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The Four Applications Of Mindfulness
- Contemplation of the body as impure. Everyone sees his body as extremely precious. Because you think it is real, you are selfish and profit-seeking. Without a body, there would be no selfishness.
We think our bodies are real and actual. Being selfish, we create offenses and commit evil deeds. We cannot let go of the affairs of the world and calculate on behalf of our bodies all day long, looking for good food, beautiful clothes, and a nice place to live – a little happiness for the body. On the day we die, we are still unclear. “My body is dying,” we moan. “How can it do this to me?” At that time we know that our bodies are unreal, but it’s too late, too late for our regrets.
Ultimately, is the body real? Stupid people think so, but wise people see it merely as a combination of the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. It is not ultimate.
“Then,” you ask, “what is ultimate?”
Our own self-nature is bright and all-illumining;
Our own-self-nature is perfect and unimpeded.
It is nowhere and nowhere is it not;
to the end of empty space,
it exhausts the Dharma Realm.
Our bodies are temporary dwellings where our self-nature comes to live for a time. But the person dwelling in the hotel is not the hotel, and in the same way, his body is not him. The traveller who thinks that he is the hotel is mistaken. If you know that the body is just like a hotel, you should seek that which dwells within it, for once you have found it, you will recognize your true self.
From the time of birth, the body is impure – a combination of its father’s semen and its mother’s blood. The child grows up with greed, hate, stupidity, pride, and doubt. He commits offenses, creating the karma of killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and taking intoxicants and drugs. Offense-karma is created because of the body. But is the body such a precious thing after all? No.
A precious jewel is pure and undefiled, without stain or the slightest trace of filth. Our bodies, on the other hand, have nine apertures which constantly secrete impure substances: tears from the eyes, wax from the ears, mucus from the nose…
There are religions whose members eat mucus. They say that they are “smelting the cinnabar.” They also eat tears and ear wax thinking that these filthy substances are precious jewels. Isn’t that pitiful?
Two ears, two eyes, and two nostrils make six holes. The mouth is full of phlegm and saliva. That’s seven holes. Add the anus and urinary tract and you have nine. Would you call this pure? Everyone knows that excrement and urine are unclean and, if you don’t believe it, just try seasoning some fine food with a tiny pinch of excrement. No one will eat it. People will want to vomit instead because it is unclean. Would you call this body, dribbling filth from nine holes, a jewel? If it’s a jewel, why do such vile things flow from it?
If you don’t bathe for a week, you itch and squirm and a thick crust forms on your body. Where did it come from? Soon you stink with an odor even a dog finds repulsive. What is the advantage of having a body? Contemplate the body as impure. If you see how filthy it is, do you still love it? Are you still attached? What’s the use of loving such a dirty thing?
“Then can I stab myself? Can I kill myself?” you ask.
No. That’s not necessary. You must borrow this false body and use it to cultivate the Truth. The self-nature dwells within the body. You entered the body of five skandhas and the yin and yang merged in a combination of purity and filth which is your body. If you cultivate, you can go up, and attain purity. If you do not cultivate you will go down, create offense karma, unite with the filth, and turn into a ghost.
Go up. Become a Buddha. Whether or not you cultivate is up to you, however. Nobody can force you to cultivate.
The Venerable Ananda thought that because he was the Buddha’s cousin, he didn’t need to cultivate. He thought that the Buddha would just give him samadhi. But the Buddha couldn’t do that, and so it was not until after the Buddha’s Nirvana, when Ananda was about to edit the sutras, that he finally certified to the fourth Stage of Arhatship and realized that he could not neglect cultivation.
Be mindful that the body is impure, don’t be so fond of it, and don’t take it as a treasure.
You say, “I can’t stand criticism. I can’t stand it.”
Who are you ?
“If they hit me, I can’t bear it. It hurts!”
Really? If you put your attachments down and see through them, there is neither pain nor not pain. Who is in pain? What, exactly, hurts? If someone hits you, pretend that you bumped into a wall. If someone scolds you, pretend that they are singing a song or speaking Japanese. How can they scold you if you don’t understand them?
