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Bodhisattvas Asks for Clarification

Chapter Ten




Or, as when a tremendous blaze
Flares into raging flames all at once,
Each flame is unaware of the others.
So, too, is it with all dharmas. 


The Buddhadharma is just worldly dharmas; it is also the mind dharmas of all sentient beings. If you completely understand the mundane, then you will also understand the Buddhadharma. And if you understand the Buddhadharma, you will also understand mind dharmas. We must know that all dharmas are basically empty; that basically they do not exist. “Then why did the Buddha speak of these dharmas at all?” you might ask. In the midst of emptiness, the Buddha spoke about the dharmas of existence. It is because sentient beings have so many mental discriminations that the Buddha spoke about all those dharmas. They serve as antidotes for all sentient beings’ mental discriminations.

In the beginning, sentient beings are without mental discriminations: at its origin, our inherent nature is thus, thus unmoving, clear, penetrating, and eternally bright. It is because people are turned by states that where there was originally nothing, something manifests: we produce all kinds of mental discriminations. That is why the Bodhisattvas employ many different lines of reasoning to explain all dharmas for us. But the postulations they use are just as empty and illusory as are all other dharmas. Bodhisattvas only use them to help sentient beings understand that “all conditioned dharmas are empty and false like a dream, like an illusion, like a bubble, like a shadow, like dewdrops, and like a lightning flash, and they should be contemplated as such.”

Earlier in the text, Manjushri Bodhisattva asked, “Given that the nature and the mind are one, how is it that different rewards and retributions come about?” Now Enlightenment Leader Bodhisattva is using all kinds of analogies to describe all dharmas, to express the principles regarding them. Earlier he compared all dharmas to waves in water, which flow naturally but are mutually unaware of one another. To elaborate further, he brings up another of the four elements—fire.

Or, all dharmas are as when a tremendous blaze, fed by a great heap, flares into raging flames all at once. Because this is a massive fire, with an enormous blaze, its countless flames flare up intensely and simultaneously. The fire is so intense that the initial flames are immediately followed by others; those other flames are immediately followed by yet others, and so on.

Each flame is unaware of the others. As was the case with water in the previous analogy, so, too, here, all those flames are mutually unaware. So, too, is it with all dharmas. The dharmas spoken by all Buddhas, as well as the minds and natures of all sentient beings, likewise are mutually unaware.


And as with continuous gusts of wind
That buffet every object they encounter,
While each gust unaware of all the others:
So, too, is it with all dharmas. 

It is also like the planets of a solar system,
Sustained by their mutual gravitational forces,
Yet each unaware of the others:
So, too, is it with all dharmas. 

The eyes, ears, nose, tongue, the body,
And the thinking mind—the sensory organs all—
Constantly turn and flow in samsara,
Yet there is no one making them turn. 


And as with continuous gusts of wind. We have already discussed the elements fire and water. Now the element wind will be discussed. What is meant in the text by “continuous gusts of wind”? The wind is constantly blowing without cease. The preceding gust brings on the succeeding gust, like flowing water. Sometimes, the wind subsides, and sometimes it picks up again. When it picks up, it is not known from where it arises—in fact, there is no place it arises from. And when the wind subsides, there is no place it goes to. Suddenly there is a big gust of wind, and then, just as suddenly, there is a lull. Then it picks up again.

These gusts of wind buffet every object they encounter. When the wind blows, it disturbs the objects it encounters; it agitates them. Since the wind itself is invisible, how can we detect its presence? We can know by the rustling of the flowers, grass, and trees as the wind blows by. This rustling of the flowers, grass, and trees is what is meant in the text by “blowing.” When the wind moves in a powerful gale, trees and buildings are blown over. At other times, the wind may be so slight that it would not disturb even a pile of dust. Of ancient times, it is said:

The wind did not rustle the branches; and
The rain did not disturb the clods of soil.

The wind never blew strongly enough to be heard passing through the branches of trees; even the movement of willow leaves could not be heard. And the rain did not disturb clods of soil. This refers to the time when the people all enjoyed the reward of blessings. During that time, every five days a zephyr breeze would blow, and every ten days a gentle rain would fall. When the wind blew, it could not be heard moving through the branches of the trees, and when the rain fell, it did not hit the ground hard enough even to break up the clods of dirt on the ground.

