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VOLUME 1, Chapter 4
At that time Bodhisattvas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, great Arhats, pratyekas, and others from the ten directions, were also present. Pleased at the opportunity to listen, they withdrew silently to their seats to receive the sagely instruction.
That time is when Ananda asked Shakyamuni Buddha to explain how the Tathagatas of the ten directions had realized Bodhi, that is, right enlightenment. It has already been mentioned that Bodhisattvas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges were present, so this refers to yet more Bodhisattvas.
The Ganges River is miles wide and its sands are as fine as flour, like fine motes of dust. During a storm, the sands and stones fly about, as dangerous as desert dust-storms. Now, how many grains of such fine sand would you estimate there to be in a river some 15 miles wide? Could you figure it? Probably even the best mathematician would be unable to come up with a number. Since the Ganges’ sands are unreckonable, they are used to represent a non-existent number, a number beyond all calculations.
A Bodhisattva, an “enlightened being,” is also called “a living being with a great Way-mind.” No matter how badly people may act towards him, he doesn’t hold it against them. He absolutely never becomes irritated, never loses his temper. His Way-mind is firm and vast. A Bodhisattva is also called a “dedicated lord,” since he has already resolved to be a Bodhisattva.
The ten directions. The Amitabha Sutra speaks of the Buddhas of the six directions, but it does not mention the ten directions. The six are north, east, south, and west, up, and down. The additional four are northeast, southeast, northwest, and southwest. I say, though, that basically there isn’t even one direction.
The earth is round, so what directions can there be? But the Buddhist sutras speak of ten directions, and besides, the “round” I speak of is not yet an established fact; so don’t rely on what I say. As I see it, the world is transformed from a single source; everything is within the great light treasury, the Tathagata store, where there is no north, south, east, west, or the four intermediate points, or up or down. That is the way I see it, but perhaps it is not right.
There were, not little arhats, but great Arhats, whose Way was great. It does not mean that they were physically big, that they were particularly tall. It means that their dharma-nature was great, the power of their dharma was great, their cultivation of virtue was great.
Arhat has three meanings:
1. Worthy of offerings.
They were worthy of the offerings of gods and people. In the causal ground a bhikshu “begs for his food” and as a result, as an arhat, he is “worthy of offerings.”
2. Killer of thieves.
The Buddha taught people not to kill. Isn’t killing a violation of precepts? No, not in this case, because the thieves referred to are not external thieves, but the thieves within you.
“What are the thieves within us?” you wonder.
There are the thieves of ignorance, the thieves of affliction, and the six thieves - the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Unbeknownst to you, they rob you. You don’t realize it, but when your eyes look at things, your essential energies were originally full, but once you start looking at a lot of things the thieves which are your eyes steal your valuable treasures. When you listen things all the time, then your hearing-nature disperses and your vital energies are stolen away. You shouldn’t say, “My eyes are my best friend and my ears always help me out, my nose smells things and my tongue distinguishes tastes - they are all very helpful.”
No. These six thieves steal your unsurpassed true treasures. They plunder the wealth of your household without your even realizing it. You’ve got a thief for a neighbor but don’t even realize it; you say, “Don’t blame him for stealing my things!” This is a very, very important point I am making. Don’t be mistaken and think I am just joking. If you hadn’t lost these things, you would have realized Buddhahood long ago. Look into it, think it over. You feel you haven’t lost anything? Well, I know that the things you have lost are priceless treasures no money could buy. You’ve lost them and you still think everything is just fine. “My eyes can see so far - clearer than anyone else’s,” you say and think that this is good. But the more clearly you see the more essential energy is lost.
At this point you say, “Dharma master, one of your lectures is more than enough. You haven’t said anything that has the least bit of principle to it.”
Since you haven’t yet understood what I say, of course you are going to think it lacks principle. Wait until you understand and then you will know that what I say is genuine principle.
3. Not born.
Not born, arhats are also not extinguished; they are not subject to production and extinction. They have attained the patience of the non-production of dharmas. They do not have to undergo birth and death again. That is, they have “done what had to be done and do not undergo any further existence.” They will not fall into the three realms, although they haven’t attained anuttarasamyaksambodhi, the unsurpassed proper and equal right enlightenment.
In the Sutra in Forty-two Sections the Buddha said,
”Be careful not to believe your own mind: your mind cannot be believed. Once you have attained arhatship, then you can believe your own mind”
”Why can’t one believe one’s own mind?” you ask.
Because your mind is false thinking, and if you believe false thinking you will do false things; if you do false things, you must undergo a false birth and death. If you don’t believe the false thoughts, if you don’t trust your own mind, then you can avoid the false birth and death.
”When can one believe one’s own mind?”
When you attain the fourth stage of arhatship you can believe your own mind. Until then you shouldn’t choose to listen to yourself instead of to the advice of a good and wise advisor. The right thing to do is to listen to the instructions of a good and wise one.
Pratyekas, pratyekabuddhas - those enlightened to conditions and solitarily enlightened ones - and others were also present. Pleased at the opportunity to listen, they withdrew silently to their seats to receive the sagely instructions. There were many, many more beings as well, not just one or two, who all wanted to hear the sound of the dharma the Buddha was speaking, the wonderful sagely instructions, the doctrines of the holy ones. They really liked to listen, and they sat silently to one side to hear the Buddha speak.