IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER, the four great shravakas showed their admiration for the Buddha's great compassion and tactful power through the Parable of the Poor Son, then they told the Buddha that they understood that though he had preached his teachings in various ways according to the capacity of living beings and the stage of their enlightenment, his preaching had always been based on the One Buddha Vehicle, and that they had aimed at the same vehicle. When they announced their own faith and discernment thus, the World-honored One spoke to them as follows: "Good! Good! Kashyapa; you have well proclaimed the real merits of the Buddha. Truly they are as you have said. The Buddha, in addition, has infinite, boundless, innumerable merits, which if you spoke forever you could not fully express.
"Know, Kashyapa! The Buddha is the king of the Law. He knows fully the real state of all things. Whatever he declares leads wholly to the way of the truth. In expounding all the laws, he discerns and discriminates by wise tactfulness and preaches them according to the hearers and the occasion. The Law preached by him all leads to the stage of perfect knowledge.
"The Buddha sees and knows the merit of all the laws and also knows what all living beings in their inmost hearts are thinking and feeling. He penetrates them without hindrance. Moreover, he has the utmost understanding of the real state of all things in the world. He reveals to all living beings the wisdom that he can discern, both the discriminative and the equal aspects of all things."
THE PARABLE OF THE HERBS. With this preamble, the Buddha then preached the Parable of the Herbs. "Kashyapa! Suppose there are growing on the mountains, along the rivers and streams, in the valleys and on the plains, plants, trees, thickets, forests, and medical herbs of various and numerous kinds, all with different names and colors. A dense cloud, spreading over and covering the whole world, pours down its rain equally at the same time.
"Its moisture universally fertilizes plants, trees, thickets, forests, and medicinal herbs, with their tiny roots, tiny stalks, tiny twigs, and tiny leaves; their medium roots, medium stalks, medium twigs, and medium leaves; their big roots, big stalks, big twigs, and big leaves; every plant big or little, according to its superior, middle, or lower capacity, receives its share. From the rain of the one cloud each develops appropriately according to the nature of its kind, opening its beautiful blossoms and bearing its fruit. You must know that though produced in one soil and moistened by the same rain, yet these plants and trees are all different."
Roots, stalks, twigs, and leaves indicate faith, precepts, meditation, and wisdom. Roots are the most important part of plants. Without roots, they cannot grow stalks, twigs, or leaves. Therefore "roots" means faith. One cannot keep the precepts without faith. Because of keeping the precepts, one can enter into the mental state of meditation and can also obtain wisdom.
Conversely, however strong the roots may be, they will eventually die if the twigs and leaves wither or if the stalks are cut. In the same way, if man does not have wisdom, his faith will become corrupt. In short, in believing in a religion, man begins with faith and attains wisdom through the precepts and meditation. However, these four steps of his religious practice are always interrelated and exist together. When any one of the four steps is lacking, his religious practice cannot be perfect, and it will not progress to the next stage. Just as a tree may be big or little, superior, middle, or low, so different people are large- or small-minded, wise or ignorant.
But we must make clear that a big tree cannot always be said to be superior to a little one, nor a little plant inferior to a bigger one. A cedar has its proper role, and a box tree also has its own role. The small violet is beautiful, and the larger pampas grass has its own kind of beauty. In the same way, though there seem to be various differences in people's external appearance, intelligence, ability, character, and bodily strength, all one's qualities become beautiful and honorable when he displays his own strength to the full according to his particular nature and ability. This is the meaning of the equality preached by the Buddha.
However, it is another matter to receive the Law. In the previous chapter, we were taught that we must not have the servile idea that we have the capacity to understand the Buddha's teachings only to a certain limited extent. We should abandon such trifling discriminations and devote ourselves to hearing and receiving the Law. The Parable of the Herbs states that every effort of ours will be surely rewarded. That is, though various kinds of plants and trees are produced in the same soil and moistened by the same rain, each develops according to its own nature. In the same way, though the Buddha's teachings are only one, they are understood differently according to each hearer's nature, intellect, environment, and so on.
