The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 7: The Analogy of the Transformed City
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
The guide thinks to himself,
“How very pitiful they are.
How can they wish to turn back
And lose the great and precious treasure?”
Instantly he thinks of a device:
Using the power of spiritual penetrations
He conjures up a great city
Adorned with houses,
Surrounded by gardens and groves,
Brooks and bathing ponds,
Layered gates and tiered pavilions,
Filled with men and women.
After creating this,
He pities them saying, “Do not be afraid.
But go into this city
And enjoy yourselves as you wish.”
N2. Guide induces the small.
O1. The device is conjured up.
The guide thinks to himself, “How very pitiful they are.” They are to be pitied, really. Why? They cultivate and are exactly one hairsbreadth away from realization and then want to turn back. As soon as they retreat, they lose all their former work. “How can they wish to turn back and lose the great and precious treasure?” You retreat and in so doing lose all the wonderful treasure that was coming to you. Instantly he thinks of a device: using the power of spiritual penetrations he conjures up a great city adorned with houses, surrounded by gardens and groves; a lovely place indeed, with inner and outer walls, many fine buildings, lots of running brooks and ponds. Brooks and bathing ponds, layered gates and tiered pavilions, high and lofty buildings. Filled with men and women, a lot of people.
After creating this, he pities them, saying, “Do not be afraid. But go into this city and enjoy yourselves as you wish.” Do what you like. The transformation city represents the Nirvana with residue of the Two Vehicles. The Buddha used this device to draw in the Hearers, saying, “When you gain fourth stage Arhatship, you have ended birth and death, finished your work. No further becoming for you. That is true happiness.” Then once they had attained the fourth fruit, he told them they had to go further, to the treasure trove. The Transformation City is the place of the Two Vehicles. In the Dharma Flower Assembly the Buddha opens the provisional and reveals the real teaching, telling everyone the transformation city is not real. Before you reach the level of the transformation city, you cannot say it is not real. But, once you get there, then you know it is, and you must go on.
When they had entered the city,
They rejoiced greatly at heart
Thinking they were safe and sound,
And that they had been saved.
O2. They go forward joyfully and enter the City.
When they had entered the city. Those of the Small Vehicle liked the Small Vehicle Dharmas, so they went right into the transformed city. The transformed city represents the fruit positions of the Small Vehicle. They rejoiced greatly at heart thinking they were safe and sound. They felt happy and at ease, thinking that they had already ended birth and death and attained Nirvana. And that they had been saved, had been taken across the suffering sea of birth and death.
The guide, knowing they were rested,
Assembled them together and said,
“You should all go forward,
For this is nothing but a transformed city.
Seeing that you were exhausted
And wanted to turn back midway,
I used the power of expedients,
To transform provisionally this city.
You should now be vigorous
And proceed to the jewel cache.”
M2. He destroys the transformation to lead them to the jewel cache.
The guide, knowing they were rested. The guide, the great Good Knowing Advisor, in this case the Buddha, knowing that those of the Two Vehicles had reached their Small Vehicle destinations and that they were satisfied with that, assembled them together and said “You should all go forward. Now you have rested and you are no longer tired; you have certified to the position of the Two Vehicles. You are pretty happy about that, aren’t you? But you should not stay in the Two Vehicle Nirvana. You have to go forward. For this is nothing but a transformed city. It is not real. It is not the jewel cache. It is simply something I created.
Seeing that you were exhausted. You had been working very hard, and wanted to turn back midway. You felt you had undergone too much suffering. This is like when we cultivate for one, two days, it is not so bad. But, after a while, one feels as if one had not attained anything and gets discouraged and wants to retreat. They think, "I cultivated a whole year, two whole years, and I have not become a Buddha yet. Why? I have been here two years, and I have not been enlightened, I wonder if it is ever possible to get enlightened? Am I being cheated by this idea of enlightenment?” In this way, one’s mind becomes filled with doubts, and one quits cultivating. Everyone here eats one meal a day. Even if you wanted to steal food at other times, there is no place to steal it from! It is too bitter. So you want to turn back midway. Right? “If I had known it was so bitter, I would not have left home. I really got cheated. I did! What a bad teacher! What am I going to do?”
