The Demons of Volition

demon of volition

“Ananda, when the good person who is cultivating samadhi has put an end to the thinking skandha, he is ordinarily free of dreaming and idle thinking, so he stays the same whether in wakefulness or in sleep. His mind is aware, clear, empty, and still, like a cloudless sky, devoid of any coarse sense impressions. He contemplates everything in the world – the mountains, the rivers, and the earth – as reflections in a mirror, appearing without attachment and vanishing without any trace; they are simply received and reflected. He does away with all his old habits, and only the essential truth remains.

“From this point on, as the origin of production and destruction is exposed, he will completely see all the twelve categories of living beings in the ten directions. Although he has not fathomed the source of their individual lives, he will see that they share a common basis of life, which appears as a mirage – shimmering and fluctuating – and is the ultimate, pivotal point of the illusory sense faculties and sense objects. This is the region of the formations skandha.

“Once the basic nature of this shimmering fluctuation returns to its original clarity, his habits will cease, like waves subsiding to become clear, calm water. This is the end of the formations skandha. This person will then be able to transcend the turbidity of living beings. Contemplating the cause of the formations skandha, one sees that subtle and hidden false thoughts are its source.

According to the Surangama Sutra, as each consecutive skandha is bypassed in Deep Samadhis, their effects are lessened. After successfully transcending the Skandha of Cognition, the practitioner is no longer held spellbound to their bewitching effects; all passing images in the Mind’s Eye are now seen as passing shadows across the True Face of the Unborn Essence. Old mental habits as well are diluted when one remains faithful to their Daily Samadhic Schedule. One now is vividly aware of the common-link of the Twelve strings of Dependent Origination that is shared by all sentient beings; he observes them as if from high above the earth, like a distant space-ship deep in the heart of space. When becoming aware of the Skandha of Volition, one notices that it can be likened unto “ripples on the face of water”; whereas the prior Cognitive Skandhic filaments were more like a “raging torrent”. However, one is not yet freed from the effects of the ripples across the Unmoving Deathless Face of Suchness. The forthcoming demons encountered here are the “subtle vexations” emanating from the practitioners own mind. This is the nature of volition itself: one’s former and present karmic presuppositions impels one to “react” to passing phenomena; the subtle demons themselves are certain bundles of habitual associations that are hard-wired into this skandha as it perceives phenomena and afterwards makes preconceived judgments about it. Oftentimes those judgments are far off the mark of what really constitutes what is passing by the Mind’s Eye; essentially they are all sunya—empty of Substance, just mere bouncing-echoes of defiled garbha that produces an irritation, like a pesky mosquito hovering about the ear. Essentially, this is all reflective of the activation of Manas—or the individuating consciousness. The Manas is the real Devil since it is the direct source of the individuations that lead to false-reasoning.

[1] “Ananda, you should know that when the good person has obtained proper knowledge in his practice of shamatha, his mind is unmoving, clear, and proper, and it cannot be disturbed by the ten kinds of demons from the heavens. He is now able to intently and thoroughly investigate the origin of all categories of beings. As the origin of each category becomes apparent, he can contemplate the source of the subtle, fleeting, and pervasive fluctuation. But if he begins to speculate on that pervasive source, he could fall into error with two theories of the absence of cause.

“First perhaps this person sees no cause for the origin of life. Why? Since he has completely destroyed the mechanism of production, he can, by means of the eight hundred merits of the eye organ, see all beings in the swirling flow of karma during eighty thousand eons, dying in one place and being reborn in another as they undergo transmigration. But he cannot see beyond eighty thousand eons.

“Therefore, he concludes that for the last eighty thousand eons living beings in the ten directions of this and other worlds have come into being without any cause.

“Because of this speculation, he will lose proper and pervasive knowledge, fall into externalism, and become confused about the Bodhi nature.

“Second, perhaps this person sees no cause for the end of life. And why? Since he perceives the origin of life, he believes that people are always born as people and birds are always born as birds; that crows have always been black and swans have always been white; that humans and gods have always stood upright and animals have always walked on four legs; that whiteness does not come from being washed and blackness does not come from being dyed; and that there have never been nor will there be any changes for eighty thousand eons.

