This chapter opens with the Buddha's commendation of Maha-Kashyapa for relating the parable that formed the heart of the preceding chapter on faith discernment - a parable that aptly explained the true merit of the tathagata, one who has earned the highest epithet of a buddha. The Buddha then proceeds, in the parable of the herbs, to explain the relationship between the teaching and receptive humanity.
He affirms Maha-Kashyapa's statement that the tathagata has infinite merit, full knowledge of the truth, and full freedom in presenting it, so that it serves all people equally, leading them at last to perfect knowledge of the Buddha. By way of illustrating this, the Buddha describes the plants that grow over the earth, of which there is every size, shape, and description, all alike thirsting for moisture-giving rain. A great cloud covers the sky, and rain falls. The rain falls everywhere upon the earth, and all the plants are wet evenly and abundantly. Herbs, grasses, bushes, saplings, and great trees all take in the life-giving moisture and grow. And though the rain falls upon all alike, each grows, takes its shape, blossoms, and bears fruit according to its own nature.
Just so, the Buddha tells Maha-Kashyapa, is the tathagata. He is the cloud covering the sky. His teaching is the rain falling everywhere upon the earth, and humanity and all living beings are the infinite variety of vegetation.
The tathagata's teaching is the truth of the universe. This truth at root is but one, which is void. This teaching, like the moisture-giving rain, is of but one form, one taste. But all people differ in their makeup and nature, in birth and upbringing, in health, in surroundings, in trade. These differences, despite the fact that all people are absolutely alike in their basic buddha-nature, give rise to differences in receptivity to the rain of truth.
But however great these differences in receptivity, all receive the rain of the truth suited to themselves, and all alike, according to their heaven-given nature, grow, flower, and bear fruit. A plant has no knowledge of whether it is superior, indifferent, or lowly; it merely grows after its given nature.
A human being, in the eyes of the Buddha, is like a plant. What is one's place or position? What is one's value in the universe? Perhaps no person can really know. Only the Buddha can know. The Buddha rightly sees the place and state in which every person is and the shape of his or her spiritual being. And the Buddha further knows that one and all are absolutely equal in the springs of their being.
On the basis of this certain knowledge, the Buddha presents the teaching in a fashion suited to every individual, thus delivering all from the toils of life and setting everyone upon the right road of spiritual progress. Salvation appears to take various forms, but at root the teaching is only one, and it falls like the rain upon all alike. It is on this account that the form of teaching, of salvation, varies with the nature, character, and circumstances of each person, to the end that every person may be enabled to accept it. This is a supreme quality of the Buddha's Law.
The lesson of the parable is thus the formal variety and essential identity of Buddhist salvation, but we may also glean the lesson that right wisdom is awareness of the fundamental identity of humankind in the presence of apparent difference.
To lean entirely to awareness of the void that is this essential identity is to be like those Chinese "immortals" of old so remote from the world that they subsisted on air, and the attitude is scarcely suitable to real life. But it is equally wrong to be seized entirely by the infinite variety in apparent forms, for feelings of superiority and inferiority give rise to the snares of pride, arrogance, insulting haughtiness, envy, hatred, and conflict, while desire entails struggle and pain, and there is no hope for the salvation of human society.
Whatever differences there may be in superficial form, the true nature that is central to all people is, as such, one substance with the great life-force of the universe. Whoever has a firm grasp and awareness of this truth is enabled to live rightly, to make his or her own life and the lives of others truly meaningful. It is in this way that we may apply the lesson of this chapter to our lives today.
Copyright by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.