What are signs of the dharma-ending age according to the sutras and is there a solution?
Below is "Exhortation to Protect and Propagate" by Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua, prefacing the "Shurangama Sutra."
Within Buddhism, there are very many important sutras. However, the most important Sutra is the Shurangama Sutra. If there are places which have the Shurangama Sutra, then the Proper Dharma dwells in the world. If there is no Shurangama Sutra, then the Dharma Ending Age appears. Therefore, we Buddhist disciples, each and every one, must bring our strength, must bring our blood, and must bring our sweat to protect the Shurangama Sutra. In the Sutra of the Ultimate Extinction of the Dharma, it says very, very clearly that in the Dharma Ending Age, the Shurangama Sutra is the first to disappear, and the rest of the sutras disappear after it. If the Shurangama Sutra does not disappear, then the Proper Dharma Age is present. Because of that, we Buddhist disciples must use our lives to protect the Shurangama Sutra, must use vows and resolution to protect the Shurangama Sutra, and cause the Shurangama Sutra to be known far and wide, reaching every nook and cranny, reaching into each and every dust-mote, reaching out to the exhaustion of empty space and of the Dharma Realm. If we can do that, then there will be a time of Proper Dharma radiating great light.
Why would the Shurangama Sutra be destroyed? It is because it is too true. The Shurangama Sutra is the Buddha’s true body. The Shurangama Sutra is the Buddha’s sharira. The Shurangama Sutra is the Buddha’s true and actual stupa and shrine. Therefore, because the Shurangama Sutra is so true, all the demon kings use all kinds of methods to destroy the Shurangama Sutra. They begin by starting rumors, saying that the Shurangama Sutra is phony. Why do they say the Shurangama Sutra is phony? It is because the Shurangama Sutra speaks too truly, especially in the sections on The Four Decisive Deeds, the Twenty-five Sages Describing Perfect Penetration, and the States of the Fifty Skandha Demons. Those of off-center persuasions and externally-oriented ways, weird demons and strange freaks, are unable to stand it. Consequently there are a good many senseless people who claim that the Shurangama Sutra is a forgery.
Now, the principles set forth in the Shurangama Sutra are on the one hand proper, and on the other in accord with principle, and the weird demons and strange freaks, those in various cults and sects, all cannot hide away their forms. Most senseless people, in particular unwise scholars and garbage-collecting professors “Tread upon the holy writ.” With their extremely scant and partial understanding, they are confused and unclear, lacking real erudition and true and actual wisdom. That is why they falsely criticize. We who study the Buddhadharma should very deeply be aware of these circumstances. Therefore, wherever we go, we should bring up the Shurangama Sutra. Wherever we go, we should propagate the Shurangama Sutra. Wherever we go, we should introduce the Shurangama Sutra to people. Why is that? It is because we wish to cause the Proper Dharma long to dwell in the world.
If the Shurangama Sutra is regarded as true, then there is no problem. To verify its truth, let me say that if the Shurangama Sutra were phony, then I would willingly fall into the hells forever through all eternity—for being unable to recognize the Buddhadharma—for mistaking the false for true. If the Shurangama Sutra is true, then life after life in every time I make the vow to propagate the Great Dharma of the Shurangama, that I shall in every time and every place propagate the true principles of the Shurangama.
Everyone should pay attention to the following point. How could the Shurangama Sutra not have been spoken by the Buddha? No one else could have spoken the Shurangama Sutra. And so I hope that all those people who make senseless accusations will wake up fast and stop creating the causes for suffering in the Hell of Pulling Out Tongues. No matter who the scholar is, no matter what country students of the Buddhadharma are from, all should quickly mend their ways, admit their mistakes, and manage to change. There is no greater good than that. I can then say that all who look at the Shurangama Sutra, all who listen to the Shurangama Sutra, and all who investigate the Shurangama Sutra, will very quickly accomplish Buddhahood.
Composed by Gold Mountain Shramana Tripitaka Master Hua Translated by Bhikshuni Heng Hsien Reviewed by Shramanerika Heng Wen
The answer to the first part of the question is provided in the sutra that is mentioned in bold in the above quote.
Below is the sutra:
The Buddha Speaks the Ultimate Extinction of the Dharma Sutra
Thus I have heard. At one time the Buddha was in the state of Kushinagara. The Tathagata was to enter nirvana within three months and the bhikshus and Bodhisattvas as well as the great multitude of beings had come to pay homage to the Buddha and to bow in reverence. The World Honored One was tranquil and silent. He spoke not a word and his light did not appear. Worthy Ananda bowed and asked the Buddha,
”0 Bhagavan, heretofore whenever you spoke the Dharma, awesome light would naturally appear. Yet today among this great assembly there is no such radiance. There must be a good cause for this and we wish to hear the Bhagavan’s explanation.”
The Buddha remained silent and did not answer until the request had been repeated three times. He then told Ananda,
”After I enter nirvana, when the Dharma is about to perish, during the evil age of the five turbidities, the way of demons will flourish. Demonic beings will become shramanas; they will pervert and destroy my teachings. Monastics will wear the garb of laypersons and will prefer handsome clothes. Their precept sashes will be made of multi-colored cloth. They will use intoxicants, eat meat, kill other beings and they will indulge in their desire for flavorful food. They will lack compassion and they will bear hatred and exhibit jealousy even among themselves.
