The subject matter of the Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way by Nagarjuna is emptiness. The key meaning of emptiness as we spoke about yesterday is emptiness in terms of dependent origination. In the salutary verses Nagarjuna pays homage to the Buddha as someone who propounds the teachings of dependent origination with great mastery. Therefore he praises Buddha as the peerless teacher. In the Buddhist teachings the principal of dependent origination is very important.
In the Sutra on Dependent Origination (Pratityasamutpada Sutra), Buddha states that whoever sees the nature of dependent origination sees the Dharma, sees Tathagata, the Buddha. One can understand this statement that whoever sees the nature of dependent origination perceives the nature of Dharma at many different levels. For example when one understands the principal of dependent origination in terms of cause and effect, then the meaning of understanding the nature of Dharma can be understood in terms of the meaning of the law of causality. On this basis one can build a firm foundation for an ethically disciplined way of life and this correct view of karmic law is said to be one level of the correct view of Dharma.
However when one takes the meaning of dependent origination at a much higher level where one understands dependence not just in terms of cause and effect but also dependence in terms of how things in the final analysis originate in relation to a multiple, complex nexus of the interaction between designation, labels and so on, then this level of the understanding of dependent origination takes one directly to an understanding of emptiness. Therefore the realization of the nature of Dharma is at a much deeper level.
Tathagata means thus gone. The state of Buddhahood, if understood in terms of a state where all the conceptual elaborations and all forms of duality have been calmed into a state of purity, a state of total peace and joy, then one can say that Buddhahood is a state thus gone into the Dharmakaya. From this point of view Tathagata can be understood in terms of Dharmakaya, the Truth Body, the Buddha Body of Reality. If one understands Tathagata as coming rather than going then Tathagata is understood as the Rupakaya or Form Body, the physical embodiment or emanation from the source of Dharmakaya. So Tathagata or Buddhahood can be understood both in terms of the Truth Body and also in terms of the Form Body.
The principle of dependent origination at the general level is a principal fundamental to all schools of Buddhism. However if one understands the principle of dependent origination at a subtle level in terms of emptiness then that is fundamental to the schools of the Middle Way thought, the Madhyamika. Some of you might be familiar here when I introduced the teachings of the Buddha stating that in philosophical outlook the principal of dependent origination is the key Buddhist teaching and the practice of non-violence is the conduct of a Buddhist practitioner.
The rationale for adopting such a way of behavior or way of interacting with others is not because the Buddhists say that by engaging in harmful action one goes against the will of the Buddha. The rationale is because everything is interdependent, things come into being as the result of causes and conditions, and since our fundamental aspiration is to seek happiness and avoid suffering, one should avoid causes and conditions that lead to suffering. One should adopt causes and conditions that lead to happiness. So it is ultimately the principle of dependent origination that provides the rationale for adopting the Buddhist practice of non-violence or non-harming.
The blessing or empowerment that is being performed today is of Manjushri because Manjushri is seen as the embodiment of the enlightened wisdom of the Buddhas. By participating in the ceremony and receiving the blessing it can enhance one’s potential for generating insight into emptiness and dependent origination. I will begin the empowerment ceremony by conducting a ceremony on generating the mind of enlightenment. This will help us to reinforce, reaffirm our commitment to the Buddhist conduct of non-violence, non-harm and altruism.
I thought it might be quite useful if I confer the precepts of a upasaka, a lay practitioner’s precepts. Of course there are many different precepts. The complete precepts involve restraining from killing, stealing, making false claims about spiritual realization, and avoiding intoxicants and sexual misconduct.
We had a discussion of the three higher trainings yesterday. The high training in morality is principally aimed at curbing the excesses of negative behavior. The high training in meditation is aimed at curbing the internal conditions for the negative behavior, delusions and so on. The higher trainings in wisdom are that which eliminates the delusions from within. When one talks about higher trainings in wisdom, the principal form of which is the wisdom realizing emptiness, the category of wisdom can also include insight into the impermanent nature of reality or insight into the insubstantiality of self. The higher trainings in wisdom are that which directly contracts the delusions. It is the actual antidote.
