WITH CHAPTER 22, "The Final Commission," we have completed the first stage of the Buddha's preaching in the Lotus Sutra. It may be more appropriate to say that with chapter 22 we have come to the end of the study of the outline of the Lotus Sutra. We may well wonder why, then, the Buddha preached six more chapters.
With chapter 22, we have indeed been able to understand the basic ideas of the Buddha's teachings, to confirm our belief in them, and to gain the resolution to practice them. It is easy for ordinary people to talk about the Buddha's teachings, but very difficult to practice them. We have established a basic attitude toward practice. But when we come to actual practice of the teachings, we need to confirm our attitude once more. How should we do this? We must seek the strength to be encouraged and inspired so that we will never lose heart or forget our basic attitude toward practice. To put it briefly, we need something to serve as an effective impetus to our practice.
What is the most effective impetus? We can find a very good impetus in past examples of practice. There is nothing more inspiring than past examples of those who practiced the path of the Buddha's teachings in particular ways and thereby obtained specific merits. We can say the same thing of moral deeds in our daily lives. For example, when someone teaches his children in theory why one should be kind to old people, it is questionable whether they will translate the theory into practice. But if the parent gives a concrete example to the children - saying, for example, "Today in the bus I saw a boy giving up his seat to an old woman. His kindness and consideration really made me feel good" - the children will take an interest and will want to follow the boy's example.
Ordinary people need actual models to help them practice what is good. Whom should they take as their model in their practice of the path of the Buddha's teaching? It goes without saying that they should follow the model of Shakyamuni Buddha himself. The first thing they must do is tread the path that the Buddha has shown them. But they have no idea how to begin to emulate the Buddha because he is perfect and faultless and has accomplished all virtues. Ordinary people can much more easily aim at emulating a virtue possessed by a bodhisattva or a deed practiced by a bodhisattva. The closing chapters of the Lotus Sutra provide us with a series of such bodhisattva models. In these chapters, each virtue of the bodhisattva is described as the highest, ideal state of mind; by describing such virtues and urging us to attain such an ideal state, the Buddha admonishes us, who are apt to be arrogant. Our religious life is a continual process of trial and error, of taking two steps forward and one back. Whenever we read the last six chapters of the Lotus Sutra, we are encouraged and inspired anew not to be neglectful or arrogant. Here lies the importance of these chapters. For this reason, we must not slight the study of the last chapters simply because we have already completed the outline of the Lotus Sutra with chapter 22.
There is one point about which we must be very careful: the many miraculous statements in these chapters in comparison to the preceding part of the sutra. We should not misunderstand these statements. We should pay special attention to the following points. In the first place, we must grasp the spirit of these miraculous statements and realize what they really mean. For example, chapter 23 states that the Bodhisattva Loveliness set fire to his arms and burned them. In ancient India there were many ascetics who actually did such things. In China and Japan, too, not to mention Vietnam, there have been instances of Buddhist monks setting fire to themselves and dying seated calmly in the raging flames. Such practices, however, go against the teaching of the Middle Path preached by the Buddha, and the practices themselves do not deserve to be extolled. Why then is the Bodhisattva Loveliness extolled for such a practice in chapter 23? It is because we today must follow the model of his spirit of zeal as shown in his practice. To burn one's arms symbolizes one's indomitable spirit in practicing the teaching. More accurately, it is the manifestation of one's spirit in practicing the Law at the risk of one's life. We should assimilate the deep meaning of such expressions as burning one's arms and not be misled by the surface meanings of the words.
In the second place, we are very wrong in our judgment if we interpret the form of salvation superficially. For example, it is stated in chapter 25, "The All-Sidedness of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World," that anyone who keeps in mind the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World will be delivered from various sufferings. If we interpret this statement literally, it seems to mean that we do not have to work hard at practicing the Buddha's teachings; but with such an attitude, none of the teachings of the Lotus Sutra will bear fruit. Anyone can easily understand that in the last six chapters the Buddha cannot have been so illogical and contradictory as to deny fundamentally all of the teachings preached up through chapter 22. It is surprising to find that for centuries many people have put a shallow interpretation on something that should be so easily understood and have turned to an easy, lazy faith that they thought would allow them to become free of suffering merely by keeping in mind the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World.
