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 the Bhagavān said to Brother Mahākāśyapa and the other great sthaviras, “Excellent! Excellent, Kāśyapa! It is excellent, Kāśyapa, that you have praised the true qualities of the Tathāgata. Kāśyapa, those are qualities of the Tathāgata. There are immeasurably and innumerably more than those. It would not be easy to enumerate them entirely even in countless eons.
“Kāśyapa, the Tathāgata is the Lord of the Dharma. He is the principal King of All the Dharmas. Kāśyapa, whatever Dharma the Tathāgata presents, and the way he presents it, that is how it is. Kāśyapa, the Tathāgata presents all dharmas correctly.250 He presents them through the wisdom of a tathāgata, so that those dharmas lead to the state of omniscience. The Tathāgata sees the stages of meaning in all the dharmas. [F.47.a] He has attained the superior motivation concerning all the dharmas. He has attained the supreme, highest wisdom of skillful methods in bringing certainty in all the dharmas. Kāśyapa, the Tathāgata, the Arhat, the perfectly enlightened Buddha teaches the wisdom of omniscience, he brings the realization of omniscience, and he presents the wisdom of omniscience.
“Kāśyapa, it is like this: There are all the plants, bushes, herbs, and forest trees of many different colors and different kinds, and herbs with various names that grow on the plains, the mountains, and mountain valleys in this world realm of a billion worlds. A great cloud filled with water rises up, and having risen covers all the worlds in the all-containing realm of a billion worlds. Having covered them all, rain falls simultaneously and equally everywhere on all of them.
“Kāśyapa, the young and tender stems, branches, leaves, and petals,251 and the half-grown stems, branches, leaves, and petals, and the fully grown stems, branches, leaves, and petals among the plants, bushes, herbs, and forest trees in this world realm of a billion worlds all drink the element of water released from the great cloud in accordance with their strength and location. That great water with a single taste that was released from one great cloud appropriately makes the seeds sprout, develop, and grow. Similarly it produces flowers and fruits. Each one of those acquires its own individual name. There are multitudes of herbs and multitudes of seeds all on the same earth that are soaked by the water that has a single taste.
“Kāśyapa, the Tathāgata, the Arhat, the perfectly enlightened Buddha appears in the world in that way. Just as the great cloud rises, the Tathāgata appears [F.47.b] and causes the entire world, with its devas, humans, and asuras, to hear his speech.
“Kāśyapa, just as that great cloud covers all the worlds in the all-containing world realm of a billion worlds, the Tathāgata, the Arhat, the perfectly enlightened Buddha emits sound before the world with its devas, humans, and asuras, so that they hear his voice, declaring, ‘Devas and humans! I am the Tathāgata, the Arhat, the perfectly enlightened Buddha! I have crossed over and I bring across! I am liberated and I liberate! I am relieved and I bring relief! I have attained nirvāṇa and bring others to the attainment of nirvāṇa! With perfect wisdom I have correct knowledge of this world and the next world! I am omniscient and all-seeing! Devas and humans, you should come to me in order to hear the Dharma! I am one who makes known the path! I am one who teaches the path! I am one who knows the path! I am one who is skilled in the path!’
“In that way, Kāśyapa, many hundred thousand quintillions of beings come to the Tathāgata in order to hear the Dharma. The Tathāgata knows their higher and lower levels of capacity and diligence and provides them with Dharma teachings. I have taught many different kinds of Dharma discourses to various kinds of individuals so as to delight them, please them, bring them joy, and bring them benefit and happiness. Through those teachings those beings will have happiness in this life and at death will be reborn in happy existences. Wherever they are reborn, even though they enjoy many desires, they will listen to the Dharma, and having heard the Dharma they will become devoid of obscurations and finally they will enter the Dharma of omniscience, in accordance with their strength, location, and power.
“Kāśyapa, it is like when a great cloud covers all the worlds in the all-containing realm of a billion worlds and lets fall rain equally everywhere on the plants, bushes, herbs, and forest trees, and satisfies them with water. [F.48.a] The plants, bushes, herbs, and forest trees drink the water in accordance with their strength, location, and power, and each of them grows in accordance with their individual species.
“Kāśyapa, the Tathāgata, the Arhat, the perfectly enlightened Buddha teaches the Dharma in that way. The entire Dharma has one taste—the one taste of liberation, freedom from desire, cessation, and the ultimate wisdom of omniscience.
