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
First published 2018
Current version v 1.2.12 (2022)
Generated by 84000 Reading Room v188.8.131.52
84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha is a global non-profit initiative to translate all the Buddha’s words into modern languages, and to make them available to everyone.
This work is provided under the protection of a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND (Attribution - Non-commercial - No-derivatives) 3.0 copyright. It may be copied or printed for fair use, but only with full attribution, and not for commercial advantage or personal compensation. For full details, see the Creative Commons license.
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.
The White Lotus of the Good Dharma, popularly known as the Lotus Sūtra, not only contains one of the fullest expressions of the transcendent nature of the Buddha, but also, through its successive descriptions of astonishing events and its vivid parables, is imbued with a distinctive literary power of its own. The sūtra inspired a devoted following in India, but it is above all in east Asia that it has been particularly popular. There it has been the impetus for a range of exquisite artistic and architectural forms, and indeed, whole traditions of study and practice that thrive to this day. An extensive body of literature, too—both scholarly and popular—is based upon the sūtra.1
The Lotus Sūtra in India
This sūtra’s references to South Indian musical instruments, and the case endings that are preserved in the language of its verses, are possible indications of a southwest Indian provenance, in common with some other Mahāyāna sūtras. When this sūtra appeared, the Mahāsāṃghika tradition—in which, it has been argued, Mahāyāna sūtras first made their appearance2—was prevalent in the northwest and southwest of India.3 The language of the earliest surviving examples of the sūtra, such as those in the Lüshun Museum (which date to the fifth or sixth century ᴄᴇ and come from Khotan),4 has specific characteristics that are found elsewhere only in the Mahāvastu and other texts belonging to the Mahāsāṃghika-Lokottaravādin sub-school of the Mahāsāṃghika tradition.5 This was the first textual tradition to emphasize the transcendent nature of the Buddha, a theme particularly present in the Lotus Sūtra. The original language of the sūtra was a form of Middle Indic, but the prose passages in particular were subsequently Sanskritized, resulting in what is called Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit (BHS). BHS contains words that are either not found in Classical Sanskrit, or have a different meaning. In this sūtra, some words are closer in meaning to their counterparts in Pali (which is itself a slightly Sanskritized Middle Indic) than to the same words in Classical Sanskrit. Also, different versions of this sūtra show instances of how the same Middle Indic word was rendered differently in BHS. Seishi Karashima has pointed out, for example, that the Middle Indic ajja was interpreted as adya (“today”) in the surviving central Asian manuscript fragments, while the Nepalese manuscripts have ārya. Although both adya and ārya could be correct, according to context, Karashima states that in this particular case in the Lotus Sūtra, adya would have been the correct choice.6
Buddhist Studies scholars have generally concluded that the Lotus Sūtra was originally composed of chapters 2–9 only, and at first, as with other sūtras, consisted of just the verses.7 There is certainly a change in the nature of the sūtra from the tenth chapter onward. Later chapters reflect the negative reaction to the promulgation of the original sūtra, containing admonitions to endure persecution, providing blessings for protection from persecution, and describing the evil fate that awaits the sūtra’s critics and persecutors. Thus, there seems to have been a gradual accretion in the size of the sūtra over time, as the result not only of additional chapters being added, but also of the existing chapters being expanded by the insertion of additional passages, as can be seen by comparing the Chinese translations to the Tibetan. Perhaps the last passage added to a Sanskrit version was the one describing the teaching that emanates from Buddha Prabhūtaratna’s floating stūpa, as it is found neither in any surviving Sanskrit manuscript, nor in the Chinese.
Of particular note is the passage in chapter 11 that deals with Devadatta, Buddha Śākyamuni’s cousin. Elsewhere in the Buddhist tradition he is portrayed as a villain who divided the saṅgha by becoming a rival teacher, attempted to assassinate the Buddha, and eventually fell into hell when the earth opened up beneath his feet. Even in the Jātaka stories, a character that plays a villainous role is usually declared to have been a previous life of Devadatta. However, the Lotus Sūtra differs markedly in regard to its portrayal of Devadatta: Śākyamuni describes Devadatta as being his teacher in a past life and also prophesies his buddhahood. The Buddhist tradition of Devadatta continued in India for at least a millennium, is mentioned in Pali texts as late as the fifth century, and is described by Chinese pilgrims to India, including Xuanzang (c. 602–64), who recorded three seventh century Devadatta Buddhist monasteries in Bengal.8 This passage may therefore be the result of a more harmonious coexistence of the two traditions at a certain time and place. Even though the Devadatta passage was included in the text that Dharmarakṣa translated into Chinese in 286 ᴄᴇ, it was absent in the text translated by Kumārajīva in 406 ᴄᴇ.
The Lotus Sūtra introduced themes, ideas, and views that have had a great influence on the Buddhist tradition, such as the doctrine that there is only one single yāna, or “vehicle,” that is the way to buddhahood; the distinction between teachings that are expedient and those that are definite; the notion that the Buddha’s life was simply a manifestation by one who had attained buddhahood an incalculably long time ago; and the idea that the Buddha’s passing into the quiescence of nirvāṇa was also an illusory manifestation, and that instead he continues to teach eternally.
Paramārtha (499–569 ᴄᴇ), an Indian monk who migrated to China, declared that fifty commentaries had been written specifically on the Lotus Sūtra in India, although only one such text still exists, and that only in Chinese.9 It is attributed to Vasubandhu (fourth to fifth century ᴄᴇ), and asserts the supremacy of the Lotus Sūtra over all others.10 Some argue that the attribution is spurious, since there is no surviving Sanskrit or Tibetan manuscript.11
Within more general commentaries, however, there are many references to the sūtra to be found. Over thirty texts in the Tengyur, predominantly of the Madhyamaka tradition, cite it. Possibly the earliest such reference is in the Sūtrasamuccaya (A Compendium from the Sūtras), which is simply an anthology of extracts from sixty-eight Mahāyāna sūtras and was attributed to Nāgārjuna (second to third century ᴄᴇ) by both Candrakīrti and Śāntideva in the seventh century. The sūtra is cited three times on the subject of faith.12
Another early reference to the sūtra in a commentary is made in the fourth century Mahāyāna Treatise on the Supreme Continuum, attributed in the Tibetan tradition to Maitreya-Asaṅga. The treatise mentions the Lotus Sūtra “and other scriptures” as describing the skillful method of giving Dharma teachings that counter attachment to the self, for the purpose of ripening beings for the Mahāyāna.13 The commentary to this text, attributed to Asaṅga, repeats this assertion.14 Vasubandhu, traditionally identified as Asaṅga’s younger brother, refers to the single yāna teaching of the Lotus Sūtra in his commentary on The Mahāyāna Compendium.15
In the seventh century, Candrakīrti (c. 600–650 ᴄᴇ) described nirvāṇa to be like the Lotus Sūtra’s parable of the illusory town created for merchants.16 He also quoted the sūtra twice in describing how śrāvakas can eventually attain buddhahood.17
In the eighth century, Śāntideva cited such passages in the sūtra as the verses on the merit of building stūpas, (chapter 2, verses 80–82) and the verse on solitary contemplation on the nature of phenomena (chapter 13, verse 24).18
Kamalaśīla (fl. 740–95 ᴄᴇ), who died in Tibet, refers to the Lotus Sūtra’s statement that there is actually only one yāna, i.e., one ultimate goal for the Buddhist path.19
Dharmamitra (c. 800 ᴄᴇ), in his commentary to Maitreya-Asaṅga’s Adornment of Realization, refers to the Lotus Sūtra three times. He states that Dharma teachings can be given in an instant, as in chapter 14 of the Lotus Sūtra in which, while the bodhisattvas who emerged from under the earth make offerings for twenty-five eons, that timespan seems to the beings in our world to be just one afternoon.20 He also quotes from chapter 13, on how a buddha “does not request anything from his followers,” and he states that a buddha teaches out of compassion with no desire for material gain.21 Finally, he refers to the sūtra when stating that the Buddha in actuality taught only one yāna.22
Jānavajra (the Sanskrit equivalent of his name would be Jñānavajra), whose dates are unknown, appears to be from a later century and to have lived in Kashmir. He refers to the Lotus Sūtra four times in his commentary on The Sūtra of the Entry into Laṅka.23 Another reference to the sūtra in a pre–ninth-century text is found in a commentary on the hundred-thousand, twenty-five-thousand, and eighteen-thousand verse Perfection of Wisdom Sūtras attributed variously to Daṃṣṭrāsena of Kashmir, to Vasubandhu, or to neither. The commentary, while describing the state of an arhat, quotes at length from the Buddha’s prophecy of Śāriputra’s eventual buddhahood.24
References to the sūtra in commentarial works continued until the time of Abhayākaragupta (d. 1125), the last of the great masters of Indian Buddhism, who refers to it in explaining that there is only a single yāna and that the nirvāṇa taught in the lower yānas is merely a provisional teaching.25
There is also a commentary specifically on the Lotus Sūtra that was translated into Tibetan from Chinese. It lacks a Sanskrit title and a translator’s colophon, but its authorship is attributed to a certain Saitsalak (sa’i rtsa lag, a name which has been reconstructed in Sanskrit as Pṛthivībandhu).26 Even though the colophon states that the author is from Sri Lanka, the text is structured into enumerated sections and subsections in a way unknown in the Indian tradition of commentaries, but which was the modus operandi of Chinese and Tibetan commentaries. It transpires that this is in fact an incomplete translation, going no further than chapter 11, of a commentary written in Chinese by Kuiji (632–82), a prominent student of the famous Xuanzang.27 The Denkarma (ldan kar ma or lhan kar ma), a Tibetan catalog compiled in the ninth century, lists this commentary as being one of only eight that were translations from the Chinese.28 The only other commentary in Tibetan translation that cites the Lotus Sūtra numerous times—thirty-three to be exact—and also quotes from a commentary on the sūtra, is also a translation from the Chinese.29
The apparent absence of an Indian commentary specifically dedicated to the Lotus Sūtra does not necessarily tell us much about its importance or otherwise among Indian Buddhists. Much of the history of Indian Buddhism has vanished along with its libraries, but there is a fortunate exception. Gilgit is located in what is now northwest Pakistan, a region where Islam prevails, but in 1931 some local people accidentally discovered a buried two-story tower (which has often been referred to mistakenly as a stūpa) that had served a Buddhist community in the past and contained a library of Buddhist manuscripts. After its discovery, the local populace used much of the collection for firewood and building materials, but what precious contents remained were preserved following an official excavation in 1938. In particular, the research work of Oskar von Hinüber30 on the library’s contents and on the rock inscriptions found in Gilgit has revealed a Palola dynasty of the seventh to the eighth century that was devoted to Buddhism. The royal family and others among the lay population were evidently devoted to the Lotus Sūtra and sponsored the creation of copies preserved in the ancient library. Ironically the dynasty came to an end when it was conquered by Tibet in 737 ᴄᴇ, and the Buddhist sculptures sponsored by the royal family were taken to Tibet. This was during the reign of King Tride Tsuktsen (704–54), who was the father of Trisong Detsen (743–797/804), under whom the work of translating the entire teachings of the Buddha would begin.
