1. Shariputra, all Dharmas are empty - of things that owe their existence to causes & conditions, they are empty of any real nature, like illusions, like mirages, like echos. Whether they last one split second, or even if they last thousands of kalpas, in the end all dissolve back into emptiness. The Diamond Sutra said:
"Of all conditioned things,
They are like dreams, bubbles, shadows;
Like dew & like lightning,
So should you perceive them."
Because they are empty, they cannot be grasped to. That which cannot be grasped is no different from the Buddha-nature.
2. They are beyond birth & death, impurity or purity, increase or decrease - the body of the Buddha is adamantine in nature. It is fundamentally unborn, & thus also undying. Being free from impurity, thus it also need no purity. Originally perfect, how can there be any increase or decrease? What is this Buddha body? None other than your own true mind! The 6th Patriach said:
"Who would have thought that the Self-nature, is intrinsically pure!
Who would have thought that the Self-nature, is intrinsically free from birth & death!
Who would have thought that the Self-nature, is intrinsically self-sufficient!
Who would have thought that the Self-nature, is intrinsically immovable!
Who would have thought that the Self-nature,can produce all Dharmas!"Absolute is the Buddha-nature; Relative are birth, death, impurity, purity, increase & decrease. There is no room for the Relative in the Absolute, because all relative things that come into contact with the absolute are transformed into the absolute. Like snow flakes melting into a burning stove, or like smelling only the fragrance of jasmine when you enter a jasmine grove. The Buddha-nature is called Absolute as it is the ultimate reality. It stands on its own without need for any relative truths or what is known as duality. That which is non-dual is the Prajna Paramita of the Buddhas.
Because in emptiness there is no form, no feeling, perception, habit and consciousness. No eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. No vision, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought. No sphere of vision and so forth, not even a sphere of consciousness.
1. Because in emptiness - refers to the Absolute, the Buddha-nature, the true mind. There is nothing outside of it, yet it is neither within, without or in-between.
Ven Guishen once asked Ven Wenyi:
"See that big rock in the garden. You said that everything is within the mind; so is that rock within your mind, or without?"
Wenyi: "Within my mind."
Guishen: "You are a wandering monk & should travel light. Why carry such a big rock in your mind when you travel about?"
Wenyi was not able to reply. He stay with Guishen for more than a month to contemplate, but could not come to any realization. Finally when he ran out of answers completely, Guishen gave him a relevation:
"If we talk about the Dharma, everything is in the present moment."
Wenyi attained enlightenment upon hearing that, & went on to become the founder of the Fayan branch of Chan Buddhism.
2. There is no form, no feeling, perception, habit and consciousness - the 5 aggregates cannot stand within the Absolute.
3. No eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind - refers to our 6 sense organs.
4. No vision, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought - refers to the 6 sense objects.
5. No sphere of seeing and so forth, not even a sphere of consciousness - refers to the 6 sense spheres. When you break down the aggregates into subject & object, you get these 18 spheres. The 6 sense organs are the subject of Form, & the 6 sense objects are the object. When they interact with each other, you get the 6 sense spheres. From their interaction produces feeling, perception, habit & consciouness. No matter how you break them down, they still cannot stand within the Absolute. Mind, Buddha, Sentient beings; these are merely false names & also have no place in the Buddha-nature. Thus Ven Zhaozhou said:
"I don't like to hear the word Buddha!"
That being said, know that the nature of these 5 aggregates & 18 spheres are not apart from the Buddha-nature. Because they are empty, they are also non-arising & non-ceasing. Before we are enlightened, these aggregates & spheres are ruled by Avijja, creating all sorts of karma which causes Samsaric suffering. But after we are enlightened, they are dissolved back into the Absolute & simply become instruments for the Buddha-nature to reveal itself. Thus Ven Baozhi said:
"The Great Way is right before you,
Yet it is difficult for you to see it;
If you wish to know the body of the Great Way,
Do not seek them apart from form, sound & language."
The body of the Dharma cannot be grapsed, just as the body of all things are empty and also cannot be grasped. Thus it is called "Nothing". Yet within this nothing contains infinite wisdom & applications. Whether body or application, they are still One & the same thing, don't you see?
No ignorance or its extinction, not even aging and death and their extinction.
