The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 14: Happily Dwelling Conduct
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
The Six Common Dharma Realms
1. The Dharma Realm of Gods. This is the highest of the six common realms. People who do not understand the Buddhadharma believe that getting born into the Garden of Paradise in Heaven is the most supreme bliss. In fact, that is still within the six common Dharma Realms, and one who is born there has not transcended the cycle of rebirth.
The longest life span of the gods is eighty-thousand great kalpas. That occurs in the heaven of Neither Thought Nor Non‑Thought. But once the gods' life spans end, they are destined to fall. If their good karma has matured, they will be born in the three wholesome paths of rebirth. If their evil karma has come to fruition, they will be reborn in the evil paths. Besides that heaven, there are many, many others.
2. The Dharma Realm of Asuras. Asura is a Sanskrit word, which is translated as “ugly.” It also means “no wine.” But although the male asuras are extremely ugly, the asura women are exceptionally beautiful. Asuras like to fight. They are strong in fighting and like to make war. There are asuras in the realm of the gods, in the human realm, in the animal realm, and in the realm of ghosts. Asuras go everywhere, and so sometimes they are counted among the three wholesome paths and sometimes among the four evil destinies. The four evil destinies are the asuras, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell beings.
3. The Dharma Realm of People. Let us look into how many kinds of people there are. At the highest level, there are the Presidents, Secretaries of State, Secretaries of Foreign Affairs and various other people in official position. There are wealthy people who are world magnates—from the most wealthy, to the second most wealthy, to the third most wealthy, and on down. There are also people in the world with absolutely no money who live in utter poverty, on down to the very poorest person in the world, someone who does not even own a place large enough to put the point of an awl. There are extremely ugly people, whom no one would even want to look at, and also exceptionally beautiful people whom everyone enjoys seeing. There are also very strange freaks. There are terribly fat people—some even weigh a couple thousand pounds! They cannot even get through the doors that ordinary people use, or fit through the doors of the city buses! If they want to go on a vacation, they have to rent their own special bus and have a special airplane made just for them. There are also people so thin they look like match-sticks.
How do all these different kinds of people—wealthy and honored, poor and lowly, fat, thin, tall, short, ugly, handsome—come about? In general, if you plant the causes for being wealthy, you will receive the reward of being wealthy. If you plant the causes for being honored, you will receive the reward of being honored. If you plant the causes for being poor, you will receive the retribution of being poor. If you plant the causes for having blessings, then you will receive the reward of having blessings. You plant a cause and you receive a retribution. Fat people no doubt thought that they would like to be fat, and so now they receive the retribution of being fatter than pigs. In the human realm there are all different kinds of people.
4. The Dharma Realm of Animals.
5. The Dharma Realm of Hungry Ghosts
6. The Dharma Realm of Hell Beings.
These are the three evil paths. There are so many species and classes of animals, for example, that you could never finish counting them all. It is the same with hungry ghosts. There are many, many different kinds of ghosts, not just one or two. The hells also have many categories of beings.
The Six Common Realms and the Four Sagely Realms make up the Ten Dharma Realms. These Ten Dharma Realms come from the single thought present in our minds right now. If you lose your temper every day, then “the fire of ignorance and tiger-like spirit are rooted in offenses created in previous lives.” When you lose your temper, you really are just as fierce as a tiger. if you keep on losing your temper and having so much fire, you will walk right into the path of asuras. If you are greedy, hateful, and stupid, you will fall into the three evil paths of the hells, the hungry ghosts, and the animals. If you want to cultivate the Four Truths of suffering, accumulation, cessation, and the Way, then you will go into the path of those of the Two Vehicles. If you want to cultivate to be a Bodhisattva and to become a Buddha, then you must bring forth the resolve for Bodhi and cultivate the Six Perfections and the Myriad Practices and eventually become a Buddha. That is why it is said that everything is made from the mind alone.
If people would like to know
All Buddhas of the three periods of time,
They should contemplate the nature of the Dharma Realm:
Everything is made from the mind alone.
If you want to know about the Buddhas of the past, present, and future, you should look into the causes and conditions of the Ten Dharma Realms: Everything is made from the mind alone. It all comes from your own mind. That is why I like to explain the Chinese character for the word “mind”:
The three dots are like a cluster of stars.
The hook is like a crescent moon.
Furred creatures come from this.
Buddhas come from this, too.
It is because of the mind that we end up in the animal realm; but if you decide to cultivate and become a Buddha, it is also because of this mind. Therefore, the Ten Dharma Realms are not apart from the single thought now a present in your mind and mine. If your mind ponders the Buddhalands, in the future you will go to the Buddhalands. If your mind is fixed on the hells, in the future you will end up in the hells. Everything is made from the mind alone. There is not the least bit of room for mistake.
