THE NATURE OF BUDDHISM. Shakyamuni Buddha revealed that he instructed living beings occasionally by speaking of himself or speaking of others, occasionally by indicating himself or indicating others, and occasionally by indicating his own affairs or the affairs of others. Whatever he says is all real and not empty air - that is, there is nothing useless in what he says; all is for the purpose of elevating people and leading them to real enlightenment.
Here lies the vastness and profundity of the Buddha's teaching. Buddhism is not opposed to Christianity, Islam, and other teachings of great sages, such as Confucius, Mencius, and Lao-tzu. We understand that such saints and sages are the appearance of the Buddha in other forms and that their teachings are the manifestations of the Buddha's teachings in other forms. I do not say this because I am a Buddhist but because as long as the Buddha is the great truth and great life of the universe, there can be no truth that is not included in the Buddha, and no Law other than that of the Buddha. Accordingly, a narrow-minded Buddhist who indiscriminately criticizes other religions and thinks, for example, that Buddhism is a true religion, while Christianity is not, cannot claim to be a true Buddhist.
A right teaching is right regardless of who preaches it. Truth is truth regardless of who proclaims it. Buddhists revere a person who leads all living beings by such a right and true teaching as "the Buddha." It follows naturally that they should not set themselves in opposition to other religions.
To cite a down-to-earth example, nutrition does not exist separately from such foods as rice, bread, beans, vegetables, milk, fish, and salt. All are nourishing and necessary for good health. All together constitute "nutrition." Someone who says, "I don't need 'nutrition' because I have bread, milk, and vegetables," has completely missed the point of what nutrition is. The teachings of the Buddha are like "nutrition" in this example. The teachings of all saints and sages correspond to the various foods - rice, vegetables, milk, and so on. The origin of all these various teachings is the Buddha's teachings. Accordingly, they are, so to speak, a well-balanced meal full of nutritious elements to nourish the human spirit. We have only to eat such a meal without worrying ourselves unnecessarily. We do not have to argue over the relative merits of rice, milk, and the other ingredients. We will come automatically to understand this if we can discern plainly the difference between the Original Buddha and the appearing Buddha.
As the teachings of the Buddha are vast and boundless, Shakyamuni as the appearing Buddha did not exclude the teachings of other religions. Brahmanism, the most influential religion at that time in India, included many deities and other beings believed to possess supernatural powers. But the Buddha added these heavenly beings to the living beings who were saved by listening to his teachings, and he regarded them as benevolent deities protecting the Buddha Law with their supernatural powers.
A powerful general in Vaishali, who had been a believer in Jainism, another Indian religion, was deeply impressed with the Buddha's teachings and soon became a disciple. Though the general wanted to declare his conversion from Jainism to Buddhism throughout the land, Shakyamuni dissuaded him, saying that it was not necessary. He even went so far as to tell the general, "You should continue to revere the Jain order, as you have practiced it all this while." There are many such episodes in the life of the Buddha.
Such ideas of the Buddha were transmitted to people during the period when the Righteous Law was still living. For example, Asoka, a great king who brought most of India under his sway, and who was also a devout believer in Buddhism, did not persecute other religions but permitted freedom of religion.
One may well wonder whether Nichiren did not go contrary to the Buddha's intention when he criticized the other sects of Buddhism in the Kamakura period (1185 - 1333), saying, "The Jodo sect will go to hell; the Zen sect is made by devils; the Shingon sect will ruin the state; the Ritsu sect is traitorous." But there was a good reason for such criticism of the other sects at that time. Japan was then already in the period of the mappo (last Law),1 and the various sects of Buddhism were mutually antagonistic. They were apt to lose sight of the true intention of the Buddha. Therefore Nichiren urged that all Buddhists give up the consciousness of their particular sects and practice according to the true intention of the Buddha. He used harsh language in criticizing the other sects because the people of that time could not be brought to their senses in any other way. This was a tactful means in the true sense. It was nothing other than an indication of the "affairs of others" in the Buddha's salvation.
