Self and No Self


Venerable Xiao Pingshi


Buddhist monastics should stop burying their heads in the sand like ostriches

Upon becoming a Buddhist monastic, one should contemplate what made him renounce the mundane world in the first place. If it is to transcend cyclic transmigration, he should search for the true meaning of the Path to Liberation. However, if seeking the Path to Buddhahood is his goal, then he must search for the true meaning of Buddhahood. A practitioner should not be bound by the fame of a renowned master or by a sentimental attachment to the master–disciple relationship. He should separate his personal sentiments from his learning of Buddhism, leaving his personal sentiments aside while exploring the true meaning of the Path to Liberation and the Path to Buddhahood, so that his Dharma cultivation would not be diverted from its original purpose even as he maintains a good relationship with his teacher. For these reasons, all Buddhist monastics should stop burying their heads in the sand like ostriches; instead, they should directly face their chosen path and honestly ask themselves if their practice method is consistent with the Path to Liberation and the Path to Buddhahood. If someone raises questions about their practice method and goes on a doctrinal debate with them, citing concrete evidence, they should objectively look into the matter being questioned and not hold on to their personal sentiments toward their teacher. Only by doing this can they avoid setbacks in their Dharma cultivation and be deemed wise persons.

If a monastic cannot eliminate his attachment to his renowned teacher, whom he is close to, and single-mindedly defends his teacher, continuing the wrong cultivation taught by his teacher, this will not only obstruct his own Dharma cultivation but will also allow his teacher to go further astray, which a monastic should not do. Thus, all Buddhist monastics should objectively, calmly, and rationally explore the Dharma and not ignore inquiries regarding it due to personal sentiments. Ignoring inquiries will cause both the monastic and his teacher to lose the great benefits of being monastics cultivating the Path to Liberation.

The Buddha Dharma of the Three Vehicles speaks of the notion of No Self.[1] Nonetheless, so many famous Buddhist masters, both monastics and lay practitioners, often fail to grasp the real meaning of No Self. They simply claim that the principle of No Self is just “dependent arising without an intrinsic nature” and that “all phenomena are empty.” If someone points out that there exists a non-empty Tathāgatagarbha,[2] they attack this person and falsely claim that he believes in the concept of “divinity self” or the concept of Brahma Atma Aikyam and is therefore a non-Buddhist, that his doctrinal teachings are not the Buddha Dharma, and that the Dharmas expounded by this person, which are actually profound and wondrous correct teachings, do not conform to the teachings of original Buddhism. The fact is, the four Āgama Sutras (the Āgamas), which date back to original Buddhism, do teach the Dharma of “No Self” yet also teach the “Self” ubiquitously. This “Self” is referred to as the original state of nirvana, the ultimate reality of all phenomena, the suchness, the “consciousness” (vijñāna) referred to in “consciousness conditions name-and-form,” the adored ālaya, the enjoyed ālaya, the delighted ālaya, the rejoiced ālaya, or the causal consciousness. It is sometimes even directly referred to as the “Self” in the four Āgamas.

In the Mahāprajñāpāramitā Sutras (the Sutras), the “Self” is referred to as “the non-mind mind,” “the mind without the characteristics of a mind,” “the non-mindful mind,” “the non-abiding mind,” or “the unmindful mind of bodhisattvas.” The Sutras also state that this mind is the mind of true reality and has never given rise to any slightest thought or been mindful of any dharma, never abided in any phenomena or displayed any characteristics of a mind, such as seeing, hearing, perceiving, or knowing, since the beginningless eons. Hence, this mind is said to be a “non-mind” mind. The Sutras also broadly elucidate the Middle Way nature of this mind, also known as the eight negations of Mādhyamika (aṣṭānta). Furthermore, the Sutras state that this mind is a mind without attachment amid all phenomena within the six paths of transmigration of the three realms, and that it is the reality of nirvana. In fact, if this mind does not manifest rebirth within the stream of six paths of transmigration of the three realms, there will be no dharma at all. Therefore, the Sutras say that there are no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mental faculty; no form, sound, odor, taste, touch, or mental object; no eye consciousness and all the way to no mental consciousness element. When these eighteen elements (dhātu) are totally extinguished, there will be no dharma left, and only this consciousness will exist. This principle applies to both mundane and supramundane phenomena; that is, all kinds of existence arise from this mind of true reality. Hence, it is posited that when this consciousness abides in the nirvanic state, there is no ignorance or ending of ignorance. The Sutras even stated: “If there were any phenomenon beyond nirvana, it would also be like a dream or an illusion.” This is because all phenomena are brought forth and manifested by this nirvanic consciousness.

All the foregoing descriptions elucidate the essential nature of the eighth consciousness, the mind of true reality. For this reason, the notion of prajñā conveyed in the Sutras is not the “emptiness of all phenomena” or “empty-nature mere-name system” asserted by Candrakīrti, Tsongkhapa, Yìn Shùn, Dalai Lama, and others. Rather, these sutras rely on all phenomena within the six paths of transmigration of the three realms to describe the Middle Way nature and the nirvanic nature of this true mind, enabling all Buddhist disciples to know that all mundane and supramundane dharmas are brought forth and manifested by such a true mind. Having established such correct knowledge and view, one can then know how to cultivate progressively and possibly realize the Mahayana bodhi. Thus, although the Mahayana Dharma teaches No Self, it is not a nihilistic view of the emptiness of all phenomena; instead, it reveals the ultimate reality of the remainderless nirvana––the true mind. This true mind is called the Self of the non-self, the mind of the non-mind, and the true reality of all phenomena. Upon realizing this mind, one will comprehend the true reality and immediately bring forth the Mahayana wisdom pertaining to prajñā; thus, one will be referred to as a sage or saint of Mahayana “distinctive teaching.”

Given that this true mind possesses the essential nature of permanence and can never be extinguished, unlike the aggregates (skandhas), sense fields (āyatana), and elements (dhātu) that arise, abide, change, and cease, which are impermanent and bound to perish, this true mind is nominally termed “Self,” unlike the impermanent aggregates, sense fields, and elements that have No Self. As a matter of fact, this true mind that brings forth the aggregates, sense fields, and elements of sentient beings’ selves itself possesses the nature of No Self. A Two-Vehicle adept who has not turned to the Great Vehicle and has yet to realize this true mind also cannot comprehend it. In view of this, the No Self Dharma of prajñā is indeed so extremely profound and cannot be understood by unenlightened or wrongly enlightened masters. They often misunderstand this and thus cannot grasp the true principles of Self and No Self.

Elucidating the “knowledge-of-all-aspects” pertaining to the prajñā of the ultimate truth, the Consciousness-Only sutras expounded during the third round of Dharma transmission state the essential nature of the ālaya-consciousness––the true mind can give rise to and manifest all phenomena within the transmigration of the three realms. The following teaching is expounded to all Buddhists:

The term “remainderless nirvana” is established based on the elimination of afflictive hindrances in the eighth consciousness—the Tathāgatagarbha. “Prajna” refers to the realization of the Tathāgatagarbha and the ability to personally take in the Tathāgatagarbha’s properties, which allow one to bring forth mundane and supra mundane wisdom of the foremost meaning.

In light of the foregoing, the Consciousness-Only sutras from the third round of the Dharma transmissions state that the four kinds of nirvana and the four kinds of wisdom on the Buddha Ground are entirely based on the eighth consciousness. The sutras further elucidate the true principles of knowledge-of-all-aspects: all the seeds stored in the eighth consciousness that every sentient being inherently possesses, including all the tainted mundane dharma seeds, all the taintless supramundane dharma seeds, the outflow of all seeds, and so forth. Based on these, the sutras elaborate on the flow of the seeds within the foundational consciousness and what it manifests and presents: both the physical body and the seven evolving consciousnesses, both the mental concomitants and the wholesome or afflictive dharmas that the seven evolving consciousnesses correspond with, the material factors included in the sense field of the mental object, the formations not associated with the mind, the six kinds of uncompounded factors, and so on. To explain their dharma natures in detail, the sutras further explicate the second able-changing consciousness—Manas, and the third able-changing consciousnesses—the six consciousnesses, including the conscious mind up to the eye consciousness. Thereby, the dharmas of the four conditions, five effects, and so on are set forth accordingly and result in the higher wisdom training of the Hundred Dharmas: knowledge-of-all-aspects. This kind of training in higher wisdom about prajñā is unique and not shared by adepts of the Two Vehicles, ordinary mortals, or any non-Buddhist. In fact, it is incomprehensible to the unenlightened; only those who have personally realized the eighth consciousness, Tathāgatagarbha, thereby deepening their understanding through gradual verification, can comprehend and be called sages or saints of Mahayana distinctive teaching. Thus, although the true principle of the knowledge-of-all-aspects speaks of No Self in the aggregates, sense fields, and elements, it in fact directly conveys the true reality of the dharma realm: the eighth consciousness, Tathāgatagarbha, which is the origin of all dharma realms.

The eighth consciousness, Tathāgatagarbha, is devoid of the functions of seeing, hearing, perceiving, and knowing; it is tranquil and nirvanic, never ponders or makes decisions, and is therefore named No Self. Such properties are well known and personally experienced by all enlightened Buddhists, thereby leading them to obtain the wisdom pertaining to prajñā. On the other hand, despite the No Self nature of the Tathāgatagarbha, it is designated as the “Self” for expediency purposes, given that it has existed permanently since the beginningless eons and will exist until the endless future, without any discontinuity. Moreover, it is based on the eighth consciousness, which exists eternally and continuously, without ceasing, while containing all the mundane and supramundane dharma seeds, tainted or untainted, therefore allowing enlightened Buddhist learners, based on their bodhi wisdom attained through awakening, to gradually purify all the manifestations and habitual seeds of afflictive hindrances contained in this consciousness, and to gradually eradicate the “beginningless ignorance”––the “cognitive hindrance,” which has inherently existed since the beginningless eons. As a result, the contents of this eighth consciousness are perfectly pure. Both its ālaya nature and maturational (vipāka) nature have been entirely extinguished. The eighth consciousness is then renamed “reality-suchness,” the state of ultimate Buddhahood. It is based on the noumenon and functions of the eighth ālaya-consciousness and its permanent existence in the dharma realm, without any discontinuation or destruction, that the Buddha often refers to it as the “Self” in the Three-Vehicle Sutras for expedient teaching purposes, despite its No Self nature. It is only with such true principle consisting of both Self and No Self nature that it can be deemed the “ultimate” and “definitive Buddha Dharma.” It is hoped that every monastic Dharma master will first understand this principle to avoid misleading himself and others while trying to expound the Dharma. By doing so, both the master and his disciples will be on the right path toward awakening and post-awakening cultivation.

All the Three-Vehicle Sutras––the Āgama Sutras, prajñā paramita, and Consciousness-Only––have implicitly and explicitly expounded the true principle of “No Self and Self.” Thus, all Buddhist monastics should face this true principle instead of evading it. Monastics should be able to distinguish the right principle from the erroneous view, which claims that “all phenomena are dependently originated without a fundamental cause,” so as not to mislead themselves and others. Before a virtuous mentor discloses this true principle to the public by refuting the incorrect doctrines and contrasting them with the true Dharma, it would not be a major fault to teach it and thus misguide others because this is not done intentionally. However, such true principle has now been proclaimed by a true mentor, but monastics are reluctant to seek to unravel the truth and make the correct choice, evading their responsibility of leading sentient beings toward the right path. They knowingly and deliberately expound the erroneous dharma and misguide themselves and others, which is a grievous transgression. In light of this, I call upon all Buddhist monastics to quash the ostrich mentality and embrace the true principle of the “real Self,” which possesses a No Self nature, and to guide all Buddhist learners back to the Buddha’s real intent. This will allow monastics and practitioners to fully cultivate and attain the true principle of “Self and No Self” and help it spread widely and last for as long as possible. If this is achieved, there will be blessings for both humans and celestial beings, and great joy over the assurance that the True Dharma will continue on earth. Moreover, it is the monastics’ indispensable obligation to disseminate the Buddha Dharma as they are the paragons of Buddhist communities and should be the mainstream Dharma preachers. In light of this, from now on, all monastic masters should not follow any guru of the Prasaṅgika Mādhyamika school, which mistakenly negates the eighth consciousness, or embrace the erroneous view that “all phenomena are dependently originated without a fundamental cause” taught by Candrakīrti, Tsongkhapa, Dalai Lama, Yìn Shùn, and others. Instead, they should all return quickly to the Buddha’s teachings in the various sutras of the Three Vehicles: the true principle that the reality-suchness is the premise of the teaching that “all phenomena are dependent arising without an intrinsic nature.” My hope is that monastics will not fall prey to the ostrich attitude or avoid carrying out their major duty of preaching the Buddha Dharma. Meanwhile, monastics ought to realize the Path, thereby disseminating the True Dharma and upholding their important role as Buddhist Dharma masters.

