He perceived that all five skandhas are void, thereby transcending all suffering. Of suffering, there are two kinds: the suffering of the birth-and-death allotment; the suffering of the birth-and-death realmís mortal changes. All ills and defilements mean suffering. According to the usual interpretation of the teachings, when it is fully understood that all five skandhas are empty, then the five fundamental conditions creating passion and delusion are severed, and two kinds of birth and death are finished. What are the five fundamental conditions creating passion and delusion? They are as follows: 1) wrong view, which is very common in the Triloka (Three Realms); 2) clinging, or attachment, in the realm of desire; 3) clinging, or attachment, in the realm of form; 4) clinging, or attachment, in the formless realm; 5) the state of non-enlightenment, or ignorance, in the Triloka, held to be the source of all the distress-generating delusions. The five fundamental conditions creating passion and delusion depend on the five skandhas for their existence, and when the skandhas are found to be empty, the five fundamental conditions characterizing passion and delusion vanish. Everyone is equipped with the five skandhas, but those uninstructed in Buddhadharma cannot eradicate the five fundamental conditions giving rise to passion and delusion because they are unaware that they are originated by and dwell in the mind. Such being the case, sentient beings have no other choice but to endure suffering in the present and turn endlessly in the cyclic pattern of existence until they recognize the cause of their suffering and enter the path to Enlightenment.
What are the wrong views common in the Triloka that give rise to defilement? To see the object, to be confused by the object, and to give rise to greed as the result of that confusion are the root of defilement. Let us suppose that someone meets a wealthy, influential, high-ranking official and thereafter becomes consumed with envy, greed and jealousy. However, being useless, these emotions do not help one attain what one wants. Greed becomes entrenched in the mind and, as such, is very difficult to extirpate. Defilements of this kind are quite common. However, we should understand that those unexpectedly promoted or becoming prosperous, those finding themselves in humble circumstances or destitute, those who enjoy a long life or those who die young, and even the smart or the dull ones are all in that situation due to the law of cause and effect. Good causes in previous lives will produce good effects in the present. Good causes in the present will produce favorable effects in the future. The law of cause and effect is all-pervasive, excluding nothing and no one. The practice of this Dharma and the understanding of obstinate void sever eighty-eight wrong views in the Three Realms (Triloka) and lead to the attainment of the fruit of the first stageói.e., Stream-enterer.
What is meant by attachment in the Realm of Desire? To recognize greed as objectionable and to relinquish it is expedient and noble: Not to see the object, not to give rise to clinging and not to be moved by outside things leads to the Great Liberation. Poverty, wealth, success and failure can all be endured. The next rebirth will be in the heavenly realm of desire; and when oneís blessings run out in that realm, one will be reborn as a human being. That cycle will be repeated four times, and then the fruit of the second stage will be attained, that of Once-returner. One more rebirth is required to attain the fruit of the third stage, that of Non-returner, which means the end of all delusion in the realm of desire. With the cessation of all desire at all the levels in all Three Realms, the fourth stage and its fruit are attained, that of the Arhat, or Saint. In the Realm of Desire, six planes of existence are generated by worldlings giving in to the attractions of the senses.
What is meant by attachment in the Realm of Form? Those who have freed themselves from wrong views and clinging but still hold on to the analysis of the theory of Voidness will be reborn in the Realm of Form, which consists of the four meditation (dhyana) heavens, which are further subdivided into eighteen heavens according to the depth of absorption. Each dhyana dissolves nine kinds of illusory thought, which means that thirty-six illusory thoughts are brought to a halt by the four dhyanas. If the one reborn in the Realm of Form still has a form-body, it would not be that of a woman: Those reborn in that realm have the form-body of a man. It is also called the Brahma-sphere because the beings there have renounced sense desires and delight only in meditation and dhyanic bliss. For this reason we speak of attachment in the Realm of Form. The beings in that realm have all their necessities of existence attended to without any effort. The Realm of Form is beyond the reach of ordinary people of mundane concerns.
