THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
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The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra

Chapter 25: The Universal Door of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva
(The Bodhisattva Who Contemplates the Sounds of the World)

Sutra:

The various evil destinies,
Those of the hells, ghosts, and animals,
And the pain of birth, old age, sickness, and death
Are all gradually wiped away.

Outline:

K1. Universal response with body karma (continued).

Commentary:

The various evil destinies. "Various" means that there are a lot of them, not just one. In general, there are Four Evil Destinies. What are they? They are the asuras, the hell-beings, the ghosts, and the animals.

Asuras have been explained previously. They like to fight.

What are hell-beings? How are the hells created? The hells are a creation of people's karmic obstacles. According to the type of evil karma one creates, one will fall into the corresponding type of hell. There are many types of hells. They are explained in detail in the Earth Store Sutra, which says there are eighteen major hells and five hundred lesser ones. There are many hells.

Now, are the hells made in advance like the prisons in this world? No. The hells manifest through the evil karma of each person. If you create evil karma by killing people, you will fall into the "hell for killers." The same applies to other evil acts, such as setting fires. The type of hell depends on the type of karma. It is not fixed. When the karma is exhausted, the hell is then empty. Before it is ended, the hell is still there.

In Manchuria there was a man named Mr. Pig Foot Liu. His family name was Liu and he had a hoof instead of a foot. He was able to remember the events of his past three lives.

In one life he was born into a very wealthy family. When he was born, his father was in his forties. When the child Pig Foot Liu was thirteen, he was married to a wife who was two years his senior. Although the father was then in his fifties, his lust was still going strong, so he took a young wife who was about the same age as the son's wife. A couple years later, Pig Foot Liu had a son. The son was married when he was about thirteen, and the wife was also a couple years older than her husband.

At that time, Pig Foot Liu did not believe in Buddhism. His parents had both died, and only his father's young wife was left. Pig Foot Liu thought she was very beautiful, and he appropriated her for himself. Then Pig Foot Liu's son died, and attracted to his son's wife, he took her, too. So he was carrying on an affair with his stepmother and his daughter-in-law! He was in his mid-twenties at that time.

When Pig Foot Liu was in his forties, he woke up. "I have certainly amassed some terrible karma in this life!" he thought. "I took my stepmother and my daughter-in-law as wives." He started believing in Buddhism and took up recitation of the Vajra (Diamond) Sutra.

In his late forties, after reciting the Sutra for ten years, he died and went to meet King Yama, the cruel, black-faced Lord of the Dead.

"Since you created so much evil karma," King Yama said, "I am going to put you in the Hell of Boiling Oil where you will be fried." He charged two ghosts with the task of taking him off to the oil pot, but there was someone standing by who said, "You cannot do that."

"Why not?" asked King Yama.

"Because he has recited the Vajra Sutra, and he has still got it in his belly. He should first be reborn until he uses up all the Vajra Sutra, and then you can french fry him."

So he went to be reborn as a person, this time in a very poor household. His mother and father sold snacks for a living, and from a very early age he was fond of eating. He ate so much that soon he had a very big belly. When he was five years old, he died from a bloated stomach. After he died, his parents were curious to see what was in his big belly, so they cut him open. There they found a substance as solid as diamond. At that point, the ghosts standing by said, "Oh, it is time now. We can take him to the oil pot and fry him."

The ghosts then took him to King Yama who pronounced that he could be reborn as a pig. As a pig, he was fed until he was plump, and then slaughtered and eaten.

When he got back to King Yama again, King Yama was ready to send him through the frying punishment, but the offender spoke up and said, "You do not have to fry me. Let me go back as a person but give me one pig hoof as proof. I will urge people in the world not to commit offenses."

King Yama thought that was a good idea, and so that was what happened. His surname was Liu, and because of his hoof, most people called him Mr. Pig Foot Liu. I met the man personally and talked to him for a long time, so I am very clear about his circumstances. This is how the evil destinies get created. People create their own hells. Hells are very dangerous.

In Harbin, where I am from, there was a Dharma Master named Chengyi who was once so sick that he thought he had died. After he died, he went down a road to a place not too far away from his temple and was reborn there. What was he reborn as? As a pig! When he saw that he himself was a pig, he refused to suckle, and then he died of starvation. At that point, his spirit reentered the body of Dharma Master Chengyi.

He then woke up and told people around him about what he had just experienced. "I have recovered from my illness. I was just reborn as a pig. Let me take you to the spot, and we will have a look. There are seven piglets in the litter. I was reborn as one of them. I was the one who refused to take milk and starved."

