Commentary by Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua
Translated by Bhikshuni Heng Yin
Reviewed by Bhikshuni Heng Ch'ih
continued from issue #97




      This is part 4, narration of the fire breaking out. It divides into four parts of which this is the first:

a. Verses about what is happening on the ground as parable to the desire realm.

This has four parts, also, the first being 1, narrating the kinds of beings being burned.


      Kites and owls: In the Book of Songs it says,

The owl, the owl--

The unfilial bird

This bird is unfilial. How? Because as soon as it is born it eats its mother. The owl is hatched out of a lump of dirt that the mother sits on. As soon as it is born the first thing it does is eat its mother. The mother is really cheap, just sits and waits to be eaten. She is being very compassionate indeed, giving her life to her child, but you could also call it a kind of retribution. In past lives, the mother bird was unfilial, and so in this life she is a bird who ends up being eaten by her child. The head of an owl looks like a cat. They eat mice. These birds according to Chinese custom are considered very unlucky. Whoever sees an owl, is in for some hard times, some inauspicious events. Nothing's going to go right for them. In China there's a saying,

(yeh mao chin chai, wu shih pu lai )

When the owl shows up in your house

Hard times is a-comin'.

If an owl flies into your house, someone's going to die, or else there's going to be a fire, or perhaps thieves will come and rob you-a lot of unlucky things are coming your way. So no one wants to lay eyes on this gird.

How did it get to be an owl? When it was a person, it was not filial to its parents, and was extremely arrogant. "See me? I'm bigger than my Mom and Dad." At home they acted like the Emperor, and outside they acted like the President. So since they thought they were so incredibly fine, they forgot to be filial to their parents and they turned into owls.

Hawks are huge birds. Vultures and hawks like to eat carrion things, human or animal corpses, dead, unclean things. Why? When these birds were people they liked to look down on everyone else and make big plans for themselves. They liked being high, always thinking they were number one. They-always schemed about how well off they were going to be in the future, aid how much better off they were going to be than everyone else. But they never did anything. They had a lot of fancy plans, alright, but they did things very clumsy. They forgot their fine ambitions, but nothing accomplished. At night they lay on their beds with a thousand schemes going through their brains. Too many ideas. Then during the day, they took a lot of naps. False thinking all night and sleeping all day. They are of no use to themselves or to anyone else, but their minds create a lot of offenses because of their wild plans and they turn into birds. See how high the birds fly? People who like to fly high and far can turn into these high-flying, far-ranging birds.




The birds mentioned here represent arrogance, one of the Five Dull Servants: greed, hate, stupidity, arrogance, and doubt. There are eight kinds of birds, which represent eight kinds of arrogance. Birds, when they were people, liked to "fly high," and they were very conceited and looked down on other people. They didn't think anyone else measured up to them, and they pushed people around. If they had money, they looked down on the poor. If they had some talent, they looked down on the less gifted. Perhaps they had a tiny bit of wisdom, but they looked down on others. In general, they looked on others as very low and upon themselves as very high. Birds swoop down from on high and feel that they are above it all. Yesterday we talked about the kites and owls. Hawks are very large and have red beaks and they can eat small animals, even deer and rabbits. They can swoop down, pick up a deer by the legs and fly up into the sky with it. Vultures are a yellow color. They like to eat rotting flesh, unclean things, like dead mice or dead cats, animals long dead and crawling with worms, terribly smelly.

Crows are the opposite of owls. Crows are very filial birds. Whey are they said to be filial? By the time the little crows are hatched out of their eggs and have learned to fly, the mother crow can't fly anymore. So the little crows go out and get food and drink and bring it back to the old mother crow. So the crows are filial birds. Though they are filial, they are still very arrogant. They are conceited.

Crows are black. Magpies are black with white breasts and are about the same size as crows. Chinese people consider them lucky. If they hear a magpie chattering in the morning, everyone is happy. Today something lucky is going to happen. Perhaps an important guest will come. Something nice is going to happen. Everyone likes this bird.

Pigeons come in the autumn. Most birds eat bugs, but pigeons do a good thing by not eating them. They just eat grain. They don't eat bugs. They think they are very beautiful. Those are eight kinds of birds, which represent eight kinds of arrogance.

1. Kites represent arrogance over one's prosperity.

2. Owls represent arrogance over one's name. When they were people they thought that they had the most noble family name.

3. Hawks represent arrogance over one's wealth. When they were people they thought that they took pride in being wealthier than everyone else. You could say that people who are very snobbish because of their wealth are just acting like hawks.

4. Vultures represent arrogance over one's freedom. They feel totally free and unfettered. They can eat whenever they feel like it, because they just eat rotten stuff anyway; they like it and consider it a beneficial ascetic practice, which gives them great freedom! But it is an unbeneficial ascetic practice.

5. Crows represent arrogance over longevity. They feel that they can live for a very long time. Even if they don't, they still think that they do because they are conceited about their longevity.

6. Magpies represent arrogance over their intelligence. Many people share this type of arrogance. They feel that they are the smartest of all.

7. Pigeons represent arrogance over good works. They say, "See? You are all carnivores and I am not!" and they are arrogant over their good deeds.

8. Doves represent arrogance over beauty. They are always flying around and showing off in front of people. "See how lovely I am?" they seem to be saying. They don't start flying until you get real close to them because they are waiting for you to get close enough to see how lovely they are when they fly around.

So the eight types of birds stand for eight kinds of arrogance. Arrogance being the fourth of the five Dull Servants. Arrogant people feel that when they are at home they are the Emperor and when they step outside, they are the President. They are always better than the next person.




