THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
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Volume 2

Seeing Transcends the Ordinary

N9 He shows that the seeing transcends the ordinary.
O1 He rejects spontaneity.
P1 Ananda expands on the doctrine of permanence and asks about spontaneity.
Q1 He starts with the permanence of the nature of things.
Q2 He wonders how it compares to the teaching of externalists.


Sutra:

Ananda said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, it is truly as the Dharma King has said: the condition of enlightenment pervades the ten directions: clear, everlasting, and by nature neither produced nor extinguished. How does it differ, then, from the first brahma Kapila’s teaching of the ‘profound truth’ or from the teaching of the ascetics who throw ashes on themselves or from the other externalist sects that say there is a ‘real self’ which pervades the ten directions?

Commentary:

In response to Shakyamuni Buddha’s discussion of “is” and “is not,” Ananda said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, it is truly as the Dharma King has said: the condition of enlightenment pervades the ten directions: clear, everlasting, and by nature neither produced nor extinguished.” “Clear” refers to what is pure and tranquil. Take for example a bowl of muddy water. We wouldn’t say it was clear. But after the silt and sand have settled, so that you can see to the bottom, we say it is clear. The nature of the condition of enlightenment is pure, clear, everlasting, and neither produced nor extinguished.

How does it differ, then, from the first brahma Kapila’s teaching of the “profound truth” or from the teaching of the ascetics who throw ashes on themselves or from the other externalist sects that say there is a “real self” which pervades the ten directions? The first brahman Kapila said that he had descended from the Great Brahma Heaven, a god born among people, and that in the future he would be born in the Great Brahma Heaven according to his resolve. He said, “In the future all of us will return to the Great Brahma Heaven.” He was a proponent of the Brahma Heaven. “Brahma” means “pure,” and Kapila, as I explained earlier - however, I believe that no one remembers - means “the external path of the yellow-haired.” Do you remember Matangi’s daughter? She made her mother make use of the former Brahma Heaven mantra of the Kapilas, the very sect being discussed here. The “profound truth” discussed by external paths has also been explained. In that dull dark inactive state, one doesn’t know anything at all. “Profound” means a total lack of perception. You might say that one becomes drunk, and yet one isn’t drunk. You might say that one has taken drugs, and yet one hasn’t. It is simply that one doesn’t know anything at all.

In India there is an external path which practices asceticism. The adherents say they want to live a “natural” existence, so they don’t wear very much clothing or wash their bodies, and they lie in ashes and roll around in them until their entire bodies are covered with them. These are the externalist ascetics who throw ashes on themselves. There is another externalist sect whose adherents sleep on beds of nails. They hammer nails into a bed and they sleep on top of them. The nails don’t pierce their flesh, and they say it is because they have a “vajra indestructible body.” Would you say that is cheating people, or isn’t it? There are other externalist sects whose adherents cultivate non-beneficial ascetic practices, such as those who don’t eat food but only eat grass or the leaves of trees.

All of these sects are included in those Ananda refers to as believing in a true self that pervades the ten directions. But as to the worth of their practices, although they endure extreme discomfort, their work will not lead to ultimate success. For instance, the non-beneficial practice of sleeping on beds of nails, and having the nails not pierce one’s flesh is not of any particular worth. After all, a pig’s skin is more or less impenetrable by nails; do pigs therefore have the Way? Nails can’t pierce a cow’s hide; do cows therefore have the Way? No. So this is a bitter practice which is not beneficial. You should not make a mistake here and think they are necessarily endowed with a vajra indestructible body just because I said they consider themselves endowed with one. In fact it is a false notion. It’s just like having a pig’s skin or a cow’s hide and is certainly not anything extraordinary. They practice this method every day, and so they accomplish that kind of fruition and become endowed with that particular talent. But it does not count as any kind of spiritual skill, nor does it mean they have the Way.

Ananda asked the Thus Come One, “You say the condition of enlightenment pervades the ten directions; what is the difference between it and the true self which they say pervades the ten directions?”

Q3 He also wonders if the Buddha is opposing his own doctrine.

Sutra:

"Also, in the past, the World Honored One gave a lecture on Mount
Lanka explaining the principle thoroughly for the sake of Great Wisdom Bodhisattva and others: ‘Externalist sects always speak of spontaneity. I speak of causes and conditions which is an entirely different principle.’

