Dharma Flower Sutra

Translated into English by Bhiksuni Heng Yin
Reviewed by Bhiksuni Heng Ch’ih

Seven Expedients

A. The Vehicle of people.

B. The Vehicle of Gods.

C. The Vehicle of Sound Hearers.

D. The Vehicle of Conditioned Enlightened Ones.

E. The Vehicle of the Storehouses teaching Bodhisattva.

F. The Vehicle of the Pervasive Teaching Bodhisattva.

G. The Vehicle of the Separate Teaching Bodhisattva.

Living beings of these Seven Expedients, also called the Seven Vehicles, all rely upon the Buddha. Thus, he is a place of refuge for his inferiors. This concludes the discussion of the Ten Virtues of the Elder as they apply to the Buddha.


       Four Methods of Explaining Sutras

In lecturing Sutras, there are four methods one can use:

1. Causes and conditions.

2. The essential teaching. That is, to explain according to the essential points of
         the teaching, telling which particular teaching each point belongs to, to the
         Storehouse, Pervasive, Separate or Perfect Teachings.

3. The roots and traces.

4. The contemplation of the mind.

These are four different ways to explain each passage of text. However, if we applied them all to every passage it would take too much time. But now, I will explain the Ten Virtues of the Elder according to the method of contemplation of the mind. The previous explanation was done according to the causes and conditions method.

The Ten Virtues of the Elder according to the method of Contemplation of the Mind

The Ten Virtues of the Elder do not go beyond one thought of the mind.  According to the method of contemplation of the mind we shall explain them one by one:

1. His name is honored. Where does the wisdom of contemplation of the mind come from? It comes from the Real Mark. The wisdom of contemplation of the mind is born in the Real Mark. Born into the family of the Buddhas, through the Real Mark, his name is honored.

2. His is of lofty position. He does not give rise to the three kinds of delusion: a) view delusion, b) thought delusion, or c) delusions as many as dust and sand. You can also say that they are a) coarse delusion, b) subtle delusion, and c) delusions of ignorance. Not giving rise to the three delusions means not having these three confusions, no view delusion, no thought delusion, and no delusions as many as dust and sand.

What is meant by "view delusion?" It means that when you see something you are confused by it. View delusion refers to producing greed and love when faced with a state. When something happens, you give in to greed and attachment. Why do you give rise to greed and love? Because you are confused.

Thought delusion means to be confused about the principle and give rise to discrimination. Unclear about the principle, you start giving rise to various kinds of discriminations. These are the easiest kinds of delusions to have.

Delusions as many as dust and sand means that in your mind there are countless sub­tle doubts, as many as the grains of sand in the Ganges River, View delusions are sometimes called coarse delusions. Thought delusions are sometimes called subtle delusions. Delusions like dust and sand are sometimes called delusions of ignorance.

3. He has great wealth. How does this relate to contemplation of the mind? In contemplation of the mind, his great wealth is explained in terms of the Three Truths: a) The truth of emptiness, b) the truth of falseness, and c) the truth of the Middle Way. These Three Truths contain all merit and virtue, and are replete with the wealth of Dharma, the precious storehouse. Therefore, he has great wealth.

4. He has awesome courage. With awesome courage he uses wisdom to conquer love and views. While contemplating the mind he has a kind of wisdom which can subdue love and views.

Love is something that everyone has. Views are something, which everyone clings to. Without views, there is no clinging. Without clinging there is no love. Without love there is no affliction. Why do we have affliction? It's because of love. There is love because of the attachment of love. In the wisdom of contemplation of the mind, the Buddha conquers the affliction of love and views. Therefore, he has awesome courage.


Elder Unsurpassed Victory

5. His wisdom is profound. Previously, the awesome, courageous wisdom had not yet reached the level of being profound. It was only capable of conquering love and views. Now, at the level of profound wisdom, he has united with the Middle Way. The Middle Way illuminates the Real Mark of all Dharmas. He knows what is provisional Dharma and what is real Dharma, and knows this very clearly. The two wisdoms, provisional and real, are just the two Dharmas, provisional and real. He understands the clever provisional expedients and the real Dharmas without obstacle.

6. He is advanced in years. At this time, his ability to cultivate this kind of contemplation enables him to transcend the Seven Expedients listed above. Having transcended them, he is advanced in years.

7. His practice is pure. Cultivating the contemplation of the mind, you observe your own mind and nature. The contemplation of one's own mind and nature is called "superior concentration." It is the highest form of samadhi power. This kind of samadhi power enables one to be without error in the three karmas. In the karma of body, mouth, and mind, one is without error. Therefore, his practice is pure.

8. His propriety is perfect. The mind, when encountering causes and conditions or a particular state, does not lose the awesome deportment. One is always in accord with the Dharma's regulations. His propriety and manners are perfect.

9. His superiors praise him. If one is able to cultivate this kind of contemplation, then with deep faith one can understand the marks of dharmas. This causes all the Buddhas to rejoice. Since they are happy, they praise the cultivator.

10. He is a refuge for his inferiors. If one has cultivated, the gods, dragons, and those of the eight fold division as well as the four assemblies of disciples rever one. Above, didn't the Sutra text say, "Though worshipped by the gods and dragons/They do not find it cause for joy?" The gods and dragons come to pay their respects, but they do not disturb one's mind and nature which remain, "thus, thus, unmoving." This is an indication of one's samadhi power. Because one has samadhi power, those beneath one find a place of refuge and the gods, dragons, and the eight fold division all rever and trust one.

This concludes the discussion of the Elder as an analogy for the Buddha.

Aged/It is said that as one grows older, one acquires virtue. Virtue can be spoken of in terms of inner and outer virtue. Inner virtue refers to wisdom. If one has wisdom, one will have virtue. Outer virtue is wealth. With resources, you can cultivate outer virtue. The Elder is very old, and he knows the past and present. He knows what happened in the past and he understands what is going on now. This penetration of the past and present is also an analogy for the Buddha's wisdom virtue.

And worn/This means that his strength is deteriorating, although his basic disposition and his determination remain robust. He is very experienced. "Worn" represents the Buddha's severing virtue. Severing virtue is the virtue gained through severing attachments and afflictions. The Buddha is not like us. We find it hard to cut off afflictions and bad habits. However it is said,

Not severing what should be severed,

One must bear the consequences.

If you should have stopped doing something and you haven't, you will have to take the unpleasant repercussions. The Buddha is not that way. He cuts off what he should cut off because he has the severing virtue. Why does he have it? Because he has the wisdom virtue. Because he has the wisdom virtue, he sees everything very clearly. He would not see a state unclearly. This represents the Buddha's severing virtue.

Of limitless wealth/This is an analogy for the Buddha's unlimited blessings and virtues. Because the Buddha is adorned with the myriad virtues, it is said that he is of limitless wealth.

Possessing many fields/Fields are where crops are planted; they sustain life. We plant the fields, reap the harvest, and in this way maintain our livelihood. That's the function of fields. The fields here referred to can nourish the wisdom life of our Dharma bodies and the life of our wisdom.

How do we cause our Dharma body's wisdom life to grow? We investigate Dhyana and perfect our skill in samadhi. That is how we cause it to grow.  While cultivating the skill of Dhyana samadhi, you must simultaneously cultivate Prajna wisdom. Therefore, the analogy is that of Dhyana samadhi assisted by the strength of Prajna wisdom, which increases the wisdom life of the Dharma body. Such is the meaning of the word "field."

And houses/What use are houses? They are places to put our bodies; our bodies live in houses. What does this represent? It represents the "realm of reality" which dwells within wisdom. People live in houses. The Real Mark dwells in genuine wisdom. Thus, the houses are an analogy for the true wisdom of the realm of reality.

In speaking of the blessings and virtue of the Buddha, he has extensively cultivated the Six Perfections and the Ten Thousand Conducts, without failing to cultivate even the smallest, finest conduct. In terms of his wisdom, there is no realm it does not illuminate. There's not one state it doesn't shine upon.

And servants/Servants are those employed to work for one. The Buddha doesn't actually have servants. They are an analogy for the Buddha's expedient knowledge and vision, which are perfect, and complete with expedient knowledge and vision, he can do anything at all. This means that, among those who turn in the six paths of rebirth, he is able to harmonize the light.

Lights do not struggle with each other. Lights easily mix. In the six paths, coming and going, although the Buddha manifests as undergoing birth and death, still, he is not attached to birth and death. Why does he harmonize the light among the six paths? Because he wishes to accommodate all the many beings with the potential for being taught. He uses expedient methods in teaching the Dharma. He doesn't teach it straightaway, but finds ways "around" living beings. He employs clever expedient devices to teach and transform them. The servants referred to in the text, then, represent this use of expedient knowledge and vision, expedient knowledge and vision being, as it were, the servants of real wisdom.


His House is spacious and large...


His house is spacious and large/The Elder's house is vast and not small. Ultimately, how big is it? I'll tell you: it is as large as the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm. It is as large as the three realms in which living beings run back and forth, being born and dying over and over. They are born and then they die; they die and are then reborn, and never succeed in freeing themselves from the turning wheel in the three realms. They run around inside of it, but they don't know how to get out.

Sakyamuni Buddha came into this world to manifest a response/transformation body to point out to all living beings that this house is not a peaceful one.


      ...having only one door....


This house may indeed be spacious and large, but there is only one door/The house is an analogy for the three realms. In the three realms, there is no peace. It is like a burning house. Later on in the chapter, the house catches fire. The one door represents the Buddha Path of the One Vehicle. It is only through the One Vehicle of the Buddha Path that one car escape the three realms, that one can separate from this place of unrest. Later it speaks of the children inside the great burning house who are not afraid, but continue to play happily at their games. They don't know the seriousness of the fire raging in the house. This represents all of us in the three realms who think it a very delightful place. You are unaware that you are about to be burned to death by the fire. Thus, there is only one door out of the three realms.


      ...but with a great many people one hundred, two hundred, even five hundred of them dwelling within it.


      But with a great many people/and beings from the five paths as well, one hundred, two hundred, even five hundred of them, dwelling within it/The one hundred people represent the path of the gods. The two hundred people represent the path of human beings. Three, four, and even five hundred represent the animals, ghosts, and the beings in hell.

"But," you may ask, "what about the Six Path Wheel? What happened to the asuras?

Not a bad question. We do speak of the Six Path Wheel, but the present passage of text merely refers to the five paths. This is because asuras may be found in all the five paths and so they are omitted. This doesn't mean that they are left out altogether. It means that they are subsumed under the other five paths, and are therefore a secondary classification, not a path proper.

"But with a great many people" represents the beings in the five paths.

Asura is a Sanskrit word which means "ugly." How are they ugly? Most people's noses are below their eyes, but the asuras' noses are above their eyes! Would you say that was good looking? Also, their eyes, nose, ears and mouth are all bunched together in the middle of their faces. Would you call that attractive? That's just the male asuras, however. The female asuras are very beautiful. Do you remember the story I told you about the asura king's beautiful daughter?1

Asura also means "no wine." They have the blessings of the gods, but not the power of the gods and so they are not allowed to drink wine. If they were, their tempers would be even more fierce. Since they have no wine, although they are hostile, it's not as bad as it might be. Asuras love to fight and make war. The asuras in the heavens fight with the heavenly troops. The asuras among human beings fight in the national armies. Animal asuras are, for example, the wild horse. Horses are usually pretty docile, and eat together in harmony. The wild horse, however, does nothing but bully the other horses and hurt them. That's an asura horse for you. Didn't one of my disciples say that he had an asura dog? I said, "You aren't exactly included outside the asura realm yourself. You're an asura person." When he translated, he only translated the asura dog part. He didn't translate the part about the asura person. Hah!

There are also asura ghosts who specialize in hurting people. In general, their tempers are very big. They are like fire crackers at New Year's. If you would rather be a Bodhisattva, don't explode all the time.

