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Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over
Jeweled Sutra Hand and Eye
Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang
The merit and virtue of Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang’s contribution to Chinese Buddhism is limitless and boundless. But, originally there wasn’t any difference between him and those of us now. He was a person, and we are people. It’s just that he has already accomplished his virtuous karma. We here now hope in the future to accomplish our virtuous karma. So it is appropriate to use the Dharma Master as a very fine mirror. If we can take Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang as our model, if we can make him our mirror, then we can cause our originally existent wisdom to appear and our originally existent merit and virtue to appear.
Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang made a vow to go to India to seek the sutras, to seek the Buddhadharma. Before he began the expedition, he used to practice mountain-climbing in his home. He knew that the route to India passed through many mountains, so in his rooms he practiced climbing mountains. Now most people couldn’t figure out what he was doing. They thought that he was just playing around. How did he manage to practice mountain climbing in his room? He took the benches and tables and piled them up like a mountain. Then he would jump from one bench to the next, and from that bench he’d jump to a table. Every day he practiced like that as if he was learning Kung Fu; in his room he used the tables and chairs to make a mountain, and he climbed them until he more or less had the knack. Then he went out and found some high mountains and climbed them. And his several years of practicing mountain-climbing paid off.
With his mountain-climbing skills pretty much perfected, he asked T’ang Emperor, T’ai Tsung, for permission to go to India to seek the sutras. T’ang T’ai Tsung was a firm believer in the Buddhadharma. But, when he thought about it, he realized that the road from China to India was very long, and if he was to give his permission, the country would have to offer its aid, so he decided not to give permission. Now, T’ang T’ai Tsung, though he was said to be a fair ruler, was probably a bit stingy. His blessings were full, and he had plenty of whatever he wanted, but he still wasn’t satisfied; he wanted to keep the money of the empire to himself, he didn’t want to give it away. So he didn’t give his permission.
However, Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang said, “Well, if you give permission I’ll go, and if you don’t give permission I’ll still go, so he slipped across the border and snuck out. When he got to the border, he stole his way across and took the road through Siberia to India, and as to the dangers on that road, it would be difficult to speak of them in a few words. So we’re not going to dwell on the dangers. What is essential here is to talk about the one who knew his sound. Who was this one who knew his sound?
When Hsuan Tsang had been walking—it’s not known how many days he’d been walking—he arrived at a mountain and saw a cave which was laden with bat droppings. It is also not know how many spider webs there were. He figured that nobody lived in the cave, but after walking in he saw a weird creature. What was this weird creature like? The hair on his head was matted together like a big lump which must have weighed several tens of pounds. There was a bird’s nest on top of his head. Not only had the birds built a nest on his head, but there were little birds in the nest chirping. The dust on his clothing was probably three inches thick, and there was a lot of dirt on his face; he seemed like a stone-man, though he wasn’t really made of stone. He looked like he might have been carved out of wood, and yet that wasn’t quite right either.
And, then Hsuan Tsang suddenly realized, “Oh, that’s an old cultivator, and he’s entered the mindless samadhi here.” So he tried to think of a way to bring him out of samadhi. He happened to have a hand-bell, so he rang it. The first time he rang the bell, he didn’t break the samadhi, and when he rang it the second time the cultivator still didn’t come out of samadhi. He’d entered the mindless samadhi too deeply. It wasn’t so easy to come back. It wasn’t like here where as soon as the hand-bell is rung all the people who are meditating say “E mi to Fo!” Why do they want to utter the name of Amitabha Buddha? Because they’ve been waiting for that bell for an hour, and now finally it’s been rung, so this is obviously a response from Amitabha Buddha.
After he hit the bell three times, he brought the old cultivator out of samadhi. The old cultivator tried to move his lips, but his words wouldn’t come out. Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang asked him, “Old Cultivator, what are you doing here?”
