The Sutra of Forty-two Chapters
(The Buddha Speaks the Sutra 1 of Forty-two Chapters)
Translated into Chinese by Kashyapa-matanga and Gobharana of the Later Han Dynasty 2
Having attained Buddhahood, the World Honored One 3 reflected: To abandon desire 4 and be immersed in stillness 5 is the supreme Way. Abiding in profound samadhi 6, one subdues all evil 7. The Buddha turned the Dharma Wheel 8 of the Four Noble Truths 9 at Deer Park 10, and led Kaundinya 11 and four others to attain the fruit of the Way 12. There were also bhiksus 13 who had various questions and implored the Buddha for guidance. The World Honored One taught and directed each one to enlightenment 14. Joining their palms with reverence and promise, they complied with the Buddha’s noble instructions.
Chapter 1: Renounce the Secular Life and Attain the Fruit of Arhatship
The Buddha said, “Those who take leave of their families, and renounce the secular life 15, who know their mind, penetrate to its origin, and understand the unconditioned 16 Dharma 17, are called shramanas 18. By always observing the 250 precepts 19, being pure and unblemished in their conduct, and practicing the Path of the Four Truths, they then become arhats 20. Arhats possess the powers of levitation and transformation 21. Their lives may span many kalpas 22, and they can move heaven and earth. Prior to arhats are the non-returners 23. At the end of their lives, conscious spirits of the non-returners will ascend above the nineteenth heaven 24, where they will attain arhatship. Prior to non-returners are the once-returners , who ascend to the heavens and return to earth at most once before they become arhats. Prior to once-returners 25 are the stream-enterers 26, who go through birth and death at most seven times before attaining arhatship. Once desire and lust are eradicated like severed limbs, one will never use them again.”
Chapter 2: No-mind 27 Is the Way
The Buddha said, “Those who renounce the secular life to become shramanas eradicate desire and lust, recognize the source of their own mind 28, penetrate the profound doctrine of the Buddha, and awaken to the unconditioned Dharma. With nothing to gain from within and nothing to seek from without, their minds are not attached to the Way, nor do they accumulate karma. With no thought, no action 32, no cultivation 33, and no attainment 34, they transcend the successive stages 35 and reach the loftiest state of all. This is called the Way.”
Chapter 3: Desire 36 Makes People Foolish
The Buddha said, “Those who shave their head 37 and beard to become shramanas and cultivate the Dharma of the Way should renounce worldly possessions, be content to beg for alms, and take only what is needed. Eat one meal a day before noon, pass the nights beneath trees, and be vigilant not to desire more, for desire and lust are what make people foolish and deluded.”
Chapter 4: The Ten Evils and Ten Virtues
The Buddha said, “In sentient beings, ten actions are virtuous and ten are evil. What are they? Three pertain to the body, four to the mouth 38, and three to the mind. Killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct pertain to the body. Malicious, abusive, false, and frivolous speech pertain to the mouth. Envy, anger, and ignorance pertain to the mind. These ten deeds, known as the ten evils, are not in accord with the Noble Way. To renounce the ten evils is to practice the ten virtues.”
Chapter 5: Reducing the Severity of Offenses 39
The Buddha said, “If a person with many faults fails to repent 40 and cease immediately the thoughts 41 that cause harm, his offenses will consume him, just as waters return to the sea which becomes ever deeper and wider. If a person with faults realizes his errors, corrects his actions and cultivates virtue, his offenses will naturally dissolve, just as sweating enables a sick person to recover gradually.”
Chapter 6: Tolerance without Resentment
The Buddha said, “When a malicious person hears about goodness and intentionally comes to provoke trouble, you should restrain yourself; do not be angry or reprimand him. Evil deeds will fall back upon the evil-doer.”
Chapter 7: Evil Deeds Return to the Doer
The Buddha said, “Someone came to insult me upon hearing that I uphold the Way and practice great benevolence. But I kept silent and did not respond. After he had stopped, I asked him, ‘If you bring someone a gift and he does not accept it, does the gift remain with you?’ ‘It does,’ he replied. The Buddha said, ‘Now you insult me, but I do not accept it; this insult will only bring yourself harm. Just as echo follows sound and shadow trails form, there is no escape. Be vigilant to do no evil.’”
Chapter 8: To Fling Dust into the Wind
The Buddha said, “An evil person who harms a sage is like one who spits toward the sky. The spit does not reach the sky, but falls back on himself. When one flings dust into the wind, the dust does not hit others but is blown back on himself. The sage 42 cannot be harmed; evil actions will inevitably destroy the doer.”
Chapter 9: Knowledge and Practice
The Buddha said, “For those who accrue extensive knowledge of the Way, becoming enamored 43 with it, the Way is difficult to attain.For those with unwavering resolve in following the Way, the Way is great indeed 44.”
Chapter 10: Joyfully Aid Others in Giving
The Buddha said, “When you see others practicing dana 45 and joyfully aid in their efforts, you gain great blessings.” A shramana asked, “Will these blessings ever be exhausted?” The Buddha said, “It is like thousands of people who light their torches from the flame of a single torch, to cook food and dispel darkness 46, yet the original flame is undiminished. So it is with these blessings 47.”
Chapter 11: Fields of Blessings 48
The Buddha said:
“It is better to offer food to a single virtuous person than to one hundred evil people.
“It is better to offer food to one who observes the Five Precepts than to one thousand virtuous people.
“It is better to offer food to one stream-enterer than to ten thousand who observe the Five Precepts 49.
“It is better to offer food to one once-returner than to one million stream-enterers.
“It is better to offer food to one non-returner than to ten milliononce-returners.
“It is better to offer food to one arhat than to one hundred million non-returners.
“It is better to offer food to one pratyekabuddha 50 than to one billion arhats.
“It is better to offer food to one of the Buddhas of the three periods of time 51 than to ten billion pratyekabuddhas.
Chapter 12: Twenty Difficulties in Cultivation
The Buddha said, “People have twenty kinds of difficulties:
“It is difficult for the poor to practice dana.
“It is difficult for the rich and eminent to practice the Way.
“It is difficult to renounce life when facing death.
“It is difficult to encounter the Buddhist sutras 54.
“It is difficult to be born in the age of a Buddha.
“It is difficult to subdue desire and lust.
“It is difficult not to covet what one likes.
“It is difficult to face humiliation without anger.
“It is difficult to have power and not abuse it.
“It is difficult to face situations with a detached mind 55.
“It is difficult to master vast areas of knowledge.
“It is difficult to extinguish self-conceit.
“It is difficult not to belittle those who are unlearned.
“It is difficult for the mind to act with impartiality 56.
“It is difficult not to gossip or be judgmental.
“It is difficult to meet the right, learned teacher.
“It is difficult to see one’s original nature 57 and practice the Way.
“It is difficult to guide beings appropriately 58 to liberation.
“It is difficult to be unperturbed by circumstances.
“It is difficult to master the expedient means 59 of the Way.”
Chapter 13: Questions about the Way and Past Lives
A shramana asked the Buddha, “What enables one to know past lives and to attain the supreme Way?” The Buddha said, “By purifying your mind with unwavering resolve, you will attain the supreme Way 60. It is like polishing a mirror; when you remove the impurities, brightness is revealed. By eradicating desires and seeking nothing, you will gain knowledge of past lives.”
Chapter 14: Virtue and Greatness
A shramana asked the Buddha, “What is virtue? What is greatness?” The Buddha said, “To practice the Way and abide by the truth is virtue. When your will is one with the Way 61, that is greatness.”
Chapter 15: Tolerance and Purification
A shramana asked the Buddha, “What is great power? What is the brightest light 62?” The Buddha said, “Tolerance under insult is great power 63, because it harbors not hatred but peace and fortitude. Those who are tolerant are free from evil and will be honored by others. When the mind is utterly purged of defilements, it is pure without blemish or filth; that is the brightest light. From before the formation of heaven and earth, and through the present, there is nothing in the ten directions 64 that one does not see, hear, or know—this all inclusive wisdom 65 is indeed brightness.”
Chapter 16: Renounce Desire to Attain the Way
The Buddha said, “Those who harbor desire and lust cannot see the Way. When our hands disturb clear water, none who gather beside it can see their reflections. Similarly, when people are aroused by desires, their minds are so muddled they cannot see the Way. You shramanas should renounce desire. When desire and lust are purged, the Way will manifest itself.”