Several Dharma Masters accompanied him to the spot, and sure enough, they found a litter of seven piglets, and one was dead. I also met that Dharma Master.

It is not at all easy to be reborn as a person. A human body is very difficult to obtain.

The Buddhadharma is not easy to get to hear. You figure it out. Of all the millions of people in America, how many come on any given night to listen to the Sutra lectures? Very, very few. It is difficult to meet a Good and Wise Advisor who really understands the Buddhadharma. Some who claim to be teachers are not clear about principles, so they say things to you that are unclear.

Those of the hells, ghosts, and animals. The destiny of hungry ghosts is also a result of karmic power. Hungry ghosts have bellies as big as drums and throats as thin as needles. The things we eat turn into fire when they enter the mouths of hungry ghosts. This happens because their karmic obstacles are so heavy. For instance, the gods see water as crystal. People see it as water, fish see it as their abode, and ghosts see it as fire. This shows the power of karma. It influences what one experiences. Beings see the same thing in different ways.

It is also very easy to get reborn as an animal, such as a pig, a chicken, or a horse. These kinds of animals were formerly people. What kind of people? People who were not filial to their parents and who did not respect their teachers and elders. People like that get caught up in the animal kingdom.

People who are fond of eating meat also create ties with the creatures whose flesh they consume. By eating a certain kind of flesh, they establish a close connection with that animal, and the future is then very dangerous for them.

"The various evil destinies" then, include the Four Evil Destinies of hells, hungry ghosts, animals, and asuras.

And the pain of birth, old age, sickness, and death. In human life, there are Three Sufferings:

1. The Suffering within Suffering
2. The Suffering of Decay
3. The Suffering of Process

An example of Suffering within Suffering is to be penniless and also without any food to eat or any place to live. This suffering is experienced by poor people. Lacking the very necessities of life, they cannot even find work. This kind of suffering is not easy to bear.

But wealthy people suffer even more. They experience the Suffering of Decay. Having money, they have to continuously calculate about it. "I will put this much in the bank. I will take this much out and put it into a business venture. I will take that much…" and on it goes like that all day long. They keep on counting their money until their hair turns white, their teeth fall out, their eyes stop working, and their ears go deaf. But then trouble comes. The robbers get their number. They break in at night and pick the safe clean.

People in poverty get accustomed to their suffering, but when the Suffering of Decay hits wealthy people, they cannot take it. It is very bitter.

Well, then, if you are neither rich nor poor, there is no suffering, right? There is still suffering; the Suffering of Process. Everyone goes through the process of aging. From youth, people pass into middle age, and then become old. Once they are old, they die. This process never stops. It continues with every passing thought. This is the Suffering of Process.

Then there are the Eight Sufferings; and even Eight Sufferings are not very many, because suffering does not stop with eight kinds. There are thousands upon millions of kinds of sufferings. You could never count how many sufferings there are.

Well, what is the greatest suffering? Being a person. It is much more pleasant to be an animal than to be a person. So what can you be that is not suffering? Well, being a Buddha is not suffering. Why do I say that it is more pleasant to be an animal than to be a person? Because, animals do not have to worry about clothes to wear, food to eat, or a place to live. Their lives happen very naturally, so they never worry about anything. But, when one is a person, there are just too much suffering.

Now, we are going to talk about the Eight Sufferings. They are:

1. The suffering of birth
2. The suffering of old age
3. The suffering of sickness
4. The suffering of death
5. The suffering of being apart from those you love
6. The suffering of being together with those you hate
7. The suffering of not getting what you seek
8. The suffering of the raging blaze of the Five Skandhas

And among these eight, which one is the worst? I believe the worst is the suffering of birth; because if you were not born, then the others would not happen. And you say, "Well, what's so much suffering about being born, anyway?" I know you have forgotten, so I am going to remind you.

How is it that you got born? Birth comes from the union of the father's essence and the mother's blood; and there also has to be what is called the "intermediate skandha body," which enters the womb.

Once you are in the womb, the first few weeks are simply the development of a jelly-like substance; but after the seventh week, feeling arises. And once the fetus develops a sense of feeling, then if the mother drinks something cold, it feels like it is standing on a mountain of ice—extremely uncomfortable. If the mother drinks something hot, then it is just as if the fetus is plunged into hot water and scalded. So even in the womb one experiences the two unpleasant sensations of cold and heat. If the mother stoops over, then the embryo feels as though it is being crushed by Mount Tai.

