The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 15: Welling forth from the Earth
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
From the time the Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas first welled forth from the earth, and while they praised the Buddhas with various Bodhisattva praises, a period of fifty small eons elapsed. During that time, Shakyamuni Buddha remained seated in silence, and the four assemblies were silent for fifty small eons as well.
H2. The amount of time elapsed.
From the time the Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas first welled forth from the earth. The Great Bodhisattvas had initially come out of the ground, and while they praised the Buddhas—Shakyamuni Buddha, Many Jewels Thus Come One, and the Buddhas of the Ten Directions—with various Bodhisattva praises, a period of fifty small eons elapsed. They praised the Buddhas for fifty small eons. During that time, Shakyamuni Buddha remained seated in silence. The Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas were singing praises to the Buddhas for fifty small eons. How long is that?
An eon is a period of "an increase and a decrease." During the rise of an eon, every one hundred years, people's life spans increase by one year and their heights increase by one inch. When people reach an average life span of 84,000 years, then a decline begins. Having started from an average life span of ten years and increased to an average life span of 84,000 years, a decline then sets in. Every one hundred years, the average life span decreases by one year and the average height by one inch. The decline continues until the average life span has decreased to ten years. One cycle of increase and decrease is considered "one small eon." The Buddha sat quietly for fifty such small eons and did not speak the Dharma.
Someone might start calculating and say, “What the Buddhist Sutras say is totally impossible. Shakyamuni Buddha was only in the world for about eighty years, and he lectured on the Dharma for forty-nine years in over three hundred Dharma assemblies, propounding the Dharma Flower Sutra for eight of those years. Why does the text of the Dharma Flower Sutra say that Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Dharma Flower Sutra for fifty small eons? That is way off. There is no proof.”
Well, we would not talk about the fifty small eons. Let us talk about the Vimalakirti Sutra. The Elder Vimalakirti stayed in a ten-foot-square room. But that space was able to contain 32,000 lion thrones, each of which was 80,000 yojanas tall. How could his ten-foot-square room contain lion thrones 80,000 yojanas high? The thrones were so tall that the Hearers and Pratyekabuddhas found it impossible to climb up and sit on them. That is a case of:
The small manifests within the great;
The great manifests within the small.
The small does not obstruct the great;
The great does not obstruct the small.
This state of unobstructed interpenetration is not something that ordinary people comprehend. If you understand it, then fifty small eons is like a single thought. If you do not understand it, then one knows not how long fifty small eons will be. Therefore, the small can manifest within the great, and the great can manifest within the small. The near can manifest within the far, and the far can manifest within the near.
Thus, fifty small eons is not a long time, and the time it takes for a single thought is not a short time. One thought can take fifty small eons, and fifty small eons can be contained in a single thought.
There is a story that makes this point very clear: Dhyana Master Gao Fengmiao was a cultivator who sat on the inverted lotus precipice of Xitian Mu and meditated. Why did he go there to cultivate? It was a very dangerous ledge. Were he to doze off in meditation, he would fall thousands of feet into the valley and be smashed to pieces. Even a rock dropped from that height would be smashed to bits, to say nothing of a person.
Because he had a tendency to dose off during meditation, he vowed to go to that dangerous place and sit on that inverted lotus. "Let's see me fall asleep now!" he said, positioning himself near the edge. He sat there for about seven days without falling asleep; he did not dare! After all, his life was at stake. Therefore, no matter what, he simply would not fall asleep.
However, on the eighth day, he could no longer control himself. While sitting in meditation, he dozed off. As soon as he fell asleep, he slumped forward and tumbled right off the edge. Waking, he thought, "It is all over. I am certainly not going to come out of this alive."
Just then he gave up his body and mind. "If I must die, then I will die. I am not going to pay any attention; I will get ready for the big sleep."
When he had fallen halfway down the mountain, Weituo Bodhisattva manifested his spiritual powers. From right there in space, he dragged the Dhyana Master back up to the top of the mountain.
"Who is this protecting my Dharma?" the Master said.
"It is me, Dharma Protector Weituo!" came the reply.
The Dhyana Master suddenly became arrogant and had the thought, "You mean I moved Weituo Bodhisattva to protect my Dharma? Probably, in this world, there are very few cultivators who are as courageously vigorous as I am." And so he asked Weituo Bodhisattva, "How many cultivators are there in the world who work as hard as I do in their cultivation?"
