Buddhist Meditation Systematic and Practical - 4
SHOULD MEDITATION BE PRACTICED DIRECTLY WITHOUT PREPARATIONS ?
A Talk by the Buddhist Yogi C. M. CHEN
Written Down by REVEREND B. KANTIPALO
HOMAGE TO MAHABODHISATTVAS KSITIGARBHA AND SARVASOKA MONIRGHATAMATI
SHOULD MEDITATION BE PRACTICED DIRECTLY WITHOUT PREPARATION ?
Through an open window we saw Mr. Chen sitting on his low stool with his back towards us. Sitting opposite him was a young man listening to the yogi's words. When we too were received and seated, Mr. Chen explained that he was answering some questions raised by the young man who, we discovered, was Chinese and a Confucian school teacher. For a few minutes, our host continued his Dharma-talk in Chinese to his questioner, who was obviously deeply interested, pointing out to him passages in a little book which contained the life and some of the teachings of the Buddha illustrated with traditional drawings. When he finished, he gave two of these books to the schoolmaster, and after more greetings, ushered him out. Returning, Mr. Chen explained that he had been answering questions on the seven wings of Bodhi, the Four Noble Truths, and the Noble Eight-fold Path.
"Now," he said, "we must come to the subject of our talk today, as it is also very long." He picked up his notebook in which all the subjects of his discourses were systematically worked out, sat down, and began.
A. DOUBT AMONG MEDITATORS ON THIS MATTER
If we first ask whether any preparation should be made, it is indisputable that the answer is YES. The whole of this section will deal with this question and show how essential preparations are for meditation, a subject requiring great earnestness, and hence great preparations.
Even among meditators there are two doubts about preparation. Some doubt concerning the devas, for they exist always in a state of meditation in the realms of form and formlessness; what preparation have they made for their achievement? It is true that they were not born from a womb, and just rose up into that state. However, they came to achieve it in the human life preceding their deva condition, when they practiced meditation. Their birth as devas depends on the level achieved by them previously in meditation practice. Although they have no fleshy body in their devi-life, they do have a body of meditation (rupa- or arupa- kaya) which is a continuation of this world's practice. There is no practice for them in that state because all their preparation has been done here. (See Chapter III, C. b., Attainment by Birth dhyana).
The second doubt is whether Chan always has a preparation. Chan, say the doubters, always emphasizes that Enlightenment is not newly created by one's practice. It is always here and now; not made by any amount of preparation. The enlightenment obtained from preparation is not the real Enlightenment—such things they say. (See Appendix I, Part 2, A. 3).
However, words like these are from Enlightened Masters and it is not appropriate for neophytes to play with them. Beginners have much preparation to accomplish, such as searching for an enlightened Guru and doing everything according to the commands of that guru. But many misunderstand this, as I know from friends in America who write: No need to renounce, for everything is void; no need to practice, for we are already enlightened. (See also Ch. II, 1st error). Sayings like this are not for neophytes, and can only come rightly from the mouths of Buddhas and Patriarchs.
Among all the different kinds of meditations gathered in the last chapter there are only these two where it is even possible to doubt whether or not preparations are essential. We should know therefore that without doubt even in these cases preparations are involved, as indeed they are with all meditation.
B. PREPARATIONS FOR MEDITATION IN BUDDHISM AS TAUGHT BY THE BUDDHA
According to the Buddhas' instructions, what is the preparation for meditation? The Buddhas have set forth all in an orderly sequence in their teaching of the Dharma. First, let us see what the Buddha has said in the Hinayana teachings. Under this heading we find many different classifications: each of these we shall examine to find which factors are the preparatory ones leading to the remainder concerned with practice.
1. The Three Wisdoms. These we have already mentioned several times, the first and second being the preparation for the third. That is, hearing (or reading), plus reflective thought prepare the mind for the practical wisdom gained through applied meditation.
2. The Three Knowledges: perception (samjna), consciousness (vijnana) and wisdom (prajna). The first is obviously preparation for the second—if one has not received any instruction, it is impossible to meditate. Many in the West make this mistake and try to practice without receiving good precepts from a Guru. They have not made the necessary preparation.
