SO FAR WE HAVE READ that the Buddha directly predicted the attainment of buddhahood of many disciples. All these people, however, were males and were the Buddha's immediate disciples, who had iron wills and devoted themselves absolutely to their religious disciplines. If only such people can attain Perfect Enlightenment, however, the principle that all living beings equally possess the buddha-nature is not fully attested.
In this chapter, however, the vastness and perfection of the Buddha's teachings are clearly revealed through the teaching of the attainment of buddhahood by evil men and by women.
Devadatta was a cousin of the Buddha, but as is well chronicled in stories of the life of the Buddha, he was a most wicked and cruel man. He was jealous of the fact that Shakyamuni was looked up to as the Buddha and adored by many people. Being ambitious to take the place of the Buddha, he often set traps for the Buddha by slandering and defaming him. He even attempted several times to kill the Buddha. Once he rolled a boulder down onto a road when the Buddha was passing; once he tried to make an elephant drunk so that it would run amok and attack the Buddha; once he administered poison to Shakyamuni; once he shot at the Buddha with his bow.
The Buddha predicted buddhahood even of Devadatta, whose name stood first on the list of his enemies. The Buddha's tolerance and generosity toward Devadatta must be acknowledged as extraordinary.
Another peculiarity of this chapter is that a dragon's daughter, only eight years old, was predicted to become a buddha. People in this modern age may think it unjust for women to be discussed together with evil men in this chapter. But the general public of India in the time of the Buddha considered women to be sin incarnate. Women were regarded as an obstacle to men's practicing religious disciplines, and it was thought that they could never be saved from suffering.
Society in ancient India was highly stratified, being divided into the four major hereditary castes: the highest, the Brahamana, or priestly caste, was charged with learning, religion, and morality; the second was the Kshatriya, or military caste, including kings and warriors; the third, the Vaishya, was the caste of peasants, artisans, and merchants; the fourth, the Sudra, was that of manual workers. As rigid distinctions based on birth were maintained through the caste system, however brilliant a man might be, he could never rise in caste. If he was born a Sudra, he was fated to remain a Sudra all his life.
On the other hand, a man who came of a Brahman family was able to acquire a higher position, ruling many others, even if he was a fool. A person who was descended from the Kshatriyas could gain great power even if he was a coward. Because of their wealth, men who belonged to the Vaishya conspired with the Brahmans and ingratiated themselves with the Kshatriyas. The Vaishyas also wielded a degree of power over the Sudras and worked them as if they were beasts of burden.
Members of the Sudra caste comprised an overwhelming majority of the population, but they were scarcely treated as human beings. The upper three castes managed and ruled the society of ancient India. Needless to say, the lower castes were severely oppressed by the more powerful castes. In such a society, the Buddha's proclamation that all men are equal was more revolutionary than we today can imagine.
Shakyamuni Buddha, however, who patiently bore all persecutions, preached the Lotus Sutra as the teaching of human equality with great courage and indomitable spirit. He repeatedly preached the difficulties of receiving, keeping, and proclaiming the Lotus Sutra because of the social conditions of his time in India.
Concerning the Buddha's prediction of women to buddhahood, we must think of this in terms of the state of society and the general attitudes of the Buddha's time. The Buddha declared, "Women can become buddhas, too; there is no distinction of sex in essence; all human beings are equal," at the time when women were considered as intrinsically sinful. This was indeed an epochal declaration.
Since the French Revolution, the idea of human equality has taken root in men's minds, and as a result, the ideal of democracy has been resurrected in the West. More than two thousand years before that time, Shakyamuni Buddha had preached human equality, although the meaning of equality as preached by him was far more profound than that of equality in modern times. However, people in the centuries following the Buddha's death were unable to accept this teaching of the Buddha and spread it. We certainly owe those of past ages many apologies for the long delay in the realization of the Buddha's ideal of human equality.
Let us now proceed to the text of this chapter. First the Buddha addressed the bodhisattvas, the celestial beings, and the four groups, and spoke about the relationship between himself in a former life and a certain hermit: "For many kalpas in a former existence, I was king of a country and vowed to seek the supreme wisdom. Desiring to fulfill the Six Perfections, I earnestly bestowed alms with an unsparing mind - the precious seven, countries, cities, wives, children, not grudging even my body and life. For the sake of the Law, I gave up the throne of my domain, deputed my government to the crown prince, and sought everywhere for the truth, proclaiming, 'Whoever is able to tell me of a Great Vehicle, I will provide for him all my life and be his servant.'
