The Sutra in Forty-Two Sections
Spoken by the Buddha
Lectures given by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
at Gold Mountain Monastery, San Francisco, California, in 1974
The ten words of the title express both the general and individual names of this Sutra. All sutras spoken by the Buddha share the general name “Sutra.” The individual name, which accompanies the word “Sutra,” is the particular name of that sutra, which distinguishes it from other sutras. The word “sutra” is just like the word “human,” which we use to describe all people. “Human” is the general name, and each person has his own individual name: this one is named Smith, and another is named Chang. The sutras the Buddha spoke are also like that; they have both general and individual names.
“In Forty-two Sections Spoken by the Buddha” is the individual name of this Sutra. Examining the words of the individual name, we find that the title of this Sutra is established on the basis of a person and a dharma. The Buddha is a person and “Forty-two Sections” is a dharma. Therefore, the title is referred to as established on the basis of a person and a dharma. This Sutra is composed of Dharma spoken by the Buddha. When the Buddha’s disciples were compiling the Sutra Treasury, they selected individual passages and combined them into one work. You could also say it’s a Buddha-anthology–the Buddha’s sayings were put together to make one sutra. The forty-two sections are the forty-two selections of the anthology.
This was the first sutra to be transmitted to China. The two Honorable Elders Kashyapa-matanga and Gobharana brought this Sutra to China from India on a white horse (around a.d. 67). White Horse Monastery was established in Loyang by Han Ming Di, the emperor of that time.
The Buddhadharma was transmitted to China during the Han Dynasty (206 b.c. A.d. 220). During that era, Taoism also flourished. When Buddhism came to China, the Taoist masters became jealous. They held an audience with the emperor and told him, “Buddhism is a false faith. It is a barbarian religion; it’s not Chinese. Therefore, you should not permit it to spread through China. You should abolish Buddhism!” they urged. “If you will not abolish it, then you should at least hold a contest.”
What were the rules of the contest? The Taoists suggested that the emperor put the Buddha’s sutras together in a pile with the Taoists’ texts and then set fire to them. Whichever books burned belonged to the false religion, and the texts that survived the flames would be recognized as the true ones.
The Taoist leader Chu Shanxin and five hundred other Taoist masters put the Taoist texts together with the Buddhist sutras and then prayed to the Venerable Great Master Lao Zi, “Divine Lord, O Virtuous One of the Way! You must grant us a magical response to ensure that our texts will not burn and that the Buddhist sutras will go up in flames!”
Many of the Taoist masters present had spiritual powers. Some could soar through the clouds and ride the fog. Others could sail through the heavens and hide in the earth. Some could vanish into thin air. You might see one in front of you, but suddenly he would disappear! There were Taoists who had the power to do almost anything. Some of them could make a quick escape by disappearing. They had used the charms and spells of the Taoist religion to gain a considerable number of spiritual powers.
When the fire was lit, guess what happened? Not only did the Buddhist sutras not burn, they emitted light instead! The relics (sharira) of the Buddha also emitted a five-colored light that flared into space as bright as the sun, shining over the entire world.
As soon as the Taoist texts were set on fire, they burned to ashes and were gone. Those who had been able to soar through the clouds couldn’t do it anymore; they had lost their spiritual powers. Those who had been able to sail to the heavens could no longer manage it. Those who had been able to hide in the earth could no longer hide in the earth. Those who had been able to vanish couldn’t vanish. The spells they mumbled no longer worked. There was no response. The Taoist texts burned to a crisp, and the Taoist masters Chu Shanxin and Fei Zhengqing died of rage right then and there! Witnessing the death of their leaders, two or three hundred Taoists shaved their heads and became Buddhist monks on the spot. So, the first time Taoism and Buddhism held a Dharma-contest, the Taoists lost.
After the book burning, the two Honorable Elders, Kashyapa-matanga and Gobharana, ascended into space and revealed the Eighteen Transformations of an Arhat. They emitted water from the upper part of their bodies and fire from the lower part; then they emitted fire from the upper part of their bodies and water from the lower part; they walked about in space; they lay down and went to sleep in space; and they manifested various spiritual transformations there. Right away the emperor and all the people simultaneously came to believe in Buddhism. That is why this Sutra is extremely important. It was the first Buddhist sutra to be transmitted to China. So, we have come together to investigate this text today.
Let’s look into the word “Buddha” first. Buddha is a Sanskrit word. The complete transliteration into Chinese is fo tuo ye; translated, it means “an enlightened one.” There are three kinds of enlightenment: enlightenment of oneself, enlightenment of others, and perfection of enlightenment and practice.
1. Enlightenment of oneself: Someone who enlightens himself is different from an ordinary person who is not enlightened. Cultivators of the Two Vehicles, the Sound-hearers and Pratyekabuddhas, have enlightened themselves and are thus no longer the same as ordinary people, but they do not enlighten others.
2. Enlightenment of others: Someone who can enlighten others is different from the cultivators of the Two Vehicles. This person is called a Bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas can enlighten themselves and enlighten others. Being able to benefit themselves, they can also benefit others. They regard all living beings impartially. They themselves are enlightened, and they want all living beings to become enlightened also. This is called “the enlightenment of others.”
3. Perfection of enlightenment and practice: Although Bodhisattvas can enlighten others, they still have not reached the perfection of enlightenment and practice. Buddhas can enlighten themselves, can enlighten others, and also have perfected their enlightenment and practice. Because they have perfected the threefold enlightenment, they are Buddhas.
Spoken by. The Buddha spoke this Sutra because he found joy in his mind’s delights and wanted to share that joy with others. That means that he expressed the things that made him happy, and by doing so, his happiness increased.
Forty-two Sections. There are forty-two sections in this Sutra, and each of these is one of the Buddha’s discourses on Dharma.
Sutra. The word “sutra” has four meanings: to string together, to gather in, constant, and a method.
1. “To string together” is to unite the meanings that have been expounded. Just as we string together a set of recitation beads, the principles of a sutra are strung together word by word, connecting the meanings that were explained.
2. “To gather in” means to bring in those living beings who are ready for the teaching.
3. “Constant” means that from ancient times to the present, the sutra has not changed. In the past it did not change, in the present it does not change, and in the future it will not change. From antiquity it has remained constant. Therefore it is called constant.
4. “A method” refers to what people in the three periods of time–past, present, and future–all similarly venerate. People within the three periods of time revere this method and use it to cultivate.
The word “sutra” contains other meanings, too. A sutra is like a bubbling spring, because principles flow forth from it like water from a spring. It is also like a carpenter’s plumb line, which is a tool that carpenters use for marking straight lines on boards. The carpenter covers his string with ink and then snaps it so that it marks the board. This analogy symbolizes that sutras serve as the standard of the Dharma.
A further meaning of “sutra” is “a path.” Sutras teach people methods for cultivation, so the word “sutra” also means a path for cultivation. There are other meanings as well in the word “sutra.” This is a general explanation of the meaning of the Sutra’s title, The Sutra in Forty-two Sections Spoken by the Buddha.
Co-translated by Kashyapa-matanga and Gobharana of the Later Han Dynasty.
Since this was the first sutra to come to China from India, it had to be translated. Kashyapa-matanga and Gobharana were two Dharma Masters from Central India who co-translated this Sutra in the Later Han Dynasty.
The Han Dynasty was divided into the Western Han (206 b.c..d. 23) and the Eastern Han (a.d. 25–220). The Later Han, the period referred to here, is known as the Eastern Han.
In the Eastern Han, during the third year of the Yungping reign period (a.d. 62), Emperor Ming dreamed that a golden man with a halo of light above his head flew into the imperial palace. The next day he asked his cabinet ministers about the dream, and an astrologer named Fu Yi said to the emperor, “I have heard that in India there was a holy sage whom people called Buddha. Your dream, Your Majesty, is certainly of the Buddha.”
At that time a scholar named Wang Zun also told the emperor, “A book was written in the Zhou Dynasty called Records of Strange Events (Yi Ji). That book states that when the Buddha was born in the Zhou Dynasty during the twenty-sixth year of the reign of King Zhao (around 1024 b.c.), the creeks and rivers overflowed their banks, the entire earth quaked, and a five-colored auspicious light pierced the heavens.
At that time there was an astrologer and diviner named Su You. He consulted the I Ching [Book of Changes] and got the hexagram qian, nine in the fifth place, lying dragon in the heavens.’ Su You ascertained that a great sage had been born in India who would transmit a teaching that would come to China after a thousand years.
Then King Zhao of Zhou ordered that the details of the event be carved in stone and recorded. He then buried the stone at a certain spot south of the city, to wait and see if the event would actually occur–to see if a thousand years hence the Buddhadharma would actually be transmitted to China.
Later in the Zhou Dynasty, during the reign of King Mu (1001–946 b.c.), there was a massive earthquake that shook heaven and earth. A white rainbow with twelve rays was seen extending across the sun. Rainbows are mentioned in the Shurangama Sutra. This was a white rainbow which seemed to arch across the sun during the daytime. This rainbow appeared just as the Buddha was about to enter Nirvana.
Although India was far from China, the Chinese were aware of what was happening. The Buddha’s appearance in the world was no chance event. When the Buddha was born in India, all the creeks and rivers overflowed their banks in China. There were floods, and the entire earth quaked. When the Buddha entered Nirvana, a white rainbow with twelve rays arched across the sun.
Around this time another astrologer named Hu Duo used the I Ching to consult the hexagrams. He concluded, “A great sage from the West has left the world. During the Zhou Dynasty, in the twenty-sixth year of the reign of King Zhao (around 1024 b.c.), this great sage was born in India, and now he has entered Nirvana.” Despite their distance, the Chinese knew about these events that happened in India. In China there were diviners who could predict such events accurately.
About a thousand years later, Emperor Ming of the Han Dynasty had the dream about the Buddha (around a.d. 62). In the seventh year of the Yungping reign, the year of Jia Zi (a.d. 64), he commanded three courtiers–Cai Yin, Qin Jing, and Wang Zun–to take eighteen people to India to seek the Buddhadharma. In central India they met the Honorable Elders Kashyapa-matanga and Gobharana. The two returned to China with the three courtiers, arriving at Loyang in a.d. 67, the tenth year of the Yungping reign period, during the year of Ding Mao. They came on a white horse carrying their sutras, and Emperor Ming of the Han Dynasty built the White Horse Monastery.
Four years later, on the first day of the fifth month in the fourteenth year of the Yungping reign period, the Taoists of the Five Mountains in China arrived to stop the spread of Buddhism. As I mentioned earlier, they wanted to set fire to the scriptures of both religions. But unexpectedly, all the Taoist texts burned up, and the Buddhist sutras did not go up in flames. The Buddha’s sharira radiated a five-colored beam of light. The light seemed to form an umbrella, a canopy in the air, which shaded all those who had gathered to watch the scriptures burn. When all the people in attendance saw this canopy of light, they immediately believed in Buddhism.
When the World Honored One had attained the Way, he thought, “To leave desire behind and to gain calmness and tranquillity is supreme.” He abided in deep meditative concentration and subdued every demon and externalist.
In the Deer Park he turned the Dharma-wheel of the Four Noble Truths and took across Ajnata-kaundinya and the other four disciples, who all realized the fruition of the Way.
Then the Bhikshus expressed their doubts and asked the Buddha how to resolve them. The World Honored One taught and exhorted them, until one by one they awakened and gained enlightenment. After that, they each put their palms together, respectfully gave their assent, and followed the Buddha’s instructions.
When the World Honored One had attained the Way…”World Honored One” refers to Shakyamuni Buddha and is one of the Ten Titles of the Buddha. The Buddha saw a bright star at night from where he sat beneath the Bodhi Tree, and he awakened to the Way.
He thought, “To leave desire behind and to gain calmness and tranquillity is supreme.” He thought to himself, “Who is the first person that should be taken across? What shall I do first?” “To leave desire behind” means to have no thoughts of desire and to be free of all traces of defilement. “Calmness and tranquillity” means purity, doing action-less action and being thus, thus, and unmoving. This is the finest of all things and is the most inconceivable state.
He abided in deep meditative concentration and subdued every demon and externalist.He remained in profound samadhi, finding it supreme. In this state of great concentration, he was able to subdue the many kinds of demons and unbelievers.
In the Deer Park the Buddha contemplated, and he saw that Ajnata-kaundinya and the other four men were the first ones he ought to take across. That is why he went to the Deer Park and turned the Dharma-wheel of the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths are suffering, accumulation, cessation, and the Way. Suffering is a consequence of our actions in the mundane world. An accumulation of those actions is the cause that leads to a particular consequence. When we work to transcend the world, we are rewarded with the cessation of suffering. Practicing the Way is the cause that results in transcendence of the world. Suffering, accumulation, cessation, and the Way are called the Dharmas of the Four Noble Truths.
After the Buddha accomplished Buddhahood, he first spoke the Flower Adornment Sutra in order to take across the Great Knights Who Realize the Dharma Body. But common, ordinary beings were still unable to accept the great Dharma of the Flower Adornment Sutra. It is said that,
They had eyes, but were still unable to see Nishyanda Buddha.
They had ears, but were still unable to hear the perfect, sudden teaching.
That’s why the Buddha traveled to the Deer Park. The park was named Deer Park because in the past there were two deer kings who taught their herds there. I told the story of these deer kings when I lectured on the Shurangama Sutra. If you want to know the details, then you can refer to my commentary on the Shurangama Sutra.
At that time Ashvajit, Subhadra, Mahanama-kulika, Ajnata-kaundinya, and Dashabala-kashyapa were all cultivating in the Deer Park. They had been cultivating together with the Buddha earlier, and they were all the Buddha’s relatives. Ashvajit, Subhadra, and Mahanama-kulika were kin on his father’s side; and Ajnata-kaundinya and Dashabala-kashyapa were both maternal uncles.
The five men had been sent into the wilds by the Buddha’s father to look after the Buddha. But Ajnata-kaundinya and Dashabala-kashyapa were unable to endure the hardship that cultivation involved, and they left first. The remaining three–Ashvajit, Subhadra, and Mahanama-kulika–upon seeing the Buddha accept a bowl of porridge that was sent by a heavenly maiden, assumed that the Buddha could no longer cultivate asceticism. They left him and found their way to the Deer Park.
Thus, when the Buddha realized the Way, he first went to find his five fellow cultivators so that he could take them across. After the Buddha finished speaking the Flower Adornment Sutra, he contemplated all living beings and their potentials and affinities to see whom he should take across first. Knowing that Ajnata-kaundinya and the other four were ready to be taken across, he himself traveled to the Deer Park to turn the Dharma-wheel of the Four Noble Truths.
“To turn” means to roll the wheel, to make it revolve. The Four Noble Truths are: suffering, accumulation, cessation, and the Way. “Dharma” means “a method” and “a rule.” The term “wheel” is used because the Dharma that the Buddha speaks flows forth from his mind into the minds of living beings, so that they can turn away from confusion and go towards enlightenment.
Thus it is called a wheel. “Wheel” also implies crushing and subduing. “Crush” means to break apart. “Subdue” means to make submissive. The more solid the opposition, the more the wheel is able to smash it. It is designed to smash apart the externalists and demon kings. That is the meaning of “wheel.”
The Dharma of the Four Noble Truths is the first Dharma that the Buddha spoke in our world. It’s said that the Dharma-wheel of the Four Noble Truths was turned three times. The first time was the Turning of Revelation. “Revelation” means the Buddha shows it to us. We don’t understand, so he tells us about it. Why is it called the turning of the Dharma-wheel of revelation? Because it reveals what the dharmas of the Four Noble Truths are about.
The Turning of Revelation is also called the Initial Turning because the Buddha had just begun to turn the Wheel of Dharma. The Buddha said, “There is suffering. Its nature is oppressive.” What is oppressive about it? Suffering makes you feel intense misery and deep pain–pain so oppressive that it takes your breath away. What kinds of suffering are there? There are: the Three Sufferings, the Eight Sufferings, and the Limitless Sufferings.
The Three Sufferings are:
1. the suffering within suffering
2. the suffering of decay
3. the suffering of process
What is the “suffering within suffering”? When one is already suffering, one further undergoes increased misery; when you are already miserable, your pain doubles: that is suffering within suffering. Who would experience this problem? Consider poor people who are starving and cold, people who never eat their fill and who cannot dress warmly. They still have a wooden hut to sleep in at night. Although they don’t eat their fill and cannot dress warmly, they are still fairly well off. Then suppose that a hurricane or a cloudburst destroys their wooden hut, leaving them homeless. Now, on top of their hunger and cold, they have lost their shelter as well. Wouldn’t you consider that suffering?
Or perhaps someone has a place to live in and enough food to eat, but has no clothes to wear: that is also a form of suffering within suffering. Or someone may have sufficient clothing and shelter, but always goes hungry. That is also the suffering within suffering and is known as the suffering of poverty. Such suffering is hard to endure. It oppresses one to an acute degree.
You might object, “Rich people don’t experience suffering, right?” Don’t you know that rich people experience the suffering of decay? A person may be both noble-born and wealthy, but then be kidnapped by bandits. The bandits estimate his wealth and estate to be worth five million, and they demand six million in ransom. He has to borrow another million to satisfy the kidnappers. Isn’t this a case of wealth going to ruin? This is the suffering of decay when it applies to wealth.
If you don’t experience the suffering of poverty or the suffering of wealth going to ruin, you will still pass through life’s various processes: from youth to maturity, from maturity to old age, and from old age to death. Your thoughts roll on in ceaseless succession, and that is the suffering of process. Those are called the Three Sufferings.
The Eight Sufferings are:
1. the suffering of birth
2. the suffering of aging
3. the suffering of sickness
4. the suffering of death
5. the suffering of being apart from what you love
6. the suffering of being near what you detest
7. the suffering of not getting what you seek
8. the suffering of the raging blaze of the five skandhas
Beyond these forms of suffering, there are also limitless kinds of suffering that we undergo. That is why the Buddha said, “There is suffering; its nature is oppressive.”
“There is accumulation; its nature is to beckon.” What accumulates are afflictions. The accumulation of afflictions is a kind of beckoning. Once you have afflictions inside you, afflictions will accumulate from outside. If inwardly you harbor greed, hatred, and stupidity, then outwardly things will not go your way. That is why the Buddha described it as accumulation, with a nature that beckons.
“There is cessation; by nature it can be realized.” This is saying that cessation, or still quietude, brings joy. This can be realized. You can realize the joy of this stillness and quietude.
“There is the Way; by nature it can be cultivated.” The Way is a Way of precepts, a Way of concentration, and a Way of wisdom. In detail it refers to the Thirty-seven Limbs of Enlightenment, which are: the Seven Shares of Bodhi, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Five Roots, the Five Powers, the Four Stations of Mindfulness, the Four Right Efforts, and the Four Bases of Psychic Power. Together, they make up the Thirty-seven Limbs of Enlightenment. The Way, by its nature, can be cultivated. The above was the first turning of the Dharma-wheel of the Four Noble Truths, and it is called the Turning of Revelation.
The second turning of the Dharma-wheel of the Four Noble Truths was the Turning of Exhortation. The Buddha said, “There is suffering, you should recognize it. There is accumulation, you should cut it off. There is cessation, you should realize it. There is the Way, you should cultivate it.” This is the Turning of Exhortation. He urged other people to cultivate the Four Noble Truths. This is called the Turning of Exhortation.
The third turning of the Dharma-wheel of the Four Noble Truths is known as the Turning of Certification.
The Buddha said, “Not only am I telling all of you to recognize suffering, cut off accumulation, long for cessation, and cultivate the Way, I am also telling you, there is suffering; I have already recognized it. There is accumulation; I have already cut it off.’
What accumulates are afflictions and I have already cut them off. I would not tell you to stop afflictions before I myself had stopped them. I feel at ease now because I am free of afflictions. That is why I am telling you now to cut off afflictions, and to recognize the suffering that they bring on. There is cessation, I have already realized it.’ I have already realized the bliss of still tranquillity.
So I am telling you all now to realize the joy of cessation, too. There is the Way, I have already cultivated it.’ I have completed my cultivation of the Way, and I don’t need to cultivate it further. Now I hope that all of you will recognize suffering, cut off its accumulation, long for cessation, and cultivate the Way.”
And took across Ajnata-kaundinya and the other four disciples, who all realized the fruition of the Way. When the Buddha spoke the three turnings of the Dharma-wheel of the Four Noble Truths, Ajnata–kaundinya immediately became enlightened and realized the fruition of his cultivation. Thereafter he was called the one who understands the fundamental limits of reality. He was also known to posterity as the first one to understand.
