Truth and Liberation

Written in Chinese by Dr. Yutang Lin
Translated by Stanley Lam
Edited by Dr. Lin and Ann Klein



Table of Content
I. Truth

   1. Not Limited by Time and Space

   2. Not Confined by Appearance
   3. Beyond Dispute
   4. Determined by Causes and Conditions
   5. Natural Timing
II. Liberation
   1. Not Entanglement
   2. Not in Grasping
   3. Not by Contrivance
   4. Aim at Liberation
   5. Naturally Tranquil

III. Unification of Truth and Liberation

IV. The Epitome of Attainment

V. Practice in Daily Life

Unification of the Eight Stages at This Instant




How do we solve the various problems encountered while living a life of Buddhist practice? Through my experiences of groping on the path, two directional principles have gradually emerged- Truth and Liberation. Relying on these two principles, it is usually easier to make decisions as to what to do and not do, and what to follow and not pursue. Therefore, I am writing this short essay to explain briefly these two principles with the hope that it will be of use to devoted Buddhist practitioners.

I. Truth

If we are to analyze "truth" in detail, we would need to touch upon the fundamental assumptions and limitations of scientific knowledge, the boundaries of human cognition, and the relativeness of the "truths" as held by various ethnic, political or religious groups, so as to demonstrate the transcendence of what Buddha's teachings are pointing at. Nevertheless, since the purpose of this essay is only to provide guiding principles for the path of Buddhist practice, the above topics will not be discussed here.

Buddhist theories are also classified as "ultimate" or "non-ultimate" teachings. Furthermore, it is also clearly pointed out that the Ultimate is beyond description, comprehension, possession and grasping, and is primordially "as such." This essay is written for genuine practitioners, so there is no need to elaborate on these theoretical issues.

This essay simply provides, in accordance with the attributes of the Truth, a guide for practitioners as to what to pursue and what not to follow:

1. Not Limited by Time and Space

What Buddhist teachings are ultimately referring to cannot be limited by time and space; hence, on the one hand, the Dharma is correctly applicable everywhere for all eternity and can be recommended to anyone at anytime, anywhere; on the other hand, because it is difficult to have a glimpse of or realize the Ultimate, the Dharma would not necessarily be received with faith by someone at a particular time and place. Once this point is understood, a practitioner will not consider any sentient being as unreachable, nor any particular sentient being as necessarily to be saved by one. There exist natural and uncontrived conditions for the spreading of the Dharma and a practitioner's coming into contact with sentient beings; transmission of the Dharma is independent of how it appears to be at some particular time and place.

2. Not Confined by Appearance

The rise and fall of worldly affairs is a manifestation of the complex common Karma, whereas the Truth cannot be confined by any appearance. Once this point is understood, a practitioner will not be misguided by neither fame or defamation nor prosperity or poverty in the mundane world; nor will he or she mistake any worldly selection or rejection and any gathering or scattering of followers as indicators of advancement or regression on the path of practice. When a practitioner is practicing or spreading the Dharma, he or she should reflect upon the motives of these activities asking whether they are merely superficial activities aimed at gaining respect and followers, or sincere endeavors, done earnestly as if in front of all Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and sentient beings, for the attainment of Enlightenment and the spreading of Dharma.

3. Beyond Dispute

Although theories can point out a path or direction, however they do not enable people to realize reality as such. Facts are unrelated to eloquence, fabrication, unsound assertions, or one-sided claims. On the contrary, disputes will result in creating further departure from the truth, and even become obstacles. Explanation of Buddhist teachings can only be given to people who are open to it; otherwise, it becomes wasted efforts. It is better to save the efforts for teaching those who are earnest. Giving explanation to unreasonable people would seem like arguing with them; if it is in accordance with the truth, why should one be preoccupied with the verbal performance at the present moment? Only after we have given up arguing with others can we have a calm mind to make good use of our time for Buddhist practice. As time goes by, the truth will gradually become known; so why bother to argue now? Usually, disputes would reinforce people's grasping of their own ideas, rendering the truth difficult to discern. If disputes are left to be settled by the test of time, they will become separated from the antagonism of oneself and others, and only the truth will survive. Practitioners who do not have selfish motives must be able to remain tolerant with this kind of non-disputation.

4. Determined by Causes and Conditions

All phenomena exist relatively, depending upon the combination and dissolution of multiple conditions. Given a certain set of conditions, a certain result necessarily follows, hence it is said that "the connection between cause and effect is immutable." Due to changes in conditions, there follows changes in phenomena; hence, one's life is not predetermined. Once these points are understood, a practitioner who aims at transcending Samsara should, in the face of the infinitely complex flux of common Karma accumulated since beginningless time, on the one hand, practice confession and purification to remedy the past, and on the other hand, practice diligently for a better future. In this way, liberation from Samsara, realization of Enlightenment, and benefiting others through Dharma activities can all be reasonably expected. All things are determined by causes and conditions, so one should be earnest and thorough in practice in order to uncover the clear luminescence which is primordially pure.