Chapter 17: Light Dispels Darkness
The Buddha said, “Seeing the Way is like entering a dark room holding a torch; darkness dissipates and light alone remains. When you follow the Way and see the truth, ignorance vanishes and enlightenment always remains.”
Chapter 18: The No-mind Doctrine 66
The Buddha said, “My doctrine is to be mindful of no-mind 67, to act with non-action 68, to speak the inexpressible 69, and to cultivate non-cultivation 70. Those who understand this are close to the Way; those who are confused are far from it. The Way is beyond speech and conception, and nothing can constrain it. To miss this point by a hair’s breadth is to lose the Way instantly.”
Chapter 19: Meditate on the Illusive and the Real 71
The Buddha said, “Observe heaven and earth and contemplate impermanence. Observe the world and contemplate impermanence. Seeing one’s awareness is bodhi 72. With this understanding one swiftly attains the Way.”
Chapter 20: The Self Is Empty
Chapter 21: Seeking Fame Consumes the Person
The Buddha said, “People follow their desires to seek fame. By the time fame is achieved, the body has fallen apart. Craving for lasting worldly fame 75 instead of learning the Way, we wear out the body with futile efforts. Like a burning incense, its body is turning to ashes as people smell its scent—be aware, the imminent fire will consume you 76.”
Chapter 22: Wealth and Lust Bring Suffering
The Buddha said, “People are reluctant to renounce wealth and sex. These are like honey on a knife’s blade, which is not enough to appease one’s hunger, yet a child who licks this honey is in danger of cutting his tongue.”
Chapter 23: The Family Is Like Prison
The Buddha said, “Men are bound to their wives 77 and homes more than the confinement of a prison. One may be released from prison, but a wife has no desire to let go. How dare one be reckless and indulge in passion and lust! Although they are as dangerous as the tiger’s jaws, people yield willingly, throwing themselves into the mire and drown. That is why they are called ordinary beings. Those who break free from this prison can transcend all defilements to become arhats.”
Chapter 24: Sexual Desire Hinders the Way
The Buddha said, “There is no desire more powerful than sex; sex as a desire has no equal. Fortunately, there is no other like it. If there were, no one in the world would be able to cultivate the Way.”
Chapter 25: The Fire of Lust Consumes the Body
The Buddha said, “People who succumb to lust are like those who walk against the wind holding a torch; they will surely burn their hands.”
Chapter 26: Deva Tempts the Buddha
A deva 78 offered the Buddha beautiful maidens, wishing to corrupt him. The Buddha told the maidens, “Skin-bags 79 filled with filth, why are you here? Begone! I have no use for you.” The deva was filled with respect and asked the Buddha the meaning of the Way. The Buddha instructed him whereupon he attained the fruit of stream-enterer.
Chapter 27: Logs in the Stream
The Buddha said, “Those who cultivate the Way are like logs in a stream, following the current. If they are not grounded on either shore 80, gathered by men 81, intercepted by demons or spirits 82, caught in whirlpools 83, and they do not decay 84, then I guarantee that these logs will reach the ocean. If those who follow the Way are not blinded by sensual desires, led astray by evil influences, and are diligent yet empty of effort 85, then I guarantee that they will attain the Way.”
Chapter 28: Be Wary of the Unbridled Mind 86
The Buddha said, “Be wary of trusting your own mind, for it is deceptive. Be wary of situations that may incite lust, for those will lead to disaster. Once you have attained arhatship, you can trust your own mind 87.”
Chapter 29: The Right Way to Counter Lust
The Buddha said, “Be wary and refrain from looking at women or speaking with them. If you do, be righteous in thought and contemplate: ‘I am now a shramana living in an impure world. I should be like the lotus flower 88, unsullied by mud.’ You should regard elderly women as your mothers, those older than you as your elder sisters 89, those younger than you as your younger sisters, and the little ones as your children. Resolve to liberate them all, thereby extinguishing impure thoughts.”
Chapter 30: Avoid the Fire of Desire
The Buddha said, “People who cultivate the Way are like those who carry hay 90; they should avoid fire. Cultivators of the Way must keep their distance from desires.”
