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Six Subtle Dharma Doors

In the Tendai esoteric tradition there is a combination of vipassana and samatha meditation into a hierarchy of practice, starting with right concentration. The 'breath counting' many will be familiar with. 'Following' is the more focussed development. Then a technique that will be familiar to yogis, focus on the tip of the nose, 'stopping'.

Below are the later stages ...
Tendai is not widely known or practiced in the West but may be of interest to some?

Seeing (kuan)

The seeing method is visualization. It is also called “turning back the light of the mind upon itself.” Visualize the breath coming in and going out of the body. Eventually you can mentally observe the breath entering and exiting through every pore in your body. When the light of the mind is turned back in this way, the practitioner should see that all things are empty and without a substantial reality of their own.

Returning (huan)

After practicing seeing for some time, follow up with returning. The practice of returning consists of two steps. First involves visualization. Having already visualized the breath, the mind is now attuned to the art of intelligent visualization, which differs from intelligent activity. The aim here is to dissolve the duality between the mind that contemplates the breath and the breath that is contemplated. This opens the way for tracing the origin of one’s thought back to the fundamental, true mind.

The second step is to understand that like the breath, the mind also rises and falls. This is likened to water that rises in waves. Waves, however, are not the water. Thus, the mind that rises and falls is not the true mind. We look into true mind and see that it is uncreated, beyond ‘is’ and therefore, empty. As it is empty, there is no subjective mind that contemplates, and since there is no contemplating mind, there is nothing contemplated.

Going back to the true mind in this way is what is meant by “returning.”

Refining (ching)

In returning, there may linger some idea of returning. The first step of refining is to clear the mind of any vestiges of this thought. The second step of refining is to keep your mind like still water, with all random thinking and discrimination stopped. In this way, you can observe your true mind.



  • JohnMacJohnMac Veteran

    That is interesting, very much so. Must do some research. Thanks for the post!

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @JohnMac There is a crossover between tendai and shingon (which I had a brief training in). One of the things I remember is the approach to siddhi. This is likely to occur around stage three.

    Stopping (chih)

    Once the method of following has been mastered, the breath still may not be subtle enough. Stopping, then, is the next step. Here, the entire practice consists of simply focusing the mind on the tip of the nose. As this method proceeds, the practitioner should lose his or her constant awareness of a physical body and mind, indicating entry into level of deep quiescence.

    The approach to siddhi is that the complications that arise: sense of achievement, becoming a great yogi, in other words ego inflation, have to be ovecome. Therefore siddhi are seen as potentially beneficial if dealt with maturely. This is different to the more contemplative approaches that do not actively 'seek' siddhi as some of the esoteric schools do.

    I would be interested in any further links or other results of research ... <3

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