Explanations by Master Cheng-Yan
Subject: Opening the Door to the Ultimate Truth (開方便門 示真實相)
Date: December 07.2017
“Drawing near the water of Buddha-wisdom means diligently working to uphold our vows to seek the Great Vehicle and walk the Bodhisattva-path. Through gradual practice and study, all will achieve Buddhahood.”
The previous passage [tells of how] in high plateaus or deserts, there are travelers who are thirsty and need water. Where can they find it? They can immediately dig a well somewhere. Anyone who digs a well must understand how to choose a place with an aquifer to tap into. Only there will they find water. However, some people are thirsty and know that there is water underground, but they do not know [how to find] the aquifer. [They only know] they must dig a well to obtain the water. If they keep digging on the plateau, no matter how hard they work, the soil will be dry. We know that even if they keep digging like this, they will still be far away from the water. This is like those of us who have encountered the Buddha-Dharma and formed aspirations, yet though we are willing to hear and accept the Buddha-Dharma, there is a limit to what we accept. We may know a certain passage is useful to us, so we [focus only] on this passage, or accept only some of what the Buddha taught.
No matter what, we must be patient when learning the Dharma. Furthermore, we must have extremely profound faith and understanding to continuously delve into the [Dharma] and immerse ourselves in it. To understand the Buddha-Dharma, we must have patience. Otherwise, we have only worldly knowledge and cleverness, only appearing to have great wisdom. [We may say,] “Come, come, listen carefully to this sutra passage.” After people hear it, they say, “I have understood. This sutra is good; I am willing to accept it.” So, they just accept this sutra passage. If we tell them, “This sutra passage is nice, but there are others where the Buddha taught us about how to transcend cyclic existence. Indeed, cyclic existence is suffering. From what I read, I have learned the truth of suffering of human life. I just do not understand where the source of suffering is. Come, I would like to [learn] more.” From the sutras, they gain a deeper understanding that life is truly suffering. This suffering is not simple; it is very complex. It arises from the complicated way our minds work. The outside world entices our faculties, and our roots and consciousnesses connect with it. Our consciousness stirs up feelings of pleasure and displeasure, creating discrimination. If we like something, we give rise to desire, and continuously pursue it. There is no limit to our desire for material goods or to the love and hatred we feel towards others. We want to pursue what we crave and desire, yet we [rarely] attain it easily. In contrast, those we do not like constantly draw near to us. In other cases, love is later replaced by hatred, or due to causes and conditions, that love becomes very complicated, with love triangles, or even squares. In short, such love forms a web of afflictions. Love’s web of afflictions entangles us. The ignorance and afflictions of our minds causing multiple people to entangle each other and create karma, resulting in [problems] in families and disruptions in society. These kinds of conflicts between people are often reported in the media and newspapers. This is [how] human beings [are].
Whether towards people or material things, they give rise to and reproduce afflictions. With this creating and reproducing, karmic forces are formed so that they feel regrets in this life and suffer in the next. The sutras teach us by using lots of analogies to help us understand; these worldly mattes and relationships that we can hear and see, the conflicts in the world, can all be understood. The sutras confirm this is creating karma, and human affairs further confirm the principles of the sutras. Thus, they verify each other. This is real and not false. We then believe and understand that the causation of suffering is extremely complicated and subtle. The complexity is as complicated as the interactions of all things in the world. The subtlety arises from our minds. The Five Roots and Five Dusts give rise to the fifth, sixth and seventh consciousnesses. The karma we create returns to and is stored in the eighth consciousness. In the field of our eighth consciousness, there is layer upon layer built up from people, matters and things, from our roots converging with the dusts. Thus, in our delusion, we create many complicated karmic forces. Although we understand this, thought we know to engage in spiritual practice, whatever karma we create in our lives, in the end, life is impermanent, empty and full of suffering; it is all illusory and temporary. Now that we understand this, we must quickly engage in spiritual practice. In order to engage in spiritual practice, some seek only to awaken themselves and do not dare to [interact with] other people. They fear their senses will be ensnared again by these external states.
