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 Four: Making Adjustments

Adjustments with Regard to Eating
Adjustments with Regard to Sleep
Adjustments with Regard to the Body
Adjustments with Regard to the Breath
Adjustments with Regard to the Mind

Now when the practitioner first takes up the study of sitting in dhyana, as one who is desirous of cultivating the Dharma of the Buddhas of the ten directions and the three periods of time, he should first make the great vows to bring all beings to liberation. In vowing to pursue the unsurpassed way of the Buddhas [he makes] his mind as solid as vajra and [resolves to be] industrious and courageous to the point that he will not even spare his own life and will never turn back in his quest to perfect all the dharmas of the Buddha.

Next, seated in meditation and employing right mindfulness, he deliberates upon the true and actual mark of all dharmas, including the so-called wholesome, unwholesome and neutral dharmas, including the internal and external sense faculties, sense objects, the false consciousnesses and all of the dharmas associated with outflows and afflictions, and including also the conditioned dharmas throughout the three realms which are associated with birth and death and with cause and effect, [and in reflecting upon them perceives them] as existing solely on account of the mind. Accordingly, The Sutra on the Ten Grounds states, "Throughout the three realms nothing else whatsoever exists. It is all created solely by the one mind." If one realizes that mind is devoid of [an inherently-existent] nature then [one realizes that] all dharmas are not actual. If the mind has no defiled attachment then all of the karmic activity in the sphere of birth and death comes to a halt. After one has carried out this contemplation he should then take up the cultivation according to the proper sequence.

What is meant by "making adjustments?" Now, to draw upon familiar subjects as analogies for this dharma, it is just as when a common potter wishes to create various sorts of vessels. He must first skillfully make adjustments in the clay such that it is neither too stiff nor too soft. Afterwards he is able to move to the potter's wheel. It's also like playing the lute. One should first make adjustments to the strings, properly setting their the tension. Then one may proceed to play, producing all sorts of marvelous melodies. When the practitioner cultivates the mind it is just the same . One must make skillful adjustments in five different matters and must make those adjustments appropriately. Then samadhi will develop easily. If there is some area which has not been properly adjusted, then there will be all sorts of obstructive difficulties and one's roots of goodness will come forth only with difficulty.

First, making adjustments with respect to food. Now as for food's function as a dharma, it is originally consumed out of a desire to supply the body so that one may advance along the Way. If one eats to the point of becoming too full, then the breathing will be strained, the central region will feel stuffed, the energetic channels will not flow freely, the mental faculties will be blocked up, and, when sitting, one's thoughts will not be tranquil.

If one eats too little the body will waste away, the mind will be too tightly strung, and mental deliberation will be unstable. Neither of these two [extremes] constitute the way to the realization of meditative absorption. If one consumes contaminated food, then it will cause a person's mind consciousness to become dull and confused. If one consumes foods which are not appropriate, then it will stimulate all sorts of disorders to arise and will cause the four great elements to be thrown far out of balance.

This is the beginning phase of one's cultivation of meditative absorption and so one must be extremely careful in the way one proceeds. Accordingly, a sutra states, "If the body is tranquil then one's progress along the Way will flourish. Knowing the proper measure with respect to eating, being ever blissful in a remote abode, and maintaining a pure mind while taking pleasure in diligent effort,--This is the teaching of all Buddhas."

Second, adjustments with regard to sleep. Now sleep is a matter of being covered over by a state of ignorance and delusion. One must not give free reign to it. If one sleeps too much, one not only wastes the opportunity to cultivate the dharma of the Superiors, but one also destroys any meditative skill [which may have developed] so that one may potentially cause the mind to be cloaked in darkness and the roots of goodness to become entirely submerged.

One should awaken to and realize [the significance of] impermanence, regulate and subdue sleep, cause one's spiritual energy to be clear and white and one's mindful thought to be bright and pure. In this way one will establish one's mind in the mental state of the Superiors and cause samadhi to manifest before one. Accordingly, a sutra states, "Whether in the beginning or end of the night, there must be no wasting [of the opportunity to cultivate. One must not, on account of sleep, cause a lifetime to pass by emptily with nothing whatsoever achieved. One should be mindful that the fire of impermanence burns up the entire world and thus one should seek early on to bring about one's own deliverance. One must not [indulge in] sleep.

