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Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Power Within

-The Power Within-

I am just the fire..but you are the furnace..
I am just the flame,but you are the candle..
And trust me,for others,I can be a manace..
But you are my soulmate..
And you are my goddess...
If I'd had the thought..or wish or desire....
Your body'd be mine...on water and fire...
Just wish I can die...this dream I am dreaming
Before I will do it..for this is my aiming..
For there are 3 levels on state of the being
The first is the ego,and that makes you sing?
The second..subconscious..the dude with the power
He's creeping on you..2 times every hour..
The third the unconscious...the place of the spirit
The one who controlls it,,the powers,.and share it...
So never forget the power within...
For you are a rainbow...the one beyond being...

About Forgiveness

danny danny (4/30/2006 10:19:56 AM): couple more things about ,,dissolving,, a's like this...
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:20:33 AM): remember when I told you that one,, dissolves,, a conflict with others within himself?
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:23:47 AM): we have for example 2 people with 2 egos,(false perception) and they collide more one fights back,the more the other fights back.But how one can reach the stage of not fighting? will?..or by desire? possible,sinse they are ,,cougth,, in that bubble (of ego) already
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:24:37 AM): so one must ,,transform,, out of the bubble first.
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:26:22 AM): I remember about some words told to me when I started yoga?..there was this advanced yogi,which of course I didn't understand back then,yet I didn't forget them
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:28:52 AM): he said,,you build a mountain inside you,out of the spirit,,..then..what power outside yourself could ever influense you,or disturb you?
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:29:22 AM): you can always go back to your mountain.
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:30:00 AM): the mountain of truth..and vibes
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:31:24 AM): see?..all conflicts between people,and all wars by the way..are based on the ,,illusion,, of separation.That people falsely believe that they are separated.Yet,they are not deep inside,in spirit.
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:32:25 AM): again,this is not a logical thing which one ,,learns,, but an inner transformation.
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:33:35 AM): the more you meditate,the more your consciousness is transformed,and becomes less ,,personal,, and more,,universal,,
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:35:12 AM): can you forgive forever?..what if there is nothing to forgive,just is something to ,,be,,?
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:36:32 AM): and at that point you understand the foolish false illusion of separation of the other person,and understand that he is just impurified?
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:37:02 AM): kisses...
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:39:48 AM): can he fight the mountain inside you?..with what weapons?..can an ego(false perceptions) fight the truth,or the spirit within?
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:41:41 AM): the universe gives you all the clues you need.The outside experienses one has are direct reflection of one inner universe one built.
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:47:12 AM): so if any outside person or circumstance bother you,just say to yourself,,there is something inside me stirring,and reacting to this,but that is not necessary can always leave the mountain inside,and be forced to react,yet..the mountain of peace and joy and wisdom is always inside you,waiting for you to return.And when you returned,you already ,,forgave,, because you left the plane of ,,ego reactions,, and you ARE in the mountain.
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:48:04 AM): you become the mountain.
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:53:15 AM): and at that point,the outer universe(experienses) adjust to your inner one,as reflection.This is what I did when I was on that cruise line ship..did I make any logical plans to escape? refused to sleep couple nights,and I meditated.THAT is surrender.Then,the opportunity was created in the outer universe to escape the ship,and start a new adventure as a monk in america.
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:54:39 AM):
danny danny (4/30/2006 10:58:18 AM): I remember I was like at 3 am in the morning on the ship deck..all alone,singing Ganesha songs?...GANESHA..Ganeeeesha..jai Jai Shri Ganesha!!!...and the wind,and the sea would reply back...jai...jai shri ganesha!!!!
danny danny (4/30/2006 11:01:41 AM): and one night..I met a dude from phillipines,who was on the deck at 3 am like me,and he was singing jesus songs?..JESUS THE GREATEST..Jesus the laaaaa..and i responding..jai jai Shri ganeshaaaaa....and the fishes in the sea were jumping out and enjoying the songs.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The 9 Samadhi Absorptions (dhyana)

The 9 Samadhi Absorptions (dhyana)

The Nine Samadhi Absorptions - Part 2

[Chapter 10 of How to Measure and Deepen Your Spiritual Realization]


We can use this explanation and categorization scheme to finally make sense of the various samadhi posed by several Indian yoga authorities, a task that has befuddled scholars and pundits over the ages. If we take the writings of Patanjali, Vyasa and Vacaspati Mishra (in his Tattva-Vaisharadi), we find a sequence of four samadhi whose degree of refinement increases in stages.

These samadhi, despite a difference in names, perfectly match with the four dhyana. In fact this has to be so because the four dhyana are shared cultivation stages spanning all the different cultivation schools. It is just that in Buddhism, their sequence and attainment is openly described in detail whereas in other schools they are not often so clearly commented upon. In fact, in some other spiritual schools the commentaries on the dhyana are nonexistent because the founding (and subsequent) spiritual adepts just never got that far.

According to the classical Hindu yoga schools, a practitioner progresses through the samadhi by first gaining proficiency at a grosser stage of spiritual attainment, and by then developing dispassion toward this stage so as to progress to the next higher, subtler, purified, or refined level of meditative accomplishment. Just as in the progression through the four dhyana, the higher realm of concentration is viewed as purer or more refined than the lower, but this purity is only relative. Nevertheless, the mind is thus encouraged along a graduated process of refinement, all of which corresponds to higher and higher accomplishments within the Realm of Form.

The first samadhi in these schools is the vitarka samadhi, which is a samadhi still involved with the cogitation of thought that involves examining an object. This is nothing less than the first dhyana, for none of the other dhyana are still involved with the vitarka of coarse mental grasping. Thus the objects of vitarka samadhi meditation are rather coarse, namely the gunas of Hinduism and their products.

Vedanta, namely the Samkhya school of philosophy, offers a wide variety of suggestions for these objects of support, which are objects used as a point of focus in meditation. For example, you can meditate on the five elements, on a material form (such as the sun, a flame, etc.), or on a deity such as Vishnu or Shiva, or even on the image of Jesus, or a chakra or Sanskrit letter. All these forms serve as a point of focus in meditation so that a spiritual aspirant can generate one-pointed concentration and attain the state of samadhi.

Next we have vicara samadhi, which is a samadhi of just vicara. The second and third dhyana of Buddhism can both be classified as just vicara, which is mental reflection or observation, but the third dhyana is distinguished by the fact that it is characterized mainly by bliss (ananda). Hence, the third dhyana corresponds to the stage of ananda samadhi, and the Hindu sage Vyasa confirms this understanding with the description: "Rapture is bliss." This leaves the second dhyana as the sole correspondent for the vicara samadhi of classical Hindu yoga, and its stipulation as the second samadhi in the series matches up with the second dhyana ranking as well.

The last samadhi is asmita samadhi, which is described as a samadhi of merely I-am-ness. This is the fourth dhyana where there is only one-pointed concentration and profound emptiness, but where the practitioner has not yet freed himself from the confines of the egocentric seventh consciousness. He has reached a stage of selflessness, but it is not the complete selflessness of the Tao.

In summary, vitarka samadhi corresponds to the first dhyana. Vicara samadhi corresponds to the second dhyana. Ananda samadhi corresponds to the third dhyana. Asmita samadhi corresponds to the fourth dhyana. As the Hindu sage Vyasa says of the four Samadhi:

The vitarka-conjoint samadhi actually accompanies all four. The second one, with gross thought (vitarka) having been terminated, is accompanied by subtle thought (vicara). The third one, with subtle thought having been terminated, is accompanied by bliss (ananda). The fourth one, with that bliss having been terminated, is merely I-am-ness (asmita). All these samadhis are dependent on, conjoint with, or accompanied by supportive factors.

Even though you become free from random thoughts when you attain the fourth dhyana, it is not yet the highest stage of spiritual accomplishment one can reach. All these samadhi involve supportive factors as the focus of concentration because they all correspond to attainments within the Realm of Form. To progress even further in cultivation accomplishments, you have to also be able to attain the samadhi absorptions of the Formless Realm which are no longer involved with gross mental objects of support at all.

As a general principle, we can only say that the experiential realm of the fourth dhyana involves liberation from random thoughts to reach a deep state of clarity and calm. We provisionally describe this stage as "empty," though there are emptier stages still. All the dhyana have various graduations of achievement, and there are nine different levels of achievement within the fourth dhyana, each of which corresponds to a different Form Realm heaven due to the slight differences in psychology and merit. Naturally you could subdivide any stage of concentration into as many levels as you would like, but Shakyamuni Buddha divided each of these dhyana into a specific number of stages based on a variety of factors, including the different merits they each imply.

While the Taoists, because of their emphasis on the physical nature, would describe the process of proceeding from the first to fourth dhyana in terms of jing, chi, shen and emptiness transformations, Buddhist sutras describe the ascent according to the principles of mind (psychology) and merit. Other schools may describe parts of this progression via biophysical kung-fu or other factors, but the Buddhist descriptions most closely address the heart of the matter.

Basically, Buddhist teachings say that the four dhyana are linked together in a graduated sequence of development in which each lower dhyana serves as the basis for the higher, and the higher in turn represents a more purified version of the lower states. Thus, to attain the dhyana,

If they become separated from sensual desire and from non-virtuous qualities, a monk [cultivation practitioner] can enter into and abide in the first dhyana, in which there is conceptuality and analysis, joy and bliss, and which arises because of separation from hindrances. ... Due to diminishment of the factors of conceptuality and analysis, he can enter into and abide in the second dhyana, which is characterized by internal tranquility, one-pointed concentration of thought, which is devoid of conceptuality and analysis, but which has joy and bliss. ... Due to detachment from joy, the monk will dwell in equanimity, have mindfulness and clear understanding, and experience the bliss in body and mind of the third dhyana. ... Through eliminating both pain and pleasure, and due to the previous disappearance of sorrow and happiness, the monk can enter into and abide within the fourth dhyana which is devoid of pain and pleasure, a state of equanimity and absolute purity of mindfulness.

All four dhyana still belong within the domain of consciousness, so even though one attains the fourth dhyana, a spiritual practitioner has not yet escaped consciousness even though he has escaped from random thoughts. These four dhyana constitute great spiritual cultivation attainments, but they do not constitute the whole spiritual path; there is still much more work to go.

