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The Testimony of Faith

VOLUME 1, Chapter 3


F2 Praising their virtues


All were great Arhats without outflows, disciples of the Buddha, dwellers and maintainers. They had fully transcended all existence, and were able to travel everywhere, and to accomplish the awesome deportment.


These great bhikshus were not just great bhikshus; they were Bodhisattvas appearing in the bodies of bhikshus. So it is said, “Inwardly they secretly practiced the Bodhisattva-conduct. Outwardly, they appeared in the bodies of sound-hearers.” Though all were Bodhisattvas at heart, though the fundamental nature of the great vehicle was contained in their hearts, they outwardly practiced the dharmas of the small vehicle and appeared as great Arhats without outflows.

A person who has attained the first fruition of enlightenment is called a “small” arhat, while one who has attained the fourth fruition is called a “great” arhat. However, if an arhat who has attained the fourth fruition does not continue to progress in his investigation, does not advance in his cultivation, he is called a “fixed-nature sound-hearer”; he remains fixed on that level. He obtains a little and is satisfied. Although what he has is not much, he thinks it is sufficient and does not consider making any further progress. If he continues to advance in his cultivation, he can attain the position of a Bodhisattva. This was the case with the great Arhats of the Shurangama assembly.

As explained above, “Arhat” is a Sanskrit word with three meanings: worthy of offerings, without birth, and killer of thieves. While bhikshus can receive the offerings only of people, small arhats are worthy of the offerings of people and gods, such as kings of countries or of heavens. Great Arhats are worthy of receiving the offerings not only of people and gods, but also of those who have transcended the world - that is of those who have reached states beyond the six desire heavens.

Great Arhats can receive the offerings of Bodhisattvas, because they have cut off afflictions beyond the triple realm, whereas small arhats have cut off only the afflictions within the triple realm. So great Arhats can be said to be Bodhisattvas. Although they manifest as bhikshus and do not practice the Bodhisattva-Way, within their hearts they have the magnanimity of Bodhisattvas, and they can gradually attain the level of Bodhisattvahood. In past lives, they had already realized Buddhahood. Wishing to help Shakyamuni Buddha propagate the Buddhadharma, they appeared in the bodies of bhikshus to act as arhats. Basically, these arhats are great Bodhisattvas.

An arhat also is said to be without outflows. This means he has already attained the state of being patient with the non-production of dharmas. An arhat is also called a “killer of thieves,” because he has completely killed the thieves of ignorance.

People who have attained the fruition of the Way have no outflows; no outflows of desire, no outflows of existence, and no outflows of ignorance. Being “without outflows,” they do not fall into the three realms: the realm of desire, the realm of form, and the formless realm. We people all now dwell in the realm of desire; although we live on earth, we are actually a part of the heavens of the desire-realm. It is called the desire-realm because the people in it have thoughts of desire and longing, which they are unable to stop.

There are two kinds of desire: the desire for material objects and the desire for sex. By the desire for material objects is meant greed for all enjoyable things. For instance, if you don’t have a house, you want to buy a house. Once you have a house, you think about buying a better one. That is the desire for houses. Or perhaps you want a good car. At first, perhaps you buy a beat-up car, but when you drive it around, people look down on you so you decide to buy a better car, but you still do not invest in the latest model. Once you compare your car to the newest model, however, you feel your present car isn’t good enough, so you invest in a new one. That is the desire for cars.

Eventually your desire reaches the point that once you have the latest model car, you decide to buy an airplane. Once you have an airplane, you decide to invest in ships. The desire for material objects never ends. You never say, “I’ve had enough; I’m satisfied. I don’t want any more. I’m not greedy for any more things.”

”Where does desire come from?”

It comes from ignorance.

Desire for sex is something you would probably understand without my speaking about it. It refers to being greedy for beauty. It, too, cannot be satisfied. One wife is not sufficient; he has to have two. Then two are not enough; he needs three. Some men keep ten or twenty wives. How do you suppose one person can respond to so many?

Emperors often had several hundred or several thousand women gathered in the palace. Wouldn’t you say that was extremely unfair? Now in democratic countries men are allowed only one wife. The practice of polygamy is prohibited, but there are still many people who sneak out and become involved in illicit affairs. Driven by their desire for sex, many men and women sneak out to carry on wanton relationships; they do not follow the rules.

Besides the outflow of desire there is the outflow of existence. This outflow occurs in the heavens of the form-realm, which are beyond desire. By existence is meant the existence of everything and anything. People who are greedy for existence and cannot maintain control have outflows whenever there is a lot of something.

The greatest of the three kinds of outflows is the outflow of ignorance; ignorance is the basic root of affliction. With the outflow of ignorance, the outflows of existence and of desire arise. If ignorance disappears the other two are also cut off.

Disciples of the Buddha. The Chinese word for disciple can also mean son, but here it refers not to Rahula, the Buddha’s son, but to the great bhikshus, the great Arhats spoken about above. The Brahma Net Sutra says:

When living beings receive the Buddha’s precepts,
They enter the Buddha’s position,
When their state is identical to great enlightenment,
They are truly the Buddha’s disciples.

Living beings who have received the Buddha’s precepts have the qualifications necessary to realize Buddhahood. When their enlightenment comes, they are called disciples of the Buddha.

The Dharma Flower Sutra says,

“Because they come forth from the Buddha’s mouth and are born by transformation from the dharma, they are called disciples of the Buddha.”

”What does it mean to be born by transformation from the Buddha’s mouth?” you ask.

As a result of being taught and transformed by the Buddha, they became enlightened and thus were born from the Buddhadharma. For example, the day you took refuge with the Triple Jewel was your new birthday, the beginning of a new life. Those of you who have taken refuge with the Triple Jewel are the Buddha’s disciples.

As dwellers they dwelt within the Buddhadharma, and as maintainers they relied on the Buddhadharma in their cultivation. Specifically, in terms of the Shurangama Sutra, they dwelt in the treasury of the Tathagata and maintained the Ultimately Firm Samadhi. You should protect and maintain the Firm Samadhi and not allow it to become scattered or lost.

The term “Abbot,” one who heads a monastery, literally refers to someone who dwelt in and maintained the Buddhadharma, because it is his work to cause the Buddhadharma to continue and not to be cut off, to hand it down and to allow it to spread; to perpetuate the Buddha’s wisdom-life, like the great Arhats of the Shurangama assembly.

The arhats had fully transcended all existence, that is, the twenty-five realms of existence found in the triple realm, and were able to travel everywhere, and to accomplish the awesome deportment. They had the ability to live in any land in the ten directions, not just in our Saha world. Because they were arhats and had spiritual penetrations and transformations, they could fly or walk as they pleased.

”If they could go anywhere, why haven’t I ever seen any in America?” you may ask.

Even if they had come to America you wouldn’t have been able to see them or know of it, because at the time the Buddha was in the world you hadn’t even been born yet!

They were able to perfect the awesome deportment wherever they went; they had an awesomeness that people feared and a deportment that people wished to imitate. They were deserving of respect because they differed from the ordinary in every way, and they were respected by everyone they met. “Ah, that person is truly fine, truly deserving of respect and admiration!” Wherever the great bhikshus went, they did not look at improper things. They wouldn’t peer around like someone intent upon stealing something.

Their eyes constantly regarded their noses, their noses regarded their mouths, and their mouths regarded their hearts. When they walked, their gaze did not extend beyond three feet in front of them. In this way they returned the light to illumine within. So awesome was their bearing that they never indulged in rowdiness or horseplay, never giggled or joked. They were very refined and stern.


They followed the Buddha in turning the wheel and were wonderfully worthy of the bequest. Stern and pure in the vinaya, they were great exemplars in the three realms. Their limitless response-bodies took living beings across and liberated them, pulling out and rescuing those of the future so they could transcend all the bonds of dust.


These four sentences praise four kinds of admirable virtues that characterize the practice of the arhats. The first sentence praises the arhat’s virtue of wisdom; the second praises the maintenance of the precepts and rules; the third praises the virtue of kindness; and the fourth, the virtue of compassion.

They followed the Buddha in turning the wheel. The arhats constantly followed the Buddha, not just to serve the Buddha or provide for him; not just to offer the Buddha a towel or to bring the Buddha a cup of tea in order to be filial to the Buddha. It’s not simply that they attended upon the Buddha. They helped him turn the Wheel. This does not refer to the turning wheel of the six paths, but rather to the great dharma wheel.

”Why is it called a wheel?” you ask.

For one thing, a wheel can grind; a mill-wheel grinds rice and other grains. The dharma wheel grinds up all the “dead-end sects and externalist paths” and pulverizes and destroys their erroneous and improper teachings.

A wheel also transports. Just as a boat transports cargo from Europe to America, so, too, the turning dharma wheel transports living beings from this shore of birth and death to the other shore of nirvana. The speaking of dharma is like a ship that transports living beings from this shore of birth and death to the other shore of nirvana. The speaking of dharma is like a ship that transports people from one place to another.

They were wonderfully worthy of the bequest. They had all attained inconceivable states and so were wonderfully worthy. “Worthy” means that, because of the inconceivable states they had accomplished, they were capable of receiving and had the authority to receive the Buddha’s final bequest, that is, the last instructions he gave everyone about what to do after his nirvana. It is like an ordinary family; when the father is about to die, he tells his sons and daughters what they should do in the future, how they should cultivate and handle matters. The Buddha also commands his disciples, telling them, “You should work in this way; you should go to that place and turn the dharma wheel to teach and transform living beings.” That is called the bequest.

The great bhikshus were worthy to receive the Buddha’s final instructions because they all had an inconceivable wisdom and could turn the dharma wheel to benefit themselves and benefit others. This sentence praises the wisdom that enabled them to teach and transform other people and cause them also to have wisdom. This sentence praises the arhat’s virtue of wisdom.

Stern and pure in the vinaya, they were great exemplars in the three realms. “Stern” means severe in demeanor, exacting, and not the least bit haphazard. It means they were honorable and awesome; they were forbidding, so that when you were in their presence you dared not laugh or be rambunctious or disobedient. You also did not dare let your eyes wander around, because the great Arhats were so severe.

They were clear and pure because they had ended evil and had rid themselves of all bad habits. “Pure” can also mean that they had severed the delusions arising from views, the delusions arising from thoughts, and the myriad subtle delusions like dust and sand, and it means the were also without ignorance. Pure and clear, clear and pure, they had no filth left; they were devoid of evil.

”How can one become devoid of evil?” you wonder.

”Cut off evil,” it is said. However, the purity referred to here is free even of the concept of cutting off evil. If you still remember how you cut off evil, then you are not yet pure. If you remember that on such and such a day you cut off a certain amount of evil, and at such and such a time you also cut off a certain amount of evil, then you are not yet pure. Why? You still have dirty things in your mind. If you are pure, all these things are forgotten. When they are absolutely non-existent, you have attained purity.

”Vinaya” is a Sanskrit word which means “good healing.” It is fully able to cure your faults. “Stern and pure in the vinaya” means the great Arhats, through actual practice, had perfected and attained the dharma which cures faults.

”They were great exemplars,” unsurpassable standards in the three realms: the desire realm, the realm of form, and the formless realm. They were guides and masters of gods and people. And so this sentence praises the great Arhats’ virtue of maintaining the precepts.

Their limitless response-bodies took living beings across and liberated them. “Response-bodies” are also called transformation- bodies. Originally the great Arhats didn’t have response-bodies, but they created them by transformation in infinite amounts. There might be three thousand of them, then at another time five thousand, or ten thousand, a hundred thousand, a million, a billion. Why are response-bodies brought forth? Is it so that the great Arhats can go about displaying spiritual penetrations to let people know that they have them? No. The great Arhats create the response-bodies to teach and transform living beings who need to be taken across to enlightenment.

For living beings who should be taken across by a Buddha, they manifest the body of a Buddha and speak dharma for their sake. For living beings who should be taken across by a pratyekabuddha, or by a Brahma king or by Shakra, or by a bhikshu or a bhikshuni, they manifest those response-bodies to take those beings across.

Like Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva, who is extremely kind to those with whom he has karmic ties, and greatly compassionate toward those who are at one with him, great Arhats manifest numberless response-bodies to cause beings to leave suffering and to obtain bliss. They enable them to be at peace and to experience the bliss of obtaining what they like. Kindness can bestow happiness, and the great Arhats were extremely kind and compassionate.

Pulling out and rescuing those of the future so they could transcend all the bonds of dust. What is meant by “pulling out”? Say, for example, that someone gets both feet stuck in the mud so that each time he pulls one foot out, the other foot gets stuck deeper, until eventually he can’t take another step. Then you extend your hand and pull him out of the mud. Or someone may be caught in flood waters, unable to get out until you go in and rescue him. The great Arhats extricate and rescue “those of the future,” and so we now have hope, because we are those of the future. If you can but believe the dharma the arhats speak for you to hear, you can be rescued and crossed over. You and I are numbered among those of the future.

”Why can’t you fly now? Why can’t you go into empty space? You have too many burden, that’s why. They weigh you down and make your body very heavy. That is to speak of the earth’s gravitational pull. But if you are free of burdens, then the force of gravity does not bind you, and you can gain your independence. The transient dust burdens us. It is because your burdens pull at you and cling to your clothing that you can no longer fly, although originally you could.

However, the great Arhats can think of ways to enable all living beings to transcend their troublesome burdens so they can no longer be tied down, so the earth’s gravitational force can no longer hold them. Once free, you can drift off into space like a balloon, you can go wherever you wish - to the moon, to the stars. It’s not easy to travel this way. This kind of travel is very convenient. There’s no need to buy a plane ticket. Wherever you want to go, you can just go there. If you can reach that level, you are said to have transcended your troublesome burdens.

Just as the previous sentence praises the great Arhats’ virtue of kindness, which brings happiness, this last sentence praises their virtue of compassion, which can rescue living beings from their distress.

F3 Listing the names of the leaders.


The names of the leaders were: the greatly wise Shariputra, Mahamaudgalyayana, Mahakaushthila, Purnamaitreyaniputra, Subhuti, Upanishad, and others.


’s name may be translated in three ways: “Son of the Body,” because his mother’s body was extremely beautiful; “Son of the Pelican,” because his mother’s eyes were as beautiful as a pelican’s; and “Son of Jewels,” because his mother’s eyes shone like jewels, and Shariputra’s eyes were like his mother’s. Shariputra was foremost in wisdom among the sound-hearers. In fact, greatly wise Shariputra’s wisdom was evident even before he was born.

Mahakaushthila, Shariputra’s uncle used to debate with his sister, Sharika. He never had any trouble defeating her until she became pregnant with Shariputra, and then she outwitted him every time. Realizing that his sister’s newly acquired skill in debate must be due to the presence of an exceptional child in her womb, Mahakaushtila set out to school himself in all the dharmas of all the non-Buddhist religions in preparation for the day when he would meet his nephew in debate. He spent many years in southern India pursuing his studies, and when he returned to seek out his nephew, he learned that the greatly wise Shariputra had left the home life to follow the Buddha after having defeated all the master-debators from the five parts of India in debate when he was only eight years old.

Mahakaushthila was displeased to learn that his nephew was a disciple of the Buddha, because he had naturally hoped that after all his years of study and with his unsurpassed debating-powers, he would win the respect and loyalty of the child. He decided to challenge the Buddha, proposing that if he won a debate with the Buddha, the Buddha would relinquish Shariputra to him. And just to show his confidence, he blatantly added that he would chop off his head as an offering to the Buddha if he lost the debate.

Once he went before the Buddha, however, his confidence wavered and he searched frantically through his dharmas for a tenet of doctrine to form the basis of this all-important debate. Finally the Buddha said, “Well, speak up. Establish your principle and I will consider your request.”

”Basically, I do not accept any principle,” said Kaushthila finally and a bit triumphantly, thinking that this would render the Buddha speechless.

”Oh?” replied the Buddha without hesitation. “Do you accept that position?”

Bewildered, Shariputra’s uncle thought, “If I say I don’t accept the position of having no position, I will have destroyed my own doctrine and will lose the debate. But if I say I do accept it, my acceptance will be in direct opposition to my basic tenet.” Caught in the horns of this dilemma, Kaushthila hesitated a fraction of a second and then, without a word, turned on his heels and ran as fast as he could out of the room, out of the Buddha’s Way-place, out of the gardens, and down the road for several miles without stopping.

Eventually, he regained some self-control, recalled that he was a man of his word, and realized that he must return to the Buddha and offer him his head. When he arrived and asked the Buddha for a knife, however, the Buddha explained that in the Buddhadharma things are not done that way. Then the Buddha spoke dharma for Mahakaushthila and enabled him to open his dharma eye. Once his dharma eye was opened, he could see clearly the fallacies in the dharmas of the non-Buddhist paths that he had studied so rigorously, and he requested permission to leave the home life and follow the Buddha. Mahakaushthila’s name means “big knees.” Some say his ancestors’ kneecaps were big, and some say that Kaushthila’s own kneecaps were big. In general, large kneecaps were a family trait. Mahakaushthila was first among the Buddha’s disciples in debate.

Mahamaudgalyayana’s name means “kolita tree” because his father and mother prayed to the spirit of that tree for a son. He was foremost among the disciples in spiritual penetrations.

Purnamaitreyaniputra, another Sanskrit name, means “son of fullness and compassion.” “Purna,” which means “full,” refers to his father’s name, which meant “Fulfilled Vows.” “Maitreyani,” which means “compassionate woman,” was his mother’s name. “Putra” means “son.” What was his particular talent? Whereas Shariputra was foremost in wisdom, and Mahamaudgalyayana was foremost in spiritual penetrations, Purnamaitreyaniputra was foremost in speaking dharma. No one else could explain the sutras with such subtlety and in such a deep and moving way.

When Purna spoke the sutras, heavenly maidens scattered flowers, and golden lotuses welled up from the earth. Whoever would like to be foremost in speaking dharma can recite “Namo Venerable Purna,” over and over, and Purna will use his wisdom and eloquence to aid you in speaking dharma so that you will be able to move people. How will they be moved? They won’t doze off when you are lecturing sutras. When Purna spoke dharma, no one was able to go to sleep. He expressed the characteristics of all dharmas well and so was said to have unobstructed eloquence.

Subhuti, another of the ten great disciples, was foremost in understanding emptiness. His name has three meanings: “Born to Emptiness,” “Splendid Apparition,” and “Good Luck.” When Subhuti was born, all the wealth in his household - all the gold, silver, and precious gems - disappeared. The treasuries stood empty. No one knew where it had all gone, but since the disappearance of the wealth coincided with the birth, the infant was given the name “Born to Emptiness.”

Seven days after his birth, all the riches reappeared, and so the child was renamed “Splendid Apparition.” His parents wanted to find out whether their child was good or bad, so they went to a diviner soon after his birth. In India there was no Book of Changes (I Ching). Instead they used the diviner to figure out whether their child was good or bad. He came up with “good” and “lucky,” so the child was renamed “Good Luck.”

Subhuti was foremost in understanding, and so in the Vajra Sutra he is the Buddha’s interlocutor; that is, it was he who asked Shakyamuni Buddha to explain the doctrine of prajna.

Upanishad, also Sanskrit, means “dust-nature.” Upanishad awakened to the Way when he saw that the nature of all external objects is fundamentally empty; he awakened to the doctrine of impermanence as it is embodied in the nature of external objects.

And others means that these six bhikshus were not the only ones in the assembly. There were at least twelve hundred fifty disciples in the assembly, but these six held seniority and sat in the highest positions. Thus, they are mentioned by name to represent the assembly of great Arhats and great bhikshus.

E2 Those enlightened to conditions.


Moreover limitless Pratyekas who were beyond learning and those with initial resolve came to where the Buddha was to join the bhikshus’ Pravarana at the close of the summer retreat.


The numberless Pratyekas were the pratyekabuddhas, who belong to the vehicle of those enlightened by conditions. This vehicle and the sound-hearer vehicle of the great Arhats mentioned above are often referred to together as the two vehicles.

