Yet when our faith reaches this stage, we cannot help passing on the teachings to others. So we move to the practice of expounding the sutra for the sake of others, copying it, and disseminating the teachings through our writings.
In this chapter, the World-honored One turns to the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Ever Zealous to teach the merits of one who has reached the depth of belief of a teacher of the Dharma.
As in the previous chapter, various physical merits are preached here, but we should follow the interpretation previously given and not take them literally.
TEXT Then the Buddha addressed the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Ever Zealous: "If any good son or good daughter receives and keeps this Dharma Flower Sutra, or reads, or recites, or expounds, or copies it, that person will obtain eight hundred merits of the eye, twelve hundred merits of the ear, eight hundred merits of the nose, twelve hundred merits of the tongue, eight hundred merits of the body, and twelve hundred merits of the mind; with these merits he will dignify his six organs, making them all serene.
COMMENTARY He will dignify his six organs, making them all serene. The six sensory organs are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. This means making the function of all six organs beautiful and pure. The details are given below.
The figures eight hundred and twelve hundred indicate "perfect attainment" of the merits and do not have to be taken literally.
First of all, the Buddha preaches the merits of the eyes.
TEXT That good son or good daughter, with the pure eyes of flesh received at birth from his parents, will see whatever exists within and without the three-thousand-great-thousandfold world, mountains, forests, rivers, and seas, down to the Avici hell and up to the Summit of Existence, and also see all the living beings in it, as well as see and know in detail all their karmic causes and conditions and the states of effect and retribution into which they are reborn.
COMMENTARY Because the eyes one is born with can, with the progress of faith, be purified of delusion, one will become able to see the true aspect of everything in this world.
• The Avici hell. This is one of the realms of hell, and is a frightening place where there is no moment of relief.
• The Summit of Existence. In the ancient Indian world view, the highest heaven was the highest place in the triple world.
TEXT Thereupon the World-honored One, desiring to proclaim this meaning over again, spoke thus in verse: "If one, in the great assembly, / With fearless mind, / Preaches this Dharma Flower Sutra- / Hearken to his merits.
COMMENTARY Fearless mind. This refers to mental attitude of preaching what one believes with dignity, without fear or reserve.
Such a fearless mind has been described and analyzed in many ways since ancient times, but we refer to the Buddha's fearless mind as the four kinds of fearlessness of the Buddha, as explained in detail in the July/August 1992 issue of Dharma World. The text here refers to four kinds of fearlessness of bodhisattvas listed below.
The first fearlessness is in "total grasp and recall": preaching the Dharma fearlessly, after a bodhisattva has learned all the teachings by heart and can never forget them.
This seems simple enough, but it is not easy to put into practice. When people hear the teachings, they concentrate their whole minds upon them, and when they have questions about them they do not hesitate to ask the preacher until they have understood everything to their satisfaction. They endeavor to remember the teachings by reading and reciting them morning and evening. They cannot attain this state unless they persevere in this endeavor constantly.
The second fearlessness is in "thorough knowledge of all Dharma medicines": preaching the Dharma fearlessly, by thoroughly knowing the medicine of the Dharma and also the capacities, inclinations, natures, and minds of all living beings. Just as a physician prescribes medicine according to the nature and severity of the patient's disease, a bodhisattva can preach the Dharma confidently in accordance with the differences in each person's capacity, inclination, nature, and mind.
In other words, people who are worthy of being called bodhisattvas not only remember the teachings well, but also cultivate their ability to preach them freely as tailored to each individual situation.
The third fearlessness is in "skill in asking and answering questions": preaching the Dharma fearlessly with good and sufficient questions and answers. If it were sufficient just to teach the Dharma on the spur of the moment, anyone with a general knowledge of it could do so. True teachers, however, must have the ability to answer clearly questions about what they have taught and overcome objections.
Their answers and refutations must not merely gloss over the issues. Nor should they sweepingly declare, "It has been so since ancient times, and that is sufficient proof." What they say must be in accord with the truth, and their answers are good if they accord with the Buddha's teachings.
However correct their answers may be, people can be good teachers only if they know how to preach the Dharma skillfully so that their listeners will understand completely and recognize their own mistaken views. The word "skill" refers to this persuasive power.
In short, one who can answer any question and overcome any objection explicitly and persuasively in accord with the Buddha's teachings will preach the Dharma without fear.
The fourth fearlessness is in "ability to resolve doubts": preaching the Dharma fearlessly through sufficiently resolving doubts.
The Buddha's teachings are profound, vast, and boundless, so many doubts and questions arise about how to interpret them. Every person has a different interpretation, giving rise to the saying "One hundred Buddhist monks, one hundred interpretations of the Dharma." People must be very clearheaded and decisive in their interpretation of the Dharma, but above all else they must be superior in virtue. They must be filled with compassion.
