THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS

 

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C H A P T E R   I I I

DOUBTS AND QUESTIONS


Sutra:

One day, Magistrate Wei arranged a great vegetarian feast on behalf of the Master.

Commentary:

The doubts referred to in the title of this chapter were those of Magistrate Wei, who did not understand how the Patriarch Bodhidharma would have told the Emperor Wu of Liang that the Emperor had no merit. Therefore the Magistrate questioned the Sixth Patriarch about it.

The Magistrate invited the Master to a great vegetarian feast. All the Bhikshus, laymen, Taoists, scholars, officials, and common people were invited to the meatless meal. Politicians like to eat meat, but because Magistrate Wei propagated the Buddhadharma, he invited them all to a vegetarian meal.

“Great” means that many people attended. In China, the Thousand Monk Vegetarian Feast occurs when a thousand Bhikshus are invited to have a meal. Among a thousand monks, there is sure to be one Arhat, so making offerings to a thousand Bhikshus is making offerings to one Arhat. Which one is the Arhat? No one knows. If you knew, you would just make offerings to the Arhat and not to the thousand Bhikshus. This great feast, however, was an offering to not just a thousand Bhikshus; I believe it was to ten thousand.

The banquet was held on behalf of the Sixth Patriarch. As one who had left home, the Master himself could not invite people to lunch. Laymen made offerings to those who have left home; those who have left home do not make offerings to laymen. Recently, I said to a visitor from Hong Kong, “Remember, lay people make offerings to the Bodhimanda, protect and support the Triple Jewel. Do not be supported by the Triple Jewel.”

She replied, “I have never in my life heard a Good Knowing Advisor speak such honest words to me! This certainly has changed me. When I return, I will be different from what I was before.”

Magistrate Wei was the Sixth Patriarch’s disciple, and he wished to cause everyone to recognize and believe in his master. He invited them to eat vegetarian food, because it is said:

If you want to lead them
to the Buddha’s wisdom
First you ought to give them
something good to eat!

In fact, one definition of the word “people” goes:

People: when they eat, they’re happy.

If you feed them well, they can’t forget it. “Ah!” they say, “I’ve got to go listen to some more Sutra lectures.” They come time after time to get what they want–not Dharma, but good food. They eat and eat and soon, when they hear the Dharma, they say, “The Dharma tastes even better than these vegetables.” And then they don’t run away.

Magistrate Wei understood human nature. He arranged this feast on behalf of his Master. He did not do it for himself, saying,  “Look at me, making great offerings to the Triple Jewel!” He was not seeking notoriety. He probably used the technique used at today’s $500-a-plate fund-raising dinners. “We are going to build Nan Hua Temple,” he probably said. “You should donate five thousand dollars, or perhaps fifty thousand dollars.”

Because the assembly was held for the purpose of building a temple, the Magistrate asked the Master about the merit and virtue of Emperor Wu, the great Liang dynasty Emperor who built many temples and gave sanction to many monks who left home.

Sutra:

After the meal, the Magistrate asked the Master to take his seat. Together with officials, scholars, and the assembly, he bowed reverently and asked, “Your disciple has heard the High Master explain the Dharma. It is truly inconceivable. I now have a few doubts and hope you will be compassionate and resolve them for me.”

The Master said, “If you have any doubts, please ask me and I will explain.”

The Honorable Wei said, “Is not what the Master speaks the same as the doctrine of Bodhidharma?”

The Master replied, “It is.”

The Magistrate asked, “Your disciple has heard that when Bodhidharma first instructed the Emperor Wu of Liang, the Emperor asked him, ‘All my life I have built temples, given sanction to the Sangha, practiced giving, and arranged vegetarian feasts. What merit and virtue have I gained?’

“Bodhidharma said, ‘There was actually no merit and virtue.’

“I, your disciple, have not yet understood this principle and hope that the High Master will explain it.”

Commentary:

Magistrate Wei represented the entire assembly in requesting the Dharma. He was extremely respectful, stern, and upright in his bearing. He didn’t dare laugh or cry. The Magistrate had some small doubts; not big problems. He asked the Master to bestow great compassion on him. “Please resolve my little problem, because there are a few things I simply do not understand.”

“Honorable” is a term of great respect. The Magistrate was called “honorable” because he was a high-ranking official. When my disciples go to Taiwan to take the precepts, they should call the old cultivators, the Bhikshus, “Honorable.” “Honor” them once and they will be delighted. If you do not “Honor” them, they will say, “This newly-precepted one is extremely disrespectful!”

The Magistrate asked, “Don’t you explain the same principle as Bodhidharma?”

The Sixth Patriarch said, “Yes, I do. It is the mind-to-mind seal transmitted by Bodhidharma, the direct pointing to the mind to see the nature and realize Buddhahood.”

The Magistrate said, “I have heard that when Bodhidharma went to Nan Ching to convert the Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty, the Emperor told him, “I have built many temples.”

The Emperor Wu of Liang spent his entire life building temples. He allowed many Bhikshus to leave home and he made offerings of food and shelter to them. He would bow to anyone who left home. Wasn’t this good? He gave the wealth of his country to the poor and arranged many vegetarian feasts.

“What merit and virtue have I gained?” he asked. Emperor Wu had to be number one in everything. Therefore, when he met Patriarch Bodhidharma, he did not seek the Dharma, he sought Bodhidharma’s praise instead. He wanted Bodhidharma to give him a “high hat.” He was afraid that Bodhidharma might not know of his merit and so he introduced himself, saying, “Look at me. I have built hundreds of temples to house thousands of monks, all of whom left home under my official sanction. What kind of merit have I gained?” What he meant was, “Look at me! I am an emperor unlike all others! Everything I do is good and meritorious.” He didn’t seek the Dharma to end birth and death, he wanted to put himself on display instead.

This is like a certain Dharma Protector who says, “Do you know me? I am the greatest, strongest Dharma Protector. I give all my money to the Triple Jewel.” In fact, the money he uses to play around with women is several thousand times greater than the money he gives to the Triple Jewel, but he says he gives it all to the Triple Jewel. Isn’t this perverse? He never speaks about the money he squanders all over heaven and earth, but when he gives a dollar to the Temple, he says, “I gave a dollar to the Temple! Do you know that?” He is certainly the Emperor Wu’s disciple. With his merit and virtue he too can be an emperor someday.

Hearing the Emperor brag about “me, myself, and I,” boasting and advertising his merit and in general exalting himself, Bodhidharma thought, “How can a sage go around backslapping? How can I agree with him?”

Ordinary people would have said to the Emperor, “Oh yes! Yes! Your merit is indeed great. No one in the world can match it!” Bodhidharma was a patriarch. He could not possibly have indulged in such behavior, and so he said, “No merit! Totally without merit!”

Sutra:

The Master said, “There actually was no merit and virtue. Do not doubt the words of a sage. Emperor Wu of Liang’s mind was wrong; he did not know the right Dharma. Building temples and giving sanction to the Sangha, practicing giving and arranging vegetarian feasts is called ‘seeking blessings’. Do not mistake blessings for merit and virtue. Merit and virtue are in the Dharma body, not in the cultivation of blessings.”

The Master said further, “Seeing your own nature is merit, and equanimity is virtue. To be unobstructed in every thought, constantly seeing the true, real, wonderful function of your original nature is called merit and virtue.”

Commentary:

The Sixth Patriarch replied, “Do not doubt the sage’s words. There really was no merit and virtue. Emperor Wu was seeking fame; he was not seeking the orthodox Dharma.”

The Great Master said, “Merit and virtue are in the Dharma body, not in cultivating blessings.” What is merit then? Seeing your brilliant, wonderful, original nature is merit. With merit, you can see your own nature.

What is merit? At first, it is difficult to sit in Dhyana meditation, but after a while it becomes natural. When you begin to sit, your legs and back hurt, but after a while you defeat your legs and they no longer hurt. When your legs do not hurt, you have merit. If your legs hurt, you have no merit.

“Seeing your own nature is merit.” See your original face. You ask, “What does my original face look like?” You must find out for yourself. I cannot describe it to you, and even if I did, you wouldn’t know because your knowledge would have come from the outside. Enlighten yourself to your own nature. “Ah,” you will say, “My original face looks just like this!”

Then you must have your vision of the self-nature certified by a Good Knowing Advisor. You cannot set yourself up as king and say, “I am the Emperor. I am a Bodhisattva!” like the hippie who had poisoned himself with drugs to the point that he claimed to be a Bodhisattva, when he actually was nothing but a demon.

“Equanimity is virtue.” Without selfishness, everything is equal. There is no prejudice or partiality. If you are fair, just, and open-minded, you have virtue.

“To be unobstructed in every thought:” If you are obstructed, your thoughts flow here, stop there, and become attached. Obstruction means attachment. If you are not obstructed, you can always see your original nature. As the Sixth Patriarch said when he was enlightened, “How surprising that the self-nature is originally pure in itself! How surprising that the self-nature is originally unmoving! How surprising that the self-nature is originally not produced or destroyed! How surprising that the self-nature is so inconceivable!”

This is to “constantly see the true, real, wonderful function. It is called merit and virtue.” If you do not seek within yourself, but give sanction to Bhikshus, build temples, and give to the poor instead, you accumulate blessings. Blessings, however, are not merit and virtue. You should perfect your own merit and virtue just as the Buddhas have done.

Sutra:

“Inner humility is merit and the outer practice of reverence is virtue. Your self-nature establishing the ten thousand dharmas is merit and the mind-substance separate from thought is virtue. Not being separate from the self-nature is merit, and the correct use of the undefiled (self-nature) is virtue. If you seek the merit and virtue of the Dharma body, simply act according to these principles, for this is true merit and virtue.”

Commentary:

You should not be arrogant. In all situations, you should be polite. Do not say, “Look at me! I am better than everyone else. I am so talented. I know more Buddhadharma than you.” If you show off like this, you are being proud, not humble, and you have no merit. When you speak to people you should be easy and polite, not like a wooden board which smashes their heads with a single sentence. You don’t have to hit people, all you have to do is say one sentence and you split their heads open, which is a fiercer thing than using an iron bar. But if you are humble, you are never impolite.

Outwardly, you should see everyone as better than you. Don’t be self-satisfied.

Arrogance causes harm.
Humility brings benefit.

If you fill your cup with tea until it overflows and then keep pouring, you are being wasteful. Do not be “full of self.” If you are polite, you will gain benefit. Do not say, “I am the greatest. I am number one. I am so intelligent that I understood long ago things which you still do not know!” In Buddhism you should not fear that you will not understand. Fear only that you will not practice. Whether or not you understand is not so important, but if you do not practice, you are useless.

The mind-substance should be separate from false thought, but not separate from proper thought. That is virtue. Turn the light around and reverse the illumination to see your self-nature, which constantly gives rise to Prajna. This is merit. In unimpeded, limitless transformation, the correct use of the selfnature enables you to do whatever you wish while never doing unclean things.

If you are seeking the Dharma body you should act in accord with these principles, because it is by means of such merit and virtue that the Dharma body is realized.

Sutra:

“Those who cultivate merit and virtue in their thoughts do not slight others, but always respect them. Those who slight others and do not cut off the ‘me and mine’ are without merit. The vain and unreal self-nature is without virtue, because of the ‘me and mine,’ because of the greatness of the ‘self,’ and because of the constant slighting of others.”

Commentary:

You should not slight people, animals, or any living beings. For example, whenever Sadaparibhuta Bodhisattva met someone, he immediately bowed and said, “I dare not slight you because you are going to be a Buddha.” Sadaparibhuta Bodhisattva, who was a previous incarnation of Shakyamuni Buddha, realized Buddhahood because of his practice of universal respect while walking the Bodhisattva path.

“Those who slight others and do not cut off the ‘me and mine’ are without merit.” You have no merit if, whenever you meet someone, you immediately become jealous, terrified that they will be better than you are or more intelligent or will surpass you in some other respect. Your jealousy causes you to belittle them. You see yourself as great. “See how big I am?” you say. “No one can compare with me. In the present age there is no emperor, but if there were, it would certainly be me. None of you would have a share. Why? Because I am more intelligent than all of you. I can dominate you, but you can’t dominate me.” “I,” “myself,” “me and mine” are not cut off and not put down. There is no room for merit, because you are too full of self.

