The Practice of Cessation
Should there be a man who desires to practice “cessation,” he should stay in a quiet place and sit erect in an even temper. [His attention should be focused] neither on breathing nor on any form or color, nor on empty space, earth, water, fire, wind, nor even on what has been seen, heard, remembered, or conceived. All thoughts, as soon as they are conjured up, are to be discarded, and even the thought of discarding them is to be put away, for all things are essentially [in the state of] transcending thoughts, and are not to be created from moment to moment nor to be extinguished from moment to moment; [thus one is to conform to the essential nature of Reality (dharmatā) through this practice of cessation]. And it is not that he should first meditate on the objects of the senses in the external world and then negate them with his mind, the mind that has meditated on them. If the mind wanders away, it should be brought back and fixed in “correct thought.” It should be understood that this “correct thought” is [the thought that] whatever is, is mind only and that there is no external world of objects [as conceived]; even this mind is devoid of any marks of its own [which would indicate its substantiality] and therefore is not substantially conceivable as such at any moment.
Suzuki’s translation should also be included here since it (up-front) presents the necessary “balance” between cessation and intellectual insight; both will be emphasized as we shall soon discover:
How should they practice cessation [or tranquilisation, śamatha] and intellectual insight (vidarśana or or vipaśyana)?To bring all mental states that produce frivolous sophistries to a stand is called cessation. To understand adequately the law of causality and transformation is called intellectual insight. Each of them should be practiced separately by the beginner. But when by degrees he obtains facility and finally attains to perfection, the two will naturally become harmonized.
His footnote is also of prime importance:
Observe that cessation should be practiced by the beginner, and for a time only, for the purpose of affording the mind an appreciation of suchness in its purity; the conception of this state ofabstraction should then be harmonized with intellectual insight. Observe also that the methods of Indian recluses, such as fixing the breath and going into trances by fixing the thoughts on objects, [are rejected as improper]. The practice should assist a beginner to understand that suchness, though all particulars are dependent on it, is in its purity a reality.
Cessation is bringing all mental permutations to a halt. Notice how one’s “attention” is not to be centered on anything in the phenomenal realm. This includes NOT focusing on the breath. As Unborn Mind Zen also teaches, one needs to remain PRIOR to one’s thoughts and, yes, even one’s breath. The vast catalog of meditational techniques would suggest otherwise, but this is a core-principle of TAOF and Tathagata-garbha Unborn Mind Zen as well. As Suzuki’s translation indicates:
All particularizations, imaginations and recollections should be excluded from consciousness, even the idea of exclusion being excluded ; because [the suchness of] all things is uncreate, eternal, and devoid of all attributes (alakshana).
The Realm of the Such is Uncreate and Unborn. Hence this passage teaches that to enter into this Primordial and Un-Phenomenal Realm, ALL phenomenally conceived attributes need to be excluded from one’s Dhyana-undertaking.
Even if he arises from his sitting position and engages in other activities, such as going, coming, advancing, or standing still, he should at all times be mindful [of the application] of expedient means [of perfecting “cessation”], conform [to the immobile principle of the essential nature of Reality], and observe and examine [the resulting experiences]. When this discipline is well mastered after a long period of practice, [the ideations of] his mind will be arrested. Because of this, his power of executing “cessation” will gradually be intensified and become highly effective, so that he will conform himself to, and be able to be absorbed into, the “concentration (samādhi) of Suchness.” Then his defilements, deep though they may be, will be suppressed and his faith strengthened; he will quickly attain the state in which there will be no retrogression. But those who are skeptical, who lack faith, who speak ill [of the teaching of the Buddha], who have committed grave sins, who are hindered by their evil karma, or who are arrogant or indolent are to be excluded; these people are incapable of being absorbed into [the samādhi of Suchness].
One needs to be, at all times and under all circumstances, centered in the Samādhi of Suchness. Thus the technique of the cessation of Mind’s outflows is incessantly adhered to; this is essentially conformation to the Unmoving Principle in that Mind Itself remains immutable (focused action without acting) right in the face of ITs pluralized and phenomenal obstructions. This passage also forcefully stresses that those who remain skeptical of this Tathatic-Enterprise are in grave error and simply not able to taste this most succulent Samādhi.
