Since reality is actually an organic unity of universal consciousness, why do people, before they are Enlightened, see reality as a world of differentiated phenomena?

3.31 Meaning of Non-Enlightenment

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    What is non-Enlightenment? It means not knowing the reality of phenomena. The heart of non-Enlightenment arises with thoughts. Thoughts have no reality, not free from original Enlightenment.


What is the meaning of non-Enlightenment? Non-Enlightenment means not knowing the Cosmic Reality behind the illusory world of phenomena. When the mind of non-Enlightenment first arises, thoughts are already present. These thoughts are not reality; so they are not independent of reality.


The alaya consciousness is where the transcendental aspect of reality meets its phenomenal aspect. To use an imperfect description, on one side of alaya consciousness is undifferentiated reality, on the other side is the phenomenal world. As thoughts arise on one side, we see the phenomenal world; on the other side where there are no thoughts, we see transcendental reality. It must be remembered that this description is imperfect; actually the transcendental and the phenomenal are the same, but for those who have not experienced Cosmic Reality directly and thus find it hard to comprehend, the description, thought imperfect, is useful.

3.32 Non-Enlightenment Due to Enlightenment

Original Text in Chinese

    猶如迷人,依方故迷。若離於方,則無有迷。眾生亦爾,依覺故迷。若離覺性,則無不覺。 以有不覺妄想心,故能知名義,爲說眞覺。若離不覺之心,則無眞覺自相可說。

Literal Translation

    Like a lost person, lost because of direction. If no direction, then not lost. Same with sentient beings, deluded because of Enlightenment; if free from nature of Enlightenment, then no non-Enlightenment. Because of non-Enlightened, illusory hearts, then know the name and meaning; to be liberated for Enlightenment. If free from non-Enlightened heart, no Enlightenment to mention.


Because there is the concept of directions, a person becomes lost if he is confused over the directions. If there is no concept of directions, then the concept of being lost does not arise. It is the same with sentient beings. Because of the concept of Enlightenment, a person who fails to attain Enlightenment is said to be deluded or non-Enlightened. If we are free from the concept of Enlightenment, then there is no such thing as non-Enlightenment.

Because there are people who are non-Enlightened and whose minds are deluded, we know of the name and meaning of Enlightenment, and we endeavour to be liberated from non-Enlightenment to attain Enlightenment. If men's minds are free from non-Enlightenment, then there will be no mention of the concept of Enlightenment.


Fa Zang explains that men's preoccupation with the concept of Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment is due to his having senses and emotions. If men were like stones and vegetables, without human emotions, then the question of Enlightenment becomes irrelevant. Cosmic Reality will remain undifferentiated and impartial.

On the other hand, because people's experience is normally phenomenal, it is necessary to use examples of contrasting and distinctive nature to describe Cosmic Reality; otherwise the people will not be able to have any idea, although it is an imperfect one, of what Cosmic Reality is.

This Buddhist concept of relativity is similar to the Confucian and Taoist concept of yin-yang which is preeminent in Chinese culture. This yin-yang concept is generally misunderstood by the West. Yin and yang are not two opposing forces that constitute the universe, as is frequently mis-represented. Yin and yang are merely symbols representing two opposite yet complementary aspects of any object or concept. For example, if the transcendental aspect is represented as yang, then its phenomenal aspect is represented as yin; if Enlightenment is yang, then non-Enlightenment or ignorance is yin.

Yin and yang are not only opposite, but also complementary: yin exists because of yang, and yang exists because of yin. If there is no yin, then there will be no yang, and vice versa. Hence, if there is no Enlightenment, then there will be no non-Enlightenment. We understand what is Enlightenment because there is the counter concept of non-Enlightenment, just as we can tell which side is left or top, only because we have designated the other side as right or bottom.

3.33 Characteristics of Non-Enlightenment

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Because of non-Enlightenment, there arise three characteristics, inseparable from non-Enlightenment. What three? One, characteristic of karma due to ignorance. When heart moves, effect results. Enlightenment, no movement; if movement, suffering results. Thus, effect cannot be separated from cause. Two, characteristic of perceiving ability. Because of movement, there is perceiving ability; no movement, no perceiving ability. Three, characteristic of realm of objects. Because of perceiving ability, illusion of realm of objects. If free from perceiving ability, no realm of objects.


Because of non-Enlightenment, there arise three characteristics, which are inseparable from the state of non-Enlightenment. What are the three characteristics?

One, there is the characteristic of karma, which is due to spiritual ignorance. The karmic effect is the result of thoughts arising in the mind. Thoughts do not arise in a state of Enlightenment; when thoughts arise, the karmic effect is set in motion, resulting in suffering. Thus, according to the law of karma, arising thoughts generates cycles of cause and effect.

Two, there is the characteristic of perceiving ability. Because of arising thoughts that generates the karmic effect, there arises the ability to perceive; if there are no thoughts arising, there is no need for this perceiving ability.

Three, there is the characteristic of the realm of phenomena. Because of the perceiving ability, there arises the illusion of a phenomenal realm. If one is free from this perceiving ability, there will not be any illusory realm of objects and processes.


Here Asvaghosha gives a brief but fascinating explanation of how the phenomenal world comes into being. Because of our spiritual ignorance of the transcendental aspect of the Supreme Reality, there arise in us three characteristics. Thoughts arise in our mind. Because of thoughts, there arises the ability to perceive.

Because of this perception, we see reality as a realm of phenomena or a world of objects and processes. This realm or phenomenal world is an illusion due to our ignorance. If we are Enlightened, we can pierce through this veil of illusion and experience reality as it is, i.e. an undifferentiated spread of universal consciousness.

This is a crucial concept in Buddhist philosophy explaining the illusory phenomenal world around us. Known as the Theory of Ideation, or "Wei Zhi Lun" in Chinese, this concept is well developed in the Fa Xiang School of Buddhism (known as Vijnaptimatra, or formerly Yogacara, in India; and as Hosso School in Japan). "Fa Xiang" means "Characteristics of Phenomena". This school attributes the existence of all the outer world to inner ideation, expostulating that all the countless objects we see are actually a manifestation of the mind.

Scientists and philosophers interested in investigating the reality of matter or mind whether in the sub-atomic particle or the infinite galaxies, would derive much inspiration and knowledge from the wealth of Buddhist philosophy. The Ideation Theory held by the Fa Xiang School, which is semi-Mahayanist in philosophy, is only one of the main Buddhist theories explaining the existence of the outer world.

This ideation doctrine lies between the realism doctrine of such Theravada schools as Sarvastivada, Ju She and Kusha (similar schools in India, China and Japan), which expound that dharma, or the sub-atomic particles and forces that constitutes phenomena, are real but exist only momentaeily, and the emptiness doctrine of such Theravada schools as Sarvasunyavada, Cheng Shi and Jojitsu, which expound that both self and dharma are empty.

The relativity doctrine of such Mahayana schools like Madhyamika, San Lun and Sanron, expounds that the outer world is ultimately unreal but phenomenally real; whereas the totalism doctrine of such Mahayana schools like Avatansaka, Hua Yen and Kegon, expounds that all attributes and realities are harmoniously interwoven into an organic whole.

One should not make the mistake to think that since there are different doctrines among these schools in their explanation of the outer world, only one of them is right and the rest wrong, or all are wrong. Although there have been heated debates among the teachers of these different schools, they also accept the views of the others, because they realize that in such matters, there is no dogmatic right or wrong. All of them are right in their own ways; it is a question of interpretation or perspective, just like light may be viewed as waves or particles, and distant stars as gigantic masses of matter or gigantic balls of energy. In a similar way, a Buddhist accepts the doctrines of other religions, and believes that everyone has the right, morally as well as legally, to follow and practise whichever religion he likes best.

Interestingly, world renowned scientists are now investigating reality along similar lines. For example, the consciousness-based theory of such scientists like the Nobel Prize winning physicist Eugene Wigner, who suggests that it is the working of the mind that converts quantum waves into concrete particles, is reminiscent of the relativity doctrine of the Madhyamika school, while the holistic physics of such scientists like David Bohn, who says that "everything interpenetrates everything", reminds us of the totalism doctrine of the Avatansaka school.

3.34 Six Characteristics and Six Transformations

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Because of the realm of objects there again arise six characteristics. What six? One, the characteristic of intellect, due to the realm of objects, and differentiated from the arising of the heart, resulting in likes and dislikes. Two, the characteristic of continuity, due to the intellect, resulting in joy and sorrow, as thoughts continue to rise from the heart, continuity arises. Three, the characteristic of attachment, due to continuity, effect of the realm of objects, attached to joy and sorrow, thoughts arise from the heart. Four, the characteristic of verbalization, due to attachment, resulting in names for attributes. Five, the characteristic of effect, due to verbalization, seeking names results in karmic effects. Six, the characteristic of suffering, due to fruit of karmic effects, being not free or spontaneous. Know that ignorance can create all types of phenomena, because of non-Enlightenment.


Because of the realm of phenomena there again arise six characteristics. What are the six characteristics?

One, there is the characteristic of intellect, which is due to the existence of the realm of objects or the phenomenal world. With intellect, the mind starts to discriminate, resulting in likes and dislikes.

Two, there is the characteristic of continuity, which is due to the intellect. Thoughts continue to arise from the mind, resulting in the awareness of joy and sorrow.

Three, there is the characteristic of attachment, which is due to the continuity of thoughts. As we continuously think of the realm of phenomena, we become attached to its joy and sorrow.

Four, there is the characteristic of verbalization. Because of our attachment to the phenomenal world, we give names to objects and their attributes.

Five, there is the characteristic of karma, which is due to verbalization, or giving names to differentiated objects and attributes. Because of our carving for the objects and satisfaction which we have named, we create karmic effects.

Six, there is the characteristic of suffering, which is due to the fruit of karmic effects. Because of this suffering, we are not free or spontaneous.

Be aware that if we are ignorant of the ultimate truth of Cosmic Reality, it can create an illusory realm with all types of phenomena. This is because we are in a state of non-Enlightenment.


Since reality is actually an organic unity of universal consciousness, why do people, before they are Enlightened, see reality as a world of differentiated phenomena? This transformation of transcendental Cosmic Reality on a universal scale into the phenomenal world observed at a personal level is explained by the three characteristics mentioned in the previous passage (3.33), and the six characteristics mentioned here, which generate "three fine transformations, and six gross transformations". The three fine characteristics, which refer to ignorance, perception and realm of phenomena concern the alaya consciousness; whereas the six gross characteristics concern the intellect consciousness.

Initially, at the state of original Enlightenment, Cosmic Reality is one organic, undifferentiated spread of universal consciousness. The first transformation is caused by thoughts arising, which gives the primordial even spread the first stirs of unevenness. At the second transformation, perception arises, making the original Cosmic Reality more uneven. At the third transformation, Cosmic Reality, which is actually undifferentiated, is now seen as a realm of differentiated phenomena. These three fine transformations occur at the universal alaya consciousness, resulting in the illusion of phenomena.

At the fourth transformation, or the first gross transformation, because of the illusory realm of differentiated phenomena, intellect arises to discriminate, thus creating the first stir towards the illusion of individual self. Once the intellect discriminates, the unfolding of transformation continues, manifesting as the fifth transformation, and resulting in the experiencing of the whole range of emotions. This brings to the sixth transformation, whereby the self attaches himself to the phenomenal world. At the seventh transformation, he verbalizes the different objects and attributes the experiences. At the eighth transformation, his attachment results in karmic effects, which perpetuate the ninth transformation with his cycle of birth and rebirth in the phenomenal world.

The first three fine transformations which result in the illusion of phenomena also create the illusion of space; whereas the next six gross transformations which result in the illusion of self, also create the illusion of time. Moreover, the illusion caused by the fine transformations is regarded as intrinsic, as it occurs in the mind, and is attributed to "root non-Enlightenment"; whereas the illusion caused by the gross transformations is extrinsic, as it finds its expression in the physical world, and results in "branch non-Enlightenment".

The aim of Buddhism is to realize the illusion of phenomena and self, and of space and time, at both the physical and mental level, thus overcoming suffering caused by the cycle of birth and rebirth, and returning to the eternal bliss of original Enlightenment.

On a prosaic note, Buddhism says that the so-called outside world ordinary people see as objective reality is actually an illusion, and this illusion is caused by our gross perception. If you think this is non-sense, you would be surprised that the latest science is saying the same thing. The popular science writer, Prof. Paul Davies, explains that:

    The fuzzy and nebulous world of the atom only sharpens into concrete reality when an observation is made. In the absence of an observation, the atom is a ghost. It only materializes when you look for it. And you can decide what to look for. Look for its location and you get an atom at a place. Look for its motion and you get an atom with a speed.
This illusion occurs not only in the sub-atomic world of the new physics. Notable scientists like Hugh Everett and Bryce De Witt have come up with the quantum cosmology theory, proposing the simultaneous existence of all possible worlds. Prof. Davies explains:
    But where are these worlds? In a sense, those that closely resemble our own are very nearby. Yet they are totally inaccessible: we cannot reach them however far we travel through our own space and time. The reader of this book is no more than an inch away from millions of his duplicates, but that inch is not measured through the space of our perceptions.
Yet these worlds have been reached by Buddhist masters who have transcended our ordinary level of consciousness. For example, the Swedish research psychologist, Dr. Rune E.A. Johansson, reports that according to the important Theravada scripture, Samyutta Nikaya, a human being of a former age, Abhibhu, through his meditation travelled to the Brahma-world and preached Buddhism to God Brahma himself. Lesser minds, of course, would think Samyutta Nikaya (despite being a highly regarded sacred text) talk nonsense, or at best describe a fairy tale. But if far-sighted scientists wish to explore the quantum cosmology theory, it is not difficult to find modern Buddhist masters who have made contact with such other worlds.

