Universal Unity and Great Perfection
A talk given by Guru Yutang Lin
Reviewed and Revised by Guru Lin
The topic is "Universal Unity and Great Perfection." Actually when I saw the title given by Julita, it was the first time I encountered the term "Universal Unity." (Note: Later Julita told me that she got this term from my earlier works, but I failed to remember this coinage of mine.) But, instead of trying to change what is given, you know, I applied Dharma by accommodating to the given. And, so what I say will be based on my understanding of Dharma, the Universal Unity, but it may not be the one she intended. To illustrate my points, first, we talk about Universal Unity by talking about a river, the Vistula, that we are living with here in Warsaw. On the map, or on some satellite image, people who know can point out and say, "Oh, this is the beginning of the river; this is the end of the river." Following this kind of thinking, you know, some religion argues that, well, since everything has a beginning, if you trace back enough, there must be a first beginning, and they call this first beginning as the "God" that created everything. And if you don’t look at the reality close enough, you might think, oh, it sounds reasonable. But, if you look at the river closer, you see that where, it's a flowing body of water, and where does the water come from? It came from rain, from snow, from ice, from things that are near the river and goes underground, go up to the sky. So, if we look at it closely, actually what is called "a river" is a very complicated thing that’s related to everything in its environment.
Once you see the reality, where is the beginning? You cannot point to any place say, oh, this is the beginning. So, in Buddhism they say, you know, if you look at things closer, you find that the real fact is that everything related, everything inter-dependant and affecting one another. So, this view of everything as a totality, related, inseparable, not like what we have in mind, we can say this is different, this is different, but actually they all come together as one. I think this is what she meant as "Universal Unity."
And, when you can see things as such, you—there is a possibility that you see that what you usually called as "oneself" or "one thing," actually it’s an abstraction; in reality it’s inseparable from the rest. So, from this point of view, you no longer insist that, oh, only this small one is most important; er, you see that it’s related to all; so, for this one to be improved, it takes all. So, your mind opens up to the whole world. So, this concept of "Universal Unity" is a way to help you open up. But, when you use this concept in the context of Buddhism, there’s one point you have to be cautious about. Because from the other point of view—they say everything is created by God, they can say, "Oh, it's a kind of "Universal Unity"—everything is created by God. So, usually when I introduced this concept, the term I used is called "Limitless Oneness." "Oneness" tells us that it’s all related, and "Limitlessness" tells us that there’s no outside boundary. If there’s no outside boundary, then there’s nothing outside this, so there’s no creator God. Logically speaking, you know, it’s a contradictory concept. On the one hand, you say "limitless"; on the other hand, you say "oneness." If there’s no limit, where can you point "the one"? But this is unavoidable because what Dharma is trying to point out is something beyond concepts. So, to point at the thing that's beyond concepts, you have to use concepts that seem contradictory. But, any teaching in Buddhism is just an educational tool to help you realize something beyond. So, a paradoxical concept, as long as it's useful, we can rely on it.
The other way to free us from the—what we are used to—the limitation of a concept of a "self" is to—because the limitations are in our minds only, our concepts limit us, limit how we look at things—so, to free us from concepts that are limiting us, we need other concepts to counter this pre-existing concepts. And traditionally the basic concept of Buddhism in this aspect is called, translated as, "Emptiness" or "Emptiness Nature." Why do we use this kind of concept? Because we are limited by the distinction of concepts, to free you from this kind of distinctions, you need a concept that tells you, oh, everything basically the same—you can ignore the man-made self-imposed concepts. So, this concept is called "Empty Nature." And why, why is it called "empty"? Because, if it's universal, common to all, then it cannot have its own specific qualifications. But "Emptiness" is not very good a term to use because people can misunderstand it as saying, oh, there is nothing. But we are experiencing everything; how can it be nothing? So, instead I proposed a term called "Blank Essence." "Essence" is the same as "nature," common to all, right? But to describe its lack of any specific qualification I used the term "Blank" because it’s like a blank TV monitor, blank computer monitor, you know. Before you turn it on, nothing, it’s all the same; but once you turn it on, everything shows up. So, using the description "blank" is very helpful because, on the one hand, it shows, oh, everything is basically the same but without specific qualifications, but on the other hand, it says it’s not nothing.