Next, as a result of this *samādhi, a man realizes the oneness of the World of Reality (dharmadhātu), i.e., the sameness everywhere and nonduality of the Dharmakāya of all the buddhas and the bodies of sentient beings. This is called “the samādhi of one movement.” It should be understood that [the samādhi of ] Suchness is the foundation of [all other] samādhi. If a man keeps practicing it, then he will gradually be able to develop countless other kinds of samādhi.
Samadhi is commonly rendered by ecstasy, trance, concentration, or meditation, all of which are misleading. The term means mental equilibrium, and the reasons why Buddhism recommends the practicing of it are, that it helps us in keeping our minds free from disturbance, that it prepares us for a right comprehension of the nature of things, that it subjugates momentary impulses, giving us time for deliberation. Ecstasy or trance, instead of producing those benefits, will lead us to a series of halluninations, and this is very opposite of mental quietude.
His footnote timely delineates everything that Samādhi is not. When proficient in the Samādhi of Suchness, the Dharmakaya of all Tathagatas is not distinguished from ALL that swims in the Sea of Suchness but rather the FULNESS of the ONE ESSENCE that is indistinguishable from ITself. Also in a certain sense it is the great Mother that gives birth to all kinds of samādhi; hence, once mastered all others will flow innately.
If there is a man who lacks the capacity for goodness, he will be confused by the evil Tempter, by heretics and by demons. Sometimes these beings will appear in dreadful forms while he is sitting in meditation, and at other times they will manifest themselves in the shapes of handsome men and women. [In such a case] he should meditate on [the principle of ] “mind only,” and then these objects will vanish and will not trouble him any longer. Sometimes they may appear as the images of heavenly beings or bodhisattvas, and assume also the figure of the Tathāgata, furnished with all the major and minor marks; or they may expound the spells or preach charity, the precepts, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom; or they may discourse on how the true nirvana is the state of universal emptiness, of the nonexistence of characteristics, vows, hatreds, affections, causes, and effects; and of absolute nothingness. They may also teach him the knowledge of his own past and future states of existence, the method of reading other men’s minds, and perfect mastery of speech, causing him to be covetous and attached to worldly fame and profit; or they may cause him to be frequently moved to joy and anger and thus to have unsteadiness of character, being at times very kindhearted, very drowsy, very ill, or lazy-minded; or at other times becoming suddenly zealous, and then afterward lapsing into negligence; or developing a lack of faith, a great deal of doubt, and a great deal of anxiety; or abandoning his fundamental excellent practices [toward religious perfection] and devoting himself to miscellaneous religious acts, or being attached to worldly affairs that involve him in many ways; or sometimes they may cause him to experience a certain semblance of various kinds of samādhi, which are all the attainments of heretics and are not the true samādhi; or sometimes they may cause him to remain in samādhi for one, two, three, or up to seven days, feeling comfort in his body and joy in his mind, being neither hungry nor thirsty, partaking of natural, fragrant, and delicious drinks and foods, which induce him to increase his attachment to them; or at other times they may cause him to eat without any restraint, now a great deal, now only a little, so that the color of his face changes accordingly.
Take careful note here! The Evil One always wears a False-Face. It can appear as the face of anger but it can also appear as the face of apparent love as well. It’s a face that will twist all manner of dharmata for its own nefarious purposes; yea, even twisting the buddhadharma for its own advantage. It’s a face that can offer one all-manner of purported siddhis for personal gain. But most of all, it can turn the mind of a diligent adept into jelly. Focus is jettisoned for scattered and lazy-mindedness. An obtuse spirit is the result, one that sporadically chases after this and that whilst forsaking the Buddhadharma.
For these reasons, he who practices [“cessation”] should be discreet and observant, lest his mind fall into the net of evil [doctrine]. He should be diligent in abiding in “correct thought,” neither grasping nor attaching himself to [anything]; if he does so, he will be able to keep himself far away from the hindrance of these evil influences.