"At that time a hermit called Asita came to me and said, 'I have a Great Vehicle named the Wonderful Law Flower Sutra. If you will not disobey me, I will explain it to you.' I, hearing what the hermit said, became ecstatic with joy and instantly followed him and provided for his needs, gathering fruit, drawing water, collecting firewood, preparing his food, even turning my body into his seat and bed, yet never feeling fatigue of body or mind. While I thus served, a millennium passed, and for the sake of the Law I zealously waited on him so that he should lack nothing."
After telling this story to all the bhikshus, the Buddha revealed that while the king was he himself, the hermit Asita was the present Devadatta. The Buddha declared to all the four groups that Devadatta, after innumerable kalpas had passed, would become a buddha.
EVIL MEN WILL BECOME BUDDHAS. It would be a great mistake to take lightly the Buddha's declaration that even Devadatta, who had attempted to kill him, would become a buddha. We must not forget that Devadatta's attainment of buddhahood was conditional on the fact that he be free from delusion and practice religious disciplines. Any evil man certainly possesses the buddha-nature. If such a man comes in contact with the Law of the Buddha and sweeps away the dark cloud of delusion covering his mind, his true nature, his buddha-nature, will begin to shine forth. The Buddha's teaching, which clearly indicated this, is a great salvation for men in the age of degeneration.
In this section of the Buddha's preaching, besides his teaching that even evil men can become buddhas, two more teachings are included. One is that if a man endures all persecution and adversity and continues to practice religious disciplines, his hardships will become an indirect cause of his becoming a buddha. The Buddha said, "My attainment of Perfect Enlightenment, and my widespread saving of the living - all this is due to the good friendship of Devadatta."
This is a most important declaration. When we receive scorn, abuse, and obstruction from others, we are apt to become angry with them, feel sad, and begin to doubt the Law. We must instead endure such hardships and divert them to a positive force because the teaching of the Lotus Sutra is the supreme Law in this world. Many ancient teachers and leaders, including both Shakyamuni Buddha and Nichiren, have proved by their example that man can thus transform drawbacks into advantages.
DO NOT RETURN HATRED FOR HATRED. Another teaching is that we must not return hatred for hatred. Shakyamuni Buddha not only did not feel resentment toward Devadatta, who inflicted so many injuries on him, but even thanked him for his "good friendship." Some people may think that such an attitude will not work in today's world, where we must struggle so hard for existence. But the Buddha's idea is corroborated by the following recent happening.
At the plenary session of the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference held in San Francisco in 1951, J. R. Jayewardene, the Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) finance minister and chief Ceylonese delegate to the conference, made a speech declaring that Ceylon renounced its demand for reparations from Japan, quoting the following words of the Buddha from the Dhammapada: "Hatred is never conquered by hatred. Hatred can only be conquered by nonhatred. This is a law eternal." His speech is reported to have evoked a storm of applause.
Diplomatic skill includes threatening an opposing country, deceiving it, bargaining with it, secretly winning some of its citizens over to one's own side, and betraying one's friends at the last moment. From the viewpoint of personal relationships, such diplomatic skill is quite as shameful as that of a criminal. How impressive is the fact that at the peace conference, attended by veteran diplomats, the Buddha's teaching was set forth by the delegate of Ceylon as his country's foreign policy! Moreover, the fact that the other delegates accorded the speech of the Ceylonese delegate thunderous applause clearly shows that there is only one way for mankind to be saved. From this incident, we can feel great hope for the future of mankind.
Indeed, if we return our opponents hatred for hatred, they will also feel more bitter toward us. Thus hatred will beget more hatred and will continue forever in a vicious circle. In the Dhammapada, the Buddha teaches that man's hatred will cease forever when it is abandoned by him, and in the Lotus Sutra he teaches man's positive attitude, in which he takes a further step forward to transform hatred into gratitude.
Some may think that it is very difficult for an ordinary person to do this. Therefore Shakyamuni Buddha spoke as follows: "If there be in a future world any good son or good daughter to hear this Devadatta chapter of the Wonderful Law Flower Sutra with pure heart and believing reverence, and is free from doubt, such a one shall not fall into the hells or become a hungry spirit or animal, but shall be born into the presence of the buddhas of the universe. Wherever he be born he will always hear this sutra; and if he be born amongst human beings or heavenly beings, he will enjoy marvelous delight. As to the buddha into whose presence he is born, his birth shall be by emanation from a lotus flower."
