Kanjin Honzon-shō begins with a discussion of Buddhist meditation practice that derives from T’ien-t’ai Chih-i’s (538-597) masterwork the Great Concentration and Insight. In order to better understand what Nichiren is talking about, I think it is crucial to survey what Chih-i taught about meditation, not only in Great Concentration and Insight but also in his other works.

Genuine Buddhist meditation practice consists of two elements. In Sanskrit these are śamatha and vipaśyanā. The first term can be translated as “concentration” (if one wishes to emphasize method) or “tranquility” (to emphasize the intended outcome of the method). Likewise, the second term can be translated as “contemplation” (to emphasize method) or “insight” (to emphasize the intended outcome). The concentration element of practice involves the cultivation of a state of meditative absorption called dhyāna in Sanskrit. In China, dhyāna is transliterated as ch’an, and in Japan, it is transliterated as zen. There are actually four of these states that I’ll discuss below. The outcome of attaining these states is a one-pointed concentration of mind that is called samādhi. The insight that is gained from directly contemplating the interdependent flow of phenomena with such a clear and concentrated mind leads to the perfection of prajñā or wisdom. The Zen tradition uses the term zen to connote both samādhi and prajñā, but Chih-i felt that using that term alone would put too much emphasis on stillness and quiet so he always spoke of śamatha and vipaśyana, so that the stillness of tranquility and the dynamism of insight would receive equal emphasis.

Three Approaches to Concentration and Insight

In the preface to Great Concentration and Insight, Chih-i’s disciple Kuan-ting (561-632; aka Chang-an) states that his master taught three approaches to the practice of concentration and insight: the gradual and sequential, the variable, and the perfect and sudden. Each is Mahāyāna in motivation and takes ultimate reality as the object of contemplation. They are different in that the some people require a step-by-step approach to practice beginning with receiving the precepts, then proceeding successively to develop concentration, contemplation, liberation from defilements, compassionately striving to liberate others, and finally attaining insight into the true nature of reality. The variable approach is when one uses whatever method is most effective regardless of whether it is from an earlier or later stage of practice. The variable approach also recognizes that different methods may work in different ways, for instance sometimes a concentration practice can lead to insight and sometimes a contemplation practice can lead to tranquility. The variable approach is for those who realize that the path is not necessarily linear and that one must be flexible and pragmatic when it comes to applying the many methods set forth in the more basic gradual and sequential approach. The perfect and sudden approach to concentration and insight recognizes that every stage of practice can lead directly to insight into the real nature of phenomena characterized as empty of an underlying substance, yet provisionally existent in terms of causes and conditions, and always exemplifying the Middle Way that is neither nihilistic emptiness nor substantial existence.  In the perfect and sudden approach one stage contains all stages and one method fulfills all methods because all phenomena contain all other phenomena and every phenomena exemplifies the real nature. Here is an excerpt (one that is still chanted by Tendai and Nichiren clergy to this day) from Kuan-ting’s preface that sets forth the sudden and perfect approach:

“The perfect and sudden tranquility and insight from the very beginning takes ultimate reality as its object. No matter what the object of insight might be, it is seen to be identical to the middle. There is here nothing that is not true reality. When one fixes [the mind] on the Dharma-realm [as object] and unifies one’s mindfulness with the Dharma-realm [as it is], then there is not a single sight nor smell that is not the Middle Way. The same goes for the realm of self, the realm of Buddha, and the realm of living beings. Since all aggregates and sense bases [of body and mind] are thusness, there is no suffering to be cast away. Since ignorance and the defilements are themselves identical with enlightenment, there is no origin of suffering to be eradicated. Since the two extreme views are the Middle Way and false views are the right view, there is no path to be cultivated. Since samsara is identical with Nirvāna, there is no cessation to be achieved. Because of the [intrinsic] inexistence of suffering and its origin, the mundane does not exist; because of the inexistence of the path and cessation, the supramundane does not exist. A single, unalloyed reality is all there is – no entities whatever exist outside of it. That all entities are by nature quiescent is called “tranquility”; that, though quiescent, this nature is ever luminous, is called “insight.” Though a verbal distinction is made between earlier and later stages of practice, there is ultimately no duality, no distinction between them. This is what is called the “perfect and sudden tranquility and insight.”[1]

Further on in his preface, Kuan-ting identifies a particular work of Chih-i with each of these three approaches. On the Gradual Approach to Dhyāna explains the gradual approach, Six Wondrous Dharma Gates explains the variable approach, and Great Concentration and Insight explains the perfect and sudden approach. There is also a fourth text called Essentials for Practicing Concentration and Insight and Dhyāna, that is supposedly a short and practical summary of Great Concentration and Insight, but that text may be more of a summary of On the Gradual Approach to Dhyāna. Certainly all three texts take for granted the basic techniques that are presented in the Essentials. I will now try to present an overview of Chih-i’s teachings regarding meditation as drawn from the above works (except On the Gradual Approach to Dhyāna that has not been translated into English). Of course, my treatment here can be no more than cursory.

