THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS

The Assembly of Arhats

Sutra:

Elders Shariputra, Mahamaudgalyayana, Mahakasyapa, Mahakatyayana, Mahakausthila, Revata, Suddhipanthaka, Nanda, Ananda, Rahula, Gavampati, Pindola Bharadvaja, Kalodayin, Mahakapphina, Vakkula, Aniruddha, and others such as these, all great disciples;

Commentary:

Elder is a term used to show respect for another’s position. There are three kinds of elders:

An elder in age has lived for many years. A Dharma Nature elder understands the Buddhadharma and comprehends his self-nature; regardless of his age, he is nonetheless an elder in terms of his wisdom and intelligence. One such as this may be young in years, but he can lecture on sutras and speak the Dharma. His wisdom is limitless and his eloquence is unobstructed. Elders in blessings and virtue are fortunate because people like to make offerings to them. Because of their virtuous conduct they are fields where, by making offerings, one plants the causes of future blessings.

Shariputra

Shariputra was a Dharma Nature elder. At the age of eight he studied and mastered all the Buddhadharma in only seven days, and he could out-debate all the Indian philosophers. His name is Sanskrit. His father’s name was Tisya and his mother’s name was Sarika. Hence he was known as Upatisya, “Little Tisya,” and as Shariputra, the Son (putra) of Sari.

The word Shariputra may be translated three ways,

He was the foremost of the Sravakas in wisdom. While still in the womb, he helped his mother debate, and she always won. In the past, whenever she had debated with her brother, she had always lost; but while she was pregnant with Shariputra, her brother always lost.

“This isn’t your own power,” he said. “The child in your womb must be incredibly intelligent. He is helping you debate and that’s why I lost.” Thereupon he decided to study logic and travelled to Southern India where he studied for many years.

There was no electricity at that time yet, but he studied by day and by night. He mastered the Four Vedas, the classics of Indian knowledge, without wasting a moment. He didn’t take time to mend his tattered clothing, wash his face, or even cut his nails which grew so long that everyone called him “The Long-Nailed Brahmin.”

Having mastered various philosophical theories, he returned to debate with his sister’s son. He had spent a great deal of time preparing for the event, and felt that if he lost it would be the height of disgrace. “Where is your son?” he asked his sister.

“Shariputra has left the home-life under the Buddha,” she said.

The Long-Nailed Brahmin was displeased. “How could he?’ he said. “What virtue does the Buddha have? He’s just a Sramana. Why should anyone follow him? I’m going to go bring my nephew back.”

He went to the Buddha and demanded his nephew, but the Buddha said, “Why do you want him back? You can’t just casually walk off with him. Establish your principles and I’ll consider your request.”

“I take non-accepting as my doctrine,” said the uncle.

“Really?” said the Buddha. “Do you accept your view of non-accepting? Do you accept your doctrine or not?”

Now the uncle had just said that he didn’t accept anything. But when the Buddha asked him whether or not he accepted his own view of non-accepting, he could hardly admit he accepted it for that would invalidated his doctrine of non-acceptance. But if he said that he didn’t accept it, he would contradict his own statement of his doctrine and his view. He was therefore unable to answer either way.

Before the debate, he had made an agreement with the Buddha that if he won he would take his nephew, but if he lost, he said that he would cut off his head and give it to the Buddha.

The uncle had bet his head and lost. So what did he do? He ran!

About four miles down the road he stopped and thought, “I can’t run away. I told the Buddha that if I lost he could have my head. I’m a man, after all, and I should keep my word. It’s unmanly to run away.” Then he returned to Shakyamuni Buddha and said, “Give me a knife, I’m going to cut off my head!”

“What for?” said the Buddha.

“I lost, didn’t I? I owe you my head, don’t I?” he said.

“There’s no such principle in my Dharma,” said the Buddha. “Had you won, you could have taken your nephew, but since you lost, why don’t you leave home instead?”

“Will you accept me?” he said.

