Minding Mind: A Course in Basic Meditationby Thomas Cleary
Some types of meditation are aimed at promoting a sense of confidence and well-being in everyday life, while other types focus on producing altered states of consciousness, transcending the world, or developing skills for serving other people. The instructions in this book focus on the highest type of all, "pure, clear meditation": a state of true objectivity that enables the practitioner to use all the other types of meditation freely and consciously, without becoming fixated or obsessed. Minding Mind is based on traditional texts by renowned teachers from various Buddhist schools of China, Japan, and Korea.
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Read an Excerpt
Let the wise one watch over the mind,
so hard to perceive, so artful,
alighting where it wishes,
a watchfully protected mind
will bring happiness.
Sages use the mind deliberately,
based on its essence.
With the support of the spirit,
they finish what they begin.
Thus they sleep without dreams
and wake without troubles.
Conscious cultivation of consciousness has been practiced by human beings for thousands of years, giving rise to many traditional sciences of mental development whose origins are lost in the dimness of the early dawn twilight of human awareness.
Buddhist tradition is based on a breakthrough made by Siddhartha Gautama twenty-five hundred years ago in his attempts to rediscover the essential way to
lost ideals of ancient tradition.
The mental science of Buddhism is extremely rich and complex. It is not simply an outgrowth, reformulation, or development of ancient Indian religion. According to Buddhist lore, there are five general categories of practice by which the relations and differences among orientations and methods of meditation can be distinguished.
The first type is called the meditation of the ordinary mortal. The intention and purpose of this type of meditation is to enhance the ordinary perceptions and faculties of the individual. The desired result is greater efficacy and efficiency in the ordinary activities of life, leading to a sense of confidence and well-being.
The second type of meditation is quite different from the first, focusing on transcending the world rather than dealing with the world in conventional terms. The desired result is quiescent nirvana, a profound peace of mind characterized by extinction of psychological afflictions. Exceptional psychic capacities are also commonly associated with people who attain quiescent nirvana in this way, but because they habitually remain in the quiescence of individual nirvana they do not ordinarily exercise these capacities in a concerted manner.
The third type of meditation focuses on the cultivation of altered states of consciousness. Those who practice meditation for the sake of attaining nirvana may also use these altered states for the purpose of breaking attachments to conceptual and perceptual conventions, but they are thereby exposed to the danger of addiction to intoxicating trances. Buddhist teaching emphasizes sobriety to avoid being obsessed, or as it is said, "reborn under the sway" of unusual states, taking care to use them for specific pragmatic purposes rather than for self-indulgence.
The fourth kind of meditation is dedicated to development of extraordinary capacities in the service of other people and the world at large. Practitioners of this type of meditation may use any or all of the methods and techniques characteristic of the first three kinds of meditation, but with a different orientation, in a different manner, and in a broader context. The range and scope of meditational states and experiences in this fourth category,
furthermore, exceed those of the lower types of meditation by many orders of magnitude.
The fifth and highest type of meditation, according to this ancient classification,
is called pure clear meditation arriving at being-as-is. This is considered the most penetrating insight and the nearest that an individual consciousness can come to true objectivity. The realization of pure clear meditation also enables its master to employ all the other types of meditation method deliberately and freely, without becoming fixated or obsessed.
is a compendium of instruction manuals dealing primarily with ways of attaining to the mode of experience characteristic of the last-named type of meditation,
pure clear meditation arriving at being-as-is.
The first manual,
is attributed to Hongren (602–675), who is known as the Fifth Patriarch of
Chan Buddhism in China. There appears to be no historical trace of this text previous to the sixteenth century, and its origins are obscure. Although
Hongren, like his teacher and several of his own disciples, was an illustrious
Chan master of his time, little is really known for sure about his teaching or the activities of his school.
The language of this meditation manual would also suggest that it was in fact written in the sixteenth century, although certain passages, especially the quotations, do not reflect typical sixteenth-century Buddhist scholarship or language, and they give the impression that the text as we know it today is based on an older model. It may also be a product of a Korean branch of the ancient school. The method taught in this manual is basic and quintessential in theory and practice, setting the stage for the texts that follow.
The second manual,
Models for Sitting Meditation,
was composed by Chan Buddhist Master Cijiao of Changlu in late eleventh-century
China. Little is known of Cijiao, except that he was not only a master of the powerful Linji school of Chan Buddhism but also a patriarch of popular Pure
Land Buddhism. The combination of Chan and Pure Land Buddhism, especially in the domain of concentration technique, is commonly found in the records of early meditation schools of China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, and Vietnam.
The next manual,
Guidelines for Sitting Meditation,
was written by Foxin Bencai, a younger contemporary of Cijiao. The instructions of
Foxin and Cijiao, both quite brief, address problems of deterioration in the quality of meditation practices and prescribe simple remedies to counteract confusion and misalignment in order to foster the proper state of mind.
These two texts are followed by another short manual for general audiences,
Generally Recommended Mode of Sitting Meditation,
by the Japanese Zen Master Dogen. Dogen (1200–1253) was one of the pioneers of Zen Buddhism in Japan. Scion of a distinguished and powerful family, Dogen was originally trained as a Confucian and groomed for ministerial service in the imperial government. He also began to study Buddhism at an early age,
however, and ran away from home to become a Buddhist monk, on the eve of his debut at court.
