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General Outline of Buddhism

岳興華 文 By Xinhua Yue
逸蓮 英譯 English translation by Yilian






Someone asks: "Is a person's birth caused by voluntary will, or does it happen passively according to the dictates of fate? Answer: Neither, and both. The Buddhadharma's profound wonder is right here. You must study in depth until this question is no longer a contradiction, and then you will understand the Twelve Causal Conditions. These twelve factors encompass two types of cause and effect in the three periods of time. Ignorance and activity pertain to past life causes. Consciousness, name and form, the six entrances, contact, and feeling cover past karma of delusion, which is the cause for present life retribution—this is the cause and effect of past and present. Craving, grasping, and existence pertain to causes created in the present life and retributions of the future—the relationship between present and future. Causes in the present life incur the result of future birth, old age, and death. This explanation is based upon the commentaries of the Twelve Causal Conditions given by virtuous masters. I read those commentaries several times and found them difficult to understand. That is why I have gone over them. As links connecting our past, present, and future lives, the Twelve Causal Conditions reveal the realities of transmigration.

Ignorance is the primary cause of our birth, yet it is an abstract concept. In general, it refers to confusion, especially the confusion of intelligent people. For example, when people break the laws and cause trouble, is that not confusion? Those who don't believe in cause and effect dare to do anything. Are they not confused? They think they are quite smart and gain many advantages this way. They keep their plans, which may involve taking human life, secret even from their wife and children. The ignorance which leads them to secret malice may be concealed from others for their whole lives, but if they do not fall into the three evil paths, then there is no justice. Thus, an ignorant person is not necessarily a simpleton. It is actually the most intelligent people who may be truly ignorant. In examining ignorance, we should start by seriously examining our own minds and the way we conduct ourselves when we are alone.

Activity refers to our conduct in past lives. Working is our first duty. Every person should work, and within this good and evil can be differentiated. This is the pivotal point of activity. If we complete our duties, then that is good. If we are confused by ignorance and led by our seventh consciousness to think of ourselves as most important and benefit ourselves at the expense of others, then our handling of all matters great and small is "the activity of ignorance." Ignorance's influence is pervasive. To escape it, we have to study Buddhism and work unconditionally, no matter what the wages are. We should spend only as much as we earn, and wages and scholarships should be our only sources of wealth. In this way, we can turn ignorance into understanding.

Consciousness: The karmic causes of past activity lead to the rebirth of the defiled karmic consciousness, which is the invisible representative of the person that is born. It is all we are before we are born. As for the functions of our present consciousness, most people know only that the mind exists but not where it is located; few are aware of the existence of consciousness. As for the term "consciousness," it was only after Great Master Hsuan Tsang translated Asanga Bodhisattva's Consciousness-Only Treatise that people started to study Con­sciousness-Only. Actually, consciousness is just mind, and mind is just consciousness. Mind is the substance of consciousness; consciousness is the functioning of mind. What is called "consciousness" at the causal stage is known as "mind" at the stage of fruition. At the beginning of life, that which comes to be born is the alaya consciousness, which is the Thus Come One's Treasury (Tathagatagarbha) combined with ignorance. The Thus Come One's Treasury is the seed of all dharmas; it's also called the storehouse consciousness. It con­stantly understands and discriminates the states manifested from the inherent consciousness (fundamental states that serve as seeds); and the other consciousnesses are produced from the alaya consciousness. The Shurangama Sutra says, "True consciousness is the Thus Come One's Treasury, the pure mind of their inherent nature." The Treatise on the Awakening of Faith defines the store consciousness as the substance of consciousness, which is defiled and pure and which is born from a union of the True Mind and ignorance. The delusion of fundamental ignorance of the karmic consciousness causes our original mind to become the "transformed consciousness"; the karmic consciousness is transformed and acquires the ability to perceive. The "manifesting consciousness" has the ability to perceive and also to manifest the false states that are perceived. These three consciousnesses comprise the substance division, the seeing division, and the marks division of the alaya consciousness.

To be continued


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