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

The Ten Penetrations

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Outline:

    • Indication of the Number
    • Explanations
      • Wisdom-based Spiritual Power of Knowing Others’ Minds
      • Wisdom-based Spiritual Power of the Heavenly Eye
      • Wisdom-based Spiritual Power of Knowing Past Lives Extending Back through Eons of Time
      • Wisdom-based Spiritual Power of Knowing Future Eons of Time
      • Wisdom-based Spiritual Power of the Unobstructed Purity of the Heavenly Ear.
      • Wisdom-based Spiritual Power of Being Devoid of Substance and Unmoving as One Reaches to All Buddhalands
      • Wisdom-based Spiritual Power of Clearly Discerning All Words and Phrasing
      • Wisdom-based Spiritual Power of Manifesting Countless Physical Bodies
      • Wisdom-based Spiritual Power Regarding All Dharmas
      • Wisdom-based Spiritual Power of Entering the Samadhi of the Extinction of All Dharmas
    • Praise of the Excellent Functions
    • Conclusion and Description of Attainments

Sutra:

Chapter Twenty-eight: Ten Spiritual Powers

Commentary:

Chapter Twenty-eight: Ten Spiritual Powers. This chapter is the twenty-eighth chapter in the Flower Adornment Sutra, which [in Chinese] has eighty-one fascicles. This chapter discusses the ten spiritual powers that Bodhisattvas possess. If Bodhisattvas have these special abilities, Buddhas obviously possess them in full as well. Bodhisattvas acquired these ten spiritual powers through spiritual practice. If Bodhisattvas are capable of such achievements, all sentient beings who bring forth the bodhi resolve, walk the Bodhisattva Path, and cultivate Bodhisattvas’ practices, will obtain these ten spiritual powers. As long as you walk the Bodhisattva Path, you will acquire these ten spiritual powers without having to seek for them. As long as you continue to practice, you will realize such a feat.

In this Dharma-ending Age, many Great Sages of the Dharma Body and Bodhisattvas in various manifestations appear in the world to remind us to avoid wrong knowledge and views and maintain correct knowledge and views. Bodhisattvas cultivate the Bodhisattva practices and acquire these ten kinds of spiritual powers.

Should Bodhisattvas avoid revealing their spiritual powers? No. If Bodhisattvas have spiritual powers yet refuse to use them, then what would be the point of having such powers? It would be like a person who is unaware that he has a pearl hidden in his clothes. Consequently, he often goes hungry, unclothed, and homeless. Is he not a pauper? Is this person dissimilar from a pauper if he does not know how to use his precious gem? Bodhisattvas with spiritual powers are analogous to the fellow with the pearl. If people do not have such abilities, they can’t use them even if they wish to. If they have such capabilities, they may readily use them.

Many ordinary people who are ignorant, especially those masquerading as Buddhists, or Buddhists who only understand a fraction of the Buddhadharma, never want to investigate the truth. These individuals only know to say whatever everyone else says, rather than to probe the principle behind others’ words. Hence, people take small things and blow them out of the proportion. They claim that people should not possess spiritual powers during the Dharma-ending Age. Such words are just the seeds for the hells. If they even knew as little as one atom’s worth of Buddhism, one tiny part of Buddhism, they would avoid carelessly judging and criticizing Buddhism. Buddhism explains truths rather than duplicitous principles, deceptive principles, hypocritical principles of self-deceit, or principles that mislead everyone including oneself. Buddhism plumbs the depths of truth. One investigates until the truth manifests.

The eight divisions of gods and dragons will certainly protect and support truth wherever it exists. Wherever truth exists, the Buddhas of the ten directions will certainly protect and support it. Wherever truth exists, the Bodhisattvas of the ten directions will certainly protect and support it. Thus, as long as you understand the truth, you’re a true Buddhist. If you fail to understand the truth and are befuddled and you parrot whatever anyone claims, then you are quite likely to mislead yourself and others.

For what reasons did the Bodhisattva attain these ten spiritual powers? He attained them in order to expediently and cleverly teach and transform sentient beings and to help all sentient beings bring forth the great bodhi resolve rather than to follow worldly ways. Ordinary people, on the other hand, wallow in the mire and pursue unwholesome worldly ways like everyone else. “Since everyone else is that way, I’ll be the same”—that is a confused Buddhist. What is there to gain from being a deluded Buddhist? The more you learn, the more you become deluded. The more deluded you are, the more foolish you become. You don’t know to pursue truth. You fail to recognize true Proper Dharma. Since you do not recognize Proper Dharma, you learn heterodox teachings instead. Not only do you study heterodox teachings; furthermore, you slander the Proper Dharma. That is really pitiable.

What is Proper Dharma? What is heterodox teaching? The Proper Dharma prevails when one practices according to the Buddha’s Dharma, teachings, and Vinaya, that is, when one avoids violating the precepts. One obeys, respects and maintains the precepts at all times. One refrains from anything that is contrary to the precepts. One only does things that are in accordance with the precepts. This is the Path that Bodhisattvas follow. Everyone should learn the Buddhadharma with this proper frame of mind and refrain from passing the time gossiping. To do otherwise makes one not only unworthy of the label, “Buddhist,” but someone who fails to do anything worthwhile.

As people who are studying the Buddhadharma, we must recognize true Buddhism, as opposed to imitation Buddhism. We must support genuine Buddhism. We should correct duplicitous Buddhism so that its followers will understand the Proper Dharma in the future. Bodhisattvas’ intentions are such that they can’t bear to see sentient beings fall into the hells. Bodhisattvas can’t bear to see people reborn as animals or hungry ghosts, or tumble into any of the three evil paths. Bodhisattvas’ intentions are such that whether sentient beings desire it or not, Bodhisattvas teach them the Proper Dharma. Bodhisattvas do not act on their sentimentalities in relating to people. Consequently, they have spiritual powers.

If Bodhisattvas have spiritual powers and are able to exercise them, why is there a stigma about ordinary people who attain spiritual powers using them? That’s ridiculous. It’s utter nonsense. Such a prohibition practically guarantees the extinction of Buddhism’s Proper Dharma and outstanding talents. Students of Buddhism must maintain correct knowledge and views whether or not you understand the Buddhadharma. One must not embrace wrong knowledge and views. Since you have proper knowledge and views, you will accept the genuine Buddhadharma. Without correct knowledge and views, you will reject the Proper Dharma.

Hence, with earnest compassion, Bodhisattvas patiently and kindly guide sentient beings until they change. This way, sentient beings really understand, awaken, and practice the Dharma. This is the Bodhisattvas’ intent. Bodhisattvas harbor not a trace of selfishness, self-interest, or interest in fishing for fame and repute. Bodhisattvas simply practice honestly, listening to the Buddha’s teaching and acting accordingly. Therefore they are able to attain spiritual powers. There are ignorant Buddhists in the Dharma-ending Age who claim that no one can possess any spiritual powers during this era. Due to their stupidity, they don’t see people with spiritual powers. They don’t recognize Bodhisattvas with spiritual powers even if they see them. As the Chinese say, “Mistaking what is before your face, you narrowly miss your opportunity.” Furthermore, those Bodhisattvas with spiritual powers realize that such people have erroneous ideas and improper views, so they will not teach them. We should turn our light within and reflect on the ways in which we are flawed. Upon gaining an awareness of that, we should quickly and seriously make the resolve for bodhi. This is the principle behind the ten spiritual powers.

All of you good advisors, if any of you have spiritual powers, I would be pleased that you use them. If you incur any offenses from using spiritual powers, I’ll shoulder your offenses. Since you claim that you’ll fall into the hells if you use spiritual powers, I am willing to go into the hells on your behalf. Don’t be afraid. Only be afraid that you have no spiritual powers.

Conversely, don’t pretend that you have paranormal abilities when you have none. Don’t pretend that you’re a Bodhisattva following the Bodhisattva Path. You must practice truthfully. Don’t put up a facade. All of you must quickly begin practicing, earnestly working and taking one firm step at a time. Do not be careless and slapdash Buddhists who merely bide their time.

You have to seriously practice so that you become an outstanding individual. By doing that, although you may appear to be practicing like most Buddhists, you will reach the fruition of the Path first. Once you realize the fruition of the Path, you can then turn around to guide friends with whom you have affinities. I am telling you this in all honesty. During this Dharma-ending Age, we need people who practice sincerely, who are enlightened, who realize the fruition of sagehood, who practice what they say and attain great wisdom.

I. Indication of the Number

Sutra:

At that time, Universal Worthy Bodhisattva Mahasattva told all other Bodhisattvas: Disciples of the Buddha! A Bodhisattva Mahasattva has ten spiritual powers. What are the ten?  

Commentary:

At that time, Universal Worthy Bodhisattva Mahasattva, a great Bodhisattva among all Bodhisattvas, told all other Bodhisattvas. He announced to all Bodhisattvas: Disciples of the Buddha! All of you are good disciples within Buddhism, disciples who practice according to the Buddha’s teaching. You should know that a Bodhisattva Mahasattva has ten spiritual powers. Now let me tell you. What are the ten? What are the ten spiritual powers of a Bodhisattva Mahasattva?

II. Explanations

1. Wisdom-based Spiritual Power of Knowing Others’ Minds

Sutra:

Disciples of the Buddha! With the wisdom-based spiritual power of knowing others’ minds, a Bodhisattva Mahasattva recognizes the varied minds of sentient beings in a trichiliocosm: minds of goodness, minds of evil, expansive minds, narrow minds, immense minds, petty minds, minds that follow birth and death, minds that do not follow birth and death, minds of Hearers, minds of Solitarily Enlightened Sages, minds of Bodhisattvas, Hearer’s minds for practice, Solitarily Enlightened Sage’s minds for practice, Bodhisattvas’ minds for practice, minds of devas, minds of dragons, minds of yakshas, minds of gandharvas, minds of asuras, minds of garudas, minds of kinnaras, minds of mahoragas, minds of humans, minds of nonhumans, minds of beings in the hells, minds of animals, minds of those at the place of King Yama, minds of hungry ghosts, and minds of sentient beings in various places of hardship.  

Commentary:

Disciples of the Buddha! A great Bodhisattva among Bodhisattvas uses the wisdom-based spiritual power of knowing others’ minds. This spiritual power enables one to know others’ minds—their inner thoughts. With this power one can read others’ minds to know what they are thinking and what they want to say.  

A Bodhisattva Mahasattva recognizes the varied minds of sentient beings in a trichiliocosm. He knows the minds of those in a trichiliocosm. A thousand worlds form a small chiliocosm. One thousand small chiliocosms form a medium chiliocosm. One thousand medium chiliocosms form a large chiliocosm. Thus, a trichiliocosm is so-named because it represents three multiples of a chiliocosm. Having mentioned chiliocosms thrice, it is a trichiliocosm. The thoughts of all sentient beings in a trichiliocosm differ. Instead of comprehending only the thoughts of all sentient beings on this tiny earth of ours alone, a Bodhisattva knows the thoughts of all sentient beings in an entire trichiliocosm.

Let me tell you the reasons now. Since the minds of sentient beings in one world system are this way, the minds in a thousand world systems (a small chiliocosm) are similar. The minds of sentient beings in a medium chiliocosm are also similar. To generalize, there are simply the categories of good minds and evil minds, as the sutra mentions later. Sentient beings’ minds in a thousand large chiliocosms are also about the same. How are they similar? Sentient beings possess minds of goodness, minds of evil—either good thoughts or bad thoughts. For example, goodness includes upholding the precepts, cultivating concentration, and developing wisdom. Conversely, evil includes violating the precepts and being subject to greed, anger, and delusion. The three modes of karma generate the ten good deeds and the ten evil deeds. The ten good deeds come from purifying body, mouth, and mind, whereas the ten evils originate from an impure body, mouth, and mind.

Expansive minds are vast and great, narrow minds, i mmenseminds. As it is said, “The immense mind is all inclusive, containing heaven and earth. The narrow mind is all too exclusive and intolerant.” Petty minds. This is when someone says something and you can’t stand it, you get so upset that you nearly go insane. This is the mind of pettiness and parsimoniousness. Minds that follow birth and death are the minds of commoners, minds that do not follow birth and death are the minds of sages. Minds of those who practice the Four Noble Truths are those of the Hearers. Minds of Solitarily Enlightened Sages, minds of Bodhisattvas. This mentions the three vehicles.

Hearers’ minds for practice, Solitarily Enlightened Sages’ minds for practice, Bodhisattvas’ minds for practice, minds of devas, minds of dragons. Devas in their minds prefer happiness. Dragons enjoy using spiritual powers. Why did they become dragons? Because they were “fast with the vehicle, and slow with the precepts.” It is because they practiced the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) Dharma vigorously, nonstop from morning to night. However, they didn’t uphold the precepts. Since they diligently practiced the Mahayana Buddhadharma, they became dragons with supernatural abilities. Since they didn’t keep the precepts, they turned into animals that have to endure the torture of heated afflictions. Despite their spiritual powers, they’re still beasts. This is all because they practiced vigorously but let their precepts fall by the wayside.

Minds of yakshas : Yakshas became yakshas because of their hatred. They also worked hard at their practice, but they didn’t uphold their precepts. In short, sentient beings fall and turn into animals because they have violated the Vinaya. Whether you practice as a monastic or layperson, if you breach any of the precepts, you will easily fall and become a beast—at the minimum. More severely, you may become a ghost or a hell-being. Therefore, people who have received the precepts must observe the precepts strictly.  

Minds of gandharvas : Gandharvas are those spirits who sing at the Jade Emperor’s court. Once they start singing, the Jade Emperor is overjoyed. Minds of asuras. Asuras favor brute force and ruthless competition. They prefer battling endlessly with others. Minds of garudas :Garudas are great golden-winged peng birds that became birds also because of their hatred. Minds of kinnaras: These are also music spirits at the Jade Emperor’s court. Minds of mahoragas: python spirits. Minds of humans: minds of ordinary people. Minds of nonhumans, that is, minds of all sentient beings. Minds of beings in hells, minds of animals, minds of those at the place of King Yama, minds of hungry ghosts, minds of sentient beings in various places of hardship, the minds of beings living in places that are difficult to live. 

Sutra:

Just as a Bodhisattva Mahasattva can discern the limitlessly many different types of minds of sentient beings in one world, likewise he can do so in a hundred worlds, a thousand worlds, a hundred thousand worlds, a hundred billion nayutas of worlds. He can even discern the minds of sentient beings in worlds as many as dust motes in ineffably ineffable Buddhalands.  

This is called a Bodhisattva Mahasattva’s first wisdom-based spiritual power of skillfully knowing others’ minds.

Commentary:

Just as a Bodhisattva Mahasattva can discern the limitlessly many different types of minds of sentient beings…Just as the Bodhisattva Mahasattva, having attained the wisdom to penetrate others’ minds,distinctly recognizes each and every mind in one world, likewise he can do so in a hundred worlds, a thousand worlds, a hundred thousand worlds, a hundred billion nayutas of worlds. He can even discern and very clearly and distinctly know the minds of sentient beings in worlds as many as dust motes in ineffably ineffable Buddhalands—such a great number of worlds.[Translator’s note: The term “ineffably ineffable” is the name of one of a series of huge numbers in India. See glossary and Chapter Thirty of this sutra, “Asankheyas,” for more information.]

This is called a Bodhisattva Mahasattva’s first wisdom-based spiritual power of skillfully knowing others’ minds. These are great Bodhisattvas among Bodhisattvas.

II.2.Wisdom-based Spiritual Power of the Heavenly Eye

Sutra:

Disciples of the Buddha! With the wisdom-based spiritual power of the unobstructed purity of the heavenly eye, a Bodhisattva Mahasattva sees countless sentient beings in worlds as many as dust motes in ineffably ineffable Buddhalands. He sees infinitely many types of sentient beings, such as beings who die in one place and are born in another.

Commentary:

Disciples of the Buddha! All of you disciples of the Buddha, with the wisdom-based spiritual power of the unobstructed purity of the heavenly eye, the heavenly eye being a spiritual power manifesting from wisdom, a Bodhisattva Mahasattva sees countless sentient beings in worlds as many as dust motes in ineffably ineffable Buddhalands. He sees infinitely many types of sentient beings, such as beings who die in one place and are born in another. With his unobstructed celestial eye, he can see clearly at a glance transmigration and the law of cause and effect, how all sentient beings within ksetras die here then are born there, or die in this world then are born in another world. He can see all this.

We must use our wisdom to learn the Buddhadharma, not our emotions. When we learn the Buddhadharma using our wisdom, it is the Proper Dharma. To learn the Buddhadharma using our emotions is the ending of Dharma. To protect and uphold the Proper Dharma, you must have wisdom and the Dharma-selecting eye. If you learn the Buddhadharma on the basis of sentiments, then not only will you fail but the more you learn the farther you fall. Wisdom is pure; emotions are defiled. “One would rather enter the hells than to give the Buddhadharma away as a tool to curry favor.” In other words, don’t be emotional in your learning of the Buddhadharma. You should be especially clear about this point.

I am speaking genuine Dharma for you out of compassion. I don’t want to cheat others and myself so that not only I will fall into the hells but I will lead others there too. It’s all right if I alone fall into the hells, but I would prefer that other people not follow me in that descent. I speak what I know on the Buddha’s sutras. I use my utmost sincerity to propagate the Buddhadharma; it’s up to you as to whether you want to listen. I’ve already lectured on the sutras for more than ten years; you’ve already listened to sutras for more than ten years yet you still have not obtained any benefit. We will burn our bridges behind us as I will now absolutely speak the true and actual Dharma for you. You all should pay special attention and listen.

As usual our three principles are: “Freezing to death, we do not scheme; starving to death, we do not beg; dying of poverty, we ask for nothing.” We don’t beg even if we’re dying of poverty. “According with conditions, we do not change. We do not change, yet accord with conditions.” These are the three great principles. It’s most glorious if we starve to death as Buddhists. It’s most valuable if we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the Buddhadharma. I am not kidding you. This is the upper part of the matching verses. You should know the rest. “We renounce our lives to do the Buddha’s work. We mold our destinies to fulfill our basic duty. We rectify our lives to fulfill the Sanghan’s role. Encountering specific matters, we understand the principles. Understanding the principles, we apply them to specific matters. We carry on the patriarch’s single pulse of the mind transmission.” We must persevere regardless of the time or environment, never changing our principles or spirit. We must have the aspiration, “Freezing to death, we stand tall in the wind; starving to death, we hold our heads high.” We must be Buddhists with a great resolve. We must be Buddhists with backbone rather than spineless Buddhists who fear this and that. We fear nothing.

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