Part 1 (including chapters from 1 to 4)

Translator: Burton Watson

 

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

     This is what I heard:

At one time the Buddha was in Rajagriha, staying on Mount Gridhrakuta. Accompanying him were a multitude of leading monks numbering twelve thousand persons. All were arhats whose outflows had come to an end, who had no more earthly desires, who had attained what was to their advantage and had put an end to the bonds of existence, and whose minds had achieved a state of freedom.

Their names were Ajnata Kaundinya, Mahakashyapa, Uruvilvakashyapa, Gayakashyapa, Nadikashyapa, Shariputra, Great Maudgaly~yana, Mahakatyayana, Aniruddha, Kapphina, Gavampati, Revata, Pilindavatsa, Bakkula, Mahakaushthila, Nanda, Sundarananda, Purna Maitrayaniputra, Subhuti, Ananda, and Rahula. All were like these, great Arhats who were well known to others.

There were also two thousand persons, some of whom were still learning and some who had completed their learning.

There was the nun Mahaprajapati with her six thousand followers. And there was Rahula’‘‘s mother, the nun Yashodhara, with her followers.

There were bodhisattvas and mahasattvas, eighty thousand of them, none of them ever regressing in their search for anuttara-samyaksambodhi. All had gained dharanis, delighted in preaching, were eloquent, and turned the wheel of the Law that knows no regression. They had made offerings to immeasurable hundreds and thousands of Buddhas, in the presence of various Buddhas had planted numerous roots of virtue, had been constantly praised by the Buddhas, had trained themselves in compassion, were good at entering the Buddha wisdom, and had fully penetrated the great wisdom and reached the farther shore. Their fame had spread throughout immeasurable worlds and they were able to save countless hundreds of thousands of living beings.

Their names were Bodhisattva Manjushri, Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World’‘‘s Sounds, Bodhisattva Gainer of Great Authority, Bodhisattva Constant Exertion, Bodhisattva Never Resting, Bodhisattva Jeweled Palm, Bodhisattva Medicine King, Bodhisattva Brave Donor, Bodhisattva Jeweled Moon, Bodhisattva Moonlight, Bodhisattva Full Moon, Bodhisattva Great Strength, Bodhisattva Immeasurable Strength, Bodhisattva Transcending the Threefold World, Bodhisattva Bhadrapala, Bodhisattva Maitreya, Bodhisattva Jeweled Accumulation, and Bodhisattva Guiding Leader. Bodhisattvas and mahasattvas such as these numbering eighty thousand were in attendance.

At that time Shakra Devanam Indra with his followers, twenty thousand sons of gods, also attended. There were also the sons of gods Rare Moon, Pervading Fragrance, Jeweled Glow, and the Four Great Heavenly Kings, along with their followers, ten thousand sons of gods.

Present were the sons of gods Freedom and Great Freedom and their followers, thirty thousand sons of gods, Present were King Brahma, lord of the saha world, the great Brahma Shikhin, and the great Brahma Light Bright, and their followers, twelve thousand sons of gods.

There were eight dragon kings, the dragon king Nanda, the dragon king Upananda, the dragon king Sagara, the dragon king Vasuki, the dragon king Takshaka, the dragon king Anavatapta, the dragon king Manasvin, the dragon king Utpalaka, each with several hundreds of thousands of followers.

There were four kimnara kings, the kimnara king Great Law, and the kimnara king Upholding the Law, each with several hundreds of thousands of followers.

There were four gandharva kings, and gandharva king Pleasant, the gandharva king Pleasant Sound, the gandharva Beautiful Sound, each with several hundreds of thousands of followers.

There were four asura kings, the asura king Balin, the asura king Kharaskandha, the asura king Vemachitrin, and the asura king Rahu, each with several hundreds of thousands of followers.

There were four garuda kings, the garuda king Great Majesty, the garuda king Great Body, the garuda king Great Fullness, and the garuda king As One Wishes, each with several hundreds of thousands of followers. And there was King Ajatashatru, the son of Vaidehi, with several hundreds of thousands of followers.

Each of these, after bowing in obeisance before the Buddha’‘‘s feet, withdrew and took a seat to one side.

At that time the World-Honored One, surrounded by the four kinds of believers, received offerings and tokens of respect and was honored and praised. And for the sake of the bodhisattvas he preached the Great Vehicle sutra entitle Immeasurable Meanings, a Law to instruct the bodhisattvas, one that is guarded and kept in mind by the Buddhas.

When the Buddha had finished preaching this Sutra, he sat with his legs crossed in lotus position and entered into the samadhi of the place of immeasurable meanings, his body and mind never moving. At that time heaven rained down mandarava flowers, great mandarava flowers, manjushaka flowers, and great manjushaka flowers, scattering them over the Buddha and over the great assembly, and everywhere the Buddha world quaked and trembled in six different ways.

At that time the monks, nuns, laymen, laywomen, heavenly beings, dragons, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, human and nonhuman beings in the assembly, as well as the petty kings and wheel-turning sage kings - all those in the great assembly, having gained what they had never had before, were filled with joy and, pressing their palms together, gazed at the Buddha with a single mind.

At that time the Buddha emitted a ray of light from the tuft of white hair between his eyebrows, one of his characteristic features, lighting up eighteen thousand worlds in the eastern direction. There was no place that the light did not penetrate, reaching downward as far as the Avichi hell and upward to the Akanishtha heaven.

From this world one could see the living beings in the six paths of existence in all of those other lands. One could likewise see the Buddhas present at that time in those other lands and could hear the sutra teachings which those Buddhas were expounding. At the same time one could see the monks, nuns laymen, and laywomen who had carried out religious practices and attained the way. One could also see the bodhisattvas and mahasattvas who, through various causes and conditions and various types of faith and understanding and in various forms and aspects were carrying out the way of the bodhisattva. And one could also see the Buddhas who had entered parinirvana, towers adorned with the seven treasures were erected for the Buddha relics.

At that time the Bodhisattva Maitreya had this thought: Now the World-Honored One has manifested these miraculous signs. But what is the cause of these auspicious portents? Now the Buddha, the World Honored One, has entered into samadhi. An unfathomable event such as this is seldom to be met with. Whom shall I question about this? Who can give me an answer?

And again he had this thought: this Manjushri, son of a Dharma King, has already personally attended and given offerings to immeasurable numbers of Buddhas in the past. Surely he must see these rare signs. I will now question him.

At this time the monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen, as well as the heavenly beings, dragons, spirits, and the others all had this thought: this beam of brightness from the Buddha, these signs of transcendental powers - now whom shall we question about them?

At that time Bodhisattva Maitreya wished to settle his doubts concerning the matter. And in addition he could see what was in the minds of the four kinds of believers, the monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen, as well as the heavenly beings, dragons, spirits and the others who made up the assembly. So he questioned Manjushri, saying, What is the cause of these auspicious portents, these signs of transcendental powers, this emitting of a great beam of brightness that illumines the eighteen thousand lands in the eastern direction so we can see all the adornments of the Buddha worlds there?

Then Bodhisattva Maitreya, wishing to state his meaning once more, asked the question in verse form:

Manjushri,

Why from the white tuft between the eyebrows
of our leader and teacher
does this great light shine all around?
Why do mandarava
and manjushaka flowers rain down
and breezes scented with sandalwood
delight the hearts of the assembly?
Because of these
the earth is everywhere adorned and purified
and this world
quakes and trembles in six different ways.
At this time the four kinds of believers
are all filled with joy and delight,
they rejoice in body and mind,
having gained what they never had before.
The beam of brightness from between the eyebrows
illumines the eastern direction
and eighteen thousand lands
are all the color of gold.
From the Avichi hell
upward to the Summit of Being,
throughout the various worlds
the living beings in the six paths,
the realm to which their births and deaths are tending,
their good and bad deeds,
and the pleasing or ugly recompense they receive -
all these can be seen from here.
We can also see Buddhas,
those sage lords, lions,
expounding and preaching sutras
that are subtle, wonderful and foremost.
Their voices are clear and pure,
issuing in soft and gentle sounds,
as they teach bodhisattvas
in numberless millions.
Their Brahma sounds are profound and wonderful,
making people delight in hearing them.
Each in his own world
preaches the correct Law,
following various causes and conditions
and employing immeasurable similes,
illuminating the Law of the Buddha,
guiding living beings to enlightenment.
If a person should encounter troubles,
loathing old age, sickness and death,
the Buddhas preach to him on nirvana,
explaining how he may put an end to all troubles.
If a person should have good fortune,
having in the past made offerings to the Buddhas,
determined to seek a superior Law,
the Buddhas preach the way of the pratyekabuddha.
If there should be Buddha sons
who carry out various religious practices,
seeking to attain the unsurpassed wisdom,
the Buddhas preach the way of purity.
Manjushri,
I have been dwelling here,
seeing and hearing in this manner
many things numbering in the thousands of millions.
Numerous as they are,
I will now speak of them in brief.
I see in these lands
bodhisattvas numerous as Ganges sands,
according with various causes and conditions
and seeking the way of the Buddha.
Some of them give alms,
gold, silver, coral,
pears, mani jewels,
seashell, agate,
diamonds and other rarities,
men and women servants, carriages,
jeweled hand carriages and palanquins,
gladly presenting these donations.
Such gifts they give to the Buddha way,
desiring to achieve the vehicle
that is foremost in the threefold world
and praised by the Buddhas.
There are some bodhisattvas
who give jeweled carriages drawn by teams of four,
with railings and flowered canopies
adorning their top and sides.
Again I see bodhisattvas
who give their own flesh, hands and feet,
or their wives and children,
seeking the unsurpassed way.
I also see bodhisattvas
who happily give
heads, eyes, bodies and limbs
in their search for the Buddha wisdom.
Manjushri,
I see kings
going to visit the place of the Buddha
to ask him about the unsurpassed way.
They put aside their happy lands,
their palaces, their men and women attendants,
shave their hair and beard
and don the clothes of the Dharma.
Or I see bodhisattvas
who become monks,
living alone in quietude,
delighting in chanting the sutras.
Again I see bodhisattvas
bravely and vigorously exerting themselves,
entering the deep mountains,
their thoughts on the Buddha way.
And I see them removing themselves from desire,
constantly dwelling in emptiness and stillness,
advancing deep into the practice of mediation
until they have gained the five transcendental powers.
And I see bodhisattvas
resting in meditation, palms pressed together,
with a thousand, ten thousand verses
praising the king of the doctrines.
Again I see bodhisattvas,
profound in wisdom, firm in purpose,
who know how to question the Buddhas
and accept and abide by all they hear.
I see Buddha sons
proficient in both meditation and wisdom,
who use immeasurable numbers of similes
to expound the Law to the assembly,
delighting in preaching the Law,
converting the bodhisattvas,
defeating the legions of the devil
and beating the Dharma drum.
And I see bodhisattvas
profoundly still and silent,
honored by heavenly beings and dragons
but not counting that a joy.
And I see bodhisattvas
living in forests, emitting light,
saving those who suffer in hell,
causing them to enter the Buddha way.
And I see Buddha sons
who have never once slept,
who keep circling through the forest
diligently seeking the Buddha way.
And I see those who observe the precepts,
no flaw in their conduct,

pure as jewels and gems,
and in that manner seeking the Buddha way.
And I see Buddha sons
abiding in the strength of fortitude,
taking the abuse and blows
of persons of overbearing arrogance,
willing to suffer all these,
and in that manner seeking the Buddha way.
I see bodhisattvas
removing themselves form frivolity and laughter
and from foolish companions,
befriending persons of wisdom,
unifying their minds, dispelling confusion,
ordering their thoughts in mountain and forest
for a million, a thousand, ten thousand years
in that manner seeking the Buddha way.
Or I see bodhisattvas
with delicious things to eat and drink
and a hundred kinds of medicinal potions,
offering them to the Buddha and his monks;
fine robes and superior garments
costing in the thousands or ten thousands,
or robes that are beyond cast,
offering them to the Buddha and his monks;
a thousand, ten thousand, a million kinds
of jeweled dwellings made of sandalwood
and numerous wonderful articles of bedding,
offering them to the Buddha and his monks;
immaculate gardens and groves
where flowers and fruit abound,
flowing springs and bathing pools,
offering them to the Buddha and his monks;
offerings of this kind,
or many different wonderful varieties
presented gladly and without regret
as they seek the unsurpassed way.
Or there are bodhisattvas
who expound the Law of tranquil extinction,
giving different types of instruction
to numberless living beings.
Or I see bodhisattvas
viewing the nature of all phenomena
as having no dual characteristics,
as being like empty space.
And I see Buddha sons
whose minds have no attachments,
who use this wonderful wisdom
to seek the unsurpassed way.

Manjushri,
there are also bodhisattvas
who after the Buddha has passed into extinction
make offerings to his relics.
I see Buddha sons
building memorial towers
as numberless as Ganges sands,
ornamenting each land with them,
jeweled towers lofty and wonderful,
five thousand yojanas high,
their width and depth
exactly two thousand yojanas,
each of these memorial towers
with its thousand banners and streamers,
with curtains laced with gems like dewdrops
and jeweled bells chiming harmoniously.
There heavenly beings, dragons, spirits,
human and nonhuman beings,
with incense, flowers and music
constantly making offerings.
Manjushri,
these Buddha sons
in order to make offerings to the relics
adorn the memorial towers
so that each land, just as it is,
is as outstandingly wonderful and lovely
as the heavenly king of trees
when its flowers open and unfold.
When the Buddha emits a beam of light
I and the other members of the assembly
can see these lands
in all their various outstanding wonders.
The supernatural powers of the Buddhas
and their wisdom are rare indeed;
by emitting one pure beam of light,
the Buddhas illuminate countless lands.
I and the others have seen this,
have gained something never known before.
Buddha son, Manjushri,
I beg you to settle the doubts of the assembly.
The four kinds of believers look up in happy anticipation,
gazing at you and me.
Why does the World-Honored One
emit this beam of brightness?
Buddha son, give a timely answer,
settle these doubts and occasion joy!
What rich benefits will come
from the projecting of this beam of brightness?
It must be that the Buddha wishes to expound
the wonderful Law he gained
when he sat in the place of practice.
He must have prophecies to bestow.
He has showed us Buddha lands
with their adornment and purity of manifold treasures,
and we have seen their Buddhas -
this is not done for petty reasons.
Manjushri, you must know.
The four kinds of believers, the dragons and spirits
gaze at you in surmise,
wondering what explanation you will give.

