General Articles Translations

The Parable of the White Path

By Master Shan-tao (613-681)
Second Patriarch of Chinese Pure Land Buddhism

白一切往生人等。
今更为行者,说一譬喻,守护信心以防外邪异见之难。

And to all those who wish to be reborn in the Pure Land, I now tell a parable for the sake of those who would practice the True Way, as a protection for their faith and a defense against the danger of heretical views.

何者是也:譬如有人,欲向西行百千之里。
忽然中路,见有二河。
一是火河在南,二是水河在北。
二河各阔百步,各深无底,南北无边。

What is it? It is like a man who desires to travel a hundred thousand ‘li’ to the West. Suddenly in the midst of his route he sees two rivers. One is a river of fire stretching South. The other is a river of water stretching North. Each of the two rivers is a hundred steps across and unfathomably deep. They stretch without end to the North and South.

正水火中间,有一白道,可阔四五寸许。
此道从东岸至西岸,亦长百步。

Right between the fire and water, however, is a white path barely four or five inches wide. Spanning the East and West banks, it is one hundred steps long.

其水波浪,交过湿道。
其火焰亦来烧道。

The waves of water surge and splash against the path on one side while the flames of fire scorch it on the other. Ceaselessly, the fire and water come and go.

水火相交,常无休息。
此人既至空旷回处,更无人物。
多有群贼恶兽,见此人单独,竞来欲杀。

The man is out in the middle of a wasteland and none of his kind are to be seen. A horde of vicious ruffians and wild beasts see him there alone, and vie with one another in rushing to kill him.

此人怖死,直走向西。忽然见此大河。
即自念言,此河南北不见边畔。
中间见一白道,极是狭小。
二岸相去虽近,何由可行,今日定死无疑。

Fearing death he runs straightway to the West, and then sees these great rivers. Praying, he says to himself: “To the North and South I see no end to these rivers. Between them I see a white path, which is extremely narrow. Although the two banks are not far apart, how am I to traverse from one to the other? Doubtless today I shall surely die.

正欲倒回,群贼恶兽,渐渐来迫。
正欲南北避走,恶兽毒虫竞来向我。
正欲向西寻道而去,复恐堕此水火二河。

If I seek to turn back, the horde of vicious ruffians and wild beasts will come at me. If I run to the North or South, evil beasts and poisonous vermin will race toward me. If I seek to make my way to the West, I fear that I may fall into these rivers.”

当时惶怖,不复可言。
即自思念,我今回亦死,住亦死,去亦死。
一种不免死者,我宁寻此道向前而去。
既有此道,必应可度。

Thereupon he is seized with an inexpressible terror. He thinks to himself: “Turn back now and I die. Stay and I die. Go forward and I die. Since death must be faced in any case, I would rather follow this path before me and go ahead. With this path I can surely make it across.”

作此念时,东岸忽闻人劝声: “仁者,但决定寻此道行,必无死难,若住即死。”

Just as he thinks this, he hears someone from the east bank call out and encourage him: “Friend, just follow this path resolutely and there will be no danger of death. To stay here is to die.”

又西岸上有人唤言: “汝一心正念直来,我能护汝。
众不畏堕于水火之难。”

And on the west bank. there is someone calling out, “Come straight ahead, single-mindedly and with fixed purpose. I can protect you. Never fear falling into the fire or water!”

此人既闻此遣彼唤,即自正当身心,决定寻道直进,不生疑怯退心。

At the urging of the one and the calling of the other, the man straightens himself up in body and mind and resolves without any lingering doubts or hesitations.

或行一分二分,东岸群贼等唤言:“仁者回来,此道险恶不得过,必死无疑。
我等众无恶心相向。”
此人虽闻唤声,亦不回顾,一心直进。
念道而行,须臾即到西岸,永离诸难。
善友相见,庆乐无已。

Hardly has he gone a step or two when from the east bank the horde of vicious ruffians calls out to him: “Friend, come back! That way is perilous and you will never get across. Without a doubt you are bound to die. None of us means to harm you.” Though he hears them calling, the man still does not look back but single-mindedly and straightway proceeds on the path. In no time he is at the west bank, far from all troubles forever. He is greeted by his good friend and there is no end of joy.

