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The Thinking Skandha
VOLUME 8, Chapter 4
H3 The characteristics of the demons of the thinking skandha.
I1 Overview of the beginning and end.
J1 In the beginning, cultivation has not yet broken out of this region.
K1 Review of the ending of the previous feeling skandha.
Ananda, when the good person who is cultivating samadhi has put an end to the feeling skandha, although he has not achieved freedom from outflows, his mind can leave his body the way a bird escapes from a cage. From within his ordinary body, he already has the potential for ascending through the Bodhisattvas' sixty levels of sagehood. He attains the 'body produced by intent' and can roam freely without obstruction.
Ananda, when the good person who is cultivating the power of samadhi has put an end to the feeling skandha, when the feeling skandha is already gone, although he has not achieved the spiritual power of freedom from outflows, he already has other spiritual powers and his true mind can leave his body the way a bird escapes from a cage. Before one puts an end to the feeling skandha, one is trapped in one's body, just like a bird trapped in its cage. Just as the bird can now escape from the cage, from within his ordinary body, he already, by means of spiritual powers, has the potential for ascending through the Bodhisattvas' sixty levels of sagehood.
Right in this ordinary body, he can become a Bodhisattva and attain the sixty levels of Bodhisattvahood. He attains the "body produced by intent" and can roam freely without obstruction. He has to formulate the intent before he can have the spiritual power of the "body produced by intent." With such a body, he can go wherever he wants. What are the sixty levels of Bodhisattvahood? They are the fifty-five stages of a Bodhisattva discussed before; the three gradual stages and the stage of dry wisdom, making four kinds; and wonderful enlightenment, which makes sixty levels altogether.
K2 Introduction to the region of the thinking skandha.
This is like someone talking in his sleep. Although he does not know he is doing it, his words are clear, and his voice and inflection are all in order, so those who are awake can understand what he is saying. This is the region of the thinking skandha.
This is like someone talking in his sleep. This is an analogy comparing the region of the thinking skandha to someone talking in his dream. While asleep, he starts saying what he wants to say. Although he does not know he is doing it, his words are clear, and his voice and inflection are all in order. Although he doesn't know he is talking in his dream, what he says is intelligible. Everything he says follows in logical order and makes sense, but he himself is not aware of it. So those who are awake can understand what he is saying.
For instance, he says, "I wanted to eat tofu (soybean cake) today, so I went to the store and bought ten pieces of tofu. When I got back, I cooked them and ate them."
He is not aware of what he is saying, but other people who are awake know, "Oh! He ate tofu today." Why did he say what he said? Because he has not forgotten what he ate. He keeps thinking about it and he will talk about it even in his dream. This is the region of the thinking skandha. That is what the region of the thinking skandha is like. But don't take this too literally and think, "The thinking skandha is just talking in a dream." That would be wrong. It is just an analogy.
J2 Ultimately it breaks up and reveals its false source.
If he puts an end to his stirring thoughts and rids himself of superfluous thinking, it is as if he has purged defilement from the enlightened, understanding mind. Then he is perfectly clear about the births and deaths of all categories of beings from beginning to end. This is the end of the thinking skandha. He can then transcend the turbidity of afflictions. Contemplating the cause of the thinking skandha, one sees that interconnected false thoughts are its source.
If he puts an end to his stirring thoughts, the extremely subtle thoughts in the sixth consciousness, and rids himself of superfluous thinking. Since those very fine thoughts in the sixth consciousness have stopped, superfluous thinking is also eliminated. It is as if he has purged defilement from the enlightened, understanding mind. This enlightened, clear mind is the eighth consciousness. Now, it appears that the eighth consciousness has been purged of defilement. Then he is perfectly clear about the births and deaths of all categories of beings from beginning to end. There are twelve categories of beings, from those born from wombs and those born from eggs up to and including those not entirely lacking thought. He knows the preceding causes and subsequent effects of every kind of being. This is the end of the thinking skandha. At that time the person obtains the spiritual power of knowing past lives. He can then transcend the turbidity of afflictions. Contemplating the cause of the thinking skandha, contemplating the reasons behind his actions and deeds, one sees that interconnected false thoughts are its source. At that point, the false thoughts become interpenetrating, and such thoughts become its source.
