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The Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise

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At the beginning of the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise', does one need to repeat the visualization of a cloudless, sunny sky, ocean, moon disc, seed syllable, and the appearance of the Personal Deity? No, it is not necessary because, during the preceding visualization of the Empowerment of the Three Lights, the Personal Deity has already manifested from the Siddhi and Buddha Nature embodied by the seed syllable. At this point one only needs to close the eyes and visualize the Personal Deity.

There are several breathing methods, of which one needs to take note, which are involved in the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise. I have taught you, haven't I, to inhale a white light which travels through the right channel and is exhaled through the left channel ? Next the white light enters through the left channel and exits out the right channel. Then there is The Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise is as follows:

1. Visualize white light enter the right nostril. Here it becomes red light and descends the right channel to enter the left channel at the dan-tien [four finger widths below the navel]; then, still as red light, it ascends the left channel to exit the left nostril as dark smoky light.

2. Visualize white light enter the left nostril. Here it becomes red light and descends the left channel to enter the right channel at the dan-tien; then, still as red light, it ascends the right channel to exit the right nostril as dark smoky light.

3. Visualize white light simultaneously enter both nostrils, transform intored light, descend down both side channels and enter the central channel at the dan-tien, ascend to the top, then return to dan-den to enter both side channels, exiting as dark smoky light at both nostrils. Note: The central channel at the throat opens into the top of the head like a trumpet.

4. Breathe in through left nostril and out at the right (as in 2).

5. Breathe in through right nostril and out at the left (as in 1).

6. Breathe in and out through both nostrils (as in 3).

7. Breathe in and out through both nostrils (as in 3).

8. Breathe in through right nostril and out at the left (as in 1).

9. Breathe in through left nostril and out at the right (as in 2).

the entering of white light through both the right and left channels, its moving up the middle channel until it reaches the top, coming down again, and finally exiting through the channels on both sides. These three different methods of breathing are the three basic rounds. By permuting these three methods — the first three rounds begin with inhalation through the right channel, the second three rounds begin with inhalation through the left channel, and the third three rounds begin with inhalation through both channels — one will have completed the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise.

As I have explained before, the white light transforms into a swirling red light after entering into the body and then exits as a black vapor when leaving the body. This indicates that the pure white light of wisdom energy enters into one's body through the right nostril and moves around once to purge the karmic traces [[[subtle energy]] distortions] through the left nostril. Next the white light goes in the left nostril and out the right nostril. This is followed by inhalation of white light through both nostrils. This sequence constitutes the first three rounds. In the next three rounds, one performs the inhalation through the left nostril first, followed by the right channel, then both channels. For the final three round sequence, inhalation through both channels simultaneously is performed first, followed by the right channel, then the left channel.

I have previously described the visualization of the three subtle energy channels: middle, left, and right, and that they converge at a spot that is four finger-widths below the navel. The right channel extends all the way to the right nostril, while the left channel extends all the way to the left nostril. The middle channel extends all the way up to the throat chakra, then opens up to the skull which is sealed at the crown.

What is the inner significance of the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise? It helps the mind achieve true concentration. During visualization or meditation, one's mind is often complicated and confused by all kinds of extraneous thoughts. In order to eliminate these disruptive thoughts, Tantrayana teaches the method of using "a single thought stopping other thoughts." The Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise directs the mind to cut through conceptual elaboration. This is a Tantric technique which is also known as visualization — the mind is engaged in pure thoughts in order to transcend irrelevant and disruptive mental projections. If one is already quite skillful and is able to immediately enter Samadhi just by sitting down, then one does not have to do the Nine Round Breath Exercise. However, most people are not able to enter into Samadhi right away! As soon as one sits down, one is deluged by these thoughts, such as, "Ah! My mother is coming to visit me! [audience laughter] My father is sick! My daughter wants money from me! What kind of car should I buy? To whom do I owe this debt? Who still owes me money and how much does he

owe me?" One's mind starts wandering around. In such a frame of mind, even if one could sit still for ten days straight, one would not have accomplished anything, as one's imagination has run away! In such a case, one might as well go and take a nap — at least one feels refreshed afterwards! [laughter] Therefore, in general, the worst thing that can happen during Samadhi is that one enters into a state of an endless succession of disruptive thoughts. Many people have written to me describing how they were not able to stop their distracted thoughts. My answer to them is to practice the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise! One needs to employ visualization to stop other thoughts! One needs to use "thoughts on breathing" to completely eliminate other distracted thoughts.

