This document is a draft of a chapter from a forthcoming book, Anthology of Scriptures of World Religions, by John Powers and James Fieser, to be published by McGraw-Hill Publications in 1997.
The anthology will contain a revised version of this chapter, with updated translations, and chapters of scriptures of all the world's major religious traditions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Bah'ai, and Zoroastrianism.
The anthology will be available in three forms: (1) an anthology of Western religions; (2) an anthology of Asian religions; and (3) an anthology of all the world's religions.
© 1995, John C. PowersI. Introduction
Nearly 2,500 years ago a young man sat under a tree in northern India, determined to find a way to transcend the sufferings that he recognized as being endemic to the world. Born a prince named Siddhartha Gautama in a small kingdom in what is today southern Nepal, he had renounced his royal heritage in order to escape the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that inevitably leads to suffering, loss, and pain. As he sat under the tree, he recognized that all of the world's problems begin with a fundamental ignorance (avidya) that causes beings to misunderstand the true nature of reality. Because of this, they engage in actions that lead to their own suffering and fail to recognize what leads to happiness.
Siddhartha remained in meditation throughout the night, and during this time the veils of ignorance lifted from his perception. He came to understand how the lives of all beings in the world are constantly influenced by the effects of their own actions (karma), and that seeking happiness within the changing phenomena of the mundane world is a fundamental mistake. He saw everything in the world as impermanent (anitya) and understood that because of the fact of constant change even things that seem to provide happiness--such as wealth, fame, power, sex, relationships--are in fact sources of suffering (duhkha).
In addition, he perceived that everything comes into being in dependence upon causes and conditions--a doctrine referred to in Buddhism as "dependent arising" (pratitya-samutpada)--and he understood that because phenomena are in a constant state of flux there is no enduring essence underlying them. Nor is there a supreme being who oversees the process of change and decides the fates of beings. Rather, every being is responsible for its own destiny, and the entire system of universal interdependent causation is driven by its own internal forces. Individual beings are what they are because of the actions they performed in the past.
Moreover, beings lack an enduring self or soul. This doctrine is referred to in Buddhist literature as "selflessness" (anatman), which is a denial of the sort of permanent, partless, and immortal entity that is called "atman" (literally "I" or "self") in Hinduism and "soul" in Christianity. This doctrine is connected with the idea that all phenomena lack substantial entities, and are characterized by an "emptiness" (shunyata) of inherent existence (svabhava, literally "own-being").
At dawn of the following morning, full awareness arose in him, and all traces of ignorance disappeared. He had become a "buddha," a term derived from the Sanskrit root word budh, meaning to wake up or to regain consciousness. Thus he was now fully awakened from the sleep of ignorance in which most beings spend life after life. At first he thought to remain under the tree and pass away without revealing what he had understood, since he knew that the teachings of an awakened being are subtle and difficult for ordinary beings to comprehend. As he sat there in blissful contemplation, however, the Indian god Brahma came to him, bowed down before him, and begged him to teach others. Brahma pointed out that there would be some intelligent people who would derive benefit from his teachings and that many people would find true happiness by following the path that he had discovered.
Feeling a sense of profound compassion for suffering beings, Buddha agreed to share his wisdom with them, and so embarked on a teaching career that would last for about forty years. He traveled around India, teaching all who wished to listen, and many people recognized the truth of his words and became his disciples. According to Buddhist tradition, he was an accomplished teacher who was able to perceive the proclivities and mindsets of his listeners and who could skillfully adapt his teachings for each person and group while still retaining the essential message. He had many lay disciples, but he emphasized the centrality of a monastic lifestyle for those who were intent on liberation. According to his biography, he died in a grove of trees near the town of Vaishali at the age of eighty.
Shortly after his death his followers convened a council to codify the teachings of the Buddha. According to tradition, the council met in Rajagriha, a place in which Buddha had delivered many discourses. The participants were five hundred of his closest disciples who had become arhats (meaning that they had eradicated mental afflictions and transcended all attachment to mundane things). Such people, it was believed, would not be afflicted by faulty memories or biased by sectarian considerations.
The members of the assembly recounted what they had heard Buddha say on specific occasions, and they prefaced their remarks with the phrase, "Thus have I heard: At one time the Exalted One was residing in...." This formula indicated that the speaker had been a member of the audience, and it provided the context and background of the discourse. Other members would certify the veracity of the account or correct minor details, and at the end of the council all present were satisfied that the Buddha's words had been definitively recorded. The canon of Buddhism was declared closed, and the council issued a pronouncement that henceforth no new teachings would be admitted as the "word of the Buddha" (buddha-vachana).
Despite the intentions of the council, however, new teachings and doctrines continued to appear in the following centuries, and the Buddhist community developed numerous divisions. The most significant of these was the split into two schools termed "Hinayana," or "Lesser Vehicle" and "Mahayana," or "Greater Vehicle." These names were obviously coined by the latter group, which considered itself to be superior to its rivals because it propounded a goal of universal salvation, while the Hinayana emphasized the importance of working primarily for one's own emancipation. The Hinayana ideal is the arhat, a being who overcomes all ties to the phenomenal world and so attains nirvana, which is said to be a state beyond birth and death. It is also described as perfect bliss.
Their Mahayana rivals condemned this as a selfish and limited goal. The Mahayana ideal is the bodhisattva (a being--sattva--whose goal is awakening--bodhi), who seeks to attain the state of buddhahood in order to help others to find the path to final happiness. This form of Buddhism later predominated in Central and East Asia--countries such as Tibet, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and China--while Hinayana schools took hold in Southeast Asia--in such countries as Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, and Laos.
Buddhists in these countries do not accept the designation of their tradition as a "Lesser Vehicle." Rather, they contend that the dominant Theravada tradition (the only one of the numerous schools collectively designated by the term "Hinayana" that survives today) is in fact the true teaching of Buddha. They further believe that the Mahayana sutras (discourses believed by Mahayanists to have been spoken by the historical Buddha) are in fact forgeries that proclaim practices and doctrines that the Buddha never taught, but which were actually falsely propounded by others long after his death.
The oldest distinctively Mahayana literature is a group of texts that discuss the "perfection of wisdom" (prajna-paramita). The earliest of these is probably the Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines,3 the oldest version of which may have been composed as early as the first century B.C.E. The Perfection of Wisdom texts do not make their appearance until several centuries after the death of the Buddha, but they claim to have been spoken by him during his lifetime. Mahayana tradition explains the chronological discrepancy by contending that they were indeed taught by the Buddha to advanced disciples, but that he ordered that they be hidden in the underwater realm of nagas (beings with snakelike bodies and human heads) until the time was right for their propagation.
The legend further reports that the second-century philosopher Nagarjuna (fl. ca. 150 C.E.) was the person preordained by Buddha to recover and explicate the Perfection of Wisdom texts. After one of his lectures, some nagas approached him and told him of the texts hidden in their kingdom, and so Nagarjuna traveled there and returned with the sutras to India. He is credited with founding the Madhyamaka (Middle Way) school of Buddhist philosophy, which emphasized the centrality of the doctrine of emptiness. Nagarjuna and his commentators (the most influential of whom was Chandrakirti, ca. 550-600) developed the philosophical ramifications of this doctrine, which is closely connected with the notion of dependent arising. Since all phenomena come into being as a result of causes and conditions, abide due to causes and conditions, and pass away due to causes and conditions, everything in the universe is empty of a substantial entity. Ordinary beings, however, perceive them as existing in the way that they appear--that is, as real, substantial things that inherently possess certain qualities. Nagarjuna declared that a failure to understand emptiness correctly leads to mistaken perceptions of things, and that erroneous philosophical views are the reifications of such notions.
The Madhyamaka philosophers applied this insight not only to mistaken perceptions, but also to the doctrines of rival schools, which they contended were founded on self-contradictory assumptions. Through a process of dialectical reasoning, Madhyamaka thinkers exposed both Buddhist and non-Buddhist systems of thought to a rigorous critique, the goal of which was to lead people to recognize the ultimate futility of attempting to encapsulate truth in philosophical propositions.
Approximately two centuries after Nagarjuna, a new Mahayana school arose in India, which is commonly known as the Yogic Practice School (Yogachara). The main scriptural source for this school is the Sutra Explaining the Thought (Samdhinirmochana-sutra), which consists of a series of questions put to the Buddha by a group of bodhisattvas.
The name "Yogic Practice School" may have been derived from an important treatise by Asanga (ca. 310-390) entitled the Levels of Yogic Practice (Yogachara-bhumi). Along with his brother Vasubandhu (ca. 320-400), Asanga is credited with founding this school and developing its central doctrines. Yogachara emphasizes the importance of meditative practice, and several passages in Yogachara texts indicate that the founders of the school perceived other Mahayana Buddhists as being overly concerned with dialectical debate while neglecting meditation.
The Yogachara school is commonly referred to in Tibet as "Mind Only" (sems tsam; Sanskrit: chitta-matra) because of an idea found in some Yogachara texts that all the phenomena of the world are "cognition-only" (vijnapti-matra), implying that everything we perceive is conditioned by consciousness.
In the following centuries, a number of syncretic schools developed. They tended to mingle Madhyamaka and Yogachara doctrines. The greatest examples of this syncretic period are the philosophers Shantarakshita (ca. 680-740) and Kamalashila (ca. 740-790), who are among the last significant Buddhist philosophers in India.
In addition to these developments in philosophy, sometime around the sixth or seventh century a new trend in practice developed in India, which was written down in texts called tantras. These texts purported to have been spoken by the historical Buddha (or sometimes by other buddhas), and while they incorporated the traditional Mahayana ideal of the bodhisattva who seeks buddhahood for the benefit of all beings, they also proposed some radically new practices and paradigms. The central practices of tantra include visualizations intended to foster cognitive reorientation, the use of prayers (mantra) to buddhas that are intended to facilitate the transformation of the meditator into a fully enlightened buddha, and often elaborate rituals.
In the tantric practice of deity yoga (devata-yoga), meditators first visualize buddhas in front of themselves (this is referred to as the "generation stage," utpanna-krama), and then they invite the buddhas to merge with them, a process that symbolically transforms them into buddhas (this is referred to as the "completion stage," nishpanna-krama). The practice of deity yoga is intended to help meditators to become familiar with having the body, speech, and mind of buddhas, and with performing the compassionate activities of buddhas. Because meditators train in the desired effect of buddhahood, the path of tantra is said by its adherents to be much shorter than that of traditional Mahayana, which was said to require a minimum of three "countless eons" (asamkhyeya-kalpa) to complete. With the special practices of tantra, it is said to be possible to become a buddha in as little as one human lifetime.
Following this last flowering of Buddhist thought in India, Buddhism began to decline. It became increasingly a tradition of elite scholar-monks who studied in great monastic universities like Nalanda and Vikramashila in northern India. Buddhism failed to adapt to changing social and political circumstances, and apparently lacked a wide base of support. Thus, when a series of invasions by Turkish Muslims descended on India in the ninth through twelfth centuries, after the invaders had sacked the great north Indian monastic universities and killed many prominent monks, Buddhism was dealt a death blow from which it never recovered.
The Spread of Buddhism Outside of India
During the third century B.C.E. the spread of Buddhism was furthered by Ashoka (270-232), the third of the Mauryan kings who created the first pan-Indian empire. Ashoka was converted to Buddhism by a Theravada monk and, after a bloody war of conquest against the neighboring state of Kalinga, he recognized that such aggression violated the principles of Buddhism. From this point on he renounced war as an instrument of foreign policy. He began to implement Buddhist principles in the administration of the kingdom and, in order to inform the populace of his political and ruling philosophy, he had edicts inscribed on stone pillars and placed throughout his kingdom. A number of them still survive today. His reign is considered by Buddhists to have been a model of good government, one that was informed by Buddhist principles of righteousness and respect for life.
His advocacy of Buddhism was one of the primary reasons for the spread of the tradition into Southeast Asia, He sent teams of missionaries all over the Indian sub-continent, and to Sri Lanka, Burma, and other neighboring areas. Due to Ashoka's influence and personal power, the missionaries were generally well-received in the countries they visited, and they were often successful in convincing people to convert to Buddhism. One of the most successful of the missions he sponsored was led by his son Mahinda, who traveled to Sri Lanka along with four other monks and a novice. According to Buddhist tradition, the mission was so successful that the king of Sri Lanka became a Buddhist, and Mahinda then supervised the translation of the Theravada canon (written in the Pali language) into Sinhala. He also helped to found a monastery that was named the Mahavihara, which became the main bastion of Theravada orthodoxy on Sri Lanka for over 1,000 years.
It is unclear exactly when Buddhist first arrived in East Asia. China was the first country in the region to record contact with Buddhism: a royal edict issued in 65 C.E. reports that a prince in what is now northern Kiangsu Province performed Buddhist sacrifices and entertained Buddhist monks and laypeople. The earliest Buddhists in China were probably from Central Asia, and for centuries Buddhism was widely perceived as a religion of foreigners.
In 148 C.E. a monk named An Shih-kao, from the Central Asian kingdom of Kusha, began translating Indian Buddhist texts into Chinese in Lo-yang, which was to become the capital of the later Han dynasty. An Shih-kao and a number of other monks (mostly from Central Asia) translated about thirty Buddhist texts during the next three decades. The early translators used a translation system termed "matching concepts" (ko-i), which was to have important ramifications for the development of Chinese Buddhism. Realizing that China had a highly developed culture and that Chinese tended to view people from other countries as uncouth barbarians, the early translators used indigenous terminology--particularly Taoist terminology--to translate Sanskrit technical terms. One result of this practice was that it made many foreign ideas more palatable to Chinese readers, but it also inevitably colored the translations to such an extent that for the first few centuries after Buddhism's arrival in China, many Chinese believed it to be another version of Taoism.
In later centuries, Chinese Buddhism developed its own identity, and from China Buddhism was passed on to Korea and Japan. In 552, according to the Nihonshoki, the Korean state of Paekche sent Buddhist texts and images to Japan, hoping to persuade the Japanese emperor to become an ally in its war with the neighboring state of Silla. Some members of the Soga clan wanted to worship the buddha as a powerful foreign god (kami), hoping by this to gain influence by associating themselves with what they believed to be a deity of the powerful Chinese empire. The early Japanese interest in Buddhism was mostly connected with purported magical powers of buddhas and Buddhist monks, but after the emperor Yomei (r. 585-587) converted to Buddhism the Japanese began to travel to China in order to study with Buddhist teachers there, and indigenous Buddhist schools developed in Japan.
Yomei's son Prince Shotoku (574-622) enthusiastically propagated Buddhism. He is credited with building numerous Buddhist temples and with sponsoring Japanese monks to travel to China for study. He is also the author of commentaries on three Buddhist texts. In later times he was viewed in Japan as an incarnation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
During the reign of the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen (740-798), the Indian scholar Shantarakshita traveled to Tibet, but opposition from some of the king's ministers forced him to leave. Before departing, he urged the king to invite the tantric adept Padmasambhava. Upon his arrival in Tibet, Padmasambhava claimed that Shantarakshita's efforts had been frustrated by the country's demons. Padmasambhava then challenged the demons to personal combat, and none were able to defeat him. This so impressed the king and his court that Shantarakshita was invited back at Padmasambhava's urging, and the first monastery in Tibet was built at Samye. This marked the beginning of the "first dissemination" of Buddhism to Tibet, which ended when the devout Buddhist king Relbachen (815-836) was assassinated.
His death in 836 marked the beginning of an interregnum period for Tibetan Buddhism, which ended in 1042 when Atisha (982-1054, one of the directors of the monastic university of Nalanda, traveled to Tibet. This is considered by Tibetan historians to mark the beginning of the "second dissemination" of Buddhism to Tibet. Atisha was so successful in bringing the dharma to Tibet that Buddhism quickly became the dominant religious tradition in the country.
Today Buddhism continues to flourish in Asia, despite such setbacks as the suppression of religion in China since the inauguration of the People's Republic of China. The current government follows Karl Marx's notion that religion is "the opiate of the masses" and an impediment to social development. In recent years government persecution of Buddhism has eased somewhat, and currently it is enjoying increased support from the Chinese populace. The government is also allowing young people to become ordained as Buddhist monks and nuns.
Buddhism is becoming increasingly popular in Western countries, and a number of prominent Buddhist teachers have established successful centers in Europe and North America. The Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Sogyal Rinpoche, a number of Zen masters (roshi), and Theravada meditation teachers have attracted substantial followings outside of Asia, and books and articles about Buddhism are appearing with increasing frequency in Western countries.
II. Buddhist Texts
The early Buddhist canon is traditionally referred to as the "Three Baskets" (tripitaka; Pali: tipitaka), consisting of: (1) vinaya: rules of conduct, which are mainly concerned with the regulation of the monastic order; (2) sutras: discourses purportedly spoken by the Buddha, and sometimes by his immediate disciples; and (3) abhidharma, which includes scholastic treatises that codify and interpret the teachings attributed to the Buddha. According to Buddhist tradition, this division was instituted at the first council. This canon was written in a language called Pali, which is believed to have been derived from a dialect used in the region of Magadha. A second council introduced some modifications to the rules of monastic discipline, and later councils added other texts to the canon.
At first the canon was transmitted orally, but after a time of political and social turmoil King Vattagamani of Sri Lanka ordered that it be committed to writing. This was accomplished between 35 and 32 B.C.E. The sutras and vinaya were written in Pali, but some of the commentaries were in Sinhala. The Sinhala texts were translated into Pali in the fifth century C.E.
The Vinaya section of the Pali canon consists of rules of conduct, most of which are aimed at monks and nuns. Many of these are derived from specific cases in which the Buddha was asked for a ruling on the conduct of particular members of the order, and the general rules he promulgated still serve as the basis for monastic conduct.
The Sutra (Pali: Sutta) section of the Pali canon is traditionally divided into five "groupings" (nikaya): (1) the "long" (digha) discourses; (2) the "medium length" (majjhima) discourses; (3) the "grouped" (samyutta) discourses; (4) the "enumerated" (anguttara) discourses, which are arranged according to the enumerations of their topics; and (5) the "minor" (khuddaka) discourses, which comprise the largest section of the canon and the one that contains the widest variety of materials. It includes stories of the Buddha's former births (Jataka), which report how he gradually perfected the exalted qualities of a buddha; accounts of the lives of the great disciples (apadana); didactic verses (gatha); an influential work entitled the Path of Truth (Dhammapada); and a number of other important texts.
The Abhidharma (Pali: abhidhamma) section includes seven treatises, which organize the doctrines of particular classes of Buddha's discourses. The Abhidharma writers attempted to systematize the profusion of teachings attributed to Buddha into a coherent philosophy. Their texts classify experience in terms of impermanent groupings of factors referred to as dharma (Pali: dhamma), which in aggregations are the focus of the doctrine (dharma) taught by Buddha. They are simple real things, indivisible into something more basic. Collections of dharmas are the phenomena of experience. Everything in the world--people, animals, plants, inanimate objects--consists of impermanent groupings of dharmas. Thus nothing possesses an underlying soul or essence. The collections of dharmas are changing in every moment, and so all of reality is viewed as a vast interconnected network of change and interlinking causes and conditions.
Other early schools developed their own distinctive canons, many of which have very different collections of texts, although the doctrines and practices they contain are similar. Some schools, such as the Sarvastivadins, used Sanskrit for their canons, but today only fragments of these collections exist, mostly in Chinese translations. Although Mahayana schools developed an impressive literature, there does not seem to have been an attempt to create a Mahayana canon in India. The surviving Mahayana canons were all compiled in other countries.
Canons compiled in Mahayana countries contain much of the material of the Pali canon, but they also include Mahayana sutras and other texts not found in the Pali canon. The Tibetan canon, for example, contains a wealth of Mahayana sutras translated from Sanskrit, treatises (shastra) by important Indian Buddhist thinkers, tantras and tantric commentaries, and miscellaneous writings that were deemed important enough to include in the canon. The Chinese canon also contains Mahayana sutras, Indian philosophical treatises, and a variety of other texts, but its compilation was much less systematic than that of the Tibetan canon. The Tibetan translators had access to a much wider range of literature, due to the fact that the canon was collected in Tibet many centuries after the Chinese one. In addition, Buddhist literature came to China in a rather haphazard way. The transmission of Buddhist texts to China occurred over the course of several centuries, and during this time the tradition in India was developing and creating new schools and doctrines.
The Chinese canon was transmitted to Korea and Japan. Tibet and Mongolia both follow the Tibetan canon, which according to tradition was redacted and codified by Pudön (1290-1364). The Theravada countries of Southeast Asia follow the Pali canon and generally consider the texts of Mahayana to be heterodox.
In addition to this canonical literature, each school of Buddhism has created literature that it considers to be authoritative. In the selections below we provide examples of such texts from a wide range of schools and periods of Buddhist literature, but the vast scope of canonical and extra-canonical literature prevents us from including many important works. The selections are intended to present a representative sampling of early texts that contain central doctrines or that recount important events in the history of Buddhism, along with statements by Buddhist thinkers of later times that represent influential developments in Buddhist thought and practice.
