The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 3: A Parable
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
Part Two : Shariputra’s Prediction
At that time, the Buddha told Shariputra, “I, now, amidst the great assembly of gods, humans, Shramanas, Brahmins, and others, declare that in the distant past, in the presence of twenty thousand kotis of Buddhas, for the sake of the Unsurpassed Way, I have constantly taught and transformed you. You, throughout the long night, have followed me and received my instructions. I have used expedient devices to guide you to be born within my Dharma.”
F3. The Thus Come One tells of Shariputra's realization.
G1. Shariputra was taught the Great Vehicle in the past.
At that time, the Buddha told Shariputra. Right then, the Buddha said, “I, now, amidst the great assembly of gods, humans, Shramanas.” Shramana is a Sanskrit word which means “diligent and putting to rest.” They diligently cultivate morality, samadhi, and wisdom, and put to rest greed, hatred, and stupidity.
Brahmins are those of outside ways who cultivate pure conduct.
And others, declare that in the distant past, in the presence of twenty thousand kotis of Buddhas, during the time of the twenty-thousand Buddhas named Sun-Moon-Lamp Brightness and so forth, for the sake of the Unsurpassed Way, I have constantly taught and transformed you. The text says, “For the sake of seeking the Unsurpassed Way.” There are seven aspects to the adjective “unsurpassed” as follows:
1. The unsurpassed body.
2. The unsurpassed receiving and upholding.
3. The unsurpassed completeness.
4. The unsurpassed wisdom.
5. The unsurpassed inconceivability.
6. The unsurpassed liberations.
7. The unsurpassed conduct.
The Buddha says, “I have constantly taught and transformed you, Shariputra. You, throughout the long night, have followed me and received my instructions. Before you had understood, before you had become enlightened, it was as if you were following me in the dark, long night, receiving my teachings. I taught you the Buddhadharma.”
I have used expedient devices to guide you to be born within my Dharma. I have used all manner of expedient devices and Dharma-doors to lead you and so, Shariputra, you have been born within my Buddhadharma.
“Shariputra, in the past, I taught you to resolve yourself on the Buddha Way, but you have completely forgotten this, and so you say of yourself that you have already attained quiescence.
G2. Halfway through, he forgot it and grasped at the Small Vehicle.
“Shariputra,” Shakyamuni Buddha called out again, “I have used various expedients to lead you to be born within my Dharma. In the past, I taught you to resolve yourself on the Buddha Way. I instructed you to make a great resolve, to vow to accomplish the Buddha Way, but you have completely forgotten this. You have now no recollection of the Dharma-door I taught you then.”
This is like before, I taught you all the Shurangama Sutra, but you have all forgotten it now.
And so you say of yourself that you have already attained quiescence. You say that you have attained the Dharma-door of genuine quiescence.
“Now, again, wishing you to recall the path you have practiced according to your past vows, I, for the sake of the Hearers, speak this Great Vehicle Sutra by the name of The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower, a Dharma for instructing Bodhisattvas of whom the Buddhas are protective and mindful.”
G3. Once again he is taught the Great Vehicle.
Now, again, wishing you to recall the path you have practiced according to your past vows. I wish to cause you to remember, to think back and recall the vows you made in past lives. You have made vows to the effect that in every life you would support my Dharma. What is more, you vowed you would study the Buddhadharma under me and realize the Buddha Way. Do you remember? You vowed you would not be satisfied with studying the Small Vehicle Buddhadharma or with realizing the fruit of Arhatship by any means. You should think over the vows you made in the past, vows to cultivate the Buddha Way. I for the sake of the Hearers, for those who are Shravakas, speak this Great Vehicle Sutra by the name of the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra, a Dharma for instructing Bodhisattvas of whom the Buddha is protective and mindful. When you study this Sutra, all the Buddhas throughout the ten directions will come to protect you and be mindful of you.
“Shariputra, in a future age, after limitless and boundless, inconceivable eons…”
F4. Shariputra is given a prediction.
Shariputra, in a future age, after limitless and boundless, inconceivable eons. I am now conferring a prediction upon you to the effect that, after a number of eons which is infinite and boundless, which cannot be conceived of with the mind or expressed in words.
“…having made offerings to some thousands of myriads of kotis of Buddhas, having reverently upheld the Proper Dharma, and having perfected the Path practiced by the Bodhisattvas…”
H2. Causal practices.
