A Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua


Chapter 3



One day, Magistrate Wei arranged a great vegetarian feast on behalf of the Master.


The doubts referred to in the title of this chapter were those of Magistrate Wei, who did not understand how the Patriarch Bodhidharma would have told the Emperor Wu of Liang that the Emperor had no merit. Therefore the Magistrate questioned the Sixth Patriarch about it.

The Magistrate invited the Master to a great vegetarian feast. All the Bhikshus, laymen, Taoists, scholars, officials, and common people were invited to the meatless meal. Politicians like to eat meat, but because Magistrate Wei propagated the Buddhadharma, he invited them all to a vegetarian meal.

“Great” means that many people attended. In China, the Thousand Monk Vegetarian Feast occurs when a thousand Bhikshus are invited to have a meal. Among a thousand monks, there is sure to be one Arhat, so making offerings to a thousand Bhikshus is making offerings to one Arhat. Which one is the Arhat? No one knows. If you knew, you would just make offerings to the Arhat and not to the thousand Bhikshus. This great feast, however, was an offering to not just a thousand Bhikshus; I believe it was to ten thousand.

The banquet was held on behalf of the Sixth Patriarch. As one who had left home, the Master himself could not invite people to lunch. Laymen made offerings to those who have left home; those who have left home do not make offerings to laymen. Recently, I said to a visitor from Hong Kong, “Remember, lay people make offerings to the Bodhimanda, protect and support the Triple Jewel. Do not be supported by the Triple Jewel.”

She replied, “I have never in my life heard a Good Knowing Advisor speak such honest words to me! This certainly has changed me. When I return, I will be different from what I was before.”

Magistrate Wei was the Sixth Patriarch’s disciple, and he wished to cause everyone to recognize and believe in his master. He invited them to eat vegetarian food, because it is said:

If you want to lead them
to the Buddha’s wisdom
First you ought to give them
something good to eat!

In fact, one definition of the word “people” goes:

People: when they eat, they’re happy.

If you feed them well, they can’t forget it. “Ah!” they say, “I’ve got to go listen to some more Sutra lectures.” They come time after time to get what they want–not Dharma, but good food. They eat and eat and soon, when they hear the Dharma, they say, “The Dharma tastes even better than these vegetables.” And then they don’t run away.

Magistrate Wei understood human nature. He arranged this feast on behalf of his Master. He did not do it for himself, saying,  “Look at me, making great offerings to the Triple Jewel!” He was not seeking notoriety. He probably used the technique used at today’s $500-a-plate fund-raising dinners. “We are going to build Nan Hua Temple,” he probably said. “You should donate five thousand dollars, or perhaps fifty thousand dollars.”

Because the assembly was held for the purpose of building a temple, the Magistrate asked the Master about the merit and virtue of Emperor Wu, the great Liang dynasty Emperor who built many temples and gave sanction to many monks who left home.


After the meal, the Magistrate asked the Master to take his seat. Together with officials, scholars, and the assembly, he bowed reverently and asked, “Your disciple has heard the High Master explain the Dharma. It is truly inconceivable. I now have a few doubts and hope you will be compassionate and resolve them for me.”

The Master said, “If you have any doubts, please ask me and I will explain.”

The Honorable Wei said, “Is not what the Master speaks the same as the doctrine of Bodhidharma?”

The Master replied, “It is.”

The Magistrate asked, “Your disciple has heard that when Bodhidharma first instructed the Emperor Wu of Liang, the Emperor asked him, ‘All my life I have built temples, given sanction to the Sangha, practiced giving, and arranged vegetarian feasts. What merit and virtue have I gained?’

“Bodhidharma said, ‘There was actually no merit and virtue.’

“I, your disciple, have not yet understood this principle and hope that the High Master will explain it.”


Magistrate Wei represented the entire assembly in requesting the Dharma. He was extremely respectful, stern, and upright in his bearing. He didn’t dare laugh or cry. The Magistrate had some small doubts; not big problems. He asked the Master to bestow great compassion on him. “Please resolve my little problem, because there are a few things I simply do not understand.”

“Honorable” is a term of great respect. The Magistrate was called “honorable” because he was a high-ranking official. When my disciples go to Taiwan to take the precepts, they should call the old cultivators, the Bhikshus, “Honorable.” “Honor” them once and they will be delighted. If you do not “Honor” them, they will say, “This newly-precepted one is extremely disrespectful!”

The Magistrate asked, “Don’t you explain the same principle as Bodhidharma?”

The Sixth Patriarch said, “Yes, I do. It is the mind-to-mind seal transmitted by Bodhidharma, the direct pointing to the mind to see the nature and realize Buddhahood.”

The Magistrate said, “I have heard that when Bodhidharma went to Nan Ching to convert the Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty, the Emperor told him, “I have built many temples.”

The Emperor Wu of Liang spent his entire life building temples. He allowed many Bhikshus to leave home and he made offerings of food and shelter to them. He would bow to anyone who left home. Wasn’t this good? He gave the wealth of his country to the poor and arranged many vegetarian feasts.

“What merit and virtue have I gained?” he asked. Emperor Wu had to be number one in everything. Therefore, when he met Patriarch Bodhidharma, he did not seek the Dharma, he sought Bodhidharma’s praise instead. He wanted Bodhidharma to give him a “high hat.” He was afraid that Bodhidharma might not know of his merit and so he introduced himself, saying, “Look at me. I have built hundreds of temples to house thousands of monks, all of whom left home under my official sanction. What kind of merit have I gained?” What he meant was, “Look at me! I am an emperor unlike all others! Everything I do is good and meritorious.” He didn’t seek the Dharma to end birth and death, he wanted to put himself on display instead.

This is like a certain Dharma Protector who says, “Do you know me? I am the greatest, strongest Dharma Protector. I give all my money to the Triple Jewel.” In fact, the money he uses to play around with women is several thousand times greater than the money he gives to the Triple Jewel, but he says he gives it all to the Triple Jewel. Isn’t this perverse? He never speaks about the money he squanders all over heaven and earth, but when he gives a dollar to the Temple, he says, “I gave a dollar to the Temple! Do you know that?” He is certainly the Emperor Wu’s disciple. With his merit and virtue he too can be an emperor someday.

Hearing the Emperor brag about “me, myself, and I,” boasting and advertising his merit and in general exalting himself, Bodhidharma thought, “How can a sage go around backslapping? How can I agree with him?”

Ordinary people would have said to the Emperor, “Oh yes! Yes! Your merit is indeed great. No one in the world can match it!” Bodhidharma was a patriarch. He could not possibly have indulged in such behavior, and so he said, “No merit! Totally without merit!”


The Master said, “There actually was no merit and virtue. Do not doubt the words of a sage. Emperor Wu of Liang’s mind was wrong; he did not know the right Dharma. Building temples and giving sanction to the Sangha, practicing giving and arranging vegetarian feasts is called ‘seeking blessings’. Do not mistake blessings for merit and virtue. Merit and virtue are in the Dharma body, not in the cultivation of blessings.”

The Master said further, “Seeing your own nature is merit, and equanimity is virtue. To be unobstructed in every thought, constantly seeing the true, real, wonderful function of your original nature is called merit and virtue.”


The Sixth Patriarch replied, “Do not doubt the sage’s words. There really was no merit and virtue. Emperor Wu was seeking fame; he was not seeking the orthodox Dharma.”

The Great Master said, “Merit and virtue are in the Dharma body, not in cultivating blessings.” What is merit then? Seeing your brilliant, wonderful, original nature is merit. With merit, you can see your own nature.

What is merit? At first, it is difficult to sit in Dhyana meditation, but after a while it becomes natural. When you begin to sit, your legs and back hurt, but after a while you defeat your legs and they no longer hurt. When your legs do not hurt, you have merit. If your legs hurt, you have no merit.

“Seeing your own nature is merit.” See your original face. You ask, “What does my original face look like?” You must find out for yourself. I cannot describe it to you, and even if I did, you wouldn’t know because your knowledge would have come from the outside. Enlighten yourself to your own nature. “Ah,” you will say, “My original face looks just like this!”

Then you must have your vision of the self-nature certified by a Good Knowing Advisor. You cannot set yourself up as king and say, “I am the Emperor. I am a Bodhisattva!” like the hippie who had poisoned himself with drugs to the point that he claimed to be a Bodhisattva, when he actually was nothing but a demon.

“Equanimity is virtue.” Without selfishness, everything is equal. There is no prejudice or partiality. If you are fair, just, and open-minded, you have virtue.

“To be unobstructed in every thought:” If you are obstructed, your thoughts flow here, stop there, and become attached. Obstruction means attachment. If you are not obstructed, you can always see your original nature. As the Sixth Patriarch said when he was enlightened, “How surprising that the self-nature is originally pure in itself! How surprising that the self-nature is originally unmoving! How surprising that the self-nature is originally not produced or destroyed! How surprising that the self-nature is so inconceivable!”

This is to “constantly see the true, real, wonderful function. It is called merit and virtue.” If you do not seek within yourself, but give sanction to Bhikshus, build temples, and give to the poor instead, you accumulate blessings. Blessings, however, are not merit and virtue. You should perfect your own merit and virtue just as the Buddhas have done.


“Inner humility is merit and the outer practice of reverence is virtue. Your self-nature establishing the ten thousand dharmas is merit and the mind-substance separate from thought is virtue. Not being separate from the self-nature is merit, and the correct use of the undefiled (self-nature) is virtue. If you seek the merit and virtue of the Dharma body, simply act according to these principles, for this is true merit and virtue.”


You should not be arrogant. In all situations, you should be polite. Do not say, “Look at me! I am better than everyone else. I am so talented. I know more Buddhadharma than you.” If you show off like this, you are being proud, not humble, and you have no merit. When you speak to people you should be easy and polite, not like a wooden board which smashes their heads with a single sentence. You don’t have to hit people, all you have to do is say one sentence and you split their heads open, which is a fiercer thing than using an iron bar. But if you are humble, you are never impolite.

Outwardly, you should see everyone as better than you. Don’t be self-satisfied.

Arrogance causes harm.
Humility brings benefit.

If you fill your cup with tea until it overflows and then keep pouring, you are being wasteful. Do not be “full of self.” If you are polite, you will gain benefit. Do not say, “I am the greatest. I am number one. I am so intelligent that I understood long ago things which you still do not know!” In Buddhism you should not fear that you will not understand. Fear only that you will not practice. Whether or not you understand is not so important, but if you do not practice, you are useless.

The mind-substance should be separate from false thought, but not separate from proper thought. That is virtue. Turn the light around and reverse the illumination to see your self-nature, which constantly gives rise to Prajna. This is merit. In unimpeded, limitless transformation, the correct use of the selfnature enables you to do whatever you wish while never doing unclean things.