Dogen was an intellectually brilliant individual and mastered the theories of the exoteric and esoteric branches of the old Tendai school of Japanese Buddhism in a comparatively short time. Even before his Tendai studies were over, Dogen began to look into Zen, newly imported from continental China. Eventually he came to concentrate on Zen, and even though he was locally recognized as a master at an early age, Dogen decided to cross over into China to study Chan,
the precursor of Zen, as it was then being practiced on the continent.
After five years in China, Dogen returned to Japan with a more complete understanding of Zen than he had been able to acquire earlier. He spent nearly ten more years observing the situation in Japan before beginning to teach. One of the main concerns of Dogen's teaching activity was to alert people to the shortcomings and dangers of incomplete Zen meditation and partial Zen experience. This manual, one of Dogen's first written works, reflects this concern and outlines an approach to its resolution.
The next manual presented here,
Secrets of Cultivating the Mind,
was composed by Chinul (1158–1210), founder of the Chogye order of Korean
Buddhism. Ordained as a monk at the age of eight, Chinul had no teacher. His first awakening occurred as he read a Chan Buddhist classic when he was twenty-five years old. After that, Chinul went into seclusion in the mountains.
Later on, he perused the whole Buddhist canon, then went back into solitude in a mountain fastness. During this period, Chinul experienced another awakening while reading the letters of one of the great Chinese masters.
Chinul began to instruct others, establishing a number of teaching centers. He attracted the attention of the Buddhist king of Koryo, Korea, and was honored with the title National Teacher after his passing. Based on classical teachings, Chinul's
Secrets of Cultivating the Mind
is a highly accessible primer of basic Buddhist meditation, defining and contrasting the principles and methods of sudden and gradual enlightenment.
The next manual translated here,
Absorption in the Treasury of Light,
was written by the Japanese Zen Master Ejo (1198–1282). Born into an ancient noble family, Ejo became a Buddhist monk at the age of eighteen. After studying
Tendai Buddhism, Ejo concentrated on Pure Land Buddhism, then turned to Zen.
Eventually he became an apprentice of Zen master Dogen, who soon appointed Ejo his teaching assistant and spiritual successor.
Most of Ejo's later life was devoted to perpetuating the works of his teacher Dogen,
whom he survived by thirty years. The unusual
Absorption in the Treasury of Light
Ejo's own composition. Reflecting Ejo's background in the esoteric branch of
Tendai Buddhism as well as his classical Zen studies, this work shows how to focus on the so-called Dharmakaya, or Reality Body teaching of Buddhism,
underlying a wide variety of symbolic expressions. This type of meditation,
using scriptural extracts, poetry, and Zen koans, or teaching stories, to register a specifics level of consciousness, is called
There is a great deal of Zen literature deriving from centuries of
among which Ejo's
Absorption in the Treasury of Light
represents a very unusual blend of complexity and simplicity, depth and accessibility.
The last meditation manual,
Talk on Zen,
is attributed to Man-an, an old adept of a Soto school of Zen who is believed to have lived in the early seventeenth century. The Soto schools of Zen in that time traced their spiritual lineages back to Dogen and Ejo, but their doctrines and methods were not quite the same as the ancient masters', reflecting later accretions from other schools.
Man-an's work is very accessible and extremely interesting for the range of its content.
In particular, it reflects a modern trend toward emphasis on meditation in action, which can be seen in China particularly from the eleventh century, in
Korea from the twelfth century, and in Japan from the fourteenth century.
few years ago, the central authority of the Roman Catholic Church issued a statement about meditation, warning that altered mental and physical states could be mistaken by the unwary for authentic spiritual experiences. Although this statement provoked a negative reaction from certain meditation groups, the fact is that the same warning is traditional in authentic Buddhism.
The fact that many Westerners have been left confused and even mentally and physically injured by supposed Eastern meditation methods is not because they were not good Catholics but because they failed to observe all the requirements of traditional meditation science. The psychopathology of meditative malpractice is well known and thoroughly described in Buddhist literature, but certain cults regularly plunge people into intensive meditation without sufficient background knowledge, understanding, and experience. Sometimes this is not done out of sheer ignorance but as a calculated recruitment tool,
because people become extremely vulnerable to fixation and conditioning under these circumstances.
It was for this reason that the Tibetan Gelugpa, or Virtuous school, whose head is the Dalai Lama, reformed the practice of meditation to prevent such abuses. In that school the practitioner is expected to become thoroughly familiar with the science of meditation before plunging into intense concentration. The
Chan-Taoist Master Liu I-ming similarly encouraged people to study for ten years before starting intensive meditation. The early modem Japanese Zen master
Kosen prescribed a course of study requiring about three years before he allowed students to participate in concentrated Zen work with a teacher.
Preparatory study is also useful for recognition and evaluation of teachers, an issue of serious concern to Westerners. If you go to a real teacher unprepared, you will be wasting the teacher's time and unconsciously demonstrating your own greed and laziness as well, if you go to a false teacher unprepared, you will be wasting your own time and putting yourself and your dependents in danger besides. Hence the classical Chan saying, "First awaken on your own, then see someone else." That is the purpose for which the instruction manuals presented in this book were originally composed and published.
Meet the Author
Thomas Cleary holds a PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University and a JD from the University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law. He is the translator of over fifty volumes of Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, and Islamic texts from Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Pali, and Arabic.
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