The rains and winds came in season;
The country prospered, and the citizens enjoyed peace.

Huge gales of wind were unheard of. The wind would not blow down hundreds of houses and trees, causing countless disasters and fatalities. The rain would fall only when it was supposed to fall. It would not rain at the wrong time. The same was true of snow. The country was affluent, quiet, and peaceful. All the people were happy and contented. That is the way it was in ancient times.

Now, with respect to the gusts of wind being discussed here in the text, the gusts of wind that come first are unaware of the gusts of wind that follow. This is because wind has no real substance and no nature of its own. It is just a principle being discussed. And so, the text says that each gust of wind is unaware of all the others. The gusts of wind are all mutually unaware. The fierce winds are unaware of the slight breezes; the slight breezes are unaware of the steady gales. They all alike fail to recognize each other. So, too, is it with all dharmas. The basic substance of all dharmas is analogous to the gusts of wind.

It is also as the planets of a solar system. It is like the planets, each with its own countries, which dwell sustained in space by their mutual gravitational forces. Because the Earth exists in space, it continually revolves, and remains suspended in space due to the forces of its revolving motion. If this planet Earth ceased to revolve, the wind wheel in space could no longer support it, and it would quickly perish. Revolving in space, the planets have their own gravitational forces. Even though these planets revolve together in their respective orbits, each remains unaware of the others.They are mutually unaware.

So, too, is it with all dharmas. The basic substance of all dharmas is also like that.

Our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and the thinking mind—the sensory organs all— / Constantly turn and flow in samsara. They are constantly being turned by states of existence. Why is that? It is because they are organs of feeling. If you could take control of these six sensory organs, if you could intercept them, they would not turn and flow in the cycle of birth and death, and there would be no way for you to become vexed and afflicted. Yet there is nothing making them turn. There is nothing commanding your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind to remain involved in the cycle of birth and death. Your sensory organs turn and flow, but there is nobody in control forcing them to do so. There is no outside force with the authority to control your six sensory organs—your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Each of those organs is unaware of all the others as they each turn and flow in birth and death.


The Dharma nature, basically unproduced,
Still manifests coming into being.
Yet there is nothing making it manifest,
Nor anything that is manifested. 


The Dharma nature is basically unproduced. This Dharma nature is just the true nature of all dharmas. The Dharma nature is empty. Since it is empty, it is unproduced. But although it is unproduced, nonetheless, it still manifests coming into being. But when this appearance of coming into being manifests, on the part of the Dharma nature itself there is nothing produced.

When the Dharma nature, which is basically True Emptiness, manifests as coming into being, then that is Wonderful Existence. However, this Wonderful Existence, in actuality, is likewise nonexistence. That is why the text says there is the “appearance” of coming into being. Although the Dharma nature is said to be basically empty, nonetheless from within that True Emptiness comes forth Wonderful Existence, and there is the appearance of coming into being. But that coming into being is not an ultimate state of existence. Nor is it something permanent that will never decay.

Yet, there is nothing making it manifest. Within this appearance of coming into being on the part of the Dharma nature, which is fundamentally unproduced, by no means is there any authority commanding it to come into being or to manifest. It is simply that there is a spontaneous manifestation from within True Emptiness, and with it the appearance of Wonderful Existence. And so the text says, “Yet, there is nothing making it manifest.” There is no one with the authority to make anything appear, nor is there anything that is manifested. Nor are there any objects that are made to appear. In fact, basically it is all just an empty, unreal state. But we people mistake this illusory state for reality. We do not know that it is something ephemeral that cannot be relied upon. And so we become attached to this illusory existence and forget about fundamental True Emptiness. We mistake this illusory existence as being truly substantial, as being something we can hold on to. But if you can see through this illusory existence and break through your attachment to it, you will unite with the Wonderful Principle of Fundamental True Emptiness.


One time, BhikshuAshvajit (Ma Sheng, or “Horse Victory”) was walking along the road making his alms rounds. His eyes regarded his nose, and his nose regarded his mouth, his eyes did not glance around. His comportment was stern and proper. Then he came upon Shariputra and Mahamaudgalyayana. As they saw him approaching, with such a dignified bearing, they were filled with reverence. And so they walked up to BhikshuAshvajit, and standing before him, placed their palms together. At that time, they did not recognize what a member of the monastic Sangha was; they did not know he was a Bhikshu. They asked, “Wise teacher, where did you learn such a fine manner of deportment, so adorned and commanding that it causes us to feel such unusual respect toward you?”

