There are other meditations that can be helpful in achieving an expanded awareness. While all meditations can be helpful, some types that lead to trance, deep immersion and otherworldly feelings do not fit our idea of what we are looking for in the quest for heightened awareness. In this chapter we will give instruction in two, the Tiantai (Tendai in Japanese), Chih-kuan meditation and the Great Circle Meditation. First, however, I would like to offer a visualization that can precede practice of either meditation – one that is healing in nature and can be very helpful in attaining a heightened awareness.
A Russian woman I knew went to the hospital with a mysterious ailment and found that it was sapping her strength. Later in life the ailment was diagnosed as coming from the kidneys, but at the time, doctors did not have any idea why she was steadily growing weaker.
While she was in the hospital I spoke to her by phone and explained a simple visualization to her, giving her two versions of it so that she would have a choice as to what appealed to her. She practiced the “waterfall” version continually and later told me it helped her gain the necessary strength to fight off the debilitating ailment. What is interesting is that she had some important realizations during this period in the hospital practicing the visualizations, and these influenced her later life.
I told her to imagine a small duck’s egg balanced on the top of her head. This was to slowly crack open and the nectar from inside the egg, cool and delicious, was to slowly trickle down through her head, through the neck, then spread out to flow through the torso, reach the waist and continue at a slow pace down through the legs until it reached the soles of her feet (the so-called Bubbling Spring), where it would rest, cool and comforting, while she luxuriated in the delicious feeling that pervaded her body. The trip from the top of the head down was to be imagined in great detail, and the progress of the cool, invigorating nectar was to be slow and even.
As the nectar trickled down through the chest, lungs, liver, stomach and other internal organs, there was to be a faint sound like that of trickling water. After the nectar had rested in the soles of the feet for a short time, it was to gradually rise and fill up the bottom half of the body, from the waist down. The bottom half would begin to feel pleasingly warm. At such time, I explained, it was possible that a pleasant fragrance would become apparent to the nose, in harmony with the perception of warmth and comfort in the lower half of the body.
This version, which she practiced, is largely the same as the Duck’s Egg version. She was told to imagine standing under a great waterfall, cool but not cold, with the water cascading over her (slowly) as it came down from the top of her head to the resting spot at the bottom of the feet. Then it was to rise and gradually fill up the lower half of the body as she rested and luxuriated in it.
Either of these versions is valid and can be helpful and healing. They can be practiced from time to time in the privacy of the home, in the office or even while sitting on a plane or as a passenger in a car. There are ways to make the visualizations more complicated by taking the nectar up from the soles of the feet through the meridian channels of the body, and then down again, but there is no need to do so. Either the Duck’s Egg version or the Waterfall version should have a beneficial effect on the body and on the awareness of the mind. As it heals ailments, it removes clouds from the mind, making heightened awareness a distinct probability.
This is the name of a branch of Buddhism that originated in China and has certain Taoist influences in its practices. This is not surprising. It has always been felt that Chinese spirituality is eclectic, with each Chinese gentleman being simultaneously Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian.
The Fourth Patriarch of Tiantai, known as Zhiyi, was probably its most influential master, and many of his teachings have trickled over to Zen and other sects. Since the Chih K’uan meditation we will practice is also called Samatha Vipassana (stopping and letting go in simple terms), it can be seen that the present-day Vipassana meditation may have derived its name from this Tiantai practice, though Samatha and Vipassana were terms used by the Buddha 2500 years ago.
This meditation deals with Chih as the cause of dhyana (meditation) and kuan as that which brings about (uncovers) Wisdom (Prajna). It is deceptively simple to practice, though there have been literally thousands of pages written about it and Zhiyi has elaborated on ten steps leading to enlightenment based on Chih-kuan practice. It is not necessary that we know the philosophy behind the meditation, only that we practice it. Nor do we have to deal with “the ten means of repentance” that Tiantai monks practice. We are not dealing with the Chih-kuan meditation in the religious sense but only as a tool to help us attain a greater awareness. It is very efficacious in that respect.
In teaching the Chih-kuan meditation, Zhiyi was very careful to point out to monks that which must be gradually eliminated in order for true enlightenment and Nirvana to be attained. It is interesting that the passage on rooting out faults that hinder progress began with attention to taste, the Buddha having specified that the craving for taste (gluttony) is one of the hardest desires to be eliminated and that it definitely blocks the way to realization. He also stressed that hatred was to be done away with, and stated that the rooting out and banishment of hatred was the way to happiness. (This would include annoyance, envy and jealousy.) “Hatred is the root of poison, and elimination of it is ‘moral excellence,’” was the Buddha’s teaching. Repentance was very high on the list of necessary disciplines in Tiantai.
Practice of Chih K’uan is as follows:
We seat ourselves in a desired position, careful to keep the back straight, and place the tongue against the roof of the mouth, where it will stay during the whole of the meditation. We then choose one of two spots, either the place two inches below the navel (tan t’ien, pronounced dantienne) or the third eye spot, between and slightly above the eyes on the forehead.
Fastening our concentration on the chosen spot, we breathe naturally in and out and sit quietly. Our thought is the point we have chosen, and since we can only have one thought at a time, continued concentration should theoretically be simple. In actuality, however, it is easy for the mind to lose its concentration and begin to roam around. In this busy world the mind does not take readily to one-pointed concentration.
At first, when the attention begins to waver, we are able to easily bring it back to the point of concentration. However, when extraneous thoughts begin to intrude rather heavily, we put aside the point of concentration and just watch the passing show, the thoughts flitting through our mind. Where do these thoughts come from? And where are they headed?
