The Inquiry of Lokadhara
Chapter Four: Understanding the Twelve Sense Sources
Degé Kangyur, vol. 60 (mdo sde, ma), folios 7.b–78.b
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
First published 2020
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In The Inquiry of Lokadhara, the bodhisattva Lokadhara asks the Buddha to explain the proper way for bodhisattvas to discern the characteristics of phenomena and employ that knowledge to attain awakening. In reply, the Buddha teaches at length how to understand the lack of inherent existence of phenomena. As part of the teaching, the Buddha explains in detail the nonexistence of the aggregates, the elements, the sense sources, dependently originated phenomena, the four applications of mindfulness, the five powers, the eightfold path of the noble ones, and mundane and transcendent phenomena, as well as conditioned and unconditioned phenomena.
The sūtra was translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee under the guidance of Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche. The translation from the Tibetan was produced by Timothy Hinkle. Andreas Doctor checked the translation against the Tibetan, edited the text, and wrote the introduction. James Gentry subsequently compared the translation against Kumārajīva’s Chinese translation and made further edits.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
Chapter Four: Understanding the Twelve Sense Sources
The Eye and Form Sense Sources
The Blessed One continued addressing Lokadhara: [F.45.b] “How are bodhisattva great beings knowledgeable about the twelve sense sources? When discerning the twelve sense sources, they think, ‘The eye sense source cannot be observed in the eye. In the eye, there is no definitive eye sense source. The eye sense source cannot be observed to be an entity.’ Why is this? The eye sense source is born from many causes and conditions and arises through mistaken perception. It depends upon form, because it observes form. When the two meet,38 the condition of form brings the condition of the eye sense source into existence. Because the form and eye sense sources are mutually dependent, they are collectively called the eye’s form. Regarding the so-called eye and form, form is the gateway through which the eye sense source is generated, and the eye also generates and illuminates the form sense source. Therefore, with regard to the sense sources, the eye sense source is so-called because it is labeled a sense source gateway via the condition of form and the form sense source is so-called because it is seen by the eye. While I teach that they do exist relatively, the eye does not exist in form, form does not exist in the eye, the eye does not exist in the eye, and form does not exist in form. The eye sense source is thus labeled because observation of form arises from many conditions. Additionally, the form sense source is thus labeled because the eye consciousness and the characteristic of sight arise through dependent origination.
“How is it that, contrary to what is mistakenly claimed on the relative level, ultimately, the eye sense source and the form sense source are both taught to be unobservable? When the wise seek the sense sources, they do not see them as truly existent. Childish ordinary beings with mistaken perception speak of the eye sense source and the form sense source as two entities. I have taught that the eye sense source and the form sense source [F.46.a] are false sense sources. In order to bring about an accurate understanding of the true characteristics of phenomena, I have said that the sense sources arise due to dependent origination, in association with delusion; and thus, the characteristic of sense sources cannot be truly observed therein. Why is this? The eye and form sense sources do not exist internally, externally, or somewhere in-between. The eye and form sense sources are not past, present, or future. However, since form is perceived due to a gathering of causes and conditions in the present moment, it is called the eye sense source; this accords with what is experienced by childish ordinary beings. By understanding that the sense sources are false, nonexistent, and arisen from mistaken imputation, the wise see and understand that the sense sources are not sense sources. They do not speak of the characteristics of the sense sources, and they understand that the sense sources have no fixed characteristics, yet the wise teach them to be dependently originated. The Thus-Gone One has said that these sense sources are known and understood; namely,39 that the sense sources are false, nonexistent, dependent upon causes and conditions, and arisen from mistaken formations. The sense sources are uncreated and devoid of agent. The eye sense source cannot be known or conceived in relation to the form sense source, nor can the form sense source be known or conceived in relation to the eye sense source; both are devoid of marks. By virtue of the characteristic of being void in reality, the sense sources are beyond investigation and description. Since the characteristic of the sense sources arises in dependence, childish beings mistakenly apprehend them, while the noble ones correctly understand and know them. They know that the eye and form sense sources are characterized as being unborn, unceasing, and without coming or going. [F.46.b] Thus, the eye does not perceive the eye, the eye does not conceptualize the eye, form does not perceive form, and form does not conceptualize form. Why is this? Because both are empty. Because both are void, the characteristic of the eye cannot be known via the eye, and the characteristic of form cannot be known via form. Both eye and form lack characteristics and qualities. Since they lack true characteristics, the eye is not created by the eye, the eye cannot be understood by the eye, form is not created by form, and form cannot be understood by form. Because both are nonexistent, the eye does not think, ‘I am the eye,’ and form does not think, ‘I am form.’ The identity of both eye and form is essentially an illusion, and so eye and form are also synonyms for falsity. Bodhisattvas likewise discern and contemplate ear and sound, nose and odor, tongue and taste, and body and texture in the same manner as the eye and form sense sources.”
The Mind and Mental-Object Sense Sources
“Lokadhara, how do bodhisattva great beings discern and contemplate the mind sense source? When bodhisattva great beings discern and contemplate the mind sense source, they think, ‘The mind sense source is unobservable. There are no true characteristics of a sense source in the mind. The mind sense source is insubstantial.’ Why is this? The mind sense source arises from mistaken perception, through the process of dependent origination. Since it depends upon the mental-object sense source, it performs its function based on the meeting of the two.40 The mind sense source occurs because of the condition of the mental-object sense source. It is discerned through the condition of the mental-object sense source, and its characteristic is twofold. The mental-object sense source finds its locus in dependence upon the mind. Mind is the gateway of the arising and development of mental objects, and the mental-object sense source is likewise the gateway of the mind. Therefore, [F.47.a] it is termed the mental-object sense source. The mind sense source is named as such due to it being the gateway of the mental-object sense source. The mental-object sense source is taught in order to demonstrate and bring about knowledge of the gateway of the mind’s characteristics. Although the relative truth is expressed correctly, the mind does not rely upon mental objects, and mental objects do not rely upon the mind. Yet, the mind sense source is so-called because it dependently originates, and mental objects are its conditions; while the mental-object sense source is so-called because it demonstrates dependent origination and the characteristics of the mind. These are explained according to delusional perception on the relative level, whereas on the ultimate level, the mind sense source and mental-object sense source are said to be unobservable. Upon investigation, the wise do not find the sense sources to be truly existent. Childish ordinary beings, with their mistaken perception, talk about the mind sense source and the mental-object sense source as two kinds of marks. The mind and mental-object sense sources are false and nonexistent. Since the Thus-Gone One accurately understands this, he calls them sense sources.41 Since sense sources are dependently originated from mistaken formations, no mind or mental-object sense source can be truly observed there. The mind and mental-object sense sources do not exist internally, externally, or somewhere in-between.
“Moreover, the mind sense source is not past, future, or present. Yet, based upon the perception in present adventitious conditions, the mind sense source and mental-object sense source are taught in accord with childish ordinary beings’ thinking. The wise understand the mind sense source and mental-object sense source as sense sources that are not sense sources; they are false, nonexistent, and arisen from mistaken conceptuality. Why is this? Because sense sources definitively lack the characteristic of being sense sources. The wise thus realize the sense sources to be false and nonexistent, [F.47.b] in that the mind sense source and mental-object sense source are inherently unobservable, and any true characteristic that arises from the mind sense source and mental-object sense source is also unobservable.
“Since the mind sense source and mental-object sense source are thus dependently originated, the Thus-Gone One describes the characteristics of knowing and understanding the sense sources as follows: the sense sources are false, nonexistent, arisen from mistaken formations, and dependent upon causes and conditions; the mind sense source and mental-object sense source are uncreated, devoid of action, and devoid of agent; the mental-object sense source cannot be known or conceived by the mind sense source; and the mind sense source cannot be known or conceived in relation to the mental-object sense source. Why is this? It is due to the absence of them both. By virtue of thus being devoid of two characteristics, no divisions can be made between them. Even though these sense sources are dependently originated, they are taught according to the mistaken thinking of childish ordinary beings. According to the understanding and realization of noble beings, the mind sense source does not arise; it is unborn, does not cease, does not come, and does not go. The mind cannot be understood by the mind or conceptualized to be the mind. Mental objects cannot be understood by mental objects or conceptualized by mental objects. This is because both of them are empty. Because both are void, the mind cannot understand the characteristics of mind, and mental objects cannot understand the characteristics of mental objects. Since both of them have nonexistent characteristics, they have no actual qualities whatsoever. Mind cannot either create or destroy mind. Mental objects cannot either create or destroy mental objects. Because neither exists, the mind sense source does not think, ‘I am the mind sense source,’ and the mental object sense source does not think, ‘I am the mental object sense source.’ Both are empty and thus illusory; yet they are distinguished and labeled in name and term. This is how bodhisattva great beings [F.48.a] discern and contemplate the mind and mental-object sense sources.”
The Inner and Outer Sense Sources
“Lokadhara, how do bodhisattva great beings discern and contemplate the six inner and six outer sense sources? They do so in this way: The twelve sense sources all arise from falsity, many conditions, and mistaken perception. Because they are of two marks, they are both outer and inner. Because childish ordinary beings who have not heard the genuine Dharma do not understand the true reality of the twelve sense sources, they become attached to the eye sense source and think, ‘I am the eye sense source,’ or ‘this is my eye sense source.’ Likewise, they become attached to the form sense source and think, ‘I am the form sense source,’ or ‘this is my form sense source.’ It is the same with regard to the ear and sound, the nose and odor, the tongue and taste, the body and tactile objects, and the mind and mental objects, to which they become attached and think, ‘I am mind,’ or ‘this is my mind,’ and ‘I am mental objects,’ or ‘these are my mental objects.’ As they become attached in this way and are hurt and bound by the twelve sense sources, they cycle again and again among the five classes of beings, without knowing the way out.
“When they genuinely investigate the twelve sense sources in this fashion, bodhisattva great beings see them to be false, illusory, insubstantial, void, hollow, empty, and illusory. They will not become attached to the eye sense source as I or mine, and so forth, up to they will not become attached to the mental object sense source as I or mine. Without becoming attached, they do not falsely conceptualize. This is how bodhisattvas are skilled in the twelve sense sources.
“Lokadhara, thus skilled in the twelve sense sources, bodhisattva great beings do not become attached to or hindered by any of the twelve sense sources. They contemplate the sense sources as something to be known and understood. [F.48.b] Skilled in discerning the sense sources, they understand and realize that the twelve sense sources are born from many conditions. Because of the absence of marks, they know how to do away with the marks of the twelve sense sources, how to not follow the path that involves the sense sources, and how the sense sources are devoid of marks. They also know and understand the entirety of methods related to the practice of their characteristics. Lokadhara, it is like this: just as water can fall from the four sides of a device conjured by an illusionist, so can the twelve sense sources perform all sorts of functions through inner and outer dependent origination. Yet there is nothing in them that can be truly observed to substantially exist. Bound by the magic of previous actions, these twelve sense sources perform all sorts of functions.
“Lokadhara, it is like this: The sense sources are the gateways of the arising and multiplying of the afflictions of childish ordinary beings, who lack understanding. In this regard, the eye is the gateway of form, because it generates both desire and aversion. Form is also the gateway of the eye, because it also generates both desire and aversion. The same is true of the ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind, as for example the mind is the gateway of mental objects and generates both desire and aversion. Mental objects are also the gateway of the mind and generate desire and aversion. In this way, the twelve sense sources comingle and combine with desire and aversion, thus leading to failed understanding of their true characteristics. Lokadhara, by clearly understanding the intrinsic nature of the sense sources and their characteristics, bodhisattva great beings avoid becoming bound by desire and aversion. Lokadhara, thus do bodhisattva great beings fully understand the sense sources.”
This was chapter four: “Understanding the Twelve Sense Sources.”
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