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Section Four: Buddhist Philosophy and Terminology

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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4.1 What Does Pusa (Bodhisattva) Mean?

The Chinese word pusa is an abbreviated transliteration of the Sanskrit word bodhisattva. The complete transliteration should be putisaduo. “Bodhi” means “awakened” or “enlightened” and “sattva” means “sentient being,” so bodhisattva means “awakened sentient being.” The term sentient being refers

to any form of life that can feel love and other emotions, mainly animals. Bodhisattvas are enlightened sentient beings who are aware of all sentient beings’ sufferings, feel sympathy for others’ plight, and act to succor them. Therefore, we often speak of a person who is altruistic and helps those

in difficulties as “having the heart of a bodhisattva.” The basic meaning of the word bodhisattva is very different from what most Chinese people understand. The clay or wooden statues of various spirits or gods such as the neighborhood locality god or city god are definitely not bodhisattvas. Rather, bodhisattvas are those who have faith in the Buddha’s teachings and seek to practice them, who then vow to liberate themselves and others,

and who can even disregard themselves in order to save others. To become a Buddha, a sentient being must pass through the stage of being a bodhisattva, and he or she must make and take to heart great vows, especially the Four Great Vows: “To deliver innumerable sentient beings, to cut off endless vexations, to master limitless approaches to the Dharma, and to attain supreme Buddhahood.” We can see how difficult it is to be a real

bodhisattva. But in another sense of the word, anyone who aspires to become a Buddha, from the time the vow is first generated until the eventual attainment of Buddhahood, can be called a bodhisattva. Hence, there is a difference between ordinary bodhisattvas and noble bodhisattvas. The bodhisattvas mentioned in the sūtras are mostly noble bodhisattvas. According to the Sūtra on the Deeds of Bodhisattvas as Necklaces of Gems, bodhisattvas can be classified into fifty-two levels, and only the top twelve levels (from the first ground to the tenth ground, plus


the ground of equivalent enlightenment and the ground of wondrous enlightenment) are noble stages. Actually, a bodhisattva in the wondrous enlightenment stage is a Buddha, and a bodhisattva in the equivalent enlightenment stage will become a Buddha in his next life. The bodhisattvas we know of, such as Guanyin, Mahāsthāmaprāpta, Samantabhadra, Mañjuśrī, Maitreya, and Earth Treasury are bodhisattvas at the stage of equivalent enlightenment.2


4.2What Do Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna Refer To?

During the Buddha’s time, there was no distinction between the Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna. The Dharma is of one flavor; it’s just that different listeners understand it differently and attain different levels of realization.3* To listeners with shallow karmic

capacity, the Buddha taught basic human ethics such as keeping the five precepts and practicing the ten good deeds, the so-called human and heavenly vehicles. To listeners who felt great repugnance for life, the Buddha taught the lesser vehicle of the śrāvaka, the means to liberate beings from

cyclical existence. And to those with deep karmic capacity and the compassionate wish to transform the world, he taught the greater vehicle of the bodhisattva. In fact, there are a total of five vehicles in Buddhist practice: the human, heavenly, śrāvaka, pratyekabuddha, and bodhisattva vehicles. Those who practice the five precepts and ten good deeds in a superior


manner ascend to the heavens, while those who practice them in an average manner are reborn as humans. Together, these two vehicles are called the human and heavenly path. Śrāvakas are practitioners who have transcended life and death after hearing the Dharma and practicing it. Pratyekabuddhas are practitioners who have transcended life and death after practicing themselves, without having heard the Dharma from a teacher. The practices of these two, śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, are collectively called the path of liberation. The bodhisattva path is a practice that seeks liberation

without renouncing human and heavenly activities. Thus, the Mahāyāna bodhisattva path integrates both the liberation path and the human and heavenly path. Those who only practice the five precepts and the ten good deeds of the human and heavenly path are still ordinary people. In contrast, individuals who have attained liberation and are hence no longer subject to birth and death are called noble ones.4* Noble ones who are only interested in practicing the Dharma for liberation, with no intention to come back to liberate other sentient beings, are referred to as followers of

the Hīnayāna, meaning “small or lesser vehicle.” Bodhisattvas aim to attain supreme Buddhahood and liberation on one hand, and to save numberless sentient beings from suffering on the other. Therefore, they are called followers of the Mahāyāna, or the “great vehicle.” Buddhism can also be

divided into the Northern and Southern traditions according to its geographic distribution. According to one system of classification, the Northern tradition is based on Sanskrit scriptures and is Mahāyāna Buddhism; China is central to this tradition, which also spread to Japan, Korea, Mongolia,

and Tibet. The Southern tradition is based on Pali scriptures and is Hīnayāna Buddhism; Sri Lanka is central to the tradition, which also spread to Thailand and Burma.5* Actually though, this is just the Northern tradition’s classification system, and the Southern tradition completely rejects it: as we can see in scroll 45 of the Monastic Code of the Mūlasarvāstivāda and

in sūtra 769 in scroll 28 of the Za ahan sūtras, the term dasheng [meaning “great vehicle,” which could translate back into the Sanskrit

word mahāyāna] is used to label the practice of the Eightfold Noble Path.6 Also, in sūtra 669 in scroll 26 of the Za ahan sūtras, the term dashi

[meaning “great person,” which could translate back into the Sanskrit word mahāsattva] is used to describe practitioners who practice the four methods of inducement.7* Finally, in scroll 9 of the Zengyi ahan sūtras, the six perfections (liudu) of the Mahāyāna are clearly mentioned.8* In

terms of theoretical development the Northern tradition is superior to the Southern tradition. But in terms of actual practice, people in the Northern tradition do not necessarily follow the Mahāyāna path, nor do those in the Southern tradition necessarily follow the Hīnayāna path. And

except for vegetarianism, the Northern tradition in China has no practices superior to those of the Southern tradition. During the Wei-Jin period (220–420), the practice of pure talk, which was centered on the abstruse philosophy called dark learning or “studies of the abstruse” that developed from the Daoist thought of Laozi and Zhuangzi, was prevalent. Mahāyāna Buddhism was received in a similar vein: elite scholar-gentry during that

period discussed Buddhist ideas as an idle pastime, as a part of their “pure talk.” In fact, the theoretical underpinnings of the Chinese Tiantai and Huayan schools somewhat reflect this trend. Therefore, the modern Japanese scholar Kimura Taiken (88–93) has criticized Chinese Buddhism as the Buddhism of scholarship, not the Buddhism of practice. His critique is not totally unfounded. In fact, the philosophical structures of the Tiantai


and Huayan schools largely emerged from the enlightenment experiences of eminent Chinese monks; these structures lack sufficient basis in Indian Buddhist thought. Therefore the true spirit of Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhism has not yet been disseminated among the people, much less become a refuge for the common Chinese people. Consequently, some have said that Chinese Buddhism is Mahāyāna Buddhism in philosophy, but Hīnayāna Buddhism in practice.


4.3 How Long Does It Take to Become a Buddha?

To become a Buddha is a very difficult and remote goal. To transcend birth and death is not so difficult: at most, it takes one hundred kalpas, and at least four lifetimes, to become a pratyekabuddha. And one can become an arhat in one life, three lives,

or within one hundred kalpas at most. Mahāyāna practitioners with sharp karmic roots can attain the stage of purity of the six sense faculties (a stage toward the end of sam .sāra, close to entering the noble stages [according to the stages of the Tiantai school’s Perfect Teachings; see figure

on page 0]) within one life. But to become a Buddha is not easy at all. It is commonly said that starting from the time one first develops faith in Buddhism, it takes [at least] three immeasurable kalpas (“immeasurable” does not mean without number, but simply difficult to count) to attain Buddhahood.9* One kalpa is already a long time, not to mention three immeasurable kalpas! During this very immense period of time, one has to practice the bodhisattva path to benefit all sentient beings. If one is particularly diligent, the time needed may be less, but if one is lax, it

might take longer. In any case, one has to attain perfected merit and wisdom, and teach and succor sentient beings everywhere before one can become a Buddha. In fact, time and space are concepts of ordinary people with discriminating minds. Noble bodhisattvas have no such conceptions, because time and space are merely conventional designations of the physical world. In the world of pure mind, concepts such as the length of time or the size of

space cannot even be established. Even the dreams of ordinary people are unfettered by the limitations of ordinary time and space—how could noble ones who have transcended the world be bound by such limitations? A sūtra states that a long kalpa “enters” a short kalpa and a short kalpa enters a long kalpa, that one kalpa enters all kalpas and that all kalpas enter one kalpa, that a moment of thought enters the three times and the three times enter a moment of thought, that a billion-world universe enters a particle and a particle is the


same as a billion-world universe, and even that one skin pore contains countless worlds (see the Avatam . saka Sūtra).0 While these statements may at first seem to be mind-boggling myths, after deeper and objective analysis we discover they are not without truth. Of course, an ordinary person cannot personally realize such exalted modes of perception.


4.4 Can One Become a Buddha Instantaneously?

It is true there is the Buddhist admonition “The moment a butcher puts down his knife, he becomes a Buddha right on the spot.” The message is similar to the old saying “The return of a prodigal son is worth more than gold.” However, the value of a prodigal son’s return lies in his ability to change and reform. Only if he actually rebuilds his life can we say that he has “returned” and so is

“worth more than gold.” In the same vein, the Buddhist statement “The moment a butcher puts down his knife, he becomes a Buddha right on the spot” is really just an affirmation of the good side of the butcher’s nature, his buddha-nature. It does not really mean he immediately attains true Buddhahood, the supreme, perfect enlightenment. According to the Perfect Teachings (yuanjiao) outlined by the Tiantai school, there exist six kinds of

Buddhahood, called the Six Identities.2* The first kind of Buddha or Buddhahood in figure 2 refers to all sentient beings. The Buddha said: “All sentient beings have buddhanature.”3 The fact that all sentient beings on the earth possess the Tathāgata’s wisdom and meritorious characteristics is Buddhahood

in Principle. The second level consists of people who have heard the Dharma and already know they intrinsically possess buddha-nature, the potential to become a Buddha. People who are practicing the Dharma and can subdue (but not sever) the afflictions occupy the third level. Those at the fourth level have purified their six sense faculties and are fast approaching entry into the noble stages. The fifth level comprises noble bodhisattvas who have reached the first abiding stage or beyond.


Identity to Buddhahood in Principle

All beings have the essential nature of enlightenment, or buddha-nature.