"About as many as the hairs on a cow," said Weituo Bodhisattva dryly. "And since you are so arrogant, I am not going to protect your Dharma again for eighty thousand great eons!" So saying, he took his jeweled pestle, rose up into space, and disappeared.
Dhyana Master Gao Fengmiao really regretted what he had said. "Weituo Bodhisattva was protecting me, and I had to go and get arrogant. That was really a mistake," he lamented. Tears of remorse began to roll softly down his cheeks. He cried for quite a while before he gave rise to a renewed resolve: "I was cultivating before I knew that Weituo Bodhisattva was protecting me. Why should I quit cultivating now that I know he is not? I should cultivate whether he protects me or not!" Then with great determination, he took his seat on the ledge once again and continued to meditate.
A little while later, sure enough, he fell asleep and dropped over the edge again, plummeting down the mountain. "This time, I have really had it," he thought. "It is all over now!" Suddenly, he was hauled back up to the top again; he had been caught in midair when he was about halfway down. "Now, who saved me this time?" he asked.
"It is me, Dharma Protector Weituo, once again," came the reply.
This irritated Dhyana Master Gao Fengmiao. "Old Brother Wei, didn't you say that you were not going to protect my Dharma for eighty thousand great eons? Why did you save me again? Doesn't that make you a liar?"
Weituo Bodhisattva replied, "Your tears and shame were very genuine; they canceled out eighty thousand great eons worth of time. Therefore I was obliged to come to your aid. Your one thought of repentance took you across eighty thousand great eons!"
Why is this Sutra called the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra? Because it is extremely wonderful, inconceivable. It is a state you have no way to see. If you use a telescopic lens you can see things very far away, just as if they were right before you. Without the telescopic lens, you would have no way to see that far. This story about Dhyana Master Gao Fengmiao proves that one thought can transcend fifty small eons, or even eighty thousand great eons. This is the same principle as in looking at things through a telescope: What is long can become shortened; what is short can become lengthened.
Time is not fixed. According to mundane truth—speaking of it from the point of view of worldly dharmas—everything exists. But in terms of the real truth, everything is empty. Nothing is indestructible; nothing lasts forever. As to time, there is no past, present, or future. Past thought cannot be grasped; present thought cannot be grasped; and future thought cannot be grasped. Since the three periods of time cannot be grasped, even time is non-existent.
For fifty small eons, Shakyamuni Buddha remained seated in silence, and the four assemblies—the Bhikshus, the Bhikshunis, the Upasakas, and the Upasikas—were silent for fifty small eons as well.
Because of the Buddha’s spiritual power, all in the great assembly thought only half a day had passed. At that time the four assemblies were also able, because of the Buddha’s spiritual power, to see all the Bodhisattvas completely filling the space of limitless hundreds of thousands of myriads of millions of lands.
H3. The aid of the Buddha’s spiritual powers.
Because of the Buddha's spiritual power, the strength of his spiritual penetrations, all in the great assembly thought only half a day had passed. Although it seemed like half a day, more than fifty small eons had passed. Although it had been fifty small eons, it seemed like half a day's time. Most people had that impression.
At that time the four assemblies of Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Upasakas, and Upasikas were also able, because of the Buddha's spiritual power, to see all the Bodhisattvas completely filling the space. How many were there? They filled up limitless hundreds of thousands of myriads of lands. How many Bodhisattvas were there altogether? No one could know.
Speaking about the relativity of time, a day and a night in the Heaven of the Four Kings, the heaven we can see above us, is equal to fifty years in the human realm. The gods there live for five hundred years, so you can figure out how much time that is in human terms.
In the Heaven of the Thirty-three (Trayastrimsha Heaven), a day and a night is one hundred human years, and the gods there live for a thousand years.
When the Buddha was in the world, a follower of an externalist way once challenged his disciple Mahakatyayana, saying, "I do not believe in rebirth. If it is true that there is rebirth, then why hasn't anyone who has died ever sent a message back to tell us about it?"
Mahakatyayana said, "Let us take the example of a prisoner who has been put in jail. Is he free to send a letter home?"
"No," said the nonbeliever. “Fine, I grant that people in hell are not free to communicate, just like prisoners in jail. But what about the people in heaven? Why don’t they send a message back?”