If you are seeking the Dharma body you should act in accord with these principles, because it is by means of such merit and virtue that the Dharma body is realized.


“Those who cultivate merit and virtue in their thoughts do not slight others, but always respect them. Those who slight others and do not cut off the ‘me and mine’ are without merit. The vain and unreal self-nature is without virtue, because of the ‘me and mine,’ because of the greatness of the ‘self,’ and because of the constant slighting of others.”


You should not slight people, animals, or any living beings. For example, whenever Sadaparibhuta Bodhisattva met someone, he immediately bowed and said, “I dare not slight you because you are going to be a Buddha.” Sadaparibhuta Bodhisattva, who was a previous incarnation of Shakyamuni Buddha, realized Buddhahood because of his practice of universal respect while walking the Bodhisattva path.

“Those who slight others and do not cut off the ‘me and mine’ are without merit.” You have no merit if, whenever you meet someone, you immediately become jealous, terrified that they will be better than you are or more intelligent or will surpass you in some other respect. Your jealousy causes you to belittle them. You see yourself as great. “See how big I am?” you say. “No one can compare with me. In the present age there is no emperor, but if there were, it would certainly be me. None of you would have a share. Why? Because I am more intelligent than all of you. I can dominate you, but you can’t dominate me.” “I,” “myself,” “me and mine” are not cut off and not put down. There is no room for merit, because you are too full of self.

You do not really cultivate, and so your self-nature is unreal. You are not basically genuine, you do not believe in yourself and you do not know whether you are true or false. I did not tell you to drink or smoke. Why are you drinking and smoking? I did not tell you to go gambling. Why did you go? You don’t know why you do these mixed-up things. The self nature in this way is “vain and unreal.” This happens because you have no virtue and you see yourself as too big. “Look at me!” you say, “I am a Buddha!” This is like a certain person who said, “This Dharma Master is enlightened and I am just like him!” He did not say that he himself was enlightened. He said that the Dharma Master was enlightened and that the two of them were just alike. He might as well have introduced himself by saying, “I am enlightened.” This “me, myself, and I” is too big. There is no merit here.


“Good Knowing Advisors, continuity of thought is merit, and the mind practicing equality and directness is virtue. Self-cultivation of one’s nature is merit, and self-cultivation of the body is virtue.”


In thought after thought, without interruption, every thought should be right. In thought after thought, without stopping, every thought should be cultivation. This is merit. At first it is forced, but after a time it becomes natural, and the naturalness is merit.

Always be even-minded and impartial, direct and without deceit. That is virtue.

If you have not seen your nature, you must cultivate it. How do you cultivate it? By not giving rise to affliction. When someone hits you, think of it as if you had run into a wall. When someone scolds you, pretend that they are singing a song, or speaking a foreign language. “Oh, he’s not scolding me. He’s speaking Japanese: ‘Chi, chi, cha, cha,’ or is it Spanish?” If you think of it that way, there is no trouble at all.

If someone tries to spit at heaven, the spit just falls right back into his own face. If someone scolds you, but you take no notice, it is just as if he were scolding himself. When hit, you can think, “I have run into a wall. It certainly hurts.” Can you deny that it is your own karmic retribution returning to you? If you bump your head in the dark, do you hit the wall with your fist? If you do, your fist will hurt and there will be even more pain. Pay no attention: then nothing will have happened. Maitreya Bodhisattva said,

The Old Fool wears second-hand clothes
And fills his belly with tasteless food,
Mends holes to make a cover against
The cold, and thus the myriad affairs of life,
According to what comes, are done.
Scolded, the Old Fool merely says, “Fine.”
Struck, the Old Fool falls down to sleep.
“Spit on my face, I just let it dry;
I save strength and energy and
Give you no affliction.” Paramita is
His style; he gains the jewel within
The wonderful. Know this news and then
What worry is there of not perfecting the Way?

This is wonderful, but not everyone can do it. The jewel within the wonderful is not easy to obtain. Cultivation of the nature is simply not getting angry.

How does one cultivate the body? Do not do bad things. Have no lust, hatred, or delusion. If you do not kill, steal, or lust, you cultivate the body. That is virtue.


“Good Knowing Advisors, merit and virtue should be seen within one’s own nature, not sought through giving and making offerings. That is the difference between blessings and merit and virtue. Emperor Wu did not know the true principle. Our Patriarch was not in error.”


You cannot say, “I make offerings to the Triple Jewel. I have merit.” It is not merit, just blessings. Therefore blessings and merit and virtue are different. If you perform acts of blessing, you will receive the karmic retribution of blessing in future lives. But you obtain the advantages of merit and virtue now, in this life.

Bodhidharma wanted to take the Emperor across, but the Emperor’s ego was too big. Therefore, in order to break the Emperor’s attachment, Bodhidharma said that he had no merit and virtue. The Emperor was most displeased and from then on he ignored Bodhidharma. No matter what dharma Bodhidharma spoke, he wouldn’t listen. “Why should I listen to you?” he said. He would not respond to Bodhidharma’s compassionate efforts to save him and so Bodhidharma just went away. After a time, the Emperor died of starvation. Think it over: How could one with merit and virtue starve to death? He died of starvation because he had no merit and virtue. Bodhidharma had wanted to wake him up so that he would not have to die that way. What a pity that the Emperor’s view of himself was so big that Bodhidharma couldn’t help him.


