Realize The Mind
Realizing the Mind Is Seeing the True Nature; Seeing the True Nature Is Becoming a Buddha.
I. The Awakened Mind Is the Buddha
“Buddha (Note: Buddha is a Sanskrit term; literally it means an awakened one or an enlightened one.) is an awakened one.” All sentient beings possess Buddha nature, but because they are not enlightened and not awakened, their Buddha nature becomes the nature of sentient beings. If this mind gives rise to greed, anger, and ignorance, and acts of killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct, Buddha nature then becomes animal nature. If this mind is enlightened and awakened, Buddha nature is immediately manifested, as the Buddhist sutra says, “The mind, the Buddha, and sentient beings; these three are no different from each other.” The mind, the Buddha, and sentient beings are in essence one. When this mind is awakened, it is the Bodhi mind; it is the Bodhisattva mind. Therefore the ancients have said:
The Bodhisattva, like the clear moon,
Always sails in serene emptiness;
When our mind is lucid and pure,
Bodhi naturally arises.
We do not look for the Buddha outside of ourselves; rather, when this mind is awakened, it then becomes refreshed and lucid, and that is the Buddha. On the other hand, when this mind is deluded and turned by external conditions, and is confused and ignorant, it then becomes the mind of a sentient being. When our awareness constantly manifests, our Buddha nature will also manifest. Buddha means awakening, and because everyone has this mind, everyone can become a Buddha.
II. Cessation of All Vexations and Delusions from the Mind Is Awakening
Sentient beings have tens of thousands of vexations. Generally, all these vexations derive from three types of delusion: delusion of erroneous views and thoughts, delusion of not knowing myriad skillful dharmas, and delusion of Primal Ignorance. Because of these delusions, sentient beings develop confusions and vexations, and as a result, they are continually mired in samsara and in the cycle of rebirth and death, and cannot attain peace and joy.
Delusion of erroneous views refers to delusions and thus vexations that arise from erroneous conceptions and mistaken understanding. Similarly, delusion of erroneous thoughts signifies the delusions and thus vexations that arise from erroneous thoughts and behaviors. These delusions and vexations include the six fundamental vexations: greed, anger, ignorance, pride, doubt, and false views. Delusion of erroneous views comes from not understanding external phenomena or reality and experiencing mistaken cognition and knowledge, whereas delusion of erroneous thoughts originates mainly from the primary innate afflictions of greed, anger, and ignorance. When we completely eradicate the delusions arising from erroneous views and thoughts, we will then surely attain Arhathood.
The second type of delusion is called the delusion of not knowing myriad skillful dharmas. Bodhisattvas vow to liberate all sentient beings so they need to know all of the different skillful means to help liberate them. When one is not yet able to clearly grasp all the different skillful means of liberating sentient beings, it is called the delusion of not knowing myriad skillful dharmas. By eradicating this delusion, one can know limitless and boundless skillful dharmas, and helps to liberate limitless and boundless sentient beings, thus attaining the saintly fruit of the Bodhisattva.
Among the delusions that give rise to the vexations of sentient beings, the third type is the delusion of Primal Ignorance, i.e., the fundamental innate delusion of sentient beings, which hinders one’s true knowing of Reality. The Buddhist sutras say that Buddha nature is inherent in each of us, and so is Primal Ignorance. When Primal Ignorance is completely extinguished, then we will surely attain Buddhahood.
Because of this mind’s different degrees of delusion in the past, when we are born into this life, our wisdom and physical bodies are all different. For example, in Chinese history, there was a famous poet named Bai JuYi, who, as soon as he was born, could read the Chinese characters “zhi (之)” and “wu (無).” This fact demonstrates that people have a past, a present, and a future, and that the causality of three times in life also exists. In this life, wisdom does not come out of nowhere. It is the result of diligent practice in this life as well as in past lives. That is why, as soon as we are born, we may be able to know events from our past lives. However, why do we often forget events from our past lives when we are born? We forget because we each have different karma. If everyone can perfect samadhi concentration and prajna wisdom, then we can surely know events from our past lives. From this perspective, we can understand why cultivating the Way is a task of many lifetimes. As long as we persevere, cultivate concentration and wisdom, and eradicate the three delusions—the delusion of erroneous views and thoughts, the delusion of not knowing myriad skillful dharmas, and the delusion of Primal Ignorance—we can surely transcend the mundane and achieve sainthood, and ultimately realize the Way of Bodhi awakening.
