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The Innumerable Meanings Sutra
Chapter 1: "Virtues"

I thank you for reading my thoughts on the first chapter of the Innumerable Meanings Sutra. I am not a Master and therefore accept all responsibility for the shortcomings in this commentary. 
 
The first chapter of the Innumerable Meanings Sutra begins with a description of the vast audiences that have assembled to hear the teachings of the Buddha. These include mythical beings such as dragons and garuda's along with mention of gods and men. Many gloss over these opening passages in the belief that they are simply elements of Indian cultural nomenclature. But these opening passages bear some simple and important truths. It is indeed difficult for us here today, to take literally, the claim that dragons and garuda's were present during the Buddha's reciting this sutra. This is only a problem however, when we allow ourselves to become 'caught' up in the language of the text and miss the truth that it is in fact pointing to. These lists are quite substantial and at their heart bear the simple idea that 'all' beings, whatever their conditions may be, have something to learn from the Buddha's teachings and indeed come to hear these teachings.
 
A second issue many have with these opening lines relates to the mention of gods. Many Western Buddhists come to Buddhism precisely in the capacity of a denial of the Monotheistic faiths of their parents. Indeed, Buddhism teaches that at least in the capacity of a 'creator being' God cannot exist based on its belief in causality. That is to say, if all phenomena are believed to be the result of causes and conditions, there can be no 'first cause'. No beginning, no end. In light of this, many are confused by their inclusion here. Once again, it is important that we refrain from getting caught up in the terminology and in doing so, miss the meaning at its heart. When most people think of God or God's, they tend to imagine beings in possession of 'perfection' to some degree. This belief is often in contrast to the way in which we see ourselves; that is as 'imperfect' beings.
 
From this basis there are two ways in which we should understand their mention. For those who do hold that a supreme God and creator exists, the implication is that such a creator is no different to you or I in our need to understand 'the way things are'. If a creator does exist, he/she has created all that is because he 'desired' to do so. If God is led by his desires and cravings just like you or I, he/she also, is not yet free of the suffering that inevitably comes from the belief that fulfilling these cravings will make us happy, and forever dispel our suffering.
 
For those who do not believe in the creator God, there is also something to learn from their mention. Those whom we respect and look up to, are like us, equally in need of the wisdom of the Buddha's. When we hear of audiences that contain God's and men, we are reminded that no duality really exists here. No difference between God's and men, or Buddha's and men. We are all inherently of the same nature. This is our Buddha-nature.
 
This is followed by a list of the Bodhisattva's present in the assembly. Of course this serves in a practical 'roster' type fashion. But it also asks us to be aware of some of the qualities possessed by enlightened beings. Although we are for the most part 'un-enlightened' in our conduct, it is important that we are always attempting to 'act as if' we were, to emulate these qualities.
 
It is said that among these Bodhisattva's "there is none who is not a great saint". They have attained 'commands'. That is, mastered the precepts. Let us think about ourselves for a moment. We like to believe that we are in control of ourselves. But when we look closely at our day to day experiences, it becomes clear that a lot of the time, perhaps even most of the time, that it is our desires and impulses that have the last say. Posessing 'command' of our lust, cravings and emotions is for most of us, something we have yet to achieve.
 
They have attained 'meditation'. We live our lives day in, day out, in a rather 'hectic' fashion. For those of us that meditate, much of our time is spent 'quetting' the mind. But calming the mind is only half of the process. When we have 'pacified' our mind somewhat, we are able to 'see' more clearly. In this state we can take the chance to truly contemplate our actions of words, thought and body, contemplate the teachings of the Buddha. The Bodhisattva's in question have attained the ability to bring this calming and contemplation into every moment of their experience. This calming and contemplation which we struggle to bring to bear momentarily, each day.
 
They have attained 'wisdom'. From this calming and contemplation, they are able to 'see' things as they truly are. Knowledge may allow us to understand how this or that 'thing' works, but wisdom is the result of seeing things clearly, as they are. Without hindrance. These are the Three Pillars of Buddhist Practice; Sila, Samadhi and Prajna.
 
They have attained 'emancipation'. By seeing things clearly they have freed themselves from the delusions and passions that would impede them from 'living' the enlightened state. They are no longer 'fettered' by the unnecessary concerns that we seem unable to put aside.
 
And they have attained the 'knowledge of emancipation'. We are told in the Buddhist tradition that when we awaken to our own enlightenment, we come to understand the sufferings of all sentient beings. We come to percieve not only our own past lives, but the past lives of all sentient beings. Without entering into the 'esoteric', how are we to understand this? I would suggest that we understand this on the mundane level as a description of the 'impact' wisdom has on our lives. When we see things clearly, we come to understand the whys and wherefores of our past experiences. Likewise, with the blossoming og insight, it is reasonable to suggest that we may possess the perceptibility to 'see through' the 'character' of others to the types of experience that have formed them.
 