Commentary:

Ananda continues: Also, in the past, the World Honored One gave a lecture on Mount Lanka explaining the principle thoroughly for the sake of Great Wisdom Bodhisattva and others. When the Lankavatara Sutra was spoken, the Bodhisattva Great Wisdom was the interlocutor, just as in the Shurangama Sutra the Venerable Ananda is the interlocutor. “And others” means that not only Great Wisdom Bodhisattva but many other Bodhisattvas were there as well. The World Honored One spoke the doctrine that externalist sects always speak of spontaneity. The various externalist sects at that time constantly explained the doctrine of spontaneity. What doctrine is that? This is what they say:

Who unloosed the rivers and seas
and piled up the mountain peaks?
Who sharpened the thorns and brambles,
who painted the birds and beasts?
Of all there is,
none has a creator;
Therefore I say
that it comes into being spontaneously.

Who started the seas? You can’t name the person who began the seas. Nor can you find the person who initiated the rivers. Although in China there was an Emperor Yu who tamed the waters, there probably wasn’t that kind of talent yet in India. Who took the earth and piled it into mountains? Who created the mountain peaks? How is it they are so high? By asking who made them, they come to the conclusion that they arose spontaneously. Spontaneously a river appeared, a sea came into existence. Spontaneously there were mountains. The thorns and brambles, the birds and beasts - absolutely everything, without any help from people, is produced of itself. “Of all there is, none has a creator; therefore I say that it comes into being spontaneously.” But I speak of causes and conditions. Here Ananda is quoting what the Buddha said earlier. Buddha, you explained the dharma of causes and conditions, which is not the same state. It is not the same as the externalist sects’ view of spontaneity. However, the doctrine I hear you speaking now seems the same as the doctrine spoken by externalist sects. You say that the condition of enlightenment pervades the ten directions, and the externalist sects say that their true self also pervades the ten directions. Isn’t that the same? The name is different, that’s all. Your condition of enlightenment is more than likely the true self. And their true self is more than likely the condition of enlightenment. Isn’t that the way it is?

What is meant by the “cause” and the “condition” that the Buddha speaks of? I have often told you. The cause is the seed. What contributes to its growth are the conditions. Planting a seed in the ground is a cause. Conditions are the aiding factors which contribute to the growth - mud, dirt, water, manure, sunlight, and other such things are called the conditions which aid and contribute to its growth. Buddha, you said that everything consists of causes and conditions, and that the causes and conditions break up the externalist sects’ dharma of spontaneity. Causes and conditions are not the same as spontaneity, and so they destroy the theory of spontaneity. But your condition of enlightenment and the externalist sects’ true self both pervade the ten directions. The ten directions extend only so far, and if yours pervades it and theirs pervades it, they must be the same.

Sutra:

"Now as I contemplate the nature of enlightenment as spontaneous, as neither produced nor extinguished, and as apart from all empty falseness and inversion, it seems to have nothing to do with your causes and conditions or the spontaneity advocated by others. Would you please enlighten us on this point lest we should fall into deviant paths, thus enabling us to obtain the true mind, the bright nature of wonderful enlightenment?”

Commentary:

Now as I contemplate the nature of enlightenment as spontaneous
- I carefully contemplate the enlightened nature which the World Honored One spoke of as being spontaneous. It is neither produced nor extinguished; isn’t that spontaneity? It is apart from all empty falseness and inversion - apart from all upside-down characteristics and from the upside-down mind. It seems to have nothing to do with your causes and conditions or the spontaneity advocated by others. It doesn’t seem to be causes and conditions and it also is different from spontaneity. But, then again, it seems to be the same. This is what is meant by “seems to be and yet is not.” Would you please enlighten us on this point lest we should fall into deviant paths. Buddha, how can you teach me so that I won’t believe in the theories of those externalist sects? “Deviant paths” refers to externalist sects. Thus enabling us to obtain the true mind, the bright nature of wonderful enlightenment? How can I obtain my true mind? I ask the Buddha to have compassion and instruct me.

P2 The Thus Come One refutes this by bringing up the doctrine of according with conditions.
Q1 He upbraids him for doubting and asks about the substance.

Sutra:

The Buddha told Ananda, “Now I have instructed you with such expedients in order to tell you the truth, yet you do not awaken to it but mistake it for spontaneity.

