Recognizing the True Mind versus Entering the First Ground
Do you understand what the First Ground of a bodhisattva is like? Would you like to enter the First Ground? “Yes, we would like to,” answered the assembly. Great! This is a class on the First Ground. My talk today, partly an encouragement and partly a continued explanation of the Treatise on the Establishment of Vijnana-Only [by Master Xuanzang of the Tang Dynasty], is very important. It concerns those who, having recognized their true minds, are practicing in the hope of entering the First Ground. Let me first begin with my encouragement.
The page that you just received was photocopied from Mahayana Entering the Lankavatara Sutra. The passage I have circled on this page is the theme of my talk today—the gist of recognizing the true mind versus entering the First Ground.
Some students asked me, “Teacher, why do you want to speak on the Treatise on the Establishment of Vijnana-Only? The book is too detailed.” Others said, “Teacher, please do not talk about so many Buddhist terms. It is enough to talk about recognizing one’s true mind and seeing one’s Buddha-nature.” You need to know that your experiential understanding of the concepts underlying these terms is very important. It can help you validate “dharmas [all phenomena] have no selves” based on your realization that “a person has no self” and enter the First Ground.
As I said before, if I do not continue to lecture on the Treatise on the Establishment of Vijnana-Only, The Lankavatara Sutra, and my book The Right Dharma-Eye Store—The Collection of Protecting the Right Dharma [Hu Fa Ji], about half of our students might retrogress from their realization. Without the support of a good, knowledgeable teacher, these students, lacking the power of faith, wisdom, and meritorious conditions, might lose their prior recognition of their true minds. It is not that they want to retrogress but that they cannot help retrogressing because they are unable to ascertain the truth of their realization.
As taught in the Bodhisattva Garland Original Karma Sutra, a bodhisattva student, upon entering the Sixth Stay, has to cultivate the emptiness of prajna [the supra-mundane wisdom about Tathagatagarbha, the eighth vijnana]. Even though he has realized his true mind, is aware of the right view of prajna, and is about to enter the level of the Seventh Stay, without the support of Buddhas, great bodhisattvas, and good, knowledgeable teachers, he might “lose his bodhi mind [aspiration for enlightenment] after one, two, or even ten eons;” he might deny the true mind he has realized and drop down to the eternal view of non-Buddhists. Therefore, I must teach these courses to help those fellow cultivators whose faith and wisdom are inadequate, to keep them from retrogressing.
Some students, in the process of learning the Buddhist doctrine, have encountered a problem with the levels of realization that they cannot solve. They asked, “According to some sutras, recognizing the true mind is only at the level of the Seventh Stay as accepted by the Special School [one of the four schools classified by the Tiantai School in China]; however, the Ten Grounds Sutra says that this realization is at the level of the First Ground. What is the difference between these two kinds of classification?” Why is there such a wide difference? Did the Buddha give wrong teachings? Some people who come to our center do not want to practice, contemplate, and cultivate diligently. Instead, they analyze, ask around for answers, and promise each other in private, “Whoever gets the answer from his contemplation shall tell it in public.” They are actually harming their own spiritual life, not helping it. The aim of these people is merely to do academic research.
Yesterday I received a nine-page letter from a critic, which stated in detail that my book The Right Dharma-Eye Store contained errors everywhere and that even the Buddha’s teachings in the Great Nirvana Sutra were wrong too. Actually, the critic was mistaken.
This letter was not written by an outsider but by a member of our center, a student questioning his teacher anonymously. His main argument was that “It is impossible to see one’s Buddha-nature with the naked eye.” He raised many questions, and I would have to write a book, which would take months, to answer them all. Some of his questions were obvious and others deep. We will discuss two obvious ones in the following. The critic declared his first point, “It is impossible to see one’s Buddha-nature with the naked eye.” In fact, the Buddha, in some scriptures, said specifically that the naked eye could see the Buddha-nature. In other scriptures, however, the term “Buddha-nature” refers to one’s nature to become a Buddha. The critic did not understand the difference between these two and just wanted to argue with me. The Buddha did not give wrong teachings; it was the critic who misunderstood the Buddha’s teachings. He said in his second point, “The Buddha’s teachings in the Great Nirvana Sutra were deluded because The World-Honored One [Bhagavan] could not escape the dementia of a dying man.” In other words, he judged that The World-Honored One spoke the Great Nirvana Sutra dementedly as a dying man.
When I reply to letters, I am always sincere and humble, even to accusations or interrogations. In reply to this letter, however, I took a drastically different approach—I rebuked the critic without any reservation on the first point he made. Yet, I did not have the time to answer the second point because it was more involved.
The critic said, “You maintain that Buddha-nature can be seen by the naked eye. Why did you become presbyopic after you had seen your Buddha-nature?” What a peculiar question! If it were true that seeing one’s Buddha-nature would preclude one from becoming presbyopic, then conversely elderly people could never see their Buddha-nature. Would it also follow that near-sighted people could not see their Buddha-nature? How could a person previously considered very intelligent ask such a question! Many faults are revealed in his short question because several students’ realization reports, included in my book Chan－Before and After Realization [Chan－Wu Qian Yu Wu Hou], published in 1995, confirmed that “if one sense-root can ‘see’ the Buddha-nature, all six sense-roots can.” Didn’t those reports say so?
The critic emphasized, “If you see your Buddha-nature with the naked eye, then you won’t see it with your eyes closed.” However, it is stated repeatedly in Chan－Before and After Realization that if one sense-root can “see” it, all six sense-roots can. In other words, if one’s eyes “see” the Buddha-nature, other sense-roots do too. Not only have I said that, but other fellow cultivators have also said the same in their reports. This person cannot see his Buddha-nature but uses his intellect to speculate and analyze. Based on his personal concepts, the critic attempts to disprove the fact that one can see one’s Buddha-nature.
In fact, the same critic had already raised this question when I was lecturing on The Lankavatara Sutra. He asked, “The Buddha-nature is without any image or appearance. How can you see it with the naked eye? Seeing the Buddha-nature must be a figure of speech; it is impossible to see it with the naked eye. This is not taught in any scriptures.” “It is stated in the scriptures that one can see one’s Buddha-nature with the naked eye,” I replied. “Not true!” he objected. I told him, “It is true! In Chapter Eight of the Great Nirvana Sutra, Mahakasyapa asked the Buddha, ‘the Buddha-nature is so subtle; how can one see it with the naked eye?’ The Buddha answered: ‘This is not something an ordinary person can see, much like people on Hinayana who do not know what it is like in the Heaven of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception.’” Still, he said the Buddha’s teachings were deluded and judged the Buddha: “When a person is dying, his words are demented.”
No matter how much you criticize me, I can accept it. However, if you slander the Buddha, I can never accept it. A person without any reverence for the Buddha is not qualified to learn the Buddhist doctrine, let alone to learn the Buddha’s first meaning teachings [ultimate teachings].
This critic said, “Let’s set aside the solitary Buddhas [pratyekabuddhas] of one of Hinayana. The Abhidharma states clearly that the Nothing-More-to-Learn holy beings have transcended the three realms.” (Note that the statements in the Abhidharma, which is a commentary in the Three Baskets of the Buddhist canon [tripitaka] of Hinayana, cannot be entirely taken to be true because people of Hinayana do not know the first meaning [of the dharma]. However, the teachings in the Abhidharmakosa spoken by realized bodhisattvas can be trusted.) The critic argued, “If you agree with the Buddha’s teaching that the sound-hearers [sravaka] and the solitary Buddhas do not know what the Heaven of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception is like, it is like saying that a holy being who has transcended the three realms [desire, form, and formless realms] does not know what the top heaven of the three realms is like. Isn’t it ridiculous to believe that an arhat who has transcended the three realms still does not know what the top heaven is like?” Is he wrong or am I wrong? This is a very simple problem that the critic is all confused about.
Let’s use an analogy. First of all, when a Chinese doctor practiced medicine in ancient times, he did not care what kind of bacteria was causing your diarrhea as long as the prescription medicine cured the condition. As another example, the Buddha told a story about a person shot by an arrow. All you needed to do was to pull the arrow out and put some medication on the wound. There was no need to know what kind of material the arrow was made of, what kind of bird feathers was on it, who made it, when it was made, and where it was made. Under the same logic, people on Hinayana only need to terminate their afflictions in order to transcend the three realms. Why should they need to know what the top heaven of the three realms is like? As the third example, there are two types of arhats: one is dual-liberated, and the other, wisdom-liberated. Only an dual-liberated arhat in meditation has the ability to enter the four-dhyanas-eight-samadhis [eight concentration levels]. However, unless he has also accomplished the spiritual power of travels, he still does not know what the Heaven of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception is like. Similarly, a person who in meditation can enter the fourth dhyana does not have the spiritual power to visit the Fourth Dhyana Heaven. He does not know what the Fourth Dhyana Heaven is like until he dies and is then reborn in that Heaven. An dual-liberated arhat has accomplished in meditation not only four-dhyanas-eight-samadhis but also the extinction samadhi [total suspension of sensation and perception]. However, without spiritual powers, even an dual-liberated arhat cannot visit the Heaven of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception and does not know what it is like there, let alone a wisdom-liberated arhat [who has not yet accomplished the four-dhyanas-eight-samadhis]. Consequently, people on Hinayana do not know what the Heaven of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception is like unless they have the spiritual powers to travel to that Heaven. The Buddha’s words were not wrong; it was the critic who could not comprehend them.
