by Ting Chen

Translated by Dharma Master Lok To
Edited by Sam Landberg and Dr. Frank G. French

* Translator's Introduction
* The Foundation of Meditation Practice
* The Levels of Buddhist Discipline
* Preparing For Meditation
* Regulating The Mind
* Counting The Breath
* Varieties of Ch'an
* Glossary

Transfer-of-Merit Vow (Parinamana)For All Donors
May all the merit and grace gained from adorning Buddha's Pure Land, from loving our parents, from serving our country and from respecting all sentient beings be transformed and transferred for the benefit and salvation of all suffering sentient beings on the three evil paths. Furthermore, may we who read and hear this Buddhadharma and, thereafter, generate our Bodhi Minds be reborn, at the end of our lives, in the Pure Land.

Sutra Translation Committee of the United States and Canada, 1999


We respectfully acknowledge the assistance, support and cooperation of the following advisors, without whom this book could not have been produced: Dayi Shi; Chuanbai Shi; Dr. John Chen; Amado Li; Cherry Li; Hoi-Sang Yu; Tsai Ping Chiang; Vera Man; Way Zen; Jack Lin; Tony Aromando; and Ling Wang. They are all to be thanked for editing and clarifying the text, sharpening the translation and preparing the manuscript for publication. Their devotion to and concentration on the completion of this project, on a voluntary basis, are highly appreciated.

Translator's Introduction

Originally, one's own mind and nature are pure, and there is nothing to accept and nothing to refuse; there is neither existence nor non-existence; there is only clear understanding without attachment and with no dwelling. One who wants to know the no-attachment, no-dwelling mind can find it through meditation, because it is only then that the mind does not think of right and wrong, of good and evil or of self and others.

If this seems obscure, then consider the following: The past is already gone; when you do not think of it, the thought of the past is gone, too. Then, there is no past nor any thought of the past. Furthermore, the future has yet not arrived. If you do not wish for nor seek after it, the thought regarding the future vanishes. Then, there is no future nor any thought about the future. Finally, the present is already present. Without grasping at it or dwelling upon it and without there being any thought about it, the thought of the present disappears, and there is no present nor any thought of the present. The mind that does not dwell on anything whatsoever is known as the True Mind or Original Nature.

The non-dwelling mind is the mind of the Buddha, it is the mind of liberation, it is the mind of Bodhi, and it is the mind of non-birth. So, if you really want meditation to come about, sit properly erect and close your eyes. Then purify your mind, lay down everything and think of neither good nor evil. Just observe your thoughts. As you look for their place of origin, you discover that they suddenly rise up and just as suddenly disappear, and that this process goes on and on. Be patient and continue to observe them, and you will, in time, know the thoughts to be devoid of any self-nature; also you will, thereby, know original emptiness. Do not attempt to follow the thoughts, to trace them in any way or have any intention of getting rid of them, and, in time, awareness will manifest as your mind illumines a thought. Then, there will suddenly be a stillness that becomes suchness. At some point, another thought will arise, and you will observe it in the same way.

Do this at least once a day, sitting from fifteen minutes to an hour. As your concentration deepens, your thoughts slow down and diminish in number, and your power of illumination increases until you eventually find out that not a single thought arises. Then, there is only stillness and voidness, for then the mind is clear and pure. This is your self-nature as known directly through wisdom (Prajna).

The subject of wisdom is Prajna, and the opposite of Prajna is ignorance. Prajna illuminates the delusion that is ignorance. With continued exposure to Prajna, ignorance wears away bit by bit until there is a return to self-nature, or pure mind. It is in this situation that Right Thought manifests. There is no longer the duality of subject/object. This state is also known as no-thought or suchness and is also referred to as the inconceivable. When the mind is illumined and a thought, as one ordinarily knows it to be, arises, it dissolves instantly. Continue to practice in this way on a daily basis, and you will notice your self-nature getting steadily clearer and purer. Then there will be no longer any need to observe, nor will there be any purpose to observe. Indeed, there will be no longer any need of any kind. It will be realized that mind is no-mind, that no-mind is pure mind and that pure mind is the true mind. At that time, the sound of discussion and the role of thought will be finished. It cannot be expressed in words, and yet it is as simple as drinking water and knowing whether it is cold or warm. It is called Sudden Enlightenment.

