Commentary by Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua
Translated by Bhiksunis Heng Hsien, Heng Yin, and Heng Ch'in
Reviewed by Bhiksuni Heng Yin
Edited by Bhiksuni Heng Ch'ih


















Opening and disclosing the mysterious and subtle. What then is the mysterious and wonderful, the fine and subtle? It is just the Dharma Realm that was previously discussed. The previous section of text was "the extolment of the substance of the purport." The section of text just read is called "the particular praise of the mysterious and subtle." It is too wonderful! To open and disclose the mysterious and subtle is to open up this inconceivable state.

      Understanding and expanding the mind and its states. To understand is similar to illumining, and expanding means enlarging. Now what is being expanded and opened up is the mind and its states. National Master Ch'ing Liang was aware that our states are really small, that we are unable to let go at all. Whenever someone says something good about you, you grab it and run. Whenever someone says anything bad about you, you get upset. With that kind of state, how can you cultivate? Or maybe someone scolds you, and you virtually go insane; or people slander you and you sink into a fit of depression. Why does that happen? It is from not understanding and expanding the mind and its states. Exhausting the principle and fathoming the nature. "Exhausting the principle and fathoming the nature" is a phrase from the Book of Changes: "By exhausting the principle, and fathoming the nature, they arrived at Fate." I remarked before that National Master Ch'ing Liang was very learned, and that he had thoroughly studied the Book of Changes. In this composition he uses a great many expressions which are taken from the Book Of Changes.

"Exhausting" means using up. Here one exhausts uses up the mysterious and wonderful principles, of which there is nothing more mysterious and wonderful. "Fathoming" also has the idea of finishing, which makes it parallel to using up. Here the nature is fathomed to the utmost. In fathoming the nature of people, one realizes, "Oh, this person likes to go off and have a good time in the mountains. That person likes to go swimming and enjoy himself in the water. This person likes to sit in meditation. That person likes to recite Sutras. Each one likes something different." Once you know what each one likes, then you have fathomed his nature. Once you have fathomed the nature of people, you still need to fathom your own nature. "I know about people, but now what kind of a person am I? Isn't it the case that I don't have the least bit of samadhi power, or even a fraction of wisdom? Don't I just want to get angry all day long, and always feel like getting upset? That's really strange. Who tells me to get upset? Why does it happen? Where does it come from? Oh! It's basically because my ignorance is so heavy." That is how one fathoms one's own nature. Once one knows oneself, one can say, "Come on, don't be so rotten. You ought to go along a good path," and that way one acts as one's own supervisor. Once you know about people and about yourself, you still need to know about things. For example, a teacup "is "a"" thing used for drinking tea, while an incense burner is used for burning incense. "When you know what everything is "used" for, and what it's good for, then you have fathomed the nature of all things, exhausting the principle and fathoming the nature.

Penetrating the result, which includes the cause. To penetrate means to go through, so that results encompass causes, and causes penetrate through to results. It is as is said: "Causes include the sea of results; results penetrate through to the causal source." The time when one is on the causal ground encompasses the result ground; and at the time of the result, there is also penetration through to the causal source. This Sutra states: "Upon first production of the thought, one right then accomplishes Proper Enlightenment. In the very first thought instant of the initial production of the resolve, one just then accomplishes Proper, Equal, Right Enlightenment and becomes a Buddha. Therefore that is the meaning of "Causes include the sea of results; results penetrate through to the causal source." It is as mysterious and subtle as that.

Deep and wide, and interfused. Deep means profound, and wide means vast; it is compared to the great sea. Interfused means combined and fused, interpenetrated. The principles of the Great Means Expansive Buddha Flower Adornment Sutra are both profound and vast, and yet they also combine, interpenetrate, and perfectly fuse. They may be described both as perfectly fusing and as interpenetrating; as being fused together, and as being strung through. They are both combined and fused, and strung together as if threaded on a string strung through and so interpenetrated. Vast and great and totally complete. Totally complete means just as it ought to be not deficient or excessive, not too little and not too much just right. It is also entirely whole and totally complete replete with wonderful subtle and inconceivable principles.

