The Shurangama Sutra
Commentary by the
Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua
...Upali is foremost in holding the precepts. His name means "superior leader" (shang shou). He never committed the slightest infraction of the precepts spoken by the Buddha. His lay name was Channa. He was with the Buddha when they left the palace and went into the mountains. He was extremely familiar with all the events of the Buddha's life, because he was the person who had followed the Buddha the longest. When the five bhikshus left the Buddha, Upali did not leave. He stayed by his side and served Shakyamuni Buddha as he cultivated the Way. Upali arose from his seat, bowed at the Buddha's feet, and said to the Buddha, "I followed the Buddha in person when he fled the city and left the home-life."
At that time, Upali, who was then Channa, first accompanied the Buddha to the eastern gate of the city. The Buddha, who was then a prince, went out looking for some excitement, because he was bored in the palace. At the gate they observed a woman by the side of the road giving birth to a child. She was weeping and wailing and writhing in pain. The prince asked Channa, "What's going on? Why is she crying so violently?"
When Channa told him, he was shocked to find that birth involved so much suffering. After the child was born, the prince was upset and said, "We're going back, I don't want to go sightseeing today."
The next day they went to the southern
gate to do some more sightseeing. There they saw an old person. His head shook,
his vision was blurred, his teeth had fallen out, and he could hardly walk. The
prince asked Channa, "What kind of person is that?" "That person is very old."
"Oh," was his reply. "That's what getting old is like! That's too much suffering," and once again he didn't want to go any further.
The third day they went to the western
gate. There they saw a sick person afflicted with an ugly and violent disease.
"Why is that person in such horrible shape?" asked the prince.
"That person is sick," was Channa's reply.
Once again the prince was troubled and
did not want to travel further. The fourth day they went to the northern gate
and came across a person who had just died. When the prince asked about him,
Channa told him that that was what death was like.
The prince was stunned at having seen birth, old age, sickness, and death. At that moment, a monk walked by wearing the robe and sash. When the prince saw him, he asked Channa what he was. Channa said, "Ask him and find out."
The prince, who was to become
Shakyamuni Buddha, asked the monk, "What do you do?"
"I'm a person who has left the home-life."
"What does that mean?" asked the prince.
"People who leave the home-life are called bhikshus. They leave home in order to escape the suffering of birth, old age, sickness, and death. Once we understand the Way, then there is neither production nor extinction, we do not have to be born or die, and we can accomplish Buddhahood."
"Can you tell me how to leave home?" asked the prince. "Can you be my teacher?"
This bhikshu was actually a god from the Heaven of Pure Dwelling. Seeing that conditions were ripe, the god intentionally transformed himself to come take Shakyamuni Buddha across. When the prince asked the bhikshu to be his teacher, the monk beat his staff once on the ground, ascended into space, and entered the heavens. The prince had no way to study the Path and no method for leaving the home life, so he returned to the palace.
Meanwhile, a prognosticator who looked at physiognomies told the king, "If the prince does not leave home in the next seven days, he will attain the position of a wheel-turning king; he will rule over all the countries of the world. All you have to do is keep him here for a week."
Thereupon his father, the Pure Rice King took action and stationed his armed forces all around the palace to cut off all traffic in and out of the palace. A curfew prevailed and no one was allowed in or out of the palace. Thus, the prince was surrounded and watched at all times. In this way the Pure Rice King hoped that his son, Prince Siddhartha, would attain the position of a wheel-turning king.
A wheel-turning king rules over the four great continents: Purvavideha to the east, Jambudvipa to the south, Aparagodaniya to the west, and Uttarakuru to the north. One worldsystem is composed of one set of the four great continents, as well as one sun, one moon, and one Mount Sumeru.
A thousand of these small
world-systems is called a middle sized world system. One thousand middle-sized
world systems is called a great worldsystem. This is the meaning of the phrase
"three-thousand-greatthousand world-system." A wheel-turning king rules over one
The prince had extremely good roots, and so although he was being watched, he did not become confused. The king sent many beautiful women to the quarters of the prince for him to enjoy. But the prince looked upon then with unseeing eyes. He listened with deaf ears. As it is said:
The eyes see form,
but inside there is nothing.