Third, adjustments with regard to the body. Fourth, adjustments with regard to the breath. Fifth, adjustments with regard to the mind. These three ought to be employed together. They cannot be discussed separately. There is only the matter of their having a first, a middle and a last. In this sense the technique is not the same. This being the case, there are differences then in their features when entering into, abiding in, and coming out of [a session].

Now, as for the physical adjustments to be undertaken when one first desires to enter dhyana: There are issues of appropriateness in the physical adjustments to be undertaken by the cultivator who wishes to enter into samadhi. For instance, when one is abiding outside of meditative absorption, whether walking, standing, commencing an activity or stopping one, whether one is moving or is still, in whatsoever endeavor one is carrying on-- In every case it is essential to be meticulously attentive.

If one's actions are characterized by coarseness and impetuousness then one's breath will be correspondingly coarse. Because the breath is coarse, then the thoughts will be scattered and difficult to register clearly. Additionally, when one returns to sitting, he will be agitated and muddled and the mind will not be tranquil or contented. Even though one's body is not abiding in a state of meditative absorption, still, it is essential to employ one's mind to counteractively implement skillful means. Later, when one enters into dhyana [meditation session], it is essential to take care in setting up the body in its proper place.

When one first arrives at the sitting cushion, one must first establish oneself in the sitting location in such a manner that all is peaceful and secure and so that nothing will interfere with one's remaining for a long time. Next one should arrange the feet correctly. If one is sitting in the half-lotus posture, then one places the left foot so that it is on top of the right foot and then pulls it in so that it is close to the body proper so that the toes of the left foot are aligned with the right thigh while the toes of the right foot are aligned with the left thigh. If one wishes to sit in full lotus then one [next] brings the right foot up so that it rests above the left. Next one loosens the belt on one's robe, making sure that it is straight all around and cannot fall open while one is sitting. Next one should arrange the hands, lays the open left hand on top of the right hand so that they fit together and then one rests them atop the left foot [in the case of half lotus] and draws them in toward the body so that they are proximate to the center of the body.

Next, one should properly arrange the body, first making sure that the body is erect and then seeing that all of the limbs are symetrically arranged, doing this as many as seven or eight times like a type of massaging method. One must not allow the hands or feet to slip out of correct posture. After one has done this then one sits up perfect straight insuring that the spine is neither slumping nor pushed forward. Next one should straighten up the neck and head so that the nose and the navel are lined up and so that the head is not tilted to the side, held at an angle, drooped downward or raised upward. One faces forward and remains straight.

Next, one should expel the turbid breath. The method for expelling the breath requires that one open the mouth and release the breath while not allowing this process to be either coarse or urgent. One should make it soft and smooth as one releases the breath and sends it forth. One should imagine that throughout the body any blockages within the numerous energetic pathways are moved on out as one exhales. Then, one closes the mouth and inhales pure breath through the nose. One should do this up to three times. If the physical respiration is already correctly adjusted then only once is adequate.

Next, one should close the mouth such that the lips and teach are held together while the tongue is held back up against the hard palate. Then one should close the eyes only enough that they block off the light from outside. One should straighten up the body and sit upright like a stela. One cannot allow the body, the head or the four limbs to move about even slightly. This constitutes the technique for making physical adjustments as one first proceeds to enter dhyana absorption. To speak of what is most essential, being neither too loose nor too tight constitutes the mark of correct physical adjustment.

Fourth, the technique for making adjustments in the breath when first entering dhyana [meditation]. There are four types of characteristics: first, windy breathing; second, uneven breathing; third, normal breathing; and fourth, subtle respiration. The first three are indications of inadequate adjustment whereas the last one is characteristic of correct adjustment.

What is meant by "windy" breathing? When one is sitting and one senses the presence of a sound as the breath comes into and goes forth from the nose this is "windy" breathing.

What is meant by "uneven" breathing? When one is sitting and even though the breath makes no sound there is still a catching and stopping such that it does not move on through, this is "uneven" breathing.

