Shastra on the Door to Understanding the Hundred Dharmas

The Shastra




The fifth is the Unconditioned Dharmas, of which there are, in general, six:

1. unconditioned empty space.

2. unconditioned extinction attained by selection.

3. unconditioned extinction that is unselected.

4. unconditioned unmoving extinction.

5. unconditioned extinction of feeling and thinking.

6. unconditioned True Thusness.


The fifth major category is the Unconditioned Dharmas of which there are, in general, six. One is unconditioned empty space. Empty space is basically unconditioned, and could not be conditioned. There is no way to describe it as conditioned. It is empty, empty space. But here the unconditioned refers to one’s ability to contemplate empty space. It means to be able to “illumine and view the five skandhas all as empty.” Then there is no mark of self, no mark of others, no mark of living beings, and no mark of a lifespan.

You may say, “Well, I cultivate and have a little skill. I always sleep sitting up and never lie down. I only eat one meal a day.” But if you are still aware that you sleep sitting up and never lie down, then you still have not reached unconditioned empty space. If you still know that you eat only one meal a day, then you still have not reached unconditioned empty space. If you are aware that you cultivate, then you still have not reached unconditioned empty space.

That is because unconditioned empty space means your self -nature is like empty space; your body is like empty space; what you contemplate and cultivate is truly devoid of a mark of self, a mark of others, a mark of living beings, and a mark of a lifespan.

When you reach that state, then if someone punched you, it would be as if they were punching empty space. Just think what it would be like to punch empty space. Empty space would not put up any resistance at all. Empty space certainly would not hit back. If you can cultivate to the point of being like empty space, then nothing will be able to bother you, for you would have reached empty space. That is the meaning of unconditioned empty space.

Unconditioned empty space is extremely wonderful. I always tell you this, but you never think it is very interesting, because you hear it every day. What is it? It is just, “Everything’s okay.” If you could really have it be that “everything’s okay,” then you would be like empty space, because empty space contains everything within it.

Can you think of anything that is not in empty space? And there is nothing that empty space rejects. It never gets upsets with you and says, “You, there, who are part of my empty space. You got it so dirty! How can you have gone to the toilet there and gotten my empty space so dirty?” Empty space does not think that way. Pigeons, too, for their part are always up in empty space flying around, and empty space does not get in their way at all.

If we were to fully discuss unconditioned empty space in detail, there would be too much to say. Basically you should always contemplate empty space and reach the point that you have no mark of self, no mark of others, no mark of living beings, and no mark of a lifespan. Then you will unite with the myriad things.

Unite your virtue with heaven and earth.
Unite your light with the sun and moon.
Unite your order with that of the four seasons.
Unite your good and bad luck with the ghosts and spirits.

Were you like that, then however great the virtuous nature of heaven was, your virtuous nature would be just that great. The light of the sun is very bright, but your light would be just as bright as the sun’s. The moon is also bright, but your light would be as bright as that of the moon. That is what is meant by “uniting one’s light with the sun and moon.”

Spring, summer, fall, and winter are the four seasons. If you cultivate so that you become just like empty space, then when springtime comes, you have the representation of spring within yourself. In the same way, you represent all the four seasons as they occur. In the spring the myriad things come into being. In the summer the myriad things increase and grow.

In the fall the myriad things are harvested, and in the winter they are stored away. You can connect your order with that of the four seasons. And when you unite your good and bad luck with the ghosts and spirits, you can know what the ghosts and spirits know. Would you call that wonderful or not? When you can reach unconditioned empty space, then you become one with the natural order of things.

Two is unconditioned extinction attained by selection. Selection means choosing. You might say, “Well, if it’s selected, it seems it would be conditioned, wouldn’t it?” Yes, the selection is conditioned, but at the time when the extinction is reached, then it is unconditioned. That is why this dharma is not considered to be a conditioned dharma. The first ninety-four dharmas were all conditioned. It is only these six that are Unconditioned Dharmas. When one reaches extinction that is attained by selection, one has no body, and so it belongs to the unconditioned.

Three is unconditioned extinction that is unselected. That is when, without making use of the power to choose or select, one’s basic nature is purified. The previous dharma, unconditioned extinction attained by selection, is the kind of state of Nirvana certified to by Bodhisattvas of provisional enlightenment. In addition, when those of the Two Vehicles contemplate emptiness by dividing form into its separate characteristics until all marks disappear and form becomes emptied, that it is known as unconditioned extinction attained by selection. Now this dharma, unconditioned extinction that is unselected, refers to the fundamental purification of one’s self-nature without the use of any effort of distinction or selection. This is the state certified to by Bodhisattvas of actual enlightenment.

