THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
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Volume 1

The False Consciousness is Without a Substance

L3 Determining that the false consciousness is without a substance.
M1 Ananda expresses his fear and asks for instruction.


Sutra:

Ananda said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, I am the Buddha’s favorite cousin. It is because my mind loved the Buddha that I was led to leave the home-life. It is my mind that not only makes offerings to the Tathagata, but also, in passing through lands as many as the grains of sand in the Ganges River to serve all Buddhas and good, wise advisors, and in martialing great courage to practice every difficult aspect of the dharma, I always use this mind. Even if I am slandering the dharma and eternally withdrawing my good roots, it would also be because of this mind. If this is not my mind, then I have no mind, and I am the same as a clod of earth or a piece of wood. Without this awareness and knowing, nothing would exist.

"Why does the Tathagata say this is not my mind? I am startled and frightened and not one member of the great assembly is without doubt. I only hope that the World Honored One will regard us with great compassion and instruct those who have not yet awakened."

Commentary:

After listening to the Buddha’s explanation, Ananda still didn’t understand. He still wanted to debate the issue. Ananda said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, I am the Buddha’s favorite cousin.” He said, “I am the Buddha’s youngest and most favored cousin, and the Buddha loves me dearly. As I stand before the Buddha I am like a child.” The word “favorite” means that the Buddha let him have his own way. He didn’t try to control him. Ananda could do whatever he pleased. It is because my mind loved the Buddha that I was led to leave the home-life. Ananda says that it was his mind that loved the Buddha’s thirty-two hallmarks. The Buddha’s face is like the clear full moon, and like a thousand suns emitting light. His hallmarks are exquisite. “So the Buddha told me to leave home, and as soon as he suggested it I agreed, because I loved his adorning hallmarks and characteristics.” Ananda hadn’t forgotten that the causes and conditions for his leaving home were his seeing the Buddha’s thirty-two hallmarks.

It is my mind that not only makes offerings to the Tathagata - my mind makes offerings not only to you, World Honored One - but also, in passing through lands as many as the grains of sand in the Ganges River to serve all Buddhas and good, wise advisors - when Ananda says “serve,” he means “I go to attend on all Buddhas, to make offerings to all Buddhas, to bow to all Buddhas, and I do the same for teachers of vast knowledge and experience. And in martialing great courage to practice every difficult aspect of the dharma, I always use this mind. I do all the things other people cannot do. People fear suffering, but I am not afraid to suffer. I look after Buddhas and tend to their every need. I bear what others cannot bear and practice what others cannot practice, and what I use in doing so is my mind. The reason I am able to develop merit and virtue by making offerings to the Triple Jewel is because I use this mind. Even if I am slandering the dharma and eternally withdrawing my good roots, it would also be because of this mind. Even if you say that I am slandering the dharma to speak this way - even if I were to retreat and cut off my good roots to the point that there were none left, I would still be using this mind.” This sentence can alternately be said to mean that Ananda is supposing that if he ever were to slander the dharma, he still thinks it would be his mind that would be doing it. If this is not my mind, then I have no mind, and I am the same as a clod of earth or a piece of wood. Without this awareness and knowing, nothing would exist. Ananda is really flustered to be speaking in this way. “I’ve become someone without a mind. I’m no different from dirt or wood. I have no mind. If I am separate from this conscious mind that makes discriminations, then what else is there? There isn’t anything at all. My present ability to hear the sutra and listen to dharma is a function solely of this mind. Beyond that I have nothing.

Why does the Tathagata say this is not my mind? I am startled and frightened and not one member of the great assembly is without doubt. Now I am really alarmed. You’ve talked me right out of my mind. And not only myself: I believe everyone has doubts regarding this, and the pain of my fears and the assembly’s doubts is unbearable.” By “doubts” is meant that they had not understood the doctrine and had questions about it. Why did Ananda say that the great assembly had doubts, but that he himself was alarmed? It’s that all the others in the assembly were onlookers and so they had not thought to take the situation personally and put themselves in his place. They simply took note of the principles. But Ananda was being addressed personally, so when Shakyamuni Buddha said he didn’t have a mind he was shocked. “No mind? That’s too much. Next thing you know I won’t have a life either.”

