Recognizing the True Mind
Entering the First Ground (preliminary version)
Transcribed from a lecture in Chinese by Master Pings Xiao in July 1998
Translated into English in January 2005
Do you understand what the first ground of a Bodhisattva is like? Would you like to enter the first ground?
“Yes, we would like to,” answered the assembly.
Great! This is a class on the first ground. My talk today, partly an encouragement and partly a continued explanation of Completing the Doctrine of Consciousness-Only [by Master Hsuan Tsang of the Tang Dynasty], is very important. It concerns those who, having recognized their true minds, are practicing in the hope of entering the first ground. Let me first begin with my encouragement.
The page that you just received was photocopied from the Mahayana Entering Lankavatara Sutra. The passage I have circled on this page is the theme of my talk today—the gist of recognizing the true mind versus entering the first ground.
Some students asked me, “Teacher, why do you want to speak on Completing the Doctrine of Consciousness-Only? The book is too detailed.”
Others said, “Teacher, please do not talk about so many Buddhist terms. It is enough to talk about recognizing one’s true mind and seeing one’s Buddha-nature.”
You need to know that your experiential understanding of the concepts underlying these terms is very important. It can help you validate “dharmas [all phenomena] have no selves” based on your realization that “a person has no self” and enter the first ground.
As I said before, if I do not continue to lecture on Completing the Doctrine of Consciousness-Only, the Lankavatara Sutra, and my book For Protecting the Dharma (Hu Fa Ji), about half of our students might fall back from their realization. Without the support of a good, knowledgeable teacher, these students, lacking the power of faith, wisdom, and meritorious conditions, might lose their prior recognition of their true minds. It is not that they want to retrogress but that they cannot help retrogressing because they are unable to ascertain the truth of their realization.
As taught in the Bodhisattva Ornament Original Karma Sutra, a Bodhisattva student, upon entering the sixth stay, has to cultivate prajna [the supra-mundane wisdom about the emptiness of the thus-come store (tathagata-garbha)]. Even though he has realized his true mind, is aware of the right view of prajna, and is about to enter the level of the seventh stay, without the support of Buddhas, great Bodhisattvas, and good, knowledgeable teachers, he might “lose his bodhi mind [aspiration for enlightenment] for one, two, or even ten eons”; he might deny the true mind he has realized and drop down to the eternalist view of non-Buddhists. Therefore, I must teach these courses to help those fellow cultivators whose faith and wisdom are inadequate, to keep them from retrogressing.
Some students, in the process of learning the Buddhist doctrine, have encountered a problem with the levels of realization, which they cannot solve. They asked, “According to some sutras, recognizing the true mind is only at the level of the seventh stay as accepted by the Special School [one of the four schools classified by the Tian Tai School in China]; however, the Ten Grounds Sutra says that this realization is at the level of the first ground. What is the difference between these two kinds of classification?” Why is there such a wide difference? Did Buddha give wrong teachings?
Some people who come to our Center do not want to practice and contemplate diligently. Instead, they analyze, ask around for answers, and promise each other in private, “Whoever gets the answer from his contemplation shall tell it in public.” They are actually harming their own spiritual life, not helping it. The aim of these people is merely to do academic research.
Yesterday I received a nine-page letter from a critic, which stated in detail that my book For Protecting the Dharma contained errors everywhere and that even Buddha’s teachings in the Great Nirvana Sutra were wrong too. Actually, the critic was mistaken.
This letter was not written by an outsider but by a member of our Center, a student questioning his teacher anonymously. His main argument was that “It is impossible to see one’s Buddha-nature with the naked eye.” He raised many questions, and I would have to write a book—which would take months— to answer them all. Some of his questions were obvious and others deep. We will discuss two obvious ones in the following.
The critic declared his first point, “It is impossible to see one’s Buddha-nature with the naked eye.” In fact, Buddha, in some scriptures, said specifically that the naked eye could see Buddha-nature. In other scriptures, however, the term “Buddha-nature” refers to one’s nature to become a Buddha. The critic did not understand the difference between these two and just wanted to argue with me. Buddha did not give wrong teachings; it was the critic who misunderstood Buddha’s teachings. He said in his second point, “Buddha’s teachings in the Great Nirvana Sutra were deluded because the World-Honored One (bhagavan) could not escape the dementia of a dying man.” In other words, he judged that the World-Honored One spoke the Great Nirvana Sutra dementedly as a dying man.
When I reply to letters, I am always sincere and humble, even to accusations or interrogations. In reply to this letter, however, I took a drastically different approach—I rebuked the critic without any reservation on the first point he made. Yet, I did not have the time to answer the second point because it was more involved.
The critic said, “You maintain that Buddha-nature can be seen by the naked eye. Why did you become far-sighted after you had seen your Buddha-nature?” What a peculiar question! If it were true that seeing one’s Buddha-nature would preclude one from becoming far-sighted, then conversely elderly people could never see their Buddha-nature. Would it also follow that near-sighted people could not see their Buddha-nature? How could a person previously considered very intelligent ask such a question! Many faults are revealed in his short question since several students’ realization reports, included in my book Chan－Before and After Realization (Chan－Wu Qian Yu Wu Hou), published in 1995, confirmed that “if one sensory organ can ‘see’ Buddha-nature, all six organs also can.” Didn’t those reports say so?
The critic emphasized, “If you see your Buddha-nature with the naked eye, then you won’t see it with your eyes closed.” However, it is stated repeatedly in Chan－Before and After Realization that if one sensory organ can “see” it, all six organs also can. In other words, if one’s eyes “see” Buddha-nature, other sensory organs do too. Not only have I said that, but other fellow cultivators have also said the same in their reports. This person cannot see his Buddha-nature but uses his intellect to speculate and analyze. Based on his personal concepts, the critic attempts to disprove the fact that one can see one’s Buddha-nature. In fact, the same critic had already raised this question when I was lecturing on the Lankavatara Sutra. He asked, “Buddha-nature is without any image or appearance. How can you see it with the naked eye? Seeing Buddha-nature must be a figure of speech; it is impossible to see it with the naked eye. This is not taught in any scriptures.”
“It is stated in the scriptures that one can see one’s Buddha-nature with the naked eye,” I replied.
“Not true!” he objected.
I told him, “It is true! In chapter eight of the Great Nirvana Sutra, “Mahakasyapa asked Buddha, ‘Buddha-nature is so subtle; how can one see it with the naked eye?’ Buddha answered: ‘This is not something an ordinary person can see, much like people on the two Small Vehicles (Hinayana) who do not know what it is like in the Neither-Perception-nor-Nonperception Heaven.’”
Still, he said Buddha’s teachings were deluded and judged Buddha: “When a person is dying, his words are demented.”
No matter how much you criticize me, I can accept it. However, if you slander Buddha, I can never accept it. A person without any reverence for Buddha is not qualified to learn the Buddhist doctrine, let alone to learn Buddha’s first-meaning teachings (ultimate teachings). This critic said, “Let’s set aside the Solitary Buddhas (pratyekabuddha) of one of the two Small Vehicles. The Abhidharma states clearly that the no-more-to-learn holy beings have transcended the three realms.”
(Note that the statements in the Abhidharma, which is a commentary in the Three Baskets of the Buddhist canon [tripitaka] of the two Small Vehicles, cannot be entirely taken to be true because people on the two Small Vehicles do not know the first meaning [of the Dharma]. However, the teachings in the Abhidharmakosa spoken by realized Bodhisattvas can be trusted.)
The critic argued, “If you agree to Buddha’s teaching that the sound-hearers (sravaka) and the Solitary Buddhas do not know what the Neither-Perception-nor-
Nonperception Heaven is like, it is like saying that a holy being who has transcended the three realms [desire, form, and formless] does not know what the top heaven of the three realms is like. Isn’t it ridiculous to believe that an Arhat [the fourth and highest fruit of the sound-hearers] who has transcended the three realms still does not know what the top heaven is like?”
Is he wrong or am I wrong? This is a very simple problem that the critic is all confused about. Let’s use an analogy. First of all, when a Chinese doctor practiced medicine in ancient times, he did not care what kind of seeds was causing your diarrhea as long as the prescription medicine cured the condition. As another example, Buddha told a story about a person shot by an arrow. All you needed to do was to pull the arrow out and put some medication on the wound. There was no need to know what kind of material the arrow was made of, what kind of bird feathers was on it, who made it, when it was made, and where it was made. Under the same logic, people on the two Small Vehicles only need to terminate their afflictions in order to transcend the three realms. Why should they need to know what the top heaven of the three realms is like? As the third example, there are two types of Arhats: one is altogether liberated, and the other, wisdom-liberated. Only an altogether-liberated Arhat in meditation has the ability to enter the four dhyanas [states of concentration in the form realm] and eight samadhis [states of concentration in both the form and the formless realms]. However, unless he has also accomplished the spiritual power of travels, he still does not know what the Neither-Perception-nor-Nonperception Heaven is like. Similarly, a person who in meditation can enter the fourth dhyana does not have the spiritual power to visit the Fourth Dhyana Heaven. He does not know what the Fourth Dhyana Heaven is like until he dies and is then reborn in that Heaven. An altogether-liberated Arhat has accomplished in meditation not only four dhyanas and eight samadhis but also the extinction samadhi [total suspension of perception and conception]. However, without spiritual powers, even an altogether-liberated Arhat cannot visit the Neither-Perception-nor-Nonperception Heaven and does not know what it is like there, let alone a wisdom-liberated Arhat [who has not accomplished the four dhyanas and eight samadhis]. Consequently, people on the two Small Vehicles do not know what the Neither-Perception-nor-Nonperception Heaven is like unless they have the spiritual powers to travel to that Heaven. Buddha’s words were not wrong; it was the critic who could not comprehend them.
No one should slander Buddha, for slandering Buddha will result in falling down to hell. Stories tell us that even slandering Buddha’s disciples Sariputra and Mahamaudgalyayana caused the slanderer to go to hell, not to mention the consequences of slandering Buddha Himself. Hence, I cannot accept the way he slandered Buddha. This is something I have never done before—replying to a letter as soon as it is received. Hoping to conclude this matter, I will have my letter sent to him as soon as it is typed because I really do not have the time to answer each and every question in his long letter. (Editor: Because the critic Upasaka Yuanlan pressed on with a second letter later on, Master Xiao subsequently answered all of his questions in both letters, in a book Pings’s Letter (Ping Shi Shu Jian) published in 1998)
Slandering the Buddha or the Dharma is unacceptable to us. We have been cultivating and doing things together for many years, mainly for the mission of carrying on Buddha’s wisdom-life. Nevertheless, a small number of people in our Center act like kept rats that gnaw the bag—I have raised and fattened them but they turn around to bite me, all because they cannot become like me (cannot see their own Buddha-nature). In no way would I tolerate people who slander the Buddha or the Dharma!
Once my reply to his letter is typed, we will have its photocopies posted at various joint cultivation centers. Each teacher as well as each assistant of a class will receive a copy. Anyone who would like to have it can ask his/her teacher to make copies. After my book The Wanton and the True Secret Schools (Kuang Mi Yu Zhen Mi) is published [the fourth and last volume of Kuang Mi Yu Zhen Mi was published in August 2002], we might have the time to answer the critic’s letter again, addressing it item by item. Perhaps we might instead publish a book, to help people to have more understanding of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Tantric teachings contain many mistakes, and we should not trust them totally. For example, it is mentioned in The Tibetan Book of the Dead that a decedent will experience, each day after death, manifestations of Buddha or a Deity, accompanied by dazzling light and thundering, roaring sounds. Since Buddha is so compassionate, delivering sentient beings from samsara, why would He scare anyone with thundering sounds? The Tibetan Book of the Dead is not in accordance with all-seeds wisdom-knowledge (jnana). You can review this book with your all-seeds wisdom-knowledge and decide what’s untrue.
Coming back to the main topic, I will now discuss the all-seeds wisdom-knowledge. Please look at the photocopy you have just received. What is the all-seeds wisdom-knowledge? It is to know the diverse functions of all the seeds in the thus-come store. How do you enter the first ground? For people who have recognized their true minds (let’s not concern ourselves about seeing Buddha-nature for now), why do some of them enter the first ground and others only the seventh stay? How can Bodhisattvas who have recognized their true minds and entered the seventh stay enter the first ground later?
Please take the sheet of paper just distributed to you and read the passage of the Sutra I have circled. The Sutra states: “One’s body and physical world are both manifested by the thus-come store, as a manifestation that continues and changes ceaselessly from moment to moment.” This is the difference between people on the two Small Vehicles and Bodhisattvas. When Bodhisattvas transcend the three realms, they know the reason why, whereas people on the two Small Vehicles do not nor do they need to know the reason why. When Bodhisattvas transcend the three realms, they also want to know, for benefiting sentient beings, what the three realms and twenty-eight heavens are like; people on the two Small Vehicles need not to know. This is the difference.
Buddha spoke: “All dharmas [phenomena] are manifestations of one’s mind.” Yet, the holy beings [Arhats and Pratyekabuddhas] on the two Small Vehicles need not know this truth about the mind. The term “mind” is an overall concept, because the eight mind-king consciousnesses function together as one. The seven turning consciousnesses belong to the thus-come store [also identified as the eighth consciousness] and are part of its functions and characters. The thus-come store [does not experience but] is responsible for taking and what is taken: cognizance is the subject and the perceived appearance is the object. The thus-come store projects the external appearances and their internal representations. The external appearances are objects such as the mountains, the rivers, and the earth, as well as the five sense objects, which include sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations; the seven turning consciousnesses can touch or experience the internal representations, which are “images” of the five external sense objects. Our seven turning consciousnesses are the subject that can take or perceive, and the internal representations are the objects taken or perceived. To summarize, it is one’s own thus-come store that projects all the objects whether they appear internally or externally, the latter including one’s body and physical environment. (Note that the mountains, the rivers, and the earth are joint projections of the thus-come stores of all sentient beings.)
Since the internal representations of the mountains, the rivers, and the earth are projected by one’s thus-come store, you have never really seen or touched them in your life. All you have experienced is the internal representations of the five sense objects. [For details, see The Real Thus-Come Store (Zhen Shi Ru Lai Cang) and An Exposition of the Lakavatara Sutra (Leng Jia Jing Xiang Jie) by Pings Hiao] Let’s now turn to the cognitive functions of mind that can see, hear, feel, know, and make decisions. These cognitive functions, through experiencing the internal representations, can grasp the external objects, such as the mountains, the rivers, and the earth, which are projected jointly by the thus-come stores of sentient beings who share a common karma. In summary, one’s thus-come store manifests one’s body and all the physical objects in life, and this manifestation continues and changes ceaselessly from moment to moment.
Buddha spoke in the Lakavatara Sutra: “All kinds of bodies with various postures move or stop moving, just like zombies propelled by the force of mantras. They are also like wooden dolls moved by some mechanical system. If you understand well these appearances, your insight is called ‘the wisdom-knowledge that a person has no self’.” Those of you who have recognized your true minds can understand the meaning of Buddha’s words; others who have mistaken something else for realization will be baffled by these words. If you have received my validation of your realization, you can examine yourself with these words of Buddha, and then you will know for sure whether or not your realization is genuine. No need to argue with anyone about your realization.
Recognizing your true mind also means you have realized that a person has no self—The physical body is not the self; cognition and awareness are not the self; even the very subtle awareness and self-reflection in the state of thoughtless meditation are not the self. All we have is a false composite appearance, not a real self in existence; all are projections of the thus-come store. The Surangama Sutra declares that the perceptual faculties of seeing, hearing, etc. of the five aggregates or eighteen divisions come from “neither cause and effect nor Nature.” The six sensory organs, six corresponding sense objects, and six consciousnesses as well as the perceptual faculties of seeing, hearing, etc. are not produced by cause and effect only, as said in the doctrine of the two Small Vehicles, nor by mother nature as claimed by the non-Buddhists; instead, all are projected by the thus-come store. This realization is the “dharma wisdom-knowledge” and the “category wisdom-knowledge” of a Bodhisattva at the seventh stay—Yet, you only know the overall appearance, which is a general understanding: “Oh, this is the thus-come store!”
As an analogy, an aborigine in the African jungle does not know what an automobile is. When people describe to him, “It has four wheels, and you can drive it around,” he does not understand, but when he actually sees an automobile, what he immediately comes to know is much like the “dharma wisdom-knowledge” and the “category wisdom-knowledge” I have just mentioned. However, there are many things about the automobile: how to open and shut the windows; how to adjust the air conditioning; how to turn the steering wheel; how to fill the tank with gasoline; how to drive and stop it; how to make an automobile and repair it, etc. Knowledge of these diverse details, as an analogy, is in the domain of all-seeds wisdom-knowledge. The diverse aspects of “dharmas have no selves” that we need to understand are the following: what are the eight mind-king consciousnesses; what are their five always-active functions (sarvatraga), five specific associates (viniyata), eleven beneficial states (kusala), etc. [See An Essay on the Hundred Dharmas Illuminating the Door by Vasubandhu.] One’s experiential understanding of these dharmas belongs in the domain of all-seeds wisdom-knowledge.
Only a person who has truly recognized his true mind understands what mechanism can move a wooden doll and how a mantra can mobilize a zombie—the wisdom-knowledge that a person has no self. Yet, a cultivator who has realized that a person has no self is only at the level of the seventh stay, according to the system of the Special School of Buddhism.
On the other hand, many “great” masters claim, “Realizing or recognizing one’s true mind makes one a Bodhisattva on the first ground.” This “great” Dharma Master [Sheng-Yen] who had a “Great Dialogue of the Century” (as advertised in this newspaper) with Dalai Lama said the same thing. Master Sheng-Yen asked, “What is realization?”
—I’ll read you this newspaper clipping someone just gave to me—
Master Sheng-Yen answered his own question, “Contemplate a hua-tou [a short question for Chan practice]; you continuously ask yourself a totally meaningless question.”
—Tell me, is hua-tou a meaningless question?—
Master Sheng-Yen explained, “What is realization? You just keep asking yourself this question until discursive thoughts do not arise. Don’t stop asking even though you have no thoughts at all. Suddenly, the sparks of wisdom erupt, and you recognize that all your vexations and struggles come from your own stupidity. When you recognize your own stupidity, you have come to realization.”
