THE PARABLE OF THE PHYSICIAN'S SONS. "Suppose, for instance, a good physician who is wise and perspicacious, conversant with medical art, and skillful in healing all sorts of diseases. He has many sons, say ten, twenty, even up to a hundred. Because of some matter he goes abroad to a distant country. After his departure, his sons drink his other poisonous medicines, which send them into a delirium, and they lie rolling on the ground. At this moment their father comes back to his home. Of the sons who drank the poison, some have lost their senses, others are still sensible, but on seeing their father approaching in the distance they are all greatly delighted, and kneeling, salute him, asking: 'How good it is that you are returned in safety! We, in our foolishness, have mistakenly dosed ourselves with poison. We beg that you will heal us and give us back our lives.'
"The father, seeing his sons in such distress, in accordance with his prescriptions seeks for good herbs altogether perfect in color, scent, and fine flavor, and then pounds, sifts, and mixes them and gives them to his sons to take, speaking thus: 'This excellent medicine with color, scent, and fine flavor altogether perfect, you may now take, and it will at once rid you of your distress so that you will have no more suffering.'
"Those amongst the sons who are sensible, seeing this excellent medicine with color and scent both good, take it immediately and are totally delivered from their illness. The others, who have lost their senses, seeing their father come, though they are also delighted, salute him, and ask him to heal their illness, yet when he offers them the medicine, they are unwilling to take it. Wherefore? Because the poison has entered deeply, they have lost their senses, and even in regard to this medicine of excellent color and scent they acknowledge that it is not good.
"The father reflected thus: 'Alas for these sons, afflicted by this poison, and their minds all overbalanced. Though they are glad to see me and implore to be healed, yet they are unwilling to take such excellent medicine as this. Now I must arrange an expedient plan so that they will take this medicine.' Then he says to them: 'You should know that I am worn out with old age and the time of my death has now arrived. This excellent medicine I now leave here. You may take it and have no fear of not being better.' After thus admonishing them, he departs again for another country and sends a messenger back to inform them: 'Your father is dead.'"
The words "their minds all overbalanced" mean to view things through delusion and thus misjudge them. Ordinary people are said to have the following four delusions (shi-tendo): jo-tendo, the delusion of considering the impermanent as the permanent, that is, of regarding the changeable as the unchangeable; raku-tendo, the delusion of considering suffering as pleasure; jo-tendo, the delusion of considering a superficial appearance of the impure as the pure; and ga-tendo, the delusion that there exists a real self although all things are devoid of self and all things exist in interdependence with one another.
There are various other delusions, including the reverse of these four. The sons in this parable were deluded through regarding that of supreme value as valueless. The parable continues:
"And now, when those sons hear that their father is dead, their minds are greatly distressed and they thus reflect: 'If our father were alive he would have pity on us, and we should be saved and preserved. But now he has left us and died in a distant country. Now we feel we are orphans and have no one to rely on.' Continuous grief brings them to their senses; they recognize the color, scent, and excellent flavor of the medicine, and thereupon take it, their poisoning being entirely relieved. The father, hearing that the sons are all recovered, seeks an opportunity and returns so that they all see him."
In the Parable of the Physician's Sons, the physician is the Buddha and the sons represent all living beings. The gist of the parable is that living beings cannot understand how much they owe to the Buddha as long as he abides in this world, but they conceive the desire to seek his teachings earnestly when he becomes extinct. For this reason, he temporarily enters nirvana through his tactful means.
The Buddha teaches us several important lessons in this parable. The first significant point is that the sons drink poisonous medicines while their father is away in a distant country. The poisonous medicines are delusions produced by the five desires. If people come in contact with the Buddha's teachings daily, they will not suffer from these five desires disturbing their minds. However, when they avoid the Buddha's teachings, they are apt to become obsessed by the five desires.
