The White Lotus of the Good Dharma
Degé Kangyur, vol. 51 (mdo sde, ja), folios 1.b–180.b.
Translated by Peter Alan Roberts
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
The White Lotus of the Good Dharma, popularly known as the Lotus Sūtra, is taught by Buddha Śākyamuni on Vulture Peak to an audience that includes bodhisattvas from countless realms, as well as bodhisattvas who emerge from under the ground, from the space below this world. Buddha Prabhūtaratna, who has long since passed into nirvāṇa, appears within a floating stūpa to hear the sūtra, and Śākyamuni enters the stūpa and sits beside him. The Lotus Sūtra is celebrated, particularly in East Asia, for its presentation of crucial elements of the Mahāyāna tradition, such as the doctrine that there is only one yāna, or “vehicle”; the distinction between expedient and definite teachings; and the notion that the Buddha’s life, enlightenment, and parinirvāṇa were simply manifestations of his transcendent buddhahood, while he continues to teach eternally. A recurring theme in the sūtra is its own significance in teaching these points during past and future eons, with many passages in which the Buddha and bodhisattvas such as Samantabhadra describe the great benefits that come from devotion to it, the history of its past devotees, and how it is the Buddha’s ultimate teaching, supreme over all other sūtras.
The White Lotus of the Good Dharma Sūtra was translated from Tibetan with reference to the Sanskrit by Peter Alan Roberts. Ling Lung Chen was the consultant for the Chinese versions. Emily Bower was the project manager and editor. Ben Gleason was the proofreader.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The generous sponsorship of May & George Gu, which helped make the work on this translation possible, is most gratefully acknowledged.
Thus have I heard at one time.56 The Bhagavān was dwelling on Vulture Peak in Rājagṛha together with a great saṅgha of twelve hundred bhikṣus,57 all of whom were solely arhats whose defilements had ceased; who were without kleśas; who had mastered themselves; who had liberated minds; who had completely liberated wisdom; who were noble beings;58 who were great elephants;59 who had done what had to be done; who had accomplished what had to be accomplished; who had put down their burden; who had reached their goals; who had ended engagement with existence; and who had liberated their minds through true knowledge, had perfectly attained all the powers of the mind, were renowned for their higher knowledge,60 [F.2.a] and were mahāśrāvakas.
They were Brother Ājñātakauṇḍinya, Brother Aśvajit, Brother Vāṣpa, Brother Mahānāman, Brother Bhadrika, Brother Mahākāśyapa, Brother Uruvilvākāśyapa, Brother Nadīkāśyapa, Brother Gayākāśyapa, Brother Śāriputra, Brother Mahāmaudgalyāyana, Brother Mahākātyāyana, Brother Aniruddha, Brother Revata, Brother Kapphiṇa, Brother Gavāṃpati, Brother Pilindavatsa, Brother Bakkula, Brother Mahākauṣṭhila, Brother Bharadvāja, Brother Nanda,61 Brother Upananda, Brother Sundarananda, Brother Pūrṇa Maitrāyaṇīputra, Brother Subhūti, Brother Rāhula, and other great śrāvakas; and the student Brother Ānanda; and also two thousand bhikṣus who were in training and had transcended training; and six thousand bhikṣuṇīs such as Mahāprajāpatī and bhikṣuṇī Yaśodharā, the mother of Rāhula, and her followers.
Also present were eighty thousand bodhisattvas, all of whom were irreversible from great enlightenment; had attained retention; remained in great eloquence; turned the irreversible wheel of the Dharma; had attended many hundred thousands of buddhas; had planted the roots of merit with many hundred thousands of buddhas; [F.2.b] had praised many hundred thousands of buddhas whose bodies, speech, and minds were pervaded with love; and who were adept in entering the wisdom of the tathāgatas, had great wisdom, had fully realized the perfection of wisdom, were renowned in many hundreds of thousands of worlds, and had liberated many hundred thousands of hundred thousands of millions of beings. They were the bodhisattva mahāsattva Mañjuśrī Kumārabhūta, the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva Mahāsthāmaprāpta, the bodhisattva Sarvārthanāman, the bodhisattva Nityodyukta, the bodhisattva Anikṣiptadhura, the bodhisattva Ratnapāṇi, the bodhisattva Bhaiṣajyarāja, the bodhisattva Bhaiṣajyasamudgata, the bodhisattva Vyūharāja, the bodhisattva Pradānaśūra, the bodhisattva Ratnacandra, the bodhisattva Ratnaprabha, the bodhisattva Pūrṇacandra, the bodhisattva Mahāvikrāmin, the bodhisattva Anantavikrāmiṇ, the bodhisattva Trailokyavikrāmiṇ, the bodhisattva Mahāpratibhāna, the bodhisattva Satatasamitābhiyukta, the bodhisattva Dharaṇīdhara, the bodhisattva Akṣayamati, the bodhisattva Padmaśrī, the bodhisattva Nakṣatrarāja, the bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya, and the bodhisattva mahāsattva Siṃha. Also present were the sixteen excellent men, such as Bhadrapāla. They were Bhadrapāla, Ratnākara, Susārthavāha, Naradatta,62 Guhyagupta, Varuṇadatta, Indradatta, Uttaramati, [F.3.a] Viśeṣamati, Vardhamānamati, Amoghadarśin, Susaṃprasthita, Suvikrāntavikrāmiṇ, Anupamamati, Sūryagarbha, and Dharaṇīṃdhara.
