According to Buddhist scripture “The Perfect Englightenment Sutra”, Buddha-nature is said to be inherent in all sentient beings. The reason why we have not yet attained Buddhahood is because our natural brightness has been obscured. It is like a mirror being buried in the ground for a long time. The brightness of the mirror has been tarnished. Similarly, our true nature and natural brilliance are being covered up by our own troubled mind and wild thoughts. If we can remove these mental dust and dirt, then our true nature and natural brilliance will shine through again. That is, we see our hearts through quietude and perfection. This is enlightenment, it is attaining Buddhahood. But we must first realize that we have Buddha nature within us, and then we work on our cultivation. Once we cleanse ourselves of the contamination, we can then use our perfected spiritual insight to free us from illusions. We will realize all sensations, thoughts, emotions, troubles etc., are nothing but dreams of fantasy. In addition, all man-made methods, all phenomena, and every realm are also nothing but illusions. We will not be fooled by these distractions anymore.
The gateway to self cultivation is the cultivation of cessation. Cessation is the practice. Reaching the state of total tranquility and quietude is the result of practicing cessation. Buddhists are not the only ones who practice cessation; many other disciplines and religions also require this practice for realization. This requirement even extends to those engaging in the drawing of esoteric talismans, casting spells, and other pagan rites. Cessation allows the heart to stay focused. When undertaking any kind of endeavor in this world - for example, scholarly pursuits, technical work, martial arts, music, and cultural arts - if one cannot focus, there can be no achievement. “Once you focus, you can accomplish anything.” This adage is also echoed in the Buddhist scripture.
Confucius, in his four books “The Great Learning,” said: “The Dao of Great Learning is to understand illustrious virtue, to be close to the people, and ultimately rest in the stillness of the highest benevolence. Knowing the art of cessation or resting in stillness will lead to stability. When you are stable you will attain quietude, which leads to peacefulness. Once you are at peace and tranquil, you can really contemplate, and then finally you can achieve your goals.” To understand illustrious virtue is to illuminate one’s heart to see the intrinsic nature of all beings – the Great Enlightenment.
Stop all previous thoughts, stop all distractions and troubles of the mind, at the same time, prevent any subsequent thoughts from coming through; then you have reached a state of “emptiness.” This is the cultivation of cessation.
How can you illuminate your heart to see the intrinsic nature of all beings? “Know how to practice cessation to rest in stillness, then stability will follow.” You must know how to attain cessation in order to settle down. Once you settle down then you can really achieve tranquility. When you are tranquil you are at peace. Then you can start to contemplate. This contemplation is not about worrying, but is about deliberate and careful reasoning. Through this deliberate and careful reasoning one can attain the wisdom to understand illustrious virtue. This sequence of first renunciation, then quietude, and finally attaining wisdom is laid out perfectly clear for us.
This systematic approach of renunciation, quietude, and wisdom is called “the three inescapable studies” in Buddhist practice. Through strict discipline and self control one can reach a peaceful state. It is from this peaceful state that great wisdom sprouts.
The cultivation of cessation and the practice of Taijiquan are intimately connected. First we must realize that the main focal point of Taijiquan is to use one’s mind and not brute force. This is the goal of the practice. Once you have established the goal then all practice methodologies should focus on reaching the goal. Form practice allows us to start from something that is more obvious and tangible to reach the essence of Taijiquan. Form practice is just a “convenient method,” but is man-made, and therefore has to be discarded at the end. Since we must renounce the use of brute force, any thoughts, notions, and impulses that prompt us to use brute force are temptations to distract us from this mandate. We have to put a stop to these distractions. This is not an easy thing to do; we must be stay focused and be vigilant with every single moment. This is the cultivation of cessation or renunciation. When this practice reaches a certain level, you will have no “wild thoughts” and you then enter the stage of “stability.” This state of true emptiness will produce something special – a new wisdom will spontaneously arise through which you will experience and appreciate certain states of mind not typically felt before. This is like removing the dirt from the long-buried mirror. You can now see your true reflection. When you reach this state, you have finally entered the gate of the world of Taijiquan.
By Patrick SW CHAN
Translated by Dominic and Theresa Chan