Although to Enlightened beings the paradise is an illusion, to those of lesser spiritual development being in paradise is certainly a worthy, blissful achievement.

4.14 Perfection of Insight Meditation

Original Text in Chinese

Literal Translation
    Again, if a person cultivates zhi (stillness), his heart becomes sunken, or become slothful, not happy in doing public kindness, far away from great compassion. Thus, must cultivate guan (insight).


Again, if a person only cultivates zhi (stillness), i.e. if he only practises tranquility meditation, his mind may become complacent or slothful, and he may not rejoice in helping other sentient beings achieve enlightenment, thereby alienating himself from the Mahayanist ideal of universal salvation. Thus, he must also cultivate guan (insight), or insight meditation.


The importance of practising both tranquility meditation and insight meditation is again emphasized. The grave danger of practising only tranquility meditation is that the aspirant may become complacent, lazy and lose sight of the Mahayana ideal of helping others to achieve salvation. Tranquility meditation and insight meditation is sometimes referred to as concentration and contemplation respectively.

When the mind has become still or concentrated in tranquility meditation, the aspirant reflects or contemplate on the ultimate truths of cosmic reality. Reflection or contemplation is of four kinds: phenomena characteristics reflection (fa-xiang guan), great compassion reflection (da-bei guan), great vow reflection (da-yuan guan), and effort-progress reflection (jing-jin guan).

4.15 Reflection on the Characteristics of Phenomena

Original Text in Chinese

Literal Translation
    The aspirant who cultivates guan, should see all conditioned phenomena of the world, no permanence, instantly destroyed. Everything is heart activity, thoughts arising and ceasing, thus suffering. Should reflect all past phenomena that were conceived, misty like dreams. Should reflect all present phenomena now being conceived, just like lightning flashes. Should reflect all future phenomena that will be conceived, just like clouds arising. Should reflect all worldly forms are impure, various types of pollution, not one can be rejoiced in.


The aspirant who cultivates insight meditation should reflect that all conditioned phenomena of the world have no permanence; all phenomena that arise are instantly destroyed. All events are the result of the mind only; all thoughts constantly arise and cease. This impermanence of all phenomena, including all life, is suffering.

The aspirant should reflect that all past pheno¬mena that were conceived are misty like dreams; all present phenomena now being conceived are just like lightning flashes; all future phenomena that will be conceived are just like clouds arising. He should reflect that everything that has form in the phenomenal world is impure, that all forms are merely various types of pollution, without anything that can be rejoiced in.


In this passage the reflection on the characteristics of phenomena is described. There are four essential characteristics of the phenomenal world, and the insight into them involves the reflection on non-permanence (wu chang guan), the reflection on suffering (ku guan), the reflection on non-self (wu wo guan), and the reflection on impurity (bu jing guan).

It must be remembered that the four reflections on impermanence, suffering, non-self and impurity are expedient means to help aspirants attain Enlightenment. These reflections should not be mis-understood as being negative, pessimistic or nihilistic. If someone is dreaming, and enjoys his dream, Buddhist philosophy has nothing against his legitimate enjoyment.

But, out of compassion, Buddhist teachers would tell him that his dreamy pleasure is impermanent, that being ignorant of this truth is suffering, that the "I" in his dream is not his real self, and that everything in his dream is "impure", meaning it is not of his waking existence. The teachers inform him that he would have greater joy if he wakes up, but they would never wake him against his wish.

Similarly, transposed to a higher plane, Buddhism teaches that what we think is the real objective world is actually an illusion, and whatever worldly pleasures (as well as sufferings) are illusory. What is ultimately real is Cosmic Reality, which is eternal, blissful, transcendental and pure. Buddhism does not only explain this cosmic truth, but provides a practical way to attain this Cosmic Reality.

4.16 Reflection on Great Compassion

Original Text in Chinese

Literal Translation
    Thus reflect that all sentient beings from beginningless beginning, because of permeation of ignorance, cause their heart to have life-death, endure all sufferings of body and heart. At present there is infinite pressure, suffering in future lives, no release, difficult to be liberated, yet no awareness. Sentient beings are thus, greatly pitied.


