Collected Lectures of
Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua on
of Amitabha Sutra
translated by Disciple Bhiksuni Heng Yin
Text Translated by Disciple Upasaka I Kuo Jung
Edited by Disciple Upasika Tun Kuo Hsun
TWELVE ASCETIC PRACTICES
Venerable Mahakasyapa was the foremost of the Buddha's disciples, both in
ascetic practices and in age. None of the Buddha's disciples were older
and none of them endured more suffering.
term "ascetic practice"1 means, "making an effort, raising up
one's spirits with courage and vigor." The cultivation of the twelve
kinds of ascetic practices is a sign that the Buddhadharma is being
maintained, for as long as they are practiced, the Buddhadharma will
remain in the world. If they are not practiced, the Buddhadharma wi1l
the twelve ascetic practices, the first two deal with clothing:
Wearing rag robes. One gathers unwanted pieces of cloth from
garbage heaps, washes them, and sews them into a robe. There are many
advantages in wearing rag robes. First of all, they decrease greed. When
you wear them, your heart is peaceful and calm. They also prevent others
from being greedy. If you wear
fine, expensive clothes, others may become envious and even try to steal
them. But no one wants to steal rag robes. So the first ascetic practice
benefits you and others. Those who have left home are called
"tattered sons" because they wear rag robes.
Wearing only three robes. One's only possessions are three robes,
a bowl, and a sitting cloth. The first robe is the great robe, or samghati,
made up of 25 strips of cloth in 108 patches which is worn when lecturing
Sutras or visiting the king. The second is the outer robe, or uttarasanga,
made of seven pieces which is worn when bowing repentance ceremonies and
worshipping the Buddha. The third is the inner robe in five pieces, or
antaravsaka, which is worn at all times, to work in, to travel in, and to
entertain guests. With only three robes, a bowl, and a sitting cloth, one
teaches others to be content and not be greedy for a lot of possessions.
next five ascetic practices deal with food:
Always begging for food. One always takes one's bowl to beg, and
does not cook for oneself.
Begging in succession. One begs from house to house in regular
order without discriminating between the rich and the poor. If, by the
seventh house, no food is obtained, one doesn't eat on that day. One does
not think, "I want to beg from the poor, not the rich," or
"I want to beg from the rich and not the poor."
once said, "Poor people are to be pitied. If they don't plant
blessings now, in the future they will be even poorer,” and so he begged
exclusively from the poor.
on the other hand, begged only from the rich. "If they are
rich," he reasoned, "we should help them continue to plant
blessings and meritorious virtue. If they don't make offerings and seek
blessings from the Triple Jewel, next life they'll have no money,"
and so he begged only from the rich.
the Buddha scolded both of them. "You two have the hearts of Arhats!"
he said, "because you discriminate in your begging." To beg
properly, one should go from house to house, without discrimination.
Eating only one in the middle of the day. This means that you do
not eat in the morning or in the evening, but only between the hours of
eleven and twelve o'clock in the morning. Some who don't understand the
Buddhadharma think that "eating once in the middle of the day,"
means simply eating only one lunch. It actually means that one doesn't eat
in the morning or in the evening, but only once in the middle of the day.
In China, when one receives the precepts, they ask, "Neng Ch’ih?"
which means, "Can you keep them?" and you answer "Neng Ch’ih!"
"I can keep them!" If one eats morning, noon, and night,
however, one can answer "Neng Ch’ih," which sounds the same
but means, "I can eat!"
once a day at noon is one of the Buddha's rules, because the Buddha only
responded to offerings of food at noon. Gods eat in the morning, animals
eat in the afternoon, and ghosts eat at night. Those who have left home do
not eat at night because when ghosts hear the sound of chopsticks they
come to steal the food. The food people eat turns to fire in the ghosts'
mouths and they get angry and take revenge by making one sick.
