THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
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A Commentary by the Venerable Master
Hsuan Hua

Ascent to the Summit of Mt.Sumeru

Chapter Thirteen

Outline

  • A Thus Come One manifests in every assembly.
  • Without departing from beneath the tree, each Buddha ascends Mount Sumeru.
  • Each Lord Sakra sees the Buddha approaching.
  • Each Lord Sakra adorns his palace and sets up a throne.
  • Each Lord Sakra invites the Buddha to stay in the palace.
  • Every Buddha enters the palace at the same time.
  • The music in the palace ceases.
  • Each Lord Sakra recalls his past causes and conditions.
  • Each Lord Sakra praises the Thus Come Ones in unison.
  • They describe the situation in this world.
  • They conclude that it is the same in the ten directions.
  • All the palaces expand and become spacious.

Commentary:

Mount Sumeru is in the center of the four great continents. Its foundation is made of vajra. The mountain extends 84,000 yojanas down into the ocean, and also extends 84,000 yojanas above the ocean. Surrounding Mount Sumeru on the outside are the Iron Ring Mountains, which form the retinue of Mount Sumeru. Beyond the Iron Ring Mountains are seven rings of seas of fragrant water, which encircle Mount Sumeru.

Mount Sumeru is often mentioned in the Buddhist sutras. To this day, scientists have not yet figured out where Mount Sumeru is, and yet there are continual references to it in the sutras. The Heaven of the Four Kings is halfway up Mount Sumeru, and the Trayastrimsa Heaven is on the peak of Mount Sumeru; so Mount Sumeru is a place where gods and sages dwell.

Mount Sumeru has four tiers, and the area of each tier is half that of the previous tier. The lowest tier is sixteen thousand yojanas high, measured from the base of Mount Sumeru and up. The second tier is eight thousand yojanas, the third tier is four thousand yojanas, and the fourth tier extends for two thousand yojanas. The mountain also has the colors of four kinds of precious substances, namely, gold, silver, vajra, and vaidurya.  

Sumeru is a Sanskrit word that means “wonderfully high.” From the words “wonderfully high” we can know that this mountain can either be visible or invisible. Sometimes it can be seen; sometimes it cannot. Even when it is seen, its peak is not visible. You cannot tell how high the mountain is. Now, when it cannot be seen, the mountain is not gone. It still exists.

It is a place where sages live. No one can get to the top of this mountain, except immortals or sages who have spiritual powers which enable them to get there. That’s why it’s called “wonderfully high.” The word “wonderful” indicates that is far from ordinary and average.

It is an analogy for people’s arrogance. “Wonderfully high” describes an inconceivable and ineffable state. Why is it sometimes there and sometimes not? People’s arrogance is sometimes evident and sometimes not. When our arrogance flares, it can reach all the way to the Trayastrimsa Heaven. When we are not arrogant, Mount Sumeru disappears. That is why we liken arrogance to Mount Sumeru.

By going up to the summit of Mount Sumeru to speak the Dharma, the Buddha was telling us people that we need to change and stop being so arrogant and self-satisfied. Did the Buddha ascend to the peak of Mount Sumeru the way we ordinary people would go? No, he didn’t move from his original seat. While remaining seated in samadhi beneath the bodhi tree, he arrived at the Trayastrimsa Heaven and spoke the Great Flower Adornment Dharma.

How did he go there? His transformation body went. His reward body remained in samadhi, not leaving his original seat, yet he ascended to the summit of Mount Sumeru.

This is the thirteenth chapter entitled “Ascent to the Summit of Mount Sumeru.”

I. A Thus Come One manifests in every assembly.

Sutra:

At that time, due to the Thus Come One’s majestic spiritual power, in all the world systems of the ten directions, beings in the Jambudvipa in every set of four continents could see a Thus Come One seated beneath the tree.

Commentary:

At that time , after the assembly in which the preceding “Worthy Leader Chapter” had been spoken, due to the Thus Come One’s majestic spiritual power...When the Buddha first realized Proper Enlightenment, he manifested awe-inspiring spiritual power.

In all the world systems of the ten directions. The scientists of today simply can’t find the Mount Sumeru in our world, let alone the limitless, boundless Mount Sumerus throughout the worlds of the ten directions.Although present-day scientists know about our world with its sun and moon, they are as yet unable to determine clearly everything in our entire world system, because their wisdom just isn’t powerful enough to perceive those states.

