In general, every one of us relies on the eight forms of consciousness to live a normal life. The eight consciousnesses work together seamlessly as one great mind. The eight brothers in the poem represent the eight consciousnesses, among whom two are barely noticed.
One is called "manas" or the "seventh consciousness". It is very quick and responsive. Like a top-notch butler, it takes care of everything in the body and makes decisions whenever necessary while staying invisible. The other one is called the Matrix of Buddhahood. Its formal name is "tathāgatagarbha" in Sanskrit language. It’s often called the "eighth consciousness" or the "foundational consciousness" who seems dim and unresponsive, but is extremely important. We'll talk more about it later.
The five brothers "doing business out front" in the poem represent the eye-consciousness, the ear-consciousness, the nose-consciousness, the tongue-consciousness, and the body-consciousness which are our senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. They interact with the outside world like busy bees, constantly giving us information about the world around us when we're awake. The one who understands and analyses all the information supplied by these five brothers is the sixth brother, the conscious mind. He keeps a close watch, weighing and considering everything the five brothers do, like a sharp manager (or a helicopter mom!). He's what we think of as our mind.
Day to day, it is actually manas—the seventh brother— who decides when to close up the shop and tells the six brothers we mentioned earlier to close all the doors and stop receiving guests so we can fall asleep. However, neither the seventh brother nor the eighth brother rests after we fall asleep. In fact, they never take a break for even a second —EVER and manas is the one who makes the final decision about everything we do. If manas senses any noticeable change in the environment, it wakes up the sixth brother, the conscious mind and the other five brothers right away to find out what is going on.
Manas makes decisions on everything and it also believes that it itself is the real "Self". Manas is not aware the existence of tathāgatagarbha. However, the conscious mind considers itself the real, ultimate Self also. But if it were really in control, why would it let itself experience the suffering of birth, sickness, aging, and death again and again as we go through lifetimes, one after the other? However, among the eight brothers, only the eighth brother, the Matrix of Buddhahood (the tathāgatagarbha), lives forever and is unaffected by aging, dying, or any kind of suffering.
Like the air we breathe, the Matrix of Buddhahood is formless and invisible yet it is the central core of our existence. Each sentient being is born by its own Tathagatagarbha. Everything in the physical world —galaxies, planets, mountains, and rivers— is created collectively by the Matrix of Buddhahoods of karmically related sentient beings working together. The Matrix of Buddhahood is indeed the most amazing yet invisible magician.
While manas isn't the real Self of a being, it does one very important thing. When a person's body is no longer usable, manas will decide to move to another one. Since manas believes the Matrix of Buddhahoodis part of itself, it drags it along through many lifetimes in different bodies.
While we are alive, the Matrix of Buddhahood keeps records of everything we do in each life, in the way a black box in an aircraft stores all the transmitted data. Applying the universal law of cause and effect -also called karma -to our conduct, the Matrix of Buddhahood enables the creation of a new body of an animal (cat, dog), a human, a celestial being, or whatever form we deserve based on what we have done in our previous lives.
When the manas drags the Matrix of Buddhahood along with it through endless rounds of rebirth, the consciousnesses of the senses are unable to follow them. As we all know, a dead person has no feelings or perceptions, which means that the conscious mind also ceases at death and does not go on to the next life.
The conscious mind is fickle; its likes and dislikes can flip in an instant. It gets bored easily and likes to stay entertained. The conscious mind ceases in a dreamless sleep, so obviously it is not something eternal and imperishable. Some people insist that the conscious mind will go on to future lives. They mistaken it for the real Self and they want to believe that this "self-knowing self" will last forever but it doesn't.
The Matrix of Buddhahood (like the black box) keeps records of everything we do in each life. Obviously, the "records" that the Matrix of Buddhahood of each person contains are unique to that person, since no two beings has ever done exactly the same things or had the same experiences. Think of how even identical twins are not totally alike in their personalities, hobbies, capabilities and appearances. The famous Chinese poet Li, Bai was proficient in poetry at the age of ten. The great European composer Beethoven held concerts in Köln, Germany at the age of eight. They displayed such brilliance because the seeds of their gifts had been stored in their own Matrixes of Buddhahood and brought forward from their previous lives.
But the Matrix of Buddhahood is formless and shapeless, so how can we find it? Think of how our eyes cannot see micro-organisms because they are very small or distant galaxies because they are very far. We need the help of microscopes and telescopes.
Similarly, to "see" the Matrix of Buddhahood, we need to have a special tool, the "eye of wisdom".
So how can we open and use our wisdom-eye? In everyday life, we shall treat people with kindness and respect, cultivate tolerance and compassion within ourselves, respect the Three Jewels, and accept the Buddha’s teachings with faith. If we can do all these consistently, our wisdom-eye will soon be awaken. By cultivating the Buddha Dharma with diligence, our wisdom-eye will open when all the conditions are right, and we will be able to “see” the Matrix of Buddhahood, the invisiblemagician in us.
You may wonder:
Why do we need to see the "invisible magician? Isn't it enough just to be a good person?
Being a good person is of course the right thing to do. But even a good person has all kinds of unfavorable records from past lives stored in the Matrix of Buddhahood, which will result in endless rounds of birth, life, and death–due to karma. Imagine yourself stuck on an uncontrollable Ferris wheel that cannot be stopped and it brings you through many kinds of weathers. It may be easy to be a virtuous person for one life, but is it possible to stick to the right course over bazillions of lifetimes in different situations? All it takes is one bad friend or one slip, and we'll have to live with the painful consequences of our misconduct for a very, very long time. In that case, would it still be easy to be a good person?
What keep this Ferris wheel of rebirth going are the mistaken beliefs of the conscious mind and the manas that they are the real and eternal Self. They think being a good person can halt the powerful karmic force that drives the Ferris wheel. Instead, we must seek the Matrix of Buddhahood because it is the only mind entity that is everlasting and unchanging over time. By learning the correct Buddha Dharma, we can change the karmic forces stored in the Matrix of Buddhahood by correcting and purifying manas from the effects of any bad things we've done. As we replace the good and bad karmic forces with pure forces of vows, the Ferris wheel will begin to function properly and come under our control. When it does, we can move toward to become a Buddha.
Potentially, every one of us can become a Buddha. To be more precise, any sentient being can become a Buddha. So we are all equal in terms of our chance of attaining Buddhahood. When we become a Buddha —like Buddha Shakyamuni, Buddha Amitabha, or any other Buddhas— we will acquire omniscient wisdom. As a Buddha, we each will have the power to choose our rebirth in any world and become any kind of sentient being, so that we can teach people anywhere about the wisdom of liberation from the uncontrolled cycle of rebirth.
A Buddha is omniscient, as he knows everything about the universe and the planet we live on, as well as everything we have done over the countless lives we have lived. As we know, everything we do is recorded in the Matrix of Buddhahood and a Buddha has the wisdom to access the information stored in it, like we can find information on the black box.
To become a Buddha we have to perfect our merits and wisdom, as well as assist countless other sentient beings on their way toward Buddhahood. If we can cultivate the Buddha Dharma and learn all about the Eight Consciousnesses in each and every life we live, then we can gradually replace negative habit energy, such as craving, egoism, arrogance, and aversion, with the seeds of pure actions. As long as we continue to cultivate the Buddha Dharma and follow the noble path of bodhisattvas, we will eventually attain Buddhahood.
When we become Buddhas, we will be able to help benefit countless other people and liberate them from the suffering that comes with birth, aging, sickness, and death. As well, we can bring them never-ending wisdom that leads to true liberation and ultimate happiness.
Would you want to beable to do that one day?
If you really want tobecome a Buddha, you may want to make the following vow every day:
May I acquire the unsurpassed merits and wisdom of a Buddha, so that I can help liberate all sentient beings from endless rounds of rebirth.
To achieve this, I sincerely vow to cultivate the Buddha Dharma and learn all there is to know about the Matrix of Buddhahood.