The Magistrate asked further, “Your disciple has often seen the Sangha and laity reciting ‘Amitabha Buddha,’ vowing to be reborn in the West. Will the High Master please tell me if they will obtain rebirth there, and so dispel my doubts?”


The Magistrate said, “The clergy and laymen recite the name of Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of Limitless Light. They all vow to be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. High Master, will they actually be born there?”

The Magistrate himself understood the principle, but he knew that others present in the assembly did not understand and so he asked the Sixth Patriarch for an explanation. At that time, the reciters of the Buddha’s name slandered the Ch’an School:  “Ch’an School people eat their fill, sit down, shut their eyes and go to sleep! What kind of work is that? Lazy work! They don’t compare with those who recite the Buddha’s name. Recitation is the best Dharma-door.”

The Ch’an School fired back: “You recite the name of Amitabha Buddha to gain rebirth in the West. In the past, before Amitabha Buddha, what Buddha’s name did you recite?”

And so they fought, saying, “You’re wrong! You’re wrong!” until, finally, nobody knew who was right.


The Master said, “Magistrate, listen well. Hui Neng will explain it for you. When the World Honored One was in Shravasti City, he spoke of being led to rebirth in the West. The Sutra text clearly states, ‘It is not far from here.’ If we discuss its appearance, it is 108,000 miles away, but in immediate terms, it is just beyond the ten evils and the eight deviations within us. It is explained as far distant for those of inferior roots and as nearby for those of superior wisdom.”


Shravasti is a city in India. Translated, it means “abundance and virtue.” In Shravasti, the five desires were abundant: for fame, wealth, sex, food and sleep. The people of Shravasti had the virtue of much learning and liberation: they had studied a great deal and were not attached.

In this city of abundance and virtue, the Buddha spoke of being led to rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. The Land of Ultimate Bliss appears to be 108,000 miles away, but if you discuss it in immediate terms, it is just beyond the ten evils and the eight deviations within us. Actually, The Amitabha Sutra says that the Western Paradise is 10,000,000,000 lands away, but the Great Master said 108,000 miles because he wanted to counter the prejudices of those in the assembly. In terms of its appearance, the Western Land is far away, but in terms of our own nature, it is just beyond the ten evils and the eight deviations.

Of the ten evils, three are committed with the body: 1) killing, 2) stealing, 3) sexual misconduct. Three are committed with the mind: 4) greed, 5) hatred, 6) delusion (or wrong views). Four are committed with the mouth, a most dirty thing: 7) foul language (talking about the affairs of men and women), 8) lying, 9) harsh speech, 10) slander.

The eight deviations are the opposite of the Eight-Fold Path. Shakyamuni Buddha taught the Eight-Fold Path of 1) right views, 2) right thought, 3) right speech, 4) right action, 5) right livelihood, 6) right vigor, 7) right recollection, 8) right concentration. The eight deviations, then, would consist of deviant views, deviant thought, deviant speech, deviant action, deviant livelihood, deviant vigor, deviant recollection, and deviant concentration.

The Buddha spoke of the Western Paradise as distant to those of common intelligence. To those of superior intelligence he spoke of the Western Paradise as being on the other side of the ten evils and the eight deviations–within their own self-nature.


“There are two kinds of people, not two kinds of Dharma. Enlightenment and confusion differ, and seeing can be quick or slow. The deluded person recites the Buddha’s name, seeking rebirth there, while the enlightened person purifies his own mind. Therefore the Buddha said, ‘As the mind is purified, the Buddhaland is purified.’”


The two kinds of people are not white people and yellow people, but wise people and deluded ones. There is only one Dharma; deluded or wise, you cultivate the same Dharma.

Confused people recite the Buddha’s name and expect to be reborn in the Western Paradise, while the wise recite the Buddha’s name in order to purify their own minds. The pure mind is the Western Paradise. If you understand that, then it is not 10,000,000,000 lands away; it is right here. If you don’t understand, you don’t know how many Buddhalands beyond even that number it is. It is said,

Confused, a thousand books are few;
Enlightened, one word is too much.

When confused, you may study this Sutra, study that Sutra, investigate back and forth and still not understand. When truly awake, there is no need to study; one word is too much. But you must truly understand. Do not pretend and say, “I don’t have to recite the Buddha’s name.” That is just laziness. Once a man who was well-read said to me, “I have read many books, and now I find that they are all wrong, so I no longer read books.” He meant that he had realized Buddhahood and he no longer needed anything. This is extremely stupid behavior. Understanding nothing, he faked understanding. You may try to brew tea in cold water, forcing it to steep, but you will never get tea. How can you brew tea in cold water? There are many strange people in the world–an uncountable number.


“Magistrate, if the person of the East merely purifies his mind, he is without offense. Even though one may be of the West, if his mind is impure he is at fault. The person of the East commits offenses and recites the Buddha’s name, seeking rebirth in the West. When the person of the West commits offenses and recites the Buddha’s name, in what country does he seek rebirth?”


Whether you are in the East or West, you must not commit offenses. If you do, you won’t be reborn in any direction except that of the hells, animals, or hungry ghosts.

If you recite the Buddha’s name and hope to be reborn in the Western Paradise, you must also cultivate goodness. If you cultivate Dhyana meditation, you must also cultivate good deeds. Unless you nurture merit and virtue, you cannot become accomplished in your cultivation.

