The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 4: Belief and Understanding
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
Just then, the elder,
Seated on the lion-throne,
Saw his son at a distance,
And silently recognized him.
M2. Verses of father seeing son.
Just then, the Elder, the Buddha, then seated on the lion-throne so high and grand, saw his son at a distance. The minute he saw him, he knew that it was his own son, the son who had run off when he was quite small. And silently recognized him. He did not tell anyone.
He then commanded his attendants
To seize him and bring him back.
The poor son cried out in alarm,
And fainted, falling to the ground.
“These people have caught me!
I shall certainly be killed!
Why, for food and clothing’s sake
Did I come to this place?”
The elder knew that his son
Was foolish and lowly.
“He wouldn’t believe me if I told him
He wouldn’t believe that I am his father.
L3. Verses of sending people after him.
M1. Verses of sending people.
He then commanded his attendants to seize him and bring him back. “See that person?” he said, speaking of his son, “Go get him and bring him back here.” The poor son cried out in alarm. This is exactly what he was afraid would happen! They were coming after him! “What are you doing? Why are you seizing me? I have not committed any crime! Are you going to kill me? I have not broken any laws! I would not mind working for you, but I insist on a salary.” And fainted, falling to the ground. He was so scared, he fainted. Those of the Two Vehicles did not understand the Great Vehicle and wondered why they were being forced to study it. These people have caught me. I shall certainly be killed! Why, for food and clothing’s sake, did I come to this place? They are going to kill me for sure. What shall I do? If they kill me, I would not be able to keep on eating and wearing clothes. Rats! Why are you forcing me to go with you?
The elder knew that his son was foolish and lowly. He knew that his son was used to hanging around with poor people and that he had never been to school, that he was stupid and base, that he had no wisdom at all. In fact, he was rotten. Because the son was so unintelligent, the Elder knew that He wouldn’t believe me if I told him. He would think I was trying to cheat him. If I told him the truth, he would never believe me. He wouldn’t believe that I am his father. So the father had lost his son. The son was poor, and the father very rich; he would never believe that he was his father. The father uses his wisdom to think up an expedient device. If he had told the boy directly that he was his father, the poor son would not have believed him. The son had been away too long, you see, and so he just could not have believe him.
Someone says, “The son ran away, and so now he does not recognize his father. The father recognizes his son. This happens all the time in the world.”
True enough. However, this is no ordinary father and son. This is a “transcendental,” not a worldly, father. This is the great, compassionate father. He is genuinely compassionate towards all living beings. “Genuine compassion” means that he is not the slightest bit selfish. Most fathers are kind to their children, but they are more or less selfish about it. They think, “When I get old, my children will take care of me.”
“Dharma Master,” you say, “this does not apply to Americans. We do not hang on to our children, and when we get old, we have Social Security!” So it is with worldly parents.
The Buddha is our transcendental father. He wishes to cross living beings over to Buddhahood. The poor son, who is he? All living beings, all those of the Two Vehicles. They do not recognize their father. They run away and get caught up in the bitter sea of birth and death, bobbing up and down--birth and death, death and birth, birth and death--so many times! And they do not know how or why they are born, or how or why they die. Muddled, they are born, and all messed up they die. They may work all their lives to get their PhDs, but not long after they get them, they die! Once they die, they forget everything they learned in school. They get reborn and have to start all over again! They go through the whole thing again, and--sure enough--not long afterwards, they die. They work so hard to cram all those things in their brains, and then they die and forget them all again. What can be done?
The Buddha teaches us how to bring an end to the process of birth and death, to understand how it is we are born and how it is that we die. He wants us to know why some people are rich and others are poor, why some are beautiful and others ugly. How does all this happen? Who arranges it? Is it the parents? But parents do not consciously plan their children’s appearance or fate. The Buddha tells us about ignorance conditioning activity, conditioning consciousness, conditioning name and form, and so on, all the Twelve Links. He wants us to wake up from our confused dreams. But, as children we have run away from our father. The Buddha is the father of all living beings. But we would rather be poor sons, and we do not want to return home. The Buddha recognizes his children, but they do not recognize him. It is a predicament, for sure. What is to be done?