No one should slander the Buddha, for slandering the Buddha will result in falling down to hell. Stories tell us that even slandering the Buddha’s disciples Sariputra and Mahamaudgalyayana caused the slanderer to go to hell, not to mention the consequences of slandering the Buddha Himself. Hence, I cannot accept the way he slandered the Buddha. This is something I have never done before—replying to a letter as soon as it is received. Hoping to conclude this matter, I will have my letter sent to him as soon as it is typed because I really do not have the time to answer each and every question in his long letter. [Editorial note: Because the critic lay Buddhist Yuanlan pressed on with a second letter later on, Venerable Pings subsequently answered all of his questions in both letters, in a book Pings’ Letter—A Collection of Replies to Lay Buddhist Yuanlan, published in 1998.]
Slandering the Buddha or the dharma is unacceptable to us. We have been cultivating and doing things together for many years, mainly for the mission of carrying on the Buddha’s wisdom life. Nevertheless, a small number of people in our center act like kept rats that gnaw the bag—I have raised and fattened them but they turn around to bite me, all because they cannot become like me (being unable to see their own Buddha-nature). In no way would I tolerate people who slander the Buddha or the dharma!
Once my reply to his letter is typed, we will have its photocopies posted at various joint cultivation centers. Each teacher as well as each assistant of a class will receive a copy. Anyone who would like to have it can ask his/her teacher to make copies. After my book The Wanton versus True Secret Schools [Kuang Mi Yu Zhen Mi] is published [the fourth and last volume of Kuang Mi Yu Zhen Mi was published in August 2002], we might have the time to answer the critic’s letter again, addressing it item by item. Perhaps we might instead publish a book, to help people to have more understanding of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Tantric teachings contain many mistakes. The teachings in The Tibetan Book of the Dead cannot be trusted. It is mentioned in this book that a decedent will experience, each day after death, the manifestation of a buddha or deity, accompanied by dazzling light and thundering, roaring sounds. The Buddha is so kind in helping sentient beings. Why should He scare you with thundering sounds? The Tibetan Book of the Dead does not accord with all seed-wisdom. You can inspect this book with your all seed-wisdom and know what’s wrong in it.
Coming back to the main topic, I will now discuss the all seed-wisdom. Please look at the photocopy you have just received. What is the all seed-wisdom? It is to know the diverse functions of all seeds in Tathagatagarbha. How do you enter the First Ground? For people who have recognized their true minds (Note: Let’s not concern ourselves about seeing the Buddha-nature for now.), why do some of them enter the First Ground and others only the Seventh Stay? How can bodhisattvas who have recognized their true minds and entered the Seventh Stay enter the First Ground later?
Please take the sheet of paper just distributed to you and read the passage of the Sutra I have circled. The Sutra states: “One’s body and physical world are both manifested by Tathagatagarbha, as a manifestation that continues and changes ceaselessly from moment to moment.” This is the difference between people on Hinayana and bodhisattvas. When bodhisattvas transcend the three realms, they know the reason why, whereas people on Hinayana do not nor do they need to know the reason why. When bodhisattvas transcend the three realms, they also want to know, for benefiting sentient beings, what the three realms and twenty-eight heavens are like; people on Hinayana need not to know. This is the difference.
The Buddha spoke: “All dharmas [phenomena] are manifestations of one’s mind.” Yet, the holy beings [arhats and pratyekabuddhas] of Hinayana need not know this truth about the mind. The term “mind” is an overall concept, because the eight mind-king vijnanas [discernments] function together as one. The seven changing vijnanas belong to Tathagatagarbha and are part of its functions and characters. Tathagatagarbha [does not experience but] is responsible for taking and what is taken: cognizance is the subject and the perceived appearance is the object. Tathagatagarbha projects the external appearances and their internal images. The external appearances are objects such as the mountains, the rivers, and the earth, as well as the five sense-objects, which include sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations; the seven changing vijnanas can touch or experience the internal images, which are “images” of the five external sense-objects. Our seven changing vijnanas are the subject that can take or perceive, and the internal images are the objects taken or perceived. To summarize, it is one’s own Tathagatagarbha that projects all the objects whether they appear internally or externally, the latter including one’s body and physical environment. (Note: The mountains, the rivers, and the earth are joint projections of the Tathagatagarbhas of all related sentient beings.)
Because the internal images of the mountains, the rivers, and the earth are projected by one’s Tathagatagarbha, you have never really seen or touched them in your life.
All you have experienced is the internal images of the five sense-objects. (For details, see The Real Tathagatagarbha [Zhen Shi Ru Lai Cang] and An Exposition on The Lakavatara Sutra [Leng Jia Jing Xiang Jie] by Venerable Pings.) Let’s now turn to the cognitive functions of mind that can see, hear, feel, know, and make decisions. These cognitive functions, through experiencing the internal images, can grasp the external objects, such as the mountains, the rivers, and the earth, which are projected jointly by the Tathagatagarbhas of sentient beings who share a collective karma. In summary, one’s Tathagatagarbha manifests one’s body and all the physical objects in life, and this manifestation continues and changes ceaselessly from moment to moment.
The Buddha spoke in The Lankavatara Sutra: “All kinds of bodies with various postures move or stop moving, just like zombies propelled by the force of mantras. They are also like wooden dolls moved by some mechanical system. If you understand well these appearances, your insight is called ‘the wisdom that a person has no self’.” Those of you who have recognized your true minds can understand the meaning of the Buddha’s words; others who have mistaken something
else for realization will be baffled by these words. If you have received my validation of your realization, you can examine yourself with these words of the Buddha, and then you will know for sure whether or not your realization is genuine. No need to argue with others about your realization.
Recognizing your true mind also means you have realized that a person has no self—The physical body is not the self; cognition and awareness are not the self; even the very subtle awareness and self-reflection in the state of thoughtless meditation are not the self. All we have is a false composite appearance, not a real self in existence; all are projections of Tathagatagarbha. The Surangama Sutra declares that the perceptual faculties of seeing, hearing, etc. of the five aggregates or eighteen sense-realms come from “neither cause-and-effect nor nature.” The six sense-roots, six corresponding sense-objects, and six vijnanas as well as the perceptual faculties of seeing, hearing, etc. are not produced by cause-and-effect only, as said in the doctrine of Hinayana, nor by mother nature as claimed by the non-Buddhists; instead, all are projected by Tathagatagarbha. This realization is the “dharma-wisdom” and the “category-wisdom” of a bodhisattva at the Seventh Stay—Yet, you only know the overall appearance, which is a general understanding: “Oh, this is Tathagatagarbha!”
As an analogy, an aborigine in the African jungle does not know what an automobile is. When people describe to him, “It has four wheels, and you can drive it around,” he does not understand, but when he actually sees an automobile, what he immediately comes to know is much like the “dharma-wisdom” and the “category-wisdom” I have just mentioned. However, there are many things about the automobile: how to open and shut the windows; how to adjust the air conditioning; how to turn the steering wheel; how to fill the tank with gasoline; how to drive and stop it; how to make an automobile and repair it, etc. Knowledge of these diverse details, as an analogy, is in the domain of all seed-wisdom. The diverse aspects of “dharmas have no selves” that we need to understand are the following: what are the eight mind-king vijnanas; what are their five pervasive functions [sarvatraga], five specific associates [viniyata], eleven beneficial states [kusala], etc. [See An Essay on the Hundred Dharmas Illuminating the Door by Vasubandhu.] One’s experiential understanding of these dharmas belongs in the domain of all seed-wisdom.
Only a person who has truly recognized his true mind understands what mechanism can move a wooden doll and how a mantra can mobilize a zombie—the wisdom that a person has no self. Yet, a cultivator who has realized that a person has no self is only at the level of the Seventh Stay, according to the system of the Special School of Buddhism. On the other hand, many “great” masters claim, “Realizing or recognizing one’s true mind makes one a bodhisattva on the First Ground.” This “great” dharma master [Shengyen] who had a “Great Dialogue of the Century” (Note: as advertised in the newspaper) with the Dalai Lama said the same thing. Master Shengyen asked, “What is realization?” I’ll read you this newspaper clipping someone just gave to me. Master Shengyen answered his own question, “Contemplate a huatou [the ante-thought of a short question for Chan practice]; you continuously ask yourself a totally meaningless question.” Tell me, is huatou a meaningless question? Master Shengyen explained, “What is realization? You just keep asking yourself this question until discursive thoughts do not arise. Don’t stop asking even though you have no thoughts at all. Suddenly, the sparks of wisdom erupt, and you recognize that all your vexations and struggles come from your own stupidity. When you recognize your own stupidity, you have come to realization.” Tell me, those of you who have realized, “Is realization what master Shengyen had defined?” In this dharma-ending age, many evil masters are speaking the dharma; “evil” does not mean evil character but refers to these masters who give incorrect teachings.