In addition to these sixth to eighth century texts found in Gilgit, there are manuscripts from Khotan, discovered in the nineteenth century, that have often been referred to erroneously as Kashgar manuscripts.31 Their dates vary from the sixth to possibly the eleventh century, but linguistically they preserve a more ancient form of the sūtra, and some do not contain the Devadatta section—as was the case with Kumārajīva’s source. Their colophons again reveal a strong lay tradition of sponsoring copies of the Lotus Sūtra to bring merit to both the living and the deceased.
Nepalese Buddhism represents a continuous survival of the Sanskrit tradition of Buddhism and has preserved over thirty palm-leaf manuscripts of Sanskrit versions of the Lotus Sūtra that date back to the eleventh century. In Nepal, as in Tibet, the sūtras were surpassed in importance by the tantras, but even so the Lotus Sūtra is counted as one of the Nine Dharmas (navadharma) of Nepalese Buddhism, which are traditionally recited and honored with offerings.32
The Sūtra in China and Beyond
The Lotus Sūtra is said to have been first translated into Chinese in 255 ᴄᴇ in a translation that was lost.33 The first surviving translation into Chinese (T. 263) was made in 286 ᴄᴇ over a three-week period, beginning on September 15 and concluding on October 6 in Chang’an, then the capital of China.34 The translator was Dharmarakṣa (c. 233–310), originally from Dunhuang.35 However, his translation was not very easy to read and, like two lost translations apparently made in 290 and 335, it was eventually overshadowed by the far more readable version (T. 262) by Kumārajīva (334–413).36 It is this translation of the Lotus Sūtra, completed in 406, that made it accessible, popular, and influential.37 Kumārajīva and his translation team must have either translated freely from the Indian text, or were translating from an earlier version of the sūtra. It is recorded that the translation avoided simply rendering the Sanskrit text literally into the Chinese language, and the work involved lively discussions within his team.38 The Taishō canon also includes another early translation (T. 265), dated to 265–317, whose translator remains unknown.
Kumārajīva’s version did not translate the verses, and the Devadatta section is noticeable by its absence, even though it had been in Dharmarakṣa’s version. The Devadatta chapter was included eighty years later, after Dharmamati (late fifth century) had translated a Sanskrit version of the story retrieved from Turfan by the monk Faxian (423–97).39
Both the verses and the Devadatta chapter were translated in 601–02 in the version (T. 264) made by Jñānagupta (523–600), in collaboration with Dharmagupta.40 Jñānagupta and Dharmagupta basically produced a revision of the Kumārajīva version. However, chapter 5 in their translation (as in the Tibetan and present Sanskrit) follows the parable of the herbs with other parables, such as that of sunlight and moonlight, and the blind man cured by herbs, which were absent from Kumārajīva’s version. Similarly, the last part of chapter 25 also first appeared in the 601–02 translation. Later editions of Kumārajīva’s translation have added the Devadatta chapter, the verses originally absent from Kumārajīva’s version, and the concluding part of chapter 25.
The first Chinese commentary written specifically on the sūtra was by Daosheng (c. 360?–434) who studied under Kumārajīva in Chang’an, assisted in his translation of the Lotus Sūtra, and is listed as one of Kumārajīva’s fifteen principal students. He argued that the sūtra’s central teaching is that there is ultimately only one vehicle to buddhahood.41
The first works to emphasize the superiority of the Lotus Sūtra above all other sūtras are by Zhiyi (Chih-i 538–97), who lived on Tiantai Mountain. This marks the real beginning of the Tiantai school, which was based on the Lotus Sūtra, and became one of the major schools of Chinese Buddhism.42 The popularity of the sūtra is evident in the Dunhuang caves, which were sealed in the eleventh century. In addition to a thousand copies of the sūtra, murals portraying scenes from the sūtra, such as the floating stūpa and the burning house, are found in seventy-five of the caves.43
The sūtra spread from China into other Asian countries, and Kumārajīva’s version was translated into a number of Asian languages. The Tiantai school was taken to Japan, where it is called the Tendai school, by Saichō (767–822), who returned from China in 805 and built a temple on Mount Hiei.44 It grew into Japan’s main Buddhist tradition and subsequently divided into sub-schools.45
Nichiren (1222–82), who had studied in the Tendai tradition, established his own school of thought and practice. In 1253, he set out to proclaim the supremacy of the Lotus Sūtra and began teaching the recitation of “Homage to the White Lotus of the Good Dharma Sūtra,” which is a homage to the title of the Lotus Sūtra as translated by Kumārajīva: Namu myōhō renge kyō.46 Namu is the equivalent of the Sanskrit namaḥ (“homage”) and Myōhō renge kyō is the Japanese rendering of the Chinese title of the sūtra, Miao fa lian hua jing (妙法蓮華經). Nichiren espoused the sūtra as important for the welfare of the state, and his combative approach led to his being exiled for two periods, and almost brought about his execution.47 Nevertheless, many Nichiren traditions developed over the ensuing centuries, all practicing the recitation of homage to the title of the sūtra. Some of these schools have been intolerant of other traditions, and were sometimes nationalistic and even violent. As a result, certain followers of Nichiren, too, suffered exile, imprisonment, torture, and even execution.48 The best-known Nichiren traditions in the present day are Nichiren Shōshū and Sōka Gakkai, which broke away from Nichiren Shōshū in 1991. Nichiren Shōshū holds the view that Nichiren himself was the Buddha.49 Sōka Gakkai is a lay organization founded in 1930 as a part of Nichiren Shōshū. Although its founders were imprisoned in 1943, a subsequent program of vigorous proselytization has led to a huge following around the world.50 The head of Nichiren Shōshū excommunicated the entire Sōka Gakkai organization in 1991.51
In addition to these traditions based upon the Lotus Sūtra, there is also an extensive scholastic tradition of studying the Lotus Sūtra in Japan.
The Sūtra in Tibet
The Tibetan translation was made during the reign of King Ralpachen (r. 815–38) as part of the translation project at Samye Monastery instituted by King Trisong Detsen (r. 742–98). The translators were Nanam Yeshé Dé, who was also the chief editor and whose name is in the colophon of no fewer than 380 texts in the Kangyur and Tengyur, three of which are his own original works in Tibetan, and the Indian translator Surendrabodhi, who did not come to Tibet until Ralpachen’s reign and is also listed as the translator of 43 texts.
The Tibetan version matches in content the version translated into Chinese by Jñānagupta and Dharmagupta in 601–02, and also matches the Nepalese Sanskrit manuscripts. The last part of chapter 25 corresponds to the passage that first appeared in Chinese in the 601–02 translation and was subsequently added to Kumārajīva’s version. The Devadatta episode, which is not in Kumārajīva’s Chinese translation and is included as a separate chapter in Jñānagupta’s, forms part of chapter 11, “The Appearance of the Stūpa,” in both the Nepalese Sanskrit and the Tibetan. However, the transition in chapter 11 from the account of the floating stūpa to the Devadatta passage is abrupt. The Devadatta passage is also followed immediately, without a narrative transition, by the account of Prajñākūṭa, which might more gracefully have had its own chapter.
