© Thich Nhat Hanh
Winter Retreat 1997/98 Thursday 4 December 1997
Dear friends, today is the 4 of December 1997, we are in the New Hamlet in the Winter Retreat. Last time we had begun to study the Diamond Sutra, and we heard the Venerable Subhuti's question as well as the Buddha’s answer. This question is a very practical one. Sometimes people ask very theoretical questions which don't relate to the practice in our daily life. Most people have the tendency to be very theoretical whilst Venerable Subhuti’s question is very practical. He asked, "If sons and daughters of good families want to realise the most noble aspiration, what should they rely on and what should they do in order to master their thinking?" Again a very practical question.
Before asking the question the Venerable Subhuti gave an observation, saying the Buddha is someone very rare to find because he especially supports and shows great confidence in the bodhisattvas. That is a very important observation. The last time we defined a bodhisattva as someone who has a strong desire and great vow to attempt to relieve the suffering of all beings and to try to bring all beings to the other shore, the shore of liberation, of emancipation. Therefore in the mind and heart of the bodhisattvas there must exist a great energy called Bodhicitta, and because of that energy the Buddha especially gives his support to the bodhisattvas, This is a matter of investments. For example when we have ten acres, five of which have the best soil, we have to use all of our energy to cultivate those five acres first. If we have time, good seeds, good fertiliser then we have to put all these resources and our energy into those five acres first, because those five acres will give us a good harvest. If we put all our energy, time, fertiliser and seeds into the other five acres in which the soil is not so good, then we will not have as abundant a harvest. This is only a matter of using our intelligence and not an issue of discrimination. Therefore the World Honoured One always sets aside time and energy to support those great beings who have a great vow and a great desire. Because if someone has a great aspiration, they can help many people. There is no discrimination only intelligent investing.
If we look in our life we will see the same thing. There are monks and nuns who have great bodhicitta, who have a great desire, great ambition to help other people and do not just think about their future or their own comfort. Those people will get greater support from the sangha and from the teacher, more than the people who just think about their own comfort in their daily life or their own future. And the question of Venerable Subhuti started with that observation. It is a very intelligent observation and a very intelligent question. This student appreciates the teacher, can see the heart and mind of the teacher, and see the value of the teacher’s insights. When the World Honoured One replied, he answered directly and said that the authentic bodhisattva is a bodhisattva who embodies two factors in his being: the first factor is the great desire, great ambition, to bring all beings to the shore of liberation. This is called bodhicitta, but having a great aspiration is not enough to be called an authentic bodhisattva. The second thing we have to have is the wisdom of non-discrimination.
The wisdom of non-discrimination is the wisdom that can break the barrier of individualism, with this wisdom we can see that we are the other person and the other person is ourself. The happiness of the other person is our own happiness, and our own happiness is the happiness of the other people, other beings, of plants, animals, and minerals. Sometimes we call it the wisdom of equanimity. 'Samatha' means non-discrimination. The word is different from 'Samatha', the word for stopping. Samatajnana, the wisdom of non-discrimination, means that between the other person and ourself there is no difference. This entity is not completely different from the other entity, and we are all connected to each other and make up one another.
According to Buddhist psychology there are eight consciousnesses. First is the store consciousness, next is manas, and then there is mind consciousness. The five others are based on our five senses: they are sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. The nature of the manas consciousness is discrimination. Manas embraces the store consciousness and calls it 'myself'; it discriminates the self and the non-self. The origin of all discrimination and suffering comes from manas and the fact that our mind consciousness is in turn based on manas consciousness. When we practise we use the mind consciousness and store consciousness to look deeply and to understand the relationship, the connection of all dharmas, their non-self nature. And therefore gradually the manas consciousness is transformed. When we attain final enlightenment, complete liberation, manas consciousness becomes the 'wisdom of non-discrimination'. The purpose of our practice is to attain the wisdom of non-discrimination.
The Buddha said an authentic bodhisattva has to have two factors; first, the energy of bodhicitta and second, the wisdom of non-discrimination. The answer is very clear and direct. A bodhisattva, then, has to have a great vow to bring all the beings to the other shore. "And when all this innumerable, immeasurable, infinite number of beings have become liberated, we do not in truth, think that a single being has been liberated." So there is no one who is liberated, and no one who brings the beings to the other shore. The Buddha has already answered the question of the Venerable Subhuti, but also questioned the Venerable Subhuti and asked "why?" Then the Buddha continued: "If, Subhuti, a bodhisattva holds onto the idea that a self, a person, a living being, a life span exists, that person is not an authentic bodhisattva." And that person doesn't have the wisdom of non-discrimination. The essence of the Diamond Sutra is in this sentence. If we can understand this sentence then the other parts of the sutra are very easy to understand, we can understand the meaning of Diamond Sutra as easily as splitting bamboo.
When we split bamboo, it's only difficult at first because we have to cut through the hard part called ‘the eye’. But once we've cut through it then the rest of the bamboo can be split easily. The monks and nuns who have grown up in the West may not so easily understand the saying: "as easy as splitting bamboo". Once you've penetrated the hard part and there is a crack it's very easy to split the whole length of bamboo, through all the sections. So the Diamond Sutra is exactly the same. If we can understand the first part of the sutra then we can understand the other parts easily.
"Subhuti, if a bodhisattva holds onto the idea of a self, a person, a living being, a life span, that person is not an authentic bodhisattva." The sutra mentions four notions we have to clearly understand. We have the notions of self, person, living being, and life span. If we can overcome those four notions then we are an authentic bodhisattva. 'Samjna' means perception, idea, notion or concept. If we look at the Chinese character of the word 'notion', we see there are two parts: the upper part means ‘appearance’ or ‘mark’ and the lower part means mind. In our mind there is a mark and we catch that mark, that appearance. The two Chinese characters for ‘mark’ and ‘perception’ are closely connected because ‘mark’ is the object of ‘perception, and ‘perception’ in turn is the subject of ‘mark’, so we have a ‘perception’ when our mind is grasping a ‘mark’. The first part is 'laksana', object of mind, and the second part is 'citta', mind. When those two are combined we have the word 'Samjna', which means perception, idea, notion, concept. This sutra mentions four marks in which we are caught. And if we cannot liberate ourself from those four notions then we are not an authentic bodhisattva.
For example if we look at this marker pen. In our mind there is an appearance, a mark. Our mind catches this appearance and we have an idea, a perception about it. Our perception of the marker cannot be separated from its mark and vice versa. The subject and the object, depend on each other to co-exist. One makes the other and is made by the other. The marks cause us to have concepts, notions, and perceptions about them. This means that appearance helps the mind to form a notion, a perception, and the mind catches the appearance, the mark to make a notion, a concept. So both are responsible. But usually our perceptions, our notions, are wrong perceptions, wrong notions. For example there are two young people who fall in love when they first meet. The foundation of their love is their perceptions, their notions. When one sees the other they see some appearance of the other. And our loving mind is then created with the help of the appearance of the other. This loving mind grasps at the appearances to form a notion, a perception about the other person. And the object of our love is the appearance of the other person, which we have created in our mind.
To help us understand this easily we draw a circle which represents reality, suchness, the thing in itself, and we will call it "X". So this reality, suchness, and this other circle "M", is our mind. Our mind looks at this suchness, at the thing in itself, and it cannot understand the true nature of the whole thing, so instead it creates an image of it. So, in our mind we create the image x', and x' is not x. It is our perception that our mind has about x. So when we love someone, we may not love that person, but we love the image our mind has created of that person. And after living together for three years we see that what we loved in the beginning is not the reality now. So the object of our perception is the appearance, and not the thing in itself, it is not the suchness of that thing. If our perception, our notion, is wrong, it is due to our mind having much greed, anger, and ignorance. Since it is the mind of discrimination it is the mind of ignorance. Therefore when we get in contact with something we cannot see it’s real nature and we simply create an image about that thing. So when we are angry or upset, we are upset about our own image of it and not the real thing. Our mind is responsible for the image x'. And x' is also responsible for our mind’s tendency to grasp.
Our deluded mind (t') comes from true mind (t). Deluded mind is based on true mind, exactly as x', our grasped appearance about something, is based on the reality of the thing x. If our true mind can be in contact with suchness then we are a bodhisattva, a fully awakened person. But most of the time the deluded mind is in contact with the appearance in our mind, creating wrong perception. The nature of the appearance and the perception is ignorance, avidya. Avidya is ignorance or delusion. Our mind is deluded mind, because in it there is the element of ignorance, of delusion. Vidya means light, and a-vidya means lacking light. If the subject is deluded, then the object is also distorted, and thus creates a wrong perception. For example with a fearful panicking mind we can easily mistake a rope for a snake.
In a mind based on ignorance and delusion many afflictions manifest. The two basic afflictions are craving (greed) and anger. Those two afflictions have their basis in our ignorance, our delusion, our deluded mind together with the mistaken image we have in our mind. The image we have is the object of our deluded mind. The perceived and the perceiver. The perception is generally a wrong perception. Because it's a wrong perception we use the word 'concept'. If it were not a wrong perception then we would call it ‘wisdom’ or ‘true reality’. If we have a perception, that perception, that notion can make us suffer. So it's much better if we don't have any notion, any perception. Some perceptions, some notions can make us suffer day and night. If we have a perception, a notion about something then we cannot have peace when we walk, we eat, we rest. And we suffer. The perception, the notion we have about something creates a craving, a desire in ourself, or anger in ourself. And when we have craving or anger, then we lose our peace and joy. Besides greed and anger we also have arrogance, doubt, jealousy, prejudice etc. So the deluded mind is the origin of all these afflictions. For example we have a perception that: "If I can do this I will be very happy." If we have that perception, that idea, then we lose our peace. We work very hard in order to get that, but if the conditions don't allow us to fulfil that dream, that idea, then we suffer. When we practise we can understand the true nature of our deluded mind so that we can liberate ourself from our suffering
The World Honoured One didn't talk about many notions, only four. And if we can destroy those four notions then we can attain the wisdom of non-discrimination and we are an authentic bodhisattva. The first notion is the "self". We should understand that the foundation of Buddhism is the wisdom of non-self. Last time, we looked at the wisdom of non-self by looking at the right hand and the left hand. The right hand writes poems and Chinese characters, but it never compares itself with the left hand, and it is never jealous or angry or discriminating against the left hand, because in the right hand there is the wisdom of non-discrimination. So we practise in order to be like the right hand, nothing more than that. And then we will not discriminate self from not self, we won't be thinking there is someone higher or better than we are. We think that we are looking for something outside ourself, but the wisdom of non-discrimination is already there in our right hand.
Self, what is it? It is our imagining, the creation of our deluded mind. Therefore the Buddha has taught us to meditate about the nature of non-self. When we look at a leaf or a pebble, a cloud, a river or a baby, a society or a human being, we look deeply in order to understand the nature of non-self, so that we can liberate ourself from the notion of self. For example when father and son are angry at each other, they are able to be angry because the father thinks: "My son is not me", and the son thinks the same way: "My father is not me." But if they both understand that they are both the same entity, the same reality, then it is impossible to get angry with each other, because they are not caught by the idea of self. The practice for monks and nuns is the same. We have a saying: "Brothers and sisters are like hands an feet of a body." Elder brother gets angry with younger brother because he is still caught by a notion of self. When we are liberated from that notion of self then we will not be angry and we can laugh, we can smile. Even if only one of us can liberate ourself from the notion of self then we will not be upset by other people, it won't matter what the other person does or what the other person says, and gradually the other person will change himself or herself.
The same is true with the any religions, for example; Christianity and Buddhism. In the last century Catholic priests and nuns came to Asian countries. Some of the Buddhists were still caught by the notion of self and were very angry. They thought: "We have our own religion, you don't need to come here." Both sides have a notion about their own religion having the nature of a separate self. The same thing happens now. Some people say: "Why do you bring Buddhism to the West?" They feel they have to defend themselves. Because most of us are still caught by the notion of self. But Buddhism is made only of non-Buddhism elements. If we look deeply we can see that the elements of non-Buddhism have made Buddhism. For example Siddhartha himself, or the great disciples Sariputra, Mollagana, Anathapindika; they weren't Buddhists. So Buddhism is made by non-Buddhism elements. It's exactly the same as a flower. A flower is made from non-flower elements; the sun, the clouds are not flower, soil is not flower, water is not flower. The self is made of non-self elements. It is the same with the other religions. When you look at Christianity it's also made by non-Christian elements. When you can see that then you realise the wisdom of non-self and there is no discrimination between the self and non-self. Mango is different than grapefruit, the Venerable Mahakasyapa is different from the Venerable Ananda. We can distinguish the differences but we don't have any discrimination, and then we liberate ourself because we are not caught by the appearance, the notion of self.
The World Honoured One is the liberated one because he is not caught in the notion of self. But although he is completely liberated he still uses the language of a human being. He said: "Ananda, that hill is so beautiful, do you want to climb up there with me?" So when the Buddha talks he says "self", "I", "the hill", "Ananda". Ananda is Ananda, the hill is the hill, the Buddha is Buddha, but although he uses those words he doesn't discriminate these are separate entities, and therefore he is able to have freedom, because he has the wisdom of non-discrimination. Just so, when we are the younger brother we are still the younger brother, and when we are the elder brother we are still the elder brother, but it doesn't mean that we are two separate entities, two separate realities. If we are angry, jealous, or upset with our brother, it is because we have the notion of self. But if we look at the person and we are not caught in any appearance, then we understand the non-self in the self and we are liberated. It is not a matter of destroying all appearances; appearances are still there. The key is for us not to be deceived thinking that each is a separate entity. It is only a matter of how we look at everything. In the Diamond Sutra there is a famous sentence: "If you can see the no-mark nature in the mark, then you see the Tathagata." If we understand the nature of non-self then we can see the true nature of big brother, big sister, Ananda. They are all there, they are all different. But if when we look at them we don't see the separate self of those entities, then we are the Buddha.
There is a barrier between self and non-self that is created by deluded mind. The key is how to remove that barrier between the self and non-self. At the beginning we say that the self is not non-self, I am not you. But when you look deeply you see that I am made by other elements other than me. I am made by you, and in me I can see you. When we look deeply in the flower we can see the clouds, the sunlight, and other non-flower elements. We need to remove that barrier. And when we have removed it, the self is the non-self. We see self is made by the non-self elements, that the self is non-self.
We have a principle of identity. According to this principle: A=A
A is A, A cannot be B: A#B
A cannot be B, C, D: A#B,C,D
But in the wisdom of the Diamond Sutra A can be B: A=B
Because the self is made by non-self elements.
And the mathematical formula is: A#A=A
Meaning A is made of what is not A, therefore A is truly A.
In the Diamond Sutra there are many sentences which are written according to this formula (A#A=A).
It means that the self is the non-self: self=non-self=self
When we understand that the self is made by the non-self elements then we see the reality, the true nature of the self. In exactly the same way, if A is the bodhisattva who brings all the beings to the other shore, and if the bodhisattva still thinks that he is a bodhisattva, then he is not an authentic bodhisattva. But if we look at A and we can see non-A elements in it then it is truly A, then the bodhisattva is truly an authentic bodhisattva. If the flower is A, and we think that the flower is separate from the other things (a flower is not a cloud, is not sun, is not fertiliser), if we see the flower that way then it is not yet a true flower. But if looking deeply in the flower you can see that the flower is made by non-flower elements, we can see the elements B,C,D, then A is true A, the flower is a true flower.
