The Shurangama Sutra

(Continued from issue #254)

The Immortal's Kalavinka-sound pervaded the ten directions and Bodhisattvas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges gathered at the Bodhimanda with Manjushri as their leader. The above texts are descriptive. Venerable Ananda added them during the compilation of the Sutra Canon to describe the supreme adorned Wayplace. Can all see it? All can hear it but it is not for sure that everyone can see the Bodhisattvas as many as the sands of the Ganges River. If commoners can see them, then the land of India may not be big enough to accommodate them. So, how was it? The Bodhisattvas came through empty space. Throughout the empty space, there can be Bodhisattvas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges River. Since empty space is empty, it can accommodate all Bodhisattvas and each can have their own seat. Even the retinue of the Bodhisattvas can come to this Wayplace.

Therefore, when you investigate the sutra, at this point, you should 'contemplate with your mind and not with words'. Only sages who have opened the Five-Eyes can see and reckon this phenomenon. At that time, Venerable Ananda was replete with the Five-Eyes. He has superb memory and never forget what he saw. Hence, during the compilation of the Sutra Canon, he wrote it down. How did he know that the Bodhisattvas were in the empty space? Think about it, Bodhisattvas as numerous as the Sands of the Ganges River. Its number is countless. The Sands of the Ganges River can only be contained in the Ganges River in India. If Bodhisattvas as numerous as the Sands of the Ganges River were to ?fill up land space in India, then the entire land space in India could be crammed! It might create a stampede and many people may die! However, the countless Bodhisattvas were all in empty space. Hence, even though their number is as numerous as the Sands of the Ganges River, there is room to accommodate them all.

At that time, King Prasenajit, for the sake of his father, the late king, arranged on the day of mourning a vegetarian feast and invited the Buddha to the side rooms of the palace. He welcomed the Tathagata in person with a vast array of superb delicacies of unsurpassed wonderful flavors and himself invited the great Bodhisattvas.

King Prasenajit, whose name means "moonlight", was born in India on the same day the Buddha was born. When the Buddha entered the world, a light illumined the entire country. King Prasenajit's father thought the light was associated with the birth of his son, so he named him "Moonlight".

For the sake of his father, the late king, arranged on the day of mourning a vegetarian feast. The fifteenth day of the seventh month was also the death anniversary of King Prasenajit's father. It was called the day of mourning, since one chooses to not speak explicitly of one's father's death because of the pain and sorrow involved. To call to mind the demise of one's parents is painful for the filial ones. Reminiscing how good their parents were to them, they feel deep regret for being unable to repay their parents' kindness with sufficient filial piety. Although not verbally expressed, everyone knew it was the death anniversary of King Prasenajit's father.
Why do good deeds on this day? One does good deeds and makes offerings on such a day in order to rescue one's father and mother from the hells and secure for them rebirth in the heavens. The fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month marks the completion of summer retreat for left-home people. It is called 'self-confession at the close of summer retreat'. Pravarana is held on the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth day of the seventh lunar month, during which all left-home people cross-examine among themselves and confess if they have committed any offenses. Hence, it is also called 'self-confession'Xto allow anyone to speak freely of one's fault, without giving rise to affliction or anger.

As I have explained earlier, 'Pravarana' is from the fifteenth day of the fourth lunar month to the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month. This 90-day period is called 'passing the summer in retreat'. This is a dharma in Buddhism. During this period, left-home people cease to travel. Why? Because they want to protect the lives of the ants and insects along the road. In summer, ants and insects are abundant. If one travels and walks on the road, one is afraid to harm these tiny creatures. At the completion of summer retreat is 'adjourn regulation', also called 'close of summer retreat'. We have discussed earlier 'self-confession at close of summer retreat'.

The fifteenth marks the Ullambana Festival. Now we will talk about the origin of the Ullambana Dharma Assembly. When Mahamaudgalyayana first obtained the six spiritual penetrations, he contemplated on the whereabouts of his mother and discovered that she had fallen into the hells. Why had his mother fallen into the hells? It was because when she was alive she liked to eat seafood, and most especially enjoyed eating fish-eggs. How many lives do you suppose there are in a mess of fish-eggs? A vast number. By devouring immeasurable quantities of fish-eggs, she had taken a vast number of lives. She did not believe in the Buddha and the Dharma. She was disrespectful and slanderous of the Sangha. Overall, she neither believe nor respect the Triple Jewel. These offenses, plus that of having taken countless lives, prompted her falling into the hells upon her death. Even though Maudgalyayana had attained the Six Spiritual Penetrations, he could not save her.

Seeing his mother enduring so much suffering in the hells, Maudgalyayana was distressed. His samadhi-power was rattled. Using his spiritual penetrations, he went to the hells. He took with him a bowl of rice for his mother. When his mother was alive, she was very stingy. She could not bear to give away or offer up anything. When asked to give a little money, her heart would ache; her liver and her flesh would too. It is like cutting off a piece of her flesh. That is how she was. Now that her son brought her a bowl of rice, what do you think she did? She grabbed it with her right hand and covered it with her left arm. Why did she cover it? She was afraid other hungry ghosts would steal her food. The place was full of ghosts, but she found a spot where there was none, and she stealthily took a bite of food. Who would have guessed that as soon as she put the food in her mouth, it turned to burning coals! She could not eat it!

Why was this? She was a hungry ghost, and V like all such ghosts V had a stomach as big as a bass drum and a throat as narrow as a needle. As a result, she could not eat. Even when she tried, her karmic obstacles caused the food to turn to burning coals. Confronted with this situation, Maudgalyayana, despite his spiritual penetrations, was powerless. He had no mantra to recite. Do you understand this? It means that he did not know what mantra he could recite. Even his spiritual penetration is useless. At this point, he was very anxious. Therefore, he turned to his teacher for help. He used his spiritual penetrations to bring himself before the Buddha. Kneeling before the Buddha, he implored, "My mother has fallen into the hells. I have come to seek the Buddha's kindness and compassion to help me rescue her."

(To be continued ..)