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Bodhisattvas Asks for Clarification

Chapter Ten




And it follows that throughout the hells,
All the various experiences suffered there,
Are without a place of origin.
And the nature of karma is also that way. 


There is a further analogy. It is the analogy of how we people create all kinds of evil karma and then undergo the consequent evil retribution in the hells. The hells are not only of one kind, but there are many. There is the Hell of the Mountain of Knives. This hell comes about because one did not walk down proper road as a person, but followed a deviant path. Then, upon reaching the end of one’s life, one had to fall into that hell and ascend the Mountain of Knives. There are other hells, such as the Hell of Fiery Soup, the Hell of Roasting and Burning, the Hell of Boiling Oil, the Hell of Molten Iron, and Hell of Molten Brass. There are a great many hells. If you wish to know about this in more detail, you can investigate the Earth Treasury Sutra, where the situations in the hells are discussed at length.

The last of the hells just mentioned—the Hell of Roasting and Burning—comes from one’s having been excessively sexually active as a person. During his lifetime, he was fond of women; this may also apply to a woman who in her lifetime was fond of men. In that hell, there is a round iron pillar. When a person who in his lifetime enjoyed sex falls into that hell, he sees the iron pillar manifest before him and mistakes it for his favorite girlfriend; then he goes berserk and rushes forward to catch and embrace her. As he embraces her, the favorite girlfriend transforms into a red-hot iron pillar, which broils his skin and roasts his flesh, and he collapses and immediately dies from the intensity of the pain. Then the “clever breeze” blows over his body, reviving him. This same process is repeated over and over again, without respite.

What is the reason for this retribution of getting roasted and burned? It teaches people to wake up: “Oh, originally mutual love between men and women is like being burned by fire.” Learning about this kind of retribution, they become greatly alarmed, and thereafter they do not dare to entertain thoughts of sexual desire.

And so, absolutely everything that exists speaks the Dharma. That is, if you can understand what it is saying, then everything is speaking the Dharma for you. But if you do not understand, you are simply confusedly sinking and bobbing, being tossed and turned throughout the revolving six paths. In speaking the Dharma, one may speak of what is wholesome or what is evil. An example of speaking of what is wholesome is when we disciples of the Buddha explain the sutras and give instructional talks on Buddhism for the assembly. This speaking of what is good serves to warn those who have not already fallen into the hells not to fall into the hells.

Speaking of what is evil is done for those who have already fallen into the hells. For those whom it is impossible to save from the hells by speaking of what is wholesome, we save by speaking about evil; we do this to awaken those who are already engulfed in the throes of suffering; but at that time it is really not easy to wake up, really not easy. It is not easy because the heavier the suffering one is undergoing, the heavier is one’s ignorance, as is one’s anger and one’s hatred. At such a time, it is not easy to awaken. Therefore, we people must cultivate sooner than that. Do not wait until you have fallen to the hells and have been overtaken by suffering before thinking about cultivating the Way. By that time, you will be so deluded that it will be difficult to produce the bodhi mind.

And it follows that throughout the hells, / All the various experiences suffered there, / Are without a place of origin. Of all the hells and all the various kinds of suffering experienced within them, there is no place from which they come, and there is no place to which they go. That being the case, how do they come about? They come about in response to the offense karma we have created throughout limitless eons past until now. Having created all that offense karma, one must now undergo the retribution in the hells. Thus, the text says, And the nature of karma is also that way. Wholesome karma, evil karma, and indeterminate karma are all like that. If you wait until the time you are undergoing suffering before you think to turn your head around, it will already be too late. It is said,

The sea of suffering is deep and wide;
A turn of the head is the other side.

If you can turn your head around a little sooner, you will not have to undergo that suffering.


Although a wheel-turning king
Possesses the seven splendid jewels,
No source of their origin can be found:
Just so is the nature of karma. 


A wheel-turning king/ Possesses the seven splendid jewels. The seven “jewels” or precious things possessed by a wheel-turning king were discussed earlier. One who cultivates the requisite merit, virtue, blessings, and wisdom, and who wishes to be wheel-turning king may become one. But why would one wish to be a wheel-turning king? A wheel-turning king is ruler of one world system (literally, a set of four continents under heaven).

