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40 new edition

Practices and Vows of
Samantabhadra Bodhisattva

Chapter Forty, New Edition


Entering the Inconceivable State of Liberation
By Means of the Practices and Vows
of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva



I believe that this is the first time this Sutra is being explained in the United States. All of you are probably hearing it for the first time as well. Unfortunately, because of the limitations of time, I will not be able to explain the entire Flower Adornment Sutra. I will only expound on this one chapter on Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’s Practices and Vows. Not even the title of this Sutra, Great Means, Expansive Buddha Flower Adornment Sutra, can be elucidated in detail. Why is this? I’m afraid that even if I were to explain this title for six weeks, I still would not be able to finish.

First, I will discuss the origin of this Sutra. The Flower Adornment Sutra is a king of Buddhist Sutras, and it is also the “king of kings” of Sutras. The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra is also a king of Buddhist Sutras, but it is not called the “king of kings” of Sutras. Therefore, among all the Mahayana Sutras spoken by the Buddha, the Great Means, Expansive Buddha Flower Adornment Sutra is the most extensive. However, the time it took for the Buddha to speak this Sutra was relatively short. Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the great Flower Adornment, this momentous Sutra, in twenty-one days.

This Sutra consists of eighty-one rolls. There are also versions of this Sutra in forty rolls and sixty rolls, which are not as complete. Even this edition of eighty-one rolls is not the complete text, yet it still contains an introduction, a text-proper, and a conclusion.

After Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Flower Adornment Sutra, it was not kept in this world, not even in India. Who took care of it? The Dragon King stored it in his palace, where he venerated and made offerings to it. Every day the Dragon King would bow in obeisance to the Sutra. Six hundred years after Shakyamuni  Buddha’s  Final  Nirvana, there was a monk, a Bodhisattva, in the world named Nagarjuna.

Nagarjuna Bodhisattva had exceptional intelligence. No one was as smart as him. After he read and studied all the literature of the world, including all the essays, discourses, and classics, he resolved to go to the Dragon’s Palace to read the Treasury of Buddhist Sutras. When he got there, he discovered that there were three versions of the Flower Adornment Sutra, including a long version, a medium version, and a short version. The long version contained verses as numerous as the smallest atomic particles in ten three thousand great-thousand world systems. The smallest atomic particles in a single world system are measureless and infinite. The number of smallest atomic particles in a great-thousand world system is much greater. What is a great-thousand world system? One world system consists of one Mount Sumeru, one sun, one moon, and one set of Four Continents. A collection of 1,000 Mount Sumerus, 1,000 suns and 1,000 moons is called a small-thousand world system. A group of 1,000 small-thousand world systems is a middle-thousand world system. And a group of 1,000 middle-thousand world systems is one great-thousand world system. Think about this. If you counted all the smallest atomic particles in a great-thousand world system, how many would there be? That number is certainly uncountable. Now we are saying the verses in this long version of the text are so numerous they are equal to the atomic particles in ten three thousand great-thousand world systems.

How many chapters did this long version contain? They were as numerous as the smallest atomic particles in a “world with its four continents.” The four continents include southern Jambudvīpa, eastern Purvavideha, western Aparagodaniya, and northern Uttarakuru. These four continents, as well as Mount Sumeru, are called a “world with its four continents.” The number of chapters in this large version was as many as the smallest atomic particles in a world with its four continents. If you calculated this, how many chapters would you say there were? I also could not count them.

The medium version of this Sutra had 498,800 verses and 1,200 chapters. The short version had 100,000 verses and forty-eight chapters. 100,000 verses are a great many, and forty-eight chapters are also not few in number. Nagarjuna Bodhisattva had an exceptional memory, so he was able to retain the entire text of the short version in his mind. When he returned to India, he wrote down all that he had memorized. Later this text was transmitted to China from India. At that time only eighty rolls and thirty-nine chapters were transmitted. Nine of the original forty-eight chapters were not transmitted to China.

The Flower Adornment Sutra was spoken in seven locations and in nine Dharma   assemblies. Within Buddhism, if you are able to understand the Flower Adornment Sutra, then you have comprehended the Buddha’s Complete Body. By understanding the Shurangama Sutra, one understands the Buddha’s Summit.6 By understanding the Dharma Flower Sutra, one understands the Buddha’s Body, but not his Complete Body. If you understand the truths within the Flower Adornment Sutra, then you have fathomed the Buddha’s Complete Body, the wisdom-life of the Buddha. The Flower Adornment Sutra is analogous to the great ocean, and all of the other Sutras are like the small rivers and streams that flow into it. These small rivers and streams cannot compare to the great ocean.

At the present time, in the entire world the number of people who can explain the Flower Adornment Sutra are very  few  indeed.  You  might say there isn’t anyone at all who can explain it, but then aren’t we explaining it now? There are even those who study Buddhism for their entire lives, who have never heard of the name of the Flower Adornment Sutra. Wouldn’t you say this is pitiful?

Let’s not mention the ability to explain this FlowerAdornmentSutra; there are very few people who have merely read the Sutra even once. If you read this Sutra as quickly as you can, it will take about twenty-one days to read it through once. Therefore, this Sutra is very difficult to encounter.

As mentioned above, the Sutra was spoken in seven locations and in nine assemblies as described in the following verse:

The Bodhi-field was first, the ninth the Jeta Grove,
The third and fourth, the Trayastrimsha and Suyama.
The Universal Light Palace, the second, seventh and eighth,
The Tushita and Others’ Transformations were the fifth and sixth.

The Buddha first perfected the spiritual path in the Bodhi-field beneath the Bodhi Tree. There he spoke the first six chapters of the Flower Adornment Sutra, which consisted of eleven rolls. The second assembly was in the Universal Light Palace. There he also spoke six chapters that made up four rolls. The third assembly was in the Trayastrimsha Heaven where he proclaimed another six chapters in three rolls. The Suyama Heaven was the location of the fourth assembly, where four chapters in three rolls were expounded. The fifth place was the Tushita Heaven, where he discoursed on three chapters in twelve rolls. The Transformation of Others’ Bliss Heaven was the venue of the sixth assembly with one chapter in six rolls being explained.

The seventh location was once again at the Universal Light Palace. Eleven chapters in thirteen rolls were spoken there. The Universal Light Palace was also the place for the eighth assembly, where one chapter in seven rolls was proclaimed. The ninth assembly was in the Jeta Grove, where one chapter and twenty-one rolls were explained. The literal translation of the Chinese characters for the Jeta Grove is a charnel ground. This is a place where the bones of the deceased are buried.

Presently such a place is called a graveyard. These are the seven locations and the nine assemblies where the Flower Adornment Sutra was spoken.

In the short version of the Sutra, 45,000 verses were transmitted to China from India. The remaining 55,000 verses, comprising nine chapters in this version, were not brought to China. Although China did not obtain the complete text of this short version of the Sutra, the portion they received contained an introduction, a text-proper, and a conclusion. For this reason, the Tang Dynasty National Master Qingliang (清涼國師), promulgator of the FlowerAdornmentSutra, felt that the portion of the text transmitted to China could by itself be considered to be a complete Sutra. This Master was a “transformation-body” of Flower Adornment Bodhisattva. Why do I say this? It’s because he only lectured on the Flower Adornment Sutra and did not explain any other Buddhist Sutras.

National Master Qingliang was named Chengguan (澄觀) and his Dharma name was Daxiu(大休). He was from the city of Kueiji. His surname was Xiahou(夏侯). He was born in the fifth year of the Kaiyuan period (718 C.E.) during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong(685–762 C.E.). He was nine feet and four inches tall. His arms were extremely long and reached down below his knees. He had forty teeth, compared to the normal person’s thirty-two. People rarely have this many teeth. It is a sign of nobility. The Buddha had forty-two teeth. At night if you looked at his eyes they dazzled with light. Yet during the day his eyes were the same as those of an ordinary person. Furthermore, his eyes were very focused with an unmoving gaze.

During the fourth year of the Jianzhong period (783 C.E.), he wrote the
Flower Adornment Sutra Commentary and Sub-commentary. In China this
work is the most celebrated text for those who study this Sutra. Before he wrote this commentary, he beseeched the ocean-wide assembly of Bodhisattvas of the Flower Adornment Sutra to assist him. Then, one night he had a dream in which the peaks of all the mountains turned the color of gold. Upon waking, he realized that his dream symbolized “light shining everywhere.”

After that dream he wrote the Flower Adornment Sutra Commentary without deliberation. The words just flowed from his pen. Normally when a person composes a literary work they have to repeatedly stop and think about what they’re going to write. However, he wrote this commentary so quickly it was as if he were merely transcribing it. He completed this explanation of the Flower Adornment Sutra in four years, and then had another dream. It’s not for sure this was a dream. It was a state that seemed to be real, yet was also like a dream. In this dream-like state he transformed into a dragon. This single dragon in turn became limitless and measureless millions upon millions of dragons, and each dragon flew off to other worlds throughout the universe. This is the profound state of the Flower Adornment. His transforming into many dragons symbolized the extensive dissemination of the Dharma.

During his life, National Master Qingliang passed through the reigns of nine emperors during the Tang Dynasty, and seven of these emperors bowed to him as their teacher. Therefore, it is said,

“Passing through nine reigns,
The teacher of seven kings.”

After National Master Qingliang entered Parinirvana, his body was buried. At that time a monk was going to China from India. On the way he encountered two youths clad in dark-colored garments, who were flying overhead. The monk, who was an Arhat,10 used his spiritual powers to detain them in space. He asked, “Where  are  you  going?” They responded, “We’re going to China to obtain a molar from Flower Adornment Bodhisattva, and then bring it back to Manjushri Hall in India to make offerings to it.” When the Arhat arrived in China he told the emperor that he had seen two youths wearing dark-colored garments who were going to obtain a molar from Flower Adornment Bodhisattva. Thinking that they were probably referring to National Master Qingliang, the emperor had his body exhumed, and just as expected, one molar was missing. Therefore, all of these kinds of events are wondrous beyond words. Flower Adornment Bodhisattva came to China as the National Master Qingliang. This explains why he had such exceptional physical features.

National Master Qingliang classified the first five rolls of the Flower Adornment Sutra as the introduction, the middle fifty-five and one-half rolls to be the text-proper, and the final nineteen and one-half rolls to be the conclusion. Although the entire Sutra was not brought to China from India, the portion that was translated in China contains the three main sections of a complete text. Therefore, those who propagated the Flower Adornment Sutra in China were all great Bodhisattvas. If they were not Bodhisattvas, they would not have been able to expound on the states of the Flower Adornment. This state is absolutely the most amazing and wondrous. It’s “the wonder of wonders and the mystery of mysteries.”

Although there are not a lot of people attending this year’s summer session, I’ve observed that all of you have a good foundation in learning Buddhism. Therefore, while you are here you should pay special attention to your study and practice of the Buddha-dharma. Why is this? Time is precious. This year’s session is only six weeks long. If you are not attentive,  then  you  will have wasted your  time.  I also  will have spent a lot of time and energy explaining the Sutra, yet you will not have understood what I have taught. People become Buddhas one at a time, not one group at a time. Although only a few people have come here to learn the Buddha-dharma, if they are successful, they will become Buddhas or Patriarchs. We should be most happy about this.

Regardless of whether people are many or few, we still should do things in the prescribed way according to the rules. Every day don’t allow a single minute or even a single second to pass by in vain. During these six weeks, we want to obtain some genuine good and lasting benefit, and truly savor the flavor of the Buddha-dharma. Therefore, as the Sutra is being lectured every day, each person should take notes and submit them to me each day. There will be a weekly test and a final exam at the end of the six-week period. No matter what, you should study hard during this time, and not be careless or negligent. Be especially attentive to your study and practice of the Buddha’s teachings, and then it will be of some value. This is my hope for each of you.

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