THIS CHAPTER STATES that Shakyamuni Buddha gave the prediction of attaining enlightenment to many of his disciples, including Purna, one of his ten great disciples. The Buddha had perceived clearly that they had attained a high spiritual level through his preaching as recorded in the first seven chapters of the Lotus Sutra. (The figure "five hundred" should not be taken literally but just as indicating a very large number of disciples.)
Purna was so eloquent that he has been described as "the personification of eloquence"; "to speak as eloquently as Purna" became a common figure of speech in later times. However, he never showed off his superiority but led the same kind of life as ordinary people. He was such a great man that though he seemed mild, he had true mental courage. The following story about Purna has been handed down from old times.
When Shakyamuni Buddha permitted certain of his disciples to preach his teachings, Purna, desiring to preach in Shronaparanta, a region he knew well, asked the Buddha's permission to do so. The Buddha said, "It will be very difficult for you to do missionary work in Shronaparanta, where the people are very stubborn. What would you do if they didn't listen to your preaching however hard you tried?" Purna answered, "Even if they didn't listen to my preaching, I would not be disappointed. I would consider myself fortunate not to be made fun of." Then the Buddha asked, "What if you were derided?" Purna replied, "If I were, I would consider myself fortunate not to be slandered." When asked, "What if you should be slandered?" he answered, "Even if I were, I would consider myself fortunate not to be beaten with sticks or stoned." Asked, "What if you were beaten or stoned?" he replied, "I would consider myself fortunate not to be wounded by a sword." Then asked, "What if you were wounded by a sword?" he answered, "Even if I were, I would consider myself fortunate not to be killed." Next asked, "What if you were mortally wounded?" he replied, "I would consider myself fortunate to give up my life in spreading your teachings." Thereupon the Buddha permitted Purna to go to Shronaparanta, saying, "You may go there if you have such a firm determination in doing your missionary work." From this story, we can well understand that Purna was no common preacher.
Having heard the Buddha's many preachings and having seen the prediction of the great disciples to Perfect Enlightenment, having heard the stories of their former lives, and having realized the sovereign, transcendent powers of the buddhas, Purna received such an unexampled teaching that his heart was purified and ecstatic.
Immediately he rose from his seat, went before the Buddha, prostrated himself at the Buddha's feet, then withdrew to one side, gazing upon Shakyamuni's face without turning away his eyes for a moment, and reflected thus: "Wonderful is the World-honored One. Rare are his doings according to the many kinds of earthly dispositions. By tactful wisdom, he preaches the Law to and lifts all beings out of every condition to let them get rid of selfish attachment. No words of ours can declare the Buddha's merits. Only the Buddha, the World-honored One, is able to know the natural inclinations of our inmost hearts."
Thereupon the Buddha addressed the bhikshus, saying: "Do you see this Purna, son of Maitrayani? I have always styled him the very first among all the preachers of the Law and constantly praised his varied merits. He has been zealous in guarding and helping to proclaim my Law. Among the many people, he has been able to display the Law through the correct process of preaching it. Perfectly interpreting the Righteous Law of the Buddha, he has greatly benefited his fellow followers of brahma conduct. Excepting the Tathagata, no one is able to equal the lucidity of his discourse.
"Do not think that it is only my Law that Purna is able to guard and help to proclaim. He also guarded and helped to proclaim the Righteous Law of the buddhas under ninety kotis of buddhas in the past. Among those preachers of the Law he was also the foremost. And in regard to the Law of the emptiness1 preached by the buddhas, he was clear-minded and penetrating; knowing the capacity of the people to understand the Buddha's teachings, he has ever been able to preach the Law freely and thoroughly according to his hearers' capacity. In preaching the Law, he has had such an unselfish mind as not to request any reward nor make a display of his greatness, and he has earnestly kept a pure attitude of mind without doubt and perplexity. Perfect in transcendent bodhisattva powers, he has all his lives ever maintained his brahma conduct.
"All the people around Purna spoke of him as 'the true shravaka disciple' because, though he realized the Law to such a degree, he did not show the slightest sign of it. They were on familiar terms with him and listened to him with good will. Thus Purna, by such tactfulness, has benefited innumerable living beings and converted innumerable people so that they would achieve Perfect Enlightenment. For the sake of purifying his buddha land, he has constantly done a buddha's work and instructed the living."
THE PRINCIPLE OF HALF A STEP. In doing missionary work or leading others, we can learn something very important from Purna's attitude, which he maintained both inwardly and outwardly. If one were a person of great virtue and influence, such as Shakyamuni Buddha, even though he never assumed an air of self-importance everybody would throw himself on his knees and concentrate his mind upon hearing that person's teaching. However, in the case of one who is not endowed with so much virtue and influence, people do not always listen earnestly to his preaching of the Law. If he gives himself the airs of a great man, some will come to have ill feeling toward him, while others will feel that he is unapproachable. Purna's attitude is a good example for us.
