Explanation by the Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua

1. Introduction

2. Explanation of the Title
3. The Author
4. The Translator
5. The Shastra



The Shastra on the Door to Understanding the Hundred Dharmas.


The Dharma spoken by the Buddha constitutes the Sutras, the precepts which the Buddha established make up the Vinaya, and the writings of the patriarchs are called the Shastras. Sutras reveal the study of samadhi, Vinaya texts disclose the study of precepts, and Shastras discuss the study of wisdom. You could say this is the first time since the founding of the Buddhist Lecture Hall here in San Francisco that a shastra is being thoroughly explained. Although we have had classes on shastras before, the explanations have been quite simple. This explanation will go into more depth. A lecture series like this is very rare in the West, which is why when people in the West wish to learn to understand shastras, there is almost no opportunity to do so. But if people do not understand the Shastras, they will not be able to cultivate. If they cannot cultivate, they will not become Buddhas. And if they do not become Buddhas, they will revolve forever on the wheel of rebirth, being born then dying, and after dying being reborn. When born, people are completely muddled and do not know what happened; and at the time of death they are just about to understand, but time will not wait for them. They die just as muddled, and much as they would like to understand, there is no more time. The reason they do not understand is that they have not investigated The Shastra on the Door to Understanding the Hundred Dharmas, and so they are born muddled and die confused over and over again as they turn in the six paths of the revolving wheel. And so now we are lecturing this Shastra.

Someone may ask, “What is The Shastra on the Door to Understanding the Hundred Dharmas? Not only have I never seen it, I’ve never even heard of it before.”

That is good. You speak very honestly. When you know, you say you know; and, when you do not know, you say you do not. That means you can still be taught. The trouble is that many people tend to say they know something when they do not in fact know it. If one does not know something but says one does in an attempt to fool people, one is actually only fooling oneself. Someone who claims to know what he does not know, and denies knowing what he does know, is the most foolish kind of person. An example would be if you have never heard of The Shastra on the Door to Understanding the Hundred Dharmas, but when someone asks you if you are familiar with it you reply, “Oh, I know that one.” Then, when asked what the Shastra discusses you say, “Oh, I’ve forgotten.” That is a clear-cut case of a person saying he knows what he does not in fact know, saying he has mastered what he has not mastered, saying he understands what he does not understand, and claiming to be perfectly clear about what is not at all clear to him. That is the stupidest thing a person can do, and it leads to rebirth as a pig. People who get reborn as pigs were great pretenders in their former lives and acted as though they knew absolutely everything. That is why I feel such pity for pigs when I encounter them. I tell them, “You are lamentable. You just wouldn’t listen to instructions in the least. You didn’t rely upon the Dharma to cultivate, and so you’ve fallen into the bodies of pigs.”

There are not merely one hundred dharmas; there are 660 dharmas. But there are not merely 660 dharmas; there are actually 84,000 dharmas. The Buddha set forth 84,000 Dharma-doors, and every door is a path to accomplishing Buddhahood. Later on, because living beings’ basic natures were too obtuse, 84,000 Dharma-doors became too many. Therefore, Maitreya Bodhisattva very compassionately composed the Yogacharyabhumi Shastra (T. 1579), which consolidated the 84,000 Dharma-doors into 660 dharmas. But 660 dharmas were still many, and just to clearly remember their names took several years of effort. Then Vasubandhu, “Heavenly Relative,” Bodhisattva contemplated and saw that people in the future whose natures were suited to the Great Vehicle would prefer abbreviation. So he selected the one hundred most important leading dharmas from the Yogacharyabhumi Shastra’s 660 dharmas and condensed them into The Shastra on the Door to Understanding the Hundred Dharmas. That way, all people in the world with dispositions suited to the Great Vehicle could easily remember and understand its dharmas, and no longer have to spend several years just to remember their names. The most obtuse person could memorize these Dharma-doors in an hour, and the smartest person could understand all one hundred dharmas in as little as ten minutes. Would you not call that fast? If you understand these hundred dharmas, you can use them to enter the door of the Buddhadharma. That is why it is called the “Door to Understanding.”

Before explaining The Shastra on the Door to Understanding the Hundred Dharmas, I would first like to level a criticism. [Note: the year was 1970.] From what I have seen and heard of people in the West who explain the Buddhadharma, if you were to ask them what The Shastra on the Door to Understanding the Hundred Dharmas is, what reply would they give? They would not say a word. Now, that would definitely not be as when Manjushri Bodhisattva asked Upasaka Vimalakirti what truth in the primary sense was, and Upasaka Vimalakirti did not say anything at all. His not speaking was in itself truth in the primary sense. If he had spoken, truth in the primary sense would have vanished. So he really did express truth in the primary sense by his silence. But the hundred dharmas are not the same as truth in the primary sense. They must be spoken. If instead of speaking, a person closed his mouth, closed his eyes, and put on a big show of studying truth in the primary sense, that person would be wrong. That is because the very fact that there are one hundred kinds of dharmas means they have to be expressed. Without speaking, there is no way to represent those hundred dharmas.

There are those who profess to be teachers of Dharma but who do not really know how to expound upon a single dharma, not to speak of a hundred. Since they cannot explain even one, they have nothing to say. All they can do is go into some kind of tight-lipped, mystic-eyed trance. Wouldn’t you say that was sad? But although there is not a single dharma they understand or speak, still they go outside the hundred dharmas to talk about “Dharma” left and right, up and down. And people who do not understand the Buddhadharma say, “That person can really speak Dharma.” But as soon as people who already understand the Buddhadharma hear him, they say, “What is that nonsense all about? He is just singing a song.”

This is as when a counterfeiter takes his counterfeit money to the countryside and passes it off to people who cannot tell it is not real, but later at the mint, the officials can see right away that the hallmarks and serial numbers are completely wrong and that the money is phony. It is proved false when compared to the true. In the same way, it may be “Dharma” spoken, but you have to have the Dharma-selecting eye to tell Dharma from non-Dharma and to distinguish which are defiled and which are pure dharmas, which are wholesome and which are unwholesome dharmas, which are deviant and which are proper dharmas. If you know, then you have the Dharma-selecting eye. It should not be that if someone speaks “Dharma” in a booming voice, or sings it like a wailing chant, you become so confused you could not sleep even if you wanted to. Wouldn’t you say that was pathetic?!

previous * next

return to top