The ears listen to sounds,
but the mind is not aware of them.
Inside there is no body and mind.
Outside there is no world.
Then the god from the Heaven of Pure Dwelling appeared and spoke with the prince. "Prince, are you so greedy for the pleasures of this world that you have forgotten your vows from former lives? Do you remember your past vows?"
Prince Siddhartha said, "I haven't forgotten. But at present there's nothing I can do."
The god from the Heaven of Pure Dwelling said, "If you have not forgotten and you still want to leave the home-life and cultivate the Way, I can help you."
"Excellent!" said the prince.
The god told Channa, that is, Upali, whom we are now discussing, to prepare the horse, and the prince and Channa went to the back garden of the palace to escape. At that point the four heavenly kings appeared, and, each taking one of the horse's legs, lifted up the horse, the prince, and Upali into space and flew away with them. They mounted the clouds and rode the fog for three yojanas and then alighted in the Snowy Mountains.
The prince began to cultivate the Way there in the mountains. As a response from the gods, there was rice and sesame there, and every day Shakyamuni Buddha ate one grain of each to stay alive. Then three members of his father's clan and two members of his mother's clan came to cultivate there with him. Three could not take the ascetic practices and began to have doubts. "Cultivation is too much suffering. When can we ever get to be Buddhas? Let's leave."
These three left and went to the Deer Wilds Park to cultivate the Way. Eventually a heavenly maiden brought an offering of milk gruel for the prince, because he was nothing but skin and bones. After he drank the milk gruel, his body began to fill out naturally. But the two who were still with him said, "He could take suffering before, but now he can't. Now that he has drunk that milk gruel, he won't have any accomplishment. He couldn't take it. Let's go."
So the paternal relatives and the
maternal relatives all left; only the Venerable Upali remained. So he says, "I
followed the Buddha in person when he fled the city and left the home-life. I
was with him in the palace garden when he mounted the horse and flew out of the
city. I observed the Thus Come One endure six years of diligent asceticism. For
six years he endured bitterness that is difficult to endure. I watched the Thus
Come One subdue all the demons. The prince could have accomplished Buddhahood
right there on the Snowy Mountains. But he was concerned that people might
mistakenly think that to accomplish Buddhahood you have to be a total ascetic.
So he stopped meditating in the mountains and went to the Bodhi tree. He sat
down beneath it and made the vow not to get up until he had become a Buddha."
After the prince had sat there beneath the Bodhi tree for forty-eight days, the king of demons in the sixth desire heaven had a dream. He dreamed of thirty-two transformations. When he awoke, being able to reckon and contemplate, he looked into the reason for this strange dream and found that a Bodhisattva was sitting beneath the Bodhi tree just about to accomplish Buddhahood.
"This will never do," he thought. "I must find a way to destroy his concentration."
He sent four demonic women, each of whom was exquisite. Demons are weird creatures, but they also dislike being ugly. They went to disturb Shakyamuni Buddha's samadhi by manifesting thirty-two enticing transformations. They were trying to seduce Shakyamuni Buddha. They wanted him to have an ordinary thought and thereby leave his samadhi. They wanted to arouse his desire.
But the Buddha neither loved them nor
desired them. Although he was not made of straw or rock, as the saying goes,
"People aren't grass or wood; who doesn't have emotion?" yet Shakyamuni Buddha
could go through this experience and not be turned by it. He was not shaken by
the demonic power of these women. He remained in a state of unmoving suchness.
His mind did not move in the slightest, he did not give rise to love or desire.
Faced with this state his thoughts did not arise. During this episode, Shakyamuni Buddha was contemplating impurity, similar to the contemplation of the nine aspects discussed above. He thought, "Oh, you've come to cheat me. Although you are beautiful now, you'll turn into skeletons. Your nine apertures are always oozing impurities. Your eyes ooze tears and matter, your ears ooze wax, your noses have mucus, your mouths have saliva and phlegm, all of it's unclean. Add to that excrement and urine, and you're even filthier. Besides that, there are lots of germs in every pore of your body. Your entire bodies are foul."