“He says, `As I now examine to the end of this life, I find the same holds true. In fact, I have never seen Bodhi, so how can there be such a thing as the attainment of Bodhi? You should now realize that there is no cause for the existence of any phenomena.’

“Because of this speculation, he will lose proper and pervasive knowledge, fall into externalism, and become confused about the Bodhi nature.

“This is the first external teaching, which postulates the absence of cause.

The subtle Demon of Externalism is at work in this instance. This is likened unto the Materialist who “measures phenomena” with a mere sensory apparatus. The Materialist considers “real” only what can be sensorily quantified. If the Materialist cannot see and measure and thus quantify as phenomenally-real, then it doesn’t exist. That’s why Materialists have such difficulty coming to terms with those Realities that are beyond sensorial detection, like Spirit, and as referenced here, Bodhi. One cannot quantifiably measure Bodhi-nature. IT defies material-detection. ITs nature is Imageless (empty of all phenomenally diseased attributes) and thus cannot be materially detected. It can only be “discerned” through the higher Spiritual Faculties, which are like Darkness to the senses.

[2] “Ananda, in his practice of samadhi, the good person’s mind is unmoving, clear, and proper and can no longer be disturbed by demons. He can thoroughly investigate the origin of all categories of beings and contemplate the source of the subtle, fleeting, and constant fluctuation. But if he begins to speculate on its pervasive constancy, he could fall into error with four theories of pervasive permanence.

“First, as this person thoroughly investigates the mind and its states, he may conclude that both are causeless. Through his cultivation, he knows that in twenty thousand eons, as beings in the ten directions undergo endless rounds of birth and death, they are never annihilated. Therefore, he speculates that the mind and its states are permanent.

“Second, as this person thoroughly investigates the source of the four elements, he may conclude that they are permanent in nature. Through his cultivation, he knows that in forty thousand eons, as living beings in the ten directions undergo births and deaths, their substances exist permanently and are never annihilated. Therefore, he speculates that this situation is permanent.

“Third, as this person thoroughly investigates the sixth sense faculty, the manas, and the consciousness that grasps and receives, he concludes that the origin of mind, intellect, and consciousness is permanent. Through his cultivation, he knows that in eighty thousand eons, as all living beings in the ten directions revolve in transmigration, this origin is never destroyed and exists permanently. Investigating this undestroyed origin, he speculates that it is permanent.

“Fourth, since this person has ended the source of thoughts, there is no more reason for them to arise. In the state of flowing, halting, and turning, the thinking mind – which was the cause of production and destruction – has now ceased forever, and so he naturally thinks that this is a state of non-production and non-destruction. As a result of such reasoning, he speculates that this state is permanent.

“Because of these speculations of permanence, he will lose proper and pervasive knowledge, fall into externalism, and become confused about the Bodhi nature. This is the second external teaching, which postulates pervasive permanence.

An excellent appraisal of the subtle Demon of Eternalism: the Demon impinges upon one’s innate-mind ability to discern the “transient-nature” of phenomena. It therefore wrongly asserts that the primary elements (earth, air, water, and fire) are everlasting—Eternally Recurrent in nature and therefore constitutes a state of permanency. The Manas also wrongly assumes that the seeds in the Alayavijnana (8th Consciousness, or the Storehouse Consciousness) are eternal in nature and cannot be superceded….once again an “Eternal-Recurrence” that can never be resolved but just hopelessly endured. The Demon also lulls the practitioner into a false sense of assurance that since the Thought Skandha has been upended, that its influence is “forever” annulled. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the practitioner has overcome its effects, it has not been totally dismantled. The skandha remains dormant, like a virus, but under the right samsaric conditions it could once again be triggered and its effects felt.