Therefore, they seek to awaken themselves; they believe this to be the ultimate. [Their understanding of] the “ultimate” is like one who does not know where the aquifer is yet. They only know that they need water to quench their thirst. They engage in spiritual practice with afflictions. They must work very hard to find water. Engaging in spiritual practice with afflictions is like digging a well on a high plateau; they are far away from [the water]. If someone guides us, “There is no water here no matter how you dig. Come here, face forward and aim in the right] direction. The aquifer is over there.” If we listen, we will move to the other area that they pointed out to us and search for the aquifer there. “Since the aquifer is here, that is what those with experience tell us, we should have faith and start to put in effort.” We work hard to continuously dig the well; the more we dig, the deeper and wider it becomes. Gradually, we will see the moist soil. The soil is evidence that there is an aquifer beneath the ground. Since it is moist, there must be water. So, we quickly put in more effort to seize the moment without hesitation. Based on where the moist soil is, we quickly and diligently put in more effort until we begin to see mud. The soil turns into mud only when there is water. We will be so joyful to see that the water is so close. By continuing to put in more effort, we should be able to see clear and clean water.
Here, it is easy to explain this with words. We “Draw near the water of Buddha-wisdom.” When we have seen the mud, and not just the moist soil, we are already very close to the water. So, we must work diligently and put in effort. If we are certain that our direction is right and what we are doing is right, we must then seize the time and work harder to give of ourselves.
“[We] uphold our vows to seek the Great Vehicle.” We already know this is the Great Vehicle Dharma. From the Buddha-Dharma, we seek the Dharma-water, the water of wisdom that we need. We already see indications of water. The mud [that appears] means the water is nearby. Therefore, we should work hard without deviating in our direction. We must put more effort in this direction and work more diligently and mindfully. We must work harder; we know our direction, which is the Great Vehicle Dharma. [With it] we follow the Bodhisattva-path. The Great Vehicle Dharma means going among people. Bodhisattvas in this world arise because of suffering sentient beings. We should know that this is our direction.
So, we must be determined in the direction of the Great vehicle and walk the Bodhisattva-path. Naturally, “Through gradual practice and study, all will achieve Buddhahood.” Ordinary people, sentient beings, do not have the causes and conditions to encounter the Dharma, or what they hear is merely recounted by others. They know not to commit evil, and they believe in the law of karma. Most have not encountered the true Buddha-Dharma, but they pray to all sorts of gods but they pray to all sorts of gods. They are also afraid of ghosts, so they seek [the protection of] these gods. Thus they worship them. If they want something, they ask the gods to help them attain it. They pray for their children’s success or for their children [to perform well on] exams to get into an ideal school. They also pray for their spouse’s career; as their spouse begins a business collaboration, they quickly pray to make a fortune.
People seek fame and fortune like this; there is nothing they do not pursue. They want to attain what they seek, want to have their wishes fulfilled. No matter what they seek, their wishes are very complicated. In [this world of] the Five Destinies, complicated matters are continuously intermixing. When people want something, they make a vow. “If I could get such and such and fulfill my wish, I will repay for the wish. I will light lamps, participate in charitable giving, help build a temple and so on”. For those who are able to hear the Dharma, they listen to sutras and recite them with others to understand the Buddha-Dharma. However, they only have a partial understanding. They only seek to avoid calamity and increase their blessings.
Is that what the Buddha-Dharma is all about? It is not! In the Buddha’s birthplace, the Buddha-Dharma gained popularity and spread among the people. After the Buddha entered Parinirvana, some people aspired to spread the Buddha-Dharma to the east. In [ancient] China, a highly civilized kingdom, one of the emperors heard that in the west, in India, which is west of China, there was a great person, an honored one, a wise man. [The emperor] wanted to seek him out. There had been an Enlightened One, but He had entered Parinirvana. His teachings were spreading in the world, so [the emperor] sent people to seek out the Dharma in the west.
