Buddhist Meditation
Systematic and Practical

Chapter XVI

A Talk by the Buddhist Yogi

Written Down by

First Published in 1967


Chapter XVI




As the listener and transcriber approached the yogi's hermitage, they were absorbed in discussing being both a bhiksu and a bodhisattva. Bhante noted that many Mahayana texts clearly state that unless one is first a bhiksu, it is almost impossible to find the correct time and environment to practice bodhisattva life. The transcriber pointed out that to many in the West these ideals seemed opposed to one another. Bhante replied that the fault lies here with the Theravada who makes so little of the bodhisattva ideal while stressing the bhiksu life directed at the arhat attainment. The transcriber added that part of the blame must lie with Western pseudo-Zen, which often fails to take into account the backbone of strict monastic life in Chan (Zen).


Reflecting on this attitude of trying to get "something for nothing," we came to Mr. Chen's hermitage. When we had entered and were seated, the transcriber noticed various foods arranged on a bench. He said, "Mr. Chen is going to have a fire-sacrifice." "Yes," said the yogi, "tomorrow is Christmas Day, when I make a special sacrifice each year." Bhante remarked, "In England , such foods go into the belly, not into the fire!"


Mr. Chen said, "I have prepared a long chapter on 'Troubles and False Realizations,' so we should start quickly!"


A. Brief Introduction


To begin with, I did not intend to discuss these matters, as I thought that few of our readers have practiced meditation extensively. I have laid more stress on the systematic aspect of our book in order to lay down a firm basis of right view. Therefore, there is less emphasis on the practical aspect in this book. However, you have asked me about the four foundations of Tantric practice, and this shows me that you at any rate both like to practice, as well as being scholar-bhiksus, so I am very much encouraged to give this chapter in detail. If there are even a few readers who like to practice, then indeed we should make this chapter very complete and thorough. Therefore, I have gathered here all possible troubles and false realizations in the three yanas. Some of the details are from my own experiences and others are the precious instructions of gurus and not given to common persons. Still, some readers may understand them, so it will be of profit to include them here. My guru said, "We should not talk to neophytes on matters of deep realization. One should only discuss some realizations, hiding away others until one has truly realized them." As guidance for the readers, we here explain troubles and false realizations, arranged according to our whole system of practice, from Hinayana to Mahayana and then on to Vajrayana.


B. Troubles and Treatments


In this first major section, we have a number of topics, of which the first one is:


1. Temptations


These are related to our five samapattis and the five poisons:


a. Impurity. When we practice the Hinayana precepts, many temptations will come. When one is practicing the samapatti on impurity, one may experience many such temptations. Even when I was an ordinary layman, I tried to renounce intercourse with my wife. I was, however, troubled in dreams by naked women who even came to kiss me. Such women I treated as enemies and implored Guan Yin to save me from them, though I think now that they were not real demons but Guan Yin appearing in different forms to test me. While I practiced these Hinayana meditations, at the same time I practiced according to the Amitabha School and repeated that Buddha's holy name. When such "demons" occurred, I had only, therefore, to call upon Guan Yin and she always came to help me.


Success in the impurity meditations is indicated by whether one can maintain the idea of impurity even in dreams.


b. Anger. Practice of the merciful mind relieves the sorrow of anger. When I was still at home, meditating there as a hermit, I was sometimes tempted to be angry with my mother (though she was my protector), when she did not bring things to me at the right timemy food, for instance. Thus I have experience of this sorrow. When anger comes, it must be suppressed, but if one only does this, it is easy to get disease of the lungs, why? Because the inner energy of anger has a natural tendency to rise up, whereas in suppression one keeps it down. Therefore, at the time when one feels anger arising, breathe out more than in.


Mr. Chen demonstrated this method in which he blew out air from his mouth with a gentle hissing sound.


It is quicker to get rid of the excess energy in this way rather than by exhaling through the nose. If the anger is really intense, then some of the relaxation exercises will help restore the balance of energies in the body. There is a new art of relaxation these days, and some of the exercises are good and should certainly be used.


c. Elements. Meditation on discrimination of the elements rids one of pride. When one practices as a hermit, pride easily increases. One may treat others as ignorant, worldly fools, while in one's own mind it seems that one is just like the Buddha, thinking, "I am a holy man, I am a hermit." Such thoughts are common temptations for one who gives all his time to meditation. Even those who are not hermits but do a little meditation each day may look down on others who do none. As one's mind contains pride, so dreams may occur where men praise you and say that you are bound for Full Enlightenment. They may also say that in past lives you were a bodhisattva.


Bhante interjected here that there was quite a lot concerning this matter in the Astasahasrika (Prajnaparamita Sutra). Mr. Chen continued:


Such dreams are just some demon who wants to harm you, or else a bodhisattva is tempting you to prove your worth. One must always keep one's mind humble, and see clearly that in any case there is no self to be found among the elements. Worship much; that is a good treatment for this temptation. A meditator should think, "Maybe it is my pride causing such dreams," and he or she should worship the elder monks (or all the monks if he is a layman), make reverent prostrations to the Buddha, and be humble even to attendants and those who are junior to one. This is the Hinayana treatment, but one may also consider this matter from the Mahayana view: "Every person is included in the Buddha-nature. May all those beings gain Full Enlightenment sooner than myself!"


