THIS CHAPTER EXPOUNDS the merit one can gain, the virtuous deeds he can accomplish, and the service he can render to society if he understands the teachings preached in this sutra. Some people say that religion should not bring merit to its believers, but this is a specious argument. It would be, rather, a wonder if one did not gain merit when he truly understood a correct religion, believed in it deeply, and practiced it. Needless to say, there are varying degrees of merit according to one's degree of understanding and the speed of the actual manifestation of merit. In any case, it is natural for one to gain merit through his religion when he has faith in it.
As mentioned earlier, the teachings of the Buddha are the truth of the universe, which of course includes human beings. It is no wonder, and certainly no miracle, that if one lives according to the truth, his life works out well. This is like the fact that if we switch on the television set and tune in exactly to the wavelength beamed from a particular television station, a vivid image appears on the screen and a clear voice is heard.
If no image appears on the television screen, however often we try to tune in the channel, the television set is useless. It will be put away in some storeroom, where it will be covered with dust. Numerous religions have sprung up throughout history, but some of them have gradually lost their power and finally have become distant from the people. This is because they have forgotten the merit to be gained by believers, or because they have preached only the merit to be gained after death - that one will go to heaven or be reborn in paradise.
The true teachings of the Buddha, however, do not preach an intangible merit that one cannot realize until after death. The merit preached by the Buddha appears clearly in our lives in this world. In addition to ourselves, it is a merit that exerts an influence upon all of society and upon all people. If we disregard this merit and make light of it, it is as if we deliberately shut out the light of the Buddha's teachings with a black curtain. Such an attitude is due to the shallow understanding peculiar to people today.
We should abandon such shallow thinking and bathe ourselves in the light of the Buddha by drawing aside the curtain. This is the true hope of the Buddha and the sole purpose of his appearance in this world.
The Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Great Adornment, who was deeply moved by the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, said to the Buddha that he could understand that this sutra was wonderful, profound, and great in its power. The bodhisattva-mahasattva then asked the Buddha: "World-honored One! This sutra is inconceivable. World-honored One! Be pleased to explain the profound and inconceivable matter of this sutra out of benevolence for all the people. World-honored One! From what place does this sutra come? For what place does it leave? At what place does it stay?"
The Buddha addressed the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Great Adornment: "Good sons! This sutra originally comes from the abode of all the buddhas, leaves for the aspiration of all the living to buddhahood, and stays at the place where all the bodhisattvas practice."
These words are very important. The expression "This sutra originally comes from the abode of all the buddhas" means that it flows naturally from the Buddha's mind. The Buddha emphasizes here that this sutra, as a Great-vehicle, is truly a profound teaching that comes spontaneously from the Buddha's benevolent mind, so that he cannot help preaching it. The place for which it leaves, namely, its purpose, is to make all living beings aspire to buddhahood. The place at which it stays is the practice of the bodhisattvas, the many and varied practices leading to the Buddha's enlightenment. It is also stated that everybody can gain such great merit as to be able to attain the enlightenment of the Buddha if he practices this sutra.
The Buddha then expounded in detail the ten merit-powers of the sutra. Here we will concentrate on the first merit-power, which is regarded as the most fundamental one.
The Buddha said: "Good sons! First, this sutra has the following merits: it makes the unawakened bodhisattva aspire to buddhahood and makes a merciless one who has no concern for making others happy raise the mind of mercy. It also makes one who likes to bully others or to kill creatures raise the mind of great compassion. It makes a jealous one raise the mind of joy. If those who are apt to be envious of others and to feel superior to them should read this sutra and come to recognize gratefully the Buddha's teachings, they can understand that a person who seemed to be not at all equal to them is the same as them before the Buddha, and they are filled with the mind of joy and want to be as excellent as the Buddha. As a result, envy and jealousy of others vanishes.
"It is natural that man feels attached to things around him - his property, status, honor, family, and so on. However, if he clings to these things, he has various mental sufferings. If he should attain such a state of mind as to be able to renounce them at any time, his mind becomes free from them. Because of not being attached to anything, he can lead a peaceful life with his family, can use his property usefully, and can make the best of his station in life. This sutra has the merit of making an attached one raise the mind of detachment.
"This sutra makes a miserly one raise the mind of donation. If those who are stingy with their own things and covet things that belong to others can realize the Buddha's mind, motivated only for the sake of living beings, they come spontaneously to have the mind of donation and of being kind to others. They come to be useful to others.
