ranking the teachings

Although the principle is of one flavor, explanations of it can be either shallow or profound. Therefore, they can be divided to indicate whether they are provisional or actual. (FAS-PII(1) 156)

Many schools of Buddhism rank the Buddha's teachings according to their level of profundity. The basic idea is that the Buddha taught people according to their abilities to understand. And as their abilities to understand developed, he taught them more and more profound Dharmas.

One of the most well-known analyses of the Buddha's teachings is that of the Tyan-Tai School, which divides them into Five Periods and Eight Teachings.

"In the first of the Five Periods, the Flower Adornment Period, the Flower Adornment Sutra, a Perfect Teaching, was spoken for twenty-one days, whereas the Dharma Flower and the Nirvana Sutras, which are not nearly so long as the Flower Adornment Sutra, together took eight years to speak. The reason is that the Flower Adornment Sutra was spoken by the Buddha as Nishyanda Buddha, and so it was spoken fast.

"The second was the Agama Period in which the Store Teachings which provided for the Two Vehicles were spoken--the

Dharmas of the Four Noble Truths and the Twelve Links of Conditioned Co-production. This was the Store Teaching.

"The third was the Expansive Period, an initial door leading from the Theravada through to the Great Vehicle, and was called the Connective Teaching. It could connect with the former Store Teaching and with the Prajna Teaching which followed.

"The fourth was the Prajna Period, called the Separate Teaching because it is not the same as the previous Connective Teaching, and also not the same as the subsequent Perfect Teaching.

"The fifth, the Dharma Flower and Nirvana Period, is called the Perfect Teaching. It was spoken particularly to take across those whose root nature was that of the Great Vehicle. . . .

"In addition to the Four teachings described above, there are four more teachings: 1) the Sudden Teaching, 2) the Gradual Teaching, 3) the Secret Teaching, and 4) the Unfixed Teaching. The Sudden Teaching refers to the sudden and immediate opening of enlightenment in an instant. The Gradual Teaching refers to gradually, little by little, opening enlightenment. The Secret Teaching means that something is spoken for the other person without the first person knowing it, and something is spoken for the first person without the other person knowing it, both remaining unaware of what the other person knows. The Unfixed Teaching is the Dharma of there being no fixed Dharma. Altogether that makes Eight Teachings. . . ." (FAS-VP 52-53)


1) Ch. pan jyau , 4) Alternate Translations: analyzing the teachings.

See also: Tyan-Tai School, Hwa-Yen School.

BTTS References: FAS-VP 51-54; FAS PII(1) 156ff; FAS PII(2) (entire volume); FAS-PIII (entire volume); BNS I 34-35.


...in the second watch he, whose energy had no peer, gained the supreme divine eyesight (see Five Eyes), being himself the highest of all who possess sight.

Then with that completely purified divine eyesight he beheld the entire world, as it were in a spotless mirror.

His compassionateness waxed greater, as he saw the passing away and rebirth of all creatures according as their acts were lower or higher.

Those living beings whose acts are sinful pass to the sphere of misery, those others whose deeds are good win a place in the triple heaven.

The former are born in the very dreadful fearsome hell (see hell) and, alas, are woefully tormented with sufferings of many kinds...

In the hells is excessive torture, among animals eating each other, the suffering of hunger and thirst among the pretas (i.e., ghosts), among men the suffering of longings.

In the heavens that are free from love the suffering of rebirth is excessive. For the ever-

wandering world of the living there is most certainly no peace anywhere.

This stream of the cycle of existence has no support and is ever subject to death. Creatures, thus beset on all sides, find no resting-place.

Thus with the divine eyesight he examined the five spheres of life and found nothing substantial in existence, just as no heartwood is found in a plantain-tree when it is cut open.

(Acts of the Buddha, Ch. 14, "Enlightenment")

Ananda, all beings in the world are caught up in the continuity of birth and death. Birth happens because of their habitual tendencies; death comes through flow and change. When they are on the verge of dying, but when the final warmth has not left their bodies, all the good and evil they have done in that life suddenly and simultaneously manifests. They experience the intermingling of two habits: an abhorrence of death and an attraction to life. (SS VII 95)

"Now let's consider the contents of our past lives. You are thinking, 'I don't believe there are past lives. If I had past lives, why don't I remember them?' Take the dream as a comparison. The day passes and the dream of the night before is forgotten. How much the less can we remember the events of our past lives!...

"You should know that now we too are dreaming. I am telling you right now that you are dreaming, but you can't believe it. Wait until you cultivate, cultivate to understanding, and, 'Ah, everything I did before was all a dream.'" (HS 38)

Out of the horse's belly
Into the womb of a cow.
How many times have you passed back and forth through Yama's halls?
First you go for a swing by Shakra's palace,
And then plummet back down into Sir Yama's pot.
(HD 83)

(Note: Shakra is 'lord of heaven'; Yama is 'king of the nether worlds'.)


1) Ch. sheng , dzai-sheng , 2) Skt. jati, 3) Pali jati, patisandhi, bhavanga-sota, bhavanga-citta, 4) Alternate Translations: reincarnation, transmigration.

See also: karma, causation, Six Paths of Rebirth

BTTS References: CL II 81; HS 38; FAS Ch16 44; SS IV 34-36; SS VII 96-97.

refuge with the Three Jewels

This Refuge is peaceful indeed.
This Refuge is best.
This Refuge, if taken, frees one from all suffering.

Taking refuge with the Three Jewels is the way one becomes a Buddhist and enters the path to the ending of suffering that comes with full and proper enlightenment. In order to take refuge correctly, one should find a fully ordained Bhikshu whose daily conduct is fully in accord with the Buddha's teaching and reqeust him to administer the Refuges and to becomes one's teacher and guide on the Path.

In taking refuge with the Buddha,
I vow that living beings
Will understand the great Path,
And bring forth the unsurpassed resolve (for Bodhi).

In taking refuge with the Dharma,
I vow that living beings
Will deeply enter the Sutra treasury,
And have wisdom like the sea.

In taking refuge with the Sangha,
I vow that living beings
Will unite, forming a Great Assembly,
In which all will be in harmony.

(FAS Ch11 116-118 rev.)


1) Ch. gwei yi san bau , 2) Skt. tri-sarana, 3) Pali tiÄ sarana.

See also: Three Jewels.

BTTS References: PS 184-187; UW 13; FAS Ch11 116-118; "Taking Refuge" (pamphlet).


'Relics' is a translation of the Sanskrit sarira, which literally means 'body', but in Buddhist usage most often refers to the sacred relics found in the cremated remains of the Buddha or of a Buddhist monk.

After the cremation of the Buddha's body his relics were distributed and later redistributed by Emperor Asoka, who built special stupas (Chinese ta "pagoda") to house them for worship.

Often in the cremated remains of monks who have led extremely pure lives are found sarira of various colors and sizes that look like effulgent pearls.

Chan Master Syu-Yun related this experience he had with a relic of the Buddha at Asoka Monastery:

. . . Everyday when visitors came to have a look at the sarira, I always followed them. The visitors' opinions about the relic varied greatly. I had seen it many times; at first it looked to me as of the size of a green bean and of a dark purple color. In the middle of the tenth month, after I had paid reverence to the Mahayana and Hinayana tripitakas, I went again to look and it was the same size as before but like a brilliant red pearl. As I was impatient to see how it would transform itself, I again prostrated myself and felt pains all over my body; the sarira was bigger than a yellow bean, half yellow and half white.

I then realized that its size and color varied according to the visitors sense organ and its field. . . . (Empty Cloud: the Autobiography of Hsu Yun)


1) Ch. she li , 2) Skt. sarira, 3) Pali sarira, sariraka-dhatu, 4) Alternate Translations: remains (holy);

See also: enlightenment, moral precepts.

BTTS References: HS 120.


I know that my past faults were left uncorrected, yet I know that in the future I may mend my ways. I know that I have not been off the path of confusion for very long, and I am aware of today's rights and yesterday's wrongs. (Tau Ywan-ming, "Gwei-chyu Lai Tsz")

"'Of all bad karma which I have done based on beginningless greed, hatred, and stupidity, committed by body, mouth, and mind, I now repent and reform.' Greed, hatred, and delusion are found at the root of our actions, even those which seem to be motivated by selflessness, love and knowledge. Difficult to understand as this at first seems, it will be born out by sufficient inspection.

The body, mouth and mind are the vehicles which perform the actions motivated by the three poisons: greed, hatred and delusion. The body is capable of killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. The mouth spews forth false speech, confused prattle, harsh speech, and slander. The mind governs body and mouth through greed, hatred, and wrong views. These are called the ten paths of unwholesome conduct, and they constitute the greater part of our conduct. However, they can be transformed into their opposites by our efforts; this is called turning toward the good. To change is simply to repent. Repentance is no emotional outpouring, no futile regret over spilt milk. We regret, we change and that is all there is to it. One gradually learns to stop doing all manner of bad and move towards all that is good. This is the conduct of the superior person. It is very simply the way by which one begins to leave the confused and troubled state of an ordinary mortal to become a Buddha. It must be done not merely with words and superficial conduct but in the very depths of the mind and consciousness. Therefore, once we begin to put our daily lives in order, we find it necessary to seek out a good advisor. He remonstrates with us and teaches us the proper means of cultivation, and thus we eliminate the accumulated garbage in our minds, stop the deeply ingrained habits which continue to produce ever more garbage, and attain true freedom.