Surely this must be the Great Means Expansive Buddha Flower Adornment Sutra! The seven words, "Great Means Expansive Bud­dha Flower Adornment Sutra," constitute the title of the Sutra. "Sutra" is the common name "Great Means Expansive Buddha Flower Adornment" is the particular name. Just as people of whatever nationality are called "people" as their common name, so too all separate sutras have the common designa­tion "sutra." Just as people all have their own personal names, such as Mr. Chang or Mr. Lee, sutras also have their own individual names.

"Great" in the title means that, because its substance encompasses empty space and has no borders whatsoever, it may be called "great." "Means" are just methods, i.e., the Buddhadharmas, which comprise inexhaustible Dharma doors that are as infinite, as unending, and as deep as the sea. Described in terms of height and depth, it is "Great." Described in terms of breadth and extent, it is "Expansive." It is so expansive that there is nothing more expansive, and everything is included within it. Its functioning is great, its substance is great, and its appearance is great. Its functioning is expansive, its substance is expansive, and its appearance is expansive. That's a simple, summary explanation of the three words "Great Means Expansive."

The "Buddha" is a greatly enlightened person: "Free from enlightenment, and from anything enlightened to." What is meant by "free from enlightenment"? Day after day we want to become enlightened, and so we are not free from enlightenment. After one becomes enlightened, one is free from enlightenment, and from anything en­lightened to. One is freed from what there was to become enlightened to. Someone may now say, "Well, then, does that mean that all I have to do is be free of enlightenment to be a Buddha?" Go ahead and try. You can be a phony Buddha. Brightly shining everywhere. The Buddha's wisdom brightly shines everywhere, even brighter than the light of the sun: shining everywhere on all. The Buddha's light shines everywhere. If you can shine everywhere on all, then you can say you are free from enlightenment and from anything enlightened to. If you cannot shine everywhere on all, then you cannot be said to be free from enlightenment and from anything enlightened to.

A "Flower" has fragrance, which here represents the virtuous conduct, which the Buddha perfected, and which adorns him with a rare fragrance.

"Adornment" is decoration. The merit and virtue from cultivation are used to adorn the ten kinds of bodies, which the Buddha has. That is "Adornment."

"Sutra" has a great many meanings, among which are those of "bubbling spring" and "inked cord." "Bubbling spring" means that the sutra is like a spring of water, which bubbles up from within the earth and flows incessantly without interruption. The meaning of an "inked cord" comes from the fact that sutras discuss various kinds of guidelines and methods that show people how to cultivate. They are just like the cords used by carpenters, which they hold taut to make a straight line. "Inked cord" stands both for cords chalked white and cords inked black. You may object that if it's chalked white it can't be an inked cord though maybe the chalk could stand for white ink. Anyway, if you object to chalk being called ink, you may call it whatever you want.

"Sutra" has four further meanings

      1. Stringing together.

2. Attracting.

3. Permanent.

4. Method.

"Stringing together" refers to the way, for example, recitation beads are pierced through and strung, together on a string. From the very beginning until the end, a11 the words in a sutra are strung together in the same way as recitation beads. It completely strings together all the meanings, which are spoken.

"Attracting" means it attracts and holds those with potential to be taught. It is comparable to a magnet, which attracts iron filings as soon as it appears. It attracts and holds those with potential to be taught. Those of you, who have come here, some from as far away as New York, were attracted here by this Sutra, as those with potential to be taught. You may say, "I don't believe that. I came on my own." When you "came on your own", it was just the power of the Sutra that attracted you only you were unaware of it. You were drawn here from New York like an iron filing to a magnet.

"Permanent" means unchanging. Not only does it not change now, but it did not change in the past, and also in the future it will not change. From the beginning to the present it has not changed, and so it is permanent. "Method" means that all living beings esteem this method and rely upon it to act. All beings, whether of the past, the present, or the future; from this direction or from that direction; from the east, west, south, north, above or below, the southeast, southwest, north east, or northwest all the ten directions and three periods of time should rely upon this method to cultivate.

