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Seeing Does not Return
VOLUME 2, Chapter 1
P2 He reveals that the nature of seeing does not return to anything.
Q1 Ananda seeks instruction about that which does not return.
Ananda said, “If every state of our mind returns to something else as its cause, then why does the wonderful bright original mind mentioned by the Buddha return nowhere? I hold out the hope that the Buddha will shower us with such compassion as to enlighten us on this point.”
Now Ananda is even more in the dark, even more confused. Ananda said, “If every state of our mind returns to something else - if everything about my mind is not my own, but must be returned to others - then why does the wonderful bright original mind mentioned by the Buddha return nowhere? How come that fine, subtle, wonderful, fundamental, originally permanently dwelling true mind of which you speak, Thus Come One, has no place to go back to? The more I listen to this doctrine, the more confused I get and the less I understand. I hold out the hope that the Buddha will shower us with such compassion as to enlighten us on this point.”
The dharma body, the reward body, and the response body of the Thus Come One are all very tall. “Now my sole wish,” Ananda says, “is that the Thus Come One will look down upon me and pity me. For the sake of me, Ananda,” he says, “please explain the doctrine of the non-retreating of the true mind.”
Q2 The Thus Come One reveals it in detail.
R1 He points out by analogy that the essence of seeing is true.
The Buddha said to Ananda, “As you now see me, the essence of your seeing is fundamentally bright. If the profound bright original mind is compared to the moon, the essence of your seeing is the second moon rather than its reflection.
The Buddha said to Ananda, “As you now see me, the essence of your seeing is fundamentally bright. The essence of your seeing, which sees my thirty-two hallmarks and eighty subtle characteristics, has the basic characteristic of clarity. But if the profound bright original mind is compared to the moon, the essence of your seeing is the second moon rather than its reflection.” The essence of seeing is basically the eighth consciousness which is called the mind-king. The seeing of the mind-king can go to the side of the good, or it can go to the side of the bad. If it ascends, it penetrates through to the Buddha-nature. If it descends, it penetrates through into the seventh consciousness.
Although the substance of the eighth consciousness is not in itself our true mind, our true mind is contained within the eighth consciousness. So don’t make a mistake here and think that by saying the essence of seeing is not the wonderfully essential bright mind, the Buddha does not dare recognize it as the true mind either. The essence of seeing is the true mind.
The Buddha has already proved this. The seeing which sees is the true mind, but it is like a second moon, not like the moon’s reflection. How is this? If you press against your eye with your finger, the eye will see two moons in response to the pressure. But those two moons are one moon, the one real moon, not a reflection like the moon seen in water. The Buddha is saying that the eighth consciousness, the mind-king, is the basic substance of our true mind. You should not mistakenly think that the eighth consciousness is not the true mind.
R2 He promises to show him what does not return to anything.
"You should listen attentively, for I am now going to show you the place of no returning.
Ananda, you should listen attentively, for I am now going to show you the place of no returning. Ananda, you should pay close attention. Don’t be muddled when I am speaking. Listen well. Now I am going to instruct you, just as you asked, about the true mind and about how it does not return anywhere.
The Buddha begins by asking Ananda a question.
R3 He shows how the eight appearances all return to something else.
"Ananda, this great lecture hall is open to the east. It is flooded with light when the sun rises in the sky. It is dark at midnight during a new moon or when obscured by clouds or fog. Looking out through open doors and windows your vision is unimpeded; facing walls or houses your vision is hindered. Your vision is causally conditioned in such places where there are forms of distinctive features; in dull void, you can see only emptiness. Your vision will be distorted when the objects of seeing are shrouded in dust and vapor; you will perceive clearly when the air is fresh.
Ananda, this great lecture hall is open to the east. It is flooded with light when the sun rises in the sky. The Buddha’s great lecture hall where he spoke the Shurangama Sutra held a vast number of great Bodhisattvas, great Arhats, and great bhikshus, who had come from throughout the three thousand great-thousand worlds of the ten directions. When the sun ascends the sky, its light shines into this lecture hall.
It is dark at midnight during a new moon or when obscured by clouds or fog. The sun mounting the sky represents the light of wisdom in people, which can illumine and destroy their darkness. The clouds and fog bringing dimness and obscurity represent people’s stupidity. When there are clouds in space and fog on the ground, you cannot see anything. That stands for people in the height of stupidity, who are totally lacking in wisdom and do not understand the principle behind anything. They don’t know where the road is, where the Way is. They want to cultivate the Way but they cannot find it. They want to perform good deeds, but they don’t know how to go about it in the right way.