His contemplation turned the four demonic women into old hags. They took a look at one another; their skin was like chicken's feet and their hair was white as cranes. Their noses were dripping and their mouths were drooling. They were total wrecks. They looked at one another and began to vomit. Realizing that they had all become old and withered and that they had no way to cheat Shakyamuni Buddha, they left.
Once the demon king saw that the four
demon women had come back without success, he went with his demon sons and
grandsons to kill Shakyamuni Buddha. But the Buddha was still unmoved. He wasn't
afraid. He had entered the non-contention samadhi. If you move your mind, the
demons will get you. If you don't move your mind, they can't get you. The demons
couldn't disturb Shakyamuni Buddha.
Also an externalist master named Shen Jih put poison in some food and gave it to Shakyamuni Buddha to kill him. When the Buddha saw the food, he thought, "If there is no poison in my mind, then when I eat this poison, it won't poison me." So he ate the food and didn't die.
Another externalist master was jealous of Shakyamuni Buddha. Before the Buddha arrived on the scene the brahmans were in the majority. Everyone believed in them. After the Buddha had cultivated for six years and had realized Buddhahood, the externalist disciples went to bow to Shakyamuni Buddha. Kashyapa, Mahamaudgalyayana, and Shariputra had all been adherents of externalist paths.
For this reason, the externalist masters were jealous. They fed wine to some elephants, five of them, and sent them to the Buddha to trample him. Who would have guessed that when the elephants approached the Buddha, the Buddha would stretch out his hand and five lions would come from his five fingers, scaring the elephants nearly to death.
The Buddha had great power to subdue
the demons and external paths. He also subdued greed and desire. Love is the
hardest thing to subdue. It makes people live like a drunkard and die in a
dream. If you can't get rid of it, you can't get rid of your outflows. You have
outflows because you have love and emotion. Living beings are confused by
Heavy karma and confused emotions
make a living being.
Karma ended and emotion emptied;
that is the Buddha.
Buddhas become Buddhas because they have ended love and emotion. Living beings are living beings because of heavy love and emotion; because of it they are unable to escape bondage on the wheel of birth and death, and they flow out into the three realms. Without outflows,
The sea of suffering is boundless;
A turn of the head is the other shore.
That is liberation from worldly greed and outflows.
I based myself on the Buddha's teaching of precepts, encompassing the three thousand awesome deportments and the eighty thousand subtle aspects. Both my direct karma and my contributing karma became pure. My body and mind became tranquil, and I accomplished arhatship.
I based myself on the Buddha's teaching of precepts. Upali accompanied the Buddha in person when the Buddha left the homelife; he himself saw the Buddha cultivate ascetic practices for six years in the Himalayas; he himself saw the Buddha sit beneath the Bodhi tree, see a star one night, and awaken to the Way; he himself saw the Buddha subdue the demons and control adherents of external paths, and so forth until he accomplished Buddhahood.
Upali witnessed all of it. After Shakyamuni Buddha accomplished the Way and began teaching, he saw that the Venerable Upali had been foremost in holding precepts in the assemblies of limitless Buddhas of the past. When Shakyamuni Buddha came to the Saha world this time and accomplished Buddhahood, the Venerable Upali came to this world at the same time.
So the Buddha told him to concentrate
on the cultivation of the precepts within the Buddhadharma. I will speak about
the precepts now, and all of you students of Buddhadharma should take notes.
First are the five precepts:
1. Do not kill.
2. Do not steal.
3. Do not commit sexual misconduct.
4. Do not lie.
5. Do not take intoxicants.
Next are the eight precepts, which include the five precepts already listed, together with:
6. Do not adorn the body with flowers,
fragrances, beads, or fragrant oils.
7. Do not use high, grand, or big beds and do not look at, listen to, or participate in musical entertainment.
By not sleeping in a grand bed, you train yourself not to be arrogant.
8. Do not eat at improper times.
Not eating at improper times means not eating after noon. Not eating after noon helps train you against greed, because if you can eat anytime you want, then you will simply want to eat all the time. Laypeople can take these precepts.
Novices have ten precepts which cannot be taken by laypeople. It's not the case that after taking the five precepts you are considered a member of the Sangha. Taking the eight precepts does not classify one as a member of the Sangha, nor does receiving the ten major and forty-eight minor Bodhisattva precepts. To be a member of the Sangha you must first take the ten shramanera precepts, then the two hundred fifty bhikshu precepts, or the three hundred forty-eight bhikshuni precepts, and then the ten major and forty-eight minor Bodhisattva precepts.
It's not the case that just because
this is America, you can decide to do things in a new and different way. You
can't just create a new universe and say, "Everyone is a member of the Sangha."
I've heard it said that even the tables and chairs are members of the Sangha!
Cups, bowls, chopstick, plates and silverware, everything's the Sangha! This is
ridiculous, it's unspeakably wonderful. In that case, nothing in the world would
not be the Sangha. If everything in the world were the Sangha, then why would
the Sangha have to assemble together? I think this is something I've never seen
or heard of before, it's truly unprecedented.
The word "precept" is pratimoksha in Sanskrit. It is also called shila. The meaning is to "stop evil and guard against transgressions,
Don't do any evil.
Offer up all good conduct.
Once an elderly upasaka asked an elderly Bodhisattva, a person who had left the home-life for a long time, how to cultivate the Way. The high monk said to him: "You should not do any evil and offer up all good conduct."
The elderly upasaka said, "I needed you to tell me that? Even a three-year-old knows that phrase."
The high monk replied, "A three-year-old child may know the words, but most eighty-year-olds can't put them into practice." In this day and age, a lot of people set up groups and call themselves a "Sangha." You should find out how many precepts they have received. If they have not taken the complete precepts, they cannot refer to themselves as "Sangha." If they protest and say that they are new and different, then they should not call themselves Buddhists. If they do not venerate and adhere to the long-standing rules and precepts of Buddhism, what kind of Buddhists are they? Neo-Buddhists, they reply. Then ask them what's new about them. The Buddha himself could speak dharma in the heavens, he could speak dharma in the hells, he could proclaim the dharma among people and go to the dragon palaces to teach. Where can these Neo- Buddhists speak dharma? Ask them that.
"That's myth," they may reply. "Of course we can't go there. You can create your own myths. You can be living myths." If any one of them had the abilities of a certain one of my disciples present in this assembly (who has opened his five eyes) they still would not have the right to change the structure of the Buddhadharma; and they don't have nearly as much talent. What right do they have to alter Buddhism? When you go into business, you have to have some capital. If you want to be a high official in government, you have to be a college graduate. If these people decide to be Neo-Buddhists, what is their foundation?
What they retort is, "We teach the Buddha's four truths, the six paramitas, and the twelve conditioned links, and we use the Buddhist mantras. We recite the sutras of the Buddha."
Then ask them, "If you recite the Buddhist sutras and recite the Buddhist mantras, in what way are you new?" It's too paradoxical. I hope you young American students will strive to counteract this mistake. Otherwise, the decline of the dharma is imminent.
Shakyamuni Buddha himself predicted that in the Dharma-ending Age the children and grandchildren of the demons would come into the world in full force. And when Shakyamuni Buddha subdued the demon kings and controlled adherents of external paths, the demon, Papiyan, confirmed this. He said, "I can't get at you right now, but in the future I will certainly destroy your teaching."
"How will you manage to do that?" inquired the Buddha.
"I will have my children and grandchildren enter your religion, eat your food, wear your clothes, and sully your vessels with excrement and urine. They will destroy your religion from within. Because of them, no one will believe you."
Now is the time that he spoke of.
Shakyamuni Buddha long ago saw what is taking place today.
They will wear the Buddha's clothes,
They will eat the Buddha's food.
But within Buddhism they won't do the Buddha's work. Among the Buddha's disciples, the Venerable Upali was foremost in holding precepts. In Buddhism there are vinaya masters who specialize in maintaining the precepts, and there are dharma masters who explain the sutras and speak the dharma. Dharma master has two meanings: one who gives the dharma to others and one who takes the dharma as master. There are also teaching masters, who investigate the teachings; and there are dhyana masters, who investigate Chan and sit in meditation.
When the Buddha was in the world, people relied on the Buddha as their teacher. When the Buddha left the world, he instructed the bhikshus and bhikshunis to take the precepts as their teacher. So the most important thing for them is to guard the precepts. Vinaya masters, such as the Venerable Upali, specialize in this. He says: "I based myself on the Buddha's teaching of precepts, encompassing the three thousand awesome deportments."
To determine the meaning of "three
thousand awesome deportments," you calculate the two hundred fifty bhikshu
precepts with regard to walking, the two hundred fifty precepts with regard to
sitting, the two hundred fifty precepts with regard to standing, and the two
hundred fifty precepts with regarding to lying down. That totals one thousand
awesome deportments, which multiplied by the three karmas of body, mouth, and
mind, make three thousand.
Each of the four great awesome deportments of walking, sitting, standing, and lying down has its particular aspect.
1. Walk like the wind. This "wind" does not refer to a hurricane, but to a gentle breeze, a zephyr. One should walk in a slow and stately manner, and not be impulsive and rush around recklessly.
2. Stand like a pine. Stand up straight like the pine tree, and do not slouch or lean this way or that.
3. Sit like a bell. This refers to the huge, heavy bells of old that hung solid and unmoving.
4. Lie like a bow. One should lie down in the "auspicious lying-down" position: lie on your right side with your right hand under your cheek and your left hand resting on your left thigh.
The eighty thousand subtle aspects: eighty-thousand is a round figure. It refers to the eighty-four thousand aspects of conduct. This figure is derived by multiplying the deportments of the three karmas of body, mouth, and mind by their seven branches (greed, hatred, stupidity, killing, stealing, lying, harsh speech, loose speech, and gossip), making twenty-one thousand, and multiplying them by the four afflictions (greed, hatred, stupidity, or some of each). That is what the "eighty thousand subtle aspects" refer to.
"I upheld these aspects," continues the Venerable Upali, "and both my direct karma and my contributing karma became pure."
"Direct karma" refers to the four
fundamental prohibitions: killing, stealing, lust, and lying. Any of these acts
is fundamentally wrong and a direct violation. If one commits one of these four
prohibited deeds, there is no chance of
repentance. That's what is said, but if you actually violate one of these
precepts and you firmly resolve to change your ways, you still have a chance.
"Contributing karma," refers to acts which lead you to commit offenses which you basically would never have committed. For instance, there was once a person who received the five precepts, but eventually he found it hard to guard them and decided one day that it wouldn't hurt if he took a little drink of wine.
"I can see the sense in holding to the precepts against killing, stealing, lust, and lying, but I don't think it would matter to transgress the prohibition against alcohol," he rationalized.
So he went out and bought some brandy, or perhaps it was whisky. He got back home with the bottle, but then realized he didn't have any appetizers to accompany the drink. "A little fried chicken to chase this whisky would be great," he mused.
Just as he thought that, the neighbor's chicken strayed into his yard. Glancing quickly to the left and right and finding no one looking, he snatched up the pullet, thereby violating the precept against stealing. Then he lopped off the chicken's head, breaking the precept against killing.
Engrossed in his whisky and fried
chicken, he noticed the neighbor lady approaching. "I lost one of my chickens,"
she said. "Have you seen it?"
"I haven't seen it," he denied, thereby violating the precept against lying.
Then he took a second look at the
woman. Although she wasn't stunning, she was certainly passable. His lust arose,
and he had his way with her. All that happened because he violated the precept
against taking intoxicants. That's how contributing karma works.
This is also why it's said that eating meat is a violation of the precept against killing. If you didn't eat meat, you wouldn't have any connection with the slaughter of animals. The same goes for cultivating the earth. People who strictly adhere to the precepts do not plow the earth, because in doing so you can kill many living beings. These are all examples of contributing karma....
The Shurangama Sutra, Volume Five, With Commentary by the Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua