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Seeing is Apart from Seeing
VOLUME 2, Chapter 1
N10 He shows seeing is apart from seeing.
O1 Ananda leads with the teaching and asks a question.
Ananda said to the Buddha, “If the nature of the wonderful enlightenment has neither causes nor conditions, then why does the World Honored One always tell the bhikshus that the nature of seeing derives from the four conditions of emptiness, brightness, the mind, and the eyes? What does that mean?”
How much gall would you say Ananda has? He sasses his teacher. He rudely tries to argue publicly with the Buddha. More than anything else, it’s like a game of chess. Ananda said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, if the nature of the wonderful enlightenment, the seeing-essence, has neither causes nor conditions, then why does the World Honored One always tell the bhikshus that the nature of seeing derives from the four conditions?” Ananda is borrowing the Buddha’s principles. “It’s you that said this, Buddha, not me. You talked about the nature of seeing that way.”
Listen to him! He is protesting against the Buddha. Ananda had got snagged left and right so many times he hasn’t said one thing right - that by now he’s probably heedless of everything. “I’m going to have it out with the Buddha.” So he says, “World Honored One, you keep saying that the seeing-nature is complete with four conditions, and so why does the Buddha now say that it is not causes and conditions?” He certainly must have had enough gall to fill the skies to be prompted to argue with the Buddha like this.
What are the four conditions? Emptiness, brightness, the mind, and the eyes. “What does that mean? How do you explain this doctrine? In the past you explained it according to these four conditions, and now you are going back on what you said. How can you do that? Is it possible for the Buddha to say things which don’t count? The Buddha doesn’t lie. How can you say it is that way and now say it isn’t?” You can see that meeting up with this kind of disciple is not an easy task. Thank goodness the Buddha is the Buddha. If it were I, I’d have no way to handle him.
O2 He makes clear that the former teaching was expedient.
The Buddha said, “Ananda, what I have said about all the worldly causes and conditions has nothing to do with the primary meaning.
Ananda’s ability in debate is so good that he has subdued the Buddha. The Buddha said, “Ananda, what I have said about all the worldly causes and conditions has nothing to do with the primary meaning. It is not the principal doctrine. What I said then was provisional and expedient. You should not think that the things I said then are true. At that time it was as if I were rearing little children by telling you to be good and not be rambunctious. When you grow up, you can be an official. You can do important things.” It was an expedient, and provisional dharma-door. Doesn’t it seem from the tone of what he says that the Buddha has been subdued by Ananda?
In the Vimalakirti Sutra, Manjushri Bodhisattva asks the layman Vimalakirti, “What is the primary meaning?”
What do you suppose the layman Vimalakirti said? Can you guess? If any of you know, then you are truly a present-day Vimalakirti. Do any of you know what the primary meaning is?
Anyone who has read the Vimalakirti Sutra will know. But if I tell you, you should not go around posturing in front of people, imitating the layman Vimalakirti’s gesture, because you haven’t reached his status. Don’t be like some people who make the mistake of pretending to be what they aren’t.
Vimalakirti closed his eyes and did not open his mouth. He didn’t say a word. Manjushri Bodhisattva said, “Oh, you understand.” That’s the way it was, but you can’t do the same thing when you go someplace and someone asks you what the primary meaning is. That is unacceptable. It’s fine to know about it, to be aware of the principle, but you can’t go about putting on airs, as if you were the same as Vimalakirti. That is impermissible.
The same is true when reading the Sixth Patriarch’s Sutra, which contains a lot of principle. Sometimes people make “verbal Zen” out of these principles. If you genuinely understand the doctrine, then it is all right. But it is not all right to indulge in “verbal Zen.” I will repeat this because it is very important. You can’t go around trying to carry on “Chan banter” with people.
What is “Chan banter”?
Someone points a finger or makes a fist or some other such gesture. That is impermissible for you to do. Why?
