Excerpt from ‘The Contemplation Sutra’s Commentary In Four Fascicles’:
‘The Parable Of Two Rivers And The White Path’
(by the Pure Land Tradition’s Second Patriarch Great Master Shandao)
Also [to] explain [to] all those [who aspire to be] reborn [in Amituofo’s (Amitabha Buddha) Pure Land] and others, now, even more [so for] practitioners, [I] speak [of] a parable, [for] guarding [and] protecting [all’s] faith[ful minds], to prevent [encountering of] adversities [from] external evils [and] different views.
What is it? For example, [there] is a person, [who] desires [to] walk towards [the] West [for a] hundred thousand lis. [Note: One li is a Chinese mile, which is half a kilometre.]
However, in [the] middle [of the] route, thereupon are two rivers. [The] first is [a] river [of] fire [in the] South, [the] second is [a] river [of] water [in the] North. [The] two rivers [are] each a hundred steps wide, each deep [and] without bottom, [towards the] South [and] North boundless.
Right between [the] water [and] fire, [in the middle, there] is a white path, [that is] perhaps four [to] five cuns wide. [Note: One cun is a Chinese inch, which is 3.71475 centimetres.] This path from [the] eastern shore reaches [the] western shore, [and is] also a hundred steps long.
That water’s waves cross over [and] wet the path [from one side]. That fire’s flames also come [to] burn [the] path [from the other side. The] water [and] fire cross over [each other], constantly [and] without rest.
This person then arrives [at a] spacious, empty [and] distant place, [that is] furthermore without people, [but] with many hordes [of] thieves [and] evil beasts, [who] see this person [to be] alone, [and] compete [to] come [near, with the] desire [to] kill.
This person, fearing death, runs straight towards [the] West. Suddenly seeing these great rivers, immediately [to] oneself says, ‘[To] these rivers’ South [and] North, [I do] not see [their] borders [or] banks. [In the] middle [between], appears a white path, [that] is extremely narrow. Although [the] two shores [are] close to each other, how [am I] able [to] go [across]? Today, [I will] definitely die, without [any] doubt.’
Just when desiring [to] turn back, [the] hordes [of] thieves [and] wild beasts gradually come [to] pressure. Just when desiring [to] walk [to the] South [or] North [to] escape, evil beasts [and] poisonous insects compete [to] come towards [the person] with one another. Just when desiring [to] go towards [the] West [to] follow [the] path], again, [there is] fear [of] falling [into] these two rivers [of] water [and] fire.
At that time, [the person’s] fearful terror, [can] no longer be [put in] words. Immediately personally thinking, ‘[As] I now, [if turning] back, [will] likewise die, [if] staying, [will] likewise die, [if] going, [will] likewise die, [in] one way [or another I] cannot avoid death, I would rather follow this path [to] go forward. Since [there] is this path, [I] surely should [be] able [to be] delivered.’
When having this thought, [from the] eastern shore suddenly heard [is a] person’s encouraging voice, ‘Benevolent One! Only [be] determined [to] follow this path [for] walking, [and you] will [be] without [the] adversity [of] death. If staying, [there] is [surely] death.’
Also, on [the] western shore, [there] is [a] person [who] invitingly says, ‘[If] you wholeheartedly [i.e. single-mindedly with] right mindfulness come straight [and directly without delay], I [will be] able [to] protect you, [to] totally [be] without fear [of the] adversity [of] falling into [the] water [or] fire.’
This person, since hearing this [person’s] sending [and] that [person’s] inviting, immediately personally straightens right body and mind, determined [to] follow [the] path straight [to] advance, not giving rise [to the] doubtful, fearful [or] retreating mind.
Perhaps [having] walked one part [or] two parts, [the] eastern shore’s hordes [of] thieves [and] others invitingly say, ‘Benevolent One, come back! This path [is] dangerous [and] must not [be] crossed, [or you] will without doubt die. We [and] others [are] totally without evil minds towards [you].’
This person, although hearing [their] inviting voices, also [does] not look back, [only] wholeheartedly [and] straightforwardly advancing, mindful [of the] path [when] walking.
