The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 2: Expedient Devices
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
“Shariputra, there is no need to speak further. Why is this? As to that foremost, rare, and hard-to-understand Dharma accomplished by the Buddha—only the Buddhas and the Buddha can exhaust the Real Mark of all dharmas. That is to say, with regard to all dharmas: the suchness of the marks, the suchness of the nature, the suchness of the substance, the suchness of the power, the suchness of the function, the suchness of the causes, the suchness of the conditions, the suchness of the effects, the suchness of the retributions, and the suchness of the ultimate equality from beginning to end.”
J2. The reason for stopping.
“Stop,” says Shakyamuni Buddha. “Cease.” This means that the Buddha did not want to speak The Dharma Flower Sutra.
It was to be feared that, if he spoke it, people would not believe it. What is more, they might slander it and thereby create limitless bad karma. So the Buddha thought not to speak it. He said, “I’m not going to speak it.” Shariputra,there is no need to speak further. I don’t want to continue speaking the Sutra. Why is this? As to that foremost, rare and hard-to-understand Dharma accomplished by the Buddha, the foremost, number one dharma, which the Buddha cultivated and accomplished is the non-dual Dharma-door. The non-dual Dharma-door is “not two.” It transcends the relative. “Rare” means that it has appeared very, very rarely. Why is it “hard-to-understand?” It is because it is extremely profound. This Dharma is foremost, rare, and hard to understand.
Only the Buddhas and the Buddha; that is, only the Buddhas of the ten directions and Shakyamuni Buddha can exhaust the real mark of all dharmas. Only the Buddhas can be clear about the Real Mark of all dharmas. The Real Mark is unmarked and yet there is nothing not marked with it. That is to say, with regard to all dharmas; in general, all dharmas do not go beyond the Ten Suchnesses. To speak in terms of the Ten Dharma Realms, there are Ten Suchnesses in the realm of the Buddha, Ten Suchnesses in the realm of the Bodhisattvas, Ten Suchnesses in the realm of the Conditioned Enlightened Ones and Ten Suchnesses in the realm of the Hearers. There are Ten Suchnesses in the realm of the gods, Ten Suchnesses in the realm of humans, Ten Suchnesses in the realm of asuras, Ten Suchnesses in the realm of hungry ghosts, Ten Suchnesses in the realm of the hells and Ten Suchnesses in the realm of animals. Ten Suchnesses in each ten realms makes One Hundred Realms. In each of the Hundred Realms there are also Ten Suchnesses, making One Thousand Suchnesses. I am explaining this to you very generally because this is the first time you have heard it and so you probably will not understand it too well. But if you hear it once, then the second and third time you hear it you may be able to understand it. Why don’t you understand it? Because it is the first time you’ve heard the Sutra and you hear all these, “Suchness, suchness, such a lot of them.” You do not understand them. However, the essential meaning of The Dharma Flower Sutra is right here in the Ten Suchnesses. Although you cannot fully understand it, you should pay special attention to it.
Now, I will explain the Ten Suchnesses. The word suchness in Chinese is composed of two characters: 如 -ru (like) and 是 - shi (it is). Suchness means, “thus it is.” “Thus” is a word that points to the dharma. It means that we are speaking of these dharmas.
The suchness of the mark. What is a mark? It is very simple, very easy to understand. It is an appearance. But an appearance may be true or false. What is a true appearance? That is also very easy to understand. It is permanent and unchanging. The permanent is the true appearance. It is, as The Shurangama Sutra states, “the permanently abiding true heart, the bright substance of our pure nature.”
Permanent means that it does not change; it is unchanging and yet it accords with conditions; it accords with conditions and yet does not change. It is not produced, not destroyed, not defiled, not pure, not increased, and not decreased. If I say too much, it is of no use. I am just explaining it in terms that are readily understandable. It is simply the Real Mark of True Suchness, also called “the permanent.”