I2 The ten states within this.
J1 Greed for clever skill.
K1 Samadhi leads to craving and seeking.
Ananda, in the unhindered clarity and wonder that ensues after the feeling skandha is gone, this good person is untroubled by any deviant mental state and experiences perfect, bright concentration. Within samadhi, his mind craves its perfect brightness, so he sharpens his concentrated thought as he greedily seeks for cleverness and skill.
Ananda, in the unhindered clarity and wonder that ensues after the feeling skandha is gone, this good person is untroubled by any deviant mental state. No deviant thoughts can disturb him.
"In the unhindered clarity and wonder that ensues after the feeling skandha is gone, this good person is untroubled by any deviant mental state." At this point, the feeling skandha is over, and he is in the thinking skandha, which is subtle and wondrous. What is wonderful is that when you have no faults, you will not be troubled by deviant mental states, that is, by feelings of worry and fear. What is meant by worry and fear? It's like the man of Qi, who worried that the sky would fall down. He had a deviant mental state. Now the cultivator is no longer troubled by deviant mental states. He doesn't have them in himself. However, he is not strong enough to resist troubles that come from outside, because love, greed, and seeking are still present in his mind. Since selfish and self-benefiting thoughts are still concealed inside, he is vulnerable to states from the external environment. "Deviant mental states" refer not only to thoughts, but also to feelings of worry and fear. When you are afraid of something, then you have a deviant mental state. When others oppress you and you're afraid to speak out about it, that's also a deviant mental state.
[January 1983, another day]
While we are investigating the fifty skandha-demon states, five hundred kinds of skandha demons may come, so you should open your doors to them and invite them to come make trouble. Although they are demons, they help your cultivation from the reverse; they test you to see how firmly resolved you are. If you have true determination, then a thousand demons will not make you waver, ten thousand demons will not make you retreat and you will not be afraid of anything, because you are not seeking anything. As it is said,
When you reach the place of seeking nothing,
You will have no more worries.
Since you seek nothing, you will not fear anything. What is there to be afraid of? Some people are afraid of ghosts because of their grotesque appearance. They know that some people turn into ghosts after they die. No one is afraid of spirits, despite the fierce appearance of those spirits clad in golden armor. Confucius said, "One should respect ghosts and spirits, but keep them at a distance." You should be very respectful toward ghosts and spirits, but don't draw near to them. You should fear neither ghosts nor spirits.
You need not fear demons; they are just testing you out, trying out your skill in cultivation. If you're afraid, then they will come even if you don't want them to. If you are not afraid, then they will not be able to come even if they want to. The secret is to not be afraid. If you're not afraid, then you are "proper" and you can subdue anything, because the deviant cannot overcome the proper. Demons fear those who are proper, great and bright. If you can be that way, then the demons will behave themselves and will even bow to you.
And he experiences perfect, bright concentration. Within samadhi, his mind craves its perfect brightness, so he sharpens his concentrated thought as he greedily seeks for cleverness and skill. "To sharpen" means to refine his intense reflection, which is that perfect brightness. He greedily seeks to have skill-in-means to teach and transform living beings. That is what he is greedy for.
[May 21, 1989]
Venerable Master: Here, being "clever and skillful" doesn't refer to ordinary expedient means. Expedient means are very casual. These "clever and skillful" methods which he uses are very ingenious and subtle, and you can't detect any flaws in them, because he applies them very well. You cannot tell that they are expedients.
Disciple: Is he seeking cleverness and skill so he can teach and transform people?
