The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 12: Devadatta
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
Devadatta was the Buddha’s cousin, but he opposed everything the Buddha ever did. Some people say that he was the Buddha’s enemy, but this is not the case. Devadatta actually helped the Buddha accomplishes Buddhahood. Not only did he help him in one life, but in life after life. However, he did so in a backhanded way. He “helped” Shakyamuni Buddha by “opposing” him. How does this work? Say for instance someone resolves to cultivate the Way, but another person gives him trouble all day long, by either scolding him, or ridiculing him, or generally giving him a hard time. This opposition serves as a test for the cultivator’s resolve. One of my disciples once asked, “Is it okay to give people tests to help them out?” I said, “No. If you have certified to the fruit and know that your testing them will help them realize the Way, then it is okay. If you have not certified to the fruit, then do not test other people. If you test others, others will test you. If you test people and they fail, then they will fall. If people test you and you fail, then you will fall.”
The situation with Devadatta was different, however. Devadatta’s state was inconceivable. His spiritual powers were as great as those of the Buddha, and it was Devadatta’s opposition that spurred the Buddha on to his attainment of the Way. This chapter tells us that in the past Devadatta lectured The Dharma Flower Sutra to Shakyamuni Buddha, helping him realize Buddhahood.
Devadatta is a Sanskrit name, which means, “fever of the gods (天熱).” From the time of his birth, he specialized in “helping” people by opposing them. This would lead to some heated emotions on the part of the recipients of his generosity. This is an explanation of his name according to the method of “causes and conditions.”
How did Devadatta come to be Shakyamuni Buddha’s aide in realizing the Way? Let us look into the Way it happened. Long ago there was a wealthy elder named Xu Tan whose fortune in the seven gems was impressively abundant. His eldest son was called Xu Mo Ti. When his wife died, Xu Tan though advanced in years, remarried, and had another son, named Xu Pi Ye. The elder passed on when his younger son was only about 18 or 20. The two sons proceeded to divide up their father’s riches but Xu Mo Ti, the elder brother, decided he did not want to give his younger brother half. He took him up to Vulture Peak for a holiday barbecue, and when they got near the top, Xu Mo Ti pushed his brother right off the top! Then he threw rocks on top of him to bury him. He then went home and took possession of all of his father’s wealth.
Xu Mo Ti, surprisingly enough, was Shakyamuni Buddha in a former life. You should not think that Shakyamuni Buddha never did anything wrong. The younger brother was Devadatta in a former life, and the elder was King Ajatashatru, the one who locked his parents up in jail. Life after life, Shakyamuni Buddha was involved with these people in varying combinations of affinities, and so even after he became a Buddha, they still came and gave him trouble. This chapter does not discuss these events, but does tell how Devadatta helped the Buddha accomplish Buddhahood.
You could say this was a case of “the suffering of being joined to what you hate,” one of the eight sufferings. Actually, it would be more correct to call it “the happiness of being joined to what you hate!” How is this? The more Devadatta opposed him, the more the Buddha liked it. If they had truly hated one another, then as lifetimes passed, they would have been drawn farther and farther apart. So it was not really a case of dislike. Because of their affinities, life after life they met one another and helped each other in their cultivation—one way or another.
At that time, the Buddha told the Bodhisattvas, gods, humans, and the four assemblies, “In the past, throughout limitless eons, I sought The Dharma Flower Sutra without laxness or weariness.”
D3. Chapter Twelve: Devadatta.
E1. Meeting up with Devadatta in the distant past.
F1. Showing how teacher and disciple held the Sutra in the distant past.
H1. The period of time in which the Buddha sought the Dharma.
This passage of the text says that Shakyamuni Buddha had given outer wealth and inner wealth throughout his past lives to seek the unsurpassed Bodhi. Everything he gave was for the sake of the Dharma.
At that time, having finished speaking the Chapter on the Jeweled Stupa and without being asked, the Buddha told the Bodhisattvas, gods, humans, and the four assemblies of Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Upasakas and Upasikas, “In the past, throughout limitless eons, I sought to understand the doctrines of The Dharma Flower Sutra without laxness or weariness. I have never grown weary. I never took a break. Whenever The Dharma Flower Sutra was being lectured, I went to listen. I never missed an opportunity.”