But the birth is the worst experience; it is like two mountains crashing together—like the Hell of Crashing Mountains. And so, of course, the first thing a child does after being born is scream, "Ku a, ku a!" [The Chinese character ku means “suffering,” and it sounds the same as another word ku that means “to cry”.]

And so it is said that human birth feels the same as when a live tortoise has its shell ripped off—it is that painful. But as you grow up, you forget the suffering of birth. You pass through your prime and get old without even realizing it. There is also tremendous suffering connected with old age. For instance, your hearing goes bad; you don't even know if people are scolding you. And your eyesight goes dim, so you cannot see things clearly anymore. The teeth fall out; the tongue does not, but the teeth do. You never heard of anyone losing his tongue, and the reason for that is that the tongue is yielding and supple.

One time I asked an old fellow about this, I said, "Teeth fall out when you get old, but have you ever met anyone who lost his tongue?"

He said, "Never. Have you?"

And I said, "Look, I am a lot younger than you—you are almost ninety—and since you have not ever seen it, how would you expect me to have ever seen it?"

Then I asked him, "Do you know why your tongue does not fall out, but your teeth do? It is because the teeth are too rigid, so they fall out. But the tongue is supple and yielding, so it does not fall out."

And he said, "Oh!"

And I said, "You are awfully old now, you had better be careful not to be too rigid. Take this lesson from your teeth."

Then you say, "What is so bad about having the teeth fall out?"

Well, you lose your appetite—nothing tastes good anymore. Something may look and smell good, but when you put it in your mouth and gum it around, you cannot even chew it up. You end up swallowing it whole, which makes it very hard to digest. So, do you think that is suffering, or not? And also your face gets all wrinkled. It is said that people come to have "skin like a chicken and hair like a crane." If you have ever seen a plucked chicken, you can see that its skin is all bumpy and wrinkled. And "hair like a crane" means that your hair turns totally white. But, of course, that does not apply to Westerners, because when infants are first born in the West, they are towheaded—they have flaxen hair at birth; they do not even wait until they get old to have white hair.

Another point of interest is that although Westerners may be born with flaxen hair, their hair does not turn black, and yet black hair can turn white. But then again, sometimes it does happen. For instance, when I was in Hong Kong, my hair turned totally white. Why? Because I was overseeing the construction of a temple. I erected three temples in Hong Kong, and it was such a strain on my body and mind that my hair turned totally white. Then I took a look and thought, "Oh, this is really something. I had better not tax my mind so much!" Then I just put everything down, and my hair turned black again. From this, you can see that nothing is fixed.

If do not believe that old age entails suffering, wait till you are eighty or ninety and nothing you eat tastes good anymore. Then you will remember, "When I was younger, I did not believe that Dharma Master when he talked about the suffering of old age. Now I know that it is really true." But by then, it will be too late to start cultivating the Way.

There are many kinds of sicknesses. You might get a headache, or your feet hurt, or sometimes your whole body aches. In general, if your heart, liver, kidneys, spleen, or lungs are ailing, it is a lot of suffering.

Another truly terrible suffering is death; in fact, it is the worst. It is easy to die, but once you are dead, the important question is where you will go. After you die, will you go to the hells? Will you become an animal? Will you be reborn as a person? No one can give you any insurance.

And so, that is birth, old age, sickness, and death—they are all suffering.

Why was it that Shakyamuni Buddha left home? It was because he came to realize that birth, old age, sickness, and death are not easy to endure.

When Prince Siddhartha was nineteen years old, he wanted to see the sights outside the palace. So one day he went to the city's east gate. There he saw a woman in the process of delivering a baby. The Prince asked his attendant, "What is happening?" He replied, "She is giving birth to a child." Looking at the woman who seemed to be enduring an extremely painful event and the newborn child crying loudly, the Prince returned home unhappily.

The next day, the Prince went to the city's southern gate. There he saw a very old man. His hair was totally white and his eyes were dim. His back was hunched and his legs were too weak to walk. The Prince asked in surprise, "What is wrong with that man? Why has he become that way?" His attendant answered, "This man is already old. He has too many years. That is why he is that way." Upon hearing this, the Prince became upset and quickly returned to his palace.

On the third day, the Prince went to the city's west gate. There he saw a sick person. Saddened, the Prince returned to the palace.

