During his practice of contemplation and illumination, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara attained the truth. By means of his minutely subtle Dharma practice, he penetrated the five skandhas, perceiving them as empty. The five skandhasónamely, form, feeling, conception, volition and consciousnessócontinually provide five occasions for craving and clinging. Two types of craving and clinging characterize the human mind: craving and clinging to form and craving and clinging to mind. Clinging to form is the domain of the form skandha. The remaining four skandhas constitute the domain of the mind, and the clinging to mind is generated in those four realms. All our grasping, manifested in our attachments and aversions, is generated and developed due to the activity of these four skandhas. Craving and clinging emerge at birth, and the Buddhadharma aims to sever them. The initial clinging is ego bound. Ego is the anchor of our volition to grasp and to possess, the root of our attachments and aversions and, via these, the very root of our suffering. Clinging to the body as the true self begins to manifest in early childhood. Normally, the six organs produce the six types of data, six kinds of consciousness and the four mind skandhas along with them; jointly these constitute the delusory ego. Craving and clinging are spontaneous at birth, for, at that time, the ego arises simultaneously with the form skandha. The rest of our existence is built up by our countless ego-affi rming acts involving all the skandhas, but most prominently the skandha of feeling; its domain contains pleasant, unpleasant, neutral or indifferent types of feelings. The body depends on the mind to be provided with pleasant occasions and to be protected from discomfort. There must be thinkingói.e., conceptionófollowed by action, and action means volition. They, in turn, require established bases of knowledge, and that is the role of the consciousness skandha. Children are sent to school to learn and to acquire knowledge that prepares them for the future. When there is sufficient knowledge, there is action, which is invariably preceded by some kind of thinking such as planning, imagining, remembering, etc. The body then receives the support it needs. Thereupon, ego-grasping begins, and confusion is generated by the five skandhas as the ego-notion imposes itself on the process of experience.
Once it has become clear beyond any doubt that this present body is not really the self--that one can merely say mine or my body--all delusion regarding the five skandhas is then broken off, and ignorance along with it. What a pity that worldlings get so deeply confused and completely fail to understand this brilliant doctrine! Grasping the skandhas and the ego-notion, they twist the data to fit their own picture of how reality should be. Actually, however, the body is not the self. Rather, it is like a house that I might call mine all right, but to consider it to be myself would be a ridiculous error. In the same way, I canít correctly say, ìThis body is myself;î but I can accurately say, ìThis body is mine.î
What, then, is the Real Self? Our Original Nature is our Real Self. It depends on the body only temporarily; and the body is no different from a house. A house is completed and then gradually deteriorates; similarly, the body has birth and death and the period between them. Our True Nature (Real Self), on the other hand, has neither birth nor death. It is enduring and unchanging. The teaching of Real Self and of illusory ego is basic to all Buddhadharma. When it is understood, clinging is easily broken off.
The teaching related to the five skandhas is referred to as the Dharma of Assemblage. Skandha is a Sanskrit term used by the Buddha in reference to the five components of the so-called human entity. A skandha is a constituent of personality; and it also means accumulation in the sense that we constantly accumulate good and bad in our minds. The Dharma of the Five Skandhas is comparable to five kinds of material, or elements. The mountains, the rivers and the entire universe, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the three periods, even the six realms of existence and the Four Worthiesóall are produced solely by the five skandhas.
Who are the Four Worthies? They are as follows: 1) the Arhat of Theravada, 2) the Pratyekabuddha of the Middle Vehicle, 3) the Bodhisattva of Mahayana, and 4) the Buddha, the ultimate fruit of the Path. What are the six realms of existence? Three are good and three are evil. Devas, human beings, and asuras inhabit the three good realms; animals, hungry ghosts and hell-dwellers belong to the three evil realms. It does not make any differenceómundane or supramundaneóthey are all produced and completed by the five skandhas. However, by taking the right path (the ultimate Path), one may become an Arhat, a Pratyekabuddha, a Bodhisattva or a Buddha.