What is meant by "normal" breathing? When one is sitting and even though the breath makes no sound and even though there is no catching and stopping, still, it is not subtle, this is "normal" breathing.

What is meant by "subtle" respiration? There is no sound, no catching, and no coarseness. The going forth and coming in of the breath is smooth and drawn out such that it is as if still there and yet as it has disappeared. It supports the spirit becoming peaceful and stable. One feels pleased and content. These are the marks of subtle respiration.

If one maintains windy breathing, then one becomes scattered. If one maintains uneven breathing, then one becomes stuck. If one maintains normal breathing, then one becomes weary. If one maintains subtle respiration, then one enters meditative absorption. If when one is sitting there exist the three characteristics of windy breathing, uneven breathing, and normal breathing, these constitute inadequate adjustment. In a case where one applies mental effort under these circumstances they also become [causes of] mental disorder and make it difficult for the mind to enter meditative absorption.

If one wishes to correct them, then one should rely on three techniques: First, stabilize the mind by anchoring it below; second, relax and release the body; and third, visualize the breath penetrating through to all of the pores, going forth and coming in without any obstructions whatsoever. If one makes one's mind subtle, one causes the breath to become very fine. If the breath becomes regulated, then the manifold disorders do not arise. One's mind easily enters meditative absorption. This constitutes the practitioner's technique for regulating the breath when first entering meditative absorption. To speak of the essentials, it is neither coarse nor tending to slip away. This is the mark of breathing which has been regulated.

Fifth, regulating the mind when one first enters meditative absorption involves three topics: first, entering; second, abiding; and third, coming out. The first, entering, consists of two topics. The first is the regulation and control of chaotic thinking so that [one's thoughts] are not allowed to run off. As for the second, one must cause situations involving "sinking," "floating," "laxity" and "urgency" to [return to] their proper place.

What constitutes the mark of "sinking"? If when one is sitting one's [mental state] is murky and dim, if one doesn't remember anything or if one's head tends to droop downward, these constitute marks of "sinking." At such a time one should anchor one mindfulness at the tip of the nose and thus compel one's mind to abide in the midst of objective conditions so that there will be no breaking up and scattering of the mental focus. This technique is able to counter "sinking."

What constitutes the mark of "floating"? If while one is sitting the mind prefers to drift off and move about, if the body too is ill at ease, or if one brings to mind various external objective conditions these constitute marks of "floating." At such a time it is appropriate to stabilize the mind by directing it downwards and anchoring it at the objective condition constituted by the navel. When one controls all discursive thoughts the mind immediately becomes stable and abides. In such a case one's mind is easily established in stillness. To speak of the essentials, being neither sinking nor floating constitutes the mark of the regulated mind.

The meditating mind may also possess marks of laxity or urgency. As for the marks of the meditating mind afflicted with the "urgency" malady, they arise from a situation where one has focused the mind and brought mindfulness to bear. Because of this one has entered a meditative absorption through which [one's attention] has moved upward and brought about intense pain in the chest. One should relax and release his mind and visualize the breath all flowing downward. If one were to do this then the calamity would naturally be cured.

As for the marks of mind afflicted with the "laxity" malady, the determination on the part of the mind of awareness is scattered and dilatory. The body prefers to be slack and slumped. Perhaps saliva flows forth from the mouth. At times one is dull and unclear. At such a time one should draw up the body and make one's mindfulness more urgent. One should compel the mind to abide in the midst of objective conditions and the body to hold itself in position. One uses this technique as the antidote. The mind may possess the characteristics of being either rough or slippery. If one infers from this [the appropriate correctives] are obvious. These constitute the techniques for regulating the mind when one first enters meditative absorption.

Now, entering meditative absorption is fundamentally a process wherein one proceeds from the coarse to enter the subtle. In this matter it is the body which constitutes that which is coarse. The breath abodes within it. The mind is the most subtle and still. One causes the mind to become established in stillness. This then is the initial skillful means for entering meditative absorption. This constitutes the regulation of the two matters which takes place when one first enters meditative absorption.