He seemed to be a man, and yet wasn’t! You could say that he was a ghost, but he wasn’t. If you said he was stone, he wasn’t stone, and you couldn’t really say that he was wood either. After all, his lips were moving; but when he spoke it wasn’t very clear. He said, “I-I-I’m woo-woo-waiting fo-for the Re-Red Yang Buddha to-to co-come into the world. I-I’m going to-to-he-help him propogate the Buddhadharma.”
Now, Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang was quite intelligent, and although it wasn’t so easy, he understood what the old-timer was saying. “Oh, he’s waiting for the Red Yang Buddha to come into the world.”
So he said, “Oh, Dharma Brother, the Red Yang Buddha has already come into the world.”
The old cultivator heard that and said, “Oh, when did the Red Yang Buddha come into the world?”
The great Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang said, “He came into the world over 1,000 years ago. In fact the Buddha entered nirvana quite long ago.”
The old cultivator said, “Well, if the Red Yang Buddha has already entered nirvana, I’ll just go back into samadhi and wait for the White Yang Buddha to come into the world.”
Now, the Red Yang Buddha is Sakyamuni Buddha, and the White Yang Buddha is the Buddha of the future, the venerable Maitreya. The Green Yang Buddha was Dipankara, the “burning lamp” Buddha.
The old cultivator wanted to go back into samadhi, whereupon the great Master Hsuan Tsang said, “Hey, old fellow cultivator, don’t go back into samadhi. If you go back into samadhi, then you won’t know when the White Yang Buddha comes into the world either. You’ll miss it by several years again.”
And the old cultivator said, “Well, if I don’t go back into samadhi, what am I going to do?”
“Ah, you ask what you can do? You can help me propogate the Buddhadharma.”
“How am I going to help propogate it?”
The great Master Hsuan Tsang said, “The Red Yang Buddha has already entered nirvana, but the Buddhadharma is still in the world. You can now go to China to Ch’ang An and be reborn there. Become a young person there, and wait there while I go to India for the sutras to bring back to China. Then, we can together propagate the Buddhadharma. You can make that vow.”
The old cultivator listened to this advice. Probably he had become a bit impatient with his sitting. He’d entered the no-thought samadhi, and he didn’t know anything at all. Eventually he agreed and said to Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang, “Fine, I’ll go.”
Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang said, “When you get to Ch’ang An, take a look and see which house has yellow tiles on the roof, and be reborn there.”
The old cultivator left, and the Great Master Hsuan Tsang went on to India to get the sutras. His whole trip took some fourteen or fifteen years. On the day when T’ang Emperor T’ai Tsung saw the needles on the pine tree all pointing west—whereas they ordinarily they pointed east—he knew that he had an appointment to keep. That is because before Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang left for India, he wrote a letter to T’ang Emperor T’ai Tsung in which he said, “When you notice the needles on the pine trees pointing west, you’ll know that I’ve come back.” And on that day the pine tree’s branches were pointing west. So, T’ang Emperor T’ai Tsung saw that the pine needles were bending west, and he went to welcome Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang.
When Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang saw T’ang Emperor T’ai Tsung, he congratulated him, saying, “Best wishes to you, T’ai Tsung. You have an extremely intelligent son, and I should congratulate you.”
T’ang Emperor T’ai Tsung didn’t know what this was all about, and he said, “What are you talking about?”
Hsuan Tsang answered, “In the first year after I left China, the emperor had a son, an heir to the throne, who must be over ten by now."
T’ang Emperor T’ai Tsung said, “No,”
Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang said, “No? Well, that can’t be. You most certainly had one.”
T’ang Emerpor T’ai Tsung said, “Really, I didn’t.”
Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang could sit and look into things; so he sat and contemplated, and he realized that the old cultivator had taken the wrong road. He’d gone into Yu Ch’ih Kung’s house and had become Yu Ch’ih Kung’s nephew instead. He said to the emperor, “Oh well, he went the wrong way, that old cultivator; he had entered samadhi there, and I told him to come to Ch’ang An to help me propogate the Buddhadharma. Now he’s gone down the wrong road, so I’ll go save him.”
So Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang went to Yu Ch’ih Kung’s house and spoke with Yu Ch’ih Kung’s nephew. He told him that he should leave home. What do you suppose Yu Ch’ih Kung’s nephew did? In the home of a great official there is a lot of power and a lot of money; he had a lot of food and drink, and he was happy and did as he pleased. He dared to do anything at all. When Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang saw him he said, “Hey old cultivator,” and Yu Ch’ih Kung’s nephew stared at him and growled, “What are you talking about?”
Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang said, “I asked you to come here to propogate the Buddhadharma; you should leave home.”
The reply came, “Look old monk, if you want to leave home, leave your home. What home are you asking me to leave. You’re crazy.” He scolded Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang quite thoroughly. There was nothing that Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang could do, so he went back to see the Emperor. He wanted T’ang T’ai Tsung to issue an edict ordering Yu Ch’ih Kung’s nephew to leave home.
When the emperor ordered one to leave home during that time and one didn’t do it, he lost his head. So Hsuan Tsang first said to the emperor. “Now look, all you have to do is to get him to leave home; just get him to agree to leave home. No matter what conditions he asks for, grant them; don’t give him any arguments.” T’ang Emperor T’ai Tsung said, “Fine,” and he ordered the nephew of Yu Ch’ih Kung to leave home.
The nephew of Yu Ch’ih Kung went to the emperor and said, “Say, you’re telling me to leave home; why don’t you leave home?” And the emperor heard that, and it sounded reasonable. Here he was telling Yu Ch’ih Kung’s nephew to leave home and he himself wasn’t leaving home. But the emperor was also very eloquent, so he said, “ Say, your leaving home is just representing my leaving home. After all, I’m the emperor and I have to rule the country. I don’t have any time to leave home, but you’re representing me in leaving home. The very reason I’m asking you to leave home is to represent me.”
And the nephew of Yu Ch’ih Kung said, “Oh, you want me to represent you; o.k., fine, but I need three carts.” The Emperor said, “Three carts? You can have nine if you want. What do you want these three carts for?” He said, “When I leave home it’s not going to be the same as an ordinary monk leaving home. When I leave home, I want a cart of wine to follow me wherever I go. Besides that, I want a cart of meat; no mater where I go I want a cart of meat to follow me. I’m going to be a wine and meat eating monk. And, third, although I’m leaving home, I can’t be apart from women, so I want a cart of beautiful women, too.”
T’ang T’ai Tsung thought, “Boy, this is really messed up. When one leaves home one is supposed to keep the precepts, but here he wants a cart of wine and a cart of meat and a cart of beautiful women. How is this permissible? It’s not legal.” But, Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang had already told him that he should agree to any conditions that the lad set up. The emperor thought it over and decided that if Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang had told him to do so, then it probably wouldn’t be wrong. So, he agreed. He agreed to a cart of wine, a cart of meat, and a cart of beautiful women. He said, “Wherever you go, I will make offerings to you. I will be your donor and protect your dharma.”
The emperor accompanied him to Ta Hsing Shan Monastery to leave home. Behind them followed three carts. The carts came so close to Ta Hsing Shan Monastery that they were in sight, not far at all from it. Now, since the nephew of the Prime Minster was leaving home, there should be a welcoming, so the monks in the temple began to hit the drum and strike the bell. As soon as he heard the bell and drum, Yu Ch’ih Kung’s nephew understood. He said, “Oh, originally I was sitting there waiting for the Red Yang Buddha. I was that old cultivator,” and he immediately turned around, waved the carts, and said, “The three carts can go back, I don’t even want any one of them.”
In that way Yu Ch’ih Kung’s nephew arrived at Ta Hsing Shan Monastery to leave home. He became a Great Virtuous One of that time, and a future patriarch. His name was Dharma Master K’uei Chi. But, K’uei Chi Dharma Master, though an old cultivator, had become confused when he was born back into the world. How much more those of us who are not old cultivators, who aren’t even little cultivators;how much the more should we use effort and work hard. So, today in the midst of my busy-ness, I have told you this story, and it is my hope that you will digest its principles and work well. And, I hope that you will be of some benefit to the Buddhadharma.