5. Natural Timing

All things are determined by causes and conditions; hence, even though one may work hard, the results cannot be forced. All causes and conditions in the past have vanished; they can no longer be grasped. All causes and conditions for the future will gradually ripen; there is no need to be expectant. A practitioner should only persevere in practicing and spreading the Dharma in order to cultivate the seed of Enlightenment; whereas the eventual flowering and ripening of fruits will naturally occur when the time comes. Once this point is understood, a practitioner will have no complaint, no comparison, no inclination or aversion, and no envy or jealousy, but naturally be content with his or her lot and enjoy practicing along the path.

The five points above are all in accordance with attributes of the Truth, and they point out what to pursue and what not to follow for a practitioner. Following these guidelines would enable a practitioner to stay away from being hollow and impatient, but to remain earnest and persevering.

II. Liberation

The Dharma clearly indicates that the path for returning to primordial luminescence is to break away from the confinement of biased and delusive attachments. Therefore, all Buddhist practices emphasize relief from confinement and entanglement. Since this is the path leading to liberation, practitioners need to be keenly aware of the following five points:

1. Not Entanglement

Although a practitioner may want to practice the Dharma, his or her habitual way of life and grasping may still persist. Consequently, even after a practitioner has taken steps that bear the appearance of renunciation, he or she may still constantly encounter hindrances due to entanglement in thoughts and activities. The practitioner may fall into various snares and yet unable to recognize or disengage from them. Therefore, a practitioner should always beware of whether one's thoughts, speech and activities have fallen into entanglement. Once entanglement is detected, not only should one make corrective changes, but also reflect on what the illusion or grasping in the mind is, and then work on purging it. If, with the passage of time or changes in the environment, one discovers that some Dharma colleagues have departed from the correct path to liberation, then one should yield and stay away from those people in order to concentrate on the spreading and transmission of the pure Dharma.

2. Not in Grasping

There is nothing to be grasped in terms of the primordial purity, hence progress on the path of practice is unrelated to grasping. Although spreading the Dharma could make use of organizations, propaganda, charitable activities, social events, etc., one should not mistake the means for the goal and become absorbed in the operation of these activities to the extent that not much time is available for the study and practice of the Dharma. Although transmission of the Dharma could make use of formal establishment of schools and lineages to make the presence of true Dharma well-known, one should guard against mistaking what is nominal as being substantial and pursuing formality, at the expense of real practice and realization. Although construction of buildings and holy statues may add convenience and grandeur to Dharma activities, one must not thereby indulge in extensive solicitation or even power struggles. In short, whether or not one has renounced the worldly is not a matter of appearance, but rather a matter of one's ability to renounce grasping.

3. Not by Contrivance

While the path of practice does consist of advancing in stages, and the propagation of the Dharma entails observation of recipients and conditions; the motive is simply to act in accordance with a factual assessment of the situation, but not to contrive toward some goal. All intentional scheming and planning springs from grasping and yearning, hence they are precisely regress on the path to liberation. The goal of attaining Buddhahood can be realized only through "non-yearning." Whoever grasps on to contrivance, the longer he or she practices, will stray further from the right path toward Enlightenment.

4. Aim at Liberation

Although in Buddhist Tantra there are practices characterized as belonging to "the path of lust," "the path of hatred," "the path of ignorance" and so on, which use "poisons as antidotes to poisons," their purpose is to achieve "liberation within phenomena," in other words, to realize "form is Sunyata, Sunyata is form." Therefore, these practices are not within the capacity of novice practitioners, and should not become an excuse for unrestrained and indulgent behavior.

Buddhist teachings are guidance toward liberation; how could one repay the Buddha's kindness if one becomes tied down by the Dharma! Therefore, we should always keep reminding and encouraging ourselves that we are "aiming at liberation."

5. Naturally Tranquil

The key to liberation is one's primordially pure mental state. If one could cultivate and abide in the primordial luminescence without being torn by environmental upheavals, then one would enjoy a natural tranquillity. Living in such peace, one's life becomes an auspicious harmony. If one stays away from pointless discriminations, does not waste time and efforts on frivolous socializing, is not deluded in yearning for fame and gains, but keeps one's eyes on the relief of suffering and the attainment of happiness for all sentient beings, and devotes one's life, ever diligently, to the practice and spreading of the Dharma, then one will gradually experience such tranquillity of freedom.

