Chih [Cessation of Thought] and Kuan [Visualization]

Although the Scriptural and Vajrayana schools differ in their approach to the matter of meditation and the generation of stability, they ultimately arrive at the same goal. The methods used by the Scriptural schools are known as the `six wonderful gates.` These are, breath counting, breath following, chih [cessation of thoughts], kuan [view or visualization], gate returning, and gate purifying. In Vajrayana Buddhism, `visualization` is utilized to engender `stability.` There are many kinds of visualization. I have given a detailed explanation of this subject in `A Complete and Detailed Exposition on the True Buddha Tantric Dharma,` wherein I clearly delineate the various kinds of visualization techniques a True Buddha practitioner may employ to enter into Samadhi. In Zen, the methods used are `chih` and `kuan.` Zen masters often seize opportune moments to give instruction on these two methods.

Once, an old Zen master took a young apprentice with him on an outing. In the open wilderness, they saw a flock of wild geese flying across the sky. This old Zen master often used whatever was on hand to teach his students. He asked his acolyte, `What do you see?` The apprentice looked up and said, `Oh! The wild geese are flying.` He saw the wild geese flying. This answer sent the old Zen master into a rage, and he gave the apprentice`s nose a painful squeeze. Then he asked again, `What do you see?` The student replied, `Oh, they have flown away.` [audience laughter] The old Zen master raised up his hand and brought it down hard on the apprentice`s head. You know, some of these Zen masters are very ferocious! Equipped with cudgels and lion`s roars, they beat and growl at their disciples. If one does not `hear` the teachings, the Zen master will take out his cudgel and start hitting the student on the head. This will certainly bring one`s mind to a stop as one passes out from such treatment! [audience laughter] While hitting this apprentice`s head, the old Zen master asked again, `What do you see?` This time the student replied, `Now there is nothing. It only hurts!` [audience laughter] His nose hurt, and his head also hurt. The student was left to contemplate the whole incident when he went home.

The teaching style used by this Zen master is one of the `stimulating` kind that employs hitting, pressuring, kicking, and reprimanding to quickly jolt into sparks the minds of his students. In the `present,` one observes the wild geese flying. When the wild geese fly away, the `present` moves into the `future.` The observation of such a transition signifies that one still has thoughts. A Zen practitioner has to learn `chih` which is `cessation of thoughts.` If the master asked you what did you see, what would your answer be? [A student replies, `Nothing.` Audience laughter] This is a smart answer, but he would still hit you because you are lying! [audience laughter] You are committing a falsehood, since the wild geese are clearly flying in the sky. During the course of an instruction, one may witness the master and student hitting each other back and forth. [audience laughter] The old master`s knuckles come down on the student as he asks, `What do you see?` The student responds by punching the master. [audience laughter] Let me tell you, the old master is actually pleased when the student returns the punch. It indicates a state of communion! [audience laughter and applause] So, if you see two Zen practitioners rallying back and forth with kicks and fists, you know they are doing the right thing! [audience laughter] Such a scene does exist in real life, when two practitioners actually slap each other ?the two are abiding in the Condition of Realization, wherein nothing needs verbalization! It is a state of `chih.`

The first skill to acquire in meditation is `chih` ?to put a stop to the arising of all thoughts. Why would you slap me back? Because you realize that there is nothing to be verbalized. To claim that one does not see anything is false. There is nothing to be verbalized because no thought has arisen. A Buddhist practitioner has to be able to stop the chattering mind. Achieving Zen is to become unattached to the present when `the wild geese are flying,` the past when `the geese have flown away,` or even `how painful it is.` [audience laughter] Here also lies the reason for using the `jolt tactic` of cudgel and lion`s roar. Inherent in this tactic is the secret of Zen!

The first requisite for cultivation of stability is to stop thoughts from arising. The mind of man is constantly in a state of churning. Day in and day out thoughts ceaselessly move around in circles. If one can quiet down for even one brief moment, one will realize what a turmoil one`s mind has been in. Now, if anyone here has no troubles, and possesses a mind completely free of turmoil or worries, please raise your hand. [A brief pause] You all have worries! I was the only one who had his hand up just now. [audience applause] It is not that I am not involved in any human affairs. Actually many matters require my attention. You have heard of the popular Taiwanese songs, `Who Knows What`s In My Mind?` and `My Heart is Tied Up in Knots.` [audience laughter] Last night it was raining, and I thought of the Taiwanese song `Tonight the Rain Falls Again!` [audience laughter] So, there are many matters that can trouble one`s mind. All human beings, from heads of state to pawns, have worries. To be free of worries is to be able to view worries as non-existent and to transcend them. Today you regard all these worries as having a separate and independent existence, and you tinker with them, one after another. One trouble feeds into the next, forming an interminable chain. You have to put a stop to these reactive thoughts! Use your sharp sword of wisdom to cut through in one stroke! `Chih` is to cut through.
People of the highest wisdom are able to make an instantaneous severance and put a stop to their worries. From that point on, they abide in a state free of reactive thoughts. This is the state of Self-mastery and Freedom. [audience applause]

What is one to do if the thoughts will not stop? One finds oneself sitting there, doing the meditation and chanting to oneself that one has `to cut away the worries.` This thought that one has `to cut away the worries` is a form of worry in itself. [audience laughter] What is one to do? Actually some of the visualizations used in Vajrayana practice can be very complicated and cumbersome. The methods of visualization used in our True Buddha Tantric Practice are of the simplest kinds. With visualization, the simpler it is, the better it can be carried out. Do not presume that performing visualization is an easy task. Some people say, `It is very easy to do visualization. I am able to perform the most complicated visualization.` Try visualizing a round moon, blue in color, with a trace of cloud beside it. It takes some people a long time to visualize the color blue. If one has not experienced the moon in a certain color, one might have trouble visualizing it in that particular color.

There was a student who came to tell me that he could not visualize colors at all. Purification is associated with white, magnetization with red, subjugation with blue, and enhancement with yellow. He said he could not visualize the associative colors. So I asked him to go and look at more colors! He then told me that he was color-blind. [audience laughter] A color-blind person, of course, will have difficulties visualizing colors. To him, red becomes blue and blue becomes red. Therefore, even the visualization of colors can sometimes be difficult.

Today, in our Vajrayana practice, I teach students to employ the simplest methods. First visualize a single moon disc, then a seed syllable. The seed syllable next rotates to transform into one`s Personal Deity. One then performs the visualization of `the merging of the Personal Deity and oneself.` The Personal Deity enters into oneself, and one also enters into the Personal Deity. Why this kind of esoteric visualization? It utilizes the principle that `one thought can be replaced by another thought.` One is relying on the simplest visualization to stop other thoughts from arising. This is one technique for stopping thoughts.

When one is unable to stop thoughts from arising, one resorts to the method of visualization. When a very lucid visualization is achieved, one will enter into the state of `no thought.` As one abides in the state of no thought, there may come the intrusion of an arising thought, upon which one returns to the process of visualization. This method is the dual employment of `chih` and `kuan.` It is the best method of entering into `stability` or `stillness` in meditation.
I have previously taught the `breath counting method.` With this method, one co-ordinates one`s breathing with the mental chanting of `Om, Ah, Hum` or with mental counting. In the former case: when the breath is inhaled, it is `Om;` when the breath is held in the body, it is `Ah;` and when the breath is exhaled, it is `Hum.` This is one way of breath counting. Another is for one to count `one, two, three, four, five, six` during inhalation and repeat the same numbers during exhalation. Because chanting and number counting are very simple, easy, and powerful in arresting the arising of thoughts, many people use the breath counting method. It is an excellent method to enable one to enter into `stillness` or `stabilization` in meditation.

In `breath following,` one`s mind follows and focuses on the sensations of the spontaneous in-coming and out-going breaths. In regard to the `six wonderful gates` of the Scriptural schools, we have covered the `breath counting,` `breath following,` `chih` and `kuan,` (which are the Zen methods I just discussed.) The remaining two are the `gate returning` and `gate purifying` methods, which I will discuss at some time in the future. These are the methods used by the Scriptural schools.

