Wondrous Lotus Sutra 靜思妙蓮華
The Six Roots Possess Six Thousand Merits
From Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s notes:
>> "Among the Six Roots of the human body, the number of functions of the three roots of the eyes, nose and body is such that each root possesses 800 merits. We must seize the present moment to make the most of their functions. The ears, tongue and mind each possess 1200 merits. With our ears, we hear invisible, intangible sound. With our tongues, we experience taste and sense whether something is bitter or spicy, or whether it is sweet, tart, salty, bland, strong, sour or subtle in flavor."
"Among the Six Roots of the human body,
the number of functions
of the three roots of the eyes, nose and body
is such that each root possesses 800 merits.
We must seize the present moment
to make the most of their functions.
The ears, tongue and mind each possess 1200 merits.
With our ears, we hear invisible, intangible sound.
With our tongues, we experience taste and sense whether something is bitter or spicy,
or whether it is sweet, tart, salty, bland, strong, sour or subtle in flavor."
These are the functions of [the roots] of our body. The significance of these functions is related to our lives. The human body, every person's organs and limbs, is inseparable from [the functions of these roots]. The Six Roots, as we have been discussing, are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind; these are called the Six Roots. How many functions do our Six Roots have? Take the three roots of the eyes, nose and body. For these three roots, "the number [of functions] is such that each root possesses 800 merits." Each of these three roots possesses 800 merits. If we understand this first, we will better understand the next passage. Each of these three roots possesses 800 merits. So, we must all make an effort to "seize the present moment" by making the most of their functions. We must make the most of these merits. If we do not make good use of them, the direct opposite of merits is evil. So, we must earnestly make the most of them.
The three roots of ears, tongue and mind each possess 1200 merits. "With our ears, we hear invisible, intangible sound." As we listen with our ears, [the sounds] we hear are invisible and intangible. What about our tongue? "With our tongues [we can experience] taste and sense whether something is bitter or spicy, or if it is sweet, tart, salty [or] bland." It [enables us] to detect various flavors. Are the functions of these roots useful to us? Their functions are great. So, if we can mindfully seek to understand them, we will gain merits from making use of them. If we are attentive and make the most of them, they will [produce] merits. Our vital organs and our Six Roots are all [available] for our use in this lifetime, so we must earnestly put them to good use.
Next we will listen to the previous sutra passage, which says,
"At that time, the Buddha said to Constant Diligence Bodhisattva-Mahasattva, 'Suppose there are good men or good women who accept and uphold this Lotus Sutra, reading it, reciting it, expounding it and transcribing it.'"
In this previous passage, Sakyamuni Buddha began to expound the Chapter on Dharma Teachers' Merits and Virtues. As He began, the recipient of the teachings was Constant Diligence Bodhisattva, a great Bodhisattva.
Before that, the Buddha also continuously expounded to another recipient, Maitreya. Maitreya Bodhisattva is the future Buddha of the world. Of course, this will take a very long time, but we know this in the present. As Buddhist practitioners, everyone should know, "Maitreya Buddha is a future Buddha," which means he is preparing to attain Buddhahood. In terms of time in our world, this will take 5.67 billion years. Ah, this is such a long time! However, in the heavenly realm of the Buddha, this is not a very long time. Since he is the future Buddha of the world, the future Buddha who will guide sentient beings, Maitreya Bodhisattva continuously asked many questions about the content of the Dharma to help us understand even more clearly.
Now, [He was opening] the door of the intrinsic. As He opened the door of the intrinsic, the Buddha addressed Constant Diligence Bodhisattva. This shows the Buddha's regard for Constant Diligence Bodhisattva. This also shows us the depth of Constant Diligence Bodhisattva's ardent [spiritual] cultivation. His capabilities are very extensive. He is a Bodhisattva of Equal Enlightenment.
So, the Buddha and Constant Diligence Bodhisattva shared a mutual understanding. They understood the group of Bodhisattvas and the depth of their capabilities. Since Constant Diligence Bodhisattva has such capabilities and everyone could recognize this, in this essential passage, He addressed Constant Diligence Bodhisattva. He said to Constant Diligence Bodhisattva, "You are a great Bodhisattva; you must listen." He was leading everyone to listen carefully. "Suppose there are good men or good women who accept and uphold this Lotus Sutra, reading it, reciting it, expounding it and transcribing it." He feared that people would miss out on what they should accept and uphold.
So, this is where He began to teach everyone how to enter the Buddha's door. After entering the Buddha's door, we must always accept and uphold [His teachings], and we must be diligent. Only when [our practice] is inseparable from these things can we remain [focused] and not become lax. Reading and reciting [can be] two separate [activities] or combined as one [activity]. We can read [both] quietly and earnestly. Although we engage in spiritual practice and know [the sutras], we must constantly pick up the sutras and continue to read them. The more we read, the more we understand, which will help us remember so that we will not forget. The Buddhist sutras teach us so much, all of which we are able to understand. Especially when it comes to the Lotus Sutra, we must read it again and again.
There was a senior volunteer who brought two newly-inspired Bodhisattvas here. They are a married couple. The wife said, "My husband once had a medical emergency and went to see the doctor. Of the several doctors he saw, some could not diagnose him, while those who diagnosed him prescribed medicine that did not work. Then, a Dharma master advised him, 'You must dedicate yourself to reciting the Earth Treasury Sutra 10,000 times.'"
So, he really began to recite it 10,000 times. He said, "I've already recited it 5000 times." [He had recited] the Earth Treasury Sutra 5000 times. I said, "I am impressed. You recited the Earth Treasury Sutra 5000 times. The Earth Treasury Sutra has [three volumes]. How many years did this take you to recite it 5000 times? There are only 365 days in a year, so how many times did you recite it every day? As you recited it, did you understand it? After reciting it, did you put it into action? Did you understand why Sakyamuni Buddha taught the Earth Treasury Sutra?" Earth Treasury Bodhisattva made a vow. Other Bodhisattvas would be unable to fulfill it, but he is able to do it. He goes to the place with the most suffering; he goes to hell to transform sentient beings. "Until hell is empty, I will not attain Buddhahood." This vow is different from other Bodhisattvas'. This is what sets him apart.
"As you recite it 10,000 or 5000 times, do you understand its contents? Are you practicing [the sutra]? In his filial piety and goodness, he formed a great aspiration, making a great vow. He made this compassionate great vow. Do you comprehend it? Do you understand it?" He just kept reciting it like this. This is what he believed, so I could only emphasize this by telling him, "You must understand Earth Treasury Bodhisattva's spirit and ideals, his great vows and actions." This is very important. I hope that everyone can enter the Buddha's door, and by entering the Buddha's door, that we can truly learn how to engage in spiritual practice.
There was another elderly Bodhisattva who came. She is blessed with talented children and good family circumstances. She observes vegetarianism and is very kind. She diligently practices the Buddha-Dharma and visits spiritual training grounds. Diligently, she goes to many places to pay respect. She has been to many faraway places, including all the famous monasteries in China, participating in the Water and Land Dharma Service and so on. With her financial situation, with such talents and with this [freedom] to keep traveling, whether in a group or with a Dharma master, she is always saying, "I went to such and such a place."
Actually, I find it [impressive] that, in her old age, she is still able to visit so many spiritual training grounds and [learn] so many things. However, do [people like this] take action? "Which country did you go to?" They will tell me that they went to such and such a country and saw very poor people there. I then ask them, "Did you help them? Did you take action?" It generally goes like this.
In fact, sometimes I want to ask, "If we are able to spend so much money, how many people can we save [with that money]? If we are able to spend so much time, how many people can we help [with that time]?" After thinking this over, I had a strong feeling in my mind; "What if those things could be done like this? How can we exercise our capabilities differently?" In the end, we always have our own perspectives [and see] positive and negative aspects.
For myself, I would think, "Traveling is her hobby, and reciting this sutra is his specialty. If we think about it, these things are not easy." However, if I were asked to do that, "I would not be able to, [because] I have my own direction and my own outlook." This is how we humans are. For us humans in this world, our thoughts are intangible, so how can we apply our thoughts through our body, through our Six Roots? [Our thoughts contain] our spirit and ideals, which is also our intrinsic nature.
Over [many] lifetimes, not just [over many] years, but in our past lives, perhaps we have been accumulating these habitual tendencies and nurturing this direction. So, we have this consciousness and perspective. We always think our perspective is right. Every one of us has this kind of perspectives. [But] perspectives are also habitual tendencies which have [caused us] to nurture this direction; it is the same principle. So, can we change our perspectives? We can. By making use of time to accomplish these things, as long as we [follow] our karmic conditions, if our karmic conditions come together, then perhaps this kind of diligent person can [make an effort] to take practical action in the world. Promptly giving the world what it most lacks is the best [course of action].
Take us, for example, as we study the Lotus Sutra, reading, reciting, expounding and transcribing it. Reading is certainly very important, for without reading it, how would we know what the Lotus Sutra is?