People’s wisdom is light and their stupidity is darkness. But what makes the difference between them? Can we think to ourselves, “Ah, I’m wise. I’m really smart,” and thereby gain wisdom? No. The more you think you have wisdom and the smarter you think you are, the stupider you are, as stupid as a pig. A pig is incapable of thinking himself into intelligence. If you think that you yourself are intelligent, you are the stupidest sort of person, because you are too self-satisfied. “Look at me,” you say. “No one can equal me.” If no one can equal you, then you aren’t even human! If you were a person, then it wouldn’t be the case that people couldn’t equal you, since people are all alike. Do you understand? This is an extremely important point.
If you weren’t stupid, then no matter what you were like, you wouldn’t be able to consider yourself incomparable. You wouldn’t be arrogant and self-satisfied. “Look at me, I am first.” This is the point of view of extreme stupidity. Those who like to be first don’t even count. Why? Because if you like to be first, everyone has your number. If you are genuinely first, then no number is involved. Being first doesn’t count for people who are really number one. People who are incredibly stupid look upon themselves as intelligent, but truly intelligent people are not aware of their intelligence. They are incapable of pondering the question of their own intelligence. In the darkness one cannot see anything at all, but, like the blind man who can’t see anything either, one thinks one is smarter than anyone else.
Looking out through open doors and windows your vision is unimpeded. From inside, one can see outside. You penetrate through without any obstruction by means of the five eyes and six spiritual penetrations. One day one of my disciples told me, “After lunch when everyone is supposed to be working, some people go to sleep.” How did he know people were sleeping? Had they told him? It is because he has the Buddha eye, and so he knows what everyone is doing.
"What are you minding other people’s business for?” I asked him. It used to be, when it was just me, that people might do something and not tell me about it, thinking that I didn’t know. So I wouldn’t pay any attention to the matter either. Now I have a helper, a deputy. I’ve told him to tell me about the faults he finds in others. Now that someone is telling me, I have proof, and so I can cross-examine anyone who is at fault. But you should not be afraid. I don’t intend to ask about small matters. If something of major importance happens, then I will ask.
This disciple is my helper and if anyone steals something, my helper sees it; if anyone kills someone, he knows it. If I want to tend to trivial matters I can do so at any time. If I do not want to tend to trivial matters, it is possible to make everything disappear. So those of you who are thinking of stealing things, don’t be frightened. And those of you who want to do things which you don’t want me to know about also needn’t be afraid. For the time being I am still not paying any attention to these small matters.
Facing walls or houses your vision is hindered. Where there cracks, seeing penetrates, but where there no cracks it does not. Your vision is causally conditioned in such places where there are forms of distinctive features. The places where there are distinctions are all the states you see, whether they be mountains, rivers, the great earth, groves, fountains, everything which can be distinguished - high and low, good and bad, houses, porches, verandas, cottages, and waterways. Those are distinctions made by the mind, and therefore are conditions.
In dull void, you can see only emptiness. Dark, dull emptiness, devoid of efficacy, is the place where there is no awareness; there is emptiness. Your vision will be distorted when the objects of seeing are shrouded in dust and vapor. “Vapor” refers to the places where mist rises up from the earth. When there is no sun, the vapors look like smoke, but when the sun comes out, there is nothing there at all. “Dust” refers to a place where the wind picks up the dust and sand and blows it about. Both mist and dust darken the air and distort it, like the distortion caused by heat-mirage, which makes things appear wavy and not straight. You will perceive clearly when the air is fresh. The text refers to a freshness like the pure, clear sky just after a rain. “Fresh” air refers to the moist, clean atmosphere.
"Ananda, observe all these transitory characteristics as I now return each to its place of origin. What are the basic origins? Ananda, among all these transitions, the ‘light’ returns to the sun. Why? Without the sun there is no light; therefore the reason for light belongs with the sun, and so it can be returned to the sun.
" 'Darkness’ returns to the new moon. ‘Penetration’ returns to the doors and windows while ‘obstruction’ returns to the walls and eaves. ‘Conditions’ return to distinctions. ‘Emptiness’ returns to dull emptiness. ‘Darkness’ and ‘distortion’ return to the mist and haze. Bright ‘purity’ returns to freshness, and nothing that exists in this world goes beyond these kinds.