The next important point is that all the sons who drank the poison, even those who have lost their senses, to say nothing of the others who are still in their right minds, are delighted on seeing their father return home. The parable thus shows that even a madman can tell his father from other people. In the same way, even those with delusions who have lost their senses, for example, even a thoroughgoing materialist who boasts, "I don't believe in God or the Buddha," in the depths of his mind feels an unrest and loneliness that he cannot quite satisfy by material things. He seeks mental calm and satisfaction, though he is unaware of it. Therefore, if he encounters a teaching giving him spiritual peace and enlightenment, he is sure to be delighted with it. This is the same thing as the sons who have lost their senses being glad to see their father approaching in the distance.
The Buddha, seeing all living beings as sons in distress, seeks for good herbs altogether perfect in color, scent, and flavor, and then pounds, sifts, and mixes them. Good herbs with color, scent, and flavor altogether perfect indicate that in order to cure men's mental distress, various prescriptions of the Buddha are necessary, including a medicine for removing delusions from their minds, a medicine for making them gain true wisdom, and a medicine for making them raise the spirit of rendering service to others. To pound such good herbs means to enable an ordinary person to take them easily, that is, to enable him to understand the Buddha's teachings easily. To sift such good herbs means to remove impurities, namely, to be pure and unsullied from a religious point of view.
The Buddha's teachings are supreme, and those who believe in and receive them can be saved from their sufferings immediately. But there are some who have no desire to receive the supreme teachings of the Buddha. These people ought to receive such teachings, just as the sons in the parable were very glad to see their father. But people whose spirit is sickened by the poison of delusions do not receive the teachings voluntarily, though they do have a dim perception of their goodness.
Even a madman wandering about in the street recognizes his mother who comes to take him home, and he smiles at her tentatively. But he does not necessarily obey her and go home with her. He may resist her strongly or run away from her. On the same principle, not all living beings understand the Buddha's compassion, although they recognize him as their father.
As the wise physician with his sons, the Buddha as the father of all living beings does not become angry or reject them. On the contrary, he says, "Alas for these sons." We should be grateful for this great compassion of the Buddha. He is compassionate even toward living beings who turn their backs on his teachings, saying, "Ah, poor sons!" He never ignores them but acts kindly toward them, trying every means available that they may come to believe in and receive his teachings. It is one of the Buddha's tactful means to announce his entering the real nirvana while in the unreal nirvana. This should be recognized as a tactful means replete with compassion.
It is most important for us to do things for ourselves. Especially is this necessary in the case of faith. It is all right for us to adopt a faith at others' suggestion, but we cannot be real believers if we neglect to seek the Way seriously with our own minds. "If a friend repeatedly urges me to go to hear someone preach, I'll go out of a sense of obligation, though I do not really want to" - such a feeling cannot develop into real faith.
One's wife or servant serves food at the dining table, but one must eat it oneself without the help of others. One who cannot eat by himself is a sick person. However, a sick person must still chew and swallow his food himself, even if someone else carries it to his mouth. One cannot truly enjoy a meal eaten with the help of others.
The Buddha never tries to force open our mouths and cram his excellent medicine down our throats. It is a sacred task for us to take it in our hands and put it into our mouths ourselves. The Buddha uses various means so tactfully that we quickly feel inclined to do so. That is, he indicates himself or indicates others, indicates his own affairs or the affairs of others. Of these indications, the greatest and the most urgent is that he himself has become extinct. Realizing that, those who have felt complacently that they can hear his teachings whenever they like or lazy people who have become tired of the teachings cannot help suddenly becoming serious. This is the most important reason that the Buddha's extinction is a tactful means full of his great compassion.
The last important point of the parable is that the father seeks an opportunity to return home when he hears that the sons are all recovered. This suggests that all living beings can see a buddha as soon as they believe in the Buddha's teachings and remove delusions from their minds. In brief, the Buddha, whom they have missed, is recalled to their minds and they can continually abide close to him. In the words "to see a buddha," "to see" has a different meaning from the phrase "to observe something," which indicates the idea of looking at it with the desire to do so. "To see something" has the connotation of being able to see it spontaneously, without such an intention. If we have strong faith in the Buddha, we can spontaneously see a buddha. We cannot see the form of a buddha but can be aware that the Buddha abides with us in this world.