“Magistrate, if the person of the East merely purifies his mind, he is without offense.” The pure mind has no confusion, no selfishness, and no profit-seeking. It is without jealousy, obstruction, greed, hatred and delusion. Purify your mind and get rid of all deviant thought. Then you will be without offense.

“Even though one may be of the West, if his mind is impure, he is at fault.” This is an analogy. The Sixth Patriarch is not saying that Western people have impure minds, because those of the Western Paradise are completely different from people of this world. They do not need to purify their minds, since their minds are pure to begin with. They aren’t greedy, hateful, or stupid and the three evil paths do not exist for them. Do not use this passage to try to prove that the Sixth Patriarch said people of the West have impure minds. The people of the West have neither purity nor impurity.

“The person of the East commits offenses and recites the Buddha’s name to be reborn in the West. When the person of the West commits offenses and recites the Buddha’s name, in what country does he seek rebirth?” This is another analogy. Those of the West never commit offenses. The Sixth Patriarch wanted to break attachments and so he asked, “If people of the East recite in order to be born in the West, then when people of the West recite, where do they seek rebirth?” If you wish to be reborn in the West, you must first have no offenses. If you have offenses, you will go nowhere but to hell.

If those of the East are reborn in the West, where are those of the West reborn? Is there some other “para”-paradise for them? Don’t be so attached.


“Common, deluded people do not understand their self-nature and do not know that the Pure Land is within themselves. Therefore they make vows for the East and vows for the West. To enlightened people, all places are the same. As the Buddha said, ‘In whatever place one dwells, there is constant peace and happiness.’

“Magistrate, if the mind-ground is only without unwholesomeness, the West is not far from here. If one harbors unwholesome thoughts, one may recite the Buddha’s name, but it will be difficult to attain that rebirth.

“Good Knowing Advisors, I now exhort you all to get rid of the ten evils first and you will have walked one hundred thousand miles. Next get rid of the eight deviations and you will have gone eight thousand miles. If in every thought you see your own nature and always practice impartiality and straightforwardness, you will arrive in a finger-snap and see Amitabha.

“Magistrate, merely practice the ten wholesome acts; then what need will there be for you to vow to be reborn there? But if you do not rid the mind of the ten evils, what Buddha will come to welcome you?”


Deluded people do not know how to discipline their selfnature. They do not know that purification of their own mind is the Pure Land. Sometimes they vow to be reborn in the East, sometimes in the West. Those who are enlightened know that all places are the same. For them there is no north, east, south, or west. They are comfortable everywhere, because they make no discriminations. But if you continually think evil thoughts and do evil things, you will never arrive in the West.

“Magistrate, merely practice the ten wholesome acts; then what need will there be for you to vow to be reborn there.” There are people who do not dare to practice the ten good deeds. They say, “If I do the ten good deeds, demonic obstacles may arise!” But they are not afraid of doing evil. They do not fear that demonic obstacles will arise when they do evil because in doing evil, they are demons themselves. People can certainly be mixed-up. They aren’t afraid of doing evil, but fear doing good!

“But if you do not rid the mind of the ten evils, what Buddha will come to welcome you?” If all your life everything you do is evil and confused, if every pore from head to foot carries the monstrous karma of offensive acts, how can you be born in the West? Which Buddha will come to welcome you? If you do evil, you may seek it, but you will never be born there, because you are bound by your offensive acts. Although it is said, “You may go to rebirth carrying your offenses,” that is just a manner of speaking. You still must purify your own mind before you may go. What Buddha is going to welcome a criminal?


“If you become enlightened to the sudden dharma of the unproduced, you will see the West in an instant. Unenlightened, you may recite the Buddha’s name seeking rebirth, but since the road is so long, how can you traverse it?

“Hui Neng will move the West here in the space of an instant so that you may see it right before your eyes. Do you wish to see it?”

The entire assembly bowed and said, “If we could see it here, what need would there be to vow to be reborn there? Please, High Master, be compassionate and make the West appear so that we might see it.”


The assembly suddenly got greedy. They bowed and said, “If we can see it here, then we don’t need to vow to be reborn in the West! We all want you to be compassionate and let us see the Western Paradise.”

During the next lecture the Western Paradise will be moved to the Buddhist Lecture Hall, but you will have to wait until then.


The Master said: “Great assembly, the worldly person’s own physical body is the city, and the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body are the gates. Outside there are five gates and inside there is the gate of the mind. The mind is the ‘ground’ and one’s nature is the ‘king’. The ‘king’ dwells on the mind ‘ground.’ When the nature is present, the king is present, but when the nature is absent, there is no king. When the nature is present, the body and mind remain, but when the nature is absent, the body and mind are destroyed. The Buddha is made within the self-nature. Do not seek outside the body. Confused, the self-nature is a living being: enlightened, it is a Buddha.”


The Sixth Patriarch said that he would move the Western Paradise to the assembly, and I agreed to move it to the Buddhist Lecture Hall. But if I were to move it, it would be a lot of work and trouble. So now we shall just change our own bodies into the Western Paradise instead.

“Good Knowing Advisors, the worldly person’s own physical body is the city…” Your very own body is the Western Paradise. When your mind is pure, the Buddhaland is pure. The pure Buddhaland is bliss. In the pure mind there are no defiled dharmas, for the dharmas are purified when one is no longer turned by their defilement.