III. Selections from Buddhist Texts
a. The Buddha and the Texts of the Pali Canon
The Life of the Buddha
According to traditional accounts, the Buddha was born a prince named Siddhartha Gautama in a small kingdom in what is today southern Nepal. His final incarnation was a culmination of a training program that spanned countless lifetimes, during which he gradually perfected the exalted qualities that would mark him as a buddha. Shortly after his birth, his father consulted a number of astrologers, all of whom declared that the newborn prince would become a great king and that he would rule the whole world with truth and righteousness. One astrologer, however, declared that if the prince were to see a sick person, an old person, a corpse, and a world renouncing ascetic, he would become dissatisfied with his life and become a wandering mendicant in order to seek final peace. These four things became known in Buddhism as the "four sights." The first three epitomize the problems inherent in the world, while the fourth points to the way out of the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, which is characterized by suffering and loss.
According to the Extensive Sport Sutra (Lalitavistara-sutra), Siddhartha's father, king Shuddhodana, decided to prevent his son from encountering any of the four sights and surrounded him with pleasant diversions during his early years. The prince, however, eventually convinced his father to let him visit a part of the city that lay outside the palace gates.
Before allowing the prince to ride out in his chariot, Shuddhodana first ordered that the streets be cleared of all sick and old people, and that the prince not be allowed to see any corpses or world renouncers. Despite the king's efforts, however, at one point the path of the royal chariot was blocked by a sick man. Siddhartha had never before encountered serious illness, and he turned to Chandaka, his charioteer, and asked,
O charioteer, who is this man, feeble and helpless?
His flesh and blood have dried up, he has but skin and sinews,
His hair is white, his teeth scarce, his body meager,
He walks painfully and reeling and leans upon a staff.
Chandaka informed the prince that the man had grown old and that such afflictions were the inevitable result of age. He added,
O prince, this is neither the property of his race, nor of his country only.
With all living beings, youth gives way to decrepitude;
Your father and mother and the host of your relatives likewise
Cannot be delivered from the suffering of old age--
No other way exists for living beings!
Siddhartha was amazed to find that most people see such sights every day but persist in short-sighted pursuits and mundane affairs, apparently unconcerned that they will inevitably become sick, grow old, and die.
In three subsequent journeys outside the palace, Siddhartha saw an old man and a corpse, and when he learned that eventually his young, healthy body would become weak and decrepit he fell into a profound depression. On a fourth trip, Siddhartha saw a world renouncer, a man who stood apart from the crowd, who owned nothing and was unaffected by the petty concerns of the masses, and who radiated calm, serenity, and a profound inner peace. This sight lifted Siddhartha's spirits, since it revealed to him that there is a way to transcend the vicissitudes of mundane existence and find true happiness. Intrigued by the ascetic, Siddhartha asked Chandaka what sort of man he was, and the charioteer replied,
Lord, this man is one of those whom people call bhikshus [mendicants].
Having abandoned the joys of desire,
He has perfect and disciplined conduct.
He has become a wandering monk seeking for inner calm.
Without desire he wanders, without hate he wanders, asking for alms.
Realizing the folly of remaining in the palace, Siddhartha resolved to renounce the world and find inner peace.
I know the evils of desire are endless; they are the root of sorrow, accompanied by regrets, struggles, and hostility; they are frightful, like poison ivy, like fire, like the blade of a sword. For the qualities of desire, I have neither taste nor inclination; I would rather dwell in a forest, silent, with my mind calmed by the happiness of meditation and contemplation.
Siddhartha then declared his desire to become awakened in order to show other suffering beings a way to end suffering:
In pursuit of the welfare of all that lives,
I, having attained Enlightenment and the state
Where there is no old age, illness, and death,
Shall bring deliverance to the world.
Such was the vow I made long before,
And the time of fulfilling it has now come
Siddhartha left the palace and subsequently practiced meditation with several teachers, but none could show him a path leading to the cessation of suffering. At one point he fell in with five spiritual seekers who told him that the way to salvation lies in severe asceticism. He followed their practices, and eventually was only eating a single grain of rice per day. After swooning due to weakness, however, Siddhartha realized that extreme asceticism is just as much a trap as the hedonistic indulgence of his early years.
Thus he left his ascetic companions behind and resolved to find a path leading to the cessation of suffering. He recognized that he would have to discover the truth for himself. Before embarking on his final quest for truth Siddhartha made a solemn vow,
May, as long as I sit here, my body wither away,
May the skin, the bones and the flesh decay,
But until I have attained Enlightenment
Which is hard to be secured even during many aeons--
I shall not move from this spot.
Siddhartha stood in a spot that is now known as "the Circle of Awakening," located in modern-day Bodhgaya. Sitting under a tree, during the night Siddhartha entered into progressively deeper meditative states, in which the patterns of the world fell into place for him, and thus he came to understand the causes and effects of actions, why beings suffer, and how to transcend all the pains and sorrows of the world.
By the dawn of the next morning he had completely awakened from the misconceptions of ordinary people, and at this point Buddhist texts refer to him as "buddha," indicating that he was now fully awake and aware of the true nature of all things. Scanning the world with his heightened perception, the Buddha recognized that his realization was too profound to be understood by the vast majority of beings in the world, and so initially he decided to remain under the tree in profound equanimity, and to pass away without teaching what he had learned.
I have secured the cognition of the Truth, profound,
Free from defilement, illuminating, eternal, and like nectar.
But, if I should demonstrate it to others, they will not understand.
Therefore I shall abide in solitude in the forest.
After the Buddha had made this statement, however, the Indian god Brahma appeared before him and begged him to teach what he had learned for the benefit of those few beings who could understand and profit from his wisdom. Moved by compassion for the sufferings of beings caught up in the round of cyclic existence, the Buddha agreed, and for the next forty years he traveled around India, teaching all who cared to listen.
The First Sermon
Shortly after making the decision to teach, Buddha surveyed the world in order to choose a place to begin his teaching career. He decided to travel to Sarnath, where his five former companions were still practicing pointless austerities, hoping in this way to find happiness.
The following excerpt purports to be Buddha's first public teaching. It is referred to as the "Sutra Turning the Wheel of Doctrine" because it set in motion the Buddha's teaching career. In this passage, he lays out some of the themes that would be central to his later teachings, such as the importance of following a "middle way" that avoids the extremes of sensual indulgence and extreme asceticism, and the "four noble truths": (1) that all mundane existence involves suffering; (2) that suffering is caused by desire; (3) that there can be a cessation of suffering; and (4) the eightfold noble path that leads to this cessation.
Thus have I heard: At one time, the Exalted One was living near Varanasi, at Isipatana near the Deer Park. Then the Exalted One spoke to the group of five monks: These two extremes, O monks, should not be practiced by one who has gone forth [from the household life]. What are the two? That which is linked with sensual desires, which is low, vulgar, common, unworthy, and useless, and that which is linked with self-torture, which is painful, unworthy, and useless. By avoiding these two extremes the Tathagata [Buddha] has gained the knowledge of the middle path which gives vision and knowledge, and leads to calm, to clairvoyances, to enlightenment, to nirvana.
O monks, what is the middle path, which gives vision...? It is the noble eightfold path: right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This, O monks, is the middle path, which gives vision....
(1) Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, old age is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow, grieving, dejection, and despair are suffering. Contact with unpleasant things is suffering, not getting what you want is also suffering. In short, the five aggregates of grasping are suffering.
(2) Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of the arising of suffering: that craving which leads to rebirth, combined with longing and lust for this and that--craving for sensual pleasure, craving for rebirth, craving for cessation of birth.
(3) Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: It is the complete cessation without remainder of that craving, the abandonment, release from, and non-attachment to it.
(4) Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of the path that leads to the cessation of suffering: This is the noble eightfold path....
Now monks, as long as my threefold knowledge and insight regarding these noble truths...were not well purified, so long, O monks, I was not sure that in this world...I had attained the highest complete enlightenment.
But when my threefold knowledge and insight in these noble truths with their twelve divisions were well purified, then, O monks, I was sure that in this world...I had attained the highest complete enlightenment. Now knowledge and insight have arisen in me, so that I know: My mind's liberation is assured; this is my last existence; for me there is no rebirth.
Analysis of the Truths
In the following passage, Shariputra (said in some Pali texts to be the foremost of Buddha's disciples in the development of wisdom) expounds on the doctrines of the previous excerpt.
Thus have I heard: At one time, the Exalted One was living near Benaras, at Isipatana near the Deer Park....Then the Exalted One said: `O monks, it was here in this very Deer Park at Benaras that the incomparable wheel of doctrine (dhamma) was set turning by the perfected one, the arhat, the completely awakened one, which cannot be turned back by ascetic or brahman, god or Demon or Brahma or by anyone in the world. It is like this: it was an announcement of the four noble truths, the teaching, declaration, and establishment of those four truths, opening them up, analyzing, and clarifying them.
`What are these four? The announcement, teaching...and clarifying of the noble truth of suffering, of the origin of suffering, of the cessation of suffering, of the path that leads to the cessation of suffering.
`O monks, follow Shariputra and Maudgalyayana and be guided by them; they are wise monks who help companions in the religious life (brahmac>ra)....Shariputra is able to announce, teach...and make clear the four noble truths in all their details.' Having spoken thus, the Well Gone One (sugata) arose from his seat and went into his living quarters.
Soon after the Blessed One left, the venerable Shariputra said to the monks who were there: `Venerable monks...what is the noble truth of suffering? Birth is suffering; aging is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow, distress, misery, and despair are suffering; not getting what you want is suffering. In short, the five aggregates of grasping are suffering....
`And what, sirs, is birth? It is the conception, production, degeneration, rebirth, the arising of various beings belonging to the various types of beings, the appearance of the aggregates, the acquisition of the sense-spheres (>yatana)....
`And what, sirs, is aging? It is the aging, decrepitude, loss of teeth, gray hair, wrinkles, dwindling of the term of life, diminishment of the sense-faculties of various beings belonging to the various types of beings....
`And what, sirs, is death? It is the leaving, the passing away, the breaking up, the disappearance, dying, death, decrease, and dissolving of the aggregates, the leaving of the body....
`And what, sirs, is sorrow? It is the grieving, sorrowing, inner sorrow, the inner pain of someone experiencing some kind of trouble, afflicted by some kind of suffering. It is the crying, weeping, or wailing of someone experiencing some kind of trouble, afflicted by some kind of suffering....
`And what, sirs, is distress? It is physical distress, physical unpleasantness that arises from something affecting the body and experienced as distress, as unpleasantness....
`And what, sirs, is misery? It is mental suffering, mental unpleasantness that arises from something affecting the mind and experienced as distress, as unpleasantness....
`And what, sirs, is despair? It is despondency, despair, the despondency and despair of someone afflicted by some kind of calamity, burdened by some kind of suffering....
`And what, sirs, is "not getting what you want?"...A wish like this arises in beings that are subject to birth: "May we not be subject birth and may birth not come to us." But this is not gained just by wishing....Sirs, a wish like this arises in beings that are subject to aging...disease... death...to beings that are subject to sorrow, distress, misery, and despair: "May we not be subject to sorrow, distress, misery, and despair, and may sorrow, distress, misery, and despair not come to us." But this is not gained just by wishing....
`And what, in brief, sirs, are the five aggregates of grasping that are suffering? They are: the aggregate of grasping for form...for feelings...for discriminations...for compositional factors...for consciousness....Sirs, this is called the noble truth of suffering.
`And what, sirs, is the noble truth of the arising of suffering? Whatever craving is associated with rebirth, accompanied by delight and attachment, finding delight in something--craving for sensual pleasures, craving for being, craving for cessation--this, sirs, is called the noble truth of the arising of suffering.
`And what, sirs, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering? Whatever is the cessation, with no remainder of attachment, of that very grasping, the renouncing of it, abandoning it, release from it, independence from it, sirs, is called the noble truth of the cessation of suffering.
`And what, sirs, is the noble truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering? It is the noble eightfold path itself: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
`And what, sirs, is right view? Sirs, whatever is knowledge of suffering, knowledge of the arising of suffering, knowledge of the cessation of suffering, knowledge of the path leading to the cessation: this, sirs, is called right view.
`And what, sirs, is right intention? Intention toward renunciation, intention toward non-harmfulness, intention toward non-injury: this, sirs, is called right intention.
`And what, sirs, is right speech? Avoiding lying speech, slanderous speech, harsh speech, and gossip: this, sirs, is called right speech.
`And what, sirs, is right action? Avoiding harming living beings, taking what is not given, and sexual misconduct: this, sirs, is called right action.
`And what, sirs, is right livelihood? Sirs, it is that by which a follower of the Noble One makes a living, avoiding wrong modes of making a living: this, sirs, is called right livelihood.
`And what, sirs, is right effort? Sirs, a follower of the Noble One applies the will, aspires, applies himself, exerts the mind, and works at stopping bad qualities that have not yet arisen, gets rid of those that have already arisen, cultivates good qualities that have not yet arisen, and establishes, keeps from deteriorating, multiplies, enlarges, develops, and perfects those good qualities that have already arisen. This, sirs, is called right effort.
`And what, sirs, is right mindfulness? Sirs, a monk practices contemplating what the body is...what feelings are...what mind is...what mental factors are: a monk remains enthusiastic, alert, and mindful, free from the wants and dejections of the world. This, sirs, is called right mindfulness.
`And what, sirs, is right concentration? Sirs, a monk, who is indifferent to sense pleasures, indifferent to non-virtuous mental states, enters into and abides in the first concentration, which is conceptual and analytical, arises from indifference, and is joyful and blissful. Due to decreasing conceptuality and analysis, with the mind subjectively pacified and focused on one point, one enters into and abides in the second concentration, which is non-conceptual and non-analytical, arises from concentration, and is joyful and blissful. Due to eliminating bliss...one enters into and abides in the third concentration...the fourth concentration: this, sirs, is called right concentration. This, sirs, is called the noble truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering.'
The Buddha's Good Qualities
From a Buddhist perspective, the Buddha is not only important as a person who taught a corpus of texts. The events of his life serve as an inspiration to devout Buddhists, who see him as the supreme example of how meditative realization should be put into practice in daily life. The following passage describes how he lived and related to people and things around him.
The monk Gautama [Buddha] has renounced injury to life, he has lost all inclination to it; he has put down the club and the sword, and he lives modestly, full of mercy, desiring in his compassion the welfare of all living beings.
He has renounced taking what is not given, he has lost all inclination to it. He accepts what is given to him and waits for it to be given; and he lives in honesty and purity of heart....
He has renounced unchastity, he has lost all inclination to it. He is celibate and aloof and has lost all desire for sexual intercourse, which is vulgar.
He has renounced false speech, he has lost all inclination to it. He speaks the truth, he keeps promises, he is faithful and trustworthy, he does not break his word to the world....
He has renounced lying, he has lost all inclination to it. When he hears something in one place he will not repeat it in another in order to cause strife...but he unites those who are divided by strife and encourages those who are friends. His pleasure is in peace, he loves peace and delights in it, and when he speaks he speaks words that make for peace....
He has renounced harsh speech, he has lost all inclination to it. He speaks only words that are blameless, pleasing to the ear, touching the heart, cultured, pleasing to people, loved by people....
He has renounced frivolous talk, he has lost all inclination to it. He speaks at the right time, in accordance with the facts, with words full of meaning. His speech is memorable, timely, well illustrated, measured, and to the point.
He does no harm to seeds or plants. He takes only one meal per day, not eating at night, nor at the wrong time. He will not watch shows, or attend fairs with song, dance, and music. He will not wear ornaments or adorn himself with garlands, scents, or cosmetics. He will not use a high or large bed. He will not accept gold or silver, raw grain or raw meat. He will not accept women or girls, male or female slaves, sheep or goats, birds or pigs, elephants or cows, horses or mares, fields or houses. He will not act as go-between or messenger. He will not buy or sell, or falsify with scales, weights, or measures. He is never crooked, will never bribe, or cheat, or defraud. He will not injure, kill, or tie someone up, or steal, or do acts of violence.
Criteria for Assessing Valid Teachings and Teachers
Although there are many passages in Buddhist literature in which faith is extolled as an important virtue, this faith should ideally be based on evidence and valid reasoning. In addition, there are several places in Buddhist literature in which Buddha exhorts his listeners to examine teachers and teachings closely before putting trust in them. In the following passage, Buddha addresses a group of people collectively referred to as Kalamas, who are confused by the conflicting claims of the religious systems of their day. Buddha advises them to verify all claims themselves by examining which doctrines lead to positive results, and which lead to negative ones. The former should be adopted, and the latter rejected.
Do not be [convinced] by reports, tradition, or hearsay; nor by skill in the scriptural collections, argumentation, or reasoning; nor after examining conditions or considering theories; nor because [a theory] fits appearances, nor because of respect for an ascetic [who holds a particular view]. Rather, Kalamas, when you know for yourselves: These doctrines are non-virtuous; these doctrines are erroneous; these doctrines are rejected by the wise, these doctrines, when performed and undertaken, lead to loss and suffering--then you should reject them, Kalamas.
Nirvana is said to be the final cessation of suffering, a state beyond the cycle of birth and death. As such, it could be said to be the ultimate goal of the path taught by the Buddha, whose quest was motivated by a concern with the unsatisfactoriness of cyclic existence and a wish to find a way out of the round of suffering that characterizes the mundane world. Despite its importance, however, there are few descriptions of nirvana in Buddhist literature. The selection below is one of the most detailed analyses of what nirvana is and how one attains it.
Monks, there is that sphere in which there is neither earth nor water, fire nor air: it is not the infinity of space, nor the infinity of perception; it is not nothingness, nor is it neither idea nor non-idea; it is neither this world nor the next, nor is it both; it is neither the sun nor the moon.
Monks, I declare that it neither comes nor goes, it neither abides nor passes away; it is not caused, established, begun, supported: it is the end of suffering.
What I call the selfless is hard to see, for it is not easy to see the truth. But he who knows it penetrates his craving; and for him who sees it, there is nothing there.
Monks, there is an unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned. Monks, if there were not an unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned, then we could not here know any escape from the born, become, made, conditioned....
For the attached there is wandering, but for the unattached there is no wandering: without wandering there is serenity; when there is serenity there is no lust; without lust there is neither coming nor going; without coming or going there is neither passing away nor being reborn; without passing away or being reborn there is neither this life nor the next, nor anything between them. It is the end of suffering.
After attaining awakening, the Buddha indicated that he had come to realize that all the phenomena of the universe are interconnected by relationships of mutual causality. Things come into being in dependence upon causes and conditions, abide due to causes and conditions, and eventually pass away due to causes and conditions. Thus, the world is viewed by Buddhists as a dynamic and ever-changing system. The following passage describes the process of causation in relation to human existence, which is said to proceed in a cyclical fashion. Because of a basic misunderstanding of the workings of reality (referred to as "ignorance"), people falsely imagine that some worldly things can bring them happiness, and thus they generate desire and try to acquire these things. Such attitudes provide the basis for the arising of negative mental states, and these states in turn provide a basis for beings to return to the world in a future birth. This next life will begin with the conditioning of the last, and so the entire cycle will repeat itself unless a person recognizes the folly of conventional wisdom and chooses to follow the Buddhist path, which is designed to provide a way out of the trap of cyclic existence.
[Ananda, quoting Buddha, said:] `Kaccana, on two things the world generally bases its view: existence and non-existence. Kaccana, one who perceives with correct insight the arising of the world as it really is does not think of the non-existence of the world. Kaccana, one who perceives with correct insight the cessation of the world as it really is does not think of the existence of the world. Kaccana, the world in general seizes on systems and is imprisoned by dogmas. One who does not seek after, seize on, or fixate on this seizing on systems, this dogma, this mental bias does not say, "This is my self." One who thinks, "Whatever arises is only suffering; whatever ceases is suffering" has no doubts or qualms. In this sense, knowledge not borrowed from others comes to one. This, Kaccana, is right view.
`Kaccana, "Everything exists" is one extreme; Kaccana, "Nothing exists" is the other extreme. Not approaching either extreme, Kaccana, the Tathagata teaches you a doctrine in terms of a middle path: ignorance depends on action; action depends on consciousness; consciousness depends on name and form; name and form depend on the six sense spheres; the six sense spheres depend on contact; contact depends on feeling; feeling depends on attachment; attachment depends on grasping; grasping depends on existence; existence depends on birth; birth depends on aging and death. Suffering, despair, misery, grief, and sorrow depend on aging and death. In this way, the whole mass of suffering arises. But due to the complete eradication and cessation of ignorance comes a cessation of karmas and so forth. This is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.
Consciousness is a Dependent Arising
Once a certain monk named S>ti, the son of a fisherman, conceived the following wrong view: `As I understand the Bhagavan's doctrine, this consciousness continues on, moves on [throughout transmigration], and not another.' When they heard this, several monks...went and questioned him...but he would not give in, and held firm to his wrong view....So they went to the Lord and...asked him [about this]...and the Bhagavan spoke thus to a certain monk: `Come, monk, and speak to S>ti thus in my name, `The Teacher summons you, reverend S>ti....'
When S>ti had approached the Bhagavan...he asked him if it was true that he held this wrong view....
`Just so, Lord, I understand that the dhamma taught by the Bhagavan holds that this consciousness continues on, moves on, and not another.'
`What is this consciousness, S>ti?'
`Sir, it is that which speaks and feels, and experiences the consequences of good and evil deeds.'
`Whom do you tell, you foolish person, that I have taught such a doctrine? Haven't I said, with many similes, that consciousness is not independent, but comes about through the chain of dependent arising and can never arise without a cause? You foolish person, you misunderstand and misrepresent me, and so you undermine your own position and produce much demerit. You bring upon yourself lasting harm and sorrow!...'
