The theme of this chapter is the assurance given Purna and many of the other close disciples that they will surely attain to the state of buddhas. The declaration to Purna is given first in prose, then in verse, as the story is told of his past accumulation of merit, his future glory as Law Radiance, and the perfection of his abode at that time. At the conclusion of this, twelve hundred arhats standing there silently wish to be assured in the same way, and the Buddha, reading their minds, proceeds to name first Ajnata-Kaundinya, who at a time far in the future will become a buddha whose title will be Universal Light Tathagata. Five hundred others, some of whom also are called by name, are also assured that they will all attain perfect enlightenment and have the same title, Universal Light. The meaning here is that any hearer of the teaching who truly strives for enlightenment will finally reach this same state. The sequence of assurances is repeated in verse, and at the close of this verse passage Maha-Kashyapa is given the command,
To these, who are not in this assembly,
Do you proclaim my words.
It will be remembered that in the chapter on tactfulness, as the Buddha was about to speak, five thousand of the old disciples rose in a body and left, and it is to these that he now refers. The meaning of this is that once anyone has heard the teaching of the Buddha, a bond is formed, and even though one who has heard may turn away, the bond is never broken. At some time there is a remembrance and return to the path of the Buddha and eventual attainment of enlightenment. Similarly, we ourselves today become disciples of the Buddha and learn the teaching of the Lotus Sutra, and if we practice it, we also will become Universal Light Tathagatas.
As the name clearly indicates, such a one is a presence casting light everywhere in the world. In the same chapter the Buddha declares that all these tathagatas "in turn shall predict," by which is meant simply that in terms of ourselves one tells another, this other another, ever in turn, and we who learn and practice the teachings of the Buddha will sometime predict the enlightenment of another. We have the duty to make this prediction. Thus, gradually, Universal Light Tathagatas multiply, and our world at length will become a pure land filled with light.
This is the meaning we may read from the superb foretelling that is the theme of this chapter. Indeed, I daresay this is the meaning we must read.
The disciples who directly receive the Buddha's assurances are overjoyed, and they stand in gratitude before him, reproving themselves for the pride and satisfaction they had until then felt in their wisdom. They confess their condition with a parable, which is related by Ajnata-Kaundinya, first in prose, then in verse. This is the fifth parable: the parable of the gem in the robe.
A certain poor man went to see a good friend. This friend entertained him with food and wine with the result that he got quite drunk and fell asleep. Just then the friend was called away on business, but, hating to wake the sleeping poor man, he thought what he might do for him, and he sewed a priceless jewel into the lining of his clothes. He then went away on his business.
When the sleeper awoke and found his friend gone, not to return for a long time, he also left and resumed his wretched life of wandering. He was in great need of food and clothing and was content with whatever small amount he could earn.
A long time passed, and one day the poor man, still unaware of the jewel, met his old friend on the road. The friend looked at the poor man's pitiful condition and said, "How could you be so stupid? Look at yourself! I sewed a precious stone into the lining of your clothes just so you would be able to live comfortably." Then he reached over and took the jewel from the lining of the filthy collar and said, "See? Sell this and buy whatever you need. Why should you be in want?"
In this parable Ajnata-Kaundinya is saying that the Buddha is like this good friend, that when he was still a bodhisattva he had told his followers that they all alike had the same buddha-nature - the priceless jewel of the parable - and that through practice they might all gain the enlightenment of the Buddha. But their minds had been plunged in sleep, and they failed to grasp the true meaning. In getting rid of physical and mental desire, they had thought they were enlightened, but aspiration after the perfect enlightenment of the Buddha remained. Somehow they sensed there was something more, and now the World-honored One had awakened them. Now they knew that they themselves were bodhisattvas. Now, striving for humankind in their practice as bodhisattvas, they knew that ultimately they would become buddhas. Filled with joy at so great a good, they declare their gratitude from the heart. The chapter closes with the poetic summary of this passage and its thought.
The buddha-nature is the capacity to become a buddha, or, to put this in ordinary terms, it is the capacity to become a person of perfect wisdom and virtue. If we ask how we may be sure that everyone has this capacity, we may answer that all people are of the ultimate substance, the absolutely identical and everlasting life that is animated by the great life-force of the universe. Thus, basically speaking, the buddha-nature may also be termed the Eternal Buddha.
Though all of us have the buddha-nature in this sense, we are often not able to see it ourselves. The reason for this is that we are accustomed to think that our selves are the little bodies and minds working away for our daily needs and running hither and thither in pursuit of our wants. The poor man of the parable is the very picture of us ordinary people. His rich friend, like the Eternal Buddha bestowing the buddha-nature upon every mortal, has given him a precious stone, but he does not realize that he has it, and we, like him, seek only the satisfaction of our wants and do not notice the precious thing we have. And so we are the more lost as we go on and on in the complications of our lives.
But the Buddha who appeared in this world as Shakyamuni taught that all humankind alike has the buddha-nature - the priceless jewel in the lining of the poor man's clothes in the parable - and this teaching stirs our awareness. The instant we gain this awareness, our minds expand, brighten, and become free, and we gain great confidence in human life.
In summary, then, the parable states the truth that really we are already delivered. Our ultimate substance is that free life that is one with the great life-force of the universe. Because we do not know this, we are caught in the toils of life. But deliverance is not hard. We need only to make the discovery, to awaken to the fact that our ultimate substance is the buddha-nature, to see that in our beginning in this way we are delivered.
Copyright by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.