It is very easy to attain various superpowers when you attain the various dhyana, but having attained various siddhis does not mean you have attained any of the dhyana! Patanjali's Yoga Sutras devotes an entire chapter to supernormal powers which can developed from certain spiritual concentrations, so it speaks of all these things in detail. For instance, it mentions that if you concentrate to master the chi currents that control the lungs and upper part of the body, you can walk on water.

If you can control the force that governs your chi, you can surround yourself with a blaze of light, which is akin to the Christian event of transfiguration. You can also make your body as tiny as an atom, develop supernatural hearing, supernatural sight, knowledge of distant places and so on.

You just have to purify your chi and shen and then concentrate in the appropriate way to attain these special abilities, so of course this means accomplishing a one-pointed concentration within the realm of the four dhyana. Simply by controlling the mind you can gain these supernormal abilities, and while they can provide more insight into nature than is yet possible by modern science, they still are not the ultimate matter. These, too, are just temporal abilities.

Buddhism mentions six types of psychic powers, but these are by-products which naturally arise due to progress made on the cultivation trail that ignores them. There is the ability of supernatural sight, which allows you to see anywhere, the ability of supernatural hearing which allows you to hear sounds anywhere, the ability to know past lives, the ability to know the minds of others, the extinction of outflows (the destruction of the afflictions of greed, hate, stupidity or desire), and the "complete spiritual penetration" which entails miraculous supernatural abilities such as being able to fly through space, become invisible, transform one object into many or many into one, or appear anywhere at will.

Buddhism also mentions "five eyes," or five types of vision that you will naturally attain from cultivating the correct spiritual way. There is a saying that summarizes these "eyes" and their penetrations:

The Heavenly eye penetrates without obstruction.
The Fleshly eye sees obstacles but does not penetrate.
The Dharma eye only contemplates the mundane [affairs of worldly existence].
The Wisdom eye understands true emptiness.
The Buddha eye shines like a thousand suns.
Although their illumination differs, their substance is one.

Supernormal powers themselves are just functions of the realm of consciousness because they are actually the result of various machinations of thought. Thus, they cannot be considered anything special other than a particular way of holding the mind. In this sense, even having a good memory can be considered a type of superpower, but people do not realize this.

Furthermore, just because someone has attained various siddhi superpowers and psychic abilities does not mean they are a more spiritual or "advanced" person than other individuals. We often see this strange view promoted on television or in the movies, whereas psychic abilities can originate from sickness or mental instability. If someone is hit in an accident such that it opens their chi mai, it is possible to attain all sorts of strange psychic abilities. Even demons and ghosts have psychic abilities and superpowers, so possessing them does not mean you are spiritually exceptional. However, such are the misconceptions people tend to base themselves on when trying to judge someone's level of spiritual cultivation achievement.

Frankly, most cultivation practitioners who develop and then widely demonstrate these abilities--such as supernatural hearing and sight, being able to know the future or being able to project their chi--tend to get dragged down by such powers. These various abilities are just obstructions on the path because they can cause people to lose sight of their original aims and goals in cultivation.

The reason someone can cultivate the four dhyana is because they have accumulated enough merit and put in the required cultivation efforts. Cultivation practice, plus patience, plus time, produces this result. Although the four dhyana are important vehicles on the path of realization, we cannot consider they are what is fundamental in Buddhism. They might be hard for ordinary people to attain when they do not put in the requisite meditation efforts, but they still represent an incomplete level of attainment in the overall scheme of cultivation experience.

The real accomplishment of Buddhism or any religion is to see the Tao and attain enlightenment. Nonetheless, we cannot fault the four dhyana in any way, and must recognize that they are common stages of the spiritual cultivation path shared by all schools of genuine spirituality, so you must become familiar with these stages and learn their various characteristics as well as the general level of attainment which they represent. They do not yet embody the ultimate, but they are still a common measuring stick of the spiritual progress you can make toward this goal.

Various States of No-Mind or No-Thought

As we have mentioned, each of the four dhyana can be broken into finer graduations, each of which corresponds to slightly different conditions of accomplishment. This is a common characteristic of any measuring system, for even the five skandhas can be further sub-divided into various categories. Thus, on a similar note, it is not surprising to find that the state of no-mind (mindlessness, nonperception, or "not having mind" or "no-thought") traditionally has five different situations, called "stations," where it can occur:

o mindless sleep (wherein you forget everything)
o mindless unconsciousness (experienced during fainting, coma, or a concussion with memory loss)
o the samadhi of no-thought (the samadhi without thought)
o the heaven of no-thought (a heaven without thought in the Form Realm)
o the samadhi of extinction (a state of one-sided emptiness, representing a great tranquility similar to the nirvana of the Buddhas, found at the highest level of the Formless Realm where the functioning of emptiness annihilates the functioning of body and mind)

There is also the "nirvana without remaining dependency" achieved by the Mahayana Bodhisattvas and Buddhas. This is the only correct form of "having no mind," for in this stage the ignorance of the alaya consciousness becomes extinct as it transforms into the great mirror wisdom. That is when you reach the purity of inherent true nature.

We sometimes say that a Buddha is omniscient because the great mirror wisdom is eternally present to all objects without failure of memory or perceptive error. When you return to your fundamentally enlightened status, this wisdom is your naturally existent state.

In cultivation, there are also several states that involve an empty gap between two moving processes, and this intercessionary gap of peaceful stillness, called a bardo state, is often used as a point of focus for spiritual cultivation. For instance, this type of gap can occur:

o between the state of being awake and falling to sleep
o between two thoughts
o between a state of dreaming and having no dreams (while sleeping)
o between the inhalation and exhalation of the breath
o between death and rebirth (the bardo period)

All these intercessionary situations can and do serve as the basis for particular methods of cultivation. For instance, recognizing that gap of no-mind between thoughts is cultivation of the cessation and contemplation practice of the Tien-tai school. When you practice to recognize the state between waking and sleeping (as is common in many yogic schools), or between dreaming and not dreaming, this is related to the dream yoga of the Esoteric school.

Cultivating the gap between the in-breath and out-breath is the basis of anapana or pranayama practice, and all the other breathing practices of the world. And the state immediately after death that proceeds rebirth--the bardo state--is the focus of the various Tibetan bardo cultivation practices for attaining enlightenment. The adherents of Kashmir Shaivism even make a science out of contemplating the state of contact or no-contact with a physical or mental phenomenon, so there are many states with a "gap" that can be used as an entry point of focus for entering into samadhi.

In most all the cultivation techniques based on intercessionary phenomena, people try to focus on that gap of emptiness between two states of movement. You do not focus on the states of movement themselves, which are akin to the birth and death of the volition skandha, but on that peaceful state of empty stillness between them. If you concentrated on the moving things you would be concentrating on birth and death, or the transient things rather than the thing which stays.

During that peaceful intercessory situation, the sixth consciousness is inactive for a moment, and discursive thought is therefore relatively nonexistent. This gap of pausation is not the Tao itself or the prajna emptiness of cultivation doctrine. It is just a momentary calming of the sixth consciousness. However, various cultivation techniques can be built around this empty situation into order to familiarize practitioners with some understanding of emptiness, as well as help them enter into the first dhyana. You need some type of method for entry into the dhyana; these are just some of the methods available.

These particular cultivation techniques are just the minor initiatory methods that can help practitioners familiarize themselves with emptiness, after which they can deepen their understanding so as to eventually "see the path." While none of these situations correspond to the true wisdom emptiness of cultivation, techniques that focus on these resting situations can help practitioners familiarize themselves with the meaning of the path.

With continued practice of such techniques, in time spiritual cultivators will gain some cultivation accomplishment and eventually recognize the true way to spiritual enlightenment. Therefore, none of these states are the actual samadhi of emptiness espoused by Hinayana cultivation, nor are they the prajna of emptiness either. But you can build definite methods of cultivation practice around these states, and pursuing these methods can indeed help you enter into samadhi.


In addition to the four dhyana, we already know that there is also a more refined set of meditations called the four formless samadhi. These are also known as the four formless meditations, four formless absorptions, or four formless concentrations. As with the four dhyana, the four formless samadhi are considered "shared stages" or "common stages" on the spiritual path, although while they are called "shared" it does not mean that all people achieve them.

The entire set of eight absorptions, which includes the four dhyana, is a "shared set of attainments" within the reach of many different cultivation and religious schools. Together, the four dhyana and four samadhi make eight vehicles which are alternatively known as the eight samadhi, eight concentrations, eight absorptions, or eight jhanas.

There is a wide variety of different terms for these eight concentrations, so you must not get too confused about the matter when you encounter all the various names or descriptive substitutions which are possible. As to the ninth samadhi, which corresponds to the extinction stage of the Arhats achieved by cultivating great transcendental prajna wisdom, it is found only within the province of the Buddhist wisdom teachings because Buddhism cultivate great prajna transcendental wisdom while other schools just emphasize samadhi.

To attain this extinction stage, a practitioner must cultivate the great transcendental wisdom, and the highest stages of wisdom teachings are definitely absent in all other spiritual cultivation schools. For instance, the Vedic schools have thousands of practices, but they do not have this teaching, which explains why these schools could not produce a Buddha prior to Shakyamuni. Only with the arising of the Hindu sage Shankara, and his non-dual path, were the great wisdom teachings to obtain somewhat of a foothold in the Vedic tradition.

As indicated by their name, the four formless samadhi represent a stage of meditative attainment that no longer corresponds to the Realm of Form. Accordingly, the stage of attainment they represent surpasses the physical material world (Desire Realm) and even the energy world (Form Realm). Though there are some slight differences in the names used by various translators to signify these states, the four formless samadhi absorptions are commonly known as:

o the samadhi of infinite space (the infinite form samadhi)
o the samadhi of infinite consciousness
o the samadhi of nothingness
o the samadhi of neither thought nor no-thought

We cannot say that these four samadhi are progressively attained in the same manner of the four dhyana-which are typically mastered one after the other--and yet we could also say this as well. You might sit down to meditate and spontaneously experience the samadhi without thought and without no-thought, or the samadhi of infinite space, but you will not be able to maintain these experiential realms unless your concentration and kung-fu were stable and strong enough.

