Varieties of Meditation Process according to the ''Grades on the Path to Bodhi'' by Tsongkhapa and their Origin by Dr. Chimeg Oyun
In Tsonkhapa’s teaching about three categories of people meditation process through the yoga practice, the main purpose of which is enlightenment, could be defined as one of the main criterions to distinguish them. Tsonkhapa’s views on meditation process had been interpreted by me as the “process of thinking inherent in all people” (6).
But there were other varieties within the Buddhist yoga practice, as it is seen from Tsonkhapa’s work, where he defines his own view on right meditation and criticizes some views which he sees to be wrong.
Within the yoga practices, which held on to be true by some Indian and Chinese monks and were criticized as the wrong views in Tsonkhapa’s work, there were views, which seem to be of Ch’an Buddhism and connected with it views of some Indian Buddhists. Tsonkhapa didn’t use a term “Ch’an Buddhism” and not mentioned connected with the Chinese Buddhists Indian Buddhists by their name. But he described their views as meditation through gazing at “trees and stones” for comprehension of Shunyata, which is evidently of Ch’an Buddhists’ and corresponding views of some Indian Buddhists.
But in this paper I’m tracing some differences in meditation process in Ch’an Buddhism and in Gelukpa ( Tsonkhapa’s own) for demonstration the reasons of Tsonkhapa’s critique from the point of his own views on right meditation and trying to make a hypothesis on the origin of such varieties in Buddhist meditation.
Because sources in Chinese and Pali are inaccessible to me, for demonstration of peculiarities of the Ch’an meditation I depended mainly on the Chinese author Lu K’uan Yu (Charles Luk)’s “ The Secrets of Chinese Meditation”, a very clear part on Ch’an Buddhist meditation process within his book “Self-cultivation by Mind Control as taught in the Ch’an, Mahayana and Taoist schools in China” (4) , written on the basis of Chinese sourses, and for hypothesis on origin of varieties in Buddhist meditation on Johannes Bronkhorst’s “The Two Traditions of Meditation in Ancient India” (5), written on the basis of Pali texts and hope to be making later this concept more precise through other texts and studies.
I considered meditation process in Ch’an Buddhism in comparison with meditation process in Gelukpa through demonstrating differences in process of meditation, its result, preliminary preparation to it and some technique. At the same time it should be mentioned that in the “Grades on the Path to Bodhi” by Tsonkhapa process of meditation, its’ result and preliminary preparation to it is considered in details. Here by preliminary preparation I mean first of all a period of preliminary training.
1.Meditation Process in Ch’an Buddhism in Comparison With Meditation Process in Gelukpa.
Process of Meditation, its Result and Preliminary Preparation to It.
As it is seen from books on Ch’an meditation according to their views “the Buddha attained Enlightenment after gazing at the stars at night, that is after he had succeeded in stripping His mind of all feelings and passions” (4, 43). So, “gazing” at anything in outside world and “stripping of all feelings and passions”, which means as I understood thinking of nothing is a meditation method in Ch’an Buddhism, which is criticized by Tsonkhapa. For Tsonkhapa in his “Grades on the Path to Bodhi” meditation process is a process of concentrating on the object of inner mind without looking at the objects of the outside world. And the following cite from “Lankavatara” sutra: “Support just on mind and not analyze in outer sense” (1, 213a) also shows meditation process as thinking in inner mind unlike “looking at”.
According to Ch’an method, the main purpose of meditation is realization of self mind. “By self-mind is meant the pure mind which is not stirred by a single thought. ”Self-cultivation directed to attaining of this purpose begins with the control of wandering mind. Attaining of such a “pure mind” aimed to free mind “from false views in order to uncover his inherent wisdom which they screen” (4, 43-44). It seems that in Ch’an Buddhism this “attaining of a “pure mind” is resulted from delivering of all thoughts which are “false” being dictated by habit, tradition, society and other factors and not originating from own individual mind.
