TEXT Manjushri! In countless countries even
the name of this Law Flower Sutra cannot be heard; how much less can it
be seen, received, and kept, read and recited.
COMMENTARY Why is it so difficult to come into contact with,
and understand, the Lotus Sutra? To put it another way, why did
Shakyamuni not expound the Lotus Sutra earlier? This is explained in a
parable, the sixth of the seven parables in the Lotus Sutra, the
Parable of the Gem in the Topknot.
TEXT Manjushri! It is like a powerful holy wheel-rolling king
who desires by force to conquer other domains. When minor kings do not
obey his command, the wheel-rolling king calls up his various armies
and goes to punish them. The king, seeing his soldiers who distinguish
themselves in the war, is greatly pleased and, according to their
merit, bestows rewards, either giving fields, houses, villages, or
cities, or giving garments or personal ornaments, or giving all kinds
of treasures, gold, silver, lapis lazuli, moonstones, agates, coral,
amber, elephants, horses, carriages, litters, male and female slaves,
and people; only the [crown] jewel on his head he gives to none.
Wherefore? Because only on the head of a king may this sole jewel [be
worn], and if he gave it, all the king's retinue would be astounded.
Manjushri! The Tathagata is also like this.
COMMENTARY Head. This refers to the topknot that some Indians still wear.
? Only on the head of a king may this sole jewel [be worn].
Other treasures and jewels, though belonging to the king, are not worn
by him, other than perhaps ornaments on the arms and legs. The only
jewel the king wears is placed in his topknot. The significance of this
I will explain below.
? If he gave it, all the king's retinue would be astounded.
If the king unexpectedly gave someone the priceless jewel that he wore
in his topknot, the recipient would not know its value or how it should
be used, but would merely be confused. Other people would also be
surprised and wonder suspiciously why the king had given away so
magnanimously the precious jewel that he had hitherto kept hidden in
The reference to giving slaves and people to soldiers reflects the
social background of ancient India. We should not of course apply this
literally to modern society. Buddhism does not recognize the existence
of slaves, nor does it permit traffic in human beings, for it is above
all else a teaching of ultimate equality. In the same vein, the fact
that a military metaphor is used here does not mean that Buddhism
TEXT By his powers of meditation and wisdom he has taken
possession of the domain of the Law and rules as king over the triple
world. But the Mara kings are unwilling to submit. The Tathagata's wise
and holy generals fight with them. With those who distinguish
themselves he, too, is pleased, and in the midst of his four hosts
preaches the sutras to them, causing them to rejoice, and bestows on
them the meditations, the emancipations, the faultless roots and
powers, and all the wealth of the Law. In addition, he gives them the
city of nirvana, saying that they have attained extinction, and
attracts their minds so that they all rejoice; yet he does not preach
to them this Law Flower Sutra.
COMMENTARY The Buddha equips those courageous people who are
willing to fight against the Mara kings of the defilements with the
weapon of various teachings, and enables them to conquer the enemy.
Even resolving to fight the defilements is a considerable achievement.
Since people are said to have 108 defilements, smashing them one by one
represents the accumulation of many meritorious deeds. The Buddha gave
his disciples teachings suitable to vanquish each defilement in turn;
they are called "the Law preached as opportunity serves."
The reward for combating the defilements is the gifts of the Dharma:
the state of meditation, the state of emancipation, and the state of
having attained the faultless roots and powers. Buddhist scholars
explain the third state in great detail, but it is enough for our
purposes to know that it is the state of having attained the faith and
the strength of practice to eradicate defilements. The greatest reward
of all is the state of nirvana, the mental state of absolute peace. The
parable calls this state "the city of nirvana." The Buddha let his
disciples think of it as the human ideal state ("extinction") in order
to attract the minds of his disciples. This was a manifestation of the
Buddha's skillful means born of compassion; the true ideal state is far
more profound, and is found in the teaching of the Lotus Sutra.
TEXT Manjushri! Just as the wheel-rolling king, seeing his
soldiers who distinguish themselves, is so extremely pleased that now
at last he gives them the incredible jewel so long worn on his head,
which may not wantonly be given to anyone, so also is it with the
COMMENTARY His soldiers who distinguish themselves.
This refers to vanquishing the demons of the mind that obstruct the
attainment of the Buddha-way and to attaining a supreme stage, so that
all teachings are understood perfectly.
? The incredible jewel.
Even if someone receives the jewel that the great king values most
highly, he will be confused, for he does not know its true worth or
what to do with it. Of course the jewel is a metaphor for the Lotus
Sutra: someone with only little training will not easily be able to
believe in it.
