22. The Levels of Mahamudra
|Chapter 22. The Levels of Mahamudra
Once, in my meditation, I went on a pilgrimage to Mount Wutai. Mount Wutai is located in the north east of Wutai County in Shanxi Province. It is also known as Qing Liang Shan, the Cool and Pleasant Mountain. It is one of the four famous mountains in China, which are the Mount Wutai (which is considered the Pureland of Manjusri Bodhisattva), Mount Emei (which is considered the Pureland of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva), Mount Jiuhua (which is considered the Pureland of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva), and Mount Putuo (which is considered the Pureland of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva). In an earlier chapter, I mentioned my trip to Mount Putuo during a deep meditation where I met the Immortal Varsi.
At Mount Wutai, I saw the cluster of five majestic peaks protruding through the clouds. It is a place where snow covers the land throughout the year. There are no trees or grass on the mountain peaks, except for the formation of five rock platforms. I believe this is how Mount Wutai (which means the five terraces) obtains its name. I saw the Mingyue Pond and Kuanhai Temple, and paid homage at the Longquan Temple.
At the South Platform, I paid homage at the Pishan Temple and Guangji Temple. I found that the land formation of Mount Wutai was simply fantastic, as the East Platform, West Platform, South Platform and North Platform are towering, while the Central Platform is much lower by comparison. The North Platform is especially high. The whole formation of Mount Wutai looks exactly like a natural lotus blossom. This mountain is associated with many legends and strange occurrences, such as the appearance of fragrant clouds, shadows of light, aureolas, manifestations of arhats, lotus flowers and so forth. These are religious legends that have moved people.
Although Mount Wutai is the sacred ground for Chan or Zen Buddhism, many lamas from Mongolia and Tibet were once based there. However, all these are things of the past.
To make a pilgrimage to Mount Wutai in a deep meditation was itself a mark of rare affinity. When I was standing before the Longquan Temple, I was astonished to see the souls of eight youths (kumaras) at play. Naturally, these eight youths are beyond human vision. I was rather surprised at this sighting, and noted that each youth had three hair knots tied on his head, wore celestial garments; and held different implements in his hands. They stood on lotus flowers and were chasing each other.
For a while I was wondering who these eight youths were, and how they were related to Manjusri. Then the answer struck me and I shouted, ` They are the Eight Youths of Manjusri!`
Among the retinues of Manjusri are these eight youths who represent the eight wisdoms of Manjusri. They are stationed around the Astadala (8 Petal) Court of the Womb Mandala. These eight youths surround Manjusri. In the northeast is Kesini; in the southeast is Upakesini; in the east is Citrah; in the southwest is Vasumati; in the north is Akarsani; in the south is Jaliniprabha; in the west is Vimalaprabha, and in the northwest is Acintyamati. Once I shouted loudly, the eight youths noticed my presence.
They flew towards me, and Acintyamati, his hands holding a precious stick, bowed towards me and said, `So it is you, White Padmakumara from the Maha Twin Lotus Ponds in Sukhavati.` The rest of the seven youths were just as surprised and shouted, ` It`s White Padmakumara! It`s White Padmakumara!?
These eight youths together with myself added up to nine kumaras or youths. Our meeting was indeed a special and rare occasion. I enquired about their merits of cultivation and these were told to me:
Kesini - Accomplished through no thought.
Upakesini - Accomplished through the merits of generosity.
Citrah - Accomplished through constant stability of the body of form.
Vasumati - Accomplished through the giving of wealth to aid the poor.
Akarsani - Accomplished through vows of delivering sentient beings.
Jaliniprabha - Accomplished through the absorption of light through his great compassion.
Vimalaprabha - Accomplished through the pure light of great wisdom.
Acintyamati - Accomplished through the purest, most supreme and all-pervading wisdom.
They asked me, ` What brought you here, Padmakumara?`
`As I entered into meditation, I travelled throughout celestial realms and places. As I am now writing the book Highest Yoga Tantra and Mahamudra for the world, I am here to build a bridge of good affinity between heaven and earth`, I said.
Then the eight youths revealed to me the four levels of Mahamudra:
The first level is `warmth`. When one ignites the fire within the body, this is `ignition`. This spot of fire is seated right at the base of the central channel. Once this fire is ignited, it rises along the central channel and burns through every channel knot. When this fire burns the channel knots in our bodies, it is as good as burning away our karma. The fire burns away the heart of lust, discursive thoughts, and all attachments. As each channel knot burns away, our cultivation power increases proportionately.
