The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 2: Expedient Devices
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
All the Buddhas have made this vow
“As to the Buddha Way which I have walked,
I wish to lead all living beings
Alike to obtain this Path.”
And although the Buddhas of the future
Will speak a hundred thousand million,
They are, in fact, for the sake of One Vehicle.
All Buddhas, Doubly Perfect Honored Ones,
Know the Dharmas are eternally without a nature.
The Buddha-seed arises from conditions;
Thus they speak of the One Vehicle.
This Dharma abides in the Dharma’s position,
Dwelling forever in worldly marks.
Having understood this in the Bodhimanda,
The Guiding Master teaches it expediently.
L2. The singularity of the practice.
L3. The singularity of the teaching.
L4. The singularity of the noumenon.
The previous passage of text read, “All of the Thus Come Ones by means of limitless expedients help all living beings to enter the Buddha’s non-outflow wisdom. Of those who have heard this Dharma, none will fail to become Buddhas. This section of text falls under the heading of “the singularity of the cultivators.” The present section of text: “All the Buddhas have made this vow, as to the Buddha Way which I have walked, I wish to lead all living beings alike to obtain this path”/ falls under the outline heading of “the singularity of the practice.”
The Dharma Flower Sutra contains the Ten Wonders of the Root and the Ten Wonders of the Branches. Presently we are discussing 1) the singularity of the cultivators, 2) the singularity of the practice, 3) the singularity of the teaching, and 4) the singularity of the principle.
So the Buddhas all made a vow to lead living beings to obtain the Way that they themselves walked down. You may ask, “Since there is no Dharma which can be obtained, why does the text say ‘obtain the Way?’”
In The Vajra Sutra, Subhuti says, “While the Buddha was with Burning Lamp Buddha, there was no Dharma which he obtained as anuttarasamyaksambodhi.” Anuttarasamyaksambodhi is possessed by us inherently. It is not obtained from the outside. That is why in reality, there is nothing obtained.
We have it all along; it is just that we do not know that we do. Because we do not know we have it, it can be likened to a bright gem hidden in our clothing. We do not know that a shining gem has been sewn into our clothing. The gem is just the Buddha- nature. We are basically one with the Buddha-nature. Why haven’t we become Buddhas? It is because we have not found our inherent Buddha-nature within ourselves. We now want to become Buddhas, but this actually means getting back the valuables, which were ours to begin with, nothing more. The text says, “Alike to obtain this Path.” The Buddhas wish to lead all living beings to cultivate this Dharma-door. This shows the singularity of the practice.
And although the Buddhas of the future, all the Buddhas of the future will speak a hundred thousand million countless Dharma-doors, they are in fact, for the sake of One Vehicle, the Buddha Vehicle.
All Buddhas, Doubly Perfect Honored Ones, those perfect in blessings and in wisdom know the Dharmas are eternally without a nature. The Buddha-seed arises from conditions; thus they speak of the One Vehicle. The Buddha’s Dharma-doors arise from conditions. It is for the sake of the Buddha’s teaching of the One Vehicle that all of other teachings are spoken, that is, the Storehouse Teaching, the Pervasive Teaching, and the Separate Teaching. They are all really presented for the sake of the Buddha Vehicle. This is to show the singularity of the teaching. They are all for the sake of the One Buddha Vehicle; there are no other vehicles.
This Dharma abides in the Dharma’s position. “This Dharma” refers to The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra. And where is the Dharma’s position? Dwelling forever in worldly marks. The Dharma is found to dwell in worldly appearances, for in worldly dharmas themselves are transcendental Dharmas found. Transcendental Dharmas themselves are just worldly dharmas. So the Sixth Patriarch said,
“The Buddhadharma is in the world.
Enlightenment is not apart from the world.
To search for Bodhi apart from the world
Is like looking for a hare with horns.”
Having understood this in the Bodhimanda; Shakyamuni Buddha says, “I sat in the fields of enlightenment and, after I became a Buddha, I understood this doctrine. The Guiding Master teaches it expediently. The Guiding Master, the Buddha, uses all kinds of expedient devices to teach this Dharma. That is the singularity of the principle. The essential principle is one.
Those who receive the offerings of gods and humans,
The Buddhas of the present in the ten directions,
Their number like the Ganges’ sands,
Manifest within the world
To bring peace and comfort to living beings,
And also speak Dharma such as this.
Knowing the foremost still extinction,
They use the power of expedients
To demonstrate the various paths,
In reality, for the sake of the Buddha Vehicle.
Knowing the conduct of living beings,
The thoughts deep within their minds,
Their habitual actions in the past,
The nature of their desire, the power of their vigor,
And their faculties, keen or dull,
They employ various causes and conditions,
Analogies and verbal expressions,
To teach them the appropriate expedients.
J4. The Buddhas of the present.
Those who receive the offerings of gods and humans, those who are worthy of the offering of the gods and of human beings. The Buddhas of the present in the ten directions. All the Buddhas currently in the ten directions. Their number like the Ganges’ sands. Their number is as many as the grains of sand in the Ganges River. Manifest within the world, they appear in the worlds of the ten directions to bring peace and comfort to living beings. They act out of the desire to bring peace and security to living beings. And also speak Dharma such as this, they also speak The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra. Knowing the foremost still extinction, knowing the number one Dharma of still extinction, the wonderful principle of the Real Mark, they use the power of expedients. If they started out by speaking the Real Mark, no one would understand, and so they use the power of various expedients and bestow the provisional for the sake of the real. To demonstrate the various paths, they set forth all manners of Dharma-doors and various expedient devices. In reality, for the sake of the Buddha Vehicle, they set them forth, in fact, for the sake of the One Vehicle. Their final aim, the ultimate goal, is to speak the Buddha Vehicle to cause living beings to become Buddhas.
Knowing the conduct of living beings, the actions of living beings, the thoughts deep within their minds, just what they are thinking. Their habitual actions in the past. The defilements habitually practiced in past lives now present as karmic retribution. The nature of their desires, the power of their vigor. They all have thoughts of desire and a different measure of vigor in their cultivation. And their faculties, keen or dull; some living beings have sharp dispositions and others are slow-witted. Those with keen faculties are intelligent. Those with dull faculties are stupid. They employ various causes and conditions, they use all types of causes and conditions, analogies and verbal expressions, parables and phrases to teach them the appropriate expedients. According to the basic natures of living beings, they respond to them and teach them the Dharma, using expedient devices. For example, to living beings who are very stubborn, they speak about compassion and in this way take them across. They explain prajna wisdom to stupid living beings so that they may give rise to wisdom. They teach scattered living beings how to cultivate dhyana samadhi. To those who are lax they teach vigor. Living beings who continually violate the precepts are instructed in morality. People heavily burdened with greed are taught to give. They employ various expedient devices to teach living beings. This is what is meant by, “To teach them the appropriate expedients.”
Now I, too, am like them.
Using various Dharma-doors,
I proclaim the Buddha Way
To bring peace and comfort to living beings.
I use the power of my wisdom,
To know the nature of beings’ desires;
I speak all dharmas expediently,
To lead them all to happiness.
Shariputra, you should know,
As I regard them with my Buddha Eye,
I see living beings in the six paths,
Impoverished, lacking blessings and wisdom,
Entering the dangerous path of birth and death,
Where they suffer unremittingly.
They are deeply attached to the five desires,
Like a yak caring for its tail,
They smother themselves with greed and love,
Blind, and in darkness, seeing nothing.
They do not seek the mighty Buddha,
Or the Dharma which cuts off suffering,
But instead they deeply enter into deviant views;
With suffering, they wish to cast off suffering.
For the sake of these beings,
I give rise to the great compassion heart.
I2. Shakyamuni Buddha.
J1. General review of dispensing the provisional and revealing the actual.
K1. Revealing the actual.
K2. Dispensing the provisional.
J2. An extensive reiteration of the six points.
K1. The five turbidities as reason for the provisional teaching.
Now I, too, am like them/ now, at present, I, Shakyamuni Buddha, am also thus. I am like the Buddhas of the past, future and present. Using various Dharma-doors/ I proclaim the Buddha Way/ To bring peace and comfort to living beings/ I lead all living beings to gain security and happiness.
I use the power of my wisdom, the Buddha’s true, real wisdom, to know the nature of beings’ desires. All living beings have their own particular natural desires, the things they are fond of. I understand them all very clearly. I speak all dharmas expediently. Because I understand all living beings, I use expedient Dharmas to teach and transform living beings, teaching them all the dharmas. To lead them all to happiness. I lead all living beings to be filled with the true bliss of Dharma, to receive the Dharma’s moisture, as the water moistens things. I moisten living beings with the Dharma, to cause them to be filled with joy.
Shariputra, you should know, as I regard them with my Buddha Eye, I see living beings in the six paths; impoverished, lacking blessings and wisdom. They are confused and deluded. They do not know how to wake up. This is because they have no wisdom and no blessed retribution. Why not? It is because they are too poor. This is the poverty that results from not understanding the Buddhadharma. They are truly pitiful, truly poor. If they had blessings and wisdom, they would not be poor. But, because they have neither, they are.
