The Wondrous Adornments
of the Rulers of the Worlds
Chapter One, Part One
Translated in the Tang Dynasty by the Tripitaka Master Srãmana Siksananda of Khotan
We spoke of this sramana before during the Earth Store Sutra lectures. Some say that Khotan is in present-day Yunnan Province [China]. It could very well be true, because Patriarch Mahakäsyapa entered samadhi in Yunnan. There is a mountain there called Jizu (“Chicken Foot”), because it is shaped like the foot of a chicken. Patriarch Mahakäsyapa entered samadhi there in order to wait for the future Buddha, Venerable Maitreya, to come into the world, so that he can pass Sakyamuni Buddha’s robe and bowl to Maitreya Buddha. Thus, the area of Yunnan is considered sacred to Buddhism. People who have gone to Jizu Mountain know that every year three kinds of light—golden light, silver light, and Buddha light—are sighted there frequently. It is a holy place, and it could be the former Khotan. However, the names of regions have changed and can no longer be ascertained.
World refers to this world. Who are the rulers of the world? You are a world ruler, not me. Or perhaps I am a world ruler, not you. In general, somebody rules over this world. A ruler such as this not only rules in the world but also rules beyond the world. He can be considered both a worldly and a world-transcending ruler.
Someone may object, “Dharma Master, what you are saying is nonsense. A world ruler is just a world ruler, and a world-transcending ruler is a world-transcending ruler. How can he be both a world ruler and a world-transcending ruler? What exactly does he rule over?”
He is a ruler of the heavens, a ruler of the earth, and a ruler of people. Who is both a worldly and world-transcending ruler? The Buddha. The Buddha is a leader in the world and also beyond the world. Worldly rulers refer to the sovereigns and kings of countries, such as gold-wheel-turning kings, silver-wheel-turning kings, copper-wheel-turning kings, and iron-wheel-turning kings. These are world rulers and their domain does not exceed the mundane realm.
Wondrous refers to the sublime. It cannot be mentally conceived, or expressed in language. Adornments are decorations. But these adornments are not the ordinary decorations that most people can see. That’s why they are called wondrous. This chapter describes the subtly wonderful, inconceivable states of adornment of both worldly and world-transcending rulers, as well as their adorned countries and Buddhalands. Thus this chapter is called “Chapter One: The Wondrous Adornments of the Rulers of the Worlds.”
I. General Revelation of Having Heard
Thus I have heard.
Thus I have heard are four very important words. All Buddhist sutras begin with these words. How did these four words come about?
When Sãkyamuni Buddha was about to enter nirvana, the Venerable Ànanda had not yet realized sagehood; he still hadn’t cut off all his love and desire. Like a small child about to be separated from its mother, he was weeping so hard that his nose was running and his tears were streaming down. He completely forgot about everything except his grief. His heart sank into the depths of sorrow and his eyes were swollen to the size of peaches.
At that time the Venerable Aniruddha, who was foremost in the penetration of the heavenly eye, reminded Ànanda, “The Buddha transmitted the essentials of his Dharma to you. Since you are the compiler of the Buddha’s teachings, you should ask the Buddha about how to handle certain matters in the future.”
Ànanda said, “What business could there be in the future? The Buddha is going to die and enter nirvana. I won’t do anything anymore.”
“Don’t be childish,” said the Venerable One with the heavenly eye. “The responsibility of propagating the Dharma rests on you. You can’t indulge in grief and be so immature.”
“What? You mean we need to propagate the Buddha-dharma?” asked Ànanda. “What do I need to ask the Buddha then?” Ànanda was so devastated by the idea of the Buddha entering nirvana that his mind was a total blank.
The Venerable One foremost in the power of his heavenly eye said, “There are four important matters you need to ask the Buddha. First, while the Buddha has been in the world, we have dwelt with the Buddha. After the Buddha enters nirvana, with whom should we dwell? Second, while the Buddha has been in the world, we have taken the Buddha as our teacher. After the Buddha’s nirvana, whom should we regard as our teacher?”
“Oh yes,” exclaimed Ànanda. “It’s a good thing you reminded me. Where are we going to live? This is very important; it should be asked. The Buddha is our teacher now, but after the Buddha enters nirvana, we will still need a teacher. Without a teacher, how can we cultivate? That’s also an appropriate question.”
“Third,” continued the Venerable One, “while the Buddha has been in the world, he himself could discipline and subdue evil-natured Bhikshus. After the Buddha enters nirvana, how are we going to deal with them?”
“Right,” said Ànanda. “That’s a very good question. What else?”
“Don’t get excited,” said Venerable Aniruddha, “or you’ll forget what I’m telling you. The fourth question is: When the sutras are compiled, what words should be placed at the beginning of each sutra?”
The words “Thus I have heard” serve six purposes.
1. To distinguish Buddhist sutras from the writings of other religions. Writings of externalist ways begin with either the syllable “A” or the syllable “U”. “A” denotes “existence,” and “U” means “nonexistence.” That is to say, if all dharmas do not exist, then they are non-existent; if they are not non-existent, then they exist. That is why either “A” or “U” is used to begin their texts. The Buddhadharma is not like that. The Buddhadharma says that there is neither existence nor nonexistence; it doesn’t fall into either the extreme of emptiness or the extreme of existence. Therefore the words “Thus I have heard” are used to begin the Buddhist sutras.
“Thus” refers to the Dharma. “I have heard” refers to the reception of the Dharma. That which is “thus” is the Dharma, and that which is not “thus” is not the Dharma—the Dharma being the ultimate meaning of the Middle Way.
2. To put an end to debate and contention. “Contention” means arguing and fighting. There is a verse that goes:
Contention involves the thought of victory and defeat.
And as such contradicts the Way.
Giving rise to the mind of the Four Marks,
How can one obtain samadhi?
All beings like to vie with one another to be number one. I have a young disciple who is just a child, and yet she still wants to be number one among the little ones. Those who are older struggle for top position among their peers. Everyone is involved in contention. For example, the newly-precepted people refuse to listen to those who are senior to them in precepts. They want to be number one among the new preceptees. Those who are intermediate in precepts won’t take orders from their seniors, but they do want to boss the new preceptees around. That is also contention. A human being is his or her own great sutra. Once you understand this great sutra about human nature, you’ll understand everything.
The phrase “Thus I have heard,” indicates that what Ànanda is saying is not his own words; it is what he heard from the Buddha. Since those words were spoken by the Buddha himself, there was nothing to contend about. Let’s take a current example. If you translate a sutra and your translation is correct, someone may still claim that it is not.
Of course, if your translation is incorrect, people are even more likely to say so. But if you say, “That’s how I heard the Master explain it,” people won’t know what to say and won’t dare to criticize you. The same principle is at work with the words “Thus I have heard.” They put to rest any contention and debate. That’s how peculiar the affairs of the world are.
3. To eliminate additions and deletions. After the phrase “Thus I have heard,” the sutra compiler goes on to specify where and when the Buddha was, how many people were in the assembly, what sutra was spoken, and so forth. With the circumstances stated in such a definitive manner, none of the disciples dared to edit or alter the facts, and in this way the sutras were all compiled without contention.
4. To quell the assembly’s doubts. Ànanda was one of the youngest members of the assembly. His virtue wasn’t sufficient to move people. However, the Buddha had entrusted the duty of compiling his Dharma treasury to Ànanda. When Ànanda ascended the Dharma seat, the assembly immediately gave rise to three kinds of doubts:
a. First, some thought, “Sãkyamuni Buddha hasn’t entered nirvana after all. He’s come back to speak Dharma for us!” That was because Ànanda had nearly all of the special hallmarks of the Buddha. He looked almost exactly like the Buddha, except that he was a little shorter.
b. Second, some disciples thought, “This must be a Buddha from another direction! One of the Buddhas of the ten directions must have come here to speak Dharma.”
c. Third, some people thought Ànanda himself had suddenly become a Buddha, because his adorned appearance seemed identical with that of a Buddha.
But when Ànanda announced, “Thus I have heard,” the great Arhats became clear and were no longer confused.
5. To bring about the arising of faith. The Dharma that is “thus” can be believed, whereas Dharma that is not “thus” cannot be believed. “Thus” refers to the Dharma, and “I have heard” means that having heard this Dharma, one accepts it in one’s heart.