"'Offenses arise from the mind; use the mind to repent. When the mind is forgotten, offenses are no more. Mind forgotten and offenses eradicated, both are empty. This is called true repentance and reform.' The acts of the mind are greed, hatred, and stupidity. The mind wanders and reels about a universe of its own thinking, planning, scheming, measuring, and calculating. Like a monkey loosed in a grove of ripe fruit trees, the mind clambers on everything, grasping, pulling, and making a general mess. This mad mind directs our daily activities of body and speech; hence all our offenses are ultimately derived from the mind. Everything, in fact, that has name and form, that is labelled and known as distinct from other things, is a product of the mind.

"We must cut off offenses at the root. Thus what we must reform is not merely our behavior but the very depths of our minds. We must take our petty realms of consciousness and expand them until we are capable of including all good deeds as well as bad ones. Reform is in the mind, not in the shallow surface layers of what we know as the thinking mind, but in the deep, hidden wellsprings of consciousness which can only be reached through great effort. When we reach such depths we pass well beyond the


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limitations of thinking and verbal constructs. This is what is meant by 'mind forgotten.' It is important to understand that this does not imply a simple forgetfulness of our wrong deeds. Rather it is a total passage beyond all normal thought, through which we reach the very source, and there wash off the accumulated dust.

"There are, ultimately, very few who need not listen to the words of the text, for, as it is said:

The sagely man has few errors;

The superior man changes his errors;

The petty man covers over his errors;

The stupid man sees no errors." (WM 9-11)

The "Entering the Dharma Realm" chapter of the Flower Adornment Sutra recounts a repentance of the Pure Youth Sudhana:

He remembered how he himself in the past had not practiced bowing and reverence, and he immediately decided that he would practice them with all his might. He further remembered how in the past he had not been pure in body and mind, and he immediately decided that he would concentrate on regulating and cleansing himself. He further remembered how in the past he had created all [sorts of] evil karma, and he immediately decided that he himself would concentrate on avoiding and stopping it.

He further remembered how in the past, he had given rise to all false thoughts, and he immediately decided that he would constantly rectify his thinking. He further remembered how in the past, his cultivation of all practice had only been for the sake of himself, and he immediately decided that he would enlarge the scope of his mind, so that it would universally extend to all conscious beings.

He further remembered how in the past he had intently sought for states of desire, constantly harming and depleting himself, without its having any flavor. And he immediately decided that he would cultivate the Buddhadharma, and nurture all his faculties, and use them to find peace himself.

He further remembered how in the past he had given rise to deviant and distorted reflections. And he immediately decided that he would produce thoughts of proper views and give rise to the vows of a Bodhisattva. He further remembered how in the past, he had toiled day and night at doing all evil affairs. And he immediately decided that he would bring forth great vigor in accomplishing the Buddhadharmas. He further remembered how in the past he had undergone birth in the Five Destinies without any benefit to himself or to others. And he immediately decided that he wanted to use his body to benefit and aid living beings, accomplish the Buddhadharmas, and attend upon all good knowing advisors.

Upon making such reflections, he became very happy. (EDR VIII 2-4)

The Sixth Patriarch Hwei-Neng explained repentance this way:

What is repentance and what is reform? Repentance is to repent of past errors, to repent so completely of all bad actions done in the past out of stupidity, confusion, arrogance, deceit, jealousy, and other such offenses, that they never arise again. Reform is to refrain from such transgression in the future. Awakening and cutting off such offenses completely and never committing them again is called repentance and reform.

Common people, stupid and confused, know only how to repent of former errors and do not know how to reform and refrain from transgressions in the future. Because they do not reform, their former errors are not wiped away, and they will occur in the future. If former errors are not wiped away and transgressions are again committed, how can that be called repentance and reform? (PS 178).

Formal repentance is often done publicly, individually before the great assembly, or communally by bowing repentances such as the Great Compassion Repentance or the Repentance before the Ten Thousand Buddhas.


1) Ch. chan hwei , 2) Skt. , 3) Pali , 4) Alternate Translations: repentance and reform, confession.

See also: One Hundred Dharmas--shame and remorse.

BTTS References: UW ?; PS 120, 176-178; WM 9-11; UW 30-31, 144-145; TT 87-96 (verse of repentance of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva); EDR VIII 2-4, 69-73; FAS-PII(3) 9-10; FAS Ch22 29-34 ("Treasury of Shame"), 35-41 ("Treasury of Remorse"); RH ("Repentance before the Eighty-Eight Buddhas").