What is true wealth? Understanding the Buddhadharma is true wealth. What is poverty? Not understanding the Buddhadharma is poverty. Poverty and wealth depend upon whether or not you have blessings and wisdom. If you have blessings or wisdom, you are wealthy. If you do not, you are poor.
Where do blessings and wisdom come from? They come through cultivation of the Way. Therefore, the living beings in the six paths are poor because thy have no blessings and no wisdom. Entering the dangerous path of birth and death, they enter the risky, evil road of birth and death. The road of birth and death is extremely dangerous. It is said,
Having lost this human body,
In ten thousand eons, it is hard to get another.
We are people at present, but do not think it is easy to be a human being. Did I not tell you earlier that when Shakyamuni Buddha was in the world he once picked up a handful of dirt and asked, “Is there more dirt on the earth or more dirt in my hand?”
The disciples all replied, “There is more dirt on the earth than in the Buddha’s hand.”
The Buddha then said, “Those who obtain a human body are like the dirt in my hand. Those who lose a human body are like the dirt on the ground.” So it is extremely dangerous to enter the risky road of birth and death.
Where they suffer unremittingly; their suffering continues from one life to the next. They may be a human being in their present life, but there is no guarantee that they will be one in their next life. Their suffering is continuous and uninterrupted. The causes of suffering, the result of suffering, the retribution of suffering—it simply never ends.
They are deeply attached to the five desires. Why is it that they are not able to end their suffering? It is because they are deeply enmeshed in the five desires, forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangible objects, also called the five “dusts,” the five desires of the world. Like a yak caring for its tail; the yak is a kind of ox that places great importance on its tail. Because it thinks its tail is so important, it always watches out for it. As a result, since it thinks its tail is so important, people are always after it. Thus, out of its great desire to protect its tail, it ends up losing its very life. They smother themselves with greed and love; smothering themselves, they die, like the yak. Blind, and in darkness, seeing nothing. They are as if blind and in darkness, so of course they cannot see. They do not seek the mighty Buddha. They have no wisdom; they do not seek a teacher who understands. Therefore, those without wisdom are as if blind. If you have no teacher, you are in the dark. You cannot see anything at all. Not seeing the light means that you have no wisdom. The Buddha has great power and can rescue all living beings. Or the Dharma which cuts off suffering. They do not seek instruction from the Buddha in the methods for cutting off suffering. But instead they deeply enter into deviant views; because they do not seek wisdom, they are like blind men. They wander into deviant views.
People are very strange. If you teach them the Proper Dharma, you can teach until you are blue in the face, but they will not understand it. On the other hand, if you teach them a deviant dharma, they will catch on after just one lesson. Would you not say this was strange? If it is the Proper Dharma, you can try to teach them once, twice, three times, and they find it difficult to remember. If you teach them heretical “occult” dharmas, they remember them very easily. People believe the deviant dharmas. They may believe the Proper Dharma for a moment, but they soon lose faith in it. After awhile, as soon as your back is turned, they no longer believe. So they “deeply enter into deviant views.”
Why is it so hard for people to learn Proper Dharma, and so easy for them to learn deviant ones? It is because, life after life, we have been deeply enmeshed in deviant views. The deviant views are our old friends, as familiar as our own blood relatives. So it is easy to learn them. We have forgotten the Proper Dharma. Although we study it, it is hard for us to remember it. We learn it once, and then forget it, learn it again and forget it again. Why do we forget it? It is because we have become separated from it by too great a distance. We have grown farther and farther away from it, and soon forget it altogether.
With suffering, they wish to cast off suffering. With their misery, with the root of their suffering, they try to get rid of their suffering. This is difficult to manage.
What is the root of suffering? Ignorance. It is said,
Ignorance and its various aspects are the root of pain;
When the root of pain has been cast out, wholesome roots remain.
Merely rely on the wisdom sword’s awesome spiritual might,
To jump right off the spinning wheel and over the six-path gates.
種 種 無 明 是 苦 根
苦 根 去 盡 善 根 存
但 憑 慧 劍 威 神 力
跳 出 輪 迴 六 道 門
Ignorance is the root of suffering. When you cut off ignorance, you also cut off suffering at the root. If you wish to cut off ignorance, how are you going to do it? Merely make use of your wisdom sword. With the wisdom sword, you can cut off ignorance and jump right off the spinning wheel of rebirth. The most important thing is to have the wisdom sword. Without it, you will not be able to get out of the sea of suffering.
