The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 3: A Parable
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
We from of old,
Have often heard the World Honored One speak,
But never have we heard such Dharma,
So deep, wondrous, and supreme.
The World Honored One has spoken the Dharma,
And we rejoice accordingly,
As the greatly wise Shariputra
Now receives the Honored One's prediction.
We, too, are like this,
And will surely become Buddhas,
Throughout all the worlds,
Most honored and supreme.
The Buddha's Way is inconceivable,
Taught expediently according to what is fitting.
May all of our blessed karma,
In this life and in lives gone by,
And the merit and virtue gained from seeing the Buddha,
Be dedicated to the Buddha Way.
H2. Rejoicing and dedicating the merit as they gain understanding.
We, from of old. The gods say, "All of us from limitless eons in the past up until the present, have often heard the World Honored One speak. "Often" means not just once, but many times, a countless number of times. But never have we heard such Dharma. Although we have heard the Buddha speak the Dharma, we have never heard a Dharma as wonderful as this. So deep, wondrous, and supreme. It is profound, miraculous, lofty, and supreme.
The World Honored One has spoken the Dharma, the wonderful Dharma, and we rejoice accordingly. All the gods and the rest of those assembled listen to this Dharma joyfully. Especially, as the greatly wise Shariputra, the wisest among the Hearers, now receives the Honored One's prediction. He receives a prediction of his future Buddhahood, the most valuable, most glorious of predictions. We, too, are like this. All the gods also have this hope, and will surely become Buddhas. In the future, we will most surely become Buddhas. This is because in the Dharma Flower Assembly, there is not one being that will not become a Buddha. Throughout all the worlds. When we become Buddhas, in all the worlds, we shall be most honored and supreme. We shall also be the most venerated. No one shall be above us. No one shall be more lofty. The Buddha's Way is inconceivable, taught expediently according to what is fitting. It is through expedient devices that the Buddha accords with the potentials of living beings and speaks the Dharma appropriate to them.
May all of our blessed karma, in this life and in lives gone by, all of the blessings, virtue, and good karma of the gods, and the merit and virtue gained from seeing the Buddha, be dedicated to the Buddha Way. We, together, take this merit and virtue and dedicate it to our future attainment of the Buddha Way.
At that time, Shariputra spoke to the Buddha, saying, “World Honored One, I now have no further regret, having received from the Buddha a prediction for Annutarasamyaksambodhi. But the twelve hundred whose hearts have attained self-mastery, and who formerly dwelt in the Stage of Study, were constantly taught by the Buddha who said, ‘My Dharma can enable one to separate from birth, old age, sickness, and death and attain to Ultimate Nirvana.’ Both Those Who Study and Those Beyond Study alike have separated from the View of Self, the Views of Existence and Non-existence, and so forth, and claim that they have attained Nirvana. Yet now, hearing from the World Honored One that which they have never heard before, they have all fallen into doubt and delusion. Good indeed, World Honored One, I hope that you would, for the sake of the Four-fold Assembly, speak of these causes and conditions, to free them of their doubts and regrets.”
E2. Circuit of speaking the parable.
F1. Opening the three to reveal the one.
G1. The request.
At that time, when all the gods had finished speaking their verses and dedicating all their merit and virtue towards their future attainment of the Buddha Way, Shariputra spoke to the Buddha, saying, "World Honored One, I now have no further doubts or regrets. Hearing the Dharma the Buddha has spoken, I have no doubts. This is because the great and wise Shariputra understood the wonderful Dharma the Buddha spoke. He had no doubts, because he had already caught on to it. He could not ever doubt it again.
Having received from the Buddha a prediction for Anuttarasamyaksambodhi, a prediction for the Unsurpassed Proper, Equal, and Right Enlightenment, saying that his Buddha-name would be the Thus Come One Flower Light.
But the twelve hundred whose hearts have attained self-mastery, all of the 1250 disciples who have gained self-mastery, all the great Bhikshus, who formerly dwelt in the Stage of Study: the Stage of Study refers to stages prior to the attainment of Fourth Stage Arhatship. Were constantly taught by the Buddha who said: the Buddha continually taught them saying, ‘My Dharma can enable one to separate from birth, old age, sickness, and death and attain to Ultimate Nirvana.' From within my Buddhadharma, you can release yourself from the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
Birth, old age, sickness, and death: When people are born, it is extremely painful. Since you were so small and did not understand what was going on, you quickly forgot the experience. However, when we get old, we shall suffer the bitterness of old age. In what way is old age a form of suffering?