When the guide saw that they were so tired, he used the power of expedients. He said, “Do not get nervous. You will get enlightened tomorrow. Just work one more night.” So, they go ahead and cultivate one more night. Then he says, “You are off just a bit. Just a hair. Keep trying.” So, he keeps them cultivating bit-by-bit. All of a sudden, his life had come to an end. Although he did not get enlightened, he almost did. Probably, he will for sure in the next life. So next life, he studies the Buddhadharma again.
To transform provisionally this city. He used clever expedients to set up the Dharma-doors of the Two Vehicles.
You should now be vigorous. Now you have rested. You should be courageous and press on in your cultivation. And proceed to the jewel cache. I will go along with you to the Buddha fruit. You will certainly become Buddhas. If the Buddha had told the Two Vehicles to cultivate the Buddha fruit from the beginning, they would not have believed him. They would not have believed that they could become Buddhas.
I, too, am like this,
I am the guide of all;
K2. Drawing analogy to Dharma.
Shakyamuni Buddha says, I, too, am like this. I am the same. I am the guide of all. I am a Guide Knowing Advisor for all living beings, I teach all living beings to hurry up and become Buddha.
Seeing those who seek the way,
Exhausted in mid-course
Unable to cross the dangerous paths,
Of birth, death and affliction,
Therefore, I use the power of expedients,
To speak of Nirvana and give them a rest,
Saying, “Your sufferings are ended.
You have done what you had to do.
Then, knowing they have reached Nirvana,
And had all become Arhats,
I gather them together,
To teach them the genuine Dharma.
The Buddhas use the power of expedients,
To discriminate and speak of three vehicles
But there is only the One Buddha Vehicle.
The other two were spoken as a resting place.
What I am telling you now is the truth;
What you have gained is not extinction.
For the sake of the Buddha’s All Wisdom,
You should exert yourselves with great vigor.
When you have certified to All Wisdom,
And have the Ten Powers and other Buddhadharma
And have perfected the thirty-two marks,
Then that is genuine extinction.
Seeing those who seek the way, exhausted in mid-course. They cultivate, and when they are half-way there, they decide they cannot cultivate anymore. They cannot stand the suffering. They get tired and slack off, So it is said,
The first year you cultivate, the Buddha is right in front of you.
By the third year, he is eighty-thousand miles away.
By the tenth year, he is completely out of sight.
When you first decide to cultivate, you may be very sincere. If you could have held on to that kind of sincerity, you would have become a Buddha by now. However, you cannot keep it up for very long. Half way there you get lazy. This is like, here, some people should have already opened the Five Eyes and gained the Six Spiritual Penetrations. Why haven’t they done so? It is because they are lazy. Some people have opened the Five Eyes and gained the Six Penetrations, but have not developed any genuine wisdom. This is also because they are lazy and they have not purified themselves of desire. Some people have the Five Eyes and Six Spiritual Penetrations, but then they get lazy and fail to cultivate and lose their powers. These are all cases of turning back exhausted at the halfway point.
Unable to cross the dangerous paths of birth, death, and affliction. Unable to cross the sea of suffering, unable to cross the most dangerous road of affliction. Therefore I use the power of expedients, expedient Dharma-doors, to speak of Nirvana and give them a rest. To let the cultivators have a rest, he lets them have their Nirvana with residue. Saying, “Your sufferings are ended.” I say, “Your suffering is all gone. You have done what you had to do. Your job is done.” Then, knowing they have reached Nirvana and had all become Arhats, I gather them together to teach them the genuine Dharma. I open the provisional to reveal the real teaching, the real Dharma, The Dharma Flower Sutra. We are now hearing the Dharma of The Lotus Sutra, so we should put forth vigor. We should not linger in Transformation City.
