December 18, 2012

The Delusional States of Cultivation revealed in WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT?

In my latest book, WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT?, I have an appendix which is an entire book in itself. It is from a new translation of the various delusional states of cultivation  presented in the Surangama Sutra. These are all sorts of experience, or categories of experience (your experience does not have to follow the same pattern exactly, but just belong to that category) that meditators and cultivators who use other methods sometimes experience when they are making great progress on the path.

The book WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT? won’t be out until after the new year because it is so big (you try to edit 550 pages and see how long it takes), but here’s an interesting excerpt of the types of things people sometimes experience because of their spiritual cultivation which Buddha warned is not enlightenment/sainthood at all. The entire appendix is a new translation with relevant comments and explanations for this very important material.

Here is the excerpt:

The Ten Mara-States of the Skandha of Form

“Ananda, you must know that when you sit in meditation your thoughts will eventually disappear (you must sit in a place to cultivate toward enlightenment and dissolve away false thoughts). When you are free of thoughts, your mind will become clear and this state of pure clarity will be the same within movement or stillness, and remain the same whether you remember it or forget it (your mind will seem clear whether thoughts are moving or not, and whether you notice this clarity or get so used to it that you forget about it). In this state as you enter samadhi, you are like a man with clear eyes who is standing in the dark (and thus cannot see anything in the darkness even though their eyes are fine). Although your mind is clear, it is not yet illuminated. This is because the skandha of form conditions your meditation. If your eyes are clear, and light shines through in all directions, you will no longer dwell in darkness. This is called ‘the end of the skandha of form,’ which allows you to transcend the kalpa of defilement. If we examine the cause of the form skandha, the root cause is solidified false thinking.

[Editor: Buddha says that our physical body of “form” is basically solidified false thinking (solidified consciousness), which is why thoughts can affect the body. This is why there is such as thing as what science calls the mind-body connection; mind can affect the body since the body is also a type of consciousness. On the road of spiritual cultivation, you must first free yourself from identifying with the body and thereby dissolve one layer of false thoughts, or mental attachments, so that the mind then experiences a state of empty clarity. In other words, you must first empty out or detach from the form skandha. At this level of achievement your chi channels become open and the warm yang chi is often felt moving through the channel orbits of the body.

The state of clear clarity you reach by detaching from the skandha of form is often described as the “mind being bright” because a layer of false thoughts is now gone. At this level your mind is still blemished by the fact that you still attach to feeling states and sensations that arise in the mind and body as you reflect on the circumstances around you with likes or dislikes. A situation arises and because of natural responsiveness (receptivity), feelings naturally arise within your body that you know via your mind. Then you attach to or reject those states because of liking and disliking. You like or dislike those sensations, and so you try to go into them or out of them rather than just let them arise freely as images do in a mirror without clinging. This level of clinging to these false thoughts that are feeling states or sensations is “cultivating through the sensation skandha.” By detaching from this type of false thinking you will become detached from the sensation skandha, but you will not yet be free of the conception skandha. Nevertheless, your mind will become more like a clean mirror and no longer cling to all the feelings and sensations which arise through receptivity.

When you take a progressive step and break free of the level of “all pervading” finer thoughts that comprise the conception skandha, you will finally reach a stage of samadhi that equates to the emptying of the sixth consciousness, but you will still not have gotten rid of the concept of the I-self. To progress, you must now detach from the volition skandha by dissolving the level of hidden/concealed false thinking that underlies the net of samsara and transmigration of life throughout the cosmos. This is related to the afflicted mind or seventh consciousness of Buddhism. Although seemingly empty, a shimmering fluctuation within consciousness can still be perceived at this stage which is responsible for the sense perceptions and all classes of life. Extinguishing this level of “hidden” or “concealed” false thinking, you will finally arrive at the consciousness skandha, and to attain enlightenment must detach from a level of extremely subtle false thinking that is so subtle that you don’t see its movements. At this level of cultivation the consciousness seems still but is actually moving all the time, like a flowing river that only seems placid on its surface. You must now return clarity to its source to attain enlightenment. If you do not ultimately reach the root of consciousness which is responsible for the individual senses, but they remain separate, you will never be able to dissolve false thoughts entirely, and so you must reach the stage where false thoughts are totally abandoned, the mind is like a crystal realm of purity and perception, and in reaching the base the sense consciousnesses thus become interchangeable.

You must pass through these stages of development one by one in sequence, like untying knots on a string one after another, to get to the goal of enlightenment. They are all ultimately due to false thoughts, to transformations wrought by the capabilities of the mind. Form as a manifestation of solidified false thoughts, and everything else, is ultimately due to mind only but you have to cultivate through to the end, to discover the fundamental basis of life and the cosmos, to prove this for yourself. That is then enlightenment.]

1. “Ananda, in this state of penetration and mental clarity, the four elements of the world will no longer entwine you, and after a short time your body will become free of all hindrances (obstructions). This state is called ‘the clear consciousness merging (outwardly diffusing) into the environment.’ It is a temporary achievement resulting from your progress in meditation. It does not mean that you have reached sainthood. This stage, although it is called ‘an excellent level of attainment,’ should not be confused with sainthood. If you misinterpret it, you will become vulnerable to the demons of delusion.

2. “Ananda, once again, in this state of penetration and mental clarity, you will be able to discern every internal thing within your own body and may even see worms inside. Although you perceive your body thus, this is harmless. This state is called ‘the clear consciousness spreading (inwardly diffusing) through one’s body’ and is but a temporary achievement resulting from your progress in meditation. It does not mean that you have reached sainthood. This stage, although it is called ‘an excellent level of attainment,’ should not be confused with sainthood. If you misinterpret this, you will become vulnerable to the demons of delusion.

3. “Further, with this clear mind which penetrates both within and without, your spirit, higher and lower souls, thinking mind and will (though not your physical body) can all intermingle (go back and forth) as host and guest [using your will, you can phase/switch back and forth between being centered in the thinking mind, a pristine or bright state of clear consciousness, and feelings of internal chi]. You may also suddenly hear a voice in the air preaching the dharma or proclaiming esoteric truths in the ten directions. This state is a case of ‘the spirit and faculties alternatingly separating and unifying that is sowing good seeds (for the results of cultivation).’ It is a temporary state and is not sainthood. This stage, although it is called ‘an excellent level of attainment,’ should not be confused with sainthood. If you misinterpret it, you will become vulnerable to the demons of delusion.

4. “Further, in this clear, revealing, bright and penetrating mind, your inner illumination (brightness of mind) will shine and seem to bathe everything in the ten directions with the golden hue of sandalwood, and all living creatures will seem as if transformed into Buddhas. Suddenly, you might see (something like) Vairocana Buddha seated on a throne of heavenly light surrounded by a thousand Buddhas, who simultaneously appear on lotus blossoms in countless lands. This is called ‘the effect of the awakened spirituality of the mind,’ the penetrating light of which illuminates all the worlds. However, this is a temporary stage and is not sainthood. This stage, although it is called ‘an excellent level of attainment,’ should not be confused with sainthood. If you misinterpret it, you will become vulnerable to the demons of delusion.

5. “Further, if you try to continuously contemplate using this clear and penetrating mind without pause, by repressing and subduing your thoughts, the effort will produce the desire for release. Suddenly, then, the ten directions of space will be filled with the colors of the seven or of a hundred precious gems. Without hindering one another, the green, yellow, red, and white colors will each manifest in utter purity. This is called ‘the effect of excessive repression.’ This is a temporary stage and is not sainthood. This stage, although it is called ‘an excellent level of attainment,’ should not be confused with sainthood. If you misinterpret it, you will become vulnerable to the demons of delusion.

