At that time the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Great Adornment, with the eighty thousand bodhisattva-mahasattvas, finished praising the Buddha with this verse and said to the Buddha in unison: "World-honored One, we, the assemblage of the eighty thousand bodhisattvas, want to ask you about the Tathagata's Law. We are anxious that the World-honored One should hear us with sympathy.
The Buddha addressed the Bodhisattva Great Adornment and the eighty thousand bodhisattvas: "Excellent! Excellent! Good sons, you have well known that this is the time. Ask me what you like. Before long, the Tathagata will enter parinirvana. After nirvana, there shall be not a doubt left to anybody. I will answer any question you wish to ask.
Thereupon the Bodhisattva Great Adornment, with the eighty thousand bodhisattvas, said to the Buddha in unison with one voice: "World-honored One! If the bodhisattva-mahasattvas want to accomplish Perfect Enlightenment quickly, what doctrine should they practice? What doctrine makes bodhisattva-mahasattvas accomplish Perfect Enlightenment quickly?
The Buddha addressed the Bodhisattva Great Adornment and the eighty thousand bodhisattvas: "Good sons, there is one doctrine which makes bodhisattvas accomplish Perfect Enlightenment quickly. If a bodhisattva learns this doctrine, then he will accomplish Perfect Enlightenment.
World-honored One! What is this doctrine called? What is its meaning? How does a bodhisattva practice it?
The Buddha said: "Good sons! This one doctrine is called the doctrine of Innumerable Meanings. A bodhisattva, if he wants to learn and master the doctrine of Innumerable Meanings, should observe that all laws1 were originally, will be, and are in themselves void in nature and form; they are neither great nor small, neither appearing nor disappearing, neither fixed nor movable, and neither advancing nor retreating; and they are nondualistic, just emptiness. All living beings, however, discriminate falsely: 'It is this' or 'It is that,' and 'It is advantageous' or 'It is disadvantageous'; they entertain evil thoughts, make various evil karmas, and [thus] transmigrate within the six realms of existence; and they suffer all manner of miseries, and cannot escape from there during infinite kotis of kalpas. Bodhisattva-mahasattvas, observing rightly like this, should raise the mind of compassion, display the great mercy desiring to relieve others of suffering, and once again penetrate deeply into all laws. According to the nature of a law, such a law emerges. According to the nature of a law, such a law settles. According to the nature of a law, such a law changes. According to the nature of a law, such a law vanishes. According to the nature of a law, such an evil law emerges. According to the nature of a law, such a good law emerges. Settling, changing, and vanishing are also like this. Bodhisattvas, having thus completely observed and known these four aspects from beginning to end, should next observe that none of the laws settles down even for a moment, but all emerge and vanish anew every moment; and observe that they emerge, settle, change, and vanish instantly. After such observation, we see all manner of natural desires of living beings. As natural desires are innumerable, preaching is immeasurable, and as preaching is immeasurable, meanings are innumerable. The Innumerable Meanings originate from one law. This one law is, namely, nonform. Such nonform is formless, and not form. Being not form and formless, it is called the real aspect [of things]. The mercy which bodhisattva-mahasattvas display after stabilizing themselves in such a real aspect is real and not vain. They excellently relieve living beings from sufferings. Having given relief from sufferings, they preach the Law again, and let all living beings obtain pleasure.
"Good sons! A bodhisattva, if he practices completely the doctrine of the Innumerable Meanings like this, will soon accomplish Perfect Enlightenment without fail. Good sons! The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, such a profound and supreme Great-vehicle, 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, good sons! Bodhisattva-mahasattvas, if you want to accomplish supreme buddhahood quickly, you should learn and master the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, such a profound and supreme Great-vehicle."
At that time the Bodhisattva Great Adornment said to the Buddha again: "World-honored One! The preaching of the World-honored One is incomprehensible, the natures of living beings are also incomprehensible, and the doctrine of emancipation is also incomprehensible. Though we have no doubt about the laws preached by the Buddha, we repeatedly ask the World-honored One for fear that all living beings should be perplexed. For more than forty years since the Tathagata attained enlightenment, you have continuously preached all the laws to living beings--the four aspects, suffering, voidness, transience, selflessness, nonlarge, nonsmall, nonbirth, nondeath, one aspect, nonaspect, the nature of the law, the form of the law, void from the beginning, noncoming, nongoing, nonappearance, and nondisappearance.
Those who have heard it have obtained the law of warming, the law of the highest, the law of the best in the world,2 the merit of srota-apanna, the merit of sakridagamin, the merit of anagamin, the merit of arhat, and the way of pratyekabuddha; have aspired to enlightenment; and ascending the first stage, the second stage, and the third stage, have attained the tenth stage. Because of what difference between your past and present preaching on laws do you say that if a bodhisattva practices only the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, a profound and supreme Great-vehicle, he will soon accomplish supreme buddhahood without fail? World-honored One! Be pleased to discriminate the Law widely for living beings out of compassion for all, and to leave no doubt to all Law-hearers in the present and future."
Hereupon the Buddha said to the Bodhisattva Great Adornment: "Excellent! Excellent! Great good sons, you have well questioned the Tathagata about such a wonderful meaning of the profound and supreme Great-vehicle. Do you know that you will bring many benefits, please men and gods, and relieve living beings from sufferings. It is truly the great benevolence, and the truth without falsehood. For this reason you will surely and quickly accomplish supreme buddhahood. You will also make all living beings in the present and future accomplish supreme buddhahood.
"Good sons! After six years' right sitting under the Bodhi tree of the wisdom throne, I could accomplish Perfect Enlightenment. With the Buddha's eye I saw all the laws and understood that they were inexpressible. Wherefore? I knew that the natures and desires of all living beings were not equal. As their natures and desires were not equal, I preached the Law variously. It was with tactful power that I preached the Law variously. In forty years and more, the truth has not been revealed yet. Therefore living beings' powers of attainment are too different to accomplish supreme buddhahood quickly.
"Good sons! The Law is like water that washes off dirt. As a well, a pond, a stream, a river, a valley stream, a ditch, or a great sea, each alike effectively washes off all kinds of dirt, so the Law-water effectively washes off the dirt of all delusions of living beings.
"Good sons! 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. There is equality and no differentiation in washing off the dirt of delusions, but the three laws, the four merits, and the two ways3 are not one and the same.
"Good sons! Though each washes equally 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. As the Tathagata, the world's hero, is free in the Law, all the laws preached by him are also like this. Though preaching at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end all alike effectively wash off the delusions of living beings, the beginning is not the middle, and the middle is not the end. 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 rolled the Law-wheel of the Four Noble Truths for the five men, Ajnata-Kaundinya and the others, at the Deer Park in Varanasi after leaving the king of trees, I preached that the laws are naturally vacant, ceaselessly transformed, and instantly born and destroyed. When I discoursed explaining the Twelve Causes and the Six Paramitas for all the bhikshus and bodhisattvas in various places during the middle period, I preached also that all laws are naturally vacant, ceaselessly transformed, and instantly born and destroyed. Now in explaining the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, a Great-vehicle, at this time, I preach also that all laws are naturally vacant, ceaselessly transformed, and instantly born and destroyed. 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 the meaning varies, the understanding of living beings varies. As the understanding varies, the attainment of the law, the merit, and the way also varies.
"Good sons! At the beginning, though I preached the Four Truths for those who sought to be shravakas, eight kotis of heavenly beings came down to hear the Law and raised the desire for enlightenment. In the middle, though I preached in various places the profound Twelve Causes for those who sought to be pratyekabuddhas, innumerable living beings raised the aspiration for enlightenment or remained in the stage of shravaka. Next, though I explained the long-term practice4 of bodhisattvas, through preaching the twelve types of sutras of Great Extent, the Maha-Prajna, and the voidness of the Garland Sea, a hundred thousand bhikshus, myriad kotis of men and gods, and innumerable living beings could remain in the merits of srota-apanna, sakridagamin, anagamin, and arhat or in the law appropriate to the pratyekabuddha. Good sons! For this reason, it is known that the preaching is the same, but the meaning varies. As the meaning varies, the understanding of living beings varies. As the understanding varies, the attainment of the law, the merit, and the way also varies. So good sons! Since I attained the way, and stood to preach the Law for the first time, till I spoke the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, the Great-vehicle, today, I have never ceased from preaching suffering, voidness, transience, selflessness, nontruth, nonreality, nonlarge, nonsmall, nonbirth in origin, and also nondeath at present, one aspect, nonaspect, and the form of the law, the nature of the law, noncoming, nongoing, and the four aspects by which all the living are driven.
"Good sons! For this reason, all the buddhas, without a double tongue, answer widely all voices with one word; though having one body, reveal bodies innumerable and numberless as the sands of the Ganges of a hundred thousand myriad kotis nayutas; in each body, display various forms countless as the sands of some hundred thousand myriad kotis nayutas asamkhyeya Ganges, and in each form show shapes countless as the sands of some hundred thousand myriad kotis nayutas asamkhyeya Ganges. Good sons! This is, namely, the incomprehensible and profound world of buddhas. Men of the two vehicles cannot apprehend it, and even bodhisattvas of the ten stages cannot attain it. Only a buddha together with a buddha can fathom it well.5
"Good sons! Thereupon I say: the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, the wonderful, profound, and supreme Great-vehicle, 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. Bodhisattva-mahasattvas, if you want to accomplish supreme buddhahood quickly, you should learn and master the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, such a profound and supreme Great-vehicle."
After the Buddha had finished explaining this, the three-thousand-great-thousandfold world was shaken in the six ways; various kinds of celestial flowers, such as utpala, padma, kumuda, and pundarika, rained down naturally from the sky; and innumerable kinds of celestial perfumes, robes, garlands, and treasures of priceless value also rained and came rolling down from the sky, and they were offered to the Buddha, all the bodhisattvas and shravakas, and the great assembly. The celestial bins and bowls were filled with all sorts of celestial delicacies; celestial banners, flags, canopies, and playthings were placed everywhere; and celestial music was played in praise of the Buddha.
Also the buddha-worlds, as many as the sands of the Ganges, in the direction of the east were shaken in the six ways; celestial flowers, perfumes, robes, garlands, and treasures of priceless value, celestial bins, bowls, and all sorts of celestial delicacies, celestial banners, flags, canopies, and playthings rained down; and celestial music was played in praise of those buddhas, those bodhisattvas, the shravakas, and the great assembly. So, too, was it in the southern, western, and northern quarters, in the four intermediate directions, in the zenith and nadir.
At this time thirty-two thousand bodhisattva-mahasattvas in the assembly attained to the contemplation of the Innumerable Meanings. Thirty-four thousand bodhisattva-mahasattvas obtained the numberless and infinite realms of dharani and came to roll the never retrogressing Law-wheel of buddhas all over the three worlds. All the bhikshus, bhikshunis, upasakas, upasikas, gods, dragons, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, great wheel-rolling kings, small wheel-rolling kings, kings of the silver wheel, iron wheel, and other wheels, kings and princes, ministers and people, men and women, and great rich persons, and all the groups of a hundred thousand followers, hearing together the Buddha Tathagata preaching this sutra, obtained the law of warming, the law of the highest, the law of the best in the world, the merit of srota-apanna, the merit of sakridagamin, the merit of anagamin, the merit of arhat, and the merit of pratyekabuddha; attained to the bodhisattva's assurance of the law of no birth;6 acquired one dharani, two dharanis, three dharanis, four dharanis, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten dharanis, a hundred thousand myriad kotis of dharanis, and asamkhyeya dharanis as innumerable as the sands of the Ganges; and all came to roll the never-retrogressing Law-wheel rightly. Infinite living beings gained the aspiration to Perfect Enlightenment.
The law of warming, the law of the highest, and the law of the best in the world are three stages to be passed through by the disciple who is not yet free of desire when he tries to understand fully the Four Noble Truths.
The three laws are the Four Noble Truths, the Twelve Causes, and the Six Paramitas (see Glossary); the four merits are srota-apanna, sakridagamin, anagamin, and arhat (see Glossary); and the two ways are the Great-vehicle, or Mahayana, and the lesser vehicle, or Hinayana.
Religious exercises extending over many kalpas.
It can only be comprehended by one who has reached the Buddha degree, that is, the highest degree of enlightenment.
Transcendence of life and death.