CHAPTER 25: UNDERSTANDING AND INSIGHT, NOT JUST FAITH
The aspirant accepts the religion not just because he strongly believes in it or he appreciates its pro¬found philosophy, but because he directly experi¬ences some of its spiritual teaching.
3.95 Cultivation through Understanding Original Text in Chinese
Those who have awakened the aspiration for spiritual cultivation through understanding, should know the turning of victory. Like bodhisattvas since the initial awakening, as in the first termination of carvings of immeasurable kalpas, as in the spiritual body of Zhen Ru, deep understanding reveals in front, so cultivate to be free from characteristics. Knowing that the body of spiritual nature has no covetousness, in conformity to it, cultivate the paramita of charity. Knowing that the spiritual nature has no defilement, free from carving of the five senses, in conformity to it, cultivate the paramita of discipline.
Knowing the spiritual nature has no suffering, being free from anger and anxiety, in conformity to it, cultivate the paramita of tolerance. Knowing the spiritual nature has no characteristics of body and heart, being free from indolence, in conformity to it, cultivate the paramita of effort. Knowing that spiritual nature is forever quiescent, no disorder in its body, in conformity to it, cultivate the paramita of meditation. Knowing the body of spiritual nature is bright, free from ignorance, in conformity to it, cultivate the paramita of wisdom.
Interpretation It should be known that awakening the aspiration for spiritual cultivation through understanding, is more victorious than, or superior to, the cultivation through faith. This is because this kind of cultivation is practised by bodhisattvas since the time of their initial awakening till the first termination of their carvings which has been piled up for immeasurable kalpas. As they have a profound understanding of the Supreme Reality, they cultivate to be free from phenomenal characteristics. Knowing that the essential nature of the Supreme Reality is free from covetousness, in conformity to this principle, they cultivate the paramita of charity. Knowing that the essential nature of the Supreme Reality has no defilement, and is free from the carving of the five senses, in conformity to this principle, they cultivate the paramita of discipline. Knowing the essential nature of the Supreme Reality has no suffering, and is being free from anger and anxiety, in conformity to this principle, they cultivate the paramita of tolerance. Knowing the essential nature of the Supreme Reality has no characteristics of matter and mind, and is being free from indolence, in conformity to this principle, they cultivate the paramita of effort. Knowing that the essential nature of the Supreme Reality is forever quiescent, with no disorder in the ultimate, in conformity to this principle, they cultivate the paramita of meditation. Knowing the essential nature of the Supreme Reality is all-knowing, and is free from ignorance, in conformity to this principle, they cultivate the paramita of wisdom.
Commentary While Theravada Buddhism emphasizes the Noble Eightfold Path in the approach to spiritual cultivation, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism emphasize the six paramitas or perfections. The Noble Eightfold Path refers to having right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, and right mindfulness. The six paramitas or perfections are those of charity, discipline, tolerance, effort, meditation and wisdom. The practice of the six paramitas, which forms the fundamental spiritual path of bodhisattvas, is the result of having deep understanding of the Buddhist higher wisdom regarding the Supreme Reality. In other words, Mahayanist devotees perfect their practice of charity, discipline, tolerance, effort, meditation and wisdom not because of blind faith in some religious authority, but because they understand the intimate relationship between Cosmic Reality and these paramitas, and they understand that these perfections will help them and others to attain Enlightenment. How do these six paramitas lead to Enlightenment? Cosmic Reality is free from covetousness. Hence, any person who has greed, selfishness and other similar negative emotions is incongruous with Cosmic Reality, and therefore will be unable to actualize this reality. Practising charity is an excellent way to overcome these negative emotions. The Supreme Reality is free from defilement brought about by the senses. Hence, a defiled person given to sensual gratification is in contradiction with the Supreme Reality. Practising moral discipline, like the five precepts of abstinence from killing, robbing, adultery, telling lies and malice, will eradicate these sensual defilement. It is significant to note that if a person commits immoral deeds, he will be unable to attain Cosmic Reality until he has purified himself, not because this is a punishment from some divine forces, but because being defiled he is simply incongruous with purity, which is an essential nature of Cosmic Reality. There is no suffering in the Supreme Reality. Hence, if a person is angry, anxious or suffers from some negative emotions, he contradicts the essential nature of the Supreme Reality. Practising the perfection of tolerance is an excellent way to overcome harbouring these negative emotions. The transcendental aspect of the Supreme Reality is undifferentiated, without any characteristics of mind or matter. Understanding this principle, the aspirant perfects his determined effort to free himself from the attachment to self and to phenomenal. He understands that any attachment will distance himself from transcendental Cosmic Reality. Cosmic Reality in its absolute aspect is forever quiescent. Hence, the aspirant perfects his meditation so as to attain a state of no mind, for he understands that any arising thoughts will transport him to the phenomenal dimension. The Supreme Reality is all-knowing. The aspirant must perfect his cultivation of wisdom and free himself from ignorance, or else it will generate a series of transformation into the phenomenal realm. It is sometimes said that the Eightfold Path, with inclination towards cultivation through faith, is meant for ordinary people aiming to become arahats or bodhisattvas, whereas the six paramitas, with inclination towards cultivation through understanding, are meant for bodhisattvas aiming to become Suddhas. This statement is not always true. Although those who practise the Eightfold Path, including many Mahayanists, generally cultivate through faith, and those who practise the six paramitas generally have a deeper understanding of the Supreme Reality, it is also true that many who follow only the Eightfold Path have attained nirvana or Buddhahood, whereas many who follow the six paramitas have not achieved this supreme aim. The crucial point is not whether one chooses the Eightfold Path or the six paramitas, but whether one cultivates through faith alone, or also with understanding. The eight precepts of the Eightfold Path can be divided into three groups, namely right speech, action and livelihood which constitute moral purity; right view and intention which constitute wisdom; and right effort, concentration and mindfulness which constitute meditation towards Enlightenment. An aspirant who follows the Eightfold Path and who understands the higher wisdom of Buddhism, will have the right view regarding the nature of nirvana, not as an extinction of emotions, but as a direct experience of Cosmic Reality, and the right intention of not just becoming an arahat (who is at a comparatively low level of Enlightenment), but becoming a Buddha. With this understanding, and after acquiring moral purity, by persisting on right effort, concentration and meditation, he will certainly achieve Enlightenment. On the other hand, a Buddhist devotee may practice the six paramitas, but if he does not understand the cosmic principles behind them, and practise them merely because they are mentioned in the scriptures, his spiritual progress will not be fast. His practice of the paramitas is then based on faith, and not on understanding. The six paramitas, or perfections, may be divided into two categories. The first three paramitas of charity, discipline and tolerance are more related to the perfection of moral purity, while the last three paramitas of effort, meditation and wisdom are more related to direct experience of Cosmic Reality. Those who emphasize on the first three and neglect the latter three, will accumulate good karma and be blessed with rebirth to a higher station in the human realm or to the heavenly realms. Those who emphasize the latter three paramitas but neglect the first three, may be very knowledgeable in cosmic wisdom and probably acquire psychic or supernatural powers, but they still cannot attain Cosmic Reality because of their innate impurity. Thus, the practice of the six paramitas is sometimes described as the "cultivation of both blessings and wisdom" or "fu hui shuang xiu" in Chinese. It should be noted that the division into the "blessing group" and the "wisdom group" of the six paramitas, as well as the division of the eight precepts in the Eight-fold Path into three groups of moral purity, wisdom and meditation, are for convenience. A devotee, whether he practises the Eight-fold Path or the six paramitas, should cultivate all the precepts or perfections simultaneously.
3.96 Cultivation through Insight Original Text in Chinese
Those who attain direct experience through the heart, from the stage of pure heart to the final stage of the bodhisattva's development. Experience what kind of realm? Called Zhen Ru. Turn to knowledge, described as realm. Actually so experienced, no realm. The wisdom of Zhen Ru is called the Spiritual Body. With one thought, bodhisattvas can reach ten directions of limitless realms of time and space, honour the Buddhas, request to turn the wheel of dharma. Thus enlighten and benefit all sentient beings, without dependent on language and words.
Such as to demonstrate in super speed how to attain Enlightenment, for the sake of those sentient beings who are doubtful and weak. Or illustrate the limitless kalpas of suffering to attain the Tao of Buddhahood, for the sake of over¬coming the indolence of sentient beings. Capable of using countless expedient means, incredible and inexplicable. Actually the seeds, roots and natures of bodhisattvas, ways of awakening, all realizations, none surpasses the said stages. All bodhisattvas have passed through three kalpas of suffering, but according to the differences of sentient beings due to various kinds of spatial and temporal realms with different sights and sounds and with different roots and nature, thus the practice has differences.
Interpretation What kind of realm do those bodhisattvas from their first stage of pure heart to the final stage of perfect Enlightenment, realize when they attain direct experience of Cosmic Reality? Their experience is called Zhen Ru, Tathagata or the Supreme Reality. Although the Supreme Reality is beyond description and explanation, i.e. those who have not experienced the Supreme Reality directly will not understand whatever is described or explained about it, one has to turn to finite knowledge and describe it as a realm. Actually those who have experienced the Supreme Reality know that it is not a realm at all. It is an insight into Cosmic Reality, and is known as the Spiritual Body of the Buddha. While bodhisattvas have attained Cosmic Reality which is undifferentiated, they can, on the other hand, in a single thought reach all directions of limitless realms of time and space, and request the Buddhas to preach their teachings without the use of language and words to enlighten and benefit sentient beings. For the sake of those sentient beings who are doubtful of spiritual cultivation and weak in their spiritual awareness, the bodhisattvas can demonstrate in super speed how to attain Enlightenment. Or, for sentient beings who are indolent, the bodhisattvas can illustrate the long suffering extending numerous aeons endured by aspirants in their way towards Buddhahood. The bodhisattvas are capable of using countless expedient means, which are incredible and inexplicable. However, although it appears that some bodhisattvas attain Enlightenment faster than others, the seeds, roots and natures of all bodhisattvas, as well as their spiritual awakening and eventual realization are similar, without any bodhisattvas surpassing others. All bodhisattvas pass through similar stages of spiritual development over many aeons, but because of the different worlds of sentient beings due to their differences in space and time, in visual and audio experiences, in their awareness and nature, bodhisattvas use different expedient means to help sentient beings in their spiritual practice.
Commentary The kind of spiritual cultivation mentioned here is cultivation through insight, which is the highest of the three categories of cultivation. Insight is obtained as the result of direct experience. In other words, the aspirant accepts the religion not just because he strongly believes in it or he appreciates its profound philosophy, but because he directly experiences some of its spiritual teaching. For example, he practises charity and discipline, not merely because the scriptures say so, nor even because he intellectually understands that these two paramitas can help him in his spiritual progress, but because he discovers that through his charity and discipline, he intuitively experiences inner peace and spiritual satisfaction, which directly help him to enter deeper levels of consciousness. He also finds out that at times when he is uncharitable or indisciplined, he fails to reach such deep levels. Some people may argue that beginners, even if they are charitable and disciplined, may not enter deep levels of meditation for spiritual growth. They will, then, be unable to verify how true is the teaching that practising charity and discipline will lead to spiritual development. Thus, they depend on faith, rather than insight, for their cultivation. Similarly, few Buddhists have experienced nirvana, and the explanation on nirvana by those who claim to have experienced it, may not necessarily be right or accurate, yet Buddhism postulates that by following certain ways, like the Eightfold Path and the six paramitas, aspirants can eventually attain nirvana. Is this not dependent on blind faith, instead of understanding or insight? Although it is true that many followers, Buddhist or otherwise, base their religious belief totally on faith, the foundation of the Buddhist faith is grounded on deep understanding and direct experience. The Buddhist teaching is never derived from dogmas nor speculation, but from the wisdom and direct experience of its teachers, and the teaching is practical and always verifiable. For example, the force of authority of such basic Buddhist doctrines like the illusory nature of the phenomenal world, and the attainment of enlightenment through concerted practice in meditation, is derived not from claims of divine revelation, but from the attested fact that the aspirant can verify these truths himself. Of course, a beginner will initially have little or no chance of testing the validity of these great truths -- such as practising charity and discipline contributes towards spiritual growth, or cultivating the six paramitas leads to nirvana -- just as a beginning science student will have little or no chance of testing whether atoms are really made up of neutrons, protons and electrons. But if the aspirant, spiritual or scientific, persists on his quest, he will eventually and certainly be able to verify the truths himself. And just as a person who has no inclination towards science and therefore makes no attempt to study it, may never have seen sub-atomic particles at all in his countless life times, a person with no spiritual awareness and therefore makes no concerted effort to cultivate spiritually, may never have any inkling of cosmic reality despite his countless reincarnations. But, in Buddhism, every follower is able to verify his belief according to his level of development. Indeed, Buddhist masters, including the Buddha himself, have always advised their followers not to accept the teaching by basing on authority alone, but to evaluate the teaching according to their understanding and experience. An aspirant in Buddhism will be able to verify many basic doctrines even if he happens to start from a relatively low developmental level. Most people, for example, can readily verify for themselves three of the Four Noble Truths. With some basic understanding of Buddhist philosophy and some effort in simple meditation, most people, no matter how comfortable or happy their normal lives may be, can realize and actually experience that there is suffering in living, that the cause of suffering is attachment, and that suffering can be removed if attachment is removed. For example, a proud owner of a new car will feel hurt if someone, even accidentally, scratches his car. If he reflects, he can realize that his hurt is due to his attachment to his car. If he can remove this attachment, he can eliminate his suffering. The fourth noble truth, i.e. an effective way to eliminate attachment and consequently suffering is to practise the Eightfold Path or other expedient means like the six paramitas, may take a long time to accomplish if the aim is cosmic realization, though for prosaic needs like overcoming suffering due to a car scratch or to some interpersonal relationship, it can be accomplished in a relatively short time. The accomplishment, spiritual as well as prosaic, can be made faster if the practice is based on understanding or insight, instead of on faith. The next chapter will elaborate on spiritual cultivation through insight, and also describe some amazing Buddhist wisdom on the supernatural and the cosmos.