Chapter III : Right Knowledge

Lankavatara Sutra

Chapter III : Right Knowledge or Knowledge of Relations

Then Mahamati said: Pray tell us, Blessed One, about the being and the non-being of all things?

The Blessed One replied: People of this world are dependent in their thinking on one of two things: on the notion of being whereby they take pleasure in realism, or in the notion of non-being whereby they take pleasure in nihilism; in either case they imagine enmancipation where there is no enmancipation. Those who are dependent upon notions of being, regard the world as rising from a causation that is really existent, and that this actually existing and becoming world does not take its rise from a causation that is non-existent. This is the realistic view as held by some people. Then there are other people who are dependent on the notion of the non-being of all things. These people admit the existence of greed, anger and folly, and at the same time they deny the existence of things that produce greed, anger and folly. This is not rational, for greed, anger and folly are no more to be taken hold as real; they neither have substance nor individual marks. Where there is a state of bondage, there is binding and means for binding; but where there is enmancipation, as in the case of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, masters and diciples, who have ceased to believe in both being and non-being, there is neither bondage, binding nor means for binding.

It is better to cherish the notion of an ego-substance than to entertain the notion of emptiness derived from the view of being and non-being, for those who so believe fail to understand the fundamental fact that the external world is nothing but a manifestation of mind. Because they see things as transient, as rising from cause and passing away from cause, now dividing, now combining into the elements which make up the aggregates of personality and its external world and now passing away, they are doomed to suffer every moment from the changes that follow one after another, and finally are doomed to ruin.

* * *

Then Mahamati asked the Blessed One, saying: Tell us, Blessed One, how all things can be empty, un-born, and have no self-nature, so that we may awakened and quickly realise highest enlightment?

The Blessed One replied: What is emptiness, indeed! It is a term whose very self-nature is false-imagination, but because of one’s attachment to false-imagination we are obliged to talk of emptiness, no-birth, and no self-nature. There are seven kind of emptiness: emptiness of mutuality which is non-existent; emptiness of individual marks; emptiness of self-nature; emptiness of no-work, emptiness of work; emptiness of all things in the sense that they are unpredictable, and emptiness in its highest sense of Ultimate Reality.

By emptiness of of mutuality which is non-existent is meant that when a thing is missing here, one speaks of it being empty here. For instance: in the lecture hall of Mrigarama there are no elephants present, nor bulls, nor sheep; but as to monks there are many present. We can rightly speak of the hall being empty as far as animals are concerned. It is not asserted that the hall is empty of its own charasteristics, or that the monks are empty of that which makes their monkhood, nor that in some other place there are no elephants, bulls, nor sheep to be found. In this case we are speaking of things in their aspect of individuality and generality, but from the point of view of mutuality some things do not exist somewhere. This is the lowest form of emptiness and is to be sedulously put away.

By emptiness of individual marks is meant that all things have no distinguising marks of individuality and generality. Because mutual relations and interactions things are superficially discriminated but when they are further and more carefully investigated and analysed they are seen to be non-existent and nothing as to individuality and generality can be predicated of them. Thus when individual marks can no longer be seen, ideas of self, otherness and bothness, no longer hold good. So it must be said that all things are empty of self-marks.

By emptiness of self-nature is meant that all things in their self-nature are un-born; therefore, it is said that things are empty as to self-nature. By emptiness of no-work is meant that the aggregate of elements that makes up personality and its external world is Nirvana itself and from the beginning there is no activity in them; therefore, one speaks of the emptiness of no-work. By emptiness of work is meant that the aggregates being devoid of an ego and its belongings, go on fuctioning automatically as there is mutual conjuction of causes and conditions; thus one speaks of the emptiness of work. By emptiness of all things in the sense that they are unpredictable is meant that, as the very self-nature of false-imagination is inexpressible, so all things are unpredictable, and, therefore, are empty in that sense. By emptiness in the highest sense of the emptiness of Ultimate Reality is meant that the in the attainment of inner self-realisation of Noble Wisdom there is no trace of habit-energy generated by erroneous conceptions; thus one speaks of the highest emptiness of Ultimate Reality.

When things are examined by right knowledge there are no signs obtainable which could characterise them with marks of individuality and generality, therefore, they are said to have no self-nature. Because these signs of individuality and generality are both seen as existing and yet are known to be non-existent, are seen as going out and yet are known not to be going out, they are never annihilated. Why is this true? For this reason; because individual signs that should make up the self-nature of all things are non-existent. Again in their self-nature things are both eternal and non-eternal. Things are not eternal because the marks of individuality appear and disappear, that is, the marks of self-nature are characterise by non-eternality. On the other hand, because things are un-born and are only mind-made, they are in a deep sense eternal. That is, things are eternal because of their very non-eternality.

