concentration for a day and a night, for seven days and seven nights. After seven days have passed, one will see him. It is like when one is in the midst of a dream, and does not know day from night, or inside from outside, and one can see regardless of darkness or obstructions.

A bodhisattva should focus his mind on Amitābha in this way, Bhadrapāla. Then his vision will penetrate all of the intervening Buddha-fields, mountains, even Mount Sumeru, and all dark and shadowy places, and they will not obstruct his vision. He will see clearly without being in possession of the divine eye. He will hear clearly without being in possession of the divine ear. He will travel to that Buddha-field without being in possession of supernormal powers. He does not die here in order to be reborn there, but sees what is there whilst remaining here. …

One will be reborn there by concentrating one’s mind completely on the Buddha Amitābha. One should always focus one’s mind on his thirty-two major and eighty minor characteristics, blazing their glory throughout a hundred million world-systems, unmatched in their beauty. …

Therefore, Bhadrapāla, those who wish to see all of the Buddhas of the present throughout the ten directions should focus their minds on the dwelling-places of the Buddhas, with one-pointed concentration, not becoming distracted by other thoughts. If they do this, they will be able to see them. It is like someone who has travelled to a distant country who focuses his mind on his own village, his family and his relatives. Such a person might dream that he had returned to his own village, seen his family and his relatives, and was happy to be able to talk to them again. When he wakes up, he will be able to relate what he has experienced.’

The Buddha said, ‘A bodhisattva who hears the name of a Buddha and wishes to see him should focus his mind constantly on that Buddha’s dwelling-place, and he will see him. … bodhisattvas who dwell in meditative concentration in this way, through the great supernormal powers of the Buddhas, will be able to see whatever Buddhas they wish. How are they able to do this? They are able to do this through the power of the Buddhas, the power of meditative concentration, and the power of the virtues they have developed in themselves. They are able to see the Buddhas because of these three factors.

It is like a handsome, well-dressed young man who wants to see himself. He might look in a mirror, sesame oil, or pure, clear water, and see his reflection there. Does the image enter the mirror, the sesame oil, or the pure, clear water from outside?’

Bhadrapāla replied, ‘It does not, god of the gods. He sees the image because of the clarity of the mirror, the sesame oil, or the pure water. The image does not come from the mirror, the oil, or the water, and neither does it enter them from the outside.’

The Buddha said, ‘Excellent, Bhadrapāla. Because the material is pure and clear, what it shows is pure and clear. If one wishes to see a Buddha, one will see a Buddha, one will be able to ask him questions, and one will receive a reply. When one hears the teachings, one will be filled with joy, and think, “Where has this Buddha come from? Where have I travelled to? I have focused my mind on this Buddha, yet he has not come from anywhere, and I have not travelled anywhere. In the same way, if I focus my mind on the realm of sensual desire, the realm of pure form, or the formless realm, I create these realms with my mind. I see whatever I focus my mind upon. The mind creates a Buddha. The mind sees itself. This mind is the Buddha-mind. This Buddha-mind is my body.’

Pratyutpanna Buddha Saṃmukhāvasthita Samādhi Sūtra, Taishō vol. 13, text 417, ch.2 extract, p.899a9– 20, b01–03, b08–14, b16–b29, trans. D.S.

Mindfulness

M.115 Eight contemplations

This passage concerns the contemplations of: impermanence, sensual desire as leading to suffering, human discontent, the problems of laziness, spiritual ignorance as causing rebirth, the need to relieve poverty, sensual desire as problematic, and the need to help living beings who are suffering.

A disciple of the Buddha should constantly, day and night, reflect with a concentrated mind upon the following eight realisations of great men.

The first realisation is that the world is impermanent. Countries can always break apart. The four great elements are painful and empty. The five categories of existence have no essential self. Everything is changing, constantly evolving, deceptive and unowned. The mind is the source of unwholesomeness. The body is a collection of unwholesome deeds. Reflecting in this way will gradually lead one to liberation from saṃsāra.

The second realisation is that great sensual desire leads to suffering. The weariness of saṃsāra arises from attachment and sensual desire. If one has few desires, one’s body and mind will be at ease.

The third realisation is that mind cannot be satisfied. It always wants more and more, and grows in unwholesomeness. A bodhisattva is different, being one who is always satisfied, content with little, practising the path. Their only business is wisdom.

The fourth realisation is that laziness leads one to fall into the lower realms. One should make a constant effort to eliminate the unwholesome defilements, defeating the four Māras, getting away from the prison of the elements and the categories of existence.

The fifth realisation is that saṃsāra consists of ignorance. A bodhisattva constantly bears in mind everything he has learned, and everything he has heard, which is a great deal. He develops perfect wisdom and has eloquence, instructing all beings in great bliss.

The sixth realisation is that the more one resents one’s poverty, the more one is bound to the unwholesome. Knowing this, a bodhisattva practises generosity, not discriminating between those who treat him badly, and those who are close to him. He does not think about the wrongs done to him in the past, nor does he bear any ill-will towards those who have wronged him.

The seventh realisation is that the five kinds of sensual pleasure are harmful. If one is a layman, one should never be corrupted by worldly pleasures. One should always be thinking about the three robes, the bowl, and the other requisites of a monk. One’s mind should be set upon going forth, undertaking a pure practice of the path, living the spiritual life to its fullest, and developing a mind of compassion for all living beings.

The eighth realisation is that saṃsāra is on fire, and that the defilements are limitless. He sets his mind on the Mahāyāna, and aims to rescue everyone. He takes the place of all living beings, taking immeasurable suffering upon himself, and leading them to great bliss.

These are the eight insights which have been realised by the Buddhas, by the bodhisattvas, by great men. They have made great efforts to practise the path, developed wisdom and compassion, and taken the raft of the Dharma-body to the further shore of nirvana. After this, they have returned to saṃsāra to liberate living beings. By means of these eight insights, they have trained all living beings, awakening them from the suffering of saṃsāra, encouraging them to abandon the five kinds of sensual pleasure, and to develop their minds on the noble path.

If the children of the Buddha constantly bear these eight reflections in mind, they will purify innumerable unwholesome deeds. Their path to awakening will be direct, and they will swiftly attain unsurpassed perfect awakening, bringing saṃsāra to an irrevocable end, dwelling forever in bliss.

‘Sūtra on the Eight Reflections of Great Men’/Foshuibadarenjiao jing, Taisho vol. 17, text no 779, pp.

715b6-c2, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.

M.116 Mindfulness of the body

This passage is a contemplation primarily of the physical body, but also of the body of all the conditioned processes making up a person.

Friends, this body is impermanent, unstable, unreliable, fragile, weak, decrepit, short-lived, painful, sickly, changeable, and disease-ridden. This is why the learned do not rely on it.

Friends, this body is like a fleck of froth that cannot tolerate any pressure. This body is like a bubble that soon bursts. This body is like a mirage, full of defilements and craving. This body is like the trunk of a banana tree, with no core.483 Alas, this body is like a restraint, bound with bone and sinew. This body is like an illusion, full of deluded perceptions. This body is like a dream, it sees what is not real. This body is like a hallucination, as it appears as a reflex of previous actions. This body is like an echo, it arises in dependence upon conditions. This body is like a cloud, characterised by a confused mind, and by its eventual dissolution. This body is like a flash of lightning, bursting forth for an instant, ephemeral. This body has no owner, but arises from various different conditions. This body is passive, like the earth. This body has no essential self, like water. This body has no life force, like a flame. This body has no personhood, like the wind. This body has no essential nature, like space. This body has no origin, but is a coalescence the four great elements. This body is empty, without an essential self of its own. This body is inanimate, like a blade of grass, a piece of wood, a wall, a lump of clay, or a hallucination. This body is inactive, turning like a windmill. This body is worthless, a collection of putrid and foul-smelling substances. This body is insignificant; it wears out and is destroyed, falling to pieces and being scattered like dust. This body is afflicted by the four hundred and four different kinds of disease. This body is like an ancient, dried-up well, constantly succumbing to old age. Alas, this body meets its end, culminating in death. This body, which consists of the categories of existence, the elements, and the sense-bases, is like a killer, a poisonous snake, an empty village.

You should therefore turn away from the body, which is like this, and cultivate dispassion towards it, cultivating instead a longing for the Tathāgata-body.

Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch.2, sections 8–11, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.

Calm (śamatha) meditation and the four deep meditative absorptions

The cultivation of śamatha in deep meditative absorptions, based on strong concentration and mindfulness, is seen as an important way to train the mind and support the cultivation of wisdom. Meditation and wisdom are the last two of the six bodhisattva perfections.

M.117 The benefits of meditative absorption

This passages describes the meditative absorptions (see *Th.140) as greatly aiding spiritual progress, but warns against being attached to them and the heavenly rebirths they can lead to.

If a bodhisattva wishes to attain unsurpassed perfect awakening, he should first enter the first meditative absorption. When he has done this, he should reflect, ‘Since the beginning of saṃsāra, I have attained this absorption again and again. I have done what should be done, attaining tranquillity of body and mind. I have gained a great deal of benefit from this absorption. I should now dwell in this absorption again, and do what should be done. This is the basis for all beneficial karma.’ When he has done this, he should … [enter the second, the third and the fourth absorptions, reflecting in the same way.]

Moreover, Śāriputra, none of the bodhisattvas, the great beings in the assembly of bodhisattvas could, without being grounded in the fourth absorption, enter the right path which assures liberation, understand reality, or abandon the state of ordinary beings. No bodhisattvas, great beings, could, without being grounded in the fourth absorption, and in the path, generate vajra-like meditative concentration, 484 completely eliminate all intoxicating inclinations, and attain the knowledge of a Buddha. … For this reason, a bodhisattva, a great being in the assembly of bodhisattvas should enter the fourth absorption again and again. … He should not, though, indulge in the pleasure of the fourth absorption or of the wondrous rebirths it can lead to.

Mahā-prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, Taishō vol.7, text 220, pp.1055c11–28, 1056a11– 21, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.

M.118 Meditative seclusion should not cut one off from others

This passage urges that meditation should not cut one off from ordinary people and their needs.

Śāriputra, you should withdraw to meditate, in such a way that neither body nor mind appear in the triple world.485 You should withdraw to meditate, in such a way that you do not return to the world from the cessation of perception and feeling, but are still able to manifest all forms of conduct. You should withdraw to meditate, in such a way that you do not abandon the characteristics of attainment, but are still able to manifest the characteristics of ordinary beings. You should withdraw to meditate, in such a way that your mind neither become fixed on the internal, nor wanders towards the external. You should withdraw to meditate, in such a way that you manifest the thirty-seven practices which help one to attain awakening,486 without deviating towards any views. You should withdraw to meditate, in such a way that you do not abandon the realm of saṃsāra or the defilements, but are still united with nirvana.

Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch.3, section 3, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.

M.119 Practising the five spiritual practices

This passage is from an influential meditation guide written by Zhiyi (Chih-I, 539-97), founder of the Chinese Tiantai (T’ien-t’ai) school. It concerns the proper preparation for meditation and the attainment of the first meditative absorption.

Even if the preceding twenty practices are performed fully, one will not experience calm if one is not happy, if one does not yearn for it, if one does not conscientiously discipline one’s body and mind, if one is not mindful of one’s perceptions, if one does not apply skill in means, and if one does not establish one’s mind in one-pointed concentration. One will be able to make progress if one is able to enjoy one’s practice with no resistance, if one is able to practise tirelessly day and night, if one is able to maintain constant mindfulness, if one is able to properly understand the goal, and if one keeps one’s mind established in one-pointed concentration, without wavering. One-pointed concentration is like the rudder of a ship. Astute wisdom is like the bow, and the other three are like the oars. If one of these things is missing, the ship will not be able to function. It is also like a bird which looks with its eyes, steers with its tail, and propels itself forward with its wings. Without these five practices, it will be difficult to meditate, let alone attain meditative concentration. …

‘Great Calm and Insight’/Mo-ho Zhi-Guan of Zhiyi, ch.6, section on The Twenty-Five Preliminary Ways and Means for Observation of the Mind, Taishō Vol.46, text 1911, p.48a15–22, b02–04, 11–13, 17– 18, trans. from Chinese by D.S.

M.120 The practice of deep calm

This passage describes a deep phase of the practice of śamatha (‘calm’ meditative concentration), Chinese zhi (‘cessation’ or ‘stopping’), after initially stilling the mind and developing preliminary insight. It concerns attunement to the deep nature of the mind.

Someone who wishes to practise calm should dwell in a quiet place, crossing the legs, and straightening the body. They should establish the mind in the proper way, not focusing on the air of the breath, nor on empty space, nor on earth, water, fire, or wind, nor on what is seen, heard, perceived, or known. All speculative thought and concepts should be removed. Even the thought of removing is to be removed. Phenomena neither appear nor disappear, as they have no characteristics. His mind, which was previously dependent on the objective field, should be removed from the objective field. Subsequently, his thought, which is dependent on the mind, should be removed from the mind. If the mind chases after external objects, it must become absorbed in the internal mind. If the mind becomes aroused, then he should not grasp at the characteristics of the mind, as when one is not attached to reality, there is nothing to grasp. If he always practises in this way without interruption, whether he is walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, then he will be able to gradually enter into the meditative concentration of reality, and rid himself of all defilements. In this way, the mind of faith is developed, and before long he will reach the stage of irreversibility. If his mind remains obscured by doubt, uncertainty, harsh thoughts, and a lack of faith, bound by karmic obstructions, arrogance, and laziness, he will not be able to enter into the meditative concentration of reality.

‘Treatise on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahāyāna’/Dasheng qixinlun (trans. by Śikṣānanda), Taishō, vol. 32, text 1667, p. 590b25-c6, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.

Insight (vipaśyanā) meditation

M.121 The practice of clear observation

This passage describes the practice of vipaśyanā (insight) meditation, Chinese guan ( ‘clear observation’), which focuses on the ephemeral nature of the world, and the painful nature of conditioned existence under the sway of spiritual ignorance.

If one only practises calm, the mind may sink down, and become lazy. One may start to feel an aversion to doing good deeds, and great compassion will be far away. Because of this, one should practise insight at the same time as calm. How should this be done? One should attain insight into the world, seeing that all phenomena appear and disappear without interruption. Because they are impermanent, they are painful, and because they are painful, they lack an essential self. One should regard what has happened in the past as being like a dream, what is happening in the present as being like a flash of lightening, and what will happen in the future as being like a cloud which emerges suddenly. One should regard the body and everything associated with it as being impure, replete with worms and tiny creatures mixed with filth and defilements. One should see that the foolish falsely conceive of existence in non-existence. One should see that all phenomena arise on the basis of conditions, that everything is ultimately unsubstantial, like a conjuror’s trick. One should see that the ultimate truth is beyond the scope of the mind; it is beyond comparison, indescribable. One should think about living beings, and see that throughout beginningless time, they have all been under the influence of ignorance and have suffered from immeasurable distress of mind and body. One should see that this is the case too in the present, and will be so in the future. Saṃsāra is immeasurable, endless, difficult to escape from, and difficult to cross over. They are stuck there, unable to see things clearly. What great empathy one should have for them!

‘Treatise on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahāyāna’/Dasheng qixinlun (trans. by Śikṣānanda), Taishō, Vol. 32, text 1667, p. 591a16-b5, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.

M.122 Meditation on the three gateways to liberation

This passage focuses on three deep insights: that all phenomena are ‘empty’ of any inherent nature/inherent existence (their ‘emptiness’; see *M.137–41), lack any defining characteristic marks (animitta), and are not something that should be wished for (apraṇihita).

Subhūti, the essence of the Mahāyāna of a bodhisattva, a great being, is the three kinds of meditative concentration. What are these three kinds of meditative concentration? When a bodhisattva cultivates the perfection of wisdom, based on the approach of non-attainment, he firstly attains insight into the essential nature of all phenomena, and sees that everything is empty. His mind becomes firmly established in this insight. This is called the gateway to liberation through emptiness, or the meditative concentration of emptiness. …

Secondly, he attains insight into the essential nature of all phenomena, and sees that everything is empty, and therefore has no characteristics. His mind becomes firmly established in this insight. This is called the gateway to liberation through the freedom from characteristics, or the meditative concentration of freedom from characteristics. …

Thirdly, he attains insight into the essential nature of all phenomena, and sees that all is empty, and therefore has no aspirations. His mind becomes firmly established in this insight. This is called the gateway to liberation through freedom from aspirations, or meditative concentration of freedom from aspirations.

Mahā-prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, Taishō vol.5, text 220, p.300b12-23; cf. vol.8, text 223, p.254c13–19, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.

M.123 Seated meditation and clear insight into the true spiritual aspect of reality

In this passage, Zhiyi of the Tiantai school describes how one should observe the mind so as to understand its true nature.

The practitioner has already practised the path by reciting sūtras. He should sit down on a string bed, neatly adjust his clothes, and sit with his body erect. He should breathe calmly, and relax his body and mind, as described in the section on ‘Prerequisites for Meditation’. He should then be mindful of genuine insight, and cut himself off from his previous unwholesome actions.

What is clear and genuine insight? As in the Dharma of the bodhisattva, the practitioner is not released from the defilements, nor does he remain in the sea of defilements. He gains insight into the emptiness of all phenomena, and sees them as they really are. This is genuine insight.

What is insight into the emptiness of all phenomena? The practitioner should carefully cultivate insight into each thought as it arises, and into the distorted mind that accompanies it. … He searches for his mind amongst the various different kinds of causes and conditions, but cannot find it. The mind is like a dream. It is not real. It is calm, like space. It has no name and no characteristics, and it cannot be conceptualised.

At this time, the practitioner does not see that his mind is saṃsāra. How could he see that it is nirvana? As he has not attained this insight, he cannot preserve it. He does not attain anything. He does not give anything up. He does not rely on anything. He is not attached to anything. No thoughts arise in his mind, and he is tranquil. He does not dwell in this tranquillity, though. This is ineffable. It cannot be put into words.

Although he does not find any characteristic of mind or no-mind, he nonetheless understands the teaching of mind and no-mind. Absolutely everything is like an illusion. …

All delusions and distortions, which create all phenomena – unwholesome actions as well as good fortune – arise from the mind. Outside of the mind, there are no unwholesome actions or any good fortune. Indeed, there are no phenomena. If the practitioner has insight into the mind and no-mind, he will see that unwholesome actions and good fortune have no owner. When he understands that unwholesome actions and good fortune are empty of inherent existence, he sees that all phenomena are empty. When he has developed insight in this way, he is able to break down all of the distortions of saṃsāra, the three poisons, delusion, and the heaviest kinds of unwholesome actions.

There is then nothing to break down. Body and mind are purified, and in his awareness all phenomena are illuminated. He does not have the slightest perception of or attachment to the eighteen elements or the five categories of existence. Because of this, he attains meditative concentration. Because of his meditative concentration, he sees Samantabhadra487 and the Buddhas of the ten directions lay their hands upon his head488 and teach him the Dharma.

‘Confessional Samādhi of the Lotus Sūtra’/Fa-hua San-mei Chan-yi, by Zhiyi, section 10, Taishō vol.46, text 954, p.a10–15, a20–26, b01–07, trans. from Chinese by D.S.

Chan/Zen meditation

In East Asia, the school which has most emphasized meditation is known as Chan in China (Thien in Vietnam, Seon in Korea, Zen in Japan): see *MI.6.

M.124 How to sit in meditation489

This passage comes from Changlu Zongze (d. 1107?), who was a very influential Chan master. His ‘Manual for Seated Meditation Practice’ has been popular among practitioners as a standard in China and Korea.

A learned bodhisattva should begin by cultivating a mind filled with great compassion. He should make a great vow to cultivate perfect meditative concentration, and commit himself to saving all living beings, not seeking liberation for himself alone. You should therefore abandon all conditioned things, and give up the incessant affairs of the world. Body and mind should be as one. There should be no gap between movement and stillness. Eat and drink neither too little nor too much. Regulate sleep, being neither overly indulgent nor overly strict.

When you wish to meditate, find somewhere that is peaceful and quiet. Spread out a thick meditation mat, and ensure that your clothes and your belt are not too tight. When everything is properly prepared, sit cross-legged. First, rest your right foot on your left thigh, then rest your left foot on your right thigh. Alternatively, you can sit with legs half-crossed. You left foot should hold your right foot in place. Then rest your right hand on your left foot. Rest your open left palm on top of your open right palm. Bring the tips of your thumbs together so that they support each other. Gently stretch your body forward, and then to the left and to the right to establish good posture. Sit without leaning left or right, forward or back. The lower back and the neck should support each other, so that your body is like a pagoda. However, you should not sit bolt upright, as this can lead a person to become restless, and not calm. Your ears should be aligned with your shoulders, and your nose with your navel. Your tongue should press gently against your palate, and your lips should touch your teeth. Your eyes should be slightly open, so that you do not become drowsy. You may attain a state of meditative concentration, the power of which is unsurpassed. In ancient times, the monks who were the most advanced practitioners of meditation always meditated with their eyes open. 490 Chan Master Fayun Yuantong even scolded those who meditated with their eyes closed, saying that it was as if they were in a dark mountain cave filled with ghosts. The wise see it in this way.

With the body stable and the breath calmed, your should relax your belly. Do not think about good and evil. When a thought arises, you should be aware of it immediately. When you become aware of it, it will dissipate immediately. Dwell for a long time without thinking about conditioned things, and your mind will become integrated. This is the essential art of meditation.

‘Manual for Seated Meditation Practice’/Zuochan yi (part of Changlu Zongze’s ‘Pure Regulations for the Chan Preserve’/Chan-yuan qing-gui, Taishō vol.48, text 2023, p.1047b12–c01

M.125 Seated meditation

This passage gives guidance from the sixth patriarch of Chan Buddhism, Huineng (638-713; *M.167), emphasizing that inner purity is not something to be developed or known, but simply exhibited through non-attached awareness.

The Master instructed his followers in this way, ‘In this teaching, sitting in meditation does not primarily mean concentrating on the mind, or concentrating on purity, and nor does it mean being motionless. One could say that it means concentrating on the mind, but the mind is essentially illusory. You should understand that the mind is like an illusion, so there is nothing for you to concentrate on.

One could say that it means concentrating on purity, but human nature is essentially pure. However, it is because of illusory thought that reality is obscured. If you get rid of illusory thought, you will see that your own nature is pure. When you rouse your mind to concentrate on purity, the illusion of purity immediately arises. Illusions, though, are not located anywhere, and the one who concentrates is illusory. Purity has no form. You give it a form and then say that this form is the result of the effort you have put into your practice. Someone who views things in this way obscures his own nature and places himself in bondage.

Spiritual friends, when you train yourselves in motionlessness, when you see people, do not focus on their faults, on right or wrong, good or bad. This is when your own nature will become motionless.

Spiritual friends, deluded people may be motionless in body, but whenever they open their mouths, they talk about the strengths and shortcomings of others, their good or bad qualities, and how they do not follow the path. Concentrating on either the mind or on purity is an obstruction on the path.’

The Master instructed his followers in this way, ‘Spiritual friends, what does it mean to sit in meditation? Through this Dharma-door, there is no obstruction or hindrance. Externally, the mind is not troubled by good or bad circumstances. This is what sitting means. Internally, one sees the motionlessness of one’s own nature. This is what is meant by “meditation”.

Spiritual friends, what is meant by meditative absorption and meditative concentration? Being free from characteristics externally is meditative absorption. Being undisturbed internally is meditative concentration.

If you are attached to any external characteristic, then you will be disturbed internally. If there are no external characteristics, there will be no internal disturbance. Your original nature is pure and concentrated. It is only because of looking at objects and thinking about them that you become disturbed. If the mind does not become disturbed when it looks at objects, this is true meditative concentration.

Spiritual friends, when there are no external characteristics, this is meditation. When there is no internal disturbance, this is meditative absorption. Externally it is meditation and internally it is meditative absorption. That is why it is called meditation and meditative absorption.

It is said in the ‘Sūtra on the Precepts of the Bodhisattva’: “My original nature is essentially pure.”

Spiritual friends, in every moment of awareness, look inside yourselves and see that your own nature is essentially pure. Train yourselves, practise yourself, and you yourself will accomplish the path to Buddhahood.’

‘Platform Sūtra of the Sixth Patriarch’/Liuzi-tan jing, Taishō vol.48, text 2008, section 5, p.353b8–27, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.

M.126 The meditative concentration of one form of conduct

This passage, also from Huineng, emphasizes that open non-attachment is the single key to meditation.

The Master said, ‘Spiritual friends, you should each purify your minds, and listen to my explanation of the Dharma. If you wish to attain omniscience, you should attain the meditative concentration of one characteristic, and the meditative concentration of one form of conduct.

If you do not hold onto any characteristic, if you do not like or dislike any characteristic, if you do not take hold of or reject any characteristic, if you do not think of gain and loss, success and failure, and so forth, but simply remain peaceful and calm, blending yourselves with emptiness, and dwelling in tranquillity, this is what is known as the meditative concentration of one characteristic.

If your mind is always integrated and clear, whether you are walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, the seat of awakening will not be disturbed, and the pure land will undoubtedly be accomplished. This is what is known as the meditative concentration of one form of conduct.

Anyone who is has attained these two forms of meditative concentration is like the earth when is has been sown with seeds which are well preserved and nurtured, so that they will bear ripe fruit. The meditative concentration of one characteristic, and the meditative concentration of one form of conduct are just like this. This explanation of the Dharma is like the rain which falls at the right time to soak the whole of the great earth. Your Buddha-nature is like seeds which will definitely yield fruit when they are watered by the rain. Anyone who practises this essential teaching which I have given will undoubtedly attain awakening. Anyone who practises according to my instructions will certainly obtain this wondrous fruit.

‘Platform Sūtra of the Sixth Patriarch’/Liuzi-tan jing, Taishō vol.48, text 2008, section 10, p.361a26–c7, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.

M.127 Meditation and wisdom

This passage from Huineng emphasizes that meditative concentration and wisdom are two aspects of the same activity, which should be based on attunement to one’s ‘fundamental mind’ or ‘self-nature’: the Buddha-nature or the pure Buddha-nature. One’s mind should be free-flowing and ‘straightforward’, not attached to or focusing on anything in particular, whether seated in meditation or moving about in the world. True reality (tathatā) or suchness is beyond words, and one is attuned to this through ‘non-thought’, in Chinese wu-nien or wu-xin: free-flowing, direct, non-conceptual awareness.

The Master instructed his followers in this way, ‘Spiritual friends, this Dharma-door is based on meditative concentration and wisdom. Everyone, do not make the deluded claim that meditative concentration and wisdom are different. In their very being, meditative concentration and wisdom are one thing, not two. Meditative concentration is the substance of wisdom, and wisdom is the functioning of meditative concentration. When wisdom is manifested, meditative concentration is inherent in it, and when meditative concentration is active, wisdom is present in it. If you understand this, then you will train yourselves equally in meditative concentration and in wisdom.

Students of the path, do not claim that meditative concentration and wisdom are separate, 491 with wisdom arising from already existing meditative concentration, or that meditative concentration arises from already existing wisdom. Those who hold this view see things in a dualistic way. Their speech is wholesome, but not their minds, so wisdom and meditative concentration are mere words, and then they are not the same.

If one’s speech and one’s mind are both wholesome, the inner and the outer are identical. Meditative concentration is the same as wisdom. One is awakened, and acts accordingly, not engaging in disputes. If one engages in disputes about what comes first and what follows, then you are just like those who are deluded, constantly vying to win the argument, ever more attached to themselves and to external objects, and never free from the four states of being.492

Spiritual friends, what can meditative concentration and wisdom be compared to? They are like a lamp and the light it gives. Wherever the lamp is, there is light. Wherever there is no lamp, there is darkness. The substance of the light is the lamp, and the light is the functioning of the lamp. Although they have different names, they have the same nature. This teaching on meditative concentration and wisdom is just like this.’

The Master instructed his followers in this way, ‘Spiritual friends, the meditative concentration of one form of conduct means always acting with a unified, straightforward mind in all one’s movements, whether one is walking, standing, sitting or lying down. The Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra says: “The straightforward mind is the seat of awakening. The straightforward mind is the pure land.” Don’t act with a distorted mind talking of straightforwardness, speaking about the meditative concentration of one form of conduct but not having straightforward mind. Simply act with a straightforward mind. Don’t cling to any phenomenon. The deluded cling to the characteristics of phenomena, and become attached to the meditative concentration of one form of conduct, saying bluntly, “Sitting motionless all the time without allowing wrong thoughts to arise is the meditative concentration of one form of conduct.” Someone who sees things in this way is like an inanimate object, and this view obstructs the path for him.

Spiritual friends, the path should be open and clear. How does it become obstructed? If the mind did not dwell amongst phenomena, then the path would be open and clear. If one’s mind dwells amongst phenomena, one binds oneself. One might claim that it is simply a matter of sitting still and not moving, but Śāriputra sat in seclusion in the forest, and was criticized for this by Vimalakīrti.493 Spiritual friends, in setting up your practice you might be instructed to sit down, remain motionless and unagitated, and look into your mind, practising meditative calm and insight. Deluded people, though, because of their misunderstanding, become attached to this, and their practice thus becomes distorted. There are many people like this. They instruct each other to act in this way, and so this misunderstanding has become widespread.’

The Master instructed his followers in this way, ‘Spiritual friends, originally, the true teaching did not include the idea of a sudden and a gradual path,494 but people are either sharp or dull by nature. Deluded people practise gradually. Intelligent people get it right away. There is no difference between the two in terms of their realization of their original mind, their insight into their original nature, but because of this difference, the provisional notions of sudden and gradual awakening have arisen.

Spiritual friends, the main doctrine of the Dharma-door I have explained thus is no-thought; its essence is freedom from characteristics; and its basis is non-abiding. Freedom from characteristics is to abandon the characteristics of characteristics. No-thought is to have no thought of thoughts. Non-abiding is the essential nature of human beings. If one is verbally abused or insulted, criticized or confronted by enemies or relatives, and whether one experiences good or evil, the pleasant or the ugly in the world – one sees all of these experiences as empty, and nurtures no thought of retaliation. One does not think about previous thoughts in every moment of thought. If the previous thought, the present thought, and the coming thought succeed one another without interruption, in such a way that one is thinking in every moment, then one is bound. If one does not dwell amongst phenomena, thinking of them in every moment, then one is unbound. This is why non-abiding is said to be the basis of this Dharma-door.

