Chapter Five: Accessing the Edge of Reality, con’t

Mahabala Bodhisattva asked, “What are the six practices? Please kindly explain.”

The Buddha replied, “First is the practice of the ten faiths. Second is the practice of the ten abidings. Third is the practice of the ten practices. Fourth is the practice of the ten transferences. Fifth is the practice of the ten bhumis. Sixth is the practice of equal enlightenment. Practitioners of these practices will then know [the realm of the void].”

Mahabala Bodhisattva asked, “Since the Absolute Enlightenment of Reality has neither egress nor access, through which Dharma or [frame of] mind can one be in it?”

The Buddha replied, “The Dharma of Reality has no boundary. A boundless (non-abiding) mind is [already] within Reality.”

Mahabala Bodhisattva asked, “The wisdom of this boundless mind has no limit. The boundless mind is one that has attained liberation. Liberated wisdom accesses Reality [directly]. In the case of ordinary, feeble-minded sentient beings, whose mind is subject to frequent panting (agitations), through which Dharma can they be led to control that [panting], and to steady their mind [in order] to access Reality?”

The Buddha replied, “Bodhisattva, one whose mind is panting is driven both internally [by the sense organs and the sense of selfhood (ego)] and externally [by sense-objects and the sense-realms].

[These defiled subjects and objects (klesas)] flow along with the impulses, until their drips  (accumulations) become a sea [of defiled consciousnesses]. The winds [of ignorance] stir [the ‘sea’ of tendencies, creating] the waves [of the consciousnesses], thereby startling the great dragon [of ignorance]. As the mind is startled and alarmed, one pants frequently.

“Bodhisattva, urge all sentient beings to preserve the three and abide the one, [in order] to access the tathagatadhyana. With undistracted absorption, their mind will be free of panting.”

Mahabala Bodhisattva asked, “What is ‘preserve the three and abide the one, [in order] to access the tathagatadhyana’?”

The Buddha replied, “To ‘preserve the three’ means to preserve the three liberations; to ‘abide the one’ means to abide in the thusness of the mind, and to ‘access the tathagatadhyana’ means [knowing] the principle and the practice of contemplation (natural thus-awareness). Accessing this base of the mind is accessing Reality.”

The Dharma of the Unborn Buddha Mind is a boundless one. Within boundlessness one has direct-access to the Wisdom Store. To assuage an agitated spirit one has need to cessate the driven winds of ignorance by entering into Tathagata-dhyana (keeping the one); to reiterate an earlier passage:

The bodhisattva sees to it that sentient beings “preserve the three and keep the  One” and thus enter into Tathāgata-dhyāna (ju-lai ch’an). Owing to this dhyāna, the “panting” of the mind stops. What is “preserving the three and keeping the One” and what is “entering into Tathagata-dhyāna?” “Preserving the three” means “preserving the triple deliverance.” “Keeping the One” means keeping the suchness of the one mind. “Entering into Tathāgata-dhyana” means contemplating the  principle (li-kuan) that the mind is purity and suchness.  (Bernard Faure: “The Concept of One-Practice Samādhi in Early Ch’an”. Pg. 113)

Tathāgatadhyāna was also covered in an earlier segment. Hui-Neng speaks of this being the “seat of the Tathagata’s purity”:

 “The Norm is to be realised by the mind,” replied the Patriarch, “it does not depend upon the cross-legged position. The Vajrakkhedika Sutra says that it is wrong ‘for anyone to assert that Tathagata comes or goes, sits or reclines.’  Why? Because Tathagata’s Dhyana of Purity implies neither coming from anywhere nor going to anywhere, neither becoming nor annihilation. All Dharmas are calm and void, such is Tathagata’s Seat of Purity. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as ‘attainment’; why should we bother ourselves about the cross-legged position?”

Tathāgatadhyāna therefore has nothing to do with any formal “position” in meditation. No-position of mind or body fits in quite succinctly with “keeping the One” and no-thing else. It is THE Dhyana of the Tathagatas. The Lanka states:

What, Mahamati, is the Dhyana with the Tathagata as its object? When [the Yogin recognizes that] the discrimination of the two forms of egolessness is mere imagination, and that when he establishes himself in the reality of suchness (yathabhuta) there is no rising of discrimination, I call it the Dhyana with the Tathata for its object.

What, Mahamati, is the Dhyana of the Tathagata? When [the Yogin], entering upon the stage of Tathagatahood and abiding in the triple bliss [preserving the three, inclusion mine] which characterizes self-realization attained by Noble Wisdom, devotes himself for the sake of all beings to the [accomplishment of] incomprehensible works, I call it the Dhyana of the Tathagatas.

Thus the attainment of Noble Wisdom is a Self-Realization that is first fostered in Tathāgatadhyāna. The Dragon Mind of Zen is self-realized in the [Original Seat of the Unborn Buddha Mind] of the Tathāgatadhyāna. It is where Black Dragons are born. Wŏnhyo would posit that this entails not losing the single-taste—the Tathāgatadhyāna’s contemplation of “guarding the one”.

Mahabala Bodhisattva asked, “What are the three liberations? Through what Dharma may one access the samadhi of the [natural] thus-awareness?”

The Buddha replied, “The three liberations are: [firstly] the liberation of the void [that everything is ultimately void in nature, whereby one is free from entanglements of all dharmas]; [secondly] diamond liberation [that everything is ultimately formless, whereby one is free from all mental agitations]; [and thirdly] prajna liberation [that everything, being void in nature, is beyond grasping, whereby one awakens to the primordially pure and silent nature of the mind]. The mind of one who is in accord with the principle [of the void, formlessness, and purity] is in contemplation [of thus-awareness] (free of abiding and obstruction) with no affirmation or negation to be differentiated.”

Mahabala Bodhisattva asked, “How does one go about this preservation? How can one contemplate it?”

The Buddha answered, “Preservation is putting into operation where the mind and its objects are nondual (undivided). Be it internally [via the sense organs], or externally [through the sense-objects and the sense-realms], with neither egress nor access, the mind remains nondual. By not abiding by anything, the mind is free from gain or loss. The mind, thus purified, freely accesses the one-and-many bhumis (levels of spiritual attainment). This is what is meant by ‘contemplation (thus-awareness)’.

In the “liberation of the void” one totally disengages from all dharmata as the self-realization dawns that they are all self-empty. In the “diamond liberation” all mental perturbations cessate as the great Dragon Mind breaks-free from both form and formless realms. “Prajna-liberation” entails awakening to the primordially-pure quiescence that is beyond all grasping, via contemplating “thus-awareness”.

“Bodhisattva, such a person does not dwell on any dualistic characteristics. Although he does not leave home (going forth into homelessness) he does not abide by the home (no longer considers himself as part of the household). For this reason, he does not: wear the dharma-robes, observe all the Pratimoksha  precepts [monk’s disciplinary guide], or participate in the posada [half-monthly (lunar calendar) religious observance]. With a [taintless] mind in non-doing, without any egoistic thoughts, he attains the fruition of sagehood. Without lingering over either of the two [dualistic] vehicles, he accesses the bodhisattva path. Subsequently he will perfect all the [ten] bhumis and attain the bodhi of the buddhas.”

Mahabala Bodhisattva remarked, “This is inconceivable! Although he has not gone forth into homelessness, this person is not unlike one who has. Why is this? He has accessed the domain of Nirvana, where he dons the robes of the tathagatas and sits on the Bodhi-seat (bodhimanda). Such a person should be respected and offered dana (food and other essentials) even by sramanas (novice renunciates).”

The Buddha said, “So it is. Why? Accessing the domain of Nirvana, the mind [of this person] transcends the three realms of existence. Donning the robe of the tathagatas, he accesses the void realm of the dharmas. Seated on the Bodhi-seat, he ascends to the bhumi of perfect enlightenment. The mind of such a person transcends the two types of selfhood (the selfhood of one’s ego and that of dharmas). Why should the sramanas not respect and offer dana to him?”

A true Unborn Mind adept is a transcendent “homeless one”, i.e. a beggar of no-small change in the Bodhi-realms. In “donning the imageless robes of the Tathagatas”, one ascends to the Original Seat (bodhimaṇḍa) of the Unborn Mind.

Mahabala Bodhisattva remarked, “Followers of the two [dualistic] vehicles are unable to see such Single-bhumi [of buddhahood] or the sea of the [Absolute] void.”

The Buddha responded, “So it is. Followers of the two [dualistic, lesser] vehicles are attached to Samadhi (mental absorption), [in order] to gain the Samadhi-body [through the trance of cessation (nirodhasamapatti), whereby they attain ‘neither perception nor nonperception’]. They are like alcoholics who are drunk and unable to sober up, as far as the Single-bhumi [of buddhahood] or the sea of [the Absolute] void is concerned. Continuing through countless tests, they are unable to attain enlightenment. Until the liquor has dissipated off, they finally wake up. They will then be able to cultivate these practices, eventually attaining the body (realization) of buddhahood. When a person abandons the [status of]  (a person blocked from attaining enlightenment), he will be able to access the six practices.

Along the path of practice, his mind is purified [by devotion to contemplating thusawareness] and he definitely knows [the path]. The power of his diamond-like wisdom renders him (not subject to spiritual retrogression). He ferries sentient beings across to liberation with boundless mercy and compassion.”


“But once the liquor has worn off and they first awaken, they will then be able to cultivate these practices”: depending on the extent to which the suffusion of their attachment to enjoyment is heavy or light, their feelings of attachment will eventually dissipate so that they may instead generate the mind [of enlightenment]. Once they have generated that mind, they dedicate their minds to accessing the Great [Vehicle]. They will then be able to cultivate the three types of contemplation practice discussed above. As a verse in the Laṅkāvatāra-sūtra says, “It is like a drunkard, / Whose liquor wearing off, later awakens, / He gains the supreme essence of buddhahood, / Which is my true dharma-body.” An extensive explanation appears there.

“From the moment that such a person abandons the [status of the] icchantika [a person who is blocked from ever attaining enlightenment], he may access the six practices. On those stages of practice, his mind is purified in a single moment of thought and he gains absolute clarity and brightness. The power of his adamantine knowledge renders him avaivartaka [not subject to spiritual retrogression]. He ferries sentient beings across to liberation and has inexhaustible friendliness and compassion.* [ibid, pg.203-204]

*Buswell’s footnote here begs consideration in terms of the nature of this icchantika:

VS’s correlation of the icchantika with two-vehicle adherents who are hopelessly attached to samādhi is without parallel in other scriptures, so far as I am aware. Mahyāna texts have, however, frequently equated icchantikas with Hīnayānists. For example, of the two types of icchantika discussed in the Laṅkāvatāra-sūtra, the first type—those who are icchantika “because they have abandoned all the roots of merit” (sarvakuśalamūlotsargataḥ)—are defined as “those who have abandoned the Bodhisattva canon, making the false accusation that they are not in conformity with the sūtras, the codes of morality, and emancipation. By this they have forsaken all the stock of merit and will not enter into Nirvāṇa”; see Suzuki, Laṅkāvatāra, p. 59. The Mahāyāna conception of icchantika is discussed by Suzuki in his companion volume, Studies, pp. 217–221; and see the citations to other Mahāyāna texts in Takasaki Jikidô, A Study on the Ratnagotravibhāga, introduction, p. 40, and translation, p. 205. I have also discussed the relationship between icchantika and the related samucchinnakuśalamūla (‘those whose wholesome roots are eradicated’) in my article “The Path to Perdition: The Wholesome Roots and Their Eradication,” in Paths to Liberation: The Mārga and Its Transformations in Buddhist Thought, ed. Robert E. Buswell Jr. and Robert M. Gimello, Kuroda Institute Studies in East Asian Buddhism, no. 7 (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1992), pp. 118–123; many relevant citations to major Mahāyāna discussions of icchantika are included there. See also my recent entry on “Icchantika” in the Encyclopedia of Buddhism, vol. 1, p. 351. [ibid, 367-368]

Mahabala Bodhisattva remarked, “Since such a person ought not maintain the codes of morality, he will not be respected [even] by the sramanas (novice mendicants).”

The Buddha replied, “The moral codes have been prescribed for those with unwholesome actions and pride, owing to the waves and swells (disturbance by the first seven consciousnesses) from the sea [of the mind]. [Being primordially pure and awakened to the void nature of dharmas] this person’s sea of the eighth consciousness of his mind-ground is settled (calm), its [consequential] flow into its ninth consciousness (the amala buddhamind) is pure (silent). The winds [of the sense-realms] become inactive [unable to agitate such an awakened mind, thus] the waves and swells do not arise.

“The moral codes are void in nature; the custodians (followers) who hold fast to them are being deluded and confused. [On the other hand,] for a person (an adept) [who knows the true nature of the precepts], the seventh and sixth [consciousnesses] and all related factors of co-origination cease [to arise]. [Having awakened to as well accessed] the contemplative absorption, he is not away from the three [aspects of] Buddhahood (dharmakaya, nirmanakaya and sambhogakaya). Thus the bodhi [within] has sprouted. Within the three formless characteristics [of neither birth nor death, of neither Nirvana nor non-Nirvana, and neither formlessness nor non-formlessness], mysteriously his mind deeply penetrates [the Dharma of the One-mind]. He deeply reveres the triratna. As he is not without dignified demeanor and moral codes, all the sramanas do not fail to venerate him!

Having won the meditative absorption that is derived from being-one with the Principle, all former moral injunctions are rendered moot as the Tathagatagarbha-Buddha is the sole vehicle of reverence, thus fostering the innate supramoral injunctions of all Buddhas.

 “Bodhisattva, a person who has thus awakened (enlightened) will not linger over any worldly dharmas, be they active [leading to rebirth in the (impermanent) desire-realm] or passive [leading to rebirth in the form and formless realms of much longer duration]. Instead, he accesses the three types of void [comprising the three liberations through the void, formlessness and vows] and extinguishes the mind that is involved in any way with the three realms of existence.”

Mahabala Bodhisattva asked, “The virtuous one upon attaining the full fruition of buddhahood with the [three] qualities of [1] (sambhogakaya) buddhahood with all meritorious qualities and merits; [2] (dharmakaya) buddhahood of the tathagatagarbhabuddha [the Self-Enlightenment innate in all sentient beings]; and [3] (nirmanakaya) buddhahood [of the physical buddha, engaging in actively liberating all beings]. He accesses the three aggregates of morality [comprising the abandoning of all evils, doing all good and liberating all sentient beings], but does not linger over their characteristics. He extinguishes all thoughts of the three realms of existence, but does not abide in the calm domain [of Nirvana]. Not forsaking all the sentient beings, he [forsakes the unsurpassed bodhi and] stays (physically) in the world (repeated birth-death cycles and related experiences like ordinary sentient beings). It is  inconceivable!”

stays (physically) in the world (repeated birth-death cycles): Wŏnhyo:

Owing to the latent proclivities, he takes rebirth through karma that does not subject him to further bondage [viz. indeterminate karma; avyākṛtakarman]; therefore, it says “he reenters.” The term “latent proclivities” means that they do not quickly vanish, which is the case with Hīnayānists, who gradually  eradicate them over three infinitely long great kalpas but for whom they are extinguished only when they finally gain bodhi. It does not mean that they remain uneradicated up until [the stage] of the adamantine [samādhi]; therefore, they are termed “latent.” [ibid, pg. 207]

At that time, Sariputra rose from his seat, came forward, and recited these stanzas:

The Buddha, replete with the sea of prajna,
Without abiding in the city of Nirvana,
Is like the wonderful lotus,
That is not grown in the high plains.
All buddhas underwent countless tests,
Without forsaking any defilement.
Only after saving the world did they access [Nirvana],
Like the lotus rising from the mud.
The six practices,
The bodhisattvas cultivate.
So are the three liberations,
The true path to bodhi.
Whether I now abide [by Nirvana] or not,
It will be as the Buddha has said.
I will return repeatedly to this place whence I came,
And leave only after completing [the bodhisattva path].
Furthermore, I will urge all sentient beings,
To join me [in pursuing the same vow],
May those who came before, or will come in the future,
All be led to climb (realize) the awakening of Reality. 

Then the Buddha proclaimed to Sariputra: “This is inconceivable! You will certainly accomplish the path of bodhi in future. Countless sentient beings will transcend the sea of birth and death.”

At that time, the [sub] assembly [of Mahayanists] all awakened to bodhi, and the [sub assembly [of Hinayanists] accessed the sea of the five voids (possibly the inner void, the outer void, the void of both the inner and outer, the big void, and the void (emptiness) of void mentioned in the Sastra on Emptiness by Nagarjuna).


This is the fourth [section, IV,] of the main exegesis, in which the congregation present at the time gains benefit. “Awakened to bodhi” means that, on the first bhūmi, they awakened and accessed the mind of bodhi. [ibid, pg. 210]

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