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The Way to Shamatha
VOLUME 1, Chapter 5
K2 He points out that all living beings have a misconception.
The Buddha said, “Very good, Ananda. You should all know that all living beings are continually born and continually die, simply because they do not know the everlasting true mind, the bright substance of the pure nature. Instead they engage in false thinking. It has been so since time without beginning. Their thoughts are not true, and so the wheel keeps turning.
The Buddha said, “Very good, Ananda.” The Buddha encourages Ananda, telling him he has done a very good thing to resolve to become a bhikshu. Then he addresses the entire assembly, the great bhikshus, great Arhats, great Bodhisattvas, and all the people present, saying that they should all know that all living beings are continually born and continually die - birth and death are undergone in a continuous succession which never ceases, and we leave behind a pile of bones as large as a mountain. Birth and death; death and birth; birth and death. Where did you come from, and where are you going? You don’t know. You are dragged about by your karmic conditions, your karmic obstacles. Where will you be born next? Where were you before? You don’t even know how you got here and you don’t know where you will go after you die.
“Why is there birth and death?” you ask.
Because you don’t understand, do not know the everlasting true mind which does not move or waver, which is not produced or extinguished, which is not defiled or pure, and to which there is nothing added or taken away. Because this mind does not move or waver it is called “everlasting.” Because there is nothing to be added or taken away from it, it is called “true.”
Merely to know of the true mind is not enough; you must also recognize the bright substance of the pure nature. This is your own self-nature, your dharma-nature. It is clear and pure, and its brilliance pervades and illumines everything everywhere. But you aren’t aware of it; you’ve forgotten it. It is like a bright pearl hidden in your clothing.
The Dharma Flower Sutra tells of a wealthy man whose son was unhappy at home and ran away. But just before he left, his parents, who feared their son would end up penniless and become a vagrant sleeping in the streets, secretly sewed a pearl that grants all wishes into the youth’s clothing. The son left, and as predicted soon ended up a drifter. But he didn’t realize that a priceless pearl was sewn in his clothing, so he couldn’t take advantage of the benefit it would provide him. The bright substance of your everlasting pure nature, your true, unchanging mind, is like the youth’s priceless pearl: since you are unaware of it, you can’t use it to good advantage.
Instead you engage in false thinking. It has been so since time without beginning. You use the conscious mind, which is subject to production and extinction. Its thoughts are not true, but it takes control of you and makes you murky and confused; it spins you around and pulls you into the mire. Since your actions are based on it, the wheel keeps turning in a perpetual cycle of birth and death. But if your false thinking is cast out and exhausted once and for all and no more is produced, and you recognize your true mind, your births and deaths will cease.
The False Consciousness is Without a Location
J2 He actually destroys the false mind.
K1 The Tathagata thoroughly refutes three points of confusion.
L1 His refutation that the false consciousness is without a location.
M1 He instructs that Ananda should reply to the teaching with a straightforward mind.
”Now you wish to investigate the unsurpassed Bodhi and actually discover your nature. You should answer my questions with a straightforward mind, because that is exactly the way the Tathagatas of the ten directions escaped birth and death. Their minds were all straightforward, and since their minds and words were consistently that way, from the beginning, through the intermediate stages to the end, they were never in the least evasive.
The Vimalakirti Sutra says, “The straightforward mind is the field of enlightenment.” And thus the Buddha instructs Ananda: Now you wish to investigate the unsurpassed Bodhi and actually discover your nature. You should answer my questions with a straightforward mind. “Don’t think about it,” he says, “don’t use false thinking to try to figure out how to answer me correctly. Don’t approach it as if you were in combat with me and must figure out what maneuver you should make to defeat me, as if this were the martial arts where one must decide how to counter-attack.” The Buddha was concerned that if Ananda tried to answer in a roundabout manner, it would be impossible to arrive at true principle.
Why is the straightforward mind the field of enlightenment? At the point when you have not yet given rise to a first thought, that is your true mind, your Way-mind. This is the state of “primary thought,” the primary truth that exists prior to the spoken word. As soon as you begin thinking that is to say, as soon as you strike up false thinking, it is no longer your true mind at work. It is your conscious mind which is full of “second thoughts.” Instead of speaking up directly, and using your straightforward mind to express yourself, you start thinking about it: “Ah, I shouldn’t say that; if I say that I’ll be wrong. I should say this.” But then you think about it again and change your mind again.
When you speak, use your primary thought. Why? Because that is exactly the way the Tathagatas of the ten directions escaped birth and death. There is a verse about the Chinese character xin, “mind,” which goes:
Three small dots like a cluster of stars,
And a hook shaped like a crescent moon.
Beget animals with fur and horns,
Yet perfection of Buddhahood comes from it too.
The ten dharma realms are not beyond a single thought of the mind. Your thoughts can send you not only into the animal realm, but into Buddhahood as well. Not only are Buddhas made from the mind, ghosts are creations of the mind, and so are gods, arhats, and Bodhisattvas. For instance, you are now studying the Buddhadharma, investigating the Shurangama Sutra without fear of whatever difficulties may arise. This is because you repeatedly planted a single indestructible seed of thought into the field of your mind in countless former lives. A Bodhi-seed has taken root so that now you are studying the Buddhadharma. Of course this single thought of the true mind has been helped along by the conscious mind, which thought over and over, “Should I study the Buddhadharma or not?” You kept sawing the issue back and forth until finally you cut through it.
