Five Grave Offenses and Slander of the Dharma Passages

Major Expositions

KGSS III : 119-123

§ 119120121122123

119 In the Mahayana sutras, the master of the being difficult to save is expounded. The Larger Sutra states:

Excluded are those who commit the five grave offenses and those who slander the right dharma.

And [the Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life states]:

Excluded are those who commit evil acts that condemn them to Avici hell and those who slander the right dharma or the sages.

The Contemplation Sutra teaches the attainment of birth of those who commit the five grave offenses, but not of those who slander the dharma, and in the Nirvana Sutra, the beings and the sicknesses difficult to cure are taught. How are these true teachings to be understood?

 

120 Answer: The Commentary on the Treatise states:

Question: The Sutra of Immeasurable Life states,

Those who aspire for birth are all brought to attainment. Excluded are those who commit the five grave offenses and those who slander the right dharma.

The Sutra of Contemplation on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life states,

Those who have committed the five grave offenses and the ten transgressions, and who are possessed of various evils also attain birth.

How are these two sutra passages to be reconciled?

Answer: The first sutra speaks of committing two kinds of serious evil act: the five grave offenses and the slander of the right dharma. Because of committing both these two kinds of evil act, a person is unable to attain birth. The other sutra speaks only of committing the evil of the ten transgressions and five grave offenses; nothing is said of slandering the right dharma. Because a person has not slandered the right dharma, he attains birth.

Question: Suppose a person has committed the five grave offenses but has not slandered the right dharma. In the sutra, it is granted that such a person can attain birth. Further, suppose there is a person who has only slandered the right dharma but is free of the five grave offenses and other evil acts; if he aspires for birth, will he attain it or not?

Answer: Although he has only slandered the right dharma and has not committed other evil acts, he will definitely be unable to attain birth. How is this known? A sutra states that the person who has committed the five grave offenses falls into great Avici hell and fully undergoes their recompense for one kalpa. The person who slanders the right dharma falls into great Avici hell, and when that kalpa has run out, he passes on into the great Avici hell of another quarter. In this way he passes through a hundred thousand great Avici hells one after another. The Buddha does not indicate any time when it is possible for him to emerge. This is because slandering the right dharma is an evil act of extreme gravity.

Further, the right dharma is the Buddha-dharma. Such a foolish person has already slandered it; how can it be reasonable to think that he would aspire to be born in the Buddha-land? Suppose the person aspires for birth merely because he craves to be born into happiness; this is like seeking ice that is not water or fire without smoke. How can it be deemed reasonable that he attain it?

Question: What are the characteristics of slandering the right dharma?

Answer: Saying there is no Buddha, no Buddha-dharma, no bodhisattva, no bodhisattva-dharma. Deciding on such views, whether through understanding thus in one’s own mind or receiving the ideas from others, is called slandering the right dharma.

Question: Taking such views only concerns the person himself. What pain and suffering does his act inflict on other sentient beings, that it should exceed the evil of the five grave offenses in seriousness?

Answer: If there were no Buddhas and bodhisattvas to expound the mundane and supramundane good paths and to teach and guide sentient beings, how could we know of the existence of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and sincerity? Such mundane good would all be cut off, and the sages of the supramundane would all perish. You know only the gravity of the five grave offenses, and not that they arise from the absence of the right dharma. Thus, the person who slanders the right dharma is involved in the gravest karmic evil.

Question: The Sutra on the Working of Karma states, “The working of karma is like a scale; the heavier side is drawn down first and foremost.” The Sutra of Contemplation on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life speaks of a person who has committed the five grave offenses and the ten transgressions, and is possessed of all evils. He is to fall into the evil courses and undergo incalculable pain for many kalpas. At the point of death, he happens to be guided by a true teacher and comes to say Namu-muryoju-butsu (Namu-amida-butsu). When, in this way, he gives voice to it with a sincere mind without interruption, completing ten utterances, he attains birth in the Pure Land of happiness, immediately enters the truly settled of the Mahayana, and ultimately attains nonretrogression. He becomes free forever from all the pain of the three courses. How is this to be understood in terms of the principle of “the heavier side is drawn down first and foremost”?

Further, from distant kalpas in the past we have been committing all manner of acts. These acts, being defiled dharmas, are bound to the three realms. If, as you say, one immediately emerges from the three realms by merely thinking on Amida Buddha with ten utterances, how are we to understand the meaning of “binding karmic acts”?

Answer: If, giving weight to the five grave offenses, the ten transgressions, and other binding karmic acts, and considering the ten utterances of the person of the lowest grade of the lowest rank to be trivial, you say that drawn by karmic evil one should first and foremost fall into hell or be bound to the three realms, then we must consider lightness and heaviness here in terms of principles. This is a matter of mind, of active condition, and of settledness; it is not a matter of length of time or of quantity.

What is meant by “matter of mind”? The person who commits such karmic evil does so based on his own false and inverted views. The ten utterances, however, arise when a true teacher, consoling him by various means, makes him hear the dharma that is true reality. The latter is real, the former is unreal. How can there be any comparison?

Suppose there is a room that has been dark for a thousand years. If light reaches it, however briefly, the room immediately becomes bright. How can the darkness say that, having occupied the room for a thousand years, it refuses to leave? This is termed “matter of mind.”

What is meant by “matter of active condition”? The person who commits such evil does so based on his own mind of falsity, depending on sentient beings who have come into existence from blind passions and falsity. The ten utterances arise based on supreme shinjin, depending on the Name embodying Amida Tathagata’s immeasurable, true, real, and pure virtues, which is the adornment of compassionate means. Suppose there is a man who has been struck by a poison arrow. At the point of entry, the flesh is torn and the bone is broken. But if he hears a drum to which the dispelling elixir has been applied, the arrow will immediately be extracted and the poison expelled. It is like this [Note]. How can it be said that, because the arrow is deep and the poison virulent, even though the drumbeat is heard, it is impossible for the arrow to be withdrawn or the venom removed? This is termed “matter or active condition.”

What is meant by “matter of settledness”? The person who commits such evil does so based on thoughts of something coming after and of other things interrupting. The ten utterances arise based on thoughts of nothing coming after and nothing interrupting. This is termed settledness.

When we consider these three matters, we see that the ten utterances carry weight. What is heavy draws down first and foremost and enables beings to depart from the three realms of existence. The two sutra passages have a single meaning.

Question: How long is “one thought[-moment]”?

Answer: One hundred and one arisings and perishings of a thing make up one instant, and sixty instants are one moment. Here, however, “thought[-moment]” should not be understood as temporal. “Ten thoughts” refers simply to continuing in mindfulness of Amida Buddha for ten thoughts, in accord with what is contemplated – whether it be the entire body or a specific feature – without any other thoughts in one’s mind. Saying the Name is also like this.

Question: We can know the number of thoughts if the mind turns to other objects and then is collected again and returned [to Amida]. Such awareness of the number, however, means that uninterruptedness is lacking. If the mind is concentrated and the thought focused, by what means is it possible to keep track of the number of thoughts?

Answer: The term “ten utterances” in the [Contemplation] Sutra is intended only to elucidate the completion of the act [resulting in birth]. We need not necessarily know the number. It is said, for example, that the cicada knows no spring or autumn, so how can it know the season of the red sun? Only one who knows [the seasons] can speak of summer. Likewise, completion of the karmic act in ten utterances can be spoken of only by one possessed of transcendent powers. When one simply repeats utterances, continuing without turning thoughts to other matters, that is enough; what need is there to know the number of utterances? If it is absolutely necessary to know, however, there is a method. It is to be transmitted orally, and should not be recorded.

 

121 The Master of Kuang-ming temple states:

Question: According to the Forty-eight Vows, only those who commit the five grave offenses and those who slander the right dharma are excluded and cannot attain birth. Here, according to the passage on the lowest grade of the lowest rank in the Contemplation Sutra, those who slander the dharma are set apart and those who commit the five grave offenses are grasped. What does this mean?

Answer: The intent may be understood as a teaching to make us desist from evil. As stated in the Forty-eight Vows, those who slander the dharma and those who commit the five grave offenses are excluded; this means that these two kinds of action are the gravest of hindrances. When sentient beings commit them, they plunge directly into Avici hell, where they undergo long kalpas of terror and panic without any means of emerging. The Tathagata, fearing that we would commit these two kinds of faults, seeks to stop us through compassionate means by declaring that we will then not be able to attain birth. This does not mean that we will not be grasped.

