Handing Down the Precious Sword (Gươm Báu Trao Tay)
Tác giả: Đỗ Hồng Ngọc
Người dịch: Giao Trinh Diệu Hạnh
4. That is the way it is but it does not appear so.
Once we understand “beings are not beings, therefore they are called beings,” we thought we held the password to enter the Diamond Sutra vaults, but that in fact is not the case, because that it the way it is but it doesn’t appear so.
Let’s revisit the previous episode during which the “precious sword” was being handed down. Seeing scores of people in amazement by his beyond-the-thinking language, the Buddha asked “Why is that?” Then he affirmed: “Because if a Bodhisattva still holds on to the arbitrary illusions of form or phenomena such as an ego, a personality, a being, or a life , then that person is not a Bodhisattva”.
Once again I was dumfounded! I expected an explanation from the Buddha, but what he said seemed to be of no relevance to what was said previously. May be there is something mysterious here.
Initially, I thought about the first, second and third person in singular and plural in the past, present and future as in the grammatical verbs conjugation in order to mark the relativeness between the self with the others, with time and space, but it seemed that was not the way it is! Then I thought that it might be a 3-dimensional chart and a curved line representing the time on which each individual affirms his present status in society, his connection with other “beings” at a certain point, but that still was not right either! What was it then? It took me a long time to realize it: That is the no-self state of a practitioner on his way toward liberation! The practitioner must “meditate on the emptiness of the five aggregates” (skandas) – the true no-self – in order to “overcome all ills and sufferings” [The Heart Sutra].
But he must first overcome all ills and sufferings for himself, then be able to help others to be a worthy Bodhisattva. So this is a compulsory, necessary condition in order to…
This “no-self” doctrine is rather elusive! Even if it is possible to use logic, philosophy of interdependency, of emptiness to understand the meaning of “no-self”, but it is only the result of a theoretic, conceptual body of knowledge. Here, the no-self is a state, a realm that the practitioner can perceive through a long and consistent practice, the meditation!
Meditation exists from time immemorial. When prince Siddharta was still very young, he would sit shaded under a tree to observe the laborers in the distant paddy fields, and unknowingly attained the first dhyana state.
Later, on the path of enlightenment, he studied under two of the foremost meditation masters of his time, and in a short time mastered the 8 dhyana absorptions up to the “neither perception-nor-non-perception” stage, but still did not find peace and yearned to search for a path to call his own, so he left them! It was only when he attained the ninth dhyana realm “the absorption of complete extinction of sensation and perception” that lead to the stage of “all-knowing”, to the “Buddha-hood” in which every delusion vanished. In other words, the dhyana “extinction of sensation and perception” is the only remedy to heal all inflictions and sufferings at their roots, while the previous process only treated the symptoms superficially as and where it was needed and cannot prevent the recurrence of diseases. To treat a disease at its root is to heal it thoroughly, without any risk of recurrence or post-treatment sequela.
The term “extinction” in “dhyana of extinction of sensations and perceptions” does not mean “extinguish (annihilate)” them but prevent them from development further. Destroying a tumor is not as good as preventing it from developing in the first place. Prevention is better than cure. In short, to be worthy of being a Bodhisattva, one must successfully endure this path. In other word, a Bodhisattva must thoroughly “deeply practice meditation” to attain the no-self state. He must relinquish all attachment to the illusions of form or phenomena such as an ego, a personality, a being or a life-span. He must also relinquish all discrimination, all seizing – then he can serenely stroll into the bustle of the market place of the world, immune to any affliction, without fear of being contaminated.
Fortunately, if we listen carefully, we will hear that the Buddha instructed Subhuti very precisely “The Great Bodhisattva should subdue their mind in this way”. All the Great Bodhisattvas have practiced in “that way” to control their minds. As for…“rookie” or lesser Bodhisattvas… please do not be in a hurry. We still must take steps, have patience, strive diligently and persevere … the enduring paths ahead!
“The Buddha told Subhuti”, as a reminder to all who wish to join the Bodhisattva’s path that they cannot allow themselves to skip meditation. Without meditation (or concentration) it is difficult to have wisdom. The ethical disciplines lead to concentration, concentration to wisdom, and vice versa. It is an equilateral triangle with two directions: onward and backward. In my opinion, ethical disciplines, concentration and wisdom are specific antidotes for greed, aversion and delusion; the ethical disciplines to counter greed, concentration to counter aversion and wisdom to counter delusion. If we only treat the symptoms… the disease will not be eradicated, it will recur with sequelae risks. So, in order to eradicate it and cure it thoroughly, one must combine the three remedies to foray the disease on 3 planes. If one focuses too much on concentration, one tends to be out of touch with the real world; on ethical disciplines, one tends to be too intransigent, too rigid; and with an imbalance of wisdom, one tends to brag…
In spite of this, these three healing drugs must be dosed according to the patient’s need. The “aversion type” tends to be over sentimental, easy to love, easy to suffer…
[In the case of]:
When injured, one keeps the arms
Refusing to be healed, to be cures of the poisonous inclination…
Rồi bị thương, người ta giữ gươm đao
Không muốn chữa, không chịu lành thú độc.