III. Realizing the Three Bodies of the Buddha in the Awakening to Original Mind
The Buddhist sutras state that when this very mind is filled with prajna wisdom and samadhi power, it can actually change our physical body and our external environment. An ancient sage who attained awakening once said, “In the past I followed the dharma. Now the dharma follows me.” Here “I followed the dharma” means that before realizing the original mind and nature, at every moment sentient beings are like monkeys; their minds are restless, unrestrained, and constantly affected by the external environment. On the other hand, “The dharma follows me” reveals that after realizing this very mind and clearly understanding this original mind and nature, which is unmoving and unperturbed, neither coming nor going, always tranquil and illuminating, this very mind of ours can really transform the external environment, and become always peaceful and at ease.
Buddha is an awakened sage complete with three bodies, namely, the Dharmakaya, the Sambhogakaya, and the Nirmanakaya. The Dharmakaya is our very mind. Although we cannot see it, in our daily life, it can do all kinds of activities, both physical and spiritual. The Dharmakaya is precisely our Buddha nature; it is also this perfect and complete innate mind of ours. Everyone has it. But, because every one of us has different levels of samadhi power and prajna wisdom, we therefore experience very different karmic settlements.
All sentient beings possess Buddha nature. But where is this Buddha nature? When it is in the eyes, it is called seeing; in the ears it is called hearing; on the tongue, you can taste all the flavors; in your hands, you can perform various movements; on your feet, it is walking. If this Buddha nature truly manifests and expands, then all the worlds and universes are within it. If this Buddha nature is constricted, it becomes like a tiny mote and cannot be grasped. “When set free it pervades the whole universe; when constricted, it is just a tiny unseizable mote.” When we withdraw the six roots, or more specifically, the six sense faculties, into this very mind, unlimited subtle and wondrous functions can arise. This is the manifestation of Dharmakaya. Where the physical body will eventually decay, the Dharmakaya will never perish.
This mind of awareness, this mind of wisdom we use to reflect inward, eliminate evil and cultivate virtue is called the Buddha of wisdom. With this mind of wisdom and awareness, one can eradicate all illusions and realize the nature of emptiness. With this mind of wisdom and awareness, non-empty wondrous existence can also arise within the absolute emptiness. This very mind of wisdom and awareness is filled with all supernormal powers and insights. The awakened mind－the mind of awareness－is the Dharmakaya Buddha. When we clearly understand this truth, we will realize the mind and see its true nature. When one sees one’s true nature, one will surely become a Buddha.
When this mind of wisdom constantly reflects inward, the ensuing reward is the Sambhogakaya Buddha. When replete with both the Sambhogakaya and the Dharmakaya, one naturally exhibits supernormal powers and wondrous abilities. This is known as the Nirmanakaya Buddha which manifests in accordance with conditions in order to liberate sentient beings. Yet the Nirmanakaya and the Sambhogakaya both have their root in the Dharmakaya.
Every one of us has all three bodies, the Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya. Yet compared to the Buddha or the Bodhisattva, the ordinary being’s Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya differ in thousands of ways. For example, if you work in a school, you may be the principal or teacher; or if you work in an office, you may be a general manager, chairperson, or a clerk. Then when you return home, you become a son or daughter, a father or mother. With all these different roles, you follow the conditional manifestation of an illusive and provisional character, and that is the Nirmanakaya of everyone. Although teacher, Buddhist practitioner, chairperson, father, or mother, each has different characteristics, this original mind remains the same, and it is this everlasting original mind that is called one’s own Dharmakaya. Although we cannot see our Dharmakaya, it is replete with endless wisdom and virtue. This very mind is now, always has been and always will be. To become a Buddha, this mind neither increases nor decreases the least bit. When we are not yet a Buddha, yet compared to the Buddha, this very mind neither increases nor decreases the least bit. It is this very mind that “neither increases in the saint nor decreases in the ordinary being.” The Way does not have the notions of old and young. This very mind never differs in all beings, which is precisely the Dharmakaya. Then what is the Sambhogakaya of sentient beings? Sambhoga is fruition, enjoyment, and reward; it is the present fruition arising from what was sown in the past. So everyone’s Sambhogakaya is different, and is shown in the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and conscious mind. It is to be beautiful or ugly, tall or short, fat or thin, male or female; it is to live as a lay practitioner or renounce the home life, and so on. These are all the different Sambhogakayas of sentient beings.
