Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bodhidharma's "Outline of Four Practices and Contemplation"

I recently completed a new translation of Bodhidharma's "Outline of Four Practices and Contemplation." It is also posted here and can be accessed through a link at my Buddha Verse pages.



Great Master Bodhidharma’s Outline For Discerning the Mahayana
Entering the Way By Four Practices and Contemplation

By Bodhidharma, (d. circa 532)

~~The Twenty-Eighth Ancestral Founder of the Dhyana Lineage of the Ekayana School of India
~~ The First Ancestral Founder of the Zen Lineage of China

Translated by Gregory Wonderwheel © 2008

Man enters the Way by many roads. But in summary we speak of not going beyond two kinds of cultivating. The first is entering by principle. The second is entering by practice.

"Entering by principle" means to rely on the lineage of awakening and to bear profound faith that the one true nature of beings is the same. However, to act as a guest in the place of dust and delusion is to hide and be unable to manifest completely. Still, if one renounces the false and returns to the true, contemplates on the wall to concentrate one's nature, is without self and without other, with the ordinary and the sacred one and the same and an immovably firm nature, and furthermore does not depend on written teachings, then one immediately takes part in a deep accord with principle without having discriminations. Being peaceful in this way is non-doing (wuwei) and has the name of "entering by principle."

"Entering by practice" means the four practices, and in the surplus and diversity of practices, know to enter among these. What are the four categories? First, the practice of retribution for wrongs. Second, the practice of according with conditioned causes. Third, the practice of nothing to seek. Fourth, the practice of corresponding to Dharma. What can be said?

“The practice of retribution for wrongs” means a person who is cultivating the practice of the Way. If you are in a time of receiving suffering, face yourself and think to say, “I’ve gone through past innumerable aeons (kalpas) abandoning the root and following the tips, existing in the various currents and waves, hating the many arising wrongs, opposing and harming without limit. Although I'm without offenses now, my former misfortunes ripen as the fruit of evil karma, and neither heavenly beings (devas) nor humans are able to see where they are given out. With a willing heart-mind I willingly receive it, all without complaint of wrongs.” A Sutra says, “Do not grieve when you meet with suffering," For what is the use of reasoning? Consciousness transcends reason. At the time this arises in your heart-mind you correspond with principle. Wrongs in their essence are progress in the Way, and for this reason the words are spoken, "the practice of retribution for wrongs”

Second, are those with "the practice of according with conditioned causes." All beings are without ego and merge with the karma of conditioned causes turning in place. Suffering and joy are received together, and every one follows from the conditioned causes of beings. If we are able to win the reward of honor or rank in affairs, it is our previous left over causes that are perceived. Now in this manner the gains of the conditioned causes are exhausted and going backward does not exist. What then do you have of happiness? While gain and loss follow conditioned causes, the heart-mind is without increase or decrease. The winds of joy do not stir the deep smooth flowing in the Way. For this reason the words are spoken, "the practice of according with conditioned causes."

Third, are those with "the practice of nothing to seek." Worldly people excel in confusion, as everywhere are the attachments of desire, going by the name of seeking. As people of wisdom realize the truth, principle then will reverse with the commonplace. A tranquil heart-mind is effortless. Form follows the turns of fortune. The 10,000 things are thus empty. Nothing to desire is joy, as virtuous merit and darkness always follow and chase each other. Dwelling in the Three Realms for a long time is like a house on fie. By having a body everyone suffers. Who gains peace accordingly? Understanding and passing through this point is the cause of renouncing possessing of all kinds and to still thinking without seeking. A sutra says, "By having seeking everyone suffers. Without seeking is immediate joy." To discern and comprehend without seeking is a true act of the practice of the Way. For this reason are the words, "the practice of nothing to seek."

Fourth, are those with "the practice of corresponding to Dharma." The Dharma is the action of seeing the principle of the purity of nature. By this principle all characteristics are thus empty, without taint, without attachment, without this, and without that. A sutra says, “The Dharma is without all beings, because it is free from the defilements of all beings. The Dharma does not have an ego, because it is free from the defilements of an ego." If a person of wisdom is able to believe in and expound this principle then he is in agreement with and in fact is corresponding to Dharma and practicing accordingly. Since the essence of the Dharma is not begrudging, the practice of body, life, and wealth is the bestowing of charity (dana). Without stinginess in the heart-mind, one is stripped and released by the three-fold emptiness [of giver, gift, and receiver]. Being neither dependant nor attached, and only acting to remove defilements, one corresponds to converting all beings and yet does not grasp characteristics. This is doing the practice by oneself, and repeatedly being able to benefit others, and likewise able to dignify the Way of Enlightenment. This is already [the Paramita of] charity, and the remaining Five are also like that. By acting to eliminate delusions, one cultivates and practices the Six Paramitas, yet nothing is practiced. This is the doing of "the practice of corresponding to Dharma."

The end of Great Master Dharma's "Four Practices and Contemplation"