Universal Brightness


Universal Brightness

Chinul’s “second-awakening” involved his fusion with Hwaŏm (Hua-yen Buddhism):

I had always had doubts about the approach to entering into awakening in the Hwaŏm teachings: what, finally, did it involve? Accordingly, I decided to question a [Hwaŏm] lecturer. He replied, “You must contemplate the unimpeded interpenetration of all phenomena.” He entreated me further: “If you merely contemplate your own mind and do not contemplate the unimpeded interfusion of all phenomena, you will never gain the perfect qualities of the fruition of Buddhahood.”

I did not answer, but thought silently to myself, “If you use the mind to contemplate phenomena, those phenomena will become impediments and you will have needlessly disturbed your own mind; when will there ever be an end to this situation? But if the mind is brightened and your wisdom purified, then one hair and all the universe will be interfused for there is, perforce, nothing which is outside [the mind].” I then retired into the mountains and sat reading through the ‘Tripitaka in search of a passage which would confirm the mind-doctrine [of Sŏn).

Three winters and summers passed before I came upon the simile about “one dust mote containing thousands of volumes of sūtras” in the” Appearance of the tathāgatas” chapter of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. Later [in the same passage] the summation said, “The wisdom of the tathāgatas is just like this: it is complete in the bodies of all sentient beings. It is merely all these ordinary, foolish people who are not aware of it and do not recognize it.” I put the sūtra volume on my head [in reverence) and, unwittingly, began to weep.

However, as I was still unclear about the initial access of faith which was appropriate for ordinary people of today, I reread the Elder Li T’ung-hsüan’s explanation of the first level of the ten faiths in his Exposition of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. It said, the Chief of Enlightenment Bodhisattva has three [realizations]. First, he realizes that his own body and mind are originally the dharmadhātu because they are immaculate, pure, and untainted. Second, he realizes that the discriminative nature of his own body and mind is originally free from the subject! object dichotomy and is originally the Buddha of Unmoving Wisdom. Third, he realizes that his own mind’s sublime wisdom, which can distinguish the genuine from the distorted, is Mañjuśrī. He realizes these three things at the first level of faith and comes to be known as Chief of Enlightenment.” It says elsewhere, “The difficulties a person encounters in entering into the ten faiths from the ordinary state are due to the fact that he completely accepts that he is an ordinary man; he is unwilling to accept that his own mind is the Buddha of Unmoving Wisdom.” It also says, “The body is the reflection of wisdom. This world is the same. When wisdom is pure and its reflection clear, large and small merge with one another as in the realm of Indra’s net.

Thereupon I set aside the volume and, breathing a long sigh, said, “What the World Honored One said with his mouth are the teachings. What the patriarchs transmitted with their minds is Sŏn. The mouth of the Buddha and the minds of the patriarchs can certainly not be contradictory. How can [students of both Sŏn and the scholastic schools] not plumb the fundamental source but instead, complacent in their own training, wrongly foment disputes and waste their time?” From that time on, I have continued to build my mind of faith and have cultivated diligently without being indolent; a number of years have already passed. (ibid, pgs 24-25)

Subsequently, Chinul assimilated Hwaŏm within Sŏn Buddhism. He wrote about this expansion in a posthumously published work, The Complete and Sudden Attainment of Buddhahood. We will now consider this text.

We focused on the philosophical underpinnings of Hwaŏm (Korean for Hua-yen) in our Entry into the Dharmadhātu series; essentially it pivots on the interrelationship between two principles:

Li (Principle) and Shih (Phenomena). Li means Absolute Principle, Noumenon, Suchness, the Unborn, and Universal Truth. Shih signifies phenomena, the formal realms, function and particular events. Yet it needs to be stressed that they both do not constitute a duality, but within the Dharmadhātu they subsist simultaneously. What this entails is that every material event in the phenomenal order represents the Absolute Principle with total perfection. Hence, the saying, “the one is the all, and the all is the one.” In other words, One is many and the many is representative of the One and Absolute.

What Chinul exhibits in The Complete and Sudden Attainment of Buddhahood is that Sŏn comprises the initial awakening to the unrestrained dharmadhātu, which is the direct initiative of Hwaŏm practice. By revealing that they both share the same initiative in actual praxis, Chinul creates a synthesis between the main principles of Hwaŏm and the main thrust of Sŏn Buddhism. What he did was to argue fervently about his position with a direct and abiding reference to Li’s aforementioned Exposition of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra:

If we examine the explanation delineated in the Exposition, we find that it says the unmoving wisdom is also the fundamental wisdom of universal-brightness (emphasis mine). It is precisely this fundamental wisdom which is called the fruition wisdom of all the Buddhas. This fundamental wisdom is the essential nature of noumenon and phenomena, nature and characteristics, sentient beings and Buddhas, oneself and others, stained and pure, cause and effect. Consequently, it does not refer only to that noumenon which does not lose the purity of its nature during involvement in defiled activities. If we refer to it in relation to the master of the Flower Treasury World, this fundamental wisdom is called Vairocana Buddha. If we refer to it in relation to the master of the Golden World, it is called the Buddha of Unmoving Wisdom. If we refer to it in relation to the place discovered by sentient beings of great aspiration when they look back on the radiance of their minds, it is called the Wisdom of Universal Brightness Buddha of one’s own mind, the Buddha of Unmoving Wisdom of one’s own mind, or Vairocana Buddha of one’s own mind. Accordingly, any name we give it includes the three bodies, the ten bodies, and so on.

This fundamental wisdom of universal brightness originally contains all dualistic dharmas-oneself and others, sentient beings and Buddhas, tainted and pure, cause and effect, noumenon and phenomena, nature and characteristics, sentience and insentience. (ibid, pg. 203)

As Chinul states that is says in the Exposition, “All of the body, all of the mind, and all of the sense-spheres are entirely the noumenal wisdom of the dharmakāya.” Also:

“Bodhisattva-mahasattvas should know that every thought in their mind is invested with the right enlightenment achieved by the Buddhas.” This statement shows clearly that Buddhas and tathāgatas do not achieve right enlightenment apart from this mind. It also says, “The minds of all sentient beings are also the same. They are all invested with the right enlightenment achieved by the tathāgatas.” This makes it clear that the self-essence of the minds of both ordinary men and saints are pure and indistinguishable; even though delusion and awakening exist, there is not a hair’s breadth of difference between them. If only one single thought of falsity does not arise in the mind, then the mind and its mental states will be emptied and the nature itself will be unborn (Emphasis mine). When nothing is gained and nothing is realized, right enlightenment is achieved.” (ibid, pg.204) 

Chinul marvelously ascertained that the body, speech, and mind of sentient beings is originally of one unobstructed nature with the Tathāgatas. He fine-tunes this realization with the model of Indra’s Net—which in essence is the Supreme-Net of undifferentiation:

The mutual interfusion of sentient beings and Buddhas discussed elsewhere means that Vairocana Buddha, the perfected fruition wisdom, exists within the impermanent eight consciousnesses of sentient beings and that sentient beings also exist within the Buddha-wisdom. In this case, when a phenomenon (which is not different from the noumenon) is completely absorbed within the noumenal nature, many phenomena (which are also not different from the noumenon) are made to manifest within that one phenomenon-since all are based on the same noumenon. Hence the essences of sentient beings and Buddhas might be different but, in accordance with the noumenon, each phenomenon pervades equally everywhere. As in Indra’s net, all the jewels might be different but their individual lustre is matted together with that of all the others [i.e., each one reflects in every other jewel]. This is equivalent to the interfusion of all phenomena from the standpoint of the conditioned origination of the dharmadhātu. (ibid, pg. 206)

Yea, by means of one dharma—one contemplates all dharmas—this is Wisdom’s Net! Universal Brightness is the Self-Same wisdom Mind of the Tathāgatas dwelling within and manifesting the all-encompassing hue of the Dharmadhātu. Chinul further expounds:

The wisdom of universal brightness is vast and penetrating, empty and bright; its numinous exquisiteness knows no bounds and its universal functioning is self-reliant-operating according to rule and constant. Even though one dharma may arise from conditions, there are none which are not qualities arising from the nature of one’s own mind. Because generality and particularity, identity and difference, integration and destruction are simultaneous and unrestricted, if one reflects on a dharma with wisdom, all six characteristics can be perceived. But if one considers a dharma with the sense-consciousnesses, those characteristics cannot be known.