“…as characterized by actuality, as not upside down, as not moving, as not retreating, as not turning, as being like empty space, as without a nature, as having the path of language cut off, as not coming into being, as not coming forth, as not arising, as without a name, as without an appearance, as in reality non-existent, as measureless, as boundless, as unimpeded, and as unobstructed.”
L2. Specific explanation
Bodhisattvas contemplate all dharmas as being characterized by actuality. Being characterized by actuality is the basis of all characteristics. The basis of all characteristics is no characteristics. If you try to find the basis of all characteristics within characteristics, you would not be able to find it. You must search for that basis of characteristics within what has no characteristics. Bodhisattvas contemplate all dharmas as being empty. They contemplate how all dharmas of the Ten Dharma Realms are empty—how those states are empty, and how they are characterized by actuality. Even though they are empty, within that emptiness there is existence. Within true emptiness, wonderful existence comes forth.
True emptiness is not empty, because it can bring forth wonderful existence. Wonderful existence is non-existent, because it itself is true emptiness, which is another name for being characterized by actuality. When you are characterized by actuality, then outwardly you will not be greedy, and inwardly you will not seek. You will do no seeking either inside or outside. Inside and outside will be empty. Inwardly you empty the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind, and outwardly you empty sights, sounds, scents, flavors, objects of touch, and dharmas that are objects of the mind. In between, you empty the eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness, body consciousness, and mind consciousness. You empty the six sense organs, the six sense objects, and the six consciousnesses, so that the six consciousnesses, the twelve locations and the eighteen realms will be empty.
Bodhisattvas contemplate all dharmas as characterized by emptiness. They are all empty, but does that mean they do not exist? No. They are characterized by actuality. They are like actuality, and what is subtle, wonderful, and inconceivable is right here. What is sitting in meditation every day? It is being characterized by actuality. When one practices sitting in dhyana meditation every day, what is one doing? One is being characterized by actuality and according with reality. Since you find it hard to understand what being characterized by actuality means, I am telling you that it means sitting in meditation every day. As soon as you investigate dhyana, inwardly the six sense organs become empty, outwardly the six sense objects become empty, and in between the six sense consciousnesses become empty. When the eighteen realms become empty, you reach the Station of Nothing Whatsoever, and the Heaven of the Station of Neither Thought Nor Non-Thought. That is not to say one's soul goes out and ascends to that heaven. If right here, there is nothing whatsoever, that is the Heaven of Neither Thought Nor Non-Thought. You do not have to go up somewhere to that Heaven. It is right here. If you can be characterized by actuality, your state is that of the Heaven of Neither Thought Nor Non-Thought.
When you cultivate the Way, you must have a persevering mind, a sincere mind, and a firm mind. A firm mind is one as strong as vajra, or a diamond, which cannot be broken, but which can cut through all things. Your resolve should be as solid as vajra. You should think, “I am going to study the Buddhadharma, no matter what kind of state comes along. I am not going to change my mind. I am absolutely going to be firm and have solid determination. Whatever the circumstances and whatever the demonic obstacles, I am determined to have that kind of solid resolve, and study the Buddhadharma with a true mind.” That is because for life after life, if we have not been horses, we have been cows; if we have not been pigs, we have been dogs. We have even been mice, and even filthier, dung beetles in latrines.
You do not have to talk about bugs in toilets. Take a look inside yourself at how, within your belly, along with the excrement, there are one-does-not-know-how-many bugs. Pigeons, for example, look like pigeons, but there are numerous bugs on their bodies biting them. Sometimes the pigeons are aware of them, and sometimes they are not. We people are the same. In our bodies we have one-does-not-know-how many bacteria—bugs, which is just to say one-does-not-know-how-many living beings. We say, “Living beings are boundless, I vow to save them all.” Not to speak of there being boundlessly many living beings outside, right within our own bodies, how many living beings would you say there are? Can you count them? If you do not save those living beings, they will convert you. How will they do that? You will go along with them and, from being a big bug, you will become a small bug. The efficacious nature of tiny bugs is tiny, and so they are very stupid. They only know how to be parasites. They only know how to beg, and do not know how to give. You will be like them: eating people's flesh and drinking their blood—living in people's stomachs and stealing the food that people ingest. Such bugs feel they are getting a bargain, but actually it is brought about by their own stinginess. If you want to save them, you should increase the yang light of your own nature day by day until yang energy prevails. Yang light can be compared to sunlight, which can kill germs. Doctors now use ultraviolet rays to kill germs, and if you can use the yang light of your own nature, you can kill the germs on your own body.
“But isn't that breaking the precepts?” you may ask.
Such a question is just letting your intelligence run away with you. It is like one of my disciples who was planning to take the Bodhisattva precepts, but then asked me, “If I take the Bodhisattva precepts, won't I be breaking them when I drive my car and I squash lots of bugs.?”
He didnot think of how his losing his temper is a lot more violent than killing those living creatures. He forgot all about that and thought about the other instead. I said to him, “That is an inadvertent error on your part. You have not set out to kill them. Their death is due to the environment and the circumstances, and you have not intended to kill them. You can recite the Buddha's name as you drive your car and transfer merit to the beings you kill. That is because you do not want to kill them. If you clearly knew it was wrong and yet deliberately did it anyway, and you took delight in killing them, then that would be an offense.”
It is like the case of someone I once knew who had been a military man but who later studied Buddhism, took refuge with the Triple Jewel, and then left the home life. He saw others leaving home and doing well, and so he left home, too. Before and after leaving the home life, he recited the Buddha's name. Also, he had been a vegetarian while he was still a lay person. He did not take the life of living creatures. After he left home, he was a grand-disciple of Venerable Master Hsu Yun, and his name was Hung Hui. He took the precepts at Nan Hua Monastery. He could speak very well. Later, when the Communists took over, he could no longer stay in Jiangxi Province, and so he went to Hong Kong.
At that time, the situation in Hong Kong was very complicated. There was no place for Buddhist monks to stay. It was not like right now when every monk has his own high-rise. Not to speak of a high-rise, they did not even have small huts to live in. Hung Hui lived in a one-story wooden shack on East Putou, and he had no money. Probably he had used a lot of money for a long time, and so he felt it was very difficult to be without it. In Hong Kong there was a place called Daofeng Mountain. It specialized in helping Buddhist monks and nuns return to lay-life. If they did not want to remain in Buddhism, they could go there, and would be given a monthly allowance of perhaps thirty, fifty, or two hundred dollars. You could stay there and be a monk if you wanted, or not be a monk if that was what you preferred. You could be a vegetarian if you wanted to, but if you did not want to be one, they provided you with meat to eat. It was fine to remain a monk, but if you wanted to go back to lay-life, they would find you a wife. It was the same for Bhikshunis. If you wanted to remain a nun, you could. If you wanted to be a lay person, you could. If you wanted to get married, they would find you a husband—perhaps one of the monks.
Things were extremely expedient there. They claimed that what they were doing was suited to the times. They taught people to believe in Lord God and not to believe in monks or the Buddha. Yet they advertised themselves as a place that recited Buddhist Sutras and did morning and evening recitation. Actually, it was a case of “hanging out a sheep's head but selling dog meat.” They were trying to destroy Buddhism.
Hung Hui had no money, and so he went to work as a cook at Daofeng Mountain, and earned three hundred dollars a month. But the food was not vegetarian, and every day he had to kill chickens, ducks, and fish. “It does not matter,” he would rationalize. As he wielded his knife and cut off the chicken's head, he recited, “Namo Amitabha Buddha. Be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Namo Amitabha Buddha. Be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.” He killed many chickens in that way every day. He just closed his eyes and said that by reciting the Buddha’s name for the chickens, he could help them to be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss He would recite the Buddha’s name once and then kill a chicken. This continued until he had killed about three hundred and sixty chickens. Then what do you suppose happened? His retribution came. He went insane and could not stay at Daofeng Mountain anymore. He went back to where he had lived without money on East Putou, and carried on crazily all day long. “Have you seen those chickens I killed? Did they reach the Land of Ultimate Bliss?” he would ask people. “Are those ducks in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, or are they ducks again? Are they going to come and kill me?” He talked crazy talk like that from morning to night.
He wanted to see me, because he knew that if he could see me, his sickness would be cured. But he never could get to see me, no matter how he tried. He thought that it would help to see me because he had seen many other people who had sicknesses similar to his get well after they saw me. He had brought many such people to see me, and they had all recovered. Now it was his turn. In his more lucid moments he wouldsay, “I want to go visit Dharma Master An Tse. Who will help me?” But just as soon as he was ready to start out to see me, he would go insane again and scream, “No! You cannot do that! If you go to see him, what are we going to do? You have taken so many lives and, even though you knew better, you deliberately created those offenses. You are a monk, and yet you have killed so many ducks and chickens! How can you face him?” After about six months, he stabbed himself to death. And he was a monk. You see, cultivation is not easy.
