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Sutra 1, Chapter 2 - The Lankavatara Sutra - False-Imagination and Knowledge of Appearances


THEN MAHAMATI the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva spoke to the Blessed One, saying: You speak of the erroneous

views of the philosophers, will you please tell us of them, that we may be on our guard against them?

The Blessed One replied, saying: Mahamati, the error in these erroneous teachings that are generally held

by the philosophers lies in this: they do not recognise that the objective world rises from the mind itself;

they do not understand that the whole mind-system also rises from the mind itself; but depending upon these

manifestations of the mind as being real they go on discriminating them, like the simple-minded ones that

they are, cherishing the dualism of this and that, of being and non-being, ignorant of the fact that there is

but one common Essence.

On the contrary my teaching is based upon the recognition that the objective world, like a vision, is a

manifestation of the mind itself; it teaches the cessation of ignorance, desire, deed and causality; it

teaches the cessation of suffering that arises from the discriminations of the triple world.

There are some Brahman scholars who, assuming something out of nothing, assert that there is a substance

bound up with causation which abides in time, and that the elements that make up personality and its

environment have their genesis and continuation in


causation and after thus existing, pass away. Then there are other scholars who hold a destructive and

nihilistic view concerning such subjects as continuation, activity, breaking-up, existence, Nirvana, the

Path, karma, fruition and Truth. Why? Because they have not attained an intuitive understanding of Truth

itself and therefore they have no clear insight into the fundamentals of things. They are like a jar broken

into pieces which is no longer able to function as a jar; they are like a burnt seed which is no longer

capable of sprouting. But the elements that make up personality and its environment which they regard as

subject to change are really incapable of uninterrupted transformations. Their views are based upon erroneous

discriminations of the objective world; they are not based upon the true conception.

Again, if it is true that something comes out of nothing and there is the rise of the mind-system by

reason of the combination of the three effect-producing causes, we could say the same of any non-existing

thing: for instance, that a tortoise could grow hair, or sand produce oil. This proposition is of no avail;

it ends in affirming nothing. It follows that the deed, work and cause of which they speak is of no use, and

so also is their reference to being and non-being. If they argue that there is a combination of the three

effect-producing causes, they must do it on the principle of cause and effect, that is, that something comes

out of something and not out of nothing. As long as a world of relativity is asserted, there is an ever

recurring chain of causation which cannot be denied under any circumstance, therefore we cannot talk of



coming to an end or of cessation. As long as these scholars remain on their philosophical ground their

demonstration must conform to logic and their textbooks, and the memory-habit of erroneous intellection will

ever cling to them. To make the matter worse, the simple-minded ones, poisoned by this erroneous view, will

declare this incorrect way of thinking taught by the ignorant, to be the same as that presented by the

All-knowing One.

But the way of instruction presented by the Tathagatas is not based on assertions and refutations by means

of words and logic. There are four forms of assertion that can be made concerning things not in existence,

namely, assertions made about individual marks that are not in existence; about objects that are not in

existence; about a cause that is non-existent; and about philosophical views that are erroneous. By

refutation is meant that one, because of ignorance, has not examined properly the error that lies at the base

of these assertions.

The assertion about individual marks that really have no existence, concerns the distinctive marks as

perceived by the eye, ear, nose, etc., as indicating individuality and generality in the elements that make

up personality and its external world; and then, taking these marks for reality and getting attached to them,

to get into the habit of affirming that things are just so and not otherwise.

The assertion about objects that are non-existent is an assertion that rises from attachment to these

associated marks of individuality and generality. Objects in themselves are neither in existence nor in



and are quite devoid of the alternative of being and non-being, and should only be thought of as one

thinks of the horns of a hare, a horse, or a camel, which never existed. Objects are discriminated by the

ignorant who are addicted to assertion and negation, because their intelligence has not been acute enough to

penetrate into the truth that there is nothing but what is seen of the mind itself.

The assertion of a cause that is non-existent assumes the causeless birth of the first element of the

mind-system which later on comes to have only a maya-like non-existence. That is to say, there are

philosophers who assert that an originally un-born mind-system begins to function under the conditions of

eye, form, light and memory, which functioning goes on for a time and then ceases. This is an example of a

cause that is non-existent.

