What does an Enlightened person see or feel when he experiences Cosmic Reality?

3.22 State of No Thought

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    The sutra says, if sentient beings can see no thought, that is towards Buddha's wisdom. When heart arises, no first thought is known. To say to know the first characteristics, is no thought.


It is mentioned in the sutra that if sentient beings who have countless thoughts in their mind, can attain a level of meditation whereby they eliminate all thoughts, they have acquired intuitive wisdom that will lead them towards Buddhahood.

When the first thought arises in the mind, there is no thought before this first thought, which gives the first characteristics to phenomena. When we understand this situation of the first thought, and can look beyond it, we attain the state of no thought.


After explaining the stages and nature of Enlightenment, Asvaghosha sets out to explain the nature of thought and how it leads to spiritual ignorance so that we can eliminate thought and overcome ignorance to work towards Enlightenment.

Thoughts which give differentiation to phenomena and therefore veil the transcendental aspect of the Supreme Reality, can be explained under four characteristic states (avastha, or si xiang), namely arising, abiding, changing and stopping (jati, sthiti, anyathatva and nirodha, or sheng, zhu, yi and mie). For example, we think of a tree; the thought of a tree arises in our mind.

Then, this thought of the tree abides and develops; we think of the tree having leaves which make use of sunlight to make food. Thirdly, the thought changes; we may change our thinking from sunlight to solar energy, to atomic power, to world wars, and to a loved one serving in a war. Lastly, the thought stops, but for most people, as soon as the original thought stops, another thought arises, usually without awareness of their transition.

The sutra referred to in the passage, many commentators believe, is the Lankavatara Sutra (Leng Jia Jing in Chinese), which recorded the Buddha's teaching in Lanka.

3.23 Beginningless Ignorance

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    All sentient beings cannot be called Enlightened, because from the origin they are full of continued thoughts, and are never freed from thoughts. Hence this is called beginningless ignorance (wu shi wu ming).


No sentient beings can be said to be perfectly Enlightened because originally they have thoughts, and have never been freed from thoughts. As thoughts generate differentiation and thus prevent the sentient beings from experiencing the transcendental, undifferentiated aspect of Cosmic Reality, thoughts bring about spiritual ignorance. This ignorance which is the result of the original or innate thought of sentient beings, and is therefore has no beginning, is called beginningless ignorance (wu shi wu ming).


The Chinese term for beginningless ignorance is "wu shi wu ming", which is literally "no beginning no understanding". The expression "no beginning" may be interpreted as an adjectival phrase meaning "beginningless", as it is done above and by most commentators, or as a separate noun phrase.

Fa Zang (also known as Xian Shou), the famous third patriarch of the Hua Yen (Garland) school of Buddhism, was of the opinion of the second interpretation. He explained that the Supreme Reality transcends space and time, and therefore has no beginning. Hence "wu shi wu ming" would be interpreted as the "ignorance of the no beginning" or cosmic ignorance.

3.24 Nature of Thought

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Those who have no thoughts, understand the arising, abiding, changing and stopping of the heart's characteristics. This is the same as with no thought.


Those who have cultivated their mind to eliminate all thoughts, will understand the nature of thought in relation to mind, i.e. the arising, abiding, changing and stopping of thoughts in the mind. Then they become the same as those with no thoughts.


Those with no thoughts are those who have reached the realm of Buddhahood. Thoughts are features of the phenomenal world. In transcendental reality, there is no thought, as the transcendental is undifferentiated and impartial. In the Supreme Reality, there is absolutely no difference between having thoughts and having no thoughts.

This Buddhist philosophy on thought provides a conceptual framework for some practical methods to attain Enlightenment. Briefly, it is as follows. As the arising, abiding, changing and stopping of thoughts lead from original Enlightenment to ignorance, the reverse process of thought control in meditative practice will lead back from ignorance to Enlightenment.

In meditation, the aspirant stops all new thoughts from arising. Then he follows backward the process of his changing thoughts. This leads him to the abiding thought which first arose. Eliminate this first thought and look beyond to no thought. As Asvaghosha taught, if we can eliminate the first thought and look beyond no thought, we become like those with no thoughts, i.e. Enlightened beings.

The principle is simple, but the actual practice of course demands much time and effort. Just stopping thoughts from arising, for many people, may need months if not years of practice. But, as Blofeld said, "could there ever, ever be a more glorious endeavour" than realizing our divine source.

3.25 Same Enlightenment

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Actually here is no difference in actualized Enlightenment. The four characteristics are present in illusion. They are not independent, but are originally undifferentiated. It is the same Enlightenment.


Actually there is no difference between actualized Enlightenment and original Enlightenment. In other words, there is no difference between the spiritual realization of Cosmic Reality achieved by an aspirant, and the primordial Cosmic Reality that has been there timelessly.

Similarly, the four characteristics of thought are illusory; they are present only in the phenomenal aspect. These four characteristics are not independent of one another; they are actually one continuous mental process. Yet, in the transcendental aspect, this continuous aspect does not exist; it is only an illusion to the defiled mind. When the mind is purified, in the timeless moment of Cosmic Reality, everything IS. Thus, there is actually only one kind of Enlightenment.


The "Scripture of Round Enlightenment" (Yuan Jue Jing) says that "All sentient beings are originally the Buddha; the difference between samsara and nirvana is just like waking from a dream." Viewing from the realm of no thought, sentient beings do not achieve Enlightenment in the sense of achieving something new; they merely actualize something that has all the time been in them.

It is significant to note that the same concept is found in other world's religion. Hence, Christians talk of returning to the Kingdom of God, and Muslims the return to Allah. Hindus talk of union with Brahman, which is the original divine source of all illusory manifestations, and Taoists talk of merging with the primordial cosmos in the attainment of immortality.

Yet, in our illusion, we tall of the transient world and the eternal heaven, the mundane manifestation and the divine source, or in Buddhist terms, samsara and nirvana, which is the suffering resulting from endless cycles of birth and rebirth, and the everlasting bliss of spiritual realization. But in reality, samsara and nirvana are the same; it is a matter of waking up from our illusion.

This Mahayanist view, which incorporates two fundamental concepts, is distinctively different from the Theravadin view. The two fundamental Mahayana concepts are as follows. One, all sentient beings, when they have attained perfect Enlightenment, are the unchanging, everlasting, absolute manifestation of the transcendental Cosmic Reality. They appear as changing, momentary and relative only in the phenomenal world. This is why all sentient beings are originally the Buddha. Two, in perfect Enlightenment when reality is experienced as undifferentiated and transcendental, nirvana and samsara are the same. They are different only in non-Enlightenment.

The Theravadin view is well expressed by the Venerable Walpola Rahula:

    According to Buddhism, the Absolute Truth is that there is nothing absolute in the world, that everything is relative, conditioned and impermanent, and that there is no unchanging, everlasting, absolute substance like Self, Soul or Atman within or without. This is the Absolute Truth. Truth is never negative, though there is a popular expression as negative truth.
The realization of the Truth, i.e. to see things as they are (yathabhutam) without illusion or ignorance (avijja), is the extinction of carving "thirst" (Tanhakkhaya), and the cessation (Nirodha) of dukkha, which is Nirvana. It is interesting and useful to remember here the Mahayana view of Nirvana as not being different from Samsara. The same thing is Samsara or Nirvana according to the way you look at it ‑- subjectively or objectively. This Mahayana view was probably developed out of the ideas found in the originally Theravada Pali texts, to which we have just referred to in our brief discussion.

3.26 Manifestations

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Then again, the phenomenal aspect of original Enlightenment when analysized, has two characteristics, which are not distinct from the other Enlightenment. What two? One, the characteristic of pure wisdom; two, the characteristic of incredible effect.


Then again, original Enlightenment when viewed from the perspective of the phenomenal world, manifests itself in two characteristics, which are also applicable to the other type of Enlightenment, i.e. actualized Enlightenment, as these two types are actually the same in reality. What are the two characteristics? They are the characteristic of cosmic wisdom, and the characteristic of miraculous effect.


After explaining actualized Enlightenment, Asvaghosha proceeds to original Enlightenment. It should be remembered that these two kinds are the same Enlightenment; the difference is one of perspective. Seen from the viewpoint of transcendental reality, it is original Enlightenment ‑- the Enlightenment has been there all the time. Seen from the viewpoint of the phenomenal world, it is actualized Enlightenment ‑- sentient beings attain or rediscover the Enlightenment that was originally with them.

When a person attains Enlightenment, he acquires two characteristics, namely cosmic wisdom and miraculous ability. These two features are the manifestation of the omniscience and omnipotence of the Supreme Reality.

3.27 Cosmic Wisdom

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Cosmic wisdom, according to the power of the Dharma, cultivate diligently, fulfil all expedient means, break through the uniting-separating consciousness, the characteristic of the phenomenal world, reveal the spiritual body, attain wisdom and purity.


Cosmic wisdom includes the following: understanding the Buddhist teaching, especially regarding the Supreme Reality as summarized in this treatise; cultivating diligently morality, right view, right intention, and meditation; employing whatsoever expedient means that are relevant; breaking through the interface between the phenomenal and the transcendental of the alaya consciousness; being aware of the illusory nature of the phenomenal world; realizing the transcendental nature of the Supreme Reality; and attaining higher wisdom and purity of mind.


Cosmic wisdom represents the gist of Mahayana teaching. It includes, among other things, an understanding of the phenomenal and transcendental aspect of the Supreme Reality, the diligent practice of the Noble Eight-fold Path, and the application of whatever appropriate expedient means that can help the aspirant to attain Enlightenment.

Many people are bewildered by the variety of methods Mahayana Buddhists use in their spiritual practice. Some, especially those who understand Buddhism only from the Theravada perspective, even go to the extend of saying that these practices employed by Mahayanists are not Buddhist.

The above passage will provide a good answer. The Buddha advises that his teaching is only a vehicle, not an absolute law, that transports sentient beings from samsara to nirvana, or from ignorance to Enlightenment, and he even suggests that if his followers can find other suitable ways to achieve this aim, they may do so. This explains why there is such variety of expedient means for achieving Enlightenment in Mahayana practices, as well as why Buddhists are sincerely respectful of other religions.

The various and varied expedient means, which constitute the variety of Mahayana practices, represent some of the effective ways that serve like vehicles to help sentient beings in their spiritual development. The majority of followers of Buddhism, as of any other world religion, are not intellectually or spiritually advanced enough to appreciate the magnificent philosophy of, or experience directly the Supreme Reality. To impose upon them advanced spiritual practice like highly disciplined mind training of tracing wandering thoughts back to no thought so that they can come face to face with transcendental reality, is both unreasonable and unrealistic.

So, simpler expedient means appropriate to their developmental levels are used, such as praying to the statue of the Buddha, mechanically reciting some scriptures, and offering food and clothing to monks. Laughing at their simplicity or naivety, with such remarks like the Buddha statue is but a piece of wood, they do not know the language in which the scriptures are written, or they are pampering individuals who do not contribute to the economic welfare of society, shows not only our intolerance but also our ignorance.

Although these simple means rarely enable the devotees to be Enlightened immediately, they certainly help them in their spiritual progress. Considering the prevailing weakness of human nature, just to be spiritually concerned and charitable is already a remarkable achievement. From a secular perspective, religious teaching is a definite contribution to society, because when people are habitually aware of divine presence, they are unlikely to commit crimes.

On the other hand, expedient means for advanced Mahayanist devotees may leave some readers puzzled. In Chan (or Zen) Buddhism, for example, a gong-an ("koan" in Japanese) is frequently used as an aid to help aspirants achieve Enlightenment. A gong-an, literally meaning public case, is a record of a meaningful encounter between a master and a student, often involving a seemingly non-sensical question or answer. The following is an interesting example.

A monk asked the Chan master, Wei Kuan, "Where is Tao?"

"Right in front of your eyes!"

"Why can't I see it?"

"Because of me, you cannot see it," the master said.

"If I cannot see Tao because of you, then can you, master, see it?"

"Because of you and me, Tao disappears."

"If there is no me and no you, can you still see Tao?"

"When there is no you and no me, who needs to see Tao?" the master explained.

If you are Enlightened, you will understand the above dialogue instantly. But even if you have not experienced Cosmic Reality directly, but have understood intellectually what has been explained in this book so far, you will still know the deeper meaning of the above encounter.

However, if you are still puzzled, a good clue is that the student could not see Tao, or the Supreme Reality, because of his attachment to phenomena and to self. Because he saw the master as an individual entity (attachment to dharma), the student could not appreciate transcendental reality. Because he differentiated himself from the master (attachment to self) he also missed the ultimate truth.

3.28 Mind and Ignorance

Original Text in Chinese

    此義云何?以一切心識之相,皆是無明,無明之相,不離覺性,非可壞,非不可壞。如大海水,因風波動,水相風相不相捨離,而水非動性,若風止滅,動相則滅,濕性不壞故。 如是,眾生自性清淨心,因無明風動。心與無明俱無形相,不相捨離。而心非動性,若無明滅,相續則滅,智性不壞故。

Literal Translation

    What is the meaning? All characteristics of heart and thought are due to ignorance. Ignorance is inseparable from Enlightenment nature, cannot be destroyed, yet cannot be not destroyed. Like water in sea, because of wind, waves arise. Wind characteristic and water characteristic are inseparable. But water is not of moveable nature. When wind stops, moveable characteristic stops, but water nature is not destroyed. Similarly, the original nature of the heart of all sentient beings is pure and tranquil. The wind of ignorance moves. Heart and ignorance have no forms, and are inseparable. Heart is immovable. If ignorance ceases, endless characteristics cease, but the nature of wisdom is not destroyed.


What is the meaning of this cosmic wisdom, and how is it related to ignorance? All characteristics of mind and thought are due to ignorance of the transcendental nature of the Supreme Reality. Ignorance is inseparable from Enlightenment, which gives expression to the Supreme Reality. Ignorance, therefore, cannot be destroyed, yet it cannot be not destroyed.

It may be compared to the water in the sea, where the sea represents Cosmic Reality, water represents the mind, waves represent thoughts, and wind represents ignorance. Because of wind, waves arise; when the wind ceases, the waves stop. Hence, the characteristic of the wind is inseparable from the characteristic of the water. But water by itself is not of movable nature; it moves because of the wind. When the wind stops, the movement also stops, but the nature of the water is not destroyed; it retains its waterness.

The relationship of mind, thought and ignorance is similar to that of water, waves and wind in the above example. The original nature of the mind of all sentient beings is pure and tranquil. The mind does not move, but thoughts arise because of ignorance. When there is ignorance, thoughts move, just like when there is wind, the waves move. Mind and ignorance have no physical forms of their own. Ignorance is inseparable from mind: if there is no mind, there will be no ignorance. If ignorance ceases, the illusion of phenomena with endless characteristics also ceases, but cosmic wisdom of the mind remains intact.


This passage answers an important question: If ignorance is inseparable from mind, and has existed as long as mind has existed, why is it that mind remains intact when ignorance is destroyed? Asvaghosha answers the question by giving an analogy of moving wind causing waves to arise. When the wind (ignorance) ceases, the waves (thoughts) stop, but the water (mind) is intact.

Thus, although ignorance is inseparable from mind, it is not mind; it is only a particular expression of mind. When one particular expression ceases, another expression takes its place. In this case, when ignorance ceases, Enlightenment arises. Ignorance and Enlightenment are two aspects of the same mind, just as the phenomenal world and transcendental reality are two aspects of the same reality. Seen from the phenomenal viewpoint, mind is expressed as ignorance; seen from the transcendental perspective, mind is expressed as Enlightenment. Just as in the case of Cosmic Reality, there is nothing added nor subtracted: when ignorance ceases, nothing is subtracted from mind; and when Enlightenment occurs, nothing is added. The difference is a matter of perspective.

It should be remembered that ignorance here refers to spiritual ignorance or cosmic ignorance, and not intellectual ignorance. From the intellectual perspective, it does not make sense to say that ignorance is due to thoughts arising; but this is actually the case from the spiritual or cosmic perspective. Because of thoughts arising, the mind becomes veiled, thus seeing reality which is actually undifferentiated and impartial, as the differentiated, phenomenal world. This absence of Enlightenment, this inability to see reality as it is, is referred to as (spiritual or cosmic) ignorance.

3.29 Miraculous Effect

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Miraculous effect, because of cosmic wisdom, is capable of creating all kinds of wonderful phenomena, with countless characteristics and merits, relatively permanent and lasting, according to the needs of sentient beings. Naturally harmonizing, and of myriad kinds and appearances, it results in benefits.


Because of cosmic wisdom, miraculous effect is capable of creating all the wonderful phenomena, with countless individual characteristics and merits, which are relatively permanent and lasting, to fulfil the countless needs of sentient beings in the phenomenal world. All these countless phenomena with myriad kinds and appearances, are naturally and mutually harmonizing, resulting in benefits to all sentient beings.


The description of miraculous effect here refers to that of the Supreme Reality. Working in conjunction with cosmic wisdom, miraculous effect provides all the needs and benefits for the phenomenal world.

The same effect applies to Enlightened beings operating in the phenomenal realm. A Bodhisattva, for example, possesses miraculous effect or abilities to help sentient beings. Although many people would be skeptical of such a claim, there is no doubt that an Enlightened being can perform what laymen would call miracles, such as knowing what happens miles away, and materializing things. If ordinary people can acquire psychic powers like telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis and prediction after a few months of psi training, what more of morally taintless and spiritually Enlightened persons who have devoted years to mind cultivation.

Mahayana teaching regards the possession of miraculous effect as one of the expedient means of Bodhisattvas. Buddhist literature not only records applications of this effect but also provides guidance to its development. In India when robbers wanted to kill Xuan Zang (Hsuan Tsang), as he had neither money nor possessions, this famous 7th century pilgrim and translator created a storm, and the die-hard robbers were so scared or impressed that they turned over a new leaf and embraced Buddhism.

The Lankavatara Sutra described telepathic, clairvoyance and other psychic powers of the Buddha's disciples. The 8th century scholar-warrior Padmasambhava used miraculous powers to subdue hostile astral forces in Tibet and helped to establish Vajrayana Buddhism there. Padmasambhava made an interesting prophecy which has turned out to be true: "When the iron bird flies, and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the world, and the Dharma will come to the land of the Red Man."

The "Ju She Lun" (Abhidhamra, or Treatise on Higher Wisdom) classifies miraculous abilities into the following six main categories, known as "Six Miraculous Abilities":

  1. Heaven's Eye Ability (Tian Yen Tong).
    Seeing ability that transcends space and time.
  2. Heaven's Ear Ability (Tian Er Tong).
    Hearing ability that transcends space and time.
  3. Telepathic Ability (Ta Xin Tong).
    Ability to know others' thoughts and emotions.
  4. Past Lives Ability (Xiu Ming Tong).
    Ability to see into the past.
  5. Transcendental Ability (Shen Jing Tong).
    Ability to change oneself into any form, and be present anywhere.
  6. Perfect Control Ability (Lou Jin Tong).
    Ability to have perfect control over physiological and psychological functions of own body.
Will these powers be abused? Not at all likely, because the unworthy lack the moral and spiritual discipline to acquire them, and those who have acquired these powers know unmistakably that any misuse would retrogress their spiritual growth by many years, or even lifetimes. Moreover, of what purposes can such misuse be for masters who have renounced wealth, fame and worldly pleasures in their quest of spiritual fulfilment? These miraculous abilities, however, are not emphasized in Buddhist teaching. While Mahayana and Vajrajana masters find them useful in their effort to help others, many Theravada masters think they are a hindrance to their personal Enlightenment.

3.30 Characteristics of Enlightenment

Original Text in Chinese

    復次,覺體相者,有四種大義,與虛空等,猶如淨鏡。云何爲四? 一者如實空鏡,遠離一切心境界相,無法可現,非覺照義故。 二者,因熏習鏡,謂如實不空,一切世間境界,悉於中現,不出不入,不失不壞,常住一心,以一切法即眞實性故。 三者,法出離鏡,謂不空法。出煩惱礙,智礙,離和合相,淳淨明故。 四者,緣熏習鏡,謂依法出離故,徧照眾生之心,令修善根,隨念示現故。

Literal Translation

    Characteristics of Enlightenment body have four main meanings, similar to emptiness, like a clear mirror. What four?

    One, Empty Mirror of Reality (Ru Shi Kong Jing). It is free from all characteristics of the heart realm, cannot be seen, and cannot be manifested.

    Two, Manifested Mirror of Reality (En Xun Xi Jing). It is non-empty reality. All the phenomena in the world are manifested in it, non-out non-in, non-lost non-destroyed. Permanently attached to One Heart, all phenomena are real.

    Three, Non-Phenomenal Mirror (Fa Chu Li Jing). It is non-empty phenomena, free from emotional and intellectual hindrance, free from unite-separate characteristic, tranquil and bright.

    Four, External Developmental Mirror (Lu Xun Si Jing). To free from defiled objects, illuminate sentient being's hearts so as to cultivate good roots, manifested according to thoughts.


There are four characteristics of the essence of Enlightenment, which is similar to emptiness, and is like a clear mirror. What are the four characteristics?

They are Empty Mirror of Reality (Ru Shi Kong Jing), Manifested Mirror of Reality (En Xun Xi Jing), Non-Phenomenal Mirror (Fa Chu Li Jing), and External Developmental Mirror (Lu Xun Si Jing).

The Empty Mirror of Reality is free from all characteristics of the phenomenal world, cannot be seen by non-Enlightened persons, and cannot be manifested to them.

The Manifested Mirror of Reality is a contrast to the first characteristic; it is non-empty reality. All the phenomena in the world are manifested in it. As it is a reflection of the phenomenal world, nothing outside phenomenal experience is manifested. These manifestations are an expression of the Universal Mind, hence they cannot be lost nor destroyed; and as long as there is attachment, these phenomena will permanently appear as real.

The Non-Phenomenal Mirror reflects the non-empty phenomena (while the Manifested Mirror in the second characteristic reflects the non-empty reality). It is free from emotional and intellectual hindrance, and free from the illusion that may be caused by the alaya consciousness.

It is tranquil and bright. The External Developmental Mirror serves to free sentient beings from all defiled objects and thoughts of the phenomenal world. It illuminates their hearts or minds to induce them to work for spiritual development so as to cultivate good karma. It is manifested according to the thoughts of the Enlightened person.


What does an Enlightened person see or feel when he experiences Cosmic Reality? These characteristics of Enlightenment explained by Asvaghosha provide a description of the experiences of Enlightened persons at moments of spiritual realization. They are usually experienced during meditation.

There are countless individual experiences, but they may be classified into four main kinds, which are, nevertheless not exclusive as overlapping is possible. The levels of Enlightenment, from "Enlightenment of the initiated" to perfect Enlightenment, of course affect the nature and intensity of the ecstatic experiences.

The first characteristic, where Cosmic Reality is experienced like an empty mirror free from all signs of the phenomenal world, is experienced by those of the highest level only. This experience is beyond the comprehension of the non-Enlightened. This is the realization of Cosmic Reality at the highest level, where the knower is not different from the known, the personal mind merges with the Universal Mind, the individual spirit becomes the Cosmic Spirit.

Enlightenment at the third and final levels, "convergence Enlightenment" and "perfect Enlightenment", often reveals Cosmic Reality like a manifested mirror, where the phenomenal world is reflected in celestial light.

Those at the second level, "Enlightenment of resemblance", may also have this kind of experience. The vision or feeling is transcendental; the enlightened person sees in his mind's eye not just his immediate environment, but a majestic, paramount view miles or years away. The examples of ecstatic experiences mentioned in the introductory chapter of this book are of this characteristic.

At a glance the third characteristic of Enlightenment may appear similar to the first, but it is not the same; it is of a much lower developmental stage. In the first characteristic, the meditator experiences Cosmic Reality directly. In the third characteristic, his mind is tranquil and bright, and he understands the illusory nature of phenomena, but he does not have the indescribable experience that he is the Cosmic Reality.

The fourth characteristic of Enlightenment is typical of those who attained the "Enlightenment of the initiated", i.e. those who have just started their spiritual training. They experience a sense of inner peace, and feel that their hearts or minds are open to spiritual cultivation.



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