Present in Tibetan and Sanskrit, but not in Chinese, are the last five verses of chapter 24, describing Avalokiteśvara in relation to Sukhāvatī and his future buddhahood. Some Tibetan versions contain a teaching that is emitted from the floating stūpa in chapter 11. As mentioned above, this teaching is not found in any extant Sanskrit manuscript, nor in the Chinese translations. Specifically, it is present in the Degé, Narthang, Lhasa, and Stok Palace Kangyurs, but not in the Yongle Peking, Lithang, Kangxi Peking, or Choné Kangyurs.
As mentioned above, the only commentary on the sūtra in the Tengyur is an anonymous translation from the Chinese of the first eleven chapters of a commentary by Kuiji (632–682). In Tibet the Lotus Sūtra never gained the prominence it achieved in China, let alone in Japan; nor did it have even the status it retains in Nepalese Buddhism. Nevertheless, it has served through the centuries as a source of quotations for many authors of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, particularly on the subject of the preeminence of the Mahāyāna.
Translations into Western Languages
The history of the Lotus Sūtra in the West begins with Brian Houghton Hodgson (1801–94), the British Resident in Kathmandu who acquired and sent Tibetan and Sanskrit texts to Europe. In particular, in 1837 he sent three nineteenth-century Sanskrit manuscripts to Paris.52 Eugène Burnouf (1801–52) made an excellent and elegant translation into French of the sūtra—Le lotus de la bonne loi—with copious notes, which was not published in its entirety until after his death.53
The first complete translation of the Lotus Sūtra into English was that of Jan Hendrik Kern (1833–1917) in 1884.54 He translated it from the Sanskrit as The Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, or The Lotus of the True Law. Most translations into European languages, however, have been from Kumārajīva’s Chinese translation, beginning with Carlo Puini’s Italian translation in 1873.55
A number of more recent English translations have been made from Kumārajīva’s Chinese, such as those by Senchū Murano in 1974, Bunnō Katō in 1975, Leon Hurvitz in 1976, Daniel Montgomery in 1991, Tsugunari Kubo and Akira Yuyama in 1993 (with a revised edition in 2007), Burton Watson in 1993, and Gene Reeves in 2008.
This translation is based on the version found in the Degé Kangyur, particularly the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma) of the Degé (2006–09), which is annotated with the variant readings of several other Kangyurs. Also consulted were the Stok Palace manuscript Kangyur, an important Thempangma-recension Kangyur whose variant readings are not recorded in the Comparative Edition, as well as the available Sanskrit editions, particularly that of Vaidya, and the Chinese translations, particularly that of Jñānagupta and Dharmagupta.
While the Tibetan and Sanskrit versions are quite similar, the available translations in English (made from the Chinese) can differ considerably from them, and from one another. This translation into English is primarily intended to represent the Tibetan translation, but when the Tibetan is clearly at fault—to the extent that it disrupts the integrity of the text or narrative, whether that be through textual corruption or seemingly imperfect translation—we have corrected it with reference to the Sanskrit, and have given the Tibetan version in an accompanying endnote. If the Tibetan is perfectly cogent, we have followed it in this translation, even if it is in disagreement with the Sanskrit and Chinese. The Sanskrit and Chinese versions are provided in the endnotes. “The Sanskrit” in notes refers to Vaidya’s edition unless otherwise indicated. “The Chinese” refers to the translation of Jñānagupta and Dharmagupta unless otherwise noted.
Because access to the glossary is easy and immediate in this online format, we have used Sanskrit terms for items such as the names of the four Indian castes, kūṭāgāra, and various epithets, for which there are no precise English equivalents.
Translation of the Title
There are two translations of the title from the Sanskrit and a number of translations from the Chinese versions of the sūtra. In the Sanskrit title, the qualifying adjective sat becomes sad in saddharma. Sat, or dam pa in Tibetan, has been translated in various ways. Generally, saddharma (or dam pa’i chos in Tibetan) is translated simply as Dharma with a capital D, but in the context of this famous title, the qualifying adjective for “Dharma” needs to make its presence felt.
According to the Mahāvyutpatti dictionary, the Tibetan word dam pa translates not only sat but also bhadra (“good”), uttama (“supreme”), and bāḍha (“mighty”). The term dam pa could be translated into English in many ways, such as “excellent,” “sublime,” “holy,” or “sacred,” while the Sanskrit sat primarily means “good” or “true.” In this translation we follow Burnouf and Kern, who translated directly from the Sanskrit, in choosing the plain “good Dharma.”
Translation of Specific Terms
Regarding the translation of pronouns, in Tibetan there is often no distinction between masculine or feminine, or even between singular and plural, but the Sanskrit of the sūtra frequently uses the masculine singular. Since this Sanskrit usage of the masculine singular can usually be interpreted as a general category that includes both sexes and refers to both male and female devotees, we have chosen to render such pronouns as the more gender inclusive “they” whenever the context allows it. However, in passages that very clearly refer specifically to males, we have allowed context to override gender inclusivity and have rendered the pronouns accordingly as the masculine singular “he.”
The epithet devaputra literally means “son of a deva,” but it is simply an elegant way of saying that someone is a deva, and a literal translation appears rather awkward. Similarly, “son of a merchant” can, according to context, just mean “merchant.” Also the epithets “son of a [noble] family” and “daughter of a [noble] family” refer to a noble person and are simply polite forms of address, akin to the English “ladies and gentlemen,” and so they have not been translated literally as “sons” or “daughters.”
’jig rten gyi khams (lokadhātu) can mean not simply the one world we live in, but a thousand million worlds that are presided over by one Brahmā and are the field of activity of a single buddha (which is why the term buddha realm may include this great number of worlds). However, it is sometimes uncertain whether lokadhātu is referring simply to one world, as in early Buddhism, or to a group of many such worlds. The terms universe and cosmos are too comprehensive for such a set of worlds, as a number of these sets are said to coexist. Galaxy has been used in some translations and is analogous, but seems too modern a term with an overly specific meaning for this translation. We have therefore used “world realm” because it is a literal translation of lokadhātu and ’jig rten gyi khams, and could be understood to mean both a single world or a thousand million worlds.
Detailed Summary of “The White Lotus of the Good Dharma”
Chapter 1: The Introduction
The Buddha is on Vulture Peak with a great assembly when he emits a ray of light from his ūrṇā hair that illuminates eighteen thousand buddha realms in the east, making all the beings there visible to the assembly. Maitreya asks Mañjuśrī what this meant. Mañjuśrī states that it is an omen that the Buddha is going to teach The White Lotus of the Good Dharma. Mañjuśrī knows this because he had seen the same thing occur in a previous eon when he was Śrīgarbha, also known as Varaprabha, the senior student of Buddha Candrasūryapradīpa. And at that time Maitreya was Śrīgarbha’s student, a lazy bodhisattva named Yaśaskāma.
Chapter 2: Skill in Methods
The Buddha comes out of his meditation and tells Śāriputra of how the buddhas possess skill in methods for liberating beings, and their wisdom is inconceivable to śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas. Śāriputra requests the Buddha three times to explain what he means. Five thousand bhikṣus leave the assembly, not wishing to hear the teaching. The Buddha states that there is only one yāna, which is the way to buddhahood, and the division into three yānas is merely a skillful method used by the buddhas. He warns that in the future, śrāvakas will not preserve this sūtra. He describes the benefits for those who will have devotion for it, and he also states that those who make even the simplest offerings to the buddhas will eventually attain enlightenment as a result. The Buddha describes his enlightenment, his previous teachings on attaining nirvāṇa, and how the time came to begin teaching the attainment of buddhahood. He also states that those who reject this sūtra will be reborn in hell.
Chapter 3: The Parable
Śāriputra states that he was sad not to have previously received the teachings given to the bodhisattvas, but is now happy because he has received them. The Buddha explains that in previous lives Śāriputra had received this teaching, and he prophesies that in a future eon Śāriputra will become Buddha Padmaprabha in a pure realm called Virajā. Śāriputra states that there are those in the assembly who are confused as to why there is a new teaching. He asks the Buddha to explain. The Buddha says he will do so through a parable. He describes a vast decrepit house, full of dangerous monsters and creatures, that catches fire. The owner sees that his sons are playing inside. They are so engrossed in their play that they do not heed their father’s warning. He then promises them ox-carts, goat-carts, and deer-carts, which fulfills their various longings. They all rush outside, thus escaping from the house. The father then gives them all magnificent ox-carts. The Buddha says that the father employed a skillful method so as to save them, and in the end they all got the best kind of cart. Therefore the father could not be called a liar. The word for cart in Sanskrit is yāna, and the cart they are all eventually given is a “great cart,” in other words, the Mahāyāna. This establishes that the Buddha uses the skillful method of giving various teachings so as to liberate beings from saṃsāra, but eventually he gives them all the supreme teaching of omniscient wisdom, the one true yāna, which is the Mahāyāna.