It is for the aforementioned reasons that I delivered a speech on the true principle of “Self and No Self” to the audience of our True Enlightenment Practitioners Association during this Chinese New Year gathering, and such speech has been transcribed for publication. I thus wrote this preface to call upon all Buddhist monastics to refrain from burying their heads in the sand, as ostriches do, and boldly face the ultimate and definitive true principle of “Self and No Self.”



Xiāo Píngshí

Son of the Buddha

Midsummer 2001 at the Residence of Clamor

[1] Since this book is about the correct and incorrect meanings and interpretations of self and no self, we adopt the convention of using the capitalized Self and No Self to denote the correct interpretations of the terms and the lower-case self and no self to denote their incorrect interpretations.

[2] Tathāgatagarbha denotes the eighth consciousness, ālaya-vijñāna, and is thus used interchangeably with the latter throughout the book.

1.1 The conventional “self” and the “self” set forth in non-Buddhist eternalism—the perceptive mind

Honorable Chairman, Dharma masters, direct dharma teachers, Chief of Staff, cadres, volunteer bodhisattvas, and fellow Buddhists: Happy New Year! (Applause from the audience….)

As the new year begins, everything is renewed; sentient beings of the ten directions grow and reproduce continuously. This is exactly what we have: Myriad phenomena far and wide can be remarkably outstanding, yet one truth, like the sun, shelters them all.

On today’s festive occasion, I will talk about Self and No Self. As we are at a delightful time in early spring, our topic must cover the subject of perfect harmony from the perspectives of the principle of the Dharma and phenomena (perfect harmony between principle and phenomena). Many people discuss the topic of Self and No Self, but how many truly understand these concepts? Very few indeed! This is why we chose this topic for today. I initially planned to talk extemporaneously, but because this is a big reunion, I eventually decided to make my talk more structured so that everyone would gain greater Dharma benefits from listening to it. I thus drafted an outline of my speech, had it typed by Mr. Tan. It is projected onto the wall at the right so everyone can follow it as I proceed with my talk.

The notions of “Self” and “No Self” are vital topics in the Buddha Dharma, given that talks about No Self are ubiquitous. Does No Self denote the ultimate Dharma? That is indeed a profound and important issue in Buddhism that most people, including famous masters, do not have a good grasp of. This phenomenon is not unique only in the present Dharma-ending era; it has been around since ancient times.

What denotes “Self”? The notion of “Self” has two parts: the “self” the Buddha refuted and the “True Self” expounded by the Buddha. The notion of “No Self” also has two parts: the “real No Self” expounded by the Buddha and the No Self pertaining to the “sentient being’s false self.” Let us first talk about the “self.”

The notion of “self” can be divided into four major categories. The first is the conventional “self” and the “self” as perceived by non-Buddhist eternalists, which is the perceptive mind of a normal sentient being. Without a perceptive mind, one can be regarded as an abnormal being; one can be considered normal only if one’s perceptive mind can function normally. The perceptive mind is an important element of sentient beings. In fact, the “self” commonly referred to by ordinary people is not the body. When a child is hit or bullied, he will complain to a teacher, “Someone hit me!” Here, he regards his body as his self. Later, however, when the child grows up and witnesses the death of an elderly or young person, he learns from his elders that “coffins are for the dead, not necessarily the old.” Then, the child will think, “So I am not my body because my body will decay in the future and I will be reborn when my body perishes. Therefore, the ‘self’ has to be the perceptive mind.” Thus, the child will deem the perceptive mind the real and imperishable Self.

Some people practice cultivation because they have witnessed suffering from birth, aging, illness, or death and hope to be liberated from all suffering. During the process of cultivation, one will ponder, “How can I be freed from suffering and attain bliss?” One eventually realizes that all suffering arises from attachment to mistaken notions of greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance, and others. Thus, to be freed from suffering and to attain bliss, one needs to leave behind greed, anger, ignorance, and arrogance, among others. Who is it who should actually let go of the attachment to mistaken notions and others? It is the “self” that is the perceptive mind, which then becomes the “self” as perceived by non-Buddhist eternalists.

1.2 The “self” set forth in non-Buddhist eternalism—the mind that can feel, know, and constantly make decisions

The second major category of “self” is that set forth in non-Buddhist eternalism in the Buddhist community. The typical non-Buddhist eternalists do not speak of “constantly making decisions”; instead, they think, “I don’t want to make decisions; I don’t mind whatever happens, so I’m liberated.” There are some in the current Buddhist community who say, “You need to awaken to the true mind. Which one is it? It is that mind that’s listening to the master’s current dharma preaching. You are liberated if you can make clear and definite decisions upon your death.” Congratulations, then, to all of you as you are all liberated! The question, however, is “Which mind has a clear and lucid awareness?” It is the perceptive mind! When your mind is conscious and clear, you are not distracted by delusive thinking. However, when no thoughts arise in your mind while you are listening to the Dharma, you will still be able to understand what you have heard! That is, without the ability to make clear distinctions, you will not be able to understand things. This is the function of your discerning mind, which is precisely your mental consciousness.

For example, a math teacher teaches you a mathematical topic and then asks you if you “understand” it. If you “do,” it means that you have completed the “cognitive process.” Your clear and lucid mind is your mental consciousness while your mind that constantly makes decisions is your mental faculty, which has an “imputation nature” (with pervasive attachment to erroneous discrimination), our manas consciousness. This is the result of the dependent-arising nature and the imputation nature. How, then, can one be liberated? It is the opposite: When one is fettered by his self-view and self-attachment, he cannot transcend the cyclic birth and death in the three realms. The most important root cause of cyclic transmigration within the three realms is the inability to eliminate one’s self-view and self-attachment. Master Wei Chueh of Chung Tai Shan, however, teaches us not only to abide in a lucid state but also to be able to constantly make decisions. One who does these will undergo cyclic existence forever because this is exactly the notion of the “permanent and imperishable self” that non-Buddhist eternalists cling to.

1.3 The “self” misinterpreted by ordinary Buddhists

The third major category of “self-view” refers to the many types of “self” perceived by ordinary Buddhists. For example, Master Sheng Yen said, ”Do not cling to any dharma.” When you do not cling to anything, your perceptive mind does not have any attachment. He then said, “Let go of everything! If you let go, you can attain enlightenment.” I thus ask you, “After you let go of everything, will you attain enlightenment?” No, you will not! The one who is most capable of letting go of everything is the arhat or solitary-realizer (pratyekabuddha), but when he lets go of everything, has he attained enlightenment? No, he has not! He can realize the Two-Vehicle bodhi, but not the Mahayana bodhi. This tells us that those who are mistaken are fettered by the notion of “self.” One who lets go of his “self” and does not cling to any dharma will not attain enlightenment. The fact is that no one can realize the Mahayana bodhi without first eliminating the notion of “self-view” (thinking that the perceptive mind is permanent) in the perceptive mind because one who has not eliminated this notion will be fettered to it. The concept of treating the perceptive mind as the “Self” is the concept of the “self” set forth in non-Buddhist eternalism, which the Buddha refuted.

The second example of ordinary Buddhists’ misinterpretation of “Self” is the teaching of the lay Buddhist Gēng Yún: “The mind that can contemplate denotes the reality-suchness. Thus, the Chan School stresses the importance of constantly focusing on this contemplating perceptive mind and not letting it cling to anything.” However, the mind that can contemplate is the mental consciousness, which is not different from the non-Buddhist eternalist concept of “self.”

A third example of ordinary Buddhists’ misinterpretation of “Self” is the teaching of the lay Buddhist Zì Zài, who considered the perceptive mind without any thought arising as the reality-suchness, and then negated the ālaya-consciousness (ālaya-vijñāna), the Tathāgatagarbha (the eighth consciousness; ālaya-vijñāna), which we have realized. This also falls under the notion of “self-view.” It is also preached by Elder Yuán Yīn, Xú Héng Zhì, another lay Buddhist, Shàng Píng, and others in China, who view the “thoughtless pristine awareness” (which is in fact still mental consciousness) as the permanent and imperishable dharma. They also regard the “mental concomitants” of the thoughtless mind with pristine awareness (the faculties of seeing, hearing, up to perceiving) as the buddha-nature. All of them consider mental consciousness and its “mental concomitants” the permanent and imperishable Self, entirely falling under the notion of self-view within the state of mental consciousness. None of them has realized the eighth consciousness, the Tathāgatagarbha; their realization is thus incorrect.

The fourth example of ordinary Buddhists’ misinterpretation of “Self” is the “self” propagated by Master Yìn Shùn. He believes that the mind of sentient beings undergoing cyclic existence in the past, present, and future and in the worlds of all directions is not the perceptive mind most of us know but is another subtle perceptive mind that cannot be known or realized. Can something that cannot be known or realized be deemed the Buddha Dharma? No, it cannot, because every Dharma taught by the Buddha can definitely be known and realized. A Dharma that cannot be known or realized is only imaginary. The Buddha also taught us how to know and realize each Dharma. As we follow and cultivate His teachings, we can also know and realize the Dharma expounded by the Buddha. Only this can be called the Buddha Dharma.

The Dalai Lama is slightly better than Master Yìn Shùn. He said, “The subtlest level of mental consciousness is that which can travel through the cyclic existence in the past, present, and future; the coarse and subtle mental consciousnesses will perish, but the subtlest one will not.” Let me ask, then, “Is the coarse, subtle, or subtlest mental consciousness still mental consciousness?” Of course, it is! It is mental consciousness according to the Buddha’s teachings: “On the conditions of the manas and dharma, the mental consciousness will arise.” That is, the mental consciousness can be brought forth only with the Tathāgatagarbha as the internal cause. Thereupon, the mental faculty comes in contact with the mental objects as the external conditions! Given that mental consciousness is a phenomenon brought forth by the internal cause and external conditions, it certainly cannot be the primary entity that goes through the stream of cyclic transmigration. Only a dharma that inherently exists by itself can be the primary consciousness that goes through cyclic existence in the past, present, and future. In view of this, none among the coarse, subtle, and subtlest mental consciousnesses is the underlying fundamental consciousness because, in reality, there is no mental consciousness that cannot be known or realized. The Buddha said in the Āgama Sutras: “All levels of existing coarse and subtle mental consciousnesses can be known and are dependently originated dharmas.” Therefore, however subtle the mental consciousness is, it is not a dharma that cannot be known or a mind that neither arises nor ceases. The subtle or even the subtlest mental consciousness that cannot be known or realized is just an illusory dharma fabricated and established by men.

The last kind of non-Buddhist self-view in Buddhist communities is the view held by Tantric Buddhism in ancient India, the four major Tibetan tantric schools, and the contemporary “dharma kings,” “living buddhas,” or rinpoches. They all regard the perceptive mind that reaches the thoughtless state in sitting meditation as the reality-suchness of the Buddha Ground. However, this is still the coarse mental consciousness because it does not transcend the phenomenal world and still comes into contact with the five sense objects of the desire realm.

