Essence of the Infinite Life Sutra – Excerpt Twenty-Seven

They know that all phenomena are empty and quiescent. Retribution body and afflictions—both remnants are completely eradicated.

“They know that all phenomena are empty and quiescent”—this sentence conveys exactly the same meaning as “the four basic elements are all empty” and “the five aggregates are without self-identity.” The four basic elements refer to the four qualities of a physical substance: earth, water, fire, and air.

Earth refers to substance. In Buddhism, the tiniest substance is called a speck of dust; in science, it is the atom, electron, or particle. Earth signifies that substance does exist and can be detected by scientific instruments. Water indicates moisture. Fire indicates temperature. The scientific terms are electropositive and electronegative. Fire is electropositive and water is electronegative. Air indicates motion: it is not still. In addition, it moves at great speed.

The four basic elements are the four fundamental features of a substance. All phenomena in the universe are made up of this basic substance. The Diamond Sutra says: “a composite is not a composite. It is called a composite.” This basic substance makes up all phenomena, from something as large as a planet or a galaxy to something as small as a speck of dust.

Where does the basic substance come from? It is manifestation of the mind. A commentary of the Consciousness-only school says that from ignorance and non-enlightenment the Three Subtle Marks arise, and with the external environment as conditions the Six Coarse Marks grow. Within the Three Subtle Marks are the subjective aspect and the objective aspect: the mark of the subjective perceiver and the mark of the objective world.

The basic substance is the mark of the objective world, which is the objective aspect. The objective aspect is generated by the subjective aspect. Existence arises from non-existence and returns to nonexistence—“all phenomena are empty and quiescent.” When we understand this, we will know the truth that all phenomena are empty.

Do what we see, hear, and touch presently exist? Or do they not exist? From the perspective of principles, they do not exist; from the perspective of phenomena, they do exist. This existence is nominal: it is not real. But the non-existence is real. What is real never changes. That which changes is not real. Non-existence never changes and is thus called true emptiness.

With regards to existence, all phenomena change. It is obvious that a person goes through birth, aging, illness, and death. Any person can perceive these changes. In actuality, there are subtler changes, such as the metabolism of the cells of a body. Such changes occur every instant. Plants go through arising, abiding, changing, and extinction. Minerals or planets go through formation, existence, annihilation, and voidness. We realize all this.

Therefore, all phenomena are constantly changing. Since they change, they are not real. This is why existence is called nominal existenceillusory existence, or marvelous existence. Thus this Buddhist term: true emptiness and marvelous existence.

But we should know that existence and nonexistence in Buddhism are one. Where is true emptiness? It is in marvelous existence. Where is marvelous existence? It is in true emptiness. True emptiness refers to noumenon, and marvelous existence refers to phenomena. This way, we will be able to see the mark of the objective world clearly. What is the benefit of seeing it clearly? It will help us discard all attachments.

From where do attachments arise? From us not understanding the truth and from thinking that we can own things. Not only can we not own worldly possessions, we cannot even own our body, so is there any point in being attached to anything? Naturally, we will let go! When we truly let go we will attain eternal life.

True emptiness refers to the true nature. Why is true nature true emptiness? Because there is no sign of it: it shows no form and thus cannot be perceived by the eyes. True nature emits no sound and thus cannot be heard by the ears. It cannot be perceived or imagined. Our Six Sense Organs absolutely cannot detect anything here. But true nature truly exists. It is the noumenon of all phenomena in the universe. All phenomena arise from it.

When one sees the true nature, one is in the state of neither arising nor ceasing. One will have the freedom to manifest as any form. One will be able to manifest in any form one wishes.

We are now deluded, so we cannot manifest as anything no matter how hard we think. After we see the true nature, we will be able to manifest as anything. Throughout the entire Dharma Realm, we will be in control—we will be our own master; we will attain great freedom!

Therefore, we must know the truth: “All phenomena are empty and quiescent.” This is stated from principles, from noumenon.

“Retribution body and afflictions—both remnants are completely eradicated.” “Both” refers to the retribution body and afflictions. “Remnants” refers to habits, and they are the hardest to eliminate. “Retribution body” signifies birth and death—when we transmigrate within the Six Paths, we continually get a body and discard it.

Transmigration is a phenomenon. Why is there this phenomenon? Because we have afflictions. The phenomenon of transmigration within the Six Paths is generated by afflictions. When we end afflictions, there will be no transmigration. For example, arhats—having eradicated the Affliction of Views and Thoughts—have transcended the Six Paths.