The nourishment in the Triple Realm is of four kinds: solid nourishment, especially of the palatable variety; fragrant nourishment; the nourishment of delight in dhyana; the nourishment of delight in the Dharma. The first kind, or solid nourishment, is the same as what is eaten every day in the manner of human beings, etc., on the six paths of the Realm of Desire. The second kind, fragrant nourishment, sustains devas (heaven-dwellers) in the Realm of Form. The nourishment of delight in dhyana and the Dharma is for those in the Realm of Formlessness.
What is attachment in the Realm of Formlessness? When wrong view with its concomitant grasping no longer contaminates the Realm of Desire and the Realm of Form, then rebirth in the Realm of Formlessness follows. That sphere is free from form (body); there is only the knowing consciousness and, therefore, we speak of clinging to the Realm of Formlessness. However, denizens of that realm are no longer preoccupied with matter or material. Only the dhyanas and the Dharma are their repast and their bliss.
The Realm of Formlessness is divided into the following: attainment in meditation on the void; attainment in meditation on consciousness; attainment in meditation on nothingness; and attainment leading to a state of neither perception nor non-perception. Consider for a moment the difference between a Dharma talk offered by an Arhat and that given by someone of lower attainment. In the latter case, the attachment to the Realm of Formlessness still manifests itself.
Vast differences are noticeable when the two traditionsónamely, the Theravada and the Mahayanaóare viewed in juxtaposition. Why? Because meditation, according to the Theravada, does not single out wisdom. However, the five fundamental conditions of passion and delusion require the practice of both action and principle and equate meditation with wisdom, according to the Mahayana, which is not comparable to the Realm of Form and the Realm of Formlessness. Even the third stage of liberation, according to the Theravadaói.e., that of the Non-returneródoes not imply liberation from the Three Realms.
What characterizes the state of ignorance in the Triloka? Ignorance and delusory views still predominate, as countless as the atoms in the universe, although beings in that realm have relinquished some part of both. Their understanding of action and principle is far from clear; and, therefore, they cannot stop the conversion of their thoughts into the cycle of birth-and-death, even though they have been released from the four states, or conditions, found in mortality. The Arhat, who has completed the fourth and the highest stageóattaining the fruit and the Pathóis, likewise, liberated from these four mortal conditions. Worldlings cannot escape the two kinds of birth and death no matter how long their earthly existence might last. Furthermore, even though reborn in the Realm of Formlessness, they, nevertheless still have birth and death, even after eighty-four thousand kalpas. That is, indeed, a very long time!
One particular sutra teaches that a very, very long time ago, people lived eighty-four thousand years; but the life span gradually decreased, shortened by greed, hatred and delusion, and the process continues at a steadily accelerated pace. Thoughts of the past or future tend to make people uneasy or jittery. According to the Tíien Tíai method of counting kalpas, the life span of eighty-four thousand years is taken as the basis; it is reduced by one year a century until the life span has reached ten years, at which point the counting is reversed and years are added, one at a time, up to eighty-four thousand. Such a full cycle is called a small kalpa. Twenty of these produce one middle kalpa and four middle kalpas are called a great kalpa. Several different systems of calculating a kalpa exist, depending on the cosmology used as the point of departure. The heavenly existence in the Realm of Form is eighty-four thousand great kalpas long, yet these beings, too, must die in the end if they do not understand the Buddhaís teaching and do not practice accordingly. They may be reborn in any circumstances and may suffer a great deal, depending on whether their causes were good or evil. It is absolutely inevitable!
The preceding explanation has dealt with the five fundamental conditions creating passion and delusion. We understand presently that neither heaven-dwellers nor worldlings can escape suffering on the Wheel of Birth-and-Death unless they terminate the five fundamental conditions creating passion and delusion. There is, however, more happiness in heaven than in the world. To end the two kinds of birth and death and the five fundamental conditions giving rise to passion and delusion, one must make the Great Vow to attain Enlightenment; and to be able to do that one must study and practice the Buddhadharma.
The passage we are just concluding is related to the two kinds of birth and the five fundamental conditions giving rise to passion and delusion, which are dependent on the five skandhasónamely, form, feeling, conception, volition and consciousness. At the time of his attainment of the Radiant Wisdom, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara conquered all ills and suffering by apprehending beyond any doubt that all five skandhas are devoid of independent existence.