“Kāśyapa, the beings who listen to, retain, and practice the Dharma that the Tathāgata teaches do not comprehend, know, or understand themselves. Why is that? Kāśyapa, it is the Tathāgata who knows those beings—who they are, how they are, and what kind they are; what they think, how they think, and why they think; what they meditate on, how they meditate, and why they meditate; and what they attain, how they attain it, and why they attain it.
“Kāśyapa, it is the Tathāgata who has direct knowledge of them, direct perception of them, and sees them as they are.
“Kāśyapa, I have realized the one taste of the Dharma: the one taste of liberation, ultimate nirvāṇa, the eternal nirvāṇa, the single level, and the domain of space. However, in order to preserve the faith of beings—the beings who are on this and that level, higher, middling, and lower, like the plants, bushes, herbs, and forest trees—I do not immediately teach them the wisdom of omniscience.
“Kāśyapa, you are astonished because you were not able to penetrate into the Tathāgata’s teaching that contained an implied meaning. Why was that? Kāśyapa, it is because the teachings with implied meaning given by the tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas [F.48.b] are difficult to understand.”
“Kāśyapa, it is like this: The light of the sun and moon illuminates the entire world. The light shines equally, without any inequality, on the good and the bad, the high and the low, the aromatic and the foul-smelling.
“Kāśyapa, in that way the light of the omniscient wisdom of the tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas brings the Dharma equally to all beings who have been born in the five states of existence, whatever their aspirations, whether they are of the Mahāyāna, of the Pratyekabuddhayāna, or of the Śrāvakayāna. In that way the wisdom of the Tathāgata is never lacking and never superfluous,259 so that there is thus the attainment260 of merit and wisdom. [B5]
The Bhagavān said to Brother Mahākāśyapa, “Kāśyapa, it is like this: A potter makes all bowls from clay equally. Some of them become bowls that hold molasses, some of them become bowls that hold ghee, and some of them become bowls that hold curds or milk, some of them become bowls that hold bad and impure substances. [F.51.a] There is no difference in their clay. It is only because of the substances placed within them that they are said to be different kinds of bowls.
“Kāśyapa, some wise beings will understand the meaning through the teaching of a parable, and therefore I shall teach you a parable.
“Kāśyapa, it is like this: A man who is blind from birth says, ‘There are no forms with good color or bad color. There is no one who sees forms with good color or bad color. There are no sun and moon. There are no stars. There are no planets. There is no one who sees planets.’
“Then some other people say in front of that born-blind man, ‘There are good colors and bad colors. There are those who see forms with good color or bad color. There are a sun and moon. There are stars. There are planets. There are those who see planets.’
“The born-blind man does not have faith in those people, and does not believe what they have said.
“A physician who knows every illness sees the blind man and thinks, ‘That man has an illness because of his past bad karma. Every illness is one of four261 kinds: caused by air, caused by bile, caused by phlegm, or caused by their combination.’ [F.51.b]
“Then the physician thinks again and again as to what method would cure the man of his illness. He thinks, ‘The medicines that are available here will not be able to cure him, but there are four kinds of herbs on the king of mountains, the Himalayas.’ What are these four? First there is the one named endowed with all colors and tastes,262 the second is called freedom from all illness,263 the third is called elimination of all poisons,264 and the fourth is called bestowing happiness anywhere.265 Those are the four herbs.
“Then the physician, feeling compassion for the born-blind man, contemplates by what method he would be able to go to the king of mountain ranges, the Himalayas. He goes there and, searching for them, he climbs up, climbs down, and traverses their slopes. Searching in that way he finds the four herbs. After finding them, some he gives after grinding them with his teeth, some he gives after crushing them, some he gives after mixing them with other substances and then cooking them, some he gives after mixing them with other substances uncooked, some he gives after piercing a point on the body with a needle, some he gives after burning them with fire, and some he gives after mixing them with each other, and also mixing them with food, drink, and so on. Through the application of these methods the born-blind man gains sight.
“When he has gained sight he sees outside and inside, far and near, the light of the moon, the sunlight, the stars, the planets, and all forms. He says, ‘Oh, I was so stupid before in not believing what was taught to me, not accepting what was said. Now I can see everything! I am freed from blindness!’
