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The Fourfold Mindfulness of Nagarjuna

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Nagarjuna at Samye Ling Monastery.JPG
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 The name Nagarjuna was translated into Chinese in three different renderings, namely Long Shu (Dragon Tree); Long Sheng (Dragon Prevailing) and Long Meng (Dragon Valiant). The term Long Tian in Chinese, which is often mentioned, actually refers to the two Bodhisattvas, Long Shu (Nagarjuna) and Tien Ching (Vasubandhu).

Nagarjuna ranks third in the transmission lineage of the Eight Shingon Patriarchs, and ranks first among the eight Shingon lineage torchbearers. Nagarjuna was the disciple of the Thirteenth Zen Patriarch, Kapimala. Nagabodhi founded Vajrayana after Nagarjunas time, but since Nagarjuna had already received the Surangama Samadhi, the official establishment of Tantrayana named Nagarjuna as its founder.

The image of Nagarjuna is carved as the form of a solitary hearer dressed in a monks robe, seated on the lotus throne with his palms placed together, an image that resembles an arhat. Mystery and legend surround every aspect of the life of Nagarjuna. An exceptional person of holy characteristics, he could commit any sutra to memory at a glance. He enjoyed a widespread reputation. Before he was ordained as a monk, he was especially fond of women, indulging himself in lustful pursuits. It was only later, when he realized the uselessness of sexual indulgence, that he decided to leave the material world in search of the Buddhist path of renunciation. In a period of ninety days, he completed reading the three Buddhist canons and gained penetration into all profound doctrines.

A great bodhisattva who was responsible for the flourishing of Mahayana Buddhism, Nagarjuna was born into a Brahmin family sometime in the last quarter of the second century, A.D., in Vidarbha in southern India. He passed away in the last quarter of the third century.

A famous account of Nagarjuna depicts him receiving the transmission of the Mahayana sutras from an old monk while he was practising in the Himalayas. After that, he became engrossed in the works of Mahayana. As his ancestral link could be traced to the nagas or dragons of northern India, Nagarjuna was able to enter the dragon palace under the ocean by the use of his spiritual powers and study all the Mahayana scriptures that were being kept there, make records and bring the scriptures back. This was the reason why Mahayana Buddhism flourished.

When Nagarjuna was advancing the dharma in southern India, he defeated many heretics. He expounded the Mahayana teachings in the monastery of Black Bee Mountain, where he subdued many Hinayana monks and others from the black sect. According to the events recorded in the biography of Nagarjuna, he wrote Ten Thousand Verses of Upadesa, Five Thousand Verses on the Treatise of Adorning the Buddhahood, Fifty Verses on the Treatise of the Expedient Means of Great Compassion, and Ten Thousand Verses of the Treatise of Fearlessness, from which the Madhyamaka-sastra was derived. His works were numerous, and he was called the Lord of a Thousand Treatises.

To my knowledge, Nagarjuna was one of the manifestations of Amitabha Buddha. Therefore, among the Five Buddhas, he is Amitabha. We can find many of his works in Buddhist libraries, such as: Treatise on the Materials for Bodhi, Friendly Epistles (Sukrllekha), Compilation of Sutras of the Canopy of Blessings and Right Actions (Sutrasamuccaya), Treatise on the Twelve Gates (Dvadasa-dvara Sastra), Fundamentals of the Middle Way (MulamadhyamakaKarikas), Treatise on the Eighteen Kinds of Sunyata (Astadasakasa Sastra), Refutation of the Concept of Being in the Mahayana (Bhavasamkranti), Treatise on the Essence of Expediency, Commentary on the Great Prajnaparamita Sastra (Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra), Exposition of the Ten Stages of Bodhisattvahood (Dasabhumi-vibhasa Sastra), Verses in Praise of the Dharma Realm, Treatise of the Absence of Bodhicitta, Verses on the Greatness of Making of Vows, Averting Arguments (Vigraha-vyavartani), Treatise of Many Mindse of the Thirty-Seven Stanzas, Four Treatises on Right Mindfulness, Treatise on the Auspicious Blessings, and so forth. His knowledge was wide and supreme, and Mahayana Buddhism flourished as the result of his propagation. Nagarjuna was indeed a great bodhisattva who advanced the wisdom teachings of the Buddha.

Histories of Nagarjunas life were spiced with the stuff of legends. Some Tibetan lamas said that Nagarjuna was born during the first century BC. Other lamas said that he was born four hundred years after Sakyamuni Buddha entered into Nirvana. And there was a saying that Nagarjuna lived for six hundred years. Yet other sources mentioned that he was still expounding the dharma during the period between the second and third centuries, A.D.

Why do I mention Nagarjuna when I am writing about the Mahamudra? It is because Nagarjuna is the first lineage holder of Tantrayana. He spoke the dharma to the king of southern India who accepted and believed in the Buddhist teachings, and made Nagarjuna his advisor. Nagarjuna elucidated the doctrines of the Middle Path as found in the Commentary on the Great Prajnaparamita Sastra. These doctrines are the Fourfold Mindfulness of Mahamudra.

The Fourfold Mindfulness as taught by Nagarjuna is as follows:

Mindfulness of the body -Contemplation on the empty nature of the body.
Mindfulness of the suffering caused by emotions -Contemplation on the five aggregates, which are empty by nature.
Mindfulness of the mind-Contemplation on the non-origination and non-extinction of all mental phenomena.
Mindfulness of mental phenomena -Ceaseless contemplation on the first three kinds of mindfulness.

