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Bodhisattvas Asks for Clarification

Chapter Ten




As someone blind who paints pictures,
Cannot see what he depicts for others,
So is one who does not practice the Dharma,
But only amasses much learning. 


The previous line of verse described a deaf musician, who pleases others with his music. To hear the Buddhadharma and then not cultivate is a similar situation. Now this stanza of verse describes a blind person. To be blind is like being one whose ignorance is very heavy.

Someone blind who paints pictures, / Cannot see what he depicts for others. This blind person is able to paint all kinds of pictures and show them to others, but he himself has no idea what they look like. So is one who does not practice the Dharma, / But only amasses much learning. If you get to hear the Buddhadharma and gain some understanding of it, but you do not actually put it into practice, if you merely study voraciously in order to gain a lot of knowledge, you are just like a blind person who paints pictures, but cannot see what they look like. The principle is the same in both cases.


As a master pilot of a ship
Still ends up dying in the sea,
So is one who does not practice the Dharma,
But only amasses much learning. 

As someone who stands at a crossroads
Vastly proclaims a host of good deeds,
But possesses no true virtue himself:
So is one who does not practice. 


As a master pilot of a ship, /Still ends up dying in the sea. This metaphor is of a ship’s pilot. He steers the ship, and knows everything about handling the vessel. He has mastered all the various nautical skills and methods required for an ocean voyage. He can direct the ship smoothly across the ocean without hindrances. Even though he knows how to navigate a ship, still, one day he dies at sea. His ability was ultimately inadequate; he got swallowed up by the ocean. So is one who does not practice the Dharma, /But only amasses much learning. People who study the Buddhadharma should not be all talk and no action. It should not be that you can talk about the Dharma but cannot put it into practice. That is being just like a man made of stone that has a voice box inside. The stone man can talk quite well, but if you direct it to walk, it cannot move at all. A person within the Buddhadharma who merely thirsts after knowledge, but does not cultivate, is like a ship’s pilot who dies at sea. Such a person is unable to end his birth and death.

Being learned is basically a virtuous quality; it is a desirable thing. For example, Ananda was foremost in learning of Shakyamuni Buddha’s Hearer disciples. In lifetime after lifetime, Ananda had applied himself to acquiring erudition. His power of recall was especially strong and long-lasting. Therefore, after hearing the Buddha speak the sutras only once, he could remember them, in their entirety, from beginning to end. But, because he did not know how to cultivate, he was victimized by Matangi’s daughter, when she used the Brahma Heaven Mantra to confuse him. He became confused to the point that he nearly destroyed his precept substance. Then Manjushri Bodhisattva, at the Buddha’s command, used the Shurangama Mantra to rescue Ananda. By this we know that much learning is not an ultimate dharma.

Another metaphor for lack of practice involves someone who stands at a crossroads. This person stands at a busy intersection where there are many, many people. He goes there to address the crowd. And what is the subject of his speech? He vastly proclaims a host of good deeds. He speaks about all the good acts, the wholesome deeds, and tells people how to cultivate and how to apply effort. But he does this while having no true virtue himself: He himself does not cultivate, and he has no virtuous conduct of his own. People who cultivate the Way definitely need to have genuinely virtuous conduct. Where does real virtuous conduct come from? It comes from benefiting oneself and benefiting others. We need to benefit others. Benefiting and helping others is simply to:

Teach and transform with kindness on behalf on Heaven;
Sincerely instruct the citizens for the sake of the country.

When everything we say and everything we do is all for the benefit of others, we are able to develop and perfect our own true virtue. The stanza of verse discusses a person who has “no true virtue himself.” Someone who is very good at telling other people how to be good, but does not actually practice what he preaches, is someone without any true virtuous conduct. So is one who does not practice. If you can only talk about the Buddhadharma but cannot practice it, then you are like this person who stands at the crossroads vastly proclaiming all the various good deeds, but who himself has no real virtue; and that is useless.

VIII. The Profoundness of the Aids to the Path


At that time, Manjushri Bodhisattva asked Wisdom Leader Bodhisattva, “Disciple of the Buddha, given that within the Buddhadharma wisdom is foremost, why then does the Thus Come One, for the sake of sentient beings, sometimes praise giving, sometimes praise upholding precepts, sometimes praise patience, sometimes praise vigor, sometimes praise dhyana-samadhi, and sometimes praise wisdom? Why did he sometimes praise kindness, compassion, joy, and giving? And why is there never anyone who, by means of only one single dharma, gains transcendence and realizes anuttara-samyaksambodhi?” 


At that time, after Dharma Leader Bodhisattva had finished answering all the questions asked by Manjushri Bodhisattva, Dharma Prince Manjushri Bodhisattva, the Great Bodhisattva, further asked Wisdom Leader Bodhisattva, saying: “Disciple of the Buddha, given that within the Buddhadharma, the teaching of the Buddhas, wisdom is the foremost, Number One, why then does the Thus Come One sometimes praise giving?” “Thus Come One” is one of the Ten Titles of a Buddha. Here Manjushri Bodhisattva is saying, “There are times when the Buddha praises not only wisdom, but also giving. Since wisdom is the foremost dharma door, is it not sufficient to praise only wisdom? Why does the Buddha also praise giving? The dharma of giving is not the foremost one, so why should it be praised?”

People who often listen to Dharma lectures know what is meant by giving. There are 1) the giving of wealth, 2) the giving of Dharma, and 3) the giving of courage. Of the giving of wealth, there is inner wealth and outer wealth. Inner wealth refers to one’s body, mind, nature, and life; one’s head, eyes, brains, and marrow. Those are all examples of inner wealth. Outer wealth includes the seven precious gems: gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother of pearl, red pearls, and carnelian. And then there are one’s country, city, spouse, and children. Together those comprise one’s outer wealth—that is, whatever possessions or wealth one owns outside of one’s body.

Then there is the giving of Dharma. This means lecturing on the sutras and speaking the Dharma for sentient beings, enabling them to leave suffering and attain bliss and to end birth and death. All that is the giving of Dharma.

The giving of courage happens right when someone is in the midst of disaster and difficulties and is extremely afraid—terrified—and you are able at that time to use all manner of expedient dharma doors to encourage the person so that he is able to let go of his fear. That is the giving of courage.

Why does the Thus Come One sometimes praise upholding precepts? Upholding precepts refers to receiving and upholding the vinaya. The vinaya comprises the three thousand aspects of awesome comportment and the eighty thousand subtle mannerisms. All those are included in the vinaya. The precepts are regulations that help us to refrain from all evil and practice all good. There are the five precepts for laypeople, the eight precepts, the ten [novice] precepts, the ten major and forty-eight minor Bodhisattva Precepts, the 250 Bhikshu Precepts, and the 248 Bhikshuni Precepts. Holding precepts is one of the dharma doors. 

Why did the Buddha not simply praise wisdom, but also praise the holding of precepts?

And why did the Buddha sometimes praise patience under insult? Patience includes patience with arising, patience with dharmas, and patience with the non-arising of dharmas.

If wisdom is foremost, then why did the Buddha sometimes praise vigor? Vigor includes both physical vigor and mental vigor. Physical vigor refers to diligently practicing precepts, samadhi, and wisdom, whereas mental vigor means putting greed, anger, and delusion to rest. And why did the Buddha sometimes praise dhyana-samadhi? Once one is physically and mentally vigorous, one may cultivate dhyana-samadhi.

And the Buddha would sometimes praise wisdom. Since wisdom is foremost, why did the Buddha not just praise wisdom alone, but would sometimes praise other dharma doors instead?

Manjushri, this great Bodhisattva among all the Bodhisattvas, asks why it is that the Buddha would sometimes praise kindness, compassion, joy, and giving—the Four Unlimited Aspects of Mind. It is said that, “Kindness grants happiness, compassion alleviates suffering, joy dispels sorrow, and renunciation brings happiness.”

The Buddhas praise the Six Perfections and the Four Unlimited Aspects of Mind, all these many dharma doors, and yet, from the beginning to the end, why is there never anyone who, by means of only one single dharma, namely, wisdom, gains transcendence from the Three Realms—the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm—ends birth and death, and realizes anuttara-samyaksambodhi, the position of unsurpassed, proper, and equal, right enlightenment? No sentient being uses just that one dharma to attain the perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood.


Then Wisdom Leader Bodhisattva answered in verse. 

Disciple of the Buddha, how rare you are!
You know what is on sentient beings’ minds.
As to the principle of which the Humane One asks,
Listen well as I now explain. 

In ages past and times to come,
As well as in the present, no guiding master
Speaks only a single dharma
To help beings attain the Way. 

The Buddha knows sentient beings’ minds
Are uniquely different in nature.
Based on what they need to be saved,
He speaks Dharma for them accordingly. 

To those who are stingy, he praises giving.
To those who transgress rules, he praises morality.
To those with much anger, he praises tolerance.
To those who like to be lazy, he praises vigor. 

To the scattered, he praises dhyana concentration.
To the foolish, he praises wisdom.
To the inhumane, he praises sympathetic kindness.
To the angry and malicious, he praises great compassion.

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