The assertion of philosophical views concerning the elements that make up personality and its environing

world that are non-existent, assume the existence of an ego, a being, a soul, a living being, a "nourisher,"

or a spirit. This is an example of philosophical views that are not true. It is this combination of

discrimination of imaginary marks of individuality, grouping them and giving them a name and becoming

attached to them as objects, by reason of habit-energy that has been accumulating since beginningless time,

that one builds up erroneous views whose only basis is false-imagination. For this reason Bodhisattvas should

avoid all discussions relating to assertions and negations whose only basis is words and logic.

Word-discrimination goes on by the coordination of


brain, chest, nose, throat, palate, lips, tongue, teeth and lips. Words are neither different nor

not-different from discrimination. Words rise from discrimination as their cause; if words were different

from discrimination they could not have discrimination for their cause; then again, if words are not

different, they could not carry and express meaning. Words, therefore, are produced by causation and are

mutually conditioning and shifting and, just like things, are subject to birth and destruction.

There are four kinds of word discrimination, all of which are to be avoided because they are alike unreal.

First there are the words indicating individual marks which rise from discriminating forms and signs as being

real in themselves and, then, becoming attached to them. There are memory-words which rise from the unreal

surroundings which come before the mind when it recalls some previous experience. Then there are words

growing out of attachment to the erroneous distinctions and speculations of the mental processes. And

finally, there are words growing out of inherited prejudices as seeds of habit-energy have accumulated since

beginningless time, or which had their origin in some long forgotten clinging to false-imagination and

erroneous speculations.

Then there are words where there are no corresponding objects, as for instance, the hare's horns, a barren

woman's child, etc.--there are no such things but we have the words, just the same. Words are an artificial

creation; there are Buddha-lands where there are no words. In some Buddha-lands ideas are indicated by

looking steadily, in others by gestures, in


still others by a frown, by a movement of the eyes, by laughing, by yawning, by the clearing of the

throat, or by trembling. For instance, in the Buddha-land of the Tathagata Samantabhadra, Bodhisattvas, by a

dhyana transcending words and ideas, attain the recognition of all things as un-born and they, also,

experience various most excellent Samadhis that transcend words. Even in this world such specialised beings

as ants and bees carry on their activities very well without recourse to words. No, Mahamati, the validity of

things is independent of the validity of words.

Moreover, there are other things that belong to words, namely, the syllable-body of words, the name-body

of words, and the sentence-body of words. By. syllable-body is meant that by which words and sentences are

set up or indicated: there is a reason for some syllables, some are mnemonic, and some are chosen

arbitrarily. By name-body is meant the object depending upon which a name-word obtains its significance, or

in other words, name-body is the "substance" of a name-word. By sentence-body is meant the completion of the

meaning by expressing the word more fully in a sentence. The name for this sentence-body is suggested by the

footprints left in the road by elephants, horses, people, deer, cattle, goats, etc. But neither words nor

sentences can exactly express meanings, for words are only sweet sounds that are arbitrarily chosen to

represent things, they are not the things themselves, which in turn are only manifestations of mind.

Discrimination of meaning is based upon the false-imagination that these sweet sounds which we call words and

which are dependent upon whatever


subjects they are supposed to stand for, and which subjects are supposed to be self-existent, all of which

is based on error. Disciples should be on their guard against the seductions of words and sentences and their

illusive meanings, for by them the ignorant and the dull-witted become entangled and helpless as an elephant

floundering about in the deep mud.

Words and sentences are produced by the law of causation and are mutually conditioning,--they cannot

express highest Reality. Moreover, in highest Reality there are no differentiations to be discriminated and

there is nothing to be predicated in regard to it. Highest Reality is an exalted state of bliss, it is not a

state of word-discrimination and it cannot be entered into by mere statements concerning it. The Tathagatas

have a better way of teaching, namely, through self-realisation of Noble Wisdom.

MAHAMATI ASKED the Blessed One: Pray tell us about the causation of all things whereby I and other

Bodhisattvas may see into the nature of causation and may no more discriminate it as to the gradual or

simultaneous rising of all things?

