It’s only when we have faults that such illusions arise.
A passage in the Shurangama Sutra discusses two kinds of deluded false views. What are these views?
The first one is "false views associated with the individual karma of beings." Individual karma refers to one’s own karma, which differs from the karma of others. This is also called "individually held false views." One’s own karma is special and different from that of that of everyone else.
Individual karma also refers to each person having his own special outlook and behavior and thus creating his own particular offenses. Because of our false view associated with individual karma, we tend to act special and feel we are different from other people. For example, most beings will compete to be first in any situation. That makes their karma different from other people's.
Their attempt to act special and different is also a kind of false view. With false conduct, false actions, and false behavior, one creates karma that is unique, and so one’s karma differs from that of others. All of this results from false thoughts. These false thoughts come from a mind that aims high but neglects the foundation. As a result of aiming too high, trying to act special, and having unique views, one creates karma which differs from that of other people.
The second one is "commonly held false views of beings." "Commonly held" means that it is shared by most other people. It is also called collective karma. An example is natural disasters and man-made calamities, in which "the sky falls down and the earth splits open," and hundreds of thousands, millions, or even tens of millions of people die together. That is collective karma arising from commonly held false views; it is shared karma resulting from those kinds of false thoughts.
When beings get totally caught up in materialism and "mistake thieves for their sons," their false thoughts create commonly held false views. The word "view" refers not to seeing, but to perception; everyone shares the same opinion, so there are false views held in common. Beings’ false thoughts lead them to create false karma, and consequently they undergo false retributions. That is known as becoming deluded, creating karma, and undergoing the retribution. In the beginning, beings create karma out of ignorance. Having created karma, they then suffer the retribution. That’s the collective karma of beings. For example, when there’s a drought and people have nothing to eat, that’s a response due to their collective karma. Let me mention one case of collective karma.
In the thirty-third year of the Republic of China (1944), a drought struck Henan Province in China. Not only was there no rain, there was also a plague of locusts. Locusts three or four inches long swarmed through the air and devoured all crops, including vegetables, sprouts, and anything growing in the fields.
The swarm of locusts blocked the sun, darkening the sky. There were so many that one could scoop them up with a small net to take home and eat. Having nothing else to eat, the people thought of eating locusts: The locusts had eaten their crops, and so now they were going to eat the locusts.
At that time, there was a child who saw a white-bearded old man in the sky pouring down bag after bag of stuff that turned into locusts.
The locusts kept falling until they covered the ground a foot thick for several hundred miles around. Imagine how many locusts there were! Just think how strange it was – people were eating locusts. It was truly a case of collective karma! They caught the locusts, cooked them, and set them on the table, but when they were about to eat them, the locusts turned into human excrement. No matter how hungry people are, no one would eat his own excrement. Before they could be eaten, the locusts turned into excrement! That’s how terrible karmic retribution can be!
Therefore, many people fled from Henan to Chang’an, a distance of about 270 miles. Countless people starved to death along the way. What is it like to die of starvation? The hungrier they felt, the more they laughed, and they died laughing on the road. That’s known as "commonly held false views." It’s a case of retribution resulting from collective karma.
What is the false view associated with individual karma? It can be compared to people who have cataracts in their eyes. When they look at a lamp at night, they see circular reflections around them. Because their eyes are diseased, their perception of the lamp is distorted and they see a halo of rainbow colors encircling the lamp. Are these reflection real or illusory?
It’s like some people right now with perfectly good eyes who want to distort their own vision. How do they do this? They cause themselves to not see clearly, they view things falsely and have an illusory perception of them. They may look at a blank wall and see the colors of a rainbow there.
Once I met a person who had taken LSD or some other hallucinogen. He stared at the wall and couldn’t stop laughing. I asked him what he was laughing about, and he said, "Look! Beautiful colors of the rainbow on the wall!” Wasn’t he just like the person with cataracts? His eyes were fine to begin with, but after taking that drug, he became confused and saw the wall changing colors.
Would you say his state was real? He certainly thought it was, but people who hadn’t taken the drug thought he was delirious. The above examples illustrate the false view associated with individual karma.
What is meant by "commonly held false views"? This refers to the situation where many people create the same kind of karma. Although their karma is similar, they may look different, behave differently, and come from different environments. Despite all these differences, they all create the same kind of karma together. They play different roles, come from different places, and do different things usually, yet at some point they all get together, and that’s how commonly held false views come about. These views arise from karma they created that was alike. Later, they meet again and undergo the retribution for whatever collective karma they have created.
There is a proverb, "The good flock together; and the evil gather in packs." Each person finds those of his own type. Each karmic act also incurs its own retribution. People may create karma in different places but receive the retribution in the same place. That’s because, "People gather with their own kind, and things are sorted by their type."
Suppose that here in southern Jambudvipa (our world), which is created from people’s false thoughts, there is a small continent with only two countries. The people of these two countries experience different retributions. In one country the people create plenty of wholesome karma, while in the other they create much evil karma. All the people in the second country experience the same evil conditions and undergo the same evil retribution. These evil conditions refer to inauspicious states that occur. There is an ancient saying,
When the country is about to prosper, there are sure to be auspicious portents.
When the country is about to perish, there are sure to be evil portents.
These portents are revealed in divination and reflected in people’s actions.
Thus, both calamities and blessings can be known in advance.
It is also said:
When a ruler has blessings and virtue, the multitudes can depend upon him.
“A ruler” can refer to the national leader, such as the president of a country. If this one person has blessings, all the citizens of the country can bask in his glory and enjoy blessings as well. If he has no blessings, the ordinary citizens will have to endure suffering. Therefore, when a country suffers misfortune, it’s because the leader lacks virtue. Since he lacks virtue, he also lacks wisdom. Lacking wisdom, he won’t have any blessings. Since he has no blessings, the ordinary citizens will suffer calamities. Whenever any country undergoes frequent disasters and catastrophes, it’s because the leader who is presently in office does not cultivate virtuous deeds or carry out humane policies.
When evil conditions manifest, calamities such as droughts, floods, earthquakes, and landslides occur commonly. There may also be unusual portents, such as halos, hazes, and mists around the moon; different kinds of comets and meteors; various vapors around the sun, and morning and evening rainbows.
A. Inauspicious Omens Associated with the Moon:
1. halo (yun): This refers to an ominous mass of dark vapor around the moon; just looking at it makes one feel uneasy. There’s a saying: "If there’s a halo around the moon, there will be wind. If there’s moisture in the foundation (of a house), there will be rain." This lunar halo appears watery, although it may not really be water. It indicates that there will soon be a strong wind. Moisture in the foundation of a house indicates that rain is coming. When Emperor Gao of the Han dynasty was besieged by Xiongnu tribe (the Huns), a halo of seven circles was seen around the moon; the emperor found himself in peril and barely escaped with his life.
2. haze (shi): This refers to a murky haze (different from clouds) covering the moon.
3. "girdle ornament" (pei): This refers to an evil mist encircling the moon like a girdle ornament worn by a woman.
4. "incomplete jade ring" (jue): This refers to an evil mist encircling half of the moon.
The above are inauspicious omens associated with the moon. In general, anything surrounding the sun or the moon is a bad omen. The common false views are such that the people of one country, who create bad karma, can see these signs, while those of the other country, who create good karma, don’t see them. Although the two countries are right next to each other, the people in them see different things.
B. Inauspicious Omens Associated with Comets and Meteors:
1. comet (hui): In China, this is called a “broom star” because it shoots out sparks and leaves a long trail of light. During the reign of the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, comets appeared frequently, and so the common people suffered great misery.
2. comet in opposition (bo): This kind of comet also shoots out sparks, but intermittently and without leaving a trail of light.
3. shooting star (fei): This is a meteor which appears to fly across the sky, passing overhead from one side to the other. It is also known as a “renegade star.”
4. fireball (liu): This kind of meteor gives off showers of light and is very bright. When it enters the earth’s atmosphere, meteor rocks fall from the skies as numerous as raindrops.
The above omens of comets and meteors are indications of unusual calamities.
C. Inauspicious Omens Associated with the Sun (These are all atmospheric conditions):
1. fu (“to carry on the back”): This is an evil vapor above the sun.
2. “ears” (er): This evil mist on each side of the sun makes it seem as if the sun had ears.
3. morning and evening rainbows: Hong is the classical pronunciation; its more colloquial pronunciation is gang. Hong refers to the rainbows commonly seen at dawn. Those seen at dusk are called ni. Sometimes hong is considered male and ni female. In general, such rainbows are classified as yin or yang, and they are abnormal phenomena. Ordinary rainbows that appear after a rainfall are not evil, but hong and ni, which are rather dark, are portents of calamities. They may seem colorful and pretty, but they carry a lethal energy. People who know how to look will know at a glance that they are omens of misfortune.
There are many, many varieties of inauspicious omens. For example, the appearance of two suns indicates that a great change is about to occur in the country. There is an ancient saying,
The sky cannot hold two suns.
The people cannot serve two kings.
If there are two kings or two presidents, one of them may murder the other. There may also be two moons in the sky. Two suns or two moons is an inauspicious portent for the country. Sometimes trees may talk. You may hear a voice coming from the tree, but you can’t see anyone there. These uncanny events are all inauspicious. Other calamities include typhoons, storms, and so forth.
For example, the recent tornado in the Eastern United States lifted people and houses into the air, uprooted trees, and took several hundred lives. In the same country, some people undergo such retribution, while others do not. For example, those of you in San Francisco were not affected by the tornado in the East, so you don’t know what it was like to suffer that kind of retribution.
In the example of the two neighboring countries discussed earlier, the people of one country perceive the inauspicious signs, while those of the other country do not. This is because of commonly held false views. The people who committed the same kind of offense karma could see the signs, while those who didn’t have such offense karma could not. When the people of a country share the same kind of karma, they have this kind of false view. If everyone’s karma were different, then this kind of false view wouldn’t exist.
In the previous case, the person with defective eyes seeing circular reflections is analogous to the people of one country who see inauspicious omens as a result of their evil karma. Beings must undergo the retribution for whatever karma they create.
Although people with cataracts see circular reflections, it has nothing to do with their inherent enlightened nature. Their inherent “seeing nature” is not defective. Therefore, both the commonly held false views shared by the people of the one country and the individually held false view belonging to a single person are delusions. As for the circular reflections seen by one person and the calamities witnessed by many, it’s only when there are karmic disorders that such false illusions arise.