Then he used an expedient,
And sent some other men,
One-eyed, squat, and ugly,
Lacking awesome virtue.
“Speak to him,” he said,
“And tell him, ‘You will work with us
Getting rid of dung and filth
At twice your normal wages.”
When the poor son heard this,
He happily followed them back
And swept out the dung and filth,
Cleaning all the dwellings.
M2 Verses of sending two people.
N1. Verses of instructions to work.
Then he used an expedient. The elder knew the workings of the poor son’s mind. He knew his son was rather base and did not think in lofty terms. If he had told him he was his father, he would never have believed him. Therefore, he used an expedient device and sent some other men. He sent some Bodhisattvas disguised as Hearers and Conditioned Enlightened Ones. One-eyed, squat, and ugly. “One-eye” represents those of the Two Vehicles who have the “petty wisdom of one-sided emptiness.” “Squat” refers to those of the Two Vehicles as not having fathomed the source of the Real Mark. “Ugly” means that they have not perfected the adornments of the myriad forms of goodness. They were not attractive in appearance.
Lacking awesome virtue. Those of the Two Vehicles do not possess the Four Fearlessness, and so they are not “awesome.” Because they do not have the Four Virtues of Nirvana, they are said to be without “virtue.”
“Speak to him,” he said “and tell him, ‘You will work with us’.” What will you do? Getting rid of dung and filth at twice your normal wages. If before you made five dollars a day, you will now make ten dollars a day! The doubling of wages means that those of the Two Vehicles will now have a chance to certify to the fruits of Arhatship: the first, second, third, and fourth and then practice the Bodhisattva Path.
When the poor son heard this he happily followed them back. He was delighted. He went to work getting rid of dung. And swept out the dung and filth. Swept out the delusions of views and the delusions of thought, cleaning all the dwellings. He cleaned them. The dwellings here refer to the six sense organs and the Five Skandhas. Ordinarily, the eyes get attached to forms, the ears get attached to sounds, the nose gets attached to smells, and the tongue gets attached to tastes, the body gets attached to objects of touch, and the mind gets attached to dharmas. This attachment to the objects of sense makes one “unclean.” Now, in cleaning the dwellings of the six senses, they have all been purified so that the eyes are not turned by forms, the ears are not turned by sounds, the nose is not turned by smells, the tongue is not turned by tastes, the body is not turned by objects of touch, and the mind does not get turned by dharmas. If you can purify the six sense organs, you are able to “turn states,” instead of being turned by them. The Five Skandhas are also purified.
From his window, the elder
Would often watch his son,
Remembering that he was foolish and lowly
And enjoyed menial work.
Then the elder
Put on a worn and dirty robe,
And, holding a dung shovel,
Went to where his son was.
Expediently drawing near to him,
He said, “Work with diligence,
For I have increased your wages,
And shall give you oil for your feet,
And your fill of food and drink,
And thick, warm bedding.”
Thus he spoke sharply saying,
“You must work hard!”
And then in gentler tones, he added,
“You are like my own son.
N2. Verses of encouragement.
From his window, the elder would often watch his son, remembering that he was foolish and lowly; too stupid; and enjoyed menial work. He would not cultivate the Great Vehicle Dharma; he preferred to cultivate the Small Vehicle.
Then the elder put on a worn and dirty robe. The Buddha first spoke the Great Avatamsaka Sutra. At that time, those of the Two Vehicles had eyes but did not see him; they had ears but did not hear him. So the Buddha hid away the great and manifested the small. He hide away the great body with which he had spoken the Avatamsaka, and manifested instead in the body of an ordinary-sized Bhikshu. Manifesting as the old Bhikshu is represented in the text by “put on a worn and dirty robe.”