3. In the Four Noble Truths, pain (dukkha) and the arising of pain (dukkha samudaya), are preparatory to the fourth Truth—the Path (dukkha nirodha gamini patipada), while the practice of meditation belongs to the factor, Right Concentration, of the Path.
However, if you do not recognize the pain bound up with existence in this world, then meditation will not be pursued as the way towards its extinction. Westerners often just meditate for worldly purposes, as a tonic or for relaxation, without knowing why they should practice. Without recognizing and deeply investigating the first two Truths, there is no adequate preparation for meditation.
4. Next come the well-known Thirty-seven Wings of Enlightenment (bodhipaksadharmas), each of which can be examined from three positions which have been described in the last Chapter (See Ch. III, B). Here we are only concerned with the causal position of theoretical knowledge and reflection upon it, which must precede the meditation process as preparation for it.
a. The first group of the thirty-seven are the Four Kinds of Mindfulness (smrtyupasthana, satipatthana). (See Chapter IX). These stand at the beginning and are in the causal position for the later practice of meditation; they are its preparation. (Note: This is a different interpretation of satipatthana than that found in Theravada works.)
Without these four, no great differentiation can be made between Buddhism and non-Buddhist systems. If a neophyte does not learn these thoroughly at the beginning, then he will surely stray away from the true Teachings of the Buddhas.
b. The Four Diligences (samyakprahana): if one has not well developed these four, then many obstacles may be experienced in meditation. In Taoism also there is great emphasis on laying down good foundations of this sort, though the stress there is on concentration rather than on wisdom. First, say the Taoists, good actions should be done and increased, so that in this way maturity comes and meditation can be successfully practiced. Otherwise, they say, although powers may be obtained by plunging straight into practice without preparation, heaven may be displeased and make a great roaring, killing the practitioner with its thunder!
If we examine the Four Diligences, we notice that they are mostly concerned with morality (sila) and its development, which are necessary preparations for meditation practice. Furthermore, abundant good actions cause the gods and protectors to guard the meditator from harm.
c. Regarding the Four Bases of Psychic Power (rddhipada), some explain that all of them belong to meditation. If we examine them in detail, we see that the first three are the preparation for the fourth; they prepare the ground for the concentrated investigation, the deep samapatti, which occurs in the process of meditation.
d. In Chinese this group is called the Five Roots (panca indriyani, usually translated as the Five Spiritual Faculties). Faith, diligence, and mindfulness, the first three, are the preparation for the fourth, dhyana. From the cultivation of these Five Roots spring:
e. The Five Powers (panca balani) the same as the Five Roots but apply to a higher level of practice. They are sometimes treated serially, one factor leading to another in the Pali Suttas.
f. Following them come the Seven Bodhyangas: beginning with how to discriminate dharmas (dharma-pravicaya sambodhyanga) and four other factors, these first five are preparatory to meditation, the sixth.
g. Finally, and most important, is the Eightfold Noble Path (arya asta marga), which should be mentioned in some detail.
Mr. Chen picked up a red book, Dialogues of the Buddha, Part III (translation by T. W. Rhys Davids). Opening this at a turned-down page, he showed the writer a page of the Sangiti Sutta, where the factors are grouped according to numerical categories. Under the "sevens" there are listed, "Seven Requisites of Concentration" which are none other than this Path without its last factor, Right Meditation. Thus the first seven steps are all preparation for the eighth.
It is important to emphasize Right Livelihood. Many beginners do not care about this and go on doing bad deeds. They may want to meditate, but do not want to give up these unwholesome habits. It is very dangerous for them not to give them up—they will have trouble in their meditation. Demons and bad ghosts always congregate where there are rotten things, and such evil beings will continually trouble people like this. Without perfecting one's livelihood (which should not be harmful either to others or to oneself), it is impossible to practice meditation properly. One whose livelihood is pure, however, is always protected in his practice by the beneficent deities.
Another factor of importance is Right View, which stands first in the list. Without learning what is Right View (what Buddha really taught), and what are False Views, one has no secure foundation for Right Concentration. People without Right View may sometimes believe Hinduism and sometimes have faith in Christianity, thus wandering among all sorts of beliefs, but this vague kind of faith is not a good condition for meditation. One should have a proper understanding of the Buddha's Teachings (from which a balanced faith will arise) and not go here and there to different systems, the result of which can only be a confusion of teachings and a bewildered state of mind.