Chapter 4: The Aspiration
The principal elder monks, such as Mahākāśyapa, state that they are astonished to hear this new teaching. They had never previously had the intention to become buddhas, but only to attain nirvāṇa. They then relate the parable of a man whose son wandered away, becoming a beggar for fifty years. The father, meanwhile, searching for the son, comes to another city where he becomes incredibly wealthy. The son one day arrives at the father’s house and, intimidated by his wealth and importance, flees. The father, recognizing him, sends people to bring him back, but the son panics. Therefore the father uses a ruse: he sends some low-class people to offer him the job of clearing away the rubbish and waste of the house. The son lives in a straw hut beside the house and does that work. Gradually, over twenty years, the father has the son working inside his home and taking care of all his wealth, although he still lives in poverty in his straw hut. When he sees that his son is ready, he holds a great meeting, announces the identity of his son, and bestows all his wealth on him; the son is overjoyed. The elders state that they were like this son, who knew of the teaching practiced by the bodhisattvas for attaining buddhahood, and even taught it to them, but they themselves did not have the confidence for such a great goal. However, on this day they are overjoyed to hear from the Buddha that they also are able to attain buddhahood.
Chapter 5: Herbs
The Buddha relates to Mahākāśyapa the parable of how the rain falls equally on all plants, from the smallest herbs to the greatest trees, nourishing them all in accordance with their needs, and in this way he teaches the Dharma to beings on different levels according to their needs, and does not give them all the teaching on the attainment of omniscience. He teaches another parable on how the light of the sun and the moon shines equally on all, and, in the same way, the light of the Buddha’s wisdom shines on all, whatever their aspirations. This light gives them the exact teaching they aspire to, and that is why there are the teachings of the three yānas. He also teaches the parable of how a potter makes pots from the same clay, but they are used to contain different substances and therefore given different designations. In the same way, there is but one yāna, the Buddhayāna, but because of the differences among beings, there are the designations of śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas. The Buddha also teaches the parable of a man who, because he is blind from birth, does not believe there is a sun, moon, or anything to be seen. A compassionate physician obtains herbs from the Himalayas and cures him. Realizing he was previously ignorant, the man thinks he can now see everything, but clairvoyant rishis make him realize his sight is still limited. He practices in solitude and gains higher knowledge. In that way beings are blinded by ignorance, but the Buddha teaches them so that they are freed from saṃsāra. They believe they have attained the ultimate goal of nirvāṇa, but the Buddha explains that there is still the omniscience of buddhas to be attained.
Chapter 6: The Prophecies to the Śrāvakas
The Buddha prophesies how Mahākāśyapa will, in a future time, after being a student of millions of buddhas, become a buddha named Raśmiprabhāsa in a pure realm called Avabhāsaprāptā. The Buddha describes the length of his lifespan and the subsequent duration of his teachings. Mahāmaudgalyāyana, Subhūti, and Mahākātyāyana pray in their minds for prophecies, which the Buddha subsequently gives for each of them. Subhūti will become Buddha Śaśiketu in the pure realm Ratnasaṃbhava. Mahākātyāyana will become Buddha Jāmbūnadaprabhāsa in an unnamed pure realm. Mahāmaudgalyāyana will become Buddha Tamālapatracandanagandha in the pure realm Ratiprapūrṇa.
Chapter 7: The Past
The Buddha tells of a time in the distant past when Buddha Mahābhijñājñānābhibhū spent ten intermediate eons under the Bodhi tree to attain enlightenment. His sixteen sons came to supplicate him for teachings, as did brahmās from quintillions of world realms in every direction. He gave the teachings of the four truths of the āryas and of dependent origination, and his saṅgha became innumerable. At a request from his sixteen sons for the highest Dharma, he taught The White Lotus of the Good Dharma for a hundred thousand eons. Then he entered solitude and each of the sixteen sons taught the sūtra to quintillions of beings. The Buddha states that the sixteen sons have become sixteen buddhas, one of whom is himself, and his students from that distant time are again his students in the present. He then gives the parable of a guide leading a great number of beings through a vast jungle on the way to an island of jewels. When they become exhausted and wish to turn back he magically creates a city for them to rest in. When they are rested he tells them the city was an illusion and that they should continue their journey. Similarly, the Buddha has taught the yānas and nirvāṇas of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas to beings so that they may rest on their journey to buddhahood, whereas there is truly only one nirvāṇa and yāna, that of buddhahood.
Chapter 8: The Prophecy to the Five Hundred Bhikṣus
The Buddha declares Pūrṇa Maitrāyaṇīputra to be the supreme teacher of the Dharma from among his saṅgha, and that he was also the principal teacher for the six previous buddhas and will be for the remaining ninety-six buddhas of this eon. He says that in the distant future he will be Buddha Dharmaprabhāsa in this world, which at that time will have become a miraculous pure realm. The twelve hundred arhats present wish in their minds to also receive prophecies. Knowing this, the Buddha gives them. First he says that Kauṇḍinya will become a buddha named Samantaprabhāsa, and five hundred of the arhats will follow him as successive buddhas all named Samantaprabhāsa. Without any detail he states that it will be the same for the others. The five hundred arhats confess their previous ignorance and describe it through the parable of a man whose friend had sewn a jewel in his clothes, but who later, unaware of that jewel, was living as a destitute beggar concerned only with finding food, until his friend found him and showed the jewel. They say they had in this way been ignorant of the Buddha’s higher teachings and had been concerned only with attaining nirvāṇa, which they now realize is not the true nirvāṇa. Now, however, they have understood this and are overjoyed to receive his prophecy of their eventual buddhahood.
Chapter 9: The Prophecies to Ānanda, Rāhula, and Two Thousand Bhikṣus
Ānanda, Rāhula, and two thousand bhikṣus make the aspiration to receive a prophecy from the Buddha. First the Buddha prophesies that Ānanda, after serving quintillions of buddhas, will become Buddha Sāgaravaradharabuddhivikrīḍitābhijña. New bodhisattvas wonder why a śrāvaka should receive such a prophecy instead of a bodhisattva. The Buddha explains that he and Ānanda began their spiritual journey together, but because Ānanda focused on receiving teachings rather than practice, he has been the principal keeper of the Dharma for quintillions of buddhas. Then the Buddha prophesies that Rāhula, who is his own son, will become Buddha Saptaratnapadmavikrāntagāmin, and until that time he will be the son of every buddha, lastly that of Ānanda as the Buddha Sāgaravaradharabuddhivikrīḍitābhijña. The Buddha then prophesies that the two thousand bhikṣus will all simultaneously in different realms become buddhas, all named Ratnaketurāja, who will have identical realms and lifespans.
Chapter 10: The Dharmabhāṇakas
The Buddha addresses principally the bodhisattva Bhaiṣajyarāja and tells him that all in the assembly are bodhisattvas, and whoever even hears one line of verse from the sūtra will attain buddhahood. He says that those who transmit this sūtra should be honored as if they were buddhas and that stūpas should be built wherever the sūtra is taught, recited, or written. Speaking badly of such a dharmabhāṇaka would be worse than insulting the Buddha to his face for an eon. He says that a bodhisattva who does not know this sūtra is far from buddhahood, like a man digging a well and encountering only dry earth, while a bodhisattva who knows the sūtra is close to buddhahood, like a well-digger encountering wet earth, which is a sign of the proximity of water. The Buddha states that in the future, when someone teaches this sūtra, he will send emanations to the assembly that listens to it. If someone recites it in solitude in a forest he will emanate nonhuman beings to listen to that person. In the concluding verses he says his emanations will protect a teacher of this sūtra from physical attacks and abuse, and he will manifest before those reciting the sūtra in solitude and will check and correct their recitation.
Chapter 11: The Appearance of the Stūpa
A gigantic stūpa rises into the sky from the midst of the assembly. A voice commends the Buddha for teaching this sūtra. The Buddha explains to the bodhisattva Mahāpratibhāna that this is the stūpa of Buddha Prabhūtaratna, who attained enlightenment through this sūtra. Buddha Prabhūtaratna had prayed to appear within his own stūpa wherever the sūtra was taught. He also prayed that any buddhas teaching it would bring all their emanations from other realms to that world to listen, and he also prayed that his stūpa would be opened by those buddhas. Buddha Śākyamuni then draws his quintillions of emanations as other buddhas into his world realm, which is transformed into a pure realm. Those buddhas all send attendants to Śākyamuni requesting the opening of the stūpa. Śākyamuni levitates and opens it, revealing Buddha Prabhūtaratna inside. He sits next to him, and describes the uniquely incalculable merit of teaching the sūtra. The Buddha then describes his previous life as a king dedicated to the Dharma who became a rishi’s slave in order to hear this sūtra. As a result of that he has now attained the qualities of a buddha. He states that the rishi was a previous life of Devadatta, who in the future will be the buddha Devarāja. The bodhisattva Prajñākūṭa, who is from Buddha Prabhūtaratna’s realm, requests that Prabhūtaratna come back to his realm. The Buddha asks Prajñākūṭa to stay for a while and talk with Mañjuśrī. Mañjuśrī miraculously comes from the palace of the nāga king Sāgara, which is in the ocean, and manifests for Prajñākūṭa the vast number of bodhisattvas he has guided toward enlightenment in the ocean. He also describes the great qualities of the nāga king’s daughter and states that she can attain buddhahood. When Prajñākūṭa finds that hard to believe, the nāga princess appears. Śāriputra says to her that a woman cannot attain buddhahood, regardless of her qualities. The nāga princess then offers a jewel as valuable as the world realm to the Buddha and states that she can attain buddhahood faster than making that offering. She transforms into a male bodhisattva and goes to a southern realm and becomes a buddha. Everyone in this world realm is able to see that buddha teaching in that realm.