As you grow old, your eyes grow dim and your hearing fails, you teeth fall out, and so your food is tasteless. Your eyes, ears, and teeth all fail to help you. Pretty soon your legs would not help you, and soon neither will your hands. Your hands may want to pick something up, but when the time comes, they shake uncontrollably, and it becomes impossible to pick anything up. Americans like to eat with knives and forks, but when you are old, you cannot even pick them up! They seem to weigh several thousand pounds. Would you say that was suffering or not? You cannot even manage even the simplest, most basic things. After a while, your body quits on you, and all you can do is lie in bed all day long. Finally, you get sick on top of that, and suffer the bitterness of sickness.
Recently, former President Eisenhower died. He was a very old man. Despite the fact that he was the President, he still had to die. A few days ago, the newspapers reported that he had been hospitalized with a grave illness. That is the suffering of sickness. Then, he underwent the suffering of death. He had occupied the most glorious position there is, but when the time came for him to die, the spirit of death was not polite at all, and forced him to undergo great pain. Why? Because he had never studied the Buddhadharma. If one can understand the Buddhadharma and put everything down, one will not have to undergo the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, and death. One can put an end to them all.
Birth, old age, sickness, and death are very democratic. Everyone is born, grows old, gets sick, and dies. However, if you understand the Buddhadharma, truly wake up and put everything down, you can obtain control over your own birth and death. Otherwise, you cannot. Once you have gained self-mastery, for you, there is no birth, old age, sickness or death. That is the happiness of the attainment of Ultimate Nirvana. Why did Shakyamuni Buddha toil so at his cultivation? It was just because he looked upon the process of birth, aging, sickness, and death as entirely meaningless. Everyone kept being born and dying, being born and dying:
Birth, aging, sickness, death: suffering;
Death, birth, aging, sickness: suffering;
Sickness, death, birth, aging: suffering;
Aging, sickness, death, birth: suffering.
In past lives there was birth, aging, sickness, and death. In this life there is birth, aging, sickness, and death. In future lives there will still be birth, aging, sickness, and death.
Over and over again, this suffering never stops. "It is just too stupid to stay here and keep turning around like this," thought Shakyamuni Buddha. "I am determined to separate from the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, and death." So he then, left home to cultivate. Why? It was because he wished to remove himself from the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
In realizing Buddhahood, the Buddha separated himself from these sufferings, but he could not part with the other living beings who had not. "All these living beings have not left the sufferings behind. I shall take the wonderful Dharma which I have attained and spread the message to all these living beings." He told them, "My Dharma can enable one to separate from birth, old age, sickness, and death and attain Ultimate Nirvana."
Both Those Who Study and Those Beyond Study alike have separated from the View of Self, the Views of Existence and Non-existence, and so forth, and claim that they have attained Nirvana. This is Shariputra speaking. Those Who Study and Those Beyond Study thought that they had left the View of Self, and the Views of Existence and Non-existence, that is the view of permanence and the view of annihilationism.
Yet now, hearing from the World Honored One that which they have never heard before, they have all fallen into doubt and delusion. Now, in the presence of the World Honored One, they all hear the wonderful Dharma which they have never heard before, and they have fallen into the pit of doubts and delusions. They do not understand.
Good indeed, World Honored One,I hope that you would, for the sake of the Four-fold Assembly, speak of these causes and conditions, to free them of their doubts and regrets. The Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Upasakas, and Upasikas all wish to put aside their doubts. Basically, Shariputra, had no doubts, but he saw that the Four assemblies had not yet understood, and so, on their behalf, he requested the Dharma.
