Flower Adornment Sutra


A Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

Keeping one’s accounts straight is no easy matter. So:

Don’t think that leaving home [taking leave of one's family and going forth from the householder's life] is an easy thing to do.
It comes from a long history of planting for Bodhi.

Don’t look lightly on leaving home – without good roots there’s no way to do it. While the Buddha was in the world, all the disciples who left home under the Buddha had great good roots. Living beings who lacked good roots had no way to leave home. Even if they wanted to it wouldn’t work out. At that time there was an old man who arrived to leave home under the Buddha, at a time when the Buddha was away and not in the Jeta Grove.

When the great Arhats heard the man wished to leave the home life, they contemplated his causes and conditions from previous lives. Arhats can se as far back as 80,000 great kalpas, and in this case they saw that in all that long a time the old man had not planted the tiniest trace of good roots. So they said to him, “You can’t leave home because you haven’t planted good roots or seeds for Bodhi.” The old man had planned to be able to leave home in his old age and eat ready-cooked food and wear ready-made clothing, never expecting that it would be so hard and he would not be accepted. So after hearing that he left, crying as he walked. When he reached the Ganges River, he decided to jump in. right when he was about to do it, the Buddha came up behind him and said, “Old virtuous one, what are you about to do?”

The old man said, “I wanted to leave home under the Buddha but the Buddha was not in the monastery, and the Buddha’s disciples said I didn’t have any good roots and wouldn’t accept me. Now I’m so old and food, clothes and dwelling are a real problem, so I’d rather jump in the Ganges River and die and forget the whole thing.”

The Buddha said, “You shouldn’t jump in the Ganges River. I’m the Buddha, the Buddha is me. I’ll accept you to leave home and no one will dare object.”

The old man said, “You’ll let me leave home?” so the Buddha took him back with him and he left home. All of the great Arhats were really opposed to this and said, “He doesn’t have any good roots and he get s to leave home.” But not long after that the old man certified to the Fruit. So the Arhats asked the Buddha, “He doesn’t have any good roots, so how can he leave home and certify to the Fruit?”

The Buddha said, “Ah. You can only see what has happened inside of 80,000 great kalpas, but you still don’t know anything about what’s beyond 80,000. Longer than 80,000 great kalpas ago, this old man was a wood-cutter. He was collecting firewood on the mountainside one day when a tiger came along that planned to eat him. The wood cutter climbed up a tree, but the tiger was very smart and started gnawing at the trunk of the tree. When it was just about gnawed through, the old man in the tree saw he was about finished and cried out, “Na Mwo Buddha!!!” That one cry of “Na Mwo Buddha!!!” scared the tiger away so it didn’t eat him. Now the good roots planted by that one cry of “Na Mwo Buddha!!!” have matured and he’s come to leave home.”

Flower Adornment Sutra, Prologue.  A Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua