(General Dharma Lecture, Last Day of the 4th Lunar Month, 1982, Haein-sa)
Buddha is of course the foundation of Buddhism. But when you ask what Buddha is, you could get a variety of answers even though it is difficult to define in concrete terms what “Buddha” means. It is much easier to talk about the basic principles of Buddhism.
We call those who live in the world of torment and delusion sentient beings, and a Buddha is one who has completely transcended such a world. That delusion-free state, the state of supreme Enlightenment, is called “No Mind” and sometimes “No Thought.” But where exactly do we draw the line between the realms of sentient beings and the realm of no Mind?
We classify all forms of life, from the tiniest micro-organisms to Bodhisattvas at the level of universal Enlightenment, as sentient beings. Only by achieving supreme Enlightenment, by eliminating even the tiniest of delusions from the Alayavijnana, does one reach no mind, and that is when one becomes a Buddha.
We have classified all that lives in the realms of delusion as sentient beings, but how do we define delusion? Based on the Sutras, we usually talk in terms of 84,000 delusions, and we can classify these into two major groups.
First, we have the conscious delusions―a variety of thoughts rising; secondly, we have the unconscious delusions which include even the tiniest of delusions hidden deep in the unconscious. In Buddhism we have eight types of cognition, and of these the Alayavijnana, or “storehouse” is the deepest. Getting into this level is an extremely difficult task. Even a Bodhisattva at the 8th level of sainthood or an Arhat are not aware of delusions at this level. This can be known fully only by those who have achieved supreme Enlightenment, by the Buddhas.
Sentient beings, ranging from the tiniest micro-organisms to Bodhisattvas af the 7th level of sainthood, live in the realm of the conscious. Bodhisattvas above that level and those who have achieved Universal Enlightenment live in the world of the unconscious. But both of these worlds, the worlds of the conscious and the unconscious, are worlds of delusion and worlds with thought. It is only when one has gone beyond all of that, when even the tiniest delusions of the Alayavijnana have disappeared, that one reaches Supreme Enlightenment, the realm of No Mind.
What exactly is this No Mind that we are talking about? Let’s use a mirror as an analogy, since the mirror is often used in Buddhism when explaining fundamental Mind, fundamental nature, original face. Think of delusions as dust, and No Mind as the natural state of the mirror. That state―a spotless mirror―is Buddha nature, fundamental nature, original face. If you dust off the mirror, you have this natural state.
In this natural state, a mirror is indescribably clear and bright, and it reflects great light. Our fundamental nature is the same way. If all delusions are swept away, right down to the Alayavijnana, then a huge, all-pervading light appears like the sun appearing out of the clouds. And when we rid ourselves of all delusions, the light of great wisdom appears and reflects into the Dharma realm of the ten directions, the entire universe. In Buddhism we refer to this as tranquil light or brilliance. At Haein-sa, the main Buddha Hall is called “Great Tranquil Brilliance Hall,” which means a place where Buddha resides.
So this No Mind is not a state of emptiness, void, blankness or vacuity. It is this state of complete elimination of all delusion, a state of perfect, quiet brilliance. Contrary to common misunderstanding, it is not a state of abso lute thoughtlessness, like a boulder. The Chinese characters are those for “No Mind” but it is not a state of no mind, or blank mind. If is a state of no delusions, a mirror free of dust, the state where this brilliant light of wisdom pervades everything.
This No Mind can also be explained in terms of “non-producing, non-extinguishing.” Non-producing is the state without a trace of delusion, and non-extinguishing is the state of the great light of wisdom. Non-producing is the “tranquil” and non-extinguishing is the “light.”
In the Sutras, this state of Mind is referred to as correct, or proper wisdom. Correct, or proper refers to the state without delusion, and the wisdom refers to the great light. So Buddha is often described as maintaining wisdom at a fixed level. The achievement of the state is also called “seeing one’s true nature.” It is achieving both Buddhahood and nirvana at the same time.
Many people think of nirvana as a state which comes after death. But a state of nothingness after death is not nirvana. True nirvana is this state of completely delusionless tranquillity in a brilliance of universal magnitude. To think that the stillness that we are talking about exists without this brilliance is not Buddhism. And achievement of this state of tranquillity and brilliance is what we mean by deliverance or release from suffering and delusion. The Awakening of Faith sums this all up simply by saying that deliverance is release from all delusion and the reaching of this Great Light of Wisdom.
Based on what I have said, you now should be able to imagine what Buddhism is talking about when we use such terms as attaining Buddhahood, realizing Buddha nature, or achieving No Mind. Of course, to you this is still nothing but theory or speculation. But if you consider yourself a Buddhist, you have to try to experience this yourself. That is the very purpose of Buddhism. So you’re wondering if in fact you are capable of experiencing this.
Equality is basic to Buddhism, and we are all equal in that our basic nature is that of Buddha. So becoming a Buddha is not transformation out of the human state into another realm. Let’s go back to the analogy of the spotless mirror―it reflects everything in a bright light. This bright light is the still mind, it is the Tranquil Brilliance, it is maintaining wisdom at a fixed level, and it is non-producing and non-extinguishing.
