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Belief and Understanding

Chapter 4



“Now we know that the World Honored One is by no means ungenerous with the Buddha’s wisdom. Why? From of old, we truly have been the Buddha’s sons, and yet we delighted only in petty dharmas. If we had thought to delight in the great, the Buddha would then have spoken for us the Great Vehicle Dharma. This Sutra speaks of only One Vehicle. In the past, in the presence of the Bodhisattvas, the Buddha had belittled the Hearers who delight in lesser dharmas, but he was actually employing the Great Vehicle in teaching and transforming them.”


M2. Correlating the bequest.
N1. Passing it on.


We did not know before that those of the Small Vehicle were also the Buddha’s sons, but now we know, here in the Dharma Flower Assembly, that the World Honored One is by no means ungenerous with the Buddha’s wisdom. It was not that the Buddha did not want to teach those of the Two Vehicles. Why? From of old, we truly have been the Buddha’s sons, and limitless aeons ago we had already been taught and transformed by the Buddha, and the seeds of the Great Vehicle had been planted in us. We were the Buddha’s real sons all the time, but we were like the poor son who ran away from home and failed to recognize his father. But now we know we did not study the Great Vehicle Dharma because we delighted only in petty dharmas, in the Small Vehicle Dharma.

If we had thought to delight in the great, if we had delighted in the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma, the Buddha would then have spoken for us the Great Vehicle Dharma. The Buddha would have placed before them the entire Great Vehicle’s wonderful doctrine. Now, this Sutra, The Dharma Flower Sutra, speaks of only One Vehicle, the Buddha Vehicle. It says there is only the Buddha Vehicle; there is no other vehicle.

In the past, in the presence of the Bodhisattvas, in the Vaipulya and Prajna Assemblies, the Buddha had belittled the Hearers who delight in lesser Dharmas, he scolded those of the Small Vehicle and praised the Great Vehicle and the Perfect Teaching. He scolded those of the Two Vehicles, saying ‘You Hearers are gutless. You have no future at all and no light either. You are like withered sprouts and sterile seeds. You are stuck to your small dharmas.’

But he was actually employing the Great Vehicle in teaching and transforming them. He was bestowing the Provisional for the sake of the Real. The Small Vehicle Dharmas were set forth for the sake of the Real. Now, in the Dharma Flower Assembly, the Provisional Teaching of the Small Vehicle is dispensed with, and the real Dharma is revealed, the real, wondrous doctrine.


“Therefore, we say that originally we had not hoped for or sought anything, and yet now these great jewels of the Dharma King have come to us of themselves. That which the Buddha’s sons should attain, we have already attained.”


N2. Correlating the Rejoicing.


Therefore, we say that originally we had not hoped for or sought anything. We figured we were just Small Vehicle types. We did not dare raise our hopes too high. And yet, now these great jewel of the Dharma King have come to us of themselves. After observing the potentials of living beings, the Buddha speaks the Dharma which accords with their dispositions. Some have mature dispositions, and others are still immature.

Now, in the Dharma Flower Assembly the Dharma king’s Great Jewels, all the Buddha’s Dharmas, have spontaneously arrived. The Buddha has opened the Provisional to reveal the Real. Previously, for the sake of the One Buddha Vehicle, he taught the Three Vehicles--those of the Bodhisattvas, Conditioned Enlightened Ones, and the Hearers. Here, in the Dharma Flower Assembly, he returns the three back to the one. The Three Vehicles revert to the One Buddha Vehicle. They did not expend the slightest bit of effort to gain the Buddha’s inheritance, that is, to gain the entire Dharma treasury of the Buddha.

That which the Buddha’s sons should attain, the wealth, the Dharma jewels of the Buddha, we have already attained. We have got them all.


At that time, Mahakashyapa, wishing to restate this meaning, spoke verses, saying,

“We, on this day,
Hearing the sound of the Buddha’s teaching,
Jump for joy!
Gaining what we never had.

The Buddha says that Hearers,
Shall become Buddhas in the future.
A cluster of supreme gems,
We have gained, without our seeking.”


I2. Verses.
J1. Verses of Dharma.


At that time, Mahakashyapa, representing the four great disciples: Mahakashyapa, Mahamaudgalyayana, Mahakatyayana, and Subhuti, wanted to speak the doctrine yet again, wishing to restate this meaning, spoke verses saying.

Tomorrow, the second six-week summer session begins. It must be entirely different from the first six weeks. The first six weeks was “a snap,” and no one really cultivated. Originally, although there were not a lot of people, if they had not been so lax, there might have been several who became enlightened. But, as soon as they got lax, they were off by a hair’s breadth from gaining the response needed to get enlightened. One disciple’s skill at meditation is very good. He has broken through the Three Gates, but he has not opened his Five Eyes. If he had not been so lazy during the first six weeks, they would have opened right away. But, since he was afraid of hard work and like to take it easy, they still have not really opened. They have sort of opened--a small state.

If you want to make progress in your work, you have to toil bitterly, unafraid of suffering and difficulty. You have to work straightforwardly to have success. Those who attend the second session must bear up under the struggle and toil. Do not forget that you came to the session to gain advantage, to gain some genuine wisdom and real understanding of the Buddhadharma and to understand the basic principles of being human. If you want to do that, then do not be afraid of suffering or hardship, and do not sneak off to take it easy!

At all times, work hard. When it is time to meditate, meditate. When it is time to investigate Buddhism, do that. During the lectures, pay attention. Everyone should write notes and do not miss a day. Do not be lazy for a single day or a single moment. Then, in these six weeks you would not have wasted your time. If you just fiddle around and do not really work, it will be a pitiful waste. You could have been out taking a vacation or seeing the sights and having a good time. If you are not going to cultivate, why come to the Buddhist Lecture Hall? You should be having a good time somewhere else instead of wasting your time. We do not waste time here. We really work hard.

The following section of verse is intended to repeat the principles set forth in the preceding prose section in a simplified manner. You could also say it is to present the principles in a more detailed manner. You could say that the prose was detailed, and the verse was simplified; you could also say that the prose was simplified and the verse gives more detail, whichever you like. In any case, Mahakashyapa was responding to the needs of living beings when he spoke the verses.

We, Hearers, on this day, hearing the sound of the Buddha’s teaching, the doctrines he has set forth to teach and transform living beings, jump for joy! We are so happy. We jump because we are just too happy. Super happy! Why? Because we never had such Dharma Jewels before, and now we have attained them, gaining what we never had. We have attained Dharma which we never had before.

What is this rare Dharma? The Buddha had not bestowed predictions upon Hearers before. Now, the Buddha says that Hearers have the chance to become Buddhas. The Buddha says that Hearers shall become Buddhas in the future. Hearing that we shall become Buddhas, we feel as if a cluster of supreme gems we have gained, without our seeking. We did not seek for those unsurpassed Dharma treasures; they came to us of their own accord.


It is like a youth,
Who, young and ignorant,
Ran away from his father
To another distant land,
Roaming from country to country
For fifty years and more.


J2. Verses of analogy.
K1. Verses setting up the analogy.
L1. Verses of father and son being separated.
M1. Verses of son turning his back on his father and running off.


It is like a youth, who, young and ignorant. Mahakashyapa now restates the analogy. It is like a small child who has no real understanding. He ran away from his father. He does not realize that he should stay close to his parents. He forsakes his father. He gives him away! Who does he give him away to? Nobody wants him! At any rate, he leaves his father and runs away. Why did he run away? He was just a child and did not know what he was doing.

To another, distant land. The countries represent the three realms. Roaming from country to country. He roamed from one to the next, like water flowing from stream to river to the sea. He went around to all the different countries. He was, as you say, on a “bum trip.” for fifty years and more. That represents the Five Paths. There are originally Six Paths, but the path of asuras pervades the other five, so we just say five paths.


His father, worried about him,
Sought him in the four directions
Until, tired of the search,
He stopped in a certain city,
Where he built himself a house
And amused himself with the five desires.

His household was large and wealthy,
With much gold and silver,
Mother-of-pearl, carnelian,
Real pearls, and lapis lazuli,
Elephants, horses, cattle, and sheep,
Hand-drawn carts, palanquins, and chariots,
Husbandmen and servants,
And a multitude of subjects.

The profits from his trade
Extended to the other countries.
Traders and merchants
Were present everywhere.

Multitudes in the hundreds of millions
Surrounded him reverently.
And always, by kings,
He was cherished and remembered.

The ministers and noble clans
All honored him.
For those reasons,
Those who came and went were many.
Such was his nobility, wealth,
And his great authority.


M2. Verse of seeking his son and stopping halfway.