[3] “Further, in his practice of samadhi, the good person’s mind is firm, unmoving, and proper and can no longer be disturbed by demons. He can thoroughly investigate the origin of all categories of beings and contemplate the source of the subtle, fleeting, and constant fluctuation. But if he begins to speculate about self and others, he could fall into error with theories of partial impermanence and partial permanence based on four distorted views.

“First, as this person contemplates the wonderfully bright mind pervading the ten directions, he concludes that this state of profound stillness is the ultimate spiritual self. Then he speculates, `My spiritual self, which is settled, bright and unmoving, pervades the ten directions. All living beings are within my mind, and there they are born and die by themselves. Therefore, my mind is permanent while those who undergo birth and death there are truly impermanent.’

“Second, instead of contemplating his own mind, this person contemplates in the ten directions worlds as many as the Ganges’ sands. He regards as ultimately impermanent those worlds that are in eons of decay, and as ultimately permanent those that are not in eons of decay.

“Third, this person closely examines his own mind and finds it to be subtle and mysterious, like fine motes of dust swirling in the ten directions, unchanging in nature. And yet it can cause his body to be born and then to die. He regards that indestructible nature as his permanent intrinsic nature, and that which undergoes birth and death and flows forth from him as impermanent.

“Fourth, knowing that the skandha of thinking has ended and seeing the flowing of the skandha of formations, this person speculates that the continuous flow of the skandha of formations is permanent, and that the skandhas of form, feeling, and thinking which have already ended are impermanent.

Because of these speculations of impermanence and permanence, he will fall into externalism and become confused about the Bodhi nature. This is the third external teaching, which postulates partial permanence.

The subtle Demon of Transcendentalism holds sway over such a mind: smug in the belief that it is perfect and complete, the Ego-self assumes itself to be Paramount in Stature—it alone is permanent, while all other transient aspect of impermanent phenomena swirl around it like a satellite. This IS NOT the Undivided-Self-Same Unborn Mind of the Tathagatas, but an imposter—the Manas run amok in the fever of vijananic-frenzy.

[4] “Further, in his practice of samadhi, the good person’s mind is firm, unmoving, and proper and can no longer be disturbed by demons. He can thoroughly investigate the origin of all categories of beings and contemplate the source of the subtle, fleeting, and constant fluctuation. But if he begins to speculate about the making of certain distinctions, he could fall into error with four theories of finiteness.

“First, this person speculates that the origin of life flows and functions ceaselessly. He judges that the past and the future are finite and that the continuity of the mind is infinite.

“Second, as this person contemplates an interval of eighty thousand eons, he can see living beings; but earlier than eighty thousand eons is a time of stillness in which he cannot hear or see anything. He regards as infinite that time in which nothing is heard or seen, and as finite that interval in which living beings are seen to exist.

“Third, this person speculates that his own pervasive knowledge is infinite and that all other people appear within his awareness. And yet, since he himself has never perceived the nature of their awareness, he says they have not obtained an infinite mind, but have only a finite one.

“Fourth, this person thoroughly investigates the formations skandha to the point that it becomes empty. Based on what he sees, in his mind he speculates that each and every living being, in its given body, is half living and half dead. From this he concludes that everything in the world is half finite and half infinite.

“Because of these speculations about the finite and the infinite, he will fall into externalism and become confused about the Bodhi nature. This is the fourth external teaching, which postulates finiteness.

What is stated here exposes the subtle Demon of Continuity. All that is, is just an ebb and flow of finite exposures of sentient-based formalities against the backdrop of an infinitesimal “awareness-presence” that alone is omnipresent. Neo-Transcendentalists like Eckhart Tolle fall under this category. “The Power of the Present Moment” is their one persistent and Infinite thread of continuity that subsists alone amidst the finite sea of churning sentient misery; yet, in effect, the ever-present continuity of the “now-moment” creates a needless bifurcation…an endless “string of nows” strung along the imageless path of Noble Wisdom.

[5] “Further, in his practice of samadhi, the good person’s mind is firm, unmoving, and proper and can no longer be disturbed by demons. He can thoroughly investigate the origin of all categories of beings and contemplate the source of the subtle, fleeting, and constant fluctuation. But if he begins to speculate on what he knows and sees, he could fall into error with four distorted, false theories, which are total speculation based on the sophistry of immortality.

“First, this person contemplates the source of transformations. Seeing the movement and flow, he says there is change. Seeing the continuity, he says there is constancy. Where he can perceive something, he says there is production. Where he cannot perceive anything, he says there is destruction. He says that the unbroken continuity of causes is increasing and that the pauses within the continuity are decreasing. He says that the arising of all things is existence and that the perishing of all things is nonexistence. The light of reason shows that his application of mind has led to inconsistent views. If someone comes to seek the Dharma, asking about its meaning, he replies, `I am both alive and dead, both existent and nonexistent, both increasing and decreasing.’ He always speaks in a confusing way, causing that person to forget what he was going to say.

“Second, this person attentively contemplates his mind and finds that everything is nonexistent. He has a realization based on nonexistence. When anyone comes to ask him questions, he replies with only one word. He only says `No.’ Aside from saying `no,’ he does not speak.

“Third, this person attentively contemplates his mind and finds that everything is existent. He has a realization based on existence. When anyone comes to ask him questions, he replies with only one word. He only says `Yes.’ Aside from saying `yes,’ he does not speak.

“Fourth, this person perceives both existence and nonexistence. Experiencing this branching, his mind becomes confused. When anyone comes to ask questions, he tells them, `Existence is also nonexistence. But within nonexistence there is no existence.’ It is all sophistry and does not stand up under scrutiny.

“Because of these speculations, which are empty sophistries, he will fall into externalism and become confused about the Bodhi nature. This is the fifth external teaching, which postulates four distorted, false theories that are total speculation based on the sophistry of immortality.

Perhaps the best analysis of this section comes from Hui-neng:

“In the teaching of the heretics, non-existence means the ‘end’ of existence, while existence is used in contrast with non-existence. What they mean by ‘non-existence’ is not actual annihilation, and what they mean by ‘existence’ really does not exist. What I mean by ‘beyond existence and non-existence’ is this: intrinsically it exists not, and at the present moment it is not annihilated. Such is the difference between my teaching and the teaching of the heretics. If you wish to know the essentials of my teaching, you should free yourself from all thought–good ones as well as bad ones–then your mind will be in a state of purity, ever calm and serene, the usefulness of which will be as apparent as the sands of the Ganges.” (Sutra of Hui-neng, from the chapter on Royal Patronage)

The source of the heresy in this passage is a subtle Demon of Sophistry. Here it deceives the practitioner into believing that immortality consists of both existential and non-existential elements. The Source behind the Element of Truth is neti, neti (neither this nor that) and thus Empty of all dualistic predications.

[6] “Further, in his practice of samadhi, the good person’s mind is firm, unmoving, and proper and can no longer be disturbed by demons. He can thoroughly investigate the origin of all categories of beings and contemplate the source of the subtle, fleeting, and constant fluctuation. But if he begins to speculate on the endless flow, he could fall into error with the confused idea that forms exist after death.

“He may strongly identify with his body and say that form is himself; or he may see himself as perfectly encompassing all worlds and say that he contains form; or he may perceive all external conditions as contingent upon himself and say that form belongs to him; or he may decide that he relies on the continuity of the formations skandha and say that he is within form.

“In all of these speculations, he says that forms exist after death. Expanding the idea, he comes up with sixteen cases of the existence of forms.

“Then he may speculate that afflictions are always afflictions, and Bodhi is always Bodhi, and the two exist side by side without contradicting each other.

“Because of these speculations about what exists after death, he will fall into externalism and become confused about the Bodhi nature. This is the sixth external teaching, which postulates confused theories of the existence of forms after death in the realm of the five skandhas.

Becoming self-identified with the least particle of phenomena is tantamount to worshipping the subtle Demon of Autolatry: everything is self and the self IS everything. This is akin to Pantheism, but in place of God or the Supreme Being, the false-distinguishing self-ego (i.e., Manas) is substituted. Under this scenario even death itself is dependent upon some form of continual skandhic manifestation.