Commentary:

The Buddha is devoid of a temper, but it is probable he was frowning when he said this, because that small disciple was much too confused. The Buddha told Ananda, “Now I have instructed you with such expedients in order to tell you the truth. I have been explaining this and that aspect of it - I have already explained it seven or eight ways. This is the ninth of the ten manifestations of seeing, and you still don’t understand. How can you be this way?” “Expedients” are skillful, provisional dharma-doors which are not actual. They are a case of “regarding the opportunities and dispensing the teaching in order to speak dharma for people.” The Buddha looks to see what doctrine he should use to instruct Ananda and then uses a clever, wonderful, provisional, expedient dharma, such as the various analogies and ways of manifesting the seeing he has already used, and such as his questioning Ananda about the mind. “Truths” refer to the true and actual dharma the Buddha has also explained. And you still have not awaken. The Buddha was very put out with Ananda when he said that, “After all that I’ve said to you, after all the principles I’ve explained, you still don’t listen, and you haven’t understood in the least. Instead, you produce doubts about its being spontaneity. You still compare the doctrine I explain with the spontaneity of the externalist sects. You are really making a mistake. How can you be so dense? How can you compare them? They are not the same at all.”

Sutra:

"Ananda, if it definitely were spontaneous, you should be able to distinguish the substance of the spontaneity.

Commentary:

Ananda,
let me tell you: if it definitely were spontaneous - if you are determined to say that the doctrine I explain is the same as the spontaneity of the externalist sects, you should be able to distinguish the substance of the spontaneity. Now we will examine this spontaneity and make it clear and delineate it. The spontaneity has a substance. They say, for example, “Who loosed the rivers?” Rivers come into existence spontaneously, and so there is still a river. “Who loosed the seas?” They say the seas exist spontaneously, so there is still a sea. The sea is the basic substance of spontaneity. It still has a substance. They say, “Why piled up the mountains?” No person could make a mountain, so the mountains are spontaneously born. So there is still the substance of a mountain. The substance of the mountain is the substance of spontaneity. Now where is the spontaneous substance of my dharma? Speak up.

Q2 He questions him and immediately offers a refutation.

Sutra:

"Now you look into the wonderful bright seeing. What is its self? Does the seeing take bright light as its self? Does it take darkness as its self? Does it take emptiness as its self? Does it take solid objects as its self?

Commentary:


"You still have not understood, so I will explain it for you further. You listen.” The Buddha presents another theory to reveal to him that it is separate from all ordinary seeing. “Now you look into the wonderful bright seeing. What is its self? Use your mind again to take a look. What self is there in the condition of your enlightened seeing’s wonderful brightness? What is your seeing’s basic substance? You say the seeing is spontaneous? If it is spontaneous, it must have a substance. What is the basic substance of the seeing? Tell me. Does the seeing take bright light as its self? Does the seeing take light as its spontaneous basic substance? Does it take darkness as its self? Does darkness make up the spontaneous substance of the seeing? Does it take emptiness as its self? Does it take emptiness to make up its spontaneous basic substance? Or does it take solid objects as its self? Or does form make up its spontaneous basic substance? Speak up.” Now he has asked Ananda, and Ananda will have a comeback. But before he can speak, the Buddha offers his own refutations.

Sutra:

"Ananda, if its self consists in light, you should not see darkness. Moreover, if it takes emptiness as the substance of its self, you should not see solid objects. Continuing in the same way, if it takes all dark appearances as its self, then when it is light, the seeing-nature is cut off and extinguished, and how can you see light?”

Commentary:

The Buddha explains it for Ananda a little more deeply. Ananda, if its self consists in light, you should not see darkness. If you take light to be the basic substance of spontaneity, and if you say seeing is the same as spontaneity, then when it is dark, the light should be cut off and extinguished, that is, it should disappear; and so you should not see darkness. After all, you say light is its basic substance, so how could it see when it is dark? Moreover, if it takes emptiness as the substance of its self, you should not see solid objects. By solid objects is meant places which cannot be seen through. If you take emptiness to be the spontaneous basic substance of your seeing, your seeing should disappear in the face of solid objects. Without emptiness, its own substance is gone. Continuing in the same way, if it takes all dark appearances as its self, then when it is light, the seeing-nature is cut off and extinguished, and how can you see light? The principle holds in every case. The seeing-nature would be extinguished when there is light. Thus to say that darkness is its basic substance is also a mistake.

O2 He rejects causes and conditions.
P1 Ananda relents on spontaneity and wonders about causes and conditions.


Sutra:

Ananda said, “I am certain that the nature of this wonderful seeing is not spontaneous. Now I discern that it is produced from causes and conditions. But I do not yet have it clear in my mind. I now ask the Thus Come One how this idea is consonant with the nature of causes and conditions.”