Then the Bhagavan addressed the assembled monks, saying:...`Whatever form of consciousness arises from a condition is known by the name of that condition; thus, if it arises from the eye and from forms it is known as visual consciousness...and so with the senses of hearing, smell, taste, touch, and mind, and their objects. It's just like a fire, which you call by the name of the fuel: a wood fire, a fire of sticks, a grass fire, a cow-dung fire, a fire of husks, a rubbish fire, and so on....In the same way, monks, when due to an appropriate condition a consciousness arises, it is known by this or that name....'
`Do you understand, monks, that when food stops beings are prone to cessation?'
`Monks, [if you think], "This is a being," is this perception caused by correct perception in accordance with reality?'
`Monks, [if you think], "This is produced by food," is this a correct view caused by correct perception in accordance with reality?'
`Monks, [if you think], "Due to cessation of food, this being will surely cease," is this a correct view caused by correct perception in accordance with reality?'
`Monks, the cause of action, its origin, birth, and production is ignorance. Action is the condition for consciousness; consciousness is the condition for name and form; name and form are the condition for the six sense spheres; the six sense-spheres are the condition for contact; contact is the condition for feeling, feeling is the condition for attachment; attachment is the condition for grasping; grasping is the condition for existence; existence is the condition for birth; and birth is the condition for aging and death; then suffering, sorrow, pain, sadness, and despair arise. In this way, the whole mass of suffering arises...." Monks, both you and I speak thus: "Because this occurs, this arises; from the arising of this, that arises." It is like this: the condition for action is ignorance; action is the condition for consciousness; consciousness is the condition for name and form; name and form are the condition for the six sense spheres; the six sense-spheres are the condition for contact; contact is the condition for feeling, feeling is the condition for attachment; attachment is the condition for grasping; grasping is the condition for existence; existence is the condition for birth; and birth is the condition for aging and death; then suffering, sorrow, pain, sadness, and despair arise. In this way, the whole mass of suffering arises. Such is the arising of the whole mass of suffering. But from the complete ending and cessation of this same ignorance comes the cessation of action; from the cessation of action comes the cessation of consciousness; from the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name and form; from the cessation of name and form comes the cessation of the six sense spheres; from the cessation of the six sense spheres comes the cessation of contact; from the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling; from the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of attachment; from the cessation of attachment comes the cessation of grasping; from the cessation of grasping comes the cessation of existence; from the cessation of existence comes the cessation of birth; and from the cessation of birth comes the cessation of aging and death, suffering, sorrow, pain, sadness, and despair. In this way, the whole mass of suffering ceases....
`Now monks, would you, knowing thus, perceiving thus, go back to your past, wondering, "Did we exist in a past time, did we not exist in a past time, what were we like in a past time, what did we become in a past time?"'
`Or, monks, would you, knowing thus, perceiving thus, look forward to the future, thinking, "Will we be born in a future time, will we not be born in a future time, what will we be like in a future time, what will we become in a future time?"'
`Or, monks, would you, knowing thus, perceiving thus, now have doubts about the present time, thinking, "Do I exist, do I not exist, what am I like, how have I come to be, where will I go?"'
`Or, monks, would you, knowing thus, perceiving thus, say, "We say this because we respect our teacher?"'
`It is good, monks. Monks, I have given you this doctrine (dhamma), which is well-perceived, timeless, open to all, which leads one forward, understood individually by the wise.'
Questions That Should Be Avoided
The following passage contains a series of questions about metaphysical topics posed to the Buddha by a wandering ascetic named Vacchagotta. The Buddha's response is interesting: he does not even try to provide answers, nor does he indicate that he does not answer because of ignorance on his part. Rather, he tells Vacchagotta that there is no point in answering the questions, since they are irrelevant to the goal of salvation. He indicates that people who spend their time pondering such questions and arguing about philosophical conundrums are unlikely to find release from suffering, and so the wisest course of action is to avoid such questions as a waste of time.
Thus have I heard: At one time the Exalted One was staying near Savatthi in the Jeta Grove in Anathapindika's hermitage. Then the wanderer Vacchagotta approached the Exalted One...and said, `Gotama, does the reverend Gotama have this view: "The world is eternal; this is the truth, and all else is falsehood"?'
`Vaccha, I do not have this view....'
`Then, Gotama, does the reverend Gotama have this view: "The world is not eternal; this is the truth, and all else is falsehood"?'
`Vaccha, I do not have this view....'
`Now, Gotama, does the reverend Gotama have this view: "The world is finite; this is the truth, and all else is falsehood"?'
`Vaccha, I do not have this view....'
`Then, Gotama, does the reverend Gotama have this view: "The world is not finite; this is the truth, and all else is falsehood"?'
`Vaccha, I do not have this view....'
`Now, Gotama, does the reverend Gotama have this view: "The soul (jiva) and the body are the same; this is the truth, and all else is falsehood"?'
`Vaccha, I do not have this view....'
`Then, Gotama, does the reverend Gotama have this view: "The soul is one thing and the body is another; this is the truth, and all else is falsehood"?'
`Vaccha, I do not have this view....'
`Now, Gotama, does the reverend Gotama have this view: "After death, the Tathagata exists; this is the truth, and all else is falsehood"?'
`Vaccha, I do not have this view....'
`Then, Gotama, does the reverend Gotama have this view: "After death, the Tathagata does not exist; this is the truth, and all else is falsehood"?'
`Vaccha, I do not have this view....'
`Now, Gotama, does the reverend Gotama have this view: "After death, the Tathagata both exists and does not exist; this is the truth, and all else is falsehood"?'
`Vaccha, I do not have this view....'
`Then, Gotama, does the reverend Gotama have this view: "After death, the Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist; this is the truth, and all else is falsehood"?'
`Vaccha, I do not have this view....'
`Gotama, what is the danger that the reverend Gotama sees that he does not hold any of these views?'
`Vaccha, thinking that "the world is eternal" is going to a [wrong] view, holding a view, the wilderness of views, the writhing of views, the scuffling of views, the bonds of views; it is accompanied by anguish, distress, misery, fever; it does not lead to turning away from [the world], to dispassion, cessation, calm, clairvoyances, awakening, nor to nirvana....Vaccha, contending that this is dangerous, I do not approach any of these views.'
`But does Gotama have any views?'
`Vaccha, holding to any view has been eliminated by the Tathagata...so I say that through destruction, dispassion, cessation, abandoning, getting rid of all imaginings, all supposings, all latent pride that "I am the doer, mine is the deed," a Tathagata is released without desire.'
`But Gotama, where is a monk whose mind is thus released reborn?'
`Vaccha, the term "reborn" does not apply.'
`Then, Gotama, is he not reborn?'
`Vaccha, the term "not reborn" does not apply.'
`Then, Gotama, is he both reborn and not reborn?'
`Vaccha, "both reborn and not reborn" does not apply.'
`Then, Gotama, is he neither reborn nor not reborn?'
`Vaccha, "neither reborn nor not reborn" does not apply.'...
`I am confused at this point, Gotama; I am bewildered, and I have lost all the satisfaction from the earlier conversation I had with Gotama.'
`You should be confused, Vaccha, you should be bewildered. Vaccha, this doctrine (dhamma) is profound, difficult to see, difficult to understand, peaceful, wonderful, beyond argumentation, subtle, understood by the wise; but it is difficult for you, who hold another view, another allegiance, another goal, having different practices and a different teacher. Well, then, Vaccha, I will now question you in return....If a fire were burning in front of you, would you know, "This fire is burning in front of me'?"
`Gotama...I would know.'...
`Vaccha, if the fire in front of you were put out, would you know, "This fire that was in front of me has been put out"?'
`Gotama...I would know.'
`But, Vaccha, if someone were to ask you--"Regarding that fire that was in front of you and that has been put out, in which direction has the fire gone from here: to the east, west, north, or south"--what would you reply to this question, Vaccha?'
`Gotama, it does not apply. Gotama, the fire burned because of a supply of grass and sticks, but due to having totally consumed this and due to a lack of other fuel, it is said to be put out since it is without fuel.'
`Vaccha, in the same way, the form by which one recognizing the Tathagata would recognize him has been eliminated by the Tathagata, uprooted, made like a stump of a palm tree that has become non-existent and will not arise again in the future. Vaccha, the Tathagata is released from designation by form, he is profound, immeasurable, unfathomable like the great ocean. "Reborn" does not apply; "not reborn" does not apply. The feelings...discriminations...compositional factors...consciousness by which one recognizing the Tathagata might recognize him have been eliminated by the Tathagata, uprooted...and will not arise again in the future. Vaccha, the Tathagata is released from all designation by consciousness; he is profound, immeasurable, unfathomable as the great ocean. "Reborn" does not apply; "not reborn" does not apply; "both reborn and not reborn" does not apply; "neither reborn nor not reborn" does not apply.'
Buddhism denies that there is anything corresponding to the common idea of a soul or self. Instead, the Buddha taught that the soul is a false notion imputed to a collection of constantly changing parts. These are referred to as the five "aggregates" (skandha): form, feelings, discriminations, consciousness, and compositional factors. Form refers to one's physical form, and feelings are our emotional responses to the things we experience. Discriminations are classifications of these experiences into pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. Consciousness refers to the functioning of the mind, and compositional factors are other aspects connected with the false sense of self, such as one's karmas.
[Buddha:] `Monks, form is selflessness. Monks, if form were the self, then form would not be involved with sickness, and one could say of the body: "Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus." Monks, because form is selfless, it is involved with sickness, and one cannot say of form: "Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus."
`Feeling is selfless...discrimination is selfless...the aggregates are selfless...compositional factors are selfless...consciousness is selfless. Monks, if consciousness were the self, then consciousness would not be involved with sickness, and one could say of consciousness: "Let my consciousness be thus; let my consciousness not be thus...."
`What do you think monks: Is form permanent or impermanent?'
`And is the impermanent suffering or happiness?'
`And with respect to what is impermanent, suffering, naturally unstable, is it proper to perceive it in this way: "This is mine; I am this; this is my self?"'
`Definitely not, sir.'
`It is the same way with feelings, discriminations, compositional factors, and consciousness. Therefore, monks, every single form--past, future, or present; internal or external; gross or subtle; low or high; near or far--should be viewed in this way, as it really is, with correct insight: "This is not mine; this is not I; this is not my self."'
`Every single feeling, every single discrimination, every single compositional factor...every single consciousness [should be viewed in this way].
`Perceiving [these] in this way, monks, the well-taught, wise disciple feels disgust for form, feels disgust for feeling, feels disgust for discrimination, feels disgust for compositional factors, and feels disgust for consciousness. Feeling disgust in this way, one becomes averse; becoming averse, one is liberated. Awareness that the liberated person is liberated arises, so that one knows: "Birth is destroyed; the virtuous life has been lived; my work is done; for such a life there is nothing beyond [this world]."'
Instructions on Meditation
Following the example of the Buddha, Buddhism emphasizes the importance of meditation as a means for attaining clarity of perception, eliminating mental afflictions, and escaping from cyclic existence. The following passage, attributed to Ashvaghosha (ca. 2nd century C.E.), is believed to contain instructions given by Buddha to his half-brother Nanda.
Now after closing the windows of the senses with the shutters of mindfulness, you should know the proper measure of food that is conducive to meditation and good health. For too much food obstructs the flow of one's breathing, leads to lethargy and sleep, and saps one's strength. And just as too much food produces purposelessness, the consumption of too little food is debilitating....Thus as a practitioner of meditation you should feed your body not out of desire for food or love of it but solely for the purpose of subduing hunger.
After spending the day in mental concentration, self-controlled, you should shake off sleepiness and throughout the night as well submit yourself to the discipline of yoga. Do not think that your awareness is endowed with the qualities of awareness when, in the midst of it, drowsiness manifests itself in your heart. When sleepiness threatens, you should resolve upon exertion and steadfastness, strength and courage. You should recite clearly those texts that have been taught to you, and you should teach them to others and think about them yourself. To stay awake constantly, splash water on your face, look around in all directions, and look at the stars....
The first of the three watches of the night, you should spend in practice, but then you should resort to lying down, for the sake of resting your body. You should lie on your right side, staying awake in your heart, your mind tranquil, fixed on the thought of light. In the third watch, get up and, either walking or sitting, continue your practice of yoga, your mind pure, your senses under control....
Sit down cross-legged in some solitary place, hold your back straight, and direct your mindfulness in front of you, to the tip of your nose, your forehead, or the space between your eyebrows. Make your wandering mind focus entirely on one thing. Now if that mental affliction--a lustful imagination--should rear its head, do not abide it but brush it off as though it were dust on your clothes. For even if you have consciously rid yourself of desires...there remains an innate proclivity toward them, like a fire hidden in the ashes. This, my friend, must be extinguished by meditation, like a fire put out by water. Otherwise, from that innate proclivity, desires will grow back again, as plants do from a seed. Only by its destruction will they cease to be, as plants whose roots are destroyed....
In order to obtain gold, one must wash away the dirt--first the big clods and then, to cleanse it further, the smaller ones, until finally one retains pure particles of gold. Just so, in order to obtain liberation, one must discipline the mind and wash away from it first the big clods of one's faults and then, to purify it further, the smaller ones until finally one retains pure particles of Dharma.
Ordination of Women
When Buddha began his teaching career, his first disciples were monks, but eventually some women became Buddhists and began to desire ordination as nuns. The woman who put the request to Buddha was Mahaprajapati Gautami, who had raised him after his mother died. Buddha first refused her request, but after she obtained the support of Ananda, Buddha's personal assistant, he eventually agreed, but added that the decision to admit nuns into the order would shorten the period of "true dharma" by 500 years. It seems clear from the passage, however, that this is not due to any inherent inferiority on the part of women, since Buddha asserts that women are capable of following the spiritual path and attaining the fruits of meditative training. Some commentators speculate that the reason for his refusal may have been that his early followers were homeless wanderers, and so there were no adequate facilities for separating men and women. Because of the pervasiveness and strength of sexual desire, groups of men and women in close proximity inevitably develop attractions and tensions, which lead to conflict. Whatever the reasons for his initial reluctance, Buddha did eventually ordain women, but he added the condition that nuns must observe eight additional rules.
Then Mahaprajapati Gautami, together with her four companions and five hundred other Shakyan women, approached the Blessed One and, after paying obeisance to him, sat down to one side. And Mahaprajapati Gautami said this to the Buddha:
`Blessed One, the appearance of Buddhas in the world is rare; instruction in the True Dharma is difficult to obtain. But now the Blessed One...has appeared, and the Dharma whose preaching is conducive to tranquillity and parinirvana is being expounded by him and is causing the realization of ambrosial nirvana. It would be good if the Blessed One were to allow women to be initiated into his order and ordained as nuns.'
The Blessed One said: `Gautami, do not long for the initiation of women into the order, or for their ordination as nuns.'
Now Mahaprajapati Gautami, thinking that the Buddha would not give women a chance to become initiated and ordained, paid obeisance to the Blessed One and took her leave. Then, together with her companions she approached the Shakyan women and said: `The Blessed One will not allow honorable women to be initiated and ordained as nuns. However, let us honorable women cut our own hair, acquire our own monastic robes, and attach ourselves to the Blessed One's party and follow after him...wandering where he wanders throughout the land of Koshala. And if the Blessed One allows it, we will be initiated, and if he does not allow it, we will lead a chaste life in the presence of the Holy Buddha....'
Mahaprajapati made her request two more times, but was refused by the Buddha. After the third refusal, a monk saw her crying and reported this to Ananda. Ananda asked her about the cause of her distress, and when she told him that the Buddha had refused her request to ordain women, Ananda offered to plead her case to the Buddha.
So, approaching the Buddha, he paid obeisance to him and sat down to one side. Sitting there, he said: `The appearance of Buddhas in the world is rare....It would be good if the Blessed One were to allow women to be initiated into his order and ordained as nuns.'
Thus addressed, the Blessed One replied to the Venerable Ananda: `Mother Gautami should not long for the initiation of women into the order or for their initiation.'
[After being refused again, Ananda asked the Buddha:] `Blessed One, how many assemblies of disciples did enlightened buddhas of the past have?'
The Blessed One replied: `Previous buddhas, Ananda, had four assemblies of disciples, to wit, monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen.'
Then the Venerable Ananda said to the Blessed One: `Blessed One, the four fruits of monastic life--namely, the fruit of a stream-winner, the fruit of a once-returner, the fruit of a non-returner, and the highest fruit of arhatship--can a woman who is earnest and zealous and who dwells in seclusion realize any of these?'
The Buddha replied: `Yes Ananda, a woman who is earnest and zealous and who dwells in seclusion can realize any of these four fruits of the monastic life.'
`Well then,' the Venerable Ananda said to the Blessed One, `since...enlightened buddhas of the past had four assemblies--namely, monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen--and since women who are earnest and zealous, and who dwell in seclusion are able to realize the four fruits of the monastic life...it would be good if the Blessed One were to allow women to be initiated into his order and to be ordained as nuns. Moreover, Mahaprajapati Gautami performed some difficult tasks for the Blessed One; she nourished, fed, and suckled him after his mother had passed away. And for this the Blessed One is grateful and cognizant.'
[The Buddha agreed to the validity of Ananda's statements and then thought to himself:] `If I oppose the request of Ananda a third time, this will cause him mental distress, and the teachings which I have revealed and entrusted to him would become utterly confused in his mind. I would like my true Dharma to last a thousand years, but it is preferable that Ananda not become mentally distressed, and that the revealed teachings not become utterly confused, even though, this way, my true Dharma will abide but five hundred years.'
So the Blessed One proclaimed to the Venerable Ananda: `Ananda, [I am willing to allow Mahaprajapati Gautami to be initiated and ordained, but first] I wish to make known the eight cardinal rules for nuns, which they should respect, esteem, honor, and venerate for as long as they live....
`Ananda, if Mahaprajapati Gautami accepts these eight cardinal rules, does not engage in any of the deeds that may occasion expulsion from the community, and observes the precepts, she can, from now on, be a nun, initiated and ordained.'
The Cessation of Suffering
After the Buddha agreed to create an order of nuns, a number of women took monastic vows, and some were eventually recognized as advanced meditators. The verses below were written by the nun Patanchara after she became an arhati (a female arhat). Her early biography is recounted in the Songs of the Nuns (Therigatha), and it graphically illustrates the problems of cyclic existence. Her entire family is killed one by one under tragic circumstances, and she is driven to the brink of madness. In a state of utter despair, she meets the Buddha, who counsels her and allows her to become a nun. After years of meditative practice, she severs all attachments to worldly things, recognizing them as a source of suffering.
Ploughing their fields, sowing seeds in the ground,
Men care for their wives and children and prosper.
Why can't I, who observe the precepts
And follow the teachings of the Master, attain nirvana?
I am neither lazy nor conceited.
One day, after washing my feet, I sit and watch the water flowing down the drain;
Thus I focus and control my mind as one [trains] a noble thoroughbred horse.
Then I take a lamp and enter my cell. Preparing to sleep, I sit on the bed.
Holding a pin, I pull out the wick.
The lamp goes out: nirvana. My mind is free.
The Songs of the Nuns collection contains a wealth of information on the religious lives of the early Buddhist nuns. Their biographies describe their struggles and tribulations, and many indicate that they saw monastic ordination as a way to escape the drudgery of household work and loveless marriages. The following passage was written by an anonymous nun who celebrates her liberation from sorrow, and it praises her teacher, a fellow nun who showed her the path.
During the twenty-five years since I left the household life,
My mind could not attain calm and equanimity even for a moment.
I could find no peace.
Every thought was soaked with the defilements of sensual desire.
Reaching out my arms, crying useless tears,
Disconsolate, I went to my cell.
Then she [my teacher] came to this poor nun,
She who was my mother in religious practice.
She taught me the doctrine (dharma), and in this I learned....
After listening to her, I began to meditate.
And now I know the past,
And the divine eye [of clairvoyance] shines brightly.
I perceive the thoughts of others' minds, and hear subtle sounds....
All of the harmful afflictions that poisoned all my thoughts have been eliminated.
Learning and Good Conduct Count More than Birth
Buddhism rejects the traditional Hindu caste system, contending that it is merely a human construct. In the following passage Buddha points out some of the internal contradictions of the system.
Once when the Bhagavan was staying at S>vatthi there were five hundred brahmans from various countries in the city...and they thought: `This ascetic Gautama teaches that all four classes are pure. Who can refute him?'
At that time there was a young brahman named Assal>yana in the city...a youth of sixteen, thoroughly versed in the Vedas...and in all brahmanic learning. `He can do it,' thought the brahmans, and so they asked him to try; but he answered, `The ascetic Gautama teaches a doctrine of his own, and such teachers are hard to refute. I cannot do it.' They asked him a second time...and again he refused; and they asked him a third time, pointing out that he ought not to admit defeat without giving battle. This time he agreed, and so, surrounded by a crowd of brahmans, he went to the Bhagavan, and, after greeting him, sat down and said: `Brahmans hold that only they are the highest class, and the others are below them. They are white, the others black; only they are pure, and not the others. Only they are the true sons of Brahm>, born from his mouth, descendants of Brahm>, creations of Brahm>, heirs of Brahm>. Now what does the worthy Gautama say to that?'
`Do the brahmans really hold this, Assal>yana, when they are born from women just like anyone else, from brahman women who have their periods and conceive, give birth and nurse their children, just like any other women?'
