THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
Lectures given by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua at Gold Mountain Monastery, San Francisco, California, in 1974.
Birth Leads to Death
The Buddha asked a Shramana, "How long is the human life span?" He replied, "A few days." The Buddha said, "You have not yet understood the Way."
He asked another Shramana, "How long is the human life span?" The reply was, "The space of a meal." The Buddha said, "You have not yet understood the Way."
He asked another Shramana, "How long is the human life span?" He replied, "The length of a single breath." The Buddha said, "Excellent. You have understood the Way."
The Buddha asked a Shramana, "How long is the human life span?" The Buddha asked this question deliberately. It wasn't that the Buddha didn't know the answer himself and had to ask the Shramana to find out. The Buddha asked because he knew that people don't know the length of the human life span. So he asked a Shramana, "How long is a human being's life? How much time does a human life last?" He replied, "A few days." The first Shramana said, "Probably after a few days we will die. Life is not very long." The Buddha said, "You have not yet understood the Way. You still don't understand."
He asked another Shramana, "How long is the human life span?" The reply was, "The space of a meal." The Shramana answered, "In the time it takes to eat a single meal, a person's life is over." The Buddha said, "You have not yet understood the Way."He, too, didn't understand.
He asked another Shramana, "How long is the human life span?" He replied, "The length of a single breath. The life span of a human being lasts for one breath." The Buddha said, "Excellent. You have understood the Way." The Shramana who gave this answer understood the Way.
In India there was once a king who believed in adherents of non-Buddhist religions that cultivated many kinds of ascetic practices. Some followed the precepts of cows and some the precepts of dogs; some smeared ashes on their bodies; and some slept on beds of nails. They cultivated all sorts of ascetic practices, such as those undertaken by yogis. Meanwhile, the Bhikshus who cultivated the Buddhadharma had it comparatively easy, because they didn't cultivate those kinds of ascetic practices. Now, the king of that country said to the Buddha's disciples, "I believe that although these non-Buddhists cultivate all kinds of ascetic practices, they still cannot stop their thoughts of sexual desire. How much less are you Bhikshus, who are so casual, able to stop your afflictions and your thoughts of sexual desire. You surely cannot put a stop to them."
One of the Dharma Masters answered the king this way, "Take a man from jail who has been sentenced to execution and say to him, take this bowl of oil and carry it in your hands as you walk down the street. If you spill a single drop of the oil, I'll have you executed. If you don't spill a single drop, I'll release you when you return.' Then, send some beautiful women musicians out on the street to sing and play their instruments where the sentenced man is walking with his bowl of oil. If he should spill any oil, of course you'll execute him. If he comes back without spilling a single drop, ask him what he's seen on the road, and see what he says!"
The king of the country did just that: He took a man who was sentenced to be executed and said to him, "Today you should be executed, but I'm going to give you an opportunity to save your life. I'll give you a bowl of oil to carry in your hands as you take a walk on the street. If you can carry it without spilling a single drop, when you return you won't be killed. But if you spill one drop, I'll execute you on schedule. Go try it out."
The sentenced man did as he was told. He went out on the street with the oil, and when he returned he hadn't spilled one drop. Then the king asked him, "What did you see out on the street?" The sentenced man said, "I didn't see a single thing. All I did was watch the oil to keep it from spilling. I didn't see or hear anything else at all."
The king asked the Dharma Master, "Well, what is the principle involved here?" The monk answered, "The Shramana who has left the home-life is in the same situation. He sees the problem of birth and death as too important, so he has no time for thoughts of sexual desire. Like the sentenced man, the Shramana wants to end birth and death. If the sentenced man were to spill one drop of oil or to become the least bit afflicted, he would die. The Shramana who has left the home-life is also like this. Why is he able to end his sexual desire? It's because he sees the matter of birth and death as very important. Why can't the non-Buddhists end their sexual desire? They don't understand birth and death. They don't realize how important this matter is. Thus, they cannot end their sexual desire." Why don't people who cultivate put a stop to their sexual desire? They haven't truly recognized the immediacy of the impermanence of birth and death. If you realized the immediacy of impermance, you wouldn't have time to give rise to false thoughts of lust. You wouldn't have time for the affliction of sexual desire.
The Buddha's Instructions Are Not Biased
The Buddha said, "Students of the Buddha's Way should believe in and accord with everything that the Buddha teaches. When you eat honey, it is sweet on the surface and sweet in the center; it is the same with my sutras."
