Records of the lives of 
the High Masters

Continued from issue 39


Composed by Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua
Translated by Disciple Bhiksuni Heng Yin

In Ch'ang An, Kumarajiva and Buddhabhadra translated Sutras together, and whenever Kumarajiva had a difficulty he requested explanation from Buddhabhadra. When ancient translators did not understand a passage, they were not reluctant to ask someone else for fear of losing prestige.  Kumarajiva's wisdom, of course, was very high, but he still asked Buddhabhadra about certain points.

When Prince Yao Hung1 of Yao Ch'in heard of Buddhabhadra's unobstructed eloquence and limitless wisdom, he asked Kumarajiva to invite him to the palace to teach the Dharma. After several discussions, Buddhabhadra finally accepted and, at the palace, Kumarajiva requested Dharma, asking, "How can dharmas be made empty?"

Buddhabhadra replied, "A multitude of fine dust particles make up form; that is, they create the appearance of form. This appearance, however, has no self-nature. Thus the very substance of form itself is empty. The basic substance of form 1s empty."

Knowing that the assembly had not understood, Kumarajiva further asked, "If, dividing form into its smallest particles of form dust, you take that to be the destruction of emptiness, then what about the particles of dust?"

Buddhabhadra said, "Most Dharma Masters suppose that a particle of dust must be destroyed before it can be considered to be empty. I disagree. I don't think that this particle of fine dust has to be destroyed to be empty; it's very existence is emptiness."

The listeners still hadn't understood, so Kumarajiva asked, "Then is this one remaining particle permanent and unchanging?"

Buddhabhadra said, "Because the one particle is empty, the collection of particles is empty. Because the collection of particles is empty, the single particle is empty. That is, the collection of fine particles is made up of many single particles which are of themselves non-existent. Thus when the collection of particles making up form disperses, the single particles then also disappear—it's all empty."

Now, perhaps when Dharma Master Pao Yun2 translated these two sentences he didn't convey the meaning clearly, because all the Dharma Masters said that Buddhabhadra was speaking incorrectly. They said that Buddhabhadra was claiming the one particle to be permanent. Actually this was not the case. Although the one particle of dust is an appearance of form, form has no self-nature, and so it is empty. Although an accumulation of dust particles is a form, this form is created from an accumulation of dust particles, and if you cause them to disperse, the form is shown to be empty.

One day when the Chinese Dharma Masters interrogated Buddhabhadra on this subject Buddhabhadra said, "Dharmas do not arise of themselves but are created from causal conditions. That which is created from causal conditions has no self-nature and therefore its very substance is emptiness."

The Emperor Yao Hsing was a firm believer in Buddhism. He had invited Kumarajiva to stay at the palace, and supported and made offerings to more than three thousand members of the Sangha who were free to wander in and out of the palace and who were on familiar terms with the Emperor and the high officials. Because the Emperor believed in the Buddha and respected the Sangha, the palace ministers and lesser officials did too. Knowing they had the Emperor's respect, the Sangha members often went to the court to social-climb. If a person were really cultivating, what would he be doing at the palace? So even then Chinese Dharma Masters sought high positions. The only one who didn't go to the palace was Buddhabhadra. The ways of the world are strange. He and his disciples didn't go, and because they were different from the others, people were jealous. If you are the only good one among the bad, unless you also join their evil party, they will not be at all satisfied with you. Because Buddhabhadra was not like the other members of the Sangha, they were upset with him. To his face they said, "You truly cultivate," but behind his back they slandered him. Having certified to the third fruit of Arhatship, Buddhabhadra more or less knew what they were saying and decided to return to India. He said to his several hundred disciples, "Yesterday, I saw five big boats leave India headed for China; when they arrive, we will depart on them."

Whenever there's trouble, the disciples are always behind it, heating matters up. It's a headache to take disciples. I hope no one believes in me and then I won't have such a great responsibility. Buddhabhadra's disciples went everywhere saying, "None of you Chinese High Masters pass. Last night our teacher saw five boats leave India for China. If he didn't have the Penetration of the Heavenly Eye, how could he have known?"

This made everyone even more jealous. The rumors got heavier and heavier and the leading Masters objected: "He's just manifesting a special style to make people believe in him."

Being slandered is one thing, but even among his own disciples there were not a few braggarts and liars who, for example, did not cultivate but claimed to have certified to the first, second, or third fruits of Arhatship.  Buddhabhadra didn't pay attention to such trivial matters and never told them that it was an offense to make such false claims. His bad disciples were only interested in making people believe that their words were efficacious and their knowledge extraordinary. They didn't cultivate but cheated everyone with their phony talk. When they let out the news about their accomplishments, the Chinese Dharma Masters couldn't let go of it. "On top of the five boats from India, this is really too much," they said, and couldn't forget about it.

High Chinese Master Tao Heng"3 said to Buddhabhadra, "You say five boats are on their way from India. The Buddha himself did not permit one to speak of his own higher attainments. This is the Buddha's precept and yet you continue to spread false, baseless rumors. What proof have you?"