When we read chapter 25 carefully and in depth, we understand that the supernatural powers of this bodhisattva are essentially identical with the power of the Law preached by the Tathagata Shakyamuni. We also realize that we must depend spiritually upon the Law to the last, but that in cultivating and practicing it we should take the model of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World as our immediate goal. It is most regrettable that misunderstanding and simplistic interpretations of Buddhist sutras have sunk deeply into the minds of the general public over a period of many centuries, vitiating the true spirit of Buddhism. It is earnestly hoped that readers of this book will not make the same mistake. Let us proceed to the content of chapter 23.
When all rejoiced greatly at having heard the Buddha's preaching in chapter 22, "The Final Commission," the Bodhisattva Star Constellation King Flower addressed the Buddha, saying: "World-honored One! Why does the Medicine King Bodhisattva wander in the saha world? World-honored One! What hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of nayutas of distresses the Bodhisattva Medicine King has to suffer! Excellent will it be, World-honored One, if you will be pleased to explain a little, so that the gods, dragon spirits, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, human and nonhuman beings, and the bodhisattvas who have come from other lands, as well as these shravakas, hearing it will all rejoice." (The phrase "wander in the saha world" means that the Bodhisattva Medicine King appears freely anywhere in the saha world to enlighten and save all the living beings there.)
Thereupon the Buddha addressed the Bodhisattva Star Constellation King Flower: "Of yore, in the past, kalpas ago incalculable as the sands of the Ganges River, there was a buddha entitled Sun Moon Brilliance Tathagata, Worshipful, All Wise, Perfectly Enlightened in Conduct, Well Departed, Understander of the World, Peerless Leader, Controller, Teacher of Gods and Men, Buddha, World-honored One. That buddha had eighty kotis of great bodhisattva-mahasattvas and a great assembly of shravakas numerous as the sands of seventy-two Ganges rivers. The lifetime of that buddha was forty-two thousand kalpas, and the lifetime of his bodhisattvas was the same. His domain had no women, no hells, no hungry spirits, no animals, no asuras, and no disasters; its land was level as one's palm and made of lapis lazuli; it was adorned with jewel trees, covered with jewel curtains, hung with flags of jewel flowers, and jeweled vases and censers were seen everywhere in the country. Terraces were there of the precious seven, with trees for each terrace, the trees distant from it a full arrow's flight. Under all these jewel trees bodhisattvas and shravakas were seated. Above each of these platforms were a hundred kotis of gods performing celestial music and singing praises to the buddha in homage to him."
As already explained in the discussion of chapter 12, "Devadatta," the reason that women are mentioned here together with hells, hungry spirits, animals, and asuras comes from the idea generally accepted in ancient India that women were the incarnation of sin and an obstacle to men's practicing religious disciplines. Therefore, we should not take literally the mention of women in such a context. We must not forget that the Buddha's teachings broke down this generally accepted idea of the India of his day.
"Then that buddha preached the Law Flower Sutra to the Bodhisattva Loveliness and all the bodhisattvas and host of shravakas. This Bodhisattva Loveliness had rejoiced to follow the course of suffering and in the Law of the Buddha Sun Moon Brilliance had made zealous progress, wandering about single-mindedly seeking the Buddha for fully twelve thousand years, after which he attained the contemplation of revelation of all forms."
The contemplation of revelation of all forms is the contemplation by which a bodhisattva freely appears in a suitable body or form and gives suitable instruction to lead people to the teaching. If they are people who can be led gently, the bodhisattva assumes a gentle expression and uses soft words. If they are people who need to be instructed strictly, he adopts a threatening expression like Fudo Myo-o1 and utters harsh words. The bodhisattva can make such changes with perfect freedom and without fail. A person who has not yet attained the mental state of this contemplation is prone to misjudge others' capacity to understand the teaching and therefore to fail in leading them to it. This is a very important warning to us believers in the Lotus Sutra who practice it in the age of degeneration.
"Having attained this contemplation the Bodhisattva Loveliness was very joyful and reflected thus, saying: 'My attainment of the contemplation of revelation of all forms is entirely due to the power resulting from hearing the Law Flower Sutra. Let me now pay homage to the Buddha Sun Moon Brilliance and the Law Flower Sutra.' No sooner did he enter into this contemplation than he rained from the sky mandarava flowers, maha-mandarava flowers, and fine dust of hard and black sandalwood, which filled the sky and descended like a cloud; he raised also incense of inner-sea-shore sandalwood;2 six karshas3 of this incense are worth a saha world. All this he did in homage to the buddha.
"Having made this offering, the Bodhisattva Loveliness arose from contemplation and reflected within himself, thus saying: 'Though I by my supernatural power have paid homage to the buddha, it is not as good as offering my body.' Thereupon he partook of many kinds of incense - sandalwood, kunduruka,4 turushka,5 prikka,6 aloes, and resin incense,7 and drank the essential oil of campaka and other flowers. After fully twelve hundred years, he anointed his body with perfumed unguents, and in the presence of the Buddha Sun Moon Brilliance wrapped himself in a celestial precious garment, bathed in perfumed oil, and by his transcendent vow burned his own body. Its brightness universally illuminated worlds fully numerous as the sands of eighty kotis of Ganges rivers."
To partake of many kinds of incense and to drink the essential oil of flowers symbolizes purifying one's body. This symbolic deed teaches us that we must first purify our conduct before paying homage to the Buddha. In the expression "by his transcendent vow burned his own body," the words "his transcendent vow" mean his supernatural power, power exercised not for his own sake but for the purpose of propagating the Buddha's teachings. To obtain such supernatural power and freely to proclaim and spread the teachings of the Buddha are the greatest homage to the Buddha.
"The buddhas simultaneously extolled him, saying: 'Good, good! Good son! This is true zeal. It is called the True Law Homage to the Tathagata. Offerings of flowers, scents, necklaces, incense, sandal powder, unguents, flags and canopies of celestial silk, and incense of inner-sea-shore sandalwood, offerings of such various things as these cannot match it, nor can the giving of alms, countries, cities, wives, and children match it. My good son! This is called the supreme gift, the most honored and sublime of gifts, because it is the Law homage to the tathagatas.' After making this statement they all became silent. "His body continued burning for twelve hundred years, after which his body came to an end."
THE SUPREME GIFT. Here the Buddha teaches emphatically that true homage to the Tathagata and a true gift are to practice the Law oneself. To burn one's own body means to devote oneself to the Law, whatever trouble and self-sacrifice may be entailed.
"The Bodhisattva Loveliness, after making such a Law offering as this, on his death was again born in the domain of the Buddha Sun Moon Brilliance, being suddenly metamorphosed, sitting cross-legged, in the house of the King Pure Virtue, to whom as his father he forthwith spoke thus in verse:
'Know, O great king!
Sojourning in that other abode,
I instantly attained the contemplation of
The revelation of all forms,
And devotedly performed a deed of great zeal
By sacrificing the body I loved.'
"After uttering this verse, he spoke to his father, saying: 'The Buddha Sun Moon Brilliance is still existing as of yore. Having first paid homage to that buddha, I obtained the dharani of interpreting the utterances of all the living, and moreover heard this Law Flower Sutra in eight hundred thousand myriad kotis of nayutas, kankaras, bimbaras, akshobhyas8 of verses. Great King! I ought now to return and pay homage to that buddha.' Having said this, he thereupon took his seat on a tower of the precious seven, arose in the sky as high as seven tala trees, and on reaching that buddha, bowed down to his feet, and with his palms joining together, extolled the buddha in verse:
'Countenance most wonderful,
Radiance illuminating the universe:
Formerly I paid homage to you,
Now again I return to behold.'
"Then the Bodhisattva Loveliness, having uttered this verse, spoke to that buddha, saying: 'World-honored One! The World-honored One is still present in the world'"
These brief words uttered by the Bodhisattva Loveliness show clearly the Buddha's disciples' longing and thirst for him. This is a religious exaltation in which the disciples' longing for the Buddha and the Buddha's compassion toward them are perfectly blended. We should be ready to speak the same words as the Bodhisattva Loveliness whenever we see the Buddha.
"Thereupon the Buddha Sun Moon Brilliance addressed the Bodhisattva Loveliness: 'My good son! The time of my nirvana has come. The time of my extinction has arrived. You may arrange my bed. Tonight I shall enter parinirvana.' Again he commanded the Bodhisattva Loveliness: 'My good son! I commit the Buddha Law to you. And I deliver to you all my bodhisattvas and chief disciples, my Law of Perfect Enlightenment, also my three-thousand-great-thousandfold world made of the precious seven, its jewel trees and jewel towers, and my celestial attendants. I also entrust to you whatever relics may remain after my extinction. Let them be distributed and paid homage to far and wide. Let some thousands of stupas be erected.'"
