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The Three Teachings

Second Representative


Two, Vinaya Master Kuang T’ung of the later Wei, who received his training from Tripitaka Master Buddhashanta.


In two, the second, there was Vinaya Master Kuang T’ung of the Latter Wei dynasty. A Vinaya Master is thoroughly versed in the Vinaya Store and in the precepts. In every move he makes his actions are based on the precepts which he never at any time violates. Dharma Master Kuang was a Vinaya Master who received his training from Tripitaka Master Buddhashanta.

In Buddhism, to become a Dharma Master, a Vinaya Master, or a Ch’an Master, you need to have received a transmission of Dharma from a place you’ve studied in order to become that kind of Master. If no one has sealed and certified you, you can’t simply close your doors, declare yourself a Patriarch and assume you are enlightened. Someone else must certify you and transmit the Dharma pulse to you. Vinaya Master Kuang T’ung received his transmission from Tripitaka Master Buddhashanta.

Tripitaka Master Buddhashanta was a native of India, who cultivated with four fellow practitioners. The other four were vigorous day and night not lazy for an instant, at all times watching over their minds so they retained proper mindfulness and never had any false thinking. Pretty soon the four of them opened enlightenment and certified to the fruit. The only one left who had not was Tripitaka Master Buddhashanta, the reason being that he was a bit lazy most of the time instead of vigorous. He didn’t wan to recite Sutras or bow to the Buddha. It’s not actually that he didn’t want to; he did want to, but he was somewhat lazy – enough that when the others certified to the Way, he hadn’t.

Then he was very sorry and thought, “All the other cultivators have attained the Way and certified to the fruit, and only I have ‘no knowing and no attaining.’” He was so remorseful, he decided to destroy himself “to seek the Way.” One idea he had was to jump into the ocean to try and get enlightened by dying. Wouldn’t you say that was stupid? Once you’re dead, what enlightenment can you open? That’s really opening a dead enlightenment. Then he thought he would burn up his body, for if he jumped into the water and drowned, and his body was left bobbing around in the water yet he hadn’t opened enlightenment, that wouldn’t be so great. But to burn his body with fire wouldn’t be too bad – then whether he got enlightened or not, his body at least would be gone.

Probably there wasn’t gasoline in those days, so he decided to use oil to burn himself. However, he didn’t have any money to buy oil, so he borrowed money from a friend to do so. His friend asked him, “Why are you buying so much oil?” He explained, “We were five fellow cultivators and other four became enlightened and certified to the fruit, but not me. It’s because in the past I didn’t work hard, but was lazy. So now I intend to burn myself up to avoid being a useless leftover.”

His friend said, “Don’t do that. In cultivation everything’s a matter of prior causes and subsequent effects. When the causes you planted in the past come to fruition, then you’ll naturally become enlightened. If you destroy your body before the causes are ripe, you’ll never get enlightened. The way I see it, is that your causes and conditions really lie in China. In China there are two disciples waiting for you to come teach and transform them. If you go and teach those two disciples how to cultivate the Way, then you’ll be able to certify to the fruit.

When he head that his friend had to say, he believed it, and so he went to China. It was right during the Latter Wei Dynastery, the time of Emperor Wen. He went to Hsiao Lin Temple in Loyang and received the two disciples. One was the Venerable Dharma Master Ch’ou, and the other was Vinaya Master Kuang T’ung. After taking those disciples, he certified to the Way. That is a brief account of Tripitaka Master Buddhashanta’s causes and conditions.


He also established Three Teachings, that is, Gradual, Sudden, and Perfect. The first is for those whose roots are not yet ripe. It starts by speaking of impermanence, then afterwards speaks of permanence, first of emptiness, and afterwards of non-emptiness, and so forth. In that way there is gradual succession, and so it is called “gradual.”

Two, for the category of those whose roots are ripe, a single Dharma door declares fully both permanence and impermanence, both emptiness and non-emptiness, and so forth. All are spoken together, without going through the gradual at all, and so it is called “Sudden.” Three, for those who have penetrated through the divided steps leading to the Buddha’s state above, there is speaking of the Thus Come One’s unobstructed liberations, the virtues of the ultimate fruition, the utmost perfection of secret and sovereign Dharma door, and so it is called “Perfect.”