1.4 The “self” as perceived by non-Buddhists pretending to be Buddhists

The fourth major category of “self” is the one set forth by non-Buddhists pretending to be Buddhists. There are many such people, but there is no need to give many examples of them because, during our last summer gathering here, some people put a half-page advertisement about me in the newspapers. Those people insisted that the mental consciousness would not perish and could go through the past, present, and future lifetimes. Among them were Yì Yún Gāo in Sìchuān, Xǐ Ráo Gēn Dēng in Táoyuán, and the so-called “Dharma master” Shì Xìng Yuán in their association. As the mental consciousness is a mind that is dependent arising, it is not an inherently self-existing mind. In Buddhism, only an inherently existing mind can be called reality-suchness. This is because the mental consciousness arises on the basis of the Tathāgatagarbha as the cause, and the manas contacting the dharma are conditions. The mental consciousness is therefore not an inherently existing mind. How, then, can anyone openly claim that it is permanent and imperishable? Indeed, those who claim this really do not understand the Buddha Dharma.

The different categories of “self” mentioned in the preceding sections all belong to the state of mental consciousness and pertain to the “self” within the scope of the three realms, which is refuted by the Buddha because such “self” is an entirely changing and arising-and-ceasing dharma. If it does not constantly change, it cannot perform the functions of knowing the six sense objects. As we can directly verify that it has the function of knowing, it is of course a dharma that varies. A dharma that changes cannot possibly be a true Dharma due to its changing arising and ceasing nature, which therefore denotes impermanence. Impermanence is characterized by suffering; how, then, can suffering be the true “Self”? Suffering is definitely not the truly permanent and imperishable Dharma. Impermanence is also definitely not the true “Self.” Only the permanent and imperishable Self, which perpetually transcends suffering or happiness, denotes the true and imperishable “Self.” The “self” within the scope of the three realms is the conscious perceptive mind. It is the worldly self, the “self” in non-Buddhist eternalism, the “self” referred to by non-Buddhists pretending to be Buddhists, and also the “self” set forth in non-Buddhist eternalism in the Buddhist community. This “self” is vigorously refuted by the Buddha in the four Āgama Sutras. The Buddha said that this notion of “self” is not real. He explained, “The five-aggregate self, the six-entrance self, the twelve-sense-field self, and the eighteen-element self all arise dependently without an intrinsic nature.”

The notion of dependent arising without an intrinsic nature refers to the “emptiness appearance” of all phenomena. In other words, our five aggregates, the twelve sense fields, and the eighteen elements exist only temporarily and thus do not truly exist. You can experience their current existence, but they are not the same as the “Self,” which exists permanently and is perpetually imperishable. Based on the mundane dharma, the five aggregates are nominally termed “self.” It is a dependently originated dharma whose nature is impermanence and is thus empty. As a result, we say that there is no Self in the five aggregates, the twelve sense fields, or the eighteen elements. This denotes the “No Self” Dharma, which we will discuss next.

2.1 The “no self” set forth in non-Buddhist nihilism

Many people misunderstand this Dharma of No Self expounded by the Buddha and thus fall prey to nihilism. The first part of “no self” is that set forth in non-Buddhist nihilism. Non-Buddhist nihilists are wiser and more rational than non-Buddhist eternalists. This is because non-Buddhist nihilists actually spend time directly observing their five aggregates to determine if these are real and imperishable. As a result of their observations, they have found that their form, sensation, perception, formation, and consciousness are not imperishable dharmas. They also observe their twelve sense fields and the eighteen elements (which include the seventh consciousness, the mental faculty) and have found that their six sense faculties, six sense objects, and six consciousnesses exist only temporarily and eventually perish, and are thus not real. It follows, then, that the “self” is unreal. The “self” is formed by combining the four great elements using the parents, the four great elements, and food as conditions. The perceptive mind “self” is formed by using the contacts between the six sense faculties and the six sense objects as conditions. Therefore, the perceptive mind “self” is not real.

As no single dharma within the eighteen-element “self” is real and imperishable, there is certainly no real and imperishable “Self”! How can anyone claim that there is a “Self” when there is no inherently existing “Self”? One can search everywhere and will not be able to find any real and imperishable dharma. One thus firmly says, “Oh! I have been searching for twenty to thirty years but could not find a real and imperishable mind. The ‘self’ is therefore entirely brought about by causes and conditions. All sentient beings arise dependently without an intrinsic nature. When I die, there will be nothing left; all phenomena will be empty after I die.” Thus, this person becomes a nihilist.

2.2 The “no self” of nihilists in the Buddhist community

The second kind of “no self” is that subscribed to by ordinary nihilists in the Buddhist community. Non-Buddhist nihilists believe in “no self,” but there are also non-Buddhist nihilists in the Buddhist community who talk about “no self.” These are the believers of the Prasaṅgika Mādhyamika school of Tantric Buddhism. Tantric Buddhists deny the existence of the seventh and eighth consciousnesses, claiming that the Buddha did not talk about these consciousnesses in the Āgama Sutras.

The patriarch of the Prasaṅgika Mādhyamika school, Bodhisattva Candrakīrti, and his successor Bodhisattva Śāntideva (neither of whom should have been called bodhisattva), and later, Atiśa and Tsongkhapa, worked hard in Tibet to promote the aforementioned view. It has since been passed down through generations of Dalai Lamas and gurus. Today’s Master Yìn Shùn of the exoteric school also denies the existence of the seventh and eighth consciousnesses. They all believe that these two consciousnesses can be found only in the doctrines of the Great Vehicle (Mahayana), which they claim emerged only after the development of Sectarian Buddhism (Nikāya Buddhism).

The truth is that the aforementioned “Āgamas experts” do not understand the contents of the Āgama Sutras. I cited examples in my published books to prove that the Āgama Sutras mentioned the seventh and eighth consciousnesses, and such “experts” dare not speak up now. This is because my proofs are truthful, correct, and based on facts.

After denying the existence of the seventh and eighth consciousnesses, the aforementioned Āgamas experts fear that others will say they are non-Buddhist nihilists. Hence, they came up with the notions of the subtle and subtlest minds of the mental consciousness. They say, “These two minds cannot be known or realized and are the primary mind entities substantiating sentient beings’ causality transmigration.” However, if only the six consciousnesses exist, not including the seventh and eighth consciousnesses, then no sentient being can be reborn after death, and everyone will definitely be annihilated. This is because the Buddha said that the mental consciousness cannot transfer to the next life and is also a dependent-arising dharma that is neither permanent nor imperishable. Therefore, in essence, this view of “no self” is essentially the notion set forth in nihilism and the no-cause theory.

In the four major Āgama Sutras collections, the Buddha taught, “All the mental consciousnesses, whether coarse or subtle, can be known; there is no mental consciousness that cannot be known.” He also said, “All mental consciousnesses, whether coarse or subtle, arise from manas and dharma as conditions.” Therefore, among all the coarse and subtle mental consciousnesses, there is no subtle mental consciousness that cannot be known, as the nihilists in the Buddhist community claim. In light of this, all the coarse and subtle mental consciousnesses are illusory consciousnesses and belong to a dharma of dependent arising and ceasing, not what the nihilists in the Buddhist community regard as the primary consciousness that substantiates the cyclic existence in the past, present, and future lifetimes. Therefore, the subtle or subtlest minds of the mental consciousness, concepts that the nihilists in the Buddhist community came up with after they denied the existence of the seventh and eighth consciousnesses, amount to delusive thinking. We can conclude that they denote nihilism and the no-cause theory in essence. The subtle or subtlest minds of the mental consciousness established by such nihilists are merely delusions and cannot be known or realized.

2.3 The “no self” of eternalism in the Buddhist community

The third type of “no self” is that propagated by “ordinary eternalists in the Buddhist community.” This is the notion of reality-suchness rendered by the Tibetan Middle Way Autonomy school (Svātantrika Mādhyamika). It is also the “no self” referred to by the Buddhist “Dharma masters” or lay practitioners mentioned earlier, who hold the view of non-Buddhist eternalism.

The gurus and lay practitioners of Tantric Buddhism claim, “After entering the state of thoughtless awareness during sitting meditation, one does not cling to oneself or any worldly dharma. Then, one introspects about his own mind, the perceptive mind itself, which is empty, with no appearance, that which denotes the emptiness nature. As such, one has realized the dharma-body of the reality-suchness, that which equates to the dharma-body of the reality-suchness of the Buddha Ground. Thus, the ālaya-consciousness realized by Xiāo Píngshí is only the dharma-body on the causal ground, which belongs to a very low stage! What we have realized is the dharma-body of the Buddha Ground.”

Tragically, the dharma-body of the reality-suchness of the Buddha Ground that the gurus and lay practitioners of Tantric Buddhism claim they have realized is actually merely the mental consciousness. Not only have they not realized the eighth consciousness; they do not even know where the seventh consciousness is. This denotes the dharma of “no self,” which they believe is correct (actually, it is not) but is in fact still the “self” set forth in non-Buddhist eternalism. To them, no self means not being attached to oneself. However, this still belongs to the notion of “self” because in Buddhism, true “No Self” denotes the repudiation of one’s perceptive mind; this refers to seeing the Path with regard to “No Self.” The notion of “No Self” of the remainderless nirvana is achieved only when one extinguishes his own perceptive mind and the “self” who makes decisions. The non-Buddhist eternalists, however, firmly believe that one should always maintain awareness and not extinguish the perceptive mind, and should constantly abide in a state of thoughtlessness. This is the notion of maintaining the “self,” which is precisely self-view and self-attachment.

The reason that self-attachment cannot be eliminated is the failure to eliminate self-view. This is because the proponents of Tantric Buddhism erroneously believe that when the perceptive mind is not attached to any dharma, this denotes the realization of No Self. However, they firmly believe that the concept of the perceptive mind is permanent and imperishable; this notion is exactly self-view. Thus, this idea of “no self” is wrong and is not the true “No Self” taught in the Buddhist Three-Vehicle bodhi.

2.4 The “no self” by dissolving oneself

The fourth kind of “no self” is the notion of “dissolving the self.” Master Sheng Yen believed that we only need to let go of everything and our perceptive minds will be inherently at ease. He believed that this denotes “no self” because when we allow ourselves to be dissolved and people scold us, we will accept it, and when people praise us, it will not matter much to us. But can we really dissolve ourselves in this way? No, we can’t! That’s because our perceptive mind “self” will still exist. When we firmly believe that “the perceptive mind self is permanent and imperishable,” we will not be able to dissolve ourselves. We will only think we have dissolved ourselves, but our self-view will, in fact, still exist. The perceptive mind is actually none other than the worldly self.

To truly dissolve our “self,” we need to realize that all our eighteen elements––our six sense faculties, six sense objects, and six consciousnesses––are actually illusory and impermanent. Moreover, we need to eliminate and extinguish the erroneous view that “the perceptive mind is real, permanent, and imperishable.” This will also allow us to extinguish the attachment of our mental faculty––which constantly makes decisions––to itself and our perceptive mind. Having completed these processes, we can then truly realize the notion of “No Self,” and only then can we truly say that we have dissolved ourselves.

If we cannot extinguish the erroneous view that “the perceptive mind is permanent and imperishable,” we can never say that we have dissolved ourselves because our “self-view” will always exist. As long as our “self-view” exists, we will not be able to dissolve ourselves because the erroneous view that our perceptive mind (“I”) is permanent and imperishable will remain and persist. This denotes self-view.

All the “no self” views mentioned in the previous four sections are based on the mental consciousness “self” set forth in eternalism. In reality, in all such “no self” views, the self-view has not been extinguished. The proponents of Prasaṅgika Mādhyamika and Svātantrika Mādhyamika in Tantric Buddhism and the unenlightened lay practitioners and “Dharma masters” within the Buddhist community who embrace the notion of “no self” claim that they abide in a state of thoughtless awareness to observe their own perceptive mind, that which has the appearances of No Self and emptiness. However, such is just a “non-differentiated” state of the perceptive mind; the aforementioned Tantric Buddhist proponents assume that this mind is real and imperishable. As such, none of them have truly realized “No Self” or the non-conceptual mind. The reason for this is that the “state of mind” that they have realized still has a self that cognizes and the nature of differentiating the five sense objects. This makes them different from persons who have truly realized the eighth consciousness mind, that which does not fit into the state of awareness or involve the five sense objects.