This is because when facing so complex a problem as choosing from a variety of interpretations of the Dharma, one cannot perceive the true intention of the Buddha through intellectual understanding alone. Since the ultimate purpose of the Buddha's teachings is the liberation of all living beings, only a person who senses the Buddha's great compassion can determine the Buddha's intention in elucidating the delicate nuances of doubts. A bodhisattva who can sufficiently resolve doubts in this way will preach the Dharma fearlessly.
When we look at the difficulties of preaching the Dharma, some of us may grow timid. However, we must not be afraid. The four categories are those of the ideal teacher, and whoever qualifies as an ideal teacher has already become a great bodhisattva. But no one begins as a great bodhisattva. One becomes one only after long, ceaseless effort and repeated trial and error.
Therefore, those of us who train ourselves in the bodhisattva practice must always bear these four ideals in mind and make them our four precepts when we attempt to preach the Dharma. When we encounter a difficult problem or are asked a question that we are unable to answer properly, we ought to say so frankly: "This question is beyond my ability to answer, so I will examine it more carefully, if necessary ask someone more qualified than myself, and then I will answer you." We must not dream up a reply on the spot just to get by.
To admit that we are not certain does not lower others' estimation of us as teachers, but rather increases their confidence in us.
TEXT That man will obtain eight hundred / Merits of surpassing vision; / Because of these endowments / His eyes will be entirely serene.
COMMENTARY Merits of surpassing vision. These are the merits of a particularly excellent ability based on moral values.
• Because of these endowments. This literally means that his great ability gives him excellent eyes.
• His eyes will be entirely serene. The explicit meaning is that his eyes will be entirely clear, but the deeper meaning is that he can see everything unclouded, as it really is.
TEXT With the eyes received from his parents / He will see all within and without / The three-thousandfold world- / Mount Meru, [Mount] Sumeru, and [Mount] Iron Circle, / And the other mountains and forests, / Great oceans, rivers, and waters, / Down to the Avici hell, / Up to the Summit of Existence; / The living beings in its midst / All will be seen by him; / Though not yet having attained divine vision, / His eyes of flesh have powers like these.
COMMENTARY The expression "though not yet having attained divine vision" corresponds with the expression "with the pure eyes of flesh" in the previous prose passage. Though living beings do not yet possess divine vision (see the May/June 2002 issue of Dharma World), seeing what the ordinary eye cannot, they can perform a similar function.
They can do so because they can see things unclouded by delusion. Put more simply, their minds become so pure that they are devoid of self and can view things in their true aspect, without the distortion of prejudice or subjectivity. They see the true nature of things because their minds are always calm and they are not tossed about by the rough waves of emotion.
In another sutra, the Buddha says, "A thing is not reflected as it is in water boiling over a fire. A thing is not mirrored in water covered by plants. A thing is not reflected as it is on the surface of water running in waves stirred up by the wind." The Buddha teaches us here that only after we dispel selfish thinking-in which our mind's eye, like the surface of seething water, roils and ripples-and dispel the delusions of emotional turmoil, can we see things as they really are.
Then the Buddha preaches the merits of the ear.
TEXT "And again, Ever Zealous! If any good son or good daughter receives and keeps this sutra, or reads and recites or expounds or copies it, he will obtain twelve hundred merits of the ear. With this serene ear he will hear, within and without the three-thousand-great-thousandfold world, downward to the Avici hell, upward to the Summit of Existence, all various words and sounds, the sounds of elephants, of horses, of oxen, of carts, of wailing, of lamentation, of conchs, of drums, of gongs, of bells, of laughter, of speech, of men, of women, of boys, of girls, of the righteous, of the unrighteous, of sorrow, of joy, of common people, of holy people, of pleasure, of displeasure, of gods, of dragons, of yakshas, of gandharvas, of asuras, of garudas, of kimnaras, of mahoragas, of fire, of water, of wind, of the hells, of the animals, of hungry spirits, of bhikshus, of bhikshunis, of shravakas, of pratyekabuddhas, of bodhisattvas, and of buddhas-
COMMENTARY The meaning of the individual words should be fairly clear. The explanation of the demons from dragons to mahoragas was provided at the beginning of the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings. (See the November/December 1991 issue of Dharma World.)
All sounds occur as a result of something moving. People who have found serenity by deepening their faith can clearly grasp the slightest movement of things from the sounds they produce.
Among the various sounds mentioned in this passage, those of fire, water, and wind are natural sounds. With a serene ear, one can grasp distinctly the movements of nature in the crackle of fire, the murmur of water, and the whistling of wind.
When such people hear quiet, natural sounds, they can enjoy them as beautiful music. When they hear any unusual sound of nature, they can acutely sense its true nature and save others as well as themselves from the dangers of strong blasts of wind, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods, and other natural disasters.
Moreover, they can easily recognize the sounds of conchs, drums, gongs, and bells, and from them readily sense the feelings of the people who sound them. Despite having well over a hundred musicians in his orchestra, playing a wide variety of instruments, an outstanding conductor can tell which musicians are playing out of tune or do not have their hearts in the performance or are overdoing it.