"This sutra makes an arrogant one raise the mind of keeping the commandments. If those who are proud of their superiority, of their intelligence, or of their conduct should recite this sutra and realize the existence of the Buddha, they become aware of their mistaken thinking and conduct, and they raise the mind of keeping firmly the various precepts that the Buddha has established.
"This sutra makes an irascible one raise the mind of perseverance. If those who are apt to become angry over trifles should pattern themselves after the Buddha's mind, they no longer have anger and hatred for what others may say or may do. On the contrary, they feel sympathetic toward others and wish compassionately to correct their deluded thinking. This is the mind of perseverance, which can bear what is ordinarily unbearable and make the intolerable tolerable.
"This sutra makes an indolent one raise the mind of assiduity. An indolent person is one who cannot direct his course for the future, who neglects his duty and becomes caught up in trivial matters. However, he cannot help endeavoring to guide his life if he understands the Buddha's teaching that all lives can be lived rightly, each in its own way, and that this is the way that makes the whole world work for what is right. Commit no evil, do all that is good, purify your mind."
"This sutra makes a distracted one raise the mind of meditation. Even those who are swayed and distracted by every change in their circumstances can continuously maintain quiet, peaceful minds when they realize that there is a permanent truth beneath all changeable phenomena.
"This sutra makes an ignorant one raise the mind of wisdom. An ignorant one is a person who thinks only of the present and cannot reflect on the consequences of his actions. Therefore he is apt to be distracted by immediate circumstances and often becomes angry or worried about such things. If he studies the teaching of the Great-vehicle and has the mind of wisdom, he gradually comes to see things in context and not to feel displeased about everything, and his mind becomes clearer.
"This sutra makes one who lacks concern for saving others raise the mind of saving others. If such a person realizes that others as well as himself should be saved, because he does not live in this world alone in isolation from others, he spontaneously raises the mind of helping others.
"This sutra makes one who commits the ten evils raise the mind of the ten virtues. The ten evils are killing, stealing, committing adultery, lying, improper language, a double tongue, ill speaking, covetousness, anger, and ignorance. When a person acquires the true teaching of the Great-vehicle, he gradually come not to entertain such evils.
"This sutra makes one who wishes for existence aspire to the mind of nonexistence. Even those who are strongly self-centered in everything they do naturally come to raise the mind of unselfishness when, through this sutra, they approach the Buddha's mind, which regards all living beings as equal.
"This sutra makes one who is inclined toward apostasy raise the mind of nonregression. Those who are apt to backslide in their spiritual progress come to have courage, so that they aim at attaining buddhahood and persevere in the discipline of their practice, never sliding back an inch, when they have realized the teaching of the Great-vehicle through this sutra. This is quite natural, because they can see their path shining and open before them, and they cannot but be inspired by it.
"This sutra also makes one who commits defiled acts caused by illusion raise the mind of undefilement free from illusion, and makes one who suffers from delusions raise the mind of detachment."
Having expounded this, the Buddha said: "Good sons! This is called the first inconceivable merit-power of this sutra."
The merit-powers mentioned above are immense. Even if we accomplished only one of them, it would be a wonderful achievement for us as people living in this modern age. When we read of the many merits mentioned here, we must not be daunted by thinking that they are beyond our powers, because if we can accomplish only one merit, we can accomplish others. Let us accomplish just one merit - it is very important that we think this way in order to study eagerly and to persevere in such discipline.
Secondly, the Buddha states that if a living being can hear this sutra but once, or even only one verse or phrase, he will penetrate countless meanings because this sutra contains innumerable meanings. Of the second inconceivable merit-power of this sutra, the following is said: From one seed a hundred thousand myriad seeds grow, from each of a hundred thousand myriad seeds another hundred thousand myriad seeds grow, and by such a process seeds increase infinitely. This sutra is like this. From one law a hundred thousand meanings grow, from each of a hundred thousand meanings a hundred thousand myriad meanings grow, and through such a process meanings increase boundlessly.
