meditation ch. 9



The Arising of Bhavanamayiprajna

    The Heart Sutra has given the methods for awakening through prajna-wisdom.  These are the methods of the “buddhas of the three times”.

We should study diligently to become knowledgeable in the definitive subject of the Sutra, emptiness.

We should reflect upon the specifics of the knowledge yet more thoroughly and deeply.

Meditation is practiced earnestly, supported by the knowledge thus acquired.

       In Buddhism there are many ways described to reach bodhi and nirvana.  In Mahayana scriptures these ways have been called the eighty-four thousand dharma doors, which means there are multitudes of ways to accomplish the task.  Every way, specific and different, is an efficient method to be used by differing practitioners according to their varied capacities.  Most fundamental in Buddhist meditational practices is the Noble Way taught by the Buddha based on the calming of the mind and realization of insights.  This is called samatha-vipasyana.

      Samatha means calming.   Vipasyana means insight. These words have also been translated as tranquility and insight, stopping and seeing, calm and observation, and other similar renderings.

     To calm the mind is to stop all scattering thought. To calm the mind is to inhibit the habitual working of discriminative functions of the mind.  To calm the mind is to stop the processes practicing delusion and error.  To calm the mind is to create new habits that purge the storehouse consciousness, bringing about less clouded perceptive functions, relief, and silence in samatha, a relaxed peacefulness with clarity of consciousness wherein rests a great potential for intelligence free from conceptual misconstructions and false views.

   Vipasyana is insightful realization regarding purification of morality, concentration, and wisdom, all related to the Four Noble Truths with special emphasis on the Fourth Truth, the path leading to the cessation of suffering. With these are also the insights related to the three characteristics (trilakshana) of impermanence, suffering, and non-self.   Insight into impermanence is the understanding of the conditions of change, of arising and of passing away.  Insight into the characteristic of suffering is the realization of being oppressed by the facts of arising and passing away.  Insight into non-self culminates in the abandoning of clinging to a self.

     In addition to the above listed insights, there are also knowledgeable insights into other mind-creations such as aversion, attachment, detachment, extinction, desirelessness, emptiness, etc. When these insights are developed methodically, adverse conceptual views are vanquished and the mind is left without hindrances.    Error is passed beyond. Nirvana is realized.   Samatha-vipasyana is, according to Buddhist tradition, the core practice of all meditational procedures, and is cultivated through consideration and study of the Buddhist scriptures and treatises.   Calm and Insight are equivalent with Concentration (samadhi) and Wisdom (prajna), which are the supporting structures for the practice of Meditation (bhavana). Concentration develops tranquility, a mind not agitated but serene and undistracted, with a quality of lucidity.  Such calmness of mind is essential for deep development of insight. Samatha is one-pointed, vigilant attentiveness. Vipasyana is the correct view, the accurate and exact discrimination of phenomena as they really are. Samatha-vipasyana is the systematic practice that has a wide range of application, but always aims at the highest bodhi.

    Samatha should not be practiced by itself, without vipasyana as its complementary balance, or vice versa.  Each aspect supports the other.  Some who meditate practice one method only and have been able to achieve “dry tranquility” or “dry insight”, but both are supremely effective when used together. They are like twins, each reflecting the image of the other.  The Buddha was not fully satisfied with the experience of samatha alone, but wanted full enlightenment.   When he had carried to completion the calm one-pointedness of samatha he was then endowed with the capacity for vipasyana.   These two together allowed prajna-wisdom to arise. When samatha was developed, the mind was developed; when vipasyana was developed all ignorance was abandoned. With ignorance thus dissolved the twelve-fold wheel of interdependent origination was disrupted and its functionality disintegrated.

    The gateway allowing entry to the bodhi path is samatha-vipasyana, leading away from ignorance and toward wisdom.  Samatha-vipasyana is not an easy undertaking, but a practitioner will be successful if persistent.  Hindrances will be done away with; intelligence will grow into profound wisdom.   Keeping the precepts is a prerequisite for the practice of meditation.   Avoiding the destructive influences arising from taking the lives of sentient beings, of taking away their necessary possession without permission, of using them for misdirected sexual purposes, for destroying their character by using falsehoods against them, and by destroying one’s own mental clarity through the use of intoxicants, all these deter the achievement of awakened purity.   Keeping the precepts is important in the breakup of the stream of primal ignorance, wrong thinking, and wrong behavior.  Keeping the precepts is an important aid to concentration.  The violation of the precepts prevents the overcoming of sorrow, grief, worry, anxiety, fears, and other related mind creations, and these in turn will always prevent a penetrating level of concentration from being achieved, thereby preventing any state of calm and insight being experienced.

    The mind tends to become fixed on those aspects we call hindrances.  There are five of them; lust, ill will, sloth and torpor, agitation and worry, and uncertainty.  They are the supports for the distracting fascination of a wandering mind incessantly craving and seeking for gratification that by itself keeps the wheel of rebirth turning.  When one who meditates has removed the obstructing five hindrances, his mind will be clear and lucid.

   Another prerequisite is to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and the Sangha.  These are known as the three jewels of Buddhism, and taking refuge in them is a vow of trust that a teacher, a path, and a community is true and effective.   Taking refuge is the primary reorientation of the ruling motivations of life, a shift in perspective away from base desires, and a move in the direction of bodhi.

      When entering into any form of meditation, there are four physical postures that must be considered: sitting, standing, walking, and lying down.   Because these are descriptions of general body postures during all living conditions, it is obvious that meditation can be done anywhere and at any time no matter what activity is being engaged in.  Sitting meditation is the one used in most training situations, and is the more formal and exacting posture.   For its use, the practitioner should, if possible, select a place as free as possible of disturbing distractions that might present difficulties for the meditation.   When a place has been selected, sit down, cross the legs with one leg over the other leg, tucked in as tightly as is comfortable.   Some find sitting on a few inch seat, feet being then lower, has helped.   Should there be too much discomfort, as is usually the case in the beginning, such as pain in the knees, ankles, and hips, loosen up a bit.   One does not want the meditation session to focus solely on the pain and agonies being experienced.   There is nothing wrong with making the experience as comfortable as possible.

    One hand is placed gently in the palm of the other hand, both resting comfortably in the lap of the practitioner.  One should sit up straight, making the spine comfortable so as to support the head and neck and upper body without stress or pain.  The general body condition should be such that when sitting there is comfort and relaxation achieved as the body remains braced and balanced so that the sitting session can be conducted with as little body motion as absolutely necessary for the duration of the session.   Do not expect painless perfection the first time around.   Mindfulness will ultimately achieve the right arrangement for every body attempting sitting meditation.   One should not become lazy or careless. Dedication to each moment’s needs must be maintained. Start with a few deep breaths, concentrate on the breaths, concentrate on normal breaths where the air is felt entering into and out of the nose. The basic preparations have now been made to begin the process of samatha-vipasyana.

     The mantra found in the Heart Sutra is given as the expedient and skillful means for this process.  By concentrating on the mantra and the repetition of it the attention is controlled. Miscellaneous or disordered thoughts will cease to arise.   Reciting the mantra with just an effort to continue the recitation can produce samatha.  This calmness of mind is free from the influence of the hindrances, proclivities of an unruly mind locked into the habits of daydream, anxiety of sensual desires, or the moment to moment concerns and discriminations.   This peaceful state of mind saves energy and displaces habitual patterns of karmic tendencies.   The karmic seeds present in the alaya consciousness begin to be modified by more beneficial influences.   The recitation of the mantra interrupts incessant mental chatter, and the habitual perspectives that perpetuate delusion are altered. When the fixated operations of the mechanical mind are shaken out of their structures by recitation of the mantra, the delusions they continuously propagate and support are cut through, and samatha begins to allow great stability.   This is how the mantra is used for samatha.

    The mantra need not be chanted continuously. Initially it should be used as many times as necessary to calm the mind.   With practice fewer repetitions will be necessary to achieve samatha. When calmness of mind is being entered into, be aware of any stray thoughts that are arising, and if the mind is wandering, bring it back to the mantra.  When no wandering thoughts enter into the meditative consciousness then the peaceful mental state of acute vigilant awareness IS samatha. Should thoughts keep arising and the tendency to get lost in them also intrudes, just return to the recitation of the mantra for a few more recitations.   Do this again and again. The mantra can be repeated whenever concentration wanes into distraction.   When the mind is caught wandering, as mind tends to do, saying the mantra a few times reestablishes concentration and attentiveness.

      Mantra recitation, when reflecting on its meaning, advances the practitioner in vipasyana so that insight into the emptiness of all phenomena is realized. Ceaseless recitation of the mantra is not necessary therefore, and focused concentration that will eliminate distracting thoughts can be achieved by mindfulness of the attributes making up the mantra. Its occasional use, as stated above, is to return the mind from a distracted state.    It can also be used as an affirmation of trust in the Buddhadharma, staying with a correct view in the present moment. This mindful attentiveness must be developed with practice until thoughts are noticed at the very point of their arising.  This is insightful meditative presence that heals the wandering mind of its habitual tendencies. This is how the mantra is used for vipasyana.

