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A simple article explaining the main princples of the Avatamsaka Sutra ( the biggest and most important of the Mahayana Sutras):


What is mindfulness and what is Samadhi? What exactly are the “Deviant Dharma Doors and External Ways” that the Buddha often warns about in the Sutras? The answer can be easily illustrated by a simple example: If the human body is a car and the mind is the driver, then mindfulness and samadhi refers to the training of the driver to be more patient, more responsible, more attentive and competent. On the other hand, Deviant or External Ways seek merely to upgrade or modify the car to extreme degrees rather than train the driver to be more emotionally stable, skilled or competent—attributing any accident, shortcoming or unfortunate event to be an engineering or technical issue while totally ignoring the driver’s capability or responsibility. 

In Scroll 53 of the Flower Adornment Sutra (Avatamsaka Sutra), it is stated:


To forget and lose one’s Resolve for Bodhi yet still accumulating all manner of meritorious deeds is to create the karma of demons.


It is the karma of demons to donate with tainted intention, and cultivate discipline with a hardened heart that forsakes the wicked, distances itself from the slothful, sneers at the confused and looks upon straying minds with a jaundiced eye. 

These two passages clearly illustrate the shortcomings of practicing the External Ways and why they lead us astray.

If we go back to the example of the car and driver, we can understand that the car’s representation of the human body can be extended to represent the sum of a person’s merit and karma. For without karmic seeds, no life can come into being as the body, its possessions, capabilities and its weal or woe are merely a manifestation of past good or evil deeds. Cultivators of Deviant and External Ways do not single-mindedly vow for unsurpassed Bodhi, seek great compassion or forfeit their base passions. They continue to act with a heart of pride, attachments and aversions (which they deludedly consider to be the natural state of themselves). Thus, they focus on the car and ignore the driver, hoping that each new technology will mute the driver’s bad habits and outmaneuver their shortcomings. Eventually, the worst case scenario will appear: Super vehicles under the control of a bad drivers arrogantly considering themselves superior to their inferiors because of the increased power under their control.

And so, Externalists deviate in that their cultivation is based only on perpetuating their attached Samsaric existence, and they do so by cultivating good deeds and disciplined conduct (for temperance and good deeds translate into future long life, joy, intelligence and a better plane of existence) with greedy and ambitious minds, becoming proud of their superior achievements  while allowing their minds to be gradually corrupted by arrogance and decadence behind the facade of virtue.  

Eventually, they become demons because their true colors cannot be suppressed forever, and frighteningly, when that happens, they will have all their accumulated merit and power to aid them in doing all that which is ambitious and cruel without reservation or limitation. 

Their external merit exceeded their wisdom of mind, and so they fall. 

On the other hand, the Buddha teaches internal cultivation of wisdom as the path to enlightenment. So in our example, the Buddha would focus on carefully training the driver and not on excessive engineering marvels. When Buddhists cultivate, they first make a sincere vow to achieve Bodhi, and resolve to dedicate any and all of their virtue and good deeds to this goal of transcending the Samsara. They seek not rebirth in any of the sixth paths and pledge their all to the fulfillment of Bodhi. True Buddhists know that there is no duality, no idea of a self, a living being, or a lifespan (Diamond Sutra)—they seek no more existence under such terms but instead wish only to polish the mind with the Threefold Training until the original Buddha-nature shines forth.

Thus, they do the equivalent of training the driver until no faults remain, thereby allowing any car to suffice as they are self sufficient and not dependent on the external.

Likewise, Buddhists of the Pure Land School (the most popular and profound Dharma-door) pledge to be reborn in Amitabha’s Land of Ultimate Bliss, where all arise as non regressing Bodhisattvas, where all achieve Bodhi without fail. Ever mindful of their vows, they cultivate the mind through the Samadhi of diligently, habitually and mindfully chanting (either silently or out loud) Amitabha’s name. They transgress not the 5 Precepts and dedicate any charity or merit they have done to facilitate the way to Pure Land, to be reborn there.

Throughout their lives, they live modestly and are patient and forgiving. They fulfill their moral duties as fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, daughters in law, husbands and wives with compassion and forbearance. They seek Bodhi and do not misapply their merit or good karma to temporal concerns or attachments that demons are so fond of.  They will bear any burden for Pure Land rebirth and Unsurpassed Bodhi. 

When their lives draw to a close, they continue to be mindful of Amitabha’s name and are ever loyal of their resolve for Bodhi, and so Amitabha will appear before them with an August Lotus to invite them into His Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. Having left the Samsara, they have transcended suffering forever!