9. Cultivation prior to awakening is not true cultivation

Question: According to your assessment, there are two types of samadhi and prajna which are maintained equally during cultivation after awakening: first, the samadhi and prajna of the self‐nature; second, the relative samadhi and prajna which adapts to signs.

The self‐nature type means to be calm yet aware in all circumstances. Since the person who has awakened to the self‐nature is always spontaneous and free from attachment to objects, why does he need to trouble with effacing the defilements? Since there is not even one thought which creates passion, there is no need to make vain efforts at forgetting all conditioning. Your assessment was that this approach is the sudden school’s equal maintenance of samadhi and prajna which never leaves the self‐nature.
The relative type which follows signs means either to absorb distraction by according with the noumenon or to investigate dharmas critically and contemplate their voidness. One controls both dullness and agitation and thereby enters the unconditioned. But your assessment was that this practice is for those of inferior faculties in the gradual school. We are not yet free of doubts about the samadhi and prajna of these two different approaches. Would you say that one should first rely on the self‐nature type and then, after cultivating samadhi and prajna concurrently, make further use of the countermeasures or the relative approach? Or should one first rely on the relative type so that after controlling dullness and agitation, he can enter into the self‐nature type? If, after initially using the samadhi and prajna of the self‐nature, he is able to remain calm and aware naturally in all situations, thus rendering the counteractive measures unnecessary, why would he subsequently have to apply the relative type of samadhi and prajna? It is like a piece of white jade: if it is engraved, its natural quality will be destroyed. On the other hand, after the initial application of the relative type of samadhi and prajna, if the work of counteraction is brought to a close and he then progresses to the self‐nature type, this would be merely gradual development prior to awakening as practiced by those of inferior faculties in the gradual school. Then how would you be able to say that the sudden school’s approach of initial awakening and subsequent cultivation makes use of the effortless effort?
If these two types can both be practiced in the one time that has no past or future [via sudden awakening/sudden cultivation], there would have to be a difference between the respective suddenness and gradualness of these two types of samadhi and prajna―so how could they both be cultivated at once? The sudden school adept relies on the self‐nature type and eschews effort by remaining natural in all situations. Students of inferior capacity in the gradual school tend toward the relative type and exert themselves applying countermeasures. The suddenness and gradualness of these two types of practices are not identical; their respective superiority and inferiority is obvious. So, in the approach of initial awakening and subsequent cultivation, why is it explained that there are two ways to maintain samadhi and prajna equally? Could you help us to understand this and eliminate our doubts?
Chinul: The explanation is obvious. Your doubts only come from yourselves! If you try to understand by merely following the words, you will, on the contrary, only give rise to doubt and confusion. It is best to forget the words; do not bother with detailed scrutiny of them. Now let us go on to my assessment of the cultivation of these two types of practice.
Cultivation of the samadhi and prajna of the self‐nature involves the use of the sudden school’s effortless effort in which both are put into practice and both are calmed; oneself cultivates the self‐nature, and oneself completes the path to Buddhahood. Cultivation of the relative samadhi and prajna which adapts to signs involves the use of the counteractive measures which are cultivated prior to awakening by those of inferior faculties in the gradual school. Thought‐moment after thought‐moment, confusion is eliminated; it is a practice which clings to stillness. These two types are different: one is sudden and the other gradual; they should not be combined haphazardly.
Although the approach involving cultivation after awakening does discuss the counteractive measures of the relative approach which adapts to signs, it does not employ the practices of those of inferior faculties in the gradual school in their entirety. It uses its expedients, but only as a temporary measure.29 And why is this? In the sudden school too there are those whose faculties are superior and those whose faculties are inferior; their “baggage” [their backgrounds and abilities] cannot be weighed according to the same standard.
If a person’s defilements are weak and insipid, and his body and mind are light and at ease; if in the good he leaves the good and in the bad he leaves the bad; if he is unmoving in the eight worldly winds; if the three types of feeling are calmed―then he can rely on the samadhi and prajna of the self‐nature and cultivate them concurrently in all situations naturally. He is impeccable and passive; whether in action or at rest he is always absorbed in Seon and perfects the natural noumenon. What need is there for him to borrow the relative approach’s counteractive measures? If one is not sick, there is no need to look for medicine.
On the other hand, even though a person might initially have had a sudden awakening, if the defilements are engrossing and the habit‐energies deeply engrained; if the mind becomes passionate whenever it is in contact with sense‐objects; if he is always involved in confrontations with the situations he meets; if he is always beset by dullness and agitation; or if he loses the constancy of calmness and awareness―then he should borrow the relative samadhi and prajna which adapts to signs and not forget the counteractive measures which control both dullness and agitation. Thereby he will enter the unconditioned: this is what is proper here. But even though he borrows the countermeasures in order to bring the habit‐energies under temporary control, he has had a sudden awakening to the fact that the mind‐nature is fundamentally pure and the defilements fundamentally empty. Hence he does not fall into the corrupt practice of those of inferior faculties in the gradual school. And why is this? Although during cultivation prior to awakening a person following the gradual approach does not forget to be diligent and thought‐moment after thought‐moment permeates his cultivation, he still gives rise to doubts everywhere and cannot free himself from obstacles. It is as if he had something stuck in his chest: he is always uncomfortable. After many days and months, as the work of counteraction matures, the adventitious defilements of body and mind might then appear to weaken. Although they seem lighter, the root of doubt is not yet severed. He is like a rock which is crushing grass: he still cannot be self‐reliant in the realm of birth and death. Therefore, it is said, “Cultivation prior to awakening is not true cultivation.”30
In the case of a man who has awakened, although he employs expedients, moment to moment he is free of doubts and does not become polluted. After many days and months he naturally conforms with the impeccable, sublime nature. Naturally he is calm and aware in all situations. Moment by moment, as he becomes involved in sensory experience in all the sense‐realms, thought after thought he always severs defilements, for he never leaves the self‐nature. By maintaining samadhi and prajna equally, he perfects supreme bodhi and is no longer any different from those of superior faculties mentioned previously. Thus, although the relative samadhi and prajna is a practice for those of inferior faculties in the gradual school, for the man who has had an awakening it can be said that “iron has been transmuted into gold.”31
If you understand this, how can you have such doubts―doubts like the discriminative view that a sequence or progression is involved in the practice of these two types of samadhi and prajna? I hope that all cultivators of the path will study these words carefully; extinguish your doubts or you will end up backsliding. If you have the will of a great man and seek supreme bodhi, what will you do if you discard this approach? Do not grasp at the words, but try to understand the meaning directly. Stay focused on the definitive teaching, return to yourselves, and merge with the original guiding principle. Then the wisdom which cannot be obtained from any master will naturally manifest. The impeccable noumenon will be clear and unobscured. The perfection of the wisdom‐body does not come from any other awakening.32 And yet, although this sublime truth applies to everyone, unless the omniscient wisdom of prajna―the basis of the Mahayana―is started early, you will not be able to produce right faith in a single thought. And how can this merely result in a lack of faith? You will also end up slandering the three treasures and will finally invite punishment in the Interminable Hell. This happens frequently! But even though you are not yet able to accept this truth in faith, if it passes through your ears just once and you feel affinity with it for even a moment, the merit will be incalculable. As it says in Secrets on Mind‐Only, 33 But he who does not lose the right cause for the attainment of Buddhahood and who, moreover, listens and believes, trains and completes his training, and guards his achievement without forgetting it, how can his merit be calculated?

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