It is my express wish that this guide, based on the meditation manual of Ting Chen, will prove helpful in imparting the Dharma to its readers. In helping me reach this goal, I wish to thank Sam Langberg and Dr. Frank G. French, without whose help regarding fine points in the translation and without whose editorial acuteness this task might have proved too difficult. May this work, then, help everyone to generate the Bodhi Mind and never to regress.

Dharma Master Lok To
Young Men's Buddhist Association of America
Bronx, New York
May 1999
(Buddhist Year: 2543)

The Foundation Of Meditation Practice

Why Meditate?

When you are caught up in the emotional upheaval of greed, anger and delusion, you may find yourself succumbing to some very real physical ailments; and when you are ill, the world may seem to be a very dismal place. That is not to say, however, that all of our illnesses are due to extreme emotions. Exposure to substances to which you may be allergic can alter everything about you. It can cause violent mood swings, depression, hallucinations and all sorts of physical effects, including actual tissue damage. Whatever the cause, disease is most often accompanied by an assortment of disruptive emotions. Programs that have been designed to make therapeutic use of relaxation methods and meditation have proved to be effective in curbing both the physical effects and the emotions which accompany them. Yet, as beneficial as they may be, such methods can take one only so far.

In the Buddhist tradition, meditation is used to defuse the source of all the trouble-the illusion of self and other. In Ch'an (or Zen), the aim is to overcome thought and defilement. Having done this, and with thoughts no longer stirring, the real substance of mind becomes evident. Without thoughts and without the illusion of self and other, greed, anger and hatred have no place to arise; and the energy that was tied up by those illusions becomes available, helping to provide an overall improvement in health. That is why meditation is called The Fundamental Practice.
The Psychophysiological Effects Of Meditation

The Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), emphasized the role that the cerebrum plays in physiology. At first glance, one might assume this to be merely a statement of fact, because that part of the brain is usually thought to involve little else other than thinking. Actually, it takes part in the production of many hormones, both directly and indirectly. Every aspect of a person is interrelated, and that is how and why thoughts and emotions can have such far-reaching effects. That is, however, also why meditation and calm-inducing thoughts can be so stabilizing and so healthy. One can safely assume, then, that most of what contributes to proper functioning also contributes to good health.
Useful Hints For Better Practice And Better Health

As you progress in your practice, you are required to sit motionless for longer and longer periods of time at a stretch. It is then that some very important physical limitations may oblige you to make some adjustments in the way that you sit. Should you choose to ignore them, thinking that there is just one right way to practice, you may cause yourself needless pain and distraction (which means that you will not be able to concentrate); and you may possibly expose yourself to irreparable physical damage as well.

It is not unusual for people who have gone on retreats to return with painfully damaged knees, having held a position in spite of pain and having welcomed an ensuing numbness, simply because they have more trouble than they can remedy. To paraphrase The Kalama Sutra, "Do not do something because you have been instructed to do so, but try it and find out how it works for you." Be always on guard for what doesn't seem to be quite right, and see what might be done about it. There are many, many methods that can be tried. There is no reason to have to submit to pain or outright debility, especially when nothing good can come of it.

