IT IS NOT SUPPOSED that all the disciples who listened to the Buddha's preaching in chapter 19 completely understood the true meaning of his encouragement and the admonition included therein. Some of them may have become discouraged, thinking, "We cannot possibly practice all the teachings of the Lotus Sutra perfectly." Others may have been complacent, thinking, "We can obtain merit somehow or other if we just do the five kinds of practices of preachers according to form." Still others may have momentarily felt conceited, flattering themselves: "Unlike the disciples of the two vehicles, shravakas and pratyekabuddhas, we bodhisattvas are possessed of this kind of supernatural power. We are quite different from them."
On all occasions, the Buddha's sermons were perfect and left nothing to be desired. Whenever he perceived the slightest doubt in the minds of his disciples, he gave them enough instruction to lead them to Perfect Enlightenment. It can easily be imagined that probably he did the same in his preaching of chapter 19.
At that time, in an altered tone, the Buddha addressed the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Great Power Obtained: "Now you should know that if bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, and upasikas keep the Law Flower Sutra, and if anyone curses, abuses, and slanders them, he will receive such great punishment as before announced; but those who attain the merits such as those previously announced, their eyes, ears, noses, tongues, bodies, and thoughts will be clear and pure." Then the Buddha told the story of the Bodhisattva Never Despise as an example of what he meant.
THE STORY OF THE BODHISATTVA NEVER DESPISE. "Great Power Obtained! In a past period of old times, infinite, boundless, inconceivable, and asamkhyeya kalpas ago, there was a buddha named King of Majestic Voice Tathagata, Worshipful, All Wise, Perfectly Enlightened in Conduct, Well Departed, Understander of the World, Peerless Leader, Controller, Teacher of Gods and Men, Buddha, World-honored One, whose kalpa was named Free from Decline and his domain All Complete. That buddha, King of Majestic Voice, in that world preached to gods, men, and asuras. To those who sought to be shravakas he preached response to the Law of the Four Noble Truths for escape from birth, old age, disease, and death, leading finally to nirvana; to those who sought to be pratyekabuddhas he preached response to the Law of the Twelve Causes and Conditions; to bodhisattvas he by means of Perfect Enlightenment preached response to the Six Paramitas for the perfecting of Buddha wisdom. Great Power Obtained! The lifetime of this Buddha, King of Majestic Voice, was forty myriad kotis of nayutas of kalpas, as many as the sands of the Ganges. The number of kalpas during which the Righteous Law remained in the world was equal to the atoms in a Jambudvipa; and the number of kalpas during which the Counterfeit Law remained was equal to the atoms in four continents. After that buddha had abundantly benefited all living beings, he became extinct. After the Righteous Law and Counterfeit Law had entirely disappeared, in that domain there again appeared a buddha. He was also entitled King of Majestic Voice Tathagata, Worshipful, All Wise, Perfectly Enlightened in Conduct, Well Departed, Understander of the World, Peerless Leader, Controller, Teacher of Gods and Men, Buddha, World-honored One. Thus in succession there were twenty thousand kotis of buddhas who all had the same title. After the extinction of the first Tathagata King of Majestic Voice and after the end of the Righteous Law, during the period of the Counterfeit Law bhiksus of utmost arrogance obtained the chief power. At that period there was a bodhisattva-bhiksu named Never Despise. Great Power Obtained! For what reason was he named Never Despise? Because that bhiksu paid respect to and commended everybody whom he saw, bhiksu, bhiksuni, upasaka, and upasika, speaking thus: 'I deeply revere you. I dare not slight and contemn you. Wherefore? Because you all walk in the bodhisattva way and are to become buddhas.' And that bhiksu did not devote himself to reading and reciting the sutras but only to paying respect, so that when he saw afar off a member of the four groups, he would especially go and pay respect to them, commending them, saying: 'I dare not slight you, because you are all to become buddhas.' Amongst the four groups, there were those who, irritated and angry and muddy-minded, reviled and abused him, saying: 'Where did this ignorant bhiksu come from, who takes it on himself to say, "I do not slight you," and who predicts us as destined to become buddhas? We need no such false prediction.' Thus he passed many years, constantly reviled but never irritated or angry, always saying, 'You are to become buddhas.' Whenever he spoke thus, the people beat him with clubs, sticks, potsherds, or stones. But, while escaping to a distance, he still cried aloud, 'I dare not slight you. You are all to become buddhas.' And because he always spoke thus, the haughty bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, and upasikas styled him Never Despise.
