Heng Kuan: Could I say something about the principles we’re discussing?
Venerable Master: What do you have to say? Speak about your outlook.
Heng Kuan: There are three possible interpretations of “at that time.” The first interpretation is that given by the Venerable Master yesterday evening (October 31, 1973), namely “at that time” being whatever time you are listening to this.
Now I will introduce the second interpretation. What time is that? It’s the time within the Flower Adornment Sutra when the names of the Emptiness-Ruling Spirit had been given, and the liberation doors which those Emptiness-Ruling Spirits had awakened to and understood had been described in the Sutra text. At that point, they were going to praise the Buddha for helping them have such attainments. That, then, is the reference of “at that time.” Why say “at that time"? It’s because if you didn’t say it was at that time, the people listening to the Sutra would become afraid and would have no way to understand that meaning. That’s why when that time arrives, then in the Sutra text it says, “at that time.” The time, then, is when the verses praising the Buddha are about to be spoken.
However, as to “at that time,” fundamentally there is no such time. Hence the third interpretation of “at that time” is at a time which is thus. What is thus? What is not thus? The meaning of “thus” indicates that everything is thusness, just as it is, and so there is no time.
This section of text is describing how, when the Emptiness-Ruling Spirit named Pure Light Shining Everywhere was speaking “at that time,” there was not a time. That’s because emptiness is the absence of anything, so how could there be a specific occasion or time? And yet everything exists within empty space, and so one can also say “at that time.” To sum things up, what is “at that time"? It just depends on the state of the individual. Ultimately, “at that time” is just that time.
Venerable Master: Who’s next? Kuo I?
Heng Yin: Because there is not any time, I’ll just say a four-line gatha by the Venerable Master, and change one word in it—that’s the word “thing” —to the word “time.” And it’s:
Every time is a test
To see what you will do.
If you don’t recognize what’s before your eyes,
You have to start anew.
Venerable Master: Who is next to speak?
Heng Ch’ih: There are also five interpretations of “at that time.” The first is the time when something was about to be said. The speaking was already going on, things had been said, and something was about to be said. The second is time which serves to dismiss outside ways, those of externalist persuasions, because sometimes those teachings do not deal with time in a true and accurate way. They are opinionated, but the Buddhadharma doesn’t cheat people. It deals very clearly with time. It explains it. The third is the time of planting seeds, which means planting good roots for future Buddhahood. The fourth is the time when there is a true and proper Teacher—proper teaching and proper learning. The fifth is the time when the Buddha wanted to speak and living beings wanted to listen. Those are the five.
Venerable Master: Gwo Pu, you talk.
Heng Hsien: I’m not really sure, but I think “at that time” was said by the Venerable Ananda. In our world-system, Shakyamuni Buddha used the Dharma body to speak the Flower Adornment Sutra. But the way we came to have the Sutra was because the Venerable Ananda told us he had heard it from the Buddha. We have been listening to the Flower Adornment Sutra for a year now... (fall of 1973)
Venerable Master: Not just one year, right? It’s been two years, right?
Heng Hsien: The Prologue was also lectured for a year.
(Historical note: The lectures on the Flower Adornment Sutra began with the Flower Adornment Preface on June 13, 1971, at Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco).
Up to now in the Sutra text itself, Shakyamuni Buddha has not yet spoken; but many other living beings have been receiving the Buddha’s awesome strength and speaking. However, I think the words “at that time” were spoken by the Venerable Ananda when the Sutras were being compiled.
Venerable Master: Dharma Master Miao Jing, use battle ax and broadsword to critique them.
Dharma Master Miao Jing: Do I need to talk?
Venerable Master: Please evaluate them. (to the group) Dharma Master Miao says since you are not sincere, he doesn’t want to critique you. What can you do to show your sincerity?
Dharma Master Miao Jing: That’s not necessary.
Venerable Master: Then you should critique them. We’re all insiders. No one is an outsider. Behind closed doors, any one of us can be an emperor. (laughter)
Dharma Master Miao Jing: Roll one of the Flower Adornment Sutra, in the second half of page 8 says, “Thus I have heard, at one time the Buddha was in the country of Magadha in the Bodhi Way Place of Aranya (Arana) Dharma, having just accomplished Proper Enlightenment.” The “time” in that case is when the Buddha had accomplished the Way. Later on the text says, “At that time, the King of Gods named Sea of Wondrous Adornments received the Buddha’s awesome might, and universally for the multitudes of Gods of Sovereignty, spoke the following verses.” “At that time” in these subsequent passages refers to when those listening to the Buddha speak Dharma—namely, the Kings of Gods, the Yaksha Spirits, the Emptiness-Ruling Spirits, the Direction-Ruling Spirits, the Wind-Ruling Spirits, and so forth—speak verses. It can be divided like that.
