Here the mysterious powers of Shakyamuni Buddha and multitudes of other buddhas are displayed, and the point is powerfully made and impressed upon the assembled hearers that though until now the preaching in the Lotus Sutra has been various, there is just one single truth.
The short chapter opens as the assembled bodhisattvas do reverence and assure the World-honored One that after his extinction they will preach the Lotus Sutra widely and perform the acts of devotion due it. At this point Shakyamuni puts forth his broad, long tongue until it reaches the Brahma heaven, and every pore of his body radiates light that reaches every corner of the universe. This is the first of a sequence of acts that follow in rapid succession and are described in swift strokes. Each of these has meaning, and here I point out those meanings, much slowing down the rapid pace at which they are described in the sutra.
The outstretched tongue symbolizes that everything preached by the Buddha is true, infinite, and one.
As we have seen, at first Shakyamuni had appeared in the saha-world and, as a buddha inhabiting that world, taught a derived or apparent truth to guide human conduct. People had looked up to him as the Buddha and worshiped him with heartfelt devotion. But then he taught the full original truth that he was the Eternal Buddha, which is to say, the great life-force of the universe, and that true deliverance rested in firm awareness that this Original Buddha without beginning or end was the life-giving energy.
These being the facts, some may wonder which of the two Buddhas should be the object of devotion and veneration. The act of stretching out his tongue was a demonstration afresh that the apparent Buddha and the Original Buddha were not and are not separate. Shakyamuni, a manifestation of the life-giving energy that is the Eternal and Original Buddha, appeared in this world for the salvation of living creatures, and so in origin there is no distinction between the historical and apparent Shakyamuni Buddha and the Eternal Original Buddha.
Had Shakyamuni not appeared in this world and preached the Law, we would never have known of the existence of the Original Buddha. Therefore there is no way of determining which of the two, the apparent or the original, is prior and to be worshiped above the other. This is why, through the figure of the human Shakyamuni, we must think on and make the Eternal Buddha the object of our devotion and worship. The demonstration of divine power in the outstretched tongue signifies that the two truths are one faith.
The radiation from Shakyamuni's entire body of wondrous, many-colored, beautiful light that shone into every corner of the universe symbolizes that the light of truth, though it may seem various in that it is of different hues, is yet light that dispels every shadow of perplexity.
The heart of the doctrine taught in the first half of the sutra as derived truth is the Ten Suchnesses, which appear in the highly philosophical statement made near the beginning of chapter 2, "Tactfulness." The statement says that only a buddha together with a buddha can fathom the reality of all existence and that all existence has such a form, such a nature, such an embodiment, such a potency, such a function, such a primary cause, such a secondary cause, such an effect, such a recompense, and such a complete fundamental whole. All these, it is to be implied, derive from one uniform void. When we arrive at the section where the original truth is stated, however, the existence of the source that brings all things into being is described not with the icy word void but with name of a warm, all but flesh, life-giving energy, the Eternal Original Buddha.
Though these may seem in a way to be two different truths, in fact they are the same fundamental truth, expressed first in a philosophical sense, then in a religious sense.
The singleness of the two truths is symbolized by the felicitous sign of radiation of light from every pore of the Buddha's body, multihued, but reaching every part of the universe and dispelling darkness.
Shakyamuni Buddha and all the other buddhas then cough in a body. To cough in this case means to set forth the teaching, and for all to cough at the same time means no more or less than that all the teaching returns to one. Accordingly, the simultaneous coughing means that in terms of the preaching throughout Shakyamuni's lifetime the three vehicles (that is, shravaka, pratyekabuddha, and bodhisattva) are as such the One Buddha-vehicle, or, in terms of the Lotus Sutra only, the two truths are one teaching.
Shakyamuni and all the other buddhas then snap their fingers, again in a body as one. This action, in Indian custom, meant understanding, agreement or commitment, and mutual assurance, and what the buddhas all commit themselves to and assure each other of is that together they will spread the teaching far and wide.
Their commitment stems from a sense of boundless compassion for living beings, or, in terms more easily understood today, a full sense of being one with others. If we think closely on the teaching of the Lotus Sutra from its very beginning right on through, its object is to awaken and make firm a sense of being one with others. The philosophy of apparent truth, that the real aspect of existence is the void, in effect also teaches that any self is one with all others. The teaching of the original truth that all people are brought into being by the Original Buddha that is without beginning or end similarly teaches in the deepest sense oneness with others.
If all people attained this realization and made it part of their lives that individual human beings do not subsist separately but are fundamentally one substance, then indeed affection would overspread human relations, and we would have a truly peaceful world.
The ultimate aim of the Lotus Sutra was to teach that self and others are one substance, and when all the buddhas together snapped their fingers, it meant that they committed themselves to spread through the saha-world the spirit that the two truths are one person, by which is meant that all people are one identical substance.