The relationship between the Buddha and human beings is not a cold one like that between ruler and ruled but is like that between father and son. The two are joined by warm affection. For this reason, if we rightly believe in and receive the Buddha's teachings even when we have missed him once, instantly he returns to our minds. Like a real father, he eternally lives with us and protects us in this world. We fully realize the Buddha's indescribable compassion in the Parable of the Physician's Sons.
After finishing this parable, the World-honored One asked the bodhisattvas and all the great assembly: "All my good sons! What is your opinion? Are there any who could say that this good physician had committed the sin of falsehood?" They answered with one voice, "No, World-honored One!" Then the Buddha said: "I also am like this. Since I became Buddha, infinite boundless hundred thousand myriad kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeya kalpas ago, for the sake of all living beings, by my tactful power, I have declared that I must enter nirvana, yet there is none who can lawfully accuse me of the error of falsehood."
THE MOST IMPORTANT VERSE OF THE LOTUS SUTRA. Then the World-honored One spoke in verse concerning the infinite lifetime of the Original Buddha and the extinction of the appearing Buddha. The following passage, beginning with the words, "Since I attained buddhahood," is regarded as the most important of the many verses of the Lotus Sutra.
"Since I attained buddhahood,
The kalpas through which I have passed
Are infinite thousands of myriads
Of kotis of asamkhyeya years.
Ceaselessly preached I the Law and taught
Countless kotis of living beings
To enter the Way of the Buddha;
Since then are unmeasured kalpas.
In order to save all living beings,
By tactful methods I reveal nirvana,
Yet truly I am not yet extinct,
But forever here preaching the Law.
I forever remain in this world,
Using all my spiritual powers
So that all perverted living beings,
Though I am near, yet fail to see me."
In this passage, "nirvana" means not the state of enlightenment attained by Shakyamuni but the state of his extinction or annihilation. The words "all perverted living beings" mean that their minds are all distorted by delusion.
"All looking on me as extinct
Everywhere worship my relics,
All cherishing longing desires,
And beget thirsting hearts of hope."
The words "cherishing longing desires" and "thirsting hearts of hope" have been explained previously. From the words "my relics," we can judge that Shakyamuni is referring to himself as the appearing Buddha.
"When all living beings have believed and obeyed,
In character upright, in mind gentle,
Wholeheartedly wishing to see the Buddha,
Not caring for their own lives . . ."
When all living beings cherish a longing and a thirst for the Buddha, they voluntarily begin to study deeply the teachings preached by him during his lifetime and to believe in them. Then they become upright in character. This character leads them to wish wholeheartedly to see the Buddha, with righteous minds harboring no secret desire. They also come to be gentle in mind.
The words "in mind gentle" express a major characteristic of Buddhism and Buddhists. To be gentle does not mean to be limp or flaccid but to be flexible and mild. If an athlete's body is not flexible, he cannot improve in technique, develop true stamina, or become stronger. In the same way, to be gentle in mind means to have a selfless mind and that readily accepts truth and right.
Buddhism itself is a gentle teaching. This teaching is of course "right," but it is not "self-righteous" in the sense of being opinionated and obstinate. As stated in the explanation of the Middle Path, the teaching of Buddhism is always in perfect accord with the truth, and its expression has the flexibility of perfect freedom. Therefore, a true Buddhist should not be obstinate or bigoted but should be flexible in accordance with the truth. Such an attitude is that of being gentle in mind.
Accordingly, those who believe and obey the teachings of the Buddha wish wholeheartedly to see him with their upright, selfless, and gentle minds. They attain the mental state of not being attached to their own lives. The words "wishing to see the Buddha" mean that we become conscious of abiding with him. When we realize clearly that we are definitely in the Buddha's arms and are caused to live by him, we are in the mental state of having seen him. This realization constitutes our great peace of mind. We are ready for anything. In attaining such a state of mind it is natural that one will come not to desire money, social status, or fame, and will not be attached even to his own life.
"Then I with all the Sangha
Appear together on the Divine Vulture Peak.
And then I tell all living beings
That I exist forever in this world,
By the power of tactful methods
Revealing myself extinct and not extinct.
