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Dharma talk: The 10 Dharma Realms are not Beyond a Single Thought

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Dharma Talk:
The 10 Dharma Realms are not Beyond a Single Thought

Verses and Explanation by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

Where do the Ten Dharma Realms come from?

    If anyone wishes to understand
    All people of the three periods of time,
    He should contemplate the nature of the Dharma Realm;
    The Tathagatas are made from the mind alone.

IF ANYONE wishes to understand. Suppose there are people who wish to understand how people become people.

All people of the three periods of time. "Shouldn't it be 'all Buddhas of the three periods of time'? Why did you say 'all people of the three periods of time'?" you ask. People are Buddhas. If you call a person a Buddha, that's okay; and if you call the Buddha a person, that's okay, too. Why is this? Because a person can become a Buddha. A Buddha is just a person who has realized Buddhahood. If you talk about Buddhas, no one really understands. "What's a Buddha?" they ask. Everyone knows what a person is. So we'll talk about people, and it will become easier to understand.

Who are the people we're discussing? The Buddhas.

"Am I a Buddha?" you ask. You are.

"Are other people Buddhas?"

Yes, they are too. You are a Buddha, but an unrealized Buddha. After your realization, you will become a true Buddha. Now you are a false Buddha. False Buddhas can become true Buddhas, and true Buddhas can become false Buddhas. If anyone wishes to understand / All Buddhas of the three periods of time. The verse starts with the word "if " to indicate that this is only a hypothetical situation; don't be attached and think that it's real. The Buddhas of the three periods of time are just people who have realized Buddhahood.

He should contemplate the nature of the Dharma Realm. How can the Dharma Realm have a nature? If it had a nature, how could it be called the Dharma Realm? Actually, this refers to the nature of the living beings in the Dharma Realm. Every living being of the Dharma Realm has its own nature. You have your nature, and I have my nature. "I don't know what you mean by 'nature'." You say. Well, your temper is bigger than mine; and mine is deeper than yours. Thus, our natures are different.

Each living being in the Dharma Realm has its own nature. Pigs have the nature of pigs; horses have the nature of horses. Men have the nature of men, and women have the nature of women. Each has his or her own nature. Those who like to eat sweet things have a sweet nature; those who like to eat sour things have a sour nature; those who like hot, spicy things have a hot nature. Those who like to eat bitter things have a bitter nature, like all of us here. [Note: In Chinese, the same character means both 'bitter' and 'ascetic.'] We cultivate ascetic practices. Cultivation is ascetic practice; even going to the dining hall to eat is an ascetic practice. When it comes to ascetic practices, none of you should fall behind. You should race toward the front. In the "ascetic practice" of eating, all of you race toward the front, don't you?

If you look into it, you'll find that everything has its own nature. Trees have the nature of trees; flowers have the nature of flowers; grass has the nature of grass. Each thing has its own nature. So "the nature of the Dharma Realm" refers to the nature of each living being in the Dharma Realm. Do you understand? Previously you thought that the Dharma Realm had a nature, but now you know this is referring to the nature of living beings in the Dharma Realm.

The Tathagatas are made from the mind alone. The original verse from the Avatamsaka Sutra said: If anyone wishes to understand / All Buddhas of the three periods of time, / He should contemplate the nature of the Dharma Realm; / Everything is made from the mind alone. I changed the second line to say, All people of the three periods of time, and I also changed the last line to The Tathagatas are made from the mind alone. Buddhas are created from the mind. If your mind cultivates the Buddhadharma, you will become a Buddha. If your mind likes the Bodhisattvas, you can practice the Bodhisattva Way and become a Bodhisattva. If your mind wants to fall into the hells, you are bound to fall.

The Dharma Realm of Buddhas

Neither great nor small,
Neither gone nor come,
In worlds as many as motes of dust,
They shine upon each other from their lotus thrones.

The first Dharma Realm is that of Buddhas. I once gave a lecture in Redwood City (California) in which I explained the word "Buddha." Because I'm quite dull and a bit deaf, when I first heard the word Buddha" in English, I heard it as bu da, which means "not big" in Chinese. What is "not big"? The Buddha. One professor liked my explanation so much that when I finished my lecture, he put his palms together and said to me, "Bu da."

"Not big" means not arrogant. The Buddha is not arrogant or haughty. An arrogant person is someone who is always saying, "I! I! I!" The Buddha doesn't have an "I," an ego. "Me, me, me"—everything is "me." Everything to the right, left, in front, back, above, below, and throughout the four directions is "me." There are too many "me's," and so the self becomes big. The Buddha, being selfless, is "not big." Then is he little? No. If he were little, he wouldn't be a Buddha. He is neither great nor small.

Neither gone nor come. The Buddha has "come and yet not come, gone and yet not gone." Since the Buddha's Dharma-body fills all of space and pervades the Dharma Realm, it is neither absent nor present. You may speak of the Buddha as going, but to where does he go? You might say he comes, but from where does he come? Nor does his Dharma-body merely pervade our world; the Dharma Realm includes as many worlds as there are motes of dust—limitlessly, boundlessly many worlds—all of which are the Buddha's Dharma-body.

In worlds as many as motes of dust. They shine upon each other from their lotus thrones. The Buddha in this Dharma Realm shines his light upon the Buddha of another Dharma Realm, and the light of the Buddha in that Dharma Realm illumines this Dharma Realm. Sitting on lotus thrones, the Buddhas simultaneously move the earth and emit light from their ears, eyes, noses, tongues, and teeth. Not only do their six organs put forth light and move the earth, their every pore emits light and moves the earth. And in every pore, worlds as numerous as motes of dust appear, each containing incalculable numbers of Buddhas who emit light in the same way.

