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The False Consciousness is not the Mind
VOLUME 1, Chapter 5
N3 The Tathagata tells him directly that the false consciousness is not the mind.
O1 The Tathagata firmly admonishes him with a straight, “hey!”
”Ananda, since you now wish to know about the path of shamatha with the hope of getting out of birth and death, I will question you further.”
Then the Tathagata raised his golden arm and bent his five wheeled fingers as he asked Ananda, “Do you see?”
Ananda said, “I see.”
Then the Tathagata raised his golden arm. As he was about to question Ananda, the Tathagata stretched his gold-colored arm out in front of him and bent his five wheeled fingers as he asked Ananda, “Do you see?” You can see how the Buddha is treating Ananda like a child by asking him such a simple question as whether he sees the Buddha raise his arm and bend his fingers. The fingers are said to be “wheeled” because the Buddha has the mark of the thousand-spoked wheel on his hands and on his feet. You could also say that “wheeled” refers to his bending his fingers in sequence: one, two, three, four, five.
It was something everyone could see. Why did the Buddha ask about such a simple matter? You may see it as simple now, but actually it is not. The more the Buddha’s question is delved into as the text continues, the deeper and more wonderful it becomes. It is just in the course of ordinary everyday matters that you can totally comprehend your inherent Buddha-nature.
The familiar places you come in contact with every day are the representations of the Buddha-nature. But when you don’t know that through your own experience, then what is wrong seems right, and what is right seems wrong, and what is not lost seems lost. Basically you haven’t lost it, but it seems lost to you.
Basically you haven’t forgotten it, but you can’t quite recall it. So your own family jewels, the scenery of your homeland, are not easy to understand. Why? Because from beginningless time the fundamental root of birth and death - the mind that seizes upon conditions - has been too strong. If the mind that seizes upon conditions would disappear, you would understand your inherent Buddha-nature in an instant.
Ananda said, “I see.” Take a look at this point. Why did the Tathagata stretch out his golden arm and bend his five wheeled fingers? It was to let Ananda know that the pure nature and bright substance of the permanently dwelling mind can manifest in the eye, in the seeing-nature. And that is why he concentrates on discussing doctrines involving seeing in the following passages. He wanted to lead Ananda to become enlightened through the seeing-nature.
So the Chinese patriarchs, the great virtuous ones of the Chan school would often just point a finger when asked for instruction. That is another way of telling you to become enlightened through the seeing-nature. Sometimes when you requested instruction from them they stared at you wide-eyed and speechless. They were indicating that you should break through at that point and comprehend the meaning totally. So in the Chan school they use ferocious stares. The Chan master may make some gesture in order to lead his disciples to become enlightened. If you understand, you become enlightened; if not, you miss the opportunity. A lot of Chinese patriarchs were that way. But they were enlightened, and so it was appropriate for them to use such methods to teach people. But you cannot say, “I heard that patriarchs merely point their finger, so when I meet up with someone I’ll point my finger and bring about his enlightenment.”
Have you become enlightened yourself? If you yourself haven’t become enlightened, how can you teach others to do so? If you haven’t become enlightened, you shouldn’t decide to go help other people while disregarding the fact that you yourself have outflows. To try to rescue others while paying no attention to whether you yourself have accomplished the Way first is to be like a clay Bodhisattva crossing a river; he has a hard time protecting himself. Until he tries to cross the river, the clay Bodhisattva stays intact, but as soon as he hits the water, he disintegrates and disappears. If you haven’t attained the state of no outflows, and you nevertheless go out to help people, you will be influenced by the social environment you find yourself immersed in. You’ll be transformed and won’t be able to transform others. You’ll be turned around by the affairs of the world instead of being able to turn them around. So before you have attained enlightenment and the state of no outflows, you are always in danger.
Take this sutra, for example. If I didn’t understand the doctrines in it myself, I wouldn’t be able to explain it for you. I dare not say that I thoroughly understand it, but to be frank about it, I am clearer about it than you. Because I know more than you, I am explaining what I know so that you can also know it. But even at that, I’m just explaining a little. If I were to explain to you everything I know, there wouldn’t be enough time. I’m just bringing up the important points.
The Buddha said, “What do you see?”
Ananda said, “I see the Tathagata raise his arm and bend his fingers into a fist of light which dazzles my mind and my eyes.”
The Buddha said, “What do you see it with?”
Ananda said, “The members of the great assembly and I each see it with our eyes.”
The Buddha said to Ananda, “You have answered me by saying that the Tathagata bends his fingers into a fist of light which dazzles your mind and eyes. Your eyes are able to see, but what is the mind that is dazzled by my fist?”
The Buddha said, “What do you see?” The Buddha is still talking. He hasn’t entered samadhi.
Ananda said, “I see the Tathagata raise his arm and bend his fingers into a fist of light which dazzles my mind and my eyes.” World Honored One, I see you stretch out your arm and bend your five wheeled fingers, and your fist emits light. That light shines brightly that I can hardly even open my eyes. My mind is illumed by it as well.
The Buddha said, “What do you see it with?” What is it that see?
Ananda said, “The members of the great assembly and I each see it with our eyes.” Ananda didn’t speak just for himself; he included everyone in the great assembly. He’s got witnesses, the way the defense in court calls in witnesses to testify that the defendant is not a thief. He calls in friends and relatives to act as character witnesses. So if Ananda were to speak for himself, his statement that he saw with his own eyes might still be subject to question, so he drags in some support by including the great assembly. “Everyone in this assembly maintains that the eyes see. They all use their eyes to see it.”
The Buddha said to Ananda, “You have answered me by saying that the Tathagata bends his fingers into a fist of light which dazzles your mind and eyes. Your eyes are able to see, but what is the mind that is dazzled by my fist?” That is correct. Your eyes are capable of seeing. But what do you conceive to be your mind which is being illumined by my fist? What do you take to be the mind? The Buddha is taking another step forward.
