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Bodhisattvas Asks for Clarification

Chapter Ten




Thus, in accord with principle, observe
That absolutely everything is without a nature.
The Dharma eye is inconceivable,
Its seeing without distortion. 


There are phenomena, and there is noumenon, or principle. When all dharmas are discussed in terms of phenomena, they are regarded as existent. But in terms of noumenon [principle], they are fundamentally empty. Therefore, the text says: Thus, in accord with principle, observe. If we use principle to observe and contemplate all phenomena, we find that everything is without a nature. All phenomena—that is, all dharmas—are without a nature, and without any substance.

The Dharma eye is inconceivable. The Dharma eye is what contemplates the noumenon, and in observing with the Dharma eye, one is able to see the inconceivable state of all things.

Its seeing without distortion. It is not possible for there to be any distortion in the way the Dharma eye sees all noumena and phenomena. When we use our ordinary, physical eyes to look, however, we see everything in a distorted way. If we open our Dharma eye and obtain nonobstruction, our seeing will not be distorted. If we use our understanding as ordinary people to fathom the principles of the Dharma, our view will certainly be distorted.


Whether we name it real or unreal,
False or not false,
Mundane or world transcending,
These are merely false words. 


These four lines of sutra in verse reiterate all the previous lines of verse. There is yet another way to say this:

Dharmas that arise from causes and conditions,
I proclaim as all empty.
They are merely false names,
They are also called the Meaning of the Middle Way.

This combines all the previous verses, summarizing the Dharma that was spoken above.

Dharmas that arise from causes and conditions. All dharmas that arise from causes and conditions, are without a nature of their own, without any basic substance. Thus the verse says, I proclaim as all empty. They are empty and quiescent. The other meaning to this is: They are merely false names. They just borrow the name “all dharmas.” It is also called the meaning of the Middle Way. The Middle Way is a combination of the empty and the false. This is the ultimate meaning of the Middle Way. The Middle Way is not going to either of the two extremes of emptiness and existence. The Middle Way is neither nihilism nor eternalism. An attachment to nihilism is the extreme of emptiness; an attachment to eternalism is the extreme of existence. The Middle Way is not being attached to either of those two extremes.

Thus, the sutra text says: Whether we name it real or unreal, / False or not false. “Real” refers to existence; “unreal” refers to emptiness. We may say it exists, or we may say it is empty. Or, we may say it exists and yet does not exist, or that it is empty, yet not empty. Or we may talk about mundanedharmasor world transcendingdharmas, but these are merely false words. We are just talking about false names. Ultimately, none of it has any real substance. As it is said,

Whatever can be spoken in words
Has no real meaning.

What can be put into words is not the Truth in the Primary Sense. If one were to try to verbalize the Truth in the Primary Sense, words would fail one. There is no language or analogy that can be used to talk about it.

The verses in the preceding section of the sutra used the four elements—water, fire, wind, and earth—as analogies for all dharmas. Many further different analogies can be drawn from each one of the four elements to illustrate the true nature of all dharmas. But below only the element water is used to explain it. As water is analogous to the True Nature, its principles are similar. Therefore we bring this up as an analogy for the inherent nature of True Suchness, the True Mind.

The fundamental essence of water is clear and pure. One can see through unadulterated water clear to the bottom. And this is analogous to the purity of the True Mind of the inherent nature. The pure, clear, True Mind of the inherent nature is bright and universally illumining; it is without any obstruction, and so it resembles the essence of water.

Water becomes turbid when mixed with mud and no longer appears to be clear and pure. That is to say, our pure, clear, True Mind is undefiled, and then it becomes defiled. Originally it was free of defilement, but then it becomes defiled. This is like the mixing of water with mud so that it becomes very murky and is no longer limpid and translucent. This is an analogy for the pure, clear, True Mind being undefiled at its origin and then becoming defiled.

Although the water has become turbid, its original pure and clear nature has not been lost. Although there is defilement, yet its pure clarity exists right within the turbidity. This analogy describes how the pure clarity of the True Mind becomes defiled but yet remains undefiled. Although the mind has been defiled, its purity and clarity continue to exist.

If one allows the mud to settle to the bottom of the water, then the water’s original essence will be revealed. This is an analogy for the True Mind of people:

When delusions end, the nature manifests.

“Delusions” refer to the coarse delusions, subtle delusions, and delusions like dust and sand. These are also referred to as view delusions, thought delusions, and the delusions of ignorance. There are eighty-eight kinds of view delusions and eighty-one classes of thought delusions. Finally there is ignorance. If you can break through all those delusions, then your own nature will manifest. This fourth analogy corresponds to, “When delusions end, the nature manifests.” Your pure, clear, inherent True Mind manifests.

When the water is exposed to freezing temperatures, it turns to ice, with the properties of hardness and solidity. I often say that if you were to pour a bowl of water over a person’s head, he would not feel any pain. But if you were to take that bowl of water and freeze it into a chunk of ice and then strike the person over the head with it, it could crack his skull, injuring and perhaps even killing him. Now do you see? The two are one and the same; both are composed of water. And yet the liquid could not harm a person, while the ice is capable of injuring him. The water’s turning to ice is also like adding a small amount of a foreign substance to a basically harmless chemical to concoct a deadly poison.

