Commentary by Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua
Translation by Bhikshuni Heng Yin


Yakshas, Hungry Ghosts, and

All sorts of evil birds and beasts

Frantic with hunger faced the four directions

Pecking out the windows.

Such were the troubles

And terrors beyond measure there.


      This section of text represents the appearance of the afflictions created by the Five Dun and Quick Servants for living beings in the realm of desire.

Living beings in the realm of desire have outflows. Because they have outflows, they cannot obtain the flavor of cultivation of the Way, the flavor of Dhyana. Because they have not attained to the state of non-outflows or to the fruit of the Way, or the flavor of Dhyana's bliss they are said to be frantic with hunger. They are terribly hungry. The hungry ghosts and evil birds and animals are starving and they faced the four directions. What is meant by "the four directions?" Those non-Buddhist religions cultivate deviant contemplations, but they cannot awaken to true principle. They very much long for the fruit of the Way, for the gains of Dhyana, and this longing is like a hunger in them which causes them to look outside, look "out in the four directions." They don't realize that all one needs is proper understanding and proper views, and the ability to be unmoved by the Five Dull and Five Quick Servants and they will be able to attain the fruit of the Way and the flavor of Dhyana. Because they can't attain it they face the four directions peeking through the window. The word "peek" (in Chinese) is a picture of a cave  ()with the word for rules ()beneath it. This means that "peeking" is sneaky way of looking at things. It is not in accord with the rules. Even though these evil things try to peek out the windows, they can't see anything clearly. Those of non-Buddhist religions have many attached thoughts, which obstruct their understanding and prevent them from knowing genuine principle. There are panes in the windows, but one's vision through a window cannot be unobstructed; there's always an obstruction to one's vision.

Such were the troubles/The various difficulties and disasters just mentioned, and terrors beyond measure there were frightening to the extreme, to the point that you couldn't even measure it.


This decaying old house

Belonged to a man

Who had gone but a short distance

When, before very long,

The rear rooms of the house

Suddenly caught fire.


This is part two of explaining affairs on the ground, likened to the realm of desire, explaining the origin of the fire. It is likened to the origin of the arisal of the Five Turbidities.


      This decaying old house/The house is in terrible condition, about ready to cave in altogether. This decaying house represents the three realms as without peace; everywhere you turn it is very dangerous. It is said to be old because it wasn't made just recently. The three realms had no beginning, and so it is "old". Belonged to a man/The three Realms, the desire, form realm, and formless realm, are where the Buddha, in his Response body, teaches and transforms living beings. The Buddha, from the time he brought forth the thought of enlightenment up until the time he became a Buddha, passed through three great asamkhyeya aeons—such a long time! He made vows, great vows, not only great vows, but limitless, measureless, great vows. These great vows were to save all living beings. To take them from suffering to bliss, to help them end birth and death.

For this reason, Buddhist disciples should follow the Buddha's example in making vows, making great vows, measureless limitless great vows, to save all living beings. If you wish to save all living beings, where are you going to go to do it? Right where you are! If the people you are close to don't understand the Buddhadharma, you should exhaust your efforts to bring them to believe in the Buddha.

     Start out with your family. You believe in the Buddha, you know that Buddhadharma is a good thing. So you should first cross over your father and mother and lead them to believe in the Buddha, and understand the Buddhadharma. It is said,

When one's parents have left the filth,

The child has then accomplished the Way.

If you can bring your parents to believe in genuine principle, then you are being truly filial. Then, cross over your brothers so they believe in true principle and have a proper path to walk upon. Then take your sisters across so they believe in genuine principle, and leave deviant understanding and deviant views. After you have saved your family, you should save your friends. You should work from the "near" to the "far", from your inner family circle out to your friends, and then out to all living beings. In this way you should teach and transform living beings. Liberate them. In this way you are following the example of the Buddha's great vows. After he became a Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha went to the Trayastrimsa heaven to speak the Dharma to his mother. He spoke the EARTH STORE SUTRA. The three realms is where the Buddha appears in his response body to teach and transform living beings and so the text says, it Belonged to a man. This man is the Great Elder, that is, the Buddha.

Now, if the Elder had been at home, in the Three Realms, he could have told the children not to fool around and play with fire. But he had to go out on business, and the children were left there alone. They were actually pretty stupid; they had no genuine wisdom and they didn't know what was safe and what was dangerous. They started playing with fire and, sure enough, the house caught on fire.

Who had gone but a short distance/When before long/The Elder had just left. This line refers to Sakyamuni Buddha who during the time of the Buddha called "Great Penetration" was teaching all living beings how to subdue the Five Turbidities. When the karmic influences of those living beings came to an end, Sakyamuni Buddha also entered Nirvana. After the Buddha entered Nirvana, living beings, having lost their "crutch", fell over. So after the Buddha entered Nirvana, the Five Turbidities arose once again: the turbidity of the aeon, the turbidity of views, the turbidity of affliction, the turbidity of living beings, the turbidity of life.

Although the Buddha had, in that world system, entered Nirvana, in another world system, the causal-conditions for teaching living beings had ripened and he went there to teach them. But he couldn't stay in that world system forever, either. So he had gone but a short distance/he had appeared again not very far away.

You could also explain these lines saying that the Buddha has already attained to the Patience of Unproduced Dharmas, that is to say,

He has done what he had to do;

He has established his pure conduct;

He undergoes no further becoming.

He will not again be born in the Triple Realm. He has "gone out." Although, on becoming a Buddha, he has transcended the Triple Realm, still, after a short period of time he comes back, so he has gone but a "short distance." In the "Lifespan Chapter" of this Sutra it says that the Buddha has appeared to enter Nirvana many, many times. Many times he has appeared in the world and many times he has entered Nirvana, a great number of times. This means that he has gone out of the burning house of the Triple Realm.

When, before very long/The rear rooms of the house/The house is the Triple Realm. The "rooms" are the Five Skandhas—form, feelings, perceptions; impulses, and consciousness. He hadn't been-gone very long when the back part of the house, suddenly caught fire. A fire broke out. How did it happen? The kids were playing with fire, and they were careless. What do you think will happen to the children? Will they burn to death? What about us here in the burning house of the Triple Realm where there is no peace, no safety and where the fire of the Five Skandhas burns.


All at once, all four sides were enveloped in raging flames. The beams,

ridgepoles, rafters, and pillars, shook and split with the sound of explosion,

snapped apart and fell, As the walls and partitions collapsed and caved in.


This is part three which tells the power of the raging fire. It is an analogy of the arisial proper of the Five Turbidities.


All at once, all four sides/The "four sides" represent the Four Applications of Mindfulness. The Four Applications of Mindfulness were given by the Buddha as a dwelling place for the Bhiksus after his departure into Nirvana. They are, mindfulness with regard to the body, feelings, thoughts, and dharmas.

First of all one must contemplate the body as impure. One should also contemplate feelings, thoughts, and dharmas as impure as well. Since the body is impure, one's feelings are likewise impure, and so are thoughts, and dharmas.

Second, one must contemplate feelings as suffering. All the feelings we experience are involved with suffering. One should also contemplate the body as involved with suffering, and thoughts and dharmas likewise.

Third, one should contemplate thoughts as impermanent. Our thoughts shift and change constantly, ceaselessly, like the, waves on the water. When one thought goes, another takes its place; when that goes, yet another takes its place. Likewise should one contemplate the body, feelings, and dharmas as impermanent.

Fourth, one should contemplate dharmas as without a self. One should also contemplate the body, feelings, and thoughts as without self. The body, feelings, thoughts, and dharmas should each be regarded in these aspects, constituting sixteen applications.

One begins cultivating the Four Applications of Mindfulness by cultivating the contemplation of impurity. The contemplation of impurity breaks one's attachment to self. Why are you attached to your body and always trying to help it out? It's because you think it's a good thing. You want to help out "that "good thing." You feel, "My body is so loveable. I really can't let it get cold or overheated. I don't want it to be hungry or thirsty, either. In general, I'm always looking our for it." This is because you don't realize that it is actually impure. If you knew how unclean the body really is, when you put on those fine clothes, eat that fine food, you'd know it was unclean. No matter how pretty the clothes you put on, it's still just like dressing up a toilet! I mean, you can put the most elegant clothing and accessories on the toilet, but no matter how fine you dress it up, it's still dirty. Our bodies are just the same. No matter how nice your clothes, it's just like dressing up a toilet. No matter how fine the food you eat, you are still doing nothing more than making a little more excrement. It's no great use. So you should contemplate the body as impure in order to get rid of your attachment to self. Don't see your body as so precious.

If you follow your body's insatiable greed, and create offenses, then the body is a bad thing, an impure thing. If, on the other hand, you cultivate the Way, then the body is pure and it can help you become a Buddha. It's the same body, it just depends on what you do with it.