This is a technique to bring the mind into focus! When one is doing the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise, one is alternating the order of breathing through one's right nostril, left nostril, and both nostrils, in three separate groupings. What is the purpose for these seemingly tedious procedures? The purpose is to regulate and coordinate both the breath and consciousness, and this is what develops inner focus and stability! This principle [of synchronizing breath and mind] is quite simple. However, if one just sits there and does not do the exercise then, as soon as one begins, one will be overwhelmed by all kinds of distracted thoughts, such as, "Oh! My mother is coming! My father is coming! What does

my daughter want from me! Who owes me money? To whom do I owe money? With whom did I have an altercation today? I argued with my boss today!" While mulling over these distractions, half a day is gone, and one can't even remember why one is sitting there! [audience laughter] One is supposed to have entered into Samadhi! Therefore, at the beginning, one needs to put some honest effort into the practice of the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise to regulate the mind. At least during the period of time when one is doing the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise, there will be no distracted thoughts, for one will be concentrating on how the breath travels, how it reaches the top of the skull, and how it is reflected back to travel down again, exiting the nostrils after ascending through the two side channels.

Seed Syllable Visualization Method

An even more brilliant method would be to visualize the source of the white light. I also have discussed this before — the white light can be imagined as originating from one's altar,the Dharma realm, or the mandala of the Personal Deity. For example, if one has hung a tangka before one, then the white light can be visualized emanating from the tangka! If one has hung a mandala of the vajradhatu or garbadhatu, a representation of the Dharma realm, then such a mandala can serve as a source of the Personal Deity's luminosity. A more subtle technique is to visualize the light emerging from the nostril(s) of one's Personal Deity. This is the key to the Zen

saying, "The Buddha and I breathe out through the same nostril." A still more advanced form of this practice is to visualize a seed syllable emerging as the breath of the deity. Let us consider how this would be applied in the practice of Amitabha Deity Yoga. In this case it would be the seed syllable "hri" which is radiating a red light. It flies out of Amitabha' s right nostril and enters through one's own right nostril, to make a circuit through one's body before exiting through the other nostril to return to the nostril of Amitabha. After this circuit, or round, another "hri" emerges from the left nostril of the Buddha and enters into one's left nostril. It makes its circuit and then flies out to re-enter the right nostril of Amitabha. Next, two seed syllables emerge simultaneously from both the left and right nostrils of Amitabha. They simultaneously enter one's left and right nostrils and descend the side channels to rise up the central channel to swirl to the top of the skull where there is no exit. From there they descend the middle channel to re-enter the two side channels to exit through one's two nostrils and return to the two nostrils of Amitabha. Is not this visualization more intricate and subtle? One visualizes the seed syllable, its color, as well as the nose and nostrils of Amitabha. Thus one invokes the original Buddha Nature of the Personal Deity to intermingle with one's own original Buddha Nature. Both Buddha and practitioner are one in essence, and both inhale and exhale the same breath. The Buddha's breath enters into the practitioner's body, and the practitioner's seed of Buddha Nature enters into the body of the Buddha. It is a mutual exchange of breath — this is what "breathing through the same nostril" means.

Thus there is a fundamental correspondence between the practices of Tantra and Zen. This is what "the Buddha and I breathe through the same nostril" means. The Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise is a very profound method. What eventually happens after prolonged practice of this exercise? There won't be just one syllable! One visualizes one seed syllable but, eventually, what emerges from Amitabha will be one hundred or more of these seed syllables and this chain of seed syllables enter one's body. What one breathes out then is also one hundred or more of the "hri" linked together and, one by one, they re-enter the body of Amitabha. At this moment, a most profound insight occurs: the Buddha Nature of Amitabha is that of oneself. The two become unified; and at this point one's mind becomes extremely stable. One performs this visualization with the white light, red light, and the emerging blue (black) light, and at a further level of sophistication, one visualizes the Nine Round of channel movements, using the seed syllable "hri." Thus the Buddha Nature of Amitabha (the Personal Deity) and oneself will be exchanged through reciprocal movements of the breath.

To Practice is to Do Repentance

The methods of Tantrayana are very profound and oriented towards yogic practices. By comparison, many of Sutrayana's teachings are more theoretical. Realistically speaking, what actual practice methods does Sutrayana teach? The reverends preach, "Go home and chant!" Then one goes to chant If one wants to deepen one's Buddhist knowledge, they tell one to go read the sutras! Then one goes to read the sutras. Chanting and reading the sutras are what they teach. Otherwise, they engage in some morning and evening rituals, such as striking the wooden fish [a percussion instrument that accompanies chanting], knock, knock, knock... [audience laughter]

Or else, they recite some repentance liturgies together, such as those of Amitabha, the Lotus Sutra, the Medicine Buddha, the Great Compassion Dharani, or the Ksitigharba Bodhisattva Repentance, among some others.

What are repentance liturgies? They are, in essence, the equivalent of the Great Homage. To bow is to do repentance. Therefore, in Sutrayana or exoteric schools, one chants the sutra and bows to the Buddhas to perform the liturgy. This is valid and meritorious, but one needs to know the deep meaning of the sutras one is reading and the kind of repentance liturgy being performed. Does one know that the purpose of the repentance liturgies is to teach one to become purified in body, speech, and mind ? How many non-virtuous deeds has one's body committed? How many non-virtuous speeches has one uttered? How many non-virtuous thoughts has one had? One needs to repent for all of these transgressions committed by the body, speech, and mind ! How many transgressions have the body, speech, and mind committed? All these transgressions are chanted aloud and consciously acknowledged and purified through bowing in the repentance liturgy.

Actually, when one is doing the daily True Buddha Tantric practice, one is also doing repentance or purification. The Tantric practice is, in reality, a repentance practice. I have described before that it is a means of purifying one' body, speech, and mind. To concentrate the mind on virtuous archetypes is to purify the mind When one forms the mudras, one's body cannot engage in non-virtuous deeds, hence one is purifying one's body karma. When one chants the mantra, one cannot also scold, slander, lie, flirt, gossip, or engage in double-talk, so one is purifying one's speech. Thus, during ritual practice the practitioner effectively purifies and transforms the faculties of action, expression, and intuition! This is repentance. In Sutrayana' s repentance liturgies, one finds out what one has done wrong through the chanting of the sutras, and one bows to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and repents. It achieves the same goal as the Tantric daily practice. Therefore, all Buddhist schools, be they Sutric or Tantric, share the same fundamental orientation.

The Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise is a focusing technique. To unify all mental activities into a single point, one-pointed mindfulness of the breath is employed to stop all other thoughts. The mind is purified when one visualizes the entering of white light, exiting of black vapor, the presence of red light inside the body, the mantra syllable of Buddha Nature flying into one's body, flying out to enter the Buddha's body and then re-entering one's own body. This system of exchange is also a process of purification of the body. It enhances the revelation of the Buddha Nature in one by purifying the body, speech, and mind This is the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise. What is the Buddha Breath? Buddha Breath is the inhalation and exhalation of the Buddha. The mutual exchange of inhalation and exhalation between oneself and the Buddha is the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise.

The Visualization of the Merging of Self and Deity

When one completes the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise, one's body, speech, and mind will be purified and, at this point, one is ready for the next step, "the merging of self and one's Personal Deity." The visualization of "merging of self and the Personal Deity" is very important. At this moment, the Deity before and above oneself in space (Amitabha in this case) flies and alights on the center of one's crown. Standing atop one's crown, Amitabha transforms instantaneously into a sparkling light the size of a rice grain. At the energy center of the heart, the petals of a lotus open up and in the center of the lotus is a moon disc bearing the seed syllable "hri." This "hii" embodies one's Buddha Nature. Visualize Amitabha descending the middle channel until he reaches the lotus at the heart and stands at the center of the moon disc. Many students have made the following statement related to this visualization: Grand Master, since Amitabha is standing up before and after entering my middle channel, while I am sitting down, I have trouble visualizing the merging of the two. [audience laughter]

These students wonder if Amitabha should be standing up or sitting down. Some people have these concerns and they are legitimate concerns. This is how I solved this problem. There is a painting of Amitabha inside the entrance of my residence [at the True Buddha Tantric Quarter] which depicts a standing Amitabha. I often meditate on that particular image of Amitabha because it is so vivid. This Amitabha has a full and perfect face and body and wears a celestial layered garment. As it is a splendidly colorful painting, the image one visualizes is automatically in color. I visualize this standing Amitabha alight on my crown and contract to a miniature size. He then enters my middle channel and, throughout this time, Amitabha remains in a standing pose. However, when Amitabha reaches the moon disc at the lotus of the heart chakra, I visualize him sitting down in a full lotus position. This is how one can solve the dilemma! This is the step known as "the entering of the Personal Deity into the self."