The Relationship Between Mind And Meditation

The metaphor of the mirror, often referred to in Ch'an, is most suitable here in pointing out the most salient aspects of meditation as practiced in this tradition. The mirror-mind does not respond at all, and it is by this lack of agitation that all things are clearly known. This is how the mind is said to be when there is no clinging. The mind, to be like a mirror, must be passive, detached, uninterested and quiet. It is a time of rest, recuperation and of learning to be undefiled in the midst of what is normally defiling. When there is no perturbation in the mind, just as when there are no ripples on the surface of a lake, all things are mirrored clearly, leaving no trace. There are no intentions, and there is no action to be taken or not taken. There is no dependence upon anything that you do or do not do. Meditation just unfolds naturally as the mind grows tranquil.

If you make the sun's rays converge, using a magnifying glass, and focus the resulting point of light onto a sheet of paper, you can easily burn a hole through it. Similarly, when you concentrate your thoughts, you are empowered in many ways. A lay Buddhist, Yang Jen San, once found a copy of The Surangama Sutra in an old bookstore. He was overjoyed. It was just what he had been looking for. He sat down and read and read in complete absorption, oblivious to his surroundings, until someone called him. Suddenly he noticed it had become dark and that if he wanted to continue, he would have to light a lamp. Wondrous things must happen in deep concentration, for he had been reading in the dark! A very famous writer of the Sung Dynasty, Su Dong Pu, recounted a similar experience in which he was so deeply engrossed in painting a picture that he was no longer aware of his person nor of anything else. It is as though where wholehearted application is directed, the whole world must step aside.

As your concentration strengthens, your breathing slows down and becomes subtle; areas of residual tension relax, perhaps after having existed there for a very long time, and there is no effort. A feeling of well-being and ease ensues. Sustained, relaxed concentration of this type easily becomes meditation. Unfolding naturally, if allowed to continue, it improves one's health and vitality, as stultified emotions and their physical concomitants give way to healing. The health-enhancing benefits of meditation are now a matter of record, and numerous physicians include it in programs for their patients' recoveries.
The average person's mind is in turmoil. He or she is the product of deep-rooted patterns of thought resulting from karma accumulated since time immemorial, as well as being tortured by the illusion of self. To be enlightened is to be free of all of that. Concentration already reduces the turmoil by limiting one's attention to just one thing. Through this practice, the apparent hold that you have on your illusion of self and things gives way until there is meditation. Then, there is an absence of thought and an absence of words. Then, without the stress and the strain of delusion, a very deep sort of healing takes place.
Meditation And Dhyana

In Buddhism, the ordinary man is seen as leading a life steeped in suffering through the defilements of greed, anger and delusion. It is only when he finds out, firsthand, that there is, indeed, nothing that he does that is free of defilement and suffering and that there is a way out of it all, that he may become sufficiently well-motivated to gain that freedom. This is traditionally likened to the discovery that the pretty, colored rope that one has found and treasures is actually a very poisonous snake. When that is your experience, you may have such a profound understanding of Buddhadharma that your life will turn around radically. You may realize beyond all doubt that, though the body may be strong and healthy, it still changes and grows old. You may realize deeply, by breaking off attachment to both body and mind, that birth, death, and defilement also no longer exist. In the Ch'an tradition, this is discovered through meditation.

Discipline (sila), and wisdom (prajna)are closely related to meditation (dhyana). Proper discipline leads to dhyana,and dhyanagives rise to wisdom.It is by means of discipline that the defilements are dispelled, and this eases the way for the cultivation of dhyana(established in the same region as prajna). The great Ch'an Ting(Chinese for dhyana-related meditative practice) is said to be secluded from defilement and suffering as the result of self-discipline. To free oneself from defilements is the main purpose of the practice of pure discipline. By means of discipline, defilements are dispelled. Then, dhyanacan become established; defined variously as voidness, the absence of subject and object, Ch'an Ting,or that which is not of the flow of suffering, it is the access route to wisdom (prajna).

The Levels Of Buddhist Discipline

Also Known as Cumulative Discipline

Formally stated, the sevenfold assembly consists of the upasaka(male lay devotee), upasika(female lay devotee) siksamana(female candidate for novitiate), sramanera(novice monk), sramanerika(novice nun), bhikhu(fully ordained monk), and bhikhuni(fully ordained nun). These terms designate levels of commitment to practice, starting with the basic five precepts, or training rules, for laity.

