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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 24, 16 October 2021 - Chapter Nine—Phenomena is Non-Phenomena

Nine—Phenomena is Non-Phenomena

The Buddha asked, “Subhuti, what do you think? Can a stream-enterer think this way: ‘I have attained the fruition of a stream-enterer?’”
Subhuti replied, “No, World-honored One! Why? Sotapanna is called the stream-enterer, yet he does not enter anything, he does not enter sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, nor anything at all. Sotapanna or stream-enterer is [merely] a name.”
“Subhuti, what does it mean? Can a once-returner think this way: ‘I have attained the fruition of a once-returner?’”
Subhuti replied, “No, World-honored One. Why? Sakadagami is called the once-returner—to come and go once more—yet in reality he does not come nor go. Sakadagami or once-returner is [merely] a name.”
“Subhuti, what does it mean? Can a non-returner think this way: ‘I have attained the fruition of a non-returner?’”
Subhuti replied, “No, World-honored One. Why? Anagami is called the non-returner, yet in reality it is not non-return. Anagami or non-returner is [merely] a name.”
“Subhuti, what does it mean? Can an arhat think this way: ‘I have attained the fruition of an arhat?’”
Subhuti replied, “No, World-honored One. Why? Because there really is nothing called arhat. World-honored One, if an arhat thinks that he has attained arhatship, then he is attached to self, others, sentient beings and lifespan. 
“World-honored One, the Buddha said that I have attained the samadhi of non-contention, that I am the first and foremost among all human beings, and that I am the leading arhat who has abandoned desire. [But] I do not think this way: ‘I am an arhat who has abandoned desire.’ 
“World-honored One, if I think that ‘I have attained arhatship,’ the World-honored One will not say that Subhuti is the bliss aranya! Because Subhuti has not done anything, therefore Subhuti is referred to as a bliss aranya.” 


Now, we will talk about the Vajra Sutra Chapter Nine—Phenomena is No Phenomena. One phenomenon is the same as no phenomena. This is chapter nine, one phenomenon is no phenomena.

The Buddha asked Subhuti, “Subhuti, what do you think? Can a stream-enterer think this way: ‘I have attained the fruition of a stream-enterer?’” This is what Sakyamuni Buddha asked.

Subhuti replied, “No, World-honored One! Why? Sotapanna is called the stream-enterer, yet he does not enter anything, he does not enter sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, nor anything at all. Sotapanna or stream-enterer is [merely] a name.”

Let me explain this part first. Actually, the questions in the subsequent paragraphs have similar patterns. We know that arhat is the highest of the four levels of arhatship. The first level is the stream-enterer or sotapanna as mentioned just now. The second level is called the once-returner. The third level is non-returner. The fourth level is abandoned-samsara [arahant or arhat]. Arhatship is divided into four levels or four realms of fruition, attained through the practice of the Four Noble Truths.

The Buddha asked, “Subhuti, what do you think? Can a stream-enterer think this way: ‘I have attained the fruition of a stream-enterer?’” Subhuti replied, “No, World Honored One!”

That is right. You cannot say that “I’m a buddha now.” You cannot say that “I’m a bodhisattva” either. You also cannot say that “I’m an arhat.” You cannot say it because you’re already immersed in it [it’s so natural that you don’t think of it anymore]. Besides, those are just names. Buddhas, bodhisattvas, arhats, sotapannas are just names. Regarding “I have attained the fruition of a stream-enterer…,” if someone has become a stream-enterer, yet he still says that he has attained the fruition of a stream-enterer, according to Subhuti, there would be no such case. Subhuti said, “No, World-honored one. Why? Because sotapanna is called the stream-enterer yet he does not enter anything.”

Let me tell you what a stream-enterer is. At the entrance to the cafeteria of the Seattle Lei Tsang Temple, you can see [a statue of] Pindola. See, Pindola is a stream-enterer, he is an arhat living in the saha world. Any arhats living in the saha world are called stream-enterers. They enter the stream of human desire, which is also the stream of the contaminated world of five turbidities.  Because Pindola is an arhat who enters the stream, he is called a stream-enterer or sotapanna. 

Let me give you a simple explanation. Why is sotapanna called the stream-enterer, yet he does not enter anything? Although Pindola lives in the contaminated world, he does not enter it. He maintains the purity of a sotapanna. He is a pure arhat; he is already pure. Although he is entering the stream of human desires in the contaminated world, he is still a pure arhat. Therefore, it is as if he is not entering the stream. Although he has entered the stream, it is the same as not entering the stream. Entering the stream is the same as not entering the stream. Do you understand?

Most people do not understand why the stream-enterer enters the stream, yet they do not enter the stream? What does it mean? It means that although he lives amidst the contaminated world, he is not influenced or affected by the five contaminants. Why isn’t he affected? Subhuti replied, “He does not enter sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, nor anything at all. He is [merely] called a stream-enterer.” He does not enter [the stream]. He is not affected by form, sound, smell, taste, touch, dharma or anything at all.

Pindola, the Venerable with Long Brows, is seated there with long brows and an open mouth. Sakyamuni Buddha’s image is behind him. His mouth is open, for he screamed after being punished by Sakyamuni Buddha to live in the saha world forever. [Grandmaster demonstrates this by opening his mouth and screaming “Aargh!”] That is the venerable with long white eyebrows!

He does not enter sight. Let me tell you. If there’s a beautiful lady entering the cafeteria, he would not stare at her. A womanizer would have desirous eyes and drool over her, but not him. He’s unmoved. If there is an ugly one walking in, he would not be shocked either. There are no sights entering his view. When you sing a beautiful song to him, he does not enter [sound]. His six thieves—eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind—are all closed off. In our practice, it is necessary to shut off the six thieves.

Look, our Pindola is now on the monitor! [referring to the screen at the temple showing an image of Pindola] That’s our Pindola. During his spiritual cultivation at the Vulture Peak, his cave was very close to Sariputra’s cave [Sariputra was an incarnation of Grandmaster Lu.] He is my friend.

I remember when I went to Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan, there was a statue of Pindola seated at the side of the entrance. I looked into his eyes and his eyes moved. I said, “Pindola is here! Go and quickly touch his body.”  At that time, the couple Luo Riliang and Huang Yueqin were with us. Luo had a terrible stomach ulcer so he’s very skinny. His problem was severe. When Luo heard me say that, he immediately responded. I said, “You should quickly touch the body parts where you have ailments.” It was a big statue, so he climbed up and touched the stomach [of Pindola]. From then on, his stomach ulcer was cured. He could not eat pineapples at all before. A slice of pineapple would hurt his stomach. Nowadays, he can eat the whole thing. I told everybody, “Pindola is here now. Quickly touch whichever parts that are ailing on your body.” 

At that time, I had the athlete’s foot, so I touched his feet. From that day on, I don’t have athlete’s foot anymore. In the military, has anyone ever been spared from athlete’s foot? When we were in the military, we washed our underwear and socks together in a big tub. Hence, everyone got infected with skin diseases. In the military communal life, many people live together and they all have some skin problems. I got athlete’s foot and jock itch. What is jock itch? Can’t tell you… [chuckles] It is really difficult to cure athlete’s foot, which in Chinese called Hong Kong Feet. I am speaking in English here. [chuckles] Hmm, wondering why they call it Hong Kong Feet? In any case, it’s really difficult to cure athlete’s foot. It usually recurs every few days. But, I am now completely cured of it, it never recurs. Luo’s stomach was also cured after touching Pindola’s body. 

Pindola is an arhat living in samsara. How many arhats are there living in samsara? There are many of them, and he is the leader. He could have gone to the four sagely realms but because he showed his supernatural power casually, he was punished by Sakyamuni Buddha to stay in samsara.

Today, I’m explaining what the so-called stream-enterer is. A stream-enterer stays in samsara and it is the initial fruition of arhatship. Yet he does not enter anything, he does not enter sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, nor anything at all. This is correct! Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or anything are eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. You close off these six doors and you get rid of the six thieves. In spiritual cultivation, we call them the six thieves.

This is what you should practice first. [Normally] the eyes are captivated by sights, the ears by sound, the tongue by taste, the nose by smell. It is human to dislike stinky smells and to like fragrant things.These are all human desire [through] the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind, which are sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, dharma or anything. When you do not enter sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or anything, then you’re called a sotapanna; you have closed off the six doors. Although living in samsara, you are not affected by the five contaminants of the world. My explanation should be quite clear.

In reading the Vajra Sutra, you should understand its real meaning. Many people chant Vajra Sutra all day long, in the morning and evening sessions, but they don’t know its real meaning. Why is it called a stream-enterer, yet the stream is not entered? One is obviously a stream-enterer but why does he not enter the stream? Actually, a stream-enterer does not enter the stream. This is the explanation of sotapanna. The most important thing is that the stream-enterer does not enter the stream.

There are many similar phrases in the Vajra Sutra. What does it mean? Now you understand after my explanation. Although he stays in the contaminated world, he does not use his eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind to be in contact with the contaminated world. As such, he is called a sotapanna, the initial fruition of arhatship.

Let me tell you a secret. Inside our Seattle Lei Tsang Temple there are two sotapannas who have attained the initial fruition of arhatship. You may not know who they are, but if you do, you can join your palms and pay homage to them. They are also referred as the One Whom We Offer to. It means it is only appropriate that we make offerings to them.

Let me read another excerpt or is that good enough for tonight? I will continue tomorrow. I have explained what a stream-enterer is. Sotapanna is called a stream-enterer. Tomorrow we will talk about the once-returner or sakadagami. What is a once-returner? It is the second level of arhatship. It is written here [in the sutra] that he comes and goes once. I will explain it tomorrow but now we are talking about the stream-enterer. 

It is difficult. You can ask someone who often chants the Vajra Sutra, why is sotapanna called the stream-enterer. What kinds of stream does he enter? Some people would not know. He’s a stream-enterer, but why does it say he does not enter the stream? Because he has closed off the six thieves, which are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. That’s why he does not enter into [the notions of] sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or any mind objects. They’re not deluded by sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or anything. Anyone that has reached this realm is called a sotapanna. Do you understand?

Tomorrow I will explain the once-returner. If you ask those who often chant the Vajra Sutra what is a once-returner, they may not know. Why is it that they are once-returners yet they are not once-returners? What does it mean? I will explain clearly tomorrow.

Om mani padme hum.

Version 2022.01.12


Next discourse on the Vajra Sutra: Discourse 25, 17 October 2021 - Chapter Nine—Phenomena is Non-Phenomena (continued)


Previous discourse on the Vajra Sutra: 
 Discourse 23, 10 October 2021 - Chapter Eight—Dharma Arising Accordingly (continued)


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Full webcast of 2021.10.16 Yellow Jambhala Group Practice (Ling Shen Ching Tze Temple, Redmond, USA) and dharma discourse with English interpretation: https://youtu.be/4HVRcAQ-L1s 

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