A good action can be good in three different ways; likewise, an evil action can be evil in three ways. Worldlings, confused because not knowing or knowing wrongly, get carried away and lose control over their actions; then evil in the world increases, giving rise to the five turbidities. There is the turbidity of a kalpa in decay, the turbidity of view, the turbidity of the passions, the turbidity of living beings and the turbidity of life (the result of the turbidity of living beings). Turbidity means turmoil. The turmoil of a kalpa in decay is the product of the form skandha, whereby sentient beings in the Saha World grasp form or material (the body) and misconstrue this as the True Self, not realizing that all dharmas are produced by the mind and give rise to the skandha of feeling. The egocentric bias goes hand in hand with the craving for gratification of the senses or the body, and the result is the turbidity of view. The turbidity of the passions is generated by the feeling skandha. Seeking gratification of the senses brings greed in its wake, manifesting as the desire for wealth and personal gain and the subsequent strife that accompanies it. Sooner or later, sound ethics are abandoned, and the volition to grasp and to possess is given free rein. At this point, worldlings become totally engulfed in self-delusion, generating an unspeakable number of defilements.
The turbidity of the passions comprises family defilements, societal defilements, national defilements and world defilements. Also, while they are alive, human beings are the victims of turbidity in the realm of volition because the egocentric bias engenders the cyclic pattern of existence, perpetuating itself until the end of time. However, time is moving on, and no matter how much of it we might have, we shall die in the end.
The confusion of worldlings regarding the Real Self, or True Self, is the turbidity of living beings. This turbidity of life is caused by the consciousness skandha. The turbidity of living beings will eventually produce a decrease in the life span as well as the size of each individual body. The Agamas speak of a certain stage in the history of mankind when the life span was eighty-four thousand years and the average individualís height was one hundred sixty feet. However, there came about a gradual decrease in both the life span and the height. Presently, to live seventy or eighty years is considered long life, and the average height of people is five to six feet. Somewhere in the very distant future, claims the ancient text, the life span of human beings will last ten years, and the average height will be close to three feet. That will be the time of upheavals and disasters of all kinds.
Actions considered sound today may be viewed as unskillful, even unethical, tomorrow as a result of the ego inserting itself into the field of perception. Countless defilements develop when skillful or beneficial actions are re-evaluated and come to be viewed as lacking in expediency and when the Buddhadharma is dismissed as irrelevant. Confusion resulting from ignorance is conducive to a lifestyle that has a detrimental effect on both the life span and the condition of the body. Turbidity first corrupts, then, sooner or later, takes over. Thus, worldlings need to generate compassion for this declining world, resolve to uphold at least the basic code of ethics and, perhaps, to study the Buddhadharma; furthermore, they should refrain from taking the life of any living being and be mindful of their actions, which should be skillful and cause no harm to others. If that is accomplished, there may still be time to save this world. To say it in a few words, the five turbidities are completely within the realm of the five skandhas. The skandhas combined constitute the basis of all dharmas, of all sentient beings in the ten directions, and of all worlds in all universes. The skandhas are, furthermore, the substance of the incandescent True Existence and, at the same time, the transcendental Void, or Emptiness. (The relation of True Existence to transcendental Emptiness will be discussed later). Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, relying on his luminous wisdom, ìperceived that all five skandhas are empty.î In other words, the Bodhisattva deeply practiced the Prajna Paramitaói.e., the root of Ultimate Realityóand attained the supreme Tao, realizing that the skandhas are empty of self. To arrive at that stage is Enlightenment, the state completely clear of any turbidity whatsoever. From then on, all dharmas are understood as being identical with oneís True Nature. When that level is attained, the mind comprehends the universe as the Self and the Self as the universe. The grand view is boundless!
In short, Voidness, or Emptiness, means the absence of duality, the end of accepting and rejecting. There are five categories of voidness: the obstinate void; the annihilation void; the void of analysis; the void of global comprehension; the Void of True Supramundane Existence. What is the obstinate void? It is just clinging to the space in front of us. What is the annihilation void? It is the kind grasped by those on the heterodox, or outer, path. It embraces the views that historically abounded in India as well as those assorted philosophical positions, based on cognitive patterns, which neglect the Buddhist axiom stating that all is generated by the mind. Such beliefs claim, in effect, that there is existence beyond oneís cognitive realm and that is where the dharmas are. Heading full speed into large scale confusion, the supporters of such views erroneously choose to grasp that void, positing it as the prevalent characteristic of existence.
The remaining three kinds of voidness are introspectively oriented Buddhadharma and constitute the Dharma of Voidness, or Emptiness, as the True Nature of the mind, in contrast with the teaching of the Lesser Vehicle, that focuses on the form skandha. The supramundane path of the Lesser Vehicle (Theravada) and that of sravakas and Bodhisattvas of the Great Vehicle (Mahayana) are rooted in the aforementioned last three kinds of voidness. They are neither the obstinate void of worldlings nor the annihilating voidness of the outer, or heterodox, path. The concept, or doctrine, of voidness is sometimes called either the nature of voidness or the theory of nature. The meaning is the same.
Now I shall discuss the four subdivisions of the Buddhadharma according to Tíien Tíai and the three kinds of voidness relevant to Buddhadharma as they are understood and applied in each of the four subdivisions, to wit: 1) Tsang Jiao (Theravada teachings based on the Tripitaka); 2) Tung Jiao (Theravada and Mahayana interrelated); 3) Bie Jiao (particular or distinctive Mahayana, characterized as the Bodhisattva path); 4) Yuan Jiao (original, or complete, Mahayana).
The mundane path of Theravada does not accommodate the radiant Truth at its fullest, although in some cases a Mahayana teaching may be perceived as Theravadin by a practitioner of the Lesser Vehicle. The mundane path is grounded in the minute analysis of form dharma (rupa) and mind dharma (nama) and how their interaction contributes to the illusion of a separate ego. The term dharma may be interpreted as meaning things, methods, formulas or standards; form is distinguished through shape and color, mind through its function of knowing. Our body is composed of four elements--i.e., earth, water, fire and air--which, respectively, have the character of solidity, viscosity, temperature and vibration.
The body is merely a mass of matter that does not possess the faculty of knowing an object; also, matter changes under physical conditions, and because of this feature it is called form. The element of earth is like the body, complete with skin, flesh, tendons and bones, which all have weight as well as softness and hardness. The element of water includes all bodily liquids as well as all that relates to fluidity and viscosity. The element of fire covers temperature in terms of heat in varying degrees of intensity from the highest down to the absence of heat. The element of air manifests as vibration in terms of movement. The body also manifests the three characteristics of existence--i.e., impermanence, unsatisfactory conditions and the absence of selfhood. Illness and death are caused by an imbalance of the elements or their scarcity or absence according to the Theravada teaching. Birth and death are the natural results of the bodyís being compounded from these four elements.
What is mind? Mind is knowing without form. What is form? Form is shape without the capacity of knowing. Uninstructed worldlings view the physical body (form), actually a collection of elements, as the self or ego and, therefore, cannot leave the ocean of birth and death. Deeply confused about truth, they feel oppressed because of wrong views. The only correct way to put it is to say, ìThis body is just my body; the mind is my real self.î The knowing consciousness is the master; the body is only a slave. Let us consider, for example, someone who, though interested in attending this lecture, initially did not want to make the effort because of feeling tired. Then the following thought arose: ìHearing the commentary on that sutra will increase my wisdom and reduce my defilement; I must go and listen to the Dharma.î Having persuaded oneself, he or she got on the bus and came here to hear this Dharma. Where did the initiative originate? Clearly, it originated in the mind. Again, the mind is the master, and the body is the slave.
Unfortunately, a person of mundane concerns is very confused, mistaking the slave for the master, and, consequently, there is birth and death. To perceive the brilliant Dharma is to enlighten the mind to itself, and originally the mind has neither birth nor death. Although the body dies and vanishes, the mind is imperishable and indestructible: Understanding this experientially marks the end of the cyclic pattern of existence, the exit from the ocean of suffering.
Mind is seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and knowing. The six natures, or capacities, of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and knowing are the nature of the mind. The Buddha spoke Dharma on numberless occasions for forty-nine years. All of his teachings were expedient means, and all his explanations and discourses were delivered for the purpose of helping sentient beings to be freed from attachment and delusion and to return to the Truth. He dealt predominantly with two dharmas: form and mind. According to the teaching later formulated as the Lesser Vehicle, form and mind are two. The practitioner should know the mind while not abandoning the form (body). Where does the mind dwell? According to physiology, the heart is also the mindís organ, but efforts to prove it have been inconclusive so far.
According to some religions, the mind resides in the brain; however, all attempts to find adequate proof to support such a theory have proved, again, negative. Whenever people have tried to fi nd the very source in order to pinpoint the exact site where the mind is, the results were nil in each and every case. Since mind is neither form nor name, in the context of Buddhadharma it is expediently termed Emptiness, or Voidness (Sunyata in Sanskrit).
