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Examination of the Five Aggregates - Chengguan

This is a line by line translation of the Huayan Patriarch Cheng'guan's work.


Examination of the Five Aggregates

Written by Śramaṇa Chéngguān

Question: The common person seeks liberation. How should he practice?

Answer: One should practice the two examinations.

What are the two examinations? The first is the examination of the emptiness of persons. The second is the examination of the emptiness of phenomena [dharmas].

The root of saṃsāra – nothing goes beyond the two attachments to persons and phenomena.

One misunderstands the body and mind's collective characteristic and thus grasps the self of the person as an actual existent.

One misunderstands the five aggregates' individual characteristics and thus conceives the self of a phenomenon as an actual existent.

For the conception of the self of person we utilize the first examination and investigate it.

We then know the five aggregates come together and are provisionally called a person.

Each are carefully examined. We only see the five aggregates. We search for the self-characteristic of the person and in the end it cannot be obtained.

What are called the five aggregates? They are form (rūpa), sensation (vedanā), perception (saṃjñā), volitional formations (saṃskāra) and consciousness (vijñāna).

How does one examine them?

The body is the aggregate of form, which includes earth, water, fire and wind. What are their characteristics?

Solidity is earth. Moistness is water. Warmth is fire. Movement is wind.

In examining the mind there are four aggregates, which include sensation, perception, volitional formations and consciousness. What are their characteristics?

Feeling is sensation. Apprehending characteristics is perception. Creating actions is volitional formations. Cognition is consciousness.

If we rely on these characteristics of body and mind, carefully examining and discerning them, then in all places we only see the five aggregates. We search out the self-characteristic of the person and in the end it cannot be obtained.

We call this the examination of the emptiness of persons. If one utilizes this examination, one departs saṃsāra within the six realms and forever abides in nirvāṇa. We call this the liberation of the two vehicles.

For the conception of the self of a phenomenon we utilize the latter examination and investigate it. We then know that each of the aggregates all emerge from conditions and all are without self-nature [svabhava]. We search for the characteristics of the aggregates and they cannot be obtained, and so the five aggregates are all empty.

We call this the examination of the emptiness of phenomena. If we investigate with both examinations we understand the person's self and the phenomenon's self are ultimately empty without existence.

Free from all fears, crossing over all pains and emerging into existence as a Bodhisattva – we call this ultimate liberation.

Question: Seeking liberation is only just understanding delusion and realizing the truth. It is merely being able to realize the principle of tathātā – in quietude without thoughts, one is then free of bondage. How does one provisionally arouse the mind, examine the aggregates and then seek liberation? Is this not in opposition to the principle?

Answer: What is there to be established without aggregates, truth and delusion? Moreover, the five aggregates are a different name for the body and mind. Supposing the practitioner is not aware of the truth and delusions of body and mind, how could they completely understand them?

They do not reach the root of truth and delusion, and practices are vainly undertaken.

Thus the scripture states, “It is like in emptiness ultimately nothing being able to be established.”

Moreover, the conception of the self of the person is a delusional attachment of the ordinary person. The conception of the self of a phenomenon is a hindrance of the two vehicles.

Thus we have them practice the two examinations and they are then able to understand delusion and realize the truth. How could you do without this?