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A Commentary by the Venerable Master
Hsuan Hua

Universal Worthy's Conduct and Vows

Chapter Forty

The Chapter on Entering the Inconceivable State of Liberation of the Conduct and Vows of Universal Worthy


Translated on imperial command by the T’ang Dynasty Tripitaka Dharma Master Prajna of Kubha.  


In listening to the explanation of a Sutra, one should become familiar with the Sutra: in this Sutra of the Great Vehicle or the Small Vehicle? I will use a matter of public record to point out the differences between the two. In India there were two brothers who were Bodhisattvas, Asanga and Vasubandhu. Vasubandhu Bodhisattva, because of some unfortunate causes and conditions, had followed the Small Vehicle teachings while his older brother, Asanga Bodhisattva, studied the Great Vehicle. Although Vasubandhu was especially intelligent, Asanga nevertheless wished to convert him to understanding and believing the Dharma of the Great Vehicle, but he did not have the power to cause his brother to believe. Vasubandhu was intent on his praise of the Small Vehicle and said that the Great Vehicle Dharma was incorrect.

Filled with dismay at his brother’s refusal to even consider the Great Vehicle Sutras, Asanga Bodhisattva then devised an expedient method. He feigned a severe illness and asked his brother to come to look at him and see him for the last time. He wrote: “I am very old and will soon die. If you don’t come to see me now, we will never see one another again.” His brother came at once to see him.

Asanga said, “I will certainly die. Would you read the Great Vehicle Sutras to me? Then I can die with my eyes closed (that is, to die having taken care of all his affairs in the world).”

Although his younger brother did not feel that his brother’s illness was very serious, nevertheless, he decided to humor him and began reading a Great Vehicle Sutra to him. Which Sutra did he read? He read this Flower Adornment Sutra, and the more he read the more inconceivable it became. Then he knew that the Flower Adornment experience was wonderful and inexplicable, just like the sun in space illumining all things, or like great Indra’s Net wherein the infinity of jewels emit light and each jewel reflects the light from all the other jewels. Then he realized his previous mistakes, and engulfed with uncontrollable remorse, said, “Quickly give me a sword.”

His older brother asked, “Why do you want a sword?”

“Because I want to cut out my tongue,” he said.

“Why do you want to cut out your tongue?” Asanga asked.

“Because in the past,” he said, “I used it to praise the Dharma of the Small Vehicle and slander the Sutras of the Great Vehicle. This is an offense. So now that I realize this, I should cut out my tongue.”

When his older brother heard this he said, “That is not necessary.”

“Why is that?” asked Vasubandhu. “My offenses are too great. Now I wish to cut out my tongue.”

His brother said, “If you were standing on the ground and you fell down, would you not stand up again? You would not continue to lie on the ground, would you? You would put your hands on the ground and push yourself up. Previously you slandered the Great Vehicle and praised the Small Vehicle with your tongue. Now you can use your tongue to praise the Great Vehicle.”

Vasubandhu thought that this was reasonable and refrained from cutting out his tongue, and from that day on, he put his strength into cultivating in accord with what is right, studying the Sutras of the Great Vehicle, including the Flower Adornment Sutra. Later he wrote the Shastra on the Ten Grounds and upon completing his work, the earth quaked and his mouth emitted light.

When this happened, the King came to visit him and asked, “Have you been certified to the fruition of Arhatship?”

Vasubandhu Bodhisattva said, “No.”

The King said, “If you have not been certified to the fruition of Arhatship, then how is it that the earth has quaked and light comes forth from your mouth?”

Vasubandhu Bodhisattva said, “When I was young I studied the Small Vehicle and slandered the Great Vehicle. Now I have changed and study the Flower Adornment Sutra. I have written the Shastra on the Ten Grounds and after I finished it, the earth quaked and my mouth emitted light. It is not that I have been certified.” Then the king decided that the Flower Adornment Sutra was very subtle and wonderful, and he began to study it.

