This portion of The Heart Sutra is the Teaching on Emptiness in connection with the eighteen worldly dharmas, or eighteen realms. The uninstructed lack understanding of the Dharma of Emptiness and repeatedly yield to the play of delusion as permanence and as independent existence. Ultimate Emptiness is not the obstinate void of worldlings nor the annihilation view of those on the heterodox path; furthermore, it is neither the analysis of the voidness as practiced by the Theravadins nor the voidness of the present moment as perceived by Bodhisattvas.
However, the supramundane Emptiness of True Existence is not possessed by Buddhas alone: All of us are endowed with the same truth and would come to know it if only we relinquished the discriminating mind, thus realizing the supramundane Void of True Existence. In order to have correct practice it is not necessary to apply the method of Theravada, the Middle Vehicle, or Mahayana. Anyone can become Buddha spontaneously by deeply comprehending that ìAll existence is void.î
The Saint of Theravada is equal to a worldly person of great potential. Thus, worldlings of superior potential can sharpen their wisdom and receive the radiant Dharma at any time. People of mundane concerns wear themselves out in the realm of the eighteen mundane dharmas, that lead to confusion and craving; for them there can be no salvation. The six organsóeye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mindóand the corresponding six sense-data, or dustóform, sound, smell, taste, touch and mental formationsógenerate the six kinds of consciousness: eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness, body consciousness and mind consciousness. This group, as a whole, is referred to as the eighteen realms or the eighteen mundane dharmas.
To be conscious means to be conscious of something, to distinguish or to discriminate. The average person works to make a living, eats and drinks every day and is, thus, always bound by the eighteen realms. He or she always sees with the eyes, hears with the ears, smells with the nose, tastes with the tongue, touches with the body and knows mental objects with the mind. Thence, the cognitive objects are discerned and produce sense-data; and from the six kinds of consciousness arise all the other functions.
People assume the reality of the subject and object behind the process, unaware as they are of its being a mere assumption unverifiable by experience. To understand this doctrine means liberation, but becoming confused about it means falling into the ocean of suffering. The six kinds of consciousness arise from the six organs and the six sense-data, but the six organs are useless to a dead body. How do the six kinds of consciousness receive the six sense-data and act upon receiving them? Also, since Emptiness is the substance of the six organs and, consequently, of the six kinds of sense-data, what do the six kind of consciousness depend on for their existence? The Sutra says, ìNo realm of the eye, until we come to no realm of consciousness,î which means there are no realm of eye consciousness, no realm of ear consciousness, no realm of nose consciousness, no realm of tongue consciousness, no realm of body consciousness, and no realm of mind consciousness.
The mundane dharmas of the eighteen realms with their ranges are clear: Each of them has a character of its own. As a matter of fact, just as one hundred rivers merge into one ocean, all dharmas are contained in one teachingóthe teaching of Emptiness. To attain Enlightenment instantly, all one needs is to understand comprehensively the dharma of Emptiness as the essence of reality. The uninformed majority submerge their True Nature in confusion resulting from a misconception regarding the eighteen realms, a concept that has no counterpart in reality. Whenever mind touches a point, there is feeling; it may itch, hurt, feel numb, burn, or produce any of the countless sensations; and the knowing consciousness is alerted. When the taste buds are stimulated, there is the knowing tasting. There is sweet, bitter, sour, etc., and the tasting nature becomes confused by the variety and the complexity. Similarly, the moment the eye makes contact, the eye consciousness engages in making distinctions in terms of light or dark, and the pristine seeing nature gets covered over by them. When the ear catches a sound, the hearing nature is lost in judgments regarding it. These cognitive patterns are so deep that it is difficult to trace and abandon them, and yet they manifest a complete misunderstanding of the original nature of consciousness. Looking at the city at night, we see the brilliant lights of ten-thousand households: Such is the form of light. During a blackout we are able to observe the form of darkness. Light and darkness both have birth and death, yet the seeing nature is free of cyclic existence. It is in the nature of seeing to perceive darkness in the absence of light and light in the absence of darkness. This should help us to understand the timeless seeing nature. Our tendency to crave, grasp and cling to the object of seeing is a major obstacle to an understanding of the True Nature of Reality.
