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The Reason for Continual Arisal
VOLUME 4, Chapter 1
G2 He casts out the subtle delusions by explaining about two aspects of the treasury of the Thus Come One.
H1 Purnamaitreyani retraces the former teaching and brings up two doubts.
I1 He praises the Thus Come Ones wonderful instructions.
Then Purnamaitreyaniputra arose from his seat in the midst of the great assembly, uncovered his right shoulder, knelt on his right knee, put his palms together respectfully, and said to the Buddha, The most virtuous and awe-inspiring World Honored One has for the sake of living beings expounded the primary truth of the Thus Come One with remarkable eloquence.
Then, after Ananda had finished speaking his verse in praise of the Buddha, Purnamaitreyaniputra arose from his seat in the midst of the great assembly. Purnamaitreyaniputra means son of fulfillment and compassion. Fulfillment was his father's name; compassion was his mother's name. He immediately stood up. The Buddha's disciples were especially respectful toward him. When they wanted to ask a question, they stood in reverence. He uncovered his right shoulder.
The Chinese sash is styled so that it does not cover the right shoulder, in order to represent this gesture of respect. In India it is never cold, winter or summer, so it was all right to leave the right shoulder completely exposed. One wouldn't get cold. But the climate in China is very cold, and if one's right shoulder were always exposed it would be easy to catch cold. So in China the monks wore clothing under their sashes. This accorded with the climate, the geographical location, and the customs in China.
The sashes in India did not have a clasp like the Chinese sashes do. Now in India, Burma, Ceylon, and Thailand, where the Theravada teachings are practiced, monks still don't have clasps on their sashes.
Why do Chinese sashes have a clasp? This too came about because of the climate of China, for if the monks wore clothing inside their sashes, and if there were no clasp to hold the sash in place, it could slip off without their being aware of it. So the patriarchs of China invented the clasp to solve this problem. The sashes of the other countries mentioned above have the same number of pieces, but they lack the clasp, because the climate is so warm that they don't wear clothing under their sashes. If it starts to slip off, they are aware of it since it is next to their skin.
After I left the home-life, I investigated the question of the clasp on the Chinese sash with a lot of elder Dharma Masters and elder monks. I asked them why the monks from other countries did not have clasps on their sashes; why did the Chinese monks add this thing to their sashes? But they all shook their heads. They didn't know. It's a small matter, but nevertheless, they didn't know. They had never known.
In the end, then, who told me? No one told me. I just compared the climate of China to that of the other countries and figured out for myself that the first patriarchs who came to China must have invented the clasp to make it more convenient to wear clothes under the sash. When I brought up my opinion, the elder Dharma Masters and monks said, Oh, of course, that's how it was. Probably that's how it was. It was a small question, so no one had stopped to think about it, but I know that Americans like to look into things thoroughly, so now I've explained the origin of the clasp on the Chinese-style sashes without waiting to be asked.
Purna uncovered his right shoulder and knelt on his right knee. The monks in present-day Burma and Ceylon have this practice. For instance, if a junior monk sees a senior monk he does not stand to talk but kneels with his right knee on the ground and his palms together.
Purna put his palms together respectfully, and said to the Buddha, The most virtuous and awe-inspiring World Honored One has for the sake of living beings expounded the primary truth of the Thus Come One with remarkable eloquence. He said that the Buddha is one of awesome virtue who can subdue all the living beings in the three realms.
His awesomeness has the power to cause all living beings to submit. His virtue moves all living beings, so that when they hear his name they change their faults and become good. The Buddha uses wholesome clever expedient devices to teach and transform living beings. He speaks the dharma for the sake of living beings; he tells them in detail of the primary truth of the Thus Come One, the Tathagata's most wonderful doctrine.
I2 He discloses his own doubtfulness.
The World Honored One often singles me out as the foremost among speakers of dharma. But now when I hear the wonderful and subtle expression of the dharma, I am like a deaf
person who at a distance of more than a hundred paces tries to hear a mosquito, which in fact cannot be seen, let alone heard.