"Just as," Bhante said, "the Bodhisattva Never-Despise looked upon everyone in the Lotus (Saddharma Pundarika) Sutra."


d. Ignorance. For the sorrow of ignorance, practice the meditation on causation (conditioned co-production or pratitya-samutpada). During one's practice of this, one's sensitivity increases, and the mind tends to hold on tightly to good deeds and to be very distressed or angry about unskillful ones. Suppose one wants to burn incense but the servant does not bring it in time—this might easily upset one. Also, after the commission of evil, one experiences great pain. Whether good or bad deeds, the mind is not quiet. In such a case, treat everything as void; do not love it too much nor arouse much hatred. Do not enjoy good dreams too much, nor hate bad dreams.


e. Breath. Breathing meditations cure doubts and distractions. Not only is the mind hard to control, but the breath is very difficult as well. It is a very common condition for a man not to be aware of his breathing and just to carry on with his usual activities without a thought given to the breath. After one has tried to control it, one will agree that it is difficult work. Sometimes the breath is too quick, so at this time count the breaths slowly. At other times, it is very short; to correct this, inhalations should be made longer than exhalations. When one counts the number of breaths, count slowly, only counting the inhalations.


Slightly digressing, the yogi instructed:


When the inhalations are made a little longer than the out-breaths, this is good for long life. Regular, slow counting of the breaths is necessary and if a mistake is made, one should start counting that series again.


The yogi added:


As regards lying down, always lie on one's right side (the position adopted by the Buddha), as this also is helpful in obtaining long life. Only lie on the left side when too much food has been taken, in order to aid digestion.


These are some examples, but for every reader there must be some special treatment for their particular poisons. It is best to take the advice of one's guru on this matter, as he will know all one's temptations and their correct treatment.


We see from the above that temptations not only come from sicknesses and demons, but also can be products of our own mental states.


2. Bad Conditions


Four renunciations are very helpful for meditation and should be kept in mind. These are given by the guru Gampopa and overcome four bad conditions, as follows:


a. Renounce one's native place to get rid of the evil condition of cause.


"You have both become bhiksus and now live far from your homeland; it is good," commented the yogi.


b. Renounce the occasions of all the five sorrows. For example, if one does not go to the market, or to the houses of prostitutes or to gambling dens, then one limits the sorrows' arising, thus cutting off the evil conditions that accompany them.


c. Renounce evil friends and so rid oneself of the evils of condition.


d. Renounce the inner four desires: for unhealthy emotions, beauty, food, and sexual intercourse; thereby the evil condition of continuity is cut off.


These conditions and their riddance are very important.


3. Distress Caused by Demons


a. Types of Demons. Firstly, one should know what sorts of demons there are. In the sutras, a group of four demons are mentioned and another group of ten.


i. The common group of four: the demons of the sorrows, of the five aggregates, of death, and of Devaputra Mara.


ii. The group of ten is composed of the demons of: the five aggregates, the five sorrows, karma, mind, death, devas, good deeds, samadhi, good scholarship, and the volitions of Buddhadharma wisdom.


Whereas the first nine are found in the Hinayana, the tenth, called the "king of demons," is only seen in the Mahayana and Vajrayana.


They are taken from the commentary on the Avatamsaka Sutra.


The transcriber noted, "Ah! They have made the list up to ten again!" Mr. Chen laughed.


A second category is known as the army of host of demons. Again ten, these are: the "military" demons of desire, grief, hunger and thirst, inordinate craving for passionate love, sleep, terror, doubt and remorse, great anger, gaining money and striving for an undeserved good reputation, and pride. From their names, these soldier-demons are easy to recognize and one should be able to distinguish all such kinds of demons very well indeed.


b. Places Favorable to Demons.


"I am just among demons," exclaimed Mr. Chen, laughing, "as you will see, and you dare to come here!"


"Never mind," said the transcriber, "you have the four great kings outside your door!" Mr. Chen gave the list:


The following places favorable to demons are: where a building is too large, too new, too dilapidated, too near to a road, near a lake, near many trees, surrounded by flowers, with many fruit trees…


As the last two applied to our Vihara, Bhante said, "Now I know who takes our oranges—I thought it was small boys!" We all laughed while the yogi went on:


Also, near famous places, near the presence of incompatible persons, near the place of entry into another country, near to provincial boundaries, near the frontiers of states, and, finally, any place where one lacks good friends.


"There does not seem to be anywhere free from demons," said the listener. "But if you leave them all," Mr. Chen assured us, "it will indeed be hard for demons to trouble you."


c. Time. There is no time when they are not present: every time has its own special demons. In China , where time is measured by two-hourly watches, each named after an animal, during each watch a demon may come in the form of the appropriate animal to plague the meditator. Thus from eleven o'clock to one o'clock at night is the watch of the rat. Should a demon come in this guise at that time, just call out to him: "Oh, yes, you are the rat-demon!" By calling out his name in this way, if it is the demon, he will go. All the watches are named thus:


11 P.M.— 1 A .M.


1— 3 A .M.


3— 5 A .M.


5— 7 A .M.


7— 9 A .M.


9— 11 A .M.


11 A .M.—1 P.M.


1—3 P.M.


3—5 P.M.


5—7 P.M.


7—9 P.M.


