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The Seven Elements are All-Pervasive
VOLUME 3, Chapter 6
N2 He gives a general analogy about the nature and its characteristics.
“Ananda, according to what you said, the mixing and uniting of the four elements create the myriad transformations of everything in the world.
Ananda, according to what you said, as you understand it, the mixing and uniting of the four elements - earth, water, fire, and wind - combine to create the myriad transformations of everything in the world.
“Ananda, if the nature of those elements does not mix and unite in substance, then they cannot combine with other elements, just as empty space cannot combine with forms.
Ananda, if the nature of those elements - if the nature of the substance of the elements does not mix and unite in substance - basically the nature of their substance is not one which unites - then they cannot combine with other elements. The elements cannot intermingle and merge with one another, just as empty space cannot combine with forms. It is the same as with empty space, which cannot unite with things that have form. If there is a union, then it is not empty space. This contradiction is also evident in the nature of the elements.
“Assuming that they do mix and unite, they are then only in a process of transformation in which they depend on one another for existence from beginning to end. In the course of transformation they are produced and extinguished, being born and then dying, dying and then being born, in birth after birth, in death after death, the way a torch spun in a circle forms an unbroken wheel of flame.
Assuming that they do mix and unite - suppose you want to say that the four elements mix and unite - they are then only in a process of transformation in which they depend on one another for existence. They mix with everything and are subject to change. From beginning to end, they change and come into being, and in the course of transformation they are produced and extinguished, extinguished then produced, again and again unendingly, being born and then dying, dying and then being born, in birth after birth, in death after death, the way a torch spun in a circle forms an unbroken wheel of flame. It never stops. Is that the way it is?
“Ananda, the process is like water becoming ice and ice becoming water again.
Ananda, you should know that the true suchness of the self nature accords with conditions yet does not change; it does not change, yet accords with conditions. How is that explained? The true suchness of the self nature, which is also the treasury of the Thus Come One, and also the real appearance, and also our true mind, is like water becoming ice and ice becoming water again.
It is like water which becomes ice: that is, it accords with conditions, just as water can turn into ice. But the ice can also melt and become water again. I have often explained this principle to you. People’s Buddha-nature is the true nature. Bodhi enlightenment is water; affliction is ice. Your Bodhi is like water, useful to everyone; it cannot harm people. Everyone needs water.
You say, “Dharma master, I don’t agree with the principle you are explaining. Why? Because a lot of water can drown people.”
You are really intelligent. You know that too much water can drown people. But when there isn’t any water, can’t people die of thirst? So water is necessary for everyone. Of course too much of it can harm people. It’s that way with anything: too much is harmful. If you don’t eat, you get hungry, but if you eat day after day without cease, see if your stomach has a place to put it all. Having too much is the same as not having enough. Eating too much is the same as being fiercely hungry.
So, water can turn into ice. I often say that if you were to pour a bowl of water over someone’s head, he wouldn’t feel any pain. But, if you hit someone over the head with a piece of ice, you certainly could kill him. A piece of ice can kill someone. A bowlful of water cannot kill anyone. Ice and water are actually the same thing, but in the form of ice it can kill people, and in the form of water it cannot. Because of this, affliction is compared to ice; Bodhi is compared to water. The Buddha’s sutras say, “Affliction is just Bodhi.” The ice is just water. There is no ice in addition to the water, and no water in addition to the ice. The ice is in the water, and the water is in the ice.
Thus, the sutra says, “Ice becoming water again.” But in order to turn your ice into water, you have to develop a certain amount of skill. What is required? You have to use yang light to illumine it. And then the ice can turn into water. This refers to our daily practice of sitting in meditation and investigating Chan. That illumines our afflictions so that they turn into water.
There is another bit of important principle I would like to explain to you now. This dharma assembly we have convened is a subtle and wonderful one. In what way? I explain the sutras in Chinese, and my Chinese is translated into English. So we explain the Buddhadharma in two languages. But when you are listening to the sutra, regardless of whether you understand the language you are hearing it in, you should pay close attention.
First, everyone who listens to sutras should thank Shakyamuni Buddha. Why? Because several thousand years ago Shakyamuni Buddha spoke this wonderful Dharma, preparing a bright lamp in the dark night, for the sake of us living beings in suffering and difficulty. He spoke the Dharma in order to cause us to be able to leave suffering and obtain bliss, to be apart from the afflictions of this world, and to come to understand the Way and bring forth bliss. He spoke the Dharma to cause us people with a lot of afflictions to be free of afflictions and to turn our ice into water, so that we can return to the source to go back to our origin. And so we should be thankful to Shakyamuni Buddha.