”Even then Bodhisattvas, Pratyekabuddhas, and Arhats will reverently and diligently cultivate immaculate virtue. They will be respected by all people and their teachings will be fair and egalitarian. These cultivators of the Way will take pity on the poor, they will be mindful of the aged, and they will save and give counsel to those people they find in difficult circumstances. They will at all times exhort others to worship and to protect sutras and images of the Buddha. They will do meritorious deeds, be resolute and kind, and never harm others. They will make physical sacrifices for others’ benefit. They will hold no great regard for themselves but will be patient, yielding, humane, and peaceful.
”As long as such people exist, the hordes of demonic bhikshus will be jealous of them. The demons will harass them, slander and defame them, expel them from their midst and degrade them. They will ostracize the good monks from the monastic community. Thereafter these demons derive no virtue from their practice. Their monastic buildings will be vacant and overgrown with weeds. For want of care and maintenance their Way-places will drift into ruin and oblivion. The demonic bhikshus will increase their greed for wealth and will amass great heaps of goods. They will refuse to distribute any of it or to use it to gain blessings and virtue.
”At this time, the evil monks will buy and sell slaves to till their fields and to slash and burn the mountain forests. They will do harm to living creatures and they will feel not the least bit of compassion. These slaves will themselves become bhikshus and maidservants will become bhikshunis. Totally lacking in Way-virtue, these people will run amok, indulging in licentious behavior. In their turbid confusion they will fail to separate the men from the women in the monastic communities.
From this generation on, the Way will be weakened. Fugitives from the law will seek refuge in my Way, wishing to be shramanas but failing to observe the moral regulations. Monastics will continue to recite the precepts twice a month, but in name alone. Being lazy and lax, no one will want to listen any longer. These evil shramanas will be unwilling to recite the sutras in their entirety and they will make abbreviations at the beginning and at the end of the texts as they please. Soon the practice of reciting sutras will stop altogether. Even if there are people who recite texts, they will be unlettered, unqualified people who will insist, nonetheless, that they are correct. Bumptious, arrogant, and vain, these people will seek fame and glory. They will put on airs in the hope of attracting offerings from other people.
”When the lives of these demonic bhikshus come to an end their essential spirits will fall into the Avichi Hell. Having committed the five evil deeds, they will suffer successive rebirths as hungry ghosts and as animals. They will know all such states of woe as they pass on through eons as numerous as sands on the banks of the Ganges River. When their offenses are accounted for they will be reborn in a border land where the Triple Jewel is unknown.
”When the Dharma is about to disappear, women will become vigorous and will at all times do deeds of virtue. Men will grow lax and will no longer speak the Dharma. Those who are genuine shramanas will be looked upon as dung and no one will have faith in them. When the Dharma is about to perish, all the gods will begin to weep. Rivers will dry up and the five grains will not ripen. Pestilences will frequently take millions of lives. The masses will toil and suffer while the local officials will plot and scheme. No one will adhere to principles. Instead, the human race will multiply, becoming like the sands of the ocean-bed.
Good persons will be hard to find; at most there will be one or two. As the eon comes to a close, the revolutions of the sun and the moon will grow short and the lifespan of people will decrease. Their hair will turn white by the time they are forty. Because of excessive licentious behavior they will quickly exhaust their seminal fluids and will die at a young age, usually before sixty years. As the lifespan of males decreases, that of females will increase to seventy, eighty, ninety, or one hundred years.
”The mighty rivers will flood and lose harmony with their natural cycles, yet people will not take notice or feel concern. Extremes of climate will soon be taken for granted. Beings of all races will mix together at random, without regard for the noble and the mean. Their births and rebirths will cause them to sink and float, like feeding aquatic creatures.
”Even then Bodhisattvas, Pratyekabuddhas, and Arhats will gather together in an unprecedented assembly because they will all have been harried and pursued by the hordes of demons. They will no longer dwell in the assemblies but the Three Vehicles will retreat to the wilderness. In a tranquil place they will find shelter, happiness, and long life. Gods will protect them and the moon will shine down upon them. The Three Vehicles will have an opportunity to meet together and the Way will flourish.
However, within fifty-two years the Shurangama Sutra and the Pratyutpanna [Standing Buddha] Samadhi, will be the first to change and then to disappear. The twelve divisions of the canon will gradually follow until they vanish completely, never to appear again. Its words and texts will be totally unknown ever after. The precept sashes of shramanas will turn white of themselves. When my Dharma disappears it will be just like an oil lamp that flares brightly for an instant just before it goes out. So too, will the Dharma flare and die. After this time it is difficult to speak with certainty of what will follow.
”A period of ten million years will follow before the time when Maitreya is about to appear in the world to become the next Buddha. At that time the planet will be entirely peaceful. Evil vapors will have dissipated, rain will be ample and regular, and crops will grow abundantly. Trees will grow to a great height and people will grow to be eighty feet tall. The average lifespan will extend to 84,000 years. It will be impossible to count all the beings who will be taken across to liberation.”
Worthy Ananda addressed the Buddha, “What should we call this Sutra and how shall we uphold it?”
The Buddha said, “Ananda, this sutra is called The Ultimate Extinction of the Dharma. Tell everyone to propagate it widely; the merit of your actions will be measureless, beyond reckoning.”
When the four-fold assembly of disciples heard this sutra they grieved and wept. Each of them resolved to attain the true path of the Supreme Sage. Then bowing to the Buddha, they withdrew.
End of The Buddha Speaks the Ultimate Extinction of the Dharma Sutra.
From the Seng You Records, translator anonymous. Appended to the Song Annals.
Is there a solution?
The solution once again is as Master Hsuan Hua says in the top-most quote: to protect the first to disappear sutra: The Surangama Sutra.
It is a gem of an exegesis of the Shakyamuni's original teachings and a consummating addition to Theravadin sutras...