He should know that the samādhi of the heretics are not free from perverse views, craving, and arrogance, for the heretics are covetously attached to fame, profit, and the respect of the world. The samādhi of Suchness is the samādhi in which one is not arrested by the activity of viewing [a subject] nor by the experiencing of objects [in the midst of meditation]; even after concentration one will be neither indolent nor arrogant and one’s defilements will gradually decrease. There has never been a case in which an ordinary man, without having practiced this samādhi, was still able to join the group that is entitled to become Tathāgatas. Those who practice the various types of dhyāna (meditation) and samādhi that are popular in the world will develop much attachment to their flavors and will be bound to the triple world because of their perverse view that ātman is real. They are therefore the same as heretics, for as they depart from the protection of their good spiritual friends, they turn to heretical views.
Heresy, in particular through practicing false-samadhi, does a grave injustice to the Buddhadharma. This has to do with what the Lanka teaches as the rabid “ego-mind”, a soul dripping with the appalling sweat of false-modesty. Suzuki’s footnote (based on the older translation) offers further insight:
“On this account, the practiser, always exercising in intellectual insight, should save his mind from being entangled in the netting of falsity; he should, dwelling in right contemplation, not cling or attach [to any object], and thereby he will be able to liberate himself from all kinds of karma-hindrance. It should be known that all samadhis practised by heretics [i.e., tirthaka] are invariably the production of the [egoistic] conception and desire and self-assumption, that they are hankering after worldly renown advantages, and reverence. The samadhi of suchness [on the other hand] has nothing to do with subjectivity and attachment. If one is free from indolence even when rising from meditation one’s prejudices will by degrees get attenuated.”
Next, he who practices this samādhi diligently and wholeheartedly will gain ten kinds of advantages in this life. First, he will always be protected by the buddhas and the bodhisattvas of the ten directions. Second, he will not be frightened by the Tempter and his evil demons. Third, he will not be deluded or confused by the ninety-five kinds of heretics and wicked spirits. Fourth, he will keep himself far away from slanders of the profound teaching [of the Buddha] and will gradually diminish the hindrances derived from grave sins. Fifth, he will destroy all doubts and wrong views on enlightenment. Sixth, his faith in the Realm of the Tathāgata will grow. Seventh, he will be free from sorrow and remorse and in the midst of saṃsāra will be full of vigor and undaunted. Eighth, having a gentle heart and forsaking arrogance, he will not be vexed by others. Ninth, even if he has not yet experienced samādhi, he will be able to decrease his defilements in all places and at all times, and he will not take pleasure in the world. Tenth, if he experiences samādhi, he will not be startled by any sound from without.
These are the benefits from faithfully nurturing the Samādhi of Suchness. Suzuki’s translation uses more forceful jargon, such as, “They will not be [molested] by Māras or evil spirits.” Indeed, as we know all too well in this present Saha-world how these evil ones like to go about molesting lost souls utilizing all manner of foul intentions. Māra does continually “molest” those spirits who are trying to invest in the Buddhadharma and rise above this wretched karmadhatu. Thus, if one invests oneself wholeheartedly and with resolute fervor, then this particular samādhi can be won without being disturbed by any unclean utterance from without.
Now, if he practices “cessation” only, then his mind will be sunk [in self-complacency] and he will be slothful; he will not delight in performing good acts but will keep himself far away from the exercise of great compassion. It is, therefore, necessary to practice “clear observation” [as well].
This needs to be a “balanced” affair, as indicated at the top with the inclusion of intellectual-insight. Indeed, one can become too complacent, thinking that they have already won anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Also, as a wise one once stated, “By their fruits ye shall know them”. If one’s time spent in Deep Samadhis is not balanced with the Bodhisattvic Resolve to share the fruits of the Buddhadharma, then that one is a fool indeed.
The Practice of Clear Observation
He who practices “clear observation” should observe that all conditioned phenomena in the world are unstationary and are subject to instantaneous transformation and destruction; that all activities of the mind arise and are extinguished from moment to moment; and that, therefore, all of these induce suffering. He should observe that all that had been conceived in the past was as hazy as a dream, that all that is being conceived in the present is like a flash of lightning, and that all that will be conceived in the future will be like clouds that rise up suddenly. He should also observe that the physical existences of all living beings in the world are impure and that among these various filthy things there is not a single one that can be sought after with joy.