You will also recall that when you abide in a particular dhyana, the levels below you appear gross and undefined, while the levels above you appear more peaceful and refined. As we have said, this is because the lower four dhyana all refer to graduations of the Form Realm. Since the formless samadhi correspond to the Formless Realm, we cannot say that one formless samadhi is higher or lower than another. They are merely different, so you do not have to cultivate them in any particular order. Then again, you can say that they are arranged in a hierarchical ranking by order of purity.

Some schools will mistakenly tell you that the formless absorptions are attained one after the other in a progressive fashion, but this is incorrect. For instance, in the first dhyana you might also be able to reach the samadhi of infinite space even if you cannot reach the other three dhyana. As another example, in the second dhyana you might be able to reach all the formless absorptions without having attained the third or fourth dhyana. Therefore, the view of progressive attainment of the formless absorptions is incorrect. Attaining them depends entirely upon your qualifications.

We can say that the four dhyana correspond more to the aspect of our physical forms, whereas the formless absorptions have more correspondence to our psychological aspect, which is why they are "formless." Hence in one sense you can say the formless absorptions are higher than the four dhyana since the Realm of Formlessness is higher than the Realm of Form. However, in another sense you cannot say that they are higher, but only different like salt and sugar which are both used for cooking.

However you approach the issue, we have to say there are definite differences between the formless samadhi themselves in terms of the cultivation kung-fu attained, and the "object" of contemplation which is the focus of the state.


The first of the four formless samadhi is the samadhi of infinite space, also known as the samadhi of boundless space, limitless space, or infinite emptiness. Despite its name, this samadhi still resides within the domain of consciousness because you still need consciousness to know you are in it. While it is a samadhi that has broken away from the Form and Desire Realms, it is not yet a samadhi that has broken away from consciousness.

In this samadhi absorption, the appearance of forms disappears to the mind, and all thoughts of the Form Realm are eliminated because the meditator perceives everything as limitless space, without obstruction or variety. They have the perception, "this realm is infinite like space." For instance, when the Hindu adept Ashtavakra experienced this particular stage of realization, he described it by saying,

I am boundless like space; the created universe is like a jar [filled and surrounded by space]. Hence, there is no [need for] relinquishing, accepting, or dissolving [the world]. Such is wisdom (jnana). Where is darkness or light, where cessation? Indeed, where is anything at all for the sage who is ever immutable and untroubled? There is no heaven and no hell, not even living liberation (jivanmukti). In brief, nothing [that could be grasped by the mind presents itself] to the yogic vision.

To understand this stage of meditation, we must remember that during sitting meditation some people can occasionally reach a state where they can no longer feel their body. In this type of experience, we can say that the practitioner has temporarily forgotten the form and sensation skandhas yet without being liberated from these aggregates. They have only forgotten the skandhas because, if you analyze this event in detail, you will find that the feeling of "not having yourself" is itself still a type of knowing!

This is not to say you are not making great cultivation progress when you reach this type of experiential realm, and remain in it, but we are simply correcting the claim that this is the ultimate emptiness samadhi. Because one still has the sensation of not having a body, we know this experiential realm is not completely empty! You must remember that in order to attain the Tao you must ultimately forget everything, including the fact you are forgetting, because ultimate emptiness is even empty of the knowing of emptiness. That is why we say you must forget yourself.

How can we describe the feeling of space attained in this samadhi? When Zen master Tung-shan achieved this state, he wrote of his experience as "far away, separate from me." This stage, where he had forgotten his self, was the realm of boundless space. When Zen master Ling-yuan became enlightened upon seeing a peach blossom, he only experienced the realm of infinite space as well. But since these examples are hard for us to comprehend, there are several other examples we can employ to obtain some idea of this state (although putting forth an image of emptiness is definitely polluting the point).

The first example might be when you are riding in an airplane and you look outside to experience the space around you, which extends in every direction. Naturally, this feeling of space in the sky is quite different than the feeling of space you have when you sit within an empty room, for it is vaster and much more liberated.

Now suppose you move even farther away from the Earth's atmosphere, and into outer space, and are in that vacuous region between planets. Modern science knows there is still stuff within this void, such as virtual particles and energy streams, so it is not really empty. Nevertheless you still feel it is empty, even emptier than the sky.

The point is, in this samadhi it feels like there is a great emptiness abounding everywhere, but the samadhi of infinite space is not yet completely empty because there is still something there. What is still there? Consciousness is still there, the consciousness that knows this state.

Actually, there are seven elements that always abide within physical emptiness: the earth, water, fire, wind, and space elements as well as perception and consciousness. So we can say that empty space still contains the elements of form, including perceptions (like sound and taste), and consciousness.

In the past, people could not verify these principles using the science available at the time, but we now know that empty space does contain things that are either invisible, or so small, or so momentary that they usually go unnoticed. For instance, when you have two pieces of metal hanging in a vacuum-jar, they will be pulled together because of gravity and electrical attraction. Even if the jar has no air, you therefore cannot say the jar is entirely empty. Quantum electrodynamics tells us that even a perfect vacuum of empty space will give birth to virtual particles that are constantly born and die, so because of the advanced principles of quantum physics, you cannot say that space is empty for certain.

To better understand this samadhi of limitless space, suppose you reach a particular state of mental emptiness as if, in an analogous physical sense, you were in outer space. The stage of emptiness we are speaking of does not mean that nothing exists at all, so it is also called the "infinite form samadhi." This term may seem paradoxical, but it is to remind us that the extreme of emptiness is actually form. Thus, this name also reminds us that the space we are speaking of is still an aspect of form. It is not that one negates forms when you achieve the samadhi of limitless space, it is just that the practitioner does not take to mind the phenomena of forms.

In terms of cultivation kung-fu, when you are in this samadhi you will experience light, but not a brilliant light. If you can master this samadhi and stabilize your experience, you can be reborn into the Formless Realm at the level that corresponds to this samadhi, the Absorption of Infinite Space. How can you attain this realm? You have to cultivate the meditative absorption that views form as gross and imagines that there is only space everywhere.

In the Commentary on the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, Buddha even spoke of how to practice in order to attain this samadhi. He said, "Contemplate space within the body, and always contemplate the body as being void, like an empty cage, or like a receptacle for steam cooking. [Lama Tsong Khapa said to train by imagining that the body is like an empty bag, or balloon] ... Thus, you will eventually be able to transcend form and eliminate the view of the body. As the body becomes like infinite space, so does other external form. At that time you will have succeeded in contemplating the emptiness of infinite space."


All the sutras of Buddhism mention these various formless stage samadhi, but even the Esoteric school does not explain them in detail, and the descriptions in various Hindu or yoga manuals are so incomplete or misleading that these various levels are often intermixed and mistakenly taken for one another. We must note, however, that all these formless samadhi are still within the domain of consciousness, so they are all related to what Buddhism classifies as the seventh and eighth (alaya) consciousness. Only when you reach enlightenment and transform the eighth consciousness can we say you have superseded their realm.

In Zen we say that the sixth and seventh consciousnesses screen our minds from awareness of our inherent Buddha-nature, but even when you arrive at the level of the eighth consciousness, you still have to transform the basis of the alaya in order to completely attain Tao. You have to produce a revolution in its basis so that all its seeds become wisdoms, and so that its yin nature of ignorance becomes a yang nature of wisdom.

The samadhi of infinite consciousness is another of the Formless Realm absorptions and is best described as an experiential realm of boundaryless consciousness wherein everything appears to be consciousness only. In this formless samadhi absorption, you only experience undifferentiated consciousness, which is why the samadhi is called the "absorption of limitless consciousness." As in the previous samadhi of infinite space, in this state you do not take to mind any external phenomena, but only your own mind. Hence, in this state, your experiential focus can be said to represent a type of spiritual realm.

Some yogis mistake this samadhi for the ultimate stage of liberation, but the realm of only consciousness still is not the Tao. In actuality, since you are actually discriminating that there is only consciousness, you are still subject to a refined form of discrimination. Hence, emptiness is not there completely.

The realm of consciousness experienced in the samadhi of infinite consciousness is different from the eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, taste-consciousness and sixth consciousness of ordinary mind. In fact, in this samadhi there is no more joy and bliss, no chi, no mai, no form, no kundalini, no body and so no eyes, eye sense, object of eye, eye-consciousness and so on.

The formless samadhi of infinite consciousness is basically a scenario of infinite limitless consciousness, and since consciousness represents the existence side of Tao, we say it is a samadhi of infinite existence. However, the infinite consciousness samadhi is also a scenario of infinite emptiness because the mind expands forever to experience infinite voidness. In this state, both body and mind seem to have become absolutely void, and yet the awareness of knowing still exists. That is why we say consciousness still exists, and hence we get the samadhi of infinite consciousness.

To try and communicate this particular experiential realm, we can turn to a Sung dynasty poem, from the Confucian school, which actually paints a picture of the infinite consciousness samadhi:

The Tao is so grand it is beyond the sky and earth.
Our consciousness is so grand that all the changes
are within its realm of perception.

In the samadhi of infinite space, though we can say that space represents a certain type of emptiness, space is still a type of external phenomenon which is not inherent in our pure mental continuum. In other words, infinite space is still an object, so to rise above this realm you have to gain liberation from that condition. However, there is no such thing as space within consciousness, for the knowing of space would actually represent a transformation of consciousness into some type of thought. Therefore, space is a factor that disappears in the samadhi of infinite consciousness, and this accounts for part of the difference between these states.

The formless absorption known as the samadhi of infinite consciousness is a realm in which all thought objects have been eliminated; only mind itself exists in this realm. To rise to this realm of meditation, you have to view infinite space as gross and seek only infinite consciousness instead.


The sages tried very hard to find a better name for the samadhi of nothingness but simply could not find one. Because the name fails to accurately communicate the essence of this samadhi, sometimes the Chinese, Indians and Tibetans just refer to this absorption as the seventh samadhi, or the third formless samadhi absorption.

To find the right descriptive words for any of the formless absorptions is quite difficult because these samadhi are all far beyond the normal range of human being experience, so the seeming vagueness of this descriptive term is understandable. On the other hand, it is practically useless to simply say that one samadhi is more refined than another without any detailed explanation of their characteristics. We definitely need some sort of descriptions and characterizations in order to be able to understand these various stages of cultivation, otherwise people will always think they have reached the end objective of the spiritual path when they are still only aspirants at the beginning or in the middle of the trail. So naming these samadhi and describing them is extremely important, but in so doing we often run into this quandary of finding the proper words.