One can use the analogy of a missile. The actual warhead is analogous to wisdom. The actual rocket is like meditation, which is what propels wisdom. The launch pad, which needs to be very firm, is analogous to morality, sound ethical discipline. Morality is the foundation, the basis.
In practical application one has to begin with morality. This is the first step. On the basis of a sound ethical discipline, one can build on meditation, the second higher training. Although the actual generation and cultivation of wisdom itself does not depend upon having a meditatively stable mind, in order for that wisdom to be perfected and developed as a direct antidote to delusions, one needs the factor of a meditatively stable mind. Through the combination of meditation and wisdom one can attain what is known as vipasyana or penetrative insight. This enables the practitioner to directly channel all of their attention through the power of meditation.
Although one takes refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, which together constitute the Three Jewels, the primary object of refuge should be the Dharma, the Dharma of cessation. Since the true cessation is the Dharma which is the cessation of all negativity, by taking refuge principally in the Dharma, one makes a claim or a wish that by adopting an ethically disciplined way of life at least one is embarking on a path to eliminating all negativity and impurities of one’s body, speech and mind.
The precepts being offered are the Five Precepts, which I spoke about earlier. One should regard the Buddha as the real teacher, the great teacher. In the past at first he was just like us, an ordinary human being with all the human weaknesses. It was through a gradual process of disciplining and purifying his mind that he became fully enlightened. One makes prostrations to him with the pledge to take him as our ideal example and follow in his footsteps.
Unlike the last two days in which were engaged in a series of lectures, today is a real teaching. You should bow to me, who is giving you the precepts. The actual recitation will be done on the basis of the Sanskrit formula.
Buddham saranam gacchami
Dharmam saranam gacchami
Sangham saranam gacchami
At this point one should make a fervent pledge of whatever commitment one is making. Those who are quite desperate can take only one precept that I shall not murder. At least you won’t go to jail! When talking of the precept of not killing although principally it refers to murder, you should also avoid killing animals as well. It is important for Buddhist practitioners to have this instinctive sense that whenever one sees another sentient being that we are all living beings.
(Recitation of Sanskrit refuge formula three times)
One should make a fervent pledge, “Just as all the great masters of the past; the Arhats, Bodhisattvas and so on have lived an ethically disciplined way of life and observed all the precepts, so shall I observe the precepts and not transgress them until my death”. One should develop a firm sense of commitment in one’s heart to the precepts one has taken. It is important that from today onwards to be mindful that one is now an upasaka, a lay practitioner. If a mosquito is biting one, one’s immediate response should not be to kill it but one should recall that one is a lay practitioner.
What is important is the cultivation of mindfulness and awareness. Although in one’s normal day-to-day life one does use a degree of mindfulness and introspection, once one has adopted the Buddhist path then one deliberately and consciously applies mindfulness and introspection. Through this way once one’s application of these faculties becomes more developed then one gets to a point where one can even maintain one’s focus single-pointedly on a chosen object. The moment one’s mind gets distracted or diverted one is immediately aware of the distraction taking place. It is only through the development of these two faculties, mindfulness and introspection, that one gains single-pointedness of mind.
Once one has cultivated the faculty of single-pointedness one will get to a point where the power of one’s mind and one’s attention is so strong that one can channel all one’s awareness into a single object. One has the ability to penetrate into the depths of the nature of the chosen object. Once one has this kind of single-pointedness of mind and when this is applied to one’s understanding of emptiness, then one is able to attain what is known as the union of tranquil abiding and penetrative insight.
Generally speaking attainment of single-pointedness of mind and also the union of tranquil abiding and penetrative insight is something that is not unique to the Buddhist path. It is a common technique and practice in many of the ancient Indian religious traditions. For example in the non-Buddhist schools they also have an extensive discussion of the levels of absorption as well as the states of experiences of the Formless Realms. What distinguishes Buddhist meditation is the meditation on emptiness where there is a union of tranquil abiding and penetrative insight. This kind of union is both the cause for obtaining liberation from samsara and the fully enlightened state of a Buddha.
In order for that wisdom to become a cause for the attainment of full enlightenment it needs to be complemented and supported by bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment. Now I will conduct the ceremony for generating the mind of enlightenment.
