IN THIS CHAPTER, the main part of the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, Shakyamuni teaches us that since his enlightenment, the Buddha had preached the Law with a certain aim and in a certain order. Although the Law was preached in various ways, the fundamental truth was always that one Law, or truth, is the origin of the infinite laws, or teachings.
Together with the many bodhisattva-mahasattvas, the Bodhisattva Great Adornment said to the Buddha: "We wish to ask you about the Buddha's Law. We earnestly hope you will listen to us."
The Buddha addressed them: "Excellent! Excellent! You have asked me this question at just the right time. You might have missed your opportunity had you not asked me now. I will enter parinirvana before long. I am afraid lest any question should be left after my death. Ask me what you like. I will answer any question you wish."
Thereupon the Bodhisattva Great Adornment with the many other bodhisattvas said to the Buddha in unison: "If the bodhisattva-mahasattvas, who have practiced the Mahayana teaching, want to accomplish Perfect Enlightenment quickly, what doctrine should they practice?"
The Buddha addressed them: "There is here one holy doctrine, which is called Innumerable Meanings. If a bodhisattva studies this doctrine, then he will accomplish Perfect Enlightenment. A bodhisattva, if he wants to study the doctrine of Innumerable Meanings, should observe that all laws, or phenomena, seem to be different and to change constantly, but actually their foundation is a great unchanging power that is manifested in various ways. You should realize that at the basis of all laws there is one truth that transcends discrimination and is eternally unchangeable. Because of their ignorance of this truth, living beings discriminate selfishly, 'It is advantageous' or 'It is disadvantageous.' Therefore they entertain evil thoughts, give rise to various evil karmas, and transmigrate within the six realms of existence."
The six realms of existence (rokushu or rokudo in Japanese) are the six worlds in which living beings transmigrate: hell (jigoku), hungry spirits (gaki), animals (chikusho), demons (shura), human beings (ningen), and heaven (tenjo). This doctrine teaches us the mental states of man as well as the construction of the world with man as its center.
"Hell" is the mental state in which our minds are consumed by anger. Everyone and everything seems to be an enemy when we burn with anger. For example, when a man has quarreled with his wife, he hates even the dishes, which have nothing at all to do with the quarrel, and may even smash them. But by smashing dishes or striking an opponent, he cannot really destroy the dishes or the opponent. The one who suffers most is the person who is angry.
"Hungry spirits" is the mental state in which a host of desires arises in our minds. Desire is not confined to money and material things but includes the craving for honor or for another's affection. Because of our greed, we do not know how to be satisfied even when we attain our desire of the moment. The more desires we have, the more attached to them we become, in a vicious circle.
"Animals" expresses the mental state that lacks wisdom and is unreasoning. A person who does not reason acts from instinct alone and does whatever he wishes without reflecting on the consequences.
"Demons" means the mental state of being self-centered in everything, having only one's own interests at heart. It is this kind of mentality that leads to conflict, quarrels, disputes, and wars among men. This is the spiritual state in which selfishness leads to dispute.
"Human beings" expresses the mental state of trying to check the four evil mentalities mentioned above by means of conscience so that we do not go to extremes, although we all possess these four mental states. This state of mind is that of ordinary man.
"Heaven" indicates the world of joy. However, this is not the unchanging joy gained through the Buddha's enlightenment. It is the pleasures of the senses and feelings, that is, the pleasures caused by illusion, so it is a temporary joy that may lapse into the worlds of hell, hungry spirits, or demons as soon as anything unpleasant occurs. Rapture is typical of such a mental state. In this case, "heaven" indicates a place whose inhabitants have no sufferings or troubles; but so long as we cannot attain true enlightenment, even if we should reach the state of "heaven" we would be unsatisfied with it. Ordinarily one supposes that he would be free from all cares if he should become a millionaire, living in a mansion and having many servants. However, practically speaking, matters never turn out as he thinks. If there were a so-called paradise where people could lead idle lives doing nothing the whole day, they would become bored and generate the desire to do something. "Heaven" is such a stagnant mental state.
The six worlds continually occur in man's mind and shift from one to another. This state of mind is called "transmigration within the six worlds" (rokudo rinne). If we have no good teaching and no way of practice, we permanently transmigrate within the six worlds, and our distresses and sufferings will never disappear. Anyone will realize this as soon as he reflects on himself.
The Buddha taught the bodhisattvas as follows: "When you, bodhisattva-mahasattvas, observe all the living beings who are transmigrating within the six realms of existence, you should raise the mind of compassion and display great mercy so as to relieve them from such realms. First, you must penetrate deeply into all the laws. If you understand them deeply, you can realize naturally what may emerge from them in the future. You can also realize that they remain settled, without changing, for a time. You can also realize that they change. Moreover, you can realize that they eventually vanish. Thus you can observe and know the reasons that good and evil laws emerge. Having finished observing and knowing all four aspects of the laws from beginning to end, next you should observe that none of the laws remains settled for even a moment, but emerges and vanishes anew every moment. After such observations, you can know the capacity, the nature, and the desires that each living being possesses as if you had penetrated each of their minds.
"As they have innumerable natures and desires, your preaching to them should be immeasurable, and as your preaching is immeasurable, its meanings should be innumerable. This is because the teaching with innumerable meanings originates from one Law. What is this one Law? It is the truth. What is the truth? It is nonform, which transcends the discrimination of all things. Things are equal in having the buddha-nature. This fact is the truth and the real aspect of all things. Bodhisattva-mahasattvas! The mercy that you can display spontaneously after realizing this true aspect is virtuous and not futile. With this mercy you excellently relieve living beings from suffering and, furthermore, allow all of them to obtain pleasure. Therefore a bodhisattva, if he practices completely the doctrine of the Innumerable Meanings, will soon be able to accomplish Perfect Enlightenment without fail."