The Buddhas use the power of expedients. The Buddhas of the ten directions and the three periods of time teach and transform living beings using expedient means. To discriminate and speak of Three Vehicles. The Buddhadharma, in reality, is only the One Buddha Vehicle. The Hearer, Conditioned Enlightened Ones, and the Bodhisattva Vehicles do not really exist. If at the beginning, the Buddha had talked about the Buddha Vehicle, living beings would have been afraid. So, the Buddhas set forth the provisional dharmas for the sake of the real. Although they speak provisional Dharmas, their ultimate destination is still the real Dharmas. So it says, ‘They discriminate and speak of Three Vehicles.” Fearing living beings would think the Buddha fruit was too far away and they could never cultivate it successfully, they decided to speak the Three Vehicles to lead living beings there gradually.
But there is only the One Buddha Vehicle. The Three Vehicles are just Transformation City. They are transformed by the Buddha’s spiritual power. In the future, living beings will attain the Buddha fruit, for there is only the One Real Buddha Vehicle. The other two were spoken as a resting place. The Buddha saw that living beings had been cultivating for such a long time that they were discouraged. Consequently, he magically created the city so they could rest up a bit. The Buddha spoke of the two kinds of Nirvana: with residue and without residue.
What I am telling you now is the truth. You should go beyond the Transformation City. I am telling you the real Dharma, the Buddha Vehicle. What you have gained is not extinction. The Nirvana with residue that you have attained, the Fourth Fruit of Arhatship, is not Buddhahood. It is not ultimate; it is not real extinction. You have not completely ended birth and death and attained the bliss of still extinction. You still have a way to go. As Fourth Stage Arhats, they have ended Share Section birth and death, but they have not yet ended Change birth and death.
Share Section birth and death refers to our physical existence, that is, every person has his own body which exists for a certain period of time. Change birth and death refers to the continual process of birth and death of thoughts in our minds.
For the sake of the Buddhas’ All Wisdom, the wisdom of real mark Prajna, you should exert yourselves with great vigor. You should be extremely vigorous and seek Prajna wisdom. Do not stop at Fourth Stage Arhatship and fail to go forward. When you have certified to All Wisdom, real wisdom and have the Ten Powers and other Buddhadharma. The Ten Powers have been explained before. I shall now elaborate on a few of them, not all ten.
First of all, the Buddha has the power of wisdom to know what is right and wrong. What is right? What is wrong? What is right is that which accords with principles and the Buddhadharma. This is what is right. What is considered wrong? What is wrong is that which does not accord with the Buddhadharma; it is unreasonable dharma that opposes and goes against the Buddhadharma. The Buddha has this kind of wisdom and power. He knows all the correct and incorrect dharmas at all times and all places.
The second is, the Buddha knows the karmic retribution of living beings in the three periods of time. For now, we would not talk about the three periods of time. We will talk about last year, this year, and next year. Or, we can talk about last month, this month, and next month, or we can talk about yesterday, today, and tomorrow. If you do not believe that there are future lives or past lives, you only believe in this life. So I will change the time period. Surely you will admit to the concept of last year, this year, and next year. You cannot disagree with that. If you cannot, then you cannot really object to the idea of past, present, and future lives. The Buddha knows the karmic retribution of living beings--that is, what karmic offenses or good deeds they did in past lives, and what their cause and effect is. They know currently what they are undergoing as retribution. They also know the fruits they will reap in the future.
The third is the power of wisdom to know the liberation of all Dhyanas. All the Dhyanas include the first Dhyana, second Dhyana, third Dhyana, fourth Dhyana, and the Four Stations of Emptiness: The Heaven of the Station of Boundless Emptiness, the Heaven of the Station of Boundless Consciousness, the Heaven of the Station of Nothing Whatsoever, and the Heaven of the Station of Neither Perception nor Non-perception, which is also called the Samadhi of Extinguishing Feeling and Thoughts. These are the nine successive Samadhis. Since there are many samadhis, nine in order, they are called “all Dhyanas”. The Samadhi of Liberation consists of Eight Liberations, we have already explained many times so we will not discuss them today. Samadhi is concentration, the skill from Dhyana concentration.
