1991 佛七講話-1 Day 6
Ven. Zhiyu’s Dharma Talks for Buddha Recitation Seven-Day Retreat, First Term, 1991
Contemplate the Mind as Impermanent, Empty in Three Phases of Time
The Buddha’s teaching of Four Bases of Mindfulness advises that one should “contemplate the mind as impermanent.” How is it that the mind is impermanent? The mind is impermanent because it changes all the time. What was unknown can be known; what has been known can be forgotten. Therefore, we say the mind is always changing.
If the mind were permanent, you shouldn’t have forgotten whatever happened in your childhood; if the mind were permanent, you wouldn’t have learned whatever you did not know. If the mind were permanent and unchanging, students could not progress from elementary school to high school, and then from high school to university; first-fruit saints could not advance up to the second, third, and fourth fruits; sentient beings could not attain Buddhahood. Therefore, the mind is impermanent.
With regard to the impermanence of mind there are good aspects and bad aspects. In good aspects, the mind of sentient beings can achieve Buddhahood; in bad aspects, a savior may turn into an enemy. In good aspects, the mind functions in a twofold way, as the Chinese Huayan School puts it, namely being unchanging and in accordance with situations at the same time; in bad aspects, sentient beings lack perseverance.
That which does not change is the essence of the mind, and that which accords with conditions is its function. From the essence arise all kinds of functions, and in this way the mind in changelessness adapts to all conditions; all the functions eventually belong and return to the essence, therefore the mind stays unchanged though it adapts to all situations. In fact, this is the meaning of the sentence “from nowhere of abiding let the mind arise,” in the Diamond Sutra. Abiding nowhere means changelessness; to let the mind arise means to go along with conditions. To initiate functions from the essence is to let the mind arise from non-abiding; all functions return to the essence, therefore the mind, to any thoughts that have arisen, does not attach.
In the sense of the Chan School’s teaching, to let the mind arise means to discern all phenomena, and abiding nowhere means to detach from conceptualization. Non-abiding is called meditative concentration; to let the mind arise is called wisdom. The Buddhist Path is twofold—concentration and wisdom.
The Diamond Sutra interprets “non-abiding” as “all the three phases of mind unobtainable”, namely the past mind unobtainable, the future mind unobtainable, and the present mind unobtainable. Why is that so? For the mind arises in dependence upon causes and conditions, and whatever is dependently arising is selfless, empty, and therefore unobtainable. The notion of present, past, and future is also generated from causes and conditions, and is therefore empty, unobtainable.
Take past for example, it is established in relation to present and future. Without present and future, where is past? Only when there are present and future, will there be past. It is, analyzed from two sides, unobtainable:
Since only when there is present, there is past, and only when there is future, there is past, why not call it present or future, rather than past. If there really were past, it should still be there without present and future.
Future, too, is established in relation to past and present. If future really existed, it should still be there without past and present.
Now that we know past and future do not exist, we certainly know present either does not exist since it is established in relation to past and future.
Since past, future, and present are all unobtainable, and the mind is also unobtainable, therefore we know all the three phases of mind in relation to time are unobtainable.
Therefore, past, future, present and mind are all illusory and transformational, seemingly existent but actually not. Just like one’s image in the mirror, which is apparently there, but unreal after all.
Likewise, sentient beings give rise to delusive thinking and afflictions, and take what does not exist as real, all because of ignorance.
Related to the three phases of time, the sixth consciousness arises in two ways. When arising alone, the sixth consciousness is related only to past and future; when co-arising with the first five consciousnesses, it is related to present.
Therefore, everyone should detach from your past mind, future mind, and present mind, and refrain from delusive thinking. As it is taught in the sutras, the past mind has ceased, the future mind will not arise, and the present mind does not stay. When the three phases of mind are detached, manifests the great prajñā.
What does this have to do with the practice of Buddha-recitation meditation? Reciting Buddha’s name is “to think yet thought-free, thought-free yet to think”. Thought-free is the essence, and to think is to function. To initiate a function from the essence is meant by being “thought-free yet to think”; all the functions returning to the essence is meant by “to think yet thought-free”.
In fact, like every one of you, I have not reached this stage of realization yet. I only talk about the principle but have no actual achievement, heading for this goal like you all.
Today’s talk is rather complicated, but, nonetheless, I hope you can discern your learning by this principle.
How to do it, anyway?
“To think yet thought-free, thought-free yet to think” is too profound. Here is a simple way: When you are reciting the Buddha’s name, all your afflictions just vanish and not a thought but the Buddha’s name is being repeated—that means thought-free; being free from distracting thought, it is the right time to recollect the Buddha—that means to think.
Therefore, to apply this method, when your mind is being afflicted, hasten to recite the Buddha’s name, upon which all afflictions will subside. This is what “to think yet thought-free, thought-free yet to think” means, also “from nowhere of abiding let the mind arise, and the mind, to any thoughts that have arisen, does not attach”, and “in changelessness adapt to all conditions, and stay unchanged though adapting to all conditions”.
Now, let’s recite Amitâbha Buddha together.