THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
N2 The two roots of true and false are revealed.
O1 The Tathagata brings up former reasons and illustrates them with an analogy.
The Buddha said to Ananda, “All living beings, from beginningless time onward and in all kinds of upside-down ways, have created seeds of karma which naturally run their course, like the aksha cluster.
After the Buddha had reduced the worlds to the number of fine motes of dust to a single world, in which all the respective worlds remained in perfect order, the great Bodhisattvas in each of these worlds thirstily gazed at the Buddha with uplifted faces. Like Ananda, they were inexpressibly thirsty, wanting to drink the dharma-water of Shakyamuni Buddha.
All of you have probably experienced a severe thirst. When you are hungry, after a while the hunger seems to subside a bit and is not so severe, but if you are thirsty, perhaps as a result of eating something salty, not having any water to drink is very difficult to bear.
Why were the Bodhisattvas so inexpressibly thirsty? They had eaten too much of the salt of affliction. Ananda, who had concentrated exclusively on being greatly learned and had neglected his samadhi-power, had eaten too much of the salt of being greatly learned. They wanted the water of samadhi to quench their thirst, to irrigate them, so they thirstily gazed upward. In explaining this, my own throat feels dry. But my dryness comes from talking, whereas the great Bodhisattva’s dryness came from not having obtained the dharma.
Some of you aren’t clear about this and say, “I don’t understand what I’m reading.” If you know that you don’t understand, that itself is understanding. If you truly didn’t understand, you wouldn’t even be aware of your lack of understanding. You would sit there and not know whether you understood. Now you are aware that you do not understand very much of the sutra you are reading, and that means you have some understanding. If you have the hope of understanding, the day will come when you will understand and be clear about the sutra. If you understood thoroughly right now, that would be something else again. In that case, this dharma master would be left with nothing to eat. If you understood the sutra before I even finished explaining it, what use would there be for me in the future? I’d be useless! However, to understand the sutra immediately isn’t possible. It’s also impossible to understand everything there is to know about the affairs of the world in a single day. Some time is required. As you read more, you will quite naturally come to understand. Why don’t you understand? Because you haven’t read much.
The Buddha said to Ananda. Just as I am now explaining to you who are reading this, the Buddha explained to Ananda. But I’m not the Buddha and you are not Ananda. I am just explaining this recorded history about Ananda for you.
All living beings, from beginningless time onward. All living beings include those born from eggs, from wombs, from moisture, or by transformation; those with form, without form, with thought, or without thought; those not entirely with thought, and those not entirely without thought. When the Buddha spoke sutras, he himself couldn’t completely explain the doctrines. He said, “From beginningless time onward” - from time without any starting-point. When would you say that was? If you were trying to be logical, you would say this passage doesn’t make sense. But in fact there is no way to state when people came into being.
What is the beginning? By way of explanation, just take a single family. You say, “I am my father’s son.” Whose son is your father? Your father is your grandfather’s son. Whose son is your grandfather? You keep tracing your family tree until you can’t trace it any further. “This man was my family’s very first founding father,” you say. But who was his founding father? Trace that. Find out. You cannot find out. It is said that people evolved from monkeys. What did monkeys evolve from? If monkeys can turn into people, how do you know that all people evolved from monkeys? Couldn’t any have evolved from pigs? or from dogs? or from cows? If monkeys can evolve into people, then all other living beings can evolve in the same way. All can undergo mutual transference. So you trace back and forth and you find there isn’t any beginning.
Now, with scientific and archaeological discoveries, people know how many thousands of years ago things occurred, how many tens of thousands of years ago things occurred. They know where the remains of human bones from ten thousand years ago or a million years ago are found. So what? Is that proof of something? You cannot say it is. It doesn’t prove anything.
”If that’s not evidence of anything, then why do societies invest so much money in research and experimentation?” you say. That’s the foolishness of this world. Having nothing to do, people look for something to do. If they hadn’t done these muddled things, how could this world’s resources have become so depleted and wasted away? If you truly understand, what can you say is real in this world? Find something real and bring it here for me to look at. Everyone is born in a stupor and dies in a dream.
”But they benefit the country! etc…” you say.
They’re muddled people doing muddled things. They think themselves intelligent, but actually they are just cheating themselves, because one cannot find the beginning. “From beginningless time onward.” One need speak of nothing more than one person’s life and his genealogy which has no beginning or end. As to our lives, when would you say they began?
”Mine began at my birth in this life,” you say.
If it really did begin just that short time ago, then there’s no problem. It is just to be feared that it did not begin such a short time ago. That is why there is a problem.
