THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS

The Emptiness of the Eighteen Fields

Sutra:

Therefore, in emptiness there is no form, feeling, cognition, formation, or consciousness; no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind; no sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or dharmas; no field of the eyes, up to and including no field of mind-consciousness.

Verse:

Therefore in emptiness there are no characteristics of form.
Feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness disappear also,
As well as the six faculties and six objects, together with six consciousnesses.
With three minds in three ceasings, three closures are passed through.
The great cart of the white ox turns with the sound lin-lin.
A little yellow-faced child jumps and thumps in agitation.
What instructive meaning is there in this?
The front double-three and the back double-three meet.

Commentary:

Therefore, in emptiness there is no form. This sentence refers back to an earlier passage in the sutra: Not produced, not destroyed, not defiled, not pure, and they neither increase nor diminish. Since that is the case, in emptiness – true emptiness – there is no form.

No… feeling, cognition, formation, or consciousness. Their basic substance is also empty.

No eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind. None of the six perceptual faculties exist.

No sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or dharmas. The six objects of perception do not exist either. No field of the eyes, up to and including no field of mind-consciousness. All the six consciousnesses are also empty.

The Heart Sutra speaks about the true emptiness of prajna. The true emptiness of prajna is wonderful existence. Wonderful existence is no existence; it is true emptiness. Therefore, it is said, “True emptiness does not obstruct wonderful existence, and wonderful existence does not obstruct true emptiness. True emptiness is wonderful existence, and wonderful existence is true emptiness.”

Earlier the sutra says, form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. The form-dharma of the five skandhas is empty. The five skandha-dharmas are a summation of dharmas in general, and the others – the six perceptual faculties, the six objects of perception, and the six consciousnesses – are special characteristics of dharmas. Since the characteristics of their summation are empty, their special characteristics must be nonexistent also. Therefore the sutra says there are no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind; no sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or dharmas; no field of the eyes, up to and including no field of mind-consciousness.

The six objects of perception, the six perceptual faculties, and the six consciousnesses are together called the eighteen fields. The six perceptual faculties together with the six objects of perception are called the twelve dwellings. The six perceptual faculties are also called the six entrances. There are five skandhas, six perceptual faculties, twelve dwellings, and eighteen fields. The six faculties, six objects, and six consciousnesses, which together comprise the eighteen fields, are all empty also. They do not exist either.

“Why talk about all these dharmas if they do not exist?” you ask. They exist among common people, but not where there are sages who have been certified as having attained enlightenment. The verse says, Therefore, in emptiness there are no characteristics of form. Because this principle was stated in the opening paragraph of the sutra, the sutra text now says, therefore, in emptiness there is no form.

The verse continues, Feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness disappear also. They too are empty, non-existent. As well as the six faculties and six objects, together with six consciousnesses. The six perceptual faculties are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, and dharmas are the six objects of perception; they appear as the complement of the six faculties. In Chinese, the word gen , “root,” is used for the six perceptual faculties, conveying the idea of growth, while the word chen , “dust,” is used for the six objects of perception, conveying the idea of defiling or defilement.

Between the six faculties and the six objects are produced discriminations which are called the six consciousnesses: the eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, and mind-consciousness. Those six consciousnesses, the six perceptual faculties, and the six objects of perception are together called the eighteen fields.

With three minds in three ceasings, three closures are passed through. The three minds are the minds of past, present, and future. The mind of the past must cease, and the minds of the present and future must cease as well. Because you don’t want to have three minds and three ceasings, it is said, “The mind of the past cannot be obtained, the mind of the present cannot be obtained, and the mind of the future cannot be obtained.” None of the three minds can be obtained.

Three closures are passed through. If one is capable of not having the mind of the past arise, of not having the mind of the present be produced, and of not having the mind of the future come into being, then one does not think of good or of evil. When the three minds do not exist, how can one think of good or evil? When through your vigorous cultivation you reach the state of taking dhyana-joy as food and you are filled with Dharma-bliss, then by sitting quietly and properly you can open your first, middle, and top closures[1]. The first closure is called the “closure of the tail,” the middle one is called the “closure of the spine,” and the top one is called either the “jade-pillow closure” or the “old door of birth and death.” The first and second closures are easy to break through. When you reach the third closure, you encounter a bit of difficulty. What kind of situation do you encounter after you pass through the third closure and still continue to cultivate? Then what do you experience?

