All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have attained their perfect Enlightenment through the way explained in this treatise. All sentient beings too can similarly attain Enlightenment here and now.

Asvaghosha's Great Work

Asvaghosha's "Awakening of Faith in Mahayana" is undoubtedly one of the greatest works in the world. Not only it forms the basis of Mahayana Buddhism, it also provides astonishing knowledge on cosmology, physics and psychology that modern sciences are beginning to rediscover! Most importantly, it explains the philosophy and practice for aspirants of any religion or lack of it to attain the highest spiritual fulfilment.

The treatise is divided into five parts, namely the reasons for its writing, the gist of the treatise, the philosophy of cosmic reality, the methods for its attainment, and the benefits so obtained. This great teaching is summarized in this chapter.

The chief reason for writing this treatise is to help sentient beings overcome suffering and attain eternal bliss. Other reasons include explaining the Tathagata, or the Supreme Reality, strengthening the faith of both backward and advanced devotees, providing expedient means for spiritual cultivation, explaining tranquility and insight meditation, helping followers of the Pure Land School to reach the Western Paradise, and enumerating the benefits of spiritual development.

Although the teaching is already found in Buddhist scriptures, it is still presented here in the treatise because of variances in students' abilities, teachers' instruction, and learning situations. This teaching is the vehicle used by all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in their attainment of Enlightenment.

The Universal Mind and Enlightenment

The ultimate reality, known as the Universal Mind, can be manifested in the phenomenal and the transcendental aspects, and expressed in three dimensions of universal form, characteristics and uses. The transcendental aspect is undifferentiated and absolute, beyond time and space; the phenomenal aspect is an illusion with myriad separate entities and countless differentiated characteristics. Spiritual realization is overcoming this illusion, and directly experiencing Cosmic Reality as the undifferentiated, absolute truth.

Actually the ultimate reality cannot be accurately described and conceptualized, because all words being based on illusion are at best an imitation of reality. Nevertheless, despite their imperfection, words are still used to explain the teaching so that sentient beings can eventually attain direct experience of the Supreme Reality.

The Supreme Reality may be described as the Void or the Non-void! It is void to Enlightened beings, but non-void to ordinary people whose minds are shrouded by defilement. It is called the Void because since the timeless beginning there has never been any differentiation of phenomena. But sentient beings in their delusion experience the Void as the phenomenal world in terms of countless phenomena existing as separate, individual entities, and is therefore called the Non-void.

Why are sentient beings deluded? This is because in the Universal Mind there are two attributes, namely the birthless-deathless attribute which is experienced in Enlightenment, and the life-death attribute which is the ordinary non-Enlightened existence.

Enlightenment can be classified in many ways. The primeval cosmic reality in its undifferentiated, transcendental state is called original Enlightenment. Because of ignorance, sentient beings perceive Cosmic Reality as the phenomenal world in a state of non-Enlightenment. When they have eliminated ignorance and return to the primeval state, it is called actualized Enlightenment.

If the adept attains Cosmic Reality completely and becomes a Buddha, it is called perfect Enlightenment; if not, it is non-perfect Enlightenment, which is further classified into Enlightenment of the initiated (when the adept realizes the futility of evil deeds), Enlightenment of resemblance (when he succeeds in eliminating attachment to the phenomenal realm), and Enlightenment of convergence (when he experiences the transcendental aspect of the Supreme Reality).

The path towards perfect Enlightenment or Buddhahood is to eliminate all thoughts. Thoughts generate differentiation and thus prevent sentient beings from experiencing transcendental Cosmic Reality. The nature of thought in the mind can be described as arising, abiding, changing and stopping. Thoughts are related to ignorance, which means the lack of cosmic wisdom concerning transcendental reality.

The relationship of mind, thought and ignorance is often compared to that of water, waves and wind. Originally the mind is pure and tranquil. But when there is ignorance, thoughts move in the mind, just like when there is wind, the waves move in water. If ignorance ceases, thoughts cease, and the illusion of phenomena and self also ceases, thus achieving Enlightenment.

There are four characteristics of Enlightenment, figuratively described as:
  1. Empty Mirror of Reality,
  2. Manifested Mirror of Reality,
  3. Non-Phenomenal Mirror,
  4. External Developmental Mirror.
The Empty Mirror of Reality is free from all phenomenal characteristics, and cannot be seen by non-Enlightened persons. The Manifested Mirror of Reality, a contrast to the Empty Mirror, is a mental reflection of the phenomenal world. The Non-Phenomenal Mirror is free from emotional and intellectual hindrance. The External Developmental Mirror is manifested according to the thoughts of the Enlightened person.

Characteristics of Non-Enlightenment

Non-Enlightenment means not knowing the Cosmic Reality behind the illusory world of phenomena. There are three characteristics of non-Enlightenment:
  1. karma, because of thoughts arising in the mind,
  2. perceiving ability, because of karma,
  3. illusory phenomenal realm, because of perceiving ability.
The phenomenal realm is characterized by six factors: intellect, continuity, attachment, verbalization, karma and suffering.

With intellect, the mind starts to discriminate, resulting in likes and dislikes. Thoughts continue to arise from the mind, and this brings about awareness of joy and sorrow. As we continuously think of the realm of objects, we become attached to its joy and sorrow. Because of our attachment to the phenomenal world, we give distorted names to objects and their attributes. Due to this verbalization and the continued attachment to objects and attributes, we create further karmic effects. As a result, there is suffering because the karmic effects perpetuate the cycle of birth and rebirth.

Notwithstanding this, Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment are both the same and different! They are the same because they all come from the Tathagata, or Supreme Reality. Hence, the path to Enlightenment is not to create, but to actualize, because Enlightenment is originally present. On the other hand, Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment are different because although they share the same ultimate source, the former is pure while the latter is defiled, and in a state of defilement transcendental reality is perceived as differentiated phenomenal worlds.

The state of non-Enlightenment with the result that sentient beings perceive Cosmic Reality as differentiated phenomena, is a function of their consciousness. Consciousness may be classified into the following five types:
  1. karma consciousness, which is due to the force of ignorance;
  2. transformation consciousness, which is due to the activated mind experiencing the realm of phenomena;
  3. perception consciousness, which is the ability to perceive every thing in the phenomenal world;
  4. knowledge consciousness, which is used for differentiating various phenomena;
  5. memory consciousness, which is used for remembering characteristics of phenomena that are continually arising, for holding countless karmic effects, and for activating and maturing these karmic effects.
All realms of existence are created by consciousness. Apart from the mind, in which consciousness operates, the phenomenal world we experience through the defilement of our six senses does not exist. All things and processes are actually an integrated organic unity, but we see them as separate and differentiated because the mind interprets them so. Hence all phenomena are like images in a mirror, having no real form.

We discriminate phenomena because of the continuity of arising thoughts. As phenomena arise, they are differentiated according to our six senses into six defilements. This ability is known as intellect consciousness. As a person continues to perceive and to desire, his intellect consciousness is strengthened, thus intensifying his attachment to himself as an individual person and to phenomena as real occurrences. These two categories of attachment -- attachment to self and attachment to phenomena -- are fundamental causes of spiritual ignorance.

Originally ignorance is present in the serenity of primordial nature. Affected by ignorance, thoughts arise, making the mind defiled. There are six kinds of defiled mind resulting from:
  1. mutual-reaction with attachment;
  2. mutual-reaction with continuity;
  3. mutual-reaction with discriminating consciousness;
  4. disharmonious-reaction with the realm of objects;
  5. disharmonious-reaction with perception;
  6. disharmonious-reaction with karmic effect.
In mutual-reaction the interaction between the mind and the phenomenal world is direct; whereas in disharmonious-reaction it is inverse.

What is defilement and ignorance? Defilement is mental disturbance, marring our awareness that cosmic reality is undifferentiated and transcendental, thus hindering our spiritual realization. Ignorance is hinderance to wisdom, preventing our understanding of the spontaneous operation of karma in the phenomenal world.

Actually there is only one reality, but because of mental defilement, there arises duality -- the subject and the object, or the knower and the known. The knower sees the known as the illusory phenomenal world, which is differentiated into countless entities. In cosmic reality there is no arising of differentiated characteristics, no subject and object, no knower and the known.

Because of defilement and ignorance, samsara or the characteristics of existence in the phenomenal world results. These characteristics of the phenomenal world can be divided into two main groups, namely gross mutual-reaction with the mind, and fine disharmonious-reaction with the mind. The fine and gross groups can be further divided into fine and gross again, making four types.

Permeation of Transcendental and Phenomenal

Why do people not see Cosmic Reality as the undifferentiated absolute, but as the differentiated phenomenal world? There is constant and mutual influence between the ultimate reality and the phenomenal world, known in Buddhist terminology as permeation of the pure and the defiled. There are four stages of permeation, and they are known as:
  1. the Tathagata, which means Thusness or the Supreme Reality;
  2. ignorance, which is the cause of all differentiation;
  3. the defiled mind, known as karmic consciousness;
  4. the delude realm, known as the six defilements.
The Tathagata is initially undifferentiated, but after permeation by ignorance, there is differentiation. Ignorance arises because it is originally present in the Tathagata, or cosmic reality. Because of ignorance, thoughts arise in the defiled mind with the result that countless types of karmic effects are generated, and experienced by people through their six senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, feeling and thought as the six defilements. Once the wheel of karma operates, it perpetuates endless cycles of birth and rebirth, which bring mental and physical suffering to sentient beings.

Beside this downward permeation which causes ordinary people to perceive the pure cosmic reality as the defiled phenomenal world, there is also the upward permeation which purifies devotees so that they can achieve cosmic realization.

The eternal and omnipresent Tathagata permeates ignorance, enabling spiritually awaken people to reject the suffering of samsara, and aspires to the bliss of nirvana. Hence the aspirants acquire higher wisdom and strengthen their faith, knowing that the phenomenal world is an illusion of their defiled minds, and that their own nature is actually an integral expression of Cosmic Reality.

They start to cultivate to liberate themselves from the phenomenal realms, as they truly understand that there are no realms beyond thoughts. Finally, ignorance is eliminated and the force of karma ceases. As all characteristics of the individual mind are terminated, the aspirants merge into the Universal Mind, attaining nirvana.

How does the Tathagata permeates into the defiled world and influence people to work towards spiritual fulfilment? The influence of the Tathagata can be of many and various forms, such as through sights or thoughts, or in the persons of their parents, relatives, friends, or even enemies, or through occurrences of loving kindness and all other myriad actions and effects. The effects may be immediate or may take a long time.

The Tathagata can also be personified as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who have vowed to save all sentient beings irrespective of their religions, and who may manifest their deeds in various ways that sentient beings can see and hear.

The permeation may be pre-mutual-reaction, where the aspirants have not directly experienced cosmic realization, and hence they are mainly dependent on the force of their faith in their spiritual cultivation. The permeation may be post-mutual-reaction, where the adepts have directly interacted with Cosmic Reality, and hence they can use their spiritual force to cultivate spontaneously.

The Three Universals

The Universal Mind or the Supreme Reality, besides being manifested in the two aspects of the transcendental and the phenomenal, is expressed by the three universals of forms, characteristics and applications. In other words, Cosmic Reality can appear in the phenomenal dimension in limitless forms, limitless features and limited uses.

Spatially, everything there is, is included in Cosmic Reality. Temporally, it has no beginning and no end. It is infinite and eternal.

Cosmic Reality can satisfy all needs in the phenomenal world. It possesses great wisdom to overcome ignorance, purity to eliminate all defilement, permanence to overcome impermanence, joy to overcome suffering, spontaneous self to overcome uncertainty regarding souls, and consciousness to overcome all problems.

Cosmic Reality is regarded as the Spiritual Body (Dharmakaya) of the Eternal Buddha, manifested as celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvas with great compassion to eliminate the sufferings of all sentient beings. The Spiritual Body manifests in two ways to help sentient beings -- as the Transformational Body and the Reward Body of the Buddha.

Ordinary people perceive reality as differentiated into countless phenomena, and this differentiation is according to the transformational processes of their consciousness. Different beings, like humans, ghosts and gods, will see the same ultimate reality differently. Thus these illusory phenomenal worlds are called the Transformational Body (Nirmanakaya) of the Buddha. Because they do not understand that the appearances of these phenomenal worlds are actually the results of consciousness transformation, they erroneously think the appearances come from outside them as objective reality.

The Reward Body (Sambhogakaya) is what Bodhisattvas and other highly developed beings experience, but what ordinary people may not see because they lack the spiritual power. The Reward Body may be manifested in countless forms, the forms with countless characteristics, and the characteristics with countless benefits in all phenomenal realms of time and space. Nevertheless, despite their forms, characteristics and benefits, Bodhisattvas and other developed beings understand that these manifestations are expressions of the mind.

Perverse Views

To help people be liberated from their illusion so as to see reality as it is, great masters have taught various doctrines. But if these doctrines are not properly understood, they may give rise to false views. The following are some examples.

Hearing the sutras mention that Cosmic Reality is ultimately quiescent like empty space, ordinary people, not realizing that this doctrine is meant to negate the concept of the Eternal Buddha as a Being, may actually think that empty space is the nature of the Buddha. To rectify this, we should know that all forms in the phenomenal world originate from the Mind. But if we conceptualize the universe as having no phenomena, then it is not possible to conceptualize Cosmic Reality with characteristic of empty space, because the concept of empty space is possible only in relation to the concept of phenomena. Cosmic Reality pervades everywhere; it is not empty space.

Secondly, the sutra mentions that all dharmas, including those of Cosmic Reality and nirvana, are empty. Those who do not know that this statement is meant to help people overcome their attachment to phenomena, may actually believe that the nature of Cosmic Reality and nirvana is really empty. To rectify this mis-conception, we should understand that Cosmic Reality is actually endowed with limitless merits to bring benefits to humanity, and nirvana is the direct experience of this reality. The dharmas are empty; Comsic Reality itself is teeming with consciousness.

Thirdly, the sutra says that the Tathagata-garbha, or the Universal Storehouse, is provided with dharmas sufficient for use in all sorts of forms and characteristics in the phenomenal world. Some people may mistakenly think that the Tathagata, or the Supreme Reality, has plurality of mind and matter. To rectify the mis-conception, it should be pointed out that from the transcendental perspective the Tathagata-garbha is seen as undifferentiated mind; and from the phenomenal perspective the Tathagata-garbha is manifested as differentiated material entities. The Tathagata, therefore, is not a polarity of mind and matter; rather, mind and matter are two aspects of the same reality seen from two different perspectives.

Fourthly, the sutra says that all phenomena are possible because of the Tathagata-garbha, and all phenomena are dependent of the Supreme Reality. This can be mistaken as saying that all phenomena in samsara are found in the Supreme Reality. It should be noted that phenomena are conditioned, i.e. their existence in samsara is due to some prior conditions, but they are actually an illusion of the defiled mind. In transcendental reality, phenomena are non-existent.

Fifthly, it is said in the sutra that in the Tathagata-garbha is contained the origination of the phenomenal world, as well as the attainment of nirvana. This may be mistaken as saying that as nirvana has a beginning, it also has an end. It should be explained that the Tathagata-garbha has no beginning. The Tathagata or Cosmic Reality also has no beginning and no end. Nirvana, corresponding to the eternal Cosmic Reality, has no end too.

Mis-conceptions resulting from the attachment to dharma are now described. Because the Buddha's teaching is not completely understood, Hinayanists mistakenly believe that nirvana is extinction. It should be explained that the five skandhas or aggregates of form, perception, feelings, activities and thoughts that constitute a person, are unborn by nature, i.e. they are neither born nor not born. Therefore, there is no extinction of the five aggregates when a person attains nirvana, because what is involved is not destruction of any dharmas (no dharmas are added nor subtracted), but a transformation of perspective from the phenomenal to the transcendental, whereby the dharmas previously experienced as phenomena in samsara are now an integral part of Cosmic Reality in nirvana.

