Q: Does the Buddha really liberate sentient beings?
A: There are in reality no sentient beings to be delivered by the Tathagata. If even self has no objective existence, how much less has other-than-self! Thus neither Buddha nor sentient beings exist objectively.
Q: Yet it is recorded that “Whosoever possesses the thirty-two characteristic signs of a Buddha is able to deliver sentient beings. How can you deny it?
A: Anything possessing ANY signs is illusory. It is by perceiving that all signs are no signs that you perceive the Tathagata. “Buddha” and “sentient beings” are both your own false conceptions. It is because you do not know real Mind that you delude yourselves with objective concepts. If you will conceive of a Buddha, you will be obstructed by that Buddha!!
And when you conceive of sentient beings, you will be obstructed by those beings. All such dualistic concepts as “ignorant” and “Enlightened,” pure and impure, are obstructions. It is because your minds are hindered by them that the Wheel of the Law must be turned.
Just as apes spend their time throwing things away and picking them up again unceasingly, so it is with you and your learning. All you need is to give up your “learning,” your “ignorant” and “Enlightened,” pure and impure, great and little, your “attachment” and “activity.” Such things are mere conveniences, mere ornaments within the One Mind. I hear you have studied the sutras of the twelve divisions of the Three Vehicles. They are all mere empirical concepts. Really you must give them up!
So just discard all you have acquired as being no better than a bed spread for you when you are sick. Only when you have abandoned all perceptions, there being nothing objective to perceive; only when phenomena obstruct you no longer; only when you have rid yourself of the whole gamut of dualistic concepts of the “ignorant” and “enlightened” category, will you at last earn the title of Transcendental Buddha. Therefore it is written:
“Your prostrations are in vain. Put no faith in such ceremonies. Let go of such false beliefs.”
Since Mind knows no divisions into separate entities, phenomena must be equally undifferentiated. Since Mind is above all activities, so must it be with phenomena. Every phenomenon that exists is a creation of thought; therefore I need but empty my mind to discover that all of them are void.
It is the same with all sense objects, no matter which of the myriads of categories they belong. The entire void stretching out in all directions is of one substance with Mind; and since Mind is fundamentally undifferentiated, so must it be with everything else. Different entities appear to you only because your perceptions differ, just as colors of the precious delicacies eaten by the Devas are said to differ in accordance with the individual merits of the Devas eating them!
Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi is a name for the realization that the Buddhas of the whole universe do not in fact possess the smallest perceptible attribute. There exists just the One Mind. Truly there are no multiplicity of forms, no Celestial Brilliance, and no Glorious Victory over samsara or submission to the Victor. Since no Glorious Victory was ever won, there can be no such formal entity as a Buddha; and, since no submission ever took place, there can be no such formal entities as sentient beings.
Q: Even though Mind is formless, how can you deny the existence of the Thirty-Two Characteristic Signs of a Buddha, or of the Eighty Excellencies whereby people have been ferried over?
A: The Thirty-Two Signs are signs, and whatever has form is illusory. The Eighty Excellencies belong to the sphere of matter; but whoever perceives a self in matter is traveling the wrong path; they cannot comprehend the Tathagata thus.
Excerpted from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po-On the Transmission of Mind Trans by John Blofeld 1958
With this continuation of Huang-po we join a group of seasoned practitioners asking questions. These are monks and nuns that have read many scriptures and chanted sutras but still have not broken through as can be seen by the questions. In Buddhism there are many teachings to enable people of varying abilities to study. One has to entertain many perspectives to read some of these teachings. One can be bewildered as a beginner might be hearing things so “advanced” that most of it flies over one's head. Or one can be a well-studied wayfarer holding onto dogma and practices that one has become attached to as a Way to Enlightenment.
The best approach to reading any of these writings is to bring an open mind, the one thing Dogen said he brought back from China, flexible mind or open mind. To hear freshly without holding onto ideas from the past coloring the present, is a consummate art of living and the mark of a seasoned student of the Way.
May the year ahead bring us opportunities to flow with the present unfolding! May our Way be clear and our lives stay balanced around the middle way.
With renewed commitment,
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen