The teaching so far has made clear the truth. Now we come to the matter of real practice. It is a special difficulty for the ordinary person to know how to get everyday action to square with a lofty truth. There is no better way to do this than to observe and follow the example of the bodhisattvas, who are but one step removed from being perfect buddhas and who stand for particularly fine forms of virtue or exemplary action.
Living beings are best encouraged to right action by models close to them, and this and the next few chapters are essentially presentations of just such models or examples.
The first figure to appear is the Bodhisattva Medicine King, who had vowed to heal the sicknesses of humankind. This bodhisattva's dedication and self-sacrifice in a former life are described in order to show him as a virtuous model of veneration of the Buddha and his Law. In his former life the Medicine King had been a bodhisattva named Loveliness - one that all creatures rejoiced to look upon - and in serving the then Tathagata Sun Moon Brilliance, he had heard the truth of the Law-Flower Sutra and in twelve thousand years of ardent practice had reached a high state. By mysterious powers he had caused the heavens to rain flowers and incense as an offering of veneration, an expression of devotion and gratitude for Sun Moon Brilliance's teaching the Law-Flower Sutra. He wished, however, to make yet a greater offering with his body, and so after drinking fragrant oils and anointing his body, he set fire to himself and burned. He burned for twelve hundred years, and the light of his burning illuminated the world.
When this offering was complete, the bodhisattva gained life and was born a prince to the king in the land of the Tathagata Sun Moon Brilliance. As soon as he was born he worshiped the tathagata, who then announced that on that night he would enter nirvana and that he counted on the prince to spread the Buddha's Law throughout the world. The tathagata then entered nirvana.
The prince - the Bodhisattva Loveliness - wept, cremated the tathagata's body, collected the ashes into eighty-four thousand vessels, and placed them in as many stupas throughout the state. Still dissatisfied with his offering, he burned his arms, which already were aglow with stunning virtue. The light of this fire kindled worthy spirits in many, but after seventy-two thousand years people lamented to see that their great leader and instructor was deformed in that he had lost both arms. The bodhisattva announced that though he had given up his arms, he was confident of everlasting life, and at this his arms were made whole again.
We may gather three important lessons from this tale. The first is that there is no higher human virtue than the spirit of self-sacrifice. The second is that there is no higher form of offering than practice. And the third is that far from ruining the self, self-sacrifice really makes the self count for something.
Copyright by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.