Those who haven’t heard the Dharma


Identity to Buddhahood in Name

Those who learn they have buddha nature, and are able to understand this doctrine conceptually


Those who have heard the Dharma


six identities


Identity to Buddhahood in Contemplative Practice

Those who constantly practice contemplation of the mind and subdue all vexations that arise


Five Grades of Disciples, whose central practices are: 1 joy in the Dharma 2 reading and reciting sūtras 3 preaching 4 practicing the six perfections partially 5 practicing the six perfections perfectly


Outside Ordinary People or “Outsiders”


4 Identity to Buddhahood in Semblance

Those who have reached a deep level of practice, and attain purity of the six sense faculties


Ten Devout Minds


Inside Ordinary People or “Insiders”


Identity to Buddhahood in Partial Realization


Those who have entered the noble stages. They continually chip away at ignorance and realize more and more their basic enlightenment or buddha-nature.


Ten Abidings Ten Practices Ten Transferences Ten Grounds Equivalent Enlightenment Stage


Noble Causes


Absolute Identity to Buddhahood


Those who sever ignorance, attain perfection of merits, and realize their enlightened nature

Wondrous Enlightenment Stage

Noble Fruition


six identities


The sixth level consists of true Buddhas, who have achieved the perfect fruition of unsurpassed, perfect enlightenment.4* From the discussion above, we can infer that the word Buddha in the phrase “becomes a Buddha on the spot” must refer to Buddha in Principle (first level) or Buddha in Name

(second level), not the ultimate Buddha (sixth level). When one drops his butcher’s knife, one has set out on the path to perfect his buddha-nature, and the saying that one “becomes a Buddha on the spot” is equivalent to the saying “The shore is right there if you turn your head.” So, dropping the knife does not make the butcher a Buddha immediately, just as turning back from the sea of suffering does not immediately bring one back to the shore.

Knowing these principles helps us to understand by inference the meaning of enlightenment in Chan Buddhism. Many people believe that to realize [the content of Chan teachings such as] “this very mind is Buddha,” “the illuminated mind is Buddha,” “no-mind is Buddha,” or “one’s original face before

emerging from one’s mother’s womb,” and other such expressions means to attain Buddhahood. They also think that as soon as they are enlightened, “suddenly breaking through the blackened lacquer bucket,” they immediately become Buddhas.5* As a matter of fact, experiencing an awakening or

enlightenment (C. wu; J. satori) is not identical to attaining Buddhahood, and is not necessarily the same as “seeing the path” (S. darśana-mārga; C. jiandao). For example, Song dynasty Chan Master Gaofeng Yuanmiao (238–295) said that he practiced very energetically throughout his life,

attaining eighteen major awakenings and even more minor awakenings. So we can see that enlightenment is not Buddhahood. If it is said to be Buddhahood, the Buddhahood attained is the Buddhahood in Principle or even the stage up to Buddhahood in Semblance, but certainly not Absolute

Buddhahood. At most, enlightenment in Chan Buddhism is something like attaining the “pure Dharma-eye” (S. dharmacaks .u-viśuddha; C. fayanjing) that is, seeing the path (jiandao), which corresponds to the first fruit [[[stream-entry]]] in Nikāya Buddhism.6* So a Chan practitioner has to break through [what the Chan school calls] the three barriers—the initial barrier to investigation [into one’s original nature], the obdurate barrier, and the final unyielding barrier—even to begin to be truly liberated from the stream of birth and death. In terms of the Tiantai school’s sixfold Buddhahood system

of the Perfect Teachings, the stage of a Chan practitioner after breaking through the last barrier corresponds only to the fourth identity, Buddhahood in Semblance. For this reason, after the Chan patriarchs had found an “entrance point” [into enlightenment]— abruptly breaking through the blackened lacquer bucket—they often hid away in a secluded place to “grow and nurture the sacred embryo,” since they had not reached the noble stages

yet.7* Based on the information above, we can see that it’s time for some Chan practitioners who just blindly practice with misconceptions about enlightenment to clear up their minds. Even if they have broken through all three barriers, they are still just ordinary people who have reached the stage of having become “insiders.”


4.5 What Is a Kalpa?

The word kalpa was not coined by Buddhists but rather was a general term to measure time in ancient India. It can signify a long time or a short time, from as long as eternity to as short as an instant.8 But in most cases, kalpa refers to an eon in our Universe of Tribulation.

Three categories of kalpas are mentioned in Buddhist scriptures:  Small kalpa: The duration of a small kalpa is determined by reference to the lifespan of humans on the earth.9* The time required for a human lifespan of 84,000 years, which then decreases one year every one hundred years, to reach a lifespan of only ten years is called a kalpa of decrease. Similarly, the time required for a human lifespan of ten years, increasing at an increment of one year every one hundred years, to reach a lifespan of 84,000 years is called

a kalpa of increase. One small kalpa equals a kalpa of decrease plus a kalpa of increase.20* 2 Medium kalpa: A period of twenty small kalpas is called a medium kalpa. According to Buddhist scriptures, the existence of our planet can be divided into the four periods of formation, stasis, dis


solution, and nothingness, with each period lasting twenty small kalpas. Only during the stasis period is the planet suitable for human habitation. In the formation period, gases coalesce into liquids, and then some liquids coalesce into solids, so Earth is not suitable for living. In the

dissolution period, Earth is destroyed by violent catastrophes, and is likewise unsuitable for human life. It is said that after a great fire [during the dissolution kalpa], our Earth will vanish, and that during other cycles of the universe, the world is sometimes destroyed by water or wind rather than by fire. The kalpa of dissolution is followed by the kalpa of nothingness, during which absolutely nothing exists. After twenty small kalpas of

nothingness, another Earth will be formed, and another period of formation will begin. Each of the four stages of formation, stasis, dissolution and nothingness is called a medium kalpa, and they are named the formation kalpa, stasis kalpa, dissolution kalpa, and nothingness kalpa, respectively. 3 Great kalpa: One great kalpa consists of the four medium kalpas of formation, stasis, dissolution, and nothingness. In other words, from the

formation of one billion-world universe, through its destruction, until the beginning of the formation of its replacement billion-world universe is a great kalpa. Each of the big fires during a dissolution kalpa will spread from the Hell of Unintermittent Torture through the First Dhyāna Heavens in the realm of form. Each of the big floods will destroy the areas from the Hell of Unintermittent Torture through the Second Dhyāna Heavens. The last

windstorm [at the end of a cycle of sixty-four great kalpas] will destroy everything from the Hell of Unintermittent Torture through the Third Dhyāna Heavens. The impacted areas during the dissolution kalpa of a great kalpa therefore can include everything within the three realms, except for the

Fourth Dhyāna Heavens of the realm of the form and the four heavens in the realm of formlessness. Every living being will want to escape from such catastrophes. Don’t feel sad, however: before the dissolution kalpa comes, the sentient beings in this world will have been reborn into another universe or


into one of the higher, safe dhyāna heavens of this universe. Everyone will have found a safe place. In Buddhist scriptures the word kalpa generally refers to a great kalpa unless it is labeled a small or a medium kalpa. The lifespan of a sentient being can be as short as a moment, such that the being dies immediately after birth, or as long as that of a sentient being who practices the four formless concentrations and is reborn into the

realm of formlessness. The longest life expectancy, for beings reborn into the Heaven of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception, is 84,000 great kalpas. The length of their lives therefore equals the duration of 84,000 cycles of the formation and destruction of the earth. Such beings may think

they have already reached the state of deathlessness, but in reality, they will be subject to death and rebirth again after 84,000 great kalpas. From the vantage point of a Buddha, 84,000 great kalpas is but an instant. Only by cultivating the path of liberation and seeing the emptiness of self can

one enter nirvān .a—the state of no birth and no death. And only by going one step further and dissolving one’s attachment to dharmas can one become a bodhisattva, liberated from birth and death and yet not abiding in nirvān .a, manifesting in different guises according to the needs of other beings as he or she walks along the path to Buddhahood. Some of you may ask, “How many years remain before our Earth is destroyed?” For this question, I will answer with an analogy. If we were to regard the stasis kalpa as lasting one hundred years, then today our Earth is about forty-five years old.

The stasis kalpa contains twenty small kalpas, and at the moment we are in the kalpa of decrease in the ninth small kalpa. So everyone should feel at ease, and not be scared by the Christians’ claim that “the end of the world is fast approaching.” But in the decreasing kalpa of every small kalpa,


as the human life expectancy approaches ten years of age, pestilence, famine, and war will break out due to the increasing decadence of the human mind. These three catastrophes are, however, temporary and limited in scope, so many will die but the human race will survive. On the positive side, there is good news to share with everyone: a total of 996 bodhisattvas


will come to our Earth and achieve Buddhahood here during the remaining ten and one-half small kalpas. The first one to come will be Maitreya Buddha, which is why he is called “the coming, revered Buddha Maitreya.” Maitreya will be reborn on Earth to attain Buddhahood in the kalpa of decrease during the tenth small kalpa when the human lifespan is 80,000 years, about 8.8 million years from now.2* Regarding the truth of increasing (and decreasing) human life expectancies, as high as 84,000 years in the kalpa of increase, we might as well accept it as true, because both Mahāyāna and

Nikāya scriptures record such claims. A sūtra states: “People’s life expectancy will gradually decrease to ten years. When people live only ten years, a girl will be marriageable when she reaches five months of age; no sweet things such as ghee, ground sugar, or molasses will be heard of in


that era.”22 It also states: “When the human lifespan is 80,000 years, a female will be marriageable when she reaches 500 years of age; at that time, the earth will be even and flat, without ditches, pits, hills, mounds, brambles, or thorns. Nor will there be mosquitoes, gadflies, snakes, lizards, or poisonous vermin. Tiles, stones, and grains of sand will become lapis lazuli. The people will be strong and healthy; the five grains abundant and inexpensive; and the world happy and rich without limit.”23*


4.6 What Is a Billion-World Universe?

In the Buddhist sūtras, a sun/moon system is called a world-system or “small world” (xiao shijie). Mount Sumeru is the center around which a sun and a moon orbit, so a world-system can also be called a “Mount Sumeru world.” The reality of Mount Sumeru is still an unresolved issue in Buddhist scholarship. Some progressive Buddhists (such as some Japanese scholars) think the idea originated from ancient Indian legends, and that the Buddha

just borrowed it for his discourses. They believe that whether or not the legendary Mount Sumeru exists is unrelated to the Buddha’s goal in teaching. Such scholars claim that the Buddha’s goal was to awaken and succor sentient beings through the Dharma, and that in doing so he utilized the legendary Mount Sumeru in his teachings.


This explanation certainly has its merits. But if one is to discuss Buddhist cosmology, one inevitably has to discuss Mount Sumeru. So then, where is Mount Sumeru? This writer dares not deny its existence, yet has no way to affirm its existence, either. Before we know for certain, it’s safest just to stay with our uncertainty. Therefore, I will leave aside the issue of Mount Sumeru in the following discussion.24 Since a single world-system is defined as a sun/moon system, it must refer to a solar system.25* Because each star has satellites, the star is the sun and all the satellites are

“moons.” So in our solar system, not only our moon but all the nine planets could [in Sheng Yen’s interpretation] be considered moons. The sūtras say that the scope of a world-system extends from the deepest hell, the Hell of Unintermittent Torture, through the Great Brahmā Heaven in the realm of form. A thousand world-systems form a thousand-world universe (xiaoqian shijie). The scope of each thousand-world universe extends through the Light-

Sound Heaven in the realm of form. One thousand thousand-world universes form a million-world universe (zhongqian shijie), which extends through the Heaven of Universal Purity. A thousand million-world universes form a billion-world universe (daqian shijie, or sanqian daqian shijie). Each of the billion-world universes extends through the Heaven of Ultimate Form.26 The ruler of a billion-world universe is the deity Maheśvara, who lives in the Heaven of Ultimate Form (S. akanis .ta). Each billion-world universe has its Maheśvara, and since there


are countless billion-world universes, there are countless Maheśvaras. Our billion-world universe is called the Universe of Tribulation. Each billion-world universe is the domain in which a single Buddha teaches the Dharma. Therefore, sometimes Śākyamuni, the Worldhonored One, is called the “lord of the teachings in the Universe of Tribulation.” The planet we inhabit is an insignificant part of our billion-world universe. In order to be able to spread the Dharma throughout his domain, Śākyamuni Buddha produces vast numbers of identical


manifestations of himself, which are called manifestation bodies or emanation bodies. Although he produces vast numbers of such bodies, they all remain within the confines of our billion-world Universe of Tribulation. From the discussion above, we can see Buddhist cosmology is an enormous and expansive system that resembles modern astronomy.


4.7 What Does “Purity of the Six Sense Faculties” Mean?

Most people who don’t understand the Dharma have a superficial or even ridiculous understanding of the term “purity of the six sense faculties” (liugen qingjing). They think all monks or nuns are pure with respect to the six faculties. If a monastic evinces any habit that suggests desire for sex or money, newspaper reporters hunting for scandals will blow it out of proportion, criticizing the monastic for being “impure with respect to the six faculties.” As for the meaning

of the “six faculties” and “purity of the six faculties,” they don’t know or even want to know. Actually, the phrasepurity with respect to the six faculties” has many principles behind it. The six faculties represent the entire physiological field. Buddhists view the universe and life not from

the perspective of a materialist, idealist, or theist, but as proponents of conditioned arising. Thus, Buddhists analyze the human being from three perspectives: psychological, physiological, and physical. The six faculties are physiological, whereas the six objects are physical and the six consciousnesses are psychological. Together, they form a complete human being. The six faculties [[[liu]] gen, “six roots”], six objects [[[liu]] chen, “six dusts”], and six consciousnesses (liu shi) are together called the eighteen elements (shiba jie). These three divisions of the eighteen elements are like the three legs of a tripod; if one leg is lacking, the other two will be unable to carry out their functions. The six objects and six consciousnesses cannot interact without the six faculties serving as a medium. The six objects and the six faculties rely on the distinguishing function of the six con


sciousnesses to be of value. And the six faculties and the six consciousnesses function only if the six objects are present to be reflected. To draw an analogy, the six faculties are mirrors, the six sense objects are images reflected in the mirrors, and the six consciousnesses are people who distinguish the images in the mirrors. What are the six faculties, six objects, and six consciousnesses? The eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and

intellect, in their capacity as media between the psychological and the physical, are called the six faculties.27* These six can be identified with the functions of certain nerves. The eyes have optic nerves; the ears have auditory nerves; the nose has olfactory nerves; the tongue has gustatory nerves; the body has tactile nerves; and the intellect has various cerebral nerves. Because they are the fundamental or root preconditions for

interaction between the mind and objects, these six faculties are called the “six roots” in Chinese.28* Each of the six faculties receives a particular class of object, and these objects are the six sense objects, or the various kinds of matter described by physics. These are the colors and forms seen by the eyes, the sounds heard by the ears, the scents smelled by the nose, the flavors tasted by the tongue, the tactile sensations


sensed by the body, and the thoughts of the intellect. Here “thoughts” mean what in Buddhist terminology are called dharmas, which in this context refer to things that are extremely subtle and difficult to grasp [i.e., objects of perception that are not perceived through the five basic sense faculties]. The six faculties receive the six sense objects, initiating the processes of distinguishing and memory called the six consciousnesses. A

person with the six faculties and six objects but no six consciousnesses would be a corpse, not a living being. So the six consciousnesses control the six faculties, whereas the six faculties are the tools used by the six consciousnesses to detect the six sense objects. Why then do we say “purity of the six faculties”? Because the six faculties are tools of the six consciousnesses, and although the six consciousnesses direct one to do evil or good, the six faculties actually carry out these behaviors. People cycle around in the bitter sea of birth and


death because their six faculties have never been pure. The misdeeds they have committed since beginningless time have been performed by the six faculties. For example, the eyes crave for forms, the ears long for sounds, the tongue desires flavors, the body yearns for tender and smooth sensations, and the intellect hungers for happy states of mind. When craving is present, anger is also inevitable. Craving and anger originate from

the affliction of ignorance. Together, the three poisons of craving, anger, and ignorance aggravate and exacerbate one’s wrongdoing. Under their influence, one may commit more evil than good, eliminating one’s chance to escape from the sea of sam .sāra. The path of liberation is embodied in the threefold practice of precepts, concentration, and wisdom. But the sources of wisdom are precepts and meditative concentration, so beginners should

work to cultivate body and mind. To cultivate the mind is to eliminate bad thoughts, and this is mainly achieved through meditative concentration. To cultivate the body is to eliminate bad behavior, which is achieved mainly by upholding the precepts. The purpose of keeping the precepts is to guard the sensory doorways to the field of consciousness so that nothing bad slips in and plants the seeds for misfortune and rebirth. An ordinary person

always has delusive thinking unless he or she is in a state of meditative absorption (S. dhyāna). Delusive thinking is the fuse triggering karmic action on the part of the six faculties, and Buddhist precepts serve as safety fuses or fire extinguishers between delusive thinking and the six faculties. Only under the protection of precepts can the six faculties gradually be purified. As soon as one achieves purity of the six faculties, one


is close to entering the noble stages of practice.29* Most monks and nuns are ordinary people who, under the protection of the monastic precepts, are doing their best to guard the six sense faculties. But their six faculties are far from pure. Many people think monks or nuns have purity of the six faculties as long as they don’t engage in debauchery, crave for wealth, or involve themselves in selfcentered disputes and arguments. But actually, any craving for material things indicates lack of purity of the six faculties, whether it be craving


for sights, sounds, scents, foods, clothing, entertainment, or something to use. As long as craving or grasping is present, the six faculties are

impure. Unlike sexual and financial wrongdoings, however, clinging to other things is subtle and difficult to detect, and few people notice it. According to the Tiantai school’s classification of stages for the Perfect Teachings, purity of the six faculties is attained during the first ten stages of the fifty-two stages on the bodhisattva path, the ten devout minds (shi xinwei). During these stages, one will sever the afflictions of view and thought (jiansi huo), which in the Consciousness-only school’s terminology correspond to the discriminative afflictive hindrances (fenbie fannao

zhang) and discriminative noetic hindrances (fenbie suozhi zhang).30* This attainment should occur when an outside ordinary person (wai fanfu) enters the virtuous stages (xianwei) to become an inside ordinary person (nei fanfu).3 According to the Lotus and Parinirvān .a sūtras, purity of six faculties enables one to substitute one faculty for another, that is, to use one sense faculty to do the work of any of the other five faculties. For

example, the eyes can see, but also hear, smell, taste, etc.; the ears can hear, but also see, smell, taste, etc.; and so forth for the nose, tongue, body, and intellect. The general reader may consider the multi-functioning of the six faculties a fantastic myth. In fact, it is just that we are unable to do this because we limit our sense faculties. In other words, we use our six faculties to grasp and fetch the six sense objects, and these

six objects plug up the six faculties, obstructing them. The six faculties become enslaved to the six sense objects, carrying out their every prodding like sycophants. When color and form appear, the eyes react; when sound comes, the ears react; if scent is present, the nose reacts; and so forth for the tongue, body, and mind.32* If instead the six faculties do not grasp sense objects—if they are not controlled or seduced by sense

objects—they will be emancipated from sense objects. Emancipated faculties are free faculties, free to substitute for one another without limitation. These free sense faculties are called pure sense faculties because although they still interact with


sense objects, they are not seduced by sense objects and do not produce the tainted karma leading to rebirth in sam .sāra. To clarify once again, purity of the six sense faculties does not imply that they cease to exist. It means that our physiological faculties will no longer be manipulated by

the illusory phenomena in the external environment. To reach this state is to be “untainted by even a single speck of dust [[[sense object]]]”—and one can’t reach this state by casual effort. To help readers remember, the six sense faculties, six sense objects, and six consciousnesses are listed in figure

3. The six consciousnesses activate the six faculties and thereby contact the six sense objects. After sense objects are reflected into the six faculties, the six consciousnesses discern and store them in memory. Next, these memories emerge from the six consciousnesses, leading the six faculties to crave and grasp at the six sense objects. These interactions lead to the stream of rebirth and redeath, and purity of the six sense faculties breaks and transcends this continual cycle.


4.8 What Does “Emptiness of the Four Greats” Mean?

In the phrase “the four greats are all empty” (si da jie kong), exactly what are the four “greats” that need to be dissolved or “emptied”? People who don’t understand the Dharma will blurt out: “The four ‘greats’ to be emptied are liquor, sex, money, and anger!”33*

six sense faculties six sense objects six consciousnesses eye sights visual consciousness ear sounds auditory consciousness nose smells olfactory consciousness tongue tastes gustatory consciousness body tactile sensations tactile consciousness intellect non-physical intellect consciousness objects of perception


That answer doesn’t correspond at all to the four greats in Buddhism. The four greats discussed by Buddhists are the four great material elements: earth, water, fire, and wind. Buddhists did not invent the concept of the four elements; rather, it was a conclusion drawn from humanity’s early investigations into the fundamental composition of the universe. Similar formulations are evident in the history of both Western and Eastern philosophy. For example, the Chinese Classic of Documents mentions five elements: water, fire, metal, wood, and earth, and the ancient Indian Vedas

assert that the universe was formed based on five natural elements: earth, water, wind, fire, and space. In a similar vein, the ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles (ca. 495–ca. 435 bce) claimed that air, water, earth, and fire are the four unchanging primary elements in the universe. In

summary, these systems of four or five elements all point to the fundamental elements in the physical world. If one’s view of reality is limited by such a perspective, one will develop into a materialist, and indeed these systems are the predecessors of materialism. The four elements discussed in Buddhism are taken from ancient Indian thought but are understood in a deeper and Buddhist manner. The four elements of earth, water, fire, and wind are the primary elements of the physical world, and can be paired with a variety of phenomena. In terms of the outer world, mountains and earth

pertain to the earth element, oceans and rivers pertain to the water element, sunlight and heat pertain to the fire element, and the air and air currents pertain to the wind element. If the four elements are used to describe human physiology, then hair, bone, and flesh pertain to the earth element; the blood and secretions pertain to the water element; body heat pertains to the fire element; and breath pertains to the wind element. If the four elements are paired with their physical characteristics, then solidity pertains to the earth element, moisture pertains to the water element, warmth pertains to the fire element, and fluidity pertains to the wind element. No mater how the four elements are analyzed, they describe only the physical world, not the spiritual or mental world. So whereas materialists claim the four elements are the root source of the universe, Buddhists do not agree with this claim at all.