Chapter 31: A Still Mind Extinguishes Lust
A man plagued with incessant lust wished to castrate himself. The Buddha told him, “Rather than castrate yourself, you should curb your mind 91. The mind is like a commander; when the commander halts, so will his subordinates. If you cannot cut off lascivious thoughts, what is the use of castrating yourself?” The Buddha recited the following verse:
Desire arises from thinking, Thinking arises from conception and discernment.
When both aspects of the mind 92 are still,
There is neither form nor action 93.
The Buddha said, “This verse was spoken by Kashyapa Buddha 94.”
Chapter 32: Desire Leads to Fear
The Buddha said, “Fear 95 arises from worry, and worry arises from craving and desire. If you abandon desire, what fear or worry could you have?”
Chapter 33: Perseverance in Spiritual Battle
The Buddha said, “One who practices the Way is like a single person battling against ten thousand 96. Donning his armor and leaving home 97, his will may weaken, he may retreat halfway, he may be killed in combat, or he may return victorious. When shramanas follow the Way, they should be resolute, diligent, and valiant; not fearing what challenges lie ahead, they destroy all demons 98 and attain the Way.
Chapter 34: Dharma of the Middle Way 99
One night a shramana 100 was reciting the Sutra Bequeathed by Kashyapa Buddha. His tone was woeful and tense. Plagued by doubts 101, he thought of abandoning the monastic life. The Buddha asked him, “What did you do when you were a householder?” He said, “I was fond of playing the lute.” The Buddha asked, “What happens when the strings are too loose?” He replied, “There is no sound.” “What happens when the strings are too taut?” He replied, “The sound is discordant.” “What happens when the strings are neither too loose nor too taut?” He replied, “All the sounds are in harmony.”
The Buddha said, “It is the same when a shramana is practicing the Way. If his mind is properly tuned, he will attain the Way. If he pursues the Way too impetuously, his body will be weary. If his body is weary, his mind will be vexed. If vexations arise, his practice will regress. If his practice regresses, his faults will increase. However, if he remains pure, serene, and joyful, he will not lose the Way.”
Chapter 35: Expel Defilements and the Mind Becomes Pure
The Buddha said, “When a man forges iron, he removes impurities to make tools of the finest quality. When those who follow the Way expel defilements 102 from their minds, their deeds will be pure.”
Chapter 36: Stages to Non-Attainment
The Buddha said:
“It is difficult to ascend from the three wretched destinies 103 and be born as a human being. Even as a human being 104, it is difficult to be born as a man 105 rather than a woman. Even as a man, it is difficult to have all six senses 106 complete. Even without physical or mental impairment, it is difficult to be born in the middle country 107. Even in the middle country, it is difficult to be born at the time of a Buddha. Even at the time of a Buddha, it is difficult to encounter the Way. Even having encountered the Way, it is difficult for one to generate sufficient faith 108. Even with faith, it is difficult to bring forth the bodhi mind 109. Even with the bodhi mind, it is difficult to realize non-cultivation and non-attainment 110.”
Chapter 37: Be Mindful of the Precepts
The Buddha said, “If disciples thousands of miles away from me are mindful of my precepts, they will surely attain the fruit of the Way. If those who are by my side and see me constantly do not uphold my precepts, they will never attain the Way.
Chapter 38: The Impermanence of Life
The Buddha asked a shramana, “How long can one be sure of staying alive?” “A few days,” was the reply. The Buddha said, “You do not know about life.” He asked another shramana, “How long can one be sure of staying alive?” “The length of a meal,” was the reply. The Buddha said, “You do not know about life.” He then asked another shramana, “How long can one be sure of staying alive?” The reply was “A single breath.” The Buddha said, “Well said, you know about life!”
Chapter 39: The Dharma Is Like Honey
The Buddha said, “Students of the Buddha’s Way should have faith in and comply with all that the Buddha says. It is like honey, sweet from the surface to the middle 111. So it is with my sutras.”
Chapter 40: Ox Turning a Millstone
The Buddha said, “Shramanas who practice the Way should not be like oxen turning millstones 112; although their bodies follow the path, their minds do not. If the mind follows the Way, what need is there to labor on the path?”
Chapter 41: A Steadfast Mind Frees One from Desire
The Buddha said, “One who practices the Way is like an ox that carries a burden through a mire. Although very tired, the ox dares not look to the right or to the left; he cannot rest until he gets out. You shramanas must look upon sensual desires as worse than a filthy mire. Being steadfast and mindful of the Way, one can avert suffering.”