The Real Mark of True Suchness is not something everyone can understand and so the text says, “Only the Buddhas and the Buddha can exhaust the Real mark of all dharmas.” This refers to the suchness of the mark, the true mark. What is it? I think you can probably understand it somewhat.
There is also the false mark. That is something that you are also very familiar with. You all know your old friend. Who is it?
Ignorance! Do you recognize it? Do you understand the term? It is nothing new. I have been lecturing the Sutras for a long time, and I often bring it up. Ignorance is an important character. It is like the leading character in a play. No doubt you are all familiar with it.
Ignorance is just a false mark. It is not true, and so it is subject to production, extinction, increase, decrease, defilement, purity, and so on. Ignorance is empty and false. It has no real substance. It is only a name and corresponds to nothing in reality. It cannot be grasped or seen. It causes us to undergo birth, old age, sickness, and death, worry, grief and misery. In the fire of the three realms all living beings are burned. It’s like being burned in a fire or boiled in water—that difficult to undergo. The Thus Come One, Shakyamuni Buddha, had genuine wisdom, and he knew about these problems. He made no mistakes in teaching living beings. Not being mistaken is just the true and real, in accord with principle. In accord with principle, it is the true, real doctrine. It is most reasonable, and so it is termed the Suchness of the Mark. The Suchness of the Mark has the two aspects of true and false. Because the Buddha taught them, we are able to hear this wonderful Dharma. As a verse earlier in the text says, “The real meaning of all dharmas I have already expounded for all heroes …”
Now, to explain the suchness of the nature. The nature has the aspects of good and evil. There is good and evil karma, which is the manifestation of the good or evil of the nature. Karma does not arise by itself, however. How does it come into existence? It is produced from the nature. The nature may manifest as good or evil. In China there is a short work called The Three Character Classic. When children start school, it is the first thing they must learn to recite. It begins: “When people are born, their natures are basically good.” When we are born, our natures are good to begin with. That original nature is the Buddha nature. However, “The nature is near, but habits lead it afar.” The nature is basically very near the Buddha nature. Corrupted by evil habits, it grows far away from the Buddha nature. This means that within our hearts there are both good and evil.
How do they manifest?
At any given time, causes and conditions of different kinds will produce a good or evil nature. For example, bamboo and wood are both flammable. That is they possess the “nature of fire.” If you just let them sit there, however, they will not catch on fire. You have to add a condition, a drill and a stick, or may be a match, to get the fire started.
Wood and bamboo both possess the nature of fire, but if no one sets them on fire, they will not burn. Without the necessary causes and conditions, fire will not come forth. For example, before the time of the ruler Sui Ren Shi, people in China devoured animals raw and drank their blood, much the way tigers do. Whatever wild creatures they caught, they would bit, chew and eat raw, and then finish off the feast by drinking their blood. The reason they ate everything raw was that fire had not been discovered yet. It was not until the time of Sui Ren Shi that people learned how to drill wood to make fire and to cook their food.
In the same way, the good and evil karma that we create depends upon our nature to come forth. The coming forth of our nature may be for the sake of goodness, in which case it is called “wisdom-light.” When you do good deeds you shine with wisdom-light. Wisdom-light accomplishes all kinds of wholesome acts. When the nature comes forth for the sake of evil, it is called “poisonous-fire,” and accomplishments by means of it are what is meant by “false conditions.”
Our natures are basically empty and still, basically non-existent, like the nature of fire present in the bamboo or wood. They have to be set on fire. They will not burn by themselves. Our natures are basically empty and although good and evil are within them, they manifest only when conditions allow. It is much like the nature of fire as discussed in The Shurangama Sutra where it says, “The nature of fire has no self; it depends upon conditions.” The fire nature has no self. Fire arises only when the causes and conditions come together. That is the doctrine of the Suchness of the Nature.
The suchness of the substance. The substance refers to our bodies and all material objects. There are three categories of substance. The first is the substance of the common person and the Sage. Originally, they are completely equal; the substance is without the common or the Sagely. This is to take the principle as the substance, the principle meaning the inherent Buddha-nature.
