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 esteemed instructions. 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.
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