“Yes,” replied the Buddha.

So not only did the nephew not return, but the uncle didn’t return home either.

At age eight, the Great, Wise Shariputra had penetrated the Real Mark of all dharmas in only seven days, and defeated all the philosophers in India. When Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Amitabha Sutra without request, Shariputra was at the head of the assembly, because only wisdom such as his could comprehend the deep, wonderful doctrine of the Pure Land Dharma Door.

Not only was he foremost in wisdom, he was not second in spiritual penetrations either. Once a layman invited the Buddha to receive offerings. Shariputra had entered samadhi, and no matter how they called to him, he wouldn’t come out. He wasn’t being obnoxious by showing off, thinking, “I hear them, but I’m not moving, that’s all there is to it.” No, he had really entered samadhi.

When he didn’t respond to the bell, Maudgalyayana, foremost in spiritual powers, applied every bit of strength he had, but couldn’t move him. He couldn’t even ruffle the corner of his robe. This proves that Shariputra was not only number one in wisdom, but also in spiritual penetrations. He wasn’t like us. If someone bumps us while we sit in meditation, we know it. Shariputra had real samadhi.

We should look into this: Why was Shariputra foremost in wisdom? Why was he called “The Greatly Wise Shariputra?” It’s a matter of cause and effect. In a former life, in the causal ground, when he first decided to study, he met a teacher who asked him, “Would you like to be intelligent?”

“Yes I would,” said Shariputra.

“Then study the dharma-door of Prajna wisdom. Recite the Great Compassion Mantra, the Shurangama Mantra, the Ten Small Mantras, and the Heart Sutra. Recite them every day and your wisdom will unfold.”

Shariputra followed his teacher’s instructions and recited day and night, while standing, sitting, walking, and reclining. He didn’t recite for just one day, but made a vow to recite continuously, to bow to his teacher, and to study the Buddhadharma life after life. Life after life, he studied Prajna, and life after life his wisdom increased until, when Shakyamuni Buddha appeared in the world, Shariputra was able to penetrate the Real Mark of all dharmas in only seven days.

Who was his former teacher? Just Shakyamuni Buddha! When Shakyamuni Buddha realized Buddhahood, Shariputra became an Arhat, and because he obeyed his teacher, he had great wisdom. He never forgot the doctrines his teacher taught him, and so, in seven days, he mastered all the Buddha’s dharmas.

When one has not studied very much Buddhadharma in the past, one learns mantras and sutras slowly. One may recite the Shurangama mantra for months and still be unable to recite it from memory. It is most important, however, not to be lazy. Be vigorous and diligent. Like Shariputra, don’t relax day or night. Those who can’t remember should study hard, and those who can should increase their efforts and enlarge their wisdom. You should consider, “Why is my wisdom so much less than everyone else’s? Why is his wisdom so lofty and mine so unclear? Why do I understand so little? It’s because I haven’t studied the Buddhadharma.” Now that we have met the Dharma we should vow to study it. Then in the future we can run right past Shariputra and study with the Greatly Wise Bodhisattva Manjushri, who is far, far wiser than the Arhat Shariputra. This is the cause behind Shariputra’s wisdom, a useful bit of information.

Three American Shramanera and two American Shramanerika have now received the complete precepts: Shramanera, Bhikshu, and Bodhisattva Precepts. You could say that they are new Bodhisattvas returning to America. People who have received the Bodhisattva precepts cultivate the Bodhisattva Way, and people who have received the Bhikshu precepts uphold the Buddhadharma and teach living beings. When these five return from Taiwan, we Americans should protect them as precious treasures. All of you should be their Dharma protectors for they are returning to America to establish American Buddhism so that in the future, Americans will be able to cultivate and realize Buddhahood. This is my hope.

Mahamaudgalyayana

The Sanskrit word Maha has three meanings:

As an elder, one is respected by many kings and great ministers. Having studied the sutras in the Tripitaka, an elder has victoriously transcended all non-Buddhist religions.

