Ch'an Newsletter - No. 55 August 1986

Light and Quakes
(Lecture given Sunday, June 23, 1985 by Master Sheng-Yen)

When Buddha expounded the Dharma, he emitted a strong light that radiated through the universe, and he generated six kinds of quakes that shook through all the Buddha worlds.

Light is that which can be seen; it represents the hopefulness the Dharma can bring. Quakes can be felt; their motion and vibration represent the energy of the Dharma. These two phenomena are sufficient for the Buddha to express his teaching. The Dharma can really be expressed without any words or language at all. It is, in fact, inconceivable; it cannot be truly discussed or approached by reason. There are many sentient beings who see this light or feel the motion, and yet don't understand their significance. Therefore, it is still necessary for the Buddha to use words.

There are many levels of light. Most elementary is the light that all ordinary beings can see. The elementary level of motion is the kind ordinary beings can feel. There exist, however, higher levels of light and motion that ordinary beings will not be able to see or hear. Our eyes are normally receptive only to visible light -- a small spectrum. We notice only gross movement -- subtle forms of motion elude us.

Depending upon the situation or the occasion, sentient beings may be able to see the light the Buddha emits. The kind of light sent forth may vary from one discourse to another. And each Dharma audience will elicit light that accords with the particular needs of the listeners. But only sentient beings with the proper causes and conditions can see the light the Buddha sends out, and only they can listen to the Dharma.

Sentient beings exist on different levels, and they, too, are able to see different qualities of light according to their attainment. Bodhisattvas can see the same light ordinary sentient beings can see, but light meant for Bodhisattvas will be invisible to sentient beings. The light the Buddhas transmit among themselves is invisible to Bodhisattvas.

Light and quakes may also serve as signals -- in much the same way that the clapping of boards announces lunch, the sound of the bell, a lecture. When the Buddha generates light and quakes, it may mean that he is about to expound the Dharma to Bodhisattvas of a higher level -- the first bhumi and above -- then no words will be necessary. The light and quakes will be sufficient for the Bodhisattvas to understand the Dharma.

Light can also represent the Buddha's wisdom; quakes can represent merit and virtue. Light guides and helps sentient beings. Quakes and motion are the actions of the Buddha helping sentient beings. The Buddha has the totality of all wisdom. He may only use a part of his wisdom, depending on the sentient being in need. When he speaks to sentient beings, he will use sentient-being Dharma to help them. If he speaks to high level Bodhisattvas, then Buddha will use Bodhisattva Dharma or even Buddha Dharma. The light of the Buddha's wisdom can be a small light or a grand, intense light. The light described in the Surangama Sutra is the greatest kind; the Dharma expounded is the most important.

Some people raise this question: According to the sutras, Shakyamuni lived 2500 years ago. Quakes occurred and light radiated not just in India, but throughout a myriad of worlds. Why weren't these lights and quakes recorded in history? Only those sentient beings with causes and conditions can see the light and sense the quakes. Otherwise these phenomena are inaudible and invisible.

There is yet another function of light and quakes. Light can be the power and ability of anyone to help others. To the extent that we have this power, people will see us as hope itself. In that sense we can give off light. Quakes symbolize the power to move others; when we do something very good, others will be touched by what we do and when we do something bad, others can be shocked by what we've done. Either way, actions we take affect others.

Before Mao died it was said that one word from his lips could move the world. Or if someone were to try to shoot President Reagan, one or two bullets could bring incalculable political consequences. Good actions, too, can have global significance. Someone able to avert a war would affect the whole world.

Do you think you are capable of emitting light and moving others? We can all do this. No doubt when I speak I am emitting some light -- you in the audience also emit light.

When Getting the Buddha Mind came out, many people liked it and found it helpful. But it wasn't only my doing that caused it to happen; many people were involved in it's production. The moving and touching of others was brought about by many people. We all have light.