此是喻也。
次合喻者。
言东岸者,即喻此娑婆之火宅也。
言西岸者,即喻极乐宝国也。

That is the parable and this is the meaning of it: what we speak of as the “east bank” is comparable to this world, a house in flames. What we speak of as the “west bank” is symbolic of the precious land of highest bliss.

言群贼恶兽诈亲者,即喻众生六根、六识、六尘、五阴、四大也。

The ruffians, wild beasts, and seeming friends are comparable to the Six Sense Organs, Six Consciousnesses, Six Dusts, Five Aggregates, and Four Elements [that constitute the “self”].

言无人空回泽者,即喻常随恶友,不值真善知识也。

The lonely wasteland is the following of bad companions and not meeting with those who are truly good and wise.

言水火二河者,即喻众生贪爱如水,瞋憎如火也。

The two rivers of fire and water are comparable to human greed and affection, like water, and anger and hatred, like fire.

言中间白道四五寸者,即喻众生贪瞋烦恼中,能生清净愿往生心也。
乃由贪瞋强故即喻水火,善心微故喻如白道。

The white path in the center, four or five inches wide, is comparable to the pure aspiration for rebirth in the Pure Land which arises in the midst of the passions of greed and anger. Greed and anger are powerful, and thus are likened to fire and water; the good mind is infinitesimal, and thus is likened to a white path [of a few inches in width].

又水波常湿道者,即喻爱心常起,能染污善心也。

The waves inundating the path are comparable to the constant arising of affectionate thoughts in the mind which stain and pollute the good mind.

又火焰常烧道者,即喻瞋嫌之心,能烧功德之法财也。

And the flames which scorch the path are comparable to thoughts of anger and hatred which burn up the treasures of the Dharma and virtue.

言人行道上直向西者,即喻回诸行业,直向西方也。

The man proceeding on the path toward the West is comparable to one who directs all of his actions and practices toward the West[ern Paradise].

言东岸闻人声劝遣,寻道直西进者,即喻释迦已灭,后人不见,由有教法可寻,即喻之如声也。

The hearing of voices from the East bank encouraging and exhorting him to pursue the path straight to the West, is like Shakyamuni Buddha, who has already disappeared from the sight of men but whose teachings may still be pursued and are therefore likened to “voices.”

言或行一分二分,群贼等唤回者,即喻别解、别行、恶见人等,妄说见解,迭相惑乱及自造罪退失也。

The calling out of the ruffians after he has taken a few steps is comparable to those of different teachings and practices and of evil views who wantonly spread their ideas to lead people astray and create disturbances, thus falling themselves into transgressions [misgivings] and losing their way.

言西岸上有人唤著,即喻弥陀愿意也。

To speak of someone calling from the West bank is comparable to the vow of Amitabha.

言须臾到西岸善友相见喜者,即喻众生久沈生死,旷劫轮回,迷倒自缠,无由解脱。
仰蒙释迦发遣指向西方。又藉弥陀悲心招唤。

Reaching the West bank, being greeted by the good friend and rejoicing there, is comparable to all those beings sunk long in the sea of birth and death, floundering [struggling] and caught in their own delusions, without any means of deliverance, who accept Shakyamuni’s testament directing them to the West and Amitabha’s compassionate call.

今信顺二尊之意,不顾水火二河,念念无遗,乘彼愿力之道,舍命已后,得生彼国,与彿相见,庆喜何极也。
又一切行者,行住坐卧,三业所修,不问昼夜时节,常作此解,常作此想,故名回向发愿心。

Now obeying trustfully the will of the two Buddhas while paying no heed to the rivers of fire and water, with devout concentration mount the road of Amitabha’s promised power and when life is over attain the other Land, where they meet the Buddha and know unending bliss. In addition, all practitioners, when walking, standing, sitting or lying down, of their three karmas’ [body, speech and mind] cultivation, no matter what day or night’s time, constantly giving rise to this understanding, constantly giving rise to this perception, thus is this named the heart [mind] of dedication and aspiration.

Share This:

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!