- Initial resolution for enlightenment
Q: Could you teach me how to get started? Currently I’m reciting the Heart Sutra, and copying Sanghata Sutra every day. I was having a wish and have been a Buddhist, so I started to learn. But I don’t know where to start, and how to avoid pitfalls. Thank you!
A: Starts with the initial resolution for enlightenment.
First, the resolution for practicing.
Everything follows the law of cause and effect. If one’s Dharma practice can make progress, it must also follow the law of cause and effect. So if you want your practice to lead to the enlightenment, you need to clearly make intention of practice. The first step is make up your mind to pursue the enlightenment. If no such determination, then there might lack the energy to go forward.
How to make the resolution? From the structural perspective, there are a few steps: cause, motivation, objective, initiative, taking actions. In addition, as you make progress in the practice, you’ll repeat this steps, keep renewing the resolution and making it firm and strong.
Cause & motivation: people might have different reasons for studying the Dharma. It could be revulsion towards the mundane world, fear of suffering, asking for wealth, asking for long lives, asking for supernatural abilities, asking for the Wisdom, or asking for the good fortune, etc. Different causes leads to different results, so it’s super important to have right cause. Generally, I agree with asking for the Wisdom, asking for the spiritual liberation, freedom. Because this kind of causes are concomitant with the Three jewels, it’s easier to aggregate the merit (Puñña) from the practice towards the Buddhism enlightenment.
Objective: After you clearly understand the theoretical part of the Buddhism, and believe the practice can lead to enlightenment, then you make up your mind to achieve certain goals. This is one of the basic part of the resolution. If no objective, no direction to pursue. Different people, different stages of the practice, can have different objectives. But the objective would better be simple and clear, and yourself must believe firmly that it’s achievable by the practice.
As for defining the objective, it could be “able to enter a certain level of Jhāna”, it could be “try to make the mind abide nowhere”, it could be “attain the Nirvana”, it could also be “have personal experience about certainly sentence from a Sutra”, etc. You must be really interested in realize the objective, and full of confidence, determination and consciously think you will achieve the goal. The interest is very important. There is a quote from Albert Einstein: “Love is a better teacher than duty.”
When there is strong interest, we’ll do everything for it, and miracle happens! We never get tired of the things we love, and we always get achievements! So set a goal and let yourself be super interested in achieving it.
Taking actions: Like said above, after having a goal, there should be an action plan to make it come true. From my own experience surfing the web, there are too many friends don’t know how to take actions, and hope to find a teacher somewhere, or practicing blindly without any directions, and give up halfway. So how to take action, there are some skills and techniques.
We need to first structure it into steps, and align it with the objective, turn it into an actionable plan.
The action itself can be divided into bodily practice and mind practice. From the status of the action, it can be divided into “actions during concentrated practice”, “actions in daily life”, “actions in sleep or rest”. We should have different plans for these different types and status of actions.
The action plan can be described as the choice and application of “Dharma-gate”, the practice method. For example, if the goal is to achieve the liberation, the action plan could be: “bodily practice: no sexual conduct, no makeups, no eating animals, etc.”, “mind practice: no thinking of sexual intercourse, no pursing of good-looking appearances, no pursing of tasty food, etc.”, “during concentrated practice: practice Samadhi, practice Vipassana, etc.”, “practice in daily life: uphold the five precepts, uphold the aforementioned precepts of body and mind, etc.”, “in sleep or rest: keep the illuminating conception, etc.”. The above is an action plan aiming at the goal. If your confidence is strong, and you can keep practicing for the resolution, you don’t have to have a time limit, such as the in the Theravada tradition, the resolution is uphold certain precepts until death. If you have Bodhisattva belief, the resolution could be make certain merit forever. If the confidence is not that strong, the resolution could be limited to a certain time frame, such as 7 days, or multiples of 7 days, and add one more resolution: within this time frame, vow to do whatever that’s in the resolution. This is a process of building an “embankment” using your own mind. This “embankment” is the “precept”, the build of the “embankment” is the “precept substance”. This is really super important. All the actions and practices, start from here; without it, there is no point to talk about the practice. Remember, the practice is to build the factors pertaining the enlightenment, and further change the body and mind.
