The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 2: Expedient Devices
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
At that time the World Honored One arose serenely from samadhi and told Shariputra, “The wisdom of all the Buddhas is extremely profound and unlimited. The gateway to this wisdom is difficult to understand and difficult to enter. It cannot be known by any of the Hearers or Pratyekabuddhas.
What is the reason? The Buddhas have, in the past, drawn near to countless hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of millions of Buddhas, exhaustively practicing the unlimited dharmas of the Way of those Buddhas. They are forging ahead with courage and vigor and their names are known everywhere.”
C2. The branches division of the Sutra.
D1. General explanation: opening the three and revealing the one.
E1. Generally opening and revealing.
F1. Lauding the Buddhas' Two Wisdoms.
H1. Praising the Two Wisdoms with words.
I1. Describing the provisional and actual wisdom of all Buddhas.
J1. Acclaiming both types of wisdom.
J2. Describing the foundation of both types of wisdom.
The previous prose and verse sections were an introduction to the Sutra, setting forth the Sutra's causes and conditions. Now that the causes and conditions have been related, we will proceed to explain the second chapter which is called Chapter Two: Expedient Devices.
A device is a method, and expedient means effective. This type of method is a provisional dharma, not a real one. It is a provisional device designed for temporary use. Real means that it is forever unchanging, forever usable. However, if you begin by speaking the unchanging, real dharma, no one can understand it. That is why the Buddhas of the ten directions artfully set forth expedient Dharma-doors and “bestow the provisional for the sake of the real.” Later, they “open the provisional to reveal the real.”
“Bestowing the provisional for the sake of the real” means that, for the sake of realizing Buddhahood, the Hearer and Pratyekabuddha Vehicles are taught. After that, the Bodhisattva Vehicle is taught. The ultimate destination, however, is the Buddha Vehicle. The Buddha Vehicle is real. The Hearer and Pratyekabuddha Vehicles are provisional, taught for the sake of realizing Buddhahood. Small Vehicle Dharma is taught provisionally. Later, living beings are led to return to the Great Vehicle, the Buddha-fruition. That is what it means by “bestowing the provisional for the sake of the real.”
Next, let us consider what is meant by “opening the provisional to reveal the real.” At the very beginning, when the Buddha taught the Hearers and Pratyekabuddhas, he said, “This Dharma-door is the very best. It is incomparable Dharma. Nothing can compare with it.” The Small Vehicle people cultivated in accord and certified to the first, second, third, and fourth fruition of Sagehood. They were satisfied with just a little. They thought that was what the Buddhadharma was all about. They did not go forward or seek to advance. They stopped at a Transformed City. The analogy of the Transformed City will be discussed when we come to Chapter Seven. Those of the Two Vehicles felt that they had expended considerable energy in their cultivation. They had practiced all kinds of ascetic practices in order to certify to the attainment of the Sagely fruition. They didn't know that there was still the Buddha Way to be realized. Above, they did not seek the Buddha Way, and, below, they did not teach and transform living beings. They were “independent Arhats.” Having realized the Buddha Way themselves, they paid no attention to whether other living beings realized it.
For that reason, the Buddha began to “open” up the provisional dharma. He said, “The doctrines I previously explained to you were not the utmost Dharma-doors. Although you have certified to the Sagely fruition, it's not the ultimate position. You still have to return from the small and go towards the great. You must turn away from the Small Vehicle and go towards the Great Vehicle. You ought to walk the Bodhisattva path and cultivate the Six Paramitas and the Ten Thousand Conducts, the dharmas of the Great Vehicle.” Thus, the Buddha destroyed the provisional dharmas by making them obsolete, and he revealed the genuine doctrine.
At that time, when this chapter was spoken, the World Honored One, the Buddha, the one honored by gods and humans, both in and beyond the world, arose serenely from samadhi. Shakyamuni Buddha had entered the Samadhi of the Station of Limitless Principles. Now, he emerges from that concentration, and he does so serenely, which means peacefully and with self-mastery. He wasn't like those who, when finished meditating, immediately stretch out their painful legs and backs, roll their necks, and flex their shoulders. That's not being serene. It shows a lack of good manners, besides. Serene means calm, feeling one's entire body to be comfortable. It means no pain in the legs or in the back. The Buddha arose from samadhi and he was just about the same as before he had entered it. He didn't notice that his legs were uncomfortable.
