Explanations by Master Cheng-Yan
Subject: The Dharma-nature Is Unmoving, Like a Mountain (法性不動 如妙高山)
“The Dharma-nature is unmoving, like a mountain, yet the mountain of our Dharma-nature has been disrupted. Thus, this is likened to a mountain being moved.” This means “we have entered the sea of samsara and ignorance.”
This tells us that “the Dharma-nature is unmoving, like a mountain, yet the mountain of our Dharma-nature has been disrupted.” We all inherently have this Dharma[-nature]. Buddha-nature is intrinsic to us all. Our pure, intrinsic nature is forever unmoving, but now our nature has been disrupted. This is the analogy that is used for us unenlightened beings whose intrinsic Tathagata-nature has been disrupted. So, for this reason, we have entered the sea of samsara and ignorance. It is primarily our ignorance that has disrupted the mountain of our Dharma-nature. As soon as we give rise to a single thought of ignorance, this disrupts the mountain of our Dharma-nature, making it extremely hard to turn back. If we wish to turn back again, this will be a very difficult thing to do. So, we must be very mindful as we listen to the Dharma now. How should we listen? We must take the Dharma to heart. The Dharma teaches and guides us to walk this path. As for how we should walk this path, I will make this all the more clear to you.
The Dharma-nature is unmoving, like Marvelous High Mountain. What sort of force can move mountains? Only sentient beings’ collective karmic forces piled up over the course of many lifetimes [can do this].
“The Dharma-nature is unmoving, like Marvelous High Mountain. What sort of force can move mountains?” Our Dharma-nature is inherently unmoving, like Marvelous High Mountain. Our nature, our nature of True Suchness, is the universe itself, which is as pure and undefiled as Marvelous High Mountain. What sort of power could force our Marvelous High Mountain to move? This passage says that “only sentient beings’ collective karmic forces” [can do this]. For sentient beings, “a deluded thought creates the Three Subtleties.” “External states lead to the Six Coarse Marks.” We recite this verse often. A single thought of ignorance creates three kinds of subtleties. These Three Subtleties cannot be touched or seen, yet they can move Marvelous High Mountain. These are the karmic forces of sentient beings. All of our karmic forces stem from greed, anger and ignorance. We cannot see or touch them, yet they have disrupted our pure and undefiled [nature]. Our intrinsic nature, as unwavering as Marvelous High Mountain, can be disrupted by something as subtle and intricate as these three things. This all starts with a single thought. From but a single thought of ignorance, we give rise to the Three Subtleties. These Three Subtleties connect with our external world as our Five Roots connect with the Five Dusts and our mind discerns between things, disturbing our mind and disrupting our thoughts. As our sense organs [connect with] sense objects in the world, what disturbs our mind and disrupts our thoughts are the three [subtleties] of greed, anger and ignorance. These various karmic forces accumulate, creating our collective karma. This is what it is like for sentient beings. So, [this karma] “piles up over the course of many lifetimes.” Everyone is the same in this way; this causes us to deviate slightly from our nature, which leads us far off course. This is what we unenlightened beings are facing in the world today. Whether it is the state of our times or the state of our climate, we are truly experiencing what the Buddha calls “suffering”.
Yes, there is suffering. There is so much suffering piling up throughout the world. This is like the couple Chi Xie and Tzu Li who took the time to show me a 20-30 minute video they edited about the experiences of Tzu Chi volunteers over the past few years. There is so much suffering in this world. Whether it is man-made suffering, natural disasters caused by the imbalance of the four elements or poor people living amidst hardships year after year and so on, they recorded all these countless hardships. I saw the images of Bodhisattvas emerging amidst every situation no matter what hardships they faced. I saw all kinds of people of different ethnicities and all the different hardships they endure, all making the same poignant cry for help. A life of suffering like this is impossible to describe no matter how much time we spend here trying to do so. [This couple] gathered the world’s hardships. In such a short time, they gathered it all together. Although they might say, “This is just a 20-30 video we edited,” if we were to discuss every scene that flashed by, every one of those images had a long story behind it. Life is so sorrowful and bitter. Is there suffering? Yes, there is.
