Cultivating Śamatha and Vipaśyanā

The main emphasis in this chapter of the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra is the cultivation of Śamatha and Vipaśyanā. Śamatha is contemplative tranquility, or in Keenan’s translation, quietude (which we prefer since it establishes the very essence of quietude). Vipaśyanā is insight-meditation or in Cleary’s translation, observation; hence, it’s a form of meditation that mindfully and insightfully assesses different forms of dharmata and can articulate as such verbally or in writing—this present sutra is a form of Vipaśyanā. As John Powers has stated, “This chapter is one of the great scriptural locus classici for śamatha and vipaśyanā in the Mahāyāna tradition.”

Chapter Six: The Cultivation of Śamatha and Vipaśyanā

(JK) At that time the Bodhisattva Maitreya addressed the Buddha and said: “World-honored One, in the great vehicle, when a bodhisattva practices the meditation of quietude and vision, what is his support? What is his station?”

Maitreya: is our very familiar future Buddha, who presently resides in Tushita Heaven in preparation for his last rebirth as a fully actualized Buddha. “He is called Maitreya  “because his nature is endowed with love and compassion.” (Powers)

(TC) The Buddha replied, “You should know that the basis and abode of practice of tranquillity and observation in the great vehicle are the provisional setups of the ways of enlightening beings, and sustaining the determination for supreme perfect enlightenment”.

(JK) The Bodhisattva Maitreya addressed the Buddha and said: “World-honored One, how is the bodhisattva able to seek quietude and to be well trained in vision?

The Buddha answered the Bodhisattva Maitreya and said: “Good son, the conventional exposition of the doctrine as I have enunciated it for bodhisattvas consists in the scriptures, the metrical verses, the prophecies, the hymns, the discourses, the narratives, the parables, the apothegms [of the Buddha], the accounts of previous lives, the extensive discourses, the accounts of miracles, and the expositions. Bodhisattvas listen attentively and accept these [teachings] docilely. With their words well understood, their ideas well considered, their views well clarified, alone in a forested place they focus their thought upon the doctrines they have heard and pondered, for they are now capable of thinking reflectively upon those doctrines.

This reflects a total realization of the Traditional Buddhist Enterprise, whether through sutra-reading, adherence to prophecies foretold through recognized channels, Buddhaic hymns and discourses, the use of parables, Buddaic  apothegms (small, witty sayings, such as “the unexamined life is not worth living”), the importance of reincarnation, Buddhaic miracles and also the exposition of Buddhist relics:

(JP) “Then, remaining in seclusion, having genuinely settled [their minds] inwardly, they mentally attend to those doctrines just as they have contemplated them. With continuous inner attention, they mentally attend to that mind which is mentally contemplated by any mind. The physical and mental pliancy that arises through engaging [in this practice] in this way and continuing in this [practice] is ‘śamatha’. This is how Bodhisattvas seek śamatha: 

“Seclusion” refers to physical isolation, and “remaining in seclusion” refers to mental isolation. There are three aspects of isolation: “an excellent abode, excellent behavior, and excellent isolation.” Excellent abodes are of three types: hermitages, places without householders, and roofless dwellings. The third type consists of such places as burial grounds, hermitages, mountain caves, and fields. [Thus] genuinely settling the mind inwardly through samādhi. (John Powers, ibid)

This is also in reference to vipaśyanā since it reflects the continuity of their inner minds, thus empowering them to mindfully focus and reflect, quietly recollect, and carry-out Right Practice. Maitreya makes inquiry into Right Quietude and Right Vision, as the Blessed One responds:

(JK) When a bodhisattva takes as the object of his understanding the doctrine of all the scriptures, etc., and attentively reflects upon all these doctrines as one lump, one accumulation, one whole, one gathering up, all in harmony with suchness, turning toward suchness, approaching suchness, in harmony with wisdom, with cessation, with the conversion of the support, going toward these; if, in approaching these doctrines he proclaims the unlimited, incalculable doctrine and with this reflection practices quietude and vision, that is termed quietude and vision that take as their object a unified doctrine.

“The suchness of all things refers to suchness existing in all defiled and purified things. This term includes the suchness of all things. There are seven kinds. The first is the suchness of the transmigratory flow, for all conditioned states of being have neither beginning nor end. The second is the suchness of descriptive marks, for in all things both persons and things have no-self. The third is the suchness of conscious construction, for all conditioned states of being are nothing but conscious construction. The fourth is the suchness of what is given, that is, the truth about suffering that I have preached. The fifth is the suchness of false conduct, that is, the truth about the origin [of suffering] that I have preached. The sixth is the suchness of purification, that is, the truth of the destruction [of suffering] that I have preached. And the seventh is the suchness of correct practice, that is, the truth of the path that I have preached.