These Bodhisattva's are of 'tranquil minds' and free of desire. The sutra also goes on to say that they are able to understand the 'reality of their nature and form', and that all the innumerable teachings have been revealed to them. In relation to the reality of their 'nature and form', it is the acknowledgement of their having understood the Three Truths (for an explanation of the Threefold Truth, please visit the 'doctrine' page of this website), in this case namely the 'truth of emptiness' refering to the reality of ther 'nature' and the 'truth of provisional existence' being synonomous with the reality of their 'form'.
 
There is something else here. Although the innumerable teachings hace been revealed to them and they 'penetrate' to the meanings of all things, they are still sitting here listening to the teachings of the Buddha. In other words, although they have obtained 'great wisdom' they are still practicing. Often we like to think of enlightenment as the 'final goal'. A state to be achieved once everything else is done. But the sutra is reminding us that enlightenment is also in the process. That the proceszs itself, the 'undercurrent' that is working there or that we are working through is none other than enlightenment.
 
The sutra goes on to explain in beautifully symbolic ways, the conduct of the Bodhisatvva. "First, dipping the dust of desire in a drop of the teachings, they remove the fever of the passions of life and realize the serenity of the law by opening the gate of nirvana and fanning the wind of emancipation." When dust and dirt is dipped into water, it is 'washed away' revealing the 'purity' of the object that was always there. Note here, enlightenment is not something to be gained or 'achieved' in the literal sense. You will notice that the 'object' in this metaphor does not change. Our ignorance, much like dust, is not be be identified with our true nature, our Buddha-nature. We 'remove' the passions with the teachings. We cure the 'fever' with the medicine of Dharma.
 
They then "rain(ing) the profound law of the Twelve Causes". The 'Twelve Causes' refered to here are the cycle of causes and conditions that make up the human condition (commonly referred to as "Twelvefold Conditioned Co-arising"). An in-depth discussion of them is beyond the scope of this muse. They are namely: 1) ignorance, 2) Volitional Activity, 3) Consciousness, 4) Name and Form, 5) the Six Senses, 6) Contact, 7) Experience, 8) Passion, 9) Attachment, 10) Existence, 11) Rebirth and 12) Decay and Death.These teachings are given on account of the "violent and intense rays of suffering". Ignorance, Old Age, Illness and Death. Ignorance is the cause of rebirth here and now, the underlying premise upon which we suffer. Old age, illness and death must be borne by all of us. It is synonomous with existing. This is the meaning of the First Noble Truth: "Life is Suffering". We should not take this truth as a pessimistic stance on human experience. Rather we must acknowledge the 'oppressive nature' of living. Because as long as we refuse to acknowledge this truth, we will cause ourselves to suffere needlessly. Only by accepting this truth can we try to do something about it. Only when we acknowledge that we are ill. can we remedy it. As beings 'good roots' are dipped into the Mahayana, the sprout of Buddhahood is put forth. By using tactfulness or 'Skillful Means', they are able to appreciate the capacities of respective beings and thus, provide what is necessary when it is necessary, causing beings to 'speedily attain enlightenment'.
 
The Bodhisattva's are then described as "true good friends for all living beings". It is stated that they are the "unsummoned teachers". One may wonder why this is a praisworthy quality here. Many times in our lives we have experienced 'unsummoned lessons' from those we did not wish to learn from. Often times by our very 'aversion' to these sorts of lessons, we 'discard' what they had to offer us. The importance of this statement however, is to show the Bodhisattva as the 'embodiment' of compassion. To be an 'unsummoned teacher' is to desire to help other beings from ones own initiative. To desire the happiness of others for no other reason than because your own happiness is equal in validity to the happiness of all others. The rest of the paragraph is designed to show that they supply to us, the deluded, whatever is lacking, bringing us to completion.
 
The following paragraph refers to the 'Paramita's'. Again this concept is beyond the scope of this commentary. It will be said however that 'Paramita' refers to 'perfections' or virtues that lead to enlightenment. The six primary paramita's are namely: 1) Giving, 2) keeping the precepts (moral conduct), 3) Patience, 4) Diligence, 5) Meditation and 6) Wisdom. The Bodhisattva's are described as being 'firm and immovable'. How unlike us! Usually we try to 'run' or manouvre in such a way that whatever the hardship facing us maybe, is lessened. The Bodhisattva however, remains unwavering in the face of the myriad difficulties of life.
 
Finally the Bhiksus(Monks) in the assembly are named. Once this is is finished. Bodhisattva Great Adornment, proceeds to make obeisance to the Buddha in various ways. One of the ways in which he does this is by circling him a hundred thousand times! The point here is that the gift of the Buddha-Dharma is not easily repaid and that we should always be diligent in keeping these greatest of gifts within our hearts. Although we are not currently in front of Shakyamuni Buddha right at this moment, we may 'make procession around him a hundred thousand times by our actions. By ensuring that our lives are in keeping with the Dharma. By remaining unwavering in the face of our greatest obstacles; ourselves.
 
The chapter is then closed as is customary by a repititionary verse. Although much of it is the same as the above, it contains its own pearls of wisdom.
 
I thank you for reading my thoughts on the first chapter of the Innumerable Meanings Sutra. I am not a Master and therefore accept all responsibility for the shortcomings in this commentary.  
 
Gassho
 
Reverend Jikai Dehn