6. “Further, if you try to investigate with this clear and penetrating mind, your inner light will become concentrated, and suddenly at midnight you will be able to see all sorts of objects in a dark room as clearly as in broad daylight. These objects will persist and will not disappear. This is called ‘refining the mind and clear perception until one is able to see distinctly in the dark.’ This is a temporary stage and is not sainthood. This stage, although it is called ‘an excellent level of attainment,’ should not be confused with sainthood. If you misinterpret it, you will become vulnerable to the demons of delusion.

7. “As your mind merges with emptiness, suddenly your four limbs may feel like grass or trees. Even if burned by fire or cut with a knife, you may feel nothing. Flame cannot burn you, and cutting your flesh seems like trying to whittle wood. This (immunity) is called ‘the union of inner and outer states (mind and externals) eliminating the four elements as the mind merges with emptiness.’ This is a temporary stage and is not sainthood. This stage, although it is called ‘an excellent level of attainment,’ should not be confused with sainthood. If you misinterpret it, you will become vulnerable to the demons of delusion.

8. “As your mind becomes pure and clean, when you have reached a very high level, you may suddenly see all quarters of the great earth, with its mountains and rivers, transformed into the Buddha’s pure land, complete with the all-pervading radiance of the seven precious jewels. You may also see Buddhas (enlightened beings), as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, filling space, together with beautiful temples and palaces. You may be able to see hells below and celestial palaces above, all without obstruction. This is called ‘the transformation of deep-rooted thoughts of likes and dislikes through prolonged contemplation.’ However, this is not sainthood. This stage, although it is called ‘an excellent level of attainment,’ should not be confused with sainthood. If you misinterpret it, you will become vulnerable to the demons of delusion.

9. “As your mind penetrates further and deeper, you may suddenly be able to see far away market-places, wells, streets, and lanes in the middle of the night. You may see relatives, clansman, and family members, and may even hear them speak. This is called ‘remote visions due to the hard-pressed mind (because of overwork) taking flight.’ However, this is not sainthood. This stage, although it is called ‘an excellent level of attainment,’ should not be confused with sainthood. If you misinterpret it, you will become vulnerable to the demons of delusion.

10. “As this mind penetrates to a further extent, you will see that the bodies of men of good wisdom (sages) seem to undergo countless changes in all sorts of ways without reason. This is called “an improper mind that is possessed by mischievous ghosts or heavenly demons.” You may experience Deva Mara entering your innermost mind and then spontaneously preach the dharma and its profound meaning. This is not sainthood. Not confusing this with sainthood, Mara’s influences will subside. If you misinterpret it, you will become vulnerable to the demons of delusion.

“Ananda, these ten states may occur in dhyana as the result of ones’ meditative mental efforts interacting with the skandha of form. Dull and confused (ignorant and deluded) practitioners do not evaluate their own level of accomplishments. Hence, when they experience these phenomena, in their confusion they fail to recognize them and wrongly proclaim that they have become saints and are enlightened. For uttering such a great lie, they will fall into the hell of uninterrupted punishment. After my nirvana, in the Dharma ending age, you must proclaim these teachings so that the heavenly demons cannot take advantage of these states and so that practitioners can (be on guard to) protect themselves and realize the supreme Tao.

The Ten Mara States of the Skandha of Sensation

“Ananda, when disciples practicing samatha (cessation or calm abiding) to realize samadhi are no longer hindered by the skandha of form, they can see the mind of all the Buddhas (the enlightened mind) just as images (reflections) appear in a clear mirror. A cultivator will then feel as if he has won something but cannot make use of it. It is like a sleeping man having a nightmare whose mind is clear and whose limbs are free, yet who cannot move his limbs and feels paralyzed because of some deviant influence. This is ‘the skandha of sensation’ that conditions one’s meditation. If that sense of paralysis ceases, then your mind can leave the body to look back at your own face, and will be free to come and go as you please without any hindrances. This is called ‘the cessation of the skandha of sensation,’ and when it comes to an end the practitioner can thereby transcend the defilement of views. If we examine the cause of the sensation skandha, a wrong understanding of (relationship to) false thinking is its source.

