The Avatamsaka Four Dharma Realms and the Shurangama Meditation of Listening Intersect in Zen

Preview of Upcoming Presentation

Seen as stages of practice, Chinese preeminent monk Chengguan’s theory of the Four Dharma Realms and Guanyin’s perfected meditation method via one’s ears inevitably meet complementarily to enhance our understanding of meditation as a practice.

More than mere philosophy, the teaching of the Four Dharma Realms requires both theory and practice. The Chinese Huayan School’s descriptions of magnificent, dream-like states not only can be read as a philosophy but can be contemplated upon and experienced in meditation mindstates. With the Four Dharma Realms specifically, Chengguan provided specific contemplations such as that on true emptiness, the non-obstruction between phenomena and noumenon, pervasive embodiment, and others. Where phenomena are dualistic, when contemplated upon through a singularity, a noumenon that is the same among the differences, awareness expands to non-obstruction between phenomena and noumenon. At some point phenomena and noumenon become one in perfect integration, or emptiness. And finally, the meditator enters the Dharma Realm of the mind that is simultaneously the greatest expanse, where emptiness extinguishes to become ineffable wondrousness.

The Shurangama Sūtra’s stages of meditation as Guanyin described in his realization of enlightenment complements the Four Dharma Realms precisely. Seen below, the typical linear and two-dimensional portrayal of these stages of meditation offer us a glimpse of how a meditator moves from noticing dualistic sense objects to an investigation of the nature of the ear, to an awareness that ends in the emptiness of dualities, and finally to the extinction of that emptiness.  

(From Translating Totality in Parts: Chengguan’s Commentaries and Subcommentaries to the Avatamsaka Sutra by Guo Cheen)

The complementarity between these Avatamska and Shurangama developments affirms, plus multiplies their dimensions manifold with, the Zen fundamentals of one mind (一心 yixin), “everything is but from the mind” (萬法唯心 wanfa weixin), and from emptiness a plethora of wonder bursts forth (妙有miaoyou)