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The Reason for Perfect Penetration

VOLUME 4, Chapter 2


O2 The inherent mind is faced with the perfect nature of the treasury of the Thus Come One.
P1 In the perfection of the empty treasury, everything is non-existent.


The treasury of the Thus Come One is the fundamental, wonderful, perfect mind.


It's also called the treasury of the Thus Come One and the fundamental, wonderful, perfect mind. Basically wonderful, perfect, and pure, it pervades the dharma-realm. It is so great that there is nothing beyond it and so small that there is nothing within it. This fundamental, wonderful, perfect mind is different from any dharma. In what way?


It is not the mind, nor emptiness, nor earth, nor water, nor wind, nor fire; it is not the eyes, nor the ears, the nose, the tongue, the body, or the mind. It is not form, nor sound, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or dharmas. It is not the realm of eyeconsciousness, nor any other, up to and including the realm of mind-consciousness.


It is not the mind, not your conscious mind, nor emptiness, nor earth, nor water, nor wind, nor fire. It's not any of the four elements; they are all empty. This is called "making all conditioned dharmas empty." It is not the eyes, nor the ears, the nose, the tongue, the body, or the mind. It is not the five skandhas or the six sense-organs. It is not form, nor sound, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or dharmas. The six sense-objects also are done away with.

This is similar to the passage in the Heart Sutra which says, There are no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind; no forms, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or dharmas; no realm of eyeconsciousness, up to and including no realm of mind-consciousness; and no ignorance or ending of ignorance, up to and including no old age and death or ending of old age and death. There is no suffering, no accumulating, no extinction, no Way, and no understanding and no attaining.

The difference is that the Heart Sutra says "there is no," and the passage here in the Shurangama Sutra says "it is not." "It is not" implies that it might be something else; here it says, "it is not," but later it says, "it is."

It is not the realm of eye-consciousness, nor any other, up to and including the realm of mind-consciousness. It is not the consciousness of the eyes, or of the ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind. Our fundamental, wonderful, perfect mind is none of these. The Buddha has already discussed all of them; the six entrances, the five skandhas, the twelve places, the eighteen realms, and he said that they were the nature of the treasury of the Thus Come One. Now he says they are not. He has explained them to the point that everyone is confused, and no one knows what to think. He says they are, and he says they are not. Ultimately, are they or aren't they? There isn't any "is" or "is not." Don't worry. They neither are nor are not. That's Buddhadharma. There is no "is" and no "is not."


It is not understanding, nor ignorance, nor the ending of understanding or ignorance, nor any other, up to and including old age and death and the ending of old age and death.


The Buddha swept away the dharma, as he spoke it. When the Buddha was about to enter nirvana, someone asked him, "Buddha, how are we to propagate the Dharma you have spoken?" What do you suppose the Buddha replied? He said, "I haven't spoken any Dharma." Now you shouldn't think from his answer that the Buddha had become slightly eccentric as he neared his death. That's not the case. He said, "Whoever says that I spoke a single word slanders the Buddha. I never said a single word." So he spoke Dharma for forty-nine years and held over three hundred assemblies but didn't speak a single word! How can that be? Basically, the Buddha spoke all Dharmas, but after he finished speaking them, they disappeared. That's what's called,

Sweep away all dharmas,
And separate from all appearances.

It was to teach people not to be attached to dharma. It was to keep people from saying, "I should affix myself to the dharmas the Buddha spoke.' If people did that, they could not obtain the emptiness of dharmas. You want it to be that people are empty and dharmas are empty. So now, in this passage, the Buddha negates everything he has said.

You say, "I've obtained the emptiness of people and dharmas, and so all I do from morning to night is sleep. I don't study anything at all. People are empty, after all, so I just go to sleep." But, then you've still got "sleep." When even sleep is gone, that really is emptiness. If there's still sleep, it's not emptiness. You want to make the attachments to self and dharmas totally empty. The Vajra Sutra says that the dharma the Thus Come One spoke is like a raft.

Imagine how tired you would get if you were to hoist the raft on your back and carry it with you once it has taken you across the river. The raft simply serves to get you across the water. You have to relinquish it once you are across. In the same way, the dharma's purpose is to extinguish our afflictions. Once the afflictions are gone, we don't need any dharmas. Before your afflictions are gone, you can't do without the dharma. If you reject the dharma at that stage, your afflictions will just increase.

Afflictions are endless;
I vow to cut them off.
Dharma-doors are limitless;
I vow to study them all.

We study the dharma-doors in order to cut off afflictions. Now let me tell you some true Buddhadharma. You have to cut off your afflictions. If you study the dharma for thousands of years and don't cut off your afflictions, it is the same as if you had not studied. "How do I cut off my afflictions?" you wonder. Just don't be turned around by the situations and states of mind that come your way. If you are not influenced by situations and states of mind, you have some samadhi-power. That's Buddhadharma! Why do you say that the Buddhadharma has no "is" or "is not"?