He also established Three Teachings. Vinaya Master Kuang T’ung also set up three kinds of teachings, that is, Gradual, Sudden, and Perfect. What did he meant by The First, the Gradual Teachings? It is for those living beings whose roots are not yet ripe. It starts by speaking of impermanence, then afterwards speaks of permanence, first of emptiness, and afterwards of non-emptiness, and so forth. Impermanence is true emptiness, and permanence – non-emptiness – is wonderful existence.

So it discusses the Dharma door of true emptiness and wonderful existence. It starts by talking of the principles of emptiness then, after that, explains how it is non-empty, but rather there is wonderful existence within it. In that way there is gradual succession, and so it is called “Gradual.” It discusses like that step by step, and that’s why it’s given the name “Gradual Teachings.”

Two, for the category of those whose roots are ripe, living beings whose faculties have already matured, a single Dharma door declares fully both. A single Dharma door includes the two doors of emptiness and existence. The principles of both permanence and impermanence, both emptiness and non-emptiness, and so forth are spoken of simultaneously. All the spoken together, without going through the Gradual at all. The elucidation of the principles is not step by step. There isn’t simply explanation of emptiness or simple talk of existence by itself. Rather, emptiness and existence are non-dual, and so it is called “sudden.”

Three, for those who have penetrated through the divided steps leading to the Buddha’s state above…The third is for the living beings – the Great Bodhisattvas, who have just about reached up to the same state as the Buddha’s – for them three is speaking of the Thus Come One’s unobstructed liberations. It describes how the Buddha is basically unobstructed and obtains the liberations, the virtues of the Ultimate Fruition, the utmost perfection of secret and sovereign Dharma doors. Those virtues of the fruit are perfectly inter-penetrating without obstruction to the utmost degree, as well as being incredibly secret and sovereign Dharma doors, and so it is called “Perfect.” That’s why he called it “the Perfect Teaching.” In that way he set up the three doors of gradual, sudden, and perfect.


This is also simply saying that the manner of teachings adhered to a sequence.


Previously it was talking of how Dharma Master Kuang T’ung set up Three kinds of teachings: the gradual, sudden, and the perfect. His teacher was Tripitaka Master Buddhashanta, who wanted to commit suicide because he’d been cultivating the Way so long without any success. Since his teacher had such a great attachment of mind, Dharma Master Kuang T’ung had a lot of attachments. He insisted the teaching contained a step by step sequence, going from the Small Vehicle to the Great Vehicle, then from the Great Vehicle to the Buddha Vehicle; the Small Vehicle being Sound Hearers and those Enlightened to Conditions, the Great Vehicle – the Bodhisattvas, and the unsurpassed Buddha Vehicle: the Buddha. He said it certainly was that way, so he set up a Gradual Teaching.

Then he said there are cases of sudden enlightenment, when someone very rapidly becomes a Buddha, which he called the sudden. Then he said there was also a Perfect Teaching, for the gradual is not full and complete, not perfectly interpenetrating without obstruction; and the sudden is very special, also not perfectly interpenetrating without obstruction. So he set up the Dharma Flower Sutra as the Perfect Teaching, the Agamas and Vaipulya belonging to the gradual, and Prajna to the sudden since it’s the contemplation of emptiness. He differentiated among the Sutras very clearly, so not a strand was out of place, but all was in perfect order – like the threads in a piece of fabric. At the time e must have thought, “My division into teachings is most brilliant.”

However, National Master Ch’iang Liang is here adding a commentary criticizing him stating: This is also simply saying that the manner of teaching adhered to a sequence. To say that there was a “before” – the Agamas, Vaipulya, and Prajna – and an “afterwards” – the Dharma Flower and Nirvana – is nothing but to base oneself on the way the teaching was presented. That is to base the teachings on the time sequence, but the theory and principle are not that way. There isn’t any of it that comes only at a fixed time, because:

The Buddha contemplates the potentials and bestows the teachings,
Speaking the Dharma according to the person.