It is interesting that Tsonkhapa also wrote about “self-mind”. In difference to Ch’an Buddhism by self-mind he meant not “the pure mind which is not stirred by a single thought”, but thinking activities, aimed to creation of an image of mind and analyzing it in inner mind. These thinking activities according to Gelukpa should take place through the “view”, in which Tsonkhapa implies the Buddhist view and defined by the “four aims of the yogi”. The result of these thinking activities is realization of Suchness, which as it seems might be understood as realization of all things’ nature in one’s own mind, as it is in his sutra: “through analyzing one’s own mind all dharmas will lodge in one’s own mind”, which is cite from the “Prajna-Paramita’s Counsel” (sher phyin man ngag). If the final result of meditation in Ch’an Buddhism is “pure mind”, in Gelukpa it is “intuition without phenomenon”. Although both results look very similar, in Ch’an Buddhism by “pure mind” is meant persons “inherent wisdom”, while in Gelukpa all things nature, or Suchness, through persons mind.
If in that number “on first two steps tranquillity and extraordinary vision are created through containing meditation and analysing meditation” (1, 212b – 213a), the third step, named “intuition without phenomenon” expresses the final result of the meditation process.
According to Ch’an Buddhist view “...clinging to names and terms” cause people “to neglect self-cultivation” (4, 44), and “in ancient times, it was sufficient for an enlightened teacher to give some hint of the presence of the self-nature inherent in his pupil who was immediately awakened to it, thereby attained enlightenment and succeeded to the Mind Dharma” (4, 45). So, the trainee could be awakened very quickly. Only “later with the advance of material civilization, when life became complicated with the result that spiritual awakening was very difficult to achieve, the masters were compelled to change their tactics by employing words, sentences, shouts, roars of laughter, gestures and blows of the staff to awaken their students...All these acts were later called kung ans (Japanese, koans)” (4, 45).
As for Gelukpa the trainee should learn Buddhist sutras to acquire right view and knowledge of sutras. For acquiring this knowledge long years usually spent by the trainee. According to Gelukpa, view, deeds and meditation should be concordant.
1.Tecnique for realization of self mind, aimed to stopping of all thoughts in Ch’an Buddhism and technique for realization of things’ nature in own mind (self-mind) through the “four aims of the yogi” in Gelukpa.
In Ch’an Buddhism for disciplining his wandering mind a student should first to “disengage himself from seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing for the purpose of realizing singleness of mind to see clearly and to-take up the ‘host’ position before a kung an can be interpreted correctly”.”After he has succeeded in disciplining his mind” no further thoughts should arise therein” (4, 46) as it is seen from Mr. Charles Luk”s study on the subject.
He continues:“...Even before starting Ch’an practice, it is imperative that we know how to stop the ever-flowing thoughts that have been stirring our minds since time without beginning. We ‘live’ because we ‘think, and if we want to escape from this realm of suffering, the first thing is to realize a mind free from all thoughts” (4, 46-47).
So, all technique in Ch’an Buddism is purposed to achieving a state of no thought, which “...is the most difficult thing...” To prevent thoughts from arising in mind the ancients devised a technique, named hua t’ou, which means “ the mind before it is stirred by a thought or a mental word, and its English equivalent is ante-word or ante-thought. It consists in looking into, or in concentrating on, the self-mind and is also an impure thought used as a device to put an end to the thinking process. It is a pointed concentration to cut down all thoughts and eventual visions which assail the meditator during the training” (4, 47-48).
According to Ch’an Buddhism “word arises from Mind and Mind is the head of (i.e. ante-) Word. Thought arises from Mind and Mind is the head of Thought...In reality, a hua t’ou is the head of a thought. The head of a thought is nothing but Mind...before a thought arises, it is hua t’ou. From the above, we know that to look into a hua t’ou is to look into the Mind. The fundamental face before one’s birth is to look into one’s mind. Self-nature is Mind and to ‘turn inwards the hearing to hear the self-nature’ is to ‘turn inwards one’s contemplation to contemplate the self-mind’(4, 47-48). So, looking into hua t’ou, or self-mind before a thought arises is the main goal in ch’an Buddhism.
As for Gelukpa its technique for realization of things’ nature in one’s own mind (self-mind) is taking place through thinking activities with accordance to “four aims of the yogi”, taught by the Buddha, and aims at an opportunity. The “four aims of the yogi”, which were considered by Tsonkhapa in detail, briefly are as follows (1,144a-144b):
- 1. Common aim, by which meant realization of all things’ essence through containing meditation and analyzing meditation with resulting changes in one’s mind.
