Asvaghosha's Discourse on the Awakening of Faith in Mahayana

(Taisho Tripitaka 1666)

IV. Practice of Faith

In what does the practice of faith consist?

This part of the Discourse is intended for those beings who have not yet entered into the order of constant truth.

What is meant by faith? How should one practise faith?

There are four aspects of faith. [As to faith in general]: (1) To believe in the fundamental [truth], that is, to think joyfully of suchness (bhutatathata). [As to particular faiths:] (2) To believe in the Buddha as sufficingly enveloping infinite merits, that is, to rejoice in worshipping him, in paying homage to him, in making offerings to him, in hearing the good doctrine (saddharma), in disciplining oneself according to the doctrine, and in aspiring after omniscience (sarvajnana). (3) To believe in the Dharma as having great benefits, that is, to rejoice always in practising all paramitas. (4) To believe in the Samgha as observing true morality, that is, to be ready to make offerings to the congregation of Bodhisattvas, and to practise truthfully all those deeds which are beneficial at once to oneself and others.

Faith will be perfected by practising the following five deeds: (1) charity (dana); (2) morality (sila),(3) patience (kshanti); (4) energy (virya); (5) cessation [or tranquilisation] and intellectual insight.

How should people practise charity (dana)?

(1) If persons come and ask them for something, they should, as far as their means allow, supply it ungrudgingly and make them rejoice in it. (2) If they see people threatened with danger, they should try every means of rescuing them and impart to them a feeling of fearlessness. (3) If they have people who come to them desiring instruction in the Doctrine, they should, so far as they are acquainted with it, and, according to their own discretion, deliver speeches on religious discipline.

And when they are performing those three acts of charity, let them not cherish any desire for fame or advantages, nor covet any worldly rewards. Only thinking of those benefits and blessings that are at once for themselves and others, let them aspire to the most excellent, most perfect knowledge (anuttarasamyaksambodhi).

How should they practise morality (sila)?

Those Bodhisattvas who have families [i.e., lay members of Buddhism] should abstain from killing, stealing, adultery, lying, duplicity, slander, frivolous talk, covetousness, malice, currying favor, and false doctrines.

In the case of Sramanas, they should, in order to vanquish all prejudices, retire from the boisterousness of worldly life, and, abiding in solitude (aranya), should practise those deeds which lead to moderation and contentment as well as those of the Dhutaguna. Even at the violation of minor rules (sila) they should deeply feel fear, shame, and remorse. Strictly observing all those precepts given by the Tathagata, they should not call forth the blame or disgust of the outsider, but they should endeavor to induce all beings to abandon the evil and to practise the good.

How should they practise patience (kshanti)?

If they meet with the ills of life they should not shun them. If they suffer sufferings, they should not feel afflicted. But they should always rejoice in contemplating the deepest significance of the Dharma.

How should they practise energy (virya)?

Practising all good deeds, they should never indulge in indolence (kausidya). They should think of all their great mental and physical sufferings, which they are now vainly suffering on account of their having coveted worldly objects during their existences in innumerable former ages (kalpa), and which do not give the least nourishment to their spiritual life. They should, therefore, in order to be emancipated from those sufferings in the future, be indefatigably energetic, and never raise the thought of indolence, but endeavor, out of deep compassion (mahakaruna), to benefit all beings. Though disciplining themselves in faith, all novice Bodhisattvas, on account of the hindrances of their evil karma (karmavarana) produced by the violation of many important precepts in their previous existences, may sometimes be annoyed by evil Maras, sometimes entangled in worldly engagements, sometimes threatened by various diseases. As these things will severally disturb their religious course and make them neglect practising good deeds, they should dauntlessly, energetically, unintermittently, all six watches, day and night, pay homage to all Buddhas, make offerings (puja) to them, praise them, repent and confess (kshama) to them, aspire to the most excellent knowledge (samyaksambodhi), make great vows (mahapranidhana); and thereby annihilate the hindrances of evils and increase the root of merit (kusalamula).

How should they practise cessation [or tranquilisation] and intellectual insight?

To bring all mental states that produce frivolous sophistries to a stand is called cessation. To understand adequately the law of causality and transformation is called intellectual insight. Each of them should be practised separately by the beginner. But when by degrees he obtains facility and finally attains to perfection, the two will naturally become harmonised.

Those who practise cessation should dwell in solitude (aranyaka) and, sitting cross-legged rectify the attitude and pacify the mind. Do not fix the thoughts on the breath (anapanasmrti); do not fix the thoughts on the forms (samjna) and colors; do not fix the thoughts on space (akasa); do not fix the thoughts on earth, water, fire, and ether; do not fix the thoughts on what you see, hear, learn, or memorise (vijnanakrtsnayatana) All particularisations, imaginations and recollections should be excluded from consciousness, even the idea of exclusion being excluded; because [the suchness of] all things is uncreate, eternal, and devoid of all attributes (alakshana).

[Now in the constant flux of thoughts,] that which precedes [i.e., a sensation] has been awakened by an external object; so the next [step to be taken by the practiser] is to abandon the idea of an external world. Then that which succeeds [in that constant flux of thoughts] is elaborated in his own mind; so he should in turn abandon reflexion [or thought]. In short, as his attention is distracted by the external world [outer vishaya], he is warned to turn it to inner consciousness [inner citta]; while as his retrospection in turn calls forth a succession of thoughts [or ideal associations], he is again warned not to attach himself to the latter; because, independent of suchness, they [thoughts] have no existence of their own.

At all times, while moving, standing, sitting, or lying, the practiser should constantly discipline himself as above stated. Gradually entering the samadhi of suchness, he will finally vanquish all prejudices, be strengthened in faith,--and immediately attain to the state of never-returning (avaivartikatva). But those who are sceptical, sacrilegious, destitute of faith, encumbered with the hindrances (avarana) of karma, arrogant, or indolent, are not entitled to enter therein.

And again when the practiser by virtue of his samadhi attains an immediate insight into the nature of the universe (dharmadhatu), he will recognise that the Dharmakaya of all Tathagatas and the body of all beings are one and the same (samata), are consubstantial (ekalakshana). On that account it is also called the samadhi of oneness (ekalakshanasamadhi). By disciplining oneself in this samadhi, one can obtain infinite samadhis, because suchness is the source of all samadhis.

Some people scantily supplied with the root of merit (kusalamula) may yield to the temptation of Maras, tirthakas, or evil spirits. [For instance] those evil ones sometimes assuming horrible forms may frighten the practiser; sometimes manifesting themselves in beautiful figures, they may fascinate him; sometimes appearing in form of a deva, or of a Boddhisattva, or even of a Buddha with all his excellent and magnified features, they may speak about dharani or the paramita, or may give instructions about various means of emancipation (mukti), declaring that there is no hatred, no friendship, no causation, no retribution, or declaring that all things in the world are absolute nothingness (atyantasunyata), that they are in their essence Nirvana itself. Or they may reveal to the practiser his own past and future states of existence, they may teach him to read the thoughts of others, may grant him incomparable power of eloquence, may induce him to crave covetously for worldly fame and advantages.

Further, through the influence of those evil ones the practiser may sometimes be inordinately susceptible to dissatisfaction or delight; he may sometimes be too misanthropic or too philanthropic; he may sometimes be inclined to enjoy drowsiness; he may sometimes not sleep for a long time; he may sometimes be affected by diseases; be may sometimes remain discouraged and indolent; he may sometimes rise all on a sudden with full energy, but only to sink down again into languor; he may sometimes, being over-sceptical, not believe in anything; he may sometimes, abandoning the excellent religious observance, enjoy himself in frivolous occupations, indulge in worldly affairs, gratify his desires and inclinations; he may sometimes attain to the samadhi of heretics [i.e., tirthaka] and, remaining in a state of trance a day or two, or even seven, and being supplied imaginarily with some palatable food and drink, and feeling very comfortable mentally and physically, he may have no sensation of hunger or thirst; he may sometimes be induced to enjoy female fascinations; he may sometimes be very irregular in taking meals, either too much or too little; he may sometimes look either very handsome or very ugly in appearance.

