Part Three: Chapter on Lecturing the Sutras
by You-Bin Chen
Excerpted from "A Discussion of Venerable Master Hsuan Hua's Contribution to Buddhism" by You-Bin Chen - Vajra Bodhi Sea Monthly Journal from June, 1966 to October, 1997.
The Master' lecture series on Verses and Commentary on the Shurangama Mantra lasted for eight years, from 1979 to 1987. Throughout all of Buddhist history this mantra has rarely been explained. Only Dharma Master Xu Fa of the Qing dynasty and Dharma Master Be Ting of Compassionate Cloud Monastery in Wu Lin ever explained it. Dharma Master Be Ting investigated the Esoteric Division and wrote the Commentary on Anointing the Crown in the Shurangama Sutra in 26 rolls, translating the Sanskrit into Chinese and further gave a thoroughly detailed explanation of the mantra. In Buddhism there are "five kinds of terms not translated" in sutras and mantras. because the secret languages of Buddhas is difficult for most other sages to comprehend, how much the less ordinary people. Although the custom is not to translate the mantras found in sutras, still, people have different things to say about it. Some people think that translating the meaning of mantras has twenty-four kinds of benefits. And so when the Master came in possession of a copy of the "Commentary on the Shurangama Mantra" in 1949, he records: I obtained what I'd never had before. I continually investigated that thorough explanation of the esoteric, carrying it always with me and never being apart from it. He also said for the Proper Dharma to remain long in the world, and to stop the deviant discourses once and for all, people must join together and enter the ultimately firm great samadhi.
Later, after the Master came to America, he himself explained the Shurangama Mantra, using seven-characters per line verses to explain each of the 554 lines and further gave a modem-language commentary. Truly this masterpiece is something "never done before." It is exceptionally valuable. The Master said:
Now let us introduce the Portraits of Buddhist Patriarchs , which is thirteen years' worth of lectures given by the Venerable Master, extending from 1972 through 1985, for a total of 346 topics. Important personages introduced in this text are as follows: Shakyamuni Buddha, who, after twirling a flower and giving a subtle smile, transmitted the Dharma to Venerable Kashyapa; who transmitted it to the Second Patriarch, Venerable Ananda, and so forth to the Twenty-eighth Patriarch, Bodhidharma, who became the First Patriarch in China and brought the Dharma of Chan meditation to China. Continuing through the Thirty-third Patriarch (the Sixth Patriarch in China), Great Master Huineng, at that point "one flower opened five petals. After that comes Five Divisions with Seven Schools, which are the fayan school, the candong school, the yunmen school, the weiyang school, the linji school as well as the huanglong sect and the yangqi sect. Add to that the niutou sect, holy Sanghas of two lands (east [China] and west [India]), the tiantai school, the huayan school, the ceen school, the yujia school, the vinaya school, the lotus society school, and ten contemporary High Sanghans, and the grand total is three hundred thirty-eight Venerable Ones who are introduced. There is also a verse in praise of each Venerable One (regulated Chinese verse form with eight lines containing seven characters each.). From Great Master Yungmingshou, Sixth Patriarch of the Lotus Society School on through the final contemporary Sanghans, Elder Master Guangchin, another verse is added composed of eight lines containing four characters each.). It can be said that these three hundred thirty-eight Venerable Patriarchs are all duly praised. The text is written in the literary style of Chinese and has no punctuation. Add to that liberal doses of Chan banter "enlightened words" and it becomes doubly difficult to comprehend. It is difficult to fathom the deeply esoteric state of those greatly virtuous ones of old. It only be described as ineffable, "and likened to only the person who drinks the water knows whether it is cold or warm."
Actually the Master's explanation of the Portraits of Buddhist Patriarchs comes about from great causes and conditions. In 1958, the Elder Master Hsu Yun mailed this book to the Venerable Master, enclosing a letter which said, "I am sending you this volume of Portraits of Buddhist Patriarchs that I have composed in recent years. Read and remember it well and I hope you will benefit yourself and benefit others and treasure the Way." Actually on the 9th of April in 1956 Elder Master Yun sent a certificate to the Master that named him the ninth Patriarch of the Weiyang School. The letter said, "You are a disciple who is concerned about the preservation of the Dharma and the continuation of the wisdom-life of the Buddhas and Patriarchs. Now, in accord with your vows, I am sending you the Source, the inheritance of the Patriarch's pulse, the Patriarch's Way. Entrusted to you, it will prosper. It is my hope that this transmission will be perpetuated." It is evident that the Master followed his teacher's instructions and explained the Portraits of Buddhist Patriarchs into modern language so that beings could gain the benefit this unprecedented Dharma. That is why I consider these three to be the Master's three most important works. And beings who have the good fortune to be able to read these precious Dharma jewels are truly endowed with blessings!
generally estimate that the Venerable Master composed over two thousand verses
and poems during his life. Every verse is rhymed and evidence the Master's
profound prajna wisdom. This is especially true of the unprecedented verses on
the lines of the Shurangama Mantra; only someone who had truly entered the
Great Shurangama Samadhi would be capable of such explanations. Also the
Master's explanation of the Portraits of Buddhist Patriarchs sometimes
transcends historical records, leaving the reader wondering if the Master
really has the Penetration of Past Lives.