Maudgalyayana is Sanskrit and means “descendent of a family of bean gatherers.” His name also means “turnip root” because his ancestors ate turnips when they cultivated the Way. He is also called “Kolita” after the tree where his father and mother prayed to the spirit of that tree for a son.

This Venerable One was the foremost in spiritual penetrations. In his cultivation of the Way, when he first certified to Arhatship, he obtained six kinds of spiritual penetrations: the heavenly eye, the heavenly ear, the knowledge of others’ thoughts, the knowledge of past lives, the extinction of outflows, and the complete spirit. With the heavenly eye, one sees not only the affairs of men, but every action of the gods as well. With the heavenly ear, one hears the gods speaking. With the knowledge of others’ thoughts, one knows what others are thinking and planning before they speak. With the knowledge of past lives, not only does one know what they are thinking, but one clearly knows their causes and effects from former lives.

As to the extinction of outflows, all people have outflows. They are like leaky bottles: pour something in the top and it flows out the bottom. The bigger the hole, the faster the flow. The smaller the hole, the slower the flow. If there are no holes, there are no leaks, no outflows. The extinction of outflows is the absence of leaks.

What outflows do people have? Food and drink become the outflows of feces and urine. If you like to get angry, that’s an outflow. If you are greedy, hateful, or stupid, you have outflows. Pride and doubt are outflows, too.

With outflows, nothing can be retained, but without them, all leaks disappear. Outflows are simply our faults. People! If we don’t have big sicknesses, we have small sicknesses, and if we don’t have small sicknesses, we have little faults. If we don’t have big outflows, we have small outflows, and if we don’t have small outflows, we have slow leaks, little bad habits. A lot can be said about outflows. The absence of them is called the Penetration of the Extinction of Outflows.

The Penetration of the Complete Spirit is also called the “penetration of the realm of the spirit” and the “spiritual penetration of everything as you will it to be.” The complete spirit means that you have an inconceivable power. Not even the ghosts and spirits can know of your thousand changes and ten thousand transformations, for you have penetrated all realms and states without obstruction. “As you will” means that everything is the way you want it. If you want to go to the heavens, you go; if you want to go down into the earth, you go. You can walk into the water without drowning, and into the fire without burning. If you’re in your room and think, “I’d rather not go out the door,” you can walk right through the wall. How can this be? It’s “as you will” according to your thought. However you think you would like it to be, that’s the way it is. You just have to make a wish and you attain your aim. These are the Six Spiritual Penetrations.

When Mahamaudgalyayana first obtained these penetrations, he looked for his father and mother. Not so much his father, actually, as his mother. Where was she? His mother was in hell. Why? Because she had not believed in the Triple Jewel: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha; and what is more, she had slandered them. She had also eaten fish eggs and flesh, and thereby had killed many beings.

Seeing her in hell, Maudgalyayana sent her a bowl of food. She took it in one hand and hid it with the other because she was afraid the other hungry ghosts would see it and try to steal it from her. Being greedy herself, she knew that other hungry ghosts were greedy too, and so she covered it over stealthily.

Although it was good food, her heavy karmic obstacles prevented her from eating it. When the food reached her mouth it turned into flaming coals which burned her lips. Maudgalyayana’s spiritual powers could not prevent the food from turning into fire, so he asked the Buddha to help him.

The Buddha told him to save his mother by arranging an Ullambana offering. Ullambana means, “releasing those who are hanging upside down.” The Buddha told Maudgalyayana that, on the fifteenth day of the seventh (lunar) month, the day of the Buddha’s delight and the monks’ Pravarana he should offer all varieties of food and drink to the Sangha of the ten directions. In this way he could rescue his mother so she could leave suffering and obtain bliss.

Maudgalyayana followed these instructions and his mother was reborn in the heavens. Not only was his mother saved, but all the hungry ghosts in the hells simultaneously left suffering and attained bliss.