      In the five paths, the path of the gods alone is divided into many, many categories. Among humans, there are the rich and the poor, the citizens and the officials. There are also armies and police forces. Some people are born very good looking and others are ugly, like the asuras. Some have no eyes, some no noses. Some can't speak, some are deaf, and some blind. There are many kinds of people. Some people are as intelligent as spirits. Some people say, "He's as intelligent as a ghost," but actually ghosts have intelligence that belongs to the yin, or dark side. Intelligent people are like spirits. It is said, "Intelligent and properly wise, they are called spirits." It is also said, "Ts'ao ts'ao was as crafty as a ghost. Emperor Yao was as wise as a spirit." Some people are intelligent and others are outstandingly stupid.

1See The Dharma Flower Sutra, Vol.II, BTTS, 1977, P. 173

For example, I have two disciples here who are very intelligent. They have very good memories. I remember when they memorized the Surangama Mantra and were the first to learn it. The Surangama Mantra usually takes at least six months to learn, but they only needed one month or so. It is not easy to memorize it. Now that some Westerners suddenly can recite it is inconceivable!

What is more, my disciples now lecture on the Sutras and they do so much better than I do. Why? Because I speak in Chinese and they speak in English. So, unless you don't have time, you really should come and listen to them speak the Dharma. Don't miss it. I would come myself, but sometimes I'm too busy. I don't really need to come because they learned it from me, anyway! So don't think, "The Master isn't here so let's leave too." You have to investigate the Buddhadharma. I'm not trying to act like a big shot, but I have been studying for several decades and you are just beginning. So you cannot be lazy.

So there are many kinds of people. There are also many kinds of animals and hungry ghosts. You're all no doubt very familiar with hungry ghosts. Although you probably haven't been hungry ghosts, those who study the Buddhadharma should know what they are all about. Hungry ghosts have nothing to eat. They keep looking for food, but never find any. Why are they hungry ghosts? Because when they were people they ate too much, so as ghosts, they are "hungry."

There were five hundred people in the big house, that is in the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm. So it is said, "There's no peace in the triple world it is like a burning house." Soon, in The Dharma Flower Sutra, the house is going to catch fire. It won't be like a burning house, it will be a burning house. We have not escaped from the burning house yet, either. We are in the burning house. Think it over. Is it dangerous or not? I don't need to say too much about it.

      I'll tell you something more. Why are people intelligent? Why are they stupid? Intelligent people have recited many Sutras and studied the Buddhadharma. They have also printed Sutras. Why are people stupid? Because they haven't recited Sutras or studied the Buddhadharma, and they haven't printed Sutras. Life after life, they grow stupider. People who print Sutras grow more and more intelligent, life after life. So I just said I had two disciples who had very good memories. Probably in former lives they read many Sutras. And it's for sure that they have great affinities with The Surangama Sutra and The Dharma Flower Sutra. So no one should be jealous of them because of their intelligence. The more jealous you are, the stupider you become. If you are jealous of smart people you will be stupid yourself. Why? Smart people got that way by planting blessings. Stupid people did not cultivate blessings or print Sutras. We don't want to print just one Sutra, but many different ones. Now, in the Buddhist Lecture Hall, we are printing The Thousand Hand, Thousand Eye Heart Dharani Sutra. The Great Compassion Mantra contained within this Sutra is an inconceivable state, and whatever you seek from it shall be fulfilled. No one should pass up this chance to help print the Sutra. Do whatever you can, give whatever you can. You don't have to overdo it. Do what you can. Things should be done naturally and happily. If you want to be intelligent, print more. If you want to be stupid and know nothing at all, then you needn't take part. That's the news for now.


Its halls and chambers are decaying and old; its walls are crumbling. The pillars are rotting at their bases; the beams and ridgepoles are toppling dangerously.


Its halls and chambers are decaying and old/Halls represent the desire realm. Chambers represent the form and formless realms. The halls also represent the lower part of the human body. The chambers represent the upper part of the body and the head.

The halls represent the desire heavens in the triple realm. Chambers represent the heavens in the form and formless realms. That's the three realms.

Decaying represents the corruption, evil, and impermanence within the three realms. In the three realms, the revolution of living beings is unceasing. Sometimes things are good, but this never lasts. Things decay. Old means that the three realms were not created only recently, but were there before.