Having made offerings to some. “Some,” here, refers to a number that is uncountable. The exact figure is not known, but in general, Shariputra made offerings to a great many Buddhas--several thousands of myriads of kotis of Buddhas--who knows how many? Having reverently upheld the Proper Dharma. You will have most reverently practiced the Proper Dharma, not the deviant dharma.
And having perfected the Path practiced by the Bodhisattvas. Having completed the practices essential to Bodhisattvas, the Six Perfections and the Ten Thousand Practices.
“…you shall become a Buddha by the name of Flower Light Thus Come One, One Worthy of Offerings, One of Proper and Universal Knowledge, One Whose Understanding and Conduct Are Complete, a Well-gone One Who Understands the World, an Unsurpassed Knight, a Taming and Regulating Hero, a Teacher of Gods and Humans, a Buddha, a World Honored One.”
H3. Attainment of the fruition.
You shall become a Buddha by the name of Flower Light Thus come One. Here, we are give the list of the Buddha’s ten titles. The first is “Thus Come One.” The Buddha, the Thus Come One, “takes the Vehicle of the Way which is ‘ Thus’ to ‘Come’ to the realization of Proper Enlightenment.”
The Way which is “ Thus” is the real, substantial Buddha Way, the path of the realization of Buddhahood. The path of the realization of Buddhahood is most certainly not an illusion; it is real and substantial. Therefore, an explanation of the term “Thus Come One” is that the Buddha takes the Vehicle of the Way which is “Thus” to “Come” to the realization of Proper Enlightenment, that is, Buddhahood.
One of the best explanations of the term Thus Come One, however, is found in the Vajra Sutra. It says, “The Tathagata does not come from anywhere, nor does he go anywhere. Therefore, he is called the Tathagata.” The Tathagata, or Thus Come One, neither comes nor goes.
“Thus” also represents stillness. “Come” represents movement. Movement does not obstruct stillness; stillness does not obstruct movement. Movement itself is stillness and stillness itself is movement. Movement and stillness are of one “ Thusness.”
Why is there movement? Movement is manifest through stillness. Why is there stillness? Stillness appears out of movement. Stillness is produced from movement. Movement comes from stillness. That is why movement and stillness are of one “ Thusness.” They are dual and yet non-dual. Although they are two, they are one. They are like water and ice. Water is ice and ice is water. The principle is the same. So, movement does not obstruct stillness and stillness does not obstruct movement. Stillness, at its extreme point, becomes movement and movement at its extreme point turns into stillness.
We human beings move during the day and are still at night. However, sometimes during the time of stillness people move. Sometimes, during the time of movement, people are still. For instance, during the day, people are suppose to be on the move, but some of them may take naps. Sleeping is stillness and waking is movement. At night, one should sleep, but some people do not. That is movement.
Thus Come One, then, is the first of the Buddha’s ten titles.
The second title is One Worthy of Offerings. One ought to make offerings to the Buddha. Living beings should make offerings to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. On the part of the Buddha, the Buddha is worthy and should rightfully receive the offerings of gods and humans. It is said, “Where there is seeking, there will be a response. There is no influence that does not come through.” When you make offerings, you do so because you are seeking something. You seek blessings and wisdom, and therefore, you make offerings to the Triple Jewel.
The third of the Buddha’s ten titles is One of Proper and Universal Knowledge. What is meant by “Proper Knowledge?” It means that one knows that the mind produces the ten thousand dharmas. “ Universal Knowledge” means that one knows that the ten thousand dharmas are only the mind. All dharmas come from the mind:
The Buddha spoke all dharmas, for the minds of living beings.
If there were no minds, what use would dharmas be?
The fourth title is One Whose Understanding and Conduct are Complete. “Understanding” refers to the light of wisdom. “Conduct” refers to his cultivation. Because the Buddha is replete with wisdom, he is said to be complete in understanding and conduct.
Fifthly, the Buddha is the a Well-gone One Who Understands the World. “Well” means good. “Gone” means that he has gone to a good place. He understands and is clear about everything in the world. There are no dharmas, either mundane or transcendental, which he does not understand.
His sixth title is that of an Unsurpassed Knight. Only the Buddha can be called the Unsurpassed Knight. Other living beings cannot. Bodhisattvas are called Great Knights. They also have the name, Surpassed Knights. But the Buddha is the Unsurpassed Knight. No one is higher than the Buddha.
A Taming and Regulating Hero: To steer a car, you have to turn the steering wheel. In northern China, they have horse carts. The driver cracks the whip and they go forward. This is just “regulating.” The Buddha is a great hero who tames and regulates those in the Three Realms: the Desire Realm, the Form Realm, and the Formless Realm.