TEXT As the great Law King of the triple world, teaching and
converting all the living by the Law, when he sees his wise and holy
army fighting with the Mara of the five aggregates, the Mara of earthly
cares, and the Mara of death, and [doing so] with great exploits and
merits, exterminating the three poisons, escaping from the triple
world, and breaking [through] the nets of the Maras, then the Tathagata
also is greatly pleased, and now [at last] preaches this Law Flower
Sutra which has never before been preached, and which is able to cause
all the living to reach perfect knowledge, though all the world greatly
resents and has difficulty in believing it.
COMMENTARY The Mara of the five aggregates. The
"five aggregates" are all the physical elements and mental functions of
the phenomenal world. The Mara of the five aggregates is, simply, the
illusions that arise concerning all that surrounds us.
? The Mara of earthly cares.
This refers more to mental delusions; whereas the Mara of the five
aggregates is the illusions arising from without, the Mara of earthly
cares is the illusions emanating from the mind.
? The triple world. This is the illusory realm of transmigration.
? Breaking [through] the nets of the Maras.
The nets of the defilements, which poison and delude human beings, can
be seen stretching to every part of the world. To break free of these
nets is to taste absolute freedom as a human being for the first time.
There can be no greater liberation than this. The freedom that we
commonly think of is only temporary and selfish.
? Greatly resents. The people resist the teachings and take no delight in them.
TEXT Manjushri! This Law Flower Sutra is the foremost
teaching of the tathagatas and the most profound of all discourses. I
give it to you last of all, just as that powerful king at last gives
the brilliant jewel he has guarded for long. Manjushri! This Law Flower
Sutra is the mysterious treasury of the buddha-tathagatas, which is
supreme above all sutras. For long has it been guarded and not
prematurely declared; today for the first time I proclaim it to you
COMMENTARY The Lotus Sutra is the highest of all the
teachings, leading all living beings to the enlightenment of the
Buddha. When heard unexpectedly, however, it is hard to believe and may
cause people to act in a diametrically opposite way. Therefore the
Buddha did not speak of it directly from the first but clothed his
Dharma in the robe of skillful means, revealing the highest teaching
little by little. Once his followers had reached a high level of
attainment, though, he was able at last to speak of it.
The Parable of the Gem in the Topknot, read superficially, seems
only to repeat that the Lotus Sutra is incomparably precious and noble.
Wherever the sutra is taught, it has been praised. We have already seen
that when Zen Master Hakuin read it for the first time at the age of
sixteen, he had the impression it was like an onion, which when peeled
is found to have no center (see the July/August 1999 issue of DHARMA WORLD). In the Myomitsu Shonin Goshosoku
Nichiren wrote, "In the twenty-eight chapters that which is true is
small, while words of praise are numerous." Nichiren's words, unlike
Hakuin's, express vividly the essence of the Lotus Sutra. "That which
is true" refers to the true teachings. "That which is true is small"
therefore means that the true teachings seen only in the Lotus Sutra
are small in number. This is only to be expected, for Shakyamuni had
already expounded the 84,000 teachings during his more than forty years
of ministry, and it is unlikely that there would now be many true
teachings spoken for the very first time. Even the excellent truths
expressed for the first time in the Lotus Sutra, such as the identity
of the expedient teachings and the truth, the real aspect of all
things, and the revelation that Shakyamuni is the Eternal Original
Buddha who sustains all living beings, are in fact hidden in prior
The Lotus Sutra, a melting pot in which the teachings already taught
by the Buddha are contained, reveals the truth hidden therein, just as
pure gold lies within ore, waiting to be extracted. This is perhaps the
most remarkable characteristic of the Lotus Sutra. The teachings prior
to the Lotus Sutra were regarded in the same way that people might
consider a twelve-carat coin, a fourteen-carat necklace, or an
eighteen-carat bracelet to be pure gold. They are all certainly gold
and therefore precious; but none is pure gold. In the Lotus Sutra
Shakyamuni reveals to us the true nature of gold, extracting the pure
gold from fusion of the teachings. He shows us too that all the golden
treasure is made of pure gold, and teaches us how precious it is.
In this sense the Lotus Sutra is a dramatic discourse. It is not
surprising that those who were present were completely taken aback and
that some should have doubted it or reacted against it. That is why
Shakyamuni interspersed his discourse with phrases praising the sutra
and reiterating how exalted and precious it is so as to raise people's
expectations and encourage their belief. What we of later times should
not overlook is that these words of praise always contain important
teachings. The Parable of the Gem in the Topknot is a good example of
this, for it provides a lesson that is as valid in our religious as in
our secular life. Let me explain the parable in a little more detail.