`Despite what you say, this is what they think....'
`Have you ever heard that in the lands of the Greeks and Kambojas and other peoples on the borders there are only two classes, masters and slaves, and a master can become a slave and vice versa?'
`Yes, I've heard so.'
`And what strength or support does that fact give to the brahmans' claim?'
`Nevertheless, that is what they think.'
`Again, if a man is a murderer, a thief, or an adulterer, or commits other grave sins, when his body breaks up on death, does he pass on to a hell if he's a k[[hungarumlaut]]atriya, vai[[Ydieresis]]ya, or [[Ydieresis]]Òdra, but not if he's a brahman?'
`No, Gautama. In such a case the same fate is in store for all people, whatever their class.'
`And if he avoids grave sin, will he go to heaven if he's a brahman, but not if he's a man of the lower classes?'
`No, Gautama. In such a case the same reward awaits all people, whatever their class.'
`And is a brahman capable of developing a mind of love, without hate or ill will, but not a person of the other classes?'
`No, Gautama. All four classes are capable of doing so.'
`Can only a brahman go down to a river and wash away dust and dirt, and not people of the other classes?'
`No, Gautama, all four classes can.'
`Now suppose a king were to gather together a hundred men of different classes and order the brahmans and k[[hungarumlaut]]atriyas to take kindling wood of s>l, pine, lotus, or sandal, and light fires, while the low class folk did the same with common wood. What do you think would happen? Would the fires of the high-born men blaze up brightly...and those of the humble fail?'
`No, Gautama. It would be alike with high and low....Every fire would blaze with the same bright flame....'
`Suppose there are two young brahman brothers, one a scholar and the other uneducated. Which of them would be served first at memorial feasts, festivals, and sacrifices, or when entertained as guests?'
`The scholar, of course; for what great benefit would accrue from entertaining the uneducated one?'
`But suppose the scholar is ill-behaved and wicked, while the uneducated one is well-behaved and virtuous?'
`Then the uneducated one would be served first, for what great benefit would accrue from entertaining an ill-behaved and wicked man?'
`First, Assal>yana, you based your claim on birth, then you gave up birth for learning, and finally you have come round to my way of thinking, that all four classes are equally pure!'
At this Assal>yana sat silent...his shoulders hunched, his eyes cast down, thoughtful in mind, and with no answer at hand.
The Joy of Release
The following poem was written by the mother of Sumangala (a monk who became an arhat). She was the wife of a poor umbrella maker who left her home and became a nun. Later she attained the level of arhathood, which she celebrates in these verses.
Free, I am free!
I am completely free from my kitchen pestle!
I was dirty and miserable among my cooking utensils,
And my worthless husband was worth less
Than the sun umbrellas he makes.
I have destroyed all greed and hatred,
And now live in peace, contemplating in the shade of a tree,
[Thinking,] "What happiness!"
Excerpts from The Path of Truth (Dhammapada)
The passages below are excerpted from the Path of Truth (Dhamma-pada), a text in the "Minor" (Khuddaka) collection of the Pali canon. They discuss some core Buddhist concepts, such as the doctrine (dhamma; Sanskrit: dharma), ignorance and liberation, the nature of mind and how to train it through meditation, the arhat, the accomplished adept who at death will attain the final peace of nirvana, and the qualities of buddhas.
1.1. [Mental] qualities are the result of thought, are controlled by thought, are comprised by thought. If one speaks or acts with an evil thought, then suffering follows, just as a wheel follows the foot of the puller [of a cart, e.g., an ox].
2. [Mental] qualities are the result of thought, are controlled by thought, are comprised by thought. If one speaks or acts with a pure thought, then happiness follows, like a shadow that never leaves one.
3. `He abused me, he struck me, he bested me, he robbed me'--for those who hold such thoughts, hatred never ceases.
4. `He abused me, he struck me, he bested me, he robbed me'--for those who do not hold such thoughts, hatred will cease.
5. At no time are hostilities pacified here through hostility, but they are pacified through non-hostility. This is the eternal truth (dhamma).
6. Some do not know that we all will come to an end here; but for those who know this, their quarrels cease immediately because of their understanding.
7. Just as wind brings down a tree of little strength, so do demons (m>ra) bring down those who live looking for pleasures, with uncontrolled senses, overindulgent in eating, lazy, and with little energy.
8. Just as wind does not bring down a rocky mountain, so demons do not bring down one who lives without thinking of pleasures, with well-controlled senses, temperate in eating, full of faith, and with great energy.
9. One who wears the yellow robe [of a Buddhist monk] without having purified himself of defilements does not deserve the yellow robe.
10. But one who puts away defilements, is well-established in morality, and has self-control and truth, deserves the yellow robe....
19. Even if one recites many scriptures but, due to laziness, does not act accordingly, then one is like a cowherd counting the cows of others; such a person has no part of holiness.
20. Even if one only recites a few [scriptures] but acts correctly in accordance with doctrine (dhamma), then one, abandoning desire, aversion, and ignorance, having true understanding and peace of mind, being free from worldly desires here and in the future, has a part of holiness.
3.1. Just as a fletcher makes his arrows straight, so the wise make straight their wavering, unsteady minds, which are hard to maintain....
3. Control of mind--which is hard to discipline, fickle, and wanders at will--is good. A controlled mind brings happiness.
4. A wise person should control the mind, which is hard to perceive, very subtle, and wanders at will. A mind that is well controlled brings happiness.
5. Those who control the mind, which travels far, is solitary, non-physical...will be freed from the bonds of death....
7. For a person whose mind is not disturbed [by mental afflictions], whose mind is not agitated, who does not think of good or evil, who is awake, there is no fear.
8. Understanding that this body is [fragile] like a pot, one should make the mind strong like a fortress, attack demons with the weapon of wisdom, protect what one has won, and hold onto it.
9. In a short time, this body will lay on the earth, despised, devoid of consciousness, like a burnt stick....
5.1. The night is long for one who is awake; a yojana [a length of nine or twelve miles] is long for one who is tired; cyclic existence (sa[[dotaccent]]s>ra) is long for fools (b>la; literally, "children") who do not know the true doctrine (saddhamma).
2. If one does not meet someone better or equal, one should resolutely continue the journey by oneself. Do not keep the company of fools.
3. Fools become distressed thinking, `These sons belong to me,' `This money belongs to me.' They do not belong even to themselves, so how can sons belong to them? How can money belong to them?
4. A fool who realizes his foolishness is wise to that extent; but a fool who thinks himself wise is indeed a fool.
5. If a fool associates with a wise person for his whole life, he does not perceive truth, just as a spoon [does not perceive] the taste of soup.
6. But if a reflective person associates with a wise person even for a moment, he will soon perceive truth, just as the tongue [perceives] the taste of soup....
14. Let fools wish for false fame, for high position among monks, for leadership in convents, and praise among other groups.
15. The fool thinks, `May householders and monks think that I did this. Let them obey me in what is to be done and what is not to be done,' and so his desire and pride increase.
16. One road leads to [worldly] profit; another road leads to nirv>[[ring]]a. A monk, a follower of the Buddha, learns this and does not seek the praise of people, but works toward wisdom.
6.1. If one sees a wise person who scolds one [for one's faults], who reveals what should be avoided, one should follow a wise person as one would someone who reveals hidden treasures. One who follows such a person will do well and not badly....
3. One should not associate with friends who do wrong nor with people who are repulsive; associate with friends who are virtuous, associate with the best of humanity.
4. One who drinks in the doctrine (dhamma) lives happily and with a peaceful mind. Wise people always rejoice in the law revealed by the wise....
6. Just as a solid rock is not shaken by wind, so wise people are not moved with blame or praise.
7. Just as a deep lake is clear and calm, so wise people become tranquil after they have heard the true doctrine....
10. Few people reach the other shore; others move here on [this] shore.
11. But those who follow the properly taught doctrine will go to the other shore, [will transcend] the realm of death, which is hard to overcome.
12. The wise person should leave the path of darkness and follow the path of light. After leaving home one takes up the homeless life, a leaving that is hard to love.
13. One should look for happiness there. Renouncing all pleasures, calling nothing one's own, the wise person should purify all the defilements from the mind.
14. Those whose minds are well-established in the [seven] limbs of enlightenment, who are not attached to anything, who delight in freedom from attachment, who are full of light, attain nirv>[[ring]]a in this world.
7.1. There is no sorrow for [the arhat] who has completed the journey, who is freed from pain, who has become free in all ways, who has eliminated all bonds.
2. The intelligent exert themselves; they have no joy in dwellings; like swans who leave their lake they take leave of the household life.
3. Those who do not accumulate [things], who eat in accordance with [correct] understanding, who see liberation and unconditioned freedom, [follow] a path which is hard to understand like that of birds in the sky.
4. One who has eliminated desires, who cares nothing for food, who sees liberation and unconditioned freedom [follows] a path that is hard to understand, like that of birds in the sky.
5. Even the gods envy one whose senses are controlled like horses that are well-trained by a charioteer; this person is free from pride and free from defilements.
6. Such a person is patient like the earth, like a threshold. A person who does what is right is like a lake that is free of mud; for such a person there is no more cyclic existence.
7. That person's thought is calm, his words and deeds are calm when he has gained freedom through true understanding and has become peaceful....
14.1. The buddha is one whose conquest is not conquered, whose conquest no one in the world enters; by what path can he travel, this person of endless range?...
3. Even the gods try to be like wise people who practice meditation, who find happiness in the peace of liberation, the enlightened, with good minds.
4. It is difficult to gain a human rebirth, difficult to gain a mortal life, difficult to hear the true doctrine, and difficult to attain buddhahood.
5. Renounce all wrongdoing, perfect good actions, purify the mind: this is the teaching of the buddhas.
6. Patience for a long time is the highest asceticism (tapas). The buddhas say that nirvana is the highest [state]. One who oppresses is not a wanderer; one who afflicts another is not an ascetic.
7. Do not insult [others]; restrain yourself in accordance with doctrine; be moderate in eating; live in solitude; be controlled in higher thought: this is the teaching of the buddhas.
20.1. Among paths, the eightfold is the best; among paths, the four sayings [are the best]; among qualities, freedom from attachment is best; among humans, it is one with eyes.
2. This is the path; there is no other that purifies perception. You should follow it....
3. Traveling on this path, you will end suffering. I taught this path when I understood how to remove thorns in the flesh....
5. `All compounded phenomena are impermanent.' When one realizes this through wisdom, one pays no attention to suffering: this is the path of purification.
6. `All compounded things are suffering.' When one realizes this through wisdom, one pays no attention to suffering: this is the path of purification.
7. `All constituents of being are selfless.' When one realizes this through wisdom, one pays no attention to suffering: this is the path of purification....
10. Wisdom arises from meditation; loss of wisdom arises from non-meditation. Understanding this twofold path of advance and degeneration, a person should be situated in such a way that wisdom increases....
12. As long as the desire of a man for women is not eliminated, the mind is attached [to material things] like a nursing calf to its mother....
16. Sons are no protection, nor are father or relations; for one who is seized by death, there is no safety in relatives.
17. Understanding what this means, the wise and righteous person should quickly clear the path leading to liberation.
The Buddha's Last Days and Final Instructions
After a long and successful teaching career, Buddha's body had become old and wracked with constant pain. Realizing that his mission had been accomplished, Buddha decided to enter final nirvana (parinirvana). He first asked his disciples if they had any final questions, and then told them that they should rely on the teachings they had already received. Buddha further informed them that he had told them everything of the path and the true doctrine that could be put into words, holding nothing back, and so it was now up to them to put these teachings into practice.
[Buddha:] `I have taught the doctrine without omission, without excluding anything. As to this, Ananda, the Tathagata is not a "closed-fisted teacher" with reference to the doctrine [i.e., he does not hold anything back]. If anyone should think that he should watch over the community of monks or that the community of monks should refer to him, then let him promulgate something about the community of monks. The Tathagata does not think that he should watch over the community of monks or that the community of monks should refer to him....
Ananda, I am now aged, old, an elder, my time has gone, I have arrived at the age of eighty years. Just as an old cart is made to go by tying it together with bands, so I think that the Tathagata's body is made to go by tying it together with bands. Ananda, during periods when the Tathagata, by withdrawing his attention from all signs, by the cessation of some emotions, enters into the signless concentration of thought and stays in it, on such occasions the Tathagata's body is made comfortable.
`Therefore, Ananda...you should live with yourselves as islands, with yourselves as refuges, with no one else as refuge; with the doctrine as an island, with the doctrine as a refuge, with no one else as refuge....
It might be that you would think, Ananda, that the teaching has lost its teacher, that our teacher does not exist. You should not perceive things in this way. The doctrine and discipline that I have taught and described will be the teacher after me.'
He then told Ananda that after his death it would be permissible for monks to abolish the minor rules of monastic discipline, but Ananda neglected to ask him which these were. Buddha again exhorted his followers to rely on the teachings he had already taught them, and Ananda informed him that none of the monks present had any doubts about the doctrine, the path, or monastic discipline. Buddha then delivered his final teaching to his disciples:
`Monks, all compounded things are subject to decay and disintegration. Work out your own salvations with diligence.'
The Questions of King Milinda
According to Buddhist tradition, the Bactrian king Menander (Pali: Milinda) engaged the Buddhist sage Nagasena in a series of philosophical discussions in which Nagasena convinced him of the truth of Buddha's teachings. The following dialogue concerns the Buddhist doctrine of selflessness, which holds that there is no enduring self, no soul, no truly existent personal identity. The king at first expresses disbelief, pointing out that he is clearly speaking to Nagasena, who seems to be a concretely existing person. Nagasena convinces the king by using the analogy of a chariot, which is composed of parts that separately are incapable of performing the functions of a chariot, but which when assembled are given the conventional designation "chariot." Similarly, human beings (and all other phenomena) are merely collections of parts that are given conventional designations, but they lack any enduring entity.
Then King Milinda said to the venerable Nagasena: `What is your reverence called? What is your name, reverend sir?'
`Sire, I am known as Nagasena; my fellow religious practitioners, sir, address me as Nagasena. But although [my] parents gave [me] the name of Nagasena...still it is only a designation, a name, a denotation, a conventional expression, since Nagasena is only a name because there is no person here to be found....'
`If, reverend Nagasena, there is no person to be found, who is it that gives you necessities like robe material, food, lodging, and medicines for the sick, who is it that uses them, who is it that keeps the precepts, practices meditation, actualizes the paths, the fruits, nirvana; who kills living beings, takes what is not given, commits immoral acts, tells lies, drinks intoxicants, and commits the five types of immediate karmas? In that case, there is no virtue; there is no non-virtue; there is no one who does or who makes another do things that are virtuous or non-virtuous; there is no fruit or ripening of good or bad karma. Reverend Nagasena, if someone kills you, there will be no demerit. Also, reverend Nagasena, you have no teacher, no preceptor, no ordination....
`Is form Nagasena?'
`Is feeling Nagasena?'
`Is discrimination Nagasena?'
`Are compositional factors Nagasena?'
`Is consciousness Nagasena?'
`Then, reverend sir, are form, feelings, discriminations, compositional factors, and consciousness together Nagasena?'
`Then, reverend sir, is there something other than form, feelings, discriminations, compositional factors, and consciousness that is Nagasena?'
`Reverend sir, although I question you closely, I fail to find any Nagasena. Nagasena is only a sound, sir. Who is Nagasena? Reverend sir, you are speaking a lie, a falsehood: there is no Nagasena.'
Then the venerable Nagasena said to king Milinda: `...Your majesty, did you come here on foot, or riding?'
`Reverend sir, I did not come on foot; I came in a chariot.'
`Sire, if you came in a chariot, show me the chariot. Is the pole the chariot, sire?'
`No, reverend sir.'
`Is the axle the chariot?'
`No, reverend sir.'
`Are the wheels...the frame...the banner-staff...the yoke...the reins...the goad the chariot?'
`No, reverend sir.'
`Then, sire, are pole, axle, wheels, frame, banner-staff, yoke, reins, goad together the chariot?'
`No, reverend sir.'
`Then, sire, is something other than the pole, axle, wheels, frame, banner-staff, yoke, reins, goad together the chariot?'
`No, reverend sir.'
`Sire, although I question you closely, I fail to find any chariot. Chariot is only a sound, sire. What is the chariot?...'
`Reverend Nagasena...it is because of the pole, axle, wheels, frame, banner-staff, yoke, reins, and goad that "chariot" exists as a designation, appellation, denotation, as a conventional usage, as a name.'
`Good: sire, you understand the chariot. It is just like this for me, sire: because of the hair of the head and because of the hair of the body...and because of the brain of the head, form, feelings, discriminations, compositional factors, and consciousness that "Nagasena" exists as designation, appellation, denotation, as a conventional usage, as a name. But ultimately there is no person to be found here....'
`Wonderful, reverend Nagasena! Marvelous, reverend Nagasena! The replies to the questions that were asked are truly brilliant. If the Buddha were still here, he would applaud. Well done, well done, Nagasena!'
How to Avoid Extreme Views
Thus, just as when the parts--the axle, wheels, frame, pole--are put together in a certain way, the mere word "chariot" is used, but ultimately there is no such thing as "chariot" when any of the parts are examined; so when the parts of a house, such as the exterior, are put together in a certain way enclosing a space, the mere word "house" is used, but ultimately there is no such thing as a house; or when fingers and so forth are placed together in a certain way, the mere word "fist" is used; or the mere words "lute", "army", "town", "tree" are used when their respective parts--such as the body of the lute and the strings, elephants and horses, walls and houses and gates, trunk and branches and leaves are arranged in certain positions, but there is ultimately no such thing as a tree when one examines each part. So when the five aggregates of grasping exist, the mere word "being," "person" is used, but when one examines each of the states, ultimately there is no such thing as a being: it is the object of a misconception that makes one say, "I am" or "I"; ultimately there is just name and form. The perception of one who perceives in this way is called perception of reality.
And one who abandons perception of reality and holds to the view that a being exists must admit that it will perish or that it will not perish. If one admits that it will not perish, then one falls to the [extreme view of] permanence; if one admits that it will perish, then one falls to the [extreme view of] nihilism. There is no other state which is a product of that being, as curd is a product of milk. One who holds that a being is eternal falls [into the pleasures of the senses]; one who holds that it is annihilated is carried away by an extreme [view]. Therefore, the Exalted One has said:
Monks, there are two [wrong] views through which some gods and humans fall into the pleasures of existence and are carried away by existence; only those who have the eye [of truth] see the truth. Monks, how do some fall into the pleasures of existence? Monks, there are gods and humans who delight in existence, who are thrilled with existence, who are enraptured by existence. When they are taught the dharma that leads to cessation of existence, their minds do not respond, do not have faith, are not steady and focused. Monks, in this way some fall into existence.
And how, monks, are some extremists? Some are oppressed by, ashamed of, disgusted by existence, some delight in non-existence, saying, "Since it is said that when the body dissolves this self is cut off, dies, and does not exist after death, that is peace, that is wisdom, that is the truth." Monks, in this way some are extremists.
Monks, how do those who have the eye [of truth] see these things? Monks, in this a monk sees the five aggregates as they are. Seeing the five aggregates as they are, he practices in order that he will become disgusted with them, have no desire for them, so that they might cease. Monks, this is how one who has the eye [of truth] sees.
Change and Continuity
[King Milinda said]: `Reverend Nagasena, when a man is born does he remain the same [being] or become another?'
[Nagasena replied]: `He neither remains the same nor becomes another. What do you think, sire? You were once a baby lying on your back, fragile and small and weak. Was that baby you, who are now grown?'
`No, reverend sir, the baby lying on its back, fragile and small and weak, was one being and I who am now grown am another.'
`If that's the case, sire, you had no mother or father, and no teachers in learning, ethics, or wisdom. Is the mother of the embryo in the first stage of pre-natal development different from the mother at the second stage, and is she different from the mother at the third stage....Is the mother of the young [person] one and the mother of the grown [person] another? Does one person train in a craft while another becomes skilled? Does one [person] do an evil act while another [person's] hands and feet are cut off?'
`No, reverend sir. But what would you answer to such a question, reverend sir?'
`I myself was a boy, fragile, lying on my back, and it is I myself that am now grown up, and all of these are one unity, depending on the body itself.'
`Give me an illustration.'
`If, sire, someone were to light a lamp, would it burn all night long?'
`Yes, reverend sir, it could burn all night.'
`Is the flame that burns in the first watch the same as the flame of the middle watch?'
`No, reverend sir.'
`Is the flame of the middle watch the same as the flame of the third watch?'
`No, reverend sir.'
`Then, sire, is the lamp of the first watch one thing, the lamp of the middle watch another, and the lamp of the last watch still another?'
`No, reverend sir.'
`Then, sire, is it the case that the lamp of the first watch was one thing, the lamp of the second watch another, and the lamp of the last watch still another?'
`No, reverend sir; it burned throughout the night in dependence on itself.'
`In the same way, sire, the continuum of phenomena (dhamma) continues on. One arises, another ceases, and the sequence continues on as if there were no before and after. So neither one [phenomenon] or another is considered to be the last consciousness....'
`Does one who will have no more connection [to cyclic existence] know, "I will have no more connection?"'
`Yes sire. One who has no more connection [to cyclic existence] knows, "I have no more connection."'
`How does one know this, reverend sir?'
`It is due to the termination of whatever is the cause and whatever is the condition of re-connection that one knows that one will not re-connect.'