Those who have broken through their contemplation [recognized their true minds] must know whether or not their realization is correct based on the passage of the Buddha’s teachings we just went over. Those who have not yet broken through do not know what those words mean, and this is normal. Do not feel bad. Wait until you break through, and then you’ll say, “How strange! The Buddha has told us very clearly. Why couldn’t I get it before?”
The Buddha spoke in The Lankavatara Sutra: “Bodhisattva Great Wisdom! What does it mean by ‘the wisdom that dharmas have no selves’? It is the understanding that the aggregates, the sense-realms, and the sense-fields are deluded configurations.” In other words, this is the wisdom that the five aggregates [skandhas], the eighteen sense-realms [dhatavahs], and the twelve sense-fields [ayatanas], by nature, cling to deluded configurations and that you cannot find in any of them a self and its belongings—both are non-existent. Also, the perceptual faculties of seeing, hearing, etc. of the five aggregates, the eighteen sense-realms, and the twelve sense-fields are conditioned upon many factors—how can there be a real self and its belongings? All of them, as the Buddha said, are “a gathering of the fettering strings of karma and thirst for life, a mutually conditioned arising.” Due to bondage of the karmic strings from the thirst and desire of the Manas vijnana [the seventh vijnana], an appearance is produced by Tathagatagarbha; actually, there isn’t a self that really can see, hear, feel, and know, nor is there a self that can create the physical world. Furthermore, the five aggregates, the eighteen sense-realms, and the twelve sense-fields do not have an indestructible appearance of their own or a common appearance.
The sound-hearer is basically attached to the appearance of a self: Even though he has validated that the appearance of a self is not found in the five aggregates, the eighteen sense-realms, or the twelve sense-fields, nor in the perceptual faculties of seeing, hearing, etc., he is fearful that he might become entangled by the appearance of a self in the next lifetime, after undergoing death and then becoming unconscious in the mother’s womb. The sound-hearer is also attached to the common appearances: I have the appearance of a self composed of five aggregates, eighteen sense-realms, and twelve sense-fields, plus the perceptual faculties of seeing, hearing, etc., and others have in common with me these appearances of selves. He is afraid of the bondage of an individual or a common appearance of a self in the next lifetime because he is attached to these appearances. That is why the sound-hearer wants to enter nirvana to avoid the bondage. In contrast, a bodhisattva who has realized that these appearances are projections of the true mind, Tathagatagarbha, will not take nirvana. Instead, he will walk the Way toward Buddhahood.
The Buddha next stated: “Deluded discrimination leads to all kinds of appearances.” Delusion comes from lack of knowledge, which leads to arbitrary discrimination of all kinds of appearances; for example, the perceptual faculties of seeing, hearing, etc. for experiencing the sense-objects which include sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations, as well as dharmas that transcend the three realms, all these are discriminations of a foolish person, a person without wisdom; these are not the teachings of a person with wisdom.
The Buddha continued: “Thus, observe that all dharmas are apart from citta [true mind], manas [mind-root], vijnana [discernment], the five dharmas, and the three self-natures [svabhabas]; this insight is called ‘the wisdom that dharmas have no selves’ of a bodhisattva, a great bodhisattva. With this wisdom, you know there are no real objects, you understand the appearances of all grounds, and then you enter the First Ground.” You can gather from this passage that you need to observe and experience the Tathagatagarbha you have realized. After realization, to acquire the all seed-wisdom taught in the Vijnana-Only School [also translated as the Citta-Only School] is to understand all the seeds contained in Tathagatagarbha and to experience them. Only then will you be convinced that all dharmas and their appearances are manifestations of Tathagatagarbha and that each of them does not have a self and its belongings. Similarly, each of the five aggregates, the eighteen sense-realms, and the twelve sense-fields does not have a self and its belongings. As you deepen your insight, you will gradually understand the five dharmas and the three self-natures, etc. With this validation of “dharmas have no selves,” you have become a holy being on the First Ground. When you cannot find a real, indestructible, self-existing self except the selfless, nirvanic Tathagatagarbha, you have accomplished a partial severance of “the attachment to dharmas’ selves,” and you have validated “patience with dharmas of no-birth” on the First Ground.
The content of realizing “dharmas have no selves” includes the five dharmas—names, appearances, discrimination, right knowledge, and true suchness [bhuta-tathata], the three self-natures, and the seven kinds of intrinsic natures [bhava-svabhava]. Also included are the seven kinds of first meaning prajna, which are not mentioned in the above passage because they are covered in chapter one of the Sutra. We have already discussed broadly these topics in the Treatise on the Establishment of Vijnana-Only, and you need to ascertain that they are true by observing your own four postures [walking, standing, sitting, and lying down] in daily life. Then, you have validated “dharmas have no selves.” Note that Tathagatagarbha really does not have a self because it does not experience seeing, hearing, perceiving, and knowing, or make decisions, for it has no self-awareness. Nevertheless, Tathagatagarbha produces the aggregates, the sense-realms, and the sense-fields, which in turn produce all other phenomena. Do all these dharmas have selves? You need to observe, verify, and know for yourself, so as not to be influenced by external objects. If you have the wisdom of “dharmas have no selves,” you will know that no objects exist outside your own mind and that all are projections of your own mind, Tathagatagarbha. When you hold your validation with unwavering endurance, it is called “patience with dharmas of no-birth,” which is required to enter the First Ground. Gradually, you will be able to validate that the one hundred dharmas [listed by Vasubandhu] have no selves, in completing your work on the First Ground. Furthermore, validation of “dharmas have no selves” on the First Ground will lead to the wisdom of the Second Ground, the Third Ground … up to the Eighth, the Ninth, and the Tenth Ground.
Do not think, “I will experience various active dharmas on the First Ground” because your progress is mainly in prajna wisdom. On the First Ground, some bodhisattvas have the wheel jewel and others do not; some can manifest a sublime reward-body [sambhogakaya] and others cannot. Why do they differ? We will clarify these things in the following illustration.
The Lankavatara Sutra we studied, which had been translated by Gunabhadra [394-468] into four chapters, is one of the three Chinese translations. The second translation the Entering Lankavatara Sutra was by Bodhiruci [years unknown], and the third translation the Mahayana Entering Lankavatara Sutra by Siksananda [652-710]. Of these three translations, the third one is the most understandable and the best translation. The first translation is close to the original meaning, but its diction is too abstruse to comprehend. If you neither have realized the truth nor know archaic Chinese well, it would be impossible to benefit from the first translation. When the third translation was completed, the emperor of the Tang Dynasty wrote a preface for the Sutra. The preface stated that the four-chapter Lankavatara Sutra translated by Gunabhadra in the year of Yuanjia was so abstruse that no one could spread the teachings; and that the second translation done in the year of Yanchang contained many errors introduced by the translator’s interpretations. Even though the Mahayana Entering Lankavatara Sutra clearly transmits the Buddha’s meanings and the other two translations fail to convey some of the meanings of the Buddha’s, I would still emphasize keeping all three translations for comparison’s sake.
It is necessary to realize or recognize your true mind, i.e., to have found Tathagatagarbha (Note: gained the dharma-wisdom and category-wisdom), before you learn all seed-wisdom. In other words, you need to know the overall appearance first, before you learn all seed-wisdom, which includes the five dharmas, the three self-natures, the seven first meanings, and the seven kinds of intrinsic natures—and you need to verify and understand their significance thoroughly. If you have, in addition, personally verified the one hundred dharmas, which are discussed in detail in the Treatise on the Establishment of Vijnana-Only, then you have “fulfilled” the First Ground. At least, you are definitely on the First Ground if you have completely absorbed my explanation of the doctrine and brought out your own holy nature by making the ten endless vows [of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra]. However, you are not yet on the First Ground, unless you have the wisdom that “dharmas have no selves” and can keep it with unwavering endurance without retrogression.
There are two kinds of attainment on the First Ground: one with blessings from the Buddhas and the other without. The Buddha spoke in The Lankavatara Sutra: “All Buddhas have two programs. In order to help a bodhisattva on the First Ground to enter the Mahayana illuminating samadhi, Buddhas from ten directions will appear to him and give him teachings.” This is the first program with blessings. The second program is for a bodhisattva who, upon completion of the Ninth Ground, is about to enter the Tenth Ground. All Buddhas will mobilize all bodhisattvas on the Ninth Ground and their innumerable entourages to congratulate this bodhisattva on entering the Tenth Ground. In addition, all Buddhas from ten directions will shower, at a distance, blessings on his crown, in order to complete the virtues he needs to enter the Tenth Ground. This kind of empowerment is truly significant, while the empowerments of Tibetan Buddhism are merely ceremonies, which are useless to your progress even if you receive one thousand of them. Do not be overwhelmed by those ceremonies. Tibetan terminologies are very attractive, and Buddhist students can easily be captivated. It is strange that no “great” Buddhist masters dare to make such a comment as I did—a sign of the dharma-ending age.
If you have a clear understanding of the truth that dharmas have no selves, as discussed in the Treatise on the Establishment of Vijnana-Only, someday when you are able to enter the Mahayana illuminating samadhi, all Buddhas from ten directions will “appear to you and give you teachings.” Their blessings have many benefits, such as giving rise to your wheel jewel and your sublime reward-body. You can then travel to hundreds of Buddha lands, see hundreds of Buddhas, and move around there. The difference between this bodhisattva and a bodhisattva also on the First Ground but without Buddha’s blessings is like that between the sky and the earth. The wisdom of a bodhisattva on the First Ground who has not received Buddha’s blessings is, nevertheless, extraordinary because he has a thorough understanding of the five dharmas, the three self-natures, and the seven intrinsic natures. Therefore, if you have also realized these dharmas after realizing your true mind, you are on the First Ground; otherwise, still at the Seventh Stay.