The term "Sutra" has that many meanings and more. This section of preface is called "a specific explanation of the mysterious and subtle."

















      This is the section of The Difficult to Conceive of Teaching Host. Therefore means consequently. My World Honored One is Sakyamuni Buddha. In saying, "my" World Honored One, i.e. "my" Buddha," National Master Ch'ing Liang is referring to himself. Although it could be interpreted as meaning, "I in the future will also be a World Honored One," in this passage it should be explained as "my World Honored One, Sakyamuni Buddha."

The ten bodies just fulfilled. The Buddha has ten kinds of bodies. They are:

1. Body of a Bodhisattva

2. Body of vows

3. Transformation body

4. Body of an Abbot

5. Body adorned with characteristics

6. Powerful body

7. As you will body

8. Blessings and virtue body

9. Wisdom body

10. Dharma body

"Just fulfilled" refers to when they had just been attained and brought to fulfillment. Proper enlightenment first perfected. "Proper enlightenment first perfected" is identical with the ten bodies just fulfilled; and the ten bodies just fulfilled are just "proper enlightenment first perfected." The meaning is the same. Proper enlightenment refers to proper knowledge of proper views, not the deviant views of sects of externalist ways. Those of externalist ways also have an enlightenment, but it is evil, not proper. When Sakyamuni Buddha first realized Buddhahood, he sighed, and said "Strange indeed" three time

Strange indeed, strange indeed, strange indeed: All living beings have the Buddha Nature; all can become Buddhas. It is only due to false thinking and attachment that they are unable to certify to attainment.

His statement was that all living beings can realize Buddhahood, unlike other religions which claim, "I alone am true. All the rest of you are false." The Buddha was not that way, but instead stated that all living beings can realize Buddhahood. "Living beings" refers to not just human beings, but to non humans as well: animals, hungry ghosts, up to and including the beings suffering in the hells. All they need to do is change from bad to good. "The sea of suffering is boundless; A turn of the head is the other shore. It is also said: "Put down the butcher's knife, and immediately accomplish Buddhahood." Buddhism is all inclusive. Everybody has the chance to become a Buddha. When the Buddha first perfected Proper Enlightenment, he saw that all living beings could realize Buddhahood.

Rides, vows, and conduct all pervasive. Riding is using something as a conveyance to go somewhere. He rides his vows and conduct. For example, if you board a boat and go somewhere, that's taking a boat ride. If you go by car, that's riding in a car. If you mount a horse that's horseback riding. Riding, then, is getting into or on something to go somewhere. Here it is getting on and going by the power of his vows. The vows that Sakyamuni Buddha made on the causal ground were measureless and boundless, all pervasive. In each and every life, he vowed to accomplish Buddhahood and rescue living beings. "All pervasive" means extending everywhere and including everything. Extending everywhere means: no plate is not gone to, nothing is excluded. Including everything means: inclusive of the myriad existing things. That is, all of the myriad shapes and appearances are included within them, and so they are described as all pervasive, because the power of the Buddha's vows extends everywhere and includes everything.

Unites with empty space in substance and nature. The Buddha is identical with empty space, and so it's said: "If people wish to understand the Buddha's state, they should purify their minds like empty space. That is, if you want to know what the Buddha's state is like, you ought to purify your thinking. Like what? Like empty space. That is why it says, "Unites with empty space in substance and nature."

To unite with is to combine with, become one with, and have the same substance as empty space. Empty space has no appearance and no boundaries and the Buddha's substance and nature is the same as that of empty space, and so he is said to unite with empty space in substance and nature.

Is wealthy with ten thousand virtues. "Ten thousand virtues" is a generalizing and symbolic expression. In fact, tens of thousands of tens of thousands is more like it. To say that the Buddha is adorned with ten thousand virtues and wealthy with ten thousand virtues really means he has the ultimate amount of blessing and honor it is possible to possess. He has perfected wisdom, and so is wealthy with ten thousand virtues. And cleansed without the finest dust. "Cleansed" means clean or cleaned. For example, our lecture hall periodically must be cleaned up, swept and purified. If you don't sweep it, it will be dusty. But the Buddha is cleansed without the finest dust. He hasn't the least bit of defiling dust; he has completely eradicated karmic obstacles. "Dust" is also an allusion to the complete elimination of all view delusions, thought delusions, and delusions like dust and sand. It could also mean to stand for putting an end to ignorance, in which case afflictions like dust and sand also disappear; taking everything, which is impure, and making it all pure without remainder dotting rid of it all.
































This section of text is the Universal Pervasiveness of the Mode of Speech, which describes how the modes of activity in speaking this Sutra are universal in scope and extend everywhere throughout the Dharma Realm.

Therefore it begins, the pellucid waves of his deep, sea like wisdom. "Deep" represents profound stillness, and "sea like wisdom" indicates that his wisdom is like the sea. However, it is profound and quiet, unmoving and still. The waves are pellucid, clear and still. That is, there are no waves at all. The absence of waves also stands for the complete eradication of afflictions those waves disappear. Therefore it says that the pellucid waves of his deep, sea like wisdom are empty, yet hold myriad reflections. In the same way as empty space includes all the myriad things that exist, the Buddha, with sea like wisdom, understands all principles that exist. There is "nothing that he does not know, nothing that he cannot do."

The full moon of his glistening, space like nature. "Glistening" means bright and pure, while "the full moon of his space like nature" means that his nature is like a full moon in empty space, the moon on the fifteenth day of the lunar month. It at once scatters in one hundred streams. The "hundred streams" is a way of saying all places where there is water. "At once scatters": His nature is like the luminous, full moon in empty space, which at one and the same time appears in all places that have water. Therefore it is said:

A thousand pools have water;

A thousand pools have moons.

One moon universally appears in all waters;

The moons of all waters come from a single moon.

All of the moons within the waters are reflections of one single moon. Although there are thousands upon tens of thousands of pools of water, in which there appear thousands upon tens of thousands of reflected moons, the basic substance of the moon is one. There is "water" within the minds of all living beings, and within the Buddha Nature there is "moonlight" which lights up the water in the minds of living beings. If the water in the minds, of we living beings is pure, the light comes in and illuminates the water of our minds. If the water in our minds is not pure, the light of the Buddha Nature cannot illuminate us. It is like a pool of water: if the water is murky, there is no reflection of the moon. If it is pure and clear, then in the water there appears a moon. It at once scatters in one hundred streams.

Without rising from beneath the King of Trees, he extends to seven places in the Dharma Realm. When Sakyamuni Buddha spoke the Flower Adornment Sutra, it was while seated beneath the Bodhi tree without rising from beneath the Bodhi tree, the King of Trees. The Bodhi tree is called the king among trees. He did not get up and go somewhere else; he spoke it there. Nonetheless, he extended, that is, spread out, to seven places, in all seven of which he spoke the Flower Adornment Sutra. The seven places and nine assemblies in which the Sutra was spoken are as follow:

Assembly Place

First....The Bodhi Way Place.


Seventh, &

Eighth...The Universal Light Palace.

Third....The Trayastrimsha Heaven.

Fourth...The Suyama Heaven.

Fifth....The Tushita Heaven.

Sixth...The Paranimitra Vashavartin Heaven.

Ninth...The Jeta Grove’s Multi Storied Lecture Hall.

The nine assemblies of speaking in the seven places all took place upon the initial accomplishment of the Way. That is, upon first accomplishing the Way, the Buddha spoke the Flower Adornment Sutra in nine assemblies. Actually, the final one, the Multi Storied Lecture Hall, also called the Jeta Grove, had not been built yet, and so the hall was not yet in existence when the Buddha accomplished the Way. If that lecture hall did not yet exist, then how did the Buddha manage to speak the Flower Adornment Sutra there? That has to be described as "wonderful." The Buddha is able to move limitless kalpas of the past to the present, and move limitless kalpas of the future to the present to. There is no past, there is no future, and there is no present either. Therefore it is said: "Past thought can not be got at; present thought cannot be got at future thought cannot be got at." Why is that? If you say there is a present, that is an attachment. If you say there is a past, that is also an attachment. If you say there is a future, that is attachment too. If you have no attachments, the past has already gone by, and the present does not stop. If you say, "This is the present," it has already gone by. If you say, "That is the present," that interval of one kshana right before your eyes has also already gone by. And so the saying goes;  "The three thoughts can't be got at." That is to break people's attachments.

