“I am a commoner from Xinzhou in the south, and I have come this long distance to make obeisance to you. I seek only to become a Buddha, nothing more.” – Hui-neng (638-713)
The way to abandon the body is to have a penetrating insight into its temporal nature. When this happens, the mind, together with its world, becomes transparent and its workings are illuminated. – Tao-hsin
To be empty of all creatures is to be full of God, and to be full of all creatures is to be empty of God. – Meister Eckhart (On Detachment)
The Indian schools of Buddhism taught that there were eight or ten stages of attainment. These stages were most likely accurate for the disciplines followed in those schools, but those who attain awakenings by other means–Ch’an practice, sole practitioners, deep depression, being near to death–will have different experiences. According to the Mahayana school, the eighth stage is that of the Tathagata–one who goes in suchness, or beingness, as Lester called it. This stage is Acala, which means no regression. Meister Eckhart once said that even if a being has been in the highest state for twenty years, if he regresses to selfhood for a moment it will be as if he had never been there. But Acala is a stage for bodhisattvas, who would never contemplate doing anything so foolish.
In Buddhism the meditative attainments, or dhyanas, are higher realms, which for most are known after the death of the physical body. They are still realms of ignorance, because there is still a self. When one has completely done away with desire and has seen the the lack of self-nature of people and things—the twofold egolessness—one has left the desire realm and dwells in the form realm. If one died at this stage one would be reborn in the form realm, but could choose to return to earth for one more rebirth.
Above the form realm is the formless realm, or causal realm, and the only thing I know about it is that there are no forms there.
The practices or cultivations of the mind that have proven effective for the attainment of enlightenment are called paramitas. The word paramita comes from para, meaning ‘beyond’ or ‘the opposite shore,’ and mita, which means ‘that which has arrived’; paramitas are therefore practices which carry one to the opposite shore. The original list of perfections is the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. Each of the eight paths was preceded by the word samyak, meaning complete or perfect, meaning that one was to practice each path to perfection. This doesn’t mean that one perfects the self; rather one comes to realize that the self is an illusion and lets go of it, because it covers up the perfection which is our true Self, our true nature.
Mahayana Buddhism teaches six perfections. These were derived from the original Pali canon, which listed ten. Ksanti encompasses both patience and equanimity, and dana encompasses giving, compassion and and renunciation.
- Giving (Dana)
- Morality (Sila)
- Patient suffering, equanimity (Ksanti)
- Zeal (Viraya)
- Meditation (Dhyana)
- Wisdom (Prajna)
Like the Eightfold Path, perfections are all practiced simultaneously.
Enlightenment is attaining identification with what you are
Knowledge comes through likeness. – Meister Eckhart
It is not possible for anyone to see anything of the things that actually are unless he becomes like them. . . . You saw the Spirit, you became spirit. You saw Christ, you became Christ. You saw the Father, you shall become Father. So in this place you see all things and do not see yourself, but in that place you do see yourself—and what you see you shall become. – The Gospel of Philip
In order to know the Self, you must identify yourself with it. At the end of his teaching on love in his Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Another time Yeshua rebuked Cephas, saying, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mark 8:33). As Lester Levenson (1993) said:
All behavior should be that which is characteristic of the egoless state or the state of the Self: changelessness, equal mindedness, seeing only the Self, seeing only perfection, having the same attitude toward good and bad fortune, identifying with all, indifference to praise or censure, having joy only in your Self, complete passivity, complete humbleness, being not the doer, desirelessness, dispassion, non-attachment, forbearance. – Lester Levenson (1993, Session 21: Attitude and Action)
To attain a higher state you must develop a strong mental impression of that state. It is as if you are in a pole vaulting competition, in which the bar is progressively raised. In order to clear the higher bar you must first visualize yourself clearing it. Once something has been accomplished in your mind, it has changed from possibility to reality.
A sculptor remains focused on a mental image of the finished sculpture in the rough stone and chips away everything that is not that perfect form. This principle is the basis of the Eleven practices to attain the first awakening. Releasing negative feelings and thoughts chips away at the ego. Acceptance chips away at discrimination and allows one to see the underlying perfection of everything. Loving others chips away at the illusion of separateness. Mindfulness meditation chips away at dwelling in the past and future. Altogether the eleven practices bring the mind to the point where there is an expectation of awakening, and this expectation brings about a true awakening.