When you use the term "Universal Unity" or "Limitless Oneness," the function of that kind of view is to help us to open up our minds. It’s not only to see openly, widely, but also open your heart—you feel for everyone. And when we use the terms, the concepts of "Empty Nature" or "Blank Essence," the basic point is teaching us to forget the distinctions that we grasped in our minds. And these two types of concepts, they complement each other because without giving up your prejudices, your grasping, your attachments, how can you really open up? And on the other hand, without looking beyond oneself, looking at the whole world, looking at all sentient beings, how can you become free from your little "self"? So they complement each other. And all Buddhist teachings are not just theories for you to think and talk; they aim at directing your life so your life will become freer, er, better. So you become more compassion, more tolerant. So, in applying Buddha’s teaching to our daily life, the two principles, is, one is open up, the other one is letting go of graspings. So, this is very important because even though the topic is about an abstract thing, we now know how to apply it to our daily life.
Now, how does "Universal Unity" relate to the "Great Perfection"? Great Perfection is very different from all other teachings because most of the teachings are step-by-step ones, in the sense that since we are so limited, a little person, used to self-centered things, then you have to gradually learn how to open up and become bigger, greater, and become Bodhisattva, eventually become Buddha. So, most teachings are step-by-step, and actually we do need to carry on like that—step-by-step, you know, to become freer inside. And because of the development through history, you know, in Great Perfection you also find, oh, this kind of practice, this kind of—something, as if it is also step-by-step, gradual. But actually the very specific point of the teaching on Great Perfection is that, it is not about step-by-step things. It is actually telling us what a Buddha’s state is. And from a Buddha’s point of view, all the things that we cling to are illusive, not there. So, if you can really see this and live like that, then you are Buddha. There’s no step to take, and also I think why it is called "Great Perfection" is like this: Because from Buddha’s point of view, the whole totality is in oneness. So, if we look at some part of it, you say, oh, today the river water is higher; oh, next month, the river water is lower. But from Buddha’s view, He sees all—the water (the totality). So, whether it appears to be high or low here (at some point), it’s still somewhere here (in the totality of water). And from our partial view, we say, "Oh, this is good; this is bad." But from the whole totality point of view, this is just—whether it’s good or bad to you, it’s just a result of everything working together and inescapable; it’s just like that. So, from the whole totality point of view, no increasing no decreasing, no good no bad; it’s just something that’s going on, going on, going on all the time. You cannot add anything, you cannot take anything out. So, from the whole totality point of view, everything as it is, it’s perfect! But, of course it’s very difficult for us to adopt this kind of view because it’s beyond our imagination, and how can we let go of what we are used to? So, we still need to rely on the daily Dharma practices. And these Dharma practices basically their function is to help you unlearn your personal background, your cultural background, even your background as a human being. That’s why most practices are repetition of simple acts. When you repeat a simple mantra or Buddha’s name, or do the prostrations, if you do it year after year, when you are doing it, you're free from many things. But this is still very difficult to reach the state of Buddha because that one is limitless. We are so limited, so small, so I introduced the concept called "Great Harmony."
