Discernment, the second element of the title of this chapter, refers to understanding in the sense of rational thinking and decision in the mind that a thing is true, while faith, the first element, refers to the fixing of that understanding upon the mind, a condition of certainty in the truth of what has been understood.
We are accustomed to think it enough for ordinary purposes of daily life to understand academic or technical information and to put it to right use, which is to say in conformity with theory, but that alone is not enough for the smooth functioning of our lives, since faith is essential.
A convenient example is the multiplication table we use every day. We need not stop to think each time we calculate - for example, why eight nines are seventy-two. The understanding of the tables we were taught as grade-school students becomes an embedded faith in the fact, and so we calculate smoothly, reciting with certainty the words seven nines are sixty-three, eight nines are seventy-two, and so on. With any truth, with any fact, this is enough, and indeed it is indispensable.
When we come to the teachings of religion, such faith is absolutely essential. Buddhism is a teaching fully in conformity with contemporary science, and so at the outset understanding is important, but this alone is insufficient. Through deepening of that understanding, a powerful feeling is born, a joy wells up in our being, and we achieve the soul's salvation as we come to feel at the bottom of our hearts the certainty of the teaching. This state of mind is one of belief, of faith. However rational the teachings of Buddhism are, unless we have faith and belief in them, their true worth does not become clear.
Now, returning to the text itself, we find at the opening of the present chapter that four other disciples have, like Shariputra, attained full faith and discernment through hearing the parable in the preceding chapter. These four are Subhuti, Maha-Katyayana, Maha-Kashyapa, and Maha-Maudgalyayana. They have all come to full faith in, and discernment of, the lesson taught by implication in the chapter on tactfulness. The lesson is that all people alike are provided with the buddha-nature; that anyone, no matter who, may become a buddha; and that while the Buddha employs all kinds of tactful and artful means in explaining the teachings, those tactful teachings are all for the sole purpose of helping people discover their own buddha-nature and awaken to the buddha's state of mind.
Here the four disciples declare the awakening in their minds and hearts, and they then go on to explain in the presence of the Buddha precisely how they awakened. This is of importance because when one recounts a spiritual experience to others, the experience itself becomes firmer and more nearly perfect. Maha-Kashyapa stands as spokesman for the four and tells of their experience in one of the flowers of the Lotus Sutra, the parable of the poor son.
There was once a boy who left home and became a wanderer. Until he was fifty, he wandered from place to place, working as a poor hired hand, but as the shadow of age crept upon him, instinctively and in spite of himself he found his way to his father's place.
His father had grieved over the loss of his only son and had gone everywhere in search of him but, never finding him, at last had settled in a certain town. He was a man of exceedingly great wealth, and he built in this town a magnificent mansion.
The son at the end of his wanderings happened upon this place and passed before his father's house. Thinking to get some work there, he looked in and saw a person so magnificent that he seemed to be a king, attended by crowds of servants in the midst of gorgeous surroundings. He was overcome with fear, for this surely was no house to employ a man like him, and, alarmed at the thought of being seized and put to work if he loitered, he started away to find some poor place more suited to him.
Meanwhile, his father, who never for a moment had forgotten that face, had at once recognized the poor man before his gate as his son and immediately sent servants to bring him in. But the son, who had no idea of what was in his father's mind, feared that he might be killed, and he fainted as he tried to break away from the servants sent for him.
Seeing all this, the father told the servants not to force the poor man to come. A few days later he sent two servants in shabby clothes to the wretched hut where his son now was, having instructed them to allure him with the offer of twice the usual wage for the lowly work of removing a heap of filth. By this means they were able to bring him back to his father's house. The rich man himself dressed in poor clothes and was thus able to calm his son's fears and to approach him, talk with him, and encourage him. After a time he told him he wished to treat him as his own son.
The poor son, for his part, rejoiced in such treatment but could never shake the feeling that he was an underling. The father bit by bit gave him more and more important work to do until at last he made him manager of all his property. The poor son worked faithfully and discharged his duties beautifully, but still he could not throw off the consciousness of his lowliness.
In time the poor son's feeling of inferiority lessened, and the father, in anticipation of his death, called together the king and the principal citizens to announce that the man he had taken in was actually his son and that all his property belonged to this son. It was only now that the poor son realized that this very rich man was actually his father, and his joy was unbounded as he learned that his father's vast properties were his own.
So runs the parable. The rich man of the story is, of course, the Buddha, while the wandering son is all living beings. Though all of us are children of the Buddha, we are not aware of our lofty birth, and so of our own accord we turn our backs on the Way of the Buddha and go out to wander in a world of sufferings. But the bond of blood between parent and child is not to be denied, and though we may roam the world in ignorance that we are children of the Buddha, in ignorance of our buddha-nature, at some stage we instinctively draw near the abode of the Buddha. This can only be an affirmation of the true nature of the human being, and it is ineffably precious.
Though living beings may not know that the Buddha, before whose gate they stand, is their father, the Buddha clearly recognizes his own. This is a point of profound meaning. We ourselves may be unaware that the Eternal Buddha that is the great life-force of the universe is ever fully present within and about our minds and bodies, but that true Buddha awaits our notice. Truth is ever waiting to be known.
On this account Shakyamuni, the World-honored One, appeared in the world to make it known that the Eternal Buddha and humanity are one substance. But because of the great depth of that teaching, people think themselves too lowly ever to approach that other realm and instead grow frightened and flee from the gate of the teaching.
And so, as a tactful means, Shakyamuni employed servants who looked like ordinary people - two kinds of servants who from work in the Buddha's house were firm in mind, that is to say, shravakas and pratyekabuddhas - with the thought that if people like these went, the minds of the lowly might be moved to join them and become servants in the house. In other words, the Buddha never abandons humanity but seeks in one way or another to bring all to see for themselves their buddha-nature and to awaken of themselves to it.
In the parable the poor son was first put to work clearing away filth, which is to say that he was made to practice clearing his mind of illusions. Through such practice he became familiar with the Buddha's ways in preparation for being made his son, for being brought to that state in which he might have the same awakening as the Buddha. But the son clung to his own lowly state in the belief that the enlightenment of the Buddha had nothing to do with him, being of a different order altogether, and this is why he had to continue long in practice.
This is an important lesson not to be overlooked: that the capacity to awaken to the state of the Buddha is only gained by long-continued practice. Thus it is that one becomes well grounded in the teaching and gradually achieves mental freedom, whereupon the keys are turned over and all the stores of the teaching are at hand.
Yet even so, and even though engaged in the important work of transmitting to others the teaching of the Buddha, there is no realization of being actually the Buddha's son, no awareness of the true nature that is identical in substance with the Buddha. Rather, one sees the Buddha as master, oneself as servant, with a clear line between.
Now the Buddha, in preaching the Lotus Sutra before entering nirvana, set forth the great truth that the Buddha and humanity are not strangers. Nor is their relation that of controller and controlled. Rather it is essentially the one-substance relation of parent and child, and so anyone may succeed to all the riches of the Buddha. Anyone may attain buddhahood. Any being may understand the truth of the Buddha's teaching. The great joy of having the untold riches of the Buddha's enlightenment is accessible to all.
The spirit of the lesson in the parable may be stated in a few words. Every wandering, erring human being should set aside base thinking and awaken to the truth that he is a child of the Buddha. All people must awaken to the worth of their true nature.
With such self-awareness one becomes incapable of acting basely. Even though physical and mental desire may beset one as before, one is not upset or pained thereby. Even though desire beset one as before, one may of one's own accord turn it in the right direction. This in itself is a great salvation.
Copyright by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.