Brahma Net Sutra

commentary by Elder Master Wei Sung
translated by Bhikshuni Heng Tao
reviewed by Bhikshuni Heng Ch'ih
 edited by Bhikshuni Heng Hsien and
Upasika Kuo Ts'an Nicholson

II. Revealing the Substance

      We have explained the title, THE buddha SPEAKS THE BRAHMA NET SUTRA. Now, in the Five-Fold Meanings of the T'ien T'ai School, we reveal the Substance. This is also divided into three categories:

1) The Necessity for Revealing the Substance
2) Actual Disclosure of the Substance
3) Associations and Differences

      The Necessity for Revealing the Substance. "The Substance" means the basic content the Way, the nature of things. Also, the Substance is what is expounded after explaining the title. In the analogy of a description of a person, this is what comes after the person's name is given. From the name, one then comes to know the make up of a person's substance. The reason one discusses different names, is to interest people to investigating further so that they can reach the actual substance. This is like being able to fish because you have a net to use. It's also like recognizing the moon because a finger points to it. The finger indicates the direction in which to look: if it points south, you look south, if it points east, you look east, and so forth. That way you find the moon. But if you stop at the finger and mistake it for the moon, that's like only knowing the title but failing to look into the substance of a Sutra.

      Again, only pursuing the title but not coming to know the substance is like grasping a snake by the tail: it will turn around and bite you. That's why the World Honored One always told the Bhikshus about the analogy of a raft: "The Dharma I speak for you is like a raft; once across the stream, you no longer need the raft."

      This Sutra's title, is THE BUDDHA SPEAKS THE BRAHMA NET SUTRA, the name of the chapter we are discussing--the Chapter of the Mind Ground, and all the designations in the two original volumes, are names that explain. All the rest below those titles is the substance which is explained. After this substance has been obtained, you will be able to give rise to cultivation based on the entire nature, and through explaining the title, one must reveal the substance.

      2) "Actual Disclosure of the Substance": The substance of this Sutra is the Mind Ground, the Original Source of all Buddhas. That is, one's Mind Ground is the actual Substance. You don't need to seek it from something or someone else. To say it is the Original Source means that the Dharma is just that way-that it is the virtue of the Nature--and so it has nothing to do with cultivation or certification. It is the Nature of all Buddhas, for they have already transcended all obstruction and are perfectly clear and so are not the same as those still caught in entanglements. This is just referring to the permanently dwelling Dharma Body, pure to the utmost, to which Nishyanda Buddha and a11 World Honored Ones have certified. It is the totality of the principle of the nature of the minds of living beings. There is not the slightest dharma outside of this which can be obtained. This principle is what is called the substance. It is the true and proper substance of all teachings and of all conducts and cannot be destroyed or impaired by any demons or externalist ways; nor can it be rendered superficial by Provisional or Small Vehicle Teachings. This Dharma-door is totally that of Bodhisattvas.

3) "Associations and Differences": This Sutra is the same category and flavor as  the avatamsaka and so takes the Dharmarealm as its substance. And the Dharmarealm is just a different name for the Mind Ground, the Original Source of all Buddhas--there is no other substance aside from this.

      Moreover, when one becomes enlightened, one sees that all sutras of the Great Vehicle Teaching take real mark, the actual appearance, as their substance. This actual appearance is just the Mind Ground of all Buddhas. There's nothing else aside from this. The reason we can draw this conclusion is that the Mind Ground of the Original Source of all Buddhas is apart from marks while in the midst of all dharmas. It is apart from all marks of language, has transcended "drunk talking," and cannot be destroyed. It has the appearance of "real mark," which is no mark, yet there is nothing unmarked. The Mind Ground, the original source, is also that way. Because it is the source from which the myriad dharmas spring, and also the place to which the myriad dharmas return, it is therefore called the Dharma Realm.

      The Mind Ground, the Original Source of all Buddhas is not decreased in ordinary people. Nor does it increase in sages. That is, ordinary people don't have less of it or sages more. It remains the same, whether one is confused or enlightened. Because its substance and nature are permanently dwelling, it is called the Mind Ground, the original source of all Buddhas.

