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The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra

Chapter 14: Happily Dwelling Conduct
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua


“They take no delight in raising young disciples, Shramaneras, or children, and they do not take pleasure in sharing the same Master with them.”


L10. Staying away from raising children


They take no delight in raising young disciples. “Take no delight” means that they do not want to raise them; it does not necessarily mean that they do not raise them. If there are unusual circumstances, it is permissible to do so, but not to take delight in doing so. If they were to delight in it, then they'd be making a mistake. It would mean they were fond of children, of young disciples, thinking, “I am getting old, and I do not have a son or daughter at home to take care of me. I can leave the home-life and accept a young disciple who can serve me. That would not be a bad idea.” But that kind of thinking is incorrect.

Left-home people who cultivate the Bodhisattva Way are not supposed to enjoy themselves and have people cater to their every need or work on their behalf. Practicing the Bodhisattva Way is very inconvenient—there are many things one is not supposed to do. One who practices the Bodhisattva Way cannot get away with being sloppy or casual. One cannot even take delight in having small disciples. Under special circumstances, it might be all right.

Why is one not supposed to accept young disciples? It is because young disciples are sometimes disobedient and very often naughty. Haven't you noticed how enraged parents get with children who will not listen to instructions? Even though the parents get upset, still they have no way to control the children. Now suppose you were to accept such a child as your disciple. From morning to night you'd have trouble. Therefore, we are advised not to take delight in raising young disciples.

If the child is obedient and good, then it is be permissible. If when told to cultivate, the child cultivates and when told not to get into mischief he does not play around, then the child can be accepted as a disciple. We must apply the teachings in the Sutra to our lives in a dynamic way and not assume the texts are completely inflexible. The point here is that one should not take delight in raising young disciples, and not that one definitely cannot accept any.

How can you know if a child is good or not?” you ask.

If you do not know, then do not flirt with danger. Do not accept the child. Wait until you are sure before you accept him as your disciple. If you are certain that a child is good-natured and has some foundation in cultivation to stand on, then you may accept him.

In Manchuria, I had several young disciples who were only twelve or thirteen years old. However, they were exceptionally obedient. I heard about a child named Zheng De. He was a very unusual child. From the time he was five years old, he bowed to his parents every day. When I heard about that child, I was ashamed, because I didn't know enough to bow to my parents until I was twelve. I certainly wanted to meet that child who knew to practice the filial way from the time he was five. He was such a filial child and took such good care of his parents that they never had a care or a worry.

One day, when conditions were ripe, I went to his house in Wuchang County, about thirty miles from my home. He was twelve years old at the time. Before I visited him, many externalist teachers had been intent on converting him to their various religions, because the child was already famous as a “filial son.” All the externalist teachers wanted him for their disciple, but when they went to convert him, they could not outtalk him.

The child would ask them, “What do you cultivate?” They would answer that they cultivated the spirit in order to become immortal.

The child would ask, “How do you cultivate to become immortal?” They would answer that one needs to meditate and that one should be filial to one's parents.

Then the child would ask, “Were you filial to your parents before?” When asked that, the externalists had nothing to say, and the child would dismiss them saying, “Right now I am busy practicing filial piety. After I have finished my filial duties, I will cultivate the Way. My father and mother are living Buddhas right here in my home. I will not renounce what is near to seek what is far.” None of the externalist teachers had been able to convince him to embrace their beliefs. Many had tried, but they all ended up leaving without accomplishing their aim.

On the day I went to his house, he was inside, and when he looked out the window and saw me coming, he said to his mother, “Mama, my teacher is coming!”

“Since when do you have a teacher?” his mother asked.

“Now! Now I have a teacher!”

His mother thought he was acting very strangely. He came to the door to greet me, and the minute I entered the door, he insisted on taking my bag from me. Wherever I traveled in Manchuria, I carried my “bag of myriad treasures,” which held Sutras and all sorts of things I used. But as soon as the child saw me, he insisted on taking my bag and carrying it on his back. I went in with him, sat down, and spoke with him a little. I asked him, “Who told you to bow to your parents? Did your parents tell you to do that?”

