“And though I thus liberate countless beings, not a single being is liberated. Why? Subhuti, if a bodhisattva has a mark of self, a mark of others, a mark of living beings, or a mark of life, he is not a bodhisattva.”
Excerpts from Mastering the School Tenets of The Diamond Sutra
Venerable Xiao Pingshi
The foundation of the orthodoxy of the Mahayana teachings is the truly existent mind, the tathagatagarbha. The connotation of “orthodoxy” refers to the notion of excluding other incorrect dharma characteristics and returning to the True Mind of the tathagatagarbha. All practitioners must verify the authenticity of their enlightenment, if their so-called enlightenment holds any signs of “a mark of self, a mark of others, a mark of living beings, or a mark of life (longevity),” which all belong to the phenomenal world and are under the scope of false enlightenment (with various worldly marks).
When bodhisattvas realize the tathagatagarbha and attain enlightenment, they will know that there are no 18 elements existing in the remainderless nirvana and that only the True Mind exists therein. This denotes the phenomenal expression of “liberating all beings” for bodhisattvas—that is, the statement “all sentient beings have been liberated and enter nirvana.” In fact, there is no single being who has been liberated because the term “nirvana” is merely a designation by the Buddha as an expediency to describe the notion of a total extinguishment of the five aggregates. Anyone who insists that there is a state called nirvana has yet to attain nirvana because nirvana is a nominal establishment based on the “absolute origin,” (benji; 本際) that which is self-existing, devoid of any worldly dharmas. That is why the Buddha repeatedly taught in the sutras that “one must understand the origin of the Dharma before being able to comprehend nirvana.” In other words, the total extinction of an individual’s five aggregates is termed “liberation.” Thus, there is no person who can be liberated to the other shore.
On the other hand, bodhisattvas have the ability to align themselves with the tathagatagarbha, witnessing that the characteristics of the tathagatagarbha are indeed markless, signless, neither arise nor cease, are neither pure nor defiled, and neither increase nor decrease. Thus, if there is any trace of perception that remains, there is bound to be “a mark of self, a mark of others, a mark of living beings, or a mark of life.” For example, if you can perceive your own self-existence, then it must be accompanied by the “mark of life (longevity).” You can easily examine each of the 18 elements or the five-aggregate self for verification. There is no single dharma that can exist without the four marks within the 18 elements. Thus, we can conclude that the orthodoxy of the Mahayana can only be the tathagatagarbha as it has none of the four marks.
The fact that the tathagatagarbha mind (廣大心; udāra-citta) does not have any of the four marks means that it is a mind that transcends space and time in the ten directions throughout the three realms, enabling sentient beings to undergo countless streams of transmigration to receive desirable or undesirable retributions. Enlightened bodhisattvas will have a vast mind by aligning themselves with it, thereby cultivating the Path to Buddhahood to endlessly benefit/liberate all beings. Hence, the orthodoxy of the Mahayana teachings in this chapter taught by the Buddha is about realizing the vast foundational mind—tathagatagarbha mind—exclusive to truly enlightened bodhisattvas.
Excerpts from Mastering the School Tenets of The Diamond Sutra, Vol. 1, pp. 105-144