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Bodhisattvas Asks for Clarification

Chapter Ten




“Why does he accord with their practices; why does he accord with their understandings; why does he accord with their languages; why does he accord with their fondnesses; why does he accord with their expediencies; why does he accord with their thoughts; and why does he accord with their considerations, appearing among them in bodies like theirs, in order to teach and transform, tame and subdue them?” 

Then Wealthy Leader Bodhisattva answered in verse.


Why does he accord with their practices? The Buddha complies with sentient beings, and so he accords with their basic dispositions. The Buddha introduces through his teaching whatever entrance into practice a person should use in cultivation. If a sentient being should be crossed over by the method of giving, the Buddha will speak for him about giving. If a sentient being needs to be crossed over by the method of holding precepts, the Buddha will speak to him about holding precepts, thus causing him to cultivate. If a sentient being should be crossed over by the method of patience, the Buddha will speak about patience for him, causing him to cultivate it.

If a sentient being should cultivate vigor, the Buddha will, for that kind of sentient being, speak about the method of vigor to cause that kind of sentient being to cultivate. For those people who need to cultivate the method of dhyana-samadhi, he uses chan cultivation to teach them. The Buddha for their sakes expediently explains dhyana-samadhi, causing that kind of sentient being to cultivate the method of dhyana-samadhi. For those beings who need to be crossed over by means of prajna wisdom, the Buddha for that kind of being will explain about how to attain prajna, causing him to deeply enter into prajna, so that he attains true, proper wisdom and cultivates the Dharma using prajna. Those are the methods of the Six Paramitas.

Then there are the Four Noble Truths. For those sentient beings who should be crossed over by means of the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha will explain the Four Noble Truths, causing that kind of sentient being to understand suffering, put an end to accumulating, delight in quiescence, and cultivate the Way. The Buddha teaches them how to cultivate by means of the Four Noble Truths.

For all those sentient beings who should be crossed over by means of the Twelve Links of Conditioned Causation, the Buddha speaks the dharma of the Twelve Links of Conditioned Causation, bringing that kind of sentient being to cultivate by means of that teaching, and thereby attain the fruition of the Way. Thus, the Buddha, observing their potentials, speaks the appropriate dharma. As the text says, he “accords with their practices”.

Why does he accord with their understandings?

The Buddha, with a single sound, proclaims the Dharma,
And each sentient being understands, according to his kind.

Sentient beings are not all at the same level of wisdom. Their comprehensions of principle range from shallow to deep. For all beings throughout the six paths, the Buddha goes to where they are and speaks the Dharma, causing them to reach the level of understanding that will liberate them.Why does he accord with their languages? There are many different categories of sentient beings, and the disposition of each individual is also different. Not taking into account all the many different aerobic and aquatic creatures and mammals—whether born from wombs, from eggs, by moisture, or by transformation—but only considering the species of human beings, there are many, many different languages among them, none of which is the same. Each country has its own national spoken and written language; each one is completely different from the others. The Buddha’s according with their languages means that he speaks the Dharma for a person in whatever tongue he is able to comprehend. In teaching and transforming people, he will speak in their own native languages. That is how he accords with their languages.

Why does he accord with their fondnesses? Sentient beings all wish for certain things, things that they themselves want to have, things that delight them. The Buddha speaks the Dharma in various ways, according to the things that make them happy, thus causing them to comprehend all the different dharmas. Because he gives them joy, and because they come to understand, they decide to cultivate. All those things which they are fond of, which they long for, and which they seek, the Buddha gives them:

Wishing to cause them to enter the Buddha’s wisdom,
He first attracts them with what they like.

The Buddha wishes to cause sentient beings to obtain the wisdom of a Buddha. Thus at first he uses all those things they want, the things they crave, what they like, in order to draw them in, so that he can teach and transform them.

Why does he accord with their expediencies? The Dharma must be spoken for sentient beings according to their preferences. You should know that the reason one must understand many different expedient methods is just because if one attempted to teach and transform sentient beings by speaking the Dharma without knowing how to intelligently use expedients, those sentient beings would not be receptive to one’s teaching and transforming.

Why does he accord with their thoughts? Every sentient being has his own way of thinking, and the Buddha corresponds with sentient beings’ thoughts in teaching and transforming them.

Why does he accord with their considerations? The Buddha accords with reflections of sentient beings. As sentient beings reflect, the Buddha considers their observations, thinking, “What method should I use to teach and transform them?”

And so all the dharmas mentioned up to now can be explained from two perspectives: one is from the aspect of the Buddha and his regard for sentient beings in determining what method he needs to use to teach and transform them. The other is from the aspect of those sentient beings and their relationships to the Buddhadharma. 

What are the causes and conditions that will enable them to receive the teaching?

Previously the text said, “Sentient beings are nonentities.” Sentient beings are basically empty. Then why bother to employ so many different methods to teach and transform them? In order for there to be teaching and transforming, there must be some entity to teach and transform, right? On the other hand, if one sees sentient beings as existent, then one is not seeing them as empty; one still has an attachment.

The next line of text is: Appearing among them in bodies like theirs, right there among the different kinds of sentient beings. For their sakes he manifests bodies like theirs; he appears as one of them, in order to speak the Dharma, to teach and transform them, tame and subdue them.

What is the meaning in all this? Ultimately, does the Buddha see sentient beings as empty or not? This was Manjushri Bodhisattva’s question. Then Wealthy Leader Bodhisattva answered in verse. He uses verses to respond to all the questions about principle posed by Manjushri Bodhisattva.

The entire time that sentient beings spend as sentient beings is due to their attachments to dharmas that they perceive exist; none of them can understand how all those dharmas are impermanent and without any self. Thus we speak of suffering, emptiness, impermanence, and no self, but no one is able to fully comprehend the meaning. Therefore, people take the suffering of defilement as bliss. Although fame and profit are petty matters, almost everyone is nevertheless confused by them and seeks them; although birth and death are important affairs, hardly anyone prepares for them in advance. That being the case, how can they possibly understand this problem of birth and death. There is a saying:

Though fame and profit are petty matters, almost everyone is fond of them.
Though birth and death are serious affairs, hardly anyone prepares for them.

Thus, sentient beings are born and die, die and are reborn over and over again within the revolving wheel of the six destinies. Birth after birth, and death after death—birth and death are never done with. That is the meaning of “sentient beings” (literally translated from the Chinese zhong sheng 眾生: “a multitude of lives”). Sentient beings are born as a result of the convergence of a multitude of conditions. Furthermore, each one is the culmination of myriad previous lives. It is because any single sentient being goes through so many births that they are thus named. And it is just because sentient beings go through a multitude of births that they must undergo a multitude of deaths.

However many births one has, one will have that many deaths, and so sentient beings may also be called “multitude of deaths”. This does not mean sentient beings dying en masse, thus creating a multitude of deaths. It refers to one individual sentient being’s having been born and reborn, having died again and again. It is not known how many deaths one has undergone within the revolving wheel of birth and death. Why is it that you have not yet been able to keep yourself from revolving on the wheel of birth and death? It is only because you have not yet put an end to emotional love and desire. You have not yet rid yourself of them, and so the wheel of birth and death continues to turn. Revolving in the wheel of birth and death is exactly like being lost in a dream. There is a saying:

A person’s life is like a dream;
Having dreamed one dream, he dies.
A person’s life is just like being in a dream.
In the dream, he is wealthy and honored,          
But waking finds himself in the same poor village.

