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Dharma-Ending Age

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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    Alas! In the evil time
Of the Dharma-Ending Age,
Living beings' blessings are slight,
It is difficult to train them.
Far indeed from the sages of the past!
Their deviant views are deep.
Demons are strong, the Dharma is weak;
Many are the wrongs and injuries.
Hearing the door of the Thus Come One's sudden teaching,
They hate not destroying it as they would smash a tile.
The doing is in the mind;
The body suffers the calamities.
There's no need for unjust accusations that shift the blame to others.
If you don't wish to invite the karma of the unintermittent hell,
Do not slander the Thus Come One's Proper Wheel of Dharma.
(SE 62-63)

The Dharma-Ending Age is the last of the Three Ages of Dharma, during which the understanding and practice of the Buddha-dharma gradually declines and finally disappears.

The Three Ages are

1) the Orthodox Dharma Age,
2) The Dharma Image/Semblance Age, and
3) the Dharma-Ending Age.

"The era when the Buddha dwelled in the world was called the Orthodox Dharma Age. At that time the Buddha taught the Dharma, and there were genuine Arhats and great Bodhisattvas; the sages were dwelling in the world. The Orthodox Dharma Age lasted for one thousand years. The Dharma-Image Age followed--after the Buddha entered nirvana. During this period, people who cultivated the Way were few; those who were attached to external appearances were many. People stressed the creation of Buddha-images and many were made, but genuine cultivators were few.

"After the Dharma-Image Age came the Dharma-Ending age. The Orthodox Dharma Age lasted for one thousand years. The Dharma Image Age lasted another one thousand years. That is two thousand years in all. The Dharma-Ending age continues for ten thousand years. We are now living in the Dharma-Ending Age. What does the phrase 'Dharma-ending' mean = It means that the Dharma has nearly come to an end and is about to disappear. The 'disappearance' of the Buddhadharma involves disappearance of faith in the Buddha. In the Dharma-Ending Age living beings' faith in the Buddha is not firm. When the Buddha dwelled in the world,peoples' faith was so firm that if you held a person at knife-point and threatened his life saying, 'Renounce your belief in the Buddha or I'll murder you,' he would rather die than surrender his belief. . . .

"In the Dharma-Image Age things were different. If a person believed in the Buddha and someone said, 'If you believe in the Buddha, I'll kill you,' he would say, 'Fine, I won't believe in the Buddha.' People would change their minds because their faith was not firm.

"Now, in the Dharma-Ending Age, you don't even have to threaten a person with death. You merely have to say, 'Don't believe in the Buddha,' and they quickly reply, 'Fine'. . . . It is very difficult to promote faith. Figure it out for yourself. How many people are there in the world? Among the entire human race, how many believe in the Buddha? You can lecture the Sutras to those believers every day and they will still waver between doubt and faith. You can conduct a small experiment. Try this. Invite a person out to a movie. He'll accept on the spot and away you go. Then try asking him to a Sutra lecture. He will say, 'Ohhh . . . sitting there for two hours is nothing but suffering and tedium. It's not half as much fun as a movie!' That is the Dharma-Ending Age for you." (BRF 17-18)

Thus I have heard. At one time the Buddha was in the state of Kushinagara. The Tathagata was to enter Nirvana within three months and the bhikshus and Bodhisattvas as well as the great multitude of beings had come to the Buddha to pay homage to the Buddha and to bow in reverence. The World Honored One was tranquil and silent. He spoke not a word and his light did not appear. Worthy Ananda bowed and asked the Buddha, "O Bhagavan, heretofore whenever you spoke the Dharma, awesome light would naturally appear. Yet today among this great assembly there is no such radiance. There must be a good cause for this, and we wish to hear the Bhagavan's explanation."

The Buddha remained silent and did not answer until the request had been repeated three times. He then told Ananda, "After I enter Nirvana, when the Dharma is about to perish, during the Evil Age of the Five Turbidities (see Five Turbidities), the way of demons will flourish. Demonic beings will become Shramanas (see entry); they will pervert and destroy my teachings. Wearing the garb of lay persons, they will prefer handsome clothes and their precept sashes will be made of multi-colored cloth. They will use intoxicants, eat meat, kill other beings, and they will indulge their desire for flavorful food. They will lack compassion and they will bear hatred and jealousy even among themselves.

"At that time there will be Bodhisattvas, Pratyekabuddhas, and Arhats who will reverently and diligently cultivate immaculate virtue. They will be respected by all people and their teachings will be fair and egalitarian. These cultivators of the Way will take pity on the poor, they will be mindful of the aged, and they will save and give counsel to those people they find in difficult circumstances. They will at all times exhort others to worship and to protect the sutras and images of the Buddha. They will do meritorious deeds, be resolute and kind and never harm others. They will forsake their bodies for others' benefit. They will hold no great regard for themselves but will be patient, yielding, humane, and peaceful.

