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Dhyana for Beginners - Volume 2

DISCLAIMER - This transcript has not been checked by Sangharakshita, and may contain mistakes and mishearings. Checked and reprinted copies of all seminars will be available as part of the Complete Works Project.

by Sangharakshita

[271] [Tape 1 Side B]

S: Alright then, let's go on to Chapter Five, 'Expedient Activities of Mind.'

Nagabodhi: [reads from pp.461-3] "In practising Dhyana the mind should be possessed by five expedient activities or states. The first of these is an activity of wishfulness or purpose. It is wilfulness in the sense of paramount desire, or preference of directive control. If we are to attain the object of Dhyana, we should wish and purpose to avoid all false and worldly thoughts and hindering states of mind and all confused and shifting attention, and should take the attainment of the object of Dhyana, namely the attainment of tranquillity, of transcendental knowledge and wisdom, the mind's paramount desire and purpose. The Lord Buddha said: 'Of all your good qualities, a wishful purpose is the principle cause.'

"The second expedient activity of the mind is characterized by an earnest and zestful spirit. It means to keep the Precepts with a persevering earnestness of spirit: it means to give up the five hindrances, and to persevere in our practice with wholehearted zeal both in the evening and in the early morning. If you were trying to get fire from a twirling stick you would not expect to be successful if you did it intermittently; you must persist with increasing effort until the fire comes. So you must seek enlightenment with the same earnest zeal.

"The third expedient activity of the mind is mindfulness and recollection. It means that we should always keep in mind the emptiness and deceptive aspect of the world with all its fraud and suffering, and should always cherish thoughts of the nobility and value of the enlightenment that comes from the practice of Dhyana. It is noble because it leads to the highest attainment of realization, and wisdom and compassion. It opens up the capacity of the mind for the enjoyment of the highest powers of cognition; it gives one an intuition of the blessedness that follows the extinction of the intoxicants, it enables one to realize the highest joy when perfect wisdom is devoted to the deliverance of all sentient beings. This is what is meant by recollective mindfulness.

"The fourth expedient activity of the mind is keenness of insight. We should ponder over a comparison of the enjoyments of the world with those that come with the practice of Dhyana. We should think with penetrating insight as to whether there is a loss or gain, as to whether the gain from the practice of Dhyana is inconsiderable or of the highest importance. The delights of the world are elusive and delusive; one needs keenness of insight to judge them rightly. The world's fascinations often obscures it suffering and unreality. If we consider it carefully and truly we are bound to see that desire for the world and its illusions is a loss and not a gain. On the contrary, the same keenness of insight will convince one that the practice of Dhyana brings one inestimable gain of intuitive realization and transcendental intelligence that are free from all intoxicants and are unconditioned. To live in a quiet and secluded place, to feel free from the bondage of life and death, its unhappiness and suffering, to sit quietly in Dhyana, is of highest importance and value. Keenness of insight will keep these differences clear before the mind and will aid one in the earnest practice of Dhyana.

"The fifth expedient activity of the mind is clearness and singleness. It means that we should understand clearly the true nature of the world as being pain producing and abominable and at the same time, we should know well that the tranquillity and intelligence of the mind brought about by the practice of Dhyana is very precious and honourable. With this clearness and singleness of mind we should determine unreservedly to practise Dhyana with our mind as resistant as gold or diamond, so that we will be able to resist and cast off all evil influences of Devas, Maras, and Thirthakas, which might tend to discourage us. Even though we are unconscious of any marked success in our practice, clearness and singleness of mind will keep us from neglecting the practice or from turning back. A man before he begins a journey will have a clear idea as to where and why he is going and then after that, will not be easily turned aside, so a man in his practice of Dhyana should have a clear and single mind, if he is to hope for success."

S: So it seems that even though here we are concerned with the Path of Regular Steps and the practice of dhyana by regular steps. The Grand Master is not in fact giving a step by step account of actual practice. He goes back a little bit it seems, and he approaches the subject from a slightly different angle, and this is what it seems is happening here.