Purgation: Letting go of what you are not
The Buddhist path involves purgation and realization. Purgation means to let go of all ego-attachments. This is the reason why the Diamond Sutra teaches that the bodhisattva remains completely detached from people and things even when giving help to others, and why Yeshua said, “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret” (Matt. 6:3). The aim of giving isn’t to become attached to feeling good or virtuous, but to “think as God does.” Detachment and equanimity are the highest virtues.
Existence is bondage. First one forms a mind (nama), and the mind forms a body (rupa). The mind discriminates this from that, both forms and concepts, and identifies things as good or bad. From this knowledge of good and bad, cravings arise; from cravings arise feelings, and from feelings arise thoughts.
As long as we continue to crave love, control and security, grasping for whatever symbolizes these things and pushing away whatever symbolizes their opposite, we remain identified with the ego-self. Spiritual practices teach us to stop grasping and start giving up; to stop desiring in the knowledge that we have never lacked anything.
Releasing is the best method for letting go of attachments and aversions. Its creator, Lester Levenson, realized the highest state in three months. But he had previously read all of Freud’s writings and had undergone Freudian psychoanalysis—four times a week for four years. What psychoanalysis does is to bring repressed feelings into awareness, from the darkness of the subconscious into the light. Freud once said, “I will turn id into ego.”
Hui-neng said that we should forget about the past. Lester, too, said it wasn’t necessary to do what he did, which was to recall every significant event in his life and let go of the feelings and desires associated with each one. But Hui-neng and Lester were both wrong about this. You can’t let go of the past by ignoring it—rather, you must face it. It is not uncommon for masters to underestimate the importance of something they did or experienced, and Lester seems not to have grasped the importance of his years of psychoanalysis and his systematic review of his past, when he identified what he was feeling during each event and “corrected” those wrong feelings.
Realization: Being what you are
“There’s not a higher Self and a lower Self. There’s only you identifying with your limitless Being or identifying with your limited being.” – Lester Levenson
Now the very highest state is simply Beingness, and if we could only be, just be, we could see our Infinity. We would see that there are no limitations. We would see that we are the All. We would be in a perfectly satiated, permanent, changeless state. And it is not a nothingness, it is not a boredom, it is an allness, an everythingness, a total satiation that is eternal. You will never, never lose your individuality. The word “I” as you use it to mean your individuality will never, ever leave you. It expands. What happens as you remember what you are is that you’ll begin to see that others are you, that you are me, that you are now and always have been gloriously infinite. – Lester Levenson, 1964
The second task of Self-realization is to cease to identify with the ego-self and identify with the unlimited Self. This is accomplished by ceasing to focus on what you and others are not—separate beings—and focusing instead on the one Self that you are.
Catholic mystic Jeanne Guyon described this stage as remaining ever turned toward God:
The soul, being turned in the direction of God, has a great facility for remaining converted to Him. The longer it is converted, the nearer it approaches to God, and attaches itself to Him; and the nearer it approaches to God, the more it becomes necessarily drawn from the creature, which is opposed to God.
Meister Eckhart said:
The soul should be independent and should not want anything, and then it would attain godly stature by reason of likeness. Nothing makes for unity as much as likeness, for God, too, is independent and needs nothing. In this way the soul enters the unity of the Holy Trinity, but it may become even more blessed by going further, to the barren Godhead, of which the Trinity is [but] a revelation. In this barren Godhead, activity has ceased. Therefore the soul will be most perfect when it is thrown into the desert of the Godhead, where both activity and forms are no more, so that it is sunk and lost in this desert where its identity is destroyed and it has no more to do with things than it had before it existed. Then it is dead to self and alive to God. What is dead in this sense has ceased to be. So that soul which is buried in the Godhead-desert will be dead to self . Dionysius says: “To be buried in God is nothing but to be transported into uncreated life.” (Blakney, Sermon 22, EXPEDIT VOBIS UT EGO VADAM p. 200)
In the Mahaparanirvana Sutra, the Buddha’s last sermons, he told his disciples to stop meditating on what they were not (void of self-nature, impermanent, subject to destruction, etc.) and instead to meditate on what they were: the Self, eternality, bliss, and perfection. (In Orategama, Hakuin cites this passage, but the four virtues of Nirvana are translated as Self, permanence, peace, and purity.)