If he meets someone with great capacity and great faculties, he speaks Great Vehicle Dharma. If he encounters people with small capacity and scanty roots, he speaks Small Vehicle Dharma. If he comes upon people with perfect roots and sharp faculties, he speaks Dharma doors of perfect, unobstructed inter­penetration. To talk the way Dharma Master Kuang T’ung does, is to base oneself upon the manner in which the teaching was done.

Yet when the Buddha spoke the sudden, how did that not included the gradual? And when he spoke the gradual, how did that exclude the sudden? Since he spoke Dharma doors of unobstructed, perfect interpenetration, with in them were included both the gradual and sudden. Therefore, if you want to pierce right through to the underlying principle, you have to see things in an unobstructed and totally interpenetrating way. You can’t have so many attachments.


The meaning is clearly that those who now are capable of receiving the sudden certainly received teachings in the past, so their roots are said to have ripened. To say that there is penetration above means all of those before the grounds. The divided steps leading to the Buddha’s state are just those above the grounds. This also connects with principle.


National Master Ch’ing Liang adds a further commentary saying the meaning Dharma Master Kuang T’ung had in mind is clearly that those who now are capable of receiving the sudden certainly received teachings in the past. The “now” he is talking about is not, however, the “now” of right now, but the time of the T’ang Dynasty. If viewed from the perspective of our present time, his “now” is the past for us. You have to realize National Master Ch’ing Liang is one of the atomic age with its electronic devices and all the other technological developments.

Although I said I had a T’ang Dynasty tape recording, it’s basically that what was said remains in empty space. If you can hear the tape in empty space, then there’s no past or present. As soon as you turn on the space recording, you can hear anything from several tens of thousand of great kaplas ago. This is not something occult and mysteriously – it’s just the way it is. But if you don’t know how to turn on the tape recorder, there’s no way you can hear. National Master Ch’ing Liang saying to the living beings of his time – the T’ang Dynaty – that those whose potentials are ripe for the Sudden Teaching had to have been taught by the Gradual Teachings prior to that. That’s what enables them to accept the Sudden Teaching now.

Having reached this ppint, I’ll talk to you a little about opening enlightenment and how it’s done. It’s like opening a lock, say on a door. You have to have a key to get it open. The key was made to fit the lock, and that’s what opens it now. How do you find the key? It’s by using effort at your cultivation, constantly keeping yourself at it, investigating dhyana and sitting in meditation, reciting the Buddha’s name, holding mantras, reciting Sutras – in all of that, you’re looking for the key. When you find it, you’ll open the lock in your mind. What’s that lock? I’ll tell you. Actually, it’s better if I don’t tell you, and you guess for yourself. Anyone who can guess what it is has pretty much opened enlightenment. If you can’t guess, you have to keep on studying the Buddhadharma.

This is a very simple question. If you don’t know the answer, you have no way to open enlightenment; but if you know, it’s easy to do so. You can’t really call it opening enlightenment, but it will make it easy, for all you need is to find the key and you can open the lock. But if you don’t even know what the lock is, there’s no way to find the key. If you think of it, say it fast – the first thought that comes to mind, not the second, third or fourth thought. Not bad. It’s ignorance. It locks you up in the dark. See how when the door’s open there is light but lock it and everything’s dark? If you can break through that ignorance, using a key or any method whatever, you open the lock. Ignorance – lack of clarity – is just darkness. The reason you’re not clear about anything is that ignorance is locking you up, so you don’t get enlightened.

He says it must be the case that those presently capable of accepting the Dharma of the Sudden Teaching were previously taught by the Gradual Teaching, and that makes sense. In opening enlightenment, for example, your doing so today is not just from today, but from having looked for the key day after day trying to open your ignorance. When you finally find it and get the lock open, then the door in your mind opens and the light of wisdom shines through. Today’s enlightenment depended on your cultivation and planting of seeds. If you hadn’t planted those causes in the past, you wouldn’t be able to obtain the fruit of opening enlightenment today. So Shakyamuni Buddha:

For three asamkhyeyeas cultivated blessing and wisdom,
For a hundred kalpas perfected the marks and characteristics.

It took him that long in the past cultivating so that this life he:

At midnight saw a bright star and awakened to the Way.

If he hadn’t cultivated before, he wouldn’t have been able to do that. He might have had to wait until several hundred years in the future to become a Buddha.

So don’t say, “I didn’t cultivate in the past, so it’s useless for me to cultivate now. It’s not very interesting to have to wait several thousands of great kalpas. I want to open enlightenment and become a Buddha now.” It’s possible. It all depends on you. All you have to do is cultivate now, and you’ll become a Buddha in the future. Your wish to cultivate now didn’t just pop up right now; it’s from your having planted those causes already. That’s why this life, although you run outside the range of Buddhism. So, some people study the Buddhadharma for awhile, and then run off and turn and spin all over the place, covering a lot of territory, and then run back. Once back, they feel it’s still not all that interesting, and so they run off again. This keeps going on, so they:

Come without coming and go without going.

And then they decide what they really want to do is cultivate, and they don’t run away anymore.

One person here was like that. He kept talking about how he wanted to split, giving as his reason that even after studying the Buddhadharma so long, he still had just as big a temper and just as much ignorance. So he ran off and probably found his temper and ignorance were just as huge out in the world, so now he’s back and wants to leave home.

Gold Mountain Temple is a place for producing Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Patriarchs, and Dharma Masters. Twelve Americans have left home to this date, and with one Chinese person, that makes 13 left-home people (as of 1971). If you can find any other place in the entire United States where there are 13 left-home people who eat only one meal a day and never lie down to sleep, and who are busy all day long either reciting the Buddha’s name, bowing to the Buddha, bowing to Sutras, translating Sutras or typing – each with his or her own work and no idle moment, some even doing carpentry, and all working really hard – if you can find another place like this, then you can use a needle and thread and sew up my mouth, and I’ll never talk again. Why? Just say, “It’s because all you do is tell lies, and I’m not going to allow that. I’m sewing up your lips so you can’t speak.”

I would welcome that punishment – but you won’t find another such place. Not just in America, but in England, France, and not just the western hemisphere, but on any of the five continents, if you can find such a place, I’ll willingly never talk again, even if you don’t sew up my mouth. That’s because it would be too meaningless to say untrue things. Even if what I say isn’t true, you should do what is true. But it is true that there isn’t another such place. There’s a condition attached to this, and that’s that it only counts today. In one, two, or five years, there might even be 100 or 200 left-home people cultivating that way together, or even tomorrow. But that doesn’t count. Today is the cut-off date.

Now we’re holding the Kuan Yin recitation session, and you shouldn’t waste a single minute, but at all times recite the name of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva. Now I can tell you, Kuan Yin Bodhisattva is a key to open your lock; but if you don’t recite, you still won’t get the lock open. If the key won’t turn in the lock the first time, you have to try again, over and over again, until it opens. The key to reciting Kuan Yin Bodhisattva’s name to open our ignorance is not easy to turn in the lock, since it’s so rusty. You have to keep at it, with the Paramita of Patience. Try and try and eventually, it will open of itself, when your kungfu has reached that point – not before. So in holding the session, everyone should work very hard. Don’t be afraid of it’s being difficult, or of being tired yourself. Take time out of your busy schedule and sincerely recite the Kuan Yin Bodhisattva’s name.

Concerning how those who can now receive the sudden must have been taught before, it is:

When the root is mature,
The growth is great.

The Grand Teaching is used to teach living beings whose roots are not yet ripe, and the Sudden Teaching is used for living beings whose roots have already matured, so their roots are said to have ripened. To put it this way forestalls an objection one might make, namely that this is all simply a matter of whether roots are mature or not, and that there isn’t any gradual or sudden – sudden just being equivalent to ripened roots, and gradual just the roots before they ripe. Then it follows that there aren’t two things involved, just one the self-same roots and their two stages of ripeness and unripeness. Since it’s that way, you can say there isn’t any sudden at all, much less a perfect, but that the whole thing is gradual. That problem could be raised, but here it’s talking of how when the roots mature the growth is great.

To say that there is penetration above means all of those before the grounds. Before the Ten Grounds there are the positions of the Ten Dwellings, the Ten Conducts, and the Ten Transferences. The divided steps leading to the Buddha’s state are just those above the grounds. They are about equivalent to the Buddha’s position, Equal Enlightenment and Wonderful Enlightenment which come after the Ten Grounds. This also connects with principle. It can be put that way.

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