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:


“Ajita! If, after my passing into stillness, a person, hearing this Sutra, can receive and uphold it, write it out, or ask others to write it out…

Outline:

H3. Also asking others.
I1. The type of person.


Commentary:

“Ajita, Invincible One! If, after my passing into stillness, a person, hearing this Sutra, the Dharma Flower Sutra, can receive and uphold it himself, write it out himself, or else ask others to write it out...”

Sutra:

“…he will thereby have built Sangha dwellings and made thirty-two halls of red chandana, eight tala trees in height, high, broad, and adorned, with hundreds and thousands of Bhikshus dwelling within them, filled also with gardens, groves, bathing ponds, pathways, dhyana caves, clothing, food, drink, bedding, medicines, and musical instruments. Such Sangha dwellings, halls, and pavilions—uncountable hundreds of thousands of myriads of millions of them—shall be uncountable in number and shall manifest as an offering before me and the Bhikshu Sangha. Therefore I say that after the Thus Come One’s entry into stillness, if a person receives, upholds, reads, recites, or explains this Sutra to others, if he writes it out, asks others to write it out, or makes offerings to this Sutra, he need not further build stupas, monasteries, or Sangha dwellings nor need he make offerings to the Sangha.”

Outline:

I2. Comparison of merits and virtues.


Commentary:

“...he will thereby have built Sangha dwellings and made thirty-two halls of red chandana.” One who receives, upholds, reads, recites or writes out the Dharma Flower Sutra gains merit and virtue equal to that gained by building Sangha dwellings. Red chandana is a fragrant wood used for incense.

"How can reciting Sutras be the same as building a Buddhahall?" you ask. Reciting Sutras adorns the Dharma body of your self-nature, the "hall" of your self-nature. "Thirty-two" represents the thirty-two marks of the Buddha. The Sangha dwellings will be eight tala trees in height. That is about fifty feet. They will be high, broad, and adorned, with hundreds and thousands Bhikshus dwelling within them. The hall that you build in your self-nature will be filled also with gardens, groves, bathing ponds, pathways, dhyana caves for sitting in meditation, clothing, food, drink, bedding, including sitting cloths, medicines, and musical instruments.

Such Sangha dwellings, the adorned Sangha dwellings of the self-nature, halls and pavilions—uncountable hundreds of thousands of myriads of millions of themshall be uncountable in number and shall manifest as an offering before me, Shakyamuni Buddha, and the Bhikshu Sangha. Therefore I say that after the Thus Come One's entry into stillness, his entry into Nirvana, if a person receives, upholds, reads, recites, or explains this Sutra to others, if he writes it out, asks others to write it out because he does not know how to or does not have time to do it himself, or makes offerings to this Sutra, he need not further build stupas, monasteries, or Sangha dwellings, nor need he make offerings to the Sangha. If someone reads, recites, upholds, writes out or instructs others to write out the Dharma Flower Sutra, he or she does not need to build a stupa. The stupa is already built.

Sutra:

“How much the more so does this apply to a person who can uphold this Sutra and at the same time practice giving, holding precepts, patience, vigor, single-mindedness, and wisdom.”

Outline:

H4. Also practicing the six perfections.
I1. The type of person.


Commentary:

How much the more so does this apply to a person who can uphold this Sutra, without forgetting it and at the same time practice giving, in all its forms, holding precepts, patience, vigor, single-mindedness—that is, dhyana meditation—and wisdom. These are the six perfections.

In this passage of text, we are talking about adorning the Triple Jewel of the self-nature—the Buddha of the self-nature, the Dharma of the self-nature, and the Sangha of the self-nature. Reading, reciting, and writing out the Dharma Flower Sutra are ways of adorning the Triple Jewel of your self-nature. When you have perfectly adorned the Triple Jewel of your self-nature, the eternally dwelling Triple Jewel will manifest.

Sutra:

“His virtue shall be supreme, limitless, and unbounded. Just as space to the north, east, south, west, the intermediate points, the zenith, and the nadir is limitless and boundless, so too this person’s merit and virtue shall be limitless and boundless, and he shall speedily attain to the Wisdom of All Modes.”