Yet all these lights, like those of many lamps, do not contend. One lamp doesn't say to another, "You can't give off so much light, because my light has nowhere to go." The lights don't clash with one another; they fuse together. In Buddhism, we unite our lights. Just as lights do not conflict with one another, so too should people not clash. We should allow our lights to shine on one another like the lights interpenetrating at the interstices of the infinitely-layered circular net canopy of the Great Brahma Heaven King. That's the Dharma Realm of Buddhas.

The Dharma Realm of Bodhisattvas

    Sentient beings when enlightened
    Leap out of the dust.
    Their six perfections and ten thousand practices
    At all times are nurtured.

The second Dharma Realm is that of Bodhisattvas. Why did I say All people of the three periods of time above? It's because people can cultivate to go to any of the Ten Dharma Realms. Yet people are not beyond a single thought of the mind.

The Sanskrit word Bodhisattva is translated as "enlightened being" and has two meanings:

1. one who causes all sentient beings to become enlightened
2. an enlightened one among all sentient beings

We are included in both meanings. We all have a share of Bodhisattvahood because we are all beings. We can become enlightened ones among beings, and we can teach other beings to become enlightened as well. So being a Bodhisattva isn't bad. Not only do we have a share of Bodhisattvahood, we also have a share of Buddhahood.

"I don't get it," you say. "Dharma Master, you said earlier that Buddhas are just people who have realized Buddhahood. Well, why haven't we become Buddhas?"

Let's not talk about people becoming Buddhas. Consider a small child who grows up, becomes an adult, and eventually gets old. We are like children within the Buddhadharma, and the Buddha is an adult. When we grow up, we will become Buddhas. But right now, we are still children in Buddhism. As youngsters need milk, we constantly need the nourishment of hearing the Dharma. Listening to the Dharma is an especially good way to make our good roots grow and to bring forth our wisdom. An opportunity to listen to the Dharma is more valuable than any amount of money you could earn.

Today I'm going to make a rule. I hope that from now on all of you will not take so many holidays and go on so many trips. Take the study of the Buddhadharma as your trip. Spend your holidays studying the Buddhadharma. Why do I say this? Because it's very dangerous to travel. Every holiday there are many fatalities, and if you travel, you might end up being one of them. We want to change the trends of this country. The people in this country are fond of recreation and travel. Buddhists should not take so many vacations. We can use this time to study the Buddhadharma. Even better, we can chant sutras, recite mantras, and bow to the Buddhas!

There is infinite merit and virtue in bowing to the Buddhas.

    Bowing before the Buddhas can eradicate offenses
    As numerous as the Ganges' sands.

If you bow to the Buddhas, you can cancel as many offenses as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River. It is also said, "Giving a single penny brings limitless blessings." However, I'm certainly not asking for money from you. You should understand that. You can make contributions to other monasteries and earn great blessings that way. We here are so wretched that we don't have the blessings to receive offerings. If we accept too many offerings, we might die. If no one makes offerings, maybe we can live a few days more. Despite the suffering, we still wish to live a little longer. We don't want to die yet. Therefore, if you wish to give money, you can give it to other places. There are plenty of places where you can plant blessings; you don't have to do it at this monastery, because Gold Mountain Monastery has only wretched people with few blessings. If you seek blessings here, you'll be disappointed. But don't worry, we won't starve!

Sentient beings when enlightened, leap out of the dust. Their six perfections and ten thousand practices.

At all times are nurtured. A Bodhisattva is a sentient being; among sentient beings, he's an enlightened one. Among the enlightened, he's one who understands. Among those who understand, he's a cultivator. Among cultivators, he's one who truly practices. A Bodhisattva "leaps out of the dust." If he did not have understanding, he wouldn't be able to transcend the defilement. The dust would be so thick that he wouldn't be able to leap out of it. When he becomes enlightened, the dust thins out and he can leap out of it.

After a Bodhisattva leaps out of the dust, what does he do? Sleep and eat?"

Yes, he still sleeps, eats, and wears clothes; but he no longer works like a slave to provide his body with food, clothing, and a place to live. When you get out of the dust, you cease to be concerned with these three problems, and instead you concentrate on cultivating the six perfections: giving, holding precepts, patience, vigor, concentration, and wisdom.

I know what the perfection of giving entails. It involves telling others to make offerings to me," some of you are thinking. Wrong. It is learning to give to other people. As for money, it would be nice to shred it up. We shouldn't want so much of that filthy stuff. Money is an extremely defiling possession, and too much involvement with it is what is meant by "dust." If you don't want money, then you will be extremely pure and will be able to transcend the "dust." Some of you have now transcended the "dust" because you are holding the precept of not handling money. However, make sure you don't get contaminated by money again in the future.

You should also cultivate the ten thousand practices and nurture them at all times. You cannot say, "I'll cultivate today, but not tomorrow. I'll cultivate this year, but not next year. I'll cultivate this month and take a rest next month. I'll cultivate this life, but not next life." To cultivate one moment and sleep the next moment won't work. At all times you should nurture your cultivation of the six perfections and ten thousand practices. Cultivate them in life after life. If you practice in this way, you will be a Bodhisattva.

"That's not easy," you say.

Did you think that being a Bodhisattva would be easy? Not only is it not easy to be a Bodhisattva, it's not easy to be a Shravaka or a Pratyekabuddha, either.

"Then what is it easy to be?"

It is easy to be a ghost, to go to the hells, or to become an animal. If you want things to be easy, you can be those beings. If you want to be a Bodhisattva, it won't be easy. You say it's difficult; the word difficult" describes what Bodhisattvas do.

