with the Standless Gathas
and Explanation of Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua

Translated by Upasaka I Kuo Jung
Sponsored by The Buddhist Text Translation Society




     This passage was explained in the last lecture.  Although there are all kinds of form dharmas, in general the form skandha can be described in three broad classifications:

  1. form which can be both seen and complemented,
    called complementary and visible;

  2. form which can be complemented but not seen,
    called complementary and non-visible;

  3. and form which can neither be seen nor
    complemented, called non-complementary and non-visible.

      What is meant by complementary and visible form? These are dharmas which you can see, and with which you can form a dharma pair.2 You can also pair yourself with complementary, non—visible dharmas, even though you cannot see them. Non—complementary, non—visible forms are those with which you can pair yourself, yet cannot pair yourself, those which are visible, yet invisible. This kind of form dharma like the first two kinds, is discriminated within the six “dust” states:3 forms so smells, tastes, touchables, and dharmas.4

      What are called complementary visible forms? People, self, other, and living beings, mountains, rivers, the great earth, and the ten thousand appearances, all have visible forms, so they are all called complementary visible dharmas, and are classified among the form dharmas.

      The second category of form dharmas is complementary non—visible form. You can pair yourself with these, but cannot see them. These are sounds, smells, tastes, and touchables, all of which can be complemented but not seen. For instance, to pair yourself with sound ‘dust” is to enter into a complementary relationship with whatever sound you hear: “Oh, this sound is good”; or, “it is not good.” You pair yourself with it and discrimin­ations arise in the conscious mind, yet you are unable to see the sound. Answer, what color is sound? Green, yellow, red, or white? It doesn’t have a color. Well, then, is it square or round? Again you can’t answer. You don’t see it, don’t see any substantial appearance which comes into being from the sound. Therefore, the form dharmas of this category are called complementary and non—visible.

      Sound, from the example used above, belongs to form “dust”, to the form skandha of the five skandhas5 -- form perception, thinking, process, and consciousness. And so it is with the nose smelling smells: you can pair yourself with smell “dusts” and know that they have smell, yet what do they look like? Through your olfac­tory perception you know there is a certain fragrance, yet you cannot see it. Does it exist? Although you cannot see it, it still exists; however, since it has no visible appearance, you are merely conscious of it and do not see it. When you use your nose to smell, and say, ‘Oh, it is so fragrant!” then you have recognized a smell dust.

      You use your tongue to taste; it has taste percep­tion. Only the tongue can perceive palatable from unpalatable tastes: which is sour; which is sweet; which bitter, hot or salty. But do the five flavors—— sour, sweet, bitter, hot, and salty——have a visible appearance or not? What do they look like? You cannot see flavors.

      You cover your body with fine silks which are warm and comfortable. Their smooth touch on your skin gives you a very natural happy feeling. What is this feeling, this touch “dust” like? What visible appearance does it have? You can’t see it. The touch “dust” is also a complementary, non—visible form. You can pair yourself with form dusts of this kind, but you cannot see them.

      Perhaps forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and touchables, the first five of the six dusts, have gone by, or perhaps they persist in your mind—consciousness~ where they all leave a shadow. What is this shadow? Your eyes, for example, see a color, and your mind—consciousness knows “What I just saw was red. I also saw yellow and green.” Although the color has gone by, its trace remains in the mind—consciousness. Only this shadow remains. Maintain that this state exists, and it has already gone past; maintain that it does not exist, yet you remember it. This describes the shadows of the first five of the six dusts. This is what the dust which is form is like. So too are the dusts which are sounds, smells, tastes, and touchables.

      Although the dusts are no longer present, the events have passed, the feelings gone by7 shadows which are called dharma dust are stored in the mind—consciousness. The sixth of the six dusts dharma “dust”? is a form dharma which, although it belongs to the form skandha, is non—complementary and non—visible. As soon as you try to pair yourself with dharma “dust,”’ it has already dis­appeared and does not exist. For this reason the sixth dust is non—complementary and non—visible. You say that it doesn’t exist, and there, in your mind consciousness, it still persists. The shadow exists, but there is no way to see it, hear it, or seek out its genuine charac­ter.9 This describes the first five dust shadows falling into the mind consciousness and becoming non—complementary, non—visible forms.