If the practiser get enraptured by those visions and prejudices, he will lose his root of merit (kusalamula) accumulated in his previous existences. Therefore he should exercise a deep and thorough contemplation, thinking that all those [heretical states of samadhi] are the temptations of Maras or evil spirits that take advantage of his deficiency in merits and his intensity of karma-hindrances (karmavarana).

After this thought he should make another thought, viz., that all these are nothing but mental hallucinations. When he makes these thoughts, the visions and imaginations will instantly disappear, and, becoming free from all attributes [of limitation], be will enter into the true samadhi. He has then not only liberated himself from all modes of subjectivity, he has also effaced the idea of suchness. Even when he rises up from a deep meditation, no visionary images, no prejudices will take possession of in his mind, since he has destroyed the root of illusion through the power of the samadhi. On the contrary, all the excellent and virtuous deeds which are in conformity with suchness will be constantly performed by him, while all hindrances without exception will be removed by him, who now exhibiting great spiritual energy will never become exhausted.

Those who do not practise this kind of samadhi will not be able to enter into the essence of the Tathagata, for all other samadhis practised in common with the tirthakas have invariably some attributes [of imperfection] and do not enable one to come into the presence of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Therefore let Bodhisattvas [who aspire to the highest knowledge] assiduously apply themselves to the discipline and attain to the perfection of this samadhi.

Those who practise this samadhi will procure in their present life ten beneficial results:

1. They will always be remembered and guarded by all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in all quarters.

2. They will not be molested by Maras or evil spirits.

3. They will not be led astray by false doctrines.

4. They will be free from disparaging the deepest Doctrine (gambhiradharma). Their serious misdemeanors as well as their karma-hindrances will be attenuated.

5 . They will destroy all doubts, sinful recollections, and contemplations.

6. They will be strengthened in their belief in the spiritual state of Tathagata.

7. They will be liberated from gloomy remorse; they will be courageous and unflinching in the face of birth and death.

8. Being free from arrogance and presumptuousness, they will be meek and patient and will be revered by all the world.

9. If not practising deep meditation, those prejudices which are now getting weaker, will not assert themselves in them.

10. While practising meditation, they will not be disturbed by any external objects, such as voices, sounds, etc.

But mind: when the practiser is trained only in cessation, his mind will sink down into stupidity, and acquiring a habit of indolence, cannot rejoice in doing good acts, as he will estrange himself from deep compassion (mahakaruna). Accordingly he should discipline himself in intellectual insight as well.

In what does this discipline consist?

The practiser should contemplate that all things in the world are subject to a constant transformation, that since they are transient they are misery, that since they are misery they are not things-in-themselves [i.e., atman].

He should contemplate that all things in the past are like a dream, those in the present are like the lightning, those in the future are like clouds that spontaneously come into existence.

He should contemplate that all that has a body is impure, being a lodging place of obnoxious vermin and the intermixture of prejudices.

Contemplate that ignorant minds, on account of their groundless imagination, take the unreal as they see it, for reality.

Contemplate that all objects which come into existence by a combination of various causes (pratyaya) are like a chimera, having [only a transitory existence and] no [genuine] realness at all.

Contemplate that the highest truth (paramarthasatya) is not a production of mind [or subjectivity], cannot be [fully] illustrated by analogy, cannot be [exhaustively] treated by reasoning.

Contemplate that on account of the perfuming power of ignorance (avidya) all beings from eternity suffer great mental and physical sufferings in immeasurable ways; that those immeasurable and innumerable sufferings are suffered in the present and will be suffered in the future that while it is extremely difficult to disentangle, to emancipate themselves from those sufferings, all beings always abiding in the midst of them are not conscious of the fact, and this makes them the more pitiable.