The preparations as given in the Hinayana are now finished and we come next to the Mahayana instructions. It would be a mistake to suppose that the Thirty-Seven Wings of Enlightenment are taught only in the Hinayana, as they are well known in the Mahayana, too, though admittedly emphasized more by the former.
5. The most obvious category to consider here are the Six Paramitas. We can easily see that the first four (giving, morality, patience, and energy) are preparations for the fifth, samadhi. This is the usual sequence of these Perfections, but their order is especially well expounded in one sutra.
Mr. Chen searched in his notebook where he had written the Sanskrit name, and found it: Sandhinirmocana Sutra. In Chinese it is called Profound and Secret Truth Explanation Sutra. He jumped up and opened his bookcase, from which he brought a slim volume. Thumbing through the pages, he said, "This Sutra is one of the first that I read when I came to Buddhism. There is a brief story here."
When I began to practice Buddhism, I was a professor with very little time even for worship; my puja then was just to light some incense sticks. I had little time for reading, either, but what I did read was always done in earnest. I saw this sutra and thought, "The name is good," and after reading it, I dreamed one night about its real aspect. I saw the whole universe above me like a brilliantly illuminated sky. From the direction of the brightness came a splendid image of the same magnitude and from this again were projected many lesser forms the size of human bodies. I recognized immediately from this vision the Three Bodies of the Buddhas (Trikaya). It was very inspiring.
In the seventh chapter of this sutra, the Paramitas are connected together in this way:
Guan-Yin (Avalokitesvara) asked the Buddha: "For what reason do you preach the Six Paramitas in such a good sequence?" He replied: "So that the sentient beings in the future may receive reliable instructions, I teach in this way. If the Bodhisattva does not care for or cling to the body or wealth (this implies dana) he may then keep his morality (sila). In order to keep firmly the moral precepts, he should practice patience (ksanti). If he can practice, it is possible for him to be diligent (virya). With diligence, he is then able to acquire dhyana. After he has this, he can then develop supramundane wisdom (prajna). That is why I teach the Six Paramitas in this order."
6. After the Mahayana, we turn to the Vajrayana. According to the Tantras, one should know the system of the Four Yogas and be able to distinguish which are the preparatory parts and which concern meditational practice.
a. The first of the Yoga groups contains the Kriya Tantras. These are mostly concerned with action, particularly with the service (ritual worship) of the Buddhas.
Let us try to divide each Yoga into three parts. If we do this with the Kriya Tantra, then all three parts are seen to be devoted to this ritual action or puja. This ensures that our later practice of meditation is not without spiritual guidance, but is well protected by the inward results of these external practices (for instance, the four Vajrayana Foundations, see Autobiography and Appendix II).
b. The Carya Tantras are in the second group. They are sometimes known as ubhaya-carya-tantras, that is, the practice of both sides, both of rituals and yogic concentration. Here, if we make three parts, two of them will refer to karma and one to meditation.
c. In the Yoga Tantras, only one part out of the three is devoted to karma, while two would be given to meditation.
d. With the Anuttarayoga Tantras, all three parts concern the practice of meditation.
Therefore, we understand that in the Tantras also there is a gradual process of preparation, the first three yogas leading up to the practice of full samadhi in the Anuttarayoga. To make this explanation quite clear, the following diagram is given.
THE FOUR YOGAS AND THEIR THREE PARTS OF PURPORT
My guru, Rona Rinpoche, gave a good parable to us, his disciples. He said, "It is like building a pagoda of nine stories; the lowest three are Hinayana, in the middle are three of the Mahayana, while the highest are the three Vajrayana stories. Those at the base are most important for the support of the higher ones: each yana is preparation for the one above." This is good instruction for us now.
C. PREPARATIONS ACCORDING TO THE PATRIARCHS' TEACHINGS
The Buddha's whole system of teaching has been described and we next examine what the Patriarchs have taught. By them, the sequence of the Path from the ordinary unenlightened worldling to the attainment of Buddhahood has been very clearly delineated.
