Explained by the Venerable Master Hua
in 1983 at Gold Wheel Monastery in Los Angeles




SAKYAMUNI BUDDHA came to the Saha world in order to help living beings resolve the problem of birth and death. He was born into a royal family, but he renounced the wealth of the kingdom and left his home in order to pursue the Truth. After he attained Buddhahood beneath the Bodhi Tree, he contemplated the living beings in the Saha world and discovered that we have the deepest affinities with two Buddhas-Medicine Master Vaidurya Light Tathagata in the East and Amitabha Tathagata in the West.

Medicine Master Vaidurya Light Tathagata is the Buddha of the Land of Vaidurya Light in the East. This Buddha bestows blessings and long life on people and helps them in times of disaster and difficulty. Amitabha Buddha of the Land of Ultimate Bliss in the West made a vow that whoever recites his name single-mindedly will be able to take his or her karma along and be reborn from a lotus in his Buddhaland, and that when his or her lotus opens he or she will see the Buddha and awaken to the patience of non-production.

The "Mantra of the Two Buddhas" says,
Two Buddhas proclaim and transform
in the Saha world-
Aksobhya in the East, Amitabha in the West.

Although Aksobhya (Medicine Master) Buddha is in the Vaidurya Land and Amitabha Buddha is in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, both of these Buddhas teach and transform the living beings of the Saha world. They have deep affinities with each and every one of us. Medicine Master Tathagata is also known as "Medicine Master Buddha Who Quells Disasters and Lengthens Life;" Amitabha Tathagata is known as both the "Buddha of Limitless Life" (Amitayus) and the "Buddha of Limitless Light" (Amitabha).

If you are mindful of Medicine Master Buddha, he will bestow blessings and long life upon you and save you from disasters, illnesses, and offenses. He fulfills the wishes of all living beings. Amitabha Buddha enables beings to be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. If you wish to be reborn in that land, simply recite Amitabha Buddha's name. If you wish to be born in the Vaidurya Land, then recite the name of Medicine Master Vaidurya Light Tathagata.

During their lives, people would like to avert disasters and live to a ripe old age. At death, they hope to be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Therefore, in Buddhism, there are red plaques for extending life, which are associated with Medicine Master Buddha Who Quells Disasters and Lengthens Life. This Buddha's light shines upon your life-source. If you wish to be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss when you die, then you can recite "Namo Amitabha Buddha." You can see that we are basically inseparable from these two Buddhas.

Yet we don't recognize or know very much about these two Buddhas. We might want to be mindful of them, but we don't even know their names. That's why Sakyamuni Buddha introduced them to us, telling us about their names, their vows, and their merit and virtue. Hence the name of this Sutra is the Sutra of the Merit and Virtue of the Past Vows of Medicine Master Vaidurya Light Tathagata.

"Medicine Master Vaidurya Light" is the name of this Buddha. Tathagata is one of the ten titles of all Buddhas. "Past Vows" refers to the vows to achieve Bodhi that Medicine Master Buddha made before he became a Buddha. If we sincerely make vows, we will certainly reap the fruits of those vows. They won't be in vain. Vows are also a form of karma. If we make good vows, we will reap good results; bad vows bring bad results. Each person must make his own vows of his own initiative. Once we have made vows, there will be a driving force pushing us to accomplish those vows. Medicine Master Buddha made wholesome vows in his past lives, so he accomplished wholesome karma and reaped wholesome results.

His vows are wholesome because he made them for all living beings. He didn't vow, "When I become a Buddha, I'll enjoy my blessings and forget about other living beings." Having attained the greatest happiness, the Buddha wants to share it with all beings. He perfected his wholesome karma by practicing the Bodhisattva path in life after life. He made a great Bodhi resolve to benefit, enlighten, and rescue all beings. Forgetting themselves and thinking only of living beings, Bodhisattvas make wholesome vows, create wholesome karma, and reap the wholesome result of Buddhahood. When they become Buddhas, they are not arrogant. A Buddha is just the same as the other living beings, except that he has wisdom. He has truly left confusion behind and returned to enlightenment.

We create karma in our every word and deed, and many of them are bad. We might have an occasional good thought, but it is too weak to overcome our bad thoughts. If we were to tally up all our karma on the computer, we would find more bad karma than good. That's why quite often, our lives can get worse and worse. In each life, due to the impure karma we have created, we meet hard times and end up lost and lonely. Unlike the Buddha, we haven't always made wholesome vows, cultivated wholesome karma, and reaped wholesome results. Since the evil in our minds outweighs the goodness, we fall lower and lower in each successive life. When we try to make wholesome vows, our selfishness gets in the way. Sometimes we do good deeds, but our real motive is just to present a good image. Thus, the karma we create is very often not wholly good. Since our good intentions are usually polluted by selfish thoughts, quite often, we would experience more suffering than happiness in our lives.

Our happiness is not real. It is not the genuine happiness that arises from the virtues of "permanence, bliss, true self, and purity" of our inherent natures. The things we find happiness in are not genuine or lasting. When we dance, drink wine, or go to the theater, quite often, we "turn our backs on enlightenment and unite with the dust," deluding ourselves into thinking that we are happy.

"Is there no happiness in the world, then?" you ask. Think it over. Many forms of worldly happiness are indirect causes of suffering. Take clothing, food, and shelter, for instance. People like to dress up in style. But when you put on fancy and expensive clothes, they turn into a yoke around your neck. You can't move around freely, or stand naturally, or sit or lie down comfortably either. Why not? It is because you want to protect your fancy, expensive outfit. Just think about it: A human being, the highest of all creatures, becomes a slave to his clothes!