“For many eons, I was a king and vowed to seek supreme Bodhi with a non-retreating mind.”
H2. Clarifying his search for Dharma.
I1. His vow.
For many eons throughout many, many lifetimes I was a king and vowed to seek supreme Bodhi with a non-retreating mind. I made the Great Vehicle vow to seek Unsurpassed Enlightenment without ever turning back or getting side-tracked.
“Wishing to perfect the Six Paramitas, I diligently practiced giving, my mind not begrudging elephants, horses, the seven precious things, countries, cities, wives, children, slaves, servants, even my head, eyes, marrow, brains, body, flesh, hands, and feet—not sparing even life itself.”
I2. His cultivation.
J1. Showing how he practiced giving to perfect the Dana Paramita.
Wishing to perfect the Six Paramitas, I diligently practiced giving, my mind not begrudging elephants, horses, and the seven precious things, gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother-of-pearl, red pearls, and carnelian. Sometimes I gave away countries, cities—my entire kingdom altogether! But these are just material possessions. I also gave up wives, children, slaves, and servants. As long as someone wanted them, I would give them away. But this is just the giving of outer wealth. I could give all these things away. I also gave away inner wealth. Even my head, eyes, marrow, brains, body, flesh, hands and feet—not sparing even life itself. I had no regard for my body and life. As long as someone needed them, I would give all these things away. Thus, I gave away both inner and outer wealth in my desire to perfect the practice of Dana Paramita, the Perfection of Giving.
We see from the above that Shakyamuni Buddha, wishing to perfect the Six Paramitas, was able to give up both the proper and dependant retribution worlds, that is, give up himself and everything he owned. In giving up both the proper and dependence retribution worlds, he gave himself away entirely.
This is true giving. This is true Dana Paramita, the perfection of giving, and the first of the Six Paramitas.
The second is that of Morality. The Perfection of Morality means guarding against offenses in seven departments. The seven divisions are: three of the body and four of the mouth—killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct with the body and loose speech, lying, harsh speech, and backbiting with the mouth. Not committing these seven offenses is being moral.
The third Paramita is that of Patience. What is patience? Patience means to bear up under insult. It means to take what you cannot take. For example, if someone hits you and you kick him or her right back, you cannot call that patience, but if someone hits you on the face, and you turn the other cheek, that is patience. Besides, if they just slap one cheek and not the other, the other cheek will get jealous! Not striking back is having patience.
Vigor is the fourth Paramita. This means that you finish everything you start. If you start things with great excitement, but then get tired and quit, you do not have vigor. Completing the job indicates vigor.
The fifth Paramita is Dhyana. There are Four Dhyanas and Eight Samadhis. In the first Dhyana, the breath stops, and in the second Dhyana, both the breath and the pulse stop. One could be buried in the ground for two or three days and still not die—like a yogi! Scary, huh? Breath and no pulse. In the third Dhyana, thought stops as well. Then one is really not having false thinking. In the third Dhyana, thought stops, but it is not cut off. In the fourth Dhyana, thought is cut off altogether. The first Dhyana is called “The Joyous Ground of Leaving Production.” In this state one leaves afflictions and gives rise to happiness. But this is not yet samadhi. The second Dhyana is called “The Joyous Ground of Giving Rise to Samadhi.” The third Dhyana is called “The Wonderful Ground of Leaving Joy.” The fourth Dhyana is called “The Pure Ground of Leaving Thought.”
The Eight Samadhis are the Four Dhyanas plus the Samadhi of the Station of Limitless Emptiness, the Samadhi of the Station of Limitless Consciousness, the Samadhi of the Station of Nothing Whatsoever, and the Samadhi of the Station of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception.
The sixth Paramita is Prajna. With this perfection, one no longer contends or fights. People fight because they lack genuine wisdom, genuine prajna. If one has true wisdom, one will not fight or struggle. That is the doctrine of the Three Storehouses Teaching—the Small Vehicle. There are many, many different ways to explain the Six Paramitas. Each paramita has ten advantages, also.