Why did Ajnata-kaundinya awaken first? Because in the past, when the Buddha was at the stage of causation, he was incarnated as the Patient Immortal. King Kali sliced off all four of his limbs and demanded to know whether the Immortal felt any hatred towards him. He replied, “No, I don’t hate you.” King Kali asked, “What proof is there that you feel no hatred?” The Patient Immortal said, “If I do hate you, then my four limbs will not grow back as they were before. If I bear you no ill will, then the four limbs that you have severed will grow back just as they were.”
With those words, his four limbs did grow back as they had been. After that, the Patient Immortal made a vow: “When I become a Buddha, I will take you across first, because you are my Good and Wise Advisor.”
In that previous lifetime, Ajnata-kaundinya was King Kali, and the Patient Immortal was Shakyamuni Buddha. So when the Buddha accomplished Buddhahood, he looked around to see whom he should take across first. “Whom should I take across first? I should first rescue the man who cut off my hands and feet.” Hence, when the Buddha spoke Dharma for him, Ajnata-kaundinya immediately became enlightened.
Next the Buddha explained about holding precepts and giving. How does one uphold the precepts? How does one practice giving? How does one get reborn in the heavens? He warned about desire, saying, “Having thoughts of desire is wrong; it is impure. If you leave desires behind, only then can you become pure, only then can you gain true happiness.” At that time Ashvajit (Horse Victory) Bhikshu and Subhadra (Little Worthy) also became enlightened. They were the next two to awaken.
Third, the Buddha went on to explain other Dharma-doors, and at that time Mahanama-kulika and Dashabala-kashyapa also became enlightened. Those five men were the first to leave home and become Bhikshus. They were the first ones to become enlightened and to realize the Fourth Stage of Arhatship. So the text says, “nd took across Ajnata-kaundinya and the other four disciples, who all realized the fruition of the Way.”
Then the Bhikshus expressed their doubts. Later, the other Bhikshus asked the Buddha about the Dharma to clear up their misunderstandings and doubts about principles. And asked the Buddha how to resolve them. They asked the Buddha whether they should go forward in their cultivation or stop where they were. They asked the Buddha to make a decision for them. The World Honored One taught and exhorted them until one by one they awakened and gained enlightenment.
The Buddha taught and transformed the Bhikshus, and gave them instructions; he offered them advice. After the Buddha taught and transformed them, every one of the Bhikshus became enlightened. That is when they each put their palms together, respectfully gave their assent, and followed the Buddha’s esteemedinstructions. Then they placed theirpalms together respectfully and gave their assent. That is, they put into practice the principles that the Buddha taught them. Because I thought everyone already understood, I skipped explaining the meaning of “Bhikshu.” I didn’t realize that some people still don’t understand.
“Bhikshu” is a Sanskrit word; it has three meanings:
1. destroyer of evil
2. frightener of Mara
Because it has three meanings, if you translate it as “mendicant,” then the meanings “destroyer of evil” or “frightener of Mara” are lost. If you choose “destroyer of evil” as the translation, then it won’t mean “mendicant” or “frightener of Mara.” Because the word “Bhikshu” has three meanings, it therefore belongs to the category of terms that contain many meanings and thus are not translated. This is one of the five kinds of terms that should not be translated in the translation of sutras.
The five kinds are:
1. words that contain many meanings
2. venerated words
3. terms referring to things that are not found in this country
4. terms that accord with ancient usage
5. terms with secret meanings
Because the word “Bhikshu” contains three meanings, its Sanskrit rendering is retained.
The three meanings are:
1. Destroyer of evil: When afflictions are present, there is evil. A Bhikshu is called a destroyer of evil.
2. Mendicant: From above, a Bhikshu receives Dharma from the Buddha in order to increase his wisdom-life. From below, he seeks food from living beings, so that they might plant a field of blessings.
3. Frightener of Mara: When a Bhikshu ascends the mandala platform to receive the Bhikshu precepts, the Precept Teacher (Upadhyaya) asks him, “Are you a great hero?” The candidate answers, “Yes, I am a great hero!” At that reply, the demons of the heavens and the externalists tremble with fear. Therefore he’s called a frightener of Mara.
When one leaves home to become a novice (Shramanera), one must know the meanings of the words Shramanera and Bhikshu. After he leaves home, a Bhikshu must know how to destroy evil and how to cut off afflictions. Destroying evil is the equivalent of cutting off afflictions. Our afflictions are extremely evil.
If you wish to know whether or not an individual cultivates the Way, you need only check to see whether or not he still has a temper. A person with a big temper does not cultivate the Way. Someone who cultivates the Way is able to patiently endure anything that comes along. No matter who scolds or beats him, he can endure it, to the point that even if someone were to kill him, he could endure it. In all of these situations, one must be patient.
Besides being patient, one must possess wisdom and a discriminating eye. That is why a Bhikshu has a world-transcending appearance. If a Bhikshu is able to cut off delusions and to realize the Truth, if he can cut off the delusions of the Triple Realm, then he will realize Arhatship.
We have with us someone who studied Buddhism for four or five years in the past, but only now, after years of searching, has he been able to find his way to Gold Mountain Monastery. This hasn’t been an easy accomplishment. In the world there are many people who look high and low to study the Buddhadharma, but who can’t find a genuine place to study. You who have made it to Gold Mountain Monastery should not assume that it has been an easy matter getting here. It’s difficult to enter Gold Mountain’s door. I hope you will all take special note of this point.
Leaving Home and Becoming an Arhat
The Buddha said, “People who take leave of their families and go forth from the householder’s life, who know their mind and penetrate to its origin, and who understand the unconditioned Dharma are called Shramanas. They constantly observe the 250 precepts, and they value purity in all that they do. By practicing the four true paths, they can become Arhats.“
This is the first section of the Sutra in Forty-two Sections. It says that a Shramana can become an Arhat.
The Buddha said, “People who take leave of their families and go forth from the householder’s life.” When you leave home, according to the Buddhadharma it is necessary to receive your parents’ permission. It’s not like in America where you are free after the age of eighteen to do whatever you want. Formerly, within Buddhism in India and in China, in order to comply with the custom of the country, it was necessary to tell your plans to your parents: “I’m going to leave the home life.” This is called taking leave of them. To leave home is to respectfully offer up your body, mind, and life to the Triple Jewel and no longer to engage in worldly affairs. This is what is meant by “take leave of their families and go forth from the householder’s life.” You enter a place of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and you leave the home-life.
In going forth from the householder’s life, you leave the ordinary household that has been your worldly home. Every household has its own troubles; there is constant quarreling among relatives and no real happiness. Thus you want to leave the mundane home, which is also called the burning house. It is said, “The three realms are like a burning house; there is no peace to be found in them.” Therefore, it’s also called leaving the home of the three realms–the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm. It’s also called leaving the home of afflictions. Laypeople all have afflictions and no true happiness; that’s why they wish to leave home. Once you leave home, it’s essential that you cut off afflictions and resolve your mind on Bodhi. That is what is meant by leaving home.
They are people who know their mind and penetrate to its origin.This means knowing your own fundamental mind and recognizing that when the mind arises, every kind of dharma arises. When the mind is gone, every kind of dharma ceases. There are no dharmas beyond the mind, and there is no mind outside of dharmas. Mind and dharmas are one. If you understand that there is no mind outside of dharmas, then you understand the nature that is everywhere calculating and attaching, our ordinary conscious mind.
In penetrating to the origin, if we understand that the mind and nature in fact have no real substance, nor any form or appearance, if we can understand this principle, then we will understand that the nature which arises dependent on other things is false and illusory. The nature that is everywhere calculating and attaching is fundamentally empty as well. The nature that arises dependent on other things is also false and illusory. Neither of these natures actually exists. That is what is meant by knowing the mind and penetrating to its origin.
And who understand the unconditioned Dharma. To understand the unconditioned Dharma is to understand the Dharma of True Suchness. True Suchness and all dharmas are not one, but at the same time they are not dual. If you understand this doctrine, that True Suchness and all dharmas are not one and yet not different, then you can understand the perfectly accomplished real nature. You can awaken to your basic substance. That is what is meant by “understand the unconditioned Dharma.”
Are called Shramanas.If you can be like that, if you can take leave of your family and go forth from the householder’s life, know your mind and penetrate to its origin, and understand the unconditioned Dharma, then you can be called a Shramana. “Shramana” is a Sanskrit word that means “diligently putting to rest.” The Shramana diligently cultivates precepts, samadhi, and wisdom; and he puts to rest greed, anger, and stupidity.
After you leave the householder’s life, you should not diligently cultivate greed, anger, and stupidity while putting to rest precepts, samadhi, and wisdom. If day after day you are without wisdom and day after day your stupidity grows greater, that is what is meant by diligently cultivating how to be greedy, diligently cultivating how to be angry, and diligently cultivating how to be stupid. Every day you are confronted with your own greed, anger, and stupidity. You can’t put them down, and so precepts, samadhi, and wisdom cannot develop.
You pay no attention whatsoever to investigating how to cultivate, how to hold precepts, how to practice samadhi, and how to develop wisdom. Every day your afflictions increase. And why? Because your karmic obstacles from past lives are too heavy and your karmic retribution is so weighty that it keeps you from making the resolve for Bodhi. It makes you constantly find fault with other people. With this attitude, from morning until night you feel that you are better than anyone else, even to the point that you feel you are better than your teacher. “My teacher doesn’t measure up to me. See how talented I am? You could say that from heaven above to earth below, I alone am honored.'” Someone with this outlook is certainly headed for a fall.
I often see Sangha members who haven’t even learned how to place their palms together correctly; they join their palms in a very sloppy manner. They sometimes hold them up at eye level! Properly done, your palms should come together in front of your chest. When you place your palms together, your ten fingers should be touching one another. After having left home for so many years, you don’t even know how to put your palms together! You don’t know how to bow correctly or to offer incense correctly; you’re too pathetic! If you don’t know how to place your palms together, then you should look at the older cultivators and imitate them.
I recall when I explained the Rules of Deportment for Novices, I told you all not to put your fingers into your nostrils. How could this possibly happen? Because you’ve joined your palms so high that your fingertips brush against your nose! Your folded palms should be at chest level. Hold them evenly at chest level, not at your mouth, your nose, or your eyes. When you are unclear about as basic a point as this, how can you cultivate the Way at all? If you still get this wrong, you will understand cultivation even less. When you cultivate the Way, you cannot be sloppy about anything or you won’t have any accomplishment. “If you’re off by a hairsbreadth in the beginning, you’ll be off by a thousand miles in the end.”
So, as Shramanas cultivate, they constantly observe the 250 precepts. They always rely on the precepts in their cultivation and do not violate them, and thus their study of the precepts grows. They value purity in all that they do. In motion and stillness, no matter what you are doing, you should maintain your purity. There should be no defilement in what you do.
By practicing the four true paths. The four true paths refer to the Four Noble Truths: suffering, accumulation, cessation, and the Way. When Shramanas diligently cultivate this Dharma, they can become Arhats. Since Arhat is a Sanskrit word with three meanings, it is considered to be a term that “contains many meanings and thus is not translated.” Due to the multiple meanings, it is not translated. We merely transliterate the sound of the Sanskrit word.
The three meanings of Arhat are:
1. Killer of thieves. Arhats are really fierce! Wherever there are thieves about, they kill them. “Well,” you ask, “Aren’t they violating precepts then?” The thieves the Arhats kill are not external thieves. They kill the inner thieves of affliction. Why are there thieves outside? Because there are thieves of affliction inside–the thieves of greed, hatred, and stupidity. Greed is a thief, anger is a thief, and stupidity is a thief. These are the thieves that must be killed. Therefore, the first meaning is “killer of thieves.”
2. Worthy of offerings. They are entitled to receive the offerings of gods and humans. An Arhat who has been certified to the fruition is an enlightened sage. If you make offerings to an Arhat, you can thereby gain limitless and boundless blessings, too many to be reckoned. Being a Bhikshu is the cause of becoming an Arhat; one becomes an Arhat as a result of having been a Bhikshu. At the stage of causation, Bhikshus are destroyers of evil, and at the time of fruition, they are killers of thieves. At the stage of causation they are mendicants, and at the time of fruition they are said to be worthy of offerings. At the stage of causation they are frighteners of Mara, and at the time of fruition they are free of rebirth.
3. Free of rebirth. What is meant by “free of rebirth”? It means they have ended birth and death. They no longer suffer its misery. However, they have only ended share section birth and death. They have not yet ended change birth and death, so they are only Arhats. If you can cultivate the 250 precepts, then you will accomplish your study of the precepts. If you value purity in all things, then you will accomplish your study of samadhi. If you cultivate the Way of the Four Truths, then you will accomplish your study of wisdom. In this way, you will cultivate precepts, samadhi, and wisdom to perfection; and you will destroy greed, hatred, and stupidity. Once you have destroyed greed, hatred, and stupidity, you become an Arhat. There are four kinds of Arhats: first, second, third, and fourth stage Arhats. One who accomplishes the fourth stage of Arhatship truly ends birth and death.
“Arhats can fly and transform themselves. They have a life span of vast eons, and wherever they dwell they can move heaven and earth.”
What is an Arhat? A fourth stage Arhat has reached the position called Beyond Study, because further study is no longer necessary. So Arhats of the first three fruitions are in the position of Having More to Study. Arhats of the fourth fruition have reached the position of the Way of Certification; second and third fruition Arhats have reached the position of the Way of Cultivation; and first fruition Arhats have reached the position of the Way of Seeing.
Later this Sutra says: “Be careful not to believe your own mind; your mind is not to be trusted.” We should be particularly careful not to believe our own minds. Our minds are unreliable. You can trust your mind only after you reach the fourth stage of Arhatship.
Sages who reach the fourth fruition of Arhatship don’t have any more desire and love. They have severed love and desire. What proof is there that someone has certified to the fourth fruition of Arhatship? A fourth stage Arhat’s feet don’t touch the ground. His feet leave the ground by three-tenths of an inch, and for that reason he never squashes insects or ants, as would an ordinary person who walks along. When he’s walking, there may be insects or ants beneath his feet, but he won’t step on them. This proves that he has become certified to the fruition. Not only can fourth stage Arhats do this, but first stage Arhats can do this as well. Therefore, the text says: Arhats can fly and transform themselves.
A fourth stage Arhat can go wherever he wants to go, and he can transform himself in endless ways. He can create endless numbers of transformation-bodies. For example, when I was in Taiwan, I visited the elder cultivator Dharma Master Guang Qin and invited him to come to America. He pointed to his heart and said he could come whenever he wanted to come. Now when he wants to come, he can. He knows he has come, but other people don’t know. Only those who have opened their spiritual eyes will be able to see that the elder Dharma Master Guang Qin is here.
Not only can the spirit of a fourth stage Arhat travel to some other place, his whole body can go. He can go easily and whenever he pleases. It’s not necessary for him to buy an airplane ticket. He can just travel through the air and transform himself freely. Arhats possess the ability to make eighteen transformations, and each of these transformations is truly inconceivable.
They have a life span of vast eons.These vast eons are limitlessly long, because a fourth stage Arhat can live as long as he wishes. Longevity is no problem. When the body he inhabits gets old and deteriorates, he can exchange it for another body quite easily. Thus he has a life span of vast eons.
People who realize the fourth fruition of Arhatship have freedom over birth and death. They are truly free: if they want to live they can live; if they want to die they can die at any time they choose. If they want to die standing up, they can die standing up. If they want to die sitting, they can die sitting. If they want to die walking, they can die walking. If they want to die sleeping, they can die sleeping, just as they please. They are very independent; no one can control them. So that’s why they have a life span of great eons and are said to be free of rebirth. They are not reborn, and they no longer die.
And wherever they dwell they can move heaven and earth. Wherever an Arhat dwells, the heaven spirits and the earth spirits are influenced and moved by him. They are all taught and transformed by him. That’s what this line means. Wherever an Arhat dwells, the gods, dragons, and members of the eightfold pantheon protect his Dharma and keep his locale peaceful. There aren’t any hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, avalanches, tidal waves, or any such disasters because the Dharma protectors and good spirits are always guarding him and making everything auspicious.
Inauspicious things do unexpectedly happen to Arhats, though; these are manifestations of karma from their past lives. Occasionally such things do occur. Because an Arhat’s cultivation at the stage of causation may not have been perfect, he will encounter trials and difficulties after he has achieved the fruition. So it is said, “One who cultivates blessings without cultivating wisdom is like an elephant wearing a valuable necklace. One who cultivates wisdom without cultivating blessings is like an Arhat who receives scanty offerings.”
Sometimes Arhats have no food to eat. They go out on alms rounds, but nobody makes offerings to them. That’s because when they were at the causal stage, they only cultivated wisdom and didn’t cultivate blessings. And so even after they become Arhats, they don’t have any blessings. People rarely make offerings to them.
Another way to explain “move heaven and earth” is that in every move this Arhat makes, no matter what he does, both heaven and earth will tremble and quake for him. This is a brief explanation of the word “Arhat.”
“Prior to the Arhat is the Anagamin. At the end of his life, an Anagamin‘s vital spirit will rise above the nineteenth heaven, and he will become an Arhat.”
Prior to the Arhat is the Anagamin. A fourth fruition Arhat has realized the position of being Beyond Study, while an Anagamin, an Arhat at the third stage of fruition, is still in the position of Having More to Study. A Sakridagamin of the second stage has severed six grades of delusion in thought in the desire realm and still has to cut off the last three grades of delusion in thought inthe desire realm. Once he severs those last three grades, he realizes the stage of an Anagamin and becomes certified to the third stage of Arhatship. One who has not finished cutting off these last three grades is called a Sakridagamin.
At the end of his life, if an Anagamin’s vital spirit becomes a ghost, then it is known as “the body between sets of skandhas.” If it is yang, then it is known as the vital spirit; this is also what we refer to as the soul, or efficacious nature. It will rise above the nineteenth heaven, and he will become an Arhat. When the Anagamin’slife ends, since he has not ended birth and death, his soul rises above the nineteenth heaven.
We count from the Heaven of the Four Kings up to the Heaven of No Afflictions. The Heaven of No Afflictions is above the nineteenth heaven. Above the nineteenth heaven, the Anagamin will realize Arhatship, so his name means “he who never again returns.” He doesn’t return into the human realm. This is the Anagamin, an Arhat of the third fruition.
Just now we heard that there are no disasters wherever an Arhat dwells, and some people have raised doubts that it might not be peaceful where an Arhat dwells. I won’t comment about that, but I will speak about the Elder Master Hsu Yun in China and the responses that occurred during his life.
Once during the Sino-Japanese War, when the Elder Master was living at Nanhua Monastery near Canton, Japanese warplanes dropped several bombs on the area, but none exploded. Some people say, “Well, they were duds. It was just a coincidence.” But then, why weren’t other people so lucky? Why was it only at Nanhua Monastery that there were duds?
Another time, when the Elder Master Hsu Yun was transmitting the precepts at Yun Qi Monastery in Yunnan, the trees blossomed with lotus flowers. Why didn’t the trees blossom with lotuses in those areas to which he didn’t go? On the leaves of the vegetables and other plants there appeared images of Buddhas. Despite the power of such miraculous responses, people still failed to recognize them as such. They considered them to be merely isolated occurrences.
When the Elder Master Hsu Yun was at Nanhua Monastery, a cypress tree that had been dead for several hundred years came back to life and budded. That was another inconceivable happening, as was the time when a white fox came and took refuge. At the time people still didn’t realize clearly what was happening. Now that the Elder Master Yun has entered Nirvana, everyone praises him. They all say that the Venerable Yun was a sage who realized the fruition of the Way and that he was a Bodhisattva who returned to earth.
This is just how people are–when something is before their eyes, they miss it; and once they’ve missed it, they regret it. People are strange and stupid creatures.
Now in America I want to create living Buddhas, living Bodhisattvas, and living Arhats. I want to create Anagamins, Sakridagamins, and Srotaapannas. Anyone who can get rid of desire and cut off love will have a share in it. As for those who can’t get rid of desire and cut off love–those who are completely spineless–there’s just no way to help them. Everything is made from the mind alone. If a person wants to be a ghost, he can be a ghost; if he wants to be a Buddha, he can be a Buddha. If a person wants to be a person, he can be a person. If he wants to be an animal, he can be an animal; it just remains to be seen which road his mind takes.
Don’t assume that The Ten Dharma-realms Are Not Beyond a Single Thought is an insignificant little book. A thousand years from now, there may be many people who will become enlightened upon reading that book. That is a future matter. Right now it remains to be seen whether anyone will become enlightened.
“Prior to the Anagamin is the Sakridagamin, who ascends once, returns once more, and thereafter becomes an Arhat. Prior to the Sakridagamin is the Srotaapanna, who has seven deaths and seven births remaining, and then becomes an Arhat. Severing love and desire is like severing the four limbs; one never uses them again.”
Prior to the Anagamin is the Sakridagamin, who ascends once, returns once more, and thereafter becomes an Arhat. The sage of the second fruition is called a Sakridagamin. “Sakridagamin” is Sanskrit and means “he who returns once more.” At this level of sagehood, one is in the position of the Way of Cultivation. What does it mean to “return once more”? The Sakridagamin is reborn once in the heavens and once in the human realm. The Sakridagamin has cut off six grades of delusion in thought in the desire realm.
What is delusion in thought? “Thought” here means consideration or discrimination. If you have thought, but no delusion, that can also be pure. As long as you use wisdom to make discriminations, that is not delusion in thought. Delusion in thought exists when you are confused, and you don’t understand. You think about what you don’t understand. This is “the nature that is entirely calculated and attached to.”
For example, you might see a piece of rope at night, but not recognize it as a rope. You think, “Oh, look, it’s a snake!” Why do you think that the rope is a snake? Because, based on the rope, you give rise to “the nature that is entirely calculated and attached to.” That is “the nature that arises relying on other things.” If you investigate the rope itself, you find that the rope is in fact made of hemp, and it’s not a snake. Then you are using “the perfectly accomplished real nature.”
The desire realm has nine grades of delusion in thought. One reaches the third fruition after severing the last three grades of delusion in thought. If one severs the first six grades of delusion in thought in the desire realm, one becomes certified to the second fruition of Arhatship. If one has not severed these six grades, one cannot become certified to the second fruition. One returns once to the heavens in the desire realm and once to the human realm. Thus, one is called “he who returns once more.” When one returns, one becomes certified to Arhatship and ends birth and death.
Prior to the Sakridagamin is the Srotaapanna. Srotaapanna, also Sanskrit, means “entering the flow” or “joining the flow.” It also means “opposing the flow.” “Entering the flow” means one enters the flow of the Dharma-nature of a sage. “Opposing the flow” means one opposes the flow of the six defiling objects of ordinary people. The six defiling objects are: forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tangible objects, and dharmas. When one becomes certified to the first fruition, one cuts off delusion in views.
We have delusion in views and delusion in thought; we are confused by views as well as by thoughts. Delusion in views and delusion in thought take control of us and cause us to be confused. So, if you genuinely want to become enlightened, you have to cut off these two kinds of delusion. Delusion in views must be severed, and delusion in thought must be cut off, too.
What is delusion in views? Delusion in views means that when faced with situations, one feels greed and love. Delusion in thought means one becomes confused about the principle and makes discriminations. Delusion in views: you see events and things, and you are confused by them. Once you are confused by them, you follow along with the situation and are turned by it. And when you are turned by the situation, you give rise to greed and love. With greed, you become attached to things; and with love, you can’t bear to part with things.
Being attached and unable to put things down, you can’t realize sagehood. If you want to achieve sagehood, you have to cut off delusion in views. How many grades of delusion in views are there? There are eighty-eight grades of delusion in views. When you cut off these eighty-eight grades, you attain the first fruition of Arhatship and become a Srotaapanna. The Srotaapanna is a sage of the first fruition. What is meant by “joining the flow”? You join with the sages’ flow; you are together with sages.
A Srotaapanna is one who has seven deaths and seven births remaining, and then becomes an Arhat. Sages who have realized the first fruition have seven more births and deaths to undergo. When these seven births and deaths are over, then these sages become certified to the fourth fruition of Arhatship and put an end to birth and death.
The seven births and deaths are divided in this way: upon reaching the upper-highest level of delusion in thought in the desire realm, you put an end to greed, hatred, stupidity, and pride, and you sever delusion in thought. Severing delusion continues through two births and deaths. Then one life is spent in the middle-highest level of the desire realm; one life in the lower-highest level; one life in the upper-middle level; one life in the middle-middle level and lower-middle levels combined; and one life in the upper-lowest, middle-lowest, and lower-lowest parts combined, for a total of seven birth and deaths. When the seven are finished, you can realize the fruition of Arhatship and end share section birth and death.
This is the way it happens in the ordinary course of events, but it can vary among particular individuals; there’s nothing fixed about it. If a cultivator’s potentials and roots are special, then he might advance from the first stage directly to the fourth stage of Arhatship. Kumarajiva’s mother, for instance, went from the first fruition to the second fruition. Therefore, the sequence of certification is not fixed.
There are many categories of delusion in thought and delusion in views in the Triple Realm, but when all is said and done, what confuses people most is love and desire. Love and desire gain control of us and turn us upside down. Knowing clearly something is wrong, we still want to go and do it. Knowing clearly something is right, we don’t want to do it. People are just such strange creatures. Even if we know very well that something is not good and we are told not to do it, we still go ahead and do it anyway. Knowing clearly something is good, we still don’t want to do it, even when we’re told to do it. We never listen. Why? Because love and desire control us and cause us to be upside-down.
Severing love and desire is like severing the four limbs; one never uses them again. If we can cut off love and desire, then we certainly will be able to accomplish the Way. Cutting off love and desire is just like cutting off your hands and feet: once you’ve cut off your hands and feet, you can’t use them anymore. That’s what it should be like when you cut off your love and desire. So the Sutra says, “Prior to the Sakridagamin is the Srotaapanna, who has seven deaths and seven births remaining, and then realizes Arhatship.” You must be just that determined, that decisive.
You shouldn’t neglect to cut off what you are supposed to cut off; otherwise you’ll have trouble. You ought to cut off love and desire, but you don’t cut them off; in general, you just keep avoiding the issue. This is to be indecisive, to have no real wisdom. Without any genuine wisdom, you keep intending to cut them off but never quite do it. Some people are proverbially indecisive like this. They think about it one way, and then they decide that it’s really another way. They have no will of their own and no principles to go by. This is of no benefit to cultivation. People who cultivate the Way should have heroic determination in their words and deeds. If they are resolute and decisive, then they can cultivate the Way.
Eliminating Desire and Ending Seeking
The Buddha said, “Those who have left the home-life and become Shramanas cut off desire, renounce love, and recognize the source of their minds. They penetrate the Buddha’s profound principles and awaken to the unconditioned Dharma. Internally they have nothing to attain, and externally they seek nothing. They are not mentally bound to the Way, nor are they tied to karma. They are free of thought and action; they neither cultivate nor attain certification; they do not pass through the various stages, and yet they are highly revered. This is the meaning of the Way.”
This second section of the Sutra is talking about non-cultivation and non-certification.
The Buddha said, “Those who have left the home-life and become Shramanas cut off desire.” What should people who want to leave the home of the Triple Realm and become Shramanas do? They should cut off desire. Earlier, the Sutra said, “Severing love and desire is like severing the four limbs; one never uses them again.” They renounce love and recognize the source of their minds. At that point when there is no more love, they recognize the source of their own minds.
They penetrate the Buddha’s pro-found principles and awaken to the unconditioned Dharma. They understand the Buddha’s most profound principles, which are neither conditioned nor unconditioned. Internally they have no-thing to attain, and externally they seek nothing. If you want to talk in terms of yourself, you have no understanding and no attaining. Inside, you obtain nothing. Outside you seek nothing and obtain nothing. Obtaining nothing inside is the unconditioned Dharma; seeking nothing outside is also the unconditioned Dharma.
So it’s said,
The less you know of what’s going on,
The less affliction you will have.
If you reach the point of seeking nothing,
Then you will have no worries.
When they reach the state of there being nothing to obtain inside, and nothing to seek outside, they are not mentally bound to the Way. They don’t necessarily say to themselves that they are cultivating the Way. At the same time you can always find them cultivating. Nor are they tied to karma. They also find it impossible to create any kind of bad karma.
They are free of thought and action.They have no false thoughts; all they have are proper thoughts. They don’t have even a single false thought, so they are free of thought. Since they perform no false or superfluous actions, they are “free of action.” They don’t do anything in particular. They neither cultivate nor attain certification. They have done what they had to do, they have already cultivated to the ultimate point. There is nothing left that they can cultivate. They don’t certify because they have already obtained the fundamental substance of the Way. They have already realized the fruition of their cultivation.
They do not pass through the various stages.It is unnecessary to go through all these positions: from the Ten Dwellings to the Ten Practices, to the Ten Transferences, to the Ten Grounds. You need not go through them. You suddenly transcend them. And yet they are highly revered. The position that Shramanas occupy is lofty. This is the meaning of the Way. That is what a Shramana who has attained the Way is like.
Severing Love and Renouncing Greed
The Buddha said, “Shaving their hair and beards, they become Shramanas who accept the Dharmas of the Way. They renounce worldly wealth and riches. In receiving alms, they accept only what’s enough. They take only one meal a day at noon, pass the night beneath trees, and are careful not to seek more than that. Craving and desire are what cause people to be stupid and dull.”
This is the third of the forty-two sections; it praises the most excellent ascetic practices. If you can cultivate these supreme ascetic practices, you can become certified in your fruition in the Way.
The Buddha said. These are the words of the Buddha. What did the Buddha say? He said, “Shaving their hair and beards.” People who leave the home-life shave off their beards and the hair on their heads, and they become Shramanas, left-home people, who accept the Dharmas of the Way. To accept the Dharmas of the Way means a cultivator should accept the Way in his mind and cultivate the Dharmas of the Way. A person who cultivates the Dharmas of the Way should renounce worldly wealth and riches; he doesn’t want the riches of the world. Here, for example, we have several people who have left the home-life and are keeping the precept against holding money. That is very good. That’s to renounce worldly wealth and riches. All the fighting in the world is due to wealth. Take a look: countries fight with countries, families feud with families, and people battle with people because of personal benefit. He can renounce worldly wealth; he doesn’t want any worldly valuables.
In receiving alms, they accept only what’s enough. Every day they carry their bowls and receive alms. They eat their fill, and that suffices them. Here, “receiving alms” means they carry their bowls and receive alms food. “They accept only what’s enough” means that having eaten their fill, they stop–they aren’t greedy; they don’t eat more. They don’t eat often–they take only one meal a day at noon–and theypass the night beneath trees. When they sleep, they sleep under trees. Further, they don’t sleep under any one tree more than three nights. And they are careful not to seek more than that. You should be careful not to seek for more. Don’t seek for anything beyond these simple things.
Craving and desire are what cause people to be stupid and dull. A person’s stupidity is like weeds growing in his mind: the sod and rocks cover over the mind, making him dull. Like the sun obscured by clouds, we don’t understand things; we can’t fathom how to do things. And what causes this? Craving and desire. They make us stupid. You object to my saying you are stupid? If you weren’t stupid, then why, once you’ve received the precepts, would you then break them? If you aren’t stupid, then why do you want to do things that you should not do? Just because of craving and desire. You can’t see through love and you can’t put down desire, and so you aren’t at ease. If you can see through and put down things, then you feel at ease; and then you won’t have any worries, any distress, any troubles, or any affliction. Everything will be just fine. There won’t be any problems at all. The way I like to say it in English is: “Everything’s okay.”
Clarifying Good and Evil
The Buddha said, “Living beings may perform Ten Good Deeds or Ten Evil Deeds. What are the ten? Three are done with the body, four are done with the mouth, and three are done with the mind. The three done with the body are killing, stealing, and lust. The four done with the mouth are duplicity, harsh speech, lies, and frivolousspeech. The three done with the mind are jealousy, hatred, and stupidity. Thus these ten are not in accord with the Way of Sages and are called the Ten Evil Deeds. To put a stop to these evils is to perform the Ten Good Deeds.”
The fourth section discusses how good and evil have no fixed form. It’s as easy to turn from doing bad to doing good as it is to flip over the hand from the back to the palm. It’s simply up to us to do it.
The Buddha said, “Living beings may perform ten good deeds.” There are ten kinds of good deeds that living beings can do. Or there are also ten evil deeds.Although these are good deeds, if done incorrectly, they become evil. What are the ten? Three are done with the body, four are done with the mouth, and three are done with the mind.
The three done with the body are killing, stealing, and lust. What is meant by killing? To kill is to take a life, to put an end to the life of another sentient creature. What is meant by stealing? It means to take some object without getting the owner’s permission. Lust refers to sexual intercourse between men and women.
The four done with the mouth are duplicity, harsh speech, lies, and frivolous speech. Duplicity, or “double-tongued speech,” doesn’t refer to someone growing two tongues. It means saying things in two different ways. You speak about Mr. Lee to Mr. Chang, and then you speak about Mr. Chang to Mr. Lee. You speak out of both corners of your mouth. Harsh speech means scolding or profanity. Telling lies means saying things that aren’t true. Frivolous speech means talking about things that are meaningless–frivolous, inappropriate things. Frivolous speech reflects deviant knowledge and deviant views.
The three done with the mind are jealousy, hatred, and stupidity.Jealousy refers to envy. When you’re jealous, you don’t wish good to come to others. When something good happens to another person, you become jealous. Hatred includes haughtiness, resentment, maliciousness, and vengefulness. When one is stupid, one doesn’t distinguish between principles and facts.
Thus these ten are not in accord with the Way of Sages and do not lead one down a good path. They are called the Ten Evil Deeds. To put a stop to these evils is to perform the Ten Good Deeds. The Ten Good Deeds are: not killing, not stealing, not being lustful, not being jealous, not hating, not being stupid, not engaging in duplicity, not using harsh speech, not telling lies, and not speaking frivolously.
Reducing the Severity of Offenses
The Buddha said, “If a person has many offenses and does not repent of them, but cuts off all thought of repentance, the offenses will engulf him, just as water returning to the sea will gradually become deeper and wider. If a person has offenses and, realizing they are wrong, reforms and does good, the offenses will dissolve by themselves, just as a sick person who begins to perspire will gradually be cured.”
The fifth section exhorts people to realize that if we have offenses, we can change them and start over with a clean slate. But if we have offenses and don’t change them, then the offenses always remain with us. If we can reform and make a fresh start, then the offenses disappear.
The Buddha said, “If a person has many offenses and does not repent of them…” The category of offenses includes all kinds of mistakes and wrong deeds. If you don’t change and repent of offenses, but conceal them and hide them away because you don’t want anyone to see them or know about them, that’s called not being repentant. The person cuts off all thought of repentance. You don’t realize that you should repent. You abruptly put a stop to any thought of repentance. That is, you have no intention of changing your errors. If you stop your thoughts of repentance, then when the offenses come down upon you, they will engulf you. The offenses will engulf him, just as water returning to the sea will gradually become deeper and wider. It will be like a small stream flowing back into the sea. Gradually the small offenses will grow deeper and broader, and will turn into big offenses. Even tiny transgressions will become huge. Light karmic obstructions will become heavy karmic obstructions.
If a person has offenses and, realizing they are wrong, reforms and does good. You can have such monstrous offenses that they fill up the sky, but with a single thought of repentance you can melt them away. Your offenses may be as vast as the heavens, but if you can repent of them, they will disappear. You must repent, untie the knot of offenses and realize your own mistakes. After that, you should change your evil conduct into good conduct and practice all kinds of good deeds. The offenses will dissolve by themselves, just as a sick person who begins to perspire will gradually be cured. If you can become a new person, then your offenses will disappear. What is this like? It’s like a feverish person who breaks out in a sweat and then gradually becomes well.
Tolerating Evil-doers and Avoiding Hatred
The Buddha said, “When an evil person hears about your goodness and intentionally comes to cause trouble, you should restrain yourself and not become angry or blame him. Then the one who has come to do evil will do evil to himself.”
This is the sixth section, which says that good can overcome evil, but evil cannot overcome good. The previous section told people to stop doing evil and to do good, to reform themselves. The Buddha feared that some people might be afraid that if they did good deeds, evil people would give them trouble. So the Buddha spoke this section.
The Buddha said, “When an evil person hears about your goodness and intentionally comes to cause trouble.” Suppose an evil person hears that you’re doing good deeds, and he intentionally comes to hassle you. He comes to give you trouble and to disrupt your practice of good deeds. At that time you should restrain yourself, you should remain cool and dispassionate. Don’t get agitated or nervous.
And you should not become angry or blame him. You shouldn’t get angry, nor should you scold him. Don’t talk about his wrongdoing. Then the one who has come to do evil will do evil to himself. The evil person who comes to bother you and disrupt your practice will wind up giving himself trouble. He’s just destroying himself; he’s just giving himself a hard time. It’s like a mirror in which an extremely ugly reflection appears. The ugly appearance is simply his own reflection in the mirror; it’s not that the mirror itself is ugly.
This illustrates that no matter how bad an evil person is, the evil belongs to him and will bring him harm in the end. If you pay no attention to him, there will be no problem. As soon as you start paying attention to him, though, what happens? You fall in with his ilk; you become an evil person yourself.
Evil Returns to the Doer
The Buddha said, “There was a person who, upon hearing that I observe the Way and practice great humane kindness, intentionally came to berate me. I was silent and did not reply. When he finished abusing me, I asked, If you are courteous to people and they do not accept your courtesy, the courtesy returns to you, does it not?’
“It does,’ he replied. I said, Now you are scolding me, but I do not receive it, so the misfortune returns to you and must remain with you. It is as inevitable as an echo that follows a sound, or as a shadow that follows a form. In the end you cannot avoid it. Therefore, be careful not to do evil.’ “
The seventh section verifies the preceding statement that one who does evil harms himself. In order to explain this, the Buddha makes an analogy.
The Buddha said, “There was a person who, upon hearing that I observe the Way and practice great humane kindness, intentionally came to berate me.” The Buddha is a person who observes and cultivates the Way. He also cultivates the practice of great kindness. On hearing this, a person came right up to the Buddha and started scolding him. The Buddha heard him, but was silent and did not reply. He remained silent and did not say anything. When he finished abusing me, once the person stopped berating him, I, the Buddha, asked, “If you are courteous to people and they do not accept your courtesy, the courtesy returns to you, does it not?”
“It does,” he replied. “Right,” he said. “It comes back to me. If they do not accept my courtesy and respect, then I take those back.”
I said, “Now you are scolding me, but I do not receive it.” “Now, sir,” the Buddha said, “You are scolding me. You berate me, but I remain thus, thus, and unmoving. Whether you scold me or not, it’s all the same to me. I’m not affected by your scolding; I simply won’t accept it. So the misfortune returns to you and must remain with you.” “Sir,” the Buddha continued, “Your scolding me is not right, so there will certainly be an unfortunate result; it is inevitable. And that misfortune will fall back on you; it will follow you just as an echo follows a sound or as a shadow follows a form, just as the shadow of your body follows you. In the end you cannot avoid it, the misfortune that will result from your having scolded me. Therefore, be careful not to do evil. It is my hope that everyone will not do evil deeds.”
Abusing Others Defiles Oneself
The Buddha said, “An evil person who harms a sage is like one who raises his head and spits at heaven. Instead of reaching heaven, the spittle falls back on him. It is the same with someone who throws dust against the wind. Instead of going somewhere else, the dust returns to defile his own body. The sage cannot be harmed. Misdeeds will inevitably destroy the doer.”
In this eighth section, the Buddha teaches us that we must not do bad deeds, that we must not harm people, because to harm others is just to harm oneself. If you slight others, you only slight yourself. If you are bad to others, it’s the same as being bad to yourself.
The Buddha said, “An evil person who harms a sage is like one who raises his head and spits at heaven. Instead of reaching heaven, the spittle falls back on him.” “An evil person” refers to someone who does bad deeds of every kind, while a sage is a worthy and virtuous person. When an evil person who has no virtue tries to harm a sage who has genuine virtue, it’s as if he were tipping back his head to spit at the sky. The spit doesn’t reach the sky, but instead falls back on his own face.This is to say that an evil person is really unable to harm a sage. He may think of a way to harm him, but in the end he’s still actually harming himself. In this world there are underlying principles of justice which govern all things, and which make it wrong to harm people.
It is the same with someone who throws dust against the wind. Instead of going somewhere else, the dust returns to defile his own body. If you face the wind and toss out a handful of dust, instead of flying forward, it will fly back to you and fall on your own body.
The sage cannot be harmed. Misdeeds will inevitably destroy the doer.You can’t slander a sage or really harm him, because when you cause misfortune for others, you will also bring misfortune upon yourself. It’s you who will have to undergo the retribution.
By Returning to the Source, You Find the Way
The Buddha said, “Deep learning and a love of the Way make the Way difficult to attain. When you guard your mind and revere the Way, the Way is truly great!”
In this ninth section, the Buddha is teaching cultivators to hear the Dharma and to contemplate it, to contemplate the Dharma and to cultivate it, to cultivate the Dharma and then to realize it. Cultivators should not only be able to discuss or to listen to the Buddhadharma, they should also able to put it into practice. It only counts when you actually go and do it.
The Buddha said, “Deep learning and a love of the Way make the Way difficult to attain.” Deep learning here refers to being well-read. Ananda, for instance, was foremost in learning. He could be called deeply learned. But someone who has only studied the Dharma and has not contemplated it as it is taught will never be able to understand the principles it contains. He relies on only rote memory and intellectual ability. Even if he has a sharp memory and can memorize a sutra, he won’t get any response. If he fails to contemplate the meaning and fails to cultivate according to it, it will ultimately be of no use to him.
“Love of the Way” refers to cultivators who know that the Way is really excellent, but who don’t realize that originally the Way is just their own mind. It is not apart from their own mind. Those people go searching outside their mind for another Way. Although they long for and cherish the Way, yet if they seek outside, they will go wrong. That “makes the Way difficult to obtain.” By seeking outside, they will not understand the Way, nor will they be able to encounter it. Since they won’t encounter it, even less will they understand the Way. The longer they run, the farther away they will get.
When you guard your mind and revere the Way, the Way is truly great! What does it mean to guard your mind? To guard your mind means to guard it from indulging in false thinking; it means not to seek outside. It is said, “Look within yourself; don’t seek from other people. Seek within; don’t seek outside.” Seek within; in thought after thought, you must awaken; in thought after thought, you must understand; in thought after thought, you must aspire toward the Bodhi-mind.
Having no thoughts of seeking fame or benefits is to guard one’s mind. What does it mean to “revere the Way”? It means to respectfully uphold the Way, never allowing it to be absent from your thoughts, and to comprehend the source of your mind in thought after thought. You merge with the essence of the mind, and you do not seek outside for it. That’s called “revering the Way.” Then the Way is truly great! If you cultivate like that, then quite naturally your accomplishment will be great.
Joyful Charity Brings Blessings
The Buddha said, “When you see someone who is practicing giving, aid him joyfully, and you will obtain vast and great blessings.”
A Shramana asked, “Is there an end to those blessings?”
The Buddha said, “Consider the flame of a single torch. Though hundreds and thousands of people come to light their own torches from it so that they can cook their food and ward off darkness, the first torch remains the same. Blessings, too, are like this.”
This tenth section expounds the merit and virtue of “joyfully supporting others.” You gain benefits and so do others, and the blessings you create have no end.
The Buddha said, “When you see someone who is practicing giving, aid him joyfully.” There are three types of giving.
The first is the giving of wealth, which is also called “giving that sustains life.” This refers to the giving of two kinds of material wealth: inner wealth and outer wealth. Inner wealth refers to the head, eyes, brain, marrow, skin, blood, flesh, tendons, and bones. This is the inner wealth of the body. Outer wealth refers to gold, silver, precious gems, countries, cities, wives, and children. If you have gold, you can give people gold; if you have silver, you can give people silver; if you have jewels, you can give them to others.
If you have a country or city, you can relinquish it to others. If you have a wife, you can give her away; if you have a child, you can give him or her away. This is done in order to single-mindedly cultivate the Way.] This is outward giving. As for inner wealth, you can give away your head, eyes, brain, bone marrow, skin, blood, flesh, and bones. The above constitutes the giving of wealth.
The second kind of giving is the giving of Dharma. The gift of Dharma refers to explaining the threefold study of precepts, samadhi, and wisdom. You give all these various kinds of Dharma to people, so that they gain benefit.
The third kind of giving is the giving of courage. When someone undergoes a catastrophe or a frightening experience, you can dispel their anxiety and alleviate their distress. That’s what’s meant by giving courage.
And when you see someone practicing giving and you support him joyfully, praising and rejoicing in what he’s doing, you will obtain vast and great blessings: your reward of blessings will be immense. Foolish people may say, “Well, if I do some charitable act and others amass vast blessings by following along and supporting me, won’t that diminish my own reward of blessings?” Anticipating that foolish people might reason that way, there follows a dialogue to this point:
A Shramana asked, “Is there an end to those blessings?” He’s asking, “Will the blessings disappear?” That is to say, the person who originally did the giving obtained blessings. When others rejoiced in his deed, they also obtained great blessings. Will the first person be able to keep his blessings? Or will they be snatched away by the others?
The Buddha said, “Consider the flame of a single torch. Though hundreds of thousands of people come to light their own torches from it so that they can cook their food and ward off darkness, the first torch remains the same.”Although there is only one flame, a hundred thousand people all come and use the flame to light their fires. They share the fire and use it to cook their food and dispel the darkness. Still, the flame of the original torch remains as it was in the beginning. It won’t go out.
Blessings, too, are like this. The reward of blessings is also like this. The analogy explains that someone who cultivates the Way by practicing giving can realize the fruition in the future. Cooking the food is analogous to realizing the fruition of one’s cultivation. Warding off the darkness is analogous to warding off the delusions caused by the threefold obstacles: the obstacle of karma, the obstacle of retribution, and the obstacle of afflictions.
What is being said is that the merit and virtue of your acts of giving will enable you and others to realize the fruition in the Way. You will be able to wipe out the three obstacles, and other people who joyfully support you will also be able to purge them. This merit and virtue will be shared by all alike.
The Increase in Merit Gained by Bestowing Food
The Buddha said, “Giving food to a hundred bad people is not as good as giving food to a single good person. Giving food to a thousand good people is not as good as giving food to one person who holds the Five Precepts. Giving food to ten thousand people who hold the Five Precepts is not as good as giving food to a single Srotaapanna. Giving food to a million Srotaapannas is not as good as giving food to a single Sakridagamin. Giving food to ten million Sakridagamins is not as good as giving food to a single Anagamin.
“Giving food to a hundred million Anagamins is not as good as giving food to a single Arhat. Giving food to one billion Arhats is not as good as giving food to a single Pratyekabuddha. Giving food to ten billion Pratyekabuddhas is not as good as giving food to a Buddha of the three periods of time. Giving food to a hundred billion Buddhas of the three periods of time is not as good as giving food to a single person who is without thoughts, without dwelling, without cultivation, and without accomplishment.”
The eleventh section of the Sutra compares the superior and inferior fields of blessings and lets people understand the superior and inferior aspects of making offerings.
The Buddha said, Giving food to a hundred bad people is not as good as giving food to a single good person. The previous section discussed giving in general terms, but when one gives, the important thing is to know how to do it. If you plant blessings but you don’t know the right method, if you don’t plant in accord with Dharma, then you won’t get any blessings.
So the text says that giving food to one good person plants a greater field of blessings than giving to one hundred evil people. Why? Because after you feed a hundred bad people, all they can do are evil deeds. You become an accomplice to the bad things that they do, because you helped them do their evil deeds. If you give food to even one good person, then the good things he does after he’s eaten his fill are deeds that, you could say, you helped him accomplish. That is why it doesn’t equal giving food to a single good person.
Giving food to a thousand good people is not as good as giving food to one person who holds the Five Precepts. “Food” here implies every kind of offering: food, drink, jewels, money, even your head, your eyes, your brains, and your marrow. If you give your life’s energy to help people do good things, then the good deeds they do are done with your help. But if you give your life’s energy in order to help bad people, you actually create offenses. Therefore the merit and virtue of feeding one thousand good people is not as great as that which accrues from giving to even one person who holds the Five Precepts.
Giving food to ten thousand people who hold the Five Precepts is not as good as giving food to a single Srotaapanna. “People who hold the Five Precepts” here refers to people who have taken refuge with the Triple Jewel, who hold the Five Precepts, and who cultivate the Ten Good Deeds. The merit and virtue of giving food to ten thousand people who hold the Five Precepts is not as great as that of making an offering of food to a single Srotaapanna, a sage of the first fruition.
Giving food to a million Srotaapannas is not as good as giving food to a single Sakridagamin. Giving food to a million Srotaapannas, sages of the first fruition, wouldn’t be as good as giving food to a sage of the second fruition, a Sakridagamin, because those of the first fruition do not know the state of those of the second fruition. Sages of the first fruition have already broken through delusion in views; those of the second fruition have also cut off six grades of delusion in thought in the desire realm. This was discussed in a previous section. Therefore, making an offering of food to a Sakridagamin of the second fruition has more merit and virtue than making an offering to a Srotaapanna of the first fruition.
Giving food to ten million Sakridagamins is not as good as giving food to a single Anagamin. Giving food to ten million sages of the second fruition, who have cut off six grades of delusion of thought in the desire realm, would not be as good as giving food to a single Anagamin, a sage of the third fruition. An Anagamin has cut off all nine grades of delusion of thought in the desire realm.
Giving food to a hundred million Anagamins is not as good as giving food to a single Arhat. Making an offering of food to a hundred million Anagamins of the third fruition does not have as much merit and virtue as making an offering to one Arhat.
Giving food to one billion Arhats is not as good as giving food to a single Pratyekabuddha. Arhats are called Sound-hearers because they hear the sound of the Buddha’s voice and awaken to the Way. A Pratyekabuddha is one who has been enlightened by conditions. When a Buddha is in the world, Pratyekabuddhas contemplate the Twelve Conditioned Links of Causation and awaken to the Way. When there is no Buddha in the world, they are called “solitarily enlightened ones” because they awaken to the Way through contemplation of the illusory transformations and the impermanent nature of the myriad phenomena. If you give food to one billion Arhats, it is not as good as giving food to a single Pratyekabuddha.
Giving food to ten billion Pratyekabuddhas is not as good as giving food to a Buddha of the three periods of time. If you make offerings to any Buddha, whether of the past, present, or future, the merit and virtue is much greater than giving to that many Pratyekabuddhas.
But giving food to a hundred billion Buddhas of the three periods of time is not as good as giving food to a single person who is without thoughts, without dwelling, without cultivation, and without accomplishment. It would not be as good as making an offering to a sage who is without thoughts, without dwelling, without cultivation, and without accomplishment. “Without thought” means thinking and yet not thinking. “Without dwelling” means dwelling and yet not dwelling. One cultivates and yet does not cultivate; one becomes accomplished and yet does not become accomplished. One like this reaches the level of the Initial Stage of the Perfect Teaching. He is known as a Great Knight Who Realizes the Dharma-body. Such beings manifest the Eight Signs of Realizing the Way and are able to accomplish Buddhahood in one hundred worlds.
We should realize the various principles involved in making offerings and the advantages of making offerings to each particular type of individual. Therefore, we should draw near to Good and Wise Advisors. If you draw near to evil advisors instead, you will learn their deviant knowledge and viewpoints. If you keep company with Good and Wise Advisors, you will learn right knowledge and viewpoints. If you make offerings to evil people, you are committing offenses; if you make offerings to good people, then you create merit and virtue. This is something that we should all know.
A List of Difficulties and an Exhortation to Cultivate
The Buddha said, “People encounter twenty different kinds of difficulties: It is difficult to give when one is poor. It is difficult to study the Way when one has wealth and status. It is difficult to abandon life and face the certainty of death. It is difficult to encounter the Buddhist sutras. It is difficult to be born at the time of a Buddha. It is difficult to be patient with lust and desire. It is difficult to see fine things and not seek them. It is difficult to be insulted and not become angry. It is difficult to have power and not abuse it.
“It is difficult to come in contact with things and have no thought of them. It is difficult to be vastly learned and well-read. It is difficult to get rid of pride. It is difficult not to slight those who have not yet studied. It is difficult to practice equanimity of mind. It is difficult not to gossip. It is difficult to meet a Good and Wise Advisor. It is difficult to see one’s own nature and study the Way. It is difficult to teach and save people according to their potentials. It is difficult to see a state and not be moved by it. It is difficult to have a good understanding of skill-in-means.”
The Buddha said, “People encounter twenty different kinds of difficulties.” All people have twenty kinds of difficulties. Difficulties are things that are not easy. Easy things are not difficult. Things that are not easy are adversities. Adverse states are not easily understood or recognized. Easy things are convenient; convenience makes people feel better about them. The twenty items on this list are all hard to accomplish.
The first difficulty is that it is difficult to give when one is poor. If you have money and you want to give, it’s easy; because if you give a little money, it doesn’t count for much. But if you don’t have anything to give and yet you still can give, that is genuine giving. What counts is to do things that can’t be done. Anybody can do what’s possible, and there’s no particular value in doing what anyone can do. An outstanding person does what others cannot do. He surpasses everyone else. This person transcends the common lot.
Speaking of the difficulty of giving when one is poor, there is a story that illustrates this truth. When Shakyamuni Buddha was living in the world, there was a very poor person. Now, although he was poor, he still had a wife. This couple had each other, but their lives were very difficult. They had only a little hut to live in; they had nothing to eat and no clothes to wear. Being so poor, they had to beg for their food every day out on the streets.
Begging isn’t that difficult a thing, but what made it hard was that the couple had no clothes to wear. All they had was one pair of pants. How could two people wear one pair of pants? They could only take turns. One day the husband would wear the pants and go out begging for food, and bring it back to share with his wife. The next day the wife would go out wearing that pair of pants. Her husband, left at home, had no pants to wear. The one who went out to beg would wear the pants and bring back the food for the two of them to eat. In this way they were able to sustain themselves day by day. Alas! You might say they were about as poor as could be.
At that time there was a Pratyekabuddha, and as mentioned before, Pratyekabuddhas have the spiritual power of knowing past lives. He took a look at their situation and saw that the couple was not able to give in past lives; that’s why they were so poor that they owned only one pair of pants in this life. The Pratyekabuddha thought, “I must try to take these two people across.” He made a vow to take them across by helping them plant the seeds of blessings.
So the Pratyekabuddha went begging at the couple’s door. He looked like a Bhikshu as he stood there, with his bowl in his hand, seeking alms. The couple saw the monk seeking alms, but they didn’t have any food or drink to give him, and all they had in the way of clothing was their one pair of pants. The husband said to his wife, “We ought to do a little giving and seek some blessings. Why do you think we’re so poor? It’s because we couldn’t give in the past. We should give now.”
And the wife said, “Give? Well, what do we have to give?”
Her husband said, “Well, we still have a pair of pants. We could give that pair of pants to this Bhikshu.”
The wife lost her temper at that. “You’re really an idiot! We’ve only got one pair of pants, which we take turns wearing. If we give it to that Bhikshu, we will lose our only means of going out to beg. With this one pair of pants that we take turns wearing, we can still go begging for food. If we were to give it away, how could we go out?”
The husband exhorted his wife, “That’s true, it’s not at all easy, but we shouldn’t take ourselves into account. We should just give the pants to the Bhikshu, and if the two of us can’t go out and beg, we’ll stay here and starve to death. Why worry so much about it? You see, the Bhikshu isn’t leaving.”
His wife, after hearing him out, sighed and said, “Okay, if you want to give, then give!” So this is what they did: they stuck their only pair of pants out the window and handed it to the Bhikshu. The Bhikshu, who had reached the fruition of a Pratyekabuddha, took the pants to where Shakyamuni Buddha was and offered the pants to him. He then explained, “I just received this pair of pants from a poor household. It was all they had in the house, and they gave it to me.”
Shakyamuni Buddha took the pair of pants and said to everyone, “Here is a case of great merit and virtue. A poor couple had nothing but a pair of pants in the house, and they were able to give it as an offering to this Bhikshu, who is in fact a Pratyekabuddha. They will reap limitlessly great blessings in the future.”
The king of the country was in Shakyamuni Buddha’s Dharma assembly at the time. When he heard that there were people in his own country so poor that they had no clothes to wear and no food to eat, while in his palace he himself ate so well and dressed so elegantly, he felt ashamed to face his citizens. In his shame, the king sent people to that poor household bearing rice, flour, and lots of food and clothes. The couple immediately received a reward for giving up their pair of pants. They had given their one pair of pants, and now they got everything they wanted. Later on, they went to see the Buddha. The Buddha spoke Dharma for them, and as soon as he did, the two of them immediately reached the first stage of Arhatship.
Therefore it is difficult to give when one is poor. If you can give when you are in difficulty, that is really a true mind of giving. And if, when giving, the more difficult it is, the more you are able to do it, then the more value it has. For example, you can’t stand to be scolded. However, if people scold you and you can endure it, then you have virtuous conduct.
Or, if you can’t stand being hit, but when somebody hits you, you bear it and look at it like this: “Oh, this is my Good and Wise Advisor who has come to help me eradicate my offenses and leave the sea of suffering. This is a rare Good and Wise Advisor!” No matter what kind of state arises, you should recognize it clearly. People who criticize you are truly your Good and Wise Advisors. It shouldn’t be that when people praise you, you’re like a child who gets some candy and becomes overjoyed; but when you get slandered, it tastes as bitter as bile. That’s not the way it should be.
The Buddha named twenty kinds of difficulties. Actually, in human existence there are many more than that. To be able to easily resolve difficulties when they come shows a true understanding of the Buddhadharma.
It is difficult to study the Way when one has wealth and status. “Wealth” means you are rich; “status” means you have power and influence. If someone is rich and honored, then of course his life is pleasant. It certainly isn’t as difficult as it was for the couple that I just spoke of who owned nothing but a pair of pants.
A wealthy person will have clothes to wear and money to spend; he will also have eminent relatives and renowned friends. Right then, if you were to tell him to cultivate and work hard, to leave the home-life and study the Way, he would find it difficult to do. Why? Because he has everything he wants and he’s happy with what he has; he’s very carefree. His house is like the emperor’s palace, and he dines on the best gourmet food and on expensive dishes that most people can’t afford. So it’s not easy to convince him to cultivate.
It is difficult to abandon life and face the certainty of death. To abandon life means you don’t want to live. However, even if you don’t want to live, you may not be able to die. For instance, some people may want to commit suicide, so they take sleeping pills. But they don’t take enough, and they survive. You might prefer to die and not necessarily be able to do so. If it were the case that, whenever you felt you had had enough of living, you could definitely die, then there would be no difficulty here!
There is another way to explain this. If you don’t want to live, you can certainly die. But even if you want to live, and you employ every possible means to prolong your life and avoid death, you cannot succeed. Eventually, everyone has to die. There isn’t anyone who will live forever and never grow old. No one can live forever and never die. Therefore the Buddha says that it is difficult to abandon life and face the certainty of death.
It is difficult to encounter the Buddhist sutras. All of you should not think that it’s easy to get to hear lectures on the sutras or to read the sutras. It’s not easy at all.
The unsurpassed, subtle, wonderful Dharma,
Is difficult to encounter in millions of eons.
Now that I can see and hear it, accept and uphold it,
I vow to understand the Tathagata’s true and
Think it over. It’s not easy to encounter Buddhist sutras, much less to obtain a human body. And yet in this life we have obtained a human body, we have encountered Buddhist sutras, and we can listen to people lecture on them. This, too, is not easy. It is the result of our having planted good roots throughout limitless eons in the past.
It is difficult to be born at the time of a Buddha. This is also not easy. Although the Buddha has entered Nirvana, the Buddhadharma still remains, so we can still study Buddhism and cultivate. This is very fortunate!
It is difficult to be patient with lust and desire. Lust and desire refer to the emotional love and desire between men and women. That kind of love and desire is not easy to bear, because ordinary people feel it is biologically natural for men and women to get married. It is not easy to endure the feelings of love and desire, to have the strength of patience to not be turned by emotional states. You may be patient once and patient twice; then you can’t be patient anymore, and so you are turned upside down. Therefore, it is not easy to be patient with lust and desire.
It is difficult to see fine things and not seek them. Everybody who sees something fine wants to own it and feels greed for it. To see something good and not be greedy for it is quite difficult.
It is difficult to be insulted and not become angry. For instance, someone may suddenly hit you, scold you, or insult you for no reason whatsoever. If he maltreats you and puts you down, it is truly difficult not to get angry, to remain calm as if nothing happened. If you can do that, then you’re someone who has already walked the road to its end. You pass.
It is difficult to have power and not abuse it. An example of a powerful person is a government official who decides he’d like to kill someone and goes ahead and does it. He uses his authority to oppress people. He uses his power to execute people even when they are innocent. If he has this kind of power, and he casually kills people, that’s an abuse of power. If he has power yet still respects people, and therefore he doesn’t casually kill or oppress them, then he is not abusing power. That’s not easy. Nevertheless, if he can avoid abusing his power, that is the very best.
It is difficult to come in contact with things and have no thought of them. No matter what you encounter, you just go ahead and deal with it without a second thought. When something comes up, you don’t get worried. You handle it as the situation requires. When the matter is over and done with, you remain calm. That is to say, “When something happens, you respond. When it is over, you are calm.” That’s called having no thought: you don’t have any attachment or any false thinking.
It is difficult to be vastly learned and well-read. To be vastly learned means to study widely, and to be well-read means to do extensive research. This is also not easy.
It is difficult to get rid of pride. Everyone has a measure of pride, and if you want to get rid of that pride, you’ll find that it’s not easy.
