White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

The Lankavatara sutra on Experiences and Experiencing

(Lankavatara sutra 2, 9)

translated by Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi and Tory Cox

[this and many other sections of the Lankavatara sutra with extensive annotations are available as "The Way of Intimate Knowing" through Great Mater Publications]

And then Mahamati said, "Would the Generous One present a discourse on the flowering of Reality, the three natures, the five knowings, consciousness as the knowing of mental objects, reflexivity, and the Ground of All Possible Experiences? Teach me how those opening to Openness and those who are that Openness should practice. Say something to cut through attachment to objectification of what are really just experiences arising within Experiencing itself. Teach the heart of the proclamation of all Buddhas, splitting open the truths that commentaries try to establish through talk and logic, of how that which is experienced arises in the Place of All Possible Experiences like waves moving on the ocean. Teach those dwelling in this city of Lanka in the Malaya mountains, beginning with those opening to Openness, about that which is praised by Those Who Have Gone Into Thusness, the Sphere of Utter Reality."

And so the Generous One said to Mahamati who was opening to Vastness, "Visual objectification occurs through four conditions. What are these? Not understanding that one is grasping at experiences arising within Experiencing itself; attachment and habituation to forms, fictions, and multiplicity since beginningless time; the basic quality of knowing as a knowing of; thirsting desire for diversion within a profusion of apparent objects.

"Through these four conditions Mahamati, waves of mental content swell within the Locus of All Possibilities just as water wells up in a flood. And as it is with being conscious of visual objectifications, so it is with consciousness of the senses. This objectification arises at even the faintest sensation felt at a pore. Objectification is just suddenly there, like an image appearing all at once in a mirror and it continues like the winds blowing over the ocean. In just this way Mahamati, waves on the ocean of Experiencing are whipped up by the wind of objectification.

"Cause and its activity are indistinguishable because they are inseparable through their mutuality. Through attachment to the arising of cause and effect the nature of form is misunderstood and the sensorium functions accordingly. Along with the continuum of the five sensory consciousnesses, there is that which determines the appearance of a particular object apart from its context. This is called mental consciousness. Conditioned by this, the body conceived as a location for these consciousnesses arises.

"These things do not understand themselves to be the functioning of attachment to fabrications being experienced within Experience itself or say, 'Here we are, conditioning each other in a feedback loop.' These ways of knowing just arise blended together in mutuality within the boundary between a sensory event and its representation.

"Thus experience occurs, and even though practitioners might have attained some kind of state, they do not understand the subtle patternings that occur. These practitioners might think, 'The consciousnesses have ceased and we are perfected.' But they have reached these attainments with these consciousnesses still active; their tendency to know dualistically cannot just be suppressed because the seeds of patterns and tendencies have not ceased. They have not ceased because, in their confusion, they are still grasping at the arising of objectifications.

"The process of the appearance of possibilities from the Ground of All Possible Experiences is subtle, Mahamati. It is not easily understood except by Those Gone Into Thusness and those opening to Openness, those who have established themselves in these stages. It is not understood by those who hear the Teachings as dogma, or those who self-fabricate enlightenment experiences, or who practice outside of the Vast Path of Reality. It is hard for them not only to attain, but even to understand, the process of the appearance of possibilities from the Ground of All Possible Experiences even if they have some experience of alignment or of perfect knowing.

"Going further, free of the multiplicity of structures being experienced within Experience itself, rooting and growing clarity in the limitless, surpassing judgements and distinctions about what goodness is and about what knowing and perfect knowing are, then clarity, knowing and perfect knowing appear as markers along the Path. Whether one's practice is good, bad, or mediocre, if one goes alone into a hermitage in caverns or hidden in the forest one is able to attain the harmonies, subtle perceptions, forces, masteries empowered by the Outshining in limitless Fields, a seer of the flowing of apparently firm structures which are really only experiences arising within Experiencing.

