THIS CHAPTER IS VERY IMPORTANT because two teachings, the Law of Appearance and the Law of Origin, are brought to their culmination herein. It also teaches us that these two teachings are not separate but, even though they seem different, are one in essence.
In the Law of Appearance, Shakyamuni Buddha revealed the aim and the content of the teachings that he had preached since his attainment of buddhahood. This is a philosophical and ethical teaching emphasizing the formation of this world, human beings as they ought to be, the right way to live, and ideal human relationships.
In the Law of Origin, Shakyamuni revealed that the Buddha is not limited to Shakyamuni himself, who appeared in this world and lived a mortal life, but is the Original Being with the great life of non-beginning and non-end. In this Law, the Buddha teaches us that in order to be finally saved and to establish true peace in our world, we must be united with the Original Buddha, that is, must take refuge in him wholeheartedly.
We can distinguish between the Law of Appearance and the Law of Origin in the following way: the former is the teaching preached by Shakyamuni, who appeared as a man in this world, while the latter is the teaching declared by the Original Buddha, who exists from the infinite past to the eternal future. Because wisdom is more necessary than anything else in order to live correctly, the former is the teaching of wisdom, while the latter is the teaching of compassion, which preaches absolute salvation. It is indeed necessary for us to distinguish these two Laws when we go deeply into the study of the teaching of the Lotus Sutra.
Analysis is important when we study anything in depth. To analyze means to divide a thing into portions and examine its structure, its elements, its meaning, and its function. But if we conclude our study with only the analysis of a thing, we have only studied it halfway. After completing the analysis of anything, we must complete our study from a holistic point of view. Then we can ascertain the truth that applies to the whole. This is called synthesis. In every study we can obtain valid results only if analysis and synthesis go hand in hand.
This also applies to the study of the Lotus Sutra. Up to this point we have studied the Buddha's teachings by analyzing them in order to understand them correctly. If we stop with analysis, however, the teaching remains split into parts and thus tends to be jumbled in our minds. At this point we have not yet really understood it.
We should not study the Lotus Sutra for the sake of learning alone. It is not enough to have understood the sutra intellectually. We cannot be saved in the true sense, nor save the whole of society, until we proceed from understanding to faith and reach the mental state of complete union of understanding and faith.
In chapter 21 the Buddha taught that putting all his sermons in the previous twenty chapters together, the truth penetrating all these chapters is one and one alone. From this chapter, we clearly realize that the teaching shown in the Law of Appearance is entirely united with the teaching shown in the Law of Origin; understanding this, we can deepen our devotion to these two Laws.
Reading through this chapter, it may seem that no important teaching is stated in it, only the mysterious and wonderful divine power of the Tathagata. That is what makes the chapter hard to understand. The absolute power of the Tathagata is symbolized by his mysterious phenomena, and each such phenomenon includes the meaning of forming a complete union between the Law of Appearance and the Law of Origin.
The meaning of the ten divine powers of the Tathagata described in this chapter will be explained according to the interpretation accepted by many Buddhist scholars since ancient times. For this reason, the discussion will become rather specialized and difficult Buddhist terms may appear. But we should not be put off by this. Such terms are tactful means to help us in understanding the explanation, and needless to say, our real goal is to realize firmly the spirit preached in this chapter.
In the final verse section of chapter 20, the World-honored One spoke as follows:
After the Buddha's extinction,
On hearing such a sutra as this,
Should conceive no doubts or perplexities.
But they should wholeheartedly
Widely preach this sutra,
And age by age meeting buddhas
They will speedily accomplish the Buddha Way."
At that time the bodhisattva-mahasattvas, equal to the atoms of a great-thousandfold world, who had sprung up from the earth, all before the Buddha with one mind joined their palms together, looked up into his noble countenance, and spoke to the Buddha, saying: "World-honored One! After the extinction of the Buddha, in whatever lands the transformed body of the World-honored One exists, wherever he is extinct, we will widely preach this sutra. Wherefore? Because we also ourselves wish to obtain this truly pure Great Law in order to receive and keep, read and recite, explain, copy, and make offerings to it."
The bodhisattvas who had sprung up from the earth were introduced in chapter 15, and it was noted that they were regarded as having greater virtues than the Bodhisattva Manjusri and the Bodhisattva Maitreya. Now the bodhisattvas from the earth vowed to preach the Buddha's teachings widely. They told the Buddha why they would preach his teachings widely, a reason that includes a very profound meaning: because they have obtained this Great Law, they wish to receive and keep, read and recite, explain, copy, and make offerings to it.
To make offerings to the Buddha or the Law means to express one's sense of gratitude and make restitution for one's indebtedness to the Buddha or the Law. When the bodhisattvas widely preach the Buddha's teachings, this repays their debt for the teachings they have received from the Buddha. This is why the bodhisattvas who had sprung up from the earth are the great bodhisattvas. People at a lower spiritual stage would consider only themselves: "I myself can be saved by doing this practice." These bodhisattvas, however, rise above self.
We naturally receive merit by bestowing merits on others, and to refuse to accept such merits is to be overscrupulous. The Buddha's teachings are not narrow and bigoted. Therefore, in the previous chapters, the Buddha has taught repeatedly the merits we should give to others by preaching the Lotus Sutra and, at the same time, the merits we would receive from such practices. However, with this chapter, we see that the great bodhisattvas, who have many more virtues than other bodhisattvas, are perfectly free from the idea of self. This chapter teaches us the ideal state of the mind of the believer.
Another important teaching here is that even these great bodhisattvas do not neglect such practices as receiving and keeping, reading and reciting, explaining and copying the Buddha's teachings. Because they are great bodhisattvas, their understanding of the Law must be perfect. But even the great bodhisattvas endeavor to receive and keep the Buddha's teachings, deepen their understanding by reading and reciting them repeatedly, and devote themselves to the practice of keeping the teachings in memory by explaining and copying them. Such practices are most sacred and are very important to us because we are apt to become arrogant when our understanding of the Law improves even a little.
DIVINE POWERS REVEALED BY THE TATHAGATA. The World-honored One, on hearing the vow made by the bodhisattvas who had sprung up from the earth, nodded to himself. He said nothing to them. Then before the Bodhisattva Manjusri and the other countless hundred thousand myriad kotis of bodhisattva-mahasattvas, as well as the bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, upasikas, gods, dragons, yakshas, and other spirits, and human and nonhuman being - before all these living beings the World-honored One revealed his great divine powers.
He first showed the following divine power: he put forth "his broad and far-stretched tongue till it reached upward to the Brahma world." This expression may strike us today as strange, but it comes from an old Indian custom. In ancient India, to put one's tongue out was an action showing the truth of what one said. Through his first divine power, the Buddha revealed that all the teachings that he had preached were true and would be so eternally. To use a common expression, he showed that he was never double-tongued in what he preached. Through his divine power he expressed the following: the teachings that he has preached so far seem to be divided into two forms, the teaching of the appearing Buddha and the teaching of the Original Buddha. But ultimately these two teachings are united into one.
Buddhist scholars in later ages expounded that the teaching that "the two Laws are essentially identical in faith" (nimon-shin'itsu) is manifested in the Buddha's mysterious phenomenon of putting forth his broad and far-stretched tongue. The "two Laws" are the Law of Appearance and the Law of Origin. At first, the Buddha as a dweller in the saha world taught the actual way to live a good life to the people there. However, later he declared that he is the Original Buddha, the being of non-beginning and non-end. He also caused us to realize that true salvation comes from our obtaining the consciousness of being caused to live by the Original Buddha of non-beginning and non-end. There seems to be a great difference between the teaching of the Buddha who appeared in this world and that of the Original Buddha. How should we consider the difference between these two teachings?
Shakyamuni should be considered as the Buddha appearing in this world, who emanated from the Eternal Original Buddha through his great compassion for all living beings. Therefore we cannot separate Shakyamuni Buddha and the Original Buddha. If Shakyamuni had not appeared in this world, we would have been unable to know the real existence of the Original Buddha. We cannot judge which is higher or lower, the appearing Buddha or the Original Buddha. The conclusion is that the Original Buddha and the appearing Buddha are ultimately united in one and that our faith should be reduced to one object. This is the teaching of "the two Laws are essentially identical in faith." The mysterious phenomenon of the Buddha putting forth his broad and far-stretched tongue till it reached upward to the Brahma world thus has a very profound meaning.
Next the Buddha revealed the following divine power: every pore radiated a "light of infinite and numberless colors, all shining everywhere throughout all the directions of the universe. Under all the jewel trees the buddhas, each seated on a lion throne, also in like manner put forth their broad and far-stretched tongues radiating infinite light. While Shakyamuni Buddha and all the other buddhas under the jewel trees were revealing their divine powers, hundreds of thousands of years had fully passed."
Shakyamuni Buddha revealed his divine power by radiating a beautiful light from his whole body, shining everywhere throughout all directions of the universe. This mysterious phenomenon signifies that the truth is the light that dispels the darkness of delusion. As has been mentioned before, darkness does not exist as a real entity. Darkness is only a nonlighted state and will disappear when light shines. The same thing can be said of delusion. Only the truth has real existence; delusion is unreal. Delusion is born from the state in which our minds do not yet realize the truth. Delusion will disappear from our minds when we realize the truth.
The Buddha taught that people must not be troubled by such a trivial matter as delusion. They have only to realize the truth. This is the only way to banish delusion. The Buddha taught the principle of this doctrine in the Law of Appearance. Then in the Law of Origin he taught what the absolute truth is. He taught the truth of the Buddha's real existence and his immortality, that is, the teaching that all beings are caused to live by the Buddha.
The Law of Appearance and the Law of Origin are ultimately based on the same theory. This teaching is called nimon-ri'itsu, "the two Laws are essentially identical in theory." This profound teaching is indicated by the fact that the light radiated from the entire body of the Buddha caused the darkness to vanish everywhere throughout the universe. In the same way as Shakyamuni Buddha, the other buddhas also put forth their broad and far-stretched tongues, radiating infinite light. This image symbolizes that the truth is one and that all the buddhas have realized the same truth, however countless in number they may be.
Truth attracts truth. They blend together and become one. The moment Shakyamuni Buddha radiated the sacred light from his body, the other buddhas also in like manner radiated infinite light, which melted into one great light that shone everywhere throughout the universe. This is an image of the ideal state at which the believers in the Lotus Sutra ultimately aim. It describes the state in which all people become buddhas and the saha world is identical in essence with the Pure Land of Tranquil Light. When we reread with understanding this short passage describing the Buddha's divine power, we can keenly feel the sacredness of its content.
Next, the following action of the buddhas is expressed: "After that they drew back their tongues, coughed simultaneously, and snapped their fingers in unison." The phrase "coughed simultaneously" means that all the teachings are united into one, and the voices raised in a cough signify the preaching of the teaching.
At first Shakyamuni Buddha preached the tactful teaching. Nevertheless, because the truth is one, it is not all inferior teaching. The tactful teaching was preached only in order to lead people finally to the absolute truth. But the Law of Appearance and the Law of Origin both express important truths and are sacred teachings. If the latter can be compared to multiplication, the former can be likened to addition. Children cannot understand multiplication if they are first taught that two multiplied by three equals six. They must learn addition first. When they understand that two plus two plus two equal six, they can clearly grasp the idea that to multiply two by three is equivalent to adding two three times. Even if they learn the multiplication tables by heart and so "know" that two multiplied by three equals six, they cannot be said to have really grasped multiplication unless they understand addition.
In faith, as in arithmetic both addition and multiplication are true; both the Law of Appearance and the Law of Origin are the truth. Though faith can be compared to multiplication, it will not become real unless faith as addition is thoroughly understood.
In chapter 18, faith was shown as multiplication: the object of faith multiplied by the mind of faith equals the result of faith. But if we declare at the start, "The object of faith must be the Buddha of non-beginning and non-end," people will be confused and unable to believe. How much more serious are the consequences of a mistaken object of faith.
In the Law of Appearance, the Buddha taught fully the formation of this world, what human beings ought to be, the right way to live, and ideal human relationships. Through this Law, we can learn the right way of life: to follow the truth permeating everything, that is, to realize the Three Seals of the Laws and the Law of the Twelve Causes and Conditions, and, based on these teachings, to practice the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and the Six Perfections. This is the mental stage of faith by addition.
For those who have understood these doctrines, the Buddha revealed that all beings are caused to live by the universal truth, that is, by the Eternal Buddha as the being of non-beginning and non-end. Then the believer realizes, "If we are united with the Buddha, we will come naturally to live according to the truth. That state is our real salvation." The tactful teaching of the first half of the Lotus Sutra and the true (in the sense of absolute) teaching revealed in the second half of the sutra are both the same truth and lead to the same salvation. This is the teaching of nimon-kyoitsu, "the two Laws are essentially identical in teaching." The phrase "coughed simultaneously" represents this teaching.
The last phrase, "snapped their fingers in unison," has a special meaning. This action also came from an Indian custom. The buddhas' snapping their fingers in unison represents their assurance, "I give my word," or "I promise to do it." The description of all the buddhas snapping their fingers in unison therefore signifies their solemn promise to spread the Law, in other words, their vow to perform the bodhisattva practice.
The fundamental spirit of the bodhisattva practice is union between oneself and others. To wish to save a person out of sympathy for his pitiable condition is, so to speak, an entrance to the bodhisattva practice. When we reach the mental state in which we cannot help giving a helping hand to someone who is suffering, we can say that we have attained the true mind of the bodhisattva.
A baby cries for its mother's breast. She takes it in her arms and gives her breast to it. At this time the mother's mind transcends compassion for her baby. She can perceive the baby's hunger as keenly as if she herself were hungry. Therefore she lifts the crying baby in her arms, with no idea of self, and puts it to her breast. The baby innocently takes the mother's breast and the mother contentedly watches it. There is perfect union between mother and baby, and the mother has no feeling of bestowing something on the baby. This is the pure state of the bodhisattva's mind. It is the ideal mental state between a preacher of the teaching and his listeners. We can imagine that there must have been such a harmonious relationship between Shakyamuni Buddha and his disciples. As is written in a sutra, "The diseases of all the living are those of the Buddha," the ideal state of mind in carrying out the bodhisattva practice is union between oneself and others. Having studied the teachings in the Lotus Sutra so far, we know that all amount to union between oneself and others.
We seem to remove delusion from our minds and elevate our personalities according to the doctrines of the Law of the Twelve Causes and Conditions, the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path for our own sake. The fact is, however, that our own elevation in turn has a good influence upon those around us. Practicing the teaching ourselves is identical with letting others practice it. To practice the teaching thoroughly is sounder and more effective than to preach it weakly. As the doctrine of the Six Perfections is the standard of the bodhisattva practice, our practice of the teaching is the practice of union between ourselves and others.
Entering into the teaching of the Law of Origin, we finally understand the theory of the union between ourselves and others. We realize that all of us are originally united with the great life of the universe. This realization means that we know that even if people seem to be separate from one another, they are originally united. Disputes and troubles often arise because people do not realize this fact. If all people truly realized it and attained the mental state of union between themselves and others, this world would soon be transformed into the Pure Land.
Thus the entire teaching of the Lotus Sutra is ultimately resolved into the spirit of union between oneself and others. This fact is called the teaching of -nin'itsu, "the two Laws are essentially identical in person." All the buddhas snapping their fingers in unison signifies their promise to spread widely the spirit of union between oneself and others.
The next display of the buddhas' divine powers is expressed as follows: "These two sounds reached through every direction of buddha worlds, all their lands being shaken in six ways." As often explained in previous chapters, the expression "all their lands being shaken in six ways" means that all things in the universe were strongly moved by the display of the buddhas' divine powers. "These two sounds" refers to those made when all the buddhas coughed simultaneously and snapped their fingers in unison. They snapped their fingers in unison to indicate their declaration that the truth preached in the Lotus Sutra is one and to indicate their solemn promise to establish in this world the spirit of union between oneself and others as the ideal of the bodhisattva practice. The sound of their fingers snapping in unison reverberated in every direction and produced such a profound emotion in all things in the universe that they shook.
Nobody can avoid being prompted to the practice of the teaching if he is so greatly affected by it that he feels shaken. So long as he only understands the teaching in theory and stores it in his mind as mere knowledge, he cannot proceed to its practice. But if he should feel such profound emotion at the teaching that he is shaken both mentally and physically, he will naturally begin to practice it.
What is it that he should practice? It is the bodhisattva practice because all the teachings of the Lotus Sutra are manifested therein. In the Law of Appearance, the Buddha ultimately urges people to perform the bodhisattva practice through the Six Perfections. In the Law of Origin, he teaches them that their realization of union between themselves and the Buddha leads them to their realization of union between themselves and other people, and that this realization is naturally manifested in their bodhisattva practice of saving others. Moreover, their realization develops into the great practice of the bodhisattva - the attainment of world peace and the transformation of the saha world into the Pure Land of Tranquil Light. This is the teaching of nimon-gyoitsu, "the two Laws are essentially identical in practice." This profound teaching is expressed in the words "all their lands being shaken in six ways."
The five divine powers of the Tathagata mentioned so far are the manifestation of the realization, the teaching, and the vow that the Tathagata Shakyamuni and all other buddhas have made. When these five divine powers extend to all living beings in the universe, what will be the result? The next five divine powers describe their influence upon all living beings.
The sixth divine power of the Tathagata is stated as follows: "In the midst of these worlds all living beings, gods, dragons, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, human and nonhuman beings, and others, by reason of the divine power of the Buddha, all saw in this saha world the infinite, boundless, hundred thousand myriad kotis of buddhas, seated on the lion thrones under all the jewel trees, and saw Shakyamuni Buddha, together with the Tathagata Abundant Treasures, seated on lion thrones in the midst of the stupa, and also saw the infinite, boundless, hundred thousand myriad kotis of bodhisattva-mahasattvas, and the four groups who reverently surround Shakyamuni Buddha. After beholding this they were all greatly delighted, obtaining that which they had never experienced before."
All beings, both human and nonhuman beings, were enabled to see the great assembly of Shakyamuni Buddha, together with the Tathagata Abundant Treasures and many other buddhas. In Buddhist terms, this state is called fugen-daie, "all beings universally see the great assembly of the Buddha surrounded by many other buddhas." This expression signifies that all beings can equally realize the Buddha's teachings. At present, all people are different in their capacity to understand the teachings of Buddhism. Some can grasp them easily, while others find it very difficult to do so. Tactful means to enlighten people are to be used in various ways according to their differing capacities. This is the present state of human beings, but from the standpoint of the eternal future, all of them will be able to attain enlightenment.
There are indeed many different speeds in the process of the attainment of enlightenment. The difference in people's capacity to understand the Buddha's teachings exists only in the area encompassed by "this shore" (shigan), the world of birth and death. But people become buddhas equally when they reach "that shore" (higan), the realm of nirvana. Therefore, there is no essential difference in their capacity to understand the Buddha's teachings. This is the teaching of mirai-ki'itsu, "man's capacity to understand the Buddha's teachings is one in the future." The Buddhist term fugen-daie, "all living beings universally see the great assembly of the Buddha surrounded by many other buddhas," indicates the idea that the Buddha has the divine power to lead all living beings equally to the realm of nirvana in the future.
Next the following state is described: "At the same time all the gods in the sky sang with exalted voices: 'Beyond these infinite, boundless, hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of ashamkhyeya worlds, there is a realm named saha. In its midst is a Buddha, whose name is Shakyamuni. Now, for the sake of all bodhisattva-mahasattvas, he preaches the Great Vehicle Sutra called the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law, the Law by which bodhisattvas are instructed and which the buddhas watch over and keep in mind. You should with all your utmost heart joyfully follow it and should pay homage and make offerings to Shakyamuni Buddha.'"
The expression "all the gods in the sky sang with exalted voices" means that all living beings in the saha world received inspiration from all the gods. Such an expression is not limited to Buddhism. The phrase "a voice was heard from heaven" appears in Christian writings, and the words "I hear heaven's voice" are often used in the teachings of Confucius and Mencius. These words imply that people receive revelations from heaven, that is, that they perceive the truth of faith as if an inspiration had flashed across their minds.
What did all the living beings in the saha world receive by inspiration from the exalted voices of all the gods in the sky? They realized that in the saha world, Shakyamuni Buddha preached the teaching called the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law, the Law by which bodhisattvas are instructed and which the buddhas watch over and keep in mind. This is a true and peerless teaching, which causes all beings in the universe to live, bestows harmony on them, and brings about their peace of mind. This realization means that although the saha world is now a realm of suffering, it will surely become the most sacred land of the universe in the future, when all teaching and learning will be united into one in the Buddha's teachings. Teaching and learning should improve humankind, but they now tend to lead to opposition and unhappiness instead. They cause antagonism among people in the fields of religion and politics, for example. To give an example in science, nuclear physics is now leading mankind to the greatest unhappiness rather than promoting human welfare.
If teaching and learning followed the ideas of respect for humanity and universal harmony taught by Shakyamuni Buddha, the Pure Land would be realized in the saha world, and this world with its remarkably advanced material civilization would become the center of the universe. This is the teaching of mirai-kyoitsu, "all the teachings are united into one, the Buddha's teachings, in the future."
As with the course of nature, so next is the state of all living beings expressed: "All those living beings, after hearing the voice in the sky, joined their palms together toward the saha world and thus exclaimed: 'Namah Shakyamuni Buddha! Namah Shakyamuni Buddha!'" This description represents a prediction concerning the future of humankind. Some people do not know the Buddha's teachings at present. Others do not desire to study the teachings deeply even if they have had a chance to come into contact with them. One is infatuated with a mistaken idea, while another does not think at all but merely works like a slave. Again, some do evil, violating morality and the law. But though there are many kinds and classes of people in society, the time will surely come when they will all wholeheartedly take refuge in the Buddha. Then there will be no evil or foolish person because all people will have perfected their characters. This state of mind is called mirai-nin'itsu, "all people equally attain the perfection of their characters in the future." This is the significance of the words, "All those living beings . . . thus exclaimed: 'Namah Shakyamuni Buddha! Namah Shakyamuni Buddha!'"
Following this, another mysterious phenomenon is described: "Then with various flowers, incense, garlands, canopies, as well as personal ornaments, gems, and wonderful things, they all from afar strewed the saha world. The things so strewn from every quarter were like gathering clouds, transforming into a jeweled canopy, covering all the place above the buddhas." This phenomenon means that in the future the practice of all people will make equal offerings to the Buddha. The greatest offering to the Buddha is to make all one's daily practices accord with the Buddha's mind. Though there is a wide variety of daily practices, all are equal when they are in accord with the Buddha's mind. This is metaphorically expressed in the following words: "The things so strewn from every quarter are like gathering clouds, transforming into a jeweled canopy, covering all the place above the buddhas." This is the teaching of mirai-gyoitsu, meaning that though people's practices are now right or wrong in various ways, in the future all their practices will be united in that they will accord with the Buddha's mind.
To make all our practices accord with the Buddha's mind is an important standard for our daily lives. We must have some knowledge of laws and morals. But in society there are many acts that are not specified as good or bad by either laws or morals. Moreover, laws and morals change according to place and time. We cannot feel truly secure unless we can depend on practices that do not change according to time and place. If we adopt the standard of making our practices accord with the Buddha's mind, we can act with assured peace of mind at all times and will never be diverted to evil or dishonest acts. Because the Buddha is the universal truth, to make our practices match his mind means to act in accordance with the universal truth. By doing so we can prevent mistakes in all our practices.
The next mysterious phenomenon is described as follows: "Thereupon the worlds of the universe were united without barrier as one buddha land." The saha world is said to be the realm of delusion, while the Pure Land is said to be a beautiful land with no suffering and hell to be a world of great suffering. But if all living beings live perfectly for the sake of the truth by means of the Buddha's teachings, this universe will be united into one buddha land with no distinction between the world of heaven, the saha world, and the world of hell. Because the truth is one, all things will tend toward the truth sometime in the future and will contribute to creating a world of perfect harmony. This mysterious phenomenon represents the teaching of mirai-ri'itsu, "all things in the universe are united into one truth in the future."
The various mysterious phenomena known as the ten divine powers of the Tathagata are described here because this chapter contains the concluding teaching of the entire Lotus Sutra and because it shows the ultimate ideal. The Buddhist terms associated with each of the Tathagata's ten divine powers have been explained, but readers need not worry about remembering such specialized Buddhist terms; it is quite sufficient to understand the spirit of what is taught here.
Having read this far, we will have realized that the teachings of the Lotus Sutra are a perfect and exhaustive preparation for leading all living beings to the attainment of buddhahood, and we will feel inexpressible gratitude to the Buddha. At the same time, we will surely feel keenly that life is worth living, being aware of the possibility of approaching even a step or two toward the ideal state of mind by practicing the Buddha's teachings even though the realization of the ideal itself may be still far distant.
Nothing is more salutary than to have a firm goal in life. When a person has two or three goals at a time, his mind will be always agitated, not calm and stable. However, when he lives aiming at only the most sacred goal of advancing to the mental state of the Buddha, he is not diverted from the right direction because his life is penetrated by that great purpose at work, at home, in the company of his friends, in his reading, and in his recreation.
It is, of course, inevitable that ordinary people will sometimes have evil thoughts, be lazy or careless, commit faults, worry about personal trifles, indulge in worthless pleasures, and incessantly fall victim to various delusions. But they will not retrogress much from their purpose if they are conscious of proceeding step by step toward the mental state of the Buddha, even when they are swayed by delusions. This is because their awareness always acts as a mental support.
The ideal mental state mentioned here may seem too elevated for ordinary people, and some may regard it as a dream far removed from their real lives. They should not feel this ideal state to be something vague and abstract but should have a vivid, actual awareness of it. Moreover, they must make this mental state a living goal, and it must lead their daily lives.
At that time the Buddha addressed Eminent Conduct and the host of other bodhisattvas: "The divine powers of buddhas are so infinite and boundless that they are beyond thought and expression. Even if I, by these divine powers, through infinite, boundless hundred thousand myriad kotis of asamkhyeya kalpas, for the sake of entailing it, were to declare the merits of this sutra, I should still be unable to reach the end of those merits."