Mahāyāna and Nikāya Buddhism interpret the four elements differently. Generally speaking, Nikāya Buddhism takes the four elements to be the primary causes of material phenomena, and hence they are also called the “four great seeds.” This label implies that the four elements are the seeds which

bring forth all other matter, so that all material phenomena result from the interactions of the four elements. If the four elements are in harmony, then things will flourish; if the four elements are in contradiction, then destruction will occur. Such thinking is applied not only to the outer world but also to physiology, so according to Buddhism, sickness is said to result from disharmony among the four elements. Nikāyists contemplate the

four elements in order to see the emptiness of the physical body by observing that the body is merely a transient combination of the four elements. Hence, they see that the physical body is not a substantial “self,” and therefore they do not produce the sam .sāric karma that results from grasping the physical body as self. As soon as they realize the emptiness of self, they enter into the nirvān .a of Nikāya Buddhism and no longer cycle through birth and death. According to Mahāyāna Buddhism, the four “elements” are not

the primary constituents of matter, but just material phenomena— provisional constructions, not substantial entities; mirages, not substances. The elements are merely the facilitating conditions and not


the foundational causes of physical phenomena. So although the four elements are called the seeds of physical phenomena, they are not regarded as the true face behind such phenomena. In contrast, Nikāyists dissolve the self [by seeing the emptiness of self] but do not dissolve the dharmas, and so


although they view gross physical phenomena as empty, they believe the four elements exist substantially [i.e., posses inherent nature] in the form of ultimate particles (S. param . ānu; C. jiwei). But the Nikāya Buddhist view of existence is not materialism, but pluralism, because in realizing emptiness of self, all Buddhists see that the self consists of five aggregates, and the four elements are just one of these five aggregates.34* And what are the five aggregates? They are forms, feelings, perceptions and ideas, mental formations and volitions, and [discrete moments


of] consciousness.35* Forms pertain to the physical realm and the remaining four aggregates pertain to mental phenomena. The four elements make up the aggregate of forms. Detailed discussion of the five aggregates exceeds the scope of this entry. We can only summarize as follows: the five aggregates are sam . - sāric dharmas within the three realms, and to transcend rebirth within the three realms, one must realize that the five


aggregates neither individually nor collectively constitute a self. In addition, we should note that in Mahāyāna Buddhism not only the four elements but all five aggregates are regarded as empty. And among the five aggregates, Buddhism focuses on the aggregate of consciousness, not on the four elements of the aggregate of forms. The three aggregates of feelings, perceptions and ideas, and mental formations and volitions are simply supporting functions of consciousness, and they serve to show us the vast and expansive functioning of the spiritual realm. So we can see that what Buddhism advocates is not materialism, but conditioned arising.


4.9 How Many Schools of Buddhism Are There?

The proliferation of Buddhist schools was inevitable. This is because although there is only one Buddhism, there are many interpretations of the Dharma due to differences in people’s capacities or karmic roots, historical backgrounds, and living environments. The sūtras that state: “The Buddha expounded the Dharma in one voice, but sentient beings understood the Dharma differently in accordance with their capacities”36 illustrate this point. From the Buddha’s perspective, all Buddhist doctrines lead to the same nirvān .a, but from

a disciple’s perspective, each Dharma path is different and practiced by different people. So for example each of thirteen of the Buddha’s most famous disciples had a unique personality that made him outstanding in his area of expertise, and each also had his own group of companions.37 This situation can be considered the first portent of the eventual profusion of Buddhist schools. Four to five hundred years after the Buddha’s parinirvān .a, Nikāya Buddhism within India alone divided into as many as twenty schools.


Practitioners formed a new school or faction more often than not because of disagreements over petty issues. As Nikāya Buddhism was fragmenting and losing its power as a unified, standardized approach, Mahāyāna Buddhism, established by Aśvaghos .a (ca. early second century) and Nāgārjuna (ca. late

second century) and emphasizing the wisdom that realizes emptiness, arose in India in response to the needs of the time. About one thousand years after the Buddha’s parinirvān .a, because the philosophy that “only consciousness exists” promulgated by Asan˙ga (ca. fourth century) and Vasubandhu (ca. fourth century) and later


by Bhāvaviveka (ca. sixth century) and Dharmapāla (ca. sixth century) gained prominence, Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism split into the School of Emptiness (kongzong) and the School of Inherent Existence (youzong).38* A bit later when Esoteric Buddhism became popular, Mahāyāna Buddhism was further

divided into Exoteric Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism. The above is a short account of Buddhism in India. When Buddhism was first introduced to China, there were no separate schools. As the translation of Buddhist scriptures gained momentum and large quantities of scriptures became available in Chinese, Buddhist philosophers started to classify and rank the Buddha’s teachings. This led to the emergence of distinct schools. The first Chinese Buddhist school was the Three Treatise school (sometimes called the Four Treatise school) based on translations by Kumārajīva (mid-late fourth/early

fifth centuries) during the Eastern Jin period (37–420). This school continued the tradition of the Emptiness school from India and reached its height under Master Jiaxiang (549–623) [also known as Master Jizang]. Meanwhile, based on the Nikāya Buddhist Establishment of the Truth treatise (chengshi lun), the Chengshi school was established; based on the (Nikāya) Sarvāstivādin Treasury of Abhidharma treatise (jushe lun), the Jushe school was founded. Based on the Parinirvān .a Sūtra, the Nirvān .a school was started, and based on the Treatise on the Ten Grounds (shi di lun), the


Dilun school was founded. Based on the Compendium of the Mahāyāna (she dasheng lun) the Shelun school was established. After Bodhidharma came to China to transmit the mind-seal of the Buddhas, the Chan school was established. Master Daoxuan of the Tang dynasty propagated the Monastic Code in


Four Divisions and founded the (Nanshan) Disciplinary (S. vinaya) school. Based on the Lotus Sūtra, synthesized and further developed by Master Zhizhe [also called Master Zhiyi, 538–598], the Tiantai school was founded. After he returned from India, Master Xuanzang (602?–664) created the Faxiang [lit. “characteristics of dharmas”] school (also called the [[[Wikipedia:Chinese|Chinese]]] Consciousnessonly school) based on his Treatise on the Establishment of

ConsciousnessOnly (cheng weishi lun). Based on ideas from the Avatam . saka Sūtra, which were further synthesized and extended, ultimately Master Xianshou [also named Master Fazang, 643–72] established the Huayan or Avatam .saka school. From essential beginnings in Master Huiyuan’s (334–46) Lotus Society, which was taught to practice exclusively the recollection of a Buddha’s name, and through the later efforts of Master Shandao (63–68), the Pure Land school was established. Finally, during the Kaiyuan period (73–74) of the Tang dynasty, Śubhakarasim .ha (637–735) and two

other eminent Esoteric monks arrived in China via Central Asia. They translated Esoteric sūtras and ritual texts into Chinese, establishing the Esoteric school. In total, as many as thirteen schools of Buddhism developed in China. Except the Nikāya Chengshi and Jushe schools, all the schools

can be classified as Mahāyāna. Later, some of the schools merged after a period of interaction and competition, and the thirteen schools became ten schools. The Nirvān .a school merged into the Tiantai school; the Dilun school combined with the Huayan school; and the Shelun school was absorbed by the Faxiang school.39 The inclinations of these schools toward the School of Emptiness or the School of Inherent Existence are indicated in figure 4.

We can see that Chinese Buddhism was expansive in scope and rich in diversity. But from the late Tang dynasty onward, Nikāya Buddhism did not receive much attention, and few studied the Three-treatise or Consciousness-only doctrines. The Esoteric school lasted only a brief time in China. After Tang dynasty Emperor Wuzong’s persecution of Buddhists beginning in the fifth year (845) of the Huichang period (84–847), the Esoteric school disappeared


from China but survived in Japan. The geography and social mores of China made strict enforcement of the monastic discipline difficult, so the Disciplinary school now barely survives. The most thriving school today is the Chan school. After the Chan school’s sixth patriarch, Huineng, the school further divided into the “five houses,” among which the Linji and Caodong (J. rinzai and sōtō) have developed the furthest to this day. Almost all the Chinese monks and nuns today come from these two Dharma lineages. As for schools that stress doctrine, only the


Tiantai and Huayan schools now survive, struggling to maintain their existence. During the Song and Ming dynasties there emerged several eminent monks who championed the joint practice of both Chan and Pure Land, such as Yongming Yanshou (904–976). As a result, basically the only Buddhist

methods of practice still surviving are recitation of a Buddha’s name (nianfo) and Chan methods (canchan).40* During the late Qing and early years of the Republican period, Chinese reacquired many Buddhist scriptures that were in circulation in Japan. As a result the Three Treatise school, the Faxiang school, the Disciplinary school, and the Esoteric school have shown some signs of revival. It is regretful that Buddhist education and

training have been neglected in China for several hundred years. Whether this trend of revival can be continued and extended is uncertain—we are still making efforts in that direction! Besides schools in China, there are many schools of Buddhism in different regions of the world. The Theravāda

school is, in Thailand, divided into the Mahanikaya and the Thammayut sects. The Esoteric Buddhism in Tibet is divided into the Gelug, Nyingma, Sakya, and Kagyu schools. Schools of Buddhism in Japan are similar to those of China, but the True Pure Land school (J. jōdo shinshū) and the Nichiren school are unique to Japan. Ven. Yin-shun (906–2005), a contemporary Buddhist scholar, has the following comment regarding Japanese Buddhism: “Japanese-style Buddhism did not produce households molded by Buddhism; rather, it produced a kind of Buddhism molded by [[[Wikipedia:secular|secular]]] households. It is not lay Buddhism but rather a degenerate form of monastic Buddhism.”4 This is the special character of Japanese Buddhism. Lastly, I would like to summarize with the following statement: the division of Buddhism into schools represents disagreement on minor issues rather than differences in fundamental philosophy. For this reason, I expect that a united Buddhism shall emerge in the near future.


