Mahayana Zengong provides a systematic teaching from the beginning bodhisattva vow to mind awakening and onto the supreme level of perfect enlightenment. The Buddha dharma (teachings) is our principal doctrine, Zen meditation is the method, and Chi-Kung is a complementary mean. The meditation and Chi-Kung include Eight Mind Developments and Nine Physiological Cultivations. According to Zen masters there are three stages in describing the states of meditation:
(1). Seeing the mountain is a mountain and water is water.
(2). Seeing the mountain is not a mountain and water is not water.
(3). Seeing the mountain is still a mountain and water is still water.
According to Mahayana Zengong, however, the above description is not quite complete. We would describe it in five stages:
(1). The mountain is a mountain and water is water.
(2). The mountain is not a mountain and water is not water.
(3). The mountain is still a mountain and water is still water.
(4). The mountain is water and water is mountain.
(5). I am mountain and I am water.
The first stage is the true experience gained in the mundane meditation. The practitioners are no different from average people in our world. They are passionate, honest people. They love what they love and do what they want to do. They seek what they desire. They hate what they dislike. They are totally controlled by their emotions and circumstances. They indulge in activities such as sex and food-and-drink. They zealously pursue fame, fortune, praise, and so on. They live “normal human lives”. All these experiences fall into one of the mundane meditations of the Desire Realm. The second stage is that experienced by buddhists in the preliminary stage of practice. They strictly observe the Five Precepts and constantly relinquish desirous thoughts. They look upto the examples of saints and sages. Thus, they are mindful of righteousness when they see opportunists. They stay away from improper sexuality and ignore attractive matters and temptation. Their minds are peaceful and tranquil. Instead of luxurious life styles they live in a simple humble way of life. They try hard to abandon all desire so that they are able to make progress in meditation. All these experiences fall into the Four Dhyanas of the Form Realm. The third stage is the meditative experience of realizing the empty nature of things. It is a state of realization that all phenomena depend on conditions and circumstances and that the essence of sugatagarbha (absolute nature) is emptiness. The myriad material manifestations, phenomena and appearances in the universe arise due to cause and condition, exist due to cause and condition, and cease due to cause and condition. All things indeed follow the Law of Causality. There is certainly no volitional grasping or abandonment in these activities – this is merely the way things are! From the point of view of sugatagarbha there is only empty nature without attainment. Since there is no attainment, there is constancy due to natural adherence to causes and conditions. The constancy lies in the emptiness so it does not change in the presence of circumstances and conditions. This is illustrated by the Sixth Patriarch of the Zen school, Hui-Neng (638-713). When Hui-Neng first met the Fifth Patriarch, Hung-Jen, he generated wisdom and fully realized the undifferentiated characteristics of the Buddha nature. That the Buddha nature is, has been, and will always be inseparable with dharmadhatu (the universe). Just as the cosmic energy cannot be created or destroyed, it merely goes through different conditional, physical transformations, while the essence remains unchanged. Thus, when Hui-Neng heard the verse from Shen-Hsiu (605 – 706) that:
The body is a Bodhi tree.
The mind is a clear mirror.
Wipe it clean frequently and diligently.
Keep it free from dust and obscuration.
He knew that Shen-Hsiu had not fully realized the Self-nature, although he had awakened to his Self-nature, the nature of the mind, the Buddha nature. Then Hui-Neng composed his own stanza:
The Bodhi is not a tree.
The mind is not a mirror.
Originally there is nothing at all.
What can there be to keep free from dust and obscuration?
He offered this to the Fifth Patriarch who proclaimed: “Still to awaken to the Self-nature.” This indicated that Hui-Neng had attained a state of realizing the nature of mind but had not yet fully awakened to the innate Buddha nature. These are the meditative stages experienced by practitioners who achieve the Four Formless Heavens of the Formless Realm. The fourth stage of meditation achievement is that of realizing the Buddha nature. It is like obtaining a lamp in the pitch dark night, or seeing the blazing sun in the noon day sky. When a practitioner first attains enlightenment and sees the innate, naked truth of reality, he/she will truly realize that things and phenomena, such as the mountains, rivers and vast lands, are all primordially fulfilled with the infinite and limitless Buddha wisdom and virtue. This can be illustrated by a historic account. When the Fifth Patriarch expounded the Diamond Sutra to the Sixth Patriarch, the text read:
Should not abide in a state with attachment, and Should develop such a (Buddha) mind.