Even if we have only a shallow understanding of the Buddha's teachings or can practice only a part of them, this is never useless. Every effort will be surely rewarded with the merits of the Law. But we should not be satisfied with this reward. We must always desire and endeavor to deepen our understanding and to elevate ourselves further. Thus we can use shallow faith and discernment as the first step in advancing ourselves to a higher level of faith and discernment. Ascending step by step, we can unfailingly reach a superior state of mind. We should understand this well when we read the latter part of this chapter. It is stated here that though the Buddha's teachings are one, there are differences in faith and discernment according to one's capacity to understand the teachings. But we must not interpret this as stating an absolute condition.
One tree receives too much rain, while another does not receive enough. One tree can grow in a year, but another takes many years to reach maturity. One tree can bear fruit in a year, but another cannot bear fruit until seven or eight years have passed. Suppose that when such a tree sees a tree that can bear its fruit in a year, it thinks, "I am useless because I cannot possibly bear my fruit in such a short time." It would be nonsensical for the tree to think this, wouldn't it? And suppose that there is a tree that is content to say, "That tree has borne its fruit in a year, while I have barely managed to grow my twigs and leaves in a year. But I am very well off as I am, because all are moistened by the same rain. I am doing all I can." It would be just as nonsensical for the tree to express such satisfaction on the basis of its limited judgment alone.
A tree that requires seven or eight years to bear its fruit must work hard and practice without impatience, discouragement, or bitter feelings toward others. The time will come when it will surely bear its blossoms and fruit. If fruit borne in a year is sweet, so will fruit borne in eight years be good. What both of them achieve is the same: the Buddha's enlightenment.
Then the World-honored One said: "Know, Kashyapa, the relation between the Buddha's teachings and the enlightenment of living beings." The point of the Buddha's teaching of the Parable of the Herbs is that the Buddha is like the great cloud that sheds its rain equally on all. He leads all living beings, including human beings, to his universal teachings, just as that great cloud covers the entire world.
THE TEN EPITHETS OF THE BUDDHA. The Buddha then explained his identity with the following ten titles: "I am the Tathagata, the Worshipful, the All Wise, the Perfectly Enlightened in Conduct, the Well Departed, the Understander of the World, the Peerless Leader, the Controller, the Teacher of Heavenly and Human Beings, the Buddha, the World-honored One." These are called the ten epithets of the Buddha, each of which represents an aspect of the Buddha's virtue and power.
Tathagata (nyorai) means "one who has come from the world of truth"; the Worshipful (ogu), "one who deserves offerings in the human and the celestial worlds"; the All Wise (shohenchi), "one who has the right and perfect wisdom"; the Perfectly Enlightened in Conduct (myogyo-soku), "one who completely combines knowledge with practice"; the Well Departed (zenzei), "one who is free from everything"; the Understander of the World (sekenge), "one who can understand people in all circumstances"; the Peerless Leader (mujoji), "one who is unsurpassed"; the Controller (jogo-jobu), "one who is infallible in controlling men's minds"; the Teacher of Heavenly and Human Beings (tennin-shi), "one who leads all living beings in the human and the celestial worlds"; and the Buddha, the World-honored One (butsu-seson), "the enlightened one who is most honored by the people of the world." One who is possessed of these ten virtues and powers is called Buddha.
Because of such perfect virtues and powers, those who have not yet reached the mental state of being uninfluenced by changes in their circumstances, the Buddha causes to reach that state of mind; those who have not yet understood why their illusions occur and how they can be removed, he causes to understand; those who have not yet been comforted after their illusions are extinguished, he causes to be comforted; those who have not yet obtained true enlightenment, he causes to obtain it.
The Buddha also knows the present, the past, and the world to come as they really are. He is the one who knows everything perfectly (issai-chisha, the All Knowing), the one who discerns the real state of all things (issai-kensha, the All Seeing), the one who knows the true Way (chido-sha, the Knower of the Way), the one who makes all living beings understand the Way and leads them to it (kaido-sha, the Opener of the Way), and the one who preaches the Way to them (setsudo-sha, the Preacher of the Way).
THE THREE ACTIONS OF BODY, MOUTH, AND MIND. To know the Way, to open it, and to preach it are indispensable practices for followers of the Lotus Sutra. One knows the Way with one's mind, one opens it with one's body, and one preaches it with one's mouth. These are called the three actions of body, mouth, and mind, and they are the standards of the daily conduct of those who practice the Lotus Sutra by following the Buddha's example.
The Buddha, who had such perfect virtues and powers, addressed all living beings, urging them to come to him to hear the Law. At that time numberless classes of living beings gathered and did so. Thereupon the Buddha, observing the natural powers of all these beings, keen or dull, zealous or indifferent, according to their various capacities, preached to them the Law in varying ways, causing them all to rejoice and joyfully obtain much merit. He proclaimed that all living beings that have well understood this Law, have believed in it, and have practiced it are comforted in the present life and afterward will be born in happy states where they will be made joyful by the truth and will also hear the Law.
COMFORT IN THE PRESENT LIFE. To be comforted in the present life means to lead a peaceful life in this world. People of old interpreted this as meaning simply that they would easily recover from disease and would be free of worries about their livelihood. The common opinion more recently has been that "to be comforted" refers only to spiritual problems and that it means that one's mind will never be influenced by whatever suffering one undergoes. This interpretation may have developed because people have come to think that to seek material happiness in the present life is a goal unworthy of people of religion or because they fear that they would be looked down on unless they considered mind and body as separate entities, a tendency encouraged by a superficial understanding of modern science.
However, such ideas are mistaken. Research in psychosomatic medicine has made it clear that many physical disorders disappear if one's mental and emotional state improves. When one's mind is free, one's way of life naturally changes for the better. Therefore, it is no wonder that such people actually can and do lead relatively comfortable lives. Belief in a religion for the sake of receiving divine favors in the present life is attended with various evils. With such an attitude toward religion, one cannot obtain freedom of mind. So it seems plausible to regard "being comforted" as a purely mental and emotional matter. However, to consider that the fact that mental freedom leads also to material freedom has nothing to do with the Buddha's teachings is also a lopsided view and is a denial of the Buddha's power.
The words "All living beings afterward will be born in happy states where they will be made joyful by the truth and will also hear the Law" are highly significant. Our lives have continued since the time when the earth was a ball of fire - no, since much longer ago than that--and they will continue into the infinite future. Therefore, even though our bodies will die, if we attain a state of mind such that we are not influenced by our circumstances, our minds will be reborn in "happy states" and will have peaceful lives in the world to come, where they will be made joyful by the truth, because by practicing the truth we can set our lives in the right direction.
This teaching was misinterpreted in former times as referring only to one's rebirth in the Pure Land after death; in reaction to this, people now show a strong tendency to limit the interpretation to spiritual problems in the present life. But the Buddha's teachings are not so narrow and limited. We must not forget that they teach us the ideal way to live our lives, which extend from the infinite past to the infinite future.
Having thoroughly understood this Law, all living beings can gradually become free from mental hindrances and disturbances, and from the various teachings of the Buddha they can choose for themselves a teaching that they can understand according to their own capacity and by means of which they can enter the Buddha way, just as the great cloud rains on all plants equally and nourishes them so that each grows and develops perfectly in accordance with its own nature.
The Buddha then declared: "The Law preached by the Tathagata is of one form and one flavor, that is to say, the form of deliverance, the form of abandonment, the form of extinction, and finally the attainment of perfect knowledge." This means that though his teachings are all the same essentially, they can be analyzed into three parts: the form of deliverance (gedatsu-so), the form of abandonment (ri-so), and the form of extinction (metsu-so).
The form of "deliverance" is the mental state of being no longer influenced by changes in circumstances or things. If one reaches this state, one can consider all things equally, unmoved by whatever happens. On the other hand, those who are convinced that they cannot look at things equally wish to rise above the world of phenomena, and so they lose the feeling of kinship with people who are suffering and distressed. We should abandon such self-righteousness and strive instead to save people from their sufferings. This attitude is called the form of "abandonment."
UNITING ONESELF AND OTHERS. The form of "extinction" means to extinguish false discrimination between oneself and others, that is, to feel the unity of oneself and all living beings in the universe. We cannot reach this state of mind as long as we think only that we must save people who are suffering and distressed. We must wish to stretch out our hands to others spontaneously and embrace them. This feeling is the mental state of the unification of oneself and others.
We do not consider saliva at all dirty when it is in our mouth. This is because saliva is part of our body. On the other hand, once we spit it out, we feel it to be unclean because we have lost the feeling of its being part of us. A person with true affection has a strong feeling of unity with others. There are historical instances of the ideal affection that demonstrates the unity of oneself and others. For example, a man touched his mouth to the mouth of his wife, who was so ill with tuberculosis that she was too weak to spit, and sucked out a hard mass that was blocking her throat. Empress Komyo of Japan sucked the pus oozing from sores on the back of a leper. We cannot reach such a mental state at one bound. But if we could come to feel spontaneously that another's suffering is our own suffering and that we must try to help the sufferer, or to feel that another's joy is our own joy, how comfortable to live in, how bright and peaceful this world would be.
The Buddha's teachings lead us progressively to a higher state of mind in this order: the form of deliverance, the form of abandonment, the form of extinction, and finally the attainment of perfect knowledge. The wisdom that unites the ability both to see the equality of things and to discern the differences among things is the attainment of perfect knowledge.
Then the Buddha's preaching continued as follows: "If there be living beings who hear the Law of the Tathagata and keep, read, recite, and practice it as preached by him, their merits will not enable them to understand their own natures. Only the Tathagata in reality sees, clearly and without hindrance, the stages in which all living beings are, just as those plants, trees, thickets, forests, medicinal herbs, and others do not know whether their own natures are superior, middle, or inferior." With these words the Buddha affirms the inevitability of man's receiving divine favors in the present life. He also declares that people themselves do not understand such divine favors; only the Buddha knows them. When man believes in the Law and practices it, various changes take place in him. As one who lives in the saha world, such changes may be unpleasant to him. But from a broader viewpoint, they indicate that his life has been set in the right direction. If he yields at once to these internal changes, although they may seem to be disagreeable at the time, the changes themselves are sure to lead him to happiness.
One of Aesop's fables tells us that a crow drowned because he disliked his black color and tried to wash it off. If a hedgehog is not pleased with the spines growing all over his body and pulls them out, he will soon be eaten by a wild cat or some other animal. As the proverb says, "Everything is as you see it"; true deliverance lies in our mental attitude to accept willingly what we are and to receive obediently what we are given.
The Buddha says that the Law preached by him is of one form and one flavor, that is, it is the same essentially though it is preached in various ways. John is different from Mary, but both are originally the same as human beings. To use the terminology of science, a red flower is composed of subatomic particles, such as electrons, protons, and neutrons; the green leaf of a willow is also formed from the same particles: the two are the same in essence. The Buddha also says that his Law of one form and one flavor ends in a return to the emptiness. In this case, the emptiness means equality; thus he indicates that everything is essentially equal.
Though all things are equal, as phenomena they are manifested as red flowers, or as green leaves, or as John who is skilled with his hands, or as Mary who is clear-headed. The subtle working of the universal life-force is seen in the generation of distinction from equality. If we can thoroughly develop the natural potential of our own lives according to the Buddha's teachings, this results in vitalizing others' lives, and we can reach a state of mind in which we realize the unification of ourselves and others and the essential unity of the diverse living beings.
In the last part of this chapter, the World-honored One stated that all his teachings culminate in causing all living beings equally to attain the same state of mind as the Buddha but that he does not immediately declare this to them because he observes the differences in their dispositions. He concluded his preaching by saying that Kashyapa's ability to realize this truth is the rarest and greatest faculty.
Then the World-honored One, desiring to proclaim this teaching over again, repeated it in verse. In the final stanzas he gave strong encouragement to the shravaka disciples, saying:
"What I have now said to you all
Is the veriest truth.
All shravakas Have not yet attained nirvana.
The Way in which you walk
Is the bodhisattva way;
By gradually practicing and learning,
All of you will become buddhas."
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.