However, Tantric Buddhist proponents maintain that one will fully achieve the ultimate fruition of Buddhahood––realizing the reality-suchness of the Buddha Ground––after one abides in the thoughtless state and has been through various observations and contemplations. Unfortunately, this kind of Great Perfection Dharma of the “mahāmudrā of clarity and emptiness” is not the true Great Perfection. Before I conclude my speech, I will briefly explain what the true Great Perfection is.

In Buddhism, there are two ways to realize the true “No Self.” The first is to cultivate the Path to Liberation of the Two Vehicles. Two-Vehicle practitioners and adepts directly observe, examine, and verify the illusoriness and impermanence of all their own eighteen elements and negate their mental consciousness and mental faculty. Thereupon, their “self-view” is eliminated, and their “self-attachment” will also be gradually eliminated. Only then can one dissolve oneself. This is the empirical true realization of No Self taught in the Buddha Dharma, and it denotes the Path to Liberation of the Two Vehicles.

The other way to realize the true “No Self” in Buddhism is to cultivate the Path to Buddhahood, which is the dharma-door of the Great Vehicle (Mahayana). As we realize our own eighth consciousness (the reality-suchness), we can observe its purity and self-existence and realize that it is non-ceasing at all times and can give rise to all phenomena, including all the eighteen elements (dhātu). We will also realize that the eighth consciousness itself has been devoid of the functions of seeing, hearing, perceiving, and knowing and has never made any decision or contemplation or had any single thought of greed or dislike since the beginningless eons. The eighth consciousness never thinks of itself, is totally No Self, and has the pure nature of being free from greed and defilement.

If we reflect on all our deeds, including all the dharmas of the five aggregates, the twelve sense fields, the eighteen elements, and the six entrances (āya), we will realize that all of them arise from our own mind, the reality-suchness. Given that they are all dharmas that arise, they will certainly cease to exist at some point in time. This will enable us to eliminate our self-view and self-attachment and to realize No Self. It is in this way that we can also realize and attain the Path to Liberation of the Two Vehicles.

The aforementioned are the two paths that will allow us to truly realize No Self. We will not elaborate on their details in this book. An in-depth explanation of them is given in the complimentary book The Wrong Views versus the Buddha Dharma published in March 2001.

3.1 The No Self and Self set forth in the Āgama Sutras

This chapter discusses the notions of “No Self and Self” expounded by the Buddha. He taught the notions of “No Self” and also the “True Self.” The chapter has four sections. The first section focuses on the “No Self and Self” set forth in the Āgama Sutras.

There are both explicit and implicit teachings in the Āgama Sutras. The notion of “No Self” clearly explains that the five aggregates, twelve sense fields, and eighteen elements are all derived from the causes and conditions––that is, the eighth consciousness, karmic seeds, ignorance, our parents, and the four great elements jointly and sequentially bring forth our existence. They are all conditional phenomena, without a real entity, and are thus empty and will eventually cease to exist. This denotes the notion of “dependent arising without an intrinsic nature.”

In other words, what we regard as the “True Self” is in fact illusory and not the True Self. Yet many sutras in the four major Āgamas collections implicitly talk about a “True Self.” Why are they called implicit teaching? It’s because the teachings of the “True Self” are not directly or explicitly stated, only implicitly. Thus, the Buddha Dharma’s meaning is concealed.

If we are endowed with wisdom, we will be able to grasp the True Self implicitly stated in the Āgamas; otherwise, we will not even know it. As there is limited time today, I will cite only a passage from the Buddha in the Āgamas that many research experts, such as the Āgamas expert Master Yìn Shùn, are well aware of and often recite. The Buddha repeatedly says in the Āgamas, “All form aggregates––whether a good or a bad one; a beautiful or an ugly one; a coarse or a fine one; one of the long past eons, of the long future eons to come, or the current one of this life ––are neither the Self nor different from the Self, and do not include each other.”

That is to say, our physical body—whether a long-past one, one to come far in the future or a fully formed one that we can use now—does not denote the “imperishable Self.” In other words, the physical body will perish and is therefore not the “True Self.” However, the Buddha also states that the body is “not different from the Self.” That is, one can neither say that the body is not the Self nor is the Self. On one hand, the physical body is perishable; thus, it is not the “True Self.” On the other hand, although the physical body is not the “True Self,” it is not entirely unrelated to the “True Self.” Because the physical body was brought forth by the “True Self,” our physical body is created by our eighth consciousness. Parents and the four great elements are only supporting conditions for the conditional factors. Our physical body is brought forth by our own eighth consciousness, relying on the embryo springing forth from our parents and the four great elements supported by nutrients from our mothers. Our mothers did not make us; they only provided us with the necessary conditions for our existence.

Still, we cannot say, “Then the reality-suchness is within my form aggregate” or “My form aggregate is within the reality-suchness.” No, we cannot say this. If the reality-suchness is indeed included in the form aggregate, then we should be able to locate it after slowly slicing the form aggregate into pieces with a knife to see the reality-suchness popping up. Yet, even if we mince the physical body, we still will not be able to find the eighth consciousness. Thus, we say that the eighth consciousness and the physical body do not include each other.

Neither can we say, “Then, my physical body resides in the reality-suchness.” If our physical body indeed resides in the reality-suchness, then when we grasp our body, we will also grasp the reality-suchness. However, the reality-suchness denotes an emptiness nature and is intangible, not material in nature; hence, we cannot get a hold of it. Therefore, when the physical body decays, the eighth consciousness departs. We cannot rely on the physical body to get hold of the eighth consciousness; thus, it is said that they do not include each other.

Furthermore, we cannot say that the Tathāgatagarbha, the reality-suchness, is within the eighteen elements; however, it is together with and inseparable from the eighteen elements, like a body and its shadow. It is our most intimate and loyal companion, and will never abandon us; only we will abandon it. When we die and go on to our next rebirth, our perceptive mind self will disappear forever and abandon the reality-suchness.

At this point, let me ask, “In the Buddha’s teaching of ‘the material factor or the form aggregate, does the line ‘neither the Self nor different from the Self, and they do not include each other’ imply that a “Self” exists?” Of course, there is certainly a “Self” that exists, and that is why we say that it is the “True Self.”

However, the aforementioned “Self” is unlike the perceptive mind self, which likes, dislikes, wants to leave, or wants to be close to you. It is not this “self.” Rather, the “Self” is not only apart from the six sense objects and devoid of the perceptual functions of seeing, hearing, perceiving, and knowing but is also unaware of itself; it has an entirely No Self nature. Why, then, is it said to be the “Self”? We will explain the reason later.

From the foregoing, the notion of “No Self” is explicitly stated in the Āgamas: the direct teachings that the “self” in terms of the five aggregates, twelve sense fields, and the eighteen elements is not the True Self; that both the physical body and the mind that sees, hears, perceives, and knows are impermanent; and that both the physical body and such mind arise and cease and belong to the dharma of dependent arising. Thus, they are not the true “Self.” Yet, there is another implicitly stated “Self” that co-exists with us.

The teachings of the “No Self” Dharma in the four major Āgama Sutras collections indicate that a “True Self” exists. Nevertheless, the notion of this “True Self” is not directly expounded in the Āgamas; thus, it is said that “the True Self is not articulated to the Two-Vehicle practitioners.” The fact is that not all the four major Āgamas collections are meant for the Two-Vehicle practitioners; there are teachings in these sutras that are meant for the Great Vehicle bodhisattvas. Hence, the word “Mahayana” (meaning “Great Vehicle”) already appears in the Āgama Sutras. The original Buddha Dharma in the Āgamas already mentions the Buddhas of the ten directions and the bodhisattvas. This is not what Master Yìn Shùn claimed. Rather, he claimed that “the original Buddha Dharma does not speak of the Great Vehicle, the Buddhas of the ten directions, or the seventh and eighth consciousnesses.” In fact, the two sutras––the Increasing-by-One Āgama Sutra (Ekôttarâgama) and the Miscellaneous Āgama Sutras (Saṃyuktâgama)––even repeatedly expound the notion of “True Self.” We have cited some examples of this in the Sutras and Vinaya collection titled “Consciousness-Only in the Three Vehicles: A Collection of Sutras and Vinaya in the Tathāgatagarbha Series.”

The Angulimala Sutra of the Increasing-by-One Āgama Sutra distinctly talks about the Tathāgatagarbha and explains buddhas’ and bodhisattvas’ “liberated forms.” That is, the Two-Vehicle practitioners acquire the remainderless nirvana by totally extinguishing the material factor and will never have a physical body again in the future. Bodhisattvas and buddhas, on the other hand, cultivate the Path to Buddhahood and can attain a liberated physical body, having a form dharma, but this form dharma is also a liberated form dharma. In other words, bodhisattvas and buddhas do not entirely extinguish the material factor but instead transform this active dharma into a taintless active dharma, thereby continuously practicing the bodhisattva (bodhi) way to eventually attain the ultimate Buddhahood. However, even after attaining Buddhahood, they will still not extinguish their physical bodies. They will retain these in each of their future lifetimes so that they can guide and help liberate all sentient beings until they transcend the stream of transmigration. Only then will buddhas and bodhisattvas enter the remainderless nirvana, extinguishing the future forms forever. In fact, this type of physical body does not hinder the liberation of buddhas and bodhisattvas because they all have the ability to enter the remainderless nirvana at will after dying, or to be reborn in the next life to benefit sentient beings. They are not tied down by either birth or death, going through birth and death solely to benefit sentient beings. This type of physical body in the human world is thus called the liberated form.

As mentioned earlier, the Āgamas mention the notion of “Tathāgatagarbha,” the “True Self.” However, this True Self is different from the self set forth in the belief of non-Buddhist eternalism––the divinity self or the Brahma self––or from the perceptive mind self known by ordinary Buddhists. In addition, the Āgamas also state an existent liberated form: the permanent and imperishable mind-made body of bodhisattvas and the response-transformation body of the Tathāgatas of the ten directions as they reside (stay) in the world. The reward body that the buddhas often manifest in the three realms and the response-transformation body are both named the liberated form, a type of form factor that will never perish. Even if all buddhas have perfectly realized the four kinds of nirvana and have totally eradicated the “delimited existence” and the “transformational existence,” they do not enter the status of remainderless nirvana. By virtue of their “ten inexhaustible vows” made at the First Ground, all buddhas will permanently reside within the three realms, using their three bodies (the intrinsic nature body, the reward body, and the response-transformation body) so that they can guide and save sentient beings who have a karmic affinity with the Buddha. Thus, as their form is not tied down by either birth or death, it is called the liberated form.

3.2 The No Self and Self set forth in the Prajñā Sutras

This section delves into the “No Self and Self” expounded in the Prajñā Sutras, among others, including the Major and Minor Mahāprajñā Sutras, the Diamond Sutra (Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sutra), and the Heart Sutra (Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya Sutra).

How is the notion of “No Self” expounded in the Prajñā Sutras? The sutras explicitly explain No Self on the basis of the principle “All signs (characteristics) are illusory,” which we all understand. They state: “All conditioned phenomena are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, a shadow, like the dew or lightning.” In other words, both the Major and Minor Mahāprajñā Sutras do not deny the manifestation of all phenomena in the past, present, and future times. Nonetheless, although phenomena do exist, in reality they are only temporary and perishable, without a true, permanent, and imperishable nature. Due to their temporary and compound existence, all conditioned phenomena, including the “self” of five aggregates and eighteen elements, also exist only temporarily and conditionally. The dharmas do exist, but they are said to be empty and No Self because they do not have a true, solid, and imperishable nature.