Bodhicitta: The Awakening Mind

Before anything else, in the Great Concentration and Insight, Chih-i discusses the “awakening mind” (S. bodhicitta) that is the aspiration to attain awakening for oneself and others. As Chih-i puts it one should “seek buddhahood above and save sentient beings that are below.” He rejects all those forms of motivation for practice that have only worldly benefit or that only seek liberation for oneself (as do those who follow the two vehicles of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas). He goes over the many ways in which one can be inspired to arouse the thought of awakening for the sake of all beings, particularly through hearing and understanding the four noble truths (understood in increasingly refined ways up to and including what Chih-i considered the Buddha’s “perfect” teachings as found in the Lotus Sūtra). He also discusses how the four great vows of the bodhisattvas taken from the Bodhisattva Practice Jeweled Necklace Sūtra (probably composed in China in the late 5th century) that are still a part of East Asian Buddhist ceremonies to this day can arouse and express the aspiration for awakening. The English liturgy book called Dharma used by the Nichiren Shū translates them as follows:

Sentient beings are innumerable:

I vow to save them all.

Our defilements are inexhaustible:

I vow to quench them all.

The Buddha’s teachings are immeasurable:

I vow to know them all.

The Way of the Buddha is unexcelled:

I vow to attain the Path Sublime.

Chih-i also discusses the awakening mind in terms of its development through six stages of identification with buddhahood. In the first stage one has identity in principle with the buddha due to the universality of buddha-nature, but one does not yet suspect that this is so. Next one hears the teaching and there is identity in name as one gains a second-hand understanding of the Dharma. Then comes identity in contemplative practice as one begins to take up the practice of concentration and insight.  This practice leads to identity in outer appearance as one’s conduct begins to conform to those of the buddhas. One further develops through continual practice and deepening aspiration and attains identity in partial realization. The process culminates in ultimate identity as there comes about the complete identification and ability to function as a buddha and awakening mind is fulfilled. Chih-i explains that it is important to have faith that throughout the process there is identification with buddhahood; and yet one must also have the wisdom to discern that there are stages so that one must be humble and strive to progress to ultimate identity. In this way one’s awakening mind can lead one from the very first glimmer of aspiration all the way to actualization of perfect and complete awakening. With both faith and wisdom one’s aspiration will progress correctly. In Chih-i’s words:

If wisdom and faith are both present, then when one hears that any single instant of thought is itself the right [thought of enlightenment], one’s faith will prevent one from disparaging [this teaching], while one’s wisdom will prevent one from fearing it. In this case the beginning and the end will both be “right.” But if one lacks faith, one will think of the saintly realms as so lofty and far-removed that one has no stake in their wisdom, while if one lacks wisdom, one will become exceedingly arrogant, declaring oneself to be the equal of the Buddha. Under such circumstances, beginning and end will both be in error. (Donner & Stevenson, pp. 207-208)

The Four Kinds of Samādhi

After discussing the proper motivation for practice and its development, Chih-i then describes various kinds of meditation practices that he classified into categories he called the four samādhis. It is evident that these four samādhis are practices to be undertaken primarily by monastics, though he admits that in some cases lay practitioners may take them up as well.

The first is the “constant sitting” samādhi, that involves silent sitting meditation for 90 days, in other words during the regular summer retreat period (in India it was the three month rainy season retreat instituted by the Buddha). The practice of “constant sitting” meant exactly that, the practitioner was to constantly sit, facing an image of a Buddha, silent and still except for brief periods of walking meditation and to take meals or relieve themselves. They could also chant the name of a Buddha (usually Amitābha Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life) in order to overcome drowsiness or distractions.

The second is the “constant walking” samādhi that involves constant circumambulation around a statue of a Buddha and chanting that Buddha’s name (again this would usually be Amitābha Buddha). In this practice the practitioner benefits from the synergy of the sustaining power (S. adhisthāna) of the Buddha, the power of samādhi or concentration practice, and the power of one’s own virtue. This is not the exclusive or merely vocal nembutsu for the sake of salvation in the afterlife that was being spread by the followers of Hōnen (1133-1212) in Nichiren’s day. This is one practice among others and does not entail the wholesale rejection of other practices nor is it sole reliance through faith on Amitābha Buddha to do all the work so that one can be reborn in the pure land. In this practice the vocal recitation of Amitābha Buddha’s name is to be accompanied by the constant recollection and visualization of that Buddha in his pure land and accompanied by reflections such as:

Whence comes the Buddha [that I see before me]? [From nowhere. He does not come here, and] neither do I go off elsewhere to see him. Whatever I think of, I see. It is my mind that creates the Buddha. It is my mind itself seeing the mind that sees the mind of the Buddha. This mind or thought of the Buddha is my own mind seeing the Buddha. Mind does not itself know mind; mind does not itself see mind. When there are thoughts in the mind it is the deluded mind, while having no thoughts is nirvāna. This dharma cannot ultimately be indicated in words, for [such efforts] are all products of thought. [Thus] even when there are thoughts present, they are to be understood as empty and inexistent. (Ibid, pp. 243-244)

There is more to the reflection but I think that excerpt is enough to make it clear that there is more going on than mere devotion or hopes for a better afterlife, that the constant walking form of practice is also meant to lead to deep introspection and insight.