Some people in the west also formed aspirations, like Kasyapa-Matanga and Dharmaratna, who brought the Sutra of 42cChapters [to China]. Kasyapa-Matanga and Dharmaratna were from India. They vowed to travel to China with the sutra and spread it there. After many hardships, these two came to Chang’ an. When the emperor learned that these two eminent monastics had arrived on white horses bearing the sutras, so he had them settle at White Horse Temple. In fact, a “temple” in ancient China was a place for visiting guests to stay. The emperor gave the sutras’ arrival in China a very dignified welcome. So, he invited [the monastics] to live in the White Horse Temple. There, Kasyapa-Matanga and Dharmaratna translated the Dharma with great patience. This was [a long] process. Later, further construction was done in hopes that more people could translate, learn and practice the Dharma. The term “temple” later became the name for places of spiritual practice. That is how it came to [have this meaning].
Thus, the Buddha-Dharma arrived in mainland China where everyone spread it far and wide. People began to seek it out. Since the Buddha-Dharma came from India, where all kinds of religions coexisted, it inevitably [contained elements] that corresponded to Indian beliefs. These were skillful means. There were also [descriptions] of how protecting or believing in the Dharma could lead to the attainment of merits and virtues and so on. These were all found in the sutras. Gradually, [the Dharma] came to be treated as merely a way for people to avoid misfortune and create blessings. When the Buddha-Dharma was introduced to China, it gradually began to transform. Over time, the temples flourished with more and more spiritual practitioners. Each [temple’s] methods of practice began to vary.
So now, we already know the Buddha-Dharma [contains] perfect teachings, so we must immediately [use] the perfect teachings. The Dharma nurtures our wisdom, and we accumulate blessings [by going] among people. We must go out and serve others and relieve human suffering; only then can we attain real joy. Dharma-joy is not simple happiness. When those who are saved are joyful, our efforts to help save them give our minds a sense of peace and freedom. This is Dharma-joy. So, we must be mindful.
“For those who have not listened to, understood or been able to practice and learn this Lotus Sutra, you must know that these people are still far from Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi”.
If we do not listen to this sutra mindfully, and after hearing it, we do not mindfully deepen our understanding, then we will be unable to take the Dharma to heart or put in the effort to contemplate it deeply. For instance, I teach every day, but some people who hear [the Dharma], when they have the chance to talk with others, never bring up the sutra’s principles. They only talk about worldly matters but never mention [the Dharma]. [The do not say], “I heard this sutra today. It talked about these principles. This is the Dharma. This is the suffering of the world. This is the method of the Bodhisattvas.” This is a sign that we are not practicing from the depths of our minds. If we do not have the Dharma deep in our minds, when we talk with people, there will be no trace of the Dharma. There will be no indication of it. Because we have not taken the Dharma to heart, naturally our minds are empty of it. If we think, “When I speak today, I will talk about the things I usually see”, then the traces of the Dharma are not found in our daily living. For us as Buddhist practitioners, this is not truly “practicing,” which means to cultivate ourselves and review. We have been listening to [the Dharma], and every day I ask, “Do you understand?” the answer is always “I understand.” We understand, but do we practice it in our hearts? Have we cultivated it internally? Are we repeatedly practicing it? Not really. Otherwise, the Dharma would always be in our mind, and we would share it whenever we had a chance. Isn’t this what the precious passage was about? We must share whenever there is a chance, as ones who hear, transmit and teach the Dharma.
However, when it comes to the Dharma, the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, we have not taken them to heart; they do not remain in our minds. As a result, there is no trace of [the Dharma] in our lives. The principle is the same. [Of those who are unable] “to practice and learn this Lotus Sutra, you must know thar these people are still far from Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi”. They are still far, in the ground of dry wisdom. They know all worldly matters, but when it comes to the sutra’s true principles, they do not know them.
“For those who can listen, contemplate and practice, you must know that they can draw near to Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.”
