The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Blossom Sutra

--Translated by Disciple Bhiksu Heng Ch'ien

--Sponsored by the Buddhist Text Translation Society

            Ajnatakaundinya was the first disciple of the Buddha to become enlightened. Kaundinya was his family name and Ajnata his personal name. Ajnata can be explained as meaning, "first to awaken", "knowledge of nothingness", or "understanding of the origin".

When the Buddha was seated beneath the Bodhi tree he saw a star in the evening sky and became enlightened. He exclaimed, "Strange indeed! Strange indeed! Strange indeed! All living beings have the Buddha-nature and all can become Buddhas." Then he used the wisdom, which arises from the power of wonderful contemplation to see which living being he should awaken first. He saw that among the five cultivators dwelling in the Deer Park, at Benares, that Ajnatakaundinya should be the first to be enlightened.

The five cultivators in the Deer Park, Ajnatakaundinya, Asvajit, Bhadrika, Dasabala Kasyapa, and Mahanama Kulika, were relatives of Sakyamuni Buddha's parents, sent by King Suddhodana to follow the Buddha when he left the palace. Two of them thought the path of purity lay through desire, while the other three thought that it lay through asceticism. When the Buddha went into the Himalayas to practice asceticism, the first two left him, and when he took an offering of food, after realizing the futility of extreme asceticism, the other three departed also. When he accomplished Buddhahood, Sakyamuni Buddha sought out these five in the Deer Park and spoke the Dharma of The Four Truths, to which Ajnatakaundinya enlightened first, followed by the other four.

Innumerable aeons in the past, Sakyamuni Buddha had practiced the Way with these same five men. Then the five combined to torment the Buddha, beating him and cursing him at every opportunity. On one occasion, they had no food to eat, so they said to the Buddha, "You're such a great Bodhisattva, give us some of your flesh so we don't starve." The Buddha sliced flesh from his own body and gave it to them to eat. As they ate they cursed him, "What rancid meat! A dog would taste better than this." But they kept eating. They had nothing to drink so they asked the Buddha for his blood. As they drank they cursed him again, "This blood is putrid! It's unfit for human consumption!" Though they beat him and cursed him, ate his flesh and drank his blood, the Buddha did not become angry. He had hoped that giving his flesh would move them to change their evil practices, but when it didn't he vowed that on accomplishing Buddhahood he would enlighten them first.

Ajnatakaundinya had been especially cruel to the Buddha in the past when he was the King of Kalinga and the Buddha was an immortal cultivating patience in his country. One day the King went on a hunting expedition in the mountain forests, and took his concubines along with him for company. The concubines had no interest in chasing leopards and deer, but found the mountains a refreshing change from the confines of the palace. While frisking about the mountain cliffs, they came upon an old man sitting in a cave. His body was covered with grime and his hair matted together. So awful did he look that the concubines froze in fright. "It's a mountain freak," they whispered to each other. The mountain freak was actually Sakyamuni Buddha on the causal ground, cultivating patience. He said, "Don't be frightened. I don't eat people. I'm a person myself." Hearing him speak the concubines forgot their fears and questioned him, "What are you doing? Do you have anything to eat? Your clothes are all ragged. Can you walk? Why do you just sit there?"

The old immortal replied, "I'm practicing the perfection of patience."

"Patience?" they replied, "What on earth is that?"

"Patience is the ability to bear insult and injury without getting angry," and he began to speak Dharma to them, for he delighted in speaking Dharma but had little chance to do so. He held the concubines enraptured with his eloquence, so much so that they failed to notice the King of Kalinga sneaking up behind them.

When the King saw that his concubines had been entranced by an old man, he became extremely jealous and screamed at the immortal, "These are my women I You have no right to converse with them! What are you saying that has charmed them so?"

"I am telling them of the virtue of patience," replied the immortal.

"Patience, ehh!" said the King, "And what do you know about patience?"

"I practice patience," said the immortal.