Among these methods, I consider `chih` and `kuan` to be the most important. Besides playing a significant role in Zen meditation, `chih` and `kuan` are also related to many methods we use in Vajrayana practice. There is even the further division of `chih` and `kuan` into `major` and `minor` categories as devised by the Chih Che Daishi of the Tien-tai School. That is why there is the term `Tien-tai chih and kuan method.` `Chih` is cessation of thoughts and `kuan` is visualization. During the process of visualization, wisdom is engendered. In Vajrayana, the following visualization techniques are also used: Flame Samadhi, Skeleton Visualization, Unclean or Impure View, and Stabilization of Ecstasy and Emptiness.

Zen and Vajrayana - Different Paths to the Same Goal

Although the practice of Zen ignores the cultivation of the body and focuses completely on the `spiritual aspect,` while the Vajrayana practice places equal emphasis on the cultivation of `body` and `spirit,` the ultimate goal for these two schools is the same. In other words, the paths of Zen and Vajrayana eventually become one. Although Zen practitioners do not engage in the practice of Energy Yogas, during the process of complete translation of the egotistical consciousness into the Condition of Emptiness, and when the cessation of thoughts occurs, the energy in the entire body will naturally return to its source.

There was this one method we used in the past. There is a particular point inside the body at the third-eye chakra. When one quiets down completely, the whole body`s `ching,` `chi,` and `shen` [essence, energy, and vitality] become concentrated and return to their source at that one point. It is a very natural phenomenon, requiring no maneuvering of one`s own. Therefore, at this moment when the entire body`s `ching,` `chi,` and `shen` become concentrated at that single point, the same goal achieved by Vajrayana practitioners is arrived at by Zen practitioners. In the cultivation of the Energy Yogas, (a Vajrayana practice,) the practitioners first develop a full and vigorous chi to open up the central channel, then they bring all of the chi in the body to one single point. This turns out to be the same mechanism that is at work when a Zen practitioner truly enters into a state wherein the self is transcended. Although Zen does not engage in the practice of `chi, channel, and light drops,` at the moment when the egotistical mind is completely transcended, the energy in the entire body also returns to its source. This is why the two paths eventually become one.

Flame Samadhi and Others

The Buddha taught us to meditate and use the Skeleton Visualization method to enter into Flame Samadhi. By igniting his inner fire to incinerate the self during visualization, the Buddha could enter into Flame Samadhi, a fruition of fourth level Arhats.
In the beginning, although the Buddha also taught many other different practices, the highest level of achievement attained by most of the disciples who were Arhats was through the Flame Samadhi. Therefore, the highest Realization attained by the Arhats was achieved mainly through the practice of Flame Samadhi. This is accomplished by first kindling the inner [psychic] fire. This fire is then led to ignite the whole body to burn away all obscurations, all unwholesome habitual tendencies, and all emotional afflictions, until a state of total purification is reached. The Realization of Emptiness through incineration of the self by inner fire is known as Flame Samadhi. Realizers of the Flame Samadhi are fourth level Arhats.

At the very beginning of our spiritual practice, it is not feasible to instantly abide in Emptiness. We usually start out by training to concentrate our consciousness to one-pointedness. In one of my earlier books, Highest Tantra and Mahamudra, I explained that the most effective methods to bring the mind to one-pointedness are also the simplest methods. Such methods should be clear, distinct, and focused, and they include the Vajra Chanting Practice [an inaudible recitation with the lips closed and the tongue slightly moving] and the Treasure Vase Breathing Practice. `Chih and Kuan` is another method. Furthermore, there is the method known as `Termination of Linkages.` In this practice, as soon as one sits down, one empties one`s mind completely and opens oneself totally to the Earth, wind, atmosphere, and the whole Universe. Such a method is practiced by people who have extraordinary wisdom and are able to merge with Emptiness as soon as they sit down to meditate. All these methods are tools to help one enter into `stability` or `stillness` when one meditates!

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