Bodhisattvas must be able to do what others cannot do; they must endure what others find difficult to endure. When people consider a job too difficult, they say, "That's all right; we'll handle it." They are not put off by difficult tasks. If you don't dare to do what is hard, you are not a Bodhisattva. Go forth with vigor! That's what a Bodhisattva is like; there is no other esoteric or wonderful secret. If you can do the things that other people cannot do, you are a Bodhisattva.

The Dharma Realm of Those Enlightened to Conditions

The holy sages enlightened to conditions
Doze high on mountain peaks alone.
Springtime's flowers wither in the fall
In a cycle of twelve interconnecting links.

Why am I asking you all these questions? Those Enlightened to Conditions (Pratyekabuddhas) don't like questions. They are recluses who don't like to be around other people. Today we are looking into the question of everyone being together, so you should not act like Those Enlightened to Conditions. When there is a Buddha in the world, they are called Those Enlightened to Conditions. When there is no Buddha in the world, they are called Solitarily Enlightened Ones, because they are able to become enlightened by themselves.

What do they like to do? They like to sleep in solitude on the mountain peaks. The holy sages enlightened to conditions. / Doze high on mountain peaks alone. / Springtime's flowers wither in the fall. / In a cycle of twelve interconnecting links. Speaking of Those Enlightened to Conditions, we should also become enlightened to causes and conditions. They cultivate the twelve causes and conditions. We, however, are cultivated by the twelve causes and conditions.

The first of the twelve causes and conditions is ignorance. They contemplate ignorance. "Where does it comes from? Strange! How can there be ignorance?" Then they see that ignorance leads to activity.

With the manifestation of activity, consciousness appears. Consciousness involves discrimination. Activity is a conditioned dharma while ignorance is neither conditioned nor unconditioned; it is between the two.

Why are discriminations made? Because of conditioned dharmas. The discriminating mind is a result of conditioned dharmas. With a discriminating mind, the trouble starts. Name and form are the trouble. Name" brings the trouble of name, and "form" brings the trouble of form. If I didn't talk about them, there wouldn't be any problems. Just mentioning them is asking for trouble, because you're bound to say, "How are name and form troublesome? I don't understand." Now you have the added trouble of "not understanding." Before I said anything, you didn't have that problem. Once I began talking, the problem of your not understanding arose and with it came the desire to know.

This quest for knowledge results in the use of the six sense faculties. See? The six sense faculties come into being because of the wish to understand. Have you ever heard such an explanation? No one has explained it this way before.

When you decide you want to know, the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind appear. You think you can gain understanding through them without realizing that the more you want to understand, the more confused you become, and the more confused you are, the less you understand.

Since you do not understand, you seek contact. You go around making contact at random: east, west, south, north, above, below; like a fly madly bouncing off the walls. Why does it bounce off the walls? Because it wants to understand.

Contact is just bumping up against things, going everywhere bouncing off the walls. You go everywhere hoping to understand, but all that results from this desperate attempt is a lot of bruises. After the determination to understand sets in and encounters occur, there is feeling. "Ow, that hurts!" Or, "Ah, I'm so comfortable. Right now I'm not bumping into things, and I feel really good." But when you bump against something, you don't feel good at all. You feel happy if no one is telling you that you're not nice. But you get upset when you hear someone criticize you. This is where feeling lies; it cannot be found outside.

Once there is feeling, craving and attachment arise. You give rise to craving and attachment for pleasant situations, but you feel aversion for unpleasant environments. Happiness and unhappiness come from craving and aversion, and so every day the trouble grows.

The holy sages enlightened to conditions. Doze high on mountain peaks alone. Springtime's flowers wither in the fall. In a cycle of twelve interconnecting links. The myriad things grow and prosper in the springtime, so the Pratyekabuddha sages contemplate and realize that everything undergoes the natural process of birth and death. They contemplate the hundreds of flowers blossoming in the springtime, and watch the dry leaves falling in the autumn." They contemplate the twelve causes and conditions.

Now we come to craving. The reason people feel unsettled is because of craving. Once there is craving, there is also aversion. You grasp at those things that you crave. What is meant by grasping? It means wanting to get hold of something. Because you have craving, you then want to obtain those objects in order to fulfill your desires. Thus grasping leads to becoming. Once you have these things for your own, there is further birth, which leads to old age and death. These are the twelve causes and conditions cultivated by Those Enlightened to Conditions.

The Dharma Realm of Hearers

The Shravaka disciples,
Both men and women,
Contemplate and practice the Four Noble Truths,
Concealing the real and displaying the expedient.

There are Hearers (Shravakas) of the first fruition, the second fruition, the third fruition, and the fourth fruition. This Dharma Realm is further divided into:

a. those approaching the first fruition, who have not yet realized the fruition;
b. those who have realized first fruition;
c. those approaching the second fruition;
d. those who have realized the second fruition;
e. those approaching the third fruition;
f. those who have realized the third fruition;
g. those approaching the fourth fruition; and
h. those who have realized the fourth fruition.

Hearers are also called Arhats. Arhats can fly and transform themselves, and they possess supernatural powers. One should not casually claim that he has attained the fruition, saying, "I'm an Arhat." That is not allowed. When a sage who has attained the fruition walks, his feet do not touch the ground. Although he appears to be walking on the road, he is actually traveling in the air. His feet do not touch the ground or the dirt. Even if he walks across mud, his shoes remain clean. Dharma Master Du Shun [the first patriarch of the Huayan School), for example, was one whose shoes weren't soiled when he walked over mud. This is the sign of a sage who has attained the fruition. One cannot casually claim to have attained the fruition.

