THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
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The Wondrous Adornments of the Rulers of the Worlds

Chapter One, Part One
A Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua_

I. Description of Host, Time and Place

Sutra:

At one time, the Buddha was in the country of Magadha.

Commentary:

At one time means that there was such a time. This fulfills the requirement of time. What time does it refer to? It refers to the time when Ànanda heard the Dharma. What year, month, day, and hour was it? Since the calendar followed in India was different from the Chinese calendar, which in turn is not compatible with the Western calendar, the exact time and date are not given. If one were to pin the time down to a specific hour, day, month, or year in India, archaeologists in China would have to do a lot of research to calculate what that would correspond to on the Chinese calendar. It would take a lot of time to obtain such information, which would not in itself be all that useful. Therefore, instead of giving an exact time, the Sutras merely say that the Buddha spoke Dharma “at one time.” This fulfills the requirement of time, one of the Six Requirements.
 
The Buddha was in the country of Magadha. I’m sure there are others who can explain this sentence better than I, so now we will ask one of them to explain it.

Disciple: Fo is short for fo tuo ye, which is the Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit word Buddhaya. Buddha means “enlightened one,” literally, “one who’s woken up,” “one who is awake.” “Enlightened One” refers to the Buddha, the one who speaks the teaching, the Great Teacher, but it also refers to any  being who has managed to wake up, to achieve this state. The country of Magadha is in the eastern part of India, in about the center of the country, not too far from the Himalayas. This is the country where Sãkyamuni Buddha became enlightened—he woke up. This is where he found the Bodhi tree, which will be mentioned further on in the sutra. It’s also the country where the Buddha traveled and taught for most of his life.

Venerable Master: Do you think she lectured correctly or not? Everyone can bring up criticisms. If you know that what she said was right, you should say “right.” If you know it was wrong, you should say “wrong.” If you can talk but won’t, it’s to be feared you may become a mute in the future.

Another disciple: The word “Buddha” fulfills the requirement of a host. The words “country of Magadha” fulfill the requirement of a place. Everything in the world occurs in pairs, and among conditioned dharmas everything is dual. There is day and night, male and female, sun and moon, and so on. What is paired with beings? The Buddha. Since there are beings, there are Buddhas. If there were no beings, there’d be no Buddhas. The Buddhas are just enlightened beings. Beings are unenlightened Buddhas. Buddhas are created from beings.

There are Three Types of Enlightenment:


1. Inherent enlightenment. This is the unrealized enlightenment that all sentient beings have.
2. Initial enlightenment. This is the enlightenment of one who has entered the Way and understands the methods of cultivation but has not yet accomplished the work. This is the enlightenment of Arhats and Bodhisattvas.
3. Complete enlightenment. This is the enlightenment of Buddhas, and it includes the former two.

There is another list of Three kinds (Types) of Enlightenment:

1. Self-enlightenment. This is the enlightenment of Arhats and Pratyekabuddhas, who cultivate for themselves and enlighten themselves, but do not pass on their share or teach others to achieve the same enlightenment.
2. Enlightenment of others. This is the work of Bodhisattvas, who teach others and bring them along the Path.
3. Complete enlightenment. This is the enlightenment of the Buddhas and encompasses the previous two.

Venerable Master: What is “Magadha”?

Disciple: The sutra is full of Sanskrit words. Magadha is a country in the central-eastern part of India. It is where the Buddha obtained enlightenment and spoke Dharma to enlighten sentient beings.

Another disciple: One meaning of Magadha is “pervasive intelligence and wisdom” and “without poison or harm.”

Venerable Master: What does the word “Srãvasti” mean? It’s been explained before.

Another disciple: Sravasti was a city in northern India at the time. It was wealthy in the objects of the Five Desires, wealthy in learning, and wealthy in “liberation,” which has been explained as being politically liberal. Wealthy in the objects of the Five Desires means they were wealthy in the objects of form and flesh to which sentient beings are attached, things that American big cities would be famous for, like San Francisco which has a lot of a nice parks, a lot of nice restaurants, and so forth, making it a nice place to live.

Sravasti was also wealthy in learning, because people were well-educated. The populace was generally more enlightened and civilized than the people of the rest of India.

This liberation is not liberation in the sense of Buddhist liberation from the bonds of defilement, but concerns a slightly more mundane aspect of the word. It meant they had a more democratic outlook on life. The city was not under tyrannical rule. The position of king was an elected office. The ruling class was elected too, as in the Greek city-states. The people had a certain amount of say in what went on. The government was a lot looser, similar to enlightened despotism. The people had more rights, so theirs was a freer society than that of typical despots of the history books.
Venerable Master: Fo is an abbreviation for Fo tuo ye, which is a transliteration of the Sanskrit word Buddhaya. Buddha sounds like bu da in Chinese, which means “not big.” He is also not small, not tall, not short, not right, not wrong. In any case, if you remember, then you won’t forget; if you forget, then you won’t remember. If you remember, then when asked you can answer. If you forget, then when asked you break into a sweat.

Buddha has three meanings: self-enlightened one, one who enlightens others, and one of complete enlightenment.

Perfect in the threefold enlightenment,
Replete with ten thousand virtues,
He is thus called the Buddha.

Self-enlightened, one is different from ordinary people. Although ordinary people are said to possess inherent enlightenment, they are still as yet unenlightened. They are still confused to the point that they think right is wrong and wrong is right. They fritter their time away chasing fame and fortune. Thus, self-enlightenment sets one apart from ordinary people.

Enlightenment of others makes one different from those of the Two Vehicles. Those of the Two Vehicles can only enlighten themselves, but not others. Bodhisattvas, however, enlighten themselves as well as others. However, their enlightenment is not complete.

The Buddha alone is complete in enlightenment and practice. How did he become that way? He cultivated blessings and wisdom for three countless eons and planted the causes for his hallmarks during a hundred great eons.

You cultivate for two and a half years and ask, “Why haven’t I become a Buddha?” What makes you think you have the virtuous conduct necessary to become a Buddha? Such an attitude is shameless. If you don’t cultivate, how can you become a Buddha? If you could become a Buddha after two and a half years of cultivation, then you’d surpass the Buddha. The Buddha had to cultivate for three great countless eons and plant the causes for his hallmarks for a hundred eons. You cultivate for two and a half years and wonder, “Why haven’t I attained the Five Eyes and Six Spiritual Powers?”

Why don’t you think, “Why do I have so many false thoughts? Why do I have so much desire? Why are my impure thoughts so prolific?” With impure thoughts, how can you become a Buddha? The Buddha realized Buddhahood because he has perfected the Threefold Enlightenment and is fully endowed with the ten thousand virtues.

The name in the sutra text is Magadha. I just asked you about Sãrvasti in order to test you. Magadha has the meaning “without poison or harm.” No one there harms or tries to poison people, because they know it’s wrong. That’s where the Buddha achieved Buddhahood.

III. The Clarification of the Particular Time

Sutra:

[The Buddha was]...at the bodhi field of Áranya-dharma, upon initially realizing Proper Enlightenment.

Commentary:

[The Buddha was]...at the bodhi field of Áranya-dharma. An Áranya is a place where cultivators of dhuta [ascetic] practices live. Can someone explain the word “Áranya” and the Twelve Ascetic Practices?

Disciple: An Áranya is a quiet, secluded place away from other people and distractions, not in the city, a place that’s especially good for cultivating. Dwelling in an Áranya is considered to be an ascetic practice because it’s hard to do. It’s difficult to dwell unceasingly without some kind of distraction from other people, for example.

The Twelve Ascetic Practices are: collecting alms for your food, collecting alms in succession, eating once a day, eating a fixed amount, eating in one sitting, not drinking anything after noon except water, dwelling in a charnel field, dwelling beneath a tree, dwelling unsheltered, possessing only three robes, wearing rag robes, and sitting up at night. I think this one means you enter samadhi and don’t go to sleep. But you do the best you can.

Venerable Master: Is his explanation correct?

Another disciple: In Sanskrit, Áranya (where the first a is long)  is a word derived from the word aranya (where the first a is short) which means “forest,” so it means, “pertaining to the forest.” Aranya, the word “forest,” can be explained in various ways, not as just meaning “forest.” The initial “a” can be interpreted as “not” or “without,” and ranya can be interpreted in four different ways:

1. The first meaning is “strife,” so Áranya can mean a place without strife; I would assume that would mean there’s no opposition to what you’re trying to do; there aren’t obstacles to your cultivation.
2. The second interpretation is “fighting” or “quarrels,” so it would mean a place without fighting or discord.
3. The third meaning comes from another root, ram, which means to enjoy or take pleasure, so Áranya would mean a place lacking this kind of pleasure or enjoyment.
4. The fourth meaning rana can be equivalent to another Sanskrit word klesa, which means “defilements,” so this would refer to a state that was free of defilement.

The Buddhist dictionary gives four meanings in Chinese, which are roughly comparable to these four in Sanskrit. The first one is wu zheng sheng “there’s no sound of discord.” Then there’s ji jing, “still and quiet.” And the third is yuan li “removed,” in the sense of being removed from obstructions and generally being in an uninhabited place. The fourth is kong ji “empty and still.”

There are said to be three types of inhabitants (and again, this is from the Buddhist dictionary). These inhabitants are called Áranyaka. There are dharma-Áranyaka, who live in accord with the order of things. Then there are matanga-Áranyaka, who live in areas where there are dead people. And there are dandaka-Áranyaka, who live in places such as deserts.

Venerable Master: Does anyone know the meaning of shi lin [Skt. sitavana]? What’s the definition?
Disciple: A charnel field, or cemetery. In India, after people died, they didn’t bury them. They just let the bodies decay.

Venerable Master: An Áranya is a “still and quiet place,” a place without distracting noise. It is a pure and serene place for cultivation situated perhaps in the mountain forests. Here the text speaks of “Áranya-dharma,” where dharma refers to a method, a way of cultivating stillness. Although I said it could be situated in the mountains or forests, it is also in the heart of every cultivator. If your mind is not tranquil, then although it helps to live in a quiet place, you will still have many false thoughts. If you live in the noisy city but your mind is tranquil, then you have understood the method of cultivation and everywhere you go is an Áranya. There’s a verse that says,

If you are deep in the mountains
But your mind is on mundane affairs,
Then your efforts are in vain and
You have wasted your energy.

Your efforts come to nothing. You have wasted your time and energy.

If you are active in the world
But your mind has transcended the world,
Then you are like a flower plucked from a well,
Undefiled by the mud.

If you can remain in a mundane environment but keep your mind detached from mundane affairs, just that is an Áranya, a “still and quiet place.” If while in the city, you can calm your mind and not entertain false thoughts, just that is an Áranya. If you live in the mountains but indulge in false thoughts, that still isn’t an Áranya.

Cultivating the Áranya-dharma means being able to affect the situation instead of having the situation affect one.

“At the bodhi field.” Bodhi is a Sanskrit word translated as “enlightened Way.” The bodhi field is the bodhimanda of enlightenment. Who becomes enlightened? Sentient beings. When sentient beings become Buddhas, they do so in the bodhimanda of enlightenment.

When enlightened, one is a Buddha.
When confused, one is a sentient being.

Before the Buddha became a Buddha, he was just a sentient being. After he became a Buddha, he was a sentient being who had perfected great enlightenment.