The Buddha went on to say, “Ananda, observe all these transitory characteristics as I now return each to its place of origin. Whether they be light or darkness, penetration or obstruction, conditions or dull emptiness, purity or turbidity, all these eight kinds of characteristics can be returned to the place they came from. What are the basic origins? What are the places they come from? Ananda, among all these transitions: you should listen and be particularly attentive to what I am going to explain to you about these various transformations, these eight kinds of transitory characteristics.
The ‘light’ returns to the sun. Why? Without the sun there is no light. I’ll give light back to the sun. Without the sun, there is no light; when there is no light, the light has returned to the sun. Therefore the reason for light belongs with the sun, and so it can be returned to the sun. Therefore, I’m taking the light and returning it to the sun. Would you agree, Ananda? Do you have any opinion?” Ananda didn’t open his mouth, although if he had had another doubt or a question or something he wished to say, he could have spoken at this point, but he didn’t, so the Buddha continued speaking: “’Darkness’ returns to the new moon. I’ll give the darkness to the new moon.
In Chinese, the full moon is called bai yue, “white moon,” and the new moon is called hei yue, “black moon,” but this does not mean that the moon gives off a black light. That would be to translate so literally as to destroy the meaning. When you eat, you should be able to digest the food, and it is the same with the text of the sutra. Don’t think the Shurangama Sutra says the moon gives off a black light; that’s to eat and not digest. What good would that be?
" Penetration” returns to the doors and windows while “obstruction” returns to the walls and eaves. The places that can be seen through can be returned to the doors and windows which have cracks and holes, while the obstructed places, where there is no seeing through, can be returned to the walls and eaves. “Conditions” return to distinctions. Conditions return to the mind which makes distinctions. “Emptiness” returns to dull emptiness. The place where there is dull emptiness returns to emptiness at large.
“Darkness” and “distortion” return to the mist and haze. Mist and haze are defilements of the atmosphere and can be returned to the dust. Bright “purity” returns to freshness. The bright purity can be returned to the fresh clear sky. And nothing that exists in this world goes beyond these kinds. These eight kinds of transitory characteristics which I have discussed, these four pairs, include every single thing in the world, the many, the few, the far, and the near, everywhere you look. All return somewhere.
R4 He reveals that only the nature of seeing does not return to anything.
"To which of the eight states of perception will the essence of your seeing return? Why do I ask? The answer lies in the fact that if it is returned to brightness, you will not see darkness when there is no light. Although such states of perception as light, darkness, and the like differ from one another, your seeing remains unchanged.
To which of the eight states of perception will the essence of your seeing return? What about your essential bright nature which is able to see the eight kinds of transitory characteristics which the Buddha has been discussing? “What should it return to?” the Buddha asks Ananda. “Why do I ask? Speak up,” he says. Which one of these should the bright nature of your seeing-essence return to? What the Buddha is saying is, “What are you going to return it to, since there’s no place to return it? The answer lies in the fact that if it is returned to brightness, you will not see darkness when there is no light. If you return your seeing essence to brightness, it should not see darkness; but in fact it can see darkness. Therefore, it does not return to light.
You can’t say that seeing returns to darkness, either, because when it is light, the seeing essence can still see. Although such states of perception as light, darkness, and the like differ from one another, your seeing remains unchanged. Although only light and dark have been discussed here, it is the same with the other six kinds. The various things, the various appearances, the various transitory characteristics all have natures which are distinct from one another. But what differences would you say exist in seeing? What distinctions? When it sees light, it is seeing; when it sees darkness, it is seeing; when it sees purity, it is seeing; when it sees turbidity, it is seeing; when it sees through things, it is seeing; when it sees obstructions, it is seeing. What distinctions are there?”
Someone says, “There certainly are distinctions in seeing. When you see light, the seeing perceives that it is light. When look at darkness, it knows it is darkness. Isn’t this the making of distinctions?”
Not bad. Distinctions are being made when you perceive light and darkness, but not by your seeing; it is your distinction making mind, your mind which seizes upon conditions, that makes them. Don’t take that to be the seeing essence. Your knowledge of light and darkness is a matter of your mind. Your seeing sees everything as equally without any distinction. Whenever you see, it is simply seeing. No distinctions are made. The distinctions you make are made by your distinction making mind. Everyone should be particularly attentive to this point. Don’t take the distinction making mind to be the bright source of your seeing essence.
O3 Based on the former explanation, he determines clearly and bids him decisively to renounce attachment.
"That which can be returned to other sources is clearly not you; that which can be returned nowhere is none other than you.
