The Dharma is Visible

One of the wonderful qualities of the Dharma is that it is readily visible (sāṃdṛṣṭiko/sandiṭṭhiko), just as one can discern the presence or absence of greed in oneself (SN 35.70, AN 6.47-48), and how from greed come evil actions (AN 3.53-54). Seeing it now is better than looking for pleasant results in the future, as it's been explained to both a deva (SN 1.20) and a mara (SN 4.21), and it's even better than ruling the four continents (SN 55.1). The Dharma can be readily perceived on various levels through absorption (AN 9.46), and it is best taught with the understanding that the Dharma itself is excellent and out of compassion (SN 16.3).


No permanence, no impermanence

All we have is what is experienced. If something is not experienced then it does not exist from our perspective. Sure, it can be theorised that there are many things we do not experience, but that is nothing more than a passing thought not referring to anything at all, in other words, pure fiction. What is actually experienced is apparently unstable, impermanent, since there is nothing within the six sensory areas that one can find to be constantly present. Nevertheless, because mind has the ability to imagine all sorts of things, we conceptualise time, and that things continue to exist over time, so we attribute them constancy, even when there is no constancy experienced in reality. And if we look closer, clearly what is past is already gone, it exists no more, and what is in the future does not exist yet, so all we are left with is what is present, but the present moment is actually nothing we could pinpoint, it too is merely an imagined period of time, a fictional entity. So where is any permanent entity? Where is any impermanent entity?


Excerpts from The Questions of Sāgaramati

 From The Noble Great Vehicle Sūtra “The Questions of Sāgaramati” (Ārya­sāgaramati­paripṛcchā­nāma­mahā­yāna­sūtra, Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee)

Dharma Devotion

"Be happy to respect the Dharma—just be respectful.
Be focused; discard all afflictive emotions.
Be passionate about the Dharma, and rely on it.
Always come to a decisive conclusion about the Dharma.

Strive in the Dharma and train in the absence of afflictions.
Abandon what is not Dharma, and seek out the teachings.
Have steadfast faith in the Three Jewels.
Thus you refine the mind of omniscience."

 Accepting Harm and the Six Perfections

"Sāgaramati, unsurpassed and perfect awakening is not difficult to attain for bodhisattvas who are ready to give up their bodies and life. They intend to eliminate any phenomena that support the development of malice. What are these phenomena? They are taking joy in the body, being settled in the body, and being attached to the body. If one gives up the body, malice is also given up.
Sāgaramati, bodhisattva great beings who share this outlook accept the harm of beings and do not become depressed or angry. They accept three forms of harm. What are these three? Physical, verbal, and mental harm.
What is the bodhisattvas’ acceptance of physical harm, Sāgaramati? When their limbs or digits are cut, they rely on reality and look into the identity of the being who is cutting their body. Sāgaramati, when the bodies of bodhisattvas who are skilled in means are cut, they complete their cultivation of the six perfections. Sāgaramati, when the bodies of bodhisattvas who are skilled in means are cut, how do they complete their cultivation of the six perfections?
Abandoning the body, giving away the body, and ignoring the body is their perfection of generosity. Filling themselves with love for all beings and not getting overwhelmed by the physical sensation when the body is cut is their perfection of discipline. Accepting the cutting of the body for the sake of becoming free, not letting their minds be marred, and displaying their power of acceptance is their perfection of patience. Utilizing diligence to not lose their passion for omniscience, holding to the strengthening of mind, embracing saṃsāra, and engaging in roots of virtue is their perfection of diligence. As their bodies are cast aside, not forgetting the jewel of developing the mind of omniscience, focusing on awakening itself, and contemplating peace and utter peace is their perfection of concentration. When the body is cut, contemplating how the body is like grass, a wall, wood, stone, or a visual distortion; engaging with the body as having the nature of an illusion; and contemplating how the body is actually impermanent, suffering, devoid of self, and peace is their perfection of insight.
Thus, Sāgaramati, when the bodies of bodhisattvas who are skilled is means are cut, they complete their cultivation of the six perfections and do not fall away from the Great Vehicle. This is the bodhisattvas’ acceptance of physical harm.
What is the bodhisattvas’ acceptance of verbal harm, Sāgaramati? It is inviting all meanly spoken words. It is accepting being scolded, slandered, belittled, complained about, and intimidated. It is not getting angry when somebody says something negative about them, whether true or false. It is casting aside all forms of holding a grudge, including the habitual tendencies for doing so.
Sāgaramati, when bodhisattva great beings who are skilled in means hear mean utterances, mean words, scolding, and words of intimidation spoken by someone else, they perfect their cultivation of the six perfections. How do bodhisattva great beings who are skilled in means perfect their cultivation of the six perfections as they hear mean utterances, mean words, scolding, and words of intimidation spoken by someone else, Sāgaramati?
Sāgaramati, when bodhisattva great beings hear mean utterances, mean words, scolding, and words of intimidation spoken by someone else they bring the following to mind: ‘This person has long been stingy and miserly. His life revolves around this stain of stinginess, such that he has now also developed malice. As such, he does not follow spiritual friends who can teach him the Dharma, nor does he respect or serve them. As for myself, I must remain inspired to give and not be stingy. I must continue to rely on, honor, and serve spiritual friends.’ Thus they are cautious and discard their malice, and this is their perfection of generosity.
They also have the following thought: ‘This person has nothing but perverse morality and yet he is scolding and intimidating me. But I will not retreat from how I keep to my trainings of discipline and asceticism. I will not become malicious. I will uphold the mind of awakening. I will trust in the ripening of karma.’ This is their perfection of discipline.
They also have the following thought: ‘This person is aggressive and has so much malice, so he scolds and intimidates me. Yet I will develop the strength of my patience. I will keep to love.’ This is their perfection of patience.
They also have the following thought: ‘This person is lazy and devoid of virtuous qualities, so he scolds and intimidates me. Yet I will remain diligent. I will never be satisfied in my pursuit of roots of virtue. Sooner or later, I wish to make this person arrive at the seat of awakening, and thus make him fully awaken to unsurpassed and perfect buddhahood.’ This manner of donning armor is their perfection of diligence.
They also have the following thought: ‘This person is forgetful and not introspective. He does not consider his afflictive emotions, so he scolds and intimidates me. Yet I can consider my afflictive emotions. I can be mindful and introspective. I will one-pointedly remember the mind of awakening. I will don strong armor for the sake of this untamed, aggressive, uncontrolled, and wild person.’ This is their perfection of concentration.
They also have the following thought: ‘This person has faulty insight. He advocates the existence of a self and believes in the existence of a sentient being. So, he scolds and intimidates me. Yet I will base myself on reality.’ Thus, examining who is scolding or being aggressive, they fail to find anyone. This acceptance that is free of any apprehension of self and other is their perfection of insight.
Thus, Sāgaramati, when bodhisattvas who are skilled in means hear mean utterances, mean words, scolding, and words of intimidation spoken by someone else, they complete their cultivation of the six perfections and do not fall away from the Great Vehicle. This is the bodhisattvas’ acceptance of verbal harm.
What is the bodhisattvas’ acceptance of mental harm, Sāgaramati? All māras, who unwaveringly try to separate others from the mind of awakening, and all obstructers, who are attached to ideologies, will continually attempt to undermine those who have set forth with a genuine intention to gain omniscience. Nevertheless, such bodhisattvas do not forget their goal and even if they were to meet the Buddha in person, he would not be able to diminish their unequaled attitude. Such māras of incredible magical power will say, ‘You cannot authentically accomplish the Great Vehicle! You should give up cherishing this goal! Give up your diligence! Awakening is difficult to attain. The qualities of buddhahood are difficult to find. You will continue to experience the suffering of saṃsāra. The state of nirvāṇa is blissful. Sublime being, you should hasten to nirvāṇa.’ Thus they try to influence and sway the bodhisattva.
Sāgaramati, if bodhisattva great beings do not relinquish their armor, or let themselves become disturbed, when the māras attempt to destroy and undermine their intention, they will think, ‘I must reach the seat of awakening! I must defeat the māras and their hordes and fully awaken to unsurpassed and perfect buddhahood! I will definitely turn the wheel of Dharma! I will explain the great message of the Dharma to the trichiliocosm. I will regale all beings and satisfy them with the gift of Dharma! All buddhas and bodhisattvas, as well as the gods who are cognizant of their own and others’ minds, realize my intention to awaken. I will accept all challenges to the mind of omniscience. No buddha, god, or any other being will cheat me of this!’
Sāgaramati, such is the bodhisattvas’ acceptance of mental harm; thus they cannot be separated from the Great Vehicle. Sāgaramati, this is how they accept all challenges to the jewel of developing the mind directed toward omniscience. It is by perfecting the armor of the perfection of patience and the unsurpassable perfection of diligence that bodhisattvas accept mental harm."