Why was the Bodhisattva Loveliness entrusted so by the buddha? It is simply because this bodhisattva wholeheartedly practiced the Law himself and because the buddha discerned his practice. Here, we see clearly that our practice of the Law is the most important thing for us as believers in Buddhism.
THE MEANING OF ERECTING STUPAS. The Buddha Sun Moon Brilliance told the Bodhisattva Loveliness to let his relics be distributed and paid homage to far and wide. But he meant not only to let his relics themselves be paid homage to but also, through this homage, to cause all living beings to raise the mind of cherishing a longing and thirst for the Buddha. The Buddha Sun Moon Brilliance also told the bodhisattva to let thousands of stupas be erected. By this the buddha meant to cause all living beings to root the teaching in their minds through the erection of such stupas. The stupas were to be erected for the purpose of extolling the Buddha's virtues. If we erect a stupa with concern only for its form and appearance and forget the spirit of establishing the teaching in our minds, our minds cannot become attuned to the Buddha's mind. What he wishes is not appearance but substance, not empty theory but practice.
"The Buddha Sun Moon Brilliance, having thus commanded the Bodhisattva Loveliness, in the last division of the night entered into nirvana.
"Thereupon the Bodhisattva Loveliness, seeing the buddha was extinct, mourned, was deeply moved and distressed, and ardently longed for him. Then piling up a pyre of inner-sea-shore sandalwood, he paid homage to the body of that buddha and burned it. After the fire died out he gathered the relics, made eighty-four thousand precious urns, and erected eighty-four thousand stupas."
As it is said that Shakyamuni Buddha preached eighty-four thousand sermons, the expression "After the fire died out he gathered the relics, made eighty-four thousand precious urns, and erected eighty-four thousand stupas" symbolizes that the Bodhisattva Loveliness endeavored to maintain all the Buddha's teachings forever, and memorized and extolled them.
"Then the Bodhisattva Loveliness again reflected within himself, saying: 'Though I have paid this homage, my mind is not yet satisfied. Let me pay still further homage to the relics.' Thereupon he addressed the bodhisattvas and chief disciples, as well as gods, dragons, yakshas, and all the host, saying: 'Pay attention with all your mind, for I am now about to pay homage to the relics of the Buddha Sun Moon Brilliance.' Having said this, he thereupon before the eighty-four thousand stupas burned his arms, with their hundred felicitous signs, for seventy-two thousand years in homage to the buddha, and led a numberless host of seekers after shravakaship and countless asamkhyeyas of people to set their mind on Perfect Enlightenment, causing them all to abide in the contemplation of revelation of all forms."
PAYING HOMAGE TO THE BUDDHA. The greatest homage of the Bodhisattva Loveliness to the Buddha was to endeavor to maintain the Buddha's teachings forever and to memorize and extol them. However, as a believer who practiced the Lotus Sutra, he was not satisfied with such practices because he realized that the greatest homage to the Buddha is to practice his teachings oneself. Therefore the Bodhisattva Loveliness burned his arms. In other words, he devoted himself to the practice of the Law with no concern for whatever trouble, pain, or difficulty it might entail. His practices themselves became a great light that led all the people to dispel the darkness in their minds, causing them to seek the Way voluntarily. From this description, we can understand what great merit our practice of the Law will bring to us.
"Then all those bodhisattvas, gods, men, asuras, and others, seeing him without arms, were sorrowful and distressed and lamented, saying: 'This Bodhisattva Loveliness is indeed our teacher and instructor, but now his arms are burned off and his body is deformed.' Thereupon the Bodhisattva Loveliness in the great assembly made this vow, saying: 'Having given up both my arms, I shall yet assuredly obtain a buddha's golden body. If this assurance be true and not false, let both my arms be restored as they were before.' As soon as he had made this vow, his arms were of themselves restored, all brought to pass through the excellence of this bodhisattva's felicitous virtue and wisdom. At that moment the three-thousand-great-thousandfold world was shaken in the six ways, the sky rained various flowers, and gods and men all attained that which they had never before experienced."
The restoration of the arms of the Bodhisattva Loveliness symbolizes the ideal state of mind which those who practice the bodhisattva practice must maintain. The act of burning off both one's arms must be felt by others to be unbearably painful. Such an action, however, is not felt to be painful by a person who has attained the mental state of a great bodhisattva. However much he may sacrifice himself for the sake of the Law, he does not feel suffering. The sutra describes this mental state as follows: "The bodhisattva ever delights / And is at ease in preaching the Law." As often mentioned in this book, this is our ideal state of mind.
