Wisdom

Master Hsin Yung

Excerpts from Only a Great Rain: A Guide to Chinese Buddhist Meditation
Translated by Tom Graham – Wisdom Publications
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Very little has been published to date on China's rich traditions of Buddhist meditation. Inspired by the need to increase meaningful interaction between China and the West on spiritual issues, modern meditation master Hsing Yun here brings this vast legacy to life in straightforward and engaging language. Professor McRae's introduction to the world of Chinese Buddhism helps place these instructions in their wider context.

WISDOM

When the World-honored One
established the Dharma,
he made three basic points.
The first is morality,
the second is samddhi,
and the third is wisdom.

--Master Tao-an

What is wisdom?

Wisdom in Sanskrit is prajna. The word prajna is often left untranslated both in English and Chinese because prajna wisdom is very different from what too often passes for wisdom in this samsaric world. Prajna wisdom is the highest sort of wisdom recognized in Buddhism and the highest of the six paramitas. Glimpses of prajna wisdom lead sentient beings toward enlightenment. Without prajna wisdom, enlightenment would not be possible. The Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra says, "Prajna is the mother of all buddhas."

Three ways of cultivating prajna

Buddhists generally recognize three basic ways of achieving prajna.

  1. Wisdom achieved through listening
    If one has the good fortune of being around wise people who understand the Dharma, then one will have the opportunity to develop prajna through listcafin8 to them.
    One may also develop one's wisdom by reading sutras and Dharma literature or by watching Dharma videos and movies.

  2. Wisdom achieved through thinking
    After hearing the Dharma, one must think about it or it will do no good. Wisdom is a trait or condition of the mind. If the mind is not used in the acquisition of wisdom, wisdom cannot be acquired. If one refuses to think about what one has heard, no learning will be possible. Through thinking it is possible to realize the truth of the Dharma very deeply. Everything starts in the mind. When the mind begins to train itself in the Dharma, nothing can obstruct it from rapid and joyful growth.
    The Buddha taught four necessary principles to help us discriminate between truth and falsity or between wisdom and ignorance. He said that our understanding should follow the Dharma and not people, that it should follow the spirit and not the letter of the Dharma, that it should follow the true meaning of the Dharma and not interpretations of that meaning, and that it should follow our deep wisdom and not shallow knowledge.

  3. Wisdom achieved through cultivation
    Once we have developed our wisdom through listening to the Dharma and reflecting upon its meaning, then we must begin practicing what we have learned. The practice of Buddhism is often called cultivation, since one cultivates wisdom and good behavior in much the same way that a farmer cultivates his fields. The ground of interaction between our thought and behavior is the main field whereupon cultivation occurs. One grows in Buddhism through a continuous process of watching one's behavior and adjusting it to accord more and more closely with the wisdom of the buddha within. Eventually, this process of continuous cultivation will produce direct perception of nonduality and the emptiness of all phenomena. This is a very joyous state.

The Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra gives some explanation of wisdom when Subhuti addresses Shariputra as follows:

Shariputra, if a bodhisattva continues to study like this, then he will gradually draw closer to the perfect knowledge of a buddha, and he will gradually become pure in body, mind, and perception. When he is pure in body, mind, and perception, then the bodhisattva no longer will give rise to defilements, to anger, to ignorance, to pride, to greed, or to mistaken views. When a bodhisattva no longer gives rise to any of the above defilements, then he will no longer become a body in a woman's womb, but instead he will achieve the transformation body and move only from one buddha realm to another, and he will help all sentient beings achieve the purity of the buddha realm. Eventually, he will achieve anuttara-samyak-sambodhi and be one with all buddhas.

Our understanding of wisdom grows with our wisdom. Today wisdom seems to be one thing, tomorrow it will seem to be something even deeper and greater. As our capacity to understand the depth of the Dharma increases, our appreciation of what the Dharma teaches also increases. Throughout this growth process, it is imperative that the practitioner remember that any morality, any samdhi, or any wisdom that does not compassionately benefit all sentient beings can only be an imitation of the real thing.
The Buddha stressed the three trainings to help us avoid the imbalances inherent in cultivating only morality, only meditation, or only wisdom. It is important to understand this point. For the most part, most people are accustomed to holding fast to only one religious idea at a time--their religion is essentially based on faith, on belief, or on morality. The Buddha taught the three trainings to help us overcome this tendency to make our spiritual lives one-dimensional. Wisdom is often called the highest virtue in Buddhism because it is only wisdom that can understand the importance of practicing all of the three trainings at once.

