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

Chapter 17: Discrimination of Merit and Virtue

Sutra:

At that time, the World Honored One, wishing to restate this meaning, spoke verses saying,

“If someone wished to seek the Buddha’s wisdom
Throughout eighty myriads of millions
Of nayutas of kalpas,
Practicing the five paramitas
Throughout all those eons,
He would give by making offerings to the Buddhas,
The Pratyekabuddha disciples,
And to the hosts of Bodhisattvas.

His gifts might be rare and precious food and drink,
Fine clothing and bedding.
He might give pure abodes made of chandana
And adorned by gardens and groves.

Gifts such as these,
Varied and fine,
Throughout this number of eons,
He would dedicate to the Buddha Way.

Further he might hold the prohibitive precepts purely,
Without flaw or fault,
Seeking the supreme path,
Praised by all the Buddhas.

Again, he might practice patience,
Dwelling on the Ground of Compliance,
So that should evil befall him,
His mind would not be disturbed.

Also if those who have gained the Dharma,
But who harbor overweening pride,
Ridicule and torment him,
He would be able to bear it.

He might be diligent and vigorous,
Ever solid in his resolve,
Throughout limitless millions of eons,
Single-minded and never lax.

And for countless eons he might
Dwell in a tranquil place,
Ever collecting his thoughts, avoiding sleep,
While either sitting or walking.

Because of these causes and conditions,
He would then give rise to dhyana concentration,
So that for eighty millions of myriads of eons,
His mind would be secure and unconfused.

Blessed with this single-mindedness,
He would seek the unsurpassed path, saying,
“May I gain All-Wisdom
And exhaust the limits of dhyana concentrations.”

This person, for hundreds of thousands
Of tens of millions of eons,
Might practice such meritorious virtues
As told above.

Outline:

G2. Verses.
H1. Merit and virtue.
I1. Comparison.
J1. Comparing with the five paramitas.


Commentary:

At that time, the World Honored One, Shakyamuni Buddha, wishing to restate this meaning, because he feared some people would be skeptical of the great merit and virtue that merely hearing of the vast length of the Buddha's life span could generate, spoke verses saying,

If someone wished to seek the Buddha's supreme wisdom, throughout eighty myriads of millions of nayutas of kalpas, such a vast amount of time, practicing the five paramitas throughout all those eons, he would give by making offerings to the Buddhas, the Dharma, and the Sangha—the Pratyekabuddha and the Arhat disciples, and to the hosts of Bodhisattvas. His gifts might be rare and precious food and drink. The most expensive food and drink might be offered to the Triple Jewel, the Bodhisattvas, the Arhats, and the Pratyekabuddhas, as well as fine clothing and bedding, and medicines too. There are Four Types of Offerings:

1. Food and drink
2. Clothing
3. Bedding
4. Medicine

He might give pure abodes made of chandana and adorned by gardens and groves. The pure abodes made of chandana wood and the gardens and groves that adorn the Bodhimanda are offered to the Triple Jewel. Gifts such as these, varied and fine, very beautiful, throughout this number of eons, he would dedicate to the Buddha Way.

Further, he might hold the prohibitive precepts, which refers to the Vinaya, the moral code. "Prohibitive" means restricting one's activities. He might uphold them purely without flaw or fault. This person keeps the precepts as purely as the full moon, with no defects. He does this in his sincere seeking of the supreme path. By holding the precepts, he is praised by all the Buddhas.

Again, he might practice patience, dwelling on the Ground of Compliance, being gentle and forbearing, so that should evil befall him, when adverse circumstances come up or when others come to hurt him, his mind would not be disturbed. The mind is not moved, but is full of patience.

Also if those who have gained the Dharma, but who harbor overweening pride, should ridicule and torment him, he would be able to bear it. Those of "overweening pride" are Bhikshus or Bhikshunis who think that they have more virtue than anyone else, and so they are arrogant. Even though these arrogant people scorn and torment him, he would not be turned or upset by such states in his cultivation of patience.

He might be diligent and vigorous, ever solid in his resolve and mindfulness, throughout limitless millions of eons, single-minded and never lax. If one who is cultivating the Paramita of Vigor is only vigorous but does not maintain solid resolve, then it is useless. One must have solid resolve and mindfulness to help the vigor, and never be lax. One must not rest.

And for countless eons he might dwell in a tranquil place, in an aranya, a still and quiet place, ever collecting his thoughts, avoiding sleep, while either sitting in meditation or engaged in walking meditation. Why does one alternately walk and sit? One wants to avoid falling asleep while sitting. "Collecting his thoughts" means watching his mind so that it does not indulge in false thinking. Because of these causes and conditions, he would then give rise to dhyana concentration. Because he concentrates on walking and sitting, his mind is collected to one point. Then,

When the mind is gathered to one place,
There is nothing that is not accomplished.

He would give rise to the power of dhyana samadhi, so that for eighty millions of myriads of eons, his mind would be secure in dhyana concentration, without false thoughts and unconfused. Blessed with this single-mindedness, he would seek the unsurpassed path, saying, "May I gain All-Wisdom. Cultivating the blessings of single-mindedness, the blessedness of dhyana concentration, by seeking the supreme path, one can obtain All-Wisdom. If one wants to gain All-Wisdom, one must first cultivate dhyana samadhi and exhaust the limits of dhyana concentrations. Cultivating dhyana concentration to the limit, one gains all the dhyana samadhis. This person, for hundreds of thousands of tens of millions of eons, might practice such meritorious virtues as told above. He amasses the merit and virtue of cultivating the five paramitas.

Sutra:

But should there be a good man or woman,
Who, hearing me speak of my life span,
Gives rise to even a single thought of faith,
His or her blessings will exceed those of the person just described.

Outline:

J2. The great merit of faith and understanding.


Commentary:

But should there be a good man or woman, who, hearing me speak of my life span, gives rise to even a single thought of faith, his or her blessings will exceed those of the person just described. Someone else hears the chapter on the Buddha's life span and produces true faith and understanding. This person's blessings exceed the merit and virtue gained by the one who practices the five paramitas as discussed above.

Sutra:

Any person who can be completely free
Of doubts and misgivings
And, with deep thought, believe for but an instant,
Will reap blessings such as those.

Outline:

I2. Showing the limitlessness of blessings.

Commentary:

Any person who can be completely free of doubts and misgivings and, with deep thought, believe for but an instant, will reap blessings such as those. His blessings will exceed those of the person who cultivated the five paramitas of giving, morality, patience, vigor, and dhyana samadhi for limitless eons.

Sutra:

Should there be Bodhisattvas
Who have practiced the Way for limitless eons
And who hear me speak of my life span,
They shall be able to believe and accept it.

Outline:

H2. Not retreating in position or practice.
I1. Not easy to have faith and understanding.


Commentary:

Should there be Bodhisattvas who have practiced the Bodhi Way for limitless eons and who hear me speak of my life span, they shall be able to believe and accept it. Because they have practiced the Way for such a long time, when they hear me explain this chapter on the life span of the Thus Come One, they will be able to deeply believe and understand it.

Sutra:

Persons such as these
Will receive this Sutra atop their heads,
Vowing, “May we in the future
Gain long lives and save living beings.
Just as today the World Honored One,
King of the Shakyas,
In the Bodhimanda puts forth the lion’s roar,
Speaking the Dharma without fear,
So may we in lives to come
Be revered by all
And, while seated in the Bodhimanda,
Speak of our life spans in the same way.

Outline:

I2. Believing and understanding, one must make a vow in order to attain irreversibility.

Commentary:

Persons such as these, great Bodhisattvas, will receive this Sutra atop their heads. They will most respectfully receive, uphold, and practice the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra.

They will vow, “May we in the future, gain long lives and save living beings. We too wish to attain an immeasurable, limitless life span. Just as today the World Honored One, King of the Shakyas and King of the Dharma, in the Bodhimanda puts forth the lion's roar, speaking the Dharma without fear, so may we Bodhisattvas in lives to come be revered by all and, while seated in the Bodhimanda after we have realized Buddhahood, speak of our life spans in the same way. At that time, our life spans will be as long as the Buddha's.

Sutra:

Should there be those who deeply believe,
Who are pure and straightforward,
With much learning and dharanis,
Who explain the Buddhas’ words according to the doctrine--
Persons such as these
Will have no doubts about this matter.

Outline:

H3. The appearance.


Commentary:

Should there be those who deeply believe, who are pure and straightforward, single-minded, pure, and honest in their practice of the Way, with much learning and dharanis, who explain the Buddhas' words according to the doctrine, persons such as these will have no doubts about this matter. Receiving and upholding the Sutras, there will be those who gain the Samadhi of Much Learning and the Samadhi of Uniting and Upholding. They will explain the Sutras according to the Buddha's meaning. They will have no doubts about the Buddha's life span and no doubts about the doctrines contained in the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra.

Sutra:

“Further, Ajita, if anyone hears of the long duration of the Buddha’s life span and understands the import of these words, the merit and virtue such a one gains will be without boundary or limit, for it shall enable one to give rise to the supreme wisdom of the Thus Come One.”

Outline:

F2. Understanding the import of the words.


Commentary:

Shakyamuni Buddha calls out again, “Further, Ajita, if anyone hears of the long duration of the Buddha's life span as previously discussed and understands the import of these words, the implication of what is being said, the merit and virtue such a one gains will be without boundary or limit. There is no one who could calculate how much merit and virtue one will gain, for it shall enable one to give rise to the supreme wisdom of the Thus Come One. Merit and virtue such as this will enable one to give rise to the Buddha's supreme prajna wisdom.

Sutra:

“How much the more so will this be the case for one who can listen to this Sutra extensively; ask others to listen; uphold it oneself; ask others to uphold it; write it out oneself; ask others to write it out; or use flowers, incense, beads, banners, flags, silk canopies, fragrant oils, or butter lamps to make offerings to this Sutra. Such a person’s merit and virtue will be limitless and boundless, for it shall enable that person to give rise to Wisdom of All Modes.”

Outline:

F3. Hearing, upholding, and making offerings.


Commentary:

How much the more so will this be the case for one who can listen to this Sutra extensively, who finishes listening to the whole Sutra; who can ask others to listen—when you listen to the Sutras, ask your friends and relatives to come with you to the Sutra lectures—uphold it oneself, reading or reciting the Dharma Flower Sutra on one's own; ask others to uphold it; write it out oneself; ask others to write it out; or use an assorted variety of flowers, incense, beads, banners, flags, silk canopies, fragrant oils, or butter lamps to make offerings to this Sutra. Such a person's merit and virtue will be limitless and boundless, for it shall enable that person to give rise to Wisdom of All Modes. With this measureless merit and virtue from making offerings and reading, reciting, and writing the Sutra, one can accomplish Wisdom of All Modes and arrive at the position of Buddhahood.

Sutra:


“Ajita! If a good man or good woman hears of the long duration of the Buddha’s life span and, with a deep mind, believes and understands, he or she will then see the Buddha ever-present on Mount Gridhrakuta together with the great Bodhisattvas and the assembly of Hearers surrounding him as he speaks the Dharma. He or she will also see the Saha world’s soil become lapis lazuli. It will be flat and even, with eight major roads bordered with Jambunada gold and lined with jeweled trees. Adjacent to the roads will be pavilions and towers all made of jewels, wherein hosts of Bodhisattvas dwell. To behold in this way is indicative of deep faith and understanding.”

Outline:

F4. The vision accomplished through deep faith.

Commentary:

The Buddha continues, “Ajita! If a good man or good woman, one who cultivates good deeds, hears me speak of the long duration of the Buddha's life span and, with a deep mind, believes what I say about the Buddha's life span and understands the principles, he or she will then see the Buddha.” To be able to believe in the Sutras is to see the Buddha's Dharma body. Why? Because reading the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra is just the same as seeing the Buddha. The Dharma Flower Sutra is both the true body of the Buddha and the Dharma body of the Buddha; thus it is the same as seeing the Buddha. You should not think that since the Buddha has entered Nirvana, he is not speaking the Dharma. The Buddha is always speaking the Dharma Flower Sutra. In India, the Buddha spoke the Dharma Flower Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra for eight years. In India the Sutra was written out on palm leaves, which, if they were laid out end to end, would stretch for eight miles.

The Buddha is ever-present on Mount Gridhrakuta, Magic Vulture Mountain, together with the great Bodhisattvas and the assembly of Hearers and Those Enlightened to Conditions surrounding him as he speaks the Dharma.

He or she, the person who sees the Buddha, will also see the Saha world's soil become lapis lazuli. It will be flat and even, without deep seas or high mountains, but flat like the palm of the hand, with eight major roads bordered with Jambunada gold. Why is it that the earth appears to have high mountains and deep seas? It is because people's minds are not even. If people's minds were even, the ground would be even. The mountains and seas are seen as a result of the karma of living beings. If you certify to the fruit, although you are in this world, you are in a different state, so the situation is different. The earth is seen as it really is—"flat and even." It is said that in Jambudvipa there is the Jambu tree on the bank of a large river, and when the leaves of this tree fall into the water, they turn to gold—the finest gold in the world. This Jambunada gold is used to make golden cords to border the "eight major roads," which represent the Eightfold Path. The roads are lined with rows of beautiful jeweled trees of the seven treasures. They are wonderful and fine to behold. Adjacent to the roads will be pavilions and towers all made of seven jewels, wherein hosts of Bodhisattvas dwell. The Bodhisattvas live within the towers. To behold in this way is indicative of deep faith and understanding. If you recite, listen to, and contemplate the Dharma Flower Sutra this way, it means that you deeply believe in it.

Sutra:

“Further, after the passing into stillness of the Thus Come One, if a person hears this Sutra and does not defame it but instead rejoices over it, you should know that that indicates he already has deep faith and understanding.”

Outline:

E2. The five kinds after passing into stillness.
F1. Listing the five kinds and a general description the four latter kinds of merit.
G1. Prose.
H1. Rejoicing.


Commentary:

Further, after the passing into stillness of the Thus Come One—after the Buddha has entered Nirvana—if a person hears thisDharma Flower Sutra and does not defame it but instead rejoices over it, you should know that that indicates he already has deep faith and understanding. Those without faith would slander the Dharma Flower Sutra; those with faith would not defame the Sutra upon hearing it, but would rejoice in merit and virtue.

Sutra:

“How much the more so is this the case for one who reads, recites, receives, and upholds it.”

Outline:

H2. Those who also uphold, read, and recite it.
I1. The type of person.


Commentary:

How much the more so is this the case for one who reads from the text, recites from memory without looking at the text, receives, and upholds it always, cultivating in accord with the principles in the Dharma Flower Sutra.

Sutra:

“This person carries the Thus Come One on the top of his head.”

“Ajita! This good man or good woman need not build stupas or temples for me, nor build Sangha dwellings, nor make the four kinds of offerings to the Sangha. Why not? This good man or good woman, in receiving, upholding, reading, and reciting this Sutra, has already built stupas, erected Sangha dwellings, and made offerings to the Sangha. He has built stupas of the seven treasures for the Buddha's sharira. The stupas are high and broad, tapering up to the Brahma Heavens, hung with banners and canopies. He has also offered many jeweled bells, flowers, incense, beads, ground incense, paste incense, and burning incense, as well as many drums, musical instruments, pipes, flutes, reeds, various dances, and praises sung with wonderful sounds. He has already made such offerings throughout limitless thousands of myriads of millions of eons.”

Outline:

I2. Comparison of merits and virtues.

Commentary:


This person carries the Thus Come One on the top of his head. This means that he holds the Buddha in utmost reverence, as if he had the Buddha on top of his head. Ajita, this good man or good woman who can read, recite, and write out this Sutra and uphold it need not build stupas or temples for me. Why? The Sutra itself is the Buddha's stupa, the Buddha's temple, a Bodhimanda.

So we say that by reciting the Sutra we are building a temple. However, if one can, in addition to that, bring forth one's resolve to build stupas and monasteries though one do not need to, that is fine too. One does not have to take the Sutra so literally as to thinks it is not necessary to build stupas and temples. If you build a stupa, people will see it and recognize that the Triple Jewel is there, and they will be reverent. If you build a big monastery with many Buddhist images and books, a library and so on, and many adornments, people will want to go there. When they visit, they will give rise to faith and the Bodhi mind, and they will plant good roots. Even though the Sutra says it is not necessary to build them, you may, if you are able. There is nothing wrong with building a few stupas, temples, or Bodhimandas. Nor does such a person need to build Sangha dwellings, places for the Sangha to live, nor make the four kinds of offerings to the Sangha. The Buddha said one need not make the four kinds of offerings, but if one can, one should make offerings. If as a layperson one does not make offerings, one would not amass any merit and virtue. And if no one makes offerings to the Sangha, the members will have to go hungry. The Four Kinds of Offerings are:

1. Food and drink
2. Clothing
3. Bedding
4. Medicine

But if you recite the Dharma Flower Sutra and are also able to make such offerings, then you may. But if you are unable, you do not have to.

Why not? This good man or good woman, in receiving, upholding, reading, and reciting this Sutra has already built stupas, erected Sangha dwellings, and made offerings to the Sangha. He has built stupas of the seven treasures for the Buddha's sharira. The stupas are high and broad. He has already built a stupa by reciting the Sutra. By reciting this Sutra, one makes offerings to the Buddha Jewel, the Dharma Jewel, and the Sangha Jewel.

He has also the same merit and virtue as making offerings to the Buddha's sharira, for the Dharma Flower Sutra is the Buddha's sharira. And when you recite, you build the stupas of the seven treasures. Such stupas reach vertically through the three periods of time and pervade horizontally in the ten directions. They are so tall that they go tapering up to the Brahma heavens. They taper up not because they are built that way, but because when you look at one from the ground, it goes up so high that it appears to taper up. They are hung with banners and canopies. He has also offered many jeweled bells made of the seven treasures, flowers, incense, beads, ground incense, paste incense, which is smeared on the body, and burning incense—by reciting the Sutra, you are making such offerings to the Buddha—as well as many drums, musical instruments, pipes, flutes, reeds, various dances, and praises sung with wonderful sounds. If you can read and recite the Dharma Flower Sutra, it is like singing such praises in beautiful voices. The recitation of the Dharma Flower Sutra is, in itself, a kind of music. He has already made such offerings throughout limitless thousands of myriads of millions of eons.

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