The Dharma Essentials for Cultivating Stopping and Contemplation

By the Swei Dynasty Shramana Chih-i of T'ien-t'ai Mountain's Dhyana Cultivation Monastery

Translated into English by Dharmamitra

(Taisho Tripitaka 1915)

Chapter One: Fulfillment of [the Requisite] Conditions

A) Upholding the Precepts Purely
B) Ensuring Adequacy of Clothing and Food
C) Obtaining an Easeful and Quiet Dwelling Place
D) Putting All Responsibilities to Rest
E) Drawing Near to Good and Knowledgeable Friends

The direct exposition of the ten sections. (10)

A) Upholding the precepts purely. (2)

First, generally clarifying the essentials of upholding the precepts.

Now, having generated the resolve to take up the practice, one who desires to cultivate stopping and contemplation must first fulfill five conditions related to external phenomena. The first among them is the requirement that one must be pure in upholding the precepts. This is as stated in one of the Sutras, "It is in dependence upon and [directly] because of these precepts that one succeeds in developing the dhyana absorptions as well as the wisdom which puts an end to suffering. Therefore the bhikshu(11) should be pure in upholding the precepts."

Next, the specific clarification of the characteristics of three levels of upholding the precepts. (3)

First, the superior level of upholding the precepts.

In this regard, there are three classes of cultivators according to differences in the upholding of precepts. The first is as follows: Prior to becoming a disciple of the Buddha [this cultivator] did not commit any of the five nefarious offences.(12) Later he encountered a good master who taught him to accept the three refuges and the five precepts, whereby he became a disciple of the Buddha. If he succeeded in leaving the home life he first took on the ten precepts of the Shrama.nera and then later received the complete precepts becoming thereby a bhikshu or [in the case of a woman] a bhikshuni. From the time of first taking precepts, he [or she] has been pure in guarding and upholding [the precepts] and thus has been entirely without transgression. In the upholding of the precepts, this person is of the superior grade. One should understand that in cultivating stopping and contemplation, such a person as this will certainly achieve realization in those dharmas of the Buddha. [A cultivator] such as this may be likened to a robe which is perfectly clean and which thus will easily absorb the appropriate dye.

Second, the middling level of upholding the precepts.

In the case of the second, after having received the precepts, although there have been no transgressions of the major precepts, still there have been many breaches of minor prohibitions. If for the sake of cultivating meditative absorption, [such a cultivator] is able to carry out repentance in a manner prescribed by Dharma, he too may be referred to as one whose upholding of the precepts is pure and he too shall be able to develop meditative absorption and wisdom. Such an individual may be compared to a robe which, although once soiled, has nonetheless been entirely cleaned such that dye will take in this case as well.

Third, the inferior level of upholding the precepts. (2)

First, repentance according to the methods of the Great Vehicle. (3)

First, clarification of the ability or inability to repent according to the Great and Lesser Vehicles.

In the case of the third, having received the precepts, one was unable to guard and uphold the precepts with a firm mind and thus there has been much transgression of both minor and major prohibitions. According to the approach of the Lesser Vehicle, there is no method whereby one may repent and be purified of transgressions against the four major prohibitions. If however one resorts to the approach of the teachings of the Great Vehicle, there is still a means whereby [such offenses] may be extinguished.

Next, citation of evidence that one who is able to repent becomes a healthy person.

Accordingly, one of the Sutras notes, "Within the Buddha's Dharma, there are two types of healthy people: those who have committed no evil deeds whatsoever and those who, having committed them, have been able to repent of them.

Third, repentance directly according to the methods of the Great Vehicle. (2)

i First, implementation through according with ten dharmas which assist repentance. (4)

a [First, enumeration of the ten dharmas which assist repentance.]

Now as for the one who is desirous of repenting [transgressions of the prohibitions], it is essential for him to fulfill ten dharmas which assist the success of his repentance:

First, understand and believe in cause and effect;

Second, develop extreme fearfulness;
Third, give rise to a deep sense of remorse;
Fourth, seek out a method to extinguish offenses. This refers to the methods of practice explained in the Great Vehicle sutras. One should cultivate them in accord with the Dharma;
Fifth, completely confess the prior offenses;
Sixth, cut off the thought of continuance [of the offenses confessed];
Seventh, bring forth the resolve to serve as a protector of Dharma;
Eighth, make great vows to deliver beings;
Ninth, constantly be mindful of all buddhas of the ten directions;
Tenth, contemplate the nature of offenses as being unproduced.

b Second, revealing the duration of the dharma of repentance.

If one is able to carry out these ten dharmas, one should then proceed to adorn the site for cultivating the Way, bathe one's body, clothe oneself in clean robes, burn incense and scatter flowers. Then, in front of the Triple Jewel, one should carry on the practice of repentance in accord with the Dharma, doing so for one week or three weeks, or perhaps for one month or three months, or perhaps continuing on for a year or more during which one repents singlemindedly of the grave offenses involved in transgressing the prohibitions, stopping only once one has succeeded in extinguishing [those offenses].

c Third, revealing the signs which indicate the extinguishing of offenses.

