THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS

The Kinds of Suffering

Sutra:

And he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty.

Commentary:

All refers to everything which is suffering and difficulty. Suffering by itself is already unpleasant to endure; add difficulty to suffering and the suffering is even greater. Crossed beyond indicates deliverance from suffering and the attainment of happiness; it means liberation. “Why then doesn’t the sutra simply say ‘liberated’, instead of crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty?” you ask. Even if you illuminate the five skandhas and see that they are all empty as Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara did, you still must cultivate. Only then can you cross beyond all suffering and difficulty. To illuminate emptiness and see it is merely to know emptiness; you must still practice. Although you have quickly awakened to the principle, there is still the gradual work of cultivation.

If you know about emptiness but don’t cultivate, then emptiness is of no use. If you understand that the principle itself is empty, you should cultivate and cross beyond suffering and difficulty. If you want to cultivate, you yourself must actually do it. It’s not just talk- Zen: “Hey! I’ve become enlightened. I’ve attained anuttarasamyaksambodhi, the Utmost Right and Perfect Enlightenment.” Enlightened? How did you become enlightened? How did you do it? How was your anuttarasamyaksambodhi certified? It’s easy to say, but hard to do! Just saying it is a dharma, but by doing it you arrive. If you say it, you must be able to do it. If you know about emptiness, then you should cultivate. Understand true emptiness, then cultivate wonderful existence.

The suffering and difficulty which is crossed beyond is not limited to just one kind of suffering. All kinds are included: the three kinds of suffering, the eight kinds, and all the infinite kinds. The three kinds of suffering are: the suffering of suffering itself; the suffering of decay; the suffering of the activity of the five skandhas. The three sufferings are also called the three kinds of feeling: the feeling of suffering, the feeling of happiness, and the feeling of neither happiness nor suffering. Therefore, the suffering of suffering itself is the feeling of suffering, and the suffering of decay is the feeling of happiness. You shouldn’t try to refute this by thinking that happiness is not caught up in suffering, because happiness can go bad. Happiness going bad is the suffering of decay. The suffering of the activity of the five skandhas refers to feelings which are neither happy nor unhappy. That one doesn’t hold any interest either.

The first four of the eight kinds of suffering are: the suffering of birth; the suffering of old age; the suffering of sickness; the suffering of death. Who isn’t born? At the moment of birth, you suffer. And who can prevent old age? Yet one might say, “A child died before it had a chance to grow old; since it did not get old, it basically didn’t have any awareness.” However, even though it wasn’t old, it still suffered sickness and death, and one could also say that it suffered growing old, for the day it died it was old. If it had not become old, how could it have died? Because it died, one can also say the child changed to become old and endured the suffering of old age, even though its life did not bear fruit.

Who dares to say that sickness is not suffering? Sickness is especially bitter suffering. Even when one who has become enlightened gets sick, he still suffers in the same way. For example, Shakyamuni Buddha suffered from the retribution of the metal spear and the retribution of the horse-feed. Why did he have to undergo those retributions? When Shakyamuni Buddha was a child on the causal ground of a former life, he lived in a place where the populace was starving. One day the starving people pulled a great fish up from the sea to the shore. Before they had a chance to eat it, the child who was to be Shakyamuni Buddha picked up a big stick, approached the fish, and hit it on the head several times. Even after he realized Buddhahood, Shakyamuni Buddha’s head often hurt as if it were being pricked with a spear. That was the retribution of the metal spear.
On the causal ground of a former life, Shakyamuni Buddha spoke wrongly to a cultivator of the Way. He said to the cultivator, “Your cultivation is still lacking in sufficient ascetic practices. If you were really cultivating, you would be eating horse-feed.” After Shakyamuni Buddha attained Buddhahood, he was invited to a certain country to dwell in peaceful retreat for the summer, but the king didn’t make offerings to him and only gave him and his bhikshus, the Buddhist monks who were his disciples, horse-feed to eat. This was the horse-feed retribution. The karma which you create on the causal ground must be undergone as retribution on the ground which is its fruition.

After the suffering of birth, old age, and sickness comes the suffering of death. Death: nobody welcomes it. Why? Probably because it is suffering.

The second four of the eight kinds of suffering are: the suffering of being apart from those you love; the suffering of being together with those you despise; the suffering of not obtaining what you seek; the suffering of the flourishing of the five skandhas.