It is taught, concerning the lowest grade of the lowest rank, that those who commit the five grave offenses are taken up but those who slander the dharma are excluded; this is because beings [of the lowest grade] have already committed the five grave offenses, but must not be abandoned to endless transmigration. Thus Amida, awakening great compassion, grasps them and brings them to birth. Since, however, they have yet to commit the karmic evil of slandering the dharma, in order to prevent them from doing so it is stated that if one slanders the dharma one will not attain birth. This is to be understood as relevant to those who have not committed this evil. Even if one has committed it, one will nevertheless be grasped and brought to attainment of birth. Although one attains birth in the Pure Land, however, one must pass many kalpas enclosed in a lotus bud. Such people of karmic evil, while they are within the lotus, are possessed of the three kinds of obstructions: first, they cannot see the Buddha and the noble assemblies; second, they cannot hear the right dharma; third, they cannot travel to the lands of the Buddhas to make offerings. But apart from these obstructions, they do not undergo any form of pain. In the sutras, it is taught that their state is like that of a bhiksu who has entered the bliss of the Third Dhyana Heaven. Reflect on this. Although they are confined within the flower that is closed for many kalpas, is this not better than to suffer all the torments for endless kalpas in Avici hell? Thus, this passage should be understood as a teaching to make us desist from evil.

 

122 Further, he states:

The Pure Land is free forever from slander and dislike; all are equal, with no anxieties or afflictions. Whether human or deva, good or evil, all can reach the Pure Land. On attaining it, their distinctions vanish; all equally enter the stage of nonretrogression. Why is it thus? It comes about because Amida, in his causal stage, under the guidance of Lokesvararaja Buddha, abandoned his throne and left his home, and awakening the mind of compassion and wisdom, widely proclaimed his Forty-eight Vows. Through the power of the Buddha’s Vows, the karmic evil of the five grave offenses and the ten transgressions is eradicated and all are brought to attainment of birth. When those who slander the dharma or abandon the seed of Buddhahood turn about at heart, they all reach the Pure Land.

 

123 Concerning the five grave offenses:

According to Tzu-chou, there are two traditions concerning the five grave offenses. One is the five grave offenses of the three vehicles: 1) intentionally killing one’s father; 2) intentionally killing one’s mother; 3) intentionally killing an arhat; 4) disrupting the harmony of the sangha through one’s inverted views; and 5) maliciously causing blood to flow from the body of the Buddha. These acts are termed grave offenses (literally, “contraries”) because they go against the field of benevolence and run athwart the field of merits. Those who give themselves to these grave offenses, when they deteriorate in body and die, unfailingly plunge into Avici (“uninterrupted”) hell, where for one great kalpa they undergo pain without interruption; hence, these offenses are termed “acts resulting in uninterrupted pain.”

The Abhidharma-kosa lists five acts of uninterrupted pain similar to those above. A verse states:

Violating one’s mother or a nun of the stage of nonlearning
[equivalent to the karmic evil of killing one’s mother],
Killing a bodhisattva who abides in meditation
[equivalent to the karmic evil of killing one’s father]
Or a sage of the stage of learning or nonlearning
[equivalent to killing an arhat],
Destroying the cause of happiness in the sangha
[equivalent to the karmic evil of disrupting the sangha],
And smashing stupas
[equivalent to causing blood to flow from the body of the Buddha].

The second tradition is the five grave offenses of the Mahayana. The Sutra Taught to Nigranthas states:

1) Destroying stupas, burning sutra repositories, or plundering the belongings of the three treasures. 2) Speaking evil of the teaching of the three vehicles, saying they are not the sacred teachings, obstructing and censuring it, or attempting to hide and obscure it. 3) Beating those who have abandoned homelife, whether they observe precepts, have not received precepts, or break precepts; persecuting them, enumerating their faults, confining them, forcing them to return to lay life, putting them to menial labor, exacting taxes from them, or depriving them of life. 4) Killing one’s father, harming one’s mother, causing blood to flow from the body of the Buddha, disrupting the harmony of the sangha, or killing an arhat. 5) Speaking evil by saying there is no cause and effect and constantly performing the ten transgressions throughout the long night of ignorance.

The [Ten Wheel] Sutra states:

Killing a pratyekabuddhas out of evil intentions; this is destroying life. 2) Violating a nun who has attained arhatship; this is an act of lust. 3) Stealing or destroying what has been offered to the three treasures; this is taking what has not been given one. 4) Disrupting the harmony of the sangha with inverted views; this is speaking falsely.

Here ends Chapter III:
A Collection of Passages Revealing
The True Shinjin of the Pure Land Way