4.10 Is Consciousness-Only the Same as Idealism?

No. Although Consciousness-only doctrine emphasizes mind, it does not deny the existence of either matter or objective phenomena. If these were negated, then everything should be negated, including consciousness, and there would be no consciousness to emphasize. In fact, philosophical idealism can be interpreted to encompass almost everything except materialism. For example, George Berkeley


(685–753) can be considered a subjective idealist. Georg Hegel (770– 83) may be regarded as an objective idealist, and Arthur Schopenhauer (788–860) a volitional idealist. William James (842–90) may be considered an empirical idealist, and Henri-Louis Bergson (859–94) an intuitive idealist. And Bertrand Russell (872–970) can be classified as a skeptical idealist.42 In brief, any form of idealism will require the

specification of some normative standard to serve as the basis for its theories. Once they select some adored criterion or ideal, philosophers inevitably make the mistake of over-generalizing from a partial truth. The skeptical idealists are more open-minded, but they cannot provide an ultimate answer for guidance, leaving people feeling anxious and paralyzed. The Consciousness-only school of Buddhism does say that “the three realms are merely consciousness,” meaning all phenomena within the three realms are manifested by the eighth consciousness. That is to say, all physical phenomena, everything in the non-sentient world (qijie), are the objective aspect (xiangfen), or active dharmas, of the eighth consciousness. The theory does not, however, deny the existence of sentient beings outside the individual self. The claim that “the three realms are merely


consciousness” only says that all phenomena within the three realms are jointly produced by the eighth consciousnesses of all sentient beings within the three realms; that is, phenomena are produced by sentient beingscollective karma. The eighth consciousness mentioned here comprises not just the present mind, but is also that consciousness perfumed from beginningless time by karmic forces. From the active dharmas of karma-conditioned consciousness are formed the objective aspect of the eighth consciousness, the phenomena


of the three realms, and the world in which we live. Matter in our world is formed by the joint activities of each eighth consciousness of the sentient beings in our world. Likewise, sentient beings and their interactions are manifestations of the eighth consciousnesses of all the sentient beings in the same world. The cosmology of the Consciousness-only school can be described as “conditioned arising from the ālaya-vijñāna” (laiye


yuanqi). Ālayavijñāna is Sanskrit for “eighth consciousness” and means “storehouse consciousness.” It stores all karmic seeds [[[karmic]] impressions]. Considering things from a noumenal [benti, “fundamental embodiment or substance”] perspective, when karmic seeds become active they bring about karmic recompense; hence, we can say that everything is produced by consciousness. When viewed from the phenomenal (xianxiang) perspective, we can

describe the process as “conditioned arising induced by karma,” because the karmic recompense (i.e., the phenomena) produced by the eighth consciousness results from the individual’s karma. From a methodological viewpoint, both “conditioned arising from the ālaya-vijñāna” and


conditioned arising induced by karma” are in accordance with the principle of conditioned arising, which claims that phenomena come into existence only via the combination of multiple conditions. Accordingly, conditioned arising is the basic truth of Buddhism. The ultimate goal of Buddhist

[inquiry] is [to understand or realize] emptiness. Because it is unnecessary to posit any metaphysical object of adoration, Buddhism does not fall into the quagmire of over-generalizing from partial truths. And because conditioned arising implies emptiness of nature—emptiness of both the self and dharmas—people are not left feeling anxious, rudderless, and paralyzed. Most philosophers cannot realize the emptiness of self, not to mention

the emptiness of dharmas (metaphysical standards or ideals which are adored).43* If they were to see the emptiness of the philosophical bases to which their egos cling, they would lose the foundation for their ideas and become lost, wandering souls. Therefore, philosophical idealism cannot measure up to the Buddhist doctrines of Consciousness-only.


4.11 Are Meditative Absorptions Necessarily Related to the - Chan - Meditation School?

No, they are not necessarily related. Although the Chan school definitely advocates practicing meditation to reach absorption states, not all meditative absorptions are those of the Chan school. The name Chan school (chanzong) was coined in China. During the Buddha’s time there was no such label, there were only meditation theories and practices. The Buddhist path to liberation begins with precepts, is centered on concentration, and aims for wisdom. Precepts, concentration, and wisdom are called

the three undefiled practices. These three are interrelated and complementary, and must all be present together for one to make progress on the path. Together they lead the practitioner on an upward spiral toward enlightenment—keeping the precepts leads to concentration, concentration generates

wisdom, and wisdom takes one up to the next level of practice. Of the three practices, concentration is the one related to meditative absorptions. As a matter of fact, the Chinese Chan school stresses enlightenment [[[wisdom]]] rather than concentration [[[meditative absorption]]]. Moreover, there are many


forms of absorption. One is the Buddhist supramundane absorption, called the “absorption of cessation (ending affliction).” There are other mundane absorptions practiced by outerpath practitioners, ordinary people, and even animals, and are called the eight levels of meditative absorption. These absorptions are intermediate steps to achieve supramundane absorption. For outer-path ascetics, the purpose of practicing concentration is to be

reborn in the heavens, whereas Buddhists practice in order to enter supramundane absorption. So the meditation practiced by non-Buddhist ascetics is called mundane meditation and that of Buddhists is called the meditation of fundamental purity. Buddhist meditation can be further divided into Nikāya meditation and Mahāyāna meditation. The purpose of Nikāya meditation is liberation from the cycle of birth and death, whereas Mahāyāna meditation aims at transforming all activities in life into a kind of art. For example,


Chan practitioners regard trivial chores such as carrying firewood and water as meditation, and eating and sleeping as concentration practice. The Chan school stresses quietude and equanimity of mind and does not cling to conceptions that the physical body must sit alone, doing nothing. The

Chinese word chan is a transliteration of the first syllable of the Sanskrit word dhyāna (C. channa). Since dhyāna means “quiet contemplation,” it can also be translated into Chinese as ding.44* But there is a difference in usage between the words chan and ding. Chan [which often corresponds to the Sanskrit word dhyāna or the Pali word jhāna] refers to states of mind in the realm of form, which is why planes of existence in the form realm are

called the “four chan [S. dhyāna] heavens.” The Chinese word ding [often corresponding to the Sanskrit word samādhi] refers to a state of mind in which the mind is focused on one object—such a state is possible anywhere in the three realms of sensedesire, form, or formlessness, or even in the supramundane absorptions beyond the three realms. So the term chan has a more limited range of usage than the term ding, and chan is actually one

form of ding. However, these conventions are not consistent in Chinese: some texts refer to the supramundane absorption (chushijian ding) as the“supramundane, supreme chan” (chushijian shangshang chan), and some label the low-level absorptions (ding) practiced by outer-path ascetics “wild


fox chan” (yehu chan).45* There are many Sanskrit words that describe concentration. Besides samādhi, seven others are: samādhāna, samāpatti, samāhita, dhyāna, śamatha, dr .s .t .a-dharma-sukha, and cittaikāgratā. Because both ordinary and noble practitioners can achieve concentration, some Indian practitioners consider sexual intercourse a form of samāpatti—what is called “female-male equilibrium.” This is because during sexual union, one’s mind is concentrated and one’s body is permeated with carnal pleasure, an experience similar to meditative absorption. Practitioners who speak

of methods such as the “integrated cultivation of spiritual nature and bodily life” or the “joint cultivation of body and mind” want to cultivate concentration through the carnal pleasure arising


from male-female relationships.46 It’s sad and pathetic that the meaning of concentration is misinterpreted and confused with something so obscene! But this fact also tells us how broadly concentration was defined in India. Such ideas are further from the true intent of Chinese Chan meditation as the heavens are from the bottom of the deepest


sea trench. So we see that meditative absorption is not necessarily related to the Chan school. In fact, all mystical experiences in religions around the world arise from the effects of meditative absorption, regardless of which method is used to reach it, including mantra recitation, prayer, worship, or chanting scriptures. So anybody, be it an ordinary person or even an animal like a fox, can have paranormal experiences or spiritual powers if the person (or animal) practices concentration well. But that’s not what Chan Buddhism is about—Chan Buddhism, quite to the contrary, does not advocate developing spiritual powers.



4.12 What Are the Sudden and Gradual Approaches to Enlightenment?

Many people misunderstand the issue of the sudden and gradual teachings, believing the two are completely different methods of practice. And many practitioners who are looking for an easy way to practice one-sidedly delight in the sudden teachings and presumptuously scoff at the gradual approach. Everyone knows that Chan Buddhism stresses sudden awakening, advocating non-reliance on words and letters and directly pointing to the mind’s source. Chan doctrine says that if


we are deluded in one moment, in that moment we are ordinary sentient beings, and if in the next moment we are enlightened, then in that moment we are Buddhas. No school is so direct and straightforward in its approach as the Chan school. Hence many Chan practitioners criticize those practicing the gradual teachings, calling them students of [merely intellectual and not actualized] knowledge and understanding.


In fact, the sudden and gradual approaches are two sides of the same coin. The sudden comes from the gradual, and the gradual is gradual because of the sudden. Without the gradual there would be absolutely no sudden, and if there is the sudden, it must have been preceded by the gradual. The

gradual is the cause that forms the sudden, and the sudden is the result of the gradual. Regarding this issue, I wrote the following in 958: So-called sudden awakening is nothing but the breakthrough at the last moment or the maturation of the last condition. . . . It’s similar to a chicken egg that has been incubated for twenty days. If the chick is unable to break the shell, the hen will lightly tap the shell with her beak. The chick


will then suddenly emerge full of vitality. This tap by the hen’s beak helps the maturation of the last condition. In the same vein, there are Buddhists who have practiced in previous lives for a long time and have developed great, deep karmic roots [for the Dharma]. During this life, they only need to receive what the Chan school calls “an acute stimulus at the right moment” (jifeng) and in an instant they can have a breakthrough, a


sudden, transcendent flash of insight into the noble realm. So we can see that there is nothing mysterious about sudden awakening.47 From the vantage point of a Buddha, all sentient beings possess the wisdom and meritorious characteristics of a Tathāgata. Since they all have the potential to become Buddhas, a Buddha regards all sentient beings as Buddhas: this is the [basis of the] sudden teachings. Looking at a Buddha from the sentient beings


standpoint, even though sentient beings have the potential to become a Buddha, they have to go through fifty-two stages of long practice to attain Buddhahood: this is the gradual teachings. When the gradual practices are completed, the fruit of Buddhahood will suddenly appear—as one attains full enlightenment under a bodhi tree. Conversely, the sudden can be viewed as the starting point of the gradual, and the gradual as the actualization of the sudden. The sudden may initiate the gradual, and the gradual may be the continuation of the sudden.