During insight meditation, the aspirant should reflect that all sentient beings from the begin¬ningless beginning, because of the permeation of ignorance, have allowed their minds to remain in samsara, and have endured all forms of sufferings of the mind and body. At present they are under infinite pressure, and will continue to suffer in their future lives. Their sufferings are difficult to be relieved, and they are difficult to be liberated, yet they are not aware of their miserable situation. Thus, sentient beings are to be greatly pitied.


Buddhism is famous for its teaching of compassion. This compassion for all sentient beings is the result of a deep understanding of their recurrent suffering in samsara, which can be eliminated if they are aware of the higher wisdom concerning Cosmic Reality.

The fundamental reason why people suffer continuously is not because some divine power punishes them for their grave sins, not even because they cannot satisfy their carving or they have to endure pains of sickness and death, but because of their ignorance that attachment to self and phenomena will create karma which perpetuates their continual existence in samsara.

Once they have understood this great cosmic truth, and persevere to attain Cosmic Reality, they can eliminate suffering and enjoy eternal bliss. Mahayanist and Vajrayanist Buddhists are dedicated to help others to attain Cosmic Reality, and their dedication is idealized in the Bodhisattva's vow described below.

4.17 Reflection on Great Vow

Original Text in Chinese

Literal Translation
    Make such reflection, hence courageously make great vow. May my heart be liberated from differentiation, pervade the ten directions and cultivate all kindness and merits, until the endless future, employ unlimited expedient means to save all suffering, defiled sentient beings, to attain the number one joy of nirvana.


After reflecting on the great compassion for the suffering of sentient beings, the aspirant should courageously make a great vow: May my mind be liberated from the illusory differentiation of the phenomenal world, and may I pervade all space and time and cultivate all kind deeds and merits till the endless future, employing unlimited expedient means to save all suffering, defiled sentient beings, to help them attain the highest joy of nirvana.


This is the Bodhisattva's vow of great compassion. The Western Vajrayana master, Lama Anagarika Govinda, reports that his teacher, Tomo Geshe, chose to be reborn (although being Enlightened he does not have to come back to the phenomenal world if he does not wish to) because he wanted to continue his Bodhisattva's vow, which is summarized as follows: "Whatever be the highest perfection of the human mind, may I realise it for the benefit of all living beings. Even though I may have to take upon myself all the sufferings of the world, I will not forsake my aim and my fellow-creature in order to win salvation for myself only."

4.18 Reflection on Effort-Progress

Original Text in Chinese

Literal Translation
    Thus because of awakening of vow, at all times, at all places, all compassionate beings, according to own ability, without abandoning cultivation, heart without indolence. When sitting and concentrating on stillness, if eliminate all, must reflect proper to do or not to do.


Thus, having made the great vow, at all times and at all places, all compassionate bodhisattvas according to their ability, should practise the cultivation of the five perfections consistently and unfaltering. When practising meditation and concentrating on stillness, when the bodhisattvas mediate on eliminating all suffering, they must reflect on what is proper to do or not to do.


This is the fourth reflection of the four reflections in insight meditation, whereby the aspirants or bodhisattvas (i.e. those dedicated to achieve salvation for themselves as well as for others), reflect on their determination to attain nirvana by persevering in their five cultivations.

These five cultivations correspond to the six paramitas or perfections of the bodhisattva's path, namely charity, discipline, tolerance, perseverance, meditation and wisdom. As wisdom is derived from meditation, these two paramitas are combined into one cultivation, but it is conveniently divided into tranquility meditation and insight meditation.

It is significant Asvaghosha advises that even in performing kind deeds, the bodhisattvas must reflect whether the deeds should be done or not. Some people may think this is an excuse for bodhisattvas to avoid fulfilling their motto "Seek, and ye shalt be answered". It is not. It is a reminder that what may appear to be a kind deed may actually be a distractor.

For example, when a sick person beseeches a bodhisattva to relieve him of his sickness, it will be better for the sick person if the bodhisattva does not do so if that sickness is a karmic burden that person has to undergo, or a mean for him to learn some important lesson. If the sickness is relieved, the patient would have to bear the burden some other time, or he may miss the opportunity to benefit from an important lesson.