Usually we use the example of the garbage and flower. Looking deeply in the flower we see garbage. Most of us think that a flower is a flower, garbage is garbage. But when we look deeply in the flower we see that garbage is a very important element in the flower, and then the flower is also the garbage. A is also B,C,D. When we can see that then we can see the true nature of everything. So that is the formula according to the sutra:
A is not the A that we have thought it is: A#A
but A is also non-A: A=B,C,D
Therefore A is true A: A=A
A is not the A that we have thought it is, but it is also non-A. Therefore it is true A. Or another way to say it is when we look deeply in A and we can see that our notion about A is a wrong notion, a wrong perception, then at that time we start to understand the true nature of A. (If you understand so far put your hand up!)
This formula is similar to the second formula, A=B,C,D. I am the other. Usually we think that A is not B,C,D. But when we can see that A is made by B,C,D, that A is also B,C,D, then we can understand the true nature of A, the suchness of A. Therefore in order to realise the meaning of the Diamond Sutra we need to destroy the wrong notion about self. Then we can realise the wisdom of non-discrimination, the wisdom of non-self. Non-self is the key.
'Self' is a notion, a perception, an idea. But if we get rid of that notion only to be caught by another notion, the notion of 'non-self', then we are in exactly the same dilemma. Therefore according to the Diamond Sutra we have to overcome all the notions. The teaching of non-self is offered to help us overcome the notion of self, but when we can get rid of the notion of self then we also have to get rid of the notion of non-self. Non-self is not a concept, it's a method, a means, a practise - the teaching of non-self is to help us to liberate ourselves from the notion of self. The self is made by the non-self. When we look deeply in the self, if we can see the non-self elements, then we can get in touch with the suchness of the self. And at that time we can use the word 'self', but without being caught by the notion of self.
Self is the first notion mentioned in the Diamond Sutra, and we need to practise in order to liberate ourself from this notion. How do we practise? When we eat, walk, sit, when we look at other people, at the clouds, the grass, then we can see ourselves; we can see that we are in those elements and we are not separate. And that is the meditation on non-self. Every time we cook, we cut carrots, we wash dishes, in those moments, that is the time for us to meditate. We need to understand the relationship between these things, and ourself and we need to see ourself in those things and to see those things in ourself. If we have anger or jealousy then we should look deeply in order to understand that the anger or jealousy originated from our notion of self. And if we can liberate ourself from that notion then we free ourself from anger, from jealousy. So this is the practice. It is not a theory. And this practice, the practice of meditation on non-self, needs to be practised every day, every moment of our daily life.
The second notion is person, man, human being. We have a notion, an idea about man, about person. Usually we forget that the human being is a creature that evolved from animals, plants and minerals. Scientists have proved clearly that person is made by non-person elements. The human being is the most recent creature in the evolution of life on earth. When we think that we have the right to do anything, and that others, plants, animals, minerals are the means for us to get what we want, then we have a very wrong notion about man. We haven't understood that man is made of non-man elements, that A is made of non-A, and therefore A is true A. We need to remove the barrier between human beings and the non-human elements. The non-man elements are the plants, animals and minerals.
I want to emphasise something. We have all learned that man is one of the animals, and is the latest creature in the evolution of nature on earth, and we know that we cannot survive without plants, without animals. We know this, but we don't remember all the time. And we continue to discriminate and to destroy the plants, the animals, and the minerals, (elements of our environment). Therefore in our daily life we need to practise in order to understand the relation between human and non-human. If we can protect the non-human elements then we protect ourself. The notion that man is the highest creature and that all the other elements are there to serve man is a very wrong idea. We have to understand that human is made by the non-human and we have a responsibility to protect the non-human elements. This is the wisdom we can attain when we meditate on non-self. With this wisdom we can save our environment and ourselves. 2600 years ago the Buddha realised this and taught us about it. So we can say that the Diamond Sutra is the oldest teaching about protecting the environment.
The third notion is living being. This is another notion we need to transform and liberate ourself from. We think that living beings have a life span, and have feelings, perceptions and so on and are different from non-living beings. The Buddha has taught us that living beings are made by non-living beings, for example by plants and minerals. Therefore, in our daily life, we need to live in such a way that nourishes that wisdom, to nourish our understanding about the relationship between living beings and non-living beings, that living beings are made by non-living beings. Living beings are not living beings, therefore the living being is a true living being. Self is non-self, so that self is a true self. Man is not man, then man is truly man. If we can understand that man is made by non-man elements then at that time we understand man as true man. In the same way, if we look at living beings and we see and understand that living beings are made by non-living beings, then we understand the suchness, the reality of living beings. Here we repeat the wisdom of the Diamond Sutra, it means when we look at a cup of tea, if we can see that the cup of tea is made by non-tea elements then we can see the suchness of that cup of tea.
The fourth notion is life span. We have a perception that our life span is 70, 80 or 100 years. We think we exist from the time we were born to the time we die, and that this is our life span. That is another notion, a perception, a concept that we need to overcome and liberate ourself from. According to that notion, before we are born we do not exist and after we die we are nothing. This is a very wrong notion. It is said in many sutras that when conditions are sufficient our body is formed, and when conditions are not sufficient then our body does not manifest. We are caught by the idea of birth and death, the idea of existence and non-existence, and the idea of life span. The notion of life span is the basis of the notions of birth and death, coming and going, existence and non-existence, permanence and annihilation. All of these pairs of concepts have their foundation in the concept of life span. Therefore when we can destroy the notion of life span we can destroy the other notions.
The notions of permanence and annihilation are a contradictory pair of opposite notions. What is the belief of permanence? It is seeing that everything has an existence that never ceases. What is the opposite notion of annihilation? It is seeing that nothing exists. This is one pair of contradictory opposites. When we look deeply in all dharmas we see that everything changes, that everything has the nature of impermanence. But impermanence doesn't mean annihilation, so we have to liberate ourself from both notions of impermanence and annihilation, they are both erroneous. They both bring about suffering, fear, and anxiety. For example when we love someone, we think that that person will live with us for our whole life. We do not see his or her impermanent nature and when that person passes away we suffer, because we are caught by the notion of permanence. It is the same for ourselves. Now we are living, we exist, but one day we cannot exist anymore, we will die. We have a great fear of being cut off from life, a fear of nothingness. This is why the philosopher Descartes said: "I think therefore I am." We say it loud to overcome our fear. If we are caught in the notion of permanence or in its opposite, annihilation, then we suffer in both cases.
The same thing is true for the notions of existence and non-existence. Descartes said: "I think therefore I am." He was caught in a notion of existence, clinging to it to overcome the fear of non-existence. Because he did not look deeply enough, he was fearful of being nothing especially when he was confronted with the death of someone, or with his own death. If we are caught in the notion of being we will also be caught in the notion of non-being. From the perspective of life span, we think we start to exist at the point of time we call birth; and we think we continue to exist until the point of time we call death, after which we think we cease to exist. Thus the notions of birth and death form the basis of the notions of being and non-being. Both of these notions have their roots in the fundamental notion of life span. The Buddha has taught that when conditions are sufficient things manifest, but to label that manifestation as being is wrong. Also when conditions are not sufficient, things do not manifest, but to label that as non-being is also wrong. Reality is beyond being and non-being, we need to overcome those notions. Hamlet said: "To be or not to be, that is the question." We can see that he was caught by these notions. But according to this teaching, "to be or not to be", is not the question. Because reality is beyond the notion of being or non-being, birth or death, coming or going. Where do we come from and where do we go to? Those are philosophical questions. But if we understand suchness then we know that we don't come from anywhere and we don't go anywhere.
The Tathagata doesn't come from anywhere and he doesn't go anywhere. That is the definition of Tathagata. Therefore the Tathagata is called the Tathagata. So all the notions, the notions of coming, going; being, non-being; birth, death; permanence, annihilation, all have their origin in the fundamental notion of life span. Therefore in the Lotus Sutra we learn that the life span of the Buddha is infinite. Our life span is the same, and we are the future Buddha, and we have an infinite life span. We do not begin to exist at the point of birth and we do not cease to exist at the point of death. We overcome and go beyond the notion of life span as the time between when we are born and when we die. When we can see x as x, reality as reality, then we can overcome all the notions. When we do walking meditation in autumn we see dead leaves, and we have a feeling of sadness. We call them dead leaves instead of yellow or red leaves. But if we look deeply at those leaves we see that each is a manifestation that pretends to die, but actually the leaf is not dead. We are caught in the notion of being born and being dead; birth and death; being and non-being; where does it come from, where does it go to; permanence, annihilation. The true nature of a leaf also goes beyond all these eight notions. We are like the leaf. The leaf becomes the soil in order to later become another leaf or a flower. So if we can understand the leaf and go beyond these eight notions, then we can understand and can see the suchness of a leaf. To practice means to meditate so that we can see the suchness of a leaf, we can see the suchness of ourselves. We have to look deeply at being young and being old; at being born, dying; coming, going; being, non-being; and then all of our suffering, our afflictions will be transformed. Master Tang Hoi, a Vietnamese Zen patriarch who was born and lived in the third century, has taught us a way of meditating called, "Letting go of the notions of body and of life span", (Phong Khi Xu Mang). So when we say: "I have only one life to live", it's not correct because life is unlimited. I am my children, my children are me.
When the Venerable Subhuti heard these words he did not understand. Therefore he didn't cry yet. The Buddha had to explain a little bit more, then he understood. "Moreover, Subhuti, if a bodhisattva practises generosity, she does not rely on any object, that is to say does not rely on form, sound, smell, taste, touch or objects of mind to practise generosity. That, Subhuti, is the spirit in which a bodhisattva should practise generosity, not relying on signs. Why? If a bodhisattva practises generosity and does not rely on signs then the happiness that results from this virtue cannot be conceived of or measured." From talking about the four notions he moves on to talk about the practice of generosity. Why? Because the Buddha was talking about prajnaparamita as one of the six ways to cross over to the other shore, and another of these six ways is to practise generosity. The other practices are mindfulness trainings, diligence, inclusiveness, concentration and the last one is insight, prajnaparamita wisdom.
In the Diamond Sutra the Buddha talks about the practice of generosity because it is the first practice, so he uses it as an example for the other five practices. He mentions forbearance but he doesn't talk about the other practices. But the nature of all six practices is prajnaparamita wisdom. If you practise generosity without understanding, without prajnaparamita wisdom, then it is not the highest practice of generosity. If you practise generosity and are not caught by the four notions then it is the highest practice of generosity. It's the same with the other five practices. When we practise the six paramitas (generosity, mindfulness trainings, diligence, inclusiveness, meditation, insight) we need to maintain our understanding, our wisdom of non-discrimination. When we look at form we understand that form is made of non-form. When we look deeply at sound we have to understand deeply that sound is made by non-sound elements. The same for smell, taste, touch, and objects of mind. Therefore we are not caught by form, sound, smell, taste, touch or objects of mind. If we are not caught by these and we are using the wisdom of non-discrimination, then our acts of generosity have reached the highest peak of practice.
Many of us want to be social workers to help other people, to practise generosity, but we are caught by the four notions, therefore the happiness that results is not very great. We are still angry, sad, and we still suffer because we are still caught by the four notions of self, person, living being and life span. If we practise generosity according to the spirit of the Diamond Sutra, using the wisdom of non-discrimination as fuel for our practice, then the happiness that results from this virtue is the greatest.
This is a difficult concept, therefore we should discuss it in Dharma discussion. We need to understand these teachings are not theories. These teachings are our daily practice. How in our daily life can we apply the wisdom of non-discrimination? How can we not be caught by the four notions? Otherwise if we learn about the sutra but we cannot apply it in our daily life, then our learning will not help us.
Dharma Talk of December 7, 1997
(Translated from Vietnamese into English by Sister True Emptiness)
Dear Sangha, Today is the 7 December 1977 we are in the Upper Hamlet in the Winter Retreat. Today before I continue in Vietnamese, I will summarise in English what we have learned in the last few talks.
The Diamond Sutra is made with a conversation between the Buddha and one of his disciples, Subhuti. Subhuti is known as someone who practises very well looking deeply into the nature of emptiness of everything that is. And, in the beginning, Subhuti asks the Buddha a question. His question is very practical. He wants to know how to master our mind, how to control our mind, how to take care of our mind in order for us to be able to pursue the path of practice. His question has three elements. The first element is he noticed that the Buddha is always willing to support the bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas are those who have a great aspiration to help others. That is why Subhuti recognised the fact that the Buddha always supports and gives energy to bodhisattvas who have a great deal of energy within them, because their desire, their deepest desire, is to serve and to help all living beings. And this is not discrimination on the part of the Buddha, but it is the willingness to invest in those who want to live for the sake of others.
The second element is that those bodhisattvas motivated by that desire to help other people, how can they cultivate their minds? How can they take care of their minds? What can they rely on in order to master their own minds? And this is a very practical question, because sometimes we don’t know how to care for our minds, and we let our minds wander in the direction of suffering and delusion and uncertainty. That is why we can say that this question of Subhuti is very practical. I think there are only two elements in the question.
And the answer given by the Buddha to Subhuti is also very precise, and it has three elements. He said that bodhisattvas are those who should make a vow to bring all living beings from the shore of suffering to the shore of well being and liberation. But while doing the work of bringing living beings to the other shore, the bodhisattvas should not be caught in the idea of self. The bodhisattva should not see the distinction between the saviour and the living beings that are saved. And the question he asks is a kind of answer in that way, he said that if a bodhisattva still has the notion of self, of human being, of living being, and of life span, this is not exactly a bodhisattva yet. That is his answer.
And I have spent a lot of time explaining about these four concepts, these four ideas. The first idea is the idea of self. The second idea is the idea of man. The third idea is the idea of living beings, and the fourth idea is the idea of life span. And this is the summary of what I said in Vietnamese.
Self is the notion that there is a separate self that can exist independently from non-self elements. So the Buddha advises us to look into the self in order to see that the self is only made of non-self elements. And when you know, when you have seen that the self is made of non-self elements, you begin to see the real self. Otherwise you only have an idea, a wrong idea, about self, and that is why I talk about the principle of identity which is A is A, A is not B. That is the principle of identity that we are used to following in our thinking. And that thinking does not lead us very far, and that is why the Buddha gives us a method of looking, of thinking, that can help us to see more deeply into the nature of things. So suppose A is self, and if you look into the self you see that the self is made only of non-self elements. So instead of saying A is A, he said A is B,C, D, E, etc., because the self is made of only non-self elements. And when you are able to see that A is B, C, D, E, etc., it means not A, and then you can begin to see the real A. So the dialectics of the Diamond Sutra is A is not A, that is why it is a truly? This is the dialectics of the Diamond Sutra.
When you look into A, you have to see that A is entirely made of non-A elements, and if you are able to see that, now you can see the true nature of A. This is quite different from the way we are used to thinking and to behave. The same thing is true with the other four ideas. The idea of humans. Humans are a race, are a species among millions of species on earth, and if we look into the human, a man or a woman, we see that a man is made of non-man elements. If there are no animals, no vegetables, no minerals, man cannot be made at all. So man is made of non-man elements. This is an ecological insight. We can say that in order to protect man, we have to protect non-man elements. This is why can say that the Diamond Sutra is a most ancient text teaching us how to preserve our ecosystem in order for us to be able to preserve ourselves.
So humans are made of only non-human elements, and when you have seen that you begin to see the true nature of the human. Human are not human. Humans are made of non-human elements. That is why humans are really humans. The same thing is true with living beings. Living beings are believed to have sensations, perceptions, and so on, suffering and happiness; but if we look into the nature of living beings, we will see the same. We see that living beings are made of non-living -being elements like the minerals, the vegetables; and if you can see that, you begin to understand what is really a living being. In fact, science shows us that the frontier separating living beings and non-living beings is very vague. We cannot draw a sharp line between the two. There are beings that we cannot say are a vegetable or an animal. So a living being, if you can see it, is made of non-living being elements. Then you begin to see the true nature of living-beings.
The last idea is about life span. Usually we think that we are born at a certain time, we will exist for some time, and we will die. Birth and death. And this is a notion that does not correspond to the truth. In fact, the Buddha said that when conditions are sufficient, the body manifests itself, and you can see that as being; and when one of the conditions is lacking and you can no longer see the body and you say that there is no living-being. In fact, it is not true that you only begin to exist from here and you will stop existing at this point. In fact, the notion of life span is the ground for many other notions, like the notion of birth and death, the notion of being and non-being, the notion of coming and going, the notion of same or different, and so on. So the notion of life span has to be removed in order for us to see that reality is free from all notions, including the notion of birth and death, being and non-being, coming and going, and so on. So if you look deeply into the life span, you discover that this is only a manifestation, and if you get caught in your perception, the form, then you miss the whole thing. You cannot see reality as it is: reality which is free from birth and death, being and non-being, coming and going, same and different, and so on. So when you look at life span, and you see that your life span is not limited in the spirit of time, you begin to understand what is a life span.
So this formula is very good, very necessary, for you to understand the Diamond Sutra, because this formula was repeated several times in the Diamond Sutra. For example, a stupid person is not a stupid person that is why the Tathagata calls him a stupid person. A bodhisattva knows that he is not a bodhisattva, that is why he is called a bodhisattva. So that kind of language is very strange, but if you know the formula, you understand the Diamond Sutra quite easily.
Dear Subhuti, the bodhisattva tries to help, but does not lean on the form, on the sound, on the taste in order to help. It means that the bodhisattva tries to help without relying on form, sound, smell, taste, touch, or object of mind to practise generosity. The Diamond Sutra is the sutra that teaches us the six paramitas in a very concrete and deep way. You know that among the six paramitas the paramita on great understanding is the best. And we learn that the Buddha used to illustrate the great understanding paramita as being like a pot which contained water. It must be a deep, well-baked container, because if the container is not well baked, it will have a lot of leaks and all our water will be gone. So if we don’t have great understanding, all the other actions will be of no value or will not bring any success, because if the great understanding is not enough, if in our understanding there are many leaks - that means many short comings, many confusions - the other paramitas cannot be followed.
So the great understanding in the Diamond Sutra is that there is no distinction between us and other living beings. We feel that we are one body with everyone we help, but we don’t have the impression of helping, like the right hand helping the left hand or like the hand helping the legs will not say, "I am helping you". So the great understanding is that we are one, that the other species are integral with ourselves. We are not different from other species who are part of our body. When we understand deeply like that, there is no distinction, and the help will be perfect, and the practise of generosity will not say it is the practise of generosity. It is like we are breathing, we are eating; we share, we practise generosity without knowing that we are practising generosity. We will not rely on form, sound, smell, taste, touch, object of mind; these things are the world. Because with our eyes we can see the form, with our ears we can hear sound, with our noses we can smell. Taste, touch and objects of our minds are only things we perceive, so all these six realms make the world.
Our concept, perception about things in our mind is an image, an idea we have about these things. The word dharma here means objects of mind, everything you perceive in your mind. Sometimes we perceive reality wrongly. But a wrong perception is still a dharma. So the table is a dharma, the flower is a dharma, the friend next to you is a dharma, and the sun is a dharma. But all of them are objects of your perception. It doesn't mean that you can catch their true reality. You have a perception about these things. So when you practice generosity, don't be caught by your perceptions and concepts; don’t be caught by form, sound, form, smell, taste, touch, and object of mind. Just behave naturally, beautifully, like you brush your teeth, like you eat your breakfast, like you drink a cup of tea.
When we share something we don’t think we own something that I am giving to you and you must thank me. Again, it’s like the right hand helping the left hand. The right hand will not say: "I am helping you my left hand, you have to be thankful to me." The great understanding in the Diamond Sutra is to see we are one with everything. Don’t think the other is the receiver. Don’t think: "I am practising generosity. I am a great person. I am a generous person. I am giving to you. The right hand never says that to the left hand. The right hand can help your hurt feet but will not tell the feet: "I am helping you." And when the right hand helps the body to do something it will not discriminate and say to the left hand: "I am very talented because I can write poetry and calligraphy, I can cook and paint, and you, you have no value." The right hand knows that there is the presence of the left hand. The right hand knows form, sound, taste, etc. but the right hand is not ignorant and does not discriminate and say: "I am very important." The teaching of the Diamond Sutra is you must learn to see that you are that great body of life. If the other person is you then the person that hurt you is also you, the person who helps you is also you. When you help others you do everything like you do for yourself, like you breathe, like you eat.
There are those who are delinquent, caught by drugs, in prison. We can see these people in the light of the teachings of the Diamond Sutra. You see that they are you. Have you done something to help your left hand? Have you done something to help your toes? Because they are you. If you say: "Oh, we have to have the death penalty, we have to kill them all, they don’t try to study or to live spiritually, they must behave like me." When you speak in that way, then according to the Diamond Sutra you are behaving as if you were the right hand saying to the left hand: "You have no value, you must write calligraphy like me, write poetry like me, you have to cook like me, you have to paint like me." That is our behaviour if we say we have to have the death penalty
The teaching of the Diamond Sutra is so deep. It can help you to see that such people are made of non-delinquent elements. Perhaps they don't have a father, or he is an alcoholic who ignores them. They have a mother who doesn’t know how to take care of them. They live in an environment where everybody hates everyone else, where everyone is self-centred, competitive, violent, and unkind. If we were born in such a situation, and our father ignores us, our mother doesn’t give us anything to eat, then we would be exactly like them. So, when we see clearly like that we will see we are them and they are us. In that case the right hand can do something to help the toes, the fingers, the ears, every part of the body, the hands have to do their best. So you can see that everybody is yourself. And when you look deeply like that you see your responsibility for those who suffer. And you have to take care of all of them. We never pay any attention to them, we never spare one cent for them or one minute for them. We are somehow co-responsible for the birth of the many delinquent people, of the many who use drugs, and we don’t do anything to help them. We are responsible, don’t blame them. When you look at A, you see that A is not A. A is made from elements other than A, the non-A elements. So you can see that delinquent person is not a delinquent person, but is all the elements which create that person. And then your heart is full of love, and you know what to do in order to create more conditions of love, understanding and care for those who are in need.
Another example is the way we see ourselves. When we look at ourselves, our own body and mind, there are many things we don’t like, many behaviours we are not satisfied with. In each of us there is a judge and there is the person who is being judged. There are many of us who disagree with ourselves, who cannot accept ourselves, who feel we are so bad, we have so many shortcomings. We are so judgmental toward ourselves. We have so many weaknesses, and we don’t want them. We want to transcend them, we want to transform them, but we can't. And so we start to despise ourselves. If you can't accept yourself, how can you accept others? So you have to learn to accept yourself first. The Buddha said that you will learn to look at yourself deeply. You are made of many elements that are not you. So, you look deeply into yourself to see the many elements that brought you into being. There are many genetic elements you have received from your parents, grandparents. There is your society, your traditions, the nation around you, the people around you, the economic situation, educational conditions and so on. So when you see all these things you see many elements which are not A in A, that is many elements which are not you in you. And so you feel less judgmental. You will not say: "Oh, I am so bad because..." We have inherited a lot. For example we might see: "My grandfather was also very weak in that way, he could not control himself", or "My mother was like that too" and so on. So you see many elements which are not you but which are in you. You say: "My father is exactly like that. My mother, my grandmother was like that. A lot of people around me influenced me, like my close friends." So you accept yourself as you are, and if you have a wish to transform yourself you have to cut all these roots. You have to say "Hello" to these elements and say: "Daddy, I don't want to continue like you." We end the circle of suffering now. But you smile to your shortcomings, you smile to that habit energy. You smile to the non-A elements. In the past you always blamed A. A is yourself, a separate self, full of shortcomings, full of everything for which you judge yourself. You can see all these elements you received from this friend so you can decide to keep away from that friend. I received these elements from my Mum. So I say hello to my Mum, but I say: "I don’t want to be like you Mum. I received elements from my grandmother, I say: "Hello grandma, I don’t want to continue these elements in you." So you smile, and you gently transform.
The first thing to do is to look deeply at A, A is yourself. And you see what power A has in A, that is how much power or control you can have over yourself. Instead of looking at A like the person that you hate, learn to look at A like the person that you love. For example, maybe you love me. But I am not me. I have all the good conditions which create me: the patriarchs, the Buddha; I am not so important as you thought. I received a lot from a lot of great people. And so these great people are transferring their wisdom to you. So that is A. A could be me, A could be the person you love, the person you hate, could be yourself. You look at A but you try to see the non-A elements in A so that you learn to appreciate all, and see in a broader way and not focus only on A.
Another example is when we join your palms and pay respect to a spiritual teacher in order to express our admiration and gratitude. We came to that teacher. He has a form. If he is someone who has deep understanding he can help us to go in a good direction, a better direction. And you bow deeply to him, you bow deeply to his form. You put all your trust and confidence in him. We invest 100% in the teacher. Three or four years later you discover that he was not like you thought. You had a wrong image of him. His reality is quite different. You have invested in a form, an image which is not the reality of that person. And then you leave him, and you suffer. How can we behave so that such things do not happen either to a teacher, or to a person you fall in love with? Also in that situation you invest three or four years in her or in him. Then after that time you discover that her or his reality is so different, and you are shocked. And then you leave him or her and you are so desperate.
My advice is that of the Diamond Sutra. You look at that form, and you know that you have a perception about that form. In your head is just an image of that person but not the reality. And that image is made of that form. But that spiritual teacher is made of so many elements which are not him. You did not see clearly. When you first came to him you saw a number of qualities and you said: "You have these qualities, I am so happy." And you hoped that you could develop these qualities in yourself. Then later you see a number of shortcomings in him and you come and tell him. But maybe it’s not a shortcoming, maybe your look is not deep enough and you have misunderstood. So with a big smile, with the great love that you have, you come to that person and tell him or her: "That is the shortcoming that I don’t like in you very much. Maybe there is some reason behind it." When they can tell you yes, there is something behind, then you are able to see that it’s not a shortcoming but maybe something more profound, something you may appreciate. Or if it’s a real shortcoming you can discuss it in peace, in joy, in gentleness, and he can transform his shortcoming.
It’s the same for us. We come to see a teacher but we do it in a very superficial way. We want him to appreciate us, to consider us as a great person. But if he is very busy and has many students and does not pay enough attention to you, then you feel hurt. You feel that because you appreciate him he must appreciate you. And you feel hurt, because it seems to you that other students are less good than you are and they are paid a lot of attention by the teacher. And you try your best but he doesn’t pay attention to you, he doesn’t even look at you. And then you suffer. That is because you rely on the form.
Sometimes I sit and give a lecture for many thousand people. More than one thousand people might kneel down in order to take the five wonderful mindfulness trainings. In the United States on the last trip more than 600 persons on one occasion knelt down in front of me and received the five wonderful trainings. And they pay deep respect like they pay respect to the Buddha. But I look deeply into this and I see that although these people pay respect to me, to this form, it’s not really my form. This form is made from the wisdom, insights, and beautiful qualities of the Buddha, of the patriarchs, of my teacher. My teacher, the Buddha and the other bodhisattvas are borrowing my form for those people to pay respect. So they pay respect to the qualities of all these people. It does not affect me. I don't feel that I am very important. I don't feel that I am so great. I just let all these patriarchs borrow my form. Even if 600 persons or 600,000 persons pay respect to me it will not affect me. Because I know I am not me. I am very aware that A is not A, that is why A is real A. I am not me. I am somehow representing many spiritual traditions and many teachers who helped me and who borrow my form. They are paying respect to all these streams of wisdom that I received and that I just reflect and transmit to them.
When a young monk has just received his robe and has practised just a few months, lay people may come and pay respect to her or him. And they panic and say: "I have practised only a few months, I have no value, please don't pay respect to me." Don’t say this. You have to be aware that they pay respect to the form of the Buddha in you, the form of many patriarchs in you, and they just borrow that form to pay respect. When people pay respect like that they can be in touch with a lot of sources of wisdom. But you have nothing to do with that. You are just letting your teacher borrow your form. And you feel that you are paying respect to these teachers at the same time. When they bow to the form, the robe of your teacher, you are paying respect to the teacher in that robe too. And you are living according to the teaching of the Diamond Sutra. When you pay respect to a person you have learned to see in this way. You have to see that you are paying respect to all these steams of wisdom, and you just borrow that form. And you know that although your teacher has many shortcomings he is still wearing the robe of many streams of teachers, of patriarchs, of those who are full of wisdom. And so you feel that you are not in touch with him, but you are in touch with many streams of insight by means of him, and we have a lot of respect.
I know of a Vietnamese lady who every time she sees a monk or nun she touches the earth three times, prostrates three times, with no discrimination. One day a lay person said to her: "You just paid respect to a monk, do you know who he is?" She answered, "Yes." "Do you know that he violates a lot of precepts, eats meat, secretly drinks alcohol, do you know that?" She said: "I know. But that is not my business. He stills wears the monk’s robe. I try to touch the deep insight of many streams of ancestors behind him. I pay respect to this. I am not affected by his behaviour." She is practising with the wisdom of the Diamond Sutra, she is not relying on form.
Even if you are a monk or nun who has received full ordination, if your behaviour is based in your being caught by form then you cannot advance. Sometimes you are a high monk, but you still behave like someone caught by form. If you are already a monk or a practitioner in the practice centre for a rather long time, and if everyday your wisdom is deeper, if everyday you are more peaceful in yourself and with the people around you and you can accept the most difficult people who may be around you, then you know what you want and you don’t need to invest in one person, one teacher. So you have to look deeply: are you growing every day? Are you happier every day? Are you more in harmony with yourself and with the others around you every day, the unlovable people as well as the loveable people? So it doesn't effect you if your teacher does or doesn't keep the precepts, it doesn’t effect you what other people say or do. You only take care of yourself. You try your best to really help people. Sometimes when you see someone's shortcomings you are not skilful enough and you shock people by scolding and behaving in a way that creates wars around you. You look deeply and you see the shortcomings of everyone, and you try your best in a skilful and loving way to transform these shortcomings, in the way that you would do it for yourself.
