THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
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Sutra:

At one time the Buddha dwelt at the city of Shravasti in the sublime abode of the Jeta Grove.


Commentary:

At one time
refers to the time when the Shurangama Sutra was spoken. It was the appropriate time to speak the sutra.

”Why wasn’t the specific year, month, day, and time recorded?” you ask.

Since the calendars of India and China did not coincide, there was no way to fix the time the Shurangama Sutra was spoken, so the simple phrase “At one time” was chosen. Of the six fulfillments, “At one time” brings about the fulfillment of time, and the Buddha as the host who speaks the dharma is the fulfillment of a host.

If you want to become a Buddha, you must learn what a Buddha is like.

”What is a Buddha like?”

A Buddha is happy from morning to night. He doesn’t worry. He doesn’t give rise to afflictions. He sees all living beings as Buddhas, and so he himself has realized Buddhahood. If you can see all living beings as Buddhas, you too are a Buddha.

”What does the word Buddha mean?”

The word Buddha means “enlightened.” The Buddha has perfected the three kinds of enlightenment: enlightenment of self, enlightenment of others, and the perfection of enlightenment and practice. This has been explained above.

In this sutra the terms for the three kinds of enlightenment are called basic enlightenment, initial enlightenment, and ultimate enlightenment, but these are simply different names for the enlightenment of self, the enlightenment of others, and the perfection of enlightenment and practice. In Buddhist sutras there are many places where the names vary but the meaning is the same. You should not fail to recognize something just because the name is different. If someone changes his name, you won’t know he is being referred to when someone mentions him by his new name, but when you meet him face to face, you’ll say, ”Oh, it’s you!” The three kinds of enlightenment of the Buddha are the same way. If you haven’t investigated the Buddhadharma deeply, then you won’t know what basic enlightenment, initial enlightenment, and ultimate enlightenment are, but if you have studied the Buddhadharma you know that they are the same as the three enlightenments.

That is a general explanation of the word Buddha. If the word Buddha were discussed in detail, it could not be completely explained in three years, let alone three months. Now I have no alternative but to explain it for three minutes and let it go at that. That is because Americans like speed. They want everything to be done fast. So now in lecturing the sutra I will do it fast, like a rocket going to the moon. In a rocket, Zut! – you’re there. Although basically I hold to the old ways, I can’t use antiquated methods.

The Buddha dwelt at the City of Shravasti. Shravasti, a Sanskrit word, was the name of the capital city in which King Prasenajit lived. The Buddha taught and transformed many living beings there while he dwelt in the sublime abode of the Jeta Grove; which was near the city. Shravasti was different from other cities, in that it was unusually full of pleasures involving the five objects of desire: forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and objects of touch. All were extremely fine. As to forms, there were probably many beautiful women, and the city itself was undoubtedly very colorful. As to sounds, the music was probably extremely beautiful. As to smells, there was Indian curry, for instance, which we also have in this country and which can be smelled for quite a distance when it is cooking. As to flavors, there was ghee, a delicious milk product. As to objects of touch, they probably had the finest silks - the epitome of elegance - in Shravasti.

The city had abundance and affluence, and the people had the virtues of education and freedom; thus Shravasti is interpreted as meaning “Abundance and Virtue.” The people were well-educated, well-read, and experienced. They were endowed with intelligence, penetrating insight, and scholarship. They were also a free people; they were not bound by others.

Once there was a dharma master who went to seek instruction from an elder dharma master. When he arrived, he put on his robe and sash, opened his kneeling cloth, knelt before the elder dharma master, and asked for instruction.

”What instruction do you want from me?” asked the old master.

”I am seeking freedom,” came the reply.

”Who’s binding you up?” the old master asked.

As soon as he heard the question, the young dharma master realized that no one was binding him, and he immediately became enlightened. “I am already free,” he realized. “What am I doing seeking further freedom?” That realization brought about his enlightenment.

”If I were to seek instruction in how to obtain freedom, and someone were to tell me that I’m not bound up, would I become enlightened?” you ask.

That’s different. Your time has not yet arrived. Your potential has not yet matured. When it does, one sentence will cause you to awaken, to connect suddenly and penetrate through to enlightenment.

The people of Shravasti were free, which means that their cultivation made it easy for them to realize the Way. Because Shravasti was so well-endowed with abundance and virtue, the Buddha dwelt there.

The sublime abode of the Jeta Grove is the “Jeta Grove in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary” mentioned at the beginning of the Vajra Sutra.

In Shravasti there lived a great elder named Sudatta, who was endowed with many blessings. No one knew the extent of his wealth. One day a friend said to Sudatta, “The Buddha is at such-and-such a place speaking dharma.” The moment Sudatta heard the word “Buddha,”. his hair stood on end and he was beside himself.

”I want to go see the Buddha right now,” he said; ”Immediately!” Because of his wish to see the Buddha, the Buddha shone his light on Sudatta, although he was a good distance away. It was the middle of the night, but because the Buddha’s light was shining on him, Sudatta thought it was already dawn, so he arose and set out to see the Buddha. Since it was actually the middle of the night, the city gates were still locked, but by means of the power of the Buddha’s spiritual penetrations, the gates opened of themselves when Sudatta arrived and closed behind him again as he went out. He reached his destination, saw the Buddha, and, hearing the Buddha speak dharma, was inexpressibly happy. Then he asked the Buddha, “You have so many disciples; where do they live?”

At that time there wasn’t any sublime abode in the Jeta Grove. The Buddha said, “I haven’t any permanent residence.”

”I will build you a monastery!” said the elder. “I will make a place for you.” Since he was wealthy, he could speak with authority. “As soon as I return I will find a place and begin construction.”

When he got back to Shravasti he looked everywhere until he eventually found Prince Jeta’s garden, which was about a mile and a half outside the city. He saw that the garden was the most appropriate place to give the Buddha. But it belonged to the prince, so he went to negotiate.

”Why do you want to buy my garden?” Prince Jeta asked.

“I’m going to build a place to invite the Buddha to live in,” replied the elder.

”All right,” Prince Jeta said in jest, “cover the grounds of the garden completely with gold coins, and I will sell it to you.”

It never occurred to the prince that Sudatta would actually do it. Who would have guessed that Sudatta would return and take all the gold coins from the family storehouses to the gardens to be laid out on the grounds?

”I was just kidding!” cried the prince when he saw the gold-laden ground. “How could I sell you my garden? You shouldn’t have taken me seriously!”

”You are a prince now,” replied the elder Sudatta. “In the future you will be the king. A king does not speak in jest. You can’t joke with me. Whatever you say should be just as it is. You can’t refuse to sell.”

When the prince heard that, there was nothing he could do. “Very well,” he said. “You have covered the ground with gold coins, but you didn’t cover the trees. Here’s what we will do. We will divide it. The ground you covered is yours, but the trees are mine. However, I don’t want them for myself. I’ll make a gift of them so you can provide a place for the Buddha.”

The elder Sudatta had no choice but to accept Prince Jeta’s conditions. So the place was named the “Jeta Grove in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary.” Sudatta was also known as Anathapindaka, “the benefactor of orphans and the solitary,” because he took pleasure in helping widows, widowers, orphans, and the solitary, that is elderly couples who had no children. His virtuous deeds earned him a title awarded to elders of great virtue.

”How is Prince Jeta’s name explained?”

Prince Jeta was born on the day his father, King Prasenajit, returned victorious from a battle with a neighboring country, so the child was given the name Jeta, “Victorious in War,” by his father, the king.

This is the history of the “sublime abode of the Jeta Grove”. Sudatta invested large additional sums of money in the construction of the sublime abode.

D2 A broad explanation of the fulfillment of an audience.
E1 Sound-hearers.
F1 Listing their number.


Sutra:

With a gathering of great bhikshus, twelve hundred fifty in all.

Commentary:

The gathering of great bhikshus, together with the great Arhats and the Bodhisattvas of the ten directions mentioned below, bring about the fulfillment of an audience.

The sutras spoken by the Buddha are not confused or disconnected. They weren’t spoken casually. Every sutra has its six fulfillments at the beginning, because only when these six are brought about can a dharma assembly be established and the dharma be spoken.

Great bhikshus are different from small bhikshus. Great bhikshus are at the stage in their cultivation where they are just about to attain enlightenment. “Bhikshu” is a Sanskrit word that has three meanings: mendicant, frightener of Mara, and destroyer of evil.

A bhikshu is a mendicant who takes his bowl out into the streets to collect alms. He does not go only to the wealthy and avoid the poor, or vice-versa. A bhikshu must practice equality in his alms-rounds, which means he must go strictly from door to door, and to no more than seven houses. So it is said, “One should not avoid the poor and go to the rich, nor ignore the lowly and seek out the honorable.”

When someone ascends the precept platform to receive the bhikshu precepts, he faces three masters and seven certifiers. The three masters are the precept transmitter, the karmadana, and the teaching transmitter. The seven certifiers act as guarantors that, as a monk, the bhikshu will not violate the rules of pure eating or break the precepts. When the precepts are transmitted, the karmadana asks, “Have you already resolved to attain Bodhi?”

The answer is, “I have already resolved to attain Bodhi.”

He also says, “Are you a great hero?”

The answer to be given by the preceptee is, “Yes, I am a great hero.” When the questions have been answered in this way, an earth-traveling rakshasa ghost, a being of our world who records good and evil, says, “Now the Buddha’s retinue has increased by one, and Mara’s retinue has decreased by one.” The earth-traveling rakshasa transmits this news to a space-traveling yaksha ghost, who in turn transmits the news through space to the sixth desire heaven, where Mara dwells. When Mara, who is king of the heavenly demons, hears the news, he is terrified. That is why the second meaning of bhikshu is frightener of Mara.

A bhikshu is also a destroyer of evil, because he breaks up the evils of ignorance and afflictions.

Since the word bhikshu has three meanings, it falls in the category of “terms not translated because they contain many meanings,” and, according to the rules of translation as set down by Dharma Master Xuan Zang during the Tang dynasty in China, it is left in Sanskrit.

Actually, there were twelve hundred fifty-five great bhikshus in the Jeta Grove assembly, but the number is rounded off to twelve hundred fifty in all. These disciples comprised the Buddha’s constant following. Formerly most of them had adhered to non- Buddhist paths, but, upon receiving the Buddha’s teaching, they were transformed. Moved by the Buddha’s deep kindness, they constantly dwelt with him thereafter.

Of the twelve hundred fifty, the Buddha first took across Ajnatakaundinya and the other four of the five bhikshus in the Deer Park. Next he converted the three Kashyapa brothers, who had been fire-worshipers. When they took refuge with the Buddha, they brought their thousand disciples along with them to also take refuge. That makes one thousand five disciples. Maudgalyayana and Shariputra each had a hundred disciples: they brought the total to one thousand two hundred and five. Then Yashas, the son of an elder, and his disciples took refuge for a total of fifty people, which makes one thousand two hundred fifty-five disciples in all.

What is meant by a “gathering”? One person cannot be called a gathering, nor can two, nor three. It takes four or more to form an assembly. In this case, however, the gathering consisted of more than twelve hundred fifty.

This is how Ajnatakaundinya became the first of Shakyamuni Buddha’s disciples. In a former life, the Buddha was a patient immortal cultivating the Way in the mountains. He cultivated the practice of patience in the face of insult. One day the king of Kalinga went to the mountain on a hunting expedition, bringing with him a party of concubines, palace girls, ministers, and officials. While the king hunted, the concubines went for a stroll on the mountain and encountered the old bhikshu, the patient immortal. The concubines, who rarely left the palace, had never before seen a person with such a long beard and such hair as his. Although he was a cultivator, the concubines thought he was a freak, and so they crept closer and asked him, “What are you doing?”

”I am working at cultivating the Way. I am practicing the Buddhadharma,” replied the old cultivator. The concubines had never heard of the Buddhadharma or even of the Buddha and were completely puzzled by his answer. Their curiosity got the better of them, and each one had to come closer for a peek at the old cultivator. They crowded around him in a circle.