    Samatha arises through a one-pointed focus on recitation of the mantra, and when ceasing the recitation samatha is maintained through a calm vigilance toward the potentially arising thought/mind.  Samatha is basically stable and nonfabricated awareness; it is not distracted by arising memories or imaginings.  Such creations are seen and understood with the onset of vipasyana arising atop the calm reflective mirror of samatha. The mantra becomes a support, a reminder; it is seed containing the full genetic structure of the Heart Sutra’s message.   Thus the mantra is “relied upon” and “bodhisattva mahasattvas should train in the Profound Perfection of Wisdom in just this way.” Reflection on the meaning of the mantra restores the correct view.   The steady strength is samatha as practice becomes skillful proficiency.

   When conditioned thought arises it should be recognized as being a hindrance and obstruction to samatha, then released without discriminating mental activity.  This is how insight works.  Thoughts can be recognized as wholesome or unwholesome mental factors; they can be seen as the consequences of prior thoughts and actions that produce in their wake even more thoughts and actions of the same kind.   Disengaging from the unwholesome aspects of thought fabrications is the “passing completely beyond all errors”.   The mantra, as can be seen, is a symbol that infers the insights contained in that which it represents.   This makes the mantra equivalent to the knowledge gained through study, through thorough reflection, and through subsequent meditation, certainty, and the fullness of adhiprajna.

     The mantra is an associative mnemonic tool to be used for deeply impressing one’s understanding with a conclusive certainty.  A thought, for instance, arising with the qualities of ill will, one of the five hindrances, is observed, recognized as the unwholesome factor it is but is not engaged with in mental dialogue. It is recognized as arising conditionally and so too will pass away conditionally. Seeing the thought in this way allows for its empty nature to be observed correctly, with no mental attachments constructed with regards to any notion of its having a permanent self of some sort, and in this state of clarity it is released, freeing the practitioner from any problematic karmic consequences it might otherwise create. While then applying some recitations of the mantra as a reminder of this correct view, “they should correctly view the five skandhas also as empty of inherent existence.”   The repetition of this meditative sequence over a long period of time produces a transformation of perspective from the svabhava view to the prajna view, the correct view.

  Samatha-vipasyana is the arising of bhavanamayiprajna and is simultaneous with the cessation of superimposed mental elaborations.   This mantra is a genuine protector of the mind, indicating a contemplative presence with calm and insight, a profound device that can, when used rightly, aid in the remembrance that all is empty (sarvam sunyam). Prajna-wisdom becomes integral in the bypassing of mental hindrances and all they support.  “Because their minds are without hindrances, they are without fear.”  The mantra is used like this for entering samatha, then samatha becomes a sturdy platform supporting insight.   In the same way, the mantra is incorporated for maintaining stability in insight, the correct view.   This is mnemonic training, practice.

     The words of the Heart Sutra are negations of old and faulty ways of understanding, yet these negations are affirmations of the actual status of reality as it should be understood in the new way, the way a buddha sees reality.   The Heart Sutra presents to us a marvelous and extraordinary method of deconstructing false views.  The common status of the human mind is not quite as it should be, but by letting go of conceptual error the great net of delusion is rent and the truth is known: “svaha”, it is so!   The mind can be free in bodhi, the state of not being deceived by something that does not really exist.

     Everyone wants freedom and happiness, but everyone has not yet developed the skillfulness required, nor eliminated the unskillful qualities that hinder, so they remain in the prison of samsara, wandering-on through a subtle bewilderment, not knowing their real condition, and remaining prone to suffering.    If somehow the unskillful qualities can be eradicated, beings can progress, but speedy development is rare.   It is obvious that the Heart Sutra and its mantra indicate a developing progression from suffering to the cessation of suffering by passing completely beyond all errors, like cravings, attachments, and false views.  When defilements and errors of the mind are recognized, mainly the predispositions behind a svabhava perspective, the wrong discrimination of things starts to fade away.    Ignorance of emptiness gives stability to delusion but the reverse of this common situation is the prajna perspective, the absence of any notion of any self-being of any variety of phenomena.   This is the correct view of the Heart Sutra, and it is the key leading to our escape from the yearning for that something that we seem unable to “put our finger on”, yet which seems so important for us to discern.