How is one to recognize the signs that grave offenses have been extinguished? As the practitioner carries out the repentance in this fashion and with an utterly sincere mind, if he experiences his body and mind becoming light and pleasant and also experiences a fine and auspicious dream, or if perhaps he sees all manner of magical, auspicious and rare signs, or if perhaps he becomes aware of his wholesome thoughts opening forth and developing, or if perhaps, while he is seated in meditation, he becomes aware of his body as like a cloud or a shadow, and then from this point on gradually achieves realization of the psychic states characteristic of the dhyanas, or if perhaps he experiences the powerful and sudden arisal of awakened thought whereby he is well able to recognize the marks of dharmas and is able to understand the meaning and connotation of whichever sutra he encounters and then realizes from this Dharma bliss and a mind no longer beset by worry or regret, -- all manner of causes and conditions such as these should be recognized as signs indicating that the Way-obstructing offenses resulting from breaking the precepts have been extinguished.

d Fourth, clarification that solid upholding [of the precepts] after repentance constitutes purity.

If from this point on one firmly upholds the restrictive prohibitions, this too constitutes purity in shiila. [Such a practitioner] may be able to cultivate dhyana absorption. He may be likened to a torn and soiled robe which one has been able to patch and wash clean such that it may still be dyed and worn.

ii Second, repentance according to the Great Vehicle's principle of signlessness. (2)

a First, the explanation proper.

If a person has transgressed against one of the major prohibitions and perturbation thus obstructs his achieving dhyana absorption, even though he may not be able to rely upon cultivating practices methods set forth in the Sutras, still, he may simply bring forth extreme remorse, go before the Triple Jewel, confess his former offenses, cut off any thought of continuing [any such offenses], and then may take up the practice of constantly sitting [in meditation] with his body erect, contemplating the nature of offenses as empty, remaining mindful of the Buddhas of the ten directions. Whenever he emerges from dhyana he must, with an ultimately sincere mind, burn incense, bow in reverence, repent and then recite the precepts and recite the Great Vehicle sutras as well. The grave offenses which obstruct the Way should naturally and gradually become extinguished. On account of this his shiila(13) becomes pure and thus dhyana absorption may develop.

b Second, citation of evidence.

Accordingly, The Sutra on the Marvelous and Superior Meditative Absorption states, "If after a person has transgressed against a major precept his mind becomes beset by fearfulness and he thus desires to seek the extinguishing [of that offense], there is no other means aside from dhyana absorption which can be successful in extinguishing it. In a deserted and quiet place, this person should focus his mind and engage in the practice of constantly sitting in meditation while also proceeding to recite the Great Vehicle sutras. All of the grave offenses will be entirely extinguished and all of the dhyana absorptions will naturally manifest before him."

B) Ensuring adequacy of clothing and food. (2)

First, clothing. (3)

First, the clothing of one of superior roots.

As for the second, the requirement that clothing and food be adequate, there are three approaches associated with clothing [in particular]: The first is as exemplified by the Great Master of the Snowy Mountains(14) who happened to obtain a single cloak adequate to cover up his body and took that to be adequate on account of the fact that he never encountered people and additionally had perfected the ability to endure [the elements].

Next, the clothing of one of middling roots.

The second category is that exemplified by Mahaakaashyapa who, because he always cultivated the dhuuta practices,(15) wore only a single three-part rag robe and accumulated no other clothing.

Third, the clothing of those of inferior roots.

The third category relates to countries where the weather is often cold and to individuals whose endurance abilities are not yet perfected. In these cases the Thus Come One also permitted the accumulation of a hundred and one other things aside from the three-part robe. However it was necessary to purify them verbally(16) and it was also necessary to refrain from being excessive and necessary to be satisfied with the appropriate amount. Were one to allow oneself to overindulge by being acquisitive and desirous of accumulation [of material objects], then the mind would become disrupted and they would become an obstacle to the Path.

Next, sustenance. (3)

First, the sustenance of those of superior roots.

Next, as for the categories relating to food, there are four, the first of which is that exemplified by the superior man and great master who dwells deep in the mountains having entirely severed relations with the world, eating the native herbs and fruits according to the season and succeeding thus in supplying the requirements of the body.

Second, the sustenance of those of middling roots.

As for the second, he constantly cultivates the dhuuta practice of accepting only food which has been obtained on the alms round. Through the practice of accepting only alms food one is able to curb four types of unsuitable livelihood. [Such a practitioner] relies exclusively upon correct livelihood to maintain life because he is thereby able to bring forth the Way of the Superior. As for the inappropriate livelihoods, they are: first, obtaining food through inferiorly-directed endeavors; second, obtaining food through upwardly-directed endeavors; thirdly, obtaining food through endeavors directed at the midpoints; and fourth, obtaining food through endeavors directed to the directions.(17)

The sustenance of those with inferior roots.

