Chapter 1: Maha
Today, we shall start on the `Maha Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra`. The first thing about this sutra that we need to talk about is its title, which is the name of the sutra itself. Some sutras only have `Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra` without the word `maha`, whereas in other sutras, the word `maha` is present. We will first talk about the word `maha`. I am referring to the `Maha` as in `Maha Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra`. Everyone knows that Maha Twin Lotus Ponds means the Great Twin Lotus Ponds, so `maha` means great or big.
I remember once I went to visit my teacher, Guru Thubten Taerchi. Every time I visit him he likes to tease me. His dharma name is `Thubten Taerchi` which means `Shakyamuni Buddha Propagating the Dharma`. `Thubten` represents `Shakya` as in `Shakyamuni Buddha` and `Taerchi` means `propagating Buddha`s teachings`. Despite having such a name, whenever I went to pay him a visit, he would say, `You should sit on this seat that I am sitting on.`
I would ask him, `How about you?`
He would reply, `I will sit beside you.`
`A teacher should always sit in the center. How can a student sit in the center?` I asked.
He replied, `Don`t you know that you, Sheng-yen Lu, are now the greatest?`
I asked, `What do you mean by the greatest?`
`Do you know what your dharma name is?`
`It is Thubten Jigmay.` Thubten Jigmay is the dharma name given me by your Great Grand Master. Do you know what it means? It means Shakyamuni the Greatest. Whenever I pay Great Grand Master a visit, he pretends that he does not want to sit, and insists that I sit in the center. And I say to him, `Please have a seat and do not be so modest! You sit in the center and I will sit beside you.` Whenever he brings me upstairs to the altar to prostate to our root gurus, he insists that I sit in the center as well.
I knew that Guru Thubten Taerchi had four teachers, who are tantamount to your lineage gurus. When he began to develop his prana (chi), channels, and light drops, there was a master instructing him on prana (chi). His second teacher was Reverend Yue Guo, who taught Sutrayana to Guru Thubten Taerchi. It so happens that I also took refuge in Reverend Yue Guo, so in terms of the Sutrayana lineage, Guru Thubten Taerchi is my elder dharma brother. His third teacher was Dudjom Rinpoche of the Nyingmapa sect. Dudjom Rinpoche was one of the first living Buddhas to reside in France. His fourth teacher was Thubten Thinley, who is a living Buddha from the Gelugpa sect.
Once I was at the altar doing the Great Prostration to the masters, and after prostrating I went to look for a chair. Even when I talked to Guru Thubten Taerchi, he still insisted that I sit in the center. He is very humble, but as a student, how could I sit in the center? Only teachers sit in the center. He likes to tease me by saying, `But you are Shakyamuni Buddha, the best!`
In the past, there may have been a book published in Taiwan that said I am the reincarnation of a revered disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha - Shariputra, the greatest in wisdom. I would not dare to call myself Shariputra, the greatest in wisdom, because I find that my IQ is now zero. As I get older, I find that my memory is getting worse and worse. In addition, the level of my social skills, my ability to communicate, and my general knowledge have all declined. So how can I earn the title of one of the greatest disciples of Shakyamuni, Shariputra, the greatest in wisdom?
So, I asked Guru Thubten Taerchi. `Why do you keep calling me the greatest?`
He replied, `How could you not know!? If you travel overseas, to Taiwan for example, you`ll see for yourself. There will be thousands of people kneeling down - not standing - to welcome you when you arrive at the airport. The two long lines they form can circle the airport several times! And when you walk past them, everyone will clasp their hands together. Some will even hand you red packets.` After listening to that, I am convinced that I am indeed the greatest. Where would you find thousands or even tens of thousands of people welcoming just one person? That`s very rare. Even if there are thousands of people, it is impossible that they will all be kneeling down.
He continued, saying, `Since there are thousands or tens of thousands of people kneeling down to welcome you, you must be the greatest! Not only that, people are actually willing to part with their money and put it into your hand!` That is why whenever I went back to Taiwan, or Hong Kong, Singapore, or Indonesia, I only brought three dollars with me. Do you know what the three dollars were for? They were to buy a can of Coca Cola at the airport.
According to Guru Thubten Taerchi, even a president or the leader of a country might not receive such treatment. Everyone respects me - so I should be the greatest! He asked me, `When you deliver your sermons, where do you sit?`
I told him, `In the past, but not nowadays, I used to sit at the side` He said, `Then you`re too humble! Anyone who is preaching must sit in the center, and should sit on a seat that is higher than everyone else. The Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama, and even other rinpoches always sit on a raised seat in the center when they are preaching.`
My Guru told me, `Next time, when you are preaching, you must have the confidence and ease of a grand master. You must sit in the center, and your seat should be higher than everyone else.` So my teacher wants me to possess this quality of a grand master, so that I can convince other people and so that other people will respect me even more.
I am very humble and told my teacher, `I am not great at all!`
My teacher said, `How can you say that you`re not great when you have eighty to ninety hundred thousand followers?`
My teacher said to me, `The last time I was preaching in Taiwan, there were some people who took refuge in me, and now those people have taken refuge in you instead.`
I replied, `I am sorry for that. I`ll tell everyone that Grand Master`s teacher is Great Grand Master, and the teacher of Great Grand Master is Master Ancestor. And I`ll tell all my followers to respect the teachers of Grand Master and the teachers of Great Grand Master.` Hearing that, he was very pleased.
Whenever we wanted to make offerings to him, he would say no, and say that he would give something to us instead. I was hoping to hear that sentence from him, and I felt very happy. Because I made my teacher happy, he gave me his golden vajra and his vajra bell that is made of gold as gifts. He also gave Master Lian Xiang a golden bracelet. Actually, we know that he has a lot of real estate and houses in many parts of Taiwan such as in Taipei, Yang Ming Mountain, and Tian Mu Mountain. He does not need his students to make offerings to him. He can depend on his bank interest for his living and has more than enough money. When he is old and decides to return to his home, everyone will have a share of the properties because he does not need all the money and properties himself. So his properties and assets will be used for the bodhi development of the True Buddha School - but keep this secret and don`t tell him yet!
`Maha` was one of the names that he chose for me. At first, he gave me some names to choose from and I chose Thubten Jigmay. `Jigmay` has the same meaning as `Maha`, which means number one, or the greatest. Actually, I regret choosing that name. It is true that I have 800,000 to 900,000 students, but that is not a lot. We know that in Seattle alone, there are about 700,000 to 800,000 people, and how many of them are my students? There are far too few. Let`s take another example. Now there are about two million people in Taipei, and how many of them are my students? I can only say that very few of them are. Let`s use another example - Tokyo, Japan. Their population is about 20 million, how many human beings in Tokyo are my students? There are very few, and so how can we say that we are great? So we are actually only a very small, tiny little speck.
But we must not feel inferior! Because once during Shakyamuni`s time, one of his students asked him, `What is great?`
Shakyamuni said something which still sticks in my mind: `Those who can merge with the Tao (Dao or Supreme Way) are the greatest.` If you are able to do that, then you are the greatest. I believe in that. If I transform myself into Padmakumara and Padmakumara turns back into Buddha Locana; Buddha Locana turns back into Mahavairocana, and Mahavairocana equals emptiness, then that is the greatest. So, when we speak of `Maha`, the Greatest, it doesn`t involve any comparison such as you are taller than me or you have more money than me. It is not `greatest` in that sense. The meaning of the word `Maha` means supremely transcending - it is something beyond people`s imagination. That is what the word `Maha` means. In other words, when we talk about `Maha`, we are talking about merging our minds with emptiness. It is supremely transcendent, and it is as great as the all pervasive emptiness itself. In `Maha Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra` or `Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra`, the word `Maha` denotes the sense of greatness of supreme transcendence. So I hope that everyone has understood the meaning of `Maha`. Maha is absolute and supremely transcendently great. It doesn`t mean great in comparison; it is great in the sense of no distinguishing and no discrimination. In other words, it means absolutely the absolutely greatest. That is `Maha.`
Om Mani Padme Hum
Chapter 1: Maha