The words "for the sake of entailing it" include the following meaning: "Though it may entail great effort to spread abroad this teaching, I trust you to perform your task." Hearing these words of the Buddha, we cannot help making a fresh determination to carry out the Buddha's mission.
ESSENTIAL POINTS OF THE MERITS OF THE LOTUS SUTRA. The Buddha said that he would be unable to reach the end of the merits of the Lotus Sutra even if he were to declare them by his divine powers through infinite, boundless hundred thousand myriad kotis of asamkhyeya kalpas. He spoke of the essential points of those merits as follows: "Essentially speaking, all the laws belonging to the Tathagata, all the sovereign divine powers of the Tathagata, all the mysterious, essential treasuries of the Tathagata, and the very profound things of the Tathagata, all are proclaimed, displayed, revealed, and expounded in this sutra." These words contain the most profound essence of the merits of the Lotus Sutra.
In the phrase "all the laws belonging to the Tathagata," the laws are all the True Law that the Tathagata realized and showed in the Lotus Sutra. The truths realized by the Tathagata have also been preached in other sutras, though they have not been completely stated but have been revealed as tactful teachings according to each person's capacity to understand them. A great truth applicable to every part of the universe is preached in the Lotus Sutra, one that includes all other truths and teachings. That is why this sutra is said to be the culmination of all the teachings that Shakyamuni Buddha preached in his lifetime. All the truths realized by the Tathagata are exhaustively expressed in this sutra.
When the absolute truth realized by the Tathagata appears as the work of saving all living beings, none is left omitted from his salvation. This is the meaning of the phrase "all the sovereign, divine powers of the Tathagata." All these divine powers of the Tathagata are included in the Lotus Sutra. When we read the sutra, we can be saved even by reading a single verse or a single word of it because the truth is contained in every part of it. If we realize perfectly the great truth applicable to the whole of the Lotus Sutra and practice it thoroughly, we can eventually attain the same state of the mind as the Buddha. Therefore, all the sovereign, divine powers of the Tathagata, which are capable of saving all living beings, are contained in the Lotus Sutra.
The phrase "all the mysterious, essential treasuries of the Tathagata" indicates the infinity of the Tathagata's teaching. He penetrates the real state of all things and discerns the capacity of all living beings to understand his teaching. Therefore, he can preach a teaching suited to each occasion from the infinite treasury of the teaching in his heart. This infinite treasury is revealed in the Lotus Sutra.
In the phrase "the very profound things of the Tathagata," the word "things" means "practices." If we do not proceed from theory to practice in believing the teaching, we cannot perfectly accomplish the teaching. Theory and practice must always go together. In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha does not just preach his teachings theoretically but shows the practices that he has performed, the process through which he attained enlightenment, and the method of leading his disciples and all living beings. Moreover, he discusses not only events that occurred after he appeared in this world but also various bodhisattva practices that he carried out in his innumerable former lives. His inmost thoughts during his period of asceticism in this world and his practices in former lives are so profound that ordinary people cannot possibly imagine them. This is the meaning of the phrase "the very profound conditions of the Tathagata."
In this chapter, as the concluding teaching of the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha succinctly restates the point of the sutra to the following effect: "Essentially speaking, all the truths realized by the Tathagata, all their work of saving all the living, all the teachings that have appeared as their working, and all the practices of saving all the living that the Tathagata has showed in the past, all of these are proclaimed, displayed, revealed, and expounded in this sutra." The supreme value of the Lotus Sutra and its absolute perfection are again affirmed by the words of the Buddha himself.
The Buddha then declares the mental attitude that people must maintain after the extinction of the Tathagata: "Therefore you should, after the extinction of the Tathagata, wholeheartedly receive and keep, read and recite, explain and copy, cultivate and practice it [the Lotus Sutra] as the teaching. In whatever land, whether it be received and kept, read and recited, explained and copied, cultivated and practiced as the teaching; whether in a place where a volume of the sutra is kept, or in a temple, or in a grove, or under a tree, or in a monastery, or in a lay devotee's house, in a palace or a mountain, in a valley or in the wilderness, in all these places you must erect a stupa and make offerings. Wherefore? You should know that all these spots are the thrones of enlightenment. On these spots the buddhas attain Perfect Enlightenment; on these spots the buddhas roll the wheel of the Law; on these spots the buddhas enter parinirvana."
