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.
Then Brother Subhūti, Brother Mahākātyāyana, Mahākāśyapa, and Mahāmaudgalyāyana, having heard from the Bhagavān this kind of Dharma that they had never heard before, and having heard directly from the Bhagavān the prophecy of Brother Śāriputra’s attainment of the highest, supreme enlightenment, were amazed, astonished, and overjoyed.
At that time they rose from their seats, approached the Bhagavān, uncovered one shoulder, knelt on their right knees, and with palms together in homage to the Bhagavān, looking directly at the Bhagavān, they inclined their bodies, they bowed their bodies, they bowed well, bowed perfectly.
They said to the Bhagavān, “Bhagavān, we are old, aged, and decrepit. We are esteemed to be the elders in the saṅgha of bhikṣus. We are old, infirm, and are said to have attained nirvāṇa. [F.39.b] Bhagavān, we do not make the effort to attain unsurpassable complete enlightenment. We do not have the strength to make that effort.
“When the Bhagavān teaches the Dharma, when the Bhagavān is seated for a long time, we too are in the assembly for that Dharma teaching. Bhagavān, while we are reverentially seated there for a long time, we have pains in our limbs and other parts of our bodies, and pains in our main and secondary joints.
“Therefore, Bhagavān, although we express all the emptiness, absence of attributes, and absence of aspiration in the Dharma that the Bhagavān is teaching, we have not hoped for the display of the buddha realms, the play of bodhisattvas, or the play of tathāgatas that are in these dharmas of the Buddha.219 Why is that? Bhagavān, we have escaped from the three realms and we are said to have attained nirvāṇa. Also we are old and decrepit.
“Therefore, Bhagavān, even though we have taught and instructed other bodhisattvas in the highest, complete enlightenment, we ourselves, Bhagavān, have not given rise to a single wish for such a thing.220 Bhagavān, we were amazed and astonished to hear from the Bhagavān just now the highest, complete enlightenment being prophesied even for the śrāvakas.
“Bhagavān, today we have unexpectedly heard words from the Tathāgata of a kind that we have never heard before, which is a great gain. Bhagavān, we have obtained a great jewel; Bhagavān, we have obtained a priceless great jewel. Bhagavān, we have obtained this kind of jewel without searching221 for it, without seeking it, without thinking of it, and without wishing for it.
“Bhagavān, it is like the following analogy. A person leaves his father, and having left him, goes to another land. Bhagavān, for many years, for twenty, thirty, forty, until fifty years, he is gone away and has turned into a grown man. He becomes a beggar and searches for sustenance. In order to have food and clothes he travels in every direction in many other lands. His father has come to one of these other lands. The father has much property, grain, treasure, and storehouses. He has much gold, silver, jewels, pearls, beryls, conches, crystals, corals, and gold and silver plate. He has many female slaves, male slaves, workers, and hirelings. He has many elephants, horses, carriages, cattle, and sheep. He has many servants. He is a wealthy man in that great land. He has considerable revenues, interest from loans, and farming and trading businesses.
“Then, Bhagavān, the poor man, seeking food and clothes, wanders through a succession of villages, towns, market towns, districts, countries, and capitals, and at last arrives at the town where lives his father, who has much property, grain, treasure, and storehouses. The father always thinks of his son who has been missing for fifty years. yet, although he thinks of him, he says nothing of this to anyone else, but sorrows privately. He thinks to himself, ‘I have become old and decrepit. I have much property, grain, treasure, and storehouses. [F.40.b] But I do not have even one son. When my time comes to an end, will not all of this be without an owner and be dispersed?’ In this way he thinks again and again of his son. ‘Alas! If only my son could take possession of this accumulation of wealth, I would be free of sadness.’
“Then, Bhagavān, the poor man, wandering in search of food and clothes, comes to the residence of the man who has much money, gold, property, grain, treasure, and storehouses.
“Bhagavān, the poor man’s father is at the entrance to his home, accompanied by a great assembly of brahmins, kṣatriyas, vaiśyas, and śūdras gazing upon him. He is seated in great wealth upon a lion throne with a footstool, adorned in gold and silver. He is being fanned with yak-tail whisks, there is a canopy spread above him, the ground is bestrewn with pearls and flowers, and strings of jewels are hung as decorations.
“Bhagavān, the poor man sees his father seated among such wealth at the entrance of his own residence encircled by a great crowd of householders as his attendants. As soon as he sees him he is shocked, frightened, afraid, and the hairs on his body stand on end. Terrified, he thinks, ‘I have suddenly come across this king or great minister. There is no reason for me to be here. I shall go to the street where the poor people live. There I can obtain food and clothing without any difficulty. I should not linger here. I do not want to be enslaved or seized,222 or encounter other kinds of harm.’
“However, Bhagavān, the wealthy man, seated on the lion throne at the entrance to his residence, [F.41.a] recognizes224 his son as soon as he sees him. The sight makes him happy, thrilled, overjoyed, and delighted. He thinks, ‘This is marvelous! I have seen the one who is to inherit my money, gold, property, grain, treasures, and storehouses. I have become old and aged. I have been thinking of this over and over, and he has arrived here!’
“Then, Bhagavān, that man who had been pained by longing for his son, in that very instant, that very moment, commands some people who can run quickly, ‘Friends, go and quickly bring that man to me.’
“So, Bhagavān, those men run quickly to catch the poor man.
“However, Bhagavān, the poor man then becomes frightened, terrified, and alarmed. The hairs on his body stand on end. In dismay, he yells and screams dreadful cries of distress. He cries out, ‘I have done you no wrong!’
“But those men forcibly bring back the poor man, wailing. The poor man, afraid, frightened, terrified, and alarmed, his hairs standing on end, in dismay, thinks, ‘I should not be killed!’225 He faints and falls to the ground, unconscious.226
“His father comes near and says to the men, ‘Don’t bring this man in this way!’ He sprinkles cold water on him and says nothing more. Why? The householder knows that the poor man aspires for something inferior, while he has a high status. He also knows that this is his son.
“At the time, Bhagavān, the householder, using a skillful method, does not at all declare, ‘This is my son!’
“That man listens to this order, goes to the poor man, and says to him, ‘Hey, you have been freed, go wherever you want to!’
“When the poor man hears those words he is amazed and astonished. He gets up from the ground, leaves that place, and goes to the street of the poor people in order to seek clothing and food.
“The householder then uses a skillful method in order to bring the poor man to himself. He employs two people of low caste and shoddy appearance228 and says to them, ‘Go to the man who came here, taking my instruction that he be given a daily wage229 to induce him to work in my home. If he asks, “What work can I do?” say to him, “You can work with the two of us clearing away the rubbish heap.” ’
“So the two men go looking for the poor man, and they perform their task. Those two men and the poor man are then employed by the wealthy man and clear away the rubbish heap in his residence. They make their home in a straw hut beside the wealthy man’s house.
“The rich man, through a round window, sees his son clearing away the rubbish, and seeing him he is again astonished. The householder then takes off his garlands and jewelry, takes off his soft, clean, beautiful clothes, puts on dirty clothes, and comes down out from his residence, holding a basket in his left hand, and with his limbs dirtied with earth.
“He greets his son from afar, and approaches him. Having approached, he says, ‘Don’t stay here, take baskets and carry the rubbish away.’ Using this method he is able to converse with his son. Then he says, ‘Oh, you should work here. You should not go elsewhere. I shall give you a greater wage. [F.42.a] Whatever it is you need you can unhesitatingly ask me for it, whether it is the price of a bowl, the price of a water pot, the price of a cooking pot, the price of wood, the price of salt, or the price of food or clothes. I have an old cloth, sir, and if you need it ask for it and I will give to you. Oh, whatever kind of utensil it is that you need, sir, I will give it to you. You230 be happy! Think of me as if I were your father. Why? It is because I am older and you are younger. You have done much work for me by clearing away the rubbish heap. My, you have done this work without deceit, deception, dishonesty, pride, hypocrisy, or ingratitude. My, I have not seen you to have even one fault, such as I have perceived in other men who work. From this day on you will be like my own son born from me.’
“Then, Bhagavān, that householder calls that that poor man ‘son,’ and the poor man thinks of the householder as being his father.
“Bhagavān, the householder who longed for his son in that way has him clearing away the rubbish heaps for twenty years. After twenty years have passed, the poor man has no anxiety about coming in and out of the householder’s residence, and lives there in the straw hut.
“By that time, Bhagavān, the householder has become weaker, and he perceives that he is approaching the time of his death. He says to the poor man, ‘Oh, you, come here! I have much money, gold, property, grain, treasure, and storehouses. I have become very weak. I wish to give them to [F.42.b] someone who will take them, who will preserve them. All this you should know. Why is that? Just as I have been the owner of this wealth, so are you. You will not waste anything of mine.’
“So, Bhagavān, the poor man in this way comes to know of that householder’s great amount of money, gold, property, grain, treasure, and storehouses. He has no desire for them. He does not ask for any of it, not even something the value of a prastha of flour.231 He continues to live in the straw hut, thinking the thoughts of a poor person.
“Then, Bhagavān, the householder sees that his son has developed, and is capable of preserving his wealth; he sees that his mind is refined, such that his outlook is heightened232 and he is distressed by his previous poor man’s way of thinking—he is disgusted by it, ashamed of it, and loathes it.
“As he is approaching the time of his death he summons the poor man and presents him to a great gathering of many kinsmen. Then he openly pronounces in the presence of the king, the ministers, the townspeople, and the citizens of the land, ‘Listen, all of you, this is my own rightful son, of such and such a town, whom I lost fifty years ago. His name is such and such. My name is such and such. In order to find him I came here from that town. This is my son. I am his father. Whatever it is that I own, all of it I bestow upon him. He has full knowledge of even the least of the possessions that I have.’
“Then, Bhagavān, the poor man, hearing at that time those words, is amazed and astonished. He thinks, ‘Suddenly I have obtained such money, gold, property, grain, treasure, and storehouses!’
“Bhagavān, we are pained by the three sufferings. What are those three? They are the suffering of suffering, the suffering of the composite, and the suffering of change. Within saṃsāra, we have had an inferior aspiration. Therefore, Bhagavān, we have contemplated many Dharma teachings that are similar to a rubbish heap, and we have been devoted to them, intent upon them, and dedicated to them.
“Bhagavān, we have sought and requested nirvāṇa alone, just like that daily wage. Therefore, Bhagavān, we have been satisfied by the attainment of nirvāṇa. We thought that we had obtained a great deal, and were devoted to, intent upon, and dedicated to these dharmas from the Tathāgata.
“Bhagavān, through a skillful method you have bestowed upon us our inheritance of the Tathāgata’s treasure of wisdom.
“Bhagavān, beginning with the Tathāgata’s wisdom, we have explained his whole immense Dharma teaching to the bodhisattva mahāsattvas; we have revealed, taught, and explained the Tathāgata’s wisdom, Bhagavān, but we ourselves have had no aspiration for it. Why is that? The Tathāgata, with a skillful method, knew our aspirations, and we did not know, did not understand when the Bhagavān said that we are true sons of the Tathāgata.234 [F.43.b]
“The Bhagavān has made us remember our inheritance of the Tathāgata’s wisdom. Why is that? It is because we are true sons of the Tathāgata, but we have also had inferior aspiration. If the Bhagavān sees strength in our aspiration, the Bhagavān declares us to be bodhisattvas.
“The Bhagavān has given us two tasks to perform: in the presence of the bodhisattvas we are said to be those with inferior aspiration; and this, in turn, inspires them to the enlightenment of buddhahood. When the Bhagavān sees strength in our motivation then he declares this.
“In this way, Bhagavān, we say, ‘We have unexpectedly, without desiring it, obtained the jewel of omniscience that we did not long for, did not search for, did not seek for, did not think of, and did not wish for, just like the sons of the Tathāgata.’ ”
This concludes “The Aspiration,” the fourth chapter of the Dharma teaching of “The White Lotus of the Good Dharma.”
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