Attachment resulting from pleasurable eye contact, once established, is exceedingly difficult to relinquish. Most people do not have any understanding of the subject of seeing. The organ of the eye does not have the ability to see; only the nature of seeing does. The one who can enlighten oneself about the subject of the seeing nature can understand oneís own mind and see his or her own nature immediately. Whether a person is holy or worldly depends entirely on oneís ability (or the lack of it) to see his or her own Original Nature. This also holds true for the natures of hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and for the nature of knowing. The Surangama Sutra says, ìWhen one organ has returned to its source, all six of them are liberated.î Our study and practice should begin by looking inward in order to free ourselves from the effect of light and dark. It is truly important to focus our attention completely on our seeing nature. When this is accomplished, it means a true awakening to the supreme Tao. First, however, we should learn the Buddhadharma and try to understand the doctrine. Then, when we start to practice, we should apply what we have learned; for without practice there is no learning.
The World Honored One is said to have attained Buddhahood already, asamkheya kalpas ago; nevertheless, he appeared in the world in order to save all sentient beings, manifesting himself as a worldling and a prince. The son of King Suddhodana of the Sakya clan, he renounced his regal status at the age of twenty-nine so he could dedicate himself wholeheartedly to the quest for liberation from suffering. He practiced ascetic meditation in the Himalayas, and at the age of thirty-five the former prince attained perfect and complete Enlightenment while meditating beneath a Bodhi tree. Noticing a bright star in the eastern sky, he observed that the seeing nature is boundless. He commented that all sentient beings have the same wisdom and virtue as the Tathagata, but since they are covered over with delusion, attachment and aversion, sentient beings do not attain Enlightenment. All evidence confirms that Sakyamuni attained the Original Nature, but most people are confused regarding their own ability to do so, mistaking the four elements for their bodies and the reflections of their six conditioned sense-data for their minds. The former create delusion and grasping, and the latter are major hindrances to attaining the Tao.
The preceding explanation dealt with the eighteen realms, consisting of six sense-organs, six sense-data and six kinds of consciousness. Now I would like to sum up, using the eye organ for illustration. There are two aspects to the eye: There are the organ of sensation and the faculty of sensation. The eye is the organ, while the faculty of sensation has two partsóseeing and form. The capacity of the eye to see, or the subject of seeing, is called the seeing nature. The form of seeing is related to the object of seeing: It is always connected to an object, and, therefore, the eye is always seeing something, whether a thing or a shape, a color or a size. The object of seeing is most confusing, and the uninstructed can easily fall into self-deception by believing in the independent existence of whatever they are looking at. Hence, the process of experience gets so twisted that it suits volition to grasp and to possess the objects, thus changing the process of experience into a source of suffering. However, the Buddhaís teaching is the path to liberation from suffering; and whoever understands this, understands all the Mahayana sutras as well.
Let us return once more to the example of the mirror and the reflection. The mirror was made to reflect whatever it faces, including mountains, rivers, and even the great earth. However, the problem arises when the reflection is mistaken for the object and when there is no realization that it may vanish at any time, being, as it is, a part of the birth-and-death cycle. The inherent ability to reflect is the Real Self, the timeless characteristic of the mirror we are talking about, yet it is very seldom realized. There was a Chían master who said, ìAlways facing it, yet not knowing what it is!î This means that worldlings do not recognize the nature of seeing for what it is: Ignoring the clarity of the mirror, they hold on to the reflection.
Time passes very quickly; so even if we live for one hundred years, it still is a very brief period of time. Those who inhabit heavens still worry about death although their lives last much longer. Things seen during oneís life are completely useless after one has died. The seeing nature, however, is not amenable to birth or death, nor is it dependent on the organ of the eye. To have eyes does not necessarily mean having seeing awareness. The nature of seeing is like the capacity of the mirror to reflect images, shapes or actions; after the images, shapes or actions vanish, the seeing nature remains, unmovable and unchangeable. The same applies to the hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and knowing natures.
Simply stated, people should not hold reflections to be permanent, grasping and clinging to them. To perceive the reflectivity of the mirror as the True Self means quick release from defilement and an expeditious liberation. The remaining five sense-doors can be inferred from the example of the eye organ; the six organs with their corresponding six data and six kinds of consciousness collectively generate the eighteen realms, or the eighteen worldly dharmas, all of which are reflections, impermanent and subject to birth and death. Only the seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and knowing natures, like the nature of the mirror, remain unchanged. Furthermore, that which reflects is also the reflection, and the reflection becomes that which reflects it: They complement one another.
Thus, there is ìno eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or mind; no form, sound, smell, taste, touch, mind-object, or eye realm, until we come to no realm of consciousness.î According to the assertion ìAll five skandhas are emptyî, the five skandhas are the True Void of Supramundane Existence, and the Dharma of the Five Skandhas is the fundamental Dharma. In the True Void of Supramundane Existence, where there are no more skandhas, there is nothing to be attained. Thus, the eighteen realms are void at this very moment. Without the mirror, how can there be any reflection?