Outline:

I2. Comparison of merits and virtues.


Commentary:

His virtue shall be supreme, limitless, and unbounded. We are speaking of the limitless merit and virtue of one who can receive and uphold the Dharma Flower Sutra. His merit and virtue is supreme. It cannot be compared to ordinary merit and virtue. It is especially great. How great? Immeasurable, unlimited, unbounded. Just as space to the north, east, south, west, the intermediate points, the zenith, and the nadir, that makes ten directions in all, is limitless and boundless, so too this person's merit and virtue shall be limitless and boundless, and he shall speedily attain to the Wisdom of All Modes. Try to find the borders of space. You cannot. No one can know ultimately how great it is. Although presently there are astrophysicists who investigate these matters scientifically, they will admit that ultimately they do not know how big space is.

There are Three Types of Wisdom:

1. All-Wisdom.
2. Wisdom of the Way.

3. Wisdom of All Modes. The Wisdom of All Modes is the Buddha's wisdom. One attains this kind of wisdom when one reaches the Buddha's position.

Sutra:

“A person may read, recite, receive, and uphold this Sutra, explain it to others, write it out, or ask others to write it out, and he may further build stupas or Sangha dwellings. He may make offerings to and praise the Sangha of Hearers, and laud the merit and virtue of the Bodhisattvas in hundreds of thousands of myriads of millions of ways. Further he may explain the meanings in the Dharma Flower Sutra to others while according with their various causes and conditions. In addition he may uphold the precepts purely, dwell in harmony with people, be patient and without anger, and be of solid resolve and mindfulness. He may always value sitting in dhyana, obtaining deep concentration. He may be vigorous and heroic, gathering in all good dharmas. He also may possess keen faculties and wisdom, and be skillful at answering questions.”

Outline:

H5. Practicing the six perfections proper.
I1. The type of person.


Commentary:

A person may read, recite, receive, and uphold this Sutra. He receives it with his mind and practices it with his body. He may explain it to others, write it out, or ask others to write it out, and he may further build stupas, monasteries, or Sangha dwellings. He may make offerings to and praise the Sangha of Hearers, praising the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and laud the merit and virtue of the Bodhisattvas in hundreds of thousands of myriads of millions of ways. Further he may explain the meanings in the Dharma Flower Sutra to others while according with their various causes and conditions.

This reminds me of a story. Once there was a very high official who protected the Triple Jewel. He also studied the Dharma Flower Sutra. He was able to remember the first three and a half rolls very quickly, but no matter how hard he studied, he could not remember the last three and a half rolls. Thinking this strange, he asked a Good and Wise Advisor, one who had gained the penetration of the knowledge of past lives, about his erratic memory. Curious, he asked him, "I really like the Dharma Flower Sutra, and I am able to remember the first half of the Sutra very easily, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot remember the last half. Why is this?"

The Good and Wise Advisor went into samadhi and took a look. Then he told the official, "Your causes and conditions are very special. In your last life, you were not a human being. You were an ox! Someone let you go in a liberating life ceremony and gave you to a monastery. In the middle of the summer, the monks would set the Sutras out in the sun to dry them so that worms would not eat them. As an ox, you happened to walk over to the Sutras and sniff the first half of the Lotus Sutra. You, as the ox, did not sniff the second half. Because you sniffed the first half, you can remember it very easily. But since you did not sniff the second half, you are not able to remember it clearly."

The official was not very happy when he first heard the story. "How can you say I was an animal? An ox! What proof do you have?"

"You want proof? Go look out behind the temple. There was a grave there where we buried an ox that died, the ox that we let go in a liberating life ceremony. The abbot at that time also had spiritual powers, and he knew where that ox would be reborn in the future, what its name would be, and so on. He wrote it on a piece of paper and buried it with the ox. So if you do not believe it, you can dig up the grave and check the piece of paper. It has got your name on it. You are an official now because of the merit you gained helping the monastery by plowing the fields."

