As for the dharma of nirvana, there are many paths of entry into it. However, if we discuss those which are crucially essential, they do not go beyond the two dharmas of stopping and contemplation.
Next, a commendation of the marvelous functions of stopping and contemplation.
How is this so? Stopping constitutes the initial method whereby one is able to suppress the fetters. Contemplation is the primary essential whereby one is able to cut off the delusions. Stopping then is the wholesome provision with which one kindly nourishes the mind and consciousness. Contemplation then is the marvelous technique which stimulates the development of spiritual understanding. Stopping is the supreme cause for the manifestation of dhyana absorption.(8) Contemplation is the origin of wisdom.
If a person perfects the two dharmas of meditative absorption and wisdom, this then constitutes the complete fulfillment of the dharma of benefitting both oneself and others.
Next, a scriptural citation.
Hence The Dharma Blossom Sutra states, "The Buddha himself abides in the Great Vehicle. Such dharmas as he has realized are enhanced by the power of meditative absorption and wisdom. He employs these in the deliverance of beings."
One must realize that these two dharmas are like the two wheels of a cart and like the two wings of a bird. If the cultivation of them becomes one-sided one one falls and is overturned by that deviation.
Second, scriptural citation.
Thus, one of the Sutras states, "If one is one-sided in the cultivation of dhyana absorption and merit and thus neglects the study of wisdom, this results in delusion. If one indulges in the one-sided study of wisdom and thus neglects the cultivation of dhyana absorption and merit, this results in craziness. Although there are some minor differences in the faults inherent in delusion and craziness, still, the erroneous views which develop from the two conditions are generally no different. If one is unequal in [the cultivation of these disciplines], this then results in the perfection of deviation. How then could one possibly be able to swiftly ascend to the most ultimate of results?"
Hence, one of the Sutras declares, "Because the Hearers are most developed in the power of meditative absorption, they are unable to perceive the Buddha nature. The Bodhisattvas abiding at the level of the Ten Dwellings are most developed in the power of wisdom. Although they do perceive the Buddha nature, still, they have not become entirely clear about it. The powers of meditative absorption and wisdom are equally developed in the Buddhas, the Thus Come Ones. Consequently, they possess absolute understanding and perception of the Buddha nature."
Extrapolating from this, how could stopping and contemplation not constitute the essential entryway unto the great result of nirvana, the supreme path for the cultivation of the practitioner, the point of confluence for perfection of the manifold virtues and the actual substance of the unsurpassed and ultimate result?"
Next, clarifying the rationale in this explanation of stopping and contemplation.
If one understands accordingly, then it will be quite apparent that this Dharma entryway of stopping and contemplation is truly not a shallow one. When one desires to draw in and lead along those who are new to the study of this discipline so that they may develop beyond their untutored understanding and advance along the Way, it is easy to discourse on the subject but difficult to implement the practice. [This being the case,] how could one justify launching into extensive discussions of the abstruse and marvelous?
Now, we shall briefly explain ten concepts in order to reveal to the novice practitioner the steps traversed in ascending via the orthodox Way as well as the stages passed through in progressing toward the entry into nirvana. The investigator should adopt appropriate humility with regard to the difficulty of succeeding in one's cultivation and thus not demean this text's shallowness and ready accessibility.
Next, offering cautionary advice.
If one's mind correctly gauges the import of these words, then in the blink of an eye one's qualities of wisdom and severance will grow beyond measure while the depths of spiritual faculties and intelligence will become unfathomable. If, however, one disingenuously seizes on passages out of context or, due to emotional biases, contradicts the instructions of the text, then the months and years will be needlessly drawn out while actual realization will have no basis for development. One's circumstance then would be like that of the pauper who spends his time calculating the wealth of other men. What possible benefit could this have for oneself?
Next, clarifying the intent of the listed sections.