And in all kinds of upside-down ways. That foolishness I spoke of before is just to be upside-down, and to be born in a stupor and die in a dream. You say, “I’ve got to give this body some good things to eat and some nice clothes to wear.” And then what? Ultimately, then what? As I said before, you’re just putting finery on a toilet. What’s so great about it? That’s to be upside-down. To invent something to do when there is nothing to do is to act “in all kinds of upside-down ways.” It’s to fail to recognize one’s pure basic substance and to apply one’s effort to false thinking instead, “Ah,” you say, “So-and-so is really fine.” So what if he is really fine? Or you say, “So-and-so is really rotten.” So what if he is really rotten? If you investigate a little more deeply you’ll find that these kinds of things do not exist. What is fine and what is rotten? It is discrimination through the eyes of living beings that divides things into fine and rotten, good and bad, right and wrong. In the treasury of the Thus Come One there are no such questions. There isn’t anything at all in the treasury of the Thus Come One. It is absolutely clean. Our eyes may see the mountains, the rivers, the earth, and vegetation - all the myriad things - but they are simply manifestations of consciousness. When you really understand the dharma of no production and no extinction, then there basically isn’t anything at all. But this doctrine is not easy to comprehend. We must come to understand its meaning gradually.
They have created seeds of karma which naturally run their course, like the aksha cluster. Living beings’ ignorance leads them to act in upside-down ways, and their various upside-down acts create every kind of karma. According to their various karmas, they undergo various retributions. Why do people do evil things? It is because of their ignorance, their lack of understanding, their state of delusion. Their delusion leads to the creation of bad karma, and since they create bad karma they undergo the retribution of suffering. It is a three-part process: delusion, leading to the creation of bad karma, which leads to the retribution of suffering. The Buddha compares the process to the aksha, a shrub found in India which bears three fruits in a cluster on one stem. Though you may have never seen an aksha, the sutra makes the meaning clear, and one cannot fail to understand it. The aksha cluster represents the three fruits of delusion, karma, and retribution, which are interconnected as if they were joined on a single stem. You can’t say which precedes the other; they follow after one another in a continuous revolution, life after life, aeon after aeon. Where would you say it all began? There is no beginning. It’s an endless cycle on the spinning wheel of the six paths of rebirth
Each of us people born here in the world is like a fine mote of dust which suddenly rises high, suddenly falls low, is suddenly up and suddenly down. When your actions are good and meritorious you are born higher. When you do things which create offenses, you fall. Therefore we people should do good things and accomplish meritorious deeds. Don’t do things which create offenses because this world runs on the principle of cause and effect, the law of karma. And the seeds of karma naturally run their course: you undergo a retribution for whatever you do.
There is a distinction between “karma” and “cause.” It is said that whenever you plant a cause, you reap its effect. A cause is a particular action which will lead in the future to a particular effect. Karma is the general process by which this inevitably happens. It’s like planting a seed in the ground in the spring: this is the cause which, at the end of the growing season, brings about the effect of the harvest in the autumn. The entire process, from planting through months of growth to maturity and harvest, is karma. The causes you plant will determine what harvest you reap. If you plant good causes, you will reap good results. If you plant bad causes, you will reap bad results.
Your karma is made up of whatever you ordinarily do most. For example, when you run a business you engage in “commercial karma.” Your occupational karma can be good karma or bad. If you are a butcher, for example, you have the occupational karma of killing; if you are a thief, your occupational karma is stealing; if you do nothing but engage in illicit sexual affairs, you have the occupational karma of lust. If you never tell the truth, your occupational karma is lying. In general, whatever you do continually is your karma, and your retribution will be in accordance with it.
Thus karma is created from the very first ignorant thought, and from karma born of ignorance comes retribution. The three together like an aksha cluster. This is how the Buddha clearly explains the process of karma to Ananda in this passage.
”The reason those who cultivate cannot accomplish unsurpassed Bodhi, but instead reach the level of a sound-hearer or of one enlightened to conditions, or become accomplished in outside ways as heaven-dwellers or as demon-kings or as members of the retinue of demons is that they do not know the two fundamental roots and are mistaken and confused in their cultivation. They are like one who cooks sand in the hope of creating savory delicacies. They may pass through as many aeons as there are motes of dust, but in the end they will not obtain what they want.
The reason those who cultivate cannot accomplish unsurpassed Bodhi. This includes those of all the outside ways as well as all Buddhists. People cultivate the Way in the hope of obtaining something, and accomplishing something. What they wish to accomplish is the unsurpassed enlightened Way. They want to obtain the unsurpassed fruition of enlightenment. “Bodhi” is the accomplishment of Buddhahood. Bodhisattvas are called “surpassed lords” because above them is the Buddha, while Buddhas are the “unsurpassed lords,” and “unsurpassed Bodhi” is the state of having accomplished Buddhahood.
