The Five Voids


Chapter Five: Accessing the Edge of Reality

Later the Tathagata stated: “All the bodhisattvas and the others [in the assembly] who have deeply accessed the Absolute will be capable of liberating sentient beings. During the Dharma-degenerating age, they must disseminate the Absolute Dharma so that the listeners can reap the benefit of Self-Benediction, irrespective of whether the beings are sympathetic or unsympathetic [towards the Dharma]. The speech (teaching) should be done without abidance, be it through identification or differentiation (without bias).

Such thusly speech guides all defiled consciousness [of sentient beings] so that it flows towards the sea of wisdom of the buddhas. This will prevent them from being swept away by the empty breeze [of ignorance], leading them towards the spiritual milk of the Single-Taste [instead].

“Whether in the mundane or supra-mundane world, abiding (by the Dharma) or non-abiding (against the Dharma), the egress and access of the five voids {please see the Buddha’s explanations given later} are done with neither clinging nor rejection. Why? [Because] the characteristics of all dharmas (phenomena) are devoid [of independent nature]. The nature [of all dharmas] neither exists nor does not exist, neither nonexistent nor extant. Being neither extant nor nonexistent [it is non-abiding], it has no absolute nature.

They (dharmas) do not abide by existence or nonexistence as they are beyond existence or nonexistence. The [buddhas’] wisdom that transcends both the sagely and the lay, though invisible, is beyond error.

Wŏnhyo posits that this chapter (on Edge of Reality) discards all the spurious and encapsulates the “the ultimacy” that leaves behind all illusions. As the Tathāgata here stipulates, all who access the Absolute will be in the Right Position of liberating sentient beings from the sultry confines of samsara. Without abiding in conventional means of liberation one engages in “thusly-speech” that charts the course on the “sea of wisdom of the buddhas.” The only way to sip “the spiritual milk of the Single-Taste” is on the spoon of non-abiding in dharma-less realms that are beyond being “extant or nonexistent”.

Once the bodhisattvas and the others have awakened to this Benediction, they immediately attained to bodhi (awakening to enlightenment).”

At that time there was a bodhisattva in the assembly named Mahabala (Great Power). Arising from his seat, he came before the Buddha and addressed: “Lord! As the Buddha has said that the egress and access of the five voids are done with neither clinging nor rejection, how is it that there is no clinging or rejection with regard to the five voids?”

The Buddha replied, “Bodhisattva, the five [ultimate] voids are: [firstly,] the three realms of existence are void; [secondly,] the shadows (the karmic effects) of the six realms of existence (hell, animals, hungry ghosts, humans, asuras, and gods) are void; [thirdly,] the characteristics of all dharmas (everything) [being devoid of independent existence] are void; [fourthly,] sense-organ objects and related characteristics are void; [and lastly] the mind and related  consciousnesses are void. “Bodhisattva, as these voids are void [of nature], they are unable to linger in the void, for the void is without form. How can dharmas which are formless cling to or reject [anything]? Being free from clinging [and rejection] is identical to accessing the three voids.” 

At that time there was a bodhisattva in the assembly named Mahabala (Great Power):

Wŏnhyo: The questioner’s name is “[Great Power].” This person has succeeded in gaining access to the teaching [lit. “dharma gateway”; dharmaparyāya] regarding the edge of reality, which pervades all the dharmadhātu, so that there is nothing that he cannot accomplish; because he has gained great autonomy, he is called “Great Power”. (ibid, pg. 171)

On the Five Voids:

the five [ultimate] voids are: [firstly,] the three realms of existence are void: the three realms of existence in Buddhism are indicative of destinations of karmic rebirth:

Kāmaloka is the world of desire, typified by base desires, populated by hell beings, preta, animals, ghosts, humans and lower demigods.

Rūpaloka is the world of form, predominately free of baser desires, populated by dhyāna-dwelling gods, possible rebirth destination for those well practiced in dhyāna.

Arūpaloka is the world of formlessness, a non-corporeal realm populated with four heavens, possible rebirth destination for practitioners of the four formlessness stages. (wiki)

the shadows (the karmic effects) of the six realms of existence (hell, animals, hungry ghosts, humans, asuras, and gods) are void: All dharmata within the six realms of existence (impermanence) leave behind an after-image, a “shadow-form”, that are void in and of themselves since they are mere phantoms of the impermanent.

