someone is determined to
reach enlightenment, what is the most essential
method he can practice?
‘The most essential method, which includes all other methods, is
beholding the mind.
But how can one method include all others?
The mind is the root from which all things grow if you can understand
the mind, everything else is included. It’s like the root of a tree. All
a tree’s fruit and flowers, branches and leaves depend on its root. If
you nourish its root, a tree multiplies. If you cut its root, it dies.
Those who understand the mind reach enlightenment with minimal effort.
Those who don’t understand the mind practice in vain. Everything good
and bad comes from your own mind. To find something beyond the mind is
But bow can beholding the mind be called understanding?
When a great bodhisattva delves deeply
into perfect wisdom, he realizes that the four elements and five
shades are devoid of a personal self. And he realizes that the
activity of his mind has two aspects: pure and impure. By their very
nature, these two mental states are always present. They alternate
as cause or effect depending on conditions, the pure mind delighting
in good deeds, the impure mind thinking of evil. Those who aren’t
affected by impurity are sages. They transcend suffering and
experience the bliss of nirvana. All others, trapped by the impure
mind and entangled by their own karma, are mortals. They drift
through the three realms and suffer countless afflictions and all
because their impure mind obscures their real self.
The Sutra of Ten Stages says, "in the body of mortals is the
indestructible buddha-nature. Like the sun, its light fills endless
space, But once veiled by the dark clouds of the five shades, it’s like
a light ‘inside a ‘at, hidden from view." And the Nirvana Sutra says,
"All mortals have the buddha-nature. But it’s covered by darkness from
which they can’t escape. Our buddha-nature is awareness: to be aware and
to make others aware. To realize awareness is liberation," Everything
good has awareness for its root. And from this root of awareness grow
the tree of all virtues and the fruit of nirvana. Beholding the mind
like this is understanding.
You say that our true Buddha-nature and all virtues have awareness for
their root. But what is the root of ignorance?
The ignorant mind, with its infinite afflictions, passions, and evils,
is rooted in the three poisons. Greed, anger, and delusion. These three
poisoned states of mind themselves include countless evils, like trees
that have a single trunk but countless branches and leaves. Yet each
poison produces so many more millions of evils that the example of a
tree is hardly a fitting comparison. The three poisons are present in
our six sense organs’ as six kinds of consciousness’ or thieves. They’re
called thieves because they pass in and out of the gates of the senses,
covet limitless possessions, and mask their true identity. And because
mortals are misled in body and mind by these poisons or thieves, they
become lost in life and death, wander through the six states of
existence, and suffer countless afflictions. These afflictions are like
rivers that surge for a thousand miles because of the constant flow of
But if someone cuts off their source, rivers dry up. And if someone who
seeks liberation can turn the three poisons into the three sets of
precepts and the six thieves into the six paramitas, he rids himself of
affliction once and for all. But the three realms and six states -of
existence are infinitely vast. How can we escape their endless
afflictions if all we do is behold the mind? The karma of the three
realms comes from the mind alone. If your mind isn’t within the three
realms, it’s beyond them. The three realms correspond to the three
poisons- greed corresponds to the realm of desire, anger to the realm of
form, and delusion to the formless realm. And because karma created by
the poisons can be gentle or heavy, these three realms are further
divided into six places known as the six states of existence.
And bow does the karma of these six differ?
Mortals who don’t understand true practice and blindly perform good
deeds are born into the three higher states of existence within the
three realms. And what are these three higher states? Those who blindly
perform the ten good deeds and foolishly seek happiness are born as gods
in the realm of desire. Those who blindly observe the five precepts and
foolishly indulge in love and hate are born as men in the realm of
anger, And those who blindly cling to the phenomenal world, believe in
false doctrines, and pray for blessings are born as demons in the realm
of delusion. These are the three higher states of existence.
And what are the three lower states? They’re where those who persist in
poisoned thoughts and evil deeds are born. Those whose karma from greed
is greatest become hungry ghosts. Those whose karma from anger is
greatest become sufferers in hell. And those whose karma from delusion
is greatest become beasts. These three lower states together with the
previous three higher states form the six states of existence. From this
you should realize that all karma, painful or otherwise, comes from your
own mind. If you can just concentrate your mind and transcend its
falsehood and evil, the suffering of the three realms and six states of
existence will automatically disappear. And once free from suffering,
you’re truly free. But the Buddha said, "Only after undergoing
innumerable hardships for three asankhya kalpas did I achieve
enlightenment," Why do you now say that simply beholding the mind and
over-coming the three poisons is liberation?
