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The Way to Shamatha
VOLUME 1, Chapter 5
D2 The Tathagata replies about Shamatha.
E1 He explains the wonderful samadhi from beginning to end.
F1 He explains the general name of the Buddha’s samadhi causing Ananda to know the causes cultivated and the fruition obtained by all Buddhas.
In the midst of the great assembly, the World Honored One then extended his golden arm, rubbed Ananda’s crown, and said to Ananda and the great assembly, “There is a samadhi called the King of the Foremost Shurangama at the Great Buddha’s Summit Replete with the Myriad Practices; it is a path wonderfully adorned and the single door through which the Tathagatas of the ten directions gained transcendence. You should now listen attentively.” Ananda bowed down to receive the compassionate instruction humbly.
Originally this section appeared later in the text, but the elder Dharma Master Yuan Ying saw that it did not fit well there and so he moved it to this place. I have also looked into this several times and I agree that this section of text should appear here. It does not seem appropriate in the other place; it does not tie with what proceeds and follows it there. Here it fits in sequence.
Then means when the great Arhats and the great Bodhisattvas as many as the sands in the Ganges River had all assembled from the ten directions, wishing to receive the sagely instruction, and when Ananda had implored the Buddha to explain the initial expedients of cultivation by which the Tathagatas of the ten directions had attained wonderful shamatha, wonderful samapatti, and wonderful dhyana: it was then that the World Honored One extended his golden arm and rubbed Ananda’s crown.
The Buddha’s arm was naturally golden; it isn’t that he had gilded it. In Buddhism, rubbing the crown of the head represents compassionate loving protection for living beings. Now the Buddha, too, speaks of love, but this is not the ordinary love; rather it is a compassionate, universally pervasive love which protects all beings and causes all their demon-obstacles to disappear. It is not the selfish, emotional love which most people refer to. Take careful note of this point.
Of all the kinds of love in the world, the strongest is parents’ love for their children. No matter how bad a child may act toward his parents, they’ll still forgive him. "He’s just a child,” they’ll say. “He doesn’t understand things.” Even when a small child strikes his father or scolds his mother, the parents simply regard it with amusement, and don’t feel that he has done anything wrong.
”Why are parents like that?” you ask.
Because they love their children so much. The love of parents for their children is deeper and fiercer than the love between husband and wife.
I admire Americans in this respect. By the time their children are eighteen years old they are allowed to stand on their own. Sometimes parents don’t pay any attention to them after that age. That is fine; it is very good to raise sons and daughters to be independent of their parents. The only problem is that the children are often not experienced enough at that age to exercise mature judgement and so they easily get off to a wrong start. They are easily blown over by the winds of current trends or are pulled into the water by friends who are not upright, and once they have landed in the water it is not easy for them to get back out by themselves.
As a result, at the present time in America there are many young people who don’t recognize their country, who don’t know the meaning of a home, even to the point that they don’t even know what they themselves are all about. From morning to night they take LSD, marijuana and other drugs until they lose all clarity and are totally confused from dawn to dusk. If you ask them what they do for their country they say, “What does it have to do with me?” If you inquire about their family they say, “I don’t have any.” You might say they have left home, and yet of course they haven’t, although they claim to have no home. They’re caught in a total vacuum and that to me is most pitiful.
The Buddha’s loving protection for all living beings is like that of parents for their children yet stronger. Rubbing the crown is an expression of that loving protection. Just as an acupuncture needle revitalizes your blood and energy, so, as he rubs your crown, the Buddha’s hand emits light which dispels all the darkness within you. In this way he relieves you of all evil and increases your good roots.
”I’ve missed the opportunity,” you lament. “If only I had been born when the Buddha was in the world, I could have asked the Buddha to rub my crown so my evil would be eradicated and my good roots increased.”
Who told you not to be born at the time when the Buddha was in the world? Who told you to be born now? You can’t blame anyone but yourself. And regret is of no use. Don’t be regretful. You can’t blame other people. You can’t blame heaven. And you can’t blame the Buddha. We have been born now, so now we should study the Buddhadharma. If we are sincere enough the Buddha will be moved and will come and rub our crowns in expression of his loving protection.
Although the Buddha has entered nirvana, his pure dharma body pervades all places. You should not think that the Buddha has left us. The Buddha is always with us; it’s just that we cannot see him. All our daily activities - walking, standing, sitting, lying down, eating, getting dressed - take place within the Buddha’s dharma body. So we are always with the Buddha. It is just that the eyes of ordinary people haven’t the spiritual penetration to see the Buddha.
The Buddha rubbed Ananda’s crown and said to Ananda and the great assembly, “There is a samadhi called the King of the Foremost Shurangama at the Great Buddha’s Summit Replete with the Myriad Practices; it is a path wonderfully adorned and the single door through which the Tathagatas of the ten directions gained transcendence.” Not only Ananda but everyone in the great assembly as well - the great bhikshus, great Bodhisattvas, the king, elders, and laypeople - was instructed by the Buddha in the ultimately durable king of samadhis, which includes within it all the samadhis of all the myriad methods of cultivation. All Buddhas of all places have reached Buddhahood along this wonderful, splendid path and through this one door.
You should now listen attentively. “Listen carefully. Pay attention,” the Buddha told Ananda. “Don’t be nonchalant when you listen to me speak sutras. Take all of your essential energy and pour it into your ears. Don’t strike up false thoughts. Don’t sit there during the sutra lecture and be thinking about running out on the streets to see what is happening.”
Ananda bowed down to receive the compassionate instruction humbly. When Ananda heard the Buddha say that, he stood up and then bowed, and humbly awaited the holy teaching. He remained kneeling ready to listen to what the Buddha was about to say about the Shurangama, the king of samadhis.
F2 He explains the path of Shamatha, causing Ananda to awaken to the secret cause and have a great blossoming forth of complete understanding.
G1 He destroys upside-down thinking by speaking of the empty Tathagata store.
H1 The Tathagata smashes the false and reveals the true.
I1 He casts out and destroys the false mind to which Ananda attaches by opening the way to Shamatha.
J1 He establishes that Ananda grasps at the mind.
K1 He asks him about his resolve based on grasping at the appearance he saw.
The Buddha said to Ananda, “You and I are of the same family and share the affection of a natural relationship. At the time of your initial resolve, what were the outstanding characteristics which you saw in my dharma that caused you to suddenly cast aside the deep kindness and love found in the world?”
Ananda waited humbly to receive the Buddha’s compassionate instruction. But first the Buddha questioned him about his reasons for leaving the home-life.
The Buddha said to Ananda, “You and I are of the same family and share the affection of a natural relationship.” Ananda and the Buddha were paternal first cousins. The Buddha was saying, “You and I are like brothers.” One speaks of the “affection of a natural relationship” because in the world, natural relationships take precedent over everything else. Such relationships form a natural cycle. After being a son or daughter you become a father or mother and then you become a grandfather or grandmother, and if you are filial to your father and mother, your children will be filial to you. If you aren’t filial to your parents, your sons and daughters won’t be filial to you. It is said:
Of all the kinds of good practices
Filial piety is the first.
Of all the myriad evils,
Licentiousness is the worst.
In China, filial feeling is considered the root of goodness, its most fundamental form. There are twenty-four paragons of filial virtue in Chinese history, among whom some of the most notable were Tan Xiang, Meng Zhong, and Wang Xiang.
Tan Xiang’s father and mother were sick and wanted some sweet melon to eat, of a kind grown in northern China. However, it was winter and the snow was heavy on the ground, so how could there be any melons? Tan Xiang planted a melon seed in the frozen earth, stretched out on top of it to warm the ground, and began to cry. “How can I get this melon to grow quickly so I can harvest it for my parents?” he lamented. He cried and cried until suddenly something very strange happened. It’s not certain whether it was a response evoked from a Bodhisattva or from a Buddha or from a ghost or spirit, but right then and there a melon grew, blossomed, and bore fruit for Tan Xiang to harvest and carry home to his parents, a miraculous response to his one true thought of sincere filial regard. So it’s said, “Tan Xiang cried for melons.”
