The Shurangama Sutra with Commentary by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

Buddhist Lecture Hall, San Francisco, 1968 


During the reign of the Emperor Wu of Liang, the Buddhadharma flourished. Whenever there was a wedding reception dharma masters were invited to recite sutras. On children's birthdays, dharma masters were invited to recite sutras. In short, no matter what the occasion, dharma masters were invited to recite sutras and give their blessing. They would give a short speech about the auspiciousness of the event what a lucky occasion it was. At that time there was a wealthy man who was celebrating the marriage of his son. He invited Chan Master Zhi Gong to recite sutras and give the blessing. When Chan Master Zhi Gong arrived and looked around, he said:

How strange! How bizarre!
The grandson marries the grandma.
The daughter eats the mother's flesh.
The drum the son beats is stretched
with the father's skin.
Pigs and sheep are on the seat.
The six close kin cook in the brazier.
People gather to celebrate.
I see all this as a form of suffering.

Why was the grandson marrying his grandmother? It was because when the grandson was two years old, his grandmother died. As she was dying, she grabbed her grandson's hand and said, "I'm at the point where I can let go of everyone else, but I can't forget about my grandson. Who will take care of him in the future?" And she died clutching her grandson's hand. After her death she went before King Yama and he said, "Oh, you love your grandson so much? Fine. Go back and be your grandson's wife." So she was reborn as a woman and when she came of age, her grandson chose her as his wife. How did Chan Master Zhi Gong know this? Because he had the ability to know others' thoughts and the ability to perceive past lives, he had the Buddha eye.

When he looked in front of the house he said, "The daughter eats the mother's flesh," because he saw a little girl chewing on a chunk of pork. Her mother had died and been reborn as a pig. The pig had been slaughtered and cooked, and she was actually eating the flesh of her own mother!

When he inspected the musicians in the band by the entrance way, he said, "The drum the son beats is stretched with the father's skin." The drummer was hitting a drum stretched with deer-hide. His father had died and been reborn as a deer. The deer had been slaughtered and its hide tanned and the drummer was actually beating his own father!

Then Chan Master Zhi Gong noticed that "Pigs and sheep are on the seat." He saw pigs and sheep sitting like guests on the kang, the high brick beds in the house. They were people now, but in their former lives they had been pigs and sheep. In their former lives they themselves had been eaten, so now they were reborn as people who in turn ate pigs and sheep to even up the debt.

When the Chan master took a look at the cooking pots, he exclaimed, "Six close kin cook in the brazier." The six kinds of close kin refer to relatives on the father's side and the mother's side, kin of the brother and sisters, and so forth. They had been close relatives of these people but now had been reborn as pigs and sheep, had been slaughtered, and were being cooked in the brazier. Chan Master Zhi Gong summarized, "People gather to celebrate." Everyone who came was saying, "Congratulations!" and "Best wishes!" But the master notes, "I see all this as a form of suffering." What I see is actually suffering.


Shurangama Sutra, Volume 4, Chapter1:  The Reason for Contiual Arisal with commentary by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua