The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 1: Introduction
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
There is not just one kind of outflow. How many kinds are there? Broadly speaking, there are 84,000 outflows and 84,000 afflictions. Afflictions themselves are outflows. Do you enjoy being afflicted? That’s an outflow. Where do outflows go? They flow out into the Three Realms--the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm.
All faults are called outflows. All thoughts of desire are outflows. If you like to eat good food, that is an outflow. If you like to listen to good sounds that is an outflow. Liking to live in a nice house or to sleep in a luxurious bed is an outflow. So how many are there? How many things can’t you set aside?
Outflows are like water pouring through a leaky bottle. No matter how much water you pour, it flows right through. With outflows, when you do acts of merit and virtue, the merit and virtue flow right out; you can’t keep it. Human bodies are riddled with outflows. The eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and eliminatory orifices all flow with matter. The false thoughts in the mind are also outflows. There are simply too many of them. There are an inexhaustible number of them, even more than 84,000.
“All outflows” refers to major shortcomings and minor faults. All of your peculiar, undesirable habits are outflows. To get even more basic, smoking, drinking, gambling, and chasing after women are all outflows. Chasing after men is an outflow too. Don’t think it applies only to men. It works both ways. Women, in fact have more outflows than men. Women have a monthly outflow. To be more explicit about it, when you cannot keep your semen, energy, and spirit in check, you have outflows. The biggest outflow occurs through the male and female reproductive organs as a function of sexual desire. There are many, many outflows.
However, these Arhats had exhausted all their outflows. Exhausted means that they had put them to an end. It does not mean that their outflows had flowed out until they were all gone. When you read the Sutras you have to be careful to interpret these things correctly. They had no outflows, they did not flow out. It was not the case that all their outflows had flowed out. Fourth Stage Arhats have obtained the Penetration of the Extinction of Outflows, which is one of the Six Spiritual Penetrations. Before one reaches the Fourth Stage of Arhatship, one has not obtained the extinction of outflows. These twelve thousand Arhats had exhausted all outflows and had not the slightest fault. They were sages.
“Having no further afflictions”: All of the great Arhats had obtained the Penetration of the Extinction of Outflows, and therefore had no further afflictions. If they had not obtained that penetration, they would still have afflictions. “Further” means that they will never become afflicted again.
They have done what they had to do,
And will undergo no further becoming.
Because they have ended birth and death, they have no affliction.
How many kinds of affliction are there? In general, there are 84,000 kinds of affliction. But that is really too many to discuss and so we will concentrate them into the term “ignorance”. Afflictions all arise from ignorance. There are three kinds of affliction which are also known as the three poisons. The three poisons cover over our Buddha natures. The reason from beginningless time until the present we have not realized Buddhahood is because of the three poisons. They poison us to the point that,
Drunk, we live and Dreaming, we die.
We simply cannot return to the root, go back to the source, and return to our original face. What are the three poisons? Number one: greed. Number two: hatred. Number three: stupidity.
Greed is insatiable. No matter what it is, you always want more and you want to appropriate everything for yourself. Everyone has his own greedy tendencies and nations all have their own greedy inclinations. National leaders are greedy to annex neighboring nations and individuals are greedy for wealth. They think one house is not enough and so they buy two. Then two houses are not enough so they buy a third. Three houses still don’t satisfy them and so they build a multi-storied mansion--all to keep up with the Joneses. “I am the richest,” they think. However, when the time comes, they can’t buy off their own lives. No matter how rich they are, they can’t bribe King Yama into letting them live forever. Greed is a deadly poison. It makes intelligent people muddled and sends good people down evil paths.
Hatred is also difficult to change. One spark of anger burns down a forest of virtue. The firewood gathered in a thousand days is burned up by a single spark. You may foster great merit and virtue, but as soon as you lose your temper, it all goes up in a blaze.
What is meant by “offerings to the Triple Jewel”? If there is no hatred on your face, that is an offering to the Triple Jewel. To be pleasant and agreeable is just an offering to the Buddha. If you make offerings to the Triple Jewel, but do so in anger, with your face all twisted up in rage, no matter how fine your offerings, they will not please the Buddha.
With no words of anger, the mouth puts forth a wonderful fragrance. If you don’t scold people, your mouth is very fragrant.
The absence of hatred in the heart is a true jewel, but thoughts of anger are difficult to subdue. the Vajra Sutra talks about subduing the heart. This refers to subduing afflictions and false thinking.
Although it is easy to be greedy or hateful, it is also easy to spot these afflictions as they arise. Stupidity on the other hand, is deeply rooted and difficult to expose. Stupidity refers to being unclear about principle, taking what is right as wrong and what is wrong as right, saying what is white is black and what is black is white. Stupid people continually have false thoughts such as, “Wouldn’t it be nice if the flowers were always blooming?”