Hearers of the first fruition have eliminated view delusions. Those of the second fruition eliminate thought delusions. At the level of the third fruition, they eliminate delusions in number like dust and sand. The Hearer of the fourth fruition has partially, though not completely, eliminated ignorance. Only one who has completely destroyed ignorance realizes Buddhahood, for even a Bodhisattva at the stage of equal enlightenment still has a small amount of the ignorance of arising phenomena which keeps him from realizing Buddhahood. What Dharmas do sages of the fourth fruition cultivate? Everyone knows the Dharmas they cultivate; we've all heard them before. They are: suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the Way to the cessation of suffering.

In the beginning, Shakyamuni Buddha went to the Deer Park to teach those people who were to become the first five Bhikshus. This included the Venerable Ajnatakaundinya and the Venerable Ashvajit. These five people were, in fact, relatives of the Buddha. They had followed the Buddha to practice, but some of them couldn't endure the hardship. When Shakyamuni Buddha was cultivating in the Himalayas, he became as thin as a stick, because he ate only one sesame seed and one grain of wheat each day. Three of his followers found this unbearable and fled in hunger, and only two remained. Later, on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month, a heavenly maiden offered some milk to Shakyamuni Buddha, and he accepted it. At that point, the other two followers left as well, not because they couldn't stand the hardship, but because they felt that the Buddha didn't know how to practice. They said, "You're supposed to be cultivating ascetic practices, and yet you drank milk. That shows you aren't able to cultivate and endure hardship." Therefore, they left as well. All five of them went to the Deer Park.

After Shakyamuni became a Buddha, he first spoke the Avatamsaka Sutra, which very few beings were able to understand. He then concealled the true and offered the expedient teaching," and he spoke the Agama Sutras. "Whom should I teach?" the Buddha wondered. Then he recalled, "Previously I had five fellow cultivators who supported my practice. I should teach them first, because in the past I vowed that when I became a Buddha, I would first teach those who have slandered me, killed me, or treated me badly." Who had treated the Buddha the worst? If you've read the Vajra Sutra, you'll know about King Kali. At the level of planting causes, when Shakyamuni Buddha was cultivating as a patient immortal, King Kali had chopped off the limbs of his body. Why?

In that previous life, Shakyamuni Buddha was a skilled cultivator. His body was covered with a thick layer of dust and dirt, and he never went down the mountain. He remained there cultivating ascetic practices. One day King Kali took his concubines his wives—along on a deer hunt. The women accompanied him into the mountains, but had no interest in hunting with the King. They wanted to have fun on their own. While strolling around in the mountains, they came upon a strange creature…they weren't quite sure what it was. Its eyebrows were three inches long and its hair was two feet long. Its face seemed to have never been washed, for the dirt caked on it was extremely thick. The dirt on its clothing was at least an inch thick. When these women saw it, they couldn't figure out what it was. They said, "It's a monster! Let's get out of here!"

Then the cultivator said, "You don't have to leave; I'm not a monster."

"It can speak!" they gasped. One of the braver ones asked him,

"What are you doing here?"

He replied, "I'm cultivating."

She asked, "What do you mean by ‘cultivating'?"

He said, "I'm cultivating in order to become a Buddha." Then he taught them the Dharma.

The women grew friendlier and expressed their concern, "You endure so much difficulty here. What do you eat?"

He answered, "I eat whatever there is—roots and leaves. I don't go out asking for food from people." By that time the women's fears vanished. One of them reached out to touch his eyebrows; another touched his hands, and yet a third patted his face. They viewed the cultivator as something precious and tried to get closer to him.

Meanwhile, King Kali had finished hunting and was looking for his concubines. He found them all gathered around something and tried to see what they were up to. He walked his way slowly toward them, not making a sound, and when he was close enough he saw them talking with a very strange man. What is more, one was touching his hands and another was patting his feet! Seeing them acting so friendly, the King immediately grew jealous. The cultivator was talking to his women about cultivation.

In a rage, the King bellowed, "You have no business cheating my women! What are you cultivating?"

The cultivator replied, "I'm cultivating patience."

"And what do you mean by ‘patience'?"

"I will not become angry at anyone who scolds or beats me."

King Kali said, "You may have cheated my women into believing you, but I'll never believe you. You say you can be patient? Is that true?"

The old cultivator said, "Of course."

"Fine, I'm going to give you a test!" The King then drew his sword and chopped off the old cultivator's hand. He said, "I've just chopped off your hand. Do you hate me?"

The cultivator said, "No."

You don't hate me? Then you really have some skill. But you must be lying. You just say you don't hate me, even though in your mind you do. You're lying! I'm a very smart person. You think you can fool me?" King Kali continued, "All right, since you claim you are patient and don't hate me, I'm going to chop off your other hand."

After chopping off the cultivator's other hand, the King asked, Now do you hate me?"

The old cultivator said, "No."

The King then chopped off the cultivator's feet. Having hacked off the cultivator's four limbs, he asked, "Do you hate me?"

"No," said the cultivator, "not only do I not hate you, but when I accomplish Buddhahood, I will save you first. How can I convince you that I don't hate you? If I hate you, my four limbs will not be restored, and if I don't hate you, my hands and feet will be restored, even though you have completely severed them from my body. If they are restored, that will prove that I don't feel any hatred. If I feel any hatred, that will not occur." Whereupon the old cultivator became whole again.

Having witnessed King Kali hack off the cultivator's hands and feet in such a cruel manner, the Dharma-protecting spirits manifested their great supernatural power and pelted the King with a shower of hailstones. Realizing the severity of his offense and seeing the cultivator's great spiritual powers, King Kali knelt before the cultivator seeking forgiveness.

The cultivator said, "If I don't realize Buddhahood, there is nothing to be said. But if one day I do, I will save you first." That is why the Buddha first went to the Deer Park to teach Ajnatakaundinya, who had been King Kali in a former life. Because of his past vow, the Buddha first wanted to save the person who had treated him the worst.

After hearing this story, we should all vow that after becoming Buddhas, we will first save those who treated us the worst. We shouldn't think, "You've been so mean to me. I'm going to send you to the hells after I become a Buddha." Don't make that kind of vow.

When the Buddha went to the Deer Park, he spoke the three turnings of the Dharma Wheel of the Four Noble Truths for the five Bhikshus. First he said:

    This is suffering; it is oppressive.
    This is the cause of suffering; it beckons.
    This is the Way; it can be cultivated.
    This is the cessation of suffering; it can be realized.

The second time he said,

    This is suffering; I have completely known it.
    This is the cause of suffering; I have completely eliminated it.
    This is the Way; I have completely cultivated it.
    This is the cessation of suffering; I have completely realized it.

During the third turning he said,

    This is suffering; you should know it.
    This is the cause of suffering; you should eliminate it.
    This is the Way; you should cultivate it.
    This is the cessation of suffering; you should realize it.

After the Buddha spoke the three turnings of Four Noble Truths, he said to Ajnatakaundinya, "You are troubled by guest-dust [transient defilements) and have not obtained liberation."

When Ajnatakaundinya heard the words "guest-dust," he became enlightened and realized the transience of defiling objects. "The guest is not the host, and the dust is unclean. My self-nature is the host, and it is clean and pure." Ajnatakaundinya is called "one who understands the original limit." He understood the fundamental truth and became the "foremost exponent of emptiness."

The Four Noble Truths are infinite and inexhaustible. The Shravaka disciples, / Both men and women. Both women and men can realize the fruition and become Hearers, or Arhats. Dharma Master Kumarajiva's mother, for instance, became a third-stage Arhat.

Hearers contemplate and practice the Four Noble Truths. They cultivate the Four Noble Truths: suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the Way. This involves being aware of suffering, eliminating the cause of suffering, aiming for the cessation of suffering, and cultivating the Way. They cultivate the Dharma-door of the Four Noble Truths.

Concealing the real and displaying the expedient. You see them as Hearers, but in reality they may be great Bodhisattvas of the provisional teaching who appear expediently as such. This is called "concealing the real." They conceal their real merit and virtue. "Displaying the expedient" means they demonstrate skillful means. Hearers may be great Bodhisattvas who have come back to the world. Not all of them are, but some of them are definitely Great Vehicle Bodhisattvas who appear among those of the Theravada to urge them to progress toward the great. This is called "concealing the real and displaying the expedient."

The Dharma Realm of Gods

Beings of the Six Desire and the Brahma heavens,
Practice the five precepts and the ten good deeds.
Planting seeds with outflows,
They cannot terminate their transmigration.

Beings of the Six Desire and the Brahma Heavens. First of all, there are the Six Desire Heavens, which are the Heavens of the Desire Realm. There are heavens in the Desire Realm, the Form Realm, and the Formless Realm—in all of the Three Realms.

Our world is located under the first of the six heavens of the Desire Realm—the Heaven of the Four Heavenly Kings. This heaven, which is directly above us, is governed by the four Heavenly Kings. It is located halfway up Mount Sumeru, which means that half of Mount Sumeru is within the human realm while the other half is above the Heaven of the Four Heavenly Kings. The parts of this heaven located on the north, south, east, and west sides of Mount Sumeru are governed by the four Heavenly Kings, as are the four continents of our world: Purvavideha to the east, Jambudvipa to the south, Aparagodaniya to the west, and Uttarakuru to the north. If we were to go into detail, we would never finish our discussion of this heaven.

The beings in the Heaven of the Four Heavenly Kings have a life span of 500 years, but that's not the same as 500 years in our world. One day and night in that heaven is equal to 50 years on earth. Figure it out: How many years on earth is 500 years in the Heaven of the Four Heavenly Kings? The beings in that heaven live for 500 years. One of their days is 50 human years. How many human years is 365 of their days? If you know math, you can figure it out.

The second heaven in the Desire Realm is the Trayastrimsha Heaven. Trayastrimsha (Trayastri) is a Sanskrit word. You don't know what that means? Then let's call it the "Don't Know Heaven." The Don't Know Heaven is just the Trayastrimsha, a Sanskrit word that means thirty-three." Shakra, known as yin tuo la ye (Indra) in the Shurangama Mantra, resides in the center of these heavens. He is the God" revered in Christianity, and in China he is known as the Jade Emperor. The Book of History (Shu-jing) refers to him as the Supreme Lord and says, "Bathe and observe purity in order to worship the Supreme Lord."

In ancient China no one knew about the Buddha; they knew only about the Supreme Lord. In the Shang Dynasty, Emperor Tang used a black bull as an offering to the Supreme Lord and said, "I, Lü, but a small child, presume to use this black bull in venturing to make known to the Supremely Exalted Ruling Lord that if I have offenses, they are not the people's, and if the people have offenses, the offenses rest with me."

Emperor Tang's name was Lü, and he referred to himself as a small child out of respect for the Supreme Lord. He very sincerely offered a black bull and told the Supreme Lord that if he made errors, the citizens should not be blamed, and that if the common folk of his country committed offenses, the responsibility should rest with the Emperor for not having taught them correctly.

The ancients blamed themselves in that way, unlike people of today who clearly know that they are in the wrong but say, "Don't look at me! It's his fault! How can you blame me?" and complain, "God is unjust.

Why does he confer wealth on others and make me so poor? Why does he bestow honor on some and leave me so wretched?" They blame heaven and curse mankind, looking for faults in others instead of admitting their own wrongs. The ancients acknowledged their own mistakes.

In the Trayastrimsha Heaven, Shakra resides in the middle, with eight heavens surrounding him to the north, south, east, and west, making thirty-three in all.

