Buddhist Meditation
Systematic and Practical

Chapter XVII

A Talk by the Buddhist Yogi

Written Down by

First Published in 1967

Chapter XVII




A. Mr. Chen's Thanks


"First, I should like to thank you both," said Mr. Chen, addressing the listener and the transcriber, "for your cooperation in writing this book." Mr. Chen got up from his seat and took from the top of his cupboard a clockwork monkey with dumb-bells in its hands. Winding up the toy, he said: "In a traveling showman's troupe, there is always a monkey who dances, does tricks, and amuses the people, earning money for the actors. I am like this monkey," said Mr. Chen, laughing and watching the toy diligently exercise itself. "And you hold the rope and play the music: just as there may be two actors, one the younger and the other the older brother, so it is with you." Turning to the transcriber, Mr. Chen said, "You are the younger brother, with much work to do for our company." And to Bhante Sangharakshita: "You are the elder brother; you have corrected my poor English, given us the correct Sanskrit words, and put my poems into good meter and style."


"To both of you I am very grateful and offer my thanks. Further, the parts we have played in the writing of this book are like the different yanas: Bhante sits silently upon his chair and listens as the work proceeds—he is the Vajrayana." Then the yogi said, turning to the transcriber, "You have much work: you write, you type, and often have come here yourself to correct the chapters. Your exertions for the good of this book correspond to the Mahayana. And as for myself," said Mr. Chen, both humble and smiling, "I am the Hinayana. I just talk to make you happy! I am like a Hinayana boy in his hermitage, sometimes doing a little meditation, but most of the time just playing!"


Mr. Chen paused and then added: "You have come from so far and go and I do indeed thank you for such hard work. I have had nothing to do, only to talk."


Although this book comes from my own words, I am far from being a holy person. Readers should take note of what Confucius said in this matter: "One should go according to the words, and not by the person who utters them." So if the words themselves are good, and they bring about some good in this world, that is the main thing, for I myself have no realization; these words are all the fruits of others' realizations. What I have said in these talks is sometimes my own opinion, but the wisdom of the ancient sages' experiences substantiates my words. As for my own ideas, I do not claim that these are infallibly right, and the readers of this book should choose by their own wisdom what is really the true Way.


B. The Whole Process of Meditation in Our Three-in-One System Related to the Five Poisons


As a fitting conclusion to our book, we give a simplified account of the whole system, showing how through purification of the gross poisons effected by the five meditations in the Hinayana, these passions (now subtle) are sublimated in the voidness meditations of the Mahayana, and finally transmuted into the functions of Buddhahood in the Vajrayana. One by one, we will take each of the five Hinayana meditations (see Ch. VIII) and show the gradual processing of the poisons in the different yanas.


1. First Meditation


This is on the impurity of the body. Everyone is born from the craving for a body of flesh. Craving for this physical body, one has impure lusts and passions. Therefore, the first thing that is necessary to bring about cessation of the pain (duhkha, experienced because of the passions), is quite simple: RENUNCIATION. If one does not renounce the objects, both mental and physical, upon which the passions arise, how will one get rid of either these cravings or their accompanying sufferings?


After renunciation comes purification, which is threefold: of the whole physical body of its thirty-six parts (see Ch. IX, E, 1, a), and of one's volition towards the body. The first is purified by meditations on the decay of the body and the cemetery contemplations (for these, see Ch. VIII, G, 1), the second by contemplating on all the impure parts which compose it, and the sharp driver of "one's-own-body-view" is purified by seeing the body's voidness.


All this process is in the Hinayana where renunciation and purification are very much stressed. (It is important to understand that none of these body-meditations aim at "mortifying the flesh;" they are all skillful means aiming at purification of the body so that one may progress to higher stages of the Path. The body, which is not to be loved, must not be mortified either—a species of self-hatred—but should be used as the vehicle for Full Enlightenment.


To gain this, the Hinayana meditations are not sufficient. They only remove the sorrow of lust, so that one finds that the practices of the Mahayana are necessary. These effect a sublimation of the body from being a physical human body to becoming the Buddha-entity body.