"When this bhiksu was drawing near his end, from the sky he heard and was entirely able to receive and retain twenty thousand myriad kotis of verses of the Law Flower Sutra, which the Buddha King of Majestic Voice had formerly preached. Whereupon he obtained as above clearness and purity of the eye-organ and of the organs of ear, nose, tongue, body, and thought. Having obtained the purity of these six organs, he further prolonged his life for two hundred myriad kotis of nayutas of years, and widely preached this Law Flower Sutra to the people. Then the haughty four orders of bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, and upasikas who had slighted and contemned this man, and given him the nickname Never Despise, seeing him possessed of great transcendent powers, of power of eloquent discourse, and of power of excellent meditation, and having heard his preaching, all believed in and followed him. This bodhisattva again converted thousands of myriads of kotis of beings to Perfect Enlightenment.
"After the end of his lifetime, he met two thousand kotis of buddhas who were all entitled Sun Moon Light, and under their Law he preached this Law Flower Sutra. Because of this, he again met two thousand kotis of buddhas, all equally entitled Sovereign Light King of the Clouds. Because under the Law of those buddhas he received, kept, read, recited, and preached this sutra to all the four groups, he obtained clearness and purity of the common eye and of the organs of ear, nose, tongue, body, and thought, and among the four groups preached the Law fearlessly.
"Great Power Obtained! This Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Never Despise paid homage to such numerous buddhas as these, revering, honoring, and extolling them; and after cultivating the roots of goodness, again he met thousands of myriads of kotis of buddhas and also under the Law of those buddhas preached this sutra; his merits being complete, he then became a buddha. Great Power Obtained! What is your opinion? Can it be that the Bodhisattva Never Despise was at that time somebody else? He was really I myself. If I in my former lives had not received and kept, read and recited this sutra, and preached it to others, I should not have been able so soon to attain Perfect Enlightenment. Because, under former buddhas, I received and kept, read and recited this sutra, and preached it to others, I so soon attained Perfect Enlightenment.
"Great Power Obtained! At that time the four groups, bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, and upasikas, with angry minds slighted and contemned me, therefore for two hundred kotis of kalpas they never met a buddha, never heard the Law, never saw a sangha, and for a thousand kalpas underwent great sufferings in the Avici hell. After their sin was brought to an end, they again met the Bodhisattva Never Despise, who taught and converted them to Perfect Enlightenment. Great Power Obtained! What is your opinion? Those four groups at that time, who constantly slighted that bodhisattva - can they indeed be somebody else? They are now in this assembly - the five hundred bodhisattvas Bhadrapala and the others, the five hundred bhiksunis Lion Moon and the others, the five hundred upasakas Thinking of Buddha and the others, who all never retreat from Perfect Enlightenment. Know, Great Power Obtained! This Law Flower Sutra greatly benefits all bodhisattva-mahasattvas and enables them to reach Perfect Enlightenment. Therefore all bodhisattva-mahasattvas, after the extinction of the Tathagata, should ever receive and keep, read and recite, expound and copy this sutra."
Then the Buddha, desiring to proclaim this teaching over again, repeated it in verse, thus ending his preaching of this chapter.
Having read this far, readers will notice that this chapter is very different from the former chapters of the Lotus Sutra. The chapters so far have presented us with scenes of many lands as that are beautiful and dreamlike but quite unlike this world, as well as dreadful scenes of hell. Most personages, including the buddhas, have been introduced as superhuman and ideal beings. But this chapter is strongly characterized by the human touch. The setting of the Bodhisattva Never Despise makes us think of an ordinary town today, although no description of any particular place is given. The characters appearing in the story are ordinary people such as may be met with anywhere. The words "bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, and upasikas" do not necessarily mean Buddhist monks, nuns, and lay devotees, but include people of all kinds and classes: foppish minor officials, raffish young men, middle-aged merchants posing as seasoned men of mature judgment, good-natured but strong-willed women; mingling with such people, we also imagine learned priests who boast of having a complete knowledge of Buddhism, middle-aged monks who are proud of keeping the precepts, and old priests who come to town to beg for alms but do not preach any sermons, only standing silently on a street corner with an aloof and superior air. The Bodhisattva Never Despise conjures up the image of a young monk who has the air of an earnest, serious-minded man with something unusual and refined about him.