The words of the Buddha are true. But the three-asankhya kalpas refer to
the three poisoned states of mind. What we call asankhya in Sanskrit you
call countless. Within these three poisoned states of mind are countless
evil thoughts, And every thought lasts a kalpa. Such an infinity is what
the Buddha meant by the three asankhya kalpas, Once the three poisons
obscure your real self, how can you be called liberated until you
overcome their countless evil thoughts? People who can transform the
three poisons of greed, anger, and delusion into the three releases are
said to pass through the three-sankhya kalpas. But people of this final
age are the densest of fools. They don’t understand what the Tathagata
really meant by the three-asankhya kalpas. They say enlightenment is
only achieved after endless kalpas and thereby mislead disciples to
retreat on the path to Buddhahood. But the great bodbisattvas have
achieved enlightenment only by observing the three sets of precepts"’
and practicing the six Paramitas, Now you tell disciples merely to
behold the mind. How can anyone reach enlightenment without cultivating
the rules of discipline?
The three sets of precepts are for overcoming the three poisoned states
of mind, When you overcome these poisons, you create three sets of
limitless virtue, A set gathers things together-in this case, countless
good thoughts throughout your mind. And the six paramitas are for
purifying the six senses. What we call paramitas you call means to the
other shore. By purifying your six senses of the dust of sensation, the
paramitas ferry you across the River of Affliction to the Shore of
According to the sutras, the three sets of precepts are, "I vow, to put
an end to all evils. I vow to cultivate all virtues. And I vow to
liberate all beings." But now you say they’re only for controlling the
three poisoned states of mind.
Isn’t this contrary to the meaning of the scriptures?
The sutras of the Buddha are true. But long ago, when that great
bodhisattva was cultivating the seed of enlightenment, it was to counter
the three poisons that he made his three vows. Practicing moral
prohibitions to counter the poison of greed, he vowed to put an end to
all evils. Practicing meditation to Counter the poison of anger, he
vowed to cultivate all virtues. And practicing wisdom to counter the
poison of delusion, he vowed to liberate all beings. Because he
persevered in these three pure practices of morality, meditation, and
wisdom, he was able to overcome the three poisons and reach
enlightenment. By overcoming the three poisons he wiped out everything
sinful and thus put an end to evil. By observing the three sets of
precepts he did nothing but good and thus cultivated virtue. And by
putting an end to evil and cultivating virtue lie consummate all
practices, benefited himself as well as others, and rescued mortals
everywhere. Thus he liberated beings.
You should realize that the practice you cultivate doesn’t exist apart
from your mind. If your mind is pure, all buddha-lands are pure. The
sutras say, "if their minds are impure, beings are impure. If their
minds are pure, beings are pure," And "To reach a buddha-land, purify
your mind. As your mind becomes pure, buddha-lands become pure." Thus by
overcoming the three poisoned states of mind the three sets of precepts
are automatically fulfilled.
But the sutras say the six Paramitas are charity, morality, patience,
devotion, meditation, and wisdom. Now you say the paramitas refer to the
purification of the senses. What do you mean by this? And why are they
Cultivating the paramitas means purifying the six senses by overcoming
the six thieves. Casting out the thief of the eye by abandoning the
visual world is charity. Keeping out the thief of the ear by not
listening to sound is morality. Humbling the thief of the nose by
equating smells as neutral is patience. Controlling the thief of the
mouth by conquering desires to taste, praise, and explain is devotion.
Quelling the thief of the body by remaining unmoved by sensations of
touch is meditation. And taming the thief of the mind by not yielding to
delusions but practicing wakefulness is wisdom, These six paramitas are
transports. Like boats or rafts, they transport beings to the other
Hence they’re called ferries.
But when Sbakyamuni was a bodhisattva, he consumed three bowls of milk
and six ladles of gruel prior to attaining enlightenment. If he bad to
drink milk before be could taste the fruit of buddhahood, how can merely
beholding the mind result in liberation?
