Chapter III THE EXACT DEFINITION OF SOME BUDDHIST TERMS CONCERNING MEDITATION
Written Down by REVEREND B. KANTIPALO
Today we hurry, as we are a little late. Our time is short. The subject, we have been warned, is extensive and knowledge of it a necessity. It is very important to know the precise meaning of Buddhist terminology used in meditation, for three related reasons: so that one may initially understand meditation; so that one's practice progresses without needless obstacles; and, most vital, so that the practice bears good fruits of realization.
As we approach the hermitage, a curtain moves, a face is seen behind, the curtain falls back in to place; Mr. Chen has seen us coming. An hour or so before, the yogi must have finished his last afternoon practice, a one and a half hour period of certain meditations and spiritual exercises usually
completed upon the ringing of an alarm wrist-watch at five o'clock. Now he greeted us just outside his door and said, "I thought you were not coming." Bhante replies that we must come as today's talk is fundamental to the idea of meditation practice in Buddhism.
Smiling broadly, Mr. Chen remarks that today there is no rain, and then inquires, "Did you get any disease from your wet robes?" He feels the hem of Bhante's robe but today it is dry. A new tin of a Chinese jasmine tea was produced and glasses of steaming green tea made ready.
Bhante quoted someone as having written about four drinks characteristic of four great religions: wine is the drink of Christianity, coffee that of Islam; the Hindu's drink is milk, but Buddhists have tea. This observation cannot be discussed here; suffice it to say that the Chinese tea of Buddhism is a
clear, refreshing, astringent drink. These attributes of tea rather fit with the Buddha's teachings, for they too are clear; refreshing to those who drink them; and undisguised by the worldly sugaring, present the world as it truly is: a bitter drink but wholesome. For a long time Buddhist monks have used this tea for shaking off drowsiness during meditation.
Before we begin on today's subject we should notice the dedication to each chapter. Every chapter will be headed by the worship of some Buddha or Bodhisattva. The first is naturally dedicated to Sakyamuni and the Three Jewels, as these are not only fundamental to the doctrines of all the schools, but
are also the basis of all the schools, and the basis of all their practices. The second chapter opens with the homage to the Five Tathagatas, for it is here that our real talk on meditation begins, and these Buddhas of meditation are the basis of psychology and experience in the Mahayana. In this talk, our
dedication is to the two great Bodhisattvas, Manjughosa (He of Gentle Voice) and Maitreya (the Loving One), who represent the Dharma-nature (dharmata) and the Dharma-signs (dharmalaksana) respectively.
Dharma-nature is associated with Manjughosa Bodhisattva since upon the first occasion of preaching the Mahayana, he was present and understood the fundamental and unparticularized nature of the Dharma. All the Buddha-Dharma is based, of course, upon the dharmata and upon the philosophic foundation of
this chapter of our Dharma-book depend all the succeeding ones. Hence our dedication to the first Bodhisattva. The link with Maitreya is that he descended from the heavens to teach the doctrines of the Yogacara school, and in this chapter we are concerned with the particulars of Dharma or Dharma-signs, in the exact definition given to important terms.
Then Mr. Chen began the talk proper.
What does this word "meditation" mean to most people? They think of sitting down in a quiet place (probably in a comfortable armchair with a cup of tea and a cigarette), and slowly turning things over in the mind. Their "meditation" is just discursive cogitating around certain ideas, plans, situations, etc.
Then such people may read a religious book or two on meditation and so gradually their ideas of "meditation" become broader, eventually including everything in this one word. This is not precise, for many meanings should be distinguished, not only from the point of theory, but as a useful guide for one's own practice.
With every problem that arises, one should first settle the meanings of the terms involved in it; when these are exactly defined, many difficulties disappear. At least the situation becomes easier to deal with, since then one has certain handles, the defined terms, on which to hold.