4.19 Tranquility and Insight

Original Text in Chinese

Literal Translation
    While walking, resting, lying down or rising up, should practise stillness and reflection together. Thus although reflect all spontaneous phenomena not arising, also reflect harmony of cause and effect, good and bad karma, joy and sorrow are replied accordingly, never lost never damaged. Although reflecting on the karmic effect of good and bad, also reflect that nature cannot be obtained.

    If cultivate stillness, remedy for ordinary people's attachment to phenomenal world, able to overcome the fear and weakness of Hinayanists. If cultivate reflection, remedy the non-awakening of great compassion of Hinayanists' narrow heart, liberate ordinary people from non-cultivation of good roots.

    Thus the meaning, is the two gates of zhi guan, mutually aiding each other to succeed, not to be mutually separated. If zhi guan are not complementary, cannot enter the tao of bodhi.


While walking, resting, lying down or rising up, the aspirant should practise tranquility meditation and insight meditation together. Thus while in tranquility he perceives that the ultimate reality is actually undifferentiated (i.e. all spontaneous phenomena not arising), he must also reflect with insight that in the phenomenal world, the operation of karma is inevitable, that good and bad causes always produce the appropriate effects, that joy and sorrow are always returned accordingly, that the working of karma is never lost nor altered.

On the other hand, while from tranquility mediation we understand that karma will certainly bring about its unmistakable results, from insight meditation we know that nothing can be added to nor subtracted from Cosmic Reality.

The cultivation of tranquility is a remedy for ordinary people who have attachment to the phenomenal world. It also overcomes the fear and weakness of Hinayanists due to their inadequate understanding of Cosmic Reality. The cultivation of insight meditation is a remedy for the narrow thinking of the Hinayanists who do not exhibit the awakening of great compassion of the Mahayanists (and Vajrayanists). It also free ordinary people from their weakness of not performing charity with the result of cultivating of good spiritual roots.

Thus, this is the significance of the twin cultivation of tranquility meditation and insight meditation, which mutually complement each other in helping aspirants to succeed in their spiritual effort. These two kinds of meditation are not to be practised separately. If tranquility and insight are not present simultaneously, the aspirants cannot enter the way of Enlightenment.


Here Asvaghosha gives a concise and profound explanation on the importance of practising both tranquility and insight meditation. The two types of meditation are also important in Theravada Buddhism. Bha Vana, a Theravada master, says:

At the outset you should be clear on one thing, that you need to practise both these types of meditation. You sometimes hear that only Vipassana Meditation is necessary, that it is the best and most effective meditation. This is only partly true. You need both types of meditation, just like a bird needs both, not just one wing, in order to fly, and a man needs both feet, not one foot, in order to walk.

But the kinds of reflection or contemplation in Theravada are different from those of the Mahayana. While the Mahayanists reflect on the illusion of the phenomena world, compassion, the great vow, and perseverance of cultivation, the Hinayanists contemplate on impermanence, suffering and non-self, with emphasis on awareness of the body, the feelings, and the mind.

Hence, insight meditation in Theravada Buddhism is mainly concerned with only the first kind of Mahayanist reflections, leaving out the other three kinds. As a result, the Mahayanists claim, Hinayanists succeed only in eliminating the attachment to self, but failing to eliminate the attachment to phenomena, and also lacking the compassion for the Enlightenment of other people.

Asvaghosha explains that the insight meditation of Mahayana can overcome these two weaknesses in Hinayana Buddhism, namely their fear of samsara and their disinterest in universal salvation. The Hinayanist fear of samsara is due to their inadequate understanding that samsara and nirvana are actually the same. Their apparent difference is because of different perspective: samsara is the phenomenal, while nirvana is the transcendental aspect of the same Cosmic Reality.

Because of this inadequate understanding, the Hinayanist concept of nirvana seems to be extinction -- extinction of self as well as extinction of samsara. Mahayanists answer that the crucial point is not extinction but a change of perspective. What is self and samsara in the phenomenal perspective become Universal Mind and undifferentiated Cosmic Reality in the transcendental perspective.