In Chinese Chan Buddhism, a sudden awakening means a sudden apprehension of a Buddha’s perception of reality. In the Lotus Sūtra, the realization of a Buddha’s perception of reality is divided into four phases: opening, showing, awakening, and entering. Opening and showing are the tasks of Buddhas


Buddhas open and show sentient beings the treasure vault of buddha-nature within themselves. The phases of awakening and entering are done by sentient beings themselves. Sentient beings come to understand that they have the inherent potential to become Buddhas—that is awakening. After awakening, they have to practice accordingly before entering the Buddha’s perception of reality. In terms of stages on the bodhisattva path,

awakening to the Buddha’s perception of reality occurs when one is still an ordinary bodhisattva who has not yet entered the stage of the first ground. Entering into a Buddha’s perception of reality occurs when one reaches the level of a noble bodhisattva of the first ground or above, for only such a bodhisattva is able truly to eliminate ignorance bit by bit and attain enlightenment bit by bit.48* Practices before the first ground are just


preparatory work. We see that sudden awakening is just the beginning of the awareness regarding the underlying, essential principle of all dharmas, or buddhanature, and is not the same as becoming a Buddha. Gradual practice is the cultivation of merit through concrete actions. Only through accumulating merit through gradual practice can one actually become a Buddha: so “sudden awakening to principle but gradual practice with regard to


actions” is another way to clarify sudden and gradual. This explanation shows us what sudden awakening in Chan Buddhism means. The interpretation above is based on interpretation of doctrine. Some Chan practitioners may disagree, and claim that the sudden awakening they speak of is simply sudden awakening, and is basically unrelated to any stages or gradual practice. In this conception, when a practitioner is suddenly awakened, she sees the fundamental, real nature of Suchness right then and there. To do this, however, is beyond the capability of most people.


Chan practitioners believe that if they practice well, even though they cannot immediately enter the first ground stage of a noble bodhisattva, they can temporarily suspend the functioning of the sixth and seventh consciousnesses at the moment of sudden awakening. Not falling into stupor,


scatteredness, or nonreactive but turbid mindstates, they enter into a crystal-clear state and perceive things with direct, unmediated awareness (with things in their original, undistorted condition). An analogy would be that of a dark, cloudy sky suddenly clearing up without a single cloud left hanging anywhere within ten thousand miles. Although the realization experience (of the reality of Suchness) is extremely short because moments

later one’s view will again be covered by the dark cloud of ignorance, the practitioner still briefly saw the reality of Suchness. Compared to those who have never seen it, naturally such people are very different. This is a sketch of the sudden awakening discussed in Chan Buddhism. But after the sudden awakening, a practitioner must still follow up with diligent practice. Although she has briefly experienced the buddha-mind, her provisions of merit and wisdom—the capital to become a Buddha—are still insufficient.


4.13 Which School of Buddhism Is Best for Practice?

As mentioned previously, schools of Buddhism developed in response to differences in historical conditions and in the capacities of practitioners. So from the fundamental perspective of Buddhism, schools and sects are unnecessary additions. If someone takes only one and disparages the rest, it’s not only his own personal loss, but also a misfortune for all Buddhism. Just as the folks from

Ningbo City in Zhejiang Province favor strong-smelling food, people in Hunan Province love spicy dishes, those in Shandong Province like pungent food, and those in the Shanxi Province fancy sour cuisine: Which should you choose? Which should you reject? There is nothing that Buddhism does not encompass. It is not science, but it does not contradict science. It is not philosophy, but it transcends philosophy. It is not literature, but it certainly has literature.


It is not aesthetics, but it contributes greatly to aesthetics. It is not religion, but it does not lack the qualities of a religion. Therefore, if we are interested in learning about Buddhism, as a starting point we had better choose something in line with our capacity and interests. Among the eight Mahāyāna schools in China, the approach of the Consciousness-only school resembles science, and that of the Three Treatise school resembles

philosophy. The Huayan and Tiantai schools’ approaches resemble literature, and the approaches of the Mantra [[[Esoteric]]] and Pure Land schools resemble aesthetics. The Chan school embodies the core teaching of Buddhism. Master Taixu once said, “The defining characteristic of Chinese Buddhism lies in [its emphasis on] chan [[[meditation]]].”49* The essence of any of the other schools can be reduced to the spirit of Chan. The Disciplinary


school is the common foundation for Buddhism, and its importance to Buddhism is analogous to that of a corpus juris [a comprehensive compilation of national laws] to the whole country. So strictly speaking, the Disciplinary school should not be a separate school; instead, it should be incorporated into all other schools. As for the qualities of religion, all schools possess such qualities. Since the late Tang, the Chan school has

been especially popular. Subsequently, some masters integrated the practices of the Chan and Pure Land schools. More recently, Master Jichan (852–92) and Master Xuyun (840–959) distinguished themselves as great Chan masters. Other recent, eminent practitioners include Master Yinguang (862– 940) of the Pure Land school, Master Hongyi (880–942) of the Disciplinary school, Master Dixian (858–932) of the Tiantai school, Master Yuexia (858–97) of the Huayan school, and Mr. Ouyang Jian [87–943; courtesy name: Jingwu] of the Consciousness-only school. But overall, Chan


and Pure Land are the two most influential lineages among the general populace, whereas the Consciousness-only school is the most influential in academic circles. Although the Esoteric school is also quite popular, it is very scattered and disorganized. Most noteworthy is that Master Taixu and his disciples did not restrict themselves to a certain school. Instead, they took a comprehensive view based on the fundamental spirit of Buddhism and


thereby broke down limiting divisions between schools and sects and returned each school to its original position. Master Taixu reclassified all schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism into the following three systems: the Dharma Characteristics Mere Consciousness school, the Dharma Nature Wisdom of Emptiness school, and the Dharma Realm Perfect Enlightenment school. According to this scheme of classification, the Consciousness-only school and the

Three Treatise school each constitute a separate system, while the remaining schools are all lumped into the Dharma Realm Perfect Enlightenment school. Venerable Yin-shun, a disciple of Master Taixu, changed the classification and renamed the three systems as follows: the Empty Nature Mere

Name system, the False Imagination Mere Consciousness system, and the Truly Eternal Mere Mind system.50 Master Taixu regarded the Dharma Realm Perfect Enlightenment system as the most perfect form of Buddhism, whereas Ven. Yin-shun believes the Empty Nature Mere Name system is the ultimate teaching of the Buddha. The former championed the Treatise on the Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith and the Śūram . gama Sūtra all his life. The latter

based his ideas on doctrines from the Āgamas and interlocked his teachings with the philosophy of emptiness from the Prajñā sūtras. Some people say Ven. Yin-shun belongs to the Three Treatise school (sanlun zong), but he denies this, because the Three Treatise school in China has incorporated some Chinese philosophy and no longer maintains the original hue of the School of Emptiness from India. In fact, regardless of what you name it and where you put it, a rose


is still just as fragrant. The various classifications of the teachings developed by distinguished Buddhists in both ancient and modern times help us to clarify the content, research systems, and methods of Dharma. For the purpose of practice, any approach will do, because “all Dharma paths lead to the city of nirvān .a.” Buddhist doctrines can be categorized as shallow or deep, partial or complete, but they cannot be labeled good or bad, right

or wrong. The shallow practices are foundational for deeper practices, and the deeper practices are extensions of the shallow practices. Likewise, partial practice is a part of complete


practice, and the complete is the whole of the partial. For research purposes, however, the sequence and development of ideas should be clear, so it is necessary to classify doctrines into a systematic framework. We should note that in modern times, the eight Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhist schools have been reclassified into three schools, and that the boundaries among these schools should no longer be maintained. Even the boundary between Mahāyāna

and Nikāya Buddhism should be eradicated to restore Buddhism to a whole. If someone still wants to fight against the times and call himself the nth patriarch of this school or that sect, he is advised to forget it. As a matter of fact, the eminent monks throughout history were not necessarily patriarchs of any school. Conversely, the official “Dharma heirs” of a school, who held a certificate of succession, were not always enlightened, eminent monks. As for the distinction between Nikāya and Mahāyāna Buddhism, the Theravāda school does not welcome such a distinction at all. The

Chinese refer to them as the Hīnayāna [xiaosheng, lit. “small vehicle”], and Theravādins say Mahāyāna Buddhism is not Buddhism. Who can say that this artificial division and its mutually demeaning consequences are rational? Of course, someone who has just become or is about to become a Buddhist must

choose a starting point. My opinion is as follows. Monastics who have recently become bhiks .us or bhiks .un .īs should first learn the monastic code, but they do not have to enter the Disciplinary school. Laypersons who become Buddhists at an old age should focus on chanting a Buddha’s name, but they do not have to belong to the Pure Land school or devote themselves to Amitābha Buddha. Maitreya Buddha in the inner court of Tus .ita Heaven,

the Medicine Buddha, and Aks .obhya Buddha in the East are other alternatives. If one wants to approach Buddhism from an academic perspective, then the two great systems of Prajñā/emptiness and Consciousness-only/inherentexistence are rich treasures to be explored. Regarding the paths of practice, there are two types: the difficult path and the easy path. One starts the difficult path by invoking bodhimind and follows up by practicing the bodhisattva path life after life,


sacrificing one’s self to benefit sentient beings. The traveler on this path relies heavily on the power of his vows to support his work of delivering others life after life. It is a very difficult approach. If his vow-power is not strong enough, the practitioner will frequently withdraw from the path because of frustrations and setbacks. But this path is faster than the easy path, as one will achieve the goal of becoming a Buddha much sooner. The easy path is to rely on rebirth in one of the pure lands that has been created by a Buddha’s vow-power, where practitioners can nourish their wisdom.