Now, flowers bloom and flowers fade, and that is the way of nature. But stupid people want them to be fresh everyday.
“Why isn’t the bright moon full all month long?” they wonder and they get quite upset when they see it wane. People who like to gaze at the moon want the moon to always be full. Thieves have a different attitude. They find the full moon’s light inconvenient for their nightly robberies and would much prefer to see no moon at all.
Those who like to drink wine think, “I have to have money in order to buy wine, but if all the rivers, stream, lakes, and oceans were filled with wine, wouldn’t that be great? All I’d have to do is walk down to the riverbank and take a drink.” These are examples of stupid false thoughts.
People who are greedy for money go to work to earn it and feel that they are toiling bitterly. “If all the trees had leaves of cash,” they think, “all I’d have to do is pick money off the trees!” All these things could simply never come to pass, but stupid people keep wishing, wishing for the impossible.
Other examples of stupidity are: those who have never been to school, but want to get a doctorate; those who have not planted the fields, but want to reap a harvest. Also, if you don’t cultivate but want to become a Buddha, that is the height of stupidity. If you haven’t even taken refuge with the Triple Jewel, and still expect to become a Buddha, that’s absurd.
Everyone is poisoned by these three poisons. They turn us upside down, make us confused, and prevent our wisdom from manifesting.
“Well then,” you ask, “what is to be done?”
Do not give rise to thoughts of greed. Do not give rise to thoughts of anger. Do not give rise to thoughts of stupidity. Extinguish greed, hatred, and stupidity and diligently cultivate precepts, samadhi, and wisdom.
Speaking of morality, samadhi, and wisdom, what exactly are they?
Morality means to stop evil and avoid error. This means to put an end to thoughts of greed. Thoughts of greed give rise to evil thoughts which are covetous of others’ goods. How do thoughts of greed arise? They arise because one does not understand how to practice morality. Morality teaches you to be content, to be satisfied with what you have and not to long for others’ valuables. One who upholds the moral precepts can bring thoughts of greed under control.
One who lacks the power of samadhi will give rise to thoughts of hatred and will see everyone else as being in the wrong and everything as just not working right. When not doing that, one will see oneself as in the wrong and get angry at oneself to the point that one may even slap one’s own cheek! Then fearing the other cheek might get jealous, one will slap it too.
The Chinese term for “jealous” literally means “drinking vinegar”.
During the Qing Dynasty, there was an emperor who had an official who was scared to death of his own wife. If he was late coming home his wife made him kneel beside the bed. Kneeling to have an audience with the emperor was one thing, but kneeling before his own wife was really too much and he had to remain kneeling until she gave him permission to rise. Since he was on very good terms with the emperor, he finally confided in him.
The emperor said, “Don’t worry. I have a method which will cause your wife never to push you around again.” Then he sent out an order calling the official’s wife to the palace. The “tigress” presented herself before the emperor.
“Why do you make your husband kneel beside the bed when he comes home late?” said the emperor. “That’s not a proper thing to do. Besides, he hasn’t been involved in any indiscreet affairs with other women, and even if he had, it is still not your place to oversee his business. If you reform your conduct and stop managing your husband, we’ll forget the whole thing. If you continue to restrict his freedom, I will force you to drink this cup of poison; I will have you put to death. If it suits you to quit watching over your husband, you won’t have to drink the poison. If you insist on watching over him, you will have to drink it and you will certainly die.”
The woman was amazingly bold. “Fine,” she said, “I’ll die right here and now.” She took the cup and drank the contents. Of course, it wasn’t really poison; it was only vinegar. The emperor had only said it was poison to see whether she would dare to drink it. The woman was braver than he thought. She would rather have died than quit watching over her husband. So in China, they say “drink vinegar”, when they wish to refer to a woman who keeps too close track of her husband. Luckily it was only vinegar. It may have soured her stomach, but it didn’t kill her.
People with quick tempers will vent their anger on themselves if there is no one else around. They will even hit themselves! Why? Because they have no samadhi power. People who have samadhi will not become angry. Angry tempers will only blaze if one has no samadhi.
Why are you stupid? Because you lack wisdom. All day your heart is preoccupied with false thoughts and gets no rest. You recognize nothing clearly. For people with wisdom:
When something happens they respond.
When it’s over they are still.
They take care of matters as they arise; when they are done, they set their hearts at rest. Their hearts are not the slaves of their bodies. If you lack wisdom, you are unable to control your body, because your mind is under its control and does its bidding. If you have genuine wisdom, then all matters are taken care of with razor sharp intelligence. Students of the Buddhadharma should be clear about all matters. Those who understand the Buddhadharma have wisdom. Those who do not understand the Buddhadharma are stupid. Wise people will not act stupidly, and stupid people are incapable of acting wisely.
