CHAPTER 5: ATTAINING ETERNAL BLISS

Everything happens with one or more causes, and every cause brings about one or more effects. Cause and effect are interrelated; the effect of something is the cause of another.


1.1 Reasons for Writing the Work

Original Text in Chinese

        初說因緣分。問曰:有何因緣而造此論?
        答曰:是因緣有八種。云何爲八?


Literal Translation

      Begin with Cause and Effect. What cause and effect make this sastera? Eight types of cause and effect. What eight types?


Interpretation

Let us begin by examining the question of cause and effect. What are the causes and effects, or reasons, connected with the writing of this treatise? There are eight reasons. What are the eight reasons?


Commentary

The principle of cause and effect, or karma, is a crucial concept in Buddhism. Everything happens with one or more causes, and every cause brings about one or more effects. Cause and effect are interrelated; the effect of something is the cause of another. Karma is explained in more detail in other parts of the book.


1.2 Eliminating All Suffering

Original Text in Chinese

        一者,因緣總相。所謂爲令眾生離一切苦, 得究竟樂,非求世間名利恭敬故。


Literal Translation

      One, the general cause and effect is to eliminate all suffering of sentient beings, to attain eternal bliss. Not for worldly fame, material gains nor glory.


Interpretation

First, the general and most important aim of writing this treatise is to help sentient beings to overcome all suffering, so that they will attain eternal bliss. It is not for the sake of worldly fame, material gains nor personal glory.


Commentary

For convenience of study, some masters classify suffering into "three groups", while others into "eight kinds". The three groups of suffering are bodily pain, such as from disease and injury; suffering from loss, such as the termination of pleasures just enjoyed; and suffering from the cycle of birth and rebirth. The eight kinds are birth, old age, sickness, death, parting of loved ones, meeting of hated enemies, frustration from craving, and illusion of the five senses.

Eternal bliss is derived from spiritual enlightenment, and this treatise suggests some ways of attaining it. Masters who have attained spiritual enlightenment describe their bliss as hundreds, or thousands of times more joyous than worldly pleasures.

The mention of not aiming for worldly fame, materialistic gain, and personal glory is not just rhetoric; it has been amply substantiated by the daily examples of great masters. When a person is ready to give up power and wealth, and even the throne, to lead a monastic life, of what use to him is material gain?


1.3 Explaining the Tathagata

Original Text in Chinese

        二者,爲欲解釋如來根本之義,令諸眾生正解不謬故。


Literal Translation

      Two, explain Ju Lai, so that all sentient beings have right view, and not be deviated.


Interpretation

The second reason is to explain Ju Lai, i.e. the Tathagata or the Supreme Reality, so that all sentient beings can have the right view for attaining spiritual development, and not be deviated by wrong teaching.

Commentary

The "Tathagata", or "Ju Lai" (Ru Lai) in Chinese, is commonly translated as "Thus Come", "Thusness", or "Suchness", suggesting that the Tathagata has been like what It is since the beginningless beginning, and will be so till the endless end of time. It also transcends space. It is the Supreme Reality or the Ultimate Truth. The Chinese usually refer to the Buddha as the Tathagata, or Ju Lai Fo, and seldom as Guatama Buddha. When the Buddha is personified, he is often referred to as Sakyamuni.


1.4 Spiritual Development

Original Text in Chinese

        三者,爲令善根成熟眾生,於摩訶衍法堪任不退信故。


Literal Translation

      Three, for the matured good roots not to retrogress in Mahayana.


Interpretation

The third reason is to strengthen the faith of those followers who are already spiritually advanced, so that they may not retrogress in their spiritual development in the Mahayana teaching.


Commentary

Buddhist masters are keenly aware of the different nature and abilities of different individuals, and therefore there are different means for different people in spiritual training. Because of various factors operating in the principle of cause and effect, including their spiritual development in their previous lives, some people are spiritually more advanced than others, and are figuratively referred to as good roots. But if they do evils in this life, they will retrogress to a lower developmental scale in the next life.

When a person has attained a high spiritual level, he will enter monkhood to continue his spiritual development at the highest level until he attains Enlightenment. For some factors in the interaction of cause and effect, some highly advanced individuals may remain as laymen, and they too can attain Enlightenment. Hence, while becoming a monk is a highly desirable facility, it is not a necessity in spiritual realization.


1.5 Strengthen Faith

Original Text in Chinese

        四者,爲令善根微少眾生修習信心故。


Literal Translation

      Four, for the mediocre roots to develop faith.


Interpretation

The fourth reason is to enable those who are still slight in their spiritual development, to strengthen their faith.


Commentary

Those who are slight in their spiritual development are figuratively referred to as mediocre roots. They can improve their spiritual standing by direct spiritual training, or indirectly by performing meritorious deeds. But no matter how low a person may be in the spiritual ladder, the mere fact that he is born a human is itself a tremendous spiritual achievement, for he must have accredited a lot of merits in his countless, previous lowly lives as insects, plants or animals. He must not, therefore, be so unwise as to waste this very rare, precious chance of being human, by not working for his own spiritual liberation.


1.6 Expedient Means

Original Text in Chinese

        五者,爲示方便,消惡業障, 善護其心,遠離癡慢,出邪網故。


Literal Translation

      Five, provide expedient means, remove bad karma, improve his heart, distance doubt and arrogance, out of evil net.


Interpretation

The fifth reason is to provide expedient means to help sentient beings to remove their bad karmic effect, to purify their mind, and help them to dispel doubt and arrogance so that they will escape from the tempting net of evils.


Commentary

Expedient means are called "upaya" in Sanskrit, and "fang bian" in Chinese. They are adhoc methods to help devotees to solve immediate problems. Expedient means can be useful in three main ways.

Previous thoughts, words and deeds of a person will generate the appropriate results, known as karmic effect, for him. If he has been evil, then the karmic effect is obviously bad. The many methods mentioned in "Awakening of Faith", like being charitable, are creditable to one's karma, thus removing or reducing bad effect from the previous karma.

The second way expedient means can be useful is to purify a devotee's mind, as in meditation practice taught in the treatise. Purifying the mind means removing various and numerous mental hindrances that prevent a person from seeing reality as it really is.

Most human beings are morally weak, and can easily fall into worldly temptations that hamper their spiritual development. Two significant causes of human weakness are their doubt on the value or necessity of spiritual development, and their arrogance due to their lack of higher wisdom. Expedient means provided in the treatise can help them to overcome their doubt and arrogance so that they can escape from the net of evils.


1.7 Tranquility and Insight Meditation

Original Text in Chinese

        六者,爲示修習止觀,對治凡夫二乘心過故。


Literal Translation

      Six, practice "zhi guan" to overcome heart weakness of Hinayanists.


Interpretation

The sixth reason is to provide the principles and practice of tranquility meditation and insight meditation, so that the weakness of the Hinayana Buddhists regarding their philosophy of the Supreme Reality can be overcome.


Commentary

"Hinayana" was the proper term for "Theravada". Only in 1950 the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Colombo, Sri Lanka decided to use the term "Theravada" instead of "Hinayana" to emphasize that the development of this branch of Buddhism was led by the Council of Elders.

A crucial difference between the Mahayanists and the Hinayanists (or Theravadins) is that while the former regard spiritual salvation as a universal responsibility, the latter consider it a personal affair ‑- hence the terms "Great Vehicle" and "Small Vehicle" respectively. In both Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism, meditation is the essential procedure for attaining Enlightenment. There are two categories of meditation: tranquility meditation, called "samatha" in Sanskrit and "zhi" in Chinese; and insight meditation, "vipasyana" and "guan".

Asvaghosha believes that it is a weakness of the Hinayanists to use tranquility meditation and insight meditation for attaining only nirvana, a state of mind whereby one sees reality as it really is, instead of realizing the Mahayanist aim of Buddhahood, whereby one IS the Cosmic Reality. Hence, Mahayanists believe that Hinayana Buddhism is only the preparatory stage, the final realization lies in Mahayana; Hinayanists of course disagree with this view.

In classical Chinese, the term "heart" usually refers to the mind; and in the context of "Awakening of Faith", it means Cosmic Reality. In the above Chinese text, "heart weakness" refers to the weakness of the Hinayana philosophy concerning the Supreme Reality. "Zhi guan" refers to tranquility meditation and insight meditation.


1.8 Pure Land School

Original Text in Chinese

        七者,爲示專念方便,生於佛前,必定不退信心故。


Literal Translation

      Seven, provide expedient means for specialist reciters to be born in front of the Buddha, with unwavering faith.


Interpretation

The seventh reason is to provide expedient means for Buddhists of the Pure Land School, so that they will be born in the Western Paradise of Eternal Bliss to be with Amitabha Buddha, where with unwavering faith they will realize Buddhahood.