”Are they speaking Spanish or Portugese? French? German? I’ve never studied languages so I don’t understand…” They can scold you, but it’s nothing. In general, once you see through, break, and put down the attachment to your body, you win your independence.
Contemplate your body as impure. Don’t regard it with so much importance. It’s not important.
Contemplate feelings, thoughts, and dharmas as impure also.
- Contemplate feelings as suffering. Feelings may be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral; from the point of view of the three sufferings, unpleasant feelings are the suffering within suffering, pleasant feelings are caught up in the suffering of decay, and neutral feelings are the suffering of process. Wake up! Everything you enjoy is a form of suffering. If you know that pleasure is suffering, you will not be attached to it. I often say:Enduring suffering puts an end to suffering;
Enjoying blessings destroys blessings.
If you endure your suffering, it will pass. If you enjoy your blessings, they, too, will pass. Contemplate feelings as suffering.
The body, thought, and dharmas are also suffering. Although there are Four Applications of Mindfulness, you can divide them up; each of the four characteristic qualities, impurity, suffering, impermanence, and the absence of self, can be applied to the body, to feelings, to thoughts, and to dharmas, making sixteen applications in all.
- Contemplate thoughts as impermanent. The Vajra Sutra says, “Past thought cannot be obtained, present thought cannot be obtained, and future thought cannot be obtained.”
All your thoughts are unobtainable. They flow without stopping and so they are impermanent. The body, feelings, and dharmas are also impermanent.
Contemplate dharmas as without self. Basically, since there are no dharmas, from whence cometh the self? The self is a combination of four elements and the five skandhas – a creation of form dharmas. Outside of the four elements and the five skandhas there is no self. So contemplate dharmas as being without a self.The Four Applications of Mindfulness are very wonderful. If you investigate them thoroughly, understand and dwell on them, you will be unattached and will attain true freedom. If you’re attached, you can’t be free. Why? Because you’re attached! So dwell in the Four Applications of Mindfulness. Dwell and yet do not dwell.
The Six Requirements
Ananda’s fourth question concerned evil-natured Bhikshus. The Buddha said, “Be silent and they will leave.” Even while the Buddha was in the world, there were evil-natured Bhikshus, laymen, and ordinary people. “If you ignore them,” the Buddha said, “they will get bored and leave.”
Thus I have heard. Thus fills the requirement of 1) faith. The Dharma which is Thus can be believed. Dharma, which is not Thus, cannot be believed. I have heard fills the requirement of 2) hearing. “Since the ears do the hearing, “you may ask, “why does it say I have heard?” This is because whereas the ears are just a small part of the body, “I” refers to the whole person. At one time fills the requirement of 3) time.
“Why,” you may ask, “doesn’t the sutra give the month, day, and year?”
Calendars differ from nation to nation. Some countries begin the year in the first month, some in the second or third month of another country’s calendar. There is no one way to indicate the date, and, what is more, if the date were given, people would start doing research to determine if it was correct. Because the sutra only states, at one time, there is no demand for historical verification.
In order to speak the Dharma, there must be an 4) audience; in this case it was the gathering of great Bhikshus. The audience must also have the time to come and listen, for if they don’t stay, of what use is their faith? They must have the time to listen, they must want to hear the Dharma, and they must believe in it. Then there must also be a Dharma-speaking host. In this case, the Buddha is the 5) host, and the 6) place is Sravasti, in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary. Therefore, in the opening sentences of the sutra, all six requirements are fulfilled.
Sravasti is the name of a city in India. Translated, it means “abundance and virtue,” because the seven jewels: gold, silver, lapiz lazuli, crystal, mother-of-pearl, red pearls, and carnelian, and the objects of the five desires: beauty, wealth, fame, food, and sleep, were in abundance there. The people of Sravasti were very intelligent and had the virtue of great learning and liberation.
