The Self

11. “Students of the Way should be sure that the four elements composing the body do not constitute the ‘self, that the ‘self is not an entity; and that it can be deduced from this that the body is neither ‘self nor entity. Moreover, the five aggregates composing the mind (in the common sense) do not constitute either a’self or an entity ; hence, it can be deduced that the (so-called individual) mind is neither ‘self nor entity. The six sense organs (including the brain) which, together with their six types of perception and the six kinds of objects of perception, constitute the sensory world, must be understood in the same way. Those eighteen aspects of sense are separately and together void. There is only Mind-Source, limitless in extent and of absolute purity.”

Huang Po confronts the millennium-old problem of what constitutes the Self in Buddhism. Essentially, the Buddha’s discourse on anātman [meaning no-soul] usually gets mistakenly and incorrectly identified as a no-self doctrine that Siddhartha Guatama purportedly promulgated; rather, what he truly intended to convey (like in the early extant Pali source, the Anattalakkhana Sutta ) was that the five aggregates (or skandhas) constituting the apparent self-personality (form, sensation, thought, volition, mortal consciousness) should not be equated with the Actual-Self—or the true Buddha-Mind of THAT which animates. The Master was truly in league with the Black Dragons—within many and diverse spiritual traditions—who have asserted that Self is synonymous with the Primordial-Source Itself. Being instilled with Inconceivable Wisdom, that is forever dark and obscure to the clouded minds of the lesser-able, the Black Dragons soar like nuclear birds above any anthropocentrically-biased agendas that stand in the way of authentic avenues towards True and unobstructed Selfhood in the Unborn.

12. “Thus, there is sensual eating and wise eating. When the body composed of the four elements suffers the pangs of hunger and accordingly you provide it with food, but without greed, that is called wise eating. On the other hand, if you gluttonously delight in purity and flavour, you are permitting the distinctions which arise from wrong thinking. Merely seeking to gratify the organ of taste without realizing when you have taken enough is called sensual eating.”1 

1 This is a simple example of the wrong use of the six senses. Of course we must use them for dealing with the world as it affects our daily lives, but our employment of them should be limited to what is strictly necessary for our wellbeing.

This section may well be a later redaction by P’ei Hsiu or one of his magistrates directed towards instituting proper monastic-dietary guidelines. All-things in moderation, yes, but there could also be something deeper afoot here in terms of the Master’s diagnosis for transcending the aforementioned samsaric landscape. Huang Po always emphasized being “of one taste” when it comes to the Self-Realization of Pure Mind. As the vast Oceans are full of one taste, the taste of salt, so the Unborn Buddha Mind is of One Undifferentiated Substance; trying to add any further cognitive conceptualizations about IT only stuffs one’s mind full of unnecessary waste-material; indeed, there are spiritual-gluttons who fill their bottomless bellies full of rubbish so that there is never any room left to digest the proper bodhi-food of the Buddhadharma.

13. “Sravakas reach Enlightenment by hearing the Dharma, so they are called Sravakas.1 Sravakas do not comprehend their own mind, but allow concepts to arise from listening to the doctrine. Whether they hear of the existence of Bodhi and Nirvana through supernormal powers or good fortune or preaching, they will attain to Buddhahood only after three aeons of infinitely long duration. All these belong to the way of the Sravakas, so they are called Sravaka-Buddhas. But to awaken suddenly to the fact that your own Mind is the Buddha, that there is nothing to be attained or a single action to be performed–this is the Supreme Way; this is really to be as a Buddha. It is only to be feared that you students of the Way, by the coming into existence of a single thought, may raise a barrier between yourselves and the Way. From thought-instant to thought-instant, no FORM; from thought-instant to thought-instant, no ACTIVITY–that is to be a Buddha! If you students of the Way wish to become Buddhas, you need study no doctrines whatever, but learn only how to avoid seeking for and attaching yourselves to anything. Where nothing is sought this implies Mind unborn; where no attachment exists, this implies Mind not destroyed; and that which is neither born nor destroyed is the Buddha. The eighty-four thousand methods for countering the eighty-four thousand forms of delusion are merely figures of speech for drawing people towards the Gate. In fact, none of them have real existence. Relinquishment of everything is the Dharma, and he who understands this is a Buddha, but the relinquishment of ALL delusions leaves no Dharma on which to lay hold”.2

1 Huang Po sometimes stretches this term to apply to Hinayanists in general. The literal meaning of its Chinese equivalent is ‘those who hear’ and Huang Po implies that Hinayanists pay too much attention to the literal meaning of the Scriptures, instead of seeking intuitive knowledge through eliminating conceptual thought. Those able to apply the latter method have no need of scriptures.

2 Buddhists of most sects are taught to relinquish sensual attachments and to cling singlemindedly to the Dharma. Huang Po goes further in showing that any form of attachment, even attachment to the Dharma, leads us away from the truth.

I’d like to offer a contemporary scenario to the understanding of what constitutes being a Sravaka—or one who hears the “surface-layer” of the Buddhaic-scriptures. Catholics by and large are formed to “hear the gospel” message as written-down in scripture and as proclaimed from the pulpit by a priest or deacon. More often than not, the popular imagination comes away with just a literal interpretation—this especially happens in more evangelical congregations whose imaginations really run-wild with literalistic slants on scripture that can border on hysteria, like what happens with apocalyptic-agendas concerning what was written down in the Book of Revelation. The point here, in league with Blofeld’s footnote, is that the surface-stuff always wins the upper hand, while the more intuitive (the Real Stuff of Revealed Spirit) meaning, beneath that surface layer of scripture (sutras included) gets buried beneath all those literalistic conceptualizations. Huang Po unequivocally states that the “Supreme Way”, in actuality the Ways of the Tathagathas themselves, is to make that leap away from conceptualized surface generalizations and then to take the plunge into the Deeper-Dimension of Mind Only, wherein one awakens (“bodhi”) to the Pure Unborn Buddha Mind; in this vein one truly hears (Dhammasota) and sees through imageless eyes the Buddhadharma. I’ve always loved the Master’s admonition here to be “prior-to” any thoughts and formulations, indeed any kind of ACTIVITY that stands in the way of one’s Union with the Unborn—of what it truly means to “be a Buddha”, Undividedly Awakened, or having the Bodhi-Mind. This section also reinforces what was stated in an earlier blog-post of this series that, for Huang Po, it was always (like the apophatic-mystic and Black Dragon, John of the Cross) nada, nada, nada—no-thing, not even attachment to the Dharma, should stand in the way of the Self-realization of Noble Wisdom. Once again, this is all a strong indication that the Master was At-One with the Diamond Sutra.

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