The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 4: Belief and Understanding
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
“World Honored One, the poor son then, hiring himself as a laborer here and there, unexpectedly arrived at his father’s house. Standing by the gate, he saw his father seated on a Lion-seat. His feet were resting on a jeweled footstool, and he was reverently surrounded by Brahmans, Kshatriyas, and laypeople. Necklaces of pearls, their value in the millions, adorned his body. Attendants and servants, holding white whisks, waited on him right and left.
Above him was a jeweled canopy hung with flowers and pennants. Fragrant water was sprinkled on the ground, and expensive flowers were scattered about. Precious objects were placed in rows, which were passed out and taken in on leaving and entering. Such were the adornments, and the majesty and authority of his awesome virtue.
When the poor son saw his father, possessed of such great power, he was immediately afraid and regretted having come there. Secretly he thought, ‘This is perhaps a king, or one equal to a king. This is no place for me to hire myself out. I’d better go to a poor village where there will be room for me to work and where I can easily obtain clothing and food. If I stay here any longer, I may be forced to work.’ And with this thought, he quickly ran off.”
M2. Father and son see one another.
N1. Son sees the father.
Subhuti, Mahakashyapa, Katyayana, and Maudgalyayana called out again, World Honored One, the poor son then, hiring himself as a laborer here and there, getting different jobs from day to day. The Buddha’s disciples had run off. Those of the Great Vehicle disposition had run away into the Three Realms. There, they were forced to undergo the eight sufferings, and so they were looking for a way out, a path out of suffering. They ran here and there seeking a method to escape but could not find one.
Unexpectedly arrived at his father’s house. After a while, when they had been to many places, they came in turn to the place where the Buddha lived, that is, the Land of Expedients with Residue and the Land of Adornment of Real Reward. Standing by the gate, he saw that his father’s house was beautifully adorned. He did not dare stand in the middle of the gate, but only off to one side. This represents the Small Vehicle people who dwell in two extremes: one is emptiness and the other falseness. They do not stand in the Middle Way. He saw his father at a distance. Although he was far away, his son could still see him. This shows that the Small Vehicle people still had the Great Vehicle disposition. Seated on a lion-seat. The seat was beautifully carved with lions on it. This represents that the Buddha sits on the Dharma King’s seat manifesting the ten thousand foot high Reward Body. His feet were resting on a jeweled footstool. The jeweled footstool represents the Buddha’s perfection of both wisdom and samadhi.
And he was reverently surrounded by Brahmans. Brahmans are those who cultivate pure conduct. Here, they represent the Bodhisattvas at the stage of Equal Enlightenment who were present in the Avatamsaka Assembly. Kshatriyas are the ruling class. Here they represent the Bodhisattvas from the First to the Ninth Grounds present in the Avatamsaka Assembly. Laypeople refer to the other Bodhisattvas in the Avatamsaka Assembly. The Buddha was surrounded by these great Bodhisattvas.
Necklaces of Real pearls represent the ultimate keeping of precepts, the Shurangama Samadhi, and all the various aspects of real mark wisdom, as well as the four methods of conversion and so on. Their value in the millions means that the Buddhadharma is wonderful beyond description, past all reckoning. Adorned his body: These Dharma jewels adorned his Dharma appearance, and the Great Bodhisattvas surrounded him. Attendants refer to Bodhisattvas who have certified to the fruit. Servants refer to those still cultivating the perfection of expedients. Holding white whisks. They are brushes that look like horse tails and are used like dusters. In the Forty-two Hands there is the White Whisk Hand. Waited on him right and left represents entering into the wisdom of emptiness and brushing away the dust of the Four Dwellings:
1. dwelling in the love of views;
2. dwelling in the love of desire;
3. dwelling in the love of form;
4. dwelling in the love of the formless.
The left represents entering into the wisdom of the false and brushing away the dust of “unknowing.” “Right and left” then refers to brushing away the dust of emptiness and falseness (existence).