The third is the “both walking and sitting” samādhi that includes different kinds of ceremonial practices that incorporate both sitting meditation and walking while chanting. Chih-i gives two examples of this kind of practice. One is the Vaipulyā Samādhi that is a week-long ceremony involving repentance ceremonies, periods of walking while chanting dhāranī, and periods of silent sitting meditation. Here I would like to say something about repentance (J. sange) and its role in Buddhism. Some may think that Buddhism has no concept of sin or repentance due to efforts to popularize it in the West to those who are sick of hearing about how sinful they are and in need of repentance by zealous followers of Western religions. Buddhism does not have a concept of sin as an offence to a personal god or gods, but it does have the concept of unwholesome actions of thought, word, and deed that set into motion negative repercussions for oneself and others. From the beginning the Buddha encouraged people to recognize these unwholesome acts, to acknowledge them as harmful, and to turn away from them. This is not a question of being condemned and then forgiven by divine beings, nor is it a matter of wallowing in the idea of one’s shortcomings (which Buddhism considers an unwholesome state of mind) and then looking to a divinity to fix or overlook those shortcomings (which Buddhism considers a wrong view that undercuts the motivation to make efforts to refrain from evil, do good, and purify the mind through Buddhist practice). In terms of these Mahāyāna Buddhist repentance ceremonies, one turns away from what is harmful and instead turns toward the Three Treasure of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha (the teacher, the teaching, and those who uphold the teaching and practice) so that one can realize true happiness and freedom for oneself and others.

The other form of both walking and sitting practice is the Lotus Samādhi that takes three weeks or more to perform and involves repentance ceremonies, periods of walking while reciting the Lotus Sūtra, and periods of silent sitting meditation. Much shorter version of the Lotus Samādhi called the Rai Hokke Shiki or “Ceremony of Dedication to the Lotus Sūtra” are still performed in Nichiren Shū today. Some notable things about the Lotus Samādhi is that it involves the enshrinement of the Lotus Sūtra itself with no accompanying buddhas, bodhisattvas, or celestial guardians. Alongside many phrases of devotion used in the ceremony directed towards the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and other figures who appear in the Lotus Sūtra and reside in the ten directions are phrases of devotion directed at the Lotus Sūtra itself. So the precedents for Nichiren’s Omandala Gohonzon that will be described later in Kanjin Honzon-shō and the practice of Odaimoku can be found in the Lotus Samādhi.

The fourth is the “neither walking nor sitting” samādhi that is the most open-ended category of all in that it actually encompasses all activities including walking and sitting. It is called “neither walking nor sitting” because it does not entail any fixed periods of formal walking recitation or sitting meditation. Chih-i speaks of this in terms of the mindful awareness one should bring to various Buddhist services that might be performed at a monastery but that do not involve prolonged periods of practice and in terms of following one’s thoughts throughout one’s daily activities. No matter what one is doing one should “turn back one’s awareness to illuminate and discern the well-spring of mind.” This can be done when practicing the six perfections of the bodhisattva (generosity, morality, patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom) or when beset by the six things that obstruct such practice (avarice, immorality, anger, laziness, distraction, and ignorance) or when thoughts and activities are morally neutral. Chih-i goes to great lengths to caution that such contemplation even in the midst of “evil dharmas” does not mean indulging them, rather it means maintaining one’s mindful awareness of them if they do arise while not voluntarily giving in to them. No matter what one should maintain awareness of the mind prior to the thoughts, as thoughts are about to arise, when thoughts are present, and after thoughts are gone. In this way one can realize that thoughts and mind itself are simultaneously empty of any singular permanent independent substance, that they nevertheless arise due to causes and conditions, and that they all are manifestation of the Middle Way. Throughout the Great Concentration and Insight, Chih-i brings every method, technique, and aspect of practice back to this: the threefold contemplation of the threefold truth of the empty, the provisional, and the Middle Way in every moment of life.