From this we can infer that people who help out in temples can be high officials in future lives, for even an ox who worked for a temple was able to do so. So it is important to support temples by doing meritorious deeds.

In addition he may uphold the precepts purely. This means that he purifies his mind as well as his body. Purifying the mind means to harbor no affliction, hatred, or defilement in one’s mind nor any scattered thoughts. Purifying the body means refraining from impure acts, acts which are not in accord with Dharma. It means always following the rules. Following the rules is being pure. He may dwell in harmony with people, abiding in the cultivation of gentleness and forbearance, be patient and without anger, and be of solid resolve and mindfulness. This means not casually retreating, not studying the Buddhadharma for a few days and then quitting. He may always value sitting in dhyana, taking great delight in it and obtaining deep concentration. So during Chan sessions, you should not waste even a second. It is just in that second that you can get enlightened. If you waste time, then you would not get enlightened. Why not? Because you do not value sitting and think it is unimportant. He attains a deep samadhi, not a shallow one.

He may be vigorous and heroic. In cultivation, you should not only be vigorous, but also heroic. If you think about being vigorous, but you are not actually vigorous with your body, then you are not being heroic. In order to be vigorous, you must be heroic. You must not fear any kind of suffering or difficulty. During the Chan session, several people have made vows not to speak. This is a good idea. If you speak, you will have more false thinking.

"If I do not speak, will I have less false thinking?" you ask.

No, you would not have less false thinking, but you can get a handle on it. You can maintain your original investment, as it were. If you do not speak, your energy would not get scattered. It is said,

When the mouth opens,
One's spirit and energy scatter.
When the tongue wags,
Gossip arises.

People who cultivate should not gossip—discuss "rights and wrongs." But as soon as one opens one's mouth, gossip comes out.

"Well, Dharma Master, isn't your lecturing of Sutras 'discussion of rights and wrongs'?" you ask.

Yes, but there is a difference. This kind of "right and wrong" is spoken so that you will come to know the difference between the two. The gossip you do is done without your knowing the difference between them. Lecturing on the Sutras is not gossip. The Sutras are the Dharma spoken by the Buddha. So do not mistakenly think that lecturing on the Sutras is the same as gossiping. Lecturing is done to give you a method to use in your cultivation. If I did not explain the method of cultivation to you, you would not know how to go about cultivating. So it is okay to lecture on the Sutras. If you know how, you can lecture, too. I am really happy that people have vowed not to talk during the Chan session. That is being vigorous and heroic.

Gathering in all good Dharmas means collecting one's thoughts and not indulging in false thinking. To indulge in false thinking is to collect evil dharmas. Good thoughts are good dharmas. If your thoughts are not good, then you have evil dharmas. He also may possess keen faculties and wisdom,and be very intelligent. He may be skillful at answering difficult questions that people pose. People are satisfied and happy with the answers he gives to their questions, because he resolves all their doubts.

Sutra:

“Ajita! If there is a good man or good woman who, after my passing into stillness, is able to receive, uphold, read, and recite this Sutra and who also is able to amass these other good deeds and meritorious virtues, such a person has already turned towards the Bodhimanda, has drawn near to anuttarasamyaksambodhi, and is seated beneath the tree of the Way. Ajita! Wherever such a good man or good woman is, whether he or she is sitting, standing, or walking, one should build a stupa at that place, and all gods and humans should make offerings to it as if it were a stupa of the Buddha.”

Outline:

I2. Comparison of merits and virtues.


Commentary:

Ajita! If there is a good man or good woman who, after my passing into stillness, is able to receive in their minds, uphold with their bodies, read, and recite this Sutra, the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra, and who also is able to amass these other good deeds and meritorious virtues, you should know that such a person has already turned towards the Bodhimanda, which is under the Bodhi tree, has drawn near to anuttarasamyaksambodhi, the Unsurpassed, Proper and Equal, Right Enlightenment, the fruition of Buddhahood. The text refers to any and all such good men and women. When the Buddha spoke the Dharma Flower Sutra, he was speaking hypothetically of good men and women, but now that you are listening to the Sutra being explained, you yourselves are real instances of such good men and women. The Buddha's words have come true. And such a one is seated beneath the tree of the Way, turning the Dharma-wheel, teaching and transforming living beings.

