Sutra on Eight Awakenings of Great People

Translated by Sramana An Shr Gao of the Eastern Han dynasty (150 A.D.)


In the past, translating sutras was a great undertaking that required many people. Master Hsuan Tsang had 600 monks to help him. Even emperors and empresses helped too. The Dharma was extremely important. After all, it can lead one to end birth and death and attain true immortality. Monks who arrived in China during that time had spiritual powers and were hard to refute.

Master An Shr Gao was not Chinese. An Shr Gao was from Persia (then called Pathia). He was a prince. He was highly educated and gifted in worldly matter. Early in his life he decided to leave his country for Canton, China. He was able to learn the language and came to Canton. When he arrived, he learned that people believe in a certain lake spirit who controlled the nearby lake. People had to light incense to cross the lake; when the spirit was angry, he capsized the boats. Master An Shr Gao had to cross the lake to reach a major monastery. People warned him not to cross the lake because it was too dangerous. But suddenly a voice at the shrine to the spirit said to invite Master Gao to come over. The spirit said, "Teacher!" Master Gao said, ỘYou still have that bad temper. You haven't changed a bit.Ợ The spirit said, ỘI am trapped by my karma. I killed a lot of people. Please save me.Ợ In his past life, this person got angry a lot and one time killed someone and was reborn as a ghost. Master Gao ordered the spirit to show himself, who turned out to be a huge boa. Master Gao gave him the three refuges and crossed him over. The snake repented and cried. In the past, he was a monk who had broken the rule of killing. The snake went to the marsh in Shaanxi and die. After that, there was no more trouble at the lake. Think about it, who is behind the faces we know? Who are they? Who are we? Who am I? Who were we before? Master An Shr Gao had the wisdom to see through appearances.


Buddhist disciples should at all time, by day and by night, with a sincere attitude, recite and keep in mind eight truths that all great people awaken to.

The world is impermanent. Countries are perilous and fragile. The body's four elements are a source of pain; ultimately, they are empty. The five aggregates (skandhas) are not me.

Death and rebirth are simply a series of transformations--misleading, unreal, and uncontrollable.

The mind is the wellspring of evil; the body is the breeding ground of offenses.

Whoever can investigate and contemplate these truths will gradually break free of death and rebirth.


People recite this text because it's short and pithy. The world is transient; it's a bus stop. In 1976 greyhound had a bicentennial greyhound pass for $50. You can go to across the country. Bus stations are transient places. Had buzzing fluorescent lights, filthy bathroom. Countries are perilous and fragile. Landmasses change; oceans to land and vice versa. Body is the source of pain; we struggle to keep body feeling good. We go to the bar, the liquor store, buy Excedrin. Don't believe it? If we don't get enough sleep and food, we can't function very well. If we go beyond the skin and bones, we cannot locate any permanent source of who we are. Body, mind, feeling, thought, activities, and consciousness. Thoughts are not us; yet we identify with them. Where is any thought that is me? Activities of the body or autonomic processes are not us. The Buddha did a very sophisticated analysis of the body. Five skandhas lack any permanent self. The body is a temporary cohesion of our actions or karma. Death and rebirth are a series of transformation. Now a bug, now a pig, now a man. Death and rebirth have no master. Who is in charge? The Buddha invites us to go below the surface to find out. God made us? Okay, if that is true, who are we? Investigate beyond the surface.

People become resentful when they hear that the mind is evil and the body is filthy. Many people feel body is beautiful. Look at the arts in the museums in Europe. Underneath the skin, there is blood and vein. Below the beautiful is this stinky and ugly stuff. You donỖt want to look at them. Beauty is just a concept. The Buddha offers a different way to look at it. The Buddha says mind is a source of evil and body a source of offenses. He is talking from the point of view of a meditator, a person who asks, Ộwho am I?Ợ If we want to know the answer, we need purity, quietude, and insight from within (precepts, samadhi, and wisdom). When we break the precepts, our meditation will be affected. ItỖs a universal fact; the Buddha does not own it.  When we can maintain the purity, we become quieter, more concentrated. At this point, we can start to see the movements of our thoughts and mood and emotions donỖt blow us up.