9—11 P.M.


d. Other Demons. If at the beginning of one's meditation, one feels the mind unquiet, then this disturbance may be due to the demon of non-Buddhists. If the meditation is disturbed from the beginning to the end, it is an illness, not a demon. And if disturbance is felt only at the beginning and at the end then this is a demon in the channels. If one practices the Vajrayana, deep breathing should be used to cure this.


e. Offerings. Demons may occupy offerings of water, flowers, lamps, etc. For this reason, there are in the Vajrayana some special mantras for such cases. However, the common mantra of purification may be used: OM AH HUM, at which all demons flee.


f. Treatment. The treatments given for all the above sorts of demons differ in the three yanas. In Hinayana, the common method is to take the three refuges, which all demons fear. One should note that in the exoteric yanas there are only three, but in the esoteric Vajrayana tradition, there is a fourth refuge—the guru. In this yana, guru-yoga is the name of visualization practices where one's teacher is visualized sitting on the top of one's head, where the guru is identified with the Buddha. This practice demons fear very much, also. Here I have a story:


My friend, Mr. Huang, received instruction in torga (Thodgal) (see Ch. XIV) but lacked the necessary preparations. Without these, he went directly to a hermitage to practice. When he started, a dragon appeared—it was in his bowl when he ate food and was in front of him when he sat down to meditate. Because of this, he could not practice at all and so telegraphed our guru, Nuo Na Rinpoche. The guru replied, "You should think of me seated on the crown of your head." When Mr. Huang received the telegram and read it, he began immediately to practice in this way. There was a noise like a clap of thunder and the dragon disappeared, and never to bother him again. This would not have happened if preparations had been made properly and if he had known well the guru-yoga.


In Hinayana, besides the refuges, one should think of impermanence! "Though the demon troubles me now, he is impermanent and cannot always do so." Also, keep one's mind humble and filled with the spirit of renunciation. Reflect that one should escape from here into the voidness of non-self. Who, therefore, is afraid? What can cause trouble, as both the demon and the meditator are marked with non-self?


Mahayana treatment has two aspects: to meditate reviewing the voidness of abiding entity in both persons and dharmas. The demon himself is void, and the unwholesome dharmas he causes to arise in the mind are also sunyata. One may go further and use the three wheels of sunyata (see Ch. X, Part One, D, 3, b) thus realizing that meditator, demon, and dharmas are all sunyata: then all demons are vanquished.


Secondly, there is the meditation on the great compassion (see Ch. X, Part One, D, 3, a). One may think, "The demon wants my life—I will give it to him; he wants my limbs—let him have them." Say to him: "Ask for whatever you want and I shall give it to you." Even demons, being sentient beings, may be impressed by one's great compassion and then go away. Once when I was practicing in my hermitage, a friend of mine asked me how my practice was progressing. I told him, "I practice to gain supernormal powers so that I may save others." He told my guru this, who said, "He should not desire such powers, or demons may come." When I was told this, I replied, "In my (realization of) voidness no demons appear, and in my practice of the bodhicitta and great compassion, I do not fear them. I want only to help and to save them." My friend always remembered this answer and told others of it.


This is the general treatment of demons according to the Mahayana; that is, not treating them as enemies, as one does in the Hinayana. In the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra, it is said: "The kings of demons who appear in this world are not really such but are great bodhisattvas who help you in reverse." I have written a hymn of praise to all demons on how they render help to the meditator.


We cannot translate it here as it is very long. Mr. Chen picked up the Chinese book and showed us many pages of characters.


The general idea is this: the demon of death helps one to practice impermanence meditations, and through their practice one gains the benefit of diligence. With the demon of disease, if one knows how he appears, one will practice very carefully. The devaputra-demon causes pride, so one learns from him the necessity of being humble. In the same way, Mahesvara (Siva, who is usually an opponent of Buddhadharma) is regarded in the Mahayana as an emanation of Guan Yin, who has come to help (see the Lankavatara Sutra).


In the Vajrayana, there are many good methods of dealing with demons; one could in fact call such ways "demonic methods"—using the demon to get rid of him. First, however, it is necessary to know the different kinds of demons so that one may treat them suitably. Demons in the Vajrayana sometimes appear as a Buddha, so one must know how to distinguish them:


i. Know what kind of demon one is dealing with.


ii. If the demon occurs in the form of the yidam (and one suspects that it is not the latter), then try altering the size of the appearance, making it as huge as the sky, and then contracting it to tiny proportions, etc. If that figure can be changed in these ways, then it is a demon, for Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and devas always appear in a certain fixed size.


At one time, a Pure Land follower sat down every day as the sun set, facing it and continuously intoning the name of Amitabha. One evening, the sun disappeared behind a mountain, at the foot of which was a very large tree. To the great joy of that devoted man, Amitabha appeared to him, sixteen feet high and resplendent with all the marks of the Buddha. After that, he saw this Buddha every evening and as a result he was blissfully happy. One day he came to a Chan guru to whom he related his "realization." Said the guru, "You only see a demon!" Very upset, the poor man asked, "How can this be? He is exactly the same shape and size as the descriptions of Amitabha relate. There is no demon!" Having pity on him, the guru gave him his bamboo "chin-rest" and told him, "When you see 'Amitabha' throw this at him." He did as the guru instructed and the vision disappeared. He wanted to return the bamboo implement to the master, so he went to pick it up. Lying there was a large serpent, quite dead. The guru told him, "The demon in that large tree just wanted to make you happy. Now he is dead, but has taken birth in the Pure Land —just bury that serpent-body." This is an example of a demon impersonating a Buddha.


iii. If, when the practitioner repeats the mantra of the yidam, the vision disappears—then it is a demon. If it remains, then it is of course the yidam.


iv. Demons may be recognized by their lack of knowledge of the four initiations of Anuttarayoga. Question the form which has appeared on the meaning of these initiations. If it cannot explain, it is a demon; if the vision gives a correct answer, then it is a Buddha. This is especially true of the fourth initiation—which concerns voidness in the Mahamudra and therefore Enlightenment itself. If one really understands this and can give some explanation, then there would be no possibility of being troubled by a demon.


v. Repeat the four bijas and the mantras surrounding them which are given one in each initiation. Ask the appeared vision about these initiations. If it makes a correct reply then it is not a demon.