We parted even before our meeting
My soul follows your shadow…
Chưa gặp nhau mà đã biệt ly
Hồn anh theo dõi bóng em đi…
(Hàn Mặc Tử)
then these situations are best treated by meditative concentration.
Intellectuals who always tend to accumulate and squirrel away information, proud of their “book knowledge”, are best treated firstly by wisdom in order to counter their symptom of delusion. When enlightened by wisdom, one naturally knows that one needs ethical disciplines and meditative concentration as well. Among the three remedies, meditative concentration is the most fundamental. Only by meditation can one attain the “no-self” state and the dhyana of “extinction of sensations and perceptions”, to stop discriminating and be attached to things. Lao Tzu said that enlightened persons always seem somewhat guileless, and that is because they are now different, free from all passions and have attained the perfectly content seclusion or no-rebirth state.
If in his first lesson the Buddha taught that we should eat when hungry and drink when thirsty, in order to emphasize the “ethical discipline”, then this second lesson emphasizes the “meditative concentration”. From the passage: “Then the Buddha addressed the Venerable Subhuti” … to “is not a Bodhisattva” there is a consistency in the meditative process from the sphere of desire, sphere of form and then non-form. Then one must overcome all these too, to eventually attain the dhyana of “Extinction of sensations and perceptions” which is also called the ninth dhyana absorption.
It is like a perfect exchange of martial arts sword play, movements intertwined with harmonious and unbroken transitions from visible to invisible, like trancelike flowing water or chasing clouds, until all but the essence of the art of sword remained; the performers and their moves also disappeared… and that is the ultimate move. At that moment there is no more object nor subject, when the herd as well as the herdsman cease to exist. One must experience this! Not just talk about it. That is what the Buddha taught.
Of course there are many other layers of meanings to experience before one can discover oneself. This is what is called the “infinite meanings” in Buddhist scriptures. The handing of the Precious sword symbolizes the capacity of going beyond convention and constraining. If we are still clinging, or still hold on to any fix meaning tight, then we still are dependent, stuck… how can we attain the mental state of that mind without dwelling anywhere?
Lệnh Hồ Xung’s “sword destroying tactics” in the “Độc cô cửu kiếm” (Technique of combatting alone using 9 swords) defeated 15 trained swordsmen who besieged and outnumbered him. If he used the “No More” technique (vô chiêu thắng hữu chiêu), imagine how more awesome it would be! The way towards destroying the move is only a simple step toward the technique “going beyond convention and constraint”. One day we shall be able to perceive, to discover and to be “aware” to much more layers of meanings. The important thing is to practice, to discover through experience. Only then, will we be able to understand what means “unutterable” (impossible to explain) and “unfathomable” (impossible to comprehend), where even language is not of use!
5. The third eye
Seeing that Subhuti and other participants of the assembly looked somewhat complacent with the knowledge how to subdue their minds, the Buddha hurriedly called out: “Furthermore, Subhuti…” and so startled everybody. Why, furthermore? The teaching is not yet over? Are there still important things to be learned? Yes, there are. “Furthermore, Subhuti, as to Dharma, a Bodhisattva should not dwell anywhere when he practices the virtue of giving”.
Once again I was dumfounded! As to Dharma? Which Dharma? What does it mean “not to dwell anywhere when practicing the virtue of giving”? Why in the middle of a conversation about bringing beings to extinction or on aloof subjects such as meditation, no-self, the Buddha suddenly jumped into problems of giving and begging, clothes, food and money?
While reading the scriptures, we are easily confused by the term “Dharma”. It can mean a way to do things, a method, but also is one of the 6 objects of the senses: form, sound, smell, taste, touch and dharma (phenomena). Here, this word means method. There are 6 methods of training to help become a Bodhisattva which are called the 6 paramitas (Vertues perfected to the level of transcendence): the Perfection of Generosity (Dana Paramita), the Perfection of Ethics (Sila Paramita), the Perfection of Patience (Kisanti Paramita), the Perfection of Joyous Efforts (Enthusiastic perseverance) (Virya Paramita), the Perfection of Concentration (Dhyana Paramita), and the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajna Paramita).