We people can only see the mountains in our own world and even then, clouds and fog cover them so that we often cannot see their peaks. We may know very well that a mountain is there, but it is invisible to us. Although the mountain is not really gone, we cannot see it. The worlds of the ten directions are like that too. Since we sometimes cannot even see the mountains in our own world, even more are the worlds throughout the ten directions too remote for us to perceive.

The wisdom of scientists has not reached that level, so they have not yet discovered the many other worlds, other suns and moons, and other Mount Sumerus. Nevertheless, they do exist. Most people cannot perceive the boundaries of space. Since we cannot find where space ends, we have no idea how vast it is, or how many worlds there are in the ten directions to the ends of space throughout the Dharma Realm.

In fact, right on this planet, sometimes you may be very well aware that there is a high mountain in a certain place, but you cannot see it. Even if you go right in front of that mountain, you still cannot see it. And even if you go onto the mountain, you still cannot see the entire mountain, and you have no idea how big the mountain is.

So from this principle you can see how although there are worlds throughout the ten directions, our wisdom is not powerful enough to perceive the states of those worlds. Mount Sumeru is the same way. Although we are right on Mount Sumeru, we simply cannot see it. We do not know we are on Mount Sumeru. This is like an ant in a big ship. That ant does not have any idea of how big the ship. Or if it crawls onto someone’s body, it does not know how big that body is. We people in this world do not know how large this world is or how high Mount Sumeru is. We are as the ant is on a ship, or on an airplane, or on a person’s body.

Beings in the Jambudvipa in every set of four continents could seea Thus Come One seated beneath the tree. Every world has a Mount Sumeru, a sun, a moon, and one set of four continents; the southern continent is called Jambudvipa. Every sentient being of every world throughout the ten directions—not just in our Saha world—could see a Buddha attaining Proper Enlightenment while seated under a bodhi tree.

Sutra :

Accompanying each of them were Bodhisattvas who relied on the Buddha’s spiritual power and proclaimed the Dharma. Every being considered himself to be constantly in the presence of the Buddha. 

Commentary:

Accompanying each of them, each Buddha, were innumerable Bodhisattvas who relied on the Buddha’s awesome spiritual power and proclaimed all the wonderful Dharma. Every being considered himself to be constantly in the presence of the Buddha. In every Jambudvipa throughout the worlds of the ten directions, each Bodhisattva and every sentient being thinks, “The Buddha always speaks the Dharma right to me.” They consider themselves to be constantly right before the Buddha.

This phenomenon can be likened to the moonlight. Sentient beings in the east, south, west and north all will say that the moon shines on them. For example, someone on a boat sailing eastward on the sea would feel the moon was following him to the east and shining on him. And someone in a boat sailing toward the west would feel the moon was following him to the west. But someone in a boat moored in the middle would feel the moon had stopped right at that very spot. In the same way that the moonlight shines everywhere, every sentient being feels as if the Buddha is right before him or her, speaking the Dharma.

II. Without departing from beneath the tree, each Buddha ascends Mount Sumeru.
III. Each Lord Sakra sees the Buddha approaching.
IV. Each Lord Sakra adorns his palace and sets up a throne.

Sutra:

At that time, the World Honored One, without departing from beneath all the bodhi trees, ascended Mount Sumeru and approached the palace of Lord Sakra. Celestial Lord Sakra, who was in front of his Wondrous Splendid Palace, saw the Buddha coming from afar. He immediately used his spiritual powers to adorn this palace and set up a Universal Light Treasury Lion Throne. That throne was entirely made out of wondrous gems.  

Commentary:

At that time, the World Honored One, without departing from beneath all the bodhi trees, ascended Mount Sumeru. Shakyamuni Buddha was still seated beneath the bodhi tree in a state of samadhi. “Without departing” means hedid not leave; he neither came nor went. The Buddha’s Dharma body takes the Dharma Realm as its substance and appearance. Therefore, no matter where he wants to go, he doesn’t have to physically move the way we people do, to go to places. The Buddha, without moving from his seat, can travel to all places. Since the Trayastrimsa Heaven is within the Dharma Realm, when the Buddha wished to go there to speak Dharma, he didn’t have to leave the bodhi tree as he approached the palace of Lord Sakra at the peak of Mount Sumeru in the Trayastrimsa Heaven to speak Dharma.

