Story 2：Five hundred Dharanis
Today we will continue to talk about the story of “A Parable of Resentment and Harm from the “Buddhist Stories”. If the story has become blurry to you, here is a quick reminder: there was a man who wanted to revenge on another person who had slandered him. And there was another guy who told him about the Vinaya-Dharani that could hurt the person. However, this Vinaya-Dharani had a disadvantage, that is, before it hurt somebody else, it’s going to hurt the user himself first. He was not afraid at all even though he knew that it would hurt him first before he could hurt the other person. He would sacrifice whatever it took just to hurt the other guy. This is the story that we talked about in the first episode.
When telling the story, we mentioned a key term “Vinaya-Dharanai”. Today, we will discuss more on this term. In the last episode, we’ve defined Dharani as “centralizing all dharmas and holding all meanings”. In other words, it means to summarize all dharmas, all articles and all meanings in only one article, or one dharma, or one meaning. We’ve used ways of study and learning in the secular world as analogies to help everybody understand the meaning of Dharani. We may also use a bunch of zongzi (rice dumplings) tied up together as another example for you to understand it. In Taiwan, zongzi are tied up together for sale. The strings that are used to tie zongzi are knotted. When you pull up the knot, you will lift up all the rice dumplings. A Dharani is like the string knot, the key. When you understand the key, you will be able to put together all the corresponding dharmas, or scriptures, or meanings.
Today, we will be talking about some deeper Dharani that is mentioned in the Mahāpraj?āpāramitā-sūtra. For instance, there are so-called five hundred Dharanis and one of which is called the Hear-and-Retain Dharani. It means to hear all dharmas and not to forget them. Apparently, this is consistent with the very basic meaning of Dharani that we have touched on in the first episode. It’s indeed a way of memorizing. It’s like you would come up with ways of memorizing after you hear all kinds of dharmas preached by the direct dharma teachers or the enlightened mentors and you would use them to remember what you have been told. Previously we have given an analogy regarding this. I’m going to repeat it again. For instance, when students prepare for exams, especially for liberal arts subjects, such as history or geography, they have to remember many things. So, many examinees would find their own ways to memorize the contents to be prepared. Hear-and-Retain Dharani means the same. However, this Hear-and -Retain Dharani concerns only the Buddha dharma, not the mundane dharma. In other words, having heard Buddhadharmas and developed ways of memorization without forgetting them is called the Hear-and-Retain Dharani.
And there is another Dharani called Differentiating Dharani which has more advanced function and meaning. It’s about differentiating and understanding dharmas and the mental behavior of sentient beings. In terms of differentiating and understanding dharmas, it means the practitioner finds effective ways to enable himself to understand the meaning of the unheard doctrines explicated by the direct dharma teachers or enlightened mentors. He is able to systematically digest the Buddha dharmas just heard and make them his own knowledge. In other words, it is easy for him to get started when hearing the dharmas and absorb them as part of his own knowledge system. Apparently, this part of the function is not just a way of memorizing, it’s more about the marvelous function of knowing how to differentiate. Therefore, the Differentiating Dharani herein is more of a way to understand---a way of digesting and absorbing. It is obviously more advanced than the function of memorizing because it is an active and effective understanding process of all the dharmas heard before. And this understanding will enable one to differentiate with no difficulties all the dharmas that he will hear in the future. Of course, one still needs some efforts in connecting the dots for the dharmas acquired in different times. Based on the explanation above, we know that the function of Differentiating Dharani is more advanced than Hear-and-Retain Dharani.
Next, we’ll have some discussion on the so-called Sound Dharani. What kind of sound can centralize all dharmas of sound and hold all meanings of it? Actually, the Sound Dharani does not mean to centralize or hold all the sounds.
It means to hear all words and voice without differentiating, meaning not to get happy or angry when hearing whatever words or sound from others. This is called the Sound Dharani.
The Dharani discussed here is a little different from what it literally means. Infact, it is about the practice of forbearance. Sound Dharani addresses the ways of how to practice forbearance, which means one can use whatever ways he can think of to effectively achieve the practice of forbearance.
For instance, regarding the Sound Dharani, you may also follow the Buddha’s teachings in the Sūtra on Upāsaka Precepts. The Buddha said: “When people call you names, you have to think carefully and thoroughly. Say someone is using abusive words on you, and the syllables of the words actually reach your auditory system one after another, which means the syllables exist independently as separate units. Then who is the one that connects all the syllables together to make a meaning out of them and eventually gets angry? Of course it’s our illusory minds! Therefore, if we understand how the sounds associate with each other and how the illusory minds connect them together, then we may understand that, in fact, that we are happy or angry after hearing the voices from other people is nothing but our own mental behavior that comes thereafter. If we can make such observation more often, we may not get angry easily when hearing other people’s false accusations on us. This is the Sound Dharani, one of the many.
Moreover, we also have Tranquility and Extinction Dharani. It is about how we let the characteristics of tranquility and extinction possessed by the True Mind manifest one by one through our behavior observation during walking, resting, sitting and sleeping. If we practice like this regularly, we will make our illusory minds opt for the state of the True Mind instead of clinging to the state of conscious mind and eventually reach the state of tranquility and extinction. Therefore, the Tranquility and Extinction Dharani is more advanced than either the Hear-and-Retain, or Differentiating, or Sound Dharani. It has much deeper meaning of Dharma.
Of course, there are still lots of other Dharanis, such as Observe-Anytime–and-Anywhere Dharani and Grand Virtue Dharani, etc. And if we count the total number of them, there are as many as five hundred. But we are not going to discuss them all one by one. From what we’ve already talked about, you probably have noticed that the most basic Dharani is just a way of memorization. And as we go deeper, there are Differentiating Dharani which is a way of understanding, Sound Dharani which is a way of forbearance, and Tranquility and Extinction Dharani which is a way of practicing behavior observation. You may have found out that the significance of Dharanis is beyond the basic method of memorizing. Therefore, we say that in Buddha Dharma, the best way to describe Dharanis is that they centralize all dharmas and hold all meanings. You may use a simple concept or a simple hear-and-retain to help understand more complicated concepts or hear-and-retains.
附带要提的就是在《大智度论》里面， 龙树菩萨曾特别针对陀罗尼有讲到，他说：“复次，声闻不大殷勤集诸功德，但以智慧求脱老病死苦；以是故，声闻人不用陀罗尼持诸功德。譬如人渴，得一掬水则足，不须瓶器持水；若供大众人民，则须瓶瓮持水。菩萨为一切众生故，须陀罗尼持诸功德。”(《大智度论》卷28) 龙树菩萨告诉我们说：声闻人如果口渴的话，他只要两手掬、把这个水两手环状掬一掬水来喝就够了，就可以解渴了，不需要特别去拿，一定要特别什么瓶子来持水。什么叫作声闻人呢？我们给大家作一个最简单、最简单的定义，声闻人就是随佛修学，但是只注重在自己解脱的人。换句话说，当他修解脱道之后，他就不会想要再修菩萨道了，所以当他修得解脱果的初果、二果、三果、四果，到最后到阿罗汉之后，那么他接下来就等著要入无余涅槃去了。一旦他入无余涅槃之后，三界里面再也见不到他的身影，他就自己在无余涅槃的境界里面解脱自在了。这就是我们给大家下的最简单的声闻人的定义。
By the way, I want to mention that in the Mahaprajna Paramita Sastra, Bodhisattva Nagarjuna said something specifically about Dharanis. He said: “Furthermore, sound-hearers (?rāvaka) do not accumulate virtues diligently, but rely on wisdom to seek liberation from the bitterness of aging, ailing, and death. For this reason, sound-hearers do not use Dharanis to hold all virtues. Just like a thirsty person, he only needs to use his hand to fetch water and no jar is needed. To get enough water for the masses, jars are necessary. Bodhisattvas are devoted for all sentient beings and Dharanis are needed to hold all the virtues” (Volume 28, Mahaprajna Paramita Sastra) Bodhisattva Nagarjuna told us that when a sound-hearer was thirsty, he fetched water with his hands and a handful of water would be enough to quench his thirst. He didn’t need a container. What is a sound-hearer? A simple definition is a sound-hearer refers to a person who follows the Buddha to practice and only cares about his own liberation. When a sound-hearer practices the Path to Liberation, he won’t care practicing further for the Bodhisattva Way. The fruitions that a sound-hearer attains include the first, the second, the third, and the fourth fruition (Arhat fruition) along the Path to Liberation. When he reaches Arhat (the fourth fruition), he will be waiting for his time to enter nirvā?a without remainder. As soon as he enters nirvana, he can be found no more in the three realms thereafter. In the state of nirvā?a without remainder he will be liberated and at ease. This is the simplest definition for a sound-hearer.
Then, what is the difference between a Bodhisattva and a sound-hearer? Bodhisattva literally means an enlightened sentient being. To put it in another way, a Bodhisattva would never abandon sentient beings. For all the sentient beings, he would liberate himself and others one life after another. At the same time when he endeavors to improve Dharma cultivation, he cares for all the sentient beings, thinking how he could help them to accomplish liberation so as to attain Buddhahood in the future, just like himself. This is what a Bodhisattva is like. Thus the big difference between a Bodhisattva and a sound hearer is that a sound-hearer mainly focuses on his own liberation, whereas a Bodhisattva not only works on his own liberation but always keeps his mind on the liberation of all the sentient beings.
Then why did Bodhisattva Nagarjuna say that Dharanis were like water containers? That’s because when a sound-hearer is thirsty, he only fetches a handful of water to quench his thirst. However, if one wants to quench other people’s thirst, he would need a more effective way. Unlike a sound-hear, a Bodhisattva wants to quench thirst of all sentient beings. Therefore, he needs a bottle, or even a huge jar, to get water. He might even need a bigger solution to help quench all sentient beings’ thirst. So we use this way to illustrate that because a sound-hearer aims only at self liberation and therefore, he will be satisfied as long as the dharma that he cultivates can help him achieve this purpose. Since it’s for his own liberation, the dharmas that he learns won’t be that complicated.
We can also look at it in another way: when a sound-hearer starts with realizing the first fruition without regression, he will be realizing the arhat fruition in seven round trips between heavenly realms and human world. It does not matter how many years the seven round trips between heavenly realms and human world are converted to, the number of seven is already laid down black and white, which means the time needed is certain. As for a Bodhisattva, if everyone still remembers, to attain Buddhahood he will need to practice for three asamkhyeya eons (kalpa). A single eon represents way more time than that of seven roundtrips between heavenly realms and human world, not to mention countless eons. Therefore, the time that a Bodhisattva needs to attain Buddhahood is unbelievably long compared to that a sound-hearer needs to accomplish liberation. Why does it take so much longer? It’s because the number of dharmas that a Bodhisattva has to learn is tremendous.
To put it in a simple way, what a Bodhisattva has to learn is the knowledge-of-all-aspects from the True Suchness, the tathāgatagarbha. Since it’s the knowledge-of-all-aspects, it must be massive. This is why it takes so much time for a Bodhisattva to attain Buddhahood. A Bodhisattva is going to attain Buddhahood and liberate himself and deliver all the sentient beings and he is going to come across a numerous number of dharmas. When he extensively practices the six paramitas, he will be seeing many different kinds of Dharmas, and he will need some effective ways to make himself capable of continuing learning. For this reason, Dharanis are exceptionally important for a Bodhisattva. A sound-hearer doesn’t need special dharan is because the way to liberation that he practices is much simpler and easier. A Bodhisattva gives special prominence to Dharanis. To explain it in an understandable way for regular people, it’s because there is so much for a Bodhisattva to learn and he sets and gives priority to phased goals during learning. Every goal for each phase needs to be proceeded in an orderly way. The meaning of these phased goals and orderly proceeding methods can be represented by Dharanis. That’s why Nāgārjuna Bodhisattva said a Bodhisattva pays exceptional attention to Dharanis.
我们来看看《大智度论》里面 龙树菩萨怎么说：“诸陀罗尼法皆从分别字语生，四十二字是一切字根本。因字有语，因语有名，因名有义。菩萨若闻字，因字乃至能了其义。是字：初阿，后荼，中有四十。得是字陀罗尼菩萨，若一切语中闻阿字，即时随义，所谓一切法从初来不生相。”(《大智度论》卷48) 这一段这个论里面，龙树菩萨提到了特别的一种的陀罗尼。
Another special kind of Dharani is also introduced in the Mahaprajna Paramita Sastra when Dharanis are discussed. Let’s see what Bodhisattva Nagarjuna said in “Mahaprajna Paramita Sastra”: “All Dharani dharmas arise from differentiating syllables and words, and these 42 syllables are the basis of all syllables. From syllables, words are derived; from words, names are derived; and from names, meanings are derived. When a Bodhisattva hears syllables, he will understand the meaning. These syllables start with Ah and end with Tu, having forty others in between.” When a Bodhisattva who has gotten this syllable Dharani hears the syllable Ah, he will understand its meaning immediately, which implies all dharmas are originally unproduced.” (Volume 48, MahaprajnaParamita Sastra) So, in this treatise, Bodhisattva Nagarjuna has mentioned a special kind of Dharani.
Bodhisattva Nagarjuna said, “Every Dharani comes from differentiating syllables and words. Every kind of Dharani, including Hear-and-Retain, Differentiating, and Sound Dharanis, has its specific representational name or term, hence, all Dharanis come from differentiating syllables and words. The next sentence then explains why these 42 syllables are the essence of all syllables: Because of these syllables we have language, because of language we have names, and because of names we have meanings. So why talk about these 42 syllables? Well, their significance is equivalent to the mandarin phonetic symbols (zhuyin) used in Taiwan, or the alphabet in the English language. All these language systems have letters and alphabets. When put together, they form meaningful words.
在当时的梵语体系里面，就是有这四十二个字的拼音在，从这四十二个字演进就可以拼出名相。那当时这些四十二个字它所包含的范围，比方说前面包含说是用“阿”，然后用或者罗、遮、波、那等等，这些都是当时梵语的根本音。所以 龙树菩萨才会说：初阿，后荼，中有四十，总共是四十二个根本音。用这四十二个根本音如何组成陀罗尼呢？ 龙树菩萨举的例子是说，比方说“阿”这个字来讲，大家要记住在当时的梵语的体系里面“阿”是一个根本音；所以从这个根本的“阿”这个字，我们就赋予它“阿”这个字，让它代表一切法不生这个意思。
There were 42 syllables in Sanskrit language back then and these syllables evolved and formed names and terms. These 42 syllables, such as Ah, Luo, Zhe, Bo, and Nuo, are the base letters of Sanskrit. That’s why Bodhisattva Nagarjuna said “first Ah, last Tu and forty others in between, a total of 42 syllables”. So how to compose Dharanis with the 42 base syllables? The example Bodhisattva Nagarjuna gave is that Ah denotes the meaning of all dharmas non-arising.
What does all dharmas non-arising mean? In terms of the all dharma non-arising for either Two Vehicles path or Bodhisattva path, we need to start with the essence, the acquiescence to non-arising (the anutpattika- -ksanti). The core to the acquiescence to non-arising is to accept that the minds or the seemingly true self we perceive regularly are illusory. Neither do they have name, nor any authenticity we think it does. We can even say that there has never been a true meaning for having a sense of the self. So what we feel and perceive is nothing but the function of the aggregates. And this is the anutpattika-ksanti. This is a truth that we acquire when observing the self of human beings.
Both a sound-hearer and a Bodhisattva may practice and realize the anutpattika-ksanti and both of them may see through and denounce the appearance of the self that regular people are attached to.
However, in terms of realizing the anutpattika-ksanti, a Bodhisattva differs significantly from a sound-hearer. A sound-hearer can only see the functionality of the five aggregates and refute the illusory existence of the self and others.
What a Bodhisattva realizes is much more. He is authentically awakening to the True Mind, the Tathāgatagarbha. Afterwards, he can see the illusory self in this secular world from the perspective of the True Mind. So, the wondrous and subtle dharmas that a Bodhisattva realizes are way beyond a sound-hearer’ imagination.
To conclude, the dharma that the syllable Ah designates is all dharma non-arising, which is part of the anutpattika-ksanti. Of course there is much more about it and we will leave it to the next time.