THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
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The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra

Chapter 16: The Thus Come One's Life Span

Now we have explained the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra as far as this chapter, the sixteenth, which is "The Thus Come One's Life Span." "Thus Come One" is one of the ten titles of a Buddha. Some people who do not understand the Buddhadharma say, "Oh, that is the Thus Come One, the Buddha."

They think that "Thus Come One, Buddha" is the name for one particular Buddha. Actually, "Thus Come One" is a title given to all Buddhas. All the Buddhas of the ten directions and the three periods of time, no matter which one, are called "Thus Come One." They are all called "One Worthy of Offerings." They are all called "One of Proper and Universal Knowledge," "One Who is Perfect in Understanding and Conduct," "Skillful in Leaving the World through Liberation," "Unsurpassed Knight," "Taming Hero," "Teacher of Gods and People," "Buddha," and "World Honored One." They all have those ten titles.

Now we will discuss the first title: Thus Come One. What is meant by Thus Come One? The Vajra Sutra says: "The Thus Come One does not come from anywhere and does not go anywhere. Therefore, he is called the Thus Come One."

Another explanation says: "He rides on the Way that is actually thus and comes to realize Proper Enlightenment." "Rides" refers to the wisdom of thusness. "Come" refers to the state of thusness. He uses the wisdom of thusness to contemplate the state of thusness. When the state and the wisdom are both thus, then there is no state and there is no wisdom. That state and the wisdom unite into one. The Way is the cause; enlightenment is the fruition. This is called the perfection of the cause and the fulfillment of the fruition. Because the cause is perfected, the fruition is fulfilled, and so he is called a Thus Come One. “Thus Come One” is one of the titles of the Buddhas.

There are also two kinds of Buddhas and the three kinds of Buddhas. There are also the fundamental Buddha and the discernible Buddha. What are the two Buddhas? They are the true body Buddha and the response-body Buddhas.

"True" means unmoving true thusness: not moving and yet according with conditions. This is setting forth the name based on the substance. As to the response bodies, although they accord with conditions, they do not move. Although they do not move, they accord with conditions.

Let us use an example to illustrate more clearly. The true body is like the bright moon up in the sky; the response body is like the reflecting moon in the water. Because there is the true light of the moon, there can be the reflection of the moon in the water. Although the moon appears in the water, the moon did not travel there; the bright moon in the sky has not gone anywhere. This is described as:

In a thousand pools of water are a thousand pools' moons.

If a thousand pools have water in them and the water is pure, there will be a thousand reflections of the moon. The thousand reflections of the moon are certainly not a thousand moons that have descended into the water of those pools. But although the moonlight is not the basic substance of the moon, nonetheless, there is moonlight in the pools. Although the moonlight is there in the pools, the moon itself has not come down into the pools. And so it is said:

In a thousand pools of water are a thousand pools' moons.
Ten thousand miles devoid of clouds is ten thousand miles of sky.

When there are no clouds for ten thousand miles, there will be ten thousand miles of clear sky. The Thus Come One is also like that.

That is, Shakyamuni Buddha came into this world and manifested being born. Although he manifested being born, he did not undergo birth. Although he manifested passing into stillness, he did not pass into stillness. Why not? His basic substance did not move. When Shakyamuni Buddha came into this world:

Without undergoing birth, he manifested being born.
Without passing into stillness, he manifested stillness.

His basic substance, his Dharma body, the true body Buddha, did not move. Therefore, you do not want to think that the Buddha is the same as we living beings are. The Buddha's coming into the world is not the same as the way we have come into the world. Shakyamuni Buddha, while still in his mother's womb, was already speaking Dharma for the gods, dragons, and others of the eight divisions of ghosts and spirits. He spoke the Dharma for gods and humans.

Now we shall explain the chapter "The Thus Come One's Life Span." "Life" can be explained with the homonym [in Chinese] "feeling," which is one of the five skandhas. “Life” refers to feeling. "Span" refers to its accumulation in numbers of years. How long is the span of the Thus Come One's life? It is incalculable—uncountably many years long. This, then, is the chapter "The Thus Come One's Life Span."