These and the other eighty thousand bodhisattvas were present there.
Also present was Śakra, the lord of the devas, with his retinue of twenty thousand devas, such as the deva Candra, the deva Sūrya, the deva Samantagandha, the deva Ratnaprabha, the deva Avabhāsaprabha, and the rest of the twenty thousand devas.
Also present were the four mahārājas and their retinue of thirty thousand devas: Mahārāja Virūḍhaka, Mahārāja Virūpākṣa, Mahārāja Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Mahārāja Vaiśravaṇa, the deva Īśvara, the deva Maheśvara, and a retinue of thirty thousand devas.
Also present were Brahmā, the lord of the Sahā world realm, with a retinue of twelve hundred Brahmakāyika devas: the brahmā Śikhin, the brahmā Jyotiṣprabha, and the rest of the one thousand two hundred Brahmakāyika devas.
Also present were the four kinnara kings—the kinnara king Druma, the kinnara king Mahādharma, the kinnara king Sudharma, and the kinnara king Dharmadhara—together with a retinue of many trillions of kinnaras.
At that time, the Bhagavān, surrounded by the fourfold assembly, was esteemed, honored, revered, respected, offered to, praised, and venerated. He had taught the Dharma teaching of the great extensive sūtra called The Great Elucidation, which is an instruction for bodhisattvas that is possessed by all the buddhas.
As soon as the Bhagavān entered that state there fell a rain of coral tree flowers, great coral tree flowers, and spider lily and great spider lily flowers,64 that fell upon the Bhagavān and his fourfold assembly. The whole buddha realm shook in six ways: it moved, moved strongly, quaked, quaked strongly, shuddered, and shuddered strongly. Then at that time the bhikṣus and bhikṣuṇīs, the upāsakas and upāsikās, the devas, nāgas, yakṣas, gandharvas, asuras, garuḍas, kinnaras, mahoragas, humans and nonhumans, kings of regions, balacakravartins, and cakravartins of the four continents, together with their retinues who were gathered in that assembly, [F.4.a] were all gazing upon the Bhagavān with wonder, amazement, and joy.
Then at that time, a light ray shone from the ūrṇā hair between the Bhagavān’s eyebrows into eighteen thousand buddha realms in the eastern direction. The light of that light ray pervaded all those buddha realms from the great Avīci hell up to the apex of existence. It illuminated all beings without exception in the six classes of existence in those buddha realms. It also illuminated the buddha bhagavāns who resided, lived, and remained in those buddha realms. The Dharma that those buddha bhagavāns taught was heard by all without exception.
It illuminated in those buddha realms the bodhisattvas and mahāsattvas who practiced bodhisattva conduct through being skilled in methods, due to the many various ways of listening to the teachings, having objectives, and having aspirations.
Then bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya thought, “Oh! The Tathāgata has shown this great miraculous sign. Why did the Bhagavān show this kind of great miraculous sign? The Bhagavān, while resting in this samādhi, [F.4.b] has revealed these kinds of inconceivable, marvelous, amazing, great miracles. Who can answer my question as to what this means? This Mañjuśrī Kumārabhūta has served previous jinas, has planted the roots of merit, and has attended many buddhas. This Mañjuśrī Kumārabhūta has also previously seen this kind of sign from past tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas, and he has previously heard numerous accounts of the great Dharma. I should ask Mañjuśrī.”
The bhikṣus and bhikṣuṇīs, the upāsakas and upāsikās, and the devas, nāgas, yakṣas, gandharvas, asuras, garuḍas, kinnaras, mahoragas, humans, and nonhumans saw this light that was the great miraculous sign of the Bhagavān and were amazed, astonished, and intrigued.