Hard upon the action of the buddhas' coughing and snapping their fingers, heaven and earth respond by shaking six ways. The meaning of this is that as all were profoundly moved, they could not but manifest their feeling in action.
This action is the practice of the bodhisattva. In the first half of the sutra, which teaches apparent truth, the Buddha urges practice of the Six Perfections of a bodhisattva. In the second half, in which the original truth is shown, as the truth comes home of the oneness of self and others, the believer can only move on to the bodhisattva practice and urge to save others. Thus the six-way shaking of the earth signifies that there is one bodhisattva practice whereby the two teachings are made manifest in the world.
Next, by the divine power of the Buddha, the entire throng of all living beings in the universe is given the infinite vision not only of Shakyamuni Buddha and all the other buddhas but also of innumerable bodhisattvas. If we translate this occurrence into the language of today, we may see it as symbolizing that though individual capacity to accept the teachings now shows remarkable differences from person to person, the time will come when surely all alike will attain the same enlightenment. This is the great vow and assurance we have from the Buddha. Thus the infinite vision of the divine gathering seen by all living beings in the universe signifies the Buddha's prediction of future uniform capacity for all. The Buddha's mysterious power will assuredly bring this to pass.
As all living creatures are given this infinite vision and look upon the figures of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, their ears are filled with the sound of heavenly voices urging them to look up in gratitude and pay homage to Shakyamuni Buddha for preaching this highest teaching of "the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law, the Law by which the bodhisattvas are instructed and which the buddhas watch over and keep."
This chorus of voices of the gods in the sky, reverberating in the ears of all creatures, is a moving revelation from heaven, a revelation that this very teaching of the Lotus Sutra is the supreme truth, the giver of life in the universe, the maker of harmony, the bringer of true repose.
If we translate the sense of this awakening into contemporary language, we may understand it to mean simply that all the various religions in the world today only clutter the way to humankind's common well-being but that in the future, without fail, all religions and learning will converge in the teaching of the Buddha.
Final truth, as best, can only be one, and so if all human beings move upward on the Way, though only bit by bit, they must arrive at last at the one teaching. This has been the interpretation of the meaning of this passage since early times.
At this point, to return to the text, upon the command of the voices from the heavens, all the living beings of the universe turn toward the saha-world, the palms of their hands together in reverence, and raise their voices to chant, "Namah Shakyamuni Buddha!"
Buddhism is in origin the teachings of the human Shakyamuni Buddha, and so it is impossible to speak of Buddhism apart from the person of Shakyamuni. The reader will recall that in chapter 16, dealing with the life of the tathagata, Shakyamuni made clear that he in his apparent body alone was not to be thought of as the Buddha, for the Buddha had existed from before, and the true body or substance of the Buddha was the great life-force of the universe. If we put these two things together, then there is nothing surprising about all the creatures of the universe hailing Shakyamuni Buddha and worshiping him.
As true human knowledge advances, it is bound to recognize the truth of Shakyamuni's teaching, and people cannot but take refuge in it. In the language of the sutra, all beings dedicate themselves to the Buddha, for this is the meaning of "Namah Shakyamuni Buddha." When the world reaches this stage, there will no longer be wicked people or stupid ones, for every man and woman after his or her nature will be exemplary and live correctly by virtue of the teaching of the Buddha. In such a future state humanity will be one, and the foretelling of this is in the passage where all beings of the universe lift their voices as one to sing, "Namah Shakyamuni Buddha."
At this, precious things rain down from every quarter upon the earth and come together to form a lovely canopy over the place where the buddhas are. This occurrence signifies an act of veneration in the form of offerings to Shakyamuni Buddha from all the creatures of the universe. Offerings of veneration take different forms - material, laudatory, and practical - and the highest is that in which every act accords with the spirit of the Buddha. No other act of veneration expresses higher appreciation of the Buddha or gives the Buddha greater joy. This is what the lovely canopy formed by all those precious things means.
In our world today human action is good, bad, and indifferent, but a day will come when every act conforms to the spirit of the Buddha, and here we have the prediction of this future state when action will be one with the Buddha.
Then in a final tableau the worlds of every quarter are united in one buddha-land. Here it is foreseen that out of the one truth all humankind will build a world of great harmony, that there will be one truth, that one buddha-land will prevail.
All these mysterious appearances in this chapter symbolize the truths and predictions I have enumerated here. It is important for us to pay close attention to the idea of oneness that pervades all. This is the spirit of the One Buddha-vehicle, and in this sense the chapter is climactic.
The chapter ends with a repetition in poetry capped by a hymn of praise for the Lotus Sutra, which, though the historical Buddha Shakyamuni may be extinct, yet bears the true message to all the world.
Copyright by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.