Now, you may say, “I don’t believe that food and drink become fire when hungry ghosts eat them.” Of course you don’t believe it! But the world is full of strange, strange things. It would be hard to speak about them all. How much the less can one be clear about those things beyond this world. Let’s take water, for example. People and animals see water as water, but the gods see it as lapis lazuli and the hungry ghosts see it as fire. It’s all a question of individual karmic manifestations. Gods have the karmic retribution of gods, men of men, and ghosts of ghosts.

This is how, with the Buddha’s help, Maudgalyayana saved his mother.

Mahakasyapa

Again, Maha means great, many, and victorious. The Sanskrit word Kasyapa means “great turtle clan,” because Mahakasyapa’s ancestors saw the pattern on the back of a giant turtle and used it to cultivate the Way.

Kasyapa also means, “light drinking clan,” because his body shone with a light which was so bright it seemed to “drink up” all other light.

Why did his body shine? Seven Buddhas ago, in the time of the Buddha Vipasyin, there was a poor woman who decided to repair a ruined temple. The roof of the temple had been blown off and the images inside were exposed to the wind and rain. The woman went everywhere and asked for help, and when she had collected enough money she commissioned a goldsmith to regild the images. By the time he was finished, the goldsmith fell in love with her and said, “You have attained great merit from this work, but we should share it. You may supply the gold and I will furnish the labour, free.” So the temple was rebuilt and the images regilded. The goldsmith asked the woman to marry him and, in every life, for ninety-one kalpas, they were husband and wife and their bodies shone with purple and golden light.

Mahakasyapa was born in India, in Magadha. When he was twenty his father and mother wanted him to marry, but he said, “The woman I marry must shine with golden light. Unless you find such a woman, I won’t marry.” Eventually they found one, and they were married. As a result of their good karma their bodies shone with gold light and they cultivated together and investigated the doctrines of the Way. When Mahakasyapa left home to become a Bhikshu, his wife became a Bhikshuni called “Purple and Golden Light.”

Mahakasyapa’s personal name was “Pippala,” because his parents prayed to the spirit of a pippala tree to grant them a son.

As the First Patriarch, Mahakasyapa holds an important position in Buddhism. When Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Dharma, the Great Brahma Heaven King presented him with a golden lotus and Shakyamuni Buddha held up the flower before the assembly. At that time, hundreds of thousands of gods and men were present, but no one responded except Mahakasyapa, who simply smiled. Then the Buddha said, “I have the Right Dharma- Eye Treasury. The wonderful Nirvanic mind, the Real Mark which is unmarked. This dharma-door of mind to mind transmission has been transmitted to Kasyapa.” Thus Mahakasyapa received the transmission of Dharma and became the first Buddhist Patriarch.

Venerable Mahakasyapa is still present in the world. When he left home under the Buddha he was already one hundred and sixty years old. By the time Shakyamuni Buddha had spoken Dharma for forty-nine years in over three hundred Dharma assemblies, Kasyapa was already over two hundred years old. After Shakyamuni Buddha entered Nirvana, Kasyapa went to Southwestern China, to Chicken Foot Mountain in Yunnan Province. It has been over three thousand years since the Buddha’s Nirvana, but Mahakasyapa is still sitting in samadhi in Chicken Foot Mountain waiting for Maitreya Buddha to appear in the world. At that time he will give Maitreya the bowl which the Four Heavenly Kings gave Shakyamuni Buddha and which Shakyamuni Buddha gave him, and his work in this world will be finished.

Many cultivators travel to Chicken Foot Mountain to worship the Patriarch Kasyapa, and on the mountain there are always three kinds of light: Buddha light, gold light, and silver light. Those with sincere hearts can hear a big bell ringing inside the mountain. It rings by itself, and although you can’t see it, you can hear it for several hundred miles. It’s an inconceivable state.

Mahakasyapa was the foremost of the Buddha’s disciples both in ascetic practices and in age. None of the Buddha’s disciples was older and none of them endured more suffering.

