CHAPTER 17: TOWARDS COSMIC REALIZATION
Hence, if we only open our hearts, we can find spiritual influences everywhere. A helping hand from a stranger, or a feeling of awe when viewing the vastness of stars above, may permeate us to cultivate towards spiritual realization.
3.61 Permeation towards Nirvana
Original Text in Chinese
How does permeation give rise to purity continuously? Because of the Tathagata, it permeates ignorance. Because of this permeation force, the defiled heart rejects the suffering of samsara, and aspires to the bliss of nirvana. Because the defiled heart rejects karma, it permeates the Tathagata. With faith in own nature, know defilement and movement of heart, no realms beyond.
Cultivate to distance from phenomena, thus really understand no realms beyond. Various expedient means for cultivation, no attachment and no thought, until because of long force of permeation, ignorance is eliminated. With the cessation of ignorance, no heart arises. Because of no arising, all realms cease. Because both cause and effect cease, the heart characteristics terminate. This is called nirvana, and attain the Natural Effect.
How does permeation of the Tathagata give rise to a continual realization of Cosmic Reality?
Because the Tathagata is eternal and omnipresent, it permeates ignorance. Because of the force of this permeation, the defiled mind rejects the suffering of samsara, and aspires to the bliss of nirvana. Thus, the defiled mind of the aspirant understands and consequently rejects the working of karma, and in return it permeates the Tathagata, with the result that he acquires higher wisdom and strengthens his faith. He knows that his own nature is actually an integral expression of Cosmic Reality, knows that all the differentiation and movements he experiences are actually the illusion of his defiled mind, and that all phenomenal realms are illusory.
The aspirant starts to cultivate to liberate himself from the phenomenal realms, as he truly understands that there are no realms beyond thoughts. Various expedient means are employed for this spiritual cultivation. He begins to free himself from attachment and from thought, until after a long period of such permeation, ignorance is eliminated. With the cessation of ignorance, no thought arises. As the result, all phenomenal realms cease. Hence the operation of cause and effect also ceases, and the aspirant eliminates the force of karma. As all characteristics of the individual mind terminate, the aspirant merges into the universal mind. This is called nirvana, and the aspirant attains the natural effect of manifesting in a reward body or transformational body if he wishes.
This is the upward permeation from the phenomenal world to transcendental reality. There are two primordial qualities of the Supreme Reality, namely original Enlightenment and original ignorance, which relate to its two aspects, the transcendental and the phenomenal.
Hence, primordially, original Enlightenment and original ignorance permeate each other. The permeation of ignorance, or permeation of differentiation, which has been explained earlier, moves downwards from Cosmic Reality to phenomenal world. The permeation of Enlightenment, or permeation of purity, moves upwards from phenomenal world to Cosmic Reality. Fa Zang, the celebrated commentator, referred to permeation of the original Enlightenment which makes defiled mind long for purity, as "original permeation" (ben xun). Permeations other than this primordial impetus are referred to as "new permeation" (xin xun).
This passage also provides a comforting answer to the doubt of many people who wonder what happens to the enlightened being when he enters nirvana. Does he, or his mind, spirit, soul or whatever you may call it, disintegrate into nothingness? Certainly not! Buddhism is definitely not nihilistic!
There are many levels of nirvana, or Enlightenment. At the lowest level, after seeing reality as it really is, i.e. a living void of universal consciousness in which the knower is also the known, he comes out of his samadhi, or deep meditation, and returns to his ordinary phenomenal self.
At a higher level he may manifest himself in other planes of existence or even in other time dimensions. He can do so as he has transcended time and space. Of course, he can come back to his earthly body if he still has attachment to it or to any earthly affairs; but if he so desires, he can discard his "smelly skin receptacle" and enjoys his reward in his "reward body" (sambhogakaya, or bao shen) or "transformational body" (nirmanakaya, or hua shen) in some heavenly realms.
At the highest level, when he attains perfect Enlightenment, he merges into the Universal Mind to enjoy eternal bliss -- he becomes the Eternal Buddha! Even this is not the end. Should this highly Enlightened being wish to, he can come back to any realm as a Bodhisattva to help suffering beings.
3.62 Permeation of Defiled Mind
Original Text in Chinese
Defiled heart permeation has two types. What two? One, discriminating consciousness permeation. Dependent on ordinary people and Hinayana followers, reject life-death suffering, following cultivation, gradually towards highest way. Two, will permeation. The powerful vows of bodhisattvas, speedily towards nirvana.
There are two types of permeation of the defiled mind. What are the two types?
One, there is the permeation of discriminating consciousness. Because of this permeation, ordinary people and Hinayana followers reject the suffering of birth and rebirth, and practise spiritual cultivation so that they will gradually advance towards the highest goal of spiritual realization.
Two, there is the permeation of sub-consciousness. Because of this permeation, bodhisattvas, i.e. spiritual cultivators following the Mahayana faith, who have made vows of far-reaching consequences advance speedily towards nirvana.
This is an elaboration of the purity permeation. When the defiled mind is permeated by the thoughts of spiritual realization, there are two types of mani-festation.