Purna has just bowed to the Buddha and made a request. Why did he do that? Because he had some doubts. Right now Ananda doesn't have any doubts, but Purna, first among those who speak dharma, has given rise to doubts. He is not clear about the dharma that the Buddha has spoken. Therefore he says, The World Honored One often singles me out as the foremost among speakers of dharma. You often choose me as the best among those who lecture the sutras and speak dharma. I, Purna, rank number one. He expresses well the wonderful meaning of all dharmas.
If this sutra were being explained now by Purna, flowers would rain from the heavens and golden lotuses would well up from the ground. It wouldn't be like my dry and bland explanation which puts my listeners to sleep. The dharma Purna spoke was the foremost, most subtle and wonderful of dharmas. He excelled in distinguishing the characteristics of all dharmas. But now when I hear the wonderful and subtle expression of the dharma, I am like a deaf person who at a distance of more than a hundred paces tries to hear a mosquito, which in fact cannot be seen, let alone heard. His meaning is that someone who is truly deaf of course cannot hear such a small sound as the hum of a mosquito if he is more than a hundred paces away from it.
You can't even see a mosquito at that distance. This represents the fact that the dharma the Buddha speaks is most subtle and wonderful, wonderful to the ultimate. Therefore, though Purna hears it because he is in the dharma assembly, he is like a deaf person. He doesn't understand. So if there are people in the present who don't understand the sutra, it's no wonder. You see, even Purna, who was foremost in speaking dharma, had questions and said he didn't understand. In fact he says he's deaf. Whether you understand or not, you all can at least hear the explanation of the sutra. This is a hundred times better than Purna. Don't be so hard on yourself.
When the Buddha spoke the Avatamsaka Sutra, adherents of the two vehicles could not see the thousand-foot Nishyanda body of the Buddha. Instead they saw the Buddha as a venerable six-foot tall bhikshu. When the Buddha spoke the Avatamsaka Sutra, some of his listeners had ears but did not hear the Buddha speaking dharma. Purna is in a similar situation here. He certainly is not scolding the Buddha, nor is he saying that he does not believe the dharma the Buddha speaks. It's not that he doesn't believe it; he hasn't understood it. That's what this analogy represents.
Some people explain this phrase wonderful and subtle expression of the dharma as meaning a very small sound; they say that the Buddha spoke the dharma in a very quiet voice. They say that subtle here means small. But that explanation is not correct. Subtle means rare and esoterically wonderful; it means an extremely clear explanation of the dharma. It certainly does not mean that the Buddha spoke with a soft voice. Some people say, "Why does Purna compare himself to a mosquito?" Because the Buddha spoke the dharma with such a small voice that Purna felt it was like trying to hear a mosquito at a hundred paces. There are a lot of dharma masters who swallow the date whole, so to speak; they don't know the flavor of the text. They explain it like this:
Basically a deaf person can't hear anything; even less can he hear the Buddha speaking dharma when he speaks with as small a voice as the sound of a mosquito. But this rendering of the words of the text is incorrect. Purna is using an analogy. Some people misunderstand, saying, "Oh, is Purna slandering the Buddha by calling him a mosquito?" That is not the case; you should not have that kind of doubt. In his analogy Purna likens himself to a deaf person; it is not that he likens the Buddha to a mosquito.
World Honored One, although Ananda and those like him have become enlightened, they have not yet cast out their habits and outflows.
World Honored One, although Ananda and those like him have become enlightened, they have not yet cast out their habits and outflows. Although they have understood the principle of becoming enlightened, their habits go back many lives, many aeons. And where do outflows come from? They come from habits. Habits aren't created in a day. They are learned from time without beginning, through life after life, in time after time, and from these learned habits come all kinds of outflows. What is meant by outflows? Outflows are afflictions. The afflictions and habits of Ananda and those like him have not been completely done away with. They are called remaining habits the ones left-over from former lives. They are more or less like karma.
