Bodhisattva of Complete Enlightenment

Then the Bodhisattva of Complete Enlightenment rose from his seat in the midst of the assembly, prostrated himself at the feet of the Buddha, circled the Buddha three times to the right, knelt down, joined his palms, and said: “O World Honored One of great compassion! You have broadly expounded expedient methods for attaining pure enlightenment so that sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age may receive great benefit. World Honored One, we have already awakened. Yet after the nirvana of the Buddha, how should sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age who are not awakened dwell in retreats to cultivate this pure realm of Complete Enlightenment? Which of the three kinds of pure contemplation are foremost within the [cultivation of] Complete Enlightenment? May the great passionate One bestow great benefit upon this assembly and sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age.” Having said these words, he prostrated himself on the ground. He made the same request three times, each time repeating the same procedure.

At that time the World Honored One said to the Bodhisattva of Complete Enlightenment: “Excellent, excellent! Virtuous man, you have asked the Tathagata about such expedient methods for the sake of bringing great benefit to sentient beings. Listen attentively now. I shall explain them to you.”

Hearing this, the Bodhisattva of Complete Enlightenment was filled with joy and listened silently along with the assembly.

“Virtuous man, whether during the time of the Buddha’s stay in the world, after his nirvana, or in the declining period of the Dharma, sentient beings with Mahayana nature who have faith in the Buddha’s mysterious mind of great Complete Enlightenment and who wish to cultivate themselves should, if they live in a monastic community with other practitioners and are occupied by various involvements, examine themselves and engage in contemplation as much as circumstances permit in accordance with what I have already taught.

“If they are not occupied by various involvements, they should set up a place for  for practice and fix a time limit: 12O days for a long period, 1OO for a medium period, and 80 for a short period. Then they should dwell peacefully in this pure place. If the Buddha is present, they should hold correct contemplation of him. If the Buddha has entered nirvana, they should install his image, generate right mindfulness, and gaze at him as if he were still living in the world. They should adorn [the sanctuary] with banners and make offerings of flowers and within the first twenty-one days make obeisance to the Buddhas in all ten directions with utmost sincere repentance. Thus they will experience auspicious signs and obtain lightness and ease [of the mind]. After these twenty-one days, their minds should be well collected.

“If the retreat period overlaps with the three-month summer retreat [of sravakas], they should adhere to and abide with the retreat of a pure bodhisattva, instead. Their minds should stay away from the [ways of] sravakas, and they do not have to be involved with the community at large. On the first day of the retreat, they should say this in front of the Buddha: ‘I, bhikshu or bhikshuni, upasaka or upasika so and so, in the bodhisattva vehicle, will cultivate the practice of quiescent-extinction and together enter [with other bodhisattvas] into the pure abode of Absolute Reality. I will take the great Complete Enlightenment as my monatery. My body and mind, will peacefully abide in the Wisdom of Equality. [1] The intrinsic nature of nirvana is without bondage. Without depending on the sravakas, I now respectfully pray that I can abide for three months with the Tathagatas and great bodhisattvas in all ten directions. For the great cause of cultivating the unsurpassed wondrous enlightenment of a bodhisattva, I will not be with the community at large.’

“Virtuous man, this is called the retreat manifested by the bodhisattva. At the end of the three kinds of periods of retreat, [2] he is free to go unhindered. Virtuous man, if practitioners in the Dharma Ending Age go into retreats on the Bodhisattva Path, they should not accept [as authentic] any experience which they have not heard [from the Tathagata].

“Virtuous man, if sentient beings practice samatha, they should first engage in perfect stillness by not giving rise to conceptualization. Having reached the extreme of stillness, enlightenment will come about. Such stillness [acquired] in the beginning [of practice] pervades a universe from one’s body, as does enlightenment. Virtuous man, when enlightenment pervades a universe, a single thought produced by any living being in this universe can be perceived by these practitioners. When their enlightenment pervades hundreds of thousands of universes, the same condition prevails. They should not accept [as authentic] any experience that they have not heard [from the Tathagata].

“Virtuous man, if sentient beings practice samapatti, they should first be mindful of the Tathagatas in all ten directions and the bodhisattvas in all worlds. Relying on various methods, they will diligently cultivate samadhi in gradual steps, bearing hardship. They should make great vows [to save sentient beings] and thus ripen their seeds [of Complete Enlightenment]. They should not accept [as authentic] any experience that they have not heard [from the Tathagata].

“Virtuous man, if sentient beings practice dhyana, they should begin with methods of counting. [3] [Gradually] they will be clearly aware of the arising, abiding, and ceasing of each thought, as well as the state before the arising of a thought, the state after the arising of a thought, and the scope and number of these thoughts. Further on, they will be aware of every thought, whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. By gradually advancing still further, they will be able to discern a drop of rain in hundreds of thousands of worlds as if seeing, with their own eyes, an object used by them. [Again], they should not accept [as authentic] any experience that they have not heard [from the Tathagata].

“These are the foremost expedient methods in practicing the three contemplation techniques. If sentient beings thoroughly practice and master all three of them with diligence and perseverance, it will be called, ‘Tathagata appearing in the world.’ In the future Dharma Ending Age, if sentient beings with dull capacities who wish to cultivate the Path are unable to gain accomplishment due to their karmic obstructions, they should zealously repent and always remain hopeful. They should first sever their hatred, attachment, envy, jealousy, flattery, and crookedness, and pursue the unsurpassable mind. [4] As to the three kinds of pure contemplation, they should practice one of them. If they fail in one, they should try another. They should steadily strive to attain realization without giving up.”

At that time, the World Honored One, wishing to clarify his meaning, proclaimed these gathas:

Complete Enlightenment, you should know
that all sentient beings
seeking to tread on the unsurpassed Path
should first enter a retreat.
They should repent their beginningless
karmic obstructions for twenty-one days
and then engage in right contemplation.
Experiences that they have not heard [from the Tathagata]
should not be accepted [as authentic].
In samatha one practices perfect stillness.
In samapatti one upholds right mindfulness.
In dhyana one begins with clear counting.
These are the three pure contemplations.
Those who practice them with diligence
are called “Buddhas appearing in the world.”
Those with dull capacities who are not accomplished
should repent zealously of all the misdeeds
they have created since beginningless time.
When all obstructions are extinguished,
the realm of Buddhahood appears.

[1] “Wisdom of Equality” (ping deng xing zhi), samatajnana in Sanskrit, is the enlightened realization that self and others are equal and identical.

[2] “The three kinds of periods of retreat” refers to 12O days, 1OO days, or 8O days.

[3] “Counting” is a literal translation of (shu). This approach actually includes methods such as counting and following the breath, Five Contemplations of Stilling the Mind (wu ting xin guan), Four Foundations of Mindfulness (si nian chu), Sixteen Special Practices (shi liu te sheng) associated with the Four Noble Truths (si shen ti), and Contemplation of the Four Immeasurable Minds (si wu hao xin).

[4] The mind of Complete Enlightenment.