When your left hand is caught and wounded you do not say "Stupid hand, you have to change." You show care so that your left hand can be healed. So you try to help other people in the sangha who are not very well, who are easily hurt and have a lot of difficulties. You will not come to these members of the sangha and say: "You do not behave very well, you have to change." So we learn to care for the people who are weak in the sangha, like you are caring for your left hand, for the wound on your leg. You care without any idea of caring, you do it in a natural way, like you care for yourself.
Wherever there is form there is some deception, some deceptive way of seeing. And you can be caught by form, sound, smell, taste, touch, and object of mind. All the images we have in our mind can be very deceptive. We have to be very humble about them. Learn to look more deeply to see all the sides of reality and to understand better. If you see that the other side of the reality of that person is not so beautiful as you wish, then with care and love you still can help that person to transform, you can help in such a way that everything will be peaceful and harmonious for yourself and the people around you.
When Bodhidharma met with King in China the king told Bodhidharma: "I have built many Buddhist temples, do you think I have a lot of merit? The King expects Bodhidharma to say: "Oh, you have a lot of merit." But Bodhidharma said: "No, no merit at all." This is a very good answer. It can shock the King. And if he is shocked then he has a chance to learn the wisdom of the Diamond Sutra. But if not then he will be very proud of himself and be caught by form.
Sometimes people are taking a nap or enjoying themselves while we are cleaning pots or working the garden. There are many ways to work for the Sangha. If you say, "Oh, this is a good occasion for me to serve the sangha, even though others are sleeping and enjoying themselves", then your merit will be great. If you say: "I am the only one who works hard while others are enjoying themselves or taking a long nap, there are so many lazy members of the Sangha who don’t do anything", then your merit is very small, it’s nothing, like Bodhidharma told the King.
"Subhuti, do you think that the space in the eastern quarter can be measured?" "No, World Honoured One." Subhuti, can space in the western, southern and northern quarters, above and below be measured?" "No, World Honoured One." "Subhuti, if a bodhisattva does not rely on any concept when practising generosity, then the happiness that results from that virtuous act is as great as space." It means when you practise generosity you do it without keeping track, you do it for your joy, you do it like you do it for yourself. Like when you are thirsty you drink, when you are hungry you eat. So the work you are doing you do in a very natural, loving way, like you care for your own body.
"What do you think Subhuti? Is it possible to grasp the Tathagata by means of bodily signs?" "No, World Honoured One, when the Tathagata speaks of bodily signs there are no signs being talked about." You have to see the Tathagata without signs. If you try to find the Buddha with certain physical characteristics you are deceived. The Buddha can hide himself in other forms, so don't be tricked by the sign.
The Buddha said to Subhuti "In a place where there is something that can be distinguished by signs, in that place there is deception. If you can see the sign-less nature of signs then you can see the Tathagata."(5) Please learn this sentence by heart, it is the core of the teaching of the Diamond Sutra. Beauty can be seen in the autumn leaves, in the spring blossom, but also in the fallen leaf. If you can see the sign-less nature of signs then you can see the Tathagata. If you can see the non-A elements in A then you can see A deeply. Don’t see A superficially. Learn to see many different elements which are not A in order to see A deeply. If you are still angry, sad, suffering, jealous that is because you are caught by form. The sign could be you. The sign could be the other person. You see that you are A in a very superficial way, you don't see the many elements behind you, which make you. You see the other person exactly the same way, as A, superficially, you don't see the many elements which are not A. You only see A. You think you understand yourself but you don’t know who you are.
Western philosophy also says: "Know yourself." This means you don’t know who you are, you have to look more deeply and see yourself more deeply. That truth is not only inside of the Buddha. There are many other people around the planet who have the same insights. We have learn to see the non-A elements in A. When you are able to see the non-A elements in the other person then your anger, sadness, suffering, jealously will be gone. When you are angry with someone you have to see the many elements that are not him or her. When you see in this way, when you see many elements which are not him but are now in him, then you see him in a deeper way, a broader way and you can accept A more easily.
When you see yourself with all your difficulties and self judgement, if you can see the non-you elements coming from many people who are not you, such as your grandfather, your grandmother, your father, then you see that much of your severity and other attitudes come from other roots, other elements which are not you. And then you see: "Ah, that is my grandpa who is judging my friend." And then when you see in that friend all the many elements which are not him or not her, then you can see this is why they behave in such a way. The other person could be your son, daughter, father, mother, or your partner. You have to learn to see the other person like a mirror. If he behaves like this, it’s because you behave like that. You have to see how much responsibility you have for the manifestation of that behaviour and how much responsibility the other person has. So, when you look into yourself and into the other person you see other elements in that person and in yourself, and then you start to find a way to undo the difficulties and to make peace.
The other day I met with a number of candidates who want to become monks and nuns. There is one who is only 14 years old and another who is 16. I said something like this: "If you don't have a very great desire to become a monk or nun you should not try to become a monk or nun. You must want to become a monk more than 100% in order to decide." Because becoming a monk or nun is very important. We make the vow to give rise to a lot of energy in order to transform our shortcomings and those of the people around us: father, sister, brother in our own family, as well as the people we live with. So, we don’t become a monk in order to find an enjoyable situation in which to take refuge. Becoming a monk means to invest all your life in a career. This career is well traced by the Buddha 2,600 years ago. He not only tried to transform all his own shortcomings, but he vowed to transform all the short comings of his blood family, his spiritual family, and all the society around him, all of society that could be in touch with him. So, it’s a big career.
When you decide to become a monk the simplicity of your living conditions will not effect you. Maybe the place where you live has no heating system, or there is not enough food to eat. You don’t live in too ascetic a way, but you try to live in the most simple way, in order to be able to spend your time and invest your life in the ways of transforming yourself and transforming other people around you, and to invest in the enterprise of those who vow to serve the world. That great energy to transform yourself and to transform the world we call bodhicitta, the mind of love, the mind of awakening. If Plum Village feels too poor, the life too simple, not comfortable enough, if you are not very happy and you think you cannot live like that, then you know you are not prepared to become a monk or nun. Becoming a monk or nun is not like going to university, because after university you leave and make your own career. Your teachers and friends at the university are just temporary. But to become a monk you have to consider your teacher and the members of the Sangha as your companions not only for this life, but also for many more lives, and you will not quit the sangha. Because one drop of water will not arrive at the ocean. One drop of water will evaporate along the way. But if the drop of water joins the river then the whole river will go to the ocean. Alone, you cannot go anywhere. But if you join the Sangha of practice, the sangha of the career of Gautama Buddha then you can go anywhere, you can transform a mountain, an ocean, you can do many things.
When you go out from Plum Village sometimes people admire you, and you have the idea that you can leave and become a very important spiritual teacher for the people. But you may not remember that one drop of water cannot arrive at the ocean. Without the sangha we can be caught by the desire for fame. People praise us a lot and we forget that we are an A made up of a lot of non-A elements. You need to remember that you are made up of many non-A elements. You could be caught by laziness and forget to practice, you can get caught by your own negative habit energy. But living in the sangha people will reflect your negative energy back to you. They will say: "That is your negative habit energy, please transform it." And in this way you cannot keep it forever. They remind you once, twice, three times, and then you have to try to transform. But when you live alone nobody will remind you and your negative energy can grow stronger, and slowly we become a monster without knowing it. I wrote the short story The Pine Gate in order to say just this; that if you do not practice mindfulness one day a holy person can become a monster. The only way to help ourselves is to live with the sangha so the sangha will shine their awareness on our negative energy and help us transform it, and will help us to keep and strengthen our positive energy.
We have to take refuge in the 3-jewels. "I take refuge in the Sangha" because in the sangha can shine their awareness on my negative energy. Alone we can be so sure that we are correct. But in the sangha other people may tell us we’re wrong. Even if you are a member of the sangha you might say: "I see that this is correct, so I’ll just do it. I have looked deeply, what I am doing is correct. I am being true to myself, I don't care if members of the Sangha think I should not behave in such a way. Even if the sangha says that I should not do something, I do as I like." In that case you do not believe in the insight of the Sangha.
In the past the Buddha also took refuge in the sangha and the sangha eyes. The sangha eyes have decided many precepts for the sangha. So the Buddha Gautama also took refuge in the sangha, who are we to say: "I only do what I believe is correct?" In that case we do not really take the three jewels into our heart. In principle you have to request the sangha to help you to see your shortcomings. But if the Sangha tells us: "No, don't do it like that" and we say: "No, I don't care, what I see is very important and correct" then what is the use to be with the Sangha? Maybe you say: "This sangha is stupid, I’m leaving." So, you can leave. But when you leave you will see your shortcomings become stronger every day, and one day you become a monster without knowing it. And you may still be wearing the monk's robe. It’s happened to many monks and nuns who live alone. They still wear the robe but they are not real monks. It is the wisdom of the Buddha, that in his time no monk stayed alone. Even in a new small practice centre we must have a Sangha. In the time of the Buddha it was always like that. There was never a monk who owned a big temple and lived alone.
The Buddha said that even if you come to place where all the physical conditions are good but the practice is not very good, you have to leave. In the place where there are a lot of good methods to transform your bad habit energy, but where there is not enough food for you to eat, not enough room for you, you have to stay in a tent in the cold winter, in that case even though there are good methods you have to leave because you cannot practice when you live in the cold of winter. But if you come to the place where there is enough housing and food, enough teaching and good methods, even if they chase you away you have to try your best to stick to them. That is what the Buddha taught to many monks in his time. When you have physical conditions that are good enough and you also have very good methods, you must have enough wisdom to go ahead in this practice environment in order to transform yourself. If you have appropriate conditions like that and if you don’t go ahead it’s a pity, a waste.
What does practice mean? Practice means trying to destroy the frontier between yourself and others; the person nearby, the person far away, and living beings around you. Among your habit energies may be the habit energy of not being able to communicate with people around you in the same sangha. You have to look deeply into yourself in order to see why. And when you see that frontier exists you have to dismantle it in order to be one with persons in the same sangha as you, and to get roots in everyone in the sangha, and to allow other people in the sangha to get roots in you. If you are such a person I am sure that you will be happy and when you are happy you will never want to leave the sangha. If you want to leave the sangha it means you have not rooted yourself in people and have not let people root themselves in you. You feel lonely, cut off, in a shell, you feel nobody understands you, and so you have to leave. If you are not successful in dismantling the frontier between you and others, if you are not happy with other members of the sangha, how can you go out and help others?
You can give a wonderful Dharma talk, repeating what I have said. But people very soon notice that you are just repeating words from other people. They will discover many of your shortcomings. If they see like that, they just buy the tape of Thay and they don't need to come to you. So we have to learn to destroy the frontier between ourselves and others and to feel one with the good as well as the less good and to help transform skilfully, lovingly. But if you are still in a shell and you feel that nobody in this sangha understands you, and you think you have learned enough already so now you can go out and set up a practice centre where you will be the boss, then you will see, people will discover very soon.
So we have to take refuge in the sangha. It’s how you can see. Everyone in the sangha gives you a lot of happiness and you give everyone in the sangha a lot of happiness naturally, like you eat and drink, without effort. If there’s no effort it’s because you have succeeded in dismantling the frontier between you and them. If you're still jealous and still feel hurt by others then we still have the frontier. Having the frontier we feel hurt, not having the frontier we are not hurt.
Even if you can recite many sutras by heart, it won't help. People can buy many books, they can even buy the one hundred books of the Tripitaka to read, so they don't need you. They only need your transformation, they only need that source of joy and peace radiating from you. You live happily with yourself, happily with people around you. So the practice is to try to dismantle the frontier, dismantle our shell, in order to take root in other members of the sangha, and let other members of the sangha take root in us.
When you see a banana tree you see it has three or four big leaves, very fresh, very green extending to the sky. These banana leaves absorb the sunshine and carbon dioxide to make sap which nurtures the whole banana tree. One big fresh leaf nurtures many young leaves which are still rolled up like a cylinder inside the banana tree. The big leaves are nurturing the young leaves. So you who have practised four, five or six years in Plum Village you are like the big leaf who is nurturing the young leaves, your young brothers and sisters in the Sangha who are just newly ordained. So you are no longer one drop of water, you are already the stream of water, and all together you will go to the ocean. And you must be in harmony with everyone.
In the body there are billions of cells. If you look deeply into each cell in your body there is no cell who is the boss, including the neurones in your brain, no one is the boss. Every cell stays in their own position and fulfils their own duty, and thanks to every cell playing their own role, taking their own responsibility to be in harmony, the body is happy. But if there is one cell who decides not to be like the others, one cell who decides: "No, I will not divide exactly like this" or "I want to change my position", then the body gets a cancer, and people have to make surgery and take out this abnormal cell. So it’s the same for the sangha. If someone causes a lot of trouble in the sangha we have to make a surgery and invite that person to leave. So everybody tries to be in their own position and do their best in order to live in harmony with themselves and with people around.
You live as a sangha in harmony. For the sangha to be harmony there are many guidelines: the five trainings, the ten trainings of a novice, the 248 trainings of a monk. All these trainings are for the harmony of the sangha. If you are not in harmony with the sangha you could be a dangerous cell for the body and you can create a cancer in the body; harmony is the principle. Every member of the sangha has to practice according to the five guidelines, the ten guidelines, or the 248 guidelines in order to live in harmony with others.
We know we are one drop of water in the big current of the river so we can all go to the ocean together. Becoming a monk or nun is forgetting that you have a separate self. Even if we are not a monk or nun yet, we decide to devote our life to the practice and train ourselves to transform to live without a shell, to be one with the sangha, to be one with everyone around us. That is the teaching of the Diamond Sutra.
Dear sangha, today is the 11 December 1997, we are in the New Hamlet in the Winter Retreat. We will continue to study the Diamond Sutra.
The Buddha asked Subhuti "What do you think Subhuti, can you recognise the Tathagata through form?" This is a test question, he asks it to make sure that Subhuti has understood the teaching. Subhuti said: "No, World Honoured One, it is impossible to perceive the Tathagata by means of form. Because what the Tathagata calls form is not in fact form, that is why it is called form" (section 5). A is not A, therefore it is truly A. Subhuti has learned the language, the dialectic of the Diamond Sutra. He has learned that the teaching of the Diamond Sutra is not the same as the principle of identity. The dialectic of the Diamond Sutra is: A is not A, therefore it is truly A.
When the Buddha heard Subhuti say that form is not form, therefore it is truly form, the Tathagata knows that Subhuti is about to understand his teaching, and he says: "In a place where there is something that can be distinguished by signs, in that place there is deception. If you can see the sign-less nature of signs, then you can see the Tathagata."(5) So when you can see the non-A elements in A then you can see the true A. When you see the non-form of everything then you can see the Tathagata. This phrase is very beautiful, very well known.