Above him was jeweled canopy. The jeweled canopy represents his real compassion, his great compassion heart. Hung with flowers and pennants. The flowers represent the four methods of conversion: giving, kind words, conduct profitable to others and similar work. There are three kinds of giving:
1. The giving of wealth.
2. The giving of Dharma.
3. The giving of fearlessness.
Kind words means speaking with compassion, speaking gently and without harshness or temper. It means dealing with all living beings by using compassion, kindness, sympathetic joy and giving. Practice profitable to others means that you benefit other people. Similar work means that you are one of their kinds. Pennants represent spiritual powers. There are six spiritual powers:
1. The heavenly eye.
2. The heavenly ear.
3. The knowledge of other’s thoughts.
4. The knowledge of past lives.
5. The cessation of outflows.
6. The complete spirit.
Fragrant water was sprinkled on the ground. The fragrant water is the water of Dharma. The water of Dharma is sprinkled on the ground of the minds of the Great Vehicle Bodhisattvas, washing away all the dust of their delusions. The water is also the water of samadhi, which is sprinkled on the scattered mind to “unscatter it.”
Expensive flowers were scattered about. They were scattered in profusion, exquisite and valuable. The Great Vehicle Bodhisattvas have seven pure flowers. The flowers above represented the four methods of conversion. These flowers represent the seven pure flowers:
1. The three groups of pure precepts;
2. The great Shurangama Samadhi;
3. Real wisdom;
4. Cutting off doubts about the two truths;
5. Practicing the wrong path while penetrating the Buddha Path;
6. Virtue of wisdom;
7. Virtue of severing.
To gain samadhi, one must first keep the precepts. If you have samadhi, then you can gain wisdom. If you do not keep the precepts, you would not gain samadhi, and you will never give rise to wisdom. Therefore, in cultivating the Way, the precepts are the most important requirement.
There are five basic precepts:
1. No killing.
2. No stealing.
3. No sexual misconduct.
4. No false speech.
5. No taking intoxicants.
Some people say, “killing and stealing should be prohibited. Sexual misconduct is a little harder, but that should also be prohibited. Lying is no good, so that should be prohibited. But drinking--what problem is there with drinking? Why include that? The Buddha must have made a mistake when he set up that precept.”
Do you think this person’s reasoning is correct? It may seem to have some principle, but actually it is totally wrong. Intoxicants confuse the nature. Once you drink, say, although you may never think about murdering someone, you might. You might not steal ordinarily, but under the influence of intoxicants you might steal, or with your desire inflamed by the alcohol you might commit sexual misconduct. You might lie under the influence, too. You might be asked what precepts you had broken, and you would answer, “I did not break any.”
This reminds me of a story about the five precepts. There was a layman who took the five precepts and swore off drinking. He did not drink for two or three years, until the urge hit him. He thought, “killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and lying are definitely to be avoided. But it is not going to make any difference if I drink a little wine.” He went out and bought some wine and took it home. He was a little tipsy, looking for some hors d’oeurves when, quite accidentally, the neighbor’s chicken ran right into the house. “Fried chicken!” he thought, forgetting all about the precept against killing. “A gift from god.” he thought. “Probably, because I have not had a drink in so long, God has forgiven me and given me this chicken.” He cut off its head and poured boiling water over it to remove the feathers. Then he fried it till it was quite crispy. The more he ate, the better the chicken tasted and the sweeter the wine got. He got so carried away, he even ate the chicken bones! He was ninety percent drunk by this time, when the neighbor lady knocked on his door. “Did my chicken come this way?” she asked him.
He was in a tight spot, indeed, but he got himself out of it by lying “I did not see no chicken!” By this time he had drunk the wine, killed, stolen and lied. Even though the chicken ran over on its own, still he took it and ate it without the owner’s permission, so it counts as stealing. So he had broken four of the five precepts already. Because he was drunk, lust rose up in him. “She is really pretty,” he thought, as he locked the door. Then he raped her! Thus, he broke all five precepts, just because he broke the precept against intoxicants. So, you cannot break that precept.
