The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 4: Belief and Understanding
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
“Then the elder, wishing to induce his son, set up an expedient and secretly sent two people, haggard and undignified in appearance, saying to them, “You may go there and gently speak to that poor one. Tell him there is a place for him to work here where he can earn twice as much. If he agrees, bring him back and put him to work. If he asks what he is to do, tell him, ‘You are being hired to sweep out dung. We two will work along with you.’”
N2. Sending two people after the son.
O1. The instruction.
P1. Suitability of three carts.
Those of the Two Vehicles on the Position of Seeing the Way (first stage Arhatship) and the Position of Cultivating the Way (second and third stage Arhatship), were in the poverty stricken village. Then the elder, wishing to induce his son. The Buddha was just about to do this; he was developing a plan and contemplating the potential conditions in order to teach and transform these living beings. He was going to use a clever expedient method to induce his son, and so he set up an expedient and secretly sent two people. What does this mean? Who are these two people? They are Bodhisattvas who have transformed themselves into Hearers and Conditioned Enlightened Ones. In terms of the Dharma, the Teaching, we would say that they are the Four Truths and the Twelve Links.
“Secretly sent” according to the Teaching, represents the “Half Teaching” and the “Full Teaching.” The Full Teaching is The Lotus Sutra, the Perfect Teaching. The Storehouse Teaching and the Pervasive Teaching are the “Half Teaching.” The Full Teaching is represented by the word “Secretly.” The Half Teaching is represented by the word “sent.”
To explain it according to the people, “secretly” means that inwardly they practiced the Bodhisattva path, but outside they manifested as Hearers “sent” to induce living beings.
According to the two teachings, provisional and real, the word “secretly” represents the real teaching; the word “sent” represents the provisional teaching. The Bodhisattvas are sent in secret; as Hearers they are sent to do the work.
The Bodhisattvas transform into Hearers, haggard and undignified in appearance. Those of the Small Vehicle do not cultivate fine marks. What do they do? They cultivate the dharmas of suffering, emptiness, impermanence, impurity, and no self. They think, “Everything is really suffering. It is incredible. I had better cultivate, hey! There is nothing to be attached to. It is all empty--meaningless! The Twelve Links, all dharmas, are impermanent. What is there to cling to? There is no self; attachments must be broken.
The world of the five turbidities is impure; it is filthy, indeed. The body is dirty--everything is unclean.” They cultivate in order to attain bliss, permanence, true self, and purity. They awaken to the principle of one-sided emptiness. They have not been enlightened to the principle of the middle way, so they do not cultivate the thirty-two marks and eighty minor characteristics of the Buddha. Their appearance is haggard. If one manifested the ten thousand-foot Nishyanda body of the Buddha, they would not believe in it. So the Bodhisattvas disguise themselves as haggard-looking ound Hearers.
“Undignified” means they had no awesome virtue. They do not have the Ten Powers or the Four Fearlessnesses. Without the Ten Powers and Four Fearlessnesses, the Bodhisattvas were the same as those of the Two Vehicles. You may go there and gently speak to that poor one. So the Buddha had the Bodhisattvas disguise themselves as poor folks, too, as those of the Two Vehicles. Then he sent them to the poor village to speak to the poor person gently. They should not be nervous and try to drag him back like they did before. They should take their time and not speak the Great Vehicle Dharma to them right away.
Tell him there is a place for him to work here, a place for him to cultivate the Way. This means that there was a place for him to cultivate the position of seeing the Way, First Stage Arhatship, and the position of cultivating the Way, the Second and Third Stages of Arhatship. A place to work means a place to cut off their delusions of views and thought. The Bodhisattvas will gradually teach him to cut off his delusions of views and thoughts and give him a Position of Seeing the Way and of Cultivating the Way.
Now, those of outside ways can subdue their delusions, thereby gaining birth in the form and formless realm heavens. They talk about being born in Paradise, but they have only subdued their delusions; they have not cut them off. Although they may be born in the heavens, they still have not ended birth and death; they have not escaped the Three Realms in the Burning house.
