At that time the bodhisattva-mahasattvas who had come from other lands, numerous as the sands of eight Ganges, arose in the great assembly, and with folded hands saluted and spoke to the Buddha, saying: "World-honored One! If the Buddha will allow us, after his extinction, diligently and zealously to protect and keep, read and recite, copy and worship this sutra in this saha-world, we would preach it abroad in this land." Thereupon the Buddha addressed all the host of those bodhisattva-mahasattvas: "Enough! My good sons! There is no need for you to protect and keep this sutra. Wherefore? Because in my saha-world there are in fact bodhisattva-mahasattvas [numerous] as the sands of sixty thousand Ganges; each one of these bodhisattvas has a retinue [numerous] as the sands of sixty thousand Ganges; these persons are able, after my extinction, to protect and keep, read and recite, and preach abroad this sutra."
When the Buddha had thus spoken, all the earth of the three-thousand-great-thousandfold land of the saha-world trembled and quaked, and from its midst there issued together innumerable thousand myriad kotis of bodhisattva-mahasattvas. All these bodhisattvas with their golden-hued bodies, thirty-two signs, and boundless radiance had all before been dwelling in [infinite] space1 below this saha-world. All these bodhisattvas, hearing the voice of Shakyamuni Buddha preaching, sprang forth from below. Each one of these bodhisattvas was the commander of a great host, leading a retinue as the sands of sixty thousand Ganges; moreover, others led retinues [numerous] as the sands of fifty thousand, forty thousand, thirty thousand, twenty thousand, ten thousand Ganges; moreover, down to the sands of one Ganges, the sands of half a Ganges, a quarter of it, down to a fraction of a thousand myriads of kotis of nayutas; moreover, a thousand myriad kotis of nayutas of followers; moreover, myriads of kotis of followers; moreover, a thousand myriad, a hundred myriad, or even a myriad; moreover, a thousand, a hundred, or even ten; moreover, those who lead five, four, three, two, or one disciples; moreover, one who is alone, happy in the practice of isolation. Such [bodhisattvas] as these are immeasurable, illimitable, beyond the powers of comprehension by calculation or comparison.
When these bodhisattvas had emerged from the earth, each went up to the wonderful Stupa of the Precious Seven in the sky, where were the Tathagata Abundant Treasures and Shakyamuni Buddha. On their arrival they made obeisance, with faces to the ground, to both the World-honored Ones, and going to the buddhas seated on the lion thrones under the jewel trees, they also saluted them, three times making procession around them on their right, with folded hands revering them, and extolling them with all kinds of bodhisattva hymns. Then they stood to one side, with delight gazing upon both the World-honored Ones.
From the time that these bodhisattva-mahasattvas first issued from the earth and extolled the buddhas with all kinds of bodhisattva hymns, in the interval there had passed fifty minor kalpas. During all this time Shakyamuni Buddha sat in silence, and silent also were the four groups; [but] the fifty kalpas, through the divine power of the Buddha, seemed to the great multitude as half a day. At that time the four groups, also by the divine power of the Buddha, saw the bodhisattvas who everywhere fill the space of innumerable hundred thousand myriad kotis of domains. Among the host of those bodhisattvas there were the four leading teachers: the first was named Eminent Conduct, the second named Boundless Conduct, the third named Pure Conduct, and the fourth named Steadfast Conduct.2 These four bodhisattvas are of their hosts the chief heads and leaders. In front of [their] great hosts, each of them with folded hands looked toward Shakyamuni Buddha and inquired of him, saying: "World-honored One! Hast thou few ailments and few troubles, and art thou at ease? Are those whom thou must save readily receiving thy teaching? Do they cause the World-honored One not to become weary?"
Thereupon the four great bodhisattvas spoke thus in verse:
"Is the World-honored One at ease,
With few ailments and few troubles?
In instructing all the living beings,
Is he free from weariness?
And are all the living
Readily accepting his teaching?
Do they cause the World-honored One
Not to get tired?"
Then the World-honored One, in the great assembly of the bodhisattvas, spoke thus: "So it is, so it is, my good sons! The Tathagata is at ease, with few ailments and few troubles. These beings are easy to transform and I am free from weariness. Wherefore? Because all these beings for generations have constantly received my instruction and worshiped and honored the former buddhas, cultivating roots of goodness. All these beings, from first seeing me and hearing my preaching, received it in faith and entered the Tathagata wisdom, except those who had previously practiced and learned the small vehicle; [but] even such people as these I have now caused to hear this sutra and enter the Buddha-wisdom."
Thereupon these great bodhisattvas spoke thus in verse:
Great Hero, World-honored One!
All these living creatures
Are easily transformed [by thee],
Are able to inquire into
The profound wisdom of buddhas,
And, hearing, to believe and discern.
We congratulate thee."
Then the World-honored One extolled these supreme chiefs, the great bodhisattvas, [saying]: "Good, good! My good sons! You may [rightly] be minded to congratulate the Tathagata."
Then Maitreya Bodhisattva and the host of [other] bodhisattvas, numerous as the sands of eight thousand Ganges, all reflected thus: "From of old we have never seen nor heard of such a host of great bodhisattva-mahasattvas issuing from the earth, standing in the presence of the World-honored Ones, with folded hands worshiping and inquiring of the Tathagata."
Then Maitreya Bodhisattva-Mahasattva, being aware of the thoughts in the minds of all the bodhisattvas, numerous as the sands of eight thousand Ganges, and desiring also to resolve his own doubt, folded his hands toward the Buddha and asked him thus in verse:
"[These] innumerable thousand myriad kotis,
[This] great host of bodhisattvas,
Are such as we have never seen before.
Be pleased to explain, Honored of Men,
From what places they have come,
For what reason they have assembled.
Huge of body, of transcendent [power],
Of wisdom inconceivable,
Firm of will and memory,
With great powers of long-suffering,
Whom all the living rejoice to see:
Whence have they come?
Each of these bodhisattvas
Leads on a retinue
Whose numbers are beyond compute,
Like the sands of the Ganges.
There are also the great bodhisattvas
Leading [followers numerous] as sixty thousand Ganges-sands.
Such mighty hosts
With one mind seek the Buddha-way.
These great leaders [in number]
As sixty thousand Ganges-sands
All come and worship the Buddha
And guard and keep this sutra.
Some, still more numerous,
Lead [followers numerous] as fifty thousand Ganges-sands,
As forty thousand, or thirty thousand,
As twenty thousand, down to ten thousand,
As a thousand or a hundred and so forth,
Down to the sands of one Ganges,
As half, one-third, one-fourth,
As one part of the myriad kotis [of a Ganges' sands]:
Those who lead a thousand myriad nayutas,
Or a myriad kotis of disciples,
Or even half a koti [of disciples];
These [leaders] are still more numerous than the above,
[The leaders of] a million or ten thousand,
A thousand or a hundred,
Or fifty or ten,
Or three, two, or one;
Single ones with no following,
Who enjoy solitariness,
Have all come together to the Buddha,
In numbers even greater than [the leaders] above.
Such are these great hosts that
If a man kept tally
Through kalpas numerous as Ganges-sands,
He still could not fully know them,
These great, majestic,
And zealous bodhisattva hosts.
Who has preached the Law to them,
Instructed and perfected them?
From whom did they get their start?
What Buddha-law have they extolled?
Whose sutra received, kept, and practiced?
What Buddha-way have they followed?
Such bodhisattvas as these,
With transcendent powers and great wisdom,
In all quarters of the riven earth,
All spring forth from its midst.
World-honored One! From of yore
We have never seen such things;
Be pleased to tell us the name
Of the domain from which they come.
Roaming constantly in many domains,
I have never seen such a host,
And amid all this host
I know not a single one
[Who] suddenly springs from the earth.
Be pleased to tell us its cause.
This great congregation now present,
Innumerable hundred thousand kotis
Of these bodhisattvas and others,
All desire to know this matter.
Of all these bodhisattva hosts,
What is the course of their history?
World-honored One of measureless virtue!
Be pleased to resolve our doubts!"
Meanwhile, the buddhas who had emanated from Shakyamuni Buddha and had come from innumerable thousand myriad kotis of domains in other quarters sat cross-legged on the lion thrones under the jewel trees in every direction. The attendants of these buddhas each beheld the great host of bodhisattvas who, in every direction of the three-thousand-great-thousandfold world, issued from the earth and dwelt in space. And each spoke to his own buddha, saying: "World-honored One! This great, countless, illimitable asamkhyeya host of bodhisattvas--whence have they come?"
Thereupon each of those buddhas told his own attendants: "Good sons! Wait a while! There is a bodhisattva-mahasattva whose name is Maitreya, and who has been predestined by Shakyamuni Buddha as the next buddha; he has already asked about this matter. The Buddha is now going to reply to him, and from his reply you will hear for yourselves."
Thereupon Shakyamuni Buddha addressed Maitreya Bodhisattva: "Good, good! Ajita!3 You have well asked the Buddha concerning so great a matter. Do you all, with one mind, don the armor of zeal and exhibit a firm will, [for] the Tathagata now intends to reveal and proclaim the wisdom of buddhas, the sovereign and supernatural power of buddhas, the lion-eagerness of buddhas, and the awe-inspiring forceful power of buddhas."
Then the World-honored One, desiring to proclaim this teaching over again, spoke thus in verse:
"Be zealous and of one mind.
I am about to expound this matter.
Have no doubts or disquietude.
Inconceivable is the Buddha-wisdom.
Do you now exert your faith;
Be steadfast in the virtue of endurance;
[For] the Law never heard before,
Now you all are about to hear.
I now [first] put your minds at ease;
Cherish neither doubt nor fear.
The Buddha has no words but the true;
His wisdom is beyond measure.
The supreme Law attained by him
Is profound and beyond discrimination.
Such [Law] let me now expound,
And do you all, with one mind, listen."
Then the World-honored One, having spoken these verses, addressed Maitreya Bodhisattva: "Now I, in this great assembly, declare to you all. Ajita! All these great bodhisattva-mahasattvas, in innumerable and numberless asamkhyeyas, who have issued from the earth and whom you have never seen before, I in this saha-world, after attaining Perfect Enlightenment, instructed and led them, all these bodhisattvas, controlled their minds, and caused them to set their thoughts on the Way. All these bodhisattvas dwell in the space beneath this saha-world, [where] they read, recite, penetrate, ponder, and discriminate the sutras, and correctly keep them in memory. Ajita! These good sons have not found pleasure in talking among the crowd [but] have found their pleasure in quiet places, in diligence and zeal; they have not relaxed, nor clung to abodes among men and gods, but have ever taken their pleasure in profound wisdom, without let or hindrance, have ever rejoiced in the law of buddhas, and with one mind have zealously sought supreme wisdom."
Then the World-honored One, desiring to proclaim this teaching over again, spoke thus in verse:
"Ajita! Know thou!
All these great bodhisattvas,
From numberless kalpas,
Have studied the Buddha-wisdom.
All of them are my converts,
Whom I have caused to desire the Great Way.
These are my sons
Who dwell in this [Buddha-]world,
Ever practicing the dhuta deeds,
Joyfully devoted to quiet places,
Shunning the clamor of the crowds,
With no pleasure in much talk.
Such sons as these
Are learning the Law of my Way,
Always zealous day and night
For the sake of seeking the Buddha-way;
They dwell in space
Beneath the saha-world.
Firm in their power of will and memory,
Ever diligently seeking after wisdom,
They preach all kinds of wonderful laws,
Having no fear in their minds.
I, [near] the city of Gaya,
Sitting beneath the Bodhi tree,
Accomplished Perfect Enlightenment;
And rolling the supreme Law-wheel,
I have then taught and converted them
And caused them first to aspire to the Way.
Now all abide in the never-relapsing [state]
And all will become buddhas.
What I now speak is the truth;
Believe me with single minds!
I from a long distant past
Have instructed all this host."
Then the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Maitreya and the numberless bodhisattvas and others were seized with doubt and perplexity, wondering at this rare [thing], and reflected thus: "How has the World-honored One, in so short a time, instructed such innumerable, countless asamkhyeyas of great bodhisattvas and caused them to abide in Perfect Enlightenment?" Then, addressing the Buddha, they said: "World-honored One! The Tathagata, when he was a prince, left the Shakya palace and not far from the city of Gaya took his seat on the wisdom terrace, and attained to Perfect Enlightenment. From that time but forty years have passed. World-honored One! In so short a time how hast thou done such great Buddha-deeds, and by Buddha-power and Buddha-merit taught such an innumerable host of great bodhisattvas to attain Perfect Enlightenment? World-honored One! This host of great bodhisattvas, even if a man counted them through thousands of myriad kotis of kalpas, he could not come to an end or reach their limit. All these from the far past under innumerable and countless buddhas have planted their roots of goodness and accomplished the bodhisattva-way, constantly living the noble life. World-honored One! Such a matter as this the world will find it hard to believe.
"It is just as if there were a man of fine complexion and black hair, twenty-five years old, who pointed to centenarians and said: 'These are my sons,' and as if those centenarians also pointed to the youth and said: 'This is our father who begot and reared us.' This matter is hard of belief. So also is it with the Buddha, whose attainment of the Way is really not long since. Yet this great host of bodhisattvas, for numberless thousands of myriads of kotis of kalpas, for the sake of the Buddha-way have devoted themselves with zeal; they have entered deep into, come out of, and dwelt in infinite hundred thousand myriad kotis of contemplations, have attained the great transcendent [faculties], and for long have practiced brahma-conduct; have been well able, step by step, to learn all kinds of good laws; they are skillful in question and answer, are treasures amongst men and of extreme rareness in all worlds. Today the World-honored One has just said that when he attained the Buddha-way he from the beginning caused them to aspire [to enlightenment], instructed and led, and caused them to proceed toward Perfect Enlightenment. It is not long since the World-honored One became a buddha, yet he has been able to do this great, meritorious deed. Though we still believe that what the Buddha opportunely preached and the words the Buddha uttered have never been false, and also the Buddha's knowledge is all perceived by us, yet if newly converted bodhisattvas hear this statement after the Buddha's extinction, they may not receive it in faith and this will give rise to causes of wrong action to the destruction of the Law. So, World-honored One, be pleased to explain it, removing our doubts, and so that all [thy] good sons in future generations, on hearing this matter, shall also not beget doubt."
Thereupon Maitreya Bodhisattva, desiring to announce this meaning over again, spoke thus in verse:
"The Buddha of old from the Shakya race
Left his home and near Gaya
Took his seat under the Bodhi tree;
From then it has not been long.
These sons of the Buddha,
Immeasurable in their number,
Have long pursued the Buddha-way,
And are firm in transcendent wisdom power;
They have ably learned the bodhisattva way,
And are as untainted with worldly things
As the lotus flower in the water;
Issuing from the earth,
All have a reverent mind
As they stand before the World-honored One.
This matter is hard to conceive;
How can it be believed?
It is but recently the Buddha has attained the Way,
And the things he has accomplished abound.
Be pleased to remove all doubts;
Explain and tell us the real [meaning]!
It is as if a young, strong man,
Just twenty-five years old,
Indicated centenarian sons
With white hair and wrinkled faces,
[Saying], 'These are begotten by me,'
The sons also saying, 'This is our father.'
The father young and the sons old -
The whole world will not believe it.
So is it with the World-honored One;
Very recently he has attained the Way.
[Yet] all these bodhisattvas are
Firm in will, dauntless, and strong,
And from innumerable kalpas
Have followed the bodhisattva-way;
Skilled in answering hard questions,
Their minds are free from fear;
Decided in their patient mind,
Dignified and majestic,
They are extolled by universal buddhas;
Well able to reason and preach,
They rejoice not in the crowd,
But ever love to dwell in meditation;
For the sake of seeking the Buddha-way,
They dwell in the space [region] below.
We, hearing it from the Buddha,
Have no doubts on this matter;
[But] we beg that the Buddha, for future [hearers],
Will explain that they may understand.
If any should doubt
And disbelieve this sutra,
He would fall into the evil path.
Be pleased to expound for them now
How these innumerable bodhisattvas
In so short a time
Have been instructed and converted
And abide in the never-retreating stage."*
THE FIFTH FASCICLE
(space, ether) is often used as a synonym of shunyata
These four bodhisattvas are called the four great primarily or eternally evolved bodhisattvas.
Ajita, "unconquered," is a title of Maitreya. Maitreya, "The Kindly One," is a principal, though not historical, figure in the retinue of Shakyamuni Buddha. He is now in the Tushita heaven, awaiting his incarnation as the next Buddha.
According to Chih-i, the first fourteen chapters of the sutra comprise the "subordinate or temporary doctrine" because the Primal or Eternal Buddha is not yet revealed. The following fourteen chapters, from chapter 15 to the end, are called the "fundamental doctrine" because the Eternal Buddha is revealed in chapter 16, "Revelation of the [Eternal] Life of the Tathagata," the essential and central teaching of this sutra. In the present chapter, which is the introduction to the fundamental doctrine, the so-called originally converted bodhisattvas appear as the chosen messengers who alone are able to preach this sutra in the latter days to come.