Chapter 42: Seeing the Illusions of the World
The Buddha said:
“I look upon positions of nobility as dust drifting through a crevice 113.
“I look upon treasures of gold and jade as mere rubble.
“I look upon garments of fine silk as worn-out rags.
“I look upon the universe as a small haritaki fruit 114.
“I look upon the water of the Anavatapta Lake 115 as oil applied to the feet.
“I look upon expedient means as a cluster of imaginary jewels 116.
“I look upon the supreme vehicle 117 as a dream of gold and silk.
“I look upon the Buddha Way as a flower in the air 118.
“I look upon samadhi as the great pillar Mount Sumeru 119.
“I look upon nirvana as being awake both day and night 120.
“I look upon deviancy and orthodoxy as six dancing dragons 121.
“I look upon the doctrine of impartiality as the absolute ground of reality 122.
“I look upon the flourishing of the teaching as a tree in four seasons 123.”
Having heard the Buddha’s discourses, the great bhiksus 124 joyfully accepted and followed the teaching.
The Sutra of Forty-two Chapters
2 Later Han Dynasty (25 – 220 C.E.) 35 years after the demise of the Former Han Dynasty (206 – 8 B.C.E., also known as Western Han), a relative of the imperial family re-established Han with Luoyang as the capital, (east of Chang An, the former capital), which was also known as the Later (Eastern) Han Dynasty. It was during the rein of the second emperor, Han Ming Di (漢明帝), circa 70 C.E., that Buddhism was brought to China by two Indian Buddhist Masters, Kashyapa-matanga and Gobharana, who also translated the Sutra of Forty-Two Chapters into Chinese.
Tathagata (如來): Thus Come One (one who comes from the Truth); Thus Gone One; One who Neither Comes nor Goes
Arhat (應供): One who is (1) worthy of offering, (2) killer of thieves – Arhat has killed the thieves of afflictions and defilements, and (3) free of future rebirths
Samyak-sambuddha (正遍知): Rightly Enlightened, one who knows the whole truth
Vidya-carana-sampanna (明行足): Perfect in Wisdom and Action
Sugata (善逝): Well-Gone (a good death)
Lokavid (世間解): Knower of the World
Anuttara (無上士): The Unsurpassed One
Purusadamya-saratha (調御大夫): The Tamer
Sasta devamanusyanam (天人師): Teacher of Heavenly and Human Beings
Bhagavan (世尊or薄伽梵): World Honored One
9 the Four Truths. Refers to The Four Noble Truths, the foundation of the Buddha’s teaching. They are: (1) the truth of suffering, (2) the truth of the cause of suffering, (3) the truth of the cessation of suffering, and (4) the truth of the path that leads to the cessation of suffering.
13 bhiksu (Sanskrit). An ordained monk who has renounced home life to seek enlightenment; he observes celibacy as well as 250 precepts defining the conduct of a monk. The female equivalent is called bhikshuni.
14 enlightenment. “Bodhi” in Sanskrit, means awakening. An enlightened person is awakened to the truth, the ultimate nature of reality. There are many levels of enlightenment, the highest being Buddhahood.
15 renounce the secular life. Means to leave the secular home life to become a monk or a nun. In addition, it also means 1) to leave the home of the five skandhas(form, feeling, conception, volition, and consciousness), that is, to identify the five aggregates as the ‘false’ self; 2) to leave the home of klesas (greed, anger, and ignorance) or afflictions; and 3) to leave the home of samsara, that is, the home of the endless cycle of birth and death.
16 unconditioned. The world as perceived by ordinary people are conditioned which leads to suffering. The enlightened beings are able to transcend the conditioned existence and arrive at the unconditioned shore which is to attain nirvana.
21 power of levitation and transformation. One of the six supramundane powers possessed by an arhat. The other five are clairvoyance, clairaudience, telepathy, knowledge of past lives, and knowledge of having ended all defilements.
22 kalpa. A kalpa is a very long period of time. Formally, a large kalpa is a cycle of the universe, which consists of four stages: birth (of the universe or a “buddha world”), stability, disintegration, and void.
