When the Shakyamuni Buddha was incarnate, no sects existed at all. After the Shakyamuni Buddha period was the time of the patriarchs. Each of them acquired an enlightened subject and initiated a vow to maintain the precious seal. Each then formed a group to teach the faithful followers. These groups were known as sects. There were twelve in all, but only five were popular:
❖ The Meditative Sect,
❖ The Teaching Sect (also called the Visible Teachings Sect),
❖ The Secret Sect,
❖ The Still Salvation Sect (also called the Pure Land Sect), and
❖ The Avatamsaka Sect.
In any given period, from the Period of Superior Dharma to the Period of Inferior-Life Lost Dharma, Buddhism always has the inherited patriarch to guide its followers. There are times when the patriarch delivered many teachings, and times when the patriarch delivered few. There was a time when teaching was conducted by a corresponding incarnation of Bodhisattva. At another time, teaching was entrusted to the incarnate Buddha. In the Incarnating Period, Buddha completely taught twelve sects and ten denominations.
The instructor, who is either the Buddha or the patriarch, has to comply with the karmas of living beings to dissolve them at the appropriate time. The faithful followers, who are either laymen or monks or nuns, are all guided and capable of practicing, providing that they believe in the Buddha, the dharma’s subject, and the sangha’s guidance. In this they are not very different from the practitioners, who can belong to any class or position in society; if they are faithful, eager, and hearty in seeking the Tao, then they are capable of practicing the dharma Tao.
Bright affirmation of the essential nature of meditation: The essential nature itself, because of the karma seeds of living beings, give rise to many different classes. When people are ignorant, they make mistakes, and mistakes lead to confusion. Therefore, people often oppose one another, compete with one another, and entangle with one another, and as a result hate one another. But if they neither oppose nor hate one another, they will burst out in sympathy and like one another, and then they will have close relationships. This is still creating the karma of love-clinging. Even the two opposite positions of love and hate are still in the same chain of the birth–death cycle. When one attains the ultimate enlightenment, one becomes aware that the essential nature is naturally calm and perfectly still. But error has created the formation described above.
The essential nature is perfectly still, bright, and inherent in human beings. However, people initiate illusory thoughts and have active wishes and regular expectations; they follow their regular expectations and ambitions from one limit to another. Therefore, the essential nature becomes the seeds of nature. When distinctive seeds of nature are formed, they give rise to class distinctions of knowledge such as high or low, wide or narrow; thus there is a divide of four distinct classes as follows:
❖ The seeds of living beings’ nature
❖ The seeds of Bodhisattva’s nature
❖ The seeds of Buddha’s nature
❖ The seeds of Tathagata’s nature
The seeds of Buddha’s nature, when it is still hidden, cannot be distinguished from ignorance and enlightenment, where it is called the natural Buddha. At enlightenment, it is called the Buddha’s nature. Regarding the seed of Tathagata’s nature: Why does Tathagata have its nature? Tathagata is perfectly still and nowhere can be called Tathagata. In the case where the Bodhisattva observes Tathagata, requiring his or her nature of perfect stillness and all-embracement, and once Tathagata is observed, what is seen in the observation is called Tathagata’s nature or the constitution of Tathagata’s seeing.
When the essential nature has been brightly affirmed, let us wonder what it can do. The essential nature can do everything and go everywhere. The practitioner doesn’t need to pray to anyone, except for knowledge of how to exploit the essential nature; he or she can then use everything. That’s why human beings who practice Buddhism know how to rely on the essential nature to solve errors, being enlightened. When the disciple practices sitting meditation by relying on the essential nature, he or she will be aware of meditation, which means being aware of meditative nature. Due to meditative nature, he or she fully comprehends the three worlds and is aware of the three thousand worlds without error or ignorance, and thus becomes enlightened. Therefore, the practitioner should not initiate illusory thoughts to see the three thousand worlds, nor regularly expect to enter and attaining the three worlds through disembodiment. Even if the practitioner can attain both the three worlds and the three thousand worlds by illusory imagination while disconnected from the essential nature, the entered worlds are all confused, illusory thought formations; they are not enduring at all.
A wise person practicing sitting meditation needs to examine himself or herself, from capability to deeds, from the morality of seeking for the Tao to the obstacle karma, and ask how this prevents the way of his or her practice. When one recognizes an individual weakness, one must actively improve it. When one discovers one’s own karma or bad character—which makes one’s practice unreliable, lacking in both conduct and vow, and unhelpful to others—then one should dissolve and correct it. In this way, the practitioner lets the essential nature be harmonious and opening, and he or she knows how to exploit the essential nature in his or her practice.