“At that time there are rishis who have the five higher knowledges: divine sight, divine hearing, the knowledge of others’ minds, memory of previous lives, and mastery of miraculous powers. They say to the man, ‘Oh, all you obtained is your sight. If you have no other knowledge, why are you proud? You have no wisdom. [F.52.a] You have no sagacity.’
“They also say to him, ‘You know, when you are sitting inside a house, you do not see the forms that are outside. You do not know the kind thoughts or malicious thoughts of beings. You do not know, do not hear, the sounds of people speaking, or the sounds of drums, conches, and so on, which are five yojanas away. You are not able to travel one krośa without taking a step with your feet. You are not able to remember the activity of being conceived and growing in your mother’s womb. So how can you be sagacious? How can you say that you see everything? Oh, you think that light is darkness. You think that darkness is light!’
“Then that man says to the rishis, ‘Through what method and through what good actions can I attain such wisdom as that, and through your benevolence attain these qualities?’
“ ‘If you wish for those you must dwell in a solitary place,’ say the rishis to that man, ‘or, staying in a cave, you should contemplate the Dharma. You should forsake all the afflictions of the mind. If in this way you have the qualities of a mendicant, you will attain higher knowledge.’
“That man then adopts that goal and entering homelessness he resides in solitude. With a one-pointed mind he abandons craving for this world and attains the five higher knowledges. Having obtained the five higher knowledges, he thinks, ‘I did not attain any qualities whatsoever through the other actions I had performed in the past. Now I can go wherever I think of. In the past, I had little wisdom and little insight. I was blind.’
“Kāśyapa, I have made this parable so that its meaning can be understood. Its meaning should be seen in this way:
“Kāśyapa, the blind man represents the beings who dwell in the saṃsāra of the five266 kinds of existences. Those who do not know the good Dharma generate the black darkness of the kleśas and have the blindness of ignorance. Those who are blind with ignorance accumulate formations. [F.52.b] Through the factor of formation there is name-and-form, and so on until the arising of a great mass of sheer suffering. In that way they are blinded by ignorance. The Tathāgata has compassion for the beings in saṃsāra, and although he has transcended the three realms he has love for them like that of a father for his only son. With great compassion he goes to the three realms. The Bhagavān looks with eyes of wisdom upon the beings who are afflicted and wandering in the cycle of saṃsāra and do not know how to leave saṃsāra. Seeing them he knows, ‘These beings, because of their previous good actions, have little anger and great desire, while these have little desire and great anger; some have little wisdom, some are wise; and some are ripened and pure, and some hold wrong views.’ The Tathāgata, using a skillful method, teaches three yānas to those beings.
“The rishis with the five higher knowledges and pure vision are the bodhisattvas who have developed the aspiration for enlightenment, attained receptivity to the birthlessness of phenomena, and attained the highest, complete enlightenment of perfect buddhahood.
“The great physician should be seen to be the Tathāgata.
“The born-blind man should be seen to be beings who are blinded by ignorance.
“Air, bile, and phlegm should be seen as desire, anger, ignorance, and the sixty-two fabricated views.
“The herbs are given in such and such a way so as to cure such and such an illness, and in that way through meditation on the doorways to liberation—emptiness, the absence of attributes, [F.53.a] and the absence of aspiration—they bring an end to ignorance. Because of the cessation of ignorance there is the cessation of formation, and so on until there is the cessation of the great mass of sheer suffering. And thus their minds neither dwell on virtue nor on sin.
“The born-blind man who gains sight should be seen as those who follow the Śrāvakayāna and the Pratyekabuddhayāna. They cut through the bondage of saṃsāra’s kleśas. Freed from the bondage of the kleśas, they are liberated from the six existences of the three realms. Therefore, those following the Śrāvakayāna think and say, ‘There is no other Dharma for attaining complete buddhahood and I have attained nirvāṇa.’ Then the Tathāgata teaches them the Dharma, saying, ‘How can one who has not attained the entire Dharma have nirvāṇa?’ and he then leads them to the attainment of enlightenment. Having gained realization they see the world of the three realms in the ten directions as empty, like an emanation, like an illusion, like a dream, a mirage, and an echo. They see that all phenomena are unborn and unceasing, without bondage or liberation, without darkness and without light.
“The ones who thus see and hear these profound dharmas see, without seeing, the different thoughts and aspirations of beings that fill the entire three realms.”
This concludes “Herbs,” the fifth chapter of the Dharma teaching of “The White Lotus of the Good Dharma.”
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