And told Shariputra: He arose and, since no one asked him, the Buddha spoke without being requested to speak. Why did he speak to Shariputra? It was because among the assembly of Hearers, Shariputra was foremost in wisdom. He was the most intelligent. Within the space of a single week, Shariputra had completely penetrated the entire storehouse of Dharma. While still inside his mother's womb, Shariputra won debates with his uncle. Shariputra's uncle was a great debater. He was an excellent speaker who possessed unobstructed eloquence. However, when Shariputra's mother was pregnant with Shariputra, she borrowed Shariputra's wisdom and used it to defeat her older brother. Shakyamuni Buddha now addressed Shariputra, because he was so wise. Manjushri Bodhisattva, who spoke previously, is foremost in real wisdom, the wisdom of the Great Vehicle, whereas Shariputra is foremost in the wisdom of the provisional teaching, the wisdom of the Small Vehicle.
Shakyamuni Buddha now tells Shariputra, The wisdom of all the Buddhas is extremely profound and unlimited. It is extremely deep; it's bottomless and so you cannot know how deep it is. It is unlimited because it cannot be reckoned. It is at once profound and unlimited. It's a kind of wisdom that is so high and so deep that it cannot be fathomed or known by reckoning. It cannot be known through analogy. That's what the wisdom of all the Buddhas is like.
The gateway to this wisdom is difficult to understand and difficult to enter. Since the Buddha's wisdom is extremely profound and has no limit, how can one enter into it? How can one enter the wisdom of the Buddhas? The gate into the wisdom of Buddhas is hard to understand and to enter. It's not at all easy to be clear about it. It's difficult to certify to its attainment.
It cannot be known by any of the Hearers or Pratyekabuddhas. The assembly of Hearers and Pratyekabuddhas cannot understand it.
Hearers and Pratyekabuddhas belong to the Two Vehicles. Those who are born when a Buddha is in the world and who cultivate the Twelve Causes and Conditions are called Those Enlightened by Conditions. Those who are born when no Buddha is in the world and who cultivate on their own, seeing the flowers bloom in the spring and the yellow leaves fall in the autumn, and thus awaken to the Way, are called Pratyekabuddhas.
Hearers cultivate the Dharma of the Four Truths and certify to the fruition. The Four Truths are: the truth of suffering, the truth of origination, the truth of extinction, and the truth of the Way.
The Hearers and Pratyekabuddhas are the sages of the Small Vehicle. Although they have certified to the fruitions of sagehood, they cannot know the Buddha's wisdom; they don't understand it
What is the reason? Why can't they understand it? The Buddhas have, in the past, drawn near to countless hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of millions of Buddhas. The reason the Buddhas became Buddhas was because, in the past, they drew near to all the Buddhas. They presented them with offerings and paid them homage, exhaustively practicing the unlimited Dharmas of the Way of those Buddhas. They cultivate the Way. They study the limitless Dharmas of the Way of all those millions of Buddhas. They cultivate according to the Buddhadharma. It is not known how many Dharma-doors they cultivate--a limitless, boundless number of them. So now we study a little bit of Dharma and think that we understand it. We read a single book on Buddhism and think we know it all. That is to be too shameless! It is to take the Buddhadharma too lightly, as too simple. There are even those who have never studied Sutras. That’s just to insult the audience. They are unable to benefit themselves and even less able to lecture in such a muddled fashion that, the more they talk, the less people understand. Some of them explain donkeys as horses and others explain ghosts as people. They cannot explain the word “ghost” correctly and they cannot even read the word “person.” Still, they go around lecturing. If you ask them a question, they might say, “I never read that book so I cannot comment on that.” They may strike up a conversation with you, perhaps using lines from the Chan School. They say they understand, but they really do not, and so they end up telling you to go figure it out for yourself.
You may wonder, “If those of the Two Vehicles did not understand the Great Vehicle, then how can common people understand it now?”
Those of the Two Vehicles went up step by step. Although we are common people, if we understand the doctrines of the Great Vehicle, we can immediately certify to the attainment of the fruit of the Great Vehicle. It’s like studying. Some people begin in elementary school and work their way up through high school and on to the university. Others may not have been to school, but they associate with those in elementary school and high school and find their studies very simple. They understand them as soon as they hear them, and so they can go directly to the university to study. Although we are common people, our affinities are such that we get to hear the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma in the beginning. Those of the Two Vehicles affinities were such that they did not get to hear the Great Vehicle until the very end, in the Dharma Flower Assembly. At that time, they turned away from the Small Vehicle and went towards the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma. Now, we have an excellent chance to study the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma, and to understand it directly and quickly.
They are forging ahead with courage and vigor and their names are known everywhere. They were courageous. They continued to go forward, no matter how tired they were. Vigor means that they did not rest. Because of their courage and vigor, they were well known. They were not like Seeker of Fame Bodhisattva who went around seeking fame everywhere. They cultivated vigorously, and, because they did not seek fame, fame came of itself. That is why their names were heard everywhere.
“They have accomplished the most profound Dharma, one which has never been before, and speak of it according to what is appropriate, but its purport is difficult to understand.”
They have accomplished the most profound Dharma, one which has never been before. They have realized the supreme, profound dharma. Such a Dharma has never before existed. No one had ever obtained it before. And speak of it according to what is appropriate—They speak the Dharma according to the beings’ potential. They bestow the Teaching in accord with the people being taught. They speak the Dharma according to the individual’s needs. Like prescribing medicine for a specific illness.
But its purport is difficult to understand. Although they speak the Dharma in accord with what is appropriate, still the wisdom of the Buddhas is extremely deep and unlimited. Its purport is not easy to understand, Shariputra.
“Shariputra, from the time I realized Buddhahood, I have, by means of various causes and conditions and various analogies, extensively proclaimed the verbal teaching. With countless expedient devices, I have guided living beings, leading them to separate from all attachments.”
“Why is this? The Thus Come One has already perfected his expedient devices, his knowledge and vision, and the paramitas.”
“Shariputra, the knowledge and vision of the Thus Come One is vast, great, profound, and far-reaching. He has profoundly entered, without boundary, the unlimiteds, the unobstructeds, the powers, the fearlessnesses, the dhyana concentrations, and the samadhis of liberation, accomplishing all those dharmas never had before.”
I2. Describing the provisional and actual wisdom of Shakyamuni Buddha
J1. Acclaiming both types of wisdom
J2. Describing the foundation of both types of wisdom.
In the Dharma which the Buddha spoke, the wise see wisdom, and the humane see humaneness. The profound see profundity and the superficial see superficiality. It is said, “The Dharma is proclaimed with a single sound and each gains understanding according to his kind.” Although the Buddha spoke Dharma with a single sound, all living beings understood it. The humans understood it. The spirits understood it, too. The ghosts, the Bodhisattvas, the Hearers and the Conditioned Enlightened Ones all understood it. Each understood the doctrine on his own terms and none understood it completely. That is why the text says, “Its purport is difficult to understand.”
Some of them may have understood one aspect of its meaning, but not two aspects. Some may have understood two aspects, but not three. The Buddha spoke a single doctrine, but it included all of existence.
“Shariputra!” Shakyamuni Buddha calls out again, “from the time I realized Buddhahood,” what time was that? It was one night when he was sitting beneath the Bodhi Tree. He looked up, saw a bright star, and was enlightened to the Way. From that time until the present, I have by means of various kinds of causes and conditions; I have used various kinds of causes and conditions, not just one kind, but many different kinds, and various analogies. I have also used a limitless, countless number of analogies to explain the Buddhadharma. Extensively proclaimed the verbal teaching. “Extensively” means broadly; “proclaimed” means that he expounded and elaborated upon the principles. The “verbal teaching” means that the Buddha went everywhere lecturing on the Sutras and speaking the Dharma.
With countless expedient devices. It is not known how many expedients were used to teach and transform living beings. It is said,
“With good and clever expedients
He saves living beings;
He turns the dust of the world
Into the Buddha’s work.”
The Buddha uses ingenious methods to save all living beings. Ordinary things are turned into the Buddha’s work. While in the dust of the world, one cultivates and transcends the dust.
I have guided living beings, leading them to separate from all attachments. I have used many expedient devices to guide living beings. “Guide” means to induce. In Confucianism they say, “In an orderly fashion, one well-induces…” If you want to be a teacher, you must have a method to teach your students. If you have no method, the students will run away from you. They’ll be afraid of you. If you have a method, then this student will want to study with you and that student will want to study with you—all of them will like to study under you. If you have no teaching plan, however, they will sign up for your course today, and drop out tomorrow.
Teachers who know how to teach can bring in students from long distances and may have hundreds of students signed up for their classes. Other teachers, who are less skilled, may start out with a hundred and the following day, eighty will be left. The next day sixty will remain, and on the fourth day only forty. By the eighth day they will be totally alone! They may want to teach, but no one wants to learn from them. Why not? Because they do not know how to teach! If they did, they would say, “Work hard! I am going to give you a test, so you should pay special attention! If you are not lazy I will pass you whether or not your grades are good. I may give you a B or an A, but no one will get a C. If you do not study well, however, you won’t even get a D.” Hearing this, the students think, “He’ll certainly give me a B or an A,” and so they work hard.
The Buddhadharma works the same way. The Buddha is a good teacher. He uses all manner of Dharma-doors, saying, “Study the Four Truths. If you study them you can certify to the Sagely fruit, to the first fruit of Arhatship, or to the second, third, or even to the fourth fruit! If you cultivate the dharma of the Twelve Causes and Conditions, you can certify to the position of a Conditioned Enlightened One.” After that, he turns them from the small towards the great and tells them, “In the future you can all become Buddhas, but first you’ve got to practice the Bodhisattva Way. You must first cultivate the Six Perfections and the Ten Thousand Conducts.”
When those of the Two Vehicles hear this, they think, “So there was the Bodhisattva Vehicle all the time!” and they set the Small Vehicle aside to practice the Great Vehicle Dharma.
If the Buddha had started out saying, “You should cultivate the Great Vehicle Dharma,” and not first taught them the lesser vehicles, they would have thought, “In the Great Vehicle you’re supposed to give. How can I give my things away? That’s just not fair. I’m simply not going to do it.” If someone has just begun to study the Dharma and not yet obtained the slightest advantage, you cannot tell them that they have to give the moment they walk in the door. For example, if someone comes to listen to a lecture and you start talking to him before they have even crossed the threshold, saying, “Do you want to listen to the Sutra? Give me a hundred dollars!” They are going to think, “Oh! What’s this all about? A hundred dollars?” And off they will run. They do not get to hear the Sutra lecture. They do not give a hundred dollars, and you do not get any offerings.
But after they have heard the Sutra lectures for a while, they will come to understand that in order to practice the Bodhisattva Way, it is necessary to give. Then they may give a thousand or even ten thousand dollars—a lot more than the original one hundred. When they understand, they will give; if you tell them to give before they understand the principle, it will be harder for them than cutting off a piece of their own flesh. Even if it is very obvious that they should give, you cannot just tell them to give when they do not understand the Buddhadharma.
Since the Buddha understood this Dharma-door, he first told them to study the dharmas of the Two Vehicles. “Just do your own cultivation,” he said. “Know suffering, cut off origination, long for extinction and cultivate the Way. Cultivate that and certify to the fruit.”
They think about it, “Hmm…I don’t have to do anything but cultivate and gain accomplishment on my own,” and so they cultivate according to that Dharma-door.
Once they have cultivated and certified to the fruit of Arhatship, the Buddha “opens the provisional to reveal the real.” He does away with the provisional dharma in favor of the Great Vehicle. At that time, even though they may not want to cultivate it, they’ve got a taste of the Dharma and so they set the lesser dharmas aside and cultivate the Great Vehicle. When they cultivate the Great Vehicle, they have to give and hold the precepts. Giving and morality are the first two of the Six Perfections.
As to maintaining the precepts: Those who wish to maintain precepts are advised to do so themselves. They should pay attention to whether or not they, themselves, are keeping the precepts. They should not go around pestering other people about them saying things like, “Since you don’t understand, I’ll explain to you how to keep this precept here.”
Precepts are to be kept personally. You should not go around telling other people to keep them. Keep your own precepts. Don’t fail to keep them yourself and yet hound other people about keeping them. That is just like having filthy clothes yourself which you do not wash and yet helping others wash their clothes. It’s also called neglecting your own fields and weeding other people’s fields. You do not work in your own fields, but you go help other plant theirs. Your own go to ruin and you reap no harvest. So, in keeping the precepts, keep them yourself.
You must also practice the Perfections of Patience, Vigor, Dhyanasamadhi, and Prajna. You must cultivate all these various Dharma-doors.
So why did the Buddha not speak the Great Vehicle Dharma to begin with? It was because he feared that those of the Two Vehicles would not have it in their hearts to benefit others but would only care to benefit themselves. That is why he spoke the lesser dharmas first. Then later, when they had realized their own self-benefit, they could start to think about enlightening others. Thus, the Buddha used all manners of methods to teach living beings to leave their attachments. Living beings had to learn to part with the things they could not put down—their attachments.
At this point in the Sutra, everyone should return the light and reverse the illumination. Ask yourself, “Have I now separated from my attachments?”
If you have separated from your attachments, you should separate from them a bit further. If you have not separated from them, hurry up and do so. Do not be attached.
We should definitely believe in the Dharma which the Thus Come One has spoken. We should not merely listen without actually practicing. The most important thing is to separate from attachments.
Why is this? Why should one separate from all attachments?
The Thus Come One has already perfected his expedient devices, his knowledge and vision, and the paramitas. He has reached the other shore in all of these. He has penetrated the source of Dharma with his knowledge.
Shariputra, the knowledge and vision of the Thus Come One is vast, great, profound, and far-reaching. What is the knowledge of the Thus Come One? It refers to wisdom that plumbs the source of all Dharmas. The Thus Come One’s vision refers to comprehending the emptiness of all dharmas. The Buddha’s knowledge and vision is broad. There is nothing more vast, nothing greater. It cannot be spoken of in terms of numbers. It is so big there is nothing beyond it, and so small there is nothing inside it. It is so great that you could not find anything greater or more profound. It is extremely deep. Ultimately how deep is it? No one knows.
He has profoundly entered, without boundary, the unlimiteds, the Buddha has four unlimited minds: kindness, compassion, joy and giving. The unobstructeds, refers to the four types of unobstructed eloquence: unobstructed eloquence in Dharma, unobstructed eloquence in meaning, unobstructed eloquence in phrasing and unobstructed eloquence in delight in speaking.
The powers are the ten wisdom powers of the Buddha. Fearlessnesses refer to his four types of fearlessness.Dhyana concentrations refer to the Buddha’s samadhis. Dhyana is a Sanskrit word, which is interpreted as “thought cultivation ( 思惟修 --si wei xiu)” or as “stilling thought ( 靜慮 --jing lu).” Through the practice of dhyana meditation false thinking disappears.
No matter what one does, one should be concentrated. You can obtain samadhi in anything you do. Chopping wood, drawing water, serving guests—in all situations one can cultivate concentration.
Dhyana Master Yung Ming Shou, the Sixth Patriarch of the Pure Land School in China, recited the Buddha’s name one hundred thousand times a day—“Namo Amitabha Buddha, Namo Amitabha Buddha”—and yet he did not shirk any of his duties. He did all kinds of work, but while he was working he was in the Buddha-recitation samadhi. Each time he recited “Namo Amitabha Buddha” a transformation Buddha came out of his mouth. Who saw it? The people at the time who had the Buddha Eye could see it. Ordinary people could not. Everyone said that Dhyana Master Yung Ming Shou was a transformation body of Amitabha Buddha. He was always in the Buddha Recitation Samadhi.
So you see, no matter what kind of work you are involved in, all you have to do is have a persevering, unchanging mind and you can obtain concentration power.
