Feeling, Cognition, Formation & Consciousness

There are fifty-one dharmas belonging to the mind. They comprise the two skandhas of feeling and cognition. The skandha of formation consists of the twenty-four non-interacting dharmas. In addition there are the six unconditioned dharmas. Together they make 100 dharmas.

Maitreya Bodhisattva transformed all the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha’s lifetime into 660 categories of dharma. Since 660 categories were still too many, later on the Bodhisattvas Vasubandhu and Asanga summarized them into 100 dharmas.[1]
The verse says, “‘All dharmas are empty of characteristics,’ lacking a nature of their own.” In other words, the five skandha- dharmas – form, feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness – are all empty. They have no nature of their own; their substance is empty.

“Not produced, not destroyed,” they silently pervade. Nagarjuna Bodhisattva recited a verse of several lines which explains in detail the dharmas of production and extinction. How did he put it?

Birth in the past is not birth. Birth in the future is not birth either. Besides birth in the past and birth in future There is birth in the present, and that is no-birth.

“Birth in the past is not birth.” When birth has already taken place, how can there still be birth? Take, for example, a tree. Once a tree has sprouted, you cannot say it will sprout again.

“Birth in the future is not birth either.” If there is no birth for the already-born, the not-yet-born has not been born either, has it? How can it have a birth if it still has not been born?

“Besides birth in the past and birth in the future / There is birth in the present, and that is no-birth.” “There is birth in the present, and that is no-birth” is the same principle as “The past mind cannot be obtained, the present mind cannot be obtained, and the future mind cannot be obtained.”[2] Thus Nagarjuna Bodhisattva made clear the doctrine of no production and no extinction. This expression of the theory is quite complete.

The Dharma spoken by the Buddha has eight characteristics:
No production and no extinction; No permanence and no annihilation; No unity and no differentiation; No coming and no going.
With his four-line verse, Nagarjuna Bodhisattva described birth; extinction can be described in the same way:

Extinction in the past is not extinction;
Extinction in the future is not extinction either.
Besides extinction in the past and extinction in the future,
There is extinction in the present, and that is no-extinction.

When such a doctrine is proclaimed, most people are not very clear about it. That is the reason I never talk about this kind of doctrine. Nevertheless, now I will talk about no production and no extinction. “Not produced, not destroyed,” they silently pervade. / “Not defiled, not pure,” they are separate from corrupting filth. Our fundamental nature is without defilement or purity. But as soon as we are born and become people, there is defilement and purity. Yet the defilement and purity are not defiled and not pure.

Nonetheless, as people, we have the kind of nature which is attached to accounting for things in a one-sided manner, and so we say, “This is defiled and that is pure.” It is our attachment-nature which causes the change to defilement and purity.

How can we say that it is the way that our minds become attached? Take, for example, our hands. Sometimes, in particular circumstances, hands become smeared with various kinds of excrement: for instance, human excrement or pig’s excrement. While your hands are smeared with it, you think they are very filthy. But once you have washed them off with water, you consider them clean. However, if you use a washcloth with excrement or some other impure substance on it, you still feel that it is unclean even after you have finished washing it with soap. You feel that if the washcloth has touched excrement or become smeared with it, you cannot get it clean, so you throw it out. Even though the washcloth has been washed, you always feel in your mind that it is not clean. But after people wash their hands with water, their minds are not attached in the same way. They don’t talk about taking a knife and cutting off a hand to get rid of it, not wanting it because it is not clean. But why is the hand considered clean when the washcloth isn’t? It’s that you can’t get rid of your hand, so your mind considers it clean. If it were not clean, you still could not give it up and throw it out. But even when the wash-cloth is washed clean, you don’t want it. Nor do you wish to rub your face with it. As soon as you rubbed it on your face, you would feel that the stench had been rubbed into your face. Originally there was excrement wrapped in the washcloth, so in your mind you do not want it; it is too unclean. Yet it is all in your mind. If there is not that kind of attachment in your mind, then there is no defilement and no purity. When the attachment is made to disappear, the state is reached when “‘Not defiled, not pure,’ they are separate from corrupting filth.”

If your mind does not have that kind of attachment, there is no problem. For even when there is filth, filth is just the same as purity. The original substance of one’s own nature is neither defiled nor pure. Therefore, all is without characteristics and originally has no defilement or purity.

If you are capable of attaining the principle of the Way of neither defilement nor purity, so that your mind is not affected by defilement and purity, you will unite with your own nature; your virtue will equal that of heaven and earth, and your light, that of the sun and moon. How can the Buddha be like infinite suns? Because the Buddha was able to attain the principle of the Way of neither defilement nor purity. If you are capable of attaining this kind of natural principle of the Way, which is neither defiled nor pure, you and the four seasons – spring, summer, fall, and winter – have all been united and transformed into one. You can be united with the auspiciousness and misfortune of gods and ghosts. Why are you unable to accomplish this? Because you have the kind of nature which is attached to accounting for things in a one-sided manner. If you didn’t, you could return to the original source and so leave defilement.

[1] The 660 dharmas are explained in the Yogacarabhumi-Sastra (T. 1579). For the Hundred Dharmas, see the bai fa ming men lun.

[2] Vajra (Diamond) Sutra

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