All the chapters of the Lotus Sutra can be said to be literary in style; but chapter 20 comes closest to the feeling of modern literature. It gives us a strong sense of humanity and of things familiar to us. This is quite natural because it states vividly how, by practicing only the virtue of paying respect to others, an ordinary man realizes his faith and finally attains the perfection of his character.
In the previous chapter, the Buddha preached the five kinds of practices of preachers and referred to the vast and boundless merits that can be obtained from such practices. But the ordinary person will naturally be discouraged by the personal discipline required, thinking, "I cannot possibly fulfill the five kinds of practices of preachers." Perhaps he will opportunistically think, "Well, I will try to do the five kinds of practices for form's sake." Unfortunately, ordinary people's minds operate at this level.
Shakyamuni Buddha could completely perceive the minds of those who listened to his teachings. Therefore, we can guess why he completely changed his preaching method in chapter 20. While telling of his own past life, he wished to make people realize again three important teachings. The first is that to practice thoroughly even only a single kind of good deed is indeed sacred, and to do so is the first step toward salvation. The second is that however many formalities we may learn and practice, there is no essential worth in such learning or practice; the creation of a valid human life consists in our practice of even only a single kind of good deed with devotion and earnest perseverance. The third is that the bodhisattva practice originates with revering others, that is, with our recognizing the buddha-nature of all people. If we try to save others without recognizing their buddha-nature, we only perform empty and formal deeds. True salvation lies in our disclosing of and respect for the buddha-nature innate in others.
The Buddha illustrated these three important teachings in the story of the humanistic bhiksu Never Despise. Moreover, he declared that Never Despise was the Buddha himself in a former existence. His declaration causes us to feel that the Buddha, who seemed far distant from us, has suddenly approached us. At the same time, we can sense that if we follow the path taken by the Bodhisattva Never Despise, we can surely attain the perfection of our own characters. The Buddha had seemed to exist somewhere above the clouds, far separated from us. However, when he shows us the Bodhisattva Never Despise as himself in a former life, a man who was friendly and humanistic, we feel as if we have found a ladder by which we can climb up to the Buddha's abode above the clouds. Thus the Buddha gives us great encouragement. We are heartened and can say to ourselves, "There is nothing impossible about the bodhisattva practice. We just begin with following the example of the Bodhisattva Never Despise." In this sense, chapter 20 has a special place in the concluding part of the Law of Origin - indeed, in the Lotus Sutra as a whole. Many important teachings are included in the story of the Bodhisattva Never Despise. Let us consider them one by one.
DISCLOSING AND REVERING OTHERS' BUDDHA-NATURE. It was in the period of the Counterfeit Law that the bhiksu Never Despise appeared in this world. The period of the Counterfeit Law is the time when the truth preached by the Buddha still exists but is learned and practiced as a matter of formality, and there is no longer any enlightenment. In this period, Buddhist monks devote themselves to gaining a thorough knowledge of Buddhist doctrines and formalities and are proud of themselves for being learned. Some of them only keep the precepts and practice them with indifference to others, and lead religious lives aloof from the world. The rest are weak followers. In such a period, Buddhist monks have lost touch with the true life of Buddhism.
What is the true life of Buddhism? It is nothing other than our realizing wholeheartedly the meaning of the saying, "All sentient beings have the buddha-nature innately." Our entire religious life starts with this realization. To become aware of one's own buddha-nature, bringing it to light from the depths of the mind, nurturing it, and developing it vigorously is the first step of one's religious life; this is the mental state of the shravaka and pratyekabuddha.
If one has the buddha-nature himself, others must also have it. If one can realize with his whole heart that he has the buddha-nature, he comes spontaneously to recognize that others equally possess it. Anyone who cannot recognize this has not truly realized his own buddha-nature.