Second, we should thank the Venerable Ananda. Why? Because if the Venerable Ananda had pretended to be intelligent back then and had said, “Buddha, you don’t have to explain it. I understand. Whatever you are going to say, I already understand,” then the Buddha would not have spoken the Dharma; he wouldn’t have spoken the Shurangama Sutra. It is not easy for us to understand these principles, either. So we should thank the Venerable Ananda for having requested the dharma beforehand on our behalf. He asked Shakyamuni Buddha to speak the Dharma for us.
I have something else to tell you that’s not very important. What is it? You should also thank the dharma master who is lecturing the sutra. That’s me. Don’t neglect that! I say it’s not too important, but you shouldn’t look upon it too lightly, either. Basically, I am a dharma master who only half understands; I don’t explain the sutras well. You say, “Oh, basically you can’t explain the sutras well, yet you have come here to explain them to us who don’t understand the Buddhadharma. No wonder we don’t understand what we’re hearing. Basically you only half understand it yourself.”
But if you can understand half of the Buddhadharma that’s actually not bad. Why? Because the Buddhadharma is as deep as the sea. You may want to understand it completely, but that’s not at all an easy thing to do. I have studied the Buddhadharma for several decades - thirty or forty years - and yet I feel that I have not finished drinking a single drop of the great sea, because the Buddhadharma is so deep, so wonderful.
That’s why I said I was a Dharma Master who only half understands. But you should say that you now understand completely, because you are like the green extracted from the blue, which is to say, there are top ranking students but no top ranking teachers. “My Master only half understands, but I, his disciple, have studied very well.” That’s the way you should talk.
Lastly, you should thank the translator of the sutra. No matter who is doing the translating, you should pay close attention and listen especially respectfully. You should be particularly attentive to every word and every sentence. Because I explain the sutras in Chinese and most of you don’t understand it, it is necessary for you to rely on the merit and virtue of the translation in order to hear the principles of the Shurangama Sutra. So you should be thankful to the translator; be very careful not to slight him or her.
Why do I say this today? Because in the summaries I had you write I saw that someone had written, “I listen to the sutra here and I don’t understand what the dharma master is explaining, and the translation isn’t very good, so I’m not going to study here any more.” The person who wrote this is basically a very intelligent person, but unfortunately she tends to outwit herself a bit. Why do I say that? Because she hasn’t any patience. When you listen to sutras, you should be patient whether you understand or not.
When you remain in the Dharma assembly, you become permeated with the Dharma, just like the incense permeates the air, and eventually the light of your wisdom will shine forth. The people who have become enlightened while listening to sutras are many indeed. You shouldn’t look lightly upon listening to sutras.
When I was in Hong Kong, there was an elder laywoman who couldn’t listen to the sutras at all. She was deaf. But every time there was a sutra lecture she had to come and listen. She climbed over three hundred steps to the temple, although she was over seventy, and she came by herself. When the sutra lecture was over, after nine o’clock at night, she would go back down all by herself; and when she got to the bottom she would have to take a bus. She was deaf, so how could she listen? It was strange, but after she had listened to the sutras for a little over a month, she suddenly could hear. The deaf woman listened and was no longer deaf.
You hear this and think it quite profound, but actually it isn’t the least bit unusual. It was simply that she was sincere. “Even if I can’t hear, I’m going to listen,” she told herself, and as a result she could hear. So, if a seventy year old woman could have that kind of response, then if each of you is sincere, regardless of whether you understand or not, you will understand. Don’t be afraid of not understanding right away.
All you have to do is to be sincere and a day will come when you do understand. If you aren’t sincere, you may say, “I’ve been listening and listening and I don’t understand, so I’m going to become one of the five thousand who retreat.” If you do retreat, it’s because your virtuous conduct is not sufficient.
In general, to be close to a Dharma assembly, you have to have virtue in the Way. People without Way virtue can’t sit still in a Dharma assembly. They sit and then stand and then sit again, and they’re nervous, and they want to go. Why? Because their karmic obstacle ghost is pulling at them. The ghost says, “You can’t stay here. We’re good friends. Let’s go off together and create offenses.”
So you should be attentive to these four points when listening to sutras. In fact, you should not only thank the person who is doing the translating, you should be compatible with all your fellow students who are studying the sutra with you. Everyone should be happy. This is an important principle in listening to sutras, and you should not neglect it.