The Buddha had a disciple called Pilindavatsa. One day he wanted to cross a river, and since he had been certified as having attained the fruition of arhatship, he had certain powers. Rivers have spirits, and the spirit of this particular river was female. When Pilindavatsa got to the bank of the river he called out, Little Servant, stop the flow! One who is an arhat has the spiritual power to part the waters when he crosses a river. But the one who stops the flow of the river must be the river-spirit. That is why Pilindavatsa called out, Little Servant, stop the flow! The first time he did that, the river-spirit was annoyed, but did not dare say anything because Pilindavatsa was an arhat. But after he'd addressed her as Little Servant a number of times, the river-spirit finally went to the Buddha to state her case.
"When your disciple Pilindavatsa wants to cross the river he always addresses me as Little Servant, she complained. And I'm outraged. Buddha, you should teach your disciples not to be so ill-mannered. How can he call me a name like that and command me the way he does?"
So the Buddha called for Pilindavatsa. "Apologize to the riverspirit," he said, "and don't talk that way any more." So what do you suppose Pilindavatsa did?
He said, "Little Servant, don't hold a grudge." The whole reason that she had become upset was that he had called her "Little Servant" in the first place!
Of course the river-spirit was furious. "See!" she cried. "Your disciple calls me that right in front of you!" Shakyamuni Buddha said, "Do you know why he calls you 'Little Servant'? In five hundred former lives you were his servant. You've worked for him for so long that when he sees you he reverts to his former habits and that name just slips off his tongue. He hasn't been able to change that habit from the past."
After the Buddha explained to the river-spirit, she realized it was a question of cause and effect and there was nothing more to say. The situation was resolved. That is an example of not having cast out their habits and outflows.
We in the assembly have reached the level of no outflows. Yet, although we have no outflows, we still have doubts about the dharma we have now heard the Thus Come One speak.
Purna said, "We in the assembly, the multitude of sages, have reached the level of no outflows. We have received the reward of the spiritual power of having extinguished all outflows. Yet, although we have no outflows, we still have doubts about the dharma we have now heard the Thus Come One speak. We still think up doubts. We still don't understand."
Now if those who had attained the fourth fruition with the extinction of outflows didn't understand, how much the less would Ananda have understood, since he had only been certified as having attained the first fruition. Although he had attained that level of enlightenment, I believe he still wasn't clear about the meaning the Buddha had just expressed.
I3 He expresses two deep doubts.
J1 He wonders about the causes for the continual arisal of the myriad things.
World Honored One, if all the sense organs, sense objects, skandhas, places, and realms in all the world are the treasury of the Thus Come One, originally pure, why do all conditioned appearances such as the mountains, the rivers, and the great earth suddenly arise?
Purna has doubts about the doctrines the Buddha has been explaining. He doesn't believe them. World Honored One, if all the sense organs; eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind; sense objects; forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, and dharmas; skandha, form, feeling, thought, activity, and consciousnesses, if all these dharmas in all the world are the treasury of the Thus Come One, why do all conditioned appearances such as the mountains, the rivers, and the great earth suddenly arise? If they arise from the bright substance and pure nature of the everlasting true mind and are originally pure, then why does there suddenly arise in the purity of the treasury of the Thus Come One so many things which are all conditioned appearances that
suddenly arise? Once finished, they begin again. Done once more, they start over. Ended, they arise once more. When do they ever stop? Never. What's the principle in it?
This is the doubt that Purna asks the World Honored One about.
J2 He wonders about the feasibility of the perfect fusion of the elements.
Moreover, the Thus Come One said that earth, water, fire, and wind are by nature perfectly fused, are all-pervasive in the dharma-realm, and are all tranquil and everlasting.
This is Purnamaitreyaniputra's second doubt. 'What is the principle here?" he asks.
World Honored One, if the nature of earth is pervasive, how can it contain water? If the nature of water is pervasive, then fire does not arise. Further, how do you explain that the natures of fire and water can each pervade empty space with out displacing one another? World Honored One, the nature of earth is solid; the nature of emptiness is penetrating. How can they both pervade the dharma-realm? I don?t know where this doctrine is leading.