Since Buddhist priests and the general public today are more sophisticated in their thinking, we need not use the same kind of tactful means as Nichiren. As has already been explained, "tactful means" signifies a suitable enlightening method, in accord with the capacity of the people to understand the teachings of the Buddha. It is stupid to repeat the same tactful means when the people's capacity has changed for the better. To do so is to practice wrongly the teachings of the Buddha. This is an important point to keep in mind.
THE MEANING OF THE TRIPLE WORLD. Next the Buddha preached as follows: "Wherefore? Because the Tathagata knows and sees the character of the triple world as it really is; to him there is neither birth nor death, or going away or coming forth; neither living nor dead; neither reality nor unreality; neither thus nor otherwise. Unlike the way the triple world beholds the triple world, the Tathagata clearly sees such things as these without mistake."
This is a very difficult paragraph to understand. First we must explain the meanings of the words. The word "wherefore" here means: "I have preached that although the Tathagata's teaching varies in its appearance, whatever he says is all real and not empty air; the reason is that . . ."
The words "triple world" have been variously interpreted since ancient times, but according to the usual interpretation, the triple world means the world of unenlightened people (including both visible and invisible realms) divided into three parts: the world of desire (yoku-kai), the world of form (shiki-kai), and the formless world (mushiki-kai). The world of desire means the world whose inhabitants have the five desires for property, sex, eating and drinking, fame, and sleep. The world of form indicates the idea of a world whose existence is imagined in one's mind in terms of specific shapes and forms, namely, all the things we ordinarily think about. The formless world is one whose inhabitants have no physical form. This is the world of pure mind, which we can attain when we concentrate upon a particular object in meditation or through other religious practices. Only the Tathagata can see the state of the triple world as it really is.
In the expression "There is neither birth nor death, or going away or coming forth," "neither birth nor death" means not changing; "going away" expresses the idea of things disappearing, while "coming forth" indicates that of things appearing. Taken all together, this expression means: "All things seem to be changing, but they appear to be doing so from a phenomenal and relative point of view. When the Tathagata sees the real state of all things, they neither disappear nor appear, and they are immortal and eternal."
When this idea is applied to the human body, "coming forth" means birth and "going away" means death. Although man seems to be born, grow old, suffer from disease, and finally die, these phenomena are only produced by superficial changes in the substances that form the human body; true human life continues eternally. The Buddha points this out in his next words, "neither living nor dead." His words appear to indicate something miraculous, but actually this is not so. The same idea can be expressed from a scientific point of view. As a simple example, we can take the law of the indestructibility of matter, through which science confirms that matter neither decreases nor disappears. The snow on the ground seems to melt away as the days go by, but in reality, it merely changes into water and sinks into the ground or evaporates into the air. The snow only changes its form; the quantity of fundamental elements that constitute it do not decrease, much less disappear. When water vapor in the air comes into contact with cold air as a condition (secondary cause, en), it becomes tiny drops of water. These drops accumulate to form a cloud. When these tiny drops of water join to form large drops of water, they become rain and fall on the earth. They will fall not as rain but as snow when the temperature falls below a certain point. Thus, though matter seems to disappear, in actual fact it does not disappear but only changes in form.
The same thing can be said of man. In the sight of the Tathagata the birth and death of man are merely changes in form; man's life itself remains eternally. Seen with the eyes of the Buddha, man's existence is "neither living nor dead."
In the next expression, "neither reality nor unreality, neither thus nor otherwise," "reality" means that we perceive things as if they were really there. "Unreality" means that we perceive them as not being there. To regard a tangible thing as surely existing is a one-sided way of considering matter. On the other hand, to regard an intangible thing as not existing is also a partial viewpoint.
For example, while we confidently affirm the existence of water because it is visible and tangible, it evaporates without our being aware of it. Conversely, while we do not recognize the existence of vapor because it is invisible, it becomes rain and falls on the earth. To be swayed by either "reality" or "unreality" is a superficial way of looking at things. The right way to look at them is with the Tathagata's eyes: "neither reality nor unreality."