      Having explained the Sutra title, THE BUDDHA SPEAKS THE BRAHMA NET SUTRA, I'll go on to explain the title of this Chapter, which is "The Bodhisattva's Mind Ground." The full form of Bodhisattva in Sanskrit is Mahabcdhicittasattva, which means "One with a great Way Mind who brings living beings to accomplishment." Another translation is "One who enlightens sentients." It is also translated as "Great Knight," or "Great Scholar." Why is he called by these names? It is because, relying on the Four Noble Truths, he brings forth the Four Great Vows of a Bodhisattva. The Four Noble Truths are:

1. the Truth of Suffering,
2. the Truth of Accumulation,
3. the Truth of Extinction,
4. the Truth of the Way.

In response to the first truth, he vows:
              Living beings are numberless,
                  I vow to save them all.

In response to the second truth, he vows:
              Afflictions are endless,
         I vow to cut them off.

In response to the third truth, he vows:
              The Buddha Way is unsurpassed,
                  I vow to accomplish it.

In response to the fourth truth, he vows:
              Dharma-doors are numberless,
         I vow to study them all.

So, above he seeks the Buddha Way, and below he transforms living beings. This is a reciprocal function of compassion and wisdom. For the sake of simplification, the Sanskrit word Mahabodhicittasattva is condensed to Bodhisattva (in Chinese, further condensed to  
Pu Sa:). We have briefly explained the word "Bodhisattva" in the title of the Chapter,

"The Bodhisattva's Mind Ground." Next, we will explain the words "Mind Ground." Mind Ground is an analogy. A person's mind can include all the myriad things, therefore we use "Ground" as an analogy for the mind. The mind can give birth to the ten thousand things and can also produce the sagely fruit. In the same way, the "ground," or earth, produces
the myriad things, therefore, on the Mind Ground, which brings forth the ten thousand things, one can also plant the seeds and produce the sagely fruit.

      The last word in the title is "Chapter." It is called "Chapter," because it includes all the material with similar meaning. That means that everything in this chapter has to do with the Mind Ground, and it is brought together to form a chapter.

      Originally the BRAHMA NET SUTRA had a hundred twenty rolls, or scrolls, and sixty-two chapters. It was originally quite a long Sutra. When this Sutra had not been brought to China, Dharma Master Paramartha went to India, requested the BRAHMA NET SUTRA,  and took it on a ship, intending to bring it back to China. But when he boarded the ship, it started to sink, and he thought, "This won't do." He removed all his belongings from the ship, but it still continued to sink. So finally, he took the BRAHMA NET SUTRA off the ship, and it stopped sinking. Then he thought, "The people of the Eastern Kingdom," that is China, "must not have the blessings to receive the BRAHMA NET SUTRA." So, the entire BRAHMA NET SUTRA never reached China from India. The two Chinese rolls transmitted to us actually came from an oral recitation by the translator, Dharma Master Kumarajiva, who recited the Bodhisattva Precepts every day.

      So, the Brahma NET SUTRA has one hundred twenty scrolls and sixty-two chapters, yet now the only one existent is Chapter Ten, "The Bodhisattva's Mind Ground Chapter." This chapter is in two rolls. Volumes I and II, and is as much as was translated into Chinese.

      Another incident concerned Dharma Master Fa Chin , who, when he heard there was such a thing as Bodhisattva Precepts, really wanted to receive them. He thought, The "Sutra says that if living beings receive the Buddha's precepts, then they immediately enter a11 Buddhas' position." So he went to Dharma Master T'an Wu Ch'an and asked him to transmit the precepts to him. Dharma Master T'an Wu Ch'an, however, refused, saying, "You people from the East don't have enough blessings. People who receive these precepts are supposed to immediately enter all Buddhas' position, but you just don't measure up!" So Dharma Master Fa Chin resorted to asking the Buddhas themselves to give him the precepts. He did this sincerely in a concentrated period of time--just like holding a session--earnestly asking the Buddhas to transmit the precepts to him. For seven days and nights he applied himself with singleminded concentration whereupon he entered samadhi. In response to his sincerity, Maitreya Bodhisattva came to him and gave him the precepts white he was in samadhi, and also explained the gist of the Ten Major and Forty-eight Minor Bodhisattva Precepts. Later, after Dharma Master Fa Chin had obtained the precepts and come out of samadhi, Dharma Master T'an Wu Ch'an saw him and noticed that his entire countenance and total bearing were completely different than before. He asked him what had happened, and Dharma Master T'an Wu Ch'an didn't dare slight him, but said, "The people of the East also have great good roots!"