However, after reading and reciting it, do we understand its meaning? If we do not understand the meaning within, it is as if we are merely singing [the words]. We may know it well enough to sing it, but the song feels unrelated to us; we are only interested in singing. If this is the case, then reading it is useless, for we read it like a song. Now, we are reading its every word, every phrase and every verse. Didn't the previous Chapter on the Merits and Virtues of Joy also discuss this toward the end? We must be mindful of every phrase and verse. As we read and recite it, whether one phrase or one verse enters our heart, they help us open our hearts and be understanding. So, I invite everyone to read and recite it, and to do this earnestly, with deep faith and understanding.
So, "Expound it and transcribe it." We are not done after reading and reciting it; we must then expound it and transcribe it. We must make offerings to it respectfully. Altogether, there are five [actions]. This is what it means to read and recite the sutra. Otherwise, each of us has our own interests and each has our own door to the Dharma. In Tzu Chi, our Dharma-door is to seize our time and take practical action. It is important to do things, but the purpose of reading and reciting the sutra is to apply it in our daily living. We must not only recite the words smoothly and begin to talk about our insights, no. True insights should be engraved in our hearts because we act on them. Only by doing what we say can we truly attain merits. If we only know it but do not act on it, then [attaining] merits is very difficult. So, we must be attentive to our merits. What are merits? They are not something to be attached to, but we must be attentive.
How do we apply our Six Roots? Each person is a unit [including the Six Roots]. Since eyes, ears, nose and tongue are [all] among our five senses, if we only talk about "eyes," what about our ears, nose and mouth? Of course, each "person" represents them all. A person is replete with all Six Roots. So, our function comes from serving others through our Six Roots. Our practice is inseparable from the Six Roots.
So, the next sutra passage says,
"These people will attain 800 merits of the eye, 1200 merits of the ear, 800 merits of the nose, 1200 merits of the tongue, 800 merits of the body and 1200 merits of the mind."
We have just read about the "800 merits of the eye." We must understand [these] merits. With our eyes, how do we see [things]? With what spirit and ideals do we practice in order to make good use of our eyes to see [the world] around us? There are all kinds of things in this life, so we must mindfully consider them. The things we see are the merits of our eyes, so let us all think about them mindfully.
First, let's listen and read this [commentary].
"As for the merits and virtues they will attain, when we sum up the merits and virtues of the Six Roots in total, each of their Six Roots will gain either 1200 or 800 merits."
The same person has all [the Six Roots], but we can distinguish the roots based on whether they have 800 or 1200 merits. This distinction is according to their function. We must consider this carefully to seek to experientially understand this.
"As for the wondrous interplay [between them], each root can also perform the functions of all other roots, and each consciousness can connect to and experience the conditions that all other consciousnesses [experience]. When each of the Six Roots has been perfected, they will have 6000 merits in total." We must remember this. The commentary continues, "The typical eye, nose and body can attain 800 merits each, while the ear, nose and mind can attain 1200 merits each."
"As for the wondrous interplay [between them], each root can also perform the functions of all other roots, and each consciousness can connect to and experience the conditions that all other consciousnesses [experience]. When each of the Six Roots has been perfected, they will have 6000 merits in total. The typical eye, nose and body can attain 800 merits each, while the ear, nose and mind can attain 1200 merits each."
"These people will attain 800 merits of the eye." Actually, what I want to tell you here is that we must put effort into listening mindfully. That which appears simplest is the most profound. This is truly very important. For example, the eye-root [produces] only 800 merits. Why does it only have 800 merits?
These people will attain 800 merits of the eye: Our eye-root observes everything in front of us and everything to both our left and right sides, but it cannot see anything behind us. Because it lacks one of the four directions, its merits and virtues are incomplete. In three directions, it has merits to speak of, but in one direction, it has no virtues at all. Thus, we should understand why the eye has only 800 merits.
"Our eye-root observes everything in front of us and everything to both our left and right sides, but it cannot see anything behind us. [Thus], it lacks one of the four directions." Of our front, back, left and right, it lacks sight in one of these four directions. Our eyes can only see in front of us and slightly glimpse our left and right, which we [can] thus understand. By turning [our heads] this way and that way, we can see [in these directions], but to see behind us, we must turn our entire body. If we do not turn our entire body, we cannot see behind us. Because our eye-root functions like this, the eye has [only] 800 merits.
So, "Its merits and virtues are incomplete." "Merits" refers to its functions. What about "virtues"? I often say to everyone, "With virtue comes attainment." With the function of our eyes, we can see in front of us. Turning, we can see to the right and left, so we can see all of this through the function of turning. By turning, our eyes can see [things]. When our sight meets [an object], this "meeting" means that we "attain," and what we attain are merits. "With virtue comes attainment." If we understand these two words clearly, we can use them more precisely.