[7] Further, in his practice of samadhi, the good person’s mind is firm, unmoving, and proper, and can no longer be disturbed by demons. He can thoroughly investigate the origin of all categories of beings and contemplate the source of the subtle, fleeting, and constant fluctuation. But if he begins to speculate on the skandhas of form, feeling, and thinking, which have already ended, he could fall into error with the confused idea that forms do not exist after death.

“Seeing that his form is gone, his physical shape seems to lack a cause. As he contemplates the absence of thought, there is nothing to which his mind can become attached. Knowing that his feelings are gone, he has no further involvements. Those skandhas have vanished. Although there is still some coming into being, there is no feeling or thought, and he concludes that he is like grass or wood.

“Since those qualities do not exist at present how can there be any existence of forms after death? Because of his examinations and comparisons, he decides that after death there is no existence. Expanding the idea, he comes up with eight cases of the nonexistence of forms.

“From that, he may speculate that Nirvana and cause and effect are all empty, that they are mere names and ultimately do not exist.

“Because of those speculations that forms do not exist after death, he will fall into externalism and become confused about the Bodhi nature. This is the seventh external teaching, which postulates confused theories of the nonexistence of forms after death in the realm of the five skandhas.

All orchestrated by the subtle Demon of Solipsism: No-thing exists outside the five-skandhas that constitute the ego-self. Empty of skandhic attributes nirvana itself is meaningless according to this mindset.

[8] “Further, in his practice of samadhi, the good person’s mind is firm, unmoving, and proper and can no longer be disturbed by demons. He can thoroughly investigate the origin of all categories of beings and contemplate the source of the subtle, fleeting, and constant fluctuation. In this state where the skandha of formations remains, but the skandhas of feeling and thinking are gone, if he begins to speculate that there is both existence and nonexistence, thus contradicting himself, he could fall into error with confused theories that deny both existence and nonexistence after death.

“Regarding form, feeling, and thinking, he sees that existence is not really existence. Within the flow of the formations skandha, he sees that nonexistence is not really nonexistence.

“Considering back and forth in this way, he thoroughly investigates the realms of these skandhas and derives an eightfold negation of forms. No matter which skandha is mentioned, he says that after death, it neither exists nor does not exist.

“Further, because he speculates that all formations are changing in nature, an `insight’ flashes through his mind, leading him to deny both existence and nonexistence. He cannot determine what is unreal and what is real.

“Because of these speculations that deny both existence and nonexistence after death, the future is murky to him and he cannot say anything about it. Therefore, he will fall into externalism and become confused about the Bodhi nature. This is the eighth external teaching, which postulates confused theories that deny both existence and nonexistence after death in the realm of the five skandhas.

The contradictory nature of the problem of speculating for “both existence and non-existence”, or “neither existence nor nonexistence” is representative of the “four extremes”. Thus, speculating and eventually embracing the four extremes one is no longer adhering to the “Middle-Way” that transcends all oppositional declarations concerning existence. In this scenario one is still held spellbound by the subtle Demon of Conventionality, since purely excessive conventional reasoning only leads downhill into an endless quagmire. Far and beyond all this, one in Deep Samadhis ought to realize by now that “conventional reality” needs to be dropped, as Dharmakayic Reality is the major player on the scene. The Realm of Dharmadhatu eradicates the conventional “four extremes” with a single blow. There is no longer any need for predication of any kind, since the Undivided Dharma-Realm transcends all modes of conception.

[9] “Further, in his practice of samadhi, the good person’s mind is firm, unmoving, and proper and can no longer be disturbed by demons. He can thoroughly investigate the origin of all categories of beings and contemplate the source of the subtle, fleeting, and constant fluctuation. But if he begins to speculate that there is no existence after death, he could fall into error with seven theories of the cessation of existence.