Its walls are crumbling/In our houses we have walls, but what are the walls in the three realms? The walls represent the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water. They are the walls on the four sides. Also, the four walls are said to be wine, wealth, form and anger. They are like four locks, which lock people up. So a verse says,

Wine, Wealth, form and anger are four walls.

Many living beings are held within them.

If you can leap out of the walls,

You can be an ageless king with eternal life.

Our bodies are like the three realms. The skin and flesh are like the walls. Crumbling means that there is no peace in the three realms. Our bodies quickly go bad.

The pillars are rotting at their bases/Our human lives are like the pillars. You could also say that our two legs are the pillars. The pillars are rotting. This means that they are dangerously near to breaking down. There is no peace in the three realms; it is like a burning house, Soon the situation will be very dangerous. Our lives are soon over.

The beans and ridgepoles are toppling dangerously/Our mind consciousness is like the ridgepole. Toppling refers to the ceaseless changes in the mind. This is a very dangerous moment. The moment of death has come. That's the general meaning of this passage.

Upon reading this passage of text, we should realize that we are not going to live forever. No matter what great talents, what wealth, what riches you have, when the time comes to die, your two hands will be empty. You won't be able to take any of it with you. In this world people fight for fame and scramble for benefits. That is a very stupid thing to do. You should return to the root and go back to the source, recognize your original face what is it like? It is like nothing at all. If it were "like" something, it would have a mark. If it had a mark, it would be subject to production and extinction. Our basic self nature is not defiled or pure, not produced and not extinguished. It is not increased and not decreased. Our original face has no problems whatsoever. Our original face, as it says in The Surangama Sutra, is the "eternally dwelling true mind, the bright substance of the pure nature."

If you return to your original face, understand it, then you can turn all of your afflictions into Bodhi. If you don't understand your original face, then you turn Bodhi right into affliction. So it is said,

In this world, there's nothing going on.

But stupid people stir up trouble.

Basically, there's nothing happening, but people have to find something to keep themselves busy. If you tell them they are acting stupidly, they say, "You're the stupid one!" Why do they say you are stupid because you don't do the things they do. You don't act like they do and so they say you are stupid. Basically, nothing is going on, but they create a lot of disturbance to keep themselves busy. If that is not stupid, what is? If you have the skill to understand the self nature, then:

The eyes view external forms, but inside there is nothing;

The ears hear mundane sounds, but the mind does not know.

One person sees forms as forms, shapes as shapes. If you understand the original face, then, seeing forms, there is no form, seeing shapes, there is no shape. One person looks at forms and shapes and sees them as forms and shapes, but for someone who has understood his self nature, there are no forms or shapes. Forms and shapes do they really exist? One person sees them and says that they exist. Another person sees them and says they don't. Ultimately, do they exist or not? If you see them as existing, they exist. If you see them as non existent, then they do not exist. That is why it's said:

Everything is made from the mind alone.

This means that it depends on what you do, how you think about it. The same matter isn't viewed in the same way. The ears hear all the sounds of the world, but the mind is not turned by them, is not moved by the states of the five desires.

You say, "You explain this principle, but I don't believe it."

I already knew that you wouldn't believe it. It's not just now that I found out. I knew long ago you didn't believe it. Why? Because you haven't yet reached that level. You don't have that skill and so you don't believe. If you had that skill you would be able to do something like this: See and yet not see, hear and yet not hear. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, and knowing these six states of consciousness would all listen to your orders. They would be obedient to your commands and under your control. If you told them to see, they would see. If you did not order them to see, they would not see. If you told them to hear, they would hear. If you did not tell them to hear, they would not hear. The same applies to studying the Buddhadharma, you can study for any number of years, but when you encounter a situation your mind must not move. If you can have an unmoving mind, then you have samadhi power. If you see a state and are turned by it, then you have no samadhi power. If you have no samadhi power, you can study the Buddhadharma until you are old and die, but it will have been of no use whatsoever.