Reducing the measure of food. If you can eat three bowls, then eat
only two and a half. If you can eat two bowls, then eat only one and a
half. Always eat a little less. If
you eat too much your stomach can't hold it and you'll have to do a lot
more work on the toilet. Eat less.
Not drinking juices after noon. After twelve noon you don't drink
apple juice, orange juice, milk, or any kind of juice at all, how much the
less bean curd broth. True ascetics don't drink juice after noon.
people cultivate one or two of these practices and some cultivate more;
some cultivate only one and some cultivate all twelve. It's not fixed; it
depends upon how strong you are.
cultivators can't avoid the questions of clothing, food, and dwelling,
these twelve ascetic practices have been established to deal with them.
The five concerning dwelling are:
Dwelling in an aranya. Aranya is a Sanskrit word which means "a still
and quiet place"1 I where there are few people and no distracting
noises. It is said,
the eyes don't see
Won't cause the mouth to water.
What the ears don't hear,
Won't cause the mind to transgress.
people see food, they give rise to desire for it and their mouths water.
If your ears don't hear confusing noises, there is no affliction In your
mind. In a still, quiet place, it is easy to cultivate diligently and
Dwelling at the foot of a tree. You live beneath a tree, but not
under any one tree for more than three nights. After two nights, you move
for fear that someone may come and make offerings. Cultivating ascetics
don't like to have such Dharma conditions, or a lot of food and drink, and
so they live under a tree.
Dwelling under the open sky. You don't live in a house or even
under a tree, but right out in the open, meditating.
Dwelling in a graveyard. Living here, one is always on the alert.
"Look at them! They're dead. In the future I'll be just like
them. If I don't cultivate the Way, what will I do when it's time to die?
I'll die all muddled." Dwelling in a graveyard is a good cure for
Ribs not touching the mat. This means always sitting and never
lying down, cultivating vigorously and not fearing suffering. These are
the five ascetic practices, which deal with dwelling.
Venerable Mahakasyapa cultivated not only one ascetic practice, but all
twelve of them very thoroughly. Once, the Buddha moved over and asked the
Venerable Mahakasyapa to sit beside him. The Buddha couldn't bear to see
him cultivating ascetic practices at his age. Kasyapa," he said,
"you are over one hundred years old, too old for ascetic practices.
Take it easy. You can't endure them."
Venerable Kasyapa smiled. He didn't say whether or not he would obey the
Buddha's instructions, but he returned and continued his practices and did
not change in the least. The Buddha knew this and was extremely pleased.
"Because Mahakasyapa cultivates ascetic practices," he said,
"the Buddhadharma will remain long in the world. He's a great asset,
foremost in asceticism."
1 -chi ching
twelve ascetic practices are cultivated by those who have left the home
haven't left home," someone says. Why are you explaining them to
seems like a good question, but if you look into it, it's really a stupid
question. Why? Perhaps you have not left home in this life, but how do you
know that you did not leave home in a past life and cultivate these
practices? Perhaps you have Just forgotten, and so I am reminding you.
if in past lives you did not leave home, perhaps next life your
opportunity will come, and the Bodhi seeds planted in this life will
mature. Then your merit and
virtue will be perfected, enabling you to feel very comfortable practicing
asceticism. Because you heard about them in this life, next life you will
enjoy cultivating them. Perhaps in the past you planted good causes, and
now you reap good fruit. No one can say that someone will always leave
home, or that someone will always be a common person. Common people all
have the opportunity to realize Buddhahood. In the future these twelve
ascetic practices will be of great use.
still means great, many, and victorious. Katyayana means
"literary elegance,"1 because this Venerable One was
foremost in debate of all the Buddha's disciples. No one could defeat him.
Non-Buddhists who believed in annihilationism or eternalism said,
"Buddhists speak of the revolving wheel of the six paths of rebirth
and maintain that after death one may be reborn again as a person, but
this idea is incorrect. Why? If people can come back as people, why hasn't
anyone ever died and then returned home or sent a letter to his family?