Former President Eisenhower has left the world. Also, Yu Tienxiu, one of the Lecture Hall's Dharma Protectors, and a Dharma Protector called Tang have left the world. Eisenhower was a two-term President who benefited America in many ways. Since we are living in America, we should transfer merit to him to take him across so that he may soon hear the Buddhadharma and realize Buddhahood. He did not hear the Buddhadharma in his last life, but perhaps he can in his next life. We should use our true hearts in dedicating merit to him and it will certainly be efficacious.
Also, next Saturday is Guanyin's anniversary. In the Chinese custom, everyone likes to bow to the Buddha on that day. So next Sunday we will bow the Great Compassion Repentance in the morning at eight o'clock and also in the afternoon. The Dharma-lecture will be here in the Lecture Hall and The Earth Store Sutra will be lectured as usual. If you want to bow twice, you can continue bowing after the lecture. On this day, bowing repentances and reciting Guanyin's name yields several thousands of millions of times of greater merit than on ordinary days. Everyone should know this. In the Lecture Hall, each night, we will recite the Buddha's name five minutes for President Eisenhower and for the Lecture Hall's Dharma Protectors. Tomorrow, we will set up memorial tablets for them and put them up in the Merit and Virtue Hall to cross them over. We shall do this for a month, inviting them to the lectures. They did not hear the Sutras while they were alive, but now that they are dead, they can come to the lectures and in the future, when they understand, they can also leave the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, and death. Tuesday is Shakyamuni Buddha's Nirvana anniversary and everyone should recite "Namo Original Teacher Shakyamuni Buddha" a little more on that day. we shall now recite for President Eisenhower.
At that time, the Buddha told Shariputra, “Have I not said before that all Buddhas, World Honored Ones, speak the Dharma by means of various causes and conditions, parables, phrases, and expedient devices, all for the sake of Anuttarasamyaksambodhi? All of these teachings are for the sake of transforming Bodhisattvas. However, Shariputra, I shall now again make use of a parable in order to further clarify the principle, for all those who are wise gain understanding through parables.”
H1. The arising.
When Shakyamuni Buddha heard Shariputra request the Dharma on behalf of the four assemblies, in order to clear up their doubts, at that time, the Buddha told Shariputra, "Have I not said before..." didn't I already say this? Haven't we been through this one before? The question implies, of course, the Buddha had told him before. "I did not not tell you. I did tell you, didn't I? Isn't that right?" It is a rhetorical question and you should not take it to mean that he actually did not say it before. That is not what it means. It means, "Didn't I tell you this already?" Tell him what?
That all Buddhas, World Honored Ones, speak the Dharma by means of various causes and conditions: All the Buddhas throughout the ten directions use various kinds of causes and conditions, parables, phrases, clever speech, and expedient devices. But although all manner of Dharmas are spoken, they are all for the sake of Anuttarasamyaksambodhi. The Dharmas are all spoken for the sake of nothing else but the Unsurpassed, Proper, Equal, and Right Enlightenment. All of these teachings are for the sake of transforming Bodhisattvas. This passage is a slight reprimand. It implies, "I already told you this, and you still do not understand! Ah, and you ask again?" But the word "However" takes the sting out if it and reassures Shariputra, "You are a good child, you are very intelligent."
"Shariputra, I shall now again make use of a parable in order to further clarify the principle. I will use another analogy to make the doctrine a little clearer for you. For all those who are wise gain understanding through parables. Through the use of analogies, they can understand the doctrine."
The following section of text is very difficult to explain, so you should pay particular attention to it.
“Shariputra, suppose that in a country, a city, or a village, there is a great Elder, aged and worn, of limitless wealth, possessing many fields, houses, and servants.”
H2. Parable proper.
J1. Setting up parable.
K1. General parable.
L1. Parable of the elder.
Shariputra, now I am going to use a parable to teach you the wonderful Dharma. Suppose, hypothetically speaking, that in a country: 'Country,' here is an analogy for the Real Retribution Adorned Land, which is where the Bodhisattvas live. A city is an analogy for the Land of Expedients with Residue, which is where those of the Two Vehicles dwell. A village is an analogy for the Land in Which the Common and Sagely Dwell Together, which is where you and I now live. The Buddha dwells in the Land of Permanent Still Pure Light.