The Buddha cultivated in the mountains for six years, eating a single sesame seed and a single grain of wheat each day. Then he walked to the Bodhi tree and made a vow that he would not rise from that place until he attained Buddhahood. Thereupon he sat beneath the Bodhi tree for forty-nine days. And then one night, upon seeing a bright star in the sky, he enlightened to the Way.

The Buddha sat for forty-nine days. After he became enlightened, the Buddha sighed and said, “Strange indeed!” three times. “All sentient beings are endowed with the characteristics of the Thus Come One’s wisdom and virtue. It is only because of their false thinking and attachments that they cannot realize them.”

Will someone explain the words “upon initially realizing Proper Enlightenment”? 
Disciple: This delineates the time further. Earlier the text said “at one time,” and this pinpoints the time further by saying it was the time when the Buddha initially realized enlightenment, initially woke up. It’s also the time when the Buddha appeared in the world. Before that he wasn’t a Buddha, but then when he realized enlightenment, this was the Great Teacher’s manifestation. The character zheng [“proper”] has two meanings in this case. One is “proper,” and the other is “foremost,” “chief,” or “principal”. One meaning is “correct enlightenment,” different from all deviant enlightenments of externalist paths. It’s also the foremost enlightenment, above and beyond all enlightenments of externalists.

This time of accomplishing the foremost enlightenment was the beginning or the basis of all later teachings. It contained all the vast store of teachings to come later. Since it contains all the later teachings, it’s the foremost teaching.

Another disciple: I think the Chinese characters zheng jiao (Proper Enlightenment) stand for a longer phrase, “Unsurpassed Proper and Equal Enlightenment,” corresponding to the Sanskrit anuttarasamYakshambodhi, which means that there’s nothing higher than this enlightenment. There are all kinds of enlightenment. When you understand a principle in the Buddhadharma that you didn’t before, you have had an enlightenment, so to speak. The enlightenment discussed here is an enlightenment that can’t be gone beyond. There’s no way that you would understand anything further because it’s all fully, completely understood.

Someone said “proper” would especially distinguish this kind of enlightenment from the enlightenment of externalist paths, which is not ultimate and which is based not on the nature but on cultivation of seeking outside. This would represent the supreme attainment.

Another disciple: The Buddha cultivated ascetic practices in the mountains for six years. But after six years, he still hadn’t become enlightened, so he went and sat beneath the Bodhi tree. He made a vow that he would not leave that place until he became enlightened. He sat there for forty-nine days and then attained Proper Enlightenment.

Another disciple: “Initially” means at the beginning, where there’s a change from the state of nonenlightenment to the state of enlightenment. To speak in terms of the Lesser Vehicle, “initially” means the time when the Buddha was sitting under the Bodhi tree, when he initially realized enlightenment and became a Buddha, and then he went to the Deer Park to speak the First Turning of the Four Truths. To speak in terms of the Great Vehicle, “initially” refers to the first two weeks after the Buddha had realized Buddhahood. During these first two weeks, the Buddha spoke at the first eight assemblies of the Flower Adornment Sutra. There are several ways to explain how this was done. Some say that during the first week, he considered what to do, and in the second week he spoke the Flower Adornment Sutra. That’s what Bodhiruci said, I believe. I’m not sure. There are others who say he spoke during the entire two weeks.

Another disciple: “Proper” means not heterodox. It means correct. Proper also refers to the stopping of all false thinking. A single thought not produced is called proper. Enlightenment is understanding. That is, when the Buddha first realized Buddhahood, he stopped all thought and thus became proper—correct—and understood—was enlightened. “Realized” may be explained in a number of ways. According to the Lesser Vehicle, the Buddha cultivated the Four Holy Truths. Proper Enlightenment refers to a Buddhahood that is defined by the Four Holy Truths and is pretty much synonymous with Arhatship. To speak in terms of the Great Vehicle, Proper Enlightenment is the perfection of the Dharma body, the perfection of all the fine hallmarks and characteristics of the Buddha, and the successful completion of innumerable practices. This is what is meant by “upon initially realizing Proper Enlightenment.”

Venerable Master: “Initially” refers to the very beginning, when the Buddha had just realized Buddhahood. Proper Enlightenment is simply another name for Buddhahood. Where did he realize Buddhahood? At the bodhi field, that is, beneath the Bodhi tree. “At one time” refers to when the sutra was spoken.

“Upon initially realizing Proper Enlightenment” refers to the time of the Buddha’s realization of Buddhahood. This Buddha is not the Buddha of the east, nor of the west, north, or south. He’s the Buddha of the Saha World, of the center. In the past, this Buddha cultivated blessings for three asamkhyeyas of eons, and planted the causes for fine hallmarks and characteristics for a hundred kalpas. Having perfected his causes and conditions, he became a Buddha. He cultivated the causes, likened to flowers, of the myriad practices, thereby realizing the virtues, likened to fruit, of Buddhahood. He is Sãkyamuni Buddha, the Teaching Host of the Saha World.

After becoming a Buddha, Sãkyamuni Buddha reflected how all Buddhas of the past first spoke the Flower Adornment Sutra upon their becoming Buddhas, all Buddhas of the present also speak this sutra first, and all Buddhas of the future will also do the same. The Flower Adornment Sutra must be spoken first, in order for the foundation for Great Dharma to be established. The Flower Adornment Sutra is the foundation of all Buddhadharmas.

And so, after his realization of Buddhahood, the Buddha spoke the Flower Adornment Sutra and completed it in twenty-one days. So, “at one time...upon initially realizing Proper Enlightenment” refers to the time of the speaking of this sutra. This fulfills the requirement of time. The word “Buddha” satisfies the requirement of a host. The phrase “in the country of Magadha, at the bodhi field of Áranya Dharma” fulfills the requirement of place.

