The Parable Of Two Rivers And The White Path 二河白道喻

(净土宗二祖善导大师著: 613-681)

Excerpt from ‘Commentary [On The] Contemplation Sūtra [In] Four Fascicles’:
‘The Parable Of Two Rivers And The White Path’

(Pure Land Tradition’s Second Patriarch Great Master Shàndǎo)


Also [to] explain [to] all those [who aspire to be] reborn [in Āmítuófó’s (Amitā[bha] 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 lǐs. [Note: One lǐ 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 cùns wide. [Note: One cùn 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 uprights body and mind, [with] determination [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.


Next, [is to] fit [the] analogies. [To] speak [of the] ‘eastern shore’, [it] is [an] analogy [for] this Sahā World’s burning house.


[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 cùns’, [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] Śākya[muni Buddha, who has] already [manifested] Parinirvāṇa, [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 Ā]mítuó[fó’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 Śākya[muni Buddha]’s sending off, [by] pointing towards [the] Western [Pure Land], also relying upon [Ā]mítuó[fó’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 Āmítuófó], riding [upon the] path [of] that power of Aspiration [i.e. Āmítuófó’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].


Also, all practitioners, [when] moving, standing, sitting, [and] lying down, [their] three karmas that [were] cultivated, without regard [of, in] day [or] night, [or] duration [of] time, often creating this understanding, often creating this thinking, thus [is this] named [the] ‘mind [of] dedication [of meritorious virtues with] giving rise [of] Aspiration’.


Also, speaking [of] ‘dedication’, those born [in] that land already, still give rise [to] great compassion, [and] return [to] enter [liberated, into the cycle of] births [and] deaths, [to] teach [and] transform sentient beings. [This] likewise [is] named ‘dedication’ [i.e. literally ‘turning back towards’].


[With the] Three Minds then complete, [is with] no practice not accomplished.


[With] Aspiration [and] Practice then complete, if [there are] those not born, [it] is without this possibility.


Also, these Three Minds likewise connect [and] gather [the] meaning of concentrated goodness. [This] should [be] known.

Related Articles:

What Is Utmost Sincere Mind Of The Three Minds?

What Is Profound Mind Of The Three Minds?

What Is ‘Mind Of Dedication & Giving Rise Of Aspiration’ Of The Three Minds?

Namo Amituofo : Translation by Shen Shi’an
(13 December 2017 & 3 February 2019)

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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