The White Lotus of the Good Dharma
Teaching the Merit of Rejoicing
- Yeshé De
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 bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya asked the Bhagavān, [F.129.a] “Bhagavān, if a noble man or noble woman rejoices after hearing this Dharma teaching explained, how much merit, Bhagavān, does that noble man or noble woman create?” And at that time the bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya also addressed to him this verse:
The Bhagavān then answered the bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya, “Ajita, when the Tathāgata has passed into nirvāṇa, suppose there are noble men or noble women, bhikṣus or bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas or upāsikās, wise adults, boys or girls who listen to this Dharma teaching being given, and having heard it, rejoice. And having listened to the Dharma they get up and leave, and whether they go to a temple, a house, a forest, a street, a town, or the countryside, they explain those causes, those causal factors, that Dharma, to other beings just as they have heard it, just as they remember it, to the extent of their ability, whether it be to their father, mother, or relative, and to anyone else who will be pleased, with whom they are acquainted. Then suppose those other beings rejoice on having heard it, and having rejoiced they tell it to others who will rejoice on hearing it, and then those tell it to others, so that this Dharma teaching is passed on from one to another until it reaches a fiftieth person.
“Ajita, thus suppose there is a person who is the fiftieth to hear it and rejoice after it has been passed on from one to another. Ajita, I shall describe the merit that is accumulated through such a noble man or noble woman’s rejoicing, so listen well and remember. [F.129.b]
“Ajita, it is like this: Suppose there are four hundred thousand innumerable world realms in which there are beings that have been born into the six kinds of existence: that have been born from eggs, born from wombs, born from warm moisture, or born miraculously; beings with form and without form; beings with perception, without perception, and neither with nor without perception; beings with no legs, with two legs, with four legs, or with many legs—an entire multitude of beings that are included within that realm of beings, that have entered that realm of beings. Then a man appears there who wishes to create merit, who wishes to benefit others, and who gives to that multitude of beings lovely, beautiful, cherished, desired pleasures and enjoyments of happiness. In order that each of the beings that fill Jambudvīpa might enjoy what they desire, what they delight in, and what they take pleasure in, he gives them cowries, gold, silver, jewels, pearls, beryls, conch, crystal, corals, horse-drawn carriages, ox-drawn carriages, elephant-drawn carriages, palaces, and kūṭāgāras.
“Ajita, this man, this lord of generosity, this lord of great generosity, gives these gifts in that way for eighty years. Then, Ajita, this man, this lord of generosity, this lord of great generosity thinks, ‘I have brought all these beings delights, pleasures, and happiness. These beings have now become old. They have white hair, are covered with wrinkles, are eighty years old and they are close to the time of their deaths. I shall introduce them to the Dharma’s guidance that has been taught by the Tathāgata and teach it to them.’
“Then, Ajita, that man introduces those beings to the Dharma’s guidance that has been taught by the Tathāgata, [F.130.a] and when they have been introduced to the Dharma they listen to it, and having heard it for just one moment, just one instant, briefly, they attain the results of becoming stream entrants, once-returners, and nonreturners, up to becoming arhats, who have brought the defilements to cessation, become meditators, great meditators, and meditate on the eight liberations.
“What do you think, Ajita? Would this man, this lord of generosity, this lord of great generosity, have generated vast countless immeasurable merit through that as a cause?”
The bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya replied to the Bhagavān, “It is so, Bhagavān. It is so, Sugata. That man, that lord of generosity, that lord of great generosity, would have generated vast merit through that causal factor, through giving to those beings the things that bring happiness—not to speak, Bhagavān, of establishing them in the higher state of arhathood.”
Then the Bhagavān said to bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya, “Ajita, I declare this to you,472 I make this known to you. There is the merit generated by that man, that lord of generosity, that lord of great generosity through providing the things that brought happiness to all the beings in four hundred thousand countless world realms, and establishing them in arhathood. There is also the amount of merit generated by the fiftieth person who heard and rejoiced in just one verse from this Dharma teaching, or rejoiced in just one line, after it had been passed from one to another. The amount of merit possessed by that person who rejoiced—who rejoiced in just one verse from this Dharma teaching or rejoiced in just one line—after it had been passed from one to another fifty times, would be far greater than the amount of merit gained by that man, that lord of generosity, that lord of great generosity through his generosity and establishing beings in arhathood. [F.130.b]
“Ajita, the accumulation of merit through generosity and establishing beings in arhathood that was previously described does not equal a hundredth of the merit, of the good karma, accumulated from that rejoicing. It does not equal a thousandth, a hundred thousandth, a ten millionth, a thousand millionth, a ten thousand millionth, a million millionth, or even a hundred thousand quintillionth. That merit cannot be calculated—even a fraction of it cannot be calculated; there is no suitable analogy for it, and there is no suitable simile for it.
“Ajita, that is the amount of merit generated by rejoicing in one verse or one line from this Dharma teaching by that fiftieth person, Ajita, not to mention someone who in my presence hears and rejoices in this Dharma teaching. Ajita, I teach that the accumulation of such merit is immeasurable, unquantifiable.
“Ajita, the noble man or noble woman who, in order to listen to this Dharma teaching, leaves their home and goes to a temple, and having arrived there, whether standing or sitting, listens briefly to this Dharma teaching will create and accumulate such an accumulation of merit. Then when they depart from that life, in their next lifetime, they will have a life in which they acquire ox-drawn carriages, horse-drawn carriages, elephant-drawn carriages, palanquins, boats,473 bull-drawn carriages, and the airborne palaces of a deity.
“If they sit down for just a moment where the Dharma of the sūtra is being taught and listen to this Dharma teaching, or make another person sit down, or share their seat with another being, through that merit they accumulate they will attain the throne of Śakra, the throne of Brahmā, and the lion throne of a cakravartin. [F.131.a]
“Ajita, if a noble man or noble woman says to another person, ‘Hey, come here! Listen to this Dharma teaching called The White Lotus of the Good Dharma!’ and if that person is inspired and comes, and if they listen for just a moment, through the roots of merit that are accumulated through having inspired that being, the noble man or woman will be among the company of bodhisattva mahāsattvas who have attained retention. They will not be stupid. They will have sharp faculties and be wise. For a hundred thousand lifetimes they will not have a foul-smelling mouth, bad breath, illness of the tongue, illness of the mouth, blackened teeth, uneven teeth, yellow teeth, disarranged teeth, broken teeth,474 lost teeth, crooked teeth, a prominent lower lip, thin lips, too wide lips, a cleft lip, crooked lips, dark lips, ugly lips, a flat nose, a crooked nose, a long face, a crooked face, a black face, or an ugly face.
“Ajita, in that way they will have delicate and well-formed tongues, teeth, and lips, a prominent nose, a beautifully shaped face, lovely eyebrows, a well-formed forehead, and they will attain the complete features of a superior being. They will find the Tathāgata and the instructions he teaches, and will quickly be among the company of the buddha bhagavāns.
“Ajita, see the amount of merit that is generated by inspiring just one being, let alone by one who respectfully listens to, respectfully reads, respectfully teaches, and respectfully elucidates this Dharma teaching.” [F.131.b]
This concludes “Teaching the Merit of Rejoicing,” the seventeenth chapter of the Dharma teaching of “The White Lotus of the Good Dharma.” [B11]
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