THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
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Volume 8

CHAPTER 5

The Formations Skandha

H4 The characteristics of the demons of the formations skandha.
I1 Overview of the beginning and end.
J1 In the beginning, one cultivates but has not yet broken through this region.
K1 Review of the ending of the previous thinking skandha.


Sutra:

Ananda, when the good person who is cultivating samadhi has put an end to the thinking skandha, he is ordinarily free of dreaming and idle thinking, so he stays the same whether in wakefulness or in sleep. His mind is aware, clear, empty, and still, like a cloudless sky, devoid of any coarse senseimpressions. He contemplates everything in the world, the mountains, the rivers, and the earth, as reflections in a mirror, appearing without attachment and vanishing without any trace; they are simply received and reflected. He does away with all his old habits, and only the essential truth remains.

Commentary:


Ananda, when the good person. Which good person is being referred to here? The good person is the one who is developing the skill of directing the hearing inward to hear the inherent nature. He is cultivating the great Shurangama Samadhi. And who exactly is that person? He is simply whoever cultivates. "The good person" does not refer to any particular individual; it's not an exclusive title. If you cultivate, then it refers to you. If I cultivate, it refers to me. If he or she cultivates, it refers to him or her. Everyone has a share in it. That is, you have a share if you cultivate, but not if you don't. It's completely fair.

That good person is the one who is cultivating samadhi. Cultivation refers to diligently sitting in meditation, not to eating all day long. You should sit in meditation, listen to the sutras, and study the Buddhadharma. What should you cultivate? Samadhi power. How do you cultivate samadhi power? Sit in meditation. Samadhi arises from precepts, so the first step is to hold the precepts. Once you take the precepts, you must hold the precepts and never indulge in sexual misconduct. Men and women should observe propriety, as Lord Guan Yu did. He was faithful to his wife all his life. He never drew near another woman. Do you see his ruddy face? It testifies to his magnanimous, proper energy. Now that you have taken the precepts, I want to tell you that you must remain faithful to your spouse. You may not get involved in extramarital affairs and go looking for partners everywhere. Don't break the rules. You should accord with propriety and be open and upright in your conduct; only then will you attain samadhi. After taking the precepts, you will develop samadhi. From samadhi, wisdom will develop.

How do people get possessed by demons? If you have a little samadhi and your wisdom is insufficient, you may encounter demonic obstacles. If your skill in samadhi is deep enough, you will be able to conquer the demons.

[January 1983]

If you want to have proper samadhi, holding the precepts is certainly a prerequisite. It sets the foundation. Once we have a firm foundation, we can erect pillars on top of it. The pillars represent samadhi, and the foundation represents precepts. We must strictly uphold the precepts. This is very, very important. If you don't set a good foundation, then the pillars will not stand, and your samadhi will be deviant.

What is meant by wisdom? Once the pillars are erected and the walls are put in, the house can be built. What's the use of a house? It can be a place for people to bow to the Buddhas and to hear lectures on the sutras. We can teach people to change their faults and renew themselves. That's the function of wisdom.

Precepts are the substance, samadhi is the appearance, and wisdom is the function. We should be very clear about this. If you lack precepts, then you won't have any samadhi. Without samadhi, you cannot develop wisdom. Likewise, if you don't set the foundation well, the pillars you erect will not be stable, the walls will cave in, and the house will collapse and be useless. Therefore, the three non-outflow studies of precepts, samadhi, and wisdom are all indispensable. We should pay close attention to this.

He has put an end to the thinking skandha. Among the five skandhas of form, feeling, thinking, formations, and consciousness, the thinking skandha is destroyed. In his mind's interaction with the thinking skandha, he has conquered it. Having broken through the thinking skandha, he is ordinarily free of dreaming and idle thinking. The state he has reached is not a state of not eating or not sleeping. In this state, one still sleeps and eats, but no longer dreams. Confucius once said, "Alas, I'm getting decrepit. It's been so long since I saw the duke of Zhou in a dream!"



This was the duke who protected the King Wu in the Zhou dynasty. Why didn't Confucius have any dreams? Probably it was because by that time in his life, Confucius had partially broken through the thinking skandha. However, since he was not aware of it, he wondered, "Hey! How come I don't dream anymore? Oh, I must be getting old." Confucius had some skill in cultivation, and it's likely that he had destroyed the thinking skandha without knowing it. He didn't understand, so he decided that he no longer had dreams because he was old. Once the thinking skandha is destroyed, dreams are gone.

