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
3.2 The No Self and Self set forth in the Prajñā Sutras
3.3 The No Self and Self set forth in the Consciousness-Only Sutras
3.4 The self in the three realms is not the True Self set forth in the Three-Vehicle Dharma
4.1 Perfect harmony in the phenomenal world
4.2 The perfect harmony in the Buddha Dharma denotes having perfect harmony between principle and phenomena
4.3 The bodhi of the Two Vehicles is not called perfect harmony between principle and phenomena
4.4 The perfect harmony between principle and phenomena can be based only on the elimination of an individual’s dispositional hindrances post-awakening
4.5 An overly nice man does not denote true perfect harmony

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