Purna probably was smarter than Ananda. Ananda hadn't even thought of such questions as these. So now Purna, for his part, has some doubts and asks about these principles. He says: World Honored One, if the nature of earth is pervasive, how can it contain water? Earth overcomes water; where there is dry land there is no water. If the nature of earth pervades the dharma-realm, how can there be water there, too? Earth and water are not compatible.
If the nature of water is pervasive, then fire does not arise. Water overcomes fire; where there is water, there is no fire. Water puts fire out. If the nature of water were to pervade the dharmarealm, fire would certainly disappear. This is the same line of argument the Buddha used earlier with Ananda when he said that if there is light there can't be darkness and if there is darkness there can't be light. Now the Buddha's disciple uses the same pattern of questioning on the Buddha. "Water and fire don't mix," Purna points out. "This is a fixed principle.'
Further, how do you explain that the natures of fire and water can each pervade empty space with out displacing one another? How do you come to understand that both fire and water pervade the dharma-realm? I could believe that one or the other was all-pervasive, but if two incompatible things are both all-pervasive, then which one is going to win out? How do you know they can both be all-pervasive and not oppose one another, not harm one another or destroy one another?
World Honored One, the nature of earth is solid; the nature of emptiness is penetrating. How can they both pervade the dharma-realm? Purna imagines that by now he probably has thoroughly confused the Buddha, so he calls out to him, "World Honored One!" Or maybe he was afraid that the Buddha was asleep. "Earth is a solid object," he reasons. "Emptiness is penetrating, vacuous, there isn't anything there at all. So if there is earth, there is no emptiness; if there is emptiness, there is no earth. How can you say both these natures are all-pervasive? I don't know where this doctrine is leading. Buddha, your explanation of dharma has managed to confuse me now. I can't tell what you're getting at. Where is this principle headed? What's its aim? I don't understand."
I4 He hopes for the Buddha's greatly compassionate instruction.
I only hope the Thus Come One will compassionately explain in order to rend the clouds of confusion in me and among the great assembly. After saying this, he made a full prostration and respectfully and expectantly awaited the Thus Come One's unsurpassed compassionate instruction.
In stating these principles, Purna was certainly not trying to debate with the Buddha; he truly had such doubts. "Water and fire are not brothers; they can't dwell in the same household. Earth and emptiness are not compatible either." These questions made him nervous. "How can they all pervade the dharma-realm?' he wondered, and on impulse, heedless of everything, he began to question the Buddha. In his haste, he even forgot about propriety. So, in conclusion, he says: I only hope the Thus Come One will compassionately explain in order to rend the clouds of confusion in me and among the great assembly. World Honored One, please let flow forth your heart of great compassion and explain this matter for us.
My failure to understand these doctrines is like a bank of clouds covering me. Not only do I have these doubts, the members of the great assembly do also. After saying this, he probably realized that he had been impertinent and over-exuberant, so he made a full prostration and respectfully and expectantly awaited the Thus Come One's unsurpassed compassionate instruction. He quickly knelt and' bowed to properly make his request of the Buddha. With reverence, he waited as if excessively thirsty for the Thus Come One to nourish him with the water of dharma.
H2 The Thus Come One sequentially casts out the two doubts.
I1 In order to enable them to attain benefit, he promises to explain.
The World Honored One then told Purna and all the arhats in the assembly who had extinguished their outflows and had reached the level of no study, "Today the Thus Come One will explain in depth the true, supreme meaning within the supreme meaning in order to cause all of you in the assembly who are fixed-nature sound-hearers and those arhats who have not realized the two kinds of emptiness, but are dedicated to the superior vehicle, as well as the others, to obtain the place of still extinction, the one vehicle, the true aranya, the proper place of cultivation. Listen attentively and I will explain it for you."
Purna and the others, revering the Buddha?s expression of dharma, listened silently.
