Section 2: The Producer and the Produced
When learning something, it is important to grasp its system and structure to avoid confusion, and the same goes for studying Buddhism. The entire Buddhist teaching can be divided into two parts: the first part is the eighth consciousness (the combination of permanent and impermanent dharma), which is capable of giving birth to all phenomena within the three realms; the second part consists of all the impermanent phenomena (within the three realms) that are produced by the eighth consciousness.
The eighth consciousness is also known as the inherently pure mind, and it has many other names. What it is called is not important; what matters is its ability to give birth to all phenomena within the three realms. Some people describe it as the creator, but it is different from the creator of monotheistic religions. It is the inherently pure mind that every individual possesses.
All dharmas in the conventional truth can be divided into these two types, from which you can further categorize and gradually realize the profound and subtle Buddha Dharma. In the path of seeing of the Śrāvakas, there is the concept of “the five aggregates are not-self”; the five aggregates are phenomena that are born, and the “self” (the eighth consciousness) can give birth to the five aggregates and all phenomena in the world. In the path of seeing of the Pratyekabuddhas, there is the ten cause-and-condition dharmas; the first one, “consciousness” (the eighth consciousness), can give birth to all phenomena in the three realms, while the other nine – name and form, the six entrances, contact, sensation, craving, grasping, existence, birth, and old age and death – are phenomena that are born. Those who have attained the path of seeing in the Śrāvaka and Pratyekabuddha stages can recognize that the “self” or “consciousness” truly exists, but they do not know its specific functions.
Mahayana practitioners who attain the path of seeing understand how the eighth consciousness gives rise to the five aggregates. They then practice the hundred dharmas of the clear gateway until they reach perfection at the first bhumi (ground). They sequentially study the thousand dharmas of the second bhumi bodhisattva, the ten thousand dharmas of the third bhumi bodhisattva, and so on, up to the inexpressible dharmas of the tenth bhumi bodhisattva and ultimately the all varieties of wisdom of a Buddha. All of these do not deviate from this fundamental framework.
The Theory of the Formation of All Things
The formation of all things can be divided into the theories of chance and determinism. Determinism refers to the idea that the characteristics of things are determined before they are born, while the opposite is the theory of chance.
Theory of Chance
The theory of chance is represented by the theory of evolution, which asserts that all things happen by chance, and that biodiversity arises from random mutations. However, only those organisms that are well-adapted to their environment can survive. In reality, the structure of species is extremely complex. If it were purely due to chance, the rate of evolution should be very slow, and there would be no way to explain the Cambrian explosion of life. Moreover, if random mutations were the primary cause of evolution, there should be many intermediate species found, but in fact, there is very little fossil evidence of such species.
In contrast to the theory of evolution is determinism. Determinism asserts that all things are born from a god, creator, or an essence, and that the various properties and characteristics of all things are determined before they are born. Determinism can be further divided into the theories of mono-genesis and poly-genesis. Mono-genesis can be separated into monotheism and monistic ontology. Monotheism posits that all things are created by a single true god, who can hear the prayers of believers and decide whether to grant their wishes. Monistic ontology, on the other hand, believes that the essence capable of giving rise to all things is imperceptible and without will. This includes the Taiji in China’s “I Ching,” the Dao in the “Dao De Jing,” the Unmanifested Reality in ancient Indian philosophy, and the ontology in Western philosophy.
Scientists are less likely to believe in monotheism, because if the Creator has a will, we should be able to observe cases where natural laws are altered, like in the movie “Bruce Almighty” where the moon is pulled closer and a monkey is born from a person’s anus. The monistic ontology does not need to face such questions, but it can only explain the phenomena of collective karma and collective retribution, not individual karma and individual retribution.
Buddhism is a pluralistic ontology or a pluralistic theory of creation, which is a unique perspective in Buddhism that cannot be found in other philosophies or religions. All things are born from the ālaya-vijñāna (eighth consciousness), and every sentient being has its own ālaya-vijñāna. The ālaya-vijñāna is not just a theory; it is also the core of Buddhist practice and realization. The Buddhist sutras provide a concrete description of the ālaya-vijñāna: 1. It cannot discern the six dust realms, nor can it listen to the prayers of its followers, so it has no afflictions; 2. It can discern the body with the five sense organs, the physical world, and the seeds; 3. It can accumulate seeds and give rise to active manifestations. I have cited numerous sutras in my works “The Enlightenment and Transmission of Chan” and “The Introduction to Positivist Buddhism” to prove that the enlightenment in Chan is the actual discovery of the specific functions of the ālaya-vijñāna. After enlightenment, one understands that the physical body and mental functions (the five aggregates) are merely an illusory self, and gradually, one can let go of selfish attitudes and behavioral tendencies, ultimately transforming from an ordinary being into a saint.
The mind is like a skilled painter,
able to create all worlds.
The five aggregates arise from it,
and there is no dharma it cannot create.
As is the mind, so is the Buddha;
as is the Buddha, so are sentient beings.
One should know that the essence of the mind, Buddha, and sentient beings
is all endless.
Paraphrase: Just like a skilled painter can depict all sorts of dharmas in the world, the mind is the same, capable of giving rise to the five aggregates and even creating any dharma. Just as with the mind, so it is with the Buddha; just as with the Buddha, so it is with sentient beings. Therefore, one should know that the essence of the mind, Buddha, and sentient beings is all inexhaustible.