In front of you visualize a living Buddha surrounded by great Bodhisattvas like Manjushri and Maitreya as well as great Indian masters like Nagarjuna and Asanga. Since my own lineage comes from Tibetan Buddhism, one should visualize the great Tibetan masters of the past and also as we are in the Chinese community here, one should visualize the great masters of the Chinese Buddhist tradition. Imagine yourself surrounded by all sentient beings. Focusing on the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and great masters cultivate a strong faith in them and admiration for their qualities of kindness and compassion. Also cultivate faith in the sense of aspiring to seek the state of enlightenment they have achieved for yourself and all sentient beings. Generate faith in the sense of conviction in the truth of their path and the nature of their enlightenment. Then focusing on yourself and the sentient beings around you, cultivate a strong sense of compassion and love, caring for them. With these strong feelings both of faith in the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and masters and compassion and love for all sentient beings, perform the seven limbed practice.
The seven limbed practice involves the purification of negativities and the accumulation of merit creating the right conditions. Purification of negativities essentially means overcoming obstacles.
Now we will recite the three verses from generating the mind for enlightenment. The first verse pertains to taking refuge in the Three Jewels. Here the only difference is that we are not just taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha but rather the manner in which we are taking refuge is quite different. We take refuge here in the Dharma not just “out there” but rather the potential Dharma, which we could realize within us. Through the realization of that Dharma in us then we become Sangha then the highest perfection of the Sangha is Buddhahood. When we take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in the context here, we are taking refuge in our future resultant states of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha which is an ideal state we are aspiring to attain.
The second verse pertains to generating the mind of enlightenment. What we are saying here is that in this congregation, in the presence of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, by calling them witness upon this great event, we will generate the mind for full awakening for the sake of all sentient beings.
The third verse is a dedication verse, an aspirational prayer that is my favorite line, the greatest source of inspiration for me. When reciting these three verses, feel that by taking refuge in the Three Jewels I shall now generate the mind for full awakening for the benefit of all sentient beings. May that mind of enlightenment arise in me.
With a wish to free all beings
I shall always go for refuge
To the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,
Until I reach full enlightenment
Enthused by wisdom and compassion,
Today in the Buddha’s presence
I generate the mind for Full Awakening
For the benefit of all sentient beings.
As long as space remains,
As long as sentient beings remain,
May I too remain
And dispel the miseries of the world.
If possible one should make a firm pledge that I shall never abandon this courageous mind that I have generated today. I take this recitation as very important using it as part of my daily practice in the morning. I also feel that this does have an impact on my thoughts and mind.
At this point I will explain the meaning of the beautiful prayer the Chinese Buddhists recite. The first line is, “May I be able to eliminate the three poisons of mind”. We have had discussions on these three poisons of mind the last few days. These refer to ignorance, hatred and extreme attachment. All of these and their derivatives are the true enemy that creates so much misery for oneself and others. One makes the fervent prayer to be free of these poisons.
The second line reads, “May the perfect wisdom arise in me”. This points out that simply by making a prayer that one may eliminate all poisons of the mind is not enough. Even if all the Buddhas of the past, present and future joined forces they could not eliminate those poisons from one’s mind. It is only by generating the light of wisdom penetrating into the ultimate nature of reality that one can dispel the darkness created by the poisons of the mind from within. Therefore in the second line one makes the prayer that may the perfect wisdom arise in one’s own mind.
The third line says, “May I be able to overcome all obstructions”. The point here is to make a request that may all the obstructions preventing one’s attaining the light of wisdom be overcome so that the light of wisdom may shine within. One could say that these three lines of prayer are common to the Sravaka, Pratyekabuddha and Bodhisattva vehicles.
The fourth line reads, “May I be able to engage in the deeds of the Bodhisattva eternally”. The fourth line is the unique prayer, the sentiment unique to the practitioners of the Bodhisattva path. This is also to emphasize that the prayers of the first three lines are not motivated simply by one’s own wish to be free but also for the sake of all sentient beings.
The essence of generating the mind of enlightenment is for all of us to cultivate the thought that for the remaining part of our lives, what is most important is to be warm-hearted and to lead a way of life which is not destructive or harmful to others around you. Once one has this basic quality of warm-heartedness then on top of it one should be as intelligent, wise, skillful and competent as possible.