The Blessed One replied: There are two factors of causation by reason of which all things come into

seeming existence:--external and internal factors. The external factors are a lump of clay, a stick, a wheel,

a thread, water, a worker, and his labor, the combination of all of which produces a jar. As with a jar which

is made from a lump of clay, or a piece of cloth made


from thread, or matting made from fragrant grass, or a sprout growing out of a seed, or fresh butter made

from sour milk by a man churning it; so it is with all things which appear one after another in continuous

succession. As regards the inner factors of causation, they are of such kinds as ignorance, desire, purpose,

all of which enter into the idea of causation. Born of these two factors there is the manifestation of

personality and the individual things that make up its environment, but they are not individual and

distinctive things: they are only so discriminated by the ignorant.

Causation may be divided into six elements: indifference-cause, dependence-cause, possibility-cause,

agency-cause, objectivity-cause, manifesting-cause. Indifference-cause means that if there is no

discrimination present, there is no power of combination present and so no combination takes place, or if

present there is dissolution. Dependence-cause means that the elements must be present. Possibility-cause

means that when a cause is to become effective there must be a suitable meeting of conditions both internal

and external. Agency-cause means that there must be a principle vested with supreme authority like a

sovereign king present and asserting itself. Objectivity-cause means that to be a part of the objective world

the mind-system must be in existence and must be keeping up its continuous activity. Manifesting-cause means

that as the discriminating faculty of the mind-system becomes busy individual marks will be revealed as forms

are revealed by the light of a lamp.

All causes are thus seen to be the outcome of discrimination carried on by the ignorant and



and there is, therefore, no such thing as gradual or simultaneous rising of existence. If such a thing as

the gradual rising of existence is asserted, it can be disproved by showing that there is no basic substance

to hold the individual signs together which makes a gradual rising impossible. If simultaneous rising of

existence is asserted, there would be no distinction between cause and effect and there will be nothing to

characterise a cause as such. While a child is not yet born, the term father has no significance. Logicians

argue that there is that which is born and that which gives birth by the mutual functioning of such causal

factors as cause, substance, continuity, acceleration, etc., and so they conclude that there is a gradual

rising of existence; but this gradual rising does not obtain except by reason of attachment to the notion of


When ideas of body, property and abode are seen, discriminated and cherished in what after all is nothing

but what is conceived by the mind itself, an external world is perceived under the aspects of individuality

and generality which, however, are not realities, and, therefore, neither a gradual nor a simultaneous rising

of things is possible. It is only when the mind-system comes into activity and discriminates the

manifestations of mind that existence can be said to come into view. For these reasons, Mahamati, you must

get rid of notions of gradation and simultaneity in the combination of causal activities.


MAHAMATI SAID: Blessed One, To what kind of discrimination and to what kind of thoughts should the term,

false-imagination, be applied?

The Blessed One replied: So long as people do not understand the true nature of the objective world, they

fall into the dualistic view of things. They imagine the multiplicity of external objects to be real and

become attached to them and are nourished by their habit-energy. Because of this a system of mentation--mind

and what belongs to it--is discriminated and is thought of as real; this leads to the assertion of an

ego-soul and its belongings, and thus the mind-system goes on functioning. Depending upon and attaching

itself to the dualistic habit of mind, they accept the views of the philosophers founded upon these erroneous

distinctions, of being and non-being, existence and non-existence, and there evolves what we call,


But, Mahamati, discrimination does not evolve nor is it put away because, when all that is seen is truly

recognised to be nothing but the manifestation of mind, how can discrimination as regards being and non-being

evolve? It is for the sake of the ignorant who are addicted to the discrimination of the multiplicity of

things which are of their own mind, that it is said by me that discrimination takes its rise owing to

attachment to the aspect of multiplicity which is characteristic of objects. How otherwise can the ignorant

and simple-minded recognize that there is nothing but what is seen of the mind itself, and how otherwise can

they gain an insight into the true nature of mind and be able to free themselves from wrong conceptions



cause and effect? How otherwise can they gain a clear conception of the Bodhisattva stages, and attain a

"turning-about" in the deepest seat of their consciousness, and finally attain an inner self-realisation of

Noble Wisdom which transcends the five Dharmas, the three Self-natures, and the whole idea of a discriminated

Reality? For this reason is it said by me that discrimination takes its rise from the mind becoming attached

to the multiplicities of things which in themselves are not real, and that emancipation comes from thoroughly

understanding the meaning of Reality as it truly is.