At that time Manjushri said to the bodhisattva and mahasattva Maitreya and the other great men: Good men, I suppose that the Buddha, the World Honored One, wishes now to expound the great Law, to rain down the rain of the great Law, to blow the conch of the great Law, to beat the drum of the great Law, to elucidate the meaning of the great Law. Good men, in the past I have seen this auspicious portent among the Buddhas. They emitted a beam of light like this, and after that they expounded the great Law. Therefore we should know that now, when the present Buddha manifests this light, we will do likewise. He wishes to cause all living beings to hear and understand the Law, which is difficult for all the world to believe. Therefore he has manifested this auspicious portent.

Good men, once, at a time that was an immeasurable, boundless, inconceivable number of asamkhya kalpas in the past, there was a Buddha named Sun Moon Bright, Thus Come One, worthy of offerings, of right and universal knowledge, perfect clarity and conduct, well gone, understanding the world, unexcelled worthy, trainer of people, teacher of heavenly and human beings, Buddha, World-Honored One, who expounded the correct Law. His exposition was good at the beginning, good in the middle, good at the end. The meaning was profound and far-reaching, the words were skillful and wondrous. It was pure and without alloy, complete, clean and spotless, and bore the marks of Brahma practice.

For the sake of those seeking to become voice-hearers he responded by expounding the Law of the four noble truths, so that they could transcend birth, old age, sickness and death and attain nirvana. For the sake of those seeking to become pratyekabuddhas he responded by expounding the Law of the twelve-linked chain of causation. For the sake of the bodhisattvas he responded by expounding the six paramitas, causing them to gain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi and to acquire the wisdom that embraces all species.

Then there was another Buddha who was also named Sun Moon Bright, and then another Buddha also named Sun Moon Bright. There were twenty thousand Buddhas like this, all with the same appellation, all named Sun Moon Bright. And all had the same surname, the surname Bharadvaja. Maitreya, you should understand that from the first Buddha to the last, all had the same appellation, all were named Sun Moon Bright. They were worthy of all the ten epithets and the Law they expounded was good at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end.

The last Buddha, when he had not yet left family life, had eight princely sons. The first was named Having Intention, the second Good Intention, the third Immeasurable intention, the fourth jeweled intention, the fifth Increased Intention, the sixth Cleansed of Doubt Intention, the seventh Echoing Intention, and the eighth Law Intention. Dignity and virtue came easily to them, and each presided over a four-continent realm.

When these princes heard that their father had left family life and had gained anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, they all cast aside their princely positions and followed him by leaving family life. Conceiving a desire for the Great Vehicle, the constantly carried out Brahma practices, and all became teachers of the Law. They had already planted good roots in the company of a thousand, ten thousand Buddhas.

At that time the Buddha Sun Moon Bright preached the Great Vehicle sutra entitled Immeasurable Meanings, a Law to instruct the Bodhisattvas, one that is guarded and kept in mind by the Buddhas. When he had finished preaching the sutra, he sat cross-legged in the midst of the great assembly and entered into the samadhi of the place of immeasurable meanings, his body and mind never moving. At this time heaven rained down mandarava flowers, great mandarava flowers, manjushaka flowers, and great manjushaka flowers, scattering them over the Buddha and the great assembly, and everywhere the Buddha world quaked and trembled in six different ways.

At that time the monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen , heavenly beings, dragons, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, and mahoragas, the human and nonhuman beings in the assembly, as well as the petty kings and wheel-turning sage kings - all those in this great assembly gained what they had never had before and, filled with joy, pressed their palms together and gazed at the Buddha with a single mind.

At that time the Thus Come One emitted a ray of light from the tuft of white hair between his eyebrows, one of his characteristic features, lighting up eighteen thousand Buddha lands in the eastern direction. There was no place that the light did not penetrate, just as you have seen it light up these Buddha lands now.

Maitreya, you should understand this. At that time in the assembly there were twenty million bodhisattvas who were happy and eager to hear the Law. When these bodhisattvas saw this beam of light that illuminated the Buddha lands everywhere, they gained what they had never had before. They wished to know the causes and conditions that had occasioned this light.

At that time there was a bodhisattva named Wonderfully Bright who had eight hundred disciples. At this time the Buddha Sun Moon Bright arose from his samadhi and, because of the bodhisattva Wonderfully Bright, preached the Great Vehicle sutra called the Lotus of the Wonderful Law, a Law to instruct the bodhisattvas, one that is guarded and kept in mind by the Buddhas. For sixty small kalpas the Buddha remained in his seat without rising, and the listeners in the assembly at that time also remained seated there for sixty small kalpas, their bodies and minds never moving. And yet it seemed to them that they had been listening to the Buddha peach for no more than the space of a meal. At this time in the assembly there was not a single person who in body or mind had the least feeling of weariness.

When the Buddha Sun Moon Bright had finished preaching this sutra over a period of sixty small kalpas, he spoke these words to the Brahmas, devils, shramanas and Brahmans, as well as to the heavenly and human beings and asuras in the assembly, saying, ‘‘‘tonight at midnight the Thus Come One will enter the nirvana of no remainder.

At this time there was a bodhisattva named Virtue Storehouse. The Buddha Sun Moon Bright bestowed a prophecy on him, announcing to the monks, This bodhisattva Virtue Storehouse will be the next to become a Buddha. He will be called Pure Body, tathagata, arhat, samyak-sambuddha.

After the Buddha had finished bestowing this prophecy, at midnight he entered the nirvana of no remainder.

After the Buddha had passed away, Bodhisattva Wonderfully Bright upheld the Sutra of the Lotus of the Wonderful Law, for a period of fully eighty small kalpas expounding it for others. The eight sons of the Buddha Sun Moon Bright all acknowledged Wonderfully Bright as their teacher. Wonderfully Bright taught and converted them and roused in them a firm determination to gain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Those princely sons gave offerings to immeasurable hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of Buddhas, and after that all were able to achieve the Buddha way. The last to become a Buddha was named Burning Torch.

Among the eight hundred disciples of Wonderfully Bright was one named Seeker of Fame. He was greedy for gain and support, and though he read and recited numerous sutras, he could not understand them, but for the most part forgot them. Hence he was called Seeker of Fame. Because this man had in addition planted various good roots, however, he was able to encounter immeasurable hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of Buddhas, to make offerings to them, revere, honor and praise them.

Maitreya, you should understand this. Bodhisattva Wonderfully Bright who lived then-could he be known to you? He was no other than I myself. And Bodhisattva Seeker of Fame was you.

Now when I see this auspicious portent, it is no different from what I saw before. Therefore I suppose that now the Thus Come One is about to preach the Great Vehicle sutra called the Lotus of the Wonderful Law, a Law to instruct the bodhisattvas, one that is guarded and kept in mind by the Buddhas.

At that time Manjushri, wishing in the presence of the great assembly to state his meaning once more, spoke in verse form, saying:

I recall that in a past age
immeasurable, innumerable kalpas ago
there was a Buddha, most honored of men,
named Sun Moon Bright.
This World-Honored One expounded the Law,
saving immeasurable living beings
and numberless millions of bodhisattvas,
causing them to enter the Buddha wisdom.
The eight princely sons whom this Buddha sired
before taking leave of family life,
when they saw that the great sage had left his family
did likewise, carrying out brahma practices.
At that time the Buddha preached the Great Vehicle,
a sutra named Immeasurable Meanings,
and in the midst of a great assembly
for the sake of the people established broad distinctions.
When the Buddha had finished preaching this sutra
he sat in the seat of the Law,
sitting cross-legged in the samadhi
called the place of immeasurable meanings.
The heavens rained mandarava flowers,
heavenly drums sounded of themselves,
and the heavenly beings, dragons and spirits
made offerings to the most honored of men.
All the Buddha lands
immediately quaked and trembled greatly.
The Buddha emitted a light from between his eyebrows,
manifesting signs that are rarely seen.
This light illumined the eastern direction,
eighteen thousand Buddha lands,
showing how all the living beings there
were recompensed in birth and death for their past deed.
That one could see how these Buddha lands,
adorned with numerous jewels,
shone with hues of lapis lazuli and crystal
was due to the illumination of the Buddha’‘‘s light.
One could also see the heavenly and human beings,
dragons, spirits, many yakshas,
gandharvas and kimnaras,
each making offerings to his respective Buddha.
One could also see Thus Come Ones
naturally attaining the Buddha way,
their bodies the color of golden mountains,
upright, imposing, very subtle and wonderful.
It was as though in the midst of pure lapis lazuli
there should appear statues of real gold.
In the midst of the great assembly the World-Honored Ones
expounded the principles of the profound Law.
In one after another of the Buddha lands
the voice-hearers in countless multitudes
through the illumination of the Buddha’‘‘s light
all became visible with their great assemblies.
There were also monks
residing in the midst of forests,
exerting themselves and keeping the pure precepts
as though they were guarding a bright jewel.
One could also see bodhisattvas
carrying out almsgiving, forbearances, and so forth,
their number like Ganges sands,
due to the illumination of the Buddha’‘‘s light.
One could also see bodhisattvas
entering deep into meditation practices,
their bodies and minds still and unmoving,
in that manner seeking the unsurpassed way.
One could also see bodhisattvas
who knew that phenomena are marked by tranquility and extinction,
each in his respective land
preaching the Law and seeking the Buddha way.
At that time the four kinds of believers
seeing the Buddha Sun Moon Bright
manifest his great transcendental powers,
all rejoiced in their hearts,
and each one asked his neighbor
what had caused these events.
The one honored by heavenly and human beings
just then arose from his samadhi
and praised Bodhisattva Wonderfully Bright, saying,
You are the eyes of the world,
one whom all can take faith in and believe,
able to honor and uphold the storehouse of the Dharma.
The law that I preach-
you alone know how to testify to it.
The World-Honored One, having bestowed this praise,
causing Wonderfully Bright to rejoice,
preached the Lotus Sutra
for fully sixty small kalpas.
He never rose from this seat,
and the supreme and wonderful Law that he preached
was accepted and upheld in its entirety
by the Dharma teacher Wonderfully Bright.
After the Buddha had preached the Lotus,
causing all the assembly to rejoice,
on that very same day
he announced to the assembly of heavenly and human beings,
I have already expounded for you
the meaning of the true entity of all phenomena.
Now when midnight comes
I will enter nirvana.
You must strive with all your hearts
and remove yourselves from indulgence and laxity,
it is very difficult to encounter a Buddha-
you meet one once in a million kalpas.
When the children of the World-Honored One
heard that the Buddha was to enter nirvana,
each one was filled with sorrow and distress,
wondering why the Buddha should so quickly seek extinction.
The sage lord, king of the Law,
comforted and reassured the countless multitude,
saying, When I enter extinction
you must not be concerned or fearful!
This bodhisattva Virtue Storehouse
has already fully understood in his mind
the true entity that is without outflows.
He will be next to become a Buddha,
bearing the name Pure Body,
and he too will save immeasurable multitudes.
That night the Buddha entered extinction,
as a fire dies out when the firewood is exhausted.
They divided and apportioned his relics
and built immeasurable numbers of towers,
and the monks and nuns
whose number was like Ganges sands
redoubled their exertions,
thereby seeking the unsurpassed way.
This Dharma teacher Wonderfully Bright
honored and upheld the Buddha’‘‘s storehouse of the Dharma
throughout eighty small kalpas,
broadly propagating the Lotus Sutra.
These eight princely sons
whom Wonderfully Bright converted
held firmly to the unsurpassed way
and were thus able to encounter innumerable Buddhas.
And after they had made offerings to these Buddhas
they followed them in practicing the great way
and one after the other succeeded in becoming a Buddha,
each in turn bestowing a prophecy on his successor.
The last to become a heavenly being among heavenly beings
was named the Buddha Burning Torch.
As leader and teacher of seers
he saved immeasurable multitudes.
This Dharma teacher Wonderfully Bright
at that time had a disciple
whose mind was forever occupied with laziness and sloth,
who was greedy for fame and profit.
He sought fame and profit insatiably,
often amusing himself among clansmen and those of other surnames.
He threw away what he had studied and memorized,
neglected and forgot it, failed to understand it.
Because of this
he was named Seeker of Fame.
But he had also carried out many good actions
and thus was able to meet with innumerable Buddhas.
He made offerings to the Buddhas
and followed them in practicing the great way,
carrying out all the six paramitas,
and now he has met the lion of the Shakyas.
Hereafter he will become a Buddha
whose name will be Maitreya,
who will save living beings extensively
in numbers beyond calculation.
After that Buddha passed into extinction,
that lazy and slothful one-he was you,
and the Dharma teacher Wonderfully Bright-
that was the person who is now I myself.
I saw how the Buddha Torch Bright (Sun Moon Bright)
earlier manifested an auspicious portent like this.
And so I know that now this present Buddha
is about to preach the Lotus Sutra.
The signs now are like those of the earlier auspicious portent,
this is an expedient means used by the Buddhas.
Now when the Buddha emits this beam of brightness
he is helping to reveal the meaning of the true entity of
phenomena.
Human beings now will come to know it.
Let us press our palms together and wait with a single mind.
The Buddha will rain down the rain of the Law
to fully satisfy all seekers of the way.
You who seek the three vehicles,
if you have doubts and regrets,
the Buddha will resolve them for you,
bringing them to an end so that nothing remains.

    

CHAPTER TWO

EXPEDIENT MEANS

     At that time the World-Honored One calmly arose from his samadhi and addressed Shariputra, saying: The wisdom of the Buddhas is infinitely profound and immeasurable. The door to this wisdom is difficult to understand and difficult to enter. Not one of the voice-hearers or pratyekabuddhas is able to comprehend it.

What is the reason for this? A Buddha has personally attended a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a million, a countless number of Buddhas and has fully carried out an immeasurable number of religious practices. He has exerted himself bravely and vigorously, and his name is universally known. He has realized the Law that is profound and never known before, and preaches it in accordance with what is appropriate, yet his intention is difficult to understand.

Shariputra, ever since I attained Buddhahood I have through various causes and various similes widely expounded my teachings and have used countless expedient means to guide living beings and cause them to renounce attachments. Why is this? Because the Thus Come One is fully possessed by both expedient means and the paramita of wisdom.

Shariputra, the wisdom of the Thus Come One is expansive and profound. He has immeasurable [mercy], unlimited [eloquence], power, fearlessness, concentration, emancipation, and samadhis, and has deeply entered the boundless and awakened to the Law never before attained.