At that time, the Celestial Lord Sakra, Sakra-devanam-indra, who was in front of his Wondrous Splendid Palace, saw the Buddha coming from afar. No matter how many gods or heavenly spirits enter Lord Sakra’s palace, it is able to hold them all. It can contain infinitely many gods. That’s why it is called the Wondrous Splendid Palace. Lord Sakra saw the Buddha approaching from very far in the distance. He immediately used his spiritual powers to adorn this palace and set up a Universal Light Treasury Lion Throne. There were numerous gems radiating light, hence “a treasury of universal light.” He used universal light treasuries to adorn the Wondrous Splendid Palace, also known as the Universal Light Palace. All kinds of gems and jewels were used to make the lion throne, so the text says: That throne was entirely made out of wondrous gems. The lion throne was created from the most rare and wondrous jewels.

Sutra:

Ten thousand terraces adorned it to the ultimate. Ten thousand golden nets covered it from above. Ten thousand kinds of curtains and ten thousand kinds of canopies encircled it in orderly array. Ten thousand silken fabrics were draped upon it. Ten thousand pearl necklaces everywhere interlaced. Ten thousand garments were suspended above the throne. Ten thousand gods and ten thousand Brahma kings surrounded it in front and behind. Ten thousand lights illuminated it.

Commentary:

Why does the text say ten thousand? It’s because ten is the beginning of infinity. It represents the realm of Flower Adornment, which is infinitely multi-layered and unspeakably wonderful. Ten thousand terraces adorned it to the ultimate. This means the lion throne had infinitely many layers or tiers. They are said to be “ten thousand” since you don’t know exactly how many there are. That’s because this is in the heavens, and not in the human realm where the adornments are simple and crude. The adornments in the heavens are especially fine, not like those in human realm. The phrase “adorned it to the ultimate” means it was especially and finely adorned.

Ten thousand golden nets covered it from above. There were also infinitely many layers of golden nets spread out above the lion throne, embellishing it. Ten thousand kinds of curtains. On the sides, there were jeweled curtains which were also made out of all kinds of exquisite gems, and there were also infinitely many layers of them. And ten thousand kinds of canopies. There were also limitless and countless pendant streamers and jeweled canopies hanging down, which encircled it in orderly array on all sides in infinitely many overlapping layers. Ten thousand silken fabrics were draped upon it. There were also layer upon layer of inexhaustibly many silken fabrics. These precious silken sashes were extremely light and warm, extremely fine and thin, and they trailed down from the throne. Ten thousand pearl necklaces everywhere interlaced. These precious pearl necklaces were also layer upon layer, inexhaustibly many, and they were interlaced and interconnected on all sides.

Ten thousand garments were suspended above the throne, displayed as an offering to the Buddha. Ten thousand gods and ten thousand Brahma kings surrounded it in front and behind. Countlessly many gods and Brahma kings, at least ten thousand in number, surrounded the Buddha in the front and the back. Ten thousand lights illuminated it. The precious light emitted from all kinds of ornaments and gems shined upon the lion throne.

Think about it. This state of being is very different from our present state at Gold Mountain Monastery. Now as the Flower Adornment Sutra is being explained, when you hear about this state of being, you can transport it to Gold Mountain Monastery, so that the monastery can also have these kinds of adornments and be illuminated by ten thousand lights.

* * * *

People have been cultivating for so many years, but still haven’t accomplished much. Why? It is because when we bow to the Buddha, we don’t act as if we were bowing to the Buddha, and when we recite the Buddha’s name, we don’t act like we’re reciting the Buddha’s name. Our actions are always slightly defiled. For instance, when we are reciting a sutra, we should not be distracted by any movement around us. If there is a knock on the door, we should not look back to see who has come. Nor should we look to see who is coming down the stairs. To do those things is to be turned by sounds. It’s because we haven’t gotten rid of these bad habits that we don’t have any response when we recite sutras. If the doorbell rings, the people watching the door will take care of it. Those who are reciting sutras don’t need to mind the door.

When reciting the Buddha’s name, you must concentrate your mind. No matter what sounds are around you, you shouldn’t listen to them. You should only be aware of the sound of reciting the Buddha’s name. However, this doesn’t mean you should be like a senseless piece of wood or a clod of dirt that has no awareness at all. Although you are aware, you should only be aware the sound of the Buddha’s name, and not concern yourself with other things that are none of your business.

