The Bodhisattva Great Adornment now leads the assembled bodhisattvas in asking the Buddha what they should practice if they would undeviatingly attain enlightenment and come into the spiritual state of a buddha.
Shakyamuni's response is that the doctrine of Innumerable Meanings is the way that leads all to perfect enlightenment. He says that the beginning of comprehension of this doctrine is the perception that at the heart of all things in this world is a world that from the beginning of the universe has been unchanging, in which everything is equal and at peace. In the apparent world we see with our eyes, we may see large and small, appearing and disappearing, fixity and movement, things different and changing in every way. But it must be perceived that at the root of everything there is but one being, a world of one likeness, an emptiness, to be precise, that everywhere is the same.
Having stated this truth of the emptiness, the Buddha goes on to say that few perceive this truth, and that though in their real aspect all things are equal and in great concord, people see only the apparent forms before their eyes. They willfully calculate loss and gain, cultivate unwholesome thoughts, and act wrongfully, thereby bringing all kinds of misery upon themselves, and they are never able to escape from the realm of error.
Bodhisattvas perceive all this, are stirred with compassion for all living creatures, and determine to rescue all people from their suffering. To this end, practice is essential to perceiving in all its depth the true and real aspect of all things. Thus the cause of human suffering is shown, and the mental attitude of the bodhisattva who would rescue mankind from suffering is made clear.
The Buddha then instructs the bodhisattvas to observe closely the distinctive shapes of apparent forms and their changing condition. It is essential to grasp the capacity, nature, and wants of the many, and just as their capacity, nature, and wants are infinitely various, so also must the manner of preaching and explaining the teaching to them be infinitely varied. But though the teaching be thus infinitely varied, yet it proceeds from the one truth. This one truth is totally undifferentiated, being formless, and therefore makes no differentiation. Thus the fundamental nondifferentiation at the heart of things is the one law that calls all things into being and moves them. This is called the real aspect of things.
Here, then, the term real aspect in its Buddhist sense is made clear. Ordinarily we understand this term to mean simply the real shape of things, but it is important at this point to remember this deeper sense of the term when we encounter it in such expressions as the "real aspect of existence."
As the Buddha continues his instruction, he explains that the compassion awakened in the mind of the bodhisattva who has perceived this truth underlying all things and made it part of himself will have uplifting results.
We need to observe here that the compassionate mind of the bodhisattva is not just a feeling of pity or sympathy but that it springs from the perception that all things are equal, that all people are equal, from the sense that others and oneself are all one.
The Bodhisattva Great Adornment again speaks, now to formulate a problem. The Buddha's teaching is so profound that ordinary people are not likely to grasp its full meaning. The bodhisattvas already understand without difficulty, but it is necessary to ask on behalf of those ordinary people in whose minds questions and doubts remain. During the Buddha's forty-odd years of teaching since becoming the Buddha, he has taught that all is emptiness, that all things change and pass, and that nothing exists alone and of itself, and many have been rescued by the teaching.
But now the Buddha is preaching a new doctrine of Innumerable Meanings, and while one must think that this is basically no different from what has been taught before, still one must wonder and ask in what point it differs from the previous teaching to have him say that practice of the teaching of Innumerable Meanings will lead directly to supreme enlightenment.
In response the Buddha observes that after he attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and gazed upon all the world, the conclusion was inescapable that in their present stage living beings were not prepared to have that enlightenment explained to them. For this reason he sought to lead living beings to their salvation by preaching in a fashion appropriate to their circumstances, capacity, nature, and wants. Continuing in this fashion to preach within the bounds of their understanding, the Buddha has not yet had the occasion to reveal the innermost truth of the Dharma, and thus it is that forty-odd years have passed without complete explanation of the final unadorned truth.
Yet all that has been taught until now is founded on the truth. Like water, which everywhere is water and yet differs as does the water in a valley stream, a ditch, a pond, or the great sea, the teaching at the beginning, midway, and now has not been exactly the same. Although the words may appear the same, there has been increasing depth of meaning.
The truth that all the buddhas have taught is only one. The manner of explaining this one truth has been as varied as the many things men have sought in their minds. Again, the body, or ultimate substance, of buddhas is one. It changes into countless bodies, and each of these displays countless changes in its working. This is none other than the incomprehensible realm of the buddhas. It is a realm hardly to be known even to the bodhisattva verging on buddhahood, let alone to those with but the enlightenment attained through listening to the Buddha's teachings and practicing them or through independent practice without a teacher. It is a realm to be explored in depth only upon attaining buddhahood, a realm to be known to none but buddhas. One who would gain this enlightenment of the buddha must go deeply, deeply into these Innumerable Meanings and master them.
In this sense Shakyamuni spoke, and today when we are taught of this body or substance of the buddha and its working, most of us probably get only a vague general idea. But no one can affirm that he understands clearly and fully. For to perceive clearly that substance of the Buddha which is the great life-force of the universe, and the boundlessness of its working, one must gain the knowledge and wisdom that are one with those of the Buddha. Then one is oneself a buddha. As the sutra has it, "Only a buddha together with a buddha can fathom it well."
But this does not mean that we should despair. At the time of the sermon that comes to us as the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, not even Shariputra, that disciple first in wisdom, had attained enlightenment. And so it was that later, in the rather more easily understood Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma, the Buddha patiently explained the Dharma in order that all living creatures might be brought to enlightenment. So it does not matter if one does not perfectly understand the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings. It is enough at this stage to outline in the mind, even if only faintly, the sense of the two terms the real aspect of this world and the ultimate substance of the Buddha and its working.
Copyright by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.