LIKE CHAPTER 2, this chapter relates stories that sound strange at first. As already explained in the Introduction, the Lotus Sutra often represents abstract ideas in the form of concrete images in order to help people grasp them. This entire chapter is a case in point.
First we must explain the description of the Stupa of the Precious Seven springing from the earth. This stupa symbolizes the buddha-nature that all people possess. Buddha-nature (the stupa) springing from the earth implies unexpectedly discovering one's buddha-nature in oneself (the earth), which one had been predisposed to regard as impure. Hence the title of this chapter, "Beholding the Precious Stupa."
In this stupa is the Tathagata Abundant Treasures, who symbolizes the absolute truth that was realized by the Tathagata Shakyamuni. This truth never changes, and it has existed throughout the universe. The truth is revealed in the form of the various teachings of the Buddha, and it guides people everywhere. This is symbolized by the buddhas who have emanated from the Buddha and who are preaching the Law in worlds in all directions.
When the Tathagata Abundant Treasures within the Precious Stupa shares half his throne with Shakyamuni Buddha, saying, "Shakyamuni Buddha! Take this seat!" Abundant Treasures testifies that all the teachings of the Tathagata Shakyamuni are true. This testimony is delivered by truth itself. It may be difficult to understand the idea of the truth itself testifying to the truth, but in brief, this means that all that Shakyamuni Buddha has said is sure to come true eventually. To come true eventually is to testify that what the Buddha said is the truth. There can be no testimony more definite than this.
There is a deep meaning in the image of the Tathagata Abundant Treasures as the truth and the Tathagata Shakyamuni as its preacher sitting side by side cross-legged on the lion throne in the Stupa of the Precious Seven. This symbolizes the fact that were it not for a person who preaches the truth, ordinary people could not realize it, and that a preacher of the truth is as much to be honored as the truth itself.
Lastly, the great assembly reflected thus: "The Buddhas are sitting aloft and far away. Would that the Tathagata by his transcendent powers might cause us together to take up our abode in the sky." Then immediately Shakyamuni Buddha, by his transcendent powers, transferred the great assembly to the sky. This signifies that if people discover their buddha-nature in themselves, they will be able immediately to make their abode in the world of the buddhas.
In this chapter, grasping the meaning of the text as a whole is more important than understanding the meaning of specific verses or words. Therefore our discussion will be limited to an outline of the chapter, together with explanation of its essential points.
After hearing the Buddha's preaching in chapter 10, those in the great assembly made the firm resolution: "As the Buddha says, whatever may happen, we will endeavor to spread the sacred teachings of the Buddha and to render service to people and to society." Just then, in front of them a huge stupa made of the precious seven suddenly sprang from the earth and abode in the sky. Decorated with all kinds of precious substances, it was of incomparable beauty. All the beings in the world, both human and nonhuman, gathered around the stupa, paid homage to it, and revered, honored, and extolled it.
The description of the stupa springing from the earth has a very deep meaning. The earth symbolizes our bodies and minds as ordinary people. It also means this saha world, which consists of ordinary people. The enlightenment and salvation of the buddhas do not drop out of the clouds but spring from within ourselves. Enlightenment and salvation that spring from within ourselves are truly valuable and powerful, as the Buddha teaches us clearly here. His teaching is realistic and positive.
Then from within the Precious Stupa there came a loud voice, saying: "Excellent! Excellent! World-honored Shakyamuni! You are able to preach to the great assembly the Wonderful Law Flower Sutra of universal and great wisdom, by which bodhisattvas are instructed and which the buddhas guard and keep in mind. So is it, so is it, World-honored Shakyamuni! All that you have expounded is true."
This great voice came from the Tathagata Abundant Treasures, although he was invisible. All in the great assembly wondered who was in the stupa. Meanwhile, the Bodhisattva Great Eloquence, perceiving the uncertainty in the minds of the people, asked the Buddha on their behalf the reason for this stupa's springing from the earth and for such a voice being emitted from within it.
Then the Buddha told the Bodhisattva Great Eloquence: "In this stupa there is the whole body of the Tathagata." "The whole body of the Tathagata" means the whole of the virtue and the power that the Tathagata possesses. The Buddha proclaimed here that once one awakens to his own buddha-nature, he becomes an eternal being like the Tathagata; he comes to possess supreme wisdom and to exercise infinite compassion.
The Buddha continued as follows: "Long ago in the past, there was a buddha entitled Abundant Treasures. When that buddha was treading the bodhisattva way, he made a great vow, saying: 'After I become a buddha and am extinct, if in any country in the universe there be a place where the Law Flower Sutra is preached, my stupa shall arise and appear there, in order that I may hearken to that sutra, bear testimony to it, and extol it, saying, "Excellent!"' When that buddha had finished his course, he, his extinction approaching, in the midst of heavenly beings, human beings, and a great host, instructed his bhikshus. In the stupa which has now sprung up from the earth is none other than the Tathagata Abundant Treasures."
Thereupon the Bodhisattva Great Eloquence said to the Buddha: "World-honored One! We earnestly desire to see this buddha's body." Confirming this desire, the Buddha addressed the Bodhisattva Great Eloquence thus: "This Buddha Abundant Treasures has a profound and grave vow: 'When my stupa appears in the presence of any of the buddhas for the sake of hearing the Law Flower Sutra, if he desires to show my body to the four groups, let the buddhas who have emanated from that buddha and who are preaching the Law in the worlds in all directions return all together and assemble in one place, and then shall my body appear.'"
On behalf of all in the great assembly, Great Eloquence replied to the Buddha: "World-honored One! We would also see the buddhas emanated from the World-honored One and worship and pay homage to them."
Then the Buddha sent forth a ray from the circle of white hair between his eyebrows, whereupon all the buddhas of the domains in all directions became visible. Wherever the ray from the circle of white hair shone, it revealed the beautifully adorned domains of the buddhas. Then each of the buddhas addressed the host of his bodhisattvas, saying: "Good sons! We must now go to Shakyamuni Buddha in the saha world and pay homage to the Precious Stupa of the Tathagata Abundant Treasures." Thereupon the saha world instantly became a beautiful world of purity and adornment.
This story indicates clearly that the Pure Land is not located in some faraway place but is here in the saha world where we live. For an enlightened person, the saha world is identical in essence with the Pure Land of Tranquil Light.
The buddhas from the ten directions all arrived and assembled in the saha world. Each sent his attendants to pay homage to Shakyamuni Buddha, and the buddhas unitedly expressed their desire that the Precious Stupa be opened. Thereupon Shakyamuni Buddha with his right hand opened the door of the Stupa of the Precious Seven, when there was a great sound like that of withdrawing the bolt on opening a great city gate. Thereupon all the congregation saw the Tathagata Abundant Treasures sitting on the lion throne in the Precious Stupa. And they heard him say, "Excellent! Excellent! Shakyamuni Buddha! Speedily preach this Law Flower Sutra. I have come here in order to hear this sutra."
All the congregation praised this unprecedented marvel and strewed on the Buddha Abundant Treasures and on Shakyamuni Buddha heaps of celestial jewel flowers. Thereupon the Buddha Abundant Treasures shared half his throne with Shakyamuni Buddha, saying, "Shakyamuni Buddha! Take this seat!" Whereon Shakyamuni Buddha entered the stupa and, sitting down on the throne, folded his legs.
At first the great assembly was deeply moved by this marvelous scene, but when they saw the two Buddhas sitting cross-legged in the stupa in the sky, they felt forlorn, as if the two Tathagatas were suddenly aloof and far away. Each reflected that he wished the Tathagatas by their transcendent powers might cause them also to take up their abode in the sky. Immediately Shakyamuni Buddha, perceiving their feelings, by his transcendent power received all the great assembly up into the sky.
THE TWO PLACES AND THREE ASSEMBLIES OF THE LOTUS SUTRA. From this part of this chapter, the setting of the Lotus Sutra shifts from Vulture Peak to the assembly in the sky. Shakyamuni Buddha is said to have expounded this sutra at two places and three assemblies. First it was preached at the assembly on Vulture Peak, next at the assembly held in the sky, and last again at the assembly on Vulture Peak. The spiritual significance of the two places and the three assemblies is as follows.
On receiving the teachings of the Buddha, at first we cannot understand them unless they are closely linked with our present actuality. The first preaching of the Lotus Sutra on the earth means that the Buddha first revealed his teachings based on actuality. This is the teaching of wisdom. Next, the preaching of the sutra in the sky, away from the earth, indicates the Buddha as the ideal that takes a step beyond actuality. This is possible through the absolute compassion shown by the Buddha. But his compassionate teaching is meaningless unless we demonstrate it in our actual lives. Therefore, the final preaching of the Lotus Sutra returns to actuality (the earth). As often mentioned in this book, the strange stories in the Lotus Sutra are not descriptions of some dreamlike world but contain well-reasoned spiritual significance.
THE DOCTRINE OF SIX DIFFICULTIES AND NINE EASY PRACTICES. Thereupon, with a great voice, the Tathagata Shakyamuni universally addressed the four groups from within the Precious Stupa, saying: "Who are able to publish abroad the Wonderful Law Flower Sutra in this saha world? Now indeed is the time. The Tathagata not long hence must enter nirvana. The Buddha desires to bequeath this Wonderful Law Flower Sutra so that it may ever exist." The Buddha, using various similes, then expounded the difficulty of preaching the Lotus Sutra in the age of degeneration. This is generally called the doctrine of six difficulties and nine easy practices.
If one picked up Mount Sumeru and hurled it to another region of numberless buddha lands, that would not be hard. If one were to move a great-thousandfold world with his toes and hurl it afar to another land, that also would not be hard. If one, standing on the Summit of All Beings,1 were to expound to all beings the countless sutras other than the Lotus Sutra, that also would not be hard. But if one, after the Buddha's extinction, is able to preach this sutra in the midst of an evil world, this indeed is hard. Though there were a man who grasped the sky in his hand and wandered about with it, that would not be hard. If one took the great earth, put it on his toenail, and ascended to the Brahma heaven, that would still not be hard. Though one, in the final conflagration at the end of the world, carried a load of dry hay on his back and entered the fire unseared, that would still not be hard. But after the Buddha's extinction, in the midst of an evil world, if anyone keeps the Lotus Sutra, reads it aloud, and proclaims it to but one other person, that indeed will be hard.
Simply because the Buddha preached thus, however, we must not lose heart through the fear that we cannot possibly carry out such a difficult task. Here the Buddha points out the difficulties that we will have in perfectly receiving and keeping the Lotus Sutra, reading and reciting it, and expounding it. Though we must incessantly strive toward perfect practice, we have already understood some of the difficulties mentioned above. So we need not feel discouraged. The very fact that we actually study this sutra, remember it, and are ready to practice it within the limits of our ability bears witness to the possibility of our accomplishing such a difficult task. We should, rather, encourage each other in our practice in these difficult times so that all the buddhas will rejoice in us.
- 1 The highest heaven, also called the Summit of All Existence.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.