November 2, 1973 Friday evening
On Concluding Comments about “At that time.”
Ven. Master Hsuan Hua
Master: Who else would like to speak about “at that time”? Would any of the people who spoke before like to say something more? Guo Yi, you should explain “at that time.” I think you were attentive whenever you spoke previously.
Guo Yi: I was thinking of the time when all the Buddha’s disciples were sitting around the Buddha, and he was lecturing sutras for them. he was speaking the Dharma for them. That’s what “at that time” is.
Master: Guo Gui, do you have an opinion?
Guo Gui: I have nothing to add to what I heard last night.
Master: Guo Hang?
Guo Hang: I don’t know.
Master: [laughs] Who taught you not to know?
Guo Hang: I don’t know.
Master: Guo You, you speak.
Guo You: What I wanted to say has already been said several times.
Master: Your food has already been eaten?
Guo You: Sort of.
Master: Guo Rong? What is your opinion?
Guo Rong: It may be that I don’t really understand what the Venerable Master means.
Master: Can you give a summary?
Guo Rong: It could be said that “at that time” is the time when space-ruling spirit Pure Light Shining Everywhere received the Buddha’s awesome power. Because the sutra text says he received the Buddha’s awesome power, therefore he absolutely would not have fallen into the position of giving rise to a second thought, and so he was able to receive the Buddha’s awesome power. Hence if he had fallen into the position of giving rise to second thought, probably it would not be “at that time.”
Master: Guo Sui, you speak.
Guo Sui: I missed the previous discussion, and I really don’t think I can say anything.
Master: [to the translator] What about the new person? Last night didn’t you say he wanted to talk? Ask him if he has something to say.
Bert (the new person): Considering my very slight knowledge of bodhi, I could consider that it might be referring to the moment of illumination for any bodhi.
Master: Now I’ll give you your evaluations: all of you spoke correctly. No one spoke wrong. What I said was also right. Each person who spoke had his or her principles. Therefore, if you don’t understand, you’ll divide things into right and wrong. But once you understand, fundamentally there’s no such thing as “correct” or “incorrect.” All of it is bestowing teachings according to each individual’s needs, the way medicine is prescribed depending on the illness. Dharma is spoken to suit individual people, just the way particular medications are employed to cure each type of illness. That’s the principle of this sutra, and there’s nothing right or wrong about it.
In “at that time,” what time is meant? Guo Ning said it: there is no time. If you try to pinpoint it as this time, this time has already gone by. If you say it is that time, that time is also already gone. Past mind cannot be got at, present mind cannot be got at, and future mind cannot be got at. Since they all cannot be got at, how can you be attached to any particular time?
Then why does the sutra mention a time? It’s because at that time there were billions upon billions of Bodhisattvas and spirits, who had arrived and were surrounding the Buddha, praising the Buddha. As the visiting Dharma Master told us last night, there was no sequential time. But even though their praises were simultaneous, there has to be a linear sequence when you write them down. A single stroke of the pen won’t serve to describe the whole array of Bodhisattvas, celestial kings, yakshas—gods, dragons and others of the eightfold division. It’s the same as eating--it has to be done morsel by morsel. You can’t eat your fill in a single gulp. Hence there is a sequence. But basically the time, as just discussed, has already gone by—what’s the use of becoming attached to it?
And so, at the very beginning when I lectured on “at that time,” I had already discussed the principles at great length. But since the visitor had not heard the explanation at the beginning and had come in the middle of the discussion, he thought I couldn’t lecture and didn’t understand, and so he “had an issue” with it. For that reason I didn’t lecture either, and asked him to speak instead. However, he didn’t speak. If he had been straightforward in his attitude, he should have talked. For him to have spoken would have been correct. He could have told us the way he saw things. But he didn’t. His not speaking indicated he was not straightforward in his attitude, but already evasive. Do you understand? Then I had all of you speak, and had him listen. You all gave various interpretations, but all he heard was so many things he felt were incorrect. He heard so many things wrong, but I heard so many things right. All of you think it over: That’s where the difference lies.
Dharma Masters in China for the most part had the following attachment: wherever they went they wanted to put others down to raise themselves up. Their aim in going places was to squash others underneath their feet, and position themselves on top of people’s heads. That is a serious and total error, and accounts for the current disappearance of the Buddhadharma from China . But they still can’t shed that fault, and continue to cling to that bad habit, unable to let it go. Here in the West we should not adopt that unwholesome custom. We should learn to consider everyone as being right.
Timely Teachings, page 349 - 352