When we scrutinize them this closely, they will tend to disappear. Then, as the mind empties, we resume concentration on the chosen point.
Thirty minutes of this meditation – grasping the point of concentration and then letting go – (Chih-kuan) – is a good deal. Thirty minutes a day would be a splendid practice, and if we kept on, results could be expected. This alternate holding and letting go is true of all life, the expansion and contraction that is also day and night as well as life and death.
There is deep meaning to this “simple” meditation, which is powerful enough, when consistently repeated, to lead one to an enlightenment experience. In order to point out a little of the profundity of the practice, I am going to quote from my own writing, a passage in the book, Meditation for Healing:
There is nothing that does not change, so there is no permanence. What is not permanent is, ultimately, not real. Buddhism says that the transitory is simply a transformation, as the seed becomes the tree, the tree becomes timber and the timber becomes ashes. Even names and forms of impermanent things are not real. So what we see, what we feel and what we think is really empty – empty of any enduring self-nature. Thus we contemplate the Void, or Emptiness of Things.
Then we shift our contemplation to the world of phenomena, which Tiantai knows as the “seeming.” Although the nature of mind is empty (Void) as we now know, still conditioned by circumstances and karma, it can produce all the things of the world, including ourselves. So, knowing full well that these perceived things are, at bottom, empty, still we see the mountains and rivers and have thoughts. Knowing the true nature (which is no-nature) of things is empty, we, for the first time, really perceive the green of the grass and the brightness of the stars. There is no attachment to cloud our vision.
However, we do not stop there. We have realized all things as empty, yet we do see and feel the phenomena of the world. The two together – the Empty and the Phenomenal – are but symbols, arrows pointing to the Mean. Then we can truly live in this empty, phenomenal universe, playing our role in what is essentially a show of phantoms. We do not take “no” as answer, and we do not take “yes.” Knowing the Mean, we perceive Truth and can live our lives meaningfully as both common men and sages.
I believe it is helpful to read the above and to attempt to understand the deep meaning behind the simple Chih-kuan meditation. The one who chooses this as a permanent practice will not be mistaken.
The Great Circle Meditation
A former student of mine (in the financial world) was recovering from a bad case of influenza. He did not seem able to get enough strength back so that he could go to work. One night he called me from the Los Angeles area to see if I could help.
I told him to arouse himself sexually, either through the use of fantasy or by any other method he wished to use, and then with this awakened sex energy, to make the Great Circle nine times in the Great Circle Meditation. Two days later he called me from work to tell me about his remarkable recovery. This is one usage of the helpful meditation, healing through the use of sex energy.
A young Yogi was deeply disturbed because of nightly emissions. This loss of ojas – semen – was strictly forbidden by his guru, as it is in most Indian practices. I counseled him to set his mental alarm to awaken him each night at 1:00 a.m., and then to do the Great Circle Meditation nine times. This solved the problem, and he found that he was waking up each morning with great energy. This, too, is a way to use this meditation.
Practice is as follows:
The version of the Great Circle Meditation taught here is a simplified one and slightly different from what I have taught in other books. Nonetheless, it should be helpful in heightening awareness, as well as having other benefits. The objective is to make it easy to do, as a supplement to the various disciplines that have preceded it.
Once again seat yourself comfortably, in a chair or in meditative pose, holding the backbone straight and placing the tongue against the roof of the mouth. Close the eyes and relax.
We are now going to use the breath and the eyes to lift a warm, golden current of energy from the soles of the feet (the Bubbling Spring) up the backbone to the top of the head, then down the front to the waist, under the crotch to the tailbone, and back up over the heart level, crossing through the center of the body to the front, down to the waist (where it will separate, going to the right and left sides), and down the outside of the legs again to the soles of the feet.
The closed eyes are focused downward as we start, and they gradually are raised as the current comes up. By the time the current reaches the top of the head, the eyes are gazing upward, slowly being lowered as the current comes down, then rising again as the current comes up the backbone over the heart level, and being lowered as the current crosses to the front of the body and goes to the soles of the feet.
As we raise the current from the Bubbling Spring, we gradually inhale. By the time the current reaches the top of the head, our chest is fully expanded. As the current comes down, we breathe out in short out-breaths (like letting air slowly out of a tire). Then, when the current goes between the legs and starts up the back, over the heart area, we again breathe in but not as deeply as the first time up the entire backbone. When the current goes down again, after having crossed over to the front of the body at the heart level, we breathe out in sections, slowly deflating until the breath is fully exhaled when the current reaches the bottoms of the feet – and there we rest without breathing as long as is comfortable.
Instructions are as follows:
1. To begin, we focus on the feet, then bring the current up the inside of the legs, to the crotch, through the space between the legs, to the tailbone as we breathe in, and we gradually raise our gaze (eyes closed). From the waist we continue up the backbone to the top of the head.
2. As the current starts down the front, pouring through the head, neck and torso, we gradually lower our eyes and let our breath out.
3. Taking the current between the legs to the tailbone and back up over the shoulder blade area, we again breathe in and raise our eyes, though not as much as we did the first time.
4. Having crossed over to the heart area (in the center of the body), we take the current, breath and eyes down the front of the body.
5. Reaching the waist, the current branches out to the right and the left (at the belt) and continues down the outside of the legs to the soles of the feet. The breath and the eyes also come down as much as possible, and we rest at the bottom (in the Bubbling Spring) with breath out.