“Outside there are five gates and inside there is the gate of the mind.” The mind is called a “gate” because sometimes it thinks and sometimes it doesn’t. “The mind is the ‘ground’ and the nature is the ‘king.’” The mind itself is the fine golden sand of the Western Paradise and the nature is Amitabha Buddha. “The ‘king’ dwells on the ‘mind-ground.’” Amitabha, your nature, dwells within your own mind. “When the nature is present the ‘king’ is present, but when the nature is absent, there is no ‘king.’” If you know that your own nature is constantly present, “such, such unmoving,” finally, completely, constantly bright, then the king is present. If you understand the mind and see the nature, Amitabha Buddha manifests.

“The Buddha is made within the self-nature.” The Buddha is to be cultivated within your self-nature. Your mind is the Buddha. Your nature is the Buddha. If you work on your selfnature, you can realize Buddhahood. The self-nature and the Buddha-nature are not two, but one. Therefore, if you wish to be a Buddha, you must apply effort to realize your self-nature by the purification of your mind and will, your heart and nature.

Break your bad habits and correct your faults. If you do not get rid of the ten evils, the eight deviations, and your own imperfections, you will never become a Buddha. Do not look outside!

“Confused, the self-nature is a living being.” If, in confusion, you lose your self-nature, or perhaps forget about it, you are just a living being. “Enlightened, the self-nature is a Buddha.” If you wake up and understand that bad dharmas should never be practiced and all good dharmas must be practiced, then you cut off bad and practice good. Just that is the Buddha.


“‘Kindness and compassion’ are Avalokiteshvara and ‘sympathetic joy and giving’ are Mahasthamaprapta. ‘Purification’ is Shakyamuni, and ‘equanimity and directness’ are Amitabha. ‘Others and self’ are Mount Sumeru and ‘deviant thoughts’ are ocean water. ‘Afflictions’ are the waves. ‘Cruelty’ is an evil dragon. ‘Empty falseness’ is ghosts and spirits. ‘Defilement’ is fish and turtles, ‘greed and hatred’ are hell, and ‘delusion’ is animals.


“‘Kindness and compassion’ are Avalokiteshvara…” Do you wish to be like Gwan Yin Bodhisattva? It’s easy! Practice the compassionate way, practice the compassionate dharma, and be compassionate toward all living beings.

One of my disciples once said to me, “Your compassion is something new. I never understood before what compassion was.” Not only that disciple, who is American, but many, many other Westerners are ignorant about compassion. They are not taught compassion and so they are unfamiliar with it.

It is said, “Even when right in front of you, you do not recognize Avalokiteshvara.” Because you do not understand compassion, you do not know Avalokiteshvara. If you wish to know this Bodhisattva and be like him, then practice the compassionate dharma. With kindness, make people happy, and with compassion, relieve their sufferings. This is genuine happiness, not like worldly pleasures such as gambling, horse-racing, the movies, or dancing. Worldly pleasures are just a form of suffering. If you can lead others to true understanding and awakening, then you give them true happiness. To put an end to confusion, to cut off ignorance and manifest the Dharma nature, that is true happiness.

“‘Sympathetic joy and giving are Mahasthamaprapta.’” To delight in giving is just Mahasthamaprapta. Kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and giving are the four unlimited thoughts of the Buddhas. If you can give with joy, you are just like Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva, who practices great giving and great sympathetic joy.

“‘Purification’ is Shakyamuni…” Your own purification of the mind and will and heart, your own return to the original source, to your originally wonderful, bright mind, perfectly bright enlightened Tathagata store–all of that is just Shakyamuni Buddha. Shakyamuni also means “able to be humane.”

“‘Equanimity and directness’ are Amitabha…” If you can be perfectly impartial, without the slightest prejudice, compassionate and just towards all, this is just the behavior of Amitabha. This is an analogy. Do not say, “Equanimity and directness are Amitabha!” In listening to Sutras and hearing Dharma, avoid giving rise to such attachments. To say, “I heard the Dharma Master say that equanimity and directness are Amitabha,” is to slight Amitabha. If you are fair-minded, that is the conduct of Amitabha Buddha.

“But the Sixth Patriarch said this!” you say. “Can’t we believe him?”

Did he really say that? Why didn’t I hear him?

“‘Others and self’ are Mount Sumeru. This phrase is important. Nothing is higher than Mount Sumeru. You evaluate yourself and others. You have your status and they have theirs. Sumeru is a Sanskrit word which means “wonderfully high.” It is wonderful because no one knows just how high it is. Arrogance and pride, notions of self and other, are like Mount Sumeru.

The analogies are to teach you to see Amitabha Buddha within your own self-nature and to recognize the imperfections there as well.

“…and ‘deviant thoughts’ are the ocean water.” Are you afflicted? Your deviant thoughts are the salty ocean water and your afflictions are the waves. Small waves do not cause much damage, but big waves may rise tens of feet high and sink ships. How many ships lie on the bottom of the sea? No one knows. The ships were invited as guests of the dragon king and escorted to the sea’s bottom by the big waves. Just so, big afflictions smother the brilliant wisdom of your self-nature. Take care not to have affliction-waves.

“‘Cruelty’ is an evil dragon.” Cruelty: the wicked dragon king sends a wave to swamp your ship and bring you to his palace for a feast and some dragon wine.

“‘Empty falseness’ is ghosts and spirits.” You say, “I don’t believe in ghosts and spirits. If they exist, why have I never seen one?” They are empty and false; how could you see one? If you try to catch a ghost, you cannot grab him. You may see what appears to be a physical shape, but when you reach out to grab it–he remains right where he was. He is just a shadow, empty and false. He is not actually there.