Two important questions arise when trying to describe the samadhi of nothingness: how is this samadhi different from the samadhi of infinite space, and how is it different from the samadhi of no-thought? To answer these questions, we can turn to the story of Shakyamuni Buddha, who practiced for three years to attain the samadhi of no-thought. In achieving this feat, we must remember that Shakyamuni was young, healthy and full of vitality at the time. In addition, he had incredibly great wisdom from countless lives of cultivation, and possessed the merit of a king.

From Shakyamuni's story, it is apparent that it is quite difficult to attain this samadhi, which only occurs when the mind's functioning is arrested. Because Shakyamuni discarded this realm, we also know it is not the Tao, either. Why isn't it the Tao? Because this kind of experiential realm, where you have no thoughts, is also a creation of your mind! Since it does not address the ultimate ruler of the mind, it is not the true objective of spiritual practice.

Thus, in Buddhism, the samadhi of no-thought is actually considered an outside path because you can remain in this realm for a long time without making any real progress at all towards spiritual liberation. Nevertheless, some traditions of yoga mistakenly regard this state as the ultimate. They regard it as deliverance even though once your karma for this state is exhausted you will fall out of it, and will still remain within the realm of cyclical existence.

You can say that the samadhi of no-thought is indeed a state of spiritual penetration, and yet the people who champion this state as the ultimate are confused and muddled since they do not understand the profound truth of the matter. Because of the potential for error regarding this state, the Abhidharmakosabhasya comments,

The Nobel Ones consider this samadhi a precipice and calamity, and do not value entering it. On the other hand, ordinary people [mistakenly] identify the state of no-thought [nonperception] with true deliverance, and have no idea of "going out" from it. Hence, they cultivate the absorption that leads to it.

Of course this does not mean we should look down on anyone who attains this realm of concentration (the samadhi of no-thought). Anyone who does reach this level of attainment will be rewarded with rebirth in the upper regions of the Realm of Form, which is a tremendous accomplishment. What we have to do is recognize that this still is not Tao, and is really an outside cultivation path even though it is a state of spiritual attainment.

In running after the samadhi of no-thought, as compared to the samadhi of nothingness, you are actually trying to halt your consciousness to produce a state of no-thought. Since you are using pressure or force to cover thoughts, this means you are still using consciousness as a tool in order to attain this samadhi.

We are using the term "cover thoughts" in this explanation, but this choice of words is not perfect. It is more accurate to say you are trying to "push thoughts away" so as to make it impossible for gross delusions to manifest, yet even so you still do not attain liberation from samsara when you reach this state.

Thus, the samadhi of no-thought still retains the taint of the subjective nature because getting into this stage means you are still trying to do something. Furthermore, since you are suppressing gross thoughts, feelings and discriminations, you are only temporarily avoiding the afflictions they represent without abandoning these subtle discriminations of the mind. For instance, when you fall into a deep sleep, all the mental activity of which we are normally aware ceases and it is as if we have become mindless, but when we wake up it is all there again. The samadhi of no-thought can be compared to this temporary state of sleep, because after you come out of this samadhi you are right back where you were before.

An example from history helps explain this. There was a student at the time of the third Buddha, Kasyapa Buddha, who entered a particular samadhi in order to wait for the fourth Buddha of this world, Shakyamuni. However, he stayed in this samadhi well past Shakyamuni's death, and the monk Xuan Zang found him on his way to India. When Xuan Zang found him and aroused him out of his samadhi, he informed him that Shakyamuni had come and gone, so the meditator decided to pass away to assume rebirth again. In all that time, this practitioner had managed to isolate himself from the gross afflictions of the world and remain in samadhi without his body disintegrating for thousands of years, but he had made no further progress in his cultivation attainment while thus absorbed. Hence, this type of prolonged absorption, which is a similar characteristic of the samadhi of no-thought, offers no beneficial progress towards realization at all.

Of course you should not match the description of this stage to the mistaken practice of beginners who try to freeze their minds and totally block thoughts from arising. The suppression of thought will not produce the samadhi of no-thought, but may actually produce a state of unclarity and ignorance which Tsong Khapa warned would lead to rebirth as an animal. This happens because you are suppressing the mind into a kind of forced stupidity.

Unfortunately, many meditation practitioners misunderstand the meaning of cultivation instructions and try to do exactly this. They mistakenly think they should sink their mind into oblivion through pressurized no-thinking, which is their false interpretation of "no mind." This lack of understanding is why it is hard for them to "see the truth" or "see the path."

The samadhi of nothingness, on the other hand, is superior to the samadhi of no-thought. In attaining this state, you have already reached the Formless Realm and are not suppressing consciousness. Chuang Tzu wrote about this samadhi when he wrote of the story of a gigantic fish called kun which cultivates for thousands of years and then miraculously turns into a great bird called peng (jing transforms into chi). Most people take Chuang Tzu's essays as just interesting literature, as they do with the novel The Journey to the West, and so they entirely miss their spiritual cultivation content. For instance, in this story Chuang Tzu was actually explaining the changes in the chi and mai that occur as a result of spiritual cultivation practice.

In Chuang Tzu's story, the kun bird starts flying and eventually arrives at an infinite place of nothingness; this was his description for the samadhi of nothingness. Your first thought upon initially entering this realm is "there is nothing at all," because only nothingness appears to the mind. Yet this is not the stage of real emptiness, which goes to show that emptiness must never be confused with nothingness. Anyway, this is how knowledge works: Chuang Tzu lived in China and was not privy to Buddhist or Hindu cultivation schools, and yet he came up with a similar description for this samadhi which he described through his own literary devices.

Therefore, the key is that if you are still applying some subtle effort, you are still applying consciousness to try and push away thoughts when you attain the samadhi of no-thought, but in the samadhi of nothingness, your consciousness naturally achieves this stage of emptiness. When you attain the samadhi of infinite consciousness, you have eliminated the idea of all thought objects, and you gain liberation from even that realization. You do not have any thoughts of having done something, or having attained liberation or made progress from a lower stage of attainment.

In this samadhi of nothingness, space is not an object of the absorption, and consciousness is not an object of mental absorption either. It is as if you are not taking anything to mind, and so we use the word "nothingness" for lack of better words. Here you view even consciousness as gross, and so you abide in a state of no discrimination; it is as if you attain a realm of having nothing at all.

All these high level samadhi belong to the Realm of Formlessness, and so our words are inadequate when we try to use ordinary Desire Realm language to explain and describe these scenarios. We can only hint at them using our poor literary devices, and this is the best we can do.


The next samadhi is the absorption of neither thought nor no-thought; this is the samadhi that Shakyamuni took three years to master under the guidance of one of his teachers, Master Aratakalama. The very name of this samadhi gives us an excellent clue as to its characteristics.

The first part of the name, "neither thought," means that this stage of samadhi is absent of ordinary mentation. It is a mental realm absent of the thinking and false thoughts of ordinary mental activity. However, the second part of the name, "nor no-thought," does not mean you do not know things and it does not mean you are not aware. It is still a stage where you are able to be aware of everything even though there is no ordinary false thought or thinking.

To better understand what this samadhi entails, we can rephrase its title as the "samadhi without thought and without no-thought." In this way, we can get the proper idea that this realm is absent of ordinary discrimination (it is a stage "without thought") but since discrimination is not totally absent, the second half of its name indicates that it is also "without no-thought."

Some people translate this stage as the samadhi of "neither perception nor nonperception," but this name tends to be misleading. Perhaps its best designation is its title as "The Peak of Cyclic Existence," for it corresponds to rebirth at the highest levels of the Formless Realm where sentient beings have incredibly long life spans with no hints of unpleasantness, and only the subtlest of mental discriminations. Nevertheless, this stage of accomplishment is still subject to the subtle afflictions of the confusions of perceptions and thoughts.

Now how can we understand this state? Shakyamuni, upon attaining this realm, asked whether in the samadhi of neither thought nor no-thought there was still a self. If you say there is a self, then it is not the stage of liberation. If you say there is not a self at this stage, then it should not be called "neither thought nor no-thought." So even though a practitioner reaching this stage can temporarily cause the coarser forms of false thought and affliction to stop, extremely subtle forms of affliction still exist in this state.

The best way to describe this samadhi is through the process of comparison, and so the first question arises, how is this samadhi different from the samadhi of infinite consciousness? The answer is, in the samadhi of infinite consciousness you still have awareness. You are still employing consciousness so you are not yet free of the factor of consciousness. However, in the samadhi without thought and without no-thought, you are not using the evaluative, discriminative functions of consciousness.

You cannot say the samadhi of neither thought nor no-thought is one of emptiness and you cannot say it is an experiential realm of existence, either. In a way, it is akin to the du-yin solitary consciousness where it seems as if the sixth consciousness is there and yet not there, active and yet not active.

There are several analogies we can use to help describe this state. It is like when you are half asleep and half awake, but neither one nor the other. It is also like when you have forgotten where you placed your keys, but you also know where they are. The Tibetan school of Esoteric Buddhism often uses the example of a fine thread to describe this state. When we look for the continuation of an extremely thin thread, sometimes we cannot find it and think it has been severed. However, if we look extremely closely, we can sometimes find the thread even though it is very fine.

Accordingly, this state seems perfectly absent of ordinary discrimination and mentation, but when we look very closely, it still exists there on an extremely subtle level. This level is so subtle, however, that it does not appear as if discrimination really exists at all. It is both there and not there, and so we have neither thought nor absence of thought. We do not have conscious thought and we do not have the state of absolute no-thought.

Another way of explaining this stage is to refer to the particulars of mandala visualization practice. Ordinary people do not normally achieve the proper level of attainment when they practice mandala visualizations, which is the samadhi of infinite consciousness. When practicing visualizations, they usually attain some stage similar to the samadhi of neither thought nor no-thought, whereas the actual goal of visualization practice is to attain the samadhi of infinite consciousness.

It is too bad that even the masters of this school do not instruct their practitioners about this sort of detail. Unfortunately, most people--and we are speaking of only those who attain some success in this type of meditative practice--only reach the level where they forget the mind and body but still retain some awareness of this fact. This is not the actual samadhi of neither thought nor no-thought, although it is similar to this state.