Shariputra, the Thus Come One knows how to make various kinds of distinctions and to expound the teachings skillfully. His words are soft and gentle and delight the hearts of the assembly.

Shariputra, to sum it up: the Buddha has fully realized the Law that is limitless, boundless, never attained before.

But stop, Shariputra, I will say no more. Why? Because what the Buddha has achieved is the rarest and most difficult-to-understand Law. The true entity of all phenomena can only be understood and shared between Buddhas. This reality consists of the appearance, nature, entity, power, influence, inherent cause, relation, latent effect, manifest effect, and their consistency from beginning to end.

At that time the World-Honored One, wishing to state his meaning once more, spoke in verse form, saying:

The hero of the world is unfathomable.
Among heavenly beings or the people of the world,
among all living beings,
none can understand the Buddha.
The Buddha’s power, fearlessness,
emancipation and samadhis
and the Buddha’s other attributes
no one can reckon or fathom.
Earlier, under the guidance of countless Buddhas
he fully acquired and practiced various ways,
profound, subtle and wonderful doctrines
that are hard to see and hard to understand.
For immeasurable millions of kalpas
he has been practicing these ways
until in the place of practice he achieved the goal.
I have already come to see and know completely
this great goal and recompense,
the meaning of these various natures and characteristics.
I and the other Buddhas of the ten directions
can now understand these things.
This Law cannot be described,
words fall silent before it.
Among the other kinds of living beings
there are none who can comprehend it,
except the many bodhisattvas
who are firm in the power of faith.
The many disciples of the Buddhas
in the past have given offerings to the Buddhas,
have already cut off all outflows
and now are dwelling in their last incarnation.
But even such persons as they
have not the power needed.
Even if the whole world
were filled with men like Shariputra,
though they exhausted their thoughts and pooled there capacities,
they could not fathom the Buddha’‘‘s knowledge.
Even if ten directions were all filled with men like Shariputra
or like the other disciples,
though they filled the lands in the ten directions
and exhausted their thoughts and pooled their capacities,
still they could not understand it.
If pratyekabuddhas, acute in understanding,
without outflows, in their last incarnation,
should fill the worlds in the ten directions,
as numerous as bamboos in a grove,
though they should join together with one mind
for a million or for countless kalpas,
hoping to conceive of the Buddha’‘‘s true wisdom,
they could not understand the smallest part of it.
If bodhisattvas newly embarked on their course
should give offerings to numberless Buddhas,
completely mastering the intent of the various doctrines
and also able to preach the Law effectively,
like so many rice and hemp plants, bamboos or reeds,
filling the lands in the ten directions,
with a single mind, with their wonderful knowledge,
for kalpas numerous as Ganges sands
should all together pool their thoughts and capacities,
they could not understand the Buddha’‘‘s knowledge.
If bodhisattvas who never regress,
their number like Ganges sands,
with a single mind should join in pondering and seeking,
they could not understand it either.
I also announce to you, Shariputra,
that this profound subtle and wonderful Law
without outflows, incomprehensible,
I have now attained in full.
Only I understand its characteristics,
and the Buddhas of the ten directions do likewise.
Shariputra, you should know
that the words of the various Buddhas never differ.
Toward the Law preached by the Buddhas
you must cultivate a great power of faith.
The world-honored One has long expounded his doctrines
and now must reveal the truth.
I announce this to the assembly of voice-hearers
and to those who seek the vehicle of the pratyekabuddha;
I have enabled people to escape the bonds of suffering
and to attain nirvana.
The Buddha, through the power of expedient means,
has shown them the teachings of the three vehicles
prying living beings loose from this or that attachment
and allowing them to attain release.

At that time among the great assembly there were voice-hearers, Arhats whose outflows had come to an end, Ajnata Kuandinya and the others, twelve hundred persons. And there were monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen who had conceived a desire to become voice-hearers or pratyekabuddhas. Each of these had this thought: Now for what reason does the World-Honored One so earnestly praise expedient means and state that the Law attained by the Buddha is profound and difficult to understand, that it is very difficult to comprehend the meaning of the words he preaches, that not one of the voice-hearers or pratyekabuddhas can do so? If the Buddha preaches but one doctrine of emancipation, then we too should be able to attain this Law and reach the state of Nirvana. We cannot follow the gist of what he is saying now.

At that time Shariputra understood the doubts that were in the minds of the four kinds of believers, and he himself had not fully comprehended. So he addressed the Buddha, saying, World-Honored One, what causes and conditions lead you to earnestly praise expedient means, the foremost device of the Buddhas, the profound, subtle and wonderful Law that is difficult to understand? From times past I have never heard this kind of preaching from the Buddha. Now the four kinds of believers all have doubts. We beg that the World-Honored One earnestly praise this Law that is profound, subtle and wonderful, difficult to understand?

At that time Shariputra, wishing to state his meaning once more, spoke in verse from, saying:

Sun of wisdom, great sage and venerable one,
at long last you preach this Law.
You yourself declare you have attained
power, fearlessness, samadhis,
concentration, emancipation, and these other attributes,
and the Law that is beyond comprehension.
This Law attained in the place of practice
no one is capable of questioning you about.
‘‘‘My intention is hard to fathom,
and no one can question me.
No one questions, yet you yourself preach,
praising the path you walk on.
Your wisdom is very subtle and wonderful,
that which all the Buddhas attain.
The arhats who are without outflows
and those who seek nirvana
now have all fallen into the net of doubt,
wondering for what reason the Buddha preaches this.
Those who seek to become pratyekabuddhas,
monks and nuns,
heavenly beings, dragons and spirits,
along with the gandharvas and others,
look at one another, filled with perplexity,
gazing upward at the most honored of two-legged beings.
What is the meaning of all this?
I beg the Buddha to explain it for us.
Among the assembly of voice-hearers
the Buddha has said I am foremost,
yet now I lack the wisdom
to solve these doubts and perplexities.
Have I in fact grasped the ultimate Law,
or am I still on the path of practice?
The sons born from the Buddha’‘‘s mouth
press palms together, gaze upward and wait.
We beg you to put forth subtle and wonderful sounds
and at this time explain to us how it really is.
The heavenly beings, dragons, spirits, and the others,
their numbers like Ganges sands,
the bodhisattvas seeking to be Buddhas
in a great force of eighty thousand,
as well as the wheel-turning sage kings
come from ten thousands of millions of lands,
all press their palms and with reverent minds
wish to hear the teaching of perfect endowment.

At that time the Buddha addressed Shariputra, saying, Stop, stop! There is no need to speak further. If I speak of this matter, then the heavenly and human beings throughout the worlds will all be astonished and doubtful.

Shariputra once more spoke to the Buddha, saying, World-Honored One, we beg you to preach! We beg you to preach! What is the reason? Because this assembly of countless hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of asamkhyas of living beings in the past have seen the Buddhas; their faculties are vigorous and acute and their wisdom is bright. If they hear the Buddha preach, they will be capable of reverent belief.

At that time Shariputra, wishing to state his meaning once more, spoke in verse form, saying:

Dharma King, none more highly honored,
speak, we beg you, without reserve!
In this assembly of numberless beings
are those capable of reverent belief.

The Buddha repeated, Stop, Shariputra! If I speak of this matter, the heavenly and human beings and asuras throughout the worlds will all be astonished and doubtful. The monks who are overbearingly arrogant will fall into a great pit.

At that time the World-Honored One repeated what he had said in verse form:

Stop, stop, no need to speak!
My Law is wonderful and difficult to ponder.
Those who are overbearingly arrogant
when they hear it will never show reverent belief.

At that time Shariputra once more spoke to the Buddha, saying, World-Honored One, we beg you to preach! We beg you to preach! In this assembly at present the persons like myself number in the hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions. In age after age we have already attended the Buddhas and received instruction. People of this kind are certain to be capable of reverent belief. Throughout the long night they will gain peace and rest and will enjoy many benefits.

At that time Shariputra, wishing to state his meaning once more, spoke in verse form, saying:

Supremely honored among two-legged beings,
we beg you to preach this foremost Law.
I who am regarded as the Buddha’‘‘s eldest son
ask you to favor us by preaching distinctions.
The countless members of this assembly
are capable of according reverent belief to this Law
The Buddhas have already in age after age
taught and converted them in this manner.
All with a single mind and palms pressed together
desire to hear and receive the Buddha’‘‘s words.
I and the other twelve hundred of our group,
as well as the others who seek to become Buddhas,
beg that for the sake of this assembly
you will favor us by preaching distinctions.
When we hear this Law
we will be filled with great joy.

At that time the World-Honored One said to Shariputra, Three times you have stated your earnest request. How can I do other than preach? Now you must listen attentively and carefully ponder. For your sake I will now analyze and explain the matter.

When he had spoken these words, there were some five thousand monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen in the assembly who immediately rose from their seats, bowed to the Buddha, and withdrew. What was the reason for this? These persons had roots of guilt that were deep and manifold, and in addition they were overbearingly arrogant. What they had not attained they supposed they had attained, what they had not understood they supposed they had understood. And because they had this failing, they did not remain where they were.

The World-Honored One was silent and did not try to detain them.

At this time the Buddha said to Shariputra, Now this assembly of mine is free of branches and leaves, made up solely of the steadfast and truthful. Shariputra, it is well that these persons of overbearing arrogance have withdrawn. Now listen carefully and I will preach for you.

Shariputra said, So be it, World-Honored One. We are eager to listen!

The Buddha said to Shariputra, A wonderful Law such as this is preached by the Buddhas, the Thus Come Ones, at certain times. But like the blooming of the udumbara, such times come very seldom. Shariputra, you and the others must believe me. The words that the Buddhas preach are not empty or false.

Shariputra, the Buddhas preach the Law in accordance with what is appropriate, but the meaning is difficult to understand. Why is this? Because we employ countless expedient means, discussing causes and conditions and using words of simile and parable to expound the teachings. This Law is not something that can be understood through pondering or analysis. Only those who are Buddhas can understand it. Why is this? Because the Buddhas, the World-Honored Ones, appear in the world for one great reason alone. Shariputra, what does it mean to say that the Buddhas, the World-Honored Ones, appear in the world for one great reason alone?

The Buddhas, the World-Honored Ones , wish to open the door of Buddha wisdom to all living beings, to allow them to attain purity. That is why they appear in the world. They wish to show the Buddha wisdom to living beings, and therefore they appear in the world. They wish to cause living beings to awaken to the Buddha wisdom, and therefore they appear in the world. They wish to induce living beings to enter the path of Buddha wisdom, and therefore they appear in the world. Shariputra, this is the one great reason for which the Buddhas appear in the world.

The Buddha said to Shariputra, The Buddhas, the Thus Come Ones, simply teach and convert the Bodhisattvas. All the things they do are at all times done for this one purpose. They simply wish to show the Buddha wisdom to living beings and enlighten them to it.

Shariputra, the Thus Come Ones have only a single Buddha vehicle which they employ in order to preach the Law to living beings. They do not have any other vehicle a second one or a third one 1. Shariputra, the Law preached by all the Buddhas of the ten directions is the same as this.

Shariputra, the Buddhas of the past used countless numbers of expedient means, various causes and conditions, and words of simile and parable in order to expound the doctrines for the sake of living beings. These doctrines are all for the sake of the one Buddha vehicle. These living beings, by listening to the doctrines of the Buddhas, are all eventually able to attain wisdom embracing all species.

Shariputra, when the Buddhas of the future make their appearance in the world, they too will use countless numbers of expedient means, various causes and conditions, and words of simile and parable in order to expound the doctrines for the sake of living beings. These doctrines will all be for the sake of the one Buddha vehicle. And these living beings, by listening to the doctrines of the Buddhas, will all eventually be able to attain wisdom embracing all species.

Shariputra, the Buddhas, the World-Honored Ones, who exist at present in the countless hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, and millions of Buddha lands in the ten directions, benefit and bring peace and happiness to living beings in large measure, these Buddhas too use countless numbers of expedient means, various causes and conditions, and words of simile and parable in order to expound the doctrines for the sake of living beings. These doctrines are all for the sake of the one Buddha vehicle. And these living beings, by listening to the doctrines of the Buddhas, are all eventually able to attain wisdom embracing all species.

Shariputra, these Buddhas simply teach and convert the Bodhisattvas. They do it because they wish to show the Buddha wisdom to living beings. They do it because they wish to use the Buddha wisdom to enlighten living beings. They do it because they wish to cause living beings to enter the path of Buddha wisdom.

Shariputra, I too will now do the same, I know that living beings have various desires. Attachments that are deeply implanted in their minds. Taking cognizance of this basic nature of theirs, I will therefore use various causes and conditions, words of simile and parable, and the power of expedient means and expound the Law for them. Shariputra, I do this so that all of them may attain the one Buddha vehicle and wisdom embracing all species.

Shariputra, when the age is impure and the times are chaotic, then the defilements of living beings are grave, they are greedy and jealous and put down roots that are not good. Because of this, the Buddhas, utilizing the power of expedient means, apply distinctions to the one Buddha vehicle and preach as though it were three.

Shariputra, if any of my disciples should claim to be an arhat or a pratyekabuddha and yet does not heed or understand that the Buddhas, the Thus Come Ones, simply teach and convert the bodhisattvas, then he is no disciple of mine, he is no arhat or pratyekabuddha.

Again, Shariputra, if there should be monks or nuns who claim that they already have attained the status of arhat, that this is their last incarnation, that they have reached the final nirvana, and that therefore they have no further intention of seeking anuttara-samyaksambodhi, then you should understand that such as these are all persons of overbearing arrogance. Why do I say this? Because if they are monks who have truly attained the status of arhat, then it would be unthinkable that they should fail to believe this Law. The only exception would be in a time after the Buddha had passed away, when there was no Buddha present in the world. Why is this? Because after the Buddha has passed away it will be difficult to find anyone who can embrace, recite, and understand the meaning of sutras such as this. But if persons at that time encounter another Buddha, then they will attain decisive understanding with regard to this Law.

Shariputra, you and the others should with a single mind believe and accept the words of the Buddha. The words of the Buddhas, the Thus Come Ones, are not empty or false. There is no other vehicle, there is only the one Buddha vehicle.

At that time the World-Honored One, wishing to state his meaning once more, spoke in verse form, saying:

There are monks and nuns
who behave with overbearing arrogance,
laymen full of self-esteem,
laywomen who are lacking in faith.
Among the four kinds of believers, the likes of these
number five thousand.
They fail to see their own errors,
are heedless and remiss with regard to the precepts,
clinging to their shortcomings, unwilling to change.
But these persons of small wisdom have already left;
the chaff among this assembly
has departed in the face of the Buddha’‘‘s authority.
These persons were of paltry merit and virtue,
incapable of receiving this Law.
This assembly is now free of branches and leaves,
made up only of those steadfast and truthful.
Shariputra, listen carefully,
for the Law which the Buddhas have attained,
through the power of countless expedient means
they preach for the benefit of living beings.
The thoughts that are in the minds of living beings,
the different types of paths they follow,
their various desires and natures,
the good and bad deeds they have done in previous existences--
all these the Buddha takes cognizance of,
and then he employs causes, similes and parables,
words that embody the power of expedient means,
in order to gladden and please them all.
Sometimes he preaches sutras,
verses, stories of the previous lives of disciples,
stories of the previous lives of the Buddha, of unheard-of things.
At other times he preaches regarding causes and conditions,
uses similes, parables, passages of poetry
or discourses.
For those of dull capacities who delight in a little Law,
who greedily cling to birth and death,
who, despite the innumerable Buddhas,
fail to practice the profound and wonderful way
but are perplexed and confused by a host of troubles--
for these I preach nirvana.
I devise these expedient means
and so cause them to enter into the Buddha wisdom.
Up to now I have never told you
that you were certain to attain the Buddha way.
The reason I never preached in that manner
was that the time to preach so had not yet come.
But now is the very time
when I must decisively preach the Great Vehicle.
I use these nine devices,
adapting them to the living beings when I preach
my basic aim being to lead them into the Great Vehicle,
and that is why I preach this sutra.
There are sons of the Buddha who minds are pure,
who are gentle and of acute capacities,
who under innumerable Buddhas
have practiced the profound and wonderful way.
For these sons of the Buddha
I preach this sutra of the Great Vehicle.
And I predict that these persons
in a future existence will attain the Buddha way.
Because deep in their minds they think of the Buddha
and practice and uphold the pure percepts,
they are assured they will attain Buddhahood,
and hearing this, their whole bodies are filled with great joy.
The Buddha knows their minds and their practices
and therefore preaches for them the Great Vehicle.
When the voice-hearers and bodhisattvas
hear this Law that I preach,
as soon as they have heard one verse
they will all without doubt be certain of attaining Buddhahood.
In the Buddha lands of the ten directions
there is only the Law of the one vehicle,
there are not two, there are not three,
except when the Buddha preaches so as an expedient means,
merely employing provisional names and terms
in order to conduct and guide living beings
and preach to them the Buddha wisdom.
The Buddhas appear in the world
solely for this one reason, which is true;
the other two are not the truth.
Never do they use a lesser vehicle
to save living beings and ferry them across.
The Buddha himself dwells in this Great Vehicle,
and adorned with the power of meditation and wisdom
that go with the Law he has attained,
he uses it to save living beings.
He himself testifies to the unsurpassed way,
the Great Vehicle, the Law in which all things are equal.

If I used a lesser vehicle

to convert even one person,

I would be guilty of stinginess and greed,

but such a thing would be impossible.

If a person will believe and take refuge in the Buddha,

the Thus Come One will never deceive him,

nor will he ever show geed or jealousy,

for he has rooted out evil from among the phenomena.

Therefore throughout the ten directions

the Buddha alone is without fear.

I adorn my body with the special characteristics

and shine my light upon the world.

I am honored by numberless multitudes

and for them I preach the emblem of the reality of things.

Shariputra, you should know

that at the start I took a vow,

hoping to make all persons

equal to me, without any distinction between us,

and what I long ago hoped for

has now been fulfilled.

I have converted all living beings

and caused them all to enter the Buddha way.

If when I encounter living beings

I were in all cases to teach them the Buddha way,

those without wisdom would become confused

and in their bewilderment would fail to accept my teachings.

I know that such living beings have never in the past cultivated good roots

but have stubbornly clung to the five desires,

and their folly and craving have given rise to affliction.

Their desires are the cause

whereby they fall into the three evil paths,

revolving wheel-like through the six realms of existence

and undergoing every sort of suffering and pain.

Having received a tiny form in the womb,

in existence after existence they constantly grow to maturity.

Persons of meager virtue and small merit,

they are troubled and beset by manifold sufferings.

They stray into the dense forest of mistaken views,

debating as to what exists and what does not,

and in the end cling to such views,

embracing all sixty-two of them 2.

They are profoundly committed to false and empty doctrines,

holding firmly to them, unable to set them aside.

Arrogant and puffed up with self-importance,

fawning and envious, insincere in mind,

for a thousand, ten thousand, a million kalpas

they will not hear the Buddha’s name,

nor will they hear the correct Law--

such people are difficult to save.

For these reasons, Shariputra,

I have for their sake established expedient means,

preaching the way that ends all suffering.

And showing them nirvana.

But although I preach nirvana,

this is not a true extinction.

All phenomena from the very first

have of themselves constantly borne the marks of

tranquil extinction.

Once the sons of the Buddha have carried out this path,

then in a future existence they will be able to become Buddhas.

I have employed the power of expedient means

to unfold and demonstrate this doctrine of three vehicles,

but the World-Honored Ones, every one of them,

all preach the single vehicle way.

Now before this great assembly

I must clear away all doubts and perplexities.

There is no discrepancy in the words of the Buddhas,

there is only the one vehicle, not two.

For numberless kalpas in the past

countless Buddhas who have now entered extinction,

a hundred, thousand, ten thousand, million types

in numbers incapable of calculation-

such World-Honored Ones,

using different types of causes, similes, and parables,

the power of countless expedient means,

have expounded the characteristics of teachings.

These World-Honored Ones

have all preached the doctrine of the single vehicle,

converting countless living beings

and causing them to enter the Buddha way.

And these great sage lords,

knowing what is desired deep in the minds

of the heavenly and human beings and the other living things

throughout all the worlds,

have employed still other expedient means

to help illuminate the highest truth.

If there are living beings who have encountered these past Buddhas,

and if they have listened to their Law, presented alms,

or kept the precepts, shown forbearance,

been assiduous, practiced meditation and wisdom, and so forth,

cultivating various kinds of merit and virtue,

then persons such as these

all have attained the Buddha way.

After the Buddhas have passed into extinction,

if persons are of good and gentle mind,

then living beings such as these

have all attained the Buddha way.

After the Buddhas have passed into extinction,
if persons make offerings to the relics,
raising ten thousand or a million kinds of towers,
using gold, silver and crystal,
seashell and agate,
carnelian, lapis lazuli, pearls
to purify and adorn them extensively,
in this way erecting towers;
or if they raise up stone mortuary temples
or those of sandalwood or aloes,
hovenia or other kinds of timber,
or of brick, tile clay or earth;
if in the midst of the broad fields
they pile up earth to make a mortuary temple for the Buddhas,
or even if little boys at play
should collect sand to make a Buddha tower,
then persons such as these
have all attained the Buddha way.
If there are persons who for the sake of the Buddha
fashion and set up images,
carving them with many distinguishing characteristics,
then all have attained the Buddha way.
Or if they make things out of the seven kinds of gems,
of copper, red or white copper,
pewter, lead, tin
iron wood, or clay,
or use cloth soaked in lacquer or resin
to adorn and fashion Buddha images,
then persons such as these have all attained the Buddha way.
If they employ pigments to paint Buddha images,
endowing them with the characteristics of hundredfold merit,
if they make them themselves or have other make them,
then all have attained the Buddha way.
Even if little boys in play
should use a piece of grass or wood or a brush,
or perhaps a fingernail
to draw an image of the Buddha,
such persons as these
bit by bit will pile up merit
and will become fully endowed with a mind of
great compassion;
they all have attained the Buddha way.
Merely by converting the bodhisattvas
they bring salvation and release to numberless multitudes.
And if persons, in the presence of such memorial towers,
such jeweled images and painted images,
should with reverent minds make offerings
of flowers, incense, banners or canopies,
or if they should employ persons to make music,
striking drums or blowing horns or conch shells,
playing pipes, flutes, zithers, harps,
balloon guitars, cymbals and gongs,
and if these many kinds of wonderful notes
are intended wholly as an offering;
or if one with a joyful mind
sings a song in praise of the Buddha’s virtue,
even if it is just one small note,
then all who do these things have attained the Buddha way.
If someone with a confused and distracted mind
should take even one flower
and offer it to a painted image,
in time he would come to see countless Buddhas.
Or if a person should bow or perform obeisance,
or should merely press his palms together,
or even should raise a single hand,
or give no more than a slight nod of the head,
and if this were done in offering to an image,
then in time he would come to see countless Buddhas.
And if he himself attains the unsurpassed way
and spreads salvation abroad to countless multitudes,
he will enter the nirvana of no remainder
as a fire dies out when the firewood is exhausted.
If persons with confused and distracted minds
should enter a memorial tower
and once exclaim, Hail to the Buddha!
Then all have attained the Buddha way.
If from past Buddhas
when they were in the world or after their extinction,
they should be those who heard this Law,
then all have attained the Buddha way.
The World-Honored Ones of the future,
whose numbers will be incalculable,
these Thus Come Ones
will also employ expedient means to preach the Law,
and all these Thus Come Ones
through countless expedient means
will save and bring release to living beings
so that they enter the Buddha’‘‘s wisdom which is free
of outflows.

If there are those who hear the Law,
then not one will fail to attain Buddhahood.
The original vow of the Buddhas
was that the Buddha way, which they themselves practice,
should be shared universally among living beings
so that they too may attain this same way.
The Buddhas of future ages,
although they preach hundreds, thousands, millions
a countless number of doctrines,
in truth do so for the sake of the single vehicle.
The Buddhas, most honored of two-legged beings,
know that phenomena have no constantly fixed nature,
that the seed of Buddhahood sprout through causation,
and for this reason they preach the single vehicle.
But that these phenomena are part of an abiding Law,
that the characteristics of the world are constantly abiding--
this they have come to know in the place of practice
and as leaders and teachers they preach expedient means.
The presently existing Buddhas of the ten directions,
whom heavenly and human beings make offerings to,
who in number are like Ganges sands,
they have appeared in the world
in order to bring peace and comfort to living beings,
and they too preach the Law in this way.
They understand the foremost truth of tranquil extinction
and therefore employ the power of expedient means,
and though they point out various different paths,
in truth they do so for the sake of the Buddha vehicle.
They understand the actions of living beings,
the thoughts that lie deep in their minds,
the deeds they have carried out in the past,
their desires, their nature, the power of their exertions,
and whether their capacities are acute or dull,
and so they employ various causes and conditions,
similes, parables, and other words and phrases,
adapting what expedient means are suitable to their preaching.

Now I too am like this;
in order to bring peace and comfort to living beings
I employ various different doctrines
to disseminate the Buddha way.
Through the power of my wisdom
I know the nature and desires of living beings
and through expedient means I preach these doctrines,
causing all living beings to attain joy and gladness.
Shariputra, you should understand
that I view things through the Buddha eye,
I see the living beings in the six paths,
how poor and distressed they are, without merit or wisdom,
how they enter the perilous road of birth and death,
their sufferings continuing with never a break,
how deeply they are attached to the five desires,
like a yak enamored of it’‘‘s tail,
blinding themselves with greed and infatuation,
their vision so impaired they can see nothing.
They do not seek the Buddha, with his great might,
or the Law that can end their sufferings,
but enter deeply into erroneous views,
hoping to shed suffering through great suffering.
For the sake of these living beings
I summon up a mind of great compassion.
When I first sat in the place of practice
and gazed at the tree and walked around it,
for the space of three times seven days
I pondered the matter in this way.
The wisdom I have attained, I thought,
is subtle, wonderful, the foremost.
But living beings, dull incapacity,
are addicted to pleasure and blinded by stupidity.
With persons such as this,
what can I say, how can I save them?
At that time the Brahma kings,
along with the heavenly king Shakra,
the Four Heavenly Kings who guard the world,
and the heavenly king Great Freedom,
in company with other heavenly beings
and their hundreds and thousands
of followers,

reverently pressing their palms together and bowed,
begging me to turn the wheel of the Law.
Immediately I thought to myself
that if I merely praised the Buddha vehicle,
then the living beings, sunk in their suffering,
would be incapable of believing in this Law.

And because they rejected the Law and failed to believe it,

they would fall into the three evil paths.

It would be better if I did not preach the Law
but quickly entered into nirvana.
Then my thoughts turned to the Buddhas of the past
and the power of expedient means they had employed,
and I thought that the way I had now attained
should likewise be preached as three vehicles.

When I thought in this manner,
the Buddhas of the ten directions all appeared
and with Brahma sounds comforted and instructed me.
Well done, Shakyamuni! they said.

Foremost leader and teacher,
you have attained the unsurpassed Law.
But following the example of all other Buddhas,
you will employ the power of expedient means.
We too have all attained
the most wonderful, the foremost Law,
but for the sake of living beings
we make distinctions and preach the three vehicles.
(There are some verses missing here. I will put them here later)

In this evil world of the five impurities
those who merely delight in and are attached to the desires,
living beings such as this
in the end will never seek the Buddha way.
When evil persons in ages to come
hear the Buddha preach the single vehicle,
they will be confused, will not believe or accept it,
will reject the Law and fall into the evil paths.
But when there are those with sense of shame, persons of purity
who have determined to seek the Buddha way,
then for the sake of such as these
one should widely praise the way of the single vehicle.
Shariputra, you should understand this.
The Law of the Buddhas is like this.
Employing ten thousand, a million expedient means,
they accord with what is appropriate in preaching the Law.
Those who are not versed in this matter
cannot fully comprehend this.
But you and the others already know
how the Buddhas, the teachers of the world,
accord with what is appropriate in employing expedient means.
You will have no more doubts or perplexities
but, your minds filled with great joy,
will know that you yourselves will attain Buddhahood.


 

CHAPTER THREE

SIMILE AND PARABLE

   

     At that time Shariputra’‘‘s mind danced with joy. Then he immediately stood up, pressed his palms together, gazed up in reverence at the face of the Honored-One, and said to the Buddha, Just now, when I heard from the World-Honored One, this voice of the Law, my mind seemed to dance and I gained what I had never had before. Why do I say this? Because in the past when I heard a Law of this kind from the Buddha and saw how the bodhisattvas received prophecies that in time they would attain Buddhahood, I and the others felt that we had no part in the affair. We were deeply grieved to think we would never gain the immeasurable insight of the Thus Come One.

World-Honored One, I have constantly lived in the mountain forest or alone under the trees, sometimes sitting, sometimes walking around, and always I have thought to myself, since I and the others all alike have entered into the nature of the Law, why does the Thus Come One use the Law of the Lesser Vehicle to bring us salvation?

But the fault is ours, not that of the World-Honored One. Why do I say this? If he had been willing to wait until the true means for attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi was preached, then we would surely have obtained release through the Great Vehicle. But we failed to understand that the Buddha was employing expedient means and preaching what was appropriate to the circumstances. So when we first heard the Law of the Buddha, we immediately believed and accepted it, supposing that we had gained understanding.

World-Honored One, for a long time now, all day and throughout the night, I have repeatedly taxed myself with this thought. But now I have heard from the Buddha what I had never heard before, a Law never known in the past, and it has ended all my doubts and regrets. My body and mind are at ease and I have gained a wonderful feeling of peace and security. Today at last I understand that truly I am the Buddha’‘‘s son, born from the Buddha’‘‘s mouth, born through conversion to the Law, gaining my share of the Buddha’‘‘s Law!

At that time Shariputra, wishing to state his meaning once more, spoke in verse form, saying:

When I heard the sound of this Law,
I gained what I had never had before.
My mind was filled with great joy,
I was released from all bonds of the net of doubt.
From past times I have received the Buddha’‘‘s teachings
and have not been denied the Great Vehicle.
The Buddha’‘‘s sound is very rarely heard,
but it can free living beings from distress.
Already I have put an end to outflows,
and hearing this, am freed from care and distress.
I lived in the mountain valleys
or under the forest trees,
sometimes sitting, sometimes walking around,
and constantly I thought of this matter--
how severely I taxed myself!

Why have I been deceived? I said.
I and the others are sons of the Buddha too,
all alike have entered the Law that is without outflows,
yet in times to come we will never be able
to expound the unsurpassed way.
The golden body, the thirty-two features,
the ten powers, the various emancipations--
though all alike share a single Law,
these we will never attain!
The eighty types of wonderful characteristics,
the eighteen unshared properties--
merits such as these
are all lost to us!
When I was walking around alone,
I saw the Buddha among the great assembly,
his fame filling the ten directions,
bringing benefit far and wide to living beings,
and I thought to myself, I am deprived of such benefits!
How greatly have I been deceived!
Constantly, day and night,
whenever I pondered over this,
I wanted to ask the World-Honored One
whether I had indeed been deprived or not.
Constantly, when I saw the World-Honored One
praising the bodhisattvas,
then day and night
I would mull this matter over.

But now as I listen to the voice of the Buddha,
I see he preaches the Law in accordance with what
is appropriate,
using this hard-to-conceive doctrine of no outflows
to lead people to the place of practice.
Formerly I was attached to erroneous views,
acting as teacher to the Brahmans.

But the World-Honored One, knowing what was in my mind,
rooted out my errors and preached nirvana.
I was freed of all my errors
and gained understanding of the Law of emptiness.

At that time my mind told me
I had reached the stage of extinction,
but now I realize
that was not true extinction.

If the time should come when I can become a Buddha,
then I will possess all the thirty-two features
and heavenly and human beings, the many yakshas,
dragons, spirits and others will hold me in reverence.
When that time comes, then I can say
that at last all has been wiped out without residue.
In the midst of the great assembly, the Buddha
declared that I will become a Buddha.
When I heard the sound of the this Law
my doubts and regrets were all wiped away.
At first, when I heard the Buddha’s preaching,
there was great astonishment and doubt in my mind.
Is this not a devil pretending to be the Buddha,
trying to vex and confuse my mind? I thought.
But the Buddha employed various causes,
similes, and parables, expounding eloquently.

His mind was peaceful as the sea,
and as I listened, I was freed from the net of doubt.
The Buddha said that in past ages
the countless Buddhas who have passed into extinction
rested and abided in the midst of expedient means,
and all likewise preached this Law.
The Buddhas of the present and future,
whose numbers are beyond calculation,
they too will use expedient means
in expounding this same Law.
Thus the present World-Honored One,
being born and later leaving his family,
attaining the way and turning the wheel of the Law,
likewise employs expedient means in preaching.
The World-Honored One preaches the true way.
Papiyas would not do that.
Therefore I know for certain
this is not a devil pretending to be the Buddha.
But because I fell into the net of doubt
I supposed this to be the devil’‘‘s work.
Now I hear the Buddha’‘‘s soft and gentle sound,
profound, far-reaching, very subtle and wonderful,
expounding and discoursing on the pure Law,
and my mind is filled with great joy.
My doubts and regrets are forever ended,
I will rest and abide in true wisdom.
I am certain I will become a Buddha,
to be revered by heavenly and human beings,
turning the wheel of the unsurpassed Law
and teaching and converting the bodhisattvas.

At that time the Buddha said to Shariputra, Now, in the midst of this great assembly of heavenly and human beings, shramanas, Brahmans and so forth, I say this. In the past, under twenty thousand million Buddhas, for the sake of the unsurpassed way I have constantly taught and converted you. And you throughout the long night followed me and accepted my instruction.. Now , because I want to make you recall to mind the way that you originally vowed to follow, for the sake of the voice-hearers I am preaching this Great Vehicle sutra called the Lotus of the Wonderful Law, a Law to instruct the bodhisattvas, one that is guarded and kept in mind by the Buddhas.

Shariputra, in ages to come, after a countless, boundless inconceivable number of kalpas have passed, you will make offerings to some thousands, ten thousands millions of Buddhas, and will honor and uphold the correct Law. You will fulfill every aspect of the way of the bodhisattva and will be able to become a Buddha with the name Flower Glow Thus Come One, worthy of offerings, of right and universal knowledge, perfect clarity and conduct, well gone, understanding the world, unexcelled worthy, trainer of people, teacher of heavenly and human beings, Buddha, World-Honored One.

Your realm will be called Free from Stain, the land will be level and smooth, pure and beautifully adorned, peaceful, bountiful and happy. Heavenly and human beings will flourish there. The ground will be of lapis lazuli, roads will crisscross it in eight directions, and ropes of gold will mark their boundaries. Beside each road will grow rows of seven-jeweled trees which will constantly flower and bear fruit. And this Flower Glow Thus Come One will employ the three vehicles to teach and convert living beings.

Shariputra, when this Buddha appears, although it will not be an evil age, because of his original vow he will preach the Law through the three vehicles. His kalpa will be called Great Treasure Adornment. Why will it be called Great Treasure Adornment? Because in that land bodhisattvas will be looked on as a great treasure. Those bodhisattvas will be countless, boundless, inconceivable in number, beyond the reach of reckoning or of simile and parable. Without the power of Buddha wisdom, one cannot understand how many.. Whenever these bodhisattvas wish to walk anywhere, jeweled flowers will uphold their feet.

‘‘‘These bodhisattvas will not have just conceived the desire for enlightenment, but all will have spent a long time planting the roots of virtue. Under countless hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, millions of Buddhas they will have carried out Brahma practices in a flawless manner, and will have been perpetually praised by the Buddhas. Constantly they will have cultivated Buddha wisdom, acquiring great transcendental powers and thoroughly understanding the gateways to all the doctrines. They will be upright in character, without duplicity, firm in intent and thought. Bodhisattvas such as this will abound in that land.

Shariputra, the life span of the Buddha Flower Glow will be twelve small kalpas, not counting the times when he is still a prince and before he becomes a Buddha. The people of his land will have a life span of eight small kalpas. When Flower Glow Thus Come One has lived for twelve small kalpas, he will prophesy that the bodhisattva Firm Full will attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. He will announce to the monks, "This bodhisattva Firm Full will be the next to become a Buddha. He will be named Flower feet Safely Walking, tathagata, arhat, samyak-sambuddha. His Buddha land will be like mine."

Shariputra, after the Buddha Flower Glow has passed into extinction, the era of the Correct Law will last for thirty-two small kalpas, and the era of the Counterfeit Law will last for another thirty-two small kalpas.

At that time the World-Honored One, wishing to state his meaning once more, spoke in verse form, saying:

Shariputra, in ages to come
you will become a Buddha, of universal wisdom, venerable,
bearing the name Flower Glow,
and you will save countless multitudes.
You will make offerings to numberless Buddhas,
be endowed with all the Bodhisattva practices,
the ten powers and other blessings,
and will realize the unsurpassed way.
After countless kalpas have passed,
your kalpa will be named Great Treasure Adornment.
Your world will be called Free from Stain,
pure, without flaw or defilement.
Its land will be made of lapis lazuli,
its roads bounded by ropes of gold,
and seven-jeweled trees in a jumble of colors
will constantly bear blossoms and fruit.
The bodhisattvas of that realm
will always be firm in intent and thought.
Transcendental powers and paramitas--
each will be endowed with all of these,
and under numberless Buddhas
they will diligently study the bodhisattva way.
Thus these great men
will be converted by the Buddha Flower Glow.
When that Buddha was still a prince,
he gave up his country, abandoned worldly glory,
and in his final incarnation
left his family and attained the Buddha way.
Flower Glow Buddha will continue in the world
for a life span of twelve small kalpas.
The numerous people of his land
will have a life span of eight small kalpas.
After that Buddha has passed into extinction,
the Correct Law will endure in the world
for thirty-two small kalpas,
saving living beings far and wide.
When the correct law has passed away,
the Counterfeit Law will endure for thirty-two kalpas.
The Buddha’‘‘s relics will circulate widely;
heavenly and human beings everywhere will make offerings to them.
The actions of Flower Glow Buddha
will all be as I have said.
This most saintly and venerable of two-legged beings
will be foremost and without peer.
And he will be none other than you--
you should rejoice and count yourself fortunate!

At that time, when the four kinds of believers, namely, monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen, and the heavenly beings, dragons, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, and others in the great assembly saw how Shariputra received from the Buddha this prophecy that he would attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, their hearts were filled with great joy and danced without end. Each one removed the upper robe that he or she was wearing and presented it a an offering to the Buddha. Shakra Devanam Indra, King Brahma, and the countless sons of gods likewise took their wonderful heavenly robes, heavenly mandarava flowers and great mandarava flowers and offered them to the Buddha. The heavenly robes they had scattered remained suspended in the air and turned round and round of themselves. Heavenly beings made music, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand varieties, all at the same time in the midst of the air, raining down quantities of heavenly flowers and speaking these words: In the past at Varanasi the Buddha first turned the wheel of the Law. Now he turns the wheel again, the wheel of the unsurpassed, the greatest Law of all!

At that time the sons of gods, wishing to state their meaning once more, spoke in verse form, saying:

In the past at Varanasi
you turned the wheel of the Law of the four noble truths,
making distinctions, preaching that all things
are born and become extinct, bing made up of the
five components.
Now you turn the wheel of the most wonderful,
the unsurpassed great Law.
This Law is very profound and abstruse;
there are few who can believe it.
Since times past often we have heard
the World-Honored One’‘‘s preaching,
but we have never heard this kind of profound, wonderful and superior Law.
Since the World-Honored One preaches this Law,
we all welcome it with joy.
Shariputra with his great wisdom
has now received this venerable prophecy.
We too in the same way
will surely be able to attain Buddhahood,
throughout all the many worlds
the most venerable, the unsurpassed goal.
The Buddha way is difficult to fathom,
but you will preach with expedient means,
according to what is appropriate.
The meritorious deeds we have done
in this existence or past existences,
and the blessings gained from seeing the Buddha--
all these we will apply to the Buddha way.

At that time Shariputra said to the Buddha: World-Honored One, now I have no mere doubts or regrets. In person I have received from the Buddha this prophecy that I will attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. These twelve hundred persons here whose minds are free -- in the past they remained at the level of learning, and the Buddha constantly taught and converted them, saying, ‘‘‘My Law can free you from birth, old age, sickness and death and enable you at last to achieve nirvana.’‘‘ These persons, some of whom were still learning and some who had completed their learning, each believed that, because he had shed his views of ‘‘‘self,’‘‘ and also his views of ‘‘‘existing’‘‘ and ‘‘‘not existing,’‘‘ he had attained nirvana. But now from the World-Honored One they hear what they had never heard before, and all have fallen into doubt and perplexity.

Very well, World-Honored One. I beg that for the sake of the four kinds of believers you will explain the causes and conditions and make it possible for them to shed their doubts and regrets.

At that time the Buddha said so Shariputra, Did I not tell you earlier that when the Buddhas, the World-Honored Ones, cite various causes and conditions and use similes, parables, and other expressions, employing expedient means to preach the Law, it is all for the sake of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi? Whatever is preached is all for the sake of converting the bodhisattvas.

Moreover, Shariputra, I too will now make use of similes and parables to further clarify this doctrine. For through similes and parables those who are wise can obtain understanding.

Shariputra, suppose that in a certain town in a certain country there was a very rich man. He was far along in years and his wealth was beyond measure. He had many fields, houses and menservants. His own house was big and rambling, but it had only one gate. A great many people--a hundred, two hundred, perhaps as many as five hundred--lived in the house. The halls and rooms were old and decaying, the walls crumbling, the pillars rotten at their base, and the beams and rafters crooked and aslant.

At that time a fire suddenly broke out on all sides, spreading through the rooms of the house. The sons of the rich man, ten, twenty perhaps thirty, were inside the house. When the rich man saw the huge flames leaping up on every side, he was greatly alarmed and fearful and thought to himself, I can escape to safety through the flaming gate, but my sons are inside the burning house enjoying themselves and playing games, unaware, unknowing, without alarm or fear. The fire is closing in on them, suffering and pain threaten them, yet their minds have no sense of loathing or peril and they do not think of trying to escape!

Shariputra, this rich man thought to himself, I have strength in my body and arms. I can wrap them in a robe or place them on a bench and carry them out of the house. And then again he thought, this house has only one gate, and moreover it is narrow and small.

My sons are very young, they have no understanding, and they love their games, being so engrossed in them that they are likely to be burned in the fire. I must explain to them why I am fearful and alarmed. The house is already in flames and I must get them out quickly and not let them be burned up in the fire!

Having thought in this way, he followed his plan and called to all his sons, saying, ‘‘‘You must come out at once! But though the father was moved by pity and gave good words of instruction, the sons were absorbed in their games and unwilling to heed them. They had no alarm, no fright, and in the end no mind to leave the house. Moreover, they did not understand what the fire was, what the house was, what the danger was. They merely raced about this way and that in play and looked at their father without heeding him.

At that time the rich man had this thought: the house is already in flames from this huge fire. If I and my sons do not get out at once, we are certain to be burned. I must now invent some expedient means that will make it possible for the children to escape harm.

The father understood his sons and knew what various toys and curious objects each child customarily liked and what would delight them. And so he said to them, "The kind of playthings you like are rare and hard to find. If you do not take them when you can, you will surely regret it later. For example, things like these goat-carts, deer-carts and ox-carts. They are outside the gate now where you can play with them. So you must come out of this burning house at once. Then whatever ones you want, I will give them all to you!"

At that time, when the sons heard their father telling them about these rare playthings, because such things were just what they had wanted, each felt emboldened in heart and, pushing and shoving one another, they all came wildly dashing out of the burning house.

At that time the rich man, seeing that his sons had gotten out safely and all were seated on the open ground at the crossroads and were no longer in danger, was greatly relieved and his mind danced for joy. At that time each of the sons said to his father, the playthings you promised us earlier, the goat-carts and deer-carts and ox-carts--please give them to us now!’‘‘

Shariputra, at that time the rich man gave to each of his sons a large carriage of uniform size and quality. The carriages were tall and spacious and adorned with numerous jewels. A railing ran all around them and bells hung from all four sides. A canopy was stretched over the top, which was also decorated with an assortment of precious jewels. Ropes of jewels twined around, a fringe of flowers hung down, and layers of cushions were spread inside, on which were placed vermillion pillows. Each carriage was drawn by a white ox, pure and clean in hide, handsome in form and of great strength, capable of pulling the carriage smoothly and properly at a pace fast as the wind. In addition, there were many grooms and servants to attend and guard the carriage.

What was the reason for this? This rich man’s wealth was limitless and he had many kinds of storehouses that were all filled and overflowing. And he thought to himself, ‘‘‘There is no end to my possessions. It would not be right if I were to give my sons small carriages of inferior make. These little boys are all my sons and I love them without partiality. I have countless numbers of large carriages adorned with seven kinds of gems. I should be fair-minded and give one to each of my sons. I should not show any discrimination. Why? Because even if I distributed these possessions of mine to every person in the whole country I would still not exhaust them, much less could I do so by giving them to my sons!

At that time each of the sons mounted his large carriage, gaining something he had never had before, something he had originally never expected. Shariputra, what do you think of this? When this rich man impartially handed out to his sons these big carriages adorned with rare jewels, was he guilty of falsehood or not?

Shariputra said, No, World-Honored One. This rich man simply made it possible for his sons to escape the peril of fire and preserve their lives. He did not commit a falsehood. Why do I say this? Because if they were able to preserve their lives, then they had already obtained a plaything of sorts. And how much more so when, through an expedient means, they are rescued from that burning house! World-Honored One, even if the rich man had not given them the tiniest carriage, he would still not be guilty of falsehood. Why? Because this rich man had earlier made up his mind that he would employ an expedient means to cause his sons to escape. Using a device of this kind was no act of falsehood. How much less so, then, when the rich man knew that his wealth was limitless and he intended to enrich and benefit his sons by giving each of them a large carriage.

The Buddha said to Shariputra, Very good, very good. In is just as you have said. And Shariputra, the Thus Come One is like this. That is, he is a father to all the world. His fears, cares and anxieties, ignorance and misunderstanding, have long come to an end, leaving no residue. He has fully succeeded in acquiring measureless insight, power and freedom from fear and gaining great supernatural powers and the power of wisdom. He is endowed with expedient means and the paramita of wisdom, his great pity and great compassion are constant and unflagging; at all times he seeks what is good and will bring benefit to all.

‘‘‘He is born into the threefold world, a burning house, rotten and old. In order to save living beings from the fires of birth, old age, sickness and death, care suffering, stupidity, misunderstanding, and the three poisons; to teach and convert them and enable them to attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.

He sees living beings seared and consumed by birth, old age, sickness and death, care and suffering, sees them undergo many kinds of pain because of their greed and attachment and striving they undergo numerous pains in their present existence, and later they undergo the pain of being reborn in hell or as beasts or hungry spirits. Even if they are reborn in the heavenly realm or the realm of human beings, they undergo the pain of poverty and want, the pain of parting from loved ones, the pain of encountering those they detest--all these many different kinds of pain.

Yet living beings drowned in the midst of all this, delight and amuse themselves, unaware, unknowing, without alarm or fear. They feel no sense of loathing and make no attempt to escape. In this burning house which is the threefold world, they race about to east and west, and though they encounter great pain, they are not distressed by it.

Shariputra, when the Buddha sees this, then he thinks to himself, I am the father of living beings and I should rescue them from their sufferings and give them the joy of the measureless and boundless Buddha wisdom so that they may find their enjoyment in that.

Shariputra, the Thus Come One also has this thought: if I should merely employ supernatural powers and the power of wisdom; if I should set aside expedient means and for the sake of living beings should praise the Thus Come One’‘‘s insight, power and freedom from fear, then living beings would not be able to gain salvation. Why? Because these living beings have not yet escaped from birth, old age, sickness, death, care and suffering, but are consumed by flames in the burning house that is the threefold world. How could they be able to understand the Buddha’s wisdom?

Shariputra, that rich man, though he had strength in his body and arms, did not use it. He merely employed a carefully contrived expedient means and thus was able to rescue his sons from the peril of the burning house, and afterward gave each of them a large carriage adorned with rare jewels. And the Thus Come One does the same. Though he possesses power and freedom from fear, he does not use these. He merely employs wisdom and expedient means to rescue living beings from the burning house of the threefold world, expounding to them the three vehicles, the vehicle of the voice-hearer, that of pratyekabuddha, and that of the Buddha.

He says to them, "You must not be content to stay in this burning house of the threefold world! Do not be greedy for its coarse and shoddy forms, sounds, scents, tastes and sensations! If you become attached to them and learn to love them, you will be burned up! You must come out of this threefold world at once so that you can acquire the three vehicles, the vehicles of the voice-hearer, the pratyekabuddha and the Buddha. I promise you now that you will get them, and that promise will never prove false. You have only to apply yourselves with diligent effort!"

The Thus Come One employs this expedient means to lure living beings into action. And then he says to them, "You should understand that these doctrines of the three vehicles are all praised by the sages. They are free, without entanglements, leaving nothing further to depend upon or seek. Mount these three vehicles, gain roots that are without outflows, gain powers, awareness, the way, meditation, emancipation, samadhis, and then enjoy yourselves. You will gain the delight of immeasurable peace and safety."

Shariputra, if there are living beings who are inwardly wise in nature, and who attend the Buddha, the World-Honored One, hear the Law, believe and accept it, and put forth diligent effort, desiring to escape quickly from the threefold world and seeking to attain nirvana, they shall be called [those who ride] the vehicle of the voice hearer.

They are like those sons who left the burning house in the hope of acquiring goat-carts.

If there are living beings who attend the Buddha, the World-Honored One, hear the Law, believe and accept it, and put forth diligent effort, seeking wisdom that comes of itself, taking solitary delight in goodness and tranquility, and profoundly understanding the causes and conditions of all phenomena, they shall be called [those who ride] the vehicle of the pratyekabuddha. They are like the sons who left the burning house in the hope of acquiring deer-carts.

If there are living beings who attend the Buddha, the World-Honored One, hear the Law, believe and accept it, and put forth diligent effort, seeking comprehensive wisdom, the insight of the Thus Come One, powers and freedom from fear, who pity and comfort countless living beings, bring benefit to heavenly and human beings, and save them all, they shall be called [those who ride] the Great Vehicle. Because the bodhisattvas seek this vehicle, they are called mahasattvas. They are like the sons who left the burning house in the hope of acquiring ox-carts.

Shariputra, that rich man, seeing that his sons had all gotten out of the burning house safely and were no longer threatened, recalled that his wealth was immeasurable and presented each of his sons with a large carriage. And the Thus Come One does likewise. He is the father of all living beings. When he sees that countless thousands of millions of living beings, through the gateway of the Buddha’‘‘s teaching, can escape the pains of the threefold world, the fearful and perilous road, and gain the delights of nirvana, the Thus Come One at that time has this thought: I possess measureless, boundless wisdom, power, fearlessness, the storehouse of the Law of the Buddhas. These living beings are all my sons. I will give the Great Vehicle to all of them equally so that there will not be those who gain extinction by themselves, but that all may do so through the extinction of the Thus Come One.

To all the living beings who have escaped from the threefold world he then gives the delightful gifts of the meditation, emancipation, and so forth, of the Buddhas. All these are uniform in characteristics, uniform in type, praised by the sages, capable of producing pure, wonderful, supreme delight.

Shariputra, that rich man first used three types of carriages to entice his sons, but later he gave them just the large carriage adorned with jewels, the safest, most comfortable kind of all. Despite this, that rich man was not guilty of falsehood. The Thus Come One does the same, and he is without falsehood. First he preaches the three vehicles to attract and guide living beings, but later he employs just the Great Vehicle to save them. Why? The Thus Come One possesses measureless wisdom, power, freedom from fear, the storehouse of the Law. He is capable of giving to all living beings the Law of the Great Vehicle. But not all of them are capable of receiving it.

Shariputra, for this reason you should understand that the Buddhas employ the power of expedient means. And because they do so, they make distinctions in the one Buddha vehicle and preach it as three.

The Buddha, wishing to state his meaning once more, spoke in verse form, saying:

Suppose there was a rich man
who had a large house.
This house was very old,
and decayed and dilapidated as well.
The halls, though lofty, were in dangerous condition
beams and rafters were slating and askew,
foundations and steps were crumbling.
Walls were cracked and gaping
and the plaster had fallen off of them.
The roof thatch was in disrepair or missing,
the tips of the eaves had dropped off.
The fences surrounding it were crooked or collapsed
and heaped rubbish was piled all around.
Some five hundred persons
lived in the house.

Kites, owls, hawks, eagles,
crows, magpies, doves, pigeons,
lizards, snakes, vipers, scorpions,
centipedes and millipedes,
newts and ground beetles,
weasels, raccoon dogs, mice, rats,
hordes of evil creatures
scurried this way and that.
Places that stank of excrement
overflowed in streams of filth
where dung beetles and other creatures gathered.

Foxes, wolves and jackals
gnawed and trampled in the filth
or tore apart dead bodies,
scattering bones and flesh about.
Because of this, packs of dogs
came racing to the spot to snatch and tear,
driven by hunger and fear,
searching everywhere for food,
fighting, struggling and seizing,
baring their teeth, snarling and howling.
That house was fearful, frightening,
so altered was its aspect.
In every part of it
there were goblins and trolls,
yakshas and evil spirits
who feed on human flesh
or on poisonous creatures.
The various evil birds and beasts
bore offspring, hatched and nursed them,
each hiding and protecting its young,
but the yakshas outdid one another
in their haste to seize and eat them.
And when they had eaten their fill,
their evil hearts became fiercer than ever;
the sound of their wrangling and contention
was terrifying indeed.

Kumbhanda demons
crouched on clumps of earth
or leaped one or two feet
off the ground,
idling, wandering here and there,
amusing themselves according to their whims. 

Sometimes they seized a dog by two of its legs
and beat it till it had lost its voice,
or planted their feet on the dog’s neck,
terrifying it for their own delight.
Again there were demons
with large tall bodies,
naked in form, black and emaciated
constantly living there,
who would cry out in loud ugly voices,
shouting and demanding food.

There were other demons
whose throats were like needles,
or still other demons
with heads like the head of an ox,
some feeding on human flesh,
others devouring dogs.
Their hair like tangled weeds,
cruel, baleful, ferocious,
driven by hunger and thirst,
they dashed about shrieking and howling.

The yakshas and starving spirits
and the various evil birds and beasts
hungrily pressed forward in all directions,
peering out at the windows.
Such were the perils of this house,
threats and terrors beyond measure.
This house, old and rotting,
belonged to a certain man
and that man had gone nearby
and he had not been out for long
when a fire
suddenly broke out in the house.

In one moment from all four sides
the flames rose up in a mass.
Ridgepoles, beams, rafters, pillars
exploded with a roar, quivering, splitting,
broke in two and came rumbling down
as walls and partitions collapsed.

The various demons and spirits
lifted their voices in a great wail,
the hawks, eagles and other birds,
the kumbhanda demons,
were filled with panic and terror,
not knowing how to escape.
The evil beasts and poisonous creatures
hid in their holes and dens,
and the pishacha demons,
who were also living there,
because they had done so little that was good,
were oppressed by the flames
and attacked one another,
drinking blood and gobbling flesh.
The jackals and their like
were already dead by this time
and the larger of the evil beasts
vied in devouring them.
Foul smoke swirled and billowed up,
filling the house on every side.
The centipedes and millipedes,
the poisonous snakes and their kind,
scorched by the flames,
came scurrying out of their lairs,
whereupon the kumbhanda demons
pounced on them and ate them.
In addition, the starving spirits,
the fire raging about their heads,
hungry, thirsty, tormented by the heat,
raced this way and that in terror and confusion.
Such was the state of that house,
truly frightening and fearful;
malicious injury, the havoc of fire-
many ills, not just one, afflicted it.
At this time the owner of the house
was standing outside the gate
when he heard someone say,
A while ago your various sons,
in order to play their games,
went inside the house.

They are very young and lack understanding
and will be wrapped up in their amusements.
When the rich man heard this,
he rushed in alarm into the burning house,
determined to rescue his sons
and keep them from being burned by the flames.
He urged his sons to heed him,
explaining the many dangers and perils,
the evil spirits and poisonous creatures,
the flames spreading all around,
the multitude of sufferings
that would follow one another without end,
the poisonous snakes, lizards and vipers,
as well as the many yakshas
and kumbhanda demons,
the jackals, foxes and dogs,
hawks, eagles, kites, owls,
ground beetles and similar creatures
driven and tormented by hunger and thirst,
truly things to be feared.
His sons could not stay in such a perilous place,
much less when it was all on fire!
But the sons had no understanding
and although they heard their father’s warnings,
they continued engrossed in their amusements,
never ceasing their games.

At that time the rich man
thought to himself:
My sons may behave in this manner,
adding to my grief and anguish.

In this house at present
there is not a single joy,
and yet my sons,
wrapped up in their games,
refuse to heed my instructions
and will be destroyed by the fire!

Then it occurred to him
to devise some expedient means,
and he said to his sons,
I have many kinds
of rare and marvelous toys,
wonderful jeweled carriages,
goat-carts, deer-carts,
carts drawn by big oxen.