The Venerable Mahakatyayana answered him, saying, "One day and night in the heavens equals fifty years on earth. Two days equal a hundred years in the human realm. Once they arrive there, first they want to rest. The second day they want to get settled in, unpack their bags, make the bed, and rearrange the furniture. By the third day in heaven, they might think about sending you a letter, but you will already be dead. That is because if they were to come back three days later, a hundred and fifty years in the human realm would have passed. How would you be able to see them?"
The externalist had no answer.
Therefore, time in the heavens and time on earth are experienced differently. A day and night on earth is equal to five hundred years in the hells. Do not be attached to time. Time is basically empty. People create their concept of time, but time itself does not exist. Its very substance is empty. Since it has no self-nature, no substance of its own, why be attached to there being any certainty about time?
Among the multitudes of Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas were four leaders. The first was named Superior Practice, the second was named Boundless Practice, the third was named Pure Practice, and the fourth was named Secure Practice. These four Bodhisattvas, among the assembly, were the foremost leaders, the spokesmen and guides. Before the great multitudes, they joined their palms together, contemplated Shakyamuni Buddha, made deep bows from the waist and said, “World Honored One, are you in good health and free from worry? Are you peaceful and happy in your practice? Are those who should be crossed over receptive to the teaching? They do not cause the World Honored One weariness, do they?”
The four Great Bodhisattvas then spoke verses, saying:
“Is the World Honored One happy and at peace,
Free from worry and disease?
In teaching and transforming beings,
Is he free from weariness?
And further, do living beings
Receive transformation easily?
They do not cause the World Honored One
To become fatigued, do they?”
G2. Inquiring after the Buddha’s welfare.
Among the multitudes—the limitless, boundless, uncountable number of Great Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas filling up the space in hundreds of thousands of myriads of millions of lands—were four leaders. They were guides and teachers for living beings and the other Bodhisattvas. The other Bodhisattvas studied from them; they were the senior-seated Bodhisattvas. The first was named Superior Practice. His cultivation, his practice, was the very highest. None was more lofty than his. The second was named Boundless Practice. The entrances into practice that he cultivated had no limit, no end. The third was named Pure Practice. His name indicates that he became a Bodhisattva by cultivating pure practices. And the fourth Bodhisattva leader was named Secure Practice. He was able to peacefully and happily establish his entrance into practice. These four Bodhisattvas, these leaders among the assembly in the space of limitless hundreds of thousands of myriads of millions of lands, among all those Bodhisattvas, were the foremost leaders. They were senior-seated Bodhisattvas.
As the leaders of the great assembly, the spokesmen and guides, they led everyone in singing praises. They were the leaders in doing everything, the leaders before the great multitudes. They, the four Bodhisattva leaders, joined their palms together, contemplated Shakyamuni Buddha, made deep bows from the waist, and inquired after the Buddha's welfare. They said, "World Honored One, are you in good health and free from worry? Hopefully, World Honored One, you have not been sick, and there is nothing troubling you, is there? Are you peaceful and happy in your practice? Are you well-established in the four modes of peaceful and happy conduct—body, mouth, mind, and vows? Are those who should be crossed over receptive to the teaching? Are they easy to teach and transform? They do not cause the World Honored One weariness, do they? They do not present obstacles, do they?
"With living beings easy to teach, the World Honored One will certainly be happy. He would not grow sick and tired from teaching them."
The four Great Bodhisattvas then spoke verses in praise of Shakyamuni Buddha and to inquire after his welfare, saying, "Is the World Honored One happy and at peace? You are very content and tranquil, free from worry and disease, are you not? Certainly you have no sickness and no affliction. In teaching and transforming beings, is he free from weariness? Certainly, the Buddha is not tired. And further, do living beings receive transformation easily? It is not too difficult, is it? They do not cause the World Honored One to become fatigued, do they? Since they easily accept being taught and transformed, the World Honored One will not feel tired. Right?"
The World Honored One then, in the midst of the great host of Bodhisattvas, said this: “So it is, so it is, good men. The Thus Come One is peaceful and happy, free from disease and worry. All the living beings are easy to transform and take across, and they do not cause me weariness. Why is this? All these living beings have, in lifetime after lifetime, have always received my teaching, and they have also paid reverence to and venerated the Buddhas of the past, thereby planting the roots of goodness. When these living beings first saw me and heard my teaching, all, except for those who had formerly cultivated and studied the Small Vehicle, immediately believed and accepted it and entered the Thus Come One’s wisdom. I now lead even such people as these to hear this Sutra and to enter the Buddha’s wisdom.”