If you have only realized about 70 to 80 percent of these dharmas but have the courage “to break the evil doctrine and show the right one,” you have progressed to the First Transference. However, you need to have the discriminating dharma-eye to accomplish this; otherwise, you still remain at the Seventh Stay. Even though you have seen your Buddha-nature, your level is only at the Tenth Stay, and you still have the habit-driven seed-nature of a bodhisattva, not yet changed to the way-seed-nature [of a bodhisattva on the First Ground, growing on his Way to Buddhahood].
A bodhisattva who was on the First Ground in his past life was already studying the seed-wisdom in the Vijnana-Only School. Before he realizes his true mind once again in this lifetime, he may seem like an ordinary person who had undergone death followed by unconscious state in the mother’s womb. However, as soon as he realizes his true mind, he will quickly enter the First Ground, because he only needs a few years to review and experience the seed-wisdom through advanced prajna studies. The critic who wrote a letter to question me has been misled by Tibetan lamas; he does not believe in the all seed-wisdom in the Vijnana-Only School. Even though he has entered the Seventh Stay with my help, he is complacent with little knowledge, does not want to cultivate after realization, and understandably retains his habit-driven seed-nature. No wonder his habitual tendency is so strong! People who have heavy habitual tendencies are not the ones we would like to help. Even if they have realized the truth, they are very likely to retrogress without receiving any beneficial virtues. It would be best for these people to leave as soon as possible because if they remain with us, they will damage the true dharma.
All of you can examine yourselves whether or not the dharma we are transmitting is the right one. If you have received my validation of your realization, read the circled passage of the Sutra on the photocopy in your hands, and you will know for sure. If a person has realized for a long time but still has some objections to these words of the Buddha’s, I don’t know what his view-ground [the right view of a realized person] is.
When we are learning the Buddhist doctrine, we must not arbitrarily claim that we know something we actually don’t know. In the past, I did not dare to explain arbitrarily the difference in attainment between the Seventh Stay and the First Ground. Nor would I dare to give an arbitrary answer by making up some reason or accusing The World-Honored One of speaking “dementedly as a dying man.” The Buddha had His reasons for His words, some of which are beyond our understanding. If you do not fully understand the meaning of a scripture, do not slander it as false or slander the Buddha, because slandering the Buddha is a hell-bound sin.
I told the critic in my letter, “Master Hsuanhua said some outrageous things before death. Because he spoke erroneously about the first meaning, after death he has, in my vision, fallen into the unfortunate life form of a ghost or a deity [elite ghost with freedom and powers], not reborn as a human.” Master Hsuanhua did not denounce the first meaning, nor did he slander the Buddha or the scriptures; he strictly held the monastic precepts during his entire life. However, because he made a wrong interpretation on the first meaning, he has begun the regrettable life journey as a ghost or a deity. What will happen to a lay Buddhist who does not hold the precepts strictly but slanders the Buddha and the scriptures? Hence, my letter to the critic was harsh. But I also told him why I was so harsh to him as I had never done before, hoping he would understand.
As for this “great” dharma master reported in the newspaper, he arbitrarily alleged his “knowledge,” just like a fox raising its tail to show its behind. For many years, he has criticized us that we are “not the way according to the dharma,” but his criticism is completely wrong, a sign that we are in the dharma-ending age. Because someone wrote a letter to challenge me, I’ve taken the opportunity to give you encouragement today. I’ve explained to you why we must be conscientious in learning the Buddhist doctrine, and I’ve also taught you how a bodhisattva at the Seventh Stay can enter the First Ground. I hope that you will take the critic’s letter as an admonition and that you will not, due to wrong views and wrong knowledge, create the hell-bound karma by slandering the three jewels.
