External tranquility found in nature, inner tran
quility cultivated in city, ultimate tranquility realised in wise action (& inaction).
– 南懷瑾老師 (1918-2012)
Buddhist heart, Taoist bones, Confucius persona, compassionately perceive the world;
Skills on hands, abilities in body, thinking via the brain, serenely live life.
– Master Nan-Huai-Chin (1918-2012)
After 26 months of discussion and exploration, we have finally completed our online discussion on the core teachings of the three great classics in Chinese Civilization.
With the focus on personal and spiritual cultivation, we first learnt about the transcendental reality and the way towards it from Laozi’s Daodejing. After understanding our self, and going beyond it, we then learnt the importance of fulfilling our personal, family and social responsibility in the world through practical advises from Confucius’s Analects. Finally, after mastering the world and the reality beyond it, we learnt from the Buddhist Diamond Sutra that all teachings and phenomena, no matter how extraordinary and spectacular, are temporary like dreams and bubble and therefore are not to be attached.
If we can gain a throughout understanding of these three classics, and integrate them into our daily life, then a solid foundation is laid on the roadway of personal and spiritual cultivation. Hopefully these discussions could serve as an opening door and overall guidance for further studies and practice.
This concludes this series of our online classes. As Laozi said, “excessive speeches exhaust our reason, it’s better to stay centered.” The foundation understanding of cultivation has been laid and it is time for practice and integration into our life. If you have further question on the topics mentioned, you may contact me for advice or further discussion. Thank you for your interest and support all along.
Best wishes to you in your life, studies, and practices.
No self is the Dao, no self and no “no self”;
Proper awareness is the Buddha, and there is no such thing as proper awareness;
Charity is the Superior Man, who proceeds in middle of Confucianism Daoism and Buddhism.
One day, when the Buddha was meditating as a Bodhisattva, king Kaliraja came test the Buddha. He said, ok, now you are practicing the 6 paramitas (charity, precepts, endurance, diligent, concentration, wisdom), let see how enduring and charitable you are! And he start cutting off Buddha’s limbs one by one. The Buddha did not resist, and let Kaliraja cut off his limbs one by one. Not only so, he declared that if Bodhisattva’s compassion is real, the body will resemble by itself. And instantaneously, the body resembled.
How could it be so? In this section of the Sutra, the Buddha explained that at the moment of Kaliraja cutting off his limbs, in his awareness, there was no abiding in the false notion of self, others, beings and immortals (see early post Diamond Sutra – self, others, beings, immortals). Together with high level of practice in concentration and wisdom, the Buddha was not moved and therefore not affected during the test of disembodiment.
Therefore, the Buddha explained that in real endurance, there is actually no “one” enduring any “thing/feeling”, and therefore there is no anger and hatred. In the Daoist tradition, Laozi also recommend transcending hatred over enduring hatred (see earlier post “Daodejing79 – Hatred meditate vs. not rising“.
You may ask, did the Buddha feel the pain? In the process of transcendence, the feeling or sensation could still be there, but there is no “self” who get involved or participate in the process.
* * *
The Buddha said: “Just so! Subhuti, just so!
If on the one hand, there be a man who listens to this sutra and is not filled with alarm, fear, or dread, you should know that such a person is most rare.
Why? Because, Subhuti, as the Tathagata says,
the first perfection ( paramita) is not so (but) is (merely) called the first perfection (paramita.)
Subhuti, the Tathagata speaks of the Perfection of Patience (ksanti paramita) which is not but is called the Perfection of Patience.
Why? Because, Subhuti, in (a) past (life) when my body was mutilated by Kaliraja,
I had at that time no notion of an ego, a personality, a being and a life.
Why? Because, in the past, when my body was dismembered, if I (still) held the conception of an ego, a personality, a being and a life, I would have been stirred by feelings of anger and hatred.
There is no Buddha who obtained enlightenment.
Why? Because real enlightenment cannot be obtained by anyone, as such implied the dualistic paradigm of “someone” obtaining something called “enlightenment”. While in ordinary perception there appear to be a historical Buddha who obtained a state called enlightenment, in reality, or at least in Buddha self-described reality, this is not possible because the state of enlightenment is beyond “self” and its “dualistic paradigm”. Therefore, anyone or being who claims to be enlightened does not aligned with the truth of this Sutra.
Besides in Diamond Sutra, same truth is also expounded in the famous Buddhist Heart Sutra (in enlightenment there is no wisdom nor anything obtained无智亦无得，以无所得故), and in the Daoist classic Qingjingjing (although named obtaining the Dao, in reality there is nothing obtained虽名得道，实无所得).
While this truth might look devastating to the ego, which constantly tries to obtain something and become enlightened, the recognition and realization of this truth brings liberation, and alignment to the authentic truth of spiritual enlightenment.
As there is no one to be enlightened (first level of surrender: self), similarly, there is no fixed truth to be expounded (second level of surrender: teachings). Refer to last week’s discussion on 2 levels of surrender.
* * *
“Subhuti, what do you think? Has the Tathagata(in fact) obtained Supreme Enlightenment (Anubodhi)? Does the Tathagata (in fact) expound the Dharma?”
Subhuti replied: “As I understand the meaning of the Buddha’s teaching, there is no fixed Dharma called Supreme Enlightenment and there is also no fixed Dharma the Tathagata can expound.
“Why? (Because) the Dharma the Tathagata expounds cannot be clung to and cannot be expressed (in words); it is neither Dharma nor Not-Dharma.
“Why is this? All Bhadras and Aryas differ on account of the Eternal Asamskrta Dharma.”
Can the Buddha be seen? Can enlightened beings been recognized by certain appearance or form?
Although there are certain descriptions of how Buddha or Bodhisattva may look, ultimately the reality and awareness of the Buddha, like the nature of the Tao depicted in Daodejing, are beyond form and descriptions. Therefore, real Buddha is beyond form and appearance.
* * *
“Subhuti, what do you think? Can the Tathagata be seen by means of His bodily form?”
“No, World Honoured One, the Tathgate cannot be seen by means of His bodily form.
“Because when the Tathagata speaks of bodily form, it is not (real) form.”
The Buddha said to Subhuti: “Everything with form is unreal; if all forms are seen as unreal, the Tathagata will be perceived.”
Last week we learn that Bodhisattva does not cling to the notion of self, others, beings, and immortality. This week we learn that Bodhisattva not only transcends the above 4, but also continue to serve through charity.
In Buddhism continuous service and virtue are essential to complete the process of cultivation and enlightenment, even for enlightened beings such as Bodhisattva. How does one serve without the notion of a self serving? Here we can use our knowledge of non-doing from Taoism: doing without the selfish idea of someone doing the charity. Internally, the process could be observed as follows:
1) Conditions/invitations to service
2) agree or alignment to service
3) completion of service and move on
Let’s say one see an old lady crossing the street needing help. One approaches and offer the help, helps the old lady to cross the street, and then smiles good bye to the old lady after crossing the street. The self could be presence, but one is driven by intention to serve which is beyond one’s self, i.e. one does not drive the action, one merely agrees, surrenders into it, and then retires when the action is done.
Therefore, if one maintains centered and focused throughout the process, it is possible that service be done without the intervention of, or claiming credit by the self. This is how charity work is done by Bodhisattva and Taoist sages.
* * *
“Furthermore, Subhuti, a Bodhisattva’s mind should not abide anywhere when giving alms; that is to say, he should give without a mind abiding in form, or he should give without a mind abiding in sound, or in smell, or in taste, or in touch or in things. Subhuti thus a Bodhisattva should give alms without a mind abiding in false notions of form (laksana) “Why? (Because) if a Bodhisattva’s mind does not abide in forms. (laksanas) when practicing charity (dana), his merit will be inconceivable and immeasurable. Subhuti, what do you think? Can you think of and measure the extent of space in the East?”
“I cannot, World Honored One!
“Subhuti, can you think of and measure (all) the extent of space in the South, West and North, as well as in the intermediate directions, including the zenith and nadir?”
“I cannot, World Honoured One!”
“Subhuti, (when) a Bodhisattva practices charity without a mind abiding in forms, his merit is equally inconceivable and immeasurable. Subhuti, a Bodhisattva’s mind should thus abide as taught.
Zixia said, ‘Even in inferior studies and employments there is something worth being looked at; but if it be attempted to carrythem out to what is remote, there is a danger of running into mud. Therefore, the superior man does not practise them.’
* * *
What are side tracks? In Confucius Analects, side tracks refer to pathways that does not lead people directly to personal cultivation or social harmony. E.g. all technologies and skills such as farming, engineering, commerce, medical exploration, etc. Pursuing these skills are not bad, but they don’t necessarily make you a better person, and help one grows in spirit.
For spiritual students, pursuing practices for the sake of mere curiosity and glamour can be dangerous, or in less severe case wasting time and energy. As the Analects described, while many practices can yield some effect in the short run, indulging one’s self in unknown practices can prevent or trap practitioners from making progress in the core spiritual path.
In the Taoist tradition, Master Li Daochun had drawn together a comprehensive list describing different levels of side tracks (The Book of Balance and Harmony, Chapter 2). In the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha himself described the different levels of phenomena/tests one will face in advanced state of meditation (Shurangama Sutra, Chapter 9). These are very valuable references to serious spiritual students whose goal is self-transcendence and spiritual enlightenment.
Side tracks are not to be afraid, they just need to be seen as what they are, then one can proceed safely through them.
As enlightened master described: Straight and narrow is the path, waste no time.
After 7 months of work and sharing, i’m pleased to announced that our weekly lecture on Daodejing core 33 chapters has come to an end. I hope you have gained something in this series, as i certainly had. We will continue our weekly lecture on Confucius Analects starting next week. Please stay tuned. Let’s see what the most revered and influential teacher in Chinese history has to say to his students and our society.
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