Bija (seed-mantra)















vi. Test the form by showing it the mudras of the four initiations:


First: The hand open and five fingers pointing downwards.

Second: First, clenched tightly thumb tucked inside, the fingers uppermost.

Third: Three middle fingers pointing up, the thumb held over the little finger in the palm.

Fourth: Index finger pointing at the sky, clenched fingers, thumb outside.


If a form cannot answer on the mudras' meaning, it is a demon.


vii. Then there is the method of demon-detection given by Mr. Chen's guru:


When a guru gives one a great wang (initiation), at that time a special vajra-name is given to the disciple. This should not be written down or told to anyone, not even to one's wife, husband, parents, or to fellow yogins or yoginis. When one has some doubt as to the identity of any form, ask it, "What is my secret name?" If it can tell you, it is the yidam; if not, it is a demon.


We see that in the Vajrayana there is a sort of intermediate treatment of demons. The Hinayana idea is to push the demons far away and make them appear wicked, while the Mahayana makes them seem to be friendly, thus bringing them very close to the meditator. Neither of these methods regard the demon as he really is. Therefore, in the Vajrayana, one knows quite exactly the status of demons.


g. Mahesvara. It is said that all the demons are controlled by Mahesvara, who has his abode in the sixth and highest heaven of desire (Paranirmita-vasavartin). At the time of the Buddha's Mahaparinirvana (Great Passing-Away from This World) at Kusinagar, many gods came with offerings for the Lord. Mahesvara also came to give his gifts, but the Buddha would not take them, saying, "You give my disciples much trouble, so I shall not accept your gifts unless you give me your mantra as well so that my disciples may use it."


Once my friend, Mr. Chang, was meditating in Kalimpong and built a shrine-room higher than the temple of Siva nearby. Evidently neither the god nor the priests of that temple liked this. Every morning my friend used to recite the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, but one day when he did so, a large black phallus appeared before him. Greatly disturbed by this manifestation, he came immediately to see me. I realized what the trouble was and told him, "You should repeat this mantra of Mahesvara, and then all will be well."


The next morning when the phallus appeared, he repeated the mantra only once and it disappeared, never disturbing him again.


Hinduism has followed Buddhism to the West, so Mahesvara may cause some trouble for Buddhists there also. For this reason, this mantra, until now kept very secret, is given here so that it may be of use to the readers:




Sometimes, as we have said, one may obtain "reverse help" from this king of demons, but his usual tactics are to make many doubts arise, from quite worldly ones such as a casual relationship, to spiritual ones regarding the Dharma of the Buddha. This demon-king does not want people to have any faith in Buddhadharma, so he tries to destroy it. We see, however, that in the Vajrayana we are able to treat him and all his hosts in the manner they warrant.


4. Ghosts


The difference between these and demons is that the latter cause mental and physical trouble, while the former can only cause bodily sufferings. Examples of their bad activities are: ghosts causing blood to come from the mouth; others in water causing skin diseases; some powerful spirits coming at night, appearing as a patch of white light, and causing many quarrels; and other female ghosts causing seminal discharges.


In Hinayana, the treatment is to take refuge and make offerings to the ghosts. The Mahayana treatment is to see them all as void or to treat them just like one's parents.


Once when Milarepa had momentarily left his cave, he returned to see five spirits seated inside. In spite of the fact that his cave was not in any one of the inauspicious places, still they had come. Milarepa, thinking that they might be powerful ghosts, did not dare to enter. Then he thought, "Perhaps they are spirits of the earth," so he composed a song for them. Even after hearing this, they did not go. Then he used a Vajrayana mantra to make them fear him, but still they did not go. Then he thought of the void in Mahamudra—that all beings are within the Enlightened Entity. "You spirits, you are my friends, my lovers, you will sleep with me tonight." Holding to the Great Pride of Mahamudra to accompany these reflections, he rushed into the cave—and nothing was there!


Some spirits take advantage of the sounds and shapes of rats and mice and then fall down upon you. If that happens, a meditator will feel very heavy, so heavy that he or she can scarcely move. I have had an experience of this "mad rat" falling down upon me. When this occurred, I exclaimed, "Eh! Why?" Then I repeated a mantra, but this had no effect. Then I meditated on Mahamudra and this manifestation vanished.


Of course, it is not possible to meditate in this way at first, so if one is always troubled by such ghosts then procure good instructions from one's guru. Another method is to imagine that the spirit comes into one's right thumb and then, using a Vajrayana mantra, tuck the thumb into the fist and hold fast. I have done this with a particularly troublesome spirit which I then saw in meditation as very small and thin. Not wishing to harm it, I opened my hand and let it go away. It is useful to repeat the appropriate mantra before sleep, and go to sleep with the right hand held in this mudra. Then if some spirit is causing trouble, he will find himself in bondage; not liking that he will take the first opportunity to depart.


5. Disease


Two sorts of physical diseases may be distinguished.


a. Imbalance of the Four Elements. It is said that there are 101 diseases connected with each element, so altogether 404 physical diseases may arise in this way. Thus one should be careful to take wholesome food, pure water, breathe clean air, etc., just as modern science and medicine recommend.


Do not think that you can cure yourself by your meditation. The Buddha himself told his disciples to use the correct medicines for their illnesses, so one should not hesitate to apply modern methods if they will result in a cure. Some meditators in China had too much faith in the power of mantras or conceit about their own attainment in meditation, and so refused to take tablets or to have injections. Such an attitude is indeed foolish unless one's accomplishment in meditation is very great.


It is sensible to use mantras, too, and practice one's meditation, taking prescribed medicines as well. Besides Gautama Buddha's good advice to his disciples on this subject, we should also remember the Buddha of Medicine who can certainly help us (the Tathagata Bhaisajyaguru).


b. The second kind of disease is that of the specific organs, in China classified into five types. This subject is not essential to our present inquiry, so we will not discuss it.


c. Diseases Caused by Past Karma. National Teacher Wu Da, who was extremely learned and sometimes practiced meditation, was, because of his great accomplishments, offered a golden throne by the emperor. Seated upon this, he became a little proud. Consequently, a spirit took advantage of his weakness and entered his body, causing a face-shaped carbuncle on his right knee. The spirit told him, "For seven lives you have practiced Chan very nicely and all that time I have waited for my chance." In excruciating pain, the teacher consulted many doctors, but to no avail. Then he prayed earnestly to Guan Yin, who appeared to him and told him to treat the disorder with a special river water. She explained to the teacher that in a past life he had killed what was now a spirit, who had waited to take revenge. From this treatment the teacher was cured, and after that he compiled a work in two large volumes known as the "Confession with Water," in which he gathered from the full extent of Buddhist literature all the misdeeds and their cures, with detailed instructions on how to make confession in these different cases.


The karma causing diseases which are not caused by a derangement of the four elements should be confessed, and some spiritual remedy sought in addition to medical treatments. Such diseases are difficult to cure by a doctor's advice and very frequently they present rare symptoms. One of my friends had a small hole at the bottom of his spine from which white matter oozed. No doctor seemed able to cure him, although he consulted many. At last he came to believe in Buddhism, and decided to repeat the Diamond Sutra many times. This he did and was cured.


Another friend's father had been ill for many years and was now reduced to only skin and bone. Although he wished to, he could not die. Every night his two sons had to sleep on either side of him to hold the weight of the quilt off his pain-wrecked body. My friend asked me what to do, so I told him to invite a good bhiksu to his house and ask him to repeat the Diamond Sutra for seven days. He did this and it happened that on the third day the old man was released from his agonies.


d. Some diseases may be caused by ghosts. One should make puja to the Buddhas and to one's protectors, as well as making offerings to these ghosts. Practices like generous almsgiving and being careful not to give harm (keeping the precepts) are also helpful.


e. Madness. Four kinds are of interest to us.


i. Of love, or infatuation with a member of the opposite sex. For this, practice the meditations on impurity until the madness breaks up.


ii. Caused by improper medicine. If by taking other medicines the madness may be cured, so well and good, but one should be very careful about what drugs one takes in the first place.


iii. As a result of the mantras of non-Buddhists. On account of this danger one should not make unnecessary contact with them, nor argue with them, nor, of course, do them any harm. This sort of malady should be cured by asking one's guru for his advice.


iv. As the fruit of karma. For instance, a person dies after having been bitten by a mad dog. But why did that particular person meet that particular mad dog? This may be a karmic result. Similarly, why are some people born as idiots, or others degenerate into mental imbalance? The Buddhist realizes that in such cases it may be a heavy karma fruiting in a terrible way.


6. Particular Obstacles in Meditation


a. The Obstacle of Mercy. Usually this quality is a virtue, but it may become an obstacle, as the story of Savaripa shows. This guru, one of the Eighty-four Accomplished Ones of Tantric practice, had two sisters and both were his partners in yoga. One of them was in the habit of taking small parasites from her guru's body and eating them. Now Savaripa had a disciple, Maitripa, who had the obstacle of mercy: to begin with, he thought, "He has taken his two sisters to wife and that is bad enough. But now one of them destroys these poor small creatures by eating them alive." However, Maitripa had an attendant wiser than he and that attendant saw that these small animals all achieved Full Enlightenment by dying in this way. He even lamented that he was a man, with no chance of getting Enlightenment so quickly. Savaripa knew of this attendant's wisdom and with a snap of the fingers enabled him to fly through the air and then attain heavenly birth. At the same time, the guru and his two consorts disappeared, leaving Maitripa to bewail his loss. For many years he was not able to meet them again.


From this story we should also understand that the usual canons of conduct need not apply to those Fully Enlightened Ones (though they often abide by it). Vajrayana and Chan gurus may sometimes appear to act in a "bad" manner, but they do this strictly as skillful means and have, besides this, the resources of supernormal powers with which to convert others. Their actions are not comparable to those of common unenlightened people, nor can their standards of conduct be used by those still ruled by the five poisons. One should therefore be careful not to judge an enlightened mind too quickly.


b. The Obstacle of Propriety. In general, of course, for the great majority of meditators, not to speak of common persons, it is very beneficial to abide by recognized standards of conduct. Both in ordinary worldly life and in the training of the Hinayana, ethical behavior is very useful and necessary; but if, in the Vajrayana, one always holds too strictly to this, it may hinder one's progress. For example, Tsong Khapa and many Chan masters did not take dakinis or practice the third initiation yogas—thus they failed to achieve the eminence of Padmasambhava. To hold to formal rules after sublimation in the Mahayana is the obstacle of propriety. Some teachers dare not take a dakini for fear of criticism by their own disciples or supporters.


c. The Obstacle of Small Enlightenment Accomplishment. This is a block to Full Enlightenment. If one manages to gain a little supernormal power, develops facility in a few dhyanas, finds many disciples to worship one, or is asked because of one's eloquence to preach—all these are examples of this obstacle. In the biographies of the patriarchs of the Tian Tai School , many have, towards the ends of their lives, confessed that they had not been able to win the Highest Enlightenment just because they had achieved the limited eminence of being learned teachers.


I have also had some experiences of this obstacle. An unidentified voice once told me in my meditation that in a certain place buried under the earth there was a golden Buddha-image. I did not investigate this matter since, after all, a golden image is a small thing to discover—what should I do with it?


On another occasion, a god of the earth told me that inside a certain hill, there was a golden chicken with some little chicks of the same metal. These were offered to me so that I could sell them and become rich. But I had enough food, and if I possessed wealth I might easily be killed by robbers. Later, I asked the local inhabitants, "Is there any tradition of a golden chicken and chicks buried under that mountain?" "Yes" was their reply.


I have refused many such things offered to me for they would only prove a hindrance. Now, instead of being delayed by such worldly discoveries, many instructions of the Dharmakaya have occurred in my meditations. These are to me more valuable than the many discoveries of vajras, images, and so on, made by sages in Tibet . It is true that they do not keep such things and give them to some holy shrine for veneration, but if we have the highest goal of Full Enlightenment as our aim, we should then put aside these matters.


d. Becoming a Leader Too Soon. Certainly one should become a guru of others, and the Mahayana emphasis on this matter is excellent; but in Vajrayana it is said, "First attain Full Enlightenment, and then ultimately save others." To be a leader of too many, too soon, may, instead of leading to spiritual progress, lead to the downfall of the leader and the stagnation of his followers.


These four obstacles have been gathered from my own experiences and have not been discussed by any of the ancient sages.


e. The Obstacle of Avoiding Obstacles


At one of our last meetings, Mr. Chen added another obstacle. The transcriber intended to go to Thailand to practice meditation where, he thought, conditions were more favorable. The yogi exclaimed, "There is another obstacle: The obstacle of avoiding obstacles! If you always seek quiet places for meditation then you will become attached to quietness. Then, how can you ever succeed in meditating where there is noise?" Bhante pointed out, "There are always sounds in the quietest place, even if it is only the birds in the trees or jackals howling in the distance. Unless you have an underground room, complete silence is impossible to find." Mr. Chen disapproved of going underground to escape from noise and then continued: "A silent place may be helpful to the neophyte but it may prove a hindrance to further development."


To give another example, he told the following story:


There was once a monk in China who kept the Vinaya very strictly. He never let his eyes wander toward girls and women. Whenever any visiting patron brought with him a wife or daughter, the monk kept his gaze fixed on the ground in front of him. Because he was so mindfully restrained, he accumulated many merits, and after death when his body was burned, many hard, shiny gem-like remains (sarira) were found in the ashes, and many people worshipped these relics. However, when ladies took them into their hands, these sarira vanished; he would be able, it seems, to save only men—not women!


These are two matters to illustrate what we mean by this obstacle.


Bhante then gave another: He said, "I knew a bhiksu from Thailand who once asked me nervously, 'Is it true that in the West, ladies might try to shake hands with a bhiksu?' When I replied, 'Yes, it is the custom there,' that monk exclaimed, 'Oh! I could not bear that!' Thinking that he objected to the custom, I asked him why. In a shaking voice, he replied, 'If a woman touched my hand, I would be filled with passion!'" We all laughed.


7. Conclusion to All Troubles


Again from my experience, there are four principles to get rid of all these.


a. Sunyata. Meditate on voidness very thoroughly, and attain a degree of assurance-realization. There can be no trouble afterwards, as this is a powerful and very effective method.


b. Develop great bodhicitta. After living in a cave for two years, I got a skin disease. This cave, in the mountains of China , has two entrances on either side of a mountain and runs many miles underground. As a river flows through it and moisture drips from the roof, the air is saturated with wetness. My clothes were always damp, so to keep myself dry and warm enough, it was necessary to practice deep-breathing methods to increase my bodily fire. After this, I came to India on a pilgrimage and had not enough time to keep up with the deep breathing. As a result, I contracted "impetigo," which rapidly spread all over my body. I had to stay for a month in a hospital to be cured of this. While I was there, the demon of that disease, black and fearsome, came to me and tried to shake me backwards and forwards. I visualized him as very large and asked him to enter my body. I prayed that all the diseases of the world might afflict me so that others might be rid of them. The demon then said to me, "I fear your bodhicitta" and instantly left me, after which I was cured.


c. Renunciation. Renounce the world and have faith in the Buddha. There are different stages here. Firstly, one should discard the fleshly body and through meditational attainment faithfully enter the hands of the gods; this much at least is done in Hinayana. Then one should discard consciousness in sunyata sublimation and enter the hand of the Buddha. After this, one must discard the desire for all things by transmuting it into love for the dakini and be protected by her. Finally, life itself is discarded, everything, and through completely realized voidness one enters the bosom of the Dharmakaya, where one is protected from everything and where no demon can possibly do one any harm. All these conditions are very important.


d. Vajrayana Practice. One should have learned enough of the methods of the Vajrayana in the position of consequence of Buddhahood. Even demons that are extremely hard to subdue will then be vanquished as the accounts of Padmasambhava relate.


C. False Realizations


1. General Insights. False realizations of insight are caused by the first nine of the following ten factors; the tenth is not false realization. They are:


a. Caused by the five skandhas.


Mr. Chen gave the example of a meditator's vision which instead of being the yidam was only the product of imagination.


b. Caused by the distresses and delusions of daily living.

c. Caused by sickness or duhkha, but appearing to be insights into the Four Noble Truths.

d. Caused by the influence of karma.

e. Caused by Mara, the demonic king, and his forces.

f. Caused by conditions of samatha and samapatti.

g. Caused by various false views and doubts.

h. Caused by pride in one's progress and the delusion that one has attained nirvana.

i. Caused by the temptation to be content with the lower Hinayana nirvana instead of going on to bodhisattvahood.

j. Caused by the true realization of Buddhahood.


2. Lights. There are insights which appear as light, and there are many degrees of it. These different kinds, though referred to here and there, have not been detailed in any one book. The lights of false realization differ from the light of the Dharmakaya in the following ways:


a. A subject sees the light dualistically, as an object. Seeing the Dharmakaya light is a non-dual experience.


b. The false light is limited in area; perhaps seen just in front of the eye, in one room, filling a whole building. The Dharmakaya light is unlimited.


c. The false light is dull in color. See "The Tibetan Book of the Dead," where visions of dull colors are said to lead only to rebirth in the six realms (of gods, asuras, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-beings).


d. Void Nature. Even though light is seen like the autumn sky, clear and cloudless, still it is truly the Dharmakaya only if seen after full accomplishment of voidness sublimation in the Mahayana. Without this experience, light seen can't be that of the Dharmakaya. Religions teaching the existence of a soul or self do not understand the necessity of the experience of sunyata for complete spiritual realization. Nor may one identify the "Divine Self" or "Godhead" with the Dharmakaya, for the former concepts may be known without any experience of the void, whereas the latter is experienced only after the sublimation process. Those who equate this or that with the Dharmakaya, should be questioned in this way: "Is this your own experience (not merely some theory)? By what practice did you destroy the subtle ideas of self?"


As Mr. Chen said, "Without cause, how can there be result? Without practice, how can there be realization?"


e. Stages of Light.


i. Hinayana. To perceive a true realization-light in the Hinayana, one must be accomplished in the non-self meditations. If, besides being skilled in purification and renunciation, one has not realized that no self exists in the five aggregates, then the true light of the arhat cannot be experienced.


ii. Mahayana. After accomplishment of the six perfections and the realization of non-self in persons and dharmas, the light of the bodhisattva will issue out.


iii. Vajrayana. The wisdom-light of the Buddha will issue from the Dharmakaya accompanied by the Nirmanakaya and the Sambhogakaya of the great compassion. For this to occur, skill is necessary in the identification of the four voidnesses and the four blisses (see Ch. XIII, Part Two, A) in the Mahasukha meditations (third initiation). In this esoteric practice, the source of the light, its area and character, are quite different from the foregoing.


3. False Realizations of Nirvana.


Because there are different degrees of realization of nirvana, these are sometimes confused.


a. Light of Dhyanas. One mistakes the light of the four dhyanas (see Ch. VII, K) to be the Hinayana nirvana. In the fourth of these states, it may seem to the meditator as though all his sorrows and defilement are eliminated, and even joy has been abandoned, leaving only equanimity, mindfulness, and one-pointedness. He or she should recognize that this is achievement only of a dhyana of the form-world (rupavacara) and is thus still within samsara.


There was once a bhiksu in China called the "Fourth Dhyana Monk," who was deceived in this way about his attainment. After his experience of the meditation-body of the fourth dhyana, which he took to be a spiritual body, he was shocked that he could not retain it after his meditation. He exclaimed, "The Buddha has deceived me! There is no nirvana." He fell into hell.


b. Samadhis of Nirvana. The meditator may practice and attain the samadhi of the Hinayana nirvana, but mistake this for the Diamond Samadhi of the Buddha's nirvana. The Mahayana points out the difference between them.


c. Different Nirvanas. Another possible mistake is to confuse the no-remainder nirvana with the non-abiding nirvana. The former is characterized by cessation of defilement and an abiding in the Dharmakaya—ultimate salvation from samsara. The latter is a dynamic state, wherein the salvation of others continues, and Buddhas continue to appear in many forms out of compassion for sentient beings. Not abiding anywhere, which characterizes this nirvana, the true state of salvation, means that one may appear anywhere and in any form, unlimited by space or time.


4. False Realizations in Mahamudra and Great Perfection. There are eight erroneous ways:


a. Holding on to enjoyment (ananda) will only result in rebirth in the desire-heavens (kamavacara devas).


b. Clinging to the appearance of light will give birth in the heavens of form (rupavacara devas).


c. Holding fast to non-discrimination gives birth among the devas of formlessness (arupavacara devas).


d. If viewing the Dharmakaya as the autumn sky, one clings to such an experience, this will result in birth in the sphere of infinite space (akasanantyayatana).


e. If one holds to the view that everything is consciousness-only, this will lead to birth in the sphere of infinite consciousness (vijnananantyayatana).


f. Holding that everything is nothing, requiring no action, will only result in existence in the sphere of no things (akincanyayatana).


g. Thinking of only neither-perception-nor-nonperception will of course lead to birth in that sphere (naivasamjnanasamjnayatana).


h. If one's attainment of voidness is perfected, but one lacks bodhicitta and great compassion, then one falls into the voidness of the Hinayana and only obtains realization there.