So he stays the same whether in wakefulness or in sleep. If you have read classical Chinese literature, you may know a story called the Warlord Defeats Duan at Yan which relates how a warlord named Zheng married a girl named Jiang. She gave birth to Lord Zhuang and Gong Shuduan. Lord Zhuang was called "Born Upon Waking" because his mother was asleep when she started to give birth to him, and when she woke up, he was born.

To that cultivator, the state of wakefulness is the same as the state of sleep. In other words, when he's asleep, it's as if he were awake. He can be like that because he is not upside-down and thus has no dream-thinking. When you have broken through the thinking skandha, you can leave upside-down dream-thinking far behind and ultimately attain the state of nirvana. If you haven't broken through the thinking skandha, this upside-downness will not go away. You should pay attention to this point.

In our study of the Buddhadharma, the five skandhas discussed in the Shurangama Sutra are extremely important. Furthermore, you should know how to untie the six knots. If you do not understand these knots, then you will never be able to untie them and become free. If you can untie them, you will obtain freedom. His mind is aware, clear, empty, and still. At this point he may be sleeping or awake, but for him, the two states are the same. What kind of state is this? The person actually sleeps very little. He's a light sleeper. He can replenish his energy just by closing his eyes for a while, unlike some people who sleep from dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn. The reason they never seem to get enough sleep is because they have not broken through the thinking skandha. They tend to doze off a lot. When he breaks through the thinking skandha, he becomes alert and clear-minded. Waking and sleeping become the same for him. There is no difference. If you talk while he's sleeping, he will hear you. That's a subtle and wonderful state. Don't think you can scold him while he's asleep, for he knows what you are saying. He just doesn't let you know that he knows. What a wonderful state that is! Some beings in the heavens neither eat nor sleep, and are always alert and wide-awake. "His mind is aware, clear, empty and still," like a cloudless sky.

There?s a Chinese saying, "No clouds for ten thousand miles, just ten thousand miles of sky." In the clear sky, the bright sun shines for thousands of miles around. In that state, the cultivator's mind is devoid of any coarse sense-impressions. All the shadows of coarse sense-data that characterized his former state are gone. He contemplates everything in the world, the mountains, the rivers, and the earth, as reflections in a mirror, appearing without attachment and vanishing without any trace. His perception of the world and everything in it is like a bright mirror which reflects things and is empty when the things are gone. They leave no traces. No matter what state comes along, the cultivator does not become attached to it. When the situation passes, nothing remains. When it's gone, it's simply gone. It is said, "The mind of the past cannot be grasped, the mind of the present cannot be grasped, and the mind of the future cannot be grasped." The three minds cannot be obtained. That's why there is no attachment when they come, and no trace left when they go. They are simply received and reflected.

He does away with all his old habits. He empties himself of all old habits, stinking habits, evil habits, and bad habits. Take a look at the bad habits people have. Some people like to say really foul things, that's a stinky habit. Some people say mean things, that's an evil habit Some people are generally arrogant and haughty. We have so many bad habits. But that cultivator has gotten rid of all those habits, and only the essential truth remains. The only thing left is the thought of essential truth, which is the eighth consciousness. At this point the first six consciousnesses and the seventh consciousness are all gone. Now only the eighth consciousness remains, and it must be transformed into the great perfect mirror wisdom of the Buddha. He has now reached this stage, but has not yet transformed it. That's what is meant by "only the essential truth remains."

K2 Introduction to the region of the formations skandha.

Sutra:

From this point on, as the origin of production and destruction is exposed, he will completely see all the twelve categories of living beings in the ten directions. Although he has not fathomed the source of their individual lives, he will see that they share a common basis of life, which appears as a mirage, shimmering and fluctuating, and is the ultimate, pivotal point of the illusory sense faculties and sense objects. This is the region of the formations skandha.

Commentary:


From this point on, as the origin of production and destruction is exposed. This refers to the origin of birth and death, which lies in the subtle movements of the seventh and sixth consciousnesses. At this point, the thinking skandha has been destroyed, and the cultivator has reached the formations skandha. Therefore, as the origin is revealed, he will completely see all the twelve categories of living beings in the ten directions. He exhaustively understands each of the twelve categories, which include beings born from eggs up to beings not completely without thought.

Although he has not fathomed the source of their individual lives, he will see that they share a common basis of life, which appears as a mirage, shimmering and fluctuating. He does not completely understand how each individual came into being, but he does perceive the origin of all the twelve categories of beings. This origin appears to him like a mirage. Sometimes in the spring you may see what seems to be a body of water in the distance, but when you reach the spot there is no water. Zhuang Zi called this mirage a "wild horse," a poetic reference to the cloud of dust stirred up by a galloping horse. In the Shurangama Sutra, it's literally called "solar flames." It refers to the vapor that rises from the earth in the springtime, forming a mirage. It's said that wherever these mirages appear, the geomantic properties are pretty good. Thus, whether the Buddhist sutras read "solar flames" or "wild horse," the reference is to mirages. "Shimmering" means that there's a bit of light, but it's not clear. "Fluctuating" means that the state of disturbance is not very great.

And is the ultimate, pivotal point of the illusory sense faculties and sense objects. The six sense faculties are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. These are all illusory, not real. In Chinese, "pivotal point" is expressed by characters for the pivot on which a Chinese door hangs and the place where the pivot is anchored so that the door can be opened and closed. Nowadays we use two metal hinges, but in ancient China the doors were hung on pivots that were anchored in holes. This situation is known as the region of the formations skandha.

J2 Ultimately it breaks up and reveals its false source.

Sutra:

Once the basic nature of this shimmering fluctuation returns to its original clarity, his habits will cease, like waves subsiding to become clear, calm water. This is the end of the formations skandha. This person will then be able to transcend the turbidity of living beings. Contemplating the cause of the formations skandha, one sees that subtle and hidden false thoughts are its source.

Commentary:


Once the basic nature of this shimmering fluctuation returns to its original clarity, his habits will cease, like waves subsiding to become clear, calm water. The nature of this small amount of light is such that after a long while, it will revert to its original stillness and clarity. Once it settles and becomes clear, the original, pure nature appears. When that happens, those kinds of habits will disappear like subsiding waves.

The thinking skandha is like a rapidly flowing torrent. The comparison was made earlier in the sutra. Now the analogy is to waves, as in a swift current or a torrent. When the waves subside, the water clears and settles. This is the end of the formations skandha. The thinking skandha is like a gushing torrent, whereas the formations skandha is like ripples on the water. When only the consciousness skandha remains, there are no more waves in the clear, settled water. This is called "the end of the formations skandha."

This person will then be able to transcend the state of the turbidity of living beings. Contemplating the cause of the formations skandha, one sees that subtle and hidden false thoughts are its source. When you reach this point you still have false thinking, but it is not so apparent. It is hidden and obscured, not easy to detect at all. These extremely subtle false thoughts are the source of the formations skandha.

I2 The ten speculations therein.
J1 Two theories on the absence of cause.
K1 Describes the source and shows the error.

Sutra:

Ananda, you should know that when the good person has obtained proper knowledge in his practice of shamatha, his mind is unmoving, clear, and proper, and it cannot be disturbed by the ten kinds of demons from the heavens. He is now able to intently and thoroughly investigate the origin of all categories of beings. As the origin of each category becomes apparent, he can contemplate the source of the subtle, fleeting, and pervasive fluctuation. But if he begins to speculate on that pervasive source, he could fall into error with two theories of the absence of cause.

Commentary:


Ananda, you should know that when the good person has obtained proper knowledge in his practice of the still reflection of shamatha or concentration, his mind is unmoving, clear, and proper. Within samadhi, his mind becomes bright and concentrated, and it cannot be disturbed by the ten kinds of demons from the heavens. They can't disturb the cultivator. He is now able to have the chance to intently and thoroughly investigate samadhi and fathom the origin of all twelve categories of beings.

As the origin of each category becomes apparent, as he exposes the source of each category, he can contemplate the source of the subtle, fleeting, and pervasive fluctuation. He contemplates this elusive state which is difficult to detect The pervasive fluctuation is a subtle movement that occurs within the seventh consciousness. But if he suddenly initiates a change and begins to speculate about that pervasive source, the perfect inherent nature, he could fall into error with two theories of the absence of cause.

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