Flower Adornment Sutra


Prologue by T’ang Dynasty National
Master Ch’ing Liang
With commentary of
Tripitaka Master Hua
Translated into English by Bhiksuni Heng Hsien
Reviewed by Bhiksunis Heng Yin & Heng Tao
Edited by Bhikshuni Heng Chih

THE TRUTHS means The Four Noble Truths:

1. Suffering.

2. Accumulation.

3. Extinction.

4. The May.


1. Eating by portions.

2. Eating by contact.

3. Eating by thought.

4. Eating by consciousness.

Ordinary people eat by portions each has an amount of food to eat a portion. Ghosts and spirits eat by contact. When you offer food to them, they come and use their noses to make contact with the food. The gods eat by thought. As soon as they think of eating something, that kind of food materializes, and it disappears when they have eaten their fill. It's not like us who think about eating good food, but it never comes, unless we take money and buy it. If you don't buy it, no matter how much you think about it, it doesn't think about you. You think it's not bad, but it thinks you're pretty rotten, and doesn't get near you. All the gods have to do is think of it and it comes. They don't have to buy it. In the heavens of the station of boundless emptiness and the station of boundless consciousness, eating is done simply by consciousness. In eating by thought, they still had to think about it. Here, there is no need to think: their eating takes place by their "consciousness of food."

It's very difficult to speak the Buddha-dharma. When you speak it, some people believe, and others don't. They say, "The Dharma Master talked about four kinds of eating. I believe there is such a thing as eating by portions. It does work that way: you have your portion, I have mine, and others have theirs. That's how we eat. But as to eating by contact, and the ghosts and spirits getting full by contact, how come I can't get full that way?" Would you like to get full by contact? Then hurry up and become a ghost, or a spirit, and then you will. Right now you can't. But when you smell the aroma of food, you do feel it's not bad at all.

      Talking about food, you probably think the things we eat are cot alive, right? Actually they all have their own lives. Each piece of fruit, for example, has a life to it. If you plant the seeds from the fruit in the ground, they will grow because they're alive. They have a kernel of life( jen ), which is their life. To the ordinary eye, it is just one, but if you open the five eyes, you will see it is really two. You say, "I don't believe a word of it. That's just seeing double from having dim vision." Not bad, dim eyes make one see double. But the person who has opened the five eyes can see two: the life and the essence. After you've made an offering of the fruit, its life is gone; its essence has been eaten by the ghosts and spirits. By making contact with it, the ghosts and spirits eat its life essence. When you make an offering to the Buddha, the Buddha too accepts the essence. So I'll tell you something, if you eat fruit after it has been offered to the Buddha or to the ghosts and spirits, its flavor won't be nearly as good as before it was offered. Why? It is because its life essence has died. Before I told you, you didn't know this secret, and now that I've told you, probably no one will sat the fruit used in offerings. However, although the flavor is lacking, it is something left over by the Buddha, and if you eat it, it nay have the flavor of Buddhahood. You may plant a seed of Buddhahood: you wish to eat the Buddha's leftovers, and so you tie up conditions with the Buddha. Now that I've said this, probably everyone will fight over offered fruit. Wouldn't you say that was strange? After it's been said, you fight over it, but before it was said, no one wanted to eat it. When discussed from one point of view, no one eats it, out discussed from another, you all fight to eat it. Which of the two is right? I don't know either.