“No,” he said.

“Then why are you bowing every day?” I asked.

“I feel that there is no way I can repay my parents' kindness. They are elderly now, and I bow to them to make them content and not upset with me. I feel it is something a child should do,” he replied.”

“But you started doing it when you were five years old,” I said. “A five-year-old child does not understand such things.”

“Well, when I was five, I did it because bowing to my parents made me happier than anything else.”

“Very good,” I replied. “You are a better child than I was. I did not start bowing to my parents until I was twelve. Nobody told me to do it, either. But you started when you were only five. You are a very good child.”

That made him happy. Then I asked his parents, “He bows to you, but doesn't he sometimes do things that make you angry?”

His father said, “We have no virtue in the Way. No doubt my father had virtue, and so he is blessed with such a grandson.” The child's father was not conceited in the least. He did not say, “I am pretty special. See what a fine, filial child I have?” The child's father understood principle. He gave the credit of having a good son to his father's virtue, and did not claim to have done good deeds himself that merited such a reward.

About an hour passed, and I put my legs down over the edge of the seat [kang, a brick bed used in northern China], preparing to leave. What do you suppose the child, whose name was Zhen De, did? He immediately got down and snatched my shoes. I thought he was going to help me put them on so that I could leave, but instead he took the shoes and ran off with them. He put the shoes in another room and came back, saying, “Teacher, today is the first time I have met you. You must stay at our home and have a simple meal with us, even though we do not have any especially good food here.”

I was pleased with the child: The first time his teacher came, he asked his teacher to stay for a meal, which was also being filial to his teacher. I assented in silence by nodding my head. I did not answer him verbally. Zheng De prepared and served the meal, and we all ate together.

After we finished, I asked the child, “Zheng De, you have bowed to me as your teacher. Is it the case that the teacher should obey the disciple, or that the disciple should obey the teacher?”

“The disciple should obey the teacher, of course,” he replied. “How could it be that the teacher should obey the disciple?”

“If that is what you think is right, then why, without asking my permission, did you take my shoes away from me and put them away before asking me to stay for lunch? If you were obedient to your teacher, you should not have hidden my shoes and then asked me to stay. You could have simply invited me without using some way to coerce me into it. Now wasn't that a case of the teacher having to obey the disciple?”

The child immediately knelt before me and said, “Teacher, I will never do it again. I thought if I did it that way, my teacher would certainly not leave.”

“If you knew that by doing that, your teacher could not leave, then weren't you using force to make him stay?”

“I understand now,” he said, “I will not ever do that again. Please, Teacher, forgive me!”

The reason I did not answer him verbally when he invited me to stay, but only nodded my head in assent, was that he was forcing me into it. What else could I have done? He took my shoes, and without shoes I could not walk on the roads, because in Manchuria there's a lot of snow. Actually, I was able to walk barefoot in the snow, but it was difficult to endure. In Manchuria, the snow stays about three feet deep in the winter, and I would walk around in Arhat sandals and no socks. Since I was able to do that, most people said I had virtue. Actually, it was not a matter of virtue, it was a matter of being able to bear it. I could be patient and not fear the cold and not fear hunger. I would say to myself:

Freezing to death, I face the wind!
Starving to death, I stick out my stomach!

When I was first practicing wearing only cotton clothing and no padded clothes, I was always freezing. But after you get used to the freezing cold, you are no longer afraid of it. The weather that I am talking about it not like anything experienced here in America. That kind of freezing weather does not occur in America. In Manchuria, people's ears get frozen stiff. It is very painful, and if you flick their ears, they fall right off! That is really true! Even so, I never wore a hat; but I never lost my ears, either. At first, that kind of cold hurts worse than needles, but I would grit my teeth and say, “Go ahead and hurt! Fall off, ears, I don't care!” I endured it and eventually got used to it so that it wasn't so bad.

As to that filial child, Zheng De, I knew when I first saw him that he was to be a left-home person. He was very chubby and had great big ears. His countenance showed that he had tremendous blessings. He was also quite intelligent. Children like that are perfectly all right to accept as disciples—the more the better! They are so good and know how to follow the rules; they can cultivate the Way and they are obedient.