Why did he receive such a severe retribution? First of all, I will tell you, he was a great Bodhisattva who appeared here to show living beings what can happen. “See? If you have left the home-life, you cannot kill or you will undergo this kind of retribution.” He was not afraid of looking bad, or embarrassed to appear in such a way. He was like Devadatta. He let all the other monks know that left-home people cannot take life. That is the first interpretation—a positive one. The second interpretation is that he did not have a firm mind. After he left the home-life, he changed and did not cultivate. First of all you must have a firm mind.
Second of all you must have a persevering mind. You cannot approach the study of the Buddhadharma as if you were addicted to opium, so that if you do not have some of it you go into withdrawal, but if you do get some of it you become invigorated. The study of the Buddhadharma should not be up and down like that. You must steadily persevere. Study the Buddhadharma today, study tomorrow, study the next day, study day after day. Study the Buddhadharma this month, study next month, study month after month. Study the Buddhadharma this year, study next year, study year after year.
“Shouldn't I ever do anything else?” you ask. When it comes time to die, are you going to be able to do something else? Are you aware of the fact that in the future you will definitely die? If you do not study the Buddhadharma, you will have absolutely no control when you die. If you study the Buddhadharma at ordinary times, then when you die, you will have no calamities, no sickness, and no pain.
Take for instance a certain person who took refuge with me. Why did he take refuge? He thought that after he did, he could get rich. After he became a disciple, he vowed that he would get rich and once he was rich that he would build a Buddhist hospital. He also asked me to interpret his physiognomy and read his fortune. I answered him like this: “If your physiognomy indicates that you should be wealthy, but your mind is not good, then you still will not get rich. If your physiognomy indicates that you will not be a wealthy man, but your mind is good, then you still can get rich. Therefore, physiognomy is false; do not believe in it.”
He still wanted me to tell his fortune. He had read in my biography that I understood all the different methods of telling people's fortunes and so he asked me over and over. “Teacher, did you read my fortune yet?”
I replied, “Oh, I lost that piece of paper you gave me.”
“It does not matter,” he said, “I will write it for you again.”
He rewrote it and I said, “I do not have time right now. I am too busy.”
“Never mind,” he said, “Wait until later.” Another month passed, and he asked, “Teacher, did you read my fortune yet?”
I replied, “What? Read what?”
“You know,” he said, “that information I gave you to read my fortune with.”
“Oh, that,” I said, “they must have burned that paper when they cleaned my room.” He still did not get the point and rewrote the information for me. He must have rewritten that information five or six times. I never read his fortune for him, because people who have left the home-life cannot do that kind of thing. They cannot read people's physiognomy, they cannot tell people's fortunes. To do such things is to “advertise your medicines” like snake-oil salesmen. People who genuinely cultivate the Way do not get involved in that kind of thing.
Eventually that disciple said he was going to New York. He probably was about to ask me to read his fortune again, but that time I was no longer polite. I said, “You have taken refuge with me, and now I am going to instruct you. When you get to New York, there will be many left-home people there. No matter what left-home people you meet, I forbid you to ask them to read your physiognomy or tell your fortune. If you have the physiognomy of a dog, then no matter what you do you would not be able to change it into the physiognomy of a tiger. If you have the physiognomy of a tiger, you would not be able to change it into the physiognomy of a dog. What do you keep thinking about that for? Why do you want your fortune read? If you are to be poor and I tell you your fortune is that you can get rich, you still would not get rich. If you are supposed to get rich, then even if I do not tell your fortune, you will still get rich. If you treat left-home people like that, asking them to read your fortune, it is just the same as insulting them. It is not polite to ask a left-home person such a thing. You really do not have any manners.”
He protested, “But there are left-home people who read other people's fortunes and tell their physiognomy.”
I said, “They are just snake-oil salesmen. Anyone who is a genuine cultivator does not do such things.”
After that, he did not dare ask me to tell his fortune again. He said, “I made a vow to build a Buddhist hospital. It has been several years now and I still have not made much money. I will never fulfill my vow at this rate.”
I said, “If your vow could be fulfilled just by making it, then anyone's vow could be fulfilled just because he made it, and the Buddhas would be incredibly busy. They do not have time to get involved in so many matters that do not concern them. Just take going to school as an example. From elementary school you go on to high school, and then to college before you can obtain a Ph.D. How many years does it take? You want to get rich and figure that you can make a vow and in two and a half days it will be fulfilled. If things could happen as easily as that in this world, then everyone would have made such vows long ago, and your turn would never come.”
He stammered, “Oh! Oh! Today I truly understand a little! Vows must be long-term and must be maintained for a long time. You cannot just make a vow today and fulfill it tomorrow.”
I said, “You should make your vow like this: ‘I want to build a Buddhist hospital this life, but I do not have the money to do it, so I will do it next life. If next life I do not have the money to do it, then I will wait for the life after that. No matter what, I shall cultivate blessings and cultivate wisdom and when I have enough money, I will build a Buddhist hospital. I will make this vow life after life.’ That is how to do it.”
He said, “All right, I will do it like that.” He really did come to understand a little. You must have perseverance. You cannot study the Buddhadharma for a little while and then stop studying it and go back to doing whatever you please. You must be persevere.
Third, you must have a sincere mind. No matter what kind of difficulty you meet with, you must remain sincere. For example, a friend may try to destroy your faith by saying, “What are you doing studying the Buddhadharma? Those people who study Buddhism are really dumb. They are way behind the times and superstitious as well. You are an intelligent person; you should not be studying that!” He uses all kinds of methods to undermine you, but you are not moved by him.
He said, “That Dharma Master with whom you are studying Buddhism with does not really understand Buddhism. Do not study with him!” He may employ various methods to try to turn you against what you are doing and discourage you. If you remained unmoved by him, then you have a sincere mind.
You think, “I have my own eyes and I recognize the Buddhadharma. I am seeking the genuine Dharma. I will not be discouraged by others.” You must have utmost sincerity. “Even if people wanted to kill me for it, I still would study the Buddhadharma.” Even if you have to lose your life in the process, you are still going to study the Buddhadharma. That is true sincerity.
Shakyamuni Buddha in the past lives offered his body and life a thousand times. When he gave up his body and life those times, it is not for sure he wanted to. Because of the circumstances, he was unable to do otherwise. Perhaps it was because he felt pity for living beings and thought, “Ah, that living being does not have anything to eat. I will give him my body to eat so that he can sustain his life.” That was the reason he gave up his life to feed a tiger and cut off his flesh to feed an eagle. The eagle was so hungry it could not even fly. It wanted to eat a pigeon, but the pigeon flew to the Buddha for protection. The eagle said, “Sure, you can save the pigeon, but he lives and I die. What about that?”
On the cause-ground, Shakyamuni Buddha thought, “That is right. If I save the pigeon, the eagle will starve to death” and so he said to the eagle, “You wanted to the pigeon? Well, I will give you a piece of my flesh to eat instead.” He cut off a piece, but the eagle said he still was not full. The Buddha cut off another piece of flesh, but the eagle still was not full. Eventually he cut all the flesh off his body, but the eagle still was not full. So the Buddha said, “Fine, you take a look and wherever you see any flesh left on my body, you can pick it off and eat it.”
Then the eagle flew up into the air and so did the pigeon. They were gods who had come to test him. They were not really a pigeon and an eagle. At that point, the flesh he had cut off returned to his body. You say, “According to scientific investigation, that is an impossibility.”
I also say it is an impossibility, and I do not know for why it was possible. If you have sincerity, you will have a response. Those responses came as a result of the Buddha's sincerity in giving up his life to feed the tiger and cutting off his flesh to feed the eagle. We, too, should practice giving of that sort. It should not be that if you give away two-and-a-half cents it pains your heart! That is really not having any backbone at all. What kind of Buddhadharma are you studying, anyway? Those who study the Buddhadharma are willing to give up their lives—heads, eyes, brains, and marrow. Then it is real!
You say, “I am starting to regret that I decided to follow this Dharma Master to study the Buddhadharma.”
It is too late for regrets! Now that you have met this Dharma Master, you have no way to run away from him. Doesn’t that worry you?”
“As characterized by actuality” (ru shi xiang) refers to the state of the Contemplation of the Ten Dharma Realms. What follows, “as not upside down,” refers to the Wisdom of the Contemplation of the Middle Way.
“Actuality” means not falling into emptiness and not falling into existence. The Three Truths of Emptiness, Falseness, and the Middle are not different from each other—they are the same.
Emptiness is falseness; falseness is the Middle. When one is empty, all are empty. When one is false, all are false. When one is the Middle, all are the Middle. The Three Truths are not differentiated, and that non-differentiation is “actuality.”
“Actuality” also means not being the same as the Seven Expedients.
The Seven Expedients
1. The Five Stoppings of the Mind;
2. dwelling in particular characteristics;
3. dwelling in general characteristics;
7. foremost in the World.
This transcends the Seven Expedients, and so is called “actuality.” They are characterized by actuality—they have actuality as their basic substance.
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