Do we have saintly thoughts? Most people have petty, jealous, selfish, and mean thoughts. Yet, the same mind can also have saintly thoughts. If we are quiet and are aware of these evil thoughts, we have a chance of transforming them. Over time, we are able to affect the external situations, such as disputes in the office, because of our purity and tranquility.

The Buddha is not a moralist. He is not pointing finger at us or try to shame us. There is a chapter in the Avatamsaka Sutra in which the Buddha describes what is evil. ItỖs not always politically correct to say something is evil. Is it relative? Not always if we use it to justify our evil ways. The Buddha says killing is evil and the retribution is the lost of our human body the next time around; if born as human, life is short and have a lot of illnesses. Learn the rule of the universe. ItỖs just cause and effect. Instead of taking life, we foster life--like giving medicine we have longevity and will be free of illnesses. Why babies die young, why rotten guys live so long. We only see one lifetime. We donỖt see all the causes and effects.  Did anyone see Colonel Sander when he died? The day before he died, he looked very scary, like a chicken. We keep the score, no one else. At CTTB, we liberate lives, hence fostering life. This stuff is scientific and pragmatic. Why is it that we cannot keep our vows or resolutions that we made? Because we are a mixture of good and bad seeds. As soon as we forget the connection, we may plant bad seeds.

If we understand this rule about cause and effect and apply it skillfully, we can get the life we want. ItỖs true, we can be happy. DonỖt waste time blaming heavens or our spouse. Being lusty and promiscuous can cause us to lose our human body. If we come back as humans, we have unfaithful spouses and are surrounded by unwholesome people. The reverse is true. In US, we have a high divorce rate. In Asia, divorces are pretty uncommon. Once they move to the fast lanes of California. The divorce rates go up.

Bowing on the highway, one car zipped by very fast and suddenly came to a halt. A well-dressed black man came out. He exhibited a strange energy. He wanted to get help from the bowing monks. He had a gun in his car and was on his way to LA to shoot his wife and his best friend (whom she ran away with). ỘI want to kill them both. I know itỖs wrong but canỖt take it.Ợ Basically he was about to plant the cause to future suffering. Marty said, ỘMy teacher says when things donỖt go our way, always reflect inside.Ợ He was a smart guy and immediately figured it all out. ỘHow could I have missed it!Ợ he said. After marrying his wife, he had an affair. He confessed to his wife, but she couldnỖt forgive him. Her infidelity was from his doing. It dawned upon him. He understood the secret of the universe. He threw his gun in the ocean, gave $300 to the monks, and drove back home. He didnỖt deny it; he had good roots and sensed shame. When things donỖt go our ways, itỖs ALWAYS because of something we have done. Look within. The mind is the source of evil but is also the cause for Buddhahood.

Sutra on Eight Awakenings of Great People Given by Dharma Master Heng Sure at the Berkeley Monastery on 3/25/2000.




In this country we are encouraged to have desires. Worldly teachings never say that desire brings pain. The Buddha is saying: choose your life. Do you want stress and fatigue of birth and death or do you want ultimate freedom. Great people awaken to this. Worldly people go for the surface of things. The Buddha set up an equation: one side has ku (suffering, stress) and the other side has desires. People like passion; life is boring without it. Eat same food, same job. Passion is what created Shakespeare plays and the Golden Gate Bridge. This type of person rarely looks seriously into the question "Who am I?" If one asks this question, one is a cultivator and is in an immaterial realm. Then, such person can see that passion and emotion are not satisfying, hard to predict, and eventually leads to anger, jealousy, and violence. Emotion is invisible, yet it is powerful. So too is wisdom. If we choose unwisely, we will suffer. Sages will say that wisdom and passion don't mix. Look at the laws. If the laws are ruled by passion, would we like that? Passion is okay if it not selfish; if it is to satiate the six senses, they it's petty passion.

