The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 16: The Thus Come One's Life Span
At that time the World Honored One, wishing to restate this meaning, spoke verses, saying,
“From the time I attained Buddhahood,
The eons that have passed
Are limitless hundreds of thousands of myriads
Of kotis of asamkhyeyas in number.”
I1. Verses about revealing the remote.
At that time, the World Honored One, wishing to restate this meaning, spoke verses, saying—Shakyamuni Buddha said, "From the time I attained Buddhahood, the eons that have passed are limitless hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of asamkhyeyas in number."Asamkhyeya itself means "uncountable," so there is no way to know how many eons have passed.
I always speak the Dharma to teach and transform
Countless millions of living beings,
So they enter the Buddha-Way.
And throughout these limitless eons,
In order to save living beings,
I expediently manifest Nirvana.
I2. Verses about benefiting beings in the three periods of time.
J1. Speaking the Dharma.
K1. Benefiting beings in the three periods of time.
L1. The past.
M1. The necessity of benefiting beings of the past.
I always speak the Dharma in different lands and countries, to teach and transform countless millions of living beings, so they enter the Buddha-Way. I constantly teach and transform beings and causing them to enter the Buddha-Way, and as a consequence, all the countless millions of Bodhisattvas welled forth from the earth, as described in the previous chapter, "Welling forth from the Earth."
And from time to time throughout these limitless eons, in order to save living beings, I expediently manifest Nirvana. This is like the doctor who went to another country and sent back a messenger to tell his children he was dead. When his children heard that, they no longer relied upon their father, but took the medicine instead. Thus, the Buddha expediently said, "The Buddha is going to enter Nirvana. All of you should ask whatever questions you have. Hurry up! If there is something you do not understand, get it cleared up right away."
But in truth I do not pass into quiescence.
I remain here always speaking the Dharma.
M2. The place in which he benefits beings of the past.
But in truth I do not pass into quiescence. The Buddha does not really enter Nirvana. I remain here always speaking the Dharma, teaching and transforming living beings.
I always stay right here,
And using the power of spiritual penetrations,
I cause inverted living beings,
Although near me, not to see me.
M3. Erasing doubts about the past.
I always stay right here on Vulture Peak in the Saha World. And using the power of spiritual penetrations, I cause inverted living beings, although near me, not to see me. That means that though I do not really enter Nirvana, I cause living beings not to have an opportunity to see me. Although they are right beside me, they do not see me, because they are upside down.
The multitudes see me as passing into quiescence.
They extensively make offerings to my sharira .
All cherish ardent longing for me,
And their hearts look up to me in thirst.
Living beings, then faithful and subdued,
Straightforward, with compliant minds,
Single-mindedly wish to see the Buddha,
Caring not for their very lives.
L2. The present.
The multitudes see me as passing into quiescence. Living beings are upside-down and confused by ignorance. Although they are near me, they cannot see me. Everyone sees me as entering stillness. They extensively make offerings to my sharira. All cherish ardent longing for me. At this time, they all start thinking about how much they long for and admire me, and their hearts look up to me in thirst. They long to see the Buddha.
Living beings are then faithful and subdued, straightforward, with compliant minds. They are not stubborn any longer. Now they just single-mindedly wish to see the Buddha. "Now the Buddha has gone to Nirvana! Oh, if we could only see the Buddha once again!" They realize how rare he is and how difficult it is to meet up with him. Caring not for their very lives. If they had to give up their very lives, they would do so without regrets. When you seek the Buddha-Way and take the precepts, you burn some incense on your head. This represents that you are willing to give up your life for the sake of the Buddhadharma. If you still care for your own life, that burning will cause unbearable pain, and you would not be able to go through with it. To burn a part of the body as an offering to the Buddha represents that you are willing to give up your life for the sake of the Dharma.
Why does the Buddha say that he does not actually pass into stillness? The principle works like this: For those who are enlightened, there is no cessation; those who are unenlightened think that the Buddha enters cessation. If one is enlightened and has the Three Bodies, the Four Wisdoms, the Five Eyes, and the Six Spiritual Penetrations, then one is with the Buddha at all times; one is always right next to the Buddha. That is called "always seeing the Buddha." If you have not attained that state, then although the Buddha is actually right beside you, you cannot see him. The Buddha says he does not pass into cessation because he is always present for those who have been certified to the attainment of the Five Eyes. Those without the Five Eyes cannot see the Buddha, and they conclude that he has passed into stillness. Actually, the Buddha does not enter stillness.