When the Venerable Subhuti saw the depth of the teaching, he saw that it is not difficult for him to understand the sutra because he is able to sit in front of the Buddha and be guided by him. So he wondered what will happen 500 years from now. How will people understand this teaching: "When you see the non-form of the Tathagata you can see the Tathagata?" So he asked the question: "World Honoured One, today it is not difficult for me to hear this wonderful sutra, have confidence in it, understand it, accept it, and put it into practice. But in the future, in 500 years, if there is someone who can hear this sutra, have confidence in it, understand it and put it into practice, then certainly the existence of someone like that will be great and rare."(14) He really cares for the future generations. Subhuti asked: "In times to come, will there be people who, when they hear these teachings, have real faith and confidence in them?" And the Buddha said: "Do not speak that way, Subhuti. Five hundred years after the Tathagata has passed away, there will still be people who enjoy the happiness that comes from observing the precepts. When such people hear these words, they will have faith and confidence that here is the truth."(6) So according to the teaching of the Tathagata, if we practise virtue and keep the precepts, then thanks to caring for those good seeds, we have enough conditions and the opportunity to understand the deep teachings of the Buddha. "We should know that such people have sown seeds not only during the lifetime of one Buddha, or even two, three, four or five Buddhas, but have in truth planted wholesome seeds during the lifetimes of tens of thousands Buddhas."(6)
When we listen to this we see that the Buddha's teaching is a very rich field of merit, that the Buddha is a good place where we can sow our seeds of virtue. When we have good seeds and we sow them in that field then very soon we will harvest a lot of fruit. We have the seeds, we have time, youth, ideals, love, willingness; all of these are good seeds. What do we take refuge in? Where do we sow those seeds? Many young people don’t know the field where they sow their seeds, so they cannot harvest much. So, do the young people know the right place to sow their seeds? The Buddha is the best field in the world in which you can sow your seeds. And if you know how to sow those seeds, very soon you will harvest a lot of fruit from that field. Practising the precepts, practising virtue, that is sowing seed in the rich field of the Tathagata. And the people who have the opportunity to listen to the teaching of the Buddha are the people who have sown wholesome seeds in many Buddhas in the past. That is why they have the chance to get in touch with the rich teaching of the Buddha. Perhaps for many people who listen to this teaching it is just like a cow listening to music; they don’t understand its meaning. Fifty years ago many scholars in the West who read the Diamond Sutra didn't understand it and said that the Buddha is speaking nonsense, the sutra doesn't have any meaning, and is very insignificant.
"Anyone who for only a second gives rise to a pure and clear confidence upon hearing these words of the Tathagata, the Tathagata sees and knows that person, and he or she will attain immeasurable happiness because of this understanding."(6) Listening to these teachings, which are difficult to understand and appreciate, if we can understand and believe even for one moment then we will be known and seen by the Tathagata. "Why? Because that kind of person is not caught up in the ideas of a self, a person, a living being and a life-span."(6) This is a very beautiful sentence. When we can understand for just one moment, then suddenly the Tathagata knows and sees us and we have a strong source born in us and we receive support and strength from the Buddha.
According to optical science when we have a reflective mirror and we can see the eye of someone in the mirror then we know that person can also see us. I see the eye that sees me. When we sit in a car and we look in the rear view mirror, if the person in the back seat can see the driver’s eyes in the mirror it means that the driver can also see him. So when we see the Buddha it means the Buddha is seeing us also. The teaching in the sutra is very clear, that whoever can see the non-form of every form can see the Tathagata. If you are able to see the non-mark elements in the mark then you can see the Tathagata. And when you can see the Tathagata and the Tathagata can see you and recognise you, then suddenly the energy of the Tathagata will enter you, and within you there will be a strong source of energy, because you have the strong support of the Buddha, of the Tathagata. If you see the Tathagata don't say you don't understand the Tathagata . If you understand your friend then your friend suddenly will understand you. Whatever student can understand their teacher, can see the heart of their teacher, then the teacher can also understand him or her, and the energy of the teacher will be transmitted to the student very strongly. When you don't understand your teacher then your teacher cannot see you. You feel this energy that is transmitted to you, and it is the same in the Sutra.
"That kind of person is not caught up in the idea of a self, a person, a living being or a life span. They are not caught up in the idea of a dharma or the idea of a non-dharma. They are not caught up in the notion that this is a sign and that is not a sign."(6) The Buddha already spoke of the four marks of self, person, living being and life span. Now he introduces four more notions: dharma, non-dharma; sign, no sign. This is another branch coming out from the tree, an extension of this teaching. Dharma is phenomena, things, objects of our perception. Those things appear, they have their own mark, and the mark is the object of our perception. Form, sound, smell, taste, touch, and dharma; all of these are phenomena, the objects of our consciousness.
Our perception gives us the impression that there is a dharma. For example when we look at a rose we think that there is a rose, we have the notion of a rose. But when we overcome the notion of rose we may come to the notion of non-rose, from the notion of dharma we go to the notion of non-dharma. But non-rose, non-dharma is also just a concept or notion. The rose appears in our perception as a dharma, a thing. We have been taught that we have to be careful, because the sign, the mark, is dangerous, deceptive, we must not to grasp it but must transcend it. So then you say that the rose is just an image, an illusion, that actually there is no rose, no dharma. So from the extreme of "dharma" we have gone to another extreme, that of "non-dharma" We want to transcend one idea but then we get caught in another idea, another notion. We need to transcend both of the extremes, both are wrong perceptions. That is why we should not get caught in the notion of dharma or the notion of non-dharma, the notion that this is a sign or that is not a sign. When we are able to escape from the notion of sign then we can get caught into the notion of non-sign. But non-sign is also a notion, a concept, it's the same as the idea of existence and non-existence.
The sutra tells us, "If you are caught up in the idea of a dharma, you are also caught up in the ideas of a self, a person, a living being, and a life span. If you are caught up in the idea that there is no dharma, you are still caught up in the ideas of a self, a person, a living being and a life-span."(6) Any idea, any notion has to be transcended, whether it is a notion of dharma or non-dharma, sign or no sign, being or non-being. "That is why we shouldn't get caught up in dharmas or in the idea that dharmas do not exist." We shouldn't get caught up in the notion of a dharma, but we shouldn't get caught up in the notion of non-dharma either. "This is the hidden meaning when the Tathagata says: 'Bhiksus, you should know that all of the teachings I have given to you are a raft.' All teachings (Dharma) must be abandoned, not to mention non-teachings."(6) This last sentence is a very famous sentence of the Diamond Sutra. The Buddha uses a metaphor, comparing the teachings to a raft. The Sanskrit word "dharma" has at least two meanings. The first is the word dharma meaning things, the second is the word Dharma meaning the teachings. The Diamond Sutra talks about both of these meanings. The word dharma is like the rose we talked about a while ago. The word Dharma in the above sentence means the teachings, being compared to a raft. All of the monks and the nuns should learn the Chinese original and be able to write the characters of this sentence. In the past I learned the Diamond Sutra page by page from a book just like this one (in Chinese).
This sentence comparing the teachings to a raft is very famous. If we read the Sutra on the Better Way to Catch a Snake we see the same sentence; it has its root in that sutra. In that sutra the Buddha taught that you have to be very careful and skilful when you learn his teachings. If you are not intelligent then you will be caught by the teaching, and when you are caught by the teaching you will lose the meaning of the teaching. It is just like a person unskilled in catching a snake, he catches the snake by the tail, so the snake can turn around and bite him. But if he knows how to catch the snake, just behind the head, it will not bite him.
So it's the same with the teachings. If you are caught by the teachings you cannot be transformed, you cannot practice. You have to be very intelligent and very careful about receiving the teachings. So, the teachings that I give now, please do not be caught by them. "All teachings must be abandoned, not to mention non-teachings." It says in the Sutra on the Better Way to Catch a Snake that if we are caught by the non-teaching it is very dangerous. So the Diamond Sutra has taken the teaching from that sutra and tells us we should not be caught by the Dharma and we should not be caught by the non-Dharma either, in both the meanings of the word dharma: objects and teachings.
We say that the Dharma is very precious. But if we are caught by ideas then the Dharma becomes an obstacle to our practice. Just like someone who wants to cross the river. He needs to make a raft. But if he thinks the raft is so beautiful that he carries it on his head and does not want to cross the river, or if after he crosses the river he puts the raft on his head and walks away with it, that is ridiculous. The raft has served its purpose, it's no longer useful. The same with the teachings. The teachings are helping us. If we keep the teaching, if we boast about it, then it does not have any use. We should use the teaching like a raft to bring us across the river. And then when we've crossed the river we can leave the raft there for someone else to use.
If we look at ourselves we see we are more or less like that person. We learn a little bit of the teaching, we think we understand it, and we are proud that we are able to get in touch with the teaching. We think that the teaching is number one, the best. But if we don't want to use the teaching to cross the river, then we are that stupid person, nothing less. After I'd been studying the Diamond Sutra for twenty years I got in touch with the Sutra on the Better Way to Catch a Snake. Then I knew that the Diamond Sutra has it's origin in the Sutra on the Better Way to Catch a Snake. The French publisher has just put the two sutras together to make the book Thundering Silence.
So we should not be caught by the raft, and we shouldn't pursue the non-Dharma either. If we get caught in the non-teachings then we are also caught, we are not liberated. Being caught in the idea of non-Dharma is even more dangerous than being caught in the idea of the Dharma. For example when we are caught in the idea of "being" the Buddha taught many ways for us to overcome and transcend the idea of "being". But when we get caught in the idea of "non-being" then that is even more dangerous. In the Ratnakuta Sutra the Buddha says that it's better to be caught in the idea of being than to be caught in the idea of non-being. When you are caught in the idea of being you can use the idea of non-being to cure that sickness, but once you are caught in the idea of non-being you cannot overcome it with the idea of being. So you have to overcome both the idea of being and the idea of non-being. You should not be caught in the idea of a sign, a mark. But you also should not be caught in the idea of signlessness. Even if the Buddha has taught that if you can see the signless nature of signs, then you can see the Tathagata. We have a tendency to grasp at the signless when we leave the sign. That is the teaching of the Tathagata, and we can see it more clearly later on in the sutra.
"What do you think, Subhuti, has the Tathagata arrived at the highest, most fulfilled awakened mind?"(7) So, the Buddha tests Subhuti once more to see if he understands the teaching deeply. The Buddha asked: "What do you think Subhuti? In ancient times when the Tathagata practised under Buddha Dipankara did he attain anything?" Subhuti answered: "No, World Honoured One, he did not attain anything."(7) The Buddha Dipankara was a teacher of the Tathagata. Dipa means the torch, it also means island. The Buddha asks Subhuti two consecutive questions in order to test his understanding, now he is not caught in the notion of attaining or not-attaining.
"What do you think, Subhuti? Does a bodhisattva create a serene and beautiful Buddha field?"(10) Everyone thinks that a bodhisattva is one who makes the land of the Buddha more beautiful every day so that other people can come and be happy. Very often we think that the responsibility of the bodhisattva is to adorn, to beautify the land of the Buddha. Just like our practice centre of Plum Village. This is just like a small Buddha land and in Plum Village, in the Upper Hamlet, the Lower Hamlet, the New Hamlet, everywhere there are bodhisattvas who would like to make the village more beautiful so that the retreatants can come and can be happier. These bodhisattvas might plant more trees or build more rest rooms, or decorate the rooms and make them more beautiful and comfortable for the guests. There is a bodhisattva who thinks that we need to be fresh and to smile so that the practice centre can be more beautiful. That is called adorning the Buddha land. If every day we are angry, we are sad, we put our garbage into our practice center and it will not be more beautiful, and the retreatants who come to us will not be happy. Day after day our practice centre loses its Buddha character and we are polluting the Buddha land. The bodhisattvas are the ones who practice beautifying the Buddha lands every day.
Subhuti replied: "No, World Honoured One. To create a serene and beautiful Buddha field is not in fact creating a serene and beautiful Buddha field. That is why it is called creating a serene and beautiful Buddha field." So Subhuti repeats the formula of the Diamond Sutra: A is not A, therefore it is true A. That means that a bodhisattva while he is adorning the Buddha land is not caught by the idea that he is the only person who is beautifying the land and that the other person is not. Such a person is not really a bodhisattva. Someone like that is basing his work on a perception of self, person, living being and life-span, therefore they are not a true bodhisattva and their merit is small. At the same time there are other people who work without being caught by the idea of self. They don't discriminate between themselves and others, they don't see that they are making the village more beautiful and that other people are wasting their time. So the bodhisattva is not caught in the idea of a self. They can see the non-A elements in A. When we beautify the Buddha land and we still see that we are beautifying the Buddha land then we are not beautifying the Buddha land. We should use Buddhist psychology to help us understand this.
In Buddhist psychology we are given the teaching of the three natures, the trisvabhava. When we look at something we first of all see the first nature that is called vikalpa, the nature of discrimination. For example we see a person and at our first look we see that that person is not us, we are different from that person. For example when we hear about a car accident which has just happened in Bordeaux in which three person died, our first reaction is how lucky we are that we are not those three people. That is the nature of discrimination. Or when we hear the news that a person has cancer and we feel lucky and happy that we are not that person. That is the nature of discrimination, because it is based on the discrimination between ourselves and the other person. When we look deeply into that person we will see that that person is related to us, lives near us. If around us many people have cancer, then we have also been exposed to the causes of cancer, because we are related to these people very closely and we have the same environment. When the right hand looks at things it very naturally overcomes the nature of discrimination. The right hand never says: "The left hand is wounded, I am not wounded." It never has the nature of discrimination in its perception. And it sees that when the left hand is wounded it is just as if the right hand is wounded.
Do you know how many US soldiers died in Vietnam during the time the US was involved in the Vietnam War? About 50,000 American soldiers died in Vietnam. And that war lasted for ten years. In car accidents every year in the US over 50,000 people die. That's every year, not every ten years. So in ten years 500,000 people in the US pass away in car accidents. Some people who drive are agitated, they drink, they're not careful in their driving. In Texas they investigated and found out that 43% of the car accidents are alcohol related. So, when we hear of a car accident we think that it is nothing related to us. But perhaps today or tomorrow we might have an accident. We think the other person who is in a car accident is not us, but when we look deeply, we see that it could be us very soon. So, it's not the problem of the other person alone, but it's truly our problem. At first we discriminate between the other person and ourselves. But when something happens to the other person it happens to us. It happened to them yesterday, but it can happen to us today. So when we look with the nature of discrimination we don't see the truth. When we see A with the nature of discrimination we will not see A truly. So we have to train ourselves to look into A with a view of non-A. We need to look, seeing the nature of interdependence, interbeing; "this is because that is", things arise because of each other. This is the nature of interdependent origination (paratantra).
Paratantra means every thing bases on other things to help it to manifest. Just like when we look into a rose. At first we think a rose is only a rose. But if we look deeply into a rose we see that a rose can only be made up of non-rose elements, like the earth, the water, the air, the sunshine, the fertiliser. We begin to see the non-rose elements and we see that the rose is made up of the non-rose elements. The rose has to base itself on the sunshine, the fertiliser, the hard work of the farmer, and many, many things, for it to manifest. So the manifestation of one is based on the presence of all others.
If you look carefully into me you will see my teacher, the Tu Hieu Temple, the Buddha. So, if when you see me, you can see the other elements that are not me, then you truly can see me. You have to train yourselves to look in this way, you look at other people with interbeing eyes, then you can see the true nature of everything. When you look into A you should see the non-A elements, when you practice deeply with the eyes of interdependent origination, you can discover the true nature of A. True nature is also called the nature in itself, the nature per se, the nature of perfection, the true reality, or suchness. In Sanskrit it's nispanna. When we look into A and we are caught in the four notions of self, human being, living being and life span, then we are deceived by our way of looking. So we have to train ourselves with interbeing eyes to see the non-A elements in A and then the truth begins to reveal itself to us. If our practice is deep we can see the true nature of A. There is false A and true A. So we arrive at the Diamond Sutra formula of A is non-A, therefore A is really A.