    The secret of the mantra is revealed to the contemplative by his prolonged and devoted use of it. Any who do not bother with reciting the Sutra and its mantra for the purpose of samatha, nor use the mantra for stable remembrance of correct view through insight, will not enter into deeper experience suggested by the Sutra.   To all except the devoted practitioner the Heart Sutra remains an obscure and abstract text.   In order to grasp its profound meaning and the pragmatic use of its mantra, one must become exceptionally and thoroughly familiar with it, pursuing the meditational process it indicates by repeatedly dwelling on the implications of emptiness and completing the path that the Sutra and mantra embody.   The Heart Sutra must remain somewhat of a mystery to all except the practitioner who learns to see into his own prajna where truth is finally revealed.

    The samadhi “perception of the profound” is pure vision, unclouded understanding, true gnosis, errorless, and total absence of all delusion.  The mantra is paradoxical in that it indicates a path progressively traveled, but there is nothing to be attained along the way.  The real path is a progressive LOSS of delusion.   There is no “movement” either, a going from some place to someplace else, as movement is usually thought of.  This kind of movement must be negated also.  The real movement is a “going” into progressive realization of where one actually is already, finally realized when delusion has been eliminated, bit by bit, from the mental equation. The movement, “gate”, is the deconstruction of those propensities within the discriminating mind that are the basis for superimposing overlays and confusions onto objects of perception. “Nothing to attain” is the realization that what is sought, namely cessation of suffering et al, is present already, but this fact is revealed only gradually as one passes progressively “beyond all error”, when suddenly one arrives knowingly at the point where one has always been but could not distinguish because of the dust obscuring clear reflection of reality.

    “Gate”, move to eliminate constricted attention. The abstract idea found in this term is that attention to the mantra is a singular willful movement of attention (gamana) away from all that distracts; moving attentively, prajna is arising; “gate”, keep moving this way, away from fixations and inattentiveness; “paragate”, moving beyond all hindrances, prajna is clearing the understanding; “parasamgate”, moving even beyond all ideas of movement or one’s self-being who moves, beyond all error, all aspects of prajna together in certainty of clear understanding.

    To enlarge the discussion, “gate”, is the moving toward final cessation of ills and suffering, toward a prajna view, transcending all conventional categories of mundane knowledge, all categories of supramundane knowledge, and beyond into unsurpassed knowledge, the knowledge of those who have “to thusness gone” (tathagata).  Such is the power of “the great mantra, the unsurpassed mantra”. The prajna perspective is the clear and unpolluted perspective, without the limitations of lesser conventional knowledge capable of describing only partialities.  Prajna perception is not fixated on any partiality, but is open and free, with the wisdom of emptiness.  This is bodhi, and the culminating point for the fullness of prajna (adhiprajna) view, the awakening out of the movement binding one to ignorance and all hindrances, awakening into the movement of unbinding, nirvana.

   “Svaha!” It is true; it is so! This is the final affirmation, the truth of total perfect understanding, the commitment to reality, the bodhi-vision of a buddha, a totally integrated shift in perspective, the knowing of the dynamism of the totality of the phenomenal continuum.

       Thinking about the unified totality of the matrix of thusness as a contemplation subject, done repeatedly over a regular period of time, crystallizes the understanding, making deeper and more fully established impressions.   Meditation, with the use of this mantra so intimately associated with the path to bodhi, emptiness, and the movement to thusness, is a means of internalizing truth/reality through a remembrance device.  In an advanced state of practice using the mantra, a question should be asked, “Who is reciting the mantra?”  This question turns attention around on itself, the ultimate introspective introversion, attentiveness toward who it is that is being attentive; prajna seeing into itself. This is buddha-mind realizing itself as selflessness, the final movement beyond.  It is like peeling an onion, one layer after another removed until the center is revealed.  And there is no thing there.

It is thus, “tadyatha”.

   This mantra proceeds from the state of existence called error to the state of existence called bodhi by showing a progression, not through stages of attainment or accomplishment, but through stages of “letting go” of false views.   This is an activity of the present moment, a movement in the eternal now. “Gate”, let go, going; gate, let go more, keep going; “paragate”, let it all go, keep going beyond; “parasamgate”, let go even of the concept of letting go, of someone who lets go, of something to let go of; everything is interdependent, together, empty of self-being.  Just be bodhi; it is so, svaha!  This is the movement of prajna called bhavana.   The movement is then later completed with certainty and with fullness.


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