In the next expression, "neither thus nor otherwise," "thus" indicates the idea of always existing without change and "otherwise" means the opposite, the idea of change. Taken as a whole, this expression means that to view matter either as unchanging or as changing is a partial way of considering matter. An ordinary person is apt to take such a one-sided view, but the Tathagata can discern equally both the unchangeable and the changeable states of things. In other words, he can see things as they truly are.
However, we can leave the philosophical subtleties concerning the changes in matter in the hands of scholars. Here let us try to apply the Buddha's words to our daily lives. All things seem changeable when viewed from a certain standpoint, and they seem unchangeable when viewed from another angle. For example, the view of human relationships today is quite different from that of feudal times. The relationship between parents and children has greatly changed, but there has been almost no change in parents' feeling of affection for their children or in children's feeling of love for their parents.
All people are different in looks, physique, and mental attitudes, but they have certain features in common, such as two eyes, a mouth, two hands, and two feet.
Thus we should think of things neither as changeable nor as unchangeable. To see only the distinctions between things is not a perfect way of looking at them, and to view them as equal is also an imperfect viewpoint. We must see all states of matter from a larger standpoint, and at the same time, we must view them with compassion - "We make all things live."
For example, if we adhere to the idea, "Our own body is changeable and true life exists in its depth," we are led into the mistaken idea of being indifferent to our own body. On the contrary, we should think that because our present body is the manifestation of our eternal life, to pay careful attention to our health is to value our eternal life, and it is natural for us to do so. This is the mental attitude through which we are hindered by nothing; this is the way of looking at matter with the intention, "We make all lives live."
The Buddha taught that the Tathagata sees the real state of all things from a universal standpoint and has a free and unhindered view of them. He never takes a partial and narrow view of things in the way that ordinary people living in the triple world see that world.
A PRACTICAL THEORY OF DAILY LIFE. In the paragraph discussed above, the Buddha preached the wisdom of the Tathagata, which contains a most profound teaching. In the first place, this teaching shows us that we must not misunderstand things by taking the changeable as the unchangeable. Suppose that we devote ourselves to golf, parties, and other amusements, thinking that we can relax because we have succeeded in laying the foundation of our business solidly enough to be ready for whatever may come. Nevertheless, circumstances that we would never dream of may arise. As the economics of the whole world are intricately interrelated, no one can know what influence a sudden change in another country may exert upon his own. Therefore, however solidly one succeeds in laying the foundation of his business, it will never attain an unchangeable state. He must take into consideration the possibility of change at any time and not neglect his work.
Though every businessman should know such things, the fact is that countless people have failed in business because of complacency or negligence. Even the richest man, the greatest businessman, and the ablest statesman should follow the Buddha's teachings selflessly.
It would be a great mistake to think that the teachings of the Buddha have nothing to do with our actual lives, because they are the fundamental principle of the universe and of human life. They apply to every case in our actual lives because of this fundamental principle. Something that is not applicable to our actual lives is something that is not true to this fundamental principle.
We can say the same thing of our bodies. We are not aware of physical changes when we are in good health. This is because the body changes very slowly and quietly. We are liable to overestimate our health and to be overconfident of our own strength. Suppose that a man continues to drink as heavily as when he was younger without regard for his aging body; of course it will be adversely affected. His fault is in regarding the changeable as the unchangeable. We are normally aware of our bodily changes over a period of time, but a person who drinks heavily disregards the changes in his body. He ignores or defies his body's warnings. A person who correctly understands the Buddha's teachings accepts these natural warnings with a flexible mind and therefore can live out his natural span of life.
If we have a flexible mind, we can perceive natural warnings clearly. For instance, we never minded running risks in our youth, but as we get older, we gradually come to feel fearful of taking leaps in the dark. This is normal; it is a natural warning to us to slow down.
A young man can run downhill when descending a steep mountain path, while an old man prudently descends step by careful step. This is because the human body itself knows that wounds heal soon when one is young but that healing is slow when one is old, and for this reason the body warns us, "Take care of yourself." A person who has a flexible mind accepts this warning and descends the mountain path slowly. But one who tries to keep up with young people by running downhill may have a bad fall and break his leg.