Let us then ask, “Does the mental consciousness, which perceives and knows, belong to the five aggregates and eighteen elements?” Yes, it does! Then, it is certainly a conditioned dharma! The mind with a thoughtless pristine awareness is also a conditioned dharma because it corresponds to the functions of seeing, hearing, perceiving, and knowing. This mind is thus the mental consciousness. As the functions of the mental consciousness (seeing, hearing, feeling, and knowing) have the six sense objects as their objects, the mental consciousness is definitely a dharma with a characteristic (appearance): the perceptive characteristic. The Buddha taught, “All signs are illusory.” All illusory dharmas denote “No Self,” not having a true and imperishable nature. Thus, the five aggregates, twelve sense fields, and eighteen elements do not have a true and imperishable “Self.” As a matter of fact, the existence of the mind with a thoughtless pristine awareness is contingent upon the aggregates, sense fields, and elements and is naturally also a conditioned dharma with a characteristic, and such mind is of course an illusory dharma.

Then, let me ask, “Is nectar a conditioned or non-conditioned dharma?” (The audience answered, “It is a conditioned dharma.”) Yes, it is a conditioned dharma! You all know it. What about supernatural power? Is it a conditioned or non-conditioned dharma? It is also still a conditioned dharma! The Buddha told us: “All conditioned phenomena are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, a shadow, like the dew or lightning.” That is, although these phenomena exist in terms of worldly appearances, they are compounded dharmas existing only temporarily, as in a dream. They disappear after one wakes up, and are like illusions, bubbles, mirages, or dews, existing only temporarily. They are thus said to exist conditionally and will definitely perish after manifesting. We cannot say that the dew does not exist, but it exists only momentarily, just like lightning. Therefore, we say that these phenomena are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, or shadows and hence are not the real dharmas.

Thus, the mental consciousness is a conditioned dharma with its own characteristic, and is a condition-based dharma generated by the causes and conditions. Can it be a true and solid dharma? Of course not. That is why the Prajñā Sutras ubiquitously state that the aggregates, sense fields, and elements have No Self. However, the sutras do not preach the notion of nihilistic “emptiness of all phenomena.” As a result, the Prajñā Sutras on one hand broadly state that the five aggregates, twelve sense fields, eighteen elements, and all conditioned dharmas with signs are illusory. They are dependent arising without an intrinsic nature, and do not have a true or imperishable “Self.” On the other hand, however, the sutras ubiquitously expound the true mind, employing the ultimate truth to explicitly teach the “True Self”: that which has a No Self nature.

Why is the “True Self” not implicitly taught in the Prajñā Sutras? It is because the Prajñā Sutras are meant for the bodhisattvas. The “true mind” or “prajñā mind” is precisely the mind that a bodhisattva needs to realize by cultivating the Buddha Dharma. It is this mind that denotes the “bodhisattva mind” among all the minds expounded in the major and minor Prajñā Sutras (the others are the “unmindful mind,” the “non-abiding mind,” the “mind without the characteristics of an ordinary mind,” and the “non-mind mind”). Adding to these minds, the Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra also state that a bodhisattva has a non-abiding mind—a mind brought forth without abiding (without relying on any condition).

Can our mental consciousness, the thoughtless pristine awareness, be brought forth as the non-abiding mind? It cannot! Why? It is because the thoughtless mind with pristine awareness must abide somewhere whenever it arises, unless this conscious mind ceases to exist and does not appear. As soon as the conscious mind appears, it will definitely correspond to the six sense objects. Even if one meditates and enters the state of samāpatti of the second concentration, leaving behind the five sense objects of the desire realm, one’s perceptive mind will still correspond to the mental object of the samadhi state. As there is a corresponding mental object in the samadhi state, the perceptive mind dwells in it; it abides in the mental object of the samadhi state, and this existing conscious perceptive mind can perceive and distinguish the mental object of the samadhi state. As mentioned earlier, this is an abiding mind and not a non-abiding mind. An individual who corresponds to the mental object of the samadhi state falls within the six sense objects. This perceptive mind, which falls within and perceives or senses the six sense objects, is not a non-abiding mind. Despite being apart from any language or illusory thought, this mind can still distinctly know the mental object of the samadhi state, thereby abiding in the samadhi state. Therefore, it is not a non-abiding mind.

As illustrated earlier, the mind taught in the Diamond Sutra “should be a mind brought forth without abiding” and inherently never abides anywhere and then incessantly brings forth other minds. Due to the realization of this mind, a bodhisattva is thus able to initiate the wisdom pertaining to prajñā. However, this non-abiding mind did not come into being after cultivation; it has been intrinsically non-abiding. That is to say, one does not transform the abiding perceptive mind into a non-abiding mind after enlightenment; rather, one realizes another existing non-abiding mind. After realizing this mind, one will see that this mind, while non-abiding, coexists with the self, consisting of the mind with thoughtless pristine awareness, which is exactly what one has observed before realizing this mind. Only this denotes the true Buddha Dharma: another mind, the eighth consciousness, which has always coexisted with us and has been innately non-abiding. It is not meant to change the normal, healthy us into undifferentiable idiots.

The true Buddha Dharma should inherently exist and is not created after cultivation. That is to say, “the Prajñā Sutras expound the mind without the characteristics of an ordinary mind,” which denotes the “True Self.” A mind with the characteristics of an ordinary mind is not the “True Self.” For example, a mind with greed, aversion, arrogance, or doubt, or a mind with clear and lucid awareness, corresponds to greed and aversion, which may be clear and lucid now but will become drowsy when one gets tired or sleepy, or might completely not know a thing when one falls into a deep sleep. An ordinary mind cannot be clear and lucid at all times.

If one says, “I don’t want my perceptive mind to cease to exist; I want to keep awake, and I don’t want to sleep.” When a clear awareness is maintained, without any thought arising, it still corresponds to the six sense objects and can discern these during the state without a thought. This is precisely the notion of a “mind with the characteristics of an ordinary mind” rather than of a “mind without the characteristics of an ordinary mind.” The Prajñā Sutras tell us that a bodhisattva has a “mind without the characteristics of an ordinary mind.” In other words, this mind has an intrinsic nature without greed, aversion, arrogance, and doubt, and it neither likes nor dislikes anything. It lacks the characteristics of a mind commonly known to sentient beings, and it is this mind that is explicitly said to be the “True Self” in the Prajñā Sutras.

The Prajñā Sutras also speak of a “non-mind mind,” explaining that a bodhisattva has such a mind. If, in the process of Chan contemplation, you attain awakening and locate your mind, and think that mind is the True Mind. Yet you must check if that realized “mind” was already known to you before. If that is a mind that you had known before you heard and fostered the ultimate and definitive Dharma, then such mind is not the “True Self” because it is also the mind that sentient beings know. The mind awakened by a bodhisattva is the “non-mind mind” and not the mind known by sentient beings, which can see, hear, perceive, and know. This seems odd. Why call it a mind when it is not a mind? Nonetheless, this true mind is indeed not the mind that sentient beings speak of. It is like when someone scolds you and tells you “You’re not really a man!” you reply, “Ah! Thank you for your compliment. One who is not a man denotes the true man.” If someone scolds you again and tells you “You have no Path!” You reply, “Thank you for praising me. A non-path one denotes the one with the true Path.” This notion of “non-mind mind” is exactly the “True Self” explicitly mentioned and expounded in the Prajñā Sutras.

Attaining realization of the “True Self” expounded in the Prajñā Sutras denotes two wisdoms pertaining to prajñā: the “knowledge-of-general-aspects” and the “knowledge-of-specific-aspects.” If one does not realize “the bodhisattva mind, the unmindful mind, the non-mind mind, the mind without the characteristics of an ordinary mind, or the non-abiding mind” but constantly keeps his perceptive mind in a state where he does not think of any dharma, then he has not realized prajñā. Even if the perceptive mind constantly abides in a thoughtless state, a person with such mind has yet to realize prajñā as his perceptive mind is not the “unmindful mind” taught by the Buddha. The prajñā that a practitioner can give rise to is one that solely relies on the realization of the mind that “inherently never brings forth any thought, inherently never misses any dharma, and inherently never remembers any dharma.” That is, through the realization of this unmindful mind, the wisdom pertaining to prajñā is initiated.

The notion of prajñā expounded in the major and minor Prajñā Sutras and Heart Sutra distinctly depicts the specific nature of the “bodhisattva mind” or “unmindful mind.” This is the mind that fully possesses all the eight negations of Mādhyamika (aṣṭānta). However, this mind is not a mind and is unlike a mind; it thus denotes the true “Self.” Why is it the true “Self”? It is because this mind is permanent, without cessation, and has never generated any thought or thought of the Buddha or any dharma since the beginningless eons. It never has any self-attachment or dharma-attachment and exists forever, without extinction. Only such a mind denotes the true “Self”! Thus, we can conclude that the perceptive mind that will perish is absolutely not the true “Self.” On the other hand, this true “Self” perpetually transcends seeing, hearing, perceiving, and knowing. It is devoid of self-view and self-attachment and has possessed the nature of No Self since the beginningless eons. It will never change.

3.3 The No Self and Self set forth in the Consciousness-Only Sutras

After hearing the Buddha expounding on prajñā, many who did not understand made commentaries on it, resulting in disputes about “existence” and “emptiness.” Such arguments exist only among unenlightened people within Buddhist communities. An arhat will not debate with others over existence or emptiness because one day after he realizes nirvana, he will ask the Buddha, “Will I descend into nihilistic extinction now that I have entered nirvana as all the eighteen elements in me have been totally extinguished?” The Buddha will answer, “No! After one enters nirvana, there will be the fundamental reality denoting the everlasting and non-ceasing nirvana.” This fundamental reality is “the consciousness” referred to in “the consciousness conditions name-and-form” and in “name-and-form conditions the consciousness,” which is also the “embryo-entering consciousness.” The arhat will be at ease upon hearing the Buddha’s teaching, thinking, “When I abandon this body, I can enter nirvana at peace. Because the self is false and unreal but the fundamental reality will not cease to exist after the self vanishes, nirvana is not tantamount to nihilistic extinction.”

Only ordinary mortals who do not truly comprehend nirvana will argue over existence or emptiness. They do not know that there is a fundamental reality that exists that denotes the remainderless nirvana. They also do not know what prajñā is and do not know that it refers to the nature of the non-mind mind, the eighth consciousness. Their debates and contradictions are the reasons that the Buddha turned the Third Wheel of the Dharma. He expounded on the Consciousness-Only sutras.

There are many Consciousness-Only sutras. Among the most famous ones are Laṅkāvatāra Sutra, Sutra of Profound and Mysterious Emancipation (Saṃdhinirmocana Sutra), Tathāgatagarbha Sutra, Mahāyānābhisamaya Sutra, Sutra of the Buddha’s Teaching on the Unsurpassed Reliance (Anuttarasrayasutra), and Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sutra. Actually, even the Āgama Sutras mention the principles of Consciousness-Only.

The correct principles of Consciousness-Only taught during the Third Turning of the Dharma Wheel can be explained in two doors: by explicitly explaining the notion of “No Self” through the “unreal door of Consciousness-Only” and by explicitly explaining the “True Self” through the “real door of Consciousness-Only.” In the unreal door of Consciousness-Only, the pervasive teachings of “No Self” explicitly explain the cause and conditions of having the five aggregates, twelve sense fields, and eighteen elements of a sentient being. Then come the forms, sensations, perceptions, formations, and consciousnesses, which make up the five-aggregate self of sentient beings. Thus, the “self” that sees, hears, perceives, and knows can finally come to exist. The “sentient being self” begins with the material factors, which rely on the Tathāgatagarbha as the cause and on karmic seeds as the conditions. Karmic seeds are accumulated through the defiled and pure deeds committed by the mental consciousness together with the mental faculty in the previous lives. The conditions of parents and the four great elements are also combined to bring forth our physical bodies. The physical body is the prerequisite for the perceptive mind to see, hear, perceive, and know. This teaching has already shown us the following: The “self,” which we have taken as real and indestructible, is actually unreal and is brought about by the conjunction of the cause (the store consciousness; the Tathāgatagarbha) and of various conditions existing only temporarily. The unreal door of Consciousness-Only illuminates the fact that the “self” brought forth through the conjunction of the five aggregates, twelve sense fields, and eighteen elements is not real and is only a figment of the imagination, and is not indestructible. The unreal door of Consciousness-Only then reveals that all dharmas have No Self. The thoughtless mind with pristine awareness brought forth by the conjunction of various conditions is certainly included. All the foregoing make up the unreal self, which does not possess a real and indestructible nature and is not the permanent and indestructible true “Self.”