The term “ascetic practice” means, “making an effort, raising up one’s spirits with courage and vigor.” The cultivation of the twelve kinds of ascetic practices is a sign that the Buddhadharma is being maintained, for as long as they are practiced, the Dharma will remain in the world. If they are not practiced, the Buddhadharma will disappear. Of the twelve ascetic practices, the first two deal with clothing:

Mahakasyapa once said, “Poor people are to be pitied. If they don’t plant blessings now, in the future they will be even poorer.” He begged exclusively from the poor.

Subhuti, on the other hand, begged only from the rich. “If they are rich,” he reasoned, “we should help them continue to plant blessings and meritorious virtue. If they don’t make offerings to the Triple Jewel, next life they’ll have no money,” and so he begged only from the rich.

But the Buddha scolded both of them. “You two have the hearts of Arhats,” he said, “because you discriminate in your begging.” To beg properly, one should go from house to house, without discrimination.

Eating only once in the middle of the day. This means that you do not eat in the morning or in the evening, but only between the hours of eleven and twelve o’clock in the morning. Some who don’t understand the Buddhadharma think that “eating once in the middle of the day” means simply eating only one lunch. It actually means that one doesn’t eat in the morning or in the evening, but only once in the middle of the day. In China, when one receives the precepts, they ask, “Neng chi?” which means “Can you keep them?” The preceptee answers, “Neng chi!” which means “I can.” If one eats in the morning, noon, and evening, however, one can answer “Neng chi!” which sounds the same, but means “I can eat!”

Eating once a day at noon is one of the Buddha’s rules, because the Buddha only responded to offerings of food at noon. Gods eat in the morning, animals eat in the afternoon, and ghosts eat at night. Those who have left home do not eat at night because when ghosts come out at night to look for food and hear the sound of chopsticks they run to steal the food. The food the people are eating turns into fire in the ghosts’ mouths and they get angry and take revenge by making people sick.

Some people cultivate one or two of these practices and some cultivate more; some cultivate only one and some cultivate all twelve. It’s not fixed; it depends upon how strong you are.

Since cultivators can’t avoid the questions of clothing, food, and dwelling, these twelve ascetic practices have been established to deal with them. The five which concern dwelling are:

Dwelling in an aranya . Aranya is a Sanskrit word which means “still and quiet place.” In an aranya, one is left alone and there are no distracting noises. It is said,

What the eyes don’t see won’t cause the mouth to water;
What the ears don’t hear won’t cause the mind to transgress.  

When people see food, they give rise to desire for it and their mouths water. If your ears don’t hear confusing sounds, there is no affliction in your mind. In a still, quiet place, it is easy to cultivate diligently and enter samadhi.

Dwelling at the foot of a tree. You live beneath a tree, but not under any one tree for more than three nights. After two nights, you move for fear that someone might come and make offerings to you. Cultivating ascetics don’t like to have such Dharma affinities or a lot of food and drink, and so they live under a tree.

Dwelling under the open sky. You don’t live in a house or even under a tree, but right out in the open, meditating.

Dwelling in a graveyard. Living here, one is always on the alert. “Look at them! They’re dead. In the future I’ll be just like them. If I don’t cultivate the Way, what will I do when it’s time to die? I’ll die all muddled.” Dwelling in a graveyard is a good cure for laziness.

Ribs not touching the mat. This means always sitting and never lying down, cultivating vigorously and not fearing suffering.

These are the five ascetic practices which deal with dwelling.

Mahakasyapa cultivated not only one ascetic practice, but all twelve of them very thoroughly. Once, the Buddha moved over and asked him to sit beside him. The Buddha couldn’t bear to see him cultivating ascetic practices at his age. “Kasyapa,” he said, “you are over two hundred years old, too old for ascetic practices. Take it easy. You can’t endure them.”

The Venerable Kasyapa smiled. He didin’t say whether or not he would obey the Buddha’s instructions, but he returned and continued to practices just as before. The Buddha knew this and was extremely pleased. “Because, within my Dharma, Mahakasyapa cultivates ascetic practices,” he said, “the Dharma will remain long in the world. He’s a great asset, foremost in asceticism.”