At that time I and the Sangha assembly
All appear together on Magic Vulture Mountain,
Where I say to living beings
That I am always here and never cease to be.
But using the power of expedient devices
I manifest "ceasing" and "not ceasing" to be.
M2. Bestowing the teaching.
When people get to the point that they do not even care about their own lives, they are so intent on seeking the Buddhadharma, at that time due to the extreme earnestness in their minds, there is a response with the Way. I, Shakyamuni Buddha, and the Sangha assembly of Bhikshus and Bhikshunis all appear together on Magic Vulture Mountain. Thus Great Master Zhi Zhe of the Tiantai School entered the Dharma Flower samadhi when reciting the Dharma Flower Sutra, and he personally saw the Dharma assembly on Magic Vulture Mountain still taking place—it had not dispersed. He obtained the "Dharani of a Single Revolution." That proves that even now the Buddha is still present on Magic Vulture Mountain, speaking the Dharma, teaching and transforming living beings.
Where I say to living beings that I am always here and never cease to be. But using the power of clever expedient devices, I manifest "ceasing" and "not ceasing" to be. I only manifest the appearance of cessation; actually I do not cease to be. This is the "extinction of non-extinction," or the "the production of non-production."
For living beings in other lands,
Reverent, faithful, and aspiring,
I speak the Unsurpassed Dharma;
But you who do not hear this
Think that I have passed into quiescence.
I see living beings
Sunk in misery, and yet
I refrain from manifesting for them.
In order to cause them to look up in thirst,
Then, when their minds are filled with longing,
I emerge and speak the Dharma.
L3. The future.
M1. Expediently announcing cessation and the reason this is necessary.
For living beings in other lands, those who are reverent, faithful, and aspiring, I speak the Unsurpassed Dharma. But you who do not hear this think that I have passed into quiescence. Not having heard this doctrine, you all think I have entered stillness. But for me, there is neither ceasing nor not ceasing to be. For me, there is no production or extinction, although I speak of them.
I see living beings sunk in misery, and yet. They are drowning in the five desires: the desires for wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep. The five desires are "misery." Since they are greedy for the five desires, I refrain from manifesting for them. I do not manifest or speak the Dharma for them. Why not? Because I want to cause them to look up in thirst. Then, when living beings all appear very thirsty and their minds are filled with longing, I emerge and speak the Dharma. I reappear and speak the Buddhadharma for these living beings.
With such powerful spiritual penetrations,
Throughout asamkhyeyas of eons,
I remain always on Magic Vulture Mountain
And also dwell in other places.
When beings see the eon ending
And ravaged by the great fire,
My land is peaceful and secure,
Always filled with gods and humans,
Gardens and groves, halls and pavilions,
And various precious adornments.
There are jeweled trees with many flowers and fruits
Where living beings roam in delight.
The gods play celestial drums,
Always making various kinds of music,
And mandarava flowers
Are scattered on the Buddha and the great assembly.
My Pure Land is not destroyed,
But the multitudes see it being burned entirely.
Worried, terrified, and miserable,
Such ones are everywhere.
All these beings with offenses,
Because of their evil karmic causes and conditions,
Pass through asamkhyeyas of eons,
Without hearing the name of the Triple Jewel.
All who have cultivated merit and virtue,
Who are compliant, agreeable, and honest—
They all see me
Here, speaking the Dharma.
Sometimes for this assembly,
I speak of the Buddha’s life span as limitless.
To those who see the Buddha only after long intervals,
I speak of the Buddha as being difficult to meet.
M2. In reality there is no cessation, but for various reasons beings may or may not see the Buddha.
With such powerful spiritual penetrations, throughout asamkhyeyas of eons, I remain always on Magic Vulture Mountain and also dwell in other places. Why do some living beings see the Buddha and others do not? Why does the Buddha says he is entering stillness and then does not? These are all transformations worked by the power of the Buddha's spiritual penetrations. So we say, "There is production and yet no production. There is extinction and yet no extinction. Those who have affinities with the Buddha can see him any time; those lacking affinities never get to see him."
You say, "If I have no affinities with the Buddha and cannot see him, then what should I do?"
Plant good roots, create affinities with the Buddha by making offerings to the Triple Jewel—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. If you cultivate merit and virtue before the Triple Jewel, after a while you will naturally have affinities with the Buddha. If you do not plant good roots, you will never have affinities with the Buddha.