A Teacher of Gods and Humans: the Buddha is a leader for both the gods in the heavens and the people on the earth. The Buddha has three meanings, “Self-enlightened,” “Enlightening Others,” and “ Complete in Enlightenment and Practice.” It is said,
Having perfected the Three Kinds of Enlightenment,
And replete with the ten thousand virtues,
He is therefore called “ the Buddha.”
A World Honored One means that the Buddha is honored both in and beyond the world.
“His country shall be called ‘Apart From Filth.’ Its ground will be level, pure and adorned, tranquil, and prosperous, and abounding with gods. It shall have lapis lazuli for soil and eight intersecting roads bordered with golden cords, and by which shall stand rows of trees made of the seven treasures constantly blooming and bearing fruit.”
His country shall be called ‘ Apart From Filth.’ Its ground shall be level, pure, and adorned. Not only will it be level, it will also be pure. There will be no garbage in it whatsoever, no unclean things. Tranquil and prosperous, and abounding with gods. The land will be peaceful and without any trouble at all. It will be filled with happiness. Not only will ordinary people live in this country, but many gods will dwell there, their numbers flourishing, like a blaze of flame.
It shall have lapis lazuli for soil and eight intersecting roads bordered with golden cords. Where the roads intersect, golden ropes will mark off the boundaries. By which shall stand rows of trees made of the seven treasures which constantly bloom and bear fruit. There will be seven rows of trees, and seven layers of jeweled netting. The trees will be laden with flowers and fruits.
“The Thus Come One Flower Light will also teach and transform living beings by means of the Three Vehicles. Shariputra, when this Buddha comes into the world, although it will not be an evil age, because of his past vows, he shall teach the Dharma of Three Vehicles.”
H5. Speaking of the Dharma.
The Thus Come One Flower Light will also teach and transform living beings by means of the Three Vehicles. The Buddha Flower Light will also use the Three Vehicles--of Hearers, Conditioned-enlightened Ones, and Bodhisattvas--to teach and transform living beings. Shariputra, when this Buddha comes into the world, although it will not be an evil age, an age of the Five Turbidities, because of his past vows, he shall teach the Dharma of Three Vehicles. Because of his original vows, he will speak the Three Vehicles. Why is this? It is because the teacher under whom he studied the Buddhadharma in the past, will have been Shakyamuni Buddha. Since his teacher spoke the Dharma of the Three Vehicles, the disciple also will make a vow to imitate his teacher. Although the age he will be born into will not be an evil one of the Five Turbidities, he will nevertheless teach the expedient Dharma of the Three Vehicles.
“That eon will be called ‘Adorned With Great Jewels.’ Why will it be called ‘Adorned With Great Jewels’? Because in that land, Bodhisattvas will be considered great jewels.”
H6. Name of the eon.
When the Thus Come One Flower Light becomes a Buddha, that eon will be called 'Adorned with Great Jewels.' Why will it be called 'Adorned With Great Jewels'? Because in that land, Bodhisattvas will be considered great jewels. This is because in that country they will take Bodhisattvas to be great jewels. During that eon, a great many Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas will emerge. The Bodhisattvas will adorn the age.
The term Bodhisattva has been explained many times. But perhaps some of you have forgotten, so today I will take a little time to explain it. Where do Bodhisattvas come from? Bodhisattvas come from living beings. Bodhisattvas originally were living beings. Then, where do living beings come from? Living beings come from the Buddha. Where does the Buddha come from? He comes from living beings. Therefore, the Buddha comes from living beings; living beings come from the Buddha. Coming and going, going and coming; not coming and not going, not going and not coming.
This eon is named after great Bodhisattvas who are called "Great Jewels." They are great living jewels which adorn the age.
“These Bodhisattvas will be limitless, boundless, and inconceivable in number, beyond the reach of calculation or analogy. Without the power of the Buddha's wisdom, no one could know their number.”
H7. Size of the assembly.
These Bodhisattvas, these great living jewels, will be limitless, boundless, and inconceivable in number. How many Bodhisattvas will there be? You could never count them. You could never find their limits. Why is this? It is because their number is inconceivable. If it had a limit or boundary, it would be "conceivable." Beyond the reach of calculation or analogy. Because the number is inconceivable, it cannot be reckoned. The number of Bodhisattvas can not be counted, can not be alluded to. Who knows how many there will be? Their numbers will be like the grains of sand in the Ganges River. The entire land will be covered with them. That is why the eon will be called 'Adorned with Great Jewels.' Take a look at the Ganges River. Can you count the grains of sand in it? The number of Bodhisattvas is even greater than that! Without the power of the Buddha's wisdom, no one could know their number. Without the Buddha's wisdom, the Ten Wisdom Powers of the Buddha, no one could know how many Bodhisattvas there will be.