To be perfectly Enlightened, besides freeing ourselves from attachment to self and phenomena, we must also understand that the phenomenal world and Cosmic Reality are actually relative, and not absolutely different. Although Cosmic Reality is inexplicable, the Buddha used language provisionally to guide sentient beings. Those who understand the teaching, can free themselves from thoughts, and attain Enlightenment. But if they cling to thoughts, it will cause their minds to remain defiled, with the result that they cannot enter Cosmic Reality.

Three Kinds of Cultivation

In Buddhist teaching, spiritual aspirants can be described as "undetermined" and "determined". The undetermined are those whose spiritual development may progress or retrogress according to their karma. After a very, very long time covering many, many reincarnations, their faith may be strengthened and they will reach a developmental stage when they will never retrogress. They are then said to have become the determined.

For those whose spiritual roots are weak because of deep and thick defilements in their past lives, the good karma they gather is sufficient only to enable them to be reborn in the human or heavenly realms. Nevertheless, even for the spiritually backward, if circumstances are favourable, like when they have the opportunity to meet Bodhisattvas or other religious teachers, they may develop aspirations for nirvana.

Cultivation for nirvana can be divided into three main categories, namely cultivation through faith, through understanding, and through insight.

Cultivation through faith is the most popular approach, and suggests a strong personal belief, often without the need for reason or understanding. Faith is cultivated in three ways, known as the cultivation of the direct mind, the deep mind and the compassionate mind. These involve respectively believing in Buddhist doctrines, joyfully accumulating the merits of performing kind deeds, and helping others in their spiritual development. Various expedient means are used to help the aspirants, such as expedient means for practising fundamental doctrines, for stopping further evil karma, for awakening spiritual awareness, and for developing this awareness.

Cultivation through understanding is superior to cultivation through faith. It requires that aspirants clearly understand what to practise and why they do so. This approach is extensively used by bodhisattvas, who have deep understanding of Cosmic Reality and accordingly cultivate the six paramitas or perfections.

Knowing that Cosmic Reality is free from covetousness, they cultivate charity. Knowing that Cosmic Reality is free from defilement, they cultivate discipline. Knowing that negative emotions like anger and anxiety are incongruous to Cosmic Reality, they cultivate tolerance. Knowing Cosmic Reality has no characteristics of indolence, they cultivate effort. Knowing that Cosmic Reality is forever quiescent, they cultivate meditation. Knowing that Cosmic Reality is all-knowing, they cultivate wisdom. The crucial point is that they cultivate these perfections not because religious doctrines say so, but because they understand the relationship between their cultivation and the attainment of Enlightenment.

Cultivation through insight is the most advanced approach, and it involves direct experience. Insight into the ultimate reality is derived from meditation. Three types of mind are to be cultivated: true mind, mind of expedient means, and mind of karma consciousness.

In the cultivation of the mind of karmic consciousness, which represents the mind of ordinary people, the aspirant develops insight into the cause of suffering in samsara. In cultivating the mind of expedient means, which represents the mind of the Bodhisattva, the aspirant practises the paramitas for the benefits of all sentient beings. In cultivating the true mind, which represents the mind of the Eternal Buddha, the aspirant attains nirvana.

If celestial Buddhas have miraculous powers, why are their manifestations not frequently seen? All celestial Buddhas are undifferentiated in the form of the Supreme Reality, but they appear to sentient beings according to the conditions of the sentient beings' minds which are like mirrors. If these minds are defiled, the Supreme Reality will not be manifested in its transcendental dimension, just as a mirrow covered with dust will not effectively reflect light.

To experience the Supreme Reality, it is necessary to cultivate the faith. There are four kinds of faith in the Mahayana: faith in the Ultimate Source, faith in the Buddha, faith in the Dharma, and faith in the Sangha.

Five Ways of Cultivation

There are five ways of spiritual cultivation in this faith, which are the ways of charity, discipline, tolerance, perseverance, and meditation.

In the cultivation of charity, we give generously according to our ability, material assistance, service and knowledge to whoever seek them. To cultivate discipline, we practise moral percepts, live in quietude and practise austerity, and guard against ridicule and derision. To cultivate tolerance, we discard any feeling of vengeance, and become detached irrespective of gain or loss. For the cultivation of perseverance, we adhere to performing kind deeds, are never weary of nor retreat from our spiritual task.