People like to eat good food, but even the most delicious food decomposes once it is ingested. If you ask people to regurgitate their food and eat it again, no one would do it.

As for shelter, there's a saying:

One may have ten thousand mansions,
But one doesn’t need more than eight feet
of space to sleep in at night.
One may have ten thousand acres of fertile fields,
But one can only eat three meals a day.

Why should you work so frantically all day long, without a moment's rest, just for the sake of clothing, food, and shelter? When death arrives, you say to the Ghost of Impermanence, "Wait, I haven't finished taking care of my affairs. Can't you let me have a little more time?" The Ghost of Impermanence shakes his head and says, "Sorry, I can't let you live even a minute longer." And so off you go to die. What's the point at all? Failing to see things the way they really are, we spend our lives madly pursuing fame and fortune. This is where we differ from the Buddhas.

The Buddha has a clear view of everything. He has seen through everything and put it down, and so he has attained comfort and ease. When he saw through everything, he vowed to benefit living beings and practice the Bodhisattva Way.

Merit and virtue: Merit is created externally, while virtue is accumulated internally. One creates merit by building temples, repairing bridges or roads, or doing other work to benefit others. Virtue exists within one's self and doesn't rely on anything external. A virtuous person doesn't have a bad conscience. He has no reason to feel ashamed before the heavens or before other people. He doesn't cheat others or himself. In everything he does, he creates outer merit and amasses inner virtue. A saying about virtue goes,

Good done in the hope that others will notice
is not genuine good.
Evil done in the fear that others will find out
is truly great evil.

Don't boast about yourself, saying, "I've done good deeds. I've received the five precepts, the eight precepts, and the Bodhisattva precepts!" Virtuous deeds are done without others knowing. If you want others to notice your good deeds, you are not virtuous. If you try to cover up your bad deeds, then your offenses are great indeed.

Buddhists should not be boastful or competitive, saying, "I've done many good deeds and made lots of donations! I really do a lot to support Buddhism!" People with such an attitude are not fit to be Dharma-protectors. Therefore, in studying the teachings, we should remember this point: we should value genuine practice, not false publicity. This is very important. As Buddhists, we must be models for the world. If we have integrity and hold to our principles, other people will respect us and be influenced by us. That is merit and virtue.

"Sutra" refers to the eternal Dharma, to teachings that are not subject to change. Since the Sutras are the teachings of sages, we should never delete or add even a single word to them. The word "Sutra" has many meanings, but in general, they do not go beyond the four meanings: "stringing together", "attracting", being "constant", and being "a standard".

 

The Four Meanings of Sutra

  1. "Stringing together": The principles and meanings spoken by the Buddha are strung together from the beginning to the end.
  2. "Attracting" means gathering all living beings.
  3. Being "constant" means never changing from the ancient times to the present. Whether the Sutras are spoken by the Buddhas of the past, present, or future, they are the same.
  4. Being "a standard:" A Sutra is a standard followed by all Buddhas and all living beings of the past, present, and future. By definition, a "standard" is honored by all throughout time.

The word Sutra has the meaning of "a chalk-line," for it is like the marking line that carpenters used in ancient times for making straight lines. Sutra also means "a bubbling spring", for it is like water gushing forth from a spring.

Now let us continue to explain the words of the title, "Sutra of the Merit and Virtue of the Past Vows of Medicine Master Vaidurya Light Tathagata." "Master" refers to the Buddha, who is a great king of physicians, one who can heal the sicknesses of all people. No matter what sort of incurable disease you have, the Buddha can certainly cure you. Even if you are supposed to die, he can bring you back to life. Therefore, he is the "Medicine Master."

"Vaidurya " is a translucent substance. It is also the name of Medicine Master Buddha's land of reward, where he is the teaching host. His body, which is made of Vaidurya, is pure and lustrous both inside and out. This Buddha thoroughly understands all the various kinds of medicines. In ancient China, the Emperor Shennong [c.2838 B.C.] was said to have tasted all the various medicinal herbs. His body was also as if transparent. When he ingested a medicine, he could observe its effects in his stomach and see what channels the medicine travelled to. He tasted all the medicinal herbs and classified them as sour, sweet, bitter, pungent, or salty; as cold, hot, warm, or neutral in nature; and as poisonous or nontoxic. "Light": this Buddha's body has an inner and outer radiance and is a pure, bright storehouse of light.

"Tathagata" is one of the ten titles of a Buddha. The ten titles are: Tathagata (Thus Come One), One Worthy of Offerings, One of Proper and Universal Knowledge, One Whose Understanding and Practice are Complete, Well Gone One Who Understands the World, Supreme Lord, Regulating Hero, Teacher of Gods and Humans, Buddha, and World Honored One. Originally, every Buddha had 100,000 titles, but that was too many for people to remember, so they were later condensed to 10,000. That was still too many, so they were reduced to 1000. But 1000 was still too numerous, so they were decreased to 100. One hundred titles were still too many, so they were reduced to only ten titles. These ten titles do not belong exclusively to any particular Buddha; every Buddha has them. All Buddhists should know these ten general designations for the Buddhas. Some people who know nothing about Buddhism think "Tathagata Buddha" is the name of a Buddha, but actually, every Buddha can be called Tathagata. Tathagata ("Thus Come One") means: "Following the Way which is: 'Thus, he comes to realize right enlightenmen' ".

"Past Vows" refers to vows that the Buddha made in past lives, not to vows made in the present life.

Medicine Master Vaidurya Light Tathagata of the Eastern Land is also known as "Aksobhya Buddha." Medicine Master Buddha belongs to the Vajra Division in the East. The Vajra Division emphasizes the Dharmas of Subduing, which can overcome the heavenly demons and those of external sects. The demons and externalists become subdued as soon as they see the Vajra Dharma-protectors of the Vajra Division. If you sincerely recite the Surangama Mantra, which contains Dharmas of Subduing, you will have the constant protection of 84,000 Vajra Treasury Bodhisattvas.

 

 

Sutra: (in Chinese)

Thus I have heard. At one time the Bhagavan was travelling through various lands to teach living beings. He arrived at Vaisali ["City of Extensive Adornments"] and stayed beneath a tree from which music resounded. With him were eight thousand great Bhikshus and thirty-six thousand Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas; also kings, ministers, Brahmans, lay disciples; gods, dragons, and the rest of the eightfold division; beings both human and non-human. The immeasurable great multitude respectfully surrounded him, and he spoke Dharma for them.

Commentary:

Thus I have heard. The word "thus" means, "The Dharma which is 'thus' can be believed, studied, and practiced. You should make vows to practice according to the Dharma which is 'thus.'" Ananda [who recited the Sutra after the Buddha’s Nirvana] is saying, "The Dharma spoken in this Sutra is what I, Ananda, personally heard the Buddha speak with his golden mouth. It is not hearsay. I myself heard it."


The Four Matters

There were four reasons for saying "Thus I have heard," which the Buddha gave when Ananda asked about the Four Matters. When the Buddha was about to enter Nirvana, Ananda was so overcome with grief that he could only cry! Although Ananda was a Third Stage Arhat he was still emotional. He couldn't bear to think that the Buddha was going to enter Nirvana, so he wept piteously, forgetting about everything else.

Then another Bhikshu [Venerable Aniruddha] reminded him, "You're in charge of remembering the Dharma spoken by the Buddha. The Buddha is about to enter Nirvana, so you'd better think things over clearly! There are some important matters you should ask the Buddha about before he enters Nirvana. All you know how to do is cry! What will become of us in the future?"

Hearing the Venerable One's words, Ananda collected his wits and said, "Yes, you're right, but I've been crying so hard that I can't think straight. What should we ask the Buddha?"

The Venerable One said, "First of all, when we compile the Sutras in the future, how should they begin?" Ananda replied, "Right! That's very important!" "Second, when the Buddha is in the world, we take the Buddha as our teacher. After the Buddha enters Nirvana, whom should we take as our teacher?"

Ananda said, "Yes, that's also an important question!" "Third, when the Buddha is in the world, all the Bhikshus dwell with the Buddha. After the Buddha enters Nirvana, with whom should we dwell?"

"That's certainly a good question!" said Ananda.

"Fourth, when the Buddha is in the world, he can subdue the evil-natured Bhikshus. After the Buddha enters Nirvana, who should discipline them?"

"These four questions are all extremely important," said Ananda. "Now I will go and ask the Buddha."

Then he went before the Buddha, knelt, placed his palms together, and said, "World Honored One, since you are about to enter Nirvana, there are some important questions I would like to ask. I hope the Buddha will compassionately answer them."

The Buddha replied, "What are your questions? You may ask them now."

"Buddha, you have spoken the Dharma for forty-nine years and expounded the Sutras in over three hundred assemblies," said Ananda, "In the future, when we compile the Sutras, how should they begin?"

The Buddha told Ananda, "Our Sutras are different from the scriptures of other religions, which begin by speaking of either existence or non-existence. You should begin the Buddhist Sutras with the four words, 'Thus I have heard,' which means, 'I, Ananda, personally heard this Dharma, which is thus; it is not hearsay.'"

Ananda said, "Okay, I will use the four words, 'Thus I have heard.' My second question is, when the Buddha is in the world, we Bhikshus take the Buddha as our teacher. Whom should we take as our teacher after the Buddha enters Nirvana?"The Buddha said, " After I enter Nirvana, you Bhikshus should take the precepts as your teacher. The Pratimoksa is your great teacher. If you uphold the precepts, it will be the same as when I am in the world. You should avoid all evil and practice all good deeds."In the beginning of the Buddha's teaching career, there were no precepts, but as the Sangha continued to grow, complications inevitably arose. Not everyone was well-behaved. The Buddha established the precepts one by one in response to the needs of the situation. In the final compilation of the precepts, there were 250 precepts for Bhikshus, 348 precepts for Bhikshunis, ten major and forty-eight minor precepts for Bodhisattvas, ten precepts for Shramaneras (novices), and eight precepts and five precepts for laypeople. All these various categories of precepts are aimed at helping people to behave well. People who are well-behaved will be good citizens who can help others and benefit the society. Thus, the moral precepts are the basis for world peace. Therefore, Bhikshus should take the precepts as their teacher."Now I'll ask the third question," continued Ananda. "When the Buddha is in the world, we dwell with the Buddha. We always live and study with the Buddha. After the Buddha enters Nirvana, with whom should the Bhikshus dwell?"

The Buddha answered, "After I enter Nirvana, all the Bhikshus should dwell in the Four Applications of Mindfulness."

The Four Applications of Mindfulness:

  1. Contemplating the body as impure.
  2. Contemplating feelings as suffering.
  3. Contemplating thoughts as impermanent.
  4. Contemplating dharmas as being without self.

The first application of mindfulness is to contemplate the body as impure. "But," you say, "I take a bath and keep my body clean every day, and I put on make-up and jewelry to make it beautiful." You may adorn your body with expensive jewelry and designer clothes, but it's just like decorating a toilet; no matter how beautiful the toilet looks, it will still stink!