Here is another matter of public record. The translator of the Eighty roll edition of the Flower Adornment Sutra was named Shikshananda, whose name, very appropriately, means “delight in study.” After he translated the Flower Adornment Sutra into Chinese, he delivered lectures on it, and when he came to the sentence, “seas of Buddha lands as numerous as dust motes in world systems,” the ground quaked in the lecture hall in which he was speaking.

His work on this Sutra took place during the T’ang Dynasty, during the time of Empress Wu Tse-T’ien, also known as T’ien Hou (623-705). One night she dreamed that the heavens sent down sweet dew and the next day following her dream it rained, and it rained sweet dew. That was another sign that the translation of the Flower Adornment Sutra was very important.

After he completed his translation of the Flower Adornment Sutra, Shikshananda lectured it, and when he was lecturing, the great earth quaked. At that time the Empress Wu Tse-T’ien wrote a letter to praise Shikshananda’s work. Therefore, the inconceivable states of the Flower Adornment Sutra are extremely many and it is difficult to explain them in a few words.

Translated on imperial command. Imperial command means the Emperor ordered the translation of this Sutra from the Indian language into Chinese, during the T’ang Dynasty.

Tripitaka. There are three pitakas or “stores” in the Buddhist canon: the Sutra store, the Vinaya store, and the Shastra store. In the Sutras the Buddha taught the path of cultivation. The Vinaya contains all the moral precepts, while the Shastras include all the exegeses This is the meaning of Tripitaka or “three stores.”

Dharma Master. Some explain Dharma Master as one who takes the Dharma as his master; that is, one’s master is the Buddhadharma. Some explain it as one who gives the Dharma to others. These are the meanings of Dharma Master.

Who was this Tripitaka Dharma Master? He was called Prajna. Prajna is a Sanskrit word which is translated as “wisdom.” Why is it transliterated instead of translated? Because it is one of the Five Untranslated Terms. It was not translated because it has many meanings which cannot be translated in one word. The other four kinds of untranslated terms are esoteric terms, terms which refer to something not existing in the translator’s country, terms that traditionally have not be translated, and terms of respect.

Kubha, known today as Kashmir, was the name of a country during the T’ang Dynasty where Master Prajna was born.


The Chapter on Entering the Inconceivable State of Liberation on the Conduct and Vows of Universal Worthy.  


Entering means “to reach to” the inconceivable state of liberation which cannot be thought of. Basically, liberation has no state; if there was a state it could not be liberation. Why does it say, “state of liberation?” The word “state” is used to express emptiness, because basically, when one is liberated, there is nothing at all.

Conduct and vows. “Conduct” is the great practice which the Bodhisattva Universal Worthy cultivates, and “vows” are the vows that he makes. His cultivation and vows surpass all others’ and so he is called Universal Worthy Bodhisattva of Great Conduct and Vows.

Universal Worthy. What is “Universal?” It means “his Way pervades everywhere.” What does “Worthy” mean? It means “his virtue is a sage’s virtue.” His conduct is identical to the conduct of foremost sages.

There are four great Bodhisattvas. Manjushri Bodhisattva is foremost in wisdom; the Bodhisattva Who Observes the Sounds of the World (Avalokiteshvara) is foremost in great compassion; Earth Store (Kshitigarbha) is foremost in the strength of vows; Universal Worthy (Samantabhadra) is foremost in practice.

In the sea of the Flower Store World, in the Flower Adornment Sutra, Universal Worthy Bodhisattva acts as the Dharma host. Dharma is spoken on request, so to hear the Dharma, a disciple must ask the Buddha to speak. Shariputra was the one who requested the Dharma in the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra, and Ananda requested the Dharma of the Shurangama Sutra. It was Universal Worthy Bodhisattva who, on behalf of the Assembly, requested the Dharma of the Flower Adornment Sutra. This concludes the explanation of the title of this chapter. 


At that time, Universal Worthy Bodhisattva Mahasattva, having praised the Thus Come One’s merit and virtue,  


At that time refers to the time following the explanation of the previous chapter. Universal Worthy is the Bodhisattva whose Way pervades everywhere, and who possesses virtue of the sages.

What is Bodhisattva? Those who have studied Sutras already understand this term, but there are those for whom this material is new and who do not understand the word Bodhisattva. Bodhisattva is a Sanskrit word. Bodhi means “enlightenment” and sattva means “sentience.” That is, a Bodhisattva is a person who enlightens sentient beings. What does “sentient beings” mean? Sentient beings include living creatures who have feeling and perception.

Today someone asked me if flowers are not sentient, ow can they make sounds? This is a good question, so now I will explain it clearly. Trees and plants have no feeling. Although they are without feeling they do have a nature, the nature of life. What is the nature of life? It is the life-energy (jen) discussed in Confucianism. This life-energy is a nature, and this nature can be said to be the Way. It can also be called the mother of the ten thousand things. Do humans have life-energy? Of course they do. If they were without it, then they would not be called humans. If they were not called humans, then what would they be called? You can call them anything you wish. For a human to have life-energy means to be human, or to speak it more correctly, “to be of the Way.” The phrase “life-energy” was coined by Confucius, and all plants and trees possess it. How can you say that plants and trees have life-energy? In the spring their limbs, branches, and leaves grow, flowers blossom and fruits come forth. This is because they have the nature of life. Not only do they have the nature of life, all plants, flowers, and trees have a minute amount of knowledge. So someone asked me, “When you cut a flower it emits a sound which we cannot hear, but if you use scientific means, then it can be heard.” This is really common.

Why is it that plants and trees can make sounds? It is because they have a nature. This nature is not full, but only exists in a minute amount. For example, if a person were said to have one hundred pounds of nature, the flowers, plants, and trees by comparison, would not have even an ounce, but would have about as much as a hair. Now this is a comparison, so do not take it literally. Basically, plants, flowers, and trees do experience some kind of sensation. I have said this before.

In China, a camphor and gingko tree received the precepts. You ask, “How is it that they could take the precepts? Since they are not sentient, how is it that they can have the nature of humans and receive the precepts? This is too contradictory.”

This is not the least bit contradictory, because if you understood it, you wold see it is very ordinary. Because the trees were old and they had experienced much, and because they had lived among people in the world, gradually they acquired the nature of humans. They had life-energy. After they had life-energy, then they acquired a little feeling. Because of this feeling, they wished to take the precepts. For a long time they did not realize how many improper things they had done, but after a while, they recognized their mistakes, took the precepts, and even thought about leaving the home-life. We should be aware of this point. Not only does he cross over sentient beings, but he also crosses over those without feelings. So it is said, “both those with and without feelings can accomplish the Way.” All of them can accomplish the Buddha’s Way. It is for this reason that he is called Universal Worthy; not only does he want to save people, but he also wants to cross over all flowers, plants, and trees. How can we not admire the vastness of his practices? At their best, most people are only aware of crossing over other people, crossing over other sentient beings, but Universal Worthy Bodhisattva even crosses over those without life, and so he is called Universal Worthy Bodhisattva.

The word Bodhisattva can also be translated as, “a living being with a great mind for the Way.” Although still among living beings, his mind of the Way is great, because he is open to all, with no thoughts of jealousy, selfishness, self-benefit, or obstruction. A Bodhisattva is also called “one who is open.”

Following the word Bodhisattva, the text says Mahasattva. A Mahasattva is a great Bodhisattva. Universal Worthy Bodhisattva is a great Bodhisattva among Bodhisattvas. If he is great, then who is a small Bodhisattva? When you first bring forth the mind to cultivate the Bodhisattva path, you are a small Bodhisattva. After you have brought forth the mind of a Bodhisattva for a long, long time, then you become a great Bodhisattva. Upon first receiving the Bodhisattva precepts, you become a small Bodhisattva; after you have held and practiced according to these precepts for a long time, then you are considered a great Bodhisattva. When you have done this for hundreds of years, then you can be considered an old Bodhisattva.

Universal Worthy Bodhisattva praised and paid homage to the Thus Come One’s merit and virtue. What does “praise” mean? It means “to laud.” To laud whom? It means to laud the Buddha, the World Honored One. “Pay homage” means “to worship,” to pay homage to the supremacy of the Thus Come One’s merit and virtue.

What is “Thus Come One?” It is one of the ten names of the Buddha. A long time ago, all Buddhas were known by many names, but it was difficult for people to remember them all, so the number was reduced to 10,000 names. It became difficult for people to remember all 10,000 names, and so they were further reduced to 1,000 names for each Buddha. But even this was still too many to remember, so the number of names was reduced to one hundred. Because the memory of living beings today is very poor, now we learn only ten names for the Buddha, of which Thus Come One is one.

“Thus” ‘means “unmoving,” or “still.” “Come” means “movement.” This means that in stillness there is movement, and in movement there is stillness. “Thus Come One” includes the “suchness of the Way,” which is stillness, and “comes to accomplish the Right Enlightenment,” which is movement. Although within this name there is movement and stillness, there is no movement or stillness in the Buddha’s original substance. It does not move, and it is not still; movement and stillness are not different; movement is stillness, and stillness is movement. How can I say this? Movement is born from stillness, and stillness manifests out of movement, and therefore stillness and movement are not two. This is the meaning of Thus Come One.

In the previous chapter, Universal Worthy Bodhisattva praised the Thus Come One’s supreme merit and virtue, a merit and virtue which is superior to all other kinds, and to which none other can compare. It is so great that you could never finish describing it. Although no discussion can ever totally describe it, nonetheless Universal Worthy praises the Thus Come One’s especially supreme merit and virtue with his vast and great practice and vows.

What is merit and virtue? Merit is what is established, and virtue is something that one does. I will give you an example. In schools, teachers exhaust their hearts and strength to teach, and besides earning their salary, they do much work which is not expected of them. Diligently doing more than what is expected of you is merit.

Virtue is good one does for others. It means to help others without seeking any recompense. For example, if I were to give someone $50,000 without any conditions, without any thought or hope of getting anything in return, this would be a virtuous act. If you wish for something in return, your actions are without virtue. You should be kind to others and not seek anything in return, doing good for everyone, and not hoping for a reward or self-benefit. This is what is mean by virtue.

Although there is great virtue and small virtue, it should not be the case that you only do greatly virtuous deeds and neglect small acts of goodness Small virtue comes about when you benefit people just a little, but if you do this often, then your virtuous conduct will become great. If you do not do small virtuous acts, you will never accumulate virtue. So it is said, “The Way must be practiced;” you must cultivate the Way in order for it to be the Way. Don’t talk from morning till night about cultivating the Way, while never really doing it. This amounts to nothing but “intellectual talk-Zen.” It is useless.

Merit is also something that someone does. If you do not do it, you will not have it. So it is said,

The Way must be practiced; if you do not practice it, what use is the Way?

Virtuous deeds are to be done; if you do not do them, how is there any virtue?

Therefore, the merit and virtue of the Thus Come One can never be adequately praised.


Told all the Bodhisattvas and Good Wealth.  


Universal Worthy Bodhisattva spoke to all the immeasurable and boundless numbers of Bodhisattvas in the Flower Adornment Dharma assembly. Since “all” might mean many or few, in this case does it represent many or few Bodhisattvas? Here it means many, the infinite number of Bodhisattva in the Flower Adornment Dharma Assembly. In addition to Bodhisattvas, Universal Worthy spoke to the Youth Good Wealth. Although he is a child, the Youth Good Wealth, whose Sanskrit name is Sudhana, is most inconceivable.

The Youth Sudhana had fifty-three teachers, a matter which has caused complications in Chinese Buddhism. Disciples of the Buddha in China, wishing to practice along with the Youth Sudhana, would say, “The Youth Sudhana had fifty-three teachers, but I have only ten or twenty. That is not too many.”

This is one of the most deluded and improper practices of Chinese Buddhists, one which I have always opposed vehemently. I am certainly not afraid that my disciples will take other Dharma Masters as their teachers; but nevertheless, I oppose this kind of custom because it is very detrimental.

Someone may ask, “Why do you feel that Chinese Buddhists who have ten or twenty teachers are very bad, while you consider the conduct of the Youth Good Wealth, who had fifty-three teachers, acceptable?”

Everything must be based on true principle. The Youth Good Wealth’s first teacher told him to go on to his second teacher, and his second teacher told him to go on to his third teacher. That is the only reason he went to another teacher: he was told to do so. It is not the case that he heard about a particular person who was adept in cultivation, and so he stole away from his first teacher without advising him of his intentions to study with this new person. This is called “bowing to a new teacher, while turning your back on your old Master.” If you want to treat your teacher well, why do you bow to a new teacher?

For example, everyone has a father. One’s second father could be Shakyamuni Buddha, but there is no need to look for a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth father. Your teacher is your mother and father of your transcendental Dharma Body. What is the use of having so many teachers?

After the Youth Sudhana had studied all of the virtue, knowledge, and wonderful functions of the spiritual penetrations of his first teacher, this teacher told him to go south and take a particular person for his teacher. And so on he went to his next teacher. After he had learned all the skill of a teacher, then that teacher would tell Sudhana “Go south and take as your master a particular worthy sage, Bodhisattva, or Bhikshu, because his conduct in the Way is superior to mine.” So in each case, his previous teacher sent him off to a new teacher; he did not steal off to bow to another teacher. Each teacher instructed him to go on to the next, until he came to the fifty-third one. Because he had studied the spiritual penetrations of fifty-three teachers, he had the wonderful function of spiritual powers which are extremely great. You should not look upon him as being just a common child, because he is very capable.

Nevertheless, because he had so many teachers, Chinese Buddhists now go everywhere bowing to different teachers. This has come to be known as “recklessly bowing to teachers.” You bow to one teacher, and then you bow to another teacher, sneaking from one to another to bow to different teachers. Someone like this is quite detrimental to Buddhism. When I was in China and Hong Kong, if people had already taken refuge with the Triple Jewel, I would not accept them as a disciple. Why? Because I considered them to be the weak links in Buddhism: the worst kind of Buddhists. They were not told by their former teacher to take me as their master; they snuck off to study with me. This is called “turning your back on your good teacher.”

Taking refuge can only be done once. You cannot take refuge again and again. You can take the precepts more than once: the Three Precepts, the Four Precepts, the Five Precepts, the Eight Precepts, or the Ten Major and Forty-Eight Minor Bodhisattva Precepts. Precepts can all be taken more than once. But you cannot take one teacher in the East, one in the South, one in the West, and one in the North. When you finally die, whose disciple will you be? There will be no place to go.

Basically, taking refuge many times is equivalent to not having taken refuge at all. You have had so many teachers, you end up having none. In Buddhism we want to be true, but in China there are still elder Buddhists who run around taking refuge many times, perhaps even a few hundred times in one life. But if you ask them what it means to take refuge, their eyes become blank, and they do no know what to say. They do not know what it means. They have taken refuge hundreds of times, and they do not know what it means to take refuge. Is this not pitiful? They say, “All those who have left the home-life are my teachers.” They have taken refuge with everyone who has left the home-life, and yet I believe that they do not even have one teacher. Why? Because they do not truly believe. They must believe to be rescued. If they do not believe, then they cannot be rescued.

In China, the bhikshus quarreled over disciples. For example, the disciples of one Dharma Master would secretly run off to another Dharma master, unaware they were doing wrong. This indicates that a Dharma Master has no virtue, because if he had virtue, why would his disciples leave for another teacher? Because of this, the two Dharma Masters involved would get into an argument. “You’ve snatched my disciples!”

