So let’s start with the purpose of practicing Buddhism or becoming a Buddhist. We have stressed the “practice” of esoteric Buddhism, which includes studying both the exoteric (Tripitaka) and the secret esoteric (Tantra) scriptures of the Buddha and cultivating yourself so as to become enlightened or liberated from the cycle of birth and death. Esoteric Buddhism includes the more secret or tantric teachings, but both esoteric and exoteric paths are authentic ways to train your mind. Cultivation is merely putting into practice in your daily life and in your dealings with other living beings what you have learned from the teachings of the Buddha. You could say it is managing your karma. You don’t eliminate your negative karma, but you push it back by only accumulating good karma so you can start to experience the good fortune that results from doing good.
What does it mean to become a Buddha? It means that you can control your birth and death. If you want to be born, then you will be born. If you want to die, then you can die at will. You control it. It does not control you! This is true happiness. It also means that you can obtain good fortune, supernormal powers and the three bodies and four wisdoms of a buddha with which you can help others in their evolution. Only then can you really help them become liberated.
In case you have not heard of the three kayas, they represent the three bodies of a Buddha—the dharmakaya is the formless wisdom body or mind of a Buddha, while the other two are the bodies that can be seen. The sambhogakaya or bliss body is how a Buddha appears in the Buddha realms and cannot be seen by most of us, while the nirmanakaya is the form that Buddhas take when they incarnate into this world. H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III is a nirmanakaya Buddha as was Shakyamuni Buddha when he lived here 2,500 years ago.
The four wisdoms are the Great Reflecting Wisdom, the Wisdom of Equality in Nature, the Subtle Observing Wisdom, and the Wisdom of Fulfillment of Deeds.
Dorje Pa Mu has told us that you must not take up Buddhism in a foolish or capricious manner. You must remember that on death, there are three things that can happen:
- If you become enlightened, then you can voluntarily come back as you choose.
- If you are an ordinary being, then you will come back according to your karma, either as a human or higher level being, as an animal, a hungry ghost, or a hell being. Unless you become liberated from the cycle of reincarnation, you do not choose how you return and this may not be based on just your most recent life.
- If you have the good fortune to follow and take refuge with a true vajra master, that master may help you take a favorable rebirth so that you can continue your cultivation. He or she may also be able to help your loved ones take more favorable rebirth as well. That happened to Zhaxi Zhuoma. Her Buddha Master was able to raise the consciousness of both her parents and her father’s brother and his wife. None of them were Buddhists.
Dorje Pa Mu also tells us that we must penetrate and realize the real essence of the Buddha-dharma in order to end the cycle of birth and death, attain supernormal powers, attain the power to assume different forms and lack nothing at all! She explains that there is only one method to accomplish this: taking refuge in the Three Jewels or the Four Jewels and cultivating yourself deeply. This refers to self-cultivation whereby you train your mind and thereby correct your erroneous ways. The cultivation you engage in must be in accordance with the Tripitaka (scriptures) or the tantric teachings of the vajrayana. The vajrayana also includes the exoteric teachings of theTripitaka. The highest dharma within the Buddha-dharma is that of the vajrayana and the deepest, highest, greatest and brightest dharma of the vajrayana has been the Tibetan tantra. Now, H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III has transmitted The Supreme and Unsurpassable Mahamudra of Liberation to this world. The Supreme and Unsurpassable Mahamudra of Liberation contains the most powerful dharmas for obtaining liberation in this world today. There are practitioners who are fortunate enough to already be practicing some of these dharmas.