And what is meant by "Great Harmony" is that, whatever practices you are doing, Dharma practices, you visualize that all beings in the whole Dharmadhatu are doing it with you simultaneously. So, for example, if you are doing the prostrations, before you know this concept, no matter how long you do, you think of it as—oh, I am doing it; you cannot escape from the "I." But now we start to think, oh, before I start the prostration, I think of all sentient beings are doing the prostration to all Buddhas, all Holy Beings. And, of course, at the beginning it makes no big difference—you are still thinking "I am doing this." But you see, your concept of a "self" started when you were very, very little, so it took lifetime to cultivate that concept. So, it’s impossible that we can undo this in very short time. But it’s very important that you understand why we do this kind of thinking, and start practice with this kind of openness. And if you are truly devoted and make great efforts, then there is a possibility that you can actually reach the state of Buddha. And this concept is called "Great Harmony" because, no matter you are doing practice at which stage, if you think of this, at once you are connected with the whole Dharmadhatu, with the whole Dharmakaya. So the step-by-step approach and the at-once-universal approach are harmonized.
So, after I explained this, even though we are talking about Great Perfection which has no steps, but we now know how to bring that into our practices. And, that’s what I have to say so far, and I’m very happy to see someone so young already interested in the Great Perfection. And if you have questions, welcome to raise it, yah. And we have some offerings there for people to take. And, I also want them to know the websites, because my writings, you know, mainly they can get from there. And we even have a Polish website.
Q1: There’s question about this "Perfection" of the reality as it is: "If it is so, then also as if kind of logical, that our confusion is also kind of "perfect"…"
A: Yah, that is—you have to know the basic difference is—it’s not from personal view, it’s from the point of view of the whole totality. Because the whole thing is so complicated, and they run into this way, no one can change it. That is the meaning of "Great Perfection." Of course, we still talk about personal sufferings; sure. And it is very good that she brought up this question because then we can have the question "what’s the use of your Great Perfection view?" We are not there; we are still suffering, what’s the point? It is precisely because when we say that all are in oneness, it’s not just a concept, but it’s a spiritual reality. When you—anyone of us—purify yourself to the point that you really go beyond self-set limitations, then because you are actually in that reality of oneness, you can reach out and help many; it doesn’t rely on any, er, wireless thing or anything. Just the practitioner’s prayer, mind set to this, and the other side will sense the result almost immediately. And it’s precisely because we have experiences of this kind, so we decided that it’s worth our lifetime to devote to Dharma. But it’s not something that you can experience just by—oh, I try it a little bit, I do it a few days, I forgot about it; no, it’s not like that. But it is also impossible to tell people, oh, you have to devote your life to this, when they have no (such) experiences.
However, as a Dharma practitioner who have experiences in doing the Dharma practices, I can tell you that if you are sincere in doing the practices with the view to help all sentient beings, then gradually you'll sense the benefits, the experiences, yourself. And because gradually you will be able to experience it, so I can tell you this for you to try, because, otherwise, how can I convince anyone?
Q2: Are you referring now to Tonglen, this practice of receiving and the inhaling…?
A: Oh, not just that, any Dharma practice you do, and after long years, you sense the power of prayers. And if you understand the basic teachings say all are in oneness, then there’s no reason why you cannot do this because it’s actually "no distance"—that kind of oneness. When we say "no limitation," we mean no time, no space limitations. So, I can pray for people on the other side of the earth, and they can sense it.
So, at the beginning, of course, you rely on this practice, that practice, but the end result is just a matter of spiritual purity. When you are pure, you can do this.
Q3: Another question about this spiritual purity. That is somehow contradiction to feeling for other beings because how to remove all thinking, or keep thinking but pure. What is better?
A: Oh, you have to go beyond thinking because thinking will certainly set limitations. And when you go beyond thinking, the compassion is natural. It is not something that you have to say "I learned it"; no, you really feel it. But it also takes some practices to help you cultivate this compassion; for example, you feed the birds.
Q4: At the very beginning all that in Buddhism there is no such concept like some external or outer god. But, couple minutes ago, you talked about prayer. So, to whom we are praying in Buddhism?
A: Remember the basic concept is "Oneness." So, when you pray, it’s self-help from the totality point of view. For example, you sense—oh, it’s itching here, you scratch it. It’s same like that. We are in oneness; I realize that they are suffering, naturally try to help. It’s this kind, yah.