After these contemplations the practiser should awake positive knowledge [or unerring understanding], feel the highest and deepest compassion (karuna) for all suffering beings, rouse dauntless energy, and make great vows (mahapranidhana) as follows:

"May my mind be freed from all contradictions; may I abandon particularisation; may I personally attend on all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, whom I shall pay homage to, make offerings to, revere and praise, and to whose instructions in the good Doctrine (saddharma) I shall listen; may I truthfully discipline myself according to their teachings, and to the end of the future never be negligent in self-discipline; may I with innumerable expediencies (upaya) [of salvation] deliver all beings who are drowned in the sea of misery, and bring them to the highest bliss of Nirvana."

After these vows the practiser should at all times, so far as his energy permits, practise those deeds which are beneficial both to himself and others. While moving, standing, sitting, or lying, he should assiduously meditate what should be done and what should be avoided. This is called the practising of intellectual insight.

And again when the practiser disciplines himself only in intellectual insight his mind may lack tranquilisation, and becoming too susceptible to scepticism, may not be in accord with the highest truth, may not attain to the wisdom of non-particularisation. Therefore cessation and intellectual insight should be practised side by side. He should consider that nothing is self-existent (svabhava), and things [in their essence] are uncreate, eternally tranquil, and Nirvana itself. But at the same time let him not forget to reflect that karma and its retribution, both good and evil, being produced by a co-operation of principle and conditions, will neither be lost nor destroyed. He should thus ponder on the law of causation, both in its good and evil karma and retribution, but at the same time lei him not forget to perceive that all things, though in their essence uncreate, have no self-existence, etc., they are Nirvana.

By practising cessation, common people (prthagjana) will be cured of finding pleasures in worldliness, while Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas will be cured of feeling intimidation at the thought of birth and death.

By practising intellectual insight common people will be cured of not cultivating their root of merit (kusalamula), while Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas will be cured of narrow-mindedness whereby they cannot raise deep compassion [for mankind].

Therefore, cessation and-intellectual insight are supplementary to, not independent of, each other. If one of the two is wanting, the practiser will surely be unable to attain to the most excellent knowledge (bodhiparinishpatti).

And again when those novice Bodhisattvas who are living in this present life [sahalokadhatu, i.e., the enduring world of actual existence], may sometimes suffer misfortunes that are caused by climate, weather, unforeseen famine, or what not; and when they witness those people who are immoral, fearful, infatuated with the three venomous passions (akusalamula), cling to false and self-contradictory doctrines, desert the good law and acquire evil habits; they [that is, novice Bodhisattvas], living in the midst of them, may feel so discouraged that they may come to doubt whether they can see Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, whether they can actualise their pure and spotless faith.

Therefore, it is advisable for those novices to cherish this thought: All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the ten quarters having great, unimpeded supernatural powers (abhijna), are able to emancipate all suffering beings by means of various expediencies that are good and excellent.

After this reflexion, they should make great vows (mahapranidhana), and with full concentration of spiritual powers think of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas When they have such a firm conviction, free from all doubts, they will assuredly be able to be born in the Buddha-country beyond (buddha-kshetra), when they pass away from this present life, and seeing there Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, to complete their faith and to eternally escape from all evil creations (apaya).

Therefore, it is said in the Sutra that if devoted men and women would be filled with concentration of thought, think of Amitabha Buddha in the world of highest happiness (sukhavati) in the Western region, and direct (parinama) all the root of their good work toward being born there, they would assuredly be born there.

Thus always seeing Buddhas there, their faith will be strengthened, and they will never relapse therefrom. Receiving instruction in the doctrine, and recognising the Dharmakaya of the Buddha, they will by gradual discipline be able to enter upon the state of truth [i.e., Buddhahood].

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