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Master Miao Jing’s Dharma Words
Translator’s Note: This is an English translation of the original Chinese language text entitled ‘妙境老和尚法语’ or ‘Dharma Talk of the Venerable Old Monk – Dharma Master Miao Jing.’ It consists of what might be correctly described as forty aphorisms of wisdom that are designed to lead the student from beginning to end of the development path from the suffering of delusion to the peace and wise tranquillity of enlightenment. Master Miao Jing (1930-2003) specialised in the teachings of the Yogacara and Ch’an Chinese Buddhist Schools. He was born in Heilongjiang province to a family surnamed ‘Wang’ (王). He left home at the age of 18 and his head was shaved by Dharma Master Xing Ru (惺如法师 – Xing Ru Fa Shi). In 1947 he received the full ordination vows from Old Dharma Master Tan Xu (倓虚老法师 – Tan Xu Lao Fa Shi) who taught him the Buddha-Dharma. When he died he was around 75 years old having spent 57 years as a monk – with 56 years following the full Vinaya and Bodhisattva discipline. The master dedicated his life to the study of both the Mahayana and Hinayana doctrine, with a particular emphasis upon Ch’an and Yogacara in his personal practice. The Yogacara or ‘Mind Only’ teaching is often misunderstood in the West (primarily due to DT Suzuki’s idealistic interpretation and English translation of the Lankavatara Sutra). The term ‘Mind Only’ refers to the preferred area of specialised training as taught by the Buddha. Organising the environment and disciplining the body through moral codes prepares the outer conditions for the inner work to take place. The term ‘Mind Only’ does not mean (and has never meant within Buddhism) that only the mind ‘exists’ in opposition to an illusionary physical world. Even the founders of the Yogacara School (Asanga and Vasubandhu) did not teach this purely ‘idealistic’ position as it contradicts the teachings of the Buddha (whose path is described as ‘Nama-rupa’ or the integration of ‘mind and matter’). More than this, however, in the Four Noble Truths the Buddha clearly states that the agency of ‘mind’ and ‘consciousness’ exist only as long as a sense organ remains in contact with its sense-object – outside of this definition (such as in the case of physical death), the conditioned agency of mind ceases to exist. This means that the concept of ‘mind’ within Buddhist thought is ‘impermanent’ and therefore it is incorrect to assume that ‘all is mind’ because ‘mind is permanent’. However, Master Miao Jing explains that although the mind must be trained, it can receive assistance through the study of authoritative texts – that is assistance from the outer environment. He also clearly teaches that both ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ are both equally ‘empty’.
ACW - Chinese New Year of the Monkey - 8.2.2016
1) A serious and comprehensive study of the Yogacara Theory (瑜伽师地论 – Yu Jia Shi De Lun) will help you develop an indepth understanding of Ch’an. If you are serious about truly learning, then you will develop your own mind accordingly, and gain direct insight for yourself. If you can really do this, then you will no longer ‘use the tongues of others’ to express your understanding of Ch’an.
2) How can the study of doctrine on its own help you over-come difficulties? Well, you can seek-out competent masters, and consult authoritative books, but there is another way and that is through the practice of seated meditation. When the mind calms-down, then clarity of understanding manifests! When this happens, then the act of meditation helps you learn the doctrine correctly. Moreover, when the doctrine is understood, the practice of meditation is enhanced and deepened. Therefore the practice of meditation and the learning of doctrine assist one another in development.
3) The true Dharma practice is that of looking into the mind through the act of meditation (i.e. the true use of the ‘mind only’ doctrine). If the mind is focused in this manner, then over time good results will be achieved.
4) The study of the Dharma involves two aspects of understanding. There is the ultimate truth and there is the conventional truth. Sometimes when studying meditation it is difficult to break through conventional truth and realise ultimate truth, why is this? It is because the mind is not focused properly and has not developed a correct understanding of reality. If the Buddhist texts are studied appropriately, then the mind will develop the correct insight into what constitutes ultimate and conventional reality, and use this insight to penetrate through both types of truth and directly perceive the underlying oneness of reality.
5) The Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Arahants and Sages always speak the truth of Dharma. Correct Dharma is a vehicle that is always travelling safely in the right direction – like a train guided by the tracks. False Dharma is a disaster – like a train derailing. All Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Arahants and Sages state that the path of Dharma is safe because it does not deviate from truth. When ordinary beings follow the peaceful path of Dharma, they experience the peaceful karmic fruit associated with their right effort. If your approach is superficial, then the path you follow will also be superficial. A path that is superficial is not safe because it is not based upon the teachings of the Sages. If you state that you are a Buddhist on the one hand, but refuse to learn about the correct Dharma on the other, then this is a problem!
6) The words and concepts that define the Buddha-Dharma are the product of profound (realised) wisdom. If you develop understanding in the Buddha-Dharma (through correct training), then you will be able to master the doctrine and attain true wisdom. This is a direct (inner and outer) understanding of the truth of the Buddha-Dharma that is not dependent upon hearsay or blind-faith. You should not believe in Buddhism simply because ‘others tell you to do so.’ If you are like this, then you lack the appropriate conviction (gained from true insight) in the effectiveness of the Buddha’s teaching and your training will amount to nothing! You should look within and develop your own wisdom if you are to truly understand the Buddha’s teaching for yourself. If you can do this, then you will correctly state ‘Oh! The Buddha’s teaching is right – the Buddha’s teaching is correct!’ For you personally, the puzzle will be solved.
7) Those who follow the Mahayana doctrine of ‘Mind Only’ and yet claim ‘delusion’ is the same as ‘enlightenment’ are on the wrong path and manifest greed, hatred and delusion - this is a mistake. If you really understand and realise that the world of outer appearances is ‘unreal’, then you will be fully enlightened and never exhibit greed, hatred, or delusion. If enlightenment is realised, how can deluded behaviour be generated?
8) How should the Buddha-Dharma be studied? There are three methods of self-cultivation for the disciplining the mind (and body).
9) The three methods are following the Vinaya Discipline, chanting sutras a thousand or ten thousand times, and relying entirely upon your own efforts!
10) The teachings of the Buddha clearly state that it is only through the application of the moral discipline (as found in the Vinaya) that wisdom is generated. This should be the basis of our practice when we strive to achieve enlightenment.
11) The cause and effect (of karma) that defines outer life arises out of the inner empty essential nature. The outer and the inner all exist within the Mind Only teaching with no distinction or falsehood. Therefore, the outer conventional wisdom (acquired by the intellectual mind when studying the sutras) reveals (and integrates with) the inner inherent wisdom of the revealed prajna of the enlightened mind. In this state the highest truth is attained (of outer form integrated with inner void) and there is no more falsehood in the mind or environment!
12) When people reborn into the world as children, they are looked after by their parents. They then go to school, and next they get a job and work in the community. Some can experience success all through their lives, or failure all through their lives, whilst others start off successful and later experience failure, or begin with failure and later experience success, etc. Whatever the case, people either live into old age before dying, or they die when still young and do not experience what it is like to be old. Before this life, do you know what happened? After this life, do know what happens next? Most people enter life with a dull mind and stumble along with no true knowledge about reality. Studying the Buddha-Dharma is like opening windows and doors that allow you to perceive the vast universe in its entirety, and because of this understanding there is no longer any fear of death. This is how the mind and body become purified and the rank of Sagehood is attained. Only the Buddha-Dharma has the power to achieve this transformation!
13) It is only by following the Vinaya Discipline that the great wisdom is attained. If a practitioner does not follow the Buddha-Dharma, the type of wisdom produced by the intellect is as yet undeveloped and not very powerful. This is why the Buddha devised a gradual path from easy to hard, as this develops the wisdom from shallow to deep. This process of refinement of the mind ensures deliverance from suffering.
14) Always beware of time as it passes – do not waste the time you have. Cherish meditation that achieves tranquillity. Understand that correctly focusing the mind is the correct method that leads to transformation. Respect the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and learn to sit quietly in meditation.