I will tell you about ghosts and spirits: ghosts are black, because they belong to the yin. Spirits are white, because they belong to the yang. You may see them, but you cannot touch them. They are empty and false.

“‘Defilement’ is fish and turtles.” Weariness of sense objects is represented by fish and turtles.

I have explained Sutras for you for a long time and I have never told you that greed and hatred are hell. It is not that greed and hatred are hell, but thoughts of greed and hatred will certainly send you to hell. You plant the seeds of hell now with thoughts of greed and hatred and in the future you will descend into the hells.

“‘Delusion’ is animals.” When I explain Sutras I sometimes say, “That person is as stupid as a pig.” Some people say, “Pigs are intelligent. They eat and sleep and they don’t do any work.” These people think that not doing anything is intelligent. Such people would like to be pigs. As soon as they eat they go to sleep and when they wake up they eat again. When the time comes, they are slaughtered for food.

Animals are stupid and yet, as meaningless as their lives are, they still wish to live. When you kill a pig, he screams, “I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!” He begs for his life, but you don’t understand his language. What a pity. If you understood, you might be merciful and spare him.


“Good Knowing Advisors, always practice the ten good practices and the heavens can easily be reached. Get rid of others and self, and Mount Sumeru topples. Do away with deviant thought, and the ocean waters dry up. Without defilements, the waves cease. End cruelty, and there are no fish or dragons.

“The Tathagata of the enlightened nature is on your own mind-ground, emitting a great bright light which outwardly illuminates and purifies the six gates and breaks through the six desire-heavens. Inwardly, it illuminates the self-nature and casts out the three poisons. The hells and all such offenses are destroyed at once. Inwardly and outwardly there is bright penetration. This is no different from the West. But if you do not cultivate, how can you go there?”


Previously, I spoke about the small waves which represent the subtle thought process which takes place in the mind. You are unaware of these thought-waves, but they are present nonetheless. The big waves represent big afflictions and the small waves the extremely subtle ignorance within your mind which runs in a current like waves on water. Are you ignorant or not? With ignorance comes greed, hatred, and stupidity. You are greedy because ignorance tyrannizes you. It says, “I want that thing. Go get it for me!” and the greedy mind goes and gets it. Beauty and wealth–if he doesn’t get them, he flies into a rage, like one of my disciples who says, “I must have my way! Why isn’t everything just the way I want it!” Ignorance, anger, waves… Small waves are not important, but big waves may get you an invitation to the dragon’s party.

Don’t be cruel; don’t hurt people; don’t be a venomous dragon. If you end cruelty, the fish and turtles and dragons disappear.

Your enlightened nature is the Tathagata. When you give rise to the light of great wisdom, it outwardly illuminates and purifies the six gates, so that: the eye sees forms, but is not turned by them; the ear hears sounds, but is not turned by them; the nose smells scents, but is not turned by them; the tongue tastes, but is not turned by tastes; the body feels, but is not turned by feeling; and the mind perceives dharmas, but makes them disappear.

The bright light of wisdom breaks through the six desireheavens: 1) The Heaven of the Four Kings, 2) The Heaven of the Thirty-three, 3) the Suyama Heaven, 4) the Tushita Heaven, 5) the Nirmanarati Heaven and 6) Paranirmitavashavartin Heaven.

When the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind are purified, you have broken through the six desire heavens.

The causes, the seeds, of the six desire heavens are planted within your six organs. If you are fond of beauty, you may be reborn in a heaven of beautiful goddesses. Turned by sounds, you may be born in a heaven where you listen to music all day long, much finer music than what is made by your guitars and mandolins.

“The smells in this world are so nice,” you say. “Certainly the smells in the heavens are even nicer,” and so you are reborn in a heaven full of good smells. When your nose is not turned by smells, you smash that desire heaven, and so forth for the remaining five organs.

You ask, “When the desire heavens are destroyed, is the earth destroyed as well?” Empty space itself disappears, how much the more so the earth.

“But where will I live?”

You can live in emptiness, and you need not return. That is the very best way.

When you turn the light around and reverse the illumination, when you investigate and awaken to the Tathagata of the enlightened nature, then the three poisons are wiped away and the offenses of the hells are destroyed. At this moment you are enlightened and understand that the nature of offenses is fundamentally empty. But unless you destroy ignorance, your offenses are not removed.

“Inwardly and outwardly there is bright penetration. This is no different from the West.” Inside and out, there is bright light. Inside and out, there are no obstacles. The three evil destinies and the three obstacles exist no longer, and their absence is the Western Paradise. For this reason we do not need to move the Western Paradise to the Buddhist Lecture Hall, and we do not need to consult a travel agent for passports and visas. The Western Paradise is right here. “But if you do not cultivate, how can you go there?” Then it is very far away. It takes several days just to go to the moon. The Western Paradise is ten billion Buddhalands away, millions of times farther than the moon. Then how do you go there? You purify your mind.


On hearing this speech, the members of the great assembly clearly saw their own natures. They bowed together and exclaimed, “This is indeed good! May all living beings of the Dharma Realm who have heard this awaken at once and understand!”

The Master said, “Good Knowing Advisors, if you wish to cultivate, you may do so at home. You need not be in a monastery. If you live at home and practice, you are like the person of the East whose mind is good. If you dwell in a monastery but do not cultivate, you are like the person of the West whose mind is evil. Merely purify your mind; that is the ‘West’ of your self-nature.”


