Transform Afflictions and Realize True Reality

Grand Master’s Dharma Talk:

      Our cultivation has two aspects: one is the mind, the other is dealing with external phenomena. Besides these, there is nothing else.

      The minds of sentient beings raise attachments toward external phenomena, believing that all things in this world are substantially existent. As sentient beings, we don’t realize that states like beauty and ugliness, suffering and pleasure, etc., are all illusory and insubstantial, dreamlike appearances created by our deluded thoughts and attachments. Thus, our minds have notions of gain and loss. When we see something attractive, we try to chase after and possess it. If we cannot get what we want, we give rise to afflictions.

      The Tathagata has complete, perfect wisdom and knows that all phenomena are illusory and insubstantial; he sees them for what they are: conditioned appearances. Sentient beings don’t know that all phenomena are conditioned appearances and habitually turn in circles, attaching to one form or the other. Therefore, they are subject to samsaric birth and death.

Use the mind to transform our thoughts, let the mind’s light shine naturally.

      Wang Yangming (王陽明 1472-1529) said, “It is easy to defeat the thieves in the mountains; it is difficult to defeat the thieves in the mind.” When the six senses encounter the six sense objects and we raise attachments toward external phenomena, miscomprehend reality, and give rise to afflictions of greed, anger, and ignorance, these are the “thieves” that steal away the intrinsic virtue of our true nature. Therefore, we must always be vigilant, reminding ourselves: when we do wrong, we must have contrition, practice repentance, and see through our attachments. If we do not overcome our attachments, have contrition and practice repentance, the thieves in our minds will always remain there.         

      The root of Buddhadharma is found in human beings. The root of human beings is found in the mind—the mind of compassion and equality, the unmoving mind, the mind of wisdom and no-abidance—this mind is the root.

      This very mind is the buddha and the Way. When the mind becomes deluded, that is a sentient being. When the mind raises a wholesome thought, there is the appearance of brightness; when it raises an unwholesome thought, there is the appearance of hellish realms and darkness. The Confucians say, “Sages who succumb to their thoughts become deluded beings. Deluded beings who subdue their thoughts become sages.” Whatever thoughts one raises in the mind, that is the dharma realm they resonate with. Raise a thought of greed, fall into the realm of hungry ghosts; raise a thought of anger, fall into the realm of asuras; raise a thought of ignorance, fall into the animal realm. These are not figures of speech. When we put real effort into observing and contemplating this, we will know that this is indeed the way it is.

      Therefore, when we understand the teachings in Buddhism, we must be the ones to subdue our afflictions when they arise. How? Use the teachings to contemplate them, and right away, we can transform these afflictions. Everyone has wrongdoings, deluded thoughts, and afflictions. Our cultivation is very much in order to transform these thoughts and afflictions, but we must know to apply and use the mind. By knowing how to apply and use the mind to transform afflictions when they arise, this very mind returns to a state of purity—then our cultivation will not regress. Otherwise, when we encounter a few afflictions and don’t know how to clear and overcome them, our cultivation will become very precarious indeed.

      The Buddhadharma is telling us that we must transform our thoughts. At every moment, keep the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha in mind. Use wholesome thoughts to counteract unwholesome ones. When there are no unwholesome thoughts left, let go completely of even the wholesome thoughts and return to no-thought. No-thought is the middle way; it is true reality.

      The Book of Documents says: “The human mind is precarious; the heart of the Way is subtle. Only with perfect purity and single-mindedness, may one abide in the middle.” Here, “perfect purity” is to let this very mind be like a mirror, cleansing it of afflictions. When afflictions arise, we should transform them right away. This very mind must always be clear and lucid, whether it be day or night, in favorable conditions or adverse circumstances—it is like a bright mirror at all times, without a single stain or speck of dust. This is “perfect purity”; this is “single-mindedness”. When this very mind attains perfect purity and single-mindedness, and always abides in this state, then “may one abide in the middle.” In this manner, we will realize the middle way.

      Having understood this teaching, we must nurture the mind in stillness and temper it through action. As the Diamond Sutra says, “Good men and good women who resolve to attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi should thus abide and subdue their minds.” Keep the three karmas of body, speech, and mind pure at all times; regulate the six senses so they do not cling to external conditions and become distorted. This very mind raises only wholesome thoughts and not unwholesome ones. In the end, realize that wholesome thoughts are also ungraspable and return to no-thought.

Relinquish the unwholesome through the wholesome; relinquish the wholesome through no-attachment.

      Thus, there are these different levels of cultivation. Buddhism teaches, “First, relinquish the unwholesome through the wholesome; then, relinquish the wholesome through no-attachment.” Although wholesome and unwholesome thoughts are both insubstantial, dreamlike states, we should first have good dreams—everyday think of wholesome dharmas like practicing charitable giving, upholding the precepts, and cultivating tolerance, diligence, meditation, and wisdom; keep the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, precepts, and giving in mind; bring forth the all-encompassing bodhi mind, spread the Buddhist teachings, liberate all sentient beings, and abide in the place of the Way. Continue like this in thought after thought, until no unwholesome thoughts remain, and every thought raised is a wholesome one, every word spoken is a wholesome word, and every action performed is a wholesome deed.

      Going one step further, we must understand that wholesome dharmas are also illusory, nothing more than a good dream. Do not attach to good dreams, awaken yourself to have no dreams—this is to transcend the mundane to enter sagehood. This is the realm of the tathagata.

      The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch says, “Think neither of the good nor the bad.” Understanding that good and bad are both illusory and insubstantial, this very mind abides in neither good nor bad, and is always clear and lucid, constantly still and constantly aware, just like a bright mirror that reflects all things truthfully— “when a form appears, so does its image; when a form disappears, so does its image.” We must maintain this very mind present at all times. This very mind is pure and intrinsic awareness; it is true reality and the true self.

      After realizing true reality, we “breath from the same nose” as Shakyamuni Buddha and all buddhas of the ten directions; this is our dharmakaya buddha. When we realize this truth, our mind will be filled with brightness, and no matter where we go, we will have intrinsic freedom and effortless composure.

Chung Tai Magazine #239

Transform Your Thoughts to Forge a Luminous Life