THIS CHAPTER RECORDS the Buddha's prediction of the attainment of Perfect Enlightenment by his two great disciples Ananda and Rahula, as well as by other disciples. Ananda, a cousin of the Buddha, was a younger brother of Devadatta, who at first was a follower of the Buddha but later left him and even attempted to kill him. Unlike Devadatta, Ananda was a warmhearted man who had become a disciple of the Buddha in childhood. He was called "Ananda, attendant always following the Buddha," because he accompanied the Buddha, looking after him and attending him as a favorite disciple until Shakyamuni's death.
Rahula was the son of the Buddha, born before his renunciation of the world. The Buddha, who expected Rahula to have the quality of goodness, summoned him from the palace when he was fifteen years old and added him to his group of disciples. To prevent Rahula from considering that he had a special status because he was the Buddha's son, the Buddha placed Rahula under the care of Shariputra, one of his ten great disciples.
The word "training" (gaku) in the title of this chapter refers to the stage in which one must undergo religious exercises, while "trained" (mugaku) refers to the stage in which one no longer need undergo any religious exercise and is beyond learning.
Having seen the prediction of many arhats to Perfect Enlightenment, Ananda and Rahula, who were the only two of the direct disciples of the Buddha not yet to have received a prediction, felt left out and sad. They reflected: "If our future were only foretold, how happy we would be!" Therefore they rose from their seats, went before the Buddha, made obeisance at his feet, and together spoke to him, saying: "World-honored One!" Let us have your prediction of us to Perfect Enlightenment. We have only the Tathagata in whom to trust. We are known to and acknowledged by all the worlds, including heavenly beings, human beings, and devils. Ananda is always your attendant, protecting and keeping the treasury of the Law, and Rahula is the Buddha's son. If the Buddha sees fit to predict Perfect Enlightenment for us, our desire will be fulfilled and the hopes of many will be satisfied."
Thereupon the two thousand disciples who were under training and no longer under training all rose from their seats, bared their right shoulders, went before the Buddha, with one mind folded their hands, and gazed upon the World-honored One, wishing as Ananda and Rahula had wished, and stood there in line.
Seeing this, the World-honored One, who had already decided to predict for each of these two great disciples his destiny, told Ananda that he would pay homage to sixty-two kotis of buddhas, protect and keep the treasury of the Law, and finally attain Perfect Enlightenment. The Buddha gave him the title of Sovereign Universal King of Wisdom Mountains and Oceans Tathagata and named his domain Never-lowered Victorious Banner.
Before the advent of Buddhism, Brahmanism flourished in India. It had more than sixty schools, all of which disputed and criticized each other. It was customary to raise a victory banner at the gate of the temple of a Brahman monk who had defeated his opponent in a religious dispute. Never-lowered Victorious Banner, the name of the domain of Sovereign Universal King of Wisdom Mountains and Oceans Tathagata, means the proof that the teaching preached by this Tathagata is the most excellent of all teachings.
Then the Buddha foretold the following: "That buddha's lifetime will be immeasurable thousand myriad kotis of asamkhyeya kalpas. His teaching will abide in his world twice his lifetime. This buddha will be extolled and his merits praised by universal unlimited buddhas." Thereupon, because the Buddha gave Ananda, a shravaka, more gracious words than those given to the senior bodhisattvas who had received the prediction of buddhahood, the eight thousand bodhisattvas in the assembly who had newly started on the road all entertained doubts about it. The World-honored One, knowing what the bodhisattvas were thinking, addressed them, saying: "Good sons! I and Ananda together, under the Buddha Firmament King, at the same time conceived the thought of Perfect Enlightenment. But there was a difference in our way of practicing the teaching. Ananda took constant pleasure in learning, while I was devoted to active progress. For this reason I have already attained Perfect Enlightenment, while Ananda, who is my disciple in this world because of former lives, has been taking care of my Law, as he will take care of the Law treasuries of future buddhas and will instruct and bring to perfection the host of bodhisattvas. Such was his original vow, although all of you may have thought that he must be a shravaka because he seems to take constant pleasure in learning. So he has received this prediction."
The difference that the Buddha pointed out in his way of practice and that of Ananda is a very important point. The Buddha taught that to realize Perfect Enlightenment, one should practice by taking the Buddha as an example. The practice of benefiting others is the highest reach of religion, as the Buddha here clearly shows.
As the term "original vow" (hongan) appears here, an explanation must be given of the word "vow" (gan) as used in Buddhism.
ORIGINAL VOW. The word "vow" is casually used in our time, but the word in its true sense is not one to be used lightly. "Vow" means setting up one's own ideal and devoting oneself to its realization. Needless to say, from the standpoint of Buddhism, our ideal is to benefit others. The desire to attain buddhahood does not become a vow unless we entertain it for the purpose of saving others from their sufferings. A vow for the particular aim of benefiting others is called the "original vow" of Buddhists.
GENERAL VOW. In Buddhism, there are two kinds of vow: "general vow" (sogan) and "special vow" (betsugan). "General vow" means the vow common to all people. The common desire of all Buddhists is to study the teachings of the Buddha and to extinguish delusions. Their desire is also to benefit many others through attaining enlightenment. This desire is called the general vow. It is divided again into four parts, which are known as the four great vows of the bodhisattva (shi gu-sei-gan).
SPECIAL VOW. A special vow, as opposed to the general vow, is a vow made according to one's individual character, ability, and vocation. For example: because I am a talented painter, I will make this world as beautiful as I can by painting beautiful pictures; because I am musically talented, I will use music to give people peace of mind; because I am a farmer, I will render service to society by raising the best crops possible; because I am a merchant, I will be of use to my customers by supplying them with goods as inexpensive and fine as possible. These are good instances of special vows.
Besides the general vow to save all living beings, each of the buddhas has his own special vow, such as the forty-eight vows of the Tathagata Amitabha and the five hundred great vows of the Tathagata Shakyamuni. In addition to the general vow that is common to all of us as people in this world, we should formulate our own special vow or vows throughout our lives. When we work to fulfill such a vow, we discover the value of human life and enrich our daily lives. Buddhism teaches not only one's eternal and great ideal but also one's ideal in daily life. Thus, it is both a very profound teaching and a very intimate one.
Of course, merely making vows is of no use; we must work to fulfill them. Our vows must never be made with a lukewarm attitude. Once we have pronounced our vows in our minds, we must be zealous and persistent enough to fulfill them at all costs. If we maintain such a mental attitude, we can surely achieve our vows.
Some people think that things never actually turn out as we wish. But this is mistaken. If our minds are concentrated on our vows over a long period of time, our vows will invariably be achieved eventually. If they are not realized in this world, they will be in the world to come. An earnest desire generates great energy. When we continuously endeavor to concentrate our minds even on something that is thought to be almost impossible, such endeavor produces a result that makes the seemingly impossible possible. One's vow will definitely be achieved if one has an unshakable belief and makes constant efforts to realize it.
The World-honored One, after predicting Ananda's Perfect Enlightenment, gave the same prediction to Rahula. The Buddha gave him the title of Treader on Seven-Jeweled Lotuses Tathagata. He told Rahula that he would pay homage to buddhas equal in number to the atoms of ten worlds, always becoming the eldest son of each of those buddhas, just as he was at present. He also foretold that the splendor of the domain of Treader on Seven-Jeweled Lotuses Tathagata, the duration of his lifetime, and so on would be the same as those of the Tathagata Sovereign Universal King of Wisdom Mountains and Oceans. Thereupon the World-honored One, desiring to proclaim this teaching over again, spoke thus in verse:
"When I was a prince royal,
Rahula was my eldest son.
Now that I have accomplished the Buddha Way,
He is the Law heir receiving the Law.
In worlds to come,
Seeing infinite kotis of buddhas,
To all he will be eldest son
And with all his mind seek the Buddha Way.
Of the hidden course of Rahula
Only I am able to know.
At present as my eldest son
He is revealed to all.
Infinite thousand myriad kotis
Are his merits, beyond calculation.
Peacefully abiding in the Buddha Law,
He seeks the supreme Way."
THE HIDDEN COURSE. This moving verse reveals the Buddha's affection as a teacher of the Law and as a father. Hearing the Buddha say, "Of the hidden course of Rahula / Only I am able to know," how glad Rahula must have been! The hidden course means that when one has achieved something, one does not reveal it to others by one's look or manner but joins them as an ordinary person and leads them naturally in a better direction. This is the same as the principle of half a step exemplified by Purna. Though Rahula had attained a very high spiritual level, he did not show the slightest sign of it but silently guided people from behind the scenes. Only Shakyamuni Buddha, who was his teacher and his father, knew the truth about Rahula. For him, the Buddha's recognition must have been a double joy.
Why did Shakyamuni Buddha give the prediction of Perfect Enlightenment to such great disciples as Ananda and Rahula later than to the other disciples? We may imagine that the Buddha reasoned in the following way: Ananda was always the attendant to the Buddha, while Rahula was the Buddha's son. Both of them were thus the disciples closest to the Buddha, who had manifested himself for the benefit of unenlightened living beings. Having due regard for these two disciples' special circumstances, which could hinder rather than aid their practice, and in order to show this to all living beings, the Buddha intentionally deferred the prediction of these two great disciples to Perfect Enlightenment.
We must not think that because these two disciples were closest to him, the Buddha hesitated to give them the prediction out of consideration for the feelings of the many other disciples in his order. Shakyamuni Buddha was not such a small-minded man. When, like Ananda, one always accompanies the Buddha and waits on him personally, it often happens that he becomes unable to discriminate between his master's greatness as the Buddha and the sacredness of his teachings on the one hand and the Buddha as a man on the other, and that for this reason he will have difficulty in revering the Buddha with the same pure mind as other disciples. The same thing can be said of the relation between father and son. However great a father may be, his own son will find it hard to treat his father with the same respect as outsiders. The Buddha taught that for a person who personally attends and follows a great man, this will become a hindrance to his practice unless he draws a strict line in his mind between public and private matters. Though Ananda and Rahula were placed in a very delicate situation, they constantly behaved respectfully, and their behavior bore witness to their high virtue.
It is most difficult for us to lead those closest to us - our wives, husbands, sons, daughters, and parents - to the Law of the Buddha. If we try to guide them merely by what we say, we can never be completely successful. We have no alternative but to influence them through our practice in our daily lives. If our conduct is ignoble and selfish most of the time, being good only on rare occasions, it will not influence others. Unless we constantly set a good example to the members of our families, they cannot possibly follow us. Shakyamuni Buddha was alluding to this in his teaching.
At that time the World-honored One looked upon the two thousand men under training and no longer under training, gentle in mind, tranquil and calm, who were observing the Buddha single-mindedly. The Buddha addressed Ananda: "Do you see these two thousand men under training and no longer under training?" Ananda replied, "Yes, I see them." Ananda's answer here means "Yes, they look excellent," to the Buddha's implied question, "How do they look to you?" This is the so-called tacit understanding in question and answer between the Buddha and Ananda.
Then the Buddha gave the following prediction to these two thousand men: if they pay homage to innumerable buddhas, revere and honor them, and care for their treasuries of the Law, finally in the same hour, in domains in every direction, each of them will become a buddha with the same title, Jewel Sign Tathagata. Thereupon the two thousand men under training and no longer under training, hearing the Buddha's prediction, became ecstatic with joy and offered deep thanks to the Buddha, speaking thus in verse:
Bright Lamp of Wisdom!
We, hearing his voice of prediction,
Are filled with joyfulness,
As if sprinkled with sweet dew."
Though short, this is a famous verse. It is filled with so deep a sense of gratitude and reverence for the Buddha that we should read and recite it daily.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.