“He may speculate that the body will cease to exist or that when desire has ended, there is cessation of existence; or that after suffering has ended, there is cessation of existence; or that when bliss reaches an ultimate point, there is cessation of existence; or that when renunciation reaches an ultimate point there is cessation of existence.

“Considering back and forth in this way, he exhaustively investigates the limits of the seven states and sees that they have already ceased to be and will not exist again.

“Because of these speculations that existence ceases after death, he will fall into externalism and become confused about the Bodhi nature. This is the ninth external teaching, which postulates confused theories of the cessation of existence after death in the realm of the five skandhas.

After transcending all skandhic-spawned symptoms, like desire and suffering and bliss and also renunciation, the subtle Demon of Rationality creates the illusion within the mind of the practitioner that since these are all now dissolved, there is no longer any-thing more that can constitute existence after death. Once again, the major fault lies in the assumption that any of these skandhic modes exist in the first place. There is no Skandhic-substantive existence as such; nor can there truly be any Skandhic-death as such. The practitioner has not yet transcended the samsaric-mirage of life and death and his/her insistence upon continual rationalistic speculation on skandhic-mirages is far from awakening in the realm of the Deathless.

[10] “Further, in his practice of samadhi, the good person’s mind is firm, unmoving, and proper and can no longer be disturbed by demons. He can thoroughly investigate the origin of all categories of beings and contemplate the source of the subtle, fleeting, and constant fluctuation. But if he begins to speculate on existence after death, he could fall into error with five theories of Nirvana.

“He may consider the heavens of the Desire Realm a true refuge, because he contemplates their extensive brightness and longs for it; or he may take refuge in the First Dhyana, because there his nature is free from worry; or he may take refuge in the Second Dhyana, because there his mind is free from suffering; or he may take refuge in the Third Dhyana, because he delights in its extreme joy; or he may take refuge in the Fourth Dhyana, reasoning that suffering and bliss are both ended there and that he will no longer undergo transmigration.

“These heavens are subject to outflows, but in his confusion he thinks that they are unconditioned; and he takes these five states of tranquility to be refuges of supreme purity. Considering back and forth in this way, he decides that these five states are ultimate.

“Because of these speculations about five kinds of immediate Nirvana, he will fall into externalism and become confused about the Bodhi nature. This is the tenth external teaching, which postulates confused theories of five kinds of immediate Nirvana in the realm of the five skandhas.

“Ananda, all ten of these crazy explanations may occur in dhyana as one’s mental effort interacts with the formations skandha. That is why these `insights’ appear.

“Dull and confused living beings do not evaluate themselves. Encountering such situations, they mistake their confusion for understanding and say that they have become sages, thereby uttering a great lie. They will fall into the Relentless Hells.

This is the epitome of raging speculative reasoning as one mistakenly believes that, simply taking refuge in the four Dhyāna realms, one is automatically assured undivided awakening in the Nirvanic Kingdom of the Dharmakaya. This is following the subtle Demon of Tranquility: being lulled into a dull and incoherent sleep from which there is no escape. One’s spirit simply becomes somnambulistic in nature as all their former development in Deep Samadhis has been in vain.

After my Nirvana, all of you should pass on the Tathagata’s teachings, transmitting and revealing them to those in the Dharma-ending Age, so that living beings everywhere can awaken to these truths. Do not let demons arise in their minds and cause them to commit grave offenses. Offer protection so that wrong views will be eradicated.

“Teach them to awaken to true principles in body and mind, so that they do not stray off the Unsurpassed Path. Do not let them aspire to and be content with small attainments. You should become kings of great enlightenment and serve as guides of purity.”

As we have seen throughout this section on the Demons of Volition, one is in supreme error if they think that they can rest on any small attainments incurred in Deep Samadhis. The major pitfall here is forever entertaining an ongoing excursion into the realm of Speculative-Thought. There is no room for any form of “speculations” on the true path to full Bodhisattvahood. The compass for such a magnanimous occasion is clear: One need place their faith AND reason in the Buddhadharma alone, and cease and desist from any mental aberrations emanating from within the clouded demon-mind.

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