The four kinds of samādhi effectively describe the way concentration and insight can be pursued throughout any and all circumstances by monastics whether they are doing intensive practice retreats, special or routine ceremonies, or just going about their daily tasks. They seem to be put in an order that goes from the most focused and austere to the more active and involved and finally to the most open and casual. Conversely the practice of constant sitting is the one wherein it is easiest to develop tranquil concentration and gain contemplative insight, whereas the practice of neither walking nor sitting that entails mental introspection in the midst of daily life activities and stressful situations is the most difficult for developing concentration and insight.

It seems to me that those of us who are not monastics should try to find opportunities to attend intensive practice retreats in order to develop more focused forms of concentration and insight practice under the optimum conditions, or at least we should set aside time on a daily basis (even if only for a few minutes or an hour in the morning, evening, or both) to cultivate concentration and insight practice (whether by chanting the Odaimoku and Lotus Sūtra as part of the daily service or silent sitting or both) in a peaceful room with no distractions. By doing this we cultivate the ability to bring the practice of concentration and insight into our daily life even in stressful situations when negative thoughts and attitudes arise. In this way, our whole life becomes an opportunity for practice.

Twenty-five Skillful Preparations

The twenty-five skillful preparations that Chih-i discusses are a more detailed description of the preliminaries for silent sitting meditation practice. I will now briefly go over these. I must once again note that Chih-i seems to be directing these guidelines primarily to monastics but I think there are suggestions here that even non-monastic practitioners could benefit from. The twenty-five skillful preparations consist of five sets of five: fulfilling the five favorable conditions, rebuking the five desires, removing the five hindrances, regulating the five activities, and finally practicing the five virtues.

By fulfilling the five favorable conditions, Chih-i meant that one should have a pure observation of the monastic precepts and that if one has any failing in this regard one should resort to Mahāyāna repentance ceremonies and contemplation of the true nature of reality. The point here is that it will be difficult to take up meditation practice if one is disturbed by guilt and shame or fear of the consequences of one’s actions. Next one should have adequate food and clothing, which for a monastic means their three-piece robe and food that has been provided by donors. Next one should enter into tranquil seclusion, meaning that one should stay in a place where there are no disturbances. One must also put to rest any responsibilities so that one need not worry about anything but practice itself. Finally one should have good spiritual friends. Good spiritual friends include supporters who provide necessities, fellow practitioners, and teachers who can guide and oversee one’s practice.

One should then rebuke the five desires for forms, sounds, fragrances, tastes, and touch. In other words, during the period of practice one should overcome sensual desires that cause loss of focus, prevent one from feeling content and able to appreciate the present moment, and can eventually drive one to unwholesome actions of thought, word, and deed.

One should then remove the five hindrances of sensual desire, ill-will, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and remorse, and doubt. These five are a set of things that hinder the ability to enter into meditative absorption. If one is able to maintain one’s focus on whatever the object of meditation is (such as counting the breath or chanting) then one should at least temporarily be free of them. Sensuality has of course already been discussed above, but here it is included as a specific hindrance to meditative absorption. “Dullness and drowsiness” and “restlessness and remorse” are two sets of two terms each, but each is counted as only a single hindrance. Doubt refers to meant debilitating doubts that undermines practice and not the kind of healthy doubt that tries to discern the true from the false and get to the bottom of things.

Next one should regulate the five activities. This category overlaps with the others. It is by regulating the five activities that one can overcome the five hindrances. The five things that should be regulated are one’s diet, sleep, body, breath, and mind. As for diet, one should have enough to assuage hunger without making one feel glutted. One should get neither too little nor too much sleep. The body should be neither too lax nor too tense. The breath should be neither too harsh nor too light. The mind should neither be blank nor should it drift from one thing to another.

Here I would like to expand upon the regulation of the body, breath, and mind because it is in treating these topics that Chih-i provides instructions for the actual practice of silent sitting meditation. When sitting upon the meditation cushion one must be stable and upright. In the half-lotus posture, the left foot is placed upon the right thigh. If sitting in full lotus, then the right foot is placed atop the left thigh. The open left hand should be placed upon the open right hand. Both palms should be up and the thumb tips touching. The inner edges of the palms should be resting against the body just below the navel. One must sit up straight with the nose and the navel aligned. The eyes should be slightly or partially closed so as to keep out any bright light. When the body is properly adjusted one should then breathe out once through the mouth and then close the mouth and inhale through the nose. One might need to repeat that up to three times to “expel the turbid breath.” After that the mouth is kept closed with the tongue against the palate as one inhales and exhales through the nose. Eventually the breath should become calmer, slower, and subtle so that it is silent and barely detectable. While following the breath, the mind should be regulated by directing the attention to either the tip of the nose or a point below the navel called the “elixir field” (J. tanden). More will be said about the training and directing of attention below.

Once the practice of concentration and insight is underway one should then further cultivate the five virtues that will strengthen and sustain the practice. The five virtues are resolution, energy, mindfulness, skillful discernment, and single-mindedness. Basically one should resolve upon awakening, have the energy to pursue it, be mindful of one’s actual experience, skillfully discern what is liberating from what is not, and attain the single-minded concentration that leads to insight.

Six Wondrous Dharma Gates

Chih-i further expounds on what the mind can be directed towards while in meditation in Six Wondrous Dharma Gates. The Six Wondrous Dharma Gates are basically three increasingly subtle forms of concentration practice and three increasingly subtle forms of contemplation practice. The concentration practices are counting, following, and stabilization. The contemplation practices are contemplation, turning, and purification. The practice of counting is to count each cycle of inhalation and exhalation from one to ten. The practice of following is to simply follow the breath without trying to count it. The practice of stabilization is to allow all thoughts to come to rest, perhaps by continuing to keep awareness anchored upon a single point such as the tip of the nose or the tanden. The practice of contemplation is to inquire into the nature of the breath and to see that as a caused and conditioned phenomena it is empty of any self-nature. The practice of turning means that one turns the light of awareness back upon itself to seek the mind that is aware only to find that it too is ungraspable and without a self-nature. This leads to the sixth gate that is the practice of purification wherein one abides in the realization that there is ultimately no object such as the breath or subject that apprehends it.

The Six Wondrous Dharma Gates can be followed step by step from the simple counting of the breath all the way up to abiding in purity, but they can also be used in any order depending upon the needs of the practitioners. So they are a variable method because they do not necessarily follow a set order. Note that the gate of turning is to “turn back one’s awareness to illuminate and discern the well-spring of mind.” These methods also have as their aim the realization that all phenomena, whether physical or mental, whether pertaining to the subject or the object, are empty of any fixed, independent, self-nature; arise provisionally according to causes and conditions, and exemplify the Middle Way that is neither merely empty or merely provisionally existent.

The Ten Objects

Returning to the perfect and sudden practice of the Great Concentration and Insight, Chih-i sets forth ten objects that can come within the sphere of one’s awareness during the practice of concentration and insight. Each of these objects can distract and lead us astray into conceptual and/or emotional entanglement, but conversely these objects all manifest the truths of emptiness, provisional existence, and the Middle Way and should be contemplated in order to cultivate insight. The ten are:

1)    Sense Fields – This refers to our ongoing awareness of all phenomena. This object of awareness is always present in some manner. Buddhism analyzes all conditioned phenomena into the following categories: the five aggregates, the twelve sense fields, and the eighteen elements. The five aggregates that compose life are: physical forms that are the material basis for experience; feelings, whether pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral in relation to what is experienced; the perception or recognition of what is being experienced; mental formations such as views or specific feelings that arise in regard to what one is experiencing; and consciousness of having an experience. The twelve sense fields consist of the six sense bases and their objects. The six sense bases consist of the five physical sensory organs and the mind, which perceives ideas and emotions. These six sense bases are also called roots because they are what keep us rooted in the world. We are constantly fed sensory impressions that demand our attention and feed the passions like wood feeding a fire. The six objects that correspond to the six bases are: forms, sounds, odors, flavors, tangibles, and mental objects. The eighteen elements consist of the six senses, the six objects, and the various forms of conscious awareness that arise based on the contact between the senses and their objects. For instance, when an eye sees a form there is a corresponding eye-consciousness. The purpose of all these categories was originally to demonstrate that our life is an ongoing process of causes and conditions and not fixed independent subjects and objects. Chih-i calls upon these categories in order to embrace all possible types of sensory or mental phenomena as objects to focus upon and contemplate.

2)    Defilements – The next object and one that is almost always present in some form are the defilements (S. klesha; J. bonno) that are a sub-set of the mental formations aggregate. Chih-i speaks of these as four, being the three poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion and the fourth being their combination. One can also speak of ten defilements: greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance, debilitating doubt, the mistaken view that there is such a thing as self-nature, extreme views such as eternalism or annihilationism, amoral views that deny causality, attachment to false views, and attachment to rites or rituals as having liberating power in and of themselves.

3)    Disease – This object of awareness is described by Chih-i in terms of the Chinese medicine of his day, specifically as imbalances of the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. He also spoke of disease arising from immoderate eating and drinking, or sitting in meditation improperly, or through the machinations of Mara and other evil spirits, or as a result of unwholesome karma. Mental illness is seen as stemming from the three poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion. Illness can of course hinder one’s Buddhist practice but Chih-i points out that it too can and should be made the object of concentration and contemplation.

4)    Karmic Marks – Here Chih-i is speaking both of the rewards and retributions that occur due to past wholesome or unwholesome karma but also to habitual positive or negative states of mind, in other words of karma as a habitual pattern of thought, word, and deed. He also speaks of wholesome and unwholesome karma in terms of the six perfections of generosity, morality, patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom and the avarice, immorality, anger, laziness, distraction, and ignorance that obscure the six perfections.

5)    Devilish Forces – This category refers to a group of four types of devils that are referred to in the Mahāyāna sūtras that represent forces that arise to hinder our practice. The four devils consist of the devil of the five aggregates, the devil of the defilements, the devil of death, and the devil king of the sixth heaven. The devil of the aggregates refers to the inherent insecurity, anxiety, and outright suffering which results from trying to identify with the five aggregates of form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness. The devil of the defilements refers to the ways in which self-centered desires inevitably arise based upon the needs of the body and mind for nourishment, security, pleasurable stimulation, and self-aggrandizement. The devil of death refers to the dread, fear, and terror that arise in the face of the inevitable dissolution of the body and mind upon death. The devil king of the sixth heaven, or Mara, refers to those things in life that tempt us to forget about Buddhist practice and live only for worldly goals and aspirations. The devil king of the sixth heaven personifies all those people, situations, and inner impulses which tempt or threaten us to forsake Buddhism and return to the old cycle of unthinking habit, fleeting pleasures and familiar pains. One could say that the other name for the devil king of the sixth heaven is “the devil we know” who attempts to frighten or cajole us away from the unfamiliar territory of liberation back into the vicious cycle of our self-centeredness.

6)    Meditative Absorption – This object refers to the four dhyānas that are states of increasingly refined meditative absorption that can be attained by those not entangled by the previous objects. The dhyānas can be attained through practicing such things as one of the five contemplations for settling the mind. The five contemplations are: contemplation of impurity for those with many desires, contemplating compassion for those who are full of anger, contemplating the counting of the breath for those who are easily distracted, contemplating causes and conditions for those who are ignorant of causality, and contemplating the Buddha for those beset by hindrances to meditative stability. In attaining the first dhyāna one overcomes the five hindrances of sensual craving, ill-will, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and remorse, and debilitating doubt. In their place arise thought and examination directed towards the object of meditation, physical feelings of rapture, and mental happiness, and one-pointedness of mind. In the second dhyāna one no longer has to consciously think about or conceptually examine the object of meditation. In the third dhyāna rapture fades away as one becomes calmer and more at peace. In the fourth dhyāna even happiness fades to be replaced by a deeper feeling of peaceful equanimity though one-pointedness centered upon the object of meditation remains. These are wholesome states of mind that are brought about by the practice of concentration and yet they can also be traps for those who become attached to such states. Cultivating the dhyānas in Buddhism are seen as ways of controlling and calming the mind so that it can get on with the work of contemplation with focus and clarity. They are not to be sought as ends in themselves.

7)    Wrong Views – Another object that may arise are wrong views (such as those listed as the sixth through tenth defilements) stemming from attachment to non-Buddhist philosophies, a misunderstanding of Buddhist sūtras, or from a misapprehension of refined meditative states. These can be countered by reflecting upon the true meaning of the sūtras and/or by seeking the instruction of a good teacher.

8)    Arrogance – Chih-i does not describe this or the next two objects in the Great Concentration and Insight. It would seem that what is meant by the object of arrogance is that one should become aware of and reflect upon any feelings of arrogance that may arise as a result of progress in the practice of concentration and insight and lead to, for instance, mistakenly believing that attaining the dhyānas is the same thing as awakening.

9)    Two Vehicles – This object refers to the trap of settling for a liberation that is not concerned with the suffering of other sentient beings.

10) Bodhisattvahood – This object refers to the danger that bodhisattvas will slacken in their practice or even begin to abuse the Dharma so as to excuse their own shortcomings.

The Ten Modes

When any of the ten objects of contemplation come within the field of our awareness Chih-i teaches that there are ten modes or Dharma gates of contemplation by which to reflect upon them. Those who are superior in ability will be able to realize the threefold truth of the empty, the provisional, and the Middle Way by using the first mode of contemplating the inconceivable reality when aware of an object, whereas those of intermediate capacity may require the further considerations of the next six modes, and those of the lowest capacity will have to resort to the last three modes. The ten modes are:

1)    Contemplating inconceivable reality – This mode involves considering how in the single moment of conscious awareness of an object all of life is implicated: from the hells to the heavens to the realms of the buddhas and all other states of life in between and their mutual interpenetration; in terms of the permutations of causes and conditions; and in terms of the five aggregates of an individual, all beings, and their environments. It is in Chih-i’s explanation of the mode of contemplating the inconceivable in relation to the object of the sense fields that the teaching of the “three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment” (J. ichinen sanzen) appears. This will be looked at in more detail in the next chapter of this commentary. I will just say here that in its original context the diversity of the three thousand worlds pertains to the truth of provisional existence; the unity of all these worlds pertains to their emptiness; and the mutual possession of all phenomena in a reality that is neither a mere unity nor mere diversity pertains to the Middle Way.

