Those who “maintain unified-mindfulness without deviation” use the eye which is empty and pure to fix the mind on seeing one thing constantly day and night without interruption, exclusively and zealously without moving. When the mind is about to gallop off, a quick hand still gathers it in, like a cord tied to the foot of a bird still controls and holds onto it when it wants to fly. Throughout the whole day seeing has not been abandoned, disturbance is eliminated and the mind itself is settled. The Vimalakirti Sutra says: “The mind which is collected is the place of enlightenment.”
This is the method of collecting the mind.
The Lotus Sutra says: “For innumerable kalpas of time up to now through eliminating drowsiness and always collecting your thoughts, and by using all the various merits, you are able to attain various meditative states.” The I chiao ching says: “Consider the mind as the lord of the other five sense organs; fixing it in one place there is nothing you cannot do.” That’s it!
True principles of the Great Vehicle:
“Briefly, I suggest that overall there are five principles:
All are based on that which is stated in the scriptures and commentaries, and none are false teachings contrary to the truth. This is not the activity of illusion but is the ultimate truth.
Transcending the Sravaka stage, one immediately advances quickly along the path of a Bodhisattva. Those who hear these teachings should practice and not have any doubts. Like a man who is studying archery, first he shoots with great license, but then he hits the bulls-eye with a small leeway of error. First he hits something big, next he hits something small, then he hits a hair, and then he divides a hair into 100 parts and hits one hundredth of a hair.
Next, the last arrow hits the end of the previous arrow shot into the air. A succession of arrows do not allow the previous arrows to drop to the ground. It is like a man who practices the Way. Moment after moment he dwells in his mind. Thought after thought continuously without even a short interval in awareness; he practices correct awareness without interruption and correct awareness in the present.
As the Prajna-paramita Sutra says: “Use the arrow of wisdom to hit the three gates of liberation and by a regular succession of arrows do not allow them to fall to the ground.”
Also, like fire produced by friction, before it is hot one gets tired and stops. Although one wants to start a fire, the fire is difficult to get.
It is also like the wish-granting jewel which a family had. There was nothing which they wanted that they didn’t get, but suddenly their heritage, the gem, was lost. Thus, there never was an instant when their thoughts forgot about it.
It is like a poisoned arrow piercing the flesh. The shaft is out, but the barb is deep inside. In this manner you receive severe pain, and there is no instant when you can forget it. Moment after moment it is on your mind. Your state of contemplation is to be considered just like this.
This teaching is profound and significant. I do not transmit it to unsuitable people. It is not because I am miserly about the Dharma that I do not transmit it to them, but only for fear that the above-mentioned people will not believe but will fall into the error of slandering the Dharma. One must select people in order to avoid taking a chance of speaking hastily. Be careful! Be careful!
Although the sea of the Dharma is unlimited, in actual practice it is contained in a single word. When you get the idea, you can dispense with words, for then even one word is useless. When you understand completely in this way, you have obtained the mind of the Buddha.
When you are first beginning to practice sitting meditation, dwell in a quiet place and directly contemplate your body and mind. You should contemplate the four elements and the five skandhas, the six sense organs (the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind), and the three poisons of desire, anger, and delusion, whether they are good or evil, whether they are enemies or allies, whether they are profane or sacred, and so on through all the various items of existence. From the very beginning they are non-substantial and tranquil, neither arising nor disappearing, being equal and non-dual. From the very beginning they have never existed, but ultimately are utterly tranquil. From the very beginning they are totally pure and free.
Without any interval both day and night, whether walking, staying, sitting or lying down, always practice this contemplation. Then instantly you will understand that your own body is like the moon reflected in the water, or like an image in a mirror, or like the air in the hot summer, or like an echo in an empty valley. If you say these exist, everywhere you look you are not able to see them. If you say these do not exist, then you completely understand that they always are in front of your eyes. The Dharma body of all the various Buddhas is just like this. This means you should understand that your own body from an unlimited number of ages ago ultimately has never been born, and from the present and forever, there is absolutely nobody who dies.
If you are able to constantly practice this contemplation, then this is repentance in accord with true reality. The most extreme forms of evil karma accumulated during a thousand or ten thousand kalpas are utterly destroyed spontaneously. Only those with doubt who are not able to develop faith are excluded and are not able to achieve enlightenment. If one develops faith based on this practice, there is no one who cannot achieve entrance into the uncreated correct truth of reality.
And again, if your mind attaches itself to devious phenomena when sitting in meditation, the moment you realize this occurring then immediately concentrate on the fact that the place where it arises ultimately does not come into being. When this mind does begin to attach itself, it does not come from any place in the ten directions, and when it goes there is no place at which it arrives. Constantly watch any clinging to objectified phenomena, or any conceptualizing, or any false thinking, or scattered ideas. If this chaotic mind does not arise, it means that you calm down those coarse mental activities.
If you achieve a calm mind and do not have the mind which clings to objectified phenomena, then your mind gradually becomes tranquil and stable and step by step eliminates the various passions. Therefore, you finally do not create new illusions, and it can be said that you are free. When you notice that your mind is becoming tied up with passions or sad and depressed and falling into a mental stupor, then you should immediately shake this off and readjust yourself. Very slowly things will become orderly. Now, having attained this, the mind spontaneously becomes calm and pure, but you must be fiercely alert as if to save your life. Don’t be negligent. Work hard! Work hard!
When you first begin practicing sitting meditation and viewing the mind, go off by yourself and sit in one place. First make your body erect and sit correctly. Make your clothes roomy and loosen your belt. Relax your body and loosen your limbs. Massage yourself seven or eight times. Expel completely the air in your belly. Through the natural flow you will obtain your true nature, clear and empty of desire, quiet and pure. The body and mind being harmonized, the spirit is able to be peaceful. Then obscure and mysterious, the inner breath is clear and cool. Slowly, slowly, you collect the mind and your spiritual path becomes clear and keen.
The state of the mind is lucid and pure. As contemplation becomes increasingly lucid, and inner and outer become empty and pure, the nature of your mind becomes utterly tranquil. The manifestation of the awakened mind is utterly just like this.
Although the nature of your awakened mind has no form, inner constancy always exists. The mysterious spiritual power is never exhausted but always shines clearly. This is called your Buddha-nature. Those who see their Buddha-nature are forever free from the stream of birth and death, and are called “people who have transcended the world.” The Vimalakirti Sutra says: “Suddenly you regain the original mind.” Believe these words!
Those who awaken to their Buddha-nature are called Bodhisattvas. They are also call “people awakened to the Way”, “people conscious of the Truth”, “people who arrived”, and “people who have obtained their true nature.” Therefore the scripture says that “The succession of time is endless for the spirit that becomes colored by a single true phrase.” This is an expedient aid, for those who are just beginning practice. Therefore, you should know that the cultivation of the Way involves using expedient aids, and that this is the very place for the awakened mind to be manifest.
Generally, in the practice of giving up attachment to your self, you should first of all calm and empty your mind in order to cause your mental phenomena to become tranquil and pure. When thinking is allowed to settle, it is mysterious and tranquil and causes the mind not to deviate. When the nature of the mind is tranquil and settled, clinging to conditioned phenomena is immediately cut off. Being elusive and hidden, the completely pure mind is vacant, so that there is a still and peaceful calm. As the breath is exhausted in death of this present life, you receive no further rebirths but dwell in the utterly pure body of ultimate reality. But if you produce a mind which loses mindfulness, rebirth is unavoidable. The method of attaining the mental state prior to Samadhi which we have just described should be like this.
This is our method of cultivation. The basis of our method is no-method. The method of no-method was from the beginning called the method. This method, therefore, is not to be cultivated. Thus, the method of non-cultivation is the true method of reality. This is based on the scripture which says: “Non-substantiality, non-cultivation, non-vowing and non-form is true liberation.” Therefore, based on this interpretation the real method is not produced by cultivation.
As for the method of giving up attachment to yourself, it means that while temporarily imagining there is a real body, you see the lucid state of your mental condition, and then use this spiritual lucidity to determine things.
Fourth Chan Patriarch Tao-shin (580-651)
Excerpted from Early Ch’an in China and Tibet -David Chappell
This is a teaching vast in scope, covering the beginning, middle, and end of practice. Stunning to see the dates of the writing and to feel a deep connection with something so ancient/contemporary! With each reading new insights jump out, and Master Tao-shin holds no secret teachings back from us. He is at once clear for a beginner and very encouraging to those who seem stuck in practice and a bit discouraged. This teaching bears up to continued contemplation.
“When the mind is about to gallop off, a quick hand still gathers it in”
Like riding a horse who wants to run away with us, we are tuned into the tendency and catch the intention before the action manifests, thus drawing in the energy before the full blown run has had a chance to take off. This is truly the ongoing practice of a lifetime. And what attention this actually takes!
“If you achieve a calm mind and do not have the mind which clings to objectified phenomena, then your mind gradually becomes tranquil and stable and step by step eliminates the various passions. Therefore, you finally do not create new illusions, and it can be said that you are free. When you notice that your mind is becoming tied up with passions or sad and depressed and falling into a mental stupor, then you should immediately shake this off and readjust yourself.”
Once we recognize our error, we “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again.” We don’t give in to the distractions that pull us in every direction; for a while we may get caught up, but once we notice, then it’s time to return to our center point.
“Generally, in the practice of giving up attachment to your self, you should first of all calm and empty your mind in order to cause your mental phenomena to become tranquil and pure.”
Attachment to self seems to be the root of our suffering here. We need just enough to maintain our practice and survival needs, but not so much that we believe everything we think or feel as real. We need that right amount to feel compassion for others and ourselves, but not so much that we get lost and lose our Way.