To try and summarize, we can say that the samadhi of limitless space focuses on the aspect of emptiness, the infinite consciousness samadhi focuses on the aspect of existence, and the samadhi of neither thought nor no-thought is somewhere between the two. It is almost as if it is half of one and half of another, which is why we can somewhat compare it to the du-yin scenario of the sixth consciousness.

When ordinary people practice visualizations, they usually feel that they forget their mind and body, yet they are also aware of this fact; their mind is not so clear but they know of this unclarity. As a result, this attainment scenario is similar to the samadhi of neither thought nor no-thought. The real attainment level of visualization practice, on the other hand, should actually be the infinite consciousness samadhi.

Shakyamuni's Experience with the Samadhi of Neither Thought nor No-Thought

While Shakyamuni took three years to attain the state of no-thought, he took another three years to attain the samadhi of neither thought nor no-thought. But after he mastered this high stage, he knew it was not enlightenment, either. The attainment level of the samadhi of neither thought nor no-thought still belongs to the Formless Realm, and thus it is still within the skandha of consciousness.

Being within the domain of consciousness means that if you cultivate properly you can have this attainment, but you will never reach it if you do not cultivate towards it. The fact that it can disappear and no longer be there means it is a phenomenal realm, and so it cannot be the ultimate state. The Real is always and ever-present, it cannot come or go, and so the Real cannot be any type of artificial construction or function of spiritual practice. It must always be genuinely there, and through cultivation practice you just finally awaken to recognize it. That is why we say you "awaken to it." You become enlightened to that original enlightenment that was always there and ever will be there, and thus, it is not a stage of attainment you can create.

Therefore, after achieving all these states, Shakyamuni ultimately abandoned all these advanced meditation realms that people claimed were the absolute stages of salvation because he realized they can all disappear. They were not the fundamental substrate. They were not the fundamental substance or essence we call God or enlightenment or Tao or Brahma or whatever. Since they are all transient states, they are not that ultimate thing--that never changing ground state of being.

Relying on this strong foundation of profound cultivation attainments, Shakyamuni Buddha further applied himself to many other cultivation practices, including six years of extreme ascetic practices in searching for the Tao. It is because he went through all these various attainment levels and practices, which he investigated thoroughly and mastered through and through, that we can use him as our reference for today when on the path of spiritual seeking. It is because of Shakyamuni's complete efforts that we can take his teachings as a guide to our own efforts. In light of Shakyamuni's own efforts, it is laughable to review the number of individuals who presently claim they are enlightened or know the proper way to spiritual salvation when they have not even mastered the first dhyana!

To summarize, we can say that the four dhyana are still involved with the chi and mai as well as form and sensation, and thus they still belong to the skandhas of form and sensation. Many sadhus, monks and sages today reach various meditation realms within the first four skandhas, especially the lowest skandha of form, and mistakenly believe they have reached the ultimate, which they call "nirvikalpa samadhi." It is hard to convince them of their error, which is partly due to strong egos, and partly due to the pollution of views.

No matter what their level of attainment, they think "I am right and you are wrong and I cannot possibly be mistaken; what do you possibly know?" Just witness the stories of many talented worthies in the Zen school who thought they had reached enlightenment upon some lower rung of attainment, and you will realize this often happens. Without a good teacher, it is really hard to correctly climb the spiritual ladder all the way to the end.

On the other hand, some people are more honest with themselves when reaching an incomplete stage of attainment in that they know it, but then they become self-satisfied and complacent in their subsequent spiritual practice, anyway. Since they do not strive further, most never reach a modicum of true enlightenment. In fact, many do not reach enlightenment simply because they lack good teachers, or because it is a very difficult task requiring devoted practice and extraordinary merit. Sometimes their lack of attainment is simply because they lack these relevant teachings.

Looking at the various masters such as the Indians Ramakrishna, Yogananda and Muktananda, we can find these practitioners all attained various realms of samadhi, a degree of kung-fu, and sometimes a bit of prajna wisdom, but not one attained enlightenment. People like to refer to the Chinese monks Hsu Yun and the lesser Han Shan as enlightened, since they were familiar with emptiness and had attained a bit of prajna wisdom, but these monks did not attain the true stage of enlightenment, either.

In the West you find people like Rudolf Steiner and Edgar Cayce who had psychic (clairvoyant) abilities, but they lacked the orthodox samadhi attainments entirely, and were certainly ignorant of prajna wisdom and emptiness. Then you have individuals like Meister Eckhart and Padre Pio who never reached enlightened, either, but only achieved various stages of dhyana attainment. The same goes for countless Biblical prophets; while many indeed attained some degree of samadhi, none had achieved enlightenment.

You also have the founders of various modern religions, spiritual sects or spiritual movements who totally lacked any type of samadhi spiritual attainments, and there are even various groups which try to "elect" individuals into sainthood, which amounts to the mistaken belief that you can actually elect someone into samadhi. Sagehood, as you know, depends upon personal spiritual awakening--it is not attained from another or attained by decree. If people remain deluded, then they remain ordinary humans; if they awaken, then and only then do they become saints and sages, and an election has nothing to do with the process. What does an election into sainthood, which is sometimes a political decision, have to do with this process at all? We could go on and on, but these examples are sufficient to show that attaining enlightenment is not an easy feat, and people have many mistaken notions on the matter.

If your chi mai does not open, you certainly cannot achieve the four dhyana. But if your chi mai all open, can you call it enlightenment? If you open all your chakras, is this the meaning of Tao? The answer to both questions is "no," for these feats rank at the very lowest stages of spiritual attainment, and they do not even equate with seeing the path! Even if you can achieve every dhyana and samadhi, Shakyamuni warned that this is not yet enlightenment because you can still attach to false thought and take it to be what is real. Self-realization is not that simple, for you have to overturn or purify even the skandha of consciousness.

Some people curb their egos and do not go so far as to claim they are enlightened, but they still go around claiming much higher attainments than they actually have. For instance, many think they have attained various dhyana when their chi has become temporarily full because of the good health resulting from spiritual cultivation. Sometimes they even mistake this minor accomplishment, which is not even free of the skandha of form, as the samadhi of infinite consciousness or samadhi of infinite space! It may sound silly after reading all this, but you would be surprised at the number of people who take some small experience and blow it out of proportion.

There are even those who, in reaching the samadhi of infinite consciousness, actually believe they have broken through the skandha of consciousness, so there are many ways by which you can go wrong with your notions. That is why you most often need an enlightened master to guide you on the cultivation path.

For instance, when the novice Japanese Zen monk Hakuin was just beginning to make progress in his cultivation, he attained an initial experience of emptiness that was actually just a minor experiential realm. It was just a minor opening of the sixth consciousness. However, Hakuin firmly believed that his experience was unique in the world, and that no one had ever experienced a stage as high as his, and that he had broken through to ultimate attainment. As he recalled, "My pride rose up like a mighty mountain and my arrogance swelled like a tidal wave." This experience is typical of most practitioners. Even Han Shan was confused at his first little bit of attainment.

Luckily, Hakuin's teacher, Master Dokyo, refused to confirm Hakuin's experience as the Tao, and Hakuin never received any approval from his master for the many other such experiential realms he encountered, one after the other. Each time he made some little progress he repeated the exact same pattern of believing he had broken through to final attainment, and each time his master kept calling him a "poor cave dwelling devil" for making such errors. Thus, a spiritual master is often necessary to prevent you from making such presumptuous mistakes. When we look around us at all the people claiming they are enlightened in order to cheat others, or because they are cheating themselves, we just hang our own heads in sorrow.

When Zen master Hsueh-tou Ch'in was still cultivating, his attitude was a little better than most people for he reached a realm "where everything before my eyes was completely exposed and totally silent and still. For more than half a month, no signs of motion arose." Ch'in later lamented that he did not meet a master with an enlightened eye and skillful technique to break up this realm for him, for he recognized the truth to the saying, "If you do not get free of your perception of truth, it blocks correct perception."

Shakyamuni talked about a variety of possible errors you can make when you reach the higher stages of cultivation, errors that he called the fifty mara demons of delusion. Those deviant paths will certainly appear to tempt you if your attainment reaches high enough. Jesus was tempted, Buddha was tested, Tsogyel was tested, Milarepa was tested ... everyone who sincerely cultivates will be prompted to go down false paths, or succumb to self-deception.

Therefore, we should remember what Shakyamuni told his student Ananda, "Right at this moment, even if you attain the nine samadhi, you still will not end defilements (achieve the extinction of outflows) or achieve the fruits of the Arhats." These states are only the shadow of enlightenment for they still belong to the dust of consciousness. Despite their inconceivable nature, they are not the fruit of self-realization.

The various samadhi are all based on consciousness, meaning they are not the truth itself but just the shadow of the truth. And so, even though they represent an extremely high stage of spiritual achievement, they are just another way for you to deceive yourself if you are not careful. They are simply practice vehicles that help train you, that help you purify your mind so that you might one day see the Tao. However, they are not the Tao itself even though they may be formless stages of attainment.

People who tread the path to enlightenment must always be careful of the deviant paths which veer away from Tao because those who take particular, discrete stages as their cultivation targets (such as specific levels of kung-fu or superpowers), instead of pursing their fundamental essence, end up wasting their time and deviating from the great matter.

It bears repeating why the Zen masters have never followed the approach of progressively leading one through kung-fu and samadhi bit-by-bit, as you might find in India or Tibet, and as we saw with the story of Gampopa. Rather, they have always pointed directly towards bodhi, which is the pure enlightenment mind. The Zen school has always emphasized the imageless attainment of the prajna transcendental wisdom and on this path, a Zen practitioner must pay no attention to the various experiential realms that arise. After all, experiential realms (samaya) are like the weather and the weather, good or bad, always passes. Phenomena will change, the weather will change, and these experiential realms will pass away, so they cannot be considered the ultimate foundational nature that we are seeking.

On the other hand, the Zen masters have also said that attaining bodhi is seeing only the beautiful side of the matter, and is not the whole thing, either. There is also the realm of existence to be understood and mastered. Therefore, you still need to understand all nine samadhi of cultivation, only after which you can say you have finished the whole course and understand both sides of the matter. And not only must you attain the Tao, but in addition to realizing the dharmakaya, you must cultivate the sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya as well.


The ninth samadhi is the attainment stage of the great Arhats, or the Arhat's stage of extinction. It is sometimes called the "nirvana with remainder" (remaining dependency) because it is the highest possible samadhi in the Formless Realm for those who are not Buddhas or Bodhisattvas.

When a great Arhat dies, he or she can show you eighteen different transformations of their body, and even burn it into ashes so that nothing is left. When they are about to leave this world for good, the Arhats sometimes perform this type of miraculous display, which has given rise to the saying, "They reduce their bodies to ashes and extinguish their knowledge."

As an example, Buddha's cousin Ananda reached the stage of an Arhat and at the age of one hundred and twenty, knew he was about to pass away. The kings of two states heard that he would soon die, and hurried to bid him farewell. Knowing that each side would wish to claim his funeral relics, and wishing to prevent any possible disputes, Ananda used his superpowers to raise his body into the air and let it be consumed by the fire element so that both countries could share in his relics (sariras). To encourage faith in the path, this is something the Arhats typically do.

Other people can sometimes demonstrate the same transformations that an Arhat can do even though they have not yet achieved this stage of attainment, so you should not jump to conclusions and believe someone is a great Arhat just because they can exhibit similar feats. In fact, we can say there are two kinds of Arhats. Some Arhats will not even have the same superpower abilities as other Arhats, who do choose to cultivate them, because they only focus on prajna wisdom in their cultivation and do not go out of their way to cultivate the physical supernormal abilities. Of course, a genuine Arhat will have the normal cultivation kung-fu and the attendant superpowers that go along with his or her stage of attainment, but not necessarily those powers that represent the great transformational abilities of the basis.

Let's put it this way. Even if you attain enlightenment, you will not immediately have the ability to fly through the air or walk through walls unless you can also transform your physical body, which is why you must achieve the sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya bodies in addition to the dharmakaya. With great wisdom you can see the dharmakaya and awaken, but your physical nature still needs time to undergo transformation. Some Arhats just cultivate wisdom rather than their physical nature, and so they may lack the ability to display various physical superpowers. They will just be able to remain clear in all situations, let go of their old habits, and not be tied down by name or fortune, but their clarity of emptiness, prajna and seeing the world as an illusion will not necessarily produce the kung-fu of supernormal physical abilities unless they so cultivate them.

As you can thus, surmise, it becomes very difficult to judge someone's stage of cultivation attainment from just the outward display of the paranormal phenomena they can demonstrate. That is why we have the stories of various Hindu and Tibetan masters challenging one another, for the ignorant master with lower achievements usually knew nothing of the superior one's sublime achievements. Because of ego and pride, which demonstrates their inferior status, they challenged their betters, whom they perceived as lacking superpowers altogether. For instance, when the Taoist Immortal Lu Ch'un-yang met the enlightened Zen master Huang-lung Nan, he could not tell that the master was anything other than an ordinary monk!

In general, human beings are most impressed by tales of siddhi powers and external kung-fu, and totally ignore the invisible but much higher accomplishment of prajna wisdom. In making the mistake of judging only what they can see, humans end up grouping the high with the low and the low with the high. Thus, it is said that a second degree Bodhisattva understands all the kung-fu of a first degree Bodhisattva, but the first degree Bodhisattva can understand little about the cultivation stages of those higher than himself.

In general, the higher always understand the lower, but the lower have no comprehension of the higher until they actually reach that stage. This is not surprising. If we look at children, we can say that they certainly do not understand their parents. And yet when they reach adulthood, as mature individuals they finally realize what their parents were talking about and why they acted the way they did. As they get older they pass through all these stages of maturity that their parents passed through, but before that time, they cannot understand them.

If we go back to those who can perform the eighteen transformations of an Arhat, it is a definite fact that their chi mai must already be open for them to be able to control the fire element of the body. But now an important question arises: if you open up all your chi mai, will you necessarily have superpowers like this? No, not necessarily.

As we mentioned, some great Arhats practice to get superpowers and so obtain them, while others practice for prajna wisdom and, due to their lack of efforts, do not obtain any such superpowers at all. You can cultivate just transcendental wisdom, or wisdom and phenomena. Thus, there are two types of cases even for this advanced state. This is how difficult it is to judge matters from the external perspective, which is why behavior and transcendental wisdom are proper measuring sticks for attainment.

With this in mind, you can see how it is hard for the public to distinguish between great men like Confucius, who never exhibited any superpowers at all, and adepts like Milarepa, who exhibited supernatural transformations in abundance. We cannot say for sure that Confucius did not attain superpowers through his cultivation, for he might have attained them and refused to use them out of discipline. After all, Confucius knew of the world of ghosts and spirits, but refused to talk of spiritual beings and unnatural phenomena. In fact, when one of his students asked how we should serve the spirits of the dead and spirits of heaven, Confucius rebuked him by replying, "You cannot even serve humans, so how can you serve the spirits?" If you are trying to establish a spiritual path for humanity, it is best to leave such topics alone.

Confucius said this because his goal was to teach people what it really meant to be human in the world, and this certainly does not involve superpowers and the paranormal. For his message and goal, to talk about siddhis would have muddled and polluted this great deed. Therefore, Confucius did not teach the path of cultivating chi channels and chakras and samadhi, but taught the path of virtue, behavior and knowing the mind as a means to Tao. As to Milarepa, we know that he cultivated his body greatly, and so his superpowers were quite strong.

The Confucian Wang Yang-Ming wrote that he himself developed various superpowers and played with them for awhile, but he later discarded this fascination after he realized this path was useless and did not amount to much of anything. There is evidence from Plato's dialogues that Socrates had also attained superpowers, such as being able to foretell the future, but he also practiced restraint in their use. Like Confucius, he taught what it meant to be human in the world, and paranormal abilities play no part in this sort of discussion. Wisdom and behavior are much more important. So as can be seen, it gets very tricky in ranking people and their stage of cultivation accomplishments.

Nevertheless, when Arhats are ready to leave this world, it is common for them to display their superpowers that they may have kept hidden throughout their lives. It is at this point that they rise into the air and demonstrate these various transformations, saying something along the lines of,

My life in this world is over.
My practice and conduct have been established.
My task is done, I have paid off all my karmic debts.
I will never need come back again.

In actuality, we cannot say the Arhats have entirely escaped the Three Realms of Desire, Form, and Formlessness because their cultivation has only earned them a very long respite from the cycle of transmigration. They have reached a stage of selflessness, but they have not freed themselves from the pull of transmigration entirely.

After an extraordinary large number of kalpas, indicated by the symbolic number of 84,000 eons, they will use up their merit and will need to return to the lower realms to start cultivating again. Thus, we can only consider their escape a type of very long vacation. Time means nothing in the ultimate sense, since it is relative in the various realms of existence, so we cannot really say this is a "long" vacation either. In one sense, you can say that it is over in the time of a finger snap, or from the standpoint of the Tao, conventional existence is no existence at all.

Even the Bodhisattvas cannot escape the Three Realms, for there is no other Fourth Realm where they can go. You can only learn how to control the process of transmigration, and choose where you are going to go and what you are going to do next within the Three Realms. That is why Bodhisattvas make their vows and then continue to go about exercising their enlightened functioning in the world.

For instance, many Bodhisattvas continue returning to our lower realm, rather than stay in the more pleasant heavens, to help banish suffering in our world through transmitting spiritual teachings that will lead people onwards to spiritual liberation and enlightenment. Thus, they return to our painful world of suffering to help us while cultivating ever increasing levels of prajna wisdom, merit, and skillful means. Since there is no way to escape the Three Realms, and no security for even the tiniest moment, they spend their time working to master skillful deeds throughout the Desire, Form and Formlessness Realms. They continually work on purifying all their behavioral seeds while helping to liberate others and mastering all sorts of excellences. This is how they express the enlightened functioning of the Tao.

The Zen school says the Arhats, in their desire to escape the world, only focus on one side of the matter--the emptiness side of Tao. In their cultivation, they still hold onto the view of emptiness so strongly that they miss the fact that emptiness can give rise to the wondrous side of existence, and they shun conventional reality. While their attainment stage is a nirvana, it is called "nirvana with remainder" because it is not the pure nirvana of the Buddhas, which has totally finished with the control of birth and death.

We therefore say that the nirvana realm of the Arhats is "fractional" because it lacks the immeasurable purity and totality of inconceivable merit that accompanies the nirvana realm of the Buddhas. The Arhats at this stage still retain the extremely subtle habit of clinging to emptiness, and this is their "remainder." It represents subtle tendencies, subtle habits of clinging that they have not yet gotten rid of. Therefore it is an imperfection to the complete cultivation of the Tao.

Since Arhats lack the highest merit of complete enlightenment, they still retain subtle defilements that will eventually require their rebirth. On the other hand, even though the Buddhas have finished with birth and death, out of choice they keep entering the world of form to save beings and eliminate their sufferings instead of taking long vacations in pleasant realms. This, of course, is what makes them Buddhas rather than Arhats who seek seclusion or who worry about only their own enlightenment.

The Buddhas not only know the emptiness aspect of Reality, but they become fully functional in the aspect of wondrous existence and do not shun it. They know the Middle Way of functioning in both realms simultaneously without abiding in either, so they are not attracted nor repelled by either extreme. Yet, since becoming involved in the Three Realms is the exercise of compassion, they enter these realms fearlessly to save as many beings as they can.

In Esoteric Buddhist practice, most people follow the Hinayana approach of cultivating to achieve the basic four dhyana and four formless samadhi. Although they may then become able to escape the Realm of Desire and achieve rebirth in the Realms of Form or Formlessness, and although they might be reincarnated in the high stage Buddha realms, the most we can say is that they have escaped from this world.

The Zen school calls these adepts "half-baked" because while they have escaped from this world to dwell in higher planes of existence, they have not achieved the whole dharma. Thus, they are only "half done," from which comes the terms "half-baked," "fractional," or "with remainder." When they finally cultivate their wisdom high enough to realize that there is nothing to separate themselves from, and therefore nothing to avoid, then we can say they have totally abandoned their delusions. Of course, after that realization and the fact that they vow to work in the realm of cyclical existence for the sake of all beings, only then will we be able to call them Bodhisattvas or Buddhas.