      The form skandha is just thus; the other four skandhas, PERCEPTION, THINKING, PROCESS, AND CONSCIOUSNESS ARE ALSO THUS. They are of the same nature as form. Just as form is not different from emptiness, perception is not different from emptiness, and emptiness is not different from perception. Perception is emptiness; emptiness is perception. Thinking is not different from emptiness; emptiness is not different from thinking. Thinking is emptiness; emptiness is thinking. Process is not different from emptiness; emptiness is not different from process. Process is emptiness; emptiness is process. Consciousness is not different from emptiness; emptiness is not different from consciousness. Consciousness is emptiness; emptiness is consciousness. Therefore the Sutra text says ARE ALSO THUS. Perception, thinking, process, and consciousness are like emptiness and form. They are the same as emptiness and form.

      I have spoken about perception, thinking, and consciousness many times. From where do thinking, process, and consciousness come, and to what place do perception, thinking, process, and consciousness go? Ultimately what are perception, thinking, process, and consciousness? We should understand their substance, for through understanding their substance, we will understand their function. When we understand their function, we will know how to defeat them. I will employ some rather superficial levels of doctrine to explain this.

Form, perception, thinking, process, and consciousness:

What is form? The body is included among the form dharmas; since it is form, it is called the “form— body.” Although your form—body has an appearance, when you seek for its origin, you will find that it is empty. This, too, I have explained many times before.~ When the four great elements, namely earth, water, fire and wind unite, the body comes into being. Working together they establish a “Company, Ltd.” This limited company comes into being from these four conditioned causes:

a. Earth, which is characterized by solidity and durability,

b. Water, which is characterized by moisture,

c. Fire, which is characterized by warmth,

d. Wind, which is characterized by movement.

These are the four conditioned causes which unite to become the body. This is what is meant by having a form.

      When these four conditions divide up, each has a place to which it returns; therefore, the body becomes empty. So the Sutra says, FORM IS NOT DIFFERENT FROM EMPTINESS; EMPTINESS IS NOT DIFFERENT FROM FORM.

      FORM IS NOT DIFFERENT FROM EMPTINESS:  This is true emptiness. EMPTINESS IS NOT DIFFERENT FROM FORM: This is wonderful existence. True emptiness is wonderful existence; wonderful existence is just true emptiness. It is not the case that outside true emptiness there is a separate wonderful existence; it is also not the case that moving wonderful existence to one side reveals true emptiness. What is true emptiness is just wonderful existence! What is wonderful existence is just true emptiness! Before the creation of the universe, before one’s parents give birth, in the substance of the original face, the Buddha and living beings are not at all different. So the Sutra says, FORM DOES NOT DIFFER FROM EMPTINESS; EMPTINESS DOES NOT DIFFER FROM FORM. The four great elements transform, uniting into a form body, a corporeal body which has a visible appearance.

      Once this body appears, it likes pleasurable perceptions. There are three kinds of perception which are identical to the three kinds of suffering. They are:

  1. perception which is suffering,

  2. perception which is happiness,

  3. and perception which is neither suffering nor happiness.

      Are you afraid of suffering? The more you fear suffering, the more suffering there is. So you reply, “I’m not afraid of suffering.” Is the suffering dimished? You don’t fear suffering, and so although the suffering is not less, it can be said that it does not exist. For if you do not fear suffering, then at its origin there is no suffering. If you are afraid of suffering, the more suffering there is, the more you perceive it. The more you perceive suffering, the more suffering there is. More and more.

      This is the perception which is suffering. You feel that of all the people in the world, you are the one who suffers most. Everything is felt to be suffering. I have a disciple who feels this way. When he lectures, he lectures on suffering. When he eats, he likes to eat bitter things.12 But when it comes to doing work, he doesn’t like suffering, and is annoyed by bitter work; he likes happy work. In this world happy work is rarely encountered, and if it is it is simply the result of having suffered.13

      The perception which is happiness refers to every pleasure. You feel that owning a car is happiness, but after you buy the car, you want an airplane. When you own an airplane, you want to buy a sailboat and go out in the bay and have a good time. Owning the sailboat, you want to take a rocket to the moon.

      You get sick, but there are no moon doctors, so you die on the moon and become a moon ghost. Is this happiness or suffering? You have become the “ghost—in—the—moon.” Happy perceptions are also a cause of suffering.

     You ask, “How can all these kinds of false think­ing stop?” Some say that they are pleasurable, but they fill up your heart with bigger and bigger pieces of dirt.