Then why are we humans like a damaged mirror, incapable of reflecting this brilliance? If our basic nature is pure and clear and brilliant, then why are we in this human state of pain and suffering? Not because the mirror is damaged, but because our mind is covered with dust. If we wish to reflect this Great Light, this still Mind, there is no need to make ourselves into another mirror. All we have to do is to discover the mirror within us and wipe away the dust to find our true selves.
One of my favorite expressions is, “Take a good look at yourself.” And to wipe away the dust is to take a good look at who you really are, to see your mirror, to reflect the Great Light. When I say, “Open the Eye.” I am talking about this still. Mind, this No Mind. There are a thousand ways of expressing this, but they all mean the same thing.
What does this No Mind have to do with the mundane world? In the old days, some people used to think that there really was no difference between Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. To say such a thing, is however, practically a travesty. In both theory and practice, Confucianism and Taoism just add more delusion to people already filled with delusion; in theory and in practice, they just add more dust to the mirror.
The purpose of Buddhism, on the other hand, is to achieve this state of No Mind through the elimination of all delusion. How can you equate dust makers and dust removers? To say that Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism are the same is to say that you know nothing about Buddhism. Think of it: even a Bodhisattva who has achieved Universal Enlightenment is still struggling with dust, so you can imagine what Confucianism and Taoism are like.
The world has become smaller, and there are all kinds of religions and philosophies floating around in addition to Confucianism and Taoism. How does Buddhism compare to all of this? Let me be very frank with you. You may talk about the greatness of a certain philosopher, a certain religious leader, or a great scientist. But all of those people are talking out of delusion. None of them has ever said a single word about the level of the delusionless state of No Mind.
A while ago I said that Buddha is the very basis of Buddhism, and that Buddha was this No Mind. I said that sentient beings were creatures living in the world of delusions, and that Buddhahood was the state of ridding oneself of all delusions and attaining this state of No Mind. Not a single one of these other supposedly great philosophies or religions or sciences even mentions a concept similar to this attainment of NO Mind. And it is here, with this No Mind, that we find the greatness and the distinctiveness of Buddhism, a greatness and distinctiveness that no other religion or philosophy can come close to.
But you cannot clearly see truth when you are filled with delusions. To know the truth, you must be free from delusion. You cannot see truth and you cannot experience No Mind before you eliminate your delusions. Everything other than the level of Supreme Enlightenment, or Buddhahood, is false knowledge, false views. At the stage of Supreme Enlightenment, the mirror has been completely cleared of all dust, of all delusion; you reflect everything, you see everything, you understand everything. It is correct knowledge, it is correct perception, it is complete Truth. And from this position, all other philosophies and all other religions are based on delusion, on false knowledge and false views. They cannot be seen as correct knowledge or correct perception.
If you do not have correct knowledge and correct perception, you cannot behave correctly. Can a blind person walk straight by himself? Can a mirror covered with dust reflect light? Can Mind covered with delusion have correct knowledge and behave in a correct manner? Correct behavior cannot be achieved until one has experienced the state of No Mind, the Tranquil Brilliance.
So, what is a Buddha? A Buddha is someone who sits correctly, who sees correctly, who behave s correctly, who lives correctly. And I think everyone wants to understand correctly, to see correctly and to live correctly. How can we do this, however, when Wisdom’s Eye is closed?
Buddhism is an attempt to live correctly, but you cannot live correctly in a state of delusion. You have to experience No Mind to understand perfectly and then to be able to live correctly. Yet even a Bodhisattva who has achieved Universal Enlightenment is blind, and for such a Bodhisattva to teach people is a case of the blind leading the blind. If you’re going to lead others, you have to be able to see properly yourself, you have to understand correctly, and you have to behave correctly.
Let me briefly review what I’ve covered today with you. Creatures which live in the realm of delusion are called sentient beings. And to become free of all delusions is to be a Buddha. This state of non-delusion is what we mean by No Mind, but this No Mind is not a blank mind. It is like a state where the dust has been wiped from the mirror, where everything is reflected, where the clouds have rolled back and where the sun shines brilliantly. In this state there are no more delusions, and the Great Light of Wisdom is all-pervading. It is realizing the state of non-producing and non-extinguishing.
You cannot find this state of No Mind in any other religion or philosophy. There are innumerable religions throughout the world, and there may be certain discernments of ultimate truth in the teaching of their founders; but they have all failed to see anything but small fragments of Truth.
It is a fact that no other system opens its Eye wide enough to consider everything in the universe. Consequently, all Buddhists should have thorough confidence while striving to attain the state of No Mind. But to just talk about it is to just talk about food on an empty stomach―you must eat to be full.
This No Mind is not something we have made up. It is our fundamental nature, it is our original face, and it is the very basis of Buddhism. I am always saying that sentient beings are Buddha, but perhaps you don’t believe me because all you see is the sentient being and not the Buddha nature in you. But clear the dust from the mirror, wipe away all of your delusions, and you will see for yourself. If someone told you that there were a hidden gold mine around here, is there a single person who wouldn’t go digging?
You are originally, fundamentally Buddha. All you have to do is to recover this Buddha nature. You must have the confidence to recover it, and if you sincerely strive, you will see it very, very clearly. You will come to see who you really are, and there is nothing else after that.
Work diligently with your koan, and come to realize the magnificence of “No Mind.”