But the Buddha said, “Only after undergoing innumerable hardships for three asankhya kalpas did I achieve enlightenment.” Why do you now say that simply beholding the mind and overcoming the three poisons is liberation?
The words of the Buddha are true. But the three asankhya kalpas refer to the three poisoned states of mind. What we call asankhya in Sanskrit, you call countless. Within these three poisoned states of mind are countless evil thoughts. And every thought lasts a kalpa. Such an infinity is what the Buddha meant by the three asankhya kalpas. …
But the great bodhisattvas have only achieved enlightenment by observing the three sets of precepts and by practicing the six paramitas. Now you tell disciples merely to behold the mind. How can anyone reach enlightenment without cultivating the rules of discipline?
The three sets of precepts are for overcoming the three poisoned states of mind. When you overcome these poisons, you create three sets of limitless virtue. A set gathers things together – in this case, countless good thoughts throughout your mind. And the six paramitas are for purifying the six senses. What we call paramitas, you call means to the other shore. By purifying your six senses of the dust of sensation, the paramitas ferry you across the river of affliction to the shore of enlightenment.
According to the sutras, the three sets of precepts are, “I vow to put an end to all evils. I vow to cultivate all virtues. And I vow to liberate all beings.” But now you say they’re only for controlling the three poisoned states of mind. Isn’t this contrary to the meaning of the scriptures?
The sutras of the Buddha are true. But long ago, when that great bodhisattva was cultivating the seed of enlightenment, it was to counter the three poisons that he made his three vows. Practicing moral prohibitions to counter the poison of greed, he vowed to put an end to all evils. Practicing meditation to counter the poison of anger, he vowed to cultivate all virtues. And practicing wisdom to counter the poison of delusion, he vowed to liberate all beings. Because he persevered in these three pure practices of morality, meditation and wisdom, he was able to overcome the three poisons and reach enlightenment. By overcoming the three poisons, he wiped out everything sinful and thus put an end to evil. By observing the three sets of precepts, he did nothing but good and thus cultivated virtue. And by putting an end to evil and cultivating virtue, he consummated all practices, benefited himself as well as others and rescued mortals everywhere. Thus, he liberated beings.
Bodhidharma is now really facing a question for which he has no answer. The case was the same in last night’s sutra and it continues because the disciples are asking more and more about the ultimate, which simply baffles all knowledge. It is a peace, a silence…there is no answer.