Shastra on the Door to Understanding the Hundred Dharmas

The Translator




Translated by Tripitaka Master Xuan Zang of the Tang Dynasty.


Translated by Tripitaka Master Xuan Zang. Now we will discuss the translator. The Shastra was composed in Sanskrit, the language of India, thus it had to be translated in order to be studied by those of other countries. If it had not been translated, then only Indian people would have been able to understand it, and people of other countries would not have had a chance to learn from it.

The person who translated this Sutra, therefore, has a lot of merit and virtue. If because of studying this Shastra we are able to understand all dharmas and rely upon Dharmas to cultivate, we have the translator to thank in part. Thus, to begin we should know who the translator was and what contributions he made to Buddhism.

The Monk from Tang

This Monk was of the Tang Dynasty. His contributions to Buddhism were exceptionally great. It can be said that from ancient times to the present, there has never been anyone who can compare to this Dharma Master in his achievements. His secular surname was Chen. His father was an official, but a poor one. Why did he end up poor? It was because he did not take bribes. He was not after the citizens’ money, nor that of the government. He was not like officials these days who always feel they are earning too little money so that, on top of their government salary, they try to get the citizens’ hard-earned money as well.

Dharma Master Xuan Zang’s father did not want money. He remained a poor official his entire life. Even though he was poor, he had a virtuous nature. And because of that, among his several children he had two sons who became monks. Dharma Master Xuan Zang’s elder brother was a monk who lectured on sutras and was an adept cultivator of his time.

Dharma Master Xuan Zang became a monk and commenced his study of the Buddhadharma at the age of thirteen. During those early years of study, any time a Dharma Master lectured on a Buddhist text, no matter who the Dharma Master was or how far away the lecture was being held, he was sure to go to listen. Whether it was a sutra lecture, a shastra lecture, or a vinaya lecture, he went to listen to them all. Wind and rain could not keep him away from lectures on the Tripitaka, to the point that he even forgot about being hungry. He simply consumed the Dharma, taking the Buddhadharma as his food and drink. He did this for five years, and then he received the Complete Precepts.

However, the principles he had heard Dharma Masters lecturing on during those five years were all different. They all explained the same Sutras in very different ways, each with his own interpretation. And there was a big difference between the lectures of those with wisdom and those without wisdom. But Dharma Master Xuan Zang had not yet really opened enlightenment and he did not have the Dharma-selecting Eye, so how could he know whose lectures to rely on? At that time he vowed to go to India, saying, “The Buddhadharma was transmitted from India, and so there is certainly true and genuine Buddhadharma to be found in India.”

Thereupon, he wrote a request for permission to go to India to seek the Dharma, and presented it to the Emperor. The Emperor Tai Zong of the Tang Dynasty did not grant his wish. But Dharma Master Xuan Zang, who was already resolved to go, said, “I would prefer to disobey the Son of Heaven and have my head cut off than not to go to India seeking the Dharma.”

So he returned to the monastery and began to practice mountain climbing. He piled chairs, tables, and benches together to simulate mountains, and practiced jumping from one piece of furniture to the next. That was his method of practicing mountain climbing. From morning until night he leaped from table to chair. Probably there were not any big mountains where he lived, so he had to practice in the temple.

All the young, middle-aged, and elder novices wondered what he was up to, jumping on furniture all day long instead of reciting sutras or cultivating. He did not tell anyone that he was training to climb the Himalayas, so most people thought he was playing. Eventually he trained his body so that it was very strong, and then when he was physically able, he started his trip through Siberia.

On the day of his departure, when the Emperor Tai Zong learned that he intended to go even without Imperial consent, the Emperor asked him, “I have not given you permission, and you still insist on going. When will you be back?”

Dharma Master Xuan Zang replied, “Look at that pine tree. The needles are pointing toward the west. When those needles turn around and face east, I will return.”

He did not say how many years that would be. So he set out. At that time there were no airplanes, steamboats, buses, or trains. There were boats, but they were made of wood and were not too sturdy. Furthermore, since he did not have Imperial permission, he probably could not have gotten the use of a boat anyway. So he traveled by land through many countries, from the Siberian area of the Russian border to India. He was gone for more than a decade.

When he reached India, he did not know the language at all. But gradually he studied Sanskrit, and over time he listened to many Indian Dharma Masters lecture on the Buddhadharma. Some people say this took him fourteen years. Others say it took nineteen. In general, he went through a great deal of suffering and difficulty to study the Buddhadharma and then, when he had completed his studies, he returned to China.