Where he can earn twice as much. This means he can certify to the Fourth Fruit of Arhatship. When they teach him the Four Truths and the Twelve Links and he cultivates according to them, he can end birth and death. By ending birth and death, he can certify to the Fourth Fruit, thus transcending the Three Realms and the Five Elements. By ending birth and death, he can “earn twice as much.”
If he agrees, bring him back and put him to work. “Agrees” means if that potential is there and he can be saved, then save him. If he cannot be saved, then stop. Bring him back and put him to work cultivating the Way.
If he asks what he is to do, tell him, ‘you are being hired to sweep out the dung.’ This just means cleaning out the toilets. What are the toilets? They are an analogy for the first two of the Four Holy Truths: suffering and origination, and also for casting out the delusions of views and of thought. It also refers to casting out the “dung” of ignorance. Those of the Two Vehicles cultivate suffering and emptiness, but they do not care about purifying the Buddhalands. They merely cast out the dung and do not care to purify the Buddhalands and bring living beings to accomplishment. They do not care to practice the Bodhisattva path, and so they simply sweep out the dung. That is what they are hired to do.
We two will work along with you. These two refers to the Small and Great Vehicles side by side. The Great Vehicle is leading the Small Vehicle and the Small Vehicle is turning towards the Great Vehicle. This refers to those of provisional potentials and those of real potentials cultivating together, that is, the Bodhisattvas and Hearers working together.
“Then the two servants sought out the poor son, and when they found him, they told him the above matter in detail.”
P2. Knowing son’s former thoughts.
P3. Praising the three carts.
Then the two servants sought out the poor son, and when they found him. The Buddha sent the two off with instructions. Once they were in their disguises, they sought out the poor son, the small vehicle person. Then they talked with him, chatting about the Small Vehicle Dharma and told him the above matter in detail.
“At that time the poor son first took his salary and then joined them in sweeping away the dung. When the father saw his son, he felt pity and amazement.”
P4. Inducing resolve to escape the burning house.
The poor son probably had been cheated before, and so he wanted to be paid in advance. At that time the poor son first took his salary and then joined them in sweeping away the dung. What does this mean? This means that he asked first of all, “If I cultivate, what benefits will I obtain? You want me to cultivate the Four Truths and the Twelve Links. What is in it for me?” He insisted on taking his wages first, before joining the two in sweeping away the filth. “Sweeping away the dung” means getting rid of the filth of the Truth of Suffering and of Origination. It also means getting rid of the dung of the delusions of views and thought.
When the father saw his son. When the Buddha saw those of the Two Vehicles he felt pity, he thought they were pitiful. “I have the Dharma Jewel of the Great Vehicle. Why don’t you cultivate it? Why do you insist on cultivating the fruit of the Small Vehicle? It is pathetic. And amazement. They do not seek the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma. This is really very strange. Why do they insist on cultivating the Small Vehicle Dharma? Weird.”
The “salary” refers to the wages within The Dharma Flower Sutra. When we speak of the worth of The Dharma Flower Sutra, it is inconceivable, subtle, and wonderful, indeed. This reminds me of a story about a person who used to recite The Lotus Sutra. This took place during the Jin Dynasty in China. There was a Dharma Master name Tan Yi. This Dharma Master was not a person. He was a pheasant. Where did he come from? Previously, in Yu Han there was a Dharma Master named Fa Zhe. He specialized in lecturing on The Lotus Sutra. Once, a pheasant came to listen to his lecturers. The pheasant came to all his lectures for seven years! Then it died.
Someone is thinking, “Listening to Sutras must not be that good. The pheasant listened to death! Let us not Listen.” Well, the pheasant may have died, but that very night, Dharma Master Fa Zhe had a dream in which he saw a young boy who spoke to him saying, “I am that pheasant who used to come to your Sutra lectures. Now, because of the power of listening to The Lotus Sutra, I would not be born again as a pheasant; I will be born as a person. I will be born in the house of a Mr. Wong at the foot of the mountain tomorrow, and in the future I plan to leave home under you.