You haven’t the experience. You are not enlightened. It’s not you who can make these kinds of gestures. One who makes these kinds of gestures is one who is enlightened. One who is enlightened has the penetrating understanding of absolutely everything.
I had an encounter recently with someone who was so confused that he acted like he was drunk and supposed himself to be enlightened. So I told him to explain the seven kinds of sutra titles and the six realizations, and he couldn’t come up with one title. He could not complete one realization. What enlightenment do you suppose he had attained? If he were an enlightened person, then even if he didn’t know the answer to the question, he would have been able to expound principle. Why? Because all principles come forth from the mind. If he were an enlightened person, his mind would be full of light. And he would have penetrated to the understanding of all principles, so that even if he didn’t know the particulars, he could explain it with principle.
That’s what is meant by enlightened. So you decidedly cannot steep tea in cold water and drink the dregs. Someone who forces the issue and announces that he is enlightened is totally shameless, completely without a sense of shame. There can be no such people in Buddhism. They are a useless lot, I’ll tell you.
O3 He explains now that it is not conditions.
"Ananda, I ask you again: people in the world say, ‘I can see.’ What is meant by seeing? What is not seeing?”
Ananda said, “Due to the light of the sun, the moon, and lamps, people in the world can see all kinds of appearances: that is called seeing. If it were not for these three kinds of light, they would not be able to see.”
The Buddha felt that Ananda was his little cousin and he should always take pity on him. So again he calls out, Ananda, I ask you again: Child, I will again ask you: people in the world say, “I can see.” Everyone says he can see. The text does not have the Buddha saying he can see. It is each person speaking of himself. What is meant by seeing? What is seeing? What is not seeing? Tell me the doctrine involved.
Ananda has now heard the Buddha subdued by him. He’s been victorious, and so he doesn’t stop to think, he just speaks out. Ananda said, “Due to the light of the sun, the moon, and lamps, people in the world can see all kinds of appearances: that is called seeing. Without them, we can’t see. If it were not for these three kinds of light, they would not be able to see.”
"Ananda, if it is called ‘not seeing’ when there is no light, you should not see darkness. If in fact you do see darkness, which is none other than the lack of light, how can you say there is an absence of seeing?
Whenever Ananda says something he contradicts himself. He slaps his own cheek, as it were. He opposes his own principle. Thus he says that if these three kinds of light are lacking there isn’t any seeing. The Buddha challenges his essential point. You say there is no seeing. I’ll ask you about that. Ananda, if it is called “not seeing” when there is no light, you should not see darkness. Didn’t you say that in the absence of light, shed by sun, moon, and lamps, you cannot see? In fact this doctrine has already been explained, but it is to be feared that Ananda, despite his great learning, no longer remembers it, so the Buddha repeats it for him. Since you say there is no seeing in the absence of light, you should not see darkness. In explaining the sutra, I asked you earlier what a blind man sees, and the answer was “black.” It’s the same thing here. Seeing blackness is seeing, too.
If in fact you do see darkness, which is none other than the lack of light, how can you say there is an absence of seeing? You cannot argue with this theory because it has already been established that you do see darkness, which is simply the absence of light. You can’t say it is an absence of seeing. It’s all right to say there is no light, but you cannot say there is no seeing. Ananda has run into another snag.
"Ananda, if, when it is dark, you call it ‘not seeing’ because you do not see light, then since it is now light and you do not see the characteristic of darkness, it should also be called ‘not seeing.’ Thus, the two characteristics would both be called ‘not seeing.’
Ananda, if, when it is dark, you call it “not seeing” because you do not see light - in a dark place you don’t see light, and you say this is not to see at all. Then since it is now light - now you are in a time of light, in the presence of lamp-light, sunlight, and moonlight - and you do not see the characteristic of darkness, it should also be called “not seeing.” When the light comes, the darkness goes, and you no longer see darkness. By your reasoning, there would be no seeing in this situation either. Thus, the two characteristics would both be called "not seeing.” The two characteristics that have been discussed, light and darkness, would both be not seeing. Right? Is that what you mean?
