Everything is formed from the “one.” The “many” are formed from the accumulation of many “ones.” Earlier I mentioned that the zero is beyond numbers, “beyond the Three Realms and outside of the five elements.” The Three Realms are the realm of desire, the realm of form, and the formless realm. The five elements are metals, wood, water, fire, and earth.
All people are included within the scope of the five elements. Our features are characterized by the five elements. For example, tall people with thin faces are predominantly of the wood element. Those with pointed heads and wide chins belong to the fire element. People with squarish faces and yellow complexion are earthy; those with whitish or pale complexions are metal, and those with plump and dark-complexioned faces are of the water element.
Some people are a combination of wood, fire, and earth; others may be wood, fire, and metal. People who are a combination of the mutually destructive elements of metal and wood often fight with themselves. If water-type people are put together with fire-type people, or wood-type people meet earth-type people, many quarrels and arguments may ensue. However, the zero transcends all these kinds of fate.
Most people think that destiny is fixed. There is a saying, “If something is fated to be eight feet, it’s hard to ask for ten feet.” This is true, but only for ordinary people. Genuine cultivators aren’t bound by fate. Cultivators don’t need to consult The Book of Changes; that’s for ordinary people. Cultivators are able to end birth and death; how much the more can they alter other aspects of their fate. Thus, we should transcend and not pay attention to it.
We have discussed the five elements to understand their principles, but in fact, if we earnestly cultivate, we will spontaneously understand all principles. The zero is essential. If we work on it and investigate it, we will certainly find a way. The zero transcends all numbers. The numbers begin with one, but the zero is beyond even the one.
When there are many “ones,” it becomes a multitude. The “many” are formed from “one.” As it is said,
One root spreads into ten thousand branched,
Yet the ten thousand branches return to the one root.
The one is limitless; the limitless are one.
How can there be the limitless? Because of the one. How can the one exist? Because of the limitless. Once the “one” comes into being, there are many troubles. From the one comes two, three, four, …. eight, nine, ten, and all the numbers up to infinity. Without the “one,” the other numbers cannot exist either. When all dust motes are gone, then not even one dust made exists.
All dharmas (phenomena) have no intrinsic substance, nothing to depend on. They arise expediently through a false process of combination.
Some people say that everything in the universe is invisibly controlled by a Lord. Most religions say that there is a Creator who creates the myriad things, and that everything in the world is created by him. In reality, no one can be the lord of the myriad things. There is no creator and nothing that is created.
How do we explain things, then? We can explain everything in terms of becoming deluded, committing offenses, and undergoing retribution. Where does karma come from? It comes from deluded thinking. Initially there is non-enlightenment, or ignorance. Ignorance gives rise to confusion. Without ignorance, confusion would not arise. When there is confusion, we engage in deluded thinking, and then create all kinds of karma.
If we create good karma, we receive a pleasant retribution. With evil karma, we undergo an unpleasant retribution. If the karma is neither good nor evil, the retribution will also be neutral.
Everything that happens to us is a result of the karma we create ourselves; we are not controlled or created by anyone else. We go round and round on the wheel of rebirth, receiving retributions according to our karma, never managing to escape from birth and death. This is also our own doing. How do we know? There is no other logical explanation of the matter.
Some religions say that everything in this world is controlled by God. If that were true, it wouldn’t matter whether we did good or evil. But the reality is that, when the time comes, we ourselves have to undergo the retribution for our own deeds and God cannot help us. Therefore it’s not sensible to say that God controls everything. Rather, we bring the reward or retribution upon ourselves through what we do. “As you sow, so shall you reap.”
If one person tells another to commit murder, the first person is also guilty. By the same principle, if we are controlled by God, then it is only reasonable that God share half of our karmic retribution. We simply did what God told us to do, so we shouldn’t have to suffer the consequences alone – it wouldn’t be fair!
Actually, the offenses we commit have nothing to do with anyone else. If we do good deeds, we receive good results; evil deeds reap bad results. This principle of cause and effect is very reasonable. We are not controlled by any person or any god in what we do. If we were ruled by a god, he should keep us from doing evil and cause us to do good. Gods and spirits like to see people do good and refrain from evil. But since they don’t have the power to control us, we must still take the retribution for our evil deeds. For them to take the credit for our meritorious acts, while we bear the consequences for our evil deeds, is totally illogical!
A talk given on June 20, 1980