The Buddha then addressed the Bodhisattva Star Constellation King Flower: "In your opinion what say you, was the Bodhisattva Loveliness some other person? It was indeed the present Medicine King Bodhisattva. His self-sacrifice and gifts were of such countless hundred thousand myriad kotis of nayutas in number as these. Star Constellation King Flower! If anyone with his mind set on and aiming at Perfect Enlightenment is able to burn the fingers of his hand or even a toe of his foot in homage to a buddha's stupa he will surpass him who pays homage with domains, cities, wives, children, and his three-thousand-great-thousandfold land with its mountains, forests, rivers, pools, and all its precious things.
"Again, if anyone offers a three-thousand-great-thousandfold world full of the seven precious things in homage to buddhas, great bodhisattvas, pratyekabuddhas, and arhats, the merit this man gains is not equal to the surpassing happiness of him who receives and keeps but a single fourfold verse of this Law Flower Sutra."
TEN SIMILES PRAISING THE LOTUS SUTRA. The Buddha continued: "Star Constellation King Flower! Suppose just as, amongst all brooks, streams, rivers, canals, and all other waters the sea is the supreme, so is it also with this Law Flower Sutra; amongst all the sutras preached by tathagatas it is the profoundest and greatest. And just as amongst all mountains - the earth mountains, the Black Mountains, the Small Iron Circle Mountains, the Great Iron Circle Mountains, the ten precious mountains, and all other mountains - it is Mount Sumeru which is the supreme, so is it also with this Law Flower Sutra; amongst all sutras it is the highest. Again, just as amongst all stars the princely moon is the supreme, so is it also with this Law Flower Sutra; amongst thousands of myriads of kotis of kinds of sutra it is the most illuminating. Further, just as the princely sun is able to disperse all darkness, so is it also with this sutra; it is able to dispel all unholy darkness. Again, just as amongst all minor kings the holy wheel-rolling king is the supreme, so is it also with this sutra; amongst all the sutras it is the most honorable. Again, just as what Sakra is amongst the gods of the thirty-three heavens, so is it also with this sutra; it is the king of all sutras. Again, just as the Great Brahma Heavenly King is the father of all living beings, so is it also with this sutra; it is the father of all the wise and holy men, of those training and the trained, and of the bodhisattva-minded. Again, just as amongst all the common people srota-apanna, sakrdagamin, anagamin, arhat, and pratyekabuddha are the foremost, so is it also with this sutra; amongst all the sutras preached by tathagatas, preached by bodhisattvas, or preached by shravakas, it is the supreme. So is it also with those who are able to receive and keep this sutra - amongst all the living they are supreme. Amongst all shravakas and pratyekabuddhas, bodhisattvas are supreme; so is it also with this sutra; amongst all the sutras, it is the supreme. Just as the buddha is king of the laws, so is it also with this sutra; it is king amongst the sutras."
In the above ten similes praising the Lotus Sutra, this sutra is repeatedly stated to be the supreme and the most sublime of all sutras. This illustrates the Buddha's intention to cause us to write indelibly on our hearts that our practice of the Law is the first essential for the accomplishment of the way to buddhahood.
Noteworthy among these similes is the following: "Just as the Great Brahma Heavenly King is the father of all living beings, so is it also with this sutra; it is the father of all the wise and holy men, of those training and the trained, and of the bodhisattva-mined." In India, for a long time before Shakyamuni Buddha appeared in this world, people believed that the Great Brahma Heavenly King is the father of all living beings and that this heavenly king governs all beings. In the simile mentioned above the Buddha does not say specifically that this is a mistaken idea, but preaches: "Just as all living beings regard the Great Brahma Heavenly King as their father, so this sutra is the father of them all." It is a characteristic of Buddhism to lead ordinary people to the path of the truth in the gentle way shown here by the Buddha. He preaches, gently but firmly, "The truth is the father of all living beings."
The Buddha continued: "Star Constellation King Flower! This sutra is that which can save all the living; this sutra can deliver all the living from pains and sufferings; this sutra is able greatly to benefit all the living and fulfill their desires."