The third inconceivable merit-power of this sutra is as follows: If a living being can hear this sutra but once, or only one verse or phrase, he will penetrate countless meanings. After that his delusions, even though existent, will become as if nonexistent; he will not be seized by fear, though he moves between birth and death; and he will raise the mind of compassion for all living beings, and obtain the courage to obey all the laws. Just as a ferryman, though he stays on this shore owing to a serious illness, can be enabled to cross to the other shore by means of a good solid boat that can carry anyone without fail, so also is it with the keeper of this sutra. Though he stays on this shore of ignorance, old age, and death owing to the hundred and eight kinds of serious illness with which his body in the five states is afflicted, he can be delivered from birth and death through practicing this strong Mahayana sutra of Innumerable Meanings, which realizes the deliverance of living beings.
The fourth inconceivable merit-power of this sutra is as follows: If a living being can hear this sutra but once, or only one verse or phrase, he will obtain the spirit of courage, and will succor others, even though he cannot yet save himself. He will become the attendant of the buddhas together with all the bodhisattvas, and all the buddha-tathagatas will always preach the Law to him. The words "all the buddha-tathagatas will always preach the Law to him" have a very deep meaning, indicating that although up to now he had ignored or deliberately shunned the Buddha, he now turns to face the Buddha directly. Whether he likes it or not, he is exposed directly to the light of the Buddha. This is a very important merit that he can obtain from the Buddha. The oftener he comes to receive the teachings of the Buddha, the more people he can spread the teachings to, according to the methods best suited to different people.
The fourth inconceivable merit-power teaches that if a bodhisattva can hear one phrase or verse of this sutra once, twice, ten times, a hundred times, a thousand times, a myriad times, or innumerable times, he will be able to enter deeply into the secret Law of the buddhas and will interpret it without error and fault, even though he himself cannot yet realize the ultimate truth. He will always be protected by all the buddhas, and treated with special affection, because he is a beginner in learning.
The fifth and sixth inconceivable merit-powers of this sutra are the following: If there are good sons or good daughters who keep, recite, and copy this sutra either during the Buddha's lifetime or after his extinction, even though bound by delusions, their speech and conduct will be useful to society. They will deliver living beings from the life and death of delusions and make them overcome all sufferings by preaching the Law to them. This is a most important practice of the bodhisattvas and indicates that one can preach the teaching to others even if one has not accomplished it thoroughly; one must share one's own knowledge, however small it may be, in order to proceed further oneself. The following parable illustrates the sixth merit-power: Suppose that a king, in journeying or falling ill, leaves the management of national affairs to the crown prince, though he is only an infant. The prince, by the order of the great king, leads all the government officials according to the law, and propagates right policies, so that every citizen of the country follows his orders exactly as if the king himself were ruling. Good sons or good daughters who keep the sutra are like this prince.
The seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth merit-powers of the sutra express a very difficult mental stage that proceeds further at every step. To summarize these merit-powers briefly: as one understands this sutra more deeply, practices it, and transmits it to others, one can accomplish it himself and at the same time can save others; and finally, one can attain the same state of mind as the Buddha.
At the close of the Buddha's teaching of the ten inconceivable merit-powers of this sutra, the earth shook and celestial flowers, perfumes, robes, garlands, and priceless treasures rained down from the sky, and these things were offered to the Buddha, all the bodhisattvas, the shravakas, and the great assembly. At this time, together with many other bodhisattva-mahasattvas, the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Great Adornment vowed to the Buddha that they would widely propagate this sutra after the Tathagata's extinction, in obedience to the Buddha's command, and have all keep, read, recite, copy, and adore it without fail.
The Buddha was very glad to hear their vows and said in praise: "Excellent! Excellent! All good sons; you are truly the Buddha's sons. You are those who save all living beings from their sufferings. Always bestow the benefits of the Law extensively on all."
The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings ends with the following words: "At that time all in the great assembly, greatly rejoicing together, made salutation to the Buddha, and taking possession of the sutra, withdrew." To sum up briefly the essential point of this sutra, it is that all the laws originate from one Law, namely, the real state of all things. All phenomena of the universe, including human life, manifest themselves in myriad different ways, and appear, disappear, move, and change. Man's mind is apt to be led astray in suffering from and worrying about discrimination and change. If we pay no attention to such visible discrimination and change, and if we are able to see in depth the true state of things transcending surface discrimination, the true state that is unchangeable forever, we will be able to attain the mental state of being free of all things while leading ordinary everyday lives.
However, the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings does not explain in detail what the "real state of all things" is and what we should do to discern it. This important point is elucidated in the Lotus Sutra, which follows.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.