Ananda says that everyone else who was listening to his dialogue with the Buddha had doubts about what they heard, but in fact that too was a deduction Ananda made with his conscious mind. “Probably they haven’t understood either,” he thought. He didn’t realize that the great Bodhisattvas who were present, although they hadn’t said anything, had long since understood. Within his small frame of reference Ananda was deducing things about those whose frame of reference was much greater. Actually, however, I believe that members of the assembly such as Manjushri Bodhisattva, Guan Yin Bodhisattva, and Great Strength Bodhisattva, couldn’t have had any doubts.

I only hope that the World Honored One will regard us with great compassion and instruct those who have not yet awakened. Compassion can pull people out of suffering. “Please rescue each of us from our distress,” Ananda says, “and teach those of us who have not understood this doctrine so that we can understand.”

M2 Tathagata comforts him.
N1 He bestows the profound meaning of the teaching.


Sutra:

Then the World Honored One gave instruction to Ananda and the great assembly, wishing to cause their minds to enter the state of patience with the non-production of dharmas.

Commentary:

Then the World Honored One
. At the time that Ananda asked the Buddha to instruct those who had not yet awakened, Shakyamuni Buddha pitied his young cousin and felt a loving protectiveness for him. So he gave instruction to Ananda and the great assembly, wishing to cause their minds to enter the state of patience with the non-production of dharmas. What is meant by the “patience with the non-production of dharmas”? There are three kinds of patience: patience with production; patience with dharmas; and patience with the non-production of dharmas, where there is neither production nor any dharmas. No dharmas are and no dharmas cease to be. When you attain patience with the non-production of dharmas, you see that in each of the four sagely and six ordinary dharma realms not even the minutest dharma arises and not even the minutest dharma is destroyed. The four sagely dharma realms are beyond the realm of desire, the realm of form and the realm of formlessness, while the six ordinary realms are within the three realms but in none of them is there any production or extinction; and yet the fundamental substance of every dharma is in a state of unmoving suchness. Because they are in a state of unmoving suchness, there is neither production nor extinction.

Before you understand you think: “Oh no, there is no production or extinction, and all the ten thousand dharmas vanish!” A fear arises in your heart; you can’t bear the idea of it. But if you actually experience the state of non-production and non-extinction, in fact it will not seem at all unusual and you will be able to bear it, because you attain patience with the non-production of dharmas. Then you will have gained a mutual response with the Way.

A mutual response occurs when you are about to attain enlightenment but have not yet done so. When the mutual response occurs, the only thing you can do is cherish it in your heart. You yourself know, but you cannot go around telling people about it. It is inexpressible. That is what is called patience with the non-production of dharmas. When you can see that the mountains, the rivers, the earth, and all that grows forth from them are things within your self-nature; that the three realms are only the mind, and that the myriad dharmas are only consciousness; once you attain that state, then everything, every dharma, is devoid of production and extinction. Everything you see - the mountains, the rivers, the earth, the plants - are all one true appearance. That is patience with the non-production of dharmas. Before you have truly realized and truly obtained this state, you must be patient. You must be able to bear it. That too is patience with the non-production of dharmas.

Now the Buddha spoke to the assembly, wishing to cause everyone there and all living beings to attain the state of patience with the non-production of dharmas.

N2 He often speaks of the wonderful mind.

Sutra:

From the lion’s seat he rubbed Ananda’s crown and said to him, “The Tathagata has often said that all dharmas that arise are only manifestations of the mind. All causes and effects, the worlds as many as fine motes of dust, come into being because of the mind."