First, though the king gave his other jewels ungrudgingly, he
retained his most precious jewel, that in his topknot. It is important
to note that this jewel was placed on his head, unlike his other
jewels, which he wore on his arms and legs and around his neck as
adornments. Only the most precious jewel he wore on his head. This is
significant. The head symbolizes the mind, which controls the body. It
is the center of a human being's existence and there is nothing more
exalted. The precious jewel is the very core and soul of all the
teachings, and controls them all. It cannot be lightly given away.
Why is it that the Buddha, who never begrudged the Dharma to anyone,
was loath to preach the Lotus Sutra? Let us consider this in terms of
learning to play baseball. When children first begin to play, they are
taught to throw and catch. Next they practice ground balls and flies
and learn the basic techniques of batting. As they advance, they
acquire more advanced pitching and fielding skills, depending on their
particular strengths, learning, if pitchers, how to send curve and
shoot balls and, if fielders, how to act together to achieve a double
play and how to stop bunts. All the same, however good their basic play
is, it does not mean they will win an actual game. What they now need
to acquire is the mental game. The batter must learn to read the
psychology of the pitcher, while the pitcher has to discern what the
batter is actually going to do. Fielders too must learn the quirks of
the other team's batters and be able to take up position in
anticipation of their teammates' throws. There is no point in teaching
children these fine points when they are just starting to learn the
game; they can come only when physical skills have reached a sufficient
Let me take another example. I remember reading in a book by a
master chef that the greatest secret of cooking is bringing out fully
the individuality of the ingredients. Each carrot, each radish, has its
own quality, differing in minute degrees from others, based for example
on the type of soil and fertilizer, as well as on the time that has
passed since the vegetable was picked. The chef, discerning the
individuality of each item, decides on the most apt cooking method to
bring it out. This is the very soul of cooking, the truth that governs
all food preparation. It is useless, however, to confront people
setting out to master the basics of cookery with such profundity. If a
cookery school tried to teach them these things from the very
beginning, they would almost certainly quit, because what they need to
be told is simply how to peel, cut, and boil a vegetable. A good
teacher must always guide a student from the starting point of basic
techniques and knowledge.
People today, especially young people who have received higher
education, want to advance immediately to the higher levels of training
and tend to dislike being made to master fundamentals through physical
practice. If they neglect the basics, though, they achieve no great
success, either as human beings or as employees. All the same, a
company that has the best interests of its employees at heart will have
its trainee executives punch tickets or pack and send goods. Only those
who have experienced work on all levels will become capable and
understanding directors. This is why the king did not give the
brilliant jewel to his soldiers until the very end.
There are many people who accept the Mahayana teachings with only a
shallow understanding of their import, or in their own terms,
interpreting the doctrine to suit their own needs. Some boast that they
themselves are buddhas, because some sutras teach the attainment of
buddhahood in this body. Others live selfishly, justifying themselves
by saying that because the real essence of the defilements is the same
as enlightenment it is perfectly acceptable for them to lust after
money and possessions, to bear people hatred, and to lead a dissolute
life. Such people think that merely by believing in the doctrines of
buddhahood in this body and the identity of the defilements and
enlightenment they will attain liberation.
They could not be more wrong. This is like wanting to play baseball
without even having pitched a strike. In Buddhism as in baseball,
fundamental training is essential for a believer; through knowledge of
the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and the Six Perfections, the
believer is able to rectify the mind, polish the character, and act
As we accomplish the various steps of our training, the Buddha
invariably rewards us. Through him we attain the stages of unshaken
mental calm, transcendence of suffering, and the ability to discern the
nature of all the defilements. When we have at last climbed to the
heights of religious practice and achieved all the various stages, the
Buddha will ungrudgingly extend to us his most brilliant jewel, supreme
enlightenment. This is the wondrous stage of perfect freedom that is
buddhahood in this body and the identity of the defilements and
Thus we must never be unwilling, in either our daily or our
religious life, to obey the fundamental precepts and undertake basic
training, for it is on this foundation alone that we can erect a
structure that will eventually tower to the heights. This is how the
Parable of the Gem in the Topknot should be understood.