And the samadhis of liberation. These states of samadhi were so high and so deep; they could not be fathomed. The Thus Come One has profoundly entered them, without boundary. There is no limit to them.
Accomplishing all those Dharmas never had before. He is able to accomplish those dharmas, which have never been before, the samadhis, which have never been before.
“Shariputra, the Thus Come One is able to make various discriminations, cleverly speaking all dharmas. His speech is gentle and delights the hearts of the multitudes.”
“Shariputra, essentially speaking, the Buddha has fully accomplished all of those unlimited, boundless dharmas which have never been before.”
H2. Praising the Two Wisdoms as being beyond description
I1. Basis for this praise
J2. That which is beyond description
Shakyamuni Buddha calls out once again, Shariputra, the Thus Come One is able to make various discriminations, the Buddha, the World Honored One, is skilled at discriminating the Real Mark of all dharmas.
What is meant by “dharma?”
The dharma is a method. If you speak the method in an ingenious way, you can lead your listeners to accept your doctrines. That is “clever speech.” If you speak clumsily, you may talk them out of believing. Basically, it was something they enjoyed doing, but, by the time you are done talking about it, they no longer want to do it. That’s clumsy, awkward speech. If they did not want to do something, and you talked them into it, that would be clever speech.
The Sixth Patriarch, the Great Master Hui Neng, could not read but he was able to speak all dharmas ingeniously. Once there were two people who were arguing. One of them said that the wind was moving, and the other said the flag was moving. They argued back and forth for a long time. The Sixth Patriarch said to them, “the wind isn’t moving and the flag isn’t moving. Your minds are moving! When your minds move, the flag moves and the wind moves; but if your minds don’t move, then nothing moves.” That’s clever speech!
If you know how to cultivate the Way, you can do so in all your activities, and you will always be in samadhi. How did the Sixth Patriarch become enlightened? He was a firewood gatherer in the mountains. He took his bundles into town, sold them, and used the money to support his old mother. He did this out of a sense of filiality. He did not sit in meditation and investigate Dhyana. When he went to the monastery of the Fifth Patriarch, what do you think happened? The Fifth Patriarch ordered him to pound rice. He pounded rice all day long. He had no time to meditate or study the Buddhadharma. He did not recite a single sentence of a mantra or sit once in meditation. But he became enlightened.
How did he become enlightened?
In everything he did, he worked with a single mind. He did not strike up false thinking. Because he made his mind one-pointed, he gained genuine samadhi. No matter what people do, if they can make their minds one-pointed, they can obtain samadhi and become enlightened. You don’t necessarily have to sit in Dhyana meditation.
His speech is gentle. The Buddha speaks the Dharma with very gentle words. He does not put a lot of pressure on people, saying things like, “Hey! Do this! If you don’t do it, you’re in trouble!” He is not like me, this unfair teacher who has set down a very unfair law. I said that if any of you got angry, all parties involved had to kneel for twenty-four hours straight. Still, even though the law is unfair, I did not do it for selfish reasons. It is a kind of ingenious method to keep you from getting angry. If you do not understand this dharma, you might find it unfair. But if you understand it, you’ll know that it is a most wonderful dharma indeed.
And delights the hearts of the multitudes. The words the Buddha speaks are extremely gentle and harmonious. Everyone who hears them feels extremely happy. His speech seems to be very much in accord with their own way of seeing things. Thus, their hearts are delighted; they are all happy.
Shariputra, says the Buddha yet again, essentially speaking, to come right to the point, the Buddha has fully accomplished all of those unlimited, boundless dharmas, which have never been before. There are unlimited dharmas, which have never been before and the Buddha has accomplished every one of them. However, accomplishing is accomplishing, and that is one thing, but now he says:
I2. The actual praise of stopping the explanation
Today we will stop at the word Stop. If the Buddha himself says, “stop,” how can I continue? So I will not speak either. Tomorrow though, we are going to discuss the most important part of the Sutra, the Ten Suchnesses.
Since it is such an important passage, I am not going to discuss it today. You can wait nervously for a night, and I’ll tell you tomorrow.
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