Whereas in the preceding chapter the bodhisattvas have declared their determination to stand firm in the face of all obstacles and harm, the present chapter deals with the Buddha's advice to be always at ease in preaching the Law. For this purpose he offers specific instructions on the state of mind to be achieved. He gives assurance that belief in the teaching of the Lotus Sutra and practice of this teaching will enable everyone to attain a peace of mind by which all difficulties may be overcome. By the law of nonduality of body and mind, this peace of mind pervades the body and is manifest in the way of life.
The Buddha addresses his instructions for the bodhisattvas to Manjushri, and in a long and detailed sermon explains the fundamental precepts that should govern the behavior of a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva, the Buddha says, must abide in a state of patient endurance, be gentle in mind, be not overbearing, follow right reason, and conduct himself with composure. All things are to be seen as ultimately void, and conduct is not to be governed by concern with appearances. All appearances are to be seen as arising because they must arise in accordance with the law of cause and effect, and nothing is to be judged and arranged by means of differentiation or discrimination.
Specific, detailed admonitions or precepts follow, and I pick up ten out of those that are of special importance today. Summarized and simplified, these are as follows: The bodhisattva (1) does not in any sense of self-seeking approach or associate with persons of position or influence; (2) is alert not to be taken in by extreme ideas; (3) is careful in relations between men and women, and, when explaining the Law to the opposite sex, is particular neither to become sexually aroused nor to provoke desire; (4) whenever acting alone, is ever mindful of the Buddha, remembering always to maintain the sense of being with the Buddha; (5) when explaining the Law or reading what is written of the teachings, takes no pleasure in digging out the defects of others or in detecting fine points of error in the texts; (6) has no contempt for others who explain the teaching (an obvious admonition for people of the same persuasion, but equally applicable to those of other faiths); (7) is circumspect in criticizing either the good or the bad in others when the matter is teaching the Buddha's Law; (8) never replies at random to any question, however difficult, responding always in the true sense founded upon Mahayana teachings; (9) is attentive to the capacity of the hearer to comprehend the true sense of the Great Vehicle, drawing upon actual instances, parables, and other means of making the meaning clear; (10) is moved by the vow to free all living beings from their suffering, being mindful of compassion for them, feeling the buddhas as benevolent fathers, and seeing the host of bodhisattvas as great teachers.
The parable of the gem in the topknot, the sixth of the seven parables in the Lotus Sutra, appears in this chapter, and, like the others, it teaches an important lesson. A certain powerful king chastised minor kings about him who refused to obey him. He rewarded his valorous captains and soldiers with lands, or even cities, or ornaments and jewels from his person, reserving to himself only one precious jewel dressed into the hair of his topknot. Because this one jewel was all too precious, he could not give it away lest his followers be astonished and confused.
The Buddha's supreme teaching in the Lotus Sutra had been deferred until now for a similar reason. Much had already been taught, and by this teaching many had gained such rewards as attaining stability of mind, delivery from human suffering, and relief from all desire. Only the truth of the Lotus Sutra remained to be presented. But to have presented this truth prematurely would only have confused.
Then, just as at last the king gave away the jewel in his topknot to his victorious soldiers, so the Buddha, when all had reached a sufficiently high level of perfection, gave the ultimate reward, the highest teaching embodied in the Lotus Sutra.
A superficial reading of this parable allows us to see only praise of the Lotus Sutra as the highest teaching, together with the fact that presenting the world with such teaching is a rare occurrence, but beyond this there are other lessons.
First, we may note that the king had numerous other valuable things, but all these were but possessions pertaining to his body, while the bright gem alone of all his jewels pertained to his head. Now the head is the abode of the animating spirit or mind that directs the body. All people use their bodies, but harnessing the spirit is most important, though this is difficult because the spirit is intangible. Moreover, merely to harness the spirit without elevating it does not make for an admirable human being. The lesson we should draw from this parable is that humankind's highest aim pertains to the head and means elevation of the spirit to attain buddhahood as the ultimate aim.
Second, the parable tells us that as the ultimate teaching the Lotus Sutra is like the spirit in human life, to give it to people not yet prepared to understand it can only give rise to confusion and puzzlement. We may readily see in ordinary life that this is exactly the case with study in any discipline or technique. To attempt to teach the highest level of anything to a rank beginner can only puzzle, for the beginner is not equipped to listen or follow and can only drop away. And so, though from the point of view of the teacher what is taught first may be ridiculously simple, the lesson must begin with easy things. Then, as the student learns and progresses to later stages, the teacher may approach and at last deal with the ultimate matter. This course is clearly suggested by the parable.
In another way, as an admonition to the learner or practitioner, we may see that basic practice is essential if one is to attain to the ultimate. People today, particularly young people who have received higher education, are unwilling to go into such basic practice and want to go at once to an advanced stage. This sort of thing can only lead to trouble, just as disaster so often overtakes the inexperienced mountain climber. Whether in life or in work, it does not do to do things halfway. Basic practice is essential to achievement. This again is something we must learn from the parable of the precious jewel.
Copyright by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.