Altar Sutra: On Prajna: Part 3

The Prajna that is within each of us is like rain. The moisture in it hydrates every living thing. When rivers reach the ocean, the water carried by them merges into one body.

When there is a great flood, plants that don’t have deep roots are washed away. This is the case of those who don’t listen attentively when they hear teachings like these.

The Prajna in them is the same as that within the very wise, but they still fail to Awaken when they become aware of the Dharma.

Why?
Because they are deeply trapped in delusion, in the same way that a dark cloud can block us from seeing the sun.

We all have the same level of Prajna, the only difference is in regard to how much of our delusions we have cleared away.

One who is under the delusion that Buddhahood can be attained by the right rituals is mistaken.
One who knows the teaching of the ‘Sudden’ School and attaches no importance to rituals, and who holds right views, and is free from hindrances, is said to know Buddha nature.

Hui-neng taught the philosophy of the Sudden School. This philosophy is the standard doctrine of Ch’an Buddhism, but it was facing a competing doctrine in Hui-neng’s time. The Sudden School teaching states that Awakening can come upon us at any time. It can come over a period of many years or it can come all at once in an instant. The reason for this variation is because we all have Buddha nature. So, because our true nature is to be Awakened, it will come whenever we are ready for it.

The mind should be outside of the dominant paradigm, existing in a way in which it can be free: free from attachment and Enlightened without being clouded by delusion.
One who can do this is fulfilling the standards required by the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutras.

Different sutras and texts were provided to fulfill the needs of different people. It is on the principle that we all have Prajna within us that these doctrines are based.

Since some are teachers and some are students, the teachers lead the students when it is requested. Through this the students can attain sudden enlightenment and their minds can become illuminated.
Then they are no different from their teachers.

A flash of Enlightenment is enough to make any living being the equal of a Buddha. Since Buddha nature is our true nature, there is no reason why we shouldn’t have an intuitive understanding of the Truth.

The Bodhisattva Sila Sutra says, “Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure, and if we knew our mind and realized what our nature is, all of us would attain Buddhahood.”

As the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra says, “At once they become enlightened and regain their own mind.”

When the Fifth Patriarch taught me I became Enlightened immediately and suddenly realized the nature of the Truth. For this reason I am spreading the teaching of this ‘Sudden’ School, so that students can find Awakening and realize their true nature.

If a student is struggling, they should ask those further on the path who understand the teachings of the Highest school to guide them. It is an exalted position, being a spiritual teacher, one who guides others to Awakening.

Through the assistance of a teacher, one can be initiated into the path of the Awakened.
One the other hand, there are those who bring themselves to Awakening. It’s wrong to insist that Awakening can only come in a specific, traditional context.

Why?

Because other people don’t Enlighten us. It’s with our own Buddha nature that we Enlighten ourselves. A teacher can show you the door, but they can’t push you through it. You have to walk through yourself. We must use Prajna to eradicate our delusions. Then, we become Enlightened.

There is a Buddhist proverb that says that a good spiritual teacher is nothing more than a finger pointing at the moon. The teacher can point the way for us, but it’s no use if we aren’t willing to look up and see the moon for ourselves.

When we use Prajna to look within, we are illuminated and we come to know our own minds. To know our mind is to Awaken. To Awaken is to dwell in wisdom, intuition that is beyond thought.
What is beyond thought?

It is to see and know with a mind that is not attached. When in use it is pervading but doesn’t stick anywhere.

What we have to do is purify our minds so they can’t be caught up in delusion.
When our minds are free of the five hindrances, then we attain Awakening. This is called the mind beyond thought.

The Five Hindrances are: Desire, Aversion, Restlessness, Sloth, and Doubt.
These are things that we all experience on the path. Being aware of these hindrances is the first step in overcoming them.

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About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg is an independent dharma teacher living in Kansas City. He gives online teachings through the Open Heart Project. He also runs the Monday Night Zen Group at the Rime Buddhist Center. His writing has appeared in Lion's Roar, Patheos, Tattooed Buddha, and Elephant Journal.

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