"Although these two characteristics replace one another, your seeing-nature does not lapse for an instant. Thus you can know that there is seeing in both cases. How, then, can you say there is no seeing?
You see the Buddha is a great debater, and now you would probably be victorious in debate, whoever you debated with. Although these two characteristics replace one another. The two characteristics of light and darkness contend with each other. Light claims that it is the seeing, and darkness contends that it is the seeing. Ananda, you say that neither one is the seeing. What is actually the case? Your seeing-nature does not lapse for an instant. The succession of light and dark does not affect your seeing-nature’s ability to see. It is certain that your seeing-nature does not increase or decrease. It is neither produced nor extinguished. It is not the case that your seeing-nature temporarily disappears.
Thus you can know that there is seeing in both cases. You see light, and you see darkness, and you can’t say that either one is a case of not seeing. How, then, can you say there is no seeing? Since there is seeing in both cases, what do you say is not seeing? Speak up. He questions a level deeper. Speak up.
O4 He actually shows it is apart from seeing.
P1 First he decides the primary meaning of being apart from conditions.
"Therefore, Ananda, you should know that when you see light, the seeing is not the light. When you see darkness, the seeing is not the darkness. When you see emptiness, the seeing is not the emptiness. When you see solid objects, the seeing is not the solid objects.
Therefore, Ananda, because of the doctrine just explained, you should know that when you see light, the seeing is not the light. When you look at light, your looking is certainly not the light; your seeing-nature is certainly not the light. It certainly is not that your seeing-nature follows after the light and turns into it, that your seeing-nature is turned around by that state. When you see darkness, the seeing is not the darkness. When you look at blackness your seeing certainly is not the blackness. Your seeing has still not changed. It is the same as the seeing that sees light; it is identical, without any distinction.
When you see emptiness, the seeing is not the emptiness. When you look at emptiness, your seeing certainly is not turned around by the emptiness. It does not run after emptiness. When you see solid objects, the seeing is not the solid objects. When you see places where there are solid objects, it certainly is not that your seeing follows after that and becomes a solid object. It cannot be turned around by that kind of external situation. It cannot be shaken by external things. It is your everlasting unchanging seeing-nature.
P2 He then establishes the primary meaning is apart from seeing.
"Having realized these four meanings, you should also know that when you see your seeing, the seeing is not the seeing to be seen. Since the former seeing is beyond the latter, the latter cannot reach it. That being the case, how can you say that your absolute intuitive perception has something to do with causes and conditions or spontaneity or that it has something to do with mixing and uniting?
Having realized these four meanings. These are the four meanings spoken of above, the four causal conditions by which the seeing-nature is accomplished. Now that you have realized that the seeing-nature is not contingent upon the four aspects of light, darkness, emptiness, or solid objects, you should also know that when you see your seeing, the seeing is not the seeing to be seen. Here the first “seeing” refers to our genuine seeing, true perception, and the second “seeing” refers to the seeing-essence, which, although it is also said to be a genuine seeing, is ever so slightly false.
The first seeing is a pure seeing. It is the genuine true seeing. The second carries with it a bit of falseness. So when your genuine seeing is able to see the false seeing, the seeing is not the seeing. Your genuine seeing is apart from all characteristics with substance. It has no substantial characteristic. There isn’t anything at all. So it is said, “The seeing is not the seeing.” No seeing is accomplished. Since there is basically nothing at all, you cannot give it a name. This is the point which is called “separation from the spoken word.” It is said:
The mouth wishes to speak
but is at a loss for words.
The mind wants to seize upon conditions,
but reflection ceases.
The mind wants to think but has no way to do so. This is to be apart from the mark of the spoken word - you cannot speak of it - and apart from the mark of the written word. It cannot be represented by any word.
The path of words and language is severed,
The place the mind can go is extinguished.