It is difficult not to slight those who have not yet studied. Those who have already left the home-life should know about this above all. You cannot slight people who have not yet studied the Buddhadharma. If you do slight them, that’s called slighting those who have not yet studied. If you encounter someone who doesn’t understand the Buddhadharma, you should use various kinds of expedient means to teach and transform him. You cannot look down on him and be impolite. In Buddhism, there is a list of four things that you cannot ignore. The Buddha often discussed them.
What are they?
1. Even if a fire is small, you can’t ignore it. You can’t be careless and casual. You have to pay close attention to it, because if you don’t, it’s likely to burn up everything.
2. Even if a dragon is small, you can’t ignore it. This is because a dragon can change from small to large, since it has spiritual penetrations and transformations.
3. Even if a prince is young, you can’t ignore him. The prince is the son of a king, and even though he is young now, he will become the king in the future.
4. Even though a Shramana may be young [in the Buddhadharma], you can’t neglect him, because in the future he will become a Buddha. It’s easy to slight those who have not yet studied the Buddhadharma, but you should not do so.
It is difficult to practice equanimity of mind. To practice compassion and equanimity with the mind is not easy; yet you should go ahead and do it.
It is difficult not to gossip. For the most part, people enjoy gossiping. To refrain from gossiping is a difficult thing to do. I have a disciple who told me that before he left the householder’s life he never gossiped at all. After he left home, however, he picked up the habit. But he awakened very quickly, so I believe he won’t be gossiping anymore.
It is difficult to meet a Good and Wise Advisor. It’s hard to meet a Good and Wise Advisor. Just consider how many people study the Way; most of the people you meet are muddled and confused. A Good and Wise Advisor is not confused. He will not allow you to walk down the wrong road. People who cultivate the Way should certainly listen to the instructions of a Good and Wise Advisor. If you don’t listen to a Good and Wise Advisor before you realize the fruition of the Way, and if you only listen to your own opinions, you’re making a mistake. If you go that way, you will be in for a fall. You’ll eventually encounter a demonic obstruction. You definitely must draw near to a Good and Wise Advisor and listen to his instructions. Yet it is difficult to find a Good and Wise Advisor.
It is difficult to see one’s own nature and study the Way. It is not easy for people who study the Way to understand their mind and see their nature. If you can understand your mind and see your nature through your study of the Way, you have done what is not easy to do.
It is difficult to teach and save people according to their potentials. To teach and transform living beings in the appropriate way, according to the conditions and affinities, is not an easy matter.
It is difficult to see a state and not be moved by it. No matter what situation you may meet, if you are not turned by it and you can turn it around instead, then you have done something which is hard to do.
It is difficult to have a good understanding of skill-in-means. To understand the right expedient method to use in teaching and transforming living beings is also not easy.
Questions about the Way and Past Lives
A Shramana asked the Buddha, “By what causes and conditions can I know my past lives and understand the ultimate Way?”
The Buddha said, “By purifying your mind and preserving your resolve, you can understand the ultimate Way. Just as when you polish a mirror, the dust vanishes and brightness remains, so too, if you cut off desire and do not seek, you then can know past lives.”
The thirteenth section helps people gain knowledge of past lives and an understanding of the Way. The Buddha tells us that if knowledge of past lives is our goal, we must understand the Way.
A Shramana asked, “By what causes and conditions can I know my past lives and understand the ultimate Way?” “What causes and conditions, or what Dharma-doors, should I cultivate in order to obtain knowledge of past lives? How can I understand true principles?”
The Buddha said, “By purifying your mind and preserving your resolve, you can understand the ultimate Way.” The Buddha said, “You should make your thoughts pure and guard your resolve. Firmly keep your resolve. Whatever vows you have made, you should uphold them. You can’t make vows and then forget them after only a few days. You can’t withdraw them after a short while. That’s not permissible. That’s not preserving your resolve. If you can purify your thoughts, if you can get rid of the darkness in your mind–all the false thoughts, greed, hatred, and stupidity–and if you can preserve your resolve, you will come naturally to understand the true Way, the highest Way.” What is it like? Now I will give you an analogy.
Just as when you polish a mirror, the dust vanishes and bright-ness remains.It’s just like cleaning a mirror: when the dust is gone, the brightness of the mirror appears. This brightness refers to the penetration of past lives.
So too, if you cut off desire and do not seek, you then can know past lives. If you can cut off your thoughts of desire and reach the level of not seeking for anything, then you can attain the penetration of knowing past lives. When people cultivate the Way, they certainly should not indulge in any scattered thinking or false thoughts. If you can do away with false and scattered thoughts, then no matter what Dharma-door you cultivate, you will quickly succeed with it. If you have false and scattered thoughts, as well as greed, hatred, and stupidity filling up your belly, then you certainly aren’t going to obtain a response, no matter what Dharma-door you cultivate.
When we study and cultivate the Buddhadharma, we should first cut off desire and cast out love. You should sever thoughts of desire and reach the level of seeking nothing. If you seek for anything, just that seeking is suffering. No matter what you seek, if you cannot obtain it, you will experience the suffering of not getting what you want. Everyone should pay attention to this. When we cultivate, what is it that we cultivate? We cultivate to get rid of false thoughts and thoughts of desire. That isrealskill. If you cleanse yourself of jealousy, obstructions, greed, hatred, and stupidity, then you can obtain the penetration of knowing past lives.
Asking about Goodness and Greatness
A Shramana asked the Buddha, “What is goodness? What is the foremost greatness?” The Buddha said, “To practice the Way and uphold the truth is goodness. To unite your will with the Way is greatness.”
The fourteenth section explains that there is no greater good than genuine cultivation. “Greatness” is realizing and certifying to genuine principles. This is the foremost greatness.
A Shramana asked the Buddha, “What is goodness? What is the best thing? What should be done? What is the foremost greatness? What is the most awesome, the most important, the most essential phenomenon?”
The Buddha said, “To practice the Way and uphold the truth is goodness.” If you can cultivate the genuine Buddhadharma, that’s the best thing to do. Don’t follow cult practices and religions that lead outside the mind. What is the genuine Buddhadharma? It is not being selfish; it is being open and public-spirited; it is letting go of your views that discriminate between self and others. We shouldn’t have an ego. We should not be selfish or seek for self-benefit. In every move we make we should cultivate the Bodhisattva Way and benefit living beings.
However much we understand, we should teach others to understand that much. When we obtain benefit, we should let others obtain that benefit. To be unselfish and seek no personal advantages is the greatest goodness. To practice the Way and uphold the truth means to uphold true principles and not to uphold empty and unreal dharmas. In cultivating, we must understand true principles. If we don’t understand true principles, then we are not upholding the truth. Upholding the truth is the best thing.
To unite your will with the Way is greatness. When your will and the Way which you cultivate can unite as one, you can realize the fruition of a sage. Perhaps you can attain the position of Arhatship or walk the Bodhisattva Path. That is the foremost greatness.
Asking about Strength and Brilliance
A Shramana asked the Buddha, “What is the greatest strength? What is the utmost brilliance?”
The Buddha said, “Patience under insult is the greatest strength, because people who are patient do not harbor hatred, and they gradually grow more peaceful and strong. Patient people, since they are not evil, will surely gain the respect of others.
“When the mind’s defilements are gone completely, so that it is pure and untainted, that is the utmost brilliance. When there is nothing, from before the formation of the heavens and the earth until now, in any of the ten directions that you do not see, know, or hear; when you have attained omniscience, that may be called brilliance.”
This fifteenth section tells us that the strength of patience is the greatest strength. It can end all defilement and enable one to have far-reaching understanding.
A Shramana asked the Buddha, “What is the greatest strength?” He asked, “What is the strongest of all things? What is the utmost brilliance?”What is the brightest and wisest thing?
The Buddha said in reply to the question, “Patience under insult is the greatest strength.” If you can be patient under insult, then your strength is great. If you aren’t patient under insult, then you have no strength. The strength of patience under insult is infinite. Why is it so great? Because people who are patient do not harbor hatred; because the strength of goodness contains no evil. It is totally good, and therefore it is inexhaustible.
It is said that, “The soft can overcome the hard; that which yields can defeat that which is obstinate.” Something soft can overcome something hard, and victory goes to what yields over what is obstinate. I have often asked you, “Why do teeth fall out?” The answer is because teeth are hard. “Why doesn’t the tongue fall out?” Because the tongue is soft. Even if you live to be several hundred years old, you will meet only people whose teeth have fallen out; you’ll never run into somebody whose tongue has fallen off. The tongue is yielding and can endure; this is the greatest strength. And they gradually grow more peaceful and strong. What is more, the patient person becomes calm, healthy, and robust.
Patient people, since they are not evil, will surely gain the respect of others. If you can be patient under insult, you won’t do evil. If you are incapable of doing evil, you surely will obtain people’s respect. When the mind’s defilements are gone com-pletely,when you extinguish the selfishness, profit-seeking, greed, hatred, stupidity, and related defiled and desirous thoughts from your mind, so that it is pure and untainted, then you become pure to the point that your mind doesn’t have any faults, filth, or defile-ments. There’s only a pure mind, and that is the utmost brilliance. If you can get rid of the darkness in your mind, that is the greatest brilliance; it is the supreme wisdom.
When there is nothing, from before the formation of the heavens and the earth until now, in any of the ten directions that you do not see, know, or hear; when you have attained omniscience, that may be called brilliance. From beginningless time onwards, throughout the ten directions, there is nothing that is not seen and nothing that is not known. From eons without beginning to the present, you know everything that has happened, and there is nothing you haven’t heard of. How can you be this way? Because you have obtained all-wisdom, and only this counts as genuine understanding, genuine comprehension, and genuine wisdom.
Casting Aside Love and Attaining the Way
The Buddha said, “People who cherish love and desire do not see the Way. Just as when you stir clear water with your hand, those who stand beside it cannot see their reflections, so, too, people who are entangled in love and desire have turbidity in their minds, and therefore they cannot see the Way. You Shramanas should cast aside love and desire. When the stains of love and desire disappear, you will be able to see the Way.”
This sixteenth section explains the minds of ordinary people. The “water of the mind” is fundamentally pure and clear. But if you stir the water up, it’s no longer clear. What is the settled clarity? It is the Way. That which is not clear and pure is love and desire. Desire obstructs us so that we are not able to understand our mind and see our nature. Desire keeps us from seeing the Way, and therefore from realizing the fruition of the Way. One who realizes the first fruition is at the position of the Way of Seeing, which also means seeing the Way.
The Buddha said, “People who cherish love and desire do not see the Way.” To explain this Dharma to Westerners is difficult, because no matter what Westerners talk about, it always concerns love and desire. This is especially true of followers of certain religions who say, “God loves me, and I love God.” They love God, just as men and women love one another. In fact, some nuns even say that they marry God. They simply have no understanding of the Way. What people harbor in their minds is love and desire. Everything they do involves love and desire. If you cultivate the Way, but do not understand it, then on the one hand you cultivate, but on the other hand you lose your cultivation. You’re advised not to hold onto any love and desire, but your love and desire keep on increasing!
It is just as when you stir clear water with your hand. When love and desire overtake you, you don’t see the Way. What’s it like? It’s like stirring up clear water with your hand so that it becomes murky. The clear water becomes murky because it contains sand and silt; if it didn’t contain sand and silt, then even if you stirred it up, it wouldn’t get murky. What is this sand and silt? It’s love and desire. When you bring forth your love and desire, it’s like stirring up the silt in the water with your hand, so that those who stand beside it cannot see their reflections. The water won’t reflect their images. Why? Because you’ve stirred it up. Why don’t you see the Way? It is because love and desire have made you so murky.
So, too, people who are entangled in love and desire have turbidity in their minds. From morning to night, people think about such unclean things as love and desire. They become entangled, so that no matter what they think about, it’s really only variations on that one theme. The water of wisdom becomes turbid in their minds; their wisdom disappears, and therefore they cannot see the Way. You cultivate day in and day out, but you don’t realize the fruition, and you don’t see the Way. Why? Because you have thoughts of love and desire. If you didn’t have thoughts of love and desire, you would be able to see the Way quickly.
So the Buddha said, “You Shramanas should cast aside love and desire.”“Shramanas” includes all of us Bhikshus and Bhikshunis of the present age. We should all give up love and desire. This does not mean that men should say, “I hate women. When I see a woman, I get angry and send her away.” That’s not the way we should handle desire. How should it be? We should see as if not seeing, and hear as if we hadn’t heard. There’s no reason to despise them. We simply don’t let our minds become swayed by them. To cast aside love and desire means to give them away. It’s just like giving money to people; once you’ve given it, you don’t have it anymore. To whom should you give your love and desire? Give it back to your father and mother. When the stains of love and desire disappear–if the impure, turbid filth of love and desire are gone–then you will be able to see the Way.Thiscultivation can lead you to see the Way and to realize the fruition of the Way.
When Light Arrives, Darkness Departs
The Buddha said, “Those who see the Way are like someone holding a torch who enters a dark room, dispelling the darkness so that only light remains. When you study the Way and see the truth, ignorance vanishes and light remains forever.”
The seventeenth section reveals that darkness has no independent existence. Since it doesn’t have any independent existence, once it vanishes, it is gone for good. Once you see the Way, then all ignorance will vanish.
The Buddha said, “Those who see the Way are like someone holding a torchwho enters a dark room, dispelling the darkness so that only light remains.” A person who sees the Way is like someone who takes up a torch and goes into a dark room, immediately banishing the darkness so that only the light remains. The darkness is gone because he holds a torch. The torch represents our wisdom. This means that if we have wisdom, we can break through ignorance, which is represented by the dark room. If we have wisdom, the dark room will become bright.
When you study the Way and see the truth, ignorance vanishes and light remains forever. Someone who studies the Way and can see the actual truth will immediately vanquish ignorance, and wisdom will remain forever.
Thoughts and So Forth Are Basically Empty
The Buddha said, “My Dharma is the mindfulness that is both mindfulness and non-mindfulness. It is the practice that is both practice and non-practice. It is words that are words and non-words, and cultivation that is cultivation and non-cultivation. Those who understand are near to it; those who are confused are far away, indeed. It is not accessible by the path of language. It is not hindered by physical objects. If you are off by a hairsbreadth, you will lose it in an instant.”
The eighteenth section explains the relationship between the existence and non-existence of mindfulness and cultivation.
The Buddha said, “My Dharma is the mindfulness that is both mindfulness and non-mindfulness.” The Buddha said, “My Dharma is not being mindful that you are mindful; and even the thought of that ‘not being mindful’ is not there. Therefore my Dharma is called a mindfulness that is mindfulness, and yet not mindfulness. It is the practice that is both practice and non-practice. In my Dharma, practice also is the Way of effortlessness.’ In cultivating, you don’t want to have any attachments. It should be the same as not cultivating. Even the shadow of ‘no cultivating’ should not remain.”
It is words that are words and non-words. Don’t be attached to words and language. Further, even your intention not to be attached to words and language should be done away with. And it is cultivation that is cultivation and non-cultivation. It is the Way of effortlessness, cultivating and yet not cultivating, certifying and yet not certifying. There isn’t any thought of cultivating the Way. That means that you don’t have any attachments; all attachments are seen as empty. Even the emptiness is emptied out.
Those who understand are near to it. To understand something means to be clear about it. If you understand this doctrine, you are near to the Way. Those who are confused are far away, indeed. But if you fail to understand and are confused about the principle, then you will be far from the Way. What is the Way ultimately like? I’ll tell you: It is not accessible by the path of language. You want to speak about it, but you can’t represent it in words. You want to think about it, but you can’t formulate the thought. You simply cannot speak of its wonder.
It is said that the path of words and language is cut off, and the place of the mind’s workings ceases to be. What the mind wants to think about is gone, and absolutely everything is empty. It is not hindered by physical objects. Physical matter is itself the basic substance of True Suchness. If you are able to realize this state, then you will see that the mountains, the rivers, the earth, and all the myriad things are just the basic substance of True Suchness, and you will not be hindered by physical objects.
If you are off by a hairsbreadth, if you are off by just a fraction of an inch, just a tiny bit, in the way you cultivate, you will lose it in an instant. You immediately lose it and won’t be able to find it. You should break through your attachments, and then you will be able to attain this state.
Contemplating Both the False and the True
The Buddha said, “Contemplate heaven and earth, and be mindful of their impermanence. Contemplate the world, and be mindful of its impermanence. Contem-plate the efficacious, enlightened nature: it is the Bodhi nature. With this awareness, one quickly attains the Way.”
In the nineteenth section, the Buddha teaches us the principle that everything is made from the mind alone. We must cast aside what is false and keep what is true. Heaven covers us from above, and the earth supports us from below. Seen from the point of view of ordinary people, heaven and earth are eternal and indestructible. But, in fact, they are not eternal and indestructible. They also undergo the superseding of the old by the new. They are not permanent.
The Buddha said, “Contemplate heaven and earth, and be mindful of their impermanence.” When you look at heaven and earth, you see that sometimes they are hot and sometimes cold. When the cold comes, the warmth goes. There is the cycle of spring, summer, fall, and winter. On the earth the mountains and rivers are involved in constant transition and do not stay fixed. They are dharmas that are created and destroyed. They are not the uncreated, undestroyed dharmas of the mind. They are impermanent. Therefore, the Buddha said to be mindful of their impermanence.
Contemplate the world, and be mindful of its impermanence. The world changes; it is not static. [In Chinese, the two characters for the concept “world” imply the ideas of time and place.] Both time and place are subject to creation and destruction. Neither is permanent and indestructible. So the text says, “be mindful of its impermanence.”
Contemplate the efficacious, enlightened nature: it is the Bodhi nature. You contemplate your own bright, enlightened spiritual nature: it is just the Bodhi-nature. With this awareness, one quickly attains the Way. If you can investigate in this way and gain an understanding, if you can know it as it is, then you will immediately obtain the Way. Because you understand this principle, you will obtain the Way. But if you fail to understand this principle, you will not obtain the Way.
Realize that the Self Is Truly Empty
The Buddha said, “You should be mindful of the four elements within the body. Though each has a name, none of them is the self. Since they are not the self, they are like an illusion.”
The twentieth section instructs people to contemplate the human body in terms of the four elements, in order to realize that the body is like an illusion, like a transformation. It is false, and unreal.
The Buddha said, “You should be mindful of the four elements within the body.” We should consider the four elements within our bodies. Our bodies are a combination of these four: earth, water, fire, and air. The solid parts of the body are from the element earth. The moist parts are of the element water; warmth comes from the element fire; and breathing and movement are manifestations of the air element.
Though each has a name. The four elements all have names. Each element has its own name.None of them is the self. None of them can be called the “self.” Consider the body and figure it out: the head has the name “head”; the feet have the name “feet”; the eyes have the name “eyes”; the ears have the name “ears”; the nose has the name “nose”; the tongue has the name “tongue”; the mouth has the name “mouth.” From head to foot, every part of the body has its own name. Now, where would you say the self can be found? Which place is called the “self”? There isn’t any place called the self. Since there is no place called self, then why do you want to be attached to the self? Why do you want to look upon the self as so important? The entire body contains nothing called the self.
Since they are not the self, they are like an illusion. There is no self, and so the body is like an illusion, like a transformation. There isn’t anything real about it. The one who contemplates and that which is contemplated are both empty and false. Both are illusory, and mere transformations. If you can understand that they are like an illusion, like a transformation, you can understand the doctrine of the contemplation of emptiness, falseness, and the Middle Way. When you understand this principle, you will know that the body is empty, false, and unreal.
Fame Destroys Life’s Roots
The Buddha said, “There are people who follow emotion and desire and seek to be famous. By the time their reputation is established, they are already dead. Those who are greedy for worldly fame and do not study the Way simply waste their effort and wear themselves out. By way of analogy, although burning incense gives off fragrance, when it has burned down, the remaining embers bring the danger of a fire that can burn one up.”
Section Twenty-one teaches that people who seek fame not only don’t benefit from it, but are actually harmed by it.
The Buddha said, “There are people who follow emotion and desire and seek to be famous.” People give way to their emotions and desires and chase after fame; they are after a good reputation. By the time their reputation is established, they are already dead. By the time you have made a name for yourself, you are already old; and once you are old, you will soon die. So there’s no real point to it.
Those who are greedy for worldly fame and do not study the Way simply waste their effort and wear themselves out. People who are greedy for an ordinary, worldly reputation and who don’t cultivate to attain the fruition of the Way apply their effort in vain. They wear themselves out. By way of analogy, although burning incense gives off fragrance, when it has burned down, the remaining embers bring the danger of a fire that can burn one up. Suppose you light a chunk of incense. Although you can smell a whiff of fragrance, when the incense has burned down, a fire may flare up from the embers and burn you to death. This is a very dangerous consequence that could occur.
Wealth and Sex Cause Suffering
The Buddha said, “People are unable to renounce wealth and sex. They are just like a child who cannot resist honey on the blade of a knife. Even though the amount is not even enough for a single meal’s serving, he will lick it and risk cutting his tongue in the process.”