Back to why we practice Buddhism and do meditation. This does not imply that vajrayana or tantric Buddhism is superior or that exoteric Buddhism should be considered a low level of dharma. That is not the idea. The Buddha-dharma is not divided into high and low as comparisons. All 84,000 dharma methods came into being in response to the different innate faculties of living beings. The Buddha-dharma has only one truth no matter how it is expressed. Exoteric Buddhism and vajrayana Buddhism are not two separate schools. Exoteric Buddhism is half of a Dharma system. The first part of the vajrayana is the exoteric school! True vajrayana Buddhism includes the teachings of the various schools of exoteric Buddhism like those of the Zen or Pure Land Schools or the basic teachings of the Theravada sects in South-east Asia. It also includes mantras, mudras, visualization, mandala offerings practiced either in a group or alone, and inner and outer tantra initiations. It includes a foundation in the cultivation of the dharmakaya from exoteric Buddhism as well as the more advanced cultivation of the sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya. In vajrayana Buddhism you strive to and are able to realize all three kayas (bodies) in one lifetime, if you are able to receive authentic inner tantric initiation. However, even so, you should remember that your state of realization would still be far lower than the perfect state of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Your cultivation is futile if hearing the Dharma is of no benefit to how you think and act or does not benefit your heart. Cultivation is not just meditating, visualizing, reciting mantras, reading commentaries or studying the sutras. It is also not just sitting and listening to discourses by holy beings, although it is important that you do all these things. It is a richer concept and includes more than just these things. It includes the tiniest details of your actions, speech and thoughts and how you help other living beings. Greed, anger (hatred) and ignorance are the three great obstacles of cultivation. The most important aspect of cultivation is having your three karmas (action, speech, and thoughts) correspond with the teachings of your master and the Buddhas. Once you have received initiation, you absolutely must be able to see and treat your master as a Buddha to receive any benefit from whatever cultivation you do.
So, this is a little background on what the practice of Buddhism entails. We do dharma and we cultivate ourselves so as to become liberated from the cycle of reincarnation and free from suffering. We practice so that we can become Buddhas or at least Bodhisattvas. A Bodhisattva is someone who is enlightened, but is not as perfect yet as a Buddha although there are Bodhisattvas like Kuan Yin who are actually Buddhas, but have come back to this world as Bodhisattvas in order to help living beings. There are different forms of meditation that we do and there are many, many dharmas that the Buddha taught that we can follow.
H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III explained to us that meditation should not be taught as concentration per se. “That sort of practice is merely ‘Deadwood Meditation’ where one just becomes like a piece of dead wood. Real meditation practice is about maintaining steadfastness and immovability in your daily life. It is not being attached to either joy or sorrow, or any other emotional states that we liken to the ‘Eight Winds’ that keep us bound to the cycle of reincarnation. That is true meditation.” The eight winds are praise and blame; gain and loss; happiness and sadness; and fame and infamy.
The Buddha Master also told me that meditation should be considered our “work.” This instruction has many levels of meaning, but the best insight comes from a sutra written by H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III when the Buddha was only twenty years old. In that sutra, “A Monk Expounds the Truth to a Layperson,” the holy monk explains that “As all good and bad states come, they [Bodhisattvas] pervasively practice respectfulness. By acting in this manner, one’s actions are the function of one’s nature, and one’s nature is the essence of one’s actions. Essence and function are originally no different. Thus, one’s actions are one’s nature, and one’s nature is one’s actions.” This is how we should strive to meditate. We are respectful of whatever comes our way and follow the path, cultivating ourselves in a natural effortless manner. We should pursue enlightenment in our worldly affairs.
Furthermore, the enlightened monk tells the layperson that with the concentration of a Tathagata, there is no exiting or entering concentration. Non-concentration is also concentration. Concentration is also non-concentration. This is what is meant by concentration. Actually, there is no concentration since there is not one moment when one is not in concentration. Whether walking, standing, sitting, lying, or handling matters, one is always in a state of concentration. That is what is meant by true meditation. The techniques are only intended to get you to that point.
