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Buddhadharma : Spring 2014
The meaning here is similar to that in another of Milarepa’s songs, “Mahamudra: Distinguishing the Provisional from the Definitive,” which says: This skandha of form, which is brought about compulsively, when there is no realization, is a body of the four elements; sickness and suffering arise from it. When there is realization, it is the form of the deity, which is union. This reverses ordinary clinging. Ultimately, there is no body. It is pure like the cloudless sky. At the center of our delusion is our conception of our own “self.” We hold tightly to this collec- tion of afflicted skandhas as if it had some inde- pendent existence. We are thoroughly attached to this body, which is nothing more than the basis of suffering. If someone spreads negative words about us, it is painful. It hurts the heart because we are so attached to the “I” as something tan- gible or concrete. On the other hand, if someone praises us by saying, “How beautiful and skilled you are,” we feel happy and excited and attached to ourselves. Let’s investigate this. The five skandhas of form, feeling, perception, mental formation, and consciousness—where do they exist? Are they in your name? Your body? In some part of your body, such as the hand or the chest? A name can be changed, so it is clear that your name doesn’t contain the self. If your hand were cut off, would you become someone else? Some say the self is in the mind. You yourself cannot find your own mind, let alone others’, so how could you know whether a self is there? No matter how we inves- tigate and analyze, we cannot prove that a self exists. This is what is called “illusory nature.” We are not denying or ignoring the label of “I,” we are just questioning whether it exists independently. The Buddha himself used conventional lan- guage when he said things like, “When I was in such and such place I did these things” and “This is my dharma teaching.” So the label of “I” can be used conventionally, but the self to which it refers does not exist in the way we per- ceive it. That’s why we are said to be confused. Hard as we try, we cannot stabilize or establish as true that which does not exist. No matter how long we meditate, we will never see a self. We cherish ourselves so much that surely we should have seen it by now. Someone who will sacrifice anything to protect the self would have found it if it existed. But no one has seen a self-existent self. Grasping and cherishing that which does not exist is at the center of our suffering. On the other hand, the buddhas have puri- fied their misconceptions and realized that the five skandhas are illusory. In actuality, the heads of the five buddha families are themselves the perfection of the five impure skandhas. The five buddhas do not exist apart from the five skand- has. The form skandha corresponds to Buddha Vairochana, whose purified aspect is mirror-like wisdom. The feeling skandha corresponds to Buddha Ratnasambhava, whose purified aspect is equanimity. The skandha of perception cor- responds to Buddha Amitabha, whose purified aspect is discriminating wisdom. Mental for- mation corresponds to Buddha Amoghasiddhi, whose purified aspect is all-accomplishing wis- dom. Finally, consciousness corresponds to Buddha Akshobhya, whose purified aspect is the all-pervading wisdom of the dharma-expanse. This is another way of saying that samsara and nirvana are of one nature. When you realize this, you are a buddha. When you do not realize this, (Opposite) Milarepa (detail) Courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art 34