Buddhist philosophy, both Mahayana and Theravada, is exceedingly rich in its explanation of the cosmos, from the sub-atomic particle to the infinite universe.

2.1 Establishing the Meaning

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

      After explaining cause and effect, next explain the meaning.


After explaining the reasons for writing the treatise, an introductory explanation on the fundamental meaning of the teaching presented in this treatise is given.

Commentary The principles and meanings outlined in this section establish the core of Mahayana Buddhism. Those who have previously understood Buddhism from a limited perspective only, will be surprised at how profound and majestic the Mahayana philosophy is, and how similar it is with that of other world's great religion. Indeed, if not for geographical, historical and linguistic factors, had someone used another term like "God", "Allah", "Brahman", and "Tao", instead of "Buddha", many people may mistake this as a Christian, Islamic, Hindu, or Taoist treatise.

2.2 Principle and Significance

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

      Mahayana can be explained from two perspectives: principle and significance.


Cosmic Reality as taught in the Mahayana philosophy can be explained from two perspectives: principle and significance.


Buddhist philosophy, both Mahayana and Theravada, is exceedingly rich in its explanation of the cosmos, from the sub-atomic particle to the infinite universe. Long before the West knew about atomic energy and even now when many astronomers think that life exists only on this earth, Buddhist masters have deliberated on such topics. The following information, quoted from a Theravada source, about what Buddhists already knew centuries before modern science, is awe-inspiring.

In Abhidhamatta Sangaha (Compendium of the Higher Teaching of the Buddha), the Buddha teaches that the rupa kalpa is the finest possible unit of any substance, and if it is split, tremendous energy would be released. "The final result is that the single atom which consisted of 1,111 units of abstract element develops into a force consisting of 1,111 times 176,470, 000,000 or 196,058,170, 000,000 strokes of repetition per the duration of a flash of lightning. This figure would become still more enormous, if we compute the number of repetitions to a standard measure of time, such as, for instance, the second. If by some method, the units of one abstract element could be kept from contact with the units of the other three abstract elements, the continuity of repetition would stretch itself to infinity."

The Buddha teaches that "matter in the universe is in an infinity of states of evolution and so are the infinity of units of mind circulating in the universe. In this connection it is necessary to understand that the process of evolution is not confined to this Earth and the beings living on this Earth. Evolution takes place in all the other planets and stars. Matter in the other planets and stars evolve and, in the same way, the beings in the other planets and stars also evolve. We have, therefore, to consider the whole infinite material universe as one unit of existence in order to enable us to deduce correctly the exact nature of the universe we live in."

What is explained in "Awakening of Faith" is only a small part of Buddhist cosmic knowledge, but it represents the essential information necessary for a comprehensive understanding of cosmic reality.

2.3 Universal Mind

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

      By principle is meant the Heart of sentient beings, which takes in all principles inside the universe, and outside the universe.


By principle is meant the Universal Mind, which is the totality of all minds of all sentient beings, including all forms of life in all galaxies. The Universal Mind incorporates all minds within time and space, and all minds outside time and space.


Not only Jungian physiologists, but scientists of many disciplines will find this concept fascinating, and may help them to solve their intriguing problems. Modern biologists, for example, may derive inspiration from this conceptual framework to work out why information learnt by certain creatures seems to be transmitted transcendentally to similar creatures elsewhere, even though they are far apart and are not connected by any visible means. Scientists who wish to investigate why miracles that are not supposed to happen (according to their paradigm) actually happened, would get some leads from this concept of Universal Mind. In fact, Eastern masters have long used this concept not only to explain miracles, but to make miracles happen.

As said earlier, in classical Chinese "heart" often means "mind". In Buddhist nomenclature, there are many terms for Universal Mind, such as the Buddha, Tathagata or Ju Lai (Thus-ness), Zhen Ru (Supreme Reality), Dharmakaya or Fa Xin (Primordial Nature), Absolute Truth, Buddha Nature and the Original Face.

2.4 Meaning of Mahayana

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    This Heart represents the meaning of Mahayana. Why? Because of the Zhen Ru aspect, which is the body of Mahayana. Because of the karmic life-death aspect, which is manifested in the essence, characteristics and uses of Mahayana.


The philosophy and practice of Mahayana are based on the concept of the Universal Mind. Why is this so? It is because the Universal Mind is expressed in two aspects, the transcendental aspect and the phenomenal aspect. The transcendental aspect, known as Zhen Ru or Supreme Reality, represents the body or Principle of Mahayana. The phenomenal aspect, known as sheng-mie-yin-yuan or the karma of birth and death, represents the Significance of Mahayana, and is manifested in form (ti or svabhava), characteristics (xiang or lakshana) and uses (yong or kriya).


This is the gist of Mahayana philosophy. All of us, all sentient beings and all other things, including the infinitesimal particles and the infinite stars, are actually one undifferentiated unity. Different people, at different times and places and because of cultural, linguistic and other factors, have called this cosmic reality by different names, such as Brahman, Tao, or God. The Buddhists call this reality Universal Mind.

Hence, in the Upanishads, this great truth is written as follows: "Before creation came into being, Brahman existed as the Unmanifest. From the Unmanifest He created the manifest." This is similar to what Chuang Tzu, the Taoist master, said: "The universe and I have always existed together; every phenomenon and I are one." In Christianity, this truth was expressed by Marina de Escobar as: "The divine attributes appear as summed up in one whole, so that no one of them can be distinguished separately." And in Islam, Mir Valiuddin said: "For those who look behind the veil, other than God does not exist. God is the only Being, and none exists besides Him."

This unanimous agreement concerning cosmic reality is one main reason why Buddhists believe that different people can attain salvation in their own different ways. This similarity is also observed in Confucianism, which many people regard more as a philosophy for righteous living than a religion aiming at spiritual realization. Mencius (Meng Zi), the great Confucian philosopher said: "All things in the universe are me; when I discovered this as I looked into my heart, I felt tremendous joy." Another Confucian philosopher, Hu Zhi, said: "One day, suddenly my mind was enlightened; there were no irrelevant thoughts. I saw all the myriad things in the world inside me, making me exclaim that the whole cosmos is me."

Interestingly, modern scientists are saying the same thing. Einstein mentioned that "before Clerk Maxwell, people conceived of physical reality ‑- in so far as it is supposed to represent events in nature ‑- as material points, whose changes consist exclusively as motions. ... after Maxwell they conceived physical reality as represented by continuous fields, not mechanically explicable. ... This change in the conception of reality is the most profound and fruitful one that has come to physics since Newton." Max Plank's comment is almost mystical: "each particle in a system, in a certain sense, at any one time, exists simultaneously in every part of the space occupied by the system. This simultaneous existence applies not merely to the field of force with which it is surrounded, but also its mass and its charge."

Why is it, then, that the world we normally see is differentiated, that we see a cow as a different entity from a house, and that the collection of mass and emotions we call "I" is different from everything else? This is because cosmic reality is expressed in two aspects: the transcendental and the phenomenal. Only when we are Enlightened, or when we have the aid of powerful scientific instruments, we may experience reality transcendentally.

2.5 Three Dimensions

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Concerning significance, there are three types: one, great form, all phenomena neither add nor subtract from reality; two, great characteristics, the countless merits of the Tathagata-garbha; three, great uses, capable of creating all karma in the universe.


Concerning the significance of Mahayana philosophy, there are three dimensions, namely universal forms, universal characteristics, and universal uses. Universal forms refer to the world of phenomena, which in reality are undifferentiated, and cannot be added nor subtracted. Universal characteristics refer to the Tathagata-garbha (meaning the receptacle or storehouse of the Supreme Reality), which is capable of countless merits and countless manifestations of phenomena. Universal uses refer to the myriad uses of phenomena, which are capable of generating the law of karma with its countless causes and effects in the phenomenal world.


"Mahayana" means the "Great Vehicle". It is regarded as "maha" or great, because of its three dimensions of "greatness" or universality. Its form is great, because it includes everything there is, i.e. the cosmic reality, which may be alternatively expressed as the phenomenal world. In reality all the phenomena are undifferentiated, and cannot be added nor subtracted from the cosmic reality. For example, when an un-enlightened person sees cosmic reality existing as differentiated entities, this does not mean that phenomena have been added to the cosmos; alternately, when he becomes enlightened and sees cosmic reality as undifferentiated, this does not mean the phenomena he saw before his enlightenment, have been taken away.

The same phenomenon may exhibit many and different characteristics to different observers. Having much money or holding an influential post may appear as wealth or power to be desired to one person, but to another, it may be a distraction or a hindrance in his spiritual training. The limitless characteristics of phenomena are the manifestation of the Tathagata-garbha, a concept which means a universal receptacle or storehouse. This great variety of characteristics can bring merits if used wisely, or demerits if abused.

Phenomena and their characteristics are used in countless ways, and their myriad uses give rise to karma, which continues indefinitely to generate causes and effects, which then generates more phenomena and their varying characteristics, thereby perpetuating endless karmic cycles, which, in Buddhist thought, are the primary source of suffering. Can a person breaks off from his karmic cycle? He cannot ‑- if he continues to be deceived by the phenomenal world.

To an enlightened person, however, all these phenomena are an illusion; therefore, karma has no power over him, because as karma operates only in the phenomenal world, once the enlightened person realizes the phenomenal world is an illusion of reality, karma too is illusory. If we imagine our ordinary life as reality (as most of us do), then it is like waking up from a dream. All the causes and effects that appear real when we were in the dream, now have no power over us when we wake up.

In Buddhist philosophy, our waking life is a dream, but we do not realize it because we are still dreaming. Sometimes, for some of us, we may have an inkling of this dreamy state when we enter a different state of consciousness, like in deep meditation or in out-of-body experience. The real waking up occurs in spiritual realization ‑- the realization of our true spirit, and that our physical body is just a shell.

2.6 Vehicle of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

      It is the vehicle of all Buddhas; all Bodhisattvas use this vehicle to reach the realm of Ju Lai.


The Mahayana teaching is the vehicle used by all the enlightened ones to become Buddhas: all Bodhisattvas also use the Mahayana teaching to attain the Tathagata or Buddhahood.


The term "Buddha" means one who is enlightened, and there are many buddhas in our midst; but when we say the Buddha, we generally refer to Guatama Buddha, our historical Buddha, and occasionally to other divine manifestations of other aeons or realms like Dipankara Buddha and Amitabha Buddha. The term "Buddha" can also be applied to the Eternal Buddha or Tathagata, that is the Supreme Reality.

The complications, if any, will clear away if we remember that there is actually one undifferentiated reality, called by Buddhists the Buddha, and when a person attains this cosmic realization, he becomes not just a part of reality but reality itself which transcends time and space. That means when he becomes an enlightened one, when he directly experiences (not merely understands) spiritual realization of Cosmic Reality, he is at the same time a cow, a house, Guatama Buddha and everything there is.

A Bodhisattva is an enlightened being, a Buddha. He (or she) has therefore broken the chain of karma, that is, he is not fettered by the cycle of birth and rebirth. But because of his great compassion, he voluntarily chooses to be born again so as to help other sentient beings (not necessarily humans) to attain enlightenment. He may, if the need arises, choose to be born as a fish or an insect!

Probably the most famous Bodhisattva in Chinese Buddhism is Bodhisattva Guan Yin (Kuan Yin) or Avalokitesvara in Sanskrit, popularly known as the Goddess of Mercy. Many people would wonder why the male Avalokitesvara is the same as the female Guan Yin. This is because in the transcendental realm there is no male or female.

Secondly, Avalokitesvara chose to reincarnate in the female form of Princess Miao Shan, which means "Marvelous Kindness", to serve better the purpose of bestowing compassion. When Miao Shan attained Enlightenment, devotees call her Guan Yin, meaning the Great Compassionate who Sees and Hears the sufferings of humanity.

The other well known Bodhisattvas are Wen Shu (Manjusri), who is often depicted riding on a lion, Pu Xian (Samantabhadra), riding on an elephant, and Di Zang Wang (Khistigarbha), who chose to go to the Underworld to help lost souls there. The writer of this treatise, Asvaghosha (Ma Ming), and another great writer of the 2nd century, Nagarjuna (Long Shu), are also Bodhisattvas.

"Mahayana" comprises of two words, "maha" meaning "great", and "yana" meaning "vehicle". In Chinese, it is called "Da Cheng" (pronounced as "T'a Ch'eng). As the significance of "maha" has been explained in the previous passage, "yana" is now discussed.

"Yana" indicates a vehicle or way to bring an ignorant person to Enlightenment, to bring sentient beings from suffering to eternal bliss. This vehicle is actually the Universal Mind. The spiritual aspirant works hard on his own mind, which is an integral expression of the Universal Mind, and when he succeeds in purifying his own mind from all traces of ignorance, he sees reality as it really is. He experiences cosmic reality directly, and suddenly becomes aware that the Cosmic Reality is actually an undifferentiated organic unity. Experiencing this truth directly, not merely knowing it intellectually, is spiritual realization.

The vehicle the Buddhist uses for this spiritual realization is great or maha, because, in its absolute aspect, it is reality itself, both immanent and transcendental. In its phenomenal aspect, its form, characteristics and uses are everywhere and of all time. Because of its all-encompassing greatness, nothing is too insignificant nor too immense to prevent applying this vehicle to attain spiritual realization.



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