THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
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Volume 4

L3 He invents a dream to investigate impermanence.
M1 He shows that in the dream he is not oblivious.


Sutra:

Consider a person who falls into a deep sleep while napping on his bed. While he is asleep, someone in his household starts beating clothes or pounding rice. In his dream, the person hears the sound of beating and pounding and takes it for something else, perhaps for the striking of a drum or the ringing of a bell. In the dream he wonders why the bell sounds like stone or wood.

Commentary:


Above, sound was discussed in order to understand the nature of hearing. In talking about the sound of the bell we came to know that the hearing-nature is neither produced nor extinguished. If the hearing-nature were extinguished, there would be no further hearing. But, when the bell is struck, the nature of hearing is neither produced nor extinguished. Regardless of whether there is sound, the hearing-nature abides forever. Now the Buddha makes use of another ordinary happening to illustrate that the nature of hearing is neither produced nor extinguished.

Consider a person who falls into a deep sleep while napping on his bed. He is so sound asleep that he does not wake up when someone calls him. But, even though he does not awaken, hishearing-nature is still present. He perceives sounds, if mistakenly, even though he is asleep. The mistake is not made by the hearingnature; it is the sixth-mind consciousness, the "solitary consciousness," which makes the mistaken perception.

This person, then, is in such a deep sleep that he is unaware of everything. While he is asleep, someone in his household starts beating clothes or pounding rice. "Beating clothes" refers to the method of washing clothes used of old. I remember seeing this done when I was a child. There was a flat stone and two beating-sticks made of wood. They would lay the clothes on the stone and beat them clean with the sticks in a rhythmic fashion.

"Pounding rice." Remember that the Great Master, the Sixth Patriarch, pounded rice for eight months. One uses a pestle and also stamps on the coarse grains with one's feet in order to separate the chaff from the kernels. These methods were used in ancient China and obviously they were familiar to the Indian way of life as well. So, the Buddha gave these two examples.

In his dream, the person hears the sound of beating and pounding and takes it for something else. "That person" refers to the one who is asleep. He hears the sounds of the clothes being beaten and the rice being pounded, but in his dreams he misinterprets them as something else. What does he think they are? He mistakes them perhaps for the striking of a drum or the ringing of a bell. In the dream he wonders why the bell sounds like stone or wood. "How come that bell sounds like a piece of wood or stone?" he thinks. In the dream-state, the sixth mind-consciousness, the "solitary consciousness," misinterprets the sound.

Dreams are the tricks played by the sixth mind-consciousness. It takes control of you and causes you to dream certain things. Why did this person take the sound he heard to be the striking of a drum or the ringing of a bell when, in fact, it was neither of these sounds? It came from a mistaken impression on his part during his dream. And that's why he wonders why the sound is more like wood or stone being struck than like a bell. He finds it strange.

Dreams happen when the sixth mind-consciousness goes awry. Whatever happens to you during the day, or whatever experiences you encounter, will affect the dreams you have at night. Some people who cultivate the Way, cultivate the mind-consciousness until they can "go out esoterically and enter mysteriously" ( chu xuan ru pin). To "go out esoterically" means to send a being out of the crown of one's head. This being can then leave the body and go elsewhere. But this experience is not genuine, because the being is a "yin spirit." Since, when it gets out, it has a certain amount of awareness, it is called a spirit.

Once there was an old Taoist who really was skilled in his practice, but he had a big temper. Whenever anything came up, he'd get angry about it. Since he got angry all the time, he was indulging in hatred. He considered himself to be well-skilled, however, to be pretty remarkable, in fact. He boasted that as soon as he went to sleep, he could send out this spirit. It was like a dream-state, but he had an awareness of it and could remember it clearly afterward. One day, the old Taoist encountered a Buddhist monk, and they discussed their methods of cultivation. The Taoist said, "In Taoism, we can cultivate and become immortal. What talent do you Buddhists have? Shakyamuni Buddha died just the same. But no one knows where the patriarch of Taoism, Li Lao Zhun, went. He died, so they say, but really he went to the heavens. So the skill we develop in Taoism is to "go out esoterically and enter mysteriously."

"How do you go out esoterically?" asked the monk.

"When I lie down and go to sleep, I can go anywhere I please," the Taoist replied.

"Oh? Fine. Go to sleep now and send out a spirit while I watch." said the monk.

The old Taoist laid down and went to sleep, and as soon as he dozed off, he let out a spirit. But what kind? It was a snake that crawled out of the top of his head! The snake slithered off the side of the bed onto the floor and crawled outside to the edge of the cesspool. It drank some of the dirty water and then crept along the edge of the water. The monk picked a blade of grass and set it in the path and then pulled up a clump of sod and set it beside the blade. When the snake saw the blade of grass, it fled in fright and scurried back where it had come from. Having reentered the crown of the Taoist's head, the old cultivator awoke in a sweat, scared to death. "Where did you go,"asked the monk, "when you went out the top of your head?"

The Taoist replied, "I went to the heavens to a heavenly pool." He had mistaken the cesspool for a heavenly pool. "When I got to the heavenly pool, I drank some sweet dew water, and then, as I strolled around, I saw a spirit in golden armor standing in the path wielding a sword. He was intent upon killing me, so I rushed back." The monk said, "Oh, so that's what happened, according to you; you went to the heavens." And then he informed him that his perception of the incident was totally different from the Taoist's, and he related what he'd seen. "The reason a snake came out of your head is probably because you have such a big temper and are always getting angry. If you don't change your fiery nature, you're likely to become a snake. Snakes have poison in their hearts, and your hatred is just like a poison in you right now."

The monk continued, "You went outside and drank a lot of liquid from a cesspool filled with urine and excrement. That is your heavenly pool with sweet dew water! And when I put a blade of grass and a lump of sod in your path, you thought it was an armored spirit out to get you. That's when you hurried back and reentered your head. That's what I saw."

The old Taoist thought: "Then everything I have cultivated is totally wrong!" So he bowed to the monk as his teacher and followed him to cultivate the Buddhadharma. He gave up indulging in his former skills. So, if people tell you they can leave their body during their dreams, it is a yin spirit they are referring to. This yin spirit will mirror your own disposition; if you are a compassionate person it will be a compassionate spirit; if you are an angry person, or a greedy person, it will be like that. That's why it's said of people,

With a single thought of hatred,
Eighty thousand obstacles arise.

The old Taoist had such a temper that he could transform into a snake. Thank goodness he met a monk who saved him and kept him from having to become a snake in some other life.

Sutra:

Suddenly he awakens and immediately recognizes the sound of pounding. He tells the members of his household, "I was just having a dream in which I mistook the sound of pounding for the sound of a drum."

Commentary:

Suddenly the person in the deep sleep who is dreaming awakens. He comes out of his sound sleep, probably because the sound of the rice being pounded is so loud, and because the sound of the cloth being beaten is also noisy. He comes out of his dream and immediately recognizes the sound of pounding. Very quickly he recognizes the sound of rice being pounded and knows it is not a bell being rung.

There are many methods used to pound rice. Sometimes it is done with water power, sometimes with man power. In the past I manned the pestle at Ze Xing monastery at Da Yu mountain. But usually I would pound only for a little while before someone came along to relieve me. At Da Jiao monastery in Yunmen, established by the Elder Master Hsu Yun, the rice was pounded by water power, which was very convenient.

When this person wakes up he knows that the sound he's heard is the sound of pounding rice. He tells the members of his household, "I was just having a dream in which I mistook the sound of pounding for the sound of a drum." "When I was asleep, I was dreaming, and my perceptions went awry. I though the sound of the rice being pounded was actually a drum being beaten." The text above mentions the sound of a bell as well as the sound of a drum, but the principle is the same. The drum can represent the bell, and vice verse. It's not important. In lecturing sutras you have to be flexible when explaining the text. Don't be too exacting. In lecturing, you want to explain the principle. If you make the principle clear, slight variations in the text are of no great importance.

M2 He confirms that the nature is everlasting.

Sutra:

Ananda, how can this person in the dream-state remember stillness and motion, opening and closing, and penetrability and obstruction? Yet, although he is physically asleep, his hearing nature is not drowsy.

Commentary:

Ananda, do you understand now, or don't you? How can this person in the dream-state, I don't know who the person in the dream-state is; is it me, is it you, or is it someone else? How can he remember stillness and motion? How can he remember stillness and movement, though he's in his dream? How does he still recollect opening and closing, and penetrability and obstruction? He doesn't have this kind of discriminating mind in his dream-state. He doesn't make distinctions between stillness and movement or between what is open and penetrable and what is closed and obstructed. Yet, although he is physically asleep, his body is sleeping, his hearing-nature is not drowsy. His hearing nature isn't dozing; it has not be severed from him. Even in sleep, his hearing-nature remains. If it's still there, then, why did he mistake the sound of beating clothes and pounding rice for a drum being played or a bell being rung? In his waking state he is familiar with the sounds of a drum and bell, and so in sleep these sounds manifest in his eighth consciousness and lead him to believe he is hearing a drum or bell. He makes a mistake in perception.

All the upside-down things that people involve themselves in are like the mistaken interpretations of sounds in a dream. The mistake brings about upside-down thinking, just like the old Taoist's. He thought he was going to the heavens and drinking sweet dew when, in fact, he was drinking urine from a cesspool. If he'd realized the truth, he'd have vomited for sure. But at the time he didn't know what he was doing. He was like a dog eating excrement: he took the whole thing for granted and even though he was really in a good place. He felt like he was being treated to something special, all because he failed to recognize what was really happening.

Sutra:

Even when your body is gone and your light and life move on, how could this nature leave you?

Commentary:

The above section of text explains that your hearing nature does not sleep even when your body is asleep. Even in dreams, the hearing-nature is not cut off. It is eternal. Not only is it not severed in the dream-state, it is not cut off at death, either. Thus, the text now says, even when your body is gone, when you die and your body is gone, and your light and life move on. When your life is cut off, it's not that it's actually cut off, rather, when a person dies, his life moves on. It's just like a person who lives in a hotel; he will move to a new hotel when the old one gets too run-down. So when you've cast off this shell, when you have finished with this body, you will move somewhere else. How could this nature, the hearing-nature, leave you? How could it disappear when your physical form disappears? Even at death, this nature is not cut off.

L4 He reveals the confusion and teaches him to be on guard.
M1 He reveals how perpetual confusion causes one to fall into a state of
impermanence.

Sutra:

But because living beings, from time without beginning, have pursued forms and sounds and have followed their thoughts as they turn and flow, they still are not aware that their nature is pure, wondrous, and everlasting.

Commentary:


When you reach the end of your physical existence, when your body decays and dies, your light and life move on; but your nature, your hearing-nature, is indestructible. But because living beings, from time without beginning, have pursued forms and sounds. Why don't living beings become Buddhas? Why don't they come to understand the Way? It is because they have pursued forms and sounds from limitless, limitless kalpas past right down to the present. They chase the defiling objects of forms and sounds and get involved with them. They have followed their thoughts as they turn and flow, over and over, and they still are not aware. They mistake the false for the true and are turned around by this mundane dust. They are so involved with what is false that they fail to recognize what is true, and so now they are still not aware that their nature is pure, wondrous, and everlasting. They don't understand this doctrine, which is subtle, wonderful, and truly permanent.

Sutra:

They do not accord with what is eternal, but chase after things which are subject to production and extinction. Because of this they are born again and again and become mixed with defilement as they flow and turn.

Commentary:

They do not accord with what is eternal. They do not pursue the principle of the wonder and permanence of their own nature; what is more, they go counter to this principle, and they chase after things which are subject to production and extinction. Is there anything in this world which is not subject to production and extinction? Everything with form and appearance is a dharma of production and extinction. The dharma of non-production and nonextinction has no form or appearance. But most people become attached to things with form and appearance and forget about the principle of wonderful permanence. Because of this they are born again and again. This life is followed by the next life, and the next life turns into the one after that. What happens life after life? Beings have to become mixed with defilement as they flow and turn. The word "mixed" implies that one does not maintain purity but is stained by defilement, which further pollutes the mixture. What does one get mixed up with? With the turning and flowing. And what is meant by turning and flowing?

In this life one is named Smith, and in the next life one is called Jones. In the following lifetime one is called cow, in the one after that one is named horse, and in the one that follows, one is called a pig. You shouldn't think that things are always going to be like they are right now. The old pig was the former Old Man Jones. The Elder Jones is just the present old cow. One person just keeps turning around and around; it is the same nature with a different body. And because that's the way it goes, you fail to understand. You don't recognize what's going on. Although you don't recognize what's going on, I do. I recognize that you are Old Cow, Old Horse, and Old Pig. When you act like a horse, you turn into a horse; when you act like a pig, you turn into a pig; when you act like a dog, you become a dog; when you act like a cow, you turn into a cow. And if a pig is capable of human behavior, if it does something meritorious, it can become a person. One turns and flows in the paths of rebirth.

Sometimes one is born in the heavens, but once the heavenly blessings are used up one falls into the hells again. When the sufferings of the hells have been endured, one gets born in the human realm, or becomes an animal. If a person is very uncouth and has no understanding of human behavior, there's no need to wonder about it. In his last life he was certainly an animal. If he hadn't been an animal in his last life, he wouldn't be so rude in this life. But, even though you understand that he was an animal before, you should not slight him by saying something like, "You! Last life you were a pig for sure." Or, "You must have been a cow before." Even if he was a pig or a cow, all living beings have the Buddha-nature and all can become Buddhas. He may be stupid now and not know that he should cultivate; but if on the other hand he were to become vigorous, he might become a Buddha before you do. There's nothing fixed about it. Even if he is an animal, you should not look down on him.

In a former life, the Buddha was Never Slighting Bodhisattva, who always said, "I don't dare slight any of you. In the future, you will all become Buddhas." "All" includes all living beings. People who have not obtained the Buddha eye and the wisdom eye should not slight living beings. People who have obtained the Buddha eye should even less slight living beings! All living beings are your past fathers and mothers and are future Buddhas. How many parents have we had in the past, through life after life? It's not known how many there have been. Because of this, the Ullumbana assembly, celebrated every year on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month, is an excellent opportunity to save a lot of people. In celebrating it, we set up memorial plaques so that our ancestors, the ghosts, can stay here and listen to the sutras. After they've heard the sutra, they can go to rebirth, and at the very least they will become influential people who in the future will protect and uphold the Buddhadharma.

M2 He teaches him to be on guard in order to once and for all accomplish right enlightenment.

Sutra:

But if they reject production and extinction and uphold eternal truth, an everlasting light will appear, and with that, the sense-organs, defiling objects, and consciousnesses will disappear.

Commentary:

But if they reject production and extinction, if, in cultivating the Way, you don't make use of your conscious mind that makes discriminations, and if you uphold eternal truth, if you use your true and actual, wonderfully eternal mind, your true mind and eternal nature, then an everlasting light will appear. Eventually, you will produce a constant light, the light of your self-nature, and with that, the sense-organs, defiling objects, and consciousnesses will disappear. Your thoughts involving the six sense-organs, the six sense objects and the six consciousnesses will disappear at the same time.

Sutra:

The appearance of thought becomes defilement; the emotions of the consciousness become filth. If you stay far away from these two, then your dharma eye will accordingly become pure and bright. How could you fail to accomplish unsurpassed knowledge and enlightenment?

Commentary:


The appearance of thought. "Appearance" refers to one of the two aspects of the eighth consciousness: the aspect of appearance, which means all external conditioned dharmas. "Thought" refers to your false thinking. False thinking and the aspect of appearance combine to form defilement, literally, "dust." The emotions of the consciousness become filth. This refers to attachment to the second aspect of the eighth consciousness, the aspect of seeing, which means internal perceptions. In your discriminating mind consciousness you produce emotions and with them comes defilement. The origin of filth is emotions.

What harms people most is their emotions. No matter what situation they encounter, they react with emotion. The problem of emotion causes people to be born in a swoon and die in a dream. If you stay far away from these two, the appearance of thought, which brings defilement, and the emotions of consciousness, which make filth, you want to separate from both aspects of the eighth consciousness, appearances and seeing, if you can be apart from thoughts and emotions, then your dharma eye will accordingly become pure and bright. The dharma eye referred to here is not necessarily the dharma eye that is one of the five eyes and six spiritual penetrations. It can be interpreted to figuratively mean the opening of your wisdom. It's even more wonderful if you actually open your dharma eye, so that, throughout the ten directions and the three periods of time to the ends of empty space and the dharma-realm, everything is a dharma-treasury. If your dharma eye is clear and pure, you immediately stop being muddled. In your mind there is genuine wisdom. How could you fail to accomplish unsurpassed knowledge and enlightenment? How could you not obtain unsurpassed wisdom and enlightenment? You will certainly obtain it. Just stay away from the dust of false thought and the defilement of emotion.

This is just a short passage of sutra text, but everyone should pay particular attention to it. Don't get attached to emotion and love and become involved in discriminations and false thinking. You want to separate yourself from them. Did you hear? This is very important. Don't take it lightly. Don't fall asleep now. If you fall asleep and fail to study this sutra, you've truly missed an opportunity. Everyone should write this passage in his or her mind and never forget it.

The appearance of thought becomes defilement; the emotions of the consciousness become filth. If you stay far away from these two, then your dharma eye will accordingly become pure and bright. How could you fail to accomplish unsurpassed knowledge and enlightenment? Not only should you memorize the Shurangama Mantra, you should memorize the sutra text as well. Every day your responsibilities become greater. I'm not here just to play with you; I'm not just joking with you. You can't be the least bit sloppy.

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