About three or four years later, Mr. Wong asked Dharma Master Fa Zhe to lunch, and as soon as he went in the door the boy said, “My Dharma Master has come!” Because he had had a dream, he knew that the boy was a pheasant. He said to the boy’s father, “Your son is a pheasant,” and he ripped the boy’s shirt off his back, and sure enough, there were three feathers on his back! That was proof. Mr. Wong said, “Oh, so he is a pheasant. Now he can cultivate.” And when the boy was seven years old, he allowed him to leave home.
He then concentrated on reciting The Lotus Sutra and built a hut for cultivation, called the Dharma Flower Cottage, in which he recited the Sutra for about ten years. One day a woman came. She was carrying a basket with a little white pig and garlic bulbs in it. She was wearing brightly colored clothes, like a woman who does not follow the rules. She wanted to stay overnight at the cottage. She had been gathering medicinal herbs in the mountains all day. She had not found any and was afraid of the tigers and other wild beasts that roamed those mountains, and so she insisted on staying. Dharma Master Tan Yi refused. “I cannot allow a woman to stay here. Go find some other place.” There was not any other place, however, and she was bound and determined to stay with him. There was no way he could get rid of her. So he let her stay on a heap of straw.
That night something very strange happened, too. In the middle of the night the woman started crying and complaining that her stomach hurt. She insisted that he come and massage her stomach. What do you think he did in the face of such a karmic obstacle? He wrapped his staff in a cloth and, from a great distance, he rubbed her stomach with the staff. That way he did not have to touch her. After a bit she felt better.
However, the next day, at dawn, her bright colored clothes rose up into space and turned into a five-colored cloud. Her little white pig turned into an elephant. The two cloves of garlic turned into two white lotuses upon which her feet rested. She spoke to him from her place in space saying, “Your cultivation is not bad. I am Samantabahadra Bodhisattva. In a few days you are due to enter my Dharma Assembly, and so I decided to test you out ahead of time. Your mind of the Way is not bad at all; it is quite solid. You have passed my test, then, and in the future you will be one of my retinue.” Then empty space was filled with light and fragrance. The Emperor saw it and later built Dharma Flower Monastery there.
Think of it, a pheasant heard The Dharma Flower Sutra and obtained such a great response. If we people hear The Dharma Flower Sutra, we should attain an even greater response.
During the time of Liang Wu Di in China, there was a Bhikshuni by the name of Tao Qi. Her other name was Cong Chi. She was Bodhidharma’s disciple. She lived alone in a hut and recited The Dharma Flower Sutra exclusively. That was what she did all her life. When she died, they buried her little hut. After seven or eight years a blue lotus grew up out of her grave. The Emperor found out about this. When he saw it, he ordered the grave opened, so they could see where the blue lotus was growing from. They found it was growing from her mouth. This is an inconceivable state. Why did the blue lotus grew out of her mouth? Because, when she was alive, she recited The Lotus Sutra. This is proof of the inconceivability of reciting The Dharma Flower Sutra.
There was also a Bhikshuni named Hua Shou (flower hands). She kept the precepts very purely and never broke them. She also recited The Dharma Flower Sutra. Every time she recited the Sutra, a lotus would appear on the lines of her hand. Her entire hands became covered with these lotuses, as she recited the Sutra all her life. The Emperor asked her to visit him, and when he saw all the lotuses on her hands he gave her the name “Flower hands.”
These are some of the inconceivable things that have happened in China as a result of reciting The Dharma Flower Sutra. To say nothing of hearing the entire Sutra explained, even to hear the name means that one has great good roots.
You say, “Well, then, do we who are listening to it now have good roots?”