Further, besides understanding the emptiness of all things both in regard to substance and self-nature, it is necessary for Bodhisattvas to clearly understand that all things are un-born. It is not asserted that things are not born in a superficial sense, but that in a deep sense they are not born of themselves. All that can be said, is this, that relatively speaking, there is a constant stream of becoming, a momentary and uninterrupted change from from one state of appearance to another. When it is recognised that the world as it presents itself is no more than a manifestation of mind, then birth is seen as no-birth, and all existing objects, concerning which discrimination asserts that they are and are not, are non-existent and, therefore, un-born; being devoid of agent and action things are un-born.

If things are not born of being and non-being, but are simply manifestations of mind itself, they have no reality, no self-nature:- they are like the horns of a hare, a horse, a donkey, a camel. But the ignorant and simple-minded, who are given over to their false and erroneous imaginings, discriminate things where they are not. To the ignorant the characteristic marks of the self-nature of body-property-and-abode seem to be fundamental and rooted in the very nature of mind itself, so they discriminate their multitudinousness and become attach to them.

There are two kinds of attachment: attachment to objects as having a self-nature, and attachment to words as having self-nature. The first takes place by not knowing that the external world is only a manifestation of mind itself; and the second arises from one’s clinging to words and names by reason of habit-energy. In the teaching of no-birth, causation is out of place because, seeing that all things are like maya and a dream, one does not discriminate individual signs. That all things are un-born and have no self-nature because they are like maya is asserted to meet the thesis of the philosophers that birth is by causation. They foster the notion that the birth of all things is derived from the concept of being and non-being, and fail to regard it as it truly is,- as caused by attachments to the multitudinousness which arises from discriminations of the mind itself.

Those who believe in the birth of something that has never been in existence and, comming into existence, vanishes away, are obliged to assert that things come to exist and vanish away by causation – such people find no foothold in my teachings. When it is realised that there is nothing born, and nothing passes away, then there is no way to admit being and non-being, and the mind becomes quiescent.

* * *

Then Mahamati said to the Blessed One: The philosophers declare that the world rises from casual agencies according to the law of causation; they state that their cause is unborn and is not annihilated. They mention nine primary elements: Ishvara the Creator, the Creation, atoms, etc., which being elementary are unborn and not to be annihilated. The Blessed One, while teaching that all things are un-born and that there is no annihilation, also declares that the world takes its rise from ignorance, discrimination, attachment, deed, etc., working according to the law of causation. Though the two sects of elements may differ in form and name, there does not appear to be any essential difference between the two positions. If there is anything that is distinctive and superior in the Blessed One’s teaching, pray tell us, Blessed One, what is it?

The Blessed One replied: My teaching of no-birth and no-annihilation is not like that of the philosophers, nor is it like their doctrine of birth and impermacency. That to which the philosophers ascribe the charateristic of no-birth and no-annihilation is the self-nature of all things, which causes them to fall into the dualism of being and non-being. My teaching transcends the whole conception of being and non-being; it has nothing to do with birth, abiding and destruction; nor with existence and non-existence. I teach that the multitudinouesness of objects have no reality in themselves but are only seen of mind and, therefore, are of the nature of maya and a dream. I teach the non-existence of things because they carry no signs of any inherent self-nature. It is true that in one sense they are seen and discriminated by the senses as individualised objects; but in another sense, because of the absence of any characteristic marks of self-nature, they are not seen but are only imagined. In one sense they are graspable, but in another sense, they are not graspable.

When it is clearly understood that there is nothing in the world but what is seen of the mind itself, discrimination no more rises, and the wise are established in their true abode which is the realm of quietude. The ignorant discriminate and work trying to adjust themselves to external conditions, and are constantly perturbed in mind; unrealities are imagined and discriminated, while realities and no seen and ignored. It is not so with the wise. To illustrate: What the ignorant see is like the magically-created city of the Gandharvas, where children are shown, street and houses, and phantom merchants, and people going in and comming out. This with its streets and houses and people going in and comming out, are not thought of as being born or annihilated, because in their case there is no question as to their existence or non-existence. In like manner, I teach, that there is nothing made nor un-made; that there is nothing that has connection with birth and destruction except as the ignorant cherish falsely imagined notions as to the reality of the external world. When objects are not seen and judged as they truly are in themselves, there is discrimination and clinging to the notions of being and non-being, and individualised self-nature, and as long as these notions of individuality and self-nature persist, the philosophers are bound to explain the external world by a law of causation. This position rises the question of a first cause which the philosophers meet by asserting that their first cause, Ishvara and the primal elements, are un-born and un-annihilate; which position is without evidence and is irrational.

Ignorant people and worldly philophers cherish a kind of no-birth, but it is not the no-birth which I teach. I teach the un-bornness of the un-born essence of all things which teaching is established in the minds of the wise by their self-realisation of Noble Wisdom. A ladle, clay, a vessel, a wheel, or seeds, or elements – these are external conditions; ignorance, discrimination, attachment, habit, karma, – these are inner conditions. When this entire universe is regarded as concatenation and as nothing else but concetenation, then the mind, but its patient acceptance of the truth that all things are un-born, gains tranquility.