The Buddha's teachings instruct us not to regard the changeable as the unchangeable. If we view things thoroughly and clearly, we can see all changes. To act according to changes with a flexible mind is the right way of living. At the same time, we should not be too bound by change, either. To feel that we cannot do anything as well as young people because we have grown older, are too old to work efficiently any longer, and want only to live in comfort for the rest of our days is a way of thinking that is too influenced by change. There should be something unchanging within us even as we grow older. To make the best use of our experience, brains, technical skills, leadership, dignity, and other qualities, and to work for the benefit of people and society for our entire life is the right way to live.
Sir Winston Churchill wrote his great six-volume work The Second World War after he had retired from active politics, and he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1953 at the age of 79. Nakamura Utaemon IV, a famous Kabuki actor, appeared on the stage with the help of others even when he was so old that he had difficulty in walking, and he gave moving performances while remaining seated. These are examples of people who have not been adversely influenced by the changes of old age.
So far we have been considering elderly people; let us now give some examples involving young people. Women have come to have equal rights with men under the law since the postwar constitution of Japan was promulgated. This was a dramatic change from the prewar days. In the new constitution women have been granted equal human rights, but they have not changed in their physical structure, which enables them to give birth to and nurture babies. They are unchangeable in this respect. If women try to behave like men in everything simply because equality of the sexes has been guaranteed in the constitution, it represents a way of thinking that is restricted by change and is inconsistent with reason. Though there may have been some Japanese women who intentionally behaved like men, most have assumed a modest manner. Among them, some women who have listened to the teachings of the Buddha have lived in a reasonable and womanly manner and have indeed been women worthy of Buddhism.
The words "neither reality nor unreality" include a very important teaching concerning our way of life. We must not be overconfident when we perceive the existence of things, nor pessimistic when we perceive their nonexistence. While perceiving the existence of a thing, we must provide against the time when we will perceive its nonexistence. Conversely, even though we may think a thing is nonexistent, it is really existent, and we should seek it. This is true of everything regardless of its substance and of man's ability. We must always do our part well without being rigidly bound by the idea of either the existence or the nonexistence of things. Thus we can maintain calm minds and lead vigorous lives.
Take the case of a river. Water is incessantly flowing in the river. Although we see a wide expanse of water stretching before us, the water that was seen a second ago now exists no longer. The water seen in the present moment no longer exists in the next moment. For all that, the river does not disappear but really exists.
The same thing applies to human life. Strictly speaking, our self of yesterday is not the same as our self of today. The cells of our body are reborn moment by moment. The state of our mental powers and techniques are different today from yesterday. At the same time, we cannot say that our self of yesterday is one thing and our self of today is quite another, for our lives continue unceasingly from yesterday to today.
We can no more say, "This is the river," when we see one section of it before us than we can consider our life aside from its parts. For this reason, we cannot adopt the attitude that if we can only pass the present moment pleasantly, never mind the consequences. Yesterday was yesterday, and today is today. Tomorrow will take care of itself. The karma that we produced yesterday continues to exist today, just as the river goes on and on. The karma that we produce today is certain to affect tomorrow. If someone pours poison in the river, the fish downstream will die. If he stirs up the water, the river will become muddy downstream.
At the same time, we must not continually worry about what happened yesterday. We cannot go forward when we are bound by the past. Though the past really exists, we should not be swayed by it. What then should we do? We have only to live today well, fully, and without regret. To live in this way will lead us to extinguish the evil karma that we produced yesterday and to accumulate good karma for tomorrow.
The "present" disappears momentarily, but it really exists, so we should attach great importance to this time that seems to be so transient. This attitude embodies the idea of the Buddha's words "neither reality nor unreality."
In this way, if we follow the example of the Buddha knowledge and try to view the real state of all things without being bound by their surface appearances--that is, their changes, existence, nonexistence, and differences - we can lead correct and positive lives and can accomplish the mission for which we were born into this world.
Then the Buddha preached as follows: "Because all the living have various natures, various desires, various activities, various ideas and reasonings, so desiring to cause them to produce the roots of goodness, the Tathagata by so many reasonings, parables, and discourses has preached his various truths. The Buddha deeds which he does have never failed for a moment."
In this passage, "natures" means one's character; "desires," one's cravings; "activities," one's actions; and "ideas," one's thoughts. "Reasonings" implies reading one's own interpretation into everything. Because all living beings differ in various ways, the Buddha has preached the truth in many ways so as to cause all of them to produce the roots of goodness. The roots of goodness are a person's fundamental mind, which produces a good nature, good desires, good activity, good ideas, and good reasoning. These qualities are like the roots of a plant, from which grow its good stem, branches, and leaves.
In what various ways does the Buddha preach the truth? Sometimes he preaches it by reasonings, that is, he speaks of the past in association with himself. On other occasions he preaches the truth through parables. At other times he preaches it by discourses, that is, he expounds it with words appropriate to the occasion and the listener.
Next the Buddha says, "The Buddha deeds which he does have never failed for a moment." "Buddha deeds" means the Buddha's work, which instructs all people, saves them from their sufferings, and leads them to nirvana. His deeds include the following: he instructs all the living beings everywhere in various ways--whether speaking of himself or speaking of others, whether indicating himself or indicating others, and whether indicating his own affairs or the affairs of others. It would be a great mistake for us to consider only the Buddha's own work as Buddha deeds. To convey the Buddha's teachings to others or to listen to them or read them are also Buddha deeds. Our Buddha deeds must continue incessantly, just as the Buddha never neglected them for a moment. This is our great responsibility.
Next the Buddha preached as follows: "Thus it is, since I became Buddha in the very far distant past, that my lifetime is of infinite asamkhyeya kalpas, forever existing and immortal. Good sons! The lifetime which I attained by pursuing the bodhisattva way is not even yet accomplished but will still be twice the previous number of kalpas. But now, in this unreal nirvana, I announce that I must enter the real nirvana. In this tactful way the Tathagata teaches all living beings."
In the first part of this passage the Buddha refers to the Eternal Original Buddha: "Thus it is, since I became Buddha in the very far distant past, that my lifetime is of infinite asamkhyeya kalpas, forever existing and immortal." Following this he refers to himself as the appearing Buddha: "The lifetime which I attained by pursuing the bodhisattva way is not even yet accomplished but will still be twice the previous number of kalpas."
Shakyamuni Buddha had pursued the bodhisattva way in his former existences, not only in this present life. He declared that the lifetime that he had attained as compensation for his practice of the bodhisattva way was infinitely long. The Eternal Original Buddha is the existence of non-beginning and non-end. Even the lifetime that Shakyamuni Buddha had attained in his present existence was not yet accomplished, but now, in this unreal nirvana, he announced that he must enter the real nirvana.
Why must the Buddha enter nirvana, leaving living beings behind, in spite of his remaining lifetime being infinitely long? This is solely a tactful means used for the instruction of living beings; it is nothing but the expression of his compassion. He made this clear in the next statement: "Wherefore? If the Buddha abides long in the world, men of little virtue who do not cultivate the roots of goodness and are spiritually poor and mean, greedily attached to the five desires, and are caught in the net of wrong reflection and false views - if they see the Tathagata constantly present and not extinct, they will then become puffed up and lazy, and unable to conceive the idea that it is hard to meet the Buddha or a mind of reverence for him."
This is a most important statement. The reference to men who are poor and mean indicates not material but spiritual poverty. In the eyes of the Buddha, all men and all things are equal, and there cannot be any discrimination among them because of their station in life, whether rich or poor. The words "greedily attached to the five desires" refer to the condition in which man is swayed by the joy that he feels through the five sense organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body. These are such human desires as wishing to see beautiful things, to hear pleasant sounds, to smell pleasant odors, to taste good food, and to touch or feel pleasant things (for example, the desire to be cool in summer, to be warm in winter, to keep from being exposed to rain and wind, and to wear clothes agreeable to the touch).