Just from watching a short 10-20 minute [video], we lamented how life is full of suffering. As all the Tzu Chi volunteers sat there listening, everyone there was so orderly, wearing “the blue and white uniform,” the “Eightfold Noble Path dress” and so on. They all had such joyful smiles on their faces. The world [of Tzu Chi] is very equal, a beautiful world full of peace, joy and equality. But we should sit down and listen to their stories. In order for their lives to be permeated by the Dharma, just to listen to the Dharma, they have to expend so much effort. Some need to travel a very long way. There are some people [in Hong Kong] who, in order to come listen to the Dharma, had to take a taxi early in the morning, which cost about 900 NTD for a single trip. Every morning as they came to listen, they had to spend 900 NTD for just a single trip. This was a huge burden. Hoping to listen to the sutra more easily, they searched and searched until they found a closer place [to move to], but this place is very small. To sounds like it is so small [they can hardly] walk, stand or sit down there. Enough space to walk, live and rest in is a basic life necessity. Yet, their circumstances have made this impossible. They had to [make sacrifices to live closer], so they have no choice but to suffer this hardship in life so that they may listen to the Dharma more easily. To hear about how they live in these conditions, just for the sake of coming to hear the Dharma is very touching.
This is because they all share this single-mindedness. Some people are very wealthy, yet they are not diligent when it comes to listening to the Dharma. Sometimes, they live right next door, just a 4-5 minute walk, but they hate getting up early. Or, when it is broadcast on TV in the morning, they need only to turn the TV on, and the Dharma will come right into their home, but they are too lazy watch it. For some, their circumstances are good whether it comes to transformation or housing. They may even have a driver to take them around, or they drive [expensive] cars so that everyone will know when they go out that they own such [expensive] things. Yet, they still lack contentment. The Dharma is very far from their lives. Such is the nature of sentient beings. Deep in our hearts, do we want to have greed, anger and ignorance? Or do we want faith, vows and actions? This is also a group of three words. Do we have faith? Do we have deep faith and understanding and the willingness to form aspirations? We must make great vows. The Buddha-Dharma is boundless, and we must keep seeking to fulfill our vow to listen to the Dharma. We must give it our all. Some people, due to their greedy attachments to their circumstances in life, are unable to let go of the afflictions and ignorance that bind them. “It is so early; I still want to sleep. You want me to wake us that early just to listen to a sutra lecture. I can’t bear to get out of bed so early.” They indulge in over-sleeping. Despite having the convenience of a car and good circumstances in life, they are just unwilling. Others, like the ones I just mentioned, live very far away. They had to spend almost NTD 1000 daily, yet they were still willing to come listen to the sutra every day. Due to their relatively poor circumstances, they had to move to such a cramped place. I heard them say that the kitchen and bathroom are in the same room, and right next to the toilet is the place where they chop vegetables. They moved to such a small space just to make listening to the sutra more convenient. This is so touching. So, we sentient beings must be very mindful to return to this pure and undefiled mindset that seeks the Dharma.
In the halls for teaching the Dharma and expounding the sutras, [the Buddha] turned from the provisional to reveal the true. He expounded the Sutra of Infinite Meanings’ teachings about going among people. For the ordered assembly of. Hearers and Bodhisattvas, all gathered at eth Hall of Seven Treasures, He widely established the teachings of the path and freely expounded the wondrous Dharma.
So, “In the halls for teaching the Dharma and expounding the sutras, [the Buddha] turned from the provisional to reveal the true. He expounded the Sutra of Infinite Meanings teachings about going among people.” Many causes and conditions must come together for this sutra to be taught. The sutra will not appear beside you just because you want to listen to it. The sutra is here with you because you have the causes and conditions for it. Having a place to teach the Dharma is also accomplished through [the convergence of] many causes and conditions. When [the Buddha] accomplished this, what did He do in these places? He “Turned from the provisional to reveal the true.” When the Buddha was in this world, He spent 42 years teaching according to people’s capabilities. During these 42 years, what most sentient beings accepted and took joy in were “the provisional” [teachings]. The Buddha expounded the Dharma according to sentient beings’ capabilities. Since these were the teachings they accepted, they believed them and put them into practice. In the process of guiding people, the Buddha used the provisional teachings and skillful means. Once He got to this point, He figured that time was running out, and He looked to see whether sentient beings had grown through the provisional teachings. They still had room to grow, and they still lacked true faith and understanding deep in their hearts. They were still unable to do this. They lacked complete understanding because there is a certain order [to the teachings]. This is just like listening to the Dharma today; there is also a certain order to this. Do the people who are first to hear the Dharma have deeper faith? Not necessarily. Do those who start listening later on have a more shallow understanding? Not necessarily. Some have just started listening, yet their faith is firm, and they hope to progress even further. There are those who have listened for very long, and yet they stagnate, stuck in place. There are many people like this who are making no progress at all.