"In the presence of the Outshining and companions in clarity one is able to pass over activity conditioned by ignorance and greed, able to cross over the ocean of cyclic conditioned being of structuring and objectifying what is essentially experiences arising within Experiencing itself. One is able to free the capacities of knowing from dualism and internalization. And so, Mahamati, one should exert oneself in the practice of the Outshining and of companions in clarity."

Then, at that moment, the Generous One spoke these verses:

"As waves are raised by the wind
and dance ceaselessly on the ocean,
the wind of objectification
is always raising countless waves
that dance on the Ocean of All Possibilities.

"In blue and red,
the taste of salt,
the form of a conch shell,
the taste of water and
the texture of stone,
in the fragrance and flavour of biting into fruit,
there are rays of light
like that of the sun.

"Don't think that waves are the same or different
from the ocean on which they arise,
This is how the seven consciousnesses
are related to experiences.

"As the various waves develop
as transformations on the ocean, Mahamati,
in the same way,
a multiplicity of experiences
occur on the Ground of All Possibilities.

"Definitions of consciousness, reflexiveness
and dualistic knowing
can be contrived but there is no way that
the eight kinds of consciousness can be marked
because there is no defining
and nothing to be defined
which occur outside of
this loop of definitions.

"The ocean does not become something else
when waves arise
and Experience does not really
develop 'into' experiences.

"With consciousness,
conditioned activity gathers,
with reflexiveness it spreads,
with the five sense consciousnesses
it is known dualistically.
Thus Experiencing is structured.

"People think of consciousness as
consciousness of
red, blue and so on.
How can one say it is like
waves on the ocean of Experience, Mahamati?

"For the childish,
the functioning of Experience
is considered to be caused by objects
and so red, blue and so on
are not experienced as waves.

"Now, the activity of Experiencing
cannot be known
apart from Experience itself
when there is nothing to be grasped.

"When there is some thing to be grasped,
there is a grasper.
This is what we are establishing
by speaking of waves.

"People think that consciousness is something
located in the body,
feeding on experiences.
This is why the functioning of Experiencing
can be seen to be like waves.

"Waves dancing on the ocean
are obvious.
Why is the activity of Experiencing
not obvious to their understanding?

"Because the childish have
a fundamental misunderstanding,
this analogy is used to get it across to them:
the Ground of All Possibilities is like the ocean
and its activity like waves.

"The sun shines the same everywhere,
high and low, and for those who have Outshone.
In the same way, you, illuminating the world
teach Reality to the confused.

"If you set yourself up amidst things,
how can you speak of Reality?
What you call reality there
is not the Reality of real Knowing.

"As waves appear on the ocean,
or images unfold in a mirror or a dream,
experiences are known
in the fields of the senses.

"Through confusion,
experiences are divided into a particular order:
Consciousness knows it,
reflexiveness reflects on it,
and this is how it is then sensed;
but this order of things does not occur
when there is harmony.

"I teach in the same way as would
a teacher painting to her students.
Through working with colours
the picture is created.

"Now, the picture cannot be discerned
in the colours,
the subject to be painted,
or the image.

"The picture emerges through the arrangement
of the colours and so on into an aesthetic whole
and it is through this
that people are moved by it.

"In the same way, the Teachings are not Reality
because Reality is
beyond descriptions
and so the Teachings never quite
make the mark.

"Establishing myself in the midst of experiences
I present Reality to practitioners.

"Reality is the process which realizes itself
free of the congealing of structures and fabrication.
The immature cannot understand
what I teach
to the children of the Outshining.

"I see multiplicity
but it is not what I see.

"There are many teachings because,
after all,
it is teaching.

"The Reality which is beyond
modification or movement
teaches something
which cannot be taught or learned.

"Just as one administers medicine
according to the disease,
so do the Buddhas prescribe
'just experiences' to beings .

"This has nothing to do
with philosophy or dogma.
It is the range and Path of Intimacy
taught by the Teacher."