In the ocean of awakened awareness, the essence is pure and perfect;
perfectly pure awareness is the wondrously innate wisdom.
This innate clarity illuminates all that is born,
and when it is established, the nature of illumination ceases.
In delusion, there is the void;
relying on the void, the world is established.
With the settling of thoughts, the land is formed;
with the discernment, sentient beings arise.
Within the great awakening, the void gives birth,
like a bubble emerging in the ocean.
The impure, dust-like realms are born,
all depending on the void;
when the bubble vanishes, the void is originally non-existent,
let alone the three realms of existence?
Paraphrase: The vast ocean of innate awareness, composed of the eighth consciousness of all sentient beings, has a pure and perfect nature. Within this perfection, there is an inherent and subtle awareness (the eighth consciousness able to discern seeds). This inherent awareness brightly illuminates, as if dividing into the seer and the seen; once the subject and object are established, the perfect illuminating nature is hidden. With the hidden perfect awareness, sentient beings with common delusions suddenly perceive a universe, and based on this universe, the physical world is created. After the common delusions become calm, lands form, and the discerning beings become sentient beings. This universe is born in the vast ocean of innate awareness, like a bubble in the ocean, and the impure, dust-like lands rely on the universe for their birth. Once the bubble bursts, the universe originally did not exist, let alone the three realms of existence (desire realm, form realm, and formless realm) that depend on the universe.
The vast ocean of innate awareness, composed of the eighth consciousness of all sentient beings, has a pure and perfect nature. Within this perfection, there is an inherent and subtle awareness (the eighth consciousness able to discern seeds). This inherent awareness brightly illuminates, as if dividing into the seer and the seen; once the subject and object are established, the perfect illuminating nature is hidden. With the hidden perfect awareness, sentient beings with common delusions suddenly perceive a universe, and based on this universe, the physical world is created. After the common delusions become calm, lands form, and the discerning beings become sentient beings. This universe is born in the vast ocean of innate awareness, like a bubble in the ocean, and the impure, dust-like lands rely on the universe for their birth. Once the bubble bursts, the universe originally did not exist, let alone the three realms of existence (desire realm, form realm, and formless realm) that depend on the universe.
The sutras mentioned above are truly astonishing, as they state that our universe is merely a small bubble arising within the vast ocean of innate awareness, suggesting that countless other universes coexist simultaneously. If this small bubble were to burst, the lands within the universe would no longer be able to continue existing, let alone the sentient beings and all their cravings and worries. In Buddhist sutras, the term “land” generally refers to a billion solar systems, which is the range in which a Buddha teaches. This indicates that the Buddha’s land also depends on the universe for its existence and will eventually be destroyed. Only the vast ocean of innate awareness is originally unmoving, eternal, blissful, true self, and pure, free from all suffering and sorrow. The ultimate goal of Buddhist practice is to return to this originally unmoving vast ocean of innate awareness.
Not Arising, Not Ceasing
The cause of birth must exist before the result of birth; for example, a mother must exist before a baby to give birth to the baby. The eighth consciousness, which can give rise to all phenomena, must necessarily exist before all phenomena. However, since all phenomena have existed since beginningless time, the eighth consciousness must also have existed since beginningless time. As stated in the “Mahayana Abhidharma Sutra”:
From beginningless time, the realm of all things depends equally upon it,
Due to this, there are various realms of existence, and the attainment of nirvana.
Paraphrase: Since beginningless time, there has been a differentiated existence with functions, and all conditioned phenomena must rely on it equally for their operation and continued existence. Because of its presence, there are karmic results for sentient beings in the six realms and the realization of nirvana.
Integration of Permanent and Impermanent
If the law of cause and effect and karmic retribution are true, the principle of birth must be able to compensate for cause and effect. For this reason, it must be able to record the actions of sentient beings. To record the actions of sentient beings, it must consist of two parts: a permanent, unchanging container and changeable contents. The unchanging container is the mind-body that can store, and the changeable contents are the stored seeds (equivalent to data or information). This is called the “Integration of Permanent and Impermanent,” where “Permanent” refers to the mind-body that can store, and “Impermanent” refers to the stored seeds.
Each individual’s Alaya consciousness gives rise to their respective karmic results, such as physical strength or weakness and varying levels of intelligence. This is known as individual karma and individual retribution. The environment in which one lives, such as mountains, rivers, and the earth, is a result of collective karma and collective retribution, born from the combined Alaya consciousness of sentient beings sharing this collective karma. The Alaya consciousness is not within the phenomenal realm, but it interacts with the phenomenal realm through cause and effect. The phenomenal realm is its output, while the actions of sentient beings through body, speech, and mind alter the data contained within the Alaya consciousness, equivalent to its input. Each sentient being’s Alaya consciousness records their good and evil karma relative to other sentient beings, waiting for future compensation of cause and effect. Every person is interconnected with all others.
The structure is equal and has no central server, and apart from that, it is not much different from an online game. Buddhist scriptures often mention “playing with divine powers,” which is not just a metaphor. It reveals the Buddhist worldview: the world is like a game. The integration of permanent and impermanent is a Mahayana teaching; for more details, please refer to Chapter 5, Section 2.