False-imaginations rise from the consideration of appearances: things are discriminated as to form, signs

and shape; as to having color, warmth, humidity, motility or rigidity. False-imagination consists in becoming

attached to these appearances and their names. By attachment to objects is meant, the getting attached to

inner and outer things as if they were real. By attachment to names is meant, the recognition in these inner

and outer things of the characteristic marks of individuation and generality, and to regard them as

definitely belonging to the names of the objects.

False-imagination teaches that because all things are bound up with causes and conditions of habit-energy

that has been accumulating since beginningless time by not recognising that the external world is of mind

itself, all things are comprehensible under the aspects of individuality and generality. By reason of

clinging to these false-imaginations there is multitudinousness of appearances which are imagined to be


real but which are only imaginary. To illustrate: when a magician depending on grass, wood, shrubs and

creepers, exercises his art, many shapes and beings take form that are only magically created; sometimes they

even make figures that have bodies and that move and act like human beings; they are variously and fancifully

discriminated but there is no reality in them; everyone but children and the simple-minded know that they are

not real. Likewise based upon the notion of relativity false-imagination perceives a variety of appearances

which the discriminating mind proceeds to objectify and name and become attached to, and memory and

habit-energy perpetuate. Here is all that is necessary to constitute the self-nature of


The various features of false-imagination can be distinguished as follows: as regards words, meaning,

individual marks, property, self-nature, cause, philosophical views, reasoning, birth, no-birth, dependence,

bondage and emancipation. Discrimination of words is the becoming attached to various sounds carrying

familiar meanings. Discrimination of meaning comes when one imagines that words rise depending upon whatever

subjects they express, and which subjects are regarded as self-existent. Discrimination of individual marks

is to imagine that whatever is denoted in words concerning the multiplicities of individual marks (which in

themselves are like a mirage) is true, and clinging tenaciously to them, to discriminate all things according

to such categories as, warmth, fluidity, motility, and solidity. Discrimination of property


is to desire a state of wealth, such as gold, silver, and various precious stories.

Discrimination of self-nature is to make discriminations according to the views of the philosophers in

reference to the self-nature of all things which they imagine and stoutly maintain to be true, saying: "This

is just what it is and it cannot be otherwise." Discrimination of cause is to distinguish the notion of

causation in reference to being and non-being and to imagine that there are such things as "cause-signs."

Discrimination of philosophical views means considering different views relating to the notions of being and

nonbeing, oneness and otherness, bothness and not-bothness, existence and non-existence, all of which are

erroneous, and becoming attached to particular views. Discrimination of reasoning means the teaching whose

reasoning is based on the grasping of the notion of an ego-substance and what belongs to it. Discrimination

of birth means getting attached to the notion that things come into existence and pass out of existence

according to causation. Discrimination of no-birth is to see that causeless substances which were not, come

into existence by reason of causation. Discrimination of dependence means the mutual dependence of gold and

the filament made of it. Discrimination of bondage and imagination is like imagining that there is something

bound because of something binding, as in the case of a man who ties a knot and loosens one.

These are the various features of false-imagination to which all the ignorant and simple-minded cling.

Those attached to the notion of relativity are attached to the notion of the multitudinousness of things



arises from false-imagination. It is like seeing varieties of objects depending upon maya, but these

varieties thus revealing themselves are discriminated by the ignorant as something other than maya itself,

according to their way of thinking. Now the truth is, maya and varieties of objects are neither different nor

not different; if they were different, varieties of objects would not have maya for their characteristic; if

they are not different there would be no distinction between them. But as there is a distinction these

two--maya and varieties of objects-are neither different nor not-different, for the very good reason: they

are one thing.

