Continued from issue 60

From the lectures of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
Translated by Bhiksuni Heng Chih
Revised by Bhiksuni Heng Yin
Edited by Bhiksu Heng Kuan & Sramanerika Heng Chen


"Filling the Skies It's Shih Tao An."

Today I will introduce a high monk who is singularly outstanding. He lived during the Chin dynasty. His home was at Ch'ang Shan and his family name was Wei. This high monk was unlucky from birth on, for his father and mother both died shortly after his birth.

What was his name?

Dharma Master Tao An. After he became a Dharma Master he dwelt in Ch'ang An at Wu Chi Monastery. He was raised by his cousin, whose surname was K'ung. When he was seven he began to read, and it was found that he could recite the books from memory upon having read them twice through. He had total recall, and was particularly quick in his studies. The villagers all knew that this child was very unusual, gifted with genius. After he left the home life when he was twelve years old, his intelligence increased even more.  But no one is 100% perfect. If this aspect of you is good then some other aspect of you is not so good. If another aspect of you is good, then this aspect is flawed.

What was wrong with him?

He was incredibly ugly, so ugly that no one would pay any attention to him. It repulsed people just to look at him. What is more, not a single woman liked him, and as soon as they caught sight of him they quickly turned their heads away in disgust. This had its good points, however, because no woman ever bothered his practice, and he didn't have to dislike women, because they wouldn't come near him anyway. It was easy for him to develop his skill in cultivation.

The skin on his face was black, and after he left the home life the other monks named him "Black Man of the Way." Because he was so ugly, they ridiculed him by choosing a word for black, which also means lacquer.

His facial features were so malformed that not only could women not endure the sight of him, his own teacher couldn't stand him. The teacher never wanted to see the disciple.

What did he do?

He planted the fields and did other kinds of bitter work. If he wasn't being a "scarecrow sramanera" and shooing the birds away he was planting the crops. He did only hard work like this for several years-three at the very least--and was never lazy. In the morning if the time to rise was three, he would get up at two-thirty. If the time to sleep was midnight, he would retire at twelve-thirty. In general he rose before the others and retired after them. It is not so easy to be a 4ramanera, and if you want to be a sramanera you must rise before the others and retire after them.

Dharma Master Tao An was exceptionally diligent and never complained, "I'm the only one who does any work around here. You are all really lazy.   It's no fair! There's no justice in the monk's life." He never said such things, and day by day his diligence increased. And he never resorted to laziness.  He was a vegetarian and held the precepts quite thoroughly.

After five years he finally spoke with his teacher, after bowing to him for five years without exchanging a word. This ugly Sramanera did not dare converse with his master for all that time. What were the first words he said?

"Master, what Sutra should I read?"

His master didn't say a word, but took a copy of the Sutra entitled Discussion of Intention, which contained 5000 sentences, and handed it to his disciple.

The next day Dharma Master Tao An carried the Sutra with him most respectfully when he went into the fields to work. When people do bitter work they work for two hours and then they should rest for half an hour before returning to the task. Dharma Master Tao An took the Discussion of Intention Sutra to the fields and during the rest periods he would read. That night he returned the Sutra to his teacher and asked for another.

His master said, "I gave you that Sutra only yesterday. How can you read another one before you finish the first?"

"I can already recite it from memory," the disciple replied.

His master thought, "Of all the nerve. He claims he can recite the Sutra from memory after having looked at it for one day--he's a little liar."  But he wasn't interested in attending to this disciple or talking with him much, so he just pulled out another Sutra, the Realization of Complete Light Sutra, which contained 10,000 sentences.

The next day Tao An went back to the fields to work, and again during the rest periods he read the Sutra. That night he returned the volume to his master.

His master said, "Have you finished reading it, too?"

"I've finished reading it," he said, "and I can recite it from memory."

"Really?" his master asked. "I don't believe it. Come here, I'll test you. Give the book to me." The Master took the book, and holding it so the disciple couldn't see, peered at it and said, "Recite." Tao An recited from beginning to end without a single mistake. His teacher was taken aback. Oh, this ugly disciple is that intelligent. That unusual. Once he knew how smart his ugly disciple was he told him to read sutras and study the Buddhadharma and refrain from bitter work.

Having such an excellent opportunity to study the Sutras, Dharma Master Tao An gained a penetrating understanding of the Great and Small Vehicle, the three stores: the Sutras; the Sastras, and the Vinaya. Having penetrated the Sutra store he had wisdom like the sea and unobstructed eloquence. He then went about propagating the Buddhadharma and teaching and transforming living beings. He was 20 then, and was lecturing Sutras and speaking Dharma.