Next is the blessing ceremony of Manjushri. This is a Vajrayana teaching, a tantra teaching. In order to practice tantric teachings one has to be initiated into the practice. In the congregation here if there are people who have never received any empowerments or initiations before then you should not visualize yourself into the deity Manjushri. Rather you should visualize Manjushri at your crown on top of your head.
What is the unique feature of the Vajrayana approach? Earlier we spoke about the critical importance of cultivating the union of tranquil abiding and penetrative insight focused on emptiness. In the Vajrayana teachings there is a unique set of practices that enable one to attain this union with much more effectiveness and faster. Also we spoke of the Two Bodies of the Buddha, the Buddha Body of Reality (Dharmakaya) and the Buddha’s Form Body (Rupakaya). The Dharmakaya is said to represent the fulfillment of self-interest and the Rupakaya is said to represent the fulfillment of others’ welfare. Just as the resultant state of Buddhahood is a composite of two embodiments similarly there are two principal dimensions or aspects to the path, which correspond to the attainment of the resultant state. These refer to the practices of emptiness, which relate to the Dharmakaya and the practices of skillful means, which relate to the Rupakaya.
The essence of the Mahayana teachings and practices is the union of these two, the wisdom of emptiness and the skillful means of bodhicitta. In the general Sutra practices and teachings the union of these two, method and wisdom, takes place in terms of one reinforcing and supporting or complementing the other. For example bodhicitta is used as a motivation which would then create impetus for the generation of the insight into emptiness. This realization of emptiness is further strengthened and complemented by compassion. In the Sutra context the union is more in terms of mutual complimentarity.
If there were a possibility of creating the union of method and wisdom in such a way that they become totally inseparable or indistinguishable then such an approach to the path would be much more profound and effective. In the Vajrayana teachings is a very profound way of unifying the method and wisdom aspects of the path. One first meditates on emptiness and then one’s realization of emptiness itself is visualized or turned into the physical embodiment or form of a deity. One refocuses attention back on the deity and realizes its emptiness. The most profound union takes place at the level of Highest Yoga Tantra.
If one can engage on the Vajrayana path on the basis of a clear understanding of the tantric path, then it can be truly profound and effective. Some Tibetan masters of the past have emphasized many of the significancies of the Vajrayana teachings by the representation of the vajra and bell. The Tibetans say that if one utilizes these implements with a full awareness of their significance and a full understanding of the Vajrayana path, then when one rings the bell it will have a profound symbolism and meaning. But the simple act of playing a bell doesn’t really have any profundity. One can see that even cows have bells around their necks and make loud noises.
The reason I point this out is that unfortunately sometimes people in their rush to attain Vajrayana teachings because of the way in which it is promoted as the best, highest and quickest, people hastily rush to receiving initiations without full realization of what it involves and what is its true significance. There is a real danger that one’s ringing a bell is like the cow’s. This is very true even of the Tibetan Buddhists as well. When they hear there is an initiation everyone rushes to it with great enthusiasm. But if someone hears there is a series of lectures taking place on Buddhism then they say, “Oh yes, well….”. Sometimes I exploit this weakness and use it to my advantage. I announce there is a Kalachakra initiation and everybody rushes to it. I do the Kalachakra ceremony last and very fast but I spend much more time explaining the key elements and a general overview of the Buddhist path. That way they have to sit and listen to them. This is my skillful means! Although I thought I was rather smart but some of the students are even smarter. They make sure they arrive only exactly on the Kalachakra initiation day.
You should imagine the guru in the form of the deity Manjushri; orange in color holding a sword in his right hand, holding the stem of a lotus with a scripture on top with his left hand. This is how you should visualize the guru. At the crown of guru as Manjushri’s head visualize a white Manjushri, at the throat a red-colored Manjushri and at his heart a blue Manjushri. Visualize a place where there is a full mandala arranged with a similar form of Manjushri.
At first you make a request to the guru whom you have visualized in the form of the deity Manjushri to confer upon you the empowerment and blessings of Manjushri. Now you visualize in front of you all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas with Manjushri in the middle. In their presence you take refuge in the Three Jewels and take the Bodhisattva vows making the pledge to engage in the deeds of the Bodhisattva.
