All the world’s a stage…

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

Those lines from Shakespeare’s, As You Like It, bring to mind how Red Pine illustrates the vast array of images that comprise Chapter Two of the Lanka, or Mahamati’s Questions: “Worldly things are produced by the magician of the mind to decorate the stage on which the play of life and death is performed.” Acting on the stage of samsara, each character projects their own reality—their own personified masking of reality. The players are many and varied, like the Icchantikas—“those so immersed in pleasure…and whose karmic roots are so impoverished they are incapable of understanding the Dharma. Thus they are said to lack the ability to become Buddhas.” I also like Red Pine’s description of another major player, Mara—“ mara, or demon, is used for those who obstruct beings from understanding the Dharma or who cause chaos, illness, and death in the world.” Wonderful portrayal because “Mara” isn’t some isolated evil “spirit” like Satan in the Judaeo-Christian Tradition, but rather evil “personified” many times over—taking shape in any sentient-mind that harbors ill-will and who intentionally wreaks ruin by obstructing the minds and spirits of the unwary.

The 108 questions themselves essentially makes up what Red Pine refers to as a “Buddhist catechism—a list representing all levels of knowledge, from the most rudimentary to the most advanced.” All major Mahayana and Yogacara formulations comprise the list—yet, as we shall see within the next blog, when broken down all these concerns really constitute just “mind-stuff”, or what we Lankavatarians refer to as “images”; Red Pine substitutes “projections” for images, stating that images are really “projections” of the mind and when those projections cease, so do the images produced. Other listings include the eight forms of consciousness, “the basic five (visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, and tactile), along with the conceptual consciousness (mano-vijnana), self-consciousness or will (manas), and repository or storehouse consciousness (alaya-vijnana).” UnbornMind Zen has another term that helps to transcend all these elements of the body-consciousness, and that is the “gotra”—or the dormant seed of Buddhahood that develops within the womb of all buddhas, or the tathataga-garbha. Red Pine adds that this gotra, while also meaning “lineage” is referred to in the Lanka as “the potential for spiritual advancement, while agotra (no lineage) refers to the absence of such potential among those who are spiritually barren, such as icchantikas.” When viewed from this angle, one could say that a developing “gotra” is in company with the family of Buddhas—or the Tathagatas; whereas “agotra” never reaches the potential to develop into a Bearer of Buddhaic Light, or a Bodhisattva. One needs to be careful here, though, with this whole understanding of just what constitutes lineage in this or any other sense, because where can the lineage in the Unborn be found?

In league with Bodhisattvahood, the Lanka teaches, and makes reference to in this second chapter, that there are ten stages in a Bodhisattvas’ development. The following video nicely depicts Tozen’s teaching regarding these ten stages. Ultimately though, a stage-less stage is reached wherein, as Red Pine asserts that the Buddha teaches “stages are provisional and are meant to be transcended if not abandoned.”

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