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About the Author
William Bodri is an interfaith consultant who has developed an expertise in Asian philosophy. He has degrees in Engineering, Business Strategy, and Nutrition. He is the coauthor of 25 Doors to Meditation.
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Twenty-Five Doors to Meditation
A HANDBOOK FOR ENTERING SAMADHI
By William S. Bodri, Lee Shu-Mei
SAMUEL WEISER, INCCopyright © 1998 William S. Bodri and Lee Shu-Mei
All rights reserved.
Union with Child Light to Realize Mother Light
There are two types of light in the universe called "mother light" and "child light," respectively. "Mother light" is the invisible, formless basis of light that can give rise to physical light, and physical light is the light we can see or measure because it has form or appearance. The images of the physical world we see with our eyes—including brightness, darkness, shades, and colors—are the light with form that cultivation schools term "child light." While child light is visible, the true mother light is not something we can see with our eyes, because it is fundamentally formless. Cultivation science says that our true self-nature is akin to this mother light, but its formless radiance is something we realize with the mind rather than something we perceive through the senses.
To see any form of child light requires that we use our eyes. Because our eyes possess this inherent capacity to see, we can view all sorts of colors and phenomena—such as brightness, form, movement and depth. But the thing that ultimately enables our eyes to see all these appearances is not a type of light, and the path of cultivation is the search to find that one thing that is ultimately, foundationally behind all our seeing and knowing. We call this thing the "true mind" because it is the ground state of awareness, and we call it the "fundamental nature" because it's our true essence of being, the one that stands behind all our knowing and awareness states.
Now the method we'll introduce for cultivating the seeing of light is different from the methods used in Taoism, Hinduism, yoga, or Tibetan esoteric Buddhism. These other schools all have various cultivation practices for seeing light, but they substantially differ from this one. Our method starts by utilizing our eyes in looking at natural light, and it doesn't matter what form of natural light we employ. We can use the sunlight, the light of the moon or stars, or even the artificial light from light bulbs. Unlike other cultivation practices that rely on specific forms of light, in this method we can use any source of light that comes our way.
This cultivation technique starts by having you look straight ahead in front, with your eyes facing the light and without moving your eyeballs. To be able to do this requires some kung-fu, because you have to allow your eyes to point straight ahead without tiring, and they must remain relaxed without movement. At this moment, whether the eyes are open or closed, an image of light will always appear to the eyes. For instance, in the daytime we say the light is bright, but when you close your eyes the degree of brightness is indeed decreased but you aren't seeing absolute blackness; you're just seeing dimmer light. This is true even in the night time, for there's never a perfect absence of light. It's always just a situation of dimmer light.
With your motionless eyes now facing the light, relax your body and mind and just stay in that state. Let your body and self merge with the light, no matter what type of light you're seeing, and gradually forget your body. In time, the light you see will extend to fill the universe and it will seem as if there is no such thing as space or time. No matter how the light changes, there should be no other realization than "I am the light" and "the light is me." Practicing in this way, emptiness, light, and you will merge into one. This is the basis behind the New Testament saying "God is Light," but Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism also recognize this stage of spiritual recognition.
This, however, is still a child-light scenario belonging to the realm of form since it still emphasizes the light that eyes can see, and you are still depending on the mind of discrimination in this practice. When you can realize "I am light," you're still at the stage of conception and ideational consciousness wherein you know and comprehend things at an intellectual level. But the thing that enables us to comprehend light and its fundamental energy is not a light with form, nor does it belong within the domain of consciousness. That's the thing we want to recognize.
When you reach the stage of ultimate, fundamental no-form, you already forget about the knower, the knowing, and the object to be known. You forget about what you see, the process of seeing, and what fundamentally enables you to see. This is a state of true no-form. This is when the mother light and child light conjoin—the light of formlessness and form come together so that there is no discrimination whatsoever, which is the samadhi of true wisdom. In this practice, you merge your prajna knowing developed through the path with the primordial wisdom which has always been there, and the child light merges with the mother light. This is how one should practice if they wish to cultivate the child light as a path to Tao.
Zen, the Method of No-Method
Zen is considered the highest of all possible cultivation schools in existence because it doesn't rely on any method at all—it just directly points to the true nature of the mind. In terms of the pathway to Tao, it is neither an adding nor subtracting method of cultivation; Zen doesn't rely on any artificial techniques. In Zen you don't add anything to the mind in order to attain samadhi, nor do you try to subtract anything from the mind. In other words, with Zen practice you neither accept nor reject your thoughts in trying to attain samadhi, but you simply let them come and go without clinging. Since there's no effort involved at all, except for the effortless fundamental watching or knowing that is always there, Zen is therefore called the method of no-method.
