This is an English translation of Nan Huai Jin’s ‘Explanation of the Yogacarabhumi Sastra’, which is a sastra that discusses the various stages in yogic practice. Please note that my translations are amateur and you need to do your own research, do not believe what I write here and please test it out for yourselves. I welcome any corrections if you spot any.
“How can the world’s seeds reach purity (peace/quietness)? There are 3 types. First, Obtaining Samadhi. Second, Perfecting Samadhi. Third, Liberating Samadhi. Within the middle, initially, there are 20 types of treatment methods to obtain Samadhi. They can stop attaining of Samadhi. About 20.” (Volume 20)
Today, we will switch directions and talk about the doctrine, the Yogacarabhumi Sastra.
From the perspective of Buddhism studies, for a real disciple who wishes to learn Buddhism, there are 4 authentic Buddhism commentary books that have to be read: Two translations from India, and two from China. For the two Indian books, they are the Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra (Great Treatise on the Perfection of Wisdom) and the Yogacarabhumi Sastra. The two China books are the Tiantai sect’s Maha-Samatha-vipasanya (摩诃止观/Great-ceasing-watching) and the Sect-Mirror-Record (宗镜录 or also called The Source Mirror). From the later generations to the last 10 years of commentaries, they are all commentaries of commentaries. It is a pity that when you are all learning Buddhism in modern times, what you see are the modernisation of commentaries of commentaries, which are not useful or are problematic. Today, we can say that we have finally opened an authentic Buddhist commentary, the translation of the 100-volume Yogacarabhumi-Sastra, translated by Dharma Master Xuan Zang.
The second point, if we take the typical academic perspective, we can classify Buddhism’s learning and thoughts as 4 categories. We can divide the scriptures into one belonging to the Hinayana (Small Vehicle) category, and the other as the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) category. In the Mahayana thought, including Buddhism and cultivation, it can be divided into 2 sub-categories. One is Nagarjuna Bodhisattva’s Prajna (wisdom) Buddhism system, belonging to early Buddhism after Shakyamuni Buddha went into Nirvana. The other is by two Bodhisattva brothers, Asanga and Vasubandhu, classified into later-period Buddhism, belonging to dharma appearance and knowledge. Hence, this Yogacarabhumi Sastra book that I hold in my hands is in the academic/learning category, belonging to the later-period Buddhism. If we strictly consider academic, the later generations are superior to the early generations, because it becomes increasingly refined, thorough and includes more.
Therefore, just like Tibet’s esoteric Buddhism, the system of Gelug sect’s Tsong-khapa belongs to the system of Yogacarabhumi Sastra. The famous Lamrim Chenmo by Tsong-khapa expands upon Venerable Atisa’s Bodhipathapradipa (Tibetan: Byang chub am gyi sgron ma). This Bodhipathapradipa is based off a section of the Yogacarabhumi Sastra.
Now we will talk about the Yogacarabhumi Sastra. Let us introduce the two Bodhisattvas Asanga and Vasubandhu. The two brothers left home when they were young. Vasubandhu specialised in Hinayana Buddhism, cultivating Hinayana teachings and was extremely against Mahayana Buddhism. Later on, Bodhisattva Asanga influenced him, and Vasubandhu awakened after learning Mahayana. However, Vasubandhu wanted to commit suicide because he regretted after writing too many works on Hinayana and slandering Mahayana. He felt that this bad karma cannot be purified and can only be done by death. Bodhisattva Asanga laughed and scolded him, saying that he has not grown up. If a person walks on a road and falls, this is because there is a road, right? If you walk on empty space, you will not be able to fall. “Falling because of the ground, and getting up because of the ground”. When falling onto the ground, you must use the ground to be able to get up. Since he slandered Mahayana with his pen, could he not turn it around with his pen and praise Mahayana? That is why Vasubandhu had a lot of works.
Eventually, Asanga first went into Nirvana. The two brothers made an appointment, both vowing to be reborn in Tusita heaven, to meet Maitreya Bodhisattva. When Asanga was about to go into Nirvana, Vasubandhu asked him if he was headed for that place, and to give him a sign. Asanga agreed to give him a sign.
When Asanga passed away, Vasubandhu could not see his brother in samadhi, nor in his dreams. Three months, one year, three years… Eventually he had a suspicion. After a few years, Asanga Bodhisattva showed up.
Vasubandhu asked, “Brother, where did you go?”
Asanga replied, “We vowed to go to go to the Tusita heaven, so I am inside the Tusita heaven.”
“Is there really such a thing?”
“Then why did you take so long to come?”
“Did I? I just arrived, and Maitreya was just teaching. I sat down to hear a bit, and I was worried about you. Embarrassed to leave, I just stayed until his lesson is finished. After that, I immediately came to find you.”
“How long did you think it was? Many human years have passed.”
“Wow, many years! It just took a while for me.”
The Yogacarabhumi Sastra, Maitreya Bodhisattva’s book, was written by Bodhisattva Asanga. Who said it? It is Maitreya Bodhisattva who said it personally. However, typically, academics will not believe. Asanga left his body to hear Maitreya’s teachings, then recorded them in the day, giving rise to this Yogacarabhumi Sastra. Maitreya will become the next Buddha and promote Shakyamuni’s dharma teachings. Even then, typical academics in later generations will not believe these, saying that this is fake and made by Asanga Bodhisattva. This is because people in the later generations cannot even enter samadhi, not even a shadow of it. They can only be sure of bad things and intentions, and cannot be sure of (steady) their minds.
What does ‘Yoga master’ mean (part of the Chinese title of the book)? We know that modern India has Yoga, but the words for this is pronounced as ‘Yu-jia’ and is slightly different. Many learners of Hindu yoga tell me and I laugh, saying, “Where do you find yoga in India?” They say there is. But it is just performing body poses like handstand lotus or peacock pose – this is ‘body yoga’. The best parts of Indian body yoga have already been distilled into the 40 sets of boxing of Vajrayana’s Vajravarahi. This is where you box while sitting, it has already completely included the essence of the teachings. ‘Sound yoga’ is mantra. There is no more ‘heart-mind yoga’. ‘Heart-mind’ yoga is a dharma door, found in the Yogacarabhumi Sastra and this is authentic Indian tradition mind yoga. There are those who pronounce it as ‘yu qie’, which refers to accomplished yogi and masters. Yu-qie are those who practice yoga. Therefore, the first part of the name of the book refers to ‘yoga master’.
What is ‘Di Lun’ (part of the Chinese title of the book)? ‘Di’ means scope (range/boundary). Here it is divided into 70 scopes to explain. It talks about normal human life, the world, physics, the material world, and the entire universe. After the material world is talked about, it then turns around to talk about how to cultivate, how to cultivate mind, to achieve the Tao that is above form. Then, it splits off to talk about the Hinayana’s first step of cultivation, then how to cultivate the Mahayana path, all the way to attaining Buddhahood, ending after 100 volumes. That is why it is called the ‘Yoga master scope’, split into 70 scopes, it is not 70 levels like in a staircase, but 70 scopes.
Dharma Master Xuan Zang’s biggest merit is in translating this book, the wei-shi philosophy calls this book a ‘Great Commentary’. If you wish to really learn Buddhism and do not understand the Yogacarabhumi-Sastra, then this is behaving foolishly, as if the blind is touching an elephant and trying to figure out what it is. This is impossible, especially for those who learn Buddhism in the later generations.
Therefore the Yogacarabhumi-Sastra includes every cultivation method, how to be a human being, from the human path up to the deva path, from the deva path up to the Sravaka path, from the Sravaka path up to the Pratyeka-buddha path. Both Sravaka and Pratyeka-Buddha are the Hinayana, as well as Bodhisattva path. All five vehicles are included within. That is why Master Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo talks about the five vehicles, and this is the real buddhism path.
If you want to become a Buddha, you need to start to learn how to be a good human being. If the conduct of humans cannot be cultivated well, then there is no qualification to go up to the deva path, and how can you even talk about the Buddha path? Hence, only those who have the qualifications to enter the deva path can cultivate the Hinayana vehicle. Without the qualification of the deva path, how can you even talk about the Hinayana? And only when qualified with the Hinayana path can you enter the Bodhisattva path, the Mahayana.
In China’s later generations, Buddhism teachings after the Tang and Song dynasties easily claim that “they are cultivating the Mahayana”. What is so big about that? Even a shadow of it is not there, it is complete bragging. You cannot go big without starting from small. If even a small virtue cannot be made, how can you even do a big virtue? Is that right or not? If you cannot even sacrifice a small thing, saying, “I will not sacrifice a small thing, and will only sacrifice for big things”, that is just bragging to let other people hear. It is like saying, “Look at me, I cannot bear to spend money because I don’t spend small amounts, I only spend big amounts.” It is just bragging. In the same principle, if you want to enter the Hinayana, then how can you enter it without cultivating the human path? That is why the Yogacarabhumi-sastra strictly tells us about this principle.
If I were to speak in specialisation about 100 volumes of this book, it will take approximately 5 years, or 3 years if I speak 2 hours everyday. Even if I speak with specifics, I can finish speaking and you may not understand. I also wish to have this amount of time, and I really want to elaborate, if you can record it down, this is a very good thing. Of course, I can also simplify and explain, ask you to chant the 100 volumes while hitting the wooden fish, and that is done quickly. If I were to elaborate, I am just afraid that your literacy level will need help first.
So, let us choose something that is related to you. I thought about it – following Maitreya Bodhisattva’s directions, where can I start? Since we hve already talked about the reasons why cultivation is unable to reach samadhi, choosing this paragraph, let us talk about this paragraph, page 391, volume 20.
How can the world’s seeds reach purity (peace/quietness)?
Using modern words, how can all of the world’s seeds reach the realm of purity (peace/quietness)?
There are 3 types. First, Obtaining Samadhi. Second, Perfecting Samadhi. Third, Liberating Samadhi.
This is good to know. When we are being humans in the world, how can we cultivate until all the ‘seeds’ purify? All the types of seeds in the mind-ground purify. When a thought moves in the mind, every thought and every seed-nature is in the purity. This is still when you are in the world and have not left it. How can this be done? Maitreya Bodhisattva simply tells us, “There are 3 types”. When 3 conditions are done, then we can say ‘all seeds are purified’ while ‘in the ‘world’.
What 3 types? The first is obtaining Samadhi. Without samadhi and talking about cultivating purity, this is just bragging. Secondly, we move one step. Just attaining samadhi is not enough, samadhi has many types. The Yogacarabhumi-sastra talks about this with details, so the samadhi has to be perfected. Samadhi is a samaya of conduct-dhyana-wisdom. Only when samadhi is perfected. The sutras tell you what is perfection of samadhi. Therefore if you are a layperson or monastic wanting to learn Buddhism, it does not matter if you are Vajrayana or whatever dharma-door, the scriptures talk about it. Thirdly, ‘Liberating Samadhi’ is when the six superpowers (siddhis) appear. However, is there liberation from samsara? No, in order to reach the highest liberation from samsara, you must be able to enter the samadhi of leaving the world when you want, or samadhi of entering the world when you want. In other words, Vajrayana, Pure Land, there is no method that cannot penetrate – in samadhi, you can be liberated.
For example, you are all on the eleventh floor meditating, are you free or not? You tell me that you are free, you are sitting here. When your legs are numb, can you ask them not to be numb? Are you free? Of course not, you cannot call the shots. That is why, taking the dharma in the world to talk about, the only liberation to become a Buddha.
Let us say we take an exam after listening to the Yogacarabhumi-sastra, and I ask a question: “The Buddha said to purify all the worldly seeds, what conditions do you need?” You need to answer: “Three types. One, obtaining samadhi. Two, perfecting samadhi. Three, liberating samadhi.” 100 marks.
Within the middle, initially, there are 20 types of treatment methods to obtain Samadhi. They can stop attaining of Samadhi. About 20.
This is Dharma Master Xuan Zang’s faithful translation, it is inverted. Therefore when later generations learn this kind of composition,they cannot understand it. Modern academics are very weird, like right now when I teach a class, students do not want it. Oh, this teacher does not teach academic-form, it is too ordinary. What is academic-form? Sitting here and quoting the words, the more you speak the more the students don’t understand, oh this is high level.
So why can’t you obtain samadhi? The mind has a disease. What disease? Worries (distress/frustrations). It is inverted, that is why so many people do not understand.
If you are not clear on these 20 types, you will never be able to reach a good samadhi realm. Whether you chant the Buddha’s name, meditate, and cannot enter samadhi, these are what stops you from achieving a good samadhi realm. Therefore, we must recognise this.
- It is an error to associate with non-cultivators of peace.
- Even though your companion has virtue, however he can say that a teacher has a mistake (bad translation)
So you can see, to cultivate to the Tao, the conditions are very difficult. The first of 20 is that to find a companion or a Dharma-friend is the most difficult. Take note, especially the monastics, the so-called sangha, a sangha is a group of monastics who cultivate the Tao. In this group, if there is one out of ten who do not cultivate, then the nine who cultivate will suffer from this hindrance. When you become a companion to a Fan Xing who practices Bu Le Duan, you will suffer a hindrance.
For example, our group here, everyone now is very peaceful now, right? Reply: “Yes.” That’s right, can you not admit this? You are all too stupid, this second (time) is very pure/peaceful. If in this second, there is a lunatic shouting and jumping about, will you people by peaceful? Not peaceful anymore. So the first difficulty is finding a Dharma “companion”.