Conditioned phenomena are always unstable. This goes the same for one’s emotions. When one places too much stock in the ghostly apparitions from the past, then that one is lost in the cumulative dust of yesterday’s dreams. The same goes for those, who like in today’s saha-world, place at such a high premium, “being in the present moment” as if it’s some kind of perpetual-state of mind. There is no present moment, but only a “string of nows” that flash-by like streaks of lightning. And the purported future is only like shifting clouds appearing on the horizon—just malleable puff-balls that float here and there under the unsettling winds of circumstantial consciousness. Also, as it states, physicality under all forms is a transitory, wretched thing. Not a single one can bring lasting joy.
He should reflect in the following way: all living beings, from the beginningless beginning, because they are permeated by ignorance, have allowed their mind to remain in saṃsāra; they have already suffered all the great miseries of the body and mind, they are at present under incalculable pressure and constraint, and their sufferings in the future will likewise be limitless. These sufferings are difficult to forsake, difficult to shake off, and yet these beings are unaware [that they are in such a state]; for this, they are greatly to be pitied.
After reflecting in this way, he should pluck up his courage and make a great vow to this effect: may my mind be free from discriminations so that I may practice all of the various meritorious acts everywhere in the ten directions; may I, to the end of the future, by applying limitless expedient means, help all suffering sentient beings so that they may obtain the bliss of nirvana, the ultimate goal.
Having made such a vow, he must, in accordance with his capacity and without faltering, practice every kind of good at all times and at all places and not be slothful in his mind. Except when he sits in concentration in the practice of “cessation,” he should at all times reflect upon what should be done and what should not be done.
Good, solid, Mahayanist take on the Noble Truths.
Whether walking, standing, sitting, lying, or rising, he should practice both “cessation” and “clear observation” side by side. That is to say, he is to meditate upon the fact that things are unborn in their essential nature; but at the same time he is to meditate upon the fact that good and evil karma, produced by the combination of the primary cause and the coordinating causes, and the retributions [of karma] in terms of pleasure, pain, etc., are neither lost nor destroyed. Though he is to meditate on the retribution of good and evil karma produced by the primary and coordinating causes [i.e., he is to practice “clear observation”], he is also to meditate on the fact that the essential nature [of things] is unobtainable [by intellectual analysis]. The practice of “cessation” will enable ordinary men to cure themselves of their attachments to the world, and will enable the followers of the Hīnayāna to forsake their views, which derive from cowardice. The practice of “clear observation” will cure the followers of the Hīnayāna of the fault of having narrow and inferior minds that bring forth no great compassion, and will free ordinary men from their failure to cultivate the capacity for goodness. For these reasons, both “cessation” and “clear observation” are complementary and inseparable. If the two are not practiced together, then one cannot enter the path to enlightenment.
Once again, the Mahayanist author highlights that the path trod must be a balanced-one, with both being inwardly aware and outwardly responsible.
Next, suppose there is a man who learns this teaching for the first time and wishes to seek the correct faith but lacks courage and strength. Because he lives in this world of suffering, he fears that he will not always be able to meet the buddhas and honor them personally, and that, faith being difficult to perfect, he will be inclined to fall back. He should know that the Tathāgatas have an excellent expedient means by which they can protect his faith: that is, through the strength of wholehearted meditation on the Buddha, he will in fulfillment of his wishes be able to be born in the Buddhaland beyond, to see the Buddha always, and to be forever separated from the evil states of existence. It is as the sūtra says: “If a man meditates wholly on Amitābha Buddha in the world of the Western Paradise and wishes to be born in that world, directing all the goodness he has cultivated [toward that goal], then he will be born there.” Because he will see the Buddha at all times, he will never fall back. If he meditates on the Dharmakāya, the Suchness of the Buddha, and with diligence keeps practicing [the meditation], he will be able to be born there in the end because he abides in the correct samādhi.
A nice little pure-land teaching tucked-into the package, one that assures those who are in need of expedient spiritual assistance that the Tathagatas will faithfully provide such means. But notice the closing caveat: once again this, too, needs to be a balanced affair. One can with proper diligence keep practicing the meditation [like the Nembutsu] but this must be accompanied with the greater supernal-meditation (correct samādhi) on the Dharmakayic Suchness of the Buddhas.
