Part Three: Chapter on Lecturing the Sutras

 by You-Bin Chen

Excerpted from "A Discussion of Venerable Master Hsuan Hua's Contribution to Buddhism" by You-Bin Chen - Vajra Bodhi Sea Monthly Journal from June, 1966 to October, 1997.

The Sutras which the Master lectured during his life are generally listed here: Avatamsaka Sutra. Dharma Flower Sutra, Shurangama Sutra. Vajra Sutra. Heart Sutra. Sixth Patriarch's Sutra. Earth Store Sutra, Amitabha Sutra, Forty-two Sections Sutra, Hundred Dharmas Shastra. The Buddha Bequeaths the Teaching Sutra, Great Master Yung Jia's Song of Enlightenment?more than thirty different ones. Also the Master explained two areas of Chinese philosophy: The Four Books and the Book of Changes. Among all these are three that are quite unusualery few people have ever explained them. They are: Verses and Commentary on the Shurangama Mantra, Water and Mirrors, and modem-language explanations of the Biographies of the Buddhist Patriarchs.

The Master' lecture series on Verses and Commentary on the Shurangama Mantra lasted for eight years, from 1979 to 1987. Throughout all of Buddhist history this mantra has rarely been explained. Only Dharma Master Xu Fa of the Qing dynasty and Dharma Master Be Ting of Compassionate Cloud Monastery in Wu Lin ever explained it. Dharma Master Be Ting investigated the Esoteric Division and wrote the Commentary on Anointing the Crown in the Shurangama Sutra in 26 rolls, translating the Sanskrit into Chinese and further gave a thoroughly detailed explanation of the mantra. In Buddhism there are "five kinds of terms not translated" in sutras and mantras. because the secret languages of Buddhas is difficult for most other sages to comprehend, how much the less ordinary people. Although the custom is not to translate the mantras found in sutras, still, people have different things to say about it. Some people think that translating the meaning of mantras has twenty-four kinds of benefits. And so when the Master came in possession of a copy of the "Commentary on the Shurangama Mantra" in 1949, he records: I obtained what I'd never had before. I continually investigated that thorough explanation of the esoteric, carrying it always with me and never being apart from it. He also said for the Proper Dharma to remain long in the world, and to stop the deviant discourses once and for all, people must join together and enter the ultimately firm great samadhi.

Later, after the Master came to America, he himself explained the Shurangama Mantra, using seven-characters per line verses to explain each of the 554 lines and further gave a modem-language commentary. Truly this masterpiece is something "never done before." It is exceptionally valuable. The Master said:

The four-line verses used to explain every line of the mantra do not by any means exhaust the explanation because the wonderful meanings in the mantra are infinite and endless. These four-line verses are a mere mention of the broad idea-just tendering a bit of brick, hoping someone will come up with jade. These four-line verses appear to be very simple, but they come from my heart. You could say they are my blood and sweat. They certainly aren't plagiarizedopied from someone else's work! I'm explaining the Shurangama Mantra for you now, and throughout hundreds of thousands of eons, no one even explains it. Also, it's not easy to explain in its entirety. When I'm explaining it, I know that none of you really understand what I'm saying. Even if there are those who think they do, they don't really. But perhaps ten years from now, or a hundred, or a thousand years from now, someone will read this simple explanation and gain a profound understanding. Below are other comments the Master made regarding the Shurangama Mantra:

Infinite esoteric wonder so hard to appraise, 

These vajra secret phrases come from our own nature. 

The Shurangama Mantra is endowed with an efficacy 

That can open the five eyes and six. penetrations.

The Ultimately Durable king among Samadhis?nbsp;

With a straight mind practice and study it, and the Way Place can be reached. 

Purify the karmas of body, mouth, and mind; 

Sweep clean the thoughts of greed, hatred, and stupidity.

From sincerity comes a response; clear certification is obtained. 

From concentration one accomplishes spiritual powers which are great. 

Endowed with virtue, you have encountered its magical, wonderful phrases. 

At all times, never forget to glorify its magnificence.

