THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
O2 The Tathagata explains what the two roots are.
”What are the two? Ananda, the first is the root of beginningless birth and death, which is the mind that seizes upon conditions and that you and all living beings now make use of, taking it to be the self-nature.
What are the two? The Buddha will now explain the two fundamental roots to Ananda, and I think everyone would like to know what they are. However, I’m not going to discuss them just yet. I’m going to tell you first about Ananda’s elder brother Sundarananda, since I haven’t introduced him to you yet. Sundarananda got along very well with his wife Sundari; they stuck together like glue. All day long they stayed right beside one another, they were so compatible. In fact, to distinguish him from Ananda, Sundarananda was given the name Sundari’s Nanada - Sundarananda.
The day came when the Buddha went to cross Sundarananda over. He took up his bowl and went to Sundarananda’s home to beg for food. When Sundarananda saw the Buddha coming, he withdrew from his wife and said, “Wait a bit, I am going to make offerings to the Buddha.”
His wife said, “You are going to make offerings to the Buddha? Well, come back immediately. Don’t go and then not come back.” “Of course, I’ll come right back,” Sundarananda said.
Sundari then spit on the dirt floor and said, “You’d better be back before that dries, or I won’t let you in my bed.”
Sundarananda heeded the command and said, “I’ll be back right away, for sure.” And he took vegetables and rice to fill the Buddha’s bowl.
He went to fill the bowl, but how was he to know that the Buddha would act so strangely? The Buddha used his spiritual power. Every time Sundarananda took a step forward to place the food in the Buddha’s bowl, the Buddha backed up, so that Sundarananda couldn’t reach the bowl. Sundarananda kept advancing to keep up with the Buddha, and in just a few steps they arrived at the Jeta Grove, despite the fact that it was a long way from Sundarananda’s house. Once they got there, Shakyamuni Buddha said, “Don’t go back. You stay here with me and leave the home-life.”
Sundarananda was shocked; he got goose-flesh. “Impossible,” he said emphatically. “I can’t stay. Sundari is waiting for me. I can;t remain here and leave home.”
The Buddha said, “You can’t leave home? Let me show you some things and see what you think.” He took Sundarananda to a place where there were hordes of monkeys. “Which is more beautiful,” the Buddha asked him, “these monkeys or your wife Sundari?”
”Obviously Sundari is more beautiful,” replied Sundarananda. “How could Sundari be compared to a monkey?”
”Quite right,” the Buddha agreed, and took him to the heavens. As they strolled among they noticed one particular palace was bustling with activity as servants scrubbed and polished. There were also 500 heavenly maidens in that palace, each one exquisite beyond compare.
”Why are you doing all this cleaning?” Sundaranda asked one of the servants.
”We’re getting this palace ready for the Buddha’s cousin Sundarananda,” they replied. “After he cultivates he’ll come to heaven to enjoy his blessings. These 500 heavenly maidens will be his wives.”
Sundarananda was ecstatic.
”Tell me, Nanada,” the Buddha said to him, “which would you say is more beautiful, Sundari or these heavenly maidens?”
”These maidens, obviously,” Sundarananda replied. “Why, compared to these maidens, Sundari is as ugly as a monkey.”
”Fine,” said the Buddha, “this place is being readied for you.” After they finished touring the place the Buddha took his cousin down to the hells. There they saw two ghosts heating a cauldron of oil. One of the ghosts was sound asleep and although the other one was awake, he didn’t have his eyes open. Nanda sized up the situation and thought to himself, “These ghosts are suppose to be tending the fire under that cauldron, but they’re not doing their job at all. Boy, are ghosts lazy!” Then he meddled a bit and nudged one, saying, “What are you doing this for?”
The little one’s droopy eyes popped open and glared at him. “What’s it to you?” he snapped.
”I just wondered,” said Sundarananda.
”You gotta know, huh? Okay, I’ll tell you. The Buddha’s got a cousin who’s cultivating the blessings of people and gods. He’s going to get born in the heavens and enjoy 500 years of heavenly blessings before he falls. Once he topples, however, he’ll come all the way down to hell and when he gets here, we’re supposed to have this pot hot. He’s to be deep-fried alive.”
Sundarananda was horrified and his hair stood on end. He suddenly understood the whole picture and thought, “Those heavenly maidens are ravishing, but 500 years of bliss with them isn’t worth it if I’m eventually going to end up in a pot of boiling oil. I’d better follow the Buddha, leave home, and be a monk.” So he forgot about Sundari and left home.
In order to rescue Sundarananda, the Buddha had to accompany him to the heavens and the hells. But saving Ananda, Sundarananda’s younger brother, was proving even more difficult. The Buddha explains one principle and Ananda doesn’t understand. The Buddha explains another principle and Ananda still doesn’t understand. The Buddha keeps on explaining and Ananda continues to be confused. Now the Buddha reveals the two fundamental roots that cause people to be mistaken and confused in their cultivation. He wanted to lead Ananda to understand how to direct his cultivation so that he could become a Buddha in the future.
Ananda, the first is the root of beginningless birth and death. From beginningless time onward you have endured birth after birth, death after death, death after death, birth after birth. I have already explained the meaning to you: “Unaware of the pure nature and bright substance of the permanently dwelling true mind, they use false thinking. Such thoughts are not true, and so the wheel keeps turning.” In this passage once again the fundamental root of continual birth and death is revealed. It is the mind that seizes upon conditions and that you and all living beings - not just you, but all living beings - now make use of. To “seize upon conditions” is to act exclusively on the basis of false thought. For example, say, you go to school and knock yourself out trying to get on the good side of your professor by buttering him up. You flatter him by using all his titles and saying things you hope will please him. Why? In the hope that he’ll give you a high grade. You think, “It’s clear he’s going to give me an 80, but if I’m nice to him and maybe give him a gift or a little something, he might raise my grade a couple of points.” You gain advantages in imperceptible ways. That is an example of seizing upon conditions.
Another example occurs during elections for president, mayor, or senator. The candidates go around drumming up votes, and soliciting support from their friends. That, too, is a case of the mind seizing upon conditions, instead of letting things naturally take their course. If it were to happen naturally that you were to become president, you wouldn’t have to campaign to let everyone see that you were a worthy candidate. Your virtue would be obvious and people would look up to you. You wouldn’t have to persuade people; they quite naturally would elect you president. That’s the ideal way to do it. Anything else falls in the realm of seizing upon conditions.
An incident involving the Chinese Emperor Yao illustrates the point. When Emperor Yao got old, he wanted to relinquish his kingdom to a virtuous and worthy person. He had heard that Chao Fu and Xu Yu had great virtue and he decided to offer the empire to Chao Fu.
Why was he called Chao Fu, “Nest”? For one thing, he lived in a pretty strange place. He built a nest in a tree, just like a bird, and lived there. His manner of life was so simple that he drank by just scooping up water in his cupped hands. Once some people saw him do that and realized he didn’t have anything to drink from, so they gave him a gourd. He hung the gourd from a branch of his tree but it made such a racket when the wind blew that he finally threw it away; deciding it was just too much trouble.
Emperor Yao had heard how pure and lofty Chao Fu was, and he was determined to yield the throne to him. So he went to announce his intent. “I’m old now,” he said to Chao Fu. “You should come and be emperor. I’ll give my position to you.”
No sooner had he gotten the words out of his mouth then Chao Fu plugged up his ears and marched off. “I’m not the least bit interested in such talk,” he retorted. “In fact you’ve dirtied my ears by saying such things to me.” He headed for the river, where he proceeded to wash his ears.
Now it so happened that Xu Yu was at the river, too, watering his ox. “Why are you washing your ears?” he demanded.
”That Emperor Yao is really odious,” replied Chao Fu as he scrubbed away. “He came here to tell me he wants to bestow the country on me, and he asked me to become the emperor. His proposal has made my ears dirty, so I’m washing them.”
”How can my ox drink the water you’re using to clean your ear?” exclaimed Xu Yu. “My ox can’t drink such filthy stuff.” And he led the ox upstream for a drink of clean water.
You see, in ancient times, a sage would not only refuse the imperial throne, he would even say the very request had sullied his ears. And yet today it’s “Hey! Vote for me as president!” “Select me as your governor!” as candidates barnstorm across country making connections, wining and dining, wheeling and dealing, and even buying votes. But Chao Fu and Xu Yu would not seize upon conditions. They represent the ultimate in pure and lofty virtue.
Making use of the mind that seizes upon conditions, you take it to be the self-nature. You mistake your ordinary mind for your self-nature, and that is why you cannot end birth and death. You haven’t recognized it for what it is; instead you take a thief for your son, who in the future will plunder all the gems in your household. It is nothing but a false thought to think you can have any accomplishment by using the mind that seizes upon conditions. This is the mistake Ananda made.
”The second is the primal pure substance of the beginningless Bodhi Nirvana. It is the primal bright essence of consciousness that can bring forth all conditions. Because of conditions, you consider it to be lost.
The second is the primal pure substance of the beginningless Bodhi Nirvana. There is no beginning; therefore the Buddha calls it “beginningless”; it was even before the beginning itself had occurred.
