The Nature of Dhyana

18. Q: What does it mean when The Mahaparinirvana Sutra states, “Excessive Dhyana over and above Wisdom issues in more ignorance (avidya), yet at the same time excessive wisdom canceling-out quality time spent in Dhyana leads to the issuance of wrong-views; however when Dhyana and Wisdom are equally observed best procures liberation?
A: Right Wisdom best discerns between good and evil, while Dhyana demonstrates that in marking these discernments one remains wholeheartedly unattached and undefiled, untempted by the allures of either love or hate. Thus Right Wisdom and Dhyana function on an equal footing.
Q: That Sutra also says “wordlessness with nothing to discuss, this is the nature of Dhyana.” Yet, are we not able to be in Dhyana whether being silent or speaking?
A: In referencing Dhyana just now I was referring to the manner of “perpetual-Dhyana”, which is the same whether keeping silent or during occasions of speech. What is the reason for this? The nature of Dhyana does not change from its efficacious functionality whether engaged in speaking or being non-engaged in times of silence. In the same fashion, when we contemplate the nature of voidness when in relationship with forms, this voidness is unaffected whether these forms are mentioned in passing speech or during times of deep-samadhis. This same rationale holds firm when considering the nature of skandhic functions, like seeing, hearing, touching, and smelling. Since our Self-Nature remains void to any ramifications of skandhic consciousness and its many forms, IT maintains ITS natural voidness under all circumstances. Thus, being void, IT is free from all attachments and this freedom empowers the synchronized function of Right Wisdom and Dhyana whatever the state of natural affairs. Bodhisattvas employ this Dharma of Voidness when entering into conjunctional alliance with the Absolute. It is written that when Dhyana and Right Wisdom function in this manner it is known as Right Deliverance. In helping to clarify this I give you the following prime example: Consider the semblance of a ‘Bright Mirror’. When its light reflects an object is its brightness diminished? And during the times when it is not reflecting something is its brightness ever weakened? Why is this the case? The Bright Mirror has neither feeling nor any other kind of sensation. When sensation is absent neither movement nor absence of movement is effectively present. Another vivid illustration is sunlight. Its light illuminates the world and when not in position it does not, but is its vivifying light ever absent? In the same manner sunlight is itself devoid of sensation. Now that same principle of being able “to shine” is instilled in Right Gnosis—it has an illuminative effect—while that perfect one-pointedness of non-wavering is reflective of Dhyana. When the diligent Bodhisattva employs an equal measure of Dhyana and Right Wisdom, it creates the opportunity for the reception of Sambodhi, or the one-pointedness of Mind that leads to Supreme Enlightenment. Let it also be known, though, that this spiritual enterprise is not void of a holy ambience.
Q: What then is the manner of this holy ambience?
A: It never gives rise to duality, it is rather in perpetual union and holy alliance with the Unborn, which institutes the fragrance of an omnipresent holy ambience.

This synchronous functionality of Dhyana and Right Wisdom was also employed in the Korean Sŏn series:

Chinul also counseled, “If dullness and torpor are especially heavy, use prajñā to investigate dharmas critically and contemplate their voidness, and allow the mirror of the mind to shine without disturbance in conformity with the original awareness. Control distracting thoughts with samādhi. Control blankness with prajñā.” At the end of the day, though, Chinul equally expounded like a true Ch’an Master:

From morning to evening, throughout the twelve periods of the day, during all your actions and activities-whether seeing, hearing, laughing, talking, whether angry or happy, whether doing good or evil-ultimately who is it that is able to perform all these actions? Speak! If you say that it is the physical body which is acting, then at the moment when a man’s life comes to an end, even though the body has not yet decayed, how is it that the eyes cannot see, the ears cannot hear, the nose cannot smell, the tongue cannot talk, the body cannot move, the hands cannot grasp, and the feet cannot run? You should know that what is capable of seeing, hearing, moving, and acting has to be your original mind; it is not your physical body. Furthermore, the four elements which make up the physical body are by nature void; they are like images in a mirror or the moon’s reflection in water. How can they be clear and constantly aware, always bright and never obscured and, upon activation, be able to put into operation sublime functions as numerous as the sands of the Ganges? For this reason it is said, “Drawing water and carrying firewood are spiritual powers and sublime functions.”