If in other regions there are beings
Reverent and with faith aspiring,
Again I am in their midst
To preach the supreme Law.
You, not hearing of this,
Only say I am extinct."
The words "I with all the Sangha" mean that the Buddha appears with the people who help him to preach his teachings. Formerly, the Sangha referred to a Buddhist community of monks or nuns, but broadly speaking it includes laymen and laywomen who believe in and practice the Buddha's teachings. That the Buddha appears in this world not alone but together with his many disciples and believers has a very profound meaning, revealing to us that a righteous and important teaching is accompanied by those who believe, obey, and protect it.
The Buddha said, "Appear together on the Divine Vulture Peak," only because the place where he was preaching at the time was the Divine Vulture Peak. In other words, it means this world. Any place where we hear the righteous Law is the Divine Vulture Peak, whether it is in Japan or in America, in the streets or in a building, such as a Buddhist temple or training hall.
"I behold all living beings
Sunk in the sea of suffering,
Hence I do not reveal myself
But set them all aspiring,
Till, when their hearts are longing,
I appear to preach the Law.
In such supernaturally pervading power,
Throughout asamkhyeya kalpas
I am always on the Divine Vulture Peak
And in every other dwelling place."
The words "sunk in the sea of suffering" mean literally that all living beings who do not know the Buddha's teachings are sunk in the sea of suffering. Some of them do not realize this, but even these people will feel an inexpressible unrest and loneliness and at times will desire to have something to depend on. They will sometimes feel that they cannot keep going without some absolute power to depend upon. Their minds, desiring to depend upon something and seeking earnestly for an absolute power, correspond to the mind of longing for the Buddha.
"When all the living see, at the kalpa's end,
The conflagration when it is burning,
Tranquil is this realm of mine,
Ever filled with heavenly beings,
Parks, and many palaces
With every kind of gem adorned,
Precious trees full of blossoms and fruits,
Where all living beings take their pleasure;
All the gods strike the heavenly drums
And evermore make music,
Showering mandarava flowers
On the Buddha and his great assembly."
In this case, kalpa does not indicate the idea of a unit of time but the idea of a period. In ancient India, it was believed that at the end of a kalpa all beings would be completely destroyed. This situation is expressed in the words "at the kalpa's end."
Even though the time of the kalpa's end will come to all living beings, the Buddha's world is never destroyed. On the contrary, the realm of the Buddha is always beautiful and tranquil. This means that however much the visible, phenomenal world may change, the world of the real state of all things is imperishable and eternal. The state of the Pure Land described here is equivalent to the mental state of one purified by faith, because one who has completely purified his mind by true faith can abide in the world of the real state of things while remaining in this saha world.
The human body is a material thing and is destined to change. Even in the case of such a great man as Shakyamuni Buddha, his body disappeared from this world when his life of eighty years ended. Our daily necessities, including money and other material things, are also material matters. All of them are impermanent and always changing. No one knows when they may disappear, even though he thinks they exist now. Social status and fame are also impermanent. However, if we purify our minds through religion, we can maintain a peaceful and happy mental state however much the outside world (the world of material things) changes. The mental state of religious exaltation is here compared to the description of the world of paradise.
"My Pure Land will never be destroyed,
Yet all view it as being burned up,
And grief and horror and distress
Fill them all like this.
All those sinful living beings,
By reason of their evil karma,
Throughout asamkhyeya kalpas
Hear not the name of the Precious Three."
The words "all those sinful living beings" do not necessarily mean "those who have done wrong." As explained earlier, "sin" in the Buddha's teachings means stopping or reversing the upward advance of human life. Stopping the upward advance of human life means neglecting to endeavor to the utmost to purify our minds and to benefit others in society. This is a negative sin and evil. To reverse the advance of human life means to worry others, entrap them, seize their property, or enter into conflict with them and cause them to kill each other. Needless to say, such a deed is a great sin, a positive sin and evil.
As long as we accumulate either negative or positive sins, that is, evil karma, we cannot obtain good results because we do not produce good causes. However much time may pass, we cannot meet the Buddha, nor hear his teachings, nor join the ranks of his disciples. This situation is expressed in the words "hear not the name of the Precious Three."