”Bodhi” is Sanskrit; it is interpreted to mean “awakening to the Way.” There are three kinds of Bodhi: The Bodhi of the true nature, which refers to your inherent Buddha-nature. Originally, everyone has the Buddha-nature; The Bodhi of actual wisdom, which refers to your genuine wisdom, not false wisdom; Expedient Bodhi, which refers to the state of people who have accomplished Bodhi and who then use expedient and clever means to teach and transform living beings. These three kinds of Bodhi can be said to be one. Divided they are three; in combination they are one. Together they are the Bodhi of the true nature, and from it comes the Bodhi of actual wisdom and expedient Bodhi.
Where does Bodhi itself come from? Bodhi doesn’t come from anywhere or go anywhere. Each of us is endowed with it. No one person has any more or less of it than anyone else. It neither increases nor decreases, is neither produced nor extinguished, is neither defiled nor pure.
Most people think that nirvana follows upon death, but actually it is not necessarily an after-death state. It is the certification to and attainment of a principle. “Nirvana” is a Sanskrit word which is interpreted to mean “neither produced nor destroyed.” Since it is neither produced nor destroyed, birth and death are ended. One attains nirvana when one reaches the position of not being subject to birth and death. But nirvana is not the Buddha’s dying. When the Buddha dies, he enters nirvana; he enters and certifies to the principle of nirvana with its four virtues of permanence, bliss, true self, and purity. Some people who haven’t seen things clearly in their study of Buddhism think that nirvana is just death, but nirvana is emphatically not death. One who holds this view does not understand Buddhist principle.
It is the primal bright essence of consciousness. “Primal” means that it is originally a pure substance, that is, one which is neither defiled nor pure, neither increasing nor decreasing. Originally its light illuminates everywhere. “Consciousness” here does not refer to the eight consciousnesses, nor to the eye-consciousness, the ear-consciousness, the nose-consciousness, the tongue-consciousness, the body-consciousness, the mind-consciousness, nor the manas or the alaya consciousnesses. It is not any of the eight consciousnesses. It refers to the essence of consciousness, which is but another name for Bodhi Nirvana. The phrase is used here to avoid repetition for the sake of literary style. It refers to the most essential and wonderful aspect of consciousness, the inherent Buddha-nature, the bright substance of the permanently dwelling true mind that can bring forth all conditions. Because of conditions, you consider it to be lost. Because these causal conditions arise, you keep getting farther and farther away from where you want to be, like someone running farther and farther down the road. Didn’t I say before that the more Ananda answered the Buddha’s questions the farther off the track he got? All conditions are transformed and appear from within the primal bright essential consciousness, but after a long time of clutching at these conditions, it seems that something has been lost. What is lost? Nothing, really. The primal bright essential consciousness seems to be lost, but it isn’t. The primal pure substance of Bodhi Nirvana is the true jewel in your household. Basically, it is right there with you but you don’t know how to use it to your advantage. Since you can’t use it, it seems to be lost. It is as if you had a valuable gem which you have hidden away so well that after a long time you can no longer remember where you put it. Once you forget where it is, you can no longer make use of it. Although you may be destitute, you don’t know how to get at it and derive benefit from it. It’s the same as if it weren’t there. What do you use instead? You use your false thinking, your mind that seizes upon conditions. In the process you forget the true mind, and once it is forgotten, it is as good as lost. And this is why you have not become Buddhas and are bound up by birth and death instead: you have not found your true mind.
”Living beings lose sight of the original brightness: therefore, though they use it to the end of their days, they are unaware of it, and without intending to they enter the various destinies.
Living beings lose sight of the original brightness. Living beings seem to lose their pure basic nature, the bright substance of the permanently dwelling true mind. In actual fact it is not lost. Therefore, though they use it to the end of their days, they are unaware of it. Living beings use the pure nature and bright substance of the permanently dwelling true mind every day, since it is primarily from the true mind that the false-thinking mind which seizes upon conditions springs forth in the first place. Absolutely everything is a manifestation of the true mind, and it helps you from morning till night. But you don’t realize it. All you know how to use is your false-thinking mind.
The true mind is manifest in seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, awareness, and knowing. “What is the Buddha-nature?” someone once asked. Shakyamuni Buddha replied,
In the eyes it is called seeing,
In the ears it is called hearing,
In the nose it smells scents,
In the tongue it tastes,
In the hands it is dexterity,
In the feet it is agility.
He said, “What is the Buddha-nature?” It is the seeing-nature and the hearing-nature. It is the natural way in which the hands hold things. All of these are imperceptible manifestations of the true mind; but people are unaware of it. Now Ananda is still confused and so the Buddha uses all manner of analogies to explain to him.
