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Bodhisattvas Asks for Clarification

Chapter Ten




Or, as seeds sown in a field,
Are mutually unaware,
Yet are able to simultaneously sprout:
Such is the nature of karma. 


Or, karma is as seeds sown in a field. In this further explanation of the word “karma”, it is likened to seeds sown in a field. The field refers to a village plot of agricultural land, which in ancient times was designed in the shape of a square. Each field, regulated by an identical agricultural system, was divided into nine sections, also square-shaped, as in the Chinese character jing (). According to this system, eight of these sections were farmed by eight separate households. The central plot was the communal field, which the eight households would cooperatively plow, plant, maintain, and harvest. The harvest from that plot was used as taxes to the government, while the harvest from each of the eight other fields was for the private use of each respective household.

Many different kinds of seeds may be planted in fields. For example, there is wheat and rice, both of which have many varieties. There is “bell wheat”, a variety of wheat so-called because of its resemblance to dangling bells. There is also buckwheat. The varieties of wheat are many, as are the varieties of rice: There is rice grown in flooded fields and rice grown in dry fields. There is sticky (sweet) rice, of which there are many sub-varieties. The Chinese talk about “wheat, rice, and millet.”

Rice and wheat are used to distill an extremely potent kind of whiskey. Then there are millet and corn. Altogether there are hundreds of thousands of different varieties of seeds—limitlessly, boundlessly, innumerably many—and yet each individual seed, when planted in the ground, is unaware even of the seeds of its own kind and variety, how much the less could it be aware of the seeds of other varieties and kinds.

Yet these seeds are able to simultaneously sprout. The sun and rain provide the aiding conditions for the seeds to sprout. The seeds receive the energy of the sun’s rays, and the soil is moistened by the rain. The night air provides a respite of cooling off from the heat of the day so that the seeds do not burn from the heat of the sun and dew can form to further moisten the soil. Though seeds are of limitlessly many kinds and varieties, they all respond in the same way to the stimulus of the aiding conditions, and they naturally, spontaneously sprout and grow. Yet during this event, each individual seed is unaware of all the other seeds.Such is the nature of karma. We may create either good karma, evil karma, or indeterminate karma. Indeterminate karma is that which cannot be identified as being either good or evil. The natural law governing seeds sown in a field is similar to the law of karma.


Or, as a skilled illusionist,
Who stands at the crossroads
Displaying a multitude of disguises:
Such is the nature of karma. 

As a mechanical man,
Which can emit many different sounds,
Yet possesses neither a self nor a non-self:
Such is the nature of karma. 


This metaphor is that of a master magician, who ingeniously creates endless magical transformations. He can make things appear out of nowhere, and then make them disappear. Now you see it; now you don’t—the changes and transformations he creates are endless and inexhaustible. Something appears, and then it is gone; nothing is there and then suddenly something appears, and so on. He has at his disposal a thousand changes and a myriad transformations. He can trick you into being unaware of how it is all happening. For example, it takes a hen to lay an egg; but the person in this analogy, without there being a hen, can make an egg appear. Chickens come from eggs; but this person is able to produce a baby chick without a hencan make it so a man gives birth to a baby. Would you say this is amazing? Do you believe it or not? His tricks are so wonderful that they leave people mind-boggled and speechless. That is what is meant by a skilled illusionist.

Or, karma is as a skilled illusionist, / Who stands at the crossroads. He displays his extraordinary talent—he performs his art—at the junction of two main thoroughfares, where he can attract a crowd of spectators. And displays a multitude of disguises. He can conjure up many different forms and appearances. For example, basically people are not able to swallow swords, but he can stick a sword down his throat so that it reaches his stomach and then spit it back out. People cannot eat fire; they can drink water, but eating fire is something people basically cannot do. But he can light a torch and eat the flames as if he were eating rice. He can conjure up all those different kinds of appearances. From out of nothing he can make something appear, and so the text says that he displays a multitude of disguises. Such is the nature of karma. All the good karma, evil karma, and indeterminate karma that we create—the nature of karma spoken of in the text—is also that way. The state of the nature of karma and the state of the conjurations of the magician are the same.

Karma is also as a mechanical man. The nature of karma is also like a mechanical man, a wooden robot, which can emit many different sounds. A radio which transmits human voices is built inside this robot. Let us dismiss the robot in this analogy and simply talk about radio and television. On television, we can see lots of people doing things. We see people walking, people talking, people singing, and so on. The television can also emit all kinds of sounds. But there is no live person immediately inside the television set. Likewise there is no person inside a radio, but yet the radio can emit all different kinds of human and other sounds because of the devices built inside of it. 