When beings see the eon ending and ravaged by the great fire—this refers to the calamities of wind, water, and fire that arise at the close of the kalpa. The fiery hate in the minds of living beings brings about huge conflagrations. However, at this time, my land is peaceful and secure. Vulture Peak and all the other places where I am present are peaceful. They cannot be harmed by the three calamities but are always filled with gods and humans, gardens and groves, halls and pavilions, and various precious adornments—the seven treasures—adorn the buildings. There are also jeweled trees with many flowers and fruits where living beings roam in delight. "Jeweled trees" means Bodhi trees, the kings of trees. "Many flowers" refers to good causes that are planted. The many good results reaped are what is meant by "many fruits." As to "living beings," there are living beings all around you, and there are also the living beings inside. The ones inside we call the living beings of the self-nature. These are your thoughts. Whether inner or outer, they are all living beings. We say the mind, the Buddha, and living beings are three, but they are not different. In the adorned Bodhimanda of the Buddha, the beings wander happily.
The gods play celestial drums, always making various kinds of music. The heavenly beings throughout the Three Realms make the heavenly drum resound throughout space. And mandarava flowers, flowers which "accord with one's intent" and make people extremely happy as soon as they see them drift down upon the multitude, are scattered on the Buddha and the great assembly.
My Pure Land of Eternal Stillness and Light is not destroyed; it will never be destroyed. But the multitudes see it being burned entirely. Living beings with their afflictions see it as if totally burned, and they become worried, terrified, and miserable. They are miserable because of all their evil views. Such ones are everywhere throughout my land.
All these beings with offenses, because of their evil karmic causes and conditions, pass through asamkhyeyas of eons—boundless, uncountable eons—without hearing the name of the Triple Jewel. Such beings never hear of the Buddha, the Dharma, or the Sangha.
Before the Buddha appeared in the world, no one knew about the Buddhadharma; no one had ever seen the Buddha or heard the Buddha’s name before. When the Elder Sudatta (Anathapindika) heard the word "Buddha" all the hairs on his body stood straight up on end, although he did not know why. That was because he had never heard about the Triple Jewel before.
All who have cultivated merit and virtue, who are compliant, agreeable and honest—people who have practiced merit and virtue and planted good roots; who are not crooked—they all see me. Beings with offenses cannot see me; people with offenses cannot even see a Buddha image. If you can see a Buddha image, it will lessen your offense-karma. You must have merit and virtue in order to see the Buddha, the Dharma, or the Sangha. Here, speaking the Dharma, sometimes for this assembly, for those who are able to see the Buddha often, I speak of the Buddha's life span as limitless. To those who see the Buddha only after long intervals, I speak of the Buddha as being difficult to meet. For those who pass through long, long periods of time before they get to see the Buddha, I speak about how the Buddha is difficult to encounter.
The power of my wisdom—
The unlimited illumination of my wisdom—
Is such that my life span is one of countless eons
Attained through long cultivation and work.
Those of you with wisdom,
Should not have doubts about this.
Cut them off entirely, and forever,
For the Buddha’s words are real, not false.
K2. Concluding that it is not false.
Such is the power of my wisdom. Those with good roots always see the Buddha. To these beings I speak of the length of the Buddha's life span. If it were not this way, how could they see me? The unlimited illumination of my wisdom is such that my life span is one of countless eons. The Buddha's wisdom light shines throughout limitless worlds, and limitless living beings bring forth the Bodhi mind.
My life span was attained through long cultivation and work. The Buddha did the good work of liberating life. If you want to have a long life, you should liberate life. The more life you liberate, the longer your own life will be.
Those of you with wisdom should not have doubts about this. Do not harbor doubts about what I have just said. Cut them off entirely and forever. Get rid of them, for the Buddha's words are real, not false. Do not have doubts about the Buddhadharma.
They are like the clever expedients of the physician
Who, to cure his insane children,
Is actually alive, yet says he is dead,
And none can say that he speaks falsely.
J2. The analogy.
K1. Setting up the analogy.
They are like the clever expedients of the physician who is knowledgeable about the different kinds of medicines—cool, hot, warm, and neutral—and who, to cure his insane children who had been poisoned, is actually alive, yet says he is dead. When the children think their father is dead, they finally take the medicine. The Dharma spoken by the Buddha is like good medicine. As long as the Buddha remained in the world, living beings thought they would take their time about studying the Dharma; they were not eager to study it.
When the Buddha entered Nirvana and they no longer had access to him, they decided to study the Buddhadharma and lecture the Sutras. As long as the Buddha was in the world, they could just listen to the Buddha, but they did not care to have Sutra lectures. So the doctor is really alive, but says he is dead. And none can say that he speaks falsely. No one can accuse this doctor, who is trying to save the lives of his children, or say that he has committed an offense.