"If such people exist, the hordes of demonic bhikshus will be jealous of them. The demons will harass them, slander and defame them, expel them from their midst and degrade them. They will ostracize the good monks from the monastic community. Thereafter these demons will not cultivate the Way-virtue. Their temples and monastic buildings will be vacant and overgrown with weeds. For want of care and maintenance their Way-places will drift into ruin and oblivion. The demonic bhikshus will only be greedy for wealth and will amass great heaps of goods. They will refuse to distribute any of it or to use it to gain blessings and virtue.

"At this time, the evil monks will buy and sell slaves to till their fields and to slash and burn the mountain forests. They will do harm to living creatures and they will feel not the least bit of compassion. These slaves will themselves become bhikshus and maidservants will become bhikshunis. Totally lacking in any Way-virtue, these people will run amok, indulging in licentious behavior. In their turbid confusion they will fail to separate the men from the women in the monastic communities. From this generation on, the Way will be weakened. Fugitives from the law will seek refuge in my Way, wishing to become Shramanas but failing to observe the moral regulations. The precepts will continue to be recited twice a month, but in name alone. Being lazy and lax, no one will want to listen any longer. These evil Shramanas will be unwilling to recite the sutras in their entirety and they will make abbreviations at the beginning and at the end of the texts as they please. Soon the practice of reciting sutras will stop altogether. Even if there are people who recite texts, they will be unlettered, unqualified people who will insist, nonetheless, that they are correct. Bumptious, arrogant and vain, these people will seek fame and glory. They will display elegant airs in the hope of attracting offerings from other people.

"When the lives of these demonic bhikshus come to an end their essential spirits will fall into the avici hells. Having committed the five evil sins, they will suffer successive rebirths as hungry ghosts and as animals. They will know all such states of woe as they pass on through aeons as numerous as sands on the banks of the Ganges River. When their offenses are accounted for they will be reborn in a border land where the Triple Jewel is unknown.

"When the Dharma is about to disappear, women will become vigorous and will at all times do deeds of virtue. Men will grow lax and will no longer speak the Dharma. Those genuine Shramanas they see will be looked upon as dung and no one will have faith in them. When the Dharma is about to perish, all the gods will begin to weep. Rivers will dry up and the five grains will not ripen. Epidemic diseases will frequently take the lives of multitudes of people. The masses will toil and suffer while the local officials will plot and scheme. No one will adhere to principles. Instead, all people will be ever more numerous like the sands of the ocean-bed. Good persons will be hard to find; at most there will be one or two. As the aeon comes to a close, the revolution of the sun and the moon will grow short and the lifespan of people will decrease. Their hair will turn white at the age of forty years. Because of excessive licentious behavior they will quickly exhaust their seminal fluids and will die at a young age, usually before sixty years. As the life-span of males decreases, that of females will increase to seventy, eighty, ninety, or one hundred years.

"The great rivers will rise up in disharmony with their natural cycles, yet people will not take notice or feel concern. Extremes of climate will soon be taken for granted. . . .

"Then there will be Bodhisattvas, Pratyekabuddhas, and Arhats who will gather together in an unprecedented assembly because they will have all been harried and pursued by hordes of demons. They will no longer dwell in the assemblies, but the Three Vehicles will retreat to the wilderness. In a tranquil place, they will find shelter, happiness, and long life. Gods will protect them and the moon will shine down upon them. The Three Vehicles will have an opportunity to meet together and the way will flourish. However, within fifty-two years the and the , the Standing Buddha Samadhi, will be the first to change and then disappear. The twelve divisions of the canon will gradually follow until they vanish completely, never to appear again. Its words and texts will be totally unknown ever after. The precept sashes of Shramanas will turn white of themselves. When my Dharma disappears, it will be just like an oil lamp which flares brightly for an instant just before it goes out. So too, will the Dharma flare and die. After this time it is difficult to speak with certainty of what will follow.

"So it will remain for the next ten million years. When Maitreya is about to appear in the world to become the next Buddha, the planet will be entirely peaceful. Evil vapors will have dissipated, rain will be ample and regular, the crops will grow abundantly. Trees will grow to a great height and people will grow to be eighty feet tall. The average lifespan will extend to 84,000 years. It will be impossible to count all the beings who will be taken across to liberation."

Worthy Ananda addressed the Buddha, "What should we call this Sutra and how shall we uphold it?"

The Buddha said, "Ananda, this Sutra is called . Tell everyone to propagate it widely; the merit of your actions will be measureless, beyond reckoning."

When the fourfold assembly of disciples heard this Sutra, they grieved and wept. Each of them resolved to attain the true Path of the Supreme Sage. Then bowing to the Buddha, they withdrew. (SS I xiv-xvi)

1) Ch. , 2) Skt. , 3) Pali .

see also; Dharma-Ending Age, Degenerate Age, Last Age.