24 Nineteenth heaven. Heaven in the Realm of Form which is above the Realm of Desire. There are nineteen heavens in the Realm of Desire and Realm of Form. A non-returner ascends above the Nineteenth heaven to reside in one of the five celestial planes of the Saint.
26 stream-enterer or srotapanna. The first stage of arhatship. A stream-enterer is enlightened to emptiness, but yet has to undergo a maximum of seven rebirths as a human and seven rebirths as a heavenly being, alternately, in order to eradicate all defilements.
30 karma. Karma means action, which includes physical, verbal, and mental activities. By the law of causality, each action has its corresponding consequences. Action that benefits others brings blessings and happiness; action that harms others brings suffering. We are subject to the consequences of our own karma.
38 four evil deeds of the mouth. 1) Malicious speech 兩舌 – divisive words; 2) Abusive speech 惡口 – harsh words, profanities; 3) False speech 妄言 – lying, slandering; 4) Frivolous speech 綺語 – worthless talks, flirtatious talks.
46 to cook food and dispel darkness. “To cook food” represents worldly blessings (good karma). “To dispel darkness” represents gaining great transcendental wisdom (prajna), the ultimate blessing of dana paramitas.
50 pratyekabuddha. Persons who get enlightened and attain nirvana (1) by meditating on the principle of causality specifically the twelve links of dependent origination; (2) by awakening to the truth through their own effort because they live in time when there is no buddha or Buddhist teachings.
54 encounter the Buddhist sutras. Many people in the world do not have the opportunity to read the Buddhist sutras; those who do should cherish this opportunity as it is a result of great benevolent deeds in the past.
63 tolerance under insult is great power. Through tolerance one can endure insults and turn enemies into allies, therefore benefiting oneself and others. That is the great power in the bodhisattva practice.
66 no-mind doctrine. One should practice and abide by the Buddha’s teaching of right thought, right action, right speech, and right cultivation. Yet for advanced practitioners, they should understand that all these practices are empty in nature, so one should not be attached to them.
72 seeing one’s awareness is bodhi. Bodhi is a Sanskrit word for awakening, perfect wisdom, and enlightenment. The goal of Buddhism is to attain the bodhi mind, one’s true awareness. To attain enlightenment is to see into the true nature of one’s own awareness.
74 intrinsic self cannot be found. The “self” cannot be found anywhere in the four elements that make up our body; therefore, the self is illusory. Furthermore, each of the four elements has no independent existence, and thus is empty of a “self”. The teaching of emptiness includes two parts: the emptiness of sentient beings and of all phenomena. (The same is true with the other skandhas.)
78 deva (Sanskrit). Devas are heavenly beings with significantly higher powers than that of human beings. They are usually benevolent with some exceptions. The deva denoted here is probably the ruler of the sixth heaven, Mara. Mara actively hinders spiritual seekers who are near enlightenment, because they will soon transcend samsara and be out of his control. (Also see annotation 98 “demons”.)
79 skin-bags. Our body is literally a skin-bag, inside of which are wastes, fetid bodily fluids, germs, and many other foul substances. This is a kind of impurity contemplation that lessens our attraction to the human body, eventually realizing the body is neither impure nor pure.
83 caught in whirlpools. There are different kinds of barriers in the path of cultivation. If one is not diligent in overcoming obstacles, or if one is attached to secular rewards, then one is caught in a whirlpool, not making real progress.
89 regard women as your mother and sister. All sentient beings have been our relatives through our countless rebirths, so we should regard them as our family and try to help them achieve liberation instead of viewing them as objects of desire.
93 neither form nor action. “Form” refers to the physical body and “action” refers to mental activities (feeling, conception…). When both aspects of the mind are still, one sees that form and action are both empty.
98 demons. Refers to the four kinds of demons (or Maras) that block one’s practice: the five skandhas (skandha-mara), the five poisons (klesha-mara), death (matyu-mara), and the heavenly demons. (Also see annotation 80 “heavenly demon“.)
100 shramana (Sanskrit). A monk (see annotation 18.) Here the monk is Sronakotivimsa or “Two-billion Ear.” He is known as the most diligent of the Buddha’s disciples.
