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The Celestial Journey to the Upside-Down Land

  • From TBN, issue 512 - 516
  • Guru's Talk: The Celestial Journey to the Upside-Down Land
  • By Living Buddha Lian Sheng, Sheng-Yen Lu
  • Translated by Cheng Yew Chung
  • Edited by TBN


(From Book #175, "A Traveling Monk")

In all my life, I had never seen creatures such as these, who looked human and yet seemed not; who had heads and torsos, yet no arms or legs. Much more unusual was that their heads were on the bottom and their torsos were on top; the crowns of their heads were flat and their heads were barely able to support the body.

When they moved, their torsos trembled, the trembling causing them to slowly move forward. It was quite inconvenient and difficult for them.

When they slept, they lay down like worms. They could move forward by rolling, but the rolling motion quickly caused wounds and bleeding over their entire bodies.

When they ate, because their heads were at the bottom of their bodies, the food would flow back and usually flow back out of their mouths. Half of what they ate flowed back out, much like vomiting.

And because they didn't have arms or legs, their naked bodies were very ugly. No matter if the weather were hot or cold, they were always naked, with no clothes to cover themselves, without any respectable appearance. When they talked, it was incoherent, and they couldn't say very much. What they did speak was only nonsense.

The creatures of this land lived very short lives. They usually had hyperemia (too much blood) in the brain, resulting in brain hemorrhages and death. They would be reborn in this land after they died, then die again, then be reborn again, over and over, repeatedly, reincarnating for no one knew how many times. Anyone who saw this would feel pity for them. Such creatures were no different than parasites.

I visited the Buddha's land, asking Buddha:

"What land was this?"

Buddha replied, "This is the Upside-Down Land. It belongs to the border district of the Hell Realm."

I asked, "What kind of karma would cause them to be reborn in this land?"

Buddha said, "The liquor makers and the ones who love to drink wine and liquor to excess are reborn here."

I was greatly shocked.

I thought about this. People who get drunk tend to get excited, display bravado, become impetuous and impulsive, don't see things clearly, lose their senses, babble, become incapacitated, vomit, and act abnormally. Drunks look exactly like this.

The Buddha said, "When I was teaching the dharma in the human world, there was an arhat named Sajato whose supernatural power could subdue poisonous dragons. But one time, he drank a glass of clear liquor mistaking it for water and he unexpectedly fell drunk and lay down in the fetid water by the side of the road. Several ugly toads hopped back and forth across his prone body.

The Buddha said that all drunkards are the same:

The one who can vanquish the poisonous dragon cannot subjugate an ugly toad.

The Buddha continued, "The drunkard never feels shame about stripping off his clothes; the drunkard never realizes what he is saying when he is scolding others. When the characteristics of the drunkard emerge, even if it is killing people or setting fires, he will dare to do them. The drunkard can have a very mean, violent behaviour. Thus, alcoholic drink can change one's personality, bringing a person to easily create any of the karmas of killing, sexual misconduct, stealing, or gossiping.

The Buddha concluded, "Alcohol can cause the ten mistakes and the thirty-six losses. The alcohol maker, the people who love to drink alcohol, the drunkards, will fall into the Upside-Down Land when they die."

Again, I felt great shock.

I asked, "How can one drink alcohol without breaking the precepts?"

The Buddha replied, "For people who can drink alcohol without getting drunk, having a drink does not violate the precepts!"

Buddha continued, "Using alcohol as medicine or to treat wounds does not violate the precepts!"

Buddha said further, "If one drinks alcohol and becomes drunk in any form, it is a sin of degeneration."

I feel that the Buddha's teaching is exactly right. If someone drinks alcohol and becomes drunk in any form, it is a sin of degeneration. The people in the world who can practice self-restraint are few; those who cannot are many. A drunkard will commonly say, "I'm not drunk, I'm not drunk, I ...... am ...... not ...... drunk!"

It is really disgraceful.

We are cultivators. We cannot casually drink medicinal alcohol because even though it is medicine, it can still make us drunk. The result is the same - the sin of degeneration. To drink alcohol for medicinal purposes, you must follow the instructions of your doctor, in moderation and with self-restraint. Then it will not violate the precept.

I visited a heaven land before. The heaven people in this heaven land drank from a running fountain of a heaven river. It had the colour of alcohol, the fragrance of alcohol, the taste of alcohol - it was celestial alcohol. The most wonderful thing was that the celestial people who drank it did not get drunk.

After drinking from this fountain, the people would feel good, they would feel full, they would feel happy. You drink from this celestial alcohol fountain but you do not become disorderly. The heaven people drink from this fountain to live; it is their only form of sustenance.

You could say that it is an Alcohol Land but without any drunk people. My belief is that every precept is based on what is in your heart. When you can practice self-control, you violate no precepts. When you cannot practice self-control, you break every precept. The Countless Dharma is created only in the "heart."

While in my retreat seclusion at Leaf Lake, I thought about the questions of alcohol and intoxication, alcohol and holy nectar. I contemplated deeply on this.

For ordinary people, when they drink liquor, it is related to having fun. Thus, the saying, "Drink and be merry!" In ancient times, when an emperor or a king or a general or prime minister of a state had a party, if there were no alcohol, there would be no fun. Alcohol has a stimulating effect and creates excitement as well. Alcohol is also often associated with women. Thus there is another saying, "Fine wine and beautiful women!" - meaning enjoying a drink of liquor while being entertained by singing or dancing women. This is exactly how many people increase their pleasure while drinking alcohol.

There is another kind of drinker. These people have a gloomy mood and are obsessed in their thoughts, and they therefore try to drown their sorrows in alcohol. But as the saying goes, it is like trying to cut water with a sword - no matter how much you slice the water, it always come back together; no matter how much you try to drown your sorrows, the sorrows always come back. The alcohol becomes an anesthetic. It is then no different from drugs.

These kinds of people who drink alcohol are the same as the people who take drugs. At the end, these kinds of people become alcoholics. To get alcoholism from drinking too much is not worthwhile.

Taking drugs can become an addiction. Drinking alcohol can become an addiction, as well. And smoking cigarettes can also become an addiction. Even drinking coffee can become an addiction. Once you are addicted, it's not easy to quit. Frankly, when you are addicted to something, you cannot be the master of your own mind. And since you cannot be your own master, how can you be a cultivator?

Some who cultivate tantrayana can drink alcohol, but to them, the alcohol becomes nectar. Actually, the nature of alcohol is neutral - not good and not bad; it depends on how you use it. If you cannot be your own master, then for you, alcohol is really a poison. If on the other hand, you can be your own master, then the alcohol is nectar.

Someone said that alcohol is a medicine that can sustain your life. As for myself, I do not object to this. If used in moderation and with self-restraint, alcohol is nectar. If you lose yourself to alcohol, it becomes a poison for you.

In harshly cold climates, people drink alcohol to keep warm. This is acceptable. Drinking alcohol to drive away the cold is acceptable, but the drinking should not be excessive and should not become an excuse.

For those people who are dead drunk, who behave crazily, who need people to carry them, who become disorderly in temper and manner, everything they do is upside-down. For such people, it would be better to not touch alcohol at all - not even a drop. Otherwise, it becomes a sin of degeneration.

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