ONE MUST LEARN TO PRAY, JUST AS ONE MUST LEARN EVERYTHING ELSE. Whoever knows how to pray and is able to concentrate in the proper way, his prayer can give results. But it must be understood that there are different prayers and that their results are different. This is known even from ordinary divine service.
But when we speak of prayer or of the results of prayer we always imply only one kind of prayer—petition, or we think that petition can be united with all other kinds of prayers.… Most prayers have nothing in common with petitions.
I speak of ancient prayers; many of them are much older than Christianity. These prayers are, so to speak, recapitulations; by repeating them aloud or to himself a man endeavors to experience what is in them, their whole content, with his mind and his feeling.
In Search of the Miraculous
The Buddha spoke of two kinds of desire: desire that arises from ignorance and delusion, which is called tanha, craving, and desire that arises from wisdom and intelligence, which is called kusala-chanda, or dhamma-chanda, or most simply chanda. Chanda has a range of meanings, but in this case I’m using it to mean wise and intelligent desire and motivation, which the Buddha stressed as being absolutely fundamental to any progress on the eightfold path.
In the presence of chanda, effort, or viriya, arises. Effort is in many ways the characteristic dhamma of this whole school of buddhism. In fact, the Buddha referred to his teachings not as Theravada but as viriya-vada. It is a teaching of effort, a teaching that there is such a thing as effort, that effort can be put forth, effort should be put forth, and that effort is what is needed for progress on the path. (…/)
The ability to put forth effort depends a great deal on chanda. When you start any meditation period, it’s important to recognize that chanda is not always there. Even for monks and nuns, people who are giving their lives to this practice, the sense of chanda fluctuates. If you lack that sense of interest and chanda—that uplift and enthusiasm for practice—the meditation can very quickly grind to a halt or run into quicksand. You have serious problems. That’s why I think it’s worth checking the amount of interest at the beginning of a meditation, and if it’s lacking, you need to be willing to spend some time cultivating it, bringing it up. The more you apply yourself in this way, the more fluent you will be in cultivating chanda, and the more easily you can do it, until it becomes almost automatic.
One of the simplest ways of doing this is to reflect on two subjects. The first is the suffering inherent in the lack of mindfulness, inner peace, and wisdom. We can draw upon particular areas or events in our lives that have caused us great distress, or distress to others, and see very plainly their results, such as a lack of inner awareness, mindfulness, and inner discipline. We can also draw upon the experiences of the people we know and how they have particularly affected us.
The second way of using the thinking mind is to reflect upon all the blessings of mindfulness, inner peace, wisdom, and compassion. Perhaps we can call to mind the examples of great monks, nuns, and teachers whom we admire, and how much we revere their peace, calm, kindness, compassion, and wisdom. We can remind ourselves that they are not the owners of these qualities, that they weren’t born with these qualities, but rather that these qualities manifested in them through effort and that great teachers are vessels for beautiful, noble qualities. And just as they are vessels, so too can we be vessels. Having been born as a human being, we have within us the capacity to manifest every noble quality and must try to do so.
According to our resolution so is the rate of our progress, and much diligence is needful for him who would make good progress. For if he who resolveth bravely oftentimes falleth short, how shall it be with him who resolveth rarely or feebly? But manifold causes bring about abandonment of our resolution, yet a trivial omission of holy exercises can hardly be made without some loss to us.
Strive as earnestly as we may, we shall still fall short in manythings. Always should some distinct resolution be made by us; and, most of all, we must strive against those sins which most easily beset us.
If thou canst not be always examining thyself, thou canst at certain seasons, and at least twice in the day, at evening and at morning. In the morning make thy resolves, and in the evening inquire into thy life, how thou hast sped to-day in word, deed, and thought;
All cannot have one exercise, but one suiteth better to this man and another to that. Even for the diversity of season different exercises are needed.
Book one – chap XIX
Thomas A Kempis 1380-1471
Long before the time of his death in 1959 at the venerable age of 120 on Mount Yun-ju, Jiangxi Province, Master Xu-yun’s name was known and revered in every Chinese Buddhist temple and household, having become something of a living legend in his own time. His life and example has aroused the same mixture of awe and inspiration in the minds of Chinese Buddhists as does a Milarepa for the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, remarkable in view of the fact that Xu-yun lived well into our own era, tangibly displaying those spiritual powers that we must otherwise divine by looking back through the mists of time to the great Chan adepts of the Tang, Song and Ming Dynasties. They were great men whose example still inspires many today, but in many cases, we have scant details as to their lives as individuals, outside their recorded dialogues or talks of instruction.
My 56th year (1895/96) : Abbot Yue-Iang of the Gaomin Monastery at Yangzhou came to Jiu-hua and informed us that one of his patrons by the name of Zhu had promised to give financial support for twelve weeks of meditation, including the current four weeks. He also informed us that the old Master Fa-ren of Chi-shan had returned to his monastery and that he hoped all of us would go there to assist him in supervising the meditation weeks. When the opening date drew near, I was asked to leave the mountain fírst. When I reached Digang Harbour at Da-tong, I walked following the river bank. The river was rising and I wanted to cross it but the boatman asked me for six coins; as 1 was penniless, the boat left without me. Walking on, I suddenly slipped and fell into the water and thus bobbed on the current for one day and night until I drifted to Cai-shi Jetty, where a fisherman caught me in his nets by chance.
As I wore a monk’ s robe, he called a monk from Bao-ji Temple who recognised me as we had previously stayed together at the Jin-shan Monastery.He was frightened for my life and exclaimed, ‘This is Master De-qing!’ (ie. Xu-yun, ordained as De-qing). I was subsequently carried to the temple where I was revived. As a result of the battering which I had received in the swift current, I bled from the mouth, nose, anus and genital organ.
