[105] If Knowing Non-Self, How Can Afflictions Arise? 若知无我,烦恼何生?

[105] If Knowing Non-Self, How [Can] Afflictions Arise?


People suffer daily when within afflictions, [but] still [do] not know [they] are afflictions. If knowing [they] are afflictions, thus [will] afflictions then [be] eliminated.

[Note 1: The first step towards solving a problem is to recognise the (nature of the) problem to be solved.]


([The] mind fundamentally is Buddha. Due [to] afflictions yet [to be] eliminated, [with] distortions [it] ‘creates’ sentient beings. [If] only able [to] enable afflictions [to be] eliminated, [the] originally possessed Buddha-nature, [will] naturally appear. See ‘First Compilation’s Reply Letter [To] Yuán Wénchún’.)

[Note 2: Afflictions, which arise from the three poisons (三毒) of greed, anger and ignorance (贪嗔痴) create and sustain the illusion that we (i.e. ourselves and others) are only unenlightened sentient beings (众生). As the mind’s fundamental nature is Buddha-nature (佛性), the potential to attain Buddhahood (佛果) is always there. Once afflictions (烦恼) that distort the function of Buddha-nature are eliminated, it will be revealed.]


For example, like [with] thieves, regarded as family members, thus [will] all family wealth, all be [by] those stolen. If knowing [they] are thieves, those [will] immediately run away.

[Note 3: Afflictions identified with as belong to oneself will only sabotage oneself with more suffering. When recognised, this (self-)sabotage will cease.]


Gold not refined [will] not [be] pure, [and] knives not sharpened [will] not [be] sharp. Not within afflictions, [with them] experienced before, once meeting realms of afflictions, [they] then enable [the] mind’s state [to be] that lost.

[Note 4: We are like gold ore, which is pure gold, that represents Buddha-nature, mixed with impurities, that represents afflictions (or defilements). When the gold ore is refined, that represents complete spiritual cultivation, the pure gold can be attained, thus realising Buddhahood. (Likewise, we are like dull knives with the potential to be sharp, that should be sharpened to function ideally.)

Being our true nature, the pure gold of our Buddha-nature will always remain, even if not derived by refining, while impurities come and go. However, to ‘enjoy’ the pure gold, there must be refining done. Otherwise, there will be continual suffering due to the impurities. To the extent of the refining, is the extent of the enjoying. To the extent of the impurities, is the extent of the suffering.

We are not straightaway like pure gold in the first place, or we ought to have no suffering at all now, thus with no further need for refining. We are instead like gold ore. Thus, even when reborn in impure places, along with the pure potential to become Buddhas, we are also with the evil potential to have afflictions. Once encountering realms of afflictions, without spiritual cultivation, afflictions are likely to arise habitually, that can make us more impure if unrecognised.]


[There must be the] ability to know those [afflictions to be] without whatsoever power, [that] their those occurring toilsome disturbances [of the] mind’s state, [are] all [by] oneself self-obtained.

[Note 5: Since we have the ability to recognise these truths about afflictions, they have ‘power’ over us only when we are unwilling to recognise these truths, thus letting afflictions ‘overpower’ us needlessly.]


[A] sūtra says, ‘If knowing self [is] empty, who [is] that receiving slander?’ Now [with] that example saying, ‘If knowing non-self, how [can] afflictions arise?’

[Note 6: Our so-called self (我) is empty of a substantial unchanging entity, both physically and mentally, as our body and mind (身心) are changing from moment to moment. (Buddha-nature is not an entity, but a potential.) Our ignorance (or delusion) creates the illusion of a self that is clung too, thus giving rise to afflictions when being slandered. To the extent that there is less clinging to self, there is less afflictions and thus less suffering.]


[The] ancients say, ‘[The] ten thousand realms [are] originally stable, only [with the] mind self-disturbed. [This] mind, if not arising, [all] realms [are] naturally Thusness.’

[Note 7: All situations are still and at peace if there is no illusion of self clung to, thus without afflictions arising in the mind. All things are then just as they are, not as wrongly perceived. (True) Thusness is Tathātā (真如), the fundamental nature (本性) of dharmas (法) (i.e. phenomena of mind and matter) rightly perceived, without conceptual distinctions (of subject and object) and elaborations (with the three poisons).]

Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng
Dharma Master Yìnguāng’s Collected Writings (Third Compilation): Reply Letter [To] Chén Fēiqīng;
Record [Of] Great Master Yìnguāng’s Collected Writings’ Essence (105th Short Section): 3rd [Chapter]: Guidance [On] Practice Methods: Third, Clear Remedies [For] Habitual Tendencies (12th Short Section)
[Ref: #105 / 3.3.12]

Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an

Related Text:

Record Of Great Master Yìnguāng’s Collected Writings’ Essence

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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