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The Three Gradual Stages
VOLUME 7, Chapter 1
N1 Asks about and answers that first one must cut off lust and killing.
What is the essence of karmic offenses? Ananda, beings who want to enter samadhi must first firmly uphold the pure precepts.
The first gradual stage consists of getting rid of the aiding causes, which are eating meat and the like. The second gradual stage concerns the essence of karmic offenses. What is the essence of karmic offenses? Ananda, beings who want to enter samadhi must first firmly uphold the pure precepts. The "essence of karmic offenses" refers to the workings of the karmic consciousness. The karmic consciousness must be transformed, and that is done by holding the precepts. "Firmly uphold" means one is firm with oneself. One is not the least bit casual or sloppy. One relies on the precepts in cultivation.
Anything you did before receiving the precepts does not count as a violation of them, because you were in ignorance. If one doesn't know one is committing an offense, then one hasn't committed one. But once you receive the precepts, you can't perpetuate your offenses. Before you heard about the precepts, you may have enjoyed indulging in things which are not in accord with the rules. But once you learn about the precepts, you should receive them and then not indulge in such activities any more.
They must sever thoughts of lust, not partake of wine or meat, and eat cooked rather than raw foods. Ananda, if cultivators do not sever lust and killing, it will be impossible for them to transcend the triple realm.
They must sever thoughts of lust. "Lust" refers to love and desire, which are born of ignorance. Love which is not founded on ignorance, in the sense that it is loving regard for one's spouse and children, is not what is meant here. Or, if special causes and conditions arise where one wishes to help someone else, and one is not just selfishly seeking some ephemeral bliss, that too would not be considered a violation, because one's wish is to help someone else and one is basically doing something one would prefer not to do in order to help cross someone else over. It is a temporary expedient and is not a violation.
They must not partake of wine or meat. One should eat pure vegetarian food. What disadvantages are there in wine and meat? Wine and alcohol in general derange one's nature. Once you drink alcohol, you lose your concentration. And then you are likely to do just about anything. You'll be like the man in the story I told before who broke the one precept against intoxicants and subsequently violated all five.
If one refrains from drinking, one's nature will not get scattered and one's actions will not be upside down. Another reason is that the odor of wine and other alcoholic drinks, which may be considered fragrant by people and ghosts, upsets the Bodhisattvas and good spirits. They do not like the smell. Bodhisattvas and Arhats regard the smell of wine as we regard the smell of urine. To them it is rank and stinking. People don't like to be around toilets, cesspools, and sewers, but there are certain bugs, dung beetles, who spend their whole lives eating excrement in cesspools and sewers. They like it. Further, wine and meat are aphrodisiacs.
So people who cultivate the Way should not consume these things. They should eat cooked rather than raw foods. All foods should be cooked, even vegetables, before they are eaten, because almost all raw foods will increase one's anger. Ananda, if cultivators do not sever lust and killing, it will be impossible for them to transcend the triple realm. "Lust" refers to deviant, improper sexual desire. It is absolutely unprincipled to think that a lustful person could become a Buddha.
N2 And vigorously cultivate the other precepts.
You should look upon lustful desire as upon a poisonous snake or a resentful bandit. First hold to the sound-hearer's four or eight parajikas in order to control your physical activity; then cultivate the Bodhisattva's pure regulations in order to control your mental activity.
You should look upon lustful desire as upon a poisonous snake or a resentful bandit. Make this contemplation: lust is like a poisonous snake. If it bites you once, you may lose your life. If one regarded lust as being as poisonous as that, one would not be able to take delight in it. Even thoughts of lustful desire would not arise. Why? Just imagine that such a thought is as violent as a tiger or wolf. It's fine if you don't encounter such animals, but if you do, you're likely to lose your life. Or look upon such thoughts as upon a rebel or a thief who bears a grudge. His resentment pushes him to the point of murder.
First hold to the sound-hearer's four or eight parajikas. You must keep the shravaka precepts against killing, stealing, lust, and lying, these apply to both bhikshus and bhikshunis; in addition, the precepts against touching, the eight matters, covering, and not following apply to bhikshunis. Keep them in order to control your physical activity. You uphold these precepts to keep from creating these kinds of karma. Then cultivate the Bodhisattva's pure regulations in order to control your mental activity. Then you cultivate the Bodhisattva precepts. You receive the ten major and forty-eight minor precepts and pay special attention to regulations. Then your mind will not give rise to thoughts of lust. You won't have such deviant thoughts. This is the path that people who cultivate must walk.
N3 He explains the benefits in detail and concludes with the name.
When the prohibitive precepts are successfully upheld, one will not create karma that leads to trading places in rebirth and to killing one another in this world. If one does not steal, one will not be indebted, and one will not have to pay back past debts in this world.
When the prohibitive precepts are successfully upheld. "Prohibitive" implies the practice of restraint. "Precepts" are defined as "stopping evil and counteracting wrongdoing." The precepts are divided into four aspects:
Sometimes exceptions are made, so that you are not considered to have violated the precept even if you have acted against it. "Restraints," as already mentioned, refer to prohibitions. They are honored because to violate them would contribute to further violations, as in refraining from taking intoxicants one avoids breaking other precepts as well. "Maintenanc" means upholding the precepts and cultivating in accord with them. "Violation" refers to breaking a precept.
The following event will illustrate the aspect of exceptions. Once when the Buddha Shakyamuni was in the world, there were two bhikshus cultivating in the mountains. One day, one of the bhikshus went down the mountain to get food and left the other one sleeping. In India at that time, the bhikshus simply wore their sashes wrapped around them; they did not wear clothing underneath. This bhikshu had shed his robe and was sleeping nude. He probably was a lazy person, and with no one on the mountain to watch after him, he'd decided to take a nap.
At that time a woman happened along, and seeing the bhikshu, she was aroused and took advantage of him. Just as she was running away from the scene, the other bhikshu returned from town and saw her in flight. Upon investigation he found out that the woman had taken advantage of the sleeping bhikshu, and he decided to pursue her, catch her, and take her before the Buddha in protest. He took out after her, and the woman became so reckless that she slipped off the road and tumbled down the mountain to her death. So one bhikshu had violated the precept against sexual activity and the other had broken the precept against killing. Although the bhikshu hadn't actually pushed her down the mountain, she wouldn't have fallen if he hadn't been pursuing her.
"What a mess!" concluded the two bhikshus. Messy as it was, they had to go before the Buddha and describe their offenses. The Buddha referred them to the Venerable Upali. But when Venerable Upali heard the details, his verdict was that, indeed, one had violated the precept against sexual activity and the other against killing, offenses which cannot be absolved. "You're both going to have to endure the hells in the future," he concluded.
Hearing this, the two bhikshus wept, and they went about everywhere trying to find someone who could help them. Eventually, they found the Great Upasaka Vimalakirti, who asked why they were crying. When they had related their tale, he pronounced his judgment that they had not violated the precepts.
"If you can be repentant," he said, "then I can certify that you didn't break the precepts."
"How can that be?" they asked.
"The nature of offenses is basically empty," replied the upasaka. "You did not violate the precepts intentionally, and so it doesn't count. It is an exception"
Hearing this explanation by the Great Teacher Vimalakirti, the two bhikshus were enlightened on the spot and were certified as attaining the fruition. After that, they became arhats. So there are many explanations within the prohibitive precepts. But if people always look to the exceptions, they will simply not hold the precepts. They will beg the question. So the Buddha did not speak much about this aspect.
If one upholds the precepts, one will not create karma that leads to trading places in rebirth and to killing one another in this world. One is born and then kills, and the victim is reborn and kills the one who killed him. But now karmic offenses created in the cycle of mutual rebirth and mutual killing cease. If one does not steal, one will not be indebted, and one will not have to pay back past debts in this world. The offenses of stealing will also cease when one stops stealing. "I won't take your things, and you won't take mine. I won't eat your flesh, and you won't eat mine. I won't become indebted to you, and you won't become indebted to me. In that way we won't have to pay each other back." You won't have to pay back the debts for offenses committed in the past once you sever your relationship with animals by not eating meat. If you don't eat their flesh, then you don't have any connections with them.
If people who are pure in this way cultivate samadhi, they will naturally be able to contemplate the extent of the worlds of the ten directions with the physical body given them by their parents; without need of the heavenly eye, they will see the Buddhas speaking dharma and receive in person the sagely instruction. Obtaining spiritual penetrations, they will roam through the ten directions, gain clarity regarding past lives, and will not encounter difficulties and dangers.
If people who are pure in this way, who do not eat the five pungent plants, do not drink intoxicants, and do not eat meat, and can firmly uphold the four or the eight parajikas, the precepts, if such people cultivate samadhi, they will naturally be able to contemplate the extent of the worlds of the ten directions with the physical body given them by their parents; without need of the heavenly eye. They don't need to have the power of the heavenly eye in order to spontaneously see all around them.
They will see the Buddhas speaking Dharma and receive in person the sagely instruction. They will be able to encounter the Buddhas and hear the Dharma. They will receive in person the Buddhas' compassionate guidance. Obtaining spiritual penetrations, they will roam through the ten directions, gain clarity regarding past lives, and will not encounter difficulties and dangers. Their spiritual powers will enable them to go through the ten directions while in this place. They will obtain the knowledge of past lives. They accomplish these things with their physical bodies. Although they haven't obtained the power of the heavenly eye, it is as if they had. The same is true for the power of the heavenly ear. They'll never get into difficult situations or find themselves in dangerous positions.
This is the second of the gradual stages of cultivation.
What has been discussed is the need to cut out the essence of karmic offenses. One must rectify one's karma. Until now it has not been proper, and so one must work in order to change. One must guard and uphold the precepts and rules. Just that, the maintaining of precepts, is the second of the gradual stages of cultivation.