Yet the television and the robot are possesses neither a self nor a non-self. None of these mechanical devices are able to think, “Oh, I am a mechanical robot, a wooden person?” or “I am not a mechanical robot, a wooden person.” There is neither a self nor a non-self there. Such is the nature of karma. All the good karma, evil karma, and indeterminate karma that we create accords with this same principle. Those people who can understand this principle should not be attached to there being a “me”.


And as the myriad kinds of birds,
Although all hatched from eggs,
Are each endowed with distinct sound:
Such is the nature of karma. 


When people speak the Dharma, is it the case that each person’s voice sounds the same? Is it the case that every person’s voice is the same? No. They are all different. Each person has his own sound. Some people’s voices are so similar that if you didn’t listen closely, you wouldn’t be able to distinguish between them. But, if you investigate in detail, you will then discover how they differ. And so each person’s voice is actually different, in the same way that each person’s appearance is different. Just as people’s faces are different, so do their voices and their figures differ, too. Those are only some of the ways in which people differ.

And karma is as the myriad kinds of birds. Each bird has its own individual sound. To us, birds of the same kind all sound the same. We hear a bird sing and recognize it as being the same as all the other birds of its own kind. But actually if we were to scrutinize to a fine point, we would find their voices are all slightly different. As it is with humans, so, too, is it with birds, as well as the sentient beings of every species, class, and kind: each has its own sound, its own facial appearance, and its own thoughts; each one is different. Let us further observe people. Some people are afraid of ghosts, while some people are afraid of other people. Then there are people who are afraid of dogs, and those who afraid of bugs. “Such is the nature of karma.” The text here uses the myriad classes of birds as an analogy to explain the question posed by Manjushri Bodhisattva. Birds are of hundreds of ten thousands of millions of different kinds. And within each kind, an individual bird’s voice and appearance differs in some ways from all the rest.

Although all those birds hatched from eggs, they are each distinct. Every bird, no matter what kind, hatches from an egg. But once it is hatched, its sound differs from the others’. Each individual bird has its own distinct sound. Not only is this true of birds; it is even true of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are so small that when you hear their drones, they all sound the same. They seem the same, and yet each individual mosquito’s voice is different from the rest. However, mosquitoes are able identify each other by their drones. Two mosquitoes may be far apart from each other, but when they hear each other’s drone, they know, “Oh, that is my big brother,” or “That is my old baby brother.” The male mosquitoes will know, “That is my mate,” and the female mosquitoes will think, “Oh, my male companion is coming.” The mosquitoes can all recognize one another. Each creature is endowed with a distinct sound. Even the tiniest of creatures all have their own individual sounds. Such is the nature of karma. People may do good things, evil things, or indeterminate things, and the resulting karma from all those various kinds of deeds is the same way. Each person’s karma is different.

This has been one of the many metaphors that are being used to answer the questions posed earlier by Manjushri Bodhisattva.


Just as in the womb,
All faculties are formed,
Yet these physical features have no source:
Thus, too, is the nature of karma. 


This metaphor is of a baby in the womb. When the baby is still in the womb, the mother and father are unaware of its daily rate of growth, and yet the fetus grows daily. Ultimately, how is it that it grows larger by day? The fetus itself is also unaware of its own daily rate of growth. The development of the fetus in the womb can be further discussed in terms of the Twelve Links of Conditioned Causation. The first of the Twelve Links of Conditioned Causation is ignorance. Ignorance is simply that which is not understood. Ignorance causes us not to understand and so we become confused. One who understands is one with wisdom; one who does not understand is deluded. Ignorance is the basis of delusion. Why is one deluded? Because once there is ignorance, love is able to arise. In the sea of love and desire, one drifts along with the current of birth and death.

For example, how do a man and woman fall in love? It happens because they have desire. And how is it that they have desire? Because they have ignorance: they are confused by delusions deriving from views. With view delusions, upon seeing something, one becomes confused. This is as when a man, seeing a certain woman, is infatuated by her; or as when a woman, seeing a certain man is infatuated with him. This infatuation is an aspect of view delusions. Were you to ask a man and woman who are in love why they love each other, each would reply, “I don’t know.” This not knowing reveals their lack of understanding; it displays their ignorance. One who is overcome by ignorance will say, “I don’t know; I don’t know.” That “I don’t know” is simply an expression of one’s ignorance.

With ignorance, there arises the delusions deriving from views. What follows is activity. This activity refers to the sexual involvement between men and women, which is the basis, the root of birth and death. One who is able to refrain from this kind of involvement will be able to “dry up the ocean of love and desire and intercept the flow of birth and death.” Sexual involvement the basis and the root of birth and death not only for humans, but for all other sentient beings as well. But, since it is at the root of birth and death, sentient beings are unable to see it for what it is and renounce it. They all feel that sexual involvement is the most pleasurable experience one can have. It is because sentient beings feel this way that they are unable to get off the revolving wheel of the Six Paths, but turn around and around within it.