Now, Sakyamuni Buddha, without rising from beneath the King of Trees, in that single place, does not arise from where he is sitting. He remains seated there, and yet he pervasively goes everywhere to every place and speaks the Dharma. That is because his state is inconceivable. The Buddha is able to compress limitless kalpas into a single thought, and stretch a single thought out to limitless kalpas. So it is said, "Without rising from beneath the King of Trees, he extends to seven places in the Dharma Realm." Just sitting in that one place, he goes to seven places and speaks Dharma, the Great Flower Adornment Sutra.

Unhindered by the bounds of "afterwards". The way we people look at things, there is a definite "before" and a clearly defined "afterwards". "Afterwards" cannot move up ahead to "before," and "before" cannot be moved to "afterwards." However, the wonderful aspect of Sakyamuni Buddha's speaking Dharma is not something ordinary people can know. Actually, immediately upon accomplishing Buddhahood, in the Jeta Grove he was able to make the Multi storied Lecture Hall appear and he spoke Dharma there. When he first accomplished Buddhahood that structure did not exist, and yet he was able to bring that Multi storied Hall into being and speak the Great Means Expansive Buddha Flower Adornment Sutra. So the preface reads, "unhindered by the bounds of afterwards." He was not hindered by the limitation of what came afterwards. He pervades the nine assemblies as he first succeeds. In the twenty one day period after accomplishing the Way, he extended to nine occasions of Dharma assemblies.

Exhausting vast expanses of esoteric doctrine. To exhaust means to use up and vast means vast and great. Expanses suggest both space and amplitude. The esoteric is the mysterious, what people do not see. You could call it obscure, not in the sense of occluded, but as having a wonderful aspect which people do not easily understand. It is not easy for people to see or hear esoteric doctrine. He aids the hard to conceive of, ocean wide assembly. "Aids" means teaches. The Buddha's Dharma is able to teach the hard to conceive of, ocean wide assembly of living beings. "Hard to conceive of" means that you do not know how many living beings there are. "The assembly" is everyone collected together; described as "ocean wide" because, it resembles the sea. The Buddha employed the Sea Seal Samadhi to speak the Flower Adornment Sutra. The Sea of the Sea Samadhi refers to the seas of perfumed water of, which there are seven, which encircle Mount Sumeru. They are profoundly still and waveless, without even a single wave. Nonetheless, all the form bodies of all the living beings in the worlds of the ten directions appear within the seas of perfumed water in just the same way as a seal makes an imprint on an object. All the living beings of the worlds of the ten directions who have shape and form have a seal-imprint within the seas of perfumed water, just like prints of seals on paper hence the name "Sea Seal Samadhi." This state is something even Bodhisattvas cannot imagine, let alone ordinary people, and that's another reason its "hard to conceive of."

The perfect sound continually scatters. The "perfect sound" is very full and complete. When the Buddha speaks the Dharma: "He speaks the Dharma with a single sound; Each being understands it according to it's kind." Bodhisattvas hear it as the language of Bodhisattvas. Arhats hear it as the language of Arhats. Gods hear it as the language of gods. People hear it as the language of people. Animals hear is as the language of animals. Living beings in the hells hear it as the language used in the hells. And so the Buddha employs one kind of sound to speak the Dharma, and living beings of whatever category all take in that Dharma. That is why it says, "He speaks the Dharma with a single sound; Each being understands it accord­ing to it's kind." "The perfect sound continually scatters." "Continually scatters" means that all living beings, upon hearing this Dharma, understand it as if it had scattered right into their minds, as if it had fallen right into their hearts.