While the nature of sunyata is the source of the Dharmakaya (the ultimate truth considered as an unmanifested body of the Buddhas); the conditions of sunyata are the source of the Rupakaya (the manifested bodies of the Buddha). The aspirant to Buddhahood has many long ages to labor while slowly acquiring all the necessary sunyata-conditions before he can actualize his aim (Full Enlightenment, Buddhahood, the Dharmakaya).


It is like cooking food: it boils and becomes steam, but here we are not satisfied with that steam—which after all still contains the smell of the food, nor can we wait so long for the meal to be ready.


For this reason, we take up the Vajrayana, where we are at once initiated into the actual position of consequence of Buddhahood. To obtain the glorious body of Buddhahood (the Sambhogakaya, in which the Buddhas preach to the holy bodhisattvas), it is necessary to use one of the many Tantric methods. One should not think that the highest body among these three, the Dharmakaya, because it is inert and unmanifested, is something dead. No, indeed! All the functions from the other two Buddha-bodies, the Sambhogakaya and the Nirmanakaya (appearance-body which is seen by men and animals, as the earthly Buddhaforms), are the complete salvation found only in the Vajrayana.


2. Second Meditation


The compassion for beings and the four kinds of boundless mind in the Hinayana teachings can check the sorrow of anger. The method used in this yana to control hatred is the observance of the moral precepts (and the vinaya for bhiksus)—really only an outward suppression, together with these boundless mind meditations, which will only subdue this sorrow. Because there is but little wisdom of sunyata taught in the Hinayana, this process cannot be finished there.


Once again, we see that there are three steps of which the meditations above constitute the first. Why must we go on? Hinayana sunyata teaching is not thorough-going enough to pull up completely all the roots of anger. Some subtle fragments of this sorrow still remain which will surely sprout again as soon as the conditions are favorable. Thus we come to the Mahayana meditations of sunyata, where inwardly one confirms the absence of a personal self and outwardly abandons ideas of selfhood in phenomena. When both these types of non-self have been realized, then it is easy to get rid of this sorrow.


This is a kind of negative approach. The real question is: how can anger be transformed into mercy? The same four boundless minds are practiced in Mahayana, conjoined with sunyata, and then become truly boundless. When they are truly boundless then real compassion emerges.


How is this? Great compassion comes from the cultivation of bodhicitta, and this in turn derives from sunyata. In sunyata there is no self and no others; neither of these can be distinguished in the sunyata of the Dharmakaya. Most people do not recognize this, and make divisions into "I" and "mine," and "you" and "yours." From this false discrimination, anger is produced. But the great compassion of the same entity arises in the opposite way, when one knows the void nature of all persons and events and the impossibility in reality of distinguishing any self or things.


Still, something remains to be done, for one should not be content to do good to sentient beings by one's compassionate will alone; one must give them some actual benefits. This is possible in the Vajrayana, where there are many methods in the position of consequence. Here we find practical benefit for beings, by the functions of salvation of Buddhahood. To save them all from the woes of samsara is surely at once both the highest good and the most complete transmutation of the poison of anger.


3. Third meditation


The samapatti on causation in the Hinayana is to cure the sorrows of self bound up with ignorance. The twelve factors of dependent origination (pratityasamutpada) are very much stressed as the system which explains the conditional nature of ignorance (avidya). It is negative, since it lists all those factors which lead to our continued life (and therefore suffering) in the world of birth-and-death. This doctrine shows clearly how one action contains within it the possibility of certain results and is thus a guide for the purification of deeds created by mind, speech, and body.


The power of meditation must reverse the usual order of the factors, so that a stopping of one of these twelve factors automatically leads to the inhibition of the following one. In this way, these factors—all depending on ignorance and craving (trsna)—are destroyed one after another. This system corresponds to the Four Noble Truths taught by the Buddha, but is not deep enough to reveal Thatness (tathata) which is the Lord's causation-teaching in the Mahayana.


In the Great Vehicle, as we have seen many times, all sorrows are sublimated in sunyata. From the sunyata arises knowledge of the causation by tathata. This is not merely a stopping, but a discovery of the merits of Buddhahood from realization. At that time it is not only easy to attain arhatship, but more than this, one can become a prince of the Buddha, a bodhisattva.