There are many bad people around us. We cannot help thinking of some of them as wicked even when we try to see them in the most favorable light possible. We cannot bring ourselves to sympathize with those who kill people in order to rob them, or who cheat others out of their property. However, we judge these people as evil only by their criminal acts that are reported in the newspapers or otherwise publicized. If we were able to learn all the circumstances of their lives, we would find that there is no one who is so lost that he is without some human feeling.
A murderer may play with his baby, tossing it in his arms, when he is at home. A blackmailer may treat his dog as kindly as his own child. A gangster who extorts money from honest citizens may have a favorite follower for whom he feels as much affection as if he were his blood brother. For all that, we must not consider their crimes lightly or idealize them like movie heroes. But when we view evil people with calm and unprejudiced eyes, not with sentimental sympathy, we cannot help recognizing a bit of human nature in them, which they show when they innocently try to please their babies or treat their dogs as kindly as their own children or feel true affection for favorite followers.
A bit of human nature - this is the seed of the buddha-nature. A speck of the buddha-nature gleams forth from the mind even of a person whose mind is encrusted and stained with the evil of his crimes. It is like a tiny loophole in the wall of a dark prison. Everyone, without exception, has such a loophole in his mind, that is, a speck of buddha-nature.
We try to find the loophole in others' minds; we respect it as far as possible; and by doing so, we make others become aware of it themselves. A person who realizes the existence of the loophole in his own mind will open it wider for himself because he desires to let more light enter the depths of his mind. This is the meaning of disclosing and respecting others' buddha-nature and at the same time discovering one's own buddha-nature. To discover and respect others' buddha-nature is indeed the primary object of the bodhisattva practice, and living Buddhism consists of this.
In this context, we must not forget the words "and that bhiksu did not devote himself to reading and reciting the sutras, but only to paying respect." This does not mean that he did not need to read and recite the sutras but indicates that reading and reciting the sutras as merely a formality were of no value in the period of the Counterfeit Law. Therefore, the Buddha emphasized that for a bhiksu, it is more important to disclose and pay respect to others' buddha-nature than to read and recite the sutras, having degenerated into formalism. This point is the life of Buddhism.
The Bodhisattva Never Despise paid respect to and commended everybody he saw, saying, "I deeply revere you, because you are all to become buddhas." This deed of the bodhisattva is the disclosing of and paying respect to others' buddha-nature. His words, "You are all to become buddhas," indicate that he has discovered others' buddha-nature, has paid respect to it, and has commended it.
There are two ways to make man discover his own buddha-nature. One is the way of "enlightenment in direct order"; this is the way of indicating "his own affairs" (ko-ji), which has been explained in chapter 16. Another is the way of "enlightenment in reverse order," that is, the way of indicating "the affairs of others" (ta-ji), which has also been explained in that chapter. Enlightenment in direct order means to make others realize their own buddha-nature by our discovering and commending it. This is the way taken by the Bodhisattva Never Despise. Enlightenment in reverse order means to awaken others from their ignorance by criticizing them. This is the way followed in calling someone to task and startling him with harsh words: "What do you mean by that ugly and selfish way of life? If you continue to live that way, can you imagine how you will feel when you are about to die?" This way is very effective for some people.
Enlightenment in direct order can be compared to the way in which, through an agreeable-tasting medicine, one gently melts the wall of delusion covering his buddha-nature. On the other hand, enlightenment in reverse order is like drastic surgery. If a person can bear this drastic method, he will completely change his human life through it. However, enlightenment in direct order is more effective in most cases because, as shown by the word "direct," this way follows the natural course of man's enlightenment and applies to the normal working of human psychology. Praise does not come amiss to anybody. A happy feeling naturally makes a person open the window of his mind, so that a warm light streams in. Then the buddha-nature in his mind begins to be active.
In prewar Japan, children were educated through scolding, the education of enlightenment in reverse order. But after World War II, education changed to teaching by praise, that is, the education of enlightenment in direct order. This is because it became understood that praise is more effective than punishment in developing children's character and drawing out their special abilities. On the other hand, a tendency has developed to rear children indulgently, which is overdoing the education of enlightenment in direct order. It is also necessary for children sometimes to train their minds through the education of enlightenment in reverse order.
Everybody feels pleased at being praised, but adults who have lost their mental purity tend at first to feel uncomfortable when praised, as if they were being flattered. This misunderstanding may be dispelled if the praise truly comes from the heart of the person who commends them. Such genuine praise will gradually open the window of one's mind, however tightly shut it may have been.
The same thing may be said of those who were paid respect and commended by the Bodhisattva Never Despise. Among them were some who became angry at the bodhisattva's words, reviled and abused him, or beat and stoned him. But he never became angry at their violence but persevered for many years, constantly repeating the same thing. His earnest attitude gradually softened the hearts of those who scorned him.
Evidence of this is seen in the fact that his enemies gave him the nickname Never Despise. If they had not had some friendly feeling for him, they would not have given him a nickname. At first, the arrogant people were angry at him, saying, "He insults us," or "He meddles in our affairs." But little by little they changed their attitude toward Never Despise and came to regard him merely as peculiar, thinking, "He is never irritated or angry even if stoned or beaten. He constantly pays respect to us and commends us, saying, 'I dare not slight you.' He is indeed an odd fellow." They had become accustomed to him, and at the same time they began to become vaguely aware of the greatness of Never Despise, admitting grudgingly, "There is something superior about this monk." The perseverance of Never Despise finally caused them to begin to feel awe and respect.
A very important teaching is shown through this bodhisattva's deed. When a person repeats such a strange act as paying respect to everybody whom he sees, just as a fool tries to judge everything by the one thing he knows, and if he performs such an act wholeheartedly and patiently repeats it without flinching from whatever persecution he may suffer, in the end his act cannot help moving others and giving rise to awe and respect in their hearts. Because the arrogant people began to feel awe and respect for Never Despise, when he had realized the teaching of the Lotus Sutra for himself and preached it to them they all believed in and followed him.
A Japanese Buddhist monk, Zenkai, in about 1750 finished single-handedly digging a tunnel approximately 185 meters long through a rocky hill at Yabakei Gorge, Kyushu, after thirty years of endeavor. He had begun the project so that the local villagers could cross the gorge safely. At first he was treated as a madman and was persecuted in various ways. Nevertheless, he paid no attention but doggedly continued excavating the tunnel through the rocky hill. His attitude of working earnestly and persistently finally made such a profound impression on the villagers that they helped him voluntarily.
There have been many instances in which men who have made roads, reclaimed wasteland, or dug irrigation ditches for the benefit of other people have gone through the same kind of experience. These examples teach us a valuable lesson as to what great results come from doing a good deed wholeheartedly and with an indomitable perseverance in the face of all obstacles.
TWO IMPORTANT LESSONS. The next important teaching in the story of the Bodhisattva Never Despise is expressed in the following two sentences: "Whenever he spoke thus, the people beat him with clubs, sticks, potsherds, or stones. But, while escaping to a distance, he still cried aloud: 'I dare not slight you. You are all to become buddhas.'" We can learn two lessons from this short passage. The first is that Never Despise escaped to a distance from his attackers when they used violence against him. "Never Despise never moved, even when he was beaten so severely with sticks that his arm was broken or his forehead was cut open by a stone." Such an attitude may appeal more to some people. If so, the reason may come from their misunderstanding of the meaning of the Buddhist term fushaku shimmyo, which means "not to grudge one's life for the sake of the Law" or "to preach the Buddhist doctrine at the risk of one's life."
If we understand the true meaning fushaku shimmyo, we know it means that we ought to devote ourselves to the Law above all else. When we devote ourselves to the Law, first of all we consider keeping the Law, developing it, and spreading it by every possible means. Therefore we drive out the petty idea that we must be ashamed of running away. If we make the decision, "I will live as long as possible and I will persevere in preaching the Law forever," we will try to escape immediately when we are exposed to danger.