Then the bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya instantaneously knew the thoughts in the minds of the fourfold assembly, and inquired of Mañjuśrī Kumārabhūta, “Mañjuśrī, what was the cause and what the reason for the Bhagavān manifesting this wonderful illumination through a marvelous, astonishing, miraculous light that revealed these eighteen thousand beautiful, supremely beautiful buddha realms, among which are the tathāgatas and also the followers of the tathāgatas?”
“Noble sons, the Tathāgata’s intention is to send down a great Dharma rain, to sound the great Dharma drum, to erect the great Dharma banner, to light the great Dharma lamp, to blow the great Dharma conch, and to beat the great Dharma bherī drum.82 Noble sons, that is the intention the Tathāgata has formed today.
“Noble sons, from previous tathāgatas there has come illumination with a light ray like this, and I think that just as it was revealed to me,83 just as I have seen an omen of this kind in the past from previous tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas, this tathāgata, too, intends to give a great Dharma teaching, to make others hear a great Dharma teaching, and has therefore created such an omen. Why is that? The Tathāgata, the Arhat, the perfectly enlightened Buddha has revealed a miraculous omen of this kind, this illumination from a ray of light, because he intends to teach the Dharma that is not in accord with the entire world.
“Noble sons, I remember that in a past time, even further back beyond incalculable, numberless, immeasurable, inconceivable, vast, completely countless asaṃkhyeya eons ago, [F.8.a] at that time, in that era, there appeared in the world the tathāgata, the arhat, the perfectly enlightened buddha, the one with perfect wisdom and conduct, the sugata, the knower of the world, the unsurpassable guide who tamed beings, the teacher of gods and humans, the buddha, the bhagavān named Candrasūryapradīpa.
“He taught the Dharma that is good in the beginning, good in the middle, good in the end; has excellent meaning and excellent words; and is unalloyed, complete, pure, perfected, and concerns pure conduct.
“To the śrāvakas he taught the Dharma conjoined with the four truths of the āryas, and nirvāṇa as the ultimate goal, as well as the process of dependent origination, in order that they might transcend birth, aging, sickness, death, misery, lamentation, suffering, unhappiness, and distress.
“Noble sons, subsequent to that tathāgata, arhat, perfectly enlightened buddha Candrasūryapradīpa, there appeared in the world a tathāgata, arhat, perfectly enlightened buddha who was also named Candrasūryapradīpa.
“Ajita, in this way there appeared sequentially tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas who had the same name, Candrasūryapradīpa, and the same family and same clan, which means there were twenty thousand tathāgatas of the Bharadvājasa family.
“Ajita, from the first of those twenty thousand tathāgatas until the last of those tathāgatas they taught the Dharma that is good in the beginning, good in the middle, good in the end; [F.8.b] has excellent meaning and excellent words; and is unalloyed, complete, pure, perfected, and concerns pure conduct.
“To the śrāvakas they taught the Dharma that has the four truths of the āryas and dependent origination, so that the śrāvakas might transcend the troubles of birth, aging, illness, death, misery, wailing, suffering, and unhappiness, and conclude in nirvāṇa.
“Ajita, in this way, when the tathāgata, the arhat, the perfectly enlightened buddha Candrasūryapradīpa was previously a young man living in the capital, who had not yet entered homelessness, he had eight sons. The names of those princes were Mati, Sumati, Anantamati, Ratnamati, Viśeṣamati, Vimatisamuddhāṭin, Ghoṣamati, and Dharmamati.
“Ajita, those eight princes who were the sons of Bhagavān Candrasūryapradīpa had great miraculous powers. Each one of them acquired and possessed four great continents and was the king of them. When they knew that the Bhagavān had abandoned the capital and heard that he had attained the highest, complete enlightenment of perfect buddhahood, they forsook all royal enjoyments and followed the Bhagavān into homelessness, and they all became dedicated to the highest, complete enlightenment and became dharmabhāṇakas. Those princes constantly maintained celibacy and planted roots of merit with many hundreds of thousands of buddhas.
“Ajita, when the bhagavān, the tathāgata, the arhat, the perfectly enlightened buddha Candrasūryapradīpa [F.9.a] had taught the Dharma teaching of the great extensive sūtra called The Great Elucidation, which is an instruction for bodhisattvas that is possessed by all the buddhas, then at that time, at that instant, that very moment, among that gathered assembly, sitting cross-legged upon the great Dharma seat, he rested in meditation in the samādhi named the basis of infinite elucidation; his body became motionless and his mind became motionless.
“As soon as the Bhagavān rested in meditation there fell onto the Bhagavān a great rain of coral tree flowers, great coral tree flowers, spider lily flowers, great spider lily flowers, and divine flowers, which were scattered upon the Bhagavān and his assembly.
