Seeing the five skhandas as void

From “The Zen Teachings of Huang Po: on transmission of the mind” translated by John Blofeld. Pp 45-46

If an ordinary man, when he is about to die, could only see the five elements of consciousness as void; the four physical elements as not constituting an ‘I’; the real Mind as formless and neither coming nor going; his nature as something neither commencing at his birth nor perishing at his death, but as whole and motionless in its very depths; his Mind and environmental objects as one—if he could really accomplish this, he would receive Enlightenment in a flash. He would no longer be entangled by the Triple World; he would be a World-Transcendor. He would be without even the faintest tendency towards rebirth. If he should behold the glorious sight of all the Buddhas coming to welcome him, surrounded by every kind of gorgeous manifestation, he would feel no desire to approach them. If he should behold all sorts of horrific forms surrounding him, he would experience no terror. He would just be himself, oblivious of conceptual thought and one with the Absolute. He would have attained the state of unconditioned being. This, then, is the fundamental principle.


This is one of the most quintessential descriptions of what Chan (Zen) was and is about. Master Huang Bo Hsin Fa Yao lived and taught in 9th century China. He got Dharma transmission from master Pai Chang and he was the teacher of master I Hsuan of Lin Qi (aka Rinzai in Japan). Thus Huang Bo belonged to the fourth generation Zen masters after the 6th Chinese Zen Patriarch Hui Neng. Huang Bo was the name of the mountain where he finally settled to teach. As the Zen masters were seen to have no personal existence left, i.e. they lived as an indistinguishable part of their surroundings, they where named after the place where they taught and transmitted the Dharma.

In the above above text, which was recorded during one of the many sermons he held for his monks, it is made clear that a normal everyday run of the mill person can obtain absolute and complete enlightenment in this life. Even (or just) in the moments of dying. What is essential for this to occur is to fully see and embody that the five aggregates (body, feeling, perception, volition and consciousness) that constitute our experience of self are fully impermanent and free of any self existence. Therefore they are empty. Anything physical is constituted by the four elements (earth, water, fire, wind or air) and so our body has no ‘I’ in it to be found. As all material things have millions of causes and effects that are necessary for it to manifest as an object in our experience. All are present in the one, the one is present in all.

That which is at the deepest level of our being and of reality is our real Mind. It is totally empty of any thought or image but it has awareness. The real Mind is seen as unborn, there is no possibility for it to come into being nor can it be taken out of existence. It is however complete and motionless and still in its pure form. This Mind and the objects it perceives are not two.

If the run of the mill guy or girl could see their mind as such at the moment of dying, they would be fully liberated on the spot like any Buddha. He/she would no longer be enslaved by the imaginary world of ignorance and desire, and would immediately transcend this world leaving ignorance, desire and anger fully behind. The longing for existence, nor the longing for non-existence would be fully transcended so no rebirth will occur. In the in-between state after the first moments of death the mind is free of the bodily constraints and can experience a host of images and feelings. This normally gives the person such a fright that they faint and are caught in the normal flux of rebirth. But the person who sees our real Mind as fully free of concepts cannot be upset or attracted in any way towards the images and feelings that occur at this time in the in-between state. His deep connection with the real Mind leaves him oblivious to these fear or lust provoking images. He will have obtained a state of unconditioned being. And therefore there is no more need to continue the rounds of suffering in samsara.

To my opinion this should not be read on a personal level. It is not about me escaping samsara. But about all of life escaping samsara. In this way reincarnation is taking place, but not as individuals personally reincarnating. But as sentient beings cycling through existence all the time. It is in our power to free all sentient beings from dukkha by going the Zen route all the way.