"Ajita! Wherever such a good man or good woman is, whether he or she is sitting, standing, or walking, one should build a stupa at that place." This could be any of you here listening to the Sutra as well. You should not think it is anyone else. One should build a jeweled stupa for such a person, and all the gods and humans should make offerings to it as if it were a stupa of the Buddha.

Sutra:

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

“If a person, after my passing,
Can reverently uphold this Sutra,
His blessings shall be unlimited,
As described above.

For he will have then completed
All manner of offerings,
And built sharira-stupas
Adorned with the seven treasures,
With towers high and broad,
Tapering up to the Brahma Heavens,
Hung with millions and millions of jeweled bells,
Making wonderful sounds in the wind.

And also, throughout limitless eons,
He shall have made offerings to this stupa
Of flowers, incense, beads,
Heavenly garments, and all kinds of music.

He shall have burnt fragrant oil in butter lamps,
Which shine brightly all around.
In the evil age, during the Dharma’s demise,
He who can uphold this Sutra,
Will then, as mentioned above,
Have perfectly made all these offerings.

Outline:

G2. Verses.
H1. The second kind of merit.

Commentary:

At that time the World Honored One, wishing to restate this meaning, spoke verses, saying, “If a person, after my passing, can reverently uphold this Sutra, his blessings shall be unlimited as described above.” When Shakyamuni Buddha has taught and transformed those living beings he was supposed to teach and transform, he will enter Nirvana. By upholding the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra with the utmost respect, one gains limitless, boundless blessings. For he will have then completed, by upholding the Sutra, all manner of offerings, and built sharira-stupas. He will have created the same merit as if he had built stupas for sharira. Adorned with the seven treasures, with towers high and broad. Vertically, these stupas reach through the three periods of time and horizontally they pervade the ten directions, tapering up to the Brahma Heavens. "Tapering" represents the progression in cultivation from coarse to fine practice. One first cultivates on a "coarser" level the practice of giving. Within the practice of giving there are many fine points. The same applies to holding precepts. One first takes the precepts against killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and taking intoxicants. Later, each breaks down into many fine interpretations. One cultivates the most obvious Dharmas and gradually penetrates into imperceptible, inconceivable Dharmas.

These stupas will be hung with millions and millions of jeweled bells making wonderful sounds in the wind. They will make subtle and wonderful Dharma sounds. And also, throughout limitless eons he shall have made offerings to this stupa of flowers, incense, beads of all kinds, heavenly garments, and all kinds of music. He shall have burnt fragrant oils in butter lamps, which shine brightly all around illumining the Dharma Realm. In the evil age,during the Dharma's demise—in the Dharma-Ending Age—he who can uphold this Sutra, the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra, will then, as mentioned above, have perfectly made all these offerings.

Sutra:

If a person can uphold this Sutra,
It will be as if in the presence of the Buddha himself
He used oxhead chandana
To build Sangha dwellings as offerings to him.

These thirty-two halls,
Eight tala trees in height,
Replete with fine food, clothing,
And bedding, wherein
Hundreds of thousands may dwell,
Will be amply adorned with gardens, groves, bathing ponds,
Pathways, and dhyana caves.

Outline:

H2. The third kind of merit.

Commentary:

If a person can uphold, read, and recite this Sutra, it will be as if in the presence of the Buddha himself, who always remains in the world, he used oxhead chandana to build Sangha dwellings as offerings to him. Oxhead chandana is the most expensive incense. Its fragrance permeates a distance of forty li [about thirteen miles] as an offering to the Sangha. These thirty-two halls, representing the thirty-two marks, eight tala trees in height—the eighty minor characteristics—replete with fine food, clothing, medicines, and bedding such as sleeping bags, wherein hundreds of thousands of left home people may dwell, will be amply adorned with gardens, groves, bathing ponds, pathways and dhyana caves.