15) The Great Tiantai Master Zhi Zhe (智者大师 – Zhi Zhe Da Shi) said: ‘For many ordinary people in life their understanding is limited and they cannot penetrate the mysterious underlying essence of reality. They therefore perceive superficial sensory data and mistake it for reality.’ The sixth consciousness (or sense organ of mind) is incorrectly grasped and mistaken as reality by ordinary unenlightened beings. In this state they cannot directly or intuitively distinguish ‘reality’ from ‘delusion’ and are unable to truly comprehend the Buddha-Dharma here and now. People existing in this state are entirely reliant upon their six senses, and are limited to interpreting the world through them. This is why they rely upon written texts when attempting to learn (the Dharma).
16) Seated meditation develops the mind directly from the inside, whilst written texts develop the mind from the outside. When the practice of seated meditation is combined with sutra study, then both methods reinforce one another. A mind that develops insight through meditation is a mind that has been strengthened in such a way so that it can understand the profound instructions given by the Buddha. When the written Dharma teachings are understood, the ability to meditate more effectively is developed!
17) Meditation has two distinct aspects that develop enlightenment. One aspect is that of ‘stilling’ the mind (which is easy to read about but difficult to achieve in practice), whilst the other is developing ‘insight’ (which is a difficult subject to read about, but a relatively easy practice to achieve). How do these two aspects work? By concentrating the mind, delusion is uprooted.
18) If only ‘stilling’ the mind (for the achievement of tranquillity) is cultivated, and ‘insight’ development is ignored, then the true Dharma will not be attained!
19) However, when ordinary beings follow the path of self-cultivation, it is better not to judge others…
20) ‘Liberation’ is the exact opposite of entanglement (i.e. delusion). When delusion is seen through (by insight) enlightenment is achieved. Liberation is achieved through turning the mind’s attention inward and directly perceiving the true (empty) nature of the mind. This means that the mind must be disciplined so that greed, hatred and delusion is both understood and then transcended through the development of a piercing insight. A piercing insight is developed through the practice of a correct and effective meditation. However, even after this profound breakthrough, there may well still persist minor delusions that can be removed through further concentrated meditation. These are subtle tribulations (klesa) that lose most of their negative strength after the experience of enlightenment, but which still need to be uprooted. This is achieved by ‘adhering to the real’ (i.e. ‘void’) and withdrawing habit-energy from the worldly (i.e. ‘form’). In this way all delusion (i.e. greed, hatred and delusion) is thoroughly uprooted (through the integration of ‘void’ and ‘form’) and liberation is achieved.
21) When sat in meditation, the urge to engage in deluded thought must be resisted. We must not become focused upon the deluded ‘moving’ mind (which is nothing but an obsession with ‘self’), but instead should concentrate our attention on the realisation of the ‘real’ (or ‘empty mind ground’) that underlies the movements of the deluded mind. If this practice is done correctly, then liberation will be assured.
22) What is ‘adhering to reality’? Within the deluded mind, the superficiality of deluded perception is mistaken as being ‘real’. When meditating, attachment to the senses is broken and the true reality manifests (in the realisation of the empty mind ground). Understanding that the ‘moving’ mind is false is the practice of adhering to what is ‘real’. Adhering to what is ‘real’ is by definition the avoidance of that which is ‘false’. Therefore the practice of detachment from deluded thought is the practice of adhering to reality.
23) How should the dream-like deluded state be explained? If you understand that the empty mind ground is ‘reality’ – that is correct. However, if you mistake the moving mind (and its attachment to sensory stimulation) as reality – this is the incorrect position of adhering to dream-like delusion. This is the inverted mind that mistakes delusion for reality simply because it is not aware of its own inherent nature and correct functionality. When it is correctly understood that delusion is falsehood, then there is the possibility of the mind realising reality. In their daily lives, many people mistake what they perceive through their senses as ‘real’, but this is not correct as what is felt through the senses is forever changing and causing suffering. When the empty mind ground is not understood or realised as being ‘real’, then an individual exists in a state of inverted dream-like delusion.