In that instant, the Sixth Patriarch spontaneously realized that all things, phenomena and the Self- nature are one indivisible, inseparable entity. He expressed this realization in the following stanza of Self-nature:
How is it that the Self-nature is primordially pure!
How is it that the Self-nature is intrinsically beyond birth and death!
How is it that the Self-nature is innately fulfilled!
How is it that the Self-nature is intrinsically unwavering!
How is it that the Self-nature can manifest all things and phenomena!
At this point he attained the realization that things and phenomena are all equal. And he had actualized the meditative state that is beyond the First Bhumi of the Bodhisattva. In the fifth stage a practitioner actualizes the Dharmakaya, which is emptiness in nature but not completely intangible. The Dharmakaya can manifest all things without limitation. It has the quality of vivid awareness and radiance, yet remains in a state of constant calmness and emptiness. Further, it has the quality of remaining in a state of constant calmness, yet it is keenly aware of all things. It is omniscient and omnipresent in application and activities. The dharmakaya is free from coming and going and is neither coming nor going. In application it has full control of its supernatural powers because it is in samadhi at all times and in all places. The dharmakaya manifests and emanates unlimited realms of existence. It is in an unconditional state where matter and energy can be freely transformed. To the dharmakaya there is absolutely no hindrance in the material world because it pervades the dharmadhatu. These meditative experiences are realized by practitioners beyond the Third Bhumi of the Bodhisattva. Mahayana Zengong provides a systematic teaching which allows one to unify the body and mind and to integrate the essence and its profound application. As practices take hold and progress is being made, there will be mental and physical transformations. The mental awareness and physical changes of different levels of practices are classified as the Four Dimensions of Zen Meditation.
1. the Emptiness of the Mind or Body
The emptiness of the mind means that the mind is free from all conceptual thoughts. It is the entry level of meditation called “Right Meditative Stabilization” where the mind remains fixed, undisturbed and fully concentrated. The emptiness of the body is a state of mind which senses the non-existence of its physical body. Those, who have a mental state of equanimity and have a detached attitude, are easier to enter the meditative state of mental emptiness. Those whose energy channels are free from blockage will be easier to experience and achieve the state of the emptiness of the body. Being in a state of either mental emptiness or physical emptiness, the sensitivity of the sensory organs of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing and consciousness will be substantially increased. These are described by traditional Buddhism as having phantom sight, phantom hearing, and so on. When the sensory organ of sight enjoys increased sensitivity, it will enable the meditator to behold scenes outside the room in the dark or visions of events which have not yet taken place. When the meditator is not in the meditative state, however, he/she will not have this ability. At times while meditating he/she may see objects or illusory objects. At times he/she may have psychic visions or see fleeing meaningless mirages. Sometimes, the meditator may misunderstand that he/she has become clairvoyant. If one dwells on these phenomena too emphatically or tries to manipulate them, it may result in karmic repercussions. Similarly, with increased sensitivity of the hearing faculty during meditation, one may hear sounds from far away or extremely faint sounds. At times one may hear residual hallucinatory sounds, while at other times one may hear sounds transmitted from other spiritual dimensions. However, if one dwells on these abilities it can often prove extremely tempting. Without Pure View the meditator may seek to learn other-world secrets by becoming a medium. Or, he/she may use it to pursue wealth, fame, passion, and so on in the worldly activities. That often leads one to create more karma due to desire, anger, and ignorance. In some cases, the meditator gains the increased sensitivity of smell during meditation. He/she may smell delightful aromas, incense, or scents from far away. For those whose sense of taste has become heightened they may find that their saliva tastes sweet like nectar and their ability to discriminate different tastes is greatly enhanced. For those individuals whose sense of touch has become sensitive, their peripheral nervous system will be functioning at a far more powerful pace. They may find themselves able to clearly feel the presence of tangible or intangible objects around them as well as different energy forms. Without proper guidance the meditator may feel this state to be very disturbing. If there is fear and worry the meditator may be easily influenced by evil spirits. Individuals whose sense of consciousness is heightened may, at times, be able to perceive the thoughts of their parents, relatives, and friends. At other times they may become aware of thoughts regarding future events. Sometimes these visions may prove to be true, at other times they might have no link to real events at all. All of the above meditative experiences are activations of the mental consciousness. They represent a natural progress of spiritual evolution. The experiences and progress differ from person to person. The most important point to remember is that the meditator must remain in equanimity and unwavering in meditative concentration should such events arise. In no way should he/she become obsessed with such experiences, or try to elicit their occurrence or manipulate them for selfish or worldly benefits. Otherwise, he/she may face the karmic consequences of harmful forces that have been put in motion. This is the first dimension of Zen meditation which corresponds to the First and Second Dhyanas of the Form Realm.