“When they wish to walk, jeweled flowers will spring up beneath their feet. These Bodhisattvas will not be those who have just brought forth the resolve. They will have planted the roots of virtue for a long time, and in the presence of limitless hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of Buddhas purely cultivated Brahman conduct, constantly receiving the Buddhas’ praise, constantly cultivating the Buddha’s wisdom, and complete with great spiritual penetrations, they will be well-versed in all the doors of Dharma, straightforward, ingenuous, and resolute. Bodhisattvas such as these will fill that country.”
When they wish to walk. When they are standing there, or sitting down—there is nothing unusual about it. However, as soon as they start to walk, jeweled flowers will spring up beneath their feet. When they walk, lotuses will spring up to receive their feet. These Bodhisattvas, boundless in number, will not be those who have just brought forth the resolve. They have not just now brought forth the Bodhisattva resolve. They have cultivated good roots for a long time and have realized unobstructed wisdom. These Bodhisattvas, you might say, are old Bodhisattvas, not young ones.
Last summer, during the Summer Session, I told you:
Fish eggs, the Amala fruit,
And newly resolved Bodhisattvas--
Of these three, there are many in the cause,
But few of them bear fruit.
Newly resolved Bodhisattvas sometimes do not make it. Fish spawn in the Spring, and although they lay many eggs, not all the eggs turn into fish. Some do, but many others are turned into mush by the currents in the sea.
The Amala Tree has lots of blossoms, but bears little fruit. Bodhisattvas find that bringing forth the Bodhi resolve is easy:
The heroic resolve is easy to bring forth,
But enduring determination is hard to maintain.
The heroic resolve may suddenly arise, "Ah! I have brought forth the Bodhisattva heart. I am going to give such-and-such an amount of money." Easy to say. But if you try to give that way every day, you will find it is not easy. It is easy to bring forth the resolve to become a Bodhisattva, but very difficult to continue cultivating the Bodhisattva Way for a long time. Sometimes, people may bring forth the resolve and then retreat. Haven't I said that in cultivating the Way, people will suddenly advance, and then, just as suddenly, retreat?
"Today I am thinking about my old friends. They are all dead, and my young friends, too, are no longer in this world. My middle-aged friend died in an auto accident. The old, middle-aged, and young ones are all dead. Human life is truly meaningless. In the future, everyone is going to die. What day am I going to die? Do not know..."
Yesterday, we went to "take across" someone who had passed away. It is the Chinese Buddhist custom that when someone dies, those who have left home recite Sutras to take them across. An eighty-seven year-old had passed away, so the entire company--three novices and a Bhikshu--went to recite Sutras. When we got back, I asked one of the novices how it was. He said he really liked doing it.
"Then you should find a way to cause more people to die, so that you will have work to do every day," I joked. Actually, you should not have such false thoughts, because if you want others to die, they will also want you to die. Then everyone dies together, and the world will have no people left.
Although you like to recite Sutras for the deceased, you should wait for the conditions to occur naturally; do not think of trying to cause more people to die.
Why do I bring this up? It is because in the future everyone is going to die. The question is: After we die, where are we going? Where did we come from in the first place? That, too, is a question. Therefore, you must find out where you came from before you were born and where you will be going after you die. When you are clear about that, you would not have lived your human life in vain. You would not have come here for nothing. So the Bodhisattvas who have just brought forth the resolve, seeing that everyone is bound to die, will get nervous, "I had better hurry up and cultivate the Way, recite the Buddha's name, meditate, keep precepts, and listen to Sutra lectures. I have simply got to cultivate. There is a lecture at 125 Waverly Place, Fourth Floor. We ought to take it in."
They go to one lecture, find it utterly tasteless, and never return. That is called "The Bodhisattva bringing forth the resolve--for a day." The first day they are quite enthusiastic. The second day, they have cooled off considerably. By the third day, their hearts are frozen solid. They have entered the ice-box when it comes to the Buddhadharma.
