When four assemblies jointly invited the great master of Chan Sham to expound the Heart Sutra at the Buddhist Library of China, the great master made an all-out effort, although his lecture-series was to last nine gruelling days and even though he was already eighty-four years old; he enjoyed teaching Buddhadharma, and those who came to listen were delighted. During those nine days, there was standing room only every time he lectured, a clear sign of greatness of that Dharma assembly in this five-kasaya period of turbidity. The old master explained the sutra directly, eluding conventional restrictions. Though he used traditional divisions of the Buddha’s teaching into classes, on many occasions he dealt broadly with the general idea. Initially, his aim was to explain the Heart Sutra, but he commented likewise on the Lotus Sutra, and while discussing the doctrine, broached the topic of the world situation as well. Why? Because all dharmas are Buddhadharma, all sutras are one sutra.
Buddhadharma is never separated from the world. All phenomena are BuddhaDharma and whoever understands completely does not have a single mote of dust settle on him/her. All his/her words and all his/her thoughts are thereby freed from obstacles. Each of his/her statements, may it be harsh or delicate, is always exactly to the point. Sentient beings receptive to Dharma will have their wisdom eye open upon hearing this teaching, but those with distorted vision are bound to be bewildered and most likely will miss the whole point. Some individuals excel in knowledge of every rule and every convention and their words flow as in catharsis; they may have acquired mastery over the divisions and classifications of the Buddha’s teaching, but not understanding its meaning they cannot avoid getting entangled. Playing with words, turning them around they get bewitched, and much as their speech is systematic and orderly, they fail to understand the ultimate, and lose sight of the truth. According to one of the early Buddhist sages, the entire universe is one sutra of a sramana; the entire universe is the eye of a sramana. Although an enlightened person might spend a lot of time reading a sutra, he/she will not carry it around in his/her mind. One might say one is reading sutras not with one’s eyes, but with one’s wisdom – though reading all day long, there are no sutras to read.
My great old teacher explained the Heart Sutra by highlighting its salient points in a prologue: According to his explanation all is really Buddhadharma, every single form and each tiny bit of color is the Middle Way. Speaking naturally and freely, he received support from all sides, precisely because all is Buddhadharma. The great old teacher expounded the Heart Sutra every day for nine days, yet the Heart Sutra was never mentioned. This is truly the way to expound the Heart Sutra.
The master lectured in Mandarin and upasaka Wang Ka’i translated into Cantonese, making the Cantonese people very happy. Because of these lectures many of them now understand the Heart Sutra. Those who knew both dialects praised him for the integrity of his translation. Having read his notes he made while translating, I concluded in my turn that Upasaka Wang Wai made every effort to retain the original meaning: Every sentence, every word is exactly as it was used by the great old master – only the dialect is different. The translator’s descriptions convey even the sounds and the nuances to such a degree that reading them equals hearing them spoken.
Upasaka Wang stood outside the adamantine door and eventually made a breakthrough, using his superior knowledge and skills the way one would use an axe to break down any ordinary door. People entered and discovered what the Heart Sutra holds. I believe he understands what his treasury is, what are his virtues; wouldn’t you agree?
Disciple NIEN AN
The year of Wu Hsu, June.