Venerable Master: Not only in teaching, but in all aspects, he has this kind of clever and skillful wisdom. Regular expedient methods can be recognized as such by people. But the kind of cleverness and skill spoken of here cannot immediately be detected by others, because the person speaks very reasonably and ingeniously. You can't find any faults with what he says.
K2 A demon dispatches a deviant force to possess a person.
At that time a demon from the heavens seizes the opportunity it has been waiting for. Its spirit possesses another person and uses him as a mouthpiece to expound the sutras and the dharma.
At that time a demon from the sixth desire heavens seizes the opportunity it has been waiting for. Seeing that the cultivator's samadhi power is about to be perfected, it waits for a chance to get at him. It watches for some flaw in his character which will provide an opening. The existence of an opening indicates that his samadhi power is not yet solid. Occasionally he will have an extraneous false thought. Once he has that false thought his samadhi power is no longer firm, and the demon will take advantage of him. Thus it says the demon "seizes the opportunity it has been waiting for."
The demon "seizes the opportunity it has been waiting for." That is, he seizes the opportunity provided by the cultivator's greed and opens up the door. It's not easy to understand what the sutra means; you may be off by just that little bit in your interpretation. Its spirit possesses another person and uses him as a mouthpiece to expound the sutras and the dharma. The demon from the heavens commands one of its followers, "Go to that place and destroy that person's samadhi power." Before the form skandha and the feeling skandha were ended, the demon could possess the cultivator himself and confuse him. But after the form skandha and feeling skandha are gone and the cultivator reaches the thinking skandha, the demon cannot possess him. It has to take possession of another person and then speak the dharma for the cultivator through that person. That person lectures on the sutras, but the dharma he speaks is deviant and you should recognize it for what it is.
[May 21, 1989]
"Its spirit possesses another person, and uses him as a mouthpiece to expound the sutras and the dharma." There are two ways to explain this. You could say the demon possesses another person, who then comes to speak dharma for the first person. You could also say that the demon possesses the cultivator of samadhi himself. Either of these interpretations can apply; there is more than one meaning.
When a cultivator is at the level of the thinking skandha, the demon's spirit cannot possess him and confuse his mind directly. For example, right now there is a cultivator who involuntarily does tai ji quan and shouts, but he realizes what is going on and knows that it is wrong. The demon is unable to confuse his mind. On the other hand, if a person has not cultivated at all, then once the demon confuses him, he will not understand anything at all; he will not realize that a demon has come or the things it has done. Most people who don't cultivate are this way. The demon possesses the person and speaks through him. Then after the demon has left, you ask the person what happened and he has no idea. That's because his mind was thoroughly confused. Someone who is not confused by the demon will be able to keep a clear mind during the experience. There are various interpretations, not just one. If you interpret the text as saying only that the demon possesses another person, your interpretation is incomplete. There are many possibilities, and the situation could develop in one of several directions, so it is not fixed.
While the text may be explained in any way that makes sense, the translation of the sutra should not be limited to a particular explanation. The sutra is like an ocean, while explanations of it are like rivers. Rivers can flow into the ocean in many different ways, and so you cannot use a particular river to represent the entire ocean.
[December 2, 1993]
Do not become too attached to what the sutra says. The sutra gives a general idea of what might happen, but each particular situation may be different. There are not only fifty, but perhaps five hundred, five thousand, or even fifty thousand kinds of states. There are so many states that we could never finish speaking of them. These [fifty states] are just a general summary, and you shouldn't think of them as profound and esoteric. Regard them as if they were spoken by an ordinary person, and don't always be splitting hairs.
My explanations of sutras are called "simple explanations"; I don't give profound explanations. When I explain a sutra, my only aim is for everyone to understand what I mean and for me to understand what everyone else means. Don't think too deeply. Anyone who thinks too deeply will never be able to finish explaining it. Don't beat your head against the wall trying to figure out exactly what it means. After all, this sutra is a translation; it is not so rigidly fixed that you cannot add or omit a word. It does not correspond exactly to the original Sanskrit. Just try to convey the general meaning; don't spend too much time pursuing the fine details of literary interpretation.