The third of the Desire Heavens is the Yama (Suyama) Heaven. Yama is a Sanskrit word which means "time period." In this heaven, the gods are so happy that they sing songs about their bliss day and night. They sing, "How happy I am! I'm so happy!" They are joyful throughout the six periods of the day and night. Hence, the name of this heaven is translated as "time period." Every time period is filled with happiness.

The fourth of the Desire Heavens is the Tushita Heaven, which translates as "happiness and contentment." The beings there are always happy and satisfied. Those who know contentment are always happy. That heaven is also called the "Heaven of Contentment," because the beings there never have a worry or care from morning to night. They don't have any afflictions or worries.

The fifth of the Desire Heavens is the Heaven of the Transformation of Bliss (Nirmalarati). The beings in this heaven can derive happiness from transformations. In the previous heaven of "happiness and contentment," the beings are happy and content regardless of whether there are transformations; they are content even in unhappy situations. In this heaven, the beings bring about happiness through transformations.

The sixth of the Desire Heavens is the Heaven of the Transformation of Others' Bliss (Paranirmita-vavartin). The beings of this heaven haven't any bliss of their own, but they can take it from beings in other heavens for their own enjoyment. Many demons live in this heaven along with their retinues. Why do they take the happiness of beings in other heavens? Because they are unreasonable. Common thieves in the world of men are generally gods fallen from the Heaven of the Transformation of Others' Bliss. Having fallen, they still have the habit of stealing money from others.

The Brahma Heavens include the Great Brahma (Mahabrahma) Heaven, the Multitudes of Brahma (Brahmakayika) Heaven, and the Ministers of Brahma (Brahmapurohita) Heaven. Beings of the Six Desire Heavens and the Brahma Heavens practice the five precepts and the ten good deeds.

Because these beings cultivated the five precepts and the ten good deeds, they obtain the blessings and rewards of the heavens. However, the cultivation of the five precepts and the ten good deeds plants good roots that have outflows, so the verse says: Planting seeds with outflows. It has nothing to do with anyone else at all. [Note: This last line is actually from the verse for the Dharma Realm of People.] You yourself are responsible.

It's not easy to explain the Dharma in the Sutras. When I speak, I don't prepare ahead of time. "The Master said it wrong," some of you are thinking, but you don't dare to say it aloud. However, once you say it in your mind, strangely enough, I receive your telegram. So I'll correct the last line: They cannot terminate their transmigration. Am I right this time? Did you say in your mind that I said it wrong? (Disciple: Yes."] Ha! It wasn't just one person who thought that way. The rest of you should also admit it if you were having such thoughts. [Another disciple: "Yes, I was."] You have to be honest. If you aren't honest, you will never attain the Way. [Other disciples also admit that they were thinking that way.]

The Dharma Realm of Asuras

Asuras have a violent nature,
Laden with blessings, lacking power.
Absolutely determined to fight,
They bob along in karma's tow.

Asura is a Sanskrit word that means "ugly." Male asuras are extremely ugly; the females are beautiful. It is the nature of the male asura to initiate fights. The female asura is also naturally fond of fighting, but wages covert wars, unlike the overt physical battles of the males, using weapons of the mind such as jealousy, obstructiveness, ignorance, and affliction.

Sometimes this realm is included in the Three Good Realmsgods, humans, and asuras. At other times they are classified as one of the Four Evil Realms—hell-beings, hungry ghosts, animals, and asuras.

There are asuras in the animal realm, in the human realm, in the heavens, and among the hungry ghosts. Although the asuras are an individual Dharma Realm by themselves, they appear in the otherrealms as well. In general, regardless of what realm they are in, they like to pick fights, and they have bad tempers. They enjoy bossing others around and like to be supervisors, but they can't stand supervision. They won't be controlled by others. These are the characteristics of asuras.

If you haven't noticed the asuras, I can tell you more about them. Among people, asuras can be good or bad. The good asuras include military officials and troops, and bad asuras are bandits, thieves, robbers, thugs, murderers, and the like. We can see these asuras in the world of men.

There are also asuras in the heavens. Heavenly asuras wage battles against the heavenly troops of Shakra. From morning to night, they attempt to overthrow Shakra so that they can seize his jeweled throne and become the heavenly king. But no matter what strategy they use, they are always defeated, because they are "laden with blessings, lacking power." They have accumulated the blessings that earn them rebirth in the heavens, but they have no authority there. For that reason, they are invariably defeated in their battles with the heavenly troops.

Are there asuras in the animal realm? Yes. Tigers, for instance, are asuras among the animals. Lions and wolves are also asuras among the animals. These asuras bully the other animals. Wolves, tigers, and lions kill other animals for food. They prey on other animals because they have the nature of asuras. Snakes and eagles are also asuras.

In general, asuras are utterly unreasonable and have huge tempers. They are constantly blowing their tops. Too much temper!

There are also asuras in the hungry ghost realm, and they go around bullying other ghosts. The realm of hungry ghosts has kind ghosts and evil ghosts. Evil ghosts are utterly unreasonable. Ghosts are not reasonable to begin with, but these asura ghosts are even more unreasonable. And so the verse says: Asuras have a violent nature. They have explosive tempers.

Laden with blessings, lacking power. They have heavenly blessings, but lack heavenly authority. They fight for power and advantages, but fail to obtain them. Absolutely determined to fight: they love to fight and wage war. The modern world is a world of asuras—everyone is fighting and struggling, trying to knock each other down.

Asuras are so belligerent that they can keep fighting for one hundred, two hundred, three hundred, five hundred, or even a thousand years. They could fight for a thousand years without getting tired of it!

