CHAPTER 26: INSIGHT AND METAPHYSICS
The whole business of Buddhism, once we have laid aside its cultural and religious connotations, is the quest for this ultimate reality -- in ways probably more profound and exciting than what is now done in physics, psychology, cosmology and other disciplines.
3.97 Three Kinds of Mind Original Text in Chinese
Then, the cultivation through insight of bodhisattvas, there are three kinds of heart characteristics. What three? One, true heart, no differentiation. Two, expedient heart, spontaneously practised for the benefit of sentient beings. Three, heart of karmic consciousness, subtly arising and ceasing.
Interpretation Then, in the cultivation through insight as practised by bodhisattvas, there are three types of mind. What are the three kinds? One, there is the true mind, which is undifferentiated. Two, there is the mind of expedient means, which is spontaneously practised for the benefit of all sentient beings. Three, there is the mind of karmic consciousness, which involves the subtle arising and cessation of phenomena.
Commentary The three kinds of mind represent three levels of insight cultivation and attainment, and they correspond to the mind of the Buddha, the mind of the Bodhisattva, and the mind of ordinary people. The highest level is the true mind, or the mind of the Buddha, which may be attained in an instant when Cosmic Reality is actualized, as in Chan or Zen Buddhism. Phenomenally the true mind refers to the mind of the Enlightened being; transcendentally it refers to the Universal Mind, or the mind of the Spiritual Body (Dharmakaya) of Supreme Reality. The intermediate level is the mind of expedient means, or the mind of the Bodhisattva, which is manifested in various ways to help sentient beings. An excellent way to cultivate the Bodhisattva's mind is to practise the six paramitas. This mind of expedient means is the mind of the Bodhisattva's transformational body (nirmanakaya). The lowest level is the karmic mind, or the mind of sentient beings, and is manifested as the individual minds of the aspirants in their spiritual development. An excellent way to cultivate the karmic mind is to practise meditation, resulting in a deeper understanding of and an insight into karma, leading eventually to its elimination. This karmic mind is the mind of the aspirant's physical body (rupakaya).
3.98 Wisdom of All Seeds Original Text in Chinese
Again, it is the bodhisattva's completion of merits, and he attains the highest realm of form, and manifests the highest and biggest body. In accordance with one thought in correspondence with wisdom, end of ignorance, named the wisdom of all seeds. Naturally this results in miraculous effects, able to manifest in ten directions to benefit sentient beings.
Question: Because of infinite emptiness, thus infinite worlds. Because of infinite worlds, thus infinite sentient beings. Because of infinite sentient beings, differences of heart and action are also infinite. Similarly the realms, cannot be analyzed and understood, difficult to know, difficult to explain. If ignorance is terminated, no heart to think. Then how to say the wisdom of all seeds?
Answer: All realms are originally one heart, difficult to be comprehended. Because sentient beings see realms in illusion, thus heart is differentiated. When thoughts arise form the deluded heart, do not understand spiritual nature, hence cannot determine.
All Buddhas and Tathagata are difficult to be seen or conceived, nowhere they are not pervaded. Because of real, solid heart, able to see nature of all phenomena, own body reflects all defiled phenomena, possessing great application of wisdom and limitless expedient means, according to the response of sentient beings, able to be explained, able to enlighten various kinds of spiritual meanings, hence get the name of wisdom of all seeds.