The great Shurangama Samadhi, the Solid Samadhi, is the second flower. In whatever you do, you must be firm and solid. If you are not, you would not be able to persevere or attain to any greatness. If you are firm and solid, you can preserve and attain great, endless samadhi. The great Shurangama Samadhi can never be destroyed. Nothing can destroy it; it surpasses all.
The third pure flower, real wisdom, is our original wisdom inherent in everyone. No one lacks it. However, we forget about it and fail to make use of it. We use provisional wisdom instead, the wisdom of expedients, which is false and unreal. It is the wisdom of the world. Real wisdom is transcendental wisdom. With it one can penetrate the real mark of all dharmas; one can understand all dharmas.
The fourth pure flower is that of cutting off doubts concerning the two truths. The two truths are the common truth and the real truth. The common truth refers to attachment to all worldly marks. The real truth is the nature of the transcendental. One refers to the marks and the other to the nature.
Neither of these two truths reaches the absolute. They correspond to the first two of the three contemplations. The common truth is the truth of emptiness, and the real truth is the truth of falseness. They do not reach the level of the middle way, but fall into the two extremes. Cutting off delusions concerning these two truths, then, is the fourth pure flower. While delusions concerning them remain, one is not pure. When the delusions are cut off, one is pure.
The fifth pure flower is that of practicing on the wrong path, but penetrating to the Buddha path. Although one is going down the wrong road, one still manages to return to the Buddha path. In this case, one’s cultivation is not in accord with the wonderful doctrine of the Great Vehicle, with the proper path. Perhaps one cultivates the Small Vehicle dharmas, or dharmas of outside religions, or unbeneficial austerities.
The sixth pure flower is the virtue of wisdom. When the virtue of wisdom is perfected, one clearly sees the original nature. One recognizes the original nature, that is, see the original mind. One understands the mind and sees the nature.
The seventh pure flower is the virtue of severing. When this virtue is perfected, ignorance is broken, is ended, not just for a time, but forever.
These are the seven pure flowers referred to in the text by the phrase “and expensive flowers were scattered about.”
Precious objects were placed in rows represents the wonderful dharmas of the Great Vehicle, which were passed out and taken in on leaving and entering. Real wisdom was taken in. Passed out means that he went to transform those with affinities. Taken in means those of the TwoV ehicles were attracted. Passed out means they were given the Great Vehicle Dharmas. Such were the various adornments, as above mentioned, and the majesty and authority of his awesome virtue. This represents the limitlessness of his spiritual powers, the sea-like limitlessness of his thirty-two marks and eighty characteristics. These various marks, like the sea, are extremely majestic and awesome.
When poor son saw his father. When those of the Small Vehicle saw the Buddha. They had run outside and did not know the real method for cultivation. They ran all over, back and forth. When they returned, they saw the Buddha. Possessed of such great power and authority. His great power represents the greatness of his wisdom. “Great authority” represents the greatness of his spiritual powers. They saw that the Buddha’s wisdom and spiritual powers were so great, he was immediately afraid. Upon seeing the Buddha’s marks and characteristics of such adorned majesty, truly a body with sea-like marks, those of the Small Vehicle were afraid. Why? They had never seen anything so wonderful before. These marks surpassed those of the gods! So they were afraid. They thought, “Probably it is a demon king.” And regretted having come there. “How did I get here?” Secretly he thought. “This is perhaps a king or one equal to a king.” “King” here does not refer to the king of a country nor does it refer to the Great Brahma Heaven King. It refers to the demon king.
He was like Shariputra, who thought, “Could this be a demon come to disturb my mind?” Shariputra, with all his great wisdom, had some doubts. Now the poor son, who could not hold a candle to Shariputra as far as wisdom goes, thought this was a demon king or one of the demon’s retinue that is, the demon’s children and grandchildren. This is no place for me to hire myself out. This is no place for me to cultivate. This is no place to make money. If I cultivate here, I would not get enlightened, I would not get any advantages. I’d better go to a poor village where there will be room for me to work. I would be better off on the other side of the tracks, actually. This means he would be better off cultivating the Two Vehicles. I can work at my cultivation there. And where I can easily obtain clothing, the clothing of the aids of the Path, and the Food of the Proper Path. I would be better off cultivating there. If I stay here any longer. If I wait around for very long I may be forced to work. I will be made to cultivate the Great Vehicle Dharma. I cannot cultivate the Great Vehicle Dharma! You cannot make me cultivate it, either! You cannot force me, my gosh! And with this thought, this secret thought, he quickly ran off.
He thought that the Great Vehicle Dharma was too difficult to cultivate. The Great Vehicle Bodhisattvas must enter birth and death. Those of the Two Vehicles are afraid of birth and death. Those of the Great Vehicle roam and sport in birth and death, purifying the Buddhalands, while teaching and transforming living beings. They do not change and yet accord with conditions. They accord with conditions and yet do not change. They enter birth and death, and yet they are not subject to birth and death. They abide in the dust of the common world and yet transcend the dust of the common world. That is the realm of the Great Vehicle. The people of the Two Vehicles find this terrifying. “Gees! I am not doing that! I cannot cultivate that Dharma.” They look upon themselves as about as big as a mote of dust. They are not like the Bodhisattvas who encompass all of existence. Because followers of the two vehicles’ state is so small, they are afraid and quickly run off. Where do they run to? To the small vehicle.
“Then the wealthy elder, seated on the Lion-seat, seeing his son, recognized him and his heart rejoiced greatly, as he thought, ‘I now have someone to whom I can bequeath my wealth and treasuries. I have constantly been mindful of my son, but had no way of seeing him. Then, all of a sudden, he came on his own, and my wish has been fulfilled. Although I am old and decrepit I still longed for him with regret.’”
N2. The father sees the son.
Then the wealthy elder, the Buddha, seated on the lion-seat, the seat of the Dharma King, seeing his son, recognized him. As soon as the Buddha saw those of the Two Vehicles, he recognized them. He said, “Although now they are living beings of the Two Vehicles, in the past I have taught them the principles of the Great Vehicle; consequently, they have the seeds of the Great Vehicle within them.” Thus, he recognized them, and his heart rejoiced greatly. He was very, very happy, because the Buddha’s vows are fulfilled when living beings are saved.
As he thought, “I now have someone to whom I can bequeath my wealth and treasuries. My wealth of Dharma and the treasuries of all the Dhyanas and liberations are limitless, the thirty-seven aids to the path, the Six Perfections, and the Ten Thousand Practices, the Four Truths and the Twelve Links--all these Dharma treasures -- now there is someone to inherit them.
I have constantly been mindful of my son, thinking of those living beings of the Two Vehicles, but had no way of seeing him. They were too far away; I could not see them. Then, all of a sudden, he came on his own. They returned from the Small Vehicle and went to the Great Vehicle. And my wish has been fulfilled. This is exactly as I wished it would be. Although I am old and decrepit, very old and about to enter Nirvana, I still longed for him with regret. I regretted that those of the Two Vehicles had not been crossed over. Now that those of the Two Vehicles have come, I can fulfill my dearest wish.
“He then sent attendants to follow him and bring him back. Thereupon, the servants quickly apprehended him. The poor son in alarm shouted in resentment, “I have committed no offense. Why have I been seized?” The servants, with even greater haste, grabbed him and dragged him back. The poor son thought to himself. ‘I am blameless and yet have been imprisoned. This surely means that I will die,’ and, even more frightened, he fainted and fell to the ground.”