Tell me, those of you who have realized, “Is realization what Master Sheng-Yen had defined?” In this Dharma-Ending Age, many evil masters are speaking the Dharma; “evil” does not mean evil character but refers to these masters who give incorrect teachings.
Those who have broken through their contemplation [recognized their true minds] must know, based on the passage of Buddha’s teachings we just went over, whether or not their realization is correct. Those who have not yet broken through do not know what those words mean, and this is normal. Do not feel bad. Wait until you break through, and then you’ll say, “How strange! Buddha has told us very clearly. Why couldn’t I get it before?”
Buddha spoke in the Lankavatara Sutra: “The Great Wisdom Bodhisattva, what does it mean by ‘the wisdom-knowledge that dharmas have no selves’? It is the understanding that the aggregates, the divisions, or the fields are deluded configurations.” In other words, this is the wisdom-knowledge that the five aggregates (skandha), the eighteen divisions (dhatavah), or the twelve fields (ayatana), by nature, cling to deluded configurations and that you cannot find in any of them a self and its belongings—both are non-existent. Also, the perceptual faculties of seeing, hearing, etc. of the five aggregates, the eighteen divisions, or twelve fields are conditioned upon many factors—how can there be a real self and its belongings? All of them, as Buddha said, are “a gathering of the fettering strings of karma and thirst for life, a mutually conditioned arising.” Due to bondage of the karmic strings from the thirst and desire of manas consciousness [the seventh consciousness], an appearance is produced by the thus-come store; actually, there isn’t a self that really can see, hear, feel, and know, nor is there a self that can create the physical world. Furthermore, the five aggregates, the eighteen divisions, or the twelve fields do not have an indestructible appearance of their own or a common appearance.
The sound-hearer is basically attached to the appearance of a self: Even though he has validated that the appearance of a self is not found in the five aggregates, the eighteen divisions, or the twelve fields, nor in the perceptual faculties of seeing, hearing, etc., he is fearful that he might become entangled by the appearance of a self in the next lifetime, after undergoing death and then dim consciousness in the mother’s womb. The sound-hearer is also attached to the common appearances: I have the appearance of a self composed of five aggregates, eighteen divisions, or twelve fields, plus the perceptual faculties of seeing, hearing, etc., and others have in common with me these appearances of selves. He is afraid of the bondage of an individual or a common appearance of a self in the next lifetime because he is attached to these appearances. That is why the sound-hearer wants to enter into nirvana to avoid the bondage. In contrast, a Bodhisattva who has realized that these appearances are projections of the mind, the thus-come store, will not take nirvana. Instead, he will walk the Way toward Buddhahood.
Buddha next stated: “Deluded discrimination leads to all kinds of appearances.” Delusion comes from lack of knowledge, which leads to arbitrary discrimination of all kinds of appearances; for example, the perceptual faculties of seeing, hearing, etc. for experiencing the sense objects which include sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations, as well as dharmas that transcend the three realms. All these are discriminations of a foolish person, a person without wisdom; these are not the teachings of a person with wisdom.
Buddha continued: “Thus, observe that all dharmas are apart from the mind, the mental system, the consciousness, the five dharmas, and the three self-natures (svabhaba); this insight is called ‘the wisdom-knowledge that dharmas have no selves’ of a Bodhisattva, a Great Bodhisattva. With this wisdom-knowledge, you know there are no real objects, you understand the appearances of all the grounds, and then you enter the first ground.” You can gather from this passage that you need to observe and experience yourself the thus-come store you have realized. After realization, to acquire the all-seeds wisdom-knowledge taught in the Consciousness-Only School [also translated as the Mind-Only School] is to understand all the seeds contained in the thus-come store and to experience them. Only then will you be convinced that all dharmas and their appearances are manifestations of the thus-come store and that each of them does not have a self and its belongings. Similarly, each of the five aggregates, the eighteen divisions, or the twelve fields does not have a self and its belongings. As you deepen your insight, you will gradually understand the five dharmas and the three self-natures…etc. With this validation of “dharmas have no selves,” you have become a holy being on the first ground. When you find the selfless, nirvanic thus-come store instead of a real, indestructible, self-existing self, you have accomplished a partial severance of “the fixation that dharmas have selves,” and you have validated “patience with dharmas of no births” on the first ground.
The content of realizing “dharmas have no selves” includes the five dharmas— names, appearances, discrimination, right knowledge, and true-suchness (bhutatathata), the three self-natures, and the seven inborn self-natures (bhava-svabhava). Also included are the seven kinds of first-meaning prajna, which are not mentioned in the above passage because they are covered in chapter one of the Sutra. We have already discussed broadly these topics in Completing the Doctrine of Consciousness-Only, and you need to ascertain that they are true by observing your own four postures [walking, standing, sitting, lying down] in daily life. Then, you have validated “dharmas have no selves.” Note that the thus-come store really does not have a self because it does not experience seeing, hearing, feeling, and knowing, or make decisions, for it has no self-awareness. Nevertheless, the thus-come store produces the aggregates, the divisions, and the fields, which in turn produce all other phenomena. Do all these dharmas have selves? You need to observe, verify, and know for yourself, so as not to be influenced by external objects. If you have the wisdom-knowledge of “dharmas have no selves,” you will know that no objects exist outside your own mind and that all are projections of your own mind, the thus-come store. When you hold your validation with unwavering endurance, it is called “patience with dharmas of no births,” which is required to enter the first ground. Gradually, you will be able to validate that the one hundred dharmas [listed by Vasubandhu] have no selves, in completing your work on the first ground. Furthermore, validation of “dharmas have no selves” on the first ground will lead to knowledge of the second ground, the third ground…up to the eighth, the ninth, and the tenth ground.
Do not think, “I will experience various conditioned dharmas on the first ground” because your progress is mainly in prajna wisdom. On the first ground, some Bodhisattvas have the wheel jewel and others do not; some can manifest a sublime reward body (sambhogakaya) and others cannot. Why do they differ? We will clarify these things in the following illustration.
The Lankavatara Sutra we studied, which had been translated by Gunabhadra (394-468) into four chapters, is one of the three Chinese translations. The second translation the Entering Lankavatara Sutra was by Bodhiruci (years unknown), and the third translation the Mahayana Entering Lankavatara Sutra by Siksananda (652-710). Of these three translations, the third one is the most understandable and the best translation. The first translation is close to the original meaning, but its diction is too abstruse to comprehend. If you have not realized the truth, cannot fathom archaic Chinese, it would be impossible to benefit from the first translation. When the third translation was completed, the emperor of the Tang Dynasty wrote a preface for the Sutra. The preface stated that the four-chapter Lankavatara Sutra translated by Gunabhadra in the year of Yuan Jia was so abstruse that no one could spread the teachings; and that the second translation done in the year of Yan Chang contained many errors introduced by the translator’s interpretations. Even though the Mahayana Entering Lankavatara Sutra clearly transmits Buddha’s meanings and the other two translations fail to convey some of the meanings of Buddha’s, I would still emphasize keeping all three translations for comparison’s sake.
It is necessary to realize or recognize your true mind, i.e., to have found the thus-come store (gained the dharma wisdom-knowledge and category wisdom-knowledge), before you learn the all-seeds wisdom-knowledge. In other words, you need to know the overall appearance first, before you learn the all-seeds wisdom-knowledge, which includes the five dharmas, the three self-natures, the seven first-meanings, and the seven inborn self-natures—and you need to verify and understand their significance thoroughly. If you have, in addition, personally verified the one hundred dharmas, which are discussed in detail in Completing the Doctrine of Consciousness-Only, then you have “fulfilled” the first ground. At least, you are definitely on the first ground if you have completely absorbed my explanation of the Doctrine and brought out your own holy nature by making the ten endless vows [of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva]. However, you are not yet on the first ground, unless you have the wisdom-knowledge that “dharmas have no selves” and can keep it with unwavering endurance without falling back.
There are two kinds of attainment on the first ground: one with blessings from Buddhas and the other without. Buddha spoke in the Lankavara Sutra: “All Buddhas have two programs. In order to help a Bodhisattva on the first ground to enter the Mahayana illuminating samadhi, Buddhas from the ten directions will appear to him and give him teachings.” This is the first program with blessings. The second program is for a Bodhisattva who, upon completion of the ninth ground, is about to enter the tenth ground. All Buddhas will mobilize all Bodhisattvas on the ninth ground and their innumerable entourages to congratulate this Bodhisattva on entering the tenth ground. In addition, all Buddhas from the ten directions will shower, at a distance, blessings on his crown, in order to complete the virtues he needs to enter the tenth ground. This kind of empowerment is truly significant, while the empowerments of Tibetan Buddhism are merely ceremonies, which are useless to your progress even if you receive one thousand of them. Do not be overwhelmed by those ceremonies. Tibetan terminologies are very attractive, and Buddhist students can easily be captivated. It is strange that no “great” Buddhist masters dare to make such a comment as I did—a sign of the Dharma-Ending Age.
