THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
"Ananda, as you and I now look at the palace where the four heavenly kings reside, and inspect all that moves in the water, on dry land, and in the air, some are dark and some are bright, varying in shape and appearance, yet all are nothing but dust before us - distinctions and obstructions.
The Buddha said further to Ananda: Ananda, as you and I - at present let’s just talk about you and me - now look at the palace where the four heavenly kings reside. The Heaven of the Four Kings is the heaven closest to us, located halfway up Mount Sumeru, as explained in the Buddhist sutras. It does not reach the peak of Mount Sumeru. The four great heavenly kings are the eastern heavenly king, the southern heavenly king, the western heavenly king, and the northern heavenly king. The lifespan of beings in the Heaven of the Four Kings is 500 years; after 500 years, they are destined to fall, and the five marks of decay appear, as I explained earlier. A day and a night in the Heaven of the Four Kings is equivalent to fifty years among people. “How is this?” you ask.
I’ll give you an example to help you understand. If we feel very happy on a given day, the day passes without our even being aware of it. We feel the day was very short. All of us are like that. Because it is blissful in the heavens, a day and night there is equal to fifty years among people.
Why is fifty years such a long time in the realm of people? In the realm of people there is continual disturbance and affliction, suffering and difficulty, fighting and quarrelling. People are busy from morning to night, and they don’t have any idea what they are doing. They are like flies in the air flying north, south, east, and west without knowing what they are doing. You haven’t any bliss here. So the time is very long.
Then again, a day and a night among people is equivalent to fifty years in the hells, because the pain and suffering in the hells is so intense, and so the beings there feel the time is extended. From this you should understand that time is neither short nor long. Earlier a disciple asked me, “What is time?” I haven’t any time. There is no time. Time is just each person’s individual awareness of long and short; that is all. If you are happy every day, fifty years can go by and you won’t feel it has been a long time. If one’s life is very blissful, if one has no worries, anxieties, anger, or afflictions, one’s entire life seems but a short time - the blink of an eye. Ultimately, time is nothing more than a distinction based upon each person’s awareness. When I said I haven’t any time, it can mean that I don’t perceive time, that I’m so busy that I don’t perceive time, and that I’m not intent upon perceiving it - these three meanings.
And inspect all that moves in the water, on dry land, and in the air - that is, look at all the creatures, all the animate objects without exception. Some are dark and some are bright, varying in shape and appearance, yet all are nothing but dust before us - distinctions and obstructions. They are all dust before your eyes, just obstructions arising from your making distinctions. They are not your own things: they are an external realm of dust, the dust outside. This dust is an “obstruction.” It lingers in your brain and in your thoughts, but it does not belong to you.
P2 He tells him to select between them.
"Among them you should distinguish which is self and which is other. I ask you now to select from within your seeing which is the substance of the self and which is the appearance of things.
Because Ananda has still not understood the doctrine of the true mind, he could not make a distinction between the true mind and the false mind. Shakyamuni Buddha has just told him, “Of these various shapes and appearances, all are nothing but the dust before you. They are all a mundane state before you - distinctions and obstructions. Among them you should distinguish which is self and which is other. Ananda, at this point you should make a distinction between that which is your own self-nature and that which is the substance of things.” “Self” refers to one’s own true mind. “Other” refers to the substance of things. I ask you now to select from within your seeing which is the substance of the self and which is the appearance of things. The “substance of self” refers to the substance of the seeing-nature. Can you tell it from the appearance, the characteristic of things? Take a look yourself and see if you can make the distinction. If you can, you are more intelligent than Ananda. If you can’t you aren’t as smart as Ananda. Everyone can test his or her own wisdom.
P3 He distinguishes clearly between things and the seeing.
Q1 He makes clear things are not seeing.
"Ananda, if you take a good look at everything everywhere within the range of your vision extending from the palaces of the sun and moon to the seven gold mountain ranges, all that you see is not you, but are things of different features and lights. At closer range you will gradually see clouds floating, birds flying, wind blowing, dust rising, trees, plants, rivers, mountains, grasses, animals, people, all of which are not you, but things.
This doctrine is unspeakably wonderful. You put it into words, and it’s not it. You describe it, and that isn’t what it is.
What’s it like?