Among the members of the congregation who have already received tantric empowerments in the past, they can visualize themselves as the deity Manjushri as described earlier. If you are attending Vajrayana teachings for the first time then you should visualize Manjushri at your crown. At this point everyone should try to reflect upon what is exactly the nature of the self or I. We have constant thoughts of “I-consciousness”; “I’m this” “I’m that”. We should reflect on what exactly is this self. As we had discussed yesterday in our normal thought we tend to have a sense that there is something called the self or I to which all our physical and mental aggregates belong. We have thoughts like “My body”, “My mind” or “My feelings” and so on. There is a sense that there is a self, a me or an I, which is separate from our empirical physical and mental aggregates. Yet at the same time if we were to search for this self that is supposedly distinct from mind and body, the concept begins to dissolve.
Nagarjuna has stated in his Precious Garland, the Ratnavali that the person is neither the earth, water, fire nor wind elements yet there is no person outside these elements. He also states since the notion of person or self arises on the basis of a composite of all these elements, the person or self does not exist with independent reality or intrinsic reality. Nagarjuna continues to state that just as the person or self can not be found within or separate apart from the constitutive elements, similarly the individual elements themselves if subjected to a similar analysis are again composites, can not be found to posses any intrinsic or independent reality. This analysis can be extended to the entire realm of phenomena.
Those who already been initiated into Vajrayana teachings before should now imagine that the awareness understanding emptiness that one just developed dissolves into emptiness and emerges in the form of an orange-colored seed syllable DHIH. This syllable then turns into the deity Manjushri, orange-colored holding a sword in his right hand and holding the stem of a lotus with a scripture in his left hand. Those receiving initiation for the first time after having reflected on the nature of emptiness should visualize at your crown Manjushri.
At the crown of Manjushri is a blue-colored Akshobhya with one face and two arms holding a vajra. The guru in the same form as Manjushri from his heart light emanates and touches the heart of the deity in the mandala visualized in front of you. From the deities heart in the mandala lights emanate in all directions and draws forth the blessings of all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions. These come back in the form of images of Manjushri that dissolve into you through the pores in your body.
At your heart visualizing yourself as Manjushri, visualize a four-spoked white wheel, a wheel of wisdom. At the center of the wheel is the syllable DHIH. On the two sides of the DHIH in the center of the wheel is on the right the letter AH and on the left the letter OM. On the four spokes of the wheel clockwise from the front visualize RA, PA, TSA and NA. Now you should visualize emerging from the heart of the guru replicas of the same set of the wisdom wheel with all the syllables, which dissolve, into the set at your heart. Through this way imagine receiving the blessings of the mantra and speech of Manjushri. Repeat after me the mantra OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHIH.
Inside your throat is horizontally the syllable DHIH with its head facing towards your back. When all of us do the recitation of DHIH DHIH DHIH… 108 times in one breath, you should imagine many small letter DHIH dripping from the DHIH at your throat and are absorbed by the DHIH at your heart. Through this way imagine that it sharpens your mind and increases the power of your memory.
You should make a pledge to perform a mantra recitation of Manjushri on a daily basis, if possible one whole round of the mala. If you can not perform a whole round of a mala then seven or twenty-one repetitions on a daily basis is okay. The blessing ceremony of Manjushri is over. I received this empowerment from my tutor Tarthag Rinpoche and then also later from Trijang Rinpoche.
Venerable Master Sheng Yen: The Sixth Ancestral Master Hui-neng was perhaps the most eminent Chan master. His initial enlightenment occurred when he heard a phrase from the Vajracchedika or Diamond Sutra, “Give rise to mind without abiding anywhere”. The Vajracchedika Sutra mainly teaches us to give rise to this bodhimind, the altruistic mind of enlightenment and expounds on the nature of emptiness.
The Lankavatara Sutra also had a great impact on Chan Buddhism. This sutra emphasizes the teaching of Tathagatagarbha or True Suchness also known as Buddhanature. It encourages us to have a conviction that all sentient beings have Tathagatagarbha or Buddhanature. In other words it states that all beings can become Buddhas.
The Sixth Lineage Master Hui-neng taught that in order to perceive your self-nature and reach enlightenment you must be free from dualistic thinking, judging what is good or bad. At that very moment you can look into your original face so to say and find out who you are.
A similar approach can be found in the conversation between the First Master Bodhidharma and his disciple the second disciple the Lineage Master Hui-k’o. One day the story goes Hui-k’o wanted Bodhidharma to pacify his agitated mind for him. He was filled with vexations. Bodhidharma did not give him a particular method instead he asked, “Where is this agitated mind of yours? Find it and give it to me so I can pacify it for you.”
In the Chan tradition there is no specific method to enlightenment. Chan only encourages one to fully investigate this mind of affliction. Traditional early Indian Buddhist practice is indeed very difficult and one must proceed with methods such as contemplation of the Five Points of Steering the Mind, anapannasati or full awareness of breath, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and so on. On the other hand Chan teaches one not to analyze or engage in intellectual investigation. By contrast Chan teaches the instantaneous casting off of the deluded mind through the search for this mind of delusion.
When one personally experiences the absence of mind one naturally perceives the nature of emptiness. Furthermore to truly engage in Chan practice one must generate the altruistic mind of enlightenment and take Bodhisattva vows which are also known as the Three Inclusive Pure Precepts. If an individual has already experienced a thorough state of enlightenment then forms and patterns will no longer bind their conduct.
The attainment of samadhi in Chan is actually a state that is in perfect accordance with the wisdom of emptiness. Chan does not emphasize the gradual stages of samadhi or one-pointedness of mind. Rather it places great emphasis on the emergence of the wisdom of the nature of emptiness. If an individual has given rise to great wisdom then this is also the attainment of great samadhi. In other words Chan places great emphasis on both the attainment of samadhi and prajna.
To begin the practice one must have genuine faith in what the Buddha said that all sentient beings have Buddhanature, the potential to reach Buddhahood. Thus the Ts’ao-tung school or a sub-school of Chan teaches a method called just sitting where one first experiences one’s own body sitting and become aware of the workings of the mind. Once the mind is sufficiently clear you separate from the clinging to the four elements, the five skandhas, the mind, consciousness and all mental factors. At that very moment one confronts the question, “Who am I?”
There is an easier approach that is when confronted with external situations, things and events with the experience of internal thoughts of this and that, do not conceptualize, label or cling to these phenomena. In this way one will be in accordance with the nature of enlightenment. If one accords with the wisdom of emptiness at that moment that is enlightenment. However this state should not be understood as dull or inert as if someone bashed one over the head.
In Chan sometimes a master would hit a student with a stick or suddenly yell at him. This stops vexations and deluded thoughts from arising. So some foolish people may think that, “Oh it is easy to reach enlightenment. You just have to find someone to hit you over the head and this will free you from conceptualizations and thoughts”. Is this non-arising of afflictions and thoughts the state of enlightenment? I don’t believe it is. It is only a kind of shock. Why? Because it is not in accordance with the nature or insight into emptiness.
The Hua Tou method of the Lingchi School consists of asking investigative questions such as, “Who is having such afflictions?” “Who is clinging?” ”Who is having all of these negative habits?” “Who is it?” “Who?” Continually ask oneself until one reaches a point free from scatteredness and arising thoughts. When one reaches this state perhaps a master’s blow may be quite useful.
In recent years I have engaged in a social movement I call "Building a Pure Land on Earth". We can all do this by purifying our minds. When our minds are pure our actions and conduct will be pure. When our actions are pure we will have a purifying influence on those around us. When this happens a pure land will appear in our world. To reach purity we must experience the wisdom of emptiness.
If we can not do this we should be aware of our afflictions and at least not let them grow into actions, which would cause more harm. When we recognize our afflictions we can subdue then finally sever them. To know or recognize affliction is to be in accordance with the pure mind. One may find this difficult at first but do not despair or feel regret. Once one recognizes the afflictions put them down right away. One can use the Hua Tou method or the awareness of breath method to bring one’s afflicted mind to a settled state where vexations will not easily arise. At this time one will be in accordance with purity.
An ancient Chan master said, “If within a single thought your mind is pure then that is one moment of Buddhahood. When your subsequent thought is in accordance with purity that moment is Buddhahood”. The Saddharmapundarika Sutra or the Lotus Sutra states, “If a person upon entering a temple can say Namo Buddha or Homage to the Buddha then he has attained Buddhahood”.
The Buddha is said to have three bodies; the Body of Reality, the Body of Transformation and the Body of Bliss. One can look upon one’s own body with the conviction that it is the Transformation Body of Buddha. Can’t you see that everyone in this world then is a Buddha? Isn’t this world a Buddha Land?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Of course even Lama Tsongkhapa accepts the notion of instantaneous liberation but he makes the point that what seems like an instantaneous realization is actually a culmination of many factors coming into play. It could be a sudden impetus that leads to the instantaneous liberation.
For example he gives an example from a sutra where a king from central India had received a very expensive gift from a king of a distant land. The king did know what was the best kind of gift to give in return, as the gift he received was so valuable so he approached the Buddha asking for advice. Buddha suggested the king send a painting of the Wheel of Life that depicts the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination with a description in verse form at the end. The gift was sent along with a message that the gift should be received with great joy and fanfare. The other king was very curious when he received the message and made arrangements to receive the gift with great festivity and celebration. When he finally opened the gift he was surprised to see a small painting. When he studied the painting and read the description of the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination depicted in the Wheel of Life, it gave rise to an instantaneous realization of the truth. This experience happened out of the blue, instantaneously as a result of the visual perception of the painting with its description.
From Tsongkhapa’s point of view although the actual event may be instantaneous, it is a culmination of many factors coming together. What makes it instantaneous is something that arises as an impetus.
In the Dzogchen teachings, particularly the approach to meditation taught in the Dzogchen path, although I can not say they use a stick as the Chinese master described here, but there is a similar approach. The practitioner shouts the syllable PHAT and it is said that when the syllable is uttered with great force, at that point the whole chain of thought processes is instantaneously cut. It gives rise to a sudden spontaneous experience that is described as a sense of wonder. It is a form of non-conceptuality, a state of the absence of thought.
There is a verse attributed to Sakya Pandita though some Sakya masters dispute the authorship of this, which states that between the gaps of different thought processes the experience of clear light takes place continuously. It suggests that when one shouts PHAT and then experiences the sudden, spontaneous sense of wonder and state of non-conceptuality that is when one experiences the clear light. This is momentary.
It is said for those who have ripened karmic states who has great accumulations of merit and many of the conditions aggregated, it is said at this point such a person can also experience emptiness. To use Dzogchen terminology it is said once one experiences the sense of wonderment as a result of uttering PHAT instantaneously cutting the chain of the thought processes, accompanied by other factors like receiving the blessings and inspiration from one’s guru then it is said one can perfect that experience into what is known as the experience of the true pristine awareness. When one experiences this clear light, this sense of wonder in a non-conceptual state, from the Dzogchen point of view one could say that one experiences the whole world as assimilated into the nature of emptiness.
Venerable Master Sheng Yen: How long can the individual maintain this state of clear light and perceive the nature of emptiness? Does this experience gradually fade away? Does the individual still have afflictions? How does this experience effect his sleep?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Using Dzogchen terminology when they talk about the clear light nature of mind they are actually talking about an essential quality of consciousness which is continuous so long as consciousness retains its continuity this clear light would also maintain its continuity. So long as there is water the clarity of water’s nature will remain. Sometimes the water gets muddied and at such times one does not see the clarity of the water’s essential nature. In order to perceive the clear nature of the water one just need to let it be still. Similarly whether one is in a virtuous thought or a non-virtuous thought one is still in a state of mind both of which are pervaded by the clear light nature. From the point of view of the practice of trying to experience the clear light both virtuous and non-virtuous thoughts are obstructions. Emphasis is placed on trying to still one’s consciousness by stopping the thought process both virtuous and non-virtuous so that one can experience the clear light.
