with the Standless Gathas and Explanation of
Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua

Translated by Upasaka I Kuo Jung
Sponsored by The Buddhist Text Translation Society





            AMONG MEN A SAGE;

    CROSSES OVER ALL SUFFERING AND DIFFICULTY.  CROSSES OVER means deliverance.  ALL includes everything; this "everything" refers to ALL SUFFERING AND DIFFICULTY. Suffering by itself is already unpleasant to endure; add to suffering some difficulty and the bitterness is even more.  CROSSES OVER indicates deliverance from suffering and the attainment of happiness; it means liberation.  Why does this passage say CROSSES OVER ALL SUFFERING AND DIFFICULTY and not simply "is liberated"?  Because CROSSES OVER ALL SUFFERING AND DIFFICULTY is connected with ILLUMINING AND VIEWING THE FIVE SKANDHAS ALL AS EMPTY.  Because one is capable of ILLUMINING AND VIEWING THE FIVE SKANDHAS ALL AS EMPTY, "crosses over" means cultivation.

    While ILLUMINING AND VIEWING THE FIVE SKANDHAS ALL AS EMPTY, it is still necessary to cultivate. Cultivate and you can cross over all suffering and difficulty. Illumining and viewing emptiness is merely knowing emptiness; you still must practice. Although you have quickly awakened to the principle, there is still the gradual business of cultivation.    

    If you know emptiness and don't cultivate, then emptiness is of no use.  If you understand that the principle itself is empty, you should cultivate and cross over suffering and difficulty.  If you want to cultivate, you yourself must actually do it; you must actually cultivate, actually go and do it.  It's not just mouthing "Zen talk"—saying, "Oh I've opened enlightenment; I've obtained anuttara-samyak- sambodhi."  Opened enlightenment?  How is it opened?  How is it obtained?  How did you give proof to anuttara-samyak-sambodhi?  Easy to say, but hard to do!  Just to say it is a dharma; in doing you arrive.  If you say it, you must be able to do it.  If you know emptiness, then you should cultivate.  Understand true emptiness, then cultivate wonderful existence.

    CROSSES OVER ALL SUFFERING AND DIFFICULTY.  ALL SUFFERING AND DIFFICULTY is not limited to just one kind of suffering; all kinds of suffering are included: the three sufferings; the eight sufferings and all the limitless sufferings.  The three sufferings are:

  1. the suffering of suffering
  2. the suffering of decay
  3. the suffering of process

The three sufferings are also called the three kinds of perception. The three kinds of perception are the perception of suffering, the perception of happiness, and the perception of neither happiness nor suffering.

Therefore, the suffering of suffering is the perception of suffering, and the suffering of decay is the perception of happiness. You shouldn't refute this, thinking that happiness is not caught up in suffering, because happiness can go bad. Happiness going bad is the suffering of decay. Process suffering is the perception does not hold any interest either. There are the three suffering.

    The first four of the eight suffering are:

  1. the suffering of birth
  2. the suffering of sickness
  3. the suffering of old age
  4. the suffering of death

    Who isn't born?  At the moment of birth, you suffer. And who can prevent aging?  For example, one might say, "A child died before it had a chance to grow old; since it didn't get old, it basically didn't have awareness. However, even though it wasn't old, it still suffered sickness and death, and one could also say that it suffered growing old, for the day it died it was old. If it had not become old, how could it have died?  Because it died, one can say that this child also changed to become old.  Although its life did not bear fruit, one can still say it got old.  Considering the time from birth to death, one can say that arriving at the time of death is becoming old.  Its life was cut short, but if the child had not grown old, how could it have died?  So it did not avoid the suffering of old age.

    Who dares to say that sickness is not suffering? Sickness is especially bitter suffering.  Even when one who has opened enlightenment gets sick, he still suffers in the same way.  For example, Sakyamuni Buddha suffered the metal spear and horse feed retributions.  Why did he have these retributions?  When Sakyamuni Buddha was a child in the causal ground of a former life, he lived in a place where the populace was starving.  One day a great fish was pulled up from the sea to the shore by the starving people.  Before they had a chance to eat the fish, the child who was to be Sakyamuni Buddha picked up a great stick, approached the fish and hit it on the head several times.

    When he realized Buddhahood, Sakyamuni Buddha's head often hurt as if it were being pricked with a spear.  This is called the metal spear retribution.