Five desires: wealth, sex, food, fame, and comfort. They turn us upside down. What if we say this to a fraternity crowd? Immediately we get loud reactions. We work everyday because of those things. What's wrong with those things? What's wrong with the Oscars? The Academy awards? Right now in America we have the problem of obesity. Go to rest stops along Highway 5. We throw food away a lot. In other countries, kids go around town collecting scraps of food from garbage cans and dumpsters. We are devoted to sleep and comfort. We pursue them with vigor. The world says the more the better--only the best! Maybe a third of us in this assembly won't come back next week. Is the Buddha a prude? No, it's reality. There is a subtle level of desire too. If we are on the path, we possess a feeling of being right with ourselves. The Tao is like God's will or love. It makes the sun rise and flowers glisten. The Buddha says if we acknowledge the Tao, another level of desire can impede our progress: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and dharma. This applies to meditators. Anything we attach to will keep us from getting closer to the Tao. Even ideas, thoughts, concepts, opinions, and anything we know can keep us from reaching the Tao. If we pursue what we like and avoid what we don't like, we are in the middle of birth and death. Passion is so involved with the senses. If the things we are passionate about don't respond, we get angry and upset. The problem with passion is that we are not free; we are dependent on the result of the passions. People who seriously ask, "Who am I?" will have nothing to do with passions. If we can do this, we will abide in wu wei. We won't come around the next time. Karma is an impartial judge, not off by a hair's breadth. If we purse passion, we will waste our energy, expend our essense, and have outflows.

Take a person before bringing forth the bodhi resolve. This person wants the finer things in life. There is a story about Sundarananda (the Buddha's little brother) and his beautiful wife, Sundari. One day, during his alms round, the Buddha saw that it was time to cross over Sundarananda. Upon seeing the Buddha, Sundarananda got excited and wanted to make an offering. He asked his wife Sundari for permission and she was reluctant. She was afraid he would leave her to follow the Buddha. Finally she spat on the ground and said, "you better be back before that dries." Sundarananda ran after the Buddha. Yet, as fast as he could run, the Buddha was always ahead of him. Finally, the two reached the Jeta Grove, the dwelling place of the Buddha and his disciples. Sundarananda agreed to leave the home life, but he thought to himself, "The first chance I get, I'm outta here." Day by day, Sundarananda got more nervous because all the arhats were constantly watching him, preventing him from leaving. One day the Buddha took him on a hike up in the mountains. They saw a group of monkeys and the Buddha asked, "Who is more beautiful: the monkeys or your wife Sundari?" "Of course my wife is much more beautiful," Sundarananda replied. One day, the Buddha took Sundarananda to visit the Heaven of Thirty Three. The heaven was a million times more beautiful than earth. They entered a magnificent palace and saw 500 goddesses and many servants. Sundarananda asked the servants, "Don't you have a master?" They said, "Our master is Sundarananda, the Buddha's little brother. He's left the home life to cultivate and someday he will be reborn here and these 500 goddesses will be his wife." Sundarananda was delighted. The Buddha asked him, "Who is more beautiful, these goddesses or your wife Sundari?" "Compared to the goddesses, Sundari is as ugly as a monkey." When the two returned to earth, Sundarananda worked harder and harder, hoping to be reborn in the heavens. The Buddha knew that heavenly blessings are not ultimate and those enjoying them will fall back to the lower realm. He asked Sundarananda if he would like to visit the hell? "Sure, as long as I come back with you." They visited all the different types of hells: the mountain of knives, sword-tree hell, the fire-sea hell, the ice-hell, etc. Finally they came to a hell where two ghosts were boiling a pot of oil. The lazy ghosts had let the fire go out and the oil wasn't even simmering. "What are you doing fooling around and going to sleep. Why aren't you working?" asked Sundarananda. The ghosts responded, "We're in no hurry. We're waiting for someone who isn't due for a long, long, long time. We're waiting for Sundarananda. He left home to seek heavenly blessings. He'll be living in the heavens for a thousand years, but in confusion, he'll forget about cultivation and commit offenses. Eventually, he will land right into our pot of oil." From that moment on, Sundarananda stopped cultivating for heavenly blessing, but instead worked towards ending birth and death. He achieved Arhatship and even crossed over his lovely wife, Sundari. Heavens and hells are within birth and death. Even in this world we see a mixture of heaven and hell. Cultivate to wu wei and our body and mind will be really free.