The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 4: Belief and Understanding
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
“The World Honored One has, from of old, been speaking the Dharma for a long time. Sitting here all this time, our bodies tired, we have merely been mindful of emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness, taking no delight in the Bodhisattva Dharmas, in their spiritual penetrations of playfulness, in their purification of Buddhalands, or in their maturation of living beings.”
“What is the reason? The World Honored One has led us to escape the Three Realms and attain certification to Nirvana. Besides, we are now advanced in years and when the Buddha taught the Bodhisattvas of anuttarasamyaksambodhi we did not give rise to even a single thought of longing for it.”
The four Elders speak to the World Honored One: The World Honored One has, from of old, been speaking the Dharma for a long time. It has been a long time and the Buddha has spoken Dharma continuously. Sitting here all this time, we old folks find our bodies tired. We have been sitting so long, we got lazy and nodded off during the lectures. Do not think that nodding off and entering samadhi are the same thing! In samadhi your head does not lean this way or that, front or back. It is a very clear and lucid state; it is not being half asleep thinking, “I can still hear the lectures very clearly.” That is just cheating yourself. Hah!
We have merely been mindful of emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness. Everything is emptiness, signless, and there is nothing to be done. It is empty, and there are not any marks. Therefore, we do not need to practice the activity of the Bodhisattva Path or do merit and virtue. We do not wish for anything at all.” That was what they said, and therefore they found themselves taking no delight in the Bodhisattva Dharmas,their spiritual penetrations of playfulness, that is, their use of various spiritual powers to teach and transform living beings, their purification of Buddhalands, adorning and purifying the lands of other Buddhas, or their maturation of living beings, helping living beings to realize their vows and wishes. They took no delight in these things; they were not the least bit interested in them; they wanted nothing to do with them. Totally uninterested! That is called “being stubborn” again. They thought they were just fine the way they were. They were satisfied with just a small attainment.
What is the reason? Why didn’t we seek the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma, that wondrous doctrine? The World Honored One has led us to escape the three realms, and attain certification to Nirvana. The World Honored One has said that we have left the Three Realms--the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm--and certified to the attainment of Nirvana with its virtues of permanence, bliss, true self, and purity. Besides, we are now advanced in years. We are old already. We are so old, we can hardly walk! And when the Buddha taught the Bodhisattvas of anuttarasamyaksambodhi, of the Dharma for attaining the fruit of Buddhahood, we did not give rise to even a single thought of longing for it. Really, we like it the way we are; we are satisfied. We could care less.
“ Now, in the presence of the Buddha, having heard him bestow upon the Hearers the anuttarasamyaksambodhi prediction, our hearts rejoice enthusiastically and we obtain what we never have had. We never thought that now we would suddenly be able to hear this rare Dharma. We rejoice profoundly, having gained great and good benefit.”
L2. Attainment in the present assembly.
Now, in the presence of the Buddha, having heard him, Shakyamuni Buddha, bestow upon the Hearers, upon Shariputra--this includes the Conditioned Enlightened Ones and the Bodhisattvas as well--the anuttarasamyaksambodhi prediction, a prediction for their attainment of the Unsurpassed, Proper and Equal, Right Enlightenment, our hearts rejoice enthusiastically. Seeing Shariputra receive a prediction and knowing that he is our peer, we know that we can also attain one. And we obtain what we never have had. We never heard this Buddhadharma before. We never thought, it never would have occurred to us, that now we would be able to hear this rare Dharma,the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra, that wonderful Dharma. We rejoice profoundly, we are really lucky indeed, truly delighted at having gained this great and good benefit.
“It is as if, without our seeking them, limitless precious gems had come into our possession.”
K2. Making reference to the analogy.
It is as if, without our seeking them, limitless precious gems had come into our possession, so many Dharma gems, and we did not need to seek for them. We just got them without asking. When Shariputra received a prediction, they knew they had a share in it. They were not excluded. They, too, were sure to obtain a prediction for the Unsurpassed, Proper and Equal, Right Enlightenment from the Buddha.
“World Honored One, we would now like to speak a parable to clarify this principle.”
J2. Understanding through analogy.
K1. Setting up the analogy.
L1. Expressing the wish to speak.
World Honored One, we would like to speak a parable; we are delighted to do so in order to clarify this principle.
“It is as if there were a person who, in his youth, left his father and ran away, dwelling long in another country, perhaps ten, twenty or even fifty years.”
L2. Setting up the analogy proper.
M1. Father and son are separated.
N1. Son turns his back on father and runs away.
O1. Turning his back on father and running off.
It is as if there were a person who, in his youth, left his father and ran away. This person represents a follower of the Two Vehicles. Youth means that his good roots were few and weak, very scanty. Having scanty good roots, he was not disposed to the Great Vehicle, and so he left his father. The father represents the Thus Come One’s response body. During the time of twenty thousand million Buddhas, Shakyamuni Buddha taught living beings: however, after Shakyamuni Buddha’s response body went to Nirvana and the living beings were separated from their teacher, they all retreated from the Great Vehicle mind. Basically, Shakyamuni Buddha taught them at that time to cultivate the Great Vehicle Dharma. However, once they were separated from the World Honored One, they retreated from the Great Vehicle disposition. They left their father.
“They ran” means that they covered themselves with ignorance. They ran “away” means that they headed for birth and death.
Dwelling long in another country. The other country refers to the Triple Realm--the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm. Within the Triple Realm, they got caught up in the five desires: wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep. They got caught up and forgot to return for perhaps ten, twenty or even fifty years. Ten refers to the gods. Twenty refers to the human realm. Fifty years refers to the five paths: the gods, human, hell-beings, hungry ghosts, and animals. Asuras are not included, because they are found in each of the five paths. Living beings in the Triple Realm do not know that they should cultivate the Dharma door which leads to escape.
“As he grew older, he became poor and needy and ran about in the four directions in search of clothing and food. Gradually he wandered until he accidentally approached his native land.”
O2. Returning towards the origin.
This describes the Great Vehicle disposition. In the past, they had received the Buddha’s teaching. Although they had retreated from the thought of the Great Vehicle, still the seeds of the Great Vehicle imperceptibly remained and grew. Therefore, the text says, as he grew older. The Great Vehicle potential was just about ready. Even though the Great Vehicle seeds had more or less matured, still their blessings in the Great Vehicle were about to run out. How could their Great Vehicle seeds be growing and their blessings run out at the same time? It was because they retreated from the Great Vehicle and cultivated the Small Vehicle. So, the more they cultivated, the poorer and more needy they got. They were destitute because they lacked blessing and virtue.
He became poor and needy. They were poor from having undergone the Eight Sufferings: birth, old age, sickness, death, the suffering of being separated from what one loves, the suffering of being together with what one hates, the suffering of not attaining what one seeks, and the suffering of the raging blaze of the five skandhas. In the Three Realms, they had undergone all these Eight Sufferings and yet they did not know how to seek a way to escape the Three Realms. They were oppressed by the Eight Sufferings and so they were poor. As if being poor were not bad enough, they were “poor and needy,” that is, they were attacked on all sides by the eight sufferings. There was suffering to the left of them, suffering to the right of them, suffering in front, behind, and all around them. It was as if they were being burned by a fire on all sides. They were poor and needy because they had retreated from the Great Vehicle and were being burned in the Triple Realm, which is compared to a house on fire.
And ran about in the four directions, as if mounted on a horse and galloping to the left, right, front, and back. The four directions refer to the Four Applications of Mindfulness with regard to body, feelings, thoughts, and dharmas. They had been through all of the Four Applications of Mindfulness running about therein.
In search of clothing and food. This represents that they were seeking the food of the Proper Path and the clothing of the Aids to the Path. The Proper Path alone is not enough; one must have the Aids to the Path, which aid one’s cultivation and are like clothing.
Gradually, he wandered, taking his time step by step, day by day. Originally, he had run off a long way to another country. Having run so far and grown older, passing a year in each country, he made his way back to his own country. Until he accidentally approached his native land. He did not do it intentionally; it was by accident. This represents the bitter practices cultivated by those of outside way religions. Basically, they are incorrect, but sometimes they can create a causal affinity enabling them to receive the proper teaching. For example, after Shakyamuni Buddha realized Buddhahood, he went everywhere and crossed over those of outside ways, leading them to be the first to attain the Way and gain liberation.