Chapter 12: Resolutions
The bodhisattvas Bhaiṣajyarāja, Mahāpratibhāna, and two hundred thousand others reassure the Buddha that they will teach the sūtra in the future. The bhikṣus also state they will teach it in other world realms. The Buddha tells his aunt Mahāprajāpatī that in the distant future she will become Buddha Sarvasattvapriyadarśana, that her following of six thousand bhikṣuṇīs will be her students, and that she will prophesy their buddhahood. Similarly, the Buddha tells Yaśodharā, who had been his wife, that she will become Buddha Raśmiśatasahasraparipūrṇadhvaja. Then eighty-thousand bodhisattvas declare that they will teach the Dharma in the later times, enduring all persecution and rejection.
Chapter 13: Dwelling in Happiness
Mañjuśrī asks the Buddha how bodhisattvas should teach the sūtra in the future. The Buddha says they should have four qualities: (1) In terms of practice they should have self-control and see correctly the characteristics of phenomena; in terms of their field of activity they should stay apart from society and worldly life, and in particular avoid attraction to women. (2) They should see the emptiness of phenomena. (3) They should also remain in a state of happiness and never criticize others; they should not discourage people, by saying that they are unable to attain enlightenment. (4) They should remain far from others but have compassion for them, and wish to attain buddhahood so as to liberate them. The Buddha then prophesies that such bodhisattvas will be greatly revered by humans and devas. The Buddha gives the parable of a king rewarding heroic warriors with all kinds of gifts, and finally giving his crest jewel. The Buddha explains that in the same way he has taught many sūtras to those battling Māra, but his final marvelous gift is this sūtra, his final teaching that he has kept secret until this moment.
Chapter 14: The Bodhisattvas Emerging Out of the Ground
The bodhisattvas who have come from other world realms make the commitment to teach this sūtra in the future. The Buddha says that it will not be necessary as he has so many bodhisattvas in his realm. Immediately the ground splits open and out from the ground come countless bodhisattvas who dwell in the space below the world. The four main ones among these—Viśiṣṭacāritra, Anantacāritra, Viśuddhacāritra, and Supratiṣṭhitacāritra—ask after his welfare. Maitreya asks the Buddha who these bodhisattvas are whom no one has ever seen before. The Buddha says that they were all brought onto the path of enlightenment by himself after he attained buddhahood. Maitreya states that these bodhisattvas have been practicing for many eons, and this is like a young man introducing hundred-year-old men as his sons. Even though all present believe whatever the Buddha says, future bodhisattvas on hearing this will doubt it and as a result be reborn in the lower realms, and so he asks the Buddha to explain how this can be so.
Chapter 15: The Lifespan of the Tathāgata
The bodhisattvas ask the Buddha to explain what his long life means. He states that he had attained buddhahood countless quintillions of eons ago, but stated that he had only recently attained it in order to guide beings, and therefore that was not a lie. He appears to pass into nirvāṇa but does not, and this is also not a lie, but to prevent beings from being complacent. He gives the parable of a doctor whose sons have been poisoned. He has the antidote but some of his sons will not take it because their minds are affected. He then goes away and sends them the news that he has died. They then realize the value of what he has given them and take the antidote. The doctor then reveals to them that he is still alive. In the same way, the Buddha uses skillful methods and should not be called a liar.
Chapter 16: The Extent of the Merit
The Buddha tells Maitreya that hearing this teaching on his lifespan has caused countless bodhisattvas to attain various levels of accomplishment. Miraculous events also occurred wherever the buddhas who had gathered were present. The Buddha states that hearing this teaching and believing it brings an inconceivably greater merit than practicing the first five perfections for eons. Those who have faith in the teaching will see the Buddha teaching in this world as a pure realm filled with bodhisattvas. Those who carry the text on their shoulder are carrying the Buddha, and they do not need to build stūpas or temples, as those who have this devotion to the sūtra have made vast offerings in the presence of the Buddha. They will develop excellent qualities and will attain buddhahood. Caityas should be built in honor of the Buddha wherever teachers of this sūtra have been.
Chapter 17: Teaching the Merit of Rejoicing
Maitreya asks the Buddha how much merit is created from rejoicing in hearing the sūtra. The Buddha gives a parable of someone who hears the teaching and repeats it to someone else, who repeats it to someone else, and so on, until it is heard by a fiftieth person. Even if they only hear one line of verse, their merit is far greater than that of a person who satisfies all the beings in four hundred thousand realms with gifts for eighty years and then brings them all to arhathood. The merit such a person would accrue would not even be a quintillionth of the merit of the one who rejoiced in hearing one line of verse that had been passed on through fifty people. Those who go to a temple to listen to the sūtra even briefly will have excellent carriages in their future life. If they sit down they will have the thrones of deities and kings, and if they make someone else listen to it, even for a moment, they will have an excellent physical body in their future lives.
Chapter 18: The Benefits of the Purity of the Six Āyatanas
The Buddha tells the bodhisattva Satatasamitābhiyukta that those who are devoted to this sūtra will attain numerous special qualities of purified faculties, which are those of the body’s senses and not yet the divine faculties. Nevertheless, the eight hundred qualities of the faculty of the eye include seeing everywhere, and seeing everyone, in the world realm of a billion worlds. The twelve hundred qualities of aural perception include hearing every sound, both those produced by beings and natural sounds, in the world realm of a billion worlds, without being overwhelmed by them. The eight hundred qualities of olfactory perception include sensing all smells of beings and matter in the world realm of a billion worlds. The twelve hundred qualities of gustatory perception include all tastes becoming divine, and the faculty of their tongue teaching the Dharma with a voice that will delight everyone, both humans and nonhumans, and inspire their veneration. The eight hundred qualities of the sensory faculty of the body include having a purified body the color of beryl and seeing within one’s body all the beings within a billion worlds. The twelve hundred qualities of the mental faculty include understanding the many meanings contained within one verse and teaching them for as long as a year, and knowing all the thoughts of all beings in a million worlds such that one’s teaching is always correct.
Chapter 19: Sadāparibhūta
The Buddha tells the bodhisattva Mahāsthāmaprāpta that those who revile adherents to this sūtra will experience the bad result of being mute, while those who support it will have purified faculties. He says that long ago there was a world in which there was a series of millions of buddhas all named Bhīṣmagarjitasvararāja. When the Dharma of the first of these was coming to an end, there was a bodhisattva called Sadāparibhūta who endured the condemnation of other monastics and lay-followers. When he was dying he heard the words of The White Lotus of the Good Dharma coming from the air, taught those who had previously reviled him, and lived on for millions of years, teaching this sūtra during the time of millions of succeeding buddhas until finally he attained enlightenment. Śākyamuni reveals that he was Sadāparibhūta and also that those who reviled him were now among his students. He encourages them to maintain and teach this sūtra after he has passed into nirvāṇa.
Chapter 20: The Tathāgata’s Miracles
Viśiṣṭacāritra and the other bodhisattvas who emerged from the ground, along with a vast number of other beings, make their commitment to uphold the sūtra in the future. Then both Śākyamuni and Prabhūtaratna, still seated inside the stūpa, and the buddhas in the other world realms, extend their tongues as far as the paradise of Brahmā, and their tongues radiate a vast number of light rays, from within which appear countless bodhisattvas who teach the Dharma while floating in the sky above a great number of worlds. This miracle continues for a hundred thousand years. Then they make the sound of clearing their throats and snap their fingers, a sound that is heard throughout the worlds, which shake. All the buddhas then declare that the beings in the other worlds should pay homage to Śākyamuni and make offerings to him because he is teaching this sūtra. They throw offerings in his direction and they cover like a canopy this world and all other worlds. The Buddha states that there would be no end to describing the benefits of maintaining and promulgating this sūtra, and wherever it is taught or transcribed should be regarded as a holy place of the Buddha.