Some people drop off worldly thoughts. Fan Xing means peaceful conduct. For example, I want to cultivate peace, however he likes to read stories. He doesn’t ask you to read, but when he sees something good, he says, “Wow, this Jia Baoyu is so good!” (Note: Jia Baoyu is a male character in a chinese classic) At this time you happen to be meditating without thoughts. However, you shift your thoughts away to Jia Baoyu and now this has become a hindrance. Therefore, the first line is ‘being companions with a non-cultivator of peace’. When you become companions, you serve a hindrance to your own cultivation.
The second line, ‘Even though your companion has virtue, however he can say that a teacher has a mistake (bad translation)’. For example, your senior brothers. All of us together are all senior brothers, we have virtue. What virtue? We have higher virtue, some have lower virtue, some lack virtue, everyone has virtue, ha. Of course, here is speaking about good virtue. There are many reasons, maybe it is the error of the companion or the teacher, not receiving directions by an enlightened master, therefore it becomes of no use and is troublesome.
3. Even though the teacher has merit and teaches cultivation, the listener does not have enough desire to cultivate and his mind is scattered.
So even if you meet an enlightened teacher, and have good companions, the teacher has ‘high virtue’, however, no matter how this teacher teaches you, you just cannot understand it because of insufficient wisdom and merit. One must have desire to attain the Tao, desire to cultivate to leave worldly things. However a happy mind for success in cultivation has not been achieved. In Taipei, you can see many Buddhism groups, all of them have this face, they go place to place, but do you think they have really listened? In fact there is no strength, just listening is no use, it is useful even after listening for eternity.
If you look at Chan Master Yong-Ming-Shou’s chanting the Lotus Sutra, one group of sheep knelt down to hear the sutra. Do you think these sheep are outstanding? They are still sheep. There are cows too, we have seen it in mainland China where some Dharma Masters discuss the sutra, there are some cows that kneel down to hear the sutra. Whenever the Dharma Masters start a class, the cows will naturally run over and kneel. When the talk is over, it wakes up and goes. Do you think this cow has attained samadhi? It is still a cow. Take notice, this is not reprimanding you, you must really self-reflect on this. No matter how hard to study, if you are still in scatteredness and drowsiness, without wisdom or even merit, it is useless. This is not what I say, this is what the Buddha said, I am just explaining it to you. I am not Buddha, please know this.
Therefore, even if you meet an enlightened teacher, he will teach you how to cultivate samadhi and the method, but can you really accept it? The desire to cultivate must be like when you chase a romantic partner, with that kind of vigor. Even if I don’t succeed, I will cultivate to the end. This kind of mind force is strong and we can finally talk about cultivation. Without this kind of mind force, you are just in a scattered mind and cannot attain samadhi. So what if you have also attained samadhi? It is just a worldly peacefulness, you have not transcended the world, you must also know this. This is the third mistake.
4. Even if the listener has desire to cultivate and can listen, however one’s wisdom to realise true nature is dull.
You say I am scolding people, but I am just following Buddhism. Maitreya Bodhisattva scolds people well, even on the scriptures. I scold with a more severe tone, while he scolds in a lighter tone.
He says, the fourth mistake, is that some listeners can still listen, they think of learning and cultivating the Tao, wanting to learn Buddhism, and want badly to attain great awakening. However, what goes into one ear comes out from the other. If I ask you what the sutra said, you have already forgotten.
I ask: “Can you memorise it?”
“I haven’t read it.”
“Then how do I talk about it?”
“I forgot. Sorry teacher.” My drawer is full of apologies.
All of you students are all like this: “Sorry teacher.” All of them apologising. Evne though you listen with your ear, your brain is not listening, your mind has not really listened. Why is that so? Because your wisdom is dull, not bright. You do not have enough wisdom to perceive true nature, this is not enough merit. You do not want to cultivate, pray to the Buddha, read sutras, believing that these are all ‘small methods’ and that you are cultivating ‘big methods’. On the cushion in the hall, you do not want to learn, you say that these are small merits and methods and we are scholars. If you cannot even accomplish small merits, how can you accomplish big ones? This is what is meant by ‘even if you listen, you cannot accept’. If you have good roots in wisdom, the moment you see a sutra you can awaken.
You have learnt Buddhism for so long in your Buddhism institution, what is the use!? You must self-reflect on this. Why will your wisdom be dull? You do not have enough merit. Why not enough merit? Because you have not done any meritorious acts. The moment your mind moves, there are so many violations. So if you hear the sutra, Maitreya Bodhisattva is scolding you, not me, do not put the blame on me. I have never scolded anyone, I have only scolded non-humans. So you see, Maitreya is scolding you.
5. Even though there is wisdom, they still seek benefits and respect.
Those who cultivate worldly dharma, reading books to research on the worldly acts and psychology, what is the benefit of listening to buddhist sutras? Next time when you become a leader and manage a crowd, you can see that some people have wisdom and are intelligent. However, they have greed about getting benefits and recognition.
Seeking name and fortune is of course scary. Seeking ‘recognition’ is just as scary. For example if you want people to respect you, you say, ‘I am not bad anyway, you look down at me? Then I will also look down at you!’ Do you people have this kind of thinking? At least you can still nod your head, it is still salvageable.
It is not only you people, even dogs have this kind of mindset. If you kick it, ‘woof!’, it has this same thinking and it will chase you around the garden. If you play with it, it treats you kindly, because it wants people to respect and love it. Loving it is a form of respect.
So we must examine ourselves. What is respect? It is wishing for others to value you, this is also what you call self-respect. Why is it called self-respect? When did you need self-respect in cultivation? You must learn for your heart to be extremely modest, because ‘I’ is empty, whether you look down on me or respect me, it is all the same. If you stop cultivating because your self-respect has been hurt, then get out of here! How can you even learn Buddhism? At the very first line you have already violated the seeking of ‘respect’. Some people say: ‘I am not seeking benefits, I do not seek respect.’ It is like biting into ice-cream and feeling the cold in the teeth, but your mind is still pleasantly cool – if you have just this little bit you are finished. Therefore, some people’s wisdom are not bad, they can talk and think about it and can be contented, and that is why they cannot attain samadhi.
6. The error of having too much worries, being hard to support or satisfied, and not knowing how to be joyfully content.
Some people are born introverted, you cannot say they are wrong in worldly affairs. In this large building, what is bad about a Mahayana learning residence? There is food to eat, a place to stay, things to take, things to hear, what is bad about it? You say, “Yes, it is good, but I don’t know what to do in future? I don’t know if I want to do the next semester?” Ah, after today, you don’t even know if you can get up from your bed tomorrow, and you are already worrying abou tomorrow. Worry is one form.
You ask, “It is good but the Mahayana learning residence is vegetarian, is it nutritious enough?” Then we add nutrition for you. You reply, “Oh, can I have more vitamin, vitamin C seems to be lesser?” This is ‘difficulty of supporting’.
‘Hard to satisfy’ means that you are forever not being content, you say that there is too much homework, just the last time we cut two classes. Is that enough? Let’s rest another four weeks. You say, “It’s enough. however, I still don’t have enough time to watch the TV, please give me more.” This is where people are forever not content.
I don’t have to talk about this, all of you know how to read sutras. You guys read the sutras until you are blank. That is because your eyes are not as deep as mine yet, even if you have eight glasses you cannot penetrate them. That is why when we read the sutras we find it hard! Reading these you feel embarrassed that you violate every single line. There is not a single word that doesn’t make us painful! Not a single word does not hit you! So how can we learn Buddhism?! We don’t even have enough virtue. Isn’t that right?
You need to be content and be satisfied with what you have. If you are not content with reality, you will be unpeaceful. This is also a mistake that blocks you from samadhi.
7. The error of continuously increasing effort and getting more matters to do.
Due to all of these above mindsets not being right, the more you think, the more it becomes wrong. Initially this is still not so bad, but later on, the more I see the more I find it wrong, this is all not my intention. I see that this environment is not good, I better go up to the mountain to find a thatched shed. If not, I will find a library. Other people are so good, they live in thatched sheds… what I imagine other places to be is much better than here. The saying goes: “Seeing a higher mountain from this mountain, even when I go to that mountain my heart is worried.” Humans will never be content. Therefore, people’s wrongful thoughts will become worse and worse. Consequently, the cultivation time becomes shorter and they think more about worldly matters, and their affairs increase. Originally it was just one person living in a thatched hut, watching one’s own clothing, cooking one’s own food, it is already tiring. Now over here we have a washing machine and we don’t have to wash it ourselves. However you think, “This washing machine is not so good, is there a better brand?” You start calling to ask, and if you cannot find out, you go around asking other people, adding more things to do. People’s matters pile up in amount, their minds cannot quiet, and therefore they cannot enter samadhi.
Let’s rest for a while, if we don’t rest we probably cannot enter samadhi. Time flies, we only spoke for 7 lines in one hour.
Translated from: http://www.quanxue.cn/ct_NanHuaijin/YuJiaSD/YuJiaSD01.html