It is easy to bring forth that initial resolve, but difficult to sustain for any length of time. So, as the verse said, there may be a great many fish eggs, Amala blossoms, and newly resolved Bodhisattvas, but few of them actually come to fruition. So these old Bodhisattvas, who knows how many little Bodhisattvas were in the group that they began in? When they walk, lotuses spring up to catch their feet. When Shakyamuni Buddha walks, there are lotuses beneath his feet, and he walks four inches above the ground. He does not need to have his feet touch the ground in order to make footprints!
"Now, that I do not believe," you say. "How could someone make footprints whose feet do not even touch the ground?"
I do not care if you believe it or not. What difference does it make to me whether or not you believe it? I am lecturing the Sutras in accord with the truth. If you do not believe it--so much the better! That is my fondest wish, in fact. If you believed, I would not have to lecture on the Sutras. As long as you do not believe, I can keep on lecturing, just to get you to disbelieve! See? The inconceivable is right there.
These Bodhisattvas will not be those who have just recently brought forth their resolves. They will have planted the roots of virtue for a long time. For a long time, they will have planted the roots of virtue, merit, and blessings. What are the roots of virtue? They are obtained by planting blessings. If you do a lot of good deeds, you are planting the roots of virtue. If you do a lot of evil deeds, you are planting the roots of offenses. These Bodhisattvas did no evil and practiced every kind of good deed. For a long time, they had been planting the roots of their virtue, not just for a day or two, a month or two, a year or two, but in every life throughout limitless, countless eons. If they found out there was a good deed to be done, they did, regardless. They benefited all living beings.
And in the presence of limitless hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of Buddhas, these old Bodhisattvas purely cultivated Brahma conduct. "Purely" means clean, sparkling clean, not defiled by a single speck of dust.
Not defiled by a single speck of dust,
The myriad thoughts are all empty.
If one wishes to be truly pure, one must not handle money. If you have money, that is impure. Having no money is a form of purity. Why? Money is the filthiest thing there is. In spite of the fact that it is filthy, everyone takes it for a treasure. When people count money, they wet their fingers with saliva to count the bills. How filthy would you say that was? The germs are crawling all over the money, but that does not stop anyone from putting it right into their pockets, germs and all. The more the better! People like to be unclean. They take dirty things as gems. The pure cultivation of Brahma conduct means that you do not hold money.
"I cannot manage that," you say. Of course you cannot. If you could, you would be a Bodhisattva. But you cannot, and so you are not! It is as simple as that.
Constantly receiving the Buddhas' praise means that the Buddhas of the ten directions praised them all the time, saying, "You are really good old Bodhisattvas, great Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas." Why do they praise them? Because they have been cultivating their roots of virtue for a long time. They are naturally deserving of the Buddhas' praises.
Constantly cultivating the Buddha's wisdom. What is the Buddha's wisdom? It is real, genuine wisdom. Complete with great spiritual penetrations, not small ones. They do not just have the power of knowing others' thoughts, or knowing past lives, or the Heavenly Eye, or the Heavenly Ear. It is not that simple. They have great spiritual powers. With great spiritual penetrations, one does not have to intentionally contemplate in order to thoroughly comprehend everything. Those with small spiritual penetrations, such as the Arhats, have to deliberately contemplate. This means that, if they want to know about something, they first have to quiet their minds and deliberately think, "I want to know this..." They have a wisdom which comes from intentional thought. Those with great spiritual powers, on the other hand, do not have to do that. They do not have to settle their minds and sit down to meditate for five minutes or so before they can know something. They do not have to meditate, because at all times and in all places, there is nothing they do not know and nothing they do not see. That is great spiritual penetrations. If you study the Buddhadharma, you should know the difference between great and small spiritual penetrations.
They will be well-versed in all the doors of Dharma. The great Bodhisattvas know the entrance into the Dharmas, that is, how to get into them, so to speak. They will be able to penetrate the Real Mark of all Dharmas.
Straightforward means that their behavior is straightforward and not sneaky. Ingenuous means that they are not false. They are truthful in all they do. And resolute. When it comes to the Buddhadharma, their determination is extremely firm. They cannot be side-tracked, and they would never retreat. Bodhisattvas such as these will fill that country. Great Bodhisattvas like these will completely fill the land of the Thus Come One Flower Light during the eon called 'Adorned with Great Jewels.’
“Shariputra, the life span of the Buddha Flower Light will be twelve small eons, not counting the time during which, as a prince, he will not yet have become a Buddha. The life spans of the people in that country will be eight small eons.”
H8. The life span
Shakyamuni Buddha called out, "Shariputra, the life span of the Buddha Flower Light will be twelve small eons.” What is meant by a "small eon"?