On a particular day, represented for us by the eighth of December, while he was absorbed in deep samadhi, Sakyamuni attained complete Enlightenment. Noticing the bright morning star in the eastern sky, he observed that the nature of seeing can be a kind of connecting. He realized that his own nature of seeing was boundless, and his first statement following his enlightenment was as follows: ìWonderful, wonderful! All sentient beings have the same wisdom and virtue as the Tathagata; but because of the obstacles of illusion and grasping, they cannot attain.î
The expression sentient beings means produced by and composed of many, not being just a separate one. The human body, for example, appears to be of one piece, yet it is composed of many concealed parts, such as the heart, liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs, the pores, and even some parasites. This means that a person, seemingly an individual entity, is also composed of many sentient beings. To reiterate, the Buddhaís view was that all sentient beings have the same virtue and the same wisdom as the Tathagataóthe pure, luminous virtue of the Dharmadhatu. However, sentient beings are confused, do not return to their Original Nature and do not purify themselves to attain the Dharmakaya; and, therefore, they are called sentient beings to designate their difference from the Buddhas.
Sakyamuni, glimpsing a star in the endless reaches of the eastern sky, realized the infinite nature of Mind and achieved Enlightenment instantaneously; and the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara practiced the three kinds of wisdom of the instructed ones, meditated on sound and attained the stage of Bodhi. When all conditions are generated by oneís own mind, that is the Original Mind. The ordinary person of mundane concerns looks at an object and considers that seeing, and from that moment on adheres to the view that a table is a table, a person is a person; taking the object as the evidence of seeing, he or she fails to realize its subject. This view prevents one from being able to abandon both subject and object (dualism); so how can one ever understand or experience original seeing? One twists the process of experience to fi t his or her own concept of reality, intensifying the delusion. To perceive oneís Original Nature as shapeless and formless is to perceive the true Void. Peopleís potentials are dissimilar. Whoever can understand his or her Original Nature is clear-eyed, while anyone who focuses on the object of seeing and grasps its form is caught in turbidity.
Practitioners of the method promulgated by the Lesser Vehicle perceive mind as mind, form as form, and conceive of them as distinct and different. This method focuses on observing the observer. The connection with oneís own nature is apparently not taken into consideration. This method asserts the following: Seeing is the nature of the eye organ; hearing is the nature of the ear organ; smelling is the nature of the nose organ; tasting is the nature of the tongue organ; touching is the nature of the body; and knowing is the nature of the mind. If the practice is based on this point of view, only partial Void can be attained, but it can also be termed enlightenment according to Buddhist understanding. Furthermore, followers of Theravada hold that clothing, nourishment and lodging are deemed to result from conditioning causes and, thus, are not the concern of full-time practitioners, who supposedly have surpassed worldlings and, therefore, are viewed as holy by the devotees sharing this tradition.
The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara attained Enlightenment by perceiving his Original Nature; that is, he abandoned the duality inherent in subject and object, whereupon he attained the Middle Way perfectly and completely. Such is the pure, radiant Dharmakaya, which is quite different from the accomplishments in the tradition of the Lesser Vehicle. At one point in history, one thousand two hundred fifty-five disciples of the Buddha became Arhats. Nonetheless, their attainment was not exhaustive regarding the Ultimate Truth, but merely the end of the birth-and-death allotment. The study and practice of the Bodhisattva path was their opportunity for expanding their practice by following the example of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.
Comprehension of the immaterial substance of Reality marks the intermediate level of the Bodhisattvaís career, and it is sometimes referred to as the first gate of Mahayana and of the Middle Vehicle. It is considered to be a higher doctrinal accomplishment than that of the Lesser Vehicle. At the intermediate level, the void of the five skandhas is attained and, accordingly, obstinate view is abandoned.
Thus, the immaterial substance of Reality is perceived, but perception of the five skandhas as the superb existence is still lacking. Also, we should note, it is not actually necessary to abandon the body after the attainment of the Void. Everyone has form (body) and knowing; having attained the Void does not mean one has to endeavor to abandon the body. Voidness means simply the absence of grasping.
True Existence is Emptiness not of this world. The complete, perfect meaning of True Existence is the Supramundane Void; containing neither partial existence nor partial void, it is the Middle Way, also known as the Ultimate Reality. In short, a mind that does not discriminate by means of craving and clinging is the mind that understands the meaning of not of this world; though non-existent, it is the True Existence. There is no void, yet it is the supramundane, recondite Emptiness. The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, in his great wisdom, does not allow his mind to discriminate: Seeing is seeing, hearing is hearing, smelling is smelling, tasting is tasting, knowing is knowing, understanding is understanding; the six organs do not dwell on the six types of data. Enlightened by means of perceiving the sound of the tide, he comprehended the nature of hearing as non-abiding; and mind freed of grasping attains the wonderful Dharma of the Inconceivable. This, then, is the True Existence of the Supramundane Void.