Buddhist Meditation
Systematic and Practical

CW35
Chapter I
REASONS FOR WESTERN INTEREST IN THE PRACTICE OF MEDITATION

A Talk by the Buddhist Yogi
C. M. CHEN

Written Down by
REVEREND B. KANTIPALO

First Published in 1967


HOMAGE TO THE BUDDHA SAKYAMUNI AND THE THREE GEMS

 

Chapter I

 

REASONS FOR WESTERN INTEREST IN THE PRACTICE OF MEDITATION

 

We had brought with us a bagful of young sweet maize grown in the Vihara garden as a gift to Mr. Chen upon our second meeting. He accepted them smiling and with many thanks, immediately taking them to his shrine room as an offering to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. One fine piece he took out of the bag and, opening his back door, he placed it in a little box high up on the wall, as a gift to the Four Great Heavenly Kings finely depicted there in miniature. They guard the entrance to every Tibetan Buddhist monastery just as they do the Yogi's shrine. After answering a number of questions upon a previous topic, Mr. Chen excused himself and made a brief salutation to the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and guardian deities, for we were about to talk and write on Dharma, a serious matter. When he had completed this, we made a start on this chapter. Mr. Chen seemed to be particularly exalted, as exalted as the nature of his opening section. It was not easy to keep up with him as the information flowed out. It is hoped that everything he said has been caught here.

 

I am very thankful to you for your suggestion that I should speak on the reasons people are interested in practicing Buddhist meditation. You have come from afar to listen and write. Once when the Buddha was about to preach, he noted Vimalakirti's absence from the assembly, and although he could have preached much more thoroughly himself, out of humility he sent his Prince of Dharma, Manjusri, to hear the words of the famed lay Bodhisattva. In the same way, you were born in the noble country of England , and although you know all this much better than I, still you have humbly come from a great distance and I must speak.

 

Mr. Chen is pointing out here that it is the duty of not only the ordained Sangha to preach the Dharma, but it is also an obligation of the layman to do so if he is able.

 

The last time our talk was from the outside inward; today it will be the reverse, and in this chapter we shall go from the remote to the immediate cause of the interest of the West in practicing meditation.

 

A. REMOTE CAUSE—BY REASON OF THE DHARMA-NATURE

 

The Dharma-nature is unlimited by either space or time, and neither East nor West imposes any limits upon it. The Buddha's Dharmakaya embraces the Dharmadhatu and neither East nor West is outside it. There is no correspondence between place and mind, and the dharmas of mind do not depend on direction, race, or geography. In the Abhidharma of the Idealist School , dharmas are divided into five groups, and this point is clearly stated in the fourth group, containing 24 elements dissociated from mind (citta-viprayukta-samskara).

 

Everybody, therefore, may receive the blessings of the Dharmakaya (see the Sutra of Wei Lang, translated by Wong Mou Lam). It appears everywhere, in every time, and in every being; therefore, there is certainly no reason why a Westerner or any other person in any place would be unable to practice Buddhist meditation, as the foundation for it is everywhere present. At every point there is North, South, East, and West, even to the sides of a finger (to demonstrate which Mr. Chen held up a rounded hand), and so there are many of these directions all relative to one another. How, then, is it possible for anyone not to receive the Dharmakaya's grace?

 

(Note: We should not make the same mistake as some scholars, who have equated this Dharmakaya with the Creator-God of theistic religions. To do so is to confuse a God who knows he is God, and moreover knows (or rather imagines) that he has created all things at a particular time, which is a dualistic position, with the omnipresent and superpersonal Dharmakaya, neither creating nor destroying, void (sunya) in its nature and therefore nondual. The various "creators" are worshiped only by their followers, but the Dharmakaya is the fundamental nature of everything and of every person, throughout all time and quite beyond space-time limitations.)

 

B. BY REASON OF DHARMA-CONDITIONS

 

By "Dharma-conditions" is meant all the predictions of the past, the events then, the basic possession by all religions of a common factor, and the correspondences between Western religion and Buddhadharma. Let me explain these four points in detail.