By contrast, Bodhisattvas of provisional enlightenment sever one portion of ignorance in order to certify to one portion of enlightenment. The enlightenment they certify to is directly proportionate to the amount of ignorance they cut off. That is unconditioned extinction attained by selection. However, unconditioned extinction that is unselected is the state certified to by Bodhisattvas of actual enlightenment. This is further subdivided into two categories:

The Two Divisions of Unconditioned Extinction that is Unselected

1. Absence of conditioning factors.

2. Fundamental purification of the self-nature.

With the first kind, absence of conditioning factors, the required factors for conditioning are not present. This state of unconditioned extinction that is unselected can sometimes be experienced by ordinary people or those of the Two Vehicles.

Four is unconditioned unmoving extinction. Unmoving refers to cultivation of the samadhi of not moving. This kind of unmovingness is original and basic stillness. It is not the kind of non-movement attained in the No-Thought Samadhi. Therefore, this is unconditioned unmoving extinction.

Five is unconditioned extinction of feeling and thinking. With the previous unconditioned unmoving extinction, one is reborn in the heavens of the Form Realm. With the attainment of unconditioned extinction of feeling and thinking, one is reborn in the Formless Realm. When one reaches the Formless Realm, one’s mind is not moved by suffering or by pleasure. There is no concept of what is meant by suffering or what is meant by pleasure. One is not shaken by either of those states.

It is not like we people who, upon encountering a state of suffering cannot stand it; and upon meeting a state of pleasure want to pursue it. We run around in pursuit of things. For example, you hear someone say, “Ah! Here’s something that doesn’t exist in this country. It’s really good to eat!” You say, “Really! I’ll try some!” and you go running after flavor. Do you see? That is your mind being moved by pain and pleasure.

But when one is certified to this unconditioned extinction of feeling and thinking, pleasure and pain no longer move one’s mind. You can experience pleasure and endure pain without any kind of effort on your part. You do not have to use patience to do it. You just basically do not move in the midst of it. This again is fundamentally “Everything’s okay.” When you are unmoved by suffering or happiness, you have achieved this kind of samadhi of unconditioned extinction of feeling and thinking. That is the fifth.

Take a look. When you think, what do you think of? When you feel, what do you feel? You think about and feel pleasure and pain. But when these do not move your mind, then you have achieved unconditioned extinction of feeling and thinking. Are there any of you who cultivate the Way who have managed to cultivate to this state? If you get to this state you can go to the heavens of the Formless Realm, specifically, the Five Heavens of No Return, which are where Arhats of the third fruition abide.

When you have cultivated to the point that you do not register pain or pleasure, then that is like Shariputra’s uncle, who held the doctrine of “non-acceptance” of anything. His meaning was that he did not accept pleasure or pain, and this was supposed to indicate that he had that power of samadhi.

But when the Buddha asked him, “Well, do you accept your own view on this?” Shariputra’s uncle was stuck. He could not come up with an answer, because basically his doctrine of non-acceptance was itself a viewpoint. If he was not accepting views, then basically he could not accept his own doctrine.

By asking one simple question, the Buddha toppled his doctrine. That is because the uncle still had not reached the state of “Everything’s okay.” Since Shariputra was still holding this doctrine of non-acceptance, he was thereby defeated. Did he accept his non-acceptance? If he could have been without acceptance or non-acceptance, then there also would have been no victory or defeat. That is the nature of the unconditioned.

Six is unconditioned True Thusness. What is True Thusness? You may say, “I’ve heard this explained before. True Thusness is one’s basic Buddha-nature, also called Nirvana, and also known as the Nature of the Treasury of the Thus Come One. It has many names. That’s True Thusness, isn’t it?”

Yes, it is. But you still do not recognize what that is; even less do you know what it is not. What is “that”? It is non-falseness and non-inversion. Being non-false and non-inverted is being “Thus, Thus, Unmoving; clear and constantly understanding.” That is True Thusness. In order to know True Thusness, we must first know about the Three Natures.

The Three Natures

1. The nature pervasively calculated and attached to.

2. The nature that arises dependent on something else.

3. The perfectly accomplished real nature.

We living beings have the first two kinds of inversion, while True Thusness is the perfectly accomplished real nature.