The perfection of generosity ranks first among the 6 paramitas. To give is the easiest act to perform, anybody can achieve it, but it is also the hardest, the toughest ordeal by anyone’s standard.
Concerning Subhuti’s two questions, how to quiet and how to subdue one’s mind, the Buddha first taught how to subdue it. To quiet it is more difficult, it will be taught later. It’s obvious that the mind is like a restive monkey, a crazy buffalo or an unruly horse. If it is not tamed first, it would be impossible for it to rest. To tame an animal means to control or to conquer it, and when it is overpowered, one can make it “quiet”. One can even send it to an uninhabited island or a deep forest, like shooting crazy elephants in former times with anaesthetic arrows in the Tánh Linh (Bình Thuận) forest so as they can be sent to Daklak to be tamed and pacified, and why not be taught to do something useful?
It is not difficult to subdue the mind but it is the basic, ineluctable step. Ethics and concentration should be enough. Ethics and concentration were familiar to all the persons who took part in this ceremony of Sword Handing, some of them were even “titled”! But why the mind is not yet at peace? Why it is still restive? Because the sedative [on the arrow point] was not strong enough, and the disease [restlessness] was not yet eradicated. It must be combined with a more powerful specific, and that is Wisdom. Ethic and concentration without wisdom are insufficient, the illness would still is at risk of relapsing. The same would happen if you try to subdue without quieting your mind.
You want to quiet your mind? It’s easy! Do not let it dwell anywhere and that’s it! To be quieted, a mind must not dwell anywhere! What a curious thing to say, but so wonderful! One must have an “empty mind”. “Facing the world with a mind that is empty, what use is Zen?” (Đối cảnh vô tâm mạc vấn Thiền) (said Trần Nhân Tông).
To have an empty mind doesn’t mean to abandon or to be indifferent. No. The king Trần Nhân Téng had left his kingdom to become a monk at the Mount Yên Tử, but when the Chinese Nguyên army invaded his country, the monk wasn’t indifferent and didn’t leave the matter alone. He immediately descended the mountain, made military strategies and contributed to repel the aggressors. He manifested his “empty mind” by, once the war was over, washing his hands to resume his monastic life in the mountain. To be quieted, a mind must not dwell anywhere, be placid, be empty. It is as simple as that. The six Zen patriarch Huệ Năng had eavesdropped just one sentence and attained the Great Enlightenment, but why are we still embedded in ignorance? Because we are still clinging to things, accumulating them instead of letting go, forsaking or giving them away!
The Buddha still made it clearer: “Not dwelling anywhere” means that a bodhisattva should not dwell in forms when he gives, nor should he dwell in sounds, smells, tangible objects or dharma. In short, “not dwelling in forms”. To dwell means to rely upon, or to be stuck, caught up in. If one is caught up, stuck in or rely on forms while giving, one is not truly giving. If one give while being acutely aware that there is someone who gives and another who receives, that one is likely to appear on a TV show in order to launch one’s good name or to impress others, to “invest” in getting fame, benefits or even merits, then one does not truly give. The genuine way of giving is to do so without expectation, heedless of a giver, a receiver or of the given object. This is the “unattached to forms” way of giving, uncalculated way of giving, which brings …real happiness.
The poet Bùi Giáng said:
We spend our entire life painfully measuring and assessing,
Wearing out our knees by standing up and then sitting down…
(Một đời lận đận đo rồi đếm
Mỏi gối người đi đứng lại ngồi)
The way of giving preconized by the Buddha in order to access to Wisdom is the kind of “gate, gate, para gate, parasam gate” way, crossing to the other shore way, or the paramita, the perfect way of giving.
The Chinese pictograms are real fun. The pictogram “wood” (木), object of the sight, combined with the “eyes” (目), one of our 5 sense organs, will yield the word “form-appearance” (相). Until then, nothing goes wrong. But if the pictogram “mind” (心) is added to this character, it becomes 想 “perception, conception”, and from there troubles begin to arise! That is why it is said that the mind creates everything! So to subdue, to quiet the mind is of the utmost importance.
The new practitioners would look out for high mountains or deep forests to avoid seeing or being involved with worldly matters, in order to separate their minds from forms. They shun the world, cut themselves from world (but do not quit the world) in order to skip troubles or confusion. The awaken ones just light heartedly stroll around in the world like the character Đào Cốc Lục Tiên in a Kim Dung’ martial novels who was a bit soft in the head, and so used to be bossed about but changing every moment, sometimes behaving as an erudite, other times as a crazy, noisy quarrelsome individual. But when the brothers Lệnh mastered the genuine Dịch Cân Kinh, they were no longer scared of Đào Cốc Lục Tiên and became his bosom friends!
