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 Three: Casting off the Coverings

The Covering of Desires (in the Mind)
The Covering of Anger
The Covering of Sleep
The Covering of Agitation and Remorse
The Covering of Doubt

As for the casting off of the coverings brought up earlier, it refers to the five coverings. The first involves the casting off of the covering of desire. Earlier we discussed arisal of desire amidst the five external sense objects. Now we are concerned with the arisal of desire in the sphere of the internal mental faculty. This refers specifically to the situation where the practitioner is seated upright cultivating dhyana and his mind generates primary thoughts characterized by desire which become continuous with one such thought following upon another in such away that they cover over the wholesome mind and prevent it from developing. Having become aware of this one should cast it off.

Why should he do so? Just as in the case of Shubhakara whose lustful mind arose internally, it is even able to burn the body, how much the more so is the mind, when generating the fire of desire, able to burn up all wholesome dharmas. Persons who are possessed by desire are extremely far away from the Way. How is this so? Desire is the dwelling place of all manner of afflictions and disturbances. If the mind becomes attached and beset by desire, there is no way for one to grow near to the Way.

A relevant treatment of this topic is found in "The Verse on Getting Rid of the Coverings":

The person with a sense of shame who's entered the Way

Takes up his bowl and provides merit for beings.
How could one give free reign to desire for sense objects
And become immersed in the five senses?
Having already renounced the bliss of the five desires,
One has cast them off and does not look back.
Why would one still desire to gain them
Like a fool who laps up his own vomit?
All desires are suffering at the time they are sought.
When gained, one is usually fearful [of losing them].
On losing them, one experiences intense aggravation.
At every point there's nowhere where pleasure abides.
Given desires are subject to shortcomings like this,
How is one able to relinquish them?
If one gains the bliss of deep dhyana absorption,
One is no longer deceived by [desire].

The second is the casting off of the covering of anger. Anger is the basis for losing the Buddha Dharma, a cause and condition for falling into the wretched destinies,(26) the nemesis of Dharma bliss, the great thief [which preys] on the wholesome mind, and the repository for all manner of abusive speech. Accordingly, [it might occur that] when the practitioner is sitting in dhyana meditation, he might think to himself, "This fellow is now tormenting me. What's more, he torments my relations and praises my adversaries." [Continuing], he might think, "It's been like this in the past as well and it will continue to be the case in the future. This amounts to a nine-fold torment." Consequently, he might become angry and based upon that anger he might begin to cherish hatred. On account of becoming hateful he might then think to torment the other individual. In this fashion anger serves to cover over the mind and for this reason it is referred to as a covering. One should proceed urgently to cast it off and should not allow it to proliferate.

Pertinent to this topic is Shakra-devaanaam-indra's versified conundrum for the Buddha:

What is it that murders one's peacefulness and bliss?

What is it that murders freedom from worry?
What is it that is the root of poisonousness and
Which swallows up and destroys every goodness?
The Buddha responded, speaking in verse:

If one slays hatred one becomes peaceful and happy.

If one slays hatred one becomes free of worry.
It's hatred that is the root of poisonousness.
It's hatred that destroys every goodness.
After one has become cognizant of this, one should cultivate compassion and patience as a means to get rid of it and thereby allow the mind to become pure.

Third, casting off the covering of sleep. "Drowsiness" (the first word in the Chinese compound for "sleep") refers to a dullness and dimness of the subjective mental processes, whereas "slumber" (the second word in the Chinese compound for "sleep") refers to the state in which the five sense faculties are so obscured by this dimness that the control of the limbs is relinquished and one curls up and sleeps soundly. It is for this reason that it is referred to as the "covering" of sleep.

It is capable of destroying the mind intent on Dharma which generates genuine bliss in this and later lives and is also capable of destroying the bliss in later lives associated with rebirth in the heavens and with the realization of nirvana. A dharma such as this which is so possessed of ill effects is the very worst. How is this so? Unlike the mental states associated with the other coverings which may be gotten rid of through becoming aware of their presence, sleep is like being dead in that there is no consciousness which abides in a state of awareness. Because one is not in a state of wakefulness, it is difficult to do away with it.

A related citation is found in a verse employed by buddhas and bodhisattvas in reprimanding somnolent disciples:

Get up! Don't lie there hugging that stinking corpse.