Secondly, people may cultivate from the position of a common person and accomplish their Way karma. This is the non-outflow substance which those who have certified to the fruition possess. Thirdly, common people have the illusory shell of the five skandhas, which unites with the four elements to become the body, a substance that has outflows.
The suchness of the power. Power here refers to karma power. I told you before that I had a left-home Dharma brother who had studied the doctrines of lecturing on the Sutras. He was always giving lectures. What is more is that he liked to lecture on the eight consciousnesses. According to the Chinese custom, to celebrate the New Year, one writes characters on red paper and puts them up on the wall for good luck. The idea is that the letters written with the brush will keep the ghosts and demons away. That year I wrote some characters that said, “Wisdom like the sea.”
My Dharma brother watched me write the characters. I wrote them very quickly in cursive style and he liked them. He started saying, “Wisdom like the sea, wisdom like the sea, wisdom like the sea…” over and over again. I said, “It looks to me that your karma power is like the sea!”
He was outraged. “Hah!” he stormed. “What do you mean, my karma power is like the sea? Here it is New Year’s and you are insulting me.”
I said, “Now, don’t you get mad. I guarantee you’re going to like it. You’ll be happy.”
“You tell me that my karma power is like the sea and I’m supposed to like it?”
I said, “As to karma power, there is good karma and there is bad karma. If I said your good karma power was like the sea, how would that strike you?”
He stared at me. “What can I say?” he said and grasped my hand. He did not get angry either. So it only took the addition of one word, “good karma like the sea,” to make his anger completely disappear. One knows not where it went, but it was gone at once. Would you say this was wonderful or not? One word was all it took. Therefore, one word can be unspeakably wonderful. But you must know how to use it. If you know how to use it, it will be wonderful. If you do not know how to use it, you will run into trouble.
Therefore, “power” here refers to the power of karma. Karma has a substance. From that substance a power or force is derived which operates in the Ten Dharma Realms, creating the Dependent and Orthodox Retribution Worlds. What is the Dependent Retribution World? It is the mountains, rivers, the earth, houses, vegetation, and the myriad appearances. The Orthodox Retribution World is all living beings. Where do the two worlds come from? They are both created from karma power. So it says, “the Suchness of the Power.”
The suchness of the function. Function means to do, to make. To make what? To make karma. Making karma, one may make good or evil karma. Creating karma, one must undergo the retribution. If you plant a good cause, you will reap a good fruit. If you plant an evil cause, you will reap an evil fruit. If you do good deeds, you receive good retribution. If you do evil acts, you receive an evil retribution. Therefore, it is all what you make it:
Good and evil are two different roads.
You can cultivate or you can commit offenses.
“Cultivate” means to cultivate the good. “Commit” means to do evil. The Suchness of the Function refers to doing good and receiving blessings or doing evil and receiving misfortune.
The suchness of the causes. A cause refers to the minds of all living beings. The mind may be likened to a piece of ground. All good and evil are manifest only from the mind. They manifest from your mind and so previously we spoke of the cause as a seed. The seed is planted in your mind and so it is called the “mind ground.” All the grasses and trees are born from the earth, and all good and evil comes from the mind. All the seeds of good and evil planted in your mind are the causes.
The suchness of the conditions. There are two factors that go into making up the conditions. The first is the factor of time. The second is the factor of the situation. The condition itself is basically devoid of good or evil, but it must be present for a particular appearance to manifest. This may be compared to something which is withered and dry, and which ignites at the first spark. The spark is the aiding condition. It may also be likened to ice which melts when the sun shines on it. The colder it gets, the harder the ice freezes, but when the sun shines, the ice will melt.
When you plant a seed in the earth, if the conditions are not right, it will not come up. If you plant the seed on ice, it will not sprout. If you plant it in fire, it will not grow either. You have to plant it in the ground and then make sure the sun shines on it and there is moisture, say from the rain falling on it. These are all conditions. They come together and help the seed, the cause, grow.
The suchness of the effects. To start out on a course of action is called the cause. If you do something, at the very beginning it is a cause. When the matter has been successfully completed, the completed matter is the effect. The effect is also spoken of in terms of good and evil. Good and evil effects come from good and evil causes respectively. So it is said, “Carrying the cause, one realizes the effects.”
The suchness of retributions. Retribution is the complex of effects incurred as a result of the karma you have created. According to the type of karma you create, you undergo just that kind of retribution.
You may ask, “What is the difference, then, between the effect and the retribution?”
The effect takes place before the retribution is undergone. It is the immediate consequence. One undergoes retribution when the effects have been broken through and one receives recompense. If you planted an evil cause, you reap the effect. Later, you receive the retribution.
What is meant by the effect? If we create all kinds of evil karma and fall into hell, that is the attainment of the effect of hell. Once you are in the pot, you are undergoing retribution. Receiving the torments of hell is retribution. If you enlighten to the principle of retribution, you can certify to the positions of the Four Sagely Realms, the Buddhas, the Bodhisattvas, the Hearers and the Conditioned Enlightened Ones. If you have awakened, you can hope to attain the Four Sagely Positions. If you are confused, deluded, you will bring the retribution of the Common Realms down upon yourself, and end up among the gods, humans, asuras, hell-beings, hungry ghosts, or animals.
The suchness of the ultimate equality from beginning to end. In the above-mentioned Suchnesses there are the two paths of confusion and enlightenment. Whether you are confused or enlightened, from the beginning to the very end, the first through the ninth, when discussed in terms of cause and effect, they are non-dual and ultimately equal.
The Ten Suchnesses are present in the Buddha Realm, but they are very fine and special states. In the hells there are also Ten Suchnesses. But they are nothing at all like the Buddha Realm states. They are very bad. They are not superior and fine. In fact, they are terrible.
The Ten Suchnesses existing in each of the Ten Dharma Realms make One Hundred Realms. The Ten Suchnesses then existing in each of the Hundred Realms make One Thousand Suchnesses. This is known as the Hundred Realms and the Thousand Suchnesses.
The Hundred and the Thousand Suchnesses include all of the various situations in the Ten Dharma Realms. The Dharma Flower Sutra lists the Ten Suchnesses and, also I have explained them, I believe you probably do not understand them fully. If you truly wish to understand them, you will have to work harder in your investigation of the Buddhadharma. After you have investigated it for a long time, you will naturally be able to understand this doctrine.
At that time, the World Honored One, wishing to restate this meaning, spoke verses saying,
Illimitable are the heroes of the world.
All the gods and people in the world,
And all the classes of living beings
Cannot know the Buddhas.
The Buddhas’ powers, fearlessnesses,
Liberations and samadhis,
And other dharmas of the Buddhas
Can be fathomed by no one.
Formerly, following countless Buddhas,
I perfectly walked all the paths
Of the wonderful Dharma, subtle and deep,
Hard to see and hard to understand;
Through limitless millions of eons,
I walked down all these paths.
In the Bodhimanda, I realized the fruit,
And have fully known and seen it all.
H1. Praising the Two Wisdoms.
I1. Praising both types of wisdom of all Buddhas and Shakyamuni Buddha.
Illimitable are the heroes of the world. The Buddhas possess great heroism, great strength, great kindness, and great compassion. No one can measure the states of the Buddhas.
All the gods and people in the world, and all the classes of living beings cannot know the Buddhas. There is not a single living being that can know the realm of the Buddhas, that can know the spiritual powers and wonderful functions of the Buddhas.
The Buddhas’ powers, fearlessnesses, liberations and samadhis, and other dharmas of the Buddhas, can be fathomed by no one. The Buddhas have Ten Wisdom Powers, Four Fearlessnesses, Eight Liberations and countless samadhis. There is not anyone who can fathom all the wonderful Dharmas of the Buddhas.
Formerly, following countless Buddhas. “Formerly” means in the causal ground, limitless eons ago. Iperfectly walked all the paths. I cultivated all the Dharma-doors of the wonderful Dharma, subtle and deep. The Dharma is extremely subtle and profound. How deep is it? No one knows. Hard to see and hard to understand. This Dharma is difficult to encounter in a hundred thousand eons. It is difficult to understand. And so the Four Vast Vows run:
Living beings are boundless,
I vow to save them.
Afflictions are endless,
I vow to sever them.
Dharma-doors are limitless,
I vow to master them.
The Buddha Way is supreme,
I vow to realize it.
In the causal ground, the Buddha made these Four Vast Vows in every life and cultivated the Way. The Dharma that he realized is not easy to understand.
Through limitless millions of eons, I walked down all these paths. I cultivated the Thirty-seven Limbs of Enlightenment. They are: the Five Roots, the Five Powers, the Four Applications of Mindfulness, the Four Right Efforts, the Four As-you-will Fulfillments, the Seven Bodhi Shares, and the Eightfold Path. That’s thirty-seven. You can also include the Four Truths, the Twelve Causes and Conditions, the Six Perfections and the Ten Thousand Conducts.
In the Bodhimanda, I realized the fruit. Because I cultivated all these Dharmas, in the Bodhimanda I realized Buddhahood. And have fully known and seen it all. I have seen all there is to see and I know all there is to know.
The great effect and retribution,
The various natures, marks, and meanings,
Are such that I and the ten-direction Buddhas
Alone can understand these matters.
H2. Praising the Two Wisdoms as beyond description.
I1. Explaining that they are beyond description.
The great effect and retribution, supreme, right enlightenment is the great effect. The perfect, full reward body is the great retribution. The various natures, marks and meanings; these refer to the doctrine of the Ten Suchnesses. Are such that I and the ten-direction Buddhas alone can understand these matters. Only the Buddhas can understand these matters.
This Dharma can’t be demonstrated,
The mark of language being still and extinct;
Of all the kinds of living beings
There is none who can understand it.
Except the host of Bodhisattvas,
Firm in the power of faith.
The host of the Buddha’s disciples
Who’ve made offerings to the Buddhas
And who have exhausted all outflows,
And dwell in their final bodies—
The strength of people such as these
Also proves inadequate.
If the world were filled
With those like Shariputra,
Who together spent their thoughts to measure it,
They couldn’t fathom the Buddha’s wisdom.
I2. Stopping the explanation.
This Dharma can’t be demonstrated. You can not just casually speak this wonderful Dharma to people. Why not? It is because of the mark of language being still and extinct; this is the ultimate Real Mark Dharma-door where the path of word and language is cut off. It has already been severed. The place where the mind functions has been dispensed with.
The mouth wants to speak but words fail;
The mind wants to think but thoughts are lost.
The mind wants to climb on conditions and scheme, but the thoughts just are not there. The thoughts have died as well.
The path of words and language is cut off.
The place of the mind’s functioning is gone.
There is nothing to say. The true, wonderful Dharma is ineffable. It cannot be expressed in words because it is something within the self-nature. It is not found outside. In this wonderful Dharma, the marks of language are still and extinct.
Of all the kinds of living beings, there is none who can understand it except the host of Bodhisattvas, firm in the power of faith. Not one single kind of living being can understand this wonderful Dharma except for the Great Vehicle Bodhisattvas. It is because the Bodhisattvas have hearts full of faith. They can understand the Real Mark Dharma. People like Bodhisattva Manjushri can understand this Dharma. They may not understand it totally, but they believe in it.
The host of the Buddha’s disciples who’ve made offerings to the Buddhas; who have, in former lives, made offerings to all the Buddhas. And who have exhausted all outflows. They have obtained to non-outflows, certified to the attainment of Pratyekabuddhahood. And dwell in their final bodies. They now inhabittheir very last retribution bodies. They will undergo no further becoming after this. The strength of persons such as these; people like the Bodhisattvas and the Pratyekabuddhas also proves inadequate. They can not understand this Buddhadharma either.