Of course! If you did not have good roots you would not even be able to get in the door. Or you might get in, but you would immediately want to run. You would not be able to stay very long. It is not that simple. The worth of The Dharma Flower Sutra is inconceivable. This present lecture series on The Dharma Flower Sutra is also inconceivable.
Another thing: There was also a Dharma Master named Fa Yin who specialized in lecturing on The Dharma Flower Sutra. When he did so, he was wonderfully eloquent and intelligent. He lectured extremely well. Another Dharma Master made a vow that in every life he would be just like this Dharma Master, that he would look the same and have the same eloquence and vow power. That night he had a dream in which someone said, “Do not think it is so easy to be like him. He was lecturing on the Sutra even at the time of the Buddha Sun-Moon-Lamp Brightness. This is not new for him. That is why he is so incredibly good at it. If you want to be like him, it will have to be done gradually.” So the lecturing of this Sutra is Dharma which is hard to encounter. That is why I say that its worth is inconceivable.
“Later, on another day, through a window, he saw his son at a distance…”
O2. The intention.
P1. Provisional wisdom’s suitability.
Later, on another day. “Another” refers to those of the Two Vehicles who take the doctrines of the Provisional Teaching as their own. They think the doctrines of the Real Teaching belong to “another.” “Another” represents the doctrine of the Real Teaching. “Day” could also mean “time” or “wisdom.” Relying on the wisdom of the Real Teaching, the Buddha teaches all those with potential.
Through a window. The door is at the center, and the windows are off to either side. This means that one looks from a one-sided viewpoint. Why? Was the Elder sneaking looks at them? No. It was because, if the Buddha looked at them from the point of the middle way, they would be afraid, fearing the Buddha’s awesome virtue. Thus, he stands on the side of one-sided emptiness, looking at those of the Two Vehicles.
He saw his son at distance. A distance means that because they are so small compared to the Great Vehicle, they seem very distant.
“… thin, haggard, soiled with dung, dirt, and filth.”
P2. Knowing for a long time the son’s delight in lesser dharmas.
Thin means that they had no wisdom. They had not cultivated great wisdom and intelligence, so they were thin. They were thin, also because they had not cultivated blessings. They are not like the Buddha, cultivate blessings and wisdom for three asankheya eons and perfect the fine marks for another hundred eons. That is why they were so skinny.
Haggard means that, within the Three Realms they were burned by the Five Skandhas. They were hassled by the eight sufferings, as well.
Soiled with Dung. Dung is the afflictions of the Four Dwellings:
1. The affliction of the dwelling in views and love;
2. The affliction of the dwelling in desire and love;
3. The affliction of the dwelling in form and love;
4. The affliction of the dwelling in formlessness and love.
These four afflictions are the “dung.”
Dirt refers to the affliction of ignorance.
Soiled with this filth of the afflictions of the Four Dwellings and the afflictions of ignorance; they have not cut off their false thinking or stopped climbing on conditions. If you have false thinking and climb on conditions, that is being soiled with filth. Without them, you are pure. So, those who cultivate the Way should not borrow money. That is dirty. And you should not have false thinking, hoping people will make offerings to you. If you do that, if you tell people to make offerings to you and you climb on conditions, that is dirty, it is being soiled with filth. Now do you understand?
Real cultivators would not care if they starved to death. So what? It is no problem. It is going to happen sooner or later anyway. Why look at it as so important? Why recite some song to get a god to come and help you out? Do not be afraid! Wei Tuo Bodhisattva has made a vow that if someone is even 30% sincere in their cultivation, they will obtain 70% of a response. He will help you out. If you do not cultivate, then, of course, there will be no response. If you have not the slightest bit of cultivation, how can you expect a response? No matter how great or small, you should apply some effort every day in cultivation.
What is cultivation? Bowing to the Buddha, reciting the Buddha’s name, reading the Sutras, bowing to the Sutra are all cultivation. In general, do not rationalize for yourself saying, “I have got to rest, take a nap. Or perhaps I will just sneak off for a break. That is the best way.” Do not do that, and you can be considered cultivating, and Wei Tuo Bodhisattva will protect you. If you just take breaks, that is not cultivating, and no one will make offerings to you no matter how hard you try to climb on conditions and soil yourself with that filth.
Once, I was without food. Originally, people made offerings but somebody tried to ruin my reputation and told everyone not to make offerings to me. He told them they should not make offerings to me because I did not cultivate and had no Way Virtue. He said he had the Way Virtue and that they should make offerings to him, not me. The temple that had been making offerings to me suddenly stopped. How could they make offerings to someone who lacked Way Virtue? After a while, I was on the verge of starvation and so, stupid as I was, I thought, “If I starve to death, I am starving to death. Let it be.” Although I was, in fact, starving, I did not tell anyone that I had no food. Wei Tuo Bodhisattva got on the case and he appeared in a dream to certain layperson, telling him to make offerings to me. I have told you about this before. So I know that Wei Tuo Bodhisattva will certainly help you if you have a true mind to cultivate the Way, a mind which is not even afraid of death. Do not worry that no one will make offerings to you.
“He then removed his necklace of beads, his soft upper garments, and his adornments and put on a coarse, worn out, and filthy robe, smeared himself with dirt and holding a dung shovel, looking frightful…”
P3. Knowing for a long time the necessity of praising the three carts.
He then removed his necklace of beads. This refers to hiding away the Thus Come One’s ten-thousand-foot tall Nishyanda Buddha body. The necklace is an analogy for all the Buddha’s dharmas, the precepts, samadhis, and wisdom, the dharanis--all the dharmas. He hid away his awesome and majestic appearance, so the text says, he “removed his necklace of beads.”
His soft upper garments, the most expensive clothing. The Buddha’s great, adorned body, has fine marks which are like the sea. The Buddha has limitless marks, like the sea. This refers to the thirty-two marks and the eighty minor characteristics. He is adorned with awesome virtue. Now, he has hid away this body. Why? Because those of the Two Vehicles do not recognize the Buddha. The Buddha is basically their father, but they do not admit this, because he is too wealthy and they are so terribly poor. If the Buddha tried to cross them over with this majestic body, they would grow frightened. Why? Because those of the lesser vehicle have not ever seen such a venerable body adorned with such marks. That is why the Buddha removes the necklace of beads and the soft upper garments and his adornments and put on a coarse. What is meant by “coarse?” The Buddha hid away his ten thousand-foot high Nishyanda body and manifested the six foot high body of an old Bhikshu, which looked more or less the same as that of every-one else.
Worn out. Worn out refers to the Small Vehicle dharma’s patience of production and patience of dharmas.
Filthy robe means that it was badly stained.
Smeared himself with dirt. The outflows of conditioned existence are unclean. Conditioned dharmas and the causes of outflows are the dirt. Affliction is also like dirt and dust.
And holding a dung shovel in his right hand. The right hand represents the use of expedient dharmas to teach and transform those of the Small Vehicle. The dung shovel refers to the dharma-door breaking through the delusions of views and thought, that is, getting rid of the dung. The Buddha uses this dharma to cut off delusions of views and thought and the delusions of ignorance and thereby become a Buddha. He uses this kind of dharma to teach all living beings. He teaches those of the Small Vehicle to rely upon this method to cut off their delusions and accomplish the Buddha Path. This is represented by “holding a dung Shovel.”
Looking frightful. He appears in the guise of one of the Small Vehicle, fearing birth and death. The Bodhisattva ends birth and death while in the midst of birth and death. Bodhisattvas are not afraid of suffering, nor are they afraid of birth and death. Those of the Two Vehicles are afraid of both birth and death. They are afraid of impermanence and afraid of suffering. Thus, the Buddha manifests as if he were afraid of birth and death, impermanence, and suffering, too.
