Transcript of Dharma Talk by
Bhikkhu Phap An in
27 May 2008
Transcribed by Terence Chan
Respected brothers and sisters,
Three sounds of bell
Breathing in, I know I am breathing in
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out
Breathing in, I am aware of the whole body from head to toes
Breathing out, I relax the whole body from head to toes
In, aware of my whole body from head to toes
Out, relax the whole body from head to toes
Breathing in, I am aware of the presence of my brothers and sisters in the community
Breathing out, I send love to my brothers and sisters to embrace them
In, aware of my brothers and sisters
Out, embrace my brothers and sisters with my love
Breathing in, I see each of my brothers and sisters with their talents, joy, happiness and contribution to the retreat
Breathing out, I feel a lot of gratitude and love for my brothers and sisters
In, aware of the talents, joy, happiness and contribution of each of m,y brothers and sisters
Out, feeling a lot of gratitude and love for them
Respected brothers and sisters of the community,
Today I am trying out my new glasses. I can’t see very well. I need to train my eyes.
Yesterday we talked about the practice of stopping and looking deeply. The practice of stopping helps us to slowdown or reverse the process of building up the block of suffering. The practice of looking deeply after our block of suffering has been calmed to a certain degree (or reversed to a certain degree) and we are able to look deeply into it. The practice of stopping has to do with our emotions. We call this obstacle to our joy and happiness klesavarana.
Looking deeply has to do with our cognitive function, the way we look at things. In Buddhism it’s called nanavarana. The object of our knowledge is an obstacle. Looking deeply has to do with a big part of the Buddha’s teachings. It is so vast. We can learn to look in different ways, in new perspectives. It comprises the full spectrum of Buddhist practice to develop our wisdom. Yesterday I said some people are confused as to whether looking deeply is thinking or imagination. I say it is looking at things as they are, with no naming or labeling. Try to refrain from projecting our bad experience into events, to remove ourselves from conjecture. The first point is direct perception, direct cognition. The 2nd way is using our analytical mind. It is called referential wisdom, which comes from inference when we use our thinking. But the most of important is direct cognition. Without evaluation the raw data does not make a lot of sense, but we can’t use it too much. The 3rd way of looking deeply is visualization or imagination. We visualize and hopefully we transform our emotions in that visualisation. Say when many Vietnamese refugees escaped from the hard political and econ situation, they went to south to try to reach Malaysia and Indonesia by boat. On the way, many boats were attacked by pirates, who took all their money and sometimes raped the women. There were girls raped in front of their brothers and fathers. After that their bodies were thrown into the water. When Thay heard this, he was very upset at first. He felt painful and uneasy. In his meditation, he tried to visualize what would happen to him if he were a child born on the coast of Thailand. As a son of a fisherman, he grows up without any receiving any education. He only knows about going out to the sea to fish, but he has many family members to feed. One day a friend says that refugees from Vietnam carry a lot of gold. Let’s go and get it. He goes out. He sees what his friend does to the boat people and just follows. After that he saw that the pirate was not the only one responsible. The whole society was, including the educational system and the poverty. All of that contribute to the action of the pirate. With this visualisaton he was able to calm down and generate love for the pirates so as to accept them. We can use all 3 methods to understand a situation. The practice of looking deeply can be a passive transformation, where the situation has happened and we have built up the block of suffering and we need to transform it in different ways. So we bring up the emotion, learn to embrace it with love n look deeply into it. This passive way of transformation was emphasised in the early phase of Buddhism and the goal was to be an arahat, to cut off all afflictions and to stop the cycle of rebirth. They don’t want to move on to the next life. Another way of looking deeply is active transformation. We try to cultivate good energy. So we try our best to bring about the cultivation of positive energy to help us be happy and joyful. The practice of cultivating good energy can be done at the personal level.