Now that we know how a bodhisattva at the Seventh Stay can enter the First Ground, we need to take actions to actualize our wish to enter the First Ground. Do not just do intellectual analyses. Based on the seed-wisdom we have discussed in the Treatise on the Establishment of Vijnana-Only and The Lankavatara Sutra, you must experience your realization of Tathagatagarbha, the eight mind-king vijnanas, and the one hundred dharmas in your daily activities of walking, standing, sitting, and lying down—In your activities, a lot of Buddha dharmas are worth experiencing. However, it is normal for a person who has just broken through his contemplation to have difficulties in experiencing the seed-wisdom. It would be even harder for a person who is just asking around about his true suchness [the true mind] because he has not gone through the process of contemplation in Chan practice. Because his mind is as dense as a big rock, it would be impossible for him to experience the seed-wisdom, and it would take a long, long time before he can enter the First Ground. My teaching at this point is almost useless to him. On the other hand, for those fellow cultivators who have truly realized their original minds, my teaching is an important matter, a matter of personal concern. Having heard my explanations, do you all know how a bodhisattva at the Seventh Stay can progress to the First Ground? However, in the middle of this journey [through Ten Practices and Ten Transferences], you must go through the First Transference. What a bodhisattva at the First Transference needs to practice is “to break the evil doctrine and show the true one,” and to rescue sentient beings from their view of a self. Have you started on these long-range projects? Are you still mixing mud with those who slander and oppose to the right dharma? If you are, then you are far from even passing the First Transference, not to mention entering the First Ground.
Only if you have the resolve “to break the evil doctrine and show the true one” even at the expense of your own life for the sake of making the right dharma prevail for a long time, then would it be possible for you, still at one of the three sage-levels [Ten Stays, Ten Practices, and Ten Transferences], to receive blessings from Buddhas to help you perfect the Mahayana illuminating samadhi and enter the First Ground; otherwise, it would be impossible. If a person who has never been willing to protect the ultimate meaning Buddha dharma comes here to ask for my help, it would be impossible for me to help him realize his true mind. On the other hand, for a person who has made great contributions to the ultimate meaning dharma, I would help him even though he does not ask me to—because he is a great dharma protector! Things are this way, even from the viewpoint of the Buddha. Would the Buddha give blessings for perfecting the Mahayana illuminating samadhi upon a person who from morning-till-night doubts the right dharma and damages the right dharma? Furthermore, it would be impossible for such a person to develop the wisdom “to break the evil doctrine and show the true one” required at the First Transference, not to mention entering the Mahayana illuminating samadhi. To become a bodhisattva on the First Ground, in addition to completing the advanced prajna studies I have already mentioned, you need to accomplish two more things. First, you need to subdue all habitual hindrances completely as an arhat did or even eliminate them all. Secondly, you need to kneel in front of a Buddha’s image and take the ten endless vows, which you will never abandon in your endless future lives. With these two things accomplished and with your personal experience in the advanced prajna studies taught in The Lankavatara Sutra, you will have acquired the way-seed-wisdom, activated your dharma-eye, and developed the ability to discern the faults in the teachings of various “great” masters. Then, you are reckoned as a First Ground bodhisattva.
How should you next cultivate when you are on the First Ground? What do you practice, after you have achieved a thorough understanding of the teachings in the Treatise on the Establishment of Vijnana-Only? The main practice on the First Ground is giving or generosity [dana]; ultimately you will be willing to give away even
your internal organs. Unless you have this kind of resolve, do not tell other people, “I am a First Ground bodhisattva,” lest you should become a big liar. Even though I have told you, “What the Seventh Stay is and what the First Ground is,” you should not tell anyone, “I am on the First Ground.” Sorry! I have not validated your level. If you proclaim yourself as one on the First Ground and, as a layperson, accept offerings and prostrations from other people, you are obviously not a First Ground bodhisattva. All of you need to know these principles.
I would like you to know the order of the Ten Grounds and to understand the practices you need to do after realization, but not to get attached to the term “validation of fruit [spiritual attainment].” Do not be concerned about, “What ground am I on? What is the status of this fruit? Which level of stay? Which level of practice? Which level of merit transference?” Your attachment to status is not a validation of any fruit. You need to know that the so-called validation of a fruit in Buddhism is only the right acceptance of liberation and the right unfolding of wisdom; there are no fantastic signs and no one will give you a certificate. The fruit you validate yourself is to realize that there is nothing to gain and that there are only prajna wisdom and liberation rising from your own mind. Conversely, if there is something you can gain, you won’t transcend the three realms; if there is something you can gain, it is not Mahayana prajna wisdom. Gain and attachment are not the truth that a person has no self and that dharmas have no selves. On account of the event that someone wrote me a challenging letter, I have explained to you the dharma-door [Buddhist practice] through which a realized person can progress from the Seventh Stay onto the First Ground, and I hope my explanation will help your spiritual career. I also hope that all of you will practice diligently to eliminate the habitual clinging of the Manas vijnana to a person’s self and all dharmas’ selves, so that you will bring out your holy nature, distance yourselves from your karmic birth nature [of an ordinary being], and march toward the First Ground.
Transcribed from a lecture in Chinese by Venerable Pings in July 1998 Translated into English in December 2010