However, according to the holy salvation of Buddhahood, all holy causation has some correspondence with all sentient beings, which are to be saved in this life. This cannot be done in the Mahayana. The six perfections (paramita) can only be regarded as skillful means for those who wish to follow the Buddha as bodhisattvas. Even to reach up to the first stage of bodhisattvahood is very difficult and takes an immense amount of time, for so many things have to be done for innumerable beings. Bodhisattvas find it impossible to make much progress in merging their meditation in sunyata, as they are overly preoccupied with actions. For this reason, they may even pass lives totaling a kalpa of years and still fail to develop a deep sunyata-samatha; not having this, they can make but little progress onwards to Buddhahood.


We see from our examination that neither the causation of dharmas and human beings (in Hinayana), nor the Mahayana causation-by-no-causation are easily integrated in the conditions of a bodhisattva's life.


Indeed, the bodhisattva who wants quickly to experience the functions of salvation must use the Vajra-vehicle. The methods there in the position of consequence of Buddhahood make the ultimate salvation of all beings possible. A Buddha, even while sitting down, may cause many things to happen, for he can do everything for beings in the whole Dharmadhatu through his Vajrayana meditations.


4. Fourth Meditation


This is on the discrimination of the elements, and in the Hinayana it is the way to cure the sorrow of pride. Through its practice one comes to know that the whole of one's personality is just five heaps, the first of which is form or materiality (and in turn composed of the five elements), while the other four heaps (of feelings, perceptions, mental tendencies, and consciousness) are the mental components. Pride of self may definitely be purified through this meditation, yet still one cannot positively use all six elements. Therefore, one must pass on to Mahayana teachings, and ultimately to the Vajrayana.


Readers should pay great attention to the three stages of our whole system of meditation, and then it will be easy to see the most important point of this book, which is my own opinion and one never talked about by the ancient sages, either those of Tibet or China. Thus, all who read this book must not only recognize the unity of the Buddhist tradition of meditation and wisdom but practice accordingly, and moreover, practice thoroughly.


As regards the time which should be spent in these various yanas: Hinayana meditations should be given three years' continuous practice, and the same amount of time should be allowed for the realization of sunyata in the Mahayana. Then at least six years should be devoted to the Vajrayana for the attainment of Buddhahood. Altogether this makes up a twelve-year meditation program for hermits and yogis who are really serious about practice. From such concentrated attention to meditation, one will surely attain Enlightenment in this life. (See Appendix I, Part One, C, 7.)


It may happen that one is fortunate enough to meet a Vajrayana guru well-learned and experienced in the disciplines of all three vehicles. If so, he may guide one through the whole system and one will be saved the trouble of finding first Hinayana teachers, then going to others for Mahayana teachings, and finally locating gurus for the Tantras. Time is also saved in this way, as it is then not necessary to visit Hinayana lands and then those where the other yanas are taught.


(Note that, unfortunately, we do not find in the book here a brief explanation on the Fifth Meditation, Mindfulness of Breathing. Nevertheless, readers should be able to find teachings on this from previous chapters.)


C. Good Wishes


In Chinese, we have a proverb: "Try to learn the highest and you will gain at least the middle, but try only for middling attainments and you will gain only the lowest." Therefore, we hope that to aid Westerners in this noble endeavor, the Tantric doctrine will spread to the West and become firmly established there. Buddhism is well-founded in any country where all three yanas are combined harmoniously in the whole system of Buddhist teaching—may this be the case in Western lands!


Also, may the reading and practice of the doctrines contained in this book lead to the long life of all its readers; may they thus all quickly gain Full Enlightenment!


Furthermore, we hope that all learned and studious persons may pick up this book and by reading its contents come to know the whole system of meditation in the "three-yanas-in-one" and then decide to practice what they have learned in theory.


Finally, it is my earnest wish that the entire world may turn away from the blind path of materialism towards the glorious bliss of bestowing the teachings of the Buddha. May these Noble Teachings spread everywhere throughout the world,


and may this Dharma of Enlightenment

preached by the Enlightened One

remain in this world for a

very, very, long time!




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