And, holding a dung shovel. He manifested as one of the Two Vehicles, went to where his son was. The Buddha could not approach them directly, so he employed various expedients, expediently drawing near to him. He said, “Work with diligence.” He exhorted him to cultivate the Four Applications of Mindfulness:
1. Contemplate the body as impure.
2. Contemplate feelings a suffering.
3. Contemplate thought as impermanent.
4. Contemplate dharmas as devoid of “self.”
He also exhorted him to cultivate the Four Right Efforts:
1. Good that has not arisen is caused to arise.
2. Good that has arisen is caused to grow.
3. Evil that has not arisen is not allowed to arise.
4. Evil that has arisen is dispensed with.
For I have increased your wages. This refers to the Four Bases Psychic Power. And shall give you oil for your feet. Oil provides wind-proofing and water-proofing for the feet. It provides dhyana samadhis. Your fill of food and drink. The food and drink of spiritual penetrations. The food and drink refers to the rice, flour, salt, and vinegar mentioned in the prose section. The rice represents the emptiness of people. The flour represents the emptiness of dharmas. Rice and flour refer to the Proper Path. Salt represents impermanence. Vinegar represents suffering. These two refer to the Aids to the Path. If you want to eat rice or flour, you must add some salt or vinegar to make them palatable. The Proper Path, in the same way, needs the Aids of the Path for “flavoring.”
And thick, warm bedding. This represents the continued contemplations cultivated in the practice of dhyana samadhi.
Thus, he spoke sharply saying “You must work hard!” Do not be lazy. Work hard and do not waste your time. Cultivate the Four Right Efforts and the Four Bases of Psychic Power.
And then in gentler tones, he added in reassuring tones, “You are like my own son.” Work hard. Do not get distracted. Do not strike up false thinking; do not run away. Just stay here and keep working. You are just like my very own son.
The elder, in his wisdom,
Eventually allowed him to come and go.
For a period of twenty years,
He was put in charge of household business.
He showed him his gold, silver,
Real pearls and crystal.
The income and expense of all these things,
He was caused to know.
And yet the son still lived outside the gate,
Dwelling in a grass hut
Thinking of his poverty:
“None of these things are mine.
L4. Verses of passing on the inheritance.
M1. The inheritance.
The Elder, in his wisdom. The Buddha, in his wisdom, teaches and transforms all living beings, causing all living beings to turn from the Two Vehicles and understand the Great Vehicle Dharma. Eventually allowed him to come and go, to go back and forth from the Two Vehicles to the Great Vehicle. For a period of twenty years. In cultivation, it took twenty years to get rid of the dung of delusions of views and thought. He was put in charge of the household business. During that twenty years, he was in charge of all the affairs of the Elder’s household. He showed him his gold, silver, real pearls, and crystal. The income and expense of all his things, his valuables. He was caused to know all the Buddha’s dharmas, those of the Two Vehicles were led to understand. And yet the son still lived outside the gate. Even though the poor son was in charge of all the valuables, he still stayed outside the gate. Those of the Two Vehicles remained outside. They did not enter the gateway of the Great Vehicle. Dwelling in a grass hut, in a small cottage. The small grass hut represents the state of the Two Vehicles. Thinking of his poverty. Those of the Two Vehicles thought of themselves as such. They thought that the teaching and transforming of living beings, the purification of Buddhalands--those activities of the Bodhisattvas--had nothing to do with them. The Great Vehicle Buddhadharma was not too important to them. None of these things are mine.
The father knew his son’s mind
Gradually had expanded,
And wishing to give him wealth,
He gathered together his relatives,
The kings, and great ministers,
The Kshatriyas and lay people.
In the midst of this great assembly ,
He said, “This is my son.
He left me and went away
Fifty years ago.
And it has been twenty years
Since I saw him return.
Long ago in a certain city
I lost my son.
Searching for him everywhere,
I came to this place.
Everything that I own,
My houses and servants,
I bequeath it all to him
That he may use it as he pleases
M2. Verse of bequeathing.
N1. Verses of bequeathing proper.
The father knew his son’s mind gradually had expanded. After time, the son no longer lacked self-respect. His mind was larger, and wishing to give his wealth. The Buddha wished to give all his Buddhadharma to those of the Two Vehicles. He gathered together his relatives, the Kings, and great ministers, all the great Bodhisattvas. The Kshatriyas and lay people. In the midst of this Great Assembly, he said, “This is my son. He left me and went away.” When he was just a child, he ran off to another country fifty years ago. He felt into the wheel of rebirth of the five paths in the Three Realms. And it has been twenty years since I saw him return. Those of the Two Vehicles had heard the Great Vehicle Dharma before. They had forgotten it, all right, but it was still there floating around in their subconscious mind, as it were. They had been cultivating, now, for twenty years, working at sweeping out the dung, practicing the Bodhisattva-dharmas.