      Should one have perception which is neither suffering nor happiness? One could say, “I don't wish to suffer and I also don’t wish to be happy; I just want to make it through one very ordinary life and forget it.”

      Not bad. In this one life you can say that you broke even. You did business and didn’t make a profit, but didn’t take a loss either. You didn’t make money, but you didn’t lose any. The capital was fifty million and you still have fifty million. No gain, no loss. This is perception which is neither happiness nor suffering. But you have wasted effort and done business in vain. You came to this world all confused, and you leave it all confused. Your wealth has not been well established, and your accounts have been mismanaged. Consequently, this is called “confused coming and going.” It earns more confusion. There is no interest in this.

      If you want enjoyment, you certainly must have false thinking. You can’t be without it. “How can I think of a way to buy a car? How can I buy a beautiful home? How can I think of a way to buy a steamship? An airplane ?” Your false thinking, back and forth, turns your hair white. How? It becomes white from the false thinking. As soon as you begin false thinking your hair starts turning white.

      Remember, before, I said that at night, when you lie on your bed, you have a thousand plans? Sometimes you get up early to act on your thousand plans. Sometimes sleeping is nice and you just sleep. “To act” is fundamentally karmic process; karmic process is activity. This means actually putting into practice, actually acting upon your false thinking.14

      Now I will tell you about these five skandhas as found in your body.

  1. The body is the form skandha.

  2. Having the form skandha, you have perception of enjoyment and pleasure.

  3. You want pleasure, and so you give rise to false thinking. “How can I get what I aim for? How can I actually engage in plea­sure?”

  4. You have to go and do it, process

  5. Acting requires a certain amount of wisdom, consciousness . This wisdom is a kind of small intelligence, about a hair’s worth, that much intelligence, that much small wisdom.

If you live in the”small wisdom loft”15, then you only take care of small wisdom undertakings, with your small wisdom, a small bit of wisdom in a small, small loft. Can there be great development? No. No big business is done by the small, small company in the small, small loft.

      You must have wisdom to help you actually carry out your plans. When you have a plan, and actually put it into effect, then you can accomplish the aim of your false thinking, and obtain the pleasure you sought. You then supply your body with what it needs and seeks. Your body achieves its aims. “Oh.. .enjoyment! Ahhhz’ This enjoyment lasts about five minutes. Because control is so painstaking, one becomes fatigued, the blood vessels begin rupturing and then death comes. You can say that enjoyment does not last long. What was it all about? It was just the five skandhas.

      These five skandhas are just five ways of uniting, of working together to open a company. This company, once opened, opens again and again. Again and again. Yesterday, during the Ksitigarbha Sutra lecture I explained it this way: it grows everywhere like a wild vine which is never cut. Once opened, “The Five Skandha Co., Ltd.” always stays open, always feeling that there is hope. What hope? “AU This life I didn’t make money, wait until next life and I will be able to make some.” Who can know whether or not there will be even less capital next life?

      It’s just like gambling. You expect to win money, but as soon as you pull the handle, the American money, (lit. “beautiful gold” )~“falls down into the machine and the house wins. It didn’t last long. Originally you expected to win, but you lost. Your body is also like this, yet you gamble with it. Why do you want to gamble with your body as if it were money? Because you have not seen through it, and do not know about the doctrines I have just explained.

      There are so many wonderful inconceivable states, yet you cannot move forward one step. But there is one step, even more esoteric, even more profound. What should you do? You just make the greed in your heart disappear. This neither makes nor loses money. Thus you can also attend to your own duties a bit17(lit. ‘preserve a little of the original share’) in order to cultivate. You should turn back to the original source. Then you can return home.


  1. (a)k'e tui k'e chien shai
    (b)k'e tui pu k'e chien shai
    (c)pu k'e tui pu k'e chien shai 
    These categories are explained in detail in the Abhidharmako'sa and also in Vasubandhu’s commentary, the Trimsika, translated into Chinese by Tripitaka Master Hsuan Tsang with the latter's famous commentary, ch’eno wei shih lun, (Vijnaptimatratasiddhisastra). (Both have been translated into French by de La Vall'ee Pousin.)