In other words, the practitioners are reborn in a buddha land as ordinary people, but will cultivate wisdom under the facilitating environment there. After they reach the stage of nonretrogression5* or even the noble stages, they will enter the ordinary world to practice the bodhisattva path to deliver sentient beings. So this path is safer and more stable, but winding and slow. People without self-confidence or strong aspiration should take

the easy path. The religious value and function of the easy path is similar to the path Christians take in seeking to be born in heaven: while they are described differently, the two paths work pretty much the same. Although the practices involved are not comparable, the emphasis on the power of faith is almost identical. Christianity speaks of faith, hope, and love. Buddhism stresses the three-pronged approach of faith, vows, and practice. The difference is that in Buddhism the sentient beings are the leading actors, while in Christianity God is primary. In Christianity, one’s starting

point and goal are both related to God’s authority: one obeys God and relies on him for salvation. In Buddhism, sentient beings rely on their own efforts to induce resonance with and influence a Buddha so they can be reborn in a buddha land where a particular Buddha is present. So in addition to


having wholehearted faith, Buddhists must synergize with the energy of a Buddha’s vow (this is different from the Christian idea of grace) in order to be reborn in a buddha land. Buddhas make two kinds of vows, shared and distinct. The shared vows are made by all Buddhas; namely, the Four Great Vows: “To deliver innumerable sentient beings, to cut off endless vexations, to master limitless approaches to the Dharma, and to attain

supreme Buddhahood.” The distinct vows differ for each Buddha, such as the forty-eight vows of Amitābha Buddha and the twelve great vows of the Medicine Buddha. Only after we have invoked the shared vows do we have the opportunity to enter a buddha land, and only after we synergize with a

particular Buddha’s vows can we enter his land. People who practice chanting a Buddha’s name to be reborn in a pure land rarely notice this fact today. Moreover, when we practice the pure land method of the easy path, we have to put our faith and utmost sincerity into action by behaving accordingly. The sentient beings of a pure land are pure with respect to behavior, speech, and thoughts. Although we ordinary folks cannot be perfect

in purity, we should do our best to purify our body and minds. The moral guidelines to follow are the five precepts and the ten good deeds. If one wishes to be reborn in a pure land, but spends little effort to purify oneself, it is doubtful whether such a person will be reborn in a buddha land after she dies. In principle, Buddhism emphasizes wisdom. But from a religious point of view, wisdom is more accurately described as the objective of

practice than as a means to practice. Some people first gain knowledge of Buddhism, develop faith, and then put it into practice. But there are even more people who have faith in Buddhism and practice accordingly without going through the rigorous process of learning Buddhist doctrine. By following the path of faith, vows, and practice, one is able to achieve the same goal, and one does not necessarily need to understand doctrine for

support. Hence, people who do not or cannot understand Buddhist doctrine can still believe in and practice Buddhism. Although they know very little about theory, they reap benefits just the same. For example, the Pure Land school has practitioners with upper-, middle-, or lower-level karmic roots, and has no dearth of learned practitioners. But overall, Pure Land devotees lack knowledge of doctrine and rely on faith, vows, and practice.

Similarly, the Chinese Chan school claims that it its teachings are “not established on [the authority of] words and letters,” and it advocates “allowing the train of language and thoughts to stop, and the activity of the mind to cease.” Chan practitioners do not need sophisticated knowledge, because they are able to see the light of wisdom, or have an awakening, through sincere practice. For this reason, the Chan school fits very well with the Chinese disposition to seek tangible benefit rather than deep understanding. But this faith beyond the vines and creepers [entangling complications] of knowledge is no silly superstition, and all the words spoken by the eminent Chan monks in the recorded sayings are crystals formed by wisdom. The Chan and Pure Land


schools have been the most welcomed by the Chinese for over one thousand years because these schools do not require sophisticated knowledge or intellect as a precondition for practice. For the same reason, however, at times corrupt practices have developed. Some practitioners with shallow karmic roots and heavy karmic obstacles easily become deluded by ignorance, or blindly practice the wrong method, clinging to their own views and rejecting others’ views without any awareness of what they are doing.


4.14 What Do the Terms Dhyāna Master, Vinaya Master, and Dharma Master Mean? In scroll 3 of the Monastic Code of the Mūlasarvāstivāda, bhiks .us are classified into five categories: sūtra master, vinaya master, treatise master, Dharma master, and dhyāna (or meditation)52* master (C. jingshi, lüshi, lunshi, fashi, and chanshi).53 A bhiks .u who was good at chanting sūtras was called sūtra master. One who excelled in keeping the precepts was called a vinaya master; one good at discussing doctrine was called a treatise master; one proficient at expounding the Dharma was called


a Dharma master; and one who practiced meditation well was called a dhyāna master. But in Chinese Buddhism, sūtra master and treatise master never became distinct categories. Only vinaya master, Dharma master, and dhyāna master have been widely used as titles. The term dhyāna master originally referred to a bhiks .u who practiced meditation, as in the following definition from scroll  of the Guide to the Meaning of the Three Virtuous Properties [of Nirvān .a]: “One who cultivates the mind and practices concentration is called a dhyāna master.”54 But in China, the title was used in two different


ways. First, rulers gave it to monks as an honorific title. For example, in the first year (569 ce) of the Dajian period of the Chen dynasty, Emperor Xuan bestowed the title Great Dhyāna Master on Venerable Huisi of Nanyue, and in the second year (705 ce) of the Shenlong period of the Tang dynasty, Emperor Zhongzong gave the posthumous title Great Pentrating Dhyāna Master (datong chanshi) to honor Venerable Shenxiu. Second, junior monastics

practicing meditation could call their seniors dhyāna masters. In later usage, any bhiks .u in the Chan school with a bit of a reputation was called a dhyāna master [and for this usage, we might translate chanshi as “Chan master”]. A vinaya master is a bhiks .u who knows the monastic code well. He is required to study and observe the precepts, and to explain and resolve all manner of questions regarding the monastic code. His position in Buddhism is analogous to that of a legal scholar, judge, or grand justice.55* Ordinary bhiks .us and bhiks .un .īs are required to keep the precepts,

but they do not necessarily know the whole collection of vinaya texts. Thus, it is not easy to become a true vinaya master. A Dharma master (fashi) is someone who understands and expounds the Dharma well. Some people think this term must refer to a bhiks .u, but in Buddhist scriptures the title is used in many contexts, and is not limited to monastics.56* In scroll  of the Guide to the Meaning of the Three Virtuous Properties, the following definition is given: “One who masters the sūtras and treatises is a Dharma Master.”57 And the first scroll of the Great Commentary on Buddhist Logic


(yinming dashu) provides this definition: “A Dharma master is one who carries out the Dharma.”58 Some say a Dharma master refers to anyone who takes the Buddhadharma as one’s own teacher and teaches others according to it. Thus, a lay Buddhist disciple could be qualified to take the title of Dharma master. In fact, even an animal proficient at expounding the Dharma can be called a Dharma master, such as the jackal that called itself a Dharma master before the deity Śakra.


Based on this reasoning, Daoists influenced by Buddhism also call Daoist priests who are proficient at using talismans and registers (fulu)59* “fashi.”60* And also under Buddhist influence, the recently established religion of Li-ism calls their religious workers “fashi.”6 It can be seen

that fashi is not a title used only for Buddhist bhiks .us. Consistent with the Buddhist vinayas, I think monastic practitioners should all refer to themselves as Bhiks .u (or Śrāman .era) or Bhiks .un .ī (or Śrāman .erikā) before laypersons, or they can all use Śraman .a (C. shamen, “renouncer”). Laypeople should address all monastics as Ācārya (asheli) or Master (shifu), and refer to themselves as Disciple (dizi). If they are unwilling to use

the title Disciple, they can refer to themselves by their full name. Some laypersons refer to themselves as Learners (S. śaiks .a; C. xueren), but this term is actually used in sūtras to signify noble ones who have attained one of the first three fruits [the first three of the four stages of enlightenment on the Nikāya path]. Within a monastic community, a senior bhiks .u should be addressed as Venerable Elder (zhanglao). Bhiks .us equal

in seniority can address each other as Venerable or less formally as Brother Such-and-such or Master Such-and-such. During the Buddha’s time, bhiks .us were allowed to address each other by name. Bhiks .us may address bhiks .un .īs as Sister. When bhiks .un .īs address senior nuns, they could use the same title a bhiksu would use to address a senior. Bhiks .un .īs equal in seniority can address one another as Sister. Non-Buddhists can

address bhiksus and bhiksunīs according to regular customary etiquette. If a bhiksu truly has the qualifications to be called a dhyāna master, vinaya master, or Dharma master, of course he can be addressed as such by Buddhists as well as by non-Buddhists. On the other hand, it is inappropriate to address every monk and nun as Dharma Master regardless of their level of practice and qualifications, as is done in Buddhist circles today.62*


4.15 What Do the Terms Arhat, Bodhisattva, and Buddha Mean?

Without a doubt, many Chinese people do not know the meaning of the words arhat, bodhisattva, or buddha. Even seasoned Buddhists have problems grasping the meanings of these terms. Buddhist approaches to reach the Dharma,

according to the Northern tradition, include the Mahāyāna and the Nikāya. Nikāyists only practice the path of liberation, whereas Mahāyānists practice the bodhisattva path, which is a combination of the human-heavenly vehicle and the liberation path. In other words, practitioners on the

bodhisattva path seek to unshackle themselves from sam ․sāra but voluntarily undergo rebirth in order to deliver as many sentient beings as permitted by karmic causes and conditions. The highest stage in the liberation path is the arhatship. An arhat (P. arahant) is a noble one in the Nikāya practice. Actually, there are two kinds of highest stage in the path of liberation. The first is that attained by śrāvakas [“listeners”] who hear the

Dharma and then realize the Four Noble Truths (suffering and its cause; cessation and its path) and cultivate the thirty-seven factors of enlightenment (S. bodhipāks .ika; C. putifen) to attain liberation: these are the arhats. The other stage is achieved by practitioners who live in a universe without a Buddha. Without guidance, they meditate on the twelve links of conditioned arising (ignorance, volitional action, consciousness,

name and form, the six sense faculties, contact, feeling, craving, grasping, becoming, birth, aging and death), become enlightened, and transcend birth and death: these are the pratyekabuddhas [“solitary Buddhas”]. Both the śrāvakas and the pratyekabuddhas are Nikāyists, and they practice the śrāvaka vehicle and pratyekabuddha vehicle, respectively. Therefore, the Nikāya vehicle is sometimes called the Two Vehicles. Practitioners of the

Two Vehicles seek their own emancipation from rebirth so they can enter nirvān .a. They completely reject the human-heavenly vehicle, which entails rebirth, and so they are unwilling to return to help deliver sentient beings. Hence, they cannot be called bodhisattvas, nor can they attain Buddhahood.


To become a Buddha, one has to cultivate the bodhisattva path. The main practices for the bodhisattva path are the six perfections and the three sets of precepts:

six perfections .