5. Fallings in the Chan School


According to the Chan patriarch Cao Shan , there are three fallings:


a. If one does not cut off voice and form, this is the falling of pursuing worldly things, and should certainly be abandoned.


b. If one says, "I shall be the same as a white bull (the Dharmakaya)," this is falling into uniformity.


c. If one does not take food, this is the fall of false nobility (being too much concerned with the Dharmakaya). One must take food and attain the functions of the Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya.


6. The Four Forbidden Things


a. Do not go the way of mentality (mind-only).


b. Do not wear the cloth of nature (talk about "natural holiness" or purity, etc.).


c. Have no concern for the bare instant (becoming involved in the three times).


d. Never take advantage for meditation of the moment of the unborn. (In false Chan one is instructed not to think, and that when the mind is cleared of thought, one attains Chan. This is no-Chan or dead Chan.)


Commented Mr. Chen: "See my 'Lighthouse in the Ocean of Chan ' for some examples of this."


7. Conclusion of False Realization


According to my experience, I will give some reliable and useful methods for examining realizations.


Do not test them according to whether or not one has supernormal powers, because the first five powers may be gained by non-Buddhists as well as Buddhists. If one has these powers, that is good; if one does not—never mind. The real testing should be according to three important conditions:


a. Transformation of Philosophy. There must have been a philosophic transformation, in which one has a comprehensive and well detailed knowledge of the way: through faith in and purification by the Hinayana, Mahayana sublimation in the void and the complementary development of bodhicitta, and thence on to knowledge of the five sorrows and how they are transformed into the five wisdoms. All these doctrines should have been studied thoroughly. If one's studies are complete, there can be no doubt remaining as to where one stands regarding realization. One will then know precisely one's attainment; thus, uprightly and with faithful examination, one avoids the dangers of self deception. Even if one knows Buddhist philosophy well and has a good grasp of the whole meditation system as we have outlined it, still one has to know oneself: "What is my character? What are my predominant sorrows?" Standing on a foundation of philosophic knowledge and transformation, one may reliably judge any realization.


b. Transformation of Mind. Unless one has a mental transformation, one will be merely a scholar. One should first pinpoint karma from previous lives. One should make a thorough self-inquiry: "What bodhicitta has been developed in me? What powers of examination or insight do I possess now?" One question summarizes all the others: "How have I changed?" If one cannot honestly report any change for the better, then one has made no progress in meditation, let alone possessing realization. If change is seen, then it must be correctly evaluated by comparison with our knowledge of the characteristics of our ultimate goal—Buddhahood. One should be able to see by examination, even from day to day, an ever improving change in inner mental actions. For example: "At first I had no mercy (maitri) but now…"


Always remember that one is trying to change from an ordinary human being into a Buddha. If one is able to maintain visualization or see the yidam and multitudes of Buddhas, but at the same time keeps one's selfish old human mind—then what is the use? Real progress means that human mentality is continuously transformed into the mind of a Buddha—this is of the essence.


One should also ask oneself, "Have I even enough merit to become an arhat, let alone reaching the goal of Buddhahood? This is a way of cutting oneself down to size. I know that many Mahayanists say that this is a selfish ideal, but when one looks around for noble-hearted and compassionate bodhisattvas these appear to be few. Indeed, many teachers trumpeted as great by their followers (or even by themselves) have not even a small part of the nobility of the venerable arhats of the Hinayana. I do not see such noble ones as these among so many "bodhisattvas."


Just as we may judge others' minds by what they reveal in their daily actions, so we may judge ourselves, seeing the change in our own minds, and this will give us iron proof of the state of our realization.


c. Transformation of the Physical Body. After the transformations in philosophy and psychology comes consideration of physical transformation. Even as a result of Hinayana meditations, we know that before he or she passes away, an arhat may exhibit eighteen forms of supernormal power, effecting wonderful bodily changes. The body must change along with the other constituents of the person. Progress in meditation is sometimes judged by the extent to which one has the ability to effect bodily changes at will. Thus, at first one may only be able to cure or to ward off minor diseases; with greater practice the body may become much stronger, and ability in old age to transform it into a youthful condition shows even greater powers. However, be warned of judging realization by such abilities, for non-Buddhists may also do such things.


In the Vajrayana, it is easy to judge realization by bodily transformation. By the practice of this yana's meditations, the body is transformed into wisdom-light, human channels into wisdom-channels, and human energy into the wisdom-energy of a Buddha. A limited realization of these Vajrayana techniques is measured by the ability to make the body into a very small, compact mass; greater attainment is seen in one who leaves behind only hair and nails when cremated, while the highest "normal" realization is disappearance into wisdom-light at the time of "death." Higher still is the ability to retain the body (as in the case of Padmasambhava) while at the same time having Full Enlightenment.


Therefore, examine oneself in this way: "Has my body become more comfortable, stronger, lighter, etc.?" Such changes indicate progress and realization according to their quality.


Readers may examine all these proofs for themselves, and they are, you must admit, very clear matters, allowing of no mistake unless by gross self-deception.


In conclusion, I should like to say that I do indeed wish that you gain Full Enlightenment thoroughly and more quickly than myself, so that you may guide all the other readers to gain themselves these three transformations—at that time the aim of this book will have been achieved.



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