The first type concerns the discriminating consciousness, or consciousness mind (mano-vijnana, or yi shi). This involves ordinary people and Hinayanists who believe that nirvana exists differently from samsara, i.e. when they attain Enlightenment they will go to a place or experience a state of mind that is existentially separate from where they are now or from a mental state of suffering. Their spiritual cultivation, therefore, aims at this heavenly realm, spatially or mentally.
The second type of purity permeation of the defiled mind concerns the sub-consciousness (manas, or wei na shi). This concerns Mahayanist cultivators who realize that nirvana and samsara are not existentially different, but are two aspects of the same reality. The difference is not ontological, but a matter of perspective and developmental stage. When they attain nirvana, they do not go elsewhere nor have changed their mind. They still remain where they are and their mind is the same, but while earlier they saw the world as an illusion in terms of differentiated phenomena, now they experience the infinite universe as undifferentiated, transcendental Cosmic Reality. The transformation is not just a change of mental state; it is spiritual liberation from a restricted personal confinement to the magnificent universal expanse of eternity and infinity.
The Mahayanist approach is therefore faster than the Hinayanist, because it is direct whereas the Hinayanist approach needs at least two stages -- the first transports the adept into a nirvanic realm, and only the second, when he realizes that this nirvanic realm is still phenomenal and not transcendental, finally liberates him into Cosmic Reality. The first stage liberates him from attachment to self, and the second stage from attachment to phenomena.
Nevertheless, many Mahayanists, often without realizing it themselves, are following the two-stage approach similar to that of the Hinayanists. For example, the aim of the devotees of the Pure Land School (Jing Tu Zong), probably the most popular school of Chinese Buddhism today, is to be reborn at the Western Paradise of Eternal Bliss presided by Amitabha Buddha. This paradise exists in the phenomenal realm; this means the heavenly beings in this paradise still have not liberated themselves from the attachment to phenomena. But there with the help and blessing of Amitabha Buddha, they will eventually attain the final liberation into the Supreme Reality.
3.63 Permeation of the Tathagata
Original Text in Chinese
Tathagata permeation has two types. What two? One, natural form permeation. Two, application permeation.
There are two types of Tathagata permeation. What are the two types? One, there is the permeation of the natural form or essence of the Tathagata, or Supreme Reality. Two, there is the permeation of the application of the Tathagata.
The purity permeation on the defiled mind explained in the previous Passage is known as "new permeation" or "acquired permeation", i.e. a person becomes aware of the need for spiritual realization because of certain good influences acquired in the phenomenal world, such as learning from spiritual masters or reading religious literature. Another type of permeation, where the influence exists primordially, is known as "original permeation", and is explained in this Passage.
Original permeation comes from the Tathagata, or Supreme Reality, itself. The Supreme Reality can be manifested in three universals -- the universal of forms, the universal of characteristics, and the universal of applications. This means that the Supreme Reality when manifested phenomenally can be of any and all forms, any and all characteristics, and any and all uses. Whatever forms that appear in phenomenal realms, like a stream in our world or hell fire in an infernal realm, are expressions of the Supreme Reality. What-ever characteristics or uses, like the beauty of an angelic smile or the soothing effect of a temple chanting, are expressed by the Supreme Reality.
Hence, the permeation of the Supreme Reality is universal, found in all forms, characteristics and applications. This, indeed, is a comforting thought. Not only the most condemned criminals can be saved, the grace and blessing of the Tathagata is found in the darkest corners of the deepest hells.
The Tathagata permeation is of two types. The first type, which is gross, concerns all forms and characteristics. In Western terms, whatever we see and feel, even if it may be lowly, is an expression of God. The second type, which is fine, concerns all applications. Hence, if we only open our hearts, we can find spiritual influences everywhere. A helping hand from a stranger, or a feeling of awe when viewing the vastness of stars above, may permeate us to cultivate towards spiritual realization.
3.64 Permeation of Tathagata Form Original Text in Chinese
Natural body permeation, from beginningless beginning, is transcendental. Equipped with incredible effects, it manifests as phenomenal realms. Hence two meanings. It has permanent and eternal permeation. Because of its force, it is capable of making all sentient beings reject life-death suffering, and aspire to nirvana. They have faith that they have the nature of the Supreme Reality, and make vow to cultivate.
Since the beginningless beginning, the Supreme Reality is transcendental. However, it is equipped with the power of incredible effects, i.e. it can manifest itself as phenomenal realms. Hence, there are two aspects of the Supreme Reality: the transcendental aspect which is undifferentiated, and the phenomenal aspect which is differentiated.
The Supreme Reality has permanent and eternal permeation. Because of this permeation force, it is capable of making all sentient beings reject the suffering of birth and rebirth, and aspire to the attainment of nirvana. As a result, sentient beings have faith that they themselves possess the Buddha nature, i,e, they are an integral expression of the Supreme Reality. So they make vows to cultivate towards spiritual realization.
