Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Five Stages of the Path (修行的阶梯)

Today I would like to talk about the title and the preface of a book written by Grand Master entitled “A Lonely Star In the Sky”. This book is very important, so there is a need for us to revisit this book.

The preface within a book allows an author to explain his reason for writing the book. In the preface of this book, Grand Master told us that he started living in seclusion due to the various reasons. Several years have gone by since then. Grand Master felt that he has become a lonely cultivator, like a lonely star in the sky. He practices everyday: walking, writing, practicing and meditating. He is a prolific writer because he writes everyday. He finds happiness in writing the books through which he could share with others his beliefs and his attainments in cultivation. When he finished his 179th book entitled “The Falling Flowers in a Dream”, he started thinking about the title of his 180th book. There is a theme in every book he wrote, one could roughly tell the theme of a book by just checking the title.

Grand Master does his physical exercises through walking. I have said this many times that the best sport for a practitioner is walking, which is the only form of physical exercise that is a perfect match for cultivation. Other sports cannot blend well with cultivation. Recently I read about the method of walking practiced by some practitioners in ancient China. In ancient China, the practitioners usually meditated for a long period of time, with some lasting days, months or even years. Their legs became weak as a result of the long sitting posture. So, they invented a sport – walking. However, they walked with their eyes closed in order to continue doing their meditation, undistracted by the surroundings. They tied the ropes around the temple, along the paths where they would walk, with bells hung on the ropes for an audible guidance. They continued to do their meditation while walking. When they finished walking, they would sit down again to do their meditation. That was a repetitive cycle. It was just unbelievable. The practitioners in the past did their walking without distractions.

Grand Master did his walking four times a day, with each session lasting about half an hour. This matches the modern healthcare concept. Modern healthcare stresses on doing physical exercises daily, but not excessive or over strenuous. Doing too much will hurt the body. Some people died during their sports because they overstretched their bodies. One just have to do it right to ensure a good blood circulation without hurting one’s health. Do everything in moderation. One should not feel tired after exercising. Grand Master suggested half an hour only for each session, not too much, just let the blood circulate well. Just four sessions in a day, with each lasting about half an hour will make up a total of two hours (morning, noon, evening and night) per day.

One day, after doing his walking, Grand Master returned to his home and stared out of the window. And he saw a lonely star in the sky. He felt that he was just like the lonely star, and he wept. He decided to go into seclusion, living alone, accompanied by a lamp, a star and a pen, where he would continue to write and share his thoughts with the rest of the sentient beings through his books. He knew well that the people will lose their way in this world of delusions. When you reach that state of being, you will realize that your children, your love and hatred are all delusions that must be let go in order to attain enlightenment. If you continue to cling onto these delusions, you will forever remain an ordinary being, forever stranded in the cyclic existence.

All these years, Grand Master has been writing down his thoughts in words, fully utilizing his time when he lived in seclusion, helping the sentient beings in silence. There is a theme in every book he wrote, and every theme relates back to cultivation. So, we should live every moment of our lives connected with cultivation, during walking, resting, sitting and lying down. When we wake up in the morning, we start doing our visualization and practice. There is a mantra for almost every action including washing, brushing, peeing, passing motion, walking, prostrating etc. We should connect every single action of ours with cultivation. This is the only way for us to liberate ourselves from the cyclic existence of birth and death, attaining enlightenment in a single lifetime. Otherwise, no way!
Grand Master said there are five stages in cultivation: Accumulation, Preliminary, Experience, Training and Realization. These are the five stages expounded by the Mind Only school of Buddhism. The different schools of Buddhism describe the different stages somewhat differently. Buddhāvatamsaka Nāma Mahāvaipulya Sūtra talked about 52 stages. If you follow the practice of Mind Only School, you must go through the Accumulation, followed by the Preliminary, followed by the Experience, followed by Training, and finally you will reach the Realization. We are actually at the Accumulation stage, or at most the Preliminary stage; many of us have not even reached the Preliminary stage. The stages of the path progress with increasing difficulty. The last three stages (Experience, Training and Realization) are the toughest. The first two stages (Accumulation and Preliminary) are far from enlightenment.

Grand Master said he was under no stress to write. He just wrote whatever came to mind. One night, he dreamt Clear Light Secret Buddha, one of the many Buddhas mentioned in the High King Sutra. The Buddha gave him a stack of notes and told him to read them. Then the Buddha asked him if he had any views. Grand Master said he had. The Buddha then told Grand Master to write his views in the book. Grand Master agreed. So, that was how the contents for the 108th book came about. It was indeed a very miraculous experience! Grand Master said his inspirations came from the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Vajra, Protectors, Dakinis and the heavenly beings.

