The title of this chapter does not refer only to monks and priests. Any person who teaches the Law of the Buddha for the sake of others is a teacher of the Law. The chapter is a most important one and has the most intimate connection with our own life in the faith because it indicates the frame of mind of the teacher, particularly the feeling that those of us in these latter days of the period of the Decay of the Law (mappo) must have, and points out the merit of right teaching of the Law.
A feature to be noted here first is that beginning with this chapter there is a distinct change of style, for the Buddha's sermons are hereafter directed to the bodhisattvas. The idea that the shravakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas were separate orders of being was implanted in all minds, but the Buddha has repeatedly emphasized through nine chapters that such distinctions really do not exist, because all are walking the Way to becoming buddhas. The evidence of this is the prediction of buddhahood for so many shravakas, the word shravaka being used here in the sense that includes the pratyekabuddhas. From this point on, all listeners to the teaching of the Buddha are bodhisattvas.
Any person listening to the teachings may still be the same person, but the feeling in listening changes, and as a result the self-awareness of the person changes. Thus all become bodhisattvas, and for this reason the Buddha shifts his address from the earlier Shariputra or Maha-Kashyapa, who are bhikshus, to the Bodhisattva Medicine King, or the Bodhisattva Manjushri, or simply bodhisattvas.
Near the beginning of the chapter Shakyamuni declares that he foresees perfect enlightenment and buddhahood for whoever hears no more than a single verse or phrase of the Lotus Sutra and is moved for so much as a moment to feel in his heart how fine and precious it is.
In our ordinary, everyday world we know from numerous examples how some people accomplish great things because they have had a clear feeling that something was important and worth doing. Without such a feeling and deep concern, many who are interested only in personal gain may accomplish a little something or get to a spot with a little security, but great things are beyond them, and they can do nothing for history to record.
In our religious lives this is all the more true. The teaching of the Buddha is the summit of summits, and whoever hears that teaching and is clearly moved and clearly believes has in himself that which makes unlimited achievement possible. Such is the sense in which the Buddha described the merit of delighting in the words of the sutra even for one fleeting moment.
But to feel this delight in fineness for a moment and then revert to one's old self is not the real thing. To be sure, that momentary delight remains at the bottom of the heart, and though unbeknownst to the person it may work its influence, that influence is not so striking. The feeling of that moment must be made to grow, and in being fixed on the mind and heart, its influence becomes great. Veneration and practice are the things that nurture that feeling. Veneration is the offering of heartfelt gratitude for the Buddha, his teachings, and the Sangha, or community of believers, as expressed in reverence and other actions.
Having stated that any who delight in a verse or phrase of the Lotus Sutra will reach enlightenment, the Buddha continues that those who receive and keep, read, recite, expound, and copy so much as a verse of the sutra will also reach enlightenment. The passage is easy to overlook, so simple does it seem, but it names five important practices that teachers of the Law ought to engage in. First, in receiving and keeping, one must maintain the determination of acceptance always fresh. Through reading, one must study over and over. Through memorization and recitation, one must plant the substance in the heart. Equipped in this way, one is able to explain the teaching for the benefit of others. And finally in the labor of copying, one is actually and symbolically engaged in the effort to spread the teaching throughout the world. Each of these five acts is essential to anyone who would practice the Lotus Sutra.
The great distinction of the Lotus Sutra is its particular emphasis on the positive action of teaching for the benefit of others and of spreading the teaching throughout the world, together with its emphasis on the fact that, without such action, human society can never be saved. This chapter contains the following passage, which is one of the most important:
"If these good sons and daughters, after my extinction, should be able by stealth to preach to one person even one word of the Law-Flower Sutra [the Lotus Sutra], know these people are Tathagata-apostles sent by the Tathagata to perform Tathagata deeds. How much more so those who in great assemblies widely preach to others."
After this there is a remarkable passage in which the supreme quality of the Lotus Sutra is stated and given meaning in a variety of ways. Finally, as the most perfect statement of the Buddha's teachings, it is given a place almost higher than that of the Buddha himself, for though it may be evil to rail at the Buddha, the sin of one who abuses a practitioner of the sutra is greater. The practitioner attains supreme bliss, for the Lotus Sutra is the very foremost of all the sutras, the culmination of the Buddha's teaching. This thought, coupled with the merit of the practitioner, is stated and restated with emphasis, and the perfection of its message is likened in a brief parable to water deep in the earth, which only tireless search and effort may bring to light.
The true believer, then, who would actively engage in spreading the word, must go into the house of the Tathagata, be clothed in his clothes, and be seated in his place. This second major point in this chapter, which shows the right way to present the doctrine, is stated as follows:
"If there be any good son or good daughter who after the extinction of the Tathagata desires to preach this Law-Flower Sutra [the Lotus Sutra] to the four groups, how should he preach it? That good son or good daughter, entering into the abode of the Tathagata, wearing the robe of the Tathagata, and sitting on the throne of the Tathagata, should then widely proclaim this sutra to the four groups."
The four groups referred to here are the four classes of disciples: monks (bhikshus), nuns (bhikshunis), men and women lay believers (upasakas and upasikas), respectively. The three terms the abode, the robe, and the throne of the Tathagata give an important instruction, and they are precious, lofty words to be felt with all one's being. They are truly awesome, and their meaning is concisely explained immediately afterward:
"The abode of the Tathagata is the great compassionate heart within all living beings; the robe of the Tathagata is the gentle and forbearing heart; the throne of the Tathagata is the voidness [void] of all laws."
In short we are taught that we are to teach the Law on the threefold footing of compassion, gentle forbearance, and perception of the void. The first two of these need no explanation. The third may require a word, at the risk of some repetition. We may understand the term void here in two senses. First, we may perceive that all existence is void; all apparent forms are but temporary manifestations of this void. This view is of course correct, but to stop at this denial of apparent forms is no way to help mankind.
We must therefore ponder this void from the opposite direction. What we must consider is how all things and forms in the universe, how we ourselves as human beings, are produced from one void that can neither be seen with the eyes nor felt with the hands.
There is a great invisible force, a root life-force of the universe, the working of which produces all things from the void, and all things are produced by virtue of the necessity of their existence. Humanity is no exception.
We ourselves are brought into being in the forms we take by virtue of the necessity to live in this world. If we think in this way, we are bound to feel the worth of being alive as human beings, the wonder of having been brought into this world. At the same time, others are born by virtue of the same necessity to live in this world, and so we are bound to recognize and respect their worth also.
To understand the void in this sense enables us to enjoy the worth and the wonder of living. A true sense wells up in us of the unity of all people as brothers and sisters sharing the same life. So we are taught here that in order to explain the Law to others we must sit in the place of the Tathagata, which is to say that we must ground ourselves thoroughly in understanding of the void.
In summary, then, these three principles teach that whoever would explain the Lotus Sutra must be moved by a spirit of great compassion, be fully grounded in how to perceive the void, and proceed to the task with gentleness and strength of mind, unmoved by concern for what the world may think or do. This is the kernel of this chapter on how to be a teacher of the Law.
Copyright by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.