III. Unification of Truth and Liberation

Truth and liberation may seem like two guiding principles, but are actually two faces of the same coin. For example: One need not become entangled when the goal is not limited by time and space. There is nothing to grasp when the achievement is not confined by appearance. What is the need for contrivance if the truth is beyond dispute? Because the course of events are determined by causes and conditions, one needs only to aim at liberation and practice diligently. When one deeply believes in natural timing, one will abide in natural tranquillity. Furthermore, when one is naturally tranquil one will clearly perceive that all things have their own timing. Aiming at liberation one would abide by the law of Cause and Effect and dare not yearn for other goals. Since the approach to liberation is not by contrivance, why bother to argue? Since the fruit of liberation is not in grasping, one will not be confined by appearances. Since the goal is to be free from entanglement, one's view and way of life will not be limited by time and space.

In short, liberation is the result of conducting oneself in accordance with the truth, and the truth is attained through living in accordance with liberation. The Dharma points at reality as such, which is completely free from grasping, therefore the attainment of complete liberation is possible. Other religions, in general, hold on to an omnipotent God instead of relying on the truth, hence they cannot guide one toward complete liberation. If a practitioner has any tendency of holding on to the notion of sacredness, it would seem wise to bear in mind this teaching from the Surangama Sutra: "If it is understood in terms of sacredness, then it is under the influence of all deviations."

IV. The Epitome of Attainment

The presentation above is about earnest practice of the Dharma; however, from a worldly or beginners' point of view, it might seem too passive and too difficult to follow in practice. Hence, there is a need to describe briefly the merits of final attainment in order to demonstrate that the path is not passive, evasive or cowardly.

The original teacher of Buddhism, Sakyamuni Buddha, was born a prince who, in his prime, suddenly left his family, throne and all worldly glory and enjoyment behind to live in solitude and practice asceticism in the forest for six years, at the end of which while taking a bath in a river he nearly drowned because of physical exhaustion. From the normal worldly view, all these behaviors of his are not only evading the real world, but also tantamount to madness. How could Siddhartha (Sakyamuni Buddha's given name), who was not mad, persevere in his ardent and perilous pursuit? It was precisely because his mind was no longer limited by time and space, not confined by appearance, beyond dispute, and set on the attainment of liberation, and his behavior was free from entanglement, beyond grasping, and without contrivance. Consequently, at the right time which came naturally, with the understanding that all phenomena are determined by causes and conditions, he attained the naturally tranquil supreme Enlightenment.

After having attained Buddhahood he taught without any contrivance; even until now the spreading and transmission of Buddha's teachings is still going on. How could such kind of salvation, which is not limited by time and space and guides people toward fundamental liberation, be comparable to any worldly career or achievements?

Even though not all practitioners can attain such supreme achievement, earnest and solid practices of a practitioner could inspire others toward goodness and purity; such practitioners could also serve as moral anchors and inspire peace in people's minds. Practitioners with certain realizations usually can relieve others from distress and calamities or increase others' merits or wisdom through prayer and rituals. Such practitioners all started with years and years of diligent practice in humility, and after some spiritual attainment they continue to serve others with modesty but without expectations. Thus it clearly shows that a life of Buddhist practice in accordance with Truth and Liberation can really benefit oneself and others. Ordinary people may have difficulty understanding this fact, but practitioners who have experienced the sweet taste of the Dharma will always struggle for advancement on the path.

V. Practice in Daily Life

However detailed the above explanation on Truth and Liberation may be, the most important thing is to be able to implement these theories into the daily life of a practitioner. Such implementation will be gradually mastered through a practitioner's groping and self-reflection. In brief, a practitioner should live modestly in earnest. Precisely speaking, from the perspective of impermanence, one needs to know how to unify Truth and Liberation at this instant: a practitioner's choice of action at this moment should be in accord with the choice for all beings through all eternity! To further clarify this point, I am providing below a stanza that I have recently written. May it also serve as an auspicious conclusion for this essay.

Unification of the Eight Stages at This Instant

This instant is not different from the moment at death,
Hence all preoccupations in one's mind should be dropped,
Abide in the Limitless-Oneness of all phenomena,
Pray to Buddhas for the liberation of all sentient beings!
Through each hardship encountered, empathize with the suffering of all sentient beings,
Constantly practice tolerance and forgiveness,
Thus the pure light hidden in the mundane world will be recognized,
No more complaints, one remains at ease in life as it evolves naturally.

Written on December 18, 1995
A Study for the Cultivation of Harmony, California
Translated in June, 1996
Richmond, British Columbia, Canada


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