    Sakyamuni Buddha underwent the horse feed retribution because, when he was in the causal ground, he spoke wrongly to a cultivator of the Way.  He said to the cultivator, "Your cultivation still lacks sufficient ascetic practices. If you were really cultivating, you would be eating horse feed. After Sakyamuni attained Buddhahood, he was invited to a country to dwell peacefully in summer retreat, but the king of that country did not make offerings to him. He only gave horse feed to Sakyamuni Buddha and his bhiksus. The karma which you create in the causal ground must be undergone as retribution in the fruit ground.

      Sickness suffering, aging suffering and dying suffering. Die. Nobody welcomes dying. Why? Probably because it is suffering.

    The second four of the eight sufferings are:

  1. the suffering of being apart from those you love
  2. the suffering of being together with those you despise
  3. the suffering of not obtaining what you seek
  4. the suffering of the flourishing blaze of the five skandhas

    Because there are all of these kinds, the Sutra says ALL SUFFERING.  By cultivating, it is possible to avoid the three sufferings, the eight sufferings, and all the limitless sufferings.  The Sutra calls this, "CROSSING OVER ALL SUFFERING AND DIFFICULTY.  I have a gatha about it.

    To cross the sea of suffering, leave the revolving wheel.

    The sea of suffering is just ALL SUFFERING AND DIFFICULTY.  If you wish to cross over all suffering and difficulty, you first must be released from the revolving wheel of the six paths of rebirth"— gods, asuras, men, animals, hungry ghosts, and those in the hells.

The rains dispersed, the heavens clear.
just then the moon is fully bright.

    The time of release from the paths of rebirth is likened to the rain clearing.  When the rain stops and the sky clears, the full moon fills empty space with genuine radiance.  The line represents the emptiness of all the five skandhas: there are neither clouds nor rain and the heavens are clear.

The great moon in empty space
For ten thousand miles there are no clouds.

    This kind of state manifests as soon as you produce genuine wisdom and are enlightened to all.  At this time you have crossed over all suffering and difficulty.

The gatha says:

The ch’ien source is the way substance
Among men the sage;
Having given proof to the first fruit, it can be said that your body is
His unspoilinq golden body is rare in the world.

    At the time of having given proof to the fruit of Arhatship, having cut off the 88 categories of view delusions, you are very rare in the world.  Your body is flawless gold, very, very rare in the world.

Cast off life;
What need of 1.000 year drugs?

    In China, the Ch'in Shih emperor sought the Taoist elixir of  immortality, and even sent an expedition to the P'eng Lai Hsien Island. You need not search for immortality elixirs.  You need only CROSS OVER ALL SUFFERING AND DIFFICULTY.  Then, if you wish to live you can live, and if you wish to die you can die.  Birth and death are your own, and Yama can't pay any attention to you, just as with Bodhidharma.

Prove extinction.
Why wait 10.000 kalpas?

    Extinction is the third of the Four Truths: Suffering Accumulation, Extinction, and Way. If you can give proof to extinction you can attain Nirvana. Having realized the Way, you don't need 10,000 kalpas, but can very quickly give proof to Nirvana without residue. pure yang. In the I Ching, ch’ien, the first hexagram, represents the pure yang substance.

The five dwellings exhausted:
deaths eternally cease.

    When you have crossed the sea of suffering, have left the revolving wheel, and have attained the indestructible Vajra body I the two deaths eternally cease. Two deaths?  Does this mean you have to die twice? No it refers to the two kinds of birth and death: "share section"; and "change" birth and death.  "Share section birth and death" is ended by those people who have given proof to the attainment of Arhatship.  To extinguish "change birth and death" one must first attain to the causal fruit of  Bodhisattvahood.  This is just Contemplate Own Being Bodhisattva and therefore "change birth and death" has ended.  The two deaths do not exist any more and the five dwellings are exhausted.  The five dwellings are the five dwellings in affliction which are:

  1. Dwelling in views, which originally was called the dwelling in the love of views;
  2. Dwelling in the love of desire;
  3. Dwelling in the love of form;
  4. Dwelling in the love of no form;

  5. Dwelling in the love of ignorance.

    Because of these five ways of dwelling in love, there are these places of attachment, which change into five kinds of afflictions.  Contemplate Own Being Bodhisattva causes these five afflictions to cease to exist, and from this follows the last verse of the gatha to which you should pay a little attention:

Ramble through the Dharma realm
Freely rein from East to West.

    "Ramble" indicates own being, free and easy. Free and easy, very, very happy. In what way?  You can travel anywhere you wish. Freely reining from East to West, you can go to the Western Paradise anytime you want to. You can travel to the East, to the Crystal World of Aksyobhya Buddha.  There's even less problem about going to the Saha world. You have avoided the troublesome preparation of applying to the consulate for a passport.  You just wish to go and then go. This is RAMBLING THROUGH THE DHARMA REALM, FREELY REIN FROM EAST TO WEST.