The Buddha Lives On
`Reverend N>gasena,' said the king, `does the Buddha [still] exist?'
`Yes, sire, the Bhagavan exists.'
`Then is it possible to point to the Buddha and say that he is either here or there?'
`Sire, the Bhagavan has attained final nirv>[[ring]]a in which nothing remains. And so it is not possible to point to the Bhagavan and say that he is here or there.'
`Give me an illustration.'
`What would you say, sire: If the flame of a great blazing mass of fire were to go out, would it be possible to point to that fire and say that it is either here or there?'
`No, reverend sir, that fire has gone out, it has disappeared.'
`Sire, in the same way, the Bhagavan has attained final nirv>[[ring]]a in which nothing remains, and so it is not possible to point to the Bhagavan, who has gone away, and say that he is either here of there; but, sire, it is possible to point out the Bhagavan by way of the body of doctrine (dhamma), because doctrine, sire, was taught by the Bhagavan.'
`Well done, reverend N>gasena.'
b. Selections from Mahayana Texts
The Heart of Perfect Wisdom Sutra
The passage below is the entire text of the Heart of Perfect Wisdom Sutra, one of the shortest texts of the Perfection of Wisdom corpus. It is said by Mahayanists to contain the essence of the teachings of this voluminous literature.
Thus have I heard: At one time the Exalted One was dwelling on the Vulture Peak in Rajagriha together with a great assembly of monks and a great assembly of bodhisattvas. At that time, the Exalted One was immersed in a meditative absorption (samadhi) on the enumerations of phenomena called "perception of the profound". Also at that time, the bodhisattva, the great being, the superior Avalokiteshvara was considering the meaning of the profound perfection of wisdom, and he saw that the five aggregates (skandha) are empty of inherent existence. Then, due to the inspiration of the Buddha, the venerable Shariputra spoke thus to the bodhisattva, the great being, the superior Avalokiteshvara: `How should a son of good lineage train if he wants to practice the profound perfection of wisdom?'
The bodhisattva, the great being, the superior Avalokiteshvara spoke thus to the venerable Shariputra: `Shariputra, sons of good lineage or daughters of good lineage who want to practice the profound perfection of wisdom should perceive [reality] in this way: They should correctly perceive the five aggregates also as empty of inherent existence. Form is emptiness; emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form; form is not other than emptiness. In the same way, feelings, discriminations, compositional factors, and consciousness are empty. Shariputra, in that way, all phenomena are empty, without characteristics, unproduced, unceasing, undefiled, not undefiled, not decreasing, not increasing. Therefore, Shariputra, in emptiness there is no form, no feelings, no discriminations, no compositional factors, no consciousness, no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no form, no sound, no odor, no taste, no object of touch, no phenomenon. There is no eye constituent, no mental constituent, up to and including no mental consciousness constituent. There is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance, up to and including no aging and death and no extinction of aging and death. In the same way, there is no suffering, no source [of suffering], no cessation [of suffering], no path, no exalted wisdom, no attainment, and also no non-attainment.
`Therefore, Shariputra, because bodhisattvas have no attainment, they depend on and abide in the perfection of wisdom. Because their minds are unobstructed, they are without fear. Having completely passed beyond all error, they go to the fulfillment of nirvana. All the buddhas who live in the three times [past, present, and future] have been completely awakened into unsurpassable, complete, perfect enlightenment through relying on the perfection of wisdom.
`Therefore, the mantra of the perfection of wisdom is the mantra of great knowledge, the unsurpassable mantra, the mantra that is equal to the unequaled, the mantra that thoroughly pacifies all suffering. Because it is not false, it should be known to be true. The mantra of the perfection wisdom is as follows:
Om gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhir svaha [Om gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond; praise to enlightenment.]
`Shariputra, bodhisattvas, great beings, should train in the profound perfection of wisdom in that way.'
Then the Exalted One arose from that meditative absorption and said to the bodhisattva, the great being, the superior Avalokiteshvara: `Well done! Well done, well done, son of good lineage, it is just so. Son of good lineage, it is like that; the profound perfection of wisdom should be practiced just as you have indicated. Even the Tathagatas admire this.' When the Exalted One had spoken thus, the venerable Shariputra, the bodhisattva, the great being, the superior Avalokiteshvara, and all those around them, and those of the world, the gods, humans, demigods, and gandharvas were filled with admiration and praised the words of the Exalted One.
Excerpts from the Diamond Sutra
Perfection of Wisdom texts contain many warnings against holding too rigidly to doctrines, even Buddhist doctrines. In the following passage, Buddha warns his disciple Subhuti against conceiving sentient beings as truly existing, and then applies the reasoning of emptiness to other Buddhist categories.
[Buddha:] `Subhuti, due to being established in the bodhisattva vehicle, one should give rise to the thought, "As many sentient beings there are that are included among the realms of sentient beings...whatever realms of sentient beings can be conceived, all these should be brought by me to nirvana, to a final nirvana that is a realm of nirvana without remainder; but, although countless sentient beings have reached final nirvana, no sentient being whatsoever has reached final nirvana." Why is this? Subhuti, if a discrimination of a sentient beings arises in a bodhisattva [literally, "enlightenment-being"], he should not be called an enlightenment-being. Why is this? Subhuti, one who gives rise to the discrimination of such a self, the discrimination of a sentient being, the discrimination of a soul, or the discrimination of a person should not be called a bodhisattva....
`Subhuti, all of them produce and acquire an immeasurable and incalculable store of merit. Why is this? Subhuti, it is because these bodhisattvas, great beings, do not give rise to the discrimination of a self, the discrimination of a sentient being, the discrimination of a soul, or the discrimination of a person. Also, Subhuti, these bodhisattvas, great beings, do not give rise to discriminations of phenomena, nor do they give rise to discriminations of non-phenomena, nor do they give rise to discrimination or to non-discrimination. Why is this? Subhuti, if these bodhisattvas, great beings, gave rise to discriminations of phenomena, this would be grasping a self, grasping a sentient being, grasping a soul, grasping a person. If they gave rise to discriminations of non-phenomena, this also would be grasping a self, grasping a sentient being, grasping a soul, grasping a person. Why is this? Subhuti, in no way should a bodhisattva, a great being, grasp either phenomena nor non-phenomena. Therefore, this has been said by the Tathagata with hidden intent: "For those who understand the teaching of dharma that is like a raft, dharma should be abandoned, and still more non-dharma."'
Why Bodhisattvas Are Superior to Hearers
Some early Mahayana texts have a distinctly sectarian tone, particularly when they compare the ideals of the arhat and the bodhisattva. In the following passage from the 8000 Line Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, Buddha describes to Subhuti the differences between the attitudes of Hinayanists and Mahayanists.
[Buddha:] `Subhuti, bodhisattvas, great beings, should not train in the way that persons of the hearer vehicle and solitary realizer vehicle train. Subhuti, in what way do persons of the hearer vehicle and the solitary realizer vehicle train? Subhuti, they think thus, "[I] should discipline only myself; [I] should pacify only myself; [I] should attain nirvana by myself." In order to discipline only themselves and pacify themselves and attain nirvana, they begin to apply themselves to establishing all the virtuous roots. Also, Subhuti, bodhisattvas, great beings, should not train in this way. On the contrary, Subhuti, bodhisattvas, great beings, should train thus, "In order to benefit all the world, I will dwell in suchness; and, establishing all sentient beings in suchness, I will lead the immeasurable realms of sentient beings to nirvana." Bodhisattvas, great beings, should begin applying themselves in that way to establishing all virtuous roots, but should not be conceited because of this....
`Those who say, "In this very life, having thoroughly freed the mind from contamination, without attachment, [I] will pass beyond sorrow" are "at the level of hearers and solitary realizers." With respect to this, bodhisattvas, great beings, should not give rise to such thoughts. Why is this? Subhuti, bodhisattvas, great beings, abide in the great vehicle and put on the great armor; they should not give rise to thoughts of even a little elaboration. Why is this? These supreme beings thoroughly lead the world and are a great benefit to the world. Therefore, they should always and uninterruptedly train well in the six perfections.'
How A Bodhisattva Should Act in Difficult Situations
The following passage describes the mental equanimity of bodhisattvas, which enables them to cope with the most difficult situations without becoming agitated.
[Buddha:] `Bodhisattvas, great beings, are not afraid when in a wilderness infested with wild animals. For it is their duty to renounce everything for the sake of all sentient beings. Therefore, they should react with the thought: "If these wild animals devour me, then just that will be my gift to them. The perfection of generosity will become more perfect in me, and I will come nearer to full enlightenment. And after I have won full enlightenment, I will make sure that in my buddha land there will be no animals at all, that there will be no conception of them, but that all beings in it will live on heavenly food."
`Moreover, bodhisattvas, great beings, should not be afraid in a wilderness infested with robbers. For bodhisattvas take pleasure in the wholesome practice of renouncing all their belongings. Bodhisattvas must cast away even their bodies and must renounce all that is necessary for life. They should react to danger with the thought: "If those beings take away from me everything that is necessary to life, then let that be my gift to them. If someone robs me of my life, I should feel no ill-will, anger, or fury on account of that. Even against them I should take no offensive action, either by body, speech, or mind. This will be an occasion to bring the perfections of generosity, ethics, and patience to greater perfection, and I will get nearer to full enlightenment. When I have attained full enlightenment, I will act and behave in such a way that in my buddha land wildernesses infested with robbers will not exist, or even be conceivable. And my exertions to bring about perfect purity in that buddha land will be so great that in it neither these nor other faults will exist, or even be conceivable."
`Furthermore, in a waterless waste also bodhisattvas should not be afraid. For their character is such that they are not alarmed or terrified. They should resolve that their own training might result in removing all thirst from all beings. They should not tremble when they think that if they die from thirst they will be reborn as hungry ghosts. On the contrary, they should direct a thought of great compassion toward all beings and think: "Alas, certainly those beings must be of small merit if in their world such fates are conceivable. After I have won enlightenment, I will see to it that in my buddha land no such fates exist, or are even conceivable. And I will give to all beings so much merit that they will have the most excellent water. Thus will I exert firm effort on behalf of all beings, so that on that occasion also the perfection of effort will become more perfect in me...."
`Furthermore, bodhisattvas will not be afraid in a district infested by epidemics. But they should consider, reflect, and think that "there is no phenomenon here that sickness could oppress, nor is that which is called `sickness' a phenomenon." In that manner they should contemplate emptiness, and they should not be afraid. But they should not think that "it will be an incredibly long time before I will attain full enlightenment," and they should not tremble at such a thought. For that thought-moment is the extreme limit of something that has no beginning; in other words, it is the absence of a limit.
`Bodhisattvas should therefore avoid allowing their minds to dwell on difficulties and should think that "great and long is this limit that has no beginning, for it is connected with one single thought-moment; in other words, it is the absence of a limit." This will prevent bodhisattvas from trembling at the thought that it will be a long time before they will attain full enlightenment.
`Moreover, Subhuti, if these and other fears and terrors--whether they are due to something seen, heard, felt or known--do not cause bodhisattvas to tremble, then one should know that those sons or daughters of good lineage are capable of knowing full enlightenment. Bodhisattvas should therefore put on the great armor of the thought: "I will act in this way, I will exert strong effort so that, after I have attained complete, unsurpassed enlightenment, all beings in my buddha land will not suffer from sickness, and they will not even know what it is. I will act in such a way that I will teach what the Tathagatas have taught and will practice what I have taught. And I will master the perfection of wisdom, for the sake of all beings, in such a way that on that occasion also the perfection of wisdom will come to fulfillment in me."
Bodhisattvas Are Celibate
Although later Indian movements sometimes utilized sexual practices in pursuit of awakening, the early tradition unanimously agreed that strict observance of celibacy is a precondition for following the path.
Buddha: The gods, up to the gods of the Not Low Heaven, are impressed because bodhisattvas renounce sexual intercourse. From the first thought of awakening onwards, bodhisattvas are celibate. They think that `one who is not celibate, who pursues sensuous pleasures, causes an obstacle to rebirth even in the world of Brahm>; how much more to supreme awakening." Therefore, bodhisattvas, celibate, not uncelibate, should, having left home, realize full awakening.
/>riputra: Don't bodhisattvas in all circumstances have mother and father, wives, sons, paternal and maternal relatives?
Buddha: Some bodhisattvas do have mother and father, wives, sons, and relatives. Some of them, from the first thought of awakening onwards, take up celibacy, and, practicing the bodhisattva practices like young princes, realize unsurpassed, complete awakening. Some bodhisattvas, due to skill in means, enjoy the five qualities of sensual desire, and then leave home and realize unsurpassed, complete awakening. Do you think, />riputra, that in the case of a skilled magician or a magician's apprentice who are very skilled in magical illusions and who create an illusion of the five qualities of sensual desire, amuse themselves with them, play with them, and manipulate them that that magician or magician's apprentice actually enjoy and delight in them?
/>riputra: No, Bhagavan.
Buddha: In the same way, bodhisattvas, through their skill in means, enjoy the five qualities of sensual pleasure for the sake of maturing sentient beings. But they are not defiled by sensual pleasures. Sensual desires are denounced by bodhisattvas with the words: `Sensual desires burn [sentient beings]...they are...disgusting...enemies.' Thinking thus, bodhisattvas take up the five qualities of sensual pleasure in order to mature sentient beings.
On the Differences Between Men and Women
The dialogue below applies the doctrine of emptiness to the commonly accepted differences between men and women. When these are closely examined, they are found to be merely the results of misguided conceptuality, since there is no inherently existent difference between the sexes.
The dialogue occurs in the house of Vimalakirti, a lay bodhisattva who is pretending to be sick in order to initiate a discourse on the dharma. The Buddha's disciples follow Manjushri--an advanced bodhisattva who is said to embody wisdom--to Vimalakirti's house in order to hear the two discuss the perfection of wisdom.
The interchange is so profound that a young goddess who lives in Vimalakirti's house rains down flowers on the assembly. The Hinayana monks who are present try frantically to brush them off, because monks are forbidden in the Vinaya to wear flowers or adornments. The bodhisattvas in the audience, however, are unaffected by such rigid adherence to rules, and so the flowers fall from their robes.
This causes Shariputra--described in Pali texts as the most advanced of Buddha's Hinayana disciples in the development of wisdom--to marvel at the attainments of the goddess and the bodhisattvas. She chides him for viewing the fruits of meditative training as things to be acquired, and in response Shariputra asks her why she does not change from a man into a woman. The question appears to be based on traditional Indian perceptions of authority, according to which wisdom is associated with elder males. The goddess violates these principles, because she is young and female. But it is clear from the dialogue that she is very advanced in understanding the perfection of wisdom.
The goddess responds to Shariputra's challenge by turning him into a woman and herself into a man. This leads to one of the most poignant scenes in the sutra, in which Shariputra experiences discomfort in his new body, apparently because of the Vinaya injunctions preventing monks from physical contact with women. Shariputra, now in a woman's body, is unable to avoid such contact, and tells the goddess that he is a woman without being a woman. The goddess replies that all women are women without being women, because "woman" is merely a conventional designation with no ultimate referent.
A goddess who lived in the house of Vimalakirti, having heard the doctrinal teaching of the bodhisattvas, the great beings, was very pleased, delighted, and moved. She took on a gross material form and scattered heavenly flowers over the great bodhisattvas and great hearers. When she had thrown them, the flowers that landed on the bodies of the bodhisattvas fell to the ground, while those that fell on the bodies of the great hearers remained stuck to them and did not fall to the ground. Then the great hearers tried to use their supernatural powers to shake off the flowers, but the flowers did not fall off. Then the goddess asked the venerable Shariputra: `Honorable Shariputra, why do you try to shake off the flowers?'
`Goddess, flowers are not fitting for monks; that is why we reject them.'
`Honorable Shariputra, do not speak thus. Why? These flowers are perfectly fitting. Why? The flowers are flowers and are free from conceptuality; it is only yourselves, the elders, who conceptualize them and create conceptuality toward them. Honorable Shariputra, among those who have renounced the world to take up monastic discipline, such conceptualizations and conceptuality are not fitting; it is those who do not conceive either conceptualizations nor conceptuality who are fit.
`Honorable Shariputra, take a good look at these bodhisattvas, great beings: the flowers do not stick to them because they have abandoned conceptuality....Flowers stick to those who have not yet abandoned the defilements; they do not stick to those who have abandoned them....'
`Well done! Well done, Goddess! What have you attained, what have you gained that enables you to have such eloquence?'
`It is because I have not attained anything nor gained anything that I have such eloquence. Those who think that they have attained or gained something are deluded with respect to the well-taught disciplinary doctrine....'
`Goddess, why do you not change your womanhood?'
`During the twelve years [that I have lived in this house], I have looked for womanhood, but have never found it. Honorable Shariputra, if a skillful magician created an illusory woman through transformation, could you ask her why she does not change her womanhood?'
`Every illusory creation is unreal.'
`In the same way, honorable Shariputra, all phenomena are unreal and have an illusory nature; why would you think of asking them to change their womanhood?'
Then the goddess performed a supernatural feat that caused the elder Shariputra to appear in every way like the goddess and she herself to appear in every way like the elder Shariputra. Then the goddess who had changed into Shariputra asked Shariputra who had been changed into a goddess: `Why do you not change your womanhood, honorable sir?'
[Shariputra:] `I do not know either how I lost my male form nor how I acquired a female body.'
[Goddess:] `Elder, if you were able to change your female form, then all women could change their womanhood. Elder, just as you appear to be a woman, so also all women appear in the form of women, but they appear in the form of women without being women. It was with this hidden thought that the Exalted One said: "Phenomena are neither male nor female."'
Then the goddess cut off her supernatural power and the venerable Shariputra regained his previous form. Then the goddess said to Shariputra: `Honorable Shariputra, where is your female form now?'
[Shariputra:] `My female form is neither made nor changed.'
[Goddess:] `Well done! Well done, honorable sir! In the same way, all phenomena, just as they are, are neither made nor changed. Saying that they are neither made nor changed is the word of the Buddha....'
[Shariputra:] `Goddess, how long will it be before you reach enlightenment?'
[Goddess:] `Elder, when you yourself return to being a worldly person, with all the qualities of a worldly person, then I myself will reach unsurpassed, perfect enlightenment.'
[Shariputra:] `Goddess, it is impossible that I could return to being a worldly person, with all the qualities of a worldly person; it cannot occur.'
[Goddess:] `Honorable Shariputra, in the same way, it is impossible that I will ever attain unsurpassed, perfect enlightenment; it cannot occur. Why? Because unsurpassed, perfect enlightenment is founded on a non-foundation. Thus, since there is no foundation, who could reach unsurpassed, perfect enlightenment?'
[Shariputra:] `But the Tathagata has said: "Tathagatas as innumerable as the sands of the Ganges river attain, have attained, and will attain unsurpassed, perfect enlightenment."'
[Goddess:] `Honorable Shariputra, the words, "buddhas past, future, and present" are conventional expressions made up of syllables and numbers. Buddhas are neither past, nor future, nor present, and their enlightenment transcends the three divisions of time. Tell me, elder, have you already attained the level of arhat?'
[Shariputra:] `I have attained it because there is nothing to attain.'
[Goddess:] It is the same with enlightenment: it is attained because there is nothing to attain.
The Lotus Sutra: Parable of the Burning House
The parable of the burning house is a famous allegory for the practice of "skillful means" (upaya-kaushalya), which is one of the important abilities of bodhisattvas and buddhas. It involves adapting the dharma to the interests and proclivities of individual listeners, telling them things that will attract them to the practice of Buddhism. The question posed in the dialogue concerns whether such tactics should be considered underhanded or dishonest. The answer, not surprisingly, is no: the means used are for the good of the beings, and benefit them greatly in the long run. Moreover, with beings who are thoroughly enmeshed in the concerns of the world it is necessary to draw their attention away from mundane pleasures toward the dharma, which can lead to lasting happiness.
[Buddha:] Shariputra, let us suppose that somewhere, in a village there was a householder who was...wealthy and enjoying life. Suppose that he had a great mansion, lofty, vast, built long ago, housing several hundred people. And suppose that this mansion had a single door, that it was covered with thatch, that its terraces were collapsing, that the bases of its pillars were rotting away, and that its walls, partitions, and plaster were falling to pieces. And suppose that all of a sudden the whole mansion burst forth into flames, that the householder managed himself to get out, but that he had several little boys who were still inside.
[He thought:] `Fortunately, I was quickly able to get out of this burning house through the door, without getting burned by those flames, but my sons...are still inside, playing with their playthings, enjoying and amusing themselves. They do not know...that the house is on fire, and are not upset. Even caught in that inferno, being burned by those flames, in fact, suffering a great deal, they are oblivious to their suffering, and the thought of getting out does not occur in them....'
So he called out to the little boys: `Come, my children, get out! The house is ablaze with a mass of flames! Do not stay there, you will all be burned in the conflagration and come to misfortune and disaster!'
But the little boys did not pay any attention to the words of the man, though he desired only their well-being....They did not reflect, did not dash out of the house, did not understand, did not comprehend even the meaning of the word `conflagration.' Instead, they ran around playing here and there, occasionally gazing out at their father. Why? Simply because of their being foolish children.