1. The first of the great teachers whom we shall mention, one who has shown clearly the different preparatory and practical elements, is Jetsun Gampopa. His famous work on the Stages of the Path (Lam Rim) has been translated into English as "The Jewel Ornament of Liberation." In this book, Chapters One through Seven concern hearing and thinking, that is, the acquisition of philosophic knowledge. In Chapter Eight, one takes Refuge and various subjects follow in good order up to Chapter Sixteen, which deals with meditation. The first fifteen chapters, then, are preparatory to the succeeding ones. English readers should make good use of this book and gain great benefits in their understanding of Buddhadharma.
2. Unfortunately there is still no translation available of the Great Stages of the Path (Lam Rim Chen Mo) by Jetsun Tsong Khapa, the founder-patriarch of the Yellow Sect. This exhaustive work, dealing only with the exoteric Mahayana tradition, (his exposition of the Tantra being contained in another and even larger book, The Stages of the Tantra) gives the divisions of the Path according to peoples' capacity to practice. Three types of practitioners are given:
a. The lower practitioner for him there are four stages of Dharma-reflection:
i. He should first consider how impermanent life is, how rare it is to receive a good birth, how difficult among all other states it is to become a human being, and even then how few have the chance to hear the Buddha's teachings.
ii. He then reflects upon the miserable states of birth lower than human: the realms of ghosts, beasts, and dwellers in hell, and their miseries: respectively, insatiable craving, ignorance, and tortures.
iii. Although every dharma is void, karma still has its result and this he should ponder. If one does not realize sunyata, then experience of karma-fruits, painful as well as pleasant, must continue.
iv. Lastly, the lower practitioner has to confess sincerely all his evil deeds.
b. For the middle practitioner there are two principal subjects for reflection: the Four Noble Truths and understanding the teaching of the Twelve Links (nidana) of the causal chain (pratitya-samutpada).
c. Two distinct stages are shown for the highest practitioner. First comes the Bodhicittopada, or the arising of the wisdom-mind and its development. Then follows the Bodhicarya, the performance of noble deeds by the practice of the Six Paramitas, and also the four Samgrahavastu (means of conversion). The latter are all preparatory: Giving (dana), loving speech (priyavacana), doing good to others (arthakrtya), and treating others like oneself (samanarthata). Among the paramitas, which are treated in great detail in this book, the first four, as already mentioned, are of a preparatory nature.
3. Last to be considered here is the Chinese patriarch Zhi-Yi, who lived for long upon the Tian Tai Mountain . The school of teachings originated by his master, but which he spread wisely, is also known by the mountain's name.
A knowledge of his teachings would be most useful to Westerners who have not only a great need for meditation, but have also unfortunately many misunderstandings, particularly about meditation practice. Zhi-Yi has given very fully the basic necessities for this.
Mr. Chen here remarked with some sharpness:
Many in the West seem to have been misled by Japanese scholars who have told them something of Chan, or Zen as they call it, but very little about the foundations upon which a beginner should base his practice. As a result, there are many who think that they know a great deal about Chan but know almost nothing about the preparations which must be most thoroughly completed before there can be any true Chan experience. The necessary groundwork is well laid out in the Tian Tai doctrines, very suitable to the West and to those having false ideas such as: the rejection of all gods, rejection of a conditioned "soul," of an afterlife, or of the need for renunciation. All false views due to lack of preparation are well-combated by the thoroughness of Tian Tai.
The huge book written by this patriarch, Great Concentrations and Meditations, is a very practical and comprehensive account of the various stages and their division into preparation and practice. Very helpful to the neophyte is his shorter work, Meditation for Beginners, translated in Dwight Goddard's Buddhist Bible, and later by Lu K'uan-Yu in his Secrets of Chinese Meditation. In this concise survey with ten chapters, the first four are: "Gathered Conditions of Meditation," "Subduing the Five Sense Desires," "Giving up the Five Hindrances," and "Harmonizing Conditions" (of mind, food, sleep, etc.) The fifth deals with resolve, diligence, mindfulness, skill in meditation-conditions, and making one's insight clear. All five are preparation for the remaining chapters on meditation. This small but useful book should be read by all those beginning to take interest in meditation and its preparation.
Within Buddhism we have treated the three yanas: from the teachings of the Lesser Vehicle, passing on to that of the Greater, and finally coming to the Diamond Vehicle instructions. In all, we have found that preparation precedes practice.
Now from this pinnacle, we shall pass downwards again in examining preparations, first in the various religions outside Saddharma and then with regard to worldly learning.