Because there are all those kinds, the sutra says all suffering. By cultivating, it is possible to avoid the three kinds of suffering, the eight kinds of suffering, and all the infinite kinds of suffering. That is what the sutra means by crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty. I have written a verse about it:

Verse:

Across the sea of suffering,
one leaves the revolving wheel.
The rains disperse, the heavens clears;
just then the moon is fully bright.
The qian source is the Way-substance,
among people the sage.
His undecaying golden body is rare in the world.
Cast off life;
what need of thousand-year drugs?
Attain extinction;
why wait ten thousand kalpas?
Five dwellings ended,
the two deaths disappear forever.
Roam at will from East to West,
throughout the dharma realm.

Commentary:

Across the sea of suffering, one leaves the revolving wheel. “The sea of suffering” is just all suffering and difficulty. If you wish to cross beyond all suffering and difficulty, you must first be released from the revolving wheel of the six paths of rebirth: gods, asuras, people, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-dwellers.

The rains disperse, the heavens clear; just then the moon is fully bright. The time of release from the paths of rebirth is likened to the time when the rain stops, the heavens clear, and the full moon is filling the sky with its radiance. The line represents the emptiness of all five skandhas:

The bright moon stands out upon the sky; There are no clouds for ten thousand miles.
That is what you experience as soon as you give birth to genuine wisdom and are enlightened to all. Then you have crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty.

The qian source is the Way-substance, among people the sage. When you have been certified as having reached the first stage of Arhatship, it can be said that your body is pure yang. In the I Ching (The Book of Changes), qian , the first hexagram, represents pure yang substance.

His undecaying golden body is rare in the world. When you have been certified as having reached the first stage, that is, when you have cut off the eighty-eight categories of deluded views, your body is flawless gold, very, very rare in the world.

Cast off life; what need of thousand-year drugs? Emperor Shi of the Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.) sought the Taoist elixir of immortality, and even sent an expedition to the Isles of the Peng Lai Immortals. Yet you do not need to search for elixirs of immortality. Just cross beyond all suffering and difficulty, and then if you wish to live, you can live, and if you wish to die, you can die. Just as with Bodhidharma, birth and death will be your own, and Yama, the lord of death, won’t be able to have anything to do with you.

Attain extinction; why wait ten thousand kalpas? Extinction is the third of the Four Truths of suffering, accumulating, extinction, and the Way. If you can have your extinction certified, you can attain nirvana. Having realized the Way, you don’t need ten thousand kalpas but can quickly attain the nirvana without residue (anupadisesanirvana).

Five dwellings ended, the two deaths disappear forever. When you have really crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty, have left the revolving wheel, and have obtained an indestructible vajra body, “the two deaths disappear forever.” “Two deaths,” you say. “Does that mean that you have to die twice?” No, it refers to the two kinds of birth and death: the birth and death of the delimited segment of the body, and the birth and death of the fluctuations of thoughts. The birth and death of the delimited segment is ended by those who have been certified as having attained Arhatship. To end the birth and death of the fluctuations, Bodhisattvahood must first be attained. Avalokiteshvara has attained Bodhisattvahood, and so the birth and death of the fluctuations is no more. Both deaths have disappeared.

The “five dwellings” refer to the five dwellings in affliction, which are, 1) dwelling in views, which originally was called dwelling in the love of views; 2) dwelling in the love of desire; 3) dwelling in the love of form; 4) dwelling in the love of the formless; 5) dwelling in the love of ignorance.

Those five ways of abiding in love cause attachments which change into five kinds of affliction. Avalokiteshvara makes the five afflictions cease, and from that follows the last line of the verse, to which you should pay a little attention:

Roam at will from East to West, throughout the dharma realm. “Roam” indicates ease, freedom, and being very, very happy. In what way? You can travel wherever you wish. “At will from East to West”: you can go to the Western Paradise any time you want, or you can travel to the East, to the crystal world of Akshobhya Buddha. There’s even less problem about going to this suffering Saha world right here. You have avoided the troublesome preparation of applying at a consulate for a visa. You just wish to go and then go.

Not just to the east and west, but to the north and south, up and down, to the ten directions all around; the whole dharma realm is included. Wherever you go you are welcome. It’s not that you want to travel to someplace, but find yourself unwelcome. Wherever you want to go you can go, and you are never unwelcome. To roam at will from East to West throughout the dharma realm is to be genuinely happy, genuinely carefree, truly at ease, truly free and equal; it is the truly real and equal nature of the dharma realm. When the five dwellings have been ended and when the two deaths disappear forever, this kind of freedom is attained.

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