CALLED THE CORE of the Law of Appearance, this important chapter is the pivot of the Buddha's preaching in the first half of the Lotus Sutra. The Japanese title of this chapter, "Hoben," is a compound word consisting of two characters, ho and ben. Ho originally means "a square" but sometimes means "right." Ben means "method" or "means." Therefore hoben means "a right method" or "a right means." As seen in the Japanese proverb Uso mo hoben (A lie can be expedient), it is regrettable to see how far the understanding of this word has deviated from its true meaning. The word hoben originally indicated the idea, "an enlightening method appropriately applied to the person and the occasion." Unless we keep in mind this original meaning, we cannot correctly understand this chapter.
When Manjushri foretold, "As his last teaching, the Buddha will certainly preach the highest enlightenment that he obtained," all in the assembly waited expectantly for the Buddha to begin to preach. At that time the World-honored One, rising quietly and clearly from contemplation, addressed Shariputra: "As buddhas can penetrate the real state of all things, their wisdom is very profound and infinite. Their wisdom-school is difficult to understand and difficult to enter, so that the shravakas and pratyekabuddhas cannot apprehend it. Wherefore? Because the buddhas have been in fellowship with countless numbers of buddhas, perfectly practicing the infinite Law of all buddhas, boldly and zealously advancing and making their fame universally known.
"As the buddhas have perfected the very profound, unprecedented Law, those who do not practice it deeply cannot understand its meaning. The buddhas also have preached it in various ways as opportunity served; it is very difficult for hearers to understand the buddhas' real intention and for what purpose they have preached thus.
"Shariputra! Ever since I became Buddha, with various reasonings and various parables I have widely discoursed and taught, and by countless tactful methods have led living beings, causing them to leave their selfish ideas [all attachments]. Wherefore? Because the Tathagata is altogether perfect in his method of leading living beings in his tactfulness and his power to discern the real state of all things [paramita, or perfection of wisdom].
"Shariputra! The wisdom of the Tathagata is broad and great, profound and far-reaching; the Tathagata can discern all from the infinite past to the infinite future. He possesses the following great minds [the four infinite virtues], which ordinary men cannot imagine: the infinite virtue of benevolence [the desire that one's own life make others happy]; that of compassion [the desire that one's conduct remove others' pain]; that of joy [the enjoyment of the sight of those who have obtained happiness]; and that of impartiality [the mind that has abandoned both the idea of revenge for injury inflicted by others and attachment to recompense for one's good deeds]. His expositions are unimpeded; his powers, his fearlessness, his meditations, his emancipations, and his contemplations have enabled him to enter into the boundless realms and to accomplish all the unprecedented Law.
"Shariputra! The Tathagata is able to discriminate each of the hearers, to preach laws skillfully to each of them, to use gentle words and cheer the hearts of all. Shariputra! Essentially speaking, the Buddha has altogether fulfilled the infinite, boundless, unprecedented Law."
THREE REQUESTS AND THREE REFUSALS. At this point the World-honored One suddenly fell silent. After a short time he began to speak again: "Enough, Shariputra, there is no need to say more. Wherefore? Because the Law that the Buddha has perfected is the chief unprecedented Law, and difficult to understand. Only a buddha together with a buddha can fathom the Reality of All Things, that is to say, all things have such a form, such a nature, such an embodiment, such a potency, such a function, such a cause, such a condition, such an effect, such a recompense, and such a complete fundamental whole."
These ten categories are termed the doctrine of the Ten Suchnesses (ju-nyoze), since they consist of ten terms preceded by "such." The doctrine of the Ten Suchnesses is the truth that applies to all things in the universe; and the concept of "Three Thousand (Realms) in One Mind" (ichinen sanzen), arising from this doctrine, is itself the truth preached by the Buddha. But just as Shakyamuni Buddha hesitated to expound this doctrine, for us to give a full explanation of this teaching at this point would be likely to confuse rather than enlighten readers. Therefore this doctrine will be fully explained later.
Then the World-honored One, desiring to proclaim this teaching over again, spoke in verse to the following effect: "The Buddha's wisdom is immeasurable. It is not a wisdom that I obtained easily after quick study but the wisdom that I finally attained after having followed countless buddhas in former times and having perfectly walked the right ways. In other words, it is the supreme wisdom, which I have been able to attain by cultivating my mind continuously.
"The Buddha's wisdom cannot be fathomed by following anyone - those who have been called the greatest wise men among many other people, pratyekabuddhas who have obtained enlightenment by their own experience, bodhisattvas who have newly vowed to attain the same enlightenment as the Buddha together with the mass of the people, and bodhisattvas who are so advanced in their practice that they are free from falling back.
"I now have wholly attained this profound and mysterious Law, as have all the buddhas of the universe. Though these buddhas preach various teachings, the foundation of all their teachings is the same. The buddhas' teachings always include only one fundamental truth, even though the words of the buddhas differ from one another. You must know this fact. The various ways to manifest this fundamental truth, that is, the tactful powers of the Buddha, are very important and valuable. In order to free beginners who seek enlightenment from illusions and sufferings in their daily lives, I have employed the three-vehicle teaching: the shravaka vehicle, the pratyekabuddha vehicle, and the bodhisattva vehicle. This was for the purpose of showing the greatness of the Buddha's tactful powers."
Listening to the Buddha preaching thus, all present in the great assembly wondered why the World-honored One now extolled the tactful way so repeatedly. All reflected thus: "So far the Buddha has taught us to be free through the fact that all phenomena in this world are always changing, and at last we have reached such a mental state after earnest practice. But now the Buddha says that those who are in such a mental state cannot understand the Buddha's wisdom. We cannot grasp what his words really mean." Thus all of them felt confused.
At that time Shariputra, apprehending the doubt in the minds of all present in the great assembly and also himself not having mastered the meaning of the Buddha's preaching, spoke to the Buddha: "World-honored One! What is the cause and what is the reason for so earnestly extolling the paramount tactful method and the very profound mysterious Law, difficult to understand, of the buddhas? I have never before heard such a discourse from the Buddha. At present all in this assembly are altogether in doubt. Will the World-honored One be pleased to explain these things?"
Then Shariputra, desiring to emphasize what he had said, repeated the same thing in verse. But the Buddha said to Shariputra: "Enough, enough, there is no need to say more. If I explain this matter, all the worlds of the gods and men would be startled and perplexed and become discouraged in their practice. It would be better not to explain it."
Shariputra burned with ardor for the truth and was not discouraged from asking the Buddha to explain it. Shariputra again said to the Buddha: "World-honored One! Be pleased to explain it! Be pleased to explain it! Wherefore? Because in this assembly there are numberless living beings who have already seen the buddhas, whose perceptions are keen and whose wisdom is clear. If they hear the Buddha's teaching, they will be able to believe and practice it respectfully."
The Buddha again said: "Enough, Shariputra! If I explained this matter, arrogant people would have doubts about it and might sneer that it is impossible for them."
Shariputra, persistent, once again asked the Buddha the same question. The Buddha gazed intently at Shariputra for a little while. Then, nodding his head with an air of satisfaction, he addressed Shariputra: "Shariputra! Since you have already three times earnestly repeated your request, how can I refuse to speak? I will discriminate and explain it to you. Do you now listen attentively to, ponder, and remember it!"
FIVE THOUSAND LEAVE THE ASSEMBLY. When the World-honored One had spoken thus, some five thousand bhikshus, bhikshunis, upasakas, and upasikas in the assembly immediately rose from their seats and, saluting the Buddha, withdrew. This was because the root of sin in these people was so deep and their haughty spirit so enlarged that they imagined they had attained what they had not attained, and that they had proved what they had not proved. In such error as this, they would not stay.
The World-honored One was silent and did not stop them. This was because he thought that even if he forced them to remain, they could not understand his teaching and it would tend instead to produce an adverse result. He also considered that they would wish to seek a true teaching sometime in the future, and would in time develop the capacity to understand it. His preaching to them at that time would be the quickest way to save them.
At first glance this attitude of the Buddha seems to indicate indifference to others, but his mind in its profundity was filled with the great wisdom and benevolence of the Buddha. This is clear from the incident recounted in chapter 8, "The Five Hundred Disciples Receive the Prediction of Their Destiny": when he gave a great many arhats the prediction that they would become buddhas in accordance with their practice, he said to Kashyapa, "The other band of shravakas will also be like them. To those who are not in this assembly, do you proclaim my words." The Buddha's words "those who are not in this assembly" refer to the five thousand monks who had risen from their seats and left the assembly earlier. The fact that he purposely did not stop them at that time demonstrates his great power in tactful means.
When the haughty monks had left and only the true and earnest seekers remained in the congregation, the Buddha addressed Shariputra: "The udumbara flower is said to be seen but once in three thousand years. The wonderful Law that I am now preaching to you is as rare to hear as is the blooming of this flower to see. All the buddhas preach only when they consider that the time is right. All of you have happened to meet with a very good opportunity. Shariputra, believe me, all of you; in the Buddha's teaching no word is false. Now listen carefully to my teaching.
"The Buddha expounds the laws by numberless tactful ways and with various reasonings and parables. The purpose for which these laws have been preached cannot be understood clearly. The fact is that the buddhas, the world-honored ones, appear in the world only in order to preach the one very great cause. What is the one very great cause? It is nothing other than what the buddhas desire to cause men to realize as being the purpose for which they live - that is, the Buddha knowledge. If each person understands this, he will become a buddha and will be able to attain true happiness.
"For this purpose, all living beings must first realize that they all equally possess the buddha-nature. As they become able to understand that they have the same nature as the Buddha, they will naturally rid themselves of their small selfish ideas and will have pure minds. The buddhas appear in the world because they desire to cause all living beings to open their eyes to the Buddha knowledge. To those who can realize the Buddha knowledge, the buddhas desire to show, indicating clearly, what the world is in the Buddha's eyes and in his wisdom. Having been able to understand the real state of the world, if they have the Buddha knowledge they come to realize that this world is a quiet and peaceful state, with no suffering. The buddhas appear in the world because they desire to cause all living beings to apprehend the Buddha knowledge. But living beings cannot attain such a state of mind naturally. It is a mental state that they cannot enter until they have devoted themselves to their practice with assiduity. The buddhas appear in the world because they desire to cause all living beings to enter the way of the Buddha knowledge.
"Through the tactful order of letting all living beings open their eyes to the Buddha knowledge, showing it to them, letting them apprehend it, and letting them enter into its Way, the buddhas desire to cause all living beings to attain the Buddha knowledge, and they teach that man must truly understand the purpose for which he lives--the buddhas for this one very great purpose alone appear in the world."
A BUDDHA TEACHES ONLY BODHISATTVAS. After preaching thus, Shakyamuni Buddha said to Shariputra in a serious and sharp tone: "The buddha-tathagataaches only bodhisattvas."
We are apt to take these words to mean, "The buddhas teach only bodhisattvas, so shravakas and pratyekabuddhas are not the true disciples of the Buddha." We are also liable to think that somehow such words as these are inconsistent with the Buddha's having said, "The buddhas appear in the world to cause all living beings to apprehend the truth." However, when we carefully consider the meaning of his words, we realize that they are always consistent.
Among the teachings of the Buddha there are many that apparently contradict each other. Many seeming contradictions are also found in the Lotus Sutra. However, the Buddha never made contradictory statements in his teachings. It is only that he speaks frankly, without mincing matters. Taking a shallow view of his words, we cannot guess what great hidden meaning they hold and so we think that they contain contradictions. When our understanding of his words is shallow, we become confused and think, "I cannot possibly understand the Buddha's teachings," or "His teachings are unreliable because of their inconsistency."
We must read the sutras deeply. Those who find this difficult should read them over and over, and then they will be able to understand something of the true meaning of the sutras. If they still cannot understand them, they should ask a competent person for instruction. They should realize that it would be a great mistake to think, "The Buddha's teachings have no interest for me because of their contradictions." We must receive and keep firmly the Lotus Sutra. Even if the sutra seems so difficult that we cannot understand it, with perseverance we will come to understand it eventually, at which time we have only to hold to it earnestly.
The true meaning of the Buddha's words, "The buddhas teach only bodhisattvas," should be interpreted as follows: "As long as you think that the fact that you have been able to obtain enlightenment for yourself alone is enough, you cannot attain real enlightenment. If you feel that you yourself have attained enlightenment though many other people have not, such a feeling is positive proof that you are keeping yourself aloof from others. Such a feeling is not a blending with others; it is, rather, isolation from them. You cannot enter the state of 'All things are devoid of self' because your egoistic feeling still remains. Therefore, your enlightenment is not real. One can obtain enlightenment for one's own self, and by the same token, all others can do the same. One can be saved from one's own suffering, and at the same time, all others can be saved from theirs. Your salvation together with that of others is your real salvation--at the very time that you understand this, you can be said to have attained real enlightenment and to have been set free from the bonds of illusion and suffering in the world."
Indeed, our first step toward enlightenment makes a crucial difference to our lives. In the example of the mathematician Yoichi Yoshida, mentioned in the Preface, as a child he found that one cannot be divided exactly into three through decimal arithematic. Though an effective way to calculate the fraction "one-third" existed all along, he could not possibly know this before studying fractions. But he was able to grasp it as soon as he was taught that fractions were another way of considering numbers.
We can say the same thing of attaining enlightenment. As long as even a man of great wisdom, such as Shariputra, only desired to obtain enlightenment for himself and to be saved for his own sake, he could not possibly bridge the great gulf between his own and the Buddha's enlightenment, though he had already nearly attained the Buddha's enlightenment. However, he was able to leap the gulf at the moment when he realized that real salvation consists in one's own salvation together with that of all other people.
This is the true meaning of the Buddha's words, "The buddhas teach only bodhisattvas." He said this in order to explain that only bodhisattvas, those who practice to save all living beings, can grasp the true teachings of the Buddha
ONLY ONE BUDDHA VEHICLE. If shravakas and pratyekabuddhas should generate the intention to practice the bodhisattva way, they would at that moment become the true disciples of the Buddha. The Buddha did not ignore them, but said what he did in order to lead them to true Buddha knowledge. In evidence of this, the Buddha next addressed Shariputra as follows: "Shariputra! The Tathagata, by means of the One Buddha Vehicle, preaches the Law to all living beings; there is no other vehicle, neither a second nor a third."
The One Vehicle means: All people can become buddhas. The enlightenment obtained by shravakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas alike is one by which they become buddhas, and it is the same in origin. Some can obtain the enlightenment of a shravaka and others can obtain that of a pratyekabuddha. Both aspects of enlightenment are gates to the Buddha knowledge.
This is allegorically explained as follows: A person who has entered this gate cannot enter the inner room of the Buddha knowledge until he has first passed through the porch of the bodhisattva practice. At the same time, it cannot be said that the gate and the porch are not both included within the residence of the Buddha. However, if a person stays at the gate, he will be drenched when it rains and chilled when it snows. "All of you, come into the inner room of the Buddha's residence. The eastern gate, the western gate, and the porch, all are entrances that lead to the inner room of the Buddha knowledge." This is the meaning of the Buddha's words, "Besides the One Buddha Vehicle, there is neither a second vehicle nor a third. I have shown the existence of these two vehicles by my tactful power. There is only one true goal for all."
If we can grasp the true meaning of the Buddha's words, we will come naturally to understand the meaning of the latter part of chapter 2. Here only the principal points, which include some difficult terms that may be confusing, will be explained.
As mentioned before, the buddhas appear in the world only for the one very great purpose of causing all living beings to attain the Buddha knowledge; in other words, for the sake of causing living beings to obtain enlightenment, realizing that they can become buddhas. The truth is that the Buddha's teaching is only one, but because in the evil ages of the five decays all living beings are greedy and alienated from the Buddha, the buddhas, by tactful powers, through the One Buddha Vehicle discriminate and expound the three vehicles - shravaka, pratyekabuddha, and bodhisattva.
All living beings have many kinds of desires deeply rooted in their minds. Even if man's illusions seem to have been removed from his conscious mind, they remain in the subconscious mind and will arise again through force of fixed habit, given the right conditions. The Buddhist term for this phenomenon jikke, meaning the innate seeds that we possess within us. For example, we suddenly feel angry when someone insults us, though we had decided never to lose our temper and had thought we had become very even-tempered. This happens because of deeply rooted desires. As long as we do not remove them from our subconscious mind, we cannot be said to be truly free from the bonds of illusion and suffering.
The subconscious mind has a great influence on physical health, as medical science has verified. This fact, which psychologists and doctors now acknowledge, Shakyamuni Buddha had recognized twenty-five hundred years ago.
THE EVIL AGES OF THE FIVE DECAYS. The Buddha said to Shariputra: "The buddhas appear in the evil ages of the five decays--the decay of the kalpa, decay through tribulations, decay of all living beings, decay of views, and decay of lifetime."
The decay of the kalpa, the first of the five decays, is the decay that takes place because of a very long lapse of time. When the status quo is maintained over a long period, various evils arise, just as hardening of the arteries exerts an unfavorable influence upon physical health. For this reason, sometimes the world needs to enter a new age in order to restore its health.
Decay through tribulations means that men come to act stupidly because of their illusions. This is the reason that criminal acts increase with time.
Decay of all living beings refers to the conflicts that arise because of the superficial differences in people's natures. Disputes break out among people and lead eventually to trouble in their families and in society in general because they do not realize that all people are permeated by one great life-force, so they focus on surface differences, and each asserts his own self.
Decay of views indicates the public conflicts that arise because of different viewpoints. Everything works against people, as all of them take a narrow view of matters because of their own selfish aims. But if all adopted a right way of looking at things, as expounded in the Buddha's teachings, a peaceful world without disputes would come about naturally.
Decay of lifetime means the uneasy state of the world caused because, due to their short lives, people seek immediate results and profit from their ideas and conduct, and they become anxious over trifles. If they could only awaken to the truth of man's eternal life, they would be saved from their sufferings without fail.
In such evil ages of the five decays, all living beings are too deeply attached to their illusions to understand the supreme teaching if it is preached to them directly. Therefore the buddhas gradually lead all living beings to enlightenment by their tactful power of dividing the teaching into the three vehicles: the shravaka vehicle, in which one listens to the Buddha's teachings and removes illusions from one's mind; the pratyekabuddha vehicle, in which one is not satisfied with listening to the Buddha's teachings but realizes the truth for oneself through one's own experience; and the bodhisattva vehicle, in which one is saved and becomes a bodhisattva as the result of the religious practice of saving others. When all living beings realize that these three divisions stem from the tactful powers of the buddhas, the tactfulness shown by the buddhas itself becomes a great way leading to the truth.
All living beings can enter the Buddha Way from any point: from worshiping the buddhas' relics, from building stupas and memorials, from building temples and shrines to the buddhas in the wilderness, or even from heaping sand in play to form a buddha's stupa. All living beings can enter the Buddha Way by doing anything good. As they increasingly strive after virtue and develop the great mind of benevolence, they finally become buddhas.
The words of the Buddha that we must be particularly careful to understand correctly here are: "I predict that such men as these / In the world to come will accomplish the Buddha Way." We should pay special attention to the phrase "the world to come." This does not mean "after one's death" but "sometime in the future, when one will gradually have advanced, step by step."
The Lotus Sutra teaches us that when one attains enlightenment, one becomes a buddha immediately and this world instantaneously becomes the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light. The sutra also teaches us not that we cannot go to paradise until we die but that the Buddha dwells in our minds and paradise exists in our daily lives.
In the last verse portion of chapter 2, we find the following lines: "The buddhas never by a smaller vehicle / Save all living beings." These lines are often misinterpreted to mean: "In the end the buddhas did not save all living beings by a smaller vehicle." Some people consider that this is inconsistent with the Buddha's benevolence. However, the true meaning of these words is: "The buddhas could not save all living beings finally by a smaller vehicle alone." That is, the buddhas save all living beings to some degree even by a smaller vehicle, but by that vehicle alone the buddhas cannot lead them to the final salvation, that is, the supreme salvation.
The Buddha concluded his preaching in chapter 2 with strong words: "Know, Shariputra! The Law of the buddhas is thus: by innumerable tactful ways, they proclaim the Law as opportunity serves. The essential thing is to learn it repeatedly and to practice it in your daily lives. Those who will not do so are not able to realize perfectly the one very great purpose, that the buddhas preach their teachings to all living beings by degrees and finally lead them to attain the same state as the Buddha. But you already know the expedient tactful ways of the buddhas. If so, you have no further doubts and rejoice greatly in your hearts, and you are also able to realize for yourselves that you will become buddhas."
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.