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The Twelve Places
VOLUME 3, Chapter 4
P2 The place of the ear and sound.
Q1 Sets the scene to discuss the organ and object.
“Ananda, listen again to the drum being beaten in the Jeta Garden when the food is ready. The Assembly gathers as the bell is struck. The sounds of the bell and the drum follow one another in succession.
This passage explains the two places of the ear and sound. Ananda, listen again to the drum being beaten in the Jeta Garden when the food is ready - when the food has been prepared, the drum is hit, and everyone comes to eat. The Assembly gathers as the bell is struck. If you want to gather together, you strike the bell. Nowadays, when it is time to eat, it is not a drum which is hit but rather an instrument called the “wooden fish.” It is a hollow woodblock shaped like a big fish. When it is time to eat, the fish is beaten, and it makes the sound bong, bong, bong. So in Chinese it is called a bong.
In a large monastery there are many monks, and if no signal were given, people wouldn’t know it was time to eat. In fact, some might even be sleeping away the morning in their rooms, like certain disciples I have who are fond of sleep. If you didn’t make some signal to wake them up, they would miss lunch. So in large monasteries where hundreds or even thousands of monks lived, the bong was hit when it was time to eat. It was beaten for a long time, and the louder the better. Why? To wake everyone up. And, as soon as people who were asleep heard the “bong,” they leapt up, grabbed their robes and sashes, and hurried off to eat. When monks eat, they wear their formal robes and sashes, and they are very awesome and adorned. They do not talk while they eat. In the dining hall a thousand monks may be gathered together to eat, and not one of them is speaking. Everyone is silent.
When people have left the home life, they must abide by the rule of eating at one sitting. They cannot get up and then come back and sit down and eat more. When the dining hall attendant comes around, he will give you one more of whatever you have not had enough of. He’ll give you as much as you want. If you want a bowlful, he’ll give you a bowlful; if you want half a bowlful, you can indicate how much with your finger or your chopstick, and he’ll give you that much.
In the past, an old cultivator who was a layman, not a left home person, had taken the five precepts and also the precept against talking while eating. But he had violated all five precepts, and there remained only the precept against talking while eating, which he had not violated. So the spirit who protected that precept still accompanied him, but he wished the layman would violate the precept so he could go, too, and no longer protect him. But the layman never violated the precept. When he ate, he never talked. Finally, the spirit of the precept came to him in a dream and said, “You should talk when you eat. Since you’ve violated all the other precepts, why don’t you violate the precept against talking when you eat? Hurry up and violate it, because I’d like to leave you, too.”
The dream set the layman thinking. “I’ve kept that precept against talking while eating, and it turns out there is a precept spirit who protects me!” After that he found a dharma master with Way-virtue and took the precepts over again. As a result of that, he cultivated and accomplished the Way. Every person has his own particular causes and conditions, and in Buddhism taking the precepts is a very important matter.
It is said that the bong, which is hit when it is time to eat, was originally an evil man who became a fish in the sea. A tree grew out of the fish’s body, and the fish made a practice of using the tree to bash in ships and wreck them. When a ship was wrecked the fish would eat the people. Later the fish met up with an arhat who crossed it over, and afterward the tree was used to make a bong shaped like a fish. And that is why the bong is beaten when it is time to eat. It represents helping to wipe out that fish’s karmic offenses, so the fish could be reborn as a human. There’s no foundation in this, it’s only a legend, and I’m just passing it along to you.
The sounds of the bell and the drum follow one another in succession. Maybe the bell is struck first, or maybe the drum is beaten first. In any case, the sounds follow one another in succession.
Q2 Asks which gives rise to which.
“What do you think? Do these things come into existence because the sound comes to the region of the ear, or because the ear goes to the place of the sound?
In explaining about the ear, the Buddha has more to ask Ananda. He said, “What do you think about the sound of the bell and drum? What’s your opinion, Ananda? Do these things come into existence because the sound comes to the region of the ear?” “These things” are the sounds of the bell and drum. “Do they come up beside your ear, and then do you hear? Or because the ear goes to the place of the sound? Or is it that your ear goes to the place of the sound?” He asks Ananda, and Ananda doesn’t have anything to say in return. Ananda isn’t as brash as he was before, when he had an immediate answer for everything that was asked. Now he doesn’t make a sound. He waits for the Buddha to explain it.
Q3 Discusses each and refutes all possibilities.
R1 The possibility that the sound comes to the region of the ear.
“Again, Ananda, suppose that the sound comes to the region of the ear. Similarly, when I go to beg for food in the city of Shravasti, I am no longer in the Jeta Grove. If the sound definitely goes to the region of Ananda’s ear, then neither Maudgalyayana nor Kashyapa would hear it, and even less the twelve hundred and fifty shramanas who, upon hearing the sound of the bell, come to the dining hall at the same time.
Shakyamuni Buddha said: Again, Ananda, suppose that the sound comes to the region of the ear. Similarly, when I go to beg for food in the city of Shravasti, I am no longer in the Jeta Grove. The Buddha is referring here to himself. “Shravasti” is Sanskrit; does anyone remember what it means? I explained this at the very beginning of the sutra, when I discussed the six realizations. You all have forgotten? Well, I can’t remember it either. So we’ll all just forget it, right? I never explained it, and you never heard it. No speaking and no hearing is true Prajna.