"How fortunate. I just had the thought of trying you out by cutting off one of your hands. What do you think of that, patient one?"

"Whatever you wish."

Thereupon the king pulled his razor-edged sword from its jeweled scabbard and chopped off the immortal's left hand. "Does that hurt?" he asked.


"But are you upset?"


"Alright. In that case I'll slice off your other hand, then you'll crack." Whack. Off came the immortal's other hand. "Now it hurts, ehh?"


"You're not angry at me?"


"Hah! You lie I No mortal man can bear such torture. I'll cut off your foot, then you'll tell the truth. Be truthful and I'll let you be." He then cut off his foot, but the immortal did not so much as wince.

"Now you know the taste of pain. Tell me that didn't hurt!"

"It was nothing," replied the immortal.

"This cannot be! You have but one foot remaining, I'll cut it off too."  With a final blow the immortal's other foot was severed. "Now tell me the truth," said the king, "doesn't that hurt?"

"Doesn't what hurt?"

"Impossible! You only say that because I am the king and you dare not offend me."

The immortal replied, "No, that's not the case. If I truly have no anger, my hands and feet will grow back, but if I have become the least bit angry they will remain severed from my body." As soon as he said this, his body became whole again. By this time, however, the Dharma protectors and good spirits who protected the cultivator of patience had had enough. They showered huge hailstones, which beat upon the king.

"Stop!" cried the immortal. "He was only testing me. He has helped me accomplish my work. In the future when I achieve Buddhahood, I will enlighten him first." Thus Ajnatakaundinya's name means, "first to awaken", for although he had been particularly cruel to the Buddha in the past, the Buddha did not harbor any resentment toward him.

Mahakasyapa's parents had no children so they sought for a son from the spirit of a pipala tree. The spirit responded and Mahakasyapa was born. His parents then gave him the personal name Pipala. Kasyapa is his family name and it is interpreted to mean "the turtle clan" because his ancestors, who had also been cultivators of the Way, had met with a turtle that had a chart outlining methods of cultivation inscribed on its back. It is also said to mean "light drinker" or "light wave" because his body gave off a brilliant golden light, which outshone all other lights. He is called Maha "great" Kasyapa for four reasons: he was son of a great elder; he renounced a large inheritance when he left the home-life; he cultivated all twelve ascetic practices; and he was recognized by great men.

When Mahakasyapa reached manhood, his parents wished to find a wife for him. He told them that he would only marry a woman whose body gave off golden light such as his. Eventually he met such a woman; they married and cultivated the Way together. When Mahakasyapa became a bhiksu, his wife became a bhiksuni, named "Purple-golden Light".

It was not only in this life that Mahakasyapa and Bhiksuni Purples-golden Light had married, they had done so for ninety-one aeons. Ninety-one aeons before, after the nirvana of the Buddha Vipasyin, a poor woman discovered an image of that Buddha in an old neglected pagoda. Someone had put a hat woven from grass on the Buddha's head to protect it from the wind and rain, but the gilt was cracked and peeling and the exposed surface below had weathered.

Although the woman had no money of her own, she resolved to repair the pagoda and reguild the image. She begged for ten years, exchanging any money she received for gold, and finally, when she had enough, she went to find a goldsmith to gild the image for her. When she told the goldsmith how she had accumulated the gold and what she intended to do with it, he was deeply impressed. He told her that he would supply half the money himself, and together the two of them repaired the pagoda and image of the Buddha Vipasyin.

When they had finished the repair work, the goldsmith said, "You are a fine woman, finer than any other I have met in my entire life. I had thought to remain a bachelor, but now that I have met you I wish that you would consent to be my wife." Actually, the major reason for his helping her had been so that she would think well of him, influencing her decision. The woman consented, and not only did they marry in that life, they vowed to marry in every life following, and, because they had both repaired the pagoda and guilded the Buddha image, both of their bodies shone with golden light.