Commentary

The Pure Land School, "Jing Tu Zong" in Chinese, is the most popular school of Mahayana Buddhism today. Their basic belief is that by intensely and sincerely reciting prayers to Amitabha Buddha, devotees will be born in the Pure Land, i.e. the Western Paradise of Eternal Bliss where Amitabha Buddha resides. There these devotees will continue their spiritual development until they themselves become Buddhas.


1.9 Benefits from Spiritual Development

Original Text in Chinese

        八者,爲示利益,勸修行故。 有如是等因緣,所以造論。


Literal Translation

      Eight, point out benefits, encourage development. These are the causes and effects; hence the treatise.


Interpretation

The eight reason is to point out the benefits one can get from spiritual development, so as to encourage people on their training.

These are the causes and effects connected with the treatise; hence this treatise is offered to the public.


Commentary

While the spiritually advanced appreciate that spiritual development is the mission of their existence, most people lack this higher wisdom and have to be plodded and encouraged. The treatise not only mentions the benefits to be obtained, but more significantly provides the essential knowledge about Cosmic Reality as well as the ways of realizing it.

Of the eight reasons for writing the treatise, the first general reason is most important. The other seven are specific reasons for overcoming particular difficulties. In the original text, the term used is not "reasons" but "causes and effects", which have wider implications. In Buddhist philosophy, causes are effects, and vice versa.


1.10 Found in Sutras

Original Text in Chinese

        問曰,修多羅中具有此法,何須重說。


Literal Translation

      This teaching is in the sutras; why repeat?


Interpretation

The teaching mentioned in the treatise is also found in the sutras; why is it necessary to repeat it in this treatise?


Commentary

Sasteras or treatises can be divided into two types, those deliberating on one selected sutra or scripture, and those deliberating on various topics found in different scriptures. This division is not meant to be rigid, but for convenience of study. A sutra is a scripture containing the teachings actually spoken by the Buddha, but recorded by his disciples many years later; whereas a sastera is a discourse by a master.

There has been some debate on whether "Awakening of Faith" is a specific treatise on a selected scripture, or a general treatise on many topics found in different scriptures. Much of the material of this treatise can be found in the Lankavatara Sutra (Leng Jia Jing in Chinese), which is a record of the Buddha's teaching in the fairyland-like Lanka, which is probably today's Sri Lanka (formerly called Ceylon). Other scriptures from where important topics in the treatise are found, include the Avatamsaka or Garland Sutra (Hua Yen Jing), the Surangama Sutra (Leng Yen Jing), the Vimalakirti-nirdesa Sutra (Wei Mo Jing), and the Nirvana Sutra (Nie Pan Jing).


1.11 Different Roots and Movements

Original Text in Chinese

        答曰,修多羅中雖有此法, 以眾生根行不等,受解緣別。


Literal Translation

      Though found in sutras, roots and movements of sentient beings are different; reception, explanation and karmic matrix are different.


Interpretation

Though the teaching is found in the sutras, the capabilities and intentions of individual sentient beings are different. Moreover, the ways the teaching is learnt by the devotees, and taught by the teachers, as well as learning situations are different.


Commentary

This is one example showing that the concise original text in Chinese cannot be easily understood without the help of commentaries. "Roots" refer to the innate capabilities of the devotees, including their social, economical and intellectual differences, and "movements" refer to their intrinsic structures, including their present desires, intentions and emotional set-up, as well as their karmic merits or demerits from previous lives. Roots and movements constitute the internal differences of the devotees.

External differences are found in reception, explanation and karmic matrix. Reception refers to the different ways, because of their individual variances, devotees learn the same teaching; explanation refers to the various methods, because of their different abilities, teachers convey the teaching; karmic matrix refers to the countless different situations brought together by karmic effect where learning and teaching take place.

Obviously, modern educationists and psychologists can learn much from this concept concerning the internal and external differences of both teachers and learners. For example, instead of merely emphasizing the improvement of teaching technology like what many educationists presently do, they should consider other factors like those mentioned by Asvaghosha.

During the time of Guatama Buddha, these differences also existed, but then they did not present any difficulty, as is explained in the following passage.


1.12 Round Voice

Original Text in Chinese

        所謂如來在世,眾生利根,能說之人,色心業勝, 圓音一演,異類等解,則不須論。


Literal Translation

      During the time of Ju Lai's manifestation on earth, sentient beings had favourable roots, the Teacher had the miraculous power of form and mind, and of "round voice" whereby beings of various kinds could understand, hence treatises were unnecessary.


Interpretation

During the time when the Buddha came to the world as Siddhartha Guatama, sentient beings were favourably disposed for spiritual development. The form and mind of the transcendental Buddha is everywhere; and the Buddha in the person of Siddhartha possessed the miraculous effect of "round voice", whereby various kinds of beings at different spiritual levels could understand his teaching according to their individual needs. At such an auspicious time, treatises to explain the teaching were unnecessary.


Commentary

The Eternal Buddha, known as Tathagata or Ju Lai in Chinese, has appeared on earth and in other spheres of existence many times in different aeons. Some of the physical bodies (rupakaya) besides Guatama Buddha that the Eternal Buddha has appeared in, include Dipankara Buddha, Kasyapa Buddha, Aksobhya Buddha and Amitabha Buddha. Each aeon has its prominent characteristic. Dipankara, for example, is the Buddha of Light. While our aeon is characterized by suffering, which Guatama Buddha teaches us to overcome, the next aeon is characterized by joy, and Meitriya Buddha, the coming Buddha, is the Buddha of Laughter.

The Buddha always chooses an auspicious time, such as a very favourable alignment of heavenly bodies generating beneficial cosmic energy, to manifest himself in a human body. Hence people who live around the time of the Buddha's manifestation, are born at a very propitious period, and are well disposed for spiritual development. In Guatama Buddha's period, for example, Solon and Socrates were living in the West, while Lao Tzu and Confucius in the East.

Moreover, Guatama Buddha was an excellent teacher, with the miraculous power of "round voice", which means that when the Buddha spoke, his teaching at the same time and place could be understood by different kinds of devotees according to their levels of development. In such a situation, there was no need for treaties to explain the teaching.

According to Mahayana thinking, the Buddha found that due to different levels of intellectual and spiritual attainment, many people could not understand or were not ready for the profound teaching about Cosmic Reality. For such people, the Buddha first taught the agama, or moral precepts, which form the bulk and core of Hinayana Buddhism; after this moral preparation, they would be ready for his higher teaching.

But the situation became different when Guatama Buddha passed into parinirvana, that is, terminated his phenomenal manifestation in Siddhartha Guatama as a person. This is explained in the next passage.


1.13 Four Types of Sentient Beings

Original Text in Chinese

        若如來滅後,或有眾生能以自力廣聞而取解者,或有眾生亦以自力少聞而多解者,或有眾生無自智力,因於廣論而得解者,亦有眾生復以廣論文多爲煩,心樂總持少文而攝多義能取解者。


Literal Translation

      After the disappearance of Ju Lai, some sentient beings have self ability of wide hearing to gain wisdom; some have self ability of narrow hearing but wide understanding; some lack wisdom and depend on sasteras for understanding; some are disinclined to the wordiness of sasteras and prefer specialties for understanding.


Interpretation

After the parinirvana of Guatama Buddha, sentient beings can be classified into four types. The first type are those who possess the intuitive wisdom for listening to recitation of the Buddha's teaching, and attain Enlightenment through insight. The second are those who possess intuitive wisdom, but do not listen to recitation of scriptures widely; however, they attain Enlightenment through reasoning. The third type are those who lack intuitive wisdom, but they attain understanding through diligent study of treatises written by masters to explain the scriptures. The fourth are those disinclined to the wordiness of treatises, and who prefer special writings which provide much information in few words, from where they derive understanding.


Commentary

The first and second types of sentient beings possess intuitive wisdom, or higher wisdom, whereas the third and fourth types do not. With intuitive wisdom come religious understanding and insight, and Cosmic Reality is realized in a flash of inspiration, holistically, and often illogically to outsiders.

Without intuitive wisdom, a devotee has to apply himself diligently to treatises written by masters to explain religious matters in a logical, dialectical manner. In this way he comes to understand Cosmic Reality intellectually, but he still does not experience reality directly. Nevertheless, this intellectual development, which corresponds to the progress from the fourth and third types of sentient beings to the second, leads to intuitive wisdom, so that when the time is ripe, when he has further progressed to the first type, he can now attain spiritual realization, either gradually or sometimes in a flash of divine providence.

What about those born in the first type? Where did they get their intuitive wisdom on Cosmic Reality when they have not studied it intellectually before, and when some of them may even be illiterate? How is it possible, as it has been amply recorded in Buddhist as well as other religious literature, that by listening to a scripture recitation, or even to an apparently irrelevant sound like a wayward stone hitting a bamboo, or a water droplet falling on a petal, a devotee suddenly attains spiritual realization? The answer is that they have all acquired the necessary preparation in their previous lives.


1.14 Special Writing

Original Text in Chinese

        如是,此論爲欲總攝如來廣大深法無邊義故,應說此論。


Literal Translation

      This teaching is for those who prefer special writings explaining universal teaching of Ju Lai with boundless significance. Hence, the treatise.


Interpretation

The teaching contained in this treatise is meant for those sentient beings who prefer to read special writings that explain concisely the universal profound teaching of the Buddha on cosmic reality with boundless significance and meaning. Hence, this treatise is written.


Commentary

This treatise is particularly useful to people belonging to the fourth type of spiritual development, that is, those who presently lack the intuitive wisdom to attain spiritual realization, and who find studying lengthy discourses on the scriptures too troublesome. This short treatise will help them to acquire an intellectual understanding of Cosmic Reality which will develop their intuitive wisdom, so that one day they can experience Cosmic Reality directly.

Intuitive wisdom, or higher wisdom, is different from ordinary knowledge. A person who is very knowledgeable in mundane affairs, and may hold high, responsible position in government or public, may not necessarily have higher wisdom. On the other hand, a person with higher wisdom may be insignificant in his social or financial standing. Of course, there are also many people who are accomplished in both mundane and supramundane affairs, like the many Buddhist masters who were also advisers to the Chinese emperors.

One should not be mistaken that these fourth type of people are far behind in spiritual development. As it has been mentioned earlier, being human itself is a tremendous achievement spiritually, after successfully acquiring the needed experiences and merits from countless previous lives in other forms. Nothing in the universe happens by chance ‑- nuclear physicists think that sub-atomic particles occur randomly because they have not found their cause and effect yet ‑- and the very fact that you are reading this book, brought about by myriad factors in the complex network of cause and effect, indicates that you yourself is in the sure process of spiritual advancement. Considering the countless lives behind us (views of different religions on reincarnation will be mentioned in a later commentary), the time taken to acquire the intellectual understanding and the necessary intuitive wisdom for spiritual realization is like a split second.

This treatise is also very useful for people in the other three types. For those in the third type who have the patience to read lengthy discourses on spiritual matters, Asvaghosha's short work which runs to only a few pages in classical Chinese, helps them to synthesize and summarize the vast amount of knowledge they have gathered elsewhere. Those in the second type will be able to reflect and deliberate, and enhance their higher wisdom, while those in the first type may find in the treatise just that concept or its sound regarding Cosmic Reality that will trigger off in a flash their spiritual realization.

Of all the records of spiritual experiences in Buddhist and other religious literature, those of the Chan (or Zen) masters are probably the most bizarre ‑- to the uninitiated. The following is an interesting example concerning two Chan masters.

Nan Quan, wanting to test his disciple Zhao Zhou on his understanding of Cosmic Reality, said, "Now it is best that we leave the group and live with other species."

Zhao Zhou replied, "First, let us not discuss 'other'; please tell me what 'species' is."

Nan Quan placed his hands on the ground, and moved like a four-legged animal. Zhao Zhou went behind, placed his leg on his master and stepped him onto the ground. Then he ran to the main hall of the monastery crying out loudly, "What a pity, what a pity!"

Nam Quan sent someone to ask Zhao Zhou what he was so pitiful about. Zhao Zhou answered that it was a pity he did not step on him further. Nan Quan was very happy with the answer and laughed out heartily.

Except those who have been Enlightened or have known its significance from somebody's explanation, most if not all people would be bewildered by the strange behaviour of the teacher and his disciple. It was odd enough for the master to crawl like an animal, but shocking that his disciple, especially in a monastic environment where respect and obeisance to the master was an unquestionable tradition, stepped on the master's back. Yet, when the master heard that his disciple found it a pity not to step on him further, he was very pleased with the answer. Every part of the above test, right from the comment about leaving the group to laughing heartily, has a deeper spiritual meaning, which becomes very clear when one is Enlightened about Cosmic Reality.

Asvaghosha's treatise supplies an excellent explanation. I shall not, by providing an explanation here, spoil your joy of finding out the deeper meaning yourself ‑- though it may be frustration initially. Perhaps you may like to use this gong-an (koan in Japanese), or public record, as an "illogical" problem to be solved as you start your study of this book, so that hopefully the knowledge generously presented by Asvaghosha in the treatise may help you to appreciate the deeper spiritual meaning contained in the gong-an. More significantly, this book may pave the way for the beautiful experience of Cosmic Reality.

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