The Six Perfections and the Ten Good Deeds
The first four of the Ten Good Deeds—not killing, not stealing, not committing sexual misconduct, and not lying—correspond to the first perfection, that of Giving.
The fifth of the Ten Good Deeds, not backbiting, corresponds to the Perfection of Morality, the second perfection.
The sixth of Ten Good Deeds, not indulging in abusive speech, corresponds to the third perfection, Patience.
The seventh of the Ten Good Deeds, not indulging in loose speech, corresponds to the fourth perfection, Vigor.
The eighth and ninth of the Ten Good Deeds, not being greedy or hateful, corresponds to the fifth perfection, dhyana samadhi.
The tenth of the Ten Good Deeds, not having deviant views (not being stupid) corresponds to the sixth perfection, Prajna wisdom.
The Six Perfections in Terms of Their Curing Powers
1. Giving cures one of stinginess.
2. Morality cures one of the tendencies to commit offenses.
3. Patience cures one of hatred.
4. Vigor cures one of laziness.
5. Dhyana samadhi cures one of scatteredness.
6. Prajna cures one of stupidity.
The Six Perfections and How They Interact
By giving, say giving up one’s home and family, one is able to maintain morality. Meeting with insult, one is then patient. Having been patient, one can be vigorous. Having been vigorous, one can subdue the five senses: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body, so they no longer play tricks. That is dhyana samadhi. They follow your instructions instead of the other way around. When the five senses have been tamed, you can know the Dharma Realm. That is Prajna wisdom.
The Six Perfections in Terms of Rewards
1. Giving brings the reward of being wealthy.
2. Morality brings the reward of the perfection and refinement of the six senses. You will not be blind, or deaf or otherwise incomplete.
3. Patience brings physical beauty. Why are people ugly? It is because in past lives they were impatient and could not bear with things.
4. Vigor brings the reward of having great power and authority.
5. Dhyana samadhi brings the reward of a long and healthy life. You can live as long as you like.
6. Prajna brings the reward of unobstructed eloquences.
The Ten Advantages of the Perfection of Giving :
1. One will be able to conquer the afflictions associated with stinginess. Stinginess is a form of affliction, which is hard to overcome. With the practice of giving one can overcome this fault.
2. One will be able to maintain a continuous attitude of generosity. Sometimes people’s first thought is to give, but then in their next thought they retreat and get stingy. The second advantage of practicing true giving is that one is able to sustain an attitude of generosity.
3. One will be able to share one’s wealth with all living beings, without discrimination.
4. One will be born in a wealthy family.
5. In every life one will always be generous and ready to give.
6. The four assemblies will take delight in one’s presence. They will like one because of one’s generosity.
7. One will not be intimidated by others. No matter how much tough opposition one receives from other people—be it good or bad opposition—one will not be afraid.
8. One will enjoy a wide reputation. Everyone will know about one’s practice of giving.
9. One’s hands and feet will be soft and supple. They will not be coarse like sandpaper! The Buddhas’ hands are said to be as soft as cotton and this is because in every life they practiced giving.
10. One will find a genuine Good and Wise Advisor. If one has not practiced giving, one will be unable to find a true spiritual teacher. But if one has, then one will meet a Good and Wise Advisor who will employ “relentless compassion” to help one give up all one’s bad habits and faults.
If one can practice giving one will obtain these ten advantages. Each of the Six Perfections has ten advantages, making sixty in all.
The second is the Perfection Morality. “Morality” is the stopping of evil and the prevention of offenses. It means to do no evil and offer up all good conduct. If you can do no evil and offer up all good conduct, you are truly holding the precepts. But you are deluded if you think, “My little faults are not that important. I just make minor mistakes. They will not hurt my cultivation.” You should know that a hair is very fine and tiny, but if a lot of them are put together, they can make a rope. You should not think it does not matter if you do not correct your small imperfections. The smaller the fault is, the more important it is to change it.
“Does that mean the big ones do not count? I can just change the little ones?”
If you change your small faults, the big ones will naturally disappear. This is because your big fault result from all your small faults put together. A mountain does not just spring into being of itself; it is a collection of millions of tiny dust motes put together. Our faults work the same way.