They would fight over the Dharma like this, and as soon as they began arguing, their bad aspects would become apparent. The fire and ignorance would flare up. For example, in china, Dharma Master T’ai Hsu and Dharma Master Yuan Ying would fight over disciples just like the clashing of water and fire. They were often unkind to one another, all because their disciples ran way to take refuge; they were afraid of losing their disciples to one another. They went to extremes to prevent this.

Even though the Youth Good Wealth has a very important position in the Flower Adornment Sutra, he has, nevertheless caused complications within Buddhism. Why do Dharma Masters accept disciples of other masters as their own disciples when they know that it is incorrect and not in accord with the Dharma? Now I will reveal their innermost intentions. It is because they wish to take advantage of the conditions. If they have more disciples, then they can get more red envelopes which they appreciate more than anything, because in China, these red envelopes always contain donations of money. So if they do not accept disciples, they will be losing money.

As soon as they accept a disciple, the disciple thinks, “This is my teacher, and I should do my best to make offerings to him.” So these Dharma Masters get money, which causes their hearts to move. Even though they clearly know they are incorrect, they still do this. Now is this not a complication?

Why did this happen? First, it is because of the Youth, and second it is because of Good “Wealth.” Since he was wealthy, he moved everyone. Everyone is fond of wealth. The Youth was just a child, and this child was very wealthy. Almost all people feel that money is very flashy and nice to have, and so some cultivators are moved to such extremes that they do things they know are incorrect. This is one of the worst aspects of Buddhism, one which I hope will not arise in America. Do not take refuge with one teacher and then take refuge with another. If you find a good teacher, after you take refuge with him, do not rebel against him. Rebel means to “renounce your religion, and turn your back on your teacher.”

The Youth Good Wealth had fifty-three teachers, and caused many improper, confusing customs to evolve in China. Before American Buddhism spreads everywhere, we should prevent this custom from taking root. For example, in Christianity, people are baptized only once. No one says, “You weren’t baptized clean the first time, and so you should be baptized again,” telling you that you have not been baptized and that you need to do it again and again.

Buddhism should also be the same. One does not need to take refuge again and again, each time making excuses, “Oh, the first time I took refuge, the Buddha probably did not know, so I’ll do it a second time.” If the Buddha did not know the first time, then he would not know about your taking refuge the second time either. How will he know about the third time up to the thousandth time? Why? The Buddha does not sleep all the time, and he sees when you take refuge. The Buddha is the Greatly Enlightened One. All you have to do is sincerely think that you want to take refuge in Buddhism, and he knows. So it is said, “The link between the request and the response is inconceivable.”

If you say the Buddha does not know about you, you do not really believe in Buddhism, and in actuality you have not taken refuge at all. Even if you have taken refuge hundreds of millions of times, it is of no use. When you take refuge with a Master, you should certainly respect him and honor the Way. You should be very respectful towards your teacher. I am not telling my disciples to respect me, because they already do; rather, I am just explaining this principle for you. I do not need to tell my disciples to be more respectful.

After one takes refuge, one absolutely must remember not to turn one’s back on one’s teacher, or to show disrespect to him. Those who are not respectful to their teachers may fall into a hell. Which hell? The Thousand Blades Hell which is explained in the Earth Store Bodhisattva Sutra. Disciples who are not filial to their teachers fall into this hell.

There are some people who do not follow the teachings of their teachers but who wish to strike out on their own. These people like to follow their own inclinations and do not like to hear their teachers’ instructions. Not only that, but to compensate, they slander and scold their teachers. Do not think that this is a joke. There are all kinds of beings in this world. Some will poison their teachers and use various methods to harm them. To sit in the teacher’s chair is a mistake, and to play with hi bowl is a mistake. These acts are very dangerous, and only if your teacher tells you to use them, is it permissible to do so. If you recklessly do these things, then it is a mistake. This relationship is very important, and you cannot do whatever you wish, because a disciple has no freedom when it comes to his teacher. You should never slander your teacher or talk about him behind his back. These kinds of actions are offenses created with the mouth.

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