O Monks, why is it said that one who has the idea of a Self is arrogant and haughty, going round Samsara? Monks, although you might say, “We also cultivate impermanence, suffering, and non-self,” these three kinds of cultivation have no real value. I shall now explain the three excellent ways of cultivating Dharma. . . .
O monks! Do not cultivate the idea of impermanence, suffering and non-self, the idea of impurity and so forth, deeming them to be the true meaning [of the Dharma] . . . You should train yourselves well in efficacious means. Whatever you are doing, constantly meditate upon the idea of the Self, the idea of the Eternal, Bliss and Perfection. . . . Those who, desirous of attaining the Dharma, meditatively cultivate these ideas—namely the ideas of the Self, the Eternal, Bliss and Perfection—will effectively bring forth the jewel . . . (The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Chapter Three, “Grief”)
Meister Eckhart said, “As I have often said, I like best those things in which I see most
clearly the likeness of God. Nothing in all creation is so like God as stillness.” (Blakney, Fragments, p. 144)
Renounce all notions and then renounce the renouncer of those notions. When even the notion of the ego sense has ceased, you will be like infinite space, free, unbounded, eternal. As long as there is a “you” and “I” there is no liberation, no freedom. (Recorded sutras read by Deepak Chopra)
What is required is that we re-establish that state of the Self again and again until it becomes permanent. Each time we do it, we scorch more of the mind, until finally we have scorched the entire mind. Then we are permanently established in the Self. Then you sit back and the mind is out there, and the body is out there and you are not the mind, you are not the body. As long as you know you are not the mind and the body, both of them can go on to their heart’s content, and you know that they cannot touch you. – Lester Levenson (1993, p. 30)
Enlightenment doesn’t take one unawares; rather one is progressively drawn into it. Moreover, the less effort there is on the part of the self, the faster one advances. Jeanne Guyon compared it to sinking in an ocean: “Without perceiving its sinking, the soul would sink to the most profound depths with incredible speed.” She also used the analogy of rowing a galley out of a harbor. Once free of the harbor it spreads its sails:
They travel farther in an hour while the ship is carried by the wind than they would in a much longer time by their own efforts; and if they wished to row, besides the fatigue which would result from it, their labour would be useless and would only serve to slow the vessel. (guyon_shortmethodofprayer)
The Buddhist canon employs the same metaphor:
This effortlessness is again compared in the Dasabhumika to a great seafaring boat. When the boat is not yet at sea, much labour is needed to make it move forward, but
as soon as it reaches the ocean, no human power is required; leave it alone and the wind will take care of it. One day’s sailing thus left to itself on the high seas will surely be more than equal to one hundred years of human labouring while still in the shallows. When the Bodhisattva sails out onto the great ocean of Bodhisattvahood, one moment of effortless activity will surpass infinite deeds of conscious striving. (D. T. Suzuki, 1929, p. 226)
Meister Eckhart said that the greatest virtue at this point is passivity: to “suffer” or allow God to work in the soul. The main thing is to maintain that feeling of letting go, of surrender. As your life comes up from the subconscious into awareness, let everything go.
That last thing one lets go of is the mind. You observe your thoughts as if they were not yours. You ask, “Who is speaking? Where do these thoughts arise from?” mindful that there is no self from which they can arise. Thoughts are no more than ages-old patterns established for the purpose of survival. (See the post, Letting Go of the Mind.)
17. If your mind values one thing, it will surely despise another. If your mind affirms anything, it must negate something. If your mind takes one thing to be good, then other things are bad. If your mind has more affection for one person, it despises others. The mind does not abide in forms, nor does it abide in formlessness. It does not abide in abiding, nor does it abide in non-abiding. If your mind abides anywhere, it cannot avoid being bound. If your mind functions anywhere, that is bondage. If your mind values dharmas, dharmas will bind you. If your mind values one dharma, other dharmas are inferior. When you try to grasp the meaning of the sutras and treatises you should not value understanding. If there are parts that you understand, then your mind is attached to something. If the mind is attached to anything, that is bondage. The sutra says: “It is not through inferior, average or superior dharmas that one attains Nirvana.” Even though the mind has entered delusion, do not push delusion away. Instead, when something arises from the mind, rely on the Dharma to gaze at the place from which it arises. If the mind discriminates, rely on the Dharma to gaze at the place of the discrimination. Whether greed, anger or ignorance arise, rely on the Dharma to gaze at the place from which they arise. To see that there is no place from which these can arise is to cultivate the Way. If there is anything arising from the mind, then investigate it, and relying on the Dharma, clean house!