It's the same when practising the six paramitas. If you practise according to the four notions of self, human being, living being and life-span, then you are not truly a bodhisattva. You are seeking praise, recognition, fame, but this is not true liberation, this is not the true practice. "Moreover, Subhuti, when a bodhisattva practises generosity, he does not rely on any object, that is to say he does not rely on any form, sound, smell, taste, touch or dharma to practise generosity. That, Subhuti, is the spirit in which a bodhisattva should practise generosity, not basing on signs. Subhuti, if a bodhisattva does not rely on any concept when practising generosity, then the happiness that results from that virtuous act is as great as space, it cannot be measured. Subhuti, the bodhisattvas should let their minds dwell in the teachings I have just given."(4) So the answer to Subhuti's first question is that in order to give rise to bodhicitta, a bodhisattva should not base on signs, but should base on these teachings.
Teacher is a form, friend is a form, house and garden is also a form. In order to nourish your bodhicitta you shouldn't base on form. Many people give rise to bodhicitta because they are attracted by a form, a sound, a smell, a taste, or a dharma, and they don't see deeply into those forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, and dharmas. So that is why after a time they have the feeling that they are deceived, they are tricked, betrayed, and so they leave the path. It is the same in normal life. We are all looking for the good, the true, the beautiful. We have the feeling that we don't have those elements within ourselves, and that is why we are searching. In the world outside we are betrayed many times, and then when we come into the church or the temple we are deceived again. It presents itself as having the good, the beautiful and the true, but sometimes those elements are absent, so we have the feeling that we are cheated, we are betrayed again. So we have to learn to look deeply and break through. You have to look into the non-form elements, you have to discover the things behind the form, sound, smell, taste, and touch, and then you can understand. And when you understand you accept it completely, because you are not deceived anymore. We no longer try to escape, we don't run away any more.
Bodhisattvas should not base their bodhicitta on form, sound, smell, taste, touch, and dharmas. They should base their bodhicitta on non-attachment. "So, Subhuti, all the bodhisattva mahasattvas should give rise to a pure and clear intention in this spirit. When they give rise to this intention they should not rely on forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile objects or objects of mind. They should give rise to that intention with their minds not dwelling anywhere."(10) That means that you do not base your bodhicitta on the thinking that is based on form. "So, Subhuti, when a bodhisattva gives rise to the unequalled mind of awakening, he has to give up all ideas. He cannot rely on forms when he gives rise to that mind, nor on sounds, smells, tastes, tactile objects or objects of mind. He can only give rise to that mind that is not caught up in anything."(14) So, the bodhisattva who would like to give rise to bodhicitta should not rely on form, the form of self, person, living being, and life-span.
"The Tathagata has said that all notions are not notions, and that all living beings are not living beings. Subhuti, Tathagata is the one who speaks of things as they are, speaks what is true, and speaks in accord with reality, he does not speak deceptively or to please people. Subhuti, if we say that the Tathagata has realised a teaching, that teaching is neither graspable nor deceptive."(14) If there is any dharma that we have obtained, then that is not the true dharma. So, does the Tathagata obtain the dharma? Subhuti said there is no dharma that the Tathagata has gained or obtained: "According to what I understand from the teachings of the Buddha, there is no attaining of anything called the highest, most fulfilled, awakened mind."(17)
The idea of true gives rise to the idea of false and the idea of false gives rise to the idea of true. In the spirit of the Diamond Sutra we should see that there are pairs of notions, pairs of opposite ideas like self and non-self. We want to transcend the idea of self but then we can be caught into the idea of non-self. So the problem is that we have to transcend them both. There's the idea of human being and the idea of non-human being. There is the idea of living being and non-living being. We discriminate that those two are two separate things, but those two are interbeing, they are interpenetrating. Like in the compost we can see the flower and in the flower we can see the compost.
The idea of life-span, form, non-form, mark, non-mark, dharma, non-dharma, birth, death, coming, going, being, non-being, one, many; there are many opposite pairs of notions. The idea of true and the idea of false, of true awakening and false awakening. We think that true is not false. But if we don't see the non-true elements in what is true then it is not really the truth. We are grasping an idea of true and grasping an idea of false; that is very dangerous. So we have to transcend all of the opposite pairs of ideas, even the idea of true and false.
"Subhuti, a bodhisattva who still depends on notions to practice generosity, is like someone walking in the dark. He will not see anything. But when a bodhisattva does not depend on notions to practise generosity, he is like someone with good eyesight walking under the bright light of the sun. He can see all shapes and colours."(14) When we see something and our seeing is based on ideas and concepts, if we practice dana in relation to that way of seeing, then that is not true practice. Anyone who practices giving has to look with their eye that is not attached to the nature of discrimination, and then they can see the true nature of life.
When we practice dana we don't see that we are the one who gives and the other is the one who receives. We're not proud of that action. We don't require the other person to feel gratitude or respect toward us. Among us there are many people who feel betrayed. The other person has lived with us for 30 years. That person has made a great vow, a promise, a great commitment, saying that they will live with us forever. But now this person has changed their mind and has gone to follow another person. We have the feeling that we have been betrayed, and we suffer because of that. We say that we are the loyal person, we are the person who has not made any mistake. The other person is the unloyal person, the person who has changed and who is causing a lot of suffering, and within ourselves we have a lot of enmity toward that person. But this has come about because during the time we have lived with that person we have not loved according to spirit of the Diamond Sutra. Even though the two people live together they are two separate islands. They are separated because of the idea of self, person, living being, and life span. So we have not loved the other person while being in touch with their suchness, we have not loved in the spirit of non-attachment, non-grasping. So that is why things have happened like this.
We love but we require that the other person has to love us back. We ask the other person to remember our help and we calculate every little bit of our hard work. We measure and weigh our hard work and we say I loved you so many kilograms, but you are terrible, you have not returned my love ten or twenty percent. So in our relationship with another person we behave like that, with discrimination in our mind, so our happiness is not very great. We cannot be one with the other person. The two persons who love each other are still two isolated realities. We are not the other person. We don't see the other person in us. We don't see that the other person is ourselves.
We cannot see ourselves clearly and we cannot see the other person clearly. We see the seed of loyalty within ourselves but we cannot see the seed of betrayal within ourselves. We cannot see that the seed of loyalty is also there in the other person. How have we lived together? How have we neglected the other person? We have not watered the seed of loyalty in the other person and we allow the seed of betrayal to be watered every day by the way we eat, talk, walk, smile, interact, while doing so we are caught in discrimination.
So the love is not great enough to keep both of us. Because when we look into ourselves we see only A, we cannot see the non-A elements within ourselves. We look into the other person and we see A only as A and we cannot see the non-A elements within him or her. So our interaction is very shallow, not very deep, and our love and our happiness are not deep, not profound. Change cannot be avoided, it has to happen, and now we blame the other person. The other person is responsible to a certain degree. But if we know that the other person is us, then we take care and protect the other person just like we take care of ourselves. Perhaps we don't even know how to take care of ourselves, protect ourselves. The Buddha has said that if we know how to protect ourselves, to take care of ourselves, then we are able to take care of the other person. We haven't known how to take care of ourselves. So perhaps we are responsible for what has happened to a certain degree. So we should not blame. All of our blaming is based on discrimination.
We have not learned to look deeply into the dharma so that we can see the non-dharma within the dharma. When we look into A, we cannot see the non-A elements within it, so we don't see deeply, we don't completely understand the nature of the reality of A. So every day we make mistakes, every day we commit wrong actions and that causes the results we are having right now.
Very often when we suffer, we have the tendency to blame the other person. We don't see that the other person has acted in such a way partly because of us. The other person is only a mirror reflecting us. If we are able to smile then the mirror would be able to smile back to us. The environment we live in is our own mirror. If we smile into the mirror then we get the smile back, if we frown then the mirror will frown back. Why can't we embrace that person, while the other people who live with him or her can? Is it because we don't have love, we lack understanding? We think that our suffering is due to the other person, but the main reason is that we are not able to embrace the other person. If we are able to love the other person, then this shows in our eyes, in our smile, in the way we act, and then we will be loved and we will receive love back.
So the practice is that we have to look deeply so that we can see the non-A elements in A. If we can see the non-A elements in A then we have the chance to see the true A, the suchness of A, the A of nispanna. This is not a theory, this is not an intellectual conception, it is a practice. During the time the Buddha lived and practised he also had a lot of difficulties. But the Buddha overcame these difficulties because his capacity of looking deeply was very profound. This is why the Buddha did not blame the people who caused him suffering. There are people who have caused problems for the Buddha, like King Ajatasattu, like Devadatta. But the Buddha was able to help them. We are the students of the Buddha, why can't we follow in his path, in his footsteps? Why do we blame? Why do we discriminate? If we continue like that how can we advance in our everyday practice?
If we know how to look at things in the spirit of the Diamond Sutra, we can see the non-A elements in A, we can see the nature of interdependent origination behind the vikalpa . And when we discover the suchness of things, we are walking in the world of light, and we will not fall. If we don't have that way of looking, then we will walk in darkness, we will fall down and we will cause suffering for ourselves and for the other person. Subhuti, a bodhisattva who still depends on notions to practice generosity is like someone walking in the dark, he will not see anything. But when a bodhisattva does not depend on notions to practice generosity, he is like someone with good eyesight walking under the bright light of the sun, he can see all shapes and colours. (15)
"Subhuti, someone who wants to give rise to the highest, most fulfilled, awakened mind should do it in this way: 'We must lead all beings to the shore of awakening, but, after these beings have become liberated, we do not, in truth, think that a single being has been liberated' Why is this so? Subhuti, if a bodhisattva is still caught up in the idea of a self, a person, a living being or a life-span, that person is not an authentic bodhisattva."(17) We do not have the idea that we will help all beings to cross over to the other shore. If a bodhisattva thought he would help the other person to cross over to the other shore then he would be caught in the idea of a self, a person, a living being. "Subhuti, do not say that the Tathagata has the idea, 'I will bring living beings to the shore of liberation'. Do not think that way, Subhuti. Why? In truth there is not one single being for the Tathagata to bring to the other shore. If the Tathagata were to think there was, he would be caught in the idea of a self, a person, a living being and a life-span."(25) So, the same formula is repeating in many different aspects of the teaching.
"Subhuti, what the Tathagata calls a self essentially has no self in the way that ordinary persons think there is a self. Subhuti, the Tathagata does not regard anyone as an ordinary person. That is why he can call them ordinary persons." (25) There are people we tend to think of as "bad", but we are responsible to a certain degree for their actions or behaviours. If they are caught by drink or drugs, if they are caught up in crime, then we also are responsible to a certain degree. Because we have organised society in such a way, we have taken care of our young generation in such a way, that they will be caught into drugs, alcoholism or crime. If we look into those people who we think of as bad and if we see that they are us, they are our responsibility, then we know our part. And when we look at those people we will not blame them, we will not have enmity toward them, but we will have the will to help them. We know that they are that way because of their background, the situation of society. So we will not look down on them, we will only love them and we will take the responsibility upon ourselves.
If you read these sentences deeply, the Tathagata doesn't call them a "bad" person even though they behave in such a way. So there is love, there is deep understanding, there is no discrimination, no blaming. We know that that person is ourselves. Because we have not done our best, we have not tried our best to organise society, we have not done our best to help, and this is why those people have become like that. So A is not A, therefore it is true A.
"What do you think, Subhuti, can someone meditate on the Tathagata by means of the 32 marks?" There is a practice of visualisation based on the 32 marks of the Buddha. When we suffer, when we are sad, in despair or angry, we sit down and visualise the 32 marks of the Buddha, and we feel peaceful in ourselves. Many Buddhists practise this. Often when we are sad we go into the Temple and look at the Buddha, or we go and sit down at the foot of a tree and visualise the 32 beautiful marks of the Buddha. It seems that Subhuti has the tendency to practice this visualisation, that is why the Buddha asked this question and Subhuti answered very quickly "yes". But right afterwards he was also able to say "no". The Buddha said: "If you say that you can use the 32 marks to see the Tathagata, then the Cakravartin is also a Tathagata." Subhuti said, "World Honoured One, I understand your teaching, One should not use the 32 marks to meditate on the Tathagata." (26) We can see the 32 beautiful marks, but we should be able to see the Tathagata beyond his marks, we have to see the Tathagata everywhere. Then the World Honoured One said:
"Someone who looks for me in form
or seeks me in sound
is on a mistaken path
and cannot see the Tathagata."
This is a very beautiful gatha and very well-known. You should learn it in Chinese.
"Subhuti, if you think that the Tathagata realises the highest most fulfilled awakened mind and does not need to have all the marks, you are wrong."(27) This is an important point of the teachings of the Buddha. We have talked about many different pairs of opposite notions: coming and going, birth and death, that we must not get caught in marks. So we have the feeling that the form, the mark, is dangerous and we have to leave behind all the forms. But the form is important, the Buddha continues: "Subhuti, do not think in that way. Do not think that when one gives rise to the highest, most fulfilled awakened mind, one needs to see all objects of mind as non-existent, cut off from life. Please do not think in this way. The one who gives rise to the highest, most fulfilled, awakened mind does not contend that all objects of mind are non-existent and cut off from life."(27) So all the forms and marks are important for our practice, for our realisation. We need forms, but we are not caught in forms.
Please do not think that when we give rise to the highest most fulfilled awakened mind, we have to look at dharmas as annihilation. Throughout the last 2,600 years there have been many people, including some western Buddhist scholars, who think that this is what the Buddha taught, that our goal, our purpose is to go in the direction of total annihilation. But this is not true, please do not get caught into it. Many people have thought that the Buddha's teaching is one of annihilation, that its aim is non-existence, non-being. This is not true, this is not what the Buddha taught. Do not think that when one gives rise to the highest, most fulfilled awakened mind, one needs to see all objects of mind as non-existent, cut off from life. That is also being caught in a mark. So 'being' is a mark, but 'non-being' is also a mark. The Diamond Sutra is very clear. Why do we think that the teachings of Buddhism lead to annihilation?
We see that the rose is a mark. We say we should not get caught in the mark of the rose. However the mark of the rose is very important. Due to the mark of the rose we have the chance to look deeply into the non-mark of the rose. We look into the rose and we see the sunshine, the clouds, the earth, we see all of nature, we see the elements, the minerals, we see the sky, the people, we can see the whole cosmos through the mark of a rose. The mark of the rose is important in giving rise to our ability to look deeply. So please do not say that the rose is not there, we do not deny the existence of the rose. We read that there is "no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body or mind; no form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind." It doesn't mean those things do not exist. What we mean is that the form, the mark of those things is deceptive. So the mark helps us to practice looking deeply to see the non-A elements within A, and then we can see the true the A. So the mark is very important. The Buddha didn't say we must look for the non-mark, because non-mark is also a mark. The Tathagata doesn't throw away anything, does not try to escape anything. The Tathagata recognises all the forms, but he is not caught in any form, any mark. He has the capacity to look deeply into all the marks and to see all of the non-mark elements within the mark.