The fourth is that the Buddha knows the superiority or inferiority of living beings’ faculties. This means he knows which living beings have good roots and which do not. The Buddha knows at a glance. The Buddha knows, but he would not tell you. He would not blast a living being saying, “You are too rotten. Hurry up and get away from the Buddha!” he would not say that. He also would not say, “Oh, you have such fine, good roots. You should draw near to the Buddha.” He would not talk about these things. Why not? It is one thing to know about them; it is another thing to broadcast your knowledge. You cannot go around telling people all these things. You may know, but you cannot tell. If you tell living beings they have good roots, they will get arrogant, thinking it does not matter if they cultivate or not. Then you have harmed them. Those without good roots should not be told either, or they will get discouraged and refuse to cultivate. Thinking it meaningless, they will retreat. If they do not know whether or not they have good roots, they will go ahead and cultivate. If they know, they will be lazy and retreat from the Bodhi mind. The Buddha knows, but he does not tell people. He is not like common people who do not know, but press the issue and insist that they do know. The Buddha knows, but does not tell. We do not know and stupidly claim we do.
Genuinely intelligent people would never say, “See me? I am the most intelligent person there is!” People who say they are smart are already stupid to the extreme. If they were not stupid, they would not praise themselves as being wise. Some people affect very strange styles and ways of thinking. If you flatter them with even one sentence of praise, they feel it is as sweet as eating honey. If you say one thing unfavorable, they find it bitter as gall. Praise them, and they are delighted. If you do not praise them, they will praise themselves. No one else praises them, so they have to introduce themselves. They say, “I cultivate real hard. I have made a lot of progress. I have no false thinking.” How do you know you have no false thinking? If you know you have no false thinking, that itself is false thinking. If you had no false thinking, you would not have to introduce yourself and say, “I have no false thinking.” Why do you want everyone to know that you have no false thinking? Others cultivate and claim that they have no thoughts of sexual desire. As soon as you say you do not have desire, that means you do have it. If you really did not have any desire, you would not feel compelled to say that you did not. If you do not have any, why bring it up in the first place? If you bring it up, that means it is still there. You just want to give yourself a high hat to wear and to cheat people into thinking that you have no sexual desire. I will tell you, until you have reached Fourth Stage Arhatship, you cannot say that you have no sexual desire.
“Oh, in that case then I probably have certified to the fourth fruit, because I really do not have any. You just do not believe me, that is all.” If you really did not have any, why would you be worried about people believing that you did or did not? Hmm? If you do not, you do not. Why try to get people to believe you? Huh? If other people believe that you do not have any, that is not going to help them get rid of theirs! It does not work like that. So, what is the big deal?
There are a lot of people who speak out of both sides of their mouths. They say they do, and they say they do not. For example, they do not have the Buddha’s wisdom, but then they say that they do. They are not as pure as the Buddha, but they say that they are. Living beings all like to be number one. They even want to put the Buddha in the number two slot! So, the fourth wisdom power of the Buddha is knowing the superiority or inferiority of living beings’ dispositions.
The fifth wisdom power is to know the various capacities of understanding oneself, but one understands other living beings as well. If you only understand yourself and know how to lecture the Sutras, what good does that do to anyone else? If you can lecture the Sutras, but living beings cannot understand it, it is useless. You have to be aware of what living beings can understand, so that when you explain a certain principle, a certain living being can understand it, and if you explain another principle, that other living being can understand it. You cannot explain things too profoundly or too mysteriously so people cannot understand. If they do not understand, it may be very profound, but it is of no use. Right? The doctrines must be explained so that everyone can understand and accept them. That is one of the powers of the Buddha. He knows what living beings can understand, and he teaches them accordingly. You should not lecture on purpose so that people cannot understand you. It would be better not to lecture at all than to do that.
The sixth wisdom power is that the Buddha knows all the different states of living beings. Everyone has his own state of mind. If you do not understand the states of living beings, you cannot teach and transform living beings. You should understand that everyone has his likes and dislikes. Everyone has his fondness and his dislikes. Some living beings like to eat sweet things. Some do not. Some like bitter things, sour things, hot things. You teach and transform a living being with the flavor that he is fond of. There are many different religions in the world, too. There is Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam. They are like the different flavors. Everybody has his preference. If you look at it one way, there are many different religions. If you look at it another way, they are all included in Buddhism. No religion is outside of Buddhism.
Other religions claim that they are the truest, the most lofty. Buddhism does not claim to be lofty, or true, because all religions, true or false, high or low, large or small, square or round--all are included within Buddhism. None of them are outside of Buddhism. The true is Buddhism, and the false is Buddhism. They are all included within Buddhism. True and false, high and low, are discriminations made by living beings; there are no such discriminations within the religion itself. As The Vajra Sutra says, “This Dharma is level and equal, with nothing above or below it.” Where is this “True and false?” The true comes from the false, and the false comes from the true. It is just like day and night. When the day reaches its ultimate, night is falling. When night reaches its ultimate, dawn is breaking.
People are awake sometimes, and sometimes they are asleep. When they are asleep, they do not know anything at all. They become muddled. When they are awake, they are alert. When they sleep they dream. The dreams are false. Religions are a bit like this. It is not that religions are always alert and awake. Sometimes they are sleeping, too. When religions are asleep, they are false. Even though they are false, they cannot not sleep. If you do not sleep, you cannot take it.
Look at Aniruddha who did not sleep for a week and consequently went blind! So, the Buddhas know all the different states of mind of living beings. Each living being goes with its kind. In the Ten Dharma Realms living beings hang out with those in their own realm. Bodhisattvas do the deeds of Bodhisattvas. Arhats do Arhat’s work. Gods do the deeds of gods. People do people-type things. Asuras do asura things; that is, they fight all day long. Hungry ghosts do hungry ghost things, and animals do animal things. Hell-beings do hellish things. Each follows its own kind.
The seventh is that they know where all paths lead. If you cultivate the five precepts and ten good deeds, you can be born in the heavens. If you cultivate the Dhyanas, you can certify to the fruit. If you cultivate the Six Perfections and Ten Thousand Conducts, you can become a Buddha. If you create offenses, you can turn into a hungry ghost or fall into hell. Whatever cause you plant, you reap that fruit. If you plant a good cause, you reap a good fruit; if you plant a bad cause, you reap a bad fruit.
The eighth is the power of wisdom to know with the unobstructed Heavenly Eye. This is the power of wisdom that knows that the Heavenly Eye is unobstructed. The ninth is the power of wisdom to know past lives without outflow. The tenth is the power of wisdom to know how to forever sever all habits. This is a brief explanation of the ten powers.
There are ten powers, but they are inexhaustible, really. From ten you get a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a million, and so on.
And have perfected the thirty-two marks, the thirty-two marks and eighty minor characteristics of a Buddha, then that is genuine extinction.
The Buddhas, the guiding masters,
Speak of Nirvana to give living beings rest,
But once they know that they are rested,
They lead them into the Buddhas’ wisdom.”
L2. Drawing the conclusion.
The Buddhas, the guiding masters. All the Buddhas are great leader of living beings. Speak of Nirvana to give living beings a rest. They speak of Hearer, Conditioned-Enlightened, and Bodhisattva Vehicles. They speak of Nirvana with residue. But once they know that they are rested. Once they know living beings have rested up in the Transformation City, they lead them into the Buddhas’ wisdom. They lead living beings to become Buddhas and attain the Buddhas’ wisdom.
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