In that same essay the monk said: “If you want to enter this great concentration of a Tathagata, there is no other way but the following. First, reflect upon your virtues to see if they accord with the virtues inherent in Bodhisattva conduct. Second, diligently practice concentration.” It is not that we do not practice meditation, but that you must cultivate yourself for any of the practices of concentration to be effective in ending the cycle of birth and death and it is to that end that we direct our efforts. We do not meditate to feel blissful or relieve stress or be better in whatever we do, although that may be a wonderful side effect. We meditate to end the cycle of rebirth and death and be free from suffering. We meditate to become Buddhas and to end our cravings and unhappiness.
The Dharma of Cultivation transmitted by H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III contains the eight fundamental right views relating to learning Buddhism and cultivation. Meditation is number seven. His Holiness also tells us that these views must be followed in the proper order and cannot be disorderly. The first is having a mind of impermanence that establishes the causes for cultivation. The second is having a mind of firm belief in the suffering of samsara and results in a steadfastness that does not change. The third then is the mind that is determined to leave the cycle of birth and death or the mind of renunciation and this is the cause of liberation. Next, the fourth is a mind that takes true vows and these vows are the causes of positive action. We do things because we vowed to do it. The fifth is a mind of diligence and forms the causes of persistent advancement. The sixth right view is the precepts and keeping the precepts provides the correct direction for cultivation. Only when all of these conditions have been met are we ready or able to practice true meditation and contemplation. The results of dhyana and samadhi are the causes of wisdom. Cultivation entails transforming consciousness into wisdom. Wisdom per se cannot be taught. It is the by-product of cultivation and meditation. And finally, we are able to manifest true bodhichitta which is the cause leading to becoming a Bodhisattva. You go through your cultivation in this order, but of course, you must constantly put into practice bodhichitta since that is the foundation for becoming a Bodhisattva.
There are four contemplations which, when observed in one’s life and used as objects of contemplation, will naturally cause the mind to shift from ordinary to holy concerns. Two are the first two views listed above: establishing a mind of impermanence and a mind of firm belief in the unsatisfactory nature of samsara. The other two are preconditions to cultivation–understandings we must have to even start on this path. They are very much part of Asian culture, but not so much so in the West. The first is an understanding of the precious nature and opportunity we have with this rare birth as a human being in this time and place and the second is the understanding of karma or the laws of cause and effect. Both require a belief in reincarnation and the existence of other lower (hell, ghost, animal) and higher realms of existence (human, asura, heavens).
The Supreme and Unsurpassable Mahamudra of Liberation contains the “128 Evil and Erroneous Views” that keep us from becoming liberated. Several relate to meditation. The first erroneous view concerns the error of trying, in the beginning, to use one’s meditation to practice bodhicitta, the four limitless states of mind, or the ten virtues. This the Buddha tells us is a false practice. “Meditation practice involves realizing the concept of emptiness, realizing that phenomena are devoid of characteristics or attributes, realizing non-attachment, cutting off deluded thoughts, and returning to one’s original mind. This is devoid of the real practice of compassion. Thus, no merit can be produced. How can one possibly practice bodhicitta like that? Therefore, when practicing the four limitless states of mind or bodhicitta, beginning practitioners should not rely upon meditation or contemplation. They should rely upon the practice of putting concepts into practice. They should transform their fixed concepts into actual deeds. They should focus their mind and transform that focused mind into action. They must put their concepts into practice, carry out the task of benefiting living beings, and implement those dharma matters that they contemplate. They should do so in a concrete manner through each word that they utter and each action that they take. This is what is meant by putting concepts into practice. Only when one is proficient in putting concepts into practice can one turn to meditation practice to cultivate the state of not being attached to anything. From meditation, one will enter the practice of concentration. From there one can penetrate deeply into the reality that emptiness and existence are not different and can eventually realize the state of applying usages that arise from Buddha-nature.”
