Home » Features » Record Of A Venerable Identifying A Fake Bodhisattva 和尚辨认假菩萨记

譬如穷人,妄号帝王,
自取诛灭。
况复法王,如何妄窃?


— 释迦牟尼佛
《楞严经》

For example, a poor person,
who falsely names oneself an emperor,
personally incurs death.
Furthermore as a Dharma king [i.e. Buddha],
how can this title be falsified and stolen?


— Śākyamuni Buddha
(Śūraṅgama Sūtra)

From the ‘Extensive Records Of The Strange’《广异记》compiled by Táng Dynasty’s Dài Fú (戴孚), and in turn in the ‘Extensive Records Of The Tàipíng Era’《太平广记》compiled by Sòng Dynasty’s Lǐ Fǎng (李昉), et al, is this fascinating account on ‘Venerable Dà’ān’《大安和尚》:

When Táng Dynasty’s Empress Wǔ Zétiān was in reign (690-705), there was a woman who self-claimed to be a ‘holy Bodhisattva’. Of where a person’s mind is, the woman said she definitely knows it. The Empress Dowager then summoned her to enter the palace. With that before and after said all verified, those within the palace respectfully served her. After several months, she was called to be a ‘true Bodhisattva’. (唐则天在位,有女人自称圣菩萨。人心所在,女必知之。太后召入宫,前后所言皆验,宫中敬事之。数月,谓为真菩萨。)

Afterwards, when Venerable Dà’ān entered the palace, the Empress Dowager asked if he had met the female ‘Bodhisattva’ yet. Venerable Dà’ān said, ‘Where is the “Bodhisattva”? I wish to have a meeting with her.’ She issued an edict for him and her to meet each other. Upon meeting, the Venerable’s expression looked distant. After a long time, Venerable Dà’ān said, ‘Can you kindly see my mind, to try and see where my mind is?’(其后大安和尚入宫,太后问见女菩萨未?安曰:「菩萨何在?愿一见之。」敕令与之相见。和尚风神邈然。久之,大安曰:「汝善观心,试观我心安在?」)

She answered, ‘The master’s mind is within the pagoda peak’s stacked rings’ side bells.’ When again immediately asked, she said, ‘It is at Tuṣita Heaven’s Maitreya Palace within listening to the Dharma.’ The third time asking her, she said it is at the Heaven Of Non-Perception And No Non-Perception. As all were as she said, the Empress Dowager was delighted.(答曰:「师心在塔头相轮边铃中。」寻复问之。曰:「在兜率天弥勒宫中听法。」第三问之,在非非想天。皆如其言。太后忻悦。)

[Note 1: To check if she could really read minds as claimed, and how much she could do it, the Venerable asked questions with increasing levels of difficulty. Thus, he first placed his mind within the visible human world, followed by an unseen higher heavenly plane in the Desire Realm (欲界), and the unseeable highest heaven in the Formless Realm (无色界).]

Venerable Dà’ān thereupon placed his mind on the Fourth Fruit’s Arhat’s ground, then with it not able to be known by her. Venerable Dà’ān scolded, ‘When my mind was just now placed on the ground of Arhats, you already did not know where it was. If placed on the grounds of Bodhisattvas and all Buddhas, how can you assess it?’ (大安因且置心于四果阿罗汉地,则不能知。大安呵曰:「我心始置阿罗汉之地,汝已不知。若置于菩萨诸佛之地,何由可料?」)

[Note 2: To further check, the Venerable placed his mind beyond the Three Realms (三界). Although he did not claim so, to be able to do so means he is already at least an Arhat, who is liberated from the Three Realms. If the woman could discern up to the highest Formless Heaven (无色界天), it means she could meditate to that level, though not yet liberated from it. This is known by her not being able to go beyond it, to see where the Venerable’s mind was.

Thus, the Venerable suggested that if he placed his mind higher at the level of Bodhisattvas (and Buddhas), she would all the more not be able to find it. This proved that she is not a true Bodhisattva as claimed, (or even an Arhat), as Bodhisattvas, being at a higher level, would be able to see the minds of Arhats, (and Arhats would be able to see the minds of Arhats).]

