PERCEIVED THAT ALL FIVE SKANDHAS ARE EMPTY"
During his practice
of contemplation and illumination the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara
attained Truth. By means of his minutely subtle Dharma practice
he penetrated the five skandhas, perceiving them as empty.
The five skandhas,
namely form, feelings, perceptions, volitions and consciousness
continually provide five occasions for craving and clinging. Two
types of craving and clinging characterize the human mind: 1) Craving
and clinging to form and 2) Craving and clinging to mind. Clinging
to form is the domain of the form skandha; the remaining four skandhas
constitute the domain of the mind and the clinging to mind is generated
in those four realms. All our grasping, manifested in our attachments
and aversions, is generated and developed due to the activity of
these four skandhas. Craving and clinging emerge at birth, and the
Buddhadharma aims to sever them.
clinging is ego bound. Ego is the anchor of our volition to grasp
and to possess, the root of our attachments and aversions, and via
these, the root of our suffering. Clinging to the body as the true
self begins to manifest in the early childhood: Normally, the six
organs produce six types of data, six kinds of consciousness and
the four skandhas along with them; jointly these constitute the
delusory ego. Craving and clinging is spontaneous at birth; at that
time, ego is formulated simultaneously with the form skandha. The
rest of our existence is built up by our countless ego-affirming
acts involving all the skandhas, but most prominently the skandha
of feeling; its domain contains pleasant, unpleasant and neutral
or indifferent types of feelings.
The body depends
on the mind to be provided with pleasant occasions and protected
from discomfort. There must be thinking, i.e., perceptions, followed
by action, and action means volition. They, in turn, require established
bases of knowledge, and that is the role of the consciousness skandha.
Children are sent to school to learn, to acquire knowledge that
prepares them for the future. When there is sufficient knowledge,
there is action, invariably preceded by thinking as planning, imagining,
remembering and so on. The body then receives the support it needs.
There is ego--grasping, and confusion is generated by the five skandhas
as the ego-notion imposes itself on the process of experience.
Once it has
become clear beyond any doubt that this present body is not the
self, that one can only say "mine", or "my body",
all delusion regarding the five skandhas is broken off, and ignorance
along with it. What a pity that worldlings get so deeply confused
and completely fail to understand this brilliant doctrine; grasping
the skandhas and the ego-notion, they twist the data to fit their
own picture as to how reality should be. Actually, the body is not
the self; it is like a house that I might call mine all right, but
to consider it to be myself would be a ridiculous error. In the
same way, I can't say "this body is myself' but I can say "this
body is mine."
What is the
real self? Our Original Nature is our real self. It depends on the
body temporarily; the body is not different from a house. A house
is completed and then gradually deteriorates; similarly, the body
has birth and death and the part in between. Our True Nature (real
self), on the other hand, has neither birth nor death. It is enduring
and unchanging. The teaching of Real Self and of illusory ego is
basic to all Buddhadharma. When it is understood, clinging is easily
related to the five skandhas is referred to as the Dharma of Assemblage.
Skandha is a Sanskrit term used by the Buddha in reference to the
five components of human so-called entity. A skandha is a constituent
of personality and it also means accumulation in the sense that
we constantly accumulate good and bad in our mind. The Dharma of
Five Skandhas is comparable to five kinds of material. The mountains,
rivers and the entire universe, the buddhas and bodhisattvas in
the three periods, even the six realms of existence and the four
kinds of worthies-all are produced solely by the five skandhas.
Who are the
four worthies? 1. The Arhat of Theravada, 2. The Middle Vehicle
of Prayeka buddha, 3. The Mahayana Bodhisattva, 4. the Buddha, the
ultimate fruit of the path. What are the six realms of existence?
Three are good and three are evil. Devas, humans, and asuras inhabit
the three good realms; animals, hungry ghosts and hell-dwellers
belong to the three evil realms. It does not make any difference
whether mundane or supramundane; they are all produced and completed
by the five skandhas. By taking the right path, (the ultimate path)
one may become an Arhat, Pratyeka-buddha, Bodhisattva, or Buddha.
A good action
can be good in three different ways; likewise, an evil action can
be so in three ways. Worldlings, confused because of not knowing
or knowing wrongly get carried away and lose control over their
actions; evil in the world increases, giving rise to five turbidities.