Q: The Sutra also states that “when the manner of words and speech cease the mind’s functioning capacity also ceases.” What is its meaning?
A: Language is employed to reveal the Dharma’s import, afterwards language is discarded. “Meaning”, and for that matter “human understanding”, is vastly overrated. What really is of value is the ineffable Truth of the Unborn. Thus all manner of language is rendered mute. Therefore, the fundamental nature of all forms within the Unborn is rendered void. Because of this voidness, all things are essentially empty of Self-nature and thereby do not represent True Reality. THAT Reality behind mind’s contemplation is deathless and imageless; hence any former role of the intellect is extinguished.

19. Q: What is Bhutatathata?
A: Absolute Suchness. This is indicative of immutability and thus never moved and eternally unmovable. This is the very Mind of Bhutatathata, of Absolute Suchness. All the Buddhas of the past became awakened by means of this immutability. The same holds true for all Buddhas of the present. Of course, the same holds true for all future Buddhas. The Vimalakirti Nirdesha Sutra indicated that “it has ever been Thus with all the Buddhas; it will be the same for Maitreya and all sentient beings as well, since none of them are ever divided from their True Buddha Nature.”

20. Q: What is the significance concerning the qualities of matter and non-matter, the ordinary and the divine—do they all pertain to Spontaneous Awakening?
A: Yes.
Q: What is the identity between the qualities of matter and non-matter, the ordinary and the divine?
A: When Mind is stained by adventitious defilements, material-attachment is always present in some form; when undefiled, immateriality occurs. The defiled mind is ordinary whereas when untouched Mind is divine. Stated in a different fashion, Absolute Voidness functions mysteriously as varieties of form, yet because its apparent form cannot really be grasped, it is considered as void. Voidness here is the Voidness of Self-nature, yet that does not mean the usual voidness which occurs after the destruction of forms. Similarly, using material in this instance refers to the form of the void-nature of the Absolute Void—it does not refer to the usual manner in which material makes-up matter.

21. Q: What is the Dharma of the exhaustible and the inexhaustible?
A: Both exhaustible and inexhaustible is the nature of Void. Hence, when there are no more forms as created and perceived by the senses—like seeing and hearing—that is the exhaustion (known as āsravakṣaya) of all the contaminants in the worldly environment. Whereas inexhaustible indicates the uncreated Void-Substance that reveals its marvelous functions as numerous as all the grains of sand in the Ganges. Also, within the Original Mind Substance, there is no decrease despite its innumerable manifestations.
Q: Then are the exhaustible and the inexhaustible the same or different?
A: In substance they are One; yet when they are spoken about they appear to be different.
Q: Yet, since their substance is the same, how can they be spoken of in a separate manner?
A: Their Oneness is the substance of speech, whereas speech itself is the function of that substance. It all unfolds according to the nature of the circumstances. Here’s a vivid illustration: Although only one Sun and Moon appears in the sky, when their light is reflected in basins upon the water below, there appears to be a separate Sun or Moon present in each basin. Hence, although the Sun and Moon are of one substance, they are reflected with many variations in the basins. Even though the same substance can be spoken about differently given its reflections—the Marvelous Light from the Sun and Moon above is never in any way truly diminished—as such, the Original Substance is inexhaustible.
Q: There’s a sutra which states that nothing is born and nothing ever dies. What, then, is the dharma behind such an assertion?
A: Evil dharmas are never born, and good dharmas never die.
Q: If that’s the case, what dharmas are good and which dharmas are considered as being evil?
A: The agitated mind produces evil dharmas. When one procures within Dhyana perfect stillness of mind, then mind is reflected as being perfectly pure and bright, with no-thing arising or ceasing. This is truly what is meant by no-birth and no-death.

Tozen’s reflection from the Dragon Mind of Zen series, ‘No Birth, No Death’ is a perfect reflection at this junction:

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