The desires of the five sense organs are innate and are not wrong in themselves, but they are harmful because delusions arise from being influenced by the pleasures of the senses. They are also dangerous because the urge to seek the Way is disturbed and sullied by them.
This is such an important point that Shakyamuni Buddha taught it on many occasions. It was for this reason that he gave up the practice of asceticism and drank the milk-gruel given to him by a village girl and that he preached the teaching of the Middle Path. The Buddha states clearly that man's instincts are morally neutral (muki, literally meaning something existing before the decision of right or wrong, that is, something that we cannot call either good or bad). If our natural appetites and instincts were wrong, we should refrain entirely from eating and starve to death. We should become deaf in order to abandon the desires that come through our ears, and we should put our eyes out in order to deny the desires that come through the sense of vision. The Buddha nowhere preaches such extremes but teaches us that though instincts are not wrong in themselves, the fire of delusion that is produced by a burning attachment to them is not good. Our instincts are morally neutral, but it is not good for us to be greedily attached to them. If we misunderstand this point, we fall into the extreme of either asceticism or hedonism and thus violate the teaching of the Middle Path.
In the words "the net of wrong reflection and false views," "reflection" means to remember what we have already experienced and to imagine what we have not yet experienced. The Buddha suggests here that there is a danger of hindering the spiritual development of living beings if he stays eternally in this world. "False views" means to be unable to view things as they truly are. Man cannot see things as they are because of his self-centered mind.
Suppose that a junior executive, unaware that he has a spot of egg on his chin, walks by the president and the president smiles at the young man. If the man is hoping for a promotion or a raise, he will jump to the conclusion that because the president smiled at him, he will soon get what he desires. On the other hand, if he is lazy or falsifies the books, he will be flustered by the president's smile and will jump to the conclusion that this is a sarcastic smile indicating that some error or dishonesty has finally come to light. In both cases, owing to his egoism, the young man cannot possibly grasp the true reason that the president smiled at him. This is because the man has a self-centered view of things, evaluating everything according to his own standpoint alone. On the other hand, if he has no such egoism, he will ask himself, "I wonder why the president smiled at me. Is something peculiar?" And then he will examine himself in a mirror.
This kind of situation is familiar to all of us. In our daily lives there are many instances in which because of their selfish point of view, people do not recognize the real state of things, worry needlessly, and become unhappy. All such anxieties stem from false views.
The expression "caught in the net of wrong reflection and false views" means that pointless anxiety over the past or future entraps us in the net of taking a wrong view of things, so that we are hampered from acting effectively and freely. When we are greedily attached to the five desires, we are naturally self-centered and produce such results.
The words "become puffed up" refer to man's willful mind. He would feel that he could easily hear the teachings of the Buddha any time he liked, if the Buddha remained forever in this world. He would thus tend to become lazy - "I'll enjoy myself today and listen to the teaching tomorrow." This is the mental state indicated by the words "become puffed up."
People from the country who visit the capital often see more of the city than those who were born and bred there. This is probably because natives of the city put off making a special effort to see the sights, feeling that they can see them whenever they wish. In the same way, if we feel confident of being able to see the Buddha any time we like, we are liable to postpone doing so. Some of us will become lazy to the point of boredom. Others will feel, "Because the Buddha's teachings are always the same whenever I hear them, I do not have to listen to them any longer." If people saw the Buddha constantly present and not extinct, they would be unable to conceive the idea that it is hard to meet the Buddha, nor would they revere him. Therefore the Buddha taught, as a tactful method, that he must enter nirvana before long.
