Reminder from last issue:
Although the Buddha entered Nirvana in India, people in China also knew about it.
During that era, Taoism was flourishing in China. When Buddhism came to China, some of the Taoist masters became jealous. They held an audience with the emperor and told him, "Buddhism is a false faith. It's a foreign religion; it’s not Chinese. Therefore, you shouldn't permit it to spread through China. Buddhism should be abolished!" they urged. "If you won't abolish it, then you should at least hold a contest." How would it work? The Taoists suggested that the emperor put the Buddha’s sutras together in a pile with the Taoists’ texts, and then set fire to them. Whichever books burned belonged to the false religion, and the texts that survived the flames would be the true ones.
Chu Shanxin, the Taoist leader of the time, and five hundred other Taoist masters put the Taoist books and spells together with the Buddhist texts and then prayed to the Venerable Lao Jun, saying, "Divine Lord, Oh Virtuous One of the Way! You must grant us a magical response to insure that our texts will not burn and that the Buddhist sutras will go up in flames!"
Many Taoist masters of the time had psychic powers. Some could "soar through the clouds and ride the fog." Others could sail through the heavens and hide in the earth. Some could vanish into thin air. That is, you might see one in front of you, but suddenly he would disappear! There were Taoists who had the power to do almost anything! Some of them could make a quick escape by disappearing. They had used the charms and spells of the Taoist religion to gain a considerable number of spiritual powers.
But this time, when the fire was lit, guess what happened? Instead of burning, the Buddhist sutras emitted light! The relics (sharira) of the Buddha also emitted a five-colored light that flared into space as bright as the sun, shining over the entire world.
As soon as the Taoist texts were set on fire, they burned to ashes and were gone. Those who had been able to "soar through the clouds" couldn’t do it anymore. They lost their spiritual powers. Those who had been able to sail to the heavens could no longer manage it. Those who had been able to hide in the earth could no longer hide in the earth. Those who had been able to vanish couldn't vanish. The spells they mumbled no longer worked. There was no response. The Taoist texts burned to a crisp and the Taoist masters Chu Shanxin and Fei Chengqing died of rage right then and there! Two or three hundred of their disciples shaved their heads and became Buddhist monks on the spot. This was the first time Taoism and Buddhism held a Dharma-contest, and the Taoists lost.
After the book burning, the Venerable Kashyapa-matanga and the Venerable Gobharana ascended into space and revealed the Eighteen Transformations of an Arhat. Their upper torsos emitted water, and their abdomens emitted fire; then their upper torsos emitted fire, and their abdomens emitted water. They walked about in space, and then lay down and went to sleep in the air, and manifested various spiritual transformations. Everyone, including the emperor, came to believe in Buddhism. So the Sutra in Forty-two Sections Spoken by the Buddha is an extremely important sutra. This Sutra was the first Buddhist sutra transmitted to China. So we have come together to investigate this Sutra today.