Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra
Vajra Sutra (Diamond Sutra)
Detailed Exposition by Living Buddha Lian-Sheng, Grandmaster Sheng-yen Lu
Translated into English by True Buddha School Vajra Sutra Translation Team
Discourse 10, 28 August 2021 - Chapter Two (continued) and Chapter Three—The Right and Ultimate Meaning of the Great Vehicle
At that time, the senior monk Subhuti was present at the assembly. He rose from his seat, bared his right shoulder, knelt on his right knee, and with palms joined, respectfully bowed and addressed the Buddha saying, “World-honored One, the Tathagata’s sublime mindfulness and entrustment to the bodhisattvas is indeed extraordinary.
“World-honored One, when good men and good women give rise to the mind of anuttara samyaksambodhi and strive for perfect enlightenment, how should they dwell in their minds and how should they master their minds?”
The Buddha said, “Excellent, Subhuti. As you said, the Tathagata is mindful of the bodhisattvas and entrusts the bodhisattvas. Now listen carefully while I tell you how the mind of good men and women should abide when they strive for the perfect enlightenment of anuttara samyaksambodhi and how they should master their minds.”
“Wonderful indeed is your teaching, World-honored One. I will pay heed to what you say.”
Three—The Right and Ultimate Meaning of the Great Vehicle
The Buddha told Subhuti, “All bodhisattvas should master their minds in the following way:
“All sentient beings, whether they are born from eggs or wombs, through moisture or transformation, whether they have forms or not, whether they are with or without thoughts, or not completely with thoughts nor without thoughts, I will liberate and deliver them to nirvana without remains. And yet, of the innumerable sentient beings being liberated and delivered, there are actually no sentient beings that are liberated and delivered. Why is this, Subhuti?
“Because if a bodhisattva holds a view of self, others, sentient beings and lifespan, then he is not a bodhisattva.”
Today, we will continue to discourse the Vajra Sutra. Subhuti asked Sakyamuni Buddha [when good men and good women] give rise to the mind of anuttara samyaksambodhi and strive for perfect enlightenment, how should they dwell in their minds, and how should they master their minds?
Last time, I asked what the mind of anuttara samyaksambodhi is. Master Lianzhu replied, zheng deng zheng jue which means the perfect enlightenment. He got a wrist mala for answering correctly. [chuckle]
Now let me ask you, what is samyak or right equality? What is sambodhi or right realization? There are deep meanings to them. What is the “right equality?” What is the “right realization?” Master Lianzhu already said that the anuttara samyaksambodhi mind is the right equality and right realization, which is the perfect enlightenment. It’s easy to say the words “perfect enlightenment.” But what is the deeper, more profound meaning of these words? One must understand what these words mean.
After Sakyamuni Buddha gained perfect enlightenment, he turned the dharma wheel three times [throughout his lifetimes], as we all know. The first turning of the dharma wheel was at Deer Park. This was turning the wheel of the small vehicle, which was teaching the Four Noble Truths of suffering, cause of suffering, end of suffering, and the path to end the suffering. That was the first turning of the dharma wheel at Deer Park.
Let me ask you. Where was the second turning of the dharma wheel? What did the Buddha talk about? [Someone answered, Deer Park] That was the first turning, at Deer Park, and the teaching was about the Four Noble Truths. I just said it! Where was the second turning of the wheel? You’ve been studying buddhism for years to know that Sakyamuni Buddha turned the dharma wheel three times. Now I’d like to ask you, where was the second turning? [Someone answered, Venuvana] It was at the Bamboo Grove Monastery, Rajagriha. What did he teach? [Someone answered, prajna] The Buddha taught about prajna. What else? What does it mean? The essence of prajna is Non-Phenomena, Wu Xiang in Chinese [ultimately all phenomena are intrinsically empty].
Now let me ask you, in which city did the third turning of the dharma wheel take place? What was the Buddha’s teaching? The third turning of the dharma wheel took place in Lotus City. The Buddha spoke on the Enlightening Reality. What is the right equality? Non-Phenomena is the right equality. What is the right realization? [If you realize] Enlightening Reality then that is the right realization. This is extremely profound, wouldn’t you agree?
The Vajra Sutra is exceedingly profound. It reveals that ultimately all phenomena are intrinsically empty, which is the right equality. The Vajra Sutra talks about two wisdoms; the wisdom of the nature of equality which is the right equality and the perfect mirror-like wisdom which is the enlightening reality. These two wisdoms are extremely important concepts in Buddhism.
Sakyamuni Buddha performed three turnings of the dharma wheel and taught the right equality and right realization, which is the highest and perfect enlightenment. The first turning concerned the Four Noble Truths: the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of sufferings, the truth of the ending of suffering and the truth of the path to end the suffering. They are all the Ultimate Truths [satya]. Equality is the ultimate truth. Perfect and the enlightening reality is the ultimate truth. Non-Phenomena is also the ultimate truth.
The Vajra Sutra discusses the right equality and the right realization [anuttara samyaksambodhi which is the perfect enlightenment]. Contemplate it. As I continue with my exposition of the Vajra Sutra, you will come to a greater understanding.
Now, we discourse Chapter Three—The Right and Ultimate Meaning of the Great Vehicle. What is the Great Vehicle [Mahayana]? Tantrayana also belongs to the Great Vehicle. Remember that Tantrayana is also Mahayana. The Great Vehicle includes many different sects and Tantrayana is one of them.
[In the Chinese translation, the translator added titles,] a title for this excerpt: Chapter Three—The Right and Ultimate Meaning of the Great Vehicle means that this is the real meaning of the ultimate great vehicle.
Three—The Right and Ultimate Meaning of the Great Vehicle
The Buddha told Subhuti, “All bodhisattvas should master their minds in the following way:
“All sentient beings, whether they are born from eggs or wombs, through moisture or transformation, whether they have forms or not, with or without thoughts, or not completely with thoughts nor without thoughts, I liberate and deliver them to nirvana without remains. And yet, of the innumerable sentient beings being liberated and delivered, there are actually no sentient beings that are liberated and delivered. Why is this, Subhuti?”
This passage relates to the right equality and the right realization. The Buddha said, “whether they are born from eggs or from wombs, born through moisture or through transformation.” Let’s first talk about the phrase, “born from eggs.”
Today, we ate tomato fried eggs. When I was a soldier and in military school, tomato fried eggs was a popular dish. We often eat it here at the temple too. Being a monk is like being a soldier. I eat tomato fried eggs every day. [laughter] Egg-born means born from eggs. I’ve been here for a long time but still haven’t eaten turtle eggs. [laughter] Turtles are born from eggs, that is, they hatch from eggs. That’s why there is the term turtle eggs [or wang ba dan, which the Chinese use to curse a son of a bitch] [laughter] [A joke] Five people went to a restaurant to eat turtle soup. They asked the waiter to divide the soup into five bowls. The waiter tried so long to divide the soup, and said, “It’s impossible for me to divide it.” They asked why. “Because there are six turtle eggs and there are only five of you. How can I divide it up?” So there are six SOBs, five customers and the waiter who counted himself in too. [laughter]
What is born through moisture? Many aquatic beings are born through moisture. Beings born in water are referred as “born through moisture.” There are many of them. Do you know why a true vegetarian can’t get vaccinated? Because after they get vaccinated, they kill the Covid-19 virus. The virus is also a living being. If one is supposed to die, then one will die. Either the virus dies or the vegetarian dies [if he gets infected]. Isn’t that right? So, for a vegetarian, being vaccinated means killing.
These viruses are born through moisture. Many germs too. “A mouthful of clean water has 84,000 germs in it. If you don’t chant a mantra for them, it is as if you’re killing sentient beings.” Plants are also living beings. When you uproot them, when you pull the carrots, they cry out argh! Do you think vegetables don’t cry? They are able to grow; they have cells too. Do you think that just because you are a vegetarian you don’t kill anything? That’s wrong. Do you know who came up with the rule requiring monastics to be vegetarian? It was Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty.
Are Thai monks vegetarian? [Thai monks and nuns are not vegetarian.] They still maintain buddhist tradition closest to the ancient times. Other buddhist sects have altered, especially Chinese Buddhism, which adopted vegetarianism. The vegetarian tradition was originated by Emperor Wu of Liang, who also initiated the tradition of using burnt incense to etch dots on a monk’s forehead. In Thailand, do monks have these dots? [No] Prior to Emperor Wu, there had never been such a tradition. Why would marks made by burnt incense be required on one’s forehead? Because of a lack of a mind of equality.
Although Emperor Wu of Liang was a Son of Heaven with a buddhist heart, he caused chaos in his harem. He married the most gorgeous woman in his kingdom. After he established his capital at Jiankang upon his victories, he took all the opponents’ concubines for himself. His then first wife regretted that he ever became an emperor because afterwards, she never saw him again. The emperor was extremely lustful. He’s really a pig. How many children did he have? You say, how many? He took the most gorgeous woman in his kingdom and they had two daughters, who engaged in incestuous relations with their uncles. It’s a horrible karmic retribution. It was all very messy. Emperor Wu was really dreadful.
We often use the Emperor Liang’s Repentance as our repentance ceremony. Actually, it is not his, the ritual just has his name attached to it. He asked the sangha to compile a repentance ritual to bardo deliver one of his beloved concubines. He was a horrible pig. The palace had many maidens in attendance. A breeze once lifted the skirt of one of the palace maidens and he saw her legs. Emperor Wu had his way with her that very night.
Any time Emperor Wu met with adversity, he went to the temple he built next to the palace, Tongtai Temple, and became a monk. Afterwards, his ministers brought him back to the palace, and he became emperor again. The next time he encountered difficulties, he would become a monk again, and his ministers would bring him back to the palace to resume being emperor. The third time he became a monk, they would bring him back to the palace again. But there was retribution. Emperor Wu ended up starving to death in his palace.
Let’s see, where was I? [Grandmaster chuckles] I am not criticizing Emperor Wu. Let me tell you. He was a Son of Heaven with the heart of a buddhist. He built countless buddhist temples.
…born from wombs, born through moisture…
Who initiated the tradition of being vegetarian and marking incense scars on the top of a monk’s head? None other than Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty. It’s all because of Emperor Wu that vegetarianism and incense scarring exist in Chinese Buddhism.
Now onto “born through transformation.” What is meant by born through transformations? They are transformed from the air. The Covid-19 virus comes from the air. It transformed. It is capable of mutations. If you are isolated at home, you mutate to become fat and swollen [which is a homophone of mutation]. [Laughter] When different factors combined, transformations take place. That’s born through transformation.
Continuing on, there is birth from a womb. We humans are born from a womb, as are many animals. There are also many animals that are born from eggs, such as most birds. Many animals are either born from wombs, from eggs, or through moisture. Why does the sutra mention the four forms of birth? This has to do with “equality.”
…whether they have forms or not, with or without thoughts, or without thoughts and no-thoughts, I will liberate and deliver them to nirvana without remains.
It is about equality—the equality of liberation and deliverance. What is nirvana without remains? I have talked about this. Who will raise their hand to answer what is nirvana without remains? I have talked about it! You don’t remember what it is? In nirvana without remains, there are no causes and conditions to be born or to die, that is one will never be born again and one will never die. This is called “nirvana without remains.” Your memory is even worse than this old man sitting here, who has a bad memory.
…whether they have forms…
What does “form” mean? Here, form does not refer to lust. [Grandmaster jokes while speaking Cantonese about loving sex or tasting good as they sound similar.] Tangible means” with form. Intangible means without form. What doesn’t have form? Something like viruses or germs. Can you see viruses and germs with the naked eye? They are intangible. However, we now know coronavirus does have a form. It’s round and it wears a crown. You can see it under a microscope. At one time, the coronavirus was considered intangible. A ghost also has no form. The bardo spirits are also formless.
…with or without thoughts…
Those with thought and those without thought. What sort of things are without thoughts? Even plants have thoughts. Rocks have no thoughts, or have they? Strictly speaking, they do have thoughts. Look at gems and jewels. They have a magnetic field. If you cut them in half, their magnetic field will decrease by half. They won’t shine anymore, or half will shine and the other half won’t. This can be proven scientifically. It’s hard to find anything that is without thought.
…without thoughts and no-thoughts…
It is not with thoughts, and it is also not without thoughts. So it’s in between. Sometimes with thoughts, sometimes without.
Sakyamuni Buddha liberates and delivers them to nirvana without remains. I just explained the meaning of nirvana without remains as no causes and conditions to be born or to die. Liberation means extinction [end of suffering] which is one of the Four Noble Truths.
…liberate and deliver...
Talking about the last phrase in this excerpt, “liberate” is like the extinction in the Four Noble Truth, and “deliver” is guiding sentient beings onto the path.
…I will liberate and deliver innumerable sentient beings...
The number of sentient beings liberated and delivered were innumerable, infinite and boundless. There was a person, a bodhisattva who wanted to do just the same. Who was that? He vowed in front of numerous buddhas, “I want to deliver all sentient beings. If I don’t deliver them, if I don’t carry out this vow, may my head split open.” It was Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva who made this vow before all the buddhas. It is said that the number of buddhas present was equal to one billion kotis of buddhas. One koti is equals to one hundred million. In front of these innumerable buddhas, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva vowed to deliver all sentient beings. He further vowed that if he should fail and abandon this vow, his head would split into ten pieces. Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva made this vow. He is extremely compassionate and he delivers the most sentient beings.
That’s all for today. Om mani padme hum.