The word "country" also refers to the large, inclusive aspect, as its boundaries are very large. A country is then divided up into smaller states. The country represents that which reaches the farthest and that which is the largest. A city is ruled by minor officials. San Francisco and New York are cities. Cities are neither far-reaching nor nearby; they are middle-sized. Villages are very small. Their boundaries do not extend for any great distance. They are small towns or hamlets.
There is a great elder: The great elder is an analogy for the Buddha. The Buddha is the great elder. In terms of worldly dharmas, an Elder has ten kinds of virtuous practices:
The Ten Virtues of an elder
1. His name is honored. The elder has an honorable name. In Chinese, when you ask a person what their name is, you say, "What is your honorable name?" This is just a polite formality. It is not the same as having an honorable name.
What is meant by having an honorable name?
In terms of worldly people, being born in the household of an emperor, or a noble lord is honorable. In India, the Kshatriyas are an honorable clan. One born in the family of a king can become a king in the future. One born in the family of a noble lord will become a noble lord.
2. He is of lofty position. The elder has a high position. His rank is especially high. What is meant by this? A Prime Minister or perhaps a great general has a high rank.
3. He has great wealth. He is very rich. Most people have storehouses full of rice or other grains, but this storehouses are completely filled with gold!
4. He has awesome courage. He is brave and courageous. It is aid, "His majesty makes one tremble." It is also said, "His awesomeness is to be feared." Everyone who sees such a person, although he has never struck, scolded, or killed anyone, everyone is still afraid of him. That is because he is awesome. Courage means bravery. He is dignified and impressive, solemn, like the great generals in military array who look very deadly. One knows not how many people they control.
5. His wisdom is profound. He has wisdom, and this wisdom is the highest, transcending all other wisdom. Such wisdom is extremely deep. All things are to him as clear as if in the palm of his hand. Nothing gets past his deep wisdom. Within his mind is contained all existence; he knows everything. All of his clever expedient devices are better than those of ordinary people. He is positively outstanding, smarter than even the most intelligent people.
6. He is advanced in years. He is very old. Although he is very old, the older he gets, the stronger he becomes. The older he gets, the healthier he becomes. He is a model for people, a leader for them.
7. His practice is pure. His conduct is pure, extremely lofty and clean. He is like a piece of white jade without a single flaw. This shows that he is immaculately pure.
In The Book Of Songs (Shi Jing), it says,
"A flaw in a mace of white jade may be ground away;
But for a flaw in speech, nothing can be done."
If there is a black spot on a mace of white jade, you can slowly polish it away. If what you say has a flaw in it, there is no way to erase it.
So the seventh virtue of an elder is that his conduct is pure. Ordinary people cannot even come close to measuring up to it.
8. His propriety is perfect. The elder is polite to everyone. He would never lack manners. He is courteous towards all. Whether you are rich or poor, noble or lowly, he is polite to you. He entertains people according to the proper rules. For example, if a friend comes he may invite him to have a cup of coffee. If his friend likes soda pop, he will treat him to a bottle. In general, he entertains guests appropriately.
9. He is praised by his superiors. It is not unusual to receive praise from one inferiors. It is rare to be praised by those above one. However, the elder is, in fact, praised by those above him.
10. He is a refuge for his inferiors. Those beneath him all return respectfully to him. He is honored by all within the four seas, and all people are like brothers and sisters to him. All people come to him for support.
For example, the king is supported by his subjects, and the President is supported by the citizens.
In this analogy, the elder represents the Buddha. Let us now discuss the Ten Virtues of an Elder as they apply to the Buddha:
1. The Buddha is born from the real limit, the True Suchness of the three periods of time, and therefore, his name is honored. The three periods of time are the past, the present, and the future. True Suchness is also called the nature of the Thus Come One's Storehouse. Because he is born from the principle substance of the Real Limit, the Buddha's name is honored.
2. The Buddha's cultivation of merit and virtue is perfect, his Way karma has been realized, and he has certified to the attainment of the Ten Titles of the Buddha. Having certified to the highest position, that of Buddhahood, he has a lofty position.
3. The Buddha has the wealth of the Dharma and the ten thousand virtues. The Buddha's Dharma is the greatest form of wealth there is, and his myriad virtues are perfect and interpenetrating. His Dharma wealth and myriad virtues are completely perfect, and so he is said to have great wealth.