This is because their capabilities are disparate and lack [a semblance] of order. But the Buddha had no choice but to quickly turn from the provisional to reveal the true. He could not wait any longer. For those with disparate or disordered capabilities, He could not wait for them and longer because time was running out. He quickly turned from the provisional to reveal the true and expounded the teachings of the Sutra of Infinite Meanings. First, He went among people to help them understand that sentient beings suffer many hardships. He quickly relieved them of their suffering and then expounded the Dharma for them. This is how He quickly turned [from the provisional to the true], by first saving them and then telling them [about the Dharma]. This was the method He used. So, the Buddha began, “for the ordered assembly of Hearers and Bodhisattvas”, to expound [the teachings].
So, first were the Hearers, and next were the Bodhisattvas. First was the Small Vehicle, and next was the Great Vehicle. So, the order of the Great and Small Vehicles was established like this. When the Hearers entered [the assembly], they had these seats, and the Bodhisattvas went there. So, their places had an order to them, and this is how they would arrange themselves. This was the “ordered assembly of Hearers and Bodhisattvas that [listened to] the Dharma in shifts. They knew their place; there was an order to it. This is just like when everyone comes in at certain arranged shifts, entering according to a certain order. Such are the halls for teaching the sutra; these places have an order to them. So, everyone gathered together there. Whether they were Great or Small Vehicle practitioners, they all promptly assembled at the same time and in the small hall. They came in according to a certain order. It was according to this principle that [the Buddha] freely expounded the wondrous Dharma. This helps us all understand why the Buddha had to spend so much time teaching the Dharma; the provisional and true teachings had to be taught in this order. Time was running out, so He quickly expounded the Sutra of Infinite Meanings. The Buddha taught the Sutra of Infinite Meanings at the beginning of the Louts Sutra. Then, He entered into Samadhi. This sutra passage is very important. This Sutra of Infinite Meanings helps everyone understand how the Bodhisattva-path must be walked.
This is just like in Indonesia. Even though Indonesia has a different religion [from us], Tzu Chi is still accepted in Indonesia by Tzu Chi is still accepted in Indonesia by people of all levels of society. [Tzu Chi volunteers] have been able to serve every corner of Indonesia, helping so many people. They have even been able to help people in hardship despite being abused or misunderstood; they bear all this willingly. They take their time and use various methods, explaining things to them over and over again. The people in that village were suffering so much. Everyone was living in homes with leaking [roofs]. The houses were in a row, and not one of them was left intact. They all came to listen and seemed to believe us, but they were also a bit worried. “You make it sound so good, that you want to help us for nothing in return, but when the time comes, will you give us ownership of the house? They still had this suspicion. We built the house for them, and gave them over 300 houses. The owner of each home was made very clear to them. This house and that house and so on belongs to this person, that person and so on; we made this very clear to them. We rebuilt the entire village. In the end, everyone praised us. “Where do you get such determination and patience to make our village so wonderful?” [Sugianto Kusuma] told everyone, “Master tells us that this path has already been paved for us. This path is the Lotus Sutra, and it has already been paved. Looking back on everything that has been done over the last few years, we have been walking the path of the Lotus Sutra this whole time”. Seeing him say this, I was also comforted. It turns out he had been listening to the Dharma. In this way, he had [not only] listened every day, he had also taken the words I said and expressed these words and phrases in very simple ways that they could accept and put into practice.
In truth, [the Dharma] is very profound, so if we cannot experience it for ourselves or appreciate it, we will not understand it. He told them, “Master uses the sutra, the Lotus sutra, to pave a path for everyone to walk on. It has been like this for decades. [Sugianto Kusuma] was actually able to understand this. He said, "When we look back on everything we have done during this time, we see that it is the path of the Lotus Sutra”. He was able to benefit these people. Once he did this, he felt at peace. Their results were also very good. Over 300 households, over 6000 people were willing to keep a bamboo bank. In the end, he believes that these villagers with so many members to each family, both adults and children, will all take joy in “the spirit of the bamboo banks”. He hopes the children will save the money they used for candy and donate it instead, that the youth will save the money they usually waste on [frivolous things] and that adults and elderly people will [be frugal] in life, and so on. So, this village of over 300 households has over 6000 bamboo banks. This is incredible.
Hearing him [speak] of everything they had been through made me very happy. The rich did not belittle small donations, and [the volunteers] kept summoning the spirt of the bamboo banks to explain to everyone that it was not rich people who built the homes for them, but many loving people who chipped in bit by bit to come together and help build their homes. He patiently explained this to everyone. He truly used these loving methods; this is the wondrous Dharma. We all need to take this story to heart first.