It is easy to fathom the depth of a river or a sea, but never judge a book by its cover. It looks like that, but it’s not that. To rely on “forms”, one is doomed to disappointment. The Buddha gave a specific example to explain this.
The Buddha was said to have 32 marks, then whoever has 32 marks can be called a Buddha? How many times Đường Tam Tạng misjudged people in this way! Even Trư Bát Giới and Sa Tăng were so often busy bowing down and worship the Devil!
But not the old Tôn! Bestowed with a third eye, he only needed to open ferociously his eyes to see beyond forms and take hold of people’s inner selves or their true nature! The Buddha repeated endlessly: “Don’t see me by forms, don’t follow me by sounds”! Nowadays people are cheating each other a bit too… frequently. The crafty swindles the naïve one. Advertising is sweet to the ears, marketing is pleasant to the eyes. At time, it is advisable to widely open one’s third eye!
The point is “giving without fixation on appearance, without dwelling on [the giver, the receiver and the act of giving]”. It is not about “not giving”.
Giving must be, needs to be maintained and still is necessary. “If you cannot feed one hundred persons, then just feed one of them” (Mother Theresa). One should give in the way that brings happiness to everybody, freeing them from anxiety and fear. This is this way of giving that the Buddha entrusted the Bodhisattva to teach this sutra to others, even with just “one stanza of four lines”.
Such is the “Perfection of Generosity” and the other perfections are likewise. “One must not dwell on anything while giving”, then one must not dwell on anything while practice the perfection of Ethics, not dwell on anything while practice the perfection of Forbearance, etc… One should not be attached to, nor seize upon anything not only while giving, but also when holding precepts. It is not easy! Because it is not easy that one must practice and train oneself for a long time!
6. A mind of no place to dwell on…
Once I asked a monk “Does the sentence “to dwell nowhere to generate a mind” is the most wonderful one in the Diamond Sutra?”, he gently answered “no, in the Diamond Sutra, every sentence is wonderful!”.
Indeed, I gradually realize that every word in the Diamond Sutra is wonderful, and they seem to be more and more so, above all… when they are, as Edward Conze said, applied to our everyday life. The way they were written and expounded is precise and closely woven, convincing and, in brief …attractive! I have been attracted to the Diamond Sutra as previously was attracted to the Heart Sutra. It seems that the Heart Sutra – a discourse addressed to Sariputra (the Buddha’s disciple foremost in wisdom and insight) was an ultimate answer to the “why”, with a theoretical outlook; as to the Diamond Sutra, expounded to Subhuti (the Buddha’s disciple foremost in Emptiness understanding, formerly quick tempered and irascible but now excelled in pure conduct and in being free from all passions), was meant to answer the “how” in order to guide the practice. These instructions obviously were aimed at the Buddha’s great disciples or at the monastics and not at us, so… small wonder if we are puzzled, bewildered or confused. However, being puzzled, bewildered or confused has its good points.
Thanks to these states, we’ll strive to penetrate, to discover and take part in the process of brooding on or experiencing what we are studying, and if it seems trustworthy to us, we can apply it in our daily life in order to solve countless of our inflictions or entanglements. Isn’t that nice? For example the sentence “to dwell nowhere to generate a mind” is well known to everyone, and everyone mouths it as a mantra when they need some… comfort, or when they are wearied, grieved. It was also the sentence that the 6th Patriarch Hue Nang had eavesdropped more than 1000 years ago and attained the Great Enlightenment, so it’s worth our serious pondering isn’t it! Do not dwell anywhere to give rise to a happy, joyful, contented mind, free from “all ills and suffering”. Is it really so?
Don’t dwell on anything. Dwell on nothing? Hum… that seems reasonable! When I watched a football match of two unfamiliar teams, I praised and enjoyed every fine goals or shootings, but if one of those teams happened to be “mine” (if I am their fan), then I’d be anxious, put out and annoyed with each shot, each player or referee! I’d curse, bellow or shout out then gloat over the success of my team, or grieve or bemoan if it lost the game. I’d have no desire to eat or to sleep because of that beloved… wretched team!
Two Zen students met a young girl at a deep bend of a river, and she was embarrassed, not knowing how to cross it. One of the student took on him to carry her on his back and crossed the river. On their way back to the temple, the other monk asked:
– How come that a monk can be so rash as to carry such a beautiful girl on his back?
– Dear me! I put her down long ago, why is that you are still carrying her?