Disciple: At the level of the thinking skandha, the demons from the heavens can no longer disturb the cultivator's mind directly. A demon has to possess another person in order to disturb the cultivator's samadhi.
Venerable Master: For example, a cultivator may frequently encounter people who are possessed by ghosts, who come to speak the dharma for him, or who come to challenge him to see who is on top.
At the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, there's a student from the University of California at Berkeley who has many snakes following him. You may not have seen them, but Guo Zhen saw those snakes get into a dharma-contest with me at Gold Mountain Monastery. They are really ferocious! His presence there gave the snakes a chance to fight with me. They have been fighting me for over ten years now. When he went to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, he would gradually get better, but as soon as he went back to school in Berkeley, he would get sick again. He realizes that there are many snakes on him. He killed these snakes in the past, and now they've come to get revenge. I've been using wholesome dharmas to try to make peace with them. That's how I treat them, regardless of whether or not they pay any heed. It's a slow process. Over the last ten years or so, many of the snakes have left him, but there are still a few left. There used to be a whole bunch of them.
This case is similar to the state described in the sutra.
Disciple: When a person comes to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, are those beings afraid to come and seek him out?
Venerable Master: No, they still come. When it [the snake] came to challenge my dharma, it was terribly fierce. At first he [the student possessed by the snake] knelt down, but then he stood up and waved his hands and glared at me. His heavy breathing sounded worse than a screeching and hissing cat.
Disciple: Master, what did you do? Did you give it a good scolding?
Venerable Master: No, I just pretended nothing was happening. People saw me acting as if nothing were going on, but actually, I had converted it. It was hostile to me, but I wasn't hostile to it. I used to use the dharma of subduing, but not anymore. Now I use the dharma of averting disasters.
Disciple: When the form skandha has come to an end, deviant demons can no longer possess a cultivator. They have to possess another person. But is there another interpretation in which the demon can directly possess the cultivator?
Venerable Master: There are endless possibilities. The demon can even possess a cat. It all depends on whether or not you recognize it. It can also possess other animals. There's no fixed rule.
Disciple: Can it possess the cultivator himself?
Venerable Master: No, it can't get to him.
Disciple: But when the Venerable Master explained the fifty skandha demons in the past, you said it could possess the cultivator himself.
Venerable Master: As I said, none of this is fixed. The text gives one example, but that's not the only way it can be. There are many variations. Each case encompasses many possibilities.
Disciple: But didn't the Venerable Master just say that the demons can't get to the cultivator himself? Venerable Master: If he truly cultivates, then the demons can't get to him, because there are dharma-protecting spirits protecting him.
Disciple: If the cultivator starts entertaining false thoughts, then,
Venerable Master: Then they'll get to him.
Disciple: It's just like living at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. If we follow the rules set down by the Master, then those beings cannot bother us. If we don't follow the rules, then they can come.
Venerable Master: Many people who come here have a lot of deviant demons of external ways, goblins, ghosts, and strange spirits attached to them. Yet the Bodhisattvas who guard the dharma don't try to keep them out. We practice kindness and compassion here. Thus we haven't fortified our place or set up any defense against them.
Disciple: If someone truly cultivates, then the demons can't get to him. But if he's not cultivating and he starts indulging in false thoughts, then they can come.
Venerable Master: Right, it's a case of the deviant attracting the deviant.
Disciple: If the demons can't get to him now, it doesn't necessarily mean that they can't get to him ever. For instance, when National Master Wuda entertained a thought of arrogance,
Venerable Master: Right! That's a very clear illustration!
Disciple: The ghost hadn't been able to get to him for ten lives, but with that one improper thought, it was able to get in.
Venerable Master: It came to demand his life!