IV. Specific Revelations of the Adornments of the Place

A. The Adornments of the Ground

Sutra:

The ground was adamantine, firm, and solid, adorned with sublimely wonderful precious wheels, multitudes of jeweled flowers, and immaculate mani gems.

Commentary:

The ground was adamantine, firm, and solid. When the Buddha realized Proper Enlightenment beneath the Bodhi tree in Magadha, the ground there became extremely solid. It was made up not of ordinary soil, but of vajra. Vajra is the hardest of substances. It has the three qualities of firmness, brilliance, and sharpness. Firmness represents the solidity of one’s resolve. Brilliance represents the light of wisdom. Sharpness represents relentless vigor, which is swift and sharp, like the blade of a sword.

The ground was adorned with sublimely wonderful and inconceivable precious wheels, great multitudes of jeweled flowers and necklaces, and immaculate mani gems. The precious wheels and jeweled flowers alone were beautiful already, but there were also precious mani gems on the ground and on the Bodhi tree, decorating the bodhimanda.

What is the meaning of the Sanskrit word mani?

Disciple: The meanings of mani are three. The first is that of “a precious pearl.” The second is that of “separation from defilement.” The third is “as-you-will.”

Venerable Master: So you didn’t study in vain. You still remember. What does everyone think of his explanation? Is it satisfactory?

Disciple [in Chinese]: Mani represents the purity and lack of defilement of the Six Sense Faculties. It is an adornment, and it adorns the Buddha’s enlightenment, which is undefiled.

Sutra:

An ocean of various colors and forms appeared in boundless manifestations.

Commentary:

Mani gems are extremely beautiful gems replete with all the hues and colors of a rainbow.

An ocean of various colors and forms appeared in boundless manifestations. The lovely colors and forms of mani are so numerous that they resemble a sea. These infinite manifestations adorned the bodhimanda.

Sutra:

Banners made of mani gems constantly poured forth bright light and wondrous sounds.

Commentary:

Banners, spiral-shaped canopies, made of mani gems constantly poured forth bright light. Each mani jewel radiated light. And not only that, but within the light, the banners always gave forth sublimely wondrous sounds that surpassed the sounds of all worldly and heavenly music. The bright light also surpassed the light of the sun, moon, and lamps. The mani banners emitted both light and sound.

Sutra:

Jeweled nets and exquisitely fragrant flowers were garlanded all about. Regal mani gems wrought transformations with ease, endlessly raining down treasures and multitudes of wondrous flowers, which scattered and fell to the earth.

Commentary:

These are the adornments decorating the bodhimanda and the Buddha’s Dharma body after he accomplished Buddhahood. These adornments represent the subtle, inconceivable realm of the Buddha. Jeweled nets and exquisitely fragrant flowers were garlanded all about. Nets interwoven with clusters of precious stones adorned the bodhimanda. The jeweled nets and jeweled trees gave forth wondrous fragrance, wondrous flowers, and wondrous strands of jewels. When sentient beings inhaled that wondrous perfume, or caught sight of these luxurious flowers strung into garlands, they were able to plant sublime causes for bodhi, and in the future would reap the wonderful fruit of Buddhahood. These flowers and floral garlands were draped about on all sides of the bodhimanda.

Regal mani gems wrought transformations with ease. These kings of mani gems are able to transform and conjure up things effortlessly, according to everyone’s wishes, endlessly raining down treasures and multitudes of wondrous flowers, which scattered and fell to the earth. The kings of mani gems made appear an infinite amount of precious articles and flowers, which fell everywhere within the bodhimanda.

Sutra:

Jeweled trees were lined up neatly, their branches and foliage verdant and luxuriant. It was due to the Buddha’s spiritual power that all such adornments manifested within the bodhimanda.

Commentary:

Jeweled trees were lined up neatly, their branches and foliage verdant and luxuriant. These jeweled trees were made up not only of the Seven Treasures, but of myriads of treasures. They were planted row after row, in a very orderly fashion. These rows were such that you could view them from any of the ten directions and they appeared arranged in precise rows. They had trunks made of gold and branches and leaves made of vaidurya, agate, silver and other precious stones in a myriad colors. The light streaming from these twigs and leaves was also of a myriad colors—red giving off red light, yellow giving off yellow light, green giving off green light, and white giving off white light. The foliage itself was fresh and full. Just looking at these jeweled trees and blossoms made one happy.

It was due to the Buddha’s spiritual power that all such adornments manifested within the bodhimanda. This arrangement of various adornments was created by the Buddha’s spiritual powers. Where does the Buddha’s spiritual power come from? All these jeweled trees, jeweled nets, and kings of mani gems adorned the bodhimanda because, when the Buddha was at the level of planting causes, he strictly upheld the precepts and was not in the least bit casual. He never committed the slightest transgression.

1. Not killing: Not only did the Buddha not take life with his own hands, he did not allow his mind to harbor a single thought of killing. He compassionately cherished all sentient beings.
2. Not stealing: Not only did he not steal with his body, he did not allow any thoughts of stealing to arise in his mind.
3. Not engaging in sexual misconduct: He never let his mind entertain a thought of lust.
4. Not lying: He never conceived a thought of lying.
5. Not taking intoxicants: He did not casually violate this precept either.

As a result of holding the precepts purely while he was on the level of planting causes, all these jeweled adornments—jeweled nets, jeweled trees, and jeweled flowers—appeared at the site where he accomplished Buddhahood.