There's no basis for such a view. When people die, they go out like a lamp
and they can't be born again. Buddhists just imagine there's rebirth, but
actually there is not."
said, "You ask why those who die do not return, but before I answer
you, first, let me ask: If someone were put in jail for a crime, could he
return home at his convenience?"
said the non-Buddhist, "of course not."
continued, "When people die and descend into the hells, it's Just the
same; they can't return, in fact they're even less free to leave."
non-Buddhist said, "Granted that those born in the hells cannot
return, still those born in the heavens are very free. Why has none of
them ever sent a letter home informing his family, 'Yesterday I was born
in the heavens,'?"
said, "What you say has principle, but, by way of analogy, suppose
someone slipped and fell into a toilet, not a flush toilet, obviously no
one could fall into a flush toilet, but into a pit toilet about as big as
a bedroom. Once he got out, would he decide he liked the atmosphere and
jump back in again?
exclaimed the non-Buddhist.
world of men," said Katyayana, "is just like a stinking toilet,
and birth in the heavens is like getting out. That's why no one comes
back. Even if they did, there's a
time difference to consider. For example, one day and night in the Heaven
of the Thirty-three is equal to one hundred years in the world of men.
Born there, it would take a couple of days to find a place to stay and get
settled, and by the time one returned the third day, one's friends would
have been long dead."
Mahakatyayana's eloquence defeated the non-Buddhists who were attached to
the idea of annihilation or permanence; they lost every time.
Venerable Katyayana's name also means "fan cord" because soon
after he was born his father died and his mother wanted to remarry, but
the child was a tie (like a fan cord) which prevented her from doing so.
He is also called "good shoulders" because his shoulders were
beautiful, and "victorious thinker" because his eloquence was
are Four Unobstructed Eloquences:
Unobstructed eloquence in Dharma: one explains the Dharma without obstacle.
Unobstructed eloquence in meaning: one explains its meanings
Unobstructed eloquence in phrasing.
Unobstructed delight in speech: one takes delight in explaining the
he had these Four Unobstructed Eloquences, Mahakatyayana was the foremost
of the Buddha's disciples in debate.
was Sariputra's maternal uncle. Mahakausthila means "big knee
clan,"1 because big knees ran in his family. He, too, was a
gifted debater. In order to defeat his nephew, he went to Southern India
to study non-Buddhist debating theories, rushing through meals and gulping
down water, studying so hard that he did not even take time to wash his
face or cut his nails. His nails grew so long, in fact, that he was
nicknamed "The long–nailed Brahmin."
means "constellation" as he was named after the fourth of the
twenty-eight constellations, the "house of the sun and the
rabbit"2 because his parents prayed to this constellation in
order to have their son.
also means "False unity."3 One day he went out walking
and when it got dark he was tired and far from home, so he decided to
spend the night in a shack beside the road. Just as he was about to fall
asleep two ghosts walked in, a big ghost and a small ghost. The big ghost
was really big. He had a green face, red hair, and a huge mouth with six
teeth hanging from it like elephants' tusks. One look at him could scare
you to death. The little ghost was even uglier. His eyes, ears, nose, and
mouth had all moved to the middle of his face.
two came in, dragging a corpse and asked Revata, "What do you think?
Should we eat this corpse or not? What they meant was, "If you tell
us to eat the corpse, we'll eat you, and if you tell us not to eat the
corpse, we'll also go ahead and eat you." The two ghosts were going
to eat him no matter what he said.
didn't say anything, and so the big ghost bit off the corpse's legs and
the little ghost ripped off Revata's legs and stuck them on the corpse.
The big ghost ate the entire corpse and the little ghost replaced its
parts one by one with those from Revata's body.
then thought, "My body has been used to repair the corpse and now I
don't have a body!" The next day he ran out screaming and asked
everyone he met, "Hey! Take a look! Do I have a body?"
they said. They had no idea what he was talking about---he clearly had a
body yet wanted them to see if he had a body---until, finally, no one
would come near him.
nuts!" they said.