“His father, from the first, had set out seeking his son but in vain. He settled midway in a city. His household was one of great wealth, with limitless wealth and jewels, gold, silver, lapis lazuli, coral, amber, crystal, pearls, and other jewels. His granaries and treasuries were overflowing, and he had many servants, ministers and assistants, as well as countless elephants, horses, carriages, cattle, and sheep. The profits from his trade extended to the other countries, and there were also many traders and merchants.”
N2. Father seeks son and stops halfway.
His father, from the first, had set out seeking his son but in vain. The father is the Buddha. The Buddha taught living beings, but they did not cultivate the Great Vehicle. They preferred to cultivate the Small Vehicle. They ran far, far away to another country. The Buddha set out searching for them but did not find them. The Buddha was looking for his disciples, but they did not have the potential for the Great Vehicle, so they did not meet up with him; he sought them in vain. He settled midway in a city. Midway means halfway between the Adorned Land of Real Reward and the Land of Expedients with Residue. He stopped there and did not continue to speak the Dharma and teach living beings. His stopping in a city represents that he wished to enter Nirvana. However, his household was one of great wealth. Although the Buddha wanted to enter Nirvana, he thought it over: “I have so many Dharma treasures and have no one to pass them on to. Who am I going to give them to? The great wealth refers to the Three Storehouses and Twelve Divisions of the Canon and all the limitless treasures of the Dharma.
With limitless wealth and jewels, gold, silver, lapis lazuli, coral from the ocean, amber, crystal, and pearls, which are more or less like as-you-will pearls. If you obtain one, everything is as you wish it to be. And he also had other jewels of all kinds. This represents the Buddha’s Thirty-seven Wings of Enlightenment--the Seven Bodhi Shares, the Eightfold Right Path, the Five Roots, the Five Powers, the Four Applications of Mindfulness, the Four Right Efforts, and the Four Bases of Psychic Power--as well as the Four Truths, Twelve Links, and the Six Perfections--all the Dharma treasures.
His granaries, where the grain was stored, and the treasuries where gems were stored represent the Buddha’s treasury, were overflowing, being filled with limitless Dharma jewels.
And he had many servants which represent the expedient dharmas. They will do any work you ask them to do. They will sweep the floor or cook or do other work. Expedients are used in many ways.
He had great ministers and assistants, as well as countless elephants. Elephants represent the Three Contemplations in a single thought of the Great Vehicle: One simultaneously contemplates things as being empty, false, and the middle. There is no order in contemplations--they are done simultaneously. Emptiness is falseness and falseness is emptiness and so on. The very emptiness is itself falseness, is itself the middle. This is cultivated by the Bodhisattvas of the Perfect Teaching whose dispositions are very quick and who does not need to cultivate step by step. It is the Dharma door of the Sudden Teaching. They certify to attainment immediately.
Horses represent the Three Contemplations in succession: First, one contemplates emptiness, after that falseness, and after that, the middle. This guides Bodhisattvas of the Special Teaching to the position of the Great Vehicle. They cultivate step by step.
There are carriages of all kinds.
Cattle represents the two contemplations of analyzing emptiness and experiencing emptiness and leads Bodhisattvas of the Pervasive Teaching to the Great Vehicle.
Sheep represents the Vehicle of Hearers. The Conditioned Enlightened Vehicle is not mentioned because when a Buddha is appearing in the world, the Hearers and the Conditioned Enlightened Ones are basically the same. “Countless” means that there were countless beings of the Small Vehicle.
The profits from his trade. Trade means literally going and coming. “Going” refers to the doctrine that the mind gives rise to the ten thousand dharmas. “Coming” refers to the doctrine that the ten thousand dharmas return to the mind. “Profits” refers to the benefits attained by the living beings who are taught and transformed. It is like interest in the bank. When living beings are saved and led to the Great Vehicle position, it is as if they collect interest. The profits from his trade extended to the other countries, that is, filled the Three Realms.
And there were also many traders and merchants. Traders are businessmen who travel around. Merchants refer to those who stay in one place and do business. The traders and merchants represent those of Great and Small Vehicle dispositions, the Bodhisattvas and Hearers being present in large numbers.
“Then the poor son, having wandered through various villages and passed through countries and cities, at last reached the city where his father had settled.”
N3: Son reaches the city where his father is living.