24) The six senses (i.e. sight, sound, smell, taste, bodily sensation, and the ability to sense ‘thought’ in the mind) as defined within Buddhist philosophy are not reality. The awareness of the mind must be detached from its obsession with the sensations that arise as a result of the sense-organs in contact with sense-objects. If the Vinaya Discipline is practiced, then wisdom is produced that enables a practitioner to break free of this deluded attachment to the senses. This wisdom is prajna paramita (generated by disciplining the mind and body) – or that powerful understanding that completely purifies the six senses in their entirety. This is how the Buddha-Dharma manifests in the world. When enlightenment is realised – the Buddha-Dharma flourishes in the world (because the ‘real’ is understood to be ‘real’ and the ‘false’ is understood to be ‘false’), but when enlightenment is not realised (due to deluded thinking and false-Dharma) Buddhism declines in the world – this is an important point that needs to be thoroughly understood.
25) To gain enlightenment you most follow the standards (and guidelines) of the Buddha-Dharma, and not those of the (deluded) habits of ordinary society. Within ordinary society everything is premised upon greed and outer appearance with this person being the president, and that person being the vice-president. This person has achieved much, while another is a PhD or a university professor, etc. The Buddha-Dharma does not follow this superficial (and deluded path) but interprets reality as a cycle of suffering that involves continuous birth, life and death, whilst providing an effective method to escape this trap. All an ordinary deluded being does is seek pointless splendour and wealth! The only true path is that of seeking Sagehood. This is the path of no leakage (of qi energy) that advocates the practices of moral restraint and seated meditation as a means to generate ‘prajna’ – only these practices may be considered a true treasure.
26) When self-cultivation reaches a certain level of effectiveness, the mind becomes ‘still’ as it is no longer moved by attachment to externals. In this way enlightenment is achieved.
27) What is having confidence in the mind? Understanding the origin of life and death – and understanding the origin of nirvana (extinction of deluded desire). This is the entire content of the Buddha-Dharma which has to be studied. When this teaching is studied, an enduring mind is cultivated that penetrates the Principle of the Dao. This is having confidence in the mind.
28) What is the difference between having confidence in the mind and not having confidence in the mind? Having confidence in the mind is to follow the teachings that lead to Sagehood. This is having confidence in the mind!
29) In ordinary life, if the mind is infected with great greed, hatred (and delusion), then when the practitioner sat in meditation, these taints will have a negative influence. These three taints prevent and diminish true wisdom from being generated. This creates a barrier to self-development so that Dharma practice becomes less effective.
30) Remain mindful of the fact that it is through the effective practice of renunciation that the wisdom of Bodhichitta is naturally generated – use this understanding as your guiding light.
31) It is this attitude of genuine renunciation that creates the condition for the generation of Bodhichitta in the mind. If this genuine attitude of renunciation is not present, then Bodhichitta cannot be generated. If the genuine attitude of renunciation is abandoned, then the generation of Bodhichitta ceases – this situation must be immediately reversed through the further effective practice of re-engaging renunciation.
32) What is the decline of the Buddha-Dharma? What is the flourishing of the Buddha-Dharma? The Buddha-Dharma declines when standards of practice and understanding are low. The Buddha-Dharma flourishes when standards of practice and understanding are high.
33) When the mind experiences ordinary life, it is not particularly chaotic and fearful, but as soon as death approaches, the very same mind becomes chaotic and afraid. The way to settle the mind is through the study of the Yogacara-Bhumi Sastra and the Maha-Prajna-Paramita Sastra – both of which facilitate the correct understanding and practice of the ‘Four Foundations of Mindfulness’!
34) The study of the four foundations of mindfulness is the true and correct practice of meditation which leads to a calm mind and the development of wisdom. When this is achieved, worries and anxieties diminish and a deep appreciation of the Buddha-Dharma is developed. The Buddha-Dharma carries practitioners toward Nirvana – this is true and not just empty words. What is the generation of true wisdom? The generation of true wisdom is the correct adherence to the teachings and discipline of the Buddha-Dharma. The Buddha-Dharma is honey-dew – when it is practiced correctly the ample honey-dew of the Buddha-Dharma is collected!
35) The Pureland method of reciting Amitabha Buddha’s name with conviction is very good – but what happens if you are not reborn in the Western Paradise of the Pureland? Considering this issue, I recommend the study of the Maha-Prajna-Paramita Sutra. This sutra ‘turns the mind’ at its deepest level so that the inversion of delusion is abandoned. In this manner wisdom is generated over-time – this is a matter you must consider very carefully!
36) We are disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha, and we study the Buddha-Dharma whilst existing in the world of delusion. Therefore the order of importance our study and attainment should be like this; 1) the study of the Buddha-Dharma, 2) the study of the Way of the Sages, and 3) the acquisition of Sagehood. The sequence of unfolding is conviction, instruction, practice, and Enlightenment.
37) This is the path of least effort and maximum attainment. However, whether sitting in meditation or not sitting in meditation, the mind must be kept agile and effective by studying and constantly recalling the Buddha-Dharma.
38) Lay-life is generally understood as being the realm of delusion and suffering, whereas leaving home and entering a temple is seen as superior, but although this can be true, it is just a change of scenery if the Buddha-Dharma is not correctly applied. The only way to uproot delusion and suffering (regardless of circumstance) is to train the mind effectively through the application of the teachings contained within the Buddha-Dharma. When this is achieved, the worry and anxiety within the mind diminishes over-time, as positive karma is generated through the virtuous effort of self-cultivation. By adhering to the Vinaya Discipline of the Buddha-Dharma, those actions and thoughts that cause suffering are cut-off and no longer function, this is how the mind becomes calm and peaceful. The mind is subdued and developed by studying the four foundations of mindfulness, and through the practice of Buddha-Dharma meditation that generates prajna wisdom. This is how the chain of suffering (klesa) is broken forever through a gradual development from delusion toward enlightenment – this is the path to Sagehood.
39) The Maha-Prajna-Paramita Sutra states: ‘All things must be understood to be empty of any substantiality – this is the Dharma. There is no birth, no death and no rebirth - and all physical appearance is forever changing and is empty of substantiality. The (empty) Dharmadhatu underlies all physical appearance, but it cannot be entered without applying the proper method.’ This means that just reading texts is no good if the instruction contained in those texts is not applied through a sound meditation practice. This superficiality is not the true role of the Buddhist developmental texts! It is through sitting in meditation in the correct manner that the mind calms down and is able to see more of the true nature of reality. Over-time this means that anxieties within the mind lose their potency and slowly fade away due to the power of a focused concentration. This how the cycle of suffering (i.e. repeated birth and death) is eventually transcended correctly using the teaching of the Buddha-Dharma. Therefore read the proper Buddha-Dharma texts and then apply the wisdom directly toward your meditation practice.
40) The Madhyamaka teaching states: ‘The essential nature of reality is empty of all substantiality.’ This means that although the Dharma appears to operate in the mundane world through the suffering inducing cause and effect of karma – nevertheless, from beginning to end the essential nature of physical reality is completely empty. The Mind Only School explains: ‘It is well-known that all worldly things and all Dharma paths to enlightenment are equally empty.’ Do not be mistaken as the suffering inherent in the cause and effect of karma is very real to those who experience it whilst still living in a deluded state, but in the reality of the enlightened state, all of reality is empty and completely free of dualistic delusion. The ultimate position of the Mind Only School is that void and form are perfectly integrated. This enlightened reality is realised first and foremost through the training of the Mind – but this process can be assisted through studying the Buddhist sutras and listening to others who know what to do. The Mind Only School understands that All things are empty of any substantiality and this includes the concept of ‘Mind’ itself. This is a very powerful teaching indeed!
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2016.