This is the Age Strong in Fighting and also the Dharma-Ending Age. Nevertheless, we don't want it to be the Dharma-Ending Age; we want the Proper Dharma to prevail. We should vow that wherever we go, the Proper Dharma will prevail. If we do that, every place we go will become a place of genuine Dharma. If everyone fulfilled this vow, the Dharma-Ending Age would become the Proper Dharma Age. We can turn the situation around.

They bob along in karma's tow. Asuras may be born in the heavens, in the human realm, or in the realms of animals and hungry ghosts. Dragged by the force of their karma, they become deluded, create more karma, and undergo the retribution. The force of their karma pulls them to undergo retribution in various realms. Cultivators should take care not to be belligerent and hot-tempered. Then they won't get dragged into the asura realm.

Five of the nine Dharma Realms have asuras. In the animal realm, there are asuras among creatures that fly in the air, those on the land, and those in the water. Crocodiles are an instance of asuras in the water. Wild stallions are asuras among horses. They bring trouble and disturbance to the herd. Most bulls are asuras, too. They butt their two horns against things to show their tough asura disposition. Bulls are asuras by nature. Dogs have even more of an asura nature, so people who own dogs are in close association with asuras. If you hang around asuras, you become closer to them. And getting close to them is dangerous; you might just fall into the realm of asuras. Everyone should pay attention to this and not run into the realm of asuras!

The Dharma Realm of People

    The way of men is harmony,
    With merit and error interspersed.
    On virtuous deeds you rise; offenses make you fall.
    It has nothing to do with anyone else at all.

The realm of asuras is dangerous, but what about the realm of people? There are both good and evil people. The way of men is harmony. People are harmonious beings who are capable of getting along with anyone.

However, those who become human beings are neither completely good nor completely bad. Beings who are completely good are reborn in the heavens, while those who are thoroughly bad become animals or hungry ghosts or fall into the hells. People have both merit and offenses. When a person's merit is greater than his offenses, he will be born into a rich and distinguished family, but one with small merit and heavy offenses will be born into a poor family. Between these extremes are a thousand differences and a myriad distinctions. Therefore, the verse says: With merit and error interspersed. They have some merit, and they also have some offenses; they are neither extremely yin nor extremely yang. Beings with a preponderance of yin become ghosts. Those who are mostly yang become gods; they don't become humans.

Human beings can ascend to the heavens or fall into the hells. If you do good deeds, you ascend; if you commit offenses, you fall. So the verse says: On virtuous deeds you rise; offenses make you fall.

It has nothing to do with anyone else at all. Other people cannot tell you to fall into the hells, make you a ghost, or cause you to become an animal. It is entirely up to you. What you create you must endure. You must suffer the consequences of your own actions.

The Dharma Realm of Animals

Eager animals feed on greed,
Never sated by a lot.
They take what's black as white
And can't distinguish wrong from right.

The seven Dharma Realms discussed above are the better ones. If you wish, you can enter them to try them out—put on a play—but you shouldn't play around with the remaining three Dharma Realms. If you try these out, you may not be able to escape. It is said that once you lose your human form, ten thousand eons may pass before that form can be obtained again. It's very dangerous; you shouldn't treat it as mere play-acting. One of my disciples compared it to putting on a play, but he doesn't really understand what's going on.

There are billions of animals, an infinite variety—flying, crawling, swimming, or walking—in the sky, on land, and in the water. The species of birds and flying animals alone number in the millions, and land animals are not a few, either. There are millions of land animals ranging from small rodents through cows, horses, deer, and bears to the mighty elephant. In the water are seals, water buffalo, sea horses, manatees, and a myriad variety of swimming creatures.

We could never thoroughly study and understand all these animals. Even Ph.D.'s in the areas of zoology, biology, and related fields who do extensive and continuous research have no way to know all the animal species in the world. If they know a thousand, they don't know eleven hundred. If they know eleven hundred, they don't know twelve hundred.

Although someone might claim to know them all, how can he be certain that someone doesn't know more than he does? It's impossible to be sure. We have no way to completely know all the species of animals. Even the number of different kinds of insects would be hard to determine. When examined like that, wouldn't you say that the world is multilayered and infinite, infinite and multilayered?

Beings become animals as the result of one thing: greed. Eager animals feed on greed. For them, no matter what it is, the more the better. A little won't do. They are insatiably greedy; they never get tired of more.

Since they are never sated by a lot, they can't tell that black is black. They say, "Oh, it's white!" They take what's black as white. Because they are greedy for everything, they have no conceptions we consider reasonable—even to the point that they are greedy to eat excrement. The more excrement a dog eats, the better it likes it. People wonder how it can eat such filth, but the dog finds it more savory with every mouthful. That's how they are—never sated by a lot! That's an example of taking black as white: They delight in something that is basically unpleasant. Greed can extend even to the desire for more sickness. One sickness is not enough; they want two. They also want to take more medicine.

And they can't distinguish wrong from right. Animals are not clear about right and wrong, because they lack the ability to reason. How did they get that way? Simply through greed. They become muddled, and ignorance envelops them so that they become totally oblivious to anything rational.

Take heed, and don't be greedy. People who have left the home-life should not be greedy for money, but some say "the more the better!" Such greed puts you in grave danger, and it is easy to become an animal as a result.

"People who enter monastic life can't fall," you may say.

If they don't cultivate according to the Buddha's precepts, they will fall even faster. The ancients had a saying, "Many of those standing at the gates of the hells are Sanghans and Taoists." All the old Taoists and Buddhist monks who were greedy are waiting at the doors of hell saying, "Quick! Send me to the hells. Hurry up and let me come in!" Once in, it's a lot of fun inside. They think the hells will provide good entertainment, so they go there. But once they arrive they realize it is not a game.