His level of attainment is simply inconceivable. Let us then ask ourselves: “Where are we now?” Did the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Vajras, Dakinis and heavenly beings give us any inspirations? We certainly know the answer. Grand Master presented this book to all the sentient beings, wishing all to know about the Pristine Awareness. Yes, we are essentially a Buddha. But why then have we become what we are today, still suffering in this human world and stranded in an unceasing cyclic existence as an ordinary being? Grand Master hopes that the readers will find his own Pristine Awareness through reading this book.

Grand Master mentioned the five stages of the path. You can go check the Annex 3 of this book entitled “Showing An Illuminated Path” for the explanations given by Master Lian Hai on the various stages of the path expounded by the Tian Tai School, Buddhāvatamsaka Nāma Mahāvaipulya Sūtra and the Mind Only School. The Mind Only School expounded the five stages of the path: Accumulation, Preliminary, Experience, Training and Realization. The Tian Tai School expounded the six stages of the path. The Buddhāvatamsaka Nāma Mahāvaipulya Sūtra expounded the ten stages of the path, based on the attainment of a Bodhisattva but not an ordinary being though.

When Sakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment, He realized that there is a Buddha Nature in every sentient being; everyone enjoys the same opportunity for enlightenment. So, the Buddha started expounding the stages of the path, progressing from the stage of an ordinary being to becoming a Buddha. The stages of the path are presented in the five stages by the Mind Only School, in the 6 stages by the Tian Tai School etc. We need to know where we are in the stages of the path and practice with diligence to make progress.

From the preface of this book entitled “A Lonely Star in the Sky”, we know that there are many stages of the path and that they are no easy tasks. Master Nan said that most of the practitioners are actually just practicing outside the door (practicing the expedient methods); they have yet to enter the room (to learn the ultimate teachings). After one enters the room, there is still a long way to go before reaching Buddhahood. According to the Sutrayana Buddhism, one has to go through three big aeons before attaining Buddhahood. That is a long time beyond trillions of years. It is indeed a very difficult task for one to attain Buddhahood - nearly impossible! That is the reason why others did not believe in Grand Master’s attainment of Buddhahood. However, in Vajrayana Buddhism, it is possible for a practitioner to attain Buddhahood with the blessings of his teacher, principal deity and the Buddha. But it does not mean that he can skip levels. He has to complete the five stages of the path in one single lifetime.

A Sutrayanist chooses to go to the USA by road or by sea. But a Vajrayanist chooses to go by air and crossing the Pacific Ocean. It does not mean that a Vajrayanist can just board the airplane and instantaneously land in the USA without crossing the Pacific Ocean. Vajrayana Buddhism is liken to taking the airplane, which is faster but riskier because the airplane may crash. Sutrayana Budhdism is a safer means but slower. It simply means that all the stages of the path must be completed before one can attain Buddhahood. If the stages of the path have not been completed, one must continue to do so in his next life. Even Vajrayana Buddhism cannot guarantee that you will attain Buddhahood in this single lifetime. Go think about it: Where am I on the path? Practice with diligence for advancement to the next stage. This is the only way to succeed in the practice.

In the book Grand Master mentioned that after one recognizes his own Buddha Nature, he will become a Buddha. But he also mentioned that the stages of the path must be completed gradually. Does it mean that you will become a Buddha immediately after recognizing your own Buddha Nature? Or you must complete the five stages of the path before you could do so? Don’t think that it is easy to attain Buddhahood - it is in fact a very difficult task. One must start from the basics. I hope you would understand the true intent of Grand Master.


One must recognize his own Buddha Nature in order to be able to practice effectively. Is this the correct understanding? There was a saying “When one does not recognize his true mind, the practice is meaningless.” Only when one has recognized his true mind, then only will his true cultivation begin.

Acho Rinpoche:
That is correct. One starts his true cultivation after he recognizes his Buddha Nature. I am of the opinion that when one recognizes his Buddha Nature, one has attained the Experience. But after the Experience, he still has a long way to go. You will only practice truthfully and seriously after you attain the Experience. Otherwise, you are merely practicing for the accumulation of merits in the human and heavenly realms. The Training that commences after the Experience is the true cause of the ultimate attainment of Buddhahood - the Realization.