Bodhisattva Cleansed of All Karmic Obstructions

Then the Bodhisattva Cleansed of All Karmic Obstructions 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 such inconceivable things as the practices of all Tathagatas of the causal ground, and have caused the assembly to gain what they have never had before. Having seen the Buddha’s arduous toil through kalpas as innumerable as the grains of sand of the Ganges, and his efforts in practice unfold as if they were in but an instant of a thought, we bodhisattvas feel deeply fortunate and joyous.

“World Honored One, if the intrinsic nature of this enlightened mind is pure, what caused it to be defiled, making sentient beings deluded, perplexed, and unable to enter it? Pray let the Tathagata thoroughly expound and reveal to us the nature of dharmas so that this assembly and sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age may use [your teaching] as a guiding vision in the future.” 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 the Bodhisattva Cleansed of All Karmic Obstructions: “Excellent, excellent! Virtuous man, for the benefit of this assembly and sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age, you have asked the Tathagata, about such expedient methods. Listen attentively now, I shall explain it to you.”

Hearing this, the Bodhisattva Cleansed of All Karmic Obstructions was filled with joy, and listened silently along with the assembly.

“Virtuous man, since beginningless time all sentient beings have been deludedly conceiving and clinging to the existence of self, person, sentient being, and life. They take these four inverted views as the essence of a real self, thereby giving rise to dual states of like and dislike. [Thus], based on one delusion, they further cling to other delusions. These two delusions rely on each other, giving rise to the illusory paths of karma. Because of illusory karma, sentient beings deludedly perceive the turning flow [of cyclic existence]. Those who detest the turning flow [of cyclic existence] deludedly perceive nirvana, and hence are unable to enter [the realm of] pure enlightenment. It is not enlightenment that thwarts their entering; rather, it is the idea that ‘there is one who can enter.’ Therefore, whether their thoughts are agitated or have ceased, they cannot be other than confused and perplexed.

“Why is this? Because the original-arising ignorance has been [falsely perceived as] one’s own master since beginningless time, therefore all sentient beings are unable to give rise to the wisdom-eye. The nature of their bodies and minds is nothing but ignorance. [This ignorance which does not eliminate itself may be illustrated] by the example of the man who does not take his own life. Therefore, you should know that people get along with those who like them and resent those who contradict them. Because like and dislike nurture ignorance, sentient beings always fail in their pursuit of the Path.

“Virtuous man, what is the sign [1] of the self? It is that which is experienced in the minds of sentient beings. irtuous man, for instance, when a man’s body is well coordinated and healthy, he forgets about its existence. However, when his four limbs are sluggish and his body unhealthy and unregulated, then with the slightest treatment of acupuncture and moxa he will become aware of the existence of the self again. Therefore, the self manifests when experience is felt. Virtuous man, even if this man’s mind experienced the realm of the Tathagata and clearly perceived pure nirvana, it would be but the phenomenon of the self.

“Virtuous man, what is sign of the person? It is that which is experienced in the minds of sentient beings. Virtuous man, he who awakens to the self no longer identifies with the self. This awakening, which is beyond all experience, is the mark of the person. Virtuous man, both what is awakened to and the awakening are not the self. Thus, even if this man’s mind were perfectly awakened to nirvana, it would be but the self [because] as long as there is even the slightest trace of awakening or striving in the mind to realize the principle, [2] it would be the sign of the person.

“Virtuous man, what is the sign of sentient beings? It is the experience which is beyond self-awakening and it is that which is awakened to in the minds of sentient beings. Virtuous man, if for example a man says, ‘I am a sentient being,’ we know that what he speaks of as ‘sentient being’ refers neither to himself nor another person. Why is he not referring to his self? Since this self is sentient being, it is not limited to his self. Since this self is sentient being, therefore it is not another person’s self. Virtuous man, the experiences and awakenings of sentient beings are all [traces of] the self and the person. In the awakening beyond the traces of the self and person, if one retained the awareness of having realized [3] something, it would be called the sign of sentient beings.

“Virtuous man, what is the sign of life? It is the mind of sentient beings that illuminates purity, in which they are aware of what they have realized. Karmic [consciousness] and wisdom cannot perceive themselves. This is comparable to the root of life. Virtuous man, when the mind is able to illuminate and perceive enlightenment, it is but a defilement, because both perceiver and perceived are not apart from defilement. After ice melts in hot water, there is no ice to be aware of its melting. The perception of the existence of the self enlightening itself is also like this.

