IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER, after Shariputra had three times earnestly repeated his request to Shakyamuni Buddha, who said to him, "Enough, enough, there is no need to say more," he was taught clearly the relation between the teaching of the One Buddha Vehicle and the tactful ways of the buddhas. Shariputra felt ecstatic with joy when he realized that there was an open gate for him to enter into the real enlightenment of the Buddha the instant he regarded the buddhas' tactful ways themselves as valuable.
Then Shariputra instantly rose up, folded his hands, and, looking up into the Buddha's face, spoke to the Buddha, saying: "Ah, I am grateful to the World-honored One! Now, hearing the sound of the Law from you, I have my eyes opened toward the Law for the first time. How imperfect a man I have been! When I heard of such a Law as this from the Buddha and saw the bodhisattvas whose attainment of buddhahood was predicted, I was not prepared for these things and was greatly distressed, saying, 'Ah, will I end without discovering the Buddha's knowledge?' Constantly when dwelling alone in mountain forests or under trees, whether sitting or walking, I was occupied with this thought: 'I have listened to the Buddha's teachings like these bodhisattvas, and I have been able to realize them to some extent. But why does the Buddha preach to me only the small-vehicle law?
"I have been wrong in my judgment of this. Wherefore? Because if I had attended to the Buddha's preaching in regard to the accomplishment of Perfect Enlightenment, I should certainly have been delivered by the Great Vehicle. It is my own fault that I have been impatient for it and have felt myself unfairly treated. Not understanding the Buddha's tactful method of opportune preaching, on first hearing the Buddha Law I only casually believed, pondered on, and bore witness to it. Ever since then I have passed whole days and nights in self-reproach because I saw the bodhisattvas who were predicted to become buddhas. But now my eyes are opened for the first time. Today I indeed know that I am really a son of the Buddha, and I am quite another man now. I have a changed way of looking at things because of the supreme teaching of the Buddha. Moreover, I have obtained a place in the Buddha Law. I am truly grateful to you."
Then Shariputra, desiring to announce this meaning again, spoke in verse and repented his past imperfection, expressing thoroughly his present state of mind.
Greatly satisfied with Shariputra's words, the World-honored One said to him: "Shariputra! You have well realized what I have preached. If you maintain your present mental attitude for a long time, serve countless numbers of buddhas, and complete the Way that bodhisattvas walk, you will surely become a buddha."
Speaking thus, the Buddha gave a title to this future buddha, Flower Light Tathagata, and announced the name of his buddha domain as Undefiled. He also named the period when that buddha would appear as Ornate with Great Jewels.
PREDICTION OF BUDDHAHOOD. The prediction of buddhahood, called juki in Japanese, is a term that will appear frequently later in this book. The most important fact to bear in mind here is that this is not a casual assurance given by the Buddha that one can become a buddha without making any effort.
When a religion decays, it is likely to be rejected by thinking people because it teaches that one can be reborn in paradise by merely uttering a magic formula. If that were all, it would not be so bad; but sometimes it preaches that no matter what evil one does, one can be saved and go to paradise if only one buys a certain talisman. The real salvation of the Buddha is not such an easy matter. We cannot be saved until we not only learn the Buddha's teachings but also practice them and elevate ourselves to the stage of making others happy by means of them. The Buddha's teachings can be clearly understood by anyone and are consonant with reason and common sense; they are not a matter of magic or superstition.
When all in the great assembly saw that Shariputra had received his prediction to Perfect Enlightenment, they rejoiced greatly and worshiped the Buddha from the depths of their hearts. Heavenly beings also paid homage to the Buddha with wonderful heavenly robes and celestial flowers. Thereupon all of them declared in verse that they believed themselves definitely able to become buddhas.
The heavenly beings paid homage to the Buddha because all living beings in the universe are disciples of the Buddha. In other words, because all things are given life by the universal truth, they cannot help worshiping and admiring the truth. The "heavenly beings" are beings who live in paradise. They seem to have no trouble or anxiety and so apparently have no need to listen to the teachings of the Buddha, but in fact that is not the case. As already mentioned, because the ideal way of human life is always to advance, not even heavenly beings can feel true joy unless they listen to the still higher teaching of the Buddha. They cannot truly feel joy unless they constantly practice good for the sake of the people who live in the saha world. This is a distinctive and profound feature of Buddhism. To suppose that one can be free from care forever and lead an idle life once one has gone to paradise is a naive and shallow belief.
