Q: What is a sudden illumination?
A: ‘Sudden’ means ridding yourselves of deluded thoughts’ instantaneously. ‘Illumination’ means the realization that illumination is not something to be attained.
Q: From where do we start this practice?
A: You must start from the very root.
Q: And what is that?
A: Mind is the root.
Q: How can this be known?
A: The Lankavatara Sutra says: ‘When mental processes (hsin) arise, then do all dharmas (phenomena) spring forth; and when mental processes cease, then do all dharmas cease likewise.’ The Vimalakirti Sutra says:
‘Those desiring to attain the Pure Land’ must first purify their own minds, for the purification of mind is the purity of the Buddha Land. The Sutra (of the Doctrine Bequeathed by the Buddha) says: just by mind control, all things become possible to us.’ In another sutra it says: ‘Sages seek from mind, not from the Buddha; fools seek from the Buddha instead of seeking from mind. Wise men regulate their minds rather than their persons; fools regulate their persons rather than their minds.’ The Sutra of the Names of the Buddha states: ‘Evil springs forth from the mind, and by the mind is evil overcome.’ Thus, we may know that all good and evil proceed from our minds and that mind is therefore the root. If you desire deliverance, you must first know all about the root. Unless you can penetrate to this truth, all your efforts will be vain; for, while you are still seeking something from forms external to yourselves, you will never attain. The Dhyanaparamita Sutra says:
‘For as long as you direct your search to the forms around you, you will not attain your goal even after aeon upon aeon; whereas, by contemplating your inner awareness, you can achieve Buddhahood in a single flash of thought.’ Q: By what means is the root-practice to be performed? A: Only by sitting in meditation, for it is accomplished by dhyana (ch’an) and samadhi (ting). The Dhyana-paramita Sutra says: ‘Dhyana and samadhi are essential to the search for the sacred knowledge of the Buddhas; for, without these, the thoughts remain in tumult and the roots of goodness suffer damage.’
Q: Please describe dhyana and samadhi.
A: When wrong thinking ceases, that is dhyana; when you sit contemplating your original nature,6 that is samadhi, for indeed that original nature is your eternal mind. By samadhi, you withdraw your minds from their surroundings, thereby making them impervious to the eight winds, that is to say, impervious to gain and loss, calumny and eulogy, praise and blame, sorrow and joy. By concentrating in this way, even ordinary people may enter the state of Buddhahood. How can that be so? The Sutra of the bodbi-sattva-Precepts says: ‘All beings who observe the Buddha-precept thereby enter Buddhahood.’ Other names for this are ‘deliverance’, ‘gaining the further shore’, ‘transcending the six states of mortal being ‘overleaping the three worlds’,’ or becoming a mighty Bodhisattva, an omnipotent sage, a conqueror’!
3.Q: Whereon should the mind settle and dwell?
A: It should settle upon nondwelling and there dwell.
Q: What is this nondwelling?
A: It means not allowing the mind to dwell upon any-thing whatsoever.
Q: And what is the meaning of that?
A: Dwelling upon nothing means that the mind is not fixed upon good or evil, being or nonbeing, inside or outside, or somewhere between the two, void or nonvoid, concentration or distraction. This dwelling upon nothing is the state in which it should dwell; those who attain to it are said to have nondwelling minds - in other words, they have Buddha-minds!...
5.Q: There is a sutra which says that not to perceive anything in terms of being or nonbeing is true deliverance. What does it mean?
A: When we attain to purity of mind, that is something which can be said to exist. When this happens, our remaining free from any thought of achievement is called ‘not perceiving anything as existent’; while reaching the state in which no thoughts arise or persist, yet without being conscious of their absence, is called ‘not perceiving anything as nonexistent’. So it is written: ‘Not to perceive anything in terms of being and nonbeing,’ etc. The Shuran-gama Sutra says: ‘Perceptions employed as a base for building up positive concepts are the origin of all ignorance (avidya);" perception that there is nothing to perceive - that is nirvana, also known as deliverance.’
6.Q: What is the meaning of ‘nothing to perceive’?
A: Being able to behold men, women and all the various sorts of appearances while remaining as free from love or aversion as if they were actually not seen at all - that is what is meant by ‘nothing to perceive’. Q: That which occurs when we are confronted by all sorts of shapes and forms is called ‘perception’. Can we speak of perception taking place when nothing confronts us?
Q: When something confronts us, it follows that we perceive it, but how can there be perception when we are confronted by nothing at all?
A: We are now talking of that perception which is independent of there being an object or not. How can that be? The nature of perception being eternal, we go on perceiving whether objects are present or not." Thereby we come to understand that, whereas objects naturally appear and disappear, the nature of perception does neither of those things; and it is the same with all your other senses.
Q: When we are looking at something, does the thing looked at exist objectively within the sphere of perception or not?
A: No, it does not.
Q: When we (look around and) do not see anything, is there an absence of something objective within the sphere of perception?
A: No, there is not.
7.Q: When there are sounds, hearing occurs. When there are no sounds, does hearing persist or not? A: It does.
Q: When there are sounds it follows that we hear them, but how can hearing take place during the absence of sound?
A: We are now talking of that hearing which is independent of there being any sound or not. How can that be? The nature of hearing being eternal, we continue to hear whether sounds are present or not.
Q: if that is so, who or what is the hearer?
A: It is your own nature which hears and it is the inner cognizer who knows.
Q: As to the gateway of sudden illumination, what are its doctrine, its aim, its substance and its function?" A: To refrain from thinking (nien) is its doctrine; not to allow wrong thoughts to arise is its aim; purity is its substance, and wisdom is its function.
Q: We have said that its doctrine is to refrain from thinking, but we have not yet examined the meaning of this term. What is it that we must refrain from thinking about?
A: It means that we must refrain from wrong thinking, but not from right thinking.
Q: What are wrong thinking and right thinking? A: Thinking in terms of being and nonbeing is called ‘wrong thinking’, while not thinking in those terms is called ,right thinking’. Similarly, thinking in terms of good and evil is wrong; not to think so is right thinking. The same applies to all the other categories of opposites - sorrow and joy, beginning and end, acceptance and rejection, dislikes and likes, aversion and love, all of which are called ‘wrong thinking’, while to abstain from thinking in those categories is called ‘right thinking’.
Q: Please define ‘right thinking’ (more positively).
A: It means thinking solely of bodhi (enlightenment).
Q: Is bodhi something tangible?
A: It is not.
Q: But how can we think solely of bodhi if it is intangible?
A: It is as though bodhi were a mere name applied to something which, in fact, is intangible, something which never has been nor ever will be attained. Being intangible, it cannot be thought about, and it is just this not thinking about it which is called ‘rightly thinking of bodhi as some-thing not to be thought about’- for this implies that your mind dwells upon nothing whatsoever. The term ‘not to be thought about’ is like the various kinds of not-thinking mentioned earlier, all of which are but names convenient for use in certain circumstances - all are of the one sub-stance in which no differences or diversities exist. Simply to be conscious of mind as resting upon nothing what-soever is to be without thought; and whoever reaches this state is naturally delivered.
8.Q: What is the meaning of ‘to act as the Buddhas do’?
A: It means total abstention from action, which is also termed ‘right’ or ‘holy’ action. It is very similar to what we were talking about before, for it means not acting as if things really are or are not, and not acting from motives of aversion, love and all the rest. The Great Canon (...the Monastic Rules says: ‘The sages do not act like other beings; nor do other beings act like the sages.)
To be continued....