If one shines universally over all sentient beings with the Buddhas’ wisdom of universal brightness which is within one’s own mind, the marks of sentient beings are the marks of the tathāgatas, the speech of sentient beings is the speech of the tathāgatas, and the minds of sentient beings are the minds of the tathāgatas. Even one’s livelihood and everyday work, one’s talents in construction or artistry, are applications of the form and functioning of the tathāgatas’ wisdom of universal brightness. There is no difference whatsoever. (ibid, pg.208)

Another one of Chinul’s major insights into these Tathātic Mysteries is that “if one gives rise to a mind of great ardor and is aware that one’s ignorance is originally spiritual, originally true, and the perpetual dharma of the effortless great functioning, this is the unmoving wisdom of all the Buddhas.” (ibid, pg.209) The major realization dawns here that by means of one dharma—one contemplates all dharmas—this is Wisdom’s Net! Chinul quotes concerning the ocean-seal samadhi:

“One dharma” means the one-mind. This mind embraces all mundane and supramundane dharmas. It is the essence of the great general characteristic of the one dharmadhiātu. It is only because of deluded thoughts that it is differentiated. If you leave behind deluded thoughts, only the one true suchness remains; this is called the ocean-seal samādhi. Ocean-seal is the original enlightenment of true suchness. When delusion is eliminated and the mind is purified, the myriads of images appear together equally. It is like the ocean where waves have been built up by the wind: if the wind is calmed and the ocean becomes placid, there are no images which do not reflect. Consequently, it is called the ocean-seal samādhi. (ibid, pg. 211)

One of Chinul’s lingering assertions that sticks in one’s mind concerns “Tracing back the radiance to one’s original vivifying Source”—yea, for him, the “Great Turn-About.”:

If a person argues the whole day long about the words of the teaching, however, it merely increases his conceit and inclination to argue until finally he passes his whole life to no avail whatsoever. Is it not tragic if he fails to understand the need to look back on the radiance of the mind (Emphasis mine) and cultivate the brahmacārya diligently? (ibid, pg.212)

Of course for Chinul brahmacārya signifies the best lifestyle adopted in order to merge with the Absolute. For his milieu it concerns the solemn vow of celibacy; yet it need not be confined there, because for others it can signify fidelity in marriage.

Chinul sums-up the impact of Sŏn in the following three-fold fashion:

In Sŏn there are three mysterious gates: first, the mystery in the essence; second, the mystery in the word; third, the mystery in the mystery. The mystery in the essence is the approach to dharma which demonstrates the unimpeded interpenetration of all phenomena and involves such statements as “throughout boundless world systems, oneself and others are not separated by as much as the tip of a hair; the ten time periods of past and present, from beginning to end, are not separate from the present thought-moment.” It is a preliminary approach for inducing an awakening in those of beginning potential. Since this approach has not yet abandoned understanding based on the verbal teachings, the mystery in the word is employed. These words have no traces, are ordinary, have a cleansing effect, and eliminate grasping so that students can suddenly forget their conceptual understanding and knowledge of the Buddhadharma. But since this approach also involves cleansing knowledge and vision and cleansing words and phrases, the mystery in the mystery-the use of pauses, silence, the staff, and the Sŏn shout-is also employed in training. When this last approach is used, one can suddenly forget the cleansing knowledge and vision and the cleansing words and phrases of the second mysterious gate. As it is said, “When we get the meaning and forget the words, the path in near at hand.”” This is called the sudden realization of the dharmadhātu. (ibid, pg.214)

In terms of one’s praxis, which is always the crux of the matter, Chinul offers the following:

…while sitting quietly in a private room, empty your heart and cleanse your thoughts, trace back the radiance of your own mind, and return to its source, then you can consider the pure nature of the sublime mind which appears in that immediate thought moment to be either the original enlightenment which is involved in defilement, the original enlightenment of the nature’s purity, the unimpeded dharmadhātu, the Buddha of Unmoving Wisdom, or Vairocana Buddha. (ibid, pg.217)

All this induces the “non-outflow of Supernal Wisdom Nature”; yea, this IS the effect of the noumenon on the phenomenal. This is the fundamental wisdom and Universal Brightness THAT IS THE BUDDHA in one’s own mind. ALL of this can only be known in and through the dharmadhātu.

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