A Teaching on Sachen Kunga Nyingpo’s Parting from the Four Attachments
by His Holiness Sakya Trizin (Part 4 ~ Final Part)

When receiving Dharma teachings it is important to first generate right motivation, and to have right conduct and right perception. This teaching, Parting from the Four Attachments, is a very important teaching in our Sakyapa tradition. It was given by the Bodhisattva Manjushri directly to the founder of the Sakya Order, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo. The teaching consists of four lines:

“If you have attachment to this life, you are not a religious person.
If you have attachment to the world of existence, you do not have renunciation.
If you have attachment to your own purpose, you do not have enlightenment thought.
If grasping arises, you do not have the view.”

We previously examined the first through third lines of this teaching. I will briefly summarize the meaning of the first three lines here.

The first line is, “If you have attachment to this life, you are not a religious person.” This shows the path that avoids the terrible suffering of the lower realms and that makes it possible to be continuously reborn in the higher realms. To follow this path, one needs to abandon all non-virtuous deeds and to diligently practice virtuous deeds. This path is called the small person’s path because its goal is still within the cycle of existence; thus it is a very basic or inferior spiritual path.

The second line of the teaching is, “If you have attachment to the world of existence, you do not have renunciation.” This explains that suffering exists not only in the lower realms, but also in the higher realms; even the nature of the higher realms is suffering. The higher realms appear to be a mixture of suffering and happiness. But in reality it is all suffering, because everything is impermanent. All compounded phenomena are impermanent, and all things that are impermanent have the nature of suffering.

The third line is, “If you have attachment to your own purpose, you do not have enlightenment thought.” This explains the entire Bodhisattva’s path of the six perfections. On this path, one develops loving kindness, compassion, and wisdom based upon enlightenment mind, which is the resolve to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, who have been our greatly kind mothers in previous lives.

This teaching focuses on the fourth line, which states, “If grasping arises, you do not have the view.” This means that although one has developed relative enlightenment mind based on the practice of the third line, one may still cling to phenomena as real. As a result, one falls into either the extreme of eternalism or the extreme of nihilism. As long as one remains in these extremes, enlightenment cannot be accomplished. In order to overcome this grasping at substantiality and characteristics, one must meditate on concentration meditation and insight wisdom.

The actual method of eliminating the afflictions is through the practice of insight wisdom. Before practicing insight wisdom, however, one must first develop a base of concentration meditation, also known as calm-abiding meditation. Altogether, the practice of the fourth line includes three stages: meditation on calm abiding, meditation on insight wisdom, and meditation on the combination of these two.

Meditation on Calm Abiding

The first stage is calm-abiding meditation. To do this, find a place that is free of what are called the thorns of meditation, namely a place free of external and internal disturbances which hinder practice. It should be a secluded place pleasing to the mind. There, begin with the preliminary practices such as taking refuge and generating enlightenment thought, just as we do in all meditation sessions. Then sit in the full vajra position (also known as the the full lotus position), with the feet crossed, two hands in meditation posture, the tip of the tongue lightly touching the palate, the spine straight, and the eyes half-closed. This is the proper position for meditation.

There are many different ways of practicing calm-abiding meditation, including many types of concentrations on outer objects or inner objects. For beginners, it is easier and more appropriate to focus on outer objects. Among the many outer objects of focus, the best is an image or statue of the Buddha. Focusing on an image of the Buddha not only develops concentration, it also accumulates great merit. If one chooses to meditate on a mental, rather than physical image of the Buddha, then visualize Shakyamuni Buddha seated on a jeweled throne upon a lotus and moon disc, golden colored, with one face and two hands. His right hand is in the earth-touching gesture and his left hand is in the meditation gesture. He is wearing three-piece Dharma robes and sitting in the full vajra position.

Either looking at the statue, or visualizing very clearly, focus on the body in general and particularly on the space between the eyebrows where there is a white round hair. Instead of looking at the various colors and shapes of the statue or of one’s visualization, try to bring one’s mind, eyes, and breathing together and to maintain the focus on that one spot without any distractions. It is necessary to do this type of calm-abiding meditation before attempting to practice insight wisdom, because in its current state, the mind is very busy with various streams of thoughts. With this busy mind, it is not possible to meditate properly on insight wisdom.

