[31] Record Of A Venerable Identifying A Fake Bodhisattva 和尚辨认假菩萨记

[Although the following is not a Pure Land testimony, its Dharma principles are important to all, including Pure Land practitioners.]

Venerable Dà’ān


[When] Táng [Dynasty’s Empress Wǔ] Zétiān [was] in reign (690-705), [there] was [a] woman [who] self-claimed [to be a] ‘holy Bodhisattva’. [Of] where [a] person’s mind is, [the] woman [said she] definitely knows it.


[The] Empress Dowager [then] summoned [her to] enter [the] palace. [With] that before [and] after said all verified, [those] within [the] palace respectfully served her. [After] several months, [she was] called to be [a] ‘true Bodhisattva’.


Afterwards, [when] Venerable Dà’ān entered [the] palace, [the] Empress Dowager asked [if he had] met [the] female ‘Bodhisattva’ yet. [Venerable Dà’]ān said, ‘Where is [the] “Bodhisattva”? [I] wish [to have] a meeting [with] her.’


[She] issued [an] edict [for him] and her [to] meet each other. [Upon meeting, the] Venerable’s expression [looked] distant. [After] a long time, [Venerable] Dà’ān said, ‘[Can] you kindly see [my] mind, [to] try [and] see where my mind is?’


[She] answered, ‘[The] master’s mind [is] within [the] pagoda peak’s stacked rings’ side bells.’ [When] again immediately asked, [she] said, ‘[It is] at Tuṣita Heaven’s Maitreya Palace within listening [to the] Dharma.’ [The] third [time] asking her, [she said it is] at [the] Heaven [Of Non-Perception And] No Non-Perception. [As] all [were] as she said, [the] Empress Dowager [was] delighted.

[Note 1: To check if she could really read minds as claimed, and how much she could do it, the Venerable asked questions with increasing levels of difficulty. Thus, he first placed his mind within the visible human world, followed by an unseen higher heavenly plane in the Desire Realm (欲界), and the unseeable highest heaven in the Formless Realm (无色界).]


[Venerable] Dà’ān thereupon placed [his] mind on [the] Fourth Fruit’s Arhat’s ground, then [with it] not able [to be] known [by her. Venerable] Dà’ān scolded, ‘[When] my mind [was] just now placed [on the] ground of Arhats, you already [did] not know [where it was]. If placed on [the] grounds of Bodhisattvas [and] all Buddhas, how [can] you assess [it]?’

[Note 2: To further check, the Venerable placed his mind beyond the Three Realms (三界). Although he did not claim so, to be able to do so means he is already at least an Arhat, who is liberated from the Three Realms. If the woman could discern up to the highest Formless Heaven (无色界天), it means she could meditate to that level, though not yet liberated from it. This is known by her not being able to go beyond it, to see where the Venerable’s mind was.

Thus, the Venerable suggested that if he placed his mind higher at the level of Bodhisattvas (and Buddhas), she would all the more not be able to find it. This proved that she is not a true Bodhisattva as claimed, (or even an Arhat), as Bodhisattvas, being at a higher level, would be able to see the minds of Arhats, (and Arhats would be able to see the minds of Arhats).]

[Note 3: As taught by the Buddha in the ‘Śūraṅgama Sūtra: Section On Clear Instructions For Purity: Passage On False Speech’(《楞严经》:清净明诲章:妄语篇):

The ’Verses On Ordinary And Noble Beings‘ below explain this sūtra passage.]


‘After my Parinirvāṇa, I order all Bodhisattvas and Arhats, to manifest bodies to be born within that Dharma-Ending Age, to become all kinds of forms, to deliver all from rebirth. Perhaps becoming Śramaṇas, white-robed laypersons, kings, officials, young males and young females. As such, and even as licentious women, widows, adulterers, thieves, butchers and peddlers, with them together working, praising the Buddha Vehicle, to enable their bodies and minds to enter Samādhi. To the end, not self-saying, “I am a true Bodhisattva, a true Arhat”, to divulge the Buddha’s secret cause, to lightly speak so to those yet to learn. Only except at life’s end, secretly having that left for entrusting. Why would these persons, confuse sentient beings, by accomplishing great false speech?’

The Buddha instructed that truly manifested Arhats and Bodhisattvas must never disclose their actual identities, especially in this Dharma-Ending Age. This is to prevent anyone from attracting followers simply with open yet false claims of being enlightened, instead of attracting with the pure Dharma and their good personal examples in practice.

This means anyone who claims to be enlightened or a manifestation of the enlightened, is straightaway a fraud, who is craving for ongoing fame and gain, while going against the Buddha’s teachings. Such is great false speech (大妄语), the speakers of whom are bound for the lowest hell.]

[Note 4: Even if able to do so, there is no value in having anyone read our minds to know what we are thinking about now – since we already know what is going on! Also, claims about what happened to us in the distant past cannot be verified, just as claims about what will happen to us in the future cannot be checked now. Even if what said about our past is true, it could simply be known by reading our minds, again telling us what we already know, while not sharing any new wisdom.

It would be better to cultivate more mindfulness of our own minds now, so as to not be carried away by delusional greed for knowing more than what we should reasonably know. If even the shrewd and powerful Empress Dowager could be carried away by falsehood, we might too, if not mindful!]


[The] woman said [she] yielded, [as she] changed into [a] female fox, [went] down [the] stairs and walked [away], not knowing where [she] went.

[Note 5: Thus, the woman was a fox spirit (狐狸精) in disguise. This is a hybrid of an animal and a ghostly demon, capable of training to have some supernormal powers, such as shapeshifting. She was lying elaborately to impress and trick the Empress Dowager, the Venerable and others, to win their trust for reasons unknown, probably for wealth, fame and power through the most powerful person in the land. Perhaps the course of ancient China’s history would have irrevocably changed for the worse if the Venerable did not intervene!]

[Note 6: Perhaps a good way to check if someone is ‘enlightened’ as claimed is to study profound aspects of the Dharma so well, that inability of the claimant to answer questions about them would swiftly show how unrealised and unlearned the person is. If the person might be able to read minds to know how to answer them, this article can be shared, to ask the person to share further thoughts and insights on the Buddha’s teachings above. With the sūtra excerpt being part of the Buddhist ‘Demon-Reflection Mirror’ (照妖镜), there will be unwillingness of liars to reflect upon themselves with it. Doing so will reveal their ‘demonic’ identities.]

From ‘Extensive Records [Of The] Strange’
唐 •
Compiled [by] Táng [Dynasty’s] Dài Fú

Extensive Records [Of The] Tàipíng [Era]
Compiled [by] Sòng [Dynasty’s] Lǐ Fǎng, et al

Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an

Related Precept:

The Buddha’s Admonition Against Making False Spiritual Claims

Related Verses:

Verses On The Buddha’s Order

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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