G3. The Buddha replies that he is happy and at peace.
The World Honored One, then… "Then" is when the four guiding masters had finished speaking their verse on behalf of all the Great Bodhisattvas. In the midst of the great host of Bodhisattvas, the Buddha said this. This narrative sentence was added by the Venerable Ananda when he compiled the Sutras. "Then the World Honored One Shakyamuni, in the midst of Bodhisattvas who completely filled the space in limitless hundreds of thousands of millions of lands, such a great assembly as that, spoke." What did he say? He said, "So it is, so it is, good men. You asked how I am doing, and it is just as you stated. I am just fine. Good men, I, the Thus Come One, am peaceful and happy, free from disease. I am in good health and do not have cause to worry. I have no afflictions. All the living beings are easy to transform and take across. They are all very obedient, and they do not cause me weariness. Therefore, I do not feel tired. I am not at all displeased. Why is this? All these living beings have, lifetime after lifetime, always received my teaching. In live after live, at all times, they have been receiving my teaching. They have obtained my transforming instructions. And they have also paid reverence to and venerated the Buddhas of the past. Not only have they been taught by me, but in the presence of countless Buddhas of the past, they have been reverent and respectful, and have praised them. They have thereby planted the roots of goodness, planting many, many good roots; limitlessly, boundlessly many good roots.
When these living beings that I have been teaching first saw me, beheld my physical being, and heard my teaching—the Storehouse Teaching, the Connecting Teaching, and the Special Teaching—all, except for those who had formerly cultivated and studied the Small Vehicle—the people who previously studied the Small Vehicle are not included in this number—immediately believed and accepted it. They instantly give rise to faith. Some certified to the fruition of Arhatship; others certified to the fruition of Those Enlightened by Conditions. Still others certified to various stages of Bodhisattvahood and entered the Thus Come One's wisdom, passing through the Ten Dwellings, the Ten Practices, the Ten Transferences, the Ten Grounds, and on to the level of Equal Enlightenment. Having traversed altogether forty-one levels, they became Great Masters of the Dharma-body. Finally, they entered the Buddha's wisdom and obtained the fruition of Wonderful Enlightenment. I now lead even such people as these to hear this Sutra. Now I want them to listen to this Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra and cause them to turn from the small and go toward the great, to bring forth the resolve of a Bodhisattva, to cultivate the Bodhisattva Way, and to enter the Buddha's wisdom.
At that time the Great Bodhisattvas spoke these verses:
“Good indeed, good indeed,
Great Hero, World Honored One,
That all the living beings
Are easy to transform and save,
That they can ask about the Buddha’s deep wisdom
And, having heard it, believe and practice it.
We all rejoice accordingly.”
G4. Verses of rejoicing in accord.
At that time, after Shakyamuni Buddha finished speaking, the Great Bodhisattvas spoke these verses to praise Shakyamuni Buddha: Good indeed, good indeed. That is very good, very good, Great Hero, World Honored One. The Buddha is the Great Hero who has transcended the world. He is heroic both in and beyond the world. All the living beings who should be taught and transformed are easy to transform and save. They very easily accept the Buddha's teaching and transforming. They can ask about the Buddha's deep wisdom and, having heard it, believe and practice it. After they listen, they believe, accept, and respectfully offer up their conduct. They practice according to the Dharma. We all rejoice accordingly. All of us, the Great Bodhisattvas, rejoice in this merit and virtue, and we wish to respectfully offer up our conduct and to rely upon the Buddha's teaching in our cultivation as well.
Then the World Honored One praised the leaders of all those Great Bodhisattvas: “Good indeed, good indeed, that you good men have brought forth a heart of rejoicing in accord with the Thus Come One.”
G5. The Buddha’s praise.
“Then” means at the time when all of the Great Bodhisattvas had finished praising Shakyamuni Buddha in verses. The Bodhisattvas praised the Buddha, and now the Buddha praises the Bodhisattvas. The World Honored One praised the leaders of all those Great Bodhisattvas. They mutually praised each other. "Good indeed, good indeed. You Great Bodhisattvas are really good. You are the best Bodhisattvas. You good men are capable and have brought forth a heart of rejoicing in accord with the Thus Come One. You have resolved to rejoice in the joy of the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra spoken by the Buddha and to praise it. You have been able to come to this Dharma Assembly to listen to the Dharma."
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