Commentary:

Ananda said before that it was not causes and conditions; now he says that it is. Ananda also can fluctuate. Ananda said, “I am certain that the nature of this wonderful seeing is not spontaneous. Certainly, just as you say, the subtle wonderful seeing-essence which sees everything is not spontaneous, because it has no substance. Now I discern that it is produced from causes and conditions.” He doesn’t say now that he considers; he says he discerns the doctrine. “But I do not yet have it clear in my mind. I think the seeing is produced from causes and conditions, but then again it seems to not be in accord with principle. It seems that there is no such thing. That’s what I think, but my mind is not absolutely clear about it.” What do you think of him? He doesn’t understand, but he still keeps trying on hats. Now he’s trying on the causes-and-conditions hat. “I now ask the Thus Come One how this idea is consonant with the nature of causes and conditions. World Honored One, how can this doctrine be explained? How can it fit with the nature of causes and conditions? Please explain this to me, Buddha.” Now it was not the Buddha who said that the seeing-essence is produced from the nature of causes and conditions; it was Ananda who said it, and he himself doesn’t understand. He wants the Buddha to explain it. Basically what Ananda said lacks principle. He doesn’t understand the doctrine. First he says it is spontaneity, then he says it is causes and conditions, and then because he doesn’t understand how it could be, he wants someone else to explain it. Meeting someone like Ananda is enough to give one a headache.

P2 The Thus Come One refutes it by bringing up the doctrine used to refute spontaneity.
Q1 First he refutes causes.


Sutra:

The Buddha said, “You say it is causes and conditions. I ask you again: because you are now seeing, the seeing-nature manifests. Is it because of light that the seeing exists? Is it because of darkness that the seeing exists? Is it because of emptiness that the seeing exists? Is it because of solid objects that the seeing exists?

Commentary:

The Buddha said, “You say it is causes and conditions.
You want me to explain to you how it is consonant with the nature of causes and conditions. But it’s you who say it is causes and conditions. Well, I will explain about causes and conditions for you. But first I want to ask you something. I ask you again: because you are now seeing, the seeing-nature manifests. Your seeing-nature appears before you. Is it because of light that the seeing exists? Is it because of darkness that the seeing exists? Is it because of emptiness that the seeing exists? Is it because of solid objects that the seeing exists? In the end, how does your seeing-essence come into being?” The Buddha is truly one of great kindness and great compassion. He encounters someone who keeps “kneading the bean curd” so to speak - who keeps going back and forth and around and about - and with the utmost compassion, he still keeps explaining to him. It’s probably the case that Ananda has been spoiled by the Buddha. He was the Buddha’s favorite cousin and he was in the habit of being allowed to say and do as he pleased. He’s just like these disciples of mine now who are not afraid of their teacher. They dare to say anything at all - right to the teacher’s face. When I was in Hong Kong, my disciples didn’t dare open their mouths when they were around me. They were very afraid of me. You American disciples are not afraid of your teacher. And I don’t wish to make you afraid of me, so for now it’s “yes.” “Okay.”

Sutra:

"Ananda, if light brings it into existence, you should not see darkness, and if it exists because of darkness, you should not see light. It is the same with emptiness and solid objects.

Commentary:

Ananda, you should know that I have already explained many similar doctrines. Now I will explain it once again for you. Ananda, if light brings it into existence - if you say the seeing exists because of light - you should not see darkness. When it is dark, you should not be able to see darkness. If it exists because of darkness, you should not see light. If you say, “Ah, it is not because of light that it exists, but because of darkness, there is seeing because of darkness,” then when it is light your seeing would disappear. Why? You rely on the darkness in order to see; now that the darkness is gone, your seeing is also gone. The very same doctrine applies in other cases. If it is because of emptiness that the seeing exists, then where there are solid objects it would disappear. If it is because of solid objects that the seeing exists, then where there is emptiness it would disappear. But that isn’t how it is with you. You can see when it is light, you can see when it is dark, you can see where there is emptiness, and you can see where there are solid objects. How could your suggestion that the seeing is based on causes and conditions be correct?

Q2 He refutes conditions.

Sutra:

"Moreover, Ananda, does the seeing derive from the condition of light? Does the seeing derive from the condition of darkness? Does the seeing derive from the condition of emptiness? Does the seeing derive from the condition of solid objects?

Commentary:

”I spoke before about causes: now I will ask you about conditions. I will explain it a little more clearly for you.” Do you see how compassionate the Buddha is? He sees Ananda still standing there wide-eyed and staring, having still not understood, so he explains it again. Moreover, Ananda, does the seeing derive from the condition of light? Does the seeing derive from the condition of darkness? Does the seeing follow upon light, or does it follow upon darkness? Does the seeing derive from the condition of emptiness? Does the seeing derive from the condition of solid objects? Is it from the causal condition of emptiness that there is seeing? Or is it from the causal condition of solid objects that there is seeing?

Sutra:

"Ananda, if it exists because of the condition of emptiness, you should not see solid objects. If it exists because of the condition of solid objects, you should not see emptiness: it is the same with light and darkness.

Commentary:

Ananda, if it exists because of the condition of emptiness
- if it is because of the emptiness that there is seeing, you should not see solid objects. The principle here is about the same as the one explained above. But because of the Buddha’s compassion, he explains it in great detail, not fearing the trouble involved. If it exists because of the condition of solid objects - if it is due to solid objects that there is seeing, you should not see emptiness: it is the same with light and darkness. The doctrine of it being from the condition of light or from the condition of darkness is the same as the doctrine of its being from emptiness or from solid objects.

O3 He rules out the false and ordinary.

Sutra:

"Thus you should know that the essential, enlightened wonderful brightness is due to neither causes nor conditions and it does not arise spontaneously.

Commentary:

Now the Buddha again rouses Ananda from his stupidity: Thus you should know – don’t continue to be so confused! - that the essential, enlightened wonderful brightness, the seeing, is due to neither causes nor conditions. It is not because of causes, it is not because of conditions, and it does not arise spontaneously. Now do you know?

Sutra:

"It is not that which is not spontaneous. It is not that it is not; nor is it that it is not not. It is not that which ‘is’ or ‘is not.’

Commentary:

It is something transcending all contraries, relativities, and partialities. It is not that which is not spontaneous. Now this certainly does not say that the seeing-essence does rise spontaneously. The double negative means that there is not even no spontaneous arisal. It is not that it is not; nor is it that it is not not. There is neither a negation nor a lack of negation. There is no is, and there is no is not. It is not that which “is” or “is not.” There isn’t any correct or incorrect. You can’t think about this with your mind that makes distinctions. Once you think about “is” and “is not,” you have left the doctrine of the seeing essence. Then what is there?

Sutra:

"Any dharma is that which is apart from all characteristics.

Commentary:

If you separate from all empty and false characteristics, that is the true and actual dharma. Don’t base your skill on empty and false characteristics. Any dharma is that which is apart from all characteristics. If you can be separate from all empty and false characteristics, that is your genuine seeing-essence, that is the genuine wonderful dharma. What are these characteristics? They are the characteristics of false thought. To be apart from false thought is the wonderful dharma of true suchness. If you do not separate yourself from the characteristics of false thinking, you do not unite with the wonderful dharma of true suchness.

O4 He scolds him for bringing up the ordinary.

Sutra:

"Now in the midst of dharmas, how can you use your mind to make distinctions that are based on worldly sophistries, terms, and characteristics? That is like grasping at empty space with your hand: you only succeed in tiring yourself out. How could empty space possibly yield to your grasp?”

Commentary:

The World Honored One continues speaking to Ananda: Now in the midst of dharmas, how can you use your mind to make distinctions that are based on worldly sophistries, terms, and characteristics? Why do you dwell in false thoughts and use your mind? Why do you base your skill on false thought? Worldly doctrines of spontaneity and causes and conditions are sophistries. Sophistries are clever discussions of unreal things. You use the terms and characteristics of sophistries to make distinctions about my wonderful dharma, to make distinctions about my wonderful Shurangama Samadhi. How can you do that? That is like grasping at empty space with your hand. To use your mind which has false thinking, your conscious mind that makes distinctions, to fathom the wonderful Shurangama Samadhi is like trying to grab hold of empty space and stroke it with your hand. How can you capture empty space? Were you to ask a child if empty space can be grasped, even the child would say it can’t be done. What you are doing now is grasping at empty space. It is like Teng Hua Feng, who said, “First capture empty space, then you can capture Teng Hua Feng.” He said it to a ghost which had captured him. Upon being captured, he reasoned with the ghost: “Wait a bit, can’t you?” he said. “There’s a small matter I haven’t finished attending to. When I have finished that up, I’ll accompany you to see King Yama.”