      Mahakasyapa was the oldest of the Buddha's disciples, but although old, he was extremely rigorous in his practice...His parents had been wealthy Brahmans, but upon leaving the home-life Mahakasyapa gave all of his wealth away. He ate only to stave off hunger, clothed himself in rags, and did not concern himself with finding a comfortable dwelling. One day the Buddha said to him, "You are much too old to be cultivating such bitter practices. You should eat more, get some warm clothing, and find a comfortable place to live. There is no need for you to continue your ascetic practices." At that time Mahakasyapa was one hundred forty years old, but he paid no heed to the Buddha's suggestions. The Buddha later praised him, "Because of Mahakasyapa's ascetic practices my Dharma will long prosper in the world."
There are Twelve Ascetic Practices:

1. Wearing rag robes;

2. Possessing only three robes;

3. Begging for food;

4. Begging consecutively;

5. Eating only one meal a day;

6. Eating a fixed amount;

7. Not drinking liquids after noon;

8. Dwelling in an aranya;

9. Dwelling at the base of a tree;

10. Dwelling unsheltered;

11. Dwelling in a charnal field; and

12. Never lying down.

Wearing rag robes. Rag robes are made from scraps of cloth gathered from garbage heaps and manure piles. It also refers to patched and threadbare robes. Wearing rags checks the infatuation with fine clothing and the feeling of pride that accompanies it. Furthermore, thieves leave you alone, for with such a robe how could you possibly have anything worth stealing. When I was living at Nan Hua Monastery during the late 1940's, some bandits broke through the front gate and accosted me. However, I was wearing a rag robe and convinced them that I had nothing worth stealing. Actually I had two jewels in my room, two young bhiksus hiding from the bandits underneath my bed.  Wearing a rag robe not only discourages bandits, rich people don't bother you either, thus many problems are avoided.

Possessing only three robes. Bhiksus who observe this practice keep only three robes, the sanghati, uttarasangha, and antarvasaka robes. The sanghati is the great robe, consisting of twenty-five strips of cloth; each made of one short and four long pieces of cloth sewn together. It symbolizes a field of blessings, and is worn when visiting heads of state, speaking Dharma, or when begging for food. The uttarasangha robe is made of seven strips of cloth and is worn at Dharma assemblies and ceremonies. The antarvasaka robe is made of five strips of cloth. It is the work robe and may be worn anywhere.

Begging for food. In the time of the Buddha, many bhiksus begged for their food. This practice is still observed in countries such as Thailand, Burma, and Ceylon, where the householders make food for the bhiksus, kneel holding the offering above their heads, place it in the bhiksus' bowls and then bow three times.

Begging consecutively. The bhiksu begs at seven consecutive houses without making the discrimination between rich and poor. If after the seventh house he has not been fed, he does not go on; of course, if before the seventh house he has obtained a sufficient amount, he also does not continue begging. The Surangama Sutra describes consecutive begging:

"At that time, Ananda holding his offering bowl, walked into the city and begged consecutively, his mind unbiased in its selection of donors from the first to the last household. He did not question their purity or filth, but was equally compassionate to ksatriyas and candalas, not choosing either rich or poor, intent on perfecting the immeasurable merits and virtues of all living beings."

Eating one meal a day. This is to eat one meal a day before noon. It eliminates many problems and particularly reduces the time spent both preparing and eliminating food.

While eating a bhiksu makes Three Vows and practices five contemplations. The Three Vows are:

1. The vow to avoid all evil;

2. The vow to practice all good;

3. The vow to save all living beings. 

The Five Contemplations are:

1. To consider the amount of work required to bring the food to the place of eating;

2. To examine your practice to see whether it is worthy of an offering;

3. To guard the mind against greed, hatred, and stupidity;

4. To regard food as medicine to keep the body from collapsing;

5. To accept food only in order to cultivate the Way.

While eating, the bhiksu is mindful of the work and time required in planting, harvesting, preparing, packaging, shipping, buying, and cooking food. Because of the effort involved in all of these processes, he reflects upon his merit to determine whether or not he deserves to eat. While eating, he resolves to separate from affliction, and use the strength gained from the meal to practice the Dharma.