One next visualizes Amitabha gradually enlarge, until his body reaches the dimensions of one's physical body. His ears are the same size as one's ears, his eyebrows as one's eyebrows, his eyes, nose, mouth, and the rest of the body are completely the same size as one's own. At this moment, in the snap of an instant, one transforms into the Personal Deity, in this case, Amitabha. This is "the entering of the Personal Deity into the self."

In summary: the Personal Deity in the space before and above one flies to alight on top of one's crown, then condenses to become a dot of light the size of a rice grain. At this time, one's heart chakra opens up to form a lotus and, at the center of the lotus, is a moon disc with the mantra syllable "hri" at the center. One may also visualize the syllable "hri" sending forth light to invoke and draw the Personal Deity, Amitabha, to enter the middle channel. After entering, Amitabha sits down on the heart-moon-lotus. Sitting upon the moon disc, Amitabha's body gradually expands until it reaches the complete, identical size as oneself and, in the twinkling of an eye, one transmutes into the Personal Deity. This is the visualization of "entering of the Personal Deity into self." At this time, one already has turned into Amitabha and, therefore, should no longer think of one's own facial features. One should think that one's face is identical to the face of Amitabha. One's body and every other condition are exactly the same as those of Amitabha. This is the "entering of the Personal Deity into self." The practices of "entering of the Personal Deity into self' and the "entering of self into the Personal Deity" are extremely profound both as methods and experiences.

What then, is the "entering of self into the Personal Deity?" It is the transportation of the Buddha in one's heart along the middle channel, to exit through the crown, and to dissolve into the Personal Deity in the empty space. This is the "entering of self into the Personal Deity."

After accomplishing the "entering of the Personal Deity into the self," one may then sit in quiescence for, at this moment, one is the Buddha, the Personal Deity. There is no distinction between oneself and Amitabha, and the two exist in a state of indivisibility. When one reaches this condition, one does not worry whether or not one's parents are coming, if one's daughter wants more money, if one's children are doing well in school, if someone owes one money or vice versa —one does not think about such matters. At this time, one's awareness is completely lucid and quiet. Therefore, through the "merging of self and Personal Deity" visualization, one recognizes the indivisibility of oneself and Personal Deity.

Breath Counting Exercise

What comes next? One next does a breath counting exercise. In my opinion, breath counting is advantageous for people who have too many disruptive thoughts. If one's mind is very busy and constantly thinking about this and that, then one must do the breath counting exercise. The simplest way of breath counting is to inhale and count "one" and exhale and count "two." An alternative would be to count after each inhalation and exhalation; that is, inhale and exhale then count "one," inhale and exhale and then count "two." One can use either of these methods as one chooses.

One next starts counting the breaths — one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, etc. Some people suggest that one should count up to the number of one's age. [audience laughter] For example, I am now forty-eight years old, so I will count my breath until I reach the number forty eight. What happens after forty eight? One goes back to the beginning and starts over again. One does this because, if one reached the number one hundred, it would require counting in three digits, and it is too cumbersome to count in three digits. If one just keeps on going, one will reach one thousand and then need to count in four digits. [laughter] Too many digits! A certain power and rhythm occur when one counts breaths up to one's age again and again. This enhances the mental rhythm which helps to regulate the breath. Do not try to count all the way to one or two thousand.

In fact, this repetition of numbers from one to the number of years of one's age is actually a skill employing numbers to bring one's mind into one-pointedness. Counting one's breath this way, one will gradually cease counting and enter into a state free of thoughts. When all thoughts vanish, the realm of stability arises. When this realm of stability occurs, one's physical and mental being transform into emptiness [complete openness]. One completely forgets oneself in meditation, and the boundary between the "outside" and "inside" of oneself is abolished.

With the shattering of this boundary between the external and internal, the self-grasping consciousness or ego is also shattered. Some people feel capable of floating up into the air during this condition. Depending on the balance of the five esoteric elements (earth, water, fire, wind, and space) in each individual, there may arise different sensations, such as floating in an ocean or on other body of water, or even floating on currents of wind or light. Some might experience as though in the midst of fire or as though part of the earth, strong and firm as a mountain. Some are suspended in the air, which is a total dissolution of self-grasping. Of the various states of stability, immersion in the nature of space is highest.

The subtle energetic balance of each person is individual and tends to emphasize one of the five esoteric elements, which is what brings about corresponding meditative experiences. People who have a strong earth element will feel as firm as a mountain; people who have a greater component of water will

feel a cool breeze; people who are mostly fire element will feel as if they are inside a burning fire; people predominately of the wind element will feel as if they are being wafted by winds. These five elemental experiences are archetypal and manifest themselves in association with the state of "ablation of ego." Sometimes one feels as if one has become very small. Other times one feels very large, as if one fills up the whole universe. This is how it is described in the sutra: "In expansion, one becomes Mount Meru; in contraction, one becomes the size of a chestnut or hides within a mustard seed." All of this is generated during the state of stability. When one attains the state of stability in Samadhi, a very profound and deep insight will arise.

I have now taught everyone how to do the Nine Round Buddha Breath and Breath Counting Exercises. The Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise, the entering of the Personal Deity into self and the entering of self into the Personal Deity, and the Breath Counting Exercise are the three steps that one should do at the beginning of entering into Samadhi. In other words, in entering into Samadhi, one must first perform the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise, followed by the visualization of the entering of the Personal Deity into self and the entering of self into the Personal Deity, and then the Breath Counting Exercise. When these three exercises are successfully completed, one will enter into a state of stability.

The Dual Employment of Chih and Kuan

What should one do if, when the breath-counting method has brought one to near-stillness of awareness and then a thought suddenly arises? At such a moment, one should immediately visualize oneself as Amitabha again and restart the counting of breath. If another thought arises after one resumes counting, then one must again revert back to the visualization of oneself as Amitabha. When one enters into the state of no thought, one will no longer have to engage in visualization. As soon as a thought arises, one has to resume visualization of oneself as Amitabha.

This alternation of the states of "cessation of thoughts" and "visualization" is the technique known as the Chih [[[cessation]]] Kuan [view or visualization] Method. This way of employing the Chih Kuan Method is a simple one; there are other more subtle ways of using this technique. Chih is the dissolution of thought. Kuan refers to clear visualization which blocks unwanted thoughts and returns awareness to the state of nonthought. When one achieves a lucid visualization, one can again enter into the state of non-thought. If thoughts arise, one immediately returns to visualization. This is the dual employment of Chih and Kuan. When one puts a great deal of effort into developing this skill over many years, one will become sufficiently skillful to be able to enter into Samadhi every time. There are many levels of Samadhi which correspond to many realms of being. Many old practitioners or old monks, if they are not adepts in this cultivation will, when asked what Samadhi is, reply that Samadhi is to fall asleep and drool! [laughter]

The Secret Key of Tantrayana: I am the Buddha

In some monasteries where the monks practice asceticism very seriously, people have witnessed that, when the monks sit down to meditate, their heads start to drop and saliva trickles out of the corners of their mouths. [audience laughter] Amitabha! How could this be entering into Samadhi? It is entering into Slumberland!

Tantric rules are very strict. When one sits down to practice and enter into Samadhi, one has to assume and maintain the correct and dignified postures. One should not sit in a lopsided manner, lean against a wall, or snooze off with head aslant. I don't know how hard they immerse themselves in their practice, but do their masters teach them the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise, the merging of the Personal Deity and self, the dual employment of Chih and Kuan, and the Breath Counting Exercise? They probably engage in the breath counting practice, as breath counting is, generally speaking, a quite prevalent and excellent method to achieve "non-thought." However, Tantrayana also teaches the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise and the merging of self and the Personal Deity, which are not taught in Sutric schools. In fact, many exoteric practitioners find the visualization of the Buddha entering into their bodies to be preposterous. It would be a breaking of the precepts! They consider themselves defiled in comparison to the holy being of the Buddha, so how could the two become one? It would be an insult to the Buddha!

But one must not engage in this kind of thinking We have to think of ourselves as the Buddha and consider ourselves as pure. The greatest secret in Tantrayana is — I am the Buddha. Who is the Buddha? I am! This is the greatest secret of Tantrayana. The Buddha and Tare one and indivisible. Therefore these three visualizations: the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise, the entering of the Personal Deity into self and vice versa, and the Breath Counting Exercise are the correct ways to achieve Samadhi.

Some masters talk about sitting meditation but, when students ask them how this is done, they reply, "You don't know how to do sitting meditation? It is just sitting there!" Just sitting there leads to drooling. [audience laughter] Meditation is not sitting there every day in boredom; it requires certain techniques! And Tantrayana does offer specific techniques that can help one to enter into Samadhi.

