Bodhisattva of Pure Wisdom

Then the Bodhisattva of Pure Wisdom 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! You have broadly expounded to us inconceivable things which we have never seen or heard before. Because of your excellent guidance, our bodies and minds are now at ease and we have gained great benefit. For the sake of all practitioners of the Dharma who have come here, please expound again the nature of the Dharma King’s complete and fulfilling enlightenment. What are the differences in actualization and attainment between all sentient beings, bodhisattvas, and the World Honored Tathagata? [Pray teach us] so that sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age, upon hearing this holy teaching, may follow and conform to it, be awakened, and gradually enter [the realm of Buddhahood].” Having said these words, he prostrated himseIf 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 the Bodhisattva of Pure Wisdom: “Excellent, excellent! Virtuous man, for the benefit of sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age, you have asked the Tathagata about the distinct progressive stages [of practice]. Listen attentively now. I shall explain them to you.”

Hearing this, the Bodhisattva of Pure Wisdom was filled with joy and listened silently along with the assembly.

“Virtuous man, the intrinsic nature of Complete Enlightenment is devoid of distinct natures [as described before], yet all different natures are endowed with this nature of Complete Enlightenment, which can accord and give rise to various natures. [1] [Since these two natures are nondual], there is neither attainment nor actualization. In Absolute Reality, there are indeed no bodhisattvas or sentient beings. Why? Because bodhisattvas and sentient beings are illusory projections. When illusory projections are extinguished, there exists no one who attains or actualizes. For example, eyes cannot see themselves. Likewise, this nature is intrinsically impartial and equal, yet there is no ‘one’ who is equal.

“Because sentient beings are confused, they are unable to eliminate and extinguish all illusory projections. Because of the illusory efforts and activities of those who extinguish and those who do not extinguish [vexations], [2] there manifest distinctions. If one can attain accordance with the Tathagata’s quiescent-extinction, there is in reality neither quiescent-extinction nor the one who experiences it.

“Virtuous man, all sentient beings since beginningless time have deludedly conceived ‘self’ and that which grasps on to the self; never have they known the succession of arising and perishing thoughts! [3] Therefore, they give rise to love and hatred and indulge in the five desires. [4]

“If they meet a good teacher who guides them to awaken to the nature of pure Complete Enlightenment and to recognize these arising and perishing [thoughts], they will understand that it is the very nature of such rising [thoughts] that causes toils and anxieties in their lives.

“If, further, a man permanently severs all toil and anxiety, he will realize the dharmadhatu in its purity. However, his undermining of purity may become his obstruction and he will not attain freedom and ease regarding Complete Enlightenment. This is called ‘the ordinary man’s accordance with the nature of enlightenment.” [5]

“Virtuous man, all bodhisattvas realize that this very understanding is a hindrance. Although they sever themselves from this hindrance of understanding, they still abide in this realization. The realization of hindrance is yet another hindrance. Therefore they do not have freedom and ease. This is called ‘the bodhisattva before the stage of the first bhumi’s accordance with the nature of enlightenment.” [6]

“Virtuous man, ‘attaining’ illumination and realization [7] is a hindrance. Thus a great bodhisattva is constantly in realization without abidance, where the illumination and the illuminator simultaneously become quiescent and vanish. For instance, if a man beheads himself, there exists no executioner after the head has been severed. It is the same with eliminating various hindrances with a mind of hindrance: when the hindrances have been eliminated, there is no eliminator. The teachings of the sutras are like the finger that points to the moon. When one sees the moon, one realizes that the finger is not the moon. Likewise, the various teachings of all Tathagatas in instructing bodhisattvas are also like this. This is called ‘the bodhisattva above the stage of the first bhumi’s accordance with the nature of enlightenment.’ [8]

“Virtuous man, all hindrances are themselves [the nature of] ultimate enlightenment. Having a [correct] thought or losing it is not different from liberation. Conglomeration and dispersion of dharmas are both called nirvana. Wisdom and stupidity are equally prajna. The Dharma accomplished by bodhisattvas and that by outer path practitioners are both bodhi. Ignorance and true suchness are not different realms. [The threefold discipline of] sila, samadhi and prajna [9] and [the three poisons of] greed, anger and delusion are all pure activities. Sentient beings and the world they live in are of one Dharma-nature. Hells and heavens are all Pure Lands. Regardless of [their distinct] natures, all sentient beings have [intrinsically] accomplished the Buddha Path. All vexations are ultimate liberation. [The Tathagata’s] ocean of wisdom, which encompasses the whole dharmadhatu, clearly illuminates all phenomena as empty space. This is called ‘the Tathagata’s accordance with the nature of enlightenment.’

“Virtuous man, all bodhisattvas and sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age should at no time give rise to deluded thqughts! [Yet], when their deluded minds arise, they should not extinguish them. In the midst of deluded concepts, they should not add discriminations. Amidst non-discrimination, they should not distinguish true reality. If sentient beings, upon hearing this Dharma method, believe in, understand, accept, and uphold it and do not generate alarm and fear, they are ‘in accordance with the nature of enlightenment.’