It is ineffable. How can you ask what it is like? Ananda, if you take a good look at everything everywhere within the range of your vision. Examine it to the ultimate point, to the very source of your seeing. Extending from the palaces of the sun and moon to Volume Two . The Seeing Nature 92 the seven gold mountain ranges. The seven golden mountains surround Mount Sumeru. Around the four sides of Mount Sumeru are seven ranges of mountains made of gold, each separated by a sea of fragrant water.
"Where are these mountains?” you say. “I’ll go there and seize some gold and get rich.
I can’t tell you that. If I tell you, and you go steal the gold, and the gold on the golden mountains gets depleted, how can they remain golden?
"Sumeru” is a Sanskrit word which is interpreted to mean “wonderfully high.” Surrounding the four sides of Mount Sumeru are seven layers of golden mountains. Now I’ll tell you something. Even if you haven’t taken the five precepts, you are still not permitted to steal my gold mountains. Those gold mountains are mine. If you steal my gold mountains, I’ll recite a mantra and make your head ache so much that you won’t be able to pick up the gold. Don’t try to bully this teacher; he has too much power.
Look carefully everywhere. Use your heavenly eye to look, use your Buddha eye to look, use your wisdom eye to look. All that you see is not you, but are things of different features and lights. Of all these appearances of things, tell me, which one is you? Find one. At closer range you will gradually see clouds floating, flying back and forth through the sky, birds flying overhead, wind blowing - but there is no way to explain this. I don’t have any method to explain these words of the sutra. I’ll just have to stop and ask the Great Master the Sixth Patriarch. The text here says quite clearly that the wind moves, but the Sixth Patriarch’s Sutra says “It is not the wind which moves; it is not the flag which moves.” Ultimately, what is it that moves? The Sixth Patriarch’s Sutra says, “It is your minds, kind sirs, which move.” Here, though, it isn’t known whose mind moves. Is it your mind that moves or is it my mind that moves? Is it someone else’s mind that moves? Whose mind is it that moves? So how am I supposed to explain these words of the sutra? There’s no way to explain them. One doesn’t know what moves. Sixth Patriarch’s Sutra says it isn’t the wind that moves. The sutra here says the wind moves. Which would you say is right? If you say it is the mind that moves, not the wind, then whose mind moves?
"I don’t know,” you say.
If you don’t know, then it isn’t your mind which moves. If your mind hasn’t moved, whose has? Well, I’ll just explain according to the meaning of the sutra text here in it’s most literal aspect. We’ll just say that the wind moves. Your mind hasn’t moved, my mind hasn’t moved. Someone else’s mind hasn’t moved. The wind moves and blows up black smoke and pestilent vapors. The movement of the wind is a display of temper. The heavenly lord gets angry and blows up a great wind which uproots trees and blows down houses.
Dust rising. How can dust rise? Can it rise by itself? No. The reason the dust rises is that the wind blows. At first the dust is sleeping quite nicely on the ground. The dust is quite comfortable, but the wind comes and says, “Wake up, wake up, and go away.” Then the dust gets up and goes to work.
"What work does dust do?” you wonder.
It attaches itself to everything in the world, and it makes everything dirty. This is the work dust does. Dust works to make every place unclean. Do you understand?
Trees, plants, rivers, mountains, grasses, animals, people. There are still other things: vegetation and every kind of inanimate object, as well as people and animals, all of which are not you, but things.
In the last analysis, are these the appearance of things, or are they your seeing-nature? Answer! Speak up! This passage has the tone of inquiry. I’m asking you, so hurry up and speak! Why aren’t you speaking? That’s how it is expressed here. Is it true they are things and not you, or isn’t it? This is what is meant by “tapping someone with a stick and making him yell” - arousing someone from his folly. He is brought up for questioning, just as if it were before a judge during an inquisition. “Are you guilty of stealing? If so, hurry up and admit it. If not, then explain yourself.”
Q2 He makes clear seeing is not things.
"Ananda, all things, near and far, have the nature of things. Although each is distinctly different, they are seen with the same pure essence of seeing. Thus all the categories of things have their individual distinctions, but the seeing-nature has no differences. This essential wonderful brightness is most certainly your seeing-nature.