I am sorry to say, however, that the Chinese language, while it is able to express profound philosophy and may be used in a very poetic manner, lacks scientific precision. English, on the other hand, is much more exact and definite in its terminology. Although Chinese is very good for poetry but not for
logic, we have to rely on it and on Tibetan for sutra translations no longer available in Sanskrit. Apart from these texts there are schools of philosophy and practice which developed in China , such as the Tian Tai and Chan. They have of course taken many things from the Chinese Tripitaka and although its
contents were very carefully translated from the Indian languages by boards of officials, each with his own carefully defined function, still the nature of the translations thus accomplished were limited by the Chinese tongue. Therefore, we have to learn to distinguish the precise meaning of a term, since
under the Chinese word there may be grouped many meanings. The application of this principle is: first learn the exact meanings of the terms, and then understand with discrimination the actual practice of meditation to which they apply.
c. Distinguish. Vijnanavada says that here "discriminate" should be understood.
e. The thorn of a tree.
g. The stone of a fruit.
We see that some of these meanings are connected with Buddhism and some are not. It would be a simple matter if all Buddhists accepted each term as having one Buddhist meaning, but we see that in Chinese this is not so, for followers of the Yogacara School understand the first definition as hrdaya, the second
as citta (mind) and the third as mano-vijnana. But the situation is more complicated since other schools take the meanings of Xin quite differently. The Chan School uses this term to signify "nature, essence." Nor is that all, for apart from the schools and their uses, Xin may have quite distinct meanings
Another complicating factor is that the Chinese language has been greatly influenced by Confucian teachings which have altered the connotation of many words from that which a Buddhist text tries to express. This is further confusing, leading to even worse mixtures of meanings unless great care is taken.
How difficult indeed is the task of a translator from Chinese into English! He has always to watch that he: selects the correct meaning of a term; gives it the precise shade of interpretation according to the individual schools' explanations; knows clearly with which yana he is dealing; and, finally, disentangles himself from Confuscian influences.
If such are the obstacles in the way of a scholar's correct understanding and interpretation, what will be the condition of the unlearned layman? He may even practice meditation, or at least read books upon it, but how great are the chances of his making bad mistakes?
2. Kong. Although Buddhists mean quite different things by sunyata and akasa, both these are translated into Chinese by "Kong." Akasa, emptiness of space, space-element, should not of course be confused with sunyata, and for "Kong" in this sense we may find at least four distinct meanings:
a. What an ordinary person means by "empty" or "vacant" (as an empty house). This is sunyata in the sense of abhava, or privation. This meaning is not used in the context of meditation although some deluded people imagine in their practice that since their minds are merely vacant or empty as space, they have then experienced the real meaning of sunyata. This is a great mistake.
b. Sunyata thought of as outside or beyond form by some who practice meditation. They take it to be quite separate from the five skandhas (form, feeling, perception, habitual tendencies, and consciousness). These are grave delusions.
Mr. Chen here leaned forward and became very animated, emphasizing his points with definite gestures of his hands, several times tapping on the arm of the chair to call attention to important items. He picked up a cocoa tin as an object of demonstration and a full flood of definitions regarding sunyata came
rom his lips, definitions he well knew, and not by bookish experience alone. The transcriber had difficulty in capturing all the following on paper and sometimes took the help of an interposed word or two from the listener.
Mr. Chen said:
We must understand that there is no void separate from form nor is there form apart from the void. In every form sunyata, voidness, is completely identified with form (and feelings, etc.; everything that I call "myself"). The five skandhas are neither the same as nor different from sunyata.
In the "exterior" world, too, sunyata is everywhere and everything is sunyata. Some people have the idea that the void is got at by analysis, but real sunyata is not discovered in this way, and the results of such labors are only to know samskrta sunyata, the voidness of all conditioned or compounded things. This type of analysis is popular among the Yellow Sect (Gelugpa), but it is only for convenience of explanation.
Wrong views come from thinking that sunyata is more than the sum of the parts of things (it is not more than the five skandhas), or that because things are sunyata, that it is less than them. No need to increase, no need to reduce: sunyata is just here.
He emphatically banged the cocoa tin, and beamed at us, and went on:
You should also not think that because one can see it more clearly or less clearly, that sunyata increases or becomes less. Some think that a knowledge of the changeability of all things is experience of the real void, but this is just an explanation of the void (viparinama-sunyata), and not its real essence.
The idea is also widespread that there are some meditations which, if practiced, lead to the development of sunyata (or to its realization), but practices are not for this purpose and aim only at removing the obstacles standing in the way of the appearance of the void. I have no meditative power whereby sunyata is caused to appear nor do I ever practice with this aim in mind. In all places, at all times, for all beings and all things, sunyata is there without any limitation at all. The Buddha can never increase sunyata and we, even if we do not perceive it, have no less sunyata than he.
Even in the Hinayana, all meditations must be based on sunyata, otherwise there is no liberation. No proper fruit can be obtained from any Buddhist practice unless it is founded very thoroughly upon the doctrine of the void.
Although we know something of the sunyata of Buddhist philosophy, we should also learn its different aspects. Sunyata itself is always the same, but it takes on different forms in its appearance. In the exoteric philosophies of the first two yanas classifications of 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 11, 30, 60, and 80 forms
are given which correspond to the four states of bliss (ananda—see Chapter XIII). These must not be mixed with the sunyata of the other vehicles. For instance, the mahasunyata of the Tantra is quite different from the void-category of the same name in the Mahayana.
All this is very important. It must be deeply understood.
(Note: Some western scholars who were considered very skilled in the explanation of sunyata made erroneous comparisons between definitions which they imagined to be similar regarding the meanings of sunyata in Prajnaparamita and the esoteric meanings in Anuttarayoga. In this they were quite wrong. Please see my work entitled "Discriminations between Buddhist and Hindu Tantras.")
In the West, many words are used as translations of the technical Buddhist terminology, the most common being "concentration" and "meditation." Generally, in Chinese works, the equivalent of the first is used for "dhyana" and of the second, for "samadhi." In most people's minds there is no clear distinction
Bhante here remarked that such confusion is not surprising, as in Europe, every philosopher ascribes his own meaning to the terms he uses, which can be very confusing unless one distinguishes carefully. Now it is the same with translators and writers of books on Buddhism: there is not yet, as grew up in
China and Tibet, a recognized list of equivalences, so they use their own terminology, a difficulty for beginners who may be confused by this. In the Buddhist Sanskrit and Pali tradition, it is quite different, each term having exact and recognized meanings, making it much easier for those who want to study and practice.
1. Five terms of great importance are: samatha, samapatti, samapanna, dhyana, and samadhi. The first one means the practice which calms the mind's disturbances; in this stage thinking is not admitted. This leads on to samapatti, which is investigating the truth using the force of samatha as one's
instrument. If one uses the mind to think with at this stage then it is not true samapatti. (Note: Samapatti is used throughout this work as the equivalent of vipasyana, clear insight.) When one attains something close to the truth, this is called samapanna. At that time the mind is not wandering, and
examination of truth has become very subtle, as object and subject are very nearly identified. States of consciousness known before the actual attainment of Full Enlightenment samadhi are collectively termed dhyana. They are all common or worldly concentrations experienced in connection with the first three of the terms used here. They range from the first dhyana of form up to attainment of Arhat. The latter must be included here since one has not yet experienced Full Enlightenment, and samadhi-states only commence with the possession of this in the Mahayana. Samadhi itself is when the subjective
searcher and the objective truth of the Dharmakaya are completely identified—and this comes only with the Full Enlightenment of a Buddha. There are other definitions of samadhi given in different books, where it is said that it may be a worldly meditation or the same as the dhyanas. In these talks, however, we shall use the scheme laid down here (see Appendix I, Part II, C. 5).
Bhadanta Nagarjuna in his Prajnaparamita Sastra comments that the first four states of concentration are common to all religions. These are the four rupa (form) dhyanas quite commonly described by Hindu, Sufi, and Christian saints. The second four are called the deeper or higher concentrations (arupa-dhyana)
and these Nagarjuna calls samadhis. But according to our system of three-yanas-in-one, only the final attainment is called samadhi and before this we only speak of three stages (samatha, samapatti, and samapanna), all of them covered by the general term "dhyana."
Our book on meditation is made up of letters, words and phrases and these are described as "bodies" (kaya) in the Idealist Schools. Similarly, the whole process of meditation may be compared to a body: samatha is the feet, samapatti the body proper, and samadhi the head.
Mr. Chen then gave us a diagram to clarify the relationships of these various terms.
2. There are thus three parts in the meditation process:
a. The foundation of samyag-drsti, Right View, which is initially acquired through study and thoroughly learning the meaning of the philosophical terms used. This is the "book-body" and is in the causal position of meditation.
b. A start is made with the first two parts of the "meditation" body, that is, the concentrations which include samatha practice and samapatti. Many meditators confound the latter, or insight, with the attainment of complete samadhi (Full Enlightenment). Before this is reached, one must go through the preceding stages, otherwise one's meditation is not a state of samadhi at all, but of thinking that one is meditating, a mere delusion born of imagination.