On the other hand, the real door of Consciousness-Only explains: The ālaya-consciousness is not the true “Self” because it contains many seeds that cause sentient beings to fall into cyclic existence and to be entrapped within the delimited and transformational existence. The seeds of ignorance, karmic force, and afflictions contained in the ālaya-consciousness entrap sentient beings in the stream of transmigration. For this reason, the ālaya-consciousness is said not the true “Self” and is not real. The real door of Consciousness-Only then reveals that the ālaya-consciousness inherently possesses the essential nature that can enable sentient beings to be liberated from delimited existence, which is its inherently pure nirvanic nature. This inherent nirvanic nature is what a Buddhist relies on to eradicate afflictions through cultivation to attain the nirvana with remainder, the remainderless nirvana, and the non-abiding nirvana. It is also this inherently pure nirvanic nature that enables a Buddhist to eliminate all latent cognitive hindrances belonging to the beginningless ignorance and to attain the ultimate Buddhahood. This specific essential nature is fully present in the ālaya-consciousness, and practitioners who have realized such consciousness can rely on it to gain insightful comprehension of its nature. Eventually, these enlighteners will completely achieve the wisdom of liberation and the wisdom of prajñā. With these two aspects of wisdom fully achieved, enlighteners will be able to totally eradicate their delimited existence and transformational existence. At this stage, the ālaya-consciousness will be renamed the immaculate consciousness. This, then, is the eighth consciousness of the Buddha Ground: the “reality-suchness,” the real “reality-suchness.”

As illustrated above, the ālaya-consciousness set forth in the real door of Consciousness-Only is as follows: The alaya possesses both the nature of existence and the nature of emptiness, the nature of cyclic existence and the nature of nirvanic liberation, and the nature of defilement and the nature of purity. This means that the ālaya-consciousness of a sentient being who does not follow Buddhism and pursue the Path to Liberation will cause him to transmigrate, while that of a sentient being who follows Buddhism and pursues the Path to Liberation will cause him to transcend cyclic existence. Furthermore, the ālaya-consciousness of a sentient being who does not follow Buddhism and pursue the Path to Buddhahood will never transform into the reality-suchness of the Buddha Ground and will always be the illusory consciousness, while that of a sentient being who follows Buddhism and pursues the Path to Buddhahood will be the principal entity of the reality-suchness of the Buddha Ground in the future. The ālaya-consciousness is therefore the true consciousness, the true “Self.” Thus, on the causal ground, it contains an illusory nature but at the same time is not illusory. This embodiment of being neither false nor non-false constitutes the notion of the Middle Way.

The aforementioned teaching means that the unreal door of Consciousness-Only expounded in the knowledge-of-all-aspects of Consciousness-Only depicts the No Self of the five aggregates, twelve sense fields, and eighteen elements. All phenomena derived in a subsequently interactive way have also No Self. Aggregates, sense fields, elements, and all dharmas are dependent arising without an intrinsic nature. This is the explicit teaching of “No Self.” On the other hand, the real door of Consciousness-Only expounded in the knowledge-of-all-aspects of Consciousness-Only depicts the “Self” explicitly in four aspects: karma-based dependent arising, ālaya-based dependent arising, reality-suchness-based dependent arising, and the true and permanent Mind-Only.

What is the notion of karma-based dependent arising? It means that all the seeds from either the wholesome or unwholesome deeds committed by every sentient being in the past, present, and future in the ten directions are stored in the ālaya-consciousness, inducing desirable or undesirable karmic retribution (effects) in the future. This is the principle of karma-based dependent arising. In the secular world, people often say, “You reap what you sow; if the fruition is not forthcoming, it is because the time is yet to come.” This is actually karma-based dependent arising: desirable or undesirable retribution in the future is brought forth by the seeds from one’s own wholesome or unwholesome deeds. For example, people who start to cultivate and accumulate merits/virtues after learning the Buddha’s teachings through kind and charitable giving, buying and releasing captured animals, making offerings to the Three Jewels, protecting the True Dharma, or even refuting the incorrect doctrines by contrasting them with the True Dharma to rescue sentient beings from “the stream of transmigration” will definitely receive positive and wholesome retribution because of all these virtuous and pure deeds. This phenomenon of bringing about positive and wholesome karmic effects from virtuous and pure deeds is called karma-based dependent arising.

Dependent-arising seeds are not always repulsive; they also have positive results. That is, with wholesome deeds, people will surely be reborn in the three higher destinies of rebirth and will enjoy mundane happiness. However, when one becomes complacent after enjoying such desirable rebirth and violates or bullies sentient beings, is not filial to his parents or parents-in-law, is defiant of his teachers or elders, and slanders the True Dharma, sages and saints, or even Buddhas, he will fall into the three lower destinies of rebirth at the end of his current life. He will then suffer all kinds of unpleasant states, even all kinds of atrocious punishments in hell. Only after exhausting the retribution with subsequent eons of rebirths in the paths of hungry ghosts and animals can he be reborn as a human being again. These are all karma-based dependent arising.

The sentient beings in the three realms of the ten directions committed various karmas through wholesome and unwholesome deeds over uncountable eons but never knew that they should eliminate their self-view and self-attachment. In addition, they will keep being conceived and reborn in the three realms after abandoning their karmic body upon their death. This is karma-based dependent arising. What it means is that all the wholesome or unwholesome deeds committed by each sentient being are stored and hidden away in his own eighth consciousness, transmigrate with him life after life, and manifest under suitable conditions. Hence, Bodhisattva Nāgârjuna said, “The karma committed will not be extinguished even after hundreds of thousands of eons. One will still receive the retribution when there are suitable causes and conditions.”

Nevertheless, as mentioned earlier, karma-based dependent arising is not entirely associated with greed, defilement, or harshness; it can also be positive, wholesome, or beautiful. Let’s take all of you as an example. Your performing three felicitous acts and protecting the True Dharma will definitely result in an adorable retributive effect in your future lifetimes, and your wishes regarding your mundane life and Buddhahood cultivation will be fulfilled. Nonetheless, karma-based dependent arising is usually adverse for sentient beings, going against their wishes. This is because sentient beings do not comprehend karma-based dependent arising. They often commit unwholesome deeds for momentary relief from suffering or for the bliss of attaining what they are craving for. Such unwholesome deeds will bring them long suffering in their future lives. This is karma-based dependent arising.

The second kind of dependent arising is ālaya-based dependent arising. All the wholesome and unwholesome deeds one commits, and all kinds of dharmas one absorbs, whether wholesome or defiled, mundane or supramundane, are collected and stored in the ālaya-consciousness. As the ālaya-consciousness collects and stores every karmic seed one has created and absorbed, including seeds of ignorance, the ālaya-consciousness will cause one to have cyclic transmigration within the three realms. During such cyclic existence, each karmic seed committed and each untainted dharma seed fostered in one’s previous lives will manifest one by one under suitable conditions. The seeds of ignorance, karma, pure dharma, and flawless dharma are collected and stored in each person’s ālaya-consciousness and are carried over to the future, life after life, through transmigration without extinction. Unless one has received the retribution under suitable conditions, these karmic seeds will remain forever in one’s ālaya-consciousness, waiting for conditions to ripen and show up with retribution. This phenomenon of all dharma seeds being collected and stored in the ālaya-consciousness without extinction and manifesting under suitable conditions denotes ālaya-based dependent arising. In other words, all wholesome and unwholesome deeds committed by a sentient being have karmic seeds. All the eight consciousnesses (mind-kings) also have their own seeds. Being ignorant of the ultimate reality and not knowing the Path to Liberation, sentient beings absorb all kinds of non-Buddhist erroneous views, self-view, and self-attachment producing various seeds of ignorance. Each of these seeds is collected and stored in the ālaya-consciousness, waiting for the right timing and conditions to show up.

Ālaya-based dependent arising is essentially the dependent arising for all phenomena. Without the ālaya-consciousness, there will be no dependent arising or ceasing of any phenomenon. Therefore, all phenomena in the mundane world, including the aggregates, sense fields, and elements of a sentient being, need the ālaya-consciousness as the cause to arise. Even in the Buddha Dharma, the correct mode of “dependent arising without an intrinsic nature” of aggregates, sense fields, and elements revealed by the teachings on the Path to Liberation; the prajñā of the ultimate reality and the knowledge-of-all-aspects revealed by the teachings on the Path to Buddhahood; and everything else need the ālaya-consciousness as the cause to arise. This denotes ālaya-based dependent arising. These are all because the ālaya-consciousness collects and stores all seeds (functional potentialities) of the eight consciousnesses (mind-kings). In addition, the ālaya-consciousness, which has existed since the beginningless eons, will never cease to exist and will collect and store not only each and every karmic seed that a sentient being produces but also each and every seed of ignorance that a sentient being fosters.

Despite the foregoing, in this Dharma-ending era, no one is able to cultivate and realize this correct principle of ālaya-based dependent arising. Although people talk about the principle behind ālaya-based dependent arising while explaining the Consciousness-Only doctrine, they are unable to personally verify it. What’s worse is that Prasaṅgika Mādhyamika of Tantric Buddhism resolutely negates and denies the existence of the ālaya-consciousness, the eighth consciousness. This negation and denial cause the Buddha Dharma to be regarded as the notion of nihilism, the theory of the non-existence of a fundamental cause. Both Master Yìn Shùn and the Dalai Lama, for example, negate the eighth consciousness or do not acknowledge its existence. Master Yìn Shùn claims that after a sentient being does a karmic deed, it becomes a thing of the past. Thus, the karmic seed will proceed to one’s future lives and will manifest by itself, without needing to be stored and held by the eighth consciousness. Consequently, all the “Middle Way” masters of Prasaṅgika Mādhyamika assert that there is no need for the ālaya-consciousness to hold the seeds of one’s karmic deeds. This concept is an erroneous view, denoting the non-Buddhist theory of the non-existence of a fundamental cause but not the Buddha Dharma. This misconception causes many problems, and I have enumerated a few major ones in my books for dissection and correction. Here, I will cite and explain only one major problem.

If a sentient being’s karmic seeds are not held and stored by his eighth consciousness, how can they continue existing and not be extinguished or lost? If such karmic seeds are not being collected and stored by each sentient being’s ālaya-consciousness, then the karmic seeds of the wholesome and unwholesome deeds of sentient beings can manifest in the future lives of other sentient beings rather than in their own, and such other sentient beings can collect the retribution for these. In addition, all the desirable and undesirable retribution we have accumulated during our lives by diligently cultivating virtues and carrying out pure deeds will go down the drain. We will not gain desirable or undesirable retribution for these. In other words, the undesirable retribution induced by someone else’s unwholesome acts in a previous life can manifest in our current life, and the virtuous karma we cultivated in a previous life can bestow desirable retribution on someone else in his current life. This will put the law of causality in a state of complete chaos and will make the principle of cause and effect cease to exist.

If karmic seeds are not held and stored by each one’s ālaya-consciousness but naturally exist in empty space, being held instead by such, this will also cause a major problem. Let us set aside the fact that “void” is merely a term established on the basis of material factors and just consider what will happen to the notion of “void” assuming it denotes a truly existing dharma that can hold karmic seeds. The void will be permeated with the karmas committed by all sentient beings day by day, while only a few people will cultivate pure deeds and foster pure karmas. The results will certainly be an increase in karmic seeds associated with greed, defilement, or various unwholesome deeds in the void, and increasing ignorance, self-view, and erroneous views instilled in the void. The question is “When will the void be rid of all these instances of ignorance, with sentient beings creating so many karmic seeds every day?”