On the fourth day, the Prince went to the city's north gate. There lay a dead person. "What is the matter with that person?" asked the Prince. The attendant said, "This man already died." The Prince again felt extremely depressed.

The Prince had witnessed the suffering of birth, old age, sickness, and death for himself, and he realized this was the process that human beings have to pass through. He felt very sad and wanted to go back to the palace. Right at that moment, a left-home person appeared. The Prince asked his attendant, "Who is this person? What is he doing?" His attendant then went to talk to that cultivator. The cultivator said, "I am a left-home person. I investigate and study the Buddha Way in order to be liberated from the suffering of birth, old age, sickness, and death."

At that time the Prince had not yet become a Buddha. But when he heard that by cultivating the Way he could avoid birth, old age, sickness, and death, he said, "Can I cultivate in the same way you do?"

The monk replied, "Anybody can."

Then the Prince returned to the palace, and accompanied by one who was later known as Venerable Upali, he ran away.

Shakyamuni Buddha was totally disillusioned by birth, old age, sickness, and death. He did not know where he had come from at birth or where he would go when he died. And so he left the home-life and practiced the Way with the intent to end birth and death. He went into the mountains and cultivated for six years trying to avoid birth, old age, sickness, and death.

Nobody who gets born can avoid dying. Some deaths are good and some are terrible. Some people die from sickness; some people starve to death; some people die from the fatigue of toil; some people die from quarreling—they have a fight and kill each other; then there is war, and people die on the battlefield; others die in automobile accidents or get crushed in an avalanche.

There are many different kinds of deaths. Some people die from accidental poisoning; some people commit suicide by taking poison, or in other ways. Some people have no wish to die, but they die; some wish to die, but they cannot. Just death alone contains myriad distinctions.

As there are different kinds of death, so are there different retributions or rewards that follow death. How do they differ? For instance, if someone dies by accident—as in an automobile accident, or by drowning, or by being burned in a fire—he then turns into a ghost or a spirit, but he does not go before King Yama, because King Yama pays no attention to him. The other ghosts do not pay any attention to this kind of spirit, either.

You say, "In that case, they are really free!" But, they are just free ghosts, not free people. Of course, if people are free, often they just take advantage of situations and do not follow the rules. The same thing happens with a ghost who is free—he tends not to follow the rules. People who die in this way may try to catch some other persons to turn into ghosts to take their place. That is why oftentimes when there is an accident in a certain place, within three years after it, there will be another one. The reason is that the ghost that died by accident is just waiting for the opportunity to catch someone else to replace him, because he would not get a chance at rebirth until he can get someone to take his place. If he does not get another ghost to represent him, then he just remains there forever, ignored. That is another kind of death.

If you kill yourself, say for instance from taking poison, you go to the hells. And the punishments are terrible. If, for example, you took poison to die, then you will go to the hell where you have to drink molten iron. You burn up all your insides—your stomach, your intestines—and then you die. But then a "clever" wind blows and revives you and brings you back to life. Then you have to drink the molten iron again, and then you die again from the burns, and then the wind blows and you come back to life again. This process goes on unceasingly all day. It is unbearable. But, if you can recite the name of Guanyin Bodhisattva, the text says, the various kinds of sufferings are all gradually wiped away. Guanshiyin Bodhisattva can gradually eliminate and eradicate the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, and death.

We have already discussed four of the sufferings. Next we will talk about the suffering of being apart from those we love.

Everybody knows what love is. Some people love wealth; others love beautiful forms or fame. If people who love wealth are separated from it, that is known as the suffering of being apart from what one loves. How might this happen? Suppose someone is very wealthy—he has a flourishing business, but, suddenly, due to unforeseeable circumstances, he goes bankrupt. He loses everything. That is a case of being apart from what one loves. In his case, he loved money. He did not ever want to be separated from money, and then suddenly he is penniless.

Next, let's consider someone who loves beautiful forms. Men love the looks of women; women love the looks of men. Between them there is a mutual love. But if in their former lives the causes and effects were not planted correctly, then the love will not last. Something will happen, and they will have to part with each other. That is the kind of suffering that occurs between men and women when they must be apart from those they love.

Then there are those who love fame. Some people say that fame is one's second life. But sometimes your reputation gets ruined. You lose your fame. Basically, if you wanted to be well-known but then did something wrong and ruined your own reputation, that is a case of being apart from what you love—fame.

But then you say, "Well, there might be a couple who does not separate, and so they do not have to undergo the suffering of being apart from those they love."

