To continue speaking of the first of the Four Vast Vows: I vow to save the boundless number of living beings--the beings in our self-nature are limitless and boundless. In order to save the beings on the outside, you must first save the beings within your self-nature. If you can't cross over the beings within you, you won't be able to cross over those on the outside. And although you save living beings, you should not become attached to the mark of saving living beings.
The second of the Four Vast Vows is
2. I vow to cut off the endless afflictions.
Without intending to, one gives rise to afflictions; without thinking to give rise to afflictions, afflictions arise. Without realizing how it happens, ignorance manifests. In the Heart Sutra, I lectured on the twenty kinds of "following afflictions." Without reason or cause, afflictions arise. One vows to sever these endless afflictions. Afflictions are endless. We'd be well off indeed, if we had as much money as we have afflictions. We'd always have money; no need to go to work for it. Pity we haven't as much money as we have afflictions. Afflictions are endless. Money is not. Use money and it’s gone. But some people think that afflictions are the best thing going. They get angry and think that it's better than eating chiao-tzu! Is this not weird? Once they give rise to afflictions they bum off all the Dharma wealth of their merit and virtue. The Buddha taught all living beings to cut off afflictions, to sever the endless afflictions.
The third of the vows is
3. I vow to study the limitless Dharma-doors.
Last year, you studied The Surangama Sutra. This year you are studying The Lotus Sutra, The Heart Sutra, The Earth Store Bodhisattva Sutra--so many sutras! And now The Avatamsaka Sutra! And each sutra has its own doctrines. How many doctrines would you say there are? As many as the grains of sand in the Ganges River. As many as motes of dust! Today we learned that The Avatamsaka Sutra has as many chapters as motes of dust in an entire world; "How many is that?" you ask. It's as many as those motes of dust; If you can count them, then you know how many it is. If you can't, well, don't ask me, because I'm just like you.
There are so many Dharmas. There are Great Vehicle Dharmas and Small Vehicle Dharmas, there are the Dharmas of the Six Perfections and the Four Holy Truths, the Twelve Causal Conditions, and the Thirty-seven Wings of Enlightenment. A lot of Dharmas. There are 84,000 Dharma-doors. If we were to study one Dharma-door every day, we would need 84,000 days. How many days are there in our lives? There are 365 days in a year; 3,650 days in ten years; and 36,500 days in a hundred years. Before we finished, we would die. National Master Ch'ing Liang lived to be 101 years old.
How can one ever finish studying something? One can never finish studying. Then should we quit altogether? No, you have to keep on studying. As the vow says, "I vow to study the limitless Dharma-doors. If you don't study, you won't ever even understand one of them.
By way of elaboration, how many different languages are there in this world? Each country has its own language and literature. You may claim that some person has gotten his doctorate at such-and-such a university, but how many languages does that mean he has mastered? At the outside, perhaps thirty, or forty, or even fifty. But that is by no means all of them. Is there anyone who has been able to master all the languages in the world? No. To say nothing of other subjects of study, it is hard enough just to learn languages, not to mention the intricacies of the literature of each land. It was the Chinese sage Chuang-tzu, who said,
My life has a limit, but knowledge has no limit.
To pursue the unlimited with that which is limited
Is dangerous indeed!
Here Chuang-tzu is referring to ordinary knowledge, not to real wisdom. There's no way to attain your aim. It's dangerous.
We now study the Buddhadharma, and as we learn a bit, still a lot remains to be learned. Why do we meditate? We meditate in order to learn about those Sutras, which are originally within each of us, to learn about our inherent wisdom. Within the self-natures of each of us are limitless Sutras, limitless wisdom, limitless Dharma-doors. The 84,000 Dharma-doors are all included within our own self-nature and you just search outwardly. You don't realize that you have to return the light and reverse the illumination. So when I lectured on the Heart Sutra, the verse said, "Turn the light to shine within and contemplate in comfort." Take a look at yourself to see whether you are in comfort or not. If you are, then you can give rise to profound Prajna wisdom and illuminate the five skandhas all as empty. Once you have seen the five skandhas as empty, you have also exhausted all other dharmas as well. So you should meditate quietly for a time each day. That is the process of returning the light to shine within. You must diligently study and diligently cultivate the Dharma-doors. You have to cultivate them. You can't just learn them and then put them away somewhere and pay no attention to them. As you learn the Dharma-doors, you must put them into practice by cultivating them. To cultivate according to the Dharmas, is what is meant by," "I vow to study the limitless Dharma-doors."
The fourth vow is
4. I vow to realize the supreme Buddha Way.
In this world, there is nothing higher than the accomplishment of Buddhahood. Becoming a Buddha is the highest and most noble of accomplishments in this world and beyond this world. That is why the Buddha is also called the World Honored One. He is honored both in the world and beyond the world. To become a Buddha is the ultimate perfection, the final accomplishment. Before one has become a Buddha, one is simply a confused person in the nine realms. Only after you have become a Buddha are you one who really understands. Therefore one should vow to realize the supreme Buddha Way. You must make a vow that you are absolutely determined to become a Buddha. Not only should you be determined to become a Buddha yourself, you should vow to save all living beings as well, so that you all become Buddhas together.
Do you see how broad these Four Vows are? They are truly heroic.
I vow to save the countless number of beings within my self-nature.
I vow to cut off the endless afflictions within my self-nature.
I vow to study the limitless Dharma—doors within my self-nature.
I vow to realize the supreme Buddha Way within my self-nature.
You can't run around just telling other people that they should cut off their afflictions. You can't walk up to someone and say, "See how many years you have studied the Buddhadharma, and you still have a terrible temper; Just what meaning does all your study have?" You are not supposed to be looking after other people. You are supposed to take care of yourself. People who study the Buddhadharma are supposed to watch over themselves and not mind other people's business.
There is a saying,
Other's wrongs are their transgressions
Other's offenses are their own obsessions.
Don't take out stocks in his "Wrong Company." If you know he's not solvent, why insist on taking a loss? Why insist on doing business in the red? If you see other people getting afflicted, you should stop a minute and think, "Oh, affliction is really no good. I should sever it." Don't inspect other people's clothes for them and find their spots and yet refuse to see that your own clothing is even filthier. Don't wash other people's clothes for them and forget about washing your own. The Buddha Way is supreme and you should vow to accomplish it. You should launder your minds and hearts. Wash your hearts and purify your thoughts. Sweep out all that false thinking. Don't allow that false thinking to run around in your minds.
What is false thinking? Negative thoughts, things that upset you. That's all just affliction and false thinking. However, the things that you like are "happy" false thinking. It's all false thinking, and when you are caught up in it if you aren't liking something, you are disliking it. Liking is false thinking and not liking is also false thought.
What's to be done? PUT IT DOWN, HEY! Just let it go and then there won't be any more liking or not liking. That's the ultimate meaning of the Middle Way. You don't accord with the Middle Way. Every day you should be very calm and even-minded and keep hold of the Middle Way. Eventually, then, the day will come when you become enlightened. Enlightened, you can become a Buddha. In this way you will have fulfilled, the vow, "I now to realize the supreme Buddha Way."
The Four Vast Vows are very important. So they are represented in the text by the phrase "With golden cords strung about them." Don't ever forget these Four Vast Vows, and cultivate in accord with them always. There were golden-flowered tassels/These represent the Four Methods of conversion, which are four kinds of forces. The more sincere you are, the more force you have. If you are not entirely sincere, then the force won't be as great. They are:
1. Giving. The power of giving comes through giving sincerely, not in a forced manner. Why should one practice giving? Because all living beings are greedy to a degree. It is said:
you want to lead them into the Buddha's wisdom
2. Kind words. This means speaking in such a way that everyone loves to listen to you, and they feel really happy listening. It isn't to say a single sentence and have the effect of setting off a bomb or something, or of being more painful than slicing through their bodies with a sharp knife. What you say makes them hurt all over. That is not "kind words." Kind words make everyone happy. Take care not to say things that cause people to become afflicted. Those are not kind words, they are hateful words. If you say things like that, then people will point at you and say, "He really doesn't know how to talk!" Then you won't be able to be a Bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas make people happy, and everyone is overjoyed to see them. Those who walk the Bodhisattva Path have affinities with everyone.
3. Beneficial practice. This means, benefiting other people.
4. Similar work. This means that you first become good friends with whoever it is you want to save. You make them happy, as you work beside them, and, bit by bit, you take them across.
So the line "There were golden flowered tassels" represents the Four Methods of Conversion. Hanging from them everywhere/means that there are none who are not saved. The Bodhisattvas go everywhere to practice these Four Methods, and practice the Bodhisattva Path.
Various multi-colored ornaments/encircling them all around/The adornments on the cart were extremely wonderful. Soft silk and cotton/made up the cushions/and superb, fine coverings, valued in the thousands of millions/ This represents the use of contemplative wisdom in cultivation to obtain all the Dhyanas.
Pure white and sparkling clean/were spread above them. Pure and white means that they are without evil. This is the cultivation of good on a vast scale. "Sparkling clean" refers to keeping the precepts. One who breaks the precepts, cannot be spoken of as pure white and sparkling clean. First, you must keep the precepts. If your precepts are strictly held, and you don't break them, they are like a covering for your cultivation. In cultivation, keeping the precepts is always the most important thing.
