Chapter 3: Paramita
A very good evening to all masters and practitioners! Today, we shall continue with the Maha Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra. We shall talk about the word `paramita`. It is an ancient Sanskrit word in the language used in ancient India. The `ta` in the word `paramita` has no meaning. It is just an extension of paramita. It is an empty syllable, a sound with no meaning. How about `para`? `Para` means `the other shore`, the shore on the other side. `Mi` means to arrive or reach. `Ta` is something like `La` [a syllable without any meaning used by Chinese in daily speech]. So the word `paramita` means `to reach the other shore, la`. Therefore, the title of the sutra can be interpreted as `Reaching the Other Shore by Utilizing Great Wisdom`. This is what the whole sutra is all about.
What is meant by `the other shore`? It is like crossing a river by boat. We are on the eastern shore of a river and want to reach the western shore. In order to reach the western shore, we need a boat. The western shore that we are trying to reach is the other shore that we are talking about. What about the boat we are on? It is called the prajna boat, the boat of wisdom. We human beings are on this shore filled with afflictions, and after we get on the boat of wisdom, we will reach the shore of tranquillity and ultimate bliss. In a nutshell, the meaning of this sutra is about to reveal itself - taking a boat from our human world of suffering to the Buddha Realm of Ultimate Bliss. That`s what it means.
There are many ways to reach the other shore, the shore on the other side. In most of the Buddha`s teachings there are six ways, which are commonly known as the Six Paramitas. In Tantrayana, we have special and unusual ways to save sentient beings.
I will give you an example to illustrate my point. There was once a very famous Tantric patriarch. As you know, in Tibet, living buddhas and lamas live on very high mountains and seldom bathe. Thus, there were many fleas on the Tantric patriarch`s body. He was in samadhi, meditating, with two of his students by his side to attend to him. Suddenly the patriarch caught a flea, perhaps because that flea was active, sucking his blood. He put it into his mouth, chewed and ate it up, together with his blood. When one of the students saw what his master had done, he said to himself, `This master has no compassion at all! That flea is a living thing and yet he popped it into his mouth and ate it! He is not compassionate and he has killed a living thing!` When that thought arose in the student`s mind, the master knew it. It was due to that thought that the student could never reach the highest level in his spiritual cultivation.
When the other student saw what his master did, a thought arose in his mind: `If only I were the flea on his body, and not his student.` Why did he have a thought like that? What he meant was that when the master caught a flea with his hand, put it in his mouth and ate it, the soul of the flea would immediately go to the Western Paradise and become a Buddha. The master also knew what the second student was thinking, and he snapped his fingers. With that snap, the student`s heartbeat stopped and he fell to the ground. His soul appeared on top of his own head, sitting on a lotus, and was immediately delivered to the Western Paradise. This method of liberation is known as `Die Quickly Without Getting Old`. This is because it only takes a fraction of a second to die. You don`t have to wait until you are old to be reborn in the Western Paradise. If our master knows this method, we as students must not miss the chance to learn it. Just now Lama Lian Bao said that even the Gold Cakravartin, who has great merit, will eventually die. When he dies, the merits accumulated in his life will disappear. So what is so good about our world? I myself have experienced many hardships. They were unbearable, and so we might as well learn the method of `Die Quickly Without Getting Old `.
This Tantric method of reaching the other shore is very special. On the surface level, it seems that the Tantric Patriarch has committed an atrocity by killing a sentient being. However, his move is motivated by his compassion. When he ate the flea, he did it out of compassion, and the soul of the flea was delivered and became a Buddha. Thus his act of killing is the same as compassionate deliverance. They are equivalent. Killing is equal to compassion. This method is beyond our imagination.
Now I will give you another example to explain reaching the other shore. There was another Tantric Living Buddha. Everyday, he would meditate under the sun. He also had a lot of fleas on his body, but he did not want to kill them. He caught the fleas on his back and put them on his chest. And as for the fleas that were originally at his chest, he caught them and put them on his back. Many people who saw this antic were baffled. Why is it that this Living Buddha, this rinpoche, move the fleas from his back to his chest and move the fleas from his chest to his back? Let`s say you have 108 fleas on your body. Even if you switch the fleas from your chest to your back or vice versa, there will still be 108 fleas. And the Living Buddha told them, `You all do not understand! When I switch the fleas from the back to the front and from the front to the back, they are not be able to adapt to their new environment, and they die as a result.` What he had said is marvellous. What he had done was merely to change the environment of the fleas. When he moved the fleas from his back to his chest, there was a change in their environment, and the fleas died of hunger because they could not find any food. When he moved the fleas from his chest to his back, those fleas would also die. This method is called `letting a life die naturally`, not `killing a life`. In both cases the fleas died, but in the first case the flea was killed by the Living Buddha and in the second case, the Living Buddha did not kill the fleas directly. However, when he changed their environment, the fleas also died.
In Taiwan, there are many Buddhists, and all they do is to set captivated animals free. They buy fish or turtles from the market; they go to pet shops to buy sparrows or fish, just to set them free. They are very compassionate, and their bodhicitta is indeed admirable. However, the birds that they set free die! Why? It`s like this: If birds from the South are released in the North, they die. Similarly, if birds from the North are released in the South, they will also die. Today, they release some birds on a mountain. The next day, when they go back to the mountain, all the birds have died and all that is left on the ground are the dead birds. This is because the birds cannot adapt to their new environment. The birds from the South are suited to the temperature and mountains in the South; when they are taken to the North, the temperature is different and they cannot find the usual grubs and insects that they eat. Thus they all die.
It is the same for the fish. Those people do not understand that fish that can survive in the murky waters of Taiwan may not be able to survive in a clear pond. When you put these fish into a clear pond, they feel uncomfortable; they turn their bodies with their stomachs facing upwards and die. Different fish are destined to live in different rivers. Only certain kinds of fish can live in any particular river. When you release any fish into any river, the fish might become sick and the next day their bodies will all be floating on the surface.
Furthermore, when these businessmen find out that you are going to set animals free, they ask you where and when you are going to set them free. In this way, they can catch the released animals and sell them to be released all over again. So today, I want to tell everybody that the acts of killing and releasing animals both result in death. The animals still have to reach the other shore.
No matter how much merit a person has accumulated, and no matter how powerful an animal is, in the end they will all have to go to the other shore. A Tantric master can use mantras to deliver the souls of sentient beings so that they will reach the land of Buddha, the other shore. If you think about it, whether you kill animals, let them die naturally, or set animals free, it is the same. Still, the greatest merit is generated through the soul deliverance of Tantrayana (Vajrayana).
Sometimes, an authentic Tantric master will do things that are unusual. Adhyardhasatika Prajnaparamita Sutra (Sutra of Achieving the Principle of Non-Duality) mentions that an authentic Tantric master, no matter what he does, acts in accordance with Buddha`s teachings. When he kills, it is motivated by compassion; when he lets animals die naturally, he is doing it out of compassion. When he sets them free, this is also motivated by compassion. According to the Li Qu of Tantrayana (a kind of Tantric teaching), all these acts are in accordance with the dharma. However, this only applies to an authentic Tantric master.
Every authentic Tantric master is amazing. Whatever he does or says is mysterious and incomprehensible, beyond our imagination. That is why Tantrayana is known as the complete and perfect teaching. Also, this is why one can explore the deepest, most profound meanings behind Vajrayana teachings. In addition, this is why there are many practices in Tantrayana, such as the subjugation practice. Subjugation practice is also a kind of extermination practice 1 . This practice is very special, because the motivation is good. Tantric masters apply subjugation out of compassion.
Today we talked about `paramita`, which means to reach the other shore. No matter which method you use, you must reach the other shore, which is the shore where the Buddha resides. When you have become a Buddha or a Bodhisattva, you will go to that shore, not to the Three Lower Paths 2 . There are many ways in our spiritual cultivation, but you must remember to cultivate compassion. Today we are learning the most perfect esoteric teachings, and I hope that every one of you will treasure the essence of the teaching.
Om Mani Padme Hum
1. Subjugation practice is a tantric method of subduing internal or external obstacles. Internal obstacles include, but are not limited to, our greed, hatred, and ignorance. External obstacles can be a sentient being or a difficult problem or situation.
2. Three Lower Paths are the paths of animals, hungry ghosts and hell.
Chapter 3: Paramita