There are people who make little progress although they practise the faith diligently. This is because they are burdened by bad karma in their past lives, tempted by evil forces, entangled in world affairs, or afflicted by various diseases. They can overcome these hindrances if they seek the help of the celestial Buddhas and persevere in their spiritual cultivation. They must also sincerely repent their wrongs as well as rejoice in the happiness of other people.

The cultivation of zhi-guan (stillness and perception), or meditation, is essential for attaining nirvana. There are two aspects, namely tranquility meditation and insight meditation, and both aspects must be practised simultaneously.

In tranquility meditation, the aspirant stills his mind and eliminates all thoughts. If the mind is distracted, he brings it back to stillness where there is no awareness of the external world. When he succeeds in keeping his mind still, he attains samadhi, or mental concentration. He realizes that the Universal Mind is undifferentiated, that there is no dualism, and that transcendental reality is the same as the phenomenal world.

Sentient beings who are inadequately developed may be troubled by evil forces during meditation. These forces can manifest themselves in many ways, such as terrifying demons, pious people, heavenly scenes, supernatural abilities, and disoriented life styles. But if the aspirants do no allow any attachment to arise, and understand that these manifestations are only illusions of the mind, these hindrances will disappear.

Those who practise this samadhi or mental concentration diligently and correctly will obtain the following ten benefits: always protected by all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, cannot be terrified by demons, cannot be deluded by spirits and gods of other beliefs, free from slanders, eliminate bad karma, eradicate all doubts and perverse views, strengthen their faith, free from sorrow and remorse, untroubled by other people, eliminate all defilement, cannot be disturbed by external stimuli during meditation.

If an aspirant only cultivates tranquility meditation, he may become complacent or slothful, and lack the zest to help others achieve salvation. Thus, he must also cultivate insight meditation.

In insight meditation, the aspirant reflects that all phenomena are impermanent and illusory, and all events are the result of the mind only. He also reflects that at present as well as in the timeless past and future, sentient beings suffer in samsara, yet they are not aware of their suffering. Thirdly, reflecting on the great compassion for all sentient beings, the aspirant courageously makes a great vow to liberate himself and other beings from illusion, and attain the highest nirvana. Then the aspirant resolves to practise the five perfections consistently and unfaltering.

At all time the aspirant should practise tranquility meditation and insight meditation together. Thus while in tranquility he reflects that the ultimate reality is actually undifferentiated, he also reflects with insight that in the phenomenal world the operation of karma with countless differentiated events is inevitable. On the other hand, while reflecting in tranquility mediation that karma will certainly bring about its unmistakable results, from insight meditation the aspirant knows that nothing can be added to nor subtracted from Cosmic Reality.

Tranquility meditation is a remedy to overcome attachment to the phenomenal world, as well as the fear and weakness of Hinayanists due to their inadequate understanding of Cosmic Reality. Insight meditation overcomes the narrow thinking of Hinayanists who lack the great compassion of the Mahayanists, as well as the weakness of ordinary people for not cultivating charity.

Those people who seek spiritual fulfillment but are doubtful of their ability to cultivate successfully, should know that the Tathagata has excellent expedient means to help everybody. If they whole-heartedly recite the name of Amitabha Buddha of the Western Paradise of Eternal Bliss, and direct all the merits so obtained towards rebirth in that paradise, they will be reborn in that Buddha land. There, under the guidance of Amitabha Buddha, they will continue to develop until they attain nirvana.

Aspirants who distance themselves from slandering others, enter the way of the Mahayana, and study this treatise and practise the cultivation explained in it, will be sure of attaining the highest spiritual fulfillment. Besides practising moral purity, aspirants must reflect on the truth of the teaching, and most important of all actually practise the time-tested methods diligently and consistently.

Those who disparage this treatise will have to suffer for countless aeons, not because of any outside force punishing them, but because as they do not believe in the great truth that the phenomenal world is an illusion of the transcendental absolute, they will not be able to liberate themselves from the illusion and attain Cosmic Reality. All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have attained their perfect Enlightenment through the way explained in this treatise. All sentient beings too can similarly attain Enlightenment here and now.



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