So then, Shariputra, the man thought: ...`I should by some skillful means cause these children to come out of the house.' Now the man knew the mental dispositions of his children and understood their interests, and he knew that there were many kinds of toys that pleased them....So he said to them: `Children, all of those toys that are pleasing to you...for instance, little ox carts, goat carts, and deer carts--so dear and captivating; well, I have put all of them outside the gate of the house so that you can play with them. Come on! Run out of the house! I will give each of you whatever you need and want. Come quickly! Come out for the sake of these playthings!'
Then the little boys, hearing the names of the toys that were pleasing to them...quickly dashed out of the burning house at great speed, not waiting for one another and calling out: `Who will be first? Who will be foremost?'
Then the man, seeing his children out of the house safe and sound and knowing them to be out of danger...gave his children...ox carts only. They were made of seven precious materials, equipped with railings, hung with strings of bells, high and lofty, adorned with marvelous and wonderful jewels, brightened by garlands of gems, decorated with wreaths of flowers....
Now what do you think, Shariputra, did that man tell a lie to his children by first promising them three vehicles and then later on giving them only great vehicles, the best vehicles?
Shariputra said: `No indeed, Blessed One! No indeed! There is no reason to think that in this case that man was a liar, because he was using skillful means in order to get his children to come out of the burning house, and that gave them the gift of life. Moreover, Blessed One, in addition to getting back their very lives, they also received all those toys. But, Blessed One, even if that man had not given them a single cart, he would still not have been a liar. How so? Because, Blessed One, that man first reflected: "By the use of skillful means, I will liberate these children from a great heap of suffering...."'
Well said, Shariputra, well said! You have spoken well. In just this way, the Tathagata too...is father of the world; he has attained the highest perfection of the knowledge of great skillful means, he is greatly compassionate, his mind is unwearied, and his concern is for the well-being of others He appears in this threefold universe, which is like a burning house being consumed by a mass of suffering and sadness...in order to liberate from desire, hatred, and delusion those beings who remain ensnared in a veil of darkness--the obscuring blindness of ignorance, of birth, old age, sickness, death, sorrow, grief, suffering, sadness, and irritation--and in order to stimulate them toward unsurpassed, complete enlightenment....Even here, in that threefold universe that is like a burning house, they enjoy themselves and run about. For though they are being afflicted by a great deal of suffering, the thought that they are suffering does not occur to them....
Therefore, Shariputra, the Tathagata must be just like that strong-armed man who...employing skillful means, enticed his children out of the burning house...by speaking of three vehicles, that is to say, the disciples' vehicle, the pratyekabuddhas' vehicle, and the bodhisattvas' vehicle....
The Tathagata is not a liar when, using skillful means, first holds out the prospect of three vehicles and then leads beings to parinirvana by means of a single great vehicle.
Everything Is Controlled By the Mind
The passage below comes from the Cloud of Jewels Sutra. It indicates that all phenomena are productions of mind and that everything is created by mind. Ordinary beings allow the mind to wander at will, thus enmeshing them in confused and harmful thoughts, but bodhisattvas are advised to train the mind in order to bring it under control.
All phenomena originate in the mind, and when the mind is fully known all phenomena are fully known. For by the mind the world is led...and through the mind karma is piled up, whether good or bad. The mind swings like a firebrand, the mind rears up like a wave, the mind burns like a forest fire, like a great flood the mind carries all things away. Bodhisattvas, thoroughly examining the nature of things, remain in ever-present mindfulness of the activity of the mind, and so do not fall into the mind's power, but the mind comes under their control. And with the mind under their control, all phenomena are under their control.
The Basis Consciousness
The passage below from the Sutra Explaining the Thought is one of the earliest descriptions of the "basis consciousness" (alaya-vijnana), a doctrine that was central to the Yogachara school and that was also influential in other Mahayana countries, particularly Tibet and China. The basis consciousness is the most fundamental level of mind, and it is said to be comprised of the "seeds" of past actions and mental states.
The seeds become part of the continuum of the basis consciousness, which is moved along by their force. If one cultivates positive actions and thoughts, for example, one's mind will become habituated to positive actions and thoughts. The converse is true of those who engage in negative actions and thoughts.
Under appropriate conditions, the seeds give rise to corresponding thoughts and emotions, and these are the phenomena of ordinary experience. Mind and its objects are said to arise together, and so there is no substantial difference between subject and object. Because of this, phenomena are said to be "cognition-only" (vijnapti-matra), meaning that all we ever perceive are mental impressions, and not things in themselves.
[Buddha:] `Initially in dependence upon two types of appropriation--the appropriation of the physical sense powers associated with a support and the appropriation of predispositions which proliferate conventional designations with respect to signs, names, and concepts--the mind which has all seeds ripens; it develops, increases, and expands in its operations....
`Consciousness is also called the "appropriating consciousness" because it holds and appropriates the body in that way. It is called the "basis consciousness" because there is the same establishment and abiding within those bodies....It is called "mind" because it collects and accumulates forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangible objects.
Nirvana Is Here and Now
Mahayana thinkers often criticized their rivals for creating false dichotomies within Buddhism. In the following passage, drawn from the Descent into Lanka Sutra, Buddha tells his audience that cyclic existence and nirvana are non-differentiable. There is no true difference between them. Those who perceive reality under the influence of delusion and ignorance continue to be trapped within the round of birth, death, and rebirth, but those who eliminate them attain the state of nirvana. Since, however, ignorance has no substance of its own, and the mental afflictions are merely adventitious, there is no truly existent difference between the two states.
Those who are afraid of the suffering which arises from...the round of birth and death seek for nirvana; they do not realize that between birth and death and nirvana there is really no difference at all. They see nirvana as the absence of all...birth and the cessation of all contact of sense-organ and sense-object, and they will not understand that it is really only the inner realization of the store of latencies....Thus they teach the three vehicles, but not the doctrine that nothing truly exists but the mind, in which there are no images. Therefore...they do not know the extent of what has been perceived by the minds of past, present, and future buddhas, and they continue in the conviction that the world extends beyond the range of the mind's purview....And so they keep on rolling...on the wheel of birth and death.
The Bodhisattva Works Alone
In Mahayana texts the bodhisattva is portrayed as a heroic figure, valiantly following the path to buddhahood for the benefit of others. The following passage indicates that this is a long and difficult path that each individual must traverse alone.
The bodhisattva is alone, with no...companion, and puts on the armor of supreme wisdom. He acts alone and leaves nothing to others, working with a will that is firm with courage and strength. He is strong in his own strength...and he thinks thus: "I will help all sentient beings to obtain whatever they should obtain....
`The virtue of generosity is not my helper--I am the helper of generosity. Nor do the virtues of ethics, patience, effort, concentration, and wisdom help me--it is I who help them. The perfections of the bodhisattva do not support me--it is I who support them....I alone, standing in this round and hard world, must subdue Mara, with all his hosts and chariots, and develop supreme awakening with the wisdom of instantaneous insight.'
Just as the rising sun, the child of the gods, is not stopped...by all the dust rising from the four continents of the earth...or by wreaths of smoke...or by rugged mountains, so bodhisattvas, great beings...are not deterred from bringing virtuous roots to fruition, whether by the malice of others...or by their wrong-doing or error, or by their mental agitation....They will not lay down their limbs of awakening because of the corrupt generations of humanity, nor do they waver in their resolution to save the world because of their wretched quarrels....They do not lose heart on account of their faults....
They think, `All creatures are in pain; all suffer from bad and hindering karma...so that they cannot see the buddhas or hear the true doctrine or know the sa[[dotaccent]]gha....All that mass of pain and evil karma I take in my own body...I take upon myself the burden of sorrow; I resolve to do so; I endure it all. I do not turn back or run away, I do not tremble...I am not afraid...nor do I despair. I must definitely bear the burdens of all sentient beings...for I have resolved to save them all, I must set them all free, I must save the whole world from the forest of birth, aging, sickness, and rebirth, from misfortune and wrong-doing, from the round of birth and death, from the dangers of error....For all sentient beings are caught in the net of desire, enmeshed in ignorance, held by the desire for existence; they are doomed to destruction, shut in a cage of pain...they are ignorant, untrustworthy, full of doubts, always fighting one with another, always prone to see evil; they cannot find a refuge in the ocean of existence; they are all on the edge of the gulf of destruction.
`I work to establish the kingdom of perfect wisdom for all sentient beings. I care not at all for my own liberation. I must save all sentient beings from the river of rebirth with the raft of my omniscient mind. I must pull them back from the great precipice. I must free them from all misfortune, ferry them over the stream of rebirth.
`For I have taken upon myself, by my own will, the whole of the pain of all living things. Thus I dare try every place of pain, in...every part of the universe, for I must not keep virtuous roots from the world. I resolve to live in each bad state for countless eons...for the salvation of all sentient beings...for it is better that I alone suffer than that all sentient beings sink to the bad transmigrations. There I shall give myself into bondage, to redeem all the world from the forest of suffering, from births as animals, from the realm of death. I shall bear all grief and pain in my own body for the good of all living things. I vow to work for all sentient beings, speaking the truth, trustworthy, not breaking my word. I will not abandon them....I must be their charioteer, I must be their leader, I must be their torchbearer, I must be their guide to safety....I must not wait for the help of another, nor must I lose my resolution and leave my tasks to another. I must not turn back in my efforts to save all sentient beings nor cease to use my merit for the destruction of all pain. And I must not be satisfied with small successes.'
Asceticism is Useless
Following the example of the Buddha, the Buddhist tradition has generally rejected asceticism as an extreme practice that has no benefit. People should follow the Buddhist path in order to transcend suffering, and so it makes no sense in a Buddhist context to seek liberation through painful practices.
Asceticism in its various forms is basically painful;
And, at best, the reward of asceticism is heaven.
But all the worlds are prone to change,
And so the efforts of the hermitages are of little use.
Those who forsake the relatives they love and their pleasures
To perform asceticism and win a place in heaven
Must leave it in the end
And go to greater bondage.
A person who tortures the body and calls it asceticism
In the hope of continuing to satisfy desire
Does not understand the evils of rebirth,
And through much suffering goes to further suffering.
All living sentient beings are afraid of death
And yet they all strive to be born again;
Since they act in this way, death is inevitable,
And they are plunged in that which they most fear.
Some suffer hardship for mere worldly gain;
Others will take to asceticism in hope of heaven.
All beings fail in their hopeful search for happiness
And fall, poor wretches, into great trouble.
Not that the effort is to be blamed which leaves
The lower and seeks the higher aim.
But wise people should work with an equal effort
To reach the goal where further work is not needed.
If it is proper to torture the body
Then the body's ease is contrary to what is proper;
Thus if, by doing what is proper, joy is obtained in a future life
Dharma must flower in non-dharma.
The body is commanded by the mind,
Through mind it acts, through mind it ceases to act.
All that is needed is to subdue the mind,
For the body is a log of wood without it....
Those who try to purify their deeds
By bathing at a place which they hold sacred
Merely give their hearts some satisfaction,
For water will not purify people's wrong-doing.
Nagarjuna On Emptiness
Nagarjuna, founder of the Madhyamaka school of Indian Mahayana, emphasized the centrality of the doctrine of emptiness in his philosophy. In the following verses he indicates that concepts are empty because language is simply an interconnected system of terms that do not capture actual things. They simply relate to other words. One who fully recognizes this fact becomes freed from the snares of language and attains correct realization, an important part of the path to liberation.
1. Though the buddhas have spoken of duration, origination, destruction, being, non-being, low, moderate, and excellent by force of worldly convention, [they] have not done [so] in an absolute sense.
2. Designations are without significance, for self, non-self, and self-non-self do not exist. [For] like nirvana, all expressible things are empty of own-being (svabhava).
3. Since all things altogether lack substance--either in causes or conditions, [in their] totality, or separately--they are empty.
4. Being does not arise, since it exists. Non-being does not arise, since it does not exist. Being and non-being [together] do not arise, due to [their] heterogeneity. Consequently they do not endure or vanish....
7. Without one, there are not many. Without many, one is not possible. Whatever arises dependently is indeterminable....
56. Consciousness occurs in dependence on the internal and external sense spheres. Therefore consciousness is empty, like mirages and illusions.
57. Since consciousness arises in dependence on a discernible object, the discernible does not exist [in itself]. Since [the conscious subject] does not exist without the discernible and consciousness, the conscious subject does not exist [by itself]....
65. But when one has understood by seeing fully that things are empty, one is no longer deluded. Ignorance ceases, and the twelve spokes [of the wheel] come to a halt....
67. Nothing exists by virtue of own-being, nor is there any non-being there. Being and non-being, born through causes and conditions, are empty.
68. Since all things are empty of own-being, the incomparable Tathagata teaches dependent arising with respect to things....
72. One with faith who tries to seek the truth, one who considers this principle logically [and] relies [upon] the dharma that is lacking all supports and leaves behind existence and non-existence and abides in peace.
73. When one understands that "This is a result of that," the nets of bad views will vanish. Undefiled, one abandons desire, delusion, and hatred and gains nirvana.
The Bodhisattva's Vows of Universal Love
The following verses, written by Shantideva, are among the most eloquent expressions in Mahayana literature of the ideal mindset of bodhisattvas, who should dedicate all of their energies to helping other beings in every possible way.
Those who wrong me, and those who accuse me falsely, and those who mock, and others: May they all be sharers in enlightenment.
I would be a protector for those without protection, a leader for those who journey, and a boat, a bridge, a passage for those desiring the further shore.
For all creatures, I would be a lantern for those desiring a lantern, I would be a bed for those desiring a bed, I would be a slave for those desiring a slave.
I would be for creatures a magical jewel, an inexhaustible jar, a powerful spell, a universal remedy, a wishing tree, and a cow of plenty.70
As the earth and other elements are, in various ways, for the enjoyment of innumerable beings dwelling in all of space;
So may I be, in various ways, the means of sustenance for the living beings occupying space, for as long a time as all are not satisfied.
Altruism Is An Attitude
In the following verses Shantideva discusses the perfection of generosity, the first of the six exalted qualities in which bodhisattvas train on their path to buddhahood (the others are ethics, patience, effort, concentration, and wisdom). He indicates that generosity is an attitude of eagerness to give away all that one has for the benefit of others, but is not necessarily a perfection of the ability to give. In other words, bodhisattvas do not have to become wealthy in order to perfect generosity, but rather need to develop an attitude of love toward other beings and complete non-attachment toward possessions.
If through eliminating the poverty
Of beings, a perfection of giving occurred,
Then since there are still poor beings, how did
The former protectors achieve protection?
Through an attitude of giving to all beings
All one's possessions with their fruits
A perfection of giving is said to occur,
Thus it is just in attitude.
Everything Is Cognition-Only
In the following passage from the Compendium of the Great Vehicle (Mahayana-samgraha), Asanga indicates that all objects of perception are cognition-only.
The reasoning [that the doctrine of cognition-only is proven by both scripture and reasoning] is also indicated by this scripture [i.e., the Sutra Explaining the Thought]. When the mind is in meditative equipoise, in terms of whatever images that are objects of knowledge--blue and so forth--that are seen, the mind is seen. Blue and so forth are not objects that are different from mind. By this reasoning, bodhisattvas should infer that all cognitions are cognition-only.
The final nature of phenomena is referred to in Mahayana texts by a variety of terms, including emptiness, suchness, reality-limit, and the ultimate. In the following passage, Asanga indicates how these terms are understood.
What is the suchness of virtuous phenomena? It is the two types of selflessness, emptiness, signlessness, reality-limit, the ultimate; it is also the element of qualities. Why is suchness called suchness? Because it is changeless. Why is emptiness so called? Because it does not serve as a cause of the afflictions. Why is signlessness so called? Because it pacifies signs. Why is reality-limit so called? Because it is a non-mistaken object of observation. Why is the ultimate so called? Because it is the sphere of activity of the supreme exalted wisdom of superiors. Why is the element of qualities so called? Because it is the cause of all of the qualities of hearers, solitary realizers, and buddhas
Tantric Skill in Means
Tantric texts claim that the system of tantra skillfully uses aspects of reality that cause bondage for people who are enmeshed in mundane conceptuality--things like desire and other negative emotions. The following excerpt from the Hevajra Tantra indicates that these may serve as aids to the path of liberation if the proper means are used.
Those things by which evil men are bound, others turn into means and gain thereby release from the bonds of existence. By passion the world is bound, by passion too it is released, but by heretical Buddhists this practice of reversals is not known.
The Stage of Completion
The tantric practice of deity yoga involves first creating a vivid image of a buddha in front of one, and then visualizing the buddha as merging with oneself. One views oneself as a buddha--with the body, speech, and mind of a buddha--and as performing the activities of an awakened being. The first procedure is called the "generation stage," and the second, which is described in the following passage from the Guhyasamaja Tantra, is termed the "completion stage." In order to avoid becoming attached to the visualization, one should be aware that both the buddha and oneself are empty of inherent existence. Thus at the end of the session, one dissolves both oneself and the buddha into emptiness.
Everything from the crown of the head to the feet dissolves into the heart; you engage in the perfect yoga (meditation on emptiness)....All sentient beings and all other phenomena dissolve into clear light and then dissolve into you; then you yourself, as the deity, dissolve into your heart....Just as mist on a mirror fades toward the center and disappears, so does everything--the net of illusory manifestation--dissolve into the clear light of emptiness. Just as fish are easily seen in clear water, so does everything--the net of illusory manifestation--emerge from the clear light of emptiness.76
Women Should Be Honored
One of the notable features of the tantric movement is an emphasis on the spiritual capacities of women. Classical Indian literature indicates that extreme misogyny was prevalent in the society, which makes this aspect of tantra even more significant. An example of the emphasis on the equality of women is the fact that one of the basic vows required of all tantric practitioners is a pledge not to denigrate women, "who are the bearers of wisdom." The following passage from the Chandamaharoshana Tantra expresses a similar sentiment in its praises of women.
One should honor women.
Women are heaven, women are truth,
Women are the supreme fire of transformation.
Women are Buddha, women are the religious community.
Women are the perfection of wisdom.
Samsara and Nirvana Are One
The following excerpts from the Hevajra Tantra discuss the tantric idea that there is no fundamental difference between cyclic existence and nirvana. Buddhas perceive them as undifferentiable, but ordinary beings, because of their delusions, think in terms of dichotomies, and so imagine that the path and goal are separate.
Then the essence is declared, pure and consisting in knowledge, where there is not the slightest difference between cyclic existence and nirvana.
Nothing is mentally produced in the highest bliss, and no one produces it,
There is no bodily form, neither object nor subject,
Neither flesh nor blood, neither dung nor urine,
No sickness, no delusion, no purification,
No passion, no wrath, no delusion, no envy,
No malignity, no conceit of self, no visible object,
Nothing mentally produced and no producer,
No friend is there, no enemy,
Calm is the Innate and undifferentiated....
The Enlightened One is neither existence nor non-existence; he has a form with arms and faces and yet in highest bliss is formless.
So the whole world is the Innate, for the Innate is its essence.
Its essence too is nirvana when the mind is in a purified state.
Using Desire to Eradicate Desire
Tantric adepts claim that the fact that tantra uses emotions like desire as means in the path is an example of the skillful practices of the system. The following passage from Viryavajra's Commentary on the Samputa Tantra contends that there are four levels of the use of desire: visualizing a man and woman looking at each other; laughing with each other; holding hands; and sexual union. Each of these represents a progressively higher level of desire. One should engage in these practices, however, in order to utilize the energy of desire as a force that can be used to eradicate mental afflictions. The skillful use of desire is said in some texts to be like rubbing two sticks together to make a fire, which then consumes the sticks themselves. In this case, the process is compared to the way that insects are born in wood, and then later consume the wood.
Within the sound of laughter non-conceptual bliss is generated; or it is generated from looking at the body, the touch of holding hands and the embrace of the two; or from the touch [of union]....just as an insect is generated from the wood and then eats the wood itself, so meditative stabilization is generated from bliss [in dependence on desire] and is cultivated as emptiness [whereupon desire is consumed].
The State of Pure Awareness
The following passage from the Hevajra Tantra describes the state of mind of one who has transcended all discursive and dichotomizing thought through direct, intuitive awareness of the boundless clarity of mind.
From self-experiencing comes this knowledge, which is free from ideas of self and other; like the sky it is pure and void, the essence supreme of non-existence and existence, a mingling of wisdom and method, a mingling of passion and absence of passion. It is the life of living things, it is the Unchanging One Supreme; it is all-pervading, abiding in all embodied things. It is the stuff the world is made of, and in it existence and non-existence have their origin. It is all other things that there are....It is the essential nature of all existing things and illusory in its forms.
The Importance of the Guru
The special techniques of tantra are said to be very powerful, but they can also be dangerous. Thus tantric texts warn meditators to find qualified spiritual guides (guru) who can help them to avoid possible pitfalls. One of the central practices of tantra is "guru yoga," in which one visualizes one's guru as a fully enlightened buddha. One who does this successfully is said to move quickly toward actualization of buddhahood. In the following passage the tantric master Tilopa teaches that finding a qualified guru is a prerequisite for successful tantric practice.
the ignorant may know that sesame oil--the essence--exists in the sesame seed, but because they do not know how, they cannot extract the oil. So also does the innate fundamental wisdom abide in the heart of all migrators; but unless it is pointed out by the guru, it cannot be realized. By pounding the seeds and clearing away the husks, one can extract the essence--the sesame oil. Similarly, when it is shown by the guru, the meaning of suchness is so illuminated that one can enter into it.
c. Selections from Tibetan Buddhist Texts
The "great completion" (dzogchen) tradition of Tibetan Buddhism is practiced by all of the four main schools--Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Geluk--but most closely associated with the Nyingma. In this system all phenomena are said to be creations of mind that, like mind, are a union of luminosity and emptiness. In the following passage, the appearances of things to the mind are compared to the reflections of forms in a mirror.