Commentary:

From the lion’s seat
. This does not mean that the Buddha mounted a lion and sat on it, or that his seat was carved in the shape of a lion. The Buddha’s speaking dharma is like the roar of a lion, and so the place where the Buddha sits is called the lion’s seat. He rubbed Ananda’s crown. The Buddha rubbed the top of Ananda’s head with his hand. In Buddhism, rubbing the crown is a gesture which represents the power of the utmost compassionate love to attract living beings and draw them in. And said to him, “The Tathagata has often said that all dharmas that arise are only manifestations of the mind. I, the Tathagata, have often said in the past that every single dharma, whether worldly or transcendental, is manifested entirely from within our minds. All causes and effects: cause upon cause, effect after effect, all that occur in this world and throughout the worlds as many as fine motes of dust, come into being because of the mind.” They are all brought because of our minds. So the ancients of China had a saying:

If a man recognizes his mind
There’s not an inch of dirt left on earth.

What is there? Where did it go? That’s the Chan school’s way of expressing the irony of the ineffable. Unfortunately, we have not recognized our minds, and so the great earth is still a big mound of dirt.

N3 He confirms that the true mind has substance.

Sutra:

"Ananda, when all the things in the world, including blades of grass and strands of silk thread, are examined at their fundamental source, each is seen to have substance and a nature, even empty space has a name and an appearance."


Commentary:

The Buddha called Ananda’s name again, “Ananda, when all the things in the world, including blades of grass and strands of silk thread, are examined at their fundamental source, each is seen to have substance and a nature, even empty space has a name and an appearance.” Absolutely everything in the world, including the mountains, the rivers, the earth, vegetation, and all the myriad appearances, even down to blades of grass or fine strands of silk thread, and even empty space, which still has the name “empty space” and has the appearance of empty space, all have a substance and a nature.

Sutra:

"How much the less could the clear, wonderful, pure bright mind, the essence of all thoughts, itself be without a substance?"

Commentary:

How much the less could the wonderful pure mind have no substance? It, too, certainly has substance.

N4 He shows that the false consciousness has no substance.

Sutra:

"If you insist that the nature which knows and observes and is aware of distinctions is the mind, then apart from all forms, smells, tastes, and touches - apart from the workings of all the defiling objects - that mind should have its own complete nature."

Commentary:

If you insist -
if you are determined to hold to all of your own fixed ideas, opinions, and deductions, as a miser hoards gold, saying that the nature which knows and observes and is aware of distinctions is the mind, then apart from all forms, smells, tastes, and touches - apart from the workings of all the defiling objects - that mind should have its own complete nature. If the mind which makes distinctions is the true mind, then it should exist apart from any connection with forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, or dharmas. Although only four of the six sense objects are mentioned, all six are meant. If the conscious mind is indeed the true mind, then it should continue to exist as yet another complete nature beyond the experiences involving the six sense objects. There should be another mind besides the one that goes out the entrances of the six organs, the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind.

Is that the way it is? No, but the Buddha offers this hypothetical explanation in order to teach Ananda.

Sutra:

"And yet now, as you listen to my dharma, it is because of sound that you are able to make distinctions."

Commentary:

Now the Buddha begins to explain that Ananda does not have a conscious mind that exists apart from its perceptions. And yet now, as you listen to my dharma, it is because of sound that you are able to make distinctions. Ananda, you are here listening to me speak this dharma, and it is the sound that allows you to make distinctions. It is not the case that you can hear sounds when are no sounds.

Sutra:

"Even if you could extinguish all seeing, hearing, awareness, and knowing, and maintain an inner composure, the shadows of your discrimination of dharmas would remain."

Commentary:

Even if you could extinguish all seeing, hearing, awareness, and knowing, and maintain an inner composure
; even if you could temporarily stop seeing, hearing, being aware, and knowing, it would simply be a state of emptiness. To attain it is a kind of skill. Once you do away with seeing, hearing, awareness, and knowing, you can dwell in inner repose; it is very quiet, there isn’t anything going on, you don’t do anything. You are empty and free from care. Adherents of outside ways consider this experience the highest one possible. They sit there and feel there is no self and no others, that everything is empty, that even their own bodies have disappeared, and they consider that to be real skill. That is what is meant by “maintaining an inner composure.” In fact there is a bit of attainment, some amount of gong fu, of spiritual skill, in keeping that composure. You experience light ease, a small amount of peace, and concentration. Since adherents of outside ways take this state to be the ultimate, they struggle to maintain it so it won’t be lost. They don’t want to lose their gong fu.

But actually, in that kind of state the shadows of your discrimination of dharmas would remain. The state of inner composure is still just a function of the sixth consciousness, the mind-consciousness; “dharmas” refers here to the objects of the mind. The first five consciousnesses vanish: those of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body. Vision and hearing aren’t directed outside; smells and tastes do not affect you, and the body is not influenced by an awareness of touch. But the sixth consciousness is called the solitary mind-consciousness because it functions even when the other consciousnesses are extinguished. Dreaming, for example, is a function of the mind-consciousness. The state of inner composure is another example. The five consciousnesses are extinguished, and you feel that seeing, hearing, awareness, and knowing are all gone, but you still have thought. There remain the subtle defiling objects of dharmas which are extremely hard to detect. They are subtle distinctions of the mind: the shadows of discriminations that fall on the mind. It is not a real state. When you have attained it, you feel that what is going on is very fine; but from the point of view of Buddhism, you haven’t even taken the first step. Don’t feel satisfied and think to yourself, “Oh, this is the skill that comes from sitting in Chan meditation.” Instead, you should continue to make progress. If you stop at that place, it is easy to fall into dull emptiness, where the seeing, hearing, awareness, and knowing are extinguished and there seems to be nothing at all; but dull emptiness is of no benefit in developing your Chan skill. The sixth consciousness, the solitary mind-consciousness, is a place where it is easy to take the wrong road and go astray.

There are four aspects of the solitary mind-consciousness:

  1. The solitary mind-consciousness in dissipation. This refers to our everyday mind which is scattered and makes discriminations.
  2. The solitary mind-consciousness in insanity and incoherence. When someone goes crazy and speaks incoherently, the sixth consciousness is in an insane state, and it has control of him.
  3. The solitary mind-consciousness in dreams. When you dream you see all kinds of colors and strange unusual things. That is the solitary mind-consciousness playing tricks.
  4. The solitary mind-consciousness in samadhi. That is the state of inner composure that we are talking about here. The seeing, hearing, awareness, and knowing are all totally extinguished, but the solitary mind-consciousness in samadhi is still alive.


Sutra:

"I do not insist that you grant that it is not the mind. But examine your mind in minute detail to see whether there is a discriminating nature apart from the objects of sense. That would truly be your mind."

Commentary:

The Buddha further said to Ananda, “I do not insist that you grant that it is not the mind. I am not ordering you to agree with what I say. But examine your mind in minute detail - think about it carefully - to see whether there is a discriminating nature apart from the objects of sense. That would truly be your mind.” If when you are apart from the objects of sense you still have a discriminating nature, that would be your genuine mind.

Sutra:

"If this discriminating nature has no substance apart from objects, then it is shadows of discriminations of objects of mind."


Commentary:

If this discriminating nature has no substance apart from objects
- if you cannot find the substance of your discriminating nature apart from the defiling objects of sense - then it is shadows of discriminations of objects of mind. It is not your true mind.

Sutra:

"The objects are not permanent, and when they pass out of existence, such a mind would be like hair on a tortoise or horns on a rabbit. In that case your dharma body would be extinguished along with it. Then who cultivates and attains patience with the non-production of dharmas?"

Commentary:

This passage of text explains the matter a little more clearly. The objects are not permanent, and when they pass out of existence, such a mind would be like hair on a tortoise or horns on a rabbit. If when you have a thought when confronted with an object, you say there is a discrimination and that that is your mind. If when confronted with an object you have a thought, when you aren’t confronted with an object there is no thought. Sometimes objects disappear; they change and cease to be. Then you are not confronted with an object, and there is no thought, no discrimination. Then where is this mind you speak of? It is like hair on a tortoise or horns on a rabbit. When do tortoises grow hair? Never. When do rabbits grow horns? It’s as if you didn’t have a mind at all. In that case your dharma body would be extinguished along with it. Since you haven’t any mind, your dharma body doesn’t exist either. How can you have a dharma body without a mind? Then who cultivates and attains patience with the non-production of dharmas? What do you use to cultivate the Way and achieve enlightenment? If you have neither mind nor body, who awakens to patience with the non-production of dharmas?

Sutra:

At that point Ananda and everyone in the great assembly was speechless and at a total loss.

Commentary:

The Buddha explained that if the mind exists in the discriminations of external objects, then apart from objects there is no discrimination, so doesn’t that mean there is no mind? If there is no mind there is no dharma body either. And with no mind and no dharma body, who is it that cultivates and attains the patience with the non-production of dharmas? Ananda and the members of the great assembly thought about it and saw that he was right. At that point Ananda and everyone in the great assembly was speechless and at a total loss. No one had anything to say. They just stared, but this time they didn’t enter samadhi.

J3 Conclusion: the Tathagata reiterates the reason.

Sutra:

The Buddha said to Ananda, “There are cultivators in the world who, although they realize the nine successive stages of samadhi, do not achieve the extinction of outflows or become arhats, all because they are attached to birth-and-death false thinking and mistake it for what is truly real. That is why now, although you are greatly learned, you have not realized the accomplishment of sagehood."

Commentary:

The Buddha said to Ananda.
The Buddha saw that everyone was fidgeting and practically beside themselves, not knowing what to do. They had all lost their minds.

In Mencius, Confucius says of the mind:

Its goings out and comings in have no fixed time
And its location is unknown.
Just that is called the mind.

You don’t know what time it leaves, you don’t know when it returns, and you don’t know where it went. Probably that is the mind. However, the mind Confucius speaks of is also the false-thinking mind, not the true mind. How could the true mind go out and enter? It doesn’t have any exits or entrances.

    Mencius also said:

    When a person’s chickens and dogs get loose
    he knows he should go look for them,
    But when his mind escapes
    he doesn’t know that he should search for it.

Here, too, he is talking about the mind which strikes up false thoughts from morning to night, running east, running west, running back and forth. He doesn’t know enough to watch over his own mind, to tell it not to run down so many roads in vain. I’ve said your false-thinking mind allows you to be in New York in the space of a thought with no need to spend money on an airplane or train ticket; and you can play on the Brooklyn Bridge without bothering to take a bus; it’s really a cheap way to travel but it is a tremendous exertion for the mind. That is what it says in Mencius about the conscious mind, the mind that Ananda is familiar with. The conscious mind is impermanent. The true mind is permanent.

There are cultivators in the world who, although they realize the nine successive stages of samadhi. The nine successive stages of samadhi are the first, second, third, and fourth stages of dhyana; the four places of emptiness:

  1. the place of the heaven of boundless emptiness;
  2. the place of the heaven of boundless consciousness;
  3. the place of the heaven of nothing whatsoever;
  4. the place of the heaven of neither thought nor no thought

and the samadhi of the extinction of feeling and thought. They do not achieve the extinction of outflows or become arhats, all because they are attached to birth-and-death false thinking. Why do they cultivate and achieve the nine successive stages of samadhi and yet cannot obtain the penetration of the extinction of outflows and accomplish arhatship? It is because they are attached to false thinking of birth and death and mistake it for what is truly real. They make the mistake of taking that false thinking to be true.

That is why now, although you are greatly learned, you have not realized the accomplishment of sagehood. By this time Ananda had reached the first stage of arhatship, so why does the Buddha say nevertheless that, despite the advantages that come with erudition, Ananda hasn’t realized the accomplishment of sagehood? The Buddha means Ananda has not obtained the penetration of the extinction of outflows. He is not devoid of outflows. In the small vehicle, the first stage of arhatship is considered to be a level of sagehood, but among Bodhisattvas it is not.

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