I’ll now be perfectly frank and tell you the absolute truth: Stupidity is just wisdom.
You may object, “You’re confusing me! If that’s the case, why bother to strive for wisdom and get rid of stupidity?”
Don’t take my statement on face value alone. I am saying that the basic substance of stupidity transforms into wisdom. It is not the case that wisdom is to be found apart from stupidity. Wisdom is found right within stupidity; it’s simply a matter of your not being able to use it. When you are able to use it, it’s wisdom; when unable to use it, it is stupidity.
The same applies to samadhi. Samadhi is just anger and anger is samadhi. If you truly wish to gain samadhi, you should know that it is to be transformed right out of your anger. Morality too, is transformed from greed. Don’t look for them outside, for they are all contained within your own nature. If you are able to use them, they are morality, samadhi, and wisdom. If you are unable to use them, they remain greed, hatred, and stupidity. The wonderful is found right at this point, and this is also the point where you may not understand.
“Having attained self-benefit” means that they have already arrived at the level of self-benefit. How have they arrived at this level? Previously, the text said, “who had exhausted all outflows and had no further afflictions.” Why are we unable to attain self-benefit? Because we are continually “flowing out”. Free from outflows and devoid of all afflictions, these Arhats have themselves attained genuine benefit. What is the genuine benefit? It is true understanding, the attainment of genuine wisdom. People without wisdom have not obtained the genuine benefit. To obtain wisdom, to certify to the fruit of Arhatship, is called attaining self-benefit.
Self-benefit also is just enlightening oneself, that is self-enlightenment. Enlightened oneself, one benefits oneself. If you are then able to take the doctrines which you yourself have become enlightened to and teach them to all living beings, that is called benefitting others, enlightening others.
All the great Arhats in the Dharma Flower Assembly were self-enlightened. However they did not enlighten others. They only knew self-benefit; they did not benefit others, and so the text says, “...having attained self-benefit.”
“They had exhausted the bonds of all existence and their hearts had attained self-mastery.” “Exhausted” means non-existent. What is non-existent? There are three realms of existence which further divide into twenty-five planes of existence. The three realms of existence are:
1. existence in the desire realm
2. existence in the form realm
3. existence in the formless realm
The twenty-five planes of existence include the four continents and the four evil destinies, which are as follows:
The four continents:
Purva-videha in the East;
Jambudvipa in the South;
Apara-godaniya in the West;
Uttarakura in the North.
The four evil destinies:
the hells; the path of hungry ghosts; the path of animals; the path of asuras.
That makes eight planes of existence. They come into existence through the creation of karma, especially evil karma. Add the six desire heavens and the Brahma Heaven, and that makes fifteen planes. Then come the Heavens of the Four Dhyanas.
Some people who don’t understand the Buddhadharma think arriving at the level of the Fourth Dhyana is an extraordinary accomplishment. Actually it is still within the twenty-five planes of the three realms and is nothing special. The ultimate goal of cultivation is still far off. But a confused teacher may tell everyone that it is the highest level of attainment. For example, there was an unlearned Bhikshu who mistook the Fourth Dhyana for the Fourth Fruit of Arhatship. When he had exhausted the merit that had enabled him to dwell there and began to fall, he slandered the Buddha. “The Buddha said that those who reach the Fourth Fruit do not undergo birth and death. How come I’m falling?” Having slandered the Buddha, he fell eternally into the four evil destinies.
The unlearned Bhikshu did not fall alone. Several tens of thousands of his disciples also fell with him. So, as I have said repeatedly:
One with confused understanding transmits confused understanding;
In one transmission, two don’t understand.
When the teacher plummets into the hells,
The disciples follow right along.
The teacher asks his disciples, “What are you doing here?”
“You came, so of course we followed you,” is their reply.
The teacher thinks, “How did I manage to bring my disciples to hell?” He himself doesn’t know how it happened. The disciples are so fond of their teacher that they even follow him to hell. How pathetic!
The Four Stations of Emptiness are the Station of Boundless Space, the Station of Boundless Consciousness, the Station of Nothing Whatever, and the Station of Neither Perception nor Non-perception. The Four Dhyanas and the Four Stations of Emptiness are eight planes of existence. Adding the No-Thought Heaven and the Heavens of No Return (counted as one) makes ten planes. Those ten planes plus the fifteen planes above make twenty-five planes in all.