You could also say that the objects of the five desires are forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangibles. The states connected with the objects of the five desires turn people’s wisdom upside-down. The eyes run off after forms, the ears after sounds, the nose after smell, the tongue after tastes, and the body after tangibles. Deluded people spin around and around in pursuit of the objects of the five desires.
The people of Sravasti had great learning and refinement. They were also liberated, free, and unfettered, and were only slightly attached.
The Benefactor’s Garden
In the Jeta Grove, in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary. Anathapindada, whose name means “benefactor of orphans and the solitary,” was a wealthy elder who lived in the city of Sravasti. He was also known as Sudatta, which means “joyous giving.” He was a rich man, but he didn’t understand the Buddhadharma. In fact, he had never even heard the Buddha’s name. One day, while arranging for his son’s marriage, he visited a friend, the wealthy elder Shan Tan Nou.
That night Shan Tan Nou rose and began to decorate his house. Sudatta asked, “You’re adorning the house so beautifully, is there to be a celebration? Is your son going to be married?”
“No,” said Shan Tan Nou. “I have invited the Buddha to receive offerings.”
When Sudatta heard the word “Buddha,” every hair on his body stood straight up on end. “Who is the Buddha?” he gasped.
“The Buddha is the Crown Prince, son of King Suddhodana. He would have been the king, but he left home to cultivate the Way and became a Buddha instead. I have invited him here to receive offerings.”
Having heard the word “Buddha,” Sudatta couldn’t get back to sleep. Shakyamuni Buddha knew that Sudatta’s heart was sincere and he emitted a light which shone so brightly that Sudatta thought it was dawn, got out of bed, and went out of the city. The city gate was locked, but the Buddha opened it with his spiritual powers and Sudatta proceeded to the Buddha’s dwelling in the Bamboo Grove.
Just as Sudatta arrived, four gods descended, circumambulated the Buddha three times, and then bowed in order to show Sudatta the proper gestures of respect. Because Sudatta had never seen the Buddha or heard the Dharma, he followed the gods’ example and the Buddha explained the Dharma to him. Sudatta was delighted and said, “Buddha, you have so many followers, you really need a big place to live. I shall prepare one and invite you to live there.”
“Fine,” said the Buddha.
Sudatta looked, but he couldn’t find the right land. Finally, he saw Prince Jeta’s garden. It was big enough, but Prince Jeta refused to sell. “If you want to buy my garden,” he laughed, “first cover it with gold coins. That’s my price.”
Sudatta didn’t stay to bargain with him, he just said “Okay,” and moved his treasury, piece by piece, to the garden and covered the entire grove. “Now your garden belongs to me,” he said to Prince Jeta.
“I was only joking,” said the Prince, annoyed. “I’m keeping it for myself. How could I sell it to you?”
“You told me that you would sell if I covered it with gold, and I took you at your word,” Sudatta said. “If you plan to be a king, you really shouldn’t joke with people. A king’s word must stand.”
“Very well,” said the Prince, “you covered the ground with gold, so the park is yours. But you didn’t cover the trees. The trees are mine! But I’ll give them as a donation…”
Because the trees belonged to Prince Jeta, it is called the Jeta Grove, and because the garden was Sudatta’s, it’s called the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary.
In China, when King Wen established the nation, he assisted four kinds of poor people: widows, widowers, orphans, and the childless, or solitary. Sudatta also gave aid to these four kinds of people, and so he is known as the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary, that is, Anathapindada.
Together with a gathering of great Bhikshus, twelve hundred and fifty in all. This phrase fulfills the audience requirement. Together means that they studied under the same teacher, lived in the same place, and investigated the Buddhadharma together. They all had the same Bodhi mind and had opened the same wisdom, attained the same result, and would together realize Buddhahood. Because they had so much in common, the text reads, together .
The sutra text first lists the assembly of Sound Hearers because they are sages who have transcended the world. The Bodhisattvas are listed next because they are sometimes Bhikshus and sometimes laymen. They cultivate the Middle Way and so they are listed in the middle. The gods and dragons of the eight-fold division are listed last because they are in the world and represent the common people. Sometimes the Bodhisattvas are present in the Dharma assembly, and sometimes they travel to other worlds. The Bhikshus, on the other hand, were the Buddha’s constant followers. They always listened to the sutras and the Dharma, and so they are listed first.
