T212. Producing Light: (C1:3) The Four Brahmins

Four brahmins want to be born in heaven, but the Buddha find a way to liberate them.

Chapter 1: Impermanence

3. The Four Brahmins

Once, there were four brahmins who had attained the supernormal powers. They could fly and travel with the miraculous ability of non-obstruction. These four brahmins said to each other: “There are people who give fine meals to the mendicant Gautama. They readily attain birth as gods and aren’t estranged from their halls of merit. Those who hear his teaching enter the door of liberation. Today, we aim for and covet the merits of heaven. We don’t want liberation, so hearing his teaching isn’t necessary.”

These four men then each took four portions of sweet rock honey, and one of them went to the Tathāgata first to present it to the Bhagavān. Once the Tathāgata had accepted it, he addressed that brahmin, reciting this line of verse:

“What’s formed is impermanent.”

After the brahmin heard it, he covered his ears with his hands.

Next, the second man went to the Tathāgata and offered up his rock honey. The Tathāgata again spoke this line of verse:

“It’s the law of arising and fading away.”

After the brahmin heard it, he covered his ears with his hands.

Next, the third man went to the Tathāgata and offered up his rock honey. Once the Tathāgata had accepted it, he again spoke a line of verse:

“Men are born and quickly die.”

After the brahmin heard it, he covered his ears with his hands.

Next, the fourth man went to the Tathāgata and offered up his rock honey. Once the Tathāgata had accept it, he again spoke a line of verse:

“The cessation of this is happiness.”

After the brahmin heard it, he covered his ears with his hands, and they each took their leave. The Tathāgata had examined their minds, intent, and thoughts, and he knew that they could attain liberation. So, he employed a device, an obscure form that wasn’t obvious.

The four men gathered somewhere and discussed it with each other: “Although we gave alms to the mendicant Gautama, our aim wasn’t decided. What words did the mendicant Gautama teach us?”

They asked the first one, “When you presented your rock honey, did you get some words, or did you not hear the teaching?”

He responded, “I heard a single line of doctrine from the Tathāgata. ‘What’s formed is impermanent.’ After I heard this doctrine, I covered my ears with my hands and didn’t accept it.”

Next, they asked the second man, “What words did you get when you went to the Tathāgata?”

That man also related what happened, “I went to the Tathāgata and offered up the rock honey. While I was with the Tathāgata, he spoke this verse: ‘It is the law of arising and fading away.’ After I heard this, I covered my ears with my hands and didn’t accept it.”

Next, they asked the third man, “What words did you get when you went to the Tathāgata?”

That man again related what happened. “I went to the Tathāgata and offered up the rock honey. While I was with the Tathāgata, he spoke this verse: ‘Men are born and quickly die.’ After I heard this, I covered my ears with my hands and didn’t accept it.”

Next, they asked the fourth man, “What words did you get when you went to the Tathāgata?”

That man responded, “I went to the Tathāgata and offered up the rock honey. While I was with the Tathāgata, he spoke this verse: ‘The cessation of this is happiness.’”
After the four men had recited these lines, their minds were opened, and they understood his intent, attaining the fruit of non-returners.

At that time, the four men knew they each had realized that fruit and went back, reproaching themselves. They went to the Tathāgata, prostrated their heads to his feet, and then stood to one side. After a moment, they retreated to sit and said to the Bhagavān, “Tathāgata, please permit us to be on the path and attain what’s next for a mendicant.”

The Bhagavān told them, “Welcome, monks. You’ve chosen to cultivate the religious practice.”

At that time, these four men’s hair fell from their heads by itself, and their bodies were miraculously clothed in reddish brown robes. They immediately attained the fruit of arhats there in the presence of the Buddha.

Translated to Chinese by Śramaṇa Chu Fonian
Translated to English by Charles D. Patton, II

First Edition (August 12, 2019)

T212. Producing Light: (C1:2) Impermanence

In story 2 of Chapter 1, the Buddha tells the monks that a group of colorfully dressed youths look just like the gods. Beings who hear this decide to be born in heaven or among humans and purse nirvana later. He speaks the first verse on impermanence to dissuade them.

Chapter 1: Impermanence

(2) Impermanence

The Bhagavān then traveled to the great meeting hall at Markaṭahrada (Monkey Lake) near Vaiśālī.

