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Universal Worthy's Conduct and Vows

Chapter Forty




“Good men, if all the Buddhas of the ten directions spoke continuously of the Thus Come One’s merit and virtue for kalpas as many as fine motes of dust in ineffably ineffable numbers of Buddha lands, those virtues could not fully be described.  


This section of Sutra says that the merit and virtue of the Buddha can never be totally explained. The text says, good men, those of you who have taken refuge with the Triple Jewel, who have received the Five Precepts and who cultivate the Ten Good Acts, I will now tell you about the Thus Come One, the Buddha’s, merit and virtue. If all the Buddhas of the ten directions spoke continuously of the Thus Come One’s merit and virtue for kalpas as many as fine motes of dust in ineffably ineffable numbers of Buddha lands.

“Fine” means extremely small, as small as a dust mote which borders on emptiness. It is something that cannot be seen with the eyes, unlike the particles in a ray of sunlight, which can be seen. If a fine dust particle, which is visible, is divided into seven pieces, one of the pieces is called a dust mote bordering on emptiness, which cannot be seen. This kind of dust particle is called a fine mote of dust.

“If all Buddhas of the ten directions spoke continuously” means, if they spoke without ceasing for as many kalpas as there are fine dust motes, perpetually speaking “of the Thus Come One’s merit and virtue,” those virtues could not fully be described. There is not way to describe the merit and virtue of the Buddha.


Those wishing to perfect the doors of this merit and virtue should cultivate ten vast and great conduct and vows.  


The Buddha has immeasurable and boundless merit and virtue which cannot be fully described. Is it the case that only he possesses such merit and virtue, and no one else has any? No. You will not find prejudiced, despotic doctrines within Buddhism. In Buddhism every living being has the potential to become a Buddha; all living beings who fly, who walk on the ground, who swim in the water, all creatures who move, and all stationary living things-trees, flowers, and grasses-all can become Buddhas.

Those beings born from wombs, born from eggs, moisture-born, and born by transformation, and all the rest of the twelve kinds of beings can all become Buddhas. Within Buddhism, you will not find cases where one can become a Buddha, but another cannot. And Buddhism is not like some other religions in which there is a being who says, “Only I am the true Spirit; all others are false.”

It is only to be feared that you will not work hard to become a Buddha. If anyone becomes a Buddha, that Buddha is the true Buddha. There are no false Buddhas. All Buddhas are true Buddhas, and all beings can become true Buddhas. It is not the case that I alone can become a Buddha, but you cannot. This doctrine is too narrow, and nowhere in Buddhism will you find the teaching that “I am thee true Spirit and all others are false.” What reason is there to have only one Spirit? This would certainly be a solitary spirit. In Buddhism, all beings can become Buddhas; there are many, many Buddhas who were once living beings, and the path they all took to become Buddhas is the same. Not one of them took a different path.

So those wishing to perfect the Buddha’s doors of this merit and virtue should cultivate ten vast and great conduct and vows. If they accomplish cultivation of these ten, they will obtain the merit and virtue of the Buddha.


What are the ten? The first is to worship and respect all Buddhas; the second is to praise the Thus Come Ones; the third is to extensively cultivate making offerings; the fourth is to repent of karmic obstacles and reform; the fifth is to follow along with and rejoice in merit and virtue; the sixth is to request the turning of the Dharma wheel; the seventh is to request that the Buddhas remain in the world; the eighth is to always study with the Buddhas; the ninth is to constantly accord with living beings; the tenth is to universally transfer all merit and virtue.  


What are these ten vast and great doors of practice? This is a question about the methods and names of these ten great vows and practices. Just what are these ten doors, and how are they put into practice?

The first is to worship and respect all Buddhas. “To worship” means “to have the proper propriety;” you could say that it means “to show the proper etiquette” towards the Buddha. Worship brings about mutual respect. If you are polite to others, then others will be polite to you. Why do we want to be polite? Because we want to be respectful to whomever we meet. Therefore, we practice worship.

Worship is one of the Five Constant Virtues: benevolence, righteousness, propriety (also translated as worship, rites, and ritual), wisdom, and faith. People differ from animals because of propriety. If we are lacking in propriety, we are no different from animals. When we are respectful to someone, we must have proper comportment, and when respecting the Buddha, we should be even more attentive to proper comportment: we should have proper comportment and be respectful.