Great has three meanings:
- many, and
Bhikshus are respected by kings and “great” men and so they are “great.” They have cut off afflictions and destroyed the “many” evils. They are different from, and “victorious” over all external religions.
Bhikshu also has three meanings:
- seeker of almsfood,
- one who frightens Mara, and
- destroyer of evil.
When one ascends the precept platform to be ordained, one’s request for ordination may be granted after three appeals. An earthbound yaksa ghost informs a space-travelling yaksa, who flies up to inform the heavenly demons. The heavenly demons are terrified and tell Mara, the king of the sixth desire heaven, “The Buddha’s retinue has increased by one and ours has decreased by one!” At this, Mara’s palace quakes. Thus a Bhikshu is one who frightens Mara.
He also destroys the evils of the eighty-four thousand afflictions because he has resolved his mind on Bodhi.
The Six Harmonious Unities of the Sangha
These Bhikshus were assembled together as a Sangha. Sangha is a Sanskrit word which means “harmoniously united assembly.” They live together without bickering or fighting and are united in terms of phenomena and noumena. In terms of the noumenal aspect, they have given proof to liberation and to the unconditioned. In terms of the phenomenal, they are united in six ways:
- As a harmonious group, they dwell together. They don’t look at one another’s faults and fight among themselves. No one has a special style. There are, for example, no solitary drinkers or smokers out of harmony with the rest. Everyone who lives with the Sangha must abide by the Sangha’s rules.
- With harmonious speech, they do not quarrel. They don’t gossip. They don’t say, “So and so has such and such an asset, and so and so has such and such a fault… three frogs have six eyes.” Their speech is harmonious and what they talk about is important and has principle. They don’t argue.
- With harmonious thoughts, they enjoy the same things. One person likes to study the Buddhadharma and so does the next. One is vigorous and the next is even more so. The more one person cultivates, the more the next cultivates. Everyone makes vigorous progress. Every day they are more energetic, not more lazy. Cultivating more and speaking less, their minds are in harmony.
- With harmonious views, they have the same liberation.
- With the same precepts, they cultivate together.
- In harmony, they mutually share their benefits.
Twelve hundred fifty in all. These were the Buddha’s constant followers, his retainers. When the Buddha went to lecture sutras, these Arhats always went along, even if they had already heard the sutra.
There were actually twelve hundred fifty-five disciples, but for the sake of convenience the number was rounded off to twelve hundred fifty. Where did the disciples come from? In the Deer Park, the Buddha first taught the five Bhikshus. Then Yasas, the son of an Elder, and his forty-nine disciples took refuge. The Venerable Shariputra and the Venerable Mahamaudgalyayana each had a hundred disciples who took refuge. That makes two hundred fifty-five. The Kasyapa Brothers had a thousand disciples, making twelve hundred fifty-five, and, rounded off, twelve hundred fifty in all.
The Kasyapa Brothers
The three Kasyapa brothers had a thousand disciples. Five hundred were with Uruvilva Kasyapa. Uruvilva means “papaya grove,” for it is said that he cultivated in a papaya grove. Some accounts claim that he had a lump on his chest which resembled a papaya, some describing it as concave, and some as convex! What is probable is that, liking to eat papayas, he cultivated in a papaya grove and in time a papaya grew on his chest. Papayas are good for curing illnesses of the lungs.
Uruvilva Kasyapa had two brothers, Gaya, meaning “city” or “elephant head mountain,” and Nadi, meaning “river.” The two brothers had five hundred disciples between them, and so the three brothers had a total of one thousand disciples.
The Buddha first taught and crossed over the five Bhikshus in the Deer Park. Then he considered who to cross over next. Seeing that the potential of the three Kasyapa brothers had matured, he went to the dwelling of Uruvilva Kasyapa. He could not, however, simply say, “I have come to save you, Uruvilva Kasyapa. Do you believe that?” He had to employ a clever expedient device and so he said, “It’s late and I can’t travel any farther. May I stay on here?”
