Dharma Master Hsien Shou (Worthy Leader) of Tang Dynasty mentioned in
The History of the Flower Adornment Sutra:
According to Manjushri’s Parinirvana Sutra, Manjushri stayed in the world for 450 years after the Buddha’s passing. According to the
Shastra on the Perfection of [Great] Wisdom, most of the Mahayana Sutras were compiled by Manjushri. This Sutra was indeed compiled by Manjushri. After the Buddha’s passing, the Worthies and Sages subsequently withdrew into seclusion. Heresies were all the rage. There was a lack of people of Mahayana orientation who could uphold this Sutra. It stayed in the palace of the Sea Dragon for six hundred some years and did not circulate in the world. Nagarjuna [Dragon Tree] Bodhisattva entered the Dragon Palace and saw this expansive collection one day. He committed it to memory so that he could transmit it and put it into circulation.
National Master Qing Liang of the Tang Dynasty remarked in the
Prologue to the Flower Adornment Sutra:
This Sutra is a Mahayana treasury. Compiled by Manjushri Bodhisattva and the Venerable Ananda in the Iron Ring Mountains, it was thereafter stored away in the Dragon Palace. Nagarjuna Bodhisattva went to the Dragon Palace and saw three volumes of this inconceivable Sutra. The last volume contained 100,000 verses and 48 chapters. Nagarjuna memorized them by heart and transmitted them to the world. The
Shastra on the Perfection of [Great] Wisdom called it the “Inconceivable Sutra” containing 100,000 verses. The Mahayana Samparigraha Shastra of the Liang Edition [Shastra on the Mindfulness of the Great Vehicle] names it “Hundred Thousand Sutra”. The
Annals of the Western Region says the country of Kargalik had a complete copy of it. The middle volume contained 498,800 verses and 1,200 chapters. The first volume had verses as many as the dust motes in 13 thousand great-thousand world systems and chapters as many as dust motes in one set of four continents. Since these two volumes are beyond the mental capacity of people in Jambudvipa, they were therefore not transmitted.
This Treasury of the Mahayana was compiled by Manjushri Bodhisattva and the Venerable Ananda in the Great Iron Ring Mountains outside Mount Sumeru. They compiled the texts of the Sutras, and edited and polished them. This work could not have been done by one person alone. At that time, there were a great many Bodhisattvas and Arhats—not just Manjushri Bodhisattva and the Venerable Ananda—helping to compile the Sutra Treasury.
Once the Treasury of the Flower Adornment Sutra had been compiled, everyone said that the Sutra was so wonderful that no one in the world would believe or understand it. They decided the Sutra should not be stored in the world. Therefore, using their spiritual powers, they invited the Sea Dragon King over and said to him, “Dragon King, since there is ample space in the sea, we would like to keep the
Flower Adornment Sutra in your Dragon Palace for safekeeping.” The Dragon King, who was extremely delighted, bowed in veneration and said, “Excellent! In the Dragon Palace, the earth does not quake nor do the celestial bodies collapse. It is the safest place and therefore best suited for safekeeping the Sutra.” He accepted their guidance and stored it in the Dragon Palace.
Therefore, the Flower Adornment Sutra ceased to exist in the world. Once the Sutras had been compiled, no one in the world heard of
Flower Adornment Sutra ever after. These are secret texts, secret scriptures. It is an ineffably ineffable Sutra.
However, although people never imagined it would happen, when the time had come for the Buddhadharma to appear in the world, it had to emerge. Otherwise, the world would go to ruin. Therefore, about 600 years after the Buddha entered nirvana, there was a Bodhisattva named Nagarjuna, who had read all the books in the world, all the Sutras, all the Hindu scriptures, all the texts in the human realm. Moreover, he committed all of it to memory and was able to recite it by heart. When there were no more books left to read, he used his spiritual powers to go to the Dragon Palace.
How did he reach the Dragon Palace? As an enlightened Sage, when he went into the ocean, the water parted to make way for him. So when he walked from the seashore to the Palace, his feet did not even get wet.
When Nagarjuna Bodhisattva arrived at the Palace, he saw the
Flower Adornment Sutra. He realized that this Dharma jewel was infinite and boundless. The Sutra was totally inconceivable, tremendously inconceivable.