Ultimate reality is the mandala of the perfectly pure expanse of emptiness. It is like a magic mirror. What unimpededly appears on it are the things of relative reality, your mind included. These things appear naturally on this `magic' mirror, through and to your mind. There is no third reality of a truly existing mind or objects juxtaposed to the ultimate reality of the mirror and the relative reality of the images in it.
Bardo, the State Between Lives
The following excerpts are drawn from a Tibetan classic on death and dying entitled Liberation through Hearing in the Intermediate State, attributed to Padmasambhava. According to the tradition, it was hidden by Padmasambhava and rediscovered by the "treasure finder" Karma Lingpa in the fourteenth century. The book describes the "intermediate state" (bardo; translated here as "the between") that all beings are said to enter after death.
During the process of dying, the physiological changes that occur are accompanied by mental changes in which the coarser levels of mind drop away, revealing progressively more subtle aspects of consciousness. At the moment of death, the most subtle level of mind dawns. This is called the "mind of clear light," and compared to it all other minds are adventitious.
At this point one enters the intermediate state and experiences strange and terrifying sights. These are all said to be aspects of one's own mind, and they include visions of mild and terrifying beings, deafening sounds, and other intense sense experiences. The intermediate state is a time of great opportunity, however, and if one is able to maintain awareness and focus on the clear light nature of mind and perceive all experiences as merely aspects of mind, one may become a buddha, or at least attain rebirth in the pure land of a buddha. In such places the conditions are optimal for beings who seek buddhahood. If one is unable to maintain mindfulness, one will be reborn in accordance with one's accumulated karma.
Hey! Now when the life between dawns upon me,
I will abandon laziness, as life has no more time,
Unwavering, enter the path of learning, thinking, and meditating,
And taking perceptions and mind as a path,
I will realize the Three Bodies of enlightenment!...
Conscious of dreaming, I will enjoy the changes as clear light.
Not sleeping mindlessly like an animal,
I will cherish the practice merging sleep and realization!...
Now when the death-point between dawns upon me,
I will give up the preoccupations of the all-desiring mind,
Enter unwavering the experience of the clarity of the precepts,
And transmigrate into the birthless space of inner awareness;
About to lose this created body of flesh and blood,
I will realize it to be impermanent illusion!...
I will...enter into the recognition of all objects as my mind's own visions,
And understand this as the pattern of perception in the between;
Come to this moment, arrived at this most critical cessation,
I will not fear my own visions of deities mild and fierce!...
Now courage and positive perception are essential.
Milarepa on Meditation
Milarepa, one of the most influential figures in Tibetan Buddhism, was born into a fairly well-to-do family, but his greedy aunt and uncle took everything away from him, his mother, and sister. Overcome by rage, his mother coerced Milarepa into learning black magic and sending a curse on the aunt and uncle, with the result that a number of people died, but not the primary objects of his revenge.
Milarepa, terrified of the consequences of his evil deeds, searched for a spiritual guide (lama) who could help him escape the consequences of his actions. He eventually found Marpa, who gave Milarepa a series of difficult and dispiriting tasks, which cleansed his negative karma. After this Milarepa spent many years living in a cave and practicing solitary meditation, which culminated in his attainment of awakening. He is considered in Tibet to be the supreme example of the attainment of buddhahood in one lifetime through tantric practice.
Look up into the sky, and practice meditation free from the fringe and center.
Look up at the sun and moon, and practice meditation free from bright and dim.
Look over the mountains, and practice meditation free from departing and changing.
Look down at the lake, and practice meditation free from waves.
Look here at your mind, and practice meditation free from discursive thought.
The Joys of Solitude
In the following poem, Milarepa celebrates the joy of solitary meditation. His biography reports that during his stay in the wilderness, a number of people tried to convince him that such a life was unpleasant, to which he replied that because he had discovered the natural luminosity of mind all phenomena appeared as the interplay of luminosity of emptiness, and that as a result he lived in a constant state of sublime happiness.
This mountainous area is a happy place, a place of meadows and bright flowers.
The trees move in the forest; it is a place in which monkeys play.
The birds sing various kinds of songs, and bees whirl and hover.
Day and night a rainbow shines, and in summer and winter a gentle rain falls.
In spring and fall a mist moves in.
In this sort of solitude
Mila, wearing cotton clothes, has found happiness.
Because I perceive the clear light and contemplate the emptiness of phenomena.
I am happy when things appear before me,
And happier when more [appear],
Because my body is free from evil actions....
The realm in which a strong mind wanders is a happy one,
And I find happiness in my spontaneous strength.
Niguma on Mahamudra
Niguma is said by Tibetan tradition to have been the founder of the Shangpa lineage of the Kagyu tradition. In the following passage she describes the view of mahamudra (literally, "great seal"), which is said by the Kagyu school to be the supreme form of Buddhist practice. In mahamudra, one dispenses with the visualizations and rituals of tantra and focuses on the natural state of mind, which is said to be a union of clear light and emptiness. All phenomena are viewed as the spontaneous play of mind, and by cultivating this awareness it is said that the meditator moves quickly toward the attainment of buddhahood.
Don't do anything whatsoever with the mind--
Abide in an authentic, natural state.
One's own mind, unwavering, is reality.
The key is to meditate like this without wavering;
Experience the great [reality] beyond extremes.
In a pellucid ocean,
Bubbles arise and dissolve again.
Just so, thoughts are no different from ultimate reality.
So don't find fault; remain at ease.
Whatever arises, whatever occurs,
Don't grasp--release it on the spot.
Appearances, sounds, and objects are one's own mind;
There's nothing except mind.
Mind is beyond the extremes of birth and death.
The nature of mind, awareness,
Uses the objects of the five senses, but
Does not wander from reality.
In the state of cosmic equilibrium
There is nothing to abandon or practice,
No meditation or post-meditation period.
Instructions from Manjushri
The following verses, according to the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, were spoken to Günga Nyingpo (1092-1158, the "Great Sakyapa" (Sachen). They are a summary of the entire Buddhist path, including the renunciation of the world, the development of compassion, and the importance of avoiding extreme views.
If you cling to this life, then you are not a dharma practitioner.
If you cling to existence, then you do not have renunciation.
If you are attached to your own interests, then you do not have the mind of enlightenment.
If you hold to [a position], then you do not have the correct view.
The Triple Appearance
The Sakya school teaches that there are three main levels of awareness, which are summarized in the following stanzas from Virupa's Vajra Verses. The first verse refers to the perceptions of ordinary beings, which are colored by ignorance and mental affliction. The second verse describes the perceptions of people on the path, who have some experience with meditation and thus have overcome some of their mental afflictions. The final verse indicates that buddhas perceive the world unafflicted by ignorance, hatred, desire, etc. and so are at the level of the "pure appearance." The Sakya tradition stresses that although they appear to be incompatible, the three appearances are fundamentally non-different.
For sentient beings with the afflictions is the impure appearance.
For the meditator with transic absorption is the appearance of experience.
For the ornamental wheel of the Sugata's [Buddha's] inexhaustible enlightened body, voice and mind is the pure appearance.90
Developing the Mind of Enlightenment
Ordinary beings are consumed by self-centered desires and think primarily of their own narrow interests. Bodhisattvas spend countless eons working toward buddhahood for the benefit of all beings, cheerfully accepting all the tribulations that occur along the path. Given the vast gulf between the attitudes of bodhisattvas and ordinary beings, it is difficult to for people enmeshed in mundane concerns to imagine making the transition to true altruism.
The following passage by Tsong Khapa (the founder of the Gelukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism) outlines a seven step program for developing the "mind of enlightenment," which marks the beginning of the bodhisattva path. It begins by recognizing that because one has been reborn in an infinite variety of situations since beginningless time, one has been in every possible relationship with every other sentient being. Thus, every sentient being has been one's mother, and has been a nurturing and caring friend.
One should reflect on the kindness of one's own mother, and then think that every other being has been equally kind. One then resolves to repay this kindness, and generates a feeling of love toward others, wishing that they have happiness and the causes of happiness. One then develops compassion for sentient beings, since they are experiencing suffering as a result of contaminated actions and afflictions.
In the next stage one attains the "unusual attitude," which involves vowing to work to free all beings from suffering and establish them in buddhahood. The final step is attainment of the mind of enlightenment, which is a resolve to do whatever is necessary to attain buddhahood in order to help all sentient beings.
From one's own viewpoint, since one has cycled beginninglessly, there are no sentient beings who have not been one's friends hundreds of times. Therefore, one should think, `Whom should I value?' `Whom should I hate?'...
Imagine your mother very clearly in front of you. Consider several times how she has been your mother numberless times, not only now, but from beginningless cyclic existence. When she was your mother, she protected you from all danger and brought about your benefit and happiness. In particular, in this life she held you for a long time in her womb. Once you were born, while you still had new hair, she held you to the warmth of her flesh and rocked you on the tips of her ten fingers.
She nursed you at her breast...and wiped away your filth with her hand. In various ways she nourished you tirelessly. When you were hungry and thirsty, she gave you drink, and when you were cold, clothes, and when poor, money. She gave you those things that were precious to her. Moreover, she did not find these easily.... When you suffered with a fever she would rather have died herself than have her child die; and if her child became sick, from the depths of her heart she would rather have suffered herself than have her child suffer....
d. Chinese and Japanese Buddhist Texts
Why Buddhism Is Superior to Taoism and Confucianism
The following passage, by Chi-tsang (549-623), is an example of the sectarian debates between Buddhists and Taoists in China. Drawn from the Profound Meaning of the Three Treatises,93 it compares the teachings of Buddhism to those of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu.
Shih-seng-chao (374-414) says, `Every time I read Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, it causes me to lament and say: It is beautiful, but as for the technique of abiding with the spirit, of quieting the mental ties [that bind us to life and death], they have not yet mastered [them]....'
Kumarajiva long ago heard that the three mysteries, together with the nine teachings of Buddhism, were both definitive. Lao-tzu, together with Shakyamuni [Buddha], were [held to be] comparable in actions. So [Kumarajiva] lamented thus, and lamenting said, `Lao[-tzu] and Chuang[-tzu] have entered the profound. Therefore, they certainly do lead astray the ears and eyes.' This is the wisdom of the ordinary person. These are reckless words [claiming that Buddhism and Taoism are comparable]. In saying this, it appears to be the ultimate, and still has not yet begun to approach it....
Non-Buddhists are not yet able to consider the ultimate, and still wander among the myriad things. Buddhist teachings, without moving away from absolute truth, teach, still establishing the various phenomena. Non-Buddhists reside in the teachings of gain and loss. Buddhists vanquish the two extremes in the principle of negation. Non-Buddhists have not yet extinguished both the knower and known. Buddhists have extinguished both subject and object.
If we take these [two, Buddhists and non-Buddhists], and further examine them in detail, it is like comparing a small bird's wings to the wings of a p'eng bird, or a comparing a well to the ocean. [These metaphors] are not yet sufficient to explain their difference. Kumarajiva doubted the final teachings [of the Taoists]. What more can I say?
The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch
The Ch'an (Japanese: Zen) school developed in China. Asserting that the teachings of the school were a "special transmission outside of the scriptures," Zen masters claimed that their tradition represents the authentic teaching of the Buddha, who is said to have passed on the essence of his enlightened mind to his disciple Mahakashyapa. He in turn passed it on to his main disciple, and so it continued in India through an unbroken chain of transmission until Bodhidharma, the last Indian "patriarch," traveled to China.
Bodhidharma, a semi-legendary figure, is said to have arrived at the Shao-lin monastery in China, where he sat in silent meditation in front of a wall for several years. At the end of this period, he began teaching the tradition to Chinese disciples, one of whom became the first Chinese patriarch.
The following passage was spoken by Hui-neng, the sixth patriarch, to a group of disciples. It contains many of the important doctrines of the developed Ch'an tradition, including the doctrine of "sudden enlightenment," which holds that buddhas become enlightened in a flash of insight, and not gradually, as traditional Indian Buddhism taught. According to Indian Buddhist meditation texts, meditators should enter into concentrated meditative states called samadhi, and these states lead to the awakening of wisdom (prajna). Hui-neng, however, declared that such ideas impose a false dualism onto the path to buddhahood. He contended that both concentration and wisdom are present in every moment of thought and that they cannot legitimately be separated.
He also opposed the goal-oriented practices of traditional Mahayana, and said that one becomes awakened by eliminating discursive thought. When all conceptual thoughts drop away and one attains the state of "no-thought" (wu nien), the mind flows freely and unimpededly, in harmony with the rhythms of the world. This is the state of mind characteristic of buddhahood, and any notions of "path" and "goal," or "cultivation" and "attainment" are products of dualistic thinking that will impede one's progress toward awakening.
1. The Master Hui-neng ascended the high seat at the lecture hall of the Ta-fan Temple and expounded the dharma of the great perfection of wisdom and transmitted the precepts of formlessness. At that time over ten thousand monks, nuns, and lay followers sat before him. The prefect of Shao-chou, Wei Ch'u, some thirty officials from various departments, and some thirty Confucian scholars all begged the Master to preach on the dharma of the great perfection of wisdom. The prefect then had the monk-disciple Fa-hai record his words so that they might become known to later generations and be of benefit to students of the Way [Tao], in order that they might receive the point of the teaching and transmit it among themselves, taking these words as their authority.
2. The Master Hui-neng said: `Good friends, purify your minds and concentrate on the dharma of the great perfection of wisdom.'
The Master stopped speaking and quieted his own mind. Then after a long while he said: `Good friends, listen quietly. My father was originally an official at Fan-yang. He was [later] dismissed from his post and banished as a commoner to Hsin-chou in Ling-nan. While I was still a child, my father died and my old mother and I, a solitary child, moved to Nan-hai. We suffered extreme poverty and here I sold firewood in the market place. By chance a certain man bought some firewood and then took me with him to the lodging house for officials. He took the firewood and left. Having received my money and turning towards the front gate, I happened to see a man who was reciting the Diamond SÒtra. Upon hearing it my mind became clear and I was awakened.
`I asked him: "Where do you come from that you have brought this sÒtra with you ?"
`He answered: "I have made obeisance to the Fifth Patriarch, Hung-jen, at the East Mountain, Feng-mu shan, in Huang-mei hsien in Ch'i-chou. At present there are over a thousand disciples there. It was there I heard the Master encourage the monks and lay followers, saying that if they recited just the one volume, the Diamond SÒtra, they could see into their own natures and with direct apprehension become buddhas."
`Hearing what he said, I realized that I was predestined to have heard him. Then I took leave of my mother and went to Feng-mu shan in Huang-mei and made obeisance to the Fifth Patriarch, the priest Hung-jen.
3. `The priest Hung-jen asked me: "Where are you from that you come to this mountain to make obeisance to me? Just what is it that you are looking for from me?"
`I replied: "I am from Ling-nan, a commoner from Hsin-chou. I have come this long distance only to make obeisance to you. seeking no particular thing, but only the buddhadharma."
`The Master then reproved me, saying: "If you're from Ling-nan then you're a barbarian. How can you become a buddha?"
`I replied: "Although people from the south and people from the north differ, there is no north and south in buddha nature. Although my barbarian's body and your body are not the same, what difference is there in our buddha nature?"
`The Master wished to continue his discussion with me; however, seeing that there were other people nearby, he said no more. Then he sent me to work with the assembly. Later a lay disciple had me go to the threshing room where I spent over eight months treading the pestle.
4. `Unexpectedly one day the Fifth Patriarch called his disciples to come, and when they had assembled, he said: "Let me preach to you. For people in this world birth and death are vital matters. You disciples make offerings all day long and seek only the field of blessings, but you do not seek to escape from the bitter sea of birth and death. Your own self-nature obscures the gateway to blessings; how can you be saved? All of you return to your rooms and look into yourselves. People of wisdom will of themselves grasp the original nature of their prajñ> [wisdom] intuition. Each of you write a verse and bring it to me. I will read your verses, and if there is one who is awakened to the cardinal meaning, I will give him the robe and the dharma and make him the Sixth Patriarch. Hurry, hurry!"
5. `The disciples received his instructions and returned, each to his own room. They talked it over among themselves, saying: "There's no point in our purifying our minds and making efforts to compose a verse to present to the priest. Shen-hsiu, the head monk, is our teacher. After he obtains the dharma we can rely on him, so let's not compose verses." They all then gave up trying and did not have the courage to present a verse.
`At that time there was a three-sectioned corridor in front of the master's hall. On the walls were to be painted pictures of stories from the La[[ordmasculine]]k>vat>ra SÒtra, together with a picture in commemoration of the Fifth Patriarch transmitting the robe and dharma, in order to disseminate them to later generations and preserve a record of them. The artist, Lu Chen, had examined the walls and was to start work the next day.
6. `The head monk Shen-hsiu thought: "The others won't present mind-verses because I am their teacher. If I don't offer a mind-verse, how can the Fifth Patriarch estimate the degree of understanding within my mind? If I offer my mind to the Fifth Patriarch with the intention of gaining the dharma, it is justifiable; however, if I am seeking the patriarchship, then it cannot be justified. Then it would be like a common man usurping the saintly position. But if I don't offer my mind then I cannot learn the dharma." For a long time he thought about it and was very much perplexed.
`At midnight, without letting anyone see him, he went to write his mind-verse on the central section of the south corridor wall, hoping to gain the dharma. "If the Fifth Patriarch sees my verse and [is pleased with it, then I will come forward and say that I wrote it. If he tells me that it is not worthwhile, then I shall know that the homage I have received for these years on this mountain has been in vain and that I have no hope of learning the Tao] and there is a weighty obstacle in my past karma. Then I cannot gain the dharma and will have to give up. The honorable Patriarch's intention is difficult to fathom."
`Then the head monk Shen-hsiu, at midnight, holding a candle, wrote a verse on the central section of the south corridor, without anyone else knowing about it. The verse read:
The body is the bodhi tree,
The mind is like a clear mirror.
At all times we must strive to polish it,
And must not let the dust collect.
7. `After he had finished writing this verse, the head monk Shen-hsiu returned to his room and lay down. No one had seen him.
`At dawn the Fifth Patriarch called the painter Lu to draw illustrations from the La[[ordmasculine]]k>vat>ra SÒtra on the south corridor wall. The Fifth Patriarch suddenly saw this verse and, having read it, said to the painter Lu: "I will give you thirty thousand cash. You have come a long distance to do this arduous work, but I have decided not to have the pictures painted after all. It is said in the Diamond SÒtra: `All forms everywhere are unreal and false.' It would be best to leave this verse here and to have the deluded ones recite it. If they practice in accordance with it they will not fall into the three evil ways. Those who practice by it will gain great benefit."
`The Master then called all his disciples to come, and he burned incense before the verse. The disciples came in to see and all were filled with admiration.
`The Fifth Patriarch said: "You should all recite this verse so that you will be able to see into your own natures. With this practice you will not fall into the three evil ways."
`The disciples all recited it, and feeling great admiration, cried out: "How excellent!"
`The Fifth Patriarch then called the head monk Shen-hsiu inside the hall and asked: "Did you write this verse or not? If you wrote it you are qualified to attain my dharma."
`The head monk Shen-hsiu said: "I am ashamed to say that I actually did write the verse, but I do not dare to seek the patriarchship. I beg you to be so compassionate as to tell me whether I have even a small amount of wisdom and discernment of the cardinal meaning or not."
`The Fifth Patriarch said: "This verse you wrote shows that you still have not reached true understanding. You have merely arrived at the front of the gate but have yet to be able to enter it. If common people practice according to your verse they will not fall. But in seeking the ultimate awakening (bodhi) one will not succeed with such an understanding. You must enter the gate and see your original nature. Go and think about it for a day or two and then make another verse and present it to me. If you have been able to enter the gate and see your own original nature, then I will give you the robe and the dharma." The head monk Shen-hsiu left, but after several days he was still unable to write a verse.
8. `One day an acolyte passed by the threshing room reciting this verse. As soon as I heard it I knew that the person who had written it had yet to know his own nature and to discern the cardinal meaning. I asked the boy: "What's the name of the verse you were reciting now?"
`The boy answered me, saying: "Don't you know? The master said that birth and death are vital matters, and he told his disciples to write a verse if they wanted to inherit the robe and the dharma, and to bring it for him to see. He who was awakened to the cardinal meaning would be given the robe and the dharma and be made the Sixth Patriarch. There is a head monk by the name of Shen-hsiu who happened to write a verse on formlessness on the walls of the south corridor. The Fifth Patriarch had all his disciples recite the verse, [saying] that those who awakened to it would see into their own natures, and that those who practiced according to it would attain emancipation."
`I said: "I've been treading the pestle for more than eight months, but haven't been to the hall yet. I beg you to take me to the south corridor so that I can see this verse and make obeisance to it. I want to recite it so that I can establish causation for my next birth and be born in a buddha-land."
`The boy took me to the south corridor and I made obeisance before the verse. Because I was uneducated I asked someone to read it to me. As soon as I had heard it I understood the cardinal meaning. I made a verse and asked someone who was able to write to put it on the wall of the west corridor, so that I might offer my own original mind. If you do not know the original mind, studying the dharma is to no avail. If you know the mind and see its true nature, you then awaken to the cardinal meaning. My verse said:
Bodhi originally has no tree,
The mirror also has no stand.