Spiritual friends, abandoning all external characteristics is what is known as freedom from characteristics. Without characteristics, the essence of phenomena is pure. Their essence is thus said to be free from characteristics.

The mind which remains uncontaminated when it senses objects is said to be non-thinking. When one thinks, one should always remain unattached to sense objects, and not allow thoughts to arise in the field of sense objects. If one stops thinking about everything, all thought will be eliminated. It is a serious error, though, to think that one would then die as soon as a single thought was missing, and be reborn in another state of existence. The followers of the path should reflect on this. If one has not understood the meaning of the Dharma, it is to be expected that one will deceive oneself, but more than that, one might deceive others. If one has not seen one’s own delusion, one may criticize the teachings of the Buddha. This is why no-thought is taken as the main doctrine of this Dharma-door.

Spiritual friends, what does it mean to take non-thought as the main doctrine of this Dharma-door? If the insight into one’s original nature is simply explained verbally, deluded people will continue giving rise to thoughts in the field of sense objects, and so wrong views will come to arise in the field of thinking. Out of this, all kinds of worldly concerns and fantasies will arise. If one understands the essential nature of things there is no independently extant object whatsoever which one can get hold of. The idea that there is anything to get hold of, such that one could mistakenly talk of good fortune and bad fortune, is said to be a defiled wrong view. This is why non-thought is taken as the main doctrine of this Dharma-door.

Spiritual friends, when we say “non-”, what is it that is negated by the “non-”? When we say “thought”, what is it that we think of? By “non-” we mean no duality, no wearisome mental defilements. By “thinking” we mean thinking about the nature of reality. Reality is the substance of thought, and thought is the functioning of reality. Reality gives rise to thought. The eye, ear, nose, and tongue cannot do this. Reality has its own nature, and this is why it can give rise to thought. If reality did not exist, then the eye and the ear, forms and sounds would be instantaneously cut off.

Spiritual friends, thought arises because of the nature of reality. Even though the six senses see, hear, perceive and know, they are not defiled by the countless sense objects they encounter, and the nature of reality is always self-existent. It is therefore said in the Sūtra, “Someone who can penetrate the essence of all phenomena does not become agitated in the realm of ultimate truth.”’

‘Platform Sūtra of the Sixth Patriarch’/Liuzi-tan jing, Taishō vol.48, text 2008, section 4, p.353c13– 354b6, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.

M.128 Inscription on the Mind of Faith

This passage, from the third Chan patriarch Jianzhi Sengcan (d.606), is a classic expression of the Chan ideal of open non-attachment and the unity of all.

The Supreme path is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose. Free yourself from hatred and love,495 and you will see it clearly.

The slightest deviation is like the distance between the sky and the earth. If you wish to see it right away, do not indulge in likes or dislikes.

The conflict between likes and dislikes is an affliction of the mind. If you do not understand the profound meaning of this, it is pointless to practise meditative calm.

It is perfect, like great emptiness, with nothing missing and nothing superfluous. It is only though grasping and rejection that it ceases to be so.

Do not pursue the conditioned, nor dwell in the patient acceptance of emptiness. In oneness and sameness, all states of mind dissolve of their own accord.

Even if you stop moving, this stopping is still a kind of movement. You will be trapped between the two. Instead, simply understand oneness.

If you do not get hold of oneness, you will fail to succeed in two ways. By rejecting existence, you will become submerged in existence. By pursuing emptiness, you will turn your back on emptiness.

If you talk a lot, and fret a lot, you will go astray. Stop talking, stop fretting, and nothing will stand in your way.

To understand the meaning, go back to the root. If you chase reflections in a mirror, you will lose sight of realization.

A moment of inner reflection is better than focussing on emptiness. 496 Focussing on emptiness distorts everything; it results from wrong views.

You do not need to seek the truth, just abandon all views. …

Duality exists because of oneness. Do not even be attached to oneness. When not even a single thought arises, all of the countless phenomena will be completely pure.

No impurities, no phenomena, no arising, no mind: if you follow the subject, the object disappears; if you pursue the object, the subject dissolves.

It is because of subjects that objects are objects. It is because of objects that subjects are subjects.497 …

To turn away from the six sources of impurity498 is to reach perfect awakening. The wise do not act. Fools bind themselves. …

When you open your eyes, dreams fade away by themselves. When your mind makes no distinctions, all of the countless phenomena are simply as they are. …

Oneness is everything. Everything is oneness. If you understand this, there’s no reason to worry about not achieving your goal.

The mind of faith is non-dual. Non-duality is the mind of faith. It is beyond words and concepts, beyond past, present and future.

‘Inscription on the Mind of Faith’/Xin Xin Ming of Jianzhi Sengcan, Taishō vol.48, text 2010, pp.376b18– 377a10, trans. D.S.



VAJRAYĀNA

Giving up distractions

V.55 The benefits of staying in solitude

This passage recommends solitude as an aid to serious, long-term meditation, once a person has learnt how to meditate.

Unless you give up all diversions, distractions, and go to stay in a solitary place, you cannot develop meditative absorption. So it is crucial, as a first step, to get rid of distractions.

Consider the following: ‘Whatever has come together will surely fall apart. Parents, brothers and sisters, spouses, friends and relatives – even the flesh and bones of the body that were born together – are going to separate. What is the use of clinging to our loved ones who are impermanent? I should always stay alone.’ As Repa Shiwa Ö499 has said, ‘Being alone with oneself is being the Buddha. Although Dharma-friends may support my spiritual practice, having more than three or four gives rise to attraction and aversion, so I shall rather stay alone.’

‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.401–02, trans. T.A.

V.56 Abandoning worldly activities, and prizing solitude

This passage is again directed at very serious meditators, who greatly benefit from practice in seclusion. Tibet has always been famous for its great number of yogis living in remote mountain hermitages. While most people do not have the opportunity to live like this, it is good to take opportunities to do so for a period, such as on a meditation retreat.

Occupations such as trade, farming, industry, and science keep you distracted (from practising the Dharma) by many engagements and things to do. They are mundane diversions constantly keeping you busy while not having much (spiritual) significance. No matter how much you strive (in life), you never find fulfilment; overcoming your rivals and supporting your family members becomes a never-ending preoccupation.

Leave behind all those endless activities and distractions like your spittle in the dust! Leave your homeland behind and embrace the world as your own. Live among bare rocks and make friends with wild animals. Deny comfort to your body-mind – let go of your need for food, clothing, and conversation. Spend your whole life in an uninhabited, empty valley.

As the revered Milarepa has said, ‘In a rocky cave of a desolate valley, where my loneliness is never dispelled, I am constantly yearning for the Master, (embodiment of) the Buddhas of the three times.’ As the saying goes, ‘In a place of loneliness, concentration naturally arises.’ If you stay in solitude like that, then all good qualities of the path – such as renunciation (of the world) and disillusionment with it, faith and pure perception, meditative absorption and concentration – will arise on their own accord. Try as best you can to live in such a place.

Secluded spots in the forest are the places where the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the past have also found their peace. In such places, without any (chance for) diversion or distraction, without trading or farming; where, without nagging companions, you can live happily in the company of birds and wild animals; where water and plants provide ascetic nourishment; where awareness clears up by itself and meditative absorption naturally expands, with neither enemies nor friends you become freed from the bondage of attraction and repulsion. Even visiting such a place has many beneficial effects, not to mention actually staying there! In ‘The Moon Lamp Sūtra’ – among others – the Buddha has said that even the intention to go to a solitary place, or taking seven steps towards it has more karmic benefit than making offerings to all the Buddhas in the ten directions for as many eons as there are grains of sand in the Ganges.