Once, it was known that the essential nature is in conformity with the original essential nature of the universe. But because of the dark error, which was caused by the prevention of the conscious karma’s initial illusory thought, one must stay in position among the seeds of living beings’ nature. Then, in this position, one must reexamine oneself to see if one has individual characteristics that need to be guarded or gradually eliminated. There are four characteristics in living beings’ nature that are worthy of attention:
The increasing sickness is often arrogant and self-satisfied. When one is arrogant, one looks down on others; when one is self-satisfied, one conceives oneself to be right. Because of the sickness of increasing, one often falsely thinks that one accurately understands the dharma Tao, thinks that one has acquired the Tao of the superior increasing, and rarely learns from others in either practice or action. One also does not seek impressive dharmas to practice. This is very dangerous: it makes this increased individual further disconnected from the essential nature.
As for the decreasing type: decreasing is a backward sickness, where one’s essential nature is going down. The decreased person is not reliable in himself or herself. Instead of controlling one’s own body and life, one brings one’s own body and life for Heaven, earth, demon, or deity. One blames oneself for heavy karma and labels oneself darkly ignorant, and thus one depends on salvation from superiors.
The two sicknesses of increasing and decreasing cause divergence from the essential nature. Therefore, the Buddha advised the practitioner to leave his or her ego that intends to gradually end the sickness of increasing. On the other hand, the Buddha used the dharma’s subject of advancement to aid living beings with the illness of decreasing.
In regards to accumulation, accumulation is a disease of obstinate composition and preservation. Accumulation gives rises to habitual acts and usually pollutes in holding ego, and habitual ego is caused by accumulation. When one is often in dreamy illusory thoughts, one accumulates dreamy imagination that becomes one’s karma. Because of accumulation, there are thousands and thousands of existing shapes and forms and thousands and thousands of seeds of nature. Because accumulation is a dharma of the birth–death cycle, the Buddha taught that benevolence, compassion, joy, and generosity tend to build Tao virtues. On account of accumulation, there is the dharma subject of Prajñāpāramitā. With no-accumulation, however, the mind is empty and perfectly still; if there is no accumulation, the essential nature is harmonious and opening. The seeds of living beings’ nature with accumulation are separate and hesitant. Accumulation is the frontier of living beings, their limit.
As for the aspect of stillness, it is a means of salvation for unrest. Stillness is like a sleeping pill that relieves the patient of pain. But living beings often take pure stillness to nourish feebleness or to benefit them in old age. It is the same with practitioners who practice and act by enduring all dishonors without opposing them, with the aim of ending competitions and quarrels. Therefore, this is called stillness because it salves unrest.
Looking at the essence of stillness, the sitting meditation practitioners at the beginning did not thoroughly and brightly affirm whether the essential nature is their own essential nature or meditative nature’s. They are in the state of confused illusory thoughts and maddening unrest, they use stillness to salve these things. When the salvation is completed, they lighten up and become fully aware of the confused illusory thoughts and maddening unrest. This is called the enlightened stillness. The practitioner must practice still enlightenment to be fully aware of either the meditative nature or the essential nature, which are unique. When one has not yet acquired still enlightenment, one practices stillness by using stillness itself or by accumulated stillness, which could gradually lead the practitioner to isolated stillness. When one is in isolated stillness of the meditation subject, one is darkly dreamy. This creates a disease of hollowness at the top of one’s head, which is very uncomfortable and could lead to insanity.
Increasing, decreasing, accumulation, and stillness are the four precious gems to the well-informed practitioner who can manage and discipline himself or herself. When the practitioner is informed, he or she can come back to the original essence from the lost way of his or her wrong practice. But if one does not know how to practice, utilize, and manage, then the more one practices, the more one is poisoned. Why does the practitioner need to know how to manage oneself? This is because one who can manage oneself, and one who witnesses the moment seeds of nature give birth to boringness, laziness, and tardiness into practice, must increase one’s regular meditation—such as increasing the time of meditation sessions— and activeness; this is someone who knows how to manage and control himself or herself. And when one is overly lively and active, one’s essential nature will examine and be aware, and thus decrease activities to reach a state of balance; this is someone who knows how to manage and control himself or herself.
As for accumulation: when accumulation abounds, it creates karma. Even without accumulation or with the elimination of it all, karma is still carried. On accumulation, one knows how to utilize the accumulation, where it’s called training in absorbing salvation. Training in absorbing salvation and practicing accumulation are aimed at awareness of enlightenment. Awareness of accumulated enlightenment naturally leads to the state of harmony. It is like the way stillness salves unrest: awareness of unrest leads directly to perfect enlightened stillness.
This explanation allows us to understand whether thousands of dharmas are utilized or not. In this world and outside it, every job and business has to be lively and flexible. In an industrial factory, the machines are always being manipulated and operated; as for the infinite universe, it still lives in the clouds and the winds. The truth always proceeds in an extremely lively and active way in the view of one who knows how to practice the dharma Tao.
