In the Buddhist tradition, the most important part of spiritual cultivation is the first step and also the ongoing step – the setting of intention (发心）. As the Chinese Classics describes, the superior man is prudent in the beginning, as an error of millimeter in beginning will eventually lead to an error of thousands of miles (君子慎始，差若毫厘，缪以千里)。
The setting of spiritual intention, therefore, is the central core of spiritual cultivation. In this chapter, the Buddha explains that a Bodhisattva should set its intention beyond all form and all senses. If one set one’s intention and do charity with the notion of self and form, one enters into darkness, versus when one do charity without the notion of self and form, one enters into light.
Why is it so? Because when we do charity work by the self, self-centerness is enforced which leads to the darkness of ignorance. On the other hand, if we surrender our attachments of and to our “self”, life expands and becomes increasingly clear as we follow the light of wisdom. Therefore, when we set and reinforce our intentions, remember not to fall into the traps of forms and self, and we will proceed broadly in the pathway to Truth.
* * *
“Subhuti, I also remember that in the past, during my former five hundred lives, I was a Ksantyrsi and held no conception of an ego, a personality, a being and a life.
Therefore, Subhuti, Bodhisattvas should forsake all conceptions of form and resolve to develop the Supreme Enlightenment Mind (Anuttara-samyaksam-bodhi). Their minds should not abide in form, sound, smell, taste, touch and dharma. Their minds should abide nowhere.
“If minds abide somewhere, it will be in falsehood.
This is why the Buddha says that Bodhisattvas’ minds should not abide in form when practising charity (dana)”.
“Subhuti, all Bodhisattvas should thus make offerings for the welfare of all living beings.
The Tathagata speaks of forms which are not forms and of living beings who are not living beings.
Subhuti, the Tathagatas’ words are true and correspond to reality. They are ultimate words, neither deceitful nor heterodox.
Subhuti, the Dharma the Tathagata has obtained is neither real nor unreal.
Subhuti, if a Bodhisattva practises charity ( dana ) with a mind abiding in things (dharma), he is like a man entering the darkness where he cannot see anything;
(but) if a Bodhisattva practises dana with a mind not abiding in dharma, he is like a man with open eyes, who can see everything in the sunshine.
“Subhuti, in future ages, if a virtuous man or woman is able to receive, hold (in mind), read and recite this sutra, the Tathagata, by means of His Buddha Wisdom, will know and see clearly that such a person will achieve immeasurable and unlimitable merits.