Thereupon Shariputra spoke to the Buddha, saying: "World-honored One! I now have no doubts or regrets. In person, before the Buddha, I have received my prediction to Perfect Enlightenment. Many self-controlled ones, who of yore abode in the state of learning, were always instructed by the Buddha, who said: 'My Law is able to cause men to raise the mind to be free from the various changes of the world, and is able to give them the power to extinguish suffering and distress.' These people consider that they have attained enlightenment because of being free from illusion. But now the World-honored One says: 'This is not the real enlightenment. You cannot attain real enlightenment unless you raise the mind of the bodhisattva to sincerely serve others and keep practicing this.' Finding that what you have said now is greatly different from what they had heard before, they have all fallen into doubt and perplexity. World-honored One! Please state the reasons for this to them more fully so that they may be free from doubts and regrets."
Then the Buddha spoke to Shariputra: "Have I not said before that the buddhas by various reasonings, parables, and terms preach the Law tactfully, so that their teachings seem to be shallow in some parts and deep in other parts, but that their purpose is always only one, namely, to lead all people to the enlightenment of the Buddha? Though the various buddhas' teachings appear to be different in form and content, these teachings all have the purpose of saving those who desire to obtain enlightenment and who endeavor to do so, and these teachings all reach the same conclusion.
Shariputra! Let me now again in a parable make this meaning still clearer, for intelligent people reach understanding through parables." The Buddha then told the following story.
THE PARABLE OF THE BURNING HOUSE. There was a great elder in a certain kingdom. Old and worn as he was, he possessed boundless wealth, many fields, houses, and servants. His house was spacious, having only one gate, and with many people dwelling in it. Its halls and chambers were old and decayed, its walls crumbling, the bases of its pillars rotten, the beams and rooftree leaning dangerously.
Fires suddenly started on all sides at the same moment, and the house was enveloped in flames. His many sons, to whom the elder was very much attached, were all in this dwelling. When the elder, who was outside the house, realized that fire had broken out and returned to the house, he was greatly startled to see his children absorbed in play. They had no apprehension, knowledge, surprise, or fear. Though the fire was spreading toward them and pain and suffering were imminent, they had no care nor fear and felt no urge to escape from the house.
The elder pondered: "My body and arms are strong. Shall I get them out of the house by means of a flower vessel, or a bench, or a table?" Again he pondered: "This house has only one gate, and it is narrow; my children are too young to know yet that they must go out the gate. Perhaps they will be burned in the fire because they are attached to their place of play. I must speak to them about this dreadful matter, warning them that the house is burning and that they must come out instantly lest they be burned."
Though the elder tried to lure and admonish the children with kind words, still the children, joyfully attached to their play, were unwilling to believe him and felt neither surprise nor fear, nor any need to escape; moreover, they did not know what was the fire, nor what the house, nor what he meant by being lost, but only ran hither and thither in play. Though sometimes glancing at their father, they only thought, "Our father is saying something," and they did not listen to him in earnest.
Then the elder reflected: "This house is burning in a great conflagration. If I cannot get them to leave at once, they will certainly be burned. I have no choice but to cause them to escape this disaster by some tactful means because they will not leave the house in spite of my warnings. I know! My children like toys. They are always attracted by such things when they are told about them."
The father shouted to the children: "Your favorite playthings - goat carts, deer carts, and bullock carts - are now outside the gate for you to play with. I will give you whatever you want, but all of you must come quickly out of the burning house. These things, which you are fond of playing with, are very rare and precious. If you do not come and get them now, you will be sorry later. Come quickly out of the burning house and play with these attractive toys." Thereupon the children, hearing their favorite playthings mentioned by their father, and because it suited their wishes, eagerly began pushing and racing against each other and came scrambling out of the burning house.
Then the elder, seeing his children had safely escaped and were all in the square, sat down in the open, no longer troubled, but with a mind at ease and filled with joy. Then the children said to their father: "Father! Please give us now those lovely things you promised us to play with, goat carts, deer carts, and bullock carts." The elder then gave each of his children equally a great white-bullock cart, larger and more wonderful than any of the three kinds of carts he had mentioned before.
Needless to say, the elder as father corresponds to the Buddha. The decayed house indicates the dangerous and miserable state of the human mind in the saha world. It goes without saying that the Buddha is beyond the miserable illusions of man, but he never forgets his children - all living beings - who are in such a state. The dangerous state of the saha world is shown faithfully in the description of the decayed house. The miserable state of the human mind is vividly depicted in the first part of the last verse section of chapter 3 of the Lotus Sutra. All sorts of evil living beings run about in every direction. There are places stinking with excrement and urine, overflowing with uncleanness, where dung beetles and worms gather. Foxes, wolves, and jackals bite and trample each other to gnaw human carcasses, scattering their bones and flesh. Following these, troops of dogs come to snatch and grab at the remains and, gaunt with hunger, skulk about seeking food everywhere. On the other hand, kumbhanda demons seize dogs by their feet, striking them so that they lose their voice, twisting their legs around their necks, and torturing the dogs for their own amusement. This description is an allegory of the human world in the age of decadence in which we live.
The fire that breaks out in this decaying old house symbolizes all human suffering, including old age, disease, and death. Human beings, absorbed in sensual pleasures and material satisfactions, are not aware that these sufferings will befall them sooner or later, much less that they are imminent.
The Buddha wants to get all living beings out of the burning house. However, the house has only one gate, and it is so narrow that they cannot pass through it easily. This means that there is only one way of salvation for men and that the gate leading to their salvation is so narrow that it is not easy to pass through it. This point teaches us that truth is one alone and that we cannot possibly attain it with a doubting or lukewarm attitude.
The Buddha considers getting his children out of the burning house by means of a flower vessel, a bench, or a table. This may be interpreted to mean that he thinks first of saving all living beings by means of his compassion and supernatural powers. But even if he wants to do so, there is the possibility of their being excluded from the Buddha's salvation because they are too engrossed in pleasures of the senses and material things. The Buddha's compassion is useless unless all living beings can realize it. For this reason, he purposely does not use his divine power.
If we penetrate further beneath the surface of this meaning, we can see that if the Buddha were to lead all living beings straight to enlightenment, they could not understand his teachings and would lapse because they are so absorbed in pleasures of the senses and material things. Therefore, he desires to lead them from the first step, which is to cause them to realize the dreadful state of this world.
In spite of the compassionate consideration of the Buddha, living beings often only glance at their father's face (the Buddha's teachings); they do not consider how these teachings concern their own lives, and they do not listen to them wholeheartedly. We have often experienced this, which shows clearly the mental state of ordinary people.
Then the Buddha as a final measure displays goat carts (the shravaka vehicle), deer carts (the pratyekabuddha vehicle), and bullock carts (the bodhisattva vehicle). Now all living beings are attracted to the Buddha's teachings for the first time. Hearing his words, "Take whichever teaching of these three that you like; I will give you any of them," they run out of the burning house while imagining these attractive playthings to themselves.
To imagine attractive playthings to oneself means that one has already entered into the mental state of shravaka, pratyekabuddha, or bodhisattva. To run out of the burning house means that one is already seeking after the Buddha's teachings. When living beings remove illusions from their minds, they can immediately escape from the burning house of suffering in this world.
However, they do not yet think of being saved from the burning house. Their minds are filled with the desire to obtain one of the attractive carts - the enlightenment of a shravaka, a pratyekabuddha, or a bodhisattva. Then they ask the Buddha for these carts. This means that each asks for his own enlightenment. Then quite unexpectedly, beyond the enlightenment of the three vehicles, they see the supreme teaching, that is, the enlightenment of the One Buddha Vehicle (the great white-bullock cart), shining brilliantly.
The Buddha really wishes to give this great cart to all living beings. So he gives the same thing unsparingly and equally to anyone who has advanced to the mental state of seeking supreme enlightenment. How wonderful the Buddha's consideration is! All can attain the Buddha's enlightenment equally - this is the great spirit of the Lotus Sutra.
After relating the Parable of the Burning House, the World-honored One expounded fully the meanings included in this parable, and then, desiring to preach the same teaching over again in different words, he spoke in verse. Following is the gist of what he said.
"I tell you, Shariputra! I am in the same position as the elder in the parable. I am the most honored of all the sages and the father of the world. All living beings are my sons. They are deeply attached to earthly pleasures and they do not have enough wisdom to realize the true aspects of all things. So I am ready to save them.
"The triple world is not a safe place for ordinary men. It is like the burning house, full of all kinds of suffering, and is greatly to be feared. Always there are various human sufferings, including the distress of birth, old age, disease, and death. Such fires as these are burning ceaselessly. Since ancient times, I have been free from the triple world full of illusions and have been abiding in a peaceful state that is not influenced by earthly troubles. But I cannot forget the triple world for even a moment. This is because all this triple world is my domain, and all the living beings in it are my sons. But now this place abounds with distress and suffering. I cannot help entering into the world of suffering and saving my sons. And I alone am able to save and protect them."
"All this universe is my domain, and all the living beings in it are my sons. And I alone am able to save and protect them." What great words of firm confidence these are! How full of his great benevolence they are! However, the word "I" is not confined to Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha who lived in India some 2,500 years ago. It refers rather to the Buddha in the sense of "one who has realized the truth." Therefore, the Buddha's words are a great proclamation that for those who have realized the truth, all the universe is their domain. When even we, who are not equal to Shakyamuni Buddha, close our eyes quietly and think with pure minds, "All the universe is our domain," we sense the vastness of space and feel an inner peace.
There was a recent fashion among some people to purchase land on Mars. Though this fad seemed to be half a joke, it can be considered an effective way to broaden man's mind, in a sense. When we really think of the stars hundreds of millions of light years away, these stars immediately fly into our minds and thus come into our possession. When we think of things tens of thousands of years ago or tens of thousands of years in the future, we realize that the world includes these things; they become part of our own minds. It is our mind that enables us to ignore time and space and to reach out everywhere.
If we could realize the truth of the universe just as the Buddha did and unite with the universal life, how much more would this world become our own! This is not a matter of asserting ownership but of feeling as if we have melted into the whole of the universe. In short, it means that we have reached a mental state of "nonself." It means that we have abandoned the small self and found the self that lives as the whole.
At such a time, self expands to fill the whole universe. Nonself is the only way that we can realize the idea that "all the universe is our domain." If we can attain this mental state, our minds will have perfect freedom. We will be free from everything, and even if we act as we wish, everything we do will result in enhancing others' lives. This is the mental state of the Buddha.
Even though we cannot reach such a state of mind in one leap, we must strive toward it by beginning to follow the Buddha's example. We cannot attain the mind of the Buddha unless we enter into the Buddha Way by following his example. To recite the sutras, to listen to preaching, to think calmly, and to serve others - all this can be said to be our practice for the purpose of abandoning our self and melting into the whole. This is the spirit of harmony. If we maintain such a practice for even an hour each day, we can approach the Buddha to a slight degree, step by step, and through perseverance we can become buddhas sometime in the future. We must abandon the spineless attitude that we cannot possibly attain buddhahood. We will readily understand why this is important when we read the next chapter, "Faith Discernment."
FOURTEEN SINS OF SLANDERING THE LAW. In the final verse portion of chapter 3, the Buddha teaches us what we ought to know in preaching the Lotus Sutra to others and what recompense we are bound to receive if we go against the sutra. Here the Buddha's words, "Do not recklessly proclaim it," are apt to be misunderstood. These words do not mean not to preach the Lotus Sutra unnecessarily, but never to preach it wrongly and always to find suitable ways of preaching it.
The Buddha teaches us, "Do not preach this sutra to those who have the following kinds of evil minds," and expounds the fourteen sins against the spirit of the Lotus Sutra. Here, he means not that we should refuse to deal with such evil-minded people but that we should preach the Lotus Sutra to them carefully after first removing their sins of slandering the Law, because unless we do this first, preaching the sutra not only will have no good effect but will in fact have an unfavorable effect. The fourteen sins of slandering the Law are the following:
(1) haughtiness, or kyoman (to be conceited and to think one has understood what one has not understood);
(2) neglect, or kedai (to be lazy and to be absorbed in trivial things);
(3) self-centeredness, or keiga (to act only for selfish ends);
(4) shallowness, or senshiki (to look only at the surface of things, not trying to grasp their essence);
(5) sensuality, or jakuyoku (to be deeply attached to the desires of the senses and to material things);
(6) irrationality, or fuge (to interpret everything according to one's own limited viewpoint and to not understand important points);
(7) unbelief, or fushin (not to believe in the sutra and to vilify it because of one's shallow understanding);
(8) sullenness, or hinshuku (to frown upon the sutra and to show ill feeling toward it);
(9) doubting, or giwaku (to harbor doubts of the truth of the sutra and to hesitate to believe in it);
(10) slander, or hibo (to speak ill of the sutra);
(11) scorning goodness, or kyozen (to despise those who read and recite, write and keep the sutra);
(12) hating goodness, or zozen (to hate those who practice the above mentioned goodness);
(13) jealousy of goodness, or shitsuzen (to envy those who practice this goodness);
(14) grudging goodness, or konzen (to grudge those who practice this goodness).
Next the recompense of the various sins of slandering the Law are mentioned. What we must pay special attention to here is that such recompense is not meted out by the Buddha as a punishment. The Buddha does not have this kind of relationship with man. Because he is the truth that gives life to all things in the universe, it is hardly possible that he would perform an action running counter to man's life, such as letting him fall into hell or letting him become an animal or a deformed person. Who brings such punishment on man? Needless to say, man brings it upon himself. His own illusion brings it upon him. Illusion is like a dark cloud that covers our intrinsic buddha-nature. When the light of our buddha-nature is covered with illusions, darkness arises in our minds and various unpleasant things happen to us. This state is the punishment that we have meted to ourselves. If we blow away the dark clouds of our own illusions, our buddha-nature will immediately begin to shine forth. Therefore we have nothing to fear in the Buddha. We must keep firmly in mind and truly believe that the Buddha is that which enlivens all beings at all times.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.