If we can be mindful, after we hear and understand [this sutra], we must realize [its truth] mindfully. After understanding, we must contemplate it; this is listening, contemplation and practice. We must earnestly contemplate it, then after that, we must earnestly practice; we must practice and review it, over and over. After hearing it, we must explain it constantly, over and over.
This is the spirit of the 16 princes. They repeated what they heard immediately. They spent a long time re-reaching sutra. By retelling it, they formed affinities with the sentient beings. [This is why] we must listen. I have spoken repeatedly of each chapter’s general ideas and important points. Have we learned them? If not, that would really be a pity. We must contemplate and practice it. If we can “listen, contemplate and practice,” then, we “must know that we can draw near “Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi”.
“Why is this so?” the following [sutra] passage continues with. “Why is this so? all Bodhisattvas’ belongs to this sutra. This sutra opens the door of skillful means to reveal the ultimate truth.”
Indeed, the following sutra passage tells us plainly that those who follow the Bodhisattva-path belong to this sutra. “All Bodhisattvas’ Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi belongs to this sutra.”
“Why is thus so? All Bodhisattvas’ Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi belongs to this sutra”: The teachings of Bodhi all Bodhisattvas practice all belong under the domain of this sutra. Those who do not listen to the wondrous Dharma will linger at the door of the provisional.
If we are walking the Bodhisattva-path, it is the path contained in this sutra. So, “This sutra opens the door of skillful means to reveal the ultimate truth.” It uses skillful means to guide people. What is reveals us actually the ultimate truth, because most important of all is that [we can all] attain Buddhahood. “The teachings of Bodhi all Bodhisattvas practice all belong under the domain of this sutra. Those who do not listen to the wondrous Dharma will stagnate at the provisional door. If we do not earnestly listen to the Lotus Sutra, we will linger in the “provisional,” which is skillful means. We will just linger on the high plateau, carrying our afflictions into our efforts. This is the same principle. So, we must understand that there are five types of wisdom on the Bodhisattva-path.
Bodhisattvas possess:1. The wisdom of thorough understanding. 2. The wisdom of continuing thoughts. 3. The wisdom of standing firm. 4. The wisdom of harmony and unity. 5. The wisdom of fulfilling wishes. The wisdom of thorough understanding is “The wisdom of awakening from the dream and thoroughly understanding all Dharma.
They are no longer in a state of dreaming, but should have completely awakened. Instead of being in a state of dreaming, they are in a state of clear awakening. “[They] thoroughly understand all Dharma.” All Dharma, all that wisdom, is contained in this sutra.
The wisdom of continuing thoughts is “the wisdom of being able to remember past matters and never forget them.
We should remember the tings from the past. What were the causes and conditions 50 years ago? Many causes and conditions converged for Tzu Chi to have this large, international presence today. We must always remember this. it is not only for this lifetime; everything that we have done, the aspirations we formed initially, must never be forgotten. When it comes to our past lives, we must have faith; the Buddha was constantly teaching us that in past lives and kalpas, [we acquired] seeds of goodness. We should have faith in this.
The wisdom of standing firm is the wisdom of establishing the right conduct and getting others to practice and learn from it.
We must establish this wisdom, this method, as a way that we can use to guide others. To guide others, we must have right faith, right thinking, right understanding, right views, right direction and so on. We must be very mindful. The way we ourselves practice must also inspire others to follow this path along with us. this is how to walk in the right direction.
The wisdom of harmony and unity is “the wisdom of contemplating all Dharma and harmonizing with others according to affinities.”
As for the wisdom of contemplating all Dharma, when we are working with others, we must truly contemplate the Dharma, observing all its subtleties. We should understand it at this intricate level. So, “With all Dharma, [we] harmonize with others according to affinities”. Bodhisattvas arise from sentient beings’ suffering. Harmonizing with others according to conditions, we are able to guide them.
Take Ecuador [in 2016] for example. There was a disastrous [earthquake]. From far away, from the US and South America, our Bodhisattvas went and gathered together there. The second time they entered the area, the causes and conditions were already mature; they “harmonized with others according to affinities”. This is what our Bodhisattvas are already doing.