This is an especially important lesson for the Japanese people. They seem to lack respect for human life. They have a tendency to take their lives lightly. In World War II many soldiers' lives were lost in vain because of the ideas of "no surrender" and "death for honor," as in the suicide attacks of kamikaze airmen. This regrettable waste came from the biased idea of the Japanese army and navy of regarding escape as ignoble and surrender as the greatest possible shame. The war leaders of Japan did not have the flexibility to realize that the man who wins in the long run is the true victor even if he has had to run away once; instead they forced the soldiers to dash at the enemy in a daredevil manner. The war leaders are to be blamed for this.
In contrast, General Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of the American Army in the Philippines at the outbreak of the World War II, withdrew his troops from Manila to Bataan Peninsula when he was defeated by the Japanese army. When Corregidor fell, he escaped by torpedo boat to the northern part of Mindanao Island, and from there he flew to Darwin, Australia. Precisely because of his escape from the Philippines he was able eventually to take the offensive against the Japanese army, and finally occupied Japan proper.
In ancient times, however, the Japanese people seem to have had no such preconceived idea of the virtue of no surrender. For instance, when Kusunoki Masashige, a great fourteenth-century warrior, entrenched himself with his army at Akasaka Castle and was surrounded by the large force of Ashikaga Takauji, an enemy warrior, Kusunoki made a quick escape from the castle with the idea of making another attempt at fighting. He may have grasped the idea of the importance of flexibility from Buddhism because he had a strong belief in the Buddha's teachings. Because of his escape from Akasaka Castle, he was able to harass the enemy force in other battles.
The feudal lord Shimazu Yoshihiro, realizing the inevitability of defeat in the Battle of Sekigahara between the rival Toyotomi and Tokugawa clans in 1600, broke through the enemy lines and escaped to his domain, Satsuma province in Kyushu. Because of his escape, his clan became so strong that later the Tokugawa shogunate acknowledged its superiority, and it produced the driving force leading to success in the Meiji Restoration of 1868, which overthrew the Tokugawa regime. Shimazu Yoshihiro was also a devout believer in Buddhism.
Strangely enough, none of the Japanese people despise Kusunoki Masashige or Shimazu Yoshihiro as cowards. Everyone regards their escaping instead of dying in vain as good. When and why did the Japanese people lose their flexibility in thinking and acting? Has this rigidity been influenced by Confucianism, which was introduced into Japan from China later than Buddhism? Confucianism, however, teaches us respect for human life, as shown in the saying, "The sage never courts danger." If not, is the idea of slighting human life peculiar to the Japanese people? The historical evidence does not permit us to jump to such a conclusion. We must conclude that such a trait was implanted at some time by a certain philosophy of government, though exactly when is not clear. Scholarly investigation of this problem would be very helpful in explaining this characteristic of the Japanese people. This is a very important matter. A marked tendency to promote political and economic struggles through recourse to violence has been seen in recent years, and demonstrations and strikes by labor unions have taken a turn for the worse. In the final analysis, such a tendency comes from a lack of mental flexibility.
The willow bends to the wind and is not broken, even though the tree looks fragile. An oak branch, on the other hand, may break in a storm despite the tree's apparent sturdiness. Is it not of the first importance for the Japanese people - as for all people everywhere - to foster mental flexibility in order to build a greater nation? A true understanding of Buddhism is the shortest and best way to achieve this, I believe. This is because Buddhism teaches clearly the principle of flexibility of mind, and accordingly its believers without exception develop flexible minds. The life of the Bodhisattva Never Despise illustrates the ideal person living in this way.
Another important point in the story of Never Despise is that although he escaped from physical persecution, the bodhisattva held fast to his belief and never renounced the truth. Here lies the difference between mental weakness and flexibility. A weak-minded person will easily discard his belief when he is subjected to a little outside pressure. But a real believer maintains his belief and continually observes the truth, whatever may happen. The purpose of having a flexible mind is nothing other than to adhere to the truth to the last. The Bodhisattva Never Despise never ceased the bodhisattva practice of disclosing others' buddha-nature by paying respect to it, though escaping when physically abused. In the end, he led his persecutors to disclose their own buddha-nature. Such a man can be called truly brave.