Then a bodhisattva attendant of the Tathagata Abundant Treasures named Wisdom Accumulation said to the Buddha Abundant Treasures: "Let us return to our own land!" But Shakyamuni Buddha said to Wisdom Accumulation: "Good son! Wait a while! Here is the Bodhisattva Manjushri. First meet and discuss with him the Wonderful Law and then return to your own land." Thereupon Manjushri sprang up from the ocean, together with the bodhisattvas who accompanied him. To a question from the Bodhisattva Wisdom Accumulation, Manjushri said that he had instructed many people in the palace of the undersea dragon king. Then the Bodhisattva Wisdom Accumulation extolled Manjushri for the results of his instruction in the ocean.
Manjushri replied: "This is not all due to my greatness. That which I, in the midst of the ocean, always proclaimed was none other than the Wonderful Law Flower Sutra. My instruction of the bodhisattvas does not amount to much. Actually, I have a very delightful thing to tell you." Then Manjushri told Wisdom Accumulation that he had preached the Lotus Sutra to the eight-year-old daughter of the dragon king and caused her to obtain enlightenment. He extolled the greatness of the dragon king's daughter.
The Bodhisattva Wisdom Accumulation said: "I have seen how Shakyamuni Tathagata, during innumerable kalpas, doing arduous and painful deeds, accumulating merit, and heaping up virtue, sought the Way of bodhisattva ceaselessly and without rest. I have observed that in the three-thousand-great-thousandfold world there is not a spot as small as a mustard seed where he has not laid down his body and life as a bodhisattva for the sake of the living; and only after that did he attain the Way of Bodhi. It is incredible that this girl in but a moment should become perfectly enlightened."
Before he had ceased talking, the daughter of the dragon king suddenly appeared before them and after making reverent obeisance to the Buddha, withdrew to one side, extolled the Buddha in verse, and said: "I believe that I can surely attain the Way of Bodhi. Only the Buddha may bear witness to that. I will reveal the teaching of the Great Vehicle, which delivers living beings from suffering."
The congregation could not understand her declaration. Shariputra said to the daughter of the dragon king: "You state that in no length of time you attained the supreme Way. This thing is hard to believe." He listed several reasons that a woman cannot become a buddha.
The dragon's daughter possessed a precious pearl, which she then held up and presented to the Buddha, and which the Buddha immediately accepted. The Buddha's immediate acceptance of her pearl is evidence that he had recognized her attainment of buddhahood. She then said to the Bodhisattva Wisdom Accumulation and Shariputra: "I have offered my pearl, and the World-honored One has accepted it - was this action speedy?" They answered: "Most speedy."
She said: "By your supernatural powers behold me become a buddha even more rapidly than that!" At that moment the entire congregation saw the dragon's daughter suddenly transformed into a male, perfect in bodhisattva deeds, who instantly went to the world Spotless in the southern quarter, where she universally proclaimed the Wonderful Law to all living beings in the universe.
WOMEN WILL BECOME BUDDHAS. Then the saha world of bodhisattvas, shravakas, heavenly beings, dragons, and human and nonhuman beings, all from afar beholding the dragon's daughter become a buddha and universally preach the Law to the heavenly beings, human beings, and other beings, rejoiced greatly and made reverent salutation. The countless multitude on witnessing her preach the Law and become a buddha as a woman were aroused to realization and attained the stage of never sliding back into mortality. They also received their prediction of attainment of the perfect Way. Three thousand living beings set their minds on Bodhi and obtained their prediction of it. The Bodhisattva Wisdom Accumulation and Shariputra and all the congregation silently and deeply believed in the greatness of the power of Buddha's teachings. The chapter on Devadatta ends with this.
Women of today may feel dissatisfied that the dragon's daughter was suddenly transformed into a male and then became a buddha. Such an expression was used merely because of the idea of women in ancient India. The sudden transformation of a woman into a male means nothing but the transcendence of the difference between male and female. Shakyamuni Buddha asserted that animals, birds, worms, plants, and trees, as well as human beings, possess the buddha-nature. How could he then discriminate between men and women? It is impossible. Observed with the Buddha's eyes, all living beings are equal. We must never misunderstand this.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.