The way of words and language is gone. The mind has no place to go; this means that the places where the mind thinks are gone. So at this time it is said that the seeing is not the seeing. This doctrine is not at all easy to understand. But also, if you are familiar with Buddhist studies, it is very easy to understand.
Since there isn’t anything at all, how can you also say that the seeing is causes and conditions, or that it is spontaneity? Since the former seeing is beyond the latter, the latter cannot reach it. Since your seeing is different from the seeing, your seeing cannot catch up to it. There isn’t anything, so what are you looking for? “The latter cannot reach it” means that your false seeing cannot see it. What is the seeing you cannot see? It is your genuine seeing.
That being the case, how can you say that your absolute intuitive perception has something to do with causes and conditions or spontaneity or that it has something to do with mixing and uniting? Why do you still want to say your seeing-essence, the absolute, intuitive perception, is the causes and conditions that I spoke of in the past? Why do you bring that up as a comparison? And why bring up a comparison with the spontaneity taught by the externalist sects? And why bring up the characteristics of mixing and uniting by saying that everyone mixes together in a mixed-up union? The characteristic of mixing and uniting is like when chao tze - Chinese raviolis - break up when you boil them; you can’t distinguish them one from another.
The Buddha tells Ananda that when he spoke the dharma of causes and conditions, it was for the sake of those who had first begun to study, people of the small vehicle, that is, the provisional vehicle of the sound-hearers and the conditioned-enlightened ones, and also for the adherents of externalist sects, to refute the doctrine of spontaneity.
Now I am explaining the Shurangama Sutra in order to manifest and display the great Shurangama Samadhi. That kind of wonderful meaning absolutely cannot be compared to causes and conditions. How can you still bring up causes and conditions and compare it to the primary meaning? How can you compare it to the great Shurangama Samadhi? That’s like mistaking copper for gold. You are too attached! You can’t think like that!
P3 He concludes by exhorting them to persevere and well consider Bodhi.
"You narrow-minded sound-hearers are so inferior and ignorant that you are unable to penetrate through to the purity of the characteristic of reality. Now I will teach you. You should consider it well, and do not become weary or negligent on the wonderful road to Bodhi.”
Shakyamuni Buddha said: You narrow-minded sound-hearers, you people of the two vehicles, are so inferior and ignorant. Your minds are very narrow and small, your awareness is quite inferior. You are completely without knowledge. You sound-hearers know only how to benefit yourselves and not how to benefit others. You know only how to attend to yourselves, and you pay no attention to the pain and suffering of other living beings. You are “self-ending arhats.”
“Ignorant” means to have no genuine knowledge. The knowledge spoken of here, however, is not that of ordinary worldly knowledge, but the genuine knowledge of the great vehicle Buddhadharma. You lack knowledge of genuine great vehicle Buddhism. This also refers to the wonderful samadhi of the Shurangama’s primary meaning. You sound-hearers don’t understand it, and so you are unable to penetrate through to the purity of the characteristic of reality. “To penetrate through” means to understand.
At present your minds are too heavily attached, the distinctions your mind makes are too profuse, for you to understand what lies in the great vehicle teaching, the great vehicle Buddhadharma, the purity of the characteristic of reality.
What is meant by the characteristic of reality? The characteristic of reality is no characteristic. This is the first explanation. Yet nothing is without the characteristic of reality: that is the second explanation. All characteristics are produced from within it. That is what is meant by the characteristic of reality being no characteristic, yet nothing being without the characteristic of reality. The third explanation is that there are no characteristics and there is nothing which is not a characteristic. All dharmas are born from the characteristic of reality. So the “characteristic of reality” is the basic substance of dharma.
So you want to find the characteristic of reality, since it is the basic substance of dharma? What is it ultimately like? You cannot see it. It just has been given a name, “the characteristic of reality,” that’s all. It’s as Lao Zi said, “The way that can be spoken of is not the eternal Way.” If you can talk about your way, if you can explain it, then it is not the eternal Way. “The name that can be named is not the eternal name.” If you have a name that can be spoken out, it is not an eternal name. So then he said, “The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth. The named is the mother of the myriad things.” That’s what Lao Zi’s philosophy is like. All I’m doing now is bringing it up to help make the doctrine clear.