In Zen, as in Tibetan Mahamudra, you simply ride the function of awareness and turn it inward, reflecting it back to its source, to perceive the fundamental essence of this knowing. Some refer to this process as "resting," since it means "dropping the busy mind" or "letting everything go," while the function of knowing continues to stay. Thus in Zen, the mind is perfectly open and aware, yet mental busyness naturally comes to a rest. Some people mistakenly consider this a particular form of cultivation technique, but since awareness is a perfectly natural process that's always there, where is there any special method or any artificial contrivance? Whether we know something or don't know something, our true mind knows that we know or don't know, so awareness always shines. In cultivation, it's the root source of this awareness we must find.
Our minds are forever visited by chaotic and confusing thoughts, so in Zen we treat these thoughts like hotel guests that come and go without prolonging their stay. If you give them no service but simply watch them without adding any energy to the situation, in time all the guests will depart and you will arrive at samadhi. The Zen master Chia-shan said, "The dragon carries the ocean pearl in its mouth, paying no attention to the fish swimming by [the mental realms which arise]." Hence if you continue to shine effortless awareness on your mind's activities and the experiential realms that may arise, without becoming involved in these multitudinous phenomena, you will naturally scale the various ranks of samadhi and attain self-realization.
In Zen practice, you never hold onto any mental realm or phenomenon that arises because of your cultivation, nor do you ever identify any stage of progress as being the ultimate attainment. If you fixate on any state as being "it," you're already out of Zen. Once you think that any stage of progress is real, you've already produced an illusion that masks the true nature. For instance, even thinking about emptiness creates a thought of emptiness, and the thought is actually an impurity that will mask any stage of emptiness you may have already achieved. So the method of practicing Zen is that of simply shining awareness on all the mental realms that arise, and in time they will naturally depart without staying, like clouds dispersing in the open sky. Then you'll be left with true emptiness, and the awareness of knowing that state. But since that emptiness is also an object of your knowing, it's not the true self. Hence you have to turn around and see what gives rise to this knowing. Progressing with this exercise of wisdom, you will eventually arrive at fundamental mind, which is the fundamental nature.
Every thought and every type of mental realm, including the various samadhi, have to depart because nothing stays—death will certainly come to thoughts as it does to all other phenomena. Only one thing remains unmoved during all these transformations—the true self, which is the ultimate source of awareness. You can go east or go west, but that one thing has never moved, has never left, and has never gone anywhere; it's just that the experiential realm within it has transformed. Thus it is that Zen Master Pao Chih said:
If you only learn to cultivate unmindfulness at all times while you're walking, standing, sitting, and reclining, then you may fail over time to leap over to true Reality only because your strength is insufficient. But if you continue practicing in this way for another three, five, or ten years, you will surely awaken to Tao in the end. It is because you cannot practice in this manner that you set your mind on the academic study of Zen and Tao, but this is irrelevant.
Thus we say that "the mind can give birth [engender thoughts] without abiding anywhere." There's nothing wrong with thoughts themselves, it's just that you shouldn't cling to them. In fact, the mind should not dwell in any experiential realm. Furthermore, we must note that on this road of practice it's very easy for your breath to combine naturally with your thoughts so as to transform the physical body and bring about all sorts of kung-fu. Thus Zen has all the esoteric changes and stages of attainment described by the world's other cultivation schools, but makes no fuss about any of these matters. It ignores such phenomena because they're transient manifestations, just like any other, which are always in a process of transformation, and thus Zen discards any preoccupation with these states and proceeds directly to the true nature.
In the other schools, however, people end up getting attached to prana, chi channels, chakras, astral bodies, and all sorts of other experiential realms with the result that hardly anyone makes it to enlightenment. Making no fuss and paying no attention to these things, most Zen practitioners tread the straight path to Tao, whereas other practitioners get lost along the way.
The Fourth Zen Patriarch said to Fa-yung:
The hundreds and thousands of gates to Tao are all ultimately in the mind; the subtle virtues as numerous as river sands all lay in the source of mind. All aspects of discipline, samadhi, prajna, and the manifestations of various spiritual powers are all inherently there; they're nowhere else but in your own true mind. All your mental afflictions and obstructions caused by habit energies are originally empty and void. All the causes and effects of mundane existence are like dreams and hallucinations ... So in true cultivation you just let your mind be free. You do not perform contemplative practices, and you do not promote efforts to make your mind clear. Don't arouse the emotions of greed or anger, and don't fall into sorrow or worry. Flowing unhindered and unobstructed, be free in all ways, however you might be. When there is no doing good and no doing evil, then in all your activities and circumstances, everything that meets your eyes will be the inconceivable function of Buddhahood. It is blissful and sorrowless, so we call it Buddhahood.
Kuan-Yin's Method of Listening to Sound
The most famous cultivation technique in the Shurangama Sutra is the method reported by the Bodhisattva Kuan-Yin, who used hearing to realize the self-nature. Using hearing, he was able to enter samadhi and ultimately attain complete enlightenment. Manjushri, who is the Buddha of Wisdom and teacher of the other Buddhas, said that this technique surpassed all the other dharma doors in existence. Describing this technique in full would require a level of sophistication beyond this text, but the basics of this practice can certainly be introduced.
