Sūtra 33 (posted 11/2011, updated 12/2011) Book information on Home page
Fascicle 1 (chaps. 1–6) 2 (chaps. 7–12) 3 (chaps. 13–17) 4 (chaps. 18–19a) 5 (chaps. 19b–21) 6 (chaps. 22–24a) 7 (chaps. 24b–28)
[The Buddha continued] “Good man, if one begrudges one’s body, life, and wealth, it is called stinginess. A stingy man does not wish to give alms and has no compassion. He saves his wealth for the right fortune field [recipient], but when he finds a fortune field, he looks for its faults. He recognizes that wealth is hard to acquire, and he toils and suffers for it. Or he claims that there is no causality, that is, no requital for almsgiving. He cherishes and protects his wife and retinue, and seeks fame. He accumulates wealth and rejoices over its increase.
“If one sees wealth as something permanent, it is called stinginess. The filth of stinginess taints one’s mind. For this reason, one cannot give away even others’ things, much less one’s own things.
“A wise man gives alms not for receiving requitals for his kindness, achieving something, protecting stingy ones, acquiring pleasures of the human or celestial world, or spreading his good name; not from fear of suffering on the three evil life-paths; not to oblige others’ requests, surpass others, reduce excess wealth, rid himself of useless things, or accommodate friends or family traditions.
“A wise man gives alms out of compassion, because he wishes others to have peace and joy; because he wishes others also to give alms; because he walks the original path of holy ones; because he wishes to eradicate his afflictions; and because he wishes to end his cycle of birth and death and to realize nirvāṇa.
“Good man, when a Bodhisattva gives alms, he avoids four evils: (1) violation of the precepts, (2) the web of doubts, (3) the wrong views, and (4) stinginess. He also avoids five dharmas: (1) discrimination between the worthy and the unworthy, (2) discussion of good versus evil, (3) selection of solicitors by caste, (4) belittlement of solicitors, and (5) abusive speech.
“One will fail to receive wonderful requitals for almsgiving for three reasons: (1) after planning to give large alms, one gives small alms; (2) one purposely gives inferior things as alms; (3) after giving alms, one has regrets.
“Good man, one’s almsgiving will fail to bear the unsurpassed fruit for eight reasons: (1) after giving alms, one sees the recipient’s faults; (2) one gives alms with a discriminatory mind; (3) after giving alms, one asks the recipient to do something in return; (4) after giving alms, one joyfully praises oneself; (5) before giving alms, one says that one has nothing to give; (6) after giving alms, one scolds the recipient with a vicious mouth; (7) after giving alms, one asks the recipient to pay double the value of the alms; (8) after giving alms, one harbors doubts. Such an almsgiver can get close to neither Buddhas nor holy ones.
“It is called pure almsgiving if one gives alms rich in colors, scents, or flavors, or pleasant to the touch; if one gives wealth acquired lawfully; if one gives alms because one observes that wealth is impermanent; if one gives alms to eradicate one’s afflictions; if one gives alms to purify one’s mind.
“It is called pure almsgiving if one observes the almsgiver, the recipient, the alms given, the reasons for almsgiving, and the requitals for almsgiving. It is called pure almsgiving if one understands that almsgiving involves the twelve fields because the almsgiver, the recipient of alms, and the recipient of requitals are each composed of the twelve fields.
“As an almsgiver, one should appreciate the fortune fields and tirelessly seek to acquire merits by giving alms to them. One should give alms to one’s wife, retinue, and servants, enabling them also to have compassion. One should give alms to the poor to relieve their suffering. When giving alms, one should not seek worldly requitals, but seek to eradicate one’s arrogance, to cultivate a gentle mind, to transcend the Three Realms of Existence, and to achieve the unsurpassed liberation. One gives alms because one observes deeply the evils of undergoing repeated birth and death. When giving alms, one should not observe whether the recipient is a fortune field or a non-fortune field. If one gives alms in this way, the requitals for one’s almsgiving will follow one as a calf follows its mother.
“If one gives alms in order to receive requitals, it is no different from doing business. To make a living, one tills the field and sows seeds, then reaps a crop. Likewise one gives alms, then receives requitals for almsgiving. If the recipient of alms receives five benefits—longevity, a good appearance, physical strength, peace and joy, and eloquence—the almsgiver will receive these five benefits as well.
“The requitals to the almsgiver will be 100 times his alms given to animals; 1,000 times the alms given to those who have violated the precepts; 100,000 times the alms given to those who observe the precepts; 1,000,000 times the alms given to non-Buddhists who have ended their desires; 1,000 koṭi times the alms given to those who are nearly Srotāpannas [achiever of the first voice-hearer fruit]; immeasurable for alms given to Srotāpannas, those who are nearly Sakṛdāgāmins [achiever of the second voice-hearer fruit], up to Buddhas.
“Good man, to explain to you the differences between fortune fields, I speak of requitals ranging from 100 times the alms given, to immeasurable. Actually, if one earnestly gives alms to animals out of pity and reverently gives alms to Buddhas, the merits acquired [from planting these two fortune fields] are equal, without any difference.
“If one’s alms enable the recipient to acquire longevity, a good appearance, physical strength, peace and bliss, and eloquence, then in a future life one will also receive these five benefits, each 100 times that received by the recipient. In a similar way, one can receive immeasurable requitals for almsgiving. In sūtras, I say that Śāriputra and I gave alms to each other. However, I acquired more merit than did Śāriputra [because of my great almsgiving mind].
“Some claim that if the recipient of alms does evil, his sins will implicate the almsgiver. Their claim is untrue. Why? Because the almsgiver gives alms to relieve the recipient’s suffering, not to incite him to commit sins. Therefore, the almsgiver will receive good requitals. If the recipient does evil, his sins are his own, unrelated to the almsgiver.
“After giving away pure things as alms, the almsgiver will be reborn in a high caste, be endowed with a good appearance that people delight to see, acquire the things he wishes for, and achieve a good name far and wide. These requitals are not evil. How can anyone say that he will be guilty of someone else’s sins?
“After giving alms, the almsgiver is joyful, has no regrets, stays close to virtuous ones, and achieves command of wealth, and he will be reborn into a high-caste family, acquire human or celestial happiness, and even the unsurpassed happiness, shattering the bondage of his afflictions. As the almsgiver will receive such wonderful requitals, how can anyone say that he will receive evil requitals?
“After giving alms with his own hands, the almsgiver will be reborn into a high-caste family, encounter beneficent learned friends, acquire abundant wealth that he can use or give away as alms; others will delight to see him and, having seen him, will esteem and praise him. As the almsgiver will receive such [good] requitals, how can anyone say that he will receive evil requitals?
“After giving pure alms, the almsgiver will be reborn in a high caste, acquire a large retinue, abundant wealth and treasures, and have no illness, concerns, or fears. His wealth will not be taken away by the law, bandits, water, or fire. Even if he has lost his wealth, he will not be distressed. And in innumerable [future] lives, he will enjoy peace and joy in his body and mind. How can anyone say that he will receive evil requitals?
“Before giving alms, the almsgiver should have faith; while giving alms, he should rejoice; after giving alms, he should have peace and joy. When others solicit him for alms, keep the alms, and use the alms, he will feel no pain. If he gives away clothes as alms, he will be endowed with a wonderful appearance. If he gives away food as alms, he will acquire unsurpassed physical strength. If he gives away lamps as alms, he will acquire pure eyes. If he gives away vehicles as alms, he will acquire peace and joy in his body. If he gives away houses as alms, he will have no lack of whatever he needs. As the almsgiver will receive such good requitals, how can anyone say that he will receive evil requitals?
“Furthermore, the good requitals for giving alms to a Buddha are determined upon almsgiving, whether or not He uses the alms. However, the merit acquired from giving alms to people or the Saṅgha arises from the recipient’s accepting and using the alms. Why? Because the almsgiver eradicates his stinginess by giving alms, which is further eradicated by the recipient's use of the alms. Hence, the merit arises from the alms being used. Moreover, the recipient of alms can in turn give the alms to others to use, and the Saṅgha can use the alms for growth. If one gives alms without seeking worldly requitals or causing one’s afflictions to arise, then one will acquire the unsurpassed pure fruit, called nirvāṇa.
“Suppose someone makes a resolution every day that he will give food to others before he eats anything, and that if he fails he will make offerings to Buddhas [as atonement]. If he does not fulfill his resolution, he feels ashamed. If he fulfills his resolution, it becomes the cause and condition for developing wondrous wisdom. Such an almsgiver is foremost among almsgivers. He is called an exalted almsgiver.
“If one gives alms to solicitors according to their wishes, in innumerable future lives one will acquire whatever one wishes for. If one gives pure alms with a pure mind to pure fortune fields, one will receive immeasurable requitals. If one gives away clothing and food with a sympathetic and joyful mind to one’s wife, slaves, and servants, in a future life one will receive immeasurable fortune.
“Suppose someone, seeing birds and rats eat the grain in the granary, pities them and thinks: ‘Because of me, these birds and rats can survive.’ If he feels joyful and has no thought of anger, he will receive immeasurable fortune.
“Suppose someone makes for himself clothes, adornments such as necklaces and bracelets, and various vessels, and he is pleased with the completed items. If, instead of using them, he gives them away as alms, in a future life he will acquire a wish-fulfilling tree.
“If some claim that one can receive good requitals without giving alms, they are utterly wrong. If some claim that almsgiving can be accomplished without alms or recipients, but with stinginess, they are utterly wrong.
“Know that one who gives alms without being asked, gives others what they lack, gives more things than asked for, gives better things than asked for, teaches others to ask one for alms, or voluntarily goes somewhere to give alms, in a future life will receive many treasure stores, and one’s ordinary things will become treasures.
“If one gives alms as a joke, one does not plant any fortune field. If one gives alms with disbelief in causality, it is not called almsgiving. If one gives alms only to excellent fortune fields and dislikes giving alms regularly, one will not delight in giving alms when one receives requitals in a future life. If one has regrets after giving alms, or steals things to give alms, one’s wealth to be acquired in a future life will be consumed or dispersed.
“If one gives away as alms things acquired by distressing one’s retinue, though one will receive great requitals in a future life, one will be sickly. If one gives alms while failing to provide for one’s parents and bringing distress to one’s wife and hardship to one’s servants, one is called evil. Such almsgiving is almsgiving in false name, not in true meaning. Such an almsgiver has no compassion and does not requite kindness received. Although in a future life he will acquire wealth, he will not be able to use it, or it will be lost or dispersed, and he will be sickly.
“If one gives away lawfully acquired wealth as alms, in a future life one will receive immeasurable fortune and one can use one’s wealth. If one gives away unlawfully acquired wealth as alms, in a future life one will receive [good] requitals by relying on someone and, after his death, one will be poor.
“A wise man observes deeply the happiness enjoyed by humans, gods, and Wheel-Turning Kings. Though wonderful, it is impermanent. Therefore, when he gives alms, he does not do it to acquire such happiness.
“Good man, there are two kinds of alms, wealth and the Dharma. Giving away wealth is inferior, and giving the Dharma is superior. What is meant by giving the Dharma as alms? It is called giving the Dharma as alms if anyone among bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, and upāsikās teaches others to have faith, to observe the precepts, to give alms, to hear much of the Dharma, and to develop wisdom; if he teaches others to copy sūtras on paper; if he copies the Tathāgata’s sūtras and gives the copies to others to read and recite. In innumerable future lives such an almsgiver will receive excellent requitals. Why?
“After hearing the Dharma, sentient beings will destroy the mind of anger; hence in innumerable future lives the almsgiver will be endowed with an excellent appearance. After hearing the Dharma, out of lovingkindness sentient beings will quit killing; hence in innumerable future lives the almsgiver will have longevity. After hearing the Dharma, sentient beings will not steal others’ wealth; hence in innumerable future lives the almsgiver will have abundant wealth. After hearing the Dharma, sentient beings will open their hearts and delight in giving alms; hence in innumerable future lives the almsgiver will have physical strength. After hearing the Dharma, sentient beings will not abandon self-restraint; hence in innumerable future lives the almsgiver will enjoy peace and joy in his body. After hearing the Dharma, sentient beings will destroy the mind of delusion; hence in innumerable future lives the almsgiver will acquire unimpeded eloquence. After hearing the Dharma, sentient beings will elicit faith without doubts; hence in innumerable future lives the almsgiver will have unwavering faith.
“Similarly, the almsgiver will receive excellent requitals for teaching sentient beings to observe the precepts, give alms, hear the Dharma, and develop wisdom. Therefore, giving the Dharma as alms is superior to giving away wealth as alms.
“Suppose the son does good while the father does evil. Some claim that because of the son’s good deeds, the father will not go down any of the evil life-paths. Their claim is untrue. Why? Because father and son have different body karmas, voice karmas, and mind karmas. However, if the father, after death, is reborn as a hungry ghost, he can receive the merits his son transfers to him. By contrast, gods do not think of things in the human world. Why? Because they prefer the wonderful treasures in heaven. Hell-dwellers are overcome by their suffering and have no leisure to think of anything else, so they cannot receive the merits transferred to them. The same is true for humans and animals, both being occupied with their lives.
“Why can only a hungry ghost receive the merits transferred to him? Because of his greed and stinginess in his former life as a human, he has become a hungry ghost. Regretting his faults, he desires to receive benefits. Therefore, a hungry ghost can receive the merits transferred to him by his relatives in the human world.
“Therefore, a wise man diligently does meritorious deeds to benefit hungry ghosts. He acquires merits from giving clothing, food, houses, bedding, and necessities to śramaṇas, Brahmins, the poor, and beggars. Then he recites mantras and prays that hungry ghosts will receive the merits he transfers to them. The power of his wish will enable hungry ghosts to receive them. Why? Because of their kind of life. Hungry ghosts eat different filthy things: some eat pus; some eat feces; some eat blood, vomit, and spit. After they have received his alms, these things become good food with good flavors. Suppose someone gives dirty dishwater to hungry ghosts. Even if they are prevented from consuming it, the almsgiver will still acquire merits. Why? Because of his compassion.
“If someone makes offerings [to nature], who are the recipients? They are those present at the place of offering. If he makes offerings near trees, tree spirits are the recipients. The same is true for rivers, fountains, wells, mountain forests, and knolls. The almsgiver will acquire merits from making offerings. Why? Because he makes the recipients happy. The merits acquired from making such offerings can protect his body and wealth.
“Some claim that one can acquire merits from making blood sacrifice as an offering [to gods or God]. Their claim is untrue. As no one can grow a sandalwood tree by sowing the seed of the [stinking] eraṇḍa tree, likewise no one can acquire merits from ending a sentient being’s life. When one makes offerings, one should use incense, flowers, milk, butter, or medicine.
“If one transfers merits to the deceased, one can do it in spring, summer, and autumn, in the second, fifth, and ninth [lunar] months.
“Suppose an almsgiver dies after giving away as alms houses, bedding, medicine, gardens, ponds, wells, cows, goats, elephants, horses, and various necessities of life. The merits acquired from his almsgiving last as long as the alms are used. They follow him as a shadow follows its form. Some claim that the merits are lost at the almsgiver’s death. Their claim is untrue. Why? Because the merits are lost when the alms are destroyed or no longer used, not at the almsgiver’s death. If those who have renounced family life discard food and drink during festivals, as do those who live a family life, they are following the worldly ways, but not in earnest.
“If one delights in giving alms according to the recipient’s preferences, it is called all-giving. If one gives away one’s body parts or things valued by one’s wife, it is called inconceivable almsgiving. If a wealthy dignitary gives alms to eleven kinds of people—evil ones, precept violators, foes, fakers, nonbelievers in causality, coercive solicitors, harsh scolders, the angry, the ungrateful, the powerful, and the wealthy—it is called inconceivable almsgiving.
“Good man, there are three rules of almsgiving: (1) give alms to the poor out of compassion; (2) give alms to foes without seeking return; (3) give alms to the virtuous out of joy and respect.
“Good man, if a wealthy person makes offerings to the Three Jewels for many years, the immeasurable requitals for making such offerings are inferior to the requitals for persuading others to live and work in harmony. If someone is ashamed of the few things or inferior things that he has, and refuses to give them away as alms, he is worsening his poverty in the next life.