Uruvilva Kasyapa, a powerful fire worshipper, saw the Buddha and thought, “Why is he so special?” Try as he might, he couldn’t figure the Buddha out. “Strange,” he thought, “I can see anyone else’s background just by looking. Why can’t I see his?” Finally he said to the Buddha, “Very well, you may stay here,” and he put him in a cave where Uruvilva Kasyapa’s protector, a dragon, lived.
The dragon was extremely fierce and scorched to death anyone who came near him. In the middle of the night, the dragon tried to burn the Buddha, but the Buddha had entered the fire-light samadhi and couldn’t be burned. The Buddha put the dragon in his bowl. More than likely, he didn’t have to trick him by saying, “You can only make fire, you can’t jump into my bowl,” as the Sixth Patriarch would later speak to another dragon: “You can only manifest a big body, not a small one.” The Buddha used a very natural method to get the dragon into his bowl. Then he explained the Dharma to him and the dragon took refuge.
Seeing such spiritual penetrations and transformation, Kasyapa knew that his own virtue was not as great as the Buddha’s. Thereupon, he took refuge and instructed his five hundred disciples to do the same. Soon after leaving home, they gave proof to the sagely fruit.
Kasyapa’s two brothers were also fire-worshippers, but when they saw that their brother had become a Bhikshu, they wanted to leave home as well. They did, and, along with their five hundred disciples, they soon gave proof to the sagely fruit.
That makes one thousand two hundred and fifty-five disciples. Out of gratitude for the Buddha’s deep kindness and his teaching, they were the Buddha’s constant followers. No matter where the Buddha went, they accompanied him and protected the assembly. For example, here we lecture on the sutras and those who come to listen protect the assembly. Even though they already understand the doctrines, they still take time from their busy schedules to come and listen.
All great Arhats whom the assembly knew and recognized. Arhat , a Sanskrit word, has three meanings which correspond to the three meanings of the word Bhikshu, because being a Bhikshu is the cause of attaining Arhatship, and Arhatship is the result of cultivation as a Bhikshu. It’s a matter of cause and effect.
An Arhat is:
- Worthy of offerings. On the causal ground, a Bhikshu is a seeker of alms food, and in the result he is worthy of the offerings of gods and men.
- One without birth. A Bhikshu frightens Mara, and in the result, as an Arhat, he undergoes no further birth.
- A slayer of thieves. On the causal ground, a Bhikshu destroys evil, and in the result, as an Arhat, he has slain the thieves of ignorance and affliction.
On the causal ground, the Bhikshu frightens the demons of the five skandhas, the afflictions, and death. Death is also a demon. Some cultivators practice diligently, yet when they fall sick and confront death, they are afraid. “I’m going to die!” they cry, turned by the demon of death. Real cultivators fear nothing. They are not afraid of life and they are not afraid of death. Life and death are the same. Death and life are not different. There is no distinction between them. If while alive cultivators can be as if dead, they will have no thoughts of desire. How can one have desire, greed, hate, stupidity, pride, or doubt as a dead man? When one arrives at this state there are no afflictions, no troubles at all. This is true happiness.
This state is not easy to attain, however, on the other hand, it is not difficult either. If you want to, you can do it.
For example, when one of my disciples became extremely sick, he said to me repeatedly, “I’m really suffering.”
I said, “The more suffering you undergo, the better. The more you suffer the more you will understand.”
One day it seemed as if he had died. He went to a happy place full of people. “Happiness is happiness,” he said, “but I want to see my teacher.”
“Who is your teacher?” the people asked.
As soon as they heard his teacher’s name they were unhappy. “You can’t see your teacher here,” they said.
“Then I’m leaving,” he said, and came back; he didn’t die after all. You might say he has conquered the demon of death. Subsequently, his skill has increased greatly.
Whom the assembly knew and recognized. These arhats were all very famous and their virtue was respected by the entire population. Everyone knew their names and recognized their faces.