In a moment, immediately reached [is the] western shore, forever departed [from] all adversities. [With] good friend[s] meeting one another, [there is] celebratory bliss without end. This [above] is [the] parable.
[To] speak [of the] ‘western shore’, [it] is [an] analogy [for the] treasure[-filled Pure] Land [Of] Ultimate Bliss.
[To] speak [of] ‘hordes [of] thieves [and] evil beasts feigning [as] relatives’, [they] are analogies [for] sentient beings’ Six Roots, Six Consciousnesses, Six Dusts, Five Aggregates [and] Four Great [Elements].
[To] speak [of the] ‘marsh without people, empty [and] distant’, [it] is [an] analogy [for] always [being] accompanied [by] evil friends, [who are] not [as] worthy [as] true good-knowing friends.
[To] speak [of the] ‘two rivers [of] water [and] fire, [they] are analogies [for] sentient beings’ greedy attachment [that is] like water, [and] hateful aversion [that is] like fire.
[To] speak [of the] ‘white path between, [in the middle, of] four [to] five cuns’, [it] is [an] analogy [that] within sentient beings’ afflictions [of] attachment [and] aversion, [they are] able [to] give rise [to the] pure mind [with] Aspiration [i.e. Vow to be] reborn [in Pure Land]. Yet, due to attachment [and] aversion [being] strong thus, [this] is [an] analogy [that they are] like water [and] fire, [while the] good mind [is] weak thus, [as an] analogy, like [the narrow] white path.
Moreover, ‘waves constantly wetting [the] path’, is [an] analogy [for the] mind [of] attachment constantly arising, [that is] able [to] contaminate [and] defile [the] good mind.
Moreover, ‘flames constantly burning [the] path’, is [an] analogy [for the] mind [of] aversion [and] hatred, [that is] able [to] burn [the] Dharma wealth of meritorious virtues.
[To] speak [of the] ‘person walking on [the] path straight towards [the] West’, [it] is [an] analogy [for] dedicating [all] practices’ [positive] karma straight [i.e. directly] towards [birth in the] Western [Pure Land].
[To] speak [of from the] ‘eastern shore hearing [a] person’s voice encouraging [and] sending [to] follow [the] path straight [to] advance [to the] West’, [it] is [an] analogy [for] Sakya[muni Buddha, who has] already [manifested] Parinirvana, [with] later generations [of people] not seeing [him, but] still with [his] scriptural Dharma [teachings that] can be followed, which] is by analogy like [the] voice.
[To] speak [of] ‘perhaps [having] walked one part [or] two parts, [the] hordes [of] thieves and others inviting [to come] back’, [it] is [an] analogy [for] other understanding, other practices, people [with] evil views [and] others, [who] falsely speak [their] views [and] understanding, [leading] one after another [to be] confused [and] scattered, and [to] personally create transgressions, [to] retreat [from and] lose [their path].
[To] speak [of the] ‘western shore [with a] person inviting’, [it] is [an] analogy [for] Amituofo’s vow’s meaning [i.e. to receive and guide all to his Pure Land].
[To] speak [of] ‘in a moment reaching [the] western shore, [with] joy [of] good friends meeting one another’, [it] is [an] analogy [for] sentient beings [being] long sunken [in the sea of] birth [and] death, [since] distant kalpas reborn, confused [and] inverted, personally bound [by afflictions], without means [for] liberation. [They] rely upon [and] receive Sakyamuni [Buddha]’s sending off, [by] pointing towards [the] Western [Pure Land], also relying upon Amituofo’s compassionate heart’s beckoning call [to be mindful of him].
Now faithfully according with [the] two [World-]Honoured [Ones’] intentions, [while] not regarding [the] two rivers [of] water [and] fire, [with] thought to thought without omission [in sincere mindfulness of Amituofo], riding [upon the] path [of] that power of Aspiration [i.e. Amituofo’s vow to receive and guide us, and our vow to reach his Pure Land], after renouncing [this] life, [having] attained birth [in] that [Pure] Land, with [the] Buddha meeting together, what ultimate celebratory joy [there will be].
(Retranslated by Shen Shi’an on 13 December 2017)