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

      The Tenth Chapter of the BRAHMA NET SUTRA, "The Mind Ground," is divided into two parts as was said before. The first part discusses the Three Worthy and Ten Sagely levels of a Bodhisattva--the Thirty Hearts and Ten Grounds--which are the basis for entering the fruition of Buddhahood. The second part is the precepts proper, Ten Major and Forty-eight Minor, which are the basis for cultivation of the Bodhisattva Way. It is the second part which we will be discussing. The first part covers the nature of the Buddha fruit, and the second part discusses its cultivation. So, you can say of this chapter that both the nature and the cultivation, cause and fruition, are identical in meaning and principle. This is like drinking one drop of water and knowing what the entire sea is like. If you taste just one drop of water, you know that the entire ocean is salty. Or, if you burn just one piece of incense, you know a11 the mixture of fragrances that went into it. In the same way, if you just read this chapter of the the BRAHMA NET SUTRA, you can see that the entire Sutra of one hundred twenty rolls is a Dharma for accomplishing Buddhahood. On the level of practice, the most important point is to vigorously cultivate and maintain these precepts. Only through vigorous cultivation can you reach your goal. If you know a lot of principle, but you don't cultivate, you still won't accomplish anything. But, if you only know a few principles but vigorously cultivate them, you can obtain the Way.

         III. Explaining the Doctrine

      The substance reveals the nature. The doctrine discloses the cultivation. When cultivation arises from the entire nature, then they, the substance and the doctrine, "are not two and yet two." When the totality of cultivation is within it, then the nature includes and returns to the substance. Therefore, they "are two and yet not two." The Doctrine can be likened to the beams and pillars of a house, which give the house its structure. Only when there are beams and pillars is there any substance to the emptiness, the functional space of the house. The space of the house is an analogy to the substance; the beams and poles are analogous to the doctrine. The usefulness of the space of the house is derived from the structure made from the beams and poles.

      This Sutra takes as its doctrine the cause and effect of the Buddha nature. The Buddha nature is tike emptiness; it is neither cause nor effect. Yet, it can give rise to a11 causes and effects everywhere. Cause and effect are not apart from the Buddha nature. It is said in the Sutras, "All living beings have the Buddha nature." That Buddha nature is just the Mind Ground, the original source of all Buddhas. Based on that source, which is not produced and not destroyed, one cultivates the cause. Afterwards one perfects one's cultivation and certification on the ground of the effect, that is, fruition. Therefore, the cause is the Buddha nature and the effect is the Buddha nature. So, the doctrine of this Sutra is cultivation of the cause and effect of the Buddha nature. That is a simple discussion of the third Esoteric Meaning, Explaining the Doctrine.

         IV. Distinguishing the Function

      To distinguish means to characterize and classify clearly. What is the function of this Sutra? What use does it have? What is its power and its function? The function can also be called its merit and virtue. This Sutra takes "renunciation of the common and the entrance into the sagely" as its function. After you take the Bodhisattva Precepts, you leave the common and go toward the sagely. The Sutra says,

      "If people can receive the Buddha's Precepts, they immediately enter all Buddhas'

"The Buddha's Precepts" refers to the Bodhisattva Precepts. You may say, "But aren't we just common mortals now?" You may be an ordinary person now, but in the future you will become a Buddha. The Sutra says,

      "The Buddha has already accomplished Buddhahood. 'I am a future Buddha.'
      If one constantly evinces this type of faith. Then that person will definitely
      become a Buddha."

The Sutra also says,

      Just provided one is able to understand the Dharma Master's meaning, he can receive
      the precepts. He is called foremost in purity.

That means, if there is anyone who understands this teaching, which is not very difficult, then he is qualified to take the precepts. Such a person is called a foremost pure one. Basically, someone is pure if he doesn't transgress the precepts by even the tiniest bit. However, the Sutra says that if there is someone who even understands this teaching and receives the precepts, automatically he is called a foremost pure one. Of course, this assumes that you don't violate the precepts. This is a simple discussion of the fourth Esoteric meaning of Distinguishing the Function.

        V. Determining the Teaching Mark

      Among the Five Periods and Eight Teachings, this Sutra belongs to the first period, the Avatamsaka Period. This period is likened to the time when the sun first shines on the high mountains. When the sun first rises, the rays of light first illumine the lofty peaks. In the milk analogy, this period is compared to raw milk, straight from the cow.


Five Periods  Sun Analogy Milk Analogy
1. Avatamsaka sunrise on high peaks raw milk
2. Agama early morning sun in hidden valleys coagulated milk
3. Vaipulya mid-morning sun at breakfast time curdled milk
4. Prajna sun near mid-heaven butter
5. Lotus and Nirvana sun at noon "ghee"(clarified butter)


Eight Teachings
1. Storehouse
2. Common Four Teachings
3. Separate Four Transforming modes
4. Perfect
5. Sudden

Four Transforming Doctrines

6. Gradual
7. Secret
8. Unfixed


      These Five Periods and Eight Teachings were formulated by Great Master Chih Che of the T'ien T'ai School. He did this because he had a dream in which a Bodhisattva came to show him a great many sutras which were completely disorganized. The Bodhisattva told him to organize them. So, he devised this system of classification. The periods are determined by chronological order in which the Buddha spoke the sutras.

-to be continued