The Buddha emphasizes here the holiness of his teachings themselves, and he clearly teaches that the right way to maintain faith is to receive, keep, cultivate, and practice the teachings. Accordingly, "a place where a volume of the sutra is kept" should be regarded not as a place where the sutra as an object is kept but as a place where the teaching remains or is correctly practiced and maintained. To interpret the sutra as meaning just a material object - a book or scroll - is mistaken, as we can see from the spirit permeating the passage quoted above.
Why must we be so exacting about the interpretation of the meaning of a single word? This is because we are liable to regard something symbolizing the teaching as supreme and sovereign rather than the teaching itself, and by devoting ourselves to the symbol, we are inclined to indulge in a mistaken faith. Something symbolizing the teaching is holy indeed. But if we devote ourselves to it alone, regarding it as supreme, or if we pay homage to it for the sake of our salvation, we lower the holy teaching of the Buddha to the level of folk religion. Such a deed is a great slandering of the Buddha Law. Holiness consists in the Buddha's teachings themselves, as he has revealed here. A righteous faith exists in whatever place we receive, keep, cultivate, and practice the holy teaching. We must inscribe this on our memories because it is so important that it forms the foundation of our daily lives.
Next, the Buddha repeated his teaching in verse. Though the verses have substantially the same meaning as the preceding prose section, brief explanations will be given of the verses in which the Buddha used words differing in meaning from those in the equivalent prose passages.
Of the merits of those who receive, keep, cultivate, and practice this sutra, the Buddha said:
"He who can keep this sutra
Is one who already beholds me
And also the Buddha Abundant Treasures,
And all buddhas emanated from me,
And sees besides the bodhisattvas
Whom I have instructed until now."
As the Buddha says here, a person who wholeheartedly receives, keeps, cultivates, and practices this sutra can see the Buddha. As explained earlier, to see the Buddha means to realize surely the real existence of the Buddha. Through this realization we attain peace of mind. Next the Buddha said:
"He who can keep this sutra
Will cause me and the buddhas emanated from me,
And the Buddha Abundant Treasures in nirvana,
All of us entirely to rejoice;
And the buddhas now in the universe,
And those of the past and the future,
He shall also see and serve
And cause to rejoice."
"Briefly, this means that a person who receives, keeps, cultivates, and practices this sutra will cause all the buddhas to rejoice. This is because his deeds accord with the minds of all the buddhas and are the equivalent of great offerings to them.
Then the Buddha said:
"The mysterious Law that has been attained
By the buddhas each on his wisdom throne,
He who can keep this sutra
Must surely gain before long."
This means that a person who receives, keeps, cultivates, and practices this sutra must surely gain before long the deep enlightenment that has been attained by the buddhas on their wisdom thrones. However, the words, "before long" must not be interpreted in terms of the idea of time in this world. Ordinary people must practice the Buddha's teachings for the very long period of four or even eight rebirths. But even such a long period is a very short time from the viewpoint of eternal life.
The Buddha continued:
"He who can keep this sutra
Shall with respect to the meaning of the laws,
With their terms and expressions,
Delightedly expound without end,
Like the wind in the sky,
Which never has impediment."
This means that a person who wholeheartedly receives, keeps, cultivates, and practices this sutra will obtain the power to expound all the laws freely to others.
The Buddha concluded with the following words:
"After the Tathagata is extinct such a one,
Knowing this sutra that the Buddha has taught,
Together with its reasoning and process,
Shall expound it according to its true meaning.
Just as the light of the sun and moon
Can dispel the darkness,
So this man, working in the world,
Can disperse the gloom of the living
And cause numberless bodhisattvas
Finally to abide in the One Vehicle.
Therefore he who has wisdom,
Hearing the benefits of this merit,
After I am extinct,
Should receive and keep this sutra.
This one will in the Way of the Buddha
Be firm and have no doubts."
This means that if after the extinction of the Tathagata a person knows why, to whom, and where the Buddha has preached his teachings, together with their reasoning and process, and correctly expounds them according to their true meaning, he can disperse the gloom of others just as the light of the sun and moon can dispel the darkness. And this person can also cause numberless believers to enter into the Way of the One Vehicle. Therefore, when a person who thinks deeply about his life - a person who has wisdom - hears the benefits of this merit, after the Buddha's extinction, he should receive and keep this sutra. He who thinks deeply about life will arrive at this sutra. There is no doubt that he will surely attain the Way of the Buddha.
This concluding verse, as the concluding teaching of the Lotus Sutra, is most profound and sacred. It is regarded as one of the most important verses of the entire sutra. We should grasp its meaning well and should be able to recite it from memory.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.