THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
Contents * Door 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5 * 6* 7 * 8 * 9 * 10 * previous * next ***Preface

Three Teachings

First representative

Prologue:

The third, establishing three kinds of teachings, which also has three representatives. One, all the Dharma Masters of Nan Chung, who identically established three teachings, that is, to the previous gradual and sudden they added the unfixed teachings .

Commentary:

Now we’ve reached the third door of the five doors in ancient and present disagreements and concurrences in China. Just before this was establishing two kinds of teachings, and this one is establishing three kinds of teachings, which also has three representatives, three groups of Dharma Masters who held to this. One, all the Dharma Masters of Nan Chung, who identically established three teachings. Nan Chung was an area of China south of the Yangtze River. That is, to the previous gradual and sudden, which were two kinds of teachings, they added the unfixed teaching. “Unfixed” means that it’s not necessarily the gradual teaching or the sudden teachings. It was established to cover those texts.

Prologue:

Because within the gradual there was first the small and afterwards the great, yet the Angulimalya Sutra was spoken inside of the six years, in order to forestall this difficulty, there was therefore set up the unfixed.

Commentary:

Why was the category “Unfixed” set up? It was because it was feared people might become attached to how withinthe gradual Teaching there was first the small and afterwards the great. First the Small Vehicle Teaching was spoken, and after that the Great Vehicle Teaching was taught, yet there is a certain Sutra called the Angulimalya Sutrawhich was spoken inside of the six years, the six-year period devoted to speaking the small first before the great. In order to forestall this difficulty, to counter objections such as “This Sutra is not necessarily gradual teaching, but it’s also not certain that it’s sudden teaching,” there was therefore set up the unfixed Teaching to quell difficult arguments.

Prologue:

That is, that there are separate, individual sutras which although not included in the sudden, still explain that the Buddha Nature permanently dwells, such as the shrimala, the golden light, and so forth; there are one-sided, unfixed teachings.

Commentary:

That is, the way the Unfixed Teaching was set up was to say that there are separate, individual Sutras, solitary instances of single Sutras which although not included in the Sudden Teaching, still explain that the Buddha nature permanently dwells. They talk about the permanently dwelling Buddha Nature which according to conditions does not change, and which does not change yet accords with conditions. Sutras such as the Shrimala-Devi Sutra, the Golden Light Sutra, and so forth, speak that way. These are one-sided, unfixed teaching. These teachings, are not the substances and principles of the Middle Way but incline either toward permanence of annihilationism. Since they are one-sided, they can’t be used all the time. They are occasional ways of talking, and so are set up as teachings unfixed in meaning: the Unfixed Teaching.

Opening The Gradual

Prologue:

Within the gradual there is opening and uniting, on the part of all masters not the same. Perhaps they only made a division into two, those being the half and whole.

Commentary:

Within the gradual there is opening and uniting. The gradual, then, does not simply stay the gradual, but may get opened up into the sudden or into the unfixed, becoming three kinds. On the part of all masters it is not the same. Each of these Dharma Masters had his own outlook and his own theory, and so it differed. Perhaps they only made a division into two. Those being the half and whole. It may be that they only divide it up into two teachings:

The Half-Word Teaching =
The Small Vehicle Teaching =
Dharma for instructing Sound Hearers.

The Whole-Word Teaching =
The Great Vehicle Teaching =
Dharma for instructing Bodhisattvas.

These were discussed before.

Prologue:

Or perhaps they made a division into three, as did Dharma Master Chi of Wu Ch’iu Mountain. That is, that in the twelve years prior, it was from seeing existences that the Way was obtained, and so it is called the teaching of the Existence of Marks.

After the twelve years, reaching to the time of the Dharma Flower, it was from seeing emptiness that the way was obtained, which is called the teaching of marklessness. At the very end there was twin illumination of how all living beings have the Buddha Nature and Icchantikas can become Buddhas, which is called the Teaching of the Permanently Dwelling.

Commentary:

Or perhaps they made a division into three, as did Dharma Master Chi of Wu Ch’iu Mountain. He was one person who divided up the gradual into three kinds of teaching. Wu Ch’iu Moutain is just Hu Ch’iu Mountain, the same place where the Venerable Sheng spoke Dharma and the rocks bowed their heads. Dharma Master Chi lived in that area and he said, that is, that in the twelve years prior, it was from seeing existence that the Way was obtained. That is, there wasn’t emptiness, and it was from seeing existence that one obtained they Way, and so it is called the Teaching of The Existence of Marks, that there are marks. This was the Small Vehicle Teaching, whereas marknessless was the Great Vehicle Teaching. Some people say he called it this because within the Small Vehicle only the emptiness of people is taught and not the emptiness of dharmas. Actually, both are found in the Small Vehicle. For instance it says, “There is no old age and death, nor is there anyone who ages and dies.” They’re saying there is no old and no death is the emptiness of dharmas, while there not being anyone who gets old and dies is the emptiness of persons. That means one has to have already certified to the emptiness of both persons and dharmas to certify to the fruit of Arhatship. However he gave it the name “Teaching of the Existence of Marks” because in his opinion, it still had dharma marks within it.

After the twelve years, reaching to the time of the Dharma Flower , up to and including the time of the Dharma Flower Sutra, it was from seeing emptiness that the way was obtained, which is called the teaching of marklessness. It teaches emptiness, and that means the absence of marks. At the very end, there was twin illumination of how all living beings have the Buddha Nature. In the very final period, explanations in the Nirvana Sutra become the illumination of both extremes, because it says that all living beings can become Buddhas, revealing both the Buddha nature of all living beings, and that Icchantikas can become Buddhas. Icchantikas are those of insufficient faith. They don’t believe anything you tell them. They are mentioned in the beginning and the end of the NirvanaSutra, but in the first volume of that Sutra it says icchantikas don’t have the Buddha nature and so cannot become Buddhas. Later, when the second volume of the Nirvana Sutra arrived on the scene, it revealed that the icchantikas did have the Buddha nature and so could become Buddhas, which is called the Teaching of The Permanently Dwelling. The teaching of the Nirvana Sutra, the very last Sutra spoken by the Buddha, is the Teaching of the Permanent Dwelling, not the Teaching of the Existence of Marks or the Teaching of Marklessness.

Prologue:

This is largely the same as the Teaching of the Three Periods by Tripitaka of T’ang, as will be discussed upon reaching the western region’s explanations.

Commentary:

In the preceding section it talked about the Teaching of the Existence of Marks, the Teaching of Marklessness, and the Teaching of the Permanently Dwelling. this, the principles upon which those three teachings were established, is largely the same as the Teaching of the Three Periods by Tripitaka of T’ang. During the T’ang Dynasty, when Emperor T’ai Tsung was on the throne, there was Tripitaka Master Hsuan Chuang who had mastered all three Stores – those of Sutras, Vinaya, and Shastras. He went from China through Siberia on foot to India to seek the Buddha’s Sutras. At that time transportation was inconvenient and he went through a great many inconvenient and he went through a great many dangerous situations before he reached India. After a 14-year stay in India, he returned and translated the Great Prajna Sutra as well as a great many other Sutras. The T’ang Dynasty was an extremely flourishing period of Buddhism. Dharma Master Hsuan Chuang, “The Tripitaka Master of T’ang,” made an enormous contribution to Buddhism, and he established three periods: the Period of the Existence of Marks, the Period of Maklessness, and the Period of the Permanently Dwelling, which virtually coincide with the three teachings of Existence of Marks, Marklessness, and the Permanently Dwelling, as will be discussed upon reaching the western region’s explanations. When we come to the section of text which talks about India, this will be discussed in detail.

Prologue:

Tripitaka Master Paramartha, based upon the Golden Light, established the Teaching of the Three Circuits of Turning, Illumining, and Maintaining, which was also largely the same as this.

Commentary:

Furthermore, during that time there was a Dharma Master known as Tripitaka Master Paramartha, “True Meaning” or “True Principle,” who had also penetrated the three Stores of Sutras, Vinaya, and Shastras. Based upon the Golden Light Sutra, he established the Teaching of the Three Circuits of Turning, Illumining, and Maintaining, which was also largely the same as this. In general, his three teachings were based on the same principle as the teachings of the Existence of Marks, Marklessness, and the Permanently Dwelling.

Prologue:

Yet there were minor differences in the divisions of time. That is, in the seven years prior there was speaking of the Four Truths, which he called the Circuit of Turning the Dharma Wheel. After seven years there was speaking of Prajna, which comprised the Two Circuits of Turning and Illumining, because emptiness was used to illumine existence. After thirty years Turning, Illumining, and Maintaining were comprised, because the pair of Illumining Emptiness and Existence was used to maintain the previous two.

Commentary:

Yet there were minor differences in the divisions of time. The way he determined the periods of time was somewhat different from the system used before. That is, he said that in the seven years prior, the seven years after the Buddha had accomplished Buddhahood, in the Dharma he spoke there was speaking of the Small Vehicle Dharma of the Four Truths: Suffering, Acumulation, Extinction, and the Way, which he called the Circuit of Turning the Dharma Wheel. Dharma Master Paramartha termed that the period of Turning the Dharma Wheel. After seven years, seven years after the Buddha had accomplished Buddhahood, there was speaking of Prajna. The Buddha spoke the Great Prajna Sutra in 600 rolls, which comprised the Two Circuits of Turning and Illumining. Within it there is both Turning the Dharma Wheel and Illumining the Dharma Wheel, because emptiness was used to illumine existence. After thirty years, Turning, Illumining, and Maintaining were comprised. “Thirty years” is a rounded figure representing the 22 years during which the Buddha spoke the Prajna Sutras plus the previous seven years. There, Turning the Dharma Wheel, Illumining the Dharma Wheel, and Maintaining the Dharma Wheel were all together, because the pair of Illumining Emptiness and Existence was used to maintain the previous two. “Maintaining” refers to the dual illumination of emptiness and existence – emptiness not obstructing existence, and existence not obstructing emptiness, true emptiness being wonderful existence, and wonderful existence being true emptiness. That is, it brought to light those two principles and maintained the previous two Dharma Wheels.

Prologue:

Or perhaps they make a division into four, as did Dharma Master Chi of the Sung Dynasty. That is, to the previous three times, after that of Marklessness, and before that of the Permanently Dwelling, he places the Dharma Flower Sutra as the Teaching of Identical Return, because it gathers the three to return them to the one and transfers the myriad goods completely to Bodhi.

Commentary:

Or perhaps they make a division into four, as did Dharma Master Chi of the Sung Dynasty. How can you say it’s fixed? There is nothing fixed about the Dharma. If it is fixed, it becomes dead dharma. Therefore, they may make a division into two teachings, or three teachings – teaching of the existence of marks, or marklesness, and of permanently dwelling – and now they’re setting up four teachings! That is, to the previous three times, after that of Marklessness, and before that teaching of the Permanently Dwelling, he placed the Dharma Flower Sutra as the Teaching of Identical Return. Any name assigned it becomes its name. Just as people can be called by one name or two, three or four, so, too, can Buddhist doctrines. So, don’t figure, “There are absolutely two teachings,” for all of a sudden there will be three, or four. Even with four you can’t rest assured there may not turn out to be five. There could even be six, seven, or eight teachings. The T’ien T’ai School has Five Periods of Eight Teachings. But no matter how many teachings are created, even 10,000 teachings will return to the one teaching – the Buddha’s Teaching.

Here perhaps they make a division into four. During the northern Dynasties Period there was a Liu Sung Dynasty, during which the Venerable Master Chi further divided the three Teachings into Four Teachings. He said, “Based upon the Dharma Flower Sutra is established the Teaching of Identical Return.” Why call it that? Because it gathers the three to return them to the one. It assemblies the previous three – The Sound Hearer Vehicle, the Conditionally Enlightened Vehicle, and the Bodhisattva Vehicle – to return and take refuge in the One Buddha Vehicle, and transfers the myriad goods completely to Bodhi.” He said, “All the myriad goods should go towards and assemble in Bodhi.”

The Four Teachings that Venerable Dharma Master Chi set up are not the same as either of the Four T’ien T’ai Teachings, that is the Four Teaching Doctrines, which are Store, Connective, Separate, and Perfect; and the Four Teaching methods which as Sudden, Gradual, Secret, and Unfixed. If you want to understand them, you can consult a book called the Chiao Kuan Kang Tsung K’eShih, which explains the T’ien T’ai Five Periods and Eight Teachings very clearly.

The Four Teachings here are called the Teaching of the Existence of Marks, the Teaching of Marklessness, the Teaching of Identifical Return, and the Teaching of the Permanently Dwelling.

Why does he call the Dharma Flower Sutra the Teaching of Identical Return? It’s because the Agama Sutras, the Vaipulya Sutras, and the Prajna Sutras all return and take refuge in the principles of the Dharma Flower Sutra. The Dharma Flower Sutra gathers the Three to return to the One. The Sound Hearer Teaching, the Conditionally Enlightened Teaching, and the Bodhisattva Teaching identically return to the Buddha Vehicle. The myriad goods are completely transferred to Bodhi. Bodhi stands for the Dharma Flower Sutra, while the Agamas, Vaipulya, and Prajna are representative of the myriad goods. They all have principle to them and are all very proper and correct doctrines, to which side doors and outside ways cannot compare – but they haven’t yet reached the completely perfect and solitarily wonderful principle of the Buddhadharma Vehicle. That is why they have to return and take refuge with that principle, the way the myriad streams take refuge with the great sea. The Dharma Flower Sutra stands for the great sea, and the Small Vehicle Sutras stand for lesser stream – lakes, ponds, pools, creeks.

You may say, “A little while ago we were hearing how the Flower Adornment Sutra was like the great sea; how did the Dharma Flower Sutra get to be the great sea there?” There isn’t just one sea, there are lots of them. Would you only allow the Flower Adornment Sutra to be the great sea and not let the Dharma Flower Sutra be one? And anyway, these are all just analogies. Don’t get so attached!

previous * next * Contents***Preface

return to top