For the sake of these beings, because the Buddha sees living beings sunk in the sea of suffering. Being born and dying over and over again, never ending birth and death, the Buddha says, I give rise to the great compassion heart. The Buddha gives rise to a heart filled with compassion. How does the compassionate heart arise? The Buddha thinks, “Ah, these living beings are just like my own sons and daughters. How can a parent stand by and watch his children suffer?” He gives rise to a heart of great compassion to teach and transform living beings, to relieve them of their suffering and rescue them from the sea of misery.
When first I sat in the Bodhimanda,
In contemplation, or walking about the tree,
For a full three times seven days,
I thought over matters such as these:
The wisdom which I have obtained,
Is subtle, wonderful, and foremost,
But living beings are dull-rooted,
Attached to pleasure, blinded by delusion;
Beings such as these,
How can they possibly be saved?
Just then the Brahma Heaven Kings,
As well as the God Shakra,
The Four World-Protecting God Kings,
The god of the Heaven of Great Comfort,
And the other heavenly multitudes,
With retinues numbering in the billions
Reverently placed their palms together,
And requested me to turn the Dharma-wheel.
I then thought to myself,
“Were I to praise only the Buddha Vehicle,
Beings sunk in suffering
Would be unable to believe this Dharma.
They would slander it out of disbelief,
And fall into the three evil paths.
It is better that I do not speak the Dharma,
But quickly enter into Nirvana.”
K2. Dispensing the provisional.
L1. Inclination to use the Great Vehicle and realizing it is not appropriate.
M1. The appropriateness of the Great Vehicle.
M2. Living beings lack the potential.
M3. The thought to stop teaching.
When I first sat in the Bodhimanda; Shakyamuni Buddha says, “When I had just become a Buddha and was sitting in the field of the Way…” The Buddha stayed beneath the Bodhi tree for forty-nine days. In contemplation, or walking about the tree. “After I became a Buddha, I contemplated the past causes and conditions and also the future causes and conditions. Sometimes I walked around the tree. On the one hand, this was good exercise, and on the other it served to bring the thoughts of the heart together so that it did not become scattered.”
“The Buddha’s heart is basically not scattered,” you ask, “so why did he need to walk about?” He did it as an example so other living beings could imitate him in their cultivation of the Way.
For a full three times seven days; for twenty-one days I thought over matters such as these. What matters? The matters concerned with teaching and transforming living beings. The wisdom which I have obtained, is subtle, wonderful, and foremost, but living beings are dull-rooted. My wisdom is superb, but the dispositions of living beings are exceedingly dull. They are quite stupid. Attached to pleasure, blinded by delusion. They are attached to and seduced by the happiness before their eyes and are blinded by their own stupidity. Beings such as these whose stupidity covers them completely, how can they possibly be saved? They are stupid because they have no wisdom. Their inherent wisdom has been smothered by their delusion and desire. Beings like this are as if blind. What can be done to save these stupid living beings, to make them understand? Just as he was thinking about these things…
Just then the Brahma Heaven Kings, the kings in the Brahma Heavens. As well as the God Shakra, Heavenly Lord in the heaven of the Thirty-three. The Four World-Protecting God Kings; the god of the heaven of Great Comfort, as well as the ruler of the Maheshvara Heaven; and the other heavenly multitudes, all the other gods. With retinues numbering in the billions; every heavenly king brought along a billion retainers and they reverently placed their palms together and requested me to turn the Dharma-wheel. The gods made obeisance to the Buddha because they wanted him to teach the wonderful Dharma.
I then thought to myself, since all the heavenly hosts had asked me to speak the Dharma, I thought it over once again. “Were I to praise only the Buddha Vehicle and not mention the other Three Vehicles, beings sunk in suffering, living beings would think, “The Buddhadharma is so lofty and difficult. It takes three great asankhyeya eons to become a Buddha. I could never do that.” They would “gaze at the great sea and heave a sigh.” They would not want to study the Dharma. “There is no way I could ever learn something as great and profound as the Buddhadharma,” they would think.
Those who have never heard the Sutras take one look at The Dharma Flower Sutra and think. “It is so big! Two thick volumes! When will we ever finish listening to it? Do I really have that much time?” And so they do not listen. But once you have got a bit of the flavor of the Buddhadharma, you will feel that the Dharma is the most important thing in your life. It will stand in the highest position. You will think, “Even if I do not have time to eat, wear clothes, or sleep, I will certainly study the Buddhadharma.” And whenever Sutras are being lectured you will go to listen. According to the rules in Buddhism, the lay people must go to Dharma assemblies being conducted within forty miles of their residence.