There is the turbidity of kalpa in decay, turbidity of views, turbidity
of passions, turbidity of living beings and turbidity of life (the
result of turbidity of human beings). Turbidity means turmoil. The
turmoil of kalpa in decay is the product of the form skandha; Sentient
beings in the Saha world grasp form or material (body), misconstrue
that as their True Self, not realizing that all dharmas are produced
by the mind, and give rise to the skandha of feeling. The egocentric
bias goes hand in hand with craving for gratification of the senses
or body and the result,is turbidity of view. Turbidity of passions
is generated by the perception skandha. Seeking gratification of
the senses brings greed in its wake, manifesting as desire for wealth
and subsequent strife for personal gain. Sooner or later, sound
ethics are abandoned and volition to grasp and to possess is given
free rein. At this point the worldlings become totally engulfed
in self-delusion, generating unspeakable amount of defilements.
passions comprises family defilements, societal defilements, national
defilements, world-defilements. While they are alive, human beings
are the victims of turbidity in the realm of volition. The egocentric
bias engenders the cyclic pattern of existence and perpetuates itself
until the end of time. However, tirne is moving on; no matter how
much of it we might have, still, we will die in the end. The confusion
of worldlings as regards the real or True Self is the turbidity
of living beings. Turbidity of life is caused by the consciousness
skandha. The turbidity of living beings will eventually produce
a decrease in the life span as well as in size of each individual
body. The Agamas speak of a certain stage in the history of mankind,
when the life span was eighty-four thousand years and the individual
height was one-hundred-sixty feet. There was a gradual decrease
in both the life span and the height. Presently, to live seventy
or eighty years is considered long life, and the average height
is five to six feet. Somewhere in the very distant future, claims
the ancient text, the life span of humans will last ten years and
the average height will be close to three feet. It will be the time
of upheavals and disasters of all kinds.
sound today may be viewed as unskillfal, even unethical tomorrow
as a result of the ego inserting itself into the field of perception.
Countless defilements develop when skillful or beneficial actions
are re-evaluated, come to be viewed as lacking in expedience, and
Buddhadharma is dismissed as irrelevant. Confusion resulting from
ignorance is conducive to a lifestyle that has a detrimental effect
on both the life span and the condition of the body. Turbidity first
corrupts, then sooner or later takes over. Worldlings need to generate
compassion for this declining world, resolve to uphold at least
the basic code of ethics and, perhaps, study the BuddhaDharma; furthermore,
they should refrain from taking the life of any living being and
be mindful of their actions. These should be skillful and cause
no harm to others. If that is accomplished, there may still be time
to save this world.
In a few words,
the five turbidities are completely within the realm of the five
skandhas. The skandhas combined constitute the basis of all dharmas,
of all sentient beings in the ten directions and of all worlds in
all the universes. The skandhas are, furthermore, the substance
of the incandescent True Existence, being at the same time the transcendental
Void or Emptiness. (The relation of true existence to transcendental
Emptiness will be discussed later). Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva,
relying on his luminous wisdom, "perceived that all five skandhas
are empty." The Bodhisattva practiced deep Prajnaparamita,
i.e., the root of Ultimate Reality, and attained the supreme Tao,
realizing that skandhas are empty of self. To arrive at that stage
is enlightenment, the state completely clear of turbidity. From
then on, all dharmas are understood as one's True Nature. When that
level is attained, the mind comprehends the universe as the Self,
and the Self, as the universe; the grand view is boundless. In short,
Void or Emptiness means the absence of duality, of accepting and
rejecting. There are five categories of void: the obstinate void;
the annihilation void; the void of analysis; the void of global
comprehension; the void of true supramundane existence.
What is obstinate
void? Clinging to the space in front of us. What is annihilation
void? It is the kind grasped by those on the heterodox or outer
path; the views that abounded in India, as well as the assorted
philosophical positions based on cognitive patterns which neglect
the Buddhist axiom stating that all is generated by the mind; claims
to the effect that there is existence beyond one's cognitive realm
and that is where the dharmas are. Heading full speed into large-scale
confusion, the supporters of such views choose to grasp that void,
positing it as the prevalent characteristic of existence.
three kinds of void are introspectively oriented Buddhadharma and
constitute the Dharma of Void or Emptiness as the true nature of
the mind, in contrast with the teaching of the Small Vehicle that
focuses on form (rupa skandha). The supramundane path of the Small
Vehicle (Theravada) and that of Sravaka and bodhisattva of the Great
Vehicle (Mahayana) are rooted in the last three kinds of void just
mentioned. They are neither the obstinate void of worldlings nor
the annihilating void of the outer or heterodox path. The concept
or the doctrine of the void is sometimes called the nature of the
void or the theory of nature: The meaning is the same.
I shall discuss
presently the four subdivisions of Buddhadharma according to T'ien
T'ai, and the three kinds of void relevant to Buddhadharma as they
are understood and applied in each of the four subdivisions, to
wit: 1. Tsang Jiao (Theravada teachings based on the Tripitaka),
2. Tung Jiao (Theravada and Mahayana interrelated), 3. Bie Jiao
(particular or distinctive Mahayana, characterized as the bodhisattva
path), 4. Yuan Jiao (original or complete Mahayana).
path of Theravada does not accommodate the radiant Truth at its
fullest, although in some cases a Mahayana teaching may be perceived
as Theravadin by a practitioner of the Small Vehicle. The mundane
path is grounded in minute analysis of form (rupa) Dharma and mind
(nama) Dharma, and how their interaction contributes to the illusion
of a separate ego. The term dharma may be interpreted as meaning
things, method, formula or standard; form is distinguished through
shape and color, mind through its function of knowing. Our body
is composed of four elements, i.e., earth, water, fire and wind;
these have the character of solidity, viscosity, temperature and
The body is
a mass of material and does not possess the faculty of knowing an
object; matter changes under physical conditions and because of
this feature it is called form. The element of earth is like the
body, complete with skin, flesh, tendons, bones in terms of weight,
softness and hardness. The element of water includes all bodily
liquids, all that relates to fluidity and viscosity. The element
of fire covers temperature in terms of warmth in varying degrees
of intensity up to the absence of warmth. The element of air manifests
as vibration in terms of movement. The body manifests the three
characteristics of existence, i.e., impermanence, unsatisfactory
condition and the absence of selfhood. Illness and death are caused
by an imbalance of the elements, their scarcity or absence according
to the Theravada teaching. Birth and death are the natural result
of body being compounded from these four elements.
What is mind?
Mind is knowing without form. What is form? Form is shape without
the capacity for knowing. Uninstructed worldlings view their physical
body (form), actually a collection of elements, as their self or
ego and therefore cannot leave the ocean of birth and death. Deeply
confused about truth, they feel oppressed because of wrong views.
The only correct way to put it is to say "this body is my body;
the mind is my real self." The knowing consciousness is the
master; the body, only a slave. Let us consider, for example, someone
who, though interested in attending this lecture, initially did
not want to make the effort because of feeling tired. But then he/she
had the following thought: "Hearing the commentary on that
sutra will increase my wisdom and reduce my defilement; I must go
and listen to the Dharma." Having persuaded him/herself, he/she
got on the bus and came here to hear this Dharma. Where did the
initiative originate? Clearly, it originated in the mind; the mind
is the master and the body is the slave.
a person of mundane concerns is very confused, mistaking the slave
for the master, and consequently there is birth and death., To perceive
the brilliant Dharma is to enlighten the mind to itself; originally
the mind had neither birth nor death. Although the body dies and
vanishes, the mind is imperishable and indestructible: Understanding
this experientially marks the end of the cyclic pattern of existence,
the exit from the ocean of suffering.
Mind is seeing,
hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and knowing. The six natures
or capacities for seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and
knowing are the nature of the mind. The Buddha spoke Dharma on numberless
occasions for forty-nine years. All of his teachings were expedient
means, and all his explanations and discourses were delivered for
the purpose of helping sentient beings to be freed from attachment
and delusion and to return to the Truth. He dealt predominantly
with two dharmas: Form and mind. According to the teaching later
formulated as the Small Vehicle, form and mind are two. The practitioner
should know the mind while not abandoning the form (body). Where
does mind dwell? According to physiology the heart is also the mind
(the organ) but efforts to prove it have been inconclusive so far.
some religions, the mind resides in the brain; however, all attempts
to find some proof to support such theory proved, again, negative.
Whenever people tried to find the very source, to pinpoint the exact
site where the mind is, the results were nil in each case. Since
mind is neither form nor name, in the context of BuddhaDharma it
is expediently termed "Emptiness" or "Void"
(Sunyata in Sanskrit).
On that particular
day, represented for us by the eighth of December, while he was
absorbed in deep samadhi, the Buddha attained complete enlightenment.
Noticing the bright morning star in the eastern sky, he observed
that the nature of seeing can be a kind of connecting: He realized
his own nature of seeing is boundless, and his first statement following
his enlightenment was: "Wonderful, wonderful! All sentient
beings have the same wisdom and virtue as the Tathagata, but because
of the obstacle of illusion and grasping they cannot attain."