After a few days’ stay at Bao-ji Temple, I went on to the Gao-min Monastery. When I saw the director of duties (karmadana) there, he saw that I looked pale and thin, and asked if I was well, I replied that I was not. He then called on Abbot Yue-Iang who, after inquiring about Mount Jiu-hua where I had been, immediately asked me to take up a temporary post at the forthcoming meditation-weeks. I politely declined his request, saying nothing about my fall into the water, asking only that I be allowed to attend the meditation meeting.
According to Gao-min Monastery’s rules of discipline, to reject a post given by the Abbot was regarded as an affront to the whole monastic community. Thus, I was found to be an offender and punished by being beaten with a wooden ruler. While I willingly accepted this punishment, it did aggravate my illness. I bled continuously and also passed drops of seminal fluid in my urine. Waiting for my end, I sat firmly in the meditation hall day and night with increasing zeal. In the pure single-mindedness of my meditation, I forgot all about my body and twenty days later, my illness vanished completely.
When the Abbot of Cai-shi Jetty carne with an offering of garments for the assembly, he was reassured and delighted to see that my appearance was radiant. He then spoke of my fall into the water and all the monks held me in great esteem. I was thus spared the trouble of working in the hall and could continue my meditation.
Henceforth, with all my thoughts brought to an abrupt halt, my practice-took effect throughout day and night. My steps were as swift as if I were flying in the air. One evening after the set meditation period, I opened my eyes and suddenly perceived a great brightness similar to broad daylight wherein everything inside and outside the monastery was discernible to me.
Yoga is not a thing to be merely talked about, read in books, and heard through others. Yoga is for practice in life. Yoga which does not soften the heart and fill it with the pure emotion of love, compassion, and peace is not worth the name. Real concentration of mind and meditation of God in the chamber of his heart does bring about an enormous change in the devotee. His transformed life becomes a beacon light for others. Through thought, word, and deed he pours out love and bliss upon all. If not to live such a life, what use is there for someone to speak of and wish to hear of yoga ?
Swami Ramdas The Divine Life
While he is walking in the street, he will need not only to be continually listening to the particular sound within his head and his ears mentioned earlier, but he must also, while he is looking at anything, try to perceive and to encompass simultaneously out of the corners of his eyes all the various movements that come into his field of vision and to maintain this simultaneous perception for the duration. Wherever he turns his head, when his gaze is attracted by any sort of object or movement, he needs to remain, without interruption, conscious and concentrated on all the other movements that are taking place to his left, to his right, in front of him—and even to try to sense those that are happening behind him.
Somehow the visual organs constantly capture all that enters into their field of perception (and not only the object looked at), but the problem lies in the fact that human beings are never conscious of what is also being transmitted at the edge of their field of vision; moreover, in their customary state of being, they do not really look at the object in front of them. Everything that presents itself to their eyes is, so to speak, vaguely perceived.
At the same time that he is looking at something, the seeker needs to also succeed in being conscious not only of the thing seen, but also of all the other objects or movements that are perceived to the side, even down to their shapes and colors—but which, because of this curious absence to himself, ordinarily escape him.
He will discover that it is very difficult for him, at the beginning, to accept letting go of his futile preoccupations and imaginings (which ceaselessly go around in his head without purpose) to remain simultaneously conscious of and concentrated on all these different movements that are occurring around him; in a very short time, he will notice that his field of vision has narrowed and become fixed on a single movement at a time, whereas all the other movements will withdraw into the background and once again become vague. He will, once again, be immured within himself, in his customary state of diurnal sleep and, so to speak, absent, plunged into his habitual daydreams and futile torments. He will look, but he will no longer see.
If the aspirant finds within himself the strength to “hold” this exercise long enough, without allowing his concentration, on both the sound within his ears and the totality of the movements taking place around him in all directions, to slacken even for a moment, the field of his consciousness will gradually expand; an expansion of his consciousness will take place within him and, with this expansion of his consciousness, he will feel not only an astonishing liberation from what he habitually is, but also that he has been relieved of a heavy burden.
Through this exercise, he will not fail to notice that, every time this expansion of his consciousness takes place within him (as a result of sustained concentration on the various movements around him), it will be accompanied by this strange liberation of himself and that, every time he loses this expansion of his consciousness, his field of vision will also shrink and he will once again become absent and immured internally in a world that is so narrow and illusory.
So as to help him further in this difficult spiritual journey, it is necessary once again to emphasize something already mentioned several times, but that the aspirant must always remember, that is, the more one does, the more one will be able to do, and the less one does, the less one will be able to do. In reality, the problem with human beings does not lie in the fact that they cannot do, but rather that they do not want to do.
The Supreme Quest Chap 19
A puzzled seeker asked the Buddha : “I have heard that some of your disciples meditate with expectations, others meditate with no expectations, and yet others are indifferent to the result. What is the best ?
The Buddha answered : Whether they meditate with or without expectations, if they have the wrong ideas and the wrong methods, they will not get any fruits from their meditations. Think about it. Suppose some people want to have some oil and put sand into a bowl, then sprinkle it with salt. However much they press it they will not get oil, for that is not the method. Others are in need of milk. They start pulling the horn of a young cow. Whether they have any expectations or not, they will not get any milk out of the horn for that’s not the method. Or if some people fill a jar with water and churn it in order to get butter, they will be left only with water.
But if seekers meditate with a wholesome attitude, with right intention and mindfulness, then whether they have expectations of not, they will gain insight. It’s like filling a bowl with oil seeds and pressing them or milking a cow by pulling the udder or filling a jar with cream and churning it. It’s the right method.
The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.