Entering into Practice

31) The Four Types of Samadhi

When Pure Land practitioners reach the highest stage, they all attain one state, called the Buddha Recitation Samadhi. This is the realm of all-illuminating still-emptiness, where deluded consciousness has disappeared and only the practitioner's mind continues to dwell on the auspicious features or the sacred name of Amitabha Buddha. However, although the mind is said to "dwell," it is really "non-dwelling," because sounds, forms and marks are illusory by their very nature -- they are really empty.

What are the marks of this samadhi? According to Elder Master Liu Yu, when the practitioner assiduously recites the Buddha's name with one-pointedness of mind, oblivious to body, mind and the external world, transcending time and space, and when he has exerted the utmost effort and reached the goal, right in the midst of present thought, worldly delusions suddenly disappear -- the mind experiences sudden Awakening, attaining the realm of "No-Thought, no No-Thought." That realm is like empty space, all clouds have dissipated, the sky is all blue, reciting is not reciting, not reciting is reciting, not seeing and knowing is truly seeing and knowing -- to see and to know is to stray towards worldly dusts. At this stage, the silver water and green mountains are all Ultimate Truth, the babbling brooks and singing birds all express the wonderful Dharma. The light of the Mind encompasses ten thousand phenomena but does not dwell on any single dharma, still-but-illuminating, illuminating-but-still, existing and lost at the same time -- all is perfect.

The realm of samadhi is, in general, as just described. It is difficult to express in words, and only when we attain it do we experience it. Buddha Recitation Samadhi is always the same state. However, the ancients distinguished four variants, based on the sutras and on different ways of cultivation. These variants are described below.

1. Pratyutpanna Samadhi

When practicing this samadhi, the cultivator has three powers to assist him: the power of Amitabha Buddha, the power of the samadhi and the power of his own virtues.

The unit of practice of this samadhi should be ninety days. In that span of time, day and night the practitioner just stands or walks around, visualizing Amitabha Buddha appearing as a body standing on the practitioner's crown, replete with the thirty-two auspicious marks and the eighty beautiful characteristics. He may also recite Amitabha Buddha's name continuously, while constantly visualizing Him. When practice is perfected, the cultivator, in samadhi, can see Amitabha Buddha and the Buddhas of the ten directions standing in front of him, praising and encouraging him.

Pratyutpanna is also called the "Constantly Walking Samadhi." As the practitioner walks, each step, each word is inseparable from the name of Amitabha Buddha. His body, speech and mind are always practicing Buddha Recitation without interruption, like a continuous flow of water.

This method brings very lofty benefits, but only those of high capacity have the endurance to practice it. Those of limited or moderate capacities or lacking in energy cannot pursue this difficult practice.

2. Single Practice Samadhi

"Single Practice" means specializing in one practice. When cultivating this samadhi, the practitioner customarily sits and concentrates either on visualizing Amitabha Buddha or on reciting His name. Although he actually cultivates only one practice, in effect, he achieves proficiency in all other practices; consequently Single Practice is also called "Perfect Practice."

This samadhi, as well as the following two samadhis, can be put into practice by people of all capacities.

3. Lotus Blossom Samadhi

This is one of sixteen samadhis explained in Chapter 24 of the Lotus ("Dharma Blossom") Sutra. According to the T'ien T'ai School, the "three truths" (emptiness, conditional existence, the Middle Way)[44] perfectly fused, are "Dharma," while the Expedient and the True, being non-dual, are "blossoms." For example, when the petals (the Expedient) of the lotus blossom are not yet opened, its seeds (the True) are already formed: the seeds and the petals exist simultaneously. Thus, in a single flower, the full meaning of the True and the Expedient is exemplified.

In Pure Land terminology, we would say, "recitation is Buddha," "form is Mind," and one utterance of the Buddha's name includes the "three truths," encompassing the True and the Expedient. If we recite the Buddha's name while understanding this principle, we are practicing the Lotus Blossom Samadhi. In cultivating this samadhi, the practitioner alternates between sitting and walking while visualizing Amitabha Buddha or reciting His name, to the point where he enters samadhi. This technique is somewhat easier than the Single Practice Samadhi described above.

4. Following One's Inclinations Samadhi

With this technique, we walk or stand, lie down or sit up as we wish, constantly focusing our thoughts and never abandoning the sacred name of Amitabha Buddha, attaining samadhi in the process. This practice is also called "Flowing Water Buddha Recitation." It is like water continuously flowing in a river; if it encounters an obstacle such as a rock or a tree, it simply bounces back and continues to flow around it.

Normally, the practitioner of this method, early each morning, bows forty-eight times to Amitabha Buddha, and seven times each to the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta and the Ocean-Wide Assembly. He then kneels down to seek repentance. From then on until nightfall, whether walking, standing, Lying down, or sitting up, he recites the Buddha's name, either fingering the rosary or simply reciting. Before going to bed, he bows once more to Buddha Amitabha and dedicates the merits of the whole day's practice toward rebirth in the Pure Land. If he is distracted during practice, he should resume recitation as soon as the circumstances of the distraction have passed.

This method is flexible and easy, but the cultivator should minimize distracting conditions and have a good deal of perseverance.

32) The Three Parts of the Pure Land Ceremony

The actual Pure Land ceremony consists of three parts:

a) praise giving; 
b) recitation proper; 
c) Vows and dedication of merit.

The "praise giving" ceremony recommended for the majority of today's practitioners consists of bowing three times to Amitabha Buddha and once each to the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta and the Ocean-Wide Assembly, at the beginning and end of each session. This is the ideal practice for those very busy with everyday, mundane work or the aged and those in failing health. Alternatively, practitioners of limited capacities can just earnestly make three bows at the beginning and three more bows at the very end of the session, before retiring.

With respect to "recitation proper," the practitioner can select, according to his inclinations and preferences, one of the ten variants of Oral Recitation described in section 30. If he is also reciting mantras and sutras, he should do so before the Buddha Recitation part.

For "Vows and dedications," the short form of the Vow described in section 25 (with date and name of the practitioner) is recommended.

33) How to Combat Drowsiness and Mind-Scattering

The cultivator at times drifts into a dark, heavy mental state, akin to sleep; this is the delusive obstruction of drowsiness. At other times, while he recites the Buddha's name, his mind wanders and is filled with sundry thoughts. This is the delusive condition of "mind-scattering." Drowsiness and mind-scattering are two very dangerous obstacles because they hinder cultivation and prevent the practitioner from entering samadhi.

As the cultivator practices, his delusive thoughts may suddenly be submerged and stilled. He recites the Buddha's name in an even monotone, with calm mind and thought, oblivious even to the weather and insect bites. This state usually lasts from one-half to one hour. Sometimes sweat soaks his clothing without his knowledge, and only when he suddenly awakens does he perceive an uncomfortable sensation of extreme heat. Experiencing this, he should not hasten to rejoice, thinking that his mind has settled, or that his practice is bearing some results. In reality, this is only the state of drowsiness in its subtle, mild form. The ancients have said:

Gently, gently, if drowsiness is not exposed, the demons will have their fill all day.

In this situation, the cultivator should take steps to practice steadfastly, with increased diligence and vigor. As he recites, he should "turn the light around," to subdue and destroy drowsiness.

In general, according to the author's experience, as drowsiness approaches, it is preceded by delusive, scattered thoughts. There are, of course, times when drowsiness and delusive thoughts arise at the same time. However, this is a gross manifestation, easily detectable. When subtle drowsiness approaches, at first subtle errant thoughts arise. The practitioner feels that a dim spot is climbing from the back of his neck to the top of his head, then descending to the eyes, ending somewhere deep in the Alaya consciousness. Wherever drowsiness goes, that part of the body is affected. If it reaches the head, the head droops slightly; if it reaches the eyes, the eyes close; if it reaches the mind, the mind becomes clouded. The practitioner should possess a very keen, discerning mind to detect this subtle form of torpor.