Does offering up all good conduct mean that you only do good deeds on a large scale and ignore small good deeds? No. The great comes from the small, just like the distant comes from the nearby, and the deep comes from the shallow. If you do small good deeds, your big good deeds will naturally be accomplished. Doing a lot of small good deeds just amounts to doing good on a large scale. So we say,
Do not think a good deed is small and thereby fail to do it.
Do not think an evil deed is small and go ahead and do it.
Those who hold the precepts, who do no evil and offer up all good conduct, gain ten advantages.
The Ten Advantages of the Perfection of Morality:
1. One will perfect All-Wisdom. If one keeps the precepts well, one can gain All-Wisdom.
2. One will study after the manner of the Buddha. The Buddha took the precepts as his teacher. The precepts are called “the Vajra bright jeweled precepts.” They are the original source of all the Buddhas. All the Buddhas arise from morality.
3. Those with wisdom will not find faults with one. Only stupid, senseless people will speak ill of them. If one keeps the precepts, wise people will have no cause to find fault with one. Stupid people might slander one, but that is just because they have right and wrong all mixed up. They take what is black as white. If one keeps the precepts, wise people will not only refuse to speak ill of one, but they will even praise one. However, if you want people to praise you, you must not compete to be the number one. You cannot take that position by force! If you do things so well that you are naturally number one, that is one thing. Whoever does the best, naturally becomes number one. If you are not that good, but you force yourself into the number one position, then you have only gained a false position for yourself. That is useless.
Movie kings and movie queens may occupy that position for a while, but they are not really kings and queens after all, and they cannot fool anybody. How do people turn out to be phony Hollywood kings and queens? In former lives they did not really do any work, they just struggled for false fame and glory. Since they sought to be royalty, they got their wish, but only in the world of celluloid dreams—empty and false.
4. One will not retreat from one’s vows. This is the most important. Say one vows, “I will seek the Buddhadharma no matter how hard it is. I do not care if I starve to death or freeze to death. I am not going to retreat. If no one makes offerings to me, that is the very best thing!” One should not be greedy for offerings. Do not drop hints to people hoping they will buy you things and then think, “I must have Way-virtue and be quite a cultivator. People are making offerings to me!” That is WRONG! One should make a vow, “I will seek the Buddha Way even if it means giving up my head, eyes, brains, marrow, my flesh, my hands and feet—my very life!”
One should make vows never to retreat from the Bodhi mind, never to turn back. One should not be like Shariputra, who tried to practice the Bodhisattva Path, but quit when he realized he gave up the wrong eye! That is just retreating! In the Buddhadharma, the harder things get, the more determined one should be to go forward and not retreat. That is the proper attitude for a true seeker of the Buddha Way, but it is not easy! All of you Good and Wise Advisors! Seeking the Buddhadharma is the hardest thing there is to do. You cannot be enthusiastic for five minutes and lose interest after five minutes.
5. One will dwell securely in proper conduct. One will peacefully practice proper, not deviant, conduct. Proper conduct means benefiting others. It does not mean benefiting yourself. If you are climbing on conditions, you do not have proper conduct. If you do not climb on conditions your conduct is proper.
6. One will cast aside birth and death. One should not hold one to birth and death, thinking, “My life is so valuable. I have to make nice offerings to my body—give it good food, vitamins, minerals, and so forth to make it really strong.” It may get stronger, but the stronger one’s body gets, the weaker ones wisdom becomes. What is the use of having a strong body, but weak wisdom? One must cast aside birth and death altogether. One should not hold on to one’s physical life at the expense of the life of one’s wisdom. Look upon birth and death as unimportant, thinking, “if I live, I live; if I die, I die,” while at the same time cherishing the firm resolve to cultivate. One should not misconstrue the meaning and think, “If birth and death are no problem, then I will just keep getting born and dying.” That is not what I mean. You must see birth and death as unimportant and yet still cultivate to end birth and death.
7. One will long for and delight in Nirvana. One thinks, “What I delight in most is Nirvana, in the Dharma of transcending birth and death.” Through holding the precepts one obtains Nirvana.