The characteristic of reality is true emptiness and it is also wonderful existence. Do you say that true emptiness is empty? It is not, because within it is produced wonderful existence. Wonderful existence is certainly not existence. True emptiness is not empty, and wonderful existence does not exist. Because it does not exist, it is said to be wonderful existence. Because it is not empty, it is said to be true emptiness. The characteristic of reality is the same doctrine. If you understand this doctrine, a thorough understanding of a single thing is a thorough understanding of everything.
What is our self-nature like?
The self-nature is like empty space. Would you say there is anything in empty space? There is absolutely everything in empty space. But you cannot see it. The existence within emptiness is wonderful existence. The lack of emptiness within emptiness is true emptiness. Since true emptiness is not empty, it is called wonderful existence. Since wonderful existence is not existence, it is called true emptiness. These two names are one. You investigate them in detail and find, however, that there is not even one. To give it a name is just to put a head on top of a head.
You say, “This is true emptiness, and this is wonderful existence. This is the characteristic of reality.” That allows you to have a certain amount of attachment. As for the genuine basic substance of Dharma, there isn’t anything at all. By sweeping away all Dharmas, one becomes separated from all characteristics. As was said above, “What is apart from all characteristics is Dharma.” To be apart from all mundane marks is Dharma. But most people cannot separate themselves from those characteristics. And since they cannot leave those characteristics, they do not obtain all Dharmas.
”I can be separate from characteristics,” you say. “I don’t attach myself to anything.”
You aren’t attached to anything? There was an earthquake a while ago; were you afraid? I believe there were quite a few people who were very agitated when that earthquake came. That is just because you cannot be apart from characteristics. If you can be apart from characteristics, Mount Tai could come crashing down before you and you would not be startled.
People who can turn things around are not frightened by any state they meet. If you aren’t frightened, then there aren’t any states. Why do states exist? Why are there demonic obstructions? Why can demons come and disturb your samadhi? Because you move. As soon as you move they slip right in. If you don’t move, no demon in existence will have any way to get at you. There won’t be any mantra they can recite to move you.
You say, “Then why was Matangi able to recite a mantra and confuse Ananda in this sutra?”
It was just because he didn’t have any samadhi. If he’d had samadhi, if Ananda had had the genuine Shurangama Samadhi, there would have been no need for the Buddha to speak the Shurangama Sutra or the Shurangama Mantra. And you and I would not be able to listen to the Shurangama Sutra now or study the Shurangama Mantra. So those were the causes and conditions. But if someone has samadhi, no matter what state arises, he or she will not be frightened.
Now I will teach you. I will instruct you, Ananda. You should consider it well. This “considering well” does not refer to the kind of consideration Ananda has been using and speaking about. The word is the same, but it is not meant in the same way. Here “consider” means that he should use his true mind to contemplate and investigate. It isn’t that he should use his conscious mind that makes distinctions.
And do not become weary or negligent on the wonderful road to Bodhi. Don’t be lazy and slack off. Don’t be insolent or perfunctory about it. Don’t be muddled about the wonderful road to Bodhi. You should be particularly attentive and especially aware that this is the path to wonderful enlightenment. It is the way to become a Buddha. It is the wonderful Shurangama Samadhi. If you have the wonderful Shurangama Samadhi, you can walk to the position of wonderful enlightenment, that is, the position of the fruition of Buddhahood.
Buddhas are said to be wonderfully enlightened, and Bodhisattvas are said to be the ones of equal enlightenment; they are equal to wonderful enlightenment. Fifty-five positions lie between the level of sound-hearer, through the levels of the Bodhisattvas, to the position of wonderful enlightenment. The fifty-five position will be explained later on in the Shurangama Sutra.