The realization of Buddhahood is not a simple matter. The Buddha was able to do it because he strictly upheld the precepts. Because he did not commit the slightest transgression while on the level of planting causes, the place where he realized the Way was adorned with myriads of jewels. Thus the text says: “It was due to the Buddha’s spiritual power that all such adornments were manifested within the bodhimanda.” When the Buddha’s meritorious virtues were perfected, he used his spiritual powers to make all these adornments appear and to bring about such an inconceivable state in the bodhimanda.

B.  The Adornments of the Tree

Sutra:

The Bodhi tree was tall, extraordinary, and rare. Its roots were made of vajra, its trunk of beryl, and its branches and twigs of an assortment of wondrous jewels. Its jeweled foliage created a thick arbor, providing shade like a bank of clouds.

Commentary:

The Bodhi tree was tall, extraordinary, and rare. Since this was the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha accomplished enlightenment, it was very special and unique. Its roots were made of vajra, its trunk of beryl, and its branches and twigs of an assortment of wondrous jewels. Its jeweled foliage created a thick arbor, providing shade like a bank of clouds. The leaves were made of varieties of gems. They hung in patterns that displayed the spaces between them. They rustled in wave-like movements, like clouds in space.

Sutra:

Multi-colored jeweled blossoms and their branches sprinkled shadows everywhere. Moreover, fruits made of mani gems blazing with dazzling light were interspersed among the blossoms. From all around the Bodhi tree, bright light poured forth. Within that light fell a rain of mani gems and within those mani jewels, Bodhisattvas profuse as clouds simultaneously appeared.

Commentary:

Multi-colored jeweled blossoms and their branches sprinkled shadows everywhere. Those precious flowers came in hundreds of colors. The branches and the shadows they cast were also lovely. Moreover, fruits made of mani gems blazing with dazzling light, a flame-like radiance, were interspersed among the blossoms. From all around the Bodhi tree, bright light poured forth. Within that light fell a rain of mani gems and within those mani jewels, Bodhisattvas profuse as clouds simultaneously appeared. An infinite number of Bodhisattvas appeared.

Sutra:

Moreover, due to the Thus Come One’s awesome spiritual power, the Bodhi tree issued constant and wondrous sounds, proclaiming Dharmas without end.

Commentary:

All the various flowers, lights, and colors served to adorn the place and make the bodhimanda exceptionally ornate and sublime. Moreover, due to the Thus Come One’s awesome spiritual power, the Bodhi tree issued constant and wondrous sounds, proclaiming Dharmas without end. People who heard those sounds attained all kinds of samadhis. There was no time the sounds of Dharma would cease. At all times, to the end of the future, the Bodhi tree issued those wonderful sounds.

C.  The Adornments of the Palace

Sutra:

In the palace of the Thus Come One, towers and pavilions that were vast, magnificent, and adorned pervaded the ten directions. Fashioned of mani gems, they were multi-hued and enhanced by various intertwining and jeweled blossoms. From all adornments therein, light poured forth like clouds, forming banners of overlapping reflections in the galleries of the palace. Innumerable Bodhisattvas and all the assemblies in their bodhimandas gathered there together, issuing the light of all Buddhas and inconceivable sounds.

Commentary:

In the palace of the Thus Come One, when the Buddha realized Buddhahood beneath the Bodhi tree, he manifested the ten-thousand-foot reward body of Nisyanda. Hence his palace, in proportion, had to be at least thirty thousand feet high. All these states were conjured up by the Thus Come One’s spiritual power. There were towers and pavilions. “Towers” refers to multi-storied buildings. “Pavilions” refers to the structures erected on top of the towers. All of these were vast, magnificent, and adorned. These structures were not of the sort ever seen before in the human realm. They were so large they pervaded the ten directions. Fashioned of mani gems, they were multi-hued and enhanced by various intertwining and jeweled blossoms. The palace, towers, and pavilions were constructed from wish-fulfilling mani gems from the ten directions, and jeweled flowers decorated them on top. From all adornments therein, light poured forth like clouds, forming banners of overlapping reflections in the galleries of the palace. The light streaming forth resembled jeweled clouds.

After Sãkyamuni Buddha realized Proper Enlightenment, he adorned the bodhimanda with his awesome spiritual power and proclaimed the Flower Adornment Sutra. When most ordinary people hear the descriptions of these adornments, they consider them quite insignificant. Actually these adornments are all symbolic. They represent the manifold practices that the Buddha cultivated and all the ascetic discipline that he endured at the stage of planting causes, which made it possible for all these myriad adornments to appear when he became a Buddha.

The patterns made by the overlapping reflections in the open areas of the palace looked like jeweled banners. Within those exquisite banners, there appeared innumerable Bodhisattvas. And all the Bodhisattvas brought the sentient beings in the assemblies in their bodhimandas along to the bodhimanda of Sãkyamuni Buddha. They all gathered there together.

All the Bodhisattvas who had come to Sãkyamuni Buddha’s bodhimanda were issuing the light of all Buddhas that shone upon them all. And within the light, they could emit wonderful and inconceivable sounds.

Sutra:

Regal mani gems accentuated lace-like nets. All these states appeared from within the bodhimanda due to the effortless spiritual power of the Thus Come One.

Commentary:

Regal mani gems accentuated lace-like nets. All these states appeared from within the bodhimanda  due to the effortless spiritual power of the Thus Come One. The various wonderful sounds, the various jeweled nets, and myriad rays of light all appeared from within the bodhimanda due to the Buddha’s spiritual power. These states could neither be mentally conceived of nor verbally expressed.

You should watch over yourself at all times. When you are unable to do so, you should find someone else to guide you so you won’t go astray. If you don’t watch over yourself and you aren’t willing to listen to instructions from others, then you won’t amount to anything.