The Sixth Patriarch told us:

Basically there is nothing at all.
Where can the dust alight?

And so these dharmas are negated. If you can understand that the Buddhadharma has no "is" or "is not," you can become enlightened. The Sixth Patriarch asked Hui Ming, "When there is no thought of good and no thought of evil, what is the senior-seated Ming's original face?" "No thought of good" is the case of there being no "is" "No thought of evil" is the case of there being no "is not."

Apply your effort to the point where there is no "is" and no "is not" no "right" and no "wrong" and try to figure out what kind of state that is. The absence of "is" and "is not" of "right" and "wrong" is itself the inherent Buddha-nature, the fundamental, wonderful, perfect mind. If you obtain that, then you have everything, and you also don't have anything; but, it isn't like your present attachment to that state. When you have everything, what do you have? You have all the dharma-gems in the treasury of the Thus Come One. You don't have anything at all; this means you don't have any affliction.

There are as many afflictions as there are dharma-gems in the treasury of the Thus Come One. Why haven't you obtained those dharma-gems? Because you have too much affliction, and there is no place in your stomach for so many things. Thus, if you have a lot of affliction, you have only a little dharma-water small dharma-nature. If your afflictions change, they themselves are the dharmawater; they are your dharma-nature.

Don't fear that you have too big a temper. The bigger your temper, the greater your dharma-nature. But, don't keep letting it turn into temper, because if you do that, you counteract your own intelligence. You start out smart and end up stupid if you do that. The Buddhadharma teaches you to cut off your afflictions, and the the afflictions become Bodhi, just as ice melts into water. When water freezes, the ice is your afflictions; when it melts, it becomes Bodhi. There's nothing so terribly difficult about it. All you have to do is change and you can be successful.

It is not understanding " it's not enlightenment" nor ignorance, not the falseness that arises from the one truth, nor the ending of understanding or ignorance, nor any other, up to and including old age and death and the ending of old age and death. The dharmas of the twelve links of conditioned causation are also made empty.

The dharma now being explained is the empty treasury of the Thus Come One. Next, the treasury of the Thus Come One which is empty and yet not empty will be explained. So you see, the treasury of the Thus Come One is not just one simple thing; it has these several distinctions. You can't just know a single term in the Buddhadharma and assume that you understand it all. You may know only about the treasury of the Thus Come One, but you must also make empty the treasury of the Thus Come One, and know the treasury of the Thus Come One which is not empty, and then you have to realize the treasury of the Thus Come One which is empty and yet not empty. A lot of trouble?


It is not suffering, nor accumulation, nor extinction, nor the way. It is neither knowing nor attaining.


In this world there are many kinds of suffering. First, there are three sufferings; there are also eight sufferings. The three sufferings are the suffering within suffering, the suffering of decay, and the suffering of process. Suffering within suffering is experienced by poor people. For example, poverty itself is a kind of suffering, and it becomes suffering within suffering when someone who is poor gets sick and has no money to see a doctor. Or, perhaps a poor person lives in a broken-down hut, and suddenly the rainy season hits. Living in the hut was suffering enough, but with the rain leaking in everywhere, there isn't much difference between being inside the hut and outside.

When I was in Hong Kong, I lived in a room that leaked when it rained. Above my bed alone were six holes where the rain poured in. Wouldn't you say that was suffering? Although it was suffering, I did not repair the leaks in my own roof. When I had a little money, I wanted to use it to help other people. That's the kind of stupid person I was. During that time, I gave $1,500 to help sponsor the carving of Buddha-images for a temple that was being established. I could have repaired my roof for about $200, but I couldn't bear to use the money to fix my own roof. I wanted to help make the Buddha-images for that other temple. And people think, "That person doesn't know how to keep books. He can't separate his own business from other people's."

Suffering within suffering occurs when someone has to endure poverty, and then in addition to being penniless, he can't even get any clothing or food. Or, someone who has no money suddenly learns of the death of his father and can't afford to buy him a coffin. I had that experience also. When my mother died, I was at her side, but I didn't have a cent in my pocket. The coffin had to be purchased, but what was I to do? When I talked it over with my brothers, we all looked at one another; no one was able to do it. I said, "Well, if you can't manage it, I will go ask a friend to help." Fortunately, I had some friends whom I investigated the Buddhadharma with, and among those friends was one who sold coffins.

When I told him my mother had died, he immediately said, "No problem. You select any kind of casket you want. I don't need any money now. You can pay me when you get it. Not only that, I'll give you $5,000 on loan for you to use now." Because I ordinarily liked to help people, there were people who wanted to help me when something of mine came up. But, that experience was another example of suffering within suffering.

From the moment my mother was buried, I really put everything down. I paid no attention to the fact that I was in debt. I just stayed by the grave to practice filial piety.

The suffering of decay happens to wealthy people. Originally they are wealthy, and then somehow or other their wealth is destroyed. Suppose, for example, some people make a lot of money and hide the bills in their house instead of putting the money in the bank. Then, their house catches on fire, and the whole wad burns up. Or, maybe their gold is stolen by thieves. Or, maybe you're so attached to your money that you carry it everywhere with you, never able to part with it, until one day you're not careful and you lose it all.

Then there is the suffering of the life-process. Although you don't undergo the suffering within suffering as those who are poor do, and you don't undergo the suffering of decay as those who are wealthy do, you still have the suffering of passing from childhood to adolescence to middle age to old age to death. This process flows on continually without cease, and it is also suffering. Those are the three sufferings.

The first of the eight sufferings is birth. When a child comes into the world, the only thing it can do is cry. The child can't express itself clearly yet, but its crying indicates suffering. The pain of birth is like the pain a live tortoise would feel if its shell were ripped away. When the infant first comes in contact with the air, its pain is extreme.

The second of the eight sufferings is old age. When people get old, they lose the use of their eyes, ears, hands, and legs. They can't get around, and their food is tasteless. When old age comes, the whole physical mechanism starts to break down. That's why old people get cranky and cross. They are just about like children, so you can't blame them for their behavior.

The third is the suffering of sickness. The things of this world may seem unjust, but sickness is very fair toward all. No matter whether one is rich or poor, of honorable or lowly birth, one will feel the discomfort of sickness when it strikes. The fourth suffering is death, which is also just, in regard to everyone. The time will come when everyone must die, no matter who it is.

The fifth is the suffering of being apart from those you love. Everyone knows what love is, but people don't realize that there is suffering in love, the suffering of being apart from those you love. No matter how much you may love a person, the time may come when you have to leave him. Some circumstances will arise that make parting necessary, and that is suffering.

The sixth is the suffering of being together with those you hate. You really dislike a certain type of person, but you meet up with just that kind of person no matter where you go.

The seventh is the suffering of not getting what you seek. You want something, and you can't get it; that is also suffering.

The last is the suffering of the blaze of the five skandhas. Forms, feelings, thoughts, activities, and consciousness are a raging blaze.

In this passage, the Buddha says that the treasury of the Thus Come One is none of the four truths, neither suffering, nor accumulation, nor extinction, nor the Way. Accumulation refers to affliction, and extinction refers to the principle of certification to nirvana. Nor is it the Way. It is neither knowing nor attaining. Even wisdom becomes empty. It is not the attaining to some level of fruition. This is the emptiness of the treasury of the Thus Come One; there is nothing in it at all.

Sweep away all dharmas,
And separate from all appearances.

Speaking of "extinction," I recall something that happened when Shakyamuni Buddha was practicing the Bodhisattva Way. When Shakyamuni Buddha was on the causal ground, that is, when he was cultivating the Way, before he became a Buddha, he met a rakshasa ghost who said:

All activities are impermanent
characterized by production and extinction.

He said just this one sentence, these two phrases, and did not say any more. Shakyamuni Buddha recognized it as Buddhadharma and said, "Brother ghost, you were just reciting a verse that was Buddhadharma, but you spoke only two lines of it. There must be two more lines. Can you tell me what they are?"

The ghost said, "You want to hear poetry, but I'm hungry right now. I haven't eaten in ever so long. I'd like to recite the verse for you, but I haven't the strength."

Shakyamuni Buddha asked him, "What do you want to eat? I can prepare something for you."

The ghost said, "You can't prepare what I eat."

"Why not?"

"Because I eat human flesh, and there isn't anyone else around here now. Even if there were, you wouldn't have the right to offer him to me to eat."

Shakyamuni Buddha said, "Ah, so that's how it is. Well, finish speaking that dharma for me, and I'11 offer you myself to eat. You can eat me."

"Can you really give up your life?" the ghost asked.

"For the sake of the dharma, I forget my own life. Of course, I can give it up," said the Buddha. "So speak up. And, when you've finished, you can eat."

"Are you cheating me?" said the ghost, eyeing him closely. "After I speak the dharma, will you change your mind and be unable to relinquish your own life to make my meal?"

"Absolutely not," the Buddha said. "Don't worry. After you speak the dharma, and once I remember it clearly, I will let you eat me."

So the rakshasa ghost said the last two lines of the verse:

When production and extinction are extinguished,
That still extinction is bliss.

Then the rakshasa ghost said, "All right, I've spoken the dharma. Let me eat you."

Shakyamuni Buddha said, "Wait a minute. Don't eat me yet."

"See?" said the ghost. "I knew you'd back out. But, it won't work. I'll have to become impolite with you."

"I'm not backing out," said the Buddha. "Wait until I write the four lines of verse down, and then you can eat me. Then, even though I will be gone, I'll have preserved this dharma so that others who come after me can rely on it in their cultivation. So, wait a minute."

"Fine," said the ghost. "Start writing"

The Buddha carved the verse into the bark of a tree. As soon as the ghost saw he had finished, he said, "Now I can eat you, right?"

"Wait a bit longer," said the Buddha.

"You've carved it in the tree, and people who come along can read it. What more do you want? What are we waiting for now?"

The Buddha said, "I don't think that the carving in the tree will last long. Wait a bit while I carve the verse in a rock. Then it will last forever. Then you can eat me."

"Sure," said the ghost. "You've got a lot of excuses. You're just procrastinating. But, do as you like."

Shakyamuni Buddha found a way to carve the verse in a stone. Then he said invitingly to the ghost, "I'm finished. I've done what I needed to do. You can eat me now."

The rakshasa ghost said, "Really? You can really let me eat you?" So he opened his mouth as if to take a bite, but he suddenly ascended into empty space and went to the heavens. He was actually a god who had come to test Shakyamuni Buddha to see just how sincere he really was about the Dharma. And Shakyamuni Buddha proved himself. He was able to forget his own life for the sake of the Dharma. He could sacrifice his life in order to preserve the Buddhadharma. In the past, the Buddha renounced his life for half a verse.

Look at us now. We listen to the sutras and hear dharma, but we don't understand it very well, so we think it better to rest. See how lazy we are! Why did Shakyamuni Buddha become a Buddha? It was because he could forget about himself for the sake of the Dharma. He would disregard everything else for the sake of the dharma; he didn't want anything. If you are really sincere about the Dharma, you will seek it so sincerely that you will be able to drop everything, even things you thought it impossible to do without.

A few days ago, a disciple of mine called me four or five times long-distance from New York. He is very unusual. He always wants to see me. He was about thirteen when he took refuge with me. Before that, he had had some strange experiences. Although he was young, he had heart disease. The doctors prescribed five years of complete bed-rest. He was not to get up at all; he wasn't supposed to walk even a few feet.

It was during that period that he saw a photograph of me. While his relatives and friends recited "Namo Amitabha Buddha," he would recite one of my names: "Namo Dharma Master To Lun." "Namo" means to offer up one's life in reverence. He'd recite sitting in full lotus on his bed. His sincerity was unusual for such a small child, and he kept up that recitation for more than seventy days. Then he saw the photograph turn into a live person who stretched out his hand and rubbed the boy on the crown of his head. After that, his heart disease and all the symptoms of his illness disappeared.

At that time he'd never even met me. This may sound like a tall tale, but it was his own personal experience. After he was cured, he came to my temple to meet me. He took refuge, and then sat in meditation. I didn't usually teach meditation when I was in Hong Kong. If someone wanted to investigate Chan, they did it on their own. So he did. He went to school, and during recess or breaks from classes he would go off into the hills to meditate, or even into the bathroom wherever he could find a place. After about a year, he opened his Buddha eye, and he then understood extremely clearly all manner of things that were going on.

Another strange thing happened with this same disciple. He was always very short, probably because of his earlier illness. But, his English was good, and when Americans came to visit me, I would have him translate for me. Despite his fluent English, though, Americans didn't take him seriously because they saw he was such a small child. So, one day I said to him, "Hurry up and grow up! You're so short that everyone thinks of you as just a kid, and no matter how eloquent you are, they don't take you seriously." He was very obedient. He went home, and in one week grew three inches. Now he's taller than I am.

A few days ago he called me and wanted me to come to New York to see him. But, because I was lecturing the sutra for all of you, I told him I couldn't come, even though he wanted to see me very badly. "I'm lecturing the sutras now," I said, "and I can't abandon a whole group of people just because one person wants to see me. If you really want to see me, come to San Francisco." He decided to come to San Francisco, but then found that he didn't have enough time. So yesterday he called to tell me he was leaving. If it weren't for lecturing the Shurangama Sutra, if it weren't for the sake of the Dharma, I would really like to see that disciple of mine. He has a lot of faith in me and really knows a lot of Buddhadharma.

When I was in Hong Kong, he used to translate my lectures into Cantonese. And he was so in tune with me that if I said just one sentence, he could pick up on it and explain the entire meaning. People objected and said, "The Abbot didn't say all that; what's he doing talking so much?" Actually I had told him to explain all that he was explaining. Because he had the Buddha eye, he knew that I was telling him to explain the principles in detail. What he would say is the same as what I would have said, and so I was a little lazy and let him do the talking.

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