Of course, Asvaghosha's comment on the Hinayanist weaknesses is due to his compassion and sincerity, certainly not to belittle the Hinayana philosophy. It is also significant that his comment was made many centuries before Theravada Buddhism, which has succeeded to most of the Hinayana philosophy, became a prominent school in the world today.

4.20 Amitabha Buddha

Original Text in Chinese

Literal Translation
    Then, sentient beings first learn this method, desirous to seek the right faith, their hearts afraid and weak. Because live in the realm of suo po, worry that they cannot pay homage to the celestial Buddhas and personally serve them. Fearful that their faith cannot be perfected, intention retrogresses. Should know that the Tathagata has excellent expedient means, protect their faith, so as to whole-heartedly with cause and effect meditate on the Buddha, then reborn in the Buddha land, always see the Buddha, forever away from the way of evil.

    As the sutra says, if people whole-heartedly meditate on Amitabha Buddha of the Western Paradise of Eternal Bliss, all the good roots so cultivated directed towards reborn in that world, then succeed reborn there. Because always seeing the Buddha, ultimately without retrogression. If perceive the Supreme Body of this Buddha, persevere in cultivation, ultimately succeed to be reborn in right stillness.


Then, when sentient beings first learn of this method, and are desirous to seek the right faith, they may be afraid and weak. Because they live in the suo po galaxy, i.e. our galaxy where the attachment to worldly matters is prominent, they are worry that they cannot pay homage to the celestial Buddhas and personally serve them. Thus they are fearful that their faith cannot be perfected, and their intention to attain spiritual fulfilment may retrogress. They should know that the Tathagata has excellent expedient means to protect their faith. If they whole-heartedly meditate on and recite the name of the Buddha, then they will be reborn in the Buddha land. There, as they always see the Buddha, they are forever away from the way of evil.

As the sutra says, if people whole-heartedly meditate on and recite the name of Amitabha Buddha of the Western Paradise of Eternal Bliss, and direct all the merits so cultivated towards rebirth in that world, then they will succeed to be reborn there. Because they always see the Buddha in the Buddha land, their spiritual development will not suffer any retrogression. If they can perceive the Supreme Body of Amitahba Buddha, and persevere in their cultivation, they will ultimately succeed to attain nirvana.


This passage is particularly significant to the Jing Tu, or Pure Land, school of Buddhism, one of the most popular Mahayana schools today. The Pure Land school believes that if the devotees sincerely and constantly recite the name of Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of the Western Paradise, they will be reborn there. The Western Paradise is the Buddha land of eternal bliss, where the devotees can continue their spiritual cultivation and inevitably attain nirvana.

If you think this belief is naive, as many people do, you will probably be shocked or comforted, depending on your attitude, to discover that when physicists set up their apparatus to measure light as waves, it turns out to be waves, but when they set up their apparatus to measure light as particles, it turns out to be particles!

Yet, not too long ago, waves and particles were considered to be exclusive. Alastair Rae sums up the general opinion of today's scientists by saying that in quantum physics, which has been exclaimed as the greatest scientific achievement of the twentieth century, "the role of the observer is crucial in understanding any physical process. So crucial in fact that some people have been led to believe that it is the observer's mind that is the only reality -- that everything else including the whole physical universe is illusion."

According to Buddhist philosophy, the Western Paradise is also an illusion: it is, like all other heavens, still in the phenomenal dimension. But to devotees who have not reached the understanding or direct experience stage of spiritual cultivation, the "illusory" heaven is "real"; just as the sparse, constantly moving electrons of a table look solid and stationary to us in our ordinary consciousness. Because the paradise is an illusion, it is possible for the devotees to experience the paradise, if their minds are focussed one-pointedly on it after countless meditations and recitations.

Although to Enlightened beings the paradise is an illusion, to those of lesser spiritual development beings in paradise, it is certainly a worthy, blissful achievement. Further, under the compassionate guidance of Amitabha Buddha in the Western Paradise, devotees will eventually attain Cosmic Reality.



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