“Suppose there are two almsgivers. If their alms, fortune fields, and almsgiving minds are equal, they will receive equal requitals. If only their alms and almsgiving minds are equal, the one who gives alms to an excellent fortune field will receive greater requitals. If their fortune fields and almsgiving minds are both poor, the one who gives excellent alms will receive greater requitals. If their alms and fortune fields are both poor, the one with an excellent almsgiving mind will receive greater requitals. If their alms and fortune fields are both excellent, the one with a poor almsgiving mind will receive lesser requitals.
“Good man, when a wise man gives alms, it is not to receive requitals. Why? Because he knows that almsgiving is a cause that will definitely bring an effect. However, there are those who have no compassion, no gratitude for kindness received, and no aspiration for the merits acquired by holy ones. With greed and attachment, they begrudge their bodies, lives, and wealth. Such people cannot give alms.
“A wise man observes deeply that all sentient beings do not begrudge their bodies or lives when they seek wealth. Therefore, if they can give away their wealth as alms, they also can abandon their bodies and lives. If someone is too stingy to give alms, he also begrudges his body and life. If someone risks his body and life to acquire wealth in order to give alms, he is a great almsgiver. If someone has acquired wealth but is too stingy to give alms, he is sowing the seeds of poverty in his future lives.
“Therefore, in sūtras, I say that, among the four continents, people of Jambudvīpa excel in three things: (1) fierce bravery, (2) mindfulness, and (3) pure actions. Though unable to foresee requitals, they can produce their causes. They seek wealth without begrudging their bodies or lives, and give alms to eradicate their stinginess. After giving alms, they have no regrets. Moreover, they do not discriminate between fortune fields and non-fortune fields. Therefore, they have fierce bravery.
“Good man, after giving alms, some regret, for three reasons: (1) they are greedy for wealth, (2) they hold the wrong views, or (3) they see the recipient’s faults. There are another three reasons: (1) they fear others’ rebuke, (2) they fear suffering after depletion of wealth, or (3) they see the misfortune of some almsgivers.
“Good man, a wise man has no regrets before, during, and after giving alms. He has no regrets, for three reasons: (1) he believes in causality, (2) he stays close to beneficent friends, and (3) he has no attachment to wealth. He believes in causality because he hears and ponders the Dharma. He stays close to beneficent friends because of his faith and wisdom. He is not attached to wealth because he observes its impermanence and its passivity.
“Good man, if an almsgiver can make such observations and give alms in this way, he can fully practice dāna-pāramitā. As I stated earlier [in chapter 10], (1) there is almsgiving that does not qualify as a pāramitā, (2) there are pāramitās other than almsgiving, (3) there is almsgiving that does qualify as a pāramitā, and (4) there are practices that are neither almsgiving nor pāramitās.
“Good man, one’s wisdom enables one to do three things: (1) give away external things as alms; (2) give away both internal and external things as alms; (3) transform sentient beings besides giving them both internal and external things. How does one transform sentient beings? Upon seeing the poor, one should ask them, ‘Can you take refuge in the Three Jewels? Can you accept the pure precepts?’ If their answer is affirmative, one should impart to them the Three Refuges and the pure precepts, then give them alms.
“If their answer is negative, one should ask them, ‘Can you follow me to say, “Dharmas are impermanent, dharmas have no selves, and nirvāṇa is silence?”’ If their answer is affirmative, one should give them teachings, then give them alms. If they answer that they can say two things, but not ‘dharmas have no selves,’ one should then ask them, ‘If you cannot say that dharmas have no selves, can you say that dharmas have no [definite] nature?’ If their answer is affirmative, one should give them teachings, then give them alms.
“If one can first teach, then give alms, one is called a great almsgiver. Good man, if one can teach and transform sentient beings in this way without discriminating between friends and foes, one is called a great almsgiver.
“Good man, a wise man who has wealth and treasures gives alms in this way. If he is not wealthy, he teaches the wealthy to give alms. If the wealthy do not need to be taught, he personally assists them to give alms.
“If he is not wealthy, he should study medical arts and mantra practices, and give away inexpensive medicine to those who need it. He should earnestly care for the ill and treat them. He should persuade the wealthy to produce medicine, in powder, tablets, or potions. Accomplished in medical arts, he should practice medicine everywhere. He should diagnose diseases and treat patients accordingly.
“When he treats a patient, he should use skillful methods. When he comes into contact with uncleanness, he should not feel disgusted. He should know whether the patient’s illness is worsening or lessening. He should know well what food and medicine will worsen or lessen the patient’s illness and suffering. If the patient asks for food or medicine that can worsen his illness, he should skillfully comfort the patient without giving a flat refusal, which might distress the patient.
“If he knows that a patient will die, he should not announce it, but should teach the patient to take refuge in the Three Jewels, to think of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Saṅgha, and to make offerings to them. He should explain to the patient that his illness and suffering are a bitter requital for the bad causes and conditions in his past lives, and that he now should repent of them. If the patient is angered upon hearing his words and scolds him with a vicious mouth, he should remain silent without retorting, nor should he abandon the patient.
“Although he cares for a patient, he should not expect gratitude. If the patient seems to have recovered, he should still visit him in case of a relapse. If the patient has fully recovered, he should feel joyful and should not seek compensation [for his service]. If the patient dies, he should bury him and expound the Dharma to console the family and friends so that they will not be grief stricken.
“He should give food and medicine as alms. If a patient who has recovered from illness gives him things out of joy, he can accept them. Then he can in turn give them away to the poor. Know that one who can care for and treat patients in this way is a great almsgiver, truly seeking the Way to the unsurpassed bodhi.