The wisdom of fulfilling wishes is “the wisdom of being able to completely satisfy all our wishes and desires”.
This is the wisdom of fulfilling wishes. We must be earnestly mindful. For things that are not wrong, we will have no regrets. Thus, everything we do will be correct. We do what should be done, so we have no regrets. We do it very satisfactorily, so we are content, meaning we feel no regrets. When there is nothing to regret, we feel we lack nothing. Thus, we will feel quite satisfied and joyful. This is what we mentioned previously; in walking the Bodhisattva-path, there are these five kinds of wisdom. With them we can be confident and free of worries as we follow the Bodhisattva-path. There is nothing difficult about this!
So, “This sutra opens the door of skillful means to reveal the ultimate truth”. This sutra opens the door of skillful means. Of course, we [should] all understand now that every one of us has the same Buddha-nature as the Buddha; every one of us is equal to the Buddha. Since we intrinsically have Buddha-nature, we have the same wisdom as the Buddha. We have Tathagata’s innate enlightenment. These are the principles. The whole world, the universe and the principles that pervade the universe, are all contained in our innately awakened intrinsic nature of True Suchness. With our enlightened nature of True Suchness we can experience the truth of all things. We are able to comprehend them, it is just that our ignorance covers [this nature] in layer upon layer. The Buddha opens the door of skillful means to help us break through these layers of ignorance. After breaking up the layers of ignorance, He uses the water of wisdom to wash away our ignorance and delusions. We not only have many discursive, ignorant thoughts, we also have many dust-like delusions. So, the Buddha used all kinds of methods to open the door of skillful means, until He now revealed the ultimate truth, he drew us in with the Agama [teachings], and after going through the Vaipulya [teachings], we thoroughly see the Prajna [teachings], that all things are empty in nature, that there is no need to cling to things. We understand this. At this point, we must know the Agama and Vaipulya teachings, the principles of “existence”. Remaining at the stage of eliminating afflictions is not enough. Neither is believing in the law of karma only do good deeds to create blessings; this is also not enough; this is not how it is. As we [cultivate] blessings, we must practice the Three Spheres of Emptiness; we must practice wisdom when cultivating blessings. When we serve others, we are not thinking ‘I am the one giving,” or “This is the thing that I give”. We forget all of that. If someone is in need, I give to him. Who is this person? We do not remember either. In any case, everything is empty in nature. Whenever someone needs help, I should try to be of service to him by giving without expectations or attachments. In moving from the Vaipulya to the Prajna period, these [teachings] began to appear.
However, was that all? It was not. The Buddha needed to emphasize for us that, “You will attain Buddhahood like me in the future. On top of knowing our [true] relationship, you will understand all things in the universe; whether tangible and intangible, all principles will be taken in by you”. This is like a 1000 year old tree which [started] from a mere seed. From the microscopic genes, it not only becomes a tree, but the tree blossoms and bears fruit as well. Its fruit drop to the ground and its seeds grow into more trees, becoming a forest. We must thoroughly understand these “genes”. Our intrinsic enlightened nature is just like this. It is the principles. With the smallest principle, we can extend it to encompass the whole universe so there is nothing we do not know, no matter we do not see clearly, no principle we do not understand. This is enlightenment.
So, how can ultimate truth be revealed? It is within the smallest principles. So, “This sutra opens the door of skillful means to reveal the ultimate truth”. In our minds, [we must contemplate] “all Buddhas of the Three Periods;” “everything is created by the mind”. This is what we must understand. The “mind,” our thoughts, are things that we cannot see, but we must still experience and awaken to them.