In trying to develop calm-abiding meditation, it is said that there are five faults that hinder practice. To counter these five faults there are eight antidotes. Finally, there are nine methods to aid meditation. Of the five faults, the main one is laziness or unwillingness to do meditation. The antidote to laziness is recollecting the benefits of calm-abiding meditation. Try to develop sincere faith that through the meditation one will accomplish the temporal benefits of physical and mental comfort as well as the ultimate attainment of enlightenment.

By meditating with a steady body, a steady object of meditation, without blinking, and without bending one’s body, the first experience that is gained is the perception that even more streams of thoughts are arising in the mind than one experienced previously. Actually, these streams of thoughts have always been present in the mind, but normally we are so busy with other activities that we do not recognize them. When we sit down and try to concentrate, then we see the thoughts arising. Seeing the thoughts arising is a actually a positive sign, so do not feel discouraged.

By continuously practicing in this way, gradually the number of thoughts in the mind will be reduced. Eventually one will become able to remain single-pointedly in complete tranquility without any disturbances or thoughts.

Meditation on Insight Wisdom

Calm-abiding meditation alone is not enough. It is the basis for the practice of insight wisdom, which is the second stage. Without insight wisdom, one cannot destroy the defilements at their root. The main practice is actually insight wisdom, which means the wisdom of discrimination. Using very sharp logical reasoning, one examines the nature of reality or the ultimate reality of all external and internal phenomena. Though this, the ultimate reality of all phenomena is seen to be away from the extremes of eternalism and nihilism, and devoid of all extreme views, such as existence, non-existence, permanence, nothingness, and so forth. Attaining such a state is the accomplishment of insight wisdom. This understanding should be combined with calm-abiding meditation, so that one dwells single-pointedly in the insight wisdom that is realized.

Insight wisdom, or vipassana, itself consists of three steps. The first is to establish all outer objects or outer appearances as the mind and as created by the mind. The second is to establish all mental objects as illusory. The third is to establish all illusions as devoid of inherent nature.

Step One: Outer Appearances Are One’s Own Mind

The first step is to establish all outer appearances as one’s own mind. This means that all the objects that we see and all the appearances or visions that we encounter every day, such as the elements, sentient beings, particles etc., all appear not without a cause, nor are they created by an outside force, nor are they inherently existent. In reality, they are all mentally projected. From beginningless time until now, the seeds or propensities to view phenomena in this way has left impressions on our mind. As a result, when the conditions come together, appearances of phenomena are projected outwardly. In fact, there is no creator of these objects apart from one’s own mind.

This is similar to the phenomenon of dreams. In dreams we see many things, such as different countries, animals and other beings. We have happy dreams, sad dreams, nightmares, and other dreams of all kinds. These dreams can cause joy, sadness, fear, etc. Even so, there is no outside object. Dreams are all one’s own mind. But during the dream, the experiences are as real as this present life. Similarly, this life that we experience is also like a dream. There is no difference between dreams and this present life. Dreams are experienced by oneself; this life is also experienced by oneself. Dreams can provoke many types of feelings; this life can provoke many types of feelings. The only real difference is the length of time—dreams are much shorter than the present life. Apart from that, there is no difference.

In this way, all outer appearances are actually not separate from one’s own mind. If the outer world was separate from the mind, then its characteristics would always be the same for everyone. This is not the case, however, because for one person a certain place can be a very happy place, yet for another person it can seem to be a very unhappy place. Furthermore, a single person can see it to be a very happy place at one time, and a very unhappy place at a later time. In this way, it is easy to see that all the things we encounter are actually projections of one’s own mind.