The nine orifices of our bodies constantly discharge impurities. There is unclean matter from the eyes, wax from the ears, mucus in the nose, and saliva and phlegm in the mouth. Together with the anus and urethra, they make up the nine orifices that discharge impurities. If you don't bathe for several days, your body begins to stink. If you eat onions and garlic, your body will smell of onions and garlic. When you drink milk, it smells of milk. If you eat beef, veal, or pork, then you'll have those odors about you. If you eat dog meat, you'll smell like dog meat. You smell of whatever you eat.

"The flavor is in my mouth," you might say, "and all I have to do is brush my teeth and the flavor will be gone." Wrong! When you eat something, its flavor not only stays in your mouth, it permeates your whole body. You don't believe it? Drink a lot of milk, and you'll notice that your sweat has a milky smell to it. Since impurities are always coming from the nine orifices, what's so good about your body? Thus, you should contemplate the body as being impure. The origin of the body is unclean. It is composed of the four elements (earth, water, fire, and air) and is not real.

Second, contemplate feelings as suffering. Feelings refer to sensations. No matter how enjoyable the sensation is, it is basically suffering! Happiness is the cause of suffering. Third, contemplate thoughts as impermanent. Thoughts arise in continuous succession, one after another; they don't last. Fourth, contemplate dharmas as being without self. All dharmas (phenomena) are free of the notion of "me and mine." These are the Four Applications of Mindfulness.

Contemplate the body as impure; feelings, thoughts, and dharmas are also impure. Contemplate feelings as suffering; the body, thoughts, and dharmas are also suffering. Thoughts are impermanent, and so are the other three. Dharmas are without self, and the other three are also without self. The Four Applications of Mindfulness apply to each of body, feelings, thoughts, and dharmas. Since the time of the Buddha's Nirvana, the Bhikshus have "dwelt" in the Four Applications of Mindfulness as the Buddha instructed.

"Here is my fourth question," said Ananda. "When the Buddha is in the world, the Buddha can subdue the evil-natured Bhikshus. After the Buddha enters Nirvana, how should we deal with them?

The Buddha said, "When you encounter an evil-natured Bhikshu, just ignore himdon't talk to him." To ignore him is a passive way of expelling him. If no one pays attention to him or argues with him, he will soon grow bored of making trouble. If you pay attention to him or try to fight with him, he will think that he is getting somewhere. But if you ignore him, he won't be able to do anything! An "evil-natured Bhikshu" is a monk who doesn't practice. Not every left-home person wants to practice.

In the past, there were all kinds of left-home people in the great monasteries of China, including former murderers, arsonists, and robbers. Some of them reformed after they left the home-life. Others assumed the guise of monks in order to escape the authorities. There were both good and bad people in the Sangha in China, and I believe that this will be the case in other places as well.

Speaking of criminals, in China, vagrants are nick-named "naughty monkeys" and also "Thousand-handed Guanyins," because they have so many hands. They'll steal whatever catches their fancy, and then sell it and use the money to buy alcohol or drugs. Don't be naive and think that all left-home people are good. Left-home peopleand that includes myself-are not necessarily good people. However, I'm trying to be good. I don't know what bad deeds I did in the past, but now I want to become a better person.

Evil-natured Bhikshus are perverse and unreasonable. The more you argue with them, the more they enjoy it. That's why the Buddha instructed us to ignore them.

 

The Three Doubts of the Assembly

When Ananda first ascended the Dharma-seatthe seat where the Buddha spoke the Dharmato begin the compilation of Sutras, there were many auspicious portents. For instance, Ananda became endowed with the thirty-two features and eighty subsidiary characteristics of a Buddha. Seeing those portents, the members of the assembly immediately had three kinds of doubts:

  1. They thought that Ananda was their teacher, Sakyamuni Buddha, who had come back to life.
  2. They thought that Ananda was a Buddha from another world. "Is this a Buddha who has come from another world to speak the Dharma in the Saha world? Otherwise, why would he look like that?"
  3. They thought Ananda himself had become a Buddha. The entire assembly was startled and at a loss, but once Ananda said, "Thus I have heard," the three doubts were dispelled. He was in effect stating, "This is the Dharma that I, Ananda, personally heard Sakyamuni Buddha speak."

Even the Arhats had three doubts when they saw Ananda leading the compilation of the Sutras. As we listen to this Sutra, we may have a thousand or even ten thousand doubts! "Is this Sutra true? Did the Buddha really say this? What proof is there?" Our human brain starts plugging away, generating millions of doubts! So, you see, studying the Buddhadharma is not that easy. Why haven't we had any attainment? Too many doubts, that's why!

A cultivator should take care not to doubt.
Once you doubt, you go astray.

You shouldn't be so skeptical. You refuse to believe the truth, but you accept a false teaching right away. That's why you are utterly deluded. Once you have a doubt, you are sure to take the wrong road.

You should study the Dharma day after day and learn from the Buddha at all times. Don't be lax. If you really want to study Buddhism, you should memorize the Surangama Sutra. Everyone should master this Sutra, know it inside out. If you can recite the Surangama Sutra from memory, then your study of Buddhism will have been worth it. The Surangama Sutra is the Buddha's most genuine and penetrating teaching. It exposes all the short-comings and weaknesses of the heterodox sects. If you understand the Surangama Sutra, you will frighten the demons from the heavens and their followers in heterodox sects so much that their hair stands on end. Therefore, if you really want to support the Triple Jewel and propagate Buddhism, then you should start by studying, reciting, and explaining the Surangama Sutra.

Studying Sutras and listening to lectures requires patience. Just as plants and people grow and mature day by day, just as children study in school each day, we should set aside some time each day to study the Dharma. Studying Buddhism is worth more than any amount of money you save up in the bank! In terms of your Dharma body and wisdom life, the Dharma is far more important than money. Don't take worldly wealth so seriously. When you study the Dharma, you earn a transcendental kind of wealth, which can be used in the world and which is indispensable if you want to transcend the world. So, don't look lightly upon the wealth of Dharma and of merit and virtue.

Don't take this casually! It would be best if you could find some time in your busy schedule to come listen to the Sutra lecture and investigate Buddhism every day. "But the lecture is always about the same thing," you say, "It's boring. Why do I have to listen to it every day?" No matter how busy you are, you still have to eat, dress, and sleep every day, don't you? If only you would consider listening to the Sutra as important as dressing, eating, and sleeping!

The Six Requirements

There are Six Requirements found at the beginning of each Sutra. The first is the Requirement of Faith, indicated by the word "Thus." We should have faith in Dharma which is thus, cultivate it, and attain Buddhahood by means of it. Only by means of faith can you attain realization and derive benefit. It's like eating. If you don't believe that food can satisfy your hunger, you won't eat it and get full. Similarly, although the Dharma can lead you to Buddhahood, if you don't believe in it and cultivate it, then it's of no use. Talking about cultivation is not enough. "The Dharma is spoken; the Way is walked." You can benefit from the Dharma only if you believe in and practice it.

The second requirement, the Requirement of Hearing, is indicated by the words "1 have heard." Ananda refers to himself as "I," but this "I" is selfless and unattached, perfectly fused and unimpeded. It is the true self of the inherent nature, which has seen through all things and put them down. This "I" is spoken not to others, but rather, to oneself. This "I" is wise and not deluded, and is endowed with Dharma-selecting vision, so it can deeply enter the treasury of Sutras and have wisdom like the sea. How can one obtain Dharma-selecting vision? It develops through possessing the requirements of faith and hearing. "I have faith, and I would like to listen to the Sutra," you would say.

That's fine, but there must be a timea time for listening to the lecture on the Medicine Master Sutra. This also refers to the time when Ananda compiled the Sutras. The words "At one time" fulfill the Requirement of Time. You may have faith and may wish to hear the Sutra, but if the lecture is scheduled at an inconvenient time, you still won't get to hear the Sutra.

The Bhagavan is another name for the Buddha. If you don't know what "Bhagavan" means, just remember that it's another Sanskrit name for the Buddha. In the text, the word "Bhagavan" fulfills the Requirement of a Host. The requirements of faith, hearing, and time may be satisfied, but if no one lectures on the Sutra, then what are you going to listen to? There's nothing to listen to and nothing to believe, and the time is irrelevant as well! And so a "host," a person who explains the Sutra and speaks the Dharma, is necessary.

The word "Bhagavan," when translated, has six meanings:

  1. Comfortable
  2. Renowned
  3. Adorned
  4. Resplendent
  5. Auspicious
  6. Honored

"Auspicious:" Chinese people like auspiciousness, especially the Cantonese. At New Year's, they always say, "Good luck! May your wishes come true!" Although they like to have good luck, they spend their time playing mahjong and dancing. If you want things to be lucky and according to your wishes, you have to recite the Buddha's name. You also have to be good and follow the rules. If you play mahjong, you might even lose the shirt off your back! Now, would you call that lucky?

"Honored": The Buddha is the most honored one. If we wish to be honored, we should learn from the Buddha, the most venerable and perfect being, who is free of bad habits, faults, delusions, and scattered thoughts. The Buddha's state is much higher than that of an Arhat. The Dharma Flower Sutra begins, "Thus have I heard. At one time the Buddha dwelt on Mount Grdhrakuta, near the city of Rajagrha ["House of Kings"] together with a gathering of great Bhikshus, twelve thousand in all. All were Arhats..." Why were they Arhats? They "had exhausted all outflows." One who attains the state of an Arhat no longer has any faults, bad habits, or idle thoughts. He has put an end to birth and death. They "had done what they had to do." They had done everything they were supposed to do. When the One is attained, all things are finished. They had attained the One, so they didn't seek outside anymore. Since they didn't seek outside, they had no more outflows. If you like to talk, that's an outflow, as is liking to look at things or to listen to sounds.

"But I can't keep my eyes from seeing and my ears from hearing," you say.

That's why you haven't become a Buddha yet. You're always running outside and forgetting to return. You aren't able to turn the light around and shine it within. Exhausting all outflows means having no faults whatsoeveryou aren't greedy, you don't contend, you don't seek anything, you aren't selfish, and you don't pursue personal advantages. Affection and love are also faults, and thoughts of desire are the worst faults of all. To have exhausted all outflows means to have no thoughts of desire, thoughts of lust, or wild and deluded thoughts.

"And had no further afflictions": The Arhats no longer had any afflictions. "Having attained self-benefit": They had truly regained their inherent wisdom and gained the advantages of the Buddha's teaching. As I have said to you, "Who is the Buddha? The Buddha is a person of great wisdom. Whoever has true wisdom and is not deluded can become a Buddha." If you are still deluded and insatiably greedy, always seeking for more, fighting with everyone, being selfish and pursuing personal gain, then you haven't gained any benefit from the Dharma. Those who have attained genuine benefit do not crave external things. Gold, silver, and riches mean nothing to them. They do not know what forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and objects of touch are. Nothing can distract them. That is what is meant by "having attained self-benefit."

"They had exhausted the bonds of all existence." They had eradicated all residual habits and had escaped from all the entanglements that used to bind them. They were truly free. "And their hearts had attained self-mastery." Their hearts were carefree and at ease. However, the Buddha's state is much more advanced. That's why the Buddha is considered the most honored and venerable.