But instead reach the level of a sound-hearer or of one enlightened to conditions. Can cultivators reach positions other than Buddhahood? Sound-hearers are those who hear the Buddha’s sound and awaken to the Way. They cultivate the dharma of the four truths. Those enlightened to conditions cultivate the dharma of the twelve links of conditioned causation.
Or become accomplished in outside ways as heaven-dwellers or as demon-kings or as members of the retinue of demons. What is meant by “outside ways”? The term has been mentioned often. Those who “seek the dharma outside the mind” are said to follow an outside way. In fact, everyone who has not reached enlightenment or realized Buddhahood can be said, in a sense, to be an externalist.
There are many heavens. The one closest to us is the Heaven of the Four Kings. It lies halfway up Mount Sumeru on the north, south, east, and west. The four heavenly kings are the Heavenly King of Increase and Growth, the Heavenly King of Learning, the Heavenly King of the Broad Eyes, and the Heavenly King Who Upholds his Country. The lifespan of the inhabitants of the Heaven of the Four Kings is 500 years. However, fifty years among us people is equivalent to only one day and night in that heaven.
Above the Heaven of the Four Kings is the Trayastrimsha Heaven where the lifespan of inhabitants is 1000 years. A hundred years among people is equivalent to one day and night in the Trayastrimsha Heaven. Trayastrimsha is Sanskrit for “thirty-three,” since the Trayastrimsha Heaven is made up of thirty-three heavens, eight each on the north, south, east, and west sides of Mount Sumeru, making thirty-two, with the thirty-third, the Trayastrimsha Heaven located on Mount Sumeru’s peak.
The lord of the Trayastrimsha Heaven was a woman in the past. Once she saw a Buddha-image in a temple which had a leak in its roof. She resolved to repair the leak so the rain would not ruin the Buddha-image. She was a poor peasant woman, but she had friends, and she convinced thirty-two of her friends to join in her resolve. It was the merit and virtue derived from cultivating this vow which enabled those thirty-three people to be born in the heavens and become rulers of the Heaven of the Thirty-three. In the Shurangama Mantra is the phrase Na Mwo Yin Two La Ye. Na Mwo means homage to and Yin Two La Ye is the heavenly lord of the Heaven of the Thirty-three (Indra).
The Heaven of the Four Kings and the Heaven of the Thirty-three are the first two desire-heavens. The rest of the heavens will be explained in detail later.
The demon-kings dwell in the sixth desire-heaven. Not only demon-kings, but an entire population of demons dwells there: demon women, demon-children, and demon-grandchildren. Demons, too, have retinues, or followings, and the demon-kings hold court in the sixth desire heaven, where they reign supreme. Most of the dharmas cultivated in outside ways lead the cultivators to end up as demon kings at best, and more commonly as ordinary demons. At worst they will end up as demon-women. Demon-women are particularly beautiful and quite seductive. It doesn’t matter who you are. Ananda, for example, who had accomplished the first stage of arhatship, didn’t have enough samadhi-power to keep control of himself when he saw a demon-woman. He was ready to try anything. Demon-women are very powerful. You people who cultivate the Way should be careful not to let a demon attract you.
What do I mean by that? If you don’t have sufficient samadhi power, you won’t be able to maintain your composure when you encounter this situation, and the demon will spin you around and you will find yourself trailing along after a demon-woman into a demon’s hole.
If I say any more, the demons will complain, “You’re saying so much and exposing all our faults,” so I’ll stop talking. In general, just be careful. Develop your samadhi-power thoroughly, and then there will be nothing to fear. This is a most wonderful test I’m giving you.
Why can’t they become Buddhas or even become demon-kings? It is that they do not know the two fundamental roots and are mistaken and confused in their cultivation. These two roots are extremely important and will be explained in the following passages. And they misunderstand; they are mistaken about how to cultivate and as a result become confused. They don’t know how to work properly. For example, there is an outside way in India which professes to cultivate asceticism by sleeping on beds of nails. They say that one derives merit and virtue from bearing that kind of pain. What merit and virtue is there in that? Even if you were to sleep on knives, it would be of no use. Other people in India emulate the morality of cows and dogs. They mimic the behavior of those animals. Why? It is also a case of being mistaken and confused in their cultivation. They consider themselves genuine cultivators of the Way, but they are practicing non-beneficial ascetic practices which reap no fruit, no matter how hard you cultivate them.
What are they like? Now the Buddha gives us an example. They are like one who cooks sand in the hope of creating savory delicacies. They may pass through as many aeons as there are motes of dust, but in the end they will not obtain what they want. The sand will remain nothing but sand. It cannot change into food. Those who do not understand the two fundamental roots and are mistaken and reckless in their cultivation are doing what amounts to the same thing.