By Shramana Shixian of the Brahma Heaven Monastery in Ancient Hangzhou
Explained by the Venerable Master Hua in 1985 and 1979
Translated by the International Translation Institute
I, the unworthy Shr Syan, a lowly, ordinary Sanghan, weeping blood and bowing to the ground, exhort the great assembly and present-day men and women of pure faith: please listen and consider what I am about to say.
We have heard that resolving the mind is foremost among the essential doors for entering the Path, and that making vows is first among the crucial matters in cultivation.
By making vows, we can save living beings. By resolving our minds, we can realize the Buddhas’ Path.
If we do not make our resolve great and our vows firm, we will remain on the turning wheel throughout as many kalpas as there are particles of dust. Any cultivation will be only bitter toil done in vain.
As the Flower Adornment Sutra says, “If you forget your resolve upon Bodhi, your cultivation of even wholesome practices becomes the karma of demons.” This it is clear that forgetting our resolve upon Bodhi is even worse than having never made the resolve. 故知欲学如来乘，必先具发菩萨愿，不可缓也。
Thus we know that anyone wishing to study the vehicle of the Thus Come Ones must first make the vows of a Bodhisattva without delay.
But resolves and vows are various and they have many aspects. If they are not pointed out, how can we know what direction to take? I will now explain them in general for the great assembly. There are eight aspects of a resolve: deviant, proper, true, false, great, small, partial, and complete. What is meant by deviant, proper, true, false, great, small, partial, and complete? 世有行人，一向修行，不究自心，但知外务。或求利养，或好名闻，或贪现世欲乐，或望未来果报。如是发心，名之为邪。
A cultivator’s resolve is deviant if in his practice he does not investigate his own mind but knows only about external matters. Perhaps he seeks benefit and offerings, likes fame and a good reputation, is greedy for objects of pleasure in the present, or he may hope for reward in the future. A resolve such as this is deviant. 既不求利养名闻，又不贪欲乐果报，唯为生死，为菩提。如是发心，名之为正。
When a cultivator seeks neither gain nor fame and has no greed either for pleasure or for rewards, but wishes only to settle the matter of birth and death, and to attain Bodhi, then his resolve is proper.
If, in moment after moment, he seeks the path of the Buddhas above; in thought after thought, he transforms living beings below; if he hears that the road to Buddhahood is long and far, yet does not retreat in fear; if he observes that beings are hard to transform, yet does not become weary; if he proceeds as though climbing a ten-thousand-foot mountain, determined to reach the summit or proceeds as though ascending a nine-storied stupa, fixed upon advancing to the top, then his resolve is true. 有罪不忏，有过不除，内浊外清，始勤终怠。虽有好心，多为名利之所夹杂；虽有善法，复为罪业之所染污。如是发心，名之为伪。
If he commits offenses but does not repent of them; if he has faults but does not change them; if he is turbid inside but makes a show of purity; if he is diligent at the start but lax later on; if he has good intentions but mixes them with a quest for name and gain; if he does wholesome practices, but defiles them with the karma created by committing offenses, then his resolve is false.
“When the realm of living beings has come to an end, then my vows will end. When the Bodhi Way is realized, then my vows will be fulfilled.” Such a resolve is great. 观三界如牢狱，视生死如怨家；但期自度，不欲度人。如是发心，名之为小。
If he views the Triple Realm as a prison; if he treats birth and death as an enemy; if he intends to save only himself and has no wish to save others, then his resolve is small.
If he sees living beings as existing outside of his mind; if he does wish to save others and to realize Buddhahood, but does not forget his own accumulation of merit and does not get rid of his worldly knowledge and views, then his resolve is partial.
If he knows that his own nature is the same as living beings and, therefore, vows to save them; if he knows that his own nature is the same as the Buddha Path and, therefore, vows to realize it; if he does not see even one thing as existing apart from the mind; if his mind is like empty space; if he makes vows that are like empty space; if he cultivates practices that are like empty space; if he attains a fruition like empty space, and yet does not grasp at the characteristic of empty space, then his resolve is complete.
Having understood these eight different aspects of a resolve, we should know how to investigate and contemplate them. Knowing how to investigate and contemplate them, we know which to keep and which to discard. Knowing which to keep and which to discard, we can then resolve our minds.
What does it mean to “investigate and contemplate them?” We must ask ourselves, “Which of these eight aspects does my resolve have? Is my resolve deviant or proper, true or false, great or small, partial or complete?” What does it mean to “keep or discard?” It means that we discard the deviant, the false, the small, and the partial, and that we keep the proper, the true, the great, and the complete. To make a resolve in this way is truly and properly to resolve upon Bodhi.
The resolve upon Bodhi is the foremost among all good things. It can arise only due to certain causes and conditions. In general, there are ten causes and conditions, which will now be discussed. What are the ten? The first is mindfulness of the Buddhas’ deep kindness. The second is mindfulness of our parents’ kindness. The third is mindfulness of our teachers’ and elders’ kindness. The fourth is mindfulness of donors’ kindness. The fifth is mindfulness of living beings’ kindness. The sixth is mindfulness of the suffering in birth and death. The seventh is reverence for our own spiritual nature. The eighth is repenting of karmic obstacles and reforming. The ninth is the wish for rebirth in the Pure Land. The tenth is the wish to cause the Proper Dharma to remain in the world for a long time.
What is mindfulness of the Buddha’s deep kindness? After our Thus Come One Shakyamuni first made his resolve, he walked the Bodhisattva Path for our sakes and passed through an infinite number of kalpas, enduring all manner of suffering. When I create bad karma, the Buddha pities me and with expedient means teaches and transforms me. I, however, remain ignorant and do not know how to accept the teaching with faith. When I fall into the hells, the Buddha again compassionately feels the pain and wishes to undergo suffering on my behalf. But my karma is heavy, and I cannot be pulled out. When I am reborn as a human, the Buddha uses expedient means to cause me to plant roots of goodness. In life after life, he follows me and does not forsake me in his thoughts for an instant. When the Buddha first appeared in the world, I was still sunk in the lower realms. Now that I have a human body, the Buddha has already passed into still quietude. What are my offenses that have caused me to be born in the Dharma Ending Age? What are my blessings that have made it possible for me to leave the home and family life? What are my obstacles that have prevented me from seeing his golden body? What good fortune has made it possible for me to encounter his sharira? I contemplate in that way. If I did not plant good roots in the past, how else could I be able to hear the Buddhadharma? And if I had never heard the Buddhadharma, how could I know that the Buddha is always kind to me? His kindness and his virtue are greater than the highest mountain. If I fail to make a vast and great resolve to cultivate the Bodhisattva Path and to establish the Buddhadharma in order to save living beings, even to the point that in making this effort my bones wear away and my body is wrecked, then how can I possibly hope to repay his kindness? This is the first cause and condition for making the resolve to attain Bodhi.
What is mindfulness of our parents' kindness? Alas for my parents! I was born through much toil. I was nurtured nine months in the womb and was suckled three years at the breast. My bottom was dried and my diapers were changed. I was fed delicacies while my parents toiled bitterly. Only then was I able to grow up. They hoped only that I might glorify and carry on the family name and continue the ritual offerings to our ancestors. But now I have left the home and family, and am gratuitously called a disciple of Shakyamuni and have dared to assume the title of Shramana. I neither offer delicacies to my parents nor sweep the ancestral graves. While they live, I cannot take care of their physical needs; after they depart, I cannot guide their souls. In this world, I have thereby hurt them greatly, and as they leave this world, I am of no real help. To cause them such a double loss is a serious offence. How can I possibly avoid the consequences!
I contemplate in this way: I must always cultivate the Buddha's Path through hundreds of kalpas and in thousands of lives and save living beings everywhere throughout the ten directions and three periods of time. I will rescue not only my parents of this life but will do the same for my parents of every life. I will save not only one person's parents but everyone's parents.
This is the second cause and condition for making the resolve to attain Bodhi.
What is mindfulness of our teachers' and elders' kindness? My parents bore me and raised me, but if not for educators and elders, I would know nothing of propriety or righteousness. If not for spiritual teachers and elders, I would understand nothing of the Buddhadharma. One who knows nothing of propriety of righteousness may be considered a mere animal. One who understands nothing of the Buddhadharma is no different than an ordinary person. Now we know the rudiments of propriety and righteousness and have a rough understanding of the Buddhadharma.
The kashaya sash covers our bodies; the various precepts permeate our being. We have obtained these through the deep kindness of our teachers and elders. If we seek a small accomplishment, we can benefit only ourselves. Within the Great Vehicle our wish is to benefit all people. In that way, we can benefit both secular and world-transcending teachers and elders.
This is the third cause and condition for making the resolve to attain Bodhi.云何念施主恩？谓我等今者，日用所资，并非己有。二时粥饭，四季衣裳，疾病所需，身口所费，此皆出自他力，将为我用。彼则竭力躬耕，尚难糊口；我则安坐受食，犹不称心。彼则纺织不已，犹自艰难；我则安服有余，宁知爱惜？彼则荜门蓬户，扰攘终身；我则广宇闲庭，悠游卒岁。以彼劳而供我逸，于心安乎？将他利而润己身，于理顺乎？自非悲智双运，福慧二严，檀信沾恩，众生受赐，则粒米寸丝，酬偿有分，恶报难逃。是为发菩提心第四因缘也。
What is mindfulness of donor's kindness? None of the materials we use in our daily lives belong to us. Porridge and rice for our two meals, clothing for the four seasons, medicines for our illnesses - all the expenses for our physical needs - come through the strength of others. In order to provide for us, they work hard to plow the fields, yet can barely provide for themselves, while we sit comfortably to receive our food and still feel dissatisfied. Our donors spin and weave without cease and still suffer hardship, while we are comfortable, with more clothes than we can wear. We are even unaware that we should cherish what we have.
They live to the ends of their days in poor and humble dwellings amid nerve-wracking clamor, while we dwell among vast courtyards and in vacant halls amid refinement and ease throughout the year. They offer the fruits of their labors to supply our idleness; how can our hearts be at peace? Is it reasonable to use others' goods to nourish our own bodies? If we fail to be both compassionate and wise and to adorn ourselves with both blessings and wisdom, so that the faithful donors are blessed with kindness and living beings receive bounty, then even one grain of rice or one inch of thread will incur a debt. It will be hard to escape an evil retribution.
This is the fourth cause and condition for making the resolve to attain Bodhi.
What is mindfulness of living beings' kindness? In life after life, from distant kalpas onwards, every living being and I have been each other's father and mother. We have been kind to one another. Now although the passage of time has separated us, and in our confusion we do not recognize each other, it is only logical that we repay them for their toil. How do we know that we were not sons in lives past of those who are now fur-bearing and capped with horns? How do we know that those who now crawl on the ground and fly in the air were not our fathers in lives past?
Our parents constantly look after us, but we left them when we were young; we have grown up and have forgotten their faces. Even less do we remember our family and friends of lives past, and now it is difficult to remember if we were once named Smith or Jones. As our ancestors wail and cr out in the hells, or are born over and over again as hungry ghosts, who can know of their suffering and pain? They are starving; to whom can they appeal? I cannot sea or hear them, but they must be seeking rescue and release. The sutras reveal this situation with exceptional clarity. Only the Buddhas could have spoken these words. How could people with deviant views know of this?
For these reasons, Bodhisattvas observe that even grubs and ants were their parents in lives past and have the potential to be Buddhas in the future. They always think of benefiting them and remmeber to return their kindness.
This is the fifth cause and condition for making the resolve to attain Bodhi.
What is mindfulness of the suffering of birth and death? From distant kalpas onwards, living beings and I have always been involved in birth and death and have not attained liberation. Whether we have been among people or in the heavens, in this world or in another, we have risen and fallen uncountable times. We ascend or fall in an instant - suddenly a god, suddenly a human, suddenly an animal, a hungry ghost, or a denizan of the hells.
We leave the black gate at dawn but return at night. We climb out of the pit of iron briefly but then fall back in again. As we ascend the mountain of knives, our bodies are slashed until not a bit of flesh remains. As we climb the tree of swords, our hearts are slit open. The hot iron does not cure hunger; swallowing ir roasts the liver and intestines. The broth of boiling copper does not quench thirst; drinking it dissolves the flesh and bones. Sharp saws dismember the body; once cut, it comes back together again. Clever breezes fan the body; it dies but quickly returns to life. In the city of raging fire, we endure the sounds of bloodcurdling screams and wails. In the pot of boiling oil, we hear only cries of excruciating pain. The body begins to freeze and harden and resembles a blue lotus forming a bud. Then the flesh and veins crack open and the body looks like a red lotus in bloom.
In a single night, the denizens of the hells pass through ten thousand births and deaths. In a single morning, the sufferings in the hells are what humans would go through in a hundred years. The harried wardens of the hells become weary. Who believes that King Yama is not teaching us with this warning? Yet only while actually experiencing suffering do we know its biterness, but our regrets come too late. Once free, we forget again, and then we create the same karma as before. We whip the mule until it bleeds; who could know that it is our mother in anguish? We lead the pig to slaughter; who could know that it is our father in agony? We eat our own sons without being aware, just like King Wen. And we gulp down our own relatives without recognizing them. This is the way of all ordinary people.
The loved ones of yesteryear are now sworn enemies. Rivals of days past are now our blood relatives. Our mothers of past lives are our wives of the present. Our fathers-in-law of old are now our husbands. Those with knowledge of past lives recognize these changes; they feel shame and embarrassment. Those with Heavenly Eye see these situations; they find them ridiculous and pathetic.
Amid excrement and filth we pass nine difficult months. We emerge from the path of pus and blood in a pitiable state. When young, we know nothing and cannot tell east from west. As adults, we become more aware, but our greed and desire arises. In an instant, old age and illness overtake us; sudden;y death arrives. Amid the blaze of wind and fire, our spirit becomes disordered; our vital energies and blood are exhausted. Our flesh and skin wither and dry up. We feel as if iron needles are piercing our every pore and as if knives are hacking our every orifice.
When the spirit leaves the body at death, it feels more pain than does a live turtle having its shell ripped off before it is thrown in the pot.
The mind has no fixed purpose. It flits hurriedly from place to place like a travelling peddler. Our bodies have no fixed shapes. We continually exchange them as if we were moving from room to room in a house. We have had and lost more bodies than there are particles of dust in a billion worlds. We have cried more tears at parting than all the water in the billows of the four seas. The stacks of bones rise higher than mountain peaks. The heaps of corpses are vaster than the earth.
If the Buddha had not spoken of this, who would have recognized or even imagined these things? If we do not read the Buddha's sutras, how can we know and be aware of these truths? If we continue our hankering for love and pleasure, we will forever remain stupid and confuse.
Then the grave concern is that one mistake has led to another for ten thousand kalpas, through thousands of lives. A human body is hard to obtain and easy to lose. Good times soon pass and cannot be brought back. The road is dark and gloomy, and separations last a long time. I must endure evil retribution in the Three Paths alone. The pain is unspeakable; who would stand in for me? Even discussing this subject chills my heart.
We, therefore, must halt the flow of birth and death, get out of the ocean of love and desire, save ourselves and save others, and together reach the other shore. Of all things from the beginning of time onward, this is the most extraordinary achievement, yet one only needs to begin.
This is the sixth cause and condition for making the resolve to attain Bodhi.
What is reverence for our own spiritual nature? It is that in the present, single thought, I can immediately be one with the Thus Come One, Shakyamuni, without any difference at all. Why is it, then, that the World Honored One realized proper enlightenment an infinite number of kalpas ago, yet we are still muddled, confused, and upside down? Why are we still only ordinary people?
The Buddha, the World Honored One, has also perfected infinite spiritual penetrations, wisdom, and the adornments of merit and virtue, while we only have an infinite number of karmic ties and afflictions and are bound to birth and death. Our minds and natures and his are one, but our confusion and his enlightenment are as far apart as the sky and the abysmal deeps. In stillness, contemplate this matter: how can we not be ashamed?
It is as if we had dropped a priceless pearl into a mud puddle, considering it as worthless as a broken tile, neither cherishing nor esteeming it. We should, therefore, use an infinite number of wholesome methods to serve as antidotes to our afflictions. By cultivating virtue, we gain merit, and the virtue of our nature can then appear. Thus we wash the pearl and set it up high, where it releases a penetrating radiance that outshines everything. Then we can say that we have not been ungrateful to the Buddha's teaching and have not failed to uncover our own spiritual nature.
This is the seventh cause and condition for making the resolve to attain Bodhi.