This is also true of machinery and the movement of inanimate objects. An expert, for example, can hear subtle differences and changes in sound. A skilled mechanical engineer can go into a factory and, amidst the deafening roar of a large number of machines, tell which machine is wearing out or needs adjustment.
When it comes to the sounds produced by living beings, it is only natural that a teacher of the Dharma, who is an instructor in life, can sense their feelings in the sounds they make, such as their voices.
Needless to say, some of the sounds made by living beings express feelings and intent. There are times when the human voice is filled with strong emotion - happiness, sadness, pain - or someone is trying to convey ideas through speech. The cries of birds and beasts must be similar.
One who has developed sufficient religious faith can understand all those sounds: the cries of anguish from beings in hellish states (the sounds of the hells), the sounds of living beings prompted by instinct (the sounds of animals), the sounds of food being hungrily devoured (the sounds of hungry spirits), and the sounds of feuding and fighting (the sounds of asuras).
He learns to understand the words of those who live in the realm of heaven. He will learn to recognize the voices of bhikshus and bhikshunis practicing the Buddha Way and even understand the words of the Buddha and the bodhisattvas as they expound the teachings.
TEXT essentially speaking, whatever sounds there may be within and without the three-thousand-great-thousandfold world; though he has still not obtained the heavenly ear, yet by the natural pure ears received at birth from his parents all these he will hear and know. And thus he discerns all these various sounds without harm to his organ of hearing."
COMMENTARY The heavenly ear. This phrase refers to the ability to hear what is normally inaudible, and the supernatural power to hear any distant sound inaudible to ordinary people.
• Without harm to his organ of hearing. This literally means not damaging the auditory sense. In other words, the auditory sense is not harmed or in any way confused by hearing all of the various sounds.
TEXT Thereupon the World-honored One, desiring to proclaim this meaning over again, spoke thus in verse: "His ears, received from parents, / Are serene and untainted. / By these ordinary ears he hears / The sounds in the three-thousandfold world, / The sounds of elephants, horses, carts, and oxen, / The sounds of gongs, bells, conchs, and drums, / The sounds of lutes and harps, / The sounds of pipes and flutes, / The sounds of pure and lovely song; / He can listen without being under their control.
COMMENTARY He can listen without being under their control. Even if he hears the sounds of beautiful music, such as a singing, he does not become attached to them. He may be charmed by the rich tones, but not permanently captivated by them, and they do not make him forget anything important. This is a good caution against attachment to amusements.
TEXT He hears the voices of countless kinds of people, / And can understand all he hears;
COMMENTARY We recall that the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World (Avalokiteshvara) is the incarnation of such an ability.
TEXT He hears also the voices of gods, / And mystic voices of singing; / Hears the voices of men and women, / And the voices of boys and girls. / In mountains, streams, and gorges, / The sounds of kalavinkas, / Jivakajivakas and other birds, / All these voices he hears.
COMMENTARY Kalavinkas. This is a species of sparrow whose song is the most beautiful of all.
• Jivakajivakas. This bird is said to be a variety of pheasant or partridge; legend has it that it has two heads.
TEXT The bitter pains of the hosts in hell / And the sounds of torments; / The hungry spirits driven by hunger and thirst / And the sounds of their begging for food and drink; / The asuras and others / Inhabiting the ocean shores, / When they converse together, / Bellow forth their cries. / Such a preacher as this, / Calmly dwelling amidst this, / Hears from afar all these sounds / Without harm to his organ of hearing.
COMMENTARY The sounds of torments. The original Chinese words here refer to the sounds of striking with brambles, canes, or whips and causing damage and injury. In short, they are the sounds of one suffering from such torments.
TEXT In the worlds in all directions, / Birds and beasts cry to each other, / And the preacher here abiding / Hears them in every detail. / All the Brahma heavens above, / From those of Light Sound and Universal Purity / To the heaven [called] the Summit of Existence- / The sounds of their conversation / The preacher here abiding / Hears in every detail. / All the host of bhikshus / And of bhikshunis / Reading or reciting the sutra, / Or preaching it to others, / The preacher here abiding / Hears them in every detail. / Again there are the bodhisattvas / Who read and recite these sutra teachings / Or preach them to others, / Collating [many teachings] and expounding their meaning- / All such sounds as these / He hears in every detail. / The buddhas, great and holy honored ones, / Those having instructed all living beings, / Who, in their great assemblies, / Proclaim the subtle Dharma- / He who keeps this Dharma Flower / Hears in every detail.
COMMENTARY Whoever masters the essence of the teachings of the Lotus Sutra can understand the teachings of all the buddhas.
TEXT In the three-thousand-great-thousandfold world, / Its sounds within and without, / Downward to the Avici hell, / Upward to the heaven of the Summit of Existence, / All these sounds he will hear / Without harm to his organ of hearing, / And because his ears are acute, / He can discern and know them all. / He who keeps this Dharma Flower, / Though not yet possessed of heavenly ears / And only using his natural ears, / Has already such merits as these.
COMMENTARY The Buddha next discusses the merits of the nose.