Interpretation After completing the meritorious deeds in his spiritual cultivation, the bodhisattva attains the highest of the realms of form, namely the Akanishta Heaven (`Akanittha' in Pali), where he manifests the highest and biggest bodily form, and in an instant of thought in correspondence with cosmic wisdom, he terminates all his ignorance, and acquires what is called the wisdom of all seeds. Naturally this attainment results in him having incredible miraculous effects, being able to manifest himself in all realms to help sentient beings. Now let us examine the following question. Because of infinite emptiness, there are infinite worlds. Because of infinite worlds, there are infinite sentient beings. Because of infinite sentient beings, there are great varieties of minds and activities, which consequently result in great varieties of realms of existence. Because of the great varieties, these different realms cannot be easily analysed and understood, and it is difficult to know or explain them. If ignorance is terminated, there is no mind to think. Then, how is it possible to say the Enlightened Bodhisattva has the wisdom of all seeds? Here is the answer. All phenomenal realms are originally manifested from the one and only Universal Mind. Because of their illusion, sentient beings perceive cosmic reality as phenomenal realms. Thus the undifferentiated Universal Mind is perceived as differentiated beings, objects, processes, ideas and countless other things, not only by humans in the human realm, but also by all other sentient beings in all the other countless realms of existence. When thoughts arise from the deluded minds of ordinary people, they do not understand the essential nature of the Supreme Reality. Hence, they cannot determine for themselves that the Supreme Reality is the one and only Universal Mind. Although it is difficult to see or conceive of all the Buddhas of previous aeons, as well as the Tathagata or the Supreme Reality, there is nowhere they do not penetrate into. Because his mind is true and real, i.e. Enlightened, the Bodhisattva is able to see into the ultimate nature of all phenomena; and because of his Enlightenment, all defiled phenomena are also reflected in his own phenomenal body, as he has transcended the illusory difference between subject and object. The Enlightened Bodhisattva possesses great wisdom which he can apply widely, and possesses limitless expedient means with which he can explain to sentient beings according to their needs, and Enlighten them on various kinds of spiritual significance. Hence, it is called the wisdom of all seeds (from which all sorts of questions and difficulties may arise).
Commentary Buddhism, especially Theravada Buddhism, is sometimes regarded by misinformed people as a philosophy of life, and not a religion, because they erroneously believe that Buddhism is only concerned with moral living, without any metaphysical dimension, a hierarchy of deities nor a personal God. They also point out that the Buddha is not a prophet nor a God, but a great teacher. This mis-conception, however, is not so often directed at Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, because here a hierarchy of Bodhisattvas, whom many people correspond with the Western concept of gods, is popularly known. Actually Buddhism probably has the most extensive and profound metaphysical lore in the world. The breadth and depth of its knowledge, measured against the latest discoveries (rediscoveries?) of science, is simply astounding. While some religions talk about three or four metaphysical levels -- hell, world and heaven -- Buddhism has more than thirty levels, each with sub-levels and sub-sub-levels. For example, the lowest level, known as Niraya or the Realm of Hell, comprises sixteen hells, each with four hellish divisions, each again with four gates opening to four smaller hells. But the number of heavens far, far exceed the number of hells. While there is only one hellish realm, there are twenty six heavenly realms (from level 6 to level 31 in the list below), each with its own different heavens. For example, at the Catumaharajika heavenly realm (level 6), there are four heavens; and at the Tavatimsa heavenly realm, there are thirty three heavens! The following list shows the thirty one realms of existence expounded in Theravada Buddhism. The names are in Pali. Levels 1 to 11, the lowest groups, are the realms of desires (Kama Loka), levels 12 to 27 are the realms of form (Rupa Loka), and levels 28 to 31 are the realms of non-form (Arupa Loka). Hence, devas or gods who exist in any of the heavenly realms from level 6 to 11 still have desires; like the Greek and Roman gods, they may fight or make love to one another. The Brahma gods who exist at the heavenly realms from level 12 to level 27 are free from desires, but they still retain their form. Enlightened beings like arahats, sravakas, pratyeka-buddhas, bodhisattvas and celestial buddhas, at the four highest levels have discarded both desires and form.
The Thirty One Realms of Existence 31. Nevasannanasanna Yatana -- Sphere of Neither Perception Nor Non-Perception.
30. Akincanna Yatana -- Sphere of No-Thingness.
29. Vinnananca Yatana -- Sphere of Infinite Consciousness.
28. Akasananca Yatana -- Sphere of Infinite Space.
27. Akanittha Brahma -- Heaven of Non-Thought.
26. Sudassi Brahma -- Heaven of Perfected Form.
25. Sudassa Brahma -- Heaven of Blissful Manifestation.
24. Atappa Brahma -- Heaven of Blissful Sight.
23. Aviha Brahma -- Heaven ofNon-Activity.
22. Asannasatta Brahma -- Heaven of No-Worry.
21. Vehapphala Brahma -- Heaven of Great Reward.
20. Subhakinha Brahma -- Heaven of Pervading Tranquility.
19. Appamana Brahma -- Heaven of Infinite Tranquility.
18. Parittasubha Brahma -- Heaven of Mino Tranquility.
17. Abhassara Brahma -- Heaven of Extreme Radiant Tranquility.
16. Appamanabha Brahma -- Heaven of Infinite Radiance.
15. Parittabba Brahma -- Heaven of Minor Radiance.
14. Maha Brahma -- Heaven of Great Brahmas.
13. Purohita Brahma -- Heaven of Ministrial Brahmas.
12. Parisajja Brahma -- Heaven of Popular Brahmas.
11. Paranimmita-Vasavatti Deva -- Heaven of Enjoying Spontaneity.
10. Nimmana-Rati Deva -- Heaven of Happiness.
9. Tusita Deva -- Heaven of Pleasures.
8. Yama Deva -- Heaven of Yama.
7. Tavatimsa Deva -- Realm of Thirty Three Heavens.
6. Catumaharajika Deva -- Realm of Four Heavenly Kings.
5. Manussa Loka -- Human Realm.
4. Tiracchana Yoni -- Realm of Creatures.
3. Peta Loka -- Realm of Hungry Ghosts.
2. Asura Nikaya -- Realm of Demons.
1. Niraya -- Realm of Hells. All these thirty one realms are found in our own world, which is literally a speck of dust in the Buddhist cosmology. Countless worlds like ours, numbering "like the sands of Ganges", each with their numerous realms of existence like the thirty one realms mentioned above, form our galaxy. Our galaxy, known by the poetic name of "Twenty Tiers of Temporal and Spatial Dimensions Like a Lotus Blossom", where our world is located at the thirteenth tier, is only one of the countless galaxies in our universe. Like what our modern astro-physicists have found, Buddhist masters have taught since long ago, that ours is only one of countless universes! Compared to the eight-sphere cosmological model of Ptolemy with the earth as the centre, or similar models of many religions, Buddhist cosmological knowledge must strike many people as astonishingly rich and accurate. If you think that Buddhist metaphysicians are extremely imaginative to have thought of such an elaborate system of supernatural realms, or extremely lucky that their cosmological knowledge agrees with that of modern astronomy, you are mistaken. Buddhist teaching, as mentioned in the previous chapter, is never derived from speculation; it is always obtained from insight and experience. Such information is taught in Buddhist scriptures because many masters have personally experienced its validity. It should be remembered that many amazing "truths" such as time and space are merely human constructs, sub-atomic particles are not ultimately real, and the universe is not created by any creator, have been taught by Buddhist masters centuries before Einstein's theory of relativity, Bohr's principle of complementarity, and Hubble's big bang singularity. Before science has re-established these "facts", many people thought the Buddhist masters were talking non-sense. There are still many "absurd" pronoucements in Buddhist philosophy; modern scientists would get much inspiration for their new theories and research programmes if they look deeper into this ancient wisdom. It is incorrect to say that in Buddhism there is no hierarchy of gods or a personal God. The Buddhist hierarchy of gods, especially in Mahayana and Vajrayana, is indeed elaborate. Many Mahayanists and Vajrayanists worship Bodhisattva Kuan Yin and Bodhisattva Tara respectively as their personal God. In fact, in Buddhist philosophy a Bodhisattva is at a much higher hierarchy than gods, who often have to follow the Bodhisattva's bidding. The Buddhist concept of "God" (instead of "a God") is quite different from the conventional Western concept of a Divine Being who is personal and almighty, and who is differentiated from his worshippers. What Westerners would call God is called by Buddhists the Tathagata or the Eternal Buddha. However, the Tathagata is impersonal, and being omniscient, it is not differentiated nor separated from all its worshippers. The Tathagata or the Eternal Buddha, therefore, is different from the celestial Buddhas, who are actually personifications of the Tathagata. Celestial Buddhas like all other divine beings, are phenomenal in nature; the Tathagata is transcendental. The Tathagata is similar to what inspired saints meant by God in such ecstatic exclamations as "I am in God and God is in me", and "There is only God, and nothing else exists besides God".
3.99 Manifestation of the Buddha Original Text in Chinese
Another question: If all Buddhas have spontaneous effects, able to manifest everything and everywhere to benefit sentient beings, if see their bodies, if see changes of gods, if hear Buddhas speak, not unable to get benefits. Why not frequently seen in the world?
Answer: All Buddhas and Tathagata are undifferentiated in their Spiritual Body, pervade everywhere, never make any ideas, hence say to be spontaneous. But appear according to the hearts of sentient beings. The hearts of sentient beings are like mirrors. If mirrors are dusty, forms are not reflected. Similarly, if the hearts of sentient beings are defiled, the Spiritual Body is not manifested.
Interpretation Here is another question. If all the celestial Buddhas have the power of performing miraculous effects spontaneously, and are able to manifest everything and everywhere for the benefit of sentient beings; and if seeing their personification into physical bodies, witnessing miracles performed by them, and hearing their preaching, are all beneficial, why is it that these manifestations are not frequently seen in the world? The answer is as follows. All celestial Buddhas and the Tathagata are undifferentiated in the form of the Supreme Reality, which pervades everywhere and are never determined by the thoughts of sentient beings. Hence, they are said to be spontaneous. But they appear to sentient beings according to the condition of the sentient beings' minds. The minds of sentient beings are like mirrors. If the mirrors are covered with dust, forms are not clearly reflected in the mirror. Similarly, if the minds of sentient beings are defiled, the Supreme Reality will not be manifested in its transcendental dimension.
Commentary The term "Buddhas" here refers to all the Buddhas who have appeared in all phenomenal realms (in addition to our human realm) in countless aeons in the past, present and future. When they appear to unenlightened sentient beings to help them, the Buddhas are manifested in their physical bodies (rupakaya). When they appear in the astral spheres (which are still in the phenomenal dimension, although not in our physical plane), and are seen by Enlightened beings, they are manifested in their reward bodies (sambhogakaya). In other words, when the Buddha appeared on earth as Siddharta Guatama Sakyamuni, ordinary people saw him in the physical body. If an advanced aspirant in his deep meditation meets the Buddha, or if a pious devotee with good karma after leaving this world meets the Buddha in a heavenly realm, both of them see the Buddha manifested in his reward body. If you feel uneasy finding descriptions like meeting the Buddha in a heavenly realm, take comfort that modern science is saying similar things. Prof. Paul Davies reports that "many physicists these days are inclining towards the so-called Everett many-universes interpretation of the quantum theory. ... According to Everett, every possible world is actually realized, with all the alternative worlds coexisting in parallel." And what do these universes or alternative worlds look like? Paul Davies later says, "The universe we perceive is necessarily selected by us, from the elementary requirement that life, and hence consciousness, can only develop under the appropriate physical conditions." The whole business of Buddhism, once we have laid aside its cultural and religious connotations, is the quest for this ultimate reality -- in ways probably more profound and exciting than what is now done in physics, psychology, cosmology and other disciplines. For centuries Buddhism has expostulated that the ultimate transcendental reality is manifested as countless different worlds in numerous planes, according to the perception of their inhabitants. Buddhism is concerned not just to understand this reality, but more importantly to experience it directly, not as a detached observer but as an integral, organic whole of the cosmic reality itself. Buddhists call the Cosmic Reality, which in its phenomenal aspect includes everything there is, physically and non-physically, the Tathagata, Zhen Ru or the Eternal Buddha. Nevertheless, Buddhists are aware that the Tathagata, as mentioned in Asvaghosha's passage above, is manifested differently to different people (and non-human beings) according to their minds. To physicists, the ultimate reality may be called unified energy fields; to psychologists, the universal consciousness; to those of other religious or cultural labels, God, Allah, Brahman, Tao and other names. What is more significant is not just an intellectual understanding of the Supreme Reality, but a direct experience of it. So far Asvaghosha has given us a detailed and fascinating explanation of the Supreme Reality, and the three main approaches of spiritual cultivation. In subsequent chapters, he describes some methods to accomplish this most noble of all endeavour.