The Buddha preaches here in more detail that the Lotus Sutra itself enables all living beings to be saved, be delivered from pain and suffering, be benefited, and be fulfilled in their desires. The word "desires" does not mean immediate desires for material satisfactions or a comfortable life. It indicates the ideal that is the real goal of one's life. Although every person has his own specific desire, or goal, it should always be one that benefits others. For Buddhists this is of crucial importance. Misinterpretation of the Lotus Sutra arises when people misunderstand the word "desires" as meaning immediate desires based on man's greed. There is nothing so dangerous and terrible as to misinterpret the Law. We must take great care to understand it correctly.
TWELVE SIMILES OF DIVINE FAVOR BROUGHT ABOUT BY THE LOTUS SUTRA. The Buddha continued: "Just as a clear, cool pool is able to satisfy all those who are thirsty, as the cold who obtain a fire are satisfied, as the naked who find clothing, as a caravan of merchants who find a leader, as children who find their mother, as at a ferry one who catches the boat, as a sick man who finds a doctor, as in the darkness one who obtains a lamp, as a poor man who finds a jewel, as people who find a king, as merchant venturers who gain the sea, and as a torch which dispels the darkness, so is it also with this Law Flower Sutra; it is able to deliver all the living from all sufferings and all diseases, and is able to unloose all the bonds of mortal life."
Here the Buddha mentions twelve similes of divine favor brought about by the Lotus Sutra. When we carefully examine each one, we realize that it is not merely extolling the divine favor of the sutra. The last phrase, "is able to unloose all the bonds of mortal life," has a very important meaning. "The bonds of mortal life" means the state of mind in which we are astonished or dismayed by immediate changes in our circumstances and feel insecure. Why can we not feel secure? This is because we are shaken and influenced by immediate changes in our circumstances. When we realize the three essentials of Buddhism - all things are impermanent, all things are devoid of self, and nirvana is quiescence - we can become free from all the bonds of mortal life and can attain true peace of mind, not agitated by whatever changes may occur around us.
Then the Buddha said: "If anyone, hearing this Law Flower Sutra, either himself copies or causes others to copy it, the limits of the sum of merit to be obtained cannot be calculated even by the Buddha wisdom. If anyone copies this sutra and pays homage to it with flowers, scents, necklaces, incense, sandal powder, unguents, flags, canopies, garments, and various kinds of lamps, ghee lamps, oil lamps, lamps of scented oil, lamps of campaka oil, lamps of sumana oil, lamps of patala oil, lamps of varshika oil, and lamps of navamalika oil, the merit to be obtained by him is equally inestimable."
To pay homage to the sutra with a material offering is to express one's gratitude to it. It has been frequently mentioned in this book that when one expresses one's appreciation for the Law, first of all one must practice, proclaim, and spread the Law abroad. Here paying homage to the sutra with flowers, scents, incense, and various kinds of lamps represents paying homage to the Law with various bodhisattva practices.
The first part of this chapter has commented on the Lotus Sutra as a whole; following this it refers to the merits specifically discussed in this chapter - that is, the merits of the deed of the Medicine King Bodhisattva. The reason that this chapter first emphasizes the merits of receiving and keeping the Lotus Sutra is that the Law cannot be brought to life until it is practiced, and this chapter extols primarily the holiness that one displays in one's personal practice of the Lotus Sutra. Therefore, we should on no account interpret the chapter as urging us to receive and keep this chapter alone. Such a shallow interpretation produces a religion of a low standard. We cannot make such a mistake if we read the sutra carefully and deeply.
For example, the buddhas utter the following words: "Excellent, excellent! Good son! You have been able to receive and keep, read and recite, and ponder this sutra in the Law of Shakyamuni Buddha and to expound it to others."
The buddhas call our special attention to the importance of receiving and keeping, reading and reciting, and pondering this sutra of the Law of Shakyamuni Buddha and of expounding it to others. What we must receive and keep is always the whole of the Lotus Sutra. It is especially necessary for us to remember this point when reading chapter 25, "The All-Sidedness of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World."
THE FIVE PERIODS OF FIVE HUNDRED YEARS. First, a preliminary caution concerning the rest of this chapter. As mentioned before, readers should not take literally seemingly disparaging statements about women, such as the following: "She, after the end of her present woman's body, will not again receive one" and "If there be any woman who hears this sutra and acts according to its teaching . . ."