I, too, am like a father to the world,
Saving all from suffering and woe.
But to living beings, inverted as they are,
I speak of cessation, although I actually remain.
Otherwise, because they often see me,
They would grow arrogant and lax.
Unruly and attached to the five desires,
They would tumble into the evil paths.
I am ever aware of living beings—
Those who practice the Way and those who do not.
I speak various Dharmas for their sakes
To save them in an appropriate manner.
I am always thinking,
‘How can I cause living beings
To enter the Unsurpassed Way
And to quickly perfect the body of a Buddha?’
K2. The correlation with Dharma.
I, too, am a father to the world. I am a father saving all in the world from suffering and woe. But to living beings, inverted as they are, I speak of cessation, although I actually remain. Living beings are upside down. They insist that right is wrong, and wrong is right; that white is black, and black is white. They will say that it is light at night and dark during the day. In the self-nature, the great storehouse of light pervades both day and night. If your self-nature is dark, you will think that light is dark. If your self-nature is light, then the darkness turns light. But living beings are confused about this. For these living beings, the Buddha appears to go to Nirvana. At the same time, the Buddha tells us, "Really, I am right here. To me there is no entering or nonentering of Nirvana. Living beings are upside down; thus I say I am entering Nirvana."
Otherwise, because they often see me, they would grow arrogant and lax. Why do I say I am going to enter Nirvana? I do so because if living beings see me every day they will grow sloppy and unruly. They would not cultivate according to the Dharma, and they will be attached to the five desires—the desire for wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep, or else to forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangible objects. They would tumble into the evil paths, the three "evil paths" of the animals, ghosts, and hell beings.
I am ever aware of living beings. I, Shakyamuni Buddha, keep track of all the thoughts in the minds of living beings. So the Vajra Sutra says, "The Thus Come One completely knows and sees all the thoughts in the minds of living beings."
I keep up with the thoughts of living beings—those who practice the Way and those who do not. Let me tell those of you who have taken refuge with me: Whether you cultivate or do not cultivate, I am aware of it. Whether you follow the rules or not, I know as well. People who follow the rules come every day to listen to the Sutra lecture. Those who do not follow the rules want to go out every day. That was what happened during the summer session, too. If you are one who follows the rules, then you always come to class. As for one who does not follow the rules, when everyone else goes to class, they do their own thing. All of you should take the study of the Buddhadharma seriously. Do not be sloppy or casual. It takes a lot of my energy to lecture the Sutras. You should not think it is an easy matter. Giving lectures is really exhausting!
And I speak various Dharmas for their sakes, to save them in an appropriate manner. If a person can be saved by means of a Buddha body, I, the Buddha, take the body of a Buddha and speak Dharma for that person. If a person can be saved by means of another kind of being, the Buddha will take the appropriate form and save that person.
I am always thinking, "How can I cause living beings to enter the Unsurpassed Way—to be certified to the supreme Way and to quickly perfect the body of a Buddha, the Dharma body?"
* * * * * * * * * *
When people who have taken refuge with the Triple Jewel visit other temples or monasteries, they should not think they can get a good deal by staying there without paying. As laypeople, whenever you go to a Buddhist temple, you should wish to make offerings to the Triple Jewel, not ask that the Triple Jewel make offerings to you. If you ask the Triple Jewel to support you, you will be bound to fall lower in each successive life. Why are some people so wealthy? They made offerings to the Triple Jewel. People who do not make offerings to the Triple Jewel become poorer and poorer in each successive life. Those of you who have taken refuge with me should always bring forth the initiative to make offerings at any temple you visit in the future.
Today someone gave me some miniature Buddha images, and I would like to pass the offering on to others, so whoever would like one may take one. It can be your “body-protecting Buddha.” In China it is customary to wear a Buddha image in order to protect yourself from danger and make things auspicious. Gwo Tang, were you wearing your Buddha image when you ran into trouble recently? I gave you one before, and you ought to wear it. It will protect you. This applies to everyone. However, if you want a Buddha image, you should take the initiative to create merit by making a contribution. Whoever takes a Buddha image should give a little money as an offering to the Triple Jewel. Even if you do not take a Buddha image, you ought to make offerings to the Triple Jewel. In the future, if you wish to ask for Buddhist Sutras, books, images, or anything else from a temple, you should have the intent to make offerings. Do not think that you are getting a good deal by not giving any money. There are no such deals to be had. If you do not have the intent of making offerings, you would not have any merit and virtue.
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