Giving:

to give money,

Dharma, and

fearlessness


2. Keeping the precepts: to do no evil and to do all good 3. Patience: to endure and tolerate that which is difficult to endure, and to do that which is difficult to do

4. Diligence: to go forward bravely,


undaunted by obstacles 5. Meditative concentration: to fix the mind unwaveringly on one object

6. Wisdom: to have limpid, shining insight into oneself and others three sets of precepts . To uphold all the pure precepts, without exception

2. To cultivate all good qualities, without exception

3. To deliver all sentient beings, without exception By invoking the supreme vow of great bodhi-mind, great compassion, and the wisdom of emptiness, and

passing through three immeasurable kalpas, one may attain the goal of Buddhahood. Only bodhisattvas, not Nikāyists, walk upon the bodhisattva path of the Mahāyāna. Therefore, it is also called the One Vehicle. The human-heavenly vehicle is for people who practice good deeds for the purpose of being reborn in either the human or heavenly mode of existence. Though Nikāyists do not crave the rewards of the humanheavenly vehicle, neither do they


deny the value of this vehicle. The human-heavenly vehicle teachings are elevated and surpassed by the Nikāya path of liberation, and they are also the foundational teachings for the bodhisattva One Vehicle path. So the wholesome teachings of the human and heavenly vehicles—the five precepts and the ten good deeds—are also included in both the Two Vehicles and One Vehicle teachings. For this reason they are called the teachings common to the Five Vehicles (the human, heavenly, śrāvaka, pratyekabuddha, and bodhisattva vehicles).


The liberation path of the Nikāya, or Two Vehicles, includes teachings common to the bodhisattva path. If bodhisattvas did not practice teachings from the liberation path, the bodhisattva path would be nothing but the human-heavenly vehicle. Therefore, the teachings of the liberation path are

called teachings common to the Three Vehicles (śrāvaka, pratyekabuddha, and bodhisattva vehicles). Only the bodhisattva path involves teachings unique to the Mahāyāna or One Vehicle. To help readers remember the differences between the Five Vehicles, they are displayed graphically below. From

figure 5 we can see that although the bodhisattva path is identified with the One Vehicle, actually the teachings common to the Three Vehicles and the teachings common to the Five Vehicles

all converge into the One Vehicle. The Nikāya, though referred to as the teachings common to the Three Vehicles, is the sublimation of the teachings common to the Five Vehicles. And the teachings common to the Five Vehicles, although they carry the label “Five Vehicles,” are limited to the basic

virtues of the human and heavenly vehicles.63* The human-heavenly vehicle consists of mundane teachings, which do not lead one beyond sam ․sāra. That is, these teachings and practices have “outflows” or “leaks” which prevent one from navigating out of the bitter sea of life and death—so these

teachings are also called “defiled” or “leaky” teachings (S. sāsrava-dharma; C. youlou fa). Although Nikāyists seek only personal liberation, their path can free them from sam ․sāra and lead them to become supramundane noble ones, so the supramundane teachings they follow are also called

“undefiled” or “teachings without leaks” (S. anāsrava-dharma; C. wulou fa). Bodhisattvas can be either ordinary people or noble ones. The bodhisattva path consists of fifty-two stages, consisting of the ten devout minds, ten abidings, ten practices, ten transferences of merit, ten grounds, and the final two stages of equivalent enlightenment and wondrous enlightenment.64 Bodhisattvas on any of the first forty stages before the ten grounds are

ordinary beings, whereas those on any of the last twelve stages are noble ones. The bodhisattvas on the bodhisattva path in figure 5 refer to noble bodhisattvas, because bodhisattvas mentioned in the scriptures are generally those who have reached at least the first ground, unless they are specified as “bodhisattvas below the first ground.” A Nikāya noble one does not strive to attain Buddhahood, but to enter nirvān .a. The nirvān .a

achieved by both Nikāyists and Mahāyānists is essentially the same. However, after Nikāyists enter nirvān .a, they abide in nirvān .a and do not come out to deliver sentient beings. In contrast, Mahāyānists enter nirvān .a but do not then dwell in nirvān .a, and they perceive that sam ․sāra and nirvān .a share the same basic nature. Therefore, they proclaim that “sam ․sāra is identical to nirvān .a,” and their nirvān .a is called the “non-abiding nirvān .a.”


A Nikāya arhat who enters nirvān .a does so after severing attachment to self (S. ātma-grāha; C. wozhi), or afflictive hindrances. Therefore, in terms of their degree of liberation, arhats reach the level of bodhisattvas at the seventh or eighth ground. Noble ones on the bodhisattva path enter the first ground after they sever one portion of attachment to dharmas (fazhi), or noetic hindrances, and one portion of attachment to self/afflictive

hindrances, and therefore personally realize one portion of the Dharma-Nature of Suchness. So in terms of their severing the afflictive hindrances, arhats have the same achievement as a seventh- or eighth-ground bodhisattva, but in terms of their severing of noetic hindrances, arhats have the

achievement of bodhisattvas at only the fourth abiding stage. When one severs the afflictive hindrances (realizes emptiness of the self), one is liberated from sam .sāra; when one severs the noetic hindrances (realizes emptiness of dharmas), one will not depart from sam ․sāra. To be liberated from sam .sāra is to enter nirvān .a, and not to depart from sam ․sāra is to deliver sentient beings. Attaining liberation is an act of wisdom;

delivering sentient beings involves acts of merit—and the dual practice of both wisdom and merit is the activity of a bodhisattva, who will become a Buddha when wisdom and merit are brought to perfection. So in terms of the amount of merit-making activity he has done, an arhat is only at the level of a bodhisattva who has reached the fourteenth stage after first generating the intention to tread the bodhisattva path, which is twenty-six stages

away from a bodhisattva who has entered the first ground. A bodhisattva at the first ground has completed one-third of the course of his career (the first of three immeasurable kalpas), and a bodhisattva at the eighth ground has completed two-thirds of his journey (the second immeasurable kalpa). In contrast, a bodhisattva at the ten abidings stages has just begun the first of three immeasurable kalpas in his career to Buddhahood! So if an


arhat wants to become a Buddha, he has to leave the Nikāya and enter the Mahāyāna, practicing step-by-step starting from the stage of the fourth abiding. But after entering nirvān .a, in the short term it is very difficult for an arhat to renounce the Nikāya and enter the


Mahāyāna. Therefore, those who practice the Nikāya have practically broken any possible karmic connection with the path to Buddhahood. Hence, some Mahāyāna scriptures go so far as to regard the Nikāya as no better than outer paths, and heap unbridled criticism on it. But according to the Lotus Sūtra, a real arhat will certainly convert to Mahāyāna practice. Among the audience listening when the Lotus Sūtra was preached were great bhiks .u and bhiks .un .ī arhats who once practiced the Nikāya but later entered the Mahāyāna. There are two types of people who renounce the Nikāya and enter

the Mahāyāna. The first type is a practitioner who has always practiced the Nikāya—if such a practitioner turns to Mahāyāna practice after attaining arhatship, he has to start at the fourth abiding stage of the bodhisattva path. Another type is a practitioner who had practiced the Mahāyāna before he regressed into Nikāya practice and attained arhatship. For such a practitioner, his previous Mahāyāna practice can be added to determine the


starting point for his renewed Mahāyāna practice. For example, in his previous lives Śāriputra had attained the seventh abiding stage in the Mahāyāna path before he regressed into Nikāya practice. After he became an arhat, he returned to the Mahāyāna. As a general rule, if one practiced the Mahāyāna before and returns from Nikāya practice, the moment he returns he can immediately enter the first abiding stage. Or if the person had a deep

foundation in Mahāyāna practice before, he may enter a noble stage of the first ground or higher immediately upon resolving to return. Of course, when an arhat turns to Mahāyāna practice, he only needs to catch up with the accumulation of merit to enter the sacred stages of the bodhisattva path—his level of wisdom will not be reduced below the level of the noble stages. Buddhahood is the ultimate goal of the bodhisattva path, so we can say that

a Buddha is a perfect bodhisattva. Buddhahood is also the ultimate goal of the liberation path, so a Buddha can be called a perfect arhat, too. “Arhat” means someone who is worthy of offerings and is a “field of merit”65* for deities and humans. Therefore, “worthy of offerings” is one of the ten great epithets of a Buddha. “Buddha


refers to one who has completely awakened self, awakened others, and has supreme, universal knowledge and enlightenment. “Bodhisattva,” meaning “enlightened being,” refers to one who has awakened self and others and has universal knowledge and enlightenment. “Nikāya śrāvakas and

pratyekabuddhas” refer to those who have awakened themselves and who are enlightened. An ordinary human or deity is an ignorant being who has not yet achieved enlightenment. Figure 6 below compares practitioners of the Five Vehicles by their degree of enlightenment. There is one point to clarify

regarding the lifestyles of arhats as portrayed in Chinese folklore. In the histories of Chinese Buddhism, we can read about unconventional and eccentric practitioners such as Hanshan, Shide, Fenggan, and the Budai Heshang. We also know of Chan Masters Nanchuan and Guizong, who are known for slashing a cat and chopping a snake, respectively, as skillful and helpful mani

festations [dayong xianqian, lit. “manifestations of Great Functioning”] of their wisdom. Some unusual practitioners lived on riverboats; some lived all alone, by steep cliffs on isolated islands; some hung around marketplaces. Other erratic acts of Chan masters include wielding weapons, imitating

women prostrating, and chomping on big chunks of fatty meat—such are believed to be the Chan school’s unbridled behavior by which to “transcend the Buddhas and patriarchs.” So some Chinese consider lazy, filthy, slovenly, undisciplined monastics as arhat-like, and regard them as manifestations of arhats. In Chinese Buddhist paintings and sculptures, the sacred arhats are represented with strange demeanors, slovenly dress, grimacing mouths, and

repulsive faces [see photograph on page 33].66* In fact, arhats as described in Nikāya scriptures placed great emphasis on following the monastic code. Only members of the group of six bhiks .us (the naughtiest among the monks) would behave like the arhats in Chinese folklore. If this distorted impression is not corrected, it is really a great insult to arhats. In contrast, Chinese often imagine a bodhisattva as serene, poised, dignified, and


adorned with precious jewelry. In reality, this dignified appearance as a human or deity applies only to the reward body of a bodhisattva. To guide different kinds of sentient beings with various karmic capacities, the emanation bodies of a bodhisattva often manifest in many different identities. So the “arhat-like” figures in Chinese legend are really more like the emanation bodies of bodhisattvas. An arhat has to be a monk or nun—the

upholders and symbolic representatives of the Dharma. So arhats cannot be sloppy and undisciplined, or the reputation of Buddhism will be damaged. In contrast, bodhisattvas have no fixed identity—their goal is to edify sentient beings, but they do not necessarily reveal their true identities. Some

may manifest as majestic, virtuous humans or gods. But if necessary, bodhisattvas may also manifest as outer-path practitioners, butchers, or even demon kings without jeopardizing the reputation of Buddhism. We can see that Chinese Buddhists should correct their distorted ideas about arhats and bodhisattvas.





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