[Editor: “Sensations” refers to bodily sensations or feelings that are subjective reactions to phenomena. They arise because we contact phenomena, and then responses arise in the mind  that we like or dislike the phenomena, and then we tend to cling to or reject these feelings and sensations after we’ve instantaneously evaluated their relatedness to us as pleasant or unpleasant. When you can extinguish clinging to these sensations and truly detach from the body, thus “emptying it out,” you will experience what is described as unspeakable joy and ease due to the peace and quiet, and it is also described as merging with the universe since you are no longer mentally attaching to the body.

This is the first dhyana, and this description explains why it is called “The Joyous Ground Born of Separation” or the “vitarka (coarse thought) samadhi” within Hinduism and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. You can achieve this because you can finally separate from the body along with mental and physical sensations. As long as one does not cling to any thought or experience they will always experience a bright/clear mind at this stage, but that brightness/empty clarity will seem to dim as soon as they engage in any type of mental clinging to abide in thoughts or an experiential state.

In winning liberation from the form and sensation skandhas, and achieving the will-born body, we say you achieve the “initial fruits” of the path, and reach the stream-entrant phase of practice called the Srotapanna stage of Arhatship who has just awakened to the path. You no longer lack confidence in cultivation teachings or doubt they lead to enlightenment because with this samadhi attainment you now understand them and have proved the basis of the path. You will no longer subscribe to the Hinayana belief that purity laws and the path of religious discipline will attain you enlightenment, because you have seen this is not so because of your achievement, and will no longer believe in the existence of a permanent self because you will see that the self-idea is just shifting/transforming consciousness, a set of thoughts which create the notion “I am.”]

1. “Ananda, cultivators reaching this stage of practice will experience a great clarity. As a result of excessive inner pressure (self-control), they may be suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of very great sadness. As this feeling swells, if they for instance should see mosquitoes and gadflies they might view them as infant children that need to be protected. With great pity in their hearts, they might find themselves spontaneously bursting into tears (for all sorts of situations such as this). This is called ‘a breakdown due to overexertion in practice.’ They should understand that this is harmless. This type of experience does not denote sainthood, and they should understand that after a time it will automatically disappear. Should they confuse this with sainthood, the mara of sadness will enter their minds. Then, they might (for instance) occasionally feel great sadness upon meeting people and at times spontaneously burst into uncontrolled sobbing. Lacking the proper dhyana (samadhi) practice they will certainly fall.

2. “Ananda, those disciples who practice dhyana will find that as the skandha of form recedes, and the skandha of sensation manifests, they make more progress and may feel overwhelmingly excited and develop an attitude of unlimited boldness. With a fierceness of mind they may resolve to equal all the Buddhas, or may (do something like) proclaim that they can transcend innumerable kalpas in a single moment of thought. They should understand that this is harmless. This type of experience does not denote sainthood, and they should understand that after a time it will automatically disappear. If they confuse this state with sainthood, the mara (delusion) of wild nonsense (wildness) will enter their minds. They may become boastful and arrogant when they meet other people. They will become extraordinarily haughty and arrogant to the extent they will not recognize both the Buddhas above and humanity below. Lacking the proper dhyana (samadhi) practice they will certainly fall.

3. “Continuing, those disciples who practice dhyana will find that as the skandha of form recedes, and the skandha of sensation manifests, they may encounter a situation where they see no new signs of progress (they make no new headway or anticipate any) while their former attainments seem to disappear. The strength of their thought diminishes, and they enter an impasse to progress. As they encounter nothing but monotony (seeing no new signs of progress), they may enter a state of great mental dryness that leads them to indulge in unremitting deep reflection (on topics they repeated review). They may mistake this as a sign of diligence in practice. This (absentmindedness) is called ‘losing oneself due to a lack of wisdom.’ They should understand that this is harmless. This type of experience does not denote sainthood. Should they (misinterpret this and) confuse this with sainthood, the maras of non-forgettingness will enter their minds. Day and night they will hold their mind fixated in one place (on particular memories or situations). Lacking the proper dhyana (samadhi) practice they will certainly fall.

4. “Continuing, those disciples who practice dhyana will find that as the skandha of form recedes, and the skandha of sensation manifests, their faculty of wisdom may outstrip their stage of samadhi (their wisdom swells out of proportion to their dhyana). Swollen with a sense of pride, they may become convinced that they have equaled Vairocana and become prematurely satisfied with some minor progress they regard as complete attainment. This is called ‘the mind losing (its usual) common sense and becoming misled due to the power of discrimination in meditation.’ They should understand that this is harmless. This type of experience does not denote sainthood. Should they (misinterpret this and) confuse this with sainthood, the mara of self-satisfaction at inferior accomplishments will enter their minds, possibly causing them to announce to everyone they meet that they have reached supreme enlightenment. Lacking the proper dhyana (samadhi) practice they will certainly fall.

5. “Continuing, those disciples who practice dhyana will find that as the skandha of form recedes, and the skandha of sensation manifests, they may find themselves not only without further progress (new headway), but seem to lose their previous gains. Surveying the two extremes, the situation may seem very dreadful and they may feel that they are in great danger. Suddenly they may feel incredible anxiety and great distress as if they were lying on a hot iron bed or as if they had taken poison. They may feel there is no reason to live and may even ask others to end their life so that they can thus gain release from their torment. This is called ‘being at a loss for the appropriate method (not understanding the necessary expedient method).’ They should understand that this is harmless. This type of experience does not denote sainthood. Should they (misinterpret this and) confuse this with sainthood, the mara of constant anxiety will enter their minds and may cause them to cut their own flesh or even attempt to take their own lives. Or else, suffering prolonged anxiety may drive them to escape to wild places and avoid contact with other human beings. Lacking the proper dhyana (samadhi) practice they will certainly fall.

6. “Continuing, those disciples who practice dhyana may find that as the skandha of form recedes, and the skandha of sensation manifests, they may experience a state of purity (emptiness) and peace (tranquility) that suddenly gives rise to a sense of boundless joy so intense they cannot contain it. This is called ‘experiencing lightness and ease that is unchecked by wisdom (uncontrollable due to the lack of wisdom).’ They should understand that this is harmless. This type of experience does not denote sainthood. Should they (misinterpret this and) confuse this with sainthood, the mara of joyfulness will enter their minds. They may burst into laughter (without cause) when they meet people or may sing and dance in the streets, saying that they have attained unobstructed liberation. Lacking the proper dhyana (samadhi) practice they will certainly fall.

7. “Continuing, those disciples who practice dhyana will find that as the skandha of form recedes, and the skandha of sensation manifests, they may feel that they have already achieved full realization. Suddenly an unjustified feeling of intense satisfaction may arise in them along with a feeling of superiority. They might suddenly simultaneously experience all sorts of various feelings of pride such as, although inferior, they are equal to others; although equal, they are superior to others; they are superior to superiors; they are not inferior to inferiors; and they are fully victorious. In their minds, they look down on all the Buddhas; still more so the less advanced sravakas and pratyeka-buddhas! This is called ‘viewing oneself as extraordinary (supreme) from which one cannot extricate themself for lack of wisdom.’ They should understand that this is harmless. This type of experience does not denote sainthood. Should they (misinterpret this and) confuse this with sainthood, the maras of intense arrogance will enter their minds. This will cause them to stop revering stupas and temples, to destroy sutras and images of the Buddha, and to declare to their patrons: ‘These images are but gold and bronze, clay and wood; the sutras are merely paper and cloth. Your own body contains the eternal reality of Buddha-truth; to ignore this and instead worship clay and wood is truly foolish.’ Those who are taken in by their words (believing them) might join them in destroying the images and sutras, or bury them underground. They will mislead the people and earn the retribution of the relentless hells. Lacking the proper dhyana (samadhi) practice they will certainly fall.

8. “Continuing, those disciples who practice dhyana will find that as the skandha of form recedes and the skandha of sensation manifests, in the midst of spiritual illumination and understanding of the truth, they may experience a harmonious feeling of infinite lightness and purity in mind and body. They may think that they have achieved sainthood and feel great contentment. This is called ‘lightness and purity attained due to wisdom.’ They should understand that this is harmless. This type of experience does not denote sainthood. Should they (misinterpret this and) confuse this with sainthood, the maras of craving lightness and purity will enter their minds, and they will then become self-satisfied (with their incomplete achievement) and stop seeking further progress. The majority of these will become like ignorant monks who greatly mislead people and then fall into the relentless hells. Lacking the proper dhyana (samadhi) practice they will certainly fall.

9. “Continuing, those disciples who practice dhyana may find that as the skandha of form recedes and the skandha of sensation manifests, they may misinterpret the clarity and emptiness they experience, suddenly giving rise to the idea of absolute extinction which denies cause and effect (the realm of interdependent causality). Cultivating emptiness, their minds may become so empty that they end up believing in permanent extinction (annihilation). They should understand that this is harmless. This type of experience does not denote sainthood. Should they (misinterpret this and) confuse this with sainthood, the maras of emptiness will enter their minds and cause them to ridicule the holding of precepts (rules of discipline) and criticize those who hold them as men of Hinayana. They may say that after a bodhisattva has realized emptiness he can dispense with prohibitions (because all is empty so there is nothing to hold to or violate). Hence, they may even indulge in drinking, meat-eating, and licentious behavior (wanton lust) in the presence of their gullible patrons. Because of the power of this demonic influence, they will exert firm control over their followers who will fail to doubt or denounce them. As time passes, demonic possession may lead them to regard urine, feces, wine and meat as good for food under the rationale that everything is empty. They will violate the Buddha’s rules of morality and discipline and mislead others into all sorts of offenses. Lacking the proper dhyana (samadhi) practice they will certainly fall.

10. “Continuing, those disciples who practice dhyana may find that as the skandha of form recedes, and the skandha of sensation manifests, they may experience that their empty illumination (clarity) deeply penetrates their mind and even unto their bones. Suddenly a feeling of boundless desire (sexual longing) may arise and as the feeling of longing grows intense, it may drive them mad with intense lust. This is called ‘lustful behavior arising from the stillness and peace of meditation and which cannot be controlled for lack of wisdom.’ They should understand that this is harmless. This type of experience does not denote sainthood. Should they (misinterpret this and) confuse this with sainthood, the maras of desire will control their minds, and they will insist that acts of lust are the bodhi path. They may preach the doctrine of unhindered lust to laymen and say that practicing sexual indulgence is making them sons of the dharma (heirs to the teaching). The power of this demonic influence will prevail during the Dharma ending age and hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of ignorant people will be swayed. When the mara demon becomes bored, it will depart the victims’ bodies, leaving them without charisma, and they will run afoul of the law of the land. For deceiving others, they will fall into the relentless hells. Lacking the proper dhyana (samadhi) practice they will certainly fall.

“Ananda, these ten states may occur in the practice of dhyana, and they all arise due to the interaction of the skandha of sensation with meditative mental efforts. Dull and confused (ignorant and deluded) practitioners do not evaluate their own level of accomplishments. When they encounter such situations, deluded people do not recognize them, nor are they able to understand the causes. They wrongly claim that they have attained sainthood (enlightenment). For uttering such a great lie, they will fall into the hells. After my nirvana, in the Dharma ending age, you must transmit this teaching so that all living beings may awaken to this message, that Deva Mara (heavenly demons) cannot take advantage of such states (and have their own way), and that practitioners can be on their guard as they strive to realize the supreme Tao.

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