There are many ways to carry. To carry a girl on one’s back is one of them, but to carry her in one’s mind is another. The girl was put down but the tantalizing thought of her still lingered on, may be would follow us well onto our dreams! The first monk saw a girl as a girl that needed help, so he helped her. But the second monk saw a … beautiful girl, worriedly wondered if it was proper to help her, if he’d thus break the rules, and who know, maybe he sadly wanted to know if it was the “fate” that brought them together! The longer one carries the wearier one feels, and the sooner one gets a hunched back. But it’s far from easy to put down! The younger sister Nghi Lâm (in one of Kim Dung’s martial novels) had carried the injured elder brother Lệnh Hồ just once but for a long time afterwards still carried him in her mind! Therefore, it is not easy to “Generate a mind that should not dwell anywhere”!
The Buddha taught that if one wants to “dwell on nowhere”, one must discard the forms, drop out all the complicated outward shows or go beyond the phenomenon’s appearance to reach the true nature inside. Discard all appearances and you are qualified to be called a Buddha. “If you can see that all forms are formless, then you’ve perceived the Tathagata!” But how to “discard”? Many go to seek refuge in caves on the mountains to discard worldly things! But they are not at peace because their minds are still disquieting. Clearly the point here is not to flee, because how can one run from one’s mind when it is all but pacified? But once it is, where is not a refuge, a cave? So one can say that if one can manage to “discard the form” from the outside to the inside, one achieves quite a transformation from quantity to quality.
“Therefore Subhuti, all Bodhisattvas, lesser and great, should develop a pure, lucid mind, not depending on sound, flavour… A Bodhisattva should develop a mind which alights upon nothing whatsoever; and so should he establish it!”
This is the way, Subhuti, the way in which Bodhisattvas must work to have a pure and lucid mind. Which way? He must leave behind all forms, and no longer discriminate ego, personality, being and life span! He must discard all kinds of phenomena and avoid being blinded by or tangled up in words or concepts, like an enmeshed fish, no matter how much it struggles, it cannot escape from the net! The great Bodhisattva practiced the virtue of giving in a new way: they gave without attachment; they practiced the virtue of discipline, the virtue of forbearance in a new way, and of course they attained a new kind of insight, in the prajnaparamita way: gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond!
It is said in the Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra that once, in a gathering of Bodhisattvas, they were showered with flowers, like nowadays people throw confetti at their idols. Most of the persons present were covered with flowers, except the Great Bodhisattvas. Remember: the Great Bodhisattva! As for… incipient or lesser Bodhisattvas, it does not matter if they have a few confetti stuck on their persons. They can take a while to get rid of them. No need to hurry. The Diamond Sutra packed this in few but very eloquent sentences: Great Bodhisattvas are those who really have nothing to obtain, nothing to do. The word “really” can startle us. They understood that the Buddha’s teaching was the raft which allowed them to cross the river, and the Buddha’s finger helped them to see the moon, but was not the moon itself. In short, they did not dwell anywhere altogether, nor were they caught up anywhere. They have nowhere to dwell anymore, except the carefree, unimpeded state: [that of] the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Carefree Observance…coursing deeply in the Prajna Paramita…!
“Facing the world with a mind that is empty, what use is Zen?” (Đối cảnh vô tâm mạc vấn Thiền). The Trúc Lâm Zen school patriarch had mentioned about this empty mind some 700 years ago and the 6th patriarch Huệ Năng, more than 1300 years, had also broached the notion of “no thought” or “beyond the thinking”.
It is obvious that empty mind does not mean blank mind, no more than no thought means without any thought. Both terms in fact only describe a clear, pure, impartial and not clinging, grasping mind. Trần Nhân Tông still descended from his mountain to repel the Yuan army’s invasion, and after defeating them, went back to it to resume his monk life, free of all clinging. As for Huệ Năng, after enlightenment, still mingled with hunters during several decades to train himself and to help others. Therefore, one can generate a mind, so long as it is a good, beneficial one to oneself and to others. “Do not generate a mind that dwell somewhere” also means “Do not dwell anywhere but… do generate a mind”! There is no point in extinguishing it, destroying it or eradicating it and turn impassive as pebbles and stone or into an absolute half-witted! And “Later on, even pebbles and stones still need to be together!” (Ngày sau sỏi đá cũng cần có nhau) as said Trịnh Công Sơn.
Subhuti asked eagerly: “World Honored One ! What should the sutra named? How should we study and hold it?”
The Buddha said: “This sutra name is Vajra Prajna Paramita!”
But it seemed that after saying this, the Buddha gave a start: “beware, they would cling to [the name] and be done for!” So he went on “Prajna Paramita is not Prajna Paramita therefore is called Prajna Paramita!’