The Treasury of the Flower Adornment Sutra has three volumes: the first, second, and last volumes. The first volume of the Sutra contains verses as many as the dust motes in the 13 thousand great-thousand world systems and chapters as many as the dust motes in one set of four continents. One sun, one moon, one Mount Sumeru, plus one set of four continents make up one world. A thousand worlds — 1,000 Mount Sumerus, 1,000 suns, 1,000 moons plus 1,000 sets of four continents (Purva-videha in the east, Apara-godaniya in the west, Jambu-dvipa in the south and Uttara-kuru in the north)— make up a small-thousand world system.
One thousand small-thousand world systems together make a middle-thousand world system. One thousand middle-thousand world systems together make a great-thousand world system. Therefore, one great-thousand world system consists of a lot of worlds, let alone 13 thousand great-thousand world systems! The sutra has verses as many as the dust motes in 13 thousand great-thousand world systems. If we count every mote of dust in all the 13 thousand great-thousand world systems, how many motes of dust would we get? No one knows. That’s how many verses there are.
One Mount Sumeru, one sun, one moon plus one set of four continents make one set of four continents. The chapters in the first volume are as many as the number of dust motes in one set of four continents. Think about it! How many is that? The second volume of the
Flower Adornment Sutra contains as many as 498,800 verses and 1,200 chapters.
The first and second volumes of the Flower Adornment Sutra were so expansive that they were beyond the mental comprehension of human beings in this world. They are beyond our wisdom and our memory capacity. Even if you were to place all the chapters and verses in your mind—let alone counting them up—there would not be enough room for such a great number.
Therefore, even Nargajuna Bodhisattva—with his great wisdom—had to “sigh at the sight of the ocean.” Because the first and middle volumes of the
Flower Adornment Sutra are just too copious, too expansive, he dared not take a look. He skimmed through the last volume of the
Flower Adornment Sutra—100,000 verses and 48 chapters in all—in a very short time. Nagarjuna bodhisattva had a great memory, and since he had little time to spend in the Dragon Palace—for fear that if he were to linger too long, the fish, turtles, prawns and crabs might get upset, or the Dragon King might be too stingy to make offerings to him—he had to make haste and cut short his stay.
Since he had an extraordinary, photographic memory, he had only to read the sutra once to commit it to memory. That was how he “stole” it from there—by memorizing the
Flower Adornment Sutra and later copying it out. That’s how it got to be circulated in the world, in the human realm.
The Flower Adornment Sutra had been stowed away in the Dragon Palace. It is made up of three volumes: first, middle, and last. The version of the
Flower Adornment Sutra that’s circulated in the world is the last volume that is made up of 80 rolls. Since we of this world lack the mental capacity to retain and cultivate the first and middle volumes of the
Flower Adornment Sutra, they remained hidden and were not transmitted.
The first volume makes references to 100 million types of spirits. The middle volume speaks of 10,000 types of spirits. The last volume refers to ten of each type of spirit. “Ten” represents infinity. “10,000” and “100 million” represent infinite infinity, layers upon layers. Therefore, when the Buddha lectured the
Flower Adornment Sutra, the spirits, ghosts, people, Bodhisattvas, etc., were mentioned in sets of ten.
Why the number “10”? Ten times ten makes one hundred; one hundred times one hundred makes one thousand. One thousand times one thousand makes ten thousand. Therefore ten represents hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands. It is way too much to account for all the hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands, so only ten [representatives] are mentioned. Therefore, “ten” means layers upon layers of infinity. It also symbolizes that the state of the
Flower Adornment Sutra is multi-layered and infinite.
It might seem redundant to you how the
Flower Adornment Sutra speaks of ten kings from each category, followed by ten verses, over and over. That is exactly the purport of the
Flower Adornment Sutra—layer upon layer of infinity which cannot ever be fully recounted in words.
The principles outlined in the Flower Adornment Sutra were generalized, and not detailed. That is why only ten principles per type were spoken of. If they were to be explained in detail, there would be no way to finish recounting them to the end of time.