“Fundamentally, our own bodies are the Western Paradise,” the assembly exclaimed, “But we did not understand because we did not know how to use them.” Those present in the assembly saw their nature: “Really good!” they exclaimed. “We have never before heard such wonderful Buddhadharma. Inconceivable! May all who hear it become enlightened immediately and certify to the fruit.”

The Sixth Patriarch had made himself manifest in a layman’s body in order to speak the harma. After his enlightenment, he did not leave home, but went to live with hunters for fifteen years instead. During that time he cultivated and worked hard. So he said that it is not necessary to be in a monastery to cultivate the Way.


The Honorable Wei asked further: “How should those at home cultivate? Please instruct us.”

The Master said, “I have composed a markless verse for the great assembly. Merely rely on it to cultivate and you will be as if always by my side. If you cut your hair and leave home, but do not cultivate, it will be of no benefit in pursuing the Way. The verse runs:

The mind made straight, why toil following rules?
The practice sure, of what use is Dhyana meditation?
Filial deeds support the father and mother.
Right conduct is in harmony with those above and below.
Deference: the honored and the lowly in accord with each other.
Patience: no rumors of the evils of the crowd.
If drilling wood can spin smoke into fire,
A red-petalled lotus can surely spring from mud.
Good medicine is bitter to the taste.
Words hard against the ear must be good advice.
Correcting failings gives birth to wisdom.
Guarded errors expose a petty mind.
Persist daily in just, benevolent deeds.
Charity is not the means to attain the Way.
Search out Bodhi only in the mind.
Why toil outside in search of the profound?
Just as you hear these words, so practice:
Heaven then appears, right before your eyes.


The Way must be walked.
If you do not walk it,
How is it the Way?
Virtue must be cultivated.
If you do not cultivate it,
How is it virtue?

The straight mind is without greed, hatred and stupidity. Precepts are designed to protect you from these three poisons, but if your mind is straight, what function do the precepts serve? The straight mind has no waves, no ignorance, and does not need to toil at holding the precepts.  The straight mind is Ch’an. Ch’an is used to rid you of your faults. Someone says, “The Sutra says, ‘Why toil at following rules?’ so I won’t hold the precepts.” Is that person’s mind straight or not? He doesn’t care whether or not his mind is straight and his “conduct sure,” he just cares about not having to follow any rules. If his mind is not straight, how can he not hold precepts? If he continues to be selfish, greedy, habit-ridden, envious, and obstructive, how can his mind be straight?

Your parents gave birth to you. You should repay their kindness by being filial and good to them.

The honored and the lowly, the master and the servant, should be courteous and polite to each other.

What is patience? Refusing to speak of the shortcomings of others, not slandering, not being jealous or obstructive: all that is patience. Do not say, “This man is evil. I saw him shoplifting!” The incident never occurred, but the rumor spreads. “He took the precepts and then went out drinking!” It never happened, but someone started talking…

Do not discuss people’s bad points. Bring up their good points. The impatient person never speaks of the good, only of the bad. If you have no bad points, the impatient person will create them for you.

In China, about four thousand years ago, wood drills were used to make fire. Wood was drilled and drilled until fire flared up.

If wood can make fire and the mud can grow a red lotus, then it is not absolutely necessary to leave home in order to cultivate. If you cut off your desire while still at home, you can have success.

One who criticizes you is your Good Knowing Advisor. Just as “bitter medicine” cures your disease, the critic’s words may be unpleasant, but they are sound advice. “Do not be lazy,” says the teacher. “Do not go to sleep!” The student says, “All you ever do is watch over me!” Americans in particular respond that way, because they are so remarkably independent. They don’t listen to anyone’s advice. They want to be unsurpassed and supremely honored. “Right or wrong,” they say, “I listen only to myself. I don’t care what anybody says. I may turn into a senseless block of wood, but nonetheless I am going to stand on my own principles.” I understand Americans. They don’t like to hear words which are hard against the ear.

Correcting failings gives rise to wisdom. If you do not change your faults, you are stupid. That need not be discussed in detail.

Guarded errors expose a petty mind. If you indulgently cherish your problems and make excuses, saying, “No! You don’t understand. There were extenuating circumstances. It wasn’t that way at all! I had to do it, you see…” you become your own lawyer and argue your defense with flashy rhetoric. I have many such disciples. They think that I am stupid and that they can deceive me.

Do what you are supposed to do every day. Be just and benevolent, always benefiting others. But do not say, “I gave $100,000. I have bought Buddhahood!” “Charity is not the means to attain the Way.” You have to cultivate by searching out Bodhi only in the mind, not outside.

Although we have been discussing the Western Paradise, the verse refers to the Christian heaven as well. Heaven is not just in heaven. Heaven is right before your eyes.


The Master continued, “Good Knowing Advisors, you in this assembly should cultivate according to this verse to see and make contact with your self-nature and to realize the Buddha Way directly. The Dharma does not wait. The assembly may now disperse. I shall now return to Ts’ao Hsi. If you have questions come quickly and ask.”

At that time, Magistrate Wei, the officials, and the good men and faithful women of the assembly all attained understanding, faithfully accepted, honored the teaching and practiced it.


How did the people in the assembly attain understanding? Don’t pay attention to them! You must find a way to understand for yourself and leave it at that.

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