So this is, as it were, quite general. "In practising Dhyana the mind should be possessed by five expedient activities or states." This isn't, as it were, an actual step. "The first of these is an activity of wishfulness or purpose. It is wilfulness in the sense of paramount desire, or preference of directive control, if we are to attain the object of dhyana, we should wish and purpose to avoid all false and worldly thoughts and hindering states of mind and all confused and shifting attention, and should make the attainment of the object of Dhyana, namely the attainment of tranquillity, of transcendental knowledge aid wisdom, the mind's paramount desire and purpose. The Lord Buddha said: 'Of all thy good qualities, a wishful purpose is the principal cause.'"

The Sanskrit word here seems to be pranidhana, or rather the Chinese word in the original seems to correspond to the Sanskrit pranidhana or vow, because according to Luk's translation "vow" is referred to here - "a vow to keep from all worldly wrong thinking," and as the Buddha said, "A vow is essential to all excellent Dharma." In other words, it's as though it's not enough to want to practise dhyana, and probably this applies to the whole spiritual life: it's not enough just to want to, one must, as it were, will to, one must have a very definite, firm, decided resolution and even commitment, the sort of resolution and commitment that is [272] expressed by the word pranidhana, which is literally vow. We must vow to do it, as it were, not just want to do it. So unless you're really determined to practise dhyana, really determined to develop tranquillity and insight, you won't be able to succeed very well. If you just want to, that isn't enough, or if you just like to, that isn't enough; you must really determine to and decide to, which doesn't just mean a sort of forcible effort on the part of the conscious mind but really an aligning of all one's energies behind that particular activity when you are actually engaged in it. So this is quite important. And obviously it does relate to this general question of mobilization of energy and, you know, very often we don't succeed in doing something, we don't succeed in some undertaking, because we merely want to do it or merely would like to do it or merely would like to have it done but there's no actual determination or resolution to do it. But it should be done and that's very often why we don't succeed. So "Of all thy good qualities, wishful purpose is the principal cause."

There's probably quite a bit that could be said about this particular expedient activity not only from the standpoint of dhyana but even quite generally.

Lokamitra: How much can we expect that people taking refuge? Is this a part of going for refuge, or is this an essential aspect of going for refuge, in our context?

S: Going for Refuge should be an expression of this, yes, really. It's not just a question of repeating certain words. In other words the Going for Refuge should be the expression of a real determination not of a pious wish because you say, 'For refuge I go' and going means going, or getting up and going, if you like, but certainly going, moving.

Lokamitra: This again brings up the question of people on the fringes of the Order who don't feel this and how to cope, how to help them by ..[unclear]..

S: I've been thinking about this from time to time obviously. I think in the case of those who for quite a long time have not given much evidence of their commitment, after a few sort of initial gentle friendly attempts at encouragement and getting them involved [273] they should be more or less directly, you know, in a friendly way but still firmly, certainly very directly, be confronted with their shortcomings and, as it were, not allowed to get away with it. I'm feeling this more and more.

Vajradaka: It does seem to work, and if they agree to that and agree to do something about it then you have to in a sense commit yourself to working with them. And sort of keeping that push in a way.

S. Also of course if you adopt this attitude it does show concern for them and that is very often felt and experienced, that at least someone is concerned about you and somebody cares, you know, whether I'm involved or not. But obviously you have to be a bit careful some times that the person concerned doesn't feel that he or she is simply being got at and retreats, you know, even more firmly into his or her shell. Sometimes, perhaps, you have to risk cracking the shell. But I think what cannot be tolerated is a state of indefinite stagnation, with people simply offering weaker and weaker excuses at longer and longer intervals. [274] [Tape 12 Side A]

Padmapani: This heroic quality, sometimes it's lost in the culture outside. You know, the sort of, what you see in literature now is almost the anti-hero quality and I think people have become conditioned to that and they've lost their hero imagery, and sometimes it's very hard to get back into that and maybe the Friends don't, sort of, except for maybe one or two people have ...

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