Kuan-yin continued: “Then, since ear-contact and audial objects produced no effect, the mind remained in a state of clarity, and the phenomena of motion and stillness no longer occurred.”
These words indicate that through ceaseless training in allowing the sounds to flow off and letting the objects disappear, one gradually attains a state in which the innate nature to hear becomes free from the object of hearing and the contact of the ear with the external world. The nature to hear becomes thoroughly quiet and clear, and the mind is not torpid, but remains lucid. When that occurs, one feels neither the sensation of motion, for sound is the result of motion or vibrations, nor does one feel the sensation of stillness, for stillness is perceived in relation to motion. At this stage, ‘samadhi’ (a technical Buddhist term for meditative absorption) has been attained, but there are many degrees of samadhi and progress through them is made in stages. The state described here may be called the initial stage of meditative absorption. At this level two of the five deluded attachments have been removed – deluded attachment to sound, and deluded attachment to hearing. Nonetheless, having removed only these two deluded attachments, worldly suffering may be greatly reduced. If we can attain just this stage, we will enjoy ample happiness and freedom in this world.
Your attention is invited to the fact that at this point Buddha’s basic teaching to “stop clinging to objects” is achieved. Now the next step is to “contemplate reality with a one-pointed mind.”
Therefore Kuan-yin did not stop at this point. He made greater efforts and pushed on in his practice, deepening his samadhi day by day. Thus he said, “Meditative absorption gradually deepened…”
The level of cultivation of realization described above could have already been attained by many of you, but what follows is entirely concerned with advancing the state of meditative absorption and is thus not easy for ordinary people to comprehend. Therefore, I wish to clarify my own position at this point. It may be that some of those who hear this have already experienced deep realizations, but I myself am just like the tadpole whose mother has just returned from the bank of a pond. She tries to make us young waterbound frogs understand the loveliness of the gentle breeze and the warm sunshine, but we can merely repeat what she has already said. We will only truly understand what she means when we get our own legs and go onto the bank ourselves. Only then will we realize the truth of the Bodhisattva Kuan-yin’s words.
Bodhisattva Kuan-yin continued:”…ultimately the distinction between audial consciousness and the objects of audial consciousness was no longer in existence.”
Bodhisattva Kuan-yin, in meditative absorption, continued to investigate the difference between the concept of the ‘I’ who is hearing and the object of hearing, because at the stage he had attained thus far, both audial consciousness and the nature to hear were still present. In this case, the word ‘audial consciousness’ is used to mean the ‘I’ who is hearing, or the nature to hear. The object is the object of the audial consciousness. In the final analysis, he realized, there is no difference between the two. Therefore, both (the individual engaged in) hearing and its object ceased completely; that is to say, they merged. At this time, because the concepts of hearing and the nature to hear were no longer present, his mind was filled with freedom and pure happiness. All sufferings except those of birth and death had been eradicated.
Nonetheless, Kuan-yin did not stop meditating, but continued his one-pointed mind contemplation, and he found that “awareness and the object of awareness became empty. Then the awareness of emptiness expanded without boundary.”
This is a higher level of meditative absorption wherein there is nothing but awareness left. But who is it that is aware? It is the ‘I.’ Thus, as long as there is awareness, there remains this ‘I.’
Kuan-yin proceeded to investigate further to find the difference between the ‘I’ who is aware and the object of awareness. In the end he found that there was no difference between the two, because they were both empty, intangibly empty. Hence he said, “awareness and the object of awareness became empty…”
In this state of meditative absorption he no longer felt the existence of his physical body, and he was liberated from the pains of birth and death. The sensation of emptiness was so pervasive that it was felt to reach the uttermost boundaries of the three realms and into the infinite past and future. It was everywhere, and it had no temporal or spatial limits. Therefore, Kuan-yin described the stage he had reached as being without boundary. Still, this was not the stage of perfection he sought, so the bodhisattva cultivated his realization further:
“Then emptiness and that which is empty became extinct.”