They had reached a level of being beyond learning. Upon attainment of the fourth fruit of arhatship, cultivators reach a position of being beyond learning. The term “pratyekabuddha” can be interpreted as meaning “solitary enlightened ones,” referring to those who were enlightened by themselves at a time when no Buddha was in the world, but it also has come to refer to “those enlightened by conditions” during a time when a Buddha is in the world.

Those enlightened by conditions follow the Buddha in cultivating the twelve links of conditioned causation and thus awaken to the Way. The twelve links of conditioned causation are:

  1. Ignorance, which conditions activity;
  2. Activity, which conditions consciousness;
  3. Consciousness, which conditions name and form;
  4. Name and form, which condition the six sense organs;
  5. The six sense organs, which condition contact;
  6. Contact, which conditions feeling;
  7. Feeling, which conditions love;
  8. Love, which conditions grasping;
  9. Grasping, which conditions existence;
  10. Existence, which conditions birth;
  11. Birth, which conditions;
  12. Old age and death.

When ignorance is extinguished, activity is extinguished; when activity is extinguished, consciousness is extinguished; when consciousness is extinguished, name and form are extinguished; when name and form are extinguished, contact is extinguished; when contact is extinguished, feeling is extinguished; when feeling is extinguished, love is extinguished; when love is extinguished, grasping is extinguished; when grasping is extinguished, existence is extinguished; when existence is extinguished, birth is extinguished; when birth is extinguished, old age and death are extinguished. Thus the twelve links of conditioned causation can be extinguished.

Pratyekabuddhas who live at the time when a Buddha is in the world are called “those enlightened by conditions”; nevertheless, in the Shurangama assembly there were cultivators who are properly called “solitary enlightened ones.” How can that be? There were sages who had cultivated the Way in the mountains before Shakyamuni Buddha had realized Buddhahood, when there was no Buddha in the world. In the springtime, they watched the many flowers blossom.

In the autumn, they saw the yellow leaves fall. They observed the myriad things being born and dying; and by themselves, they awakened to the Way. Then after Shakyamuni Buddha realized Buddhahood, they left their caves in the crags deep in the mountains and desolate valleys, and came forth to help Shakyamuni Buddha propagate the Buddhadharma. Limitless numbers of them became part of that influential assembly.

Besides pratyekabuddhas who were beyond learning, there were also pratyekabuddhas with initial resolve, arhats with initial resolve, and bhikshus with initial resolve, who had not yet become mature in the Way. All came to where the Buddha was to join the bhikshu’s Pravarana at the close of the summer retreat. In Buddhism, there is a rule that those who have left the home-life must pass the summer in retreat. This rule came about because for a period of ninety days, from the fifteenth of the fourth lunar month to the fifteenth of the seventh lunar month, the members of the Sangha lived in one place and did not go anywhere; they didn’t go traveling or take a vacation.

There were two reasons for this. First, the weather was very hot and made for especially uncomfortable traveling. That was particularly true in India. Second, insects and other small creatures are particularly abundant on the earth in summer. To avoid stepping on them and squashing them to death, to nurture compassion for all living beings and to protect them, the bhikshus, the bhikshunis, and the Buddha lived in one place and did not go out.

At the close of the summer retreat refers to the end of the ninety-day period of seclusion. During the three month retreat, people might have committed offenses and broken rules, and so at the close of the retreat, at the end of the ninety days, it was necessary to hold a communal examination during which everyone was encouraged to confess his offenses frankly. This was the “Pravarana.”

If anyone had committed offenses without realizing it, then others in the assembly were expected to question him and help him see his mistakes. Nothing was held back, and everyone was expected to answer the questions he was asked and to admit his faults without argument. This discussion was carried on in an open, orderly fashion without anyone giving rise to afflictions or becoming angry when his errors and faults were pointed out. In this way they rid each other of their faults.

This kind of communal examination was designed to cause people to change their errors and move toward the good. Everything that had happened before became a dead issue, and everything that happened from that day onward was like a new life. People were encouraged to do things that benefit body and mind and not to do things that do not benefit body and mind.

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