The Skeleton Visualization Method

I will describe another visualization method that one can use. In place of the merging of self and the Personal Deity visualization, one can elect to do the Skeleton Visualization instead.

How is this visualization done? After finishing the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise, one visualizes one's left big toe becoming swollen. As it is the right big toe of the Yellow Jambhala that is afflicted, does one pick the left big toe so it won't be confused with the Yellow Jambhala Practice? [audience laughter] This is probably not the case! Perhaps, when Buddha Shakyamuni first taught this method, he was sitting cross-legged with his left foot above his right foot and, when he looked down, it was the left big toe that caught his eye; therefore he talked about the left big toe. If he had crossed his legs the other way, he would have mentioned the right big toe instead. [audience laughter] Buddha Shakyamuni taught that, after one finishes the Nine Round Buddha Breath Exercise, one then visualizes one's left big toe swelling up. After swelling up, the left big toe starts to rot and, as a result, the flesh falls off, leaving only a whitish bone. One then focuses the mind on that very whitish piece of bone. What is this method called? It is known as the "thought fastening method."

At the beginning of this visualization, one directs all one's thoughts (mental energy) to that piece of white bone. When may one move on to visualize the whole body turning into a white skeleton? One may move on when the white bone of the left big toe starts to emit white light, which will take both some time and effort to happen. When Buddha Shakyamuni taught this technique of "thought fastening," he explained that one had to fasten one's thoughts completely on that section of white bone of the left big toe and think of nothing else until that one section of white bone started to radiate white light. This requires great skill After this, one proceeds to visualize the whole body swelling up. I am speeding up the whole process, as Buddha Shakyamuni actually taught that this visualization be done one body section at a time. But this might overwhelm one and make one's head dizzy [laughter] The whole process also takes quite a long time. Therefore I suggest that, when one sees the white bone of the left big toe radiating light, one can visualize one's whole body swelling up, rotting, and all flesh falling off, resulting in a white skeleton. The head of this white skeleton is drooping and completely devoid of vitality. This visualization is considered successful when the whole skeleton starts to radiate a white light. At this time one enters into a state of egolessness, because one has already died and what is left is just a skeleton.

Next, one visualizes the people one hates most in this life appearing before one. These are people against whom one holds grudges. They appear one by one in a row in front of one: one's ex-husband or ex-wife, the grade school teacher who used to administer physical punishment, the boss who consistently refuses to give one a salary raise yet hands out harassment every day, the people who often criticize and put one down. One visualizes all these people suddenly swelling up and their flesh rotting away. [audience laughter] When all the flesh is gone, they turn into skeletons with their heads hanging down —just as one's head hangs down.

The former visualization eliminates self-cherishing and brings about egolessness while the latter visualization eliminates grasping attitudes towards others. One has turned oneself into a heap of white bonesemptiness of ego. All one's enemies are dead and have turned into white bonesemptiness of others. Next, one visualizes countless sentient beings appearing before one, all swelling and decaying until they turn into rows and rows of white skeletons, all with heads drooping. At this moment, one is in a state wherein the self, others, and all sentient beings have turned into emptiness. At such a moment, if one is an adept in the practice of inner fire, one can ignite the spark at the dan-tien and start a fire which is used to incinerate one's own skeleton. Now, the fire spreads to the row of other beings and, in an uproar, engulfs them in flames. Next, all of the rest of the sentient beings become entirely consumed by the great fire. At this moment, a stabilized awareness known as the Flame Samadhi will be generated.

The Realization of Arhatship

When one attains this stability (Flame Samadhi), one becomes an arhat. An arhat is someone who has realized the inherent emptiness of a hard-core identity in the ego, others, and all sentient beings. This state is described by a sentence in the Diamond Sutra: "All things are devoid of selfhood, devoid of personality, devoid of entity, and devoid of separate individuality." In this realm, due to the fire which one ignites and uses to incinerate and obliterate the ego, others, and all sentient beings, everything merges together into this single, great fire of the Flame Samadhi. When this realm is reached, one attains the level of an arhat. However, many practitioners of the Skeleton Visualization eventually develop an aversion for their own bodies, as well as a grayish outlook on life. In a realm where oneself, others, and everyone else "no longer exist," what is the purpose for living? What else is there to do? What is the meaning in life?

When such a Samadhi is generated, one needs to go and sing Karaoki [audience laughter] or go and do some dancing exercise. When this kind of realm is reached, one might develop a pessimistic outlook on life and become disheartened. It is all a dream! What is the difference between being alive and being dead? This bleak outlook can lead to the conclusion that life is meaningless. That is why one needs to go singing or dancing once in a while. One must prevent oneself from becoming mired down in nihilism. This way one will find that there are still many lovely things offered by life. [audience laughter] One needs to know that the ultimate realization of the Skeleton Visualization is emptiness! That is why one has to find some pleasure to enliven one's life! Pleasure is emptiness and emptiness is pleasure when the nondual Samadhi of the union of bliss and emptiness is generated. Continuing to experience some of life's pleasures, one will not end up in abject nihilism. Dancing, singing, love, hatred, or any activityis, ultimately, empty, empty, and empty. [audience laughter]

Amid all this is the wonderful realization that many worries, troubles, and anxieties [[[kleshas]]] are eliminated in the state of Flame Samadhi. Do you know why I, Sheng-yen Lu, have no worries at all? Because I practice Flame Samadhi. In the state of Flame Samadhi, one gains the insight that, in this world, the ego, others, and all sentient beings are inherently empty of self and individuality. What is there to worry about? Please give this some consideration: since there is not a separate and independent existence of the self, others, or everyone else, what is there to trouble one? No more worries! What is there to worry about? People who criticize and denounce one? Newspaper and magazine articles that slander one? One realizes that both good and bad conditions are empty, both praise and criticism are empty. Reaching this Samadhi, one becomes completely identified with the Void and, in this state of mind, there is practically no substantiality to any worldly personality

Who exists to slander one? Isn't the slandering itself also empty in nature? Do worries exist? It isn't that one is deaf or insensitive to the criticism, it is just that in one's view, all criticism is empty in nature! This is an extraordinary state of mind! In this state of mind, to be killed is also an expression of emptiness! If someone came after me with a knife, I would just burst out laughing, "Ha ha! It is emptiness after all!" [uproar of audience laughter] "I am still the great Void even if I am killed!" I have already reached this level of Flame Samadhi wherein there is no self, no others, and no sentient beings, so even if I am murdered, it is still emptiness! I am inherently empty of self-existence! To recognize this is to have a transcendent view of life.

I have remarked before that, if my parents were to abandon me, Mrs. Lu were to abandon me, my children, Fo Ching and Fo Chi, were to abandon me, and all of my students were to abandon me, it would not make any difference to me. If my students made this announcement, "Oh my! Sheng-yen Lu does not look like a Buddha at all, I am going to leave him." Would it really have anything to do with me? In this universe, there is no inherent "self' or "other," nor are there any inherently existent

living beings. When one attains the level of the Flame Samadhi, no such inherently self-sustaining beings are foundanywhere in the universe!

"There is no Buddhahood above to attain and there are no sentient beings below to be delivered" — this is the state of mind of the arhats. I also have reached this level of realization! At this level, I can make the same statement. My heart would remain unperturbed even if someone were to beat me to death. Try to reflect on this: would someone who has attained this level of realization lose his mind to dancing girls, liquor, and singing? Could it be possible? At the time when one enters into and identifies with the Void, one attains the state of non-birth and non-death, even while still physically alive. The accomplishment of this Skeleton Visualization is extraordinary.

After his Enlightenment, Buddha Shakyamuni taught the Four Noble Truths (suffering, causes of suffering, cessation of suffering, and the path to cessation of suffering.) At the end of his life, he also talked about the Four Noble Truths. The path of the Four Noble Truths is the path of the arhats. During his lifetime, Buddha Shakyamuni did not give a great deal of teachings on the Mahayana pathway. His main focus was on Hinayana teachings — existence of suffering, causes of suffering, cessation of suffering, and the path to cessation of suffering. That is why during the lifetime of the Buddha, his ten chief disciples all became arhats. The Buddha talked about the five hundred arhats; why did he not speak of the five hundred Bodhisattvas? Because the disciples became arhats, and thus there are references to the five hundred arhats and the eighteen maha-arhats.

The ten chief disciples were actually the ten maha-arhats. Bodhisattvas are from the outer space. When Buddha Shakyamuni gave the discourses, many Bodhisattvas were present. Where had Manjusri, Samantabhadra, Avalokitesvara, Maitreya, and the other Bodhisattvas come from? From the other dimensions. Do we know where Avalokitesvara was born and where he died? No, he had come from the outer space.

The Generation of Bodhicitta

Therefore most of the sentient beings who achieved liberation through encountering Buddha Shakyamuni did so by the way of the arhat. The Mahayana texts were translated at a later date when Mahayana flourished in India. But the original and direct teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni focused on Hinayana and arhatship. However, one must not criticize the Hinayana teachings, as Hinayana is the foundation upon which Mahayana is built. Without arhatship, how can one help other sentient beings to reach liberation? Without that foundation, one will, instead, be enslaved by the sentient beings; one absolutely will not be able to liberate other sentient beings. Only when one works in the spirit and vision of selflessness will one be able to liberate others.

One must realize that sentient beings are the base camp of afflicted emotions! That is why one needs to cultivate to the point when one is liberated from afflicted emotions — the state of egolessness, no others, and no sentient beings. Therein one's mind is completely ever-fresh and unfettered, and one must reach this state before one can help liberate other sentient beings without being enslaved by them. It is merely braggadocio if one does not have the foundation of arhatship, yet talks about how one must liberate all sentient beings to Sukhavati. As soon as one visits a dancing club, one will become enthralled by a dancing girl! [uproar of audience laughter] Never mind one's task of liberating others, a single member of the opposite sex is able to enslave one. After being led away, one remarks, "I had no idea that such exquisite pleasures existed in the world!" [audience laughter]

To indulge in lower sensual pleasures is to forget the higher spiritual goal. If someone were to call out, "Come back to cultivate Buddhism." The reply would be, "No!" [audience laughter] The mundane world does have its exquisite pleasures in food and sex, and only the arhats can escape from the temptations of food and sex. The Skeleton Visualizationemptiness of ego, emptiness of others, and emptiness of sentient beings — enables one to enter into the stability of Flame Samadhi. This attainment of great stability in the union of bliss and emptiness genuinely qualifies one to become an arhat. A genuine practitioner will build a foundation on the arhatship and, from there, go on to develop the bodhicitta of Bodhisattvahood which is the key teachings of Mahayana Buddhism.

I am not asking one to stop helping sentient beings to reach liberation. That is absolutely not what I mean, please do not misunderstand me. Do not say, "Wow! The guru is saying that I cannot help liberate sentient beings because I have not yet reached the level of the arhats." This is absolutely not the case. Whether one is going to help liberate others or be liberated by others, one must first strengthen one's faith, develop a great confidence, and become skillful in entering into the stability of Samadhi. On the other hand, if a practitioner has read many scriptures and has understood the doctrines and then decides to help other people, can he or she explain the truth to

other sentient beings, even though he or she has not done the actual practice or been able to attain the Samadhi? Of course, this can be done. After listening to this teaching, reflecting on the subject, and arriving at a full comprehension of the Skeleton Visualization, the Flame Samadhi, and the stability, can one then explain these concepts to other fellow students or to one's family members? Yes! This is one way of helping sentient beings reach liberation.

It is possible to understand the concepts but, without actual practice, one cannot enter into the state of true egolessness, emptiness of others, and emptiness of all sentient beings. This requires truly entering into the state of stability in Samadhi and realizing the void of intrinsic identity in self, others, and all objects of the world. Amidst such stability, luminosity and wisdom will be generated.

Therefore, the aiding in the liberation of sentient beings prior to one's realization of Samadhi is called "bodhicitta based on conceptual understanding." After the realization of Samadhi, the aiding of others in achieving liberation is known as "bodhicitta based on a cool and unperturbed realization," (as one has already arrived at a realm that is indestructible, unperturbed, and immovable). Amidst the indestructible, unperturbed, and immovable stability, there is nothing that can corrupt one's body and mind.

Wherever one goes, while in the state of immovability, one's heart remains unmoved, as one has already obtained the "firm and flawless Samadhi." Therefore, a person who has arrived at a "Firm and Impeccable Samadhi" can become an arhat in the Flame Stability. This is an extraordinary and transcendent accomplishment. Afterwards, one commits oneself to the liberation of all sentient beings and embarks on the path of Bodhisattvahood. One becomes a Buddha when one attains spontaneous perfection both in awareness and actualization.

Are you all able to grasp the essence of how to enter into Samadhi? What I have covered today are the Nine Round Buddha Breath, the entering of self into the Personal Deity and the entering of the Personal Deity into self, the Breath Counting Exercise, and the Skeleton Visualization. The final result of the Skeleton Visualization is the Flame Samadhi. Within the state of Samadhi there are, of course, many levels, and it would take a very long time to discuss all of them. The message of today's discussion is to urge everyone to practice those four methods to enter into Samadhi.

Om Mani Padme Hum.