- 2. Aim to get rid of what had been experienced.
- 3. Wise aim.
- 4. Aim to get rid of the obstacles through meditating on their antidotes.
As it was in above mentioned cite in Ch’an Buddhism for disciplining his wandering mind a student should first “disengage himself from seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing” for the purpose to attain a state of mind with no thoughts.
In Gelukpa the trainee having the same purpose to discipline his mind is recommended to have suitable conditions for meditation. There are 6 conditions connected with surroundings and own intentions of the yogi (1,141b-142a):
- 1.Place, where necessary food and clothes are easy to get, there are no wild beasts or enemies, no diseases to be gotten, there are good friends with compatible principles and views, there are no many people at day and much noise at night.
- 2. To have modest needs with no requirements such as good and many clothes.
- 3. To be able to cease such requirements.
- 4. To be abstinent of diverse activities such as involvement in trade, in strong attached relations, practices on curing and astrology.
- 5. To be generous in vows.
- 6. To be abstinent of desires.
“Ch’an practice has nothing to do with whether one sits or not, but sitting with crossed legs is the most convenient way for beginners to control their bodies and minds which can be easily disciplined in that position” (4).
The same is with Gelukpa. In Tsonkhapa’s work there are indicated in detail postures of body, according to the “Grades of Meditation”. Body should be disposed on a soft and comfortable mattress and its part should be in the next position (1,142b):
- 1. Full or half crossed legs.
- 2. Eyes not opened widely or closed, but directed to the tip of the nose,
- 3. With body not bent up or down, but straight, sit containing reference to (the aim-Ch.O.)
- 4. Clavicles straight.
- 5. Head not high or low, contained firmly in one direction, disposed from the tip of the nose to the navel.
- 6. Teeth and mouth relaxed.
- 7. Tongue touching the top side of upper teeth,
- 8. Breathing without noise, with no effort and no perception of inhale and breathe out strain should be free, without noise.
In Ch’an one should work at the “training with singleness of mind...” (From instruction given by the late Master Hsu Yun (1840-1959)*(*See Ch’an and Zen Teaching, First Series, pp. 38-40- cited through 4, 50) The same could be said about Gelukpa. But difference is contained in singleness of mind without thought in Ch’an and singleness in the aimed thought in Gelukpa.
According to Ch’an Buddhism “...one should never give rise to a discriminating mind; one should remain indifferent to either the effectiveness or ineffectiveness’ (of the hua t’ou) and one should take no notice of either stillness or disturbance. (From instruction given by the late Master Hsu Yun (1840-1959)*(*See Ch’an and Zen Teaching, First Series, pp. 38-40 cited from 4, 51)
Thus, “...when the state of purity and emptiness appears, if the doubt ceases to exist, this is the unrecordable state in which the meditator likened to a withered tree (see next part) which is lifeless and to a stone which cannot be soaked with water.
Roots of the Difference in Meditation Process in Ch’an Buddhism and Gelukpa.
It seems not to be wrong to interpret Shunyata in Ch’an Buddhism as emptiness itself while in Gelukpa Shunyata is not emptiness itself, but emptiness of things and its reflection in person’s mind by their own nature, which means co-relation and inter-dependence of all things.
It is interesting that in both Ch’an Buddhism and Gelukpa one of the important sources to interpret a process and the result of reflection in mind was “Lankavatara sutra”. As it is seen from Mr.Lu K’uan Yu (Charles Luk)’s study Bodhidharma used the four books of Lankavatara sutra for interpreting meditation process. As Mr. Luk wrote: “When Bodhidharma came from the West (India), he set up only the doctrine of the Transmission of Mind and used the four books of the Lankavatara Sutra to seal the mind”. There are such cites from the Lankavatara Sutra as: ‘When one sits in meditation in a mountain grove and practices all-embracing self-cultivation, one perceives the endless flow of false thoughts arising in the self-mind’. This is the World Honoured One’s revelation of the secret of self-cultivation”.
And another: ‘As mind, thought and perception are realized as false states of the self-nature appearing in the self-mind, one is liberated from all causes (producing) the sansaric sea of existence and ignorant karmic desire’. This is the Tathagata’s profound teaching of the method of awakening to the self-mind.’ (4, 51)
It says; ‘from olden times, the saints handed down, from one to another, the teaching according to which all false thinking is devoid of independent nature.’ This is the esoteric sealing of mind.’... (From instruction given by Master Han Shan (1546-1623) (From Han Shan’s Journey in dreamland-Han Shan Meng Yu Chi) (4,52).
Mr.Lu K’uan Yu (Charles Luk) also tells a story how “Huang Mei sought for a successor to his Dharma” as follows : “the Sixth Patriarch inherited the robe and bowl after merely saying: ‘fundamentally there is not thing’. This was the transmission of the sealing of Mind”. (From instruction given by Master Han Shan (1546-1623) (From Han Shan’s Journey in dreamland-Han Shan Meng Yu Chi) (4,52).
Concerning the right view on Buddhist meditation in Gelukpa its’ tradition to interpret Shunyata on the basis of Taljurva school of Madhyamaka, which originates from Nagarjuna and succeeds through Aryadeva, Buddhapalita and Chandrakirti’s (12 ). According to this view, Shunyata is not emptiness itself, but emptiness of things and its reflection in person’s mind by their own nature. Things and a person’s mind don’t originate by their own nature, don’t exist as any entities without co-relation with other things. Even “in concept” we cannot say that anything exists by “its own nature”, independent of other objects and phenomena.
As it seems, the main purpose in Ch’an Buddhism to cultivate “pure mind which is not stirred by a single thought” lays in the concept, which originates from above mentioned “Lankavatara” sutra, cited in Mr.Lu K’uan Yu (Charles Luk) book: “mind, thought and perception are realized as false states of the self-nature appearing in the self-mind”, and realization of them as false states leads to liberation from all causes (producing) the sansaric sea of existence and ignorant karmic desire”. But there is also a quotation from the same “Lankavatara” sutra: “all false thinking is devoid of independent nature”.
Seemingly, in Ch’an Buddhism which cultivates “self-mind” “false thinking” is understood as thinking through common ideas, circulating in society, dependence on others’ views and opinions and cultivation of “self-mind” is seen in Ch’an Buddhism as realization of own nature, independent of circulating opinions.
In opposite to this view, in the “Grades on the Path to Bodhi” by Tsonkhapa, “false thinking” corresponds to the relative truth, due to which all things are seen as “independent” by nature, existing by their own while according to the “absolute truth” nothing exists by their own, independent nature and nothing is “devoid of independent nature”. So, realization of all things’ nature as “devoid of independent nature” is realization of the absolute truth, one of the main aim on the Path to Enlightenment.
Ch’an Buddhist meditation although being connected with the “view” took place “independent” of it. As Mr. Luk notifies: “Although Ch’an is a Transmission outside of the Teaching, it uses sutras to testify spiritual awakening. Therefore, the Buddha’s teaching and the Patriarchs’ transmission are one (and the same).* (*Sakyamuni Buddha was also a Patriarch of the Transmission school. (See Ch’an and Zen Teaching, Second Series, Part I). As we see, in Ch’an Buddhism Buddhist sutras are used, but meditation process is taken place independent of the sutras’ content.
Ch’an Buddhist meditation also seems to be separate from “deeds”. In Mr.Lu K’uan Yu (Charles Luk) book is a story about returning of the Sixth Patriarch to the South, where he met Tao Ming and said to him: ‘Do not think of either good or evil, at this very moment, what is the Venerable Sir’s fundamental face?’ ( From instruction given by Master Han Shan (1546-1623) (From Han Shan’s Journey in dreamland-Han Shan Meng Yu Chi) 12,52).
It could be concluded that in Gelukpa although understanding of the “things” nature takes place through own mind, meditation should take place through analyzing according to the right “view”, to tradition of sutras, while in Ch’an Buddhism which recognizes use of sutras meditation is aimed mainly to discovering of “own natural thinking” with independence to others’ view and opinions.
2. Origin of Meditation Process in Ch’an Buddhism in Comparison With Origin of Meditation Process in Gelukpa.
Varieties of meditation process in Buddhism except of their connection with diversity in views of the Buddha’s successors, which was shown in many studies of the famous Buddhologists (22) could be connected with the influence of the previous or contemporary to the Buddha yoga or similar practices in India (5). As some scholars write there were many kinds of yoga practice in India from ancient times and yoga practice may be originates even before Patanjali’s time (16).
Buddhist meditation spread in many mostly Asian countries has varieties and there are long traditions which differentiate one stream from another in many features . Difference in views on meditation process like difference between Buddhist directions first of all seems to depend on interpretation of sutras by the founders of these directions, among whom views of Indian Buddhists were of initiative role. Those Indian Buddhists had their own views on what was taught by Buddha and were divided to different schools. So, varieties of meditation process in Buddhism could be connected with diversity in views of the Buddha’s successors.
On the other hand, this diversity could be connected with the influence of the previous or contemporary to the Buddha yoga or similar practices in India. Nevertheless common features in Buddhist and non-Buddhist yoga practices of later time as “working” with self-mind, contemplation in one’s mind could also be seen.
In Ch’an Buddhism as we see the main purpose is looking into hua t’ou, or self-mind before a thought arises. In Gelukpa through analyzing one’s own mind (self-mind) all things’ nature is seen. Any object of outside world as well as a person including himself is cognized through his mind. In the “Grades on the Path to Bodhi” “analyzing one’s own mind” meant analyzing of any object, including one’s own mind with it’s perceptions, with it’s flow of thought, which nevertheless should be directed only to the aimed object. But at the end of the thinking process “intuition without phenomenon”, when “nothing is seen” is reached. In non-Buddhist (Hinduist) literature, as we see from the “Lingapurana”,a study by Mr. N.Gangadharan there were two kinds of meditation due to this Purana: “directed towards an object and then without an object” (16 ). This Purana also says that one who knows his self, finds everything” and “this has to be achieved by doing the Pasupatayoga by contemplating on one’s own self”. So, two kinds of meditation, “directed towards an object and then without an object” taken place in modern world are reflected in Ch’an Buddhist and Gelukpa kinds of meditation.
In Johannes Bronkhorst’s “The Two Traditions of Meditation in Ancient India”, made on the basis of Pali texts, he observes features, which could be “non-authentic” intrusions into the Buddhist texts”, and considers two traditions of meditation in ancient India, namely “the main stream”, in which early Jaina meditation and meditation as part of asceticism in early Hindu scriptures included, and Buddhist meditation with possible sharing “certain features with the other religious movements that existed in India in its time” (5, xyii) with the influence from the main stream. Description of some practices within the “main stream”, which he considers as possible influence from the main stream seemingly could be a starting-point for hypothesis on origin of above considered varieties in Buddhist meditation. It seems that Ch’an Buddhist meditation in comparison with Gelukpa has more common features with the “the main stream”.
In Johannes Bronkhorst’s study we see: “The Vitakkasanthana Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya and its parallels in Chinese translation recommend the practicing monk to ‘restrain his thought with his mind, to coerce and torment it’. Exactly the same words are used elsewhere in the Pali canon (in the Mahasaccaka Sutta, Bodhirajakumara Sutta and Sangarava Sutta) in order to describe futile attempts of the Buddha before his enlightenment to reach liberation after the manner of the Jainas” and follows: “Once again it is hard to see a better explanation than that
Except of early Jainism some early Hindu scriptures also told about “restraining the thought (mind).Example is in the Svetashvatara Upanishad: “...the wise one should restrain (dharayeta) his mind like that chariot yoked with vicious horses (5, 47)...
Within those Buddhists who accepted restraining his thought, who aimed to “destruction of thought”, seem to be Ch’an Buddhists, for who by self-mind is meant “the pure mind which is not stirred by a single thought”.
In the same study another practice “assigned to non-Buddhists” is “to halt functioning of the senses in such a way that “one sees no form with eye, hears no sound with the ear” (5, 30), while in Buddhism “rather than fasting, restraining the mind and stopping the breath, one should perform the Four Dhyanas. And rather than aiming at the non-functioning of the senses, one should remain equanimous in the face of the experiences they offer” (5, 30).