6. To accord with the Buddhas of the three periods of time. All Buddhas begin their sutras with the words, “Thus I have heard.”
Of the four questions that Ànanda asked the Buddha before his nirvana, the second one was, “When the Buddha is in the world, we take the Buddha as our teacher. After the Buddha enters nirvana, whom should we regard as our teacher?” The implication was that a new teacher needed to be selected from among the great Bodhisattvas and great Arhats. A patriarch must be chosen to take the Buddha’s place. The Buddha, however, did not tell them to select a patriarch or a teacher. He gave a very wonderful answer. He said, “You should take the precepts as your teacher.” Precepts include the Five Lay Precepts, the Eight Lay Precepts, the Ten Major and Forty-eight Minor Bodhisattva Precepts, the 250 Bhikshu Precepts, and the 348 Bhikshuni Precepts.
“But the precepts are inanimate. How can they serve as our teacher?” you might ask.
“Although we recite the sutras that are described as being like paths to follow, they seem to have nothing to do with our daily lives. Sutras are insentient objects. How can they be teachers for sentient beings?” All of you can look into that. We all know that we’re supposed to take the precepts as our teacher. But what is the reason? Westerners always like to ask “why?” but as you haven’t asked why in this case, I’m telling you to do so.
Why did the Buddha tell his disciples to take the precepts as their teacher? Because the precepts enable one to bring forth goodness and eradicate evil. If you take the precepts as your teacher, you can give rise to goodness and get rid of evil. If you don’t understand something, you can look it up in the precepts, and they will tell you. That’s why we take the precepts as our teacher.
Study the Buddhadharma gradually. It cannot be understood overnight. I have taught you the Buddhadharma for six or seven years, and I know that you still don’t understand the principle of taking the precepts as your teacher, so I brought it up today.
The third question that Ànanda asked the Buddha was, “When the Buddha is in the world, he himself can discipline and subdue evil-natured Bhikshus, no matter how intractable or crazy they get. Even if there were monks who scolded or hit others, or caused all kinds of trouble, the Buddha had a way to deal with them.”
For example, several days ago—they weren’t evil-natured Bhikshus, but good-natured Bhikshus who were behaving like evil-natured ones—the Bhikshus who worked in the kitchen went on strike. The other Bhikshus still wanted to eat and sleep, but there was nothing to eat, and they were so hungry they couldn’t sleep. Finally, the managing Bhikshu came to me, bewailing, “I’m really inept. I can’t even take care of this petty matter. I don’t know what to do. The kitchen monks are on strike, and the monks who want to eat are mad. The ones who want to sleep are even more upset. What am I to do?” I paid no attention to the matter. After a while, the kitchen monks went back to work by themselves, and all the monks could eat and sleep in peace. Thus the problem was solved.
Ànanda’s question was, “What are we to do about evil-natured Bhikshus after the Buddha passes into stillness?”
To this the Buddha answered, “Simply be silent and they will go away. Don’t argue with or fight them. Just ignore them.” If no one speaks to them, they have no way to be evil.
Evil-natured Bhikshus may in reality be good-natured Bhikshus who are “fighting poison with poison” and “counteracting evil with evil.” That’s why they assume the manner of evil-natured Bhikshus. If any of you would like to be evil-natured Bhikshus, you can tell people, “My teacher says that evil-natured Bhikshus are not necessarily evil; they may just be putting on a front, pretending to be evil-natured and causing trouble for others.” Someone once asked, “Can we test other people?” If you deliberately test others to see if they have perfected their cultivation of the paramita of patience, it could be said that you are bringing forth a Bodhisattva resolve. You are acting like an evil-natured Bhikshu to see if others can be good-natured Bhikshus. However, this is not easy to do.
As one of my disciples said, “It’s very dangerous.” Of course it is. When I first resolved to cultivate, I dreamed that I was walking along a road gutted with holes and ditches. Of course it’s dangerous, but the danger makes you more cautious. If no hazards existed, you would become careless. Therefore, if you find ways to cultivate even in adverse situations, then you can cultivate anywhere. If, on the other hand, you don’t cultivate in favorable situations, then you won’t cultivate no matter where you are. You should take what is good and follow it, and change what is bad. If it’s the Way, advance along it. If it’s not the Way, retreat from it.