For example, the Dharma has its fragrance. When we listen to the Dharma, does it merely affect the surface, or does it permeate us? When we take in the fragrance of the Dharma, does it merely build up on the surface? Or have we genuinely taken in the fragrance of the Dharma? When we light incense and bring a piece of white paper close to it, the paper will turn yellow and after a while, become blackened. Did the fragrance really permeate it? Not really. In the same way, as we listen to the Dharma every day, have we taken the fragrance of Dharma to heart? After sitting here for so long, are we merely feeling sore and hot and nothing more? Or do we really feel, “I have taken the Dharma to heart. I feel such joy from it”. When we feel joy from the Dharma, we will naturally review it over and over and practice in our hearts. If we do not practice it in our minds, then we forget it right away, and all we will be aware of is idling away the time [as we sit here]. Sitting in this environment here, the summer weather is hot and our feet are sore. That is all will feel. Ifthat is all, that would be truly a pity. “Before the Lotus Sutra was taught the Three Vehicles were taught separately”. Before teaching Lotus Sutra, [the Buddha]taught the Three Vehicles separately.
This sutra opens the door of skillful means to reveal the ultimate truth: Before the Lotus Sutra was taught, the Three Vehicles were taught separately and the door of skillful means was closed. Everyone practiced separately until the Lotus Sutra revealed the Buddha-nature. This shows that the precious provisional vehicle was also the Bodhisattva-path. The father recognized the servant as His son and opened the door of skillful means. He gradually merged all the gradual teachings into the perfect and immediate teaching, to reveal to all the ultimate truth.
In the past, He used the door of skillful means; this door remained closed to the ultimate truth; He had not yet taught us the True Dharma. this is what the Buddha had been protecting in His mind.
So, the door of skillful means is the Three Vehicles. From the Agama and Vaipulya to the Prajna period, in this way, He gradually brought us closer to it so we could begin to form great aspirations. before, we only stood inside the door and practiced separately, “until the Lotus Sutra revealed the Buddha-nature.” Previously, the door of skillful means was closed, so we practiced inside the door.
Now, the door of skillful means is open, so we have begun to step through the doorway and see the True Dharma. This shows that “the provisional Vehicle was also the Bodhisattva-path”. Although it is called “provisional,” it has already paved the Bodhisattva-path for us. “The father recognized the servant as His son and opened the door of skillful means”. Just like in the story of the poor son, the rich elder recognized the servant who was cleaning as actually being his son. Since the son left home, [the father] had to use skillful means to guide his son back. In the Chapter on Faith and Understanding, this is also an analogy for skillful means. “He gradually merged all the gradual teachings into the perfect and immediate teaching”. Slowly, with the gradual teachings of the past, He guided us to the door with gradual methods. This is how the Buddha slowly guided us.
So, the gradual teachings and unique teachings merged into the perfect and immediately teaching. We have already begun to understand them, so it was time for the perfect teachings. So, [it was time] “to reveal to all the ultimate truth”.
This means those who wish to draw near to the Buddha-wisdom must, through this sutra, be replete in the Three Wisdoms of listening, contemplating and practicing. In this sutra, the secret, essential door of skillful means has been completely opened and the ultimate truth of the One Vehicle has been completely revealed. This is called “encompassing all kinds of capabilities and teaching people accordingly, to guide them to return to the ultimate Path and to give birth to all Bodhisattvas’ Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Only this sutra can be relied upon.
“This means those who wish to draw near to the Buddha-wisdom must, through this sutra, be replete in the Three Wisdoms of listening, contemplating and practicing. In this sutra, the secret, essential door of skillful means…” refers to this sutra. [Now,] this secret door of skillful means “has been completely opened”. We must realize that the Buddha has now opened the door of skillful means, has opened up the provisional to reveal the true. It was the provisional in the past, but now the ultimate truth is being revealed. “The ultimate truth of the One Vehicle has been completely revealed.” This is called “encompassing all kinds of capabilities and teaching people accordingly, to guide them to return to the ultimate Path and to give birth to all Bodhisattvas Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Only with this sutra can we understand and realize [the truth]. So, we must always be mindful.
(Source: Da Ai TV – Wisdom at Dawn program – Explanation by Master Chen-Yen)