Through the various presentations of the doctrine, Shakyamuni Buddha has asked Ananda, “You see all these things. Which is your seeing-essence? Find it.” Now he makes the distinction between the essence of seeing and the appearance of things, because Ananda is afraid he won’t be able to tell them apart. Ananda said that things and seeing are mixed together, and he doesn’t know which is which. So the Buddha has initiated this discussion in order to reveal the seeing-nature, and this section of text points straight to it.
Ananda, all things, near and far, have the nature of things. All have the appearance of things, the substance and nature of things, although each is distinctly different. They are all different. Wind is wind, dust is dust. Birds are birds, clouds are clouds. Trees are trees, mountain streams are mountain streams. Grasses are grasses, people and animals are people and animals.
In Chinese the character cha should be pronounced chi. This is an important point of scholarship. Most people who go to school for a few days or a few years don’t know this. To be aware of this kind of distinction in the meaning of characters takes fifteen years of study at the very least.
"How many years have you studied?” someone asks.
I’ll tell you frankly, I went to school two and a half years. I studied less than you people have.
”Then why do you understand?”
I don’t know why I understand. It is enough that when it comes right down to it, I do understand. You shouldn’t ask why. Isn’t that right?
They are seen with the same pure essence of seeing. Your essence of seeing is able to see all these differing things clearly, thus all the categories of things have their individual distinctions, but the seeing-nature has no differences. The things your seeing encounters are all naturally different from one another, but what distinctions lie within the seeing-nature itself? When you see Mr. Jang, it is the seeing-nature, when you see Mr. Lee, it is still the seeing-nature. The seeing is the same, without any distinction. A cat, a person, no matter what you see, it is seeing. Does the seeing change? Does it make distinctions? Shakyamuni Buddha asks Ananda, “Do you see any distinctions in the seeing?” Ananda hasn’t anything to say. It’s not that he’s dumb; he’s just tongue-tied. If he were dumb, he could still make guttural sounds, but Ananda can’t even do that at this point.
"What is the most essential, most wonderful, most brilliant thing?” The Buddha asks him. “What is it? Speak up!” Ananda still didn’t make a sound. If you think about it, you realize that the Buddha certainly asks Ananda again and again at this point, “What do you say this is?” But Ananda still doesn’t have anything to say. The Buddha is one of great kindness and great compassion and so when he saw he had confounded his disciple to the point he didn’t have anything to say, he said, “I’ll tell you. This essential wonderful brightness is most certainly your seeing-nature. Do you know it? Do you understand?” That’s the tone he used.
Q3 He returns to discuss how seeing is not things.
"If seeing were a thing, then you should also be able to see my seeing.
This section of text is expressed wonderfully well: “If seeing were a thing, then you should also be able to see my seeing. Ananda, you’ve said that seeing and the substance of things are mixed together, that they cannot be distinguished clearly. You said the seeing-nature is a thing. If it were, you should be able to see what my seeing is like, and I should be able to see what your seeing is like. Can you? I don’t mean can you see what I see, but can you see the seeing that I see with? What is it like? Is it white, is it black, is it yellow? Is it red? What color it is?” At that point Ananda was probably tongue-tied once again. “Is it long? Is it short? Is it square? Is it round? Things definitely have a form and an appearance, and if seeing is indistinguishable from things, as you say, then what is seeing’s form and appearance? Take a look: mountains have the form of mountains, trees have the form of trees, rivers have the form of rivers. Ultimately, what is your seeing like? Have you seen it?” the Buddha asks Ananda.
"If you say you see my seeing, when we both look at the same thing, then when I am not seeing, why don’t you see my not-seeing?
This sutra is truly difficult to explain. As it goes back and forth to bring out the principles, you can get confused just trying to read it, not to mention trying to explain it. “What does that say?” you ask. “What’s that all about?”
I’ll tell you. If you say you see my seeing, when we both look at the same thing, then when I am not seeing, why don’t you see my not-seeing? When you see something and I don’t see it, how is it that you can’t see my not seeing it? You should also be able to know that I do not see it. But you don’t know. You can’t see whether or not my seeing sees it.
This is how this principle goes: you say that seeing is a thing, and when you and I look at the same thing, you say that you see my seeing. Therefore, when I do not see it, you should be able to see my not seeing it. But you can’t see my not seeing it; therefore you can’t have seen my seeing either. This is an analogy. Doesn’t it seem that this is a difficult place to make clear? But if you understand this principle, then the passage is very easy to understand. If you don’t understand the principle, then you can explain it many different ways and all you will do is confuse people. You explain, and they say, “In the end, what does this say? What’s it all about? It talks about so many ‘seeings.’ Seeing what seeing?” I really like the Shurangama Sutra because the discussions in it are so wonderful. More wonderful than that Wonderfully High mountain.
"If you do see my not-seeing, it is clearly not the thing that I am not seeing. If you do not see my not-seeing, then it is clearly not a thing, and how can you say it is not you?
This section of text is very easy to explain. If you understand the previous passage you should be able to understand this passage upon hearing it read. No need to explain it; everyone has understood it, so I’ll just go on strike.
However, there’s someone who says, “I haven’t understood yet. Please explain it.” So I will. I won’t go on strike for the time being.
If you do see my not-seeing, it is clearly not the thing that I am not seeing. I say that the seeing is not a thing, but you don’t believe it yet. Let me make it clearer. If my seeing-nature, which is without distinctions, sees a thing which has certain distinctions, and if the seeing becomes that thing, as you say, then the seeing-nature should be visible. Therefore you should be able to see my seeing, because if seeing is a thing, it should have characteristics which can be distinguished. However, there is nothing certain about when my eyes look at things. Sometimes my glance comes in contact with something, and then, you say, the seeing is that thing. But sometimes I withdraw my glance from the object and do not see it. If you hold that when I am looking at something my seeing is that thing, and if you say that when you also look at that thing you see my seeing as well, then when I withdraw my glance and no longer look at the thing, why can’t you also see the substance of my not-seeing? Why can’t you point out where it is? Since you cannot see my not-seeing, then are you really seeing my seeing when we are both looking at something?
However, say that you insist that you do see where my not-seeing is when I am not seeing something. The substance of my not-seeing is still the seeing-nature. The appearance which I do not see is still a thing. When my seeing has separated from the thing, and you continue to see the substance of my seeing as you say, it should be clear without further explanation that my not-seeing is certainly not the thing not seen.
If you do not see my not-seeing, then it is clearly not a thing. If you do not see where my not-seeing is, if you don’t see the appearance of my not-seeing, then the seeing is not a thing. You had doubts, and you said that seeing and the substance of things are mixed together and cannot be distinguished clearly; but how do you understand? You can’t see where my not-seeing is; you don’t know whether or not I see. Why? Because my seeing hasn’t any form or appearance. It is neither green, yellow, red, white, nor black; neither long, short, square, nor round. It isn’t anything, and so you can’t see it. If you can’t see it, it is obviously then not a thing. When Chinese people scold someone, they say, “You’re nothing.” But it is actually a good thing not to be anything. Your seeing-nature is not a thing. So when people scold someone by saying, “You’re nothing,” a very subtle and wonderful meaning is actually to be found in it. Most people just consider it an insult and don’t understand the meaning. Why not? They don’t understand the Shurangama Sutra. If they did, they would know that what is not a thing is actually our seeing-nature.
"If you do not see my not-seeing, then it is clearly not a thing.” This passage is like the earlier one: “Everything that can be returned is clearly not you.” Whatever can be given back to others is not yours, but what there is of you that cannot be returned, whose is it if it is not yours? The same doctrine is being expressed in the present passage. The things that you can see clearly are things, while that which you cannot see clearly is not a thing. You cannot put the seeing which you cannot see in the same category with things. Your seeing and things won’t stick together.
You say, “If seeing cannot be put in the same category as things, what is it then? What is it in the same category with?”
You figure it out. Investigate it. People who investigate Chan (dhyana) investigate a hua tou, a meditation topic, and this is a hua tou you can investigate. You see that it is not a thing. What would you say it is? Asking “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” Is simply to investigate this question. If you can recognize seeing just at this place - if you can say, “Oh, basically the seeing does not come and does not go. Basically it is not produced and not extinguished. Basically it penetrates perfectly without obstruction.” - if you understand this doctrine, then you understand your seeing nature.
In the earlier passage the Buddha asks, “Whose is it, if it is not yours?” Here he asks Ananda, “How can you say it is not you? How can you say it is not yours? How can you say it gets mixed up with things? How can you say there is no clear distinction? Do you understand now? You should understand by now. I have spoken so many principles for you that if you are still unclear, you truly are a muddled worm.”