"In three directions, it has merits to speak of, but in one direction, it has no virtues at all." It can function in three directions, but in the [fourth] direction? In the direction behind us, we cannot [see], so without attaining [anything] behind us, we cannot see [in that direction]. Thus, "In one direction, it has no virtues at all." So, "[this explains] why the eye has only 800 merits."
1200 merits of the ear: The ear can hear sounds from each of the 10 directions. When we are moving, [the ear can hear sounds] both near and far. When we are still, [the ear can hear] limitlessly. Thus, we should understand why the ear-root has the full 1200 merits.
"The 1200 merits of the ear [are due to that] the ear can hear sounds from each of the 10 directions. When we are moving, [the ear can hear sounds] both near and far." Whether a sound is far away or close by, when we are moving, we can hear [sounds that are] close to us, such as hearing the birds chirp. If we quiet down, we can hear [sounds] far away. When we are moving, like we are moving now, those who see me and hear me talking will focus their attention on me. I am speaking, and you can hear me. As I am speaking, there are birds far away. I can hear the birds. How far away are the sounds that I can hear? I do not know.
Right now, my ears only hear the sound of the birds. How far away are the birds from me? They are likely not within this space. We hear this intangible [sound] from far away. When we are quiet, we hear many [sounds]. If there are no sounds all around us, and we make an effort to quiet down, then we can hear the sounds of the earth, the sound of the air. [The earth] is not soundless. The air has sound, the earth has sound. They are very precise, intricate and subtle sounds. They are very precise and intricate. As for far away sounds, we sometimes hear the sound of waves, very far away, when we are quiet. Sometimes, in the past when I came out to meditate with you all, we could hear sounds in the air and from the ocean and the sound of the earth. This all happens when we quiet down.
The ears' function is better than that of the eyes. [The ear can hear sounds from] all directions. We know birds are here just by listening; we need not use our eyes. If there are sounds over here, then we can hear them at the same time. They all come to us here, so we know the direction just by listening. When sounds come from in front of us, we know they are in front of us. If the train is passing by, we know that the train is in front of us. In summary, if there are [sounds] nearby in our vicinity, we can comprehend and sense where they are.
There are sounds of machinery behind me and so on. So, we can distinguish [sounds] by their direction. However, when we are moving, we must focus on [sounds] close by. When we quiet down, we do not only think about what is around us. Naturally, our state of mind opens up, and all [the sounds] from far away, the very subtle sounds, come to us very clearly. This only happens when we quiet our minds. When we are still, [our ears can hear] limitlessly. Our ear-root can hear limitlessly. "Thus, we should understand why the ear-root has the full 1200 merits."
800 merits of the nose: Our nose can smell and carry our breath as we inhale and exhale. We breathe in and breathe out, but in between [breaths], it has no [function]. When we examine the nose-root, we find that it lacks one of three portions of merits. Thus, we should understand why the nose has only 800 merits.
So, "[the nose has] 800 merits." The ear has 1200 merits and the eye has 800 merits; we must remember this. Now, let us talk about our nose, through which we inhale and exhale. Our nose can smell whether something is fragrant or stinky, whether we like or dislike something.
For example, when someone picks flowers, I can sometimes smell from inside the room that the yulan magnolia is on the Buddha altar outside. A few days later, when they are replaced by the figo magnolia, I may not see [the flowers], but from my room, I can smell their fragrance. [Both] flowers have different fragrances. The figo magnolia and yulan magnolia look alike on first glance, but their fragrance is definitely different. So, this is how precise the nose can be in detecting what type of smell there is, what type of fragrance it is or what type of odor it is. Fragrance and odor alone can be divided into many types. This is the function of the nose. However, even though it can distinguish [smells], it is lacking. The nose can detect close-by smells, but it does not detect smells that are far away. The nose can smell what is in front of us. It can smell very precisely, but if it is not right in front of us, it does not serve this function.
It has the function of inhaling and exhaling. The nose can smell fragrance and odor. It has the function of inhaling and exhaling. [The nose] stays here quietly, not going anywhere. When something is placed outside, we can smell it by breathing in the air that drifts in from afar, but it does not have any further function. So, it lacks one of three aspects. Thus, "we should understand," we should realize, "why the nose has only 800 merits." Its merits are these and nothing more.
1200 merits of the tongue: The tongue can proclaim the entirety of worldly and world-transcending wisdom. Though words have their limits, we can use them to express limitless principles. Thus, we should understand why the tongue-root has the full 1200 merits.