The Yogacarabhumi Sutra says:

When one practices the three trainings, what stages of growth does one experience? First one becomes pure and good through the practice of morality, and this leads to an ending of anxiety. After ending anxiety, one begins to experience peaceful joy. With the onset of peaceful joy, one begins to experience proper samadhi With proper amah, one begins to gain true knowledge and true insight, and these lead to a sense of revulsion for that which is false or evil. This revulsion helps one disentangle oneself from defilement, and this disentangling leads to liberation. Liberation eventually leads to perfect fulfillment in nirvana. This is the way one's growth proceeds: first one cultivates purity and morality, and gradually these lead to nirvana.

In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha explains the importance of the three trainings very well:

Simhanada Bodhisattva asked the Buddha, "World-honored One, what does it mean to cultivate morality, and what does it mean to cultivate samadhi, and what does it mean to cultivate wisdom?"

The Buddha said, "Good monks, if a person accepts the precepts only for the purpose of gaining heavenly pleasures for himself and not for the purpose of saving all sentient beings, then he is not upholding the supreme Dharma. If he acts only for his own benefit, or out of fear of falling into the lower realms of existence, or to make his life proceed pleasantly and smoothly, or because he fears the ordinary laws of the land or bringing harm to his reputation, then he is merely acting out of the immediate concerns of his life in this world. This kind of upholding of the precepts is not true cultivation of the precepts.

"Good monks, what is true cultivation of the precepts? If you cultivate the precepts for the purpose of saving all sentient beings and protecting the true Dharma, and if you save those who have not been saved,'and if you liberate those who have not been liberated, and if you lead those who have not known nirvana into nirvana, and if, when you do these things, you do not notice the precepts or the form of the precepts, or that you are upholding the precepts, and if you take no notice of potential rewards and do not become seduced by lower forces--this, good monks, is what is called cultivating the precepts.

"And what is cultivation of samadhi? If a person cultivates samadhi for the purpose of achieving his own liberation or his own benefit and not for the good of all sentient beings or for the protection of the Dharma, then he is not truly cultivating samadhi. If he is doing it out of greed, or lust, or attachment to food, or any other transgression of this sort, then he is not truly cultivating samgdhi. The nine orifices of both the male and female body are not dean. To cultivate samadhi for the purpose of fighting and killing is not to cultivate true samadhi.

"Good monks, what is true cultivation of samadhi? If samadhi is cultivated for the good of all sentient beings, and if equanimity is attained among sentient beings for the purpose of helping them attain the Dharma beyond regression and for the purpose of helping them attain the saintly mind, and for the purpose of helping them attain the Mahayana way, and for the purpose of protecting the supreme Dharma, and for the purpose of helping sentient beings attain the bodhi mind without regression, and for the purpose of helping sentient beings attain surangama samadhi and diamond samadhi, and for the purpose of helping sentient beings attain the dharani and the four boundless states of mind, and for the purpose of helping them see their buddha nature, and if, while this is being done, you do not notice samadhi, or the form of samadhi, or the cultivator of samadhi, or your potential rewards, good monks, if you can be like this, then you are truly cultivating samadhi.

"And what is cultivation of wisdom? If a cultivator should think like this: 'If I cultivate wisdom for myself alone, then I will quickly achieve liberation and pass beyond the three lower realms. No one can really help all sentient beings, and no one can really save people from the cycle of birth and death. The appearance of a buddha is as rare as an udumbara flower. If only I can break my own attachments to suffering, then I will certainly achieve the reward of liberation. For these reasons, I will pursue wisdom to overcome suffering and quickly attain liberation.' One who thinks like this is not truly cultivating wisdom.