The twenty-second section explains clearly that wealth and sex have little flavor, but cause great harm. So people with wisdom should not be like ignorant children who crave a sweet flavor.
The Buddha said, “People are unable to renounce wealth and sex.” In this world, there is wealth on the one hand, and sex on the other. These two harm many people who cultivate the Way. If people who cultivate the Way cannot renounce wealth, they will be greedy for it. If they cannot renounce sex, they will be greedy for sex. If you are greedy for wealth and sex, you cannot accomplish your work in the Way. Most people cannot renounce these two. What are they like? The Buddha brings up an analogy.
They are just like a child who cannot resist honey on the blade of a knife. Even though the amount is not even enough for a single meal’s serving, he will lick it and risk cutting his tongue in the process. There’s a little bit of honey on the sharp edge of the knife, not even enough for one meal’s serving. Seeing the honey on the blade of the knife, a child licks it. Ignorant people who crave wealth and sex are just like the child who craves the honey on the knife and who thus risks cutting his tongue. Therefore, we must certainly see through and put down wealth and sex. Only then can we obtain self-mastery.
A Family Is Worse than a Prison
The Buddha said, “People are bound to their families and homes to such an extent that these are worse than a prison. Eventually one is released from prison, but people never think of leaving their families. Don’t they fear the control that emotion, love, and sex have over them? Although they are in a tiger’s jaws, their hearts are blissfully oblivious. Because they throw themselves into a swamp and drown, they are known as ordinary people. Pass through the gateway! Get out of the defilement and become an Arhat!”
This twenty-third section explains that people are as if smothered by their families and their houses. To be smothered like this is worse than being in jail. People should stay far away from this situation and recognize how dangerous it is.
The Buddha said, “People are bound to their families and homes to such an extent that these are worse than a prison.” People are tied up by their families. Houses also bind people. It is said that householders are bound by three kinds of yokes that they wear at all times.
A family is like a wooden cangue locked so tightly around your neck that you can’t shrug it off. In the past, you had to wear a cangue as punishment if you committed certain crimes. Once you have family, it is just like a cangue locking you up. For instance, some of our laypeople who have families have lost their freedom. They want to go to heaven, but they aren’t free to go. They want to travel around the earth, but they can’t go. They are locked securely at home.
That’s what it means to be bound up by a spouse so that everything becomes inconvenient. If you have children, it’s as if you are handcuffed, which makes it inconvenient to move around. Having parents is like having a ball and chain on your foot. These are the three yokes that bind anyone who has a family. To be bound to your house means that you cannot put it down. You are bound up, and it’s worse than being in a prison. Having a family and a house is just like spending your life in prison.
Eventually one is released from prison. The time will come when your sentence is finished and you get out of prison, but people never think of leaving their families. You don’t want to leave your family–you may think about leaving them, but you really don’t want to. For example, some of you say you want to leave the home-life. If you want to leave home, then go ahead and leave home. Why simply talk about it? You’re still just talking about it because you haven’t really made the resolve to leave home. You are just singing a tune.
Don’t they fear the control that emotion, love, and sex have over them? These people have no fear of being controlled by emotion, love, and sex. Although they are in a tiger’s jaws, their hearts are blissfully oblivious. Even though this situation is like being in the jaws of a tiger, you wouldn’t mind being eaten by the tiger.
Because they throw themselves into a swamp and drown, they are known as ordinary people. Because they cast themselves into a swamp and drown themselves, they are called ordinary people. Pass through the gateway! Get out of the defilement and become an Arhat! What gateway? The gateway of emotion and desire, of love and sex, and of attachments to families and homes. Pass through the gateway and you will get out of the defilement; you’ll become an Arhat who leaves the world of defilement. You will be a sage who is about to attain the fruition of Arhatship.
Sexual Desire Obstructs the Way
The Buddha said, “Of all longings and desires, there is none as strong as sex. Sexual desire has no equal. Fortunately, it is one of a kind. If there were something else like it, no one in the entire world would be able to cultivate the Way.”
The twenty-fourth section speaks of people’s thoughts of sexual desire. If you are able to cut off sexual desire, it will be easy for you to realize the fruition of Arhatship. Unfortunately, it is not at all easy to cut it off. All living beings have this problem. According to the Shurangama Sutra, “If you cannot renounce thoughts of sexual desire, you cannot transcend the dust of the world.” If you can’t get rid of sexual desire, then you will not be able to realize Arhatship.
The Buddha said, “Of all longings and desires, there is none as strong as sex.” Here, “longings and desires” refer to sexual desire, that is, to the mind of lust. There is nothing more powerful than attraction to the opposite sex. Sexual desire has no equal. It is so strong that there is nothing more powerful than this kind of emotional desire.
Fortunately, it is one of a kind. If there were something else like it, no one in the entire world would be able to cultivate the Way. Luckily, sexual desire is unique. If there were something else equal to it, then none of the living beings in the entire world would be able to cultivate the Way. It is difficult enough with just one obstruction like this; two together would simply devour people, and no one would be able to cultivate. Another illustration of this is when women get confused by desire for women, and when men get confused by desire for men. Men and women both engage in homosexual conduct: men have homosexual relationships with men, and women have homosexual relationships with women. It all amounts to being confused by sexual desire.
The Fire of Desire Burns
The Buddha said, “A person with love and desire is like one who carries a torch while walking against the wind: he is certain to burn his hand.”
The twenty-fifth section explains why one must stay away from love and desire.
The Buddha said, “A person with love and desire is like one who carries a torch while walking against the wind.” A person who always indulges in emotional love and desire, who goes along with his emotional desires and lustful thoughts, might as well be holding a burning torch while walking against the wind. He is certain to burn his hand. He is certain to get burned. Now, burning one’s hand may not be such a great problem, but I’m afraid he will burn up his entire body. Therefore, in such a situation it’s better to simply stay away from these things in the first place.
Demons from the Heavens Try to Tempt the Buddha
The heaven spirit offered beautiful maidens to the Buddha, hoping to destroy his resolve. The Buddha said, “What have you skin-bags full of filth come here for? Go away, I’ve got no use for you.”
Then the heaven spirit became very respectful and asked about the meaning of the Way. The Buddha explained it for him, and he immediately attained the fruition of Srotaapanna.
The heaven spirit referred to here is a demon from the heavens, namely, the Demon King Papiyan. He waited until the Buddha was about to accomplish the Way and then sent a great retinue of demons, a whole army of them, intent upon disturbing the Buddha. But, as the twenty-sixth section explains, the Buddha was not swayed by the demon king. Instead, he was able to convert him into a Dharma-protector of the Buddha.
The heaven spirit offered beautiful maidens to the Buddha, hoping to destroy his resolve. The demon king from the heavens gave three jade women to the Buddha. What is meant by “jade women”? These women were particularly beautiful, as exquisite as jade, with looks that were out of this world. Not only was no one on earth as beautiful, there were no women in the heavens as beautiful, either. The demon king sent the beautiful women, hoping the Buddha would have thoughts of lust. He wanted to destroy the Buddha’s determination and vows to cultivate the Way.
The Buddha said, “What have you skin-bags full of filth come here for?” Now, it makes no difference whether you are speaking of men or women, whether it is handsome men or beautiful women. The meaning is not that only women are so terrible, while men are not. The Buddha said the human body is a skin-bag full of filth. Our skin is compared to a leather bag. What’s stored in the bag? There is little other than excrement and urine inside it. What could possibly be attractive about that?
You may look just on the surface and say, “Oh, that man is extremely handsome.” No matter how handsome he is, he can’t be more handsome than Ananda, who was so good-looking that Matangi’s daughter fell in love with him at first sight. When Matangi’s daughter came before the Buddha, the Buddha asked her what she loved about Ananda. She said, “Oh, his nose is fine, his eyes are beautiful, his ears are well-shaped–all the features on his face are wonderful!”
The Buddha said to her, “All right, if you love his nose, I’ll cut off his nose and give it to you. If you love his ears, I’ll slice them off, and you can have them. If you love his eyes, then I’ll gouge them out, and they’re yours. You can take them back with you.”She said, “No! That would never do!”
Ultimately, what meaning is there in the love between men and women? No matter how perfect a person may be on the surface, inside there are all kinds of filth. Urine and excrement collect inside, and the nine apertures constantly flow with impurities. Matter comes out from the eyes, wax from the ears, mucus from the nose, and saliva from the mouth. Then there is urine and excrement. Which of these substances is pure and clean? So the Buddha called it a stinking skin-bag full of filth.
Go away, I’ve got no use for you. The Buddha said, “You’ve come to give me this? What use is it to me? None! Go away. I don’t want you.”
When the demon offered the women to the Buddha, the Buddha looked at the three women and had this contemplation: “When you’re old, you’ll have who-knows-how-many wrinkles on your faces. And when you’re old enough to have all those ugly wrinkles, your hair will have turned gray, and you won’t be pretty at all.” As soon as the Buddha had this thought, the demon women spontaneously took on that appearance. When they looked at themselves in that state, they felt that it was pretty meaningless, and they were very embarrassed. So the Buddha sent them away, saying, “I’ve got no use for you!”
Then the heaven spirit became very respectful and asked about the meaning of the Way. The demon from the heavens then saw what solid resolution the Buddha had for the Way, and so he became even more respectful and asked the Buddha to speak Dharma for him. The Buddha explained it for him, and he immediately attained the fruition of Srotaapanna (the first fruition of Arhatship).
One Attains the Way after Letting Go of Attachments
The Buddha said, “A person who follows the Way is like a floating piece of wood that courses along with the current. If it does not touch either shore; if people do not pluck it out; if ghosts and spirits do not intercept it; if it is not trapped in whirlpools; and if it does not rot, I guarantee that the piece of wood will reach the sea. If students of the Way are not deluded by emotion and desire, and if they are not caught up in the many crooked views, but are vigorous in their cultivation of the unconditioned, I guarantee that they will certainly attain the Way.”
The twenty-seventh section sets forth an analogy to explain that in cultivating the Way, one should stay clear of all kinds of obstacles. What are the two shores? The two shores refer to emotion and desire.
Emotion and desire further divide into two kinds:
(1) the emotion and desire of views and thought and
(2) the emotion and desire of ignorance.
With the first, you grow attached to birth and death, which is represented by this shore. With the second, you become attached to Nirvana, which is represented by the other shore. Wood that is plucked out by people is analogous to cultivators getting caught in the nets of crooked views. Wood that is intercepted by ghosts and spirits is analogous to cultivators who get covered by the nets of views and thoughts.
Being caught up in a whirlpool refers to being lazy, which is the opposite of being vigorous. Rotten wood represents the opposite of unconditioned dharmas. Some cultivators are not properly mindful of True Suchness in a straightforward manner, and although they often wish to be vigorous, they end up retreating. It is as if they were in a whirlpool: although the water flows fast, it merely circles in the same spot. Similarly, they return to where they started and cannot reach unconditioned dharmas. Since they cannot reach the unconditioned, they become attached to appearances and cannot perfect the cultivation of blessings and wisdom.
People in this situation are likened to rotting wood. They are bound to sink, and they will not reach the other shore of Nirvana. They won’t be able to end birth and death. That’s the result of being confused by emotional desire and caught up in the myriad crooked bypaths of love and views. If one is properly mindful of True Suchness and vigorously cultivates, understands that the fundamental nature of the Dharma is originally unconditioned, and can withstand being turned by emotions and love, then one will certainly attain the Way. That is the general meaning of this section of the text.
The Buddha said, “A person who follows the Way is like a floating piece of wood that courses along with the current.” The Buddha compares a cultivator of the Way to a piece of wood that is carried downstream by the current. If it does not touch either shore. It doesn’t get caught in or obstructed by the rocks along either bank. If it made contact with the two shores, the wood could get stopped. Not touching the two shores, the wood does not get stopped.
Likewise, the cultivator doesn’t get hindered by emotion and desire. If people do not pluck it out–it is not grabbed by people; if ghosts and spirits do not intercept it–nor is it stopped by ghosts or spirits; if it is not trapped in whirlpools–it doesn’t spin around and get stopped; and if it does not rot–nor does it become spoiled or corrupted, I guarantee that the piece of wood will reach the sea.
If students of the Way are not deluded by emotion and desire, and if they are not caught up in the many crooked views, if they are not confused by love and emotion or by material desires, and if they are not obstructed either by ignorance or by laziness, but are vigorous in their cultivation of the unconditioned dharmas, I guarantee that they will certainly attain the Way. They will surely accomplish the Way.
Don’t Indulge the Wild Mind
The Buddha said, “Be careful not to believe your own mind; your mind is not to be believed. Be careful not to get involved with sex; involvement with sex leads to disaster. After you have attained Arhatship, you can believe your own mind.”
In the twenty-eighth section, the Buddha says that the mind is like a horse that is difficult to tame and subdue. Then there is sex. Whether you are male or female, you should stay clear of sex. If you don’t stay away from it, disasters will arise. From countless eons in the past until the present, however, we living beings have let our passions and desires run away with us, and thus we keep turning in the six destinies of samsara. We are unable to realize Arhatship because we are continually caught up in ignorance, views of emotional love, and pride. Therefore, we shouldn’t believe our own thoughts. We cannot be careless and inattentive. We must be careful not to get involved with sex. We must not believe our own minds.
The Buddha said, “Be careful not to believe your own mind.” Don’t listen to the thoughts in your mind; don’t believe the things you’re thinking. You should be extremely careful not to believe your own mind. Your mind is not to be believed. Your mind is unreliable, and cannot be trusted.
You must be careful not to get involved with sex; involvement with sex leads to disaster. Be extremely careful not to become attached to beautiful appearances. If you get too deeply involved in beautiful appearances, disasters are bound to occur. After you have attained Arhatship, you can believe your own mind.After you have realized Arhatship and cut off afflictions of views and thought, you can believe in your mind a little more than before. But you still shouldn’t believe in it too much.
Proper Contemplation Counteracts Sexual Desire
The Buddha said, “Be careful not to look at women, and do not talk with them. If you must speak with them, be properly mindful and think, I am a Shramana living in a turbid world. I should be like the lotus flower, which is not stained by the mud.’ Think of elderly women as your mothers, of those who are older than you as your elder sisters, of those who are younger as your younger sisters, and of very young girls as your daughters. Bring forth thoughts to rescue them, and put an end to bad thoughts.”
The twenty-ninth section explains that men should stay far away from women, and that women should stay far away from men to prevent any mistakes from happening. This is using the method of “bringing forth the good and ending the bad” to combat love and desire. So one is said to be like a lotus flower. This analogy can apply to men as well as to women.
The lotus flower grows from the mud, but is not defiled or soiled by it. Think this way and your mind will be proper. This is the way to help yourself out. Men should regard elderly women as their own mothers, and women should regard elderly men as their own fathers. Men should see women who are the same age as they are, or slightly older, as their own elder sisters; and they should see women who are younger than they are as their younger sisters. They should view all children as they would their own and resolve to take them all across. By resolving to cross them over, you are being compassionate, and you are benefiting others. Since you can benefit yourself and also benefit others, the mutually beneficial behavior will bring a response, and your evil thoughts will naturally disappear. You will also have fewer discursive thoughts.
The Buddha said, “Be careful not to look at women, and do not talk with them.”The Buddha is teaching men how to act towards women. For women in relation to men, he would say, “Be careful not to look at men, and do not talk with them.” You can’t get together with members of the opposite sex and chat. Not to mention joking around with them, you shouldn’t even speak with them. If you must speak with them,be properly mindful and think, “I am a Shramana living in a turbid world. I should be like the lotus flower, which is not stained by the mud.”
Now, if there is a situation where it is necessary to speak with a member of the opposite sex, what do you do?You shouldn’t have improper thoughts; you should be proper and mindful. A man should think, “I am a Shramana, a Bhikshu…” and a woman should think, “I am a Bhikshuni…” Regardless of whether we are men or women, we are all living in the Evil World of the Five Turbidities. Although this turbid, evil world is an unclean place, we should be like lotus flowers. Men can be compared to lotus flowers, and so can women. The lotus grows in the mud and yet is not defiled by the mud. It is born from the mud, but the mud does not stain it.
Think of elderly women as your mothers. “Women who are older than I am are my mothers; men who are older than I am are my fathers.” Think of older people in this way. Think of those who are older than you as your elder sisters. “Women who are slightly older than I am are like my elder sisters; men who are slightly older than I am are like my elder brothers.” Think of those who are younger as your younger sisters. “Those who are younger than I am are like my little sisters.” That’s how men should see women. And how should women see men? They should think, “Those who are younger than I am are just like my little brothers.”
And think of very young girls as your daughters. You should consider children who are ten years old or younger as your own sons and daughters. Bring forth thoughts to rescue them. So no matter whether it is your father or your mother, your older brother or sister, or your younger brother or sister, you should resolve to rescue them all, so they can leave suffering and attain bliss. And you should put an end to bad thoughts. Then you will be able to stop having evil and deviant thoughts, particularly thoughts of sexual desire.
Stay Far Away from the Fire of Desire
The Buddha said, “People who cultivate the Way are like dry grass: it is essential to keep it away from an oncoming fire. People who cultivate the Way look upon desire as something they must stay far away from.”
The thirtieth section tells people to keep at a distance from all thoughts of desire. Don’t be burned by the fire of desire. What’s meant by dry grass? The six emotions and their corresponding six sense organs are like dry grass. The six defiling objects are like a raging fire. Before you have reached the state where both the mind and external states are forgotten, you should cultivate the supreme conduct of keeping your distance.
What’s meant by the forgetting of the mind and external states? Inwardly one contemplates the mind, and there is no mind. There isn’t any mind at all; it’s truly empty. Outwardly one contemplates forms, and there are no forms; nor are there any external states. The mind is empty, the body is empty, and both the mind and external states are forgotten. The eyes see everything, but there is nothing. At that point, you are no longer turned by the six sense organs and the six defiling objects.
The Buddha said, “People who cultivate the Way are like dry grass: it is essential to keep it away from an oncoming fire.” You could say “people who cultivate the Way” refers to Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Upasakas, and Upasikas; all who cultivate the Way are included. They are like dry grass. What happens between men and women can be compared to dry firewood or dry grass that is brought close to a raging fire. Since it is dry, all you have to do is touch it with just a tiny bit of fire, and the whole thing will ignite and burn itself up.
So when there is fire, people who cultivate the Way should stay away from it. You should avoid it. What is meant by fire here? It means desire and love, emotional desire and the experiences of the six defiling objects. The six sense organs belong to emotion, and the six defiling objects are external states that confuse people. The six sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind) and the six defiling objects (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tangibles, and dharmas) have confused people to the point that they are born as if drunk and die as if in a dream.
People who cultivate the Way look upon desire as something they must stay far away from. People who cultivate the Way should stay away from desire. You should keep your distance from it. You should see as if not seeing, hear as if not hearing.
The eyes contemplate shapes and forms,
but inside there is nothing.
The ears hear the world’s sounds,
but the mind is not aware of them.
When you reach that point, there is no need to practice keeping your distance. If you can be around sense objects all the time without any problem, then it is all right. But if you can’t handle that, then you should practice keeping your distance.
When the Mind Is Still, Desire Is Dispelled
The Buddha said, “There was once someone who was plagued by ceaseless sexual desire and wished to castrate himself. The Buddha said to him, ‘To cut off your sexual organ would not be as good as to cut off your mind. Your mind is like a supervisor: if the supervisor stops, his employees will also quit. If the deviant mind is not stopped, what good does it do to cut off the organ?'”
The Buddha spoke a verse for him:
Desire is born from your intentions.
Intentions are born from thoughts.
When both aspects of the mind are still,
There is neither form nor activity.
The Buddha said, “This verse was spoken by the Buddha Kashyapa.”
The thirty-first section explains that when people want to stop desire, they should stop it within the mind. If you want to know the method for stopping the mind, you should realize that desire arises from the mind’s intentions and that your intentions are produced from your thoughts.
Now, take a look at your thoughts. Are they produced of them-selves? Are they produced from something else? Are they produced from a combination of both? Or are they produced without any cause? You should also find out whether thoughts are internal, external, or in the middle–between the internal and external. Do they come from the past, the present, or from the future?
When you try to find thoughts in this way, your thoughts also become still and without any substance of their own. Once your thoughts are still, your intentions also become still. Since your intentions are still, your desires also become still. When your desires are still, you will see all forms and dharmas as images in a mirror. Like reflections in a mirror, they are not real. You will see that all activities are like bubbles: they are also false. All Buddhas successively contemplate and transmit these expedient Dharma-doors that enable one to subdue the mind.
The Buddha said, “There was once someone who was plagued by ceaseless sexual desire and wished to castrate himself.” This person couldn’t stop his thoughts of lust even for a moment. Because his sexual desire was so strong and overwhelming, he tried to do something about it. He finally thought of a method: he decided to cut off his own male organ.
The Buddha said to him, “To cut off your sexual organ would not be as good as to cut off your mind. Your mind is like a supervisor: if the supervisor stops, his employees will also quit.” The Buddha said to him, “You say you want to cut off your male organ. It would be better to cut off your false-thinking mind. Your mind is like a supervisor: if the supervisor stops, the people working under him will also stop.”
If the deviant mind is not stopped, what good does it do to cut off the organ?You get involved in an activity only because your mind has false thoughts. If your mind didn’t have false thoughts in the first place, then it wouldn’t get any help from others, and this kind of activity would stop. But if your deviant mind of lust is not stopped, then what use would it be to cut off your organ? That would be absolutely useless.
The Buddha spoke a verse for him: Desire is born from your intentions.Thoughts of desire arise from your mental intentions. Intentions are born from thoughts. What do intentions arise from? They come from thoughts. When both aspects of the mind are still, / There is neither form nor activity. Your thoughts of desire are made quiet, and your thoughts that contain various kinds of deviant knowledge and views also cease. When these two kinds of thoughts both become still, then there isn’t sexual behavior, nor are there any remaining thoughts of sexual desire. The Buddha said, “This verse was spoken by the Buddha Kashyapa.” Kashyapa Buddha spoke this verse.
Emptying out the Self Quells Fear
The Buddha said, “People worry because of love and desire. That worry then leads to fear. If you transcend love, what worries will there be? What will be left to fear?”
The thirty-second section explains why people worry and feel afraid. People feel worried and afraid simply because they have love and desire. If we can put an end to love and desire, then we will not have any worries or fears. From limitless eons in the past up to the present, we have mistaken the four elements for the character-istic features of our body. We have mistaken the conditioned perceptions of the six defiling objects for the characteristics of our mind. As a result, we have become attached to the body and its senses; we crave its pleasures, and we don’t want to let them go.
Because of this, every kind of difficulty arises. Once difficulties arise, then many worries and afflictions arise, and we fall prey to anxiety and fear. You should contemplate the four elements: know that the body is a combination of the four elements and that fundamentally there is no self. Next, contemplate the conditioned perceptions of the six defiling objects as empty and non-existent, and recognize that the mind is impermanent. Finally, if you can cut off thoughts of love and desire, then all your worries and fears will naturally disappear.
The Buddha said, “People worry because of love and desire. That worry then leads to fear.” Because you chase after love and desire, you have things to worry about; you have worries and afflictions. From those worries and afflictions, fear develops. But if you transcend love–if you can cut off or turn around thoughts of love and desire–what worries will there be? What will be left to fear? What will you have left to worry about? What is there to be afraid of? Nothing at all! The reason people have worry and fear is because they have attachments and cannot put things down.
Wisdom and Clarity Defeat the Demons
The Buddha said, “People who cultivate the Way are like a soldier who goes into battle alone against ten thousand enemies. He dons his armor and goes out the gate. He may prove to be a coward; he may get halfway to the battlefield and retreat; he may be killed in combat; or he may return victorious.
“Shramanas who study the Way must make their minds resolute and be vigorous, courageous, and valiant. Not fearing what lies ahead, they should defeat the hordes of demons and obtain the fruition of the Way.”
This thirty-third section uses an analogy to show that people who cultivate the Way should follow the three non-outflow studies of precepts, samadhi, and wisdom and should study the Way with single-minded vigor. Consider the example of a person who has various kinds of pretensions, bad habits, and delusions–delusions in views, delusions in thoughts, and delusions like dust and sand–which have accumulated since time without beginning. If you can single-mindedly study the Way, you are like a single person.
If you have many pretensions, many delusions, and many bad habits, those things are like ten thousand enemies. If you can receive and uphold and cultivate the pure precepts, that is equivalent to donning your armor. If you strengthen your resolve, then you won’t be cowardly; that’s the decisive vigor that comes from your precept-power. If you can advance with courageous vigor, not turning back halfway, that is a kind of samadhi-power. If you have samadhi-power, you won’t quit halfway through. Furthermore, if you don’t fear any situation, no matter how many enemies are up ahead waiting to attack you, then you won’t be killed so easily when you go into battle. That is a kind of wisdom-power.
By uniting the threefold powers of precepts, samadhi, and wisdom, you can defeat your beginningless habits, your pretensions, and all your other faults. All these myriads of problems are analogous to the hordes of demons. If you can defeat the hordes of demons, you will be able to obtain the fruition of the Way. If you obtain the fruition of the Way, that means you will return from the battle in triumph.
The Buddha said, “People who cultivate the Way are like a soldier who goes into battle alone against ten thousand enemies.”If you can concentrate your mind to cultivate, you are like a soldier. Countering your bad habits, faults, pretensions, greed, anger, and stupidity is just like going to war against a host of ten thousand enemies.
He dons his armor and goes out the gate, just like someone preparing to go to war. He may prove to be a coward. Perhaps your resolve is not solid, and you act like a fright-ened coward.He may get halfway to the battlefield and retreat.Perhaps you cultivate for a while and then stop cultivating. You stop halfway through and retreat.He may be killed in combat.Maybe when you fight against your illusory bad habits and against the demon armies, they defeat you. You fail in your cultivation and die in battle. Or he may return victorious. Perhaps you return in triumph.
Shramanas who study the Way must make their minds resolute and be vigorous, courageous, and valiant. Shramanas who culti-vate the Way should make their minds firm and resolved. Don’t turn back halfway. Go forward with vigorous courage. Only advance; never retreat. Not fearing what lies ahead, they should defeat the hordes of demons and obtain the fruition of the Way. Don’t be afraid of how many enemies lie ahead. Defeat the demons, and then quite naturally you will be able to attain the fruition of the Way.
By Staying in the Middle, One Attains the Way
One evening a Shramana was reciting the Sutra of the Teaching Bequeathed by the Buddha Kashyapa. The sound of his voice was mournful as he reflected remorsefully on his wish to retreat in cultivation.
The Buddha asked him, “In the past when you were a householder, what did you do?”
He replied, “I was fond of playing the lute.”
The Buddha said, “What happened when the strings were slack?”
He replied, “They didn’t sound.”
“What happened when they were too tight?”
He replied, “The sounds were cut short.”
“What happened when they were tuned just right between slack and tight?” He replied, “The sounds carried.”
The Buddha said, “It is the same with a Shramana who studies the Way. If his mind is harmonious, he can attain the Way. If he is impetuous about the Way, his impetuousness will tire out his body; and if his body is tired, his mind will become afflicted. If his mind becomes afflicted, then he will retreat from his practice. If he retreats from his practice, his offenses will certainly increase. You need only be pure, peaceful, and happy, and you will not lose the Way.”
The thirty-fourth section explains how people should study the Way. We should regulate the body and the mind in a wholesome way. We should not be too tense or stressed in body and mind; nor should we be too lazy. This same truth is also discussed in Confucianism: If you advance too rapidly, you will also retreat rapidly. When you cultivate the Way, you shouldn’t forget about the Way, but you also shouldn’t try to force the Way along. Neither too fast nor too slow–this is a good method for our cultivation. If you don’t keep to a moderate pace, then you won’t be able to accomplish the Way. If you don’t know how to cultivate, then you will either be too hasty or too slow.
If it’s too tight, it will snap.
If it’s too slack, it will sag.
If it’s neither too tight nor too slack,
Then it will work out right.
If you’re too tense, you’re like a taut lute-string that will snap; and if you’re too lax, you are like a lute-string that will go slack and sag. By being neither tense nor lax, you will succeed.
One evening a Shramana was reciting the Sutra of the Teaching Bequeathed by the Buddha Kashyapa, which is a text passed down from the time of Kashyapa Buddha. As he recited the Sutra, the sound of his voice was mournful as he reflected remorsefully on his wish to retreat in cultivation.His voice was sorrowful, and he sounded distressed.He felt very ashamed and remorseful because he didn’t want to cultivate anymore. He wanted to retreat.
The Buddha asked him, “In the past when you were a householder, what did you do?”He said, “What was your occupation when you were a householder? What kinds of things did you do?” He replied, “I was fond of playing the lute.”The Shramana said to the Buddha, “I liked to strum the lute; making music was what I liked most.”
The Buddha said, “What happened when the strings were slack?” “Oh, you know how to play the lute?” the Buddha said. “If the strings were slack, what happened to the lute-strings?” He replied, “They didn’t sound.” If the strings are slack, then no sound comes forth, and the lute can’t be played. There’s no music.
“What happened when they were too tight?” the Buddha asked the Shramana. He replied, “The sounds were cut short.” The Shramana said, “When I strummed, the lute-strings would snap, and there would be no sound.”
“What happened when they were tuned just right between slack and tight? When the strings were neither too slack nor too taut, when they were just right, what was that like?” the Buddha asked. He replied, “The sounds carried.” The Shramana said to the Buddha, “All the sounds carried very far, and the music was very pleasant to listen to.”
The Buddha said, “It is the same with a Shramana who studies the Way. If his mind is harmonious, he can attain the Way.” If a Shramana–one who diligently cultivates precepts, samadhi, and wisdom and puts to rest greed, hatred, and stupidity–wants to learn the Way, he must also be like this. If your mind is neither too tense nor too lax, then you can attain the Way. Don’t be in a rush, and don’t be lazy; then you can attain the Way.
If he is impetuous about the Way, his impetuousness will tire out his body; and if his body is tired, his mind will become afflicted. If you are hasty and impatient in your cultivation, your anxiety and temper will wear out your body. If your body gets tired out, your mind will certainly become afflicted. If his mind becomes afflicted, then he will retreat from his practice. As soon as you have these afflictions, you will want to retreat. You’ll want to go back to lay-life and give up cultivating. If he retreats from his practice, his offenses will certainly increase. If you retreat from your practice and are no longer vigorous, your offenses will certainly increase in number and severity.
You need only be pure, peaceful, and happy, and you will not lose the Way. Simply make your mind pure, make your mind peaceful and happy, and you will certainly attain the Way.
When One Is Purified of Defilements, the Brilliance Remains
The Buddha said, “People smelt metal by burning the dross out of it in order to make high quality implements. It is the same with people who study the Way: first they must get rid of the defilements in their minds; then their practice becomes pure.”
In this section, the Buddha said, “People smelt metal by burning the dross out of it in order to make high quality implements.” In forging metal, the dross is expelled before the metal is wrought into tools and implements. That way the tools are of extremely fine quality. If the dross is not first expelled, you can’t make a good quality tool.
“It is the same with people who study the Way: first they must get rid of the defilements in their minds.” People who cultivate and learn the Way must get rid of the defilements in their minds. Once you remove the impurities from your mind, you will have a pure mind. If you cannot remove the impurities from your mind, a pure mind will not manifest. It’s just like the dross in metal: if you don’t first get rid of it, you can’t make a good quality tool. If you get rid of the dross, then the metal can be made into good quality tools.
All people can accomplish the Way; everyone is potentially a vessel that can hold the Way. But if you don’t get rid of your mental defilements, you can’t hold the Way. You can’t accomplish the Way. If you want to attain the fruition of the Way, you must first get rid of your defilements.
“Defilements” here refer to the desires in your mind, most especially to the thoughts of sexual desire. If you don’t get rid of sexual desire, then the filth and defilements will remain. If you can get rid of your sexual desire, there won’t be any filth. Then their practice becomes pure. Without defilements, your practice–your method of cultivation–will become pure. But if your mental defilements are not eradicated, you will not attain purity in your cultivation. Although sexual desire is the greatest defilement, there are others. Greed, hatred, stupidity, pride, and doubt are all defilements in your mind. You should get rid of them, and then you will have a response in your cultivation of the Way. You will be able to return to the source, go back to the origin, and regain your inherent, pure mind.
The Sequence that Leads to Success
The Buddha said, “It is difficult for one to leave the evil destinies and become a human being.
“Even if one does become a human being, it is still difficult to become a man rather than a woman.
“Even if one does become a man, it is still difficult to have the six sense organs complete and perfect.
“Even if the six sense organs are complete and perfect, it is still difficult for one to be born in a central country.
“Even if one is born in a central country, it is still difficult to be born at a time when there is a Buddha in the world.
“Even if one is born at a time when there is a Buddha in the world, it is still difficult to encounter the Way.
“Even if one does encounter the Way, it is still difficult to bring forth faith.
“Even if one brings forth faith, it is still difficult to resolve one’s mind on Bodhi.
“Even if one does resolve one’s mind on Bodhi, it is still difficult to be beyond cultivation and attainment.”
The thirty-sixth section discusses the difficulties of obtaining a human body, being born in a central country, meeting a Good and Wise Advisor, encountering a Buddha in the world, and various other difficulties.
The Buddha said, “It is difficult for one to leave the evil destinies and become a human being.” The three evil destinies are the hells, the realm of hungry ghosts, and the realm of animals. It’s very difficult to leave the three evil destinies and be reborn as a human being. When the Buddha was in the world, he once brought up a question for all the disciples to consider. The Buddha scooped up a handful of dirt and asked, “All of you tell me, is there more dirt in my hand or on the whole earth?”
The Buddha’s disciples all answered, “Of course the dirt in the Buddha’s hand is less than the dirt on the whole earth!” Was there any need to ask about something as obvious as that?
The Buddha said, “Living beings who can leave the three evil destinies–the hells, the realm of hungry ghosts, and the realm of animals–and become humans are like the dirt in my hand. Those who remain in the three evil destinies and cannot obtain human bodies are like the dirt on the whole earth.” This shows that for beings to leave behind the evil destinies and become human is not easy. Thus it is said that becoming a human being is difficult.
Even if one does become a human being, it is still difficult to become a man rather than a woman. It’s difficult enough to become human; to become a man rather than a woman is even more difficult. Now we’re discussing the point of view of someone who would like to be a man; you may want to become a man, but you can’t do it.But it’s also difficult to become a woman. Even if you’d like to be a woman, it would be very difficult to ensure it, because you don’t have any control over it. You haven’t the authority to select the gender you become; you can’t just be whatever you wish to be. So, that is also not at all easy.
Even if one does become a man, it is still difficult to have the six sense organs complete and perfect. Suppose you have become a man, or you have become a woman. Let’s not talk just about becoming a man, because there are also people who would like to become women. Suppose you have obtained a human body and you are of the gender you wish to be, so that’s not a matter of difficulty.
However, it’s still not easy for a person to possess all six sense organs in perfect condition. The six sense organs are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Some people, although they have become human, don’t have any eyes, or they are born blind. Some people become human, but are deaf. Or their noses won’t let air pass, so even though they have noses, it’s the same as if they didn’t. Or they can’t taste or speak–their tongues don’t function.
Sometimes the body itself is disabled: for instance, half the body may be paralyzed. Or the mind may be defective: you can’t think and you don’t understand anything. In these cases, the six sense organs are not in perfect condition. This is very common. It is difficult for a person to have all six sense organs perfect and complete.
Even if the six sense organs are complete and perfect, it is still difficult for one to be born in a central country. Suppose that the six sense organs are complete and perfect, so the eyes look like eyes and the ears look like ears. It is not the case that the ears look like eyes, or the eyes like ears; or that the lips resemble eyes, or the eyes resemble lips, with everything mixed up. One is not grossly deformed, with his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth all growing together so that they cannot be distinguished from one another, as if they wanted to form a corporation. Wouldn’t that be ugly? And yet there would be no way to do anything about it.
Even after one has his six sense organs complete, it is difficult to be born in a central country, or the central part of a country. People from the four border regions of China, for example, were known by their tribal names as the southern Man tribe, the northern Mo tribe, the eastern Yi tribe, and the western Di tribe. Those were distinctive areas of China, and inhabitants of the border regions were disadvantaged. It’s easy to be born on the frontiers, but not easy to be born in the central territory.
Even if one is born in a central country, it is still difficult to be born at a time when there is a Buddha in the world. It is not easy at all to be born during a time when a Buddha is living in the world.
Even if one is born at a time when there is a Buddha in the world, it is still difficult to encounter the Way. It’s difficult to be born when a Buddha is in the world, but even if you manage to do so, it is still difficult to encounter the Way. “Encountering the Way” refers to meeting a Good and Wise Advisor. If you meet a Good and Wise Advisor, a person who has the Way and who cultivates the Way, then you will also be able to cultivate the Way. But to encounter such a person is difficult.
Even if one does encounter the Way, it is still difficult to bring forth faith. Even if you come to understand the Buddhadharma, if you come to understand the methods of cultivating the Way, it’s still not easy to bring forth faith. You may encounter the Way, but you fail to cultivate and bring forth faith. And if you don’t believe in the Way, although you have encountered it, it’s the same as if you hadn’t.
Even if one brings forth faith, it is still difficult to resolve one’s mind on Bodhi. Suppose that you do bring forth faith: it is still not easy to cultivate according to the Dharma. Having faith is one thing. There are many people who have faith in the Buddhadharma, but when you tell them to cultivate, they don’t do it. Not to mention anything else, merely ask them to quit smoking, and they can’t bear to give it up. So, they can’t put it down. It’s difficult to have faith, but to resolve your mind on Bodhi (to aspire to the attainment of enlightenment) is even more difficult–you aren’t able to cultivate according to the Dharma.
Even if one does resolve one’s mind on Bodhi, it is still difficult to be beyond cultivation and attainment. Suppose you have already resolved your mind on enlightenment. Making the Bodhi resolve is hard to do, but you have already done so. It is still more difficult to reach the level where there is nothing to be cultivated and nothing to be attained, where you have “done what had to be done, and you undergo no further rebirth.” At that point, you have already finished your cultivation, you have already attained enlightenment, and you need not cultivate anymore. It is as when you have eaten your fill, you don’t have to eat anymore. When you have slept enough, you do not need to sleep anymore.
When you have cultivated the Way, so that you are beyond cultivation and attainment, then you have reached the position Beyond Study and have achieved the fourth fruition of Arhatship. That is how it is explained in Theravada terms.
In Mahayana terms, the position Beyond Study is the position of Buddhahood.
At that point,
Above, there is no further Buddha Way to be sought;
Below, there are no more living beings to be saved.
This is the position beyond cultivation and attainment, and it is not easy to reach. As for cultivation, if you don’t understand the Buddhadharma, then it’s a different issue. But if you do understand the Buddhadharma, then you should quickly make an effort to cultivate.
Staying Mindful of Moral Precepts Brings Us Close to the Way
The Buddha said, “My disciples may be several thousand miles away from me, but if they remember my moral precepts, they will certainly attain the fruition of the Way.
“If those who are by my side do not follow my moral precepts, they may see me constantly, but in the end they will not attain the Way.”
The thirty-seventh section says that if you believe in the Buddha’s precepts, then no matter how far away you are from the Buddha, it is as if you were right next to him. But if you don’t believe in and hold the Buddha’s precepts, then you may always be by the Buddha’s side, but you won’t see him and you won’t hear the Dharma. This is what the Sixth Patriarch meant when he said, “If you believe in me, you may be 108,000 miles away from me, but it amounts to being right by my side. But if you don’t believe in me, although you may be right by my side, it will be the same as if you were 108,000 miles away.” That is also the meaning of this section of the Sutra.
The Buddha said, “My disciples may be several thousand miles away from me, but if they remember my moral precepts, they will certainly attain the fruition of the Way.” The Buddha said, “Even if my disciples are very distant from me, if they can constantly recollect my precepts and never forget them, and if they can rely on them and maintain them in their cultivation, such disciples will surely attain the fruition of the Way.”
If those who are by my side do not follow my moral precepts, they may see me constantly, but in the end they will not attain the Way. Someone who is to my left or right may always see me, but if he doesn’t cultivate in accord with my precepts, then no matter how he tries, it won’t be easy for him to attain the Way.
This section of text makes it clear that if you do what the teachings say, if you rely on the Buddhadharma in your cultivation, then you are a true disciple of the Buddha; you will constantly be in the presence of the Buddha; you will always be studying under the Buddha. If you don’t hold the precepts, however, you’ll miss the opportunity that is right in front of you.
Once there were two Bhikshus in Varanasi who wanted to make the long journey to Shravasti to see the Buddha. As they walked, they grew more and more thirsty, until they could barely walk any further. They were about to die of thirst. In front of them, they found a little water that had collected in a human skull.
One of the Bhikshus took up the skull, drank some of the water, and then turned to give some to the other Bhikshu. The other Bhikshu, seeing that the water was in a skull, and that, moreover, there were many bugs in it, didn’t drink it.
The first Bhikshu said, “Why aren’t you drinking the water? We are nearly dead of thirst.”