    Not just to the East or West, the North and South up and down, all the ten directions all around, the whole Dharma realm is included. Wherever you go, you are welcome. This is not to say that you want to journey to a certain place, but find yourself unwelcome. Wherever you want to go, you can go, and never are you someone who is not welcome.  So the gatha says, "Ramble through the Dharma realm, freely rein from East to West". This state is so happy, so free, so equal. It is the truly actual, truly equal Dharma realm nature. When the five dwellings have been exhausted and the two deaths have eternally ceased, one has then attained this kind of freedom. This is genuine equality, genuine freedom, genuine happiness, genuine own-being, genuine free and easy being.



Watch for the new and exciting Buddhist Crosswords beginning soon in Vajra Bodhi Sea.




    The meaning of Sariputra is solid and durable, the solid and durable wisdom of Sariputra.

Sariputra is the hard and solid proof.
It translated means the "egret mother mien".

    The Sari is a great sea bird of the egret family. It flies high and has telescopic vision.  When fish swim near the surface of the sea, this bird, from high in space and fast as a rocket, shoots down, scoops them up and eats them.  It is able to do this because it's eyes see very clearly. Sari is the name of this bird.

    In India, children are named according to the father's name, the mother's name, or both the father and the mother's name.  Sariputra received his name from his mother's line.  His mother was called Sari. Putra means son, so the son of Sari was called Sariputra. The name was picked according to the demeanor of the egret mother.

Precepts and samadhi complete and bright.
The pearl light appears.

      In previous lives, life after life, Sariputra had cultivated precepts, samadhi, and wisdom to full brightness. This is the light which the pearl emits. Precepts complete, samadhi complete, wisdom complete, the pearl light appears.

Practice and understanding mutually respond, his body is transparent.

He both studied and cultivated the teachings, so his wisdom is especially great, and his body is transparent like glass.

How is there great wisdom?
Because the stupid make their mark.

    What is great wisdom? Most stupid people have their own special style, but Sariputra was not like them. Stupid people do things in a topsy-turvy way; they speak clearly about what they will do, but when they do it, they do it poorly. This is stupidity. The wisdom of Sariputra is beyond confusion.  Because he clearly knows, he neither purposely allows wrong to be done, nor is he "upside-down". Therefore his is great wisdom.

Already in his mother's belly
     A fine eloquence had been born.

    You all remember that Sariputra’s mother and uncle often debated and that his mother could never outwit his uncle. But when she was pregnant with Sariputra and she and the uncle discussed theories, she was able to defeat him everytime. Because the uncle could not outspeak his sister, he realized that she was about to give birth to an outstanding child and went away to study all of India's "outside the Way" theories (so that he would not lose face before his nephew). But when he returned, Sariputra had already left home to follow Sakyamuni Buddha.

    Because Sariputra, while in his mother’s belly, was able to help his mother out-debate his uncle, the gatha says, “Already in his mother’s belly, a fine eloquence had been born.”

    Others all fulfill this true substantial wisdom.

    It is not only the Venerable Sariputra who has great wisdom, everyone has this genuine, actual wisdom. But not everyone uses it; they forget it. But everyone could use this wisdom, because everyone has it.

    Grasp it at T’sao Hsi’s jeweled wood peak.

    Where is this true, actual wisdom? It’s at T’sao Hsi. T’sao Hsi is at Nan Hua monastery, Ma Pa Township, Canton Province, China. “Oh,” you think, “that’s so far. How could I possibly go there to grasp it?” The Nan Hua monastery of Jeweled Wood Mountain is T’sao His, the bodhimandala of the Sixth Patriarch.

    You think, “Not only have the Communists sealed the borders, but even if they would let me in, it is too far and I do not have the means to get there.”

    That’s good, for it is not necessary to go. You, each one of you, has this T’sao Hsi Jeweled Wood Peak, and it is not necessary to travel far to seek it. This wisdom is in you. Then how do you meet it? Put down your upside-down heart; let go of your false thinking heart. Earnestly work hard to investigate Ch’an, then you can attain it. When you sit in meditation investigate dhyana, just this is T’sao Hsi’s Jeweled Wood Peak.



