Shastra on the Door to Understanding the Hundred Dharmas

The Author




Composed by Vasubandhu Bodhisattva.  


This Shastra was composed by Vasubandhu Bodhisattva, whose given name translates as “Heavenly Relative” and also as “The Lord’s Relative”. Some say that he was the younger brother of Lord God. There is really no need to try and research this; people just take it on faith. Vasubandhu Bodhisattva had two brothers. Vasubandhu was their family name. His elder brother’s name was Asanga, which means “Unattached.” “Heavenly Relative” was the second-born, and the youngest of the three was named Virinchivatsa.

“Virinchi” was their mother’s name, and vatsa is the Sanskrit word which means “son of,” and so he was known as “’the son of Virinchi”. But this brother is too young to come into our present discussion, other than to be introduced to you. All three of these brothers were extremely intelligent. They lived about nine hundred years after the Buddha entered Nirvana. Although they were intelligent, each initially held his own prejudiced view. Later on, they gave up their prejudices.

To begin with, the eldest brother wanted to be “unattached,” and although he had no attachments, he preferred the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma. Heavenly Relative was attached to Small Vehicle Buddhadharma. He felt that it was the true Buddhadharma, and he not only studied it, but aided those involved in Small Vehicle Buddhism in berating and slandering the Great Vehicle.

Even though his older brother studied Great Vehicle Buddhism, Heavenly Relative still said it was not true and that the Buddha had not spoken any such Dharma. He did not believe the Dharma Flower Sutra, the Shurangama Sutra, the Flower Adornment Sutra, or any Great Vehicle Buddhism. He, in fact, became a specialist in undermining Great Vehicle Dharma.

And so, here we have two brothers, the elder of whom studied Great Vehicle Dharma but did not criticize the Small Vehicle at all, and the younger of whom studied the Small Vehicle, criticized and tried to destroy the Great Vehicle. They did not actually fight, because the contention was only on the part of Heavenly Relative.

The whole reason that the Great Vehicle is called by that name is because Great Vehicle Buddhadharma can even include within it that which is incorrect. But the Small Vehicle cannot include what is not correct within it. That is why it is so small. The Great Vehicle can include what is correct and what is incorrect. So, no matter how many offenses his younger brother had, Asanga did not hold them against him, but he did want to save him.

What method did Asanga use to save Heavenly Relative? He wrote his younger brother saying, “Although we do not study the same teachings, still, our relationship as brothers is a fact. We are close relatives for sure, and we both acknowledge this true relationship which exists between us. Now, I know that I am going to die pretty soon, and I would like to see you. This is especially so because I would like your help in doing something, and I believe that you will fulfill my wish in spite of everything. If you do not do this for me, then when I die, I will not be able to close my eyes.” Notice that he did not say he was dying, but said, “...when I die,” leaving the time unfixed.

How could a younger brother not respond to such a sincere letter? Even though they studied two different teachings, Heavenly Relative decided he should go visit his brother Asanga. When he got there he asked what it was his elder brother wished him to do so that Asanga would be able to close his eyes when he died. Asanga said, “I would like you to help me recite the Dharma Flower Sutra, the Shurangama Sutra, and the Flower Adornment Sutra. I would like you to read each one of them to me.” That was the method he chose, because he knew his younger brother was extremely intelligent and never forgot anything he read.

Thereupon, Heavenly Relative, in order to fulfill his elder brother’s last wish, proceeded to do something that he really did not want to do. He read those three Great Vehicle Sutras aloud for his brother Asanga.

When he had finished reading the Dharma Flower Sutra, the Shurangama Sutra, and the Avatamsaka, he knew that he had been completely wrong in the past for criticizing and berating the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma and slandering the Great Vehicle Sutras. He had gone about saying that those Sutras were inauthentic. He now knew how mistaken he had been, and he felt tremendous regret. He became a bit frantic thinking, “What shall I do? I’ve spent so much time and energy on slandering the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma. It’s for sure those offenses will cause me to fall into the hells. There’s no question about it. What a despicable tongue I have!” whereupon, he grabbed a knife and was bent upon cutting out his own tongue.

Why did I say earlier that I would cut out people’s tongues: their dumb tongues, their dull-witted tongues, their stupid tongues? It is just because Heavenly Relative Bodhisattva himself wanted to slice out his own tongue. He wanted to get rid of his stupid tongue. Anyway, you can imagine the tenseness of the situation. Heavenly Relative had his tongue pulled out and the knife poised over it, ready to lay the blow. It was no joking matter. He was really going to do it. At that point his elder brother, “Unattached,” said soothingly, “Second brother, what are you doing? How about telling me what you’re up to?”

Heavenly Relative said, “My offenses are too great. I’ve been continually slandering the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma. Now upon reading those three Sutras, I know that the doctrines of the Great Vehicle are incomparably wonderful. My slander of the Great Vehicle is going to put me in the ‘Hell of Pulling Out Tongues,’ is it not? So I will just cut out my own tongue right now while I am still alive. What do you think of this idea?” He asked his elder brother’s advice.

“Unattached” replied, “Don’t be so foolish. You can exchange your tongue.” “What do you mean? How?” asked the distraught Heavenly Relative.

“Before, you used your tongue to slander; now, you can use it to praise Great Vehicle Sutras. All you have to do is change your way of talking. That’s a much more positive way of going about it. There’s no need to cut your tongue out.”

Hearing that, Heavenly Relative thought, “He’s right. If I cut out my tongue, of what use will that be to Great Vehicle Buddhism? I’ll change and praise Great Vehicle Buddhism with it, instead.”

As soon as he had that thought, Heavenly Relative’s inherent wisdom manifested, and he then composed The Shastra on the Door to Understanding the Hundred Dharmas. And so he was a person who changed his faults. He had courageous spirit and valiantly changed what was wrong with him. When he said he was going to change, he actually did it. And after that, all the books he wrote were in praise of the Great Vehicle. He destroyed all the books he had previously written, and the Shastras he wrote in praise of the Great Vehicle circulated all over the world. That is the story, in brief, of Vasubandhu.

Bodhisattva is a Sanskrit word. Bodhi means enlightenment; sattva means sentient being:

Two Meanings of Bodhisattva

1. Enlightener of sentient beings. The Bodhisattva takes the enlightenment that he has testified to, the wisdom that he has opened, and uses that enlightened wisdom to enlighten all other beings who have sentience.

2. An enlightened sentient being. The Bodhisattva is also a sentient being, but he is one who has become enlightened.

Together, these two meanings show that a Bodhisattva is an enlightened sentient being who enlightens other sentient beings. That is the meaning of “Bodhisattva”.

“Bodhisattva” is a pretty good name to have, and so lots of people want to give themselves that title. They want others to call them by that name. In China, monastics call each other “Bodhisattva,” as a form of mutual praise. But “Bodhisattva” is a title that should be bestowed upon one. It is not that people decide they deserve the title and then give themselves that name.

On the other hand, there was Great Master Tai Shu, who said, “All people should call me ‘Bodhisattva’ instead of ‘bhikshu’. Why? I received both the Bhikshu and the Bodhisattva Precepts at full ordination, and so just as you call me a bhikshu, so should you call me ‘Bodhisattva’. But, since I haven’t yet become a Buddha, you shouldn’t call me a ‘Buddha’.”

Of course, he was just joking. In fact, Great Master Tai Shu was a Bodhisattva, and so whether or not anyone called him that made absolutely no difference. It is just for that reason he was able to joke about it. He was chiding when he said, “You should all call me ‘Bodhisattva.’” Similarly, the Living Buddha of Gold Mountain announced that everyone should call him a living Buddha. Both those comments were made in the same spirit.

But in this case, was it that Heavenly Relative, who composed this Shastra, signed his name, “Heavenly Relative Bodhisattva”? No. He just signed his name to the Shastra without adding any titles. Later on, devoted scholars, out of reverence for him, added that title to his name. It was not like Ph.D.’s of today who have that print that title on their calling cards and go about advertising their status. I often say to such people, with no malice intended, “What’s so great about a Ph.D.s, anyway? You’ve got a Ph.D. So what?”

The title itself has no intrinsic value. The point is that if you have what it takes, you do not need to praise yourself. It is better for others to do the praising. The same applies to monastics who add the title “Dharma Master” to their names when printing their cards or introducing themselves, because they like the sound of the title. But that title is not something one gives oneself. Therefore, I am sure that Heavenly Relative Bodhisattva did not add a title to his name. Everyone should look into this. Do not become infatuated with name and fame. It is better to call yourself a dead person or a corpse. Pick a name nobody else wants, and then no one will fight you for it. I believe that is a better solution. It is said:

The superior person goes without a name.
The inferior person is fond of titles.

Decide for yourselves which type of person you want to be.

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