What you say is true. That is how he attained enlightenment. He had to
drink milk before he could become a Buddha. But there are two kinds of
milk. That which Shakyamuni drank wasn’t ordinary impure milk but Pure
Dharma-talk. The three bowls were the three sets of precepts. And the
six ladies were the six paramitas. When Sbakyamuni attained
enlightenment, it was because he drank this pure dharma-rnilk that he
tasted the fruit of Buddhahood. To say that the Tathagata drank the
worldly concoction of impure, rank-smelling cow’s milk is the height of
slander. That which is truly so, the indestructible, passionless
Dharma-self, remains forever free of the world’s afflictions. Why would
it need impure milk to satisfy its hunger or thirst?
The sutras say, "This ox doesn’t live in the highlands or the lowlands.
It doesn’t eat grain or chaff. And it doesn’t graze with cows. The body
of this ox is the color of burnished gold." The ox refers to Vairocana.
Owing to his great compassion for all beings, he produces from within
his pure Dharma-body the sublime Dharma-milk of the three sets of
precepts and six paramitas to nourish all those who seek liberation. The
pure milk of such a truly pure ox not only enabled the ‘tathagata to
achieve buddhahood but also enables any being who drinks it to attain
unexcelled, complete enlightenment.
Throughout the sutras the Buddha tells mortals they can achieve
enlightenment by performing such meritorious works as building
monasteries, casting statues, burning incense, scattering flowers,
lighting eternal lamps, practicing all six periods" of the day and
night, walking around stupas, observing fasts, and worshipping. But if
beholding the mind includes all other practices, then such works as
these would appear redundant.
The sutras of the Buddha contain countless metaphors. Because mortals
have shallow minds and don’t understand anything deep, the Buddha used
the tangible to represent the sublime. People who seek blessings by
concentrating on external works instead of internal cultivation are
attempting the impossible, What you call a monastery we call a
sangbarama, a place of purity. But whoever denies entry to the three
poisons and keeps the gates of his senses pure, his body and mind still,
inside and outside clean, builds a monastery.
Casting statues refers to all practices cultivated by those who seek
enlightenment. The Tathagata’s sublime form can’t be represented by
metal. Those who seek enlightenment regard their bodies as the furnace,
the Dharma as the fire, wisdom as the craftsmanship, and the three sets
of precepts and six paramitas as the mold. They smelt and refine the
true buddha-nature within themselves and pour it into the mold formed by
the rules of discipline. Acting in perfect accordance with the -Buddha’s
teaching, they naturally create a perfect likeness. ‘Me eternal, sublime
body isn’t subject to conditions or decay. If you seek the Truth but
dont learn how to make a true likeness, what will you use in its place?
And burning incense doesn’t mean ordinary material incense but the
incense of the intangible Dharma, which drives away filth, ignorance,
and evil deeds with its perfume. There are five kinds of such
Dharma-incense. First is the incense of morality, which means renouncing
evil and cultivating virtue. Second is the incense of meditation, which
means deeply believing in the Mahayana with unwavering resolve. Third is
the incense of wisdom, which means contemplating the body and mind,
inside and out. Fourth is the incense of liberation, which means
severing the bonds of ignorance. And fifth is the incense of perfect
knowledge, which means being always aware and nowhere obstructed. These
five are the most precious kinds of incense and far superior to anything
the world has to offer.
When the Buddha was in the world, he told his disciples to light such
precious incense with the fire of awareness as an offering to the
Buddhas of the ten directions. But people today don’t understand the
Tathagata’s real meaning. They use an ordinary flame to light material
incense of sandalwood or frankincense and pray for some future blessing
that never comes.
For scattering flowers the same holds true. This refers to speaking the
Dharma, scattering flowers of virtue, in order to benefit others and
glorify the real sell. These flowers of virtue are those praised by the
Buddha. They last forever and never fade. And whoever scatters such
flowers reaps infinite blessings. If you think the Tathagata meant for
people to harm plants by cutting off their flowers, you’re wrong. Those
who observe the precepts don’t injure any of the myriad life forms of
heaven and earth. If you hurt something by mistake, you suffer for it.
But those who intentionally break the precepts by injuring the living
for the sake of future blessings suffer even more, How could they let
would-be blessings turn into sorrows?
The eternal lamp represents perfect awareness. Likening the illumination
of awareness to that of a lamp, those who seek liberation see their body
as the lamp, their mind as its wick, the addition of discipline as its
oil, and the power of wisdom as its flame. By lighting this lamp of
perfect awareness they dispel all darkness and delusion. And by passing
this Dharma on to others they’re able to use one lamp to light thousands
of lamps. And because these lamps likewise light countless other lamps,
their light lasts forever.
Long ago, there was a Buddha named Dipamkara, or lamplighter. This was
the meaning of his name. But fools don’t understand the metaphors of the
Tathagata. Persisting in delusions and clinging to the tangible, they
light lamps of everyday vegetable oil and think that by illuminating the
interiors of buildings they’re following the Buddha’s teaching. How
foolish! The light released by a Buddha from one curl between his brows
can illuminate countless worlds. An oil lamp is no help. Or do you think
Practicing all six periods of the day and night means constantly
cultivating enlightenment among the six senses and persevering in every
form of awareness. Never relaxing control over the six senses is what’s
meant by all six periods. As for walking around stupas, the stupa is
your body and mind. When your awareness circles your body and mind
without stopping, this is called walking around a stupa. The sages of
long ago followed this path to nirvana. But people today don’t
understand what this means. Instead of looking inside they insist on
looking outside. They use their material bodies to walk around material
stupas. And they keep at it day and night, wearing themselves out in
vain and coming no closer to their real self.
The same holds true for observing a fast. It’s useless unless you
understand what this really means. To fast means to regulate, to
regulate your body and mind so that they’re not distracted or disturbed.
And to observe means to uphold, to uphold the rules of discipline
according to the Dharma. Fasting means guarding against the six
attractions on the outside and the three poisons on the inside and
striving through contemplation to purify your body and mind.
Fasting also includes five kinds of food. First there’s delight in the
Dharma. This is the delight that comes from acting in accordance
with the Dharma. Second is harmony in meditation. This is the harmony of
body and mind that comes from seeing through subject and object. Third
is invocation, the invocation of Buddhas with both your month and your
mind. Fourth is resolution, the resolution to pursue virtue whether
walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. And fifth is liberation, the
liberation of your mind from worldly contamination. These five are the
foods of fasting. Unless a person eats these five pure foods, he’s wrong
to think he’s fasting.
Also, once you stop eating the food of delusion, if you touch it again
you break your fast. And once you break it, you reap no blessing from
it. The world is full of deluded people who don’t see this. They indulge
their body and mind in all manner of evil. They give free rein to their
passions and have no shame. And when they stop eating ordinary food,
they call it fasting. How absurd!
It’s the same with worshipping. You have to understand the meaning and
adapt to conditions. Meaning includes action and nonaction. Whoever
understands this follows the Dharma.
Worship means reverence and humility it means revering your real self
and humbling delusions. If you can wipe out evil desires and harbor good
thoughts, even if nothing shows its worship. Such form is its real form.
The Lord wanted worldly people to think of worship as expressing
humility and subduing the mind. So he told them to prostrate their
bodies to show their reverence, to let the external express the
internal, to harmonize essence and form. Those who fail to cultivate the
inner meaning and concentrate instead on the outward expression never
stop indulging in ignorance, hatred, and evil while exhausting
themselves to no avail. They can deceive others with postures, remain
shameless before sages and vain before mortals, but they’ll never escape
the Wheel, much less achieve any merit.
But the Bathhouse Sutra says, "By contributing to the bathing of monks,
people receive limitless blessings." This would appear to be an instance
of external practice achieving merit. How does this relate to beholding
the mind? Here, the bathing of monks doesn’t refer to the washing of
When the Lord preached the Bathhouse Sutra, he wanted his disciples to
remember the Dharma of washing. So he used an everyday concern to convey
his real meaning, which he couched in his explanation of merit from
seven offerings. Of these seven, the first is clear water, the second
fire, the third soap, the fourth willow catkins, the fifth pure ashes,
the sixth ointment, and the seventh the inner garment He used these
seven to represent seven other things that cleanse and enhance a person
by eliminating the delusion and filth of a poisoned mind. The first of
these seven is morality, which washes away excess just as r water washes
away dirt. Second is wisdom, which penetrates subject and object, just
as fire warms water. Third is discrimination, w1udi gets rid Of evil
practices, just as soap gets rid of grime. Fourth is honesty, which
purges delusions, just as chewing willow catkins purifies the breath.