21. Question: What is transcending the limits of the norms?
Answer: The spontaneously quiescent mind does not realize the understanding of the Mahayana or the Hinayana, does not raise the mind of enlightenment, even to the point of not wishing for the omniscience of a buddha, does not honor the person who is accomplished in samadhi, does not disdain the person who is attached and craving; he does not even wish for enlightenment. If one does not grasp for understanding and does not seek wisdom, he will avoid the delusions and confusions of the Dharma masters and meditation masters. If one can preserve mindfulness and erect will, entertain no wish to be a worthy or a sage, not seek liberation, fear neither the cycle of birth and death nor the hells, and with no-mind directly perform his duties, then for the first time he will bring to perfection a dull mind of norms. If one is to witness all the transformations of the worthies and sages due to their supernormal powers through hundreds of thousands of eons without the arising of envy, then he should avoid the deceptions and delusions of others.
Another question: How does one produce the mind that transcends the limits of the norms?
Answer: When you do not have the mind of the ordinary man, arhat or bodhisattva, and do not even have a buddha-mind or any mind at all, then for the first time you can be said to have transcended the limits of the norms. If you desire that no mind at all should arise, that no understanding or delusion should arise, then for the first time you can be said to have transcended everything. (Bodhidharma’s Method of Quieting the Mind)
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1 The supernormal powers are of interest to many, and I will limit myself to a few remarks in the way of warning. In the first place, the seeker will not attain enlightenment as long as there is a desire for anything. Many people have had profound mystical experiences only to fall back into ignorance because their egos seized upon the experiences. In the second place, wisdom is the goal, not mastery over matter or the senses. Therefore, if powers ‘fall’ on you, the best course is to not pay attention to them as they will distract you from your goal. In the third place, sages do not display their powers except under very limited circumstances. This is for two reasons. First, to do so distracts attention from what the sage is saying; second, displaying powers causes even advanced disciples to regard the sage as divine and enlightenment as unattainable for ordinary beings. Ma Tin Hla wrote,
Acquisition of supernatural powers does not confer any spiritual advantage. It was for this reason that the Buddha forbade his disciples to work miracles for display. Here it would not be out of place to mention that the yogic beliefs of Buddhism are not to be seen clearly in the Lamaism of Tibet. Craving for supernatural powers and taking delight therein after acquirement do not help us to free ourselves, from lust, hatred and ignorance. This has to be guarded against by those striving in the path of holiness for final liberation only and nothing else. (Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia)
The six supernormal powers of a buddha:
1. Iddhividha – The power of transformation
2. Dibbasota – Celestial hearing
3. Cetopariya – The power of discernment of the mind of others
4. Pubbenivasa – Power of knowing previous existences
5. Dibba-cakkhu – Celestial vision
6. Asavakkhaya – Supra-mundane knowledge relating to the destruction of asavas and the recognition of the Four Noble Truths
Blakney, Raymond B. (1941). Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation. New York: Harper & Row. (Internet Archive)
Guyon, J. M. B. de La Mot. (1875). A Short Method of Prayer. (A. W. Marston, translator) https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/spiritualformation/texts/guyon_shortmethodofprayer.pdf)
Levenson, Lester (1993). Keys to the Ultimate Freedom: Thoughts and Talks on Personal Transformation. Sedona Institute. (http://www.freespiritualebooks.com/keys-to-the-ultimate-freedom.html) (download)
Suzuki, D. T. (1932). The Lankavatara Sutra: A Mahayana Text (Based upon the Sanskrit edition of Bunyu Nanjo). London. (http://lirs.ru/do/lanka_eng/lanka-nondiacritical.htm)
Suzuki, D. T. (1957). Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist. London and New York: Routledge Classics. https://terebess.hu/zen/mesterek/d-t-suzuki-mysticism-christian-and-buddhist.pdf
Suzuki, D. T. (1998). Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. (originally published in 1929)
Williams, Paul and Tribe, Anthony (2000). Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition. London and New York: Routledge.