It goes without saying that we must not look down on people or think, "They are unenlightened," but it is dangerous for us even to fancy ourselves to have gone a step farther than others. We must preserve the attitude of keeping pace with other people. But we cannot lead others if we completely keep pace with them, that is, if we behave exactly the same as those who know nothing of the Buddha Way. We should go not a step but only half a step farther than others. If we do this, those around us will still feel that we are one of them and will keep pace with us. While accompanying us, they will be influenced by us and led in the right way without realizing it.
On the other hand, if we preach the teaching to others with a high-handed attitude when we ourselves have not realized it, or if we threaten them with violence and force them to follow the teaching, we cannot truly instruct them.
This principle of half a step is very important in our preaching the Law. We can say the same thing about the content of the Law preached. Even Shakyamuni Buddha led living beings gradually, from a simple teaching to a more advanced one, because he knew that a sudden preaching of the supreme teaching would only perplex them all the more; how much less effective would it be if we, who do not have the great persuasive power of the Buddha, should try to preach the most profound teaching from the start.
In some cases it can be a tactful means of leading someone to enter into the Buddha Way and of giving him peace of mind from the start if we preach that the teaching brings immediate benefits, such as most diseases being cured or one's daily life improving. In the case of intellectuals, it is often effective to begin preaching the Buddha Law by giving examples of its being the teaching of humanism. And in the case of a Marxist, it may be best to lead him to Buddhism from the theory of the Three Thousand Realms in One Thought.
In any case, we must never look down on other people as being unenlightened while we are enlightened. Based on the fundamental truth that everyone equally possesses the buddha-nature, we must lead many people to the teachings of the Buddha with the compassionate attitude of wishing to disclose the buddha-nature of others as far as possible. In this respect, Purna is indeed a model for lay believers of the Lotus Sutra.
Finally, the World-honored One gave Purna the prediction of attaining buddhahood: "Bhikshus! Purna was the foremost among the preachers of the Law under the seven Buddhas of the Past2 and now is again the foremost among the preachers of the Law under me. Among the preachers of the Law under future buddhas,3 he will also be the foremost and will guard and help to proclaim the Buddha Law. In the future he will do the same thing that he did in his past lives. Gradually fulfilling the bodhisattva course, after infinite asamkhyeya kalpas he will attain Perfect Enlightenment and his title will be Radiance of the Law Tathagata. That buddha will have a buddha land of worlds as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, and it will be an ideal country that is beautiful and peaceful. The palaces of the gods will be situated nearby in the sky, where human beings and heavenly beings will meet and behold one another."
That human beings and heavenly beings meet and behold one another indicates a state in which there is a high degree of communication between the realm of heaven and that of human beings. It also indicates that the world of human beings has approached that of the Pure Land.
The Buddha continued: "There will be no evil ways and no woman-kind, for all living beings will be born transformed and have no carnal passion. They will have mental freedom; their will and memory will be firm; they will be zealous and wise, all golden-hued and self-adorned with the thirty-two signs. All the beings in his domain will always have two articles of food - one the food of joy in the Law, the other the food of gladness in meditation."
This implies that though a person has a human body, it is as if he did not have a body; the Pure Land is surely such a place. But as the expression "one the food of joy in the Law, the other the food of gladness in meditation" indicates, no being can lead a worthwhile life if he does not hear and practice the Law, even in the Pure Land.
The Buddha continued his description: "In that domain, there will be an infinite host of bodhisattvas who have excellent ability in instructing all kinds of beings. The domain of that buddha will be adorned and perfected with boundless excellences. That buddha's title will be Radiance of the Law Tathagata; his period will be named Jewel Radiance, and his domain Excellent Purity. The lifetime of that buddha will be infinitely long, and the Law will remain long. After the extinction of that buddha, stupas of the precious seven will be erected throughout all that domain for the veneration of his virtue." Then the World-honored One proclaimed this meaning again in verse. With this his prediction to Purna ended.
The twelve hundred arhats, having freed themselves from all defilements and being of self-reliant mind, on having seen the prediction by the Buddha of Purna's Perfect Enlightenment and being greatly delighted with it, reflected "If the World-honored One would predict for each of us our future destiny, as for the other great disciples, how glad we would be!" The Buddha, knowing the thoughts in their minds, addressed Maha-Kashyapa, saying: "These twelve hundred arhats, let me now in their presence and in order predict for them Perfect Enlightenment." Then the Buddha gave the prediction of the destiny of the great disciples, saying that after paying homage to many buddhas, all would become buddhas with the same title, Universal Light Tathagata. Following this the World-honored One, desiring to proclaim this meaning over again, repeated it in verse.
The last portion of the verse section has a very important meaning:
"Kashyapa! You now know
Of these five hundred self-reliant ones.
The other band of shravakas
Will also be like them.
To these, who are not in this assembly,
Do you proclaim my words."
In other words: "These five hundred self-reliant arhats will become buddhas in the future, as will the many other shravakas. Kashyapa! Do you proclaim what I have now said to those who are not in this assembly, and do you lead them to the way of attaining buddhahood." "Those who are not in this assembly" indicates the five thousand arrogant monks who left the assembly saying that since they had already attained enlightenment it was not necessary for them to listen to the Lotus Sutra. As already mentioned, because of his great wisdom and compassion, the World-honored One was silent and purposely did not stop them. Here he gives his prediction that even they will surely become buddhas according to their practice.
We must not feel that this is merely a story set in the remote past. The great compassion of the Buddha suggests that, although the other band of shravakas left the assembly, they would also become buddhas named Universal Light Tathagata, like those who heard the Buddha's proclamation through Kashyapa and further endeavored to practice the way to buddhahood. This is the Buddha's assurance that if we enter the path of his teachings through the Lotus Sutra and accumulate the practices of the bodhisattva way, we too will surely become Universal Light Tathagata. This is the meaning of so many people being predicted to become buddhas with the same title, Universal Light Tathagata. The designation "Universal Light Tathagata" means a person who emits light from his body and by it brightens all of society. We often see people around us like Universal Light Tathagata or his followers. Somehow just seeing or talking with them makes us feel more cheerful. Such tathagatas are necessary in our lives in the saha world. We ought at least become the followers of Universal Light Tathagata, who can brighten our surroundings.
Thereupon the five hundred arhats present before the Buddha, having received this prediction, ecstatic with joy, instantly rose from their seats, went before the Buddha, made obeisance at his feet, repented of their errors, and rebuked themselves, saying: "World-honored One! We have constantly been thinking that we had attained final nirvana only by removing delusions from our minds. Now we realize for the first time that this was a great mistake; now we know that we were just like foolish unenlightened people. Why is this? Because we ought to have realized our own buddha-nature and to have obtained the Tathagata wisdom according to our practice, and yet we were content with the inferior status of just removing our delusions."
Then desiring to reinforce this statement, they told the following parable. This is the Parable of the Gem in the Robe, the fifth of the seven parables in the Lotus Sutra.
THE PARABLE OF THE GEM IN THE ROBE. A man went to a close friend's house, got drunk, and fell asleep. Meanwhile his friend had to leave suddenly on business. Not wanting to rouse the man from sleep, the friend tied a priceless jewel within his garment as a present and departed. The other man, being in a drunken sleep, knew nothing of it. On arising he traveled onward till he reached another country, where he worked hard for food and clothing, underwent great hardship, and was content with even a little.
Later, his friend happened to meet him again and said: "How is it you are scraping so for food and clothing? Wishing you to be in comfort and able to satisfy all your five senses, in such and such a year and month and on such and such a day, I tied a priceless jewel within your garment. It is still there, and you in ignorance are working hard and worrying to keep yourself alive. How very stupid! Go now and exchange that jewel for what you need and do whatever you will, free from all poverty and need."
After telling this parable, Ajnata-Kaundinya and the others heartily expressed their thanks to the Buddha: "The Buddha is like this friend. When he was a bodhisattva, he taught us to think that because everyone is endowed with the buddha-nature [the jewel], he can attain enlightenment through his practice. But we soon forgot, neither knowing nor perceiving it. Having merely removed our delusions, we said we had reached the supreme enlightenment. But our aspiration for the enlightenment of the Buddha still remained hidden in the depth of our minds. Somehow we have felt something lacking. Now the World-honored One arouses us. Now we know we are really bodhisattvas who will serve people in society and have the possibility of finally becoming buddhas. For this reason we greatly rejoice in our unprecedented gain." They then repeated this in verse.
- This bears a resemblance to the Western concept of the realm of pure spirit.
- The so-called Seven Buddhas: Vipashyin, Shikhin, Vishvabhu, Krakucchanda, Kanakamuni, Kashyapa, and Shakyamuni. The first three are the last three of a thousand buddhas who appeared during the previous kalpa, named Glorious; the last four are the first four of a thousand Buddhas who appear during the present kalpa of the sages.
- The 996 future buddhas of the present kalpa.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.