The Precious Three are the three basic elements that Shakyamuni Buddha taught his disciples as the spiritual foundation of Buddhism soon after he began his missionary work: the Buddha, the Law, and the Sangha. Because of their supreme value, they are also called the Three Treasures.
Mention of this spiritual foundation immediately reminds us of the teaching "Make the self your light, make the Law your light." These are most reassuring words and a great encouragement to us. But here Buddha does not refer to the self that is filled with delusions but the self that lives in the Law. We must burn with the fire of the Law and cast its light over society. Though we must live through our own efforts, our way of life should always be in accordance with the Law.
The Law is the truth, or universal law, whose true state is very hard for ordinary people to grasp. Therefore they feel insecure in depending upon it for their mental attitude and actions in their daily lives. For this reason Shakyamuni Buddha explained the Law in terms of the following three principles so that ordinary people could understand it. The first of the three principles is the Buddha. The second is the Law, meaning the Buddha's teachings. The third is the Sangha, whose meaning has been greatly misunderstood since ancient times. It is usually interpreted as meaning the community of Buddhist monks and nuns. But as in the case of the words "I with all the Sangha," this term often indicates the idea of believers in a broad sense, although originally it meant a religious order or community of believers. The Sanskrit word samgha means "an intimate and faithful group consisting of many believers." Shakyamuni Buddha gave the name of Sangha to the community of fellow believers who seek the same teachings as his disciples.
Ordinary people find it difficult to seek the Law and to practice it in complete isolation. They are apt to become lazy and fall into evil ways. But if they form a community with other believers in the same faith, they can steadily advance by teaching, admonishing, and encouraging each other. So Shakyamuni Buddha taught us to regard the Sangha as one of our mental foundations.
The things on which we must depend spiritually are the Three Treasures: the Buddha, the Law, and the Sangha. If we depend spiritually upon the Buddha, his teachings, and the community of believers, we can faithfully practice the Righteous Law in our daily lives. Therefore Buddhists always take refuge in the Three Treasures.
Those who accumulate evil karma do not know the Three Treasures. They cannot come in contact with the Buddha's teachings or be led to join the community of believers, much less meet the Buddha.
"But all who perform virtuous deeds
And are gentle and of upright nature,
These all see that I exist
And am here expounding the Law.
At times for all this throng
I preach the Buddha's life is eternal;
To those who at length see the Buddha
I preach that a buddha is rarely met.
My intelligence power is such,
My wisdom light shines infinitely,
My life is of countless kalpas,
From long-cultivated karma obtained.
You who have intelligence,
Do not in regard to this beget doubt
But bring it forever to an end,
For the Buddha's words are true, not false."
In the words "My life is of countless kalpas," "my life" does not mean the life of the Eternal Original Buddha but means that Shakyamuni's life, which he obtained through the accumulation of his long practice of the bodhisattva way in this world, is also eternal.
"Like the physician who with clever device,
In order to cure his demented sons,
Though indeed alive announces his own death,
Yet cannot be charged with falsehood,
I, too, being father of this world,
Who heals all misery and affliction,
For the sake of the perverted people,
Though truly alive, say I am extinct;
Lest, because always seeing me,
They should beget arrogant minds,
Be dissolute and set in their five desires,
And fall into evil paths.
I, ever knowing all beings,
Those who walk or walk not in the Way,
According to the right principles of salvation
Expound their every Law,
Ever making this my thought:
'How shall I cause all the living
To enter the Way supreme
And speedily accomplish their buddhahood?'"
The Buddha's deep compassion is shown most clearly here, especially in the closing words, "Ever making this my thought: / 'How shall I cause all the living / To enter the Way supreme / And speedily accomplish their buddhahood?'" This is indeed the vow and the long-cherished desire of the Buddha.
Chapter 16 ends with this verse. From this chapter, we understand clearly that we are caused to live by the great life of the Eternal Original Buddha, and we can establish this principle in our minds as the basis of our lives. If we always maintain this realization, our lives will become bright, secure, and full of courage and positive energy.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.