|7. Facing phenomena with empty mind
Let’s go back to Subhuti. After having required the name of the Sutra, shed some sorrowful tears, regretfully lamenting that the deep teaching had been revealed to him only now even though he had followed the Buddha for so many years, he suddenly stood up and repeated his first question: “How to quiet, how to subdue one’s mind”, as if he did not hear anything since the beginning. How curious! Could he possibly be that forgetful or already… in his dotage? The amazing thing is that not only he did not receive any dressing down by the Buddha “don’t you speak like that!”, but the World Honoured answered him even more affably! There must be some riddles here!
Maybe it was not without reason that the Buddha had chosen Subhuti to expound the Diamond Sutra, as he had chosen Sariputra to expound the Heart Sutra.
Master and disciple had set a skilful “throwing and catching” role playing game, to lead a new category of disciples, engaged ones, those who were ready to descend their mountains to save and protect beings instead of silently sit under trees, as did the recluses whose only purpose was to find a way to self-liberation. Therefore, throughout this entire Sutra, the Buddha had repeated many times and frequently incited his disciples to “expound it to others”, “widely expound it to others”, even if it is as much as one stanza or merely one single word! Throughout the whole Diamond Sutra, we can see that the Buddha earnestly wanted to widely expand his true teaching, so that the Dharma wheel could turn quickly in order to save beings from their blazing houses! How can we afford to sit idle and to take all our time when our houses are on fire? We must act. Must be quick. Must put the fire out. Must save the people even if we get burnt in the process, which means that if we were misunderstood, scoffed at or insulted. In that case we must understand that this impediment is due to our unwholesome karma committed in past lives, and they must inexorably be followed by retribution. Let’s keep going on patiently, diligently. Let’s not lose heart or waver. But dangers still are lurking there, as we still can easily build new barriers that would thwart all our efforts to develop because of our propensity to grasp and our arrogance, self-importance.
Therefore, although having thoroughly delivered his teaching, the Buddha did not mind repeating again and again that the Dharma preached by Him is unconceivable, unattainable, not real nor unreal. It is the raft that takes us across the river, the forefinger that points to the moon! But in the enthusiastic, ebullient atmosphere of this ceremony of handing down the precious sword, new problems still might arise.
Maybe Subhuti, perceiving the not yet peaceful, not yet restful minds of those present in this audience, had no choice but to ask this question anew. He was not forgetful, nor was he in his dotage!
But actually, in the first haft of the Sutra, the Buddha had delivered only… half of His teaching. There still was the other half. In the first half of this Sutra, He emphasized that there was a kind of “Dharma” to be practiced in order to have a pure, peaceful mind. “As to Dharma, when practicing…” means that one must practice according to this very teaching. One can keep practicing the virtue of giving, of discipline, of forbearance and so on, provided that it is done in a new way. “To give is not giving”. One must go beyond, transcend, not get caught up, not get tangled in form and must not “dwell anywhere”. If one still clings to form, one is still stuck in delusion! One must see that form is not form so as to apprehend its nature, its truth, its “Thusness”. In other words, the form still is something very physical, something that can be seen, heard, tasted, smelled and touched. In general, those things are not difficult to discard or to get rid of. There is nothing else to do but to hide in mountain caves or in deep forests. Even in this flat world, we can still switch the TV off or push a button to cut ourselves from them. Feigning blindness, deafness and dumbness is not difficult. It’s so easy to do, then why still are we so tormented, harrowed and at sixes and sevens? And when we have time to “look back at ourselves”, as Trịnh Công Sơn said, “our life had gone by…”(nhìn lại mình đời đã xanh rêu).
Is it so easy to “discard the form”? Is there something more difficult to discard? There is. The first love is forever beautiful. The first loved one is always wonderful (provided that we don’t have to see him/her again). A word from our enemy is always infuriating. Waiting 10 years is not too long to take our revenge. But “not yet avenged, our hair had turned white” (Thù trả chưa xong đầu đã bạc) (Đặng Dung)
What makes us infuriated, what makes us so mad? What makes us see that things are better or worse? It is no longer the form, but our perception, our mind, our thoughts. They are not to be seen, heard of smelled! They lurk somewhere, in an invisible “store”, ready to burst into flames inside us with magical powers. “How was the rain in the old days? Now why does it look so sad…” (mưa rơi thì sao ? Bây chừ mưa rơi lại buồn…) (Tôn Nữ Thụy Khương – ). The sadness does not come from the rain but from our mind. How can we escape, subdue, pacify that tiresome mind? What a good question, worth asking many time! In short the first half of the Diamond Sutra taught how to “discard form” and the second half taught how to discard the thoughts, or how to tame the mind. The easy part was taught first, and the difficult one was to be taught later! Subhuti was right to ask it twice!
It’s clear that the answer to the same question is different! When one just “lightly” generated the Bodhicitta, one must apply such or such method. Now that we know how to generate “that” mind, it is easier for us to think that we have a “dharma” to teach and to spread out, we are more easily got caught up and entangled than before, more easily inclined to carry on the raft after crossing the river and expect that people look at our own finger…
What did the Buddha teach? That there is no dharma to attain! What was called “Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi (Highest Perfect Wisdom) is already there, everybody has it, but it is just hidden, obscured! How can we “attain” something that we already have? But we cannot say that it doesn’t exist. It is and it is not. It is not, but it is. Not real and not unreal. How interesting to behold what is concealed inside every “dharma” (phenomenon), to go beyond every form to perceive the “real form” (the insight into the Reality). Then one perceives that “every Dharma is Buddhadharma”. The term “Dharma” is no longer restricted as a method, a mean, but is the entire functioning of our mind and the content of our mind. In that way the “Empty I” is the same as the “Empty Other”!
“Subhuti, if a Bodhisattva comprehends that all Dharma are devoid of a self, the Tathagata calls him a true Bothisattva”. A bodhisattva must comprehend “Emty I” as well as “Empty other” to deserve to be called a bodhisattva.
The “empty I” and “empty other” are like the two wings that allow a bird to fly. Like the “Dragon Slaying Sabre” (Long Đồ đao) needed the “Heaven Sword” (Ỷ thiên kiếm) and the “Heaven Sword” needed the “Dragon Slaying Sabre” [to be whole]! When he discovered the secret concealed in the Dragon Slaying Sabre, and once he conquered back his country’s from foreign invaders, Trương Vô Kỵ (character in Kim Dung’s martial novels) went back home to… draw on Triệu Minh’s (his wife) eyebrows ! Once the king Trầndefeated the Yuan and Mongol, he dropped out of everything and alone on his horse, went back to the Mount Yên Tử!
What a wonderful example of being “empty minded in front of any phenomenon”!