As the Buddha perceived, all people have the tendency to want to have everything their own way. In Japan, people sometimes go to special theaters to hear professional storytellers relate historical or humorous anecdotes. They should pay attention to the entertainment because they have paid admission especially to see and hear the show. However, some people whisper to their neighbors, munch snacks, and appear restless and not quite at ease. Such general restlessness is especially noticeable as one performer leaves the stage and the next one comes on to begin his act. At such a time, as is the custom with Japanese professional storytellers of historical narratives, as soon as he appears on the stage the performer seats himself on a cushion and bows to the audience. He taps with his fan to attract the audience's attention and begins his story in such a low voice that the audience can hardly hear him. Then silence reigns, because everyone wants to hear the story and naturally strains his ears. This demonstrates a tactful method of the storyteller, who has grasped the mental state of the audience and made them want to hear what he is saying. The idea that it is hard to meet the Buddha and that one should have a spirit of reverence toward him is incomparably more important.
Then the Buddha preached as follows: "Therefore the Tathagata tactfully teaches: 'Know, bhiksus, the appearance of buddhas in the world is a rare occurrence.' Wherefore? In the course of countless hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of kalpas, some men of little virtue may happen to see a buddha or none may see him. For this reason I say: 'Bhiksus! A tathagata may rarely be seen!' All these living beings, hearing such a statement, must certainly realize the thought of the difficulty of meeting a buddha and cherish a longing and a thirst for him; then will they cultivate the roots of goodness."
The teaching in the chapter "Revelation of the [Eternal] Life of the Tathagata" can be divided into two main points. The first is the Buddha's revelation of his entity and his immortality. The second is his exposition of the reason that the Tathagata Shakyamuni, as one of the appearing buddhas of the Original Buddha, must enter nirvana. The core of the second point is expressed clearly in the passage quoted above.
A BUDDHA CAN RARELY BE SEEN. When they read the above passage, many people may suspect that it is inconsistent with the idea that the Original Buddha is omnipresent, saving all living beings from suffering and leading them to nirvana. They may also feel that since the Buddha can save all living beings from suffering through his infinite compassion, he should also enable people of little virtue to see a buddha.
Because the Original Buddha is omnipresent, a virtuous person will naturally be able to perceive his teachings that are incomprehensible to ordinary men, just as a television set with good reception transmits a sharp picture. However, ordinary people cannot come in contact with the Buddha's teachings until such great religious leaders as the Lord Shakyamuni, Chih-i, Prince Shotoku, Saicho, Dogen, and Nichiren appear in this world and directly preach the Law.
Even if people of little virtue happen to live in the same age as such religious leaders, they cannot come in contact with the teachings preached by them. This is because, as already explained, the appearance of buddhas means that we are aware of them. The same thing can be said of the words "to see a buddha." However often we hear the Buddha's teachings, we cannot see a buddha unless we direct our mind toward him. This is how we should interpret the words "to see a buddha." Although the Original Buddha exists in all times and in all places, his salvation does not appear unless we see a buddha in the true sense. Simply because the Original Buddha always exists close to us, we cannot expect his help if we are idle and lead greedy and self-centered lives.
As mentioned repeatedly, the Original Buddha does not exist apart from us. Therefore he does not treat us with such indulgence as to give happiness to us even when we forget him and violate his teachings. Certainly, he exists at all times and in all places together with us. He is omnipresent both within us and without. But he does not show his salvation to us until we can see him for ourselves. The instant we think of the Buddha, he also intuitively knows us, as expressed in the words of a sutra: "I realize the thought of the Buddha, while he realizes the thought of me."
We must voluntarily seek the Buddha's teachings. Even when they are preached to us directly, we cannot hear them unless we have the urge to seek them. Otherwise, even if we hear them, they will not sink deeply into our minds. The endeavor to seek the teaching must be made by ourselves--this is one of the main points that Shakyamuni Buddha taught us. This will be discussed further in the Parable of the Physician's Sons later in this chapter.
In the words "cherish a longing and a thirst for him," "a thirst for him" means to admire and respect the virtue of a buddha, just as a thirsty man yearns for water. This phrase has sometimes been interpreted as meaning having deep faith. But here we interpret these words according to their original meaning. First, applying the teaching of this paragraph to ourselves, we should reflect deeply on ourselves before worrying about the meaning of this teaching.