  1. To “cross over” is only one aspect of the many-faceted Chinese word tu. A word defined by the Shou Wen as, “the regulation of the law”, was obviously an apt choice of the Chinese translators. It is often translated “save”, because it refers to crossing living beings over the sea of suffering to the other shore, Nirvana.
  2. The same Chinese word k’u means both suffering and bitterness.
  3. Lit.
  4. Literally “mouthhead” dhyana (Ch’an).
  5.  (Chinese)
  6. The perception here is the same as in the second skandha. In Chinese the character can be explained as in the compound.
  7.  ( Chinese)
  8. The reader should carefully note the definition of “old” which follows in the text. The Chinese character lao can be translated “old”, “old age”, “aging”, etc.
  9. The Buddha dwelt together with his disciples in one place during the summer rainy season because travel was difficult and the lives of a great many insects which would be inadvertently killed were thereby saved.
  10. See #7 above e.  f.   g.   h.
  11. Chinese Sanskrit: a. deva, b. manusya, c. asura, d. nairayika, e. preta, f. tiryaq-yoni.
  12. (Chinese)
  13. (Chinese)
  14. I Ching or Chou I, a well-known work in America through Richard Wilhelm’s translation, The I Ching or Book of Changes, Bollingen Foundation, N.Y., 1951.
  15. ch’ien is the name of the first hexagram in the I Ching. It has six Yang lines and no Yin lines. It thus indicates that the basic substance of the Way is Yang. The sage cultivates pure Yang and thus gives proof to the unspoiling gold body.
  16. The 88 categories of view delusions are categorized by arranging the list of the Four Truths and three realms of existence. For a summary explanation in English, see Hurvitz, Chih-I, 1962, pp. 249-250, p. 343-4.
  17. Ch’in Shih Huang Ti. He declared himself the “first” universal emperor in the twenty-sixth year of his reign (221 B.C.) According to the traditional account, he sent Su Fu to seek the elixir of immortality. The latter then sailed for Peng Lai Hsien Island, together with 500 virgin youths and 500 virgin maidens. See immediately below.
  18. which Master Hsuan Hua identified with Japan.
  19. Yama is the Lord of Death.
  20. (anupadisesanirvana) refers to the Nirvana at the time of the death of the Buddha’s physical body.
  21. Vajra is a Sanskrit word which means the ultimate solid and durable substance.
  22. The Master noted that “cease” wu in Chinese, means “is not” not, as some people suppose, to die. In Chu Hsi’s amendation to the Great Learning (Ch.5) it says.
  23. (sometimes called). For a summary explanation in English, see Hurvitz, op. cit., p. 251.
  24. ”Own being, free and easy” is an attempt to translate tse tsai. The ordinary word for happy in Chinese literally means “high rising”.
  25. (Chinese)
  26. Sariputra is transliterated into Chinese as She Li Tzu which has multiple meanings. Tzu, like putra, means “son”. So the tradition relates that this man was the son of Sari, whose eyes were beautiful and sharp like those of a kind of egret. (see note 21). She Li (lit. “dwelling benefit”) is also the Chinese translation- transliteration for the Sanskrit word relic, sarira, the most precious of which are indescribably beautiful pearl-like objects. According to the Chinese tradition, Sariputra can also be translated as “body seed”, (shen tzu).
  27. ch’ou lu. Ch’ou is currently defined as a kind of water bird and lu as egretta garzetta. According to Monier-Williams dictionary, sari is equivalent to sarika and is a kind of bird usually called the Maina, either the Gracula Religiosa or the Turdus Salica.
  28. See note 20 above and also VBS #8, Nov., 1970, p.4.
  29. The uncle, realizing that the child would be of uncommon intelligence and not wanting to lose face, left home. He traveled all over India studying diligently all the extant works on logic, philosophy, and worldly religion. After 17 years, he returned home only to find that his nephew had left home to follow the Buddha. Angered that he had lost the brilliant child, he went to retrieve him. When he arrived at the place where the Buddha was dwelling with his monks, he challenged the Buddha to debate, making the following offer: If he were to win, then the Buddha would return Sariputra; if he were to lose, the Buddha would have his head. The Buddha agreed and asked, “What do you take as your basic principle?” (The Uncle) replied, “I take not taking all dharmas as my principle.” The Buddha said, “(Do you) still take this view or not?” (The Uncle) himself thought that if he took this view, it would be in mutual opposition to his own principle. If he did not take this view, his own principle would thus be spoiled. Both heads (alternatives) completely collapsed.
         The uncle then, fearing the loss of his head, ran away. After going a long distance, he stopped to consider his action and returned to offer his head to the Buddha. The Buddha refused his head, but accepted him as a disciple. He was the famous Mahakausthila.
        For further details see Lamotte’s translation of the Ta Chih Tu Lun (Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra) called Le Traite de la Grand Vertu de Sagesse, Vol. II, “Origine du Nom De Sariputra”, pp. 636-640.
  30. (Chinese)
  31. (Chinese)
  32. (Chinese)

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