This level of meditative absorption was, of course, higher than the previous one, but even at this stage there remained a sensation of emptiness. Who was it that felt the sensation of emptiness when emptiness was attained? Although he had lost the sensation of a physical ‘I’ at this point, there was still a vague sensation of an ‘I’ present in his consciousness. In other words, there was still a slight degree of deluded attachment left. This stage could easily be mistaken for the highest degree to which realization could be cultivated, but there was still one most important step left to be taken. Therefore, instead of stopping here, he took a further step and doubled his efforts in order to investigate the difference between the ‘I’ who was empty and the emptiness that was its object. At last he came to realize not only that there was no difference between the two, but that even the sensation of emptiness was nonexistent. Therefore, Kuan-yin said that emptiness and its object were eliminated.
At this stage everything that was subject to arising and subsiding, everything that might appear and then cease, such as thought, sensation, mental reflection, hearing, awareness, emptiness, and ego, had completely ceased. Not a bit of deluded attachment remained. All the sufferings of existence had ended. Darkness was totally dispelled and nothing was left.
Therefore, Kuan-yin said:
“Since all arising and subsiding had ceased, equanimity became manifest.”
This is the picture of the land as the mother frog had expressed it. One must not take “equanimity became manifest” to mean “equanimity then appeared before me.” So that we might not form such a mistaken impression, the Sixth Patriarch, Hui Neng, pointed out that “when total nirvana manifests, it does not manifest in the relative sense of the word. ” (Platform Sutra, Chapter on Opportunity.) At this stage there is no longer any concept of an ‘I.’ Therefore, the word ‘manifest’ actually denotes a complete all-pervasiveness and is not a relative term involving a comparative concept. Hence, Kuan-yin continued:
“Suddenly, transcending both the mundane and supramundane…”
At this stage every obstacle was removed. All the deluded attachments, the stages of samadhi realized in meditation, and the sensations of subject and object were transcended none of them were obstacles any longer. The true nature of reality was revealed and all Bodhisattva Kuan-yin could say was:”…there was an undistracted luminosity in all the ten directions.”
‘Ten directions’ refers to the absence of any fixed center, the absence of a central ego. ‘Undistracted’ means that nothing is wanting; it is perfect, unbounded. ‘Luminosity’ means a brightness that is totally without obstacles. These words are used to convey in language the condition of one’s basic nature, attained through the cultivation of realization, though language is not at all adequate here. “Undistracted luminosity in all the ten directions” makes it clear that there is now nothing but original nature: There is no buddha, no sentient being; there is not even emptiness. This is the ‘basic nature,’ ‘original nature,’ ‘primordial element,’ or ‘buddha-nature’ described in the Buddhist scriptures. All these terms have the same meaning.
In the Shurangama Sutra, the Bodhisattva Kuan-yin made two further statements explaining the function that arises from our basic nature. This function is the universal delivery of all sentient beings from suffering through the great compassion and loving kindness that arise spontaneously from the empty nature of the primordial element. In this state, defilements are identical with enlightenment and enlightenment with defilements. Such a state cannot be the object of mundane speculation, for the attempts of ordinary individuals to grasp this conceptually can easily cause further delusion. If we become attached to the notion of the function, obstacles to the cultivation of realization may arise. Therefore I have left Kuan-yin’s two further statements unexplained. In any case, if one gains an insight into the nature of the primordial element, the function will follow naturally, for they are two aspects of one and the same thing. Tadpoles like me would do much better to just concentrate our efforts on the practice of allowing objects that contact the sense organs to flow off, and thus become detached from objects. This will at least remove some of the mundane defilements and attachments. I sincerely hope that all of you become free from suffering by practicing Kuan-yin’s method.
It is said that to be born as a human being is as rare as the early morning star; to have the opportunity to hear Buddha’s teaching is even more rare. I might add that to find the opportunity and time to practice those teachings is the rarest among the rare. I sincerely hope that you are among the rarest of the rare.
Thank you very much.