The great cart of the white ox turns with the sound lin-lin. The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra calls the Buddha-Vehicle the great cart of the white ox. “There is only the Buddha-Vehicle; there are no other vehicles.”[2] After you have realized Buddhahood, but not before, you can go along the road in this great carriage. In other words, we work hard to be able to turn the Dharma wheel to teach and transform living beings.

Why does the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra call it the great cart of the white ox and not the great cart of the black or the yellow ox, or the great many-colored ox? The whiteness of the ox represents the non-defilement of our own nature. Thus, when you practice, the Great-Vehicle Dharma “turns with the sound of lin-lin.” As it goes along on the road, this great vehicle, the carriage of the white ox, makes the sound lin-lin, the sound a cart makes going along a road.

At that point in the cultivation of the Way, everyone experiences a certain feeling; you feel like you’re drunk, like you’re asleep, and also like you’re dreaming. In the last analysis you don’t know whether it is true or false, empty or real. Your four limbs are especially soft; your hands and legs feel like soft mud. They have no strength and don’t want to do anything at all. But when you sit, or perhaps when you are not meditating, your heart constantly thumps.

It’s not your heart that’s thumping, but your spleen. When you are walking along and feel “bung, bung, bung,” you presume it’s your heart thumping, but it’s the spleen. When you run fast, the spleen has to work a little harder, so it thumps and hits your stomach to aid your stomach in digesting. Therefore, the verse speaks next of a little yellow-faced child who jumps and thumps in agitation.

Who is the yellow-faced child? He is simply the thoughts in your mind. The seat of the mind is the spleen, which is yellow[3], so it is called the “little yellow-faced child.” It jumps back and forth, and when that happens to people when they meditate, they think to themselves, “Oh! My heart is really pounding a lot. Maybe I have heart trouble!” and they become afraid. But they haven’t contracted heart trouble, so there’s no need to be afraid. This condition is a result of cultivating the Way. Your heart also feels like it is pounding when you’re afraid, like a rabbit jumping up and down or thumping. When the great cart of the white ox turns the Dharma wheel, the thoughts in the mind thump, thump, thump ferociously, just as when you are afraid. But it is only a little yellow-faced child jumping and thumping in agitation.

What instructive meaning is there in this? If you were to ask what this is about, what kind of principle of the Way it is, what its purpose and intent is…

The front double-three and the back double-three meet. In front and in back there are three places. At that time, the roads of birth and death meet. Before, each had taken its own road; birth went down the road of birth, and death went down the road of death. The road of birth and the road of death were not the same. Now birth and death are one. Birth is death and death is birth. It is the same as form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form. That is to say, birth and death are non-dual. Or in other words, there is no birth and no death. But you must work hard. If you don’t work hard, if you go forward one step and retreat four steps, it is still of no use. Unless you don’t want to cultivate, you should go forward and make progress every day; you should be vigorous. As soon as you retreat, the work you have done before is wasted; it is lost. Then, if you still wish to return to the original source, you must start over from the beginning. So in cultivating, you can only go vigorously forward; you cannot retreat

[1] Chinese guan , “closure” or “gate.”

[2] The quotation is from the Analogies Chapter of the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra, in which the Buddha presents the parable of a man of great power whose huge mansion catches fire. His children, intent upon their games, will not leave the dwelling. The man lures them out of the burning house by telling them that outside are three kinds of carriage for them to play with: one goat-drawn, one deer-drawn, and one ox-drawn. But when the children escape to safety, each is given the same kind of carriage, magnificent beyond his wildest dreams and drawn by a great white ox. Thus the Buddha uses expedient vehicles to lure living beings to the real doctrine, that of the one Buddha-Vehicle Dharma.

[3] According to Chinese cosmology, the color yellow represents the earth (tu ). The earth is controlled by the spleen (pi ), which is the seat of the mind (yi ). Chinese medicine teaches that the function of the spleen is to beat or thump on the stomach in order to aid digestion. Thus the analogy.

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