Let us look at the previous sutra passage. “Furthermore, Ajita, suppose that people, for the sake of this sutra, visit monasteries and, whether sitting or standing, listen to and accept it for a moment. Due to these merits and virtues, when they are born again into their next life…”.
The Buddha said to Maitreya Bodhisattva, “Ajita, if there are people who, for the sake of this sutra…. It is for the sake of the Lotus Sutra that we are so diligent in listening to the Dharma . No matter how hard it is, we must go. This is the meaning of “visit monasteries”. This means that wherever the Dharma is expounded, wherever there are monastics teaching it, no matter what, we must go there. So, we must “visit monasteries”. No matter what the place is like, even if we arrive and there is no place to sit, we will happily stand, and we will be so reverent that even if we only hear one sentence or one verse, we will accept it joyfully. So, with this sense of joyful acceptance, there is nothing we cannot overcome. We were just talking about the Bodhisattvas in Hong Kong. They willingly overcame their own circumstances to make listening to the sutra easier for them. Before, since they since they lived so far away, they had to spend so much every day [on taxi fare]. So, they chose to make listening to the sutra more convenient for themselves. To make listening to the Dharma one’s main priority in life no easy feat.
So, “due to these merits and virtues” refers to the merits and virtues of listening to the Dharma. No matter what the practicalities of our lives are like, our mind must return to [our original state] as unmoving as Marvelous High Mountain, returning to our nature of True Suchness. Then, no circumstance will be able to defeat us. We must always listen to the Dharma, for only then will we be able to return to our original state. So, their diligence [in listening to] the Dharma is very touching. Just hearing about it is so inspiring. We all feel inspired by this. This also inspires our nature of True Suchness. Their earnestness moves everyone’s hearts and is even able to move Marvelous High Mountain. Furthermore, as unenlightened beings, we all can listen to the Dharma and be inspired. This shows that when one person turns their life around, this can inspire all of us, and we will also be transformed. Whenever we listen Dharma, even if we hear just a single word or phrase, we must maintain a reverent mindset. Whether we are sitting or standing, we must keep this reverent mindset all the same. Sitting or standing, we should always be reverent.
Continuing on, [the Buddha] says, “…they will attain the finest, most wonderful elephants, horses, chariots and jeweled palanquins, and will even ride in heavenly palaces. Also, suppose that are people who sit at places where the Dharma is taught, and that there are also people who invite others to sit and listen.
With the merits and virtues of reverently listening in places where the sutra is taught, when they are born again into their next life, they will “… attain the finest, most wonderful elephants, horses, chariots…”.
…they will attain the finest, most wonderful elephants, horses, chariots and jeweled palanquins, and will even ride in heavenly palaces: Elephants, horses and wondrous chariots are used by wealthy and noble people. Jeweled palanquins are devices for royalty. When heavenly beings travel, they have palaces as their means of physical transportation.
In the past, public transportation was limited. People were all dependent on animals, such as elephants or horses. In India, they seldom used oxen for transportation. They had great respect for oxen, so they used elephants and horses. They would use them to pull their carts, or they would ride them. This was all done to show off their [high] status. They had wonderful elephants and horses that they also decorated with wonderful accessories. These truly marvelous decorations served to show off their wealth and status. A jeweled palanquin meant they were kings, ministers or royalty. This is what they used.
As for heavenly beings, they “have palaces”. This also represents their status.
Chariots and horses are vehicles for officials. Elephants and palanquins are vehicles for royalty. Heavenly palaces are vehicles for heavenly beings.
Whether it was an official or minister, people of high status used carts and horses. As for elephants with “palanquins,” this was for royalty to ride in. Palaces are for heavenly beings to ride in. [They] “even ride in heavenly places”. This represents the heavenly realm and so on.
…and will even ride in heavenly palaces: This describes how heavenly beings in the form realm are able to ride in their palaces back and forth across the sky.
For “those who listen to the sutra for a moment,” they may be focused and joyful or distracted. A distracted mind is an unfocused mind. “I have this opportunity, so I will come listen”. They sit there listening, but their mind is not focused; this is a distracted mind.