Next, concerning the phrase "after the extinction of the Buddha, in the last five hundred years," we must be sure to understand correctly the words "five hundred years." Shakyamuni Buddha foresaw that after his decease, Buddhism would pass through five periods, each five hundred years in duration. According to the Mahasamnipata-sutra, after the Buddha's entry into nirvana there would be five periods of five hundred years each. In the first period, people's minds are fixed on and devoted to salvation, while in the second, they are devoted to meditation. These two are the periods in which the Righteous Law (shobo) is maintained in its purity. The third period is characterized by devotion to reading and chanting, or the letter of the Law, and the fourth period to erecting stupas and temples, that is, memorials to teachers and prophets. These two are the periods of the Counterfeit Law (zobo). The fifth period, that of the disappearance of the White or True Law and of devotion to strife and division, being the final five hundred years, is also the beginning of the period of the Decay of the Law (mappo).
The first five-hundred-year period is said to be one in which the people will practice the Buddha's teachings firmly and will be free from the bonds of delusion and suffering. During this time the great character of the Buddha will remain firm in people's minds, influencing them for the better, and they will lead good and peaceful lives spiritually if they only practice the teachings. This is an easy period in which people need not attain enlightenment by themselves but merely practice the teachings as they have received them. People are indebted to the personal virtue of the Buddha for their easy practice in this period. This period will come to an end after five hundred years, although the Buddha's teachings remain forever.
The second five-hundred-year period will be one in which those who receive and keep the Buddha's teachings will devote themselves to meditation and will ponder the application of the teachings in a new age. Society will change greatly at the end of the first five hundred years following the Buddha's decease. People will have to ponder how they should interpret the teachings and how they should apply them to society in order to make the right use of them. This period is one in which they will have more difficulty in practicing the teachings than in the previous period, though the teachings remain undistorted. Therefore, in the second period meditation will flourish.
The third five-hundred-year period will be one in which the study of the Law will continue to flourish. In this period, when a thousand years have passed since the Buddha's decease, the people will come to regard the Buddha as a great historical figure rather than a leader in actual human life. He will be far removed from people's everyday life, and consequently they will revere him but will have less longing and thirst for him. At the same time, as material civilization advances and society becomes more complex, Buddhism, which has heretofore been a living teaching in people's daily lives, will come to be something studied from a scholarly point of view.
The fourth five-hundred-year period will be one in which the erection of temples and stupas will continue to flourish. In this period, people will belittle the study of the Law, and will wish to receive divine favors from the Buddha by merely building stupas and temples. In this period Buddhism will continue to flourish in form, but its spirit will be entirely lost. Noble and influential men will believe that their construction of gorgeous temples will ensure the prosperity of their families. Buddhist monks will live luxurious lives under the protection of such noble and influential men, and the mass of people will fall into thinking that they will be saved by merely visiting temples and folding their hands before the images of buddhas.
The fifth five-hundred-year period will be one in which the Buddhist order will be torn apart by strife and heresy will flourish. In this period, even purely formal religion will be largely disregarded. People will become selfish and will pursue profit for themselves and their own family, group, country, or social class. As a result, they will compete for profit and will constantly quarrel. They will be antagonistic to one another in their mutual self-assertion, which will finally lead to great strife bloodshed. Even under normal conditions, there will be a successive occurrence of greater or lesser conflicts in society, and people will be unable to lead peaceful lives. The present time is equivalent to this period.
Among the five periods of five hundred years, the first thousand years are said to constitute the period of the Righteous Law because the Buddha's teachings will be maintained and practiced correctly during this time. The next thousand years are said to be the period of the Counterfeit Law because the teachings will still exist, but in form only. The last period is said to be that of the Decay of the Law because the teachings will disappear. In this period, people will lose the teachings, which themselves are imperishable and eternal. This is the very period when the Buddha's teachings are most needed. That is why the Buddha preached again and again the holiness of those who receive, keep, practice, proclaim, and spread the Lotus Sutra in the period of the Decay of the Law.
Next, the Buddha said: "If, after the extinction of the Buddha, in the last five hundred years, there be any woman who hears this sutra and acts according to its teaching, at the close of this life she will go to the Happy World, where Amitabha Buddha dwells, encompassed by his host of great bodhisattvas, and will there be born in the middle of a lotus flower upon a jeweled throne."
