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Bodhisattvas Asks for Clarification

Chapter Ten




Skillfully observe the body,
Clearly viewing each part.
Realize all dharmas are empty illusions,
And you will not give rise to mental distinctions. 

Who causes this life to arise?
And what causes its decline and demise?
Like a whirling wheel of fire,
Its beginning and end cannot be known. 


Skillfully observe the body, that is, the bodies of sentient beings. And what is it about the body that you should observe? Consider whether ultimately the body belongs to the one embodied in it or not. Ultimately, is the body real or unreal?

You need to ask yourself why you are not in control. When your eyes start to grow dim, why are you unable to keep them from losing their clarity? When your ears start to go deaf, why do you have no way to stop it from happening? When your teeth fall out, why is there no way you think of a way to keep them intact? 

As your skin gradually turns to wrinkles until it begins to look like a chicken-skin, and as your hair little by little turns white until finally it looks like the sparse feathers of a white crane’s crown, why are you not able to make your body stay young a little while longer? Since you cannot change this situation, you are not in charge.

Furthermore, you lack any true wisdom. As your hair turns white, you cannot make it stay black; nor could you make your hair turn white if it were black. You are not in control.

Make a thorough examination of the body, clearly viewing each part, inside and out, so that you can realize all dharmas are empty illusions.

All conditioned dharmas
Are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, a shadow.
Like dew drops, like a lightning flash:
You should contemplate them thus.

Since that is how it is, if you can be detached from it all, then you will not get caught up in mental discriminations.

Who causes this life to arise? / And what causes its decline and demise? This life refers not only to a person’s present existence, but to the entirety of his life span. What causes this life to exist and what gives it a life span? Moreover, what causes its decline and final cessation? Is there some other controlling force causing it to deteriorate and cease to exist?

Like a whirling wheel of fire, / Its beginning and end cannot be known. Our lives are like a wheel of fire. It is impossible to locate where the wheel begins and where it ends, nor can one determine its head and its tail; as the fire spins around and around, its head and tail perpetually exchange places. Our lives seem to have a beginning, yet we do not know where they came from; and when our lives end, we do not know how they go. 

We cannot understand the beginning and end of our lives in the same way we cannot know the beginning and end of a wheel of fire. In coming we are confused, and in going we are muddled. We are not the slightest bit clear about the problem of birth and death.

Question: We often hear that cultivators should not make mental discriminations, but when we have work to do in the bodhimanda, is it not the case that we need to use that very mental process? Otherwise, how could we know the right way to do things or what we should and should not do? We must use our mind in order to function in our work. So what can a cultivator do in this situation?

The Master: The work we do requires both mental and physical discipline. Even though we need to use the discriminating mind to get things done, nevertheless we should not become attached to that mind. We awaken to our discriminating minds during our practices as we cultivate the Way, not while we are doing our jobs. Cultivation is simply not making discriminations about anything, and then obtaining a state of concentration. It is not that we clear our minds of discriminating thoughts and that is all there is to it. We must further be able to attain concentration, and then our wisdom can be developed. If we simply indulge in mental discriminations, our wisdom will not come forth. Working is an opportunity to polish and refine ourselves; that is, to learn to be patient with what we would otherwise find intolerable, and going ahead and doing what is difficult for us to do. It is developing a kind of forbearance.


Wise ones are able to observe
The impermanence of all that exists,
And how all dharmas are empty, devoid of a self,
Forever detached from all characteristics. 


Wise ones, people with wisdom, are able to observe. People become wise by first maintaining the precepts and then cultivating samadhi. Through concentration, one can gain true and proper wisdom, because the mind has been made pure and clear. The mind pure, the moon appears in water. Thoughts clear, a cloudless sky. The nature tranquil, a hundred difficulties disperse. The mind in samadhi, the myriad affairs auspicious.

The inherent nature—the True Mind—of people is like water. If water is agitated and mud stirred up, it becomes turbid and murky. It is only because of this turbidity that we are people. It is only because our inherent nature—the clear, pure True Mind—mingles with ignorance that there is all this turbidity, much the same as when water is obscured when mixed with mud. For this reason, we need to uphold the precepts. By not striking up false thoughts and mental discriminations, we are maintaining the precepts. Upholding precepts is “not doing any evil, and practicing all good deeds.” Not doing any evil means not being selfish; practicing all good deeds means being public-spirited and not self-centered. If you can be that way, it will be as if the once turbid water, left undisturbed, gradually regains its original clear purity. That clear purity is likened to samadhi concentration. And so with concentrated stillness, the mud settles, and the water returns to clarity and purity. Having returned to clear purity one has wisdom. 

One who is able to reach this wisdom is then also able to perfect his Dharma-selecting eye. He can distinguish a right dharma and a wrong dharma, a good dharma and an evil dharma. Originally it was said that we should be without a mind that makes distinctions, but this Dharma-selecting eye does not make use of the false-thinking mind in order to distinguish between things. Rather, it makes use of wisdom.