MAHAMATI SAID to the Blessed One: Is error an entity or not? The Blessed One replied: Error has no

character in it making for attachment; if error had such a character no liberation would be possible from its

attachment to existence, and the chain of origination would only be understood in the sense of creation as

upheld by the philosophers. Error is like maya, also, and as maya is incapable from producing other maya, so

error in itself cannot produce error; it is discrimination and attachment that produce evil thoughts and

faults. Moreover, maya has no power of discrimination in itself; it only rises when invoked by the charm of

the magician. Error has in itself no habit-energy; habit-energy only rises from discrimination and

attachment. Error in itself has no faults; faults are due to the confused discriminations fondly cherished by

the ignorant concerning the ego-soul


and its mind. The wise have nothing to do either with maya or error.

Maya, however, is not an unreality because it only has the appearance of reality; all things have the

nature of maya. It is not because all things are imagined and clung to because of the multitudinous of

individual signs, that they are like maya; it is because they are alike unreal and as quickly appearing and

disappearing. Being attached to erroneous thoughts they confuse and contradict themselves and others. As they

do not clearly grasp the fact that the world is no more than mind itself, they imagine and cling to

causation, work, birth and individual signs, and their thoughts are characterised by error and

false-imaginations. The teaching that all things are characterised by the self-nature of maya and a dream is

meant to make the ignorant and simple-minded cast aside the idea of self-nature in anything.

False-imagination teaches that such things as light and shade, long and short, black and white are

different and are to be discriminated; but they are not independent of each other; they are only different

aspects of the same thing, they are terms of relation not of reality. Conditions of existence are not of a

mutually exclusive character; in essence things are not two but one. Even Nirvana and Samsara's world of life

and death are aspects of the same thing, for there is no Nirvana except where is Samasara, and no Samsara

except where is Nirvana. All duality is falsely imagined.

Mahamati, you and all the Bodhisattvas should discipline yourselves in the realisation and patient



of the truths of the emptiness, un-bornness, no self-natureness, and the non-duality of all things. This

teaching is found in all the sutras of all the Buddhas and is presented to meet the varied dispositions of

all beings, but it is not the Truth itself. These teachings are only a finger pointing toward Noble Wisdom.

They are like a mirage with its springs of water which the deer take to be real and chase after. So with the

teachings in all the sutras: They are intended for the consideration and guidance of the discriminating minds

of all people, but they are not the Truth itself, which can only be self-realised within one's deepest


Mahamati, you and all the Bodhisattvas must seek for this inner self-realisation of Noble Wisdom, and be

not captivated by word-teaching.

Sutra1 Chapter1 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Discrimination
Sutra1 Chapter2 - The Lankavatara Sutra - False-Imagination and Knowledge of Appearances
Sutra1 Chapter3 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Right Knowledge or Knowledge of Relations
Sutra1 Chapter4 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Perfect Knowledge, or Knowledge of Reality
Sutra1 Chapter5 - The Lankavatara Sutra - The Mind System
Sutra1 Chapter6 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Transcendental Intelligence
Sutra1 Chapter7 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Self-Realisation
Sutra1 Chapter8 - The Lankavatara Sutra - The Attainment of Self- Realisation
Sutra1 Chapter9 - The Lankavatara Sutra - The Fruit of Self- Realisation
Sutra1 Chapter10 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Discipleship: Lineage of the Arhats
Sutra1 Chapter11 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Bodhisattvahood and Its Stages
Sutra1 Chapter12 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Tathagatahood Which Is Noble Wisdom
Sutra1 Chapter13 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Nirvana
Sutra2 Chapter1 - The Diamond Sutra - The Diamond Scripture
Sutra3 Chapter1 - Sutra of Transcendental Wisdom - Sutra of Transcendental Wisdom
Sutra4 Chapter1 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Autobiography of Hui-Neng
Sutra4 Chapter2 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Discourse on Prajna
Sutra4 Chapter3 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Discourse on Dhyana and Samadhi
Sutra4 Chapter4 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Discourse on Repentance
Sutra4 Chapter5 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Discourse on the Three-Bodies of Buddha
Sutra4 Chapter6 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Dialogues Suggested by Various Temperaments and Circumstances
Sutra4 Chapter7 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Sudden Enlightenment and Gradual Attainment
Sutra4 Chapter8 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Royal Patronage
Sutra4 Chapter9 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Final Words and Death of the Patriarch

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