Chapter 21: Dhāraṇīs
The bodhisattva Bhaiṣajyarāja asks the Buddha how much merit someone who upholds this sūtra will have. The Buddha replies that someone dedicated to just one line of verse from the sūtra will have greater merit than that from making offerings to quintillions of buddhas. Bhaiṣajyarāja then recites a dhāraṇī that will protect the holders of the sūtra from attacks, and states that to attack such a person is to attack the quintillions of buddhas who have pronounced that dhāraṇī. Then the bodhisattva Pradānaśūra recites a dhāraṇī for the same purpose. Then the deity Vaiśravaṇa, one of the four mahārāja deities, recites a dhāraṇī for the protection and good fortune of holders of the sūtra. Then Virūḍhaka, one of the other mahārājas, arrives and recites a protective dhāraṇī. Then the rākṣasī Hārītī, accompanied by ten other rākṣasīs and their followers, comes and recites a protective dhāraṇī, which they all say will make the head of one who attacks a holder of this sūtra explode. The Buddha expresses his pleasure and tells them to protect those who study and offer to the sūtra, even someone who only knows the name of the sūtra.
Chapter 22: The Past of Bhaiṣajyarāja
The bodhisattva Nakṣatrarājasaṃkusumitābhijña asks the Buddha to relate what the bodhisattva Bhaiṣajyarāja has practiced in his past lives. The Buddha says that in the distant past there was a buddha named Candrasūryavimalaprabhāsaśrī with a lifespan of many eons in a world that was a pure realm. He taught The White Lotus of the Good Dharma. His student bodhisattva Sarvasattvapriyadarśana practices this and attains samādhi, at which time miraculous events occur. Then Sarvasattvapriyadarśana spends twelve years eating aromatic resins and drinking perfumed oils and then sets his body on fire as an offering to the Buddha. The light of the fire shines through many worlds and the buddhas there commend him for his supreme offering. He burns for twelve years and then is miraculously born, with the power of speech, to a king. He then flies in a precious palace to see Buddha Candrasūryavimalaprabhāsaśrī. That buddha tells him that he is passing into nirvāṇa that very night and entrusts his students and his relics to Sarvasattvapriyadarśana. Sarvasattvapriyadarśana cremates Buddha Candrasūryavimalaprabhāsaśrī and places the relics inside eighty-four thousand stūpas and then burns his arm as an offering to them. The other students are upset, but invoking the power of truth his body becomes golden and his arm is restored. The Buddha states that Sarvasattvapriyadarśana was a previous life of Bhaiṣajyarāja. He then proclaims how the offering of the body is the greatest way to create merit and that a follower of the Mahāyāna should burn a toe, finger, or a limb as an offering to a stūpa. He describes through analogies how this sūtra is superior to all other sūtras, and will bring many kinds of benefits. In particular, devotion to this particular chapter will end rebirth as a woman and bring rebirth in Sukhāvatī. The Buddha then entrusts the propagation of this chapter to the bodhisattva Nakṣatrarājasaṃkusumitābhijña.
Chapter 23: Gadgadasvara
The Buddha emits a light from his ūrṇā hair that spreads through buddha realms in the east and reaches Vairocanaraśmipratimaṇḍitā, in which lives Buddha Kamaladalavimalanakṣatrarājasaṃkusumitābhijña and the bodhisattva Gadgadasvara. Gadgadasvara wishes to come to Sahā to see Buddha Śākyamuni, enters samādhi, and many miraculous lotuses appear on Vulture Peak. The Buddha explains to Mañjuśrī that this is a sign of Gadgadasvara’s intention to come. Śākyamuni asks Buddha Prabhūtaratna to cause him to come. Buddha Prabhūtaratna speaks words inviting Gadgadasvara, who comes with quintillions of bodhisattvas, makes an offering to Śākyamuni, and conveys Kamaladalavimalanakṣatrarājasaṃkusumitābhijña’s respectful inquiry as to Śākyamuni’s health, and so forth. The bodhisattva Padmaśrī asks Śākyamuni about Gadgadasvara’s past. Śākyamuni describes how in a previous life in the distant past, in the realm Sarvarūpasaṃdarśanā, Gadgadasvara made extensive offerings to Buddha Meghadundubhisvararāja, and subsequently to countless buddhas, and how he has also taught this very sūtra to beings in various divine and human forms through the samādhi manifestation of all forms. Through hearing the contents of this chapter a vast number of bodhisattvas attained that samādhi, a lesser number attained receptivity to the nonarising of phenomena, and Padmaśrī attained the samādhi of this sūtra. Gadgadasvara and his accompanying bodhisattvas return to his realm and relate to the buddha there what had occurred.
Chapter 24: Facing Everywhere: The Teaching of the Miracles of Avalokiteśvara
The bodhisattva Akṣayamati asks the Buddha what the name “Avalokiteśvara” means. The Buddha replies by recounting how hearing the name of Avalokiteśvara, and thinking of him, or calling out to him, will save beings from all kinds of dangers, such as fire, drowning, snakes, and violence. If someone pays homage to Avalokiteśvara they will be freed from desire, anger, or ignorance. A woman who does so will have an excellent son. The merit from paying homage to him is equal to paying homage to countless buddhas. Akṣayamati asks the Buddha about the activity of Avalokiteśvara, and the Buddha states how he takes the form of various deities and humans, buddhas, and bodhisattvas in various worlds so as to teach the Dharma. Akṣayamati then offers a pearl necklace to Avalokiteśvara, who then divides it into two and offers it to the two buddhas present: Śākyamuni and Prabhūtaratna. Verses summarize the prose with the addition of describing how Avalokiteśvara is the attendant of Amitābha in Sukhāvatī. Then the bodhisattva Dharaṇīṃdhara states that great merit is obtained by hearing this chapter. Finally the sūtra describes how eighty-four thousand beings developed the aspiration for enlightenment on hearing the Buddha teach this chapter.
Chapter 25: The Past of King Śubhavyūha
The Bhagavān tells the gathered assembly that in the distant past in a world called Vairocanaraśmipratimaṇḍitā there was a Buddha named Jaladharagarjitaghoṣasusvaranakṣatrarājasaṃkusumitābhijña. At that time there was a King Śubhavyūha, Queen Vimaladattā, and their two sons, Vimalagarbha and Vimalanetra. The sons asked their mother for permission to go and see the Buddha, but she said as the king was a follower of brahmins he would not allow it. Therefore they performed miracles that impressed the king so that he, the queen, his court, and thousands of other beings came to see this buddha who was teaching this very sūtra. The king gave up his throne to his younger brother and he and all the others became bhikṣus and bhikṣuṇīs. After eighty-four thousand years he attained a samādhi so that he rose into the sky from where he spoke to the Buddha of how his sons were realized beings and his teachers. The Buddha explained that beings find teachers because of their past merit. The king descended to the earth, paid homage to the Buddha’s qualities and then returned back up into the sky. He and his queen cast a string of pearls toward the Buddha as an offering that transformed into a floating building of pearls within which the Buddha sat. The Buddha prophesied the king’s attainment of buddhahood. Then Śākyamuni explains that the bodhisattva Padmaśrī was the king, the bodhisattva Vairocanaraśmipratimaṇḍitadhvajarāja was the queen, and the bodhisattvas Bhaiṣajyarāja and Bhaiṣajyasamudgata were the two sons. He says the world will pay homage to anyone who knows the names of those two bodhisattvas. The chapter concludes by saying that eighty-four thousand beings attained Dharma eyes through listening to this very chapter.
Chapter 26: Samantabhadra’s Encouragement
The bodhisattva Samantabhadra with countless bodhisattvas and beings come from an eastern world to the Buddha and request the teaching of this sūtra, and the Buddha describes the four qualities of a woman who will obtain this sūtra. Samantabhadra promises to protect those who uphold the sūtra in the future from humans and nonhumans. He will come mounted on an elephant to its practitioners and reveal himself to them. And he gives a dhāraṇī that will bless them, so that they will obtain the sūtra and that it will continue to be preserved in the world. He describes the benefits of dedication to the sūtra, which include being reborn in the Trāyastriṃśa and Tuṣita paradises. He states that the holders of this sūtra will have many good qualities and should be seen as future buddhas and respected as buddhas, while those who disrespect them will have various kinds of physical ailments and deformities. The chapter concludes by saying that countless bodhisattvas attained a great power of mental retention through listening to this very chapter.
Chapter 27: The Entrusting
The Buddha miraculously takes the right hands of all the bodhisattvas in his right hand and entrusts the sūtra to them. They promise to make it widespread. The Buddha gives his leave to all the buddhas who had come from other worlds to depart, and Buddha Prabhūtaratna and all other buddhas, bodhisattvas, and beings rejoice and praise the Buddha’s teaching.
Homage to the buddhas and the bodhisattvas.
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 eight nāga kings—the nāga kings Nanda, Upananda, Sāgara, Vāsuki, Takṣaka, Manasvin, Anavatapta, and Utpalaka—together with a retinue of many trillions of nāgas.
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.
Also present were devas who were of the four classes of gandharvas—Manojña, Manojñasvara, Madhura, and the gandharva Madhurasvara—together with a retinue of many trillions63 of gandharvas.
Also present were the four lords of the asuras—the asura lords Bali, Kharaskandha, Vemacitrin, [F.3.b] and Rāhu—together with a retinue of many trillions of asuras.