To illustrate the nature pervasively calculated and attached to, suppose you were walking at night and you thought you had spotted a huge snake on the road ahead. You might shout, “Wow! That’s a really long snake! It’s several feet long! How horrible!” Seeing a snake in the distance like that is the nature pervasively calculated and attached to, and leads to your being terrified and deciding, “Oh! A snake! I’ve got to get out of here right away!” So you go running back down the road and overtake a person who had earlier passed the same spot you were approaching when you thought you saw the snake.

The person asks you, “Why are you running?”

You reply, “You just came along that road. Didn’t you see the big snake back there?”

“Where?” says the other fellow. “Why don’t we go back and see where it is, and we can beat it to death.” So the two of you go back, but when you get there it is no longer a snake. It has turned into something else, a piece of rope lying on the road. That it is not a snake is the nature that arises dependent on something else. Considering it to be a snake to begin with was the nature pervasively calculated and attached to.

Now it becomes the nature that arises dependent on something else: basically it is a piece of rope. So the nature pervasively calculated and attached to was false, imaginary. However, the nature that arises dependent on something else turns out to be a distortion, for in fact the rope itself is made out of hemp. That it is made of hemp is the perfectly accomplished real nature. What started out as hemp could turn into a piece of rope and then could turn into a snake. Who would you say caused it to transform?

True Thusness is non-false, non-distorted, and not inverted. That is what is meant when it is said of people who have perfected their cultivation that they have ended all falseness and have already exhausted all inversion, so they are no longer upside-down.

That is the perfectly accomplished real nature, also known as True Thusness. However, this True Thusness is still not genuine True Thusness. Because, what you can detect can still not be called real. Real True Thusness is that basically there is no True Thusness. Real True Thusness is nothing at all. There is no common identity and no distinction. There are no dharmas and no non-dharmas. This refers to the basic substance of each and every dharma, in the same way that water has waves, but the waves are not the water. Water is its own substance.

And True Thusness is the basic substance of all dharmas. If it were not for True Thusness, then dharmas would lack a basic substance. It is like the rope. The rope’s basic substance is hemp. True Thusness is not singular, and yet it is non-dual. It is identical and yet not different; not dharmas and yet not non-dharmas. That is genuine True Thusness, the sixth unconditioned dharma.


What is meant by there being no self? There are, in general, two kinds of Non-self: one, the Non-self of Pudgala, and two, the Non-self of Dharmas.


What is meant by there being no self? Someone says, “What do you mean ‘no self ’? I’m right here. I’m truly and actually here, so how can you say I don’t exist? Aren’t you just trying to cheat us?” That way of thinking is just a case of misunderstanding dharmas. If you did understand the hundred dharmas, then you would know that it is impossible for there to be a self.

There are, in general, two kinds of Non-self: one, the Non-self of Pudgala.

The Two kinds of Non-Self

1. The non-self of pudgala. (no me or mine)

2. The non-self of dharmas. (no svabhava--inherent nature)

Pudgala is a Sanskrit word which translates as “multiple grasping at destinies.” This refers to numerous comings and goings, revolving in the Six Destinies.

The Six Destinies Three Good Paths

1. gods

2. asuras

3. people

Three Evil Paths

4. animals

5. ghosts

6. hell-beings

All ordinary people and all creatures just keep turning around and around on the revolving wheel of the six paths, which are also known as the Six Ordinary Dharma Realms.

The Four Sagely Paths

1. Buddhas

2. Bodhisattvas

3. Those Enlightened to Conditions

4. Sound Hearers

Altogether those make the Ten Dharma Realms. Where do these ten come from? They are all just the manifestation of a single thought of yours or mine. If your mind thinks of cultivating and becoming a Buddha, then in the future you will be able to become a Buddha. Your thinking of doing that makes it happen. If you think about cultivation to become a Bodhisattva, in the future you will to become a Bodhisattva. If your mind thinks about becoming a person of the Two Vehicles—a Sound Hearer or One Enlightened to Conditions—then you will become one or the other.

If your mind thinks about ascending to the heavens, in the future you can be born in the heavens. All you need do is hold the five precepts and practice the ten good acts and you will gain rebirth in the heavens. If you say, “Well, I want to be a person,” then just offer up all good conduct and do not do any evil and you can be a person.

If you are thinking of becoming an asura, then get angry all the time and think about killing people. If you do that, then that in itself is the Dharma Realm of the asuras and in the future you will become an asura. Those are the three good paths.

Then there are the three evil paths. If you are constantly, tremendously greedy all the time, then you can fall into the hells. If your hatred is heavy, if you keep getting angry from morning to night, you can turn into a hungry ghost. If you are extremely stupid, then you will end up as an animal. So if you have greed, anger, and foolishness you will fall into the evil paths. If you cultivate precepts, samadhi and wisdom, then you will be born into the three good paths and will have the possibility of becoming a Buddha in the future. Turning in the Six Paths is dangerous business. There is an old saying about it:

Out of the horse’s belly, into the womb of a cow.
How many times have we gone in and out of Yama’s halls?
First one swings by Shakra’s Palace,
Then plunges down into Lord Yama’s pot.

One just finishes being a horse and ends up back in the womb of a cow. How many times have you done that? Too many. You are so familiar with that route by Yama’s door that you could walk it with your eyes closed. You do not know how many times you have done it. You may make it up to the Jade Emperor’s heavenly halls for a

time, but once again you fall into the pot of boiling oil that King Yama always keeps hot. Becoming a person is made from the mind. Becoming an animal also comes about from the mind. If you act like an animal, in the future you will become an animal. If you act like a person, in the future you will be a person. If you act like a ghost, in the future you will be a ghost.

Some people say they do not believe in ghosts. Why do they say that? It is because they themselves are ghosts, and they are afraid others will recognize them as such. So they are always telling others not to believe there are such things as ghosts. I often say that basically there is no real difference between Buddhas and ghosts. If you are evil to the ultimate point, then you are a ghost. If you are good to the ultimate point, then you are a Buddha. If you cultivate to the point of becoming enlightened, then you are a Buddha. If you do not get enlightened and keep being stupid, then you are a ghost. Basically there is no difference.

Some people believe in the Buddha and say, “Buddhas exist,” but they do not believe that there are ghosts. They say, “There aren’t any ghosts.” Why do they say that? “I haven’t seen any ghosts,” they argue, “so I don’t believe any such things exist.”

I ask them, “Well have you seen Buddhas?” I can safely ask them that, because if they have not seen ghosts, then they have not seen Buddhas. So I say to them, “You have never seen Buddhas either, so why do you believe in them? If you haven’t seen them, you shouldn’t believe in them either, right?

They say, “I have seen Buddha images.” Well there are pictures of ghosts around, too. If you see Buddha images and therefore believe in Buddhas, then when you see pictures of ghosts, shouldn’t you believe in ghosts? I will tell you right now that those who do not believe in ghosts are this way because they do not have the wisdom to believe ghosts exist. They do not have the true and actual, perfectly interpenetrating and unobstructed wisdom to know this principle.

If you do not believe in ghosts, you should not believe in the Buddhas, either. There just would not be anything at all. How would that be? Of course, it is true that originally there is nothing at all. Basically there is no self nor people, nor Buddhas, nor ghosts—nothing at all. But you have to reach that state. You must truly have achieved the level of no self. It cannot be that you say there is no self, but when time comes to eat you eat more than anyone else. There is a self in that.

Or when it comes time to work you say, “I heard the Dharma Master say to be without self, so I shouldn’t do any work.” But when the time comes to eat, your self is suddenly in existence again, because you definitely have to eat. You must genuinely without self. That means being without any attachments. If you are attached to the existence of a self, then you have an attachment to self, presenting causes and conditions that obstruct the Way. Hence you should have no self.

Even if you are without a self, you still need to be without dharmas. Dharmas must also disappear. Dharmas exist for the sake of the self, so if there is no self, what do you need dharmas for? Then dharmas have no use, either. If you do not have a self, then you have broken your attachment to self, which is also the obstacle of afflictions. If you get rid of dharmas, then you have broken through the attachment to dharmas, as well as through the obstacle of the known.

The Two Obstacles

1. The obstacle of afflictions.

2. The obstacle of the known.

The obstacle of the known manifests when you have not broken through your attachment to dharmas. You say things such as, “Take a look at me! See? I understand all six hundred rolls of the prajna sutras. I’ve read them I don’t know how many times. I can lecture the Dharma FlowerSutra and explain the Shurangama Sutra.” This indicates that you have the obstacle of the known. Whatever it is, you know about it. In this way you produce an obstacle, the obstacle being, “I know and you do not know. I can lecture and you cannot lecture. I can cultivate and you cannot cultivate. I have all kinds of Way virtue, and you don’t have any Way virtue. I have wisdom, and you don’t have wisdom.”