Q: I usually read books from the deceased monk, Master Sheng-yen. Are those books helpful to the practice?
A: I’m not familiar with his books. I recommend read the original Sutras from the Buddha.
Q: I’m already reading the book “Path of Samadhi and Wisdom” that you recommended. It has very detailed descriptions of the method, thank you for recommending. But I have a question: my mind can’t focus on subtle details, I can’t feel the air breathing in and out at the philtrum. It affects my confidence.
A: Practice often. The breath has cold/warm, thick/thin, long/short, smooth/rough. You can pick any pair to watch. When the mind isn’t scrupulous enough, you can watch the aspect of long/short; when the mind becomes scrupulous, you can turn to watch other aspects. Keep practicing, you’ll find the way.
Later additions to the original answer: It is common to happen in the beginning of practicing meditation to feel warm, cold, numb, itchy, or feel the body becomes big/small or feel the body is rotating (after while they go away), but the psychological hint makes these feelings stronger. The right thing to do is to ignore them. Keep clear-headed, don’t be distracted. Only watch the breath, don’t try to find the joyful feeling from the meditation. Even if you feel the joy, you still have to ignore it and only focus on watching the breath. When you are about to finish the meditation, don’t open your eyes right away, you should turn from concentrating on breath to making your whole body relaxed. From the head to the feet, make yourself relaxed in this order, and exercise your feet a little. After your feet are comfortable again, you can open the eyes and finish.
Q: If you have finished the path of practicing, why are you still here and what do you want?
A: To show off. Because many people don’t believe it’s possible to practice Jhāna and enter the Samadhi, I’m here to show off, and tell people that it’s not difficult.
Q: Which Jhāna Meditations Heaven can you get in? The deva in Jhāna Meditations Heaven don’t have to eat, right? Have you reached the Koshopagatavastiguhya? Does Nirodha-Samapatti mean attaining the enlightenment? Do you have the supernatural power of the complete extinction of defilement? Does the enlightenment affect getting married and having a family? (Rephrased question as the original question was lost)
A: First of all, for the stillness meditation practice, only when you are in Samadhi state, you have the one-pointedness of the mind and can transcend the afflictions in the “Desire Realm”. When you are out of the Samadhi state, you are still a human being, not a deva; you still need to eat and sleep, and the still have the ability to have sexual conduct. Second, once transcending the five lower-level bonds, the Koshopagatavastiguhya appears by itself (since the craving is subdued temporarily), but this still varies; when the practitioner backslides (or have the intention to make desires), the craving in the Desire Realm can arise, then you’ll recover the ability of sexual intercourse. Third, practitioners who got the third attainment (non-returner) or above can enter the Nirodha-Samapatti, but it’s possible to retrograde from the third attainment. Similarly, once having subdued the afflictions in the Desire Realm doesn’t mean it’s the forever cessation of the afflictions. Certain cause and condition might make you backslide, then the cravings appear again. Fourth, the non-returns can get into Nirodha-Samapatti, but haven’t been liberated to reach the extinction of defilement. Fifth, from the perspective of how difficult to keep practicing: there are too many entanglement to have a family before the awakening, it’s really difficult to practice, and once you lose the form of the human being, it is so hard to get the chance to practice again. Start the family after awakening, even if the retrogression is possible, but you’ll keep the form of the human being in next life since you already have a lot Puñña.
Q: “there are too many entanglement to have a family before the awakening, it’s really difficult to practice, and once you lose the form of the human being, it is so hard to get the chance to practice again. Start the family after awakening, even if the retrogression is possible, but you’ll keep the form of the human being in next life since you already have a lot Puñña.” – I think there are at least 2 problems:
- Are there going to be less entanglement, if you start the family after awakening?