Meng Zhong’s parents wanted some bamboo shoots to eat, and unable to find any, he began to weep. He wept until he suddenly saw tender bamboo shoot sprouting in the spots where his tears had fallen. Such strange events are incomprehensible. Don’t try to use your thinking mind to figure them out. “Meng Zhong’s tears sprouted the bamboo.”
In the dead of winter, Wang Xiang’s parents both fell ill and wanted some carp to eat. Wang Xiang didn’t have any money to buy fish, and all the waters were frozen over, so he opened his clothing and lay down on the ice. In northern China the ice gets very thick in the winter, but his warm skin melted the ice through. It was his plan to fish for a carp through the hole, but suddenly a carp jumped out of the hole all by itself. Wang Xiang hurried home with it and told his parents what had happened. “We won’t eat the carp,” his parents decided, “because it is probably the son or grandson of the Dragon King who sent it to us.” Although they didn’t eat the carp, their illness was cured nevertheless. “Wang Hsiang lay down to catch a carp.”
True filial conduct can move heaven. Sons and daughters should pay particular attention to the practice of filial piety. The great Emperor Shun of China was so filial that elephants were moved to plow for him and birds did his weeding.
At the time of your initial resolve, what were the outstanding characteristics which you saw in my dharma that caused you to suddenly cast aside the deep kindness and love found in the world? The Buddha asked Ananda what first made him decide to renounce worldly love and leave the home-life; what good states of mind did he experience that led to his resolve.
In this world the kindness of parents is very great and the love between couples is particularly intense. If people could transform the love which exists between married couples into love for the study and practice of the Buddhadharma, then there wouldn’t be anyone who didn’t realize Buddhahood. Unfortunately, most people can’t do that. If you can, that is inconceivably fine.
What made Ananda pay no further attention to his parent’s deep kindness or his wife’s emotional love? What made him totally disregard everything except following the Buddha and leaving the home-life?
Ananda said to the Buddha, “I saw the Tathagata’s thirty-two characteristics, which were so supremely wonderful, so incomparable, that his entire body had a shimmering transparence just like that of crystal.
”Speak up! Quickly!” the Buddha said. “Don’t think about it, just tell me straight out about what made you decide to leave home.”
Since he was supposed to speak plainly, Ananda said to the Buddha, “I saw the Tathagata’s thirty-two characteristics.” From the invisible crown on the top of his head down to his level, well-proportioned feet, thirty-two major and eighty minor characteristics adorn the Buddha’s body.
”These thirty-two characteristics were so supremely wonderful, so incomparable, finer than anything I’d ever seen,” Ananda said. “Nothing in the world can compare to the wondrous adornment of your appearance, Buddha.”
The Buddha’s reward body, his entire body had a shimmering transparence just like that of crystal.
”I often thought to myself that these characteristics cannot be born of desire and love. Why? The vapors of desire are coarse and murky. From foul and putrid intercourse comes a turbid mixture of pus and blood which cannot give off such a magnificent, pure, and brilliant concentration of purple-golden light. And so I thirstily gazed upward, followed the Buddha, and let the hair fall from my head.”
When Ananda often thought to himself that these characteristics cannot be born of desire and love, he used his ordinary discriminating consciousness, his ordinary mind which is subject to production and extinction. How, he thought, could the thirty-two special characteristics of the Buddha be born from emotional, lustful, desire and thoughts of love? The vapors of desire are coarse and murky. From foul and putrid intercourse comes a turbid mixture of pus and blood. Men and women have intercourse and think it is good, but it actually gives off vapors which are extremely rancid. We can’t rely on our bodies born from the desire of men and women to give off such a magnificent, pure, and brilliant concentration of purple-golden light, the color of distant mountains, which constantly illumines the Buddha’s body.