If you have a clear understanding of the truth that dharmas have no selves, as discussed in Completing the Doctrine of Consciousness-Only, someday when you are able to enter the Mahayana illuminating samadhi, all Buddhas from the ten directions will “appear to you and give you teachings.” Their blessings have many benefits, such as giving rise to your wheel jewel and your sublime reward body. You can then travel to hundreds of Buddha lands, see hundreds of Buddhas, and move around there. The difference between this Bodhisattva and a Bodhisattva also on the first ground but without Buddha’s blessings is like that between the sky and the earth. The wisdom of a Bodhisattva on the first ground who has not received Buddha’s blessings is, nevertheless, extraordinary because he has a thorough understanding of the five dharmas, the three self-natures, and the seven inborn self-natures. Therefore, if you have also realized these dharmas after realization of your truth mind, you are on the first ground; otherwise, still at the seventh stay.
If you have only realized about 70 to 80 percent of these dharmas but have the courage “to break the evil doctrine and to show the right doctrine,” you have progressed to the first level of merit transference. However, you need to have the discriminating Dharma-eye to accomplish this; otherwise, you still remain at the seventh stay. Even though you have seen your Buddha-nature, your level is only at the tenth stay, and you still have the habit-driven seed-nature of a Bodhisattva, not yet changed to the Way seeds-nature [of a Bodhisattva on the first ground, growing on his Way to Buddhahood].
A Bodhisattva who was on the first ground in his past life was already studying the seeds wisdom-knowledge in the Consciousness-Only School. Before he realizes his true mind once again in this lifetime, he may seem like an ordinary person who had undergone death followed by dim consciousness in the mother’s womb. However, as soon as he realizes his true mind, he will quickly enter the first ground, because he only needs a few years to review and experience the seeds wisdom-knowledge through advanced prajna studies. The critic who wrote a letter to question me has been misled by Tibetan lamas; he does not believe in the all-seeds wisdom-knowledge in the Consciousness-Only School. Even though he has entered the seventh stay with my help, he is complacent with little knowledge, does not want to cultivate wisdom after realization, and understandably retains his habit-driven seed-nature. No wonder his habitual tendency is so strong! People who have heavy habitual tendencies are not the ones we would like to help. Even if they have realized the truth, they are very likely to fall back without receiving any beneficial virtues. It would be best for these people to leave as soon as possible because if they remain with us, they will damage the true Dharma.
All of you can examine yourselves whether or not the Dharma we are transmitting is the right Dharma. If you have received my validation of your realization, read the circled passage of the Sutra on the photocopy in your hands, and you’ll know for sure. If a person has realized for a long time but still has some objections to these words of Buddha’s, I don’t know what his view ground [the right view of a realized person] is.
When we are learning the Buddhist doctrine, we must not arbitrarily claim that we know something we actually don’t know. In the past, I did not dare to explain arbitrarily the difference in attainment between the seventh stay and the first ground. Nor would I dare to give an arbitrary answer by making up some reason or accusing the World-Honored One of speaking “dementedly as a dying man.” Buddha had His reasons for His words, some of which are beyond our understanding. If you do not fully understand the meaning of a scripture, do not slander it as false or slander Buddha, because slandering Buddha is a hell-bound sin.
I told the critic in my letter, “Master Hsuan Hua said some outrageous things before death. Because he spoke erroneously about the first meaning, after death he has, in my vision, fallen into the unfortunate life form of a ghost or a deity [elite ghost with freedom and powers], not reborn as a human.” Master Hsuan Hua did not denounce the first meaning, nor did he slander Buddha or the scriptures; he strictly held the monastic precepts during his entire life. However, since he made a wrong interpretation of the first meaning, he has begun the regrettable life journey as a ghost or a deity. What will happen to a lay Buddhist who does not hold the precepts strictly but slanders Buddha and the scriptures? Hence, my letter to the critic was harsh. But I also told him why I was so harsh to him as I had never before been, hoping he would understand.
As for this “great” Dharma Master reported in the newspaper, he arbitrarily alleged his “knowledge,” just like a fox raising its tail to show its behind. For many years, he has criticized us that we are “not the way according to the Dharma,” and his criticism is a serious matter, a sign that we are in the Dharma-Ending Age. Because someone wrote me a letter of challenge, I’ve taken the opportunity to give you encouragement today. I’ve explained to you why we must be conscientious in learning the Buddhist doctrine, and I’ve also taught you how a Bodhisattva at the seventh stay can enter the first ground. I hope that you will take the critic’s letter as an admonition and that you will not, due to wrong views and wrong knowledge, create the hell-bound karma by slandering the Three Jewels.
