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First Door



Preliminary Explanation of the Sutra’s Meaning:
General Analysis into Ten Doors.


Preliminary indicates that one is about to undertake something. Explanation has two aspects: one of opening up, and the other of letting out, that is, making what is contained within apparent. “Explanation” means pulling out from within the Sutra all of the subtle, wonderful, inconceivable principles which people do not understand. Not allowed to remain stored inside, the meanings are revealed. Do you see them? There they are. You can’t see them? That is wonderful! However, if they are discussed, you can understand them in a general way. The explanation is of the Sutra’s, The Great Means Expansive Buddha Flower Adornment Sutra. “Sutra” is the common name of all Sutras, while “Great Means Expansive Buddha Flower Adornment” is the particular name of this Sutra. Its meanings are its doctrines, the principles within it. How many of those principle are there?

General Analysis into Ten Doors. The analysis is “general,” because those principles are inexhaustible and infinite. There is:

  • The Dharma Realm of Specifics.
  • The Dharma Realm of Principles.
  • The Dharma Realm of Non-Obstruction of Specifics and Principle.
  • The Dharma Realm of Non-Obstruction of Specifics and Specifics.

There is no way to discuss completely the multi-layered and inexhaustible meanings of any of these. No obstruction of specifics by specifics is just as with the water of the sea. No matter how much water you drink, there is no way to drink up all the sea’s water, unless you have the spiritual penetrations to swallow all the water in the four great seas in a single gulp, which is an exceptional circumstance. To speak in ordinary terms, it is impossible to drink up all the water in the sea. The Flower Adornment Sutra is like that too. The principle within it are:

Not exhausted by taking;
Not depleted by use.

Intelligent people understand more principles than less learned people. Greedy people eat more than less greedy ones. In this case the food is Dharma. Each eats the food of Dharma in proportion to his own capacity. You obtain as much as you want.

The Flower Adornment Sutra is like falling rain. Large trees obtain more water, while small plants obtain less, because they themselves are small. This is equivalent to intelligent people understanding more principles, while stupid people understand fewer principles. Trees grow to be big day by day for several thousand years. In the same way, people become intelligent by having cultivated for many lives through many kalpas. Some people are like small plants. They are stupid because they have not heard the Buddha-dharma before or cultivated it. This is a fact. The Flower Adornment Sutra is like falling rain. However, it is Dharma rain. Each obtains it in proportion to his own capacity.

The General Analysis into Ten Doors is as follows:


One, the causes and conditions for the arisal of the teaching.


One, the cause and conditions for the arisal of the Teaching. The Teaching is what has been said by Sages. For them to speak, there certainly must be causes and conditions. They would not, without rhyme or reason, speak Dharma. Therefore:

Dharma does not on its own arise:
States as they manifest call it forth.
The Way is not traversed in vain:
Meeting with conditions there is response.

This verse says the Dharma does not arise by itself. There must be given circumstances before it arises. Upon meeting with conditions, there is a kind of intertwining of response and Way. Now the causes and conditions for the Buddha’s speaking the Flower Adornment Sutra were those of a great concern. Doesn’t it say in the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra.

The Buddha appeared in the world only because of the causes and conditions of One Great Matter.

What great matter was that? It was the great concern of all people: birth and death. The Buddha said in the Dharma Flower Sutra:

The Buddhas, the World Honored Ones, appear in the world because they wish to lead living beings to open the knowledge and vision of the Buddhas.... to demonstrate to all living beings the knowledge and vision of the Buddhas... to lead living beings to awaken to the knowledge and vision of the Buddhas... and to lead living beings to enter the Path of the knowledge and vision of the Buddhas.

The Dharma Flower Sutra is the King of all Sutras, but the Great Means Expansive Buddha Flower Adornment Sutras, however, the King among Kings.

The ten Causes and Conditions for speaking the Great Means Expansive Buddha Flower Adornment Sutras, which constitute the First Door the Cause and Conditions for the Arisal of the Teaching will be discussed in detail in this volume of the Prologue.


Two, The Stores and Teachings in which it is contained.


Two, the Second Door, is The Stores, of Stores there is the Sound Hearer Store and the Bodhisattva Store, And Teaching, of Teachings there are the Hsien Shou Teaching and the T’ien T’ai Teaching. The T’ien T’ai Teaching discusses the Five Periods and Eight Teachings. Those Eight Teachings combine to make Four Teachings, as in the T’ien T’ai Treatise.

The T’ien T’ai Four Teachings

  • Store.
  • Connective.
  • Separate.
  • Perfect.

The Hsien Shou Teaching divides into Five Teachings.
The Hsien Shou Five Teachings

  • The Small Teaching.
  • The Initial Teaching.
  • The Final Teaching.
  • The Sudden Teaching.
  • The Perfect Teaching.