Here in these teachings there is quite a lot of similarities or parallels with the instantaneous teachings, the simultaneous teachings of Chan Buddhism. Once an individual is able to have such experiences of clear light of course it would have an immediate effect on the clarity of one’s dreams. However such a Dzogchen approach of instantaneous teachings require preliminary practices which in the Dzogchen terminology is called seeking the true face of mind by means of analyzing its origin, abiding and dissolution. Here the analysis would be quite similar to the Madhyamika dilemma approach, the four-cornered logic of Madhyamika analysis.
What century was the Patriarch of Chan Hui-neng living?
Venerable Master Sheng Yen: The eighth century.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama: The reason I asked this is that there is some relevance to the development of Tibetan Buddhism. We know that Lama Tsongkhapa had been one of the most vociferous critics of the simultaneous teachings of the Chan tradition in Tibet. However during the eighth century or during the reign of Trisong Deutsen at the Samye Temple if one looks at the temple map there were different wings devoted to different sections of the Order. There was one section devoted to Vajrayana practitioners, one section dedicated to the lotsawas or translators and there was one place called the Place of Dhyana, the place for meditation. This was the residence of the Chinese masters. We are talking about the eighth century when Samye was built and this was the time when the Indian masters Santaraksita and Kamalasila were active in Tibet.
My personal feeling is given that in Santaraksita’s time there was a separate wing in Samye Temple dedicated as the residence of the Chinese masters representing the Chan tradition, Santaraksita must have welcomed and recognized their tradition as part of an important development in Buddhism. However it seems during Kamalasila’s time, who was a disciple of Santaraksita, it seems there were certain followers of the Chan tradition in Tibet who perhaps promoted a slightly different version of the doctrine. A tremendous emphasis was placed on seizing all forms of thought, not just in the context of a specific practice, but even in general terms almost as a philosophical standpoint where all forms of thought were completely rejected. This was the version which Kamalasila attacked. It seems there were two different interpretations of Chan, which came to Tibet.
The master referred to a form of an experience of emptiness where the person remains in the experience uninterruptedly. Such experience or realization can only take place at a much higher stage of development because this involves gaining a mastery over both the experiences of meditative equipoise and the subsequent realizations. In many of the stages before one becomes fully enlightened meditative equipoise and the subsequent realizations are sequential, they alternate sequentially. It is only the state of full enlightenment that experiences of meditative equipoise and single-pointedness in that state and subsequent realizations become simultaneous.
From this point of view anyone who is able to remain in the direct experience of emptiness uninterruptedly in meditative equipoise without ever arising from it can only happen when one is fully enlightened.
Venerable Master Sheng Yen: A state of thorough enlightenment does not end afflictions rather it is a state where doubt in regards to the Dharma is forever terminated. Fully enlightened people may still have afflictions but they would not allow them to manifest verbally or bodily. They are not free from all afflictions but they clearly know the path of practice they must follow.
The Chan tradition does not emphasize a sequential practice of dhyanas. In regards to these practices I myself have studied and experienced them but the personal experience of seeing self-nature is more important. This is another name for enlightenment. Like the first taste of water it is something one must experience for oneself. The experience of the nature of emptiness is the same. One must experience it personally or one will never know it. One may hear of it but that is all one will do.
Thorough enlightenment however differs from seeing self-nature in that one may return to the ordinary state of mind after seeing one’s self-nature and not fully recognize how afflictions operate and manifest. A thoroughly enlightened person is aware of the workings of afflictions at all times. Their minds are extremely clear.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama: What seems to be true is that as the scriptures state from the point of view of practitioners who have directly experienced emptiness their experienced differs from those who haven’t had a direct experience and whose understanding is only at the level of intellectual understanding or conceptual. Emptiness still remains beyond words, beyond language, ineffable and inexpressible. You can not simply describe it as directly experienced by the meditator.
I would like to refer to the Master Sheng Yen’s new initiative, which involves building a purity of society and environment on the basis of the purity of the individual’s mind. I find this very encouraging as it reconfirms my own approach. So far as the liberation from samsara and suffering is concerned in some sense it is a private business, the business of the individual. Perhaps at the level of community and society what is more important is to try and create a nirvana of society, to create a society where there will be less strong negative emotions like hatred, anger and jealousy. Here there is a real meeting of minds. What would be truly wonderful is that some time in the future to have this kind of dialogue and discussion especially related to emptiness at the Five Peaks Mountain in China.