Q5: So it's kind of wishing, just making wishes?
A: Yah, no. Because I receive so many requests every day. Just tell me your name, problem, that’s all. I don’t even think, yah, because too many.
Q6: I understood that practicing in somebody’s intention—with the intention of helping somebody—is the highest way of helping. But, also from what you have said, I understood that practice can be everything, everything can be practice.
A: Yah, possible. But, for example, you say, oh, now I know someone has a problem, I pray for this person. The key point here is, I pray not because I personally know this one or this one is my relative or family, but because this one is one of all sentient beings. This kind of prayer works—you have to open up.
Q7: If I see somebody suffering and I kind of—I also kind of smile to him or sort of hug him in my heart, and that’s also a prayer?
A: Yah, that’s helpful, too; but best is—you related to some Dharma practice. For example, you usually chant "Om Mani Bei Mi Hong," then you just chant "Om Mani Bei Mi Hong"—that way your practice and your compassion go together. The reason that we rely on some Dharma related practices because when you believe in it and practice it, Buddha’s blessing also goes with it. So, it’s beyond just your, your ability.
Q8: How do you…view Jesus?—because you included Him into your practices. He, having come from the religion which is monotheistic, and he’s, for you, the son of one God or somebody else? How do you view Him?—because the Christian Church thinks that he belongs to them, and sometimes different churches define him differently—they fight over this definition.
A: Oh, but Buddhism thinks that, you know, Buddha and Bodhisattvas, to save all kind of beings, they show different ways, they appear differently. And so, you know, based on my teacher's and my own experiences, we believe that Jesus is also a transformation of Avalokitesvara. Because in the past my Guru, Yogi Chen, and his Dharma friend, Garma C. C. Chang, they have—each one had a related dream. One saw someone brought a box of gift saying inside is Jesus, and when opened up, it's Guan Yin. And the other one said, inside is Guan Yin, and opened up, it's Jesus. So, this—led to the belief, you know, Jesus was the transformation. And my own experiences, is that, before I study—when I started to study Buddhism, I also studied Bible. But, at that time I didn’t see Jesus. But, after I have chanted Amitabha's Buddha Name for over four million, I saw Jesus several times in my dream. So this, to me, indicates that it’s not a human-made distinction of this religion, that religion, but a matter of spiritual purity. When you are pure, we can communicate. And in the dream, you know, Jesus appeared as, with long hair up to here (shoulders) and wearing a white robe, long robe. And He gave me a short robe, but same quality, same color—white. And inside the short robe, the lining has Chinese Sutras written on it. So, this means, you know, inside is still Buddhist teaching.
And if we remember that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas appear differently to different people, you think at that time to those people it's only suitable for Him to appear like that to help them—move forth upward a little bit. And we are reporting these experiences truthfully, without other intentions. So, we are not asserting anything, except to tell you that through our experiences it could be understood as this.
Q9: In Christianity there is huge diversion of glorifying suffering; is that contrary to the Dharma, or the Buddhist point of view?
A: Well, all teachings are relative. To them at that level, that is the important part to showing that, in order to save the world, you know, He sacrificed. So, you have to look at it as a system of theory, in that part that’s important, yah. And Dharma has also many different level, different theories. Also, in Buddha Sakyamuni’s past-life stories, there are also all kind of appearances and sacrifices.
Finally, you know, come to a very essential point is that, we have talked about principles, high ideals, but for your own spiritual growth, most important is a fixed daily practice. Do it every day, then you will really see the difference, yah. And, most of us are, you know, have many things to do in life, you don’t have much time, much energy. So, basically I suggest that you do some repetition—mantra or Buddha name, and do prostration, that’s also good exercise. Without actually doing Dharma practices like this, no matter how much you study Buddhism, you cannot really gain its benefits. So I have told you all the important things.
July 11, 2014