According to Buddhist philosophy, Cosmic Reality has no beginning and no end, though our universe, which is only one of the countless universes of the phenomenal aspect of Cosmic Reality, may go through a cosmic cycle of birth, development, decay and death. It is significant to note that even among scientists who support the Big Bang theory, some of them are beginning to believe there is a beginning before the "absolute beginning". The research physicist Anjam Khursheed reports that "before the Big Bang, a super-heated melted vacuum is thought to have existed, filled with a sea of ghost particles."
In the phenomenal dimension, all sentient beings are an expression of the Supreme Reality. In Buddhist terms, all beings have the Buddha nature. So, even if there is no spiritual influences from outside, all sentient beings have the innate urge to cultivate for spiritual realization.
3.65 Different Rate in Enlightenment
Original Text in Chinese
Question: If according to the meaning, all sentient beings innately have the Tathagata, and all are permeated, why is there difference of faith, no faith, great variety, front and back? All should simultaneously know that they have the Tathagata, diligently cultivate expedient means and enter nirvana.
Answer: The Tathagata is originally one and only, but there is immeasurable, unlimited ignorance. From the beginning, ignorance by nature is differentiated, not of the same thickness, and disturbed minds more numerous than the sands of the Ganges arise and be differentiated because of ignorance. Attachment to self, passions, differentiation, defilement arise dependent of ignorance. Hence, all defilements dependent of ignorance arise, front and back of immeasurable difference, only the Tathagata knows.
Also, Buddhism has cause and effect. If cause and effect are adequate, it will be done. Like wood has fire nature. Fire is cause. If people are unaware of this, and do not apply expedient means, then wood will not burn. The same with sentient beings. Although they have the cause of permeation force, if they do not meet Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who have this higher wisdom, which acts as effect, the sentient beings would not on their own liberate themselves from defilement to enter nirvana. There may be force of external effect, but if inner purity has no permeation force, then they may not reject the suffering of life-death and aspire to nirvana. Because both the cause and effect are present, there is natural permeation force, and there is com-passionate protection and care from Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, there arises the heart to reject suffering, believe in nirvana and cultivate good karma. When good karma is ripe, they deserve the blissful teaching of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, therefore they can advance towards nirvana path.
Question: If according to what has been explained that the Tathagata may manifest as transcendental reality or phenomenal world, all sentient beings are innately an expression of the Tathagata, and are permeated by the Tathagata, why is there great variety in the difference of believers and non-believers, and why some attain Enlightenment sooner than others? All people, knowing that they are an expression of the Tathagata, should simultaneously and diligently make use of expedient means in their spiritual cultivation and enter nirvana at the same time.
Answer: Although there is originally only one and the only Tathagata, there is immeasurable and unlimited variety of ignorance. From the beginningless beginning, ignorance by nature is differentiated, and of different quantities. Because of this great difference of ignorance, there arise defiled minds more numerous than the sands of the Ganges, and these defiled minds are also similarly differentiated. Because of the great difference of ignorance, there arise the attachment to self, to passions, to differentiation, and to defilement. All defilements arise because of ignorance, at different times and of immeasurable varieties. The differentiation is so great that only the Tathagata knows all about this.
Also, there is the principle of cause and effect in Buddhist teaching. If cause and effect are adequate, universal laws will take their course. For example, wood has the fire nature, i.e. it is natural that wood can burn. Here the fire nature is regarded as cause, and burning its effect. If people are unaware of this, and do not expedient the burning, then that piece of wood will not burn. This is the same with sentient beings. Although they have the force of the Tathagata permeation in them, which is regarded as cause, if they do not meet Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who have this higher wisdom regarding enlightenment, which acts as effect, the sentient beings would not on their own liberate themselves from defilement to enter nirvana.
On the other hand, there may be force of spiritual influence from outside, but if sentient beings were not the expression of the Tathagata and therefore had no Tathagata permeation force, then they may not have the desire to reject the suffering of birth and rebirth, and aspire to nirvana. Because both cause and effect are present, i.e. there is the natural permeation force of the Tathagata, and there is compassionate protection and care from Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, there arises the intention to reject suffering, believe in nirvana and cultivate good karma. When good karma is ripe, the sentient beings, deserving the blissful teaching of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, can advance towards the nirvana path.
Why do people have different rates of spiritual development, when the Supreme Reality is uniform and undifferentiated, or in Western terms, when God is fair and impartial to all? Internally, this is because different people have different amount and nature of ignorance in them. Externally, they experience a great variety of spiritual influences.
These internal and external factors in the process of enlightenment are known, for want of better terms in English, as cause and effect. Both are necessary for people to work towards enlightenment. If they did not have the Buddha-nature in them (if they did not have the divine spark in the first place), they would not attain spiritual realization no matter how hard they might try. Even if they have the Buddha-nature, if they do not cultivate, they will not be able to actualize their divine potential. Hence, as we all have the divine spark in us, what we need to do is to cultivate according to our chosen religion.
The kind of permeation discussed here is the permeation of the Tathagata form, i.e. the benign effects of the Supreme Reality itself enable man to work towards enlightenment. This influence can be internal or external. Besides this form permeation, there is also the application permeation of the Tathagata, i.e. wholesome phenomenal manifestations of the Supreme Reality influence man to strive for cosmic realization. This permeation of the Tathagata application is explained in the next chapter.