How To Skilfully Use Obstacles To Advance Spiritual Practice 如何善用障碍促进修行

How To Skilfully Use Obstacles To Advance Spiritual Practice

Excerpt From ‘Practices With Ten Great Obstacles’

From ‘Great Master Yìnguāng’s Dharma Words’《印光大师法语》, the following are introductory and conclusive teachings, with the latter excerpted from Chán Master Miàoyè’s (妙叶禅师) Dharma words, by the Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng (净土宗十三祖印光大师), as presented before and after the Essence Of ‘Practices With Ten Great Obstacles’《十大碍行》:

‘Below are ten sections, with every section’s first line on the symptom that arose. The second line reflects clearly on the sickness’ root. The third line speaks of the kind of sickness. The fourth line gives the right action. The fifth line reveals its power and function... (下十段每段第一句标起。第二句反明病根。第三句说列病症。第四句出正义。第五句显力用。)

These ten sections gather all obstacles. Only those with high wisdom are adequately capable of undertaking them, while persons of medium and low wisdom do not dare to even hope for these obstacles. If clearly examining and awakening, reflecting on oneself and understanding the path, upholding and not losing it, then are they able to enter all demonic realms, to not be by demonic hordes dejected and injured, to follow all forms and sounds, yet not by forms and sounds confused. And even so in places of hate and love, with fame and profit. In realms of others and self, with gains and losses, with my mind first dwelling within obstacles (by being prepared for them), how can those obstacles be able to be as obstacles? With obstacles like being without obstacles, the path’s practice can directly advance.’ (此十摄一切碍。惟上智堪任,中下之人不敢希冀。若照察觉悟,省身体道,持之不失,则能入诸魔界,不为群魔沮伤,循诸色声,不为色声惑乱。乃至憎爱名利之场。人我得失之境,我心先居碍中,彼碍岂能为碍?碍若无碍,道行可以直进。)

Essence Of ‘Practices With Ten Great Obstacles’

From ‘Direct Pointers For Mindfulness Of Buddha For The Treasure King Of Samādhis’《宝王三味念佛直指》, the following are a powerful set of teachings on thought transformation (转念) by Chán Master Miàoyè (妙叶禅师):

[1]First, being mindful of the body, not seeking to be without sickness… If the body is without sickness, thus will greedy desires then arise… If greedy desires arise, definitely will they lead to breaking of precepts and retrogression on the path… Recognising sicknesses’ causes and conditions, knowing that sicknesses are of the nature of emptiness, sicknesses will not be able to give rise to afflictions… With suffering of sickness, regarded as good medicine. (一、念身不求无病。… 身无病,则贪欲乃生。… 贪欲生,必破戒退道。… 识病因缘,知病性空,病不能恼。… 以病苦为良药。)

[2] Second, conducting oneself in society, not seeking to be without difficulties… If life is without difficulties, thus will arrogance and extravagance definitely arise… If arrogance and extravagance arise, one will definitely push around all others… Clearly understanding difficult situations, observing and experiencing difficulties to fundamentally be illusory, how are these difficulties also able to harm?… With misfortune and difficulties, regarded as liberation. (二、处世不求无难。… 世无难,则骄奢必起。… 骄奢起,必欺压一切。… 了难境界,体难本妄,难亦奚伤。… 以患难为解脱。)

[3] Third, examining the mind, not seeking to be without obstacles… If the mind is without obstacles, thus will that learnt skip necessary steps… If that learnt skipped necessary steps, definitely will that yet attained be said as attained… Understanding obstacles to be without roots, immediately will obstacles self-extinguish, with obstacles not experienced as obstacles… With obstacles, regarded as freedom without fetters. (三、究心不求无障。… 心无障,则所学躐等。… 学躐等,必未得谓得。… 解障无根,即障自寂,障不为碍。… 以障碍为逍遥。)

[4] Fourth, establishing practices, not seeking to be without the demonic… If practice is without demonic difficulties, thus will vows not be resolute… If vows are not resolute, definitely will that yet realised be said as realised… Realising demons are illusory, examining demons to be without roots, how are demons able to disturb?… With demonic hordes, regarded as Dharma companions. (四、立行不求无魔。… 行无魔,则誓愿不坚。… 愿不坚,必未证谓证。… 达魔妄有,究魔无根,魔何能娆。… 以群魔为法侣。)

[5] Fifth, planning matters, not seeking them to be easily accomplished… If matters are easily accomplished, thus will aspiration become slighting of others… If with aspiration that slights others, definitely will there be praise of oneself to possess capabilities… Considering matters that follow one’s wishes, as accomplishing of these matters accord with karma, these matters are not due to one’s capabilities alone… With matters’ difficulties, regarded as peace and bliss. (五、谋事不求易成。… 事易成,则志成轻慢。… 志轻慢,必称我有能。… 量事从心,成事随业,事不由能。… 以事难为安乐。)

[6] Sixth, in friendly relationships, not seeking to benefit oneself… If relationships benefit me, thus will there be loss of righteousness and justice… If losing righteousness and justice, definitely will there be seeing of others’ wrongs… Examining relationships to have causes, of relationships, they are difficult to forcibly seek, as relationships still rely upon conditions… With disadvantageous relationships, regarded as provisions. (六、交情不求益我。… 情益我,则亏失道义。… 亏道义,必见人之非。… 察情有因,于情难强,情乃依缘。… 以弊交为资粮。)

[7] Seventh, of people, not seeking the agreeable… If people are agreeable, thus will the mind within have self-boasting… If self-boasting, definitely will there be attachment to one’s “rightness”… Realise that of people conducting themselves in society, contemplate these people to be with illusory [good and bad] behaviour, that people are only for repayment [of their (past and present) kindness]… With opposing people, regarded as gardens [for planting seeds of meritorious virtues, by practising patience, understanding, forgiveness and such]. (七、于人不求顺适。… 人顺适,则内心自矜。… 内自矜,必执我之是。… 悟人处世,观人妄为,人但酬报。… 以逆人为园林。)

[8] Eighth, practising the virtue of generosity, not seeking or hoping for repayment… If with virtues, hoping for repayment, thus will the mind have that schemed after… If the mind has scheming, definitely will there be one’s “illustrious” name desired to be praised… Clearly knowing that virtues are without self-nature, reflect that as virtues are not permanent, virtues are also not real… With the marketplace’s “virtues” [for worldly benefits], regarded as thrown away shoes. (八、施德不求望报。… 德望报,则意有所图。… 意有图,必华名欲扬。… 明德无性,照德非常,德亦非实。… 以市德为弃屣。)

[9] Ninth, seeing benefits, not seeking receiving of them in part… If with benefits received in part, thus will the deluded mind definitely be moved… If the deluded mind moves, definitely will greed for evil benefits destroy oneself… Knowing worldly benefits are fundamentally empty, with desires for worldly benefits giving rise to afflictions, of these benefits, do not inappropriately seek them… With distancing from benefits, regarded as wealth and honour. (九、见利不求沾分。… 利沾分,则痴心必动。… 痴心动,必恶利毁己。… 世利本空,欲利生恼,利莫妄求。… 以疏远利为富贵。)

[10] Tenth, being hindered, not seeking to declare so… If hindered and declaring so, thus are others and self yet to be forgotten… If harbouring the mind of others and self, definitely will grudges and hatred breed… Receiving hindrances and able to endure them, with enduring of hindrances as humility, how can these hindrances harm me?… With receiving of hindrances, regarded as doors of practice.‘ (十、被抑不求申明。… 抑申明,则人我未忘。… 存人我,必怨恨滋生。… 受抑能忍,忍抑为谦,抑何伤我。… 以受抑为行门。)

Afterword On ‘Practices With Ten Great Obstacles’

From ‘Spirit Peak Tradition’s Treatise’《灵峰宗论》, the following are extended teachings of the Pure Land Tradition’s 9th Patriarch Great Master Ǒuyì (净土宗九祖蕅益大师) on the ‘Practices With Ten Great Obstacles’《十大碍行》:

Of Buddhas, Patriarchs, noble and virtuous ones, there are yet to be with those who did not practise with opposing situations as great furnaces and hearths. In the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths, the truth of suffering is positioned first. Also called are the Eight Sufferings [of birth (生), ageing (老), sickness (病), death (死), separation from the beloved (爱别离), meeting the hated (怨憎会), not attaining the sought (求不得) and blazing of the Five Aggregates (of forms, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness) (五蕴炽盛)] as our eight teachers. (佛祖圣贤,未有不以逆境为大炉韝者。佛四圣谛,苦谛居初。又称八苦为八师。)

If slightly with sentiments of retaining liking of the favourable, and with hating of the opposing, this in the end, is with summer grass [in winter] together rotting only. How then are we able to be like pine and cypress trees, towering and graceful within frost and snow? Beautiful fine jade that is not polished does not become exquisite, hard gold that is not forged by fire does not become refined, bells that are not struck do not toll, and knives that are not sharpened do not become sharp. How can there be a naturally born Maitreya Bodhisattva, or a naturally arising Śākyamuni Buddha? (苟稍存喜顺恶逆之情,终与夏草同腐而已,安能如松柏之亭亭霜雪间哉!美玉不琢不成器,顽金不煆不致精,钟不击不鸣,刀不磨不利。岂有天生弥勒,自然释迦?)

Desiring to be as noble and virtuous ones, Buddhas and Patriarchs, we must receive harsh scoldings, to be as if drinking ambrosia, when encountering unexpected, harsh and unreasonable opposition, to be as if obtaining the most valuable treasures. Then is this named to, “as usual, when with misfortune and difficulties, still do what should be done within misfortune and difficulties,” [as stated in the “Doctrine Of The Mean”《中庸》], then can we within this defiled land plant Pure Land’s causes [to be born there with the Three Provisions of Faith, Aspiration and Practice], then are we like lotus flowers arising from the mud, to transcend this defiled land, to ascend Pure Land to be non-retrogressible [in progress to Buddhahood]. (欲为圣贤佛祖,必受恶骂如饮甘露,遇横逆如获至宝。方名素患难行乎患难,方可于秽土植净土因,方如莲出淤泥,超登不退。)

If without [major opposing] matters, then “driving” mindfulness of Buddha to seek birth in his Pure Land, once there is encounter of what does not accord with our wishes, always with regret and indignation sighing then, we fear that Samādhi will not be accomplished, with birth in the Western Pure Land yet to be guaranteed. We need to, within these ten great obstacles practise, one by one using them for self-examination. (倘无事则驾言念佛求生净土,一遇不如意,辄悔愠咨嗟,吾恐三昧不成,生西未保。须于此十大碍行,一一自验。)

If, when within sickness, and when with difficulties, and even when being hindered, only increase the [sincere] mind with mindfulness of Buddha, understanding suffering with contemplation of its emptiness, not blaming and not resenting anyone, so that our lotus buds can by the day [be nourished to] grow, into what is called the Treasure King Of Samādhis [which is the Concentration From Mindfulness Of Amitābha Buddha (i.e. Āmítuófó)].’ (果于病时,难时,乃至被抑时,唯增念佛心,明苦空观,不尤不怨,庶莲萼日滋,称三昧宝王矣。)

To read complete Chinese-English version of these teachings, please

Namo Amituofo : Translation by Shen Shi’an

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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