Section thirty-nine says that you should believe and accept all the Buddha's sutras. You shouldn't discriminate between the Maha-yana and the Theravada, the sudden and the gradual, deciding which sutras are important and which sutras are not important. Why make so many distinctions? All of the Buddha's teachings, as a whole, do not go beyond two kinds: the provisional and the actual teachings. The provisional teaching is spoken for the sake of the actual teaching; and if you speak the provisional teaching in detail, it leads to the actual. Provisional and actual are non-dual. Students of Buddhism should not discriminate between the Mahayana and the Theravada. When I was in Los Angeles, I said to the Bhikshus from Thailand, "In the Buddhadharma there were originally no discriminations between Mahayana and Theravada. It's just that certain disciples who were attached and who didn't genuinely want to study the Buddhadharma strayed from it, made distinctions between great and small, and became unfilial disciples of the Buddha." That is the principle discussed in this section.
The Buddha said, "Students of the Buddha's Way should believe in and accord with everything that the Buddha teaches."Those of you who study the Way of the Buddha should believe in all the Buddha's sutras and teachings. You shouldn't make any discriminations among them.
When you eat honey, it is sweet on the surface and sweet in the center; it is the same with my sutras. It's like eating honey. Honey is sweet on the surface and also in the center, and the sutras spoken by the Buddha are also like that. All of them establish the provi-sional for the sake of the actual and open the provisional to reveal the actual, in order to teach and transform living beings so that all alike can realize the Buddha Way. They all follow this principle.
The Way Is Practiced in the Mind
The Buddha said, "A Shramana who practices the Way should not be like an ox turning a millstone. Such a one walks the Way with his body, but his mind is not on the Way. If the mind is concentrated on the Way, what further need is there to practice?"
The fortieth section explains that cultivation of the Way is actually done in our mind, not in external forms. If the mind isn't absorbed in the Way and we merely pay attention to externals, then we are like an ox turning a millstone. The ox just goes around and around pulling the grinder all day and never getting away from it.
The Buddha said, "A Shramana who practices the Way should not be like an ox turning a millstone."When a Bhikshu cultivates the unsurpassed Way, he shouldn't be like an ox turning a millstone--just going back and forth and round and round in the mill, and never getting free to go outside the mill. Such a one walks the Way with his body, but his mind is not on the Way. Although you physically appear to be cultivating the Way--bowing to the Buddha, reciting sutras, and holding mantras--your mind isn't attentive to the work. Our thoughts are not on cultivating the Way.
If the mind is concentrated on the Way, what further need is there to practice? If your mind can truly cultivate the Way, if you can cultivate single-mindedly without any false thinking, and if you can constantly be in samadhi, then what need is there to practice? Under those circumstances, it is all right for you not to practice.
That is to say, you have subdued your mind. If you have no more thoughts of sexual desire, then your mind is subdued. If you are continually having false thoughts of sexual desire, then you may put on an impressive front, as if you were an honest person, but inside you will be unreliable, because all that goes on in your mind is false-thinking about sexual matters. No matter how good you look on the outside, it's of no use.
In cultivating, then, you must pay attention to the mind. If you can tame your mind, you'll be able to attain the fruition very quickly. If you don't tame your mind, if you continually think about sex, then you are just like the ox who grinds and grinds on its millstone. The work is very bitter, but the ox cannot escape and get out of the mill.
A Straight Mind Gets Rid of Desire
The Buddha said, "One who practices the Way is like an ox pulling a heavy load through deep mud. The ox is so extremely exhausted that it dares not glance to the left or right. Only when it gets out of the mud can it rest. The Shramana should regard emotion and desire as being worse than deep mud; and with an undeviating mind, he should be mindful of the Way. Then he can avoid suffering."
In the forty-first section, the Buddha tells us to use a straight-forward mind as we cultivate and contemplate the Way. In every thought, we should make it our goal to get out of the mud of emotion and desire. Emotion and desire are mud, and we need to pull ourselves out of it.
The Buddha said, "One who practices the Way is like an ox pulling a heavy load through deep mud."A cultivator of the Way is like an ox pulling a very heavy load as it walks through very deep mud. It has trouble pulling its legs out of the mud. When one leg gets free, the other leg sinks; and when that leg is free, the first one sinks again. The ox is so extremely exhausted that it dares not glance to the left or right. The ox is terribly exhausted. It is so weary that it doesn't even dare glance to the right or left. Only when it gets out of the mud can it rest. Only then can it relax a bit.
Likewise the Shramana should regard emotion and desire as being worse than deep mud; and with an undeviating mind, he should be mindful of the Way. The Shramanas who have left the home-life, the Bhikshus and Bhikshunis, should contemplate that thoughts of sexual desire are even more formidable than the deep mud. They should single-mindedly contemplate and cultivate the Way with a straightforward mind. Then he can avoid suffering.Then they can escape the distress and suffering of sinking in the deep mud of emotional involvement.
I told my disciples in Los Angeles to hold the precepts really well. I told them to stop their thoughts of sexual desire, to stop smoking, to stop drinking, and to never take drugs. That was all I said; the talk was brief. Do you have the energy to write out your lecture notes for them to read?
Later on, they burned incense on their heads to make precept marks, and the suffering was more intense than in the volcanoes of hell. What's more, they didn't know how to do it. They rolled up the incense powder in paper, like cigarettes, and then placed the rolls on top of their heads and lit them up. When a roll caught fire, it would burn a bit and then quickly go out, so they had to relight it again and again after it went out each time. Each person wanted no more than two or three burns, but they used up at least three hundred matches in the process. They struck a match, lit the incense, and it went out. They then struck another match, and relit the incense. Making those incense burns took about an hour and a half, and when it was over they still hadn't burned more than a few burns. I counted them up and there were no more than two, three, five, six, seven burns in over ninety minutes. They made a total of only seven burns, didn't they?
Here we burn the incense into charcoal first--before we light it. What you tried to use was already unsuitable. You tried to use fresh incense, instead of charcoal. If you try to burn fresh incense, you make the experience extremely painful. One of the people who received the burns is a lawyer who gritted his teeth and yelled, "Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!" He couldn't even say Amitabha. When one young woman was receiving her burns, tears started rolling down her cheeks. She was just the same as one of my disciples. That day my disciple had done her burns poorly because the incense was prepared incorrectly. If the incense is prepared correctly, then it burns right down and is gone in no time. Then it doesn't hurt so much. If you make the incense incorrectly, then it hurts like blazes.
I saw this situation myself, and I saw that the people who set it up were really inept. Then Tien En said that they used paper rolls like that everywhere in Vietnam, which I don't believe. Probably the Vietnamese monks didn't make burns in the past, and when they saw the Chinese monks' precept burns, they tried to imitate them. They didn't know the method, so they probably guessed that the Chinese monks rolled up the fresh incense and burned that. Actually, that was totally wrong.
Understanding that the World Is Illusory
The Buddha said, "I look upon royalty and high positions as upon the dust that floats through a crack. I look upon treasures of gold and jade as upon broken tiles. I look upon fine silk clothing as upon cheap cotton. I look upon a great thousand-world universe as upon a small nut kernel. I look upon the waters of the Anavatapta Lake as upon oil used to anoint the feet."
The forty-second section, the final section, explains that the Buddha regards all dharmas equally, and he breaks through all the attachments of living beings. A hundred years in the human realm is just a day and a night in the Trayastrimsa Heaven. One great eon of this Saha World is just a day and a night in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. So there isn't anything, ultimately, that is real. Everything is empty and false. That's why the Buddha said, "I look upon royalty and high positions as upon the dust that floats through a crack."
Royal positions can be likened to the presidency, and high positions to the governorship. These are positions of honor and high social status. Yet the Buddha regards these royal and governmental positions as no more than the dust that floats through a crack. They are worthless, nothing to be attached to, just like dust.
I look upon treasures of gold and jade as upon broken tiles. I look upon precious things, like gold and jade, as upon broken tiles up on the rooftop; they're just like rubble from broken roof tiles.I look upon fine silk clothing as upon cheap cotton.The most beautiful clothing is just like shabby cotton--nothing to be attached to. I look upon a great thousand-world universe as upon a small nut kernel.The Buddha looks upon the great threefold thousand world universe as no larger than a small nut kernel. (This refers to a small nut, so the kernel would be no bigger than an apricot seed or an olive pit.)
I look upon the waters of the Anavatapta Lake as upon oil used to anoint the feet.The water in the Anavatapta Lake, which is abundant, is seen by the Buddha as being no more than the amount of oil used to anoint the feet--not very much at all. The principle here is to get rid of your attachments to things; you shouldn't take things so seriously and become so attached to them. To be attached to something is to be unable to put it down; and if you can't put it down, you won't be able to accomplish your work in cultivation.
"I look upon the door of expedient means as upon a cluster of jewels created by transformation. I look upon the Unsurpassed Vehicle as upon a dream of gold and riches. I look upon the Buddha Way as upon flowers before my eyes. I look upon Dhyana samadhi as upon the pillar of Mount Sumeru. I look upon Nirvana as upon being awake day and night. I look upon inversion and uprightness as upon six dancing dragons. I look upon impartiality as upon the one true ground. I look upon the flourishing of the teaching as upon a tree blooming during four seasons."