Yesterday we went through the Five Mindfulness Training. In each of the training, there are two parts: passive transformation and active transformation. Aware of suffering caused by the destruction of lives, I am learning to cultivate my compassion. The awareness of suffering caused by something is passive. We are aware of what happened because of killing and we decide to refrain from it. Later in the training we learn to protect and preserve life and not to condone killing. This is the act of active transformation. So the path of cultivating good energy and doing active transformation is the path of the bodhsiattva. Bodhi means awakeing and sattva means being or great being. For active transformation we don’t do it only for ourselves, but for all the people’s happiness. So for our own purpose, we can practice active transformation for ourselves like we decide to eat in a wholesome way, to exercise, to cultivate a healthy body. We don’t wait for our body or mind to be sick before taking action. We cultivate before hand. This is one part of transformation. Yesterday I talked about training a new perception. We learnt to look at things with a new perspective. We actively train our perception. We are determined to look at things in a positive way. In the passive way, things have happened and we learn to look at it in different way to transform our feeling. But here we decide to look in a positive way from the beginning. For example there is a bodhisattva called Non-disparaging Bodhisattva in the Lotus Sutra. He practices like this. Wherever he goes he says: Oh dear friend you have the Buddha in you and I all the way respect you. I will not look down on you. He bows to them to remind them that they have buddha potential in their hearts. He meets someone who is not kind and who has bad fortune in this life. They do not believe him, curse him and hit him. He says you do have buddhahood in you and I will not disrespect you. He practices like that, actively telling them so. We do the same thing in our tradition. When we join palms, we have a gatha:
Breathing in, a lotus to you
Breathing out, a buddha to be
In a different tradition, you can say:
Breathing in, a to for you
Breathing out, a great being to be.
I have shared this with many children, when I lead retreats to them. They can help their parents with this. They learn to bow to each other in mindfulness. I say it is easy to bow to another when we are not angry with each other. When you have difficulties with him, you cannot bow because he has caused you anger. We need to practice before negative situation happens. When difficulty occurs we learn to bow the same way to remind us they have the good potential in them. The child learns to practice with their dads and moms. They say: Hello daddy, lotus to you, my daddy, a most wonderful buddha to be, and then say the same to mom. When they see parents in disharmony, I say, go and practice this. Go to daddy, join your palms and say a lotus to you, a buddha to be. Then hold his legs, ask him to follow your breathing and remind him to return to his buddhahood. I tell them to practice with mom too. Then they can actively transform the situation in their family by the practice that reminds ourselves that we are capable of being good, of living in a most wonderful way.
One sound of bell.
One of the most simple but effective practice of active transformation is feeling grateful. It is very effective. In your meditation or practice, you learn to look at the positive contribution or quality your friends or beloved have done in order to help you in your life. I practice this a lot of times. Whenever I wake up and I see I am still alive with good health, I express gratefulness to life.
Breathing in, I am aware of good health
Breathing out, I feel a lot of gratitude
When I eat I look at the rice and the sesame seeds in the bowl..
Breathing in, I contemplate on where the food comes from, how it was cultivated, how it came to there in the bowl.
Breathing out, I feel a lot of gratefulness while I am eating
I have practicing like that for many years. When we are able to practice gratefulness like that, there is a lot of compassion born from our heart. In my practice before I take my meal in the community. I join palms and follow my breathing.
Breathing in every living being on this earth is struggling for life
Breathing out, I vow that every being has a full plate of food
We as humans are very fortunate. With just a few Hong Kong Dollars we can go to any supermarket and buy food. Hunger is not our problem any more, even for the poor. They do not experience hunger, although they do not have enough to eat. Hunger is when you have no food for many days. It is a painful feeling and it is very difficult. Many animals have to go throughout the whole winter without food. They try their best to hide from the cold and to find food. Many of our friends in the animal kingdom have a lot of difficulty. In my practice I send my love to people around me and to the environment where I live in. Say when I live in Upper Hamlet, I send my compassion energy to Upper Hamlet. From time to time I send my love to the people in places where I have been, like I think of Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Israel, Iraq. That is my practice of gratefulness, of feeling being nourished by love. That is active transformation, training a new perception, cultivating love. There are many other practices. The key point here is that we are in a good situation; we do not wait for bad things to happen. In passive transformation something bad has happened and we use the insight of the master to transform the problem already there. With this scheme of practice we look at Buddhist psychology, the main theme of the retreat. Please take out the handout before too late, before we end the retreat.
The title of this retreat is the Buddha’s Enlightenment the implication to Buddhist psychology. If we do not understand the nature of His enlightenment; what happened to him on the night of His enlightenment and his search for enlightenment, we will not understand the development of Buddhist psychology and we can take many different directions. Sixth and 7th century China had gone through a period of translating many sutras. This text called the Vijnapti-matrata Trimsika means literally Concept-only Thirty or 30 Verses of The Concept-only School. Written by Vasubandhu, it was translated into Chinese in the 6th century first by Master Paramartha (494-596), who embedded it in his commentary called Chuan-shih-lun. The way he interpreted and translated it is like the mind is the ground on which everything begins to manifest. This means the mind is the ontological ground. Ontology means [the study of] essence, [assuming that] within us there is an essence, a substance, a very fine substance. From that fundamental being within ourselves, things begin to manifest. He was influenced by the view that underneath the phenomena, there is an ontological ground, which is the mind. On this ontological mind we generate the self and dharma, ourselves and the world around us. Master Xuan Zang (Hsuan Chuang, 600-664). Some say he was born in 596 AD, but 600 AD is good enough. Master Xuan Zang was a very intelligent and noble master, a great scholar. He was ordained in his early teens. China at that time had gone through a war. The Tang dynasty lasted from 600 AD to 907 AD. So Master Xuan Zang grew up in the beginning of early Tang. A few years before his birth, Master Paramartha brought his translation to China, when China was still divided into the Northern and Southern dynasties. In the north there is a northern school following this text. Master Paramartha also brought another text called Di Lun (Bhumi-sastra?). Due to different understanding they divided themselves into the northern and southern Di Lun school. There was a lot of confusion in Chinese Buddhism teachings at that time. Many teachings had gone there since the late Han dynasty, when in 67 AD, the Han emperor Ming (Ming Di) dreamt of a golden man. Since then there had been many translations of Buddhist texts, but people used the language of Taoism because there were no equivalent concepts in China. So they borrowed the language from Taoism. The ambiguity and confusion in the translations reached a climax in the 6th century, at the time of Master Paramartha. Besides that the Chinese tried to incorporate their own beliefs into Buddhism. They tried to understand Taoism through Buddhist teachings. [Other way round?] In Taoism there is a concept of natural ground, close to the ontological ground in Indian philosophy. They tried to interpret Buddhist teachings that way. There we many teachers. Depending on the text they liked, they attracted different students. They developed different practices according to different texts and formed different schools. Xuan Zang grew up in that atmosphere and heard many contradicting teachings and philosophical ideas. He was determined to go to India to find the truth. There was a text called the Yogacara-bhumi-sastra, The Treatise on Different States of Yogacara Practice. It had been translated partially by Master Paramartha and he interpreted it in the same way as Chuan-shih-lun. At the beginning Master Xuan Zang had a simple idea. There was a missing part in Yogacara-bhumi-sastra. If he could go to India and find the complete text and translate it, all the conflicts and controversies between different schools could be solved. He asked the first Emperor of Tang for permission to go. It was just after the civil war which ended in 600 AD. So the emperor did not allow him. Xuan Zang escaped from Changan and made a pilgrimage to India. It was a very difficult journey at that time. I believe everyone has heard of the Monkey Story. In India he found out the situation was much more difficult and deep than he thought. He left in 629 AD and spent 16-17 years there and returned in 645 AD. He found that the issue at the base was more complicated that just a small controversy in China at that time. It was an issue of philosophical speculation. There were two ways of looking at things, of understanding Buddhism.
In trying to understand our suffering and problems, people tended to resolve them in two different ways. The first way is look for an ontological ground. If we can find the base from which we manifest, the essence of our being, we can understand the root of the world, where the world comes from, the first moment of creation of the universal and of human beings, we can solve all the problems. That is one approach. The second approach is based on the epistemological ground. That is the ground on which we don’t need to look into this problem of the beginning. We ask how we come to perceive things, how we know what we perceive is correct or not, whether our knowledge has any validity. So we can approach in two ways. First we find out our essence and we see things. Second is how we see things. When Master Xuan Zang was in India he found that the root of the problem was this. When he returned in 645 AD he saw that many texts were translated according to people’s own way of understanding and many were not according to the original teachings of the Buddha. So he set up a translation team in Changan to retranslate many of the texts. His translation is known as the New Translation. It is precise, concise and very close to …
When Master Xuan Zang returned he was welcomed by the emperor because he was an excellent student in India, won many debates and brought much prestige to the China. The emperor also knew that Master Xuan Zang had been to central Asia and he wanted to know about the area so he could get military intelligence, in case he wanted to expand his territory later on. He bothered Master Xuan Zang for this information so much that he could not do his translation work. So Master Xuan Zang wrote the book Travelogue to the West for the emperor, which later became the source of Journey to the West. It recorded the places he had been, the state of Buddhism there at the time. Scholars today find that the records are very precise. There are archaeological findings close to where his records indicate. The emperor then set up a translation committee for him and he started translating important texts for different schools. Of the 657 works he brought back, he translated 74, and he wrote one of his own. He passed away in 664 AD. A few years before, his student Master Kweiji asked him to translate the commentary of Trimsika by Master Vasubandhu. At that time there were, according to tradition, there were 10 commentaries by 10 different masters. At first Master Xuan Zang wanted to translate all 10. Somehow during the translation process, Master kweiji tried to convince Master Xuan Zang to compile the 10 into a single text so that future generations would know which direction to follow. With the 10 commentaries, future generation would not know which way is right. Master Kweiji talked to him about his dreams. Master Xuan Zang had several important dreams in his life and they carried great significance. So Xuan Zang listened to him and agreed to compile the 10 into which is called the Cheng-wei-shih-lun. Master Kweiji claimed to have direct translation from Master Xuan Zang and was the patriarch of Dhramalaksana School. Master Kweiji wrote a commentary on Cheng-wei-shih-lun. We need to read this to understand Cheng-wei-shih-lun nowadays. So he became the most authoritative teacher on that matter. He thought that of the 10 commentaries on Cheng-wei-shih-lun, … the most authoritative view comes from Dharmapala. From 8th century to late 19th century or early 20th century, most of the Dharmalaksana texts have been lost in China. But the Cheng-wei-shih-lun was brought to Japan earlier. In late 19th century Japanese scholars gave China a copy, which started a movement to study it.
At the time of Master Kweiji, there was a teacher called Master Fa Zang from the Avatamsaka school. There was a lot of competition for influence between the different schools in Changan. Master Fa Zang went to Master Xuan Zang in 659 AD to work on the translation committee, but he did not agree with Master Xuan Zang on a few points. And they were exactly the conflict between the ontological and epistemological grounds. Master Fa Zang broke away after one or two years with Master Xuan Zang. After Master Xuan Zang passed away, Master Fa Zang gained favour from Empress Wu. She was well-versed in Buddhist studies. She herself had done a lot of work on Buddhist studies and wrote the opening verse for sutras. She invited different masters to answer questions for her, and favoured the ontological view of Master Fa Zang. Since that time the Avatamsaka school gained the upper hand in China, along with the Chan school. The problem with Master Xuan Zang’s new translation is that he tried to be very close to the Sanskrit original, using Sanskrit syntax. It is difficult to understand without having the Sanskrit next to it. Many people did not understand its meaning. Even though he tried to be precise, he did not get close to the people. That is why most of the important Yogacara texts he translated have since been lost. The Trimsika by Master Vasubandhu is a skeleton on which people add all the controversial issues related to the Buddha’s teachings. So Cheng-wei-shih-lun is like an encyclopedic text recording all the different views on different issues concerning Buddhist teachings. Since the 8th century these texts have slowly disappeared in China. In 1922 Sylvain Levy, a French professor, discovered a commentary of the Trimsika in Sanskrit in Nepal. Since that time the work has been edited by him and publicly announced. The title of that commentary is Trimsika-vijnapti-bhasya, Commentary on the 30 Verses of Vijnapti, where vijnapti means concept. It was written by Master Sthiramati. In the commentary on Cheng-wei-shih-lun, Master Kweiji claims that most of the views presented in the work originated from Master Dharmapala, and that these views conflicted with those of Master Sthiramati. So in his commentary he takes Dharmapala’s views as the most authoritative views. Now scholars have studied the text of Sthiramati and found out what Master Kweiji claimed was not correct. Most of the views supposedly belonging to Dharmapala views were in fact from Sthiramati. The two were very close to each other. Why did Master Kweiji set them up this way? We could speculate that there was competition between schools at the time and Kweiji was trying his best to bring authority to himself. Master Fa Zang did not get along with Xuan Zang. Master Kweiji perhaps tried to set himself up to be the patriarch so he has authority on the tradition in order to compete with Fa Zang. So we can understand the text (Trimsika) differently depending on what view you take. That is why I have spent time on history. Without this historical background you might go astray. What is the point of the text? What was the Buddha’s position? Was he following the ontological or epistemological approach? Where was the Buddha on this issue? For that we have to look at the night of the Buddha’s enlightenment. We need to return to that night and try to understand his search for enlightenment. All this explains the title of this retreat: Buddha’s Enlightenment and its Implications on Buddhist Psychology. Let’s look at the text more closely.