“The father saw his son from afar and said to the servant, “I do not need this person. Do not force him to come along. Sprinkle cold water on his face to bring him to, but do not speak further with him” Why was this? The father knew that his son’s resolve and will were inferior and lowly, and that his own nobility was a source of difficulty to his son. Therefore, although he was certain that this was his son, he expediently refrained from telling anyone, “This is my son.” The servant said to the son, “I now set you free. You may go wherever you wish.” The poor son was delighted, having gained what he had never had before. He rose from the ground and went to a poor village to seek clothing and food.”
M3. Going after the son.
N1. Sending people after the son.
He then sent attendants. Because he recognized the Two Vehicle people and saw that they had returned and were about to run off yet again, he sent attendants; Bodhisattvas, Knights of the Dharma-body, to go teach and transform them. To follow him and bring him back. He said, “Go, cross them over and tell them to return.” The servants, the Bodhisattva, quickly apprehended him. The Bodhisattvas were in a great hurry to teach and transform them; they went there and spoke the Great Vehicle Dharma to them straight away, saying, “Hurry up and practice the Bodhisattva Path! The Bodhisattva Path is the Way to realization of Buddhahood.” “Apprehended” him means that he spoke praises of the Great Vehicle Dharma hoping to cross them over.
The poor son in alarm. The people of the Two Vehicles had never before heard the Great Vehicle Dharma. They had never before heard the Great Vehicle Dharma. They had spent their whole lives studying the Small Vehicle. Naturally, they were frightened. “Is there such a Dharma?” they wondered. “No...”
And shouted in resentment. They had doubts about this Dharma door and felt resentment, because they felt they are unable to cultivate it themselves. I have committed no offense. I do not want to cultivate the Great Vehicle Dharma. Why are you trying to force me into it? Why have I been seized?
The Servants, with even greater haste, grasped him and dragged him back. The more they did not want to cultivate it, the more they insisted that they do. “No way! You absolutely must cultivate the Great Vehicle Dharma and return from the small towards the great. If you do not cultivate the Great Vehicle Dharma, how can you become a Buddha? Do not be so unreasonable. Hurry up and cultivate the Great Vehicle.” The more they did not want to listen, the more they force them to listen. The more they tried to get them to listen, the less they wanted to listen, and they grew fearful.
The more servants tried to drag him back, the more frightened he became. “What is going on here?” he thought. “I am being taken under false pretenses. If you really wanted me to cultivate, why would you be so impatient and rash about it?”
The poor son thought to himself, “I am blameless.” I never wanted to cultivate this Dharma. Why are you trying to make me cultivate it now? Why are you taking me into custody like this? And yet have been imprisoned. I should be able to cultivate whatever Dharma I want to. Why are you trying to force me to cultivate your dharma? This surely means that I will die. If I cultivate your Dharma, it is all over for me. I will die. That is, I would not realize the Way. And even more frightened. The more they tried to cross him over, the more frightened he became. He fainted and fell to the ground. He was scared to death!
The father, the Buddha, saw his son, those of the Two Vehicles, from afar, that is, scared to death. “From afar” means that he saw that those of the Two Vehicles refused the teaching of the Bodhisattvas. He then decided to use an expedient device. He said to his servant, and said to the servant, “I do not need this person.” Do not speak the Dharma to him. Do not try to talk him into it saying, “The Buddhadharma is great. It is the most wonderful. You can end birth and death and gain wisdom if you study it” Since he does not know anything at all about it, he simply thinks, “What is he talking about? What is ‘ending birth and death’? What do you mean, ‘gain wisdom’?” If you tell him too much, he just runs away.
You have to be able to see what people like. So, today one disciple first gave her son a piece of candy. She did not worry about whether or not he believed in the Buddhadharma. First give them something sweet. Then, ever afterward they will remember the Buddhist Lecture Hall as being sweet, and it will be a pleasant memory. If you give them bitter-melon as soon as they get here, they would not like it. If you tell them, “It is really bitter here. It is very difficult to cultivate the Way,” they would not want to cultivate. They would not want the bitterness. I believe that if some of my disciples had known how hard it was here when they first came--you have to get up early, and you get to bed late--they would have run off long ago for sure. But they have gained a taste for cultivation and now, even though they may think about running off, still they want to give it a try.