In his dreams, he may be a wealthy politician, or a president. He may be a top scholar, or even an emperor. But that only lasts for the duration of the dream. When he wakes up, he finds himself in the same poor village. When the dream is over, he is still a pauper, with nothing. In his dream, the seven gems appeared before him; he had everything. But now, having awaken he is still just an uneducated, lonely, solitary person. But we do not realize that what we perceive as our waking state is still just a dream. If we do not wake up from this dream, we will have dreamed another dream in vain. Our lives will have been useless.

This reminds me of another story. One time there was an old man who died at the age of seventy. After death, the man tried to appeal his case before the Jade Emperor (God); he wanted to sue King Yama (the Lord of the Underworld) for oppressing him. Let us now review this man’s case: This old man had lived a very unprincipled life. He had been a lawyer by profession and was able to argue a case no matter whether his client was guilty or innocent. What was unprincipled to begin with, he was able to argue principle into it. He earned a lot of money in court by engaging himself in lawsuits, so that in a single lifetime he had accumulated much wealth.

Nevertheless, when the old lawyer reached the age of seventy, the Ghost of Impermanence came and abducted him. When that happened, the old man said, “Old Brother, how about giving me a little more time?”

The Ghost of Impermanence replied, “I do not have the authority to do that. You, go with me now! You can talk about it with King Yama when you get to his place.

The lawyer said, “Fine. You refuse to negotiate? Then I will go along with you and talk with King Yama; he is the one to see about this. It is too difficult to reason with a ‘small ghost’. It is really not easy to make friends with this underling.” And so he went along with the “small ghost” to King Yama’s place.

When King Yama saw the old man, he said, “Oh, you have finally come.”

The lawyer said, “Yes, I have come; now what do you want with me? Is it because you are being sued and want to hire me as your defendant? Do you need me to be your lawyer?”

King Yama said, “No, it is not that. You have to die now, and that is why I invited you here as my guest; I have been expecting you.”

At that point, the lawyer lost his temper. He shouted, “Who do you think you are? If you wanted me to come, you should have written me first. I did not get notice from you, and now you suddenly have me abducted to here. This is highly illegal. Now you are telling me I have to die?”

King Yama said, “What is illegal about it?”

The lawyer said, “What is illegal about it? You are telling me to die! You should have given me a summons first; you should have issued a citation, sent me a letter or telegram, or given me a phone call. Since you did not give me any advanced notice, I will definitely appeal my case to the Jade Emperor.”

King Yama said, “You do not have the status take me to court. Now that you must die, you are claiming that I have not been friendly enough toward you, that I did not notify you in advance. But think about it. I sent you letters on a good many occasions; you simply did not pay attention to them.

The lawyer said, “How many letters do you claim to have sent me? I never received a single one.”

King Yama said, “Remember? When you were fifty years old, there was a woman in your neighborhood who had a baby. The baby died at birth. Do you remember that incident or not?”

The lawyer said, “Yes, I remember.”

King Yama said, “That was the first letter I sent you, to alert you. How should that have alerted you? You should have thought, ‘Oh, a newborn baby has just died; I do not have long myself.’ That was the first letter I sent you.”

The lawyer thought, “Oh? Indeed, so that is what that was all about.”

“And what was the second letter? When you were sixty, you were in an automobile accident; the driver of the car you were in died. That was the second letter I sent you. Do you see? You should have thought about it: if your driver—a person so much younger than yourself—could die so suddenly, then what about you?

“After that I waited until you were sixty-five before sending you another letter. At that time, an acquaintance of yours who was the same age as you got sick and died.

“Those are the three letters you received; but you seem not to have realized what they were all about.” The lawyer said, “Oh, now I see what it all meant!”

“Right,” said King Yama, “those were the three letters. But you did not wake up, and now you are saying that I have not been reasonable toward you. Although you know the law, you do not really understand its meaning. So now you have to die.”

And at that, the lawyer could not come up with a rebuttal. He could only say, “Oh no, so this is it! I really have to die!! Ohhh, this is really awful!” And so off he went to his death, and he could not take any of the wealth he had accumulated with him.

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