Therefore, we are now lecturing The Dharma Flower Sutra, which tells us that the world is a very bad place. It is as dangerous as a burning house. It is very easy to get burned to death in this fire.

Then how can we avoid burning to death? It is just as I said, do not be turned by states.

The eyes view external forms, but inside there is nothing.

The ears hear mundane sounds,

But the mind does not know.

Understand your original face. Originally, who are you? Originally, you're the Buddha! Since originally you are the Buddha, you should return to the root and go back to the source, go down the road to Buddhahood. The Buddha has perfected the adornments of the myriad virtues. As we walk down the road to Buddhahood, we should do all kinds of good deeds to help us to succeed. That's the most important thing. We should do all the good deeds we have the power to do. What are good deeds? Helping others and benefiting others. Bodhisattvas benefit themselves and benefit others, enlighten themselves and enlighten others. Do these things.

You say, "I've heard that a lot."

Really, How many times?

"Several dozen times."

Well, how many times have you done it? Right, you've heard it a lot: "Benefit others and benefit yourself," but how many times have you done it? How many "others" have you benefited? How many "others" have you caused to become enlightened? One...two...probably not. If you haven't even benefited or enlightened one or two people, what use is your having heard of it? No use at all. The Way must be walked. Do it truly! Do it sincerely! Plant your feet firmly on the ground and do the work straight forwardly. What is meant by "doing it truly?" The same deed can be done by two people differently. Some may do it with the thought to benefit themselves and some may do it with the thought to benefit others. Doing it to benefit others is doing it truly.

      Some people may understand a principle and leave it at that, not worrying about whether or not anyone else understands it. If understanding it yourself, you can then in turn teach it to others and cause them to understand, that is to enlighten oneself and enlighten others. In general, there are different ways of doing everything in this world. One person may be selfish and seek his own benefit, and someone else may do nothing but benefit other people. Those who are selfish and seek their own benefit go to the hells. Why? They are simply too selfish. Those who benefit others also go to the hells. What for? To rescue living beings. Their goal is to undergo suffering themselves in order to teach those in the hells to leave suffering and attain bliss. Earth Store Bodhisattva, for example, is in the hells all day long being a friend to all the hungry ghosts. But his intention is to take the ghosts across from suffering to bliss. There are a lot of confused people in the world, and as much understanding as I possess I will pass on to them so that they may also understand. That's called "enlightening oneself and enlightening others." To sum it up, there are different ways of doing everything.

One should benefit oneself and benefit others. If you want to know what someone is like, watch and see if what they do is for their own benefit or for the benefit of others. That's what you should take note of.

I just said that wine, wealth, form and anger were the four walls. The Bodhisattva also has four walls wine, wealth, form and anger which he has not jumped over. The Bodhisattva takes saving living beings as his wine. The more living beings he saves, the more he "drinks" and the "drunker" he becomes.

The Bodhisattva takes the twelve divisions of the Tripitaka as form, and so he wants to study them. The Bodhisattva also loves the wonderful Dharma as his wealth. Thus, he is tremendously wealthy. The Bodhisattva also has a "temper." He takes the Six Perfections and the Ten Thousand Conducts as his energy source and practices them every day. Without the Six Perfections and the Ten Thousand Conducts, he would have no energy; he would die. Bodhisattvas have everything we people have; the names are the same, the things themselves are different. The more the Bodhisattva drinks the wine of saving living beings, the more he enjoys himself. He loses himself altogether! How can he lose himself? He has no self. The Vajra Sutra says, "If a Bodhisattva has a mark of self, a mark of others, a mark of living beings, or a mark of a life, he is not a Bodhisattva." Tell me, if he wasn't drunk, how could he not even have a self? It's because he has imbibed too much of the wine of saving living beings and has thereby lost himself. Not only has he lost himself, he has no mark of living beings, people, or a life. He has nothing at all.

"Hey, come on, you mean he has nothing at all?" you ask.

That's right! I hope you all master this too, and drink the wine of saving living beings.

Basically, there is nothing to say about the Buddhadharma. So I just say things that people don't like to hear.

1Ven. Master Hua, Vajra Sutra, p. 34.