The Nature of the Such encompasses all dharmata, both pure and impure while at the same time is neither identical nor different from either. As also referenced here, even though Suchness is not an evolving unit on the ladder of consciousness, it is not separate from conscious construction. Rather it is its Real Nature as shown through the “common mark” of the “essencelessness” wherein both the Self and thingness are empty. Dan Lusthaus further illustrates:

Tathatā, usually translated as ‘Suchness’ or ‘Thusness,’ may also be rendered ‘as-it-is-ness.’ It signifies the Awakened (non-)perspective of directly perceiving yathā-bhūtam, things ‘just as they have become,’ without the cognitive misperceptions characteristic of unAwakened beings.

[As Such], Suchness is the universal, sacred, perfected nature of all things. Suchness becomes a cosmic essence, the primal, originary scene. Buddha is no longer a teacher who perfected himself, but the universal essence of all things, the potential perfection ontologically concealed behind a veil of transmigratory appearance. (Dan Lusthaus, Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investi-gation of Yogacara Buddhism and the Ch ‘eng Wei-shih lun, pgs. 316, 263)

This is good to always keep in mind because initially, many can mistake mere formalized reading of the sutras as Absolute hearing of the True Buddhadharma. Yet, when undertaken in such vein it all falls on deaf ears, ones that are no more alive and aware than a rotting corpse in the charnel grounds. The essence of all sutras are recognized only through the ‘wonderful dharma of one’s mind’, the same Self-Mind recognition that is changeless and deathless. The sutras are then alive with the fragrance of True Suchness. This Suchness is not confined to mere words written on parchment that are no more real than squashed flies on paper, but rather alive and frequenting every facet of sentient experience.

(JK) The Bodhisattva Maitreya addressed the Buddha and said: “World-honored One, what is the wisdom and what is the insight of all those bodhisattvas who know doctrine and its meaning through their cultivation of quietude and vision?”

The Buddha answered the Bodhisattva Maitreya and said: “Good son, I have already on numerous occasions proclaimed the two differences between wisdom and insight! Nevertheless, I will now summarize the main point for you. Wisdom is that wondrous discernment which occurs through the cultivation of that quietude and vision which take as their object the unified doctrine [of the great vehicle]. Insight is that wondrous discernment which occurs through the cultivation of that quietude and vision which take as their object the different doctrines [of the great vehicle].”

(TC) Maitreya also asked, “When enlightening beings practice tranquillity and observation, on what do they focus attention? Of what, and how, do they dismiss appearances?”

The Buddha answered, “By putting their attention on true suchness, they dismiss the appearances of phenomena and the appearances of significations. When one does not apprehend names or nominality and does not look at the appearances on which they are based, they are thus dismissed.

“As with names, the same applies to phrases and statements and all significations; and finally, when one does not apprehend any realms or their natures, and also does not look at the appearances on which they are based, they are thus dismissed.”

Maitreya asked, “What about the appearances of true suchness realized; are the appearances of true suchness also to be dismissed?”

The Buddha answered, “In the true suchness that enlightening beings realize, there are no appearances and there is nothing apprehended at all; what could be dismissed? I say that when one knows suchness, that overcomes the signifying appearances of all things, while this realization cannot be overcome by anything else.”

Within the Such, appearances (or even, non-appearances), whether true or false are rendered nil. Thus True Attention is placed on Tathata and no-where else. This also goes for the recognition of how IT Self-actualizes—for within Itself there needn’t be any formal-recognition but only Self-acceptance As It Is.

At the end of the chapter the Buddha went on to expound:

(JK) “Excellent, excellent, good son, that you have been able to question the Tathagata about the accomplishment of the most pure path of wondrous centering (yoga). You yourself have already certainly attained utmost skill, and I already have proclaimed for you the path of wondrous centering, perfect and most pure. The awakened ones of the past or the future have already taught or will teach a like teaching. All good sons and good daughters must with diligent effort cultivate it.”

Then the World-honored One recited verses to emphasize his meaning:

If one acts in an unrestrained manner in regard to centering
as presented in this doctrine, one will lose its great
benefit. But if, relying upon this doctrine and centering, one
correctly cultivates and practices it, one will attain the great
awakening. If, looking to what they can attain, some reject
and criticize [this doctrine] and take their view to be the
way to realize doctrine, Maitreya, they will be as far from
centering as is the sky from the earth. Obdurate people who
do not work to benefit beings, once enlightened, do not
bother about benefiting sentient beings, but the wise do
act [for others] until the end of the eons, and they attain
supreme, undefiled joy. If one enunciates doctrine from
desire, although one be said to have rejected desire, one
will revert to desire. Thus fools, having attained the priceless
doctrine, turn back and wander about begging alms.
Rejecting contentious quarreling and abandoning attachment
to opinion, engender superior effort. In order to deliver
gods and men, you must study this centering. [Mystic Yoga]

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