The Shortest Path to Sunyata, Part I
By the Buddhist Yogi C. M. Chen
The name "Buddha" means "the Awakened." What He awakened was the Sunyata. The Sunyata is actually the Truth. Buddha just found the Truth through the Sunyata. Before Buddha, the Truth was there. In every religion they have the same thing that they call "the Truth." Actually, the real Truth, if out of the Sunyata is not the real Truth. So the Truth of Sunyata is very important, not only to Buddhists, but also to the philosophy of Truth itself. Without the various religions the Truth is there. But the important thing to know is the Sunyata.
Buddha himself awakened the Sunyata. He found the Sunyata and that Truth is the Sunyata. I have published several booklets connected with the Sunyata, but here I wish to offer the practical method of Sunyata. I am very sad to say that most of the membership of the Buddhist religion, among even many millions, there are only a few who can recognize the Sunyata. They say "Sunyata." "Sunyata,"--everyone says "Sunyata." This school says "Sunyata" and that school says "Sunyata." They all say "recognize Sunyata", yet they do not say realize the Sunyata. There are very, very few who even come close. Even very learned scholars don't even actually recognize the Sunyata. Many mistake the Sunyata as the "Void," "Voidness," or "Nothingness." They say "Sunyata means nothing." They do not really recognize the Sunyata.
As for practice, even among the persons who "recognize" Sunyata, very, very few ever get the Sunyata realization. That is why the person who has already realized the Sunyata can be said to be a Bodhisattva. The first stage is called the First Bhumi. The first-stage Bodhisattva must recognize the Sunyata well, then he can really be a Bodhisattva. During every age, every generation, very few Bodhisattvas come. The practical method is very important. I have practiced the Sunyata for many, many years and I even found some realization myself, but I did not make a comparative study of the Sunyata methods. Just during these past few years have I practiced and read and researched and made a comparative study. I found a very short way to get it.
Now I will tell you how I got the comparative study of the method of practice of Sunyata. I read all the Tripitaka, I read 10 schools of the Mahayana and some of the Hinayana, the Four Agama (Agama is a term of hybrid Pali). Agama is just the Hinayana main doctrine.
The great sage Nagarjuna does not say that the Hinayana doctrine of Sunyata is the complete one, rather it is considered the unfinished one. So, for this reason, I have left out the Hinayana instruction and we will not talk about this. I will just discuss the Mahayana doctrines.
Among the 10 Mahayana schools of China, some are connected with the Sunyata, some are not connected with the Sunyata. The schools of Silas are just connected with commandments and conduct and action of everyday. Whether they are against the law or not, whether the sila is fixed or not, so there is very little to connect with the Sunyata. Some schools like the Pureland School just repeat Amitabha's name. They do not emphasize the Sunyata. So, among all of the schools, there are just a few that emphasize the Sunyata. One is the Idealist School. They talk about Idealism consciousness. They have their own methods to get to the Sunyata.
The Prajna Paramita School talks about the Sunyata in the Sutra of the Prajna Paramita, so there is another school of Sunyata. It also has different methods, not only one method. And, some schools like Ch'an, although there is no mention in their doctrines, they actually come directly into the Sunyata. But it does not take the name of the Sunyata. They even do not like to say the name of Buddha. But, anyhow, it is connected with the Sunyata itself.
About the Tantra, which is of Vajrayana, higher than the Mahayana, as I already mentioned, it has two sects. One sect is older, the Nyingmapa, and the others are new sects. The latter teaches Mahamudra and the former teaches the Great Perfection. These two also connect with the Sunyata. So, to summarize them, there are three. One is the Idealist School. One is the Sunyata School and one is the Tantra. They settled many different methods to practice the Sunyata.
I use four parables to make the different methods very easy to understand. Among all of these methods, they can be described by these four ways. Then, from these four parables the method I then chose was the shortest one. So, today I shall just introduce the four parables of my talk on practical Sunyata.
One method is the parable of breaking a cocoon and taking the silk out. This method is very careful, small and slow. Breaking the cocoon and taking the silk out, each thread, one by one, from outside, come out and again, come inside and out and come in until the end of all the silk. The Idealist School has five steps to get the Sunyata and these five steps are also like the cocoon. The silkworm is inside and he is around and around to make its silk come out and after some time it comes out as a moth. Then, with only one act of sexual intercourse, it dies. So, when he grew up as a silkworm, he just started to do this, to tangle himself around and around from inside and after this, he just comes out. It is just like our delusions, desires, sorrows, the bad view, the incorrect view, and all our thinking which comes from the consciousness. One-by-one, he just untangles himself, more and more until the silk thread is finished.
So now you want to be liberated. You must find the head of the silk and from outside, one by one, take it out and take more out until it is wound out. This method has five steps to do it. That means to liberate all sorrows, all the bad views, all the complex thoughts, all doubts, everything like this then comes out and wherever the silk ends, then, you get the Sunyata. This is the method of the Idealist School of five steps. I will talk about the five steps again. This method is very slow, just step by step and is a fight within our own consciousness.
But I am very sorry to say that this method is not even practiced by its own school. The Guru, Hsuan Tsang, lived almost 1,000 years ago during the Tang Dynasty and he was so learned. He came to India to study and suffered many difficulties such that he almost died. Some of his company did die but he was fortunate enough to get there and was able to study at Nalanda. There were many professors there, and he learned about Sunyata from many schools. But afterward, he just kept the Idealism and he wrote some very important essays about this school. But, in his biography you will find out that he did not practice these five methods and his highest disciple called Kuei Chee also did not practice. Afterward, all the scholars of this school just read the books and talked about the doctrine, but never practiced it. So, there is no experience of this school, nor practical method of practice in their biographies --at least, in no place where I could find it!
So, on one hand, it is a method that is too slow. On the other hand, there are not many scholars, gurus, or anyone who has gotten any experience to follow. They did not practice the method according to their own school. Hsuan Tsang's main practice was to pray to Maitreya and he really got rebirth there. Maitreya is the Chief Guru of the Yogacarya whose teaching is in his very well known Sastra (essay) called the "Yogacarya Bhumi Sastra."
The second method is used by the Great Sage, Nagarjuna. The method has a parable which may be said: "One undertakes two things simultaneously for a similar purpose." An example of this would be like the hand which has two sides. One side is the palm and the other side is its back. This is the school of "Midway" to talk about the Sunyata. So, one observes the two sides of the same thing, like in the Heart Sutra, "not born and not destroyed--not clear, not dirty--" like this. The Heart Sutra is from the Buddha's sayings but the four sentences are not Buddha's sayings, but according to Buddha's philosophy, and said by Nagarjuna himself. Firstly, I speak about the Buddha's saying about the Sunyata. Buddha always said there was no "this" and no "that"--just like the Diamond Sutra. In the Diamond Sutra, He says, "I don't say that I am Buddha, or not Buddha, but just the name of Buddha." He knew the method of the negative and the positive at the same time. So, I call this method the Undertaking of Two Things Simultaneously For the Same Purpose to Arrive at the Sunyata. One was positive, one was negative. Not created, not destroyed--no creation, no destruction--no purity, no impurity--no increase, no reduction-- all the same. Neither is the negative wrong nor the positive right.
So, if you can recognize this rightly, you will get the Sunyata Truth at least in the recognition of it, if not in the realization. Because you should not follow just one side: no creation is one side, no destruction is another side--so, both are the same. So, we call the method The Undertaking of Two Things Simultaneously For a Similar Purpose as Buddha does forbid his disciples to fall into any one-sided view.
Nagarjuna used the four sentences (they call it this). Not born from oneself, not born from others, not born from both, but it is not without condition to get born. So, these are the four sentences. Actually, these four sentences are also the same method because the first three are negative, the last one is positive. It is not born from oneself, it is not born from others, it is not born from both--that means not born, but you still have something there--This is born from some condition, so it still has two sides into the Sunyata to try to harmonize the first three negatives and the last positive, so it is also including this method.
There are many, many examples of this method, from two divided into four, from four divided into eight, which are called the eight negatives. Eight negatives actually just make four pairs of negatives and positives. Neither birth nor death, neither end nor permanence, neither identity nor difference, neither coming nor going, so there are four pairs and they become eight negatives. So according to the negative and positive it is still two. This method is quite logical since it does make one side fall.
So, Nagarjuna is a person who is a hero of Sunyata who never has met any enemy--never met any person against him. He is always a victor. He is very skilled to talk about this, but, how to practice? According to this, to practice it and what will happen is still very far away. Nagarjuna did practice the Sunyata and he did get some realization but to follow this method of the two things of positive and negative, or follow the four negatives which are two pairs, or follow the eight negatives which are four pairs of these, but all these, if you practice it, you will eventually get realization, but it is not the shortest way.
The third way is a way used in Ch'an. In Ch'an they do not use these methods of two negatives or four negatives, or eight negatives, they just use the realization. To do something special to make one immediately recognize it--make one not only recognize it, but comprehend it immediately by his supernatural power. Most of them have already got the realization of Ch'an, that means the Sunyata, so he has some power. He can make you immediately as well as himself. Once the attendant of the Guru called "Bird Nest Guru" (he was called Bird Nest Guru because he used to go and sit on the bird nest in the tree to meditate)--and he also had many persons come to him to ask for teachings and he had this very faithful attendant who was close to him and brought food to him and water to him and everything to him for many, many years. But one day, the attendant took leave from the Guru and said, "I am very sorry. I have served you for a long time. You are quite happy and very realized and you are very good, but I have nothing so I have to go somewhere else where may be something can make me comprehend." "Oh," said the Guru, "You want to go? Do you think there are so many other good Gurus? Do you think I have nothing?" The attendant said, "Well, I have not gotten anything, whether you have anything or not, I do not know." The Guru said, "Wait a little bit, I have a little, I can make you comprehend, don't go." Then he took a feather in the palm of his hand and blew it toward the attendant, and immediately the attendant comprehend. He just cried, "Oh, excuse me! I am really your disciple. I would not go even if I died!"
So, to this kind of Sunyata I make a parable that means "A single knife, not beating around the bush, going straight to hit the point and kill you"--no one side or two sides, not any pairs, but just a simple knife straight to hit the point and make you die, immediately die, quickly die. Die just means accomplish. This method is only in Ch'anism. Very, very few can do it, and very very few can accept it. It is the method by somebody else to give you the Truth and nobody else can comprehend it, but only by that one Guru and only that one attendant who has served him so long can accept it. So, this is a very quick, the very shortest way, but actually nobody can do it, nobody can accept it. This is the third.
The one I have chosen is the fourth one. Everybody can practice it, everybody can accept it, but if one practices it, it is very easy to recognize and very easy to practice and very easy to comprehend and very easy to accomplish it. This method also belongs to this kind because it is straight and quick, but they have another parable. They are not only to get the accomplishment of the Sunyata, but, also at the same time, they get the Great Compassion with the Sunyata so the parable will be another one called "With only one arrow kill two birds." I choose this one because it is the shortest way. There are many proofs, many reasons, many, many, from the Sutras I quoted with this again. This method is easy to practice, easy to accept.
Regarding the four methods, I will speak about them further.
This is called the School of Form. That means the Idealist School. When Buddha was alive, he talked about the Vijnaptimatravada. After this he died and the sage Asanga got teaching from Maitreya Bodhisattva who is in the heaven. Asanga would fly up to heaven and get the teaching and return here to teach men--This is the very well-known Sastra titled the Yogacarya Bhumi Sastra.
We have two major schools in the Mahayana. One is the School of Form, one is the School of Nature (of Sunyata). The School of Nature is the Sunyata of Nature, the School of Form is the Sunyata of the Condition. So the School of Form is talking about from the consciousness comes out all the form. The School of Nature talks about the Sunyata itself, what is nature so, but still form from, can return to nature and from the nature it can be functioned as some conditions. So, both schools are just like a crystal ball from east side to the west side, from west side to see the east side--both are transparent, from east side one can see the west side and vice versa, but they're still a little different.
The School of Form seems much more strange because it talks about the worldly dharmas, the dharma about the world, not talking about the conditions of the Sunyata which from Sunyata nature realization and function out some great compassion of the holy form. That is the form in the supernatural power. The form of the consciousness in the world is one. The form of the supernatural power comes from the Sunyata samadhi is another. Because of this so these two schools. Some say that the Form School is the finest one, some say the School of Nature is the finest one. Actually, according to my knowledge, I think they are just mistaken worldly conditions as the unworldly conditions.
Some conditions from the world talk about the world, all the forms and all this, make it mentalized and then return it to Sunyata. So, this form is worldly and form from the Sunyata samadhi realization, comes out the function of the great Compassion is of holy forms. It is a form of Buddhahood, but mostly it seems to talk about the same forms. Actually these holy forms are not for the common person. You have to firstly get the Sunyata realization then you can belong to that holy form. This is a real final one from the holy Sunyata nature itself. But Idealists mostly talk about form of the worldly things and from these worldly things they recognize the Sunyata and return to the Sunyata. It could not be the final one.
So, one is the form of the world and one is the form of the un-world. For the form of the un-world it seems this form is a very final one. For the form of the world it seems the form is the lower one and the Sunyata is the higher one. So, this is the mistake most scholars make and cannot distinguish. They are quite different. From worldly form one recognizes nature. This is the lower part. From Nature, functions out the holy form and it is a very high one. So, because the form is different, one is for the world, they say that the Form School is lower. And, because the School of Nature of Sunyata can produce the holy form so they say the School of Sunyata is higher. But, actually, both can be practiced but, anyhow the final one is on the Sunyata part according to my part, because the first is the Idealism which talks about all the Dharma--all the worldly dharma. There are the 100 dharmas. Most of them are the worldly dharmas. Some are sorrows, some are goodness, some are badness. A few of them connect the Buddha's wisdom and compassion. These are why those dharmas are considered lower. The other worlds from Sunyata again function out the supernatural power like the mystics of all these five wisdoms and four compassions. All this dharma is very high, very, very profound. That's why the School of Nature emphasized by Nagarjuna is always appreciated by all the scholars of all schools except for the School of Form or of only Idealism. It is only the Idealism School that mistakes the form of the world as that from the realization of Sunyata. Surely in the Eighth consciousness there is the Buddha nature, and there is also the Buddha function. They can say that all the holy forms are included in the consciousness but they did not emphasize how to utilize it, hence it cannot be the worldly form if without practice of the Sunyata you cannot get the holy form. But, in our Karma, everybody has Karma, when this Karma forms it is before getting the Sunyata. So it is lower. My recognition is like this. But, the Idealists are very proud. They think theirs is the final one because of everything in the world is just consciousness, what's the use? You must get away from the worldly things to get the holy forms to save others. With this kind of form, you must be a form of supernatural, not of common Karma. Idealists and those from the Sunyata School both say that their forms are the highest ones so they both quarrel with one another always. But, according to my idea because the form of Form School includes all the worldly form, but the form of the Sunyata Nature School, after Sunyata is accomplished then get the holy form, it is only the Buddha who has this form. So, this is the high one. This is my idea. My idea is according to the Nagarjuna idea. That's why Tibetan Buddhists, Chinese Buddhists, most of the Buddhists, all emphasize Nagarjuna's view.
We firstly talked about the form of Form School, we still have many things to say of this school: how to practice, how to get the Sunyata. From the method of the steps, there are five steps. So, now, I will just talk about the method of the School of Form: How to get the Sunyata realization through their own method. This method has five steps, so, one by one I will say; and this school is not real, just something by Hsuan Tsang. The Chinese scholars always say that the Hsuan Tsang is the only one, the highest one of the Idealist School. Actually he learned this in India at Nalanda University. And at Nalanda he heard it must be learned what the Buddha said about this. This school, this main sutra of this school is called Vijnapti Matra Vada. After Buddha died, all schools like these were joined with Maitreya Bodhisattva. At that time he was still a Bodhisattva (Mahabodhisattva). Buddha had two chief disciples, Maitreya and Manjusri. The former will be the next Buddha, the latter was the Guru of the past seven Buddhas, hence he himself was also an ancient Buddha, but he took the Bodhisattva initiation to help the Buddha to propagate about the Buddha's wisdom, the Sunyata nature. While Maitreya Bodhisattva helped the Buddha to propagate about the School of Form.
So, some are for sure that if they like the prajna-paramita, they prefer Manjusri; some like the Idealist School, they prefer Maitreya Bodhisattva. Afterwards, Maitreya has two big Bodhisattvas named Asanga and Vasubandhu who adopted the concepts of the Idealist School. At that time many persons liked the speech about the form because the form talks about all the Dharma. Each Dharma has its cause and effect and how to form, how to purify it, how to sublimate the good, how to meditate in this manner and so on. They do not like to talk just about No-self or just the Sunyata. In this way, many people of the India Mahayana Schools ask for Maitreya Bodhisattva.
Hence, Maitreya Bodhisattva is in the Tusita Heaven. Asanga flew to the heaven and personally received Maitreya's teachings and came down every night and taught to his disciples in this world this Sastra which is the well-known Yogacarya Bhumi Sastra. So this is why this Form School is also called the Yogacarya .
So, there is a sutra of Buddha talking about form, there is a sastra by the Maitreya Bodhisattva on form. When a Bodhisattva talks about something it is called a Sastra not sutra. Sastra is just an essay, or a treatise. The essays are of great Bodhisattvas. But this book, the Yogacarya Bhumi Sastra is dealing with every Dharma in detail. If you learn only Sutra you can only get a little principle.
I just talk about the very source, of this school, but from this source, identified with the sastra and sutra, there is the practice of five steps. One who wants to recognize the Sunyata in the School of Form should follow these five steps. And, still the School of Form must be aimed at the Sunyata. That is why the five steps are the same method I have spoken of in the cocoon parable: Breaking the cocoon and taking the silk out gradually. From outside to the inside, again to the inside, again and again and again until the completion of the fifth step when they arrive; then they get the Sunyata.
So, there it seems it is a method of proceeding slowly, not one which produces immediate results. Firstly, we take step one; the five steps are the gradual path. There are many fundamental terms that should be explained at first, otherwise it cannot be understood.
We must know the Idealists' idea. They call it mere-idealism; only they say there are three kinds of Dharma natures.
So, they divide all the Dharmas into these three kinds of nature. First, nature is volition to all the phenomena, second is a kind of dependence from Dharma and get some realization. The third is the final realization of the perfect nature. So, these three we must know. The Idealists emphasize these.
And, again in their doctrines, they have a phrase named four parts, which divides the consciousness into four parts. I must first explain the important term of this school. They have four parts. They divide the Dharma into these four parts. The first part is called the surrounding part, not inside our mind, but outside. Then comes the inside, called the part of inner form. Suppose you see doves or pigeons flocking--these are outside form. These are called the surrounding part. But when we get some impression in our minds: "Oh, this is a dove or frog,"-- this actually is not outside, but some impression in our mind-- this is called part of inner form. The third part is called the Witness of the Consciousness. "This is a form of Dove and I can prove it, I know this." This is the witness part. Again the one, the most secret one, is the real witness to the witness. That means the witness is solely in our minds and itself should be witnessed by the real Buddha nature. This can be proven whether the witness is right or not.
So, there are four parts: outside surrounding part, inside-- inner impression part, third is the self-proven, witness part, the fourth is the real witness of the final distinguishing of the wisdom. This is not common thought, but it is a realization. So, when you know these four parts, you know the three natures, then you know the five steps and how to get the Sunyata through the five steps.
The first step of this method is to disregard the outward object of phenomena and keep the inward subject of consciousness.
To know the importance of consciousness, we must first recognize the three functions of three subjective transformations.
First subjective transformation is of the eighth conscious-ness. It is a consciousness of the Master and is called the store consciousness. This is the first function. It has all different karmas and gets all different results of the six realms. That is why it is also called a difference consciousness--maturation. This is the second function. It is also divided into eight kinds of different consciousnesses. It contains every seed of all the effects and is called causal consciousness. This is the third function. From himself he gets the seed and the result (the causal and effect). Again, it opens he way to guide all conducts. So, he is subjective in transformation and has these three kinds of function. [The eighth consciousness has three functions: (1) like the storage; (2) like the seeds of result; (3) seeds and conduct.] These are the three functions of the first subjective transformation. Because they say the mere consciousness, so everything is the subjective, because everything is the idealism, everything is the consciousness, that's why everything is subjective. Because it is from him. He is the Master. So if you go to be reborn, have a rebirth, the eighth consciousness also goes there and then you can get the rebirth. Otherwise, even with Father's semen and Mother's egg you cannot get the rebirth. You have the eighth consciousness come, then the three things go together.
The second transformation (subjective) is called the Mana, the seventh consciousness. Mana is holding the eighth as itself. So, this is a kind of transformation. He has the function to hold the self. All common persons just take this as "self." So it seems that everything is done by this self. For example, the manager of a store thinks he is the owner.
The third subjective transformation is from all other consciousnesses. It uses the eyes to see something--actually there is not anything outside--it is because here there is an eye to see something--that's why it is a subjective transformation. All those six forms of consciousness are from the third subjective transformation. Thus the eighth is the first consciousness subjective transformation; the seventh is the second transformation; while the third transformation is all the other six senses (eyes, ears, taste, touch, smell, and mind). Because of these three transformations there are inner phenomena, outer phenomena and inner and outer phenomena.
Now we know these three transformations, and those four parts we talked of; then we know how, by these five steps, the idealist recognizes the Sunyata. Before we talk about the first step, we must know all these terms.
Now, I will talk about the first step.
Actually, this is very difficult for the common person or the average Buddhist to know quite well. I am just giving this lecture from my manuscript. I have already digested the material and condensed it.
The first step is called:
When the King of consciousness is killed, all forms of Dharma are finished. Then every form returns to its nature, that is the Sunyata.
As I have already talked about the three natures of Dharma before I dealt with the five steps, this king of consciousness is still a form which belongs to the second nature of interdependence and depends, which one knows, on all other family consciousness, but not on the third nature of perfection. One must practice this last step to throw this last one out. Then, and only then, one may realize the Sunyata which is the perfect nature of Dharma.
These are the five steps--It is very difficult to do it-- Actually many people never get to the first step. You have to renounce and learn that everything is impermanent, then you will know the outside form world is false, indeed! If you succeed in this first step, you will keep the inner form part. You must meditate in a quiet place. Otherwise, you have no time to find it. You have already become tangled by outer surroundings. So you have to leave these outer surroundings and go to the mountain or cave and be alone there. Then, you find some impression of inner form. If you do not leave, then how can you find it? How can you throw it away? You must find it and then throw it away.
So, the second step has to be taken in a mountain or cave alone and with meditation. It is not only by mere visualization or "think of." Through this you go into the no-self more and more and you have to meditate over a long period of time. That is why so many scholars of this school did not practice it. Hsuan Tsang himself, Kuei Chee, the highest disciple of Hsuan Tsang did not practice. They are just famous scholars who know the method but did not practice. They just pray to Maitreya Buddha for a good rebirth of His pure land, and do not really practice the five steps. I have read many biographies of these scholars of this school and find they never mention the five steps or any attainment or experience at all. Surely my knowledge is very narrow, but still I have read many sastras and sutras and the whole Tripitaka and many biographies of monks and sages, and find many references to their inspirations. But in none of them did I find any person who reached this experience. I found these steps taught by Buddha, but nobody practiced them.
In the last 100 years lived a very learned person in China, by the name of A-yung Chi Wu. He was an excellent scholar; his Chinese literature was very profound, classic, and he wrote many books. How did he die? He never practiced. Not only did he fail to practice, and he was a president of a Chinese Buddhist college, but he forbade his students to practice. He established this college, of this School of Form and almost all attending were scholars who came to learn from him. But anyone he would find saying Om Mani Padme Hum or reciting Amitabha's name, or repeating in mind, but with beads outside, he would call them a demon and tell them that they did not know why they were practicing and therefore they should not do such things. He said they must learn everything first, then you can practice. But he himself did not ever practice. And how did he die? I asked his very close disciple who told me that his death was very painful and he cried and cried--no good rebirth can come from such a death. And his name is very famous and he was known to be very learned. He would occasionally say that this or that sutra was false--or that Buddha never said such and such--He dared to say such things often when he himself really had no experience.
Nowadays, there are still some scholars who study it but never practice. Due to the difficulty of being unattached to surroundings and being so tangled, they never get past the first step. Nevertheless this way is a very reliable way, even if it is slow and gradual.
If we want to choose the shortest path, we have to go further and talk about the next method, which is with another parable.
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