After the Buddha accomplished the Way, all those Bodhisattvas, Gods, Dragons and others of the Eightfold Division assembled. According to the order of occurrence in the text, the first verses were spoken by certain Kings of Gods, followed by other Kings of Gods, then various Spirits. The text seems to indicate that those Kings and Spirits had been the Buddha’s disciples in the past, and had drawn near the Buddha. Hence when Prince Siddhartha accomplished Buddhahood, his disciples from the past all cultivated and achieved liberation. Each had an individual attainment to a type of liberation door. On the one hand they then praised the Buddha. But they were also reporting to the Buddha saying, “You cultivated and became a Buddha, and even though none of us has achieved ultimate Unsurpassed Bodhi, we have attained doors to liberation.” According to that interpretation, then, the prior reference is to when the Buddha accomplished the Way, and the subsequent references are to when the disciples praised the Buddha and made their reports. Such an overall distinction can be made.
Viewed from another angle, when the Buddha accomplished Buddhahood, the assembling of all the many Bodhisattvas, Gods, Dragons and others of the Eightfold Division was just in terms of dharmas involving causes and conditions, and not truth in the primary sense. Of course, dharmas of causes and conditions have sequential order to them, some coming before and some after. The first line of roll two says, “At that time, when the sea-like multitudes had all assembled like clouds in the Way Place of the Tathagata.” This too is referring to a time, namely when they “had all assembled like clouds.” Everyone who was supposed to come had already arrived, and they were all gathered together. There is also a temporal sequence involved here: accomplishing the Way came first, and the multitudes gathering came afterwards. Their praises of the Buddha and the verses they spoke for the Buddha were all subsequent in time. From the vantage point of unobstructed interpenetration, the sequence is not a sequence. However, in terms of mundane truth, right within non-sequence there is still sequential order—differences of what comes before and what comes afterwards.
As to the verses which all of them spoke, it seems to me—and Dharma Master Kumarajiva made the same suggestion concerning another text—that whether they were Bodhisattvas, Kings of Gods, Spirits or whatever, when they saw the Buddha they praised him. They spoke verses in praise of the Buddha. What time was it when they praised the Buddha? Well, naturally it would have to be after they had arrived in the Bodhi Way Place that they praised the Buddha.
But did the Bodhisattvas, Gods, Dragons and others of the Eightfold Division praise the Buddha in order, one after another? Was it only when one had finished his or her praise that the next one spoke in praise? Did they have to wait for each other? From one point of view, perhaps it wasn’t that way. They may have spoken their praises as they arrived. The text doesn’t talk about the Bodhisattvas praising the Buddha, but begins with Kings of Gods, then Gods, Dragons and others of the Eightfold Division. It may well be that they praised the Buddha upon their arrival. That is, after they had come to the Bodhi Way Place, as soon as they saw the Buddha, they praised him and made their report to the Buddha. If we interpret “at that time” in that light, then quite possibly the time when the Kings of Gods praised the Buddha and the time when the Emptiness-Ruling Spirits, the Direction-Ruling Spirits, the Wind-Ruling Spirits and so forth spoke their verses did not involve consecutive order. That’s speaking from the point of view of mundane truth.
As to the people who compiled the Sutras, they were also very clever. They didn’t say who was first or last. They used phrases like “at that time” to record the events, saying, “at that time” such and such a person, “at that time” such and such a Spirit or King of Gods spoke verses, and the verses served to describe the levels they had reached in their cultivation, the doors to liberation which they had attained. All of those determinations of “before” and “afterwards” are in terms of mundane truth. But the interpretation using the ten times given just now by Dharma Master Heng Ching is a kind of ultimate state. However, during this Flower Adornment Sutra lecture series, everyone is in a period of study and investigation, and so there needs to be emphasis on both the sequential and the non-sequential aspects. We need to use the text to understand the meaning, and use the meaning to understand the text. In that way, as we go from beginning to end, we can enter more and more profoundly.
To be continued