Living beings are sunk in suffering. They would be unable to believe this Dharma. Because living beings are so stupid, they would not believe you when you speak of the Buddha Vehicle. They would slander it out of disbelief. Their not believing themselves is not important, but then they would try to ruin the Dharma. They would slander the Dharma out of disbelief and thereby create limitless, boundless offenses. And fall into the three evil paths. One who slanders the wonderful Dharma of the Real Teaching creates unbounded offenses and ends up falling into the hells, into the animal realm, or into the realm of hungry ghosts. They will end up like the mother of the Brahman woman in The Earth Store Bodhisattva Sutra. They will fall into the great hells. Luckily, the Brahman woman was a former incarnation of Earth Store Bodhisattva and the daughter was able to rescue her mother and gain rebirth for her in the heavens. We should each ask ourselves, “Can we be sure that our son or daughter is Earth Store Bodhisattva or someone like him?” After we have died, will they come and rescue us? There is no guarantee, and so we should bring forth a heart of genuine faith in the Buddhadharma.
It is better that I do not speak the Dharma. The Buddha thought to himself, “Because living beings might slander the Dharma and fall into the three evil paths, it would be better not to speak The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra. But quickly enter into Nirvana. I will go to Nirvana. I will not remain in the world to turn the Dharma-wheel.
Then I recalled that the Buddhas of the past
Practiced powerful expedients,
And as I now have obtained the Path,
It’s fitting that I also teach Three Vehicles.
When I had been thinking thus,
The Buddhas of the ten directions all appeared,
And with the Brahma sound encouraged me, saying,
“Good indeed, O Shakyamuni,
Foremost Guiding Master.
Having attained the supreme Dharma,
You follow the precedent of all Buddhas,
To employ the power of expedient devices.
We have all obtained as well,
That foremost Dharma, most wonderful.
For the various kinds of living beings,
We discriminate and teach Three Vehicles.
Those of little wisdom who delight in lesser dharmas,
Would not believe that they could become Buddhas.
That is why we use expedient means,
To discriminate and teach the various fruits.
Although Three Vehicles are taught,
It is only for the sake of teaching Bodhisattvas.”
L2. The idea to use the three vehicles in the way former Buddhas have done, to accord with what is appropriate.
M1. The teaching and attainment.
N1. Determining the appropriateness of the three vehicles.
N2. Small Vehicles potential.
O1. Being praised by all Buddhas.
Then I recalled that the Buddhas of the past, after a bit it occurred to me that all the Buddhas of the past had practiced powerful expedients. And as I now have obtained the Path, it’s fitting that I also teach Three Vehicles. I should also bestow the provisional teachings for the sake of the real teaching and speak of the doctrine of the Three Vehicles. When I had been thinking thus, the Buddhas of the ten directions all appeared and with the Brahma sound encouraged me, saying; they used the clear, pure Buddha-sound to encourage me. They chatted with me, saying, good indeed, O Shakyamuni. Very fine, very fine, Shakyamuni, Foremost Guiding Master. You are really the number one teacher in the world. Having attained the supreme Dharma. You have obtained the supreme and wonderful Dharma, and what is more you follow the precedent of all Buddhas to employ the power of expedient devices. You follow the example of the Buddhas of the ten directions in using provisional, expedient devices.
We have all obtained as well, that foremost Dharma, most wonderful. For the various kinds of living beings, however, we discriminate and teach Three Vehicles. Because living beings differ in their potential to receive the teachings, we establish various provisional devices, separately teaching the Great and Small Vehicles; teaching the Hearer Vehicle, the Conditioned Enlightened Vehicle, and the Bodhisattva Vehicle.
Those of little wisdom who delight in lesser dharmas. Stupid people have very little wisdom, and so they like the lesser dharmas. They do not have the disposition for the great Dharma. They are like children who can only play with small toys. If you give them something too big, they cannot play with it. You can only teach the Small Vehicle Dharma to Small Vehicle people. If you try to teach them the Great Vehicle, they just get all confused. They do not understand it. Would not believe that they could become Buddhas. Why do they delight in the lesser dharmas and fail to understand the great Dharma? It is because they do not believe that they can become Buddhas. That is why we use expedient means, provisional Dharma-doors, to discriminate and teach the various fruits speaking of the first, second, third, and fourth fruits of Arhatship. Although Three Vehicles are taught, it is only for the sake of teaching Bodhisattvas. In actuality, the Three Vehicles are only taught to teach and transform Bodhisattvas, to lead them to cultivate the Dharma-door of the One Buddha Vehicle.
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