“Good man, a wise man who is seeking bodhi studies medical arts even if he is wealthy, and he builds clinics and related facilities, and provides patients with food and drink, and medicine.
“If a road is rugged, he should level and widen it, and remove thistles, stones, and filths. At a steep place, he should provide planks, ladders, and ropes [for travelers]. At a desolate roadside, he should dig wells, plant fruit trees, and build fountains and ponds. Where there are no trees, he should erect posts for hitching animals. At a rest stop, he should build a base, such as an inn with beds, bedding, lamps, candles, bottles, and dishes. At a river, he should build a bridge and provide rafts. He should help those who are unable to cross the river: holding the hands of the old, the young, the emaciated, or the weak, he helps them get across. Along the roads, he should build pagodas and plant flowers and fruit trees.
“When he sees those in fear, he should hide them and divert their hunters with amicable words and nice things. When he sees travelers in a treacherous place, he should guide them past the dangers. When he sees those who have lost their homes and families, he should comfort them with kind words and give them what they need.
“When he sees tired travelers, he should prepare their bath, and wash and massage their hands and feet. He should give them bedding and, if unavailable, straw instead. When it is hot, he should cool them with umbrellas or clothes. When it is cold, he should warm them with fire and clothes. He can do these things or teach others to do them.
“He should teach vendors at marketplaces to do an honest business, not cheating customers for a small profit. To travelers, he should indicate the right path versus the wrong path: the right path is rich in water and vegetation and free from bandits, while the wrong path is riddled with tribulations. When he sees people in worn clothes or shoes, or using damaged bowls, he should mend, wash, or repair them.
“For those who are plagued by rats, snakes, bedbugs, or venomous insects, he should remove them. He should give people lucky charms, back scratchers, and ear picks. He should sew, mend, and wash monks’ robes. He should provide pure water, soap beans, and clean ashes in a bathroom. When he makes clothes and vessels, before using them, he should offer them to a Buddha then to his parents, teachers, and preceptors. For his offerings to a Buddha [image], he can redeem them with incense and flowers.
“He should give food to śramaṇas and Brahmins before he eats anything. When visitors arrive from afar, he should greet them with gentle words and give them pure water for bathing, and ointment for their feet. He should give them incense, flowers, willow toothpicks, soap beans, ashes, scented oil and water, honeyed figs, underclothes, and body oil. After their bath, he should give them, according to their needs, incense, flowers, and medicine in powder or tablets, as well as food and drink. He should also give them razors, filtering pouches, needles, threads, clothes, paper, pens, ink, and so forth. If he cannot frequently give alms in this way, he can do it each lunar month, on the [six] purification days.
“When he sees a blind man, he should take his hand, give him a cane, and show him the way. When he sees those who have lost their wealth or parents, he should give them financial aid, and comfort and advise them with gentle words, telling them about the different requitals for one’s afflictions and for one’s merits. Good man, one who trains to give alms in this way is called a pure almsgiver.
“Good man, there are two kinds of Bodhisattvas, those who have renounced family life and those who live a family life. It is easy for Bodhisattvas who have renounced family life to be pure almsgivers, but it is hard for Bodhisattvas who live a family life to be pure almsgivers. Why? Because those living a family life are entangled by many adverse causes and conditions.”
Sujāta asked, “World-Honored One, as the Buddha said earlier, one should first teach solicitors for alms to take the Three Refuges, then give them alms. Why does one need to take the Three Refuges? What are the Three Refuges?”
“Good man, it is to eradicate one’s afflictions, thereby ending one’s suffering and experiencing the unsurpassed bliss of nirvāṇa, that one takes the Three Refuges. You ask what the Three Refuges are. Good man, they are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Saṅgha. The Buddha is the one who can explain the way to destroy the cause of one’s afflictions and to achieve true liberation. The Dharma is the way to destroy the cause of one’s afflictions and to achieve true liberation. The Saṅgha are those who accept the way to destroy the cause of one’s afflictions and to achieve true liberation.
“Some claim that there is only one refuge [the Dharma]. Their claim is untrue. Why? Whether or not a Tathāgata appears in the world, the true Dharma always exists, but no one can access it. After a Tathāgata has appeared in the world, He reveals the Dharma. Therefore, one should take a separate refuge in the Buddha. Whether or not a Tathāgata appears in the world, the Dharma always exists, but no one can access it. However, the disciples of the Buddha can receive the Dharma. Therefore, one should take a separate refuge in the Saṅgha.
“The right path to liberation is called the Dharma. The one who has attained self-realization without teachers is called the Buddha. Those who accept the Dharma are called the Saṅgha. Without the Three Refuges, how could there be the four indestructible faiths?
“Taking refuge can be full or partial. “Full” refers to those taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Saṅgha. “Partial” refers to Tathāgatas taking refuge only in the Dharma. Good man, those who take the Three Refuges fully are bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, and upāsikās.
“As Buddhas, Pratyekabuddhas, and voice-hearers are different, so too the Three Jewels are different. What are their differences? They are different throughout as one activates the [bodhi] mind, adorns the Bodhi Way, and attains bodhi. As they are different by nature, how can anyone say that the Buddha is the Dharma?
“The one who expounds the Dharma is the Buddha; those who receive His explanations are the Saṅgha. If some claim that the Buddha is included in the Saṅgha, their claim is untrue. Why? Because if the Buddha were included in the Saṅgha, then there would not be the Three Jewels, the Three Refuges, or the four indestructible faiths.
“Good man, Bodhisattvas are different from Buddhas. There are two kinds of Bodhisattvas, those who are in the holy position waiting to demonstrate attainment of Buddhahood [such as Maitreya Bodhisattva] and those who are training for bodhi. Taking refuge in the former means taking refuge in the Dharma; taking refuge in the latter means taking refuge in the Saṅgha.
“The one who, having observed the evils of saṁskṛta dharmas, trains alone and acquires the flavor of sweet dew is called the Buddha. The dharma realm of all that is untainted and beyond causality is called the Dharma. Those who accept and observe the precepts, read, recite, and explain sūtras in the twelve categories are called the Saṅgha.
“Suppose someone asks, ‘How does one take refuge in the Buddha after His parinirvāṇa?’
“Good man, after a Buddha’s parinirvāṇa, one takes refuge in past Buddhas. As I told the elder Trapuṣa, ‘To become an Arhat, who has nothing more to learn, you should take refuge in the future Saṅgha.’ Likewise one takes refuge in past Buddhas.
“The requitals for planting the three fortune fields have corresponding differences. However, there is no difference in the requitals for making offerings to a Buddha before and after His parinirvāṇa. Likewise, there is no difference between taking refuge in a Buddha before and after His parinirvāṇa. For example, during His life a Buddha has instituted the precepts for His disciples. After He is gone, those who violate the precepts will still receive requitals for their sins. Similarly, one can take refuge in past Buddhas. For example, when a Tathāgata nears parinirvāṇa, all gods and humans make offerings in honor of His parinirvāṇa. However, the Tathāgata is still in the world, and can receive their offerings for an event yet to take place. Likewise one can take refuge in past Buddhas.
“As an analogy, someone’s parents live far away. He commits a sin by scolding them, and acquires merits by respecting and praising them. Likewise one can take refuge in past Buddhas. Therefore, I say that there is no difference in the merits acquired by someone who makes offerings to me when I am in the world and after I have entered parinirvāṇa.
“Good men, men and women who say three times that they take the Three Refuges are called respectively upāsakas and upāsikās. All Buddhas take refuge in the Dharma, and they reveal the Dharma by expounding it. Therefore, one should first take refuge in the Buddha. One should earnestly think of the Buddha in order to purify one’s body, voice, and mind. One who thinks of the Buddha leaves fear and distress behind. Therefore, one should first take refuge in the Buddha.
“A wise man observes deeply that the Buddha is supreme in wisdom and liberation. He can explain liberation and the cause of liberation; He can explain [nirvāṇa] the unsurpassed place of silence; He can drain the immense ocean of suffering in one’s repeated birth and death. He is majestic in His deportment and pure in His three karmas [body, voice, and mind karmas]. Therefore, one should first take refuge in the Buddha.
“A wise man observes deeply that one’s cycle of birth and death is a huge mass of suffering, but the unsurpassed right path can end it forever; that one’s cycle of birth and death makes one famished for [tṛṣṇā] thirsty love, but the unsurpassed sweet dew makes one full; that one’s cycle of birth and death is riddled with fears and tribulations, but the unsurpassed true Dharma can end it; and that one’s cycle of birth and death is propelled by delusions—one mistakenly perceives that one has a self though it is nonexistent, perceives impermanence as permanence, perceives suffering as happiness, and perceives impurity as purity—but the unsurpassed true Dharma can end them all. Hence, one should next take refuge in the Dharma.
“A wise man observes the way of non-Buddhists. Without any sense of shame or dishonor, they do not abide in the Dharma. Although they aspire to bodhi, they do not know the right path. Although they seek liberation, they do not have the correct essentials. Although they have acquired worldly dharmas with some goodness, they stingily guard them, unable to teach them to others. They perceive actions not good by nature as good actions.
“By contrast, members of the Saṅgha are quiet and have compassion in their hearts. They have few desires and much contentment, and abide in the Dharma. They train on the right path, achieve true liberation, and in turn teach others. Therefore, one should next take refuge in the Saṅgha.
“If one makes obeisance to the Three Jewels, respects and praises them, abides in the Dharma, and holds one’s faith without doubts, it is called making offerings to the Three Jewels. After taking refuge in the Three Jewels, even if one does not accept the precepts to end all evildoing and to do all good dharmas, one still can live a family life in accordance with the Dharma, and be called an upāsaka.
“Some claim that without first taking refuge in the Three Jewels, one cannot receive the precepts. Their claim is untrue. Why? Because when I say “svāgata, bhikṣu” to a monk, he immediately receives the complete monastic precepts even if he has not taken refuge in the Three Jewels.
“Some say that one cannot receive any precepts unless one accepts a full set of precepts, such as the eight precepts. Their claim is untrue. Why? Because if this were true, how could an upāsaka receive any precepts? He can accept some precepts without accepting all eight precepts. Receiving some of the eight precepts, though not called purification, can be called goodness.
“Good man, if one accepts the upāsaka precepts to purify one’s body karmas, voice karmas, and mind karmas, one will come within five shelters. What are these five? Not to accept or to pronounce the wrong views, but to accept and to pronounce the right views, and to train according to the true Dharma—these are called the five shelters.
“After taking the Three Refuges, if one does karmas out of delusion and accepts the way of non-Buddhists and the words of the god-king Maheśvara, one will lose the Three Refuges. By contrast, if one has an upright mind with neither greed nor stinginess, cultivates a sense of shame and dishonor, and has few desires and much contentment, one will soon realize the silent body [dharmakāya].
“Suppose someone does various karmas, doing good deeds to acquire pleasures, like doing business, and has a mind that does not pity sentient beings. Such a person cannot take the Three Refuges. However, if one makes offerings to gods in order to protect one’s body, life, and home, one will not lose the Three Refuges.
“If one makes obeisance to non-Buddhists because one earnestly believes that they can save those in fear, one will lose the Three Refuges. However, if one makes obeisance and offerings to gods because one has heard that they have seen Buddhas, and that their merits surpass one’s own, one will not lose the Three Refuges.
“If one makes obeisance to the god-king Maheśvara in the same way as to the king, high officials, elders, and virtuous ones in the world, one will not lose the Three Refuges. As one makes obeisance to Maheśvara, one should take care not to accept his worshippers’ wrong views. When one makes offerings to gods to protect one’s body, life, wealth, and country, and to relieve people’s fears, one should invoke the mind of lovingkindness.
“Why should one not accept their wrong views? A wise man scrutinizes non-Buddhist statements. Some claim, ‘Everything is created by the god-king Maheśvara.’ If Maheśvara were the creator of everything, why should one bother to do good karmas? Some claim, ‘One can leave one’s suffering behind by plunging into an abyss, jumping into fire, or starving oneself to death.’ These are the causes of suffering, not the way to leave one’s suffering behind. All sentient beings do good and evil karmas, and receive corresponding requitals.
“Some claim, ‘All things are created by times, stars, and Maheśvara.’ One should challenge this false claim by asking why one receives requitals for one’s present and past karmas. A wise man knows clearly that these are karmic requitals, not events created by times, stars, or Maheśvara. There are people born at the same time and under the same stars. If they experience pain and pleasure according to times and stars, why does one person experience pain while another experiences pleasure, and why is one male while another is female?
“Moreover, there are gods and asuras born at the same time and under the same stars. Sometimes gods defeat asuras and sometimes asuras defeat gods. Moreover, there are kings born at the same time and under the same stars. As each rules his kingdom, one king loses his kingdom while another king preserves his.
“Some non-Buddhists claim, ‘During an evil year and the appearance of evil stars, we teach sentient beings to drive away [their evil power] by doing good dharmas.’ If times and stars were the cause of misfortune, how could they be removed by doing good? Therefore, a wise man does not accept these wrong views.
“Good man, all sentient beings follow their karmas. If they hold the right views, they will experience peace and joy. If they hold the wrong views, they will experience suffering. By accumulating good karmas, one achieves great self-command and attracts sentient beings. One then explains to them the causes and conditions of good karmas, which will enable them to achieve self-command. All sentient beings experience peace and joy because of their good karmas, not because of times or stars.
“Good man, King Ajātaśatru and [my disciple] Devadatta have fallen into hell, a requital for their evil karmas, not [an event] caused by times or stars. Moreover, Udraka-Rāmaputra will fall into hell because of his wrong views.
“Good man, one’s resolve is the root of all good dharmas. Because of one’s resolve, one will attain anuttara-samyak-saṁbodhi and acquire the liberation fruit. Because of one’s resolve, one can renounce family life, and end evil karmas and karmas that lead to cyclic existence; one can accept and observe the precepts, and get close to Buddhas; one can give everything to solicitors as alms; one can definitely eliminate evil karmic requitals and expunge enormously evil sins; one can join the group that definitely heads for bodhi; one can annihilate the three kinds of hindrances; and one can train to eradicate one’s afflictions. Because of one’s resolve, one can take the Three Refuges. Having taken the Three Refuges, one can accept the precepts. Having received the precepts, one’s views, actions, and training will surpass those of voice-hearers.
“Even those who take refuge in the Buddha out of fear of ferocious animals, such as lions, tigers, and wolves, can achieve liberation. Then those who [take refuge in the Buddha because they] activate the bodhi mind and seek to transcend the world most certainly can achieve liberation.
“The Elder Anāthapiṇḍika told his wife [who had taken the Three Refuges] that their unborn child had taken refuge as well. Actually, a fetus in the womb cannot take refuge. Why? Because one must speak to take refuge. However, an unborn child will receive protection [if its mother has taken refuge].
“Good man, non-Buddhists claim that the whole world is created by the god-king Maheśvara. They further claim that after one hundred kalpas in the future, a manifestation [of a Buddha] will appear. If the god-king Maheśvara could create a Buddha, why would this Buddha destroy the tradition of taking refuge in Maheśvara? If Maheśvara cannot create a Buddha, how can they claim that Maheśvara creates everything?
“Non-Buddhists also claim, ‘Mahābrahmā, Maheśvara, and Viṣṇu are one entity but were born in different places. Maheśvara has great command because he is eternal, sovereign, and existent. He is also called Rudra or Śiva, doing different things under different names. He seeks liberation and is liberation itself.’ Their claims are untrue. Why? Because if Maheśvara created sentient beings and all existences, he would also have created good and evil karmas and their requitals, as well as greed, anger, and delusion, which bind sentient beings. They also claim, ‘When sentient beings achieve liberation, they merge into Maheśvara’s body.’ Then their liberation is an impermanent dharma. Their claim is untrue. Why? How can an impermanent dharma be called liberation? For example, a Brahmin’s son still has a lifespan. So Maheśvara should not be called a sovereign god.
“Moreover, these three gods are not one entity. Why? Because Arjuna’s people worship Viṣṇu as their liberation. Therefore, the three gods are not one entity. If liberation is impermanent, then it is an illusion. But a Buddha is not an illusion. Seeing one’s true self clearly is called liberation.
“They also claim, ‘Seeing dust particles [as the elements of all things] is called liberation.’ They also claim, ‘Perceiving differences in dharma nature and differences of selves [of dharmas] is called liberation.’ Their claims are untrue. Why? Because if one trains for bodhi and realizes the Four Noble Truths, then one will see dharma nature and see one’s true self. If one takes the Three Refuges, then one will truly see the Four Noble Truths. The Three Refuges encompass immeasurable good dharmas, and are the roots of attaining anuttara-samyak-saṁbodhi.
“Good man, there are two kinds of Bodhisattvas, those who have renounced family life and those who live a family life. It is not hard for Bodhisattvas who have renounced family life to take the Three Refuges with purity, but it is hard for Bodhisattvas who live a family life to take the Three Refuges with purity. Why? Because those living a family life are entangled by many adverse causes and conditions.
Sujāta asked, “World-Honored One, if one takes the Three Refuges, what requitals will one receive?”
“Good man, if one takes the Three Refuges, one's good requitals will be endless. Good man, in the kingdom of Kaliṅga is the Piṅgala Treasure Store, which contains the seven treasures. The people of that kingdom, young and old, men and women, carry away its treasures by vehicles, elephants, horses, and donkeys. After seven years, seven months, and seven days, they still cannot deplete it. If one earnestly takes the Three Refuges with purity, the merits and requitals one receives will surpass all the treasures in that treasure store.
“Good man, in the kingdom of Videha is the Pāṇḍuka Treasure Store, which contains the seven treasures. The people of that kingdom, young and old, men and women, carry away its treasures by vehicles, elephants, horses, and donkeys. After seven years, seven months, and seven days, they still cannot deplete it. If one earnestly takes the Three Refuges with purity, the merits and requitals one receives will surpass all the treasures in that treasure store.
“Good man, in the kingdom of Vārāṇasī is the Śaṅkha Treasure Store, which contains the seven treasures. The people of that kingdom, young and old, men and women, carry away its treasures by vehicles, elephants, horses, and donkeys. After seven years, seven months, and seven days, they still cannot deplete it. If one earnestly takes the Three Refuges with purity, the merits and requitals one receives will surpass all the treasures in that treasure store.
“Good man, in the kingdom of Gandhāra is the Elāpattra Treasure Store, which contains the seven treasures. The people of that kingdom, young and old, men and women, carry away its treasures by vehicles, elephants, horses, and donkeys. After seven years, seven months, and seven days, they still cannot deplete it. If one earnestly takes the Three Refuges with purity, the merits and requitals one receives will surpass all the treasures in that treasure store.
“Good man, if one receives from someone the Three Refuges and the eight precepts by saying one’s acceptance three times, it is called an upāsaka’s purification for one day and one night, which ends at dawn. Therefore, one cannot receive the eight precepts from a Buddha image. One must receive them from a [qualified] person for one’s purification. Having received the eight precepts, one is pure in one’s adornments, perceptions, thoughts, and wish for good requitals. It is called purification through taking the Three Refuges and accepting the eight precepts. Good man, if one takes the Three Refuges and accepts the eight precepts for purification, one’s sins, except the five rebellious sins, will be expunged.
“Two people should not take these precepts simultaneously. If they do, why would one person violate the precepts while another person resolutely observed the precepts?
“Because of the power of these precepts, one will not do evil in future lives. Even if one commits sins after one has received the precepts, one will never lose the precepts.
“Suppose one sends a message to an assassin to kill someone. Before the message reaches him, one activates the bodhi mind and accepts the eight precepts for purification. While one is observing the precepts, the assassin receives one’s message and immediately kills the targeted person. However, because of the power of the precepts, one will not be found guilty of the sin of killing.
“Suppose a high official often commands others to do evil. If he wishes to accept the eight precepts for purification, he should first decree a prohibition on evildoing. If he accepts the precepts without first issuing such a decree, he will fail to receive the precepts. He who wishes to accept the purifying precepts should decree: ‘I wish to accept the purifying precepts. We must cease evils and executions on the [six] purification days.’ If one can accept and observe the eight precepts in such a pure way, one will acquire immeasurable requitals and unsurpassed happiness.
“If one observes the purifying precepts for one hundred years after Maitreya Buddha has appeared in the world, the merit one receives will be less than that from observing them for one day and one night in my time. Why? Because in my time, sentient beings live in the five turbidities. Therefore, I told Mṛgāra-mātṛ, ‘Good woman, if the śāla tree could receive the eight precepts, it would experience human or celestial happiness, and even the unsurpassed happiness.’
“Good man, the eight precepts are a garland that adorns the unsurpassed bodhi. This purification is easy to do and brings one immeasurable merits. Not doing this easy thing is called abandoning self-restraint.
“Good man, there are two kinds of Bodhisattvas, those who have renounced family life and those who live a family life. It is not hard for Bodhisattvas who have renounced family life to teach others to observe the eight precepts with purity, but it is hard for Bodhisattvas who live a family life to teach others to observe the eight precepts with purity. Why? Because those living a family life are entangled by many adverse causes and conditions.”
1. See “four indestructible faiths” in the glossary. (Return to text)
2. The Sanskrit word svāgata means “welcome” or “good that you have come.” When the Buddha says “svāgata, bhikṣu” to a monk, through His spiritual power and the power of the monk’s wish, the monk immediately receives the complete monastic precepts. (Return to text)
3. See “three groups” in the glossary. (Return to text)
4. Brahmā and Maheśvara in Hinduism have been admitted into Buddhism as god-kings of the form realm’s first and fourth dhyāna heavens, respectively. (Return to text)