Then Bodhisattva Samantabhadra rose from his seat in the midst of the assembly, prostrated himself at the feet of the Buddha, circled the Buddha three times to the right, knelt down, joined his palms, and said: “O World Honored One of great compassion! For the multitude of bodhisattvas in the assembly, as well as for all sentient beings who cultivate Mahayana in the Dharma Ending Age, please explain how they should practice, having heard about this pure realm of Complete Enlightenment.
“World Honored One, if these sentient beings come to understand illusion, then body and mind are also illusory. How can they then use illusion to remedy illusion? If all illusory characteristics were exhausted and extinguished, then there would be no mind. Who is it that practices? Why, then, do you say that practice is illusory?
“If sentient beings originally had no need to practice, then they would remain confined to illusory projections amidst birth and death and never discern the state [in which all is seen to be] like an illusion. How could they be liberated from illusory conceptualization? For the sake of all sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age, please explain the expedient method of gradual cultivation of practice in order that sentient beings may permanently leave the state of illusion.” Having said these words, he prostrated himself on the ground. He made the same request three times, each time repeating the same procedure.
At that time the World Honored One said to Bodhisattva Samantabhadra: “Excellent, excellent! Virtuous man, for the benefit of the multitude of bodhisattvas and sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age, you have asked about the expedient, gradual stages of the bodhisattva’s practice of the samadhi in which all is seen to be like an illusion, and which frees sentient beings from illusion. Listen attentively now. I shall explain it to you.”
Hearing this, Bodhisattva Samantabhadra was filled with joy and listened silently along with the assembly.
“Virtuous man, all illusory projections of sentient beings arise from the wondrous mind of the Tathagata’s Complete Enlightenment, just like flowers in the sky which come into existence from out of the sky. When the illusory flower vanishes, the nature of the sky is not marred. Likewise, the illusory mind of sentient beings relies on illusory [cultivation] for its extinction. When all illusions are extinguished, the enlightenen mind remains unmoved. Speaking of enlightenment in contrast to illusion is itself an illusion. To say that enlightenment exists is to not have left illusion yet. [However], to say that enlightenment does not exist is also no different. Therefore, the extinction of illusion is called the unmoving [mind of enlightenment].
“Virtuous man, all bodhisattvas and sentient beings in the ,”Dharma Ending Age should separate [themselves] from all illusory projections and deluded realms. [However], when one clings firmly to the mind that separates [from all illusory projections and deluded realms], this mind [should also be taken as] an illusion, and one should separate oneself from it. Because this separation is an illusion, it should also be separated. One should then be free from even this ‘separating from the illusion of separation!’ When there remains nothing to be seperated from, all illusions are eliminated. It is like rubbing two pieces of wood together to obtain fire. When the fire ignites and the wood completely burns, the ashes fly away and the smoke vanishes. Using illusion to remedy illusion is just like this. Yet even though illusions are exhausted, one does not enter annihilation.
“Virtuous man, to know illusion is to depart from it; there is no [need to] contrive expedient means! To depart from illusion is to be enlightened; there are no gradual steps! All bodhisattvas and sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age who practice accordingly will permanently leave illusions behind.”
At that time, the World Honored One, wishing to clarify his meaning, proclaimed these gathas:
Samantabhadra, you should know
that the beginningless illusory ignorance
of all sentient beings
is grounded on the Tathagata’s
mind of Complete Enlightenment.
Like a flower in empty space,
its appearance relies on the sky.
When the illusory flower vanishes,
the empty space remains in its original unmoving state.
Illusion depends on enlightenment for its arising.
With the extinction of illusion,
enlightenment is wholly perfect,
for the enlightened mind is ever unmoving.
All bodhisattvas and sentient beings
in the Dharma Ending Age
should forever leave illusions far behind
until all illusions are extinguished.
It is like producing fire with wood,
when the wood is burned out,
the fire is also extinguished.
Enlightenment has no gradual steps;
the same applies to expedient means.