This also represents the Buddha enduring the retribution of the headaches and of horse feed.
When the Buddha was on the causal ground, a long, long time ago, in his country there was a drought. Since there was nothing else to eat, people started eating fish. A very large fish was caught and brought up on the shore. Shakyamuni Buddha was then just a child. He picked up the fish and hit it over the head twice. So, even after he had become a Buddha, he sometimes had headaches.
Another time, in a former life, while cultivating, he saw a Bhikshu begging for alms, and he thought, “That Bhikshu can darned well eat horse feed! Why do people give him such tasty things to eat?” Because when he was on the causal ground he said that one sentence, when he became a Buddha the following event took place: The Buddha went to another country to spend the rainy season. The king had said he would make offering to him, but when the Buddha got there, the king reneged. “Just give these Bhikshu horse feed!” he said, and for three months the Sangha ate horse feed.
In spite of his great awesome virtue, even the Buddha had to suffer retribution when it manifested. That is what the text means by “looking frightful.” It is discussing the doctrine of cause and effect. It is said:
Plant a good cause, reap a good effect.
Plant an evil cause, reap an evil effect.
The causes you planted in your former lives determine the effects you now undergo. Shakyamuni Buddha, long ago, hit the fish twice, and over five hundred people ate its flesh. Thus, after he became a Buddha, he often had headaches.
There was also the incident when the Great King Crystal tried to wipe out the Shakyan clan. He was King of India, and he wanted to kill every one of them. The Shakyan clan was, in fact, composed of those very people who, in the past, had eaten that fish. King Crystal was formerly that fish! Since they had eaten his flesh, he wanted to drink their blood. He was determined to kill them all. The Buddha, although he had become a Buddha and possessed all the spiritual powers, wonderful as they are, could not save his kinsfolk.
Mahamaudgalyayana, however, could not stand this, and he tried to use his spiritual powers to save them. The Buddha could not save them because it was fixed retribution, determined by former causes and effects. Maudgalyayana did not know the cause and effect. He was an Arhat, and he could only see into the past as far back as eighty thousand great aeons. He thought, “My teacher’s clans - folks are going to be killed by the King. I must manifest my spiritual powers and save them!”
Everyone knows that he was number one when it came to spiritual penetrations. Well, he recited a mantra and put five hundred members of the Shakyan clan into his begging bowl and sent it up into empty space. “There is no way King Crystal can kill them now,” he thought. When King Crystal had finished off the Shakyan clan, Maudgalyayana brought the bowl down again. Much to his dismay, he found the five hundred Shakyans he had saved had turned into a sea of blood. There was no life there at all. Maudgalyayana asked the Buddha, “With my power, why couldn’t I rescue them?”
The Buddha told him, “There is no way to avoid the workings of cause and effect. If they could be avoided, I would have saved them myself. I would not have needed to wait for you to save them.”
Cause and effect is difficult to escape. Causes you planted in former lives take their toll in this present life; one must undergo the retribution.
As a good example of cause and effect, take a look at what happened to National Master Wu Da. It was just his one thought of arrogance, “Here I am, sitting on the beautiful carved chair given to me by the Emperor. I must be the highest Dharma Master there is!” That brought all his karmic obstacles down on him again.
When one thought of arrogance arises,
Eighty-four thousand karmic obstacles arrive.
His karma of resentment dated all the way back to the Han Dynasty, when he had murdered a man out of jealousy. Later, repenting, he left home. While he was being a conscientious cultivator, and repenting of his former evil deeds, his obstacles had to stay away. But once he got arrogant, the Dharma Protectors, who had been fending of his ghost, ran away, “He is so arrogant. What a creep!” they thought. “We are not going to protect you.” Since Bodhisattva Wei Tuo left him, the ghost came back, and his leg broke out with a sore which looked just like a human face. It could even talk! All day long it asked for meat to eat. It was a lot of trouble, but it all came from that one arrogant thought.
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