The Arhats present in the assembly had extinguished the bonds of all existence and transcended the Three Realms--the realm of desire, the realm of form, and the formless realm. So it says, “They had transcended the Three Realms and were not within the five elements.” They had gained genuine liberation from birth and death; they had exhausted the bonds of all existence.
“And their hearts had attained self-mastery.” The hearts of the Great Arhats then knew a boundless joy. Self-mastery is true happiness. There is nothing more comfortable or more joyful. So Avalokiteshvara is called “The Bodhisattva Who Contemplates with Self-Mastery”, which means that the Bodhisattva sits in meditation and is always very happy, extremely comfortable, and knows not even the slightest trace of vexation. Self-mastery refers to having no further afflictions, having attained self-benefit and having exhausted all the bonds of existence.
In this state, the heart has obtained true freedom and genuine wisdom. One is therefore, extremely happy. This kind of happiness is a true inner happiness. It is not an artificial emotional display of giggling and laughter. It’s an inner happiness, not an outside one. Don’t think that your laughing and joking is happiness; it’s really just upside-down affliction. Why is it upside down? It shows that because you have no samadhi power you are influenced by some situation that pleases you and you respond with laughter. There’s no real happiness in that; that’s just being upside down.
Their names were: Ajnatakaundinya, Mahakashyapa, Uruvilvakashyapa, Gayakashyapa, Nadikashyapa, Shariputra, Great Maudgalyayana, Mahakatyayana, Aniruddha, Kapphina, Gavampati, Revata, Pilindavatsa, Vakkula, Mahakaushthila, Nanda, Sundarananda, Purnamaitreyaniputra, Subhuti, Ananda, and Rahula--and other Great Arhats such as these, whom the assembly knew and recognized.
G3. partial listing of names
Above have been listed the names of twenty-one disciples who were among the twelve thousand Bhikshus present in the assembly.
Their names were: Ajnatakaundinya. Ajnatakaundinya was the first person whom the Buddha took across. He was one of the first five Bhikshus.
Shakyamuni Buddha sat beneath the Bodhi Tree and one night he saw a bright star and awoke to the Way. Having become enlightened, he contemplated to see who he should cross over first. “There are so many people in the world,” he thought. “Who should I save first?”
When the Buddha first accomplished the Way he sighed and said three times, “Strange indeed! Strange indeed! Strange indeed!” What was so strange? He continued, “All living beings have the Buddha nature. All can become Buddhas.”
The Buddha only said that all beings can become Buddhas. He did not say that they actually were Buddhas. But Buddhist disciples, or rather, pseudo-Buddhist disciples say, “Everyone is a Buddha!” They see no difference between ordinary people and the Buddha. This is a case of the blind leading the blind and blinding the eyes of men and god.
After Shakyamuni Buddha sighed three times, he used the Wonderful Observing Wisdom to determine who he should save first. “Ah!”, he concluded, “Ajnatakaundinya and four others are now at the Deer Park. I should cross them over first.” In past lives, these five people had exclusively concentrated on trying to ruin Shakyamuni Buddha. Limitless eons ago, when they all decided to cultivate the Way, the five of them had slandered and bullied Shakyamuni Buddha. Sometimes they beat him, other times they berated him. Sometimes they ate his flesh, other times they drank his blood. Violent, weren’t they? But while he was cultivating the causal ground, when the five beat him, he made the following vow, “You are all truly aiding me in my cultivation. In the future when I realize Buddhahood, I will certainly save you first. That is my vow. Because you are treating me badly now, I shall be especially good to you.”
When they scolded Shakyamuni Buddha, he said, “You scold me now, but I do not hate you. Not only do I not hate you, but I vow that when I become a Buddha, I will save you first.” If it had been us, we would surely have hit them or kicked them right back. But not only did Shakyamuni Buddha not defend himself, he resolved to be good to them. Once, the five of them got together in a small mob and approached him saying, “We have no meat to eat. You’re such a cultivator, do you think you could give us a little piece of your flesh?” Sure enough, Shakyamuni Buddha cut off a clean, lean piece of flesh for them. As they ate it, they muttered, “This meat is no good at all. Dog meat tastes better than this, to say nothing of pork, beef, or mutton. It’s tasteless. Your offering is not being relished.” Still they ate it. So they even scolded him while eating his flesh! Shakyamuni Buddha had thought that by offering them his flesh, they might be moved to shame and reform their conduct. Who would have thought that they would on the one hand eat his flesh, and on the other hand, scold him? This would have been the last straw for most people. “I didn’t buy this in the meat market,” they would have said. “I cut it off my own body. And you have the nerve to scold me?” But Shakyamuni Buddha just said, “Okay. You can eat my flesh and in the future when I succeed in my cultivation and become a Buddha, I will take you across first, because this flesh I have given you to eat is a Buddha-seed which I am planting in each of you.”