The twelve ascetic practices are cultivated by those who have left the home-life.

“I haven’t left the home-life,” someone says. “Why are you explaining them to me?”

This seems like a good question, but if you look into it, it’s really irrelevant. Why? Perhaps you have not left home in this life, but how do you know that you did not leave home in a past life and cultivate these practices? Perhaps you have just forgotten, and so I am reminding you.

Even if you did not leave home in past lives, perhaps next life the opportunity will arise, and the Bodhi seeds planted in this life will mature. Then your merit and virtue will be perfected and you will feel very comfortable practicing asceticism. Because you heard about it in this life, next life you will enjoy cultivating it. Perhaps in the past you planted good causes, and now you reap the good fruit; or perhaps in this life you plant good causes, and in a future life will reap the good fruit. No one can say that someone will always leave home, or that someone else will always be at home, or that someone will always be a common person. Common people all have the opportunity to realize Buddhahood. In the future these twelve ascetic practices will be of great use

Mahakatyayana

Maha has been explained. Katyayana means “literary elegance,” because of all the Buddha’s disciples, this Venerable One was the foremost in debate. No one could defeat him. On one occasion a non-Buddhist who believed in annihilationism said, “Buddhists speak of the revolving wheel of the six paths of rebirth and maintain that after death one may be reborn again as a person, but this principle is incorrect. Why? If people can come back as people, why hasn’t anyone ever died and then returned home, or sent a letter to his family? There’s no basis for such a view. When people die, they go out like a lamp and they can’t be born again. Buddhists imagine that there’s rebirth, but actually there is none.”

Mahakatyayana replied, “You’ve asked why those who die do not return. Before I answer first let me ask you a question. If someone were put in jail for a crime, could he return home at his convenience?”

“No,” said the non-Buddhist, “of course not.”

Katyayana continued, “When people descend to rebirth in the hells, it’s just the same and they can’t return; in fact, they are even less free to leave.”

The non-Buddhist said, “Granted that those born in the hells cannot return, still, those born in the heavens are very free. Why has none of them ever sent a letter home informing his family of his whereabouts?”

Katyayana said, “What you say has principle, but, by way of analogy, suppose someone slipped and fell into a toilet, not a flush toilet – obviously no one could fall into a flush toilet – but into a pit toilet about as big as a bedroom. Once he got out, would he decide he liked the aroma there and jump back in again?”

“Heavens no,” exclaimed the non-Buddhist.

“The world of men,” said Katyayana, “is just like a toilet, and birth in the heavens is like getting out. That’s why no one comes back. Even if they did, there’s the time difference to consider. For example, one day and night in the Heaven of the Thirty-Three is equal to one hundred years in the world of men. Born there, it would take a couple of days to find a place to stay and get settled, and by the time one returned on the third day, one’s friends would have long been dead.”

Thus, Mahakatyayana’s eloquence defeated non-Buddhists who were attached to the idea of annihilation or permanence; they lost every time.

Katyayana’s name also means “fan cord.” Soon after he was born his father died and his mother wanted to remarry, but the child was a tie, like a fan cord, which prevented her from doing so. He is also called “good shoulders” because his shoulders were beautiful, and “victorious thinker” because his eloquence was unobstructed.

There are four kinds of unobstructed eloquence:

Because he had these four kinds of unobstructed eloquence, Mahakatyayana was the foremost of the Buddha’s disciples in debate.

Mahakausthila

Mahakausthila was Shariputra’s maternal uncle. His name means “big knees,” because big knees ran in the family. He, too, was gifted in debate. In order to defeat his nephew, he went to Southern India to study non-Buddhist debating theories, rushing through his meals and gulping down water, studying so hard that he didn’t even take time to wash his face or cut his nails. His nails grew so long, in fact, that he was nick-named, “The long-nailed Brahmin.”

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