一般來說，有二種觀想類別：一，是「如實觀的三昧」，也就是「一切法真實事理的作意」。二，是「假想觀的三昧」，也就是「勝解作意」。如《大毗婆沙論》說：「有三種作意，謂：自相作意、共相作意、勝解作意。勝解作意者，如：不淨觀、持息念、無量、解脫、勝處遍處。」 [註一] 其中，自相作意、共相作意，屬於第一類。不淨觀、數息、四無量心、八解脫、八勝處、十遍處，屬於第二類。假想觀，是於事有所增益。如不淨觀，為對治貪欲──尤其是男女之間的欲愛；觀想人死後，屍體青瘀、變壞、鳥蟲食噉、屍肉分散、散壞、膿爛、膨脹、血塗，最後成為白骨。這九想觀，是想像而成的定境，所以說是「增益」。在《楞嚴經》卷五中，優波尼沙陀尊者即是「觀不淨相，生大厭離；悟諸色性，以從不淨白骨微塵，歸於虛空，空色無二，成無學道。」[註二]
I would like to give a brief explanation of the Patriarch Bodhidharma’s “Crossing the (Yellow) River on a single reed”.
The Buddha had instructed living beings that the “Threefold Aiding Studies” is the One Vehicle Dharma to transcend birth and death. Initially, the precepts serve as the foundation. If the precepts are upheld purely, one will not be troubled by burning afflictions or by regrets about constantly transgressing the precepts. Since there are no regrets, one is cheerful. Being cheerful, one attains happiness. With a happy heart, one will be physically at ease. Since one’s body is at ease, one will experience rare joy. Because of joy, one’s mind is tranquil. For one’s mind to enter proper concentration, one must “leave desire and loathe unwholesome dharmas”. One must renounce the five desires for beautiful forms, sounds, smells, flavors, and objects of touch. When our sense faculties encounter states, consciousness arises. If the state is pleasant, one grows fond of it and desires more. If the state is undesirable, one becomes angry. Evil and unwholesome dharmas refer to the Five Coverings: greed, anger, torpor, agitation and worry, and doubt regarding the dharma. Agitation means one’s mind is irritated. Regret means constantly lamenting past events, and hence giving rise to worry and sorrow. Doubt regarding the dharma means one is not decisive about the dharma. In general, these five coverings can cover up one’s Buddha nature and cause it to not produce wholesome dharmas. In order to counteract the afflictions resulting from the Five Coverings, and in order to cure the attachment to self and to objects that belongs to the self, there are various methods of Chan (dhyana) contemplation.
In general, there are two categories of contemplation: First, there is “the
samadhi of the contemplation of the things as they actually are,” that is, “reflection on the actual noumenal and phenomenal aspects of all dharmas.” Next is “the
samadhi of contemplation by imagination,” which is simply “reflection through unimpeded contemplation.” As the
Mahavibhasa Shastra says: “There are three kinds of reflection: reflection on particular attributes, reflection on general attributes, and reflection through unimpeded contemplation. Reflection through unimpeded contemplation includes, for example, the contemplation of impurity, mindfulness of the breath, the unlimited aspects of mind, the liberations, the victorious stages and the all-pervasive stages.”1 Particular reflection and general reflection, among others, belong to the first category. The contemplation of impurity, counting the breath, the four unlimited aspects of mind, the Eight Liberations, the Eight Victorious Stages, and the ten all-pervasive stages belong to the second category. Contemplation by imagination increases the benefit of an event. For example, the contemplation of impurity counteracts greed and desire, especially the sexual desire between men and women. One contemplates how, at death, a corpse will turn bluish green, decay and be devoured by birds and insects. The flesh of the corpse will disintegrate, decay, become rotten with pus, swell up and ooze with blood. In the end, all that is left are white bones. This ninefold contemplation develops
samadhi through imagination. Therefore, it is said to “increase the benefit”. In the fifth volume of the
Shurangama Sutra, the Venerable Upanishad says, “I learned to contemplate impurity and developed a strong aversion. I came to understand that visible objects are ultimately impure. Whitened bones turn to dust, disperse into space, and vanish. I understood that space and objects do not exist. That is how I attained the path of one beyond learning.”2
The Buddhadharma’s Eight Liberations, Eight Victorious Stages, and Ten All-Pervasive Stages2 are all classified as reflection upon victorious liberation. Reflection through unimpeded contemplation can further be divided into contemplations of impurity (as explained above), and contemplations of purity. Contemplations of purity are again subdivided into two categories. First is the colors that are created, for example, blue, yellow, red, and white. The second category is the four elements that are able to create; for example: earth, water, fire and wind. From contemplating the impurity of form dharmas, one may progress into contemplating the purity of form dharmas, or transcend forms and appearances to contemplate the infinite space that pervades everywhere, or perhaps advance another step to contemplate the appearance of consciousness that pervades everywhere. If one is unable to gain liberation through one’s wisdom, one will be reborn in the heaven of infinite space or the heaven of infinite consciousness, both of which are in the formless realm.