101 doubts. In Buddhism, three types of doubt can hinder one’s practice of the Way 1) the doubt of the Dharma, i.e. whether the Dharma can free us of our sufferings, 2) the doubt of oneself, i.e. whether one can make the journey, and 3) the doubting of Dharma teachers, i.e. whether or not they can lead us to enlightenment.
104 it is difficult … born as a human being. An analogy in Buddhism says the chance of being born as a human being is like a blind turtle who rises to the surface of the sea every one hundred years and happens to poke his head through a hole in a piece of floating drift wood.
105 it is difficult to be born as a man. In the time of the Buddha, women suffer more than men. It was preferable to be born a man just as it was preferable to be born into a higher caste. The Buddha broke the caste and gender barriers by leading both men and women to enlightenment through his teachings.
108 sufficient faith. It includes 1) believing the Principle of Causality, 2) understanding “emptiness”, 3) seeing that all sentient beings have the Buddha nature and that Buddha nature is inherently whole and complete.
109 bring forth the bodhi mind. A bodhi mind is an awakened mind. To bring forth the bodhi mind is to attain enlightenment. Before one gets enlightened, this phrase also means to resolve to attain Buddhahood and liberate countless sentient beings.
111 sweet from the surface to the middle. Like the sweetness of honey, the Buddha’s words are consistently beneficial to those who follow them. The teachings are sweet from the surface (expedient means) to the middle (the ultimate truth of the Middle Way.)
112 an ox turning a millstone. In a granary an ox is yoked to grind grain by turning a millstone. The ox follows a path around the grinding stone because he is forced to, but his mind does not. A shramana should have his mind and body unified in his cultivation path.
113 “I look upon positions ….. as a tree in four seasons.” In the first five verses of this chapter, the Buddha presents perceptions of worldly objects that differ from our own. This allows us to contemplate our attachments to our own perceptions. It also shows the impermanent nature of both worldly objects and attachments. In the next eight verses, the Buddha looks upon his own teachings as impermanent. They are useful only as a means to perfect enlightenment. He has no attachment to his own teaching.
115 Anavatapta Lake. What we see as abundant, the Buddha sees it as a few drops of oil. Anavatapta Lake is a great lake near the Himalayas, from which it is said flows the waters of the four great rivers of India, including the Ganges and Indus. Its cool and pure water is considered precious and sacred.
116 imaginary jewels. It is said the Buddha provided eighty-four thousand expedient means to transform our eighty-four thousand afflictions. For those in need, expedient means are treasured. In the Buddha’s eyes, expedient means exist only for the people who need it. When the need is gone, they are like imaginary jewels that should disappear.
119 samadhi as the great pillar Mount Sumeru. Mount Sumeru is the greatest mountain in the world like a pillar holding up the sky. Worldly Samadhi is as stable as Mount Sumeru. However, just as Mount Sumeru (because it is made of the four elements) will become speckles of dust as the world eventually disintegrates, worldly samadhi is impermanent like any phenomena.
120 nirvana as being awake both day and night. Nirvana is being fully awake (enlightened) at all times, contrary to samsara which is dreaming (deluded) both day and night. Nirvana and samsara are still relative concepts; higher enlightenment means to see that nirvana and samsara are not different.
121 six dancing dragons. This analogy comes from the perspective of the Middle Way. The “six dancing dragons” refers to our six senses. Aversion and attachment to phenomena that our six senses perceived are two extremes. For example, ordinary people may view a body as attractive (deviancy), but from the Theravadans’ point of view, a body is repulsive (orthodoxy). In the ultimate truth, there is no absolute good or bad, pure or impure, up or down, merely the head and tail of a dancing dragon constantly switching places as it moves around.
122 absolute ground of reality. This comes from the perspective of emptiness. All sentient beings have the Buddha nature, therefore they are equal. All phenomena are mutually dependent and inseparable, therefore they are equal. This is the absolute ground of reality.
123 a tree in four seasons. This analogy comes from the perspective of conventional truth. The Buddha sees that his teaching, like a tree in four seasons, goes through the cycle of germination, growth, fruition, and deterioration. The propagation of the teaching waxes and wanes.
124 the great bhiksus. A “great bhiksus” in Buddhism usually refers to the elder bhiksus of the Buddha’s disciples or to bhiksus who have already attained arhatship. Here it includes all those who are present in the assembly.