Briefly summing up, three processes must be recognized: First, one acquires the philosophic basis of meditation. This is the causal position, likened to a seed. Next comes the actual process of going along the path wherein training in quietude and near-attainment are included; this is the process of path or
the position of course, and is like the growth of a plant. Finally comes the resultant process, in which different degrees of samadhi are experienced. This is compared to the fruit of the plant, or may be called the position of consequence. On this last stage, there are many subjects to be dealt with, and this
position will be mentioned many times along with the growth of a plant, and the three names given them all begin with the letter "C." These three C's (Cause, Course, and Consequence) will be used again.
1. There are many kinds of meditation within the Triyana, and success in these may be attained in different ways. The practice of the latter will provide the subject matter for further chapters, while the categories of the former will be listed here. Seven classes have been mentioned in the sutras and have been explained thus:
a. Amongst mankind there are those who devote themselves to various practices promoting the growth of goodness. By a little practice of meditation they attain, while living, the heavens of sensual desire (kamavacara devas), into which states they arise after the death of their human body. This is called "attainment by practice dhyana."
b. The gods of form and of formlessness do not have to struggle or try to practice the various stages of dhyana. Their whole lives already are spent in these states since their minds' natural level is one of dhyanic concentration. This is "attainment by birth dhyana" (see also Chapter VII).
c. The next is called "attainment by right thinking (or investigation) dhyana." The example here is of a man trying hard to understand the real meaning of the twelve factors (nidana) of pratityasamutpada leading to the attainment of Arhat.
e. Attainment may also arise by "keeping calmness on the functions of the truth dhyana." Examples of this are to be found in the Hua-yen school's meditations to be described later and called the "Ten Mysterious Gates" (see Chapter XI, B).
This is just to point out some good conditions for our foundations of practice and to make it easy for us to understand the various conditions resulting in the attainment of superior states of enlightenment.
2. Using other categories we may classify samadhi into three great groups. These are, first, the "worldly or mundane concentrations" which we call "dhyanas." Then come the supramundane states reaching up to the attainment of Arhat and called "beyond the world." Third, there are those lokottara samadhis known as "utterly beyond the world."
(Note: As used here, "world" means: from this earth up to life in the formless heavens or down to suffering in the hells. Thus it is quite different from the "world" described by non-Buddhists. They have confined the meaning of "world" to the very earth on which we live.)
====a.WORLDLY STATES OF DHYANA.
These we may divide into two:
i. The first is "fundamental taste dhyana." The name implies that there are still some "tastes" experienced in concentration. "Tastes" in this sense refers to the happiness, joy, or good feeling to be found in those states, which lead, unless the meditator is careful, to attachment. Included under this heading
are the three groups of four, known collectively as the twelve gates of dhyana. They are: the four rupa-dhyanas, the four Brahma-viharas, and the four arupa-dhyanas. (Another confusion becomes possible here, as in Chinese the arupa-dhyana, "infinity of space" (akasanantyayatana) is rendered by the same
word "Kong," which, as we have seen, is also used for sunyata, though in Sanskrit the quite different meanings of these terms are made clear by using different words.) These twelve form a progressive series in the unfolding of the mind. If one knows of the pleasures of the desire heavens and finds them
disturbing, then one practices the rupa-dhyanas. Gaining access to these, the four boundless minds (loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity) of the Brahma-viharas become easy and establish one in a great state of welfare for oneself and all others. If in turn one wishes to be beyond
latter as well as the basis of the arupa-dhyanas. In this way one progressively discards gross, then subtle, pleasures of the senses; the idea of beings; and finally even the subtlest element of form.
None of these dhyanas are specifically Buddhist, but they form the foundations on which the unique meditations taught by the Buddha can rest. These twelve are called "fundamental dhyana," as they are just a good basis for further meditation. They are also called "dhyana of obscurity" because they may be attained by those having little or no idea of Buddhist philosophy and can be practiced without the firm establishment of samyag drsti, Right View.
Mr. Chen paused a moment, saying, "What is that Sanskrit word?" He wrinkled his forehead in thought, and then suddenly rising and with no time to waste, he almost ran into his shrine and living room and instantly reappeared with the large Chinese Buddhist Dictionary in hand. Resting on his bamboo stool, he
smiled broadly. "Supposing someone invited me to preach…running…getting dictionary…" He laughed heartily at the thought, and then continued poring over the pages, making little dashes with his finger as he worked out the number of strokes in the Chinese sign. Rapidly flicking over the pages he came to…
avyakrta (indeterminate). These dhyanas are therefore called "indeterminate dhyanas." Four criticisms have been given of these twelve gates and, apart from the dangers described, their worst feature is that they do not necessarily lead to liberation.
ii. The second class of mundane practices is named "pure dhyana." These are so called because all "tastes" and therefore dangers of defilement are no longer experienced in them. Into this category are placed the six meditation stages taught in the Tian Tai School and known as the Six Mystic Gates.
In none of these dhyanas are Buddhist concentration and wisdom balanced. There is always more stress on the former, while wisdom is insufficient in power to effect liberation. What is present here is still only half-matured wisdom, but by its development there is a basis for the growth of supramundane wisdom.
b. BEYOND THE WORLD. Of the great divisions, the second is called "beyond the world" (lokuttara), since to attain these dhyanas it is necessary to have cut off all worldly (laukika) attachments and to have experience of the transcendental leading at least to Arhatship.
Included here are the development of the Nine Thoughts of Impurity, sometimes called "the Cemetery Contemplation" (see Chapter VIII, G.1.a.). Following these come the Eight Thoughts of Renunciation (see Chapter VIII, G.1.), the Ten All-Realms, and the Nine Degrees of Concentration (Chapter VII). But, said
Mr. Chen, these classifications are not very clear or precise. Not only do they mix together Hinayana and Mahayana, but, as is the tendency in the Tian Tai School , many factors are repeated needlessly in different lists. I may talk separately of these on some future occasion.
The Hinayana teaching of dhyana ends at this point, and most of these categories will be explained in the chapters on meditation in the Lesser Vehicle. The above meditations all concern the practicing process and are therefore called "dhyanas."
So far, the power has been developed whereby it is easy to enter equanimity but not to leave it. Following upon these attainments come two Mahayana samadhi states, the first of which, the lion-like, gives one the power to freely enter and leave Just as one pleases, hence the name. The second is known as the
excellent Samadhi, which is a state beyond all entrance and exit. As these two states are very close to final attainment (Full Enlightenment) and are in the position of consequence, they are known as samadhis, rather than dhyanas.
Of these various meditation states, the first three Hinayana groups are dhyanas of visualization with an outer object, while the Nine Degrees are gross practice but inwardly turned with subjective concentration. The lion-like samadhi is said to be a subtle practice, while the excellent samadhi is
transcendentally beyond practice. All those included here are only meditations on the partial truth. They are transcendental from the viewpoint of realization but examine only a part of the truth, not its totality.
We should mention here the Chan School and note that although its name is derived from the Sanskrit dhyana its practice is not to be confused with those worldly states. As it is a Vajrayana school, it encourages attainment of the Full Enlightenment of Buddhahood in this very life. Placing Chan together with
the Diamond Vehicle is my idea, although in China it is always classed with the Mahayana. However, Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch of Chan in China , was also a Master of the Tantra. This may be discussed later.
Under this heading are found nine great dhyanas: the great dhyana, all-dhyana, every person dhyana, get rid of sorrow dhyana, great pleasure of here and hereafter dhyana, and pure dhyana. In the section on meditations within the great vehicle, the meaning of these dhyanas will be made clear. They are only known to the Mahayana and all of them are concentrations on the whole truth. As they belong to the course position, they are called "dhyanas."
In our three comprehensive classifications of samadhi, all the states described are according to the exoteric teachings of the Hinayana and the Mahayana. A fourth category, the instructions on samadhi given in the Tantras (which are esoteric), will be discussed later (see Chapter XIII).
1. RESTLESSNESS (anuddhatya). Mental agitation in which the mind is grossly disturbed through over-spiritedness. In this state memories constantly arise by themselves like a fountain of inner energy springing up. This disturbance may be interior, but often results from the stimulation of the five sense bases. Its cure, briefly, is to be aware of it at first and to treat it by concentrating on renunciation and impermanence.
2. DISTRACTION (viksepa). A tossing or floundering of mind is meant here. This is essentially a subjective disturbance which ordinary people would not discover easily or find wearisome; on the contrary, they are often happy to experience it. This is because such a condition is normal for them and so is
3. SLOTH (styana). We should define this as low-spiritedness or the state of being only half awake, which, if not recognized quickly, will lead us soon to full sleep. Normally there are three stages from waking to sleeping:
b. we enter into a dreamy half-sleep, and
c. we finally lapse into complete sleep.
a. Clear consciousness (sampajanna). This is the knowledge obtained of our activities by being more aware of them. With this clarity of mind, we are able to distinguish the different stages and to stop them from overpowering the mind. If this clear state is maintained it becomes:
These too must be known thoroughly by a meditator or he may easily go astray. Scholars who only study books and do not practice have little enough understanding of the terms already described, but can have no insight at all into those used in this section. For definitions of insight it will be best to divide this subject into four, according to the different schools of Buddhism:
a. The first is called "nature insight," when intuitive understanding appears like a reflection in a mirror seen very clearly and obviously; this is a vision direct from the pure eighth consciousness. This is real and not false insight, and with it one gains the assurance of realization, provided it is well accompanied by the truth of Dharmakaya.
b. The second is called "insight of shadow alone." In this there is no mirror, and what is seen is caused by delusions from the six sense consciousnesses. It is deluding, very false and unreal, and is compared to the horns of a hare, or to the hair of a tortoise. It should not be heeded in any way.
c. The third is difficult to understand, being called "bringing substance insight." For instance, the seventh consciousness (klista-vijnana) mistakenly thinks of the eighth as the self. Yet the pure eighth consciousness insight is not quite false (as is the second type with a "self"), but it is still not real insight as with the first type. However, it is possible to transform it into true insight.
These three kinds of qualities always correspond with the three insights mentioned above, but the former three are practical whereas the latter are both practical and logical (or theoretical). The meditator cannot be covered by the false insight or by the false quality in his concentration, provided that he is able to recognize them very well.
The categories are:
a. Recognition of the scholar whose insight is all based upon hearing (reading as well) and thinking reflectively upon what he has heard. Technically these are known as sutta-maya-prajna and cinta-maya-prajna, both of which are worldly. Many "mouth-zenists" take this recognition to be an immediate realization of Chan. This is quite wrong.
b. Transmitting knowledge of dhyana is the second. It is only obtained after establishing firm ground in right views and seriously practicing mediation. Known as bhavana-maya-prajna, it is knowledge going beyond the world and pertains to the lokottara.
c. Feeling insight. After some practice, so that a little gross insight has been gained, one experiences a little lightness of mind and the body a little empty but this experience does not belong to sunyata and should not be mistaken for it. It is equivalent to the bringing substance insight above.
Their trustworthiness is in the order in which they are given here. According to degree, the first is said to be completely reliable, the second to be half reliable, and the last only one-third reliable.
It is the use of concentrated force to investigate Buddhist philosophic truth and transform it from abstract perception into a concrete inner realization, whereby liberation from sorrows and false views, embodiment of nirvana, and the functions of salvation are all attained. The aims of the three yanas are
included in due order and here also are the Trikaya in which the salvation functions represent the appearance-body, the embodiment of nirvana is the enjoyment-body, and the Dharmakaya is found in freedom from sorrows and false views.
It is nine o'clock, three hours had sped by from our beginning. We have finished and prepared to depart. We had, this evening, noted an outline of the general terminology to be used but were sorry to have disturbed Mr. Chen's routine by staying so long. Normally from seven to eight in the evening he
practices the Mantra-recitation of the Buddha Amitabha, this out of gratitude to all the countless parents he has had in different lives, following which he does the pujas of his many protectors, reciting their mantras to act as a safeguard in the hours of the night.
As we returned with brisk steps to our vihara, carrying another chapter containing the fruits of practice, we think of Mr. Chen returning to his meditations, which (as he has written in a letter) are performed out of compassion; he is devoted to the good "of all sentient beings, as in different births they have all been our parents. May they receive the Buddhas' Teaching of Meditation and practice it! May they get Full Enlightenment before us!"