D. PREPARATIONS IN OTHER RELIGIONS
In the religions apart from the Dharma of the Buddhas, even though as systems they contain only incomplete spiritual instructions, must still contain some preparations made for the practice of their own meditations. The little evidence of this offered here is not intended to be comprehensive but only as selected examples to call attention to necessity taught by all religious teachers of first laying down secure foundations before commencing practice.
1. Hinduism: the eightfold training of Patanjali's, known as Astangayoga, is widely known and frequently referred to in books on the yoga of that religion. The first four degrees are preparation for the later stages, thus: Yama (control), niyama (restraint), asana (posture), pranayama (breath-control), pratyahara (withdrawal); are preliminary to dharana (concentration) dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (equanimity).
Particularly in the last three terms, one sees a correspondence to Buddhist training, their descriptions showing a similarity to the Buddhist samatha, samapatti, and samadhi. However we should not think that because the sequence appears the same, the meanings are, also. (Even within Hinduism, there are numerous schools using the same terms, but attaching to them quite different meanings).
2. In the Jain religion, six steps have been laid down, four of which are preparatory for the last two. Thus we have: Repentance, renunciation, praising the venerable Jinas (Conquerors), and making obeisance to them; when these preparations are complete, one proceeds to the practice of equanimity, and lastly, relinquishing bodily attachment.
3. Confucius taught preparatory steps to his disciples. These are:
"Study it wisely;
Reflect upon it carefully;
Discriminate about it accurately."
These are the preparation for the final process:
Practice it wisely.
Further, to clarify his meaning, he has said:
"Things have their roots and their branches. Affairs have their ends and their beginnings. To know what is the first and what is the last will lead near to what is taught in the Book of Great Learning."
In detail, he explained:
"What the Book of Great Learning teaches is to be illustrative of high virtue; to improve people; and to rest in the great excellence."
The point of rest being known, the object of pursuit is then determined; and that being determined, a calm unperturbedness may be attained (corresponding to our samatha). To that calmness there will succeed a tranquil repose (corresponding to peaceful feelings experienced in samatha). In that repose there may be careful deliberation, (corresponding to our samapatti) and that deliberation will be followed by the attainment of the desired end (corresponding to our samadhi). ("The Great Learning," in The Four Books, translated by James Legge, paragraphs 1-3).
Again, correspondence is evident in the progressive steps here expounded, though not in the depth of their Buddhist meaning. However, we may see the wisdom of this teacher from his clear insistence on beginning at the beginning.
4. In the Testament and Gospel of Christianity, there is very little to suggest that meditation was practiced. Where the world "meditate" does occur in the Bible, and it is very uncommon, it is not used in the Buddhist sense. In the English of the King James version, "meditate" occurs 13 times but with definition of "think about" or "ponder."
There is even the phrase "meditative evil" which has a very non-Buddhist meaning.
"Meditation" is only found six times in the whole Bible, two references being in the New Testament, but the word is really not used in a religious sense. The Christian term most nearly corresponding (though loosely used compared with the precision of Buddhist terminology in Pali and Sanskrit) is "prayer."
In the Roman Catholic prayer-book, a description of the Fourteen Stations of Meditation on the Crucifixion is given. Meditations, or rather concentrations of this sort, are discursive in content and use only the normal workings of the six consciousnesses. They lack the force derived from the practice of true samatha.
A manual of the Church of England doctrine and practice lays down four elements of meditation development: attention, aspiration, application, and action. The first means discursive thought upon a text; the second that the mind is turned to inward prayer upon whatever is the subject; in application one considers, What does this mean to my life?; finally, action is the practice of what has been taught by one's inward communion with God.
Aspiration here seems to be a partial parallel to meditation, and the other three stages seem to be rather unsystematic preparations and sequels to this (See The Catholic Faith, by W.H. Griffin Thomas, page 99).
E. PREPARATIONS IN WORLDLY MATTERS
Lastly, we come to worldly matters and even in them it is plain that there are preparations to be made before the accomplishment of whatever the task may be—from eating to dying.
As a first example, the case of new pupil going to school may be taken. Before he goes to a school, many things are to be done by himself or by his parents: the school has to be chosen, application made to the Headmaster, an appointment made with him, sitting arranged for the entrance examination, new clothes bought for the student, and so on—a host of things to be thought out and acted upon before the child actually enters the school as a pupil. All this preparation is necessary for a worldly achievement; how much more will be required for the attainment of samadhi?
There is still more from this example. Each stage in the training is the basis for the pupil's further progress. Thus by his primary school training, he is prepared for study in a grammar school or technical school, and this in turn prepares him for a university. Therefore, we should avoid thinking of preparation and attainment as being static factors, but see our practice as training for some further practice. Life in this way becomes very fruitful.
There is a poem where preparation is mentioned before eating.
Mr. Chen smiled, referred to his notes, and then began to read. After hearing the first line, the listener and the writer also smiled, for this is what they heard:
"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need;
And pepper and vinegar beside
Are very good indeed.
Now if you're ready, oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."
( Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll)
Mr. Chen laughed heartily, an infectious laugh in which we both joined. But he continued seriously.
A question is here being asked: "Are you ready?" Upon examination, our whole life seems to ask this question. Even in very hurried moments, as when a person crouched on the grass before a race begins is asked: "Are you ready?" Even in a moment like that there is need for preparation.
Furthermore, even at the time of our departure from this existence, whenever and however it occurs, there are things to be done, little preparations to make, as the great Shelley so movingly wrote about in his tragic play "The Cenci." At the play's conclusion and before the death by execution of the heroine, she nobly says:
"Give yourself no unnecessary pain,
My dear Lord Cardinal. Here, mother, tie
My girdle for me, and bind up this hair
In any simple knot; any, that does well.
And yours I see is coming down. How often
Have we done this for one another; now
We shall not do it any more. My Lord,
We are quite ready. Well, 'tis very well."
She answers the question: she is ready.
The content of this chapter should convince everyone that before any attainment can result from meditation, it must be practiced, and before this is possible, secure roots in the various preparatory factors must be established. Now, for the sake of clarity, the material of this chapter is summarized.
F. SUMMARY AND SOME PRACTICAL CONDITIONS
1. Personal Conditions of Preparation
At least some of the following conditions should be well-fulfilled by all who follow the Buddha's Way. The last four in the list should certainly be practiced upon opportunity by those in whom resolve and renunciation are strong; the former should be practiced by all Buddhists.
a. Two thoughts necessary for everybody's deep and long recollection: the fear of death and the impermanence of the body.
b. One must believe that after death there is some afterlife or rebirth. It is a false and harmful view to imagine that at the death of a "person" there is no continuity of actions and their results. Holding this view (ucchedavada), a man sees no reason for any preparation; but with the prospect of future lives ahead, there is the greatest incentive to prepare oneself.
c. Also one must search for a good future birth (not merely passively accept its existence). This can best be done by thoroughly knowing the Buddha's instructions. For many people, the easiest way to learn what these are is to read some of the reliable books on Buddhism and translations now available. All the publications of the Pali Text Society of London should be read and thoroughly absorbed; then one will know well the doctrine of the Hinayana. For the Mahayana, study Gampopa's Jewel Ornament of Liberation and Suzuki's Essence of Buddhism; also, the Oxford Tibetan Series of four books translated under the editorship of W.Y. Evans-Wentz give a good idea of the Vajrayana. (Note: Read only the translated text of these four books, for ideas given in the commentaries and introductions are very frequently misleading and certainly not Buddhist). For Zen, read Paul Reps' The Gateless Gate and my Light House in the Ocean of Chan.
d. Your book should be read.
The writer paused uncertain of whom the "your" referred to. "Why, this book," said Mr. Chen. "This book is yours. My talk is only a voice, which has already vanished as its own nature is sunyata. Your record is in words forever available to the readers." "No, no," protested the writer, "it is yours, from your practice and your experience." (Hence this correction: Everyone interested in meditation in all its aspects should read Mr. Chen's book.) He continued:
Having read this, there will be some foundation for practice, as everything inside these covers is only concerned with this one subject.
e. If it is not possible to give up the worldly life and become a bhikshu, then at least activities attaching to the world should be reduced. The time thus left free should be devoted to the regular practice of meditation.
f. If one cannot renounce everything to go to live with a guru, it is essential at least to have contact with one from time to time, and to take the Refuges from him so that he becomes one's personal guru. As often as possible, one should receive and then practice his instructions. (See Appendix II, A, 2).
g. If it is impossible to live as a hermit for long periods, then one must take advantage of every opportunity to practice in solitude, even short periods during weekends and holidays (See Appendix I, Part One, B, 4, b &c).
h. If one has not been to the holy places of Buddha-dharma and found there suitable sites for a hermitage, then at least one should choose a solitary place for the purpose.