Thereupon he went to draw near to Fo T'u Ch'eng, a sage who had certified to the fruit of Arhatship and who had great spiritual penetrations.  As soon as he saw Dharma Master Tao An he was particularly pleased and his saying, "Oh, you've come. I've been waiting for you for a long time," proves that Dharma Master Tao An was no ordinary person. He and Fo T'u Ch'eng began to talk and each was brimming with interest. They talked a whole day and night without stopping to eat or even take a drink of water. And with that, the disciples of Fo T'u Ch'eng got jealous.

"He's such an ugly monk. What in the world are you talking to him about?" the disciples asked Fo T'u Ch'eng.

Fo T'u Ch'eng said, "You don't match up to that ugly monk. You don't make it. He's not an ordinary person."

Even though he explained it to them, the several hundred bhiksus and bhiksunis who had drawn near to him were put out' with jealousy upon seeing Fo T'u Ch'eng being so good to Dharma Master Tao An. Why is it that people who cultivate do not certify to sagehood and become enlightened? It is because they are jealous. If they weren't jealous, they would not be far from enlightenment and certification to the fruit.

Sometimes when Fo T'u Ch'eng lectured Sutras and spoke Dharma he would tell Dharma Master Tao An to give a student lecture. When he lectured, although Dharma Master Tao An's eloquence was unobstructed, the disciples of Fo T'u Ch'eng had no respect for him. And yet there was nothing they could do about him. Why didn't they respect him? Because he was a newcomer and some of them had been with Fo T'u Ch'eng for decades. So they all debated with him. When they couldn't outdebate him they still wanted to force the issue. They continually argued with him. But every time there was a discussion they had to give in to Dharma Master Tao An because none of them could match his eloquence. So he was the "Black Man of the Way Who Startled the Neighborhood."

Although Dharma Master Tao An's appearance was ugly, his mind and nature were extremely beautiful, and officials and scholars took refuge with him. He was a learned man with great wisdom, and people of the time who were in their own right renowned would draw near to him and request him to lecture the Sutras and speak Dharma. This official would request him to lecture, and then that minister would request him to lecture, until soon there was never a day when he did not lecture Sutras and speak Dharma. The disciples who drew near to him and followed him wherever he went never numbered less than 500.  His reputation was such that not a single person had not heard of him.

At that time a hermit, one who "hid away to perfect his will and practiced to reach perfection of the Way," who wasn't greedy for anything, and in addition, who investigated the Buddhadharma, went to see Dharma Master Tao An.

What was his name?

Hsi Ts'o Ch'ih, and although his name means to "practice drilling teeth," he was not a dentist. He was just called that.

"What is your name?" Dharma Master Tao An asked him.

"You don't know who I am?" he replied somewhat astounded. "Within the four seas it's Hsi T'so Ch'ih." That is to say, everybody knew him, An, and you have to ask!

"Oh," replied Dharma Master Tao An, "so with you it's 'within four seas it's Hsi T'so Ch'ih.' Do you know who I am?"

Hsi Ts'o Ch'ih said, "You? You're Dharma Master Tao An."

To which he replied, "I? Filling the skies it's Shih Tao An." He filled the heavens while Hsi Ts'o Ch'ih was within the four seas. And of course, what fills the skies covers over the four seas, so everyone saw what a fine rebuttal that was. It became a famous bit of repartee.

Dharma Master Tao An traveled extensively lecturing Sutras and speaking Dharma, and eventually Dharma Master Kumarajiva, who was still in India, heard that in China there was a Dharma Master who filled the skies named Shih Tao An. He knew for sure that he was a sage. So while still in India Kumarajiva began to bow nine times to Dharma Master Tao An every day. While in Kucha and Kashmir and the like Dharma Master Kumarajiva continued to make obeisance to him every day, and he hoped to be able to go to China to see him, but before he arrived, Dharma Master Tao An had gone off to rebirth.

There is another incident which occurred prior to Dharma Master Tao An's rebirth, and it involved another hermit whose name was Wang Chia, who came often to see him. When Dharma Master Tao An was about to complete the stillness Wang Chia came, and Tao An said, "We two should go together. We shouldn't stay here any longer."

Wang Chia replied, "Oh, you want to go? You go ahead. I still have a small debt to pay. When I have cleared my debt I'll come along." After they finished speaking Tao An sat in full lotus and left. 

      At that time Yao Ch'ang held Ch'ang An, but Fu Teng rebelled and the ensuing struggle for power was long and drawn out. Because Wang Chia was in the city at the time, Yao Ch'ang asked him, "Will we gain victory over Teng?"

