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Venerable Master Hua's Talks on Dharma Volume Four 

化老和尚开示 Lectures by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua



The Story of Great Master Hsuan Tsang, Who Went to India in Search of Sutras

I would rather die while making one last step towards the West,
than live by retreating one step towards the East.



Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang was born in the second year of the reign period Renshou of the Emperor Wen of the Sui Dynasty (a.d. 601). His home was in Honan Province, Chenliu County, and his lay surname was Chen. Even as a young boy, his wisdom surpassed his peers. At age seven, he began to study the Five Classics, and at age thirteen, he travelled with his second elder brother, the Dharma Master Chang Jie, to Pure Land Monastery in Luoyang to leave the home-life and study and recite Sutras. According to the laws of the Sui Dynasty, people who wished to leave the home-life had to pass an examination and receive certification before they could qualify to become Shramaneras (novice monks). The two of them reached Luoyang just as the clerks were enrolling candidates for Sangha membership. Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang was too young, and was not qualified to take the examination. He anxiously paced back and forth outside the door of the examination hall, sighing in consternation. But then he was discovered by the supervisor of the examinations, Mr. Shanguo Zheng. The man recognized the boy as a potential asset to Buddhism, and made a special exception to the standards, in order to admit him into the Sangha.



After receiving full ordination at age twenty, Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang travelled about, learning from Good and Wise Advisors. He discovered that the teachings of the various masters differed in large measure from the Sutra texts in the Canon, and as a result, no one knew where to turn. This was especially the case with the Shastra on the Seventeen Stages, which produced many different opinions. Master Hsuan Tsang thus made a vow to go to India to investigate the Dharma, in order to resolve his doubts.



After receiving full ordination at age twenty, Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang travelled about, learning from Good and Wise Advisors. He discovered that the teachings of the various masters differed in large measure from the Sutra texts in the Canon, and as a result, no one knew where to turn. This was especially the case with the Shastra on the Seventeen Stages, which produced many different opinions. Master Hsuan Tsang thus made a vow to go to India to investigate the Dharma, in order to resolve his doubts.




At this point, he applied for permission to travel to India to obtain the Sutras. As the laws of the Tang Dynasty forbade civilian travel across the border, the Tang Emperor Taizong (Li Shimin) refused his request. However, Master Hsuan Tsang was resolute. With or without permission, he was determined to make the trip to India. Finally he was forced to secretly cross the border.




While heading west alone from the capital, Changan, Master Hsuan Tsang passed by a mountain cave with piles of bat-droppings by the entrance. It occurred to him that nobody lived in the cave, or else the bat-dung could not have piled up outside the cave entrance. Full of curiosity, he ventured into the cave to explore, and not far from the entrance, he discovered a monster. Its hair had been woven together atop its head, and birds had made a nest there. The baby birds were chirping and squeaking from the next. A thick layer of dirt on the creature's face gave it the look of a stone statue. Master Hsuan Tsang drew nearer for a closer look, only to discover that it was an old cultivator who had long since entered samadhi. Ringing a handbell, he brought the old cultivator out of samadhi. A moment passed, then the old cultivator began to stir a bit.



The Great Master said, "Fellow cultivator! What are you doing, sitting here like this?"




The old cultivator had to wiggle his jaw a few times before he could make any sound. He answered, "I'm waiting here for the Red Yang Buddha (Shakyamuni Buddha) to come into the world, so I can help him propagate the Buddhadharma."




Master Hsuan Tsang replied, "Fellow cultivator! Shakyamuni Buddha has already entered Nirvana!"




The old cultivator was amazed by this news, and asked, "When did Shakyamuni Buddha appear in the world?"




Master Hsuan Tsang replied, "He was born over a thousand years ago, and he has already entered Nirvana for quite a long time."




The old cultivator said, "In that case, I'll go back into samadhi, and wait for the White Yang Buddha (Maitreya Buddha) to appear in the world, and then help him to propagate the Buddhadharma."




"Fellow cultivator! There's no need for you to go back into samadhi and wait for Maitreya Buddha to appear in the world," said the Master. "You'll surely miss him, too. It'd be better for you to go with me to China, and when I return from my pilgrimage for Sutras, you'll be able help me propagate the Buddhadharma."




The old cultivator thought it over and decided that Master Hsuan Tsang's suggestion was quite reasonable, so he agreed to it.




Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang told him, "Your body is too old and decrepit; you should change it for a new one. Why don't you go to Changan, to the house with yellow roof-tiles, and be reborn there. When I return from my trip to India to obtain Sutras, I'll go to find you." The two of them said goodbye, one heading east and one going west, each of them on his mission.





Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang scaled peaks and forded rivers, encountering numerous calamities and trials without losing his nerve. At one point he made a vow, saying,

I would rather die while making one last step towards the West,
than live by retreating one step towards the East.




His selfless courage in quest of the Dharma was truly noble. As a result of his momentous work, he made a magnificent contribution to Chinese Buddhism, and he established the Consciousness Only (Weishi) School. A maxim tells us to "Imitate worthy models." In our hope to accomplish our work of cultivation, we can take Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang as our worthy model and guide. We can measure ourselves by his example, uncover our inherent wisdom, and give our share of strength to Buddhism as he did.




From one day to the next, Master Hsuan Tsang endured the hardships of travel, eating and sleeping outdoors. He was constantly exposed to the elements on his journey to the West. His resolve was unshakable: until he reached his goal--India--he would never rest. As the motto goes: "Perseverance brings success." He underwent a myriad bitter hardships; and his pilgrimage took over three years, bringing him finally to India's Buddhist University, Nalanda Monastery, where he became a disciple of India's authority in Consciousness Only, Shastra Master Shilabhadra (Moral and Worthy). He specialized in the study of the two treatises, the Shastra on the Seventeen Stages and the Yogacharyabhumi Shastra, and other Sutras. After he finished his studies, on his way back to China, he passed through the city of Kanyakudja. At the invitation of King Shiladitya, he organized a great debate, the participants of which numbered over six thousand people. Among them were the kings of eighteen countries, monks of both Great and Small Vehicles, Brahmans, and externalists, all coming together in an unprecedented gathering. As the host of the debate, the Great Master praised and propagated the Great Vehicle, posting his treatise out by the main entrance. He challenged all comers, claiming that if anyone could improve his treatise by even a single word, he would bow to that person and become his disciple. Eighteen days passed, and no one could change even one word of the text. He won the great debate, and his name spread throughout India's five kingdoms. There was not a person who did not hear of his accomplishment. Such was the peerless reputation of the Great Master Hsuan Tsang.




In the nineteenth year of the Zhenguan reign period (a.d. 645) of the Tang Dynasty, on the twenty-fourth day of the first lunar month, he returned to Changan, and was welcomed by several hundreds of thousands of Sangha members and citizens. Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty sent high-ranking cabinet ministers Liang Guogong, Fang Xuanling, and others as representatives to welcome Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang. Later, he was taken to Hongfu (Vast Blessings) Monastery, where he began translating the Sutras.




Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang's pilgrimage to study in India took over twelve years, five of which were spent in the journey back and forth. He became the "patriarch" of all overseas students from China. The Sutra texts he brought back numbered five hundred and twenty cases and comprised over six hundred works. He offered all the Sutras as a gift to the nation. The Emperor summoned him for an special audience and conferred praise and favor upon him.




Master Hsuan Tsang said to Emperor Taizong, "Congratulations, your Majesty!"




The comment struck the Emperor as quite unusual "What am I being congratulated for?" he asked.




"A son has been born to Your Highness."


唐太宗有丈二金刚摸不着头脑的感觉,便说:“ 没有啊!”


The Emperor's face bore an expression of utter bewilderment. "No, that's not so!" he said.




Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang thought, "I told that old cultivator clearly to come be reborn here; how could he have gone wrong?" He promptly entered samadhi and perceived that the old cultivator had entered the wrong house and been reborn to the wrong family. He had accidentally been born to the family of Wei Chigong, the War Minister. Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang then reported this turn of events in full to the Emperor.




"Oh, in that case," said Emperor Taizong, "Just go and save him."




Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang called on General Wei Chigong and explained the reason for his visit. When the Master saw Wei Chigong's nephew, he was delighted, because the young man's physique was quite imposing, and his countenance was dignified. He looked thoroughly talented, fit to be a vessel of the Dharma. Master Hsuan Tsang came right to the point and said, "Come and leave the home-life with me!" The nephew was astounded, and answered unhappily, "What did you say? Leave home? Impossible!" And he turned and left.




Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang had no alternative but to request Emperor Taizong to lend a hand in order to bring this event to a successful conclusion. Thereupon, the Emperor ordered Minister Wei Chigong's nephew to leave the home-life. When the Minister received this imperial order, he told his nephew to leave home. But his nephew defiantly refused, saying, "Ridiculous! How can the Emperor tell me to leave the home-life? I haven't played around enough yet. I'm going to have a talk with the Emperor." The next day, Wei Chigong took his nephew to see the Emperor.




As soon as they arrived, the nephew said, "If the Emperor wants me to leave the home-life, I'll do it, but I have three conditions."




The Emperor replied, "You can set as many conditions as you want."




The nephew said, "I love to drink wine, and I can't live without it. Wherever I go, I must bring along a cart of wine."




Emperor Taizhong thought, "Monks are supposed to abstain from wine, but Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang told me to agree to any condition he set." So he said, "Fine. I grant your request. What is your second condition?"




The nephew said, "I know that monks are not allowed to eat meat, but I like to eat meat, and I must have a cart of fresh meat to follow me wherever I go."