Once there is sexual involvement, there will be consciousness. This consciousness is the seed of birth and death. The father’s sperm and the mother’s blood combine and then there is a consciousness. Once there is a consciousness, then there is a fetus.

The fetus during the first week of development is called a “slippery coagulation.” That is when the sperm of the father and the blood of the mother combine together. The second week, the fetus turns into “soft flesh”. There is flesh, but it is extremely soft. During the first week, there is only a kind of mucus, like the white of an egg. Why is the egg encased by a shell? It is to contain and protect the white mucus inside. How is it that men and women can have children? It is because of the combining of the father’s sperm and the mother’s blood, which create wonderful existence. Within wonderful existence is true emptiness. There is a consciousness.

Once there is a consciousness, there is name and form. That is to say, the fetus becomes either male or female. The consciousness is another name for the soul before it takes on physical skandhas. It slips inside the sperm of the father and blood of the mother to form the fetus, thus accomplishing name. This consciousness comes into being due to the relationship between the father, the mother, and the soul dispossessed of the physical skandhas. Before the fetus is formed, the consciousness is known as the soul between skandhas, but having entered the womb it becomes conscious. And so “consciousness” is another name for the soul when takes on physical skandhas. Once there is a consciousness, then there is a name; there is an appearance, which is called name and form. Name and form create the condition for the six sense entrances. Once there is a name and form there will follow the six entrances.

Once there is a name and form, it is not known how, but within the mother’s womb, a pair of ears comes into being. And then, it is not known how, a nose appears on the face of the fetus. And then the fetus has a tongue, it is not known how. It is not known how, but then there a body has formed. It is not known how, but then the body has a mind—a mind consciousness. The six consciousnesses—eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind--all form. And what are the six consciousnesses formed from? They also come about from the union of the father’s sperm, the mother’s blood, and the soul dispossessed of physical skandhas. Once those three conditions unite and mix, then the six consciousnesses can be born. But none can say which organ will come into being on any given day. Nobody can know.

The six entrances condition contact. Once the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind are formed, the baby experiences sensation upon contact with the mother. The mother also experiences a sensation of contact with the child. The mother and child mutually experience a sensation of contact within the mother’s womb. Thus, the six entrances condition contact. And once there is an experience of contact, there will be feeling. The baby feels very comfortable dwelling in the mother’s womb. And normally the mother will likewise not feel the fetus’s dwelling in her womb as particularly painful. They mutually experience a feeling like being fondled. With this comfortable feeling, as if being caressed, one becomes very relaxed and the feeling of love arises. When men and women fall in love, their bodies come into contact, they likewise embrace and caress each other, and the sensation they derive from it is extremely pleasurable to them. This is a habit which comes originates with the experience of dwelling in the mother’s womb. Once this habit is established in the womb, after birth, a person misses it, and when he remembers, he is filled with a feeling of love.

Love conditions grasping. What one loves, one wishes to obtain as one’s own, to possess it, to grasp it. Why is there grasping? Because one wants to seize the object of one’s desire and make it one’s own. And so a kind of possessiveness arises. With this possessiveness, there is grasping. Then, whatever one does, one does it with a selfish attitude, because one is being possessive.Grasping conditions existence. Once there is grasping, there is existence. There is a sense of “this is mine.” One may love anything. For example, you might think, “I would love to have a car,” and so you go out and buy a car. Or, “I would love to have a plane,” so you go out and buy a plane. Or, “I would love to have a boat,” and so you go out and buy a boat. Because you have this “love”, you feel you must obtain whatever it is you love.

This selfishness, this wishing to obtain something for oneself, such as a plane, a boat, a car, wealth in general, or the affection of a man and woman are all cases of grasping conditioning existence.

Existence conditions birth. With existence comes yet another birth. Your going out and finding a spouse with whom you have children is a case of existence conditioning birth. Your existence conditions birth. With existence, comes birth—this life, next life, on and on. And with each new birth comes another death.

And so, the Twelve Links of Conditioned Causation all come about from basic ignorance; they succeed one upon the other in an uninterrupted chain. In the above discussion, the Twelve Links of Conditioned Causation were used to explain the events in the womb, such as the formation of the six sensory organs—eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind.

Yet these physical features have no source. In its formation, what determines the physical features of the fetus? A child may be upright and handsome, perfect in every way. A child may be beautiful or ugly, have perfect or impaired faculties. Where would you say the physical features of the fetus come from? You might say they come from the father’s sperm and the mother’s blood. And yet, at their origin, they are without any substance or characteristics; these develop later on.

Thus, too, is the nature of karma. One may receive a bitter retribution or a sweet reward; one may undergo retribution now, or in the future. The nature of karma, whether it be good, evil, or indeterminate, follows the same principle as that of the fetus growing in the womb and finally being born, as explained above.

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