"In general you'll get it." was Wang Chia's reply.

His answer outraged Ch'ang. "If we are to get it, you should say, 'get it.' How could there be anything 'in general' about it?" He had Wang Chia beheaded. This was the debt Chia had been referring to.

After Yao Ch'ang died his son Yao Hsing took the throne and Hsing's son, named Liao, "In General," continued the battle and obtained victory over Fu Teng. It was he who Wang Chia had been referring to. Wang Chia was also ugly. He spoke like a drunk, and yet, although none of his contemporaries believed him, his words were prophetic. At the time people simply did not understand what he said. So, Wang Chia also had some spiritual penetrations, which were not small. A parallel can be drawn to Han Shan and Shih Te.

On the very same day that Yao Ch'ang had Wang Chia executed, Wang Chia was seen elsewhere walking down a road. Only later did those who saw him walking come to find out it was on that very day that he was beheaded in the capital. The small debt he had referred to was his own life, and he wanted to wait and undergo the retribution of repaying with his life.

So you can see, the ancients regarded the question of birth and death as both "as light as a swallow's feather and as heavy as Mt. T'ai." Although Wang Chia was an upasaka, one who was still at home, he understood his past lives and wanted to right the books in order to dissolve the old debt. In Buddhism everything can be discussed in terms of cause and effect. Everything has its prior causes and latter effects--one gives rise to delusion, creates karma, and undergoes retribution.

How does one give rise to delusions?

The arising of delusions is just ignorance. Because you lack understanding and haven't any wisdom, out of ignorance you create all kinds of improper bad karma. Once you create that bad karma you must undergo retribution. So the arising of delusion, creation of karma, and undergoing of retribution are interconnected. If you fear retribution you should not create karma. In order not to create karma you must constantly use your prajna wisdom instead of your ignorance.

Earlier one of my disciples came to me saying that he had a problem concerning Buddhism. I thought it was probably not a horrendous problem. When I asked him what question he had he admitted it was a small question. By the time he had expressed the little question, it turned out that there wasn't any question there at all.

What did he ask?

He spoke about his desire. He kept trying to find the root of his desire, but it didn't seem to have a root. He couldn't find it. He couldn't find the source of it and yet it kept coming up. Where does it come from? Now I will answer you. It comes from your ignorance. If you can smash your ignorance, the desire will disappear. All such questions will cease. If you want to understand this question, first smash your ignorance.

What is ignorance?

It is a barrel of black energy. If you smash the barrel of black energy, you will have broken your ignorance and will be able to see your Dharma-nature. Once you see your Dharma-nature you are in an eternal storehouse of light. When you are perpetually in that great storehouse of light, desire cannot come in, and it cannot get out, because it basically does not exist.

Now I will tell you how people who have left the home life came to use the name Shih. Originally in China people who had left the home life took their teacher's name. If the teacher was named Chang, the disciples took the name Chang. If the teacher was named Li, the disciples took the name Li. If the teacher was named Wang, the disciples took the name Wang. It was essential to have a teacher in order to leave the home life, someone to certify that one had in fact left home and received the precepts.

Then Dharma Master Tao An said, "We should not use our teacher's name, we should use the Buddha's name. The Buddha was named Sakya, and we who have left the home life should take the name Shih (the first Chinese character in the transliteration of the name Sakya).

When he brought it up, no one believed he was serious. "Ridiculous," they said, "how can we take the Buddha's name as our own? Although it is not appropriate to use our own names, it is appropriate that we take our teacher's name. Word spread, several decades passed, and still the idea was not put into practice.

Later a Sutra came from India called the Ekottaragama Sutra and it said, "When the four rivers enter the sea, they are no longer called rivers.  When the four varnas (classes) become sramanas, they all take the name of the Sakya clan." The four classes refer to the Ksatriya, Brihmana, Vaisya, and Sudra. When the four castes, leave the home life, they all take on the surname Sakya. This proved that Dharma Master Tao An's opinion coincided with the doctrines spoken in the Sutra. After that all those who left the home life took the surname Shih.

So he was "filling the skies it's Shih Tao An." Prior to that he had been called "Chu" Tao An, and some people say that Chu Tao An is not the same person as Shih Tao An, but that is not the case. They refer to the same person. It's just that before the change of name he was Chu Tao An and afterward he became Shih Tao An.


"A Thorn in a Bamboo Tube"

This Dharma Master was Shih Tao An's disciple. Before he left the home life there was nothing he would not do. He drank, ate meat--whatever was bad, he did, a lot like present day American youth. But then unexpectedly he met up with Dharma Master Tao An who was lecturing Sutras at the time. As soon as he heard the Sutra he exclaimed, "This is more wonderful than anything imaginable." Then he left the home life, followed Dharma Master Tao An, and cultivated. He also was extremely intelligent, and soon he was lecturing Sutras and speaking Dharma. In time vast numbers of people began studying with him.

At that time there were some bhiksus who did not follow the rules.  Dharma Master Pa Yu knew of one bhiksu in particular who kept going out to drink, breaking the precept against using intoxicants. Once when he came back drunk and began to berate people, Dharma Master Fa Yu slapped him. He did not, however, send him away.

Eventually Dharma Master Tao An got word of the incident and he sent his disciple a bamboo tube. Inside the tube he placed a thorn. When Dharma Master Fa YU opened it, he knew that his teacher wished to punish him. So he struck the bell and beat the drum and called everyone together. Then he told the Wei No, "This monk has truly committed an offense. The Master is so far away." (At the time Dharma Master Tao An was several hundred miles away.) "I have done something wrong and caused the high master concern. I am at fault." Then he knelt before the Buddha and told the Wei No to strike him three times with the incense board. After being struck three times he cried bitterly and said, "I am truly an unfilial disciple. I have caused the Master, at such a great distance, to have to be in two places at once."  He was deeply repentant.

After his repentance he continued to cultivate and be in charge of a large gathering of bhiksus until one day he sat in full lotus and said goodbye to everyone with the words, "I have done what I had to do. I am going." And then he sat there and departed. You have heard of a great many who sat and left. Which of you in the future will try it out?

to be continued


TO BE PUBLISHED: The first volume of a careful and accurate translation of the Venerable Master HUB'S General Explanation of the WONDERFUL DHARMA LOTOS FLOWER SUTRA to be published in chapter length volumes by the Buddhist Text Translation Society will be appearing in print soon. The first volume of the Venerable Master's General Explanation of the GREAT BUDDHA'S CROWN, TATHAGATA'S SECRET CAUSE OF CULTIVATION AND CERTIFICATION TO THE COMPLETE MEANING, ALL BODHISATTVA'S MYRIAD PRACTICES, FOREMOST SURANGAMA SUTRA also to be published in a series of volumes, will soon be published. It is said of the Surangama Sutra that it opens one's wisdom and of the Lotus Sutra that it brings about realization of Buddhahood. Dont miss reading these two major Mahayana texts!


Excerpt from Venerable Master Huas commentary on the "Ten Dwellings Chapter" of the Avatamsaka.

In the Tripitaka there is a very short sutra called The Buddha Speaks on the Demise of the Dharma Sutra. It says what it's like in the Dharma-ending age. If you want to investigate how it is when the Dharma is about to become extinct, you should look at it. It's a very short sutra, but it says that in the Dharma-ending age the Surangama Sutra will be the first to disappear. The Buddha Standing Samadhi Sutra will vanish next, because this sutra also represents the orthodox Dharma. Why does the Surangama Sutra disappear first? It is because the Surangama Sutra speaks of people's faults too clearly. The people of deviant knowledge and views cannot remain when the Surangama Sutra is in existence. While the Surangama Sutra is around people must have orthodox views and knowledge and must follow the precepts. When there is no Surangama Sutra, people don't have to follow the rules because the other sutras don't expose them. Other sutras don't say this as clearly. So Great Master No I said, "People say the Surangama Sutra is false. No matter who says it is false, I think it was spoken by the Buddha and Patriarchs. If the Buddha and Patriarchs did not speak it, it would not be as logical and sensible, and as orderly as it is. If the Buddha himself manifested now and told me the Surangama Sutra was false, I would think it was a demon speaking and would not believe him. Because of that, if we want to uphold the orthodox Dharma, we must deeply believe in the Surangama Sutra and not have a much as a hair of doubt. So the Surangama Sutra represents the orthodox Dharma. As long as there is the Surangama Sutra it is the time of the orthodox Dharma. Without it, it's the Dharma-ending age.

Don't listen to the stupid, senseless people who claim it is spurious.  You can't believe them. But people are just that way. If you tell them what is proper they don't believe it. If you speak of what is improper, they believe it easily. People can learn bad things without studying them: they understand on their own. If someone tries to teach them what is good, grabs them by the ear and says to their face, "Believe in this, it's real," they won't believe, because people are just that kind of strange creature. Those of proper knowledge and views are few, but those of deviant knowledge and views are many.


ERRATA. Issue #60, page 19 line one of Location Two. The last word of this line should read outside.

Issue #60, page 95 tf4 was omitted. It reads: The Bhiksu Precepts will be transmitted on October 3rd, 1976.