It is also said that ‘in a mountain hermitage, a supreme place of seclusion, whatever one does is always good.’ According to this, the good qualities of the path – such as renunciation and disillusionment, loving kindness and compassion – develop quite naturally by themselves in a place like that, even though one may not make any deliberate effort to accomplish them. Thus everything one does there can only ever be wholesome. All your attractions, aversions, and other defilements that you had not been able to control whilst living among diversions will diminish naturally once you go to a secluded place, and it will be easy to develop the good qualities of the path.

As preliminary steps towards developing meditative absorption, these points are absolutely crucial and indispensable.

‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.406–08, trans. T.A.

Meditative concentration

V.57 Three stages in the development of meditative concentration

This passage concerns the kinds of meditative concentration.

There are three stages in the development of meditative concentration: childish concentration, reality-discerning concentration, and the Tathāgata’s wholesome concentration.

While one is clinging to meditative experiences of bliss, clarity, and non-conceptuality, and deliberately seeking them one meditates full of expectation, one is still on the stage of childish concentration.

When one has abandoned clinging to meditative experiences, and even though no longer fascinated by concentration, one still clings to the perception of emptiness as an antidote (for the defilements), that is called the stage of reality-discerning concentration.

When one no longer clings to emptiness as an antidote and still remains in non-conceptual meditative concentration (focused) on the nature of reality, that is called the Tathāgata’s wholesome concentration.

Whenever you practise meditative concentration, you should apply the seven point posture of Vairocana – your eyes maintaining the appropriate gaze, and so forth.500 As it is said, ‘When the body is straight, the channels are straight; when the channels are straight, the energies 501 are straight; and when the energies are straight, the mind is straight.’ So if you straighten up your body without reclining or leaning against anything, your mind becomes free of concepts and you can maintain meditative equipoise without thinking of anything. That is the definition of the perfection of meditative concentration.

‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.408–09, trans. T.A.

Meditative antidotes for the various defilements

V.58 Listing the antidotes

This passage and the next six are from the sixteenth chapter of Gampopa’s ‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, dealing with ‘Meditative Concentration’. Staying in solitude, avoiding physical disturbance, and having separated one’s mind from discursive thoughts, one starts to contemplate the antidotes for the mental defilements/afflictions: lust, hatred, delusion, envy and self-centredness.

When you are no longer distracted, you become concentrated. Then, in order to refine your mind, you should investigate which is your predominant affliction and contemplate the antidote for it. (1) The antidote for lust is meditation on the unlovely. (2) The antidote for hatred is meditation on loving kindness. (3) The antidote for delusion is meditation on dependent arising. (4) The antidote for envy is meditation on the equality of oneself and others. (5) The antidote for self-centredness is meditation on exchanging oneself and others. (6) If your defilements are equally strong or if you have too much thought, then you should meditate on the breath.

V.59 Antidote for lust: meditation on the unlovely aspects of the body

This passage describes meditations that are also one of those described in *Th.138, the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta.

(1) If you are dominated by lust, then you should meditate on the unlovely, which is done in the following way: First, consider the thought that this body of yours is composed of thirty-six impure substances – flesh, blood, skin, bone, marrow, lymph, bile, phlegm, mucus, excrement, and so forth. Then go to the charnel ground and when you see a corpse taken there: one day after death, and also two, three, four or five days after death, showing signs of decay, turning bluish, turning black, infested by worms, then draw the conclusion: ‘This body of mine is also like that, it is subject to that, it never escapes that reality.’ Also, when you see a corpse taken to the charnel ground reduced to a mere skeleton with just a little flesh and ligaments remaining, and then the skeleton falling apart into smaller and smaller pieces, and several years after death the bones taking on the colour of a conch shell, and then the colour of dust, then draw the conclusion: ‘This body of mine is also like that, it is subject to that, it never escapes that reality.’

V.60 Antidote for hatred: meditation on loving kindness

(2) If you are dominated by hatred, then meditate on loving kindness as its antidote. Loving kindness, as I explained earlier,502 is of three types. Here, we are talking about loving kindness with reference to sentient beings, where you initially think about benefitting and making happy someone who is dear to you and develop loving kindness with regard to that person. After that, do the same toward acquaintances, then toward your neighbours, and then toward those living in your town. Finally, meditate in the same way toward all sentient beings in the East and then the rest of the ten directions, too.

V.61 The antidote to delusion: meditation on dependent arising

This introduces a contemplation which is explained in the continuation of the passage *V.74.

(3) If you are dominated by delusion, then meditate on dependent arising503 as its antidote. …

V.62 The antidote for envy: meditation on the equality of self and others

(4) If you are dominated by envy, then meditate on the equality of yourself and others as its antidote. Just as you want happiness, other sentient beings also want happiness. Just as you do not want pain, other sentient beings also do not want pain. Therefore, practise the meditation of cherishing yourself and other sentient beings equally. 504 That is what (Ṥāntideva) says in his ‘Engaging in the Conduct for Awakening’: ‘First of all, I should meditate fervently on the equality of myself and others. Being equal in our pains and pleasures, I should protect all beings as I do myself’ (BCA VIII.90).

V.63 The antidote to pride: meditation on exchanging oneself and others

(5) If you are dominated by pride, then meditate on exchanging yourself and others as its antidote. Childish sentient beings cherish themselves only, and since they work for their own benefit, they suffer in saṃsāra. The Buddhas cherish others, and since they work for the benefit of others, they attain Buddhahood. As it is said: ‘The childish work for their own benefit, the Buddhas work for others’ benefit – just look at the difference between them!’ (BCA VIII.130). Knowing therefore mere self-cherishing as a fault, give up self-grasping. Knowing that cherishing others is a good quality, treat others as yourself. ‘Engaging in the Conduct for Awakening’ says: ‘Seeing the fault in cherishing just myself, and the great value of cherishing others, may I abandon clinging to my own self, and accustom myself to favouring others!’ (BCA VIII.113).

V.64 The antidote to much discursive thought: meditation on the breath

(6) If you are dominated by defilements of equal strength or much discursive thought, then practise with the breath. Meditate in six stages: counting, following and so forth. As the Treasury of Abhidharma (the Abhidharmakośa by Vasubandhu) says, ‘there are six stages: counting, following, stabilizing, examining, transforming, and fully purifying the breath.’505

*V.58 to 64 are from ‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.255–62, trans. T.A.

Meditation on the four limitless qualities

These are loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and impartiality or equanimity. Some similar ideas to what is said below are also found in the Theravāda text known as the Visuddhimagga (Path of Purification), chapter IX.

V.65 Meditation on impartiality

Training the mind through the four limitless qualities involves meditation on immeasurable loving kindness, immeasurable compassion, immeasurable empathetic joy and immeasurable impartiality. Although the list usually starts with loving kindness, when we talk about training the mind through practising them one by one, we have to start with impartiality, because otherwise we would end up with just partial loving kindness, compassion, and empathetic joy, which would not be pure at all. Therefore, we start training the mind with impartiality.

Impartiality means giving up our hatred for enemies and infatuation with friends, and developing a balanced attitude toward all sentient beings, free of attachment to those close to us and aversion for those who are distant. The reason why we are presently so much attached to our parents, family members, and others close to us while we hate and cannot stand our enemies and their followers is that we have not properly examined the situation.

In previous lifetimes, our present enemies may have been our parents who loved us dearly, looked after us affectionately, and helped us in inconceivable ways – while those whom we presently consider our loved ones may also have been our enemies in some previous lives when they did a lot of harm to us. … Likewise, we can never be certain that those whom we presently consider our enemies are not going to be born as our children, or that our family members will not be born as our enemies.506 So why allow ourselves to be deceived by the momentary appearance of enemies and loved ones, and accumulate negative karma through attachment and aversion that is going to weigh us down into the depths of the lower realms?