Revata met two High Masters. "Sramanas," he asked, "do I
have a body?"
two High Masters happened to be Arhats. Seeing that Revata's potential for
enlightenment was nearly mature and that he would soon certify to the
Dharma-body, they instructed him saying, "The body is basically
created by a combination of causes and conditions. When the causes and
conditions separate, the body is destroyed. There is nothing that is you,
and nothing that is not you." Just as they said this, "Ah!"
Revata was enlightened. He left home and certified to the fruit. Thus
Revata's name means "false unity."
Suddhipanthaka and Mahapanthaka were brothers. Suddhipanthaka’s name
means "little roadside,"1 and his big brother,
Mahapanthaka, was "big roadside." In India it is the custom for
women who are about to give birth to return to their parents’ home. But
Mahapanthaka’s mother didn’t want to go home and so she waited until
the last minute and consequently, her son was born on the side of the
When it was time to give birth to the second child, she should have known
better, but again she waited. It happened again, and the child was called
-hsiao chi lu. "Suddhi"
apparently represents "ksudra,"
born in the same circumstances, the two brothers were very different in
nature. The older brother was remarkably intelligent, but the younger one
was remarkably,...stupid. He was so stupid he couldn't even remember half
a line of verse.
Buddha had instructed five hundred Arhats to teach him a verse, and they
took turns night and day trying to teach him:
your mouth, unite your mind,
With your body, don't offend;
Do not annoy a single living being.
Stay far away from non-beneficial bitter practices;
Conduct like this can surely save the world."
The three karmas of body, mouth, and mind should be pure. Don't cause
others to have affliction and don't cultivate ascetic practices which are
not in accord with Dharma, such as maintaining the morality of dogs and
cows, worshipping fire as your Patriarch, or sleeping in ashes or on beds
of nails. Some people sit on
boards of nails and, of course, it hurts a lot. One who cultivates virtue
and at the same time avoids these meaningless practices can truly save the
many days, the five hundred Arhats combined their great spiritual powers,
trying to teach Little Roadside the gatha. They taught him over and over,
and, over and over; he forgot it. "Recite the verse," they would
I can't remember it," Little Roadside said.
good for nothing," his brother scolded. "You can't leave home.
You're useless!" and he chased him away.
Roadside may not have had much of a memory, but he certainly had a temper.
"If you won't let me leave home," he shouted, "I'll show
you! I'll kill
myself". He grabbed a rope, ran to the back yard, and climbed a tree,
ready to hang himself.
that moment Sakyamuni Buddha transformed into a tree spirit and explained
the Dharma to him. "Your brother is your brother," he said,
"and you are you. If he says you can't leave home, you don't have to
listen. You can cultivate right here. Why should you kill yourself?"
makes sense," sniffed Little Roadside. "He's him and I'm me. He
has no right to tell me I can't leave home."
said Sakyamuni Buddha. "Since you can't remember half a line, I'll
just give you two words, 'sweep clean.' Remember these two words, and
sweep your heart clean. Sweep the floor, and sweep your heart, free from
Roadside said, "Yes, I'll sweep my heart. Sweep...what?"
said the Buddha, "sweep clean."
yes," said Little Roadside. "Clean...What was the first word
smiled the Buddha.
clean," said Little Roadside, and he recited and swept, remembering
the Buddha's instructions to sweep his heart clean. In less than a week,
all of a sudden, he was enlightened, understood everything very clearly,
penetrated the Real Mark of all Dharmas, and was even more intelligent
than his brother.
Roadside wasn't like us. We recite "Namo Amitabha Buddha"
everyday, but the more we recite the more false thinking we have.
stupid people work hard and cultivate, they also can become enlightened.
Don't say, "I'm too stupid, to understand the Sutras." If you
don't understand them, you don't have to read them; it will suffice Just
to contemplate your own heart and, when you've seen it clearly, you will
be enlightened. How does one contemplate his own heart? Watch for false
thinking and sweep it out of your heart. Then you can be enlightened.