The World Honored One then told Purna and all the arhats in the assembly who had extinguished their outflows and had reached the level of no study; those who had been certified as having attained the fourth fruition of arhatship. Today the Thus Come One will explain in depth the true, supreme meaning within the supreme meaning. Here the Buddha is referring to himself when he says, "...the Thus Come One, True, supreme meaning within the supreme meaning" refers to the most superior miraculous doctrine.
He explains it in order to cause all of you in the assembly who are fixed-nature sound-hearers, that is, people who gain a little and are satisfied. They hang around in emptiness and stop searching. I'm at a place where there isn't anything at all. It's not bad! they think and become content. They gain a little and that's enough. That's why the Buddha calls them the "fixed-nature, sound-hearer," the arhats, "sterile seeds and withered sprouts" in order to scold them out of their complacency. They don't have the impetus to go on. Having been certified as having attained the first or second fruition, they don't seek to progress. They indulge in passivity. It's fine here, they decide.
The Buddha will also explain for those arhats who have not realized the two kinds of emptiness, but are dedicated to the superior vehicle. This refers to arhats who have not yet understood the emptiness of people and the emptiness of dharmas, but who have turned from the small toward the great. And he will speak as well for all the others in the great assembly.
Shakyamuni Buddha is prepared to express the true superior meaning within the superior meaning, the wonderful within the wonderful, to cause the arhats to obtain no outflows, to obtain the level of no study. To have no outflows means to have gotten rid of all one's individual habits and faults, to have no afflictions, to have no fundamental ignorance. So if one destroys fundamental ignorance, afflictions also disappear. Since afflictions and ignorance are invisible, we don't think of them as being plentiful; but in fact if they took form, they would fill up empty space throughout the dharma-realm.
Now the Buddha wants to cause all living beings, all the arhats, to obtain the place of still extinction, the one vehicle, the true aranya, the proper place of cultivation. The one vehicle is the final meaning of the Middle Way, the principle of the actual appearance. It is the great white-ox cart discussed in the Dharma Flower Sutra. That sutra says that there was a large house in which a great elder lived with his children.
One day, when the elder was gone briefly, the children were playing in the house when suddenly it caught on fire. When the elder returned and saw the children in the burning house oblivious of the danger, he said to them, Come to the door quickly! Outside I have sheep carts, and deer carts, and ox carts for you to play with. When the children heard there were carts and things to play with, they came running out. The house burned to the ground, but the children did not perish. Once the children got out of the house, they demanded the carts from the elder. He gave them instead a great white-ox cart magnificent beyond any of their expectations.
The sheep carts and deer carts represent the two vehicles. The ox carts represent the Bodhisattva vehicle. The great white-ox cart represents the one Buddha vehicle. It can transport all living beings across the current of afflictions from this shore of birth and death to the other shore of nirvana.
An "aranya' is a Bodhimanda, a quiet place for cultivation. Why is the aranya described as 'true"? Are there also false aranyas? A true aranya is a place where there is no chaos. No one talks. A lot of people dwell together, but it's as if there weren't anyone there at all. Not even the sound of a mosquito's breathing can be heard. If you want to cultivate the Way, you should learn not to talk so much. When there is too much talking, other people cannot reach samadhi. When it's time to talk, you should talk.
But some disciples talk when it's not time to talk, and when it is time to talk, they don't. Would you say they are obedient or disobedient? An obedient disciple talks when it is time to talk, and when it is not time to talk he closes his mouth. If you are a good student, you are a good Buddhist disciple. If you are a good Buddhist disciple, in the future you will become a good Buddha. Are there Buddhas who are not good? Of course not. All Buddhas are good. But if you are not good you cannot become a Buddha. You first have to be good in order for it to count. In a true aranya people keep a tight schedule. Listen attentively and I will explain it for you. This is not simply the Buddha telling Purna and Ananda to listen carefully. Now I am explaining this sutra, and it is me telling you to listen carefully.
Purna and the others, revering the Buddha's expression of Dharma, listened silently. "Revering" means that they listened with great respect to the Buddha speaking dharma; they listened with very great regard for him; they listened silently. Not only do I tell you not to talk, Purna and Ananda were also silent. They closed their mouths.