You do not really cultivate, and so your self-nature is unreal. You are not basically genuine, you do not believe in yourself and you do not know whether you are true or false. I did not tell you to drink or smoke. Why are you drinking and smoking? I did not tell you to go gambling. Why did you go? You don’t know why you do these mixed-up things. The self nature in this way is “vain and unreal.” This happens because you have no virtue and you see yourself as too big. “Look at me!” you say, “I am a Buddha!” This is like a certain person who said, “This Dharma Master is enlightened and I am just like him!” He did not say that he himself was enlightened. He said that the Dharma Master was enlightened and that the two of them were just alike. He might as well have introduced himself by saying, “I am enlightened.” This “me, myself, and I” is too big. There is no merit here.

Sutra:

“Good Knowing Advisors, continuity of thought is merit, and the mind practicing equality and directness is virtue. Self-cultivation of one’s nature is merit, and self-cultivation of the body is virtue.”

Commentary:

In thought after thought, without interruption, every thought should be right. In thought after thought, without stopping, every thought should be cultivation. This is merit. At first it is forced, but after a time it becomes natural, and the naturalness is merit.

Always be even-minded and impartial, direct and without deceit. That is virtue.

If you have not seen your nature, you must cultivate it. How do you cultivate it? By not giving rise to affliction. When someone hits you, think of it as if you had run into a wall. When someone scolds you, pretend that they are singing a song, or speaking a foreign language. “Oh, he’s not scolding me. He’s speaking Japanese: ‘Chi, chi, cha, cha,’ or is it Spanish?” If you think of it that way, there is no trouble at all.

If someone tries to spit at heaven, the spit just falls right back into his own face. If someone scolds you, but you take no notice, it is just as if he were scolding himself. When hit, you can think, “I have run into a wall. It certainly hurts.” Can you deny that it is your own karmic retribution returning to you? If you bump your head in the dark, do you hit the wall with your fist? If you do, your fist will hurt and there will be even more pain. Pay no attention: then nothing will have happened. Maitreya Bodhisattva said,

The Old Fool wears second-hand clothes
And fills his belly with tasteless food,
Mends holes to make a cover against
The cold, and thus the myriad affairs of life,
According to what comes, are done.
Scolded, the Old Fool merely says, “Fine.”
Struck, the Old Fool falls down to sleep.
“Spit on my face, I just let it dry;
I save strength and energy and
Give you no affliction.” Paramita is
His style; he gains the jewel within
The wonderful. Know this news and then
What worry is there of not perfecting the Way?

This is wonderful, but not everyone can do it. The jewel within the wonderful is not easy to obtain. Cultivation of the nature is simply not getting angry.

How does one cultivate the body? Do not do bad things. Have no lust, hatred, or delusion. If you do not kill, steal, or lust, you cultivate the body. That is virtue.

Sutra:

“Good Knowing Advisors, merit and virtue should be seen within one’s own nature, not sought through giving and making offerings. That is the difference between blessings and merit and virtue. Emperor Wu did not know the true principle. Our Patriarch was not in error.”

Commentary:

You cannot say, “I make offerings to the Triple Jewel. I have merit.” It is not merit, just blessings. Therefore blessings and merit and virtue are different. If you perform acts of blessing, you will receive the karmic retribution of blessing in future lives. But you obtain the advantages of merit and virtue now, in this life.

Bodhidharma wanted to take the Emperor across, but the Emperor’s ego was too big. Therefore, in order to break the Emperor’s attachment, Bodhidharma said that he had no merit and virtue. The Emperor was most displeased and from then on he ignored Bodhidharma. No matter what dharma Bodhidharma spoke, he wouldn’t listen. “Why should I listen to you?” he said. He would not respond to Bodhidharma’s compassionate efforts to save him and so Bodhidharma just went away. After a time, the Emperor died of starvation. Think it over: How could one with merit and virtue starve to death? He died of starvation because he had no merit and virtue. Bodhidharma had wanted to wake him up so that he would not have to die that way. What a pity that the Emperor’s view of himself was so big that Bodhidharma couldn’t help him.

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