All Dharmas Concurrently Present

Yutang Lin

Apparent or invisible according to conditions,
Neither coming nor going.
All dharmas concurrently present,
Neither born nor deceased.
In reality empty yet wonderfully appear,
Neither dirty nor clean.
Ultimate liberation and compassionate salvation,
Transcending time and space.


Contents of experiences remain a totality consisting of all kinds of sensations and feelings. For conveniences they are artificially distinguished and labeled by names and classifications. In rough and ordinary usage a unit of experiences so distinguished is called a "thing."

In Buddhist terminology the word "dharma" has many kinds of meanings. Depending on the context it could mean the reason, the rule or law, the teachings, etc. It is also used to refer to any "thing" as explained above. When "dharma" means a thing, "all dharmas" refers to all sorts of contents of experiences, and "dharmadhatu" refers to the realm or collection of all things. These are the only meanings we have in mind when we use "dharma," "all dharmas" and "dharmadhatu" below.

According to the order of what are experienced the distinction of past, present and future is made. Ordinarily it is taken for granted that, what was in the past is gone beyond retrieve, what is in the present is evolving and could instantaneously become impermanent, and what will be in the future has not arrived yet and are difficult to forecast. Time travels in one direction without rest. Therefore, all dharmas in the dharmadhatu are subject to coming and going, born and deceased, and increasing and decreasing.

In accordance with the experiences of Buddhist practitioners, however, it is possible to have vivid vision of the past that is even distant beyond one birth, and to foresee things to come in the future. To understand and to attain such extraordinary experiences the concept of "dharmadhatu" need to be infinitely expanded. In other words, dharmadhatu should be understood to include all dharmas in the past, in the present and in the future. Furthermore, all these dharmas are to be understood as concurrently present in the dharmadhatu. From the point of view of our limited experiences, some dharmas satisfy certain conditions and thereby appear to constitute the present, while the rest of all dharmas in the dharmadhatu are either fading into the past or not discovered yet. From the point of view of the dharmadhatu as a totality, all dharmas are neither coming nor going, neither born nor deceased, and neither increasing nor decreasing.

Contents of experiences are vivid on the spot and yet cannot be grasped. Even though scientific technology can create recurrences of sounds, images, fragrances, tastes, etc., nevertheless, all sensations by themselves remain drifting and illusive. While definite and vivid experiences seem to be reality; yet drifting and impossible to grasp render experiences no different from illusion. Could the Buddhist phrase of "in reality empty yet wonderfully present" be referring to this situation? The nature of all dharmas are similarly thus, neither illusive nor real. As far as this is concerned, all dharmas are completely equal and free from the distinction of being dirty or clean.

The Heart Sutra in explaining the characteristics of Blank Essence (Emptiness) says, "Neither born nor deceased, neither dirty nor clean, and neither increasing nor decreasing." From the point of view of the limitless dharmadhatu and the nature of all dharmas, the saying remains valid.

The view of dharmadhatu as limitless and encompassing past, present and future concurrently would seem impossible to reach from daily life. It would seem purely theoretical or even vain talk. However, in order to attain ultimate liberation through the Buddhist path and to accomplish salvation activities that transcend the limitations of time and space through prayers and Dharma practices, one needs to adopt this view by faith and recognize it as the truth, and then practice in the light of this view. Only then could one hope to attain realizations. May devoted Buddhist practitioners treasure this teaching and gain deep understanding and realization in it.

Please read also my work "Reaching Past, Present and Future," written on July 10, 2000.

Written in Chinese on August 16, 2000
Translated on August 17, 2000
El Cerrito, California

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