It's but various impurities falsely regarded as a "person."
It's as if you've gotten a serious disease or been shot by an arrow.
With such an accumulation of suffering's pains, how then can you sleep?
You're like a man in shackles being led to the gallows.
With disastrous harm so imminent, how can you sleep?
The thieves of the fetters are not yet destroyed nor injury yet averted.
It's as if one were sharing a room with a venomous serpent.
It's also as if one were entering an army's gauntlet of swords.
At such a time as that, how could one sleep?
Sleep is a vast darkness where one can't see anything.
Every day it deceives and steals a person's brilliance.
Because sleep covers over the mind, nothing whatever is perceived.
As it has such great drawbacks, how could one sleep?
For all manner of reasons such as these one remonstrates against the covering of sleep. One becomes alarmed by and aware of impermanence, pares down ones need for sleep and causes oneself to not be covered over by its dullness. If the mind becomes severely afflicted with dullness and sleep, one should resort to a dhyana wake-up device(27) or staff to get rid of them.

The fourth, casting off the covering of agitation and remorsefulness. As for agitation itself, there are three types:

The first is physical agitation which is characterized by the body's habitual enjoyment of wandering about endeavoring at all manner of foolishness and by the inability to feel even momentarily peaceful when sitting down.

The second type is verbal agitation which is characterized by the habitual enjoyment of singing, chanting, disputation over rights and wrongs, useless and frivolous discourse, the discussion of worldly matters, and so forth.

The third type is mental agitation where one's mental inclination is towards neglectfulness, towards giving the mind free rein in the manipulation of situations, and where one muses over literature, the arts, worldly talents and artisanship and where one indulges in all manner of unwholesome initial and discursive thought. Agitation's function as a dharma is to destroy the mind of the monastic. Even if a person is focused in his thoughts he might still be unable to develop meditative absorption, how much the less if he is agitated and scattered. A person who is agitated and scattered is like a drunken elephant unrestrained by the trainer's hook and like a camel without a nose ring. None of these are subject to control or discipline.

An appropriate verse states:

You've already shaved your head and donned the dyed robe.

Taking up the clay bowl you go out on the alms round.
How then can you delight in and be attached to dharmas of frivolity and agitation?
Being neglectful and giving rein to your inclinations, you lose the benefits of Dharma.
Having lost the benefits of the Dharma in addition to having sacrificed the pleasures of the world one should, after realizing one's errors, urgently cast off [agitation].

As for remorsefulness, it is remorsefulness which brings about the creation of a covering. If one experiences agitation in which there is no remorsefulness, this does not constitute a covering. Why not? Because at such a time of agitation, it (remorsefulness) has not yet become one of the associated conditions. But later, when one is desirous of entering meditative absorption, one then may experience remorsefulness over what one has done, whereupon worry and affliction cover over the mind. It is for this reason that it is referred to as a covering.

Remorsefulness itself is of two types. The first is remorsefulness which arises as a consequence of agitation as alluded to above. The second is exemplified by the person who has committed a monstrous and severe offense and who thus constantly experiences feelings of fearfulness. The arrow of remorsefulness has entered his mind and has become stuck so firmly that it can not be pulled out.

A pertinent verse states:

Through having done what one shouldn't have done,

Or through having failed to do what one should have done,
One is burned by the fire of the affliction of remorse,
And in a later life falls into the wretched destinies.
If a person is able to feel remorse for an offense,
Then having experienced remorse, he should not continue to feel troubled.
In this way the mind can be peaceful and happy.
One should not constantly seize upon it through recollection.
If one possesses either of the two kinds of remorse,
Whether it be over having failed to do what one should have done,
Or over having done what one should not have done,
This is the mark of a stupid person.
It is not the case that on account of being remorseful
One will somehow be able to do what one failed to do.
All of the ill deeds which one has already committed
Can't be caused thereby to be undone.

Fifth, casting off the covering of doubt. Because doubt covers over the mind, one is unable to develop faith in any dharma. Because one has no mind of faith, one encounters the Buddha's Dharma in vain and gains nothing whatsoever from it. This is analogous to a man's entering into a mountain of jewels. If he has no hands he is unable to acquire anything at all. Thus the faults of doubt are extremely numerous. What needn't obstruct the development of meditative absorption now in fact becomes the primary obstruction to gaining meditative absorption.

There are three types of doubt. The first is where one doubts oneself and thus thinks to himself, "My faculties are all dim and dull. The defilement from my previous offenses is deep and severe. Could it be that I'm not the man for this?" If one allows oneself to manufacture doubts such as these then the dharma of meditative absorption will never be able to manifest. If one desires to cultivate meditative absorption, one must not slight oneself, for it is difficult to fathom the extent of one's roots of goodness planted in former lifetimes.

The second type of doubt is that wherein one doubts one's own guru, [thinking to oneself,] "If his deportment and appearance are such as this he must not have any [realization of the] Way himself. How then could he be able to teach me." If one develops such doubting arrogance then it constitutes an obstruction to meditative absorption. A dharma appropriate to one wishing to be rid of it is exemplified by a passage from The Mahayana Treatise wherein it states that this is just as when there is gold [dust] contained in a smelly leather pouch. Because one is desirous of obtaining the gold one can't just pitch out the smelly pouch. The practitioner's situation may be just like this. Although the guru may not be immaculate, still, one should look upon him as one would the Buddha.

The third type of doubt is that wherein one doubts the Dharma. Worldly people are usually attached to their own ideas and thus are not able to immediately believe the Dharma which they have received [nor are they able to readily] accept it and cultivate it with a respectful mind. If the mind becomes hesitant, then even though one has immediate exposure to the Dharma, it makes no imprint on the mind. Why not? The significance of the obstruction of doubtfulness is exemplified by a verse which states:

It's just as when a person stands at a fork in the road

And is so deluded by doubt that he goes nowhere at all.
With respect to the reality mark of all dharmas,
Doubt functions just like this.
Because one has doubts one doesn't search industriously
For the reality mark of all dharmas.
Views and doubts arise from delusion.
Among the ills they are the worst.
Among all the good and unwholesome dharmas
Throughout the spheres of birth-and-death and nirvana
Dhyana absorption is an actual and truly existent dharma.
Don't develop doubts about it.
If you cherish the delusion of doubt,
The hell messenger from the King of Death will tie you up
Like a lion pouncing on a deer
And you'll be unable to gain liberation.
Although dwelling in the world one may have doubts,
One should happily accord with wholesome dharmas,
Just as when one contemplates a fork in the road
One should follow the one offering the best benefits.
With respect to the Dharma of the Buddha, faith constitutes the means whereby one can enter. If one has no faith, then although he is in the presence of the Buddha's Dharma, one will finally gain nothing whatsoever. For all manner of reasons such as these, realizing the faults of doubtfulness, one should urgently cast it off.

Question: Unwholesome dharmas are vast in number and the "dusts" [of the sense objects] are immeasurably numerous. Why is it that one must only get rid of five dharmas?

Reply: These five coverings basically comprise four dharmas, namely the three poisons and "equal-distribution" [among each of the three poisons.] These in turn subsume all 84,000 access points to weariness with sense objects. Firstly, the covering of desire is just the poison of desire. Secondly, the covering of anger, is just the poison of anger. Thirdly, the two dharmas of sleep and doubt are just the poison of stupidity. The fourth is agitation-associated remorsefulness It is equally present [in each of the three poisons]. Together, these constitute the four categories of afflictions. In each of them there are 21,000. In all four of them there are collectively a total of 84,000. Hence when one gets rid of these five coverings it is just the elimination of all unwholesome dharmas. For all manner of reasons such as these the practitioner casts off the five coverings.

Like a person who has gained freedom from a great burden or one who has been cured of a serious disease, like a starving man arriving in a prosperous country or like one who has been rescued safe and unharmed, from a band of villains--The practitioner is just like these. When he eliminates these five coverings his mind is calm and secure and he feels clear, cool and blissful. Just as with the sun and moon which may be obscured by five phenomena: smoke, dust, clouds, fog and the hand of Raahu the asura, such that they are unable to shine brightly,--so too it is with a person's mind and the five coverings.

[End of Chapter Three]

End Notes

26. The (three) wretched destinies are rebirth in the hells, as a hungry ghost, and as an animal.

27. The "dhyana wake-up device" refers to a piece of wood connected by a string to the earlobes which falls and tugs at them when the meditator's posture starts to droop as a result of sleepiness.

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