Make up your mind, therefore, to think of all infinite sentient beings as your parents and children,507 and just like the great beings of the past, see your enemies and friends as equal. First, train yourself in various ways so that those whom you do not like at all may no longer stir up anger and hatred in your mind. Think of them as neutral, ordinary people who are neither helpful nor harmful to you. Then consider that neutral beings have also been innumerable times our parents during beginningless saṃsāra, train your mind and meditate until you feel the same kind of affection for them as for your actual parents in this life. Finally, continue this meditation until you feel the same compassion towards all beings – whether they appear to be hostile, friendly, or neutral – as you do for your own parents.

Without this last step, you may develop some even-mindedness without feeling any compassion or hatred toward either enemies or friends, but that is just dull indifference – neither helpful nor harmful. Immeasurable impartiality is like a banquet given by a wise king. When wise kings offer banquets or feasts, they invite everyone – high or low, powerful or weak, good or bad, excellent or mediocre – without making any distinction whatsoever. Just like them, we should treat all sentient beings throughout space with the same kind of great compassion, train your mind until you feel that kind of impartiality.

‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.310–11; 314–15, trans. T.A.

V.66 Meditation on loving kindness

Through meditating on limitless impartiality as described, you come to regard all beings of the three realms508 with the same great loving kindness. Think of them as parents do of their small children.509 When they look after them, they do not care about their children’s ingratitude or their own hardships, but endeavour physically, verbally, and mentally to make their children feel happy, comfortable, and secure. That is how we should endeavour through our body, speech, and mind to make all sentient beings feel good and happy in various ways both in this lifetime and the future ones. All those sentient beings seek their own happiness and satisfaction – none of them want to feel unhappy and miserable. 510 Yet, not knowing that happiness can only be attained by wholesome action, they revel in the ten unwholesome actions.511 Thus being engaged in just the opposite of what they wish for, even though they want happiness, they experience only suffering. Meditate again and again on the thought: ‘How nice it would be if all these sentient beings were just as happy and fortunate as they wish to be!’ Meditate until eventually you wish all sentient beings to be just as happy as you want to be.

Accordingly, you should perform what the sūtras call ‘physical, verbal, and mental acts of loving kindness.’ Whatever you say or do, you should not cause any harm to other beings. Always be loving and kind to them. As ‘Engaging in the Conduct for Awakening’ puts it, ‘Even as my eyes look upon sentient beings, may they behold them in an honest and loving way’ (BCA V.80) … Physically, whatever you do should be gentle and pleasing, not doing others any harm but intent on helping them. Verbally, whatever you say should be true and pleasant, without disrespecting, disdaining, or insulting others. Mentally, you should want others’ benefit from the bottom of your heart, only wishing them happiness without expecting anything in return or trying to impress others by your pleasant speech and behaviour to make them think you are a bodhisattva. Pray again and again in these words: ‘May I in all my births, life after life, not hurt even a single hair of another sentient being but always act for their benefit!’ …

Specifically, whatever support you can give physically, verbally, and mentally to your parents or those with sustained illness has inconceivable benefits. The Noble Lord (Atiśa) has said that showing loving kindness to visitors from afar, the chronically ill, and your decrepit parents are similar to meditation on emptiness with a core of compassion. …

Immeasurable loving kindness is said to be like a mother-bird bringing up her chicks. First she makes a soft and comfortable nest for them, then she covers them with her wings to keep them warm. Doing everything very gently, she takes care of the chicks until they can fly away. That is how we should learn to show loving kindness to all sentient beings of the three realms through our body, speech, and mind.

‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.315–21, trans. T.A.

V.67 Meditation on compassion

The meditation on compassion consists of thinking about a sentient being suffering from intense pain and wishing them to be free from that painful situation. Imagine a sentient being tormented by severe pain, such as someone thrown into a dark prison and awaiting execution or an animal in the slaughterhouse just about to be butchered to death. Then think about them as someone you love – your mother or child.

When you look upon that being – the dungeon prisoner being led to the scaffold or the lamb being grabbed and tied by the butcher, do not think about them as someone else. Try to put yourself in the place of that suffering being out there, thinking ‘What would I do if it was me?’ Consider this: ‘What can I do now? There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, no refuge and no protection. I cannot escape, I cannot fly away, I cannot resist by force – I am going to part from the whole world of this life in this very moment. Alas! I must leave behind even this cherished body of mine and set out on the road leading to my next life. How terrible!’ Train your mind by taking their suffering upon yourself in this way.

Then again, when you look at that lamb being led to the slaughter, do not think of it as a lamb but instead imagine strongly that it is your own old mother who is being treated this way. ‘If it was my old mother, what would I do? If somebody were to kill my innocent old mother like that, what should I do? What terrible anguish my poor mother must be going through!’ Try to take upon your own heart the pain she must feel. As soon as you experience a wish and an affectionate yearning to free your old mother from the pain of being butchered on the spot, remind yourself that although it is not your present parent who is having that pain right now, she must have been one of your parents in a former lifetime. When she was your mother or father, she must have taken care of you with just the same great kindness as your present parents have, so there is actually no difference between them. ‘It is so heart-breaking to see my parents suffering so badly! If only I could free them from this pain right now, quickly, in this very moment!’ Meditate in this way until you feel such an unbearably deep compassion that you burst into tears.

When your compassion for them is aroused, reflect on the fact that their pain results from their former wrongdoings and everybody who is presently indulging in unwholesome actions will definitely have to go through similar pain.512 With this thought in mind, meditate on compassion for murderers, and all those who are busy creating the causes of pain. Then think about the painful suffering of sentient beings that are born in the hells, among the hungry ghosts, or in the animal realm. Put yourself into their place, think of them as your parents, and repeat the previous steps. Try to develop compassion for them, too.

Finally, think of all sentient beings in the three realms. ‘Wherever there is space there are sentient beings, wherever sentient beings are, there is wrongdoing and pain, and these sentient beings involved in wrongdoing and pain are worthy of compassion. If only every sentient being would be free from their karmically experienced pain and its latencies, and attain the enduring happiness of perfectly awakened Buddhahood!’ Mediate on this wish from the bottom of your heart.

‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.321–14, trans. T.A.

V.68 Meditation on empathetic joy

This passage is on the cultivation of joy at the happiness, success and good qualities of others. Being unhappy because others are happy just adds to the misery of the world!

Think about someone of noble birth, wealthy and powerful, living a long, happy and comfortable life in one of the higher realms, having many servants and resources. Then, without any feeling of rivalry or jealousy, make the wish that they might enjoy even more of the splendour of the higher realms, may they be free from harm and obtain many excellent qualities – such as great wisdom. Meditate again and again on the thought: ‘I would be so joyful if all other sentient beings could also live their lives in similar circumstances!’

When you meditate on empathetic joy, first think of a close relative or friend you find it easy to empathize with; imagine him or her having all good qualities, a comfortable and happy life, and feel happy about it. When you have established that feeling, meditate in the same way about someone neutral. Then think about your enemies who have harmed you, especially those of whom you feel jealous, and uprooting the negative mentality of envying others’ excellent possessions, develop a particular joy about every aspect of their well-being. Finally, rest your mind in a non-conceptual state.

Since empathetic joy is an attitude free from jealousy, you must train your mind in various ways and try everything in order to prevent that negative attitude from taking you over. In particular, princes of the Buddha – bodhisattvas who have made up their minds to benefit sentient beings – are supposed to try to establish all of them in the enduring happiness of Buddhahood and in the temporary well-being of the divine and human realms. So how could they be displeased when sentient beings attain a little bit of karmic benefit or wealth through the power of their own actions? ...

If your mind is contaminated by jealousy, you cannot see any good qualities in others and cannot have even a morsel of faith. If you do not have faith, you will be immune to the compassion and blessing of the Buddhas. ... Constantly dwelling on feelings of jealousy and competitiveness neither brings any profit to you nor any harm to the other person. It leads to a pointless accretion of wrongdoings, so you had better get rid of that negative attitude.

