Zen is training of mind or spiritual cultivation

(This chapter is selected from Zhi Chao (ed), Secrets of Great Qigong Masters, Tianjin Publishing House, 1995, published in Chinese. There were no headings in the original passage. They are provided here to make reading easier.)

Si Chan Ba Ding

Four Zen and Eight Stages of “silent sitting” are the training methods of Mahayana Buddhism.

(Editorial Note: The Chinese word for Zen, which is a Japanese word, is “Chan”. “Chan” is the shortened term for “chana”, which is transliterated from the Sanskrit word “dhyana”. “Dhyana” is usually translated as meditation, but meditation may imply thinking or meditating, whereas in the cultivation of Zen, or Chan, thinking is not involved. Hence, the term “silent sitting” is used here. It is also the term used in Chinese for this form of cultivation.)

(Editorial Note: It may come as a surprise that Buddhism is not a religion as conceptualized by many people in the West. A Buddhist, for example, does not call himself a Buddhist; it is other people who do so, to differentiate his beliefs from other religious beliefs. According to the Buddha himself, anyone who avoids evil, does good, and cultivates his (or her) mind, is a practitioner of Buddhism. Hence, anyone of any religion can practice Buddhism without affecting his own religious beliefs. A typical Chinese, for example, is a Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian at the same time.)

(Editorial Note: Buddhism can be classified into two traditions, or three traditions, according to ones perspective. The two traditions are Hinayana Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism, which mean Buddhism of the Small Vehicle and Buddhism of the Big Vehicle. However, many who practice the Small Vehicle may not like the term “Hinayana”, so the term “Theravada Buddhism”, which means “Buddhism of the Elders” is used, although strictly speaking Theravada Buddhism is one of the schools of Hinayana Buddhism. From Mahayana Buddhism was branched off Vajrayana Buddhism, which included the native Bon religious practices of Tibet.)

“Four Zen and Eight Stages of Silent Sitting” is called “Si Chan Ba Ding” in Chinese. There are two levels, that of the Small Vehicle and the Big Vehicle.

Four Progressive Levels of Stillness

There are four stages in the Small Vehicle, namely “Rough Stillness”, “Fine Stillness”, “Desire-Realm Stillness” and “Before-Arriving Realm Stillness”.

In “Rough Stillness”, cultivators become still with no irrelevant thoughts. They may use a sitting, moving or lying down posture.

In “Fine Stillness”, cultivators are so still that they do not want to move. It is also called “Stabilized Stillness”, and is a progression of the earlier stage of “Rough Stillness”.

In “Desire-Realm Stillness”, after attaining “Fine Stillness” some pleasant feeling or mental scenery suddenly appears in the cultivators’ mind. They may suddenly feel very happy, or hear some sound, or see some beautiful scenery. They may not want to proceed, and want to return home.

This is a crucial stage. Cultivators cannot be completely still. Desires arise in them. Thus, this stage is called “Desire-Realm Stillness”. They need to persist to progress further. Cultivators normally have their eyes close. When such responses appear. if they swirl their tongue about, the responses will disappear.

Cultivators may observe these desires, but do not follow them. For example, a master may appear in their mind, but the cultivators should not follow the master to another place. The cultivators may see a beautiful sea, a high cliff or a deep well, but they must not go into the sea, jump over the cliff or go down the well.

From “Desire-Realm Stillness”, cultivators progress to “Before-Arriving Realm Stillness”, which is also called “Future-Realm Zen”. Here they see that everything has disappeared. There is nothing, just emptiness. Even their body and spirit are empty.

These four developmental stages of stillness in “silent sitting” belong to the Small Vehicle. After having gone through these four stages, cultivators are ready to proceed to the second level of training.

Higher Zen Stages of Development

There are also four stages in the second level of training, which belong to the Big Vehicle. These four stages are known as “First Zen State”, “Second Zen State”, “Third Zen State” and “Fourth Zen State”.

(Editorial Note: There are eight stages in “Four Zen and Eight Stages of Silent Sitting”, not twelve. The first four stages of the Small Vehicle are also the same as the first four stages of the Big Vehicle. The “First Zen State” is, therefore, the fifth stage.)

(Editorial Note: The first four stages of stillness are similar to the “four stages of Jhana” in Hinayana or Theravada Buddhism. “Jhana” is the Pali word for the Sanskrit “Dhyana”, which is “Chan” in Chinese, and “Zen” in Japanese. The characteristics of the four Jhana states are pleasure, joy, contentment and equanimity.)

Sensations of First Zen Stage

In the “First Zen State”, cultivators experience “eight sensations”, which are movement, itchiness, lightness, heaviness, coolness, heat, dryness and smoothness.

