On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

Jan 16 2018

The Lankavatara Sutra

The Buddha

Chapter 24

"Bodhisattvas should become adept at examining the two kinds of phenomena that have no self. And what are the two kinds of phenomena that have no self? Neither beings nor dharmas have a self.

"And what does it mean that beings have no self? The assemblage of the skandhas, the dhatus, or the ayatanas (constituents which comprise what is thought of as the individual) arises from ignorance, karma, and desire and include neither a self nor anything that belongs to a self. As the grasping and attachment of such senses as the eye to form give rise to consciousness, bodies, houses and the world of objects that are perceptions of one's own mind are fabricated and manifested from one's own projections.

"They change and disappear every moment, like a river or a seed or a candle or the wind or a cloud. Restless like a monkey, attracted to impurities like a fly, and insatiable like a windblown fire, they move like a waterwheel, through life after life and bodily form after bodily form, impelled by habit-energy without beginning, like figures produced by some sort of magic trick or spell or mechanical device.

"To be skilled in the knowledge of such appearances means to know that beings have no self.

"And what does it mean that dharmas have no self? It means to be aware that the self-existence of the skandhas, dhatus, and ayatanas is imaginery, that the skandhas, dhatus, and ayatanas are assemblages tied to desire and karma, and that they arise from the interplay of conditions but are themselves passive, and that all dharmas are like this.

"Through the power of imagination, fools give rise to erroneous projections devoid of individual or shared characteristics, but not the wise, because they transcend the mind, the will, and consciousness, the five dharmas, and the modes of reality.

"Mahamati, bodhisattvas should become adept at seeing no self in anything at all. Bodhisattvas who become adept at seeing no self in dharmas soon gain an insight into the freedom from projections that characterizes the initial bodhisattva stage, and they delight in examining the characteristics of such awareness."

Chapter 30

Thinking about beings in future ages, Mahamati asked the Buddha, "Bhagavan, please tell us about the practices of realization whereby bodhisattvas become great practitioners."

The Buddha told Mahamati, "There are four practices the mastery of which enables bodhisattvas to become great practitioners. And which four?

Becoming adept at distinguishing the perceptions of one's own mind, perceiving the nonexistence of external existence, avoiding views of arising, duration, and cessation, and delighting in the personal realization of buddha knowledge. These are the four practices the mastery of which enables bodhisattvas to become great practitioners.

"And how do bodhisattvas become adept at distinguishing the perceptions of their own mind? They regard the three realms like this: as merely distinctions of the mind, devoid of self or what belongs to a self, as motionless and free from coming or going, the result of the habit-energy of erroneous fabrications without beginning, and the various forms and phenomena of the three realms involving their body, their possessions, and the world around them as perceptions of those fabrications. This is how bodhisattvas become adept at distinguishing the perceptions of their own minds.

"And how do bodhisattvas become adept at perceiving the nonexistence of external existence? Since everything is a dream or mirage, they regard the self-existence of everything that exists as the result of the habit-energy of erroneous projections without beginning. This is how bodhisattvas become adept at perceiving the nonexistence of external existence.

"And how do bodhisattvas beome adept at avoiding views of arising, duration, and cessation? Since whatever exists is like an illusion or a dream and its existence does not arise from itself, from another, or from a combination of both, but is a distincion of one's own mind, they therefore see external existence as nonexistent, consciousness as not arising, and conditions as not combining but arising due to projections.

"When they see that all internal or external dharmas in the three realms cannot be grasped and are devoid of self-existence, their views of arising cease. And once they know that the self-existence of everything is illusory, they attain the forbearance of non-arising. Once they attain the forbearance of non-arising, they avoid views of arising, duration, and cessation. This is how bodhisattvas become adept at distinguishing and avoiding views of arising, duration and cessation.

"And how do bodhisattvas become adept at delighting in the personal realization of buddha knowledge? Upon attaining the forbearance of non-arising, they dwell in the eighth stage of the bodhisattva path, where they are able to transcend characteristics of the mind, will and consciousness, the five dharmas, the modes of reality, and the two kinds of no-self, and where they acquire a projection body."

Mahamati asked the Buddha, "Bhagavan, why is it called a projection body?"

The Buddha replied, "Mahamati, the reason it is called a projection body is because it travels quickly and without obstructions, like a thought. Thoughts travel to other places countless leagues away unobstructed by rock walls because of the memory of something experienced in the past.

"And they arise without interrupting the functioning of one's mind or interfering with one's body. Mahamati, such projection bodies are acquired at one and the same time. Endowed with higher powers and spiritual masteries obtained in the Samadhi of the Illusory, the different projection bodies of bodhisattvas appear simultaneously, like unobstructed projections, in whatever realms they recall having vowed to bring those beings to perfection who delight in the personal realization of buddha knowledge.

"These are the four practices the mastery of which enables bodhisattvas to become great practitioners and to which you should devote yourselves."

The Buddha

 

Notes to Sanskrit terms used:

Skandhas- These refer to the constituents that comprise what is thought of as the individual. They include form (external), sensation, perception, memory, and consciousness (internal).

Dhatus – The six sensory powers, the six sensory domains, and the six forms of consciousness that arise from their conjunction.

Ayatanas – These include the five powers of sensation and the five domains of sensation along with the sixth power of the mind and its corresponding domain of thought.

Elana

Thinking about beings in future ages, Mahamati asked the Buddha, "Bhagavan, please tell us about the practices of realization whereby bodhisattvas become great practitioners."

That would be us he is referring to....the beings in future ages that are trying to find the way and then to find reputable teachers to guide us authentically on our journey. In the midst of countless interpretations of the sutras through the ages, how many practitioners actually read them first hand?

There are difficulties which rely on the faithfulness of the translators themselves and then the emphasis contemporary schools place on different aspects of Buddhism that create the unique flavor of each school.

When you go back to the texts yourselves without any middle person interpreting the sutras, you are left to your own spiritual eye and its development to perceive first hand. And it is important that we do make the effort as the teaching once again can then become a kind of direct pointing.

The Lankavatara Sutra is said to have been the only sutra Bodhidharma passed to his successor, Hui-k'o, telling him it included everything he would need to know about Zen. So, naturally, with that recommendation to go on, we also should have a try at reading it. Not to imply that it is easy reading. There are stylistic barriers and spiritual concepts that take a true leap for us. Even if you don't "get" the message or feel like it is just way too "out there" to ever actualize, it provides seeds that can develop over time.

Honoring the beings in future ages,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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