Great white oxen/represent no-outflows, the no-outflow wisdom. Whoever can be without outflows has a great white ox, the wisdom, that is, which the white ox represents. Plump, strong, and powerful/ of fine appearance/This represents the mind, because the mind is complete with all the ten thousand dharmas. Were yoked to the precious carts/This represents the use of non-outflow wisdom in the cultivation of the Great Vehicle Buddha-dharma. Surrounded by many footmen/Although one uses the non-outflow wisdom to cultivate the Great Vehicle Dharma, one uses the Paramita of Expedients. Expedient Dharmas aid the Great Vehicle Dharma. Although you cultivate using the non-outflow wisdom, you still must employ many, many other methods to help it out. What other methods?
You wish to cultivate the non-outflow wisdom? If you have greed, that is an outflow. If you have hatred, that, too is an outflow. If you are stupid, that is an outflow. If you are arrogant, that is an outflow. If you have deviant views, that, too, is an outflow. If you want to cultivate the non-outflow wisdom, you must eliminate completely all greed, hatred, stupidity, pride, doubt, and deviant views. Through the application of expedient methods, one gets rid of all one's faults and afterwards, one can attain the non-outflow wisdom.
Non-Buddhist Religious and those of the Two Vehicles, use the expedient dharmas. "Footmen" also represent the spiritual powers gained on the result ground. When one certifies to the fruit, one attains spiritual powers. They have a miraculous kind of functioning that allows one to do whatever one wishes to do who were attending on them/They were protecting and helping them, as the expedients aid one in the cultivation of the Great Vehicle Dharma.
Such fine carriages as these/were given to all the children/The Elder used these priceless, valuable carts to give all the children. This represents the Buddha giving the Great Vehicle Dharma as a teaching to all living beings, to lead all living beings to cultivate according to the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma, and in the future, to certify to the Buddha fruit.
Then all the children Danced for joy, and
Mounting their jeweled carts Rode into the four directions
Happily amusing themselves in unobstructed comfort.
This is part d. the verse about all the children rejoicing when given the carts.
Then all the children/When the children got their precious carts they danced for joy and/they were very happy indeed, so happy they jumped up and started dancing. Mounting their jeweled carts/they rode into the four-directions/They rode off in every direction to teach and transform living beings. They ran off to play, happily amusing themselves/The carts were a lot of fun in unobstructed comfort/They were in a state of total freedom. When we attain the Great Vehicle Dharma, and understand the realm of the Great Vehicle, which is inconceivably and ineffably wonderful, we wish to "dance for joy." Relying on the Great Vehicle Dharma in cultivation, "mounting their jeweled carts," one "rides into the four directions," into all the Buddhadharmas, understanding and comprehending them all: the Four Truths, the Six Perfections, the Twelve Causal Conditions, the various Buddhadharmas, and cultivating as well the Four Unlimited Minds, the Four Unobstructed Eloquences, the Four Applications of Mindfulness, the Four Right Efforts. They perfect and understand all these dharmas, for all the dharmas are included within the Great Vehicle Dharma. They are having a great deal of fun here in the Great Vehicle Dharma, "happily amusing themselves," and taking these dharmas as provisions for their spirit. "In unobstructed comfort" they were feeling especially happy and very, very free.
"I tell you, Sariputra, I, too, am like this--
The honored among the many sages, The father of the world."
Here we begin a new section: 2. the verses in which the parable and dharmas are tied together. It has two parts of which this is the first: a. a general tying together. This also has four parts of which this is the first: 1. tying up the parable of the Elder.
"I tell you, Sariputra" The Buddha says to Sariputra, "I, too, am like this." The Buddha, the World Honored One, is also like the Elder in the parable of the burning house I have just spoken. "The Honored among the many sages/Of all the sagely ones, I am the most revered, the most lofty The father of the worlds/I am the father of all living beings in the world."
"All living beings
Are my children;
Deeply attached to worldly pleasures
have no wise thoughts."
This is part w. verse of tying in the five hundred people and thirty sons.
beings/are my children/deeply attached to worldly pleasures/ to the joys
of this world, they take suffering as bliss. They have no wise
thoughts/They have no wisdom.
In the three realms there is no peace;
They are like a burning house,
This is part 3. tying together the meaning of the house and the one door.
In the three realms there is no peace/They don't know that in the realm of desire, the realm of form and in the formless realm there is not a single place where there is any kind of security. They are like a burning house/It is like the burning house described above.
Filled with many sufferings
And frightening indeed,
Ever present are the woes
Of birth, old age, sickness, death
Fires such as these
Raging without cease.
This is part 4. tying together seeing the fire break out.
Filled with many sufferings/The Three, Eight, and Limitless Sufferings fill the Three Realms entirely and this is frightening indeed/Horribly frightening! What is there to be afraid of? It is very easy to fall into the Three Evil Paths.
Ever present are the woes/of birth, old age, sickness, death/Let us not imagine that it is such a happy thing to be born as a person. When you are born it is a lot of suffering. As soon as an infant is born it cries, "Suffering; Suffering!"1 Yes, it is suffering, but who told you to come into this world in the first place? You created the karma all by yourself, which brought you here. In fact, being born is as painful as ripping the shell off a live turtle. Death is as painful as flaying a live cow. When you get old, your eyes and ears will refuse to help you out and even a good doctor can't keep you from eventually dying. Doctors can cure illnesses on a superficial level, bat they can't do anything about your growing older, and when the time comes for you to die, they have no medicines that will keep you from dying.
"Then what do we have all these doctors for?" you ask.
Doctors can cure illnesses, which are not fatal. But fatal illnesses, no doctor can cure. If they could, then nobody in the world would die. But people still keep growing old and dying.
"If people are going to die eventually, anyway, then why keep all the doctors?" you ask.
Well, that's just the way the world works:
There's the true and the false and the false and the true, true, true, false, false, false, false, true.
It's all mixed up together. If you expect things to be a certain way, the unexpected is sure to pop up. If you prepare for the unexpected then everything goes just as expected; That's just the way it is. So, someone who is going to die for sure, there is no way a doctor can cure them. Even though we can do heart plants, and so forth, you can transplant all you want, but eventually, at some point, the person is still going to die. Nobody lives forever. If you found a way to keep everyone from dying, then the world would disappear entirely. Why? There would be so many people on the earth there wouldn't be any place to put them. We could colonize outer space, but that is very difficult. So it seems to me that if no one died, it Mould be the same as if everyone died.
Fires such as these/The sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, death, being separated from what you love, being together with what you hate, not getting what you seek, and the suffering of the five skandhas are raging without cease/The more they burn, the higher the flames rise and the bigger the fire gets. The karma of living beings grows greater everyday, and so the fire of the Three Realms burns higher everyday, raging without cease. It never stops.
The principles I have just spoken are really true. Think about it: which person can never die? No one.
The Thus Come One has already left
The Three Realms' burning house behind;
Quietly I dwell at ease,
In forest and in field at peace.
And now it is, that the Triple Realm,
All of it belongs to me,
And in it all the living beings
They are children of mine.
But now, this place
Is filled, with calamities,
And I am the only one
Able to rescue them.
This is b. the specific combining of the parable. It has four parts of which this is the first: 1. tying in the seeing of the fire.
The Thus Come One has already left/ the Three Realms' burning house behind/The Buddha has already left the burning house of the Three Realms. Quietly I dwell at ease/in forest and in field at peace/The Buddha is at ease; he doesn't need to work. He is quiet and very still. In the Forests and fields he cultivates in a "Peach Garden" far away from the world, in a pure and happy place. And now it is, that the Triple Realm/Although I, the Buddha, have gotten out of the Triple Realm, that burning house, still all of it belongs to me/It is mine. The text says, "It belonged to one person" and that means it is the Buddha's. And in it all living beings/ they are children of mine/All living beings are like my own children.
But now, this place/is filled with calamities/In the Triple Realm there are so many calamities, so much danger, poisonous insects, and savage beasts. Ana I am the only one/able to rescue them/Only I the World Honored One, can rescue these living beings. The Buddha says that all living beings are his children, but there are some living beings who don't even recognize their own father; Hah! They slander the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Would you say they were unfilial or not?
You say, "Well the Buddha might say he is our father, but that is not necessarily the case."
I ask you, "If the Buddha is not your father, ultimately, who is?"
"I already have a father." you protest, "I don't need another one."
That father is your worldly father who is related to you through the principle of karmic retribution. The Buddha is your transcendental father, a pure, greatly compassionate father. He is pure and undefiled. If you can recognize your father, then in the future you too shall attain this purity and non-defilement, and get rid of all filth. So don't run outside and fail to recognize your father. Later on in the Sutra, it speaks about the poor son who ran away from home and no longer recognizes his own father. We are like that poor son. Our father tells us to come home, but we don't recognize him as our father.
Cont. next Issue
1The Chinese character k'u ()"to
cry," sounds the same as the character