The Dharma Realm of Hungry Ghosts

    The ghostly crew delights in hate,
    Deluded by effects, confused about cause;
    Their ignorance and upside-downness
    Grow greater each day, deeper each month.
Almost everyone has heard of ghosts, but not everyone believes in them. There are even Buddhist disciples who don't believe there are ghosts. Ghosts are masses of yin energy that have shadow and no form, or form and no shadow. Perhaps you have seen a dark shadow, but when you looked closer it disappeared. Or perhaps you've seen what seemed like a person, but which vanished in the blink of an eye. Such phenomena are difficult to understand.

Among the Ten Dharma Realms, we are now discussing the Dharma Realm of ghosts. There are as many different kinds of ghosts as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River. There are infinitely many kinds of ghosts. Some are affluent and powerful ghosts that reign as kings over the ghosts' realm. Some ghosts are poverty-stricken and devoid of authority—it is often the poor ghosts who bother people and go about causing trouble. If you want to know how many kinds of ghosts there are, work hard at cultivation, open the five eyes and six spiritual penetrations, and then you'll know.

As to people who say there are no ghosts, I tell them that if there are no ghosts, then there are also no Buddhas, people, or animals, because animals are transformed from ghosts, as are people, asuras, and so forth, even to gods, Arhats, Pratyekabuddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas. All realms come from the realm of ghosts, because the Ten Dharma Realms are not apart from a single thought of the mind, and one thought of the mind creates the Ten Dharma Realms.

By conducting yourself as if you were a ghost, you fall into the ghosts' realm. Acting as a person does, you come to the human realm. Behaving like an asura, you join the ranks of asuras. Assuming the practice of an Arhat, you enter the realm of Arhats. Behaving like One Enlightened to Conditions, you enter that realm. Doing the deeds of a Bodhisattva, you join the retinue of Bodhisattvas. Performing the work of a Buddha, you realize Buddhahood. If you commit hellish offenses, you fall into the hells. All of this is brought about by the one thought that is right now in your mind. Thus we say that the Ten Dharma Realms are not beyond a single thought.

The ghostly crew delights in hate. Ghosts enjoy exploding in a fiery rage when people are not good to them, and even when treated well they still get angry. They like nothing better than giving people trouble. They give you trouble whether you are good to them or not. There is an old saying: "Lighting a stick of incense calls forth ghosts." People light incense to pay respect to ghosts. Before you've paid respect to them they don't bother you, but once you make their acquaintance, the ghosts become a nuisance, make you sick, or give you some other trouble. Confucius said, "Respect the ghosts and spirits, but keep them at a distance." It is wise to pay respect to the ghosts and spirits, but otherwise keep your distance and don't get too close to them.

Deluded by effects, confused about cause. They are unclear about results and don't understand their causes. As a result, they can't tell good from bad. Basically if you plant a good cause, you reap a good fruit; if you plant a bad cause you reap a bad effect. If you plant melons you get melons; plant beans and you'll get beans. Ghosts don't understand that. They plant eggplant and anticipate eating hot peppers, or plant hot peppers and think they will harvest cucumbers. Since they have no comprehension of principles, they act recklessly and in confusion.

Their ignorance and upside-downness / Grow greater each day, deeper each month. They accumulate a lot karma every day. Their ignorance and upside-downness become deeper with each passing month. The more karma they create, the deeper their ignorance gets, and the deeper it gets, the more offenses they commit.

===The Dharma Realm of Hell-beings===

The hells' anxiety and suffering
Is devoid of doors, yet one bores right in.
Giving rise to delusion, deeds are done.
The retribution is borne in due accord.

The hells are a miserable place. Anyone who would like to take a vacation in the hells can do so any time at all. I can guarantee that you'll get there right away. How? It is said,

Depressed and melancholy, you roam through the hells.
Happy and smiling, you enjoy eternal youth.
Weeping and woe make a small dark room in the hells.

Once you become worried, you travel to the hells to take a vacation. If you get worried, you plant a seed for the hells. If you smile, you plant a seed for the heavens. It is said,

From ancient times, the divine immortals have had no other practice Than merely being happy and not being sad.

If you become depressed, you take a trip to the hells. If you smile all the time, you look youthful even if you are old. If you cry, you give yourself a lot of vexation.

In general, there is no happiness in the hells. They are full of suffering and distress. The hells' anxiety and suffering / Is devoid of doors, yet one bores right in. Unlike jails built to hold criminals, the hells haven't any doors. However, if you are due to go to hell, when you arrive it is just as if a door opened, because you find yourself worming and boring in where there was no entrance.

Giving rise to delusion, deeds are done. Why do you go to the hells? Ignorance and afflictions make you stupid and confused, so you create bad karma and don't do good deeds. The retribution is borne in due accord. When you create bad karma, you fall into the hells to undergo the retribution. There is no end to this cycle once it starts. You receive exact repayment for whatever karma you create, and the retribution is never off by even a hair's breadth.

Ten Realms in a Thought

    All of these ten realms—a single thought
    Are not apart from your present thought.
    If you can awaken to that thought,
    You'll arrive immediately at the other shore.

Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Hearers, and Those Enlightened to Conditions are the Four Sagely Dharma Realms; gods, human beings, asuras, hell- beings, hungry ghosts, and animals are the Six Common Dharma Realms. Together, they make up the Ten Dharma Realms. Where do the Ten Dharma Realms come from? From the single thought which is right now in your mind. All of these ten realms—a single thought— Are not apart from your present thought.

If you can awaken to that thought, if you can understand it, you'll arrive immediately at the other shore. The other shore is enlightenment. When you become enlightened, you are no longer confused. When ignorance is smashed and the Dharma-body appears, you arrive at the other shore. This is Mahaprajnaparamita.