The meaning of "Thus Come One" is indeed vast. If we were to explain only the word "Thus" and the word "Come" in detail, it would take several years. The meaning of "Thus" is similar to the meaning of "wonderful." One who is not "Thus" is not "wonderful"; one who is not "wonderful" is not "Thus." The Thus Come One, then, is also the Wonderfully Come One. To be "Wonderfully Come" is to have not come in the way that we people have. We people do not know how we were born; we do not know how we will die. A Thus Come One knows how he was born, and he knows beforehand when he will enter Nirvana.

Now let us discuss the Thus Come One, with his vast virtue. As the Flower Adornment Sutra Preface says:

He is wealthy with ten thousand virtues,
And cleansed, without the finest dust.

National Master Qing Liang praised the Buddha this way:

Therefore, our World Honored One,
The ten bodies just fulfilled,
Proper Enlightenment first perfected,
Rides vows and conduct all-pervasive.
He unites with empty space in substance and nature,
Is wealthy with ten thousand virtues,
And cleansed, without the finest dust.
The pellucid waves of his deep, sea-like wisdom
Are empty, yet hold a myriad reflections.
The full moon of his glistening, space-like nature
At once scatters into one hundred streams.

This is praising the Thus Come One as he sits beneath the Bodhi tree and speaks the Flower Adornment Sutra.

Without rising from beneath the King of Trees,
He extends to seven places in the Dharma Realm.
He sat beneath the Bodhi tree and spoke the Flower Adornment Sutra. Unhindered by the bounds of afterwards,
He pervades the nine assemblies, as he first succeeds.

Therefore, the state of the Thus Come One can never be completely expressed.

We have already discussed the meaning of the two kinds of Buddhas. There are also the three kinds of Buddhas, Thus Come Ones, which may be called the "Three Bodies of a Thus Come One." These three kinds of Buddhas are the Buddhas of the past, present, and future. The Buddhas of the past are those who have already become Buddhas; the Buddhas of the present are those who are about to become Buddhas now; the Buddhas of the future are those who have not yet become Buddhas. And so, even those who have not yet become Buddhas are counted as Buddhas.

The three bodies of a Thus Come One are: the Pure Dharma Body, the Perfect Reward Body, and the millions of transformation bodies. The Pure Dharma Body is Vairochana Buddha. Vairochana Buddha pervades all places. There is no place where he is and no place where he is not. There is no place where he exists, and yet there is no place that he does not exist. Well, ultimately does he exist or doesn't he? He both exists and does not exist.

You say, "The 'Pure Dharma Body Vairochana Buddha' that I know must certainly not exist in unclean places. That is because he is pure. Impure places definitely would not house his Dharma Body."

That is not the way it is. Purity and impurity are discriminations made by people. From the point of view of a Buddha, impurity is also pure. Purity is even more pure. Don't you remember the three transformations of the land that occurred in the Dharma Flower Sutra? That is an example of purifying impure places. To repeat, the first is the Pure Dharma Body, Vairochana Buddha.

The Perfect Reward Body, Nishyanda Buddha. Translated, Nishyanda means "pure and full." This body is also pure. As Shakyamuni Buddha was speaking the Great Means Expansive Buddha Flower Adornment Sutra, he manifested the ten-thousand-foot-tall Nishyanda Buddha-body. But those of the Two Vehicles could neither see him nor hear him. Those of the Two Vehicles saw the Buddha as a six-foot-tall Bhikshu. But the Great Knights of the Dharma Body, the Great Bodhisattvas, saw Shakyamuni Buddha as the ten-thousand-foot-tall Nishyanda Buddha speaking the Flower Adornment Sutra. That is why it is said,

They had eyes but could not see Nishyanda Buddha.

Those of the Two Vehicles have eyes, all right; some may have even opened the Heavenly Eye. But they still could not see the ten-thousand-foot-tall body of Nishyanda Buddha.

They had ears but could not hear the Perfect, Sudden Teaching.

They had ears, but could not hear Shakyamuni Buddha speaking the Flower Adornment Sutra.

Once one of my disciples asked me, "Those of the Two Vehicles cannot see the ten-thousand-foot body of Nishyanda Buddha. We are not even up to the level of the Two Vehicles; we have not become enlightened or reached the state of those of the Two Vehicles. How is it that we are able to read the Flower Adornment Sutra?"

That is a good question. The conditions of those of the Two Vehicles had not yet matured. That was why they were unable to see and hear the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma. They could neither see nor hear the Flower Adornment Sutra spoken.

Five hundred years after Shakyamuni Buddha entered Nirvana, Nagarjuna Bodhisattva had learned all the languages of the world; he had mastered them all. And he had already read all the books in the world. Having done so, he went to the Dragon Palace, where he secured the Flower Adornment Sutra and took it back with him. To get to the Dragon Palace, he certainly did not ride in a submarine. He went by way of the state of a sage certified to the fruition. Although he was submerged in the water, the water did not drown him. When a certified sage enters the water, the water will naturally part, opening a path for him, and will not drown him. The state of a certified sage is just that wonderful; it is even more dependable than using a submarine.

When he got to the Dragon Palace, he read the Flower Adornment Sutra and committed it to memory. That was how he brought it back to the world. And so now we are able to see the Flower Adornment Sutra because our conditions have matured. Thus, the Reward-body Thus Come One spoke the Flower Adornment Sutra.

There are also millions of transformation-body Shakyamuni Buddhas. Transformation bodies are sometimes called response bodies. To review:

The Two Bodies are:

1. the true body, that is, the Dharma Body,
2. the Reward Body.

The Three Bodies are:

1. the Dharma Body,
2. the Reward Body,
3. the transformation bodies.

Someone who heard me say that Nagarjuna Bodhisattva went to the Dragon Palace to get the Flower Adornment Sutra had this thought, "I cannot believe something like that really happened. How could a person, without the use of a submarine, go to the Dragon Palace?"

A child of three has no way to know the state of a child of thirteen. A thirteen-year-old child cannot know the state of a young adult of twenty-three. A young person of twenty-three cannot know the state of a mature person of forty-three. A forty-three-year-old mature individual cannot know the state of a person of eighty.

Therefore, since you do not have the requisite level of scholarship or this kind of wisdom, of course you would not be able to believe that such an event could occur. Not only do you not believe, many, many children cannot believe the things that adults do. And while you are still at the stage of disbelief, I have no way to make you believe. You are still too young.

Children do not realize they are children. Once they grow up, they think back, "Oh, during that time of my life, I really had a lot of fun. How could I have put mud in my mouth and eaten it?" And yet they know they certainly must have done that when they were children. That is because young children put whatever they find into their mouths first. It does not matter to them what it is. They pay no attention to whether it is clean or unclean. Children know only how to eat; aside from that they understand very little principle.

If you want to understand, you should investigate the Buddhadharma. After you understand the Buddhadharma, you will come to understand what you now do not understand. Without me telling you, you will understand. Before you have at least investigated the Buddhadharma, you have no basis for belief or disbelief. If you believe, I gain no advantage from it. If you do not believe, I do not suffer any disadvantage. I am propagating the Buddhadharma, and you want to investigate the Buddhadharma. We set aside some time to investigate it together. When we investigate to the point of understanding, there is no need for belief or disbelief.

When you grow up, you do not have the same kind of thinking you had as a child.

"To whom are you talking?" someone wonders.

If you think I am talking to you, then I am talking to you. If it did not even occur to you to wonder who this is being spoken for, then it is being spoken for someone other than you. That other person has nothing to do with you, so you do not need to protest, "I am not a child."

So you are an adult. Adults should not lack understanding of the things they ought to understand.

Sutra:

At that time the Buddha spoke to the Bodhisattvas and the entire great assembly, saying, “Good men, you should believe and understand the sincere and truthful words of the Thus Come One.” Once again he told the great assembly, “You should believe and understand the sincere and truthful words of the Thus Come One.” He again told the great assembly, “You should believe and understand the sincere and truthful words of the Thus Come One.”

Outline:

F2. Vastly opening and revealing in order to cut off doubts and bring forth belief.

G1. Exhortation to believe.
H1. Three exhortations.


Commentary:

At that time, after speaking the chapter "Welling forth from the Earth," the Buddha was ready to speak the chapter "The Thus Come One's Life Span." This chapter, the sixteenth one, explains how long the life span of the Thus Come One is.

At that time the Buddha spoke to the Bodhisattvas and the entire great assembly. The Buddha addressed all the Great Bodhisattvas in the Dharma assembly and all the rest of the great assembly, including the Bhikshus and the Bhikshunis, the Upasakas and the Upasikas, the gods, the dragons, those of the eight divisions of ghosts and spirits, and all the good men and good women.

He said, "Good men. There are so many of you good young people. You should believe and understand the sincere and truthful words of the Thus Come One. You should now purify your minds, gather in and guard your minds. In other words, I am telling you not to have false thinking. Do not become weary. When listening to the Sutras, you should give rise to reverence and respect. Do not have false thoughts. During the time you are listening to the Sutras, you must certainly make your minds clear and pure. Most importantly, you must believe. You should understand the Thus Come One's sincere and truthful words. Whatever the Thus Come One says is true and actual, with not a trace of falseness whatsoever."

After the Buddha said this to everyone, he probably saw that some people's minds had wandered off because they were having false thoughts, and so they had not heard what he said. What kind of false thinking were they having? Maybe they were wondering when the Buddha would begin to speak. And so now the Buddha was speaking, but they were immersed in their false thoughts. So even though the Buddha was now speaking, they were not hearing him. But they definitely were not deaf; it was only because they were engaged in false thinking that they were not hearing.

The Buddha saw they were having false thoughts, and so he repeated himself. Once again he told the great assembly, "You should believe and understand the sincere and truthful words of the Thus Come One. All of you should pay especially close attention to the words the Buddha wants to say to you. Every word is true, actual, and not false. The Buddha is one whose words are true, real, and not false. What the Buddha tells you is the truth." He told them again, but probably there were still some among the assembly who were not listening attentively. They certainly were not deaf, and yet they had not heard—just because they were not paying attention.

And so the Buddha said it again. He again told the great assembly, "You should believe and understand the sincere and truthful words of the Thus Come One. All of you in the great assembly should be particularly attentive. Believe the Dharma the Thus Come One speaks.

"Before I spoke the provisional and expedient Dharmas in order to teach and transform you. Now I am opening the provisional to reveal the actual. I am not using expedient Dharmas anymore. I am speaking true and actual, not false, Dharma to you. What I am saying now is the truth."

Sutra:

Then the great assembly of Bodhisattvas, headed by Maitreya, placed their palms together and spoke to the Buddha, saying, “World Honored One we only pray that you will speak. We shall believe and accept the Buddha’s words.” They repeated this three times.

Outline:

H2. Three requests.


Commentary:

Then the great assembly of Bodhisattvas, headed by Maitreya. At that time, among the Great Bodhisattvas, Maitreya Bodhisattva was the leader. He was the senior-seated one, the first-seated. He held the highest rank. They placed their palms together and spoke to the Buddha, saying, "World Honored One, we only pray that you will speak." Because he was the leader of all the Bodhisattvas, he puts his palms together and said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, right now, our one and only hope is that you will speak for us soon. We shall believe and accept the Buddha's words. All of us Bodhisattvas in this great assembly should believe and accept what the Buddha has said. We certainly will not have any doubts. Whatever Dharma the Buddha speaks, we will believe; we definitely will not give rise to doubts. We would not be skeptical anymore. Please, Buddha, speak as soon as possible.

They repeated this three times. After they said it once, the Buddha did not open his mouth. And so they asked again to show that they were increasingly sincere, but the Buddha still did not say anything. He sat silently, and so they requested a third time. That is called a threefold Karmavachana. They made the request three times, which shows how sincere and earnest they were in their request.

Sutra:

Again t hey said, “We only pray that you will speak. We shall believe and accept the Buddha’s words.”