This particular section of text explains the doctrine extremely well in a few words. It says: That which can be returned to other sources is clearly not you; that which can be returned nowhere is none other than you. All transitory characteristics can be returned to something else. They are not yours. That which stays with you and does not go anywhere else, that which you cannot return to anyone else - whose is it if not yours? If it isn’t yours, you should return it to someone else. You can’t. Whoever you give it to does not want it. You give it to the light, but the light does not want it. You give it to the darkness, but the darkness does not want it. You give it to purity, but purity does not want it. You give it to turbidity, but turbidity does not want it.
If you could give it away, then you wouldn’t be able to see anymore. It is something you cannot give away. “Although you have accomplished the first fruition, you haven’t any way, you haven’t the spiritual penetrations to give your seeing away to someone else so that you yourself will have no more seeing,” the Buddha is telling Ananda. “If it isn’t yours, whose it is then? You still don’t dare admit that it is yours, you still do not understand. Ananda, you are extremely pitiable.”
These few words explain the principle very clearly, and the Chinese text of this sutra is extremely fine. If you want to study Chinese and have not studied the Shurangama Sutra, your study of Chinese is not complete. If you have studied the Shurangama Sutra, then when you write essays in Chinese, it is probable that the best scholars of ancient China would not have been able to compare to the excellence of your written Chinese.
To understand but a portion of the Shurangama Sutra text is of inexhaustible use. Those of you who like to study Chinese should not let the opportunity pass to study this superb text. Don’t enter the mountain of jewels and return empty handed. Don’t be like the bear who goes into a cornfield to eat corn. The bear puts one ear of corn under one arm and then reaches for another ear of corn to put under the other arm. While doing that, he drops the first ear of corn. Then he reaches out to put a third ear of corn under the first arm, and he drops the second ear of corn. All the while he thinks he’s loading up a lot of corn, but when he leaves the cornfield and takes a look, he finds out he’s only got one. When you enter the mountain of jewels, don’t be so overwhelmed by all the gems that as you pick up one you’ve decided to bring back, you drop the other one you were holding.
This explanation of the sutra which you are now hearing is the mountain of jewels. In fact it is even more valuable than the gems found there, more valuable than gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother of pearl, red pearls, and carnelian. Why? If you understand one sentence of this sutra and then cultivate and apply effort to your work without retreating, if you vigorously progress with courage, then you will become a Buddha. And so its value far transcends the worth of a mountain of jewels. Don’t be like “the black bear that picks the ears of corn and loses them as fast as he gets them.” The Chinese and the meaning of the sutra text are both excellent. There is nothing about them which is not good. It just remains to be seen if you can accept it. If you can accept it, then no matter what happens, even if I beat you with a board and tell you to get out, you won’t be able to leave. That’s what will happen if you truly understand, and that is an inconceivable state.
O4 He concludes that it is Ananda who is immersed in his own confusion.
"Therefore I know that your mind is fundamentally wonderful, bright, and pure. You yourself are confused and deluded. You miss what is fundamental, and you are caught in the turning wheel of the six paths, tossing and floating on the stormy sea of birth and death all the time. No wonder the Thus Come One says that you are the most pitiable of creatures.”
Shakyamuni Buddha said: Everything which can be returned is clearly not you, while as for what there is of you that cannot be returned, what is it if it is not you? Therefore I know that your mind is fundamentally wonderful, bright, and pure. But you still don’t understand. You can’t admit that it is your true mind. So you yourself are confused and deluded. There is no place your true mind returns to, but you yourself are confused - you don’t understand - and you are deluded - it seems to be right and yet is not. This is what I meant when I said earlier that you lost it. It is something which originally belongs to you, but you don’t realize it, so it seems lost.
You are caught in the turning wheel of the six paths. Your fundamental, true mind escapes you. If one fails to understand one’s true mind, then life after life one falls and does not ascend. Although the true mind is not actually lost, the fall is genuine enough. One falls into the sea of suffering, and one turns this way and that, tossing and floating on the stormy sea of birth and death all the time. Being in the sea where one suffers birth and death is just like being tossed about on the surface of the open ocean and being drowned. If birth and death have not been ended, then even if you can handle the water and swim, after being tossed about for long enough you will drown.
No wonder the Thus Come One says that you are the most pitiable of creatures. The waters of the sea of birth and death are composed of the karmic offenses you create. And in these waters you are tossed back and forth in your human body. That represents the giving rise to delusion and the creation of karma. One creates karma because one does not recognize the true mind. It is said, “The sea of karma is vast.” It has no boundary. Sometimes you are tossed about on its surface, sometimes you sink to the bottom. It is dangerous to be in that water. That is what makes Ananda pitiable.