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If he truly cultivates then the demons can¡¦t get to him
Notes #14. The Venerable Master Hsuan Hua¡¦s explanation on December 2, 1993
(The Shurangama Sutra ¡V The Fifty Skandha Demon States pp.551-559)
Do not become too attached to what the Sutra says, The Sutra gives a general idea of what might happen, but each particular situation may be different. There are not only fifty, but perhaps five hundred, five thousand, or even fifty thousand kinds of states. There are so many states that we could never finish speaking of them. These [fifty states] are just a general summary, and you shouldn¡¦t think of them as profound and esoteric. Regard them as if they were spoken by an ordinary person, and don¡¦t always be splitting hairs.
My explanations of Sutras are called ¡§simple Explanations¡¨; I don¡¦t give profound explanations. When I explain a Sutra, my only aim is for everyone to understand what I mean and for me to understand what everyone else means. Don¡¦t think too deeply. Anyone who thinks too deeply will never be able to finish explaining it. Don¡¦t beat your head against the wall trying to figure out exactly what it means. After all, this Sutra is a translation; it is not so rigidly fixed that you cannot add or omit a word. It does not correspond exactly to the original Sanskrit. Just try to convey the general meaning; don¡¦t spend too much time pursuing the fine details of literary interpretation.
Disciple: At the level of the thinking Skandha, the demons from the heavens can no longer disturb the cultivator¡¦s mind directly. A demon has to possess another person in order to disturb the cultivator¡¦s Samadhi.
Venerable Master: For example, a cultivator may frequently encounter people who are possessed by ghosts, who come to speak the Dharma for him, or who come to challenge him to see who is on top.
At the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, there¡¦s a student from the University of California at Berkeley who has many snakes following him. You may not have seen them, but Guo Zhen saw those snakes get into a Dharma-contest with me at Gold Mountain Monastery. They are really ferocious! His presence there gave the snakes a chance to fight with me. They have been fighting me for over ten years now. When he went to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, he would gradually get better, but as soon as he went back to school in Berkeley, he would get sick again. He realizes that there are many snakes on him. He killed these snakes in the past, and now they¡¦ve come to get revenge. I¡¦ve been using wholesome dharmas to try to make peace with them. That¡¦s how I treat them, regardless of whether or not they pay any heed. It¡¦s a slow process. Over the last ten years or so, many of the snakes have left him, but there are still a few left. There used to be a whole bunch of them. This case is similar to the state described in the Sutra.
Disciple: When a person comes to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, are those beings afraid to come and seek him out?
Venerable Master: No, they still come. When it [the snake] came to challenge my Dharma, it was terribly fierce. At first he [the student possessed by the snake] knelt down, but then he stood up and waved his hands and glared at me. His heavy breathing sounded worse than a screeching and hissing cat.
Disciple: Master, what did you do? Did you give it a good scolding?
Venerable Master: No, I just pretended nothing was happening. People saw me acting as if nothing were going on, but actually, I had converted it. It was hostile to me, but I wasn¡¦t hostile to it. I used to use the Dharma of subduing, but not anymore. Now I use the Dharma of Averting Disasters.
Disciple: When the form skandha has come to an end, deviant demons can no longer possess a cultivator. They have to possess another person. But is there another interpretation in which the demon can directly possess the cultivator?
Venerable Master: There are endless possibilities. The demon can even possess a cat. It all depends on whether or not you recognize it. It can also possess other animals. There¡¦s no fixed rule.
Disciple: Can it possess the cultivator himself?
Venerable Master: No, it can¡¦t get to him.
Disciple: But when the Venerable Master explained the Fifty Skandha-demons in the past, you said it could possess the cultivator himself.
Venerable Master: As I said, none of this is fixed. The text gives one example, but that¡¦s not the only way it can be. There are many variations. Each case encompasses many possibilities.
Disciple: But didn¡¦t the Venerable Master just say that the demons can¡¦t get to the cultivator himself?
Venerable Master: If he truly cultivates, then the demons can¡¦t get to him, because there are dharma-protecting spirits protecting him.
Disciple: If the cultivator starts entertaining false thoughts, then ¡K
Venerable Master: Then they will get to him.
Disciple: It¡¦s just like living at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. If we follow the rules set down by the Master, then those beings cannot bother us. If we don¡¦t follow the rules, then they can come.
Venerable Master: Many people who come here have a lot of deviant demons of external ways, goblins, ghosts, and strange spirits attached to them. Yet the Bodhisattvas who guard the Dharma don¡¦t try to keep them out. We practice kindness and compassion here. Thus we haven¡¦t fortified our place or set up any defense against them.
Disciple: If someone truly cultivates, then the demons can¡¦t get to him. But if he¡¦s not cultivating and he starts indulging in false thoughts, then they can come.
Venerable Master: Right, it¡¦s a case of the deviant attracting the deviant.
Disciple: If the demons can¡¦t get to him now, it doesn¡¦t necessarily mean that they can¡¦t get to him ever. For instance, when National Master Wuda entertained a thought of arrogance¡K
Venerable Master: Right! That¡¦s a very clear illustration!
Disciple: The ghost hadn¡¦t been able to get to him for ten lives, but that one improper thought, it was able to get in.
Venerable Master: It came to demand his life!
Disciple: So would you say that the demons can get to the cultivator or not? It¡¦s not fixed. If he truly cultivates then they can¡¦t get to him, but if he doesn¡¦t, then they can.
Venerable Master: Right it¡¦s not fixed. Whatever can be put into words loses its real meaning. Once you understand this principle, you shouldn¡¦t pursue the details too intently. As I just said, there are infinite variations and possibilities. These fifty states can be transformed five hundred, five thousand, or fifty thousand states. Don¡¦t spend too much time on these examples. You should understand that there are other cases that are variations of these. In general, what ever can be said has no real meaning. You could say all the Sutras are false but you must find the true principles within the falseness. Any Sutra that makes sense can be believed. If it doesn¡¦t make sense, if it¡¦s incorrect, then don¡¦t believe it.