I have just spoken of a kind of metaphoric light. But there are people who, as a result of great practice, wisdom, merit and virtue really have light. You can actually see it. It's not symbolic. It is real physical light.

Over thirty years ago, I was in the army. One day a general came to visit. He was dressed like an ordinary soldier, but I could sense he was someone special. On another occasion I met Chiang Kai-shek. Before I met him, I always imagined that he would be tall and striking. But when I saw him, even though he looked quite ordinary, there was something about him that made me not want to look into his eyes. He gave out a sense of being larger than he really was.

If you have great faith and achievement in practice, you can see the light of a practitioner, otherwise you must have close karmic affinity with him to be able to see it.

In Taiwan there was a woman who had a special power of seeing. Once I was giving a lecture, and as I spoke, she saw a light emanating from me, and she noticed that my translator absorbed the light. The more the light was absorbed the more the translation improved. The woman also saw a third figure standing behind us who seemed to merge with the translator. When told about this, my translator replied, "When I began, I concentrated very hard on what you said because I was nervous and didn't want to make a mistake. Later I felt I didn't have to be nervous. I just asked Avalokitesvara to help me."

Who was the third person standing behind the translator? It may not have been an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, but it was an extension of his power.

I was unaware of the light myself, so I asked the woman what it looked like. She said that when I first started to talk about the Dharma, a glow came from my head; then as I continued to speak, the light seemed to come from my whole body, spreading in all directions. This is because when I first started to speak, I had no idea what I would talk about. Thus the light came from my head as I thought about what I would say. Later I spoke spontaneously, and the Dharma light emanated from all parts of my body. That is why statues of Buddha are sculpted to show symbolic light radiating out from all sides.

Someone within the range of light will not be able to see the light. He must be outside the range to see it. If you can't see the light, either you don't have karmic affinity with the practitioner or you're already inside the range of the light. This is like hearing about a person's greatness. At a distance he or she may appear great, but the closer you get, the more the semblance of greatness diminishes.

Perceiving a practitioner's greatness is a different story. Whether near or far, the greatness will be apparent to someone who has karmic affinity with him. But strangely enough, with a very great practitioner, even though you may have a karmic affinity with him, if you are not a practitioner, you will sense his greatness when far away, but when close, you will lose the sense of greatness.

There s a Ch'an story: a certain practitioner visits a Ch'an Patriarch and arrives when it is already dark. After a short visit, the Master said, "Isn't it time that you went home?" The practitioner said, "It's dark. I dare not take the road home"

The Master said, "It's all right, I can get you a lantern," The practitioner took the lantern and started walking home, but the Master soon called him back to the temple. The Master took back the lantern and blew out the light. It was dark in the Master's room and it was dark outside -- at that moment the practitioner got enlightened. He had been afraid of the dark, but now he could find his way home.

Did he get the light?

This is the light of wisdom. Without wisdom, even in broad daylight, you walk in darkness. When the Master blew out the lantern the practitioner got enlightened. He no longer saw the outside as dark and the inside, illumined by the lantern, as light. He saw that there is no difference between outside and inside. The light of wisdom was derived from darkness. The practitioner no longer feared darkness. He was then able to radiate light and move others.

Practitioners must attain a certain level before they can use the light of wisdom and the power of merit and virtue. Before this level is attained, the light of wisdom is dormant; a practitioner can only use the power of virtuous karma. There is still light given off, but it is not the light of wisdom. After enlightenment, the true light of wisdom arises, it's something like an electric generator that has been kept unused in a storeroom. It has been still and silent for a great while, but suddenly it is turned on, and it begins to generate a continuous flow of electricity. People, too, start to generate light as they approach Buddhahood. Their light becomes stronger and stronger.

You can generate light to help sentient beings. It will shine even when there is no one there to benefit from it. When you are truly ready, others will sense your light. If you help them, if you move them to practice, then you will give forth light and cause the quakes of the Dharma.

Chan Newsletter Table of Content

Copyright © 2001
Dharma Drum Mountain