No matter what form of cultivation we use, its object must be our own mind. When the mind is corrected, in our actions we will naturally benefit living beings and go toward the good. That’s why it is said that a straightforward mind is the place where the path is cultivated. When the mind begins to go astray, and be controlled by desires, people become an army of demons, and their behavior tends toward injuring others to benefit themselves.
Many people feel that cultivating practice is very difficult. What they especially cannot understand is that they are using methods that other people do not understand much about, like eating vegetarian food, or sitting in meditation, and so on, to resist the desires inherent in human nature. But for those who truly have faith in Buddhism, these practices are not painful. Moreover, their going toward the good is not because they fear “cycling in the six planes of existence” and “karmic retribution.” For them, cycling through birth and death and the workings of cause and effect are simple facts, the same as the fact that smoking damages one’s health; they are not moribund religion doctrines that bind the mind and spirit.
What is being sought by those who genuinely cultivate practice is an unconditional freedom, and all that they do is in order to break through all that binds the mind and spirit, and realize a total independence. So it is said that of course they are not looking for another kind of suit and tie and footwear. All those things in cultivating practice which at first glance seem like forms of bondage are no more than methods. They are tools to help practitioners distance themselves from evil defilements and purify their own intent. They are barriers to block off the evil wind and rain from the external world. Before wisdom awakens, or when wisdom has awakened, but the power of meditative concentration is still insufficient, people cultivating practice still need to rely on the power of discipline, to restrain their actions tinged by desire, and to preserve the spark of enlightenment in their minds. When they can be awake at all times, and preserve their awareness of the true mind, they will no longer care about all the illusory causes and conditions in the external world. At that point they will not feel any sense of loss, because there is no way for them to have anything. This is because when they are fully equipped with ultimate wisdom, and they can use wisdom to observe the world, and they discover its empty illusory unreal quality, then they will no longer be deluded by it, and then they will have achieved liberation. At the same time that they have this level of perception, all doubts and confusion are removed, and when doubts and confusion are removed, they will not be bound by them – this is the liberation that is sought by cultivating practice.
After you understand this point, and you take another look at the colorful world, you will become aware of how monotonous it is, and you will give rise to sincere sympathy for the people who have become so besotted with it that they forget to return home. You will surely understand that this is another way of living, and this way of living has the sense of ease and satisfaction that they want, and you respect them. It may even happen that a person who is immersed in worldly pleasurewants to take his happiness and add it to yours, and you feel gratitude toward him. This is because you know that he is like a child who feels that sweet fruit is good to eat, and wants to let his parents have a taste. The parents know what the child has in mind, and hewholeheartedly enjoys this happiness which his thoughts have given him, but if he is not indulging in it, he will not demand it any more. This is because indulging in worldly pleasures that are empty and illusory and impermanent is something that brings suffering. For example, when a certain toy is close at hand, but the child cannot get it, then he will moan and cry, and even roll around on the floor – he is truly suffering. He feels that once he has this toy, then he will be ten times happier than he is now. He does not know that he will soon get bored with this toy, and he does not know that sooner or later the toy will break – he only knows that he wants to get it. You understand the child’s pain, but you do not necessarily have to indulge his desires. What is most important is that you, who are no longer a child, do not join in struggling with children over toys.
Apartment buildings, cars, money, all these things, are in fact toys for adults. Children focus their attention on toys, and continually raise their own demands for toys based on what they have seen and heard, and we are the same way. But we are even greedier than they are, because the “toys” in our minds are more numerous, and the temptations are greater. These toys are our desires.
When you discover that everything in this world is a false form, an empty illusion, impermanent, without inherent nature, this level of perception which you have discovered can itself let you be liberated. At this time, you must change the way you refine your mind and spirit. This is because, when your mind and spirit have changed state, the methods and guidelines from before will turn into another kind of barrier, and you must sweep them out of your mind. But if you get a little bit of attainment and then feel that you have already entered a certain state, and you must transcend all names and forms, including the guidelines for cultivating practice, and distinctions between good and evil, and correct perception and so on, despite what you may think, there is no benefit in this. This is because you still cannot be certain that you have really escaped from the control of desires. Having no distinctions is not the same for the ordinary person as having no distinctions is for the person of wisdom. This is because, for the former, it means taking the idea of truth as his own liberation, while for the later, it is the manifestation of wisdom. However, no matter what form of cultivation we use, its object must be our own mind, and not the body, and especially not something like a kind of feeling or magical power. When the mind is set straight, in our actions we will naturally benefit living beings and go toward the good. That’s why it is said that a straightforward mind is the place where the path is cultivated. When the mind begins to go astray, and is controlled by desires, people become an army of demons, and their behavior tends toward injuring others to benefit themselves. Those whom we speak of as evil demons and those outside the Path are those being led along by misguided minds.
In [the classic sixteenth century Chinese novel] The Journey to the West, the reason the Tang Monk became the Tang Monk was not because his flesh was delicious, but because his mind was correct. Because his mental state was correct, he was called “the Sage Monk.” If his mind had been misguided, he would have been an evil demon. The reason Sun Wukong became Sun Wukong and became a great sage, and in the end became “The Victorious Buddha,” was because day by day his mind eliminated its ignorance and its afflictions and its scattering, and finally realized peace and tranquility. That is why it is said that the mind is the seed of cycling through birth and death, and the six planes of existence are created by this mind.
The Buddha said: “Do not commit any evil deeds, and faithfully carry out all forms of good – this is the teaching of all the buddhas.” Here he is requiring us to keep away from all evils, and to faithfully carry out all forms of good, and to use good thoughts to purify our own minds. When a person has not yet become enlightened, “Do not commit any evil deeds, and faithfully carry out all forms of good” is a standard for how to behave. After a person becomes enlightened, it becomes a spontaneous natural result. The distinction here lies in the condition of the person’s mind.
When you have not yet become enlightened, and you still accept the false as true, you always look upon everything as very real. You care about how other people see you, and you are concerned that you will lose something. The sound of sadness is constantly reverberating in your mind, and in the depths of your inner mind it is as if a helpless, powerless, but unneeded child is curled up. He is afraid of the darkness, and even more afraid of the unknown things lurking in the darkness. In the midst of this pain and suffering which seems so real, you almost want to give yourself a powerful hug, but you cannot find the object to hug. This is because it only exists in the midst of the endless false thoughts.
When the various false thoughts all stop, and your wisdom is no longer obscured, and you are able to go on and practice wondrous observing, then it is possible for the true mind to appear. It is like the clear bright sky emerging after the clouds have disappeared. It is like the ocean being like a mirror when the wind stops and the waves cease. But it is not enough for false thoughts to stop – there still has to be a light. What light? The light of wisdom. You cannot be as you are when you are about to fall asleep: at that time. although it is also empty and still, and you are not thinking of anything, that is a murky drowsy state. This is not the true mind, but rather a kind of inert emptiness. The true mind is empty and still, yet spiritually aglow, shining with light. It is like a crystal that can reflect light rays, and is very pure and clear, and yet is filled with the force of spiritual movement. This is why the true mind is also called bright emptiness.
To abide in peace in the bright emptiness, to abide in peace in the true mind, to let the light of the wisdom that reaches everything illuminate your life and transform your mind and spirit – this is the best form of cultivating practice.