 

1. It has been foretold by many Buddhist sages that the Dharma would go to the West and flourish there. Among Tibetans there is a well-known saying, "When the iron bird flies everywhere, then my Dharma will go to the West." This I heard from my esteemed Guru, Ganga Rin-po-che, who quoted it as being the words of the Guru Rin-po-che Padmasambhava.

 

More evidence comes from a holy place near Xi Kang called Padmagong, the Lotus Mountain . This is not found on any map, nor is it controlled by any government, for the local people are fierce and no one dares to go there. Through that land one may only pass with the mantra of Padmasambhava. The country is unusual in that, viewed from the mountains, the land looks like a lotus in bloom, but only two-dimensional. The prophecy about it is that if this lotus should rise up, that is, become three-dimensional, then it is a sure sign that the Dharma is going to the West. According to some reports, this has happened and the prophecy is now being fulfilled.

 

Furthermore, the Tibetan consort of Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyal, wrote down many secret teachings which were then hidden away in all sorts of places—caves, buildings, and stupas. Several of these have been taken out or discovered by great Lamas. One of these, the Mahamayavajra initiation ritual, was once found by a sage of Xi Kang. It next appeared in an old bookshop in New York , but how it got there is a mystery. Since the man who purchased it did not know Tibetan and was interested in publishing it, he asked my friend, Mr. Chen-Chi Chang, to translate it. When Mr. Chang read the ritual describing certain secret practices not suitable for commercial publication, he noticed a colophon that foretold that when this Dharma was discovered, the true teachings would pass to Western lands. Not only has this happened and is still continuing, but the very manuscript has found its way there! It was also prophesied that after some time I should preach the Buddha's word to the Western world, and now here you are both from England , writing this book which will be read by many people there—so is it not true?

 

Many other Tibetan books and teachers say the same thing regarding the Dharma and I shall not tire you with too many examples.

 

2. It is the rule of Bodhisattvas always to remain in the world to preach the Dharma, and such wisdom-beings may be born in the East or in the West; location makes no difference. So you have come here, both so earnest as bhikshus and strong in your determination to practice the Buddha's teachings….

 

As to past events, the West has now a long history, and just as there have been many saints in Christianity, so there will be many Buddhist sages born in that region. For where can the Dharma come from now?

 

With his voice trembling and his eyes moist, the Yogi's concern for afflicted Buddhadharma was plain to see.

 

In India the true Dharma lasted long, but except for the work of a few in the present time, it would now be unknown. I appreciate very much Mahabhikshu Sangharaksita's efforts to restore it. Buddhism in China is now nearly gone. With little remaining Dharma in either India or China , where can the Buddhist teaching flourish?

 

These words were spoken with eyes full of tears.

 

Ancient sages have said that in every period there is a center of Dharma, sometimes in this country, sometimes elsewhere, and in different times and places this center will be predominantly teaching one of the great yanas. Now the Dharma center has long been established in the West and so has laid down very good foundations.

 

Another point is this. The English were the rulers of India for a long time and often seemed to regard Tibet as though it were their possession also. But they also treated the Tibetans well on the whole and allowed them to come and go freely. The Dalai Lamas have usually liked the English better than the Chinese, who were their nominal rulers, and His Holiness, the thirteenth incarnation of the Dalai Lama, was very friendly towards England . Tibet became known as a holy land and was highly regarded by students of Oriental religion. Many scholars were able to visit the country and study the Dharma there. In this way, quite a wide knowledge was gained of Buddhadharma.

 

3. It is also a Dharma-condition that all religions have the same basis as Buddhism: they all possess its first yana. This is called "heaven-and-man" Dharma, and we can see at once that it exists in every religion. It is the way to the Deva-worlds preached in Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism; it is the Paradise of Islam and the Heaven of Christianity. Therefore, this kind of foundation for Buddhism is established everywhere, and Buddhists of the West should not think of rejecting Christ's teaching because of this. (See Chapter II and Appendix III, II, A).

 

In different countries Buddhism has had a different basis; in India it was Hinduism. Note the Lord Buddha's numerous preachings to many Brahmans about the way to the Brahma-worlds, when he used the same terms found in their systems but gave them quite different meanings. Similar methods were employed in China , where the teachings of Confucius and Lao-tzu were its foundations. Before a Buddha's preachings are heard in any country, some wise men are sent by the gods to make good preparation for it.

 

This seemed a very good interpretation of the many religions in different lands, according to which other religions are "expedient teachings" until people are ripe for the Saddharma. Both listener and transcriber looked up and exchanged glances of appreciation.

 

4. We now turn to the correspondences between Western religion and the Buddhadharma. The history of the East-West relationship opened at the time of Alexander the Great. Buddhist missionaries, aided by the slightly later efforts of Asoka, spread the Dharma even to Macedonia , Cyrene , and Epirus , through the states of the Greek-Asiatic successors of the great conqueror. The Dharma appears to have been quite well established in Egypt . Especially in the area of Alexandria , that center of spiritual ferment, early Christian writers speak, though rather vaguely, about the Buddha and the sramaneras, his monastic disciples. But we have very scant records of this because of later ages of destruction, first by the Christians when they came to power and later by the Muslims who conquered them.

 

It is possible that bhikshus from these Western lands may have gone on pilgrimages to India or Ceylon , for in the Chronicle of Ceylon (Mahavamsa XXX:39) there is mention of a place called Alasandra, thought by some scholars to mean Alexandria in Egypt .

 

A remarkable find was reported to have been made by a Russian explorer in the Hemis Gompa (vihara) in Ladakh. This was supposed to be a manuscript giving a brief account of Jesus' life in India in or near Sindh, where he is said to have studied for six years, returning at the age of twenty-nine to Israel . The book that gives this knowledge, La Vie inconnue de Jesus-Christ, by Nicolas Notovitch ( Paris 1894), though rare now, is widely known in India in its English translation. (The manuscript from which it was derived has not been found, nor is anything about its existence known to the Ven. Kushok Bakkula of Ladakh, so that this evidence must remain open to doubt.)

 

There are, of course, a number of places where similes used in Buddhist works have close parallels with the parables of Jesus. It is a possibility that some connection exists between them, and that Jesus may have drawn upon material from the Far East to illustrate his meaning. The following are among the most striking, and as they have been fully commented upon elsewhere, they will receive only brief mention here. There are similarities between the following: the parable of the two sons (Luke 15:11-32) and the simile of the burning house (Saddharmapundarika Sutra); the parable of the sower (Mark 4:2-25) and farmer Bharadvaja (Sutta Nipata); the parable of the blind men (Matthew 15:14) and the string of blind men (TevijjaSutta, i 15); and lastly, the teaching of heavenly treasures (Matthew 6:19-20) is paralleled by a verse from the Khuddakapatha.

 

John the Baptist's life and some of the sayings of Jesus (on John see Mark 1:6, and on Jesus, Mark 6:8-9, Matthew 10:9-10, Luke 9:3) point to Far Eastern influence in Israel at that time which may have come in by way of the Essenes, definitely a sect with Oriental inspiration, though it would be difficult to say that this was specifically Buddhist. The spirit here is certainly different from the Old Testament prophets' teachings.

 

At that time, men worshipped "heaven-and-man" Dharma and were not prepared for anything going beyond this, so we should give serious consideration to John 16:12, "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now," which clearly indicates that Jesus knew much more than he could tell his disciples, and may point to the existence of an esoteric doctrine secretly transmitted, as claimed by followers of the Gnostic schools. Such "hidden teaching" could well have been derived from India , where at that time Buddhism was in its ascendance.

 

Coming to modem times, many travelers from the West have remarked how similar to Catholic rituals the practices of Vajrayana Buddhism are. Usually, though, such travelers' knowledge of the Dharma has been rather slight and their comparisons therefore superficial.

 

Mr. Chen, absorbed in his appraisal of Christian and Buddhist resemblances, here looked from the transcriber to see the smiling young postman standing outside; he had only been waiting for a minute or less, but Mr. Chen profusely and warmly apologized for keeping him, and, taking his letters, went on.

