1991 佛七講話-1 Day 3

Ven. Zhiyu’s Dharma Talks for Buddha Recitation Seven-Day Retreat, First Term, 1991

On Arising of Mental Activities Discrimination Occurs

As Buddha-meditation practitioners you should not talk gossip, nor think gossip; just recite the Buddha-name whole-heartedly. It is rather easy not to talk gossip, but it requires a little effort not to think it.

      To make it simple, not to talk gossip means to refrain from lying, harsh words, frivolous speech, and divisive talk; not to think gossip means to eliminate greed, hatred, and delusion. It is rather easy to avoid verbal misconduct because as long as you keep silent you will not tell lies, harsh words, frivolous speech or divisive talk, although it is also easy to commit it; but there is no way of controlling the mind from thinking so as to eradicate greed, hatred, and delusion. Our minds are like apes and monkeys who would not rest for a single moment.

      Talking gossip is always concerning conflicts between self and others. What to be blamed is sentient beings’ rooted defilement of greed, which causes hatred, while greed and hatred both arise from delusion.

      Where does greed come from? It originates from self-attachment. From self-attachment arise four kinds of afflictions—self-view, self-conceit, self-love, and self-pride—which constitute the seventh consciousness manas. Therefore, greed arises from self-attachment; from greed, hatred and delusion arise subsequently; because of greed, hatred, and delusion, ten evil karmas—killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, harsh words, frivolous speech, divisive talk, greed, hatred, and delusion—are produced; evil karmas lead to bad destinies.

      Self-attachment is a curious thing. Dependently arising, “self” is empty in essence. Therefore the Buddha says all phenomena are empty of self. Since there is no self, how can there be self-attachment? It is merely an inverted (untrue) perception held by sentient beings.

      What causes sentient beings to attach to self? Clinging to cognitive objects. Sentient beings cling to all cognitive objects in the environments, not knowing they are but images, unreal. These objects may appear alone in the sixth consciousness, or together with the five kinds of frontal consciousness; in either case, they are totally illusory.

      Some may protest, “All cognitive objects are real, and shouldn’t be illusory?” In fact, what is real is the “Suchness” (Sanskrit: tathātā). Suchness—things as they are—is that which we refer to as no-nature, and no-nature means emptiness. Sentient beings regard emptiness as existence, and, in that emptiness, experience birth and death incessantly; that is why they are said to hold inverted views.

      Self-attachment can roughly be categorized in two kinds: attachment to self of person, and attachment to self of dharma. Attachment to self of person is the clinging to one’s body and mind of five aggregates as me, and therefore is an inverted perception that contradicts the teaching in the sutras that says “all the five aggregates are empty”; attachment to self of dharma is the belief in the inherent existence of all phenomena and is also a false view, contrary to the Buddha’s teaching that advises all phenomena have no self. This is called distortion and dream.

      Attachment to the existence of a person as self produces one kind of hindrance—afflictive hindrance. The afflictive hindrance blocks our attainment of Nirvana. Attachment to self of dharma produces another kind—cognitive hindrance. The cognitive hindrance impedes our way to Enlightenment.   

Therefore, do not attach to any perceptual characteristics, as doing so is a wrong way. When we read the sutras, for example, if we do not attach to any perceptual characteristics, the texts are not only the acquired knowledge, but they will also become wisdom-mother—the origin of wisdom; otherwise, they will become obstacles to the development of wisdom.

The cognitive and afflictive hindrances cause two kinds of death—the transformational and fragmentary ones. When speaking of learning the Buddhadharma to end the cycle of birth and death, we refer to these two kinds. Not knowing this truth, one may say, “I do not learn the Buddhadharma for ending birth and death.” He does not know that birth-and-death is illusory, and that in the cycle of birth and death we endure pains and deaths in illusion.

      One who has broken the cycle of birth and death is addressed as “the enlightened one”; the Buddha having attained the Ultimate Enlightenment has ended these two sufferings and deaths. In the path of learning the Buddhadharma, once you have eliminated the afflictive and cognitive hindrances and detached from the selves of person and dharma, you are said to “attain the Buddhahood.”

      Elimination of afflictive hindrance due to attachment to self of person leads to the Ultimate Nirvana of Buddhahood; elimination of cognitive hindrance due to attachment to self of dharma results in the Upmost Enlightenment. The Upmost Enlightenment is wisdom; the Ultimate Nirvana, which, unknown to sentient beings, causes bodhisattvas to arouse great benevolence, is compassion. Therefore bodhisattvas on causal grounds would operate compassion and wisdom concurrently until they attain the ultimate result of Buddhahood named “the Upmost Enlightenment”.

      As I have said, the notion of self and other, right and wrong, and the arising of mental activities all fall to the cycle of birth and death. According to the Chan School’s teaching, when we start to think, we discriminate what we cognize. The right way instead is to cognize things without making discrimination, but we tend to behave the other way.

It is the five frontal consciousnesses that cognize all phenomena. That is, the eye cognizes black and white, the ear discerns high and low sounds, the nose tells pleasant and foul odors, and the tongue knows sweet and salty tastes, and so on. Cognition is blameless; the problem lies in discrimination. It is the sixth consciousness that is responsible for the results, either the attainment of the Path or fall to the three bad destinies; the five frontal consciousnesses are not guilty.

      When we use the five frontal consciousnesses without being affected by the sixth, we are called to operate “the cognition with unrestricted activities”. Therefore, there is a saying that goes, “Use faculties instead of consciousness.” It means to use the five frontal faculties instead of the sixth consciousness.

      In short, to remain wondrous, pure, immovable, and retaining all is Buddha; upon activation of thinking, sentient beings come to be.

      Therefore, to invoke the notion of self and others, right and wrong, and to start mental activities all fall to the cycle of birth and death. I talk about this today to remind and urge you all to pay attention.

      Now, let’s recite Amitābha Buddha.