Ordinary people know only that the eyes can see forms, the ears can hear sounds, the nose can smell scents, the tongue can taste flavors, the body can feel sensations of touch, and the mind can understand dharmas. If you talked about how these six sense faculties can function interchangeably, they would never believe you; they would think it was plain nonsense. However, if one has truly arrived at this state and attained this function, one will know that there really are such ineffably wondrous states within the Buddhadharma, and that they are very inconceivable.
Someone is having an idle thought: “I wouldn’t want to experience such states! It’d be too much trouble. Whenever I looked up, I would see the heavenly beings and hear what they were saying. That would disturb the purity of my own mind. When I looked down, I’d see the hells and be afraid, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. For those reasons, I wouldn’t want to experience such states.” Even if you did want to have such states, it’s not for sure you’d be able to. Why not? Because you aren’t serious about meditating and investigating Chan. You just sit there on the meditation bench and your idle thoughts are flying every which way, or you let your mind gallop outside like a wild horse out of control. Or else you get drowsy and have a chat with the Duke of Zhou as you sit there on the bench [Note:
“seeing the Duke of Zhou” is another expression for dreaming], and your snores are louder than thunder. If that’s how you act, how do you expect to get enlightened? How can you attain those wondrous functions? You’re simply wasting time.
If you want to attain those special states, you have to get rid of all idle thinking. You have to be able to look without seeing, listen without hearing, sniff without smelling, taste without savoring, touch without feeling, and think without cognizing. To attain these special states, you have to be unmoving. If you are affected by external states,
“Wow! I can see as far as the heavens! I wonder if I can still fall asleep?” Let me tell you frankly, after you attain this state, you can still sleep. When you feel like sleeping, you sleep; when you don’t feel like it, you don’t. You are free to do as you please; you’re not compelled into doing anything. That’s how wonderful it is!
The person who had that idle thought is now having another one after hearing what I said. He’s wondering,
“How did the Master know what I was thinking? Can he read people’s minds?” Why did you have that idle thought? If you could have that false thought, how could I not know about it? If you’re afraid I’ll know what you’re thinking, then don’t have those false thoughts. You should know that anyone at all can attain the interchangeable functioning of the six sense faculties, as long as he or she cultivates.
Without using his eyes, the Venerable Aniruddha could see the universe of a billion worlds as clearly as an
amala fruit in the palm of his hand. That’s because, even though he had lost his normal sight, he had attained the spiritual penetration of the heavenly eye. The Dragon Upananda has no ears, but he can use his heavenly eye to listen to and rescue those in distress. The female spirit deva of the Ganges River can smell fragrances with any of her six sense faculties; every one of them has the ability to smell. The Venerable Gavampati could taste flavors without using his tongue, because he used his nose instead. The Spirit of Shunyata (emptiness) does not have a body. He uses the other sense faculties to perceive sensations of touch, and thus knows that all dharmas are empty. Therefore he is the spirit of nature.
The Venerable Mahakashyapa did not use his mental faculties, and yet he was able to understand the real appearance of all dharmas, which is no appearance, but which also means that nothing lacks an appearance. The above are all examples of those who have attained the interchangeable functioning of the six sense faculties.