[Note 3: As taught by the Buddha in the ‘Śūraṅgama Sūtra: Section On Clear Instructions For Purity: Passage On False Speech’(《楞严经》:清净明诲章:妄语篇):

‘After my Parinirvāṇa, [I] command all Bodhisattvas and Arhats, [to] manifest bodies [to be] born within that Dharma-Ending [Age, to] become all kinds [of] forms, [to] deliver all [from] rebirth. Perhaps becoming Śramaṇas, white-robed laypersons, kings, officials, young males, young females, [as] such, and even licentious women, widows, traitors, thieves, butchers [and] peddlers, with them together working, praising [the] Buddha Vehicle, [to] enable their bodies [and] minds [to] enter Samādhi. [To the] end, not personally saying, “I [am a] true Bodhisattva, [a] true Arhat”, [to] divulge [the] Buddha’s secret cause, [to] lightly speak [so to those] yet [to] learn. Only except [at] life’s end, secretly having [that] left [for] entrusting. Why [would] these persons, confuse sentient beings, [by] accomplishing great false speech?’

(「我灭度后,敕诸菩萨及阿罗汉,应身生彼末法之中,作种种形,度诸轮转。或作沙门、白衣居士、人王宰官、童男童女,如是乃至淫女寡妇、奸偷屠贩,与其同事,称赞佛乘,令其身心入三摩地。终不自言:『我真菩萨、真阿罗汉』,泄佛密因,轻言未学。唯除命终,阴有遗付。云何是人,惑乱众生,成大妄语?」)

The Buddha instructed that truly manifested Arhats and Bodhisattvas must never disclose their actual identities, especially in this Dharma-Ending Age. This is to prevent anyone from attracting followers simply with open yet false claims of being enlightened, instead of attracting with the pure Dharma and their good personal examples in practice. This means anyone who claims to be enlightened or a manifestation of the enlightened, is straightaway a fraud, who is craving for ongoing fame and gain, while going against the Buddha’s teachings. Such is great false speech (大妄语), the speakers of whom are bound for the lowest hell.]

[Note 4: Even if able to do so, there is no value in having anyone read our minds to know what we are thinking about now – since we already know what is going on! Also, claims about what happened to us in the distant past cannot be verified, just as claims about what will happen to us in the future cannot be checked now. Even if what said about our past is true, it could simply be known by reading our minds, again telling us what we already know, while not sharing any new wisdom. It would be better to cultivate more mindfulness of our own minds now, so as to not be carried away by delusional greed for knowing more than what we should reasonably know. If even the shrewd and powerful Empress Dowager could be carried away by falsehood, we might too, if not mindful!]

The woman said she yielded, as she changed into a female fox, went down the stairs and walked away, not knowing where she went.(女词屈,变作牝狐,下阶而走,不知所适。)

[Note 5: Thus, the woman was a fox spirit (狐狸精) in disguise. This is a hybrid of an animal and a ghostly demon, capable of training to have some supernormal powers, such as shapeshifting. She was elaborately lying to impress and trick the Empress Dowager, the Venerable and others, to win their trust for reasons unknown, probably for wealth, fame and power through the most powerful person in the land. Perhaps the course of ancient China’s history would have irrevocably changed for the worse if the Venerable did not intervene!]

[Note 6: Perhaps a good way to check if someone is ‘enlightened’ as claimed is to study profound aspects of the Dharma so well, that inability of the claimant to answer questions about them would swiftly show how unrealised and unlearned the person is. If the person might be able to read minds to know how to answer them, this article can be shared, to ask the person to share further thoughts and insights on the Buddha’s teachings above. With the sūtra excerpt being part of the Buddhist ‘Demon-Reflection Mirror’ (照妖镜), there will be unwillingness of liars to reflect upon themselves with it. Doing so will reveal their ‘demonic’ identities.]

如我所说,名为佛说。
不如此说,即波旬说。


— 释迦牟尼佛
《楞严经》

Such as I have spoken,
is named Buddhas’ speech.
Not such as spoken, is Papiyan’s
[i.e. Māra: the evil demon king] speech.


— Śākyamuni Buddha
(Śūraṅgama Sūtra)

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