Esoteric Buddhism is famous for the displays of various samadhi powers. All the great masters of Esoteric Buddhism, whether they were from the Red, Yellow or other sects, followed a strict regimen of cultivation to reach their stage of spiritual attainment. The reason they were able to attain great levels of kung-fu was because they mastered various samadhi. Of course, whether they could achieve the ninth samadhi of the Arhats, or complete enlightenment beyond even that, is another matter entirely, but for now we must re-emphasize that the eight lower concentrations are commonly shared by all genuine cultivation schools.

When heavenly beings, demons, asuras or animals spiritually cultivate, they also follow the general principles and order of the eight samadhi; there is no way to avoid them on the proper road of spiritual practice. These are, in actuality, the various templates of spiritual practice. You must therefore understand these stages of attainment to comprehend either your own or another's meditative progress on the spiritual path.

In terms of basic physical cultivation kung-fu, in addition to trying to master the various samadhi, it is also correct to say that you cannot get away from the fundamental basics of "cultivating your chi and mai" on the spiritual road, which actually means "transforming your chi and mai."

But if you actively set out to cultivate the chi, the mai, chakras, bright points and kundalini, the very best you could ever hope to do
is to arrive at the third dhyana.

If through your cultivation efforts you can achieve the first and second dhyana, it is certain that your chi and mai will have already been transformed and your kundalini already initiated. Nevertheless, achieving the first and second dhyana is no guarantee that you will be able to arrive at the third dhyana.

The third dhyana is still involved with the physical bliss of physical form, so any sort of materialistic cultivation can, at the utmost, only take you as far as this stage of cultivation, if at all. This is an extremely important point to consider in your cultivation practice, and a reason why most practitioners of the Esoteric school fail in their cultivation practice.

It would be terrible to waste your time and efforts targeting yourself at just this incomplete degree of attainment. Hence one should not devote themselves to cultivating the physical body, but should aim for mental attainments instead. And if one shoots for mental attainments, they will certainly end up cultivating their physical nature, but they will not be able to totally abolish disease unless they reach the realm of the third dhyana.

Now before we return to discuss the five skandhas in detail as a means of measuring your stage of spiritual achievement, we should once again review the stories of Han Shan on Wu Tai Mountain, and the Taiwanese master Guang Qin. With what we already know, we must ask ourselves what samadhi these individuals had achieved?

For instance, if you sit in meditation yourself, and a certain amount of time goes by without your knowing it, and you can only be aroused from your samadhi by the sound of a bell--is this the samadhi of no-thought, the samadhi of nothingness, or the samadhi of drowsiness?

A related question is the following: When you reach a state in which you know nothing, are you actually in a state of samadhi and if so, which samadhi? Is it correct to say that the goal of spiritual cultivation is to reach the state in which you know nothing? As to the story of Hui-yuan's dharma brother, who remained in samadhi for so long that a tree grew up around him, what type of samadhi was this … and if you can personally attain this type of samadhi, can we accurately say that your chi mai are all open?

To answer at least one question straight off the bat, if your chi mai are not open then it is difficult to sleep for even twenty-four hours straight, so a person's chi mai must be open if they are able to remain in samadhi for several hundred years! But what about the type of situation where you do not have to eat for a week--are your chi mai all opened in this situation? And as to the term we sometimes find in Chinese called the "samadhi of drowsiness," if you are drowsy then you cannot be in samadhi, so why do people use this term and call it a "samadhi"?

Also, is it physically possible for a person to be so drowsy that they will actually sleep for several continuous days, which is in some ways similar to sitting in continuous samadhi? In fact, modern medicine does recognize certain sleeping diseases where you can actually sleep yourself to death. In these cases, you will sleep until you die. So when we come across the term, "samadhi of drowsiness," it does not mean the samadhi of cultivation. Rather, it is just a literary term and title.

Sitting in meditation cannot be considered samadhi, either, because "sitting practice" is just maintaining a special posture for a fixed period of time in order that you can thereby better reach an experiential realm of samadhi. If your body becomes calm and no longer bothers you, we also colloquially call this "body samadhi." Doing sitting practice is just a way, or just a means of practice, to help you achieve mental samadhi but the practice of sitting itself is not samadhi. This is what Zen master Huai-jang told his student Ma-tsu. If sitting in meditation were samadhi, we would all simply sit down and then experience all these great experiential realms. But who does?

All these issues have to be solved, and they are all very serious issues regarding the cultivation of samadhi, prajna wisdom, and discipline. To start, we can say that if knowing nothing is samadhi, then all the rocks in a quarry are also in samadhi. In fact, if knowing nothing constitutes samadhi, then all these rocks would be at a higher stage of cultivation attainment than we are! If you simply eat the right pills today, you can also get to the state where you do not have to eat for a week either, so we can dismiss these two misconceptions as the samadhi of true cultivation attainment.

As mentioned previously, there are actually several scenarios where you do not know what is going on because your thoughts are arrested, and you can reach a state of mindlessness in these states of deep sleep, unconsciousness, the samadhi of no-thought, the heaven of no-thought, the samadhi of extinction, and the stage of complete nirvana. Does Buddhism recognize these various stages? Of course, but the question is, what type of experiential realm do they really represent?

If you want to cultivate toward self-realization, the eight samadhi are the standard means for approaching the path. This is the case no matter which particular spiritual school you follow. This is why, in fact, the eight samadhi are called "common spiritual methods" or common levels of cultivation attainment--the higher gods and lower animals all cultivate these very same realms. But if you do not understand the theory behind these meditative stages, it is very easy to take the route of outside paths that do not lead to enlightenment.

This is precisely why most yogis fall short of the Tao. Lacking the proper teachings entirely, Western monks, nuns, priests, reverends, rabbis and mullahs are in even worse shape despite their spiritual hopes and aspirations. They are in worse shape because they do not know the proper spiritual teachings and practices, and hence they tend to go astray in their spiritual practice. This is why to learn the path to Tao, most everyone of spiritual attainment in the past ended up going to learn from the East.

What is the meaning of the "outside paths" of cultivation? The term "outside path" does not refer to the fact that a path is outside of Buddhism. Buddhism itself, for instance, is considered an outside path of the Vedas. Rather,

an "outside path" means a cultivation path wherein you are searching for dharma, but you are searching for enlightenment outside the mind.

You will never find Enlightenment searching outside of the mind, which is why an outside path is a deviant road of practice. As to the paths we refer to as "the devil's Tao,"

the "devil roads" are cultivation pathways where you remain confused and ignorant, pathways wherein you cannot master yourself.

Even though they are being adulated today, shamanic trances and hypnotic states are examples that fall into this category of spiritual deviation. These roads seem to have great appeal today, especially to academics trying to do research and write papers, but they are actually experiential realms where you are not in control of the mind, and they do not ever lead to spiritual enlightenment or any of the dhyana. They are not the path of Tao in any way, shape or form.

You can therefore understand that the cultivation practice of psychics who fall into trances, such as Edgar Cayce, are considered "outside paths" even though du-yin type abilities have sometimes provided the world with useful information. These are not genuine pathways of spiritual cultivation because they are not pathways to self-realization, and so they do not constitute proper pathways of spiritual practice! In a sense you can simply call them deviant practices. People may desire these things, but they are lusting after the wrong targets.

While the material offered by shamans and those who fall into trances or "channel" information to us may actually at times be quite useful, it is actually a crime to call these "pathways of spiritual cultivation." When people cultivate to have an OOBE (out-of-the body-experience) through astral projection, this is not the pathway of spiritual cultivation, either. In fact, this popular practice of trying to have an "astral projection" is quite harmful because it tends to destabilize the individual and can lead to rebirth as a wandering ghost or asura! The people who attain these abilities only know of this one life, and they do not see the long term consequences of this sort of misguided practice.

Ordinary individuals do not understand these issues clearly due to their own lack of cultivation attainment, so they are easily misled. It is difficult to understand the nature of the du-yin side of the sixth consciousness, but the ability to project the mind out of the body is actually an achievement on the borderline between sanity and mental illness. Why would you want to cultivate such a thing? Chasing after auras, hypnotic regressions, superpowers, channeling, trances, trying to open chakras--we could go on and on citing various mistaken practices. The point is, none of these practices constitute the true cultivation path, or a true spiritual path. They are all just tumors of the genuine spiritual traditions.


In explaining all these matters we have tended to rely on Buddhism as a guide, but you must understand that this particular book is not intended to venerate Buddhism or fixate upon Buddhism. It is simply that in trying to discuss the great topic of spiritual cultivation, we need to use the most scientific explanations possible that are found within Buddhism alone. This goal means we have had to rely on Buddhism--or the Tao school, or Indian yoga, or the Esoteric school and other schools whenever appropriate--because of the wonderfully organized, rational and scientific structures it provides for cultivation practitioners.

No cultivation school truly offers as much as Buddhism does in terms of elucidating the great transformational path to enlightenment, and revealing the robust internal logic of the path. But for some reason, people tend to confuse the main concerns of Buddhist science--the cultivation of samadhi, prajna wisdom, virtue, discipline and merit--with minor academic footnotes such as the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path, which they mistakenly take as its main teachings.

Buddhism is actually the science of enlightenment, rather than some ordinary dogmatic religion. It is a central teaching school of human being science, the science of life. It tells of many self-cultivation practices, but asks you to prove everything yourself and accept nothing on faith which is why it does not fear attack on Buddhist teachings. As Shakyamuni Buddha said:

Do not believe on the strength of traditions even if they have been held in honor for many generations and in many places; do not believe anything because many people speak of it; do not believe on the strength of sagas of old times; do not believe that which you have imagined yourself, thinking a god has inspired you. Believe nothing that depends only on the authority of your masters or of priests. After investigation, believe that which you yourself have tested and found reasonable, and which is for your good and that of others.

Buddha also said:

Monks and scholars should examine my words,
In the way that a goldsmith tests gold by burning it, cutting it and rubbing it.
Only then should my words be accepted,
But not out of respect for me.

Therefore, do not be swayed when you see the word "Buddhism" in this text and take our words as the promotion of some ancient Asian religion. One should look past the religious aspect of the matter and simply regard "Buddhism" as an alternative term for "cultivation science" or "being human science." The way we use the term is in reference to an already existing, rationally organized, scientifically structured path for guiding spiritual cultivation practice.