In the second erroneous view, His Holiness warns us that you must not view sitting meditation as cultivating yourself. Sitting meditation is just sitting meditation, it is not cultivation. “Sitting meditation is for directly experiencing what one’s original nature is. Through direct observation, one comes to understand one’s mind and see one’s original nature. However, this goal may not always be achieved. Some people use sitting meditation with the goal of directly experiencing the ultimate truth of dharma principles but may not be able to do so. Cultivating oneself is a completely different matter. Sitting meditation is less than one-tenth of cultivation. Meditation is just one of the six paramitas, having nothing to do with the other five. In cultivating oneself, one must face living beings in real life, face one’s own mind, and act as the Buddha acted.”
There is another erroneous view that is held in Buddhism that relates to meditation and that is the view that only practitioners of the Zen sect can understand their mind and see their original nature. The Buddha said “Many people think that only practitioners of the Zen sect can understand their mind and see their original nature. They think there is no other path to accomplish that. This is incorrect. Practitioners of any sect can understand their mind and see their original nature. When one reaches the requisite degree of realization through one’s practice, one will understand his mind and see his original nature. True liberation is attained only by reaching that degree of realization.”
Just remember that merely quieting the mind is not the end goal, although it may be a necessary step. Also, remember that until you have perfected the practice of morality and keep your precepts, you will not even be able to concentrate or quiet your mind. You can’t concentrate with a guilty conscious. The goal is to become a buddha and gain the powers and wisdom of a Buddha to be able to help others extricate themselves from the suffering of ordinary existence. Don’t settle for anything else!
H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III provides an excellent discourse on The Great Dharma of Zen that provides basic instructions that can serve as a foundation for many kinds of meditation practice. The following pages from the Xuanfa Institute Archives may also be useful.
The following sources are also offered to those starting the path with the caveats given above. Since the suttas (sutras) were taught by Shakyamuni Buddha as preliminary techniques, they are holy Buddha-dharma and can be very helpful in training the mind. The Chinese and Tibetan sources are included as guides, but may not offer definitive instructions.
Anapanasati Sutta (Mindfulness of Breathing): Pali Canon, Theravada meditation techniques.
Parileyyaka Sutta or Sutta at Parileyyaka: Improving meditation by deep understanding of the five aggregates.
Shurangama Sutra or Sutra of the Foremost Shurangama at the Crown of the Great Buddha and of All the Bodhisattvas’ Myriad Practices for Cultivating and Certifying to the Complete Meaning of the Tathagata’s Secret Cause includes the story of Ananda and Mantangi’s daughter. Ananda repents and requests explanation of Shamatha, Samapatti, and Dhyana. The Buddha asks twenty-five Great Bodhisattvas and Great Arhats how they attained enlightenment. Each has a different technique and each one feels that is the foremost method.
Silavant Sutta or Virtuous Sutta explains how a meditator contemplates the five aggregates.
The Maha-Satipatthana Sutta or the Great Frames of Reference: The Greater Discourse on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness is the fundamental sutra on meditation from the Lesser Vehicle perspective. The Buddha delivered this sutra to a gathering of more than 300 bhikkhus in Kammassadhamma, the capital of Kuru. The Buddha explains in this sutra how you can attain peace of body and mind, overcome all sorrows and lamentations, destroy suffering and grief, and attain the highest level of understanding and total emancipation.
Female Dharma King Dorje Amang Nopu Pamu wrote The Dharma of Concentration, Contemplation and Visualization Essential for Enlightenment, but it is only available in Chinese.
Dharma King Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-1987), in his The Illumination of Primordial Wisdom: An Instruction Manual on the Utterly Pure Stage of Perfection of the Powerful and Ferocious Dorje Drolo, Subduer of Demons provides shamatha and vipashyana from the dzogchen perspective.
Dharma King Tsongkhapa’s (1357-1419), Lam Rim Chen Mo (The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment), Volume 3 is a classic commentary on Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (Lam Rim) by Dharma King Atisha (Dipankara Shrijnana, 982-1054). It includes Tibetan meditation instructions on achieving shamatha and vipashyana.