Roadside, stupid as he was, became enlightened. We are all much more
intelligent than he, and could no doubt remember "sweep clean"
if we heard it only once. So don't cheat yourself or take yourself
lightly. Go forward bravely and study the Buddhadharma.
I to speak the most wonderful Dharma, unless you believed it, it would be
of no use to you. But were I to speak utter nonsense, should you actually
practice, it would be wonderful Dharma. If you don't practice the
wonderful Dharma, then it's not wonderful for you. You must always make
vigorous progress. Don't fall behind or get lazy, and, this is most
important: If you can always make progress, the day will come when you
will recognize your original face.
were three disciples1 with the name "Nanda"; Ananda,
Sundarananda, and Nanda. Nanda, whose name means "wholesome
bliss"2 was a cow-herd before he heard the Buddha speak the
Dharma and resolved to leave the home-life. He is to be distinguished from
Ananda, the Buddha's cousin, and the third, Sundarananda, the Buddha's
little brother, Ananda will be discussed next, and this is the story of
Sundarananda; He was born exactly a year and a day after the Buddha on the
ninth day of the fourth lunar month. The Buddha had thirty-two marks while
Sundarananda had thirty, and he was four inches shorter than the Buddha.
His Sanskrit name means "wholesome bliss," same as Nanda above.
Sundara,3 the name of his wife, means "good to love."
loved his wife more than anything. The two of them were glued together;
walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, they were never apart.
day as the Buddha returned from the palace where he had gone begging for
food, he passed Sundara and Nanda who were having lunch. When Nanda
saw the Buddha he went out to fill his bowl. As he left Sundara spat on
the floor and said, "You may give the Buddha food, but if you don't
return before that dries, you're in trouble."
1The three disciples are Nanda,
Ananda, and Sundara-ananda.3Sundarananda's wife is often called
said 'Nanda, and off he went. What do you think the Buddha did?
Everytime Nanda took a step forward to hand him the bowl, the Buddha moved
away with his spiritual powers so that in what seemed like just a few
steps, Nanda-suddenly found himself in the Jeta Grove, five miles from
home. As soon as they arrived, the Buddha shaved Nanda's head. "Nanda
had no desire to leave the home-life because he did not want to give up
his wife. But the Buddha was his older brother, and so he complied.
"You can cut my hair," he thought, "but the first chance I
get, I'm going to run away."
day after day went by, Nanda grew more and more nervous. The Buddha and
the Arhats were staying in the Jeta Grove, and Nanda had no chance to
escape. One day the Buddha and his Arhats went out for lunch and left
Nanda to watch the door. "Today is the day!" thought Nanda.
"I'm definitely going home."
the Buddha left, however, he instructed Sundarananda to sweep the floor.
Eager to be on his way, he went right to work, but every time he got the
dust together, a gust of wind blew it all over the room. He tried closing
the window, but when he closed one, another blew open. Strange. This went
on for two or three hours. "The Buddha will be back any minute."
he thought, "dust or no dust, I'm leaving!" He threw the broom
down and ran.
Buddha uses the main road," he thought, "so I'll take to the
side roads." He ran for a couple of miles when suddenly he saw the
Buddha walking toward him. Sundarananda hid behind a tree and waited for
him to pass, moving slowly around in back of the tree so as not to be
seen. Who would have guessed that the Buddha would follow him around the
tree, step by step. Nanda walked in one direction and the Buddha
followed him. Sundarananda reversed his steps and so did the Buddha.