And without intending to they enter the various destinies. Because they cling to the mind that seizes upon conditions, living beings enter their various destinies and yet are unaware of what they are doing. Your destiny is the place you tend toward. You walk right into it. Where do you end up? In the various destinies; that is, on the turning wheel of the six paths. There are the three good destinies of the gods, the asuras, and people, and the three evil destinies of the animals, the hungry ghosts, and the hell-beings. Whatever karma you create, you undergo a retribution for it. Without realizing it, you end up by entering one of the six paths. It is not that you particularly want to, but fall you do, just the same.
The destiny of the asuras is sometimes listed as an evil destiny. Asuras are said to be “strong in fighting,” since fighting is what they like to do best. They are always ready to pick a quarrel with people. Asura is a Sanskrit word which is interpreted to mean “without wine” and also as “deformed.” Asuras like to drink wine, but when they are in the heavens, they don’t get any wine to drink. “Deformed” refers to the male asuras, whose bodies and faces are misshapen and ugly. They have hairlips and buck teeth. But the asuras women are gorgeous. The Jade Emperor encountered one such particularly beautiful female asura and chose her for his wife.
Now the Jade Emperor, Shakra, that is, liked to go hear sutras. He would transform himself into a man and come to this world to listen to sutras. But his asura wife “drank vinegar,” that is, she got jealous. “You go off to the world every single day. I wonder what weird essence or fox spirit has got you in her clutches. You’re chasing after a fox spirit, aren’t you?” She was accusing him of playing around with another woman. Worldly women are not the only ones who get jealous about their husbands.
Eventually Shakra’s wife decided to make herself invisible and follow along to find out what he was up to. (In this day and age there are private detectives to handle such matters, but probably they didn’t exist then so she had to run her own investigation and spy on him for herself.) So, when the Jade Emperor arrived at the dharma assembly, he bowed to the dharma master, paid his respects, and then took a seat in the assembly. It just so happen that on that particular day there were women sitting on either side of him. When the asura woman saw that, she was beside herself, and she made herself visible right there in the assembly to confront the emperor. “It’s no wonder you come here every day with so many women to keep you company,” she began.
The Jade Emperor was outraged. “I come here to listen to sutras and you’ve barged in and disturbed the Bodhimanda. You’re really creating heavy offenses.” He boxed her ears and she burst into tears and ran off to find her father. She demanded a divorce and refused to go back to her husband. Her father came to her defense and promised to wage war on the Jade Emperor. “I’ll defeat him and take the throne,” he consoled her. “Don’t fret.”
The fight was on. Every day the asura king did battle with the Jade Emperor. The emperor called out his full regalia, but the asura king’s ferocious battalions were in their element, and little by little the Jade Emperor was beaten back. He was losing ground fast. As a faithful follower of the Buddha, he went to the Buddha and asked him to devise some strategy. The Buddha gave him his kashaya - his robe - saying, “Take this back with you, tear it into strips and have each of your soldiers carry a piece of it. Then tell them all to recite ‘Mahaprajnaparamita’ (great wisdom which has reached the other shore.).”
The Jade Emperor did as he was instructed. The entire army began reciting “Mahaprajnaparamita” and when the next attack came the asuras fell. They were totally unprepared for the unprecedented force of the heavenly troop’s blows and admitted defeat once and for all.
Asuras are said to be “deformed”. They have the blessings of the gods, but not the virtue. There are asuras not only in the heavens but also among people. Soldiers and thieves are examples of human asuras. But a distinction has to be made here. In this country, military service is mandatory and people are drafted. Some of them are not asuras. Some of these that go into battle are just kids. At eighteen they’re drafted and at that age they haven’t the least bit of samadhi-power. They get jittery at the mere mention of war.
Front line troops should be trained for five years. For instance, they’ll be twenty-three if they enter the service at eighteen and train for five years, and by that time they have a little samadhi-power and some experience, so that if they are sent into battle, they have sufficient courage to cope with it. If they’re too young, their samadhi isn’t strong, they lack experience, and they haven’t got any guts. So I think that in the present circumstances, not every soldier is an asura. In former times, people who actually wanted to be soldiers or robbers could be classed as asuras.
There are other asuras besides soldiers. For instance, someone who has a big temper and is always picking fights with others has the nature of an asura. In general, asuras have violent tempers.
Wild stallions are an example of asuras. There are also asuras among the hungry ghosts. For the most part, living beings enter the four evil destinies. This is the meaning of this passage of text. Some living beings don’t lose their way and are born in the path of people or in the heavens, but that is still to “enter the various destinies without intending to.” You take the wrong road.