Do you believe that true Buddhism disappeared two thousand years ago?

Author: Linmu

If I were to say, "Do you believe that true Buddhism disappeared two thousand years ago?" based on my previous articles, I've already outlined the correct path to liberation. However, many friends continue to ask me how to practice Zen from both Northern and Southern traditions. In this article, I intend to clarify some differences between the scriptures and treatises, the correct way and the false way, hoping to help friends understand: the genuine path to liberation does not exist in today's mainstream Buddhist sects, and the correct teaching might have only lasted 500 years. Let's first compare the definitions of "all phenomena" in the scriptures and treatises.

In the "Samyutta Nikaya 321," it defines all phenomena as "eye and form, eye-consciousness, eye-contact, the feeling that arises dependent on eye-contact. Ear, nose, tongue, body, mind, and mental phenomena, consciousness, mental-contact, the feeling that arises dependent on mental-contact; this is called all phenomena."

In "Samyuktagama 35.23," it defines "What is all?" as "Eye and form, ear and sound, nose and scent, tongue and taste, body and touch, mind and phenomena, mental consciousness, and mental-contact that arises dependent on mental-contact. This is what is called all."

On the other hand, the "Shrimala Sutra" begins with: "Form, consciousness, the field of consciousness, and Nirvana, apprehending all phenomena, there is no boundary."

It then elaborates on 201 ultimate truths, including 121 mental factors, 52 mental factors and 28 material elements.

Regarding the definition of "Nirvana," the "Samyuktagama 490" states: "With the cessation of greed, hatred, delusion, and all the defilements, that is called Nirvana."

In the "Shrimala Sutra," it's referred to as "The Nirvana that is called worldly. It is apprehended through four ways and is the object of the four results. The Nirvana called cessation is of a peaceful nature, is without death, has the quality of bliss, is of a signless, and is of an unobstructed character."

In the Pali Canon, many works directly define Nirvana as "the cessation of name and form," the extinguishing of the phenomena of birth and death.

Combining these differences, we can see that, in the scriptures, "all phenomena" mainly refer to name and form. The cessation of defilements is termed Nirvana, rather than establishing a separate Nirvana beyond name and form. Thus, the scriptures offer minimal analysis of Nirvana itself.

In contrast, treatises build upon the scriptures' definition of "all phenomena" by adding more elements and creating an independent Nirvana beyond name and form. While acknowledging that Nirvana is the cessation of greed, hatred, and delusion, treatises propose that one must directly perceive this separate Nirvana to completely eradicate defilements. This is detailed in various treatises like the "Shrimala Sutra," which describes the four stages of wisdom leading to the cessation of specific defilements.

This difference between scriptures and treatises is like parents naming their newborn child "Xiaoming," whereas treatises take the name "Xiaoming," individualize it, make it specific, and turn it into something independent of the child. It's similar to describing the phenomenon of extinguishing a fire as "the fire is extinguished," whereas treatises isolate and concretize "the fire is extinguished" into a distinct entity apart from the flame.

Regarding the definition of "mind and mental phenomena" within the twelve bases (ayatanas), "Samyuktagama 322" defines "mind internal base" as including the mind, consciousness, and awareness, which are non-material, invisible, and devoid of duality. "Material external base" is that which the other eleven bases do not include, making it non-material, invisible, and devoid of duality.

Concerning the definition of the "six consciousnesses," the "Madhyama-agama 201" and the "Majjhima Nikaya 38" describe consciousness as arising due to conditions and explain how they depend on their respective sense objects, forming a chain of dependent origination.

In the Pali Abhidhamma, works like the "Dhammasangani" and the "Visuddhimagga" expound upon the basic six consciousnesses found in the scriptures, adding the concept of "mind-consciousness process." This concept becomes the foundation of the three-lifetime schema, connecting past, present, and future.

Furthermore, treatises like the "Shrimala Sutra" introduce the concept of "eighteen mental factors" beyond the original six, including the "mind-consciousness process," marking it as the leader of the six consciousnesses, the basis of all life forms, and a bridge connecting past and present lives, leading to the theory of dependent origination. Treatises even attribute cognitive functions to consciousness.

In the "Shrimala Sutra," "eye consciousness" has the function of cognizing its object, color. Similarly, "ear, nose, tongue, and body consciousness" cognize their respective sense objects. This perspective differs from the scriptures, which view sensory consciousness as arising from contact with their respective sense objects without specific cognitive functions.

This discrepancy between scriptures and treatises is akin to saying that in the scriptures, fire arises from the burning of wood, while treatises claim that fire burns wood. It's like saying that in the scriptures, the sound is produced when a hand strikes a table, while treatises state that sound is heard by the hand striking the table. Or, in the scriptures, electrons collide with a screen to produce light, while treatises assert that light sees electrons.

In the scriptures, the consciousness arising due to conditions and based on "mind and mental phenomena" is called "mind consciousness." It corresponds to non-material phenomena apart from the eleven sense objects. In other words, in the scriptures, the six consciousnesses are distinct and don't mix. In contrast, treatises introduce a powerful "discerning consciousness" into the picture, which can perceive all name-and-form phenomena, including Nirvana and concepts. It's regarded as a "mind with cognitive abilities," "consciousness of enlightenment," or "right mindfulness."

Furthermore, treatises introduce more elements into the physical realm. For instance, the "Samyuktagama 273" describes the eye as flesh and form, but in the commentaries and treatises, people conceptualize and elaborate on it, introducing 28 kinds of material elements and suggesting that these material elements cannot exist independently but are composed of smaller units or particles, namely earth, water, fire, wind, color, odor, taste, and nutriment. They believe that all worldly material consists of countless clusters of these units.

The eight components are postulated as the basic building blocks of matter, and their properties are believed to explain the solidity of matter (due to earth), the capacity for cohesion (due to water), the generation of heat (due to fire), and the ability to move (due to wind). Color, odor, taste, and nutriment are attributes of these clusters, believed to be responsible for various aspects of the physical world.

However, the scientific perspective contradicts this theory. Elementary particles and atomic substructures, like protons, neutrons, electrons, and more, don't fit into these eight components, nor do they exhibit the properties attributed to them in treatises.

Additionally, treatises add the concept of "time" into the physical realm. They propose a binary system of "existence" (asat) and "non-existence" (sat). "Existence" includes the past, present, and future, while "non-existence" pertains to non-existence in the past, non-existence in the future, non-existence in the past and future, and non-existence in the present.

The treatise view of time doesn't align with modern scientific theories of time. In modern physics, time is a dimension that interacts with space to form spacetime. It doesn't categorize time into binary states of "existence" and "non-existence."

In conclusion, there are significant differences between the definitions of "all phenomena," "mind and mental phenomena," the "six consciousnesses," and elements of the physical realm between the scriptures and treatises in Buddhism. These differences have profound implications for the practice and understanding of Buddhist philosophy and meditation. Therefore, it's essential to recognize and appreciate these distinctions when studying and interpreting Buddhist teachings.