Bhikshu Ashvajit replied:

All dharmas arise from conditions;
All dharmas are extinguished due to conditions.
The Buddha, the Great Shramana, always speaks thus.

He said that all dharmas come about due to causes and conditions and are extinguished due to causes and conditions. That which is born from causes and conditions is without any basic substance of its own. “The Buddha, the Great Shramana–the Buddha is my Master, and he is a Great Shramana—always talks like this. He always teaches us in this way, enabling us to practice the Dharma, and that is why I have this fine comportment. It is because my teacher, the Buddha, taught it to me.”

When Shariputra and Mahamaudgalyayana heard what he said, they quickly went to see the Buddha, left the home life, and joined the monastic Sangha under him. This is just to discuss the principle that all dharmas arise from conditions and thus are without a nature.

Now the Buddhadharma in its entirety has just recently come to the West via the United States. Although none of the monastics here can be compared to BhikshuAshvajit in his fine bearing and awesome comportment, still when we go out, we do not want to act like ordinary people. When monastics go out, they should not stare at the scantily dressed models on the magazine covers when they walk by a newstand. If you act like that, you will cause people to lose faith in Buddhism, thinking, “Look at that monastic staring at nude pictures of women.” That would really hurt Gold Mountain Monastery’s reputation, so that we could not even call ourselves Silver Mountain Monastery. If our reputation fell lower, we would only be Dirt Mountain Monastery. When the Sanghans from Gold Mountain Monastery go outside, they should have stern and proper comportment. In that way they will have the power to propagate the Buddhadharma. They should not do things that cause people to lose faith in the Buddhadharma.

It is said:

Dharmas do not arise of themselves;
Rather, they arise according to circumstances.
The Way does not arise in a void,
But comes about in response to conditions.

All dharmas are brought about by causes and conditions. And so the verse says, “Rather, they arise according to circumstances.” There must be certain circumstances in order for the different dharmas to arise. Although the Way is unconditioned, nevertheless it definitely has its causes and conditions. And so the verse says, “The Way does not arise in a void, / But comes about in response to conditions.” Encountering conditions, a response occurs.


The eyes, ears, nose, tongue, the body,
And the thinking mind—the sensory organs all—
Are empty and without a nature.
But the false mind discerns them as existent. 


In this section of verse, the eyes refer to the eye consciousness; ears to the ear consciousness; nose to the nose consciousness; tongue, to the tongue consciousness; body to the body consciousness, and the thinking mind to the mind consciousness. Together they comprise the sense organs and their associated consciousnesses.

The eyes see forms and are influenced by the defilements of form; the ears hear sounds and are influenced by the defilements of sounds; the nose smells odors and is influenced by the defilements of odors; the tongue tastes flavors and is influenced by the defilements of flavors; the body experiences the sensation of touch and is influenced by that defilements of contact. The mind is conditioned by mental dharmas and is influenced by the defilements of mental constructs. All of these sense organs have their corresponding consciousnesses.

And then there are the seventh and eighth consciousnesses. The seventh consciousness is called “the transmitting consciousness” (chuan song shi傳送識). It transmits sensory data from the sixth consciousness to the eighth consciousness. It is like a courier who carries letters back and forth. This seventh consciousness is also called the consciousness of purity and defilement (ran jingshi染淨識), because the sixth consciousness is defiled, while the eighth consciousness is pure; and, the seventh consciousness transmits data back and forth between the defiled and the pure. Therefore, “the sensory organs” in this passage of text refers to all eight consciousnesses.

All are empty and without a nature. Although it is said that the six organs paired with their six objects bring about the six consciousnesses, nevertheless the entire process and its components are without any nature of their own, and without any substance.

But the false mind discerns that they exist. It is just because of the differentiating minds of sentient beings that there are all those different consciousnesses. Without mental discriminations, it is all basically empty and devoid of any actual substance. Thus, the mountains, rivers, and the great earth all are originally empty and quiescent; it is because we people have minds which discriminate and grasp that all these states manifest.

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