I shall elucidate on this further:

Mindfulness of the body - As Buddhists practising Mahamudrat is necessary to remind ourselves to frequently practice mindfulness of the body, visualizing our fathers on our right and mothers on our left, with all our parents, relatives and loved ones of the six realms surrounding us. Located closest to us is the hell realm. Lying further away is the hungry ghost realm. After that is the animal realm, followed by the human realm. Further away is the asura realm, and furthest in the distance is the heavenly realm.

If a Buddhist does not cultivate the buddhadharma, eventually he shall find himself spiritually degenerated. This is true for all sentient beings. All of us who are mindful of ourselves in the physical body know that physical phenomena must undergo the four stages of completion, existence, destruction and finally emptiness. Likewise, everyone is subject to birth, old age, sickness and death. Thus, when observing the mindfulness of the body, it is important to contemplate on the empty nature of the body. As stated in the Diamond Sutra, we must see through the delusion of the physical self and the ego self. The perception of a self, a being, a life, or a soul is essentially empty.

Being mindful of the body is simply contemplating on its empty nature. One who is deluded is an ordinary mortal. One who is enlightened is a buddha.

This concept of mindfulness of the body is fundamentally similar to concepts studied by a beginner in Buddhism, and may appear to be elementary. Nonetheless, not many people are able to see through the delusion of the body. Many are aware that all material things will eventually be destroyed, and all living things will age and die, and that no one is excluded from this natural process. However, those who cannot see through the delusion of the body will continue to pursue fame and fortune and other material things. These deluded people will naturally fall to the three lower realms and be drawn back into the six realms of Samsara.

Thus, constant contemplation on mindfulness of the body involves contemplation on the empty nature of the physical body, and is the first step in seeking renunciation.

Mindfulness of the suffering caused by emotions - The five aggregates are born from the five kinds of discursive thought, and are certainly not a part of the nature of True Reality or Suchness. The five aggregates are the aggregates of form, feeling, conception, habitual action and consciousness. The aggregate of form refers to physical form. The aggregate of sensation is the feeling caused by the perception of physical objects. The aggregate of conception is the arising of thoughts. The aggregate of habitual action refers to unfocussed mental formations and unrefined action. The aggregate of consciousness is the mental faculty that is responsible for all changes and transformations.

In principal, the arising of the five aggregates stems from a defiled thought which results in a mixture of true reality and delusion, which in turn forms the aggregate of consciousness. From consciousness come the aggregates of form, sensation, conception and habitual action. They overlap one another and arise in stages.

Generally speaking, it is necessary to first eliminate the aggregate of form before attempting to eliminate all five aggregates. And the root of all aggregates stems from the rise of discursive thoughts. Sakyamuni Buddha once said, The five aggregates have their roots in delusions, and yet our self nature is a clear and wonderful state of the true mind which is inherently pure and perfect, devoid of thought and contamination. While the wonderful mind of self awareness expresses a wonderful clarity and true essence, the arising of the five aggregates results from a single thought that has drifted due to karmic affinity, and is subsequently transformed into delusion.

Thus, the Buddhist practitioner of Mahamudra must recognize the delusion and emptiness of the five aggregates when he is mindful of the suffering caused by emotion. He will naturally want to leave the cycle of life and death. Therefore, when one dwells in the mindfulness of the suffering caused by emotion, one should contemplate on the five aggregates, and become familiar with the true bliss that comes from Nirvana. One should vow never to linger within the burning house of the three lower realms.

Mindfulness of the mind - Contemplation on the non-origination and non-extinction of all mental phenomena. Here is a verse: The nature of phenomena arising from mental conditions is marked by non-origination, non-extinction, non-destruction, non-permanence, non-coming into being, non-going out of being, non-identity, and non-differentiation. With the cessation of all deluded concepts, I pay homage to the Buddha who has expounded the wonderful teaching of tranquility.

The Buddhist practitioner of Mahamudra is therefore required to contemplate on the world as created from the thoughts of sentient beings. It is thus said that the three realms are created by the mind, and all phenomena are formed from consciousness. We must first pacify the mind of contamination. The six gunas or qualities of the senses will cease to arise, thus eliminating all karma. When one arrives at the stage where no thought arises, the six realms of cyclic existence will disappear and one shall be liberated from the three lower realms.

The statement the three realms are created by the mind, and all phenomena are formed from consciousness illustrates the reality that every phenomenon is marked by non-origination and non-extinction. From understanding every phenomenon is marked by non-origination and non-extinction, one realizes that emptiness and illusion exist as they are, undifferentiated in reality, where love and hatred, taking and renunciation cease to have meaning, thus allowing one to experience detachment and abide in a mental state of equanimity. This illustrates the state of gaining self-realization and helping others gain realization; delivering oneself and others; being mindful of the perfection of cognition and practice of the bodhisattva mind.

Mindfulness of the mental phenomena - The practitioner of Mahamudra must constantly and diligently contemplate on the first three states of mindfulness. Nagarjunas contemplation of the fourfold mindfulness will have silenced all discursive thoughts, helping one gain the great perfection of Mahamudra.

Heres a verse:

One must contemplate on the nature of the dharma realm
In which the body, sensations and mind are mental states.
Mahamudra itself is a dharma
Which expresses the doctrine of the Middle Way.