If we want to be like the Buddha, first we should learn not to contend, not to be greedy, not to seek, not to be selfish, and not to pursue personal advantage. But it doesn't mean that you won't do these things, while at the same time planning to commit a robbery. Then you're only cheating yourself and others! Genuine non-contention means letting things follow their natural course. If you are not greedy, you will also let things happen naturally. As for seeking nothing, it is said, "When one reaches the state of seeking nothing, one has no worries." Worries come from seeking things. You should also be unselfish. All the troubles in the world come from selfishness and desire. Being unselfish means seeking nothing and having no emotional attachments. Not pursuing personal advantage means not thinking about your own benefit, pleasure, or comfort. Cast out all these faults, and then you can become a Buddha!

The six meanings of "Bhagavan" are very important, and Buddhists should remember them. If you don't, you won't even recognize the Buddha. It's like knowing a person. If you can recognize someone by his appearance or his voice, you can say you know him. Knowing the Buddha is the same way. If you don't even know what the Buddha's title "Bhagavan" means, you are certainly a muddled Buddhist! So, you should memorize them and be prepared to say what they are next time. I have spent so much time and energy explaining the Sutra to you; it'd be a shame if you forgot everything once the lecture was over. If you aren't able to answer my questions, then I'll know that you've been sleeping!

The Buddha was travelling through various lands to teach living beings. He arrived at Vaisali ("City of Extensive Adornments") and stayed beneath a tree from which music resounded. The Buddha teaches and transforms living beings not only in one country, but in all the countries where he has affinities.

As the Buddha was travelling around to teach living beings, he carne to the large city of Vaisali, where he seated himself in full-lotus posture at the base of a tree which put forth music, and spoke Dharma for the multitudes. "At Vaisali" and "beneath a tree from which music resounded" fulfill the Requirement of a Place. Above, we had the requirements of faith, hearing, time, and host. With the requirement of a host, there is a person to speak the Sutra, but if there is no place, how can he speak? For example, if we didn't have a lecture hall, how could we hold a lecture on the Medicine Master Sutra? And so it is necessary to have a place. The tree from which music resounded is the location where the Medicine Master Sutra was spoken.

The Bhikshus and Bodhisattvas mentioned in the next passage of text fulfill the Requirement of an Audience. Once there is a lecturer and a place for the lecture, people have to go and listen. If no one went to listen to the Buddha when he spoke, his speaking would have been rather pointless. The Dharma is spoken for living beings. Each Dharma assembly has living beings who have affinities with it. For instance, you have come to this Sutra lecture because you have affinities with it. Those without affinities cannot come even if they want to. You have the chance to come listen every day now because you planted good roots during many past lives and many eons. It's not as simple as you think!

Since you don't realize how difficult it is to take part in a Dharma assembly, sometimes you become lazy, thinking, "The Master isn't here yet, so I think I'll just steal away for some fun." And so you go to watch a play or see a movie, or you go to a dance or a party. You waste your energy doing these things, which are of no benefit. When you come to the Sutra lecture, you hear the sound of the Dharma and it lightens your worldly defilements and deluded thoughts. You study the prajna-wisdom found in the Sutras. Every time you listen, you understand a little bit more.

"I already understand a lot!" you say. What's wrong with understanding a little bit more? Why do you think it's too much? I never hear you complain about having too much money! No matter how rich you are, you never think you have too much. "The more the better!" is your attitude. So why, when you study wisdom, when you study the true Dharma, are you afraid of learning too much? Isn't this delusion? Since you've never really thought about it, you simply forget what's fundamental so as to pursue the superficial; you look for what is far away and fail to notice what's right beside you. Instead of seriously investigating the Buddhadharma, you just waste your time!

With him were eight thousand great Bhikshus. Bhikshus are men who have left the home-life. They were called "great Bhikshus" because they were virtuous and wise elders who had left home for at least twenty or thirty years. "Bhikshu" is Sanskrit and has three meanings:

  1. Mendicant
  2. Frightener of demons
  3. Destroyer of evil

Although a mendicant is one who collects alms from others, he is not a common beggar. Common beggars sometimes obtain their food in unscrupulous ways, and they lack the spirit of equanimity. If they don't get enough food, they become afflicted. A mendicant, on the other hand, doesn't notice whether the food tastes good or not. Nor does he care whether you give him a lot or a little. He simply wants to give people the opportunity to "plant" blessings. The donor's blessings will be as bountiful as the seeds he or she sows.

 

A mendicant monk is free of affliction and ignorance. He carries himself with dignity and obtains food in the proper manner. When Bhikshus walk on the road, they do not stare around at random. Instead, their eyes contemplate their noses, their noses contemplate their mouths, and their mouths contemplate their hearts. They do not look at, listen to, speak about, or do anything that does not accord with propriety. Bhikshus seek alms in silence, unlike common beggars, who may stand at people's doors and say flattering things, such as, "Sir! Madam! May blessings, wealth, and good fortune be yours!" When Bhikshus seek alms, they stand silently and accept whatever offerings are given. If none are offered, they simply leave, without becoming upset. That's how mendicant monks differ from ordinary beggars.

The second meaning of "Bhikshu" is "frightener of demons." Because a Bhikshu is very proper and upright, the demons from the heavens and the externalists are afraid of him. The demons and ghosts stay far away from him. His proper energy overcomes all deviant beings.

The third meaning is "destroyer of evil." Ordinary people find it difficult to give up their bad habits. Bhikshus who cultivate the Way, however, concentrate on giving up bad habits and reforming themselves. They are able to make a new start, changing their faults and becoming good. That's why they are called destroyers of evil.

Present in the assembly were eight thousand great Bhikshus and thirty-six thousand Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas. Bodhisattva is a Sanskrit word, but it has become a very popular term in China. Although many people use it, most don't know what it really means. "A Bodhisattva is just a Bodhisattva!" they say.

A "Bodhisattva" is a sage of the Great Vehicle. The full Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit term is putisaduo, but the Chinese use the abbreviated form pusa. "Bodhisattva" means "one who enlightens sentient beings." Bodhisattvas are one of the nine Dharma Realms of living beings and also one of the Four Dharma Realms of Sages. A Bodhisattva uses his enlightened wisdom to rescue and liberate all sentient beings, beings with blood and breath. Although beings without blood and breath, such as plants, are considered insentient, they do have natures, and they are born and grow within the Buddhas' great, bright, light treasury.

A Bodhisattva is also defined as "an enlightened sentient being." The Bodhisattva is the same as other living beings, except that he is enlightened. Being enlightened, he "does no evil and practices all good deeds." He has no bad habits or faults. Having attained supreme wisdom, he is not confused anymore, so he does not act out of ignorance.

Ordinary living beings always bungle things up in their ignorance. They don't have any real wisdom. When confronted with a problem, they don't know how to handle it, because they are unenlightened. Those of the Two Vehicles are self-enlightened: they have come to such understanding and are no longer confused. However, they have not tried to teach other people the method by which they themselves became enlightened. Bodhisattvas are enlightened themselves, and they also share their enlightened wisdom with other living beings, teaching those beings to become enlightened through the method they themselves used. Bodhisattvas enlighten themselves and also enlighten others, but their enlightenment is not complete. A Buddha is one who has enlightened himself, enlightens others, and perfected his enlightened practice. Since he is perfect in the three enlightenments and replete with the myriad virtues he is called a Buddha.

When Bodhisattvas continue to advance, they can attain Buddhahood. There are many different levels of Bodhisattvahood; for example, there are Bodhisattvas of the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Grounds. When Tenth Ground Bodhisattvas reach the level of Equal Enlightenment, their enlightenment is virtually equal to that of the Buddhasthey are only one step away from Buddhahood.

"Mahasattvas" are great Bodhisattvas endowed with great vows, great wisdom, and great skill and accomplishment in cultivation. There were thirty-six thousand of such Bodhisattvas in the assembly of Medicine Master Buddha, which was as vast as the ocean.

Also kings, ministers. Various kings were also present. Kings rule the country in order to bring blessings and prosperity to the people, and they are assisted by ministers.

Brahmans. The Brahmans [the priestly class] were one of the two noble classes in ancient India. While practicing, Brahmans, like Buddhists, may observe certain ascetic practices and be vegetarian, their goal is to be born in the heavens. Although they cultivate purity and asceticism, they do not work on subduing greed, anger, and delusion. Their equivalent in China is the Taoists. Despite their external differences, Brahmans and Taoists share similar practices and beliefs. There are quite a few skilled cultivators among the Brahmans.

Lay disciples. While others may address you by the title of "Upasaka" or "Upasika" [titles for a Buddhist layman and laywoman, respectively] it is not permissible to use these titles to refer to yourself. Some laypeople print business cards giving their names as "Upasaka So-and-so," and they also speak of themselves as Upasakas. Such people do not know the proper etiquette. Maybe you don't understand what I mean, so let me talk about "Mr." instead. In China, xiansheng ("Mr.") is the most common form of addressing the others. Other people may address you as "Mr. So-and-so" out of respect, but you certainly wouldn't introduce yourself as "Mr. Smith" or "Mr. Jones." If you shamelessly call yourself xiansheng, you simply don't understand the Chinese language. This is something everyone should know. Remember not to call yourself "Mr. Smith" or "Upasaka Smith." "Mr." is a title reserved for learned, virtuous elders, and "Upasaka" is used for a layman who has ten kinds of virtue.

"Dharma Master" is also a title used by others to address you. If you call yourself a Dharma Master, you are praising yourself. It's like calling yourself the emperor. Others can hail the emperor, "Long live your Majesty!" but the emperor does not say that to himself. That's common sense. The same goes for the title "Upasaka" and "Dharma Master." These are respectful forms of address. You use them to respect others, not yourself. Of course you should respect yourself, but you don't need to make a show of it. The lore and knowledge of Chinese culture is boundless and inexhaustible. If you miss one small point, you may end up making a big blunder. These rules of etiquette are commonly overlooked.

There were also gods, dragons, and the rest of the eightfold division. Our temple is protected by the gods, dragons, and the rest of the eightfold division of ghosts and spirits. You may all remember that when we first moved into Gold Wheel Monastery and began renovating it, some people saw a vision of Guanyin Bodhisattva sitting in mid-air with his foot resting on a tortoise. On the eastern comer of the property, there used to be a bar where drug dealers, winos, strippers, and other disreputable people would hang out. Then, just before our opening ceremony, the bar was closed down for good. It used to be a bad neighborhood, but now it's much cleaner. This is a response from the gods, dragons, and the rest of the eightfold division, who protect the monastery.

When this place was a church, some rather messy people came and left food allover the ground, attracting a lot of mice. We are now propagating the Buddhadharma here, so the gods, dragons, and the rest of the eightfold division should protect this temple and quickly chase the mice away. Actually, I wouldn't really mind the rats, except that they give people the impression that our place is very unsanitary. So now we request the Dharma-protecting spirits to do their job and protect this monastery. Chase away the mice and any other beings that should not be here. Don't be polite with them.

