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."