If dharmas were also empty, then you would not have this obstacle, but would certify to the second kind of non-self, which is the non-self of dharmas. Then, although you understand dharmas, it would be just as if you did not. “What in the world is the use of studying Dharma, anyway, then?” you may conclude. Well, if you can know and yet not know, then that would really be knowing. That would be having real wisdom. Then you would have broken through the obstacle of the known and the obstacle of afflictions.

Why do you have afflictions? They come from your attachment to self. If you did not have a self, where would you go to find afflictions? Therefore, the non-self of pudgala smashes the obstacle of afflictions. Second is the obstacle of the known. The non-self of dharmas smashes the obstacle of the known, so this passage discusses the non-self of pudgala and the non-self of dharmas to explain the last part of the Buddha’s quote that began the Shastra:

As the World Honored One has said, all dharmas have no self.

So it cannot be that you simply break through the attachment to self and yet harbor an attachment to how well you comprehend dharmas. You also have to renounce the thought of understanding dharmas. This absence of self refers to one’s view of self, not to the physical body. One should be devoid of a view of self and a view of dharmas.

All ordinary people are attached to the existence of a self. Those who manage not to be attached to a self become attached to dharmas. The Buddha knew what was in the minds of living beings, and he wanted to break through their obstacles of afflictions and their obstacles of the known. He spoke all kinds of Dharma for the purpose of destroying those obstacles.

However, it is really easy to talk about having no view of self, but when a person gets to the point of not having a self, he thinks, “Hey! Look at me! I don’t have a self!” So who is talking about not having a self? Who is that? Or else he speaks the Dharma coming and going and says, “I speak Dharma better than anybody! But it’s not me speaking, it’s the Bodhisattvas speaking,” in a roundabout way ascribing to himself

a Bodhisattva position. Then, sitting upon that Bodhisattva pedestal he has fashioned for himself, he still has a self. So you see, it is not easy. It is not something that can be brought about merely by making that claim. You cannot just say, “I have no self ” for it to be the case. Your “no self ” still harbors a self within it.

So in discussing dharmas you need to understand them in a fundamental way. It cannot be that you seem to understand them but really do not. Anyone with any knowledge will catch on to that very quickly and know that you are simply a person who is fond of wearing high hats. Your view of self is still not empty.

Now let us investigate the self. The head is called a “head.” The hair is called “hair.” The eyes are called “eyes.” The ears are called “ears.” The nose is called a “nose.” And it goes on like that down through the hands being called “hands,” and the feet being called “feet,” and the fingernails being called “fingernails,” and on down to the eighty-four thousand pores being called “pores.” The three hundred and sixty bones are called “bones,” and yet each has its own individual name.

But if you search throughout your entire body, from the top of your head to the soles of your feet, where can you find a “self ”?

What location can be given the name “self ? What bit of flesh has that name? What drop of blood is known as the “self ”? Keep searching for the location of that “self, ” and you will find that in the entire body there is not a single place that can be called “self ”. So why are you still attached to a “self ”?

You say, “I know where I am.” It is fine if you really know. However, it may be that you do not truly, purely know, and that what you know is a kind of defiled dharma. But do you recognize your true, actual, pure self: your basic self-nature? Do you ultimately know where that is? Well, look for it. See if you can find it.

I am here lecturing and I have a self. You are there listening with “selves.” So you wonder, “If I don’t come and listen to the Sutras, does that mean I have no self?” No. If you do not come and listen to the Sutras, it just means your “self ” is not here listening to the Sutras; but it does not mean that your self does not exist. However, if you could be here listening to the Sutras as if you were not here, then you would have attained a little bit of skill.

“Right!” someone thinks. “I have really got that kind of skill, because just now I had the false thought about going to a bar to drink some wine and about how fine that wine would taste.”

That is just running off; it is not really being gone. It was just indulging in an idle thought. Many people here are having idle thoughts, and their “selves” are running off. But that does not mean their “selves” are gone. If you have a self, then it can run off. It should be that there is “no going and no coming.” You neither run off, nor do you stay. If you are that way, then that is pretty much “it”. Ultimately what’s “it”? It is non-self.

Now I have finished lecturing the Shastra, and you can just consider it as if I had not said a thing, because there should be no self. I did not lecture and you did not listen. Everyone is devoid of self. This non-self is wonderful; it is the true non-self.

Contents      < Previous     Repeat >

Pages:  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    

return to top