In my native area in Manchuria, there was a monk called Xiu Yuan. Although he was virtually illiterate, he wanted very much to become a monk. The only family he had was his mother, who was over fifty years old. Most mothers in that situation would not want their only son to leave the home life. But his mother not only gave him permission to become a monk, she urged him to do so as soon as possible. Thus he went to a monastery in Beijing to receive the precepts. Basically he didn’t know anything about monastic life, but when asked what he had come for, he said, “I came to leave home.” He was told to kneel. He knelt down but he kept staring up and down, right and left, looking at everything around him.

The guest prefect shouted at him, “Pull your eyes back!”
Xiu Yuan didn’t even understand what “pulling your eyes back” meant, so the prefect said, “Keep your eyes shut! Don’t stare around as if you wanted to steal an ox!”
Xiu Yuan obediently shut his eyes. “Do you have a teacher?” asked the prefect. He said no.
“If you don’t even have a teacher, how can you leave the home life and take the precepts?” 
“I don’t know who’s supposed to be my teacher. Can you find me one?” Xiu Yuan asked.

The guest prefect, seeing that he was very naive and honest, found him a teacher so that he could leave the home life and receive the precepts.
After the ordination, he stayed at Hongluoshan [“Red Conch Mountain”] Monastery and practiced reciting the Buddha’s name in the Buddha-Recitation Hall there.

After he had been away from home for over one year, his mother started to get worried about him. Having no news from her son and being unsure of his whereabouts, she became so distraught from pining for her son that she went blind. One night she called out to him from her home. The distance from her village in Manchuria to Hongluoshan was over 700 miles, but Xiu Yuan heard his mother call him! And so he asked for a leave of absence from the monastery and set out for his hometown.

When he arrived home, he found that his mother had gone blind. He started to lick his mother’s eyes with his tongue. After he had done this for a week, his mother regained her sight. From this we can see that if people are sincere, they can obtain a response from the Bodhisattvas.

When she saw that her son was well and healthy, the old mother said, “Leaving home has been good for you,” and bade him to return to Hongluoshan. Xiu Yuan did this, and upon his return to the monastery he started to work in the kitchen. At Hongluoshan, cultivators recited the Buddha’s name and practiced chan meditation in the winter and studied the sutras in the summer. Everyone took turns practicing to lecture on the sutras. Xiu Yuan listened attentively to the sutra lectures and learned the Chinese characters one by one, since he was illiterate to begin with. Keeping up this course of study, he soon had committed the Amitabha Sutra to memory, and could recite by heart all the chants and praises of the morning and evening recitations.

All the monks took turns giving lectures on the sutras, and he would listen to their lectures. One day it came to be Xiu Yuan’s turn to lecture. When he spoke, all the Dharma Masters were astounded. He spoke extremely well, far better than anyone else. He spoke with great eloquence.

Xiu Yuan learned to lecture on the sutras, and he kept reciting the Buddha’s name. After nine years of practicing in this way, he became enlightened. Originally he was illiterate, and yet he learned to give lectures and even attained enlightenment. This shows that cultivation requires perseverance and a willingness to follow the rules. If you can be that way, you too can have some accomplishment. You can’t expect to have any success in just two-and-a-half days.

Sutra:

Images of the dwelling places and abodes of all beings also appeared therein.

Commentary:

Images of the dwelling places and abodes of all beings also appeared therein. The Thus Come One’s effortless spiritual power caused all kinds of inconceivable states to manifest. These states were crystal-clear and resembled space. Within space, the reflections of the dwelling places of all beings were clearly visible.

The Vajra Sutra says, “The Thus Come One completely knows and sees all the various thoughts in the minds of all beings.” No matter how many different thoughts there are in beings’ minds, they are fully known by the Thus Come One’s Four Types of Wisdom: the Wisdom of Wonderful Contemplation, the Wisdom of Accomplishment, the Wisdom of Equality, and the Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom.

“The dwelling places and abodes of all beings” refers both to their external houses and habitats as well as their physical bodies.

Sutra:

Moreover, the aid from the spiritual powers of all the Buddhas encompassed the entire Dharma Realm within a single thought.

Commentary:

Moreover, the inconceivable aid from the spiritual powers of all the Buddhas encompassed the entire Dharma Realm within a single thought. The Buddhas of the ten directions used their spiritual powers to aid the bodhimanda. This aid encompassed the entire Dharma Realm within a single thought.

D.  The Adornments of the Lion Throne

Sutra:

The lion throne was tall, immense, and exquisite. The dais was made of mani gems; the nets, of lotus flowers. Pure and wondrous jewels formed the wheels, and multi-colored flowers were fashioned into garlands. The halls and pavilions, towers and alcoves, stairs and railings, doors and windows, all objects whatsoever, were completely bedecked.

Commentary:

The lion throne on which the Buddha sat was tall, immense, and exquisite. The dais, the platform, was made of mani, “wish-fulfilling,” gems; the nets were woven of lotus flowers. Lotus blossoms of various colors such as blue, red, purple, white, and yellow were fashioned into floral nets.

Pure and wondrous jewels formed the wheels. These jewels are capable of casting out all filth. If we were to place one of them in our Buddha Hall, then in a wink all trace of dust would be wiped away. We wouldn’t need to sweep the floor, since it would be spotlessly clean! Wherever these purifying jewels are, no dust can be found. How do these jewels come about? They are a response from holding the precepts purely. The wheels of the dais were made from such jewels. And multi-colored flowers were fashioned into garlands resembling jeweled necklaces.

The large halls and pavilions were sometimes built right by the water’s edge, with trees all around. The towers and alcoves, stairs and railings, doors and windows, all objects whatsoever, were completely bedecked. All the objects were incredibly exquisite, causing people to bring forth the bodhi resolve and a pure mind when they saw them.