Using the sun as a metaphor, the sun’s ability to shine is the Dharmakaya; the sun’s physical body is the Sambhogakaya; and the shadow images formed by the shining sun is the Nirmanakaya. As the sunlight never ceases to exist both day and night, so this very mind, the Dharmakaya also exists both day and night. During the day, this mind thinks and functions. At night, when the body may be resting, one’s consciousness does not easily remain still, and so this mind does not really rest. It is still in motion and functioning. Even when consciousness is not in motion or functioning, this mind that knows and feels still exists. Hence, this mind is the root; it is the Dharmakaya. This very mind is clear, pure, and undefiled; it is the clear and pure Dharmakaya Buddha. The future reward and fruition of using this clear and pure mind is the complete and perfect Sambhogakaya Buddha. When this mind of wisdom acts in accord with the absolute emptiness and the true suchness of Reality, it manifests myriad supernormal powers and wondrous abilities and is then called the billion multitude manifesting Nirmanakaya Buddha.
All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have realized the nature of emptiness. Their Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya are complete with supernormal powers and wisdom. They can manifest many wondrous functions and are at ease and without hindrances. Sentient beings have not yet eradicated their erroneous habits, delusions, and vexations so they have not realized and awakened to the reality of emptiness. Thus they are not liberated and cannot manifest supernormal powers or subtle functions. An awakened one understands that the Dharmakaya has no beginning and no end; that the Sambhogakaya has a beginning but is without end; and that the Nirmanakaya has both a beginning and an end, whose arising and ceasing are illusory in nature and are always in accordance with the conditions in that very moment. Although the Dharmakaya, the Sambhogakaya, and the Nirmanakaya each exists, the Dharmakaya is still the root and these three bodies cannot be separate from this very mind, the original mind, and as a result are actually three-in-one.
IV. Realizing the Original Mind and Seeing the True Nature: A Phenomenal Analysis
Regarding the “mind”, there are generally three definitions. The first one is the physical mind (or heart). The second is the deluded mind. The third is the true mind; it is also the Bodhi mind, the Dharmakaya.
The physical mind is the heart; it exists in the sphere of the material, and everyone needs a heart to survive. With today’s medical advances of heart transplants, A’s heart can be transplanted into B’s body. If the heart were indeed our original mind, the true mind or true self, then when one’s heart is transplanted, would one then forget everything in one’s past? Or would it be the case that following the transplant, the recipient of A’s heart, B, then knows what A knew previously? In reality, we now know this is not what happens. The events of B’s past are still B’s memories and the events of A’s life do not replace these memories. We then know that the heart is not our original mind or our true mind.
Some people may think that the neurons of the brain represent our original mind, our true mind, but neurons also belong to the world of the material. Neurons or neural cells are subject to metabolism and are constantly arising, ceasing, and dying, just like the sweat and bodily filth which are merely products of corporal dead cells. Neurons, then, most certainly are not our original mind or true mind.
The deluded mind is constantly drifting, with thoughts that endlessly arise and cease. If it is not thinking of the past, then it is thinking of the future. It is constantly worrying about personal gains and losses, and is always restless, and has often been called the wild and unrestrained monkey mind. Like a waterfall, the thoughts of the deluded mind constantly arise and cease, and yet the flow never stops or rests. These thoughts arise and cease, and are dualistic, illusory and deluded. This mind of drifting and deluded thoughts cannot be the everlasting and stable true original mind.
The true mind constantly knows and feels; it has wondrous wisdom and spontaneous awareness; and it manifests the true suchness of serenity and illumination, stillness and clarity. It is also called the Bodhi mind. For the true mind to manifest, we must not cling to anything. The Diamond Sutra says, “The past mind cannot be grasped; the present mind cannot be grasped; the future mind cannot be grasped.” This mind does not cling to the past, the present, or the future. When this very mind is bright, lucid, and perfectly clear, it is then what the Diamond Sutra calls the “mind of non-abidance.” When we realize this mind and constantly abide in samadhi concentration and prajna wisdom, it is then our original and true mind.