They are outside the gate right now
you must come out and see them!
I have fashioned these carts
explicitly for you.
You may enjoy whichever you choose,
play with them as you like!
When the sons heard
this description of the carts,
at once they vied with one another
in dashing out of the house,
till they reached the open ground,
away from all peril and danger.
When the rich man saw that his sons
had escaped from the burning house
and were standing in the crossroads,
he seated himself on a lion seat,
congratulating himself in these words:
Now I am content and happy.

These sons of mine
have been very difficult to raise.
Ignorant, youthful, without understanding,
they entered that perilous house
with its many poisonous creatures
and its goblins to be feared.
The roaring flames of the great fire
rose up on all four sides,
yet those sons of mine
still clung to their games.

But now I have saved them,
caused them to escape from danger.

That is the reason, good people,
I am content and happy.
At that time the sons,
seeing their father comfortably seated,
all went to where he was
and said to him:
Please give us
the three kinds of jeweled carriages
you promised us earlier.
You said if we came out of the house
you’‘‘d give us three kinds of carts
and we could choose whichever we wished.
Now is the time
to give them to us!
The rich man was very wealthy
and had many storehouses.
With gold, silver, lapis lazuli,
seashells, agate,
and other such precious things
he fashioned large carriages
beautifully adorned and decorated,
with railings running around them
and bells hanging from all sides.
Ropes of gold twisted and twined,
nets of pearls
stretched over the top,
and fringes of golden flowers
hung down everywhere.

Multicolored decorations
wound around and encircled the carriages,
soft silks and gauzes
served for cushions,
with fine felts of most wonderful make
valued at thousands or millions,
gleaming white and pure,
to spread over them.
There were large white oxen,
sleek, stalwart, of great strength,
handsome in form,
to draw the jeweled carriages,
and numerous grooms and attendants
to accompany and guard them.
These wonderful carriages
the man presented to each of his sons alike.

The sons at that time
danced for joy,
mounting the jeweled carriages,
driving off in all directions,
delighting and amusing themselves
freely and without hindrance.
I say this to you, Shariputra-
I am like this rich man.
I, most venerable of the sages,
am the father of this world
and all living beings
are my children.
But they are deeply attached to worldly pleasures
and lacking in minds of wisdom.
There is no safety in the threefold world;
it is like a burning house,
replete with a multitude of sufferings,
truly to be feared,
constantly beset with the griefs and pains
of birth, old age, sickness and death,
which are like fires
raging fiercely and without cease.
The Thus Come One has already left
the burning house of the threefold world
and dwells in tranquil quietude
in the safety of forest and plain.
But now this threefold world
is all my domain,
and the living beings in it
are all my children.

Now this place
is beset by many pains and trials.

I am the only person
who can rescue and protect others,
but though I teach and instruct them,
they do not believe or accept my teachings,
because, tainted by desires,
they are deeply immersed in greed and attachment.

So, I employ an expedient means,
describing to them the three vehicles,
causing all living beings
to understand the pains of the threefold world,
and then I set forth and expound
a way whereby they can escape from the world.
If these children of mine
will only determine in their minds to do so,
they can acquire all the three understandings
and the six transcendental powers,
can become pratyekabuddhas
or bodhisattvas who never regress.
I say to you, Shariputra,
for the sake of living beings
I employ these similes and parables
to preach the single Buddha vehicle.
If you and the others are capable
of believing and accepting my words,
then all of you are certain
to attain the Buddha way.

This vehicle is subtle, wonderful,
foremost in purity;
throughout all worlds
it stands unsurpassed.

The Buddha delights in and approves it,
and all living beings
should praise it,
offer it alms and obeisance.

There are immeasurable thousands of millions
of powers, emancipations,
meditations, wisdoms,

and other attributes of the Buddha.

But if the children can obtain this vehicle,
it will allow them
day and night for unnumbered kalpas
to find constant enjoyment,
to join the bodhisattvas
and the multitude of voice-hearers
in mounting this jeweled vehicle
and proceeding directly to the place of practice.
For these reasons,
though one should seek diligently in the ten directions,
he will find no other vehicles
except when the Buddha preaches them as an expedient means.
I tell you, Shariputra,
you and the others
are all my children,
and I am a father to you.

For repeated kalpas
you have burned in the flames of manifold sufferings,
but I will save you all
and cause you to escape from the threefold world.
Although earlier I told you
that you had attained extinction,
that was only the end of birth and death,
it was not true extinction.
Now what is needed
is simply that you acquire Buddha wisdom.

If there are bodhisattvas
here in this assembly,
let them with a single mind
listen to the true Law of the Buddhas.
Though the Buddhas, the World-Honored Ones,
employ expedient means,
the living beings converted by them
are all bodhisattvas.
If there are persons of little wisdom
who are deeply attached to love and desire,
because they are that way,
the Buddha preaches for them the rule of suffering.

Then the living beings will be glad in mind,
having gained what they never had before.
The rule of suffering which the Buddha preaches
is true and never varies.
If there are living beings
who do not understand the root of suffering,
who are deeply attached to the causes of suffering
and cannot for a moment put them aside,
because they are that way,
the Buddha uses expedient means to preach the way.
As to the cause of all suffering,
it has its root in greed and desire.
If greed and desire are wiped out,
it will have no place to dwell.
To wipe out all suffering-
this is called the third rule.

For the sake of this rule, the rule of extinction,
one practices the way.
And when one escapes from the bonds of suffering
this is called attaining emancipation.
By what means
can a person attain emancipation?
Separating oneself from falsehood and delusion-
this alone may be called emancipation.
But if a person has not truly
been able to emancipate himself from everything,
then the Buddha will say
he has not achieved true extinction,
because such a person
has not yet gained the unsurpassed way.

My purpose is not to try
to cause them to reach extinction.
I am the Dharma King,
free to do as I will with the Law.
To bring peace and safety to living beings-
that is the reason I appear in the world.

I say to you, Shariputra,
this Dharma seal of mine

I preach because I wish
to bring benefit to the world.
You must not recklessly transmit it
wherever you happen to wander.
If there is someone who hears it,
responds with joy and gratefully accepts it,
you should know that person
is an avivartika.

If there is someone who believes and accepts
the Law of this sutra,
that person has already seen
the Buddhas of the past,
has respectfully offered alms to them
and listened to this Law.
If there is someone who can
believe what you preach
then that person has seen me,
and has also seen you
and the other monks
and the bodhisattvas.
This Lotus Sutra
is preached for those with profound wisdom.
If persons of shallow understanding hear it,
they will be perplexed and fail to comprehend.
As for all the voice-hearers
and pratyekabuddhas,
in this sutra there are things
that are beyond their powers.
Even you, Shariputra,
in the case of this sutra
were able to gain entrance through faith alone.
How much more so, then, the other voice-hearers.
Those other voice-hearers
it is because they have faith in the Buddha’‘‘s words
that they can comply with this sutra,
not because of any wisdom of their own.

Also, Shariputra,
to persons who are arrogant or lazy
or taken up with views of the self,
do not preach this sutra.
Those with the shallow understandings of ordinary persons,
who are deeply attached to the five desires,
cannot comprehend it when they hear it.
Do not preach it to them.
If a person fails to have faith
but instead slanders this sutra,
immediately he will destroy all the seeds
for becoming a Buddha in this world.
Or perhaps he will scowl with knitted brows
and harbor doubt or perplexity.
Listen and I will tell you
the penalty this person must pay.
Whether the Buddha is in the world
or has already entered extinction,
if this person should slander
a sutra such as this,
or on seeing those who read, recite,
copy and uphold this sutra,
should despise, hate, envy,
or bear grudges against them,
the penalty this person must pay
listen, I will tell you now:
When his life comes to an end
he will enter the Avichi hell,
be confined there for a whole kalpa,
and when the kalpa ends, be born there again.

He will keep repeating this cycle
for a countless number of kalpas.
Though he may emerge from hell,
he will fall into the realm of beasts,
becoming a dog or jackal,
his form lean and scruffy,
dark, discolored, with scabs and sores,
something for men to make sport of.
Or again he will
be hated and despised by men,
constantly plagued by hunger and thirst,
his bones and flesh dried up,
in life undergoing torment and hardship,
in death buried beneath the tiles and stones.
Because he cut off the seeds of Buddhahood
he will suffer this penalty.
If he should become a camel
or be born in the shape of a donkey,
his body will constantly bear heavy burdens
and have the stick or whip laid on it.
He will think only of water and grass
and understand nothing else.
Because he slandered this sutra,
this is the punishment he will incur.
Or he will be born as a jackal
who comes to the village,
body all scabs and sores,
having only one eye,
by the boys
beaten and cuffed,
suffering grief and pain,
sometimes to the point of death.

And after he has died
he will be born again in the body of a serpent,
long and huge in size,
measuring five hundred yojanas,
deaf, witless, without feet,
slithering along on his belly,
with little creatures
biting and feeding on him,
day and night undergoing hardship,
never knowing rest.

Because he slandered this sutra,
this is the punishment he will incur.
If he should become a human being,
his faculties will be blighted and dull,
he will be puny, vile, bent, crippled,
blind, deaf, hunchbacked.

The things he says
people will not believe,
the breath from his mouth will be constantly foul,
he will be possessed by devils,
poor and lowly,
ordered around by others,
plagued by many ailments, thin and gaunt,
having no one to turn to.
Though he attached himself to others,
they would never think of him;
though he might gain something,
he would at once lose or forget it.
Though he might practice the art of medicine
and by its methods cure someone’‘‘s disease,
the person would grow sicker from some other malady
and perhaps in the end would die.
If he himself had an illness,
no one would aid or nurse him,
and though he took good medicine,
it would only make his condition worse.
If others should turn against him,
he would find himself plundered and robbed.

His sins would be such
that they would bring unexpected disaster on him.
A sinful person of this sort
will never see the Buddha,
the king of the many sages,
preaching the Law, teaching and converting.
A sinful person of this sort
will constantly be born amid difficulties,
crazed, deaf, confused in mind,
and never will hear the Law.

For countless kalpas
numerous as Ganges sands
he will at birth become deaf and dumb,
his faculties impaired,
will constantly dwell in hell,
strolling in it as though it were a garden,
and the other evil paths of existence
he will look on as his own home.
Camel, donkey, pig, dog-
these will be the forms he will take on.
Because he slandered this sutra,
this is the punishment he will incur.
If he should become a human being,
he will be deaf, blind, dumb.
Poverty, want, all kinds of decay
will be his adornment;
water blisters, diabetes,
scabs, sores, ulcers,
maladies such as these
will be his garments.
His body will always smell bad,
filthy and impure.
Deeply attached to views of self,
he will grow in anger and hatred;
aflame with licentious desires,
he will not spurn even birds or beasts.
Because he slandered this sutra,
this is the punishment he will incur.
I tell you, Shariputra,
if I were to describe the punishments that fall
on persons who slander this sutra,
I could exhaust a kalpa and never come to the end.
For this reason
I expressly say to you,
do not preach this sutra
to persons who are without wisdom.
But if there are those of keen capacities,
wise and understanding,
of much learning and strong memory,
who seek the Buddha way,
then to persons such as this
it is permissible to preach it.
If there are persons who have seen
hundreds and thousands and millions of Buddhas,
have planted many good roots
and are firm and deeply committed in mind,
then to persons such as this
it is permissible to preach it.
If there are persons who are diligent,
constantly cultivating a compassionate mind,
not begrudging life or limb,
then it is permissible to preach it.

If there are persons who are respectful, reverent
with minds set on nothing else,
who separate themselves from common folly
to live alone among mountains and waters,
then to persons such as this
it is permissible to preach it.
Again, Shariputra,
if you see a person
who thrusts aside evil friends
and associates with good companions,
then to a person such as this
it is permissible to preach it.
If you see a son of the Buddha
observing the precepts, clean and spotless
as a pure bright gem,
seeking the Great Vehicle Sutra,
then to a person such as this
it is permissible to preach it.
If a person is without anger,
upright and gentle in nature,
constantly pitying all beings,
respectful and reverent to the Buddhas,
then to a person such as this
it is permissible to preach it.
Again, if a son of the Buddha
in the midst of the great assembly
should with a pure mind
employ various causes and conditions,
similes, parables, and other expressions
to preach the Law in unhindered fashion,
to a person such as this
it is permissible to preach it.
If there are monks who,
for the sake of comprehensive wisdom,
seek the Law in every direction,
pressing palms together, gratefully accepting,
desiring only to accept and embrace
the sutra of the Great Vehicle
and not accepting a single verse
of the other sutras,
to persons such as this
it is permissible to preach it.

If a person, earnest in mind,
seeks this sutra
as though he were seeking the Buddha’‘‘s relics,
and having gained and gratefully accepted it,
that person shows no intention
of seeking other sutras
and has never once given thought
to the writings of the non-Buddhist doctrines,
to a person such as this
it is permissible to preach it.
I tell you Shariputra,
if I described all the characteristics
of those who seek the Buddha way,
I could exhaust a kalpa and never be done.
Persons of this type
are capable of believing and understanding.
Therefore for them you should preach
the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law.

 


CHAPTER FOUR

BELIEF AND UNDERSTANDING

     At that time, when the men of lifelong wisdom Subhuti, Mahakatyayana, Mahakashyapa, and Mahamaudgalyayana heard from the Buddha a Law that they had never known before, and heard the World-Honored One prophesy that Shariputra would attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, their minds were moved as seldom before and danced for joy. At once they rose from their seats, arranged their robes, bared their right shoulders and bowed their right knees to the ground. Pressing their palms together with a single mind, they bent their bodies in a gesture of respect and, gazing up in reverence at the face of the Honored One, said to the Buddha: We stand at the head of the monks and are all of us old and decrepit. We believed that we had already attained nirvana and that we were incapable of doing more, and so we never sought to attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.

It has been a long time since the World-Honored One first began to expound the Law. During that time we have sat in our seats, our bodies weary and inert, meditating solely on the concepts of emptiness, non-form, and non-action. But as to the pleasures and transcendental power of the Law of the bodhisattva or the purifying of Buddha lands and the salvation of living beings-these our minds took no joy in. Why is this? Because the World-Honored One had made it possible for us to transcend the threefold world and to attain the enlightenment of nirvana.

Moreover, we are old and decrepit. When we heard of this anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, which the Buddha uses to teach and convert the bodhisattvas, our minds were not fill ed with any thought of joy or approval. But now in the presence of the Buddha we have heard this voice-hearer receive a prophecy that he will attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi and our minds are greatly delighted. We have gained what we have never before. Suddenly we have been able to hear a Law that is rarely encountered, something we never expected up to now, and we look upon ourselves as profoundly fortunate. We have gained great goodness and benefit, an immeasurably rare jewel, something unsought that came of itself.