Sutra:

He may, with faith and understanding,
Receive, uphold, read, recite, and write,
Or request others to write,
And make offerings to this Sutra,
Scattering flowers, incense, and scented powder,
And constantly burning lamps with fragrant oils
Made of sumana, champaka, and atimuktaka.
He who makes such offerings
Gains limitless merit and virtue.
Just as empty space is boundless,
So shall his blessings be.

Outline:

H3. The fourth kind of merit.


Commentary:

He may, with faith in and understanding of the Dharma Flower Sutra, receive, uphold, read, recite, and write, or request others to write, and make offerings to this Sutra, scattering flowers, incense, and scented powder, and constantly burning lamps with fragrant oils made of sumana. "Sumana" means "in accord with one's wishes." The flower is very delicate, but it has a penetrating fragrance. He may scatter champaka, a golden fragrant flower, and atimuktaka, which is sesame. This plant, which has red seeds and bluish-green leaves, produces oil. These fragrant flowers are made into oil for oil lamps. He who makes such offerings gains limitless merit and virtue. Just as empty space is boundless, so shall his blessings be.

Sutra:

How much greater is the merit
Of he who upholds this Sutra,
Who also gives, holds precepts,
Who is patient and takes delight in dhyana samadhi,
Who is never hateful or foul-mouthed,
And who is reverent in stupas and temples,
Humble towards the Bhikshus,
Far-removed from arrogance,
And ever-thinking on wisdom.

He may refrain from anger
When asked difficult questions
But be compliant in making explanations.
He who can perform such practices
Shall have limitless merit and virtue.

If one sees a Dharma Master
Accomplish virtues such as these,
One should scatter heavenly flowers,
Offer him heavenly garments,
Bow with one’s head at his feet,
And think of him as one would a Buddha.

One should further think,
“Soon he will arrive at the Bodhimanda,
Attain to no-outflows—the unconditioned—
And broadly benefit gods and humans.”

Wherever such a person stays,
Walks, sits, or reclines,
Or speaks but a single verse,
One should build a stupa,
Wonderfully fine and adorned,
And make all kinds of offerings to it.

The disciple of the Buddha, dwelling in this place,
Enjoys it as would the Buddha,
Always abiding therein,
Walking, sitting, or reclining.”

Outline:

H4. The fifth kind of merit.


Commentary:

How much greater is the merit of he who upholds this Sutra, who also gives, holds precepts, who is patient and takes delight in dhyana samadhi, who is never hateful or foul-mouthed towards any living being, and who is reverent in stupas and temples, humble towards the Bhikshus, far-removed from arrogance or self-importance and pride, and ever-thinking on wisdom. He may ponder on wisdom and not be stupid. He may refrain from anger when asked difficult questions. Should someone come and ask him all kinds of difficult, impossible questions, he does not get mad, but is able to be compliant in making explanations. He accords with all living beings and explains these questions. He who can perform such practices shall have limitless merit and virtue, massive and incalculable. If one sees a Dharma Master who lectures on the Sutras and the Dharma practice the six perfections and the myriad conducts, and accomplish virtues such as these, one should scatter heavenly flowers, offer him heavenly garments, bow with one's head at his feet, making a full prostration, and think of him as one would a Buddha. One should further think, "Soon he will arrive at the Bodhimanda, attain to the Samadhi of No-outflows and the Wonderful Dharma of the unconditioned, and broadly benefit gods and humans."

Wherever such a person stays, walks, sits, or reclines, or speaks but a single verse, one should build a jeweled stupa, wonderfully fine and adorned, beautiful and inconceivable with the seven treasures, and make all kinds of offerings to it. One should make offerings of food, drink, bedding, and medicines to the Dharma Master. The disciple of the Buddha, the son of the Dharma King, dwelling in this place, enjoys it as would the Buddha, always abiding therein. His state is the Buddha's state. Thus, the Buddha will be at this Bodhimanda, whether walking, sitting, or reclining.

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