In the past, the Chinese people did not like to bow to the Buddha, somewhat like Americans of today. When I came to the United States, people told me that it really goes against the nature of Americans to bow to the Buddha. I replied, “Good. If they dislike bowing, then I will definitely want them to bow. If they don’t, I won’t teach them.”

If you want to study Buddhism with me you must bow. If you do not, then I will not teach you. Why? Because you do not have the proper attitude and comportment towards the Buddha. Without that, how could I teach you? The Chinese were this way in the past, too. Believing in the Buddha is one thing, but not bowing to the Buddha is comparable to being a monkey. Monkeys do not understand about bowing to the Buddha, and if you tell them to bow, they will not do it. Horses and cattle do not know about bowing to the Buddha either. They may be respectful to the Buddha in their minds, but they do not know how to bow.

Chinese people were the same way; they believed, but did not worship. They did not bow to the Buddha even though they believed in him. Ratnamati Bodhisattva (ca. 500 A.D.), saw this situation and thought, “What use is it to believe in the Buddha yet not bow to him?” Thereupon, he went to China to establish and teach seven types of worship, the seven ways to bow to the Buddha. He went to China to instruct and transform the people there and to lead them to bow to the Buddha.

Wherever Buddhism goes, the response is generally the same. When it was first taken to China, the Chinese did not like to bow to the Buddha either. Why did they not like to bow? Because in the past they never bowed, and they had a mark of a self which is a kind of arrogance which caused them to consider themselves as being larger than Sumeru. If they were more magnificent than Mount Sumeru, how could they bow to the Buddha?

So in the Buddha Hall, when everyone is bowing, some people stand there like hunks of wood, and some sit there like stones. Everyone acts in a different way, but those who believe in the Buddha must bow to the Buddha. If you do not bow, how can you insist that you believe? So you must bow to the Buddha images.

There are those who think that because Buddha images are carved from wood, there is no use in bowing to them. Do not mistakenly think that a Buddha image is actually a Buddha. The Buddha pervades everywhere. The Buddha’s Dharma body is omnipresent. A Buddha image is only a symbol of the Buddha, and nothing more. For example, each country in the world has its own flag, and the citizens of each country perform something like a pledge of allegiance to their flag. Even though flags are just made out of a piece of cloth, or pieces of cloth sewn together, they represent the country. We perform our pledge of allegiance to the flag as a way of embodying our respect for our country.

Showing respect to an image of the Buddha works in the same way. The symbolic images of the Buddhas are definitely not the Buddhas, and so why do we bow to them? The fact that the Buddha pervades everywhere suggest that we should bow to all the four directions and the eight points on the compass, but that is impractical. What is needed is something to which one can return and rely; a symbol is needed to represent the Buddha. You do not run off to all the different provinces and countries to show your respect to the country. This would not be practical. So a flag is considered sufficient as an object of respect. Bowing to the Buddha works in the same way.

There are seven different ways that people bow to the Buddha. The first is “arrogant bowing,” and describes a person who, although he or she bows to the Buddha, still has a mark of a self. When someone like this bows to the Buddha, it is forced, and is accompanied by thoughts like this: “What am I doing bowing to the Buddha? Why do I have to bow to him?” A person like this becomes annoyed at being forced to put his head down. He sees everyone else bowing and feels that if he does not bow along with them, he will stand out, and so out of embarrassment he bows to the Buddha. Although he bows, his mark of self is still not empty; on the contrary, he is filled with arrogance. This describes the first kind of bowing which is called “arrogant bowing.”

The second kind of bowing is called “seeking for fame.” This category describes someone who hears others praising a cultivator saying, “That person bows often and really cultivates vigorously; he bows to the Buddhas, he bows to Sutras, and he bows repentance ceremonies. He is truly a diligent cultivator. Upon hearing the praise of this cultivator, he also wishes to be recognized as a cultivator, so he begins vigorously bowing to the Buddha, and although he find pleasure in bowing, he does not truly bow to the Buddha; he is bowing for recognition. He is seeking recognition as a cultivator, and the pleasure he finds is in that recognition, and his dreams of fame. This is the category of bowing called “seeking for fame.”

With the first, arrogant bowing, you see others bowing so you bow along, but you think to yourself, “Oh, this is really superstitious. Of what possible use could it be?” The second, seeking for fame, is not performed because you believe or do not believe; you bow because you see someone else bowing and receiving offerings, respect and others’ praise. Since you too wish to receive offerings, respect, and praise, you bow to the Buddha.

The third is called “bowing with a body and mind concurring.” What does this mean? It describes a person who bows when he sees others bowing. Both his body and mind go along with what everyone else is doing in mindless imitation, without the slightest concern as to whether bowing to the Buddha is beneficial or not, or whether it is reasonable or superstitious. You do not seek for recognition; you just follow along with everyone else, your body and mind concurring. This kind of bowing has no real benefits and no real faults.

The fourth kind of bowing is called “wise and pure.” “Wise” refers to the function of wisdom, and “pure” refers to the development of purity. It describes one who uses true wisdom to purify his body and mind. People who are wise use their method to bow to the Buddha, and by so doing, they purify the Three Karmas of body, mouth, and mind.

When someone uses this fourth method to bow to the Buddha, his body karma is correct inasmuch as he does not kill, steal, commit sexual misconduct, and so in this way his body karma is purified. When he uses this method to bow to the Buddha, he entertains no thoughts of greed, hatred, or stupidity, but rather possesses the wisdom born from single-mindedly and respectfully bowing to the Buddha, and so the karma of mind also becomes pure. When someone bows to the Buddha, he also recites the Buddha’s name, and by doing so, or by holding and reciting Sutras and mantras, his mouth karma is also correct and devoid of any harsh speech, false speech, irresponsible speech or duplicity, and is thereby purified. When the Three Karmas of body, mouth, and mind are pure, this is called “wise and pure bowing,” with which one uses true wisdom to bow to the Buddha.

The fifth kind of bowing is called “pervading everywhere throughout the Dharma Realm.” What does this mean? It describes one who, when bowing, contemplates: “Although I have not yet become a Buddha in body, my mind’s nature fills the Dharma Realm. As I bow before this one Buddha, I bow everywhere before all Buddhas. I am not just bowing before one Buddha; my transformation bodies bow before each Buddha, simultaneously making offerings to all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.”

Consider that “Everything is made from the mind alone,” and so one’s mind totally pervades the Dharma Realm. One’s bowing practice totally pervades the Dharma Realm. What is the Dharma Realm? All of the Three-thousand Great-thousand worlds are contained within it. In fact, nothing is outside of the Dharma Realm. With this kind of bowing, you contemplate your respectful bowing as it totally pervades the Dharma Realm. This bowing is called “pervading everywhere throughout the Dharma Realm.”

The sixth is called “sincerely cultivating proper contemplation.” One who cultivates proper contemplation is one who concentrates his mind and contemplates bowing to the Buddha. “Bowing to the Buddha is bowing to the Buddhas of the Dharma Realm; bowing to the Buddhas of the Dharma Realm is just bowing to one Buddha.” This is because all Buddhas of the ten directions and the three periods of time share one Dharma body in common, and all Buddhas countries and Ways are identical.” A concentrated mind must be used to bow to the Buddha, to contemplate the Buddha, and to cultivate, so that you will not have false thoughts.

It is not considered to be proper contemplation if when you are bowing, your mind runs off to the movies, or to the race track, or goes off hunting, or to a dance hall, a bar, or a restaurant. You do not need to purchase a ticket for your mind to travel off in all directions. With no travel arrangements at all, suddenly it is in the heavens, and suddenly it is on the earth. Sometimes your mind will fly off to New York and then for no apparent reason, it comes back to San Francisco. You think, “Oh, I was here bowing to the Buddha, and then I went to New York, only to fly back to San Francisco again. This must be a spiritual power!”

Now in fact, this is not even a ghostly power, let alone a spiritual power. It is nothing more than false thinking, and is called deviant contemplation or improper contemplation. If you cultivate with proper contemplation, then you will not have these false thoughts. You would bow to the Buddha with one mind which is not divided.

“Sincerely cultivating” means that when you bow once, it surpasses bowing one million bows made by someone who bows while false thinking. So, in cultivating, “When you reach the gate, then you enter.” You should understand this dharma door, because if you do not, then when you see others bowing to the Buddha, you will not bow the way they do, but instead will think, “Oh, as soon as I’m finished bowing, I’m going to have a cup of coffee, or perhaps I’ll have a drink.” People like this have no control over their minds, and after they have finished bowing, they run off to have a drink.

The problem is that not only do they themselves go out to drink, but they drag everyone else out with them. This is really pitiful. This is not “cultivating purely with proper contemplation,” but is a form of deviant contemplation, because if you have false thoughts while you are bowing, your worship is devoid of any merit and virtue.

The seventh is called the “true mark of impartial bowing.” It describes a person who bows and yet does not bow; who does not bow while he bows. When I say this, some of you are thinking, “You say we should bow and yet not bow, and not bow and yet bow. Therefore, if I don’t bow to the Buddha, won’t I be bowing to the Buddha?” This is not what I mean. Wit this kind of bowing, although you bow to the Buddha, you are not attached to a mark of bowing to the Buddha. You cannot distort the meaning and say that while you are not bowing to the Buddha, it counts as bowing to the Buddha. One who speaks like this is mentally disturbed.

For example, recently someone told me that he had attained the void. This is an extremely stupid thing to say. What is more, people like this cannot be helped, and there is no way to save them because their heavy attachment-nature makes them too stupid.

The “true mark of impartial bowing” means that “I am bowing to the Buddha, I am impartially bowing to the Triple Jewel; I am reverent to the Buddha; reverent to the Dharma; and reverent to the Sangha. Although I bow in this way, I nevertheless do not discriminate that I am bowing and “not one thought is produced, nor is one though destroyed.” This is the dharma of the “true mark of impartial bowing.” It is a dharma which involves neither production nor destruction: “When not even one thought arises, the entire substance appears.” When you bow to the Buddha to the point that not even one thought is produced, you manifest your body throughout the entire Dharma Realm. Although your body is bowing here, it is the same size as the Dharma Realm. This is just the true mark, which has no mark. You bow until there are no people, no self, no living beings and no life-span. You become one and the same substance with the Dharma Realm. Your body is just the Dharma Realm; the Dharma Realm is your body.

Is this not wonderful? Before your body was just a speck on Mount Sumeru, and Mount Sumeru was the size of a dust mote in the Dharma Realm. But when you reach the point of the “true appearance which has no appearance,” Mount Sumeru is contained within your Dharma body. You now contain Mount Sumeru. Is this not wonderful? You totally contain everything; everything in the universe is contained within your nature, and you understand everything. The true mark of impartial bowing is an inconceivable state. If you can reach this state while bowing to the Buddha, can you then explain all of its wonderful aspects? No, they are ineffable.

This has been a simple explanation of the Seven Kinds of Bowing which describe the proper etiquette or propriety one should observe while bowing to the Triple Jewel. If you wish to discuss these in more detail, there are three hundred forms of propriety, and the three thousand awesome deportments. In China there is a book called the Book of Rites which describes propriety: how one should conduct oneself. It describes the proper etiquette for different situation; for example, it says that everyone should take his proper position when sitting down. Adults should sit in the places for adults, and children should sit in their place. Men have a proper place, women have a proper place, and elder people sit in their place. No one can sit at random. I will give you a more specific example. The Book of Rites says, “Youths should sit in the corners.” Children should not sit in the middle of a room but should sit in the corners.

In the past when I was a child, I talked a lot about propriety. What kind of propriety did I advocate? I liked people to respect me. When I was a child, we had an emperor in China and I wished to be an emperor; so under my system of propriety, all the children in the town, perhaps fifty or a hundred, had to follow my orders. I had them build a mound of dirt, upon which I saw and told all of them to bow to me. This was before I had reached the age of twelve, and strange enough, these children were not opposed to bowing to me, but obediently listened to my orders.

When I was young I wanted people to bow to me, but after my twelfth birthday, I saw a dead child and realized that people die. After that I changed this bad practice, and did not wish people to bow to me anymore; in fact, on the contrary, I wished to bow to others. Whom did I bow to first? My parents. In the morning I bowed to my parents three times, and in the evening I bowed to them again, bowing a total of six times per day. But then I thought, “My parents are the only people in the world. There is heaven and earth, and the emperor, and my teacher. At that time I did not know who my teacher would be, but I knew I would meet him in the future, and so I wished to bow to him beforehand.