His father, worried about him. His father had hoped his son would see him through his old age, but he ran away instead! So he was worried, and grew older and older every day, thinking about him until he got wrinkles on his face. Now, the Hearers are like children. They left the Buddha and ran outside. The Buddha wanted to save the Hearers and looked for them everywhere, “worried.”

Sought him in the four directions until, tired of the search. After a while he got tired. He stopped in a certain city. This represents Shakyamuni Buddha looking for living beings to save and coming to the Saha world where he built himself a house and amused himself with the five desires. The five desires: wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep. They are the five roots of hell. Does this mean that the Buddha was greedy for the five desires? No. It is just an analogy. The Five Desires represent the living beings in the five paths that the Buddha wants to save, to lead to Buddhahood. So do not get it wrong and think, “If the Buddha is attached to the five desires, why shouldn’t I be attached to them?”

His household was large and wealthy. The Buddha is the wealthiest person there is. With much gold and silver, an uncountable amount, mother-of-pearl, carnelian, real pearls, and lapis lazuli, elephants, horses, cattle, and sheep, hand-drawn carts, like the carts the Emperor’s concubines would ride in ancient times. They were even more comfortable than our cars nowadays, and since they were hand-drawn, they had better suspensions systems. In Manchuria, the cars have terrible suspension. They bounce up and down, and your butt gets sore from riding in them! Palanquins are the carts that the Emperors ride in. Chariots are vehicles in general. This great elder was very wealthy, and so he had the best of everything, husbandmen and servants and a multitude of subjects.

The profits from his trade extended to the other countries.
His investments extended into neighboring lands. Traders and merchants: The traveling traders and the sedentary merchants were present everywhere. Multitudes in the hundreds of millions surrounded him reverently. A thousand, ten thousand, million of them and always, by Kings, he was cherished and remembered. The Kings of other countries thought of him fondly. The Ministers and noble clans, all honored him.

For these reasons, those who came and went were many. Such was his nobility, wealth and great authority. “Great authority” means that the Buddha is complete with all dharmas, and so he is the King of all Dharmas. Because he possesses all dharmas, he is reverently surrounded by all the Great Bodhisattvas, Hearers, and Arhats. The Buddha occupies the highest position of authority. Also, the Buddhas of the ten directions surround and protect the Buddha, and the Bodhisattvas of the ten directions protect his Bodhimanda. The Buddha turns the wheel of the unsurpassed and wonderful Dharma to teach and transform boundless numbers of living beings.


But then, as he grew old and decrepit,
He was filled with worry for his son.
Morning and evening, his only thought was,
“My time of death is drawing near.

My foolish son has left me now,
For over fifty years.
The things in my granaries and store-houses,
Whatever shall I do with them?


M3. Verses of his father’s worries.


The Elder may have had great wealth, but then, as he grew old and decrepit, his health declined. Why did his health decline? Because he was filled with worry for his son. He spent all his energy worrying about his son. So he was not so strong and healthy anymore. He was like an old piece of dry wood. In fact, the Chinese word for decrepit, 朽 (xiu), is the wood radical 木 (mu), plus the word for decline. There is a saying, “A rotten piece of wood cannot be carved,” as soon as you take a chisel to it, it crumbles. “A wall of mud cannot be painted.” If the wall is made of mud, you cannot paint frescoes on it; no matter how pretty the flowers or the scenery, it would not look good on a plain mud wall. This means that when people get older, they grow more compassionate, and they think about their children a lot. The Elder thought about his son.

Morning and evening, his only thought was “Where is he? He ran away when he was very small. I have not been able to find him anywhere.” When a child runs away from home, it is hard for the parents to locate him again. But, if the child wants to return to his parents, it is very easy; all he has to do is go back home. So, the Elder was “filled” with worry for his son. He thought of him every single day. “Morning” and “evening”, he thought of him. He could not sleep at night wondering where he had gone. He had terrible insomnia. They did not have sleeping pills in those days, so he just laid there and stared at the ceiling all night. My time of death is drawing near. I am not getting any younger. I do not know which day I will die.

This reminds me of a story. Long ago, there were three old people who got together to drink some wine--or perhaps some tea. It is not fixed. If I say wine, then those of you who like wine will find your mouths watering. So, let us not say for sure what they were drinking--maybe tea or coffee. Or maybe they were just eating some vegetables. Anyway, one of them was sixty, one was seventy, and one was eighty. The one who was sixty always liked to get his two cents in, and so he said, “old brothers, we are eating vegetables here together this year.

But next year, who knows which one of us would not be here?” What he meant, of course, was that they did not know which one of them would be dead. They were all pretty old. The seventy-year old man thought, “That is sensible enough, but I bet I can think of something better.” Then he said, “Hey Old Buddy! That remark was really off the wall you know, tonight when we take off our shoes and socks and to go to sleep, we do not know who will be around to put them back on in the morning!” Well, the sixty-year old did not have a thing to say in reply to that.

It so happened that the eighty-year-old was especially fond of the sixty-year old, and when he saw that the seventy-year old had put him down, he retorted, “Hey! You think you topped him with your statement, there. Try this one, when I take in one breath, I do not know if I will be around to exhale it!”

We can see that the eighty-year old was the clearest about the question of birth and death, and so he out-talked them both. The other two were most impressed and thought, “He is right. We do not know if we will get our next breath. There is nothing left for us to do but cultivate like crazy and meditate and recite the Buddha’s name and go to Sutra lectures.”

You may wonder, “If they do those things, will they not die?”

Not necessarily.

“Then what use are they?” Although it would not prevent them from dying, they will make a difference in how they die. Before, they drew in a breath and did not know if they were going to be around to exhale it. But, if one works hard at cultivating the Way, meditates, recites Sutras and the Buddha’s name, then if one wants to exhale, one can exhale. If you do not want to inhale again, you can do that, too. You have control over it. If you think, “I want to stay around for a few more meals,” then you can. If you think, “I have had it. No more meals for me. It is all pretty meaningless. This stinking skin-bag is just too much work. I have to take it to the toilet everyday at the very least. And then when I move the food out, I have to put more food in. It is too much trouble. I do not want it anymore. I am going to put it down.” then you can just let it go.

My foolish son has left me now. My child has not returned. He is really just too stupid. Stupid, stupid. Never thinks of his father who is so old. For over fifty years: In the Five Paths he turns. The things in my granaries and storehouses, all the treasures, all the fine things, whatever shall I do with them? What am I going to do? Huh? What would you do?


Then the poor son,
Seeking clothing and food,
Went from city to city,
From country to country,
Sometimes getting something,
Sometimes getting nothing.

Starving, emaciated,
Covered with scabs,
He went on his way until eventually,
He arrived in the city where his father lived.


M4. Verses of son arriving in father’s city.


The wealthy elder could not sleep at night, thinking of his son. And he did not have any appetite. Why couldn’t he sleep? Because he was too wealthy. He do not know what to do with it all. So he was very worried. Then the poor son, who had run away, that is, those of the Two Vehicles who had run off, seeking clothing and food. They were seeking the Dharma. Went from city to city. They passed through the twelve places: the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind, plus form, sound, smell, taste, tangible objects, and dharmas. They also passed through the eighteen realms of sense, that is, the six sense organs, plus the six sense objects, plus the six corresponding discriminating consciousness.

For example, the eye organ sees the object of form, and the eye-consciousness arises. Ears hear sounds, and the ear-consciousness arise. The nose smells odors, and nose-consciousness arises. The tongue tastes flavors, and tongue-consciousness arises. The body feels touch, and body-consciousness arises. The mind cognizes dharmas, and mind-consciousness arises. When there is no state manifesting, then there is no discrimination. But, once a state manifests, then there is discrimination, and the twelve places extend into the eighteen realms. Passing through the twelve places and the eighteen realms they then sought the food of the Proper Path and the clothing of the Aids to the Path. So the text says, “Went from city to city.” They went from the city of eye to the city of ear, and on to the nose, tongue, and mind.

From country to country. The eye saw forms and went to eye-consciousness. The ears heard sounds and went to ear-consciousness. The nose smelled odors and went to nose-consciousness. The tongue tasted flavors and went to tongue consciousness. The body felt tangible objects and went to body-consciousness. The mind cognized dharmas and went to mind-consciousness. Thus, they went from country to country.

Sometimes getting something. This refers to those with the good roots but with outflows, doing good deeds, but not ultimate good. It means doing superficial things. Sometimes getting nothing refers to non-outflow good roots. It means doing good without outflows, that is, ending birth and death and entering nirvana. Although one ends birth and death and enters nirvana, there is, in actuality, nothing attained, for birth and death is just nirvana, and nirvana is just birth and death. There is nothing attained, and so the text says sometimes getting nothing.