Then the poor son, that is, those of the Two Vehicles, having wandered through various villages; that is, running around in the burning house of the Three Realms, and passed through countries and cities, having travelled in many paths, through many different lands and small settlements, at last reached the city where his father had settled. Unknowingly, he arrived at the city where his father was living.
The anniversary of Guanyin Bodhisattva’s Leaving Home, the 19th day of the 6th lunar month, is coming up. The Bodhisattva has three anniversaries each year commemorating his birth, leaving home, and realizing the Way, and you should remember them. If you do not remember them, it indicates that you do not really have faith in Guanyin Bodhisattva. For example, in China we say, “You should know your parents’ age, so you can sigh and know fear.” This means that you should know how old your parents are in order to be filial to them. When you know, for example, that your father is eighty years old you will be very happy and sigh, “Ah! He is a ripe old age.” On a deeper level you will be afraid. Of what? “He is eighty already. He will soon die. My father will leave me soon.” We should be just as filial to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and know, for example, the Buddha’s birthday is the 8th day of the 4th month. The anniversary of the Buddha’s realizing the Way is the 8th day of the 12th month. The day of the Buddha’s entry into Nirvana is the 15th of the 2nd month. The anniversary of the Buddha’s leaving home is the 8th day of the 2nd month. These you should remember.
Guanyin Bodhisattva has special affinities with all of us living beings in the Saha world. So we should always remember these dates. What is more, on each anniversary, students of the Buddhadharma should come and do acts of merit and virtue. On these anniversaries or on the 1st and 15th of the lunar months, if you do merit and virtue or make offerings to the Triple Jewel the merit and virtue is greater by hundreds of millions of times.
“The father had always been mindful of his son. Although they had been separated for over fifty years, he had never spoken of the matter to anyone, but merely pondered over it, his heart filled with regret, as he thought, ‘I am old and decrepit. I have much wealth: gold, silver, and precious gems, granaries and storehouses filled to overflowing. Such a pity that I have no son! One day I’m bound to die, and when I do, my wealth will be scattered and lost, for I have no one to bequeath them to.’ This is why he ever earnestly thought of his son. ‘If I could only get my son back, I’d make him heir to my wealth. I’d be contented and happy and have no further worries.’”
N4. His father worries.
Subhuti, Mahakashyapa, Maudgalyayana, and Katyayana continued their parable, the father had always been mindful of his son, that is, the Buddha constantly recollects his disciples, he always recollects the living beings with the disposition of the Great Vehicle. And although they had been separated for over fifty years. The living beings the Buddha taught had been separated from him for over fifty years. “Fifty years” represents the Five Paths: gods, humans, hungry ghosts, animals, and hell-beings. But he had never spoken of the matter to anyone. For such a long time the Buddha never told anyone about this. He never told anyone that his Small Vehicle living beings had left their father and run away from home. Did the Bodhisattvas know about it? Yes. But, since the Buddha never talked about it, they never brought it up. The Great Vehicle Bodhisattvas knew that the further the Small Vehicle people ran, the further off they would get. And yet the Buddha never talked about this, but merely pondered over it,his heart filled with regret. “Oh, why didn’t I teach them more doctrine before, so that they would not retreat from their Great Vehicle resolve?” He was upset because the children were simply too foolish. Those of the Two Vehicles did not know enough to come back home, that is, to return to the Buddha.
As he thought, “I am old and decrepit. I have about finished teaching and transforming living beings. I have much wealth, Dharma wealth, Dharma treasures: gold, silver, precious gems, all the various Dharma gems, granaries and storehouses filled to overflowing. Granaries represent all the dhyana samadhis. Storehouses represent the real mark wisdom. Such a pity I have no son! I have no disciple. One day I’m bound to die, and when I do, my wealth will be scattered and lost. I have so many Dharma treasures and no one to inherit them. When I enter into Nirvana, they will be scattered and lost. For I have no one to bequeath them to. The Buddha sighs to himself for he could not find anyone to inherit his wealth, and so he was very anxious. This is why he ever earnestly thought of his son. He thought of his disciples. If I could get my son back, my living beings with Great Vehicle dispositions, I’d make him heir to my wealth, transmit the Dharma to them, pass the Dharma treasures on to them. I’d be contented and happy and have no further worries. Having gotten what he wished for, he would be extremely happy and tranquil. With an heir to inherit the Dharma, the Buddha would have no more worries.
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