In chapter 2, "Preaching," of the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, Shakyamuni explains that over the past forty years he has preached the Law with a certain aim and in a certain order and manner, according to the natures and desires of living beings, and avers that "the truth has not been revealed yet." He says, however, that all of his teachings so far have been true and important because they have all originated from one underlying truth. This is the teaching of the "innumerable meanings."
The term "innumerable meanings" has been historically understood in two senses. The first concerns the "real aspect" of all phenomenal things. This is the true universe that underlies the phenomenal world that we see around us with the naked eye. Because the "substance" of this reality is unfathomably vast, we call it the "infinite body (of the Buddha)." The second tells us that all true teachings should of course be according to, and come from, the real aspect of all things, whose workings therefore are similarly infinite and unfathomably complex. For this reason we call this condition the "infinite workings (of the teachings)."
Putting these ideas together, we get the following. The various limitless realities that appear in our phenomenal universe all spring from an underlying truth that we call the "real aspect." Conversely, if we track these realities back to their roots it will become evident that they reach deep into the one realm of the real aspect. The Buddha's teachings are all founded upon the principle of becoming aware of-that is, enlightened about-the nature of this "real aspect." Countless teachings have sprung forth from the one single truth, or to put it another way, these innumerable teachings all return to the one truth, that is, the "real aspect" of all things.
When we are able to understand the Buddha's teachings deeply, we know that this world is without any contradiction at all, so that although the feelings to which we cling and the conditions, customs, and circumstances we live among will incline us to form prejudices, we must separate ourselves from these and return to the great Way of the Buddha. If we have a narrow outlook, our world becomes narrow and filled with suffering, so that eventually we lose sight of our reason for being. To avoid this we must go forward with a serene and open mind, always striving to learn from everything that is able to teach us.
I have met with people of religion from around the world. From speaking with those who are leaders of their respective faiths, I have learned that in the original, basic essence of religion, that is, a belief in God or the Buddha, all faiths are in fundamental agreement, even if they express it using different terms.
People today are too preoccupied with the minor details surrounding basic issues, forgetting the single fundamental principle at their base. Bewitched by the insignificant interests of their everyday lives, they exist in contradiction to the supreme cosmic truth. The problems that the world currently faces, such as the proliferation of nuclear weapons, environmental pollution, traffic wars, and the constant build-up of waste materials, are signs of a kind of retribution for the human greed that has defied and destroyed nature in an unbridled hunger for personal profit. However much we use our intellect, we cannot change the fundamental truth, nor overcome the cosmic principle. We should acknowledge this and engrave it in our hearts. We must hasten to return to a way of life that corresponds to the cosmic truth-the single principle of the "real aspect" of all things.
I am sometimes asked by members of the Christian faith to speak about Buddhism. No doubt they are curious about our different ways. What I tell them is that the teachings of the Buddha are in no way at odds with those of the Christian faith or of any other religion. And I always say that this is what we learn from the teachings of the Lotus Sutra.
The Lotus Sutra describes that there are as many non-Buddhist teachings as there are grains of sand in the Ganges. Buddhism itself contains a wide variety of doctrines in its sutras. Of them all, the teachings of the Lotus Sutra are the most precious. It shows us how the world changes over time and calls upon all who are living in the midst of this flux to recognize that they are children of the Buddha.
This calls to mind the parable of the poor son and the rich father in chapter 4 of the sutra, "Faith Discernment." After fifty years of roaming from country to country, the son returns to his father, but before he can be recognized to be his father's son, he has to complete twenty years of labor (religious practice) in his wealthy father's mansion. It is only when the father knows that his own death is approaching that he calls together his relatives and attendants and announces for the first time: "Know, gentlemen, this is my own son, begotten by me. Now all the wealth that I possess belongs entirely to my son." When the son hears these words, he thinks, "Without any mind for or effort on my part these treasures now come of themselves to me." The father (representing the Buddha) waited all of seventy years for the coming of that day.
The Buddha's intentions are the same for everyone. He discriminates against nobody, not against Christian, not against Muslim. When Shakyamuni said, "[M]ay all living beings achieve what I have achieved, and no different," it was his wish that all should discover the peace that he found and one day attain buddhahood. For this very reason the One Vehicle is the only means of attaining buddhahood. There is no second vehicle, nor a third. Without exception, we are all traveling together in the same vehicle. We are all traveling toward salvation in the One Vehicle, whatever religion or creed we profess, though these be as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, if we strengthen our faith and train hard to correspond with the mind of God or the Buddha, we will eventually find ourselves to be as one, passengers on the One Vehicle. Thus, while the Lotus Sutra shows us clearly what results from our actions and what will happen if we act in a certain way, it does not set out to discriminate or condemn.
I have frequently had the opportunity to associate with religious representatives from around the world at assemblies of the World Conference of Religions for Peace and similar organizations. When I speak of the One Vehicle, I see a light in their eyes, struck as they are with admiration for this as an ultimate teaching that offers salvation to all humankind. The Lotus Sutra in which we believe is none other than the teaching of the One Vehicle. I am convinced, therefore, that it represents a universal faith transcending all political and racial boundaries. I know that this conviction will only grow as time passes.
This article was originally published in the January-March 2006 issue of Dharma World.
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