8. One will obtain an unfettered mind. One may have a lot of wisdom and have brought forth a formidable resolve for Bodhi. But then one gets tied up by greed, hatred, stupidity, pride, and doubt, to say nothing of the view of a body, one-sided view, views of unprincipled morality, views of grasping at opinions, and deviant views. These are Ten Fetters, which bind up your mind so that wisdom cannot come forth. Obtaining an unfettered mind means gaining liberation.
9. One obtains superior samadhi. It is not the samadhi of ordinary people. This samadhi power is very solid! Nothing can disturb it—nothing! It is an inconceivable kind of superior concentration.
10. One will not lack the wealth of faith. To have faith is to have wealth. People without faith are poor. If you do not believe the Dharma Master when he lectures on the Dharma, then you will not be able to bring forth the Bodhi mind. If you cannot bring forth the Bodhi mind, you are poor. Through the practice of morality, you will gain the riches of faith.
This is a general explanation. If one were to go into detail, a great deal more could be said.
The next Paramita is Patience. It is definitely not easy to be patient. The Chinese word for patience: (忍) has a knife blade on the top (刃), and a heart on the bottom (心). Using patience is like having a knife stuck into your heart. It is hard to bear; it really hurts. If you can bear what is difficult to bear, you can make it through the gate of patience, which means you can achieve Paramita, for Paramita just means “getting through it.” Paramita, a Sanskrit word, literally translates as “gone to the other shore.” You go from the shore of birth and death through the massive flow of afflictions to the other shore, which is Nirvana. I have written a verse about patience, which describes it pretty well. If you can remember it, it will be of great benefit:
Patience is a priceless gem which few know how to mine.
But if you can master it, everything works out fine!
“Priceless” does not mean it is worthless! It means you cannot put a price on it. One, two, three million—it is still not enough. It is invaluable. Most people will claim that they are very patient, but that is when everything is going their way. Once something happens that they do not want to put up with, they usually blow their tops! You may decide to cultivate patience, and strangely enough, someone will show up to test you by slugging you a good one, or trying to knock a few of your teeth out, and then kicking you around for a while. It might feel like that knife is being stuck in your heart, but if you can be patient and act as though nothing was going on, then you can make it through the gate. If you cannot take it, then you have to keep on trying. Patience is not easy, I repeat. Most people do not know how to be patient. If you can, everything will work out fine. It is just because you cannot be patient with things that everything gets messed up.
Maitreya Bodhisattva’s verse is also very good:
The old fool wears tattered clothes, and fills his belly with tasteless food,
Mends his clothes to keep away the cold,
and lets all things take their course.
If someone scolds the old fool, the old fool just says, “Fine.”
If someone hits the old fool, he just lies down to sleep.
Spit in his face, he just lets it dry.
“That way I save my strength and give you no affliction.”
This kind of Paramita is the jewel in the wonderful.
Knowing this news, how can you worry about not attaining the Way?
The old monk wears old, ragged clothes and eats unseasoned food. It does not taste like much, but he is full. When his clothes wear out he just patches them up and lets all things take their course. Nothing presents any problem. This is just “everything’s okay.” Sometimes it is not easy to be like that. Sometimes things just do not seem to work out for us. For Maitreya Bodhisattva, things always work out. If someone scolds him, he just says, “Great, keep on scolding me!” If someone hits him, he just lies down as if he were asleep. If you spit in his face, he does not even bother to wipe it off. This way he saves the energy it would take to wipe it off. People then think, “It is useless to try to fight with someone like this,” and they do not give rise to afflictions. If you can cultivate this Paramita, it is the most wonderful of gems. Knowing this, how can you fail to realize the Way? Do not worry about not becoming a Buddha. You most certainly will. All you have to do is cultivate patience. It will surely take you to the other shore.
Someone is thinking, “That will never work in our society. We have to go out and compete. We fight for everything we get. We combat and kill using a knife, a gun, a canon, an atomic bomb. We won't need this 'patience' you are talking about. The old fool is useless!”
Perhaps you cannot use him, but I will. Or maybe I will not use him, but I will tell my disciples to use him!
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