4. The Buddha has Ten Wisdom Powers, and heroic courage with which to subdue demons and regulate those of external paths. He conquers the heavenly demons and regulates those of outside ways. In order to do this, he uses the Ten Wisdom Powers.
Ten Wisdom Powers of the Buddha: The wisdom power of knowing points of enlightenment and non-enlightenment. The wisdom power of knowing the karmic retributions of the three periods of time. The wisdom power of knowing all the Dhyanas, liberations, and samadhis. The wisdom power of knowing the superiority or baseness of the roots of all living beings. The wisdom power of knowing the various understandings. The wisdom power of knowing the various realms. The wisdom power of knowing where all paths lead. The wisdom power of the knowledge of the unobstructed Heavenly Eye. The wisdom power, without outflows, of knowing former lives. The wisdom power of eternally severing all habitual energies.
With these Ten Wisdom Powers, the Buddha is mighty, heroic, and awesome. He can tame all the heavenly demons and externalists.
Since he conquers heavenly demons and subdues those of outside ways, he is said to have great awesome courage.
5. Profound wisdom. As to the Buddha:
The one mind and the three wisdoms--
there is none he has not penetrated.
What is meant by "one mind, three wisdoms?" When the Buddha cultivates the Contemplation of Emptiness, he attains All-wisdom. By cultivating the Contemplation of the Truth of Falseness, he attains the Wisdom of the Way. By cultivating the Contemplation of the Middle Way, he attains the Wisdom of All-modes. With one mind he attains three kinds of wisdoms. There are none he has not penetrated. This represents the profound wisdom of the Buddha.
6. Advanced in years. Shakyamuni Buddha did not leave home just in this one life. Limitless eons ago, he had already accomplished Buddhahood, realized Right Enlightenment. Therefore, in The Brahma Net Sutra it says, "I have come to this Saha World 8,000 times." Thus, he is advanced in years.
7. Pure in practice. The three karmas of the Buddha all accord with the conduct of wisdom. All of his body karma accords with the conduct of wisdom; all of his speech karma accords with the conduct of wisdom; all of his mind karma accords with the conduct of wisdom. He never makes mistakes or errors. Because his three karmas accord with the conduct of wisdom, his practice is pure.
8. His propriety is perfect. The Buddha has perfected the awesome deportment. His heart is as big as the great sea. The Buddha's awesome deportment is never off in the slightest degree. He has three thousand awesome deportments, and eighty thousand minor practices.
9. Praised by his superiors. The Greatly Enlightened Ones of the ten directions, that is, the Buddhas of the ten directions, all praise Shakyamuni Buddha. The Buddhas are basically of one mind and there is nothing seen as above or below, high or low. But the ten directions Buddhas became Buddhas long ago, and so they are, so to speak, older in years.
10. A refuge for his inferiors. The Seven Expedients all return to him. What are the Seven Expedients? There are many different ways to explain them. However, according to the Tian Tai Teaching, they are:
1. The Vehicle of people
2. The Vehicle of gods
3. The Vehicle of Hearers
4. The Vehicle of Conditioned Enlightened Ones
5. The Vehicle of the Storehouse Teaching Bodhisattvas
6. The Vehicle of the Pervasive Teaching Bodhisattvas
7. The Vehicle of the Separate Teaching Bodhisattvas
Living beings of these Seven Expedients, also called the Seven Vehicles, all rely on the Buddha. Thus, he is a place of refuge for this inferiors. This concludes the discussion of the Ten Virtues of the Elder as they apply to the Buddha.
Four Methods of Explaining Sutras
In lecturing Sutras, there are four methods one can use:
1. Causes and conditions.
2. The essential teaching. That is, to explain according to the essential points of the teaching, telling which particular teaching each point belongs to, the Storehouse, Pervasive, Separate, or Perfect Teachings.
3. The roots and traces.
4. The contemplation of the mind.
These are four different ways to explain each passage of text. However, if we applied them all to every passage, it would take too much time. But now I will explain the Ten Virtues of the Elder according to the method of contemplation of the mind. The previous explanation was done according to the causes and condition method.
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