  2. tui tai fa, related paired dharmas. Throughout the lecture the word “you” is used loosely. It of course technically refers to the appropriate “root’ which pairs itself with the ‘dust under discussion. Therefore, in the first case the visual perceptual receptor, ie., the eye in a non—technical sense, is pa ired with visible form. The term, ken, “root”, is actually more suggestive of the nature of the perceptual apparatus than the usual English translation, “sense organ”. The “sense organ”, or more technically, the “perceptual receptor”, is merely the bud at the tip of the branch. The Sanskrit term indriya, sometimes translated “faculty”, is of uncertain etymology. In earlier usages, one finds the idea of inherent power (within the ~ which is related to the name of the god Indra.

  3. The terms, ch'en, “dust”, has such impelling metaphoric power that the literal translation has been retained. Unfortunately, the use of the word in English to refer to the defilement of the world is no longer current.

  4. “Dharmas” here is used in a special, technical sense. They are paired with “mind” to produce “mind—con sciousness~ · See note #6 below.

  5. The five skandhas
                       (Ch.)     ($kt.)
    a. form             shai      rupa
    b. perception       shou      vedana
    c. thinking        
    hsiang    samjna
    d. process
              hsing     samskira
    e. conscioumness    shih      vijnana
    The word for form in Chinese, is conveniently also the word for sex. As will be explained in our text in the concrete terms of cultivation, seeing through the form skandha is synonymous with seeing through the body.
    The word for perception in Chinese literally means “to receive.”
    The character ‘thinking”, has two parts~ below is the “heart’, above are “appearances’. Thus its visual reference is to the appearances “of” or “in” the heart. The upper part of the character, hsiang, can be translated many ways, eq. appearance, phenomenon, sign, mark. In translations of Sanskrit texts
    it is variously used for both nimitta and laksana. “heart” is a broader and more inclusive term than “mind”, so we must remember to expand correspondingly the limits of its connotations.
    The semantic basis of the character hsing, “process”, is expressed beautifully in the older forms of the character. These graphically express flow (through the pictured crossroad.) Therefore, process refers to constant movement or activ­ity, like the flowing of a stream, It is the seventh consciousness, the communication link between “thinking” and the fine discriminations of the eighth consciousness (i.e., the fifth skandha.) It is the constant working out of our karma. “Karma” implies that one’s previous behavior is represented in one’s present behavior, though the appearance has no ultimate reality.
    At death “cansciousness” becomes the middle yin body, (also
    known as the “intermediate skandha body” or the chung yu (antaribbava). Within it the individual karma is preserved until rebirth. It is last to leave the physical body at death and first to appear at birth. It is called “middle” be cause it is intermediary between the five skandhas which have dissolved at death and the five which will appear at rebirth. (The same character is used to translate skandhe and can be explained as yin fu.) It is the shady covering which prevents us from seeing our originally bright enlightened nature. So, at the time of enlightenment, “consciousness” again chanqes and returns to its original nature, the clear and pure, eternal Tathagata Store heart. This heart is the Buddha nature of all beings, the mother of the ten thousand dharmas. Thus all existence is originally consciousness which is clear and pure without the least trace of defi lement.

  6. i shih; the sixth of the eight consciousnesses, which is e quivalent to the third skandha, "thinking".

  7. shih kuo ch’ino ch’ien, a poetic way of saying that the situation has passed.

  8. see note 2 above.

  9. hsiang

  10. see VBS, Feb. 1971, pp. 17—18, (Pt. III of this series).

  11. Th e Chinese expression is ,k’ai t’ien p'i ti, more l iterally, “splitting open heaven and earth.”

  12. In Chinese the meanings “bitter” and “suffering” are contained within the same character, k’u. Here there is a pun. The expression, ch’ih k’u (lit. “eat bitter”) means "to suffer”.

  13. The Master has written elsewhere:
    shou k'u shih liao k'u
    hsiang fu shih hsiao fu
    “To endure suffering is to end suffering;
     To enjoy blessings is to destroy blessings.”

  14. “To act”,  hsing “karmic process”, heng yeh, also means “occupation . “Activity”, hsing, is another translation for the fourth skandha, process (see Note5 above). “Actually putting into practice” and “actually acting are variant translations of shih hsing.
    In translating this passage an attempt has been made to bring out some of the flavor of the semantic structure of a single character as used in various related compounds.

  15. “Popular” name of a section of the building within the Buddhist Lecture Hall.

  16. In everyday usage the p hrase, mei chin, is short for mei kuo chin ch'ien or or the like.

  17. shou i tien pen fen, is also sometimes used to imply “mind your own business”, “be content with your own lot”.