One of the four questions that Ànanda asked the Buddha was, “While the Buddha is in the world, we dwell with the Buddha. After the Buddha enters nirvana, where shall we dwell?”
Ànanda said, “Buddha! Buddha! Please don’t enter nirvana just yet. I have another question to ask. After I have asked it, you may enter nirvana.”
“What’s your question?” asked the Buddha.
“While the Buddha is in the world, we 1,250 disciples dwell with the Buddha. We constantly study with the Buddha, dwell with the Buddha, and make alms rounds. After the Buddha enters nirvana, where should all of us disciples dwell? Should we live in the mountains or in the city? How should we maintain our livelihoods? When the Buddha is in the world, we rely on offerings from donors. But after the Buddha leaves, what are we going to do?”
The Buddha told änanda, “After I enter nirvana, you should dwell in the Four Stations of Mindfulness: mindfulness regarding the body, feelings, thoughts, and dharmas.”
I will talk about mindfulness of the body first, because I know some people here don’t want to hear about it. Why not? They prize their bodies, thinking, “See what a beautiful body I have. It is neither too big nor too little, neither young nor old. My body is my best friend.” If you talk about the body being impure, people get upset. If people say their bodies are clean, you can ask them, “Then why do you have to rinse your mouth, wash your hands and face, and take a bath every day? That just goes to show that you aren’t all that clean.”
Consider the hippies, who neither take baths nor brush their teeth, preferring to live “naturally.” If you ask me, I think it would be best if they grazed on grass instead of eating regular food, because grass grows naturally, and they are into doing what’s natural. They want to eat natural [in Chinese, the word for “natural” also means “heavenly” foods], so they go to a natural food store. The products there are much more expensive than “earthly” food, but they insist on buying them. They think that earthly food is unclean and that if they eat it they will also become unclean, so they eat only natural “heavenly” food. But are they clean? No. They think they are, but they’re not. It’s just their own perception.
For example, I may think that I’m number one in the world, because there is no one else like me. My face, my voice, and everything about me is unique, so there is no second person like me. This applies to all of you, too. Each one of you can consider yourself number one in the world. It’s okay for us to have such an idea; it’s not against the law. But is it true? It can be true, and it can be false. How can it be true? If you consider yourself number one, you should behave accordingly, doing what others cannot do and eating what others cannot eat. Then you are number one. If you can cultivate what others cannot, you are number one. However, if you merely say you’re number one, but you behave like number two, what kind of number one is that? It’s a false number one.
If you want to be number one, you must race ahead in cultivation: “I want to be the first to achieve Buddhahood, the first to save beings.” Strive to be first; don’t lag behind. If you hang back when it’s time to work, but rush to the front when it’s time to eat, then you’re number one in eating—what use is that? The point I’m trying to make is that we may think things are a certain way, but that doesn’t make them so. For example, I may say, “Not only am I number one in the world, I’m also number one in heaven. People believe in God who is in heaven, but I think God should believe in me. God doesn’t have to listen to anyone, but I’ll tell him to be my servant.” I may think like that, but it’s only false thinking. It’s what happens when conscious thought is involved is false thinking. What happens spontaneously, without premeditation, is a response.
Sãkyamuni Buddha told Ànanda, “After the Buddha enters nirvana, the fourfold assembly of disciples should dwell in the Four Stations of Mindfulness.”
The Four Stations of Mindfulness
1. Contemplate the body as impure. This is the station of mindfulness of the body.
2. Contemplate feelings as suffering. This is the station of mindfulness of feelings.
3. Contemplate thoughts as impermanent. This is the station of mindfulness of thoughts.
4. Contemplate dharmas as without self. This is the station of mindfulness of dharmas.
By relying on the Four Stations of Mindfulness in one’s cultivation, one can realize sagehood and liberate oneself from the cycle of rebirth. Why have we failed to escape the cycle of rebirth? Simply because we haven’t truly realized how impure the body is. Everyone is attached to a self. “This is mine; that is mine; this house is mine; this land is mine; these clothes are mine.” But when they breathe their last breath, nothing belongs to them. I often quote this verse:
Fish jump in the water.
People mill about in the marketplace.
Not knowing to do good deeds and create virtue,
They harden their hearts and create offenses.
Gold and silver piled up as high as a mountain
Are all gone when you close your eyes.
With empty hands you go before King Yama,
Regretful, as your tears fall.
Unfortunately, your regrets come too late.
The First Station of Mindfulness is to contemplate the body as impure. Why is the body said to be impure? If you go without bathing for a day, your body starts to smell of sweat. If you don’t bathe for two days, the smell gets worse. If you go three days without bathing, you will stink as badly as a toilet! This goes for people whose bodies are generally clean. There are also people whose body odors are so rank that no matter how often they wash and scrub, they can’t get rid of the smell. All it takes is to have one person with this problem and everyone in the room will gag. The odor can’t be covered up, no matter how much perfume and deodorant they put on. Perhaps you aren’t influenced by sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, or dharmas, so you don’t notice it. But if you pay attention, some people have body odor that smells worse than the strongest Camembert cheese! Why do they smell so bad? It’s because they like to eat strong-smelling cheese, steak, lamb chops, cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and onions.
Why are people unclean? It’s because they came about in a very impure way. You might think that the mouth is the cleanest place in your body. However, if you don’t brush your teeth for a few days, your breath stinks worse than a toilet.
Filth oozes constantly from the nine apertures. Tears and matter flow from the eyes. Wax accumulates in the ears. Mucus comes from the nose. Saliva and phlegm come from the mouth. Add to that excrement and urine, and that makes nine apertures from which impurities constantly flow forth. So, what part of the body would you consider attractive?
Even if you smear your body with perfume or adorn it with gold, you still won’t pass for a Buddha image. Such attempts at camouflage are like trying to ornament a toilet with brocade. No matter how beautiful you try to make it, the toilet still stinks. And no matter how delicious the food you ate was, after it passes through your intestines, you wouldn’t want to look at it again, much less eat it. Dogs, on the other hand, love to eat that stuff. Horses wouldn’t eat it. Someone is thinking, “Dogs that are raised as pets in America don’t eat excrement.” That’s because they aren’t hungry. If they were starving and didn’t have any dog food to eat, they would rush to eat it.
Therefore, you should contemplate the body as impure. If you awaken to the fact that the body is filthy, you won’t be so attached to it. Without attachment, you will become liberated and won’t be burdened by the body. Laozi grasped this principle when he said, “The only reason I am plagued with huge afflictions is because I have this body. If I didn’t have a body, what affliction could there be?” He understood the contemplation of the body as impure.
We have studied the Buddhadharma for a long time. Have we managed to see through our attachments to the body and contemplate it as impure? Or are we still slaving away for our “stinking skin bags”? We ought to think it over. If you haven’t grasped this principle, then you haven’t understood even the superficial aspects of Buddhism, not to mention its essential teachings. You can’t take it if you’re a little hungry, a little thirsty, or a little cold. All these afflictions arise because of the body. You have to go out to work, and then go home and eat. During the day, you busy yourself for the sake of the body. At night, you have to let it rest, or else it will break down. You protect it constantly out of fear that it will break down, but after a few decades it decides that being here is not much fun and leaves you. Although you found it hard to let your body go, it lets you go just like that. It forgets about you and returns to the soil—to filth. It was filthy when it came, and it returns to filth. Thus, you should contemplate the body as impure.
The Second Station of Mindfulness is to contemplate feelings as suffering. Feelings are sensations that you experience, and they are suffering. There are many kinds of sufferings: the Three Sufferings, the Eight Sufferings, and all the limitless sufferings.
The Three Sufferings
1. The suffering within suffering
2. The suffering of decay
3. The suffering of process
1. The suffering within suffering. This refers to suffering on top of suffering. For example, a person may be so poor that he doesn’t have a house to live in. And then on top of that misery, he gets caught in a downpour. Or a person doesn’t even have any clothes to wear, and then the weather suddenly turns bitterly cold. Perhaps a person doesn’t have any food to eat, and as if that’s not enough, he gets sick. Being hungry when one is healthy is still bearable, but going without food when one is sick is truly suffering on top of suffering. Of course, if one doesn’t even have food to eat, one certainly doesn’t have money to go and see a doctor. So this is suffering within suffering.
Without money, it’s hard to do anything successfully. This kind of suffering within suffering is experienced by the poor. Rich people are not subject to this kind of suffering, but they have another kind of suffering, that of decay.
2. The suffering of decay. Someone may live in a beautiful mansion, but one day it burns down. A person may possess all kinds of valuable jewels, but one day thieves come and steal them. These are examples of the suffering of decay. Fires, theft, and all kinds of disasters may occur. Perhaps one has a fancy and expensive car, but ends up wrecking the car and injuring oneself in a collision. Perhaps one is riding in a plane that suddenly malfunctions and crashes, and many people get hurt. The rich are prone to the suffering of decay. Perhaps one doesn’t sustain any injuries oneself, but one’s son or daughter goes out swimming and gets hurt in an accident. That’s also the suffering of decay.
Rich people often have unexpected accidents like that happen to them. So, the poor have the suffering of poverty, and the rich have the suffering of decay.
“Well, I’m neither poor nor rich, so I don’t have any suffering,” you may say.
You may not have the suffering within suffering experienced by the poor or the suffering of decay experienced by the rich, but you do undergo the suffering of process.
3. The suffering of process. From birth we pass into the prime of life; from the prime of life we pass into old age; and then we go on to die. The ceaseless flow of thoughts characterizes the lifelong suffering of process. So, you may not experience the suffering of being poor or that of things going bad, but you do have the suffering of process. These are the Three Sufferings.
The Eight Sufferings include:
1. The suffering of birth.
2. The suffering of old age.
3. The suffering of sickness.
4. The suffering of death.
1. The suffering of birth. When an infant is born, it feels as if it is being crushed between two mountains. The pain is as terrible as that of a live turtle having its shell ripped off. That’s why babies always cry at the moment of birth. Although they don’t know how to speak, they cry, “Ku! Ku! Ku!” [“Ku” means “suffering” in Chinese.] Their meaning is, “Life is too much suffering!” After their initial period of crying, they are confused into thinking that maybe it’s okay to try out life in the world, so they stop crying.
2. The suffering of old age. After birth, people gradually age and get so old that their hair turns as white as crane feathers and their skin becomes as wrinkled and bumpy as a chicken’s—very unattractive. When they try to walk, their legs won’t cooperate. When they want to walk forward, their legs move backwards. They lose their independence. Their eyes grow blurry so they can’t see clearly. Their teeth fall out, and nothing they eat tastes good anymore. Their ears go deaf so they can’t hear clearly. At that point, they feel really miserable. That’s the suffering of old age.
3. The suffering of sickness. Old age alone is still no big deal, but then they get sick. They may be afflicted with headaches, toothaches, eye ailments, heart disease, liver disease, kidney ailments, spleen ailments, or lung ailments. The heart, liver, kidney, spleen, and lungs fail and develop diseases.
4. The suffering of death. After the suffering of sickness comes the worst one, that of death. The suffering of death can hardly be described. Such pain, comparable to that of a cow being flayed alive, is truly hard to endure. Although you may find it unendurable, you have to endure it. There is no way you can escape it. Such suffering could never be fully described.
The sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, and death have been explained. There are also:
5. The suffering of being separated from those one loves.
6. The suffering of being around those one hates.
7. The suffering of not getting what one wants.
8. The suffering of the raging blaze of the five skandhas.
5. The suffering of being separated from those one loves. Love is one of the greatest sources of offenses. If you can cut off love and desire, your karmic offenses will be light. If you have heavy emotional love and desire, your karmic offenses will be heavy.
As it is said,
With karma ended and emotions emptied,
One is a Buddha.
Burdened by karma and confused by emotion,
One is a common person.
Common people are confused by emotions and love and cannot see through them and put them down. Consequently, they go through a lot of suffering. Love is a huge attachment. It’s not easy to let go of. Thus there is the suffering of being separated from what one loves. People don’t want to be separated from those they love, but circumstances force them to. There is the pain of separation experienced by husbands and wives, as well as that experienced by children separated from their families, and also that experienced by friends who must part. In general, when loved ones are separated, they experience suffering.
Love involves suffering, but does hate entail suffering as well? Yes, namely:
6. The suffering of being around those one hates. For instance, you may loathe a certain person and want to get away from him, because being around him makes you miserable. You go to another place, but what do you suppose happens? You encounter another person just like the one you ran away from! Or you may even encounter the very person you were trying to avoid. The more you detest him, the more frequently you run into him. That’s the suffering of being around those one hates.
7. The suffering of not getting what one wants. Some people seek to be famous but never achieve fame. Others seek fortune but never become rich. Some people seek sons or daughters but remain childless. There are also those who wish to gain wealth and prestige, but never succeed. These are all cases of the suffering of not getting what one wants. When people cannot obtain what they seek, they have this kind of suffering. If they do obtain what they seek, they then suffer from the fear of losing it.
8. The suffering of the raging blaze of the five skandhas. The five skandhas are form, feelings, thought, formations, and consciousness. If they are not seen as empty, they also cause suffering. The five skandhas are like ropes that bind you or a mountain that presses down on you, so you are not free to do anything.
The Eight Sufferings have been explained in general. If we studied them in greater depth, we would find that each suffering actually contains limitless sufferings within it. The sufferings are infinite; to whom can you go for help?
The sea of suffering is boundless;
But if you turn around, you’re at the other shore.
If you can simply turn around, the suffering vanishes. If you don’t, the suffering is endless.
When you have advanced to a certain level in your cultivation, the demons will come to test you out, to see if you have any skill.
Demons come to polish the True Way;
Those on the True Way have to endure demons.
The more you’re polished, the brighter you become;
The brighter you get, the more you must be polished.
You’ll be polished until you’re like the autumn moon,
Illumining all the demon hordes from space.
When the demon hordes are scattered,
The original Buddha manifests.
Cultivators should not fear demons. Demons just come to test you to see if you have gongfu [spiritual skill]. Right now there are many demons coming to test all of you: heavenly demons, earthly demons, human demons, ghostly demons, and demons of sickness. They are testing you to see if you are genuine or phony. If you are phony, the demons will leave you alone. If you are genuine, the demons will be subdued and will also leave you alone. It’s only to be feared that you are partly genuine and partly phony. Then the demons will advance some and retreat some. They will get close to you, then draw away from you, then get close again, always hanging around you. Though they hang around, you need not be afraid. You can either become more genuine, or become more phony.
The Third Station of Mindfulness is to contemplate thoughts as impermanent. Thoughts of the past, present, and future cannot be got at. They are all fleeting and impermanent. Not only are thoughts of these three periods of time impermanent, all our thoughts are impermanent. I’m referring to thoughts of our ordinary human minds, not the True Mind. The True Mind is eternal, but the human mind is impermanent. Why? The human mind undergoes constant change. One thought perishes, and the next one arises. Thoughts arise and perish in endless succession, like waves on water. These infinite false thoughts are also like dust motes, bobbing up and down in the air with no fixed location. Such thoughts are impermanent. Our eternal True Mind, pure in nature and bright in substance, is permanent, constant, and unchanging.
The Fourth Station of Mindfulness is to contemplate dharmas as without self. If you think you have a self, then that is attachment to self. If you are attached to dharmas, then that is attachment to dharmas. You should contemplate both people and dharmas as being without self, thereby breaking both attachment to people and attachment to dharmas.
If you have a notion of self, then you have an attachment. With attachment, you can’t let go of things. Therefore, you must contemplate both people and dharmas as empty. Start by contemplating form dharmas.
1. Form dharmas. “Form” refers to anything that has appearance and substance. If you can’t see form as irrelevant and let go of your attachment to it, you will never attain ease. There is inner form and outer form. Outer forms have an appearance and a material substance. Since the external forms are there, you have internal impressions of them. These inner forms are the images in your own mind, which means your false thinking. Such false thinking prevents you from achieving a state of no self. You are enamored of form because you are attached to a self. If you are without a self, then you will have no attachments and therefore no impediments. That is called “seeing things as irrelevant and letting go of them.” If you can let go of things, you will feel comfortable and at ease.
2. Feeling dharmas. “Feeling” refers to reception of external stimuli and includes all sorts of experiences taken in by the sense faculties. If you have realized the non-existence of a self, you will not be caught up in feelings and will be free and at ease. As long as you cling to a self, you cannot be at ease.
3. Thought dharmas. “Thought” refers to false thought. You cannot stop your false thoughts because you still have a self. When there is no self, what thoughts could you possibly have?
In ancient times, there was an old cultivator who became enlightened upon hearing the following words:
Tofu vendor Zhang and tofu vendor Li
Travel a thousand roads at night in their sleep;
But the next morning, they still have to sell tofu!
When Mr. Zhang and Mr. Li go to bed at night, they start fantasizing, “Tomorrow, I’m going to quit selling tofu. I’m going to start a big business. I can find ten investors who invest $10,000 each, making a total of $100,000. Then I’ll make a fortune and never have to sell tofu again!” At night, they are full of schemes and plans, but the next morning, they realize that those plans were just fantasies and off they go to sell their tofu.
An old cultivator heard that verse and became enlightened. Now we have all heard it. Has anyone gotten enlightened? If not, we still have to sell tofu. What did the cultivator awaken to? He realized how powerful our false thoughts can be, and after that, he no longer thought about anything. Since he had no thoughts, he attained samadhi and became enlightened. Why haven’t you become enlightened? You have too many false thoughts.
4. Formations dharmas. “Formations” refer to the ceaseless flow of our mental processes. These processes of shift and change continue on and on like a stream. When one sees the formations skandha as empty, there is no more sense of self.
5. Consciousness dharmas. In general, there are eight consciousnesses. The eighth consciousness is the watershed between true and false. When it is transformed, it turns into the Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom. But before it is transformed, it is simply the eighth consciousness. The eight consciousnesses can be turned into the Four Wisdoms. Then there is truly no self left.
The above has been an explanation of how to contemplate the dharmas of the five skandhas as without self.
People all think they have a self. But if you search from the top of your head to the soles of your feet, you’ll find that every part of the body has its own name, but no part is called the “self.” Nevertheless, people are all attached to a self. Where there is no self, they insist on coming up with a self and then refuse to relinquish it. They think, “I was born. I will die. I am eating. I am wearing clothes. I am walking. I am sleeping.” But they can’t find the “I.” Originally there was no “I”, so why do you insist on thinking there is? Therefore, you should contemplate dharmas as without self. Now, try to find the self of your own nature, your inherent, original self. If you find it, tell me tomorrow. If you don’t find it, keep looking.
The reason for the words “Thus I have heard” has already been explained in general. Now I shall give a more detailed explanation.
“Thus” is ru shi in Chinese. Ru has the meaning of constant and unchanging, and shi means absolutely without falseness. Ru corresponds to samadhi, shi to wisdom. Ru is stillness, shi movement. “Thus” refers to the Dharma. “I have heard” is Ànanda saying, “The Dharma which is thus is what I personally heard from the Buddha.”
What does the word “I” refer to? Ordinary people have a self of attachment. They are attached to everything being theirs. Those of externalist ways have a “spiritual self.” Arhats and Bodhisattvas have a “false self.” Since Ànanda had attained the principle of sagehood, he didn’t really have a self. However, he had to assume a false “self” and use the word “I.” Otherwise, beings would become afraid and think, “Since there is no self, what’s the use of cultivating, anyway?” They would balk at the notion of there being no self. And so, in order to comply with the ways of the world, Ànanda said, “Thus I have heard.” Actually, it’s the ears that hear. How can “I” hear? Earlier, I mentioned that every part of the body has its own name. The head is called “head,” the hands are called “hands,” and the feet are called “feet.” You can look throughout all the different parts of the body, but you won’t find anything that is called “I”. Then why is the word “I” used here? It is a general name used to refer to the entire person.
The word “thus” fulfills the requirement of faith. Dharma that is thus may be believed. Dharma which is not thus cannot be believed.
The words “I have heard” fulfill the requirement of hearing. Ànanda is saying, “I personally heard this Dharma, cultivated in accord with it, and perfected my work in the Way.”
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