Ananda said, “The Tathagata is asking where the mind is located. Now that I use my mind to search for it thoroughly, I propose that precisely what is able to investigate is my mind.”
The Buddha said, “Hey! Ananda, that is not your mind.”
Ananda said, “The Tathagata is asking where the mind is located. World Honored One, you now ask me where my mind is. Now that I use my mind to search for it thoroughly.” He looked for his mind. “I have searched every which way, absolutely everywhere, exhausting all possibilities, I have been chasing my mind. I propose that precisely what is able to investigate is my mind. I can investigate things, and that means there is a mind; so that which is capable of investigating things is probably my mind.” He says “propose”; that means he’s not absolutely sure. But he thought what he said had a lot of principle, and he was confident that he.d succeeded in finding the mind. Little did he know the Buddha would scold him.
The Buddha said, “Hey!” This was the same word the Buddha used to reprimand Aniruddha. “Hey! Hey! How can you sleep?” he asked him, and as a result of that reprimand, Aniruddha didn’t sleep for a week, went blind as a result and then with the aid of the Buddha opened his heavenly eye. Here, the Buddha uses the same word to answer Ananda. He didn’t say whether Ananda was right or wrong, he just used an expletive to yell at him. Why did the Buddha yell at Ananda? Because Ananda’s answer was a grave mistake; it was totally wrong.
Earlier, he had persisted in taking the conscious mind as the true mind, and that was already a mistake. Now he still hasn’t understood. Sometimes people can wake up when they see something while their mind is totally concentrated. Ananda was extremely intent on his dialogue with the Buddha, and at that point the Buddha showed him his dazzling hand in the hope that Ananda would realize that it is the seeing-nature that sees. But Ananda disappointed the Buddha again by saying instead that it is the eyes and the mind that see. The Buddha guided him along by saying, “Fine, it’s the eyes that see; and what do you take to be the mind?” But once again Ananda said that his ability to investigate is his mind. Yet that is merely the conscious mind.
So the Buddha used sound to lead Ananda to awaken to the Way through his hearing-nature. He shouted, “Hey!” in a harsh and stern tone, using his awesome virtue to cause Ananda to be enlightened upon hearing the sound. But Ananda had been steeped in confusion too long; he knew only scholarship and had neglected samadhi power. The Buddha had worked long and hard to teach and transform him, and Ananda still didn’t understand. When the Buddha saw this, he used his compassionate heart to draw him in by explaining more gently, “Ananda, that is not your mind.”
O2 Ananda is alarmed and asks what it is called.
Startled, Ananda leapt from his seat, stood and put his palms together, and said to the Buddha, “If it’s not my mind, what is it?”
Ananda was so taken aback that he jumped to his feet, looking stunned and alarmed. He stood to avoid being disrespectful when he addressed the Buddha. Startled, Ananda leapt from his seat, stood and put his palms together, and said to the Buddha, “If it’s not my mind, what is it? If it’s not my mind, what do you call it then?” Ananda didn’t know what to do. Suddenly he was without a mind.
O3 The Tathagata reveals its name and clears up the mistake.
The Buddha said to Ananda, “It is your perception of false appearances based on external objects which deludes your true nature and has caused you from beginningless time to your present life to recognize a thief as your son, to lose your eternal source, and to undergo the wheel’s turning.”
This section of text explains not only Ananda’s problem but the problem of you and me and everyone else. Everyone should know that from beginningless time we have all taken thieves to be our sons. We have covered over our basic nature so it cannot appear.
The Buddha said to Ananda, “Ananda, don’t be nervous. Ananda, don’t be upset. You’re asking what it is that is able to investigate, aren’t you? Now I will tell you in detail. It is your perception of false appearances based on external objects.” “False” means it is unreal. The mind that investigates is not your self nature; it is not your true mind. It is merely a more subtle form of false thinking which makes distinctions.
The shadow of external objects deludes your true nature and has caused you from beginningless time to your present life to recognize a thief as your son. You have mistaken the false perception of externals for your son, and so you have lost your eternal source. You have lost all your gems, all your family heirlooms; your basic, permanently dwelling, unchanging true mind.
The meaning here is the same as it was above: it’s not that you have actually lost it; it just seems to be lost. This causes you to undergo the wheel’s turning. Because you are unaware of your own family treasure, you do not know how to make use of it, and so you rise and sink on the turning wheel of birth and death. The wheel governs you and turns you, and you cannot transcend its cycle. That is why you are the way you are now. This life, next life, life after life will follow that same endless turning, suddenly high, suddenly low, suddenly above, suddenly below. Sometimes you are born in the heavens and sometimes you fall back to earth. There is a saying that goes:
Out of a horse’s belly
into the womb of a cow.
How many times back and forth
have you passed by Yama’s halls,
As you go from Shakra’s palaces
down into Yama’s pot?
Sometimes you become a horse, at other times you are a cow. In front of Yama’s halls you trudge back and forth one knows not how many times. You are like Sundarananda, whom the Buddha took to the heavens, saying that if he cultivated the Way he would be rewarded with rebirth there, with 500 goddesses serving him. Sundarananda was beside himself with joy. But he forgot King Yama’s pot, for once your heavenly blessings are used up you fall again, perhaps into the hells, where you are boiled in a pot of oil. The path of the turning wheel is dangerous. Once you start spinning on it, you end up going the wrong way and if you are in the least bit careless, once you get started in the wrong direction it is difficult to get back. So now that you have been born a human being, you should hurry up and wake up from this dream. Hurry up and get enlightened. Don’t continue as Ananda did to recognize a thief as your son.