This chapter, which elaborates on the ritual practice appropriate for those of lesser spiritual faculties as well as Tsung Mi’s own “meditation retreat” based on this eleventh chapter, was given a nice treatment in the opening blog of this series.
The Bodhisattva of Unexcelled Enlightenment arose from his seat in the sacred assembly, bowed and then prostrated himself at the feet of the Tathagata and then circumambulated about him three times to the right. He then knelt down and with hands clasped in a manner depicting sublime devotion, invoked the Blessed One.
“Most Compassionate World-Honored One, you have comprehensively elaborated on the expedient methods for realizing Primordial Enlightenment, in effect, empowering the capacities of sentient beings in the degenerate age to come to awakening undeterred. Blessed one, we Bodhisattvas have already awakened. Yet, after your parinirvana, how will the unawakened sentient beings afflicted in the degenerate age ever come to this noble realization? In what manner should they conduct meditation retreats in order to fully cultivate this Perfect Mind-realm of Enlightenment? Which of the three forms of pure contemplation are foremost in the cultivation of this Mind-realm? May you bestow your Infinite Compassion upon this assembly and all sentient beings in the Dharma-ending age.”
After invoking his pleas in three-fold fashion, he then once again prostrated himself on the ground before the feet of the Blessed One.
Bodhisattva of Unexcelled Enlightenment: The nature of the Bodhisattvas of Enlightenment was covered thoroughly in our previous blog. “Unexcelled” Enlightenment here indicates that there is no place where this perfected-light has not permeated.
[Such] Bodhisattvas always expect five conditions: the increase of the transcendences; the decrease of their resistant tendencies; the evolution of living beings; (their) special progress on the stages; and (their) unexcelled perfect enlightenment. (Robert Thurman, The Universal Vehicle Discourse Literature, Mahāyānasūtrālaṁkāra)
Nāgārjuna notes in his Precious Garland:
If you and the world
Wish to obtain unexcelled enlightenment,
Its root is the spirit of enlightenment,
Firm as the king of mountains.
Presently, the World-Honored One addressed the Bodhisattva of Unexcelled Enlightenment: “Most outstanding, most outstanding indeed! Unexcelled One, you have asked the Tathagata concerning such expedient methods for the sake of sentient beings. Listen-well, as I shall now reveal it before you.”
Bodhisattva of Unexcelled Enlightenment overflowed with joy and listened attentively with the rest of the assembly.
“Virtuous ones, among sentient beings, whether during the time when the Buddha is manifested through his Nirmanakaya, or shortly after his parinirvana, or even during the onslaughts of the degenerate age, there are some who have an affiliation with the Mahayana and who are instilled with the mysterious Bodhi-mind of Primordial Enlightenment. If they wish to cultivate their practice in a monastic-environment amongst other novices, while at the same time being involved in a vast array of commitments, they should do so in full accordance with what I have already taught.”
“If, on the other hand, they are not preoccupied with such commitments, they should erect a site that affords them an opportunity to engage in deep samadhis via an intensive meditational retreat on the nature of the Bodhi-mind. An extensive and rigorous retreat should be one hundred and twenty days. A more moderate version would be for one hundred days. A temperate model would account for a meditation regimen of simply sitting still in silence for a period of eighty-days. If the Buddha is present, they should hold their contemplation directly upon him. If the Buddha has already entered parinirvana, they should utilize some form of representation (usually through some means of visible signs, like a statue, ect), generate Right Mindfulness, and concentrate upon him as if he were still manifested before you. One should adorn the sanctuary-space with banners and flowers and within the first twenty-one days, make a sincere obeisance to the Blessed One in all ten-directions with a spirit of utmost repentance. Passing through these three-weeks in such fashion will assure a most temperate mind and spirit.”
“If you successfully conclude this regimen and continue into the fully allotted time sequence, you will be in league with those Bodhisattvas who achieved the Recollective Resolve and will have won a spirit of quiescence. Hereafter, one should never again fall into the ways and habits of the sravakas, and thus no longer need to feel obligated to them in any way nor entertain their ways of practicing ever again. When engaging in the first day of the retreat one should kneel down in front of the Buddha (or his representative sign) and say the following: “I, bhikshu or bhikshuni, upasaka or upasika so and so, in the bodhisattva vehicle, will cultivate the practice of quiescence of mind and together enter [with other bodhisattvas] into the pure abode of Absolute Reality (Dharmadhātu). I will accept and embrace Primordial Enlightenment as my temple, with my body and mind resting freely with the Wisdom of Equality.”