"Gods eat by thought. As soon as they think of
something to eat the food materializes"

THE STILL CONSIDERATIONS are the dhyanas. Dhyana is a Sanskrit word that translates as "still consideration." There are Four Dhyanas:

1. The First Dhyana.

2. The Second Dhyana.

3. The Third Dhyana.

4. The Fourth Dhyana.

There isn't a fifth dhyana, although people who haven't heard the Buddhadharma before assume after the Fourth Dhyana there must be a fifth and sixth, and keep adding dhyanas. "Still consideration" means the purifying and quieting down of reflections and considerations. To purify and still one's reflective process means to turn one's back on the mundane "dust" and unite with enlightenment. The "dust" means worldly dharmas, while enlightenment refers to world transcending dharmas. If you want to turn back from the dust and merge with enlightenment, you have to investigate dhyana, sit in meditation. When you do that, each person has a different kind of state, yet a similar state too. That's because when one first starts, the states are different, but ultimately they are the same. When you begin, you feel your legs and backache and sitting is very uncomfortable. But when you obtain the flavor of dhyana and:

Take dhyana bliss as food
            And are filled with Dharma joy,

that experience of dhyana, then it won't make any difference whether you eat or not. During the six periods of the day and night you will be with­in the flavor of dhyana and sustained by dhyana bliss. That flavor of dhyana is sweeter than either sugar or honey. Every day you drink the water of sweet dew and eat the food of dhyana. Within that state, when it first begins, you feel extremely comfortable and at ease, and very, very happy. Nothing is more comfortable, free, and blissful. There are people who investigate dhyana to the point that they have skill and can do Kung Fu. There is a very inconceivable state right before the first dhyana and so it's called wonderful. While you are sitting in meditation, by itself your arms can lift and start to perform a very spontaneous kind of kung fu. It's not as when you study t'ai chi ch'uan and have to exert yourself and follow certain movements. Without your thinking of how to do it on their own they go through the movements. You don't have to intentionally extend or flex your arms or whatever your arms do it themselves. You say, "Is that being possessed by a demon?" No. Some people who don't know this can happen become alarmed when this kind of movement takes place. Also, your body feels very soft and compliant, as if your bones were all soft as flesh. This is the start of a kind of transformation. People who cultivate can all do kung fu, and it's because of this. But to have it happen, you really have to cultivate and investigate dhyana. If you've only been sitting for two and a half days, or if when you sit you just strike up false thinking, of course there won't be any mutual response with the May. That it is still consideration, means as you sit there you need to quiet down your thinking process, put a stop to considerations and reflections. That just means not having false thinking. If you start being free from false thinking, your skill will appear. You'll have kung fu. But you shouldn't think about that. Don't think, "The Dharma Master said that I'd be able to do kung fu. I wonder what day that will be." As soon as you think like that, it will never happen.

If you have thought, it's false thought.

If there's no thought, it's a response.

You shouldn't have any thoughts. Kung fu comes about from daily cultivation. You don't make it happen by false thinking about it. Rather, the more false thinking you have, the less chance will there be for your kung fu to appear. It's just like trees: they grow every day, but you don't see them growing. The tree itself could never say, "How much did I grow today? How much more will I grow tomorrow?" Someone says, "Of course it couldn't think that way, it's an insentient object." You see it as insentient, but actually it too grows from using the energy of sentience. The air has sentience within it, and it employs that air. There is wonderful existence inside of true emptiness, even though you see it as merely empty.

There are a number of different states before one reaches the first dhyana, and when one does reach it, there is proof. You can't just say, "I've gone to the first dhyana." When did you go there, and how do you know you went to the first dhyana? There is certification that one has reached the first dhyana, and that is that one's pulse stops. The person therefore seems dead, except that he hasn't stopped breathing. If you continue cultivating and using effort and reach the second dhyana, breathing also stops. Then the person really seems dead except he still has mindful ness, still knows he is sitting in meditation. The thought that he is seated there still remains. It's the outer breath that ceases in the second dhyana, while the inner breathing is activated. That inner breathing has its own inhalation and exhalation. Then one is like a living dead person: no pulse, no breathing. Yet the person is not dead it's just the state of the second dhyana.

When one reaches the third dhyana, thought also disappears. That's stilling of consideration to the utmost point. When that happens, one is not aware that one is seated in meditation. However, it's not being asleep, for people who are asleep still have heartbeats and breathe in and out. In the third dhyana state:

When not a single thought arises,

The entire substance manifests.

You don't give rise to a single thought. So, some people say they have opened enlightenment, and others claim they have certified to the fruit. That's truly to know no shame. What fruit have you certified to and what enlightenment have you opened? Have you opened the enlightenment of a dog and certified to the fruit of a cow? What's a dog enlightenment? Dogs are greedy greedy to become enlightened. Cows are angry angry about wanting to certify to the fruit, and say, “How come I haven’t certified to the fruit! The dog says, “How come I haven’t opened enlightenment!!!" They both want to open enlightenment. You can turn around and look and ask yourself if your pulse has stopped and if you're still breathing. Is it the case or not that you have:

No self, no others,

No living beings, and no life spans.

When you are seated there, and also when you get up and walk around, do you or do you not have thought? In walking, sitting, standing, and lying down, are you without thought? If you reach that state, it still doesn't mean you've opened enlightenment or certified to the fruit.

My good gentleman, old cultivator, long time investigator of dhyana, when you reach the first dhyana, your pulse stops, and you can sit for seven days at a time without getting up from your seat, and without eating or drinking. That's when you have entered the samadhi of the first dhyana, which is extremely pleasant. There is no happier experience in the world it's the happiness of the heavens, not of people. When you reach the second dhyana, you can sit for 49 days at a time without getting up, eating or drinking. While in that samadhi, the joy is far greater than that of the first dhyana. When you reach the third dhyana, you have no thought, and can sit three years at a sitting. So you claim you've certified to the fruit, that you've opened enlightenment? Can you sit for three days at a time?

For example, Yuan Liao Fan and Ch'an Master Yun Kuo sat face to face for three days, and didn't strike up a single false thought. Ch'an Master Yun Kuo figured Yuan Liao Fan was enlightened, that he had Kung fu, and was very pleased with him. But when he asked him, "Yuan Liao Fan, how is it you're able to have no thoughts for three days?" Yuan Liao Fan replied, "It's because I know that every single thing happens spontaneously. What I'm supposed to have I certainly will get; and what I'm not supposed to have, I won't get even if I think about it."

Ch'an Master Yun Kuo said, "Oh, I thought you were a great sage and great worthy, but it turns out you're just an ordinary, common person." Although Yuan Liao Fan knew that everything was spontaneous, he still liked to wear a high hat and here Ch'an Master Yun Kuo had knocked his off. He was a little upset it wasn't as sweet as eating candy, but burned like eating hot peppers. He asked Ch'an Master Yun Kuo, "How come you say I'm an ordinary, common person?" Ch'an Master Yun Kuo told him, "Ah, for so many years you've been tied up by Fate. You can't get beyond your destiny."

Yuan Liao Fan asked, "Can one's destiny be escaped? Isn't Fate fixed?" Ch'an Master Yun Kuo said, "You are highly educated. You must have read the Book of, Changed where it says:

Pursue good fortune and avoid doing what brings calamity. Those who do good will have reason to rejoice. Those who do bad will have calamities.

So you can seek out what's auspicious, and extricate yourself from the inauspicious. If Fate could not be escaped, how could one pursue good fortune and avoid doing what brings calamity?"

      As soon as Yuan Liao Fan heard that, he really did have a kind of enlightenment, and said, "Oh, so that's the way it is!" Afterwards, he concentrated on doing good deeds. Each day he did good, and his wife, who was illiterate, helped him. She used a goose quill to print a red circle in a ledger for each good deed he did. From that time on, nothing happened the way the astrologer had predicted any more.

There's more to the story. To start with, Yuan Liao Fan hadn't been a scholar, but was training to be a doctor. That was what his father had wanted him to do, his idea being that as a doctor one could both rescue the world and bring the dead back to life, in addition to making money to keep himself alive. So Yuan Liao Fan trained to be a doctor. Later on there was an old astrologer and physiognomist who saw him. The diviner, who was named K'ung, had a long, white beard and white hair, but the face of a child. He took one look at Yuan Liao Fan and said,

"You are a Confucian scholar. You could be an official in the imperial government, so why aren't you studying for the examinations?"