 

Much good work was already done in the last century and a true flood of books was published, slowly making knowledge of the Dharma available to more and more people. But the flood of books then is only a trickle compared with the torrent today, many of these latter being reliable accounts of different sides of the Buddha's teachings.

 

C. BY REASON OF THE DECLINE OF CHRISTIANITY

 

Many examples may be given here to show that this decline in Western religion not only makes the practice of Buddhism possible (since dogmatic authority is now weakened), but also makes it necessary, as people are wandering without any true guidance. A few contributing factors may be mentioned that have helped to loosen the grip which Christian teachings had over people.

 

1. The awakening of the scientific spirit with such men as Copernicus and Galileo did much to weaken Church authority, for they rejected the Church's absolute dogmas regarding "science." In particular, such men demolished the notion of the Earth and its highest being, man, as the center of the universe. This was a valuable step forward in mankind's thought, giving him a greater ability to judge his place in the universe more truly than had been possible with blind men-centered dogmas. From that time on, when the Church's authority was thus challenged, it began to decline.

 

2. The Renaissance led to skeptical disbelief in the definitions and, later, the origins of many things held by pious medieval Christians to be indisputable truths. Artists of that period wanted freedom from Church restraints in the arts generally, and particularly in literature. Escape from the control of the Church was aided by the revival of Greek literature among European scholars, thus giving them ideas as to how philosophers and playwrights thought and wrote before the era of Christianity and its elaboration in medieval scholastic philosophy.

 

3. An outright rejection of the Church of Rome came in the Reformation, after which Catholics could no longer pretend to be the only authoritative religious body in Western Europe , even though they continue to claim that their teachings are the exclusive way to salvation. Among the Protestants there were early divisions, leading to the tendency to divide into many sects, each one claiming to possess some new revelation or superior truth. Since these claims are not based upon genuine religious experience, but merely upon differing views, the real meaning of religion has been forgotten and this sectarianism has only led to increasing degeneration. Now we find that members of the YMCA, for example, will only come to church by force of habit—or worse, only if they are persuaded by some sensual attraction such as films, dances, or parties. This approach might be called "Come to church and have a good time"; but nothing is said about salvation or religion. What all this means is that currently there is little true religion, even of the "heaven-and-man" variety, in the West.

 

4. To return to the science of this century, its development has been very rapid and in many fields it has rejected the traditional Christian teachings. One outstanding example is the theory of evolution, first propounded by Darwin , which clearly rejects the mythical story of creation authorized by the Bible. The scientific method, far from finding evidence for the Creator, has been quite unable to give an absolute God any place in the universe that he is supposed to have created; indeed, he appears these days to exist precariously only in the scientifically uneducated reaches of his "creation." (God's creation of the world is a view which Buddhists recognize to be delusive, as the world is "created" by avidya [ignorance] and trsna [craving], not by an omniscient deity.)

 

A recent theory has also opposed the static ideas of Christianity: the dynamic concept of matter-energy propounded in the theory of relativity. With this teaching, Einstein has not only destroyed all notions of an eternally unchanging absolute creator, but has also prepared the way for the Buddhadharma with its stress on impermanence and a spiritual, dynamic relativity.

 

Here, a story came to Mr. Chen's mind and this he told us at some length:

 

A Chinese professor of no strong religious faith, Dr. Tian-Gen Peng, studied this theory personally with Einstein. When he returned to China , he chanced to read the Heart Sutra, where the Buddha has clearly preached relativity, though in a spiritual sense, much deeper than the scientific theory. He at once recognized the similarity between the two and so gained belief in the Buddha's teachings on relativity, but still he could not understand and believe in rebirth. Hearing of me, the professor tried several times to make contact, but at that time I was dwelling alone in a cave near Xi Kang and my friend and protector, the Provincial Governor, allowed no one to disturb me.

 

During the Sino-Japanese War, the Central Government, which was in great danger, eventually called upon masters of yoga to help repel the invaders by invoking the power of whatever fierce deities they might be propitiating.

 

Mr. Chen smiled gently at this and said:

 

I was also asked to help but replied that I must first go and consult my Guru, Papung Khyentse Rin-po-che. On the way to see my teacher we met the professor, who also chanced to be traveling that way. He was very pleased, and said, "Now I have an opportunity to ask you some questions, and you can resolve my doubts." He told me that he had been to many teachers in China (including Venerable Tai Xu and Venerable Xu Yun) with questions on rebirth but they had not been able to convince him by their answers.

 

I told him that even in the present we are transmigrating, we go from birth to birth, even while we are awake, and this continues when we sleep. When after a lifetime of awakening and sleeping we come to death, how then should it be different? As there are dreams in the night following the experiences of the day, so at our death, because of the store of deeds committed, our karma leads us on from life to life.

 

Furthermore, rebirth is like this: when you are enjoying your wife, then your mind is at the animal level; if she makes some mistake and you want to kill her, then you have sunk down into the hells; if a beggar comes and you give him alms, then that is heaven; but if you see someone else doing good deeds and are envious, you go to the migration of the asura-demons; if you do not do anything very good or bad, then you keep the human state; if you are greedy and give your servant inadequate food and payment, you are in the realm of the hungry ghosts. Thus, there is nothing more real about this life than any other, since we find upon examining it that it is composed of many levels of existence.

 

Many events of the daytime are stored in the subconscious and these are dreamed of at night: this goes on day and night until death. As the dream continues from the daytime, so life continues after death.

 

The professor was quite convinced by this, but another doubt worried him. He had no belief in supernormal powers; he said, "When there are natural laws governing things, how can spiritual forces exist?" He questioned me further, saying, "I am sure you must have these powers, so please try and make some mischief for me." I strongly denied having any such ability and asked why l should want to harm him. However, I prayed heartily to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and asked them to convince this man so that he might become a true Buddhist. At once he began to suffer from a severe headache. "It's all right," I assured him, and at the same moment the pain went. "You have power," he declared, which I denied again, telling him that it may have been the power of the Buddhas and had nothing at all to do with me. His doubts regarding supernormal powers were then resolved and his faith in Buddhism strengthened.

 

That night, at the inn where we sleeping, he told me that he wanted to see the Buddha in a dream and asked me to help him. But at night, as I told him, I only invoke the guardian deities to protect us through the hours of darkness, and not the Buddha, whose puja I do in the morning. I trusted that he might be fortunate, for our ways parted the next day.

 

In the morning he awoke delighted, as he had very distinctly dreamed of a green horse. I told him to go to the Dzogchen Gompa of the Nyingmapas. In that shrine he would see an image of the deity called Horse-headed Vajra, a green emanation of Amitabha Buddha, and then inquire whether there was a good teacher in charge. I told him that if there were, he should take from him the Refuges (four: Vajrayana Guru, Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha). He wanted to take these from me, as he now regarded me as his teacher, but I did not allow him to do so as I am not a guru and have never accepted any disciples. Since that time I have not seen him and do not know whether he is alive or dead.

 

As more educated people like this professor hold only vague beliefs, so there is room in their hearts for knowledge of and faith in Buddhadharma.

 

D. IMMEDIATE CAUSE—BY REASON OF STRESSES IN WESTERN DAILY LIFE

 

Many people now believe only in science and its instruments, most of which seem to be used to increase desires. There are so many advertisements in newspapers and by the roadside tempting people to buy more and more things. Other desires are awakened by the "yellow press," pornography, cheap and nasty entertainments over the radio and television, and bad music arousing sensual desires. None of this is strictly controlled by the government but it is all in the hands of the merchants with their selfish desire to make more money. It is often difficult to publish really good books, as only trashy literature brings in much money. From all these examples we can see that mammonism is already very strong.

 

The interest of the multitude is not in the evils of sinning, for they have already rejected God and so can easily neglect his commandments; their only interest is having freedom to do as they please. Unrestrained freedom is now the aim of many foolish people who do not realize that they will not get happiness from this, but instead will only increase their miseries. So we see men and women freely having improper relations with one another; the pursuit of fame; money gained by wrongful methods, and the exalting of physical beauty, as in the elections for Miss Europe, Miss World, etc., so easily leading to the degradation of the individuals taking part.