The Bodhisattva Never Despise attained a very high spiritual state through the single practice of disclosing others' buddha-nature by paying respect to it. Therefore when he was approaching death, from the sky he heard the Lotus Sutra, which the Buddha King of Majestic Voice had formerly preached. The expression "from the sky he heard" means that he heard the Buddha's voice sounding in his mind; in other words, he realized the truth for himself. To say that he realized the truth for himself may sound mystical or mysterious, but actually the truth can be discovered by anyone.
The truth must have existed from the eternal past if it is really the truth. In the past, various outstanding people must have discovered the truth. Chapter 20 of the Lotus Sutra states that the Tathagata King of Majestic Voice had formerly realized the truth and preached it, but the truth did not exist as a teaching in this world at the time that the Bodhisattva Never Despise lived. However, because the truth is eternal and imperishable, when an outstanding person appears in this world he can rediscover the truth. The Bodhisattva Never Despise was such a man.
Some may think that this story is meaningless for our time, when means of communication are so sophisticated. But such an idea is based on a shortsighted point of view. During the history of the universe from time immemorial, something like our present human culture must have appeared and disappeared more often than we can imagine. If a nuclear war should occur, our present culture would be destroyed along with everything else. A new and different life would be generated eventually, perhaps after hundreds of thousands or hundreds of millions of years, and in time would develop its own culture.
Thus viewing universal life from time immemorial, it is no wonder that many Tathagatas King of Majestic Voice had preached the truth and that the Bodhisattva Never Despise realized it for himself when he was nearing death.
PATIENT REPETITION OR LEARNING AND PREACHING. How was the Bodhisattva Never Despise enabled to prolong his life although he was approaching death? Herein lies a great lesson for us. The Bodhisattva Never Despise realized for himself the teaching of the Lotus Sutra. As a result of believing in it wholeheartedly, he prolonged his life for two hundred myriad kotis of nayutas of years. During this long period he preached the Lotus Sutra widely. He not only performed the basic bodhisattva practice of paying respect to others' buddha-nature but also preached the Buddha's teachings in detail. In this way he advanced several stages in the bodhisattva practice. Then he enlightened all the arrogant people who had formerly scorned him. After the end of his natural lifetime, he met two thousand kotis of buddhas. He worshiped, revered, honored, and extolled these buddhas and under them preached the Lotus Sutra. Because of this, he again met two thousand kotis of buddhas, and under these buddhas also he preached the sutra. Because of this, he obtained clearness and purity of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and thought, and preached the Law fearlessly among the four groups - that is, among all kinds of people.
After cultivating the roots of goodness thus, he again met a large number of buddhas and also under these buddhas preached the Lotus Sutra; because of these merits, he again met a large number of buddhas and also received instruction from them. In this way, he repeated innumerable times practicing the Buddha's teachings himself and letting others practice them. His merits being completed, he then became a buddha.
The greatness of the religious life of the Bodhisattva Never Despise lies in the courageous spirit through which he never retrogressed but persevered until he had completely accomplished his original intention. His spirit was not reckless and rough but thorough and persistent. He trod the path to the attainment of buddhahood by learning and doing, doing and learning, for his constant improvement, that is, through the repetition of practicing the Buddha's teachings himself and letting others practice them.
We should follow his course step by step. It is quite acceptable for us to enter the way to buddhahood by performing one bodhisattva practice. If we perform one practice wholeheartedly, we can realize many truths derived from this one truth. And we do not limit our realization to ourselves but preach it to all people. By thus preaching it, we obtain its merits and also deepen our understanding of it more and more. In other words, we meet numberless buddhas in succession. Whenever we meet new buddhas (truths), we pay homage to their teachings, revering, honoring, and extolling them, and also preach their teachings to all people. Because of this, we again meet many more buddhas (truths). Through this kind of repetition, we can approach the mental stage of a buddha step by step. Shakyamuni Buddha himself bore witness to this by setting an example. He revealed this when he said, "Can it be that the Bodhisattva Never Despise was at that time somebody else? He was really I myself." By revealing this, he showed that living in the way of the Bodhisattva Never Despise is the right way to become a buddha.
As mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, this revelation should greatly encourage those who have become discouraged in their religious life. Some people may feel, "I can't possibly preach the Law to others because I haven't perfectly understood it myself." But if they only understand the principle of religious life - we have only to preach the Law as we have learned it to the best of our ability; the more often we preach it, the more we can deepen our understanding of it; we can proceed on our way to the perfection of our character step by step through patient repetition of learning and preaching--then they will be greatly encouraged.
Let us not forget the important words at the beginning of this chapter: "When he saw afar off a member of the four groups, he would specially go and pay respect to them, commending them. . . ." This is the spirit we need when we preach the Law to others. We must not adopt the passive attitude that we will teach the Law to others when they come to us to hear it or when we happen to meet. On the contrary, we must have such a positive attitude that we actively reach out to others and preach the Law to them. This is the attitude of a bodhisattva, who desires to truly save people from their sufferings. The Bodhisattva Never Despise dared to carry out such a bodhisattva practice. At first he was a nuisance to all the arrogant people because of his patient practice and aroused their anger, but they finally acknowledged his sincerity. We can learn much from the bodhisattva's positive attitude in his missionary work.
We should also pay careful attention to the following sentence: "At that time the four groups, bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, and upasikas, with angry minds slighted and contemned me, therefore for two hundred kotis of kalpas they never met a buddha, never heard the Law, never saw a sangha, and for a thousand kalpas underwent great sufferings in the Avici hell." From this we understand what the punishment for denying the Buddha's teachings is. However, we should note that this passage does not state that a god or a buddha will inflict any punishment on men. It says the following: when arrogant people with angry minds slight and contemn a person who pursues a sacred bodhisattva practice in order to disclose others' buddha-nature, for two hundred kotis of kalpas they can never meet a buddha, never hear the Law, and never see a believer of the Buddha's teachings. Such punishment is not inflicted by anybody; these people never meet a buddha because the eyes of their minds are closed, and never hear the Law because their ears are covered. Because of this, they cannot put out the fire of delusion burning in their minds and for a thousand kalpas they undergo the sufferings of the Avici hell. The Buddha never imposes any punishment on people but always saves them with this great compassion. If they do not desire to see the Buddha or a person who transmits the Buddha's teachings, he never forces them to be saved but calmly waits till the right moment, the time of extinguishing their karma, shall come.
Whatever a person's evil karma may be, if he undergoes great sufferings for a long time because of its evil retribution, such karma will disappear in compensation for his great sufferings. The eye of his mind will surely open the moment his evil karma disappears. This is because he has long been troubled by sufferings and has earnestly begun to seek real salvation, and because he cherishes a longing to reply upon something absolute and begets a thirsting heart of hope for it. In short, he awakens to his own buddha-nature. This is shown in the following sentence: "After their sin was brought to an end, they again met the Bodhisattva Never Despise, who taught and converted them to Perfect Enlightenment." In this way, when once a person comes into contact with the Buddha's teachings, he is sure to be saved from his suffering eventually.
In a previous existence, the arrogant people were taught the existence of their buddha-nature by the Bodhisattva Never Despise. But because they did not receive his teaching obediently, they underwent a long period of suffering. After this, they awakened to the existence of the buddha-nature in their minds. As a result, they were able at last to enter the way of salvation. If they had not been formerly taught the existence of their buddha-nature by the Bodhisattva Never Despise, what would have become of them? They would have been eternally unable to free themselves of their sufferings.
We must not forget that whatever kind of person another may be, respecting his buddha-nature and teaching him its existence will give him a great merit and will lead him to salvation in the future. This is the most important teaching of this chapter.
In the last part of the chapter, the Buddha repeated his teaching in verse. This closing verse section is so important that we should recite it from memory, if possible. Readers will understand the meaning of the verse portion if they have firmly grasped the contents of the prose section. Here only a few phrases with special meanings will be explained. "Leader of all living beings" means that a buddha styled King of Majestic Voice will lead all living beings. "At that time the four groups / Were devoted to material things" mean that the four groups adhered to the analytical study of the Law, that is, they neglected to learn the spirit of the Law but were devoted to formality. This has the same meaning as the phrase "The groups formerly devoted to things." "Of pure believers, men and women" indicates the idea of men and women lay devotees.
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