TEXT At that time the World-honored One, desiring to proclaim this meaning over again, spoke thus in verse:
"Ever acting patiently, / Pitying all beings, / Such a one can
proclaim / The sutra the Buddha extols. / In the last ages to come, /
They who keep this sutra, / Whether laymen or monks / Or not [yet]
bodhisattvas, / Must have [hearts of] compassion; / [For] those who do
not hear / Nor believe this sutra / Suffer great loss. / I, attaining
the Buddha-way, / By tactful methods / Preach this sutra to them / That
they may abide in it. / It is like a powerful / Wheel-rolling king /
Who to his war-distinguished soldiers / Presents many rewards, /
Elephants, horses, carriages, litters, / Personal ornaments, / As well
as fields and houses, / Villages and cities; / Or bestows garments, /
Various kinds of jewels, / Slaves and wealth, / Bestowing all with joy.
/ [But] only for one heroic / And of rare exploits / Does the king take
from his head / The [crown] jewel to give him. / Thus is it also with
the Tathagata; / He is the king of the Law, / [Possessed of] great
powers of patience / And the treasury of wisdom; / He, with great
benevolence, / Transforms the world with his Law. / Seeing all human
beings / Suffering from pains and distresses, / Seeking for
deliverance, / Fighting against the Maras, / He to all these living
beings / Has preached various laws, / And in great tactfulness / Has
preached these [numerous] sutras; / Finally knowing the living beings /
Have attained their [developed] powers, / At last he to them / Preaches
this Law Flower, / As the king took from his head / The jewel and gave
it. / This sutra is preeminent / Among all the sutras. / I have always
guarded / And not prematurely revealed it. / Now indeed is the time /
To preach it to you all. / After my extinction, / Whoever seeks the
Buddha-way / And desires imperturbably / To proclaim this sutra /
Should relate himself to / The four rules such as these.
COMMENTARY Here ends the instruction in the four pleasant
practices of the body, the mouth, the mind, and the vow. The chapter
concludes by recounting the merits received by perfecting the four
pleasant practices and propagating the Lotus Sutra widely.
TEXT He who reads this sutra / Will be ever free from worry /
And free from pain and disease; / His countenance will be fresh and
white; / He will not be born poor, / Humble, or ugly.
COMMENTARY Though we understand that worry and anxiety will
cease, it is a little more difficult to believe that physical pain and
illness will disappear. The sutra indicates here that a person who has
reached the stage described will be able to transcend all sickness and
suffering. When something abnormal happens to the body, feeling pain
and distress is a natural reaction, only to be expected. To realize
that this is so means that we do not fall victim to pain; rather, we
accept pain in a positive manner. Such is the understanding of one who
has penetrated the profundity of faith.
A "fresh and white" countenance means that a person's virtues appear
on his or her face. Since body and mind are inseparable, mental changes
inevitably show themselves physically. Such changes do not occur
overnight but appear very gradually. Changes in the believer come about
by degrees. We should understand the phrase "he will not be born poor,
humble, or ugly" as indicating the spiritual and physical changes that
occur through faith.
TEXT Living beings will delight to see him / As a longed-for saint; / Heavenly cherubim / Will be his servants.
COMMENTARY Saint is a word fraught with difficulty
for Buddhist scholarship. Here it is used in its most usual sense, that
is, a wise and virtuous person, a person of such wisdom that he or she
is highly regarded and is an exemplar for all.
? Heavenly cherubim will be his servants.
This is the kind of wonderful experience that a person of true faith
can attain. Everyday things go so well for us that we can hardly
believe they depend on human ingenuity. It is to feel at a profound
level the spontaneity of all things.
TEXT Swords and staves will not be laid on him; / Poison
cannot harm him. / If anyone curses him, / [That man's] mouth will be
COMMENTARY This is exactly what happened to Nichiren, as is
well known. However much people persecute preachers of the Lotus Sutra,
they are unable to stop it from spreading. In fact such persecution has
the opposite effect, for the voices of the persecutors themselves are
muffled and they are no longer able to utter words of disparagement
about the sutra.
TEXT Fearlessly he will roam / Like a lion king. / The radiance of his wisdom / Will shine like the sun.
COMMENTARY Roam. This means to journey, especially
to make religious journeys for the purpose of proselytization. Here a
wider meaning is implied that wherever one goes, in whatever
environment one finds oneself, the mind will always remain spontaneous
? The radiance of his wisdom will shine like the sun.
Darkness has no substance. If a place is dark, all that means is that
it lacks light. Once light pierces the dark, the darkness is dispelled.