Collision was inevitable; there was no place to hide.
are you doing?" asked the Buddha. "I thought you were watching
waited and waited, "said the embarrassed Nanda, "but you didn't
return so I came to welcome you. I thought that your bowl might be too
heavy...I...I came to help you carry your bowl!"
said the Buddha. "What a good little brother. Let's go back to the
Buddha knew that Nanda wasn't happy, and one day he said, "Nanda,
come with me for a hike in the mountains."
right," said 'Nanda, thinking, "If I get the chance, I'll run
mountains were full of monkeys. "Sundarananda," the Buddha said,
"compare these monkeys with your wife. Are they more beautiful than
said, "Why Buddha, of course Sundara is more beautiful. Monkeys
are ugly: how can you compare them with Sundara?"
quite intelligent," said the Buddha. "You know that your wife is
prettier than these monkeys."
they had returned to the Jeta Grove, the Buddha said, "Nanda, you've
never been to the heavens. Want to go?"
the mountains' now the heavens. I wonder what they're like," thought
Nanda and the Buddha sat in meditation and the Buddha used his spiritual
powers to take Nanda to the heavens where they visited a palace where five
hundred goddesses and many servants were working. The heavens were
millions of times more beautiful than the world of men, and Nanda had
never seen such beautiful women. Naturally, he fell in love. "Don't
you have a leader?" he asked. "Who is your Master?"
Master hasn't arrived yet," they said. "He's Sakyamuni's little
brother, Nanda. He's left home to cultivate the Way, and in the future he
will be reborn with these five hundred goddesses as his wives."
was delighted. "I don't think I'll run away after all," he
thought. "I'll cultivate diligently and get reborn in heaven
said the Buddha, "are the goddesses more beautiful than Sundara, or
is she more beautiful then they?"
to these goddesses, Sundara is as ugly as a monkey," said Nanda.
would you prefer?" said the Buddha.
goddesses!" said Nanda. "Sundara is beautiful, but the goddesses
are out of this world."
the future you'll be born here," said the Buddha. "Now let's go
back and cultivate."
meditated day and night, cultivating to be a heavenly lord. The Buddha
knew that heavenly blessings have outflows, are non-ultimate, and that
those who enjoy them can still fall to lower realms. Wishing to wake
Nanda up, he said, "There's nothing going on today. Would you like to
visit the hells?"
heard that they're not very scenic," said Nanda, "but if you
want to take me there, I'll go,"
visited the hells of the mountain of knives, the sword-tree hell, the
fire-sea hell, the ice hell, and many others. Finally, they came to a hell
where two ghosts were boiling a pot of oil. The lazy ghosts had let the
fire go, and the oil wasn't even simmering. "What are you two
doing," said Nanda, "fooling around and going to sleep?"
ghosts rubbed their eyes open and stared. "What do you care?"
they asked. "We're in no hurry. We're waiting for someone who isn't
due for a long, long time."
Buddha's little brother, Sundarananda, if you must know," said one,
"He left home, but seeks only the blessings of the heavens and the
five hundred goddesses. He'll be living in heaven for a thousand years,
but in his confusion he will forget how' to cultivate the Way and commit
many offenses. This will create evil karma and will drag him into the
hells to be deep-fat fried in this very pot."
hair on Nanda's body stood straight up on end, and every pore ran with
cold, damp sweat. "How could this happen to me?" he moaned. From
that moment on, he stopped cultivating for rebirth in the heavens and
resolved to end birth and death. Soon he certified to the status of
was extremely handsome. The Buddha had the thirty-two marks of the
superman, and Nanda had thirty and so some people even mistook him for the
Buddha. One day, Sariputra was debating with some non-Buddhists who were
even further out than many hippies and who didn't wear any clothes at all.
"This is our original face,” they said. "Why disguise yourself
by wearing clothes?"
although not very tall, was extraordinarily intelligent; his replies left
them speechless, as if they had no mouths as all. Later, when Nanda, who
was tall and handsome, happened along, the nudists said, "If that
short little Bhiksu beat us, how could we possibly out-talk this big
one?" They bowed to
Nanda as their teacher and left the home life. Nanda had a lot of faithful
disciples, and their cultivation was very successful.
is the story of Sundarananda who gave up his wife for the goddesses and
then, fearing the hells, cultivated the Way.