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
Eight—Dharma Arising Accordingly
Subhuti replied, “Enormous, World-honored One! Why? The Tathagata says his merit is enormous because it has no characteristics of merit.”
The Buddha said, “Should there be someone who upholds this sutra, and furthermore, expounds it to others, even if it is only the four-line verse, his merit exceeds the former. Why? Subhuti! Because all buddhas and all anuttara samyaksambodhi dharma come from this sutra.
Subhuti, the so-called buddhadharma is not buddhadharma.”
Now, we will expound on the Vajra Sutra.[Grandmaster reads chapter eight] I have just finished reading this chapter. Now, let’s expound on the first sentence. Chapter Eight—Dharma Arising Accordingly. It’s mentioned here that all buddhadharma comes from this sutra. All buddhadharma comes from the VajraSutra.
You need to be clear which part was spoken by Subhuti and which part was spoken by the Buddha. The first section was by Sakyamuni Buddha, the second section by Subhuti, and the last section by Sakyamuni Buddha again. The title Chapter Eight—Dharma Arising Accordingly means that all buddhadharma arises from the Vajra Sutra. There are several key points here. The first paragraph is about comparison.
Sakyamuni Buddha asked, if one fills the three thousand great thousand worlds with the seven kinds of precious jewels as an act of giving, would his merits and blessings be enormous?” Subhuti replied, “Very much so. Why? Because the merits have no characteristics of merits. Therefore, the Tathagata says the merit is enormous.”
This is a paradoxical verse. In the Vajra Sutra, there are many verses spoken in this way.
…the so-called buddhadharma is not buddhadharma…
If I don’t explain it, it’s impossible for you to comprehend these topsy-turvy phrases. Let me ask you something. In the past, Grandmaster once had a dialogue with the lay Buddhist Li Bingnan who was very famous in Taiwan. He is a patriarch from the pureland sect, we regard him as a patriarch. I went to his house, then at 9 Cheng Chi Road, Taichung. I had a meeting with Li Bingnan and mentioned the lay Buddhist Zhang Chengji, the translator of the Milarepa Biography. Zhang is a disciple of mine and has a PhD from the United States. He received a refuge empowerment and blessings from me. He once came to my house and brought a booklet he wrote entitled “What is Buddhadharma?” I showed the booklet to Li Bingnan. He said, “I want to ask Dr. Zhang Chengji, what is buddhadharma?” Li Bingnan deemed the title “What is Buddhadharma?” to be wrong. Li Bingnan regarded everything as buddhadharma, so how could there be any non buddhadharma?
Listen attentively. Everything is buddhadharma! Now, let me ask you another question. There is buddhadharma on earth, but is there buddhadharma on the moon? I’m asking you, is there buddhadharma on the moon? [Someone answers, “No.”] No, you said no? [Someone answers, “There is.”]You said there is? Let me tell you something, it’s very simple. Due to the existence of human beings, there are eighty-four thousand kinds of dharma to remedy eighty-four thousand kinds of ailments.
How did buddhadharma arise? It arose from the Vajra Sutra. Is there buddhadharma on the moon? You said no [Grandmaster is laughing]. Let me tell you, buddhadharma exists to remedy eighty-four thousand different kinds of illnesses. There are no humans on the moon, so there is no need for buddhadharma. Ailments exist because human beings exist. Are there humans on the moon? No. However, it’s mentioned in the Buddhist sutra that Guanyin Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva stays on the moon, so there is buddhadharma on the moon. I have mentioned that the so-called buddhadharma is not buddhadharma. If everybody is a sage, there’s no buddhadharma, right? …the so-called buddhadharma is not buddhadharma… If all human beings were sages, there would be no need for buddhadharma. What use would buddhadharma be? It'll be of no use. That’s why the so-called buddhadharma is not buddhadharma. Buddhadharma arises from this statement.
Let’s compare, shall we? If someone does tremendous acts of giving and gives the seven kinds of precious jewels from three-thousand-great-thousand worlds, his merit would be enormous. Subhuti replied, “Enormous.” But why did Subhuti also say, “World-honored One! Why? The Tathagata says his merit is enormous because it has no characteristics of merit.” This is a paradoxical phrase. Like I just said, the so-called buddhadharma is not buddhadharma. Because it is not buddhadharma, therefore, it is buddhadharma. The so-called merit is not merit, and because it is not merit, it is merit. The so-called merits have no characteristics of merits, therefore the Tathagata said that the merits are enormous. The so-called merits are not merits and because they are not merits, they are merits. The statements [in the sutra] are all like this.
Let me ask you. Who truly has merits? [Someone answers, “Grandmaster.”] Me?! [The audience is laughing.] I have just said that the so-called merits are not merits and because they are not merits, they are merits. I never think of merits. Who can obtain the seven kinds of precious jewels of the three-thousand-great-thousand worlds? Who can have them? Whoever can obtain it has enormous merits. But what use is it? It’s useless! Therefore, they are not merits. What’s the use?
I’m telling you; the four-line verse is right here. I will expound it again:
…Should there be someone who upholds this sutra, and furthermore, expound it to others, even if it is only the four-line verse, his merit exceeds the former…
What are these four verses? I have said it before: no view of self, no view of others, no view of sentient beings, and no view of lifespan. The self or “I” does not exist. The other day, we saw Master Lianyin seated there. Let me ask, where is Master Lianyin? No view of self [no phenomena of him]. It’s already explained very clearly. Those childhood or baby pictures of Master Lianyin; was that Master Lianyin? The Master Lianyin who was walking around, was that Master Lianyin? The Master Lianyin that was seated there, was that Master Lianyin? The one that was cremated, was that Master Lianyin? How about the sariras, was that Master Lianyin? How about the ashes, was that Master Lianyin? This is “No phenomena of self!” Say it, what have you actually gained? Sariras? Those are just very dense stones. Sariras are also called hard stones, very firm stones.
So, there’s nothing. It’s all empty! You can explain no view or no phenomena of self and no phenomena of others [people]. Not only Master Lianyin, but we also do not exist. I asked Tenzin Gyatso Rinpoche, where will you be a hundred years from now? What would you have gained? He said, “Nothing gained.” If there’s nothing to gain, why do you study? I explained to him that he should answer that he studies in order to gain understanding of Grandmaster’s teaching. Please be seated. [Referring to the young rinpoche] He is the youngest one. There’s also another kid outside who is even younger. Where will we be a hundred years from now? We would all be gone. Grandmaster will be gone and so would you all. Grandmaster will disappear in a few short years.
Nothing is left. What have you gained? Gold? I have some but it’s no use. They’re not yours, they’re just for you to enjoy for the moment. I have some money here with me, in a big bag. I should not show off my wealth [Grandmaster chuckles]. It is just temporarily yours. When I am in Seattle, all I buy is gasoline because I drive a car and need gas. When I go back to Taiwan, I just want water, so I’d buy water. Here, I just buy gas. As for the rest, nothing is mine. Not a single thing. Even the lifespan of my car will be longer than mine.
You don’t believe it? You gain nothing. Nothing! That’s no phenomena of self. No phenomena of human beings or others; we are all the same. No phenomena of sentient beings; all sentient beings in the whole cosmos are the same. So what are you fighting for? That’s why Buddhism advocates no contention [no disputes]. Buddhism teaches these two words: no contention. In this world, there are so many people fighting because they don’t understand this four-line verse: no phenomena of self, no phenomena of others, no phenomena of sentient beings, and no phenomena of lifespan.
If you can explain this four-line verse to other people, then your merits and blessings would be incredible. Even then, the merits and blessings are not merits and blessings. Only then are they [true] merits and blessings. That’s the statement in the sutra.
What did Grandmaster gain? You said just now that Grandmaster has merits. No! I did not gain any merits, though it may seem like my merits are enormous. In the past when Master Thubten Daergye saw me, he said, “Your fortune is huge, mine is tiny. You have the Rainbow Villa. Can you give me your Rainbow Villa?” I said, sure. Then he wrote, “Sheng-yen Lu gave me his Rainbow Villa.” He said to me, “Grandmaster Lu, please sign to acknowledge that you give it to me.” Then I said, okay, and signed it. He said, “I am going to take this letter and become the boss of the Rainbow Villa.” Why would I want to give it to him? After all, I spent lots of money to build the huge residence, homa hall, the four retreat cabins and even the bathrooms. I built the bathrooms too [laughter], I built all of them; both Shimu and I did. I cannot say it was only me, as it was both Shimu and I. I had bought the land too. Yet, I was very generous and gave it to Master Thubten Daergye. I signed, stamped it, and gave it to him. I knew he would never get it [Grandmaster chuckles]. Not only did he not get it, I also did not get it either. The villa is managed by them [other people] and I only go there to conduct ceremonies. They give me just a thousand dollars for a ceremony each week. For the group practice here [in Seattle’s Ling Shen Ching Tze Temple], I am given two hundred dollars each week. [Grandmaster jokes] Comparing it makes me upset. Over here at such a big place, [only] two hundred dollars, and over there, which is not a small place either, one thousand dollars [Grandmaster is joking and laughing]. I’m terribly poor nowadays but I’m also not sad. Why? Because I know there is “nothing gained.” Because you know there’s nothing to gain, then you don’t have any contention. If you have a mindset of no contention, you're totally at ease and at peace. Then you will not have any illness and your mental health would be good.
Why do we have eight-four thousand kinds of mental ailments? Why? Because you think that there is something to gain, that’s why you have ailments. If you don’t think there is anything to gain, you will have no ailments. Why do siblings fight for inheritance? A person is in heaven, his money is in the bank, the brothers are fighting for his money, and his wife is lying on the chest of another man. What belongs to you? Think carefully and clearly. Nothing belongs to you! When you realize there’s nothing to gain, then the merits and blessings are not merits and blessings. Therefore, they are merits and blessings. Buddhadharma is not buddhadharma; therefore, it is buddhadharma. These kinds of paradoxical phrases are all over the sutra. Otherwise, you will not understand why Sakyamuni Buddha said that the so-called buddhadharma is not buddhadharma. It’s quite baffling; he said the buddhadharma is not buddhadharma, then again, he said it is buddhadharma; he also said the same thing about merits.
Today, I have explained it very clearly. The most important sentence in the Heart Sutra is as there’s nothing to gain, you are a bodhisattva. Because you comprehend that there is nothing to gain, your mind is at ease and you have no contention whatsoever; you can then gain meditative stability. You are mindful of others, therefore, you are a bodhisattva. Since there is nothing to gain, therefore you are a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva originates from this. If you want to become a bodhisattva, you must first realize that there is nothing to gain. This is the key point of the Vajra Sutra. Buddhadharma arises. Why did buddhadharma arise? Because human beings have eighty-four thousand kinds of illnesses. Due to these eighty-four thousand kinds of illnesses, there are eighty-four thousand kinds of buddhadharma. If there are no humans, there is no need for buddhadharma. If everyone is a sage, there’s no need for buddhadharma. [In this case] Buddhadharma is not buddhadharma. In this way, do you understand?
No view of self, no view of others, no view of sentient beings, and no view of lifespan are the four non-views or non-phenomena spoken by Sakyamuni Buddha. If you truly eliminate these four views and if you genuinely comprehend this, you will be completely at peace and at ease. I would not care if I’m only given two hundred dollars by the Seattle Temple and one thousand dollars by the Rainbow Temple. Did the Rainbow Temple give me one thousand dollars? Is that right? [Someone answers, “Yes.”] It is two hundred dollars, right? [Someone answered, “Yes.”] See? I count the money very carefully every time. [chuckles] For the whole week, I only make one thousand and two hundred; I am so poor now. Very poor that even ghosts would not capture me. [Grandmaster jokes and chuckles] Really! This pandemic is miserable. Only very few people visit from out of town or abroad, there have not been any grand ceremonies. Only recently it started to open up a bit, so we have some people coming in from abroad. In the past, when things were not open and countries were under lockdown, nobody came and no disciples appeared. So Grandmaster had no income, I live my life grim and desolate. Life is very bleak relying on the two hundred dollars from Saturday's cultivation and one thousand dollars from Sunday’s ceremony [Grandmaster is laughing]. I must take care of my Rolls-Royce, please don’t break down! Any repairs will cost me thousands of dollars. One repair needs tens of thousands. Last time when it broke, I had to spend forty thousand dollars. For forty-thousand dollars, how many weeks do I have to give dharma teachings here? Even if I gave dharma teachings until I die, I will not be able to collect forty thousand dollars. [laughing] Only one thousand dollars at the Rainbow Temple. I must take care of my house too and pay taxes. Oh, I am so crestfallen lately [Grandmaster is laughing hard].
Fortunately, my mind is completely calm because I know there is nothing to gain. Whether I gain a lot or a little, whether my merits and blessings are enormous or few, I am equally peaceful. If you have this kind of mind, you are unperturbed. You live life with ease. If you have money, then you give or create the so-called merits. Actually, the so-called merits are not merits and because they are not merits, they’re [true] merits. It’s like this, right? They’re all the same. Just be a bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas come from this, Bodhisattvas, arhats, pratyekabuddhas and buddhas arise from this. The Vajra Sutra is the foundation; it is the foundation that destroys everything. Originally, there is nothing, then all arises. That’s it; this one is very easy to expound.
“Subhuti, what do you think? If one fills the three-thousand-great-thousand worlds with the seven kinds of precious jewels as an act of giving, would his merits and blessings be enormous?” Subhuti replied, “Enormous.” Really! Seven kinds of precious jewels from the three-thousand-great-thousand worlds for charity. Of course, his merits and blessings would be tremendous.
…the merits have no characteristics of merits. This part people might not understand. Just now, I have said it. Because the merit is not merit, that’s why the merit is enormous as spoken by the Buddha. The so-called merit is not merit. Because it has no characteristics of merit, it is merit.
Should there be someone who upholds this sutra, and furthermore, expound it to others, even if it is only the four-line verse… The four-line verse are no phenomena of self, no phenomena of others, no phenomena of sentient beings, and no phenomena of lifespan. I often said that no phenomena of sentient beings refers to the space dimension and no phenomena of lifespan refers to the time dimension. [The definition of] time was determined by human beings. It originally did not exist. The space dimension also did not exist. How big is the universe? Until now, still nobody knows. You cannot even go beyond the solar system. Do you know how big the universe is? In the past, we said “round sky and square earth, execute throughout the nine chapters…” The sky is round while the earth is square [flat]. If you kept walking to the edge then you would fall. That’s the wrong concept! We now know the earth is not flat.
How big or small is it? It cannot be measured. It is immeasurable, unknowable. That is the realm of the unspeakable. How big is the whole universe? It is the unspeakable realm. Last time, someone asked Grandmaster, “Grandmaster, do you know where your emanated bodies have gone to?” I went home and asked the buddhas and bodhisattvas, “How should I explain it?” They told me it’s unspeakable; that’s the realm of unspeakable. Where do the emanated bodies go to? The emanated bodies go to Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia. Where else? [Whether] giving dharma teaching in your dreams or otherwise, that’s the realm of the unspeakable or indescribable. How many emanated bodies do you [Grandmaster] have? It’s unspeakable.
In the Journey to the West novel, the Monkey King would pluck all his hair and blow his breath on it, then they all became Monkey Kings. How many Monkey Kings were there? Let me ask you, how many hairs do you have? It’s the realm of unspeakable. How many skin pores do you have in your body? It’s unspeakable. Even within the human body, there are the unspeakable. How many emanated bodies are there? All the buddhas and bodhisattvas told me that it’s unspeakable. When you emanate a body, are you aware? Are you aware of the dharma teaching that you gave? That’s the realm of unspeakable. But sometimes, Grandmaster knows.
Do you know? [Someone answered, “No.”] You don't know, because it is unspeakable [Grandmaster chuckles]. Let me tell you something very strange. Someone gave me a scorpion t-shirt recently. Do you know what a scorpion t-shirt is? Yes, let me show you. Did you see my shirt? This is my undershirt; I am wearing it as an undershirt right now. This is called a scorpion shirt because a scorpion is printed on it. I wear it inside. A disciple had a dream that her hands were being bitten by the claws of a scorpion. She asked, “What kind of dream is this? Why?” I told her, “Because I’m wearing this scorpion shirt. That’s why you dreamt of a scorpion.” That’s a spiritual response. Only very few people know of me wearing this scorpion shirt because it is worn inside, right? People don’t know I am wearing this scorpion shirt but she had a dream about a scorpion. She said she never thought of scorpions, and I rarely thought of scorpions as well because we don’t see them around here. There are a lot of places where one can see scorpions but not here. In the United States, we rarely see scorpions and don’t think of scorpions. However, she dreamed of a scorpion. This is a sign of spiritual response.
Emanated bodies are very strange. When I close my eyes, I know where I was [have gone to]. Don’t think that I was drowsing on the dharma throne. It is due to no thoughts; I don’t have any thoughts. When everybody was chanting, I didn’t. I did not chant because I had no thoughts and my mind was single-pointed. It was not even single-pointed anymore [as it was gone]. I was originally meditating, then I fell asleep. Don’t see it as mere sleep! When I fall asleep, I, my soul leaves my body. I did many things before coming back. You think I was just nodding my head [Grandmaster shows a dozing-off posture] but my soul had left my body. I soul-traveled to places and I know what I did, I was aware. This is a delicate matter, an unspeakable state.
Let me tell you, it’s not yours! Someone told Grandmaster in the past, “I’m very tight so can you loan me some money?” I said sure, and I gave him all my savings then. He prepared a cloth bag, put the money inside the bag. As he was walking away, he glanced back at me. I said, “With the turn of his back, it would be hundreds of years.” [Chinese expression meaning by the time you realize it’s too late]. I saw his back as he carried it away and I have not seen him again to this day. Lianzhu, Lianshi, you know him, right? The person who took the cloth bag with the surname Pan, right? Yes, I've never seen him since he left with that bag of money. With that turning of head, it would be hundreds of years. I still remember it but I never had the intention to get it back and never looked for him either. He’s taken it, so let him take it; besides it’s not mine anyway [Grandmaster meant that he doesn’t own anything in the end, hence he saw the money as not his]. Do you understand?
Om mani padme hum.
Next discourse on the Vajra Sutra: Discourse 23, 10 October 2021 - Chapter Eight—Dharma Arising Accordingly (continued)
Previous discourse on the Vajra Sutra: Discourse 21, 3 October 2021 - Chapter Seven—Nothing Gained, Nothing Spoken (continued)
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