In the statement, “Realizing the mind is seeing the true nature,” nature has two meanings: awareness and emptiness. Awareness ultimately is the mind that each and every one of us possesses. It is constantly clear, bright, subtle, knowing, and complete with wondrous wisdom and spontaneous awareness; it is also the mind that knows what is right or wrong, good or bad, and that repents the wrongdoings and turns them toward the virtue. Basically, three levels of awareness exist: awareness of non-awakening, awareness of right awakening, and awareness of unsurpassed supreme awakening.
Awareness of non-awakening is the state of sentient beings who are not awakened to Reality and as such, are constantly subject to thoughts of greed, anger, and ignorance, and to physical actions like killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. In this state, sentient beings are always thinking of themselves and clinging to self-centered ideas. It is so-called the awareness of non-awakening because being non-awakened is precisely the state of being a sentient being.
Upon hearing the Buddhadharma, awareness of right awakening arises. One knows that life is suffering and that one should quickly practice the Way—remove the vexations of greed, anger, ignorance, pride, doubt, and erroneous views, transform dualistic consciousness to nondualistic wisdom, and eradicate delusions of erroneous views and thoughts. When vexations and delusions of erroneous views and thoughts are completely eradicated, one attains the awareness of right awakening. There are also different levels of realization when cultivating the awareness of right awakening. It is like cultivating Arhathood when a practitioner goes through the different stages of Srotapanna, Sakradagamin, Anagamin, and finally Arhat. At each stage the degree of vexations that have been eradicated and the level of realization with respect to Reality as such are each different. Nevertheless, the mind of the saints who have attained the state of Arhat or Pratyekabuddha is always lucid and pure; their awakened awareness manifests at all times; they will never perform acts of killing, stealing, or sexual misconduct. They are constantly in the state of right awakening.
The state of Bodhisattva is higher than that of the Arhat. Bodhisattvas strive for Buddhahood and are always cultivating the Six Paramitas as well as the myriad ways of skillful means for the liberation of all sentient beings. Bodhisattvas are motivated not only to awaken themselves but also to awaken others. Yet the Bodhisattvas’ cultivation—wisdom and virtue—is not completely perfect yet, so they have not reached the state of the Buddha. When the Bodhisattvas’ cultivation is perfected, when they have completely eradicated the three different kinds of delusion: the delusion of erroneous views and thoughts, the delusion of non knowing myriad skillful dharmas, and the delusion of Primal Ignorance, when they are able to liberate all sentient beings or to help develop the virtuous roots of all sentient beings, when they perfectly awaken their own awareness as well as that of others, and attain Buddhahood like Shakyamuni Buddha, then at last, it is known as attaining the awareness of unsurpassed supreme awakening.
The meaning of emptiness is subtle and important, especially in correctly understanding the teachings of the Buddha as a whole. If we do not understand the meaning of emptiness, we can easily develop erroneous views regarding the Buddhadharma. In Buddhism, emptiness is not the emptiness of vast space or the emptiness of nothingness or void. Although vast space is empty, it does not contain wisdom. Buddha nature or the original mind is perfectly empty in nature. Whereas its original nature is fundamentally empty, it is also complete with virtue, wisdom, supernormal powers, and wondrous abilities. It is completely different from the emptiness of vast space or that of hollow nothingness.
Specifically, there are three different kinds of emptiness in Buddhism: emptiness of the self, emptiness of the dharma, and fundamental emptiness of the original nature. Emptiness of the self is the emptiness which Sravaka Arhats and Pratyekabuddhas have attained, for they have eradicated all attachments to the self and realized that the true nature of the self is emptiness. Bodhisattvas have realized the emptiness of the dharma because they have eradicated the delusion of not knowing myriad skillful dharmas and thus the attachments to all dharmas in reality. Buddhas have completely understood both the emptiness of the self and the emptiness of the dharma, and, their mind is no longer attached to emptiness or to existence (i.e., non-emptiness) but avoids and transcends both extremes. Buddhas consistently walk the Middle Way and thoroughly grasp the essence of the original mind and nature. Reaching this state is then called realizing the fundamental emptiness of the original nature, the realm of ultimate emptiness and wondrous existence.
“Realizing the mind is seeing the true nature” means to realize our inherent Buddha nature and to realize this present mind, which is infused with ultimate emptiness and wondrous existence. Here, emptiness and existence (or non-emptiness) are nondual and manifest as one-suchness, or as the Heart Sutra asserts, “Form is emptiness; emptiness is form.” If we do not understand the meaning of emptiness, we will cling to material form and body, and regard all phenomena and things as real thus deluding our original mind. When the original mind is deluded, its wondrous wisdom, supernormal powers, and subtle functions cannot manifest.
Therefore, to cultivate the Way and strive for awakening, we must first eradicate our attachments by contemplating the emptiness of the self and realizing the emptiness of the self. Not only must we realize the emptiness of self, but further, we must realize the emptiness of dharmas until we are finally not even attached to emptiness itself. Then we will see the fundamental emptiness of our original nature. In this respect, contemplation of emptiness is particularly effective as the skillful means to eradicate our attachments. Secondly, we should eliminate our erroneous views, eradicate afflictions and vexations from our mind, increase our virtue and wisdom, and further realize our inherent awareness or our Buddha nature. After achieving this realization, we need to continue practicing and cultivating the Way until we eradicate all delusions and ignorance, and finally perfect the saintly Bodhi Path to ultimate awakening.
V. Nurturing the Embryo of Sagehood to Maturity
To cultivate the Way and strive for awakening, we must take the Buddha’s understanding to be our own understanding. Our mind must constantly reflect inwardly to realize the innate true nature of the mind. After reaching this understanding, we need to continue to practice according to changing conditions yet retain the true original mind that is immutable in essence. In Chan, this process is called nurturing the embryo of sagehood. In general, there are four levels of awareness in this process: the awareness manifested by ordinary beings, the awareness manifested by Bodhisattvas who have not yet entered the Grounds, the awareness manifested by Bodhisattvas who have entered the Grounds, and the awareness manifested by the Tathagata. Awareness itself is Buddha nature, but only after achieving the four levels of awareness and all vexations and delusions are eradicated can one’s cultivation then be perfected, and then one truly realizes the ultimate awakening and becomes a Buddha.
From an ordinary person to Buddhahood, one must go through a period of diligent practice, or more specifically, these four levels of awareness. Often when people hear the Chan saying, “The mind is Buddha; Buddha is the mind,” they misinterpret and think that one does not need to go through these four levels of practice and that one does not need to constantly reflect inwardly. From this misunderstanding arise feelings of superiority and arrogance in thinking that since the mind is Buddha, there is no need to pay respect to other Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, to meditate, or to practice good deeds. It creates a biased and wrong perception, which is far removed from awakening to Buddhahood.
When people first encounter Buddhism, they may gradually develop two problems: the first is having faith without wisdom, and the second is having wisdom without faith. For example, many good and faithful men and women know only devotional practice and worship the Buddhas so with personal devotions and appeals in mind they pray to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas every day. After a year, two years, three years, and even ten years, they still do not understand the essential teachings of the Buddhadharma, and their faith is only superficial. When conditions of their lives, their family, or their fortunes have not changed, doubts and regrets surface, and they begin to think that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have failed to care for or protect them. Consequently, they lose their faith. Practicing in this manner is a form of emotional dependence; their faith has no foundation—it is faith without wisdom. This type of faith is not true faith or right faith.
True faith or right faith must be present in the practice of the Buddhadharma. We must have true faith in causality and sincerely believe that all sentient beings possess Buddha nature. We must also work hard with the cause to eradicate vexations and delusions. We must further uphold the precepts, practice meditation, and cultivate wisdom so that this mind is pure and lucid and free from defilements and filled with perfect confidence, samadhi, and wisdom. This is then called true faith or right faith.
On the other hand, there are those who have wisdom but do not have faith. They may think that the Buddhadharma is very deep and profound and worth investigation, but they only view Buddhism as a field of study or knowledge and do not have true confidence in the teachings. We must comprehend that everyone possesses Buddha nature and that every one of us can become a Buddha. Confucian scholars have also said, “Everyone can become Yao and Shun. (Note: Yao and Shun were ancient Chinese sagely kings.)” To achieve this, one certainly needs to know how to practice. If we do not understand the methodology of practice, we will either take the long road or may even take the wrong road.
If we desire to delve deeply into the heart of the Buddhadharma, we must not only understand its principles and conceptually know its methods, but we must also diligently cultivate the Way in daily life and realize this very mind. After achieving this realization, we must keep nurturing the embryo of sagehood and manifest our awareness in accordance with Reality as such, or in other words, this awareness should be present at all times, without clinging, without confusion, and perfectly clear and lucid. In this way, we will surely realize the true benefits of the Buddhadharma.