Starving, emaciated. This does not mean that he was starving because he had nothing to eat. Rather, he was starving because he had not attained the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma. Once one has “eaten” the doctrine of the Great Vehicle, one is full. Those of the Two Vehicle who have not yet understood the Great Vehicle are hungry, famished! “Emaciated” means they have not obtained the great function, and they have not obtained great merit and virtue.

Covered with scabs. His body was covered with sores and scabs. This means that one is confused about true principle and takes the false to be true; one takes a thief as one’s own son, or we can say that one casts away the root and seeks the branches. Not understanding true principle, one gives rise to view delusions and thought delusions.

What are view delusions? View delusions refer to giving rise to greed and love when face with a state. Why do you give rise to greed and love? Because you view the state and become confused. You see it and do not understand it. So, view delusion arises out of ignorance. Because you have not broken through you basic ignorance, when faced with a state you give rise to greed and love.

View delusion refers to what you see. Thought delusion takes place within the mind and is not related to what you see. You lack understanding, but go ahead and use the sixth (mind) consciousness to discriminate all kinds of things: good, bad, right, wrong, long and short, etc, etc. Most people think the discriminating mind is good thing. Actually, it is the worst thing! You discriminate until you are entirely confused. Once you get confused, you do stupid things. Giving rise to view delusion and thought delusion is what the text means by “covered with scabs.” Most people think these delusions are just great. They do not know what they really are.

He went on his way until eventually, step by step, he went from country to country until he arrived in the city where his father lived, where the Buddha was dwelling. Those of the Two Vehicles ran outside looking for the Dharma everywhere. They sought it everywhere but found no ultimate Dharma and finally wound up back with the Buddha.


Hiring himself out along the way,
He finally reached his father’s house.
At that time, the elder,
Within his gateway,
Was covered by a large canopy,
And seated on a Lion-throne,
Surrounded by his retinue,
And various attendants.

Some of them were counting up
His gold, silver, and other valuables.
His income and expenses were
Recorded there on ledgers.

When the poor son saw his father,
Of such nobility and wealth,
He said, “This must be a king,
Or the equal of a king.”

In fright, he reproved himself,
“Why have I come here?”
And further to himself, he said,
“If I stay here long,
I may be oppressed
And forced to go to work.”

Having had this thought,
He hurriedly ran off
To a poor village, asking
To be hired to work.


L2. Verses of father and son meeting again.
M2. Verses of son seeing the father.


Hiring himself out along the way. The poor son hired himself out to do odd jobs to keep himself alive. He finally reached his father’s house. Without even realizing it himself, he arrived at his father’s house. At that time, the elder, the greatly wealthy Elder, the one who had lost his son, within his gateway. He was within the confines of his property, was covered by a large canopy and seated on a lion-throne. It was an especially expensive seat. Surrounded by his retinue, many members of his household, and various attendants. He had many people to help him. Some of them were counting up his gold, silver, and other valuables. His income and expenses were recorded there on ledgers. People were figuring his accounts for him recording the transactions in detail. The ledger represents the Four Vast Vows:

I vow to save the boundless number of living beings.
I vow to sever the endless afflictions.
I vow to study the limitless Dharma-doors.
I vow to attain the Supreme Buddha Way.

If one makes the Four Vast Vows, one has been “written in the ledger” to become a Buddha. One has a guarantee. The act of writing in the ledger is an analogy for cultivating the Way.

When the poor son saw his father of such nobility and wealth, he said, “This must be a king or the equal to a King”. This person is so noble and wealthy. He must certainly be a royal personage of one sort or another. In fright, he reproved himself “Why have I come here?” He was scared practically out of his wits, and he blamed himself saying, “What did you come here for? This is a king’s place! You do not belong here! Whatever possessed you to come here?” He was hard on himself. “Why, you are just a poor nobody. How did you get in the king’s house?” And further to himself he said “If I stay here long, I may be oppressed. I better not hang around here gawking! These people have a lot of clout. I am sure to get pushed around and forced to go to work. I will have to work for them. Having had this thought, he hurriedly ran off. He ran off as fast as he could, hoping to avoid a scene.

To a poor village, asking to be hired to work.
He did not dare speak with the rich people. He went to the poor section of town asking for work. He felt more at ease with the poor folks, and he asked them if they had any odd jobs he could do.

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