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​The Arising of Conditioned Appearance from the True Mind (I)

by Venerable Guo Xing
This is the first in a series of articles taken from Dharma talks given by Ven. Guo Xing at the Shurangama Sutra Retreat in August 2012. The talks focus on the first four chapters of the Shurangama Sutra, and include the discussion of Chan theory and practice, stories of the Chan Masters, and how to apply Chan methods in daily life.
Today I would like to discuss the Chan theories that can help us deepen our Chan practice. Practice requires both understanding and experience. Chan theory serves as the roadmap for practice. If the map is not clear, we will get lost in practice.
The Shurangama Sutra is one of the most important sutras in the Chan school and is the main text for guiding Chan practice. Throughout the Shurangama Sutra the Buddha explains the mind, making a distinction between the true mind and the deluded mind. In the sutra, the Buddha first points out that Ananda had taken the deluded mind as the true mind. He then further demonstrates that sentient beings have the same true mind as the Buddha. However, sentient beings use the true mind incorrectly, thus cannot manifest its wondrous functions as the Tathagatas1 do. As a result, sentient beings continue to dwell in the cycle of birth and death within the six realms. On the other hand, if we can understand where our error is and then learn not to misuse the true mind, the mind in samsara2 can be transformed into the mind of wisdom.
The true mind has the functions of seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, tasting, knowing, and moving. The fundamental difference between the true mind and the deluded mind, or wisdom and consciousness, is that the true mind is formless and non-dualistic (i.e. there is not a subject that can "know," nor an object of "knowing"). With the rise of the dualistic view—where there is a subject "I" seeing the object "you",
"I" hearing sounds, or "I" feeling sad, or "I" thinking—this is the deluded mind, consciousness, or a mind with forms. It is not the true mind.
When the deluded mind with the dualistic view is transformed into the non-dualistic true mind, we call it
"transforming consciousness into wisdom", or "illuminating the mind and seeing the nature".

To achieve this goal, we first need to recognize how we operate with the deluded mind, then we need to learn and apply methods to realize the true mind.
The Buddha asked Ananda,
"Where is your mind located?" Ananda said, "The mind dwells within my body." Buddha then answered, "If the mind is inside the body, then it would be as if there is a person in the house who is going to see the things inside, then see the things outside the house. If your mind were indeed within your body, when exactly do you see the internal organs inside the body?"

"Within the body" is the first of the seven locations of the deluded mind. Most of us think that the mind is within the body. How do we prove it? You are looking at me right now. Aren't you seeing me through your eyes? When you listen to my lecture, aren't you also hearing me through your ears? Basically, our body serves as the focal point through which we interact with external environment via our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body. Master Sheng Yen said, "An enlightened person's body and mind are united as one. Their minds are not confined by the body, while a sentient being's mind is confined by the body and hence is in opposition to the environment." As long as you still feel your mind dwelling within your body, you are not yet enlightened.
In the sutra, the Buddha explains what make us feel that the mind is within body:

"Mental dimness turns into dull emptiness. This emptiness, in the dimness, unites with darkness to become form. Stimulated by false thinking, the form takes the shape of a body. As causal conditions come together there are perpetual internal disturbances which tend to gallop outside. Such inner disturbances are often mistaken for the nature of mind. The primary misconception about the mind and body is the false view that the mind dwells in the physical body."  3
Originally, within the true mind, there is no mountain, river, land, the world, nor space. It is the
"true emptiness, and true seeing" and it is without a dualistic view. With the rising of a single ignorant thought, the perceivable space came into being, along with the perceiving mind. This space is called "dull emptiness". The original mind, which could function without a perceivable object, turned into a perceiving mind that needs an object to function. We called this perceiving mind the "deluded mind" or "ignorance". The sentient beings, who lost their "true emptiness and true seeing", function in the dualistic way of the "dull emptiness and deluded views". Continuously interacting with the dull emptiness, the deluded mind creates illusory forms and all sorts of phenomena made from the four primary elements, i.e. earth, water, fire and wind. From then on, space and world come into being. Among these phenomena made from the four primary elements, the deluded mind grasps onto a little portion of the four elements (e.g., the zygote), and considers it as "my" body. In the sutra, it says "Stimulated by false thinking, the form takes the shape of a body."
After having the conception of the body, inwardly, the mind interacts with our own thoughts continuously. Through these thoughts, outwardly, the mind interacts with the external sensory objects (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch), forming consciousness. These thoughts are called "conditions." The sutra describes this process: "As causal conditions come together there are perpetual internal disturbances which tend to gallop outside."
"Galloping" refers to how the mind uses the body as the focal point, and outwardly grasp onto forms. Through the five sensory organs (i.e. the eyes, ear, nose, tongue and body), the mind interacts with the five sensory objects. Inwardly, it interacts with our inner thoughts. We then take these ever-shifting thoughts as our own mind. These ever-shifting phenomena are called “inner disturbances.” It is like a stream of sunlight beaming into the room, revealing particles of dust in the air. We take the floating dust as our mind, forgetting that our true mind is really unmoving and still like the empty space. Once we mistake the moving thoughts as our own mind, we then feel that the mind dwells in the body. Therefore, Master Sheng Yen said, “Sentient beings grasp onto thoughts with the mind, and grasp onto forms with the mind.”
At this very moment, you are sitting here. Are you using your mind to attend to the sound of my voice, my physical form, and then further using the mind to make connections to your own previous experience?
"What is this monk talking about?" you may wonder. Outwardly, our mind relates to sight, sound, even smell; inwardly, it relates to our feelings, our thoughts. In the twelve links of dependent arising, this chain of reactions is called "contact, feelings, craving, grasping, and becoming." In other words, taking the body as the focal point, the mind makes contact with external sight, sound, smell, taste, and internal thoughts, then generates feelings. Then we mistake the ever-grasping, ever-shifting thoughts as the mind itself. Further, since this mind functions through the six sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body), consequently we form the illusion that the mind dwells in the body. This is how the "deluded mind" functions.

Once we mistakenly take the moving phenomena and thoughts as our own mind, we forget that the physical body, as well as the mountains, the rivers, empty space, and the great earth are all phenomena within the true mind. As said in the sutra:

"It is like ignoring hundreds of thousands of clear pure seas and taking notice of only a single bubble, seeing it as the entire ocean, as the whole expanse of great and small seas." 4
Physical bodies, surroundings, empty space, aren't these all objects we see? The sound of our own voice, external sounds, aren't these all sounds we hear? Aren't these phenomena all within our own mind? However, we sentient beings, often separate what we perceive into two, i.e. my physical body versus the external environment outside of the body.
If we become liberated from the misconception of the mind dwelling in the body, our mind can actually function like a mirror, reflecting everything equally and as a whole. At that point, one will no longer consider that there is a portion that is me, and the rest as others. If the mind is unmoving, it will be just as Master Sheng Yen said, that the internals and the externals are united as one. We will realize that all phenomena are within our mind.
When each one of us returns to the unmoving mind, and realizes complete awareness, we call this
"All Buddhas are the same in essence". The mind, the Buddha, and sentient beings are one in essence, and there is no difference between them. The Buddha's mind is unmoving, and has complete awareness. Similarly, the mind of us sentient beings is also unmoving and is capable of complete awareness. But when we function in the dualistic way, separating our physical body from external phenomena, we remain "sentient beings". Yet, even as we function in this dualistic way, the true mind of sentient beings remains the same as the Buddha's.
One of the goals in practicing Chan is to learn to liberate the mind from the confines of the body. The first step is to unite the body and the mind. Once we experience the unification of the body and mind, we would realize that the mind indeed does not dwell in body. (To be continued)

Literally, "Thus-Come One, " a title of the Buddha.

the beginningless and continuing cycle of birth and death caused by afflictions, attachment, ignorance, and karma. It is also the world of suffering, in which ordinary sentient beings are inexorably entangled.

3 2:52–2:54 The Shurangama Sutra translated by Buddhist Text Translation Society

4 2:55 The Shurangama Sutra translated by Buddhist Text Translation Society

(The article was originally published in Chan Magazine 2013 Autumn)