Encouragement of Practice and the Benefits Thereof
As has already been explained in the preceding sections, the Mahāyāna is the secret treasury of the buddhas. Should there be a man who wishes to obtain correct faith in the profound Realm of the Tathāgata and to enter the path of Mahāyāna, putting far away from himself any slandering [of the teaching of Buddha], he should lay hold of this treatise, deliberate on it, and practice it; in the end he will be able to reach the unsurpassed enlightenment.
Observe the connection here with closing passages from sundry sutras, asserting that anyone who firmly upholds this particular teaching, to the exclusion of all other measures, will be empowered to reach “unsurpassed enlightenment.”
If a man, after having heard this teaching, does not feel any fear or weakness, it should be known that such a man is certain to carry on the lineage of the Buddha and to receive the prediction of the Buddha that he will obtain enlightenment. Even if a man were able to reform all living beings, throughout all the systems in the universe and to induce them to practice the ten precepts, he still would not be superior to a man who reflects correctly upon this teaching even for the time spent on a single meal, for the excellent qualities that the latter is able to obtain are unspeakably superior to those that the former may obtain.
If a man takes hold of this treatise and reflects on and practices [the teachings given in it] only for one day and one night, the excellent qualities he will gain will be boundless and indescribable. Even if all the buddhas of the ten directions were to praise these excellent qualities for incalculably long periods of time, they could never reach the end of their praise, for the excellent qualities of the Reality (dharmatā) are infinite and the excellent qualities gained by this man will accordingly be boundless.
Dharmatā: the inner-essence of that is realized inwardly by one’s inmost-Self.
If, however, there is a man who slanders and does not believe in this treatise, for an incalculable number of aeons he will undergo immense suffering for his fault. Therefore all people should reverently believe in it and not slander it, [for slander and lack of faith] will gravely injure oneself as well as others and will lead to the destruction of the lineage of the Three Treasures.
Another usual closing admonition, that one should never slander these teachings lest the very core of Buddhism be uprooted.
Through this teaching all Tathāgatas have gained nirvāna, and through the practice of it all Bodhisattvas have obtained Buddha-wisdom. It should be known that it was by means of this teaching that the bodhisattvas in the past were able to perfect their pure faith; that it is by means of this teaching that the bodhisattvas of the present are perfecting their pure faith; and that it is by means of this teaching that the bodhisattvas of the future will perfect their pure faith. Therefore men should diligently study and practice it.
One observes from this that TAOF is honored as a very sacred vessel of Bodhi; meant for all bodhisattvas and Maha Bodhisattvas to fully awaken and “continually” digest its profound teachings. As a manifesto for the Mahayana, this one is somehow unparalleled in stature. Yea, through it, the Tathagatas themselves have gained the Nirvanic Kingdom of Self.
Profound and comprehensive are the great principles of the Buddha,
Which I have now summarized as faithfully as possible.
May whatever excellent qualities I have gained from this endeavor
In accordance with Reality be extended for the benefit of all beings.
I have now finished elucidating
The deepest and greatest significance [of the
May its merit be distributed among all creatures,
And make them understand the Doctrine of Suchness.
This series on The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana has been quite an undertaking. The first half (the longest) has to do with what can be described as an “Inner-Science of Mind”, of dissecting and examining (as if under a microscope) Its Essential Suchness. Both in Absolute-mode and as played-through its manifold obstructions in samsara. As we have just read, Suzuki goes so far as to label this as the Doctrine of Suchness. Yet the work also makes very clear that its doctrinal worth is not just exclusively for study sake, but that it is also a supernal-instrument of knowing how to “live this Suchness Out” as well. It is a great enlightening text that walks one through the process of Awakening and Enlightenment Itself. But to be able to encounter it at all one also needs to procure that proper bodhi-discipline of Mind that will lead one into the very inner Maha-chamber of the Tathagatas. Suzuki says that the “older” word for Māhāyana is Māhābodhi. May the Great Unborn Spirit lead you into that Self-Same faithful sanctuary of the Tathagatas.