"1200 merits of the tongue." The tongue has even greater merits. In addition to eating to nourish our life, it can detect many tastes, like sweet and salty. Even more importantly, the tongue is able to [produce] speech. It can proclaim "the entirety of worldly and world-transcending wisdom."
We have so many principles. Are they worldly principles or are they world-transcending principles? According to our thoughts, according to what we hear and want to say, we can [express] ourselves through our tongue-root. Of course, it is [a part of] a system. If our mouth does not move, if our tongue does not move, then our speech will not be clear. So, our tongue must move for our speech to be clear, so that we can express profound principles using smooth and clear speech. This is [how we] advance the Buddha-Dharma.
"[However], words have their limits." [Though words] are limited, no matter how great or subtle our description, we can use the tongue [to express them]. "We can use them to express limitless principles." So, we should understand why the tongue-root has the full 1200 merits. So, the tongue does not only function as a means of speaking. The tongue gives us great abilities. It enables us to eat and to speak and analyze many principles. These good functions are merits, so we must exercise its function and merits.
800 merits of the body: The body feels whatever it comes into contact with and senses whether it is harmful or agreeable. When contact is made, the body can feel, but when contact is broken, it loses awareness. Without contact, the body loses its function; with contact, the body has two functions. When we examine the body-root, we find that it lacks one of three portions of merits. This is why the body has only 800 merits.
"[The body has] 800 merits" [because] "the body feels whatever it comes into contact with" and [only discerns] whether it is agreeable or disagreeable. For example, is it hot or cold today? If it is cold, [we think], "Are my clothes warm enough?" "They are not warm enough; it is cold!" How does the cold feel [to us]? "I cannot endure it." What can we do? We must quickly put on another layer of clothing or bundle up in a blanket. In adverse times, we lack these things that we put on to keep warm when it is cold. Our body senses harmful or agreeable feelings. It can recognize if something is cold or hot, and whether it is something our body needs. We all have these sensations.
So, "When contact is made, the body can feel, but when contact is broken, it loses awareness." When contact is made, our body can feel. When contact is broken, if something breaks contact with us, our body loses awareness. "Without contact, the body loses its function; with contact, the body has two functions." Without contact, once contact is broken, then unless we pick up something else that our bodies can make use of, what are our bodies able to do? It is just limited to these sensations of whether something is soft or hard, whether something is cold or hot or whether something is painful or comfortable. This is the body's only function; just this and nothing more. What else can it do? So, the body is indeed lacking one [of three portions of merits]. Thus, it has 800 merits.
1200 merits of the mind: The mind silently encompasses all worldly and world-transcending Dharma throughout the ten directions and Three Periods. [The minds of] noble and ordinary beings alike are all capable of encompassing [this Dharma] boundlessly and without limitations. Thus, we should understand why the mind-root has the full 1200 merits.
"[There are] 1200 merits of the mind." We can very easily know the merits of the mind. The mind silently encompasses [all things]. Every day, even if we do not express something, our mind is what contains it. The many things we hear can all be contained by keeping them in our mind. As for "All worldly and world-transcending Dharma throughout the ten directions and Three Periods," [the minds of] noble and ordinary beings alike are all capable of encompassing [all of this]. As ordinary beings, in our minds, we actually know all this. We have the nature of True Suchness. Even though we have this understanding, we do not thoroughly understand our past, present and future. However, the past, present and future are found in our consciousness. We just have not yet awakened it. So, "All worldly and world-transcending Dharma throughout the ten directions and Three Periods" is actually all silently encompassed [by the mind]. It is all hidden within. Yet we are unable to express it; only noble beings are able to express it. We ordinary people cannot do it, but we are clearly replete in [the Dharma]. It is in our heart; we just need to awaken it. If we ordinary people can awaken our compassion, then, as I often say, [we must] "be selfless ourselves and treat others with great love." This is how we can encompass all. The mind neither increases nor decreases. All people have [the mind], noble and ordinary beings alike. Our minds can encompass everything, truly encompassing "boundlessly and without limitations."
"Boundless and without limitations" is unlimited, without boundaries. Our mind is capable of encompassing [the Dharma] boundlessly and without limitations. "Thus, we should understand why the mind-root has the full 1200 merits." Our mind-root can really demonstrate very, very great functions if we can awaken our nature of True Suchness. If we willingly learn, if we willingly read, willingly recite, willingly expound, willingly transcribe, willingly serve others, then naturally our mind will be open and spacious. Its functions will always exist. As long as we serve others, we have merits. As long as we serve others, we have attainment. Our function is to always serve others.