The facts are there, once you have the kids, they need to eat, go to school and grow up. You have to spend time watch the kids, educate them. To feed the family, you have to think about making money, as the money doesn’t come to you by themselves. Then you mind isn’t going to keep still, because you are always thinking about work, kids and family. Having to work, support the family, raise the kids are like being pressed for payment of debts, lots of afflictions, then how can you enter the Samadhi?
- “You’ll keep the form of the human being in next life since you already have a lot Puñña”?
I don’t know what does “a lot Puñña” mean, and how can it help to keep the form of human being in the next life. Is it a certain type of supernatural capability? Isn’t it going to diminish?
A: When I said “after awakening”, it means at least the realization of “Anattā” (non-self). Because of the realization of “Anattā”, you have a lot of Puñña. When alive, you won’t make the Five offences; when death is coming, your consciousness is clear. Eventually get liberated after seven rebirths as human or deva. So you should do everything you can (i.e. temporarily leave the adverse conditions, such as getting married) to focus on the practice, and attain the realization of Anattā as the first and foremost goal. Otherwise, your life is busy on mundane stuff, and when the Samsara happens, it is difficult to encounter the Dharma, isn’t that sad?
Q: Is the Metaphysics from philosophy the same as the Dharma? (Rephrased question as the original question was lost)
A: Studying the Dharma with philosophical thinking is incorrect. It is inference, it doesn’t lead to the realization of the inherent nature, since Dharma is “inconceivable”.
Idealism and materialism, from Buddhism’s point of view, are not contradictory. They are unified, since there is “unity of matter and spirit”.
Buddhism call this unity as the mind, and also True mind, Suchness, Tathāgatagarbha, Inherent nature, Self-nature, Dharmakāya, Nirvana, The single Dharmadhatu, etc. different names.
This mind isn’t something tangible, one tallies with it the mind of “nothing to be attained”. If you have something to seek after, you won’t see it. The so called “Gate without gate” means exactly this.
To Study the Dharma, use your body-mind as the tool, the Sutras as the manual, the practice as the validation. You only understand it if you realize the Dharma with your own experience. Follow the order of Sīla (precept), Samādhi (concentration), Paññā (wisdom), Liberation, and Knowing of being liberated. Otherwise, it is incorrect actions with incorrect thoughts; in that case the deluded mind is culprit.
Q: How do beginners start to learn?
A: Beginners should start with hearing about and thinking about the Dharma, and making the initial resolution. Read the original Sutras, download a dictionary for Buddhist terminology and read it. For practice, start with Samadhi meditation.
Q: Master, I want to ask, does the Sutra Recitation must be a certain number of times? Can I decide how many times for the recitation by myself? And do I have to recite the same Sutra to be the same for everyday? Can I rotate the Sutras?
A: If your resolution is to recite Sutras, you can have a schedule specifying number of times and length of the time period. So first it serves as a type of precept (make merit with precept, it amplify the Puñña). Second with a schedule to follow, it’s easier to keep the practice.
Q: I have certain problem with family, e.g. bla bla bla (rephrased question as the original question was lost)
A: I don’t answer questions that are not related to the Dharma practice. For issues in daily life, ask your own conscience, just keep away from all evil, and cultivate good.
Q: I like philosophy, but haven’t learned about Buddhism much. Now after reading OP’s discourse, I suddenly see the light. But I can only relate to the stuff you have talked about, because I still have doubts about the supernatural powers. On the contrary, I think the mysticism you mentioned have certain realistic meaning in practice.
A: I don’t know much about philosophy. The Buddha Dharma is disclosed in certain ways aiming at the “illness” of the Sentient beings. Whatever said about the Dharma is corresponding to their illness. That’s why there is practice stages: “non-obstruction in principle, non-obstruction in phenomena, non-obstruction between principle and phenomena, non-obstruction of all phenomena”. At the last, even the talking about Dharma is gone, it just becomes idle theory. What left is only the non-obstruction of all phenomena.
So if philosophy wants to lean towards Buddhism, it won’t get there until reaching the non-obstruction of all phenomena.