Outline:

H3. Repeating the request.


Commentary:

Again they said, "We only pray that you will speak." After three requests, they spoke once again. Once again makes the fourth time. We shall believe and accept the Buddha's words. We in the assembly will certainly believe what the Buddha has spoken.

Sutra:

At that time the World Honored One, knowing that the Bodhisattvas would not stop with three requests, spoke to them, saying, “You should listen attentively.”

Outline:

H4. Repeating the exhortation.


Commentary:

Maitreya Bodhisattva and the Bodhisattvas in the assembly had four times requested Shakyamuni Buddha to speak the Dharma. At that time Shakyamuni Buddha, the World Honored One, knowing that all the Great Bodhisattvas would not stop with three requests—they had already requested a fourth time—spoke to them, saying, "You should listen attentively." All of you Bodhisattvas, listen well. Pay attention.

Sutra:

“The Thus Come One’s power of spiritual penetrations is acknowledged by all gods, humans, and asuras in the world. They say that Shakyamuni Buddha, having left the palace of the Shakyan clan and having gone to a place not far from the city of Gaya to sit in the Bodhimanda, has now attained anuttarasamyaksambodhi.”

Outline:

G2. The answer proper.
H1. Prose.
I1. Opening the near to reveal the far.
J1. Breaking the attachment to the near.


Commentary:

“The Thus Come One’s power of spiritual penetrations —the Buddha's secret entrances into practice, his spiritual powers, the strength of his secret state—is acknowledged by all gods, humans, and asuras in the world and by the others of the eight divisions of ghosts and spirits. All say the same thing. They say that Shakyamuni Buddha, having left the palace of the Shakyan clan, the palace of the Pure Rice King, his father, and having gone to a place not far from the city of Gaya, about five miles from that mountain city, to sit in the Bodhimanda beneath the Bodhi tree to cultivate, has now attained anuttarasamyaksambodhi. He became a Buddha after sitting there for forty-nine days.

Sutra:

“However, good men, I actually realized Buddhahood limitless, boundless, hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of nayutas of eons ago.”

Outline:

J2. Breaking the attachment to the near to reveal the far.
K1. Revealing the near.


Commentary:

Actually, that was not what happened at all. What really happened? However, good men, I will tell you about this. I actually realized Buddhahood a long time ago. If you want to talk about how long it has been since I became a Buddha—the time from then to now—there is no way to calculate how long it has been. How long? Limitless greatkalpas, boundless great kalpas, hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of nayutas of eons ago—countless, boundless great kalpas ago. It has been an incredibly long time; I cannot tell you exactly how long. All I can do is try to draw an analogy to give you some idea.

Sutra:

“Suppose a person were to grind into fine motes of dust five hundred thousand myriads of kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of three thousand great thousand world systems. Then, suppose he traveled to the east across five hundred thousand myriads of kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of lands, and there he deposited one mote of dust. Suppose he continued in this way, traveling to the east, until all the motes of dust were gone.”

“Good men, what do you think? Could the number of worlds he passed through be reckoned or counted?”

Outline:

K2. Analogy to show the length of time.
L1. The analogy and the question.

Commentary:

What is it analogous to? Suppose a person were to grind into fine motes of dust five hundred thousand myriads of kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of three thousand great thousand world systems. This is talking about such a large number; there is no way to calculate it. He grinds them into dust just as if he were grinding an ink stone. He pulverizes entire worlds, grinds them into motes of dust. Then, suppose he traveled to the east across five hundred thousand myriads of kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of lands, and there he deposited one mote of dust. He sets down one minute particle of dust. Suppose he continued in this way, traveling to the east. Every time he passes through five hundred thousand myriads of kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of lands, he drops one mote of dust. He repeatedly goes on through that great a distance, each time setting down another mote of dust, until all the motes of dust are gone. He sets all the dust motes down.

Good men, Bodhisattvas, what do you think? Could the number of worlds he passed through be reckoned or counted? Would you say that is a great number? Are those worlds many? If you had the best mathematicians and the most advanced technology, could you calculate the sum total?

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