Also present were the four garuḍa lords—the garuḍa lords Mahātejas, Mahākāya, Mahāpūrṇa, and Maharddhiprāpta—together with many trillions of garuḍas.
Also present was King Ajātaśatru of Magadha, the son of Vaidehī.
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.
Sitting cross-legged on that Dharma seat, he entered the samādhi named the state of infinite instruction; his body became motionless and his mind became motionless.
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 all the bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, upāsikās, yogins, and yogācāras, both those who had attained the result and those who had not attained the result.
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.
It illuminated in those buddha realms the stūpas made of precious materials that contained the relics of the buddha bhagavāns who had passed into nirvāṇa.
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.
They thought, “Whom shall we ask about this great miraculous sign revealed by the Bhagavān?”
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?”
Then Mañjuśrī Kumārabhūta said to the bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya and the complete assembly of bodhisattvas, “Noble sons, the Tathāgata’s intention is to relate a great Dharma teaching.
“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.
“To the bodhisattva mahāsattvas he taught the Dharma that commences with the highest, complete enlightenment conjoined with the six perfections, and concludes with omniscient wisdom.
“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.
“To the bodhisattvas mahāsattvas they taught the Dharma that commences with the six perfections and the highest, complete enlightenment, and concludes with omniscient wisdom.
“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.”
Then Mañjuśrī Kumārabhūta taught that meaning extensively, at that time reciting these verses:
This concludes “The Introduction,” the first chapter of the Dharma teaching of “The White Lotus of the Good Dharma.” [B2]
Skill in Methods
Then the Bhagavān mindfully and knowingly arose from that samādhi. Having arisen from it, he addressed Brother Śāriputra.99
“Śāriputra, the wisdom of the buddhas, which is profound, difficult to see, and difficult to understand, has been realized by the tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas. It is difficult for all śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas to know. Why is that? Śāriputra, the tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas have served many hundred thousand quintillions of buddhas; they have practiced for the highest, complete enlightenment with many hundred thousand quintillions of buddhas; they have followed them for a long time; they have been diligent; [F.13.a] they have obtained marvelous, amazing Dharma; and they know the Dharma that is difficult to know.
“Śāriputra, it is difficult to know the true meaning of the teachings given by the tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas. Why is that? They teach the Dharma that they have understood themselves though a diversity of skillful methods, visions of wisdom, illustrations of causes and reasons, supports, expressions, and modes of communication. Through these skills in methods, they liberate this and that being, here and there, from attachment. Śāriputra, the tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas have reached the perfection of great skill in methods and the highest vision of wisdom.
“Śāriputra, the tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas are endowed with the wonderful dharmas100 of the strength of101 the unimpeded, unobstructed vision of wisdom, as well as the fearlessnesses, the unique qualities, the powers, the strengths, the aspects of enlightenment, the dhyānas, the liberations, the samādhis, and the samāpattis, and they teach a variety of Dharma teachings.
“Śāriputra, the tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas have obtained that which is a great marvel. Śāriputra, it is enough to say just that. Śāriputra, the tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas have obtained that which is a supreme marvel.
“Śāriputra, the tathāgatas should teach the dharmas of the tathāgatas themselves,102 which are the dharmas that tathāgatas know.
“Śāriputra, the tathāgatas teach all dharmas. The tathāgatas know all dharmas.
“They know103 what those dharmas104 are, the way they are, their characteristics and their nature just as those dharmas are, the way those dharmas are, the characteristics those dharmas have, and the nature of those dharmas.” [F.13.b]
At that time, the Bhagavān then taught that topic in detail by speaking these verses:
In that assembly two hundred thousand great śrāvakas such as Ājñātakauṇḍinya, who were arhats, whose defilements had ceased [F.14.b] and who had attained power, and also bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, and upāsikās who followed the Śrāvakayāna, and also those who followed the Pratyekabuddhayāna, all thought, “What is the cause and what is the reason why the Bhagavān has praised the skill in methods of the tathāgatas, and said, ‘This profound Dharma is the attainment of buddhahood’ and ‘It is difficult for all śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas to understand it’? The Bhagavān has said there is but one liberation, and we have obtained the Buddha’s Dharma and we have attained nirvāṇa, and yet we do not know the meaning of what the Bhagavān has said.”
Brother Śāriputra, knowing that the fourfold retinue was uncertain and in doubt, at that time said these words to the Bhagavān: “Bhagavān, what is the cause and what is the reason why the Bhagavān has in this way repeatedly praised the teaching of the Dharma of being wise in skill in methods, and repeatedly said, ‘I have realized this profound Dharma’ and ‘It is difficult to know the intended meaning of the teaching’? I have never before heard this Dharma teaching from the Bhagavān. Also the fourfold retinue is uncertain and in doubt. What is the Tathāgata’s intended meaning? I request that the Bhagavān explain perfectly the profound Dharma of the tathāgatas, of which you have repeatedly spoken.”
When Śāriputra had thus spoken, the Bhagavān asked him, “Śāriputra,105 why should I teach this? What would be the reason? Śāriputra, if I were to teach the meaning of this, [F.15.b] it would alarm this world with its devas.”
Then Brother Śāriputra for a second time made his request to the Bhagavān, saying, “Bhagavān, I request that you teach this meaning. I request that the Sugata teach it. Why is that? Bhagavān, in this assembly there are many hundreds of beings, many thousands of beings, many hundred thousands of beings, many hundred thousand quintillions of beings, who have seen past buddhas and are endowed with wisdom, and they will have faith in the teaching of the Bhagavān, will have conviction in it, and will uphold it.”
Then at that time Brother Śāriputra recited this verse:
Then the Bhagavān said a second time to Brother Śāriputra. “Śāriputra,107 if I were to teach the meaning of this it would alarm this world with its devas, and it would cause bhikṣus who have great pride to fall into a great abyss.”
Thereupon the Bhagavān spoke this verse:
Then Brother Śāriputra made a third request to the Bhagavān, saying, “I request that the Bhagavān teach. I request that the Sugata teach. Bhagavān, in this assembly there are many hundreds who are like me. Bhagavān, there are many hundreds of such beings, many thousands of such beings, many hundred thousands of such beings, many hundred thousand quintillions of such beings, and there are others who were ripened by the Bhagavān in their previous existences. [F.16.a] They will have faith in, have conviction in, and will uphold the Bhagavān’s teaching, and for a long time it will bring them benefit, welfare, and happiness.”
Then at that time Brother Śāriputra recited these verses:
Then the Bhagavān, knowing Brother Śāriputra had made this request for the third time, said these words to Brother Śāriputra: “Śāriputra, now that you have made this request to the Tathāgata three times, I have said what I had to say about your request. Therefore, Śāriputra, listen carefully and remember, for I will give you the teaching.”
As soon as the Bhagavān had consented, more than five thousand arrogant bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, and upāsikās within that assembly rose from their seats, bowed down their heads to the Bhagavān’s feet, and departed from the assembly. As a result of their arrogance they believed that they had obtained roots of merit when they had not obtained them, and believed they had realization when they did not have realization. They had become aware of their own error and departed from that assembly, the Bhagavān giving his permission to do so by remaining silent.
Then the Bhagavān said to Brother Śāriputra, “Śāriputra, my assembly has become free of its dregs. [F.16.b] Śāriputra, it has become free of those who were worthless, while those for whom faith is essential remain. It is good that those who are arrogant have departed. Therefore, Śāriputra, I shall teach that meaning.”
“Excellent, Bhagavān!” Śāriputra replied, and he listened to the Bhagavān.
“Śāriputra,” said the Bhagavān, “a tathāgata rarely teaches this kind of Dharma. Śāriputra, just as fig tree flowers rarely appear, a tathāgata rarely teaches this kind of Dharma. Śāriputra, believe me, I am speaking the truth. I am speaking correctly. I am not speaking otherwise.
“Śāriputra, the tathāgatas’ teaching that contains an inner meaning is difficult to understand. Why is that? Śāriputra, I teach the Dharma by using various definitions, expressions, and parables,108 using hundreds of thousands of different skillful methods.
“Śāriputra, that Dharma109 cannot be analyzed. It is beyond the scope of sophists; it is what is known by a tathāgata. Why is that? Śāriputra, a tathāgata, arhat, perfectly enlightened buddha comes into the world in order to perform one deed, one action: a great deed and a great action.
“Śāriputra, what is a tathāgata’s one deed and one action, his great deed and great action, for which a tathāgata, arhat, perfectly enlightened buddha comes into the world? A tathāgata, arhat, perfectly enlightened buddha comes into this world for the sake of causing beings to acquire the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom. A tathāgata, arhat, perfectly enlightened buddha comes into this world [F.17.a] in order to reveal to beings the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom. A tathāgata, arhat, perfectly enlightened buddha comes into this world in order that beings will enter the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom. A tathāgata, arhat, perfectly enlightened buddha comes into this world in order that beings will realize the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom. A tathāgata, arhat, perfectly enlightened buddha comes into this world in order that beings will enter the path to the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom.