Anyone speaking Sutras should be familiar with those categories. In speaking Sutras according to the Hsien Shou method, the method used to lecture the Flower Adornment Sutra there is a General Analysis into Ten Doors, that is :

  • The Causes and Conditions for the Arisal of the Teaching;
  • The Stores and Teachings In which it is contained, and so forth.

When lecturing Sutras according to the T’ien T’ai Teaching, one discusses the Five kinds of Esoteric Meanings.
The T’ien T’ai Five Esoteric Meanings

  • Name.
  • Substance.
  • Doctrine.
  • Function.
  • Teaching.

The Second Door, then, considers to what Stores the Flower Adornment Sutra belongs, and with what Teachings it is affiliated. Later this will be discussed in detail.


Three, The Apportionment of Meanings and Principles.
Four, the potentials covered by the Teachings.
Five, the shallowness and depth of the teaching substance.
Six, the pervasiveness and uniqueness of purport and aim.
Seven, classifications by category, chapter, and assembly.
Eight, responses and insights in transmission and translation.
Nine, a general explanation of the Sutra’s title.
Ten, detailed elucidation of the meaning of the text.


Three, in the General Analysis into Ten Doors the Third Door is called the Apportionment of Meanings and Principles. Just as dosages of medicine are apportioned to cure respective ailments, so too the meanings and principles are apportioned into primary principles and subsequent principles. Four, the Potential Covered by the Teachings, “The Teaching” is the teaching of the Flower Adornment Sutra. “The potential covered means the kinds of living beings that are taught. Five, the Shallowness and depth of the Teaching Substance. There is a substance to the Teaching in the same way there is a physical body that houses human life. Six, the pervasiveness and uniqueness of the purport and aim. Every Sutra has its own purport and its own aim. The aim tells where the Sutra is leading. “Pervasiveness” refers to its great penetration without obstruction, to what is found in all Sutras. “Uniqueness” means what is confined to this Sutra.

The next is Seven, Classification by Category, Chapter, and Assembly. There are twelve canonical categories, as described in the verse:

Prose, Repetitive Verses, and Predictions;
Interjections, Spontaneous Speaking Unrequested;
Causes and Conditions, Analogies, as well as Past Lives’s Deeds;
Deeds of the Present Life, Expansions, What Was Hitherto Unknown;
Explanations, all together making up twelve terms,
As in the Great Shastra, Chapter Thirty-three.

The various divisions of the Sutras are Prose, the ordinary form of language, and Repetitive Verses, which repeat what was said in the previous prose. Predictions are given by the Buddha to a particular Bodhisattva or to a particular Arhat. Interjections often in verse form, are not related to what comes before or after them. They stand alone, and so are said to be interjected. Spontaneous Speakings Unrequested: almost all of the Sutras spoken by the Buddha were spoken at someone’s request.

An example of one spoken without request is the Amitabha Sutra. You shouldn’t think the Amitabha Sutra is a short Sutra of slight importance. It was spoken by the Buddha without request. The reason no one requested it was that no one understood its principles. The Dharma door of the Pure Land is so profound that the wisdom of the Arhats and Bodhisattvas could not understand it. The greatly wise Shariputra acted as the person it was addressed to and came to ask the Buddha about its principles; but the Buddha brought it up first. It was a spontaneous speaking unrequested. Causes and Conditions is another category.

Analogies are used in speaking Dharma when one fears living beings will not understand. Past Lives’s Deeds means what happened during the past lives of a particular Buddha or a given Bodhisattva. Deeds of the Present Life are what has happened in their current lifetime. Expansions and What Was Hitherto Unknown along with Explanations, all together make up twelve terms. Those are the Twelve Canonical Categories. This Door considers how many classifications, how many chapters, and how many assemblies there are to the Flower Adornment Sutra, that is, its various categories.

Eight, responses and insights in transmission and translation. There was the transmission from India to China, and now there is the transmission from China to America. In the future there will be a further transmission from America to India. How can that be? Now that the Buddha-dharma is coming to America, India will start to take it seriously again. At present Buddhism does not flourish in India. Long ago all of the high Indian monks and Patriarchs ran off to China, leaving India with no Patriarchs. The monks, Bhikshus, Shramanas, who were left over in India all lacked ability. None of them could fly, unlike Patriarch Bodhidharma who:

Crossed the Yangtse on a reed from the southern shore to the northern shore.

They lacked that talent, but most of them were good at eating; and they were very lazy. From morning to night they wanted to sleep. Therefore, the people of India took one look at them and said, “Those are just rice-devouring worms! Big rice bugs! So that’s what Buddhism is like!” Consequently the Indian people, who had begun by believing in the Buddha, withdrew their faith saying, “Do you see that? None of the people who have left home cultivates. It’s all meaningless. There’s nothing terrific about Buddhism.” It went on like that, one person who did not believe transmitting that disbelief to ten people who would then disbelieve. With ten people not believing, one hundred came not to believe. One hundred people passed it on to ten thousand, a hundred thousand, one million, ten million...none of whom believed. Those kinds of causes and conditions gave living beings a bad impression so that they all stopped believing in the Buddha.

The reason Buddhism flourished in China was that all of those Patriarchs who came from India to China were intelligent and had wisdom and spiritual penetrations, so when people saw them they genuine faith in them. As a result, Great Vehicle Buddha-dharma flourished on a large scale in China. Similar factors were involved in conversions to Catholicism. People would observe, “The Catholics have started schools, and the priests and nuns do everything very well. They are conscientious, and what they say is reasonable.” Once the students heard that they felt, “Catholicism is not bad! Let’s believe in it and get baptized!” one person influences another. The circumstances surrounding people at a given time, along with the causes and conditions, influence them and so they believe. If you make a bad impression on people, then they will not believe.

The reason, then, that Great Vehicle Buddhism is not flourishing in India at present is that all of the Patriarchs with talent, virtue, and spiritual penetrations ran off to China. Right now the people of India only have Brahmanism, only Yoga, which merely deals with superficial matters. They completely lack genuine inconceivable principles and inconceivable states. Not only do they lack them, they do not even believe in them. That is an example of something created from causes, conditions, and circumstances. That is why I predict that after Buddhism has been transmitted to America, America will in turn transmit it to India. Isn’t that just a cycle? America transmits it to England, France, Germany, and afterwards it comes back to India. The Indians exclaim, “Buddhism is so fine!” and they all believe again, thus completing the cycle. In fact, everything has a cyclical nature. That explains “transmission.”

This Door also considers “Translation.” To begin with, the Sutras were in the language of India. Then they were translated into Chines, and now they are being translated into English. “Responses” are events that take place and are also inconceivable kinds of states. “Insights” are as when, for example, some of the Dharma Masters who came from India to China did not understand Chinese, and yet experienced a kind of responsive insight.

There was a mutual sealing of the mind from one to another, so they understood without being taught. For instance, there might be a phrase they didn’t know how to translate well into Chinese, and the Chinese, being very intelligent, would say, “Probably it should be translated such and such a way.” The Indians, who did not understand Chinese, would hear this and exclaim, “Wonderful! That’s it! Use that phrase!” that’s how the transmission and translation took place. A great many potentially difficult problems were resolved with no problem at all. If people are extremely sincere when translating Sutras, they come to understand principles they were unable to understand, and can translate what they were unable to translate.

Moreover, all kinds of responses and spiritual penetrations manifest. For example, Dharma Master Hsuan Chuang brought back the Six Hundred Fasicle Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra from India. While that Sutra was being translated, the peach trees blossomed six times in one year. Think it over: if you used scientific methods and gave the peach trees injections, or doused  them with fertilizer, they still wouldn’t bloom six times in a single year. Yet that year the peach trees blossomed every two months. One set of blossoms would fall off, and another set would come into flower. This event shows how inconceivable the state of the Six Paramitas of the Mahaprajna-paramita Sutra is.

You may say, “Well, we’ve been translating Sutras for a long time, and we have yet to see any responses.” Actually, there have been many responses, it’s just that you have not felt them. That San Francisco has had no earthquakes is due to the merit and virtue of your present work of translating Sutras. It makes the earth spirit protect this spot of earth and command it, “You can’t dump all these Dharma Masters and others who are translating Sutras into the ocean! Don’t quake! This place should be as solid as steel or vajra. It mustn’t quake for a second, at least not before the translation of Sutra is completed!” However, you are unaware of this response, and when I tell you about it, you still do not believe it. That is why I prefer not to talk about this kind of thing. It’s only because we have come to the Eighth Door, Responses and Insights in Transmission and Translation, that I am willing to bring it up at all. Whether you believe or not is up to you.

Someone is having a false thought and saying, “Do you know for certain that San Francisco is due to have an earthquake!” Well, do you know for certain that it is not due to have an earthquake? Do you know for certain that it will not quake?

Nine, A General Explanation of the Sutra’s Title. The Ninth Door is A General Explanation of the Sutra’s Title, in which a summary analysis of the title of this Sutra is presented. Ten, Detailed Elucidation of the Meaning of the Text. The Tenth Door is a particular explanation of the text of the Great Means Expansive Buddha Flower Adornment Sutra.

These Ten Doors constitute the method employed by the Hsien Shou School in lecturing Sutras. So, if you go somewhere to listen to Sutra lectures, and you hear them discussing the Five Kinds of Esoteric Meanings, then they are lecturing Sutras according to the T’ien T’ai School using its Five Teachings to lecture the Sutra. The Prologue now goes on to discuss the First Door: The Causes and Conditions for the Arisal of the Teaching.

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