The depth of Buddhist philosophy is also astounding. While modern scientists attempt to explain the illusion of the so-called external object world at one or two levels, Buddhist masters have gone to nine levels deep (as illustrated in the three fine transformations and six gross transformations described above.)

Alastair Rae, after explaining that "physics, previously considered the most objective of all sciences, is reinventing the need for the human soul and putting it right at the centre of our understanding of the universe", poses the argument why most physicists do not believe a consciousness-based measurement theory is a correct way to understand the physical universe. He says:

    However, there are a number of important arguments which make a purely subjective view in which the physical world has no objective existence and our consciousness is the only reality appear unreasonable, at least. Perhaps the most important of these is that different conscious observers agree in their description of external reality.
Alastair Rae obviously refers only to human observers. Other sentient beings, like a cell in an elephant or a cosmic being described in chapter 8, would perceive "external reality" differently. Even at the human plane, different observers may see the same "external reality" differently, as is often the case among court witnesses. It is said that when Columbus first landed in America, the natives could see him and his men, but not his ship anchored a short distance from the shore. But the main point of Rae's argument is concerned not with such subtle differences, but with large-scale perception, like why do we all see a mountain as a mountain. This is because of our alaya consciousness, and will be discussed in Chapter 14.

3.35 Sameness and Difference

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Next, Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment have two characteristics. What two? One, sameness. Two, difference.


Next, there are two characteristics regarding Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment. What are the two characteristics? One, Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment are the same. Two, Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment are different.


Many people reading the above statement may find it non-sense or self-contradictory. How can Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment be the same? If they are the same, how can they be different?

This is an example of what Buddhist philosophers regard as two levels of truth or wisdom -- empirical truth or ordinary wisdom, and transcendental truth or higher wisdom. From the perspective of empirical truth or ordinary wisdom, operating at the phenomenal level, Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment are obviously different. In Buddhist terms, this is viewing from the life-death attribute.

From the perspective of transcendental truth or higher wisdom, operating at the absolute level, or viewing from the birthless-deathless attribute, Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment are the same, because Cosmic Reality is impartial and undifferentiated. Any difference we see or experience in any ways is an illusion, caused by our spiritual ignorance and the gross limitation of our senses.

Once, when a skeptic asked the Buddha whether an Arahat (an Enlightened being) existed after he had physically passed away, the Buddha chose to keep a noble silence. The skeptic mistakenly thought the Buddha did not know the answer, and as it is a precept in Buddhism not to tell lies, the Buddha had to remain silent. The actual reason was the Buddha did not want to confuse him, and the skeptic was not ready for higher wisdom. Had the Buddha given the appropriate answer -- which is "He exists and he does not exist", or its alternative, "Neither he exists nor he does not exist" -- the skeptic would not understand.

3.36 All from the Tathagata

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Concerning sameness, like various chinaware, they are from the same nature and attribute of clay. Like various kinds of manifestations and effects of the unconditioned and of ignorance, they are the same as the nature and attribute of the Tathagata.


Concerning the characteristic of sameness, an example can be found in the various types of chinaware, which are made from clay with the same nature and attribute. Similarly, the various kinds of manifestations and effects that a person experiences whether he is in a state of the unconditioned (or Enlightenment), or in a state of illusion (or non-Enlightenment), are all the same, because they all come from the Tathagata, or Supreme Reality, with the same nature and attribute.


An apt parallel can be taken from science. All the countless different creatures and objects in the world are made of atoms. When atoms are broken down, all these different creatures and objects are made of the same types of neutrons, protons and electrons. Hence, at the sub-atomic level, everything -- whether it is an ant or a whale, a volcano or a drop of water -- is the same.

3.37 To be Actualized

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Hence, in the sutra, according to the significance of the Tathagata, all sentient beings originally and eternally in nirvana. The way of the Bodhi is not to be learnt nor created, finally not obtainable.


Hence, it is mentioned in the sutra that according to the transcendental significance of the Tathagata or Supreme Reality, all sentient beings are originally and eternally in nirvana or Enlightenment. The way to Bodhi or higher wisdom is not to be learnt or created, but to be realized or actualized, because it is already there. If someone tries to develop or create Bodhi, as if developing or creating ordinary information, he will never obtain it.


The sutra referred to above is the Great Prajnaparamita Sutra (Da Pin Ban Rou Jing), but some commentators suggested it might be the Manjusri Sutra (Wen Shu Shi Li Jing).

Buddhist philosophy stresses that every being has the Buddha nature, therefore has the potential to become a Buddha, or an Enlightened being. In a more glorious context, according to the teaching explained above, he becomes not just a Buddha, but the Buddha, i.e. merges organically into the Supreme Reality.

There was a passage in the Da Ban Ni Yuan Jing (Mahaparinirvana Sutra), translated by Fa Xian, the first important Chinese pilgrim to India in 399, saying that a species of people known as the icchantika ("yi chann ti" in Chinese) did not have the Buddha nature, therefore could never become a Buddha. Icchantikas were those whose main interest in life was the gratification of desires.

Tao Sheng (ca.360-434) felt that this translation must be incorrect, or perhaps incomplete, and boldly expounded that even icchantikas could achieve Buddhahood.

I believe this problem is linguistic, not philosophical or ontological. When a person continuously craves for gratification, he is an icchantika. As long as he chooses to be so, he cannot attain nirvana. But if this same person ceases his craving, he also ceases to be an icchantika, and thus is capable of becoming a Buddha.

3.38 Form as Illusion

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    No characteristic of form. If form is observed, because of illusory effect, not because of non-void of wisdom. According to wisdom, it cannot be seen.


There is no characteristic of form in the Tathagata or Supreme Reality. If form is observed by unenlightened beings in the phenomenal world, it is the effect of illusion, and not because of any non-void characteristic resulting from higher wisdom. According to the characteristics found in higher wisdom, form or appearance cannot be seen.


This is a development of the concept mentioned in the previous passage. From the transcendental view-point of the Supreme Reality, Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment are the same, because reality is only one. The countless different forms or appearances we see in the phenomenal aspect of reality are the effect of illusion.

We can draw an analogy from science. Whether we look at a fruit-fly, the favourite of biological scientists in their research experiments, with our naked eyes or under an electronic microscope, it is the same fruit-fly. But the picture we see is vastly different. The difference is further complicated if we are under the influence of liquor, fatigue or a strong emotion. In our ordinary life, the fruit-fly with its wings and legs is real, but if we are investigating its molecular structure, we would not see any wings and legs, but various patterns of atoms.

3.39 Difference Due to Defilement

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Concerning the characteristic of difference, like various chinaware, each is different. Similarly, it is with the unconditioned and ignorance. The nature of difference is related to levels of defilement.


Concerning the characteristic of difference, various pieces of chinaware are each different from another, though all are made from clay. Similarly, though both originate from the same reality, the un-conditioned is different from ignorance, or Enlightenment is different from non-Enlightenment. The nature of their difference is related to the different levels of defilement.


From the phenomenal viewpoint, there are two different states, Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment. Enlightenment refers to spiritual realization of Cosmic Reality. Non-Enlightenment is spiritual ignorance.

Enlightenment may be original or actualized. Original Enlightenment refers to the Enlightenment that is already present right at the beginningless beginning. It is unconditioned, i.e. it is not conditioned by any prior factors. But we have lost it or are unaware of it. Hence we have to cultivate ourselves to return to our original Enlightenment, which is described in various terms like "return to the Kingdom of God", "return to Allah", "union with Brahman", or "unity with the Cosmos". This is actualized Enlightenment.

Non-Enlightenment can be considered as "root" or "branch". "Root non-Enlightenment" is the result of three fine transformations -- of ignorance, perception and realm of phenomena in the mind. From this intrinsic root, non-Enlightenment "branches" out extrinsicly, caused by six gross transformations -- of intellect, continuity, attachment, verbalization, karma and suffering.

These different characteristics are the result of experiencing reality at the phenomenal level, when we are in a state of non-Enlightenment. At the transcendental level, experienced by us in cosmic realization, there is no difference; Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment are the same.

Through the process of three fine transformations which involve the alaya consciousness, and six gross transformations which involve the intellect consciousness, our minds become defiled, and consequently we fail to see Cosmic Reality as it really is. Yet, what we actually see with our naked eyes, even with the help of elaborate scientific instruments, is only a small part of the innumerable worlds of illusion. We shall learn about these interesting worlds in the next chapter.



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