This sound is not confined to a single country, but in all the other directions in all Buddhalands, the sound of the Buddha speaking Dharma can be heard, and the appearance of the Buddha speaking Dharma, can be seen. It is just like the pure, full moon in empty space. Everyone who sees the pure, full moon in space feels that the moon is facing them and that it is shining right on them. The Buddha is that way too. When the Buddha speaks Dharma, each living being feels that the Buddha is right before them, speaking Dharma right to them. So it says, "the perfect sound continually scatters."

Through ten kshetras, yet suddenly is everywhere. The perfect sound right away is universally everywhere, in all the seas of Buddha kshetras, Buddhalands. "Kshetra" is a Sanskrit word for land or country. To say "ten kshetras" is just a symbolic way of saying all countries, not just ten. It means that the limitless seas of kshetras of all Buddhas all display the appearance of Sakyamuni Buddha speaking Dharma.

Host and attendants are repeating. The "host" is Sakyamuni Buddha, and the "attendants" are all the great Bodhisattvas. They keep being repeated endlessly without exhaustion, and without exhaustion are endlessly duplicated. That kind of state is inconceivable. Therefore it says, "Host and attendants are repeated, "To the limits of the ten directions. "To the limits of" means to the utmost reaches of the countries of all Buddhas of the ten directions. Yet in unison proclaim. At one and the same time they all hear the speaking of the Great Flower Adornment Sutra. The seven places and the nine assemblies all appear in each and every Buddha's land. In all the other countries there are these states of the inconceivable speaking of the Flower Adornment Sutra. And so it says, "To the limits of the ten directions, yet in unison proclaim." At the same time they all proclaim the doctrines of this Sutra.

      At this point in the explanation of the Preface, some people have raised a doubt. They are wondering how to reconcile the previous statement that when the Buddha spoke the Flower Adornment Sutra, those of the Two Vehicles "had eyes but could not see...had ears but could not hear" with the statement that the Buddha "speaks the Dharma with a single sound; each being understands it according to its kind", finding a contradiction of "before" and "afterwards," since the explanations differ. That is a good point, but it is merely one you yourself thought up. I've already told you it is inconceivable. If you still try to conceive of it, how can you? Although it is said that the people of the Two Vehicles do not see or hear, it is because their conditions have not yet ripened that they do not see the Buddha. When their conditions have become ripe, not only the Two Vehicles, but even the Three and Four Vehicles will be able to see and hear. The Three Vehicles are the Sound Hearers, those Enlightened to Conditions, and the Bodhisattvas. Add the Buddha, and that makes Four Vehicles. They all will be able to hear. There are some lines, which say: "Heaven's rain, though broad, does not moisten dried up, rootless plants. The Buddha's door is vast and great, yet it is difficult to save people who have slight affinities, who are not good." When it rains, it is like the Buddhadharma. Tall trees take in a lot of moisture, while small grasses absorb a small amount. However, if plants are all dried up and have no roots, as much as it might like to, the rain can not moisten them. The door of the Buddha is vast and great, but there is no way to save those who have no affinities with the Buddha. As it is said: "Face to face, passed by; within reach, yet missed." The Buddha is right before them, but they fail to recognize the Buddha. Two people may be right in front of each other, close enough to grasp each other's hands yet they pass each other by and miss the opportunity. Therefore it is said: "Face to face, one fails to recognize Kuan Shih Yin." Kuan Shin Yin is right before you. You are mindful of Kuan Yin, bow to Kuan Yin, and recite Kuan Yin's name, but you do not recognize Kuan Yin. You may say, "If I'd seen him, I would have recognized him." You see him daily, and you daily fail to recognize him.  Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva recognizes you, but you don't recog­nize Kuan Shih Yin. The Buddha's door is vast and great, still there is no way to save people who do not want to be good or to do good. So, even among those who study Buddhadharma, there are some who run away. They are like the plants that have no roots, which the rain has no way to moisten. In order to see and hear the Dharma, there must be affinities. Without affinities, one will not see even if one wants to. Therefore, all of you must have many affinities with the Buddhadharma.

-Continued next issue-