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Four Teachings

Fourth Representative


Four, Hsien Shou disciple, the Venerable Yuan Who, based upon the Jeweled Nature Shastra, established four kinds of teachings.


Representative number four is affiliated with the School founded by Great Master Hsien Shou. He was a disciple named the Venerable Yuan who based himself upon the volume called the Jeweled Nature Shastra and established four kinds of doctrinal teachings.


The Shastra says, “There are four categories of living beings who do not recognize the Thus Come One’s treasury, like people blind from birth: one, ordinary, common people; two, Sound Hearer; three, Pratyekabuddas; four, Bodhisattvas of initial resolve.


In the Jeweled Nature Shastra there are some lines where it says, “There are four categories of living beings who, although they are within it, do not recognize or know there is such a thing as the Thus Come One’s treasury. How can that be? It’s the same Agama Sutra the way fish swim around in water but don’t know what it is. They feel Agama Sutra if thy are in empty space in which they can suddenly surface and just Agama Sutra quickly plunge to the depths.

People, too, live within air but don’t know what it is, being unable to see it. You can feel it blow against you and so think it exists, but can’t perceive its form. The same principle applies to the four types of beings who are right inside the Storehouse of the Tathagata, but know nothing of that inherent Buddhanature of theirs. They are like the congenitally blind who have no conception of the appearance of things, like blindmen touching an elephant.

Once a king assembled all the country’s blindmen to touch his elephant and state what it seemed like. Each approached a different part of the elephant. One felt the tail and said, “An elephant is like a leather whip.”

Another, touching the tip of the trunk, said, “It’s like a water pipe,” since it had a large opening.

One blindman who felt a leg said, “An elephant is like a huge pillar.”

Then the kind asked the blindman who touching an ear, “What is an elephant like?”

The man replied, “An elephant is like a big, thin fan.”

There was one felt the elephant’s belly. When asked for his impression he stated with great conviction, “An elephant is like an immense drum.”

In short, each maintained the elephant was one way or another, but none portrayed the entire elephant. They had all been blind from birth and, just using their hands to find out, got it wrong.

The four categories of beings who fail to recognize the Thus Come One’s Treasury are therefore said to be like people blind from birth. The four kinds are: one, ordinary, common people, who are average, every-day, unexceptional and not particularly talented. They are unenlightened. Two is Sound Hearer – Arhats. They don’t recognize the nature of the Thus Come One’s Treasury either, nor do three, Pratyekabuddhas – Those Enlightened to Conditions – or four, Bodhisattvas of initial resolve for Bodhi.

The ancients put it very well when they said:

Fish spawn, the udumbara.
Bodhisattvas of initial resolve:
Those three are many on the causal ground,
But few when the fruit is reaped.

Fish give birth in large numbers, but very few of their spawn live to become actual fish. The udumbara is an Indian tree which flowers prolifically, but produces only a small amount of fruit attachment the harvest. In the same way, many people bring forth the initial resolve for Bodhi, but only a very few become Bodhisattva.

Their attachments prevent each of the four categories of beings from recognizing the Thus Come One’s Treasury. Ordinary, common people are attached to views of self and others, of living beings and entities with lifespans. Sound Hearers have no attachment to view of self, but are attached to the remaining three views. Bodhisattvas don’t attach to views of self or others, but have attachments to views of living beings and those with lifespans. The Treasury of the Thus Come One, however, is the full functioning of the entire substance which no living beings are outside of; yet beings are confused and don’t wake up.

If they did recognize the nature of the Thus Come One’s Treasury, they would be awakened and not confused, which is the meaning of such recognition. People of the Two Vehicles attain to the emptiness of people but not of dharmas. Although Bodhisattvas obtain both kinds of emptiness, they still don’t understand the principle of the Middle Way. While they have some truth, it’s lopsided, veering to one extreme or the other. None recognize the nature of the Tathagatagarbha.

Ordinary, common people are also called the foolish common people of thin ground. They are also called “fettered” common people, since they are all tied up by afflictions. They get angry all the time whatever happens and whether they should or not. Afflicted, they are bound and fettered to this evil world of the five turbidities.

The Five Turbidities

  • The Kalpa Turbidity
  • The View Turbidity
  • The Affliction Turbidity
  • The Living Beings Turbidity
  • The Lifespan Turbidity

Attached to this world and feeling it’s very pleasurable, they:

Drift and tarry, are profligate and dissipated

Some lines in Mencius describe this:

Going downstream and forgetting to return is called drifting
Going upstream and forgetting to return is called tarrying
Indulging in hunting without satiation is called being profligate
Enjoying wine without satiation is called being dissipated

Mencius was saying that the Emperors of old paid attention to the governing of the country and the prosperity of its citizens. They did not give themselves over to drifting, tarrying, or being profligate and dissipated. They did not, for example, go hunting day after day yet never have enough, liking it better and better the more they hunted, to the point that the amount of time they spent attachment this vain pursuit interfered with their attention to the affairs of state. He said, however, that the Emperors of his time had those vices, and so had made a mess of the Empire. That describes the common person of base level who does everything upside-down.

The second category is that of Sound Hearers, those who:

Hear the sound of the Buddha and awaken to the Way.

They become enlightened as soon as they hear the Buddha speak the Dharma of the Four Sagely Truths. They are one of the Two Vehicles. They feel that everything in this world is suffering, empty, without a self, and impermanent, and so are determined to end birth and death, having the outlook that:

The Three Realms are like a prison.
Birth and death are like hateful enemies.

To them the Desire Realm, the Form Realm, and the Formless Realm seem like a penitentiary, and they detest birth and death. Their attitude is, “I absolutely must end birth and death, and until I do, I won’t rest for even a day.” Therefore, they cultivate all kinds of bitter practices to cast off birth and death – which is the attachment of Sound Hearers.

You may ask, “If one doesn’t have attachments, how can one cultivate?’

Well, if you do have attachments, how can you cultivate? Cultivation is just trying not to have attachments, in which case you can end birth and death. If you have the least bit of attachment, they won’t be easy to end.

Sound Hearers are basically Arhats who have certified to the First, Second, Third and Fourth Fruits. Yet they too fail to recognize the Thus Come One’s Treasury, for they only know the emptiness of people, unlike commoners who are attached in every respect to vies of self and of what belongs to a self saying, “This is mine; this belongs to me.” Those of the Two Vehicles are not attached to self, but they are attached to dharmas. They don’t understand that:

Even dharmas must be renounced,
Much more non-dharmas.

One has to put down all dharmas, how much more what is not in accord with Dharma. But for them dharmas are not yet empty, so they still have attachments and are of the Small Vehicle.

Pratyekabuddhas, the other of the Two Vehicles, are Those Enlightened to Conditions. They cultivate the Twelve Causal Conditions, the first of which is to break ignorance. They say, “Oh, once you have Ignorance then you have Activities. It’s very strange. How is ignorance put into action? It’s basically from lack of understanding that there can be activities. Oh, that kind of ignorant behavior arises from ignorance. And activities condition Consciousness – you get that kind of discrimination – and after that there is Name and Form, which in turn lead to the Six Entrances.

The Six entrances:

  • Eyes
  • Ears
  • Nose
  • tongue
  • Body
  • Mind

Possession of the six entrances enable Contact to take place, after which there is Feeling. Feeling leads to Love, and Love to selfish Grasping. Grasping results in Having – Existences – which in turn conditions Birth. Once born, there is Old Age and death.” They contemplate the twelve Links of conditioned co-Production in that way and, after doing so over and over again, become enlightened and suddenly cut off ignorance. In the Ch’an School that’s called braking through the black “energy” barrel. Yet neither those of the Two Vehicles nor ordinary, common people recognize the Thus Come One’s Treasury.

Bodhisattvas of initial resolve in all they do lack clear recognition. They may want to do smoothing, but aren’t clear about whether it’s right or not. They may decide to practice giving, the wonder, “If I give things away to other people, then what am I going to do? If I give my money away, I won’t have any. But if I don’t give it away, I can buy myself a little private airplane or a car and have something going for me. Driving around in it would be sort of like having spiritual penetrations, and in my plane I could:

Drive the clouds and ride the fog
But if I give my money away, I won’t have any of those enjoyments.”