“Virtuous man, you should know that these sentient beings have made offerings to hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddhas and great bodhisattvas as innumerable as the grains of sand of the Ganges, and have planted the roots of all merits. I say that such people will accomplish the [Buddha’s] Wisdom of All Aspects.” [10]

At that time, the World Honored One, wishing to clarify his meaning, proclaimed these gathas:

Pure Wisdom, you should know
that the nature of perfect bodhi
is without attainment or actualization.
It is without bodhisattvas or sentient beings.
However, when there is enlightenment
and unenlightenment,
there are distinct progressive stages.
Sentient beings are obstructed by understanding.
Bodhisattvas [before the first bhumi]
have not left behind realization.
[Once] they enter the first bhumi
there is permanent quiescent-extinction
with no abidance in any form.
Great enlightenment, beine complete,
is called ‘pervasive accordance.’
If sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age
do not give rise to deluded thoughts,
the Buddha says that they are
bodhisattvas in this very lifetime.
Having made offerings to countless Buddhas
as innumerable as the sands of the Ganges,
their merits are perfected.
Though expedients are many,
all are called in accordance with wisdom.

[1] This sentence is difficult to understand because in each case the word xing - sometimes translated as nature - refers to different things. One interpretation is: even though there are five distinct natures or capacities as mentioned previously, each nature or capacity is endowed with the intrinsic nature of Complete Enlightenment. What the sutra is saying is that the five distinct natures make the nature of Complete Enlightenment possible. For example, one perceives existence because of nonexistence; one perceives nonexistence only through existence. Therefore, the five natures are not apart from the nature of Complete Enlightenment.

[2] “Those who extinguish vexations” refers to sravakas and pratyekabuddhas; “those who do not” refers to bodhisattvas.

[3] “The succession of arising and perishing thoughts” refers to the sixth consciousness (di liu shi). The mind or self is just the continuous stream of deluded thoughts (wang nian). “That which grasps on to the self” refers to the seventh consciousness (di qi shi). Because of attachment, this continuous flux of thoughts creates karmic seeds (ye zhong) which are planted in the eighth consciousness (di ba shi), the alaya (a lai ye shi). Although the alaya cannot grasp itself - it is just a storehouse of karmic seeds - the seventh consciousness attaches to the alaya as the self. See glossary for an explanation of the eight consciousnesses.

[4] There are two sets of five desires (wu yu). The most obvious or coarse desires are for wealth, sex, food and drink, fame, and sleep. The subtle desires refer to the five sense objects. In themselves the sense objects are not defilements, but they are potential objects of desire.

[5] This stage is equivalent to an ordinary person’s realization of emptiness. In the Ch’an tradition, it is referred to as seeing one’s self-nature (jian xing). In the doctrinal system, this is referred to as the Path of Seeing (jian dao wei) within the stages of Ten Faiths (shi xin). After perceiving emptiness, usually one’s realization is not deep enough to eradicate all vexations. Therefore, one is still an ordinary person and still needs to continue ones practice. However, after reaching the position of Ten Faiths, one’s faith will never regress (xin bu tui). Beyond the position of Ten Faiths are the Ten Abodes (shi zhu), Ten Practices (shi xing), and Ten Transferences (shi bui xiang), which elevate one to the level of sagehood (xian wei). After one fulfills all the practices and realizations in the position of Ten Faiths, one enters the position of Ten Abodes, which is the beginning of Path of Practice (xiu dao wei). When one fulfills the three stages of Ten Abodes, Ten Practices, and Ten Transferences, one enters the position of Ten Grounds (shi di) or bhumis and moves to the position of sainthood (sheng wei). This is referred to as the Path of Ultimate Attainment (jiu jing wei). The above are gradual levels of realization and practice. However, depending on the depth of one’s realization of emptiness, it is possible for a practitioner to ascend to the highest position, bypassing (dun chao) the lower stages.

[6] This is the attainment of one of the three positions (san xian wei), of Ten Abodes, Ten Practices, and Ten Transferences, depending on one’s realization. These three positions are all subsumed under the Path of Practice (xiu dao wei).

[7] Illumination is a literal translation of zhao. In this context, zhao refers to understanding, as in understanding (jie) of Dharma. Realization is a rendering for (jue), which can mean awareness of, awakening or realization. In this case, jue refers to realization or perception (jian).

[8] This section refers to the attainment of at least the first stage of the Ten Grounds. At this stage, one’s practice will never regress (xing bu tui). If one attains the eighth ground or bhumi, one’s position will never regress again (wei bu tui).

[9] These are what are known as the Three Higher Studies (san zeng shang xue), which subdue the three poisons of greed, anger, and delusion.

[10] Wisdom of All Aspects (yi qie zhong zhi) is one of three wisdoms of a Buddha. Wisdom of All Things (yi qie zhi), sarvajnata in Sanskrit, is the omniscient wisdom that realizes the emptiness of all things. Wisdom of the Path (dao zong zhi), margajnata in Sanskrit, refers to the wisdom of knowing all there is to know about the conventional realm, especially with regard to saving sentient beings. Wisdom of All Aspects, or Universal Wisdom, sarvakarajnata in Sanskrit, refers to the perfect knowledge of Reality as it is.