In the handout translations of the Trimsika are set out in two sections. The first section contains translations from the Sanskrit version, based on Professor Sylvain Levy. In this section, the first column (Sanskrit to English) is by Professor Richard Robinson from the University of Minnesota. This is in manuscript form because he passed away before its publication. The second (Sanskrit to English) and third (Sanskrit to Vietnamese) columns are by Thay. In the second section the first column is translation from the Sanskrit by Master Xuan Zang. In the second and third column are translations from the Chinese into Sino-Vietnamese and Vietnamese. In the fourth column is Dan Lusthaus’s translation from the Chinese into English. At the end of the handout there is the 100-dharma list from Professor Lusthaus. In his translation, you will find references of dharmas into this list. Professor Lusthaus is also the source of the story I just told you. At the end of the handout there is a map of India and the areas the Buddha went during his lifetime.
In the last 10 minutes of this talk I would like to talk about the Buddha’s enlightenment. The question of where we come from had been a deep question, and it has been haunting the minds of humanity for thousands of years. Around 3000 BC, a group of people migrated from southern Russia who called themselves Aryans, went along the eastern Caspian Sea, down to the Iranian Plateau, and stayed in this area for some time. Then they went through the … Range of Afganistan. At that time, there was the Indus Valley Civilization in northwest India. At the beginning of this century, scholars discovered two important towns for this civilization, Mohenjo-daro and Harappa. Around 2500 BC this civilization died out. Aryans invaded this area, moved up the Indus to the north and settled here about 2000 BC. That was the beginning of the ancestors of the Buddha. The Aryans brought with them a religion and number of texts called the Vedas. About 1200 BC they began to record the Vedas. Their religion is an external way of looking at the world. They looked at natural phenomena and tried to justify it. They believed there was an order in the universe; and that order was controlled by a god. [Before the Aryan invasion,], there was a people in India called the Dravydians. They practiced looking inward into themselves, a kind of yoga practice. They practiced sitting and tried to look within them. Around 1944 archaeologists discovered a coin in the Indus River area showing someone in a yogi position. The Buddha’s ancestors were the Aryans who settled there. There was a conflict between the local people and the Aryans. They had different spiritual traditions and there was a conflict. With the Vedas, the Aryans believed in an order in the universe controlled by god. With the development of Brahmanism the religion became a complex ritual practice. The Brahmin class was the class that did the ritualistic work. They had power and developed a caste system, which made society very rigid. Before the birth of the Buddha, there was a spiritual movement against this system.
The Buddha was born in 563 BC according to some calculation and passed into parinirvana in 483 BC. These dates were accepted by most scholars until 10-15 years ago. New archaeological discovery suggests that He was born in 490 AD and passed into parinirvana in 410 AD plus minus 10 years according. So there was a movement against ritual practice, which has become mechanistic and oppressive. Among those movement is the Upanisad (meaning: profound doctrine). Before Upanisads, people were questioning where they were from. That was the beginning of the philosophical search. They asked what is the base of existence. In the pre-Upanisad period there were the Songs of Creation. In the Songs, people began to question where they came from. There were seven lines:
The question is whether there was a true being beneath ourselves. Is our essence water only? The water deep within us is the base of existence.
The song gives different possibilities about our mortality. So the songs were questioning time. To make the story short, we summarise the idea of pre-Upanisad period as the time when people asked about the origin of the world: whether it was knowable or not knowable. When it is not knowable, that means it was not possible to understand the origin of the world, to understand our ontological ground. This ground is only what we constructed. There is no way to see it. In other religions they believe it is possible to understand the origin of the world and our ontological grounds. The Buddha claimed that there is no point, no need to understand the origin of the world. It is not possible. If it is possible, we have two options: whether the world is created or not created. If it was created there would be some substance underneath called the ontological self, from which everything is created. Master Paramartha’s translation of Chuan-shih-lun took the position that it was created. Mahayana Buddhism at this phase believed that the world was not created, but has been there from beginingless time.
In the Upanisad tradition they speculate that desire is the connection between our being and non-being. From philosophy point of view there are 4 alternatives: being, non-being, both being and non-being, and neither being nor non-being. The Buddha was questioned in his time by many of these philosophers. They asked whether the world was created, not created, both created and not created, neither created nor not created. They asked what would happen to the Buddha after He passed away: whether He would exist, would not exist, would both exist and not exist, or would neither exist nor not exist. These were the philosophical alternatives that we get trapped into when we go into these enquiries. The Buddha says these are not the directions we should go into. We should not look into the ontology of existence. We should look into our experience, our reality right now in order to understand it.
This is a brief overview. We will look into the Buddha’s enlightenment tomorrow. People are tired and hungry. I was told by Thay not to go into this. So this is just a flavor to satisfy my craving. Thank you for being with us.
Three sounds of bell