Most people would think that all this bowing was really idiotic, but again I thought, “This world has sages so I will bow to them, and it has immortals so I will bow to them too.” Then I discovered that there are Buddhas in the world, so I bowed to them. I bowed to Bodhisattvas, Sound Hearers, Those Enlightened to Conditions, and then I thought, “The world has very many good people living in it,” so I bowed to the good people. And there are also kind people, so I bowed to the kind people, because they do what is proper, and I wanted to represent everyone to thank them for their proper actions. For example, I would wonder why they did kin things like helping the poor, and so I thanked them for the poor people by bowing to them.

By this time, I was bowing quite a lot when I thought, “I bow to the kind people, but since evil people are pitiful, I should bow to the Buddha on their behalf and ask the Buddha to cause them to forsake their offenses and do good instead of evil.” So I bowed to the Buddha for all those in the world who have offenses, repenting to the Buddha on their behalf. Moreover, I repented to the Buddha for all those who were not filial to their parents, and bowed in repentance for all the evil people of the world because I felt I was the worst of them.

When all was said and done, I was bowing more than eight hundred thirty times and I will tell you, my practice was very strange I got up before anyone else, go dressed, an washed my face. I lit a stick of incense and went outside to bow. Regardless of whether or not it was windy, rainy, or snowing, I bowed outside. When it snowed, I placed my hands I the snow and bowed, not caring whether or not it was cold. I would bow more than eight hundred thirty times which would take about an hour and a half. I bowed before everyone work up and again after everyone had gone to bed, practicing like this for many years. Later, when I cultivated filial practices by my mother’s graveside, I decreased the bows to nine, because it used up too much time. This is how I bowed to the Buddha and practiced in my youth.

What does “respect” mean? It means “to act in accord with the rules of propriety governing the circumstances of the situation at hand.” To always act according to the proper etiquette shows respect, whereas to disregard the proper etiquette is disrespectful. For example, if you respect someone, you will act in accordance with the proper rules when you are in their presence. If you do not wish to act respectfully towards a person, then you would be very lax in their presence, doing whatever you want.

Now we wish to worship and respect all Buddhas. “All Buddhas” refers to all the Buddhas of the ten directions and the three periods of time. “Buddha” means “greatly enlightened,” a person who is greatly enlightened. Common people are born in a stupor and die in a dream. Without the understanding that the Three Realms are suffering, they do not wish to transcend them. This is called being unenlightened.

Among common people, there are some who are considered to be enlightened. Called “Those of the Two Vehicles,” they have awakened to the fact that birth and death are impermanent and very dangerous, and so they cultivate and achieve understanding based on the principle of emptiness-a one-sided prejudice for emptiness. By virtue of understanding this principle, they enlighten to the Dharmas of the Twelve Links of Causes and Conditions and the Four Noble Truths. They are called Arhats and Those Enlightened to Conditions and can be considered as enlightened ones, when speaking form the point of view of common people. Their enlightenment, however, is one-sided and incomplete because they only know how to benefit themselves, and cannot benefit others; they are only capable of enlightening themselves, and cannot guide others to the realization of enlightenment.

Bodhisattvas are different from Arhats inasmuch as they are not only able to enlighten themselves, but they can also enlighten others, benefiting both themselves and others. Buddhas are different from Bodhisattvas. Although Bodhisattvas are able to enlighten themselves and others, their enlightenment is imperfect. The enlightenment and practices of the Buddha, however, are perfect, since the Buddha has perfected his enlightenment, the enlightenment of others, and enlightenment and practices. So only a Buddha is called a Greatly Enlightened One, having practiced these three aspects of enlightenment. When person has perfected the 10,000 kinds of merit and virtue, he becomes a Buddha.

Small Vehicle Buddhism only recognizes one Buddha, Shakyamuni, and does not acknowledge other Buddhas in the world systems of the other directions. The Dharma of the Small Vehicle was taught in the Deer Park for the Five Bhikshus, and as a consequence, those of the Small Vehicle only know of Shakyamuni Buddha becoming a Buddha, and know nothing about all the immeasurable Buddhas in the other world systems. Because of this, they say that there are no Buddhas throughout the ten directions and the three periods of time other than Shakyamuni.

Now is it true that there are no other Buddhas, since they say that there are no others? No. If they recognize the other Buddhas throughout the ten directions, then those Buddhas exist, but if they do not recognize those Buddhas, those Buddhas, nonetheless, still exist. The Buddhas of the ten directions are only with Shakyamuni Buddha, and so it is said, “The Buddhas of the ten directions and the three periods of time share one Dharma Body in common.”

Universal Worthy Bodhisattva made these ten far-reaching vows to guide his practice. All of the vows are extremely great, to the point that they are inconceivable, so that there is no way one can know how great they are. It is because of this that Universal Worthy Bodhisattva is called the King of Vows.

The first vow is to worship and respect all Buddhas. To worship and respect all Buddhas does not mean to worship only Shakyamuni Buddha or Amita Buddha.

Worshiping one is worshiping all;
One Buddha is all Buddhas.

Worshiping all Buddhas without becoming attached to all Buddhas, and worshiping one Buddha without becoming attached to one Buddha, is the practice of the “true mark of impartial bowing.” Although you bow to the Buddha in worship, regardless of whether it is one Buddha or all Buddhas, you should not become attached to the mark of worship. For example, you do not want to say, “My merit and virtue is great indeed since I bow to so many Buddhas. No one else can match such practice as mine.” Do not become attached to marks in this way, or any other way, and then you will truly be able to practice the first vow, to worship and respect all Buddhas.

The second is to praise the Thus Come Ones. When we worship and respect all Buddhas, do we do so because they want the respect of others? Regardless of whether we worship the Buddhas or not, they are still Buddhas. If we worship the Buddhas, they do not obtain more benefit, or get larger, and if we do not worship the Buddhas, they do not lose any benefit, or get smaller. When we worship the Buddhas, it vitalizes our heart and spirit, but it does not affect the Buddhas. So when you worship the Buddhas, do not become attached to any mark.

Why should we praise the Thus Come Ones? They do not need our praise. They are not like us; when we are praised we become so happy our eyes and nose wrinkle up with laughter. But if we are not praised, our eyes and ears get angry. If the Buddhas were like this, they would be no different from common people. So it is not necessary to praise or worship them. Moreover, if they were the same as common people, what value would there be in worshiping them. Moreover, if they were the same as common people, what value would there be in worshiping and praising them? On the other hand, since Buddhas do not need our praise, then why praise them? It this not a contradiction?

It certainly is not a contradiction. When we praise the Buddhas, we obtain merit and virtue for our self-nature. How can this merit and virtue be described? Every person’s self-nature has light, and when you praise the Buddhas, your Yang light radiates and shines through the darkness of your ignorance. The merit and virtue which comes from praising the Buddhas is invisible and is brought about because you commit no offenses. To obtain this merit and virtue, you cannot indulge in false thinking, and the fewer false thoughts you have, the more the light of your wisdom flows forth. Cultivators of the Way fear having false thoughts because false thoughts defile the self-nature with darkness. If you are without false thoughts, the light of your self-nature shines through brighter and brighter. When you praise the Buddhas, you cherish the Buddhas, and when you cherish the Buddhas, you unite with the wisdom light of the Buddhas. Then the light of your self-nature spills forth.

What does it mean to praise the Thus Come Ones? You can say:

In the heavens above and the earth below, there is no one like the Buddha.
No one in the worlds of the ten directions equals him.
I have seen everything in the world, and nothing compares with the Buddha.

This is an example of praising the Thus Come Ones. In the heavens, in the earth, and in between, no one is like the Buddha. There are no spirits, Bodhisattvas, Arhats, or Pratyekabuddhas who compare with the Buddha, so the verse reads, “In heaven above and the earth below, there is no one like the Buddha.” No one can compare with the Buddha. Not a single being in all the world systems of the ten directions compares with him. Not only is there no one found in the heaven above and the earth below who can compare with the Buddha, the same is true throughout the worlds of the ten directions.

Our world has five continents: Africa, the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Although it is made up of these five, it is still just one world. Beyond this world there are still an immeasurable and boundless number of worlds throughout the ten directions. Now we send people to the moon in rockets. The moon may be considered one of those other worlds, but it is just one minute world among an infinity of other worlds. None of the great number of people and creatures in all the worlds throughout the ten directions compares with the Buddha. “I have seen everything in the world,” and within it all, “nothing compares with the Buddha.” This is what is mean by “praising the Thus Come Ones.”

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