As for the regulation of the three matters which takes place as one abides in the sitting posture, the practitioner should utilize his mind in the focusing of mindfulness whether the given session of sitting meditation is long or short and whether it extends for one, two, or three of the twelve [two-hour] periods in a day. One must clearly recognize the characteristics which indicate whether or not the three phenomena of body, breath and mind are in a state of correct adjustment. As one continues with a given instance of sitting, if even though one has already finished making adjustments to the body it nonetheless occurs that his body becomes perhaps lax, perhaps tight, perhaps tilted, perhaps crooked, perhaps drooped, or perhaps arched upward, after one becomes aware of it one must then correct it. One must ensure that one is peaceful and stable, that one is free of any laxity and urgency, and that one is abiding in a posture which is level, straight and upright.

Then again, during a single session of sitting although the body may be correctly adjusted, still, the breath may not be in harmony. The marks of its not being regulated are as discussed above. Perhaps there is "windy" breathing. Perhaps there is "uneven" breathing. Or perhaps in addition the breathing has become urgent such that there is a sense of within the body of distension and fullness. In such cases one should employ the previously discussed methods and thus counter them accordingly. In every case one should cause [the movement of] the respiration along its pathways to become soft and smooth so that it seems as if it is present and yet it is as if it is absent.

Again, it may be that in the course of single session of sitting, although the body and the breath are correctly regulated, still, the mind may have failed to achieve meditative absorption on account of being either "floating," "sinking," "lax," or "urgent." At such a time, when one becomes aware of it one should employ the previously mentioned techniques to cause it through regulation to abide appropriately in the median range. These three matters most definitely do not have any fixed sequence of implementation. One accords with whatever aspect is out of adjustment in proceeding to establish appropriate adjustment of it so that throughout the course of a single session of sitting the three factors of the body, the respiration, and the mind abide in a state of appropriate regulation. They remain free of any mutual violation and thus they become fused to the point that there is no duality among them. When this is the case, one is then able to get rid of any residual disorders rooted in previous existences, one is able to guard against and prevent the arisal of all obstacles, and one is able to establish ascendancy in the path of meditative absorption.

As for the regulation of the three factors at the time of coming out [of meditative absorption], if it is the case that the practitioner's specific session of sitting in dhyana is about to come to an end, when he desires to come out of meditative absorption, he should first release his mind onto a different objective condition, and then open his mouth and release the breath while also visualizing it dispersing itself from within its many energetic pathways so that it follows along with the mental attention.

Afterwards, one should move the body ever so slightly and then move the shoulders and then the hands, the head, and the neck. Next, one moves the two feet and allows them to become entirely limber again. Next, one uses the hands to massage over all of his pores and then massages his hands so that they are caused to become warm. He then uses them to cover his two eyes and afterwards then opens them. Once one has waited for the body to warm up a little one can then come and go as he pleases.

If one fails to do this, since one may have succeeded in causing the mind to dwell [in a particular way] during the sit, if one then acts in a sudden and hurried fashion as one comes out [of meditation], then the subtle factors may not have yet been allowed to disperse. If they thus continue to abide [trapped] within the body, they may cause a person to have headaches and to experience stiffness of all of the joints similar to rheumatism. In subsequent sitting sessions one may become afflicted, agitated and ill at ease. Therefore when the mind wishes to emerge from meditative absorption one must always pay careful attention [to these points].

This constitutes the technique for regulating the body, respiration and mind as one emerges from meditative absorption. Because one moves forth from the subtle on into that which is coarse this involves a skillful entering abiding and emerging as described in a verse:

In moving forward and in stopping there is a [proper] sequence

[So that] the coarse and the subtle do not work against each other.
It is just as with [the responses of] a well-tamed horse
When one desires to halt and then desires to move on.
In The Lotus Sutra, it says: "For the sake of the Buddha Way, the bodhisattvas in this great assembly have already diligently practiced vigor for an incalculable number of tens of millions of ko.tiis(28) of kalpas. They have become skillful in entering, abiding in, and emerging from an incalculable number of trillions of ko.tiis of samadhis. They have gained great superknowledges, have long cultivated the brahman conduct and have become well able to practice in appropriate sequence all of the good dharmas.

[End of Chapter Four]

End Notes

28. A ko.tii is a measure term which equals ten million. (back)

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