These are poisonous creatures. Black Snakes are extremely poisonous, the most venomous of all snakes. Vipers are also a kind of snake. They are about three inches wide and they are extremely poisonous.
Scorpions also sting people.
Centipedes have red heads. The ones without red heads are Millipedes. They, too, are very poisonous. On the first day of the fifth lunar month of each year, in Manchuria we go to the mountains to gather mugwort, a medicinal herb, and put some in our ears. This prevents the millipedes from crawling in our ears. They are five inches long. They can after a long period of time, turn into people, freaky people. But they are afraid of the smelling of medicinal properties of the mugwort plant. If you put a mugwort in them; if someone gets one of these bugs in their ears, they will die because it poisons their brain.

The poisonous bugs represent hatred, which is also one of the Five Dull Servants. Whoever is hateful can easily turn into one of these creatures. So take care not to be hateful or get angry.




Geckoes: These creatures live in the walls of houses. In Chinese their name means, literally, "Protectors of the Palace." This is because the old Emperors had many concubines and they would take the blood of the gecko and smear it on each concubineís arm. If the concubines had not engaged in sexual relations, the blood would stay on their arms, even if they tried to wash it off. If they had had sexual relations, then the blood would disappear. The women in the palace got smeared with this blood and their arms were checked every day to see if they had been true to the Emperor. This is what the legend says, but there's no way to know for sure now whether it actually worked that way. Myriapods are creatures with a lot of legs. They are black and about three inches long.

As I said, the fifth month of the lunar year is the month for gathering medicinal herbs. From the first of the fifth month to the fifth of the fifth month any grass or herb plant you gather is medicinal. The mugwort gathered on that day is said to be especially potent. That's a legend in China.
Weasels in Manchuria there are two kinds. One is called huang hsien and one is called hu hsien.
The huang hsien is the weasel. It is about three feet long but not very tall, about as tall as a cat. It has a big tail and hair of its tail is the very best for making writing brushes. Especially writing small, tiny characters. Its tail is half as long as its body, very large. The hairs make the best brushes. But they let off a stink. Dogs want to go chase them, but run off instead. It's sort of like the mace cans in Oakland the police use. They set off their "stink bombs" to protect them from the dogs. It stinks worse than anything. Some are yellow, some are black and some are white. After a thousand years they turn black. After ten thousand years they turn white. After a hundred years they have a certain amount of spiritual penetrations. They are very talented. Sort of like foxes.
Wildcats eat chickens and cats and ducks, little animals.
Mice; These mice are very strange. They are called "sweet mouth mice," because their mouth are very sweet. They bite you and drink your blood, but you feel no pain.
Above, the Geckoes and Myriapods represent, among the Five Dull Causes, stupidity. This is because they have no wisdom. They also represent one of the two kinds of ignorance, "solitary head" ignorance. There is "solitary head ignorance and there is also "responsive" ignorance. The weasels, wildcat and mice represent "responsive" ignorance because they help each other out.

All sorts of evil creatures: discussed above, represent the two kinds of ignorance. Were running back and forth: They ran from north to east to south to west as the house caught on fire. This is talking about the mark of karma in the Triple World. The mark of karma cuts in a crisscross through our lives without any end. It arises very fast, one after another. It "runs," as it were.







      There are places stinking of excrement and urine: These things are found inside our bodies, and no matter how well washed we may be on the outside, we are still just as dirty on the inside, just as smelly. You can put on perfume and gargle with breath-freshener, but you'll still smell inside. Why love such an unclean thing as if it were a treasure? That's just being too stupid, really. This represents the stupidity of being attached to states, for states are all impermanent, suffering, without self, and impure. In what is impure, we become attached to purity. We greedily attach to this impurity and don't realize that it stinks as much as it does.

Oozing with filth unclean things seeping and oozing all over, dirtying every thing.

With Dung Beetles

Clustering on them Dung Beetles live in shit. People think that shit is unclean, but they live there and like it a lot, yes they do. They think, "This is really a fine place I've got here!" Ha! See how they are? Sometimes they offer a piece of shit to the Buddha, I mean, so they think it's good to offer to the Buddha. Now, does the Buddha get upset over this? No. Even though it is unclean, still they are offering it with respect so the Buddha doesn't blame them. After all, they don't have anything else. That's it as far as their valuable things to offer to the Buddha. Since they made sincere offerings to the Buddha, they can eventually stop their dung-beetle bodies and in their next lives become people. But they are usually poor people, lowly people, or deaf, dumb, or blind people because their karmic obstructions from past lives are too heavy. Anyway the dung beetles were all clustered on the shit and piss in the dirty places of the house. You might say, "Oh, it's too dirty there, dung-beetles. Come on, Iím going to relocate you somewhere else." So you put them in a bottle of perfume thinking you are being very good to them and what happens? They die in less than an hour. They don't have the blessings to withstand it. They can only live in the shit and piss. Move them and they die. Last year there were some people from another cultivating group who came here to visit and I explained this principle to them. I said, "Wherever you have affinities, that is where you will go. If you like to study what is false, you will go somewhere it is false. If you want to study what is true, you will find a true place. If you move the bugs in the toilet to a bottle of perfume, they won't be able to live there, they will feel very uncomfortable."

Hearing this principle, we students of the Buddhadharma should think it over. Don't choose a place that stinks. At the least, burn a bit of incense before the Buddhas everyday. Study the real Buddhadharma. Don't study improper Buddhadharma. Don't run into the pile of shit to stay. If you stay there, it's of no great advantage to you.