Step Two: Mental Objects Are Illusory

Having established that all outer appearances are one’s own mind, the second step is to establish all mental objects as illusory. As it is said in the sutras, “Just as the appearances of the various illusory forms of horses, elephants, and carts made by magicians are not true whatsoever, just so should all dharmas (phenomena) be known.” As this states, all these phenomena are like a magical show. When a magician combines certain special ingredients with the power of mantra, it is possible that we can see many things, such as elephants, horses, and so on, although none of these actually exist. In this way it is said that the various outer appearances are like a magical illusion. When the causes are gathered together, something appears. But when we examine that thing to try to find out what it is, we cannot find it in any way. Put another way, as long as a thing depends on causes and conditions, it is shown to be devoid of inherent existence. If it inherently existed, it would not depend on other causes and conditions. As long as something exists based upon causes and conditions, when one of its causes is missing, it will not appear. Television provides an example of this. An image appearing on a television screen depends upon many conditions, such as the presence of electricity, a functioning cable or antennae, the television signal, and so on. If any of these conditions are missing, even if the tiniest wire or circuit is broken or absent, the image will not appear. The image appears when all of the causes and conditions are gathered together. Although the image appears, it is still not real.

Reflect upon this, thinking that all mental appearances are like a magical show or like the moon’s reflection in water. When certain conditions gather together, phenomena appear. Meditate until one has certain knowledge of this.

Step Three: Illusions Are Devoid of Inherent Nature

The third step is to establish that all illusions are devoid of inherent nature. On the relative level, all these objects which arise based on the gathering of causes and conditions, appear to be unceasing. If we try to examine them, however, we cannot find anything that inherently exists. Put another way, on the relative level, due to interdependent origination, visions or appearances never cease. On the absolute level, they are all emptiness. Emptiness does not mean that things do not exist; emptiness is just a word. The actual reality is beyond descriptions of existence, non-existence, neither, or both. Reality is both unceasing clarity and emptiness, and these two do not contradict. As long as appearances and emptiness do not contradict, they become the non-duality of appearance and emptiness, the non-duality of sound and emptiness, and the non-duality of awareness and emptiness. This is actual insight wisdom.

Union of Calm-Abiding and Insight Wisdom

Having developed calm-abiding meditation and insight wisdom, the third stage is to merge these two together. This, too, is done step by step. The first step is to establish all outer appearances as mind, all mental objects as illusory, and all illusory visions as devoid of inherent nature. Then the analytical mind which realizes this emptiness beyond all description is merged with the actual or objective reality, which has from the very beginnning been away from all extremes. These two merge together inseparably, just like water mixing with water or melted butter mixing with melted butter. Meditate on this realization and remain in this state single-pointedly, like candlelight in the absence of wind. When there is no wind, candlelight glows very clearly; it is very steady and tranquil. Meditate in such a state.

By practicing in this way, one will gradually become more familiar with this state. The closer one is to actual reality, the more compassion arises for those sentient beings who do not realize this truth and hence experience much suffering. Through the combination of compassion and the wisdom that realizes emptiness, all illusory visions are transformed into wisdom. Eventually, one will accomplish full enlightenment which is endowed with the three kayas and unceasing great activities.

This completes the explanation of the fourth line of Parting from the Four Attachments, which states, “If grasping arises, you do not have the view.”

Dedication of Merit

The third and final part of the teaching is the dedication of merit. At the conclusion of every practice session, it is important to dedicate the merit. Without dedication, the merit accomplished by the virtuous deeds can be destroyed by a strong opposing factor, such as anger or hatred. However if the merit is dedicated through skillful means, it is not only unaffected by opposing factors, it also increases continuously until one reaches the ultimate goal.

To dedicate the merit, first think that all the merit one has gained through this very profound meditation is combined with the merit of all the virtuous deeds one has accumulated in the past, is accumulating now, and will accumulate in the future. Because all reality is mind, it is possible to dedicate merit that one has not yet accumulated. Then with all of these combined togther, think “Through the power of performing these virtuous deeds may I and all sentient beings attain enlightenment.” When dedicating the merit, recall that all phenomena are like a dream or magical show. By making the aspiration to dedicate one’s merit just as the great Bodhisattvas dedicated theirs, one is following in their great footsteps.

This completes the teaching of Parting from the Four Attachments by the great master Sachen Kunga Nyingpo. a

Source: Cho Trin, Volume 2, Number 2

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