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The Five Skandhas
VOLUME 3, Chapter 2
P5 The consciousness skandha.
Q1 Teaches with an analogy.
“Ananda, consider, for example, a man who picks up a kalavinka pitcher and stops up its two holes. He lifts up the pitcher filled with emptiness and, walking some thousand li away, presents it to another country. You should know that the skandha of consciousness is the same way.
Form, feeling, thinking, and activity have already been discussed, and now the skandha of consciousness will be explained. First I will give a general review of the first four.
The skandha of form refers to things which have shape and appearance, which have material substance. When the staring eye looks into emptiness, strange flowers come into being. Although the strange flowers are empty and false, nonetheless they have form and appearance.
Feeling means reception. When the hands are rubbed together, there arises an awareness of coarseness and smoothness and of cold and warmth.
The skandha of thinking simply depends on the characteristic of thought. For instance, your ears hear someone speak of plums, and you begin to think about them. As soon as you do so, your mouth waters. This is a result of the skandha of thinking. “Thinking” here refers to false thinking.
Activity means movement. It is ceaseless. People are first young, and they become middle aged, and then old, and then they die. Thought after thought arises and is extinguished, thought after thought without cease. This is the skandha of activity.
The skandha of consciousness involves the making of distinctions. It discriminates, considers, and seeks advantages from circumstances. Thus, Ananda had not developed his skill, had not cultivated samadhi power, but was greedy for erudition: that is to seek advantage from circumstances. The functionings of the mind which seeks advantages from circumstances are not actual.
Now the skandha of consciousness will be explained. Ananda, consider, for example, a man who picks up a kalavinka pitcher. “Kalavinka” is a Sanskrit word which means “wonderfully sounding bird.” The kalavinka pitcher is made from the shape of that bird and has two holes. The call of the “wonderfully sounding bird” is extremely beautiful. It is able to cry out while still in the egg. Its sound transcends that of all other birds; and so everyone likes to hear it. The man in the Buddha’s example stops up its two holes. He plugs up the two holes in the kalavinka pitcher.
He lifts up the pitcher filled with emptiness and, walking some thousand li away, presents it to another country. What has he done? He has filled the pitcher up with emptiness. He takes the emptiness a thousand li away. A Chinese li is about a third of a mile. Maybe he walked, maybe he took a boat. At that time there weren’t any airplanes or cars or trains. Now we can cover a thousand li in a day and think nothing of it. But at that time the way to cover a thousand li was to walk. What did he do with the emptiness? He made a gift of it to another country. Would you say this is possible?
You should know that the skandha of consciousness is the same way. The skandha of consciousness, the mind that makes distinctions, involves the same principle as capturing some emptiness and carrying it a thousand li to give to someone.
“Thus, Ananda, the space does not come from one place, nor does it go to another.
The man made a gift of emptiness, but are the emptiness from one place and the emptiness of another place of two kinds? Basically there is no distinction between them. Emptiness is all the same. If you capture a bottle of emptiness in one place and take it a thousand li away to another country and pour it out, it unites with the emptiness there. What distinction is there between them? Emptiness neither comes nor goes.
Q2 Explains the analogy in detail.
“The reason for this, Ananda, is that if it were to come from another place, then when the stored up emptiness in the pitcher went elsewhere there would be less emptiness in the place where the pitcher was originally.
The reason for this, Ananda - why do I say that the emptiness does not come from one place nor go to another place? With emptiness there is no coming or going. If it were to come from another place, then when the stored up emptiness in the pitcher went elsewhere - in the kalavinka pitcher one stores a pitcherful of emptiness, and then one goes elsewhere - then there would be less emptiness in the place where the pitcher was originally. You took a pitcherful of emptiness, so the emptiness in that place is less, right? Does it look to you like the emptiness is less? Does the place you took the pitcher to have more emptiness?
So this is a case of having nothing to do and going to look for something to do. Consciousness is also like that. Not having anything to do, it makes distinctions in the east, makes distinctions in the west, makes distinctions among various characteristics and among all kinds of situations. It is the same principle as putting some emptiness in a pitcher and carrying it off to another country to give as a gift.
“If it were to enter this region: when the holes were unplugged and the pitcher was turned over, one would see emptiness come out.
If there were a leaving and entering, if you say the emptiness is taken from one region to another region, then you would be able to see emptiness come out when the pitcher was unplugged and turned over. If you say you don’t see it, then emptiness is non existent. If you could see it, it wouldn’t be emptiness. So you cannot transport emptiness. You cannot move emptiness from one place to another.
Q3 Concludes by returning false to true.
“Therefore, you should know that the skandha of consciousness is empty and false, since it neither depends upon causes and conditions for existence nor is spontaneous in nature.
Therefore - because of this, Ananda - you should know that the skandha of consciousness is empty and false - it, too, is empty and false - since it neither depends upon causes and conditions for existence - it is not because of causes and conditions that consciousness exists - nor is spontaneous in nature. Nor is there consciousness because of spontaneity. Its origin, too, lies in the wonderful nature of true suchness of the Thus Come One’s treasury.