The same thing happened when they drank Shakyamuni Buddha’s blood. They said it was spoiled, bad blood, and Shakyamuni Buddha just endured it.
The best story of that of his encounter with King Kali. This story is mentioned in the Vajra Sutra. King Kali was a former incarnation of Ajnatakaundinya. Once he went to the mountains on a big game hunting expedition. He took along his concubines who had been confined to the palace, as if in jail, for many years. Now, they frolicked in the wide open spaces of nature, exploring the lush meadows and woods, the flowing streams, and the beautiful mountain surroundings. Suddenly they spotted a person sitting in a cave. His body was covered with a thick layer of dust and his hair was matted into a big lump. The concubines didn’t dare approach him. At first they thought he was a monster, but then they saw that he was just a strange person.
As a cultivator on the causal ground, Shakyamuni Buddha was practicing as this “Patient Immortal” and rarely saw anyone. When he saw the concubines, he decided to take them across. “Don’t be afraid,” he said, “I won’t eat you. I don’t eat people. I’m a person myself, in fact.”
The concubines said, “What are you doing here? What do you eat and why are your clothes so tattered? Can you walk? Why do you just sit there?”
The Patient Immortal said, “I am cultivating the Way. I exclusively cultivate patience.”
The concubines said, “What is patience?” They had no idea what it was.
The Patient Immortal said, “Patience means that no matter how impolite people are to you, you do not get angry or upset. Everything continues just as if nothing had happened.” And then he explained the methods of cultivating patience. As he spoke, his enthusiasm grew and the concubines who had never heard such wonderful Dharma , were enthralled. Soon the speaker and his listeners all had entered samadhi, and were oblivious to what was going on around them. If one listens to the Dharma with a true heart, one will not notice anything else that is going on. If one does not listen with a true heart, one will be distracted by every noise on the street--the tourists, the newspaper vendors, and so on. The Patient Immortal and his audience were completely absorbed in the practice of patience when along came King Kali. Sneaking up on the scene, he saw his concubines listening intently to the old cultivator, and he was immediately overcome with jealousy. “Just what do you think you are doing, seducing my women?” he screamed at the cultivator.
The Patient Immortal looked to see who was speaking and recognized that an emperor had come on the scene and said, “I’m teaching them the Dharma-door of patience.”
“Oh, really?” said the King. “Patience, eh? What exactly do you mean by that anyway? Are you patient?”
“Yes, I am,” said the Immortal.
“Very well,” said the King. “I’ll just give your patience a little test. If you are patient, that means you can endure any kind of pain, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Shakyamuni Buddha.
“Well, I’m going to slice your hand off with my sword and see how patient you are,” said the King.
“Go ahead,” said Shakyamuni Buddha. The King then drew his royal sword and with one neat swing sliced off Shakyamuni Buddha’s hand.
“Does it hurt?” asked the King.
“No,” said Shakyamuni Buddha.
“Are you angry?” asked the King.
“I am not angry,” said the Buddha.
“All right, I’ll cut off the other hand and see what you do,” and he cut off the other hand.
“Now, does that hurt?” he asked.
Shakyamuni Buddha said, “It does not hurt.”
“Do you hate me?” the King asked.
“I do not hate you,” said Shakyamuni Buddha.
“I don’t believe you! I think you are lying,” said the King. “How could you possibly not hate someone who had cut off both of your hands? It’s impossible! I’ll cut off your foot and see if that makes you hate me. I’ll get the truth out of you yet,” he said and he cut off Shakyamuni Buddha’s foot. Ordinary people would certainly have been weeping in agony by this time, but Shakyamuni Buddha remained as if nothing had happened.
The King asked, “Does that hurt?”
“No,” said Shakyamuni Buddha, “it’s really nothing.”
“Ah, it’s nothing, huh? Do you hate me?”
“No, I don’t hate you.”
“All right then, you’re missing two hands and one foot. The other foot isn’t much use to you, O patient one who knows no pain, so we’ll just cut that one off too,” and he sliced off Shakyamuni Buddha’s other foot. “Hurts, doesn’t it?” said the King. “You’ve lost both your hands and both your feet. What are you going to do now? Tell the truth! Does it hurt? If you tell the truth, we’ll forget it. If you don’t tell the truth, I’ve got yet another test in store.”
Shakyamuni Buddha said, “It still doesn’t hurt.”
“Do you hate me?”
The King said, “That’s just what you say. You don’t dare admit that you hate me because I am a King. No matter how much it hurts, you continue to lie, because you don’t dare to tell the truth. Right?”