Not formally stated, but of equal importance, is the vow to do good and refrain from doing evil. One's actions should always be for the benefit of all sentient beings. The thrust of Buddhist discipline is a blameless coexistence with the rest of the world, as well as improved mindfulness and inner peace. There are two ways to uphold the precepts. One is called stop and hold,which means that one should stop,or refrain from doing evil, and holdto the precepts. The second one is called to do and to hold.This simply means that you should do good and abide by the discipline. The discipline has the function of helping you avoid evil and do good, and upholding it enables you to purify your body and mind. While that is being accomplished, the outflow of impurities, or asrava,diminishes; and these conditions, in turn, facilitate samadhi.

Dhyanais absorption meditation at varying levels; when extended over long periods of time, it is sometimes referred to as samadhi. These levels (usually four) are accounted for in Ch'an practice, and there are, as well, several different kinds of Ch'an. There are, for example, mundane Ch'an, supra-mundane Ch'an, and the Ch'an of the highest Mahayana realization, to mention only three.

Meditation can be practiced while sitting, standing, walking or lying down and anywhere in between; but because our minds are ordinarily so very disorganized, the best way to practice for most of us is to sit regularly in a quiet place. Having seated yourself, simply put everything else aside and concentrate on whatever your object of concentration may be. With your mind, speech and action already cooled down through discipline, there is occasion for natural and steady access to samadhi.When no thought arises, the pure substance of mind appears; and the state of stillness and illumination gradually manifests itself.
The quality of that stillness is undefinable, and yet it is not as if the sitter were a statue carved from stone. In this context, illuminationis understood as awareness without subject-object duality. There is no longer someonebeing aware of something,and, consequently, there is no need for thought or verbalization.

The early sages emphasized that a moment of meditation honors Buddha more than building pagodas as numerous as the sandgrains in the Ganges River. The pagodas, it is argued, can be demolished, unlike the one-pointed mind that transcends time and space.

It cannot be repeated often enough that very little can be achieved without observing the precepts. Indeed, discipline dispels the attachment and the suffering that accompany it and leads to the passionless, pure path to Nirvana. Anasrava,or passionless purity, is the opposite of asrava,the outflow of the passions and their filth. Asravais further known as the discharge of mind-energy leading to the loss of truth. Anasrava,by definition, means the absence of outflow and seclusion from the stream of passion and, thus, from the stream of suffering.

Preparing For Meditation

The Posture

Find an uncluttered, well-ventilated (non-drafty), quiet place where you can sit undisturbed on a regular schedule. You may use a cover to protect yourself from the cold.

In the beginning, let comfort be your guide. Make sure you set up a schedule you can live with, and then keep to it faithfully. Adjust your sittings so that there is no excess of discomfort or pain, which includes finding a posture you can hold for a period of time that you will gradually extend. Learn to relax completely; do not try to control anything, and do not expect anything.
Make sure the garments you wear are comfortable and loose, and wear as few of them as circumstances permit. Loosen your belt or whatever might be binding or distracting, such as a wristwatch, jewelry or scent. There is actually no need for adornments, and their use during meditation should be avoided.

The Legs

If, and only if, you can manage it, sit on the full-lotus, which is the traditional position considered most stable. For those who might want to try the full-lotus position, do as follows. First, sit on the floor or a low cushion and fold your right leg in front of you, pulling it in close to your groin. Next, fold your left leg over it, with your left foot resting, sole upward, on your right thigh and close to your groin. Finally, lift your right foot, sole up, onto your left thigh, bringing it in close to your groin. You may be able to maintain this position for a short time at first, but, as you grow accustomed to it, you may find it contributing greatly to a sense of quiet, tranquillity and stability.

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