This opening chapter is the Bodhisattva Great Adornment's hymn in praise of the Buddha's perfect virtue and practice for the salvation of all living creatures.
First, the bodhisattva speaks of the meaning of the Dharma-body of the Buddha, the ultimate substance not apparent to the eye. The Buddha, while apparent there in a visible body, actually abides in the world of real aspect. Accordingly, he is not subject to the law of cause and effect that operates in the apparent world, is without distinction of self or other, and is at one with all and everything. This one abiding and unchanging root force, giving rise to all things in heaven and earth, is the ultimate substance, the virtue, the working of the Buddha.
Thus, from the beginning, the meaning of the ultimate substance of the Buddha is made clear. This is all perfectly evident to the Bodhisattva Great Adornment as a bodhisattva, however much his words to the ordinary person at first seem like something in a dream.
The Lotus Sutra proper may be thought of as the Buddha's simple teaching in parables and other forms to make the truth of these words "like something in a dream" comprehensible to ordinary people. Thus the Bodhisattva Great Adornment's hymn of praise at the opening of the Threefold Lotus Sutra becomes a statement to the assembled multitude of the great lesson to follow.
In the course of the bodhisattva's hymn in praise of the perfect virtue explicit in the Buddha's visible body, it becomes clear that such virtue was the result of his various longtime disciplines and practices. It also becomes clear that it was attained through the working of compassion and knowledge won, and through fearless exposition of the teaching, and that all his virtues can be attributed to the accumulation of the good karma he acquired as an ordinary man.
The great proposition that the Buddha was once an ordinary man is one to make the everyday person stop and think. The truth hidden beneath these words is that the Buddha and all living creatures are equal beings. Moreover, the great thought pervading the whole of the Lotus Sutra is here stated without confusion: any living creature may through practice of the Way become a buddha. This is to be noted and remembered.
The bodhisattva's hymn continues as he praises the thirty-two signs of excellence of face and figure in Shakyamuni's visible body, a celebration of the perfection of character expressed in a physical body. He observes that while the Buddha is provided with these signs of excellence, his being transcends both what has and does not have form. This we may take to mean that to those whose eyes see only the world of discrimination, the apparent world, the true nature is scarcely perceptible.
The true nature of all living beings is thus the same, though the expression of this true nature in bodily form may not be perfect. The Buddha had infinite virtue, and as that virtue appeared in his figure, all might joyfully venerate him, take refuge in him, honor him, and wholeheartedly bow in reverence before him. Whatever insight the Buddha gained, he was never satisfied, but through practice after practice of the Way, he attained his indescribably beautiful body. We cannot but be grateful for this appearance in a palpable body, though the real body was impalpable.
Two points are to be noted here. The first is that the forms of all living creatures are in their true nature the same. All life in its true nature is of the identical substance of the Buddha, but owing to insufficient practice of the Way and being filled with illusion, its appearance in visible bodies has imperfections that bear no comparison with the Buddha. Yet if in their true nature they are of the identical substance of the Buddha, it is plain that any appearance in a visible form has the capacity to become one with the Buddha, and so on the one hand we may all have vast hope, but on the other we are made to stop and reflect.
This thought permeates the Threefold Lotus Sutra from first to last, and thus it is important, in preparing to read it, to fix clearly in mind the concepts of equality of the true nature and differentiation in appearances.
The second point is that the appearance of the Buddha in a palpable body is something for which we must all be truly grateful. Shakyamuni came into this world, and as a result of his practice after practice of the Way, he became possessed of that perfected character. Because of this living example of one who reached the state of buddhahood, we are taught that it is well if we but imitate him, and we are enabled to pursue a path toward buddhahood far easier than the painful course Shakyamuni trod. This is what we must be grateful for in his coming into this world.
Thus, as with great joy in our hearts we venerate the figure of Shakyamuni and accept and keep his teachings, we may merge into that ultimate substance of the Buddha that is not to be seen with the eyes. The words of the Bodhisattva Great Adornment thus suggest the right way to look upon the focus of devotion.
Copyright by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.