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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 27, 24 October 2021 - Chapter Nine—Phenomena is Non-Phenomena (continued)


Nine—Phenomena is No 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 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 he is not [always] non-returning. 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.”

 

Today, let’s talk about chapter Nine—Phenomena is No Phenomena.

 

Sakyamuni Buddha said, “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.”

 

The questions were asked by Sakyamuni Buddha and answered by Subhuti. The term “arhat” [1] refers to the fourth or highest level of arhatship in which an arhat has reached the sagely realm of sravakahood. There are four sagely realms—sravakahood, pratyekabuddhahood, bodhisattvahood, and buddhahood—and they are above the heavenly realms. An arhat is also called a sravaka, meaning “sound-hearers.” Why are they called sound-hearers? Because they reach attainment through “hearing” Sakyamuni Buddha’s teachings. The“sound” in “sound-hearers” refers to the voice of the Buddha. They not only hear it, but they also attain fruition accordingly. This attainment is called sravakahood, achieved through the vehicle of the sound-hearers, sravakayana.

 

In my view, an arhat has been purified, their self-nature is pure and their buddha nature has manifested. An arhat is non-returning. Yesterday, we talked about the third level arhat who resides in the Five Pure Heavenly Abodes—the heavens of no return. They likewise do not return to the realm of desires and are considered as sages too. When their self-nature has been completely purified, they would attain the fourth level of arhatship and will be called sravakas, arhats, arahants, or sound-hearers.

 

Let me briefly specify how the buddhas, bodhisattvas, pratyekabuddhas, and sravakas cultivate and achieve attainments. There is no strict rule, however. According to the Buddha, if you practice the Four Noble Truths—taught during the first turning of the dharma wheel—you will become an arhat. What is a pratyekabuddha? Apratyekabuddha is a solitary buddha or a lone buddha, who is also a sage. He comprehends, cultivates, and realizes the Twelve Links of Causes and Conditions. What is a bodhisattva? A bodhisattva cultivates according to the Six Perfections of generosity, precepts, endurance, diligence, wisdom, and meditation. A buddha cultivates according to the Eightfold Noble Paths. Those are the general classification for the so-called buddhas, bodhisattvas, pratyekabuddhas, and sravakas. Sravakas are arhats with pure self-nature, cultivating the Four Noble Truths.

 

The Buddha asked, “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.

 

This statement is crucial. If you think that you have attained arhatship, then you are attached to phenomena, to a name, to a term. In “I have attained arhatship,” which “I” does the “I” refer to? This is profound, and Subhuti understood. Therefore, Subhuti said that if he thought that he had attained arhatship, then he was definitely not an arhat because he was still attached to phenomena—the phenomena of names. If one says, “I have attained buddhahood,” then one is attached to the term “buddhahood.” Hence, just cultivate and realize it! There is no need to attach names such as buddha, bodhisattva, arhat, or pratyekabuddha.

 

Once you realize the Dao [the Way or the Path], you must let go of the phenomena of names. You do not hold any view that you are a bodhisattva or an arhat. No such notions! If I say that I have attained arhatship, then I am attached to self, others, sentient beings, and lifespan. Since the “self” does not exist, “others” will not exist. Subsequently, “sentient beings” also do not exist. As there are no sentient beings, what would “lifespan” be? Lifespan is essentially the time [dimension] and sentient beings refer to space or the spatial dimension.

 

Everyone can understand this concept, right? This is what it means. You cannot be attached to names. Although you are already an arhat, you wouldn’t often think “I am an arhat.” I have said that you will not. If you are a bodhisattva, you would not constantly think “I am a bodhisattva.” Because as soon as you think of “I,” you still have a notion of self and you are attached to the phenomena of self. Any attachments to names should be abolished.

 

During the second turning of the dharma wheel, the Buddha spoke on the non-phenomena—non-phenomena of self, others, sentient beings, and lifespan. You should not have these four phenomena and you should not be attached to names. Therefore, arhats do not think that they have attained arhatship. Many of theBuddha’s disciples became arhats. The phrase “five hundred arhats” isfrequently mentioned but “five hundred” does not literally mean five hundred, instead it suggests a large number. During the time of Sakyamuni Buddha, therewere many people who attained arhatship. 

 

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. What is the samadhi of non-contention? It is very simple. If the “I” no longer exists, who is it contending? There is no “I,” no “you,” no “him,” no “sentient beings.” With whom are you disputing? What is there to argue about?

 

Let me ask you a simple question. Someone once said, “I will open a Hilton hotel on the moon, and I’d be waiting for people to come visit. Humans from earth will get on spacecrafts to fly to the moon and stay at my Hilton. I will make a lot of money! I am a visionary! I will be the first one to open a Hilton hotel.” Just imagine, “Hey! You guys are here, welcome! This is the price for the presidential suite, regular suite, etc.” But what use is the money you earnthere? There is nothing around you: no food stalls, not even cars nor buses, nothing to spend money on. Let me ask you, what use is your money? It is useless! Okay, so if money is useless, perhaps you would ask for diamonds? So people would fly there and pay with diamonds. What use are those diamonds? Can diamonds be eaten? No, you can’t eat diamonds. How about gold? Shiny gold is very expensive, and it can even crush you! You go there and open a Hilton hotel, but no one ever comes, so the effort is in vain. Over there, all you can do each day is just gazing at Chang-er, the moon goddess and her rabbit companion or staring at Wu Gang[2] chopping trees. It is meaningless; such thought is mind-boggling.

 

Let me ask you, on the moon who are you contending with? You are there alone. Who are you fighting with? The Buddha said that there is no phenomena of self, others, sentient beings, and lifespan. So who are you disputing with? This is the samadhi of non-contention. With this simple analogy, you will understand the samadhi of non-contention. Since there is no self, why are you still contentious? If you are still contentious, it means the self still exists.

 

In the past, Grandmaster made lots of mistakes. In the Sword of TrueBuddha Commentaries, I criticized this and that; it was wrong! The “I” still existed then. In the past, I was so good at chiding others that I was cited as the number one in criticizing others by The China Times Weekly. It was a very famous newspaper in Taiwan in its very early days. It still exists right? They said that Sheng-Yen Lu was most outspoken in his reproaches, because well, the title of my column was “Sword,” right? So in that weekly column of True BuddhaNews, I wrote many articles to rebuke and triumphantly slash many people withthe sword. Jeez! [laughter]

 

I did not comply with the samadhi of non-contention. Really! When you reach the state of no self, what will you be contending? In the samadhi ofnon-contention, you will not fight with anybody. Practice to be like a turtle until you have attainments. Afterwards, all you do is to deliver sentient beings. Be a bodhisattva. Be a turtle. It does not matter how other people are slashing you, you are protected inside your turtle shell. They would not be able to slash anything, not your hands, legs, nor your head. You are protected inside while practicing the best you can. After reaching attainment, you can then give dharma teachings to deliver sentient beings. Only then is it called the samadhi of non-contention! 

 

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. Once you abandon the realm of desire and abolish all desires, you are an arhat.

 

Subhuti said, I do not think this way: ‘I am an arhat who has abandoned desire.’” Of course he did not! He is not attached to names. If he did, he would not be an arhat because the self still exists.

 

If I think that ‘I have attained arhatship,’ the World-honored One will not say that Subhuti is the bliss aranya! What is a bliss aranya [hermit practitioner]? Essentially, it is like being a turtle. He should never think that he has attained arhatship.

 

Because Subhuti has not done so, therefore Subhuti is referred to as a bliss aranya. In fact, he has not done anything! Nothing, really! We [I] also think this way. We really have not done anything in this saha world. I will explain this in the future. Grandmaster is currently giving dharma teachings here, however it is the same as not giving dharma teachings at all. In reality, I have not done anything. I am merely doing illusory things in this illusory world. Merely doing illusory things in this illusory world!

 

The buddhadharma is very profound, it is distinct from other religions. Its wisdom is extraordinarily profound. This is the kind of wisdom that is without wisdom. And because it is without wisdom, it is called the [real] wisdom. It is thehighest kind. Sakyamuni Buddha’s ability to teach the dharma of non-phenomena demonstrated how exceptional he was, making Buddhism stands out. It certainlyis not an ordinary religion!

 

If you could reachthe four non-phenomena, you have attained fruition. Because Subhuti has not done so, therefore Subhuti is referred to as a bliss aranya. In actuality, hehas done something, he has. However, he treated it as if he has not done anything. Because there is no self, therefore nothing has been done. Today, GrandmasterLu is giving dharma teachings, but I’d say that I am not giving teachings at all. That is called “non-doing.” I generate bodhicitta and do it accordingly. That is the same as not doing anything. I would never keep in mind all the dharma teachings I have done: which dharma, what I have said, or this and that, none! There is no “I” teaching the dharma.

 

That is why when Bodhidharma was requested to give dharma teachings, he just got on the dharma seat and slapped the table, and that was the end of his teaching. He was teaching this: nothing is done. If anyone says that Subhuti gave dharma teachings, he is slandering Subhuti. It will be covered in the Vajra Sutralater. Likewise, the Buddha has not given any dharma teachings, and there is no dharma to be spoken of. This is a very profound wisdom. You must contemplate on it thoroughly. The Vajra Sutra is not very easy to expound, especially not in great detail.

 

Hence, Subhuti is not the first arhat who has abandoned desires, and he is also not the first and foremost among all human beings. What is the samadhi of non-contention? There is no contention! When you walk towards the kitchen from the main hall of the Rainbow Temple, there hangs in the little seating room a calligraphy of “no contention” written by Grandmaster. Since there is no “I,” there is no contention. In the samadhi of non-contention, how could there be any contention when there is no "I”? What is there to contend about?

 

Now you have heard Grandmaster’s teaching. But if you don’t apply it and still feel jealous and envious and do foolish things, then you have not reached the state of no contention. Did you know that the foolish things you do are merely done in dreams? You have not applied the non-contention. You are practicing Buddhism yet you are still fighting with others, competing for recognition, position, and even compete in laziness. [Grandmaster jokingly mimics people,] “If he can be that lazy, why not me? I want to be lazier than him.” That’s competing for laziness. In our school, some people fought to be the laziest. “Why do I have to work so hard? Why is that person so idle? I am a nun, why can’t I have more leisure? Why do I have to do these things every day? I want to be as lazy.” Although that is competing for laziness, it is also contention. We don’t fight to be more diligent but instead to be lazier. “Just ask someone else to do it, why does it have to be me?”

 

The first thing they do is to pass on [the task]. There are three tricks in tackling things. The first trick is to pass the ball to others. “Not me, I don’t have time. Find someone else.” The second trick is to drag. Things that can be done in three days, they drag it to one week, one month, one year, two years, three years...The third trick is to pull. When they can’t drag it any longer, they quickly pull someone else to do it. Passing, dragging, and pulling are the threeschemes mentioned by Li Zongwu in his Thick Black Theory. He wrote that the skin should be thick [shameless] and the heart should be black [ruthless]. You may find it amusing reading how Li wrote it.

 

As Buddhist practitioners, we are in the samadhi of non-contention! Diligent! We must be diligent. That’s all for today.

 

Om mani padme hum. 

Version 2022.01.21




[1] There are four levels of arhatship: stream-enterer, once-returner,non-returner and arhat. So the last one, or the fourth level of arhatship is called arhat and it is at the sagely realms. But Grandmaster also said that the third level of arhatship is also a sage albeit he is in the pure abode of the heavens of no return. 


[2] In Chinese folklore, Wu Gang is a figure who was punished to endlessly cut down a self-healing Osmanthus tree.

 



Next discourse on the Vajra Sutra: Discourse 28, 30 October 2021 - Chapter Ten—Magnificent Pureland 


Previous discourse on the Vajra Sutra: 
 Discourse 26, 23 October 2021 - Chapter Nine—Phenomena is Non-Phenomena (continued)


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