But they might have a child who is both handsome and intelligent, and all of a sudden, unexpectedly, he dies. That is extremely hard to bear. Or suppose you are a person who is especially filial towards your parents, and then your parents die. That is another example of being apart from those you love. Or, maybe you have an excellent relationship with your spouse, and then suddenly he or she dies unexpectedly. That is also an example of being apart from those you love. The same thing applies to brothers, sisters, friends—in each case the suffering of being apart from those you love can arise.

Once you have experienced this kind of suffering, you should no longer be attached to love. You should not direct all your love towards one person. Instead, develop a kind regard for all living beings. Practice the Bodhisattva Path and save everybody. Don't only think of yourself. Think of all living beings, instead. Rescue and protect everybody. Then you will not experience the suffering of being apart from those you love.

Some people are masochists. They like to suffer. If there is no suffering, they look for it. For instance, a man gets married and then he starts worrying from morning to night that his wife will find a lover. Basically, there wasn't any suffering to begin with, but he created it. And if a woman marries a particularly handsome man, she may have the same concern, or create it. She never thinks about anything else but how her handsome husband is going to get a girlfriend. Wouldn't you say that is stupid?

Some people direct their love not at other people, but at their pets. In fact, there are people who love their cat or dog more than life itself. When the dog dies or the cat gets lost, they feel as if they had lost their very life. That is another example of being apart from those one loves.

The sixth kind of suffering is that of being together with those one hates. Of course, some people overreact and think, "Well, since love entails so much suffering, I am not going to love anybody—I will hate everybody!" So you detest everyone, and you don't love anything, including material objects. You feel that since loving is so much suffering, you do not want to love. But not loving also has its suffering. That is the suffering of being together with those you hate.

Maybe you find yourself in a circumstances in which you do not like where you are, or you do not like the people who are around you, and so you move. But then, who would have guessed that when you get to the new place, the people are all the same sort as in the place you just left, and things are just as despicable; in fact, it is even worse.

In general, the things that you most wish to avoid and the things that you detest the most are the very things that come around. It is strange how this happens. For instance, if you are afraid of cats, then from morning to night, there are cats hanging around. Suppose you hate dogs with a passion; then everywhere you go, you have dogs trailing you. Or, you hate women, but all day there are women wanting to see you. They chase after you, and you get totally fed up, so you move; but at your new place, there is another group of women just like them.

Well, how does this suffering arise? It comes from your own nature. Because your intrinsic nature does not have any samadhi, you find fault with whatever you see. Say you are in one place where you cannot get along with any of your neighbors, so you move to someplace else, and you still cannot get along with any of your new neighbors. Then that is not a question of the neighbors—it is probably a question of your lack of ability to get along. You just do not have any affinity with anyone, so nobody likes you.

You can see that the more you are attached to something, the more likely you will be separated from it. By the same token, the more you hate and wish to avoid something, the more you are going to get involved with it. These two—the suffering of love and the suffering of hate—come about because you do not truly understand the Middle Way. As soon as you go to an extreme, either of too much or of too little, you are going to suffer. If you could hold to the Middle Way, you would not suffer.

The seventh kind of suffering is that of not getting whatever one seeks. Some people work hard hoping to make a fortune, but they remain poor to the end of their lives. Some people spend their whole lives seeking for an official position, but in the end they never make it. Some people try to become famous, but they cannot make it either. Some people do not have any children, and no matter how much they try, they are never able to have a child. That is another example of not getting what one seeks.

In general, people spend their whole lives trying to get this or trying to get that, but in the end, they do not get what they want. Some people would like to get a Ph.D., but it is not their destiny to be students, because from of old they have not planted those kinds of causes. For example, there was Yao Lianghao, who became top scholar in China when he was eighty-two. But not long after he got the honor, he died. If you get something and then cannot enjoy it, that is just another version of the suffering connected with not getting what you seek.

Then there is the suffering of the raging blaze of the five skandhas: form, feeling, thought, formations, and consciousness. In the Heart Sutra, it is said,

Form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form.

The point is, if you can see things as empty, you would not have any suffering. But, if you cannot see things as empty, then you will be burned by the five skandhas. The five skandhas are a raging blaze, but although they are so much suffering, no one can bear to separate from them.

The first seven kinds of suffering are caused by external forms of defilement. This eighth suffering is innate; it is inherent in the five skandhas from birth. It never leaves you, and even if you want to part from it, you cannot get free. This has been a discussion on the eight kinds of sufferings.

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