"And what is true cultivation of wisdom? If you contemplate that sentient beings are ignorant and that they are trapped in a cycle of birth, old age, death, and suffering, and if you realize that they do not know how to practice the supreme way, and if your realization leads you to vow to use your body of this lifetime to help them with their sufferings, then you are cultivating true wisdom. Sentient beings are weak, greedy, immoral, and base. If you are willing to carry the karma of their greed, anger, and ignorance on your own body, and if you are willing to help them overcome greed, and to help them overcome their attachments to name and form, and to help them become liberated from the cycle of birth and death, and if you are willing to use your body in anyway to do this, and if you vow to lead all sentient beings to anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, and if, as you do these things, you do not notice wisdom, or the form of wisdom, or the cultivator of wisdom, or any potential reward, this is true cultivation of wisdom.

"Good monks, the one who cultivates morality, samadhi, and wisdom in these ways is a bodhisattva, while one who is unable to cultivate morality, samadhi, and wisdom in these ways is only a sravaka."

 

CONTEMPLATION ON COMPASSION

This contemplation is used primarily to overcome anger and all of the negative emotions associated with it. Anger is a negative mental state that seeks to harm others. Sometimes this harm is obvious, and sometimes it can be very subtle. Meanness, pettiness, selfishness, resentment, rudeness, and many other base emotions are frequently caused by the basic emotion of anger. Sometimes one of the more difficult aspects of overcoming anger is recognizing it at all. There are three kinds of contemplation on compassion used to overcome anger.

Contemplation of compassion based on the conditions of life

This contemplation is recommended for people who suffer from sudden and unreasonable bursts of anger that seem to have no real cause. Buddhists call this kind of anger "unreasonable" or "perverse" anger to distinguish it from other forms. The contemplation used to overcome unreasonable anger is done in steps: first one contemplates a loved one or someone whom one cares about and imagines them in a state of happiness. Following that, one contemplates someone toward whom one feels neutral and imagines them in a state of happiness. Then, one contemplates someone toward whom one feels angry and imagines them in a state of happiness. Lastly, one contemplates all sentient beings and imagines them all in a state of happiness.

Contemplation of compassion based on the Dharma

This contemplation is used to cure what is called "reasonable" anger. Reasonable anger is anger felt toward someone who is behaving immorally or who is deliberately trying to cause us trouble. One practices this contemplation by considering that all sentient beings are fundamentally empty--that is, they all lack a permanent self-nature. All beings are interconnected and interdependent, and in the end all beings are one. There is no real distinction between one being and another. Once this truth has been glimpsed, we should imagine sharing the peace and joy we have learned in meditation with whomever is causing us to feel angry. Gradually, we will find that our anger subsides.

Contemplation of compassion based on transcending conditions

Contemplating this kind of compassion is used to overcome what is called "argumentative" anger. Argumentative anger is anger that is caused by hearing someone assert an opinion that is different from our own. Argumentative anger can be overcome by contemplating that all distinctions are fundamentally empty and that all products of the discursive mind are fundamentally deluded. Since all dualistic thought is fundamentally deluded, there should be no reason whatsoever to become angry when someone says something we do not agree with.

Give benefit and joy
to all sentient beings.
Foster their goodness and protect it,
and blend with it in order to teach them.
Practice the bodhi way and use good words,
and you will never become fatigued.
--from the Pravara-deva-raja-pariprccha Sutra

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Keep Me in Your Heart A While: The Haunting Zen of Dainin Katagiri Dojo Mike Port s
The Essence of Zen – Sekkei Harada s
The Attention Revolution – B. Alan Wallace s
Food for the Heart – Ajahn Chah s
Never Turn Away – Rigdzin Shikpo s
sThe State of Mind Called Beautiful – Sayadaw U Pandita s
Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness: Walking the Buddha's Path – Bhante Henepola Gunaratana s
Ordinary Wisdom, Sakya Pandita’s Treasury of Good Advice – Sakya Pandita (John Davenport, translator) s
Mud & Water: The Collected Teachings of Zen Master Bassui – translated by Arthur Braverman s