At all times, cultivate empathetic joy in all the good qualities – such as the good family, appearance, wealth, and learning – of others and their favourable conditions. Meditate sincerely in the following way: ‘How happy I am that this person has this great quality or wealth! If only he could have even more abundant power, wealth, learning, or any other quality! May he always have everything he wants!’ ...

Meditation on the four limitless qualities will inevitably lead to the emergence of an authentic experience of the awakening-mind513 in your mind. Therefore, cultivate them by all means until you have that experience. To sum up the meaning of the four limitless qualities so that it is easy to understand, it can be summarized as ‘good intention’. So you should really just learn to demonstrate good intention at all times and in all circumstances.

‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.343–47, trans. T.A.

The four mindfulnesses

V.69 The Song of the Four Mindfulnesses

The text is a well-known concise formulation of the path according to the Gelukpa school. The ‘Song of the Four Mindfulnesses’ (full title: ‘Guidance on the View of the Middle Way: Song of the Four Mindfulnesses Showering a Rain of Accomplishments’), authored by Kalsang Gyatso, the Seventh Dalai Lama (1708–1757), condenses the whole path of the sūtra and tantra vehicles into four meditations. The first three types of mindfulness – of one’s teacher (guru), the awakening-mind, and one’s meditational deity514 – are treated in one verse each (1–3), while the fourth type – mindfulness of emptiness –is presented in two (4–5).

[1. Mindfulness of the teacher]

On the seat of the immutable union of method (upāya) and wisdom sits your gracious teacher who is the essence of all the refuges; a Buddha with complete abandonment and realization.515

Forsaking thoughts of criticism, supplicate him with pure perception.

Not letting your mind (wander) loose, place it in a state of devotion and respect.

Never forgetting him for a moment, maintain the state of devoted respect.

[2. Mindfulness of the awakening-mind]

In the painful prison of endless saṃsāra wander the six types of sentient beings bereft of happiness; (these are) your fathers and mothers, who looked after you with kindness (in past lives).

Forsaking attachment and hatred, think of them with love and compassion.

Not letting your mind loose, place it in a state of compassion.

Never forgetting them for a moment, maintain that state of compassion.

[3. Mindfulness of the body as divine]

In the feeling of happiness, the divine mansion of great bliss, abides your own divine body made of pure categories of existence and elements; a meditational deity of the three Buddha-bodies inseparable.516

Not conceiving yourself as ordinary, practise dignity and clear appearance.517

Not letting your mind loose, place it in a state of profundity and clarity.

Never forgetting it for a moment, keep it in profundity and clarity.

[4-5. Mindfulness of the view of emptiness]

In the maṇḍala of actual and virtual objects of knowledge all is suffused by the space of luminosity, the ultimate truth of the actual nature, which is the inexpressible reality of things as they actually are.

Forsaking mental fabrications, look at their empty clarity;

Not letting yuur mind loose, let it rest in its ultimate nature.

Never forgetting it for a moment, keep it in its actual nature.

At the cross-roads of the varieties of appearances and the six consciousnesses,518 a chaotic mess of dualistic phenomena without basis or root is experienced; a magical show full of deception and seduction.

Not thinking they are true, look at their nature of emptiness.

Not letting your mind loose, place it in a state of empty appearance.

Never forgetting it for a moment, keep it in a state of empty appearance.

‘The Song of the Four Mindfulnesses’, trans. T.A.

Meditation on the nature of mind

V.70 An Introduction to Knowing

This passage is excerpted from ‘An Introduction to Knowing: Natural Liberation through Naked Perception’ from ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’. It is attributed to the great Indian siddha Padmasaṃbhava, the root-guru of the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism, and is one of the key sources on the nature of mind according to the Dzogchen519 tradition. After dismissing the philosophical positions of other schools and listing their different terms for ultimate reality, it introduces non-dual knowledge – in Dzogchen also called ‘knowing’ (rig pa520) – as the nature of the present moment.521

EMAHO! This sole mind522 which pervades all of saṃsāra and nirvana has been our very nature from the first, yet we have not recognized it. This luminous knowing has never been interrupted, yet we have not encountered it. It has been revealing itself in all, yet we have not faced it. All the inconceivable, 84,000 approaches to the Dharma spoken by the Buddhas of the past, present and future have been taught in order to make us recognize just this (knowing). The Victorious Ones have not taught for any other reason than to make us realise just this. Despite the teachings being as unfathomably vast as the sky, it actually takes only three words to introduce one to knowing. This direct introduction to the intent of the Victorious Ones without past or future is: THIS IS IT!

KYE HO! (Behold!) Fortunate sons, listen to me! This so-called ‘mind’ is a great, famous term. Since it has not been understood, has been misunderstood, only partially understood, or has not been understood as it is, an inconceivable variety of tenets came to being. Ordinary individuals do not understand it, and they wander around the six states of the three realms,523 experiencing suffering because they fail to understand the nature of their mind. Disciples and solitary-buddhas claim to understand it (but do so) in just a partial way, as the lack of personal identity524 – not just as it is, and since they are also bound by their texts and tenets, they cannot see the luminosity.525 They are obscured by clinging to dualistic perception, and fall into the mistake of bisecting non-dual reality (into subject and object526).

Mādhyamikas are obscured by clinging to the two truths, 527 kriya- and yoga-tantra practitioners by clinging to the ideas of approach and accomplishment,528 mahā- and anu-yoga practitioners by clinging to the duality of mind and its field,529 They all wander around in saṃsāra through the approach of rejecting, abandoning, and clinging to (aspects of) their own minds, wherein saṃsāra and nirvana are actually inseparable, and failing to attain non-dual unity, they cannot become Buddhas.

Cut out, therefore, all artificial Dharma-practice, and by this teaching on the self-liberating direct perception of knowing realize all phenomena as great self-liberation! Thus in the Great Completion is everything complete. SAMAYĀ rgya rgya rgya.530

This flickering knowing activity, called ‘mind’, cannot be identified with any particular existent, and yet it brings into existence all the happiness and suffering of saṃsāra and nirvana. It is defined according to eleven different approaches, and has been given an inconceivable number of names. Some call the nature of the mind ‘the nature of the mind’. Some non-Buddhists call it a Self. Disciples call it ‘lack of personal identity’. The Mind-only school531 calls it ‘mind’. Some others call it Perfection of Wisdom, or by the name Sugata-garbha (Buddha-nature), or Mahāmudrā (Great Symbol), or the ‘single sphere’,532 or the ‘expanse of phenomena’. There are those who call it ‘universal background’,533 and some call it ‘ordinary mind’.

Now, let me introduce you by a triple way of entry into just this. The past moment of mind has clearly disappeared without a trace, the future one has not yet come to being, and when the present is uncontrived and natural, let this ordinary cognition in its own time gaze directly at itself!

When you look, there is nothing to see but luminosity. It is direct knowing, naked and alert; nothing particular, just open, empty space – a non-dual experience of luminosity and emptiness.

It is not permanent, since it is nothing particular. It is not annihilation, for it is clear alertness. It is not a unity, being known and apparent as manifold. It is not multiple, because there is one indivisible taste. This is not extraneously derived but is your own intrinsic knowing, the actual state of things, to which you have just been introduced.

It has all the three Buddha-bodies as an inseparable unity: That it is nothing particular, its emptiness, is the Dharma-body. The luminous self-expression of emptiness is the Enjoyment-body. And its ceaseless display in and as everything is the Emanation-body. The full unity of these three is the Essence-body itself.534 If you want to be introduced by a forceful method into just this, it is nothing but the present moment of knowing.

‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’, pp.373–81, trans. T.A.

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