Now, we shall briefly treat these ten concepts in order to instruct the cultivator of stopping and contemplation. These are crucial essentials for the initial phase of learning to sit [in dhyana meditation]. If one is well able to grasp their intent and thus proceed to cultivate them, one will be able to settle the mind, avoid difficulties, manifest meditative absorption, develop understanding, and achieve realization of the non-outflow fruits gained by the Superiors.(10)
[End of Master Chih-i's Introductory Discussion]
1. "Stopping" is a literal rendering of the author's "chih (3)" which in turn corresponds to the Sanskrit "shamatha." For followers of the J. Hopkins school of translation he renders it as "calm abiding." (back)
2. "Contemplation" renders the Chinese "gwan (1)" which corresponds to the Sanskrit "vipashyanaa" and the Pali "vipassanaa." The modern facsimile of this is the "Insight" meditation now so popular in the West. Master Chih-i's more exhaustive 20-fascicle exposition of the subject is preserved in the Taisho Tripitaka (T46.1911) The text translated here is the much more intellectually-accessible version preserved as T46.1916. (back)
3. A "Shrama.na" is a fully-ordained Buddhist monk. (back)
4. The great Tripitaka Master Chih-i (538-597ce) was the principal founder of the T'ien-t'ai School and a highly-realized meditation master. For his life, see Hurvitz, Leon. "Chih-i (538-597): An Introduction to the Life and Ideas of a Chinese Monk." Melanges Chinoises et Bouddhiques 12 (1962): 1-372. For a translation and discussion of a significant section from Chih-i's 20-fascicle exposition of the practice of Buddhist meditation, see Neal Donner and Daniel B. Stevenson's The Great Calming and Contemplation. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993. (back)
5. Since I'm always finding ways to improve even my supposedly "final" translations, I've decided to indicate that fact by designating most of them as "beta". The intention is to indicate that, although the translation itself is relatively finalized, it is still subject to further annotation, editing and revision based on feedback or analysis of other editions of the source-language text. (Readers are invited to report "bugs" via the Kalavinka feedback form.) (back)
6. The Yale system is my default transliteration because it is the only system which, when read by the non-specialist, yields an approximately-accurate pronunciation. (For those who had not already become aware of it, you should know that both the Wade-Giles & Pinyin systems were obviously invented for the express purpose of making fools of non-specialists.) With the Yale transliteration, just pronounce it like it looks and you're as close as you'll ever get without taking a class. Wade-Giles is used here, but only for those personal and place names where it has become universally recognized, e.g. "Chih-i," "T'ien-t'ai Mountain." For Sanskrit and Pali, the standard ASCII system is used with the exception of "sh" being used for palatal "s" and an apostrophe being used to designate the velar "n.". In short: 1) Long vowels are doubled; 2) Diacritics precede: .r .t .th .d .dh 'n .n ~n .m .s .h; 3) Palatal "s" is "sh." (back)
7. These page numbers refer to the most widely available modern commentary on this work: Syou-syi jr-gwan dzwo-chan fa yao jyang shu, by Dharma Master Bao Jing. Hong Kong: Syang-gang fwo-jing lyou-tung chu, 1971. The text is also available in the Taisho tripitaka (T46.1915). (back)
8. "Absorption" renders the Chinese "ding (4)" which in turn typically corresponds to the Sanskrit "samadhi". Where it is not preceded by the word "dhyana" I render it as "meditative absorption." (back)
9. "Roots" in a Buddhist context refer to the relative strength of specific karmic propensities rooted in the karmic activity of former existences. For instance, one who has studied under countless buddhas across the course of a Ganges' sands number of aeons would most likely possess very sharp faculties as regards instinctively moral conduct, ease of entry into meditative absorption, and a deep resonance with transcendental wisdom. (back)
10. "Superior" renders the Chinese "sheng (4)" which typically corresponds to the Sanskrit "aarya." It's actually a technical term which generally refers to anyone who has realized the Path of Seeing. It carries the additional connotation of "saint" or "holy one" either of which I would be pleased to employ were it not for the misleading Christian-tradition associations of those terms. (back)