Authentic View and the Six Perfections

"The mind of awakening
That realizes all phenomena is proclaimed.
At that point the wisdom of realization
Finds no attachment to any phenomena.

When the learned ones master profound subjects
They lose all their anxiety.
With no anxiety or fear,
They proceed to greater nobility.

With the manner of focusing on causes,
One understands dependent phenomena.
The knowledgeable are then in agreement
In that extreme views are not to be held.

The mind will not get caught in
Either eternalism or nihilism.
The unfathomable limit of reality,
The middle limit, will be realized.

According to me, the nature of this limit entails
That all phenomena are of the essence of selflessness.
The nature of all phenomena
Is primordially unborn and unceasing—

Unborn, non-arising,
Empty, ungraspable, immaculate,
Signless, nonconceptual,
Alike and akin to space.

When the mind does not hope for any of these,
Desire and attachment are relinquished.
The nature of form is directly understood
As being like a bubble.

Feeling is like bubbles and
Perception has the quality of a visual distortion.
Formations are like the core of a plantain tree,
And consciousness is like an illusion.

The four elements undergo no motion,
Like the element of space.
The sense sources
Are material substances and are each other’s referents.

Mind is not within
And cannot be observed without.
For the mind there is no ‘mine.’
Consciousness does not exist anywhere.

When phenomena are not mentally engaged,
Self-aggrandizement is eliminated.
Everything is truly mastered as sameness
And as truth itself.

It is not various, but a single taste,
Singular, and traversing a path of sameness.
Thus the path consciousness is realized,
And the significance of the true meaning is seen.

Mind realizes the meaning,
And masters the fact that language lacks language.
Sounds do not continue,
From the past to the future.

Those who are learned in both meaning and words
Realize all phenomena to be nondual.
This inexpressible meaning
Is realized authentically.

Suffering is known to be unborn;
Origin is the mind of sameness;
Cessation is taught to be the cessation of consciousness;
And the path is unconditioned knowledge.

Body, feeling, mind,
And phenomena are realized as Dharma.
The foundation of mindfulness is shown
To be without mindfulness and nonconceptual.

The realm of phenomena is not a realm.
Truth is equalized through sameness.
Abandonment does not abandon anything—
Thus is true abandonment taught.

The attainment of the power of mind
Is shown to be the bases of miracles.
The complete transcendence of attachment
Is the faculty of faith.

Isolation from all phenomena
Is the faculty of diligence.
Utilizing mindfulness and non-mindfulness
Is the faculty of mindfulness.

Not mentally considering phenomena
Is the faculty of absorption.
Transcending all conceptual thought
Is the faculty of insight.

Realization of reality
Is not approached through the faith of others.
The absence of movement in the mind—
That is what the power of faith is like.

Authentic knowing unwaning—
That is what the power of mindfulness is like.
The treasury of the power of absorption
Is taking joy in the gentle mind.

Non-thought and non-conception—
That is what the power of insight is like.
The branches of awakening are revealed
In order to realize all phenomena.

The authentic view is claimed to be
The Dharma of sameness beyond difference.
The cultivation of nondual phenomena
Is the cultivation of the unborn path.

Unborn entails impermanence;
Peace—the abode of peace.

Generosity is a gentle mind.
Discipline is a peaceful mind.
Patience is the realization of the exhaustion of phenomena.
Diligence is discriminating realization.

Concentration is absolute peace.
Insight is to know reality.
Love is described as the fact
That all beings are primordially pure.

Compassion is like space.
Joy is to delight in action.
Equanimity is described as
Bringing an end to all endeavors.

The knowledge that all phenomena
Are stripped of the three spheres
Is the genuine certainty of phenomena
That cuts the knot of views.

Genuine certainty is revealed
In concentration and insight.
Dharma knowledge is described
As the experience of the immeasurable."

Language, Cognition, the Unconditioned 

"Sāgaramati, no phenomenon can be cognized nor is to be cognized. Language does not occur where no phenomenon can be cognized nor is to be cognized. Where no language occurs, things are just as they are. How are things just as they are? As it was before, so will it be after. Thus, all phenomena are said to be empty throughout the three times. Why are they described as emptiness? They have not been made, will not be made, are not being made, and are not in a process of making. Thus, they are called emptiness.
What does not being made refer to? It refers to being unconditioned. Because they are not being made, there are no phenomena that have been made. That is why it is said there is nothing that will be made. What does being unconditioned refer to? It refers to being without any physical, verbal, or mental formations. That is what is meant by being unconditioned. What is not made is unconditioned: it is unborn, indestructible, baseless. What is unborn, indestructible, and baseless has no basis. In what way is it baseless? It is not based on anything that has been formed. Thus, it is said to be without a base. In this regard, a consciousness that gravitates toward form is baseless. A consciousness that moves toward feeling, perception, formation, or consciousness is likewise baseless. A baseless consciousness is replete with wisdom. One who is replete with wisdom is prevented by wisdom from becoming conceited. One who is prevented from becoming conceited cannot become arrogant. One who cannot become arrogant does not debate. One who does not debate does not become inflamed. One who does not become inflamed is not pained. One who is not pained does not smolder. One who does not smolder is at peace. One who is at peace is utterly peaceful. One who is utterly peaceful is deeply at peace. One who is deeply at peace is called a sage—who is called a teacher."

Selflessness and Perception

"Sāgaramati, all of the māras’ activities are motivated by the workings of the self. Thus, bodhisattvas do not motivate themselves by the workings of the self. The self is not a self, but is selfless, so there is no phenomenon than can generate the self. Cognizing this with discriminating wisdom, bodhisattvas don the armor of the Great Vehicle for the sake of ignorant beings, not because they impute self or other. When wearing this armor, they will ask themselves how to make this armor meaningful. They think the following: ‘I am not wearing this armor so that I may dismantle the self, nor am I am wearing it so that I may dismantle a being, a life force, sustenance, a person, or personhood. Instead, I will abandon the entire basis for beings to sustain the view of self, beings, life force, sustenance, people, or personhood. What is this basis? The basis is being mistaken. The aggregates, elements, and sense sources are the basis. As their minds are mistaken in this regard, beings perceive what is impermanent to be permanent, what is suffering to be happiness, what is not a self to be a self, and what is ugly to be attractive. Now, so that they may come to understand perception, I will teach them the Dharma.’
What does it mean to understand perception? It is to be without grasping or clinging. When one does not grasp, one does not cling. When one does not cling, there is no delusion. When there is no delusion, one understands perception."
“Does one then understand past, present, or future perceptions?” asked Sāgaramati.
“Neither past, nor present, nor future perceptions! Why is this? Past perceptions are exhausted. Present perceptions do not remain. Future perceptions have not yet come. One understands perception when one no longer observes perceptions in any of the three times. Then, having this understanding of perception, the conduct of bodhisattvas is pure. They completely understand the conduct of all beings."

 Investigating Afflictions

"Likewise, Śāradvatīputra, the more bodhisattvas send their limitless fire of insight toward the limitless afflictions of all beings, the stronger these bodhisattvas become. Accurately investigating the afflictions of all beings becomes a cause of deeper insight. If bodhisattvas were to become concerned only with eliminating their own afflictions and shied away from eliminating the afflictions of all beings, they would swiftly fall to the level of either a hearer or a solitary buddha. Śāradvatīputra, from this teaching you should understand that the more bodhisattvas examine beings’ afflictive emotions through appropriate mental engagement, the stronger they become. If someone can hear this without being intimidated, that person must be recognized as a bodhisattva who is skilled in means."