There are four classes of wheel-turning kings: gold wheel-turning kings; silver wheel-turning kings; copper wheel-turning kings; and, iron wheel-turning kings. Gold wheel-turning kings rule over four major continents; silver wheel-turning kings rule over three continents; copper wheel-turning kings rule over two continents; and, iron wheel-turning kings rule over one continent. Our world is called the Saha world, and we are on the southern continent of Jambudvipa. An iron wheel-turning king governs this world, this continent. His rule does not extend to other continents, that is, to other worlds. The copper wheel-turning king rules over two continents, or worlds. The silver wheel-turning king governs three continents. The gold wheel-turning king governs an entire world system of four continents.

A wheel turning king possesses seven precious things sometimes referred to as jewels. The first jewel is a golden wheel. This is not merely one golden wheel, but an entire vehicle. This vehicle is not like an automobile. The speed of a car cannot compare to the speed of this vehicle. It may be compared to a huge airplane. How large is this airplane? It is about one yojana long. A small yojana is approximately forty li (three li are approximately one mile); a middle-sized yojana is approximately sixty li; and a large yojana is approximately eighty li.

A gold wheel-turning king’s vehicle is constructed of gold; therefore, he must be extremely rich. We cannot say exactly how large it is, but it must be at least thirty square li in size. It might even be the size of San Francisco, or perhaps over ten times the size of San Francisco. How many people do you suppose could fit inside? When (the former) President Nixon went to Europe, his entourage constituted over one hundred people, or perhaps it was one hundred passenger planes, which is also quite impressive. But as impressive as that was, the President still did not reach the level of influence that a wheel-turning king wields. 

So, the wheel-turning king’s craft is more than thirty square li in size, and can accommodate a very large number of passengers. Moreover, it travels even faster than today’s rockets. In a single day it can traverse four continents (that is, a complete world system). In order to do this, the wheel-turning king’s golden-wheel jewel must function by means of spiritual penetrations. With his spiritual penetrations, the gold wheel-turning king operates his craft. But since he has the miraculous function of spiritual penetrations, unlike people today who are so ignorant, even without his craft, he is able to travel through space. As I have already told you, the wheel-turning sage king has the power of spiritual penetrations that enable him to travel through space, accompanied by his ministers and subjects. That is what is meant by possessing the golden wheel jewel.

The second jewel possessed by the wheel turning king is the as-you-will gem. This gem is eight-faceted. The function of this jewel is to fulfill the wishes of the one who possesses it. The possessor of the as-you-will pearl obtains whatever he wishes for. The third is the elephant jewel. This white elephant is similar to the six-tusked one that Universal Worthy Bodhisattva rides, which has spiritual penetrations. The wheel-turning king’s elephant also possesses spiritual powers. The fourth is the horse jewel. This horse is like a dragon, in that can transform its appearance.

The fifth is the master-of-treasuries jewel. That means he is administrator of all precious gems. Wherever he goes, whether he is in need of money, gold, silver, or whatever precious thing he might need, he can simply know, “Oh, that precious object, that gem, is right there; go and obtain it for me.” If you dig the earth at the spot he indicates, you will indeed find the gem he mentioned. Thus he controls the earth spirits. He simply points to a place and says, “Such and such a precious gem come forth,” and then, quite spontaneously, the gem wells up from the earth. No matter what kind of jewel he claims is there, it will naturally appear right where he says it is. He abducts the earth spirit and questions him, and then earth spirit immediately tells him which jewel can be found in what place.

The sixth is the precious woman jewel. This is an exquisite woman, who is able to sing and dance. She is talented at everything. This woman is one of the wheel-turning king’s seven precious things. The seventh is the master-of-armies jewel. The wheel-turning king does not have to take an army with him when he travels. No matter where he goes, should he be in need of an army, the army—of however many soldiers he requires—will come to him.

Every wheel-turning sage-king possesses these seven jewels. It is by the great power of his spiritual penetrations that he can own these seven kinds of jewels. And how many wives does the wheel-turning king have? This is not stated clearly, but at the very least he would have five hundred. Since we know he has one thousand sons, then if each wife had two sons, it would mean he must have five hundred wives. We average two sons for each wife, since each wife might also give birth to between two and ten daughters. There is no fixed number.

The Elder Dharma Master Laiguo made a vow to be reborn as a wheel-turning king. It is likely that he made that vow because a wheel-turning king is in a position to teach and transform the common folk, so that they receive and uphold the Five Precepts (not to kill, not to steal, not to commit sexual misconduct, not to engage in false speech, and not to take intoxicants) and practice the Ten Good Deeds: so that their minds do not produce greed, hatred, or delusion; and they do not commit the four kinds of evil speech—harsh speech, divisive speech, irresponsible speech, and lying; and with their bodies they do not kill, steal, nor are sexually promiscuous. By not committing those ten evils, we are practicing the Ten Good Deeds. The wheel-turning king causes his people to diligently practice the Ten Good Deeds and uphold the Five Precepts so that they are able to reform their evil ways, aspire to goodness, and realize bodhi. That is why the Dharma Master made that vow. But by making that vow, he is also letting himself in for having 500 wives, which may bring him a lot of trouble.

It is because a wheel-turning sage king has great power, influence, and spiritual penetrations that he is able to rule over a world system. Should any country he rules over, wherever it may be, think to overthrow the wheel-turning sage king, he instantaneously arrives there and subdues it, so that no one would dare again to oppose him. Such is the extent of a wheel-turning sage king’s power. The wheel-turning sage king obtains the most exquisite, precious objects that can be obtained—the seven jewels.

No source of their origin can be found: Ultimately, where do these things all come from? Such a place is unreachable. It cannot be known from what place they come. But I know. They come from the wheel-turning sage king’s various previous practices of virtuous and wholesome deeds when he was at the stage of planting causes; from all that wholesome karma he created comes the blessings he obtains as a wheel-turning sage king.

Just so is the nature of karma. The good and evil karma that we people create, and the indeterminate karma as well, are also that way. It is like a wheel-turning sage king’s obtaining those seven exquisite jewels. All the evil karma we have created throughout all our past lives will reap an evil retribution; as will all the wholesome karma we created reap a wholesome reward. When the evil karma we created in the past is more than the good karma, we undergo that much more suffering. When the wholesome karma we created in the past is more than the evil karma, we will experience that much more happiness. And so the text says, “The nature of karma is also that way.”


And were all the worlds
Consumed by a massive conflagration,
That fire would have no source:
Thus, again, is the nature of karma. 


Every five hundred years, each world undergoes a small disaster; and, every five thousand years each world undergoes a massive disaster. Some examples of small disasters are wars, fires, floods, and mass epidemics.

Nowadays, the average human life span throughout the world is sixty years. As the present kalpa declines (we are now in the decline of a great kalpa), and people’s average life span reaches fifty years, there will be a disastrous flood that will drown nearly all of humankind, leaving hardly any survivors. This and subsequent disasters are created by people.

As the kalpa further declines and people reach an average life span of about forty years, there will be a disastrous fire. The fire will spread throughout the entire world, and vast numbers of people everywhere will be burned to death. Only those people living in mountain caves or beneath the water might be able to survive. However, the water will mostly evaporate. Seven suns will appear in the sky, and even the dragon kings who live in the oceans will be scorched to death. Following that disaster, as the average human life span reaches thirty years, there will be a disastrous epidemic. The disease will be transmitted through the air, and anyone who is exposed to it will catch the disease and die. 

You think you would find a doctor to cure you? At that time, even the doctors will be dying; they will be like clay Bodhisattvas, who, trying to cross the sea of suffering, are at a loss to save their own bodies from disintegration. As it is said,

Clay Bodhisattvas crossing the sea,
Find it difficult to save even themselves.

Since the doctors will be dying off just the same as everyone else, how could they be expected to cure others? You see how devastating this kind of epidemic is?

What are the causes and conditions of such occurrences? The disaster of water comes from the advancement of science. Which of the five elements is associated with the [nuclear] weapons that can be used in modern warfare? The element water.

As I have explained before, war, fighting between people, began with weapons of the element earth. That is, people first attacked one another with their fists and their feet. You give me a blow of your fist, and I retaliate with a kick. That is earth fighting earth. The ancients originally had no conflicts to speak of. Later on, however, “wisdom gave rise to hypocrisy and guile.” Some deceitful people would cheat others, and when their victims could not endure it any longer, they would start fighting. There were no swords, lances, arrows or other weapons so speak of. How did they fight? They would just punch, kick, bite, and ram into each other. That kind of fighting is associated with the element earth.

After a long time of this, a clever fellow came along—a kind of scientist. He was a real good talker, but not very honest. He thought it over; he investigated. Then he reached the conclusion, “Ah ha! You punch me, and I kick you back. That is a stupid method. There are so many trees on the mountain. Why not cut off a branch from a tree, about ten feet long or longer. Then I can use it to strike the opponent from more than ten feet away, but he will have no way to reach me with his fists. With the stick, I could smash someone’s skull.” That is a case of wood overcoming earth. Whenever earth and wood compete, earth will be vanquished by wood.

The weapons were used in battle, and not long after that the “scientists” began to think, “What method can I think up to subdue your stick—render it useless? Inside the mountains, there is metal (iron). If I were to take this metal and heat it up very, very hot, I could fashion it into an axe, or a sword. Then if you try to strike me with your stick, I can slice your stick in two with one blow of my sword, so that your stick will be rendered useless.” And that kind of fighting is a case of metal overcoming wood. Metal weapons were an advance over wooden ones; there was scientific progress. And metal weaponry was developed, until there were in general eighteen kinds: sabers, spears, swords, halberds, bows and arrows, and battle-axes, to name some. In general, many weapons of war were developed.

Originally, fighting was done with earth versus earth; then it was done with wood versus earth. Wood vanquished earth, and for a time, people fought with wooden weapons against wooden weapons. Then, with the invention of metal weapons, wooden ones, having been rendered useless, were no longer used, and there was a warring period of metal against metal. At that time, you had your metal weapons and I had my metal weapons; you had your knife, and I had my sword. People fought together using their various metal weapons to see who would prove the most powerful, who would be the victor.

The earth-warring period lasted about 500 years; the wood-warring period lasted about 500 years; and the metal-warring period lasted about 1,000 years. Then the scientists once again investigated. “Hmmm… What method can I think of to render all your various metal weapons useless?” They thought it over, and then came up with explosives--shotguns, rifles, canons—all those weapons which required gunpowder and fire to operate. Fire and metal contended, and fire was the victor; fire overcame metal. Metal weapons, such as swords, knives, spears, and arrows, were effective at only a relatively short distance, while guns and canons could be shot from 200 or 300 paces away -- Bang! – and wipe out their target.

Fire was an advancement over metal, and thus ensued the period of war by fire, during which the weaponry of fire was further developed. First it was guns: you have a gun, and I have a gun; people fought each other with guns. Then came the airplane: you have an airplane, and I have an airplane; you have a canon, and I have a canon. Next came rockets: you have rockets, and then I also have rockets, and we mutually wage war by use of the element fire.

Finally, after about five hundred years of this, the scientists again began to think and investigate. They thought, “Now we have huge rockets which can be shot from so far away. Let us use an atomic bomb to defeat the enemy!” And science developed the atomic bomb. Now the atomic bomb can wipe out entire populaces, rendering vast areas totally lifeless. What kind of warfare is the atomic bomb? It is war by water. After an atomic explosion, a kind of poisonous vapor, which is associated from water, contaminates the atmosphere. Also, not too far in the future, water will flood the world and uncountably many people will drown. After war by water, nothing will grow upon the earth.

After a long time, the disaster of the kalpic fire will arrive. When the kalpic fire burns, it will be war by fire again. Following the disaster of the kalpic fire will come kalpic disaster of a worldwide epidemic. Then there will be warring armies, and unspeakably many people will be killed. Generally speaking, people come to this world because of mutual relationships of enmity; that is, to pay back debts. If you understand this principle, you will cultivate to transcend the Three Realms, so that you will not have to undergo these three disasters and the eight difficulties. They will all be nonexistent for you.

And so it is that every world undergoes a period of coming into being, a period of stasis, a period of decay, and a period of returning to emptiness. And were all the worlds / Consumed by a massive conflagration. During the period of decay, huge disasters of fire spontaneously occur. This fire is called the “kalpic fire”. During this kalpic disaster, fires will ignite by themselves quite naturally. It will not be necessary for people to ignite them. The whole world will be as if electrified. It is like when a house has an electrical power leakage and goes up in flames. If the world has a power leakage, fire will burn the world. Yet that fire would have no source. Were we to trace the fire’s cause back over a long period of time, we would find it to be people’s karma; a kalpic fire is people’s karmic retribution. But were you to try to find an immediate source of the fire, you could not find one. If you understand the power of karma, you would know it to be where a kalpic fire came from. That is the meaning of “no source.”

And the nature of karma is also that way. This same principle applies to how the karmic obstacles of people create the burning of the kalpic fire. And it applies equally to wholesome karma, evil karma, and indeterminate karma. According to the different kinds of karma that is created, the retributions and rewards all differ.

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