We need not worry, though, because there is no karmic seed or ignorance existing in the void. All our karmic seeds and instances of ignorance are held and stored in our own eighth consciousness. The defiled karmic seeds absorbed or held by others are their own and have nothing to do with us. All we need to do is to eradicate our own ignorance in a single thought, and our beginningless ignorance, to attain liberation and the ultimate Buddhahood. All others’ karmic seeds and ignorance are irrelevant to us. That is, if we eat, only we will get full; if another refuses to eat, it is only he who will starve. His hunger will have nothing to do with us. In light of this, everyone can be assured of complete responsibility and control over his own cultivation path. This is what ālaya-based dependent arising is about: all our karmic seeds and ignorance are collected and stored in our own ālaya-consciousness and will manifest in our own future lives under suitable conditions.

The third notion of dependent arising is that based on the reality-suchness. That is, each and every sentient being inherently possesses the true mind ālaya-consciousness. However, it contains ignorance, karmic seeds, and also various untainted dharma seeds. If we eradicate both the karmic seeds and the root afflictions derived from ignorance in a single thought through cultivation, we will disrupt the manifestation of transmigration within the three realms and will never be reborn. The ālaya-consciousness becomes the maturational consciousness or the amala-consciousness and is renamed the ninth consciousness, which is actually still the same consciousness. Subsequently, with further cultivation, we can eradicate all the remaining latent seeds, including the latent ignorance of beginningless ignorance: the innumerable cognitive hindrances. When we put an end to the very last bit of hindrance, this consciousness will become the reality-suchness of the Buddha Ground. The consciousness will then be renamed the tenth consciousness, also known as the immaculate consciousness, which denotes the reality-suchness. However, it is still the eighth consciousness. This notion of reality-suchness of the Buddha Ground is achieved by purifying and transforming the ālaya-consciousness at the causal ground through cultivation. Without cultivation to transform what is contained therein, we cannot turn it into the reality-suchness of the Buddha Ground. That is, only practicing this diligently will enable us to accomplish it. This denotes the dependent arising based on the reality-suchness.

As illustrated in the foregoing, the dependent arising based on the reality-suchness is the only true Dharma. Only the notion of dependent arising based on the reality-suchness will lead us to achieve the true meaning of the Middle Way. Why? The reason is that we cannot attain the reality-suchness through cultivation or non-cultivation. That is, we cannot realize the reality-suchness of the Buddha Ground without cultivation, but neither can we realize it through cultivation. This is because the entity of the reality-suchness, the ālaya-consciousness, exists inherently in us and is not something that is transformed after cultivation. Its pure nature also exists inherently in us and is not attained through cultivation. Yet we cannot attain it without seeking realization through Chan contemplation. Thus, the reality-suchness cannot be attained through cultivation but cannot be attained without cultivation either. This is called dependent arising based on the reality-suchness: We need to rely on the eighth consciousness, the ālaya-consciousness, to cultivate the Buddha Dharma.

The fourth aspect is the true and permanent Mind-Only: An enlightener who has realized the ālaya-consciousness will gradually understand the two paths within the Buddha bodhi. He will start the post-awakening cultivation to eliminate the manifestation of afflictive hindrances and to bring forth the fruition of liberation while refraining from actually realizing it. On the other hand, he will follow an enlightened mentor to cultivate the knowledge-of-specific-aspects and the knowledge-of-all-aspects pertaining to prajñā so he could eradicate the latent cognitive hindrances bit by bit. Starting from the Stage of Proficiency upon entering the First Ground, he will also intentionally work on eradicating the habitual seeds of afflictive hindrances while eliminating “the latent cognitive hindrances to be eliminated by practice.” From the Eighth Ground, he can eradicate the latent habitual seeds of afflictive hindrances at will. At the final bodhisattva stage, he will be able to totally eliminate the last bit of extremely subtle latent cognitive hindrance and the taintless habitual seeds of afflictive hindrances (belonging to the formation aggregate and consciousness aggregate) and will reach the ultimate Buddhahood. This is called the true and permanent Mind-Only.

Why is the foregoing described as true and permanent? It is because all the seeds of ignorance derived from a single thought stored in the eighth consciousness, both the manifestation and the habitual seeds, have been entirely extinguished at such stage. The coarse and subtle latent beginningless ignorance stored in the eighth consciousness has also been completely eradicated at such stage. All the seeds contained therein are stored in the reality-suchness pertaining to the golden body of the Buddha Ground. These seeds are ultimately pure and ultimately perfect and will never absorb or foster anything new and so will no longer change. From this point onward, the seeds contained in the reality-suchness will be permanent and immutable; that is, when the transformational existence is completely eradicated, the eighth consciousness will become truly permanent. This alone denotes the ultimate true “Self,” the real suchness. This is called the true and permanent Mind-Only.[3]

The four aforementioned doors form the main body of the real Consciousness-Only. One who has attained all of them has already totally eradicated all the habits and manifestations of afflictive hindrances and all the latent cognitive hindrances. Such person has reached the state of permanence, bliss, Self, and purity in the Buddha Ground. He has reached permanence because the seeds in the reality-suchness will no longer be changed through fostering. Permanence leads to bliss; only with this true bliss will there be a “Self.” In contrast, having variations denotes the phenomenon of impermanence, which certainly has No Self. Impermanence obviously leads to suffering. How could suffering be the “Self”? Who is willing to be a suffering “Self”? Certainly, no one is willing to have a suffering “Self.” When one has eradicated all the habitual seeds of afflictive hindrances and all latent cognitive hindrances, one’s eighth consciousness has become ultimately pure. Hence, the first seven consciousnesses will certainly never correspond to any defiled dharma and will also be ultimately pure. Only when one’s eighth consciousness is in such a state will one have the true “Self.” This is then called the true and permanent Mind-Only. Therefore, this mode of true and permanent Mind-Only denotes the true Buddha Dharma. This is what Master Tàixū correctly preached. Actually, as Master Yìn Shùn rejected this correct view of Master Tàixū, Master Yìn Shùn is the one who misunderstood the Buddha Dharma.

[3] Please refer to the Cultivation Stages of the Two Paths within the Buddha Bodhi table under the References menu for more details.

3.4 The self in the three realms is not the True Self set forth in the Three-Vehicle Dharma

This fourth section will add a supplementary explanation to the “True Self” set forth in the Three-Vehicle Dharma. The concept of “selfhood” exists only because of the cognitive awareness nature. This “self” is the conventional self; with this selfhood, one cannot be called the “True Self” because one will certainly fall within the scope of karma-based dependent arising. This cognitive awareness nature cannot be called the true “Self” due to its dependent arising nature. Thus, this dependent arising nature of the cognitive mental consciousness is a dependent arising dharma and is empty or devoid of an inherent nature. It denotes impermanent dharma and therefore does not have a real and indestructible “Self.” This perceptive mind—whether in the form of pristine awareness with thoughts or pristine awareness without thoughts—has thoughts that change constantly; due to this fact, this perceptive mind is not the true “Self.”

The mental faculty is the “self” that constantly makes decisions and has an imputative nature. Due to this nature, sentient beings will connect with the karmic deeds, leading to cyclic existence and therefore undergo various kinds of suffering in immeasurable future lives. If it is the notion of suffering, it cannot be the true “Self.” It has to be the eighth consciousness, that which is devoid of suffering or bliss is then the true “Self.” That is to say, one has to completely eradicate the habitual seeds of afflictive hindrances before he can have the reality-suchness of the Buddha Ground, which does not have even the subtlest suffering. Only when one leaves transformational existence to completely dissociate himself from suffering can he be called the true “Self,” real and permanent. As a result, all buddhas have completely eradicated all their innumerable delusions and latent dispositions of beginningless ignorance and no longer take on any new fostering; hence, all the seeds (functional potentialities) stored in the eighth consciousness of all buddhas are permanent, eternal, immutable, and without transformational death. Therefore, the eighth consciousness of all buddhas is called the “True Self.”

The aforementioned “Self” is utterly different from and should not be confused with the conventional “self” or the “self” in non-Buddhist eternalism. The “True Self” is the eighth consciousness while the “self” with thoughtless pristine awareness is the sixth consciousness and the “self” that constantly makes decisions is the seventh consciousness. They are totally different from each other. Master Yìn Shùn did not know this principle and made nonsensical comments in his books, such as that “the notion of true and permanent Mind-Only converges with the concept of non-Buddhist divinity self or the idea of Brahma Atma Aikya.” This misunderstanding is much too ridiculous. The fact is that the concept of non-Buddhist divinity self or the idea of Brahma Atma Aikya belongs to the sixth consciousness whereas the truly permanent mind, the true and permanent Mind-Only described in the Consciousness-Only sutras, is the eighth consciousness, which is a totally different matter. It is absurd that Master Yìn Shùn had completely misunderstood this matter.

Why is one’s eighth consciousness called “Self” after he has completely extinguished the two hindrances? The reason is that at this time, after the transformational existence comes to an end, the eighth consciousness, the reality-suchness, corresponds with the twenty-one mental concomitants. Besides, the reality-suchness of a bodhisattva at the stage of Virtual Enlightenment cannot correspond with the twenty-one mental concomitants and can correspond only with the five omnipresent mental concomitants. Therefore, it cannot be called the true “Self.” In contrast, the reality-suchness of the Buddha Ground can correspond not only with the five determinative mental concomitants but also with the eleven wholesome mental concomitants. Therefore, it is the true “Self” and the Self of “permanence, bliss, Self, and purity” set forth in the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sutra. This form of “Self” (permanence, bliss, Self, and purity), which denotes the ultimate dharma of the true and permanent Mind-Only, cannot be comprehended by bodhisattvas at the stages of worthiness, not to mention by the ignorant arhats of the Two Vehicles or by ordinary mortals.

Considering the foregoing, we can therefore conclude that the No Self Dharma is not the ultimate definitive Dharma. It is merely a Dharma for expedient teaching to liberate sentient beings from delimited existence, the cyclic existence within the three realms, and so is not a definitive Dharma. The same applies to the Dharma of “No Self of dharmas”; it is only an expedient way of enabling practitioners to reach the ultimate state of true and permanent Mind-Only of the Buddha Ground. In light of this, all the No Self Dharmas are not ultimate or definitive Dharmas. It is only the Dharma that is “the blazing True Self” of the reality-suchness, the eighth consciousness, in the Buddha Ground that denotes the true Buddha Dharma. The notion of ultimate prajñā is when a practitioner personally attains the reality-suchness of permanence, bliss, Self, and purity of the Buddha Ground. This is because the state of true and permanent Mind-Only of the Buddha Ground, that which is achieved by having fully acquired the knowledge-of-all-aspects, the perfect three bodies, and the four exalted wisdoms, can be called the Great Perfection Dharma. What you intend to learn by coming to the True Enlightenment Practitioners Association is this Great Perfection Dharma, not the nominal great perfection dharma of the perceptive mental state in Tantric Buddhism, which is still a view of ordinary mortals and not worth learning.

4.1 Perfect harmony in the phenomenal world

On the basis of the true principle of “Self and No Self,” we need to understand what is meant by “perfect harmony in the principle and perfect harmony in the phenomena.”

We will first talk about perfect harmony in the worldly dharma (matters). Many people compliment others by saying “Wow! You’re a perfectly harmonious person!” Today, however, when you hear this, you should think: “Is this a compliment or is the person who’s telling me this being sarcastic?” This is because in the contemporary parlance, a “perfectly harmonious person” is one who is a “smooth operator,” who always seeks to please others and to avoid offending anyone, thus keeping quiet even when others make mistakes.

This, however, does not mean having perfect harmony because when we allow a person to continue offending others through his mistakes, we are actually harming him. Instead, we should tell him in private, “It’s wrong for you to do that,” allowing him to save face while enabling him to recognize his mistakes. Only by doing this will we be able to help people obtain true perfect harmony, and we will even become a helpful and virtuous friend to others.

In a way, we in the Buddhist community also practice worldly perfect-harmony dharma, not commenting on people’s right or wrong private behavior but merely engaging in doctrinal debates. For Buddhists, this denotes perfect harmony. There are people outside our community who say, “Xiāo Píngshí is not at all a person of perfect harmony as he always criticizes other people’s Dharma teachings.” However, anyone who says that I am not perfectly harmonious is himself also not perfectly harmonious because he has issued a personal criticism of me rather than just engaging in a doctrinal debate with me.

Yet no one ever considers this: “Although Teacher Xiāo points out the specific errors in other teachings, he never comments that someone is not perfectly harmonious.” Indeed, I have never criticized the physical, verbal, and mental acts of others; I have always just focused on debating with others on the doctrinal meanings of certain teachings. I have never remarked that someone is not perfectly harmonious. Therefore, people should instead say this of me: “Teacher Xiāo is the one who is truly perfectly harmonious!” (Audience applauded.) Thus, starting today, please always remember that whoever says that Teacher Xiāo is not a harmonious person is himself not harmonious because he is personally attacking Teacher Xiāo. This is especially true for those who have already attained the Dharma from Teacher Xiāo; they should not negate Teacher Xiāo and say that he does not act in a perfectly harmonious way. If they persist in doing this after receiving guidance and help from Teacher Xiāo to realize prajñā and after being rescued by him from the deep pit of erroneous non-Buddhist views, they would be the most inharmonious people in the Buddhist community.

4.2 The perfect harmony in the Buddha Dharma denotes having perfect harmony between principle and phenomena

The notion of perfect harmony in the Buddha Dharma refers to having perfect harmony between principle and phenomena. True principle encompasses all phenomena, and we can perceive this true principle in all phenomena. This means that we can observe how every individual’s eighth consciousness works among all the dharma characteristics (worldly matters): the six sense faculties, six sense objects, and six consciousnesses. This denotes the perfect harmony between principle and phenomena. The principle of “reality-suchness” pervades at all times and in all the eighteen elements, all the stages, and all the consciousnesses; that which exists in such a way can be referred to as reality-suchness. The perceptive mind, such as the thoughtless and lucid awareness, cannot pervade at all times. It ceases to exist even during the dreamless deep sleep at night, not to mention at the state of death or unconsciousness. Thus, it cannot be the true and everlasting dharma.

On the other hand, our reality-suchness still exists during our dreamless sleep! We need to locate it, and after finding it, we will realize that it exists at all times and over all phenomena: the six sense faculties, six sense objects, and six consciousnesses. We can observe it within the three realms and nine stages (of mental states), and we can observe that it works with the seven evolving consciousnesses. Only when we can already observe it over all phenomena can we affirm that there is perfect harmony between principle and phenomena.

However, practitioners of Tantric Buddhism could not attain the principle of reality-suchness. Thus, they did everything possible to collect what they had not heard previously and incorporated these into Buddhism, claiming that the mundane and non-Buddhist practices were never attained, comprehended, or taught by the Buddha. On the basis of this, they claimed that Buddha Sakyamuni’s attainment was not ultimate, and that only the Great Sun Tathāgata could help one attain Buddhahood in a single lifetime with the physical body. They falsely claimed that the buddha whom they followed, the Great Sun Tathāgata (not really the Great Sun Tathāgata, Buddha Vairocana), was superior to the buddha of the exoteric schools. They worked hard to collect eccentric non-Buddhist practices, which many Buddhists had never heard of, and incorporated these into “Tantric Buddhism,” thereby making Tantric Buddhism in the later period in India an “occult” religion, which was eventually assimilated by Hinduism. Thus, Buddhism disappeared.

The “secrets” that the practitioners of Tantric Buddhism collected, however, do not comprise the true secret meaning of Buddhism; they are purely erroneous non-Buddhist views or misconceptions. Having incorporated all the eccentric non-Buddhist practices, Tantric Buddhism has thus become a religion of “eccentric practices.” Therefore, many of its practitioners’ conducts or concepts are not only weird but also violate the teachings of the Three Dharma Seals and the principle of nirvana. Especially, the views of Prasaṅgika Mādhyamika completely violate the correct principles of nirvana in the Āgama Sutras, the prajñā of the Middle Way, and the knowledge-of-all-aspects of the Consciousness-Only. The reason that Tantric Buddhism has become a religion of “occult and eccentric practices” is that its practitioners have not realized the true principle and thus cannot talk about the notion of perfect harmony between principle and phenomena. They cannot even touch the fringes of the Three-Vehicle bodhi. You will see a list of evidence of this in the book Behind the Façade of Tibetan Tantra to be published at the end of this year.

4.3 The bodhi of the Two Vehicles is not called perfect harmony between principle and phenomena

The No Self Dharma in the bodhi of the Two Vehicles cannot be called perfect harmony between principle and phenomena because its Dharma is based on the phenomenal world, not on principle. The practitioners of the Two Vehicles perceive No Self through the emptiness appearance of the five aggregates, twelve sense fields, and eighteen elements, all of which belong to the phenomenal world. Hence, the Dharma of the Two Vehicles is called conventional truth.

In the Mahayana Dharma, one could distinctly observe the reality-suchness of the eighth consciousness, which is the true reality of all dharma realms; this notion of wisdom is called “the truth of principle.” This wisdom is not derived from observing the conventional dharmas, such as the aggregates, sense fields, and elements, all belonging to the three realms. The practitioners of the Two Vehicles do not know this true principle. Therefore, the Dharma of the Two Vehicles is about phenomena rather than principle and hence are called conventional truth rather than ultimate truth.

The fact is the practitioners of the Two Vehicles realize the emptiness appearance of the five aggregates but do not realize the reality-suchness of the eighth consciousness, which works alongside the five aggregates and is truly not empty. They thus cannot personally experience the reality-suchness of the eighth consciousness. Therefore, the Mahayana Sutras state that an adept saint of the Two Vehicles realizes emptiness but not non-emptiness; this therefore cannot be called perfect harmony between principle and phenomena. Only the Mahayana Dharma can be said to demonstrate perfect harmony between principle and phenomena because within the Mahayana, the practitioners can realize not only the Dharma of No Self but also the “True Self.”

4.4 The perfect harmony between principle and phenomena can be based only on the elimination of an individual’s dispositional hindrances post-awakening

One can be said to have perfect harmony between principle and phenomena only if, post-awakening, he truly diligently eliminates his dispositional hindrances; subdues his greed in the three realms; rids himself of his attachment to his followers; cultivates and realizes the “knowledge-of-the-aspects-of-paths” pertaining to No Self of dharmas; truly advances toward the state of ultimate “True Self” that is permanent, blissful, and pure on the Buddha Ground; and continues progressing toward the knowledge-of-the-aspects-of-paths instead of remaining stagnant at the level of the knowledge-of-general-aspect or wasting time clinging to his followers.

On the other hand, after having attained the prajñā following enlightenment, if one is unwilling to eliminate his dispositional hindrances and continues to be very greedy or to have a very short temper, he does not really have perfect harmony between principle and phenomena. In fact, for an ordinary unenlightened person, having perfect harmony between principle and phenomena means to become enlightened. However, an enlightened bodhisattva at the stages of worthiness has to eradicate these dispositional hindrances post-awakening before he can be said to have perfect harmony between principle and phenomena.

In other words, after enlightenment, an individual should truly align himself with the nature of the reality-suchness that has No Self and is unselfish. If, post-awakening, one is still self-arrogant, dharma-arrogant, or selfish, or even goes so far as to have an aversion to his wholesome mentor who guided him toward enlightenment, secretly boycotting the latter, then he is not just ignorant of the principle of perfect harmony between principle and phenomena but will also live under infamy for being ungrateful and for deceiving and betraying his master and patriarchs. Indeed, this person has violated not only the nature of reality-suchness that is No Self and unselfish but also the mundane ethical principles, which is not tolerated in both the heavenly or human realms. He is thus not even qualified to learn the mundane dharma, let alone the definitive Buddha Dharma. In view of this, how can such a person be qualified to speak to others about the perfect harmony between principle and phenomena?

4.5 An overly nice man does not denote true perfect harmony

Within the Buddhist community, those who are excessively nice do not manifest true harmony between principle and phenomena. For example, if, due to our special affinity with our teacher or Dharma master, we become a bystander, allowing our teacher or Dharma master to misguide others or lead them astray, without refuting his wrong teachings, then we do not manifest true harmony between principle and phenomena. Our failure to act is merciless and without compassion as we fail to rescue massive groups of sentient beings. Despite distinctly knowing that people at large are being led astray, we do nothing to stop it. Indeed, this failure to act is merciless and without compassion.

On the other hand, we can also be overly sympathetic with our teacher or Dharma master who is propagating wrong teachings and not tell him he is doing something wrong because we are afraid of offending or irritating him. We should actually tell him the following: “What you’re doing is wrong. You should once again start to contemplate. Work hard and you will definitely see the path one day and attain enlightenment!” Although we may offend him by telling him this, when he gets enlightened in the future, he will be very grateful to us for correcting him. In other words, we should not be too sympathetic and instead help our teachers or Dharma masters extinguish their erroneous views. Otherwise, we cannot claim to have perfect harmony in principle because our conscious mind is fettered by our personal relationships. We are thus going against the principle of reality-suchness and are instead falling into the trap of nurturing the personal sentiment of mental consciousness rather than aligning our mental consciousness with the principle nature of reality-suchness.

What is it like to truly have perfect harmony? It is like the Buddha’s deed of closely following the six non-Buddhist teachers who defamed the True Dharma and the Buddha to every big city in India to refute their teachings, hence saving many people and enabling them to learn the correct principles in the Buddha Dharma. This denotes true perfect harmony! The Buddha visited every big city in India and taught the people there the principles of reality-suchness, on one hand giving them guidance and on the other correcting the teachings of the six non-Buddhist masters and enabling them to acknowledge their mistakes. Although these masters did not openly admit their mistake, they eventually found out that they were wrong and privately looked for ways to contemplate Chan by themselves. Thus, one is deemed to have perfect harmony between principle and phenomena when he follows the Buddha’s footsteps and refutes the erroneous non-Buddhist teachings.

For example, the four Āgamas record many incidents in which some disciples said things that contradicted the Buddha’s teachings and refused to correct themselves even after their fellow bhiksus (monks) pointed out their mistakes. In such incidents, the Buddha summoned such disciples one by one to correct their mistakes. Anyone who preached a dharma that was not in accordance with the Buddha Dharma, violating the Buddha’s original intent, was called by the Buddha and asked, “Did you say this?” Most of the disciples were honest and admitted that they indeed preached the said dharma. Then the Buddha told them: “What you said was wrong. Why was it wrong? Where did it go wrong? You should correct yourself.” The erring disciples corrected themselves accordingly and became arhats; those who refused to correct themselves remained ordinary mortals forever.

Indeed, there were many examples of such handling by the Buddha recorded in the four Āgamas, especially in the Vinayapiṭaka (basket of the monastic discipline). The Buddha would always summon the disciples who had made mistakes, to correct them. Each of the 250 precepts for bhiksus and more than 500 precepts for bhiksuni (nuns) was issued following an incident in which a disciple had made a mistake; the Buddha summoned the disciple initially for confirmation purposes and then to correct his mistakes. This was how the precepts came about, and only by doing as the Buddha did in the foregoing situations can we claim to have true perfect harmony.

The fact is, by focusing on the true principle rather than on the mental consciousness, we can help liberate sentient beings at large and also allow non-Buddhists to realize their mistakes. Only then will they have a chance to become bodhisattvas, like Bodhisattva Satyaka-nirgranthī-pūtras, a great bodhisattva who was previously a non-Buddhist. Thus, only by correcting non-Buddhists’ erroneous teachings can we have true perfect harmony. As mentioned earlier, the Buddha persevered to explain to the disciples why they were wrong until they realized their mistake and corrected themselves. What the Buddha did showed that he had perfect harmony between principle and phenomena, so we should learn from Him!


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