Spiritual instructions of Sheichen-ling Monastery
Practice in accordance with Triple Wisdom storage
Every practice must develop serially in accordance with Triple Wisdom storage: Studying, Reflection and Contemplation.
At first we study our practice through correspondent text reading and listening to admonitions of aware Teachers who have their own internal experience of this practice. Just as traveler studies his way, which he will face with, in a map firstly and asks others people, who had this travelling experience, the way, in the same way a clever practicing person studies the Spiritual Path before he will pass it. This is a Studying stage.
Then, we reflect on given knowledge, put it in order and if questions arise, clear up them through reading and listening to admonitions. It is very important to comprehend given knowledge on essential level, it means to understand the essence of given one to us, but not just remember other people words mechanically. This is a Reflection.
Mush as we listened to admonitions and reflect on them, nothing could replace our own internal experience of this practice understanding. Just as it is impossible to understand lemon taste without its tasting, in the same way it is impossible to get good, which is gifted by practice, if only you are listening about practice and reflecting on it. That's why when we got clear intellectual task understanding, its driving force and rules about this practice, we must start its implementation through contemplation.
If we make practice in accordance with Triple Wisdom storage, hindrances and delusions will not appear, and practice will be stable and successful.
Creation of good conditions
Practicing beginners often underestimate meaning or creation of external good conditions for contemplation. Meanwhile, till they get high internal concentration stage, outer things have an influence on our consciousness. They can become as serious obstacle, if we do not attach importance to it, as strong assistant in practice, if we know how to use it in a right way.
First of all we must find a place for contemplation, where outer distractions were absent or were as little as possible.
It would be very desirable, if the place, where we contemplate, supported our practice. For example, the best place for perishable nature contemplation is cemetery, the best one for Buddha, Dharma and Sangha Refuge contemplation is holy places, which are linked to life and advocacy of Enlightened One and Dharma Great Teachers, or temples, near statues, altars, stupas and holy images. If it is impossible to contemplate in such places, even noiseless usual room can be transformed into a good place, if you tidy it and decorate with small inspiring us Three Gems altar. Not pomp of altar and contemplation room is important, but inspiring for our practice atmosphere creation. You should also clean your body: wash your face and clean teeth, take off excess cosmetics and adornments. It is not advisable to start contemplation in dirty clothes, if only there are no other one. Generally speaking, it is quite desirable to have special ritual clothes for practice, which would be comfortable and modest. White colour clothes is traditional for laypeople. A white colour symbolizes spiritual aspiration clearance.
Lamps and candles should be lighted and incense should be burnt before contemplation. Three bows, which can be low, full or genuflection, should be done after this. Short inspiring prays can be read.
All this allow create a proper mood for following contemplation.
People who ignorant of Buddhist contemplations consider that contemplations must be made in classic lotus position, which is Buddha often represented in. Indeed, this position is obligatory for certain high tantric practices of Vajrayana only, which are connected with subtle mental energies running. This position is not used for all contemplative practices.
Following next simple rules is sufficient for position assistance to practice.
The first, back must be relaxed and straight, neck is straight, chin is slightly dropped and crown must be in a one vertical line with perineum.
The second, shoulders must be softly dropped, belly is relaxed, lower jaw is slightly relaxed and tongue is gently touched to roof of mouth near teeth. The third, your look must be directed in inside softly, if only practice doesn't need concentrating on external objects. If our thoughts worry us too much, we close eyes, and, on the contrary, if dullness is appeared, we looked stared before us or gently higher.
If we can sit in lotus position, which is called position of vajra in Vajrayana tradition, without any distraction for a long time, it is very well. But this position is not available for all people even after persistent trainings. That's why you can contemplate in other positions. It can be half lotus position, when one leg lies on another one, or Burmese position, when you sit on a ground and hard pillow is under your back, your legs lies in a position, which looks like lotus position. You can sit on special Japanese stool - seiza or even sit on a stool and just our hands on hips. It is advisable that these positions were shown by experienced practicing person, who master their special features well.
You can contemplate, when you lie down or stand. In first case it can bring to mental calming, but sleepiness can appear, in second case, on the contrary, it can lead to mental activation, but many extra thoughts can appear. But no matter what position we use for contemplating, all rules, which are stated below, must be followed.
If your consciousness is inclined to dullness and sleepiness, it is better to contemplate in a place, which is well lighted. It can be peak of mountains or hills, flat roofs of houses and balconies. On the contrary, if your consciousness is inclined to excitation, it is better to choose close place with limited space and dim light: dark room, close yard, full of trees place. All these pieces of advice undoubtedly help your contemplation, if you use it in a right way.
Mental purification of external and internal place
Imagine inspiring Buddha's image. Imagine it not as an image, but feel his real presence. Whole aspect of Enlightened One is fulfilled with blessed peacefulness, purity, wisdom and love. These qualities are emanated from his body like a gold light, which is fill all surrounding place with these qualities, which saturate and clean your and all object around you. And when you feel your consciousness, body and all around you are filled with inspiration, peace and benevolence, dissolve Enlightened One image in pure gold light. Its essence is the enlightened qualities of His consciousness referred above, and then dissolve this light in your heart.
Visualization accuracy is not very important in this contemplation, but the feeling of real presence of Buddha's enlightened energy here and now. Even if you can't imagine whole Buddha's image, you can imagine only His eyes for a start or imagine Him as a gold light cloud. But in any event, the stronger you feel enlightened qualities of Buddha's consciousness in your visualization, the better purification power your contemplate gets.
If you do this, your contemplation will be defended from external and internal obstacles, which are people malevolence, animal attack, harmful spirits interference, not-good local energies influence, obstacles of distractions and diseases. If you feel some internal or external obstacles at main practice, this purifying contemplation can be made again.
This preliminary practice does not need any special ordinations and can be practiced by everyone. If you have ordinations of Vajrayana traditions into some yidam practices, then you can clean external and internal space of your practice the same way, just visualizing enlightening qualities at your yidam in accordance to admonitions given at practice admonitions.
When we start any practice, we bring up five powers to our practice (Pancha Bala) sequentially: reverence (shraddha-bala), aspiration (viriya-bala), attentiveness (smriti-bala), concentration (samadhi-bala), wisdom (prajnya-bala). Three relations are natural for our consciousness: avoidance of unpleasant one, aspiration for peasant one and desire for saving.
That's why, in order that our practice be natural for our consciousness, firstly we must spend some time to feel how our darken consciousness suffers. Then it is need to contemplate those goods, which practice gifts us with, how our practice great and excellent. If it was done in a right way, strong reverence will arise for this practice and rapture at just thinking about this practice will appear. This is a Power of Reverence (shraddha-bala).
Next we need to develop strong desire for practicing this practice, just as thirsty person needs water or someone who is in burning house thinks only about rescuing from fire. To develop this state, which is called a power of Aspiration (viriya-bala), we need to contemplate that every moment, when we are out of practice, we are suffering and we are in slavery, but when we are contemplating, we are taking delight in freedom and other good consciousness states.
Then we must develop a Power of Attentiveness (smriti-bala): we must learn to be in practice continually. Meanwhile we will notice immediately, when we distract from the practice and we return to practice that moment. We just do not pay attention to any appearing distracting thoughts, images and feelings and they become weaker and dimmer and they will disappeared finally at all. Continual being at practice is very important part of any practice because wandering consciousness is the main obstacle in getting good practice fruits.
The next power is a Power of Concentration (samadhi-bala). This time we must learn how to immerse our attention to chosen practice object completely, no matter this is a concentration on breath or perishable nature, or love, or emptiness of our consciousness. Firstly, we calm our talking mind, then we remove stresses and disturbances of our consciousness, then we immerse in contemplation deeper and deeper and reach feeling of disappearance of our consciousness. And, when a pure attention and the object of contemplation remain only, we join them together and we become this object itself completely. Here we are attentively following our practice trying to escape as the excitement of consciousness in the early stages of immersion as the stupid trance in more advanced stages. Ideally, attention should be calm and bright like pure and endless sky. This total immersion to the object of a practice is a key point of a Power of Concentration.