By then the king of Kalinga had returned from his hunting, only to find that his beautiful concubines had disappeared. He went looking for them and found them standing in a circle around a long-haired, bearded man. The sight ignited the king’s jealousy. He thought to himself, “This man has seduced my beautiful women! They won’t pay any attention to me, and yet he’s managed to seduce them.” Aloud he asked, “What are you doing?”

”I am cultivating patience,” replied the old cultivator.

”What do you mean by patience?”

”Patience means that no matter what you do to me, no matter how impolite you are to me, no matter how badly you treat me, I can bear it.”

”Really?” said the king of Kalinga. “Is that truly the way you are? I don’t believe you can do it. If you truly have patience, why did you seduce my women? Now that they have become so involved with you and have fallen in love with you, in the future they will certainly run away from the palace.”

”No, I wouldn’t seduce your women. I have been speaking dharma for them, teaching them to be patient.”

”Patient!” spit back the king. “So you can be patient, eh? All right, I’ll try you out. Let’s see if you can be patient...” and he chopped off the old cultivator’s ear. “Can you bear it?” he shouted. “Are you angry?”

”I’m not angry,” replied the old cultivator.

Next the king sliced off the cultivator’s nose. “Are you angry?” he asked. “Are your afflictions welling up? Don’t you hate me?”

”I haven’t given rise to affliction,” replied the old cultivator, “nor am I angry with you.”

”Is that true? Are you really not angry?” screamed the king. “Very well, I’ll cut off your hand,” which he did in one blow. “You still don’t hate me?”

The old cultivator, this previous incarnation of Shakyamuni Buddha, said to the king of Kalinga, “I don’t hate you.”

”Then I will cut off the other hand!” and the king brought his sword down once again on the old cultivator. “Are you angry?”

”I’m still not angry,” replied the old cultivator.

”Ah, you don’t know truth from falsehood. Here, I’ll cut off your foot. Now, are you angry?”

”I’m not angry.”

”The king cut off his other foot, which meant that he had severed all four of the old cultivator’s limbs. “You still don’t hate me?” he asked.

The old cultivator replied, “I still don’t hate you.” “You’re lying!” cried the king. “There isn’t a person in the world who wouldn’t get angry upon having all four limbs sliced off his body. I don’t believe you really can be this way.”

At that time the old cultivator made a vow. “If I have not given rise to any anger,” he told the king, “then my four limbs will grow back and my body will be whole once more. But if I have gotten angry, my hands and feet won’t rejoin my body, and my nose and ear won’t grow back.” As soon as he finished speaking, his hands, feet, ear, and nose, which had been completely severed, grew back again.

”What kind of weird monster are you?” the king of Kalinga cried. “What kind of freak can make his hands and feet grow back on his body? A demon!” the king concluded, addressing his party of ministers and concubines. But as soon as these thoughts arose, the dharma protectors and beneficent gods let loose a hail-storm that came beating down on the king.

Then the old cultivator made another vow. “Please, dharma protectors and good spirits, don’t punish him. I forgive him,” he said. Then he told the king, “In the future, when I realize Buddhahood, I will take you across to Buddhahood first.” As a result of that vow, when Shakyamuni Buddha realized Buddhahood, the first person he took across was Ajnatakaundinya, who was none other than the former king of Kalinga.

Upon realizing Buddhahood, the power of his vow led him immediately to the Deer Park to save the five bhikshus, of whom the first was Ajnatakaundinya. When someone makes a vow, a connection is created. Therefore you should make vows to be good to people and to rescue them, and you should be careful not to make vows to kill people. If you vow to kill people, in the future, people will vow to kill you, and there will be no end to the cycle of killing. If you make vows to take living beings across to Buddhahood, then we can all realize Buddhahood together, and everyone will obtain the bliss of the eternally still, bright, Pure Land. Be good to people, even if they are not good to you. We should have the kind of vitality that the patient immortal had when, far from getting angry, he vowed to save his attacker who was cutting off his limbs. Students of the Buddhadharma should imitate this spirit of magnanimity.

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