2. the Emptiness of the Body and Mind
In the second dimension of Zen meditation the mind is free from any conceptual, wandering thoughts which usually occupy it. At the same time, the physical body is also in a state of emptiness. One will not sense the whereabouts of the body and mind except that they are quietly and motionlessly resting somewhere in the dharmadhatu. They are pure and without the clutter of thoughts, blissful in their self-existence. At that moment it seems as if one is in a state of sleeping, and yet not really asleep since there is a clear spiritual awareness and many mental and physical transformations are taking place. One may feel the physical body expanding or contracting, ascending or descending, rotating or the wind-blowing, the earth-shaking or floating on water, or a burning sensation. His/her heartbeat may accelerate. He/she may hear sounds of or see the details of the internal organs. He/she may see radiant light or feel stream(s) of energy rushing through the body and out to the universe. No matter which of the above sensations are felt, one should remain concentrated and calm and not attach too much importance to the experience. Otherwise, any obsessive clinging to such sensations may result in arrested development and imbalance. This is the Zen meditative state which belongs to the Third and Fourth Dhyanas of the Form Realm.
3. Actualization of the Pseudo-Dharmakaya
This is the mental state where the intangible body leaves the physical body during meditation. This state results from the reflection of consciousness (or soul) and can be experienced by meditators in the Desire Realm, the Four Dhyanas of the Form Realm, and the Four Formless Heavens of the Formless Realm. Similar mental experience may occur when one is involved in a deadly accident or is under the influence of certain drugs such as hallucinogens. In the West it has been commonly called “Out Of Body Experience”. If this occurs in a non-meditator, the situation may in fact be quite dangerous. For example, if this happens to a person with strong habitual desire, aversion and ignorance, the consciousness (soul) may become enchanted with the otherworldly jaunt and neglect to return to the physical body. This may result in death or neuropsychological instability due to the “walk-in” of foreign disembodied spirits. If this happens to a practitioner who has not yet eradicated all habitual defilements and ignorance, and still has strong ego and dharma attachment, it may result in deluded disturbances. This would then throw his/her mental state into chaos and disorientation. However, if the practitioner has eliminated all the above faults, he/she can freely enter into and freely get out of the Four Formless Heavens of the Formless Realm. This is the third dimension of Zen meditative state where the pseudo-dharmakaya is freely coming and going to wherever the thought arises.
3. Actualization of the Dharmakaya
In this stage of Zen meditative concentration, the dharmakaya could be as big as Mt. Sumeru. It pervades the dharmadhatu and so can not be said to either come or go. The dharmakaya could also be as small as a tiny sesame seed and so can be coming and going at will. This is the meditative experience attained by the First Bhumi bodhisattvas. In this level, bodhisattvas are able to traverse beyond the Three Realms and actualize enlightenment (awakening the mind and seeing the innate Buddha nature). The miraculous function of the sugatagarbha can be fully displayed, that is, the Buddha nature can manifest everything. Its essence is emptiness, yet its display is vivid. The Buddha nature is the Absolute Truth because it is the True Reality of all things and phenomena. It is not subject to the relative laws of matter and the physical world, which were mistaken for reality. The Six Supernatural Powers gradually become perfected and can be fully applied in various buddha activities. Among the three thousand students of ours, there are some thirty who have achieved the meditative state of pseudo-dharmakaya after taking up Mahayana Zengong practices for six months to six years. Grand Master Shan-Yin had previously attained the state of dharmakaya for four days during a Zen meditation retreat. In this state the sensation of motion and stillness unified; both the body and mind were empty; the dharmakaya pervaded the entire universe; and the brilliant light of the innate Buddha nature was spontaneously present. Various supernatural powers automatically manifested with arising thoughts. After emerging from the retreat, however, Grand Master Shan-Yin was burdened with an extremely busy schedule of teaching, empowering and resolving the sufferings and problems of disciples and students. As a result, Grand Master Shan-Yin was not able to maintain that meditative state at all times. The systematic and progressive teachings offered by Mahayana Zengong was first secretly transmitted to the world by the founding Patriarch, Master Miao-Kong. Because of this outstanding event the teachings will allow all sentient beings to grow spiritually in this troubled age. We sincerely hope that everyone can partake of these marvelous, auspicious teachings and enjoy the enormous benefits!
(Translator’s note: This article was first appeared in the Buddhist Newsweek, no. 132, June 8, 1992).
(c) USMZAS 1998