 

Science has also developed many instruments of communication, which also lead from one desire to the next, thus: a bicycle is not enough, buy a car; even a car is not enough; go more quickly by plane. Now all barriers of distance are broken down and a person can easily be in contact with the whole world. In spite of being able to do everything so easily and quickly, people are not happy. For them every day becomes a struggle and tension mounts up in mind and body. We can see how common this is from the number of books dealing with "relaxation." People want to relax because they are tense, but such books do not get to the root of why they are tense; they only tell people very common things and there is nothing satisfying in them. There are no books of this sort in China .

 

If you want more reasons for meditating and taking refuge in the Buddha, then think of all the terrors of modern so-called civilization. Medical science is now very well developed; so well, that people now have no fear of disease from casual sexual relationships. They can commit these immoral acts without fear of consequences, so they become more lustful. There need be no children from such unions, so people become even more unrestrained. Newspapers often print lust-arousing news and pictures. That this gutter-press is extremely popular we can easily see by comparing their circulation figures with those of high quality newspapers. Then there is the scramble for power, material possessions, money, position, and fame—all resulting in greater worry, diseases of the body, insanity, and so forth.

 

Besides greed, we should remember that another aspect is encouraged by our misnamed "civilized state." When people do not get what they want, they hate. They hate anything that stands in the way of the fulfillment of desire. There being many desires, naturally many will be frustrated, and when this happens hatred is the result. Moreover, this hatred is fostered in many ways: by horror-comics, films of war and violence, crime books, and, in time of war, by official mass propaganda.

 

War itself increases hate, anger, violence, and crime books, and wars become ever bigger and more disastrous. The after-effect of wars is not "glorious victory" and "everlasting peace," but only murder, theft, looting, rape, sadistic violence, poverty, disease, starvation…, and thus more wars in revenge, and thus more hatred.

 

Going along with greed and hatred, there is always fear: either of losing what is "mine"—my body, wife, family, house, car, work, fame, or influence—or of getting something painful and unwelcome—blame, disease, old age, decay, and death. Is it surprising that some people are afraid of losing their minds; or that abortion, illegitimacy, youth delinquency, drunkenness, drug addiction, and suicide are worst in those countries with the highest standards of living?

 

All this is because people are blind and overcome by ignorance, and wander quite lost in this precious human life, not knowing what should be done with it. Instead they sink lower and lower and, blinded by delusion, become increasingly unlike men and more like animals.

 

Wise men say that you must turn back from all this. What is the way back? By way of meditation. Where is meditation most fully and thoroughly taught? In Buddhadharma. This is the way to freedom, which cannot be gained either through the liberties granted by governments, or by doing simply as one wishes. Freedom gained by the control and concentration of the mind is there for everyone to have if they want it. The basis of real freedom is everywhere; the meditations to realize the Dharmakaya are open for all to practice. Happily, many people in the world are becoming aware of the cause of dukkha (suffering, unsatisfactoriness) and that this way preached by the Buddhas is the solution of their problems, and the way to peace, freedom, and happiness.

 

SUMMARY

 

Because of the first reason, the ubiquity of Dharma-nature, there is no limitation of space or time to our practice and realization. This situation is like an empty building plot which has an excellent, strong foundation already laid in it (the Dharmakaya).

 

The Dharma-conditions may be compared to a house built upon this. However, the rooms of the house are bare, and the whole building quite deserted (since the decline of Christianity).

 

Therefore, many may enter in and take shelter there (from the strains of modern life) by taking refuge in the Triple Gem.

 

We have discussed the objective supports for Buddhist meditation, especially in relation to Western lands. In our next talk we come to the subjective reasons for the practice of meditation, as well as its ultimate purpose.

 

Then Mr. Chen, as he was seeing us out, said, "Please complete this, as you know it all much better than I." To this we protested. Bhadanta Sangharaksita saying that after all, Vimalakirti's sermon was much better than Manjusri's preaching.

 

 

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