Master Nan Huai-chin Provides A Practice Lesson on Qigong, Pranayama, Anapana and Breathing Exercises - Part 3
November 14, 2003
Nan: This is the last of our sessions on practice. I am going to use this session as a supplement to our previous discussions. Before we begin, I have two questions for you. First, how has been your experience of what you learned during the past several days?
Student: I have been trying to see more clearly the distinction between cessation and contemplation but I find them very confusing. I am aware of the cessation, the stopping of breathings or the Xi. I am not sure if that's when the contemplation starts and if that's the sequence.
Nan: Cessation and contemplation, otherwise called samatha and vipasyna are the two fundamental approaches used in all practices of any religion. They are not necessarily related to physical phenomena that have been the focal point of our discussions of Dhyana concentration in the last several days. Samatha and vipasyna are nothing but means to achieve the end. Dhyana concentration is close to Samatha but is only one kind of Samatha. Don't take Dhyana concentration as the same as Samatha. In fact, when you reach cessation or stillness of Xi, the contemplation is already functioning. This is what we talked about yesterday -the awareness of the function of the consciousness.
It is indeed not an easy one for you to comprehend fully.
Let me reiterate, from the views of Buddhism, the entire practice of Dhyana meditation, the Mahayana practice of precepts, concentration and insight, the practice of six paramitas, the practice of prayers of all religions, the practice of Yoga and trans-meditations, etc. etc. are but means to attaining Bodhi. The means are never the ultimate. The ultimate - using modern terminology - is "metaphysical." The means are physical. Once in the realm of metaphysics, all the physicals become vain and meaningless, just as the Shurangama Sutra told us: "All that are but words which have no essence." They are just matters of convenience. You should be clear on that.
Enough on this. Now, my second question, do you still remember the "Four Dhyanas and Eight Concentrations", a topic we studied during the retreat in 1997?
Nan: Good. Now we continue on today's subject. You should know that almost everyone that practice meditation is often at risk of being diverted by all kinds of mirages. In our first day's discussion I told you that life is manifested in two areas: that of perceptions and that of feelings. Our emotions, such as ecstasy, rage, sorrow or thrill, all arise mostly out of feelings, not perceptions. In other words, they are triggered by the physical body, the form. Therefore I take out an excerpt from the talks I gave earlier this year at a retreat in China. It is on the 34 types of senses; it's all related to the form and is an important topic. We don't have enough time for detailed discussion. I will have to go over them quickly.
The form relates to the material or physical aspect of our lives. It is one of the Five Skandhas that contains everything in our lives. At the beginning of the Heart Sutra, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara perceived that all five skandhas are empty. We humans are constantly shadowed by the five skandhas without realizing it.
The second of the Five Skandhas is the feelings, which include all our senses, such as the feel of cold or warm, the pleasure or displeasure from food, drink or sex, etc. Our feelings arise due to contacts with the material world. Our lives are dominated by feelings, day or night. The consciousness is bewildered all the time. When a person experiences abnormal sensations in meditation, they are all without exception the functions of feelings. It's still the material aspect and don't ever fall for them.
According to Buddhism classification, feelings can be divided into three categories: pleasant, unpleasant and neither pleasant nor unpleasant . The majority time of our daily lives are dominated by unpleasant feelings; there are few moments of pleasant feelings. We experience the neutral feelings, the third ones, during our sleep or when we are in a state of coma.
Student: Please clarify why the five skandhas are also known as the five aggregates.
Nan: This is the classification of all the aspects of life. The material aspect is the form. Feelings are the aspect of interaction between the mind and the material world. Then there is the perception aspect and the volition aspect. Volition is a very intricate subject; it is the ultimate force that powers everything in the universe. All the powers known to man such as fossil or even solar energy will be depleted over time. The science of today has yet to discover what the forever-present power in the universe is. Once such forever-present power is identified, revolutionary changes will take place in the human mind. Our lives are driven by volition that is forever in motion. This is similar to the views of monism, that mind and body are inseparable. Then there is the last of the five skandhas, the consciousness, which is the absolute and ultimate of idealism.
The word skandhas has several meanings. It means something that stores and, at the same time, shadows. I am afraid that "aggregate" - to pile up - captures but only one aspect. This is always the problem with translation. When Buddhism was brought to China, there was also the problem of translating from Sanskrit into Chinese. For instance, the Alaya consciousness was translated into Chinese simply as Alaya in sound. Previous attempts to find an appropriate term in the Chinese language all failed to convey the full and complete meaning of Alaya, which means the capacity to store, the contents of the storing, and the obsession with the storing - all in one.
The five skandhas are closely related to the Alaya consciousness. All the intrinsic natures of life are stored therein.
I am afraid we don't have time for further discussion on this topic.
Let's go to the 34 types of physical sensations. They are the 30 that can be sensed and the four that can sense. The 30 are: buoyant, heavy, smooth, coarse, soft, hard, slow, rapid, cold,warm, thirsty, stuffy, forceful, inferior, hungry, full, painful,itchy, swollen, numb, thick, thin, sore, sticky, old, sick,dead, tired, still (restful), and stirring. On top of the original 30, I add one more: calm.
The four are: earth, water, fire, and wind - the main functions of the body.
These are only the main ones. More can be added if we should use the modern medical or psychological classifications. Why do we want to know about them? In your practice of meditation any of these sensations may occur randomly. If you already know that they are just senses, you will not be intrigued by them. As you progress in meditation, it's natural that your health will improve, skin becomes fair and smooth, and aging slows. If you should take them as a confirmation that you have achieved something worthy or you should even desire to start your own sect, you will be dangerously astray from the right way.
Each of the sensations can be subdivided into many and they interact with one another. For instance, the old, sick and dead are closely related to tired and restful. I won't go into details. You have to remember the most important motto in your practice: Timing and proper above all ("Know when and know how much"). This motto can be applied not only to your practice, but also to managerial science and to all the mundane affairs. I can't emphasize enough the importance of this motto.
The whole subject of the 34 sensations includes a very broad range of knowledge. One has to know what measures to take when different senses occur. One will have to draw on the knowledge in medicine. For instance, at a certain stage of your practice the sensation of itch occurs all over your body. How are you going to deal with it? You may have to resort to the help of medicine for some relief. The medicine can help but it's your own deep practice that can cure. In the medical treatment alone, the traditional Chinese medicine practice has four main categories: acupressure, acupuncture, acuheating (moxibustion), and herbal medicine. Which one is best for you? The treatment will have to take into consideration of the climate at the time. Do you know meteorology? Isn't staying alive such a bother? We are better off dead!
Student: What do I do? I live so far away from you!
Nan: That I can't help. You can move your entire family here and stay with me for the next ten years, provided I live that long. Some of the people here in this room have stayed with me for many years. One of them has been with me for close to 30 years!
We now turn to the second topic of the day - the three aspects of form.
The first aspect is position, in four pairs: walking, standing, sitting, lying down, bending, stretching, taking, and giving.
The second aspect is shape, in four pairs again: length, shortness, squareness, roundness, tallness, lowness, straight, and slant.
The third aspect is color. This is the most important of the three, the ones that do not belong to position or shape. They are 10 in total: green, yellow, red, white, cloudy, misty (cloudy is lighter and misty is heavier), smoky, dusty (smoke becomes dust when settled), brightness, dullness, light, and shadow.
Again, why do we have to study these? During meditation practice, you may "see" all kinds of colors rising within yourself. If one is not aware that the colors are but an aspect of form, the person can be deluded by the phenomena, thinking one has become a master! These colors all arise out of the "Realm of Mere Shadow." You should understand that these are hallucinations, a natural phenomenon of the changes happening in your body - certainly nothing supernatural at all.
Now, listen carefully. I am not saying that these phenomena are bad or undesirable. Don't misunderstand me. We talked about them so that you know what they are when they arise.
There are people who deliberately cultivate certain phenomena so that an esoteric practice can be achieved. For instance, in my youth days in Tibet, a friend of mine could make his body disappear into a cloud of lights when he went into samadhi. I would reach my hand into the cloud of lights to tap on him, telling him, "Stop this act of play!" Most people would certainly be very impressed by this kind of show off and believe my friend had supernatural power. This is a rather common practice in places like Tibet, Bhutan, and the high plateau areas of China's Southwest where the unique weather and air may be the contributing factors. To me, these places are like fairyland. The body weight feels lighter there.
Again, these are not necessarily bad. I am not telling you to discard them, nor am I telling to pursue them. We come back to the motto: "Timing and proper above all." This is the hardest part. When you have experienced these physical phenomena, you will be better able to recognize them in your intermediate body after the death of your physical body. The intermediate body is not recognized by modern science. However, we can see that more and more Western movies began to play on this, accepting karma, life after death, and accepting the intermediate body.
Can an intermediate body experience physical phenomena (the form)? It can still experience them, such as brightness, dullness, light, and shadow of the color aspect of the form. In Buddhism terminology, they are referred to as "forms arising out of the field of concepts",which is a state of the soul conceived by consciousness.
For example - and it is just an analogy - we can taste and smell in our dreams. Sometimes, you cry in your dream and you find the pillow actually wet when you wake up. Perhaps you haven't had much experience like this. It happened to me many times, especially during the period of the Sino-Japanese war. I was an officer in the Chinese military stationed in the western province. I had no idea if my own family in the eastern coast area survived the Japanese occupation. I was a commander then, with all the glory and authority. As I retreated to my own room, I often cried in my dreams of seeing my parents. When I woke up from the dreams, my pillow was wet.
It is similar for the dead. Let's say I am dead and you gather around my corps to mourn. Watching you crying over my death, my intermediate body can be affected by the strong emotion and start to weep. The intermediate body of the Alaya consciousness can shed tears as well. However, such tears are not the same as those in this world. The forms arising out of the field of concepts are very subtle. Only if modern science can unlock this subject, we will then truly understand how the mind and matter interact and affect each other, as the Shurangama Sutra has taught us.
All right! Let's stop here this time.
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