The Tathagata has insight and wisdom, and that can help him to liberate himself from anger, from blaming, from enmity. And therefore all the teachings of the Buddha are based on looking deeply. Looking deeply is meditation, looking deeply helps you to see the nature of suchness, the nature of interdependent origination. The more you look deeply the more you are able to liberate yourselves from the nature of discrimination, and you will get in touch with the nature of interdependent origination and see the nature of suchness.
"After they heard the Lord Buddha deliver this sutra, the Venerable Subhuti, the bhiksus and bhiksunis, laymen and laywomen and the gods and asuras, filled with joy and confidence, undertook to put these teachings into practice." (32)
(Thay has made extensive commentaries on this sutra in a book which has been translated into English: The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion. Next time we will study the 10 Great Vows of Samantabhadra in the Avatamsaka Sutra. We can learn it in Chinese.)
Today is the 14th of December 1997. We are in the winter retreat of Plum Village. We are in the Upper Hamlet. Today we conclude talking about the Diamond Sutra before we go to another sutra. The Diamond Sutra is considered to be the basic sutra for the practice of dhyana, dhyana means the core teaching of the Buddha. Every dhyana school uses the Diamond Sutra. There is some sentences in the Diamond Sutra which look a little mysterious, such as; "We try to save countless living beings, but in fact there is no living being who is saved", and "The dharma is not the dharma, that is why that it is the right dharma", and "Wherever there is form, there is deception." Sometimes the language of Zen masters looks mysterious like that. And sometimes there are sentences like "What is the sound of the one hand clapping?" and, "What was your true face before your grandma was born?" or, "Everything goes to the one so where does the one go to". These koans look mysterious, but when you look deeply you can understand all these mysterious things.
The method that we use in order to understand the Diamond Sutra is the method of Vijnanavada, Buddhist psychology. If we can understand the Diamond Sutra, it is because we have looked at the Diamond Sutra under the lens of Buddhist psychology and the lens of the Avatamsaka Sutra. The basic teaching of the Avatamsaka Sutra is interpenetration, interconnection, interbeing. According to Buddhist psychology there are three natures that we have to remember: The first is discrimination, A is different from B, and different from C. But then the second of the three natures of Buddhist psychology is interpenetration, interconnection. And then, by seeing that, we discover the third nature, that's the true nature, and reality as it is will be revealed totally. Buddhist psychology helps us to see that in each of us there are many kinds of seeds, many varieties of seeds: there are positive seeds, there are neutral seeds, and there are negative seeds. And when the negative seeds are watered every day, you become a very negative person. If the positive elements are watered in you, you become a very joyful, helpful, wonderful person. So when you see a person, you see all the elements that make that person. There are many elements of their ancestors, and many elements of their environment.
You can use the Buddhist psychology in order to discover the Diamond Sutra. The second way to discover the Diamond Sutra is the Avatamsaka Sutra. The Avatamsaka Sutra is the sutra that helps us to see that one element is made of all other elements, and that the all is made of the one. When you look at A, you see B, C, D, E, F, G, H…. When you see B, C, D, E, F, G, H in A, you see everything in A, you see A is not A, that is why A is really A. So we look at the Diamond Sutra through the lens of Buddhist psychology and the lens of the Avatamsaka Sutra. The characteristic of the Avatamsaka Sutra is interpenetration, interbeing, interdependence.
Every week, we‘ll read the Diamond Sutra, but if you cannot catch the essence, the basic teaching, it is a loss. You have to really catch the basic teaching so that the wisdom, the insight, will grow every day in you. First of all, the Buddha has taught us that the bodhisattva is a person who has bodhicitta, who has the spirit of love. You have to learn to look at the world with non-discriminating eyes, non-discriminating view. First point: You look deeply at the world with non-discriminating eyes. (Thay in English:) An authentic bodhisattva should be able to look at and to view things with his or her non-discriminative mind.
The first point is non-discriminative mind. If you remember the teaching I often explain to you, look at your right hand, your right hand has a non-discriminating mind. The right hand never discriminates against the left hand, never discriminates the legs, the feet or any part of our body. So remember the image of the right hand next time you look at the sunshine, the squirrel, the snake, your lovely brother in the dharma, sister in dharma, your difficult brother or sister in the dharma. You look with the eyes of no discrimination, you are her, you are him, and she is you, he is you. You deal with everyone and everything with this non-discriminative mind.
The second point: If you want to learn the non-discriminative view, you must not be bound to any sign, any mark, any form. That is a kind of aide-memoire for you. What is a sign? It is the object of your perception. You perceive something and you have that sign in your mind, you are bound to that sign. Wherever there is a sign, a mark, an appearance, there is deception. So when we look at Sister Thuan Nghiem you see that she has an appearance at first, you see a self. But if you look deeply into the appearance of sister Thuan Nghiem, you see elements of her which are not her, so we are not caught. (Thay in English:) The second point is that in order to get the wisdom of non-discrimination you have to train yourself so that you are not caught by the appearance, by the object of your perception.
Third: If you don‘t want to be caught by sign, by form, you have to look deeply into the sign. It doesn‘t mean that you abandon the sign. You use the sign, but you look deeply, in order not to be caught by the sign.
(Thay in English:) The second point is that in order to get the wisdom of non-discrimination, you have to train yourself so you are not caught by the object of your perception. The third point is that in order not to get caught in the object of your perception, you have to look deeply in to that object of perception, into the nature of that object.
It means that you cannot throw away the sign, the object of your perception. If you don‘t want to be caught by the sign, by the object of your perception, you have to look deeply. So you should not abandon the sign - but you have to look deeply. There are some forms, some traditional forms, and may we think we practice the Diamond Sutra, we don‘t need all these forms… that is not the way. You have to look deeply into the nature of these traditional rituals and forms. In the beginning it seems silly, it seems not worth it, but you look deeper and you see something, but you are not caught, not attached.
So you look deeply into A, and you see that A is made of B, C, D, E, F, G, H….etc. You will not throw away A. The Buddha said to be caught by sign is bad, but it‘s worse if you are caught by non-sign. Therefore, if you want to look deeply, you have to see the characteristics of interdependence, interbeing, interpenetration of each thing. The characteristic of interpenetration, interbeing, is the true nature of things, it is not invented by the Buddha, it‘s discovered by him and you can discover it by yourself.
(Thay in English:) "The fourth point is that when you know how to look deeply, you begin to see the nature of paratantra, the nature of interconnection of the object of your perception."
In order to see nature, like a flower is made of non-flower elements, you see the characteristics of paratantra, paratantra is the Sanskrit word for interdependence. When you look at the flower, you see all the elements which are not the flower, like the sun, the cloud, the farmer, time, space, the love of the farmer, etc. And then you see that in order to look deeper, you have to see the interconnection, the interdependence, the interpenetration of the nature of things as they are. The more you see the true nature of paratantra, which means interpenetration, the more your ignorance, the more your discrimination will disappear. Your discrimination between the right hand and the left hand, the right arm and the left arm, the right arm and the legs will disappear. (Thay in English:) "When you begin to discover the nature of interconnection, of interbeing, of the object of your perception, its nature of discrimination begins to withdraw, to fade away, and it‘s nature of perfection will start to appear. So the true nature of the ‘reality as it is’ will slowly appear."
Fifth: When the reality as it is, the character of perfection, appears, you have deep insight of the true nature of things as they are. The word 'kien tanh' is a very important word in Zen, in the teaching of the Buddha. The Japanese call it 'kensho'. The word 'kien tanh' goes together with two other words 'minh tam', clear mind. Kien tanh means simply to see deeply the nature of the object of your perception. You see deeply the true nature of the object of your perception. The object of your perception could be a flower, could be pebble, or a sister in the dharma, a brother in the dharma… or your enemies. So the objects of your perception have signs and so you are tricked, you are deceived by them. But when you look deeper, then you discover the true nature of that person. And you see the characteristic of non-discrimination, the characteristic of paratantra, interconnection, interdependence, interbeing, the nature of no-birth no-death. You see the characteristic of perfection, reality as it is, and suchness. Suchness means things as they are, it is true reality in itself. Very few people understand the word kien tanh, the word tanh means the true nature of phenomena, the true nature of what is there.
You see that when your mind is full of illusion, then the object of your mind is also illusion. If your mind is caught by a wrong perception, then your way to see the world is very wrong, you see only the signs and you are caught by the signs. Every day we live in a very superficial way and so we only see things in a very illusory perception. You see each person as a very illusory reality of that person. You see every event as an illusory reality of that event. And because we live in a superficial way, the Buddha proposed that we live our lives deeper, look deeper and we touch the deeper image of that person, of that thing. Then thanks to a number of instruments I have mentioned already, you use paratantra, the characteristic of interdependence, and you can go through the curtain of illusory discrimination and reach the reality as it is, the characteristic of perfection of reality as it is, without being distorted. The more you look deeply, thanks to paratantra, thanks to the character of interpenetration, interdependence, the more you go deep into the character of interpenetration, interbeing. Then you arrive to the true perfection of the nature of the object of your mind, you arrive to the reality as it is, not the distorted reality that we are used to seeing. The Buddha said that 99% of our perceptions are wrong, illusory. So when your mind is superficial, you see things in a very illusory way. But more you look deeper, using the instrument of interbeing, interpenetration, then you arrive to the true nature, the true suchness of the reality as it is. So it‘s true landscape, true reality and true mind, and your mind will become true mind. So your true mind will touch the true reality. Now you have a deluded mind, a mind obsessed by a lot of deluded perceptions, and the signs present to you are very deluded. But with the same signs, you observe it deeply with the nature of paratantra, the nature of interconnection, and you’ll get through the discriminative perception and see the suchness, the reality as it is. You attain kensho, ‘kien tanh’, and your mind is true mind.
Some teachers, especially in Vietnam, think that we have to die in order to reach the true nature of reality. That is completely wrong according to what the Buddha said. It‘s the same landscape, the same reality. You don‘t have to die. If your mind is more and more deep, your mind is more and more true, more and more you go into the depth of yourself, then the reality will reveal as it is, in its own depth. So true mind touches true reality, while the deluded mind will only be in touch with deluded images, deluded objects of your mind. So don‘t be too sure. You look at a person and you see many thousand years of their ancestors, you see many years, many decades, of their environment. When you see like that you are not shocked, you know that things are just like that, so then you cannot be angry. This is, because that is, this is not, because that is not, and when you see like that, you cannot be angry with anyone. The more you discover, the more you see the true reality, so when you can discover the use of the instrument of interpenetration and interdependence, then you can see the reality. You can see 10% of reality, 20% of reality, 60 % of reality, 80% of reality… It depends on your practice.
In many Zen centers people speak of 'kensho – kien tanh' in a very mysterious way, as though it is something you can never reach, but it's very simple. When we look at a person, we are attracted by that person, or we are repulsed by that person, we have no sympathy for that person, but don‘t be caught. The more you use the instrument of paratantra, the more you see the true nature of that person, and then you can see everything and can accept her or him. So your mind is a deluded mind, don‘t be so sure that your mind is true mind yet. Your deluded mind looks at the deluded reality, then you use the paratantra, the tool of interdependence, interconnection. The more you look, the more you see clearly, and true reality reveals itself to you 10%, 20%. (Thay in English:) "When our mind has become the true mind, enlightened mind, the nature of the object of our perception will reveal itself as suchness."
In one Buddhist chant there is a sentence; "I would like to have a true mind, a lucid mind, in order to touch the reality as it is and to stop the circle of samsara." That is the meaning of the chanting you often read in Vietnamese. So to break through the veil of signs, as a practitioner, you should not say that to see the reality as suchness is the work of 20 years of practice, no. You have to see the reality as suchness as you eat, as you drink, it is your daily practice. ‘Minh tam kien tanh’ here is obtained by our practice of looking deeply. It means to look deeply with paratantra and to see the nature of interconnection. You have to see the piece of bread as the reality as it is, your brother in the dharma as the reality as it is, your sister your, partner, your children, your colleagues at work as the reality as it is. That is not the result of ten years or twenty years of practice in a practice center. You can do it at home, at your work.
The sixth is that when you reach the reality as it is, you reach the point that we call no craving, no anger, no fear. If we have a lot of craving we do not have deep insight. If we have a lot of anger we do not have true mind. If we have a lot of fear, we do not have that true mind, true insight. Craving means craving for something, we usually run after the object of our craving, but that craving may be a sign. We crave for that because we do not see the true nature of the object of our craving. Let‘s say money, let‘s say sex, let‘s say fame, let‘s say good food, wealth, if we run after these cravings, it is because we do not see the reality of the object of our mind as it is. So you have to look deeply into money, you look deeply into sex, you look deeply into fame. You do not throw them away, you look deeper and you see how things like that have brought you a lot of suffering, a lot of difficulties. The Buddha used to say that craving is like holding a torch against the wind, the fire will burn you. Craving is like bones without flesh. The dog chews the bone without flesh and never feels satisfied. Like somebody who is thirsty and drinks only salty water, the more he drinks, the more he is thirsty. We keep running after money and we think that just that amount of money will make us happy. When you have that amount of money it‘s always not enough, because people always want to have more. And then you run after more and more and more and more money. There are people who have a lot of money, but they are not happy at all. In the supermarket you can buy bones without flesh for dogs, the Buddha said that the object of your craving is like these bones without flesh. The dog bites it all the time, and never feels satisfied. The more you have, the more you want, and the more you are thirsty, craving is death. The Buddha also illustrated it like this: there is one little bird which catches some food, and the big birds want to eat the little birds. So the little birds have to release the food, so that the big birds will eat the food and not kill the little bird. If the little bird is craving for the food, it will die immediately.
The Buddha illustrated this by ten cases of craving that lead us to sufferings, difficulties, and accidents. In Plum Village I use other illustrations. I say that when people went fishing in the past they used a real little fish or real insects in order to hook the fish. But nowadays they use plastic bait, they put it on the hook and the fish think that it is real food for them and they are hooked. So the sign is delusion and you have to look deeper to see that it is not worth to run after it. You can go deep into the nature of no craving for that sign, and then you see that money is not something that we need to crave for. We need some, for basic use, but not so much, and if we have enough, why do we have to run and run, and cause a lot of misery to each other. 'Kien' is to see deeply, tanh' is the true nature of things. So when you practice kien tanh, you see deeply the true nature of the object of your craving and you will be healed, you arrive at non-craving, 'alobha'. Then you do not run after the object of your craving and you feel so free, so happy. Kensho also gives us no-anger.
Try to look deeply into the person who you think is the object of you anger. The one who causes a lot of difficulties to you and your beloved ones, who causes a lot of injustice to you. If you look deeply into the object of that anger, you see with the look of paratantra that that person is made of so many elements. You see all his past, his present, his childhood, he is not very lucky, he does not have a teacher around, a good friend around. He is unhappy, he suffers, and so he causes a lot of suffering around him. So when you understand like that, instead of feeling hatred, you accept him, you have compassion for him. If you cannot have enough compassion, if you cannot accept that person it is because you don‘t know all the conditions that have made him, or her. So when you see a delinquent, a person who is alcoholic, a drug user, and sometimes they have to steal some of our money. You are very angry and you want to punish them and put them in jail. But when you understand deeply, you see that if you found yourself in his situation with all your unwholesome seeds watered by friends, you see that you’d behave exactly like him. When you see all these things, you can only feel compassion, you do not want to punish him anymore, you only want to do your best to help him to get out of that situation. Then you are a person who has no anger, you’ll be a free and happy person. And if you have no anger, it is because you have deep insight of the reality as it is, his reality as it is, her reality as it is.