Shramaneras refers here not to the elder Shramaneras or young Shramaneras, but to “scarecrow Shramaneras.” In the monasteries in China, the monks planted the fields and when the crows came to try to eat the vegetables, the monks sent the very young Shramaneras out to scare the birds away. That is how they got the name. Scarecrow Shramaneras are between the ages of eight and twelve.

Shramanera is a Sanskrit word. It is the title given to novice monks. It is derived from the word Shramana, the title given to fully ordained Bhikshus. Shramana means “diligent and resting,” because a Shramana diligently cultivates precepts, samadhi, and wisdom, and puts to rest greed, hatred, and stupidity. “Diligent” means not being lazy; “resting” means not getting angry. If you diligently cultivate precepts, samadhi, and wisdom, then greed, hatred, and stupidity will be put to rest. Unless greed, hatred, and stupidity are put to rest, you will be unable to diligently cultivate precepts, samadhi, and wisdom. People who are greedy are fond of leisure and do not like to work. In cultivation, you should not be lax. You must be vigorous, and only when you achieve the fruition can you rest at ease. People who are hateful get angry all the time. People who are stupid are always having false thoughts. If one thing does not work out, they want to try another, and when that does not work out, they think of another. There is a saying that describes this:

At night you travel a thousand roads;
But in the morning you still get up and sell bean curd.

As you lie on you bed, there are a thousand possibilities for you to consider. But in the morning, you go back to selling bean curd. That is the false thinking of the stupid mind. If you do not put to rest greed, hatred, and stupidity, then precepts, samadhi, and wisdom cannot appear. Precepts guard against greed. Most importantly, they help us restrain our greed so that we do not always want more of everything; and so that we are not fond of leisure and unwilling to work. If you have Samadhi, there is a saying that describes it:

You have a thousand wonderful ideas;
I have a definite principle.

No matter what methods or ideas you have, I have samadhi. No matter what ways you might think of to try to move me, I will not be moved. Regardless of how you might try to trouble me, you cannot do so, because I have samadhi power. Samadhi guards us against hatred. No matter how angry you get, I do not pay attention. Wisdom counteracts stupidity. If you have wisdom, you can turn stupidity into wisdom. If you are stupid, your wisdom turns into stupidity. Actually, the two are one—two sides of the same thing. Turning to one side is being wise; turning to the other is being stupid. One side is yin; the other side is yang. If you try to take advantage of situations, you are being stupid. If you do not, you are being wise. If you were born as if drunk and will die as if in a dream, and if you go about doing upside-down things all the time, you are being stupid. If you are absolutely pure and clean without any greed or defilement, then you are wise.

If you are pure for one moment,
then in that moment you are on Magic Mountain;
If you are pure in every moment,
then in every moment you are on Magic Mountain.

Magic Mountain is the Bodhimanda where Shakyamuni Buddha speaks the Dharma. But actually this just refers to purity of mind. That is why it is said, “If you are pure for one moment, then in that moment you are on Magic Mountain. If you are pure in every moment, then in every moment you are on Magic Mountain.” You are always in the Dharma Assembly on Magic Mountain. Do not seek outside; it is right there with you. All you have to do is understand that and know how to use it, and you are that way. If you cannot use it, you cannot be that way. That is what cultivation is all about: diligently cultivating precepts, samadhi, and wisdom, and putting to rest greed, hatred, and stupidity.

Bodhisattvas do not take pleasure in raising children, and they do not take pleasure in sharing the same Master with them. Not only do they not take children for their own disciples, they do not say to them, “You should take refuge with my teacher. My teacher’s status is more long-standing than mine, probably he can teach children. He is no doubt more talented at it.” That is also not permissible. You should not work it so that you share the same teacher, for if you do, the child will always be calling you, “Elder brother!” and you will have to take care of him. If you do not, it will be as if you are not fulfilling your responsibilities as a Dharma brother. All day long he will call to you, “Elder brother, I want some candy!” and you will have to buy him some candy. “Elder brother, I want some cookies to eat!” and you will have to find some cookies for him to eat. Wouldn't you say that was a lot of trouble? That is why you should not try to arrange it so that you both have the same teacher. The meaning of the text is that you should not take delight in sharing the same teacher with children. The meaning is not that you might not have the same teacher as children do. If your teacher likes children, you cannot object!