There was no way, of course, to investigate by telegram, or telephone to discover if there were five boats headed for China. Tao Heng called Buddhabhadra a liar and added that some of his disciples were claiming to have certified to the fruit. "If you can't even keep track of your own disciples," he said, "how can you possibly teach other people?"

When the government heard that his disciples were making such claims they wanted to arrest and imprison them. This frightened his disciples and some changed their names and ran off over the wall in the middle of the night. Of several hundred disciples, only forty or so remained.

Then Tao Heng came to throw Buddhabhadra out. "Your disciples don't follow the rules and so, according to the Buddha's precepts, you can't stay here. From today onward, you'll have to leave. Get out."

Buddhabhadra said, "Fine. My body is like a floating reed and leaving poses no problem. I only regret that I haven't expressed the bulk of what I brought here," and then he and his great disciple Hui Kuan,4 and the forty other disciples left.

When Emperor Yao Hsing heard they had gone, he said to Tao Heng, "Master Buddhadhadra brought the Way to China intending to spread the Buddha's teaching. How could you throw him out for such a small matter? This is not right. How could you let such a trivial thing deprive the entire populace of a Good Knowing Advisor?" The Emperor immediately sent a party out to recall Buddhabhadra but when they found him, Buddhabhadra said to the attendant. "The Emperor has been most compassionate towards me, but I can't return with you. Please tell him I can't obey his command." That night he and his disciples escaped to Lu Mountain.

On Lu Mountain, Dharma Master Hui Yuan"5 propagated the Pure Land School. He had long ago heard of Buddhabhadra and of his translation work with Kumarajiva in Ch'ang An, greatly admired Buddhabhadra and had long wished to meet him, and so, when he heard that he had arrived at Lu Mountain, he was extremely happy. The two of them chatted like old friends and Buddhabhadra helped Hui Yuan translate many Sutras.

The dwellings on the mountain were humble, but Buddhabhadra paid no attention, nor did he accept the offerings of those who came to meet him.  After more than a year he left Lu Mountain for Chiang Ling6 the present day Nanking, and went out to beg for his food every day. He begged without discrimination, paying no attention to whether the families he begged from were rich or poor.

Once, Buddhabhadra and his disciples begged at the house of Sung Dynasty Emperor Wu Ti's7 General Yuan Pao.8 General Yuan Pao did not believe in the Triple Jewel or respect the Sangha. Despite the fact that Buddhabhadra was a foreigner, Yuan Pao's offerings were stingy and there was not enough food to go around. Those who eat vegetarian food should regulate their diet carefully. If the food is not varied and well cooked, you cannot cultivate.  If you eat cabbage one day, then eat turnips the next, and the next day sprouts. In general, it doesn't have to be as pungent as meat, but neither should it be as foul smelling as garbage.

Now, Yuan Pao's food offering was probably half raw and half cooked, and his rice half raw and partly spoiled, and so no one ate his fill and Yuan Pao said, "Eat some more! You don't come here often to beg and even though they aren't good offerings, you should eat your fill."

"Your heart is too small," said Buddhabhadra. "Your decision to make offerings has been half-hearted. You are not magnanimous, and your rice is all gone; what would you have us eat?"

"Impossible!" said Yuan Pao, "quickly, bring in some more rice."

"It's all gone," said the servant.

"This Dharma Master hasn't been to the kitchen. How does he know that the rice is gone?" thought Yuan Pao and he felt it was very strange. Later, he asked Hui Kuan, "What kind of a person is this Sramana?"

Hui Kuan said, "This Sramana's virtue is lofty and limitless, not that which common men can fathom. His state is inconceivable."

Yuan Pao was even more greedy to know about him and thought, "Are there still such men left in the world?"  He invited him to live in Nanking, and Buddhabhadra dwelt there in Tao Ch'ang Temple.9 He was very frugal, completely different from the Chinese in his habits. He didn't wear fine clothes or eat rich food. For this reason many Chinese Bhiksus and Bhiksunis respected and made offerings to him. Later he translated the first thirty-six thousand gathas of the Avatamsaka sutra and helped Dharma Master Fa Hsien translate Mahasanghikavinaya.11 He died in the sixth year of the Yuan Chia reign of the Sung dynasty (430 A.D.) at seventy-one years of age.

This sage had certified to the fruit and often manifested spiritual powers. When thrown out of China by jealous rivals, forty truly faithful disciples accompanied him.

While Master Buddhabhadra was in Chiang Ling, the five boats from India did, in fact, arrive in China. Because of this, many people came to believe in him. Dharma Master Hui Yuan was greatly moved, and wrote Buddhabhadra: " that the boats have arrived, the Sangha in Ch'ang An and even the Emperor Yao Using, don't know what to think..."

1 2 3 4 5 6

reign dates 420-423. 8 9

10 11 T. 278 12 T.1426.