2)    Truly and correctly arousing the aspiration to attain awakening – To consider any of the objects should also inspire compassion to save all sentient beings from suffering after considering the diverse life conditions of sentient beings. One should not complacently settle into emptiness, nor get caught up in the seeming self-nature of beings, but course in the Middle Way in order to fulfill the bodhisattva vows.

3)    Skillfully calming the mind through correct contemplation – Given the object of contemplation one follows through on the bodhisattva vows by encouraging oneself and others to engage in concentration and/or contemplation as appropriate in order to abide peacefully in the true nature of reality. This mode refers to the four aims (S. siddhānta) or four different ways of teaching. The first aim is the worldly aim that appeals to people’s desire for worldly benefits (i.e. health, wealth, love, a happy afterlife) and teaches in readily understood terms. The second aim is the individualized aim that encourages people to play to their strengths. For instance, those who are critical are encouraged to analyze while those are more passionate are encouraged to take up devotional practice. The third aim is the therapeutic aim that teaches people how to overcome their weaknesses. For instance, the lustful are taught to contemplate impurity while those prone to anger contemplate loving-kindness. The fourth aim is the ultimate aim of directly realizing the true nature.

4)    Destroying attachment to all things – One may, however, still get hung up on various negative or distracting phenomena and not be able to realize the threefold truth. If so, Chih-i recommends a series of contemplations in order to realize the “non-arising” nature of phenomena. By “non-arising” is meant that all caused and conditioned phenomena do not arise as an entity with a fixed independent self-nature. Apart from the temporary coming together of ever-changing causes and conditions there is no-thing that is graspable, no-thing that arises or ceases. One should reflect on the fact that neither the subject nor the object can produce anything that is permanent and independent of causes and conditions, neither can the subject and object together produce such an thing, and apart from either there is no conscious experience of anything. This analysis is especially directed to the deconstruction of distracting and unwholesome thoughts that can interfere with practice. Of course this kind of mental exercise lends itself most readily to realizing the truth of emptiness, but once more Chih-i is pointing to a relinquishment of any view that fixates on either emptiness or provisional existence. Once more he points to the realization of the unity of the threefold truth.

5)    Distinguishing the passageways and the obstructions – Here the obstructions refer to the noble truths of suffering and the causes of suffering, while the passageways are the noble truths of the end of suffering and the eightfold path to end suffering; or the obstructions are the twelve-fold chain of dependent origination beginning with ignorance and ending with aging and death, while the passageways are the extinction of ignorance and so on until the extinction of old age and death; or the obstructions are the six obscurations while the passageways are the six perfections. Another way of thinking about obstructions and passageways is in terms of three categories of delusion. The first are delusions of views and attitudes that are basically the same as the defilements discussed above. The passageway out from these is to entering emptiness from conventionality, in other words to realize that all things are empty of self-nature. The second are delusions innumerable as grains of sand that have to do with the inability of bodhisattvas to fully utilize skillful means. The passageway out from these is to reenter conventionality from emptiness, in other words to realize the provisional existence of phenomena and respond appropriately in accord with the bodhisattva vows. The third delusion is fundamental ignorance. The passageway out from this delusion is to fully and directly realize the Middle Way wherein there is no one-sided clinging to either emptiness or provisional existence and both perspectives are fully utilized as needed in a spontaneous, compassionate, and unselfconscious way.

6)    Coordinating the thirty-seven requisites of awakening and adapting to them – If further reflection is necessary in order to realize the threefold truth, Chih-i recommends reflecting upon the thirty-seven requisites of awakening that enumerate all the important elements of Buddhist practice and that apply to all Buddhists, including Mahāyāna practitioners. Chih-i insists that all are fulfilled through right mindfulness, in other words introspection of the mind that will lead to awakening to the threefold truth. The thirty-seven requisites consist of the following overlapping categories: the four foundations of mindfulness (mindfulness of the body, feelings, mind, and mental objects), four right efforts (to prevent unwholesome states from arising, overcome those that have arisen, generate wholesome states that have not yet arisen, and maintain those that have arisen), four ways to power (the focused application of resolution, energy, mind, and investigation), five faculties (faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom), five powers (same as the faculties but more developed), seven factors of awakening (mindfulness, investigation of states, energy, rapture, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity), and the eightfold path (right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration). By cultivating the thirty-seven requisites for awakening one is able to attain the three gateways to liberation by which one awakens to the true nature: the gate of the empty, the gate of the markless, and the gate of the wishless.

7)    Curing hindrances and assisting awakening – If consideration of the thirty-seven requisites is still not enough one can go on to contemplate the six perfections. Included in this discussion is a review of the five contemplations for pacifying the mind. These are five subjects for meditation to help with specific hindrances. The first is to use the counting of the breath to counter a distracted mind. The fourth is to contemplate the impurity of the body or the decomposition of corpses in order to counter lust. The third is to cultivate boundless loving-kindness (or compassion, or sympathetic joy, or equanimity) to counter anger and ill-will. The fourth is to contemplate causality in order to counter mistaken views. The fifth is to contemplate the Buddha in order to counter drowsiness.