The eightfold division is comprised of the gods, dragons, yaksas, gandharvas, asuras, garucjas, kinnaras, and mahoragas.

The gods in the heavens made vows in the past to protect the Buddhas' temples.

Dragons are magical beings. When they cultivated in past lives, they were "fast with the Vehicle and slow with the precepts." They practiced Great Vehicle (Mahayana) Buddhism with tremendous vigor. Seeking a shortcut to obtaining spiritual powers, they practiced esoteric dharmas with intensity, but neglected to hold the precepts. They weren't careful to abstain from evil and practice good. For their esoteric practices, sometimes they would steal skulls from corpses and recite mantras over them. They would also steal the plaques that people put up to honor their ancestors, and then they would command ghosts and spirits using those ancestors as mediums.

Dragons were cultivators who advanced at a rocket-like speed, but who didn't pay much attention to the precepts. They casually broke the precepts against sexual misconduct, lying, killing, and stealing. They stole human skulls and ancestral plaques, and even the trees growing by people's graves, in order to carry out their practices. They approached the Dharma with crooked, greedy minds. That's how they were "fast with the Vehicle and slow with the precepts." Because they were fast with the Vehicle, they have spiritual powers when they become dragons. Because they were slow with the precepts, they fell into the animal realm.

Dragons are animals, but they are also spiritual creatures. Through its spiritual powers, a dragon has the ability to change size at will from the very small to the very large and can also suddenly vanish and just as suddenly reappear. However, dragons have a great fear of the sun because when they bake in the sun, it's as painful as being scorched by fire. They have to send down some rain to soak themselves-just like taking a shower. These are the dragons that dwell in the heavens.

Yaksas are called "speedy ghosts" because they travel very quickly. There are space-travelling yaksa, ground-travelling yaksas, and water-travelling yaksas. They travel faster than cars, airplanes, and even rockets. They can travel ten thousand miles in a single thought. There are a great variety of yaksas, just as there are great varieties of dragons: golden dragons, fire dragons, green dragons, white dragons, black dragons, and so on. There are also many ethnic groups in the human race, and within each ethnic group or nationality, there are further distinctions of southerners, northerners, easterners, and westerners. All these different groups of people have their own languages and writing systems. In general, countless species of living beings populate the world, and each species contains infinite variations within it. That's the wonder of the world.

People will never completely understand the secrets of the world. Now with people going to the moon, it seems we are about to experience a breakthrough and everything will be understood. However, when everything is understood, the world will come to an end. When everything has been discovered, it will all disappear. The play will be over! Once people on earth can communicate with and travel to other planets, the world's population will be wiped out by nuclear weapons, or by natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. No matter how flourishing the world becomes, when it reaches the height of its glory, it will become dark again, just as day turns into night. We rise in the morning and begin the day; and when the day is over, we go to sleep. As soon as we close our eyes, we become muddled and unclear. All things, great and small, in the world, go through cycles.

Gandharvas are spirits that make delightful music. When they play their music in the heavens, the immortals sit there totally enraptured, oblivious to the passing of time. However, gandharvas won't play their music for just anyone. The Jade Emperor can enjoy their music, because he knows their weakness. He knows that once they get a whiff of incense, they immediately come wanting to sniff it, no matter how many tens of thousands of miles away they might be. The Jade Emperor has a special kind of incense that he uses to attract them. When they arrive at his palace and smell the incense, they start dancing and singing. That is why gandharvas are called "incense-inhaling spirits." There are eight dragon kings, and four gandharva kings.

There are four kinds of asuras. Asuras have huge tempers. They are always getting angry. People who have big tempers are controlled by asuras. In the heavens, asuras are called "those without wine" since they have no wine to drink. They are also known as "non-gods" because their status in the heavens is like that of illegal aliens in America, who live in America and can enjoy American bread and butter, but who cannot vote or run for office. The asuras in the heavens are constantly at war with Lord Shakra's heavenly troops, hoping to overthrow Shakra [the Jade Emperor] and usurp his throne. They can live in the heavens and enjoy the blessings of the gods, but they do not have any authority there.

Garudas are the great golden-winged Peng birds. They also have the ability to grow large or small, and to appear and disappear at will. Their wingspan is 330 yojanas. One yojana is 40 miles long, so you can see how long 330 yojanas must be! With one flap of its wings, a Peng bird dries up the waters of the sea so that it can gobble up all the exposed dragons-big, little, young, and old! With another flap of its wings, it can level the mountains by moving them into the ocean.

Garudas have very great spiritual penetrations, and dragons used to fear them more than anything. But since the garudas have taken refuge with the Buddha, they live in peace with the dragons and don't eat them anymore. Chapter One of the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra explains the four kinds of garudas.

Kinnaras are called "doubtful spirits," because they look like humans, except that they have a single horn growing on top of their heads. They also make extremely fine music.

Mahoragas are spirits of huge pythons. The gods, dragons, and the rest of the eightfold division include former demons, ghosts, and goblins who reformed and became Dharma-protectors of Buddhism. So you see, bad people sometimes turn around and become good. As it is said, "The sea of suffering is boundless; a turn of the head is the other shore." Those who committed the ten evil deeds or the five rebellious acts can still start anew and become good. Since the ghosts and spirits of the eightfold division felt bad about the harm they had done to Buddhism before, they vowed to protect Buddhism.

There were also beings human and non-human. People came to protect the Buddha's teaching and support the Triple Jewel, and so did other kinds of beings.

The immeasurable great multitude respectfully surrounded him, and he spoke Dharma for them. The countless beings in the Dharma assembly respectfully surrounded the Buddha as he spoke the Dharma.