When I first began to lecture on the Sutras here in the West, people came to listen, but how do you suppose they listened? They sprawled out on the ground to listen to the Sutra. Or they lay down with their feet propped up on a chair and their heads under a chair. They resembled snakes coiling around the chairs. Why did they get in those positions? They thought that was a way of practicing yoga. I never said anything to them about it, because at that time people here did not know anything at all about the rules pertaining to Dharma Assemblies. That is why no one followed the rules.

Later, when the first group of college students came to listen to the Sutras, things became a little better. They had some understanding regarding the rules followed in Dharma Assemblies. Gradually the rules have been established here, and people follow them.

During the first summer session I was quite strict. I did not allow people to miss even a minute of class or even take a five minutes break. There were people at that session who wanted to make trouble, but because I was so strict, they did not manage to do it. That was the first time. The second time, things were a little better. In the beginning, no one knew that it was appropriate to bow to left-home people. Then there was one student who began to bow to me every day. He had heard that someone had kneeled before me for four hours, and he said that he could do that, too. I said, “Fine,” and later he started bowing to me every day. Actually, I do not like people to bow to me, but since I have come here, I have learned that Americans do not like to bow to anyone. And so even though I do not like people to bow to me, now I like to have you bow. It is a case of learning to like what you basically do not like. I do not like to receive bows, but I must learn to allow you to bow. You do not like to bow, but you must learn to like it.

So, another disciple took the lead and started bowing to me every day. Seeing this, someone said that I had told everyone to bow to me. But I never said that, because I know I have no virtue. That is why I do not like people to bow to me. That person also started bowing to me, in a flippant way. He did not do it seriously, because he felt he was an old-timer, and that it would have been beneath him to bow to me seriously. So he bowed as a joke, but later he felt he no longer had any face to come here. The Buddhist Lecture Hall has established some rules now, and you Americans have set up the rule that people should not talk. I agree completely with that rule, I do not like to talk either. If we talk less to each other, we will create less trouble. You are doing pretty well now, and the rules are much better kept than in the beginning. I believe that day by day it will get even better. In America [in Chinese, literally “the beautiful country”] everything is beautiful and so I am sure that the rules established here will not be ugly either.


“They always delight in sitting in dhyana and, in a quiet place cultivating collecting their thoughts. Manjushri, this is called the first range of association.”


K2. Defining “drawing near” in terms of the places to draw near to


You must delight in sitting in dhyana, and then you will be able to do so. If you do not delight in doing so, then even though you may sit in dhyana, it would not be of any use. They always delight in sitting in dhyana. This is the most important requisite for cultivating the Bodhisattva Way. If you do not delight in sitting in dhyana, I believe you will be quite scattered. If you sit in dhyana, you can obtain samadhi power.

“Do you have to ‘sit’ in dhyana?” Yes and no. We can define “not sitting” as being before you have ever sat in meditation. However, after you have done the sitting, can also be defined as “not sitting.” The actual period when you are sitting in meditation can be defined as “sitting”. And so I say it is also not sitting, because once you have achieved dhyana, then when you sit you are in dhyana, when you walk you are in dhyana, when you are asleep you are in dhyana: when moving, when still, when awake and when asleep, it is all dhyana. But before you have understood dhyana, you must first sit in dhyana. Once you have attained dhyana, you never leave it. In movement and stillness, in waking and sleeping, dhyana is you and you are dhyana. Dhyana follows you and you follow dhyana. Just as a shadow follows a form. You could not leave it even if you wanted to. That is samadhi power.

“You've been talking and talking about it, but exactly what is dhyana?”

It is not anything at all! If you think it is something, you have an attachment. It is not anything at all, so there is no attachment to anything.