He wasn't called Yuan Liao Fan then, but Yuan Hsiao Hai, and he said, "My father wants me to be a doctor."

The astrologer told him, "You could study and be the fourteenth listed Hsiu Ts'ai (one of the highest ranking scholars on the examinations) in such and such a year." He told him the exact rank, and also what year he would take public office, what year he would take charge of a county, what his salary would be, and how after that, at the age of 54, on the 14th day of the 8th month he would, at midnight in his own bed, come to the end of his life and die without an heir without a son.

      Yuan Liao Fan took note of what the physiognomist told him, and things started turning out that way. He got the rank of Hsiu Ts’ai, did take charge of a county, etc., etc., as predicted. So all day long he never had any false thinking, because it was all laid out in advance and fixed. "What's mine is certainly mine, and what's yours is certainly yours; what's yours won't be mine, and what's mine won't be yours" was his philosophy, and so he didn't have false thoughts. It wasn't until he met Ch'an Master Yun Kuo that he realized he was being dead, that one's destiny is alive not dead, and changed his outlook.

After being helped by Ch'an Master Yun Kuo and starting to do good, nothing the astrologer physiognomist had predicted for him came true any more. Then he knew that human life is not predetermined but malleable. That being the case, if you do good, you can have a longer life; and your life will be shorter if you don't do good. He was supposed to die at the age of 54, on the 14th day of the 8th month. But once he started doing good and the predictions stopped coming true, he decided to try to have a son, even though his chart said he would have none.

He set about performing three thousand good deeds. His method was, as a county magistrate, to reduce the tax burden in his area by one half that year, from two ounces of silver per land holding to one. That way indirectly every person in the county received that gift from him. Then he went and asked the high monks at Wu T'ai Mountain to transfer the merit from that good act to his quest for a son. Not long after, his wife became pregnant and bore a son. He lived to be over 80 years of age. From his story we can see that a person's life is not fixed. Since one's life is not fixed, we shouldn't be bound up by some preconceived notion of our Fate, but should perceive it as alive and susceptible to change. As it is said:

If one's physiognomy is good, but one's mind is not good, poverty and suffering will be one's lifelong lot.

If one's physiognomy is not good, but one's mind is good, blessings and honor will be one's lifelong lot.

If one's physiognomy and mind are both not good, toil and poverty will be one's constant fate.

If one's physiognomy and mind are both good, blessings, honor, and renown will be one's lifelong lot.

So looking at someone's physiognomy is not as good as looking at their mind. If your mind is good, then that is true goodness. For that reason, people should not be tied up by Fate. If you want to look into this question in more depth, there is the Ts'e Shun (Autobiography) of Yuan Liao Fan, which tells about it very clearly. Human Fate is not preordained.

I was asking people who claim to be enlightened if they could sit for three days at a stretch without getting up. Yuan Liao Fan was able to sit for three days, but he wasn't enlightened, nor had he certified to the fruit so how much the less have you who can't even sit for three days. I'm afraid you couldn't sit still for three successive one hour periods. In the third dhyana, one can sit for three years, and when one reaches the state of the fourth dhyana, one can sit for nine years without getting up, eating or drinking. At that time, one doesn't just not have thoughts, but the thought process stops altogether and one's consciousness doesn't move. There's no movement of it, but consciousness still exists.

Those are the states of the Four Dhyanas, also called the Four Still Considerations. There is a great deal that could be said about them, if one goes into their subtle aspects. In the first dhyana, for instance, there is no more nose consciousness or tongue consciousness, but only the consciousnesses of eyes, ears, body and intellect. The positions of the second and third dhyanas are distinctly different positions. There are three heavens to each of the three dhyanas, three to the first, three to the second, and three to the third, while there are nine heavens to the fourth dhyana. They are discussed at length in the Earth Store Bodhisattva Sutra Commentary.

        To be continue