Everything is Awakening

"Śāradvatīputra, to draw another analogy, given the healing skill of the king of physicians, there is nothing that does not appear as medicine. Likewise, Śāradvatīputra, for bodhisattvas who experience the perfection of insight there is no phenomenon that is not seen in terms of awakening."

All dharma are buddha-dharma

"Those who yearn to realize the qualities of buddhahood
Must look to all phenomena.
When one is free of the slightest apprehension,
That is truly seeing."

 Dependent Emptiness

"Whatever is dependently originated
Is without any inherent nature.
What lacks an essential nature
Never actually arises."

 Qualities of Buddhahood

“Well then, what do we mean by the term qualities of buddhahood?”
“Brahmā, I will draw an analogy. Even though we still use the term space to refer to space, it is not established in any way. Likewise, Brahmā, even though we use the term qualities of buddhahood to refer to the qualities of buddhahood, they are not established in any way.”

 Words or No Words

"Any phenomenon that I understand is indescribable. However, noble son, while all phenomena are indescribable and unconditioned, using linguistic definitions to apprehend, perceive, teach, demonstrate, define, elucidate, distinguish, clarify, or teach such phenomena is what is meant by upholding the Dharma. Moreover, noble son, when Dharma teachers uphold, teach, or practice a sūtra such as this, that is also upholding the Dharma. Likewise, when others attend such Dharma teachers and rely upon them while extending them honor, reverence, service, respect, praise, care, protection, shielding, and shelter, that is also upholding the Dharma. Likewise, so is providing them with clothing, food, bedding, medicine, or provisions; as is offering them approval, protection, preservation of their virtues, praise, or concealment of their unflattering sides. Moreover, noble son, having faith in emptiness, trusting signlessness, believing in wishlessness, and gaining certainty that suchness is the unconditioned state is also upholding the sublime Dharma. Moreover, noble son, seeking to avoid debate, yet using proper Dharma arguments to defeat those who argue against the Dharma, is also upholding the sublime Dharma. Moreover, noble son, giving Dharma to others with a mind free of anger, an intention to gather and free beings, and a mind free of concern for material things, is also upholding the sublime Dharma. Moreover, noble son, disregarding one’s body and life and staying in solitude to preserve, conceal, and practice sūtras such as this is also upholding the sublime Dharma. Moreover, noble son, even a single step or a single inhalation or exhalation of the breath that comes from the cause of having either studied or taught the Dharma is also upholding the sublime Dharma. Moreover, noble son, not grasping to or appropriating any phenomena is also upholding the sublime Dharma."

 How to Uphold the Dharma

“Alas, noble son, this mind leaps at objects. So, to reverse and guard against this, focusing the mind and becoming disciplined, peaceful, tranquil, and gentle is to uphold the sublime Dharma. Why is this? The eye, forms, and visual consciousness are not the Dharma. The ear, sounds, and auditory consciousness; the nose, smells, and olfactory consciousness; the body, objects of touch, and tactile consciousness; and the mind, mental phenomena, and mental consciousness are not the Dharma. So, upholding the sublime Dharma is recognizing the eye and form to be empty, and neither thinking about the eye or form, nor maintaining visual consciousness. Skillfully using pure wisdom to help others understand this is to uphold the sublime Dharma. Likewise, upholding the sublime Dharma is recognizing the ear and sounds, nose and smells, tongue and tastes, body and objects of touch, and mind and mental phenomena to be empty, and neither thinking about them, nor maintaining their corresponding consciousnesses. Skillfully using pure wisdom to help others understand this is upholding the sublime Dharma. Moreover, not grasping at or appropriating any phenomena that occur is upholding the sublime Dharma. Not grasping or appropriating any views that cause one to persist in mistaken views is to uphold the sublime Dharma. Not grasping at or appropriating the veils of unknowing or stupidity that stain the mind is upholding the sublime Dharma."

 Bodhisattva Life

"One who lives by the supreme vehicle will gain physical strength and power,
Wealth and riches, and the status of Śakra, Brahmā,
Universal monarchs, and the guardians of the world.
While in the three realms of existence, they will have the joys of the gods and humans.

It rarely happens that followers of the supreme vehicle are discouraged.
They are free from restraint and relinquish all valuables.
They are undiscouraged in giving, and when giving even their heads or eyes
Their minds are joyful and loving, and so they proceed toward awakening.

Those who live by the supreme vehicle obtain protection.
They are disciplined and their chaste conduct is pure.
They could stop the sun and moon with their discipline, asceticism, and hardships.
They will not yearn for existence, physical forms, or wealth.

When they hear unpleasant words, it neither disturbs nor angers them.
Even if their bodies are broken apart, still they protect beings.
They feel that a body is easily acquired compared to the dominion of Dharma.
Such is the patience of those who live by the supreme vehicle.

For as long as the many infinite eons that beings spend in saṃsāra,
They voluntarily circle through the lower realms.
They arouse the strength of diligence in order to liberate beings.
Such is the power of diligence of those who live by the supreme vehicle.

Absolutely peaceful, friendly, gentle, and masters of the systems of concentration,
They concentrate on love for the sake of beings.
Never attached to the bliss of concentration,
These mindful beings yearn to see the guides.

Knowing that all phenomena arise from causes and are empty,
They do not observe either themselves, other beings, or phenomena.
Their view is pure, they are insightful, and their minds are tame.
Such is the pure insight of those who live by the supreme vehicle."

Bodhisattva Career

“Sāgaramati, bodhisattvas who are just giving rise to the mind of awakening see the Thus-Gone One in terms of form and physical marks. Bodhisattvas who are engaged in conduct see the Thus-Gone One as the manifestation of qualities. Bodhisattvas who are irreversibly destined for awakening see the Thus-Gone One as characterized by the Dharma body. Sāgaramati, bodhisattvas in their last life do not assert the Thus-Gone One to be a manifestation of form, physical marks, qualities, class, caste, family lineage, or reality. Why is this? Their eyes see with insight. They are grounded in insight. They have merged with insight. Their insight is unmoving and nonconceptual. It is neither seeing nor non-seeing. Why is this? Both seeing and non-seeing are extremes. Being free from the two extremes of seeing and non-seeing is to see the Buddha. Seeing the Buddha is to see the self. With pure vision of the self, one attains pure vision of the Buddha. With pure vision of the Buddha, one must gain pure vision of all phenomena. When whatever is seen is pure, that is wisdom vision. That is called seeing the Buddha."

 The Three Spheres

“Moreover, Sāgaramati, the purity of the three spheres refers to no clinging to self, to beings, or to phenomena. Moreover, the purity of the three spheres refers to no clinging to names, forms, or reference points. Moreover, the purity of the three spheres is knowing the exhaustion of the past, the non-arrival of the future, and the non-existence of the present. Moreover, the purity of the three spheres is knowing the body to be like a reflection, speech to be like an echo, and mind to be like an illusion. Moreover, the purity of the three spheres is the realization that the aggregates are the same as the Dharma aggregate, that the elements are the same as the realm of phenomena, and that the sense sources are like an empty village. Moreover, the purity of the three spheres is trust in emptiness, confidence in signlessness, and certainty in wishlessness. Sāgaramati, the purity of the three spheres will purify all phenomena. Thus, Sāgaramati, bodhisattvas must become skilled in the wisdom of the purity of the three spheres.”

 Freedom with Afflictions

“Sāgaramati, phenomena are without an essence, a creator, a self, a being, a life force, a person, or an owner. With this knowledge one accomplishes what one intends, yet you should know that this accomplishment is not based on intention or comprehension. Sāgaramati, bodhisattvas who aspire to this accomplishment of phenomena do not become weary with any phenomenon. In this manner their wisdom vision is absolutely purified and so for them there can be no benefit or harm. Thus, to the degree that one accurately understands the reality of phenomena in this manner, one will keep the armor of great compassion.
Sāgaramati, to draw an analogy, imagine that a priceless, refined, pure, and immaculate beryl stone is cast into the mud and remains there for a thousand years. If after a thousand years it is removed from the mud and washed, cleansed, and wiped down, its pure and immaculate nature will not have been lost. Sāgaramati, likewise, while bodhisattvas know that the nature of all beings’ minds are luminosity, they can see that they are disturbed by adventitious afflictions. Bodhisattvas will think, ‘These afflictions do not affect the luminosity that is the nature of beings’ minds. The afflictions are not themselves genuine; they merely arise from conceptual superimpositions. I will develop the capacity to teach the Dharma so that I may eliminate these adventitious afflictions of beings!’ They cannot be discouraged from this attitude and, much further than that, they develop the mind that seeks to free all beings. They will also think, ‘The afflictions do not even have much power or strength. The afflictions are weak and feeble. These afflictions that do not have even the slightest truth are false conceptual superimpositions. They cannot disturb as long as one investigates them with accurate mental engagement. So, I must by all means avoid associating with them. I will investigate them in this manner. Dissociating from the afflictions is excellent. Associating with them is not. If I associate with the afflictions, how could I teach the Dharma in order to eliminate the afflictions of beings who are bound by them? I will dissociate from the afflictions so that I can teach the Dharma to beings such that they may eliminate the afflictions that bind them. In order to ripen beings I will associate with those afflictions that are connected with roots of virtue regarding the continuation of saṃsāra.’
What afflictions are connected with roots of virtue yet perpetuate saṃsāra? They are: being insatiable in the pursuit of roots of virtue, being willing to volitionally take rebirth in existence, aspiring to encounter buddhas, not getting discouraged about ripening beings, being diligent about upholding the sublime Dharma, enthusiasm about considering beings’ actions, not discarding one’s tendency to yearn for the Dharma, and not discarding the trainings in the perfections. Sāgaramati, even if bodhisattvas associate with these afflictions that are connected with roots of virtue, they are not marred by any faults of the afflictions.”
“Blessed One,” asked Sāgaramati, “if these are roots of virtue, why do you say they are afflictions?”
“Sāgaramati,” responded the Blessed One, “these afflictions associate a bodhisattva with the three realms. However, although the three realms arise from the afflictions, a bodhisattva who is skilled in means and has developed roots of virtue can volitionally associate with the three realms. Therefore, it is because they cause association with the three realms that they are called the afflictions that are connected with roots of virtue; it is not because they afflict the mind."

 Wisdom and Means

“Sāgaramati,” replied the Blessed One, “in this regard, the two aspects of the path of the bodhisattvas are the perfection of insight and skill in means. When bodhisattvas have a pure, immaculate, and stainless mind, Sāgaramati, they have the perfection of insight. Sāgaramati, when bodhisattvas do not blame saṃsāra and elect to take rebirth in order to ripen beings, they have skill in means. Additionally, Sāgaramati, when bodhisattvas realize that all conditioned phenomena are emptiness, signlessness, wishlessness, unconditioned, unborn, and non-arising, they have the perfection of insight. When their minds are moved by great compassion, such that they avoid attaining the fruition and falling into the unconditioned, they have skill in means."


"Awakening is the accurate understanding of any phenomenon that appears among the six sense objects to bodhisattvas who have pure skill in means and pure perfection of insight."

 Pure Wisdom

“Great King, if bodhisattva great beings have four qualities, their means and insight are pure. What are these four? (1) Ripening beings with the four means of attraction while seeing all beings to be without a self; (2) teaching beings the sublime Dharma and upholding it using letters and words, while knowing the inexpressibility of all phenomena; (3) having an unrelenting diligence in order to achieve the major and minor marks of perfection while trusting that all buddhas consist of the Dharma body; and (4) applying continuous effort to purify buddha realms while realizing that all buddha realms have the essence of space. Great King, if bodhisattva great beings have these four qualities, their means and insight are pure."

 Materialist Teachers

“Blessed One, there are some bodhisattvas who take up the Lokāyata tradition. They will stop giving profound teachings to others and instead offer them various Lokāyata advice. As they do so, the world will be pleased with their Lokāyata advice. Being skilled in offering such advice, they delight others and receive their accolades. However, they will upset and sadden all otherwise cheerful bodhisattvas, as well as those gods who have beheld past buddhas, those who aspire toward the profound Dharma, and those who assemble to study the Dharma. Displeasing them, they will interrupt the continuity of profound advice to beings who enjoy worldly pleasures, and instead offer them a variety of Lokāyata teachings. Such noble sons cause the Dharma to end and do not uphold the sublime Dharma. Why is this? Because blessed buddhas manifest due to the profound meaning—not due to Lokāyata teachings.” He continued his address, “Blessed One, therefore bodhisattvas who conceal the profound teachings while giving Lokāyata teachings are acting in such a way that they will prevent the arising of buddhas. Blessed One, this is the ninth hook of Māra, related to a bodhisattva’s concealment of the profound teachings and pursuit of the Lokāyata tradition."

 Evil is Good

“Friends, having developed the mind directed toward unsurpassed and perfect awakening, do you plan any māra activity?”
“Venerable Śāradvatīputra, we cannot perform any māra activity against bodhisattvas who have developed pure motivation. Why is this? To the degree that we perform māra activity, the bodhisattvas get stronger and more diligent. Venerable Śāradvatīputra, from this point, you should understand that when māra activity is aimed at bodhisattvas, that very activity is said to be buddha activity. It is not māra activity.”

 Infinite Merit

“Perfecting the mind of awakening, upholding the Dharma,
Practicing the Dharma, and having compassion for beings—
These four qualities bring infinite merit.
The Blissful One cannot describe their limit."


Sudden Enlightenment in Chan

The most famous is the Platform Sutra that advocates for "sudden enlightenment" that is a hallmark of Chan teachings. Just look at how Huineng begins:

'The Great Master told the assembly, "Good friends, bodhi is fundamentally pure in its self-nature. You must simply use this mind [that you already have], and you will achieve buddhahood directly and completely. Good friends, listen well! This is the story of how I practiced and attained the Dharma."'
(Platform Sutra, ch 1, BDK ed, p 17)

Then throughout the scripture he explains the sudden teaching.

'To use wisdom to contemplate all the dharmas without grasping or rejecting is to see the nature and accomplish the enlightenment of buddhahood.'
(ch 2, p 31)

'Transcending delusion and transcending enlightenment, one should always generate prajñā. Eradicating the true and eradicating the false, one sees the buddha-nature. This is to accomplishthe enlightenment of buddhahood upon hearing these words.'
(ch 6, p 49)

The central method of Chan, translated here as nonthought, is itself equated with buddhahood:

'Good friends, to be enlightened to the Dharma of nonthought is for the myriad dharmas to be completely penetrated. To be enlightened to the Dharma of nonthought is to see the realms of [all] the buddhas. To be enlightened to the Dharma of nonthought is to arrive at the stage of buddhahood.'
(ch 2, p 34)

And to be clear, it talks not only of sudden enlightenment, but also sudden cultivation:

'The self-nature is without error, without stupidity, and without disruption. In moment after moment of thought, prajñā illuminates, constantly transcending the characteristics of dharmas. Independent and autonomous, he apprehends everything—how could there be any positing? The self-nature becomes enlightened itself, sudden enlightenment and sudden cultivation. There is no gradual progression. Therefore, one does not posit all the dharmas. The dharmas are quiescent—how could there be a progression?'
(ch 8, p 75)

On that point, here's Buswell's summary from the introduction of Bird in Flight Leaves no Trace:

'The answer of both Subul Sunim and Huangbo is deceptively simple: just stop thinking there is something we need to practice. Then the enlightenment inherent to the mind manifests itself naturally, and we spontaneously receive the transmission of the mind-dharma. In this way, religious practice is perfected through, and simultaneously with, enlightenment itself. This is the quintessential “sudden awakening accompanied by sudden cultivation” (Chinese dunwu dunxiu, Korean dono donsu 頓悟頓修) approach that has inspired Seon practice throughout much of its history.'

A bit more from Buswell (and Lopez) on the topic of sudden enlightenment: Slow-Motion Satori.

In Huangbo's words:

'Trainees who wish to achieve Buddhahood [should understand that] it is completely useless to study any of the Buddhist teachings — just study nonseeking and nonattachment. Nonseeking is for the mind (i.e., moments of thought) not to be generated, and nonattachment is for the mind not to be extinguished. Neither generating nor extinguishing—this is Buddhahood. The eighty-four thousand teachings are directed at the eighty-four thousand afflictions and are only ways to convert and entice [sentient beings into true religious practice]. Fundamentally all the teachings are nonexistent; transcendence is the Dharma, and those who understand transcendence are Buddhas. By simply transcending all the afflictions, there is no dharma that can be attained.'
(Essentials of the Transmission of Mind, ch 4, in Zen Texts, BDK ed, p 20)

Further on the path of sudden enlightenment, this one from Huangbo's teacher Baizhang Huaihai:

'Question: What is the essential method for sudden enlightenment in the great vehicle?
The master said,
You all should first put an end to all involvements and lay to rest all concerns; do not remember or recollect anything at all, whether good or bad, mundane or transcendental - do not engage in thoughts. Let go of body and mind, set them free.
With mind like wood or stone, not explaining anything with the mouth, mind not going anywhere, then the mind ground becomes like space, wherein the sun of wisdom naturally appears. It is as though the clouds had opened and the sun emerged.
Just put an end to all fettering connections, and feelings of greed, hatred, craving, defilement and purity all come to an end. Unmoved in the face of the five desires and eight influences, not choked up by seeing, hearing, discerning or knowing, not confused by anything, naturally endowed with all virtues and the inconceivable use of all paranormal powers, this is someone who is free.
In the presence of all things in the environment, to have a mind neither still nor disturbed, neither concentrated nor distracted, passing through all sound and form without lingering or obstruction, is called being a wayfarer.
Not setting in motion good, evil, right or wrong, not clinging to a single thing, not rejecting a single thing, is called being a member of the great vehicle.
Not bound by any good or evil, emptiness or existence, defilement or purity, doing or nondoing, mundane or transcendental, virtue or knowledge, is called enlightened wisdom. Once affirmation and negation, like and dislike, approval and disapproval, all various opinions and feelings come to an end and cannot bind you, then you are free wherever you may be; this is called a bodhisattva at the moment of inspiration immediately ascending to the stage of Buddhahood.'

(Sayings and Doings of Pai-Chang, p 78)

And from Baizhang's Dharma-brother Dazhu Huihai:

'Sudden Enlightenment means liberation during this lifetime. Just as a lion-cub, from the moment it is born, is a real lion, likewise anyone who practices the Sudden-Enlightenment method has, from the moment he begins his practice, already entered the Buddha-Stage. Just as the bamboo-shoots growing in springtime are not different from the parent bamboo-shoots, because they are also empty inside, likewise anyone who practices the Sudden-Enlightenment method to rid himself suddenly of false thought abandons, like the Buddhas, the sense of an ego and a personality forever. Being absolutely deep, still and void, he is, then, without an iota of difference, equal to the Buddhas.'
(Treatise On Entering The Tao of Sudden Enlightenment)

See more from two modern Chan teachers:
Enlightenment and Buddhahood by Sheng-yen
Gradual Cultivation and Sudden Enlightenment by Wei Chueh


Dogen's Zen

Here's my fairly simple and straightforward take on Dogen's Zen. Shikantaza has two elements: body posture (taza) and mental posture (shika). The physical posture requires little elaboration (kek/hankafuza). The mental part is hishiryo, what I like to put as "neither-thinking", although the usual wording is "non-thinking", but the meaning of it is not different from what Changlu Zongze (in Zuochan Yi, the source of Dogen's Zazengi), Guifeng Zongmi (in Chan Letter (see: Zongmi on Chan, p 88)), and Dajian Huineng (or rather Heze Shenhui) identified as the very essence of Zen: no-thought (wunian/munen). Now the definition of hishiryo/munen, as provided in the Sotoshu's website (How to do Zazen): "When various thoughts arise in your mind, do not become caught up by them or struggle with them; neither pursue nor try to escape from them. Just leave thoughts alone, allowing them to come up and go away freely." And Okumura (Zazen Instruction): "That means you let go of whatever thoughts come up, and you also don’t sleep. This is the point in our sitting practice." How does that equal enlightenment (or rather confirmation-realisation)? Because it directly perceives that appearances are unobtainable (anupalabdha / fukatoku), i.e. empty.
The idea of practice-enlightenment is another instance/version of direct/sudden enlightenment, and Dogen's twist on the matter, as I see it, is rather a reaction to correct the possible mistakes of Kanna Zen and other misinterpretations that can be associated with it, hence his rejection of kensho as well.
So, is Shikantaza a shamatha practice, a vipashyana practice, both, neither? Partly, that is irrelevant, because those terms need further clarification, and then one just ends up comparing one interpretation of them with Zen. If one wants the general Zen answer, then check out the Platform Sutra on samadhi and prajna in chapter 4 (BDK ed, p 42): "It is like the light of a lamp. When the lamp exists, there is light; when there is no lamp, there is darkness. The lamp is the essence of the light, and the light is the function of the lamp. Although the names are different, in essence they are fundamentally identical. The Dharma of meditation and wisdom is just like this."
Why are there no thousands of buddhas already if merely sitting in zazen is enlightenment? The question is quite like the legendary story about Dogen's reason for travelling to China (i.e. Why practise if we're already buddhas?). And the answer is not that enlightenment needs to be enacted (at least according to me, contradicting the popular Soto idea of the matter), but because of what Zongmi and others talked of regarding "sudden enlightenment, gradual practice", that one needs to work on one's habitual proclivities and attachments. This is rather standard Buddhism, where a stream-enterer (or 1st bhumi arya-bodhisattva) has the certainty about the path and the goal, but still has to walk that path with the correct view already established.


Excerpts from the Mahayanasutralamkara


Bodhisattvas, going beyond infinite merit and wisdom,
Perfectly gather the accumulations, and then
Reflect and gain perfect certainty with regard to the Dharma.
As a result, they realize objects to be the products of expression.
Once they see that things are merely expressions,
They dwell in the truth that it is mind alone that appears as those things.
After that they gain direct realization
Of the expanse of reality, free of the characteristics of duality.
From intellectual understanding that there is nothing other than the mind,
They then realize that neither does the mind exist.
Once the wise have seen that both do not exist,
They abide in the expanse of reality devoid of those.
The power of nonconceptual gnosis in the wise
Constantly extends to everything in equal measure,
And clears away the dense jungle of the faults they bear
Like a universal antidote removing poison.


That which does not exist
Is held to be the sublime existence.
Not conceptualizing in any way
Is held to be the sublime conceptualization.
Meditation that does not look at aspects
Is held to be the sublime meditation.
The attainment of those who do not look
To attain anything is also held to be sublime.


Sentient beings born as humans,
In infinite numbers, in every instant,
Attain perfect enlightenment,
So do not give in to losing heart.


Of false imagination,
We say it is like a magical illusion;
And of dualistic delusion,
We say it is like the forms in a magical illusion.
In the same way that there is nothing in an illusion,
We accept the ultimate truth.
And in the same way that it is perceived,
We accept the relative truth.
Just as when the illusions are not there
And their causes are clearly seen,
When transformation takes place,
One perceives the false imagination.
Undeceived people
Use the illusion’s causes as they wish.
So too, those who are diligent in the precepts, undeluded,
Experience the transformed state as they please.
Though they are there in appearance,
It is not that they really exist.
Thus we say that in magical illusions and the like
Things exist and do not exist.
It is not that what is there does not exist,
Nor that what is not there exists.
In magical illusions and the like
We do not distinguish between their existence and nonexistence.


Because it is to be known by oneself, Lord Buddha did not teach the Dharma;
Yet with the breath of his teachings, rationally explained, the embodiment of compassion, like a python,
Draws beings onto the path, setting them perfectly in the mouth of total peace,
Utterly pure, vast, common, and inexhaustible.
Consequently, no practitioner’s meditation is pointless,
And thus neither are the teachings of the sugatas pointless.
If one could see the meaning simply by listening, there would be no point in meditating,
And if one could practice meditation without having listened, there would be no point in teaching.


Phenomena do not exist yet are perceived;
Defilement does not exist and yet is purified;
Know that they are like magical illusions and so forth,
And likewise that they are like space.
Just as on a well-drawn picture
There are no different planes, yet there seem to be,
To the false imagination, duality,
Though never there, appears in different ways.
When muddy water becomes clear,
Its clarity is not something produced from the muddy state,
But rather the removal of the dirt contaminating it.
So it is with the purity of one’s own mind.
The mind is held to be eternally natural clear light;
It is coarsened by adventitious faults.
The mind is ultimate reality, and there is no other mind but clear
We speak of this as the nature of mind.


Bodhisattvas feel for sentient beings
A heartfelt love as great as that
Felt for an only child—
Their constant wish is to bring them help.
Because it brings benefit to sentient beings,
The fondness bodhisattvas feel does not become a downfall.
But hatred in them will always violate
And act against all beings.
Like doves who love their young the most,
Staying with them and holding them close,
With not the slightest place for anger,
Are those whose hearts are full of love for beings, their children.
Because they love, there’s never room for rage.
Because they pacify, malice is out of place.
Because they benefit, they never think deceitfully.
Because they comfort, they’ll never terrify.


The summarization of the scriptures in their titles
Should be understood as being the path of sustained calm.
The path of profound insight
Should be understood as the analysis of their meaning.


From striving for preternatural knowledge,
They are purified and become supremely fit.
By using the preternatural powers
Gained through concentration,
In order to venerate and listen to
Countless buddhas
They travel to different worlds.
Thus they venerate infinite buddhas
For infinite kalpas.
And because they have venerated them,
Their minds become supremely fit.


Next, bodhisattvas like these
Remain in evenness, and by doing so,
No longer see any objects
As anything other than mental expressions.


An individual is to be expressed
As existing as a designation; it is not substantial.
It cannot be perceived, is a mistaken notion,
And is the cause of the defilement process and the defilements.
On account of two faults, it cannot be described
As identical to or different from the aggregates,
For they would then be the self
Or it would be a substantial thing.
If it exists substantially, it is necessary to provide
The reason why it cannot be described.
To say that it cannot be described as being the same or different
Without giving a reason is inadmissible.

(All quotes are from the Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras, published in A Feast of the Nextar of the Supreme Vehicle, translated by the Padmakara Translation Group)


Essence and Function of the Zen Mind

Zen deals with the mind, and the mind is often described with two concepts: essence and function. In essence the mind is empty and pure. In function it is whatever occurs, all phenomena. Essence and function are not two different things, not two separate minds, but simply one common way to describe the mind. There is no essence without function, and there is no function without essence. But one can make the mistake of grasping only one of them, or dividing them.

Delusion is being fooled by function, where one is attached to one's thoughts, feelings, and sensory impressions.
Beginning practitioners are often fooled by essence, where they want only peace, motionlessness, transcendence, the absolute.
After some experience one recognises that dealing with function is inevitable, so there is a process of harmonisation, of balancing, of integration of the two sides.
Further on one can arrive at the point where essence and function are inseparable, where non-thought is in the midst of thought, and it becomes possible to cultivate genuine Zen.
The final stage is simply that there is no more cultivation done, no more effort needed, as essence has never been apart from function, nor function from the essence.