Home » Features » How A Great Master Repented Slander Of The Mahāyāna Teachings 大师如何忏悔诽谤大乘教理?

世尊我一心,
归命尽十方,
无碍光如来,
愿生安乐国。

– 世亲菩萨  
《往生论》第1偈

Before the World-Honoured One, I, with wholeheartedness, take refuge for life in the one who exhausts the ten directions, as the Unimpeded Light Thus Come One [i.e. Amitā(bha) Buddha], vowing to be born in his Land Of Peace And Bliss.

– Vasubandhu Bodhisattva  
(Rebirth Treatise: Verse 1)

In the ‘Great Táng Dynasty’s Western Regions’ Record (5th Scroll: Six Countries)’《大唐西域记》(卷第五: 六国) by Tripiṭaka Dharma Master Xuánzàng with decree received and translated (三藏法师玄奘奉诏译), he wrote of the following intriguing account.

‘From Asaṅga’s lecture hall’s ancient foundations, to the northwest, of more than forty lǐs [i.e. twenty kilometres], reaches an ancient samghārama [i.e. monastery], with its north facing the Ganges River, within having a brick stūpa, more than a hundred feet high, where Vasubandhu Bodhisattva [i.e. also known as 天亲菩萨, the 21st Indian Patriarch of the Chán tradition (禅宗) and co-founder of the Yogācāra tradition (瑜伽宗): fl. 4th to 5th century C.E.] first gave rose to the Great Vehicle’s mind [of Bodhicitta to guide one and all to Buddhahood].’ (无著讲堂故基西北四十余里,至故伽蓝,北临殑[qíng]伽河,中有砖窣堵[sùdǔ]波,高百余尺,世亲菩萨初发大乘心处。)

Note [1]: The detailed physical location provides historical authenticity of the incident below. 

‘When Vasubandhu Bodhisattva from North India reached here, Asaṅga Bodhisattva then instructed his disciple, ordering him to go to await [for him. It was not where Asaṅga was, who skilfully pretended to be seriously sick to get Vasubandhu to visit him, so as to correct his slander of the Mahāyāna (i.e. Great Vehicle’s) teachings.] Reaching this samghārama, they [i.e. Vasubandhu and Asaṅga’s disciple] encountered and met each other.’ (世亲菩萨自北印度至于此也,时无著菩萨命其门人,令往迎候。至此伽蓝,遇而会见。)

Note [2]: As the distance to the destination was long, this rest stop was arranged.   

‘Asaṅga’s disciple who stayed outside the house, after midnight recited the “Ten Grounds’ [Daśabhūmi] Sūtra”.’ (无著弟子止户牖[yǒu]外,夜分之后,诵《十地经》。) ‘Vasubandhu, having heard it already, was moved and awakened, and felt remorse, “This is extremely profound and wonderful Dharma, that in the past, was never heard…’ (世亲闻已,感悟追悔:「甚深妙法,昔所未闻。)

Note [3]: If only those who belittle or slander the Mahāyāna teachings open their hearts and minds to sincerely listen and learn them, they will, like Vasubhandu, come to realise their great depth and splendour, to know that they have to be taught by the Buddhas for showing us the path to Buddhahood.   

‘… As my transgressions of slander, originated from uttering of my tongue, my tongue is as my transgressions’ root, that now should be eliminated by being severed.” Immediately holding in hand a sharp knife, he desired to self-sever his tongue.’  (诽谤之愆[qiān],源发于舌,舌为罪本,今宜除断。」即执铦[xiān]刀,欲自断舌。)

Note [4]: If not sincerely repented for, serious slander of the Mahāyāna teachings can lead to fall into a low hell to suffer for a very long time. Thus was Asaṅga Bodhisattva’s concern for his half-brother Vasubhandu. Karmic retributions there might include having one’s tongue repeatedly pulled, severed (拔舌) and regrown, having abused it when communicating. Slander of the Mahāyāna teachings is very grave as it can destroy the faith of many on the path to Buddhahood.

‘Then, he saw Asaṅga standing upright, telling him, “These Great Vehicle’s teachings, are principles of the utmost truths, that all Buddhas praise, by all noble ones those revered. I desired to teach you this, but you have now self-awakened. Having awakened at such a time, what good is like so?…’ (乃见无著住立告曰:「夫大乘教者,至真之理也,诸佛所赞,众圣攸[yōu]宗。吾欲诲尔,尔今自悟。悟其时矣,何善如之?)

Note [5]: As Asaṅga Bodhisattva was watching from afar, he knew what was happening and manifested in time to instruct him. There is no awakening better than timely awakening, on one’s own accord, although in the case, it was with overhearing of the Mahāyāna teachings too.  

‘… In all Buddhas’ noble teachings, severing of the tongue is not repentance. In the past with your tongue having slandered the Great Vehicle, now with your tongue praise the Great Vehicle, to make up for your transgressions and make a fresh start. This is, in spite of everything [previously done], as good. By remaining silent by cutting off speech, where are its benefits?” Having made this statement already, he was suddenly not again seen.’ (诸佛圣教,断舌非悔。昔以舌毁大乘,今以舌赞大乘,补过自新,犹为善矣,杜口绝言,其利安在?」作是语已,忽不复见。)

Note [6]: Although retribution in hell by severing of the tongue is possible for slander of the Buddha’s teachings, there might not be complete repentance through such retribution. Self-severing of the tongue once also does not ensure the negative karma from slander is eradicated. True repentance now is practised not by severing the tongue personally, but by using it to make amends, to do more good than harm once done. 

‘Vasubandhu received the instruction, and thereupon did not sever his tongue. At dawn, he visited Asaṅga, for consulting and receiving of the Great Vehicle’s teachings. Therefore, he studied meticulously, penetrated deeply and reflected upon them, and produced the Great Vehicle’s commentaries, altogether with more than a hundred volumes, [which includes the Pure Land tradition’s (净土宗) Rebirth Treatise《往生论》], furthermore extensively proclaiming their practices.’ (世亲承命,遂不断舌。旦诣无著,谘[zī]受大乘。于是研精覃[tán]思,制大乘论,凡百余部,并盛宣行。)

Note [7]: Although it is not easy for many who slander the Mahāyāna teachings to become great Mahāyāna teachers, to express repentance, they can nevertheless learn and practise these teachings best they can, and encourage others to do so best they can too, especially the most skilful Pure Land teachings. Along with sincere repentance, the Pure Land teachings when practised well, assures the otherwise hellbound will reach Pure Land instead.

我作论说偈,
愿见弥陀佛,
普共诸众生,
往生安乐国。


– 世亲菩萨
《往生论》第24偈


I, having composed this treatise to speak these verses, vow to meet Amitā[bha] Buddha, universally together, with all sentient beings, to be reborn in his Land Of Peace And Bliss.

– Vasubandhu Bodhisattva  
(Rebirth Treatise: Verse 24)

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