Other people may have stamped the Buddhist body of knowledge with the title of "religion," but that is not how we are using the material. The true gist of Shakyamuni's teachings are absent of any religious overtones, and are more akin to science than anything else. In fact, the rational, scientific format that Shakyamuni constructed out of the practices of his time, and out of the teachings of other Buddhas, is the reason it is very appropriate for our modern world. Our modern times crave a body of logic and scientific approach behind the outcomes of spiritual cultivation and the stages of the spiritual path.

We have seen how Buddhism likes to say that there are 84,000 mental afflictions you can fall into, and so there are 84,000 "trouble samadhi" you can cultivate to counter these afflictions. But we should really call an experiential realm a samadhi only if it is the result of a refined practice that cultivates one to purification. For example, you can practice the visualization of the water element, and if you succeed, your body will disappear and the whole room where you are sitting will fill with water in its place. In the spiritual cultivation practice of fire visualization, when you succeed the room will be filled with a pillar of fire in place of your body, though sometimes you can still see the shadow of the person still sitting there.

Since both these cases are the results of a refined cultivation practice and the attainment of one-pointed concentration, we can properly say that this is attaining the water element samadhi or fire element samadhi, respectively. But to label ordinary afflictions as samadhi, even though it is quite accurate in one sense, is also misleading in another. During afflictions the mind is extremely scattered and chaotic, but even when we attain a very stable mental state, it still may not be true samadhi. To understand what samadhi is not, you have to go and study the Yogacarabhumi Sastra, which talks of the twelve realms that are not samadhi.

Of course, the fire samadhi attainment we speak of here is quite different than the kundalini fire. In addition, if you practice zazen sitting meditation and feel that a certain part of your body becomes hot, that is neither the fire samadhi nor kundalini either. Chinese medicine calls this phenomenon "steaming the bone" because it indicates a type of fever, infection or even friction inside the physical body, but it certainly is not the samadhi of the tumo fire.

In actual fact, kundalini is not hot, but is just a feeling of blissful warmth. What people normally mistake for kundalini are the initial frictional stages of clearing the chi mai, which Maitreya called the "Big Knife Wind," and this frictional stage is often why the Tibetans refer to kundalini as the "Fierce Woman" to denote the yin nature of this chi purification. So even when "samadhi" is a seemingly appropriate term, we still have to be careful of its usage.

As we previously covered, kundalini actually belongs to the "warming" stage of prayoga which occurs far before you can actually "see the path," and all eight samadhi and every level of attainment also have their own warming stages since they can all be partitioned into the four stages of prayoga. Thus, the eight basic samadhi are each like a soup containing many ingredients. You cannot say that the ingredients are the soup, but you cannot have the soup without all these ingredients. Basically, every samadhi and every stage of Bodhisattva attainment has the four prayoga within them.

The four dhyana and four formless absorptions also each have a stage of generation and completion which we can use to characterize these realms, or we can use the four prayoga. This is why the Bodhisattva Maitreya emphasized the importance of prayoga in an individual's cultivation practice; even in talking about samadhi, its development can be broken into stages.

Of the eight samadhi, the first four dhyana are heavily involved with the form and feeling skandhas, although of course the fourth dhyana is treading into the realm of the conception aggregate. The four formless samadhi have a more spiritual or nonmaterial focus even though they are still related to the physical nature. If you can attain these four formless samadhi absorptions, your chi and mai must already have been purified to a certain degree, but in the formless absorptions we do not talk much about this type of physical kung-fu anymore because you have attained to a formless realm.

For instance, when you are in the samadhi of nothingness, how can you possibly talk about the chi and mai anymore? What does the body have to do with the samadhi of nothingness or infinite space? We do not focus on our material body when we get to the four formless absorptions, but we know its cultivation must be a prerequisite to get to this stage.

As to Han Shan and the famous monk Hsu Yun, they are reported to have stayed in samadhi for ten or twenty days at a time, but when they came out of it they had forgotten everything for a short while. There are many Indian yogis who can remain in samadhi for extended periods as well, so we know it is an attainment that runs across all the various spiritual schools. Sometimes, when you immediately come out of this type of stage you cannot even recognize the people you know anymore. If samadhi entails remaining aware, how can we explain this?

To be exact, which may offend some people who feel these two are some of the spiritual giants of Buddhism, neither the case of the lesser Han Shan nor Hsu Yun can be categorized as a case of true samadhi. Rather, Han Shan's example of remaining in samadhi for several days, and then not remembering anything when coming out of it, is a combination of drowsiness and the samadhi of no-thought. But to be able to really understand this explanation, you must not only master the theory of the five skandhas in intricate detail, but must master the schools of Yogacara (the school of Mind-only), Madhyamika (the school of the Middle Way) and Prajnaparamita (the school of Prajna Great Transcendental Wisdom). Otherwise, you will not be able to comprehend these matters at all.

There is a great importance to studying these various schools, and it is not just because of academic purposes. Some people, for instance, think that Yogacara is just a type of academic or theoretical philosophy, but this is quite mistaken. Without understanding these schools and the five skandhas, you will not be able to distinguish between the various ranks of meditation accomplishment, nor will you be qualified to form your own analysis of someone's meditative achievements, either.

If we want to understand Master Han Shan's situation, we can turn to the story of the Iron Ox master Tieh Nieu, who was very diligent in his practice. One day, however, he fell asleep in the Zen meditation hall, which was against the temple rules. The master of the temple, Hseuh Yen Ching, knew this student had finally reached some stage of attainment and so the master said, "You know you have violated the discipline of the Zen hall by sleeping during practice, and therefore must be punished. What is your excuse?" The disciple's reply, from which he got his name, was this:

The iron ox has no strength and stops tilling the field.
He just lies down and sleeps in the snow with rope and plow.
The great earth is entirely covered with white silver in all directions.
Where can you hit me with your golden whip?

In Master Han Shan's case, we find the drowsiness element involved because he could not remember anything, he could not stay aware. But even if you still can remember everything after you remain seated in meditation for several days, does it automatically qualify as samadhi? The answer is also "no," because this result can simply come from concentration without samadhi. As you can see, unraveling these various quandaries is a complicated affair, and it is not something we can trust to nonpracticing scholars or the uninitiated.

Orthodox Buddhism has a relevant story about a king who once conducted an experiment on concentration. Shakyamuni Buddha had said, "If you are able to concentrate your mind and put it on one thing, there is nothing you will not be able to accomplish." To test this, the king selected a prisoner who was about to be executed and told him that they were going to put an oil wick lamp on top of his head. If the condemned man could keep it on his head for three days and nights without falling off, the king would pardon him of the death penalty for his crimes. With his life at stake, the man put all his effort into maintaining his attention and succeeded in the challenge, proving that Buddha was correct. But was this the samadhi of spiritual cultivation? Of course not!

In China's Qing dynasty, the Emperor Yongzheng, who had achieved a degree of Zen enlightenment, once ordered a talented monk to lock himself in a room and commit suicide if he did not attain enlightenment within seven days' time. Pressured by the threat of death, the monk finally put all his efforts into practice and succeeded in awakening. Here we have extreme concentration resulting in some form of spiritual breakthrough. Like the case of the condemned prisoner, we must attribute this accomplishment not just to the practitioner, but to the skillful and compassionate means of the Emperor. Only in this case the monk awakened, whereas in the other the prisoner simply cultivated concentration.

However interesting these stories may sound, they are not good examples of cultivation samadhi. For instance, the prisoner's case is the samadhi of ordinary concentration rather than the samadhi of prajna wisdom insight achieved through spiritual self-cultivation. It is a good example to illustrate the topic of kung-fu, such as the concentration states achieved by Olympic athletes, but these states do not qualify as prajna samadhi, either. In fact, anyone who tries hard enough and trains consistently can achieve this sort of concentration and the concordant resultant special kung-fu. The reason is because attaining kung-fu results from a simple equation:

Method + Practice Effort + Time + Experience = Kung-fu Results

This is the scientific process behind training professional athletes, solving complicated problems, discovering scientific breakthroughs, and cultivating any type of special skills at all. If you take ice skating or bicycle riding as an example, someone teaches you the basic method, you put in the practice efforts, you fall several times but keep trying, and with experience and time you finally master the skill. Therefore attaining kung-fu is not anything special, and the worldly concentration we can often achieve certainly is not in the same class as the prajna wisdom samadhi leading to enlightenment.

The contemporary Zen master Nan Huai-Chin once played with the "stupid emptiness" or "stubborn fool emptiness" samadhi in order to investigate it, for it is not the samadhi of no-thought nor the samadhi of infinite emptiness. When he left this particular realm three weeks later, he picked up a pen but could not remember how to write, but after about five days he gradually returned to normal again. Hence, from this example we can know that our memory is neither a permanent or impermanent thing.

Modern science says that your mind will atrophy if you do not or cannot use certain parts of it, just as not using your muscles will cause them to weaken. The Tibetan school has issued a similar warning in that practicing any samadhi which cultivates dullness means you will risk being reborn as an animal. But you should not be scared away from meditation because you fear you might fall into this type of samadhi, for if you could really achieve this state, people should bow down before you because that is how difficult it is to achieve.

People adopt all sorts of reasons to excuse themselves from cultivating or as the Hindus say, from "devoting some time to God." To refuse to start cultivating or refuse to finish your spiritual practice because you are afraid of achieving a very high, although incorrect practice, is foolishness indeed. The important point is to start upon the road of disciplined meditation practices that will lead to samadhi attainment, for they are the crux of spiritual achievement. They are one more way in which you can measure your stage of spiritual development.

Frankly speaking, meditation is the core of the spiritual path, regardless of the religion one follows, and without any sort of samadhi attainment, it is hard to say that someone has any stage of spiritual achievement at all.

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For more information on these various states of spiritual attainment, please see:

Working Toward Enlightenment (out of print)
Huai-Chin Nan, trans. by J.C. Cleary
Samuel Weiser, York Beach: Maine, 1993.

To Realize Enlightenment (out of print)
Huai-Chin Nan, trans. by J.C. Cleary
Samuel Weiser, York Beach: Maine, 1994.

Meditative States in Tibetan Buddhism: The Concentrations and Formless Absorptions
Lati & Locho Rinbochay, Zahler & Hopkins
Wisdom Publications, London, 1983.

The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation
Mahathera Henepola Gunaratana
Buddhist Publication Society, Sri Lanka, 1988.

Copyright (c) 2005 William Bodri

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