A cultivation saying runs, "Whoever hears the sound of water without using the sixth consciousness for thirty years will achieve Kuan-Yin's all-pervading wisdom." So in this practice, you let sounds come to your ears without trying to distinguish them. Remaining natural, relaxed, and detached, you spontaneously know what the sounds are without trying to recognize them or deliberate their meaning. Eventually you will find you can hear quiet as well as sounds, and will discover that they are both the same thing—sounds and silence are both objects of hearing, they're both phenomena. Sounds, and the state where they're absent, will still exist but will start to seem more and more separate from yourself. Since now they have less to do with you, they won't bother you so much anymore and you can detach from them both to enter into samadhi.
A famous individual who used this technique was the Chinese Zen monk Hanshan, who practiced Kuan-Yin's method of hearing on a bridge next to a noisy torrent of water. Han-shan reported that at first the noise of the water was quite audible, but in time it could only be heard when his thoughts arose, and not when they ceased. Then one day, his practice improved such that he did not hear the sound of the water any longer; sounds and noises vanished completely.
When describing this method in the Shurangama Sutra, Kuan-Yin said:
I entered into the stream of the self-nature of the sense of hearing, thereby eliminating the sound of what was heard. Now proceeding from this stillness, both sound and silence ceased to arise. Advancing in this way, both hearing and what was heard melted away and vanished. When hearing and what is heard are both forgotten, then the sense of hearing leaves no impression in the mind. When sense and the objects of sense both become empty, then emptiness and sense merge and reach a state of absolute perfection. When emptiness and what is being emptied are both extinguished, then arising and extinction are naturally extinguished. At this point the absolute emptiness of nirvana became manifest, and suddenly I transcended the mundane and supramundane worlds.
In this method, you listen to and gradually detach from both sound and silence. When there's no sound, we call this silence, and we conventionally say there is no hearing. But that doesn't mean that the nature of hearing has ceased. It's simply that the function of hearing now recognizes a state of no sound, or silence. Since the nature of hearing can ascertain the state of sound and no sound, it's easy to use this method to realize the nature of duality and then to detach from both existence and non-existence. That's the method of practice.
Both quiet (stillness or silence) and un-quiet (sound or disturbance) are phenomena, so tying oneself to either extreme is wrong. That's why the state of samadhi (mental quiet) isn't Tao either, even though you need to practice samadhi in order to awaken self-realization. For instance, if you don't detach from the phenomenon of silence, you'll never find out what's hearing silence. Thus the quiet one recognizes in samadhi is not Tao, and the task you must perform is to return the hearing to hear the self-nature.
To progress past the quiet calm of samadhi through continued cultivation efforts, you must also practice prajna-wisdom. All the various methods of cultivation first get you to the point where the mind is calmed and still, but this doesn't qualify as perfect penetration to the vast source of the mind. It's just a phenomenal realm of quiet, another false creation of the mind. To attain Tao you must shine awareness on this state, without engaging in some form of mentation, so as to go further and achieve some genuine realization. That's the practice of prajna-wisdom.
As Kuan-Yin said, you must cultivate to the extent that your awareness of samadhi and the state of samadhi both become extinct. Then it is real samadhi. Proceeding in this manner, you will eventually reach enlightenment. What is Kuan-Yin's method? It's withdrawing your energy from a focus on the outside, turning the function of hearing around to return it to its source. Hearing returns to listen to its self-nature, and through this method you can penetrate through all the various obstructions to achieve ultimate enlightenment.
Excerpted from Twenty-Five Doors to Meditation by William S. Bodri, Lee Shu-Mei. Copyright © 1998 William S. Bodri and Lee Shu-Mei. Excerpted by permission of SAMUEL WEISER, INC.
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Table of Contents
1. Union with Child Light to Realize Mother Light
2. Zen, the Method of No-Method
3. Kuan-Yin's Method of Listening to Sound
4. Watching Thoughts: Cessation and Observation Practice
5. Dazzling White Skeleton Contemplation
6. Watching the Breath
7. The Zhunti Mantra
8. The Vairocana Mantra
9. The Amitofo Mantra
10. Nine-Step Bottled Wind Practice
11. Kundalini Yoga for Opening the Sushumna Central Channel
12. Bardo Practices
13. Focusing the Vision on an Object
14. Athletic "Peak Performance" and Chi Cultivation
15. Ingesting Wai-Dan (Siddhi Medicine, or External Alchemy)
16. Sexual Cultivation
17. One-Pointed Visualizations
18. Bhakti Yoga
20. Dream Yoga
21. Mindfulness of Peace and Mindfulness of Death
22. Meditating on the Water, Fire, Earth, Wind, and Space Elements
23. Mindfully Cultivating Virtuous Behavior
24. Concentrating on a Hua-tou, or Meditation Saying
25. Jnana Yoga, or Abhidharma Analysis
1. The Nine Basic Samadhi Inherent in All the World's Religious Schools
2. Shakyamuni's Ten Great Roads of Cultivation Practice
3. Further Recommended Reading
4. Postscript and References for the Twenty-Five Doors to Meditation