I have one disciple who wants to leave home, but he has lied to me several times. People said to me that I should not allow him to leave home, because in the future if he did not follow the precepts it would be bad. It would be best just to tell him to leave. I thought it over and people all come to understanding from having not understood. Now, he wants to cultivate the Way, and this is not an easy matter. In America, this heavenly place, no one wants to fall into hells. Those who have left home do not eat well, their living arrangements are not the best, and most people would consider this hell. But, this hell is a hell for ending suffering. It is not like the Avichi hells which have no end. So, we will let him have another chance to cultivate the Way. In Buddhism one must be compassionate. We will see how it goes, give it a try.
I do not need this person. Do not force him to come along. Do not force him to cultivate the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma. Wait a while.
Sprinkle cold water on his face to bring him to, but do not speak further with him. He was so frightened that he fainted on the spot. Now, the cold water on his face brought his spirits back and revived him once again. This means that he just waited, and the son thought it over and understood by himself. I am waiting now, too.
Why was this? The father knew that his son’s resolve was inferior and lowly, and that his own nobility was a source of difficulty to his son. The poor son was afraid of the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma so he passed out, collapsing on the ground. The servant sprinkled cold water on his face. This represents the water of the teaching of the Four Holy Truths. The teaching of the Four Truths “brought him to,” that is, led him to cultivate and certify to the fruit.
The father knew that his son’s: the Buddha knew that those of the Small Vehicle’s -- resolve was inferior and lowly. They did not have much sense. Because their dispositions inclined to the Small Vehicle, one could not teach them the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma. And that his own nobility: the Buddha knew that he himself was powerful; his Dharma-body pervades all places. Both his Reward and Response Bodies are very noble and esteemed, was a source of difficulty to his son. It is very hard for those of the Small Vehicle to believe in. It is very hard to believe in.
Therefore, although he was certain that this was his son. The Buddha, observing the potentials and the causal conditions, knew that these living beings had already, during the time of twenty-millions Buddhas been taught and transformed, thus acquiring the seeds of the Great Vehicle. Therefore, he knew for sure they were sons of the Buddha. He expediently refrained from telling anyone, “This is my son.” Since they could not accept the Great Vehicle Dharma, he used the expedient device dharma-doors to teach and transform those of the Small Vehicle. “He refrained from telling anyone,” means that, in this present incarnation, when teaching the Four Truths, the Twelve Links, and so on, from the Agama to the Prajna Teachings, he never told anyone that those of the Two Vehicles could become Buddhas. He never said, “This is my son,” as he did in the Dharma Flower Assembly when he told Shariputra that in the future he would be a Buddha by the name of Flower light. The Buddha never said that the Hearers were the Buddha’s sons. He only said that of the Bodhisattvas.
The servant said to the son. The servant refers to the Buddha’s wisdom, to the Buddha’s teaching, and also to the Bodhisattvas.
I now set you free. I am not going to force you to cultivate the Great Vehicle. You may go wherever you wish. Do what you like. If you want to cultivate the Small Vehicle, go ahead, as you please. I would not insist on teaching you the Great Vehicle Dharma.
The poor son was delighted. Those of the Small Vehicle thought, “We get to do whatever we want! We can keep cultivating the Small Vehicle.” They had never been so happy. Having gained what he had never had before. He rose from the ground. He had fainted and was still lying on the ground. Now, having been revived with cold water, he rose. He had thought to quit cultivating, but now he resolved to continue cultivating his Small Vehicle Dharmas. And went to a poor village to seek clothing and food. He went to a poverty-stricken village, that is, to the realm of the Two Vehicles, to cultivate the small vehicle path, to seek the clothing of the Proper Dharma and the food of the Aids to the Path.
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