And when we unite attention with the object completely, we are immersing deeper in his thoughtless knowledge, in which there are no words and images, but there is penetration into its essence. This insightful knowledge is a Power of Wisdom (prajnya-bala), which leads us to the true contemplative knowledge lying beyond words and symbols.
Four stages of practice
When we practice, we conditionally pass four stages at our practice. Knowing these stages is very desirable. These stages look like signposts on a road, which suggest us where we are and what we should pay attention to.
The first stage is called view (drishti). The main task of the practitioner at this stage is to get experience of flashes of direct understanding of a practice. Understanding of the novice practitioner is just as a person in complete darkness who does not know where he is. This person can draw different pictures of reality in his mind, which may even more or less coincide with the place where he stays. But in any case, these fantasies are no more than a model, but not reality itself.
Imagine now that there was flash of lightning or light for a moment in this place. And as a result person saw where he was and what surrounds him/her even for a brief moment. And despite of it place will plunge into darkness again, but a man is no doubt about the surrounding reality any longer. Such a flash of internal comprehension in spiritual practice is reaching the stage of view itself.
The task of the next stage, which is called Meditation (dhyana) is to transform some flashes of insight in a clear and steady light of awareness of our practice at the time when we are in a meditative immersion - dhyana. As mentioned above, the main obstacles on this path are excited and dull attention. However, if you make your practice correctly, combining tension and relaxation, dividing our daily practice in many small time cycles of 30-40 minutes each and also practicing in a good place under the guidance of qualified teachers who has a personal internal experience of this practice, meditation will develop steadily and successfully. The criteria of quite successful meditation can be considered a fully relaxed immersion in a practice without appearing of distractions, wandering or dimness of our consciousness for an half an hour at least.
Once we have learned to remain in meditation state on a particular spiritual object continuously, we should begin to unite our meditative spiritual experience with real life. Otherwise, our life will be split into periods of detached meditation and real life. In this case, we do not just get the benefits of our practice, but, on the contrary, we will rise even greater internal conflict and suffering. This "carrying out" of newfound meditative experience in a real life is called the stage of practice (charya) or carrying out.
In order to make this stage steady, we must make some constant efforts to ensure that, when we finish our meditation, we continue to perceive the surrounding reality through the prism of the previous meditation experience. For example, if we practiced perishable nature, we must consider the spiritual perception of all surrounding people, creatures and items, whose future are filled with impermanence and destruction, as perishable. When we see something that makes us feel desire, irritation, or envy, we look at this person, object or event, as already carry the seeds of its own transience, or we feel our own frailty.
The same way we do with any practices which we practice. Vajrayana tradition calls this "Put mandala world at your practice." First, we distract or forget about our practice from time to time, but if we come back to it softly, spiritual vision becomes stable in time and will not be weaker but, on the contrary, will increase in situations with strong darkening potential. Stable retention of a practice in everyday life will be the criteria of reaching the stage of carrying out.
However, until a particular skill becomes natural for us, it does not become part of our identity and our perception of the world. Therefore, keeping carried out practice in life continuously day by day, we must strive for becoming it natural for us. This naturality should be as easy as breathing or walking. We do not need to make special efforts to keep our spiritual vision in a line with varying practices. This stage is called the fruit (phala) and it is the main achievement of any practice. Often, inexperienced practitioners do not bring the previous practice to a fruit and begin the next one. This is a bad mistake, which leads to the fact that the practitioner will never get real results in any of practices. Therefore, you should always remember that it is better to have one fruit of a practice, even in the simplest one, than jump like a grasshopper on the set of complex practices, without bringing any of them to perfection.
(to be continued)