The first sensation in their “silent sitting”, is movement. Cultivators start to move. They should not be afraid. It is not a deviation. It is part of the progression in “silent sitting”. But cultivators should not voluntarily attempt to move. Let the movement be spontaneous.

After movement is itchiness. Cultivators feel itchy from their heart, at their ears or all over their body. It is important that they should not try to stretch the ichy parts, or move about. Just endure the itchiness, and it will soon disappear. It is part of the progress.

Next, cultivators feel themselves light. Some may even elevate. Those who are trained in the art of lightness, trained this aspect.

After feeling very light, cultivators feel very heavy. Some can be so heavy that many other people cannot move them. Don’t be worried. This is just part of the progress.

Then, cultivators are cool and then cold to touch, but they feel fresh and healhty. They may be so cold to touch as if their energy has been drained away. Their blood pressure may also drop to a low level. These symptoms may cause medical concern, or even fear. But don’t worry. These symptoms will pass, and cultivators will feel hot.

The cultivators may also have what is called miraculous powers, or extra-sensory perception. If someone has lost a ring, for example, they can find out where it is.

At the next developmental stage, the cultivators first feel warm, then they feel hot, and soon very hot. In Taoist concept, “three tastes of real fire” appear. This is a very good symptom. Usually they feel heat at their abdomen, chest and head. It is even better if they can direct the “three tastes of real fire” to their kidney region or their “hui yin” energy point. However, if they feel too hot, they may think of their “yong quan” energy points.

(Editorial Note” The “hui yin” energy point is located between the external sex organs and the anus. “Hui yin” means the meeting of the two “yin”, i.e. the external sex organs and the anus. The “yong quan” energy points are each found at the soles, about one third the distance from the toes.)

The heat will gradually disappear. Then the cultivators will feel dry. They may feel their skin rough, as if full of sand. Their eyes may not feel comfortable. The whole body feels tight, difficult for movement. These symptoms are normal; they are not deviations. Don’t worry. Continue with deep and long breathing. Gradually the uncomfortable feelings will disappear.

The eighth sensation is smoothness. The whole body is very smooth, as if immersed in oil, or like skating on smooth ice. The cultivators will feel very comfortable. It is like attaining an aspect of the art of childhood. The whole skin is soft and tender.

Ten Virtues of Second Zen Stage

All these eight sensations belong to the “First Zen State”. Cultivators then progress to the “Second Zen State” where “ten virtues” appear.

The first virtue of the “Second Zen State” is emptiness. Cultivators feel that their whole body is empty. Their heart and spirit are empty. This sense of emptiness is different from that in the previous stage of “Before-Arriving Stillness”.

Originally it is void and still. Now it is empty. Suddenly, everything is empty. It is like throwing away the flesh and bones, throwing away the body.

The next virtue is clarity. Everything becomes very clear. Cultivators may see the inside of their body. All their internal organs become very clear. External scenery is also very clear. Cultivator can see clearly far and near. Everything is very beautiful.

The third virtue is focus. When you are at this “Second Zen State”, everything you see is focused. If you observe your internal organs, your blood vessels, you focus on your internal organs, your blood vessels. If you observe an external scene, you focus on the scene.

The fourth virtue is wisdom. After you have focused on your internal or external scenery, wisdom arises. You are no longer ignorant, vague or confused. When you look at the blood flowing in your blood vessels, you can see what nutrients the blood carries. When you observe an external scene and see a cyclist, for example, you can see how much money he carries in his pocket. If he is cycling fast, you can, in your mind, ask him to stop and observe him with wisdom.

The fifth virtue is kindness. As you observe with wisdom, kindness will spontaneously arise. If, for example, a pretty girl arises, and at the same time you see someone in difficulty, you should not be just looking at the pretty girl; you should help the other person. If you feel you made some mistakes in the past and you regret them, you should be kind enough to forgive yourself and learn from the mistakes.

The next virtue is gentleness. After being kind, you would be gentle. Your thoughts, your behaviour will be gentle. If you happen to be rough or crude before, it will appear as if you change your pre-natal energy. Suddenly and spontaneously you become graceful and elegant. Self-manifested qi movements may occur to some cultivators. Their movements are like fairies dancing, very graceful and elegant. At this stage, “elegant heart is spontaneously born”.

The seventh virtue is happiness. After being gentle, cultivators will want to be graceful and elegant, and they feel happy about this eventuality. They also have understood with wisdom and clarity what has been happening, so they are happy to continue cultivating.

The next virtue is joy. After feeling happy, cultivators continue to practice their “silent sitting”, or Zen meditation, and experience joy. This is marvellous. Joy is spontaneously born.