Q4 He returns to discuss how things are not the seeing.
"What is more, if your seeing is a thing, things should also see you when you see things. With substance and nature mixed up together, you and I and everyone in the world are no longer in order.
Shakyamuni Buddha said, “Since you can’t see my seeing, since the seeing hasn’t any distinctive appearance that can be seen, ultimately is there any seeing? The seeing still exists, but although it exists, it has no visible appearance and no substance, and there is nowhere it can return to. So tell me, how can you fail to acknowledge it as yours? But if you still insist, if you are still attached, you should know that what is more, if your seeing is a thing, things should also see you when you see things. If you insist upon saying that your seeing is definitely a thing, then things ought to be able to see your seeing, too. After all, you say your seeing is simply a thing, a thing which can see things. In that case other things must also be able to see, and those things should see your seeing. With substance and nature mixed up together - you look at things and things look at you; ultimately who is looking at whom? Speak up! Which looks at which?” Perhaps Ananda might say, “It’s just like two people; you see me, and I see you.” But when people look at one another, there is mutual awareness; when I look at you, you are aware of it, and when you look at me, I am aware of it. But when things look at you, are the things aware of it? When your seeing, which you say is a thing, looks at other things, are the other things aware of it? This would be the mixing up together of substance and nature. They are in a state of confusion. Things can see you and you can see things, and things can see one another. This is to make a mess of things. It’s lumping everything into one category. Then you and I and everyone in the world are no longer in order. “Everyone in the world” refers to the sentient world - that is, people - and the material world, that is the mountains, rivers, the great earth, the houses, porches, verandas, and cottages. All sentient beings, including people, are also called the “proper retribution.” The mountains and rivers, the great earth, the houses, porches, verandas, and cottages are called the “dependent retribution.” Proper retribution is so called because the body that living beings have is the proper retribution for them to be undergoing at any given time. In short, if your seeing were a thing, nothing would be compatible, and everything would be in a state of disorder. This would not be a world; everything in the world would not add up to a world. That is the meaning here.
"Ananda, if, when you see, it is you and not I who see, then the seeing-nature pervades everywhere. Therefore whose is it if it is not yours?
Shakyamuni Buddha again called out to his disciple: Ananda, do you understand now? I have explained so many doctrines and you are still confused. You aren’t clear yet. If, when you see, it is you and not I who see - your seeing which can see is your seeing, not my seeing - then the seeing-nature pervades everywhere. You have the seeing-nature, and I have the seeing-nature. Everyone has the seeing-nature. The seeing-nature is all-pervasive, and there is the same amount of seeing-nature in the Buddha as in ordinary living beings. So it is said, “It is not more in a sage, it is not less in an ordinary person.” At the level of a sage it does not increase by the slightest bit. At the level of an ordinary person it does not decrease by the slightest bit. “You have your seeing, I have mine, everyone has his or her own, and the amount is the same; it is exactly the amount people can use. It cannot be insufficient. Just this very point is where the wonder lies. Since everyone has his or her seeing-essence - since it is all-pervasive in this way - who do you intend to give your seeing to if you don’t want it? If you don’t dare acknowledge your seeing, whose is it, then? If it is not yours, speak up and tell me whose it is! Well?”
At that point Ananda was once again speechless. He was once again tongue-tied.
P4 He admonishes him for doubting the self-nature.
"Why do you have doubts about your own true nature and come to me seeking verification, thinking your nature is not true?”
Why do you have doubts about your own true nature and come to me seeking verification, thinking your nature is not true? Why do you doubt what is yours? You doubt whether your seeing-nature is yours, yet your seeing-nature is true, actual, and not in the slightest bit false. But you think it is not true, and you turn to me and ask me to demonstrate whether your seeing-nature is yours. With that kind of thinking, the farther you run the farther away you get. You are running away from the Way, way off the track! You are really pitiful.
At this point the Buddha didn’t have any way to help Ananda. It’s the same as when my disciples are disobedient; I haven’t any way to help them either. The Buddha has explained so much principle by now, but Ananda hasn’t listened. All he does is run farther away. The more it is explained to him, the less he understands. Having no way to help him, the Buddha waits for Ananda to reply.