When you are bowing to the Buddha, you also must concentrate and be very reverent. The Buddha is right in front of us; you shouldn’t think that bowing can be done casually, or that it is only a ritual. That isn’t the case at all. When your head is lowered to the mat in a bow, you certainly should not turn to the side to look at other people. You can’t look left or right, for that shows a complete lack of respect for the Buddha. Each of you should think it over: when you are bowing to the Buddha, if you still cannot put it all down but keep on looking around, then what Buddha are you bowing to? When you are reciting sutras or the Buddha’s name, if you don’t need to relieve nature, you shouldn’t go to the restroom to look around. It is all right if you truly need to go to the restroom, but you shouldn’t deliberately go to the restroom when you don’t need to, or go to the kitchen to talk. These faults prevent you from succeeding in your cultivation.

When you apply effort in cultivation, your mind shouldn’t be so scattered. You should have some samadhi power. If you have samadhi power, then your wisdom will come forth. But if you are lacking in samadhi power, your wisdom won’t manifest. This is very important. We cannot make the tiniest mistake. As it’s said,

If one is off by a hair in the beginning,
One will miss by a thousand miles in the end.

If you are the least bit off, then there won’t be any response in your cultivation. No matter what kind of Dharma you practice, you must be patient.

* * * *

V. Each Lord Sakra invites the Buddha to stay in the palace.

Sutra:

When Lord Sakra had arranged the throne for the Thus Come One, he made a half bow, joined his palms, reverently faced the Buddha and said, “Welcome, World Honored One. Welcome, Well Gone One. Welcome, Thus Come One, Worthy One, One of Proper Enlightenment. I only pray that the Buddha will pity us and stay in this palace.”

Commentary:

When Lord Sakra saw Shakyamuni Buddha ascending from Jambudvipa to the peak of Mount Sumeru, he used his spiritual powers to adorn the Wondrous Splendid Palace. He made a lion throne of universal light from every kind of wondrous jewel and gem. The throne had ten thousand tiers of steps, ten thousand golden nets spread above it, ten thousand jeweled curtains surrounding it on every side, ten thousand jeweled canopies encircling it in orderly array, and so forth, up to ten thousand lights illuminating it.

At that moment, when Lord Sakra had arranged and set up the lion throne for the Thus Come One, Shakyamuni Buddha, he made a half bow by bending at the waist, and joined his palms. He showed respect with his body by bowing and joining his palms. Then he reverently faced the Buddha, showing respect in the mind. If one only bows and joins one’s palms together, yet has an angry expression, one cannot be considered reverent or respectful. But if one smiles, showing utmost sincerity in paying respect to the Buddha, one has respect within one’s mind.  

And he said… This represents reverence in his mouth karma. The three karmic modes of body, mouth, and mind were pure as he spoke to the Buddha and said, “Welcome, World Honored One. This is just the right time for you to come. The conditions have ripened for the Buddha to come and liberate these sentient beings. Welcome, Well Gone One. You have come at just the right time to a very fine place. Well Gone One is one of the Buddha’s ten titles. “Well Gone” means gone to the very best place. “Welcome, Thus Come One. Exactly at the right time, the Thus Come One has come. Worthy One, One of Proper Enlightenment.”The World Honored One is one who is worthy of receiving offerings. He is a Buddha who has attained Proper and Equal, Right Enlightenment. “I only pray that the Buddha will take pity on all of us heavenly multitudes and, out of great compassion, stay in this palace. World Honored One, please reside in this Wondrous Splendid Palace and teach and transform all of us gods.”

VI. Every Buddha enters the palace at the same time.

Sutra:

At that time, the World Honored One accepted his invitation and entered the Wondrous Splendid Palace. In all the worlds throughout the ten directions, this happened exactly the same way.  

Commentary:

At that time, the World Honored One saw that Lord Sakra was extremely sincere in making the request, and so the Buddha accepted his invitation and entered Wondrous Splendid Palace. The Buddha ascended the lion throne. In all the worlds throughout the ten directions, this happened exactly the same way. Lord Sakra is the god known to many people as the Jade Emperor. He requested that the Buddha stay in his Wondrous Splendid Palace. From beneath the bodhi tree in each of the Southern Jambudvipas, every Shakyamuni Buddha simultaneously ascended to the summit of Mount Sumeru and accepted Lord Sakra’s invitation to enter the Wondrous Splendid Palace and sit upon the lion throne.

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