The one who knows how to practice can see the Buddha in any period. This is not through admiration or imagination of the Buddha. Rather, by following the footsteps of the Buddhas who have left, the practitioner today will advance; the farther he or she steps, the clearer the Buddha’s teaching becomes. That is the real sighting of Buddha.
The truth is a reason of reality. By relying on the reason of reality, one really acquires the truth. Practitioners who seek the true nature of practicing gradually come to understand the essential nature and become fully aware of the meditative nature, which leads to lively practice and flexible enjoyment. By using intelligence to dissolve and effortful deeds to overcome obstacles of reasons and facts, one admits that the Buddha’s path of salvation is appropriate in the present and its adaptation is evident. In truth, the Buddha’s path does not have any dharma that is the dharma of honesty or cruelty, good or bad, gentleness or cruelty at all. It only appears so for the practitioner who has yet to thoroughly comprehend the liveliness and flexibility of thousands and thousands dharmas. He or she reads sutras but has not yet enlightened the sutra, practicing without dissolution, which is the corpse practice of which is the practice of following the corpse of thousands of years ago. On the other hand, in the practice of using Buddhist intelligence to dissolve, of enlightening the dharma sutras and performing to practice, it’s the practitioner who knows how to practice in the present moment of the accomplished opening’s present.
The essential nature is always lively. When the practitioner performs meditative sitting—how their initial illusory thought is, how their virtue and intelligence are, how their conduct is, and how their vows are—then that meditation is the nature of the practitioner. This is manifested at each stage in the practitioner. However, the practitioner falsely thinks that this is the corresponding efficaciousness of meditation. He or she attaches to meditation and becomes immersed in it. This is why the Buddha said, “No matter how one desires, meditative nature responds in accordance to that desire, leading it to proceed as if it is reality. However, one falsely thinks that one’s mind is out and in, and thus one has expectations of and attachment to meditative nature.”
Upon realizing the Buddhist dharma, the practitioner pursues the practice of some subject. He or she also has to estimate how much practice is appropriate. With the appropriate amount, there is Buddhist intelligence to dissolve each stage of separation or intransigence. If there is isolated opposition, or practice by one’s logical intelligence and initial wish, it directly creates dreamy and confused illusory thoughts. One must implement and use: Buddhist dharma is inseparable from enlightenment in the human world. The human world is a position to meditate on and enlighten the Buddhist dharma; it is an immortal material.
For example, when suitable substances are combined, they are metamorphosed into a new substance; similar sounds respond to one another; close friends help each other. The Buddhist Tao still has to progress in the same way in both sentiment and reason, still practicing and acting on a similar combination, similar metamorphoses, which is called the metamorphosis for salvation of error. The Buddha’s mind and living beings’ minds are not different, but they are different. Because living beings are not compatible with the Buddha’s mind, they haven’t yet become the Buddha. If the mind wishes for accomplishment, it must know how to follow the practice and action so that similar combinations immediately lead to the desired metamorphosis. This is why the Bodhisattva must practice and perform those dharma subjects that in the past the Buddha used to practice. Now the Bodhisattva must practice them, aiming to be compatible with the mind of the Buddha and to become the Buddha.
Today, practitioners seek the truth to make progress in their practice. In the past, the Bodhisattvas did the same. When the Bodhisattvas realized the reason and fact of similar combinations, similar metamorphosis, they took great vows of compassion, will, courage, and fulfilled the six pāramitā, aiming to reach compatibility with all human beings, thus metamorphosing the Tathagata essence and becoming the Buddha.
From the infinite universe and human beings everywhere to the lands of dragons and beyond, all is called the natural essence or the Tathagata essence. For practitioners, the essence appears in the form of individual nature, where it is called the essential nature; when one is performing meditative sitting, it is called the meditative nature; when one is acting badly, it is called the bad nature; when one is acting beneficially, safely, and peacefully, it is called the good nature. Therefore, it is not outside the essential nature. Furthermore, in each practitioner the essential nature has the capability for natural self-enlightenment. Due to this, the practitioner is compatible and metamorphosed with the natural essence of the universe.
When practitioners practice the dharma Tao but do not use active deeds to create great virtues, which are the embraceable virtues of joy and generosity of one’s fettered karma, and yet aim to achieve the ultimate enlightenment, then how can they have virtuous deeds to offer Tathagata? If one has no virtuous deeds to offer, how can one reach enlightenment?
As the practicing of similar performances leads to similar combinations, and similar combinations lead to similar metamorphoses, practitioners have to follow in the footsteps of the Bodhisattvas who left. Practitioners today must practice, learn, and act in the same way as the Bodhisattvas. In the past, the Buddha used compassion, vows, and open enlightenment completely; thus, the Bodhisattvas also had to perform the conduct and the vow so that they could accomplish the complete enlightened opening: this is the unique way.