At this stage the body feels warm. If the body feels cold, then something has gone wrong. A good measure is one of comfortable warmth which corresponds with a spiritual state of ultimate bliss. The rising of the inner fire can assist the Tantric practitioner to see the ` True Reality of Mahamudra`. Whatever is to be gained or has yet to be gained hinges on the ignition and growth of this inner fire.
The second level deals with `breaking`. When the inner fire rises to the area of the spiritual eye, it produces light. When the spiritual eye radiates light, this is the spiritual eye practice of attaining realization through meditation. This great luminosity will `break` all darkness, at which time the `true reality` is completely revealed within this light of the spiritual eye. Thus one gains the third eye. Subsequently, by `breaking` or `opening` the crown, every phenomenon of the universe is completely revealed before the individual`s eyes, and nothing remains hidden from one`s sight. This `breaking` is attributed to the progressive `warmth`. For with this `warmth` comes ` breaking`; without it nothing happens. Once one reaches this second level which deals with `breaking`, one arrives at the ` Realization of Mahamudra`.
The progress from gaining `warmth` to achieving `breaking` depends completely on one`s ability to remain `concentrated`. Naturally there will be some mara hindrances, for the Tantric practitioner must clearly recognize the fact that the journey of cultivation is spotted with many detours, and remain cautious.
The third level involves `preservation`. Although this is an effort in itself, it is one which is not governed by any sluggishness, but progresses with joy. Many things are experienced between the levels of ` warmth` and `breaking`. If one aspires to deliver sentient beings, one must learn to `tolerate`, for mara is capable of entering into the hearts of sentient beings and creating many negative situations to disrupt the practitioner. You will be caught in a battle between the forces of mara and buddha. There will be many who slander you, for you will attract the jealousy of the great celestial mara who will enter into the hearts of secular monks and make them turn around and cause you harm. This is similar to the case of the monk Xuanzang of the Tang dynasty who went to India to obtain the sutras. The legend states that all the demons wanted to taste his flesh. At this stage, should Tantric practitioners wish to abide in the ` unhindered mind` and reach the state of tranquillity, unaffected by any outer influence, they should remain in the level of ` preservation`, where they always remain firm in their cultivation effort. With this effort, your transcendental wisdom shines forth and your spiritual conviction gets strengthened. When a person can uphold their cultivation and be tolerant, he or she displays great strength of concentration.
While abiding in this spiritual state, it is inevitable that a practitioner will attract slander from other Buddhists, and even some pseudo Tantric masters will be malicious. However, it is important that when we enter into the transcendental supreme practice, we must maintain a state of `preservation` in our cultivation effort, and not be affected by anything, so that we may step onto the wonderful path of Mahayana and receive the true heart seal. Only then can we truly abide in self-nature.
The fourth level is `attainment`. The practitioner who attains the supreme dharma is an individual whose light is merged with the light of the supreme consciousness. This is the so-called state of Nirvana. However, it is necessary that the Tantric practitioner transform the `supreme bliss of tranquillity of Nirvana` into the `supreme realized dharma bliss of bodhi`. While it is true that the individual is no longer subject to the bondage of cyclic existence, he nevertheless moves among all kinds of entanglements; his wisdom eye opens to observe all things, and still he finds himself abiding in the trouble-free lightness of absolute realization. This is indeed an extraordinary state of realization.
He who reaches this spiritual state shall come to know that the face of bodhi is really unseen, that this is the reality in which all dharma is empty within the dharma realm, and this emptiness of dharma is essentially bodhi itself. There is no difference between the two. Such is the state of spirituality where the dharma cannot be spoken, any spoken words are as good as unspoken, and where silence speaks just as loudly. This is the supreme perfect enlightenment which is the perfection of the true reality of all dharma, and it is also the realized state of Mahamudra.
That which is `the greatest mantra`, `the clearest mantra`, `the highest mantra`, `the mantra that removes all suffering` as described in The Heart Sutra, points to this level of spirituality.
I met the Eight Youths, and they related the four levels of Mahamudra to me. If you should believe and uphold these words, you are indeed a practitioner of Buddhism; a true cultivator of Tantrayana.
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