Every one hundred years, the average human life span decreases by one year, and the average height decreases by one inch. We are now in a period of "decrease." When the human life span has decreased to ten years--it is now on the average of sixty or seventy years--it will begin to increase again, and keep increasing to 84,000 years. One period of increase and one period of decrease is considered to be an eon. One thousand of those eons is a small eon. Twelve small eons--how long is that? You will need some time to figure it out.
Not counting the time during which, as a prince, he will not yet have become a Buddha. The life span of twelve small eons does not count the time during which he is a prince and has not yet become a Buddha. The life spans of the people in that country will be eight small eons.
“After twelve small eons, the Thus Come One Flower Light will confer upon the Bodhisattva Solid Fullness a prediction of anuttarasamyaksambodhi, and announce to the Bhikshus, ‘The Bodhisattva Solid Fullness shall next become a Buddha by the name of Flowery Feet Peacefully Walking, Tathagata, Arhat, Samyaksambuddha. His Buddha-country will be of like character.’”
H9. The successor.
After twelve small eons, the Thus Come One Flower Light will confer upon the Bodhisattva Solid Fullness a prediction of anuttarasamyaksambodhi. He will give the Bodhisattva Solid Fullness a prediction. "Solid" means firm; "fullness" means complete. What is solid? His vow power. What is complete? His vow power. What is his vow? To become a Buddha! Since his vow to become a Buddha is complete, the Thus Come One Flower Light will give him a prediction of Buddhahood and announce to the Bhikshus, "After I have entered Nirvana, the Bodhisattva Solid Fullness shall next become a Buddha by the name of Flowery Feet Peacefully Walking." The word "Bhikshu," here, includes the Four-fold Assembly. His Buddha name will be Flowery Feet Peacefully Walking, because when he walks there will be flowers springing up to catch his feet. He will walk very peacefully. "Tathagata" is the Thus Come One. "Arhat" means One Worthy of Offerings. "Samyaksambuddha" means One of Proper and Universal Knowledge. His Buddha-country will be of like character. It will be like the land of Flower Light Thus Come One, with lapis lazuli for soil and so forth.
“Shariputra, when the Buddha Flower Light has passed into quiescence, the Proper Dharma Age shall dwell in the world for thirty-two small eons. The Dharma Image Age shall dwell in the world also for thirty-two small eons.”
H10. Duration of the Dharma's dwelling.
Shariputra, when the Buddha Flower Light has passed into quiescence, the Proper Dharma Age shall dwell in the world for thirty-two small eons. There are the Proper Dharma Age, the Dharma Image Age, and the Dharma-ending Age. The Dharma Image Age shall dwell also for thirty-two small eons. During the Proper Dharma Age, people are strong in dhyana samadhi. During the Dharma Image Age, people are strong in building temples, monasteries, and Buddha images. During the Dharma-ending Age, people are strong in fighting.
"Dharma-ending" means that there is no more Dharma. The Dharma has come to its final stages, like the tips of branches on a tree. The Proper Dharma Age could be likened to the root of the tree, the Dharma Image Age to the branches, and the Dharma-ending Age to the twigs, the tips of the branches. In the Dharma Image Age, people will still create Buddha images, but in the Dharma-ending Age, they would not even do that. What will they do? They will be strong in fighting. "You fight with me. I fight with you." Everybody will be thinking only of fighting with one another, and so the good Dharma will turn into "no Dharma." Without the good Dharmas, the Buddhadharma will become extinct.
Presently, there are words on the printed Sutra texts. When the Dharma-ending Age descends, the words will disappear from the paper. Why? The chemical warfare made possible by scientific progress has created pollution to the point that there is not a single place at present where the air is clean. It is all full of poison and so when people breathe it, if they do not get cancer, they come down with some other incurable disease. Because of this impure air, gradually, the words of the Sutras will be poisoned right off the paper. The first Sutra to disappear will be the Shurangama Sutra. So in the West, the first order of business is to investigate the Shurangama Sutra and promote it. Why do we recite the Shurangama Mantra twice every day, once in the morning and once at night? If there is no one in the world who can recite the Shurangama Mantra, the demons and strange creatures can get into the world. As long as there is one person in the world who recites the Shurangama Mantra, they do not dare come into the world.
Also, the Forty-two Hands work the same way. If one person has mastered the Thousand Arm Dharani Dharma, not a single demon in the great trichiliocosm will have the gall to appear in the world. So now our recitation of the Shurangama Mantra sustains the Proper Dharma Age. We are now turning the Dharma-ending Age into the Proper Dharma Age!
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