When his return was imminent, the needles on the pine tree turned to the east. As soon as the Emperor saw that the pine needles were indeed pointing east, he knew that Dharma Master Xuan Zang was returning, and he sent out a party of officials to the western gate to welcome and escort him back. When they reached the gate, there, indeed, was Dharma Master Zang returning.

Dharma Master Xuan Zang then concentrated on translating the Sutras and other works that he had brought back with him. He translated from Sanskrit to Chinese. When he was translating the Great Prajna Sutra the peach trees blossomed six times within that one single year. That was a sign of the auspiciousness of the Great Prajna Sutra and its importance to all of us. The fact that it was being translated moved even the wooden trees and plants to display their delight.

Dharma Master Xuan Zang translated a great many sutras. While in India, he bowed to the Buddha’s sharira, his relics, teeth and bones. He saw where the Buddha in a previous life had sacrificed his eyes, and went to the place where the Buddha in a previous life had sacrificed his head. He visited the location where the Buddha in a former life had practiced the conduct of patience, and went to the site where the Buddha in a previous incarnation had given up his body for the sake of a tiger.

He also went to see the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha had sat and accomplished the Way. He went to all of those places celebrated in Buddhism. Those pilgrimages are another indication of the extent of his true sincerity. While in India, whenever he met Dharma Masters, he never looked down on them, no matter whether they cultivated or not. He was extremely respectful. He was not the least bit arrogant or haughty. When he finished his studies, many Small Vehicle Dharma Masters and masters of externalist ways came to debate with him, but none was able to defeat him.

Dharma Master Xuan Zang is known as a Tripitaka Master. Tripitaka means “Three Stores, Three Baskets”. The Tripitaka includes the Sutra Store, the Shastra Store and the Vinaya Store. He was honored with this title because he understood all three Stores without any obstruction and could explain them all.

Two Meanings of Dharma Master

1. One who bestows the Dharma upon people.

2. One who takes the Dharma as his master.

As to his name, Xuan means “esoteric and wonderful”. He was esoteric in the sense that none could really understand him. Tsang means “awe-inspiring”. He was awe-inspiring in that he could do what others could not do. He was an outstanding person among his peers. His wisdom surpassed all those around him. He is the one who translated this Shastra on the Door to Understanding the Hundred Dharmas into Chinese. Because the Dharma Master understood both Chinese and Sanskrit, he did not make mistakes in his translations of the sutras, and his translations of shastras are even more reliable.

The Three Cart Patriarch

At that time, Dharma Master Xuan Zang had more than eight hundred bhikshus helping him translate the Sutras spoken by the Buddha. They were a group of extremely talented people. The most renowned among them was Dharma Master Kuei Ji. He was known as the “Three Cart Patriarch”. Why was he called that? It is because, prior to his becoming a monk, he presented some conditions to the Emperor. His consenting to the imperial edict he had received ordering him to leave domestic life was contingent upon being given three carts. He wanted those three carts to follow him wherever he went. One of these carts was to be filled with wine. Basically monks do not drink wine, but he considered himself special. Another cart was to carry fresh meat, because he liked to eat it. And the third cart had to contain beautiful women. Now you see how he got his nickname.

However, you should be clear that the Three Cart Patriarch was not an ordinary person. For one thing, no ordinary person would dare present such conditions to the Emperor when he had been commanded to become a monk. In order to understand how special he was, we have to look into his previous life.

When Dharma Master Xuan Zang was on his way to India, he encountered an old cultivator way up in the mountains. The old cultivator had been meditating there for so long that the dust that had accumulated on his clothing was an inch or more thick. The birds, unafraid, had obviously made a seasonal habit of nesting in his hair. They had built their nests, laid their eggs, and reared their young while he remained there in samadhi. It would be hard to say how many years he had been sitting in that same spot unmoving.

Anyway, Dharma Master Xuan Zang rang his bell to bring the old cultivator out of samadhi. The old fellow came out of samadhi all right, but he could not move. He was as stiff as a board, but he was able to ask, “Why did you ring the bell and bring me out of meditation?”

Dharma Master Xuan Zang asked him, “Old cultivator, how long have you been sitting here in samadhi? What’s the sense of never coming out of meditation?”

The old cultivator replied, “I’m waiting for the Red Yang Buddha to come into the world. Then I’m going to help him propagate the Buddhadharma.”

Dharma Master Xuan Zang said, “But the Red Yang Buddha has come and gone already. He entered the world and has already passed into Nirvana. You sat here waiting and didn’t even know the Red Yang had arrived and the Red Yang Buddha’s Dharma was in the world.”

“Well, what era is it?” asked the cultivator, and Dharma Master Xuan Zang related that he was from the Tang Dynasty, and that it was the first year of the Jen Guan reign period. “That’s all right,” said the cultivator. “If the Red Yang Buddha has come and gone, I’ll wait for the White Yang Buddha,” and he prepared to re-enter samadhi.

Dharma Master Xuan Zang called him back saying something like, “Old Bodhisattva!” or “Dhyana companion!” or “Old cultivator!” Those were the standard forms of address at that time. He said, “Don’t re-enter samadhi! It would be better if you followed me to help propagate the Buddhadharma. Although Shakyamuni Buddha, the Red Yang Buddha, has already gone to Nirvana, his Dharma is still in the world. Come along and help me spread the teaching.”

“How can I help propagate it?” asked the old cultivator.

The Dharma Master said, “You go to Chang An, and when you come to the house with the yellow-tiled roof, get reborn there, and you can eventually help propagate the Dharma.” That is because his present physical body was useless, and he would need to trade it in for a new one. “You first go there and get reborn, and when I get back you can help me propagate the Buddhadharma.”

The old cultivator thought it over and agreed. So the old cultivator went off to rebirth in Chang An, and Dharma Master Xuan Zang went on his way to India to bring back the sutras. When he got back, the first thing he did was congratulate the T’ang Dynasty Emperor Tai Zong on the birth of his son. “I sent you back someone to be your son. That was been a happy event indeed!”

But the Emperor said, “No. I didn’t have a son while you were away.”

“No?” said the Dharma Master, and he looked into it and realized that the old cultivator had gotten off the track and been reborn in the house of the Defense Minister Yu Chi Gong instead. Yu Chi Gong was tough and had a black face. He was very talented and worked hard at his job, helping the Emperor maintain the country and rule the empire. Probably the old cultivator was a bit sloppy when he did things, so although Dharma Master Xuan Zang had told him clearly to get born in the house with the yellow-tiled roof, the old fellow got it wrong, chose the one with the blue tiles, and ended up becoming the nephew of the flamboyant Defense Minister.

Perhaps you can imagine what it was like being the nephew of Yu Chi Gong. As soon as he was old enough, he took a tremendous fancy to eating meat, drinking wine, and entertaining women. Perhaps because he had cultivated for kalpas, sitting in samadhi without ever coming out, he had had a few false thoughts like, “Meat isn’t bad as I recall. And I remember it was pleasant to drink wine. As for women, they weren’t bad either.” So that when he reincarnated, he could not put down the contents of those three carts.

But as soon as Dharma Master Xuan Zang learned from the Emperor that there was no prince, he checked things out and knew that the old cultivator was in fact Yu Chi Gong’s nephew. So he approached the Defense Minister and said, “You know, there’s someone in your family whom I sent here to help propagate the Buddhadharma.”

The Defense Minister said shortly, “Well, you told him to come, so you tell him to go.” Thus was he told; but he would not go.

Finally Dharma Master Xuan Zang related the causes and conditions to Emperor Tai Zong who said immediately, “I’ll issue an Imperial Command and order him to leave home.”

“Fine,” said Master Xuan Zang. “But it’s likely he’ll want to make it conditional. Whatever conditions he demands, just agree to them.”

The Emperor assented, and thereupon commanded the nephew of Yu Chi Gong to appear in court for an audience. “You must leave home,” was the Emperor’s order. “If I want to leave home I will, and if I don’t want to leave home, I won’t.”

“This is a royal command, and if you don’t obey it, you will be beheaded.”

That put a scare into the nephew, and so he complied; but he still had the audacity to set up three conditions. “I want a cart of meat, a cart of wine, and a cart of women to follow me wherever I go.

“Agreed,” said the Emperor. So it was decided, and the nephew headed for Da Xing Shan, “Great Flourishing Goodness,” Monastery to become a monk. Since he was the son of a prominent official, there was quite a fanfare, and as the procession neared the temple gates, the big bell was rung and the gigantic drum was beaten to welcome him.

As soon as he heard bell and drum he opened enlightenment and said, “Oh, that’s the way it is. To start with I was an old cultivator on that mountain.” With a flick of his hand he waved away the carts, “Take them back. I don’t want them anymore.” But although he dismissed the carts upon leaving home, still people called him “The Three Cart Patriarch.”

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