At that time, there were many youths of Vaiśālī assembled there, and they each had this thought, “We ought to go together as a group to question the Bhagavān and pay homage to him.” Some of those youths had chariots with blue horses and blue coverings, and they were wearing blue. Others had chariots that were blue, yellow, red, and white, and they wore all white. Drummers played as they followed in front and behind the chariots as they went to the Bhagavān.

The Bhagavān then addressed the monks, “All of you should know, if some of you haven’t seen the gods sight-seeing in gardens and ponds, you should look now at these youths. The Dharma clothes they wear and the chariots they ride are no different than those gods. The reason for that is there’s no difference between the clothing of gods and their own.”

At that moment, many hundreds of thousands of sentient beings were seated, and they each thought, “We ought to make a solemn pledge: After we are born in the heavens or among humans, we’ll always wear this Dharma clothing and never be separated from it. In a future era, a buddha will arise, and then we’ll hear the profound teaching. We’ll be forever separated from suffering and enter the realm of nirvāṇa.”

The Tathāgata knew this thought that the sentient beings were thinking to seek birth in the three existences and not part with suffering. He then spoke this verse with the great assembly:

  • “What’s formed is impermanent;
  • It’s something that’s worn away.
  • Not being dependable,
  • It changes and doesn’t stay.”

At the time, the sentient beings who heard this single verse were indescribable hundreds of thousands of sentient beings. Here in the present, they ended their contaminants, were mentally freed, and attained the fruit of the path.

Translated to Chinese by Śramaṇa Chu Fonian
Translated to English by Charles D. Patton, II

First Edition (July 29, 2019)

T212. Producing Light: (C1:1) Maitreya

In the opening story of Chu Fonian’s “Producing Light,” one of two Chinese Udana collections, the Buddha describes the future era when Maitreya will be born.

Chapter 1: Impermanence

(1) Maitreya

Once, the Buddha was in Vārāṇasī.

The Buddha addressed the monks, “In a future era, sentient beings will live for 84,000 years. In that time, those sentient beings with a life span of 84,000 years here in Jambudvīpa will dwell together in a single place. The rice and grain they harvest will be abundant and the people will flourish. It will be common to hear the sounds of chickens crowing and dogs barking.”

The Buddha also told the monks, “You should know that the women of those people will go out to marry at the age of 500. In that time, there will be a king named Śaṅkha who’ll be followed by the seven treasures. He will rule with the Dharma and without any crookedness.

“He will have a treasure chariot that flies by itself a thousand cubits high and sixteen cubits wide. It’ll be built and designed with many precious jewel strings. When it’s in a large assembly, the people will be generous without reservation and establish virtues to become myriad leaders. Accompanied by śramaṇas, brāhmaṇas, and awakened people, he will travel great distances. Wherever they stop to rest or pass through, they’ll be provided with whatever they require without any miserliness.

“In that time when sentient beings will live for 84,000 years, there will be a Tathāgata who’ll appear in the world named Maitreya. He will be an Arhat, Completely Awakened One, Accomplished in Wisdom and Action, Well Gone, Understander of the World, an Unsurpassed Man, a Dharma Trainer, and Teacher of Devas and Humans. He’ll be called the Buddha and Bhagavān. Just like myself today, he will achieve the unsurpassed, correct, and perfect awakening and perfect the ten epithets.

“He will always lead and protect numberless hundreds of thousands of monks, just as I today lead and protect numberless hundreds of thousands of monks. Accompanied by these great assemblies, he will widely teach the profound Dharma that’s good in the beginning, middle, and end, has a meaning that’s sublime, and which will be the perfect and pure cultivation of the religious practice. It’ll be like myself today being accompanied by these great assemblies and widely teaching the profound Dharma that’s good in the beginning, middle, and end, has a meaning that’s sublime, and which is the perfect and pure cultivation of the religious practice. I widely teach like Maitreya will when he comes down to be born.

“As the buddhas teach, there is a sūtra named ‘The Path of Six Sensory Contacts.’ Suppose there are sentient beings who are born around him. If their eyes see forms, everything they see will be pleasant forms and not detestable forms. They’ll see what’s lovely and not what is unlovely. They’ll see what’s respectable and not what’s disrespectful. They’ll see what’s memorable and not what’s not memorable. They’ll see beautiful forms and not see forms that aren’t beautiful.

“The sentient beings that have ears to hear sounds, noses to smell odors, tongues to taste flavors, bodies to perceive what’s fine and smooth, and minds to know phenomena will be likewise, even Īśvara.”

Translated to Chinese by Śramaṇa Chu Fonian
Translated to English by Charles D. Patton, II

First Edition (July 29, 2019)

Book Review: The Diamond Sutra (Red Pine)

41NW5VQVYQL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_Red Pine’s The Diamond Sutra: Text and Commentaries Translated from Sanskrit and Chinese is a book that I recommend to readers who want  to explore the various Diamond Sutra translations and exegesis that remains untranslated today.

In this book, Red Pine presents a translation of the sutra based on his studies of the Sanskrit and Chinese editions and then treats the reader to a tour of the various commentaries as he explores the meaning of each passage.

For those of us who can read classical Chinese and/or Sanskrit, many Buddhist sutras appear more like kaleidoscopic visions than they do single, authoritative texts. Red Pine attempts to communicate that vision to English readers by noting the variations between at least seven different editions of the sutra preserved  in Chinese and Sanskrit.

The English-speaking world is most familiar with two editions of this sutra: Kumarajiva’s Chinese translation and the extant Sanskrit edition. These two versions have served as historical bookends: Kumarajiva’s version was translated in 403 CE, and the Sanskrit version represents a final form reached sometime around 700 CE.

In between those two points, however, are five Chinese translations by Bodhiruci (509 CE), Paramartha (562 CE), Dharmagupta (605 CE), Xuanzang (648 CE), and Yijing (703 CE). We’ve also discovered Sanskrit texts of the Diamond Sutra in recent years that are dated around the time of Dharmagupta’s translation. This is an academic topic because the differences are largely amplifications or minor edits of dialogue.

What’s more interesting in Red Pine’s book is his copious quotation of East Asian and Indian commentaries, giving the reader a sense of the conversation that took place in China about this text. Weaved in between these quotations, Red Pine documents his own journey as he reads and meditates on the sutra himself in modern America. The fact that he avoids the rabbit hole of academic analysis and debate is remarkable given the material that he works with.

Red Pine’s translations are free and meaningful, and the format he uses is reminiscent of exegetical texts in ancient China that collated the comments of various authors. If you’re looking for accessible books that explore the Diamond Sutra‘s place in classical China, this a good place to start.

 

Progress Report

Things have been busy as I juggle a number of different projects in addition to my translation work. I’m still working on a re-release of Kumārajīva’s Diamond Sutra in English, having taken a break from it to draft an English translation of Mañjuśrī’s Teaching of the Perfection of Wisdom from Xuanzang’s Chinese. I’ve decided that for 2019, my initial goal will be translate the smaller Perfection of Wisdom texts to English. You can see the initial list of texts here.

I’ve also decided that I will publish the translations to this blog and fuller editions with introductions and/or annotations as e-books this year. I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year and for this year to be better than the last.

A New Start: 20 Years Later

It’s been a little more than 20 years since I first laid eyes on a volume of the Taisho Daizokyo as a young student at Ohio State University. I had begun to teach myself to read Chinese because of my frustration with how much one translation of the Dao De Jing varied from the next. In those days, circa 1998, the World Wide Web was just beginning, and I was one of many eager experimenters who learned HTML and created free home pages to share with the world. These two interests quickly combined, and I began publishing English translations (albeit novice translations) to my website, which began as the The Gateless Passage and in later years morphed into Dharma Pearls.

Many of my translations from those early days are still circulating. The Diamond Sūtra, in particular, was released to the public and was posted on websites ranging from Buddhist to New Age in interest. You can find a well-preserved example at Buddhism Today. It was my first attempt at translation, and it was a good place to start because of lack of difficult technical terms, transliterations, and Kumārajīva’s easy Chinese prose.

Over the next 10 years, I translated a number of other short texts like Xuanzang’s Smaller Pure Land Sūtra and the Visualization of Amitabha Sūtra. My largest project was an attempt at translating the Great Parinirvāṇa Sūtra from Chinese, but it was about 25% into the draft that I realized my knowledge of Buddhism and Chinese were still too lacking to complete it properly.

However, my studies of Buddhism and classical Chinese continued, and I’ve finally decided it’s time to return to this work. I will be updating my previous translations, editing them both for accuracy and style, and republishing them. I will also be returning to my draft of the Nirvāṇa Sūtra, dusting it off, and continuing the work that I had begun many moons ago.

Stayed tuned for more reflections, articles, excerpts, and news; and thanks for reading!