The Inquiry of Lokadhara
Chapter Six: The Four Applications of Mindfulness
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 Six: The Four Applications of Mindfulness
“Lokadhara, how are bodhisattva great beings skilled in the applications of mindfulness? Bodhisattva great beings discern and contemplate the four applications of mindfulness. What are these four? The contemplation of the body in relation to the body, the contemplation of feelings in relation to feelings, the contemplation of the mind in relation to the mind, and the contemplation of mental phenomena in relation to mental phenomena. How do they contemplate the body in relation to the body, and contemplate feelings, mind, [F.54.b] and mental phenomena in relation to feelings, mind, and mental phenomena?”
Contemplation of the Body in Relation to the Body
“Lokadhara, when bodhisattva great beings practice the contemplation of the body in relation to the body, they accurately contemplate the characteristics of the body. The body is characterized as impermanent, painful, like an ailment, like a blister, tormented by suffering, frail, fleeting, and destructible. This body is utterly unclean. It is filled with many ugly and foul elements. Foul things are constantly excreted from its nine orifices. The body reeks. It is like a living bag of vomit. If one investigates this body accurately, one cannot find even a single hair that is clean and pleasing. This body is bone and sinew wound together and wrapped with skin and flesh. It arises through the ripening of the causes, conditions, and results of past actions. It is understood to be bound by origination and appropriation. What are origination and appropriation in this context? That the body arises from past causes and conditions is designated appropriation. That we presently wash this body and then sustain it with food, clothing, seats, and medicine is called origination. In this fashion, the causes and conditions of the present moment are called origination, while all actions performed while bound by the power of the ripening of past results are termed appropriation. Furthermore, what we designate the body is formed of the four great elements, lacks definitive and true characteristics, and is included in the aggregate of form.
“Why is it called the body? It is called the body because it is able to performs functions. It is called the body because one clings and is attached to this supportive locus. It is called the body because its actions follow the instructions of the mind. It is called the body because it arises from false concepts. It is called the body because it is produced from an illusory conjunction. It is called the body because it is conjoined with karma.
“This body will meet its end before long. [F.55.a] It is fleeting, impermanent, and variable. It has no characteristics. The body does not exist inside the body, outside the body, or somewhere in-between. This body is not understood or seen as the body. This body does not act, move, or form hopes or aspirations. It has no mind, and is no different from stones and wood. The body has no characteristics of a body that can be ascertained. If one genuinely discerns and investigates the body in this manner, one will see that it is uncreated, has no agent, and has no past, no future, and no present. This body does not have a single feature of permanence, stability, or solidity. It is just like a water bubble that cannot withstand grabbing or grasping. This body is the home of eighty thousand worms. This body is harmed by all sorts of actions. This body suffers due to the three kinds of suffering. Given that it is without protector, it is vulnerable to the suffering of being conditioned, the suffering of change, and the suffering of suffering. Thus, all these miseries make it a container for much suffering.
“Having contemplated the body accurately in relation to the body, one will think, ‘The body is not the self. It is not something other. It is not independent or according to one’s own wishes. It is the production of a nonproduct.’50 One will also think, ‘This body is insubstantial and is unobservable as a definite thing. This body is naturally empty, lacking any true characteristics. This body arises from falsity, like something created by a machine. Because it occurs from the causes and conditions of past actions, it is inappropriate to generate the perception of the body as I or mine, for we should not cherish our bodies and lives.’ When bodhisattvas contemplate accurately in this fashion, they do not observe the body as coming together or separating. [F.55.b] They do not see the body as coming from somewhere, going somewhere, or abiding anywhere. They do not think that this body exists in the past, present, or future. Thus, they do not rely on the body or life-force, and they are not attached to the body as I or mine. They discard grasping to the body. Such bodhisattvas realize this body to be emptiness, selfless, and unowned. Because they do not observe this body as I or mine, they do not observe it as having physical characteristics. Because such bodhisattvas do not observe the characteristics of the body, they have no expectations of engaging the body, so there is no way for the body to be produced or arise. What does engagement mean in this case? It is that the body lacks creation or arising. Because this body has the characteristic of being uncreated and unarisen, it is born of many causes and conditions. The body comes into being through the gathering of causes and conditions, yet causes and conditions are false, nonexistent, mistaken, empty, and insubstantial. The body is born of such causes and conditions. Because such causes and conditions themselves are unborn and without marks, when one is contemplating the body in this way, one will understand that the body has the characteristic of being unborn. Having applied oneself in this manner, one will realize how the body has no characteristics. By correctly realizing how the body has no characteristics, one will understand this body to be without marks. Because there are no marks to observe, the body is understood to be unborn.
“This body cannot be observed as having any marks of the past, marks of the present, or marks of the future. Why is this? Because the body in essence has no definitive qualities to observe, and because the body cannot be observed as self or other. When contemplating this, one will understand how the body does not come from anywhere or go anywhere. One will comprehend the nature of the body’s unborn and unceasing character. [F.56.a]
“Lokadhara, bodhisattva great beings who thus contemplate the body in relation to the body and comprehend its true characteristics will dispel and disrupt any clinging or attachment to the body, thus causing their mindfulness to immediately settle upon the body in the proper manner. They are then called practitioners who contemplate the body in relation to the body.”
Contemplation of Feelings in Relation to Feelings
“Lokadhara, how do bodhisattva great beings practice the contemplation of feelings in relation to feelings? When bodhisattva great beings contemplate the three varieties of feelings—painful feelings, pleasurable feelings, and feelings that are neither painful nor pleasurable—they understand that they do not come from anywhere or go anywhere. They understand them to be propped up by false conditions and the ripened results of past actions, in conjunction with delusion. They understand that feelings arise from false and inaccurate conceptuality. When bodhisattvas contemplate feelings in this manner, they do not observe them as past feelings, present feelings, or future feelings. Bodhisattvas see past feelings as empty, selfless, unowned, impermanent, unstable, insubstantial, and without the characteristic of changelessness.51 They realize past feelings in terms of their characteristic of emptiness, characteristic of peace, and characteristic of being without marks. They also see future feelings as empty, selfless, unowned, impermanent, unstable, insubstantial, and without the characteristic of changelessness.52 They understand future feelings in terms of their characteristic of emptiness, characteristic of peace, and characteristic of being without marks.
“When bodhisattvas contemplate this, they think, ‘Feelings lack true characteristics, [F.56.b] are insubstantial, and lack any fixed attributes. Since they are variegated, they continuously arise and subside, without ever remaining still.’ This leads bodhisattvas to think further, ‘Feelings are uncreated and lack an agent. The three varieties of feeling are generated from the minds of childish ordinary beings with mistaken perception. These feelings owe their existence to the gathering of the causes of previous actions and concurrent conditions. Feelings are all empty, unstable, insubstantial, and false by nature. They are like empty houses.’53
“When contemplating in this way, the mind rests one-pointedly in the absence of feelings.54 At that moment, bodhisattvas understand and know all feelings in their characteristic of coalescing and subsiding, yet they also view feelings as neither coming together nor dispersing. Moreover, they do not see feelings within feelings, but think, ‘Feelings are emptiness, because feelings are naturally empty.’55 Thus they understand feelings as having the characteristic of being unborn. Because feelings are unborn and unceasing, they understand that they lack any characteristic of having come into being. Thus, considering them, when they experience feelings, they are never attached to them. They accurately see and understand the characteristics of feelings. Free from feelings, they do not dwell on feelings. Thus, their minds become equanimous concerning feelings, and thereby they attain the absorption of equanimity. Lokadhara, these bodhisattva great beings are called practitioners who contemplate feelings in relation to feelings.”
Contemplation of the Mind in Relation to the Mind
“Lokadhara, how do bodhisattva great beings practice the contemplation of the mind in relation to the mind? Bodhisattva great beings contemplate the mind in terms of the characteristics of arising, ceasing, remaining, and transitioning. When they contemplate this, they think, [F.57.a] ‘It does not come from anywhere. It does not go anywhere. Since it is born from consciousness and conditions, it is insubstantial and unobservable as any fixed quality. This mind does not come or go. It cannot be observed to remain or transition. This mind is neither past, present, nor future. This mind is born from consciousness, conditions, and thinking. This mind does not exist internally, externally, or somewhere in-between. This mind lacks even a single mark of birth or arising. This mind lacks intrinsic nature, fixed identity, a creator, and anything created. We speak of something called the mind because of myriad actions. We speak of something called the mind based on myriad conditions of consciousness. We speak of something called the mind based on thoughts arising and ceasing, moment by moment, in an unbroken continuity.56 This description is given so that ordinary beings can understand and know the characteristic of the mind that cognizes objects. The mind lacks the characteristic of mind. This mind is primordially unborn, unarisen, and essentially pure. It has false concepts because of being defiled by adventitious afflictions.57 But the mind cannot understand or see itself. Why is this? This mind is emptiness. Because it is emptiness, it is insubstantial. This mind does not possess a fixed quality, because it is unobservable as any fixed quality, and because this mind lacks the quality of being single or multiple. This mind is unobservable in the past, present, or future. This mind is formless and invisible; thus, the mind cannot see itself or know its own nature. It occurs simply because childish ordinary beings with mistaken perception make observations via false conditions and consciousness. [F.57.b] This mind is emptiness; it is selfless, unowned, impermanent, unstable, insubstantial, and does not have the quality of changelessness.’ When one thinks and contemplates in this way, one will accomplish the application of mindfulness related to the mind.