1. This verse refers to the 12 causal links of existence, namely: avijja (ignorance) - mental formations - consciousness - mind & matter - 6 sense bases - contact - feeling - craving - clinging - becoming - birth - aging & death. These links binds us to the wheel of samsara, leading us through the never-ending cycle of birth & death. The root cause of these 12 links is Avijja & it has been obscuring the Buddha-nature since time immemorial. Like the Buddha-nature, Avijja is without a beginning. But unlike the Buddha-nature, it can come to an end. Once Avijja is shattered, all the 12 causal links collapses; for they too cannot stand within the Absolute. Despite having obscured the true mind for so long, Avijja could not affect the purity of the Buddha-nature even one bit. All the infinite past lives of samsaric wandering appear to be like yesterday night's dreams. Once Avijja is shattered, there is no chance of it ever coming back, just as an enlightened person will never become deluded again. The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment says:
"Good man, it is like refining a piece of gold ore. The gold within does not come from refining, but once gold ore is refined into pure gold, it never becomes ore again. No matter how much time have passed, the nature of gold does not deteoriate. Thus you should not say it is not perfect from the beginning. The Complete Enlightenment of the Buddhas is no different."
Gold ore refers to the Buddha-nature obscured by Avijja, & pure gold refers to the Buddha-nature itself.
2. Those who realize enlightenment by themselves, breaking Avijja without any guidance are called Paccekas or Solitary Buddhas. Although they are enlightened, their enlightenment is incomplete because they still have a subtle clinging to the aspect of cessation in the Buddha-nature. They see only the body of emptiness, but they do not see its infinite applications. Thus they become stagnant, losing their inherent Prajna and are unable to preach the Dharma to others. Although the scriptures say they are superior to the Savakas, in the eyes of the Absolute they are no different - both are rotten seeds, content with dwelling in illusionary cities instead of the true mansion of the Tathagatas. Thus the Lotus Sutra says:
"In all the Buddha-lands,
There is only One vehicle;
Neither a second or third exists,
For they are only skillful means."
What is that One vehicle? None other than your present mind!
No suffering, no origin of suffering, no extinction and no path.
1. This refers to the 4 Noble Truths. But they too cannot stand within the Absolute. Why is this so? Because Suffering can only be ebstablished upon a Sufferer. When you cannot find a self or even a no-self, what more for the concept of a sufferer? Thus you see that the Noble Truths that the Savakas rely upon to reach Nibbana are by themselves without any real nature, what more for the fruits of their path? That's why when Emperor Liang Wudi asked Bodhidharma:
"What is the highest meaning of the Noble Truths?"
His reply was: "Vast emptiness, nothing noble."
Wudi: "Who is the one speaking to me then?"
Bodhidharma: "I do not know."
Bodhidharma honestly revealed the Absolute to Wudi, but alas, he was not able to understand it.
No wisdom and no attainment; there is nothing to attain.
1. If the Absolute can have wisdom & attainment, then it is not the Absolute. The wisdom of the Buddha-nature is the wisdom of non-wisdom, which cannot be attained as it is inherent within the Buddha-nature itself. Our true nature is non-abiding, & therefore it is able to penetrate all things in all time & space. When we use it, we give it a false name called "Prajna"; when we don't use it, it is nameless, formless, & beyond all dual conceptions. If we have to name this body, we simply call it "Paramita", which is also another false name. But in reality there is neither Prajna nor Paramita for they are One & the same thing. In the Vimalakirti Sutra, Shariputra asked the Devi:
"Devi, how soon will you attain perfect enlightenment?"
Devi: "At such time as you, Elder, become an ordinary being once again, then will I attain perfect enlightenment."
Shariputra: "Devi, it is impossible that I should become an ordinary being once again."
Devi: "Just so, Ven Shariputra, it is impossible that I should attain perfect enlightenment! Why? Because perfect enlightenment is not something that can be attained."
Shariputra: "But the Buddhas of the past, present & future who have attained perfect enlightenment are as numerous as the sands of the Ganges. What will you say of them?"
Devi: "Ven Shariputra, the expression, 'the Buddhas of the past, present and future' is merely a conventional expression spoken in line with worldy thinking. It does not mean enlightenment is tied to the past, present or future. But tell me, Elder, have you attained arahatship?"
Shariputra: "It is attained, because there is nothing to attain."
Devi: "Just so, all Buddhas & Bodhisattvas attain perfect enlightenment because there is nothing to be attained."
Only when there is no wisdom & no attainment, can one truly see what is Prajna Paramita.
(to be continued..)