Thinking this, Ananda thirstily gazed upward, followed the Buddha, and let the hair fall from his head. Ananda forsook one kind of love, his emotional love for his family, and took up another kind: he fell in love with the Buddha’s appearance. And that is the reason Ananda left the home-life.
Right here is where Ananda made his mistake. He didn’t leave home out of a genuine desire to cultivate the Way and after he left home he concentrated too heavily on studying the sutras. Earlier, I said that you should change the love which exists between married couples into a love for the Buddhadharma. But that doesn’t mean that merely by love alone you can put an end to birth and death.
”What must be done?” you ask.
You need to genuinely cultivate the Way. You have to be mindful of what you are doing at all times and in all places. You must never forget for even a moment to practice and uphold the Buddhadharma. Early in the morning and late at night you should be studying the Shurangama Sutra, sitting in meditation, and listening to the sutra lectures. Don’t have false thinking and don’t talk so much, since neither can help you at all in your study of the sutra or your investigation of Chan. You should stake your very lives on the work and sacrifice everything else in order to study Buddhism. Then the understanding you gain will enable you to be genuinely wise and truly intelligent.
But since Ananda was solely concerned with loving the Buddha, he didn’t cultivate samadhi. He thought (as he confesses in the text), “The Buddha is my older cousin. When the time comes the Buddha will give me samadhi power.” He didn’t realize that no one could stand in for him, in body or in mind. Ananda was very intelligent, probably more intelligent than any of us, but when he concentrated on studying the sutras at the expense of cultivating samadhi, he was too smart for his own good. He mastered the words but not the substance. He could remember all the dharma the Buddha had spoken and never got one word of it wrong, but without any samadhi-power, he fell under the spell of the Brahma Heaven mantra of Matangi’s daughter.
Instead of imitating the Buddha’s wisdom, his awakening, and his Way-virtue, Ananda just modeled himself on the Buddha’s appearance. In past lives he was probably attached to appearances, and so he concentrated on the superficial aspect of things. Although he remembered the sutras the Buddha spoke, he didn’t pay a lot of attention to what they said. He was more concerned with the Buddha’s appearance to the point that if on any given day he just saw the Buddha, that was enough to make him happy.
Anyone who wants to obtain genuine samadhi power must first cast love aside. But to replace love with hate is another mistake. “I don’t love anything,” you say. “I despise whoever I see. Stay away from me! I want to be alone. I want to cultivate by myself.” With this attitude, you’ll never obtain samadhi. You must neither hate nor love. It should be as if there were no difference between you and other people. Everyone is equal. If you are one with and equal to other people, who is there to love? Who is there to hate? No one.
”I can’t manage that,” you say. “That’s hard work.”
If you can work hard, then you can obtain what is true. If you don’t work hard, you won’t obtain it. Follow the teachings, and don’t listen to your own thoughts about it. The ordinary mind is the Way.
Because Ananda liked the Buddha’s adorned appearance, he was able to reject the deep compulsion for worldly kindness and love and let the hair fall from his head. When the Buddha was in the world, those who left home under him did not have to shave their heads. The Buddha simply said, “Good man, you are now renouncing worldly life and leaving home. Let your beard and hair fall of itself and let you be robed in the kashaya.” As soon as the Buddha said this the bhikshu’s hair and beard would fall out, because the Buddha used his spiritual penetrations to cause it to fall. Now that the Buddha has entered nirvana we have to receive the precepts at a precept-platform, but when the Buddha was in the world one became possessed of the precept substance when he spoke those few words, and one was robed in the precept sash.
In China the precept-platform used to be three years long. But three years eventually proved too long, so a scientific method was adopted to speed up the process so that one could receive the precepts in fifty-three days. Now some places transmit the precepts in eighteen days, and there are even places that will do it in a week. Now from mechanization we’ve advanced to electronics, to the point that in Hong Kong on Ta Yu mountain there are places where the precepts are transmitted in three days’ time. Actually, a three-day precept-platform is not in accord with dharma.