I look upon the door of expedient means as upon a cluster of jewels created by transformation.All the utensils and implements in the heavens are made of the seven precious gems: gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother-of-pearl, red pearls, and carnelian. In the Land of Ultimate Bliss, the ground is made of yellow gold. When Maitreya Bodhisattva becomes a Buddha, our ground will turn into lapis lazuli. Our ground right now is made of rubble, so it is very coarse. If you regard the myriad events and things as good, then they are good; and if you regard them as bad, then they will be just as you think of them. Everything is just a manifestation of your mind. Things come forth as a revelation of your true mind. So you shouldn't be deluded by what is false and illusory. All outer appearances are false and illusory. Only your fundamental nature is true. Don't be attached to the false and forget about the true.
"Expedient means" refers to the Three Vehicles that all Buddhas establish: the Vehicle of Sound-hearers, the Vehicle of Those Enlightened by Conditions, and the Vehicle of the Bodhisattvas. If living beings rely on these dharmas to cultivate, they can certify to the fruition and become Buddhas.These are expedient Dharma-doors; they are provisional and were designed by the Buddha to reveal the actual truth. The Buddha said that they are like a cluster of jewels created by transformation.
The Unsurpassed Vehicle is basically true and actual; and it is also a principle inherent in the self-nature of living beings. It is not outside of living beings' minds, but is found only within their minds. Thus it is said that perfect Bodhi returns to nothing what-soever; when enlightenment is perfected, there isn't anything at all. Thus, the Buddha sees the Unsurpassed Vehicle as being like gold and riches in a dream. The gold and riches in the dream are actually false.
All that is said about the Buddha Way is spoken for ordinary people, and if there weren't any ordinary people, then the Buddha Way wouldn't be of any use. Thus it is called unconditioned. Unconditioned dharmas neither arise nor are extinguished. They neither come into being nor disappear. They aren't real and actual; they are unreal, like a vision of flowers in space. Thus the Buddha sees the Buddha Way as being like flowers in space.
Mount Sumeru towers above the great sea, and no storm can topple it. When people cultivate, their Chan samadhi should be as im-movable as Mount Sumeru. Fundamentally, Mount Sumeru isn't an actual dharma either, but it is being used here as an analogy. When you really accomplish the fruition, you see everything as empty.
Then the Buddha says, "I regard the door of expedient means as a cluster of jewels created by transformation." The Buddha sees the expedient means of bestowing the provisional for the sake of the actual, and then opening the provisional to reveal the actual, as an array of jewels created by transformation. I look upon the Unsurpassed Vehicle as upon a dream of gold and riches. The unsurpassed Great Vehicle Dharma looks to him like no more than a dream of gold, silver, and treasures. I look upon the Buddha Way as upon flowers before my eyes. The Buddha contemplates how the Buddha Way is just like the illusory flowers he sees before his eyes. There is nothing real in it at all.
I look upon Dhyana samadhi as upon the pillar of Mount Sumeru. He sees Dhyana samadhi as the great pillar of Mount Sumeru, which rises out of the ocean and never shakes in the slightest. I look upon Nirvana as upon being awake day and night.The Buddha sees Nirvana as being in a waking state both day and night, and never sleeping. I look upon inversion and upright-ness as upon six dancing dragons. The states of inversion and uprightness are like six dragons dancing wildly. As soon as you are inverted, your six sense organs of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind react to the six defiling objects, and you are turned by states. Then these six sense organs are just like six dancing dragons.
I look upon impartiality as upon the one true ground. The Buddha sees the Dharma-door of impartiality as the one single true ground, the ground of reality. I look upon the flourishing of the teaching as upon a tree blooming during four seasons. The Buddha sees the flourishing of the Buddhadharma, the propagation of the Dharma, as a tree which goes through the four seasons. In the spring it blooms; in the summer it grows; in the autumn the leaves fall; and in the winter its branches are bare. The flourishing of the Buddhadharma also has its time and its cycle.
The Buddha speaks in this way in order to teach people not to be attached to anything. If you have attachments, then you cannot realize the emptiness of people and the emptiness of dharmas. When people are seen as empty, they disappear; and when dharmas are seen as empty, dharmas disappear. Ordinary people don't consider people and dharmas to be empty; they assume that they exist. If you want to realize the fruition and become a sage, then it is necessary to see that people and dharmas are empty. At that point, you have no attachment to people or to dharmas; and when these two attach-ments are gone, you break all attachments. You realize the principle of the emptiness of everything. If you do not see people as empty, then you cannot realize sagehood. And if you do not see dharmas as empty, you will not be able to attain the wisdom of sages.
The Buddha spoke this section of text to teach people to get rid of all their false thinking and attachments. If you can get rid of them all, then you can obtain genuine ease, and that is to obtain genuine freedom. Then if you want to live, you can live; and if you want to die, you can die. You are free to come and go. In absolutely everything, you are free to do as you please. This is not superficial freedom, it is genuine freedom.