Others rejoice “Since you invited me, I will come”. Some people come with a focused mind. Some get a ride but sit there listening with a distracted mind. Some come with those who invited them. Each person is different, thus each person’s merits and virtues will also be different. So, when it comes to the average person, do they come with a good state of mind? Do they come with a joyful mind? There are many different states of mind. The states that are beings described here belong to people who listen to the Dharma in this world. Some have focused minds, some are distracted, and some come with a joyful mind. The merits and virtues they will receive in retribution are all different. Some have the same mindset as heavenly beings, one of joy and reverence. They enjoy this environment and are reverent toward the sutra and the Dharma. So, they rejoice and come joyfully. Some will express, “I also have faith in the Buddha but I am also worldly in this way”. Every person comes with a different mindset.
Those who listen to the sutra for a moment may be focused, distracted or joyful, for mindsets differ. Thus, the merits and virtues they attain will also differ. Heavenly beings, royalty and officials also differ in terms of status.
“Also, suppose that there are people who sit at places where the Dharma is taught, and that there are also people who invite others to sit and listen”. Some people are already very sincere and have to overcome many difficulties so that they can also come to listen. They come with this kind of focused mind. When sincere people come listen to the Dharma, their Dharma-seat will not go unoccupied. They come with a very focused mind.
So, “There are people “who sit at places where the Dharma is taught”. In this place where the Dharma is taught, we often see people like this who are willing to overcome all else and make listening to the Dharma a priority. As they listen in this place, if someone else comes in, just walking along the peripheries, and they see them, they will very earnestly invite this person, “Come, come and listen”. Because they take great joy in listening and gain great insights from listening, when they see someone hesitating outside, they will mindfully encourage that person to come inside to listen. When someone arrives and comes in but cannot find a place to sit, they will offer their seat to the newcomer. People like this willingly come and listen to the Dharma, encourage others to come listen to the Dharma and even give up their seat for others. It does not matter if they stand or sit. If there are no seats, they will stand and listen to the Dharma with a focused mind. So, “their body, mind and consciousness” connect with and experience the Dharma’s benefits. “I am so happy to come to this place. I benefit greatly from listening, reaping the profound benefits of the Dharma”. Everyone has a different state of mind. Those who listen to the Dharma with focused, single-minded resolve and truly very mindful.
So, as we listen and feel this joy ourselves, we hope that this joy can be shared with and felt by others as well. “Come and listen; it will surely bring you joy. When it comes to our greed, anger, delusions and various afflictions and ignorance from the past, once we hear the Buddha-Dharma, we will be able to change our state of mind. This helps us greatly in our daily lives”. This is how we encourage others to listen to the sutra as we take joy in listening to it ourselves. We ourselves take great joy in listening to it, and we also invite others to come listen to the Dharma with us. Everyone who listens to the Dharma comes with a different state of mind. Everyone has their own state of mind.
Also, suppose that there are people who sit at places where the Dharma is taught, and that there are also people who invite others to sit and listen: If, in their body, mind and consciousness, they feel joy upon hearing the Dharma, they will be able to receive the Dharma’s benefits. When others come, they will invite them to sit together with them to listen to the Dharma.
So, we must be earnestly mindful to engage our minds in listening to the Dharma. As we listen to the Dharma, if we listen clearly, “the path” will be right before our feet. So, “the sutra is a path, and this path is a road to walk on”. Look at our Living Bodhisattvas and the path they have walked. This is just like [Sugianto Kusuma], Ah Yuan, in Indonesia. His capabilities [are so sharp]. All I said was, “The Lotus Sutra paves a path for us to walk on”. He eventually came to understand this and even shared it with everyone else. “Every time we do something, we take a look back [and see] the path of the Lotus Sutra. This is how it is”. Yes, we must walk the path of the Lotus Sutra in this way. This is our Dharma-nature. Originally, it was like Marvelous High Mountain. It is just that our karmic forces have disturbed it. We must take a look back and reflect on ourselves. There are people who lost themselves in their careers in the past, [only thinking about] making money. Now, in retrospect, they have made money and have power and influence in society, so now they must quickly make use of it to help people. How can they bring peace to their lives? How can they create a stable, harmonious society? They can still be wealthy while choosing to live their lives in another way. So, in the past, they were lost amidst greed, anger and ignorance. As they look back, [they can see] the path of the Lotus Sutra that they have walked, using all kinds of methods to help people. Dear Bodhisattvas, we all have this Dharma-nature. Do we want our karmic forces to knock us down? Or do we want to safeguard our Dharma-nature and return to our nature of True Suchness? We must always use the Dharma to determine [how to do this]. But if we [wait too long] to take action, there will not be enough time. Everyone, we must always be mindful!
(Source: Da Ai TV – Wisdom at Dawn program – Explanation by Master Chen-Yen)