Fifth is true faith, which resolves all doubts, just as rubbing pure
ashes on the body prevents illnesses. Sixth is patience, which overcomes
resistance and disgrace, just as ointment softens the skin. And seventh
is shame, which redresses evil deeds, just as the inner garment covers
up an ugly body. These seven represent the real meaning of the sutra.
When he spoke this sutra, the Tathagata was talking to farsighted
followers of the Mahayana, not to narrow-minded people of dim vision.
It’s not surprising that people nowadays don’t understand.
The bathhouse is the body. When you light the fire of wisdom, you warm
the pure water of the precepts and bathe the true Buddha nature within
you. By upholding these seven practices you add to your virtue. The
monks of that age were perceptive. They understood the Buddha’s meaning.
They followed his reaching, perfected their virtue, and tasted the fruit
of Buddhahood. But people nowadays can’t fathom these things. They use
ordinary water to wash a physical body and think they’re following the
sutra. But they’re mistaken. Our true buddha-nature has no shape. And
the dust of affliction has no form. How can people use ordinary water to
wash an intangible body? It won’t work. When will they wake up? To clean
such a body you have to behold it. Once impurities and filth arise from
desire, they multiply until they cover you inside and out. But if you
try to wash this body of yours, you have to scrub until it’s nearly gone
before it’s clean. From this you should realize that washing something
external isn’t What the Buddha meant.
The sutras say that someone who wholeheartedly invokes the Buddha is
sure to be reborn in the Western Paradise. Since is door leads to
Buddhahood, why seek liberation in beholding the mind?
you’re going to invoke the Buddha, you have to do it right. Unless you
understand what invoking means, you’ll do it wrong. And if you do it
wrong, you’ll never go anywhere.
Buddha means awareness, the awareness of body and mind that prevents
evil from arising in either. And to invoke means to call to mind, to
call constantly to mind the rules of discipline and to follow them with
all your might. This is what’s meant by invoking. Invoking has to do
with thought and not with language. If you use a trap to catch fish,
once you succeed you can forget the trap. And if you use language to
find meaning, once you find it you can forget language. To invoke the
Buddha’s name you have to understand the Dharma of invoking. If it’s not
present in your mind, your mouth chants an empty name. As long as you’re
troubled by the three poisons or by thoughts of yourself, your deluded
mind will keep you from seeing the Buddha and you’ll only waste your
effort. Chanting and invoking are worlds apart, Chanting is done with
the mouth. Invoking is done with the mind. And because invoking comes
from the mind, it’s called the door to awareness. Chanting is centered
in the mouth and appears as sound. If you cling to appearances while
searching for meaning, you won’t find a thing. Thus, sages of the past
cultivated introspection and not speech. This mind is the source of all
virtues. And this mind is the chief of all powers, The eternal bliss of
nirvana comes from the mind at rest. Rebirth in the three realms also
comes from the mind. The mind is the door to every world and the mind is
the ford to the other shore. Those who know where the door is don’t
worry about reaching it. Those who know where the ford is don’t worry
about crossing it.
The people I meet nowadays are superficial. They think of merit as
something that has form. They squander their wealth and butcher
creatures of land and sea. They foolishly concern themselves with
erecting statues and stupas, telling people to pile up lumber and
bricks, to paint this blue and that green. They strain body and mind,
injure themselves and mislead others. And they don’t know enough to be
ashamed. How will they ever become enlightened?
They see something tangible and instantly become attached. If you talk
to them about formlessness, they sit there dumb and confused. Greedy for
the small mercies of this world, they remain blind to the great
suffering to come. Such disciples wear themselves out in vain. Turning
from the true to the false, they talk about nothing but future
you can simply concentrate your mind’s Inner Light and behold its outer
illumination, you’ll dispel the three poisons and drive away the six
thieves once and for all. And without effort gain possession of an
infinite number of virtues, perfections, and doors to the truth, Seeing
through the mundane and witnessing the sublime is less than an eye-blink
away, Realization is now. Why worry about gray hair? But the true door
is hidden and can’t be revealed. I have only touched upon beholding the