“The complete buddha realm shook in six ways: it moved, moved strongly, quaked, quaked strongly, shuddered, and shuddered strongly. Then at that time the bhikṣus and bhikṣuṇīs, the upāsakas and upāsikās, the devas, nāgas, yakṣas, gandharvas, asuras, garuḍas, kinnaras, mahoragas, humans and nonhumans, kings of regions, cakravartins, and cakravartins of the four continents, together with their retinues who were gathered in that assembly, were all gazing upon the Bhagavān with wonder, amazement, and joy.
“Also at that time, a light ray shone from the ūrṇā hair between the Bhagavān’s eyebrows to twenty thousand buddha realms in the eastern direction. The light of that light ray pervaded all those buddha realms. Ajita, it was just like how these buddha realms are illuminated now. [F.9.b]
“Ajita, at that time, there were two hundred million bodhisattvas among the Bhagavān’s followers; those who were listening to the Dharma in that assembly saw the world illuminated by the radiance of that great light ray and were amazed, astonished, and intrigued.
“Ajita, at that time, in that Bhagavān’s teaching there was a bodhisattva mahāsattva named Varaprabha who had eight hundred students. The Bhagavān arose from that samādhi and taught the Dharma teaching of The White Lotus of the Good Dharma, first to the bodhisattva Varaprabha. For sixty whole intermediate eons he taught while sitting on the one seat with a motionless body and a motionless mind. The entire assembly also remained seated on the same seats with motionless bodies and motionless minds, listening to the Dharma from the Bhagavān for sixty eons. There was not a single being within that assembly who became fatigued and there were none whose minds became wearied.
“When the bhagavān, the tathāgata, the arhat, the perfectly enlightened buddha Candrasūryapradīpa had taught for sixty intermediate eons the Dharma teaching of the great extensive sūtra called The White Lotus of the Good Dharma, which is an instruction for bodhisattvas that is possessed by all the buddhas, then in that moment he announced his parinirvāṇa in front of the world with its many beings, including devas, māras, and Brahmā. He said, ‘Bhikṣus, tonight at midnight the tathāgata will pass away into the state of nirvāṇa that has no remainder of the skandhas.’
“Then, Ajita, the bhagavān, the tathāgata, the arhat, the perfectly enlightened buddha Candrasūryapradīpa gave the prophecy of the highest, complete enlightenment to the bodhisattva mahāsattva Śrīgarbha84 [F.10.a] and declared to the assembly, ‘Bhikṣus, this bodhisattva mahāsattva Śrīgarbha will after me attain the highest, complete enlightenment and become the bhagavān, the tathāgata, the arhat, the perfectly enlightened buddha Vimalanetra.’
“Then, Ajita, the bhagavān, the tathāgata, the arhat, the perfectly enlightened buddha Candrasūryapradīpa that evening at midnight passed away into the state of nirvāṇa that has no remainder of the skandhas. The bodhisattva mahāsattva Śrīgarbha took up the Dharma teaching of The White Lotus of the Good Dharma and for eighty intermediate eons taught the teaching of that bhagavān who had passed into nirvāṇa.
“Ajita, the eight sons of that bhagavān, such as Mati, became students of the bodhisattva Śrīgarbha. He ripened them for the highest, complete enlightenment. Subsequently they all saw a hundred thousand quintillion buddhas, honored them, and attained the highest, complete enlightenment of perfect buddhahood. The last of them became the bhagavān, the tathāgata, the arhat, the perfectly enlightened buddha Dīpaṃkara.
“One of the eight hundred students yearned for gain, yearned for honor, yearned for prestige, and desired fame, so the words and letters that had been taught did not engross him or take root in him. He became known as Yaśaskāma. Through the merit he had previously acquired, he pleased many quintillions of buddhas, and having pleased them he honored them, venerated them, respected them, made offerings to them, worshiped them, and revered them. [F.10.b]
“At that time, Ajita, the bodhisattva Śrīgarbha was a dharmabhāṇaka. Do not have any doubt or uncertainty that he was someone else. Why is that? It is because at that time I was the dharmabhāṇaka Śrīgarbha. The bodhisattva Yaśaskāma had become lazy. Ajita, at that time, on that occasion, you were the lazy bodhisattva Yaśaskāma.
“Ajita, when in this teaching I saw the light ray of this kind that was the Bhagavān’s omen, I thought that the Bhagavān intended to teach the great extensive sūtra, the Dharma teaching of The White Lotus of the Good Dharma.”
This concludes “The Introduction,” the first chapter of the Dharma teaching of “The White Lotus of the Good Dharma.” [B2]
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