Who was Teng Hua Feng?

He was a cultivator of the Way, a monk with samadhi-power. When he was in samadhi, the ghosts and spirits couldn’t see him. But he was visible to the ghosts and spirits when he left the samadhi. That time he had left samadhi, and the ghost of impermanence paid him a visit.

What is the ghost of impermanence?

When your time comes to die, it is the friend who comes to accompany you to see King Yama. That friend came and captured Teng Hua Feng and said, “Your life should end. Come with me to see King Yama.” And he locked Teng Hua Feng up in hand cuffs and iron chains.

Teng Hua Feng said to him, “Friend, don’t be so impolite. I still have one thing to attend to, and then I will go with you.”

The ghost thought, “You’re opposing me for having captured you. Well, it doesn’t matter if I show you a little courtesy.” So he said, “What do you have to attend to?”

Whereupon Teng Hua Feng folded up his legs into full lotus posture, and as soon as he was settled he entered samadhi. The samadhi he entered was the no-thought samadhi. Just before he entered it, he said, “Now go and capture empty space, and then you can take along Teng Hua Feng.” He said, “If you can capture empty space, then come back and take me to see King Yama.” Once he had entered samadhi, the ghost had no way of capturing him. So everyone should know that samadhi-power is extremely important.

Samadhi-power is not being turned around by things, but being able to turn everything around. Didn’t it say earlier in the text, “If you can turn things around, then you are the same as the Thus Come One.” Cultivating to develop samadhi-power is the same. You have it no matter what circumstance you encounter. I will explain a doctrine to you which is not a joke, but is true: if a man truly has samadhi-power, when he sees a woman, no matter how pretty she is, he can refrain from moving his mind. He can avoid giving rise to emotional desire. That is samadhi-power. If as soon as you see a woman you grow unsteady and start to shake and a hand suddenly grows right out of your throat, that’s a lack of samadhi-power. We can switch the sentence around and say that is the same for women when they see men. They should remain in a state of unmoving suchness, and if they are able to remain unturned by the emotional desire, they have samadhi-power. That’s just the first step. You shouldn’t think that that is something extraordinary in itself. That’s the first step. The first step is to gain the ability to not be turned around by emotional desire, so that seeing is the same as not having seen. You face situations without a mind. You’re confronted with the experience and still haven’t any mind. That is samadhi-power. You can measure the extent of your samadhi-power by yourself. For example, if you can remain unmoved when the emotional desire between men and women comes to mind, then you have a little bit of samadhi-power. To take it farther, if you can remain in the company of your girlfriend without the arising of the least incident, that is genuine skill. But the skill is not easily developed. If you have that kind of samadhi-power, you certainly can cultivate and develop a vajra indestructible body. If you lack that samadhi-power, what is to be done? Don’t be satisfied with the status quo, saying, “I haven’t got that much samadhi-power, so forget it, I’m not going to cultivate. I’ll just give in to it.” That’s useless. You’re just riding for a fall. The less samadhi power you have, the more you must cultivate. For instance, “I sit in meditation and the pain comes. The more pain there is, the more I want to sit. I will force myself to do what is difficult.” That is also samadhi-power.

You only succeed in tiring yourself out. The Buddha tells Ananda that using his mind to invent sophistries about the seeing-nature is like trying to grasp empty space. All you do is toil bitterly, to no avail. You wear yourself out and exhaust your own energy. You lose your strength. After all, if you continually paw at empty space with your hand, can you deny that your arm would get tired? Eventually your hand would hurt and would start to ache from weariness. You knead and clutch and grasp and can’t get hold of empty space. You grasp it and there’s nothing, you grasp again and again there is nothing. It would truly be a case of having nothing to do and going to look for something to do. And that’s the way Ananda was. He didn’t have anything to do. It was probably the case that as a monk he ate his fill and for lack of anything to do he began clutching at empty space.

How could empty space possibly yield to your grasp? How could empty space comply so that you could catch it? Empty space is basically empty; how could you capture it? If there were something you could grasp, then it would not be empty space. There has to be a thing before you can grasp it. For instance, this cup: because there is a cup, I am able to grasp it. If the cup weren’t there you could grasp back and forth and up and down and there still wouldn’t be anything. So the Buddha likens Ananda, who develops his skill based exclusively on the conscious mind that makes distinctions, to someone who grasps at empty space. The principle is the same. You just increase your own weariness, which is not of the least benefit to the self-nature.

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