World-Honored One, we would be pleased now to employ a parable to make clear our meaning. Suppose there was a man, still young in years, who abandoned his father, ran away, and lived for a long time in another land, for perhaps ten, twenty, or even fifty years. As he drew older, he found himself increasingly poor and in want. He hurried about in every direction, seeking clothing and food, wandering farther and farther afield until by chance he turned his steps in the direction of his homeland.

The father meanwhile had been searching for his son without success and had taken up residence in a certain city. The father’‘‘s household was very wealthy, with immeasurable riches and treasures. Gold, silver, lapis Lazuli, coral, amber, and crystal beads all filled and overflowed from his storehouses. He had many grooms and menservants, clerks and attendants, and elephants, horses, carriages, oxen, and goats beyond number. He engaged in profitable ventures at home and in all the lands around, and also had dealings with many merchants and traveling vendors.

At this time the impoverished son wandered from village to village, passing through various lands and towns, till at last he came to the city where his father was residing. The father thought constantly of his son, but though he had been parted from him for over fifty years, he had never told anyone else about the matter. He merely pondered to himself, his heart filed with regret and longing. He thought to himself that he was old and decrepit. He had great wealth and possessions, gold silver and rare treasures that filled and overflowed from his storehouses, but he had no son, so that if one day he should die, the wealth and possessions would be scattered and lost, for there was no one to entrust them to.

This was the reason he constantly thought so earnestly of his son. And he also had this thought: If I could find my son and entrust my wealth and possessions to him, then I could feel contented and easy in mind and would have no more worries.

World-Honored One, at that time the impoverished son drifted from one kind of employment to another until he came by chance to his father’‘‘s house. He stood by the side of the gate, gazing far off at his father, who was seated on a lion throne, his legs supported by a jeweled footrest, while Brahmans, noblemen, and householders, uniformly deferential, surrounded him. Festoons of pearls worth thousands or tens of thousands adorned his body, and clerks, grooms and menservants holding white fly whisks stood in attendance to left and right. A jeweled canopy covered him, with flowered banners hanging from it, perfumed water had been sprinkled over the ground, heaps of rare flowers were scatted about, and precious objects were ranged here and there, brought out, put away, handed over and received. Such were the many different types of adornments, the emblems of prerogative and marks of distinction.

When the impoverished son saw how great was his father’‘‘s power and authority, he was filled with fear and awe and regretted he had ever come to such a place. Secretly he thought to himself; This must be some king, or one who is equal to a king. This is not the sort of place where I can hire out my labor and gain a living. It would be better to go to some poor village where, if I work hard, I will find a place and can easily earn food and clothing. If I stay here for long, I may be seized and pressed into service! Having thought in this way, he raced from the spot.

At that time the rich old man, seated on his lion throne, spied his son and recognized him immediately. His heart was filled with great joy and at once he thought: Now I have someone to entrust my storehouses of wealth and possessions to! My thoughts have constantly been with this son of mine but I had no way of seeing him. Now suddenly he had appeared of himself, which is exactly what I would have wished. Though I am old and decrepit, I still care what becomes of my belongings.

Thereupon he dispatched a bystander to go after the son as quickly as possible and bring him back. At that time the messenger raced swiftly after the son and laid hold of him. The impoverished son, alarmed and fearful, cried out in an angry voice, ‘‘‘I have done nothing wrong! Why am I being seized?’‘‘ But the messenger held on to him more tightly than ever and forcibly dragged him back.

At that time the son thought to himself, I have committed no crime and yet I am taken prisoner. Surely I am going to be put to death! He was more terrified than ever and sank to the ground, fainting with despair.

The father, observing this from a distance, spoke to the messenger, saying, ‘‘‘I have no need of this man. Don’‘‘t force him to come here, but sprinkle cold water on his face so he will regain his senses. Then say nothing more to him!’‘‘

Why did he do that? Because the father knew that his son was of humble outlook an ambition, and that his own rich and eminent position would be difficult for the son to accept. He knew very well that this was his son, but as a form of expedient means he refrained from saying to anyone, ‘‘‘this is my son.’‘‘

The messenger said to the son, I am releasing you now. You may go anywhere you wish.’‘‘ The impoverished son was delighted, having gained what he had not had before, and picked himself up from the ground and went off to the poor village in order to look for food and clothing.

At that time the rich man, hoping to entice his son back again, decided to employ an expedient means and send two men as secret messengers, men who were lean and haggard and had no imposing appearance. ‘‘‘Go seek out that poor man and approach him casually. Tell him you know a place where he can earn twice the regular wage. If he agrees to the arrangement, then bring him here and put him to work. If he asks what sort of work he will be put to, say that he will be employed to clear away excrement, and that the two of you will be working with him.’‘‘

The two messengers then set out at once to find the poor man, and when they had done so, spoke to him as they had been instructed. At that time the impoverished son asked for an advance on his wages and then went with the men to help clear away excrement.

When the father saw his son, he pitied and wondered at him. Another day, when he was gazing out the window, he saw his son in the distance, his body thin and haggard, filthy with excrement, dirt, sweat and defilement. The father immediately took off his necklaces, his soft fine garments and his other adornments and put on clothes that were ragged and soiled. He smeared dirt on his body, took in his right hand a utensil for removing excrement, and assuming a gruff manner, spoke to the laborers, saying, ‘‘‘Keep at your work! You mustn’‘‘t be lazy!’‘‘ By employing this expedient means, he was able to approach his son.

Later he spoke to his son again, saying, ‘‘‘Now then, young man! You must keep on at this work and not leave me anymore. I will increase your wages, and whatever you need in the way of utensils, rice, flour, salt, vinegar, and the like you should be in no worry about. I have an old servant I can lend you when you need him. You may set your mind at ease. I will be like a father to you, so have no more worries. Why do I say this? Because I am well along in years, but you are still young and sturdy. When you are at work, you are never deceitful or lazy or speak angry or resentful words. You don’‘‘t seem to have any faults of that kind the way my other workers do. From now on, you will be like my own son.’‘‘ And the rich man proceeded to select a name and assign it to the man as though he were his child.

At this time the impoverished son, though he was delighted at such treatment, still thought of himself as a person of humble station who was in the employ of another. Therefore the rich man kept him clearing away excrement for the next twenty years. By the end of this time, the son felt that he was understood and trusted, and he could come and go at ease, but he continued to live in the same place as before.

World-Honored One, at that time the rich man fell ill and knew he would die before long. He spoke to his impoverished son, saying, I now have great quantities of gold, silver, and rare treasures that fill and overflow from my storehouses. You are to take complete charge of the amounts I have and of what is to be handed out and gathered in. This is what I have in mind, and I want you to carry out my wishes. Why is this? Because from now on, you and I will not behave as two different persons. So you must keep your wits about you and see that there are no mistakes or losses.’‘‘

At that time the impoverished son, having received these instructions, took over the surveillance of all the goods, and gold, silver and rare treasures, and the various storehouses, but never thought of appropriated for himself so much as the cost of a single meal. He continued to live where he had before, unable to cease thinking of himself as mean and lowly.

After some time had passed, the farther perceived that his son was bit by bit becoming more self-assured and magnanimous in outlook, that he was determined to accomplish great things and despised his former low opinion of himself. Realizing that his own end was approaching, he ordered his son to arrange a meeting with his relatives and the king of the country, the high ministers, and the noblemen and householders. When they were all gathered together, he proceeded to make this announcement: Gentlemen, you should know that this is my son, who was born to me. In such-and-such a city he abandoned me and ran away, and for over fifty years he wandered about suffering hardship. His original name is such-and-such, and my name is such-and-such. In the past, when I was still living in my native city, I worried about him and so I set out in search of him. Sometime after, I suddenly chanced to meet up with him. This is the truth my son, and I will in truth am his father. Now everything that belongs to me, all my wealth and possessions, shall belong entirely to this son of mine. Matters of outlay and income that have occurred in the past this son of mine is familiar with.

World-Honored One, when the impoverished son heard these words of his father, he was filled with great joy, having gained what he never had before, and he thought to himself, I originally had no mind to covet or seek such things. Yet now these stores of treasures have come of their own accord!

World-Honored One, this old man with his great riches is none other than the Thus Come One, and we are all like the Buddha’‘‘s sons. The Thus Come One constantly tells us that we are his sons. But because of the three sufferings, World-Honored One, in the midst of birth and death we undergo burning anxieties, delusions, and ignorance, delighting in and clinging to lesser doctrines. But today the World-Honored One causes us to ponder carefully, to cast aside such doctrines, the filth of frivolous debate.

We were diligent and exerted ourselves in this matter until we had attained nirvana, which is like one day’‘‘s wages. And once we had attained it, our hearts were filled with great joy and we considered that this was enough. At once we said to ourselves, Because we have been diligent and exerted ourselves with regard to the Buddhist Law, we have gained this breadth and wealth of understanding.

But the World-Honored One, knowing from past times how our minds cling to unworthy desires and delight in lesser doctrines, pardoned us and let us be, not trying to explain to us by saying, You will come to possess the insight of the Thus Come One, your portion of the store of treasures!’‘‘ Instead the World-Honored One employed the power of expedient means, preaching to us the wisdom of the Thus Come One in such a way that we might heed the Buddha and attain nirvana, which is only day’‘‘s wages. And because we considered this to be a great gain, we had no wish to pursue the Great Vehicle.

In addition, though we expounded and set forth the Buddha wisdom for the sake of the Bodhisattvas, we ourselves did not aspire to attain it. Why do I say this? Because the Buddha, knowing that our minds delight in lesser doctrines, employed the power of expedient means to preach in a way that was appropriate for us. So we did not know that we were in truth the sons of the Buddha. But now at least we know it.

With regard to the Buddha wisdom, the World-Honored One is never begrudging. Why do I say this? From times past we have in truth been the sons of the Buddha, but we delighted in nothing but lesser doctrines. If we had the kind of mind that delighted in great ones, than the Buddha would have preached the Law of the Great Vehicle for us.

Now in this sutra the Buddha expounds only the one vehicle. And in the past, when in the presence of the bodhisattvas he disparaged the voice-hearers as those who delight in a lesser doctrine, the Buddha was in fact employing the Great Vehicle to teach and convert us. Therefore we say that, though originally we had no mind to covet or seek such a thing, now the great treasure of the Dharma King has come to us of its own accord. It is something that the sons of the Buddha have a right to acquire, and now they have acquired all of it.

At that time, Mahakashyapa, wishing to state his meaning once more, spoke in verse form, saying:

We today have heard
the Buddha’s voice teaching
and we dance for joy,
having gained what we never had before.
The Buddha declares that the voice-hearers
will be able to attain Buddhahood.
This cluster of unsurpassed jewels
has come to us unsought.
It is like the case of a boy who.
When still young without understanding,
abandoned his father and ran away,
going far off to another land,
drifting from one country to another
for over fifty years,
his father, distressed in thought,
searched for him in every direction
till, worn out with searching,
he halted in a certain city.
There he built a dwelling
where he could indulge the five desires.
His house was large and costly,
with quantities of gold, silver,
seashell, agate,
pearls, lapis lazuli,
elephants, horses, oxen goats,
palanquins, and carriages,
fields for farming, menservants, grooms,
and other people in great number.
He engaged in profitable ventures
at home and in all the lands around,
and had merchants and traveling vendors
stationed everywhere.
Thousands, ten thousands, millions
surrounded him and paid reverence;
he enjoyed the constant favor
and consideration of the ruler.
The officials and power clans
all joined in paying him honor,
and those who for one reason or another
flocked about him were many.
Such was his vast wealth,
the great power and influence he possessed.
But as he grew old an decrepit
he recalled his son with greater distress than ever,
day and night thinking of nothing else:
Now the time of my death draws hear.
Over fifty years have passed
since that foolish boy abandoned me.
My storehouses full of goods-
what will become of them?
At this time the impoverished son
was searching for food and clothing,
going from village to village,
from country to country,
sometimes finding something,
other times finding nothing,
starving and emaciated,
his body broken out in sores and ring worm.
As he moved from place to place
he arrived in time at the city where his father lived,
shifting from one job to another
until he came to his father’s house.

At that time the rich man
had spread a large jeweled canopy
inside his gate
and was seated on a lion throne,
surrounded by his dependents
and various attendants and guards.

Some were counting out
gold, silver, and precious objects,
or recording in ledgers
the outlay and income of wealth.
The impoverished son, observing
how eminent and distinguished His father was,
supposed he must be the king of a country
or the equal of a king.

Alarmed and full of wonder,
he asked himself why he had come here.
Secretly he thought to himself,
if I linger here for long
I will perhaps be seized
and pressed into service!

Once this thought had occurred to him,
he raced from the spot,
and inquiring where there was a poor village,
went there in hopes of gaining employment.
The rich man at the time,
seated on his lion throne,
was his son in the distance
and silently recognized who he was.

Immediately he instructed a messenger
to hurry after him and bring him back.
The impoverished son, crying out in terror,
sank to the ground in distress.
This man has seized me
and is surely going to put me to death!
To think that my search for food and clothing
should bring me to this!
The rich man knew that his son
was ignorant and self-abasing.

He will never believe my words,
will never believe I am his father.
So he employed an expedient means,
sending some other men to the son,
a one-eyed man, another puny and uncouth,
completely lacking in imposing appearance,
saying, Speak to him
and tell him I will employ him
to remove excrement and filth,
and will pay him twice the regular wage.
When the impoverished son heard this
he was delighted and came with the messengers
and worked to clear away excrement and filth
and clean the rooms of the house.

From the window the rich man
would constantly observe his son,
thinking how his son was ignorant and self-abasing
and delighted in such menial labor.
At such times the rich man
would put on dirty ragged clothing,
take in hand a utensil for removing excrement
and go to where his son was,
using this expedient means to approach him,
encouraging him to work diligently.
I have increased your wages
and given you oil to rub on your feet.
I will see that you have plenty to eat and drink,
mats and bedding that are thick and warm.
At times he would speak severely:
You must work hard!
Or again he will say in a gentle voice,
You are like a son to me.
The rich man, being wise,
gradually permitted his son to come and go in the house.
After twenty years had passed,
he put him in charge of household affairs,
showing him his gold, silver,
pearls, crystal,
and the other things that were handed out or gather