Disciple: So would you say that the demons can get to the cultivator or not? It's not fixed. If he truly cultivates, then they can't get to him, but if he doesn't, then they can.
Venerable Master: Right, it's not fixed. Whatever can be put into words loses its real meaning. Once you understand this principle, you shouldn't pursue the details too intently. As I just said, there are infinite variations and possibilities. These fifty states can be transformed into five hundred, five thousand, or fifty thousand states. Don't spend too much time on these examples. You should understand that there are other cases that are variations of these. In general, whatever can be said has no real meaning. You could say all the sutras are false, but you must find the true principles within this falseness. Any sutra that makes sense can be believed. If it doesn't make sense, if it's incorrect, then don't believe it.
K3 The person who is possessed causes trouble.
This person, unaware that he is possessed by a demon, claims he has reached unsurpassed nirvana. When he comes to see that good person who seeks cleverness and skill, he arranges a seat and speaks the dharma. In an instant, he may appear to be a bhikshu, enabling that person to see him as such, or he may appear as Shakra, as a woman, or as a bhikshuni; or his body may emit light as he sleeps in a dark room.
You can see how formidable these demonic states are. This person, unaware that he is possessed by a demon, has no idea a demon is helping him. He claims that he has reached unsurpassed nirvana. He claims to have obtained the truth of nirvana, the wonderful fruition of nirvana.
Yesterday someone mentioned a certain person who recited the Buddha's name and then suddenly started jumping around, as if dancing. He was possessed by a demonic spirit. He didn't know what was happening, and he thought, "Wow! I've entered samadhi." He was like a rambunctious kid; he hopped about like a bunny.
When he comes to see that good person, the cultivator who seeks cleverness and skill, he arranges a seat and speaks the dharma for that good person who seeks to be clever and skillful. In an instant, very briefly, he may appear to be a bhikshu, enabling that person who seeks clever skill to see him as such. Or he may appear as Shakra, Lord God, as a woman, or as a bhikshuni. When the person seeking cleverness and skill sees him going through such transformations, he thinks, "He must be Guan Yin Bodhisattva!" He has no idea that it is a demon. That's why you shouldn't get carried away by any state you see, no matter what it is. Or his body may emit light as he sleeps in a dark room.
When people who do not understand the Buddhadharma see that, they marvel "Wow! His body emits light! If he isn't a Buddha, he must be at least a Bodhisattva or an Arhat!" They do not realize that the person is possessed by a demon king that is manifesting spiritual powers in order to delude the cultivator.
Therefore, as ordinary people who do not truly understand the Buddhadharma, we should not be turned by the things we see, no matter what they are. Don't become moved and run off after those states. How should you treat them? Look upon them as if they didn't exist. Seeing those things should be the same as not seeing them. Be neither elated nor disgusted. If you become elated when you see a demon, then you have been turned by the demon's state. If you get disgusted, then you have also been turned by the demon's state. How should you act? Just maintain the Middle Way, neither liking nor disliking it. See as if you haven't seen, and hear as if you haven't heard. You shouldn't say, "That was a fine state! I'd like to see that again!" If you have that thought, you have made a mistake.
Demons are very smart. They see what you're greedy for and use that to tempt you. Therefore, cultivators don't need to recite any particular mantra or practice any particular dharma. Just be honest and true; don't contend, don't be greedy, don't seek, don't be selfish, and don't pursue personal gain. If you put your shoulder to the grindstone and cultivate diligently, no demon can bother you. But as soon as you become greedy or you start scheming for advantages and shortcuts, it's easy for demons to possess you.
Demons are very wise; they can see what level of cultivation you've reached and know what methods should be used to lure you. As for choosing a person to possess, that's not a problem, because the person is only a false front for them. They use the person, and they use various methods to entice and delude you. If a cultivator is unselfish and doesn't think about benefiting himself, he will not be afraid of any demon.