“Wrong,” said Shakyamuni Buddha. “And if I truly don’t hate you, my hands and feet will grow back on my body. If I do hate you, my hands and feet won’t grow back.” As soon as he said that, immediately his hands and feet grew back as if they had never been severed. Then all the Dharma Protectors and good spirits flew into a rage and sent down a great hailstorm which pounded King Kali unmercifully. Shakyamuni Buddha interceded on the king’s behalf saying, “Don’t blame him. He just came to test me and aid me in the accomplishment of the Way. In the future when I become a Buddha, he is the first person I am going to take across to Buddhahood. He shall be the first to be enlightened.”
In fact, King Kali in a later life became the Bhikshu Ajnatakaundinya, the first person Shakyamuni Buddha caused to become enlightened.
Therefore, Ajnatakaundinya’s name means “understanding the original limit”. It also means, “the first to be liberated,” for he was the first to become enlightened.
Mahakashyapa. “Maha” means great. Kashyapa, his family name means “drinking light” or “waves of light.” It also means “great turtle clan,” for it is said that when his ancestors were cultivating the Way, they saw a big turtle with a chart on its back and from this took their family name. The Chinese would consider the name “turtle” to be an insult, but Kashyapa’s name nonetheless means “big turtle.”
Kashyapa’s personal name was Pippala, which is the name of the tree to which his parents prayed in order to have their son. “Drinking light” doesn’t mean that he actually drank light, of course. It refers to the fact that Kashyapa’s body emitted a light which outshone and seemed to “drink up” all other light.
Where did the light come from? Kashyapa’s wife also left the home-life and became the Bhikshuni Purple-Golden Light. Long ago after the Nirvana of Vipashyin Buddha, she was a poor woman. One day, she came across the ruins of a temple and stupa. Inside, she saw a Buddha image. Someone had put a straw hat on it to protect it from the wind and rain. In the springtime in northern China where I come from, the women in the household weave these straw hats and sell them in the city. Anyway, the straw hat acted like an umbrella to protect the Buddha from the wind and rain which blew in through the holes in the roof but still it was badly weathered, cracked, and peeling. She compassionately resolved to repair the temple and regild the image. “How can I allow the Buddha to be battered by the wind and rain?”
Since she was poor, she went out begging to raise the funds for her project. Every day she took the money she had collected and exchanged it for gold. After about ten years of begging, she had accumulated quite a bit of gold and made arrangements to have the temple rebuilt. She also went to visit a goldsmith to see about having her gold refined to regild the image. The goldsmith asked her where she got so much gold. “I saw a Buddha image which was cracked and peeling,” she said, “and I begged for ten years to get enough money to buy this gold in order to repair it.”
The goldsmith said, “We should share this merit and virtue. I will help, too.” Actually he was so struck by her goodness in wanting to repair the image that he fell in love with her and wanted her to think well of him. When the image and the temple had been restored, the goldsmith asked the woman for her hand in marriage. “You are truly a good-hearted woman. You are the finest woman I have ever met. I had intended to remain unmarried, but now I have changed my mind. Won’t you marry me?”
The woman thought it over: “He isn’t a bad sort, himself. After all, he did only charge me half the usual fee to regild the image...” and she consented. Once they were married, they vowed to be husband and wife in every life. How powerful was their love! Because they had regilt the Buddha image, their bodies shone with a golden light. Thus, Kashyapa’s name means “drinking light” because his light swallowed up all other light.
From the time of his birth, Kashyapa’s body put forth golden light. When he grew up, his parents wanted him to marry, but he said, “The woman I marry must shine with golden light just like I do. Otherwise, I will not marry.” Sure enough, in a neighboring country such a woman was found and they were married. And when they certified to the Fruit of Arhatship, they discovered that they had been married to each other throughout many lifetimes. You shouldn’t make a mistake, however, and think to imitate them by making a vow to be married to someone for life after life. Kashyapa and his wife vowed to be married and then to cultivate the Way, to take refuge with the Triple Jewel, to leave the home-life and master the Way. Don’t just make a vow to be married to someone in every life. If you do, you’ll just get farther and farther off the track until you finally end up in the hells. You must cultivate the Way.
Kashyapa and his wife took refuge with the Buddha and certified to the fruit, and Kashyapa became the first Patriarch in Buddhism.
If you would like to meet Mahakashyapa, he is still in this world. He is in south-western China, sitting in samadhi on Chicken Foot Mountain in Yunnan Province. When the future Maitreya Buddha appears in the world, he will give Maitreya the robe which Shakyamuni Buddha gave him. So he is still in the world and has not entered Nirvana. Those with sincere hearts who travel to Chicken Foot Mountain to bow to Mahakashyapa may get to see him.