Halting of the senses functioning in such a way that “one sees no form with eye, hears no sound with the ear disengage himself from seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing for the purpose of realizing singleness of mind” reminds disengaging oneself “from seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing for the purpose of realizing singleness of mind” in Ch’an Buddhism.
Even more, passages with the same meaning from Bhagavatgita about motionlessness of body and mind in Jainism: “Freed from all attachments, taking little food, having conquered the senses...he is motionless like a stone...He neither hears nor smells nor tastes nor sees; he notices no touch, nor does (his) mind form conceptions...Like a piece of wood, he does not desire anything, nor does he notice (anything). When he has reached the Original Nature (prakrti), then sages call him ‘engaged in Yoga’ (yukta)...And he looks like a lamp shining in a place without wind; not flickering and motionless it will not move upward or sideward...(5,46) with words
“like a piece of wood” are almost the same with Ch’an Buddhist “ unrecordable state in which the meditator likened to a withered tree which is lifeless and to a stone which cannot be soaked with water”.
According to Johannes Bronkhorst’s book in Jainism, where were four kinds of “pure meditation”, during the second kind of meditation “the Great Hero meditates on what is above, below, beside, while remaining in his position, motionless”, observing his concentrationt desires”, from which the author concludes, that “meditation can have an object in the outside world” (5, 39).It resembles with description in Ch’an Buddhism about attaining Enlightenment by the Buddha “after gazing at the stars at night, that is after he had succeeded in stripping His mind of all feelings and passions” not to mention the accent on “pure mind”.
1. Comparing meditation process in Ch’an Buddhism with meditation process in Gelukpa, it seems that Ch’an Buddhist meditation with its goal to liberate from all thoughts which it considers as “false thoughts” directed to revealing of a person’s original nature, given him from nature, and as such serves as a push to creativity. Many Chinese and Japanese paintings and poetry are interpreted as an influence of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism. Although as it is seen from Lu K’uan Yu (Charles Luk)’s book some Ch’an Patriarchs ironically remarked about their trainees who began to pronounce poetry thinking that they revealed their self-mind. On the other hand it seemed that above cited remarks, such as “Do not think of either good or evil, at this very moment”, and revealing of own nature independent of the “false views”, interpreted as the views of others’, or society, in Ch’an Buddhism could serve as an origin of unsocial behaviour at worst case.
2. Conclusion, made by Johannes Bronkhorst is that “all the important features of early Jaina meditation are found in the early Hindu scriptures...As in early Jainism, meditation itself aims at the motionlessness of the mind. Here as well the sense organs are conquered. As a result the adept is said not to hear, smell etc” with the notice that this kind of meditation described elsewhere in the Buddhist canon (5,53) and that although “the Buddhist scriptures criticize this tradition repeatedly. Yet practices and ideas connected with this tradition appear to have made their way into the Buddhist community. Some of these practices and ideas even came to occupy rather central positions in the Buddhist tradition” put on an idea that above accented features in Ch’an Buddhist meditation originate from the “main stream” influence.
3. Although tradition of Ch’an Buddhism began with Bodhidharma, with time flow innovations were worked out like kung ans or looking to hua t’ous. As in Lu K’uan Yu (Charles Luk)’s book: “formerly the Buddha and Patriarchs taught only how to awaken to the self-mind and how to cognize one’s Self. There were then neither kung ans nor hua t’ous. Later at the time of Nan Yo and Ch’ing Yuan,...the two great Dharma successors of the Sixth Patriarch, whose Dharma descendants founded the Five Ch’an sects of China... and after them... it was Huang Nieh who taught people to look into hua t’ous and then Ta Hui *(*Ta Hui: an eminent Ch’an master in the Sung dynasty; died in 1163 in his seventy-fifth year) ... taught his students to use an ancient kung an as something to lay hold of, called a hua t’ou on which they were urged to concentrate their attention” (4,52) we see innovations when some new techniques were worked out. So, in Ch’an Buddhism there are some innovations in technique made through a time flow. As for innovations in Gelukpa, this problem should be clarified through learning of meditation practices.
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Author: Dr. Chimeg Oyun