Buddha nature is always clean and pure;
Where is there room for dust?
Another verse said:
The mind is the bodhi tree,
The body is the mirror stand.
The mirror is originally clean and pure;
Where can it be stained by dust?
`The followers in the temple were all amazed when they heard my verse. Then I returned to the threshing room. The Fifth Patriarch realized that I had a splendid understanding of the cardinal meaning. Being afraid lest the assembly know this, he said to them: "This is still not complete understanding."
9. `At midnight the Fifth Patriarch called me into the hall and expounded the Diamond SÒtra to me. Hearing it but once, I was. immediately awakened, and that night I received the dharma. None of the others knew anything about it. Then he transmitted to me the dharma of sudden awakening and the robe, saying: "I make you the Sixth Patriarch. The robe is the proof and is to be handed down from generation to generation. My dharma must be transmitted from mind to mind. You must make people awaken to themselves."
`The Fifth Patriarch told me: "From ancient times the transmission of the dharma has been as tenuous as a dangling thread. If you stay here there are people who will harm you. You must leave at once."
10. `I set out at midnight with the robe and the dharma. The Fifth Patriarch saw me off as far as Chiu-chiang Station. I was instantly awakened. The Fifth Patriarch instructed me: "Leave, work hard, take the dharma with you to the south. For three years do not spread the teaching or else calamity will befall the dharma. Later work to convert people; you must guide deluded persons well. If you are able to awaken another's mind, he will be no different from me." After completing my leave-taking I set out for the south.
11. `After about two months I reached Ta-yü ling. Unknown to me, several hundred men were following behind, wishing to try to kill me and to steal my robe and dharma. By the time I had gone halfway up the mountain they had all turned back. But there was one monk of the family name of Chen, whose personal name was Hui-ming. Formerly he had been a general of the third rank and he was by nature and conduct coarse and violent. Reaching the top of the mountain, he caught up with me and threatened me. I handed over the dharma-robe, but he was not willing to take it.
`[He said]: "I have come this long distance just to seek the Dharma. I have no need for the robe." Then, on top of the mountain, I transmitted the Dharma to Hui-ming, who, when he heard it, was at once awakened. I then ordered him to return to the north and to convert people there.
12. `I was predestined to come to live here and to preach to you officials, monks, and laymen. My teaching has been handed down from the sages of the past; it is not my own personal knowledge. If you wish to hear the teachings of the sages of the past, each of you must quiet his mind and hear me to the end. Please cast aside your own delusions; then you will be no different from the sages of the past. (What follows below is the dharma).
The Master Hui-neng called, saying: `Good friends, awakening (bodhi) and wisdom (prajñ>) are from the outset possessed by people of this world themselves. It is just because the mind is deluded that people cannot attain awakening to themselves. They must seek a good teacher to show them how to see into their own natures. Good friends, if you meet awakening, [buddha]-wisdom will be achieved.
13. `Good friends, my teaching of the dharma takes meditation (ting) and wisdom (hui) as its basis. Never under any circumstances say mistakenly that meditation and wisdom are different; they are a unity, not two things. Meditation itself is the substance of wisdom; wisdom itself is the function of meditation. At the very moment when there is wisdom, then meditation exists in wisdom; at the very moment when there is meditation, then wisdom exists in meditation. Good friends, this means that meditation and wisdom are alike.
`Students, be careful not to say that meditation gives rise to wisdom, or that wisdom gives rise to meditation, or that meditation and wisdom are different from each other. To hold this view implies that things have duality--if good is spoken while the mind is not good, meditation and wisdom will not be alike. If mind and speech are both good, then the internal and the external are the same and meditation and wisdom are alike. The practice of self-awakening does not lie in verbal arguments. If you argue which comes first, meditation or wisdom, you are deluded people. You won't be able to settle the argument and instead will cling to objective things, and you will never escape from the four states of phenomena.
14. `The sam>dhi [meditative absorption] of oneness is straightforward mind at all times, walking, staying, sitting, and lying. The Ching-ming ching says: "Straightforward mind is the place of practice; straightforward mind is the pure land." Do not with a dishonest mind speak of the straightforwardness of the dharma. If while speaking of the sam>dhi of oneness, you fail to practice straightforward mind, you will not be disciples of the Buddha. Only practicing straightforward mind, and in all things having no attachments whatsoever, is called the sam>dhi of oneness. The deluded person clings to the characteristics of things, adheres to the sam>dhi of oneness, [thinks] that straightforward mind is sitting without moving and casting aside delusions without letting things arise in the mind. This he considers to be the sam>dhi of oneness. This kind of practice is the same as mindlessness and the cause of an obstruction to the Tao. Tao must be something that circulates freely; why should he impede it? If the mind does not abide in things the Tao circulates freely; if the mind abides in things, it becomes entangled.
`If sitting in meditation without moving is good, why did Vimalakirti scold />riputra for sitting in meditation in the forest?
`Good friends, some people teach men to sit viewing the mind and viewing purity, not moving and not activating the mind, and to this they devote their efforts. Deluded people do not realize that this is wrong, cling to this doctrine, and become confused. There are many such people. Those who instruct in this way are, from the outset, greatly mistaken.
15. `Good friends, how then are meditation and wisdom alike? They are like the lamp and the light it gives forth. If there is a lamp there is light; if there is no lamp there is no light. The lamp is the substance of light; the light is the function of the lamp. Thus, although they have two names, in substance they are not two. Meditation and wisdom are also like this.
16. `Good friends, in the dharma there is no sudden or gradual, but among people some are keen and others dull. The deluded recommend the gradual method, the awakened practice the sudden teaching. To understand the original mind of yourself is to see into your own original nature. Once awakened, there is from the outset no distinction between these two methods; those who are not awakened will for long eons be caught in the cycle of transmigration.
17. `Good friends, in this teaching of mine, from ancient times up to the present, all have set up no-thought as the main doctrine, non-form as the substance, and non-abiding as the basis. Non-form is to be separated from form even when associated with form. No-thought is not to think even when involved in thought. Non-abiding is the original nature of humanity.
`Successive thoughts do not stop; prior thoughts, present thoughts, and future thoughts follow one after the other without cessation. If one instant of thought is cut off, the dharma body separates from the physical body, and in the midst of successive thoughts there will be no place for attachment to anything. If one instant of thought clings, then successive thoughts cling; this is known as being fettered. If in all things successive thoughts do not cling, then you are unfettered. Therefore, non-abiding is made the basis.
18. "Good friends, in this teaching from the outset sitting in meditation does not concern the mind nor does it concern purity; we do not talk of steadfastness. If someone speaks of `viewing the mind,' [then I would say] that the `mind' is of itself delusion, and as delusions are just like fantasies, there is nothing to be seen. If someone speaks of `viewing purity,' [then I would say] that man's nature is of itself pure, but because of false thoughts True Reality is obscured. If you exclude delusions then the original nature reveals its purity. If you activate your mind to view purity without realizing that your own nature is originally pure, delusions of purity will be produced. Since this delusion has no place to exist, then you know that whatever you see is nothing but delusion. Purity has no form, but, nonetheless, some people try to postulate the form of purity and consider this to be Ch'an practice. People who hold this view obstruct their own original natures and end up being bound by purity. One who practices steadfastness does not see the faults of people everywhere. This is the steadfastness of self-nature. The deluded man, however, even if he doesn't move his own body, will talk of the good and bad of others the moment he opens his mouth, and thus will behave in opposition to the Tao. Therefore, both `viewing the mind' and `viewing purity' will cause an obstruction to Tao.
19. "Now that we know that this is so, what is it in this teaching that we call `sitting in meditation' (tso-ch'an)? In this teaching `sitting' means without any obstruction anywhere, outwardly and under all circumstances, not to activate thoughts. `Meditation' is internally to see the original nature and not become confused.
"And what do we call Ch'an meditation (ch'an-ting)? Outwardly to exclude form is `ch'an'; inwardly to be unconfused is meditation (ting). Even though there is form on the outside, when internally the nature is not confused, then, from the outset, you are of yourself pure and of yourself in meditation. The very contact with circumstances itself causes confusion. Separation from form on the outside is `ch'an'; being untouched on the inside is meditation (ting). Being `ch'an' externally and meditation (ting) internally, it is known as ch'an meditation (ch'an-ting). The Vimalakirti SÒtra says: `At once, suddenly, you regain the original mind.' The P'u-sa-chieh says: `From the outset your own nature is pure.'
"Good friends, see for yourselves the purity of your own natures, practice and accomplish for yourselves. Your own nature is the truth body (dharma-k>ya) and self-practice is the practice of Buddha; by self-accomplishment you may achieve the Buddha Way for yourselves.
The Mingling of Taoism and Buddhism
The following excerpt is from Chi-tun's Inscription to the Right of the Teacher's Seat. He was a Buddhist monk from the gentry class who mingled Buddhist ideas and concepts from the Taoist Dark Learning tradition. The verses are interesting for their high degree of syncretism of Buddhist and Taoist terminology and concepts.
Be diligent, be diligent!
Perfect Tao is endless.
How could it be obstructed?
You have lost your old home, your spiritual endowment,
Blurred and deluded you float about the Three Worlds,
Blind and unseeing you suffer under an eternal yoke.
In distress you labor to amass outer goods,
the obscure mind ever agitated within.
Greedily you hasten about, full of hope and thirst,
Thinking of far-off gain and forgetting your exhaustion.
A human lifetime, one generation
Is but a dewdrop falling.
My self is not mine, not me.
And yet--who fashioned it to be?
The accomplished one harbors virtue
And knows only in quiet is he lofty,
Only in serenity can he achieve purity,
And rinse off all fetters in a pool of trance.
Carefully he guards the enlightened prohibitions,
With ease he fulfills the holy rules.
He soothes his mind with spirit and with Tao,
Wards off all yearning in non-action.
Withdrawn to threefold contentment,
He cleanses himself from the six ailments,
Dissolves the five skandhas into emptiness and oneness,
And merges the four limbs with the abysmal void.
Not an attribute, yet explaining attributes,
Utterly other and yet not separate:
The wonder of awakening!
Again, he darkens his knowledge
And, freely yielding to the currents,
Moves along with all beings.
Passing through this, he goes on
Without yearning, without deliberation;
Sincerely he follows awakening as his father,
His will is that of a small child.
Kukai: Exoteric and Esoteric Buddhism
Kukai (774-835), posthumously known as Kobo Daishi, was one of the most influential thinkers of the Heian period (794-1185). He traveled to China in 804 to study Buddhism, and learned the doctrines and practices of Esoteric Buddhism (Chinese: Chen-yen; Japanese: Shingon) with the Chinese master Hui-kuo. This school is a branch of Vajrayana ("Vajra Vehicle"), which is based on the tantras of Indian Buddhism.
Like its counterparts in South Asia, East Asian Esoteric Buddhism emphasizes the importance of visualizations, mantras, and rituals for bringing about a cognitive transformation of one's mind into the mind of a buddha.
In the following passage, Kukai compares the path of Esoteric Buddhism to that of Exoteric Buddhism. He contends that Esoteric Buddhism is far superior to the Exoteric teachings and practices and that it is more effective in bringing about mundane benefits as well as final awakening. Kukai believed that human beings have the capacity to become "awakened in this very body" (sokushin jobutsu) and that the rituals and symbols of Esoteric Buddhism appeal directly to their basic nature of buddha-potential and enable them quickly to attain the state of buddhahood. These practices bring the body, speech, and mind of the meditator into concordance with those of the truth body, and thus allow the primordial buddha Mahavairochana to communicate directly with advanced practitioners.
I have heard that there are two kinds of preaching of the Buddha. One is shallow and incomplete while the other is esoteric. The shallow teaching is comprised of the scriptures with long passages and verses, whereas the esoteric teaching is the dharani [esoteric prayers thought to have magical properties] found in the scriptures.
The shallow teaching is, as one text says, like the diagnoses of an illness and the prescription of a medicine. The esoteric method of reciting dharani is like prescribing appropriate medicine, ingesting it, and curing the ailment. If a person is ill, opening a medical text and reciting its contents will be of no avail in treating the illness. It is necessary to adapt the medicine to the disease and to ingest it in accordance with proper methods. Only then will the illness be eliminated and life preserved.
However, the present custom of chanting the Sutra of Golden Light at the Imperial Palace is simply the reading of sentences and the empty recital of doctrine. There is no drawing of buddha images in accordance with proper technique nor the practice of setting up an altar for offerings and for the ceremonies of empowerment. Although the reading of the Sutra may appear to be an opportunity to listen to the preaching of the nectar-like teachings of the Buddha, in actuality it lacks the precious taste of the finest essence of Buddhist truth.
I humbly request that from this year on, fourteen monks skilled in esoteric ritual and fourteen novices be selected who, while properly reading the Sutra, will for seven days arrange the sacred images, perform the requisite offerings, and recite mantra in a specially adorned room. If this is done, both the exoteric and esoteric teachings, which express the Buddha's true intent, will cause great happiness in the world and thereby fulfill the compassionate vows of the holy ones.
Dogen's Meditation Instructions
Dogen (1200-1253), founder of the Soto (Chinese: Ts'ao-tung) school of Zen, traveled to China in 1223 and studied with Ju-ching, a Chinese Ch'an master. One day during meditation practice, another monk fell asleep, and Ju-ching woke him up, admonishing him to practice meditation diligently in order to "drop off body and mind" (Japanese: shinjin datsuraku), an idea that became a cornerstone of Dogen's system of meditative practice. The following passage contains instructions on meditation practice (zazen), which in Dogen's system is based on the experience of "not thinking" (hishiryo).
In the state of not thinking, a meditator moves beyond discursive and dichotomizing thought (shiryo), transcends the tendency to stop ordinary thought by suppressing it (fushiryo), and thus enters into a spontaneous awareness of reality in which thoughts flow along of their own accord. In this state of spontaneous mindfulness, the meditator experiences his or her own "buddha nature," an inherent propensity toward enlightenment that is shared by all beings.
Once you have settled your posture, you should regulate your breathing. Whenever a thought occurs, be aware of it; as soon as you are aware of it, it will vanish. If you remain for a long period forgetful of objects, you will naturally become unified. This is the essential art of zazen. Zazen is the dharma gate of great ease and joy....
Having thus regulated body and mind, take a breath and exhale fully. Sitting fixedly, think of not thinking. How do you think of not thinking? Nonthinking. This is the art of zazen. Zazen is not the practice of dhyana [meditation]. it is the dharma gate of great ease and joy. It is undefiled practice and verification.
The Mu Koan
The Rinzai (Chinese: Lin-chi) school of Zen is renowned for its use of koan, riddles that cannot be answered by rational or discursive modes of thought. The following passage contains the koan that is generally given to beginning students, referred to as the "Mu koan." It reports that a monk asked the Zen master Joshu if a dog has the buddha nature, to which Joshu answered, "Mu!" Mu may be translated as "not," but in the koan Joshu's answer is not a denial, but rather an indication that the question makes no sense from the point of view of enlightenment.
The dilemma behind the question is based on traditional Japanese Buddhist ideas about the path. It is widely accepted in Japanese Buddhism that all beings--including dogs--have the buddha nature, or an inherent potential for buddhahood. Thus, from the point of view of tradition, Joshu's answer should be "Yes." But since Zen claims to transcend blind adherence to tradition, this would be an unacceptable answer. On the other hand, if Joshu were to state that dogs do not have the buddha nature, he could be accused of contravening Buddhist doctrine and setting himself above the buddhas.
Thus Joshu's answer is an invitation to move beyond tradition and conceptualization to a direct perception of truth. The Zen tradition refers to this koan as the "closed opening" or the "gateless barrier," because once a meditator perceives the meaning behind Joshu's statement, this marks the first dawning of realization that will eventually culminate in full awakening, referred to in Zen as "satori." It is intended to cause a cognitive crisis as the meditator attempts to solve the riddle by means of conceptual thought, but finds all such attempts utterly frustrated. This leads to the development of the "great doubt" (daigi), which is said to burn inside of one like a red-hot ball of iron. When the koan is solved, however, the pain and frustration disappear, and are replaced by a serene, non-conceptual awareness.
A monk once asked Master Joshu, `Has a dog the Buddha Nature or not?' Joshu said, `Mu!'
Mumon's commentary: In studying Zen, one must pass the barriers set up by ancient Zen Masters. For the attainment of incomparable satori, one has to cast away his discriminating mind. Those who have not passed the barrier and have not cast away the discriminating mind are all phantoms haunting trees and plants.
Now Tell me, what is the barrier of the Zen Masters? Just this `Mu'--it is the barrier of Zen. It is thus called `the gateless barrier of Zen.' Those who have passed the barrier will not only see Joshu clearly, but will go hand in hand with all the Masters of the past, see them face to face....Wouldn't it be wonderful? Don't you want to pass the barrier? Then concentrate yourself into this `Mu,' with your 360 bones and 84,000 pores, making your whole body one great inquiry. Day and night work intently at it. Do not attempt nihilistic or dualistic interpretations. It is like having swallowed a red hot iron ball. You try to vomit it but cannot....
You kill the Buddha if you meet him; you kill the ancient Masters if you meet them. On the brink of life and death you are utterly free, and in the six realms and the four modes of life you live, with great joy, a genuine life in complete freedom.
Pure Land: Shinran on Amida's Vow
The Pure Land (Chinese: Ching-t'u; Japanese: Jodo) tradition focuses on a buddha named Amitabha ("Limitless Light") or Amitayus ("Limitless Life"), who as a merchant named Dharmakara is said to have made a series of vows concerning the sort of "buddha-land" he will create after his attainment of buddhahood. In the Sutra on the Array of the Joyous Land (Sukhavati-vyuha-sutra), Dharmakara indicates that his land will be especially wonderful, a place in which the conditions for buddhahood are optimal. Beings fortunate to be born into this land will receive teachings from buddhas and bodhisattvas, and they will quickly progress toward awakening.
He also teaches that beings may be reborn in his land if they have sincere faith in him. The following passage, written by Shinran (1173-1262), a Japanese Pure Land teacher, states that anyone may be reborn in Amitabha's paradise, regardless of past actions. Previous teachers had contended that birth in Sukhavati required good moral character and constant repetition of the formula, "Praise to Amida Buddha" (Namu Amida Butsu), but Shinran declared that all that is necessary is one moment of sincere belief (shinjin, literally "believing mind"). Shinran makes a distinction between "self-power," which characterizes the practices of early Buddhism, and "other-power," in which one relies completely on the saving power of Amitabha. Shinran contends that the former practice was appropriate in the Buddha's day, but in the present age is one of degeneration, and so human beings have become so depraved that their only hope is to rely on Amitabha.
Know that the Primal Vow of Amida makes no distinction between people young and old, good and evil; only the entrusting of yourself to it is essential. For it was made to save the person in whom karmic evil is deep-rooted and whose blind passions abound.
Thus, entrusting yourself to the Primal Vow requires no performance of good, for no act can hold greater virtue than saying the Name. Nor is there need to despair of the evil you commit, for no act is so evil that it obstructs the working of Amida's Primal Vow....
Even a good person can attain birth in the Pure Land, so it goes without saying that an evil person will....For a person who relies on the good that he does through his self-power fails to entrust himself wholeheartedly to Other Power and therefore is not in accord with Amida's Primal Vow. But when he abandons his attachment to self-power and entrusts himself totally to Other Power, he will realize birth in the Pure Land.
Truth Decay: Nichiren on The Title of the Lotus Sutra
Nichiren (1222-1282) was one of the most charismatic figures of Japanese Buddhism. Initially trained in the Tendai school, he became disenchanted with its doctrines and practices, considering them to be inappropriate to the current age, which he believed to be the "age of degenerate dharma" (Japanese: mappo) that the Buddha had predicted would begin 1,500 years after his death. Many Japanese Buddhists of the Kamakura period (1185-1333) believed that the turmoils of the time indicated that the final age of dharma had arrived, and a number of teachers believed that in such a time new models and practices were required.
Since in the final age people become progressively more degenerate, Nichiren contended that the practices of the past--including intensive meditation practice and adherence to monastic vows--were no longer possible for most people, and thus simpler and more effective practices, appropriate to mappo, were required. Nichiren focused on the Lotus Sutra (Saddharma-pundarika) as the only viable teaching for mappo, and he counseled his followers to place all of their faith in it. Its teachings, however, were deemed too profound for most people to understand, and so Nichiren developed the practice of chanting the title of the sutra (Namu Myohorengekyo in Japanese) and trusting to the saving power of the sutra to bring worldly benefits and final salvation.
Question: If someone did not know the real meaning of the Lotus Sutra and did not understand its import, but merely recited the words `Namu Myohorengekyo' once a day or once a month or once a year or once in ten years or once in a lifetime, without being tempted by evil deeds, great or small, would that person not only avoid the four evil realms but also achieve that stage from which there is no return?
Answer: He would....
The words `Myohorengekyo'...include all the beings of the nine worlds and of the Buddha world. Since they include the ten worlds, they include all the conditions one may be born into in the ten worlds. If the words `Myohorengekyo' include all dharmas, one word of the scripture is lord of all scriptures. It embodies all scriptures.
author: Greg Young
go to the Australian National University
go to the Faculty of Asian Studies
updated: 22 Jan 2002