"sentient beings" means produced by, composed of many,
not being just a separate "one". The human body, for example,
appears to be of one piece, yet it is composed of many concealed
parts, such as the heart, liver, kidneys, spleen, the lungs, the
pores, even some parasites. This means that a person, even though
being an entity, is also sentient beings. To reiterate, the Buddha's
view was that all sentient beings have the same virtue and the same
wisdom as the Tathagata - the pure, luminous virtue of Dharma-dhatu.
However, the sentient beings are confused, do not return to their
Original Nature and do not purify the Dharma-kaya and therefore
they are called sentient beings, or different from buddhas.
The Buddha saw
a star in the eastern sky following his enlightenment, and the Bodhisattva
Avalokitesvara practiced the three kinds of wisdom of the instructed
ones, meditated on sound and attained the stage of Bodhi. When all
conditions are generated by one's own mind, that is the Original
Mind. The ordinary person of mundane concerns looks at an object
and considers that seeing, and from that moment on adheres to the
view that a table is a table, a person is a person; taking the object
of seeing he/she fails to realize its subject. The view prevents
him/her from being able to abandon both subject and object (meaning
duality); how can he/she ever understand original seeing? He/she
twists the process of experience to fit his/her own concept of reality,
intensifying the delusion. To perceive one's Original Nature as
shapeless and formless is to perceive the true Void. People's potentials
are dissimilar. Whoever can understand his/her Original Nature is
clear-eyed; the one who takes the object of seeing and grasps the
form is caught in turbidity.
of the method promulgated by the Small Vehicle perceive mind as
mind, form as form, and conceive them as distinct and different.
That method focuses on observing the observer. The connection with
one's own nature is apparently not taken into consideration.
Seeing is the
nature of the eye; hearing is the nature of the ear organ; smelling
is the nature of the nose organ, tasting is the nature of the tongue
organ; touching is the nature of the body and knowing is the nature
of the mind. If the practice is based on this point of view, only
partial Void can be attained, although it can also be termed "enlightenment"
according to Buddhist understanding. Followers of Theravada hold
that clothing, nourishment and lodging are deemed to result from
conditioning causes and are not the concern of full-time practitioners.
These have surpassed the worldlings and therefore are viewed as
holy by the devotees sharing the same tradition.
Bodhisattva attained enlightenment by perceiving his Original Nature;
he abandoned the duality inherent in subject and object, whereupon
he attained the Middle Way perfectly and completely. That is the
pure, radiant Dharma-kaya, quite different from the accomplishments
in the tradition of the Small Vehicle. At one point in history one
thousand two hundred and fifty-five disciples of the Buddha became
Arhats: Nonetheless, their attainment was not exhaustive regarding
the Ultimate Truth, but merely the end of the birth and death allotment.
The study and practice of the bodhisattva Path was their opportunity
for expanding their practice by following the example of Avalokitesvara
of the immaterial substance of Reality marks the intermediate level
of the bodhisattva career, sometimes referred to as the first gate
of Mahayana and of the Middle Vehicle. It is considered to be a
higher doctrinal accomplishment than that of the Small Vehicle.
In the intermediate level the Void of the five skandhas is attained
and, accordingly, obstinate view is abandoned.
substance of Reality is perceived, but the perception of five skandhas
as the superb existence is still lacking. It is not actually necessary
to abandon the body after the attainment of the Void. Everyone has
form (body) and knowing; having attained the Void does not mean
one has to endeavor to abandon the body. Void means simply the absence
is Emptiness not of this world. The complete, perfect meaning of
true existence is Void not of this world; containing neither partial
existence nor partial Void, it is the Middle Way, also known as
the Ultimate Reality. In short, a mind that does not discriminate
by means of craving and clinging is the mind that understands the
meaning of "not of this world"; though non-existent, it
is the True Existence. There is no void, yet it is the supramundane,
recondite Emptiness. The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, in his great
wisdom, does not allow his mind to discriminate: Seeing is seeing,
hearing is bearing, smelling is smelling, tasting is tasting, knowing
is knowing, understanding is understanding; the six organs do not
dwell on the six types of data. Enlightened by means of perceiving
the sound of the tide, he comprehended the nature of hearing as
non-abiding; mind freed of grasping attains the wonderful Dharma
of the Inconceivable: That is the "True Existence in the supramundane