Similarly, when we become enlightened to the Buddha's wisdom, all
mental darkness vanishes. The Buddha's enlightenment does not imply a
conflict with illusion. There is nothing relative about pushing away
darkness; it is an absolute thing. Therefore to become enlightened
means that darkness (illusion) has been dispelled.
TEXT If he should dream, / He will see only the wonderful, /
Seeing the tathagatas / Seated on lion thrones. / Preaching the Law to
hosts / Of surrounding bhikshus; / Seeing also dragon spirits, /
Asuras, and others, / In number as the sands of the Ganges, / Who
worship him with folded hands; / And he sees himself / Preaching the
Law to them.
COMMENTARY In modern psychology, too, dreams are considered
to be very important. In the simplest terms, dreams are the "remains of
the day," our conscious experiences stored in the subconscious, which
well up when we sleep. To see the exalted figure of the Buddha even in
our dreams is proof that the deepest part of our mind has become
purified, that we are deeply compassionate, and that we are always
thinking of the Buddha. To interpret such dreams as the product of
delirium or as nightmares reveals a subconscious that has yet to be
perfectly purified. To gain the stage of being able to see the golden
figure of the Buddha revered by all living things in our dreams is a
measure of the depth of our religious belief. There is no other way
such a state of mind can be attained.
TEXT He will also see the buddhas, / With the sign of the
golden body, / Emitting boundless light, / Illuminating all beings, /
And with Brahma voice / Expounding the laws. / [While] the Buddha to
the four groups / Is preaching the supreme Law,
COMMENTARY The supreme Law. This refers to the teaching of the Lotus Sutra.
TEXT He will find himself in the midst, / Extolling the
Buddha with folded hands; / He will hear the Law with joy, / Pay homage
to him, / Attain the dharanis, / And prove the truth of never
retreating. / The Buddha, knowing his mind / Has entered deep into the
Buddha-way, / Will then predict that he will accomplish / Supreme,
Perfect Enlightenment, / [Saying]: 'You, my good son, / Shall in the
age to come / Obtain infinite wisdom, / The Great Way of the Buddha: /
A domain splendidly pure, / Of extent incomparable, / And with [its]
four hosts / With folded hands hearing the Law.'
COMMENTARY He will dream that the Buddha is predicting buddhahood for him.
? Dharanis. See the January/February 1992 issue.
TEXT He will also find himself / In mountain groves, /
Exercising himself in the good Law, / Proving reality, / And deep in
meditation / Seeing the universal buddhas.
COMMENTARY Deep in meditation seeing the universal buddhas.
Once we have entered the state of profound spiritual unity, we will be
able to experience a sense of oneness with all the buddhas.
TEXT Golden colored are those buddhas, / Adorned with a
hundred blessed signs; / [He who] hears and preaches to others / Ever
has good dreams like these.
COMMENTARY A hundred blessed signs. This refers to the characteristics of happiness and virtue.
TEXT Again he will dream he is a king / Who forsakes his
palace and kinsfolk / And exquisite pleasures of the senses / To go to
the wisdom throne; / At the foot of a Bodhi tree, / He sits on the lion
throne; / After seeking the Way for seven days, / He attains the wisdom
of buddhas; / Having attained the supreme Way, / He arises and, rolling
the Law-wheel, / To the four hosts preaches the Law / For thousands of
myriads of kotis of kalpas. / After preaching the faultless Wonderful
Law / And saving innumerable living beings, / He shall then enter
nirvana, / As a lamp is extinct when its smoke ends. / If anyone in the
evil ages to come / Preaches this preeminent Law, / He will obtain the
great blessing / Of such rewards as the above."
COMMENTARY He has dreamed that he has led the same life as
Shakyamuni. The implication is that he has attained the same spiritual
state as the Buddha. What a splendid realization that is.
The above passage concludes the first half of the Lotus Sutra.
T'ien-t'ai Chih-i (538-97) defines the first half of the sutra as the
realm of trace (chi-men in Chinese), focusing on both the Buddha
of the manifest-body and the teachings from the perspective of the
Eternal Original Buddha, the great life force of the universe,
appearing (leaving a trace) in this world to bring about the liberation
of all sentient beings. Put another way, in the realm of trace the
Buddha is identified as the Shakyamuni who appeared in this world, and
his teachings are explained as the wisdom gained by Shakyamuni through
his own experience and meditation.
With chapter 15, "Springing Up Out of the Earth," we enter the second half of the sutra (pen-men
in Chinese, meaning the realm of origin). Here the true form of the
Buddha is revealed to be Thusness (absolute Truth), and the Eternal
Original Buddha takes the stage.
To be continued