Then the Bodhisattva Great Adornment asked the Buddha another question: "Though we have no doubts about the laws preached by the Buddha, we repeatedly ask you for fear that all living beings should be perplexed and unable to understand the laws. You have continuously preached to living beings all laws, especially the four laws, during the more than forty years since the Tathagata attained enlightenment. The four laws are suffering, voidness, transience, and selflessness. Suffering means that human life is filled with all sorts of sufferings. Voidness indicates that all things seem to be different from one another, but we must discern the aspect of equality that is beyond such differences. Transience expresses the fact that in this world there is nothing existing in a permanently fixed form, but all things are always changing. Selflessness reveals that nothing in the universe has an isolated existence without any relation to other things, and we must not be attached to our own self. Further, you have taught us the real aspects of all things in various ways. Those who have heard these laws have attained merits in varying degrees, have aspired to enlightenment, and lastly have attained the highest stage of the bodhisattva-way.
"Thus it seems that the Tathagata has preached the same laws all these forty years, but we know that during this period you have preached them more and more deeply. However, we are afraid that all the living beings may not discriminate the differences between your past and present preaching on the laws. World-honored One! Be pleased to expound it for all living beings."
Hereupon the Buddha said to the Bodhisattva Great Adornment: "Excellent! Excellent! Great good sons; you have well questioned the Tathagata about this. It truly shows your great benevolence that you have asked me about the wonderful meaning of the profound and supreme Great-vehicle preached by the Buddha, not for the sake of your own enlightenment but for the sake of all living beings. Good sons! I was able to accomplish Perfect Enlightenment after six years' right sitting under the Bodhi tree. When I saw all the laws with the Buddha's eye, they had such various appearances as to be inexpressible. I knew that the natures and desires of all living beings were not equal. For this reason, I preached the Law variously with tactful power for more than forty years. But during that period, I have not yet revealed the truth. Living beings' powers of understanding the law are too different to enable them to accomplish supreme buddhahood quickly.
"Good sons! The Law is like water that washes off dirt. The nature of water is one, but a stream, a river, a well, a pond, a valley stream, a ditch, and a great sea are different from one another. The nature of the Law is like this. Though each cleanses equally well as water, a well is not a pond, a pond is not a stream or a river, nor is a valley stream or a ditch a sea. All the laws preached by the Tathagata are like this. Though the preaching at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end all alike effectively wash away the delusions of living beings, the beginning is not the middle, and the middle is not the end. The preaching at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end are the same in expression but different from one another in meaning.
"Good sons! When I first rolled the Law-wheel of the Four Noble Truths for the five monks at the Deer Park in Varanasi, I preached that the laws are naturally vacant, ceaselessly transformed, and instantly born and destroyed. I also preached the same thing when I discoursed explaining the Twelve Causes and the Six Paramitas for all the bhikshus and bodhisattvas in various places during the middle period. Now in explaining the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, this Great-vehicle, at this time, I also preach the same thing.
"Good sons! Therefore the preaching at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end are the same in expression but different from one another in meaning. As meaning varies, the understanding of living beings varies. As understanding varies, the attainment of the Law, the merit, and the way also varies. This is well known by the result of my enlightening those who listened to my preaching in each period - when at the beginning I preached the Four Noble Truths at the Deer Park; when in the middle I preached in various places the profound Twelve Causes; and when next I preached the twelve types of sutras of Great Extent and other sutras.
"Good sons! In other words, I have preached only one truth from the beginning. This is not limited to me; all the buddhas have done the same thing. Because the fundamental truth is only one, the buddhas extensively answer all voices with one word; though having one body, they reveal clearly innumerable and numberless bodies, in each body displaying various and countless forms, and in each form showing countless shapes.
"Good sons! This is the incomprehensible and profound world of buddhas. Men of the two vehicles1 cannot apprehend it, and even the bodhisattvas who have attained the highest stage cannot realize it.
"Only a buddha together with a buddha can fathom it well. Therefore, you must endeavor to attain the same stage as the Buddha through the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings that I am now preaching. This wonderful, profound, and supreme sutra is reasonable in its logic, unsurpassed in its worth, and protected by all the buddhas of the three worlds. No kind of demon or heretic can break into it, nor can any wrong view or life and death destroy it.
"Therefore bodhisattva-mahasattvas who want to accomplish supreme buddhahood quickly should learn and master the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, this profound and supreme Great-vehicle."
At the close of the Buddha's preaching, heaven and earth were shaken in various ways and presented varied spectacles of unearthly beauty; celestial flowers, perfumes, robes, garlands, and treasures of priceless value rained and came rolling down from the sky, and celestial music was played in praise of the Buddha, all the bodhisattvas, the shravakas, and the great assembly.
Thereupon many bodhisattva-mahasattvas in the assembly attained the contemplation of Innumerable Meanings and many other bodhisattva-mahasattvas obtained the numberless and infinite realms of dharani.2 All the bhikshus, bhikshunis, upasakas, upasikas, and others in attendance, hearing the Tathagata preaching this sutra, acquired the enlightenment suitable to each one's spiritual state. Moreover, all came to have the aspiration to want to attain the same stage as the Buddha by following his teachings and spreading them earnestly.
- Shravaka and pratyekabuddha. The former means a person who listens to the Buddha's teachings and exerts himself to attain the stage of arhat by practicing the Buddha's teachings. The latter indicates a self-enlightened person who obtains emancipation for himself without any teacher through recognizing the twelve links of causation (the Law of the Twelve Causes).
- Formulas of mystic syllables that sustain the religious life of the reciter. The formulas very often do not make sense as words.
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