Although I said that Mahakashyapa means “drinking light,” it does not mean that he literally drank up light with his mouth. Rather, it means that the light given off by his body swallowed up all other light. For example, if Mahakashyapa went near a 500 watt lamp, his own light would be like that of a 1000 or 2000 watt lamp, which would outshine the 500 watt light and make it appear dim by comparison. “Drinking light” is used figuratively. You shouldn’t think that Kashyapa drank light instead of water.
Mahakashyapa was the oldest of the disciples and the foremost of the Buddha’s disciples in ascetic practices. He was the oldest of the disciples, but the older he got, the more vigorous he became, the stronger he grew, and the harder he worked. He was the son of a rich Brahman of Magadha and the King of Magadha had even bowed to him as his master. When he left the home life, he thought, “Cultivators are called ‘poor ones of the Way’. They have no business being rich.” So he gave away all of his wealth.
He also thought, “Cultivators must endure bitterness, bear weariness, and fear no suffering whatever.” So he concentrated on cultivating ascetic practices. Ascetic practices refer to undergoing suffering. That means, not eating well, not wearing fine clothes, and not living in a comfortable dwelling. The harder something is to bear, the more the ascetic must bear it. In all the ways ordinary people wish to find enjoyment, through eating, dwelling, and clothing, the ascetic wishes to undergo suffering.
One day when the Buddha was speaking the Dharma, he moved over and asked Kashyapa to sit beside him. At that time, Kashyapa was very old, perhaps a hundred and forty. The Buddha said, “You are getting old, Kashyapa. Your energy is failing. You should give up ascetic practices. Eat better, wear better clothes, and move to a more comfortable dwelling. I don’t know if you can bear up under such ascetic practices at your age.” But Kashyapa chose not to obey the Buddha, and he continued his ascetic practices as before.
Seeing this, the Buddha praised him highly saying, “The Buddhadharma will dwell long in the world largely because of Kashyapa’s cultivation of ascetic practices. His ability to practice them means that the Buddhadharma will certainly long endure.” Thus Patriarch Kashyapa was foremost in ascetic practices.
Once, when the Buddha was about to speak the Dharma, a god from the Great Brahma Heaven made an offering to him of a golden flower and then lay down on the ground and asked the Buddha to use his body as a chair and speak the Dharma for living beings. The Buddha sat down on the Brahma God, took the flower in his fingers and in the midst of millions of people and gods, gave a subtle smile. Kashyapa also smiled slightly, and with that, the Mind Seal Dharma was transmitted. So it is called the transmission of “twirling the flower and giving a subtle smile.” Then the Buddha said, “I have the Right Dharma Eye Treasury, the wonderful Mind of Nirvana, the Actual Mark which is unmarked, transmitted outside the teaching, the sealing of the Mind by means of the Mind. I have just transmitted it to Mahakashyapa. In this way Kashyapa became the First Indian Patriarch. A Patriarch is a disciple to whom the entirety of the Buddhadharma has been transmitted from the Buddha.
Since the time of the Buddha, the Dharma has been transmitted to only one Patriarch in each generation. Shakyamuni Buddha transmitted his entire Dharma to his disciple Mahakashyapa and Arya Mahakashyapa transmitted it to Arya Ananda who became the Second Patriarch. From Arya Ananda, the Dharma went to the Third Patriarch, Arya Shankavasa. From Arya Shankavasa it went to the Fourth Patriarch, Arya Upagupta, and so on to the Twenty-eighth Indian Patriarch, Great Master Bodhidharma, who took the Mind Seal Dharma to China where it was transmitted to the Second Chinese Patriarch, Great Master Shenguang, and then on through the Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Patriarchs. Then the flower of the Dharma bloomed with five petals: the five lineages of the Linji, Fayan, Caodong, Weiyang, and Yunmen and so forth until the present. And now, the Buddhadharma has come to the West. This has been a brief summary of the transmission of Buddhism.
The Twelve Ascetic Practices
Ascetic practices are called “dhutangas” which is a Pali word from the root dhu which means “to shake out.” “To shake out,” means to strike up your spirits and raise up your energy. When we have a Chan meditation session, we are also encouraged to strike up our spirits, to be vigorous, and to fear no suffering or difficulty. The harder it is, the more you should resolve to do it! As old as Patriarch Kashyapa was, he still kept up his ascetic practices.
There are twelve ascetic practices.
1. Wearing rag robes.
The first one deals with clothing. What kind of clothing? Rag robes--robes with hundreds of patches. One finds old, unwanted clothing on refuse heaps, washes it, and stitches it into a robe.
“What are the advantages of wearing such a robe?” you may ask.
If you wish to know the advantages, there are many. If you want to talk about the disadvantages, there are also many. Wearing rag robes, you do not become greedy for fine clothes or become vain as often happens when one puts on a new garment. It helps do away with one’s own greed and it also helps to lessen the greed of others. When people see you, they think, “That old cultivator is dressed in rags, not fine clothes. He’s a true adept and I should imitate him.” By means of your example, other Bhikshus also resolve to cultivate the Way. So, there are many advantages to the practice.
And what are the disadvantages? When you wear rags, thieves leave you alone. For example, when I was living at Nanhua Monastery, one night a gang of thieves came to loot the Monastery. They broke down the door and then demanded that I hand over the money.
I said, “Look at my robe. Do I look like a rich man?” I was wearing the same rag robe that I had worn in Manchuria when I sat in mourning for three years beside my mother’s grave. When I had finished the term of mourning, I continued to wear it in memory of her. In Manchuria, when my disciples took refuge, each of them gave me an inch sized patch for my robe; it was really ragged, but I had a lot of patches.
Then I said, “There are valuables in my room. Go get them.” But when they took a good look at me, dressed in rags, they decided I probably had nothing worth taking and so they didn’t go. Actually there were two living treasures in my room at the time--one was Dharma Master Faming, and the other was Dharma Master Zuyin from Hawaii. At that time they were still young novices.
Thus, when you wear rag robes, thieves keep their distance. The rich also stay away, and this saves a lot of trouble. Another important factor: women leave you alone. After you’ve worn your rag robe for awhile it takes on a rare fragrance which women find offensive. One could never finish speaking of the advantages of wearing rag robes.
2. Possessing only three robes. Cultivating this bitter practice, one owns nothing except one’s three robes. It is said,
Owning nothing beyond the limits of one’s person,
Vexation and annoyance do not arise.
Bhikshus who undertake this practice have only three robes. The first is the samghati, the great or host robe. It is commonly made of twenty-five strips of cloth. Each strip has four long and one short piece. The patches represent fields in which, through making offerings, the faithful can plant causes for future blessings. This robe is worn when entering the king’s palace, when taking the seat to speak Dharma, and when begging for food.
The second is the uttarasangha; the robe worn when entering the assembly. Made of seven pieces, it is worn by Bhikshus when attending Sutra and Dharma lectures.
The third is the antarvasaka, the all-purpose work robe, made of five pieces, which is worn in the monastery when doing manual labor and in all ordinary situations.
A Bhikshu who cultivates ascetic practices should only have three robes, his bowl, and his bowing cloth.
The first two ascetic practices deal with clothing. The next five deal with that most important human activity: eating.
3. Begging for food. Sometimes this practice is given as “always begging for food.” “Always” does not mean all day long, for then one would have more food than one could eat. Rather, it means every day in the morning, Bhikshus go to collect alms for their midday meal. They do not cook their own food. In countries such as Burma and Ceylon, the donor will prepare an extra bowl of food as an offering to the Triple Jewel. They offer it to the first Bhikshu who passes by their house on his begging rounds. They kneel respectfully, hold the bowl over their heads, pour the contents into the Bhikshu’s bowl and then bow three times.
4. Consecutive begging. One begs from house to house, paying no attention to whether families are rich or poor. In the Shurangama Sutra we read:
“At that time Ananda took up his alms-bowl and, as he travelled through the city, received alms in sequential order. As he set out to receive alms from the first to the last donors, his vegetarian hosts, he thought not to question whether they were pure or impure; whether they were kshatriyas of honorable name or chandalas. While practicing equality and compassion he would not discriminate against the lowly but was determined to perfect all beings’ limitless merit and virtue.”
The practice of consecutive begging helps rid one of discrimination and allows one to give all living beings an equal opportunity to plant blessings, regardless of whether they are rich or poor. It is an act of great unselfishness.
5. Eating only one meal at midday. In the morning and evening one does not eat; one eats only one meal per day, and that is taken before noon. This is an excellent practice, but unfortunately it is not an easy one. Why? Because it is said, “The people take food as their foundation.” Everybody likes to eat. Human beings are born with the desire for food and whenever they get the slightest bit hungry, they want to eat something. This usually happens at morning and evening as well as at lunch time.
Eating once a day saves a lot of trouble. Cutting out two meals a day, one spends less time on the toilet.
It would be impossible to enumerate in full all the virtues derived from the practice of eating only once a day. In general, if you eat a little less you’ll have a little less trouble. If you eat too much you’ll have more trouble.
Whenever Bhikshus eat, they must observe Three Recollections and Five Contemplations. The Three Recollections are:
1. I vow to cut off all evil.
2. I vow to cultivate all good.
3. I vow to save all living beings.
You vow to cause all living beings to leave suffering and find happiness.
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