The process of water changing into ice and becoming hard and solid is the fifth analogy for when the Nature of the Treasury of the Thus Come One—our True Mind—conjoins with ignorance to form a partnership or corporation. This activates the basic consciousnesses—the eye-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, and mind-consciousness, along with the manas (seventh) consciousness and the Alaya (eighth) consciousness. Thus the functions of the eight consciousnesses come into being.

Although the water has gained the properties of hardness and solidity, it still has not lost is supple quality. Its pliant nature is still contained within the ice; it has not been lost. This is analogous to our True Mind, which although it goes along with conditions, nevertheless does not change. This means that true principle manifests right within phenomena. True principle always exists within phenomena.

Right within the passing events,
Dwells the eternal truth.

Although the water has become solid ice, when it is exposed to heat, it melts and turns back into water. This is an analogy for the eight consciousnesses, which are very powerful and flourishing, and which are not easy to transform into the Four Wisdoms. But if one knows how to turn the eight consciousnesses around, they can regain purity and return to the Nature of the Treasury of the Thus Come One.

When water is disturbed by wind, waves appear and there is the appearance of the movement of waves, yet the water’s inherently tranquil nature cannot be altered. As recorded in The Sixth Patriarch’s Sutra, one time, the wind was blowing and a flag was fluttering. One person said it was the wind that was moving; another said it was the flag that was moving. 

The two argued over this question intensively, without arriving at any conclusion as to whether it was the wind or the flag that moved.

“If the wind didn’t blow it, the flag could not move,” reasoned one.

“But if there were no flag, how could the wind’s movement be seen?” the other argued.

They debated like this for some time. Finally, the Sixth Patriarch said, “The wind is not moving, nor is the flag. Your minds, kind sirs, are what is moving.” He said, “There are waves moving in your minds.”

And so it is not the wind or the waves that moves after all. It’s only people’s minds that move. The mind has movement like that of waves on water. When the mind is quiet and tranquil, the waves disappear. When the wind blows, there is the movement of waves, and yet the water’s own tranquil nature does not move. This is an analogy for the Nature of the Treasury of the Thus Come One. When the wind of ignorance blows, the nature moves, and then there are waves: there is coming into being and ceasing to be. And yet, the fundamental essence of water does not come into being or cease to be; it has no waves.

Following the contours of the earth, from high to low, water is able to push. The water behind is able to push the water ahead of it, and the water ahead is able to attract the water that follows it, and then there is the appearance of a flow. However, the water’s own nature is unmoving. This explains how although the True Mind of people flows according to the circumstances, yet the original True Nature is deep, clear, and unmoving.

Water conforms to the shape of the vessel that contains it. If you fill a round vessel, for example a teacup, with water, the water will take on a round shape; if you fill up a square container with water, the water will take on a square shape. The water conforms to the shape of the vessel that contains it, and yet its own nature is not altered. That is to say, people’s Nature of True Suchness universally pervades all conditioned dharmas; all dharmas exist within the Nature of True Suchness. And yet their own nature remains unmoving.

And so, the above ten analogies are used to explain the True Mind, the inherent Nature of True Suchness, the pure, clear True Nature, the fundamentally wonderful, bright mind.

As for the other three elements—fire, wind, and earth—many different analogies can also be drawn from them. But because our time is limited, we will not delineate them here. Those interested can investigate on their own.


Question: Water is in constant flux. Where is the True Nature in that constant flux?

The Master: In your asking the question, just what is it that is asking the question? Your now asking that question is the functioning of the True Nature. Without a True Nature, you could not ask that question.

Question: Is this discussion of the True Nature from the Tiantai (“Heavenly Vista”) School or the Xianshou School?

The Master: It is neither from the “Heavenly Vista” nor from the “Terrestrial Vista.” It’s from the “Human Vista.” Yours is a case of not being able to digest the food of Gold Mountain Monastery.

II The Profoundness of the Buddhas’ Teaching and Transforming


At that time, Manjushri Bodhisattva asked Wealthy Leader Bodhisattva, “Disciple of the Buddha, all sentient beings are nonentities.  


At that time, that is, after all the previous verses had been spoken, Manjushri Bodhisattva addressed Wealthy Leader Bodhisattva with questions. The meanings of the name Manjushri have been explained many times before, as have the ten portents which manifested at his birth.

Manjushri is a Sanskrit word which may be translated as “Wonderful Virtue,” or as “Wonderfully Auspicious.” Whoever actually gets to see this Bodhisattva will thereafter experience good luck. The two characters pusa (菩薩) are an abbreviated transliteration of Bodhisattva. The full transliteration is pu-ti-sa-tuo (菩提薩埵); translated it is “enlightened sentient being.” The word Bodhisattva also means, “a sentient being with a mind for the Great Way.”

Now in the text, Manjushri Bodhisattva turns to Wealthy Leader Bodhisattva with questions, saying, “Disciple of the Buddha, all sentient beings are nonentities.” That is, all sentient beings are fundamentally empty. Since they are empty, why does the Buddha need to liberate those empty sentient beings? Were the Buddha to see sentient beings as not empty, that would indicate a lack of wisdom on his part. But, for the Buddha to see sentient beings as empty and yet continue to liberate them is contradictory, isn’t it?

“All sentient beings are nonentities.” Their being “nonentities” means that they are basically empty. Manjushri Bodhisattva is posing this question to Wealthy Leader Bodhisattva.

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