Bodhisattvas of initial resolve all have that kind of trouble. They think they’d like to do something, yet in the end don’t do it. It’s that way with giving, and also with the rest of the Six Paramitas: Holding Precepts, Patience, Vigor, dhyana-samadhi, and Prajna Wisdom. It’s all a lot of trouble, because they can’t make tings out clearly and don’t have a definite guiding purpose.

They think they might like to do this or that, but are not sure what would be best. Even if they consult an advisor to try to resolve the problem, it doesn’t get resolved, because the advisor is certain to tell them not to be selfish, yet they can’t throw off their habits of selfishness. They get advice, but aren’t advised. They seek out a “supervisor” to tell them what to do, but afterwards decide they would have to take too great a loss and so don’t do it.

When we who cultivate the Way hear this, we should take a look attachment ourselves in the mirror of those four categories of living beings and ask ourselves, “Am I an ordinary, common person? Am I a Sound Hearer or Pratyekabuddhas of the Two Vehicles? Am I a Bodhisattva of initial resolve?” we should look attachment our reflection and consider, “Do I have attachments? If people praise me a little do I get happy?” if the answer is yes, then you’re a common person. “If I don’t get happy, then do I have attachments/” then you’re just a block of wood, praised you can’t manage to fell happy or not happy. But if you do become pleased you’re ordinary, and if not pleased you’re a stick of wood.

To go into this further, why do people praise you? It’s because you like people to praise you, so you actually bring it on yourself. But you can’t be like a block of wood when people praise you either. That’s just a force “non-reaction.” Rather it should be:

When encountering slander or acclaim, do not move your mind.

Whether people tear you down or praise you to the skies, you see it all Agama Sutra the same thing. Praise taken to the extreme become slander, and slander to the utmost turns into praise. The reason people say you’re not good is that they want you to be good, or why would they say you weren’t? if they say, “He’s really rotten,” the idea is they don’t want you to be so rotten.


What he meant by the Four Teachings was: one, the teaching of confused truth attached to error, which is that of the ordinary, common people; two, the half-teaching of part of the truth, which is that of the Two Vehicles; three, the whole teaching of part of the truth, which is that of the Bodhisattvas of initial resolve; four, the whole teaching of the entire truth, which is that of those who do recognize the treasury of the Thus Come One.


National Master Ch’ing Liang is writing this about What he, the Venerable Yuan, disciple of Great Master Hsien Shou, meant by the Four kinds of Teachings he set up. His system was: one, the teaching of confused truth in which truth is lost. One is confused about true principle and so is continually attached to error and untruth. That means going off on the wrong principle, taking the wrong tack from failure to recognize what is true. It is this Teaching which is that of the ordinary, common people. Average people are here equated with those of externalist paths:

Those who seek for the Dharma outside of the mind.
All dharmas are only from the mind, but they search for them externally.

The average person isn’t enlightened attachment all. He’s not aware of what’s wrong with him and so is confused about and losestrack of true principle. Yet he’s still not worried, and considers himself quite happy. Actually, he doesn’t realize that to lose the truth is the worst thing that could happen. What about that could make one happy? He’s become confused about the truth and follows the false, running off on the wrong road.

The people of the Two Vehicles differ form ordinary people in that they are enlightened. Even so, they just enlighten themselves and don’t enlighten others. However, since they are able to get enlightened themselves, the Venerable Yuan called the Teaching given to them two, the half-teaching of part of the truth – the “part” being half of it -- which is that of the Two Vehicles.

Three he called the whole teaching of part of the truth. This is the entire Teaching of that part of the truth, not just a portion of it, which is that of the Bodhisattvas of initial resolve. Four he called the whole teaching of the entire truth. Here it’s truth in its entirety, which is that of those who do recognize the treasury of the Thus Come One. No longer Bodhisattvas of initial resolve, they have certified either to the Ten Grounds or to Equal Enlightenment.

The Ten Grounds:

1. The Ground of Happiness

2. The Ground of Leaving filth

3. The Ground of Emitting Light

4. The Ground of Blazing Wisdom

5. The Ground of Difficult Conquest

6. The Ground of Manifestation

7. The Ground of Traveling Far

8. The Ground of Not Moving

9. The Ground of Good Wisdom

10. The Ground of The Dharma Cloud

Bodhisattvas young in their resolve don’t recognize the Thus Come One’s Treasury, but those of old resolve do – and the fourth is their Teaching.

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