8)    Knowing the sequence of stages – The next mode is to consider the various stages of practice in order to evaluate one’s progress or lack thereof, for instance the five preliminary grades of disciples derived from chapter 17 of the Lotus Sūtra or the 52 stages of bodhisattva practice derived from the Flower Garland and other Mahāyāna sūtras or the six stages of identification with buddhahood. Knowing the sequence of stages and humbly acknowledging one’s current level of practice, one should then resolve to progress further and practice repentance by contemplating the true nature of reality and by practicing the fivefold repentance, a repentance ceremony practiced in Buddhist monasteries six times a day (early morning, mid-day, sunset, early evening, midnight, and late night) comprising: repentance itself of unwholesome thoughts, words and deeds; imploring the buddhas to assist by appearing in the world and teaching the Dharma; rejoicing in the merit and progress of others; transferring the merit of one’s own practice for the welfare of all sentient beings; and making vows such as the four great bodhisattva vows or even more specific vows.  These elements are still present in various ways in current Nichiren Shū services.

9)    Having patience – If one still has trouble penetrating to an understanding of the threefold truth, one should simply be patient and persist in one’s practice without slackening of falling away from it.

10) Freedom from attachment to dharmas – If all else fails then at the very least one should contemplate being free of attachment to dharmas, which is to say phenomena generally. The threefold truth is about realizing the Middle Way that embraces but does not one-sidedly adhere to either emptiness or provisional existence. One should not be attached to either the mundane (because all worldly conditioned phenomena are empty) or the transcendent (because emptiness is also empty and not to be clung to). The Middle Way is about being free from attachment but also free to compassionately engage the world and other beings (while not clinging to the notion of there being a world or beings).

The ten objects and ten modes are really the heart of the perfect and sudden approach to concentration and insight practice according to Chih-i. The ten objects set forth a series of ten phenomena that are likely to arise in the course of one’s formal practice or even daily life. They cover the general experience of cognizing any given material or mental phenomena, to all specific obstacles that may distract or disturb the practitioner, to the attainment of dhyāna and the mistaken views and attitudes that could arise from them, and culminating in actual progress on the path and the shortcomings of those various attainments and stages. The ten modes present a series of reflections that can be directed towards any of those objects, each of which can enable the practitioner to realize the threefold truth of emptiness (for liberation), provisional existence (for compassionate engagement), and the Middle Way (complete understanding with no one-sided attachment). In looking over the ten modes it would appear that they also present the development of practice and understanding so that reflecting on the inconceivability of objects will lead to compassion and so on until one is no longer subject to detachment (including to attachment to detachment). Perhaps the idea that the practitioner of superior capacity need only use the first mode or that the practitioner of moderate capacity need only use a few of the modes means that completely penetrating the object with one mode will lead automatically to an understanding of the others so that one need not deliberately and self-consciously reflect on the rest. Fully understanding the object through one mode includes an understanding of it by any mode and all objects and modes are directed at a perfect and sudden awakening to the threefold truth.



Further Reading

Chappel, David, ed., and Masao Ichishima, comp. Trans. Buddhist Translation Seminar of Hawaii. T’ien-t’ai Buddhism: An Outline of the Fourfold Teachings. Tokyo: Shobo, 1983.

Dharmamitra, Bhikshu, trans. The Essentials of Buddhist Meditation. Seattle: Kalavinka Press, 1992-2008.

_______________________. The Six Dharma Gates to the Sublime. Seattle: Kalavinka Press, 2001-2008.

Donner, Neal, and Stevenson, Daniel B., trans. The Great Calming and Contemplation: A Study and Annotated Translation of the First Chapter of Chih-I’s Mo-Ho Chih-Kuan. Honolulu: Kuroda Institute, 1993.

Hurvitz, Leon. Chih-i: An Introduction to the Life and Ideas of a Chinese Buddhist Monk. Melanges chinois et bouddhiques 12 (1960-62): 1-372. Brussels: l’Institute Belge des Hautes Etudes Chinoises.

Swanson, Paul. Foundations of T’ien-tai Philosophy: The Flowering of the Two Truths Theory in Chinese Buddhism. Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1989.

____________, trans. The Collected Teachings of the Tendai School. Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1995.

____________, trans. The Great Cessation and Contemplation (Mo-ho chih-kuan). Unpublished manuscript.

[1] This paragraph is actually from the preface to the Great Concentration and Insight of T’ien-t’ai Chih-i that was written by Chang-an Kuan-ting (561-632). This translation is taken from Donner and Stevenson, p. x.