Delusive thoughts, as well, have two manifestations: gross and subtle. Everyone can detect gross delusive thoughts, because their manifestations are very clear. The ancients had a saying:

In the early stage of cultivation, be afraid of delusive thoughts; with time, beware of drowsiness!

This saying, while partly correct, is not entirely true, as it refers only to the "scattering" aspect of "gross" delusive thoughts. Even seasoned cultivators, however, should be wary of "subtle" delusive thoughts. When the practitioner puts all his efforts into reciting the Buddha's name, gross delusive thoughts will certainly be stilled and submerged but it is very difficult to detect the comings and goings of subtle delusive thoughts.

For example, when the froth rises to the surface of a muddy pond, we can see it easily. However, we would need a very limpid pond to see the tiny bubbles arising from the bottom, breaking on the surface or reaching only halfway to the surface. Likewise, only seasoned practitioners (who have reached the stage where the waters of the mind are calm and still) can detect subtle delusive thoughts.

One morning, a well-known Elder Master, in the short span of three seconds, from the time he left his bed to the time he sat on his chair, detected several dozen delusive thoughts arising in his mind. Only then could he verify the teaching of the sutras:

One thought lasts 90 ksana (instants), one ksana has 900 births and deaths.

This refers to delusive thoughts in their subtle manifestations.

In this regard, I would like to recount a well-known story about subtle delusive thoughts, to increase the awareness of fellow-cultivators. Once there were two famous Zen Masters who had been awakened to the Way. One day, as they sat in meditation together, the young master had a thought of lust and desire, which he immediately severed. However, the Elder Master, seated opposite, already knew of the occurrence. After emerging from meditation, the Elder Master composed a poem, intending to tease his friend. The latter, sad and ashamed, immediately "gathered up his vital energy," and expired on the spot. The Elder Master, filled with remorse, called his disciples together and followed his friend in death, leaving these parting words: `'My friend, while in meditation, had a false thought of lust and desire and will therefore certainly be entangled in love relationships in his next life. He died while unhappy with me, and therefore, upon rebirth, will cause havoc to the community of monks. I am partly responsible for all of this, so if I do not follow and guide him, I will not escape the consequences ..."

The Elder Master went on to be reborn as a distinguished Zen Master, while the former young master had by then become the famous Chinese poet Su Tung-P'o (T'ang dynasty). Because of his previous cultivation, Tung-P'o was a mandarin, endowed with intelligence and wisdom. However, being amorous in nature, he was entangled in the conflicting demands of seven wives and concubines. Moreover, with his learning and intelligence, he often challenged the Zen Masters of his day. Only after he was vanquished by his former friend did he return to Buddhist practice.

This story shows that subtle delusive thoughts should be feared even by seasoned cultivators. The ancients had a verse:

Though one's cultivation has reached the stage of no excess or want, 
It is not easy to destroy ten thousand eons of greed and delusion.

Therefore, when the practitioner has experienced a glimpse of some auspicious realms, he should not hasten to show off or grow vain. He should beware of the example of the younger master. Nor should he grow pretentious and denigrate others, but should take the example of the Elder Master to heart.

Cultivators who have practiced a long time know themselves how to eliminate drowsiness and subtle delusive thoughts. I shall merely indicate the way to counteract their gross manifestations.

Normally, when afflicted with numerous scattered thoughts, the practitioner should sit still and gather his mind together to recite the Buddha's name. When drowsiness sets in, he should stand up and recite while circumambulating the altar. Alternating between these two techniques will in time eliminate the two hindrances. In my experience, listening and clearly recording each and every utterance of Amitabha Buddha's name, following the Reflecting the Name technique (section 30-1), is probably the most effective way to counteract scattered thought, while Bowing to the Buddha is the supreme method for overcoming the obstruction of heavy drowsiness (section 30-6).

Nevertheless, each practitioner has his own personal experience and knows what is most appropriate to his particular situation. I have merely made some observations to assist him in his practice.