The city of Shravasti had an abundance of the five desires and of wealth and riches, and the people had the virtues of learning and liberation. So it is called “abundance and virtue.” You should remember this. In Chinese, the Sanskrit shravasti may appear as she wei guo, or shi luo fa cheng. If you can’t remember even that, this little bit, then when someone asks you to explain the six realizations, and when the fifth realization, place, is Shravasti, all you’ll be able to say is “I don’t know,” if someone asks you what Shravasti means. How much face will you lose then? You who are propagating the Dharma will suddenly find yourself stumped by a question. If someone should ask you some strange question, it is all right not to answer. But, if the question deals with something you should know about in the Buddhist sutras, and you can’t come up with the answer, it will be very embarrassing.
”When I go to the city of Shravasti to beg for food,” the Buddha said, “I’m no longer here in the Jeta Grove.” This is an example of the fact that something can’t be in two places at once. Thus, if the sound definitely goes to the region of Ananda’s ear, then neither Maudgalyayana nor Kashyapa would hear it. (The ear’s going out to the sound is yet another possibility which will be discussed later.) “If the sound comes up beside your ear, Ananda, then Maudgalyayana, who was first in spiritual penetrations, and Kashyapa would not hear it. Why? Because the sound has come to your ear.”
The Buddha is really not speaking with any principle. Sound is basically all pervasive. Everyone can hear it, and yet he explains it in this way. He is deliberately trying to befuddle Ananda. He is not speaking reasonably to Ananda, just to see how Ananda will answer. Even less the twelve hundred and fifty shramanas who, upon hearing the sound of the bell, come to the dining hall at the same time. How much the less the twelve hundred and fifty bhikshus, who as soon as they hear the bell, all hurry in together to eat.
R2 The possibility of the ear going to the region of sound.
“Again, suppose that the ear goes to the region of the sound. Similarly, when I return to the Jeta Grove, I am no longer in the city of Shravasti. When you hear the sound of the drum, your ear will already have gone to the place where the drum is being beaten. Thus, when the bell peals, you will not hear the sound - even the less that of the elephants, horses, cows, sheep, and all the other various sounds around you.
It was explained above that there is no principle in saying that the sound comes up beside your ear. If it were to come up beside your ear, other people would not hear it; and yet, in fact, the others can also hear the sounds of the drum and the bell. This proves that the sound of the bell and drum do not come to the region of your ear. Again, suppose that the ear goes to the region of the sound. Perhaps you say that your ears go to where the sound is in order to listen to it.
Similarly, when I return to the Jeta Grove, I am no longer in the city of Shravasti. Will you accept that doctrine, Ananda? Would you say I have spoken correctly here? You cannot argue with that principle. Therefore, when you hear the sound of the drum, your ear will already have gone to the place where the drum is being beaten. Thus, when the bell peals - then when the bell is sounded - you will not hear the sound. Your ear has already gone, so when there is another sound, you won’t hear it, because what will there be to hear it?
It’s the same as when I return from the city of Shravasti; at that time I am no longer in the city. So you say your ear has gone; and yet, in fact, you still can hear. When the bell’s sound rings out, you hear it as well as the drum. How can this be? Even the less that of the elephants, horses, cows, sheep, and all the other various sounds around you. Nor only is it the case that you can hear the sound of the drum and the sound of the bell, but there are the sounds of elephants, horses, cows, sheep - all kinds of sounds that you can hear.
Ultimately, has your ear gone out or not? Has your ear really gone to the place of the sound? If so, how is it that you have enough ears to go to the places of all those other sounds? You only have two ears: how can you have so many ears?
R3 The possibility of there being no coming and no going.
“If there is no coming or going, there will be no hearing, either.
“If you say that the ear does not go to the place of the sound, and the sound does not come to the place of the ear - if there is no coming or going - then what do you hear? There will be no hearing, either. You wouldn’t hear anything.” What is this doctrine all about? It demonstrates that the wonderful nature of true suchness of the Thus Come One’s treasury is neither produced nor extinguished. It pervades everywhere and everything. It is not like a person, who when he is at one particular place is there, and when he leaves he is no longer there. Rather, it has neither production nor extinction. This demonstrates that the root-nature is true and that false thinking is false.
Q4 Concludes by returning the false to the true.
“Therefore, you should know that neither hearing nor sound has a location, and thus the two places of hearing and sound are empty and false. Their origin is not in causes and conditions, nor do their natures arise spontaneously.
Therefore - because of the principle I have just explained - you should know - Ananda, you ought to know - that neither hearing nor sound has a location. There is nowhere that the defiling sound objects and your awareness of hearing reside. They haven’t any home. They are probably more or less like beggars - they don’t even have a place to live. And thus the two places of hearing and sound are empty and false. Both places are an empty falseness.
Their origin is not in causes and conditions, nor do their natures arise spontaneously. They are not produced from causes and conditions, and they are not produced out of spontaneity. They are a representation from within the wonderful nature of true suchness of the treasury of the Thus Come One. So don’t use the distinction making mind to indulge in making distinctions among these kinds of defiling objects.