Their minds were all straightforward, and since their minds and words were consistently that way. The Chinese characters ru shi ”that way” refer specifically to the straightforward mind and do not have the same meaning as when they occurred in the opening sentence of the sutra where ru shi means “thus” in “Thus I have heard.”
From the beginning, through the intermediate stages to the end. “The end” refers to wonderful enlightenment, the achievement of Buddhahood. “The beginning” refers to the stage of dry wisdom, which precedes the ten faiths. These positions will be discussed later in the text. “The intermediate stages” are the long period of cultivation between the stage of dry wisdom and the achievement of Buddhahood, through the various stages of Bodhisattvahood to equal enlightenment and then wonderful enlightenment. Through all that time the Buddhas of the past were never in the least evasive and used only their straightforward minds. And so they became Buddhas.
Ananda would not use his straight mind to answer the questions, but would answer in round-about ways, making it impossible to arrive at any true principles. So the Buddha first wanted to explain to him clearly that he should give straight answers and not be muddled about it. “Now I am speaking essential dharma-doors for you,” said the Buddha, “I’m explaining how to actually discover your nature, the initial doctrines concerning the realization of Buddhahood, so you can’t be casual or do a lot of hedging when you answer me. You must use your straightforward mind to answer me.”
M2 He asks Ananda about his ability to see and his ability to love.
”Ananda, I now ask you: at the time of your initial resolve, which arose in response to the Tathagata’s thirty-two characteristics, what was it that saw those characteristics and who delighted in them?”
The Buddha again questions Ananda: Ananda, I now ask you: at the time of your initial resolve. In making his decision to cultivate the Way, when Ananda used his conscious mind to think about the Buddha’s appearance, the Tathagata’s thirty-two characteristics, Ananda was taking advantage of the situation. This is the meaning of in response to. So the Buddha asks: What was it that saw those characteristics and who delighted in them?
Ananda said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, this is the way I experienced the delight: I used my mind and eyes. Because my eyes saw the Tathagata’s outstanding characteristics, my mind gave rise to delight. That is why I became resolved and wished to removed myself from birth and death.”
Ananda said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, this is the way I experienced the delight: I used my mind and eyes.” Most people would say that this was correct, that he used his eyes and mind to see the Buddha. But as the sutra text continues you will come to find out this is a mistake.
Because my eyes saw the Tathagata’s outstanding characteristics, my mind gave rise to delight. I used my eyes to look at the Buddha’s thirty-two major and eighty minor characteristics and in my mind love arose. What was it I loved? I saw the Buddha’s characteristics and adornments were immaculately pure, not at all filthy like bodies born from love and desire. That is why I became resolved and wished to removed myself from birth and death. I wanted to follow the Buddha, leave the home-life, and cultivate the Way. The history of my leaving home is like that.” That is how he answered Shakyamuni Buddha’s question.
M3 He asks Ananda where his mind and eyes are.
The Buddha said to Ananda, “It is as you say, that experience of delight actually occurs because of your mind and eyes. If you do not know where your mind and eyes are, you will not be able to conquer the wearisome dust.
Ananda told the Buddha that the reason he decided to leave the home-life was because he saw the Buddha’s supreme characteristics and in his mind he loved them.
The Buddha said to Ananda, “It is as you say, that experience of delight actually occurs because of your mind and eyes.” Nonetheless, do you know where your mind is? Do you know if your eyes have the ability to see? Do you know where your eyes are?
”Those kind of questions are totally senseless,” you object. “His eyes were in his face and his mind in his body. Anybody knows that.”
But that’s not your true mind. Nor is that genuine seeing. Behind the Buddha’s questions lies the wisdom of the Tathagata. If you do not know where your mind and eyes are, you will not be able to conquer the wearisome dust. The “dust” means defilement, and “wearisome” means disturbing. The dust disturbs your mind, and it troubles your nature, so that you can’t change your false thinking into your true mind. It’s just as when two armies clash, and one becomes the victor. You are the victor if you are able to conquer the dust, that is, if you are able to cut off the road to birth and death.
”For example, when a king’s country is invaded by thieves and he sends out his troops to suppress and banish them, the troops must know where the thieves are.
The Buddha then presents an analogy: For example, when a king’s country is invaded by thieves who wish to seize the land, he sends out his troops to suppress and banish them, to quell them and drive them out. But the troops he sends must know where the thieves are. In the same way, the reason you cannot put an end to the beginningless eons of birth and death is because you do not know where your mind and eyes are.
”It is the fault of your mind and eyes that you flow and turn. I am now asking you specifically about your mind and eyes: where are they now?”
The more the Buddha says the less principle there is in it! “I will tell you further that it is the fault of your mind and eyes that you flow and turn. Why do you get born and die? What causes you to flow and turn in birth and death, revolving endlessly on the turning wheel of the six paths? Your mind and eyes are to blame. Your mind and eyes are at fault for making you undergo birth and death and rendering you incapable of obtaining liberation. Since they are to blame, I am now asking you specifically about your mind and eyes: where are they now? Speak up quickly!” the Buddha exhorts Ananda.