If the world were filled with those like Shariputra; let us suppose the whole world was filled with people who had as much wisdom as Shariputra, the wisest of the Buddha’s disciples, who together spent their thoughts to measure it, if they exhausted their thoughts and the power of their wisdom trying to plumb the depths of the Buddha’s wisdom, they could not do it. They could never fathom the Buddha’s inconceivable, subtle, and wonderful Dharma. They couldn’t fathom the Buddha’s wisdom. They would be unable to comprehend the wisdom of the Buddha.
Truly, suppose the ten directions,
Were filled with those like Shariputra,
And that the remaining disciples filled
All the lands in the ten directions,
And that together they spent their thoughts to measure it,
They also could not know it.
If Pratyekabuddhas of sharp wisdom
Without outflows, in their final bodies,
Also filled the ten directions,
Their number like the bamboo in the forest,
And if they put their minds together,
Wishing to think about the Buddha’s real wisdom,
Throughout measureless millions eons,
They could not know the smallest part of it.
Suppose newly resolved Bodhisattvas,
Who’ve made offerings to countless Buddhas,
Who understand the principle and the purport,
And are well able to speak the Dharma,
Whose numbers are like rice, hemp, bamboo, and reeds,
Filled the ten-direction lands,
And suppose with one mind and with wondrous wisdom,
Throughout eons like the Ganges’ sands,
They were all together to think it over,
Even they couldn’t know the Buddha’s wisdom.
The Buddha has two types of wisdom, the provisional and the real. Provisional wisdom is used to speak the Dharma in accord with conditions and to use expedient devices to take living beings across. Real wisdom is genuine, Real Mark wisdom.
Truly, suppose the ten directions. Previously it just said “the world” meaning one world. Here it says “the ten directions” meaning all the worlds in the ten directions—the infinite, boundless worlds of the Three Thousand Great Thousand World System. Were filled with those like Shariputra. If living beings of the ten-direction worlds were all as intelligent as Shariputra. Shariputra’s wisdom, however, is provisional wisdom; it is not the Buddha’s real wisdom.
And that the remaining disciples filled all the lands in the ten directions, and that together they spent their thoughts to measure it, they also could not know it. If Shariputra and all the other disciples spent their thoughts, exhausted their brains, to calculate the Buddha’s wisdom, they could not know it. They could never fathom the Buddha’s real wisdom either.
If Pratyekabuddhas of sharp wisdom. The Hearers were spoken of previously. Here, we speak of the Pratyekabuddhas who are a bit higher in wisdom. Without outflows, in their final bodies, also filled the ten directions. They have already attained to the state of no-outflows, the Penetration of the Extinction of Outflows, and they dwell in their last retribution bodies. Once one has certified to the fruit of a Pratyekabuddha, who is considered the Middle Vehicle, one does not again receive a retribution body. So, this is their very last retribution body. Their number like the bamboo in the forest. If they numbered as many as the bamboo in the bamboo groves, and if they put their minds together wishing to think about the Buddha’s real wisdom, throughout measureless millions eons, they could not know the smallest part of it. To say nothing of understanding it completely, they could not even know the tiniest, most minute portion thereof.
Suppose newly resolved Bodhisattvas, Bodhisattvas who have just brought forth their hearts, who’ve made offerings to countless Buddhas, who understand the principle and the purport, and are well able to speak the Dharma. They have unimpeded comprehension of the Buddhadharma’s doctrines. Not only that, but they are well-qualified speakers of the Dharma and possess unobstructed eloquence. Whose numbers are like rice, hemp, bamboo, and reeds, filled the ten-direction lands. And suppose with one mind and with wondrous wisdom, if they combined their hearts into one and used that fine and subtle wisdom, throughout eons like the Ganges’ sands, they were all together to think it over, even they couldn’t know the Buddha’s wisdom. If they all got together to try to calculate the Buddha’s wisdom, they could not do it.
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