Long ago in a certain city, I lost my son. Searching for him everywhere, I came to this place. Everything that I own, my houses and servants, I bequeath it all to him, that he may use it as he pleases. He can do whatever he wants with it. The Buddha turns over his entire inheritance of the Buddhadharma to those of the Two Vehicles as something that was rightfully theirs all along.
The son, recalling his former poverty
And his lowly intentions.
Who now, in his father’s presence
Had obtained these precious jewels,
And these dwelling places,
And all such wealth,
Having gained what he’d never had.
N2. Verses of rejoicing.
The son, recalling his former poverty. Those of the Two Vehicles are interested in self-improvement only. And his lowly intentions. He had no great resolve, no great ambitions. Who now in his father’s presence had obtained these precious jewels, and these dwelling places, and all such wealth, greatly rejoiced, having gained what he’d never had.
The Buddha in the same way
Knew our fondness for the petty.
K2. Verses correlated with dharma.
L1. Correlating the separation and meeting.
The Buddha in the same way knew our fondness for the petty. He knew that we preferred the Small Vehicle.
And so he never said to us,
“You shall become Buddhas.”
Instead he said that we
Could attain cessation of all outflows,
Realize the lesser vehicle,
And become Hearer Disciples.
L2. Correlating sending people after him.
And so he never said to us. He never told us that we, the Hearers, could become Buddhas. You shall become Buddhas.
Instead he said that we could attain the cessation of all outflows. He said that we might attain the cessation of outflows, that is, the Nirvana with Residue of the Small Vehicle. Those of the Hearer Vehicle awaken to the Way when they hear the sound of the Buddha’s voice speaking the Dharma. Thus, they realize the lesser vehicle and become hearer disciples.
The Buddha has instructed us
To speak of the unsurpassed Path,
And spoken of those who practice it
As being able to accomplish Buddhahood.
Receiving the Buddha’s teaching, we
For the sake of the Great Bodhisattvas,
Use causes and conditions,
And numerous expressions
To speak of the unsurpassed Path.
All the Buddha’s disciples,
Having heard from us this Dharma,
Think upon it day and night,
And diligently practice it.
Thereupon, all the Buddhas,
Then bestow predictions upon them,
Saying, “You, in future age,
Shall become Buddhas.”
This is the secret store of Dharma,
Of all the Buddhas.
Only for the Bodhisattvas
Are such real matters set forth.
And not for our sakes
Have such true essentials been spoken.
L3. Correlating the inheritance.
M1. Correlating the inheritance proper.
N1. Correlating the command.
The Buddha has instructed us to speak of the unsurpassed path and spoken of those who practice it as being able to accomplish Buddhahood. Those who practice the Great Vehicle will eventually accomplish the ultimate Buddha-fruit. Receiving the Buddha’s teaching, we, for the sake of the Great Bodhisattvas, use causes and conditions, various analogies and numerous expressions to speak the unsurpassed path.
All the Buddha’s disciples having heard from us this Dharma, think upon it day and night and diligently practice it. Thereupon, all The Buddhas then bestow predictions upon them saying, “You, in a future age shall become Buddhas.” Then, all the Buddhas, with the same sound, seal and certify this fact by bestowing predictions of future Buddhahood upon the Bodhisattvas. They say, “You, in limitless ages hence, will perfect the Bodhisattva path and become Buddhas.”
This is the secret store of Dharma of all the Buddhas, the secret Dharma-jewel of all the Buddhas throughout the ten directions. Only for the Boddhisattvas are such real matters set forth. It is only for those with the potential of the Great Vehicle Bodhisattvas, that such subtle, wonderful, true matters are expounded. And not for our sakes, have such true essentials been spoken. It is not for the Small Vehicle people that such real Dharma has been taught. The provisional Dharma was spoken for those of the Small Vehicle. The real Dharma, was not spoken for them.
previous * next * Introduction * Contents
return to top