Eating a fixed amount. It is best to eat the same amount of food each day, and to limit this amount to slightly less than what is necessary to be full.

Not drinking liquids after noon. This practice is extremely difficult, for it includes tea and coffee, juices, milk, and all other liquids except water.

Dwelling in an aranya. An aranya "place of quiet" is a monastery or temple located in the country far from the noisy bustle of the city. Such places are excellent environments for cultivation.

Dwelling at the base of a tree. Bhiksus who cultivate this practice never live beneath the same tree for more than three days, in order to avoid recognition and offerings from householders and gods.

Dwelling unsheltered. This means to take the sky for your roof and the ground for your floor, completely unsheltered from the elements.

Dwelling in a charnal field. In the Buddha's time the common dead were not buried, but were heaped up in charnal fields to rot and feed the jackals.  Those who dwell in a charnal field live with the dead and make friends with the ghosts. Why? Living in a charnal field helps develop the contemplations of impermanence and impurity. Once worldly existence is understood as impermanent, and the body is seen as impure, attachments are broken.

Never lying down. Constant sitting and never lying down increases vigor and meditational skill.

While in the Mahabrahma Heaven speaking The Nirvana Sutra, a god gave the Buddha a golden flower and then crouched on the ground to serve as a Dharma seat. Sitting on the god's back, the Buddha twirled the flower in his fingers, while on his face appeared a subtle smile. When the Buddha smiled, Mahakasyapa also smiled. The Buddha said to him, "My pure Dharma-eye, the wonderful mind of nirvana, the markless reality mark, the subtly wonderful proper Dharma I now entrust to you. Well protect and hold it." Thus, with a twirl of a flower and a subtle smile Mahakasyapa became the First Patriarch.

From Mahakasyaka the Dharma was transmitted to Ananda, from Ananda to Sanakavasa, from Sanakavasa to Upagupta, and so on up to the Twenty-eighth Patriarch Bodhidharma who took the Dharma transmission to China where it was received by the Second Patriarch in China, Dharma Master Hui K'o. Master Hui K'o continued the transmission, using the mind seal of all Buddhas to pass it on to Master Seng Ts'an, Master Seng Ts'an entrusted it to Master Tao Hsin, from Master Tao Hsin it was given to Master Hung Jen who then transmitted it to the Sixth Patriarch in China, Great Master Hui Neng. At that point the flower of the Dharma opened into five petals, the Lin-chi, Fa-yen, Ts'ao-tung, Wei-yang, and Yun-men Lineages, from whence it has come to the West.

Mahakasyapa is still in the world. He sits in samadhi at Mount Chi-tsu in the Province of Yun-nan, China, waiting for the Buddha Maitreya's appearance in the world so that he can give him the robe and bowl of Sakyamuni Buddha. If you are extremely sincere you can go there, make obeisance, and see the Venerable Mahakasyapa.

--to be continued



Open the flower of enlightenment! The first seven-day spring cultivation session at Gold Mountain this year will begin on Saturday evening, March 10th. It will be devoted to practicing on of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva's mantras. OM MANI PADME HUM. During last year's Maha Marathon the mantra was recited for seven days straight, non-stop, and was highly praised by many who achieved results. Periods of walking and chanting will alternate with periods of seated chanting and periods of silent meditation on the mantra every day of the session. The week's cultivation will close with the celebration of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva's Birthday on Sunday, March 18th. The mantra session will be held for the purpose of promoting world peace and contributing to the welfare of the nation by pacifying the minds of men, The second session will begin on Sunday evening March 25th, and will consist of seven days of Ch'an meditation. Beginning at 2:30 AM and continuing until midnight each day of the session, sitting meditation of one hour in length will alternate with fifteen to twenty minutes of walking meditation.