Volume V of the Shurangama Sutra discusses the 25 sages’ complete and unobstructed understanding. The six elemental qualities of earth, water, wind, fire, emptiness and consciousness form the physical bodies of living beings. Each of these six was used by one venerable sage to realize the fruition of a sage. As for the contemplation by imagination of the four all-pervasive elements, the Perfection of Great Wisdom Shastra has a detailed explanation in Roll 12.
‘Again, there are those who contemplate emptiness, whose layers exist within the mind. It is just as a person sits in dhyana and contemplates the layers; he may take earth, water, wind, azure, yellow, white, red, emptiness, all the myriad things into his contemplation. It is also like the Buddha at Grdhrakuta Mountain entering the City of Rajagriha (the King’s Abode) with the Bhikshu Sanghans. On their way they saw a great body of water. The Buddha spread out his
nisidana [sitting cloth] over the water and seated himself upon it. He said to the Bhikshus, “If a Bhikshu enters dhyana and his mind is at ease, he can turn a great body of water into solid ground. Why? It is because water contains the element of earth within it. Likewise, water, fire, wind, gold, silver and all kinds of precious things can be formed from water in the same manner. Why is this? It’s because water has those elements within it.”’3
As the Buddha and Bhikshus entered the City of Rajagriha, they encountered a great body of water. However, the Buddha could spread out his sitting cloth and seat himself over the water. Doesn’t the same principle apply to the Patriarch Bodhidharma stepping on a reed and walking freely on water? Why is this possible? The Buddha said it is because water also has the element of earth. That is also true with fire and wind.
How is it that water, fire and wind can contain the element earth? Volume IV of the
Shurangama Sutra has a dialogue between the Buddha and Venerable Purna that deserves our attention:
“Moreover, the Thus Come One said that ‘earth, water, fire, and wind are by nature perfectly fused, are all-pervasive in the Dharma Realm, and are all tranquil and everlasting.’ World Honored One, if the nature of earth is pervasive, how can it contain water? If the nature of water is pervasive, then fire does not arise. Further, how do you explain that the natures of fire and water can each pervade empty space without displacing one another?”
The World Honored One replied: “For example, although space itself is not all phenomena, it does not interfere with the functioning of all those phenomena… Contemplate the fundamental falseness of appearances; they have no substantial reality…. Contemplate the fundamental truth of the nature. It is solely the wonderful enlightened brightness, the wonderful enlightened bright mind. It is neither water nor fire. Why, then, ask about incompatibility?”4
The dharma-nature of the four elements pervades space and is mutually non-obstructive. In other words, “All dharmas are level and equal; every dharma is thus.”
Likewise, fire and wind also have the element of water in them. In Volume V of the
Shurangama Sutra, the Youth Moonlight cultivated the contemplation of water and entered
samadhi. When one of his disciples came to the Chan hall to see him, “All he saw was clear water pervading the room, nothing else.” This disciple “was young and ignorant. He threw a piece of tile into the water. The water made a splashing sound. He looked on and then left.”5 After the Youth Moonlight came out of
samadhi, he “immediately felt a pain in his heart.” Even one’s own body is affected by one’s contemplation, how much the more so the external environment? “Crossing the (Yellow) River on a single reed” works on the same principle. The main purpose of
dhyana contemplation is to achieve liberation. If one meditates only to get spiritual powers and the power to fly freely, then not only will one fail to arrive at the treasure trove, but will join the retinue of celestial demons and externalists. Therefore, a cultivator should certainly be cautious!
1 Abidharma-Kosha Volume XI
2 The Great Buddha’s Summit Foremost Shurangama Sutra Volume V.
4 The Mahaprajna Paramita Shastra Volume XII.
5 The Great Buddha’s Summit Foremost Shurangama Sutra Volume IV.
6 The Great Buddha’s Summit Foremost Shurangama Sutra Volume V.