You say, “What you are saying is too indefinite.” Of course! If it were definite, it would not be dhyana. Dhyana is not definite. It is emptiness. Out of emptiness your samadhi power arises.

“Chan” is the abbreviated Chinese transliteration for the Sanskrit word dhyana. The entire transliteration is “chan no.” Translated, dhyana means “cultivating one's thoughts,” and “quieting reflection.” You sit there and cultivate your thoughts, you sit there and quiet your reflections. If you do not know how to apply effort, then you will sit there and strike up false thoughts. You should chase those false thoughts away. Once you chase away the false thoughts, you would not have any. You should not think that “striking up false thoughts” is necessarily a bad expression. Change it to “chasing away false thoughts” and it is not bad. Do battle with your false thoughts. When a false thought first arises, use the demon-quelling pestle to beat it to death. When the next one comes up, use the demon-quelling pestle to beat that one to death too. Sometimes after you have beaten one to death with the demon-quelling pestle, the same one comes back to life again. In that case you should use the demon-slicing sword. With it, you can slice right through a false thought the moment you see it arise. Once it is sliced in two, it would not come back to life again. That is how powerful the demon-slicing sword is. Once you slice through your false thoughts until they die, then your wisdom can arise. Wisdom, in fact, is the demon-slicing sword. If you have wisdom, you have a demon-slicing sword, if you do not have wisdom, you would not have a demon-slicing sword either.

You say, “I have been listening to Sutra lectures for a long time, but I have never heard an explanation like this.” Why does it have to be explained in a way you have already heard? Sutras can be explained any way one likes as long as one accords with principle. They can fly up to the heavens and hide in the earth, just like dragons. What is the demon-quelling pestle? It is your samadhi power. If you have samadhi power, you have a demon-quelling pestle; if you do not have samadhi power, you do not have a demon-quelling pestle. Now do you understand? Dhyana can give rise to samadhi power. Giving rise to samadhi power, you can beat your false thoughts to death. If you continue sitting in dhyana, you will give rise to wisdom power. The power of wisdom can also kill false thoughts. For that reason, Bodhisattvas always delight in sitting dhyana. They like to cultivate samadhi power.

“Where should one sit in dhyana? Can it be done at a playhouse while watching a play? Can it be done at the movie theater while watching a movie?” you ask. If you are able to sit in dhyana, then you can do it anywhere at all. If you are not able to sit in dhyana yet, then you certainly could not do it in those places. If you are able to sit in dhyana, then

When moving, it is dhyana; when quiet, it is dhyana.
Speaking, silent, moving, or still,
The substance is at peace.
In the dream, the six paths are clearly seen;
But once awake, all is empty, and even the universe does not exist!

If you awaken, then even the three-thousand-great-thousand world system does not exist, how much the less anything else. While you are still in the dream, the six paths of rebirth exist. You get born again and again, and die again and again. You cannot put this down and you cannot give up that. That is your husband. That is your wife. That is your father and that is your mother, and there are many more—a whole bunch of entanglements! It is really meaningless.

“What should we do, then?” If you have not yet attained samadhi power, then when sitting in dhyana, you should sit in a quiet place. The character for “quiet” also means “idle,” and so you say, “I understand. I should not do any work, right? I should be idle all day long. To put it another way, I can be lazy. Well, that is just my style. I do not like to work, so I will sit in dhyana!” Here, the word does not mean “idle,” it means a place that is not busy and noisy. It means an aranya, a tranquil and pure place. You do not want to mistake the meaning of the word here and think it means you can be idle. Do not be like a certain disciple who mistakenly thought that men wai han, which means amateur, was the same as luo han, which means Arhat. How funny! This is one of the wonderful things that happen when Americans are learning Chinese. He thought “an amateur” was “an Arhat”. Well, maybe in the future he will become one, but he is not one now.

In a quiet place, Bodhisattvas enjoy cultivating collecting their thoughts. They cultivate collecting their thoughts, just as a magnet collects iron filings. They do not let their minds run away.

“Oh? My mind can run away?” you ask.

Oh? Did you think it could not? Not only does your mind run away, it runs for 108,000 miles! You do not even know where it has run off to. In the first thought, it runs to Europe. In the second thought, you have gone to Australia. In the next thought, it is in Asia. It is in Vietnam at the front line fighting with the guns going off “bang, bang, bang!” and many people being killed. You do not have to use any money or buy any tickets and you can traverse the five continents. You think you are getting a bargain, but in fact you are using a tremendous amount of your “gasoline”—the gasoline (energy) of your own nature. You just do not realize it. What is that gasoline good for? It can enable you to emit light. If you use it up, you do not have any light. Without light you will be dark. What I am saying right now definitely contains genuine principle. If you understand, then it will be very helpful to you. Do not use so much gasoline! If you do not understand, then after you have used up your gasoline you will become dark and run off to the path of hungry ghosts. Mencius said:

When people lose their chickens and dogs,
they know to go looking for them.
But when their minds run away,
they do not even know to search for them.
What a sad state of affairs!

When chickens or dogs run away, their owners know to look for them. “Oh, no,” they cry, “My pet is gone!” They immediately put an advertisement in the newspaper saying, “If you see my lost dog, please call 397-3675.” But when their minds fly off in all directions, they do nothing about it. They do not need to buy a ticket, but they can still travel the world, fly up to the heavens, or enter deep into the earth. They may think it is a good deal, but really it uses up a lot of the gasoline of their own nature, until the tank is empty of Prajna’s light. From this discussion you should realize the seriousness of having false thinking. You should not casually have false thoughts, such as “I wonder how my child is doing,” and “What about my sisters, how are they? And my brothers, father, and mother...?” Thinking about such things is not useful at all. It is a case of not being able to gather in your mind. If you are able to cultivate and collect your thoughts, then you will not be lax in your thinking—you would not let your mind loose. If your mind is let loose, then you are not cultivating and gathering it in. Now I believe you understand.

There is much that can be said about cultivating and collecting one's thoughts—so much that it could never be explained entirely. We can only discuss a little. In cultivating and collecting your thoughts you should do three things:

Reproach the five desires!
Chase out the five coverings!
Regulate carefully the five matters!

Everyone knows the five desires, although you may not recognize them by that name. The five desires are forms, sounds, odors, flavors, and objects of touch. They are also listed as wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep. With the desire for forms, one chases after forms. With the desire for sounds, one pursues sounds. With the desire for fragrances, your mind gets caught up in pursuit of fragrances. WIth the desire for flavors, you pursue flavors. With desire for touch, you chase after objects of touch. In general, people are confused by these false things—so confused that their own natures will not emit light. All five desires are false; you should scold and berate them, “Hey! Do not run after those defiling forms!” When you scold them like that, then your mind will take heed and know it should not chase after forms. This same principle applies in cases when disciples are not obedient and do not listen to the Sutra lectures. “Do not fall asleep!” Do not be lazy!” Then the disciples take heed and think, “Oh, I should not be lazy. I guess I had better be a little more diligent.” Scolding away the five desires works in the same way. When your mind wants to pursue defiling forms, you should scold it: “Come back here!” It will come back. Suppose it decides to listen to a piano, or to the sound of an airplane passing overhead. “Hey! Do not listen to that sound! That sound is of no help in cultivation!” Your mind will take heed. If your mind wants to pursue flavors, tell it, “People who cultivate the Way should not become attached to flavors!” Do not think that although it is not all right to become attached to flavors, it probably does not matter if one becomes attached to touch. That is also not permissible. In this way you should reproach the five desires, until your mind becomes very well-behaved.

Does anyone know what the five coverings are? If you know, you can tell me; I also want to study them. No one knows? It is very simple. When I tell you, you will say, “Oh, it is those!” and you will understand. Before the term is explained, you wonder what the five are and what they are covering. They are covering your samadhi and your wisdom. Because they are covering them, your samadhi does not come forth and your wisdom does not come forth. They are obstructed by the coverings. If you do not want to be obstructed by these five coverings, you must chase them out. Get rid of them.

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