In the functioning of the five elements, when the cycle is followed, the elements produce one another.
Does the Buddha have a form? Is he formless? Or is he in between form and formlessness? The Buddha’s Dharma-body has no form; it is the retribution of wisdom and virtue, the ultimate perfection of meritorious practice in the cultivation of self-enlightenment and self-benefit. The flesh body is the form; it is the fruit of blessing and virtue and the expedient means to enlighten and benefit others. The substance of the Dharma-body is like empty space, universally pervasive and without attachment or obstruction. The retribution body dwells in the Pure Land and is rainbow-like in substance. The transformation body goes to the land of turbidity and has a human appearance. The last two have forms.
How did the Buddha cultivate to achieve the formless pure Dharma-body from his form body? The Buddha cultivated vigorously and without interruption for limitless kalpas. The Buddha “cultivated blessings and wisdom for three asamkhyeya (limitless) eons and planted the causes for his special features and characteristics for one hundred kalpas.” Only then could he transcend the body of form and realize the non-outflow Dharma-body. The Buddha's Dharma-body transcends the confinement of the five elements. However, it was by cultivating the five elements (metal, wood, water, fire, and earth), by eradicating all that was yin and keeping only what was purely yang in nature, that he achieved what he did.
The key to recognizing the five elements is to understand one's own mind and thoroughly enlighten to the truth of heaven and earth. Then one will be able to find one's original face and consequently transcend the three realms and be liberated from birth and death. Human beings have five types of natures—metal, wood, water, fire, and earth—while the world has five directions—east, south, west, north, and central. Viewed from the standpoint of the central element earth (China), Japan is to the east, the direction of the rising sun; it is of the wood category, and the dominant color is green. Therefore, the skin of Japanese people has a slightly greenish tinge. The west corresponds to metal, and the color is white. Thus Westerners are also called white people. The south is associated with fire, and the color is red. Thus there are red-skinned people, or Indians, who reside in South America. The north is of water, and the color is black. Therefore, some Northerners have dark skin. The center is of earth, and the color is yellow. Thus people who are born and grow up in “middle earth” are called yellow people.
Due to the differences of geographical location, the dispositions of people in different parts of the world also vary. In fact, everyone is replete with the five natures of metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. However, under the influence of various factors, one's disposition changes and becomes more inclined to one or several natures. In cultivation, we should get rid of the yin characteristics of these five elements. As it is said in the Shurangama Sutra: “...like purifying muddy water by placing it in a quiet vessel which is kept completely still and unmoving. The sand and silt settle and the pure water appears. This is called the initial subduing of the guest-dust affliction.” When the yin nature is totally eliminated, the remaining nature is yang, and it is “the complete removal of the mud from the water, which is called eternal severance of fundamental ignorance.” The bright essence of pure yang transcends the appearance of water and earth and is the pure and clean Dharma-body of the Tathagata. “When clarity is pure to its essence, then no matter what happens there is no affliction. Everything is in accord with the pure and wonderful virtues of Nirvana.”
In the functioning of the five elements, when the cycle is followed, the elements produce one another. If people help each other out, the nation will be affluent and stable and the world will know harmony and peace. When the cycle is reversed, the elements destroy each other. If people are uncooperative and contend with each other, the nation will be chaotic and ruined, and the world will suffer from wars. People of a yang wood nature are straightforward, confident, and responsible. The wood of kindness and virtue gives forth the fire of propriety. People of a yang fire nature are amiable and modest; they understand principles and never complain. This gives rise to the earth of honesty. People of a yang earth nature are faithful, honest, hard-working, simple, and generous. This gives rises to bright metal. People of a yang metal nature are trustworthy, direct, decisive, alert, and willing to admit their own faults. Then the water of wisdom is generated. People of a yang water nature are gentle, get along well with people, and are willing to stay at low level. This in turn generates the wood of kindness and virtue.
The nature of yin is mutual destruction. People of a yin wood nature are mostly disobedient, tough, and short-tempered, and they talk back in a vulgar fashion. This destroys earth. People of a yin earth nature are stubborn, inflexible, narrow-minded, like to harbor resentment, and have many complaints. Earth spoils water. People of a yin water nature are dull, slow, prone to worry and grief, indecisive, and anxious. Water in turn destroys fire. People of a yin fire nature are impatient, argumentative, boastful, inclined to gossip about others' faults, inclined to hatred, and not open and bright. Fire then destroys metal. People of a yin metal nature are cruel, jealous, pretentious, fond of arguing, easily afflicted, and indecisive. This metal destroys wood.
Internally, if one's own five elements are yin in nature, then one harms one'’s own five internal organs. Anger harms the liver; resentment hurts the spleen; affliction harms the kidneys; hatred hurts the heart; and irritation hurts the lungs. As a result, all kinds of ailments occur. When the external five elements are not in harmony, people contend with each other and nations attack one another. Prior to any civilization, the primitive people fought with their fists—this kind of warfare belongs to earth. Later they fought with clubs, since wood destroys earth, so that was warfare dominated by wood. Since swords are superior to wood, metal destroys wood and there is warfare characterized by metal. Guns and cannons are superior to swords, so when fire destroys metal, that is the warfare of fire. The modern-day hydrogen bomb uses the essence of water and thus overcomes fire. So water destroys fire and the warfare of water evolved. When the Japanese invaded China or “middle earth,” many people were killed; that was the development of wood destroying earth. And yet everything has something which overcomes it; thus wood was eventually destroyed by metal. Thus after Japan suffered two atomic bombs dropped on them by the West, the red sun sank. Unexpectedly, twenty years later, the wood is flourishing again. Japan rises from the east again and has become one of the economic powers in the world.
Let us take a look at the difference between the appearance of a Buddha and the appearance of human beings. How does the Buddha differ from human beings? People who are predominantly of the metal, wood, and fire natures tend to be thin and have pointed features. They are also tough and mean in character. Thus they need to be regulated with water and also learn the honesty of earth. For some people, as they grow older and become more gentle in temperament, their facial features will also become fuller. People with a water nature are plump; they have more fat. People of an earth nature are physically strong and muscular. People of a water nature cannot take pressure. If water does not combine well with earth, it turns into mud. Thus they are mostly melancholic. They are often hurt by others or by themselves. When pressure is applied to water contained in a small bottle, it will cause the bottle to explode. Hence they must expand their minds to be as vast as the ocean, which can both carry and hold things. Further, water can also cause the myriad things to grow, and it stays in the lowest place. Therefore, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are all slightly plump and full in appearance; this is the manifestation of the water of wisdom. The saints of other religions, such as Saint Mary, also have a plump appearance.
The Buddha spoke of the five precepts, which are the precepts against killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and taking intoxicants. Confucius talked about the five virtues, which are humanness, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and trustworthiness. And the Venerable Master advocates the six great principles of no fighting, no greed, no seeking, no selfishness, no self-benefiting, and no lying. All of them coincide with the five elements. First of all, no fighting prohibits killing and enables one to develop patience. The unmoving nature gives rise to the wood of kindness and virtue. No greed prohibits stealing and advocates righteousness. It brings forth bright metal. No seeking is against sexual misconduct. As a result, the fire of propriety is produced. No selfishness is against lying, which gives rise to the trustworthiness and honesty of earth. No self-benefiting is against the taking of intoxicants, and thus the nature is not confused. Consequently, the water of wisdom appears. Thus the truth of the world is that the fundamental teachings are mutually interrelated. We must recognize the basics and personally apply them in our cultivation. Then we will be one with the Way and have a response with the Dharma.
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