The Anapanasati Sutra
There is a very important lecture given by Shakyamuni Buddha, called the Damo Zen (ANAPANASATI) Sutra, which is ignored by most people, but which tells you how to cultivate high gong-fu. The three sutras that concentrate on the science and theory of cultivation are the Surangama Sutra, Lankavatara Sutra and Sandhinirmocana Shastra but when it comes to practicing, you should concentrate on the Damo Zen sutra; the first set of sutras is like a map and the Damo Zen sutra is like a tool or the technology used to get there. Buddha was like a great scientist, and to call any of this "religion" is ridiculous when you read his explanations of spiritual cultivation. When you put the teachings of Christianity ("just believe") and other Western religions next to this sort of content, there is no comparison whatsoever. And if you call it "religion," I think Shakyamuni himself would faint or even die of shock if he were alive!
The Anapatisati cultivation sutra concentrates on the stages of watching the breath called the "16 Victorious Methods." It’s the one sutra where Buddha talks about how to cultivate high stage kung-fu (gong-fu) most quickly. I guess it’s karma that the teaching that can help people the most in their cultivation gong-fu is the one most ignored. As for the Surangama Sutra, several fine translations are available. John Powers and Thomas Cleary have translated the Sandhinirmocana sutra, but I am not happy with either translation and while Suzuki and Goddard have translated the Lankavatara sutra, I am not satisfied with those translations either as they have great shortcomings. In a short while Red Pine will be coming out with his own translation, and I hope that helps.
The basic technique of watching the breath revealed in the Damo Zen Sutra starts with watching your inhalation, exhalation, and then the longness or shortness of your breath. You observe them because your chi channels are not yet open. Then the fourth stage is knowing or observing the breath (your chi) throughout your whole body. You don’t try to do anything with it, such as smoothen it out, but just know it or be conscious of it. If there are any obstructions anywhere, that’s because the chi channels have still not opened all the way through and the body elements have not transformed. When you feel your breath (chi) all over your body and cultivate that knowing, there will eventually be no more obstructions in the body when you keep cultivating this way, which is the fifth step of the practice … and you will eventually feel quite comfortable from the practice after all the chi channels open.
In some schools they have you count the breaths to get started with this practice, but most people misinterpret this as adding force or effort to the process of watching. You do not need to add effort or energy in anapana practices. Don’t put a hat on the top of the head. The natural relaxed mind that knows is the right way to observe, and you already have that. You just watch and know the breath — there’s no drowsiness or wandering thoughts but just knowing and that’s it. Unfortunately, people get lost in the counting and don’t realize the purpose of the method. It’s like knowing the hotness or coolness of the chi in the body. You don’t have to do anything about the knowing, like try to smoothen the chi or link with or unify mind and breath (chi). Just know it, relax, and let go. That’s all. It’s cultivating a peaceful open awareness without tightness or restriction.
So simple, so easy to do — everyone can do it which is why so many people succeeded in Buddha’s day. Today people have lost the real understanding of his method and turned it into all sorts of other things but if you just start with this simple practice, you’ll get there.
Secondly, people get confused about the three types of chi you can cultivate this way. The first type of chi, called the "nurturing chi," is what you rely on to be alive. When we practice pranayama, we usually practice this type of chi. If you can stop your breathing, you can enter into the cultivation of the second type of chi. The second type of chi, called the "reward" chi in the Damo Zen Sutra and "karmic" chi in Esoteric Buddhism, is the chi that arises when ordinary breathing stops. This "hsi," if you cultivate it, is what a fetus uses to grow inside a mother’s womb (when external breathing is not required) and when you cultivate it after birth, you can use it to cure sickness, extend the lifespan and stay healthy. If you are able to recognize and cultivate this chi, you can have longevity and can reverse the process of getting old and will become young. You can cultivate that chi to get samadhi but it’s not the highest.
The third type of chi is called "fundamental" (from Consciousness Only school) or "original" or "primordial" chi. Sometimes it’s called "original heaven chi." If you are able to enter into the cultivation of this type of chi, you can control birth and death. So when you enter the cultivation of the second type of chi you can become like a baby whereas entering into the cultivation of this third type of chi you can eventually control life and death. This is the stage you want to get to because it corresponds to becoming one with the universe and the original nature.
This third chi is akin to the chi of the whole universe. When Buddha says there is no self, he means there is no true little self but there is one true BIG SELF, and that is the whole universe, cosmos, Triple Realm. This is the chi of that one thing. An Arhat who cultivates this chi can appear or disappear (dissolve) at will into this type of chi, and thus can control their birth and death that way. To cultivate this chi, you really need wisdom. People without enough prajna wisdom will have a difficult time recognizing this chi. Mastering it means having achieved the pure illusory body of Vajrayana. So to get to this stage already takes cultivation practice. If your practice enters the stage of cultivating the second type of chi, you can not only initiate the internal embryo breathing but can start breathing from the bottom of the feet, the forehead, and other places in the body because the chakras and chi channels have all opened and the chi circulates at these spots. But this is just laying a good foundation for practice, and is not the real fruit of cultivation. You want to not just cultivate samadhi, but cultivate to discover the original nature of Mind and all things. For that you must proceed to cultivating the third type of chi.
Now eventually in watching the breath and feeling it everywhere, you’ll reach a state of emptiness which is the sixth stage of practice, and from that emptiness, your body will begin to feel peaceful and you’ll develop joy and physical bliss. This is the real kundalinmi arising. You'll be able to generate states like the first, second and third dhyana.
In the 6th stage you can receive joy and in the 7th receive physical bliss becasue the chi channels are nearly all opened and the hot-warm chi is pumping, slowly pumping, pumping everywhere. In the 8th you can reflect everything in your mind - you are able to clearly know about every response that your mind has. Basically, your mind is very clear - the River Chariot rotation (macrocosmic circulation) is circulating and trasnforming your body at this stage, which is the real stage of kundalini cultivation, and while afflictions still arise your mind is clear and you know all your thoughts against a background of thick silence. To achieve this stage of gong-fu you have to practice like the monk Shen Shou (Hui-neng’s dharma brother) said, which is to keep the mind clean like a mirror.
These are the 6th, 7th and 8th stages of gong-fu reached because you’re not influenced by the physical body anymore since its chi channels are open. Resultingly, you can now accept or receive mental joy and physical bliss because the physical body doesn’t bother you so much, so you can be open to receiving happiness. (This is like the dhyana, but you're not at their real compeltion stage yet.) To others your face will always seem joyful. And then eventually your mind will be able to accept every single behavior. You’ll be able to have mercy come out towards all things because you can accept everything, and not reject anything. Mercy, compassion, and feeling other people’s suffering comes out. Only now at this stage do we say you can sincerely give to others, so only now can full-hearted giving manifest. [In fact, I would even say that only if your vows are GREAT enough can you reach this state, and "great enough" means encompassing all people and working for their enlightenment for aeons and aeons to come until all the Buddha vows are complete. This is what the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas do to reach this stage whereas the Arhats do not make these vows but complete their cultivation and go off to enjoy themselves.] The 6th, 7th and 8th level of practice is starting to enter the level of mind ground, or ability to WITNESS in a speacial way that there is no longer any person or even moment of experience, and thus nothing is happening at all. You can read Nisargadatta about finding the Self through inquiring about the "I am," and this is the entry into actually achieving this stage.
Even Confucius described this first sequence of events in The Great Learning,but just in a different way, so we know it’s a universal process, a common phenomena - found in all true cultivation schools. We know it’s the right way to cultivate because it’s so natural and non-artificial, and in following this non-artificial way the highest results come out. Confucius said you cultivate awareness, reach a state of stopping or cessation, attain samadhi, from there attain quietness-stillness-calmness, next peacefulness because the chi channels are all open, and then wisdom or true knowing (correct thinking) after which you’ll be able to get the real results of practice. In essence, this is very much a similar path or sequence of events as just described in the Damo Zen sutra, but it was developed separately by Confucius showing the commonality of the True Way to cultivate.
Mencius described this natural process in a different way. You first start with the desire to cultivate. Cultivation is only desiring what you should desire, and that’s called kindness - for example, desiring to save the whole world versus just desiring a lot of money, food, sex, etc. The Buddha vows you make are an act of kindness or great compassion and an example of this. From that step of cultivation, because you can always watch yourself and the desires of your mind and what’s right or wrong (you watch thoughts), you’ll be able to gradually establish trust, confidence, faith and belief in your cultivation and yourself - finding out that the world REALLY IS JUST AN IMAGINATION made of layers of chi and consciousness, a dream you can shape if your gong-fu is good enough -- and that’s the time your body will begin to transform. The body will feel full or rich - a stage called beauty — because the chi channels all open and the chi becomes full. That’s exactly the same gong-fu stage as the fourth stage of the 16 steps just mentioned from the Anapanasati Sutra. Your hsi will then be eventually felt all over your body. You have ignited the River Charito rotation and opened the eight extra meridians for this stage, so the warm chi is slowly pulsing everywhere, but not completely through the central channel. True dhyana is still a bit out of reach.
Your body will not only feel full and rich and glorious at this stage, which he called "grandness." It becomes so grand or large or big that there’s no boundary, which Mencius called the stage of a saint. When the saint’s cultivation level is so high that nobody knows how high it is, that’s the stage of a shen, which is like the 10th level Bodhisattva. This stage meant a stage beyond an ordinary person because no one can speculate on what you are at this level of cultivation. Because no one can put you in a box that way, or put a name or label on you, no one can know who or what you are or what you’ll do next. In olden times, that was the accepted description of a "god" though today we call that the stage of an enlightened sage because those are the ones who really get that stage, and gods don’t. The gods or celestial beings are just heavenly denizens with higher samadhi attainments than ordinary beings, and aren’t enlightened at all.
There’s no special practice other than letting go and watching to initiate this all happening. You don’t follow the breath to try to become one with it. You already know the breathing — that’s it. It’s so simple and direct. It’s just there. So in this practice, there’s really almost nothing to do except cultivate the presence of awareness while letting go and remaining natural and relaxed. That, in itself, will get you the highest gong-fu. Notice there isn’t any spinning of the chi or chi channels or anything like that. There are no special Tao school secret methods or secret Tibetan mantras and visualizations. It’s all so very simple and natural. The process is so simple that hundreds of people could get Tao in Buddha’s time but as time went on, explanations proliferated until people got further and further away from the true, simple meaning I’ve just exposed here. But this is it - it’s very simple, very humanistic, very scientific, very effective. You just have to do it.
Eventually, in cultivating the chi then joy and bliss will arise, and then one can eventually feel liberated or mentally free. What Buddha meant about these stages is that in cultivating to the stage of no more chi obstructions in the body, the form skandha and sensation skandhas are transformed. When the mind is joyful it’s like the 1st and 2nd dhyana, and when just blissful it’s like the 3rd dhyana. Joy and bliss arise because you are cultivating samadhi, but with this type of joy and bliss you always look happy to other people. Eventually by going further you reach the stage of feeling liberated, which means that you are always clear about what goes on in your mind. Your mind is like a mirror and is very peaceful, so you are clear about everything. When the mind feels liberated and free, we often say that "mind and chi are at home."
In the 9th stage, the mind is able to function with joy and happiness at will, and in the 10th stage your mind is able to calmly reflect everything. During the 9th and 10th stage you are in the second and third samadhi level if you can actually reach this stage. In the 11th stage, the mind is able to be free from attachment, or liberated. What does that mean? The mind and chi become unified and you have real mental freedom. They combine without any concentration or holding. It’s naturally unified. During this stage you get superpowers freely. The feeling is one of freedom from any attachments.
Do you see anything special or esoteric in this? No, nothing. Buddha’s teachings are so natural, and also so scientific. People often forget he was a great yogi who cultivated all eight samadhi and then got the Tao and enlightened many other beings, so he was really a great teacher as well and was able to describe things simply and clearly to help people make progress and get the Tao, but we’ve lost his teachings today. The further the time has grown since Shakyamuni’s day, the further lost we’ve become. Typically people concentrate on the Esoteric School which usually follows four steps of practice: (1) cultivating chi (the body’s wind element) (2) cultivating your mai or chi channels (the body’s earth element), (3) cultivating the drops or bright points (water element of the body), (4) cultivating the kundalini (body’s fire element).
After these preliminary twelve stages, the Anapanasati Sutra talks about 5 more stages of cultivation that you should be cultivating all the time. You have to do these no matter what stage you’re practicing at, so they’re not in chronological order. These five — anytime, every time you have to be practicing them – do not belong to the body level but to the mind level where you are inspecting the mind: The12th principle reminds you to let go of everything, which is releasing everything, 13) you practice observing impermanence, 14) you feel more and more of a growing separation or distance from what you desire (departure of desire - don’t drop into what you’re doing, like watching TV, sex, food, desires) which people typically translate as dispassion, 15) the stopping or cessation or extinguishment of feeling and thought. In contemplating cessation, the meaning is that you reach a stage where sensation (feeling) and conception are extinguished. There are no more illusions, desires, or sensations. This is the status of a Great Arhat. Next 16) totally offering - giving away mind, life, thought – totally giving offering is the next principle. Buddha meant that you offer everything away, completely letting go and relinquishing everything. That in itself is a form of cultivation.
Together with these 5, which you should be practicing all the time, then you can arrive at a stage of clear perception where all the dust in the mind is delinked or settled, and the true real permanence aspect of the universe (Triple Realm) suddenly appears.
The real and permanent nature of the original nature is revealed at this stage of cultivation. All throughout his life Shakyamuni Buddha spoke of the falsity of the self, the truth of impermanence and suffering and so forth but in the Nirvana Sutra he spoke of the true ego, true bliss and permanence. This is how to arrive at this ultimate state. It’s simple, it’s fast, it’s direct. IT STARTS WITH WATCHING/OBSERVING (NOT "FOLLOWING") YOUR RESPIRATORY BREATH, THEN BODY CHI, THEN INNER CHI ("hsi") AND SO FORTH.
How do you arrive at this STAGE OF CLEAR PERCEPTION most quickly? By cultivating the breath, cultivating via the path of anapana revealed in the Damo Zen Sutra, also called the Anapanasati sutra . It’s the quickest, simplest method/way to high gong-fu.
If you can do steps one through five, knowing the breathing, then the five senses become more free and empty. If that stage is reached, you have less afflictions and you’ll have a better temper and won’t get angry so easy. When you accomplish the whole thing, the biggest type of offering you can give is to have a mind that is so pure and clean without any thoughts or pollutions, that’s the biggest offering anyone can give - bigger than money, life or anything. The steps 1 through 16 start with existence until you can let go of everything, until you can jump out of everything by using the breathing as the initial cultivation method for letting go and purifying everything.
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