(Editorial Note: There is a subtle difference between happiness and joy. One is happy for something, but joyful for nothing. In other words, there is a reason for someone to be happy, but no obvious reasons to be joyful. Zen cultivators are happy because they can see things with clarity and wisdom, and as they continue to cultivate they find everyday a joy for no particular reasons.)

The next stage is liberation. Cultivators liberate themselves form earlier experiences of greed, lack of confidence, depression, vanity, not being filial to their parents and elders, disrespectfulness, being rough and crude and other unhealthy behaviour. The liberation is intrinsic. After being liberated from these negative emotions, they do not want anymore to be false, ugly, or evil. This development is spontaneous, attaining what is known as “spirit becomes peaceful and natural”.

The tenth virtue is righteousness, known as “environment is righteous”. Their heart abides in a pure, quiet environment, which is known as “heart and spirit in harmony”. They experience “responses in order” and “self-control”, which means that no matter what the situation is, they can respond correctly, and that they are in control of the situation.

Two Branches of Third Zen Stage

These ten benefits are known as “ten virtues” and are found in the “Second Zen State”. As cultivators continue, they will attain the “Third Zen State” which will give them the first two of five other benefits, which are called “five branches”. The five branches are “realization branch”, “analysis branch”, “happiness branch”, “joy branch” and “one heart branch”.

The first branch is “realization branch”. Cultivators spontaneously realize at present that many things will happen In future They may, for example, realize motor accidents happening in future.

(Editorial Note: Some realizations are what is called “heavenly secrets”, which should not be revealed indiscriminatingly. An effective way for a cultivator to find out whether such a realization could be revealed is to sincerely ask his consciousness, or to ask God. He will be given an answer, though sometimes the answer may not be given directly.)

The second branch is “analysis branch”. Not only cultivators can realize events that will happen in future, they can also analyse why they happen. They can analyse, for example, why a motor accident will happen.

Three Branches of Fourth Zen Stage

The other three branches are accomplished in the “Fourth Zen State”

The third branch is “happiness branch”. This is expressed as “Focus event, then happy”. When a cultivator can see internal and external scenery, with clarity and wisdom, he becomes happy.

The fourth branch is “joy branch”. When heart and spirit are peaceful and in harmony, you will find that you can view all occurrences in the environment with clarity and wisdom, you will not be concerned with other people disturbing your cultivation.

The fifth branch is “one heart branch”. This is to let the whole range of thoughts be completely abided in a pure and quiet environment. A cultivator will be able to understand all that happen. Nothing can disturb him, nothing can disorientate him. Even when an insect flies across, he will know. This is the attainment of the fifth branch.

This is a comprehensive programme of cultivation. Firstly, cultivators learn to enter stillness, from rough and fine stillness to stillness in the desire realm and the before-arriving realm. Then, they progress in the four states of Zen, from the first state to the fourth state. They will derive a lot of benefits. It is a main training programme in Mahayana Buddhism, as well as for Confucians who practice Zen. It is also suitable for martial artists.

Different Classification of Eight Zen Stages

(Editorial Note: Another description of “Si Chan Ba Ding” or the eight Zen states or eight dhyana states are as follows:

  1. 1st dhyana state – absence of desires
  2. 2nd dhyana state – joy
  3. 3rd dhyana state – non-attachment
  4. 4th dhyana state – awareness beyond thought
  5. 5th dhyana state – boundless space
  6. 6th dhyana state – pure consciousness
  7. 7th dhyana state – pure emptiness
  8. 8th dhyana state – beyond perception and non-perception
For comparison, the eight dhyana states provided by the author of this passage are as follows:

  1. 1st dhyana state – rough stillness
  2. 2nd dhyana state – fine stillness
  3. 3rd dhyana state – desire-realm stillness
  4. 4th dhyana state – before-arriving realm stillness
  5. 5th dhyana state – eight sensations
  6. 6th dhyana state – ten virtues
  7. 7th dhyana state – realization and analysis
  8. 8th dhyana state – happiness, joy, one-heart
In both classifications of the eight dhyana states, the first four states belong to cultivation of the Small Vehicle, and all the eight dhyana states belong to the cultivation of the Big Vehicle. The fifth dhyana state to the eighth dhyana state are not in the Small Vehicle.

The eight dhyana states in the first classification above are more concerned with the supramundane dimensions, whereas the eight dhyana states in the second classification, i.e. the one provided by the author of this passage, deal with the world we live in. Those who have succeeded in attaining the fifth to the eighth dhyana states of the first classification may leave the realm of desires, and live in the realms of form or the realm of non-form as brahma gods, arahants or bodhisattvas. Those who have succeeded in attaining the fifth to the eighth dhyana states of the second classification still live in our world of desires as masters in human form, though they have miraculous abilities.)

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