The Ten Powers of a Buddha
Today we will look at the Ten Powers of a Buddha. A Buddha is an Enlightened being who, first of all, possesses a `complete awareness.` When someone came to see Buddha Shakyamuni, the Buddha would soon perceive the entire history of that person from beginning to end. This signifies a complete knowledge of the workings of the Universe. This kind of ability is one of the manifestations of the wisdom-power of the Buddha.
(2) Knowledge of the Karma of Every Being
The second power is `knowledge of the karma of every being, past, present, and future.` This is really an extension of the first power. How does the Buddha find out about one`s previous incarnations? Through bodily signs. Every person has signs on his or her body revealing past and future incarnations. This knowledge becomes available when one develops the Buddha wisdom. As I have said before, all of you are, in my eyes, `antiques` [audience laughter] although most of you are only within an age range from about twenties to fifties. What you have done in your past lives have left marks on your body, and it is apparent to me although I cannot casually divulge it. You may only be in your thirties but, if you lived to ninety in your last life, you would be a composite one hundred twenty years old. And if one includes all the successive lives prior to the last, you may actually be several thousand or ten thousand years old. Aren`t you an antique then? An Enlightened being, whose Tathagata wisdom is developed, can read the history of transmigration through the bodily signs one carries. How many wholesome and unwholesome deeds has one done in one`s previous life? How much hindrance and merit has one accumulated? All these things are revealed through signs on one`s body.
(3) Knowledge to End all Illusion of Every Kind
A Buddha knows the ways to liberate oneself from illusion of every kind. What are these ways? As I have explained, one must observe `Impermanence` in all worldly phenomena, engender the desire of `Renunciation,` and practice to attain `Egolessness.` An Enlightened being with Buddha wisdom knows how to teach this path of liberation in a very lucid and succinct way. What I am teaching you today is this `knowledge to end all illusion and be liberated from emotional afflictions.` [audience applause]
(4) Knowledge of the Desires and Moral Direction of Every Being
Next, a Buddha has `knowledge of the positive and negative attributes` of every being. Positive attributes are to be put to good use, while negative attributes need to be overcome. According to Vajrayana teachings, these attributes are habitual tendencies carried over from the previous life. If one was a chicken in the previous life, then one will have very strong desires in this life. If one was a snake that attacked everyone crossing its path, then one will have great hatred in this life. If one was a pig before, then one will have great delusion in this life. Thus these three animals serve respectively as symbols for greed, hatred, and delusion.
Such knowledge is not used for the purpose of discrimination. From a teacher`s point of view, knowledge of an individual`s habitual tendencies enables him to teach in accordance.
Among the disciples of Buddha Shakyamuni was a monk by the name of Kalodayin who enjoyed great popularity among women. As a result, he was always the one sent by the Buddha when opportunities arose to teach the Dharma to women. Unlike Shariputra, MahaMaudgalyayana, and Mahakashyapa, who distanced themselves from women, Kalodayin enjoyed the company of women, and women also lit up and agreed with him when he spoke. Thus he was the Buddha`s ambassador to women`s groups. However, Kalodayin ended up being murdered, largely because he became too intimately involved in someone`s household.
Spiritual cultivators sometimes have to avoid becoming too much involved in other people`s family lives. My own teacher gave me this precept, `Unless you are invited, do not casually call at somebody else`s home.` Today I would only go to your house if you invited me. I would not just drop in. This is to minimize secular involvement. In those days, Kalodayin often frequently dropped in to socialize at other people`s homes. This particular propensity contributed to his murder.
Buddha Shakyamuni also had a disciple by the name of Dolanlanta. Dolanlanta was a shrew among the nuns. She was most disgusted with Mahakashyapa because he was so serious that his eyes never looked at women. In the morning, if Dolanlanta saw Mahakashyapa, she would shout abuses at him, `What lousy luck! I have to run into a heretic like you early in the morning.` The Buddha had established `the Eight Pure Ways,` the eight methods used by nuns to pay respect to the monks, but Dolanlanta would have none of them. She totally ignored that Mahakashyapa was a monk and a chief disciple of the Buddha, and kept on shouting abuses at him. But the Buddha was aware of her attributes. Instead of evicting her from the community, he used many ways to educate her.
So, in those days, the Buddha taught the students in accordance with their aptitudes. Since Dolanlanta was a fierce person, she would be the chief defender when the community was attacked. Sometimes being a shrew had its advantages ?before the other party could utter a sound, she would already have shot them down with words in a rapid-fire fashion. In her place, a gentle or courteous nun would have lost. In arguing, these shrews are definitely useful. [audience laughter]
(5) Knowledge of How to Liberate Every Being
The fifth wisdom-power of an Enlightened being is knowing how every being can be liberated. This is also teaching in accordance with each being`s aptitudes.
When a Buddha speaks, his words will transform into tens of thousands of `Dharma voices` and travel to faraway places. Once MahaMaudgalyayana flew to the Eastern Pure Land and yet was still able to hear, even from there, the Buddha`s teachings. The sound of Dharma is very profound and subtle. Sometimes one kind of sound spoken by the Buddha can transform into ten thousand kinds of sound, to teach ten thousand different kinds of beings. This is the magnetizing power of the Buddha. [audience applause]
One time the Buddha disappeared from the spiritual community for almost three months. Nobody knew where he had gone. It turned out that he had traveled to the Trayastrimsas Heaven to speak on the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Original Vow Sutra for the Lady Maya. This was discovered by Aniruddha, one of the ten chief disciples, who had used his supreme deva sight to locate the Buddha`s whereabouts. How was the Buddha able to travel to the Trayastrimsas Heaven? This was `deva-foot ubiquity,` an ability to appear at will at any place. It was not a case of out-of-body travel, as the Buddha had brought his physical body with him to the Trayastrimsas Heaven.
I have noticed a strange movement during my recent Chi Kung practices. My two arms become fully extended, then start flapping, as if I were a bird in flight. I think this might mean that one day both my body and spirit also will soar up to the heavens to speak on the Dharma. [audience applause]
(6) Knowledge of All Stages of Samadhi
The sixth power of the Buddha is knowledge of the various stages of spiritual levels or realms reached in samadhi. As a Buddhist practitioner, do you know which level or realm you have reached? How much realization have you attained? How much energy or power do you have? How mature are you spiritually? All these factors determine your spiritual level. Are you at the level of the arhat, or prateykabuddha, or bodhisattva, or Buddha, or Buddha-in-waiting? One of the ten powers of the Tathagata is this ability to observe and determine the spiritual level of an individual.
Buddha Shakyamuni, besides teaching at the Trayastrimsas Heaven, has also taught at the Dragon Palace. If one day I pulled a disappearing act, where would I go? I would go and play chess with Mahakashyapa. [laughter and audience applause] Of course this would have to be done very secretly, so no one would ever become suspicious of my disappearance. Chi practitioners who want to attain the `deva-foot ubiquity` have to scale high on spirit and low on flesh. When the balance is tipped heavily on the side of spirit, and the desires of the flesh are minimal, one`s chi will merge into the Universe, enabling one to travel anywhere above or below. With this mighty power, one can even visit the hells. In the Ksitigarbha Original Vow Sutra, when the Kuang Mu Maiden [a former incarnation of Ksitigarbha] asked the Poisonless Ghost King what kind of people could visit the hells, she received this answer, `Only two kinds of people: those who are led there by their own negative karma and those with the mighty power.`
A Buddha can visit the hells through his mighty power. I also have traveled to hell to see a student of mine who was having a hard time there. Instead of practicing the True Buddha Tantric Dharma, he had spent his days drinking and offering the excuse, `I can`t help it since I have to socialize with my business associates.` Socializing? With two mistresses on the outside and a mind that was filled with filthy thoughts and desires, his main preoccupation was to make more money. For whom was he making all this money? For himself? I don`t think he got to spend it. For his children and grandchildren? One`s descendents have their own fate, so why work so hard for them? Bear in mind that spiritual cultivation is more important. If you don`t start now, it might be too late. Some students say, `I will start my practice next year.` How many `next years` are there? Maybe you have only half a year left in your life, and by then it will be too late. The one trouble shared by many students is that they keep postponing their practice. They rationalize to themselves, `I have at least taken refuge and been chanting mantras, I will save the precious practice for later when I can spare more time for it.`
Therefore, the simple truth is, when the ratio of chi [spirit] to flesh is high, the realm of `deva-foot ubiquity` will manifest and one will ascend to the heavens; when the ratio is low, one will descend to the hells.
(7) Knowledge of the Law of Karma
The seventh power is `knowledge of the law of karma.` One reaps whatever one sows. Master Lian-chih told me this one sign she had seen inside a hospital, `You are what you eat.` This sign is stating simply the law of karma. `What you eat` is the cause and `what you will become` is the consequence. As the Chinese saying goes, `One harvests peas by planting peas and melons by planting melons,` `Good and bad actions give rise to good and bad results respectively.` This is the law of karma. A Buddha is well aware of the direction and consequences of all laws, and knows what one can do to extricate oneself from or avoid the karmic consequences.
Among the chief disciples, Aniruddha was known for his supreme `divine-sight` which enabled him to locate the Buddha when the latter went to teach at the Trayastrimsas Heaven. How did this divine-sight power of his come into being? Actually, prior to the development of this power, Aniruddha was most fond of taking naps, just like many of our students here. Whenever the Buddha lectured, Aniruddha would start nodding his head. This was how he would look while chanting and counting the mantra rosary. [Grand Master demonstrates.] `Om, Ah-mi-deh-wah, Seh; Om, Ah-mi-deh-wah, Seh; Om....` [laughter and audience laughter]
When the Buddha saw this he was alarmed, since he was well aware of the direction and consequences of karma. So he spoke to Aniruddha, `If you go on like this, you are going to end up in the Dragon King`s Palace.` `Dragon King`s Palace? It is not bad to be a follower of the Dragon King, is it?` [audience laughter] `Not if you become the palatial clam! Being a deep sea clam lying on the ocean floor is not all that fun. Always covered up by the shell and without any exposure to sunlight, one could easily sleep for several thousand years.`
I have mentioned this before: if you tend to fall asleep during samadhi practice, keep your eyes open, as closed eyes induce sluggishness. If this fails, try pushing your hands against each other in a hand-shake position. The force generated this way will give you a little energy boost. Also try keeping the spine straight, the chin tucked in, and the eyes focused ahead, just like a soldier. [laughter and audience laughter] If all else fail, get up and walk around while chanting mantra at the same time. Of course, one may be excused if one is not feeling well or has the flu. Also, if one has travelled from afar, such as from Taiwan or Southeast Asia, one may suffer from jet-lag during the first several days, so dozing off is then excusable. However, during ordinary times, one should not doze off every time one does the daily samadhi practice. As the Buddha has put it, `One might as well go to the Dragon King Palace and learn from the Dragon King. I can`t teach you anymore.`
Back to Aniruddha. After the Buddha spoke with Aniruddha, Aniruddha vowed never to close his eyes again. He started meditating very diligently while keeping his eyes open. In the end, due to a prolonged period without sleep, he lost his eyesight. At that point, the Buddha taught Aniruddha to develop the divine-sight. One must have determination and an indomitable will if one wants to make progress and attain great accomplishment on the path. [audience applause]
Included in the Fifty Stanzas of Guru Devotion is the recommendation that one should refrain from rocking from side to side when the guru is teaching. When one does that, it is as if one is saying `no` to my teaching and trying to make trouble for me, isn`t it? [audience laughter] You are shaking your head to everything that I say. This is showing disrespect for one`s guru, [laughter] and it is unacceptable.
The image of our school is also very important. Sometimes during Dharma ceremonies, the Five Buddha Crown headpieces of the masters look like they are about to fall off. [audience laughter] If I appear to be dozing off, I could at least offer the explanation that I am nodding to the Buddhas, [audience laughter] `OK, I know!` [Grand Master nods his head to audience laughter and applause] Although I can justify that I am communicating with the Buddhas, it becomes a problem when those of you sitting around me also start nodding, with your headpieces almost falling off. Therefore, I wish those of you who doze off, or get tired easily, would improve your chi. When your chi is full, your energy will be vigorous. This chi then becomes the `truck` on the `freeway,` as I have mentioned, and you can set out like the `dare-to-die corps.` A spiritual cultivator should have exuberant energy. Someone who is listless and dispirited does not look at all like an esoteric practitioner.
(9) Access to the Memory Vault
The ninth power is having an access to one`s previous memories. Some people say that in the heaven is a memory vault storing the records of the past lives of all humans. If one day one travels to that vault and wants to review the past lives, the official in charge will show one the video tapes, then one will understand the karmic causes and consequences throughout all these lifetimes.
Actually all these review tapes are in our own memories; we do not need to travel to the memory vault in heaven. As long as one opens up the `thousand-petalled chakra` and attains the realization of the Dharma Body Buddha, one will have access to the memory vault. In fact, this power which developed from the thousand-petalled chakra enables a Buddha to find out both his past and future five hundred lifetimes. With this power, a Buddha not only can find out his own history, but also the causes of other people`s fate. I have tapped into the memory vault to find out why some of the spiritual teachers are able to build huge temples, attract great following of students, and propagate the teaching so successfully. It turned out that the Brahmadeva is behind some of them. From an analysis of their teaching, we can find out which deva is supporting them.
Many prominent monks and nuns have a long history behind them. When one develops this power to tap into the memory vault, one may perceive clearly which deva is behind and supporting each of them. One day when you attain Enlightenment, you will have this ability to gain access to not just your own past history, but that of others as well.
(10) Eternal State of Non-Birth
The tenth power is entering into the `eternal state of non-birth.` The level reached by the Arhats is that of an eternal state of non-birth. This state of eternal non-birth may also be termed the `tranquil state of nirvana.` When one attains the ten divine powers of the Tathagata, one knows that all of one`s births, present, past, or future, are all fundamentally non-births. When one unifies with the Universal Consciousness, one abides in the condition of nirvana. When one emerges, one is in the state of the Bliss Body and Emanation Body. When one enters into the Universal Consciousness, one abides in the condition of the Dharma Body, or the condition of `non-birth.` When you attain this realization, you will transcend all fears and delusions.
If word reached you today that the largest newspaper of a certain country ran a front page article denouncing you, you would have no fear. If little booklets denouncing you were being distributed around the world, you would have no fear. If someone filed a legal suit against you, you would have no fear. If someone warned you to be careful because there were nine people plotting to harm you, you would have no fear. Why would you be able to transcend all fears? Because you have realized that all existences, whether past, present, or future, are fundamentally `non-existences.` You are a holy being abiding in the condition of Nirvana and Tranquility ?you are totally immovable and beyond any perturbation. This is known as `transcending all fears and delusions.` [audience applause]
Therefore, a spiritual adept with clear prescience that someone is laying in wait at a certain place to murder him would still go forward willingly and calmly to meet his own death. What does this prove? It proves that he has already `transcended all fears and delusions`! Take MahaMaudgalyayana, for example. He was well aware that he would be murdered in that lifetime, and he willingly accepted this fate as it was a result of a previous karmic action. When a karmic consequence caught up with him, he knew it was time to face up to it and have it neutralized. After all, what difference did it make? He had already attained the state of mind that transcended all relative existences, past, present, or future, and become totally immersed in the Universal Consciousness. This is abiding in the `eternal state of non-birth` ?the tenth power of a Buddha.
To reiterate the ten powers of a Buddha, they are: (1) omniscience,(2) knowledge of the karma of every being, (3) knowledge to end all illusions of every kind, (4) knowledge of the desires and moral direction of every being, (5) knowledge of how to liberate every being, (6) knowledge of all stages of samadhi, (7) knowledge of the law of karma, (8) divine-sight, (9) access to the memory vault, and (10) abiding in the eternal state of non-birth.
`Omniscience,` the first of the ten Buddha powers, can also be understood in the following way. Every human being is made up of the elements of `earth, water, fire, and wind` just as the Universe is. The elements in our bodies are interlinked with the corresponding elements of the Universe. If a person understands this truth and is able to respectively unify the elements of `earth, water, fire, and wind` in his body with the `earth, water, fire, and wind` of the universe, then (through the elements of `earth, water, fire, and wind` of the universe) he will be able to identify and corroborate with all phenomena in the world and will gain a clear knowledge about all things. This is a very important point. The chi and meridians [channels through which the chi travels] of the human body and those of the universe are all interlinked. A vajra indestructible body that is immune to all illnesses can only be attained by merging the microcosmic `earth, water, fire, and wind` of one`s body with the macrocosmic `earth, water, fire, and wind` of the Universe.