THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS

Lectures given by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua at Gold Mountain Monastery, San Francisco, California, in 1974.

Section  27
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.

Section  28
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.

Section  29
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.

Section  30
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.

Section  31
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.

Section  32
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.

Section  33
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.

Section  34
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 Shrama-na 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.

Section  35
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.

Section  36
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.

Section  37
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.

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Contents:
Sutra Preface
Section 1
Section 2-12
Section 13-26
Section 27-37
Section 38-42
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