About five hundred years after the Buddha's extinction, a belief centering on Amitabha Buddha (also called Amitabha Amitayus) began to spread from western India. Its believers sought rebirth in the Pure Land, the paradise of Amitabha, by relying completely on the power of this buddha. Although this buddha is regarded as having great compassion and the power to bring all living beings to the Pure Land, this faith is incomplete so long as it suggests the idea of salvation through relying absolutely on his power. It is impossible for living beings to achieve rebirth in the Land of Amitabha Buddha unless they realize the universal truth and endeavor actually to live according to it. The salvation of this buddha will be realized when people seek wisdom and practice the way leading to the perfection of their character. So that all living beings might not misunderstand this or fall into depending completely on the power of Amitabha Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha added the conditional phrase, "If there be any women who hears this sutra and acts according to its teachings." The faith of Amitabha Buddha will display its true power by virtue of the truth taught in the Lotus Sutra.
THE THREE POISONS. The Buddha continued: "Never again will he [the transformed woman] be harassed by desire, nor be harassed by anger and foolishness. . . ." The three defilements of desire, anger, and foolishness are considered the original poisons that lead ordinary people to degeneration. If they could remove these three poisons from their minds, they would receive great merits. Because of the three poisons in their minds, they are harassed by pride, envy, and uncleanliness. The fault of uncleanliness is common to both men and women but should be especially watched for by women. This is shown by the phrase "If there be any woman who . . ."
Next the Buddha said: "If there be anyone who, hearing this chapter of the former deeds of the Medicine King Bodhisattva, is able joyfully to receive and applaud it, that man during his present life will ever breathe out the fragrance of the blue lotus flower, and from the pores of his body will ever emit the fragrance of ox-head sandalwood." These words mean that a person who hears the chapter of the former deeds of Medicine King Bodhisattva and joyfully receives and applauds it will exert a good influence upon those around him. His fragrance not only will remain on his clothes but will be transmitted to those who touch his garments. The phrase "breathe out the fragrance of the blue lotus flower" means that the words spoken by one who joyfully receives and applauds the Lotus Sutra will spontaneously make the minds of those around him beautiful. The phrase "emit the fragrance of ox-head sandalwood from the pores of his body" indicates that those around him will naturally be influenced by his good acts. This is an ideal state of mind, which those practicing the Buddha's teachings must attain for themselves.
The Buddha continued: "Star Constellation King Flower! Guard and protect this sutra by your transcendent powers. Wherefore? Because this sutra is good medicine for the diseases of the Jambudvipa people." The word "diseases" indicates the mental distortions of all living beings. As explained earlier, it is natural that as one recovers from a mental disorder he is also cured of physical illnesses. To interpret "diseases" as meaning simply physical diseases will cause misunderstanding. We must be most careful about this.
In the next words of the Buddha, "he will deliver all living beings from the sea of old age, disease, and death," the words "old age, disease, and death" mean man's mortal life. These words stand for the major changes of human life. If man can unloose all the bonds of mortal life, he will not be surprised at the various changes of human life, nor will he be confused by them.
As shown by his name, the Bodhisattva Medicine King gives good medicine to all living beings to make them recover from their mental disorders. When their mental diseases are entirely cured by this bodhisattva, then their physical ones will be ameliorated. This bodhisattva obtained his transcendent power to heal through his having made the offering of burning his arms when he was the Bodhisattva Loveliness in a former life. In other words, it was due to his personal practice of the Lotus Sutra. Because the Bodhisattva Loveliness practiced the Lotus Sutra himself, he was reborn as the Bodhisattva Medicine King, who had the transcendent power to cure the mental diseases of all living beings. His healing of mental diseases greatly ameliorates physical ones. Therefore, we come to this conclusion: our wholeheartedly receiving, keeping, and practicing the Lotus Sutra becomes a driving force in our healing the various kinds of mental distortions of others. Chapter 23 teaches us this principle and encourages us to spread it abroad.
- Acala in Sanskrit, literally meaning "the Immobile One." He is one of the few fearsome deities of the Buddhist pantheon.
- Literally, sandalwood of "this [south] shore of the [inner] sea [of Mount Sumeru]," where this spice was believed to be found.
- One karsha is 176 or 280 grains troy.
- A milky, resinous incense; literally, "western incense."
- A thyme-mixture incense.
- A kind of gum; white-gum incense.
- A kankara is one trillion, a bimbara one hundred kankaras, and an akshobhya one hundred bimbaras.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.