[thirdly,] the characteristics of all dharmas (everything) [being devoid of independent existence] are void: devoid of Selfness.

[fourthly,] sense-organ objects and related characteristics are void: the whole skandhic-apparatus is also void of Self-nature.

[and lastly] the mind and related consciousnesses are void: the alaya-receptacle with its 8-fold layers of consciousness are also barren of True Dharma-accord with the One and Absolute.

Today’s accompanying icon depicts “Dark-Tara” and her Five consorts, the Dhyāni Buddhas. It is a mandala of Our Lady of the Void. As such this can be utilized in one’s own Dhyāna practice as the Five Buddhas represent the transmutation of the “five Voids” and Dark Tara being representative of the “the dark principle that freely animates all phenomena in fertile fashion and the Void into which they all eventually return—like decaying elements drawn back into her uterine womb.” As such the Mandala of Our Lady of the Void is an excellent tool that empowers the mind-adept to disengage the five-voids and return to the Cardinal Principle in which all dharmata eventually coalesce in the dark dharma-womb of no re-becoming.

Mahabala Bodhisattva asked, “What are the three voids?”

The Buddha replied, “The three voids are: [First] the characteristics of the void are void [in nature]; [Second] the void of void is void; [Third] that which is void of void is also void. These voids [being equal] do not abide by the characteristics of the three voids. They are not devoid of Reality [of the Absolute]. [Being beyond] the pathways of words and speech they are inconceivable.”

Mahabala Bodhisattva said, “If they are not devoid of Reality, then they must have characteristics.”

The Buddha disagreed, “[Being the Absolute-void,] Non-existence does not abide in nonexistence; existence does not abide in existence. There is neither nonexistence nor existence. A nonexistent (non-abiding) dharma cannot linger in non-existence. A non-existent characteristic cannot have abidance in existence. The principle of non-abidance cannot be understood in terms of either existence or non-existence.

“Bodhisattva, the principle which is beyond naming and characteristics is inconceivable. Why is this? The name of the nameless is not without existence; the principle beyond principle is not without principle (essence).”

Wŏnhyo states that Voidness here “also means to fuse the conventional back into the absolute, just as if an item of jewelry were to be smelted back into a nugget of gold.” The trick is to re-capture the essence that is the golden-source of all dharmata. In such vein, nothing is devoid of THAT which is Absolutely-Real.


“A characteristic that is not nonexistent does not in fact linger in existence”: although it fuses absolute with conventional, it does not validate the characteristics of conventional existence. Because absolute and conventional do not linger over either existence or nonexistence, they are not devoid of the principle of the absolute, real non-duality. Because they are not devoid of the two truths of absolute and conventional, they do not entail the principle of the absolute, true non-duality. Therefore, it says, “One may not allude successfully to the principle in terms of either existence or nonexistence.” This [statement] clarifies the fact that concepts that are free from conceptualization cannot be described by names that involve anything that can be named.” [ibid, pg. 176]

Mahabala Bodhisattva said, “Such names and principles [of sameness, equality, and non-obstruction] are the characteristics of Reality-thusness. They are [also] the characteristics of thusness of the tathagatas. Thusness does not abide in thusness. Thusness has no characteristic of thusness, because it is free from any characteristic. The characteristic of thusness is not different from that of the tathagatas’. The characteristics of the mind of sentient beings are the same as those of the tathagata’s. Hence, the mind of sentient beings ought to be free of the sense-realms.”

The Buddha said, “So it is. The mind of sentient beings is actually free of any sense-realms. Why? Because the mind is basically pure, and the principle [of the purity] unsullied. It is the soiling by the dusts (sensory objects) that culminates in the three realms of existence. [This is how] the mind that is involved with the three realms of existence is called ‘the other realm’. Such realms are empty and delusive. They are the projections of the mind. When the mind is free from delusions, there will be no other realms.”

Mahabala Bodhisattva reiterated, “If the mind is pure (non-creating), no sense-realms will arise. When the mind is pure, the three realms of existence therefore should not exist.”

The Buddha responded, “So it is. Bodhisattva, if the mind does not project sense-realms, sense-realms will not arise in the mind. Why? All sense-objects are nothing but the mind that sees them. If the mind does not illusorily project them, there will be no [deceptive] visual-objects.

The Reality of the Thus is devoid of all phenomenal outflows. In the Thus there is, in reality, no “other”. The other comes-about when “projections” block the flow of Primordial Thusness, thus [creating mind-obstructing sensual allures] that contaminate Pure Thusness. No-Other Realms=the unobstructed Dharmadhātu.

 “Bodhisattva, if sentient beings [know that] sentient beings are [ultimately] non-existent internally (within their mind) and the three natures [of kindness, aggression and mental-blankness] are void and calm, there then will be no grasping of the self, or the grasping of others. Even the two accesses {please see the Buddha’s explanation to follow} will not activate the mind. For one who has thus attained, there will be no three realms of existence.”

Mahabala Bodhisattva asked, “What is meant by: ‘The two accesses will not activate the mind’? The mind is basically unborn; how can there be an access?”

The Buddha replied, “The two accesses are: one is called the access via principle (understanding); the second one is called the access via actualization (realization).  

True Reality is [within the mind]. One need not access IT since IT is self- at all times; in such vein there is no True-Access. Wŏnhyo on “access of principle”:

“access of principle” means that it involves resolute faith (adhimukti) that is in accord with the principle but has not yet matured into the kind of practice that leads to realization; therefore, it is called “access of principle.” It is positioned before the bhūmis. [In sub-segment II.B.2.b.ii.a.3.b], “access of practice” means that it is cultivation that involves realization of the principle and thus accesses the practice of nonproduction; therefore, it is called “access of practice.” It is positioned on the bhūmis. [ibid. pg. 182]

“One who has accessed via the principle means one is convinced [through understanding and insight] that sentient beings are not different from enlightened (buddha) nature. This [nature] is neither one nor different. [But this nature] has been obscured and obstructed by foreign dusts (sense-objects). Without [the mind] either going or coming, one abides in contemplative awareness. One contemplates on the noble-truth that the Buddha-nature is neither existent nor nonexistent; neither self nor others and it is not different in an ordinary person or a sage. One abides firmly without wavering in the state of the diamond base of the mind, calm, quiet, non-doing and free from differentiations. This is called the access via principle.

Wŏnhyo on “access of practice”:

This [sub-segment on the access of practice] clarifies the access of realization that is positioned on the bhūmis. “The mind has no bias or inclination” means that the mind endowed with knowledge that is in accord with the principle is free from any mental disturbances, for the mind that experiences mental disturbances does not arise. “Its shadows are free from flux” means that objects that are in accord with the principle remain far removed from the three time periods, for the shadows of sense-objects, which are continually in flux, are never again made manifest. He does not wish for or seek anything—not worldly merits or pleasures, not even bodhi, the fruition of great nirvāṇa. Because he has penetrated to impartiality, which is free from any sense of this or that, he therefore “is not buffeted by the winds” of sense-objects. This clarifies the access of practice as it benefits oneself. [ibid, pg. 183]

“The mind of one who has accessed via actualization has no bias or inclination; free from the shadows of the fluxes [of the sense-objects]. Wherever it may be, the mind is without any thought, seeking nothing. Not affected by the winds and noise [of ignorance], it is [motionless] like the great earth. Relinquishing as well as abandoning all [the otherwise] grasping of the mind and self-identification, he saves sentient beings. It (such a mind) is beyond creation, has no characteristics, and is free from both clinging and rejection.

“Bodhisattva, the mind has neither egress nor access. As the mind is free from either egress or access, it accesses without accessing anything, [for convenience sake] it has been referred to as ‘access’.

Mind, AS ITSELF, cannot be accessed—IT is thus UN-accessible. Accessibility to where and by whom? Access is only a quotient in the field of cultivating the Principle [within practice] along the string of the ten bhūmis. All this accessing is not Mind yet not-apart from Mind.

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