* samatājñāna, In Sanskrit, “wisdom of equality” or “impartial wisdom”; one of the five wisdoms (PAÑCAJÑĀNA) of a buddha. Through the samatājñāna, a buddha sees beyond all superficial distinctions and differentiations and perceives the fundamental nature of all things as emptiness (ŚŪNYATĀ). Thus, a buddha makes no distinction between one sentient being and another, and no distinction between self and other; in addition, no ultimate difference is perceived between SAṂSĀRA and NIRVĀṆA. Such undifferentiated perception gives rise to equality, impartiality, and compassion for all beings. (Buswell Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.)
The self-nature of Nirvana is devoid of bondage. Thus, never again depending on the sravakas, I will enter unequivocally for this three months in silent retreat with the Tathagatas and Maha-Bodhisattvas of the ten-directions. Hence, for the cause of cultivating the unsurpassed wonderment of the Bodhisattvas Recollective Resolve, I will never be constrained by the limitations of other practitioners.”
“Virtuous ones, this is called the Great Silent Retreat as manifested by the Maha-Bodhisattvas. After successfully completing this three-fold meditation regimen, one will never again blindly accept [as authentic] any experience that is not in league from what the Tathagatas have revealed.”
“Virtuous ones, for sentient beings to correctly practice śamatha, they must first confect perfect-quiescence that does not give rise to any conceptualizations. Quiescence realized to its fullest extent will directly result in enlightenment. Perfecting Such Stillness will extend one’s spirit as if permeating the whole cosmos. Yea, when such Primordial Enlightenment pervades the entire universe, a single thought produced by any sentient being can be directly discerned by such noble practitioners. When such enlightenment pervades a hundred-thousand universes, the same principle applies. Beware however, any such ability that has not first been sanctioned by the Tathagatas should be ignored.”
“Virtuous ones, any sentient being that wants to correctly practice samapatti must first be mindful of the Tathagatas in all ten directions and the Maha-Bodhisattvas of all worlds. Depending upon their various methods, they will diligently and gradually cultivate samādhi, albeit undergoing great trials. They should make great vows to save all sentient beings thus ripening their Bodhi-seeds of Primordial Enlightenment. Once again, all this is undertaken under the direct auspices of the Tathagatas and nothing less.”
“Virtuous ones, sentient beings undertaking dhyāna must first begin with the practice of Right-Breath control. Thus they will gradually become aware of the arising, abiding, and ceasing of each thought, as well as the state before the arising of each thought, and the state after the arousal of the thought. Additionally, they will become mindfully aware of each thought whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down. By advancing in such gradual fashion, they will be empowered to discern a simple drop of rain amidst a thousand-world system, as if it were an object presented directly to him. All of this, of course, arising under the direct tutelage of the Tathagatas.”
“Virtuous ones, these are the foremost expedient methods in which to practice the three-fold contemplation techniques. If sentient beings remain faithful and master all three of them, it will be likened unto a Tathagata appearing in the world. If subsequent sentient beings of the degenerate age who embody dull faculties, yet still aspire to cultivate the path and always fail to do so, it is due to unfortunate karmic hindrances from their past; they should zealously atone for their shortcomings and continue to persevere in their efforts. They must first sever hatred, attachments, jealousy, envy and flattery and then strive for the Recollective Resolve of Mind and Spirit. If they should fail in one of the methods, then they should diligently try to successfully practice another. Never give in to the mind of dissipation, and gradually strive for actualization.”
In order to reinforce this Mind-teaching, the World-Honored One spoke thus in verse:
Unexcelled Enlightenment, you should know
that all sentient beings
seeking to journey on the unsurpassed Path,
should first enter into a retreat.
They must relentlessly repent of their
karmic misfortunes of the past,
for twenty-one days
and then enter into Right Contemplation.
All experiences that they have not discerned from the Tathagata
should never be accepted as authentic.
In śamatha, perfect quiescence;
In samapatti, correct mindfulness;
In dhyāna, right observance of the breath.
These are the three pure contemplations.
Those who diligently practice them
will be called ‘Tathagatas appearing in the world.’
Those with dull faculties should never despair
but continually strive for rehabilitation over past misfortunes.
When all mind-obstructions have ceased,
the realm of Buddhahood appears.