Although we speak of the Buddha easily, when we quietly think of him, his appearance is a rare occurrence for us in this age of degeneration, the mappo period. We must realize it is very hard to see the Buddha in this fearful world, where people deceive, fight, and kill one another. Realizing this, we cannot help raising the desire to see the Buddha and to be close to him. Our minds are strongly attracted by his compassion, just as we long to drink water when we feel thirsty or yearn for sunlight after a long spell of rain or snow. This kind of situation is expressed by the words "cherish a longing and a thirst for him."
If we have such a desire, we can surely purify our minds. No defilement or impurity can be harbored in a heart that desires to be close to the Buddha. The more we purify our minds, the more we can deepen our yearning to seek the Buddha's teachings and to practice them. Thus we come naturally to do good deeds for the benefit of others as well as ourselves. This is what makes a religion worthy of the name, and here lies the highest reach of Buddhism. The condition in which we cherish a longing and a thirst for the Buddha is a mental state beyond reason. We cannot be apart from the Buddha; we cannot forget him; we desire to be held by him, just as a baby innocently sucks its mother's breast. When we can attain such a mental state, we can be said to have true faith.
Then the Buddha preached as follows: "Therefore the Tathagata, though he does not in reality become extinct, yet announces his extinction. Again, good sons! The method of all buddha-tathagatas is always like this, in order to save all the living, and it is altogether real and not false."
The true worth of the Buddha's expedient means is fully shown in the words "it is altogether real and not false." The word "real" means not "fact" but "truth." It is a fact that the Buddha is the existence of non-beginning and non-end. But he does not reveal this to people of little virtue, instead announcing his extinction. Though his announcement seems to be a lie because it is not factual in the world of form, it is factual in the world of spirit. It is a reality in the mind of the Buddha for the sake of saving all living beings, and is not a lie. The word "false" here includes the meanings "empty" and "fruitless" in addition to "lie." A proverb says, "Lies are sometimes expedient," but this saying often leads to misunderstanding. We must not confuse "lie" with "expedient means."
To give an example explaining the true meaning of "expedient means," suppose that Mr. A boards a ship at Yokohama together with a young boy, saying, "I will take you to the United States to put you into school there." The boy expects the ship to sail east, but instead it sails west. The ship calls at several ports, including Manila, Singapore, and Calcutta. The boy feels discontented and restless. He wonders why Mr. A did not take him directly to America by plane. He begins to be suspicious of Mr. A's motive in taking a slow ship sailing in the opposite direction from his final destination.
Meanwhile, the ship enters the Mediterranean and finally docks at Marseilles. Mr. A disembarks there with the boy and then takes the boy to Paris. While the boy wonders about Mr. A more and more, they leave for England. After the boy has spent several days there, finally he flies with Mr. A to America, his original destination.
Why did Mr. A treat the boy in this way? The boy does not speak English well and he is not accustomed to the manners and customs of foreign countries. If he had flown to America directly and had been suddenly put into school there, he would have been unable to understand his lessons or his classmates. Therefore, Mr. A took the boy on a long sea trip in order gradually to accustom the boy to new things, people, and places. During the long sea trip, the boy became used to eating Western food, learned foreign manners and customs through contact with foreign people, and had a chance to use English in practical situations. After Mr. A made the boy gain self-confidence in studying abroad, he took him to his destination.
In this case, it is not a lie that Mr. A made the boy embark in the opposite direction in spite of his declaration that he would take the boy to America. And it is not fruitless for the boy to have taken such a roundabout route. Mr. A's thoughtful consideration for the boy is a fact and is an effective means of guiding the boy. Expedient means should be like this: both a "fact" and an "effective means" of guiding people, motivated by compassion.
In order to help people understand the true meaning of his expedient and tactful means in leading them, Shakyamuni Buddha preached this in further detail through the Parable of the Physician's Sons, the last of the seven parables in the Lotus Sutra.
1 It is said that Buddhism will go through three periods following the Buddha's decease. The mappo is the last of these three periods. The period of the last Law is the period when Buddhist doctrine remains but there is neither true practice nor enlightenment.
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