This last point leads to some further considerations regarding the conditions for retreat.
2. Conditions for a Hermitage (See also Appendix I, Part One, C, 6.)
a. Food must be easily obtainable.
b. The place must be free from all environmental dangers.
Mr. Chen mentioned robbers, tigers and lions; to these might be added freedom from the noise made by all forms of modern transport, away from nuclear power stations, military establishments, airfields, etc.
c. There should be no diseases endemic to the place selected.
d. Doctors and medicines should be available without difficulty.
e. The geomancy of the hermitage should be auspicious:
i. At the back of the hermitage, a higher mountain as a reliable support, like the back of a chair.
ii. Directly in front, hills should be lowest near the retreat, becoming increasingly higher in the distance.
iii. Streams should flow in curves from the distance toward the hermitage.
iv. From the left and right sides, two arms of hills should embrace the hermitage.
v. Close to the hermitage in front, there should be a wide plain of grass.
These points are general conditions, and many particulars in the complex science cannot be mentioned here.
"My father-in-law," Mr. Chen said, "made a special study of geomancy under many famous teachers in China . He spent much money and many long years of learning, and finally became an expert. He knew very well what was and what was not an auspicious place, and then," said the yogi sadly, "he was killed by the Communists, never having had a chance to apply all his knowledge to his own practice."
f. The Earth gods of that place should sympathize with your intentions to meditate there and be kind to you.
3. Four General Conditions
These are mentioned in every religion as indispensable as a background to meditation. They are:
a. For Buddhists, to have good knowledge and instructions in Dharma. For meditators everywhere, this means knowing what to meditate upon.
b. To have good friends who help one and do not obstruct, and to be surrounded by those with right views or at least by those sympathetic to one's aspirations for practice.
c. To possess sufficient wealth to provide for necessities; or better, to have patrons who guarantee to supply one's needs, thus leaving the yogi completely free for meditation.
d. To practice in an auspicious place. This means that we should practice only in those places favorable by reason of geomantic features and sanctified by some especially holy event. Bodhi Gaya, Rajagriha, and Sarnath are all sacred to Buddhists and suitable.
These general conditions are stressed by Taoists but are certainly very important also to anyone practicing the Buddha's Teachings.
4. Special Conditions for Westerners
For those practicing meditation in Western countries there are some special obstructions. These should be well known and guarded against:
a. Pure, fresh air is necessary for breathing in meditation; that is, air not polluted by industrial fogs, nor made too hot or too cold by central heating or air conditioning.
b. Do not use a rubber mattress to sleep on or as a seat for meditation, for the natural currents of air cannot pass through it.
c. Also, rubber shoes may lead to diseases of the feet and so should be avoided in favor of those made with leather or cloth.
d. It is common sense not to wear nylon clothes or to have curtains of this material as it catches fire easily.
e. For heating, where this is necessary, and for cooking, use coal, charcoal, or wood, but not electric or kerosene stoves. These latter are unsuitable since they produce only the pure heat element. With wood and coal, heat is combined with earth, wood, and water elements, thus producing a balanced heat (which in experience does not give rise to fevers, a hindrance to practice).
f. Cooking and eating utensils should not be of aluminum, though iron, brass, porcelain, and earthenware are good. Aluminum tends to be affected by acids in the food and may cause mineral poisoning in the body.
g. No canned food should be eaten, and food should all be as fresh as possible. It is best not to take food possibly contaminated by poisonous sprays and other harmful artificial products. Besides, a meditator should have pity for beings and not encourage the killing of them done by farmers and upheld by governments just out of greed for more money.
h. Clothes to be worn while meditating must be loose, without causing any constriction, and allow complete relaxation of all muscles for the easy attainment of yogic postures. Bhikshu's robes are of course especially suitable for this, but they can only be worn by ordained monks. For laymen, loose jackets with wide sleeves and armpits and very wide trousers cut in Chinese style are comfortable, as are the sarong, the loose, full "skirt" worn in many Southeast Asian countries. During cold weather, a good garment for meditation is the practical Tibetan coat called "boku" or "chuba," with its wide, side-pleated skirt and wrap-over front.
Western men should avoid stiff-collar shirts, belts, and tight jackets or trousers; women should avoid tight-waisted skirts or closely-fitting upper garments. In general, anything that does not permit of easy, relaxed posture should be avoided.
i. Posture is important. The seven conditions of meditation sitting have already been outlined (see Ch. II, A, 4). We have already mentioned the great effect of bodily posture upon the mind, and for our practice there is no doubt that the full-lotus position is the best bodily aid to yogic attainment. Some say that it is not necessary to sit in this position, and recommend that one be comfortable and relaxed with an upright spine while sitting in a chair. However, according to my experience, one should try hard to attain this lotus-seat. Westerners who find this difficult should change their trousers for Chinese ones and practice little by little every day, using a firm cushion under the buttocks and first adopting the half-lotus posture. When this becomes easy it is only a matter of patience and practice before the full lotus becomes possible.
I could not sit in the lotus position until I was twenty-seven, so for any Westerner under thirty years old it should be easy to learn.
After dealing with the special problems of the Occident, I should like to say a few words on our dedication. In the West there are many things to desire and so much evil springs up. (See Ch. I, D). Western countries are like hells of materialism. Of course, some Oriental countries are more or less the same.
The miserable sufferers in these hells cannot be saved by us but rather by the Three Gems and by you who are Bodhisattvas. Just as Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha has the great resolve and courage to go to hell to save all the tormented beings there, so you (Khantipalo) are writing this book, which can save so many from the great hell of materialism.
The second great Wisdom-being has the power to subdue demons and remove all obstacles. He will prepare the way for those who practice.
Both resolve and removal of obstacles are important in the steps preliminary to samadhi attainment—hence our dedication of this talk to these two great Bodhisattvas.
Our Dharma-nature is void and already present and certainly no dharma can be found called "the only preparation." Nevertheless, for our practice (which must precede our realization) we must prepare ourselves properly. We may for ease of memory say that there is a formula of "Three P's" (they correspond to the "Three C's" of the last chapter; see Ch. III, B, 2). They are: prepare, practice, and progress. Progress becomes then the preparation for the following practice, and so on. Preparation in Buddhism does not imply any absolute factor to be once accomplished and then finished with; this set of "Three P's" are all related one to another and follow one from the other.
At the beginning of the Dharma-path, many things are taught to neophytes but they should not think that these may be forgotten when a little progress has been made. Early learning conditions become the cause for further practice and progress, and are explained in this book. A good example to illustrate this may be found in the musical scale: do, re, mi. etc. This starts upon any particular note which is then called "do. However, equally well the "re" of the first scale would then become the "do" of the next scale. In this way it is easy to see that there is no limitation to preparation. We should therefore bear these three instructions in mind:
The higher the goal desired the more preparation necessary. The more preparation established the higher one attains. The sounder the preparation, the earlier one will gain.
The Dharmakaya is already always prepared in anyone and in any place, but we must be always awake to it and making ready by removing obstacles. We should always be ready.
The passing of spring and summer asks us: "Are you ready?" Autumn comes, with yellow leaves dropping, blown down by even slight breaths of wind. They too are saying, "Are you ready?"
Mr. Chen said in a trembling voice: "And have you heard the crying of neighbors over a dead child or an old person? In our ears their crying repeats, 'Ready, Ready?' When black hair becomes gray, it only questions us, 'Are you ready?' All our surroundings say this to all of us all the time but who takes notice? People are always ready for living but not for dying though it is sure that everyone must die!"
"Now I shall give you a little poem in Chinese." The yogi closed his eyes and sang this poem with great compassion:
"O Lord, why shouldst Thou keep me
Shedding tears that fall like rain.
A long, long journey awaits me
Ere over to Thee I've crossed,
How could I leave them behind me
Deep in the mountains lost!"
Mr. Chen translated it into English and we expressed our deep appreciation, our talk concluding with his words:
"So that is why I hope every person in the West is ready for meditation."