This is similar to when one is able to see through water clear to the ground at the bottom. However ordinary people observe things as if through muddy water. Although they are not clear, they still go ahead and discriminate this and that. What is more, they are not even clear about how to go about making discriminations.

If you can get this water of your mind to be clear, then you will have wisdom, and then even without trying to make distinctions, you will still understand things. On the other hand, without wisdom, you may try to make distinctions, but you will still fail to understand things. It is just in this slight difference that, off by a hairsbreadth in the beginning, one is off by a thousand miles in the end.

The impermanence of all that exists. The wise one observes all conditioned dharmas, and how they are all impermanent. As the Vajra Sutra says:

Anything that has characteristics is false.
If one sees all characteristics as non-characteristics,
One sees the Thus Come One.

What the Wise One observes is that all conditioned dharmas—all things with characteristics—are false and illusory. He can understand that all marks are devoid of marks. With that understanding, one sees the Buddha’s Dharma body.

And how all dharmas are empty, devoid of a self, / Forever detached from all characteristics. When one separates from all that has form and characteristics, that is, all conditioned dharmas, then one is no longer attached to anything.


Karma produced, the myriad retributions follow.
Like a dream, none of it is true or real.
Thought after thought, constant decay brings cessation.
As with the previous and subsequent pattern.  

The dharmas perceived in this world,
Solely rely on the mind, their host, which
Following its notions, grasps at marks:
This is inversion and not True Suchness. 

Worldly theories and languages
Are all based on discriminations.
Not a single phenomenon among them
Gains entry to the Dharma nature. 

The force of conditions and that which pursues them
Brings myriad phenomena into being.
Ephemeral, they soon vanish without pausing for an instant.
This continues in thought after thought. 


Karma produced, the myriad retributions follow. We people in this world perpetually give rise to delusion, create karma, and undergo the retribution. From ignorance comes delusion. And in our delusion we create all kinds of karma. It is just because of the various kinds of karma we create that we undergo the various retributions. 

It follows that whenever the time comes we are able to smash through our delusion and manifest our True Mind, we will be able to put an end to karmic retribution. Plant a good cause, you reap a good result. Plant an evil cause, you reap an evil result. The retribution corresponds exactly to the karma we create. That is what the line of text means here.

Like a dream, none of it is true or real. Even though we receive the retribution according to the karma we create, nonetheless it is all like being in a dream. There is nothing real about it; it does not actually exist. Since it is the case that our bodies are completely unreal, how can there be anything real about the rest of it. There is no way you can make a case for anything else being real either. That is why the text says, “Like a dream, none of it is real.”

Therefore, do not be so attached to your body, thinking it to be such a fine thing, protecting it for fear it might get cold, afraid it might get hungry, too hot, or too thirsty. With such an unreasonable attachment, one is upside down from morning tonight, all for the sake of this stinking skin bag, and one will never come to any understanding.

Thought after thought, constant decay brings cessation. This body becomes involved with all that karmic retribution, and in every thought--thought after thought--there is coming into being, dwelling, disintegration, and cessation. In thought after thought, there is production, dwelling, decay, and emptiness, which goes on ceaselessly.

As with the previous and subsequent pattern. All that karmic retribution is similar to the waves on water. The wave at the front pulls ahead the wave that follows it. And the wave that follow it pushes the wave in front. As soon as one wave passes away, another wave comes; when that wave passes by, another wave comes. That is the way it all is.

The dharmas perceived in this world, all the mundane dharmas that we can distinguish, solely rely on the mind, their host. All these dharmas are directed by the mind. If it were not for the mind directing all those dharmas, they could not come forth--they are not capable of coming about by themselves.

Following its notions, the mind grasps at marks: Following along with and becoming attached to what one understands with one’s mind, one grasps at all sorts of attributes. These notions are not a true and genuine understanding. They are rather the kind of understanding worldly people have. With this kind of false thinking which grasps at and adheres to the attributes of things, no one is able to recognize that his or her own nature is in a state of unmoving suchness that is full of understanding and eternally bright.

This is inversion and not True Suchness. To follow along with and become attached to false thoughts and discriminations of the mind, and then to further grasp at the multitude of marks, is just being deluded. Such mental processes are not true, real dharma. Originally our inherent nature is “not produced, not destroyed, not defiled, and not pure, neither increasing nor decreasing.” How could it create attachment to marks?

Worldly theories and languages, the language and discourse of each country, are all based on discriminations. They are conditioned phenomena, based upon distinctions, not the absolute, nondifferentiating dharma. Not a single phenomenon or dharma among them / Gains entry to the Dharma nature. None of them has a Dharma nature or a substance of its own.

The force of conditions and that which pursues them, that is the mental states or random thoughts that you pursue and follow, brings myriad phenomena into being. However, the various kinds of dharmas produced by following conditions, are ephemeral, they soon vanish without pausing for an instant. They disappear very quickly, like the ceaseless flow of thoughts, which never stops and is thus impermanent. This continues in thought after thought. There is an endless cycle of coming into being and ceasing, coming into being and ceasing. It keeps going on like that.

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