“Virtuous man, if sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age do not understand these four characteristics [of the self], even after cultivating the Path diligently for many kalpas, [it is still] called practicing with attachments [4] and they will not be able to accomplish the fruition of sainthood. Therefore, this is called [cultivating] the True Dharma in the Dharma Ending Age. Why? Because they mistake the various aspects of the self for nirvana, and regard their experiences and awakenings as accomplishments. This is comparable to a man who mistakes a thief for his own son. His wealth and treasure will never increase. Why? Because if one grasps onto the self, one will also grasp onto nirvana. For him, the root of grasping onto the self is [merely] suppressed and [seemingly] there is the appearance of nirvana. If there is one who hates the self, one will also have hatred for birth and death. Not knowing that grasping is the real [source of] birth and death, hatred for birth and death is [also] not liberation.

“How does one recognize the Dharma of nonliberation? Virtuous man, if sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age, while cultivating bodhi, have partial actualization [of Complete Enlightenment] and think they are already pure, then they have not exhausted the root of the trace of the self. If someone praises his Dharma, it gives rise to joy in his mind and he wants to liberate the praiser. If someone criticizes his achievement, that gives rise to hatred in his mind. Thus one can tell that his attachment to the phenomenon of the self is strong and firm. [This self] is hidden in the storehouse consciousness. [5] It wanders in the sense faculties and has never ceased to exist.

“Virtuous man, these practitioners, because they do not eliminate the phenomenon of the self, cannot enter [the realm of] pure enlightenment. Virtuous man, if one actualizes the emptiness of the self, there will be no one there who can slander the self. When there is a self who expounds the Dharma, the self has not been severed. The same holds true for sentient beings and life.

“Virtuous man, sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age speak of illness [in their practice] as the Dharma. They are pitiable people. Though diligent in their practice, they only increase their illness and are consequently unable to enter the [realm of] pure enlightenment.

“Virtuous man, because sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age are not clear about these four signs [of the self] when they take the Tathagata’s understanding and conduct to be their own practice, they will never reach accomplishment. Some claim that they have had actualizations though they have not; some claim that they have had realizations though they have not. When they see others more advanced than themselves, they become jealous. Because these people have not severed their grasping onto the self, they are unable to enter the [realm of) pure enlightenment.

“Virtuous man, sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age who wish to accomplish the Path should not seek awakening through increasing their knowledge by listening [to the Dharma]. This will only further strengthen their view of the self. Instead, they should strive to diligently subdue their vexations! They should generate great courage to attain what they have not attained and sever what they have not severed. In all circumstances, they should not give rise to craving, hatred, attached love, arrogance, flattery, crookedness, envy, and jealousy. Then, the affection and grasping between the self and the others will be extinguished. [When they can do this], the Buddha says that they will gradually reach accomplishment. Furthermore, they should seek good teachers so that they will not fall into erroneous views. However, if they give rise to hatred and love in their minds while seeking [a good teacher], they will be unable to enter the ocean of pure enlightenment.”

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

Cleansed of All Karmic Obstructions,
you should know that sentient beings,
because of their attachment to and love of self,
have been bound in the illusory turning flow
[of cyclic existence] since beginningless time.
Without severing the four signs [of the self],
bodhi will not be attained.
With the mind harboring love and hatred,
and thoughts carrying flattery and crookedness,
one is full of confusion and perplexity,
and cannot enter the citadel of enlightenment.
To return to the realm of enlightenment,
desire, anger, and delusion must first be eliminated.
When attachment to the dharma [of nirvana] [6]
no longer exists in the mind,
one can gradually reach accomplishment.
This body is originally nonexistent
so how can love and hatred arise?
A practitioner should also seek a good teacher
so as not to fall into erroneous views.
If hatred and love arise in the quest,
he will not accomplish [enlightenment].

[1] Sign (xiang), includes many shades of meaning such as form, mark, trace, appearance, feature, characteristic, aspect, and phenomenon. These words differ slightly in meaning. The translator will choose one of these words to bring out the meaning of the text.

[2] “Principle” refers to enlightenment.

[3] “Realized” (Iiao) in this and next paragraph actually means to be done with or to end.

[4] “Practicing with attachments” is a rendering of you wei, samskrta in Sanskrit. See glossary for further information.

[5] Storehouse consciousness (a lai ye shi) is also known as the eighth consciousness (di ba shi), alayavijnana in Sanskrit.

[6] “Attachment to the dharma of nirvana” (fa at) refers to the arhats who have realized the emptiness of the self (ren wu wo) and have not yet realized the emptiness of dharmas (fa wu wo).