“Śāriputra, a tathāgata appears in this world for that one deed and one action, for that one great deed and one great action, and with that one intention.
“Śāriputra, in that way a tathāgata accomplishes that one deed and one action, that one great deed and great action of the tathāgatas.110 Why is that? Śāriputra, I cause the acquisition of the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom. I reveal the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom. Śāriputra, I cause entry into the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom. Śāriputra, I cause the realization of the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom. Śāriputra, I cause entry into the path to the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom.
“Śāriputra, I also I teach the Dharma to beings through a single yāna, which is the Buddhayāna, ultimate omniscience. There are no second or third yānas.
“Śāriputra, this is the true nature everywhere in all worlds in the ten directions. Why is that? Śāriputra, the tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas [F.17.b] who in the past have appeared in countless, innumerable worlds in the ten directions have known the thoughts that are the various aspirations, natures, and intentions of beings. For the sake of many beings, for the benefit of many beings, for the happiness of many beings, and with compassion for the world, for the sake of a great number of beings, and for the benefit and happiness of devas and humans, they taught the Dharma by using a variety of teachings on accomplishment, and various teachings on causes, reasons, parables,111 supports, and skillful methods.112
“Śāriputra, all those tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas taught the Dharma to beings through a single yāna, which is the Buddhayāna, ultimate omniscience. It is the teaching of the Dharma that causes the acquisition of the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom, reveals the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom, causes entry into the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom, causes the realization of the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom, and causes entry into the path to the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom.
“Śāriputra, all the beings who heard that Dharma from those tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas in the past attained the highest, supreme enlightenment.
“Śāriputra, the tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas who in the future will appear in countless, innumerable worlds in the ten directions will also know the thoughts that are the various aspirations, natures, and intentions of beings. For the sake of many beings, for the benefit of many beings, for the happiness of many beings, and with compassion for the world, for the sake of a great number of beings, and for the benefit and happiness of devas and humans, [F.18.a] they will teach the Dharma by using a variety of teachings on accomplishment, and various teachings on causes, reasons, parables,113 supports, and skillful methods.114
“Śāriputra, all those tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas will teach the Dharma to beings through a single yāna, which is the Buddhayāna, ultimate omniscience. It is the teaching of the Dharma that causes the acquisition of the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom, reveals the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom, causes entry into the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom, causes the realization of the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom, and causes entry into the path to the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom.
“Śāriputra, all the beings who hear that Dharma from those tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas in the future will attain the highest, supreme enlightenment.
“Śāriputra, the tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas who in the present have appeared in countless, innumerable worlds in the ten directions also know the thoughts that are the various aspirations, natures, and intentions of beings. For the sake of many beings, for the benefit of many beings, for the happiness of many beings, and with compassion for the world, for the sake of a great number of beings, and for the benefit and happiness of devas and humans, they teach the Dharma by using a variety of teachings on accomplishment, and various teachings on causes, reasons, parables,115 supports, and skillful methods.116
“Śāriputra, all those tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas teach the Dharma to beings through a single yāna, which is the Buddhayāna, ultimate omniscience. [F.18.b] It is the teaching of the Dharma that causes the acquisition of the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom, reveals the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom, causes entry into the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom, causes the realization of the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom, and causes entry into the path to the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom.
“Śāriputra, all the beings who hear that Dharma from those tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas will attain the highest, supreme enlightenment.
“Śāriputra, in that same way, I am a tathāgata, arhat, perfectly enlightened buddha who knows the thoughts that are the various aspirations, natures, and intentions of beings. For the sake of many beings, for the benefit of many beings, for the happiness of many beings, and with compassion for the world, for the sake of a great number of beings, and for the benefit and happiness of devas and humans, I teach the Dharma by using a variety of teachings on accomplishment, and various teachings on causes, reasons, parables,117 supports, and skillful methods.118
“Śāriputra, I also teach the Dharma to beings through a single yāna, which is the Buddhayāna, ultimate omniscience. It is the teaching of the Dharma that causes the acquisition of the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom, reveals the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom, causes entry into the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom, causes the realization of the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom, and causes entry into the path to the vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom.
“Śāriputra, all the beings who now hear that Dharma from me [F.19.a] will also attain the highest, supreme enlightenment.
“Śāriputra, know that in this teaching there is no second yāna anywhere in any world in the ten directions, so how could there be a third?
“However, when tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas appear during the degeneration of an eon, or when there is the degeneration of beings, degeneration through the kleśas, degeneration of view, or degeneration of lifespan, then, Śāriputra, when there is that turmoil119 of the degeneration of the era, many defilements, and beings have craving and few roots of merit,120 then, Śāriputra, the tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas with skill in methods teach that single Buddhayāna as a teaching of three yānas.
“Śāriputra, those śrāvakas, arhats, and pratyekabuddhas who do not listen to, do not engage in, and do not comprehend the activity of the tathāgatas that causes the acquisition of the Buddhayāna, you should know that they, Śāriputra, are not śrāvakas of the Buddha, and you should know that they are not his arhats or pratyekabuddhas.
“Also, Śāriputra, those bhikṣus or bhikṣuṇīs who vow to become arhats do not possess the aspiration to the highest, complete enlightenment. They say, ‘I have cut myself off from the Buddhayāna; this is my last existence, my nirvāṇa.’
“Śāriputra, know them to be arrogant. Why is that? Śāriputra, it is impossible that a bhikṣu arhat, whose defilements have ceased, who hears this Dharma in the presence of the Tathāgata, will be unable to have faith in it, unless it is after the Tathāgata’s nirvāṇa. Why is that? Śāriputra, at the time, after the Tathāgata’s nirvāṇa, [F.19.b] these śrāvakas will not preserve or teach121 this kind of sūtra.
“Śāriputra, they will have no doubt concerning this Dharma teaching from other tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly enlightened buddhas. Śāriputra, have faith in me, trust in me, and have confidence122 in me.
“Śāriputra, the tathāgatas do not lie. This one yāna, Śāriputra, is the Buddhayāna.”
At that time the Buddha taught this topic in detail by reciting these verses:
This concludes “Skill in Methods,” the second chapter of the Dharma teaching of “The White Lotus of the Good Dharma.” [B3]
Then at that time, Śāriputra felt contented, delighted, elated, and joyful. With happiness and gladness he bowed with palms together toward the Bhagavān. Facing the Bhagavān, gazing solely upon the Bhagavān, he said to the Bhagavān, “Bhagavān, I am astonished and amazed. I am overjoyed to have heard this kind of speech from the Bhagavān.
“Why is that? Bhagavān, it is because I have never heard this kind of Dharma from the Bhagavān. When I saw other bodhisattvas and heard the names of the buddhas that those bodhisattvas will become in the future, and yet, still had not heard this kind of Dharma teaching from the Bhagavān, I imagined that I was deprived of that kind of vision of the tathāgatas’ wisdom,169 and was extremely grieved and extremely distressed. [F.25.a]
“Bhagavān, whenever I went to stay alone in mountains, caves, forests, groves, river banks, or the foot of trees, and many other places for my daytime rest, I thought, ‘Everyone enters the nature of the Dharma equally, but we are being liberated by the Bhagavān through the Hīnayāna.’
“At that time I thought, ‘The fault is ours, the fault is not the Bhagavān’s.’ Why is that? If we had stayed170 when the Bhagavān was teaching the excellent Dharma, commencing with the highest, complete enlightenment, then, Bhagavān, we also would have been liberated in that Dharma. Also, Bhagavān, when the bodhisattvas were not present, we did not understand the Bhagavān’s teaching that had an implied meaning. We immediately heard, retained,171 meditated on, contemplated, and focused upon the first Dharma teaching given by the Tathāgata. Bhagavān, I have reprimanded myself for that day and night.
“Bhagavān, I have heard from the Bhagavān this marvelous Dharma that I have never heard before. Bhagavān, today I have attained nirvāṇa. Bhagavān, today I have become calmed.172 Bhagavān, today I have attained complete nirvāṇa. Bhagavān, today I have attained arhathood. Bhagavān, today I have become the Bhagavān’s principal son, born from his heart and mouth, born from the Dharma, emanated from the Dharma, descended from the Dharma, and created from the Dharma. [F.25.b] Today I have become freed from sorrow.”
Then at that time Brother Śāriputra addressed these verses to the Bhagavān:
In response to these words from Brother Śāriputra, the Bhagavān said to him, “Śāriputra, before the world and its devas, with its Māra and Brahmā, its mendicants and brahmins, I declare to you, and reveal to you, Śāriputra, in the presence of twenty hundred thousand quintillion buddhas, that I have ripened176 you for complete enlightenment.
“Śāriputra, you have been my follower for a long time.177 Śāriputra, it is through the bodhisattva instructions and the great secret of the bodhisattvas that you have appeared here within my teaching.
“Śāriputra, you do not remember your past conduct, prayers, bodhisattva instructions, and great bodhisattva secret, formed through your firm bodhisattva resolve. You have thus thought, ‘I have attained