Kien tanh leads us to the state of no fear, ‘abhaya’. Abhaya is fear, we always have a lot of fear, fear to be left alone, fear to die, fear to be lonely, to have no money, to be homeless. We have that fear because we do not look deeply into the object of our perception, for example the fear of death, we all fear death. Imagine that one day we will be a corpse that cannot move, cannot speak, cannot do anything, and everyone will get around us and weep. Everybody is afraid of that, but there are people who see deeply into the true nature of death, and they have no more fear of death. Because they can see the true nature of death, they have no fear. I don‘t know if you have visited the lotus pond in New Hamlet last year, the lotus pond in New Hamlet teaches you a lot. Those of you who have been in New Hamlet last summer have seen that there were a lot of lotuses in the pond, beautiful lotuses. There are people who say that the first time they see a lotus they don‘t feel that it is a true flower, because it‘s so beautiful. During summer there are hundreds of people that sit around the lotus pond and admire the lotuses. But now, in winter, if you visit the lotus pond you cannot believe it. It‘s so ugly, so called ugly, you don‘t see lotus flowers at all, only rotten leaves, rotten stem, rotten receptacle… nothing.
There is a Vietnamese poet, Tan Da, who said that because of the rotten leaves of the lotus we are crying for the death of the flower. In the past the flower was so beautiful, and now the flower is dying and we are crying, that poet is caught by birth and death, by a sign. That’s the wrong perception, the wrong image of the lotus pond. Last week I saw the lotus pond and I did not feel any tears in my eyes, I did not feel sad at all. I did not cry, because I saw that the rotten leaves are preparing diligently for the wonderful spring. This is because I‘ve overcome the sign, I can look deeply into the rotten leaves of lotus and I see that it is preparing. You look on the surface of the lotus pond, imagine a lotus leaf, fresh, green in summer. These fresh, green leaves are very beautiful. When you put a few drops of water on it, the drops of water will become like diamonds. But now these green leaves are rotten and the lotus leaves are dead. But if you see the fresh lotus leaf is so fresh and so green, that is because there is the rotten leaf before. So, the rotten leaf is preparing diligently for new fresh green leaves that will appear in a few months. It‘s preparing not only green leaves, fresh leaves, but can also give a very good root. The lotus root is very delicious to eat, the sisters used to cook them for me. So these rotten leaves are working hard, diligently, joyfully to prepare for fresh leaves to be born, for delicious food, and for beautiful lotuses, very soon, in summer. And so these rotten leaves are working and enjoying transforming in order to make the root wonderful, the leaves wonderful, the flower wonderful. And you only see the rotten leaves and you cry, you are craving. So the rotten leaf is investing a lot for the lotus root, for the fresh green leaves, for the wonderful flower. When you come and you ask the rotten lotus leaf: "Where are you now, I am crying." The lotus leaf may smile at you and say: "No, I‘m not dying, I‘m preparing to be more wonderful in my continuation."
When you walk here in walking meditation, you see a lot of rotten leaves on your path and you say: "Oh, how sad, how sad that these leaves are dying." You don‘t see that the whole spring, the whole summer these leaves continue to circulate in the tree, circulate in the branches, circulate everywhere. The leaves have absorbed sunshine, absorbed gas, and absorbed root sap in order to prepare themselves and expand everywhere. When the rotten leaf left the tree it‘s just a little part of herself, the greater part of herself is everywhere in the branches, in the trunk, in very silent preparation. During six or seven months that leaf has worked very hard and expanded herself everywhere, she is in the branches, the many layers of the trunk that are growing, and the many layers of the branches that are growing. So that leaf is this bigger branch than last year, this leaf is this bigger trunk than last year. You can see that this leaf is there in many forms. So you look at the tree, you see the leaf, you look at the sign of the tree, you see the leaf, you look at the sign of the leaf, you see the tree.
One day you will see me as a corpse, very rigid, hard, in the bed and you’ll cry a lot, then you are caught by a sign. You have to see me everywhere in you, in many lay people, in many monks and nuns, in many of my readers, everywhere people can be in touch with me. I am there in their heart, I am there in their mind, I am there in their behavior. And you can see me everywhere. Don’t cry because of that corpse that has become immobile. That corpse will be rotten. You will see that I am in the behavior of some of my readers, who, after reading my books feel motivated to do a lot of beautiful work. You will see me in yourself, in how much transformation you have in your own being. When you have met me, you see me in many friends of yours, in many brothers and sisters, everywhere. So, don’t be tricked by my sign. The sign that you thought to be me. The Buddha said that every time you see a sign, that is a delusion.
The rotten lotus leaf needs only the heat of May and you will see beautiful leaves, beautiful lotuses. So when you see my corpse, rotten, you cry… No, this is a very deluded way to behave. You will see that when the conditions are sufficient, I will manifest in yourself, I will manifest in the people around you, in those who have been in touch with me. If you are afraid that I die, why don’t you make myself grow in you. If you are afraid that I die, why don’t you try to make me big in you, born in you, grown in you, grown up in you? Then you will behave like me, better than me. So you are not caught by the sign, and you see the nature of no birth, no death of the reality and you are not afraid of anything, no fear. Next Thursday you will look at the rotten lotus leaves in the lotus pond and you will ask the rotten lotus leaves: "Hello, where are you, where are you now? Where do you come from and where do you go?" And you will see the joyful preparation and journey of the rotten leaf, and then you will transcend every fear.
In this world there are a lot of people dying and there are those who work for dying people in order to help the person who is dying, to die peacefully, joyfully. These people have to learn this way of looking deeply. When you look at things deeply like that, then you have no fear in you. And when you have no fear in you, then you can sit stabily, without fear in yourself. Because you must be fearless of death in order to help people not to be fearful of death. If you are so afraid of dying, how can you help dying people? So you have to learn that this body is not you. You are not caught by this body, this body is one little part of yourself. When you feel like that, you live like that, you are not afraid of dying at all. Then you can take the hand of somebody who is dying, and you tell her or him that this body cannot touch you. You are much larger than this body. You take the hand of the dying person and you say: "You are much larger than this body. You are life without boundaries. You are your daughter, your son, your grandson, the descendants of your descendants. You are your students, you are your readers, you are your friends, those who are in touch with you, inspired by you, who love you, so you are not caught by this body. You are much more than this body." If you speak like this to that dying person, that dying person can die peacefully, without fear, because you yourself are without fear.
Seventh: Three qualities: no craving, no anger, no fear. This "no anger, no fear, no craving" will help the bodhisattva to practice generosity, to practice the mindfulness trainings, the precepts, to practice concentration, in a very natural way. These three qualities will help the bodhisattva to practice the precepts, to practice sharing, to practice inclusiveness, to practice diligence, to practice concentration in a very natural way, without any effort, without discrimination. When he is breathing, when he is eating, when he is drinking, he does so without any effort. When we have these three characters, these three qualities "no craving, no anger, no fear", then we know that we have a non-discriminating mind. Then we can realize the sharing, the practice of the precepts, the practice of inclusiveness, the practice of diligence, the practice of concentration in a very natural way, without any effort, without any discrimination, exactly like we are breathing every day. So, doing like that, you are a bodhisattva, because if a bodhisattva is very aware that he is a bodhisattva, he is not a real bodhisattva. So you do it naturally, like you breathe, like you smile, like you walk.
In the practice of many Zen centers, they have the tendency to think that 'kien tanh' is the true ability to understand ourselves. That is correct too, but only partially. We should not be caught by the word saying that kien tanh is to see the true nature of the object of your mind. The object of your mind could be the moon, the flower, the trees, but the object of your mind could be your own being. So you understand the true nature of the lotus leaf, you can see the true nature of your own being. Because you see you, you see your ancestors, you see your parents, you see your sister, you see yourself as your sister, you see yourself as your parents, you see yourself as your sister, your brother, you see yourself as your colleague, you see yourself as all human beings, you see yourself as all living beings, you see yourself in the plants, trees and everything. So in many Buddhist Zen centers they think that kien tanh means only to see your true mind. That is correct, but it is not sufficient. You understand your body which means you understand your mind. You understand your body and your mind. You see the object of your mind too. You look deep into your body, you see that your body makes your mind and your mind makes your body. So there is no separation between body and mind. Body is mind and mind is body.
Many of today’s scientists also want to learn how to transcend the sign. They also start to see that the non-discriminating mind can help people to go far. Many physicists have seen that elementary particles are like a kind of energy. Sometimes the energy can be illustrated as an electron, the small particles of an electron sometimes look like a particle. Electrons sometimes appear as particles, sometimes appear as waves. Sometimes the electron does not appear as particle, but it appears as wave, it’s strange. The same electron sometimes appears as wave, sometimes appears as particle. In one experience it appears as wave, in another experience it appears as particle. So they cannot accept the argument that if it is a particle it must be only a particle, and not a wave. And the truth is like that. So sometimes they act as particles, sometimes they act as waves. So finally they have to accept that both are one. So particle is not a true sign of an electron and wave is not a true sign of an electron, so they call it a wavicle, that’s a new name.
In Buddhism we have that too, 2600 years ago the Buddha also said: body and mind, he used the word namarupa. They do not distinguish body as different from mind. Nama is our mind and rupa is our form, our body. So the Buddha called our body and mind namarupa. Sometimes you appear as nama, sometimes you appear as rupa. We are both, so the Buddha said namarupa. The psychologists today call it psyche-soma. So, don’t be caught by the sign, the Diamond Sutra makes this very clear. If the scientists continue to argue, some of them saying that the electron is just particle and others that it’s only wave, it is because it is wave and particle. So we see that more and more science approaches the teachings of the Buddha. We have to transcend sign in order to touch the deep reality as it is. So a good scientist, in order to touch deeply the true reality, has to release his knowledge about the objects of his mind and release the principle of identity. To always try to give an identity to everything is not correct when you see things deeply, there is no separated identity. This identity is made by millions of other identities, in order for this identity to be real identity. So a good scientist now says that we have to erase the distinction between the observer and the observed. It’s better to be a participant than to be an observer, that is the erasing of the distinction between the observer and the observed object. So instead of being an observer, we try to be a participant, and that is very close to the way we practice Buddhism. So please come to Plum Village as a participant, not as an observer.
In this winter retreat we try to practice Noble Silence from the evening after sitting meditation until after lunch. During this retreat, if you practice silence during half of the day, you will discover that a number of the sentences you speak may not be necessary. In that practice, when you feel that you want to speak, you don’t speak but you take a booklet and you write it down. Then another moment later when you want to speak, you don’t speak but you write it down, then the day after, you look at it and then you feel that it is so funny. It’s not necessary, these sentences are not necessary at all. In us there is a kind of habit energy that pushes us to act or to speak in a way that we don’t want to. We know that if we speak like that, it will destroy a lot. We know, we are quite intelligent to know that if we do like that, if we act like that, it destroys, but we still destroy, we still speak, we still act. We also know that if we do like that we will lose our friendship, we cause a lot of suffering to ourselves but we still do it. That is what we call habit energy. There’s a kind of negative habit energy that pushes us to do like that.
So when you practice silence for half of the day, it is in order to observe this negative habit energy. You can write down in your booklet: "Today at half past nine I have been pushed by things, but I stopped." and "This morning that habit energy stood up and pushed me to act like that, but I have stopped." So if you practice silence for half of the day like that, you will discover a lot. If you don’t practice silence until early morning after breakfast, try to practice this properly. Everyone should have a notebook in order to write down all the urges born in your mind, these urges are your habit energy. Sometimes they may be good, but most of the time they're unnecessary. So write them down and recognize them only. You recognize them, that does not mean that you transform them right away. But the fact that you recognize them is quite enough to transform them slowly. Silence is in order to help us to observe, but not for my benefit, it’s for your benefit, to observe your negative energy. There are those who practice half of the day of silence and feel so happy, they want to prolong it longer.
Your whole being will express in other ways. Sometimes we feel that if we pronounce that sentence, it will show caring, but in fact without pronouncing that sentence, your look, your way of approaching, your way of helping silently shows a lot of caring, much more than some diplomatic words. The practice is helping you to observe yourself, to observe a number of habits that you can identify as "good, neutral, or not good", in order to transform ourselves. We have heard a lot about bodhisattvas and we always have the impression that a bodhisattva is someone who is very beautiful, very wonderful, very holy, and that you will never be a holy person like the bodhisattvas. In fact bodhisattvas are just people like you, who are trying to practice these points in order to live their life deeply, not in a superficial way. When you hear something, when you look at something, you try to look deeply, see deeply in order to go through the deluded sign, in order to reach the true nature of that person. If you are still angry with that person, if you are still fearful of this person, it’s because you see their deluded form. When you see their true nature, then you can reach them, you can accept them and live happily with them. You can be a bodhisattva even if you are only 14 years old you don’t need to wait until you become a monk or a nun and receive the big ordination in order to be a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva could be 14 years old.
You are a person who has a lot of happiness, a lot of freedom; free from your anger, free from your craving, free from your fear. And you understand via the paratantra, you can understand the most difficult people, you show a lot of care, of love, yet you are silent in order to observe your negative energy, observe, transform… then you can be a bodhisattva at the age of 14, 15, 18, 20, 50, 60. Then this community will be a pure land, because everybody will adorn the community. We adorn the community without knowing that we are adorning the community. Like in the Diamond Sutra: the bodhisattvas are those who adorn the Buddha Land, without knowing that they are adorning the Buddha Land. So you will become a bodhisattva, you adorn this Land without knowing that you are adorning this Land. You adorn it beautifully by the way you breathe, you eat, you walk, and you transform. When you go home, if you can touch the members of your family, they will become like you, and your family will become a Buddha Land without knowing that it is a Buddha Land. There are some satellites that can go very fast through the air. You also can do like this, if you are a bodhisattva. I know there are a number of you whose presence causes a lot of joy and peace for the community, they are bodhisattvas. There are also those who are present in this community who do not offer a lot, but still offer some, they are also bodhisattvas. So we have great bodhisattvas and bodhisattvas who are less great, but you all are bodhisattvas if you care to practice properly, diligently and then the speed of your practice will go very fast, like the speed of light.
Akalika is the practice that does not need time. As soon as you decide to begin practicing, you obtain freedom right away, you obtain peace right away, you obtain no craving, no anger right away. The practice of silence is in order to observe your negative energy and to transform it. In summary, a bodhisattva is not a legendary personality, bodhisattvas are you, you all. Even if you are very young. You don’t need to know all of the teachings of the Buddha, you only need to listen for one hour to the teaching of Thay and if you practice right away you will become a bodhisattva right away, you don’t need time to become a bodhisattva. You understand, then you love, and you will not reproach anybody, you are a living bodhisattva in this life.
These dharma talk transcriptions
are of teachings given by the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh in Plum Village or in
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