October 28, 1973, Sunday evening

On Examining the Five Coverings

Ven. Master Hua


Master: What are the coverings? Doesn’t anyone know? Are you all without coverings?

Bhikshuni Heng Yin: Greed, anger, delusion, and sleep.

Bhikshu Heng Shoou: There is also agitation.

Bhikshuni Heng Yin: This was discussed in the Dharma Flower Sutra.

Master: Oh, then it was the Dharma Flower Sutra. What were they?

Bhikshuni Heng Yin: I remember the English translation.

Master: What was the first one? We’ll discuss them one by one.  

Bhikshuni Heng Yin:

Single-mindedly casting out confusion removes

          the covering of greed.

Staying away from foolish followers removes

          the covering of anger.

Drawing near to the wise removes

          the covering of delusion.

Collecting one’s thoughts in mountain forests removes

          the covering of sleep.

Keeping clear of all frivolity removes

          the covering of agitation.

[verse by Great Master Ou Yi]


Master: People are speaking English and I don’t understand. Translate into Chinese for me. I don’t know if what you are saying is correct or not. We can decide this tomorrow. Tell me tomorrow. Look this up and get it straight. Ask your teacher, the dictionary. Okay?

Disciples: Okay.

Master: Do you know what they are, Guo Pu?

Bhikshuni Heng Hsien: I think I remember four of the five coverings which the Master discussed during the ŚëraÚgama Sutra lectures.

Master: It doesn’t matter what sutra it was. Wherever you heard it was where you heard it. I said the ŚëraÚgama Sutra, but it could have been the Dharma Flower Sutra or the Vajra Sutra. Wherever it was, I’ve discussed this before. And I may not remember clearly myself where I lectured it. Don’t believe what I say. You should believe yourselves and have faith in your dictionary.

Bhikshuni Heng Hsien: Master, the first is lack of faith (=doubt). I don’t remember the second. The third is a form of sleepiness. The fourth is something like manic depression. The fifth is confusion. But I don’t know the exact Chinese terms for these. The fourth refers to constantly switching from extremes of depression and irritation to excitement and elation.

Master: What is the meaning of the term “covering” just by itself? We don’t need to talk about how many there are. What is meant by “covering”?

Bhikshuni Heng Hsien: The Sanskrit for it is avarana. Ed. note: Actually avarana is the term for “obstruction,” and nivarana is the Sanskrit term used for the Five Coverings.]

Venerable Master: Avarana?

Bhikshuni Heng Hsien: The covering covers over purity. It’s the way the Master explains it.

Master: She talked about the Sanskrit. What do those of you who were speaking English have to say? What is the meaning of “covering"? We don’t have to discuss all that much—just investigate the meaning of the one term “covering.” Once we understand that single concept of covering, then no matter how many coverings there are, we’ll be able to understand them all. First we’ll understand one covering. One covering is all coverings, and all coverings are one covering. Then we’ll see which one covers you, and which one covers me. Your covering may be different from mine.

Guo You: Master, I think “covering” is something like obstruction. However, a covering prevents you from seeing your own nature—like an umbrella. If your own nature has something over it, you are unable to see. That’s the meaning of “covering."

Venerable Master: So you can’t see ghosts?

Guo You: No, not that. Maybe a ghost would be a covering. And ignorance is a covering.

Master: The English for this is “cover,” right? Then it’s just this. [Editor’s note: The Master picks up the lid of the teacup on the table], isn’t it?

Disciples: Yes.

Master: Then there’s nothing to say. It’s just this! [Editor’s note: The Master drops the lid loudly on the cup.] If you understand this, then you’ll understand that. And if you understand that, then you’ll understand this. Isn’t that correct?

Disciples: Yes.

Master: And yet it isn’t this. This is just an analogy. The light of our wisdom originally fills heaven and earth to overflowing, and shines throughout the Dharma Realm. But the problem is there is a black barrel which has no light at all inside, because it is covered by a lid, like this teacup now. There are a lot of errors in what I say to you while lecturing, so whoever knows what the right way is should tell me afterwards, because I don’t know whether I’ve spoken correctly or not. You are all good advisors. You can tell me tomorrow night. Tell me to my face, don’t talk behind my back. Okay?


Timely Teachings, page 339 - 342