Now that we know how a Bodhisattva at the seventh stay can enter the first ground, we need to take actions to actualize our wish to enter the first ground. Do not just do intellectual analyses. Based on the seeds wisdom-knowledge we have discussed in Completing the Doctrine of Consciousness-Only and the Lakavatara Sutra, you must experience your realization of the thus-come store, the eight mind-king consciousnesses, and the one hundred dharmas in your daily activities of walking, standing, sitting, and lying down—In your activities, a lot of Buddha Dharmas are worth experiencing. However, it is normal for a person who has just broken through his contemplation to have difficulties in experiencing the seeds wisdom-knowledge. It would be even harder for a person who is just asking around about his true-suchness [the true mind or the thus-come store] because he has not gone through the process of contemplation in Chan Buddhism. Since his mind is as dense as a big rock, it would be impossible for him to experience the seeds wisdom-knowledge, and it would take a long, long time before he can enter the first ground. My teaching at this point is almost useless to him. On the other hand, for those fellow cultivators who have truly realized their original minds, my teaching is an important matter, a matter of personal concern. Having heard my explanations, do you all know how a Bodhisattva at the seventh stay can progress to the first ground? However, in the middle of this journey [through ten levels of action and ten levels of merit transference] you must go through the first level of merit transference. What a Bodhisattva at the first level of merit transference needs to practice is “to break the evil doctrine and to show the true doctrine,” and to rescue sentient beings from their view of a self. Have you started on these long-range projects? Are you still mixing mud with those who slander and oppose to the right Dharma? If you are, then you are far from even passing the first level of merit transference, not to mention entering the first ground.
Only if you have the resolve “to break the evil doctrine and to show the true doctrine” even at the expense of your own life for the sake of making the right Dharma prevail for a long time, then would it be possible for you, still at one of the three sage-levels [ten stays, ten actions, and ten merit transferences], to receive blessings from Buddhas to help you perfect the Mahayana illuminating samadhi and enter the first ground; otherwise, it would be impossible. If a person who has never been willing to protect the ultimate-meaning Buddha Dharma comes here to ask for my help, it would be impossible for me to help him realize his true mind. On the other hand, for a person who has made great contributions to the ultimate-meaning Dharma, I would help him even though he does not ask me to—because he is a great Dharma protector! Things are this way, even from the point of view of Buddha. Would Buddha give blessings for perfecting the Mahayana illuminating samadhi upon a person who from morning-till-night doubts the right Dharma and damages the right Dharma? Furthermore, it would be impossible for such a person to develop the wisdom “to break the evil doctrine and to show the true doctrine” required at the first level of merit transference, not to mention entering the Mahayana illuminating samadhi.
To become a Bodhisattva on the first ground, in addition to completing the advanced prajna studies I have already mentioned, you need to accomplish two more things. First, you need to subdue the afflictions of nature totally as an Arhat did or even eliminate them all. Secondly, you need to kneel in front of a Buddha’s image and take the ten endless vows, which you will never abandon in your endless future lives. With these two things accomplished and with your personal experience in the advanced prajna studies taught in the Lankavatara Sutra, you will have acquired the way-seeds wisdom-knowledge, activated your Dharma-eye, and developed the ability to discern the faults in the teachings of various “great” masters. Then, you are reckoned as a first-ground Bodhisattva.
How should you next practice when you are on the first ground? What do you practice, after you have achieved a thorough understanding of the teachings in Completing the Doctrine of Consciousness-Only? The main practice on the first ground is giving or generosity (dana); ultimately you will be willing to give away even your internal organs. Unless you have this kind of resolve, do not tell other people, “I am a first-ground Bodhisattva,” lest you should become a big liar. Even though I have told you, “What the seventh stay is and what the first ground is,” you should not tell anyone, “I am on the first ground.” Sorry! I have not validated your level. If you proclaim yourself as one on the first ground and, as a layperson, accept offerings and prostrations from other people, you are obviously not a first-ground Bodhisattva. All of you need to know these principles.
I would like you to know the order of the ten grounds and to understand the practices you need to do after realization, but not to get attached to the term “validation of a fruit [spiritual attainment].” Do not be concerned about, “What ground am I on? What is the status of this fruit? Which level of stay? Which level of action? Which level of merit transference?” Your attachment to status is not a validation of any fruit. You need to know that the so-called validation of a fruit in Buddhism is only the right acceptance of liberation and the right unfolding of wisdom; there are no fantastic signs and no one will give you a certificate. The fruit you validate yourself is to realize that there is nothing to gain and that there are only prajna wisdom and liberation rising from your own mind. Conversely, if there is something you can gain, you won’t transcend the three realms; if there is something you can gain, it is not Mahayana prajna wisdom. Gain and attachment are not the truth that a person has no self and that dharmas have no selves.
On account of the event that someone wrote me a letter of challenge, I have explained to you the Dharma door through which a realized person can progress from the seventh stay onto the first ground, and I hope my explanation will help your spiritual career. I also hope that all of you will practice diligently to eliminate the habitual clinging of manas consciousness to a person’s self and all dharmas’ selves, so that you will bring out your holy nature, distance yourselves from your karmic-birth nature [of an ordinary being], and march toward the first ground.