Ananda had already certified to the first fruition, but he still had to undergo difficulty with a woman. The Buddha had to use the Shurangama Mantra to save him. How much the more is that the case for us ordinary beings? If we don't rely on the Shurangama Mantra. how are we going to end birth and death?

As long as there is even one person left in this world who knows how to recite the Shurangama Mantra by heart, the monsters, demons, ghosts, and weird creatures will not dare to show themselves openly. But if it comes to the point that no one can recite the Shurangama Mantra from memory, then the monsters, demons, ghosts, and weird creatures will openly display themselves.

Actually by studying the Shurangama Mantra you are the Buddhas' transformation body: not just a transformation body but the transformation Buddha atop the Buddha's crown. The inconceivable qualities of the Shurangama Mantra are hard to fathom!

Now let us introduce the Portraits of Buddhist Patriarchs , which is thirteen years' worth of lectures given by the Venerable Master, extending from 1972 through 1985, for a total of 346 topics. Important personages introduced in this text are as follows: Shakyamuni Buddha, who, after twirling a flower and giving a subtle smile, transmitted the Dharma to Venerable Kashyapa; who transmitted it to the Second Patriarch, Venerable Ananda, and so forth to the Twenty-eighth Patriarch, Bodhidharma, who became the First Patriarch in China and brought the Dharma of Chan meditation to China. Continuing through the Thirty-third Patriarch (the Sixth Patriarch in China), Great Master Huineng, at that point "one flower opened five petals. After that comes Five Divisions with Seven Schools, which are the fayan school, the candong school, the yunmen school, the weiyang school, the linji school as well as the huanglong sect and the yangqi sect. Add to that the niutou sect, holy Sanghas of two lands (east [China] and west [India]), the tiantai school, the huayan school, the ceen school, the yujia school, the vinaya school, the lotus society school, and ten contemporary High Sanghans, and the grand total is three hundred thirty-eight Venerable Ones who are introduced. There is also a verse in praise of each Venerable One (regulated Chinese verse form with eight lines containing seven characters each.). From Great Master Yungmingshou, Sixth Patriarch of the Lotus Society School on through the final contemporary Sanghans, Elder Master Guangchin, another verse is added composed of eight lines containing four characters each.). It can be said that these three hundred thirty-eight Venerable Patriarchs are all duly praised. The text is written in the literary style of Chinese and has no punctuation. Add to that liberal doses of Chan banter "enlightened words" and it becomes doubly difficult to comprehend. It is difficult to fathom the deeply esoteric state of those greatly virtuous ones of old. It only be described as ineffable, "and likened to only the person who drinks the water knows whether it is cold or warm."

Actually the Master's explanation of the Portraits of Buddhist Patriarchs comes about from great causes and conditions. In 1958, the Elder Master Hsu Yun mailed this book to the Venerable Master, enclosing a letter which said, "I am sending you this volume of Portraits of Buddhist Patriarchs that I have composed in recent years. Read and remember it well and I hope you will benefit yourself and benefit others and treasure the Way." Actually on the 9th of April in 1956 Elder Master Yun sent a certificate to the Master that named him the ninth Patriarch of the Weiyang School. The letter said, "You are a disciple who is concerned about the preservation of the Dharma and the continuation of the wisdom-life of the Buddhas and Patriarchs. Now, in accord with your vows, I am sending you the Source, the inheritance of the Patriarch's pulse, the Patriarch's Way. Entrusted to you, it will prosper. It is my hope that this transmission will be perpetuated." It is evident that the Master followed his teacher's instructions and explained the Portraits of Buddhist Patriarchs into modern language so that beings could gain the benefit this unprecedented Dharma. That is why I consider these three to be the Master's three most important works. And beings who have the good fortune to be able to read these precious Dharma jewels are truly endowed with blessings!

I generally estimate that the Venerable Master composed over two thousand verses and poems during his life. Every verse is rhymed and evidence the Master's profound prajna wisdom. This is especially true of the unprecedented verses on the lines of the Shurangama Mantra; only someone who had truly entered the Great Shurangama Samadhi would be capable of such explanations. Also the Master's explanation of the Portraits of Buddhist Patriarchs sometimes transcends historical records, leaving the reader wondering if the Master really has the Penetration of Past Lives.


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