Category Archives: The Sword of Wisdom

Day 5 Faith in Self, Faith in Method, Faith in Dharma (page 226-227)

The sun may turn cold and the moon may turn hot.

But the demons cannot destroy the true teaching.

When an elephant marches gloriously forward,

How can a praying mantis bar its way? 

We should have confidence in the Dharma, and we should be willing to do anything to protect it, even though there may be external forces trying to keep us from our practice. External forces may be powerful enough to cool the sun and heat the moon, but determined practitioners do not let them interfere with their practice. Here, on this retreat, we have only hot weather, sirens and firecrackers to distract us. They should not be problems. If you are ready to give up your life for the Dharma, if even the fearsome iron wheel cannot deter you, how can any external force disturb your practice?

The sudden enlightenment teaching is indestructible. Outer path practitioners and Buddhists of the gradual teaching may claim there is no such thing as sudden enlightenment, but criticism cannot destroy the Mahayana sudden enlightenment teaching. External forces that attempt to undermine sudden enlightenment teaching or fetter a determined practitioner are comparable to a praying mantis trying to bar the passage of a marching elephant.

There is a story behind this analogy, dating back to the Spring and Autumn Period of China, several centuries before Christ. A king, riding in a chariot, noticed a praying mantis standing on its hind legs trying to block the wheel of his vehicle. He said, “How can such a small creature stop my chariot? It has no idea how powerless it is.” Outer path and Hinayana practitioners may snipe at Ch’an teachings, but they are not even remotely capable of overthrowing Ch’an Dharma.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 226-227)

Day 5 Faith in Self, Faith in Method, Faith in Dharma (page 225-226)

Even if an iron wheel whirls on your head

Perfectly clear samadhi and wisdom are never lost. 

You cannot cling to the idea that the mani pearl, or wisdom, has concrete existence. However, if you accept and realize “mani pearl” Dharma, then you will never lose the gem. The iron wheel is an ancient weapon ─ a spinning, red-hot wheel with sharp blades that cuts and sears anything it touches. Once you attain the mani pearl, nothing can deter you in your practice, not even this frightening weapon whirling on your head. Again, the pearl symbolizes perfect samadhi and wisdom.

You can interpret these lines another way: Once you accept Buddhadharma and follow its teachings, you should view your practice as the most precious thing in the world, more precious than life itself. Even if the iron wheel hovers over your head, you should not leave the practice or abandon the Dharma.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 225-226)

Day 5 Faith in Self, Faith in Method, Faith in Dharma – page 224-225

I cannot offer you a mani pearl, nor will I explain it to you. You must come to accept the sudden enlightenment Dharma on your own. It takes confidence. If you have the confidence necessary to practice hard, you will be able to accept Ch’an Dharma, and eventually you will reveal the mani pearl of Buddha’s wisdom.

In truth, however, there is no such thing as a mani pearl. Yung-chia clarifies this in the next stanza. 

They clearly see that there is not a thing,

Neither person nor Buddha.

The numerous worlds in the great chiliocosm are bubbles in the sea,

All sages and saints are like lightning flashes. 

In order to progress on the Buddha path, you must accept the Dharma of the mani pearl. On the other hand, you cannot cling to its existence. In fact, you cannot attach to any dharma. If a person follows this teaching and practices hard, he will attain enlightenment and eventually reach Buddhahood. At the beginning of the Buddha path, there must be an individual who accepts the teachings, and who then practices, eventually realizing Buddhahood. But if the practitioner is attached to his existence and cannot let go of the self, reaching Buddhahood will be impossible; if he is not attached to his self, but clings to the idea of Buddhahood, he will also never become a Buddha.

All phenomena are like bubbles in an ocean. They have no genuine existence. What we think are bubbles is only the movement of water. All the worlds in the universe and all the phenomena in this world are like bubbles in an ocean. Everything, including Samsara and Nirvana and sentient beings and Buddhas, is illusory.

All sages, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas are like flashes of lightning. You can see lightning, just as you can witness the power and functions of Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, but if you try to grasp lightning, or attach to the idea that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have concrete existence or self-nature, then you are wasting your time.

We accept that there is a mani pearl, but we should not think that the gem has a definite form or appearance. If it did, it would just be an ordinary pearl. It is precisely because the mani pearl has no definite form that it can generate unlimited power and perform innumerable functions.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 224-225)

Day 5 Faith in Self, Faith in Method, Faith in Dharma – page 223-224

The king in Dharma is the most superior;

The realization that countless Tathagatas are all alike.

Now I show you this all-giving pearl;

Believers are all in accord (with Dharma).

The Ch’an tradition, however, has stories which seem to contradict what I have just said. There is the story I previously related about two monks: one practiced diligently while the other slept all day. The first monk reprimanded the sleeping monk, “You should work harder. What’s happened to your practice?”

In reply, the second monk said, “I sleep. What other kind of practice would you have me do?”

You probably also remember the story where Master Pai-chang praised Huang-po, who was asleep in the Ch’an Hall, and scolded another monk, who seemed to be practicing vigorously.

The Sixth Patriarch, too, once said, “When neither hatred nor love disturbs the mind, you can stretch out your legs and rest.”

These anecdotes may seem to suggest that Ch’an practitioners do not have to continue their practice after enlightenment, but that is not the case. These special examples describe highly realized practitioners who have a firm understanding of Buddhadharma. They see the Buddha path clearly, and they proceed steadily. They have no doubts or confusion. Nobody or nothing can steer them off the path or cause their determination to slacken. On the other hand, a practitioner who is not sure what he is doing and is not clear where he is going still needs to practice in the usual fashion.

A fly trying to get out of a house buzzes around and bumps into windows and screens. It is active, but it does not get anywhere. It is similar to the practice of the unenlightened. Deeply enlightened practitioners seem relaxed, even lazy, but they are actually working smoothly and steadily.

Do not feel sorry for the fly. Compared to someone who knows where the door is, the fly looks stupid, but at least it is making an effort to get out. Usually, people are not even as determined as this fly. Sooner or later, it will find an exit. The fly knows that it wants to get out, and it has faith that there is an exit. All it has to do is work hard. Do you have faith in yourself and the method? Are you working hard? Right now during this retreat, you may be like the fly, but after the retreat, will you still put effort into your practice? Probably, as you sit down in the evening to meditate, a friend will call and say, “Let’s go out.” You will go to Radio City Music Hall and meditate on the Rockettes instead of working on your method.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 223-224)

Day 5 Faith in Self, Faith in Method, Faith in Dharma – page 222-223

The king in Dharma is the most superior;

The realization that countless Tathagatas are all alike.

Now I show you this all-giving pearl;

Believers are all in accord (with Dharma).

The line, “Now I show you this all-giving pearl, ” may be interpreted in two ways. In one interpretation, one can say that Yung-chia has revealed his own gem to us ─ he is sharing his wisdom with us; or, one can say that Yung-chia is encouraging us to discover the pearl within ourselves. Both interpretations are helpful for our practice.

The mani pearl represents ultimate wisdom. A Bodhisattva at the eighth bhumi level is free from any obstructions caused by material objects, or physical dharmas. A Bodhisattva at the ninth bhumi level is free from all mental dharmas. The mani pearl, however, is the wisdom of the Buddha, and is free from all material and mental dharmas. Its power is unlimited. However, one must discover it before one can use it.

Imagine a pearl hidden at the bottom of a muddy pond. A person learns that something valuable lies down there, so he probes the muck with a stick. After great effort, he manages to catch a brief glimpse of the pearl, but it is immediately obscured again. He has to make an immense effort to clear away all the mud, to uncover the pearl completely, and to ensure that it will never be hidden again. Only when the pearl is free from all obstructions will it be of any use to him. Actually, however, the mani pearl is not obstructed by anything. It is we who have obstructions which prevent us from revealing and using the pearl.

A person will practice extremely hard once he sees the mani pearl, or experiences genuine enlightenment. He realizes that such a thing exists, and that all he has to do is continue to clear away the muck of vexation. His faith is firm and unwavering. If a practitioner claims to have experienced enlightenment, yet puts little effort into his practice, then the validity of his experience is doubtful.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 222-223)

Day 5 Faith in Self, Faith in Method, Faith in Dharma – page 221-222

The king in Dharma is the most superior;

The realization that countless Tathagatas are all alike.

Now I show you this all-giving pearl;

Believers are all in accord (with Dharma).

When a practitioner of gradual enlightenment reaches the first bhumi position of Bodhisattvahood, he experiences the Dharma that a Bodhisattva on the first bhumi level experiences. He has no idea what Buddhahood is like. If he reaches the arhat position of the Hinayana tradition, then he experiences what an arhat experiences, not what a Buddha experiences. But when one reaches enlightenment through sudden teachings, what one experiences is the same as Buddhahood. At most, great practitioners of outer paths may attain an illusory “no mind” state and the enlightenment of an arhat is a “no mind” state of emptiness. The enlightenment attained through sudden teachings, however, is a “no mind” state that is neither empty nor existent.

Do not misunderstand me. After you become enlightened, it does not mean you become a Buddha. When you attain enlightenment, what you experience is exactly the same as Buddhahood, but you are not a Buddha yet. The wisdom you acquire through the experience is the wisdom of Buddha, but your actions are still the actions of an ordinary sentient being. After you have an enlightenment experience, you must practice even more diligently in order to protect and nurture your holy embryo; it is a Buddha embryo, not a mature Buddha. Usually, after an enlightenment experience, you will have no difficulty practicing with determination, because your faith will deepen. But you are still an ordinary person. If you do not continue to practice, the experience and wisdom will regress and fade. You have to reinforce the practice by experiencing enlightenment again and again.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 221-222)

Day 5 Faith in Self, Faith in Method, Faith in Dharma – page 220-221

The king in Dharma is the most superior;

The realization that countless Tathagatas are all alike.

Now I show you this all-giving pearl;

Believers are all in accord (with Dharma).

There are two special terms in this stanza. One is the king in Dharma, which is a title for the Buddha. Here, it symbolizes ultimate Dharma. This highest Dharma is the sudden enlightenment teaching of the Ch’an tradition. Not only is it far superior to enlightenment experiences of outer path traditions, but it also exceeds the enlightenment attained by sages who follow the Hinayana path. The other term, the all-giving pearl ─ mani pearl ─ is a gem that grants all wishes. It refers to Buddha’s wisdom.

You must experience the highest Dharma in order to reach Buddhahood. The sudden enlightenment Dharma is experienced by all Tathagatas and is shared by all the Tathagatas in the ten directions. It does not require that one spend three great kalpas reaching Buddhahood. The moment one attains sudden enlightenment, one is exactly the same as the Buddha. The Dharma experienced by the Buddha is exactly the same as the Dharma one experiences at the moment of one’s enlightenment.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 220-221)

Day 4 Adhering to the Precepts (page 218-219)

The power of the liberated is inconceivable,

With wonderful functions more numerous than the Ganges sands.

They would not refuse to make the four offerings

To one who can accept ten thousand ounces of gold.

To have body broken and bones reduced to dust is not enough to repay

The words that enlighten, transcending countless eons.

You have to be willing to offer what you consider most precious. What is most precious depends on the person. In Sakyamuni’s time, there was a poor woman who had only one chipped bowl. She begged for oil and burned it as an offering to the Buddha. Rich men offered thousands of lanterns, but Sakyamuni said that the woman’s offering was the most precious in the world, because she offered the only thing she had.

Furthermore, making offerings is not as important for the recipient as it is for the donor. Buddha does not care if you give him anything. Neither do the Three Jewels, patriarchs and masters. Recently, someone told me, “Shih-fu, I’d really like to offer you something in order to show my gratitude for your teaching, but it seems like you don’t need anything, so I’ll just thank you instead.”

I said, “Making offerings is for your benefit, not mine. It’s your affair. It has nothing to do with me.”

You should be grateful to the Three Jewels for the Dharma teachings that you receive, and you should express your gratitude in an offering. What kind of offering? Any offering is a sincere offering if it is made unconditionally. I do not want you to reach into your pockets and give me every cent you have. The first offering I require from you is that you believe, accept, follow, and put immediately into practice what you have learned. Have confidence and faith in yourselves. Use that confidence and faith to increase your concentration and settle your minds. Every person, every event, every moment in this center during retreat can help your practice. Work hard. That is your offering.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 218-219)

Day 4 Adhering to the Precepts (page 216-218)

The power of the liberated is inconceivable,

With wonderful functions more numerous than the Ganges sands.

They would not refuse to make the four offerings

To one who can accept ten thousand ounces of gold.

To have body broken and bones reduced to dust is not enough to repay

The words that enlighten, transcending countless eons.

A truly dedicated practitioner would gladly give his life in exchange for a few lines of Buddhadharma. The sutras say that Practitioners who have benefited or would like to benefit from the Dharma should be willing to give everything they have in offering and respect to the Three Jewels. Lip service is not enough. You have to make sincere offerings. If you do not make offerings or pay respect to the Three Jewels, then whatever you hear or gain from the Dharma will be negligible. If you do not make sincere offerings, then you probably have come across the Dharma too easily. One cherishes most what requires the greatest effort to gain. Teachings that you cherish are the only teachings that will help you.

The wristwatch I wear is worth nothing in a material sense, yet I exchanged a gold one for it. This old watch is invaluable to me because it belonged to my master. When my Shih-fu died, his attending monk inherited it, but I traded him a much better watch for it. It does not work that well. I have to get it repaired all the time. Students have offered me better watches, but I am not interested because this one reminds me of my Shih-fu, and I respect him deeply.

I still have the robe I was given when I left home. These material things are worth nothing, but treasuring them symbolizes my respect for my master, the person who taught me Buddhadharma. Imagine how much more precious the Dharma itself must be! The Dharma is precious because it brings great benefit, but it brings benefit only when you realize how precious it is.

When you drink water, remember where it comes from. If the water runs out, you can always go back to its source and get more. When you benefit from Dharma teachings, you should be grateful to the Three Jewels ─ Buddha, Dharma, Sangha ─ because that is where they come from. Without gratitude, the benefit you gain today will be gone tomorrow.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 216-218)

Day 4 Adhering to the Precepts (page 214-216)

The power of the liberated is inconceivable,

With wonderful functions more numerous than the Ganges sands.

They would not refuse to make the four offerings

To one who can accept ten thousand ounces of gold.

To have body broken and bones reduced to dust is not enough to repay

The words that enlighten, transcending countless eons.

 

The first four lines of this stanza refer to a liberated practitioner. Such a person has transcended all attachments and interacts with others through his wisdom. He can accept ten thousand ounces of gold, as well as the usual four offerings made to the Sangha ─ food, clothing, medication and bedding ─ because he clings to nothing.

The last two lines refer to the priceless value of Buddhadharma. The Dharma of sudden enlightenment is so rare and difficult to encounter that we should be willing to make any offering in gratitude to the Three Jewels. Even one’s own life, Yung-chia says, is not worth a sentence of priceless Dharma. There is a story that makes this point clear. In one of Sakyamuni’s past lives, when he was still a Bodhisattva, he did not know the Buddhadharma. Indra, King of the Trayastrmsa heavens, turned himself into a demon and appeared in a tree next to Sakyamuni. He spoke two lines of verse:

All volitions are transient.

This is the Dharma of arising and perishing.

Sakyamuni was deeply impressed. He looked around and asked, “Who said that?” The demon ─ Indra made his presence known. Sakyamuni then asked, “What is this that you said? Where did it come from?”

Indra replied, “It is Buddhadharma.”

Sakyamuni asked, “Can you tell me more about Buddhadharma?”

Indra said, “There are two more lines, but I’m too hungry to speak now. I must have human flesh before I will say anything more.”

Sakyamuni said, “I’m willing to offer you my body as food, but first tell me the two lines.”

Indra refused. “No. First I must eat you to build up strength. Then I will tell you the two lines.”

Sakyamuni replied, “But then I’ll be dead. I won’t hear what you have to say.”

Indra said, “Let’s compromise. You stand on top of this tree. I’ll stand below looking up, and you jump into my open mouth. I’ll tell you the two lines as you are falling through the air.”

Sakyamuni decided it was worth it. “My body might die, but hearing Buddhadharma is more important. I’ll do it.” He climbed to the top of the tree and jumped. Indra kept his promise and recited the two lines. Sakyamuni expected to land in the demon’s jaws, but instead he found himself on the soft cushion of Indra’s palm. Thereupon Indra revealed his true identity and told Sakyamuni he had come to test him.

What were those two lines? How badly do you want to know? Is your pursuit of Buddhadharma sincere? If you jump off the roof, I’ll tell you before you hit the ground. Perhaps you do not yet have the courage of a Bodhisattvas. However, since you have come to a retreat to practice, you must be relatively sincere, so I will recite the last two lines:

When the Dharma of arising and perishing itself perishes,
Nirvana is the greatest joy.

— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng-Yen (page 214-216)