Why are the people of our world filled with defiled thoughts? This occurs because our karmic obstacles are very impure, and so we consequently perceive the world as impure. If our karma were pure, the states we perceive would be pure, too.

Sutra:

The branches and fruit of the jeweled trees spread out symmetrically. Clouds of mani light shone one upon another. The Buddhas of the ten directions conjured up majestic pearls. All Bodhisattvas came, emitting dazzling light from the wonderful gems in their topknots. Moreover, aided by the awesome spiritual power of all the Buddhas, they proclaimed the Thus Come One’s vast, great state, their wonderful sounds far-reaching and eloquent, penetrating everywhere.

Commentary:

The branches and fruit of the jeweled trees spread out symmetrically. The trees were adorned with the seven precious items—gold, silver, vaidurya, crystal, coral, red pearls, and carnelian. Their branches, leaves, flowers, and fruits formed an interlacing network that spread all around. Clouds of mani pearl light shone upon one another. The clouds of light radiating from the mani gems shone upon one another. The Buddhas of the ten directions conjured up majestic pearls by transformation. All the countlessly many Bodhisattvas from the ten directions came together, emitting dazzling light from the wonderful gems in their topknots. Each Bodhisattva had a precious pearl set into his jeweled cowl. They all came to the bodhimanda and emanated radiance, like many candles burning together.

Moreover, aided by the awesome spiritual power of all the Buddhas, they proclaimed the Thus Come One’s vast, great state. Relying on the spiritual power of the Buddhas of the ten directions, the Bodhisattvas expounded upon the incomparably vast realm of the Thus Come One. Their wonderful sounds were far-reaching and eloquent, penetrating everywhere in the ten directions. There wasn’t a single place where the wonderful Dharma sound wasn’t heard. There wasn’t a single dust mote where the Dharma wheel wasn’t being turned.

V. The Inconceivability of the Teaching Host

Sutra:

At that time, the World Honored One, seated on this throne, had realized Utmost, Proper Enlightenment in regard to all dharmas. His wisdom entered the three periods of time as completely level and equal. His body filled all worlds. His sound reached each and every land of the ten directions, just as space contains all things, yet does not differentiate among them; or as space pervades everywhere, impartially entering all lands. His physical form, eternal and ubiquitous, was seated in all bodhimandas.

Commentary:

At that time, Sãkyamuni Buddha, the World Honored One, seated on this lion throne, had realized Utmost, Proper Enlightenment in regard to all dharmas. The Buddha has achieved Utmost, Proper Enlightenment. Bodhisattvas can be said to have attained Proper Enlightenment, but not Utmost Proper Enlightenment. Those of the Two Vehicles have only attained enlightenment, but not Proper Enlightenment. Gods, demons, externalists, and ordinary people are unenlightened. They may think they are enlightened, but actually they are just steeped in deviant knowledge and perverse views. They are simply unenlightened, which is another way of saying that they are deluded and ignorant. They think what they do is correct and that nothing is out of order, and therefore they are said to be unenlightened.

But with the Buddha, his wisdom entered the three periods of time as completely level and equal. The Buddha can understand the past, present, and future; or you could say past lives, present life, and future lives.

Some people don’t believe in the three periods of time. They say, “I don’t even understand my present life very well. How can I believe that there are past and future lives?” They are right. If they don’t understand their present life, how could they possibly understand their past lives or future lives? No wonder they don’t believe in the concept of other lives.

It’s okay if you don’t want to believe that there are past, present, and future lives, but do you believe in a yesterday, today, and tomorrow? Probably you cannot remember everything that happened yesterday. And you don’t know what will happen tomorrow, since it hasn’t arrived yet. You’ve already forgotten what happened in the past, and you haven’t experienced what will happen in the future, so you don’t know about it. If you can’t even remember or know clearly all the events of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, just three days, how can you expect to be able to recall your past lives or know about your present and future lives? You are less likely to remember and be aware of these far-reaching things.

The Buddha’s wisdom, however, encompasses the three periods of time—past, present, and future. He knows what causes he planted in past lives, and how they account for the results he is reaping in this life. He also knows what causes he is planting in his present life, so he’s aware of what types of results to expect in his next life. Not only does the Buddha know this about himself, he knows this about all sentient beings. For example, he’ll know, “This sentient being planted the cause of killing in the past. Therefore, in this life that cause will bear fruit, and in his next life he will undergo the retribution for that killing.” Or, “This person stole in his last life, so in this life his goods are stolen from him. In his next life he will, in turn, steal from others.” This type of karma and retribution go on and on, in an endless cycle. The same principle applies to engaging in sexual misconduct, lying, and taking intoxicants. “Yesterday I lied to someone, and today someone lies to me. Tomorrow maybe someone will cheat me.” As you sow, so shall you reap. You harvest whatever you plant.

The periods of time are “completely level and equal.” The past is level and equal, the present is level and equal, and so is the future.

His body filled all worlds, the entire Dharma Realm. There is a verse that occurs later on in this chapter:

The Buddha’s body fills the entire Dharma Realm;
He appears before sentient beings everywhere.

His sound reached each and every land of the ten directions. The Buddha’s sound can be heard pervasively throughout the lands of the ten directions. The sutra brings up an analogy for this, which is that it is just as space contains all things, yet does not differentiate among them. The Buddha’s Dharma body is just like space; it contains everything and yet makes no discriminations among states. Or it is also just as space pervades everywhere, impartially entering all lands. No matter how large the land is, there is a corresponding amount of space to fill it. There is neither too little nor too much. His physical form, eternal and ubiquitous, was seated in all bodhimandas. The Buddha’s body constantly fills the Dharma Realm, and so he can be found seated in all bodhimandas.

Sutra:

In the midst of the Bodhisattva multitudes, the Buddha emitted awesome, magnificent light, as when the rising sun illuminates the whole world. The great ocean of the multitudes of blessings cultivated in the three periods of time had already been purified, and yet he constantly manifested birth in all Buddhalands. His boundless physical marks were perfect and full. His radiance pervaded the Dharma Realm equally and without discrimination. His proclamation of all Dharmas resembled a great cloud spreading out. His every hair tip accommodated all worlds without obstruction. On each he manifested the power of measureless spiritual penetrations to teach, transform, tame, and subdue all sentient beings. His body filled the ten directions, neither coming nor going. His wisdom penetrated all phenomena and fathomed the emptiness and stillness of all dharmas. Every spiritual transformation of all Buddhas of the three periods of time without exception was visible within that light, and all adornments of the lands of all Buddhas throughout inconceivable eons were completely manifest therein.

Commentary:

In the midst of the Bodhisattva multitudes, the Buddha emitted awesome, magnificent light, as when the rising sun illuminates the whole world. Within all those bodhimandas where countless Bodhisattvas were gathered, the Buddha’s awesome light was almost blinding, like that of the rising sun shining upon the world. The great ocean of the multitudes of blessings cultivated in the three periods of time—the past, present, and future—had already been purified. The blessings we have now are not the product of a single lifetime’s work, but rather, the fruit of many lives and eons’ hard work. If you cultivate blessings, in the future you will have blessings—so the text says, “the great ocean of the multitudes of blessings.” If you cultivate wisdom, in the future you will have wisdom.

Therefore,

Don’t fail to do a good deed,
No matter how small it may be.
Don’t do a single evil deed,
No matter how insignificant it may seem.

Even if a good act is minor, still, you should do it. Even if an evil act is really small, you still should not do it. You should cultivate blessings and wisdom at all times. Only then will you amass a “great ocean of the multitudes of blessings” which is completely pure. The blessings you cultivate may be pure blessings, or they may be impure blessings that are contaminated with defilement. The blessings that Buddhas cultivate are completely pure. The blessings cultivated by Bodhisattvas are also pure.

And yet he constantly manifested birth in all Buddhalands. Bodhisattvas continually manifest hundreds of millions of transformation bodies within all Buddhalands. His boundless physical marks, the special hallmarks and adornments, were perfect and full, making them virtually the same as the Buddhas’. His radiance pervaded the Dharma Realm equally and without discrimination. His light shone universally throughout the Dharma Realm, being the same everywhere without any differentiation. His proclamation of all Dharmas resembled a great cloud spreading out. Throughout the Dharma Realm, he proclaimed the wonderful Dharma, and it was as if a great cloud had formed in the air.

His every hair tip accommodated all worlds without obstruction. Buddhas and great Bodhisattvas are such that the tip of every one of their hairs contains all worlds. Although a hair tip is small, it can contain an entire world. Although a world is large, it does not exceed the circumference of the hair tip. Therefore, the Surangama Sutra says:

On the tip of a single hair,
They manifest the lands of the jeweled king.

Not only did the Buddha manifest the lands of the jeweled king on one hair tip, but he manifested them on every hair tip.

Seated in dust motes,
they turn the great Dharma wheel.

Seated inside a single mote of dust, they teach and transform sentient beings. “How can the tiny tip of a hair contain a world?” you ask. This kind of a state is inexplicable. There is no obstruction between the large and the small.

On each he manifested the power of measureless spiritual penetrations. How can the small possibly contain the great, and the great lie within the small? Is this logical? This is due to the spiritual powers of the Bodhisattva, whose aim is to teach, transform, tame, and subdue all sentient beings. He makes appear such an incredible state to cause sentient beings to get rid of their biased views and knowledge, and to study the Buddhadharma instead. For example, he may teach them to study Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, English, or French. Sentient beings have huge egos. They say, “I don’t like to do this; I don’t want to do that.” Or, “I like sweet, not sour.” For example, when one of my disciples was kitchen manager she bought a lot of sweets, because she liked sweets. However, if you can eat less of what you like, and more of what you don’t like, just that is “taming and subduing.”

All beings should have a sense of shame and remorse. We shouldn’t be shameless. Suppose someone says, “The skin on your face is two and a half feet thick, thicker than a car tire,” and you say, “That’s right. My face is like rubber, and I’m not afraid of anything. I don’t care what people say about me.” If you are shameless like that, you are totally useless and will never have any accomplishment. You should always feel humble and remorseful.

Don’t be lazy. Laziness will not help you get enlightened. No one has ever become enlightened from being lazy. If someone tells you, “You don’t have to do anything, except wait to get enlightened,” he’s cheating you. You have to keep on studying. When you have studied the principles long enough, you will suddenly break through and experience a great enlightenment. The whole purpose of studying is to learn what you don’t know yet. Don’t be afraid of trouble. If you already understood everything, you wouldn’t have to study. Unfortunately, you don’t understand anything, so as soon as someone asks you something, you become totally disoriented. If you can’t even get your bearings, how can you stop studying? How can you stop studying before you’ve reached the level of “no study”?

Don’t think, “Oh, the Master said today that three people were about to realize the first fruit of Arhatship. I must be one of them.” Maybe you are, and maybe you aren’t. You can’t know for sure until you actually realize that fruition.

His body filled the ten directions, neither coming nor going. His wisdom penetrated and accorded with all phenomena and fathomed the original emptiness and stillness of all dharmas.

Every spiritual transformation of all Buddhas of the three periods of time without exception was visible within that light,  and all adornments of all the lands of all Buddhas throughout inconceivable eons were completely manifest therein. Throughout an inconceivably long period of time, the adornments of all Buddhas of the ten directions and the three periods of time were clearly visible to the Buddha. Why? Because “his wisdom penetrated all phenomena.”

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