The Emperor said, "I will grant you this. What is your third condition?"




The nephew hadn't expected the Emperor to agree to his demands. He continued, "Monks cannot have wives. However, I cannot renounce women. Wherever I go, there must be a cart of beautiful women to accompany me." He thought to himself, "The Emperor will never agree to this."




Emperor Taizhong thought, "Alas! How can I promise him this? Yet Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang instructed me to grant all his requests." Therefore he said, "Fine! I agree to everything! Now you can leave the home-life!"




The nephew had no choice but to leave home. On the day that he went to Daxingshan Monastery to leave home[Note: This is where Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang translated the Sutras], he was followed by a cart of wine, a cart of fresh meat, and a cart of beautiful women. When the people in the monastery were told that the War Minister's nephew was going there to leave the home-life, they rang the bells and beat the drums. Hearing the sound of the bells and drums, Master Kueiji [the nephew's left-home name] suddenly had a great awakening: "Oh! So I was an old cultivator and now I've come to help Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang propagate the Buddhadharma." Thereupon he ordered the three carts to turn around and go back. He no longer wanted any of those things. Later generations dubbed him "The Three Cart Patriarch."




The Thirty-stanza Consciousness Only Treatise that Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang brought back with him from India contained ten divisions, which he translated in their entirety into Chinese. He faithfully followed the original intent of the treatise, and neither deleted nor added as much as a single word as he translated it. Master Kueiji was in charge of the editing job, and after all ten divisions of the treatise had been fully translated by Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang, he made a request: "These ten divisions of the text all contain their strengths and weaknesses. If they fail to agree, it will certainly bring confusion and consternation to those who investigate Consciousness Only in the present and future. It might be better if we edit out the dross and keep the essentials, making just a single volume, so that future students of Consciousness Only will be able to come to the same conclusion. In this way they will not waste time in getting to the essentials of the Dharma." Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang agreed with his suggestion and produced the present version of the Thirty-stanza ConsciousnessOnly Treatise . He later transmitted the Logic School teachings to Master Kueiji, who became an expert in Consciousness Only and made it his aim to propagate the doctrines of that school. Master Kueiji became an eminently virtuous monk of his time and was the Second Patriarch of the Consciousness Only School.


以宣扬唯识思想为宗旨,成为当代大德,为“唯识宗”第二祖。 玄奘法师回国第二年,奉诏撰《大唐西域记》一十二卷。唐显庆五年(公元六六○年),玄奘法师五十九岁时,开始译《大般若经》。《大般若经》梵本有二十万颂,玄奘法师广译,不敢删略,一如梵本,经过四年的时间,译成六百卷。次年,拟译《大宝积经》,不幸患病而辍笔。


Two years after his return to China, Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang accepted an imperial appointment to compile a twelve-roll work called the Great Tang Dynasty's Record of the Western Lands. At age 59, in the fifth year of the Tang Dynasty's Xianqing reign-period (a.d. 660), he began to translate the Great Prajna Sutra. The original Sanskrit version contained 200,000 stanzas. Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang translated them entirely, not daring to omit any part of the text. He relied faithfully on the Sanskrit version, and finished the translation of 600 rolls in four years. The following year, he planned to translate the Great Collection of Jewels Sutra, but unfortunately had to stop working because of illness.




Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang entered Nirvana at age 64, in the second month of the first year of the Tang Dynasty's Lingde reign-period (a.d. 664). He was buried at Beiyuan (Northern Plain) near the Fan River. He had translated 75 Sutras, totalling 1,335 rolls, and thus qualified as one of China's four greatest translators of Sutras. His disciples were numerous, including Masters Kueiji and Yuance, who continued the transmission of the Consciousness Only School, and Masters Puguang and Shentai, who taught the Kosa Sect.




During the Tang and Sui dynasties, known as China's Golden Age of Buddhism, many schools flourished. Patriarchs appeared in succession, each establishing different sects. The foremost among those at the time were ten schools, two of which were Small Vehicle (Theravada), and eight of which were Great Vehicle (Mahayana). Two of these schools, the Three Treatise School and the Consciousness Only School, preserved in its original purity the teachings and traditional thought of Indian Buddhism and transplanted them intact into Chinese soil. Of the rest, the Tiantai School, which centered around the Dharma Flower Sutra, and the Xianshou (Worthy Leader) School, which centered around the Flower Adornment Sutra, incorporated elements of traditional Chinese thinking in their teachings. These four schools specifically investigated the principles of Buddhism, and together formed the Teachings School. Buddhism as a whole evolved into the present Five Schools: the Teachings School, the Chan Meditation School, the Pure Land School, the Vinaya School, and the Secret School. Although their actual purpose is to take us to ultimate Nirvana, the methods used are slightly different.


一九八○年禅七 十二月开示


A talk given during a Chan Session
in December, 1980


法界佛教总会 . DRBA / BTTS / DRBU