"When the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was cultivating the profound Prajnaparamita, he illuminated the Five Aggregates (Skandhas), saw that they were all empty, and crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty..." This line is the Heart Sutra's essential message, and it can be explained as follows: The Contemplator of Self-Presence (Avalokiteshvara) wants you to reflect inwardly and contemplate whether or not you're here. If you're here, then you won't be seeking outside and exploiting situations. If you are not here, then your idle thoughts will be running wild, to the point that you have a nervous breakdown. You'll always be looking for chances to obtain offerings from people. With such thoughts, you will not be at ease.
In everything a Bodhisattva does, he benefits others. Living beings are his raison d'etre, and he would never act for his own benefit. We common people think in exactly the opposite way: we think first of benefiting ourselves and never think of benefiting living beings. In everything we do, we first count up the profits: if the deed is profitable, we go ahead and do it. If it isn't, we don't do it. This is a selfish and self-gratifying attitude. Why can't the world find peace? Precisely because of this attitude. We strive and compete, and refuse to yield to one another. Thus wars break out, and we witness the tragedy of families being torn apart and nations collapsing.
This Bodhisattva can practice the profound Prajnaparamita. From beginningless time in the past up to this present moment, in life after life, he has practiced the method of Prajna, cultivating it without pause. The first requirement for cultivating profound Prajna is to avoid arrogance. Being arrogant is stupid. Secondly, one must avoid complacency. Being complacent is stupid. The third requisite is to always feel shame and remorse. Not feeling shame and remorse is stupid. The fourth requisite is to avoid exploiting situations. Exploiting situations is stupid. The fifth requisite is to avoid anger and hatred. Feeling anger and hatred are stupid. The sixth requisite is to not be disoriented. Being disoriented is stupid.
Cultivators of the Way make these six requisites their standard in judging to see whether their own behavior accords with the Dharma. If it accords with the Dharma, then that behavior is considered wise. In other words, to diligently cultivate precepts, concentration, and wisdom, and to put an end to greed, hatred, and stupidity is wise behavior. To fail to do this is stupid behavior. The difference between wisdom and stupidity lies right here.
One must cultivate profound Prajna before one can "illuminate and shine through" the fifty states of the skandha-demons found amid the Five Aggregates (skandhas). Ten demonic states appear in each of the Aggregates of Form, Feelings, Thoughts, Activities, and Consciousness. Generally speaking there are fifty states, but when we look into each case separately, there are measureless, innumerable varieties of states. If a cultivator is not careful, he can easily fall into the demons' snares. In general, all people who make use of deviant knowledge and views belong to the retinue of demons. People with proper knowledge and viewpoints, however, belong to the retinue of Buddhas.
Only when we practice the profound Prajnaparamita can we recognize the demons clearly and not be shaken or influenced by them. When we practice thus, not only can we shine through the Five Aggregates and see how they are all empty, but we also cross beyond all suffering and difficulty. The emptiness of the Five Aggregates is True Emptiness. As a saying goes,
True Emptiness is free of self and others;
The great Way is free of shape and features.
Suffering and difficulty refers to the three disasters and the eight types of difficulties.
If we can cultivate the Dharma in this verse to perfection, we will attain a state in which the Eight Winds cannot affect us. What are the Eight Winds? They are praise, ridicule, pain, pleasure, gain, loss, defamation, and honor. The Eight Winds blow people who lack samadhi-power head over heels, until they cannot tell east from west. Let's look more closely at these eight winds:
1. Praise: This means adulation. When others praise you, it tastes as sweet as honey; it's a comfortable sensation.
2. Ridicule: This means somebody makes fun of you. If someone mocks you, even a little, you can't stand it, and it's a very uncomfortable sensation.
3. Pain: This means suffering. When you experience a little bit of suffering, you become afflicted. Whenever suffering behfalls you, it is a test to see whether or not you can forbear it.
4. Pleasure: This refers to happiness. You should not let a little happiness overwhelm you. All kinds of happy states are tests, to see what you will do with them.
5. Gain: This refers to getting advantages. You become pleased when you gain benefits and are sad when you lose them. This shows a lack of samadhi-power.
6. Loss: This refers to failure. No matter what difficulties arise, we ought to take them in stride and not be upset when we lose out.
7. Defamation: This means slander. If someone insults you and spreads tales about you, you shouldn't mind. You should let it pass, come what may. The entire episode will eventually calm down all by itself.
8. Honor: This refers to situations of exaltation. If you are praised by someone and he makes your name known, you should take it in stride and regard glory and honor as no more important than frost on the windowpane at dawn.
The Eight Winds are dharmas that test your mind, to see whether adverse or favorable situations will upset your equilibrium. If they upset you, your cultivation still lacks maturity and you are deficient in the power of samadhi. Someone who remains unmoved by such states has realized genuine skill. Even so, he can't feel complacent and boast "The Eight Winds cannot blow me over, because my samadhi is as solid as Vajra." That is also wrong.
In the Song Dynasty, the layman Su Dongpo was adept in Buddhist study. Although his skill in Chan concentration was immature, he felt himself to be quite accomplished. One day, feeling exuberant and possessed by a sudden inspiration, he penned a verse:
I pay my respects to the chief of gods,
Whose hairmark-light illumines the universe;
The Eight Winds blow me not, as I
Meditate on this purple-golden lotus.
He thought he'd already gained enlightenment, and he wanted this enlightenment certified by Chan Master Foyin (Buddha-seal). Thereupon, he sent his servant to Gold Mountain Monastery across the river from his home.
The elderly Chan Master took one look at the verse the messenger handed him and wrote two words on the paper: "Fart! Fart!" and told the attendant to take the message back. Su Dongpo read the reply and blew up in a fit of anger. He thundered, "How dare you! This is my enlightenment testimonial; how dare you call it a fart!?" He promptly rowed across the river to settle accounts with Chan Master Foyin.
Unexpectedly, as soon as he reached the gate of Gold Mountain, Chan Master Foyin was waiting for him, to say "Oh, welcome! Welcome to the Great Adept Su Dongpo, one who is unmoved by the Eight Winds, but who lets a couple of tiny farts blow him all the way across the river. Welcome!" The two were old friends and fellow cultivators, and they were in the habit of joking with each other. Su Dongpo's volcanic anger, right on the verge of exploding, was cooled off completely by the truth of the Chan Master's statement. All he could do was admit that his samadhi still lacked maturity and bow to Master Foyin. He apologized for making a scene, and thereafter he avoided bragging. Chan skill is proven by practice, not by prattle. If you can't practice what you preach, it doesn't count.