The other one answered, “Because the Buddha’s precepts say that we can’t drink water if there are bugs in it. Although I may die of thirst, I’m not going to drink water with bugs in it. I want to stick to the Buddha’s precepts in my cultivation.”
The first Bhikshu said, “Oh, you’re really stupid. If you drink some of the water, you’ll be able to go and see the Buddha. If you don’t drink it, you’ll die of thirst. Don’t be so inflexible.”
Even after such a rebuke, the other Bhikshu still wouldn’t take a drink. The first Bhikshu drank all of the water, and as he walked on he felt very strong. But the second Bhikshu, who hadn’t drunk any water, died of thirst along the way.
Because the second Bhikshu had single-mindedly held the precepts, he was reborn in the Trayastrimsa Heaven and was endowed with the blessed appearance of a god. From there he went to see the Buddha, and upon hearing the Buddha speak Dharma for him, he attained the pure Dharma-eye and realized the fruition of Arhatship. Meanwhile, the Bhikshu who had drunk the water from the skull arrived at Shravasti after three more days of travelling. The Bhikshu who had died of thirst saw the Buddha on the night of his death and then realized the fruition. Three days later, the other Bhikshu arrived and saw the Buddha.
The Buddha asked him, “Where did you come from? How many people came with you? Was the trip uneventful?” The Bhikshu told his story to the Buddha in detail: “We came from Varanasi, and the road was long. At one point on the way we were without water, but eventually we found some water that had collected in a skull. I drank some, but my fellow cultivator wouldn’t drink it when he saw that there were bugs in it, so he died of thirst. The fact is that he didn’t have affinities with the Buddha, and so he died instead of seeing the Buddha. His attachments were too strong.”
After the Buddha heard the story, he told the Bhikshu who had died of thirst to come forward. The Buddha said, “That very day he was reborn in the heavens and was endowed with the life span of a god, which is quite long. Then he came to my Dharma assembly, and I spoke Dharma for him. He has already realized the fruition of the Way. You say that he was stupid, but in truth you are the stupid one. You didn’t keep the Buddha’s precepts, and although you have come to see me, you might as well not have seen me, because your mind isn’t true. You aren’t sincere enough; you didn’t hold the precepts.”
So from this episode you can see that, whether or not you are beside the Buddha, what matters is holding to the Buddha’s precepts as you cultivate. Then you actually get to see the Buddha. If you don’t cultivate according to the precepts, although you may be at the Buddha’s side, it’s as if you never saw him in the first place.
Birth Leads to Death
The Buddha asked a Shramana, “How long is the human life span?” He replied, “A few days.” The Buddha said, “You have not yet understood the Way.”
He asked another Shramana, “How long is the human life span?” The reply was, “The space of a meal.” The Buddha said, “You have not yet understood the Way.”
He asked another Shramana, “How long is the human life span?” He replied, “The length of a single breath.” The Buddha said, “Excellent. You have understood the Way.”
The Buddha asked a Shramana, “How long is the human life span?” The Buddha asked this question deliberately. It wasn’t that the Buddha didn’t know the answer himself and had to ask the Shramana to find out. The Buddha asked because he knew that people don’t know the length of the human life span. So he asked a Shramana, “How long is a human being’s life? How much time does a human life last?” He replied, “A few days.” The first Shramana said, “Probably after a few days we will die. Life is not very long.” The Buddha said, “You have not yet understood the Way. You still don’t understand.”
He asked another Shramana, “How long is the human life span?” The reply was, “The space of a meal.” The Shramana answered, “In the time it takes to eat a single meal, a person’s life is over.” The Buddha said, “You have not yet understood the Way.”He, too, didn’t understand.
He asked another Shramana, “How long is the human life span?” He replied, “The length of a single breath. The life span of a human being lasts for one breath.” The Buddha said, “Excellent. You have understood the Way.” The Shramana who gave this answer understood the Way.
In India there was once a king who believed in adherents of non-Buddhist religions that cultivated many kinds of ascetic practices. Some followed the precepts of cows and some the precepts of dogs; some smeared ashes on their bodies; and some slept on beds of nails. They cultivated all sorts of ascetic practices, such as those undertaken by yogis.
Meanwhile, the Bhikshus who cultivated the Buddhadharma had it comparatively easy, because they didn’t cultivate those kinds of ascetic practices. Now, the king of that country said to the Buddha’s disciples, “I believe that although these non-Buddhists cultivate all kinds of ascetic practices, they still cannot stop their thoughts of sexual desire. How much less are you Bhikshus, who are so casual, able to stop your afflictions and your thoughts of sexual desire. You surely cannot put a stop to them.”
One of the Dharma Masters answered the king this way, “Take a man from jail who has been sentenced to execution and say to him, take this bowl of oil and carry it in your hands as you walk down the street. If you spill a single drop of the oil, I’ll have you executed. If you don’t spill a single drop, I’ll release you when you return.’ Then, send some beautiful women musicians out on the street to sing and play their instruments where the sentenced man is walking with his bowl of oil. If he should spill any oil, of course you’ll execute him. If he comes back without spilling a single drop, ask him what he’s seen on the road, and see what he says!”
The king of the country did just that: He took a man who was sentenced to be executed and said to him, “Today you should be executed, but I’m going to give you an opportunity to save your life. I’ll give you a bowl of oil to carry in your hands as you take a walk on the street. If you can carry it without spilling a single drop, when you return you won’t be killed. But if you spill one drop, I’ll execute you on schedule. Go try it out.”
The sentenced man did as he was told. He went out on the street with the oil, and when he returned he hadn’t spilled one drop. Then the king asked him, “What did you see out on the street?” The sentenced man said, “I didn’t see a single thing. All I did was watch the oil to keep it from spilling. I didn’t see or hear anything else at all.”
The king asked the Dharma Master, “Well, what is the principle involved here?” The monk answered, “The Shramana who has left the home-life is in the same situation. He sees the problem of birth and death as too important, so he has no time for thoughts of sexual desire. Like the sentenced man, the Shramana wants to end birth and death. If the sentenced man were to spill one drop of oil or to become the least bit afflicted, he would die.
The Shramana who has left the home-life is also like this. Why is he able to end his sexual desire? It’s because he sees the matter of birth and death as very important. Why can’t the non-Buddhists end their sexual desire? They don’t understand birth and death. They don’t realize how important this matter is. Thus, they cannot end their sexual desire.” Why don’t people who cultivate put a stop to their sexual desire? They haven’t truly recognized the immediacy of the impermanence of birth and death. If you realized the immediacy of impermance, you wouldn’t have time to give rise to false thoughts of lust. You wouldn’t have time for the affliction of sexual desire.
The Buddha’s Instructions Are Not Biased
The Buddha said, “Students of the Buddha’s Way should believe in and accord with everything that the Buddha teaches. When you eat honey, it is sweet on the surface and sweet in the center; it is the same with my sutras.”
Section thirty-nine says that you should believe and accept all the Buddha’s sutras. You shouldn’t discriminate between the Maha-yana and the Theravada, the sudden and the gradual, deciding which sutras are important and which sutras are not important. Why make so many distinctions? All of the Buddha’s teachings, as a whole, do not go beyond two kinds: the provisional and the actual teachings. The provisional teaching is spoken for the sake of the actual teaching; and if you speak the provisional teaching in detail, it leads to the actual.
Provisional and actual are non-dual. Students of Buddhism should not discriminate between the Mahayana and the Theravada. When I was in Los Angeles, I said to the Bhikshus from Thailand, “In the Buddhadharma there were originally no discriminations between Mahayana and Theravada. It’s just that certain disciples who were attached and who didn’t genuinely want to study the Buddhadharma strayed from it, made distinctions between great and small, and became unfilial disciples of the Buddha.” That is the principle discussed in this section.
The Buddha said, “Students of the Buddha’s Way should believe in and accord with everything that the Buddha teaches.”Those of you who study the Way of the Buddha should believe in all the Buddha’s sutras and teachings. You shouldn’t make any discriminations among them.
When you eat honey, it is sweet on the surface and sweet in the center; it is the same with my sutras. It’s like eating honey. Honey is sweet on the surface and also in the center, and the sutras spoken by the Buddha are also like that. All of them establish the provi-sional for the sake of the actual and open the provisional to reveal the actual, in order to teach and transform living beings so that all alike can realize the Buddha Way. They all follow this principle.
The Way Is Practiced in the Mind
The Buddha said, “A Shramana who practices the Way should not be like an ox turning a millstone. Such a one walks the Way with his body, but his mind is not on the Way. If the mind is concentrated on the Way, what further need is there to practice?”
The fortieth section explains that cultivation of the Way is actually done in our mind, not in external forms. If the mind isn’t absorbed in the Way and we merely pay attention to externals, then we are like an ox turning a millstone. The ox just goes around and around pulling the grinder all day and never getting away from it.
The Buddha said, “A Shramana who practices the Way should not be like an ox turning a millstone.”When a Bhikshu cultivates the unsurpassed Way, he shouldn’t be like an ox turning a millstone–just going back and forth and round and round in the mill, and never getting free to go outside the mill. Such a one walks the Way with his body, but his mind is not on the Way. Although you physically appear to be cultivating the Way–bowing to the Buddha, reciting sutras, and holding mantras–your mind isn’t attentive to the work. Our thoughts are not on cultivating the Way.
If the mind is concentrated on the Way, what further need is there to practice? If your mind can truly cultivate the Way, if you can cultivate single-mindedly without any false thinking, and if you can constantly be in samadhi, then what need is there to practice? Under those circumstances, it is all right for you not to practice.
That is to say, you have subdued your mind. If you have no more thoughts of sexual desire, then your mind is subdued. If you are continually having false thoughts of sexual desire, then you may put on an impressive front, as if you were an honest person, but inside you will be unreliable, because all that goes on in your mind is false-thinking about sexual matters. No matter how good you look on the outside, it’s of no use.
In cultivating, then, you must pay attention to the mind. If you can tame your mind, you’ll be able to attain the fruition very quickly. If you don’t tame your mind, if you continually think about sex, then you are just like the ox who grinds and grinds on its millstone. The work is very bitter, but the ox cannot escape and get out of the mill.
A Straight Mind Gets Rid of Desire
The Buddha said, “One who practices the Way is like an ox pulling a heavy load through deep mud. The ox is so extremely exhausted that it dares not glance to the left or right. Only when it gets out of the mud can it rest. The Shramana should regard emotion and desire as being worse than deep mud; and with an undeviating mind, he should be mindful of the Way. Then he can avoid suffering.”
In the forty-first section, the Buddha tells us to use a straight-forward mind as we cultivate and contemplate the Way. In every thought, we should make it our goal to get out of the mud of emotion and desire. Emotion and desire are mud, and we need to pull ourselves out of it.
The Buddha said, “One who practices the Way is like an ox pulling a heavy load through deep mud.”A cultivator of the Way is like an ox pulling a very heavy load as it walks through very deep mud. It has trouble pulling its legs out of the mud. When one leg gets free, the other leg sinks; and when that leg is free, the first one sinks again. The ox is so extremely exhausted that it dares not glance to the left or right. The ox is terribly exhausted. It is so weary that it doesn’t even dare glance to the right or left. Only when it gets out of the mud can it rest. Only then can it relax a bit.
Likewise the Shramana should regard emotion and desire as being worse than deep mud; and with an undeviating mind, he should be mindful of the Way. The Shramanas who have left the home-life, the Bhikshus and Bhikshunis, should contemplate that thoughts of sexual desire are even more formidable than the deep mud. They should single-mindedly contemplate and cultivate the Way with a straightforward mind. Then he can avoid suffering.Then they can escape the distress and suffering of sinking in the deep mud of emotional involvement.
I told my disciples in Los Angeles to hold the precepts really well. I told them to stop their thoughts of sexual desire, to stop smoking, to stop drinking, and to never take drugs. That was all I said; the talk was brief. Do you have the energy to write out your lecture notes for them to read?
Later on, they burned incense on their heads to make precept marks, and the suffering was more intense than in the volcanoes of hell. What’s more, they didn’t know how to do it. They rolled up the incense powder in paper, like cigarettes, and then placed the rolls on top of their heads and lit them up. When a roll caught fire, it would burn a bit and then quickly go out, so they had to relight it again and again after it went out each time.
Each person wanted no more than two or three burns, but they used up at least three hundred matches in the process. They struck a match, lit the incense, and it went out. They then struck another match, and relit the incense. Making those incense burns took about an hour and a half, and when it was over they still hadn’t burned more than a few burns. I counted them up and there were no more than two, three, five, six, seven burns in over ninety minutes. They made a total of only seven burns, didn’t they?
Here we burn the incense into charcoal first–before we light it. What you tried to use was already unsuitable. You tried to use fresh incense, instead of charcoal. If you try to burn fresh incense, you make the experience extremely painful. One of the people who received the burns is a lawyer who gritted his teeth and yelled, “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” He couldn’t even say Amitabha. When one young woman was receiving her burns, tears started rolling down her cheeks. She was just the same as one of my disciples. That day my disciple had done her burns poorly because the incense was prepared incorrectly. If the incense is prepared correctly, then it burns right down and is gone in no time. Then it doesn’t hurt so much. If you make the incense incorrectly, then it hurts like blazes.
I saw this situation myself, and I saw that the people who set it up were really inept. Then Tien En said that they used paper rolls like that everywhere in Vietnam, which I don’t believe. Probably the Vietnamese monks didn’t make burns in the past, and when they saw the Chinese monks’ precept burns, they tried to imitate them. They didn’t know the method, so they probably guessed that the Chinese monks rolled up the fresh incense and burned that. Actually, that was totally wrong.
Understanding that the World Is Illusory
The Buddha said, “I look upon royalty and high positions as upon the dust that floats through a crack. I look upon treasures of gold and jade as upon broken tiles. I look upon fine silk clothing as upon cheap cotton. I look upon a great thousand-world universe as upon a small nut kernel. I look upon the waters of the Anavatapta Lake as upon oil used to anoint the feet.”
The forty-second section, the final section, explains that the Buddha regards all dharmas equally, and he breaks through all the attachments of living beings. A hundred years in the human realm is just a day and a night in the Trayastrimsa Heaven. One great eon of this Saha World is just a day and a night in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. So there isn’t anything, ultimately, that is real. Everything is empty and false. That’s why the Buddha said, “I look upon royalty and high positions as upon the dust that floats through a crack.”
Royal positions can be likened to the presidency, and high positions to the governorship. These are positions of honor and high social status. Yet the Buddha regards these royal and governmental positions as no more than the dust that floats through a crack. They are worthless, nothing to be attached to, just like dust.
I look upon treasures of gold and jade as upon broken tiles. I look upon precious things, like gold and jade, as upon broken tiles up on the rooftop; they’re just like rubble from broken roof tiles.I look upon fine silk clothing as upon cheap cotton.The most beautiful clothing is just like shabby cotton–nothing to be attached to. I look upon a great thousand-world universe as upon a small nut kernel.The Buddha looks upon the great threefold thousand world universe as no larger than a small nut kernel. (This refers to a small nut, so the kernel would be no bigger than an apricot seed or an olive pit.)
I look upon the waters of the Anavatapta Lake as upon oil used to anoint the feet.The water in the Anavatapta Lake, which is abundant, is seen by the Buddha as being no more than the amount of oil used to anoint the feet–not very much at all. The principle here is to get rid of your attachments to things; you shouldn’t take things so seriously and become so attached to them. To be attached to something is to be unable to put it down; and if you can’t put it down, you won’t be able to accomplish your work in cultivation.
“I look upon the door of expedient means as upon a cluster of jewels created by transformation. I look upon the Unsurpassed Vehicle as upon a dream of gold and riches. I look upon the Buddha Way as upon flowers before my eyes. I look upon Dhyana samadhi as upon the pillar of Mount Sumeru. I look upon Nirvana as upon being awake day and night. I look upon inversion and uprightness as upon six dancing dragons. I look upon impartiality as upon the one true ground. I look upon the flourishing of the teaching as upon a tree blooming during four seasons.”
I look upon the door of expedient means as upon a cluster of jewels created by transformation.All the utensils and implements in the heavens are made of the seven precious gems: gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother-of-pearl, red pearls, and carnelian. In the Land of Ultimate Bliss, the ground is made of yellow gold. When Maitreya Bodhisattva becomes a Buddha, our ground will turn into lapis lazuli. Our ground right now is made of rubble, so it is very coarse. If you regard the myriad events and things as good, then they are good; and if you regard them as bad, then they will be just as you think of them. Everything is just a manifestation of your mind. Things come forth as a revelation of your true mind. So you shouldn’t be deluded by what is false and illusory. All outer appearances are false and illusory. Only your fundamental nature is true. Don’t be attached to the false and forget about the true.
“Expedient means” refers to the Three Vehicles that all Buddhas establish: the Vehicle of Sound-hearers, the Vehicle of Those Enlightened by Conditions, and the Vehicle of the Bodhisattvas. If living beings rely on these dharmas to cultivate, they can certify to the fruition and become Buddhas.These are expedient Dharma-doors; they are provisional and were designed by the Buddha to reveal the actual truth. The Buddha said that they are like a cluster of jewels created by transformation.
The Unsurpassed Vehicle is basically true and actual; and it is also a principle inherent in the self-nature of living beings. It is not outside of living beings’ minds, but is found only within their minds. Thus it is said that perfect Bodhi returns to nothing what-soever; when enlightenment is perfected, there isn’t anything at all. Thus, the Buddha sees the Unsurpassed Vehicle as being like gold and riches in a dream. The gold and riches in the dream are actually false.
All that is said about the Buddha Way is spoken for ordinary people, and if there weren’t any ordinary people, then the Buddha Way wouldn’t be of any use. Thus it is called unconditioned. Unconditioned dharmas neither arise nor are extinguished. They neither come into being nor disappear. They aren’t real and actual; they are unreal, like a vision of flowers in space. Thus the Buddha sees the Buddha Way as being like flowers in space.
Mount Sumeru towers above the great sea, and no storm can topple it. When people cultivate, their Chan samadhi should be as im-movable as Mount Sumeru. Fundamentally, Mount Sumeru isn’t an actual dharma either, but it is being used here as an analogy. When you really accomplish the fruition, you see everything as empty.
Then the Buddha says, “I regard the door of expedient means as a cluster of jewels created by transformation.” The Buddha sees the expedient means of bestowing the provisional for the sake of the actual, and then opening the provisional to reveal the actual, as an array of jewels created by transformation. I look upon the Unsurpassed Vehicle as upon a dream of gold and riches. The unsurpassed Great Vehicle Dharma looks to him like no more than a dream of gold, silver, and treasures. I look upon the Buddha Way as upon flowers before my eyes. The Buddha contemplates how the Buddha Way is just like the illusory flowers he sees before his eyes. There is nothing real in it at all.
I look upon Dhyana samadhi as upon the pillar of Mount Sumeru. He sees Dhyana samadhi as the great pillar of Mount Sumeru, which rises out of the ocean and never shakes in the slightest. I look upon Nirvana as upon being awake day and night.The Buddha sees Nirvana as being in a waking state both day and night, and never sleeping. I look upon inversion and upright-ness as upon six dancing dragons. The states of inversion and uprightness are like six dragons dancing wildly. As soon as you are inverted, your six sense organs of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind react to the six defiling objects, and you are turned by states. Then these six sense organs are just like six dancing dragons.
I look upon impartiality as upon the one true ground. The Buddha sees the Dharma-door of impartiality as the one single true ground, the ground of reality. I look upon the flourishing of the teaching as upon a tree blooming during four seasons. The Buddha sees the flourishing of the Buddhadharma, the propagation of the Dharma, as a tree which goes through the four seasons. In the spring it blooms; in the summer it grows; in the autumn the leaves fall; and in the winter its branches are bare. The flourishing of the Buddhadharma also has its time and its cycle.
The Buddha speaks in this way in order to teach people not to be attached to anything. If you have attachments, then you cannot realize the emptiness of people and the emptiness of dharmas. When people are seen as empty, they disappear; and when dharmas are seen as empty, dharmas disappear. Ordinary people don’t consider people and dharmas to be empty; they assume that they exist. If you want to realize the fruition and become a sage, then it is necessary to see that people and dharmas are empty. At that point, you have no attachment to people or to dharmas; and when these two attach-ments are gone, you break all attachments. You realize the principle of the emptiness of everything. If you do not see people as empty, then you cannot realize sagehood. And if you do not see dharmas as empty, you will not be able to attain the wisdom of sages.
The Buddha spoke this section of text to teach people to get rid of all their false thinking and attachments. If you can get rid of them all, then you can obtain genuine ease, and that is to obtain genuine freedom. Then if you want to live, you can live; and if you want to die, you can die. You are free to come and go. In absolutely everything, you are free to do as you please. This is not superficial freedom, it is genuine freedom.