The third involves residing in an ara.nya(18) where a daanapati(19) brings offerings of food. The fourth is where one lives among the Sangha and eats pure food. Where one has the advantage of sustenance arrangements such as these, then this is what is meant by achieving adequacy in food and clothing. Why is this? If one does not have circumstances such as these the mind will not be at peace and thus this will constitute an obstacle to the Way.

[C) Obtaining an easeful and quiet dwelling place.]

The third [among the five prerequisite conditions] requires that one find an easeful and quiet dwelling place. One who is in a state of ease is not working at doing manifold tasks and so this is what we mean when we stipulate "easeful." A quiet place is one in which there is no commotion whatsoever. There are three types of places where one may be able to cultivate dhyana absorption.

The first is deep in the mountains in a place cut off from people.

The second is an ara.nya dedicated to dhuuta practices which is no closer than a mile or so from a village.(20) In this case the noise of cattle will be cut off and there will be no commotion.

The third is within the confines of a pure sa.nghaaraama(21) far from the dwellings of laypeople. All of these constitute quiet places suitable for easeful dwelling.

[D) Putting all responsibilities to rest.]

The fourth [of the five prerequisite conditions] is that one put all responsibilities to rest. This involves four specific ideas:

First, one must put to rest all responsibilities relating to making a living and must not perform any sort of work in the realm of the conditioned.

Secondly, one must put to rest all interpersonal responsibilities. One must not seek out ordinary people, friends, relatives or intellectual associates. One must entirely cut off all interactions having to do with other people.

Thirdly, one must put to rest all responsibilities relating to arts or crafts and must not pursue any activities involving skilled worldly trades, art, medicine, mantric activities, physiognomy, keeping books, carrying out calculations and other such matters.

Fourthly, one must put to rest all responsibilities relating to study matters. One must put aside reading, reciting, listening, studying and so forth. This is what is meant by putting all responsibilities to rest. Why is this necessary? If one is involved in many responsibilities then matters related to cultivating the Way will deteriorate. The mind will become disturbed and difficult to focus.

[E) Drawing near to good and knowledgeable friends.]

The fifth [of the five prerequisite conditions] requires that one draw near to a good and knowledgeable friend. Good and knowledgeable friends are of three types:

The first is the "externally-protecting" good and knowledgeable friend who provides necessary provisions, makes offerings, and is well able to take care of the practitioner's needs, doing so in a fashion which precludes any mutual disturbance.

The second is the "identical practice" good and knowledgeable friend together with whom one cultivates a single path. Each provides the other with encouragement and inspiration, and refrain from bothering or disturbing each other.

The third is the "instructive" good and knowledgeable friend who employs the internal and external skillful means pertaining to the Dharma entryway of dhyana absorption as a means to instruct and delight. This is the conclusion of the summary clarification of the five kinds of necessary prerequisites.

[End of Chapter One]

11. In the generic context of Indian religious traditions, a "bhikshu" is a mendicant. In the specific context of Buddhism, a "bhikshu" is fully-ordained monk.

12. The five nefarious offenses are: patricide; matricide; killing an arhat; spilling the blood of a buddha; and, causing a schism in the harmoniously-united [monastic] Sangha.

13. "Shiila" is the Sanskrit term for the practice of moral conduct.

14. This refers to Shakyamuni Buddha's period of cultivating ascetic practices in the Himalayas in this lifetime and also to his cultivation in the mountains in previous lives while coursing along the bodhisattva path.

15. "Dhuuta" practices refers to a dozen relatively ascetic practices which were allowed by the Buddha. They included such practices as eating but a single meal each day, sitting up while sleeping at night, etc. They tend to reinforce certain aspects of spiritual cultivation and are to be distinguished from the non-beneficial ascetic practices which the Buddha specifically discouraged (such as lying down on a bed of nails, covering oneself with ashes, etc.).

16. Verbal purification refers to a mental contemplation attended by a verbal statement wherein a monastic offers material goods in excess of one's most basic needs to the Triple Jewel (Buddha, Dharma, and monastic Sangha), requesting that they compassionately accept their ownership. One then becomes able to use them without the assumption that they belong specifically to oneself. The practical utility of this practice is that it tends to discourage attachment to personal material possessions.

17. According to Shaariputra's classic explanation narrated by Naagaarjuna in the third fascicle of The Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom, "Upwardly" refers to such professions as meteorological and astronomical prognostications, "Inferiorly" refers to the blending of herbs, tilling the soil, planting fruit trees and so forth, "midpoints" refers to occult professions involving mantras, oracles, omens and so forth, and "directions" refers to manipulation and flattery of the rich and powerful through sending off in all four directions messages intended to obtain their favors.

18. An ara.nya is a quiet forest dwelling.

19. A daanapati is a layperson who provides for the material needs of the monastic Sangha.

20. Literally: "no closer than three or four li to a village."

21. A sa.nghaaraama is a monastic dwelling place.

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