“At such a time, one does not wonder whether something is the mind or not. Instead, one will understand that the mind has the characteristic of being unborn, thereby realizing the mind to be unborn. Why is this? Because the mind has no real nature or true characteristics. The wise understand and realize how the mind is unborn and lacks characteristics in this way. At that moment, they accurately understand the mind’s characteristics of forming and subsiding. When understanding this, no characteristics of origination or cessation can be found in the mind. They will attain the characteristic of the pure nature of mind that is free from considering the mind as ceasing or not ceasing. Because bodhisattvas’ minds are pure in this way, they are not defiled by adventitious afflictions. Why is this? Bodhisattvas who see and know their own minds to be pure, thereby know that other beings’ minds are pure too, and thus they think the following: ‘When the mind is stained, beings are stained. When the mind is pure, beings are pure.’58 As they consider this, they do not observe the mind to be characterized as stained or pure. They know that the mind as such perpetually has the characteristic of purity.”
Contemplation of Mental Phenomena in Relation to Mental Phenomena
“Lokadhara, how do bodhisattva great beings practice the contemplation of mental phenomena in relation to mental phenomena? Bodhisattvas do not think that any mental phenomenon exists internally, externally, or somewhere in-between. Moreover, they do not observe mental phenomena to be past, present, or future. All mental phenomena arise from many conditions, are rooted in mistaken perception, and have no true characteristics. [F.58.a] That is to say, all mental phenomena are subject to the person. As for the basic nature of mental phenomena, all mental phenomena are devoid of mental phenomena.59 Mental phenomena do not exist inside mental phenomena, outside mental phenomena, or somewhere in-between. Mental phenomena neither conjoin with nor separate from mental phenomena. Mental phenomena are insubstantial and lack true characteristics. Because mental phenomena do not exist, they are unmoving and uncreated. All mental phenomena are like space in being nonexistent. All mental phenomena are deceptive and illusory, because the characteristic of illusion is unobservable. Mental phenomena are pure, because they are unstained by anything at all. Mental phenomena have the characteristic of being beyond appropriation, because there is no appropriation. Mental phenomena are dreamlike, because dreams are nonexistent. Mental phenomena are formless, because form is totally nonexistent. Mental phenomena are like reflections, because reflections themselves are nonexistent. Mental phenomena are nameless and without marks, because names and marks are nonexistent. Mental phenomena are like echoes, because they are nonexistent, arisen out of falsity. Mental phenomena are devoid of intrinsic nature, because their nature is unobservable. Mental phenomena are like mirages, because they are understood to be nonexistent.
“When bodhisattvas contemplate mental phenomena in this manner, they will not see mental phenomena as having the characteristics of being single or multiple. They will not see mental phenomena as conjoined or separate. They will not see mental phenomena as present in mental phenomena. When they contemplate this, they will not see mental phenomena as coming from elsewhere. They will not see any mental phenomenon with a foundational basis. Why is this? Mental phenomena lack any foundation, any basis, and any source. [F.58.b] Mental phenomena have no foundation, because they lack any basis or locus, and because they lack any observable locus.
“Lokadhara, mental phenomena are beyond distinction, for they lack any marks to distinguish them. Because they are born from many conditions, they function due to mistaken perception, yet mental phenomena do not exist in any location or direction. The wise observe mental phenomena as having neither a single characteristic, nor two characteristics, nor multifarious characteristics. Why is this? Lokadhara, mental phenomena are unborn, uncreated, unarisen, and unfabricated. Mental phenomena have no nature or essence, for they are beyond any nature. Mental phenomena are nonabiding, because they are beyond having a destination. When they contemplate mental phenomena in this manner, they understand and realize how mental phenomena are without self and without person. They will understand mental phenomena to be naturally empty. By understanding mental phenomena to be emptiness, they will understand mental phenomena to be without marks. By viewing them as having no marks, they will have no wishes regarding any mental phenomena. When they realize mental phenomena to be unborn, they will think, ‘There are certainly no mental phenomena here that arise or cease.’ When they contemplate this, their minds will rest one-pointedly. In this way, they will understand how mental phenomena are unborn. They will see and understand the exhaustion of the origination and cessation of all mental phenomena. They will understand how mental phenomena are without marks and without intrinsic nature. Why is this? Lokadhara, because mental phenomena lack true characteristics, they will understand how mental phenomena are without marks and free from marks.
“Lokadhara, this is how bodhisattva great beings practice the contemplation of mental phenomena in relation to mental phenomena. [F.59.a] As for this understanding, they do not observe or appropriate any mental phenomena. They exert themselves so as not to generate, dwell on, or stop mental phenomena. They see the characteristic of exhaustion and cessation of all mental phenomena, and their characteristic of pacification.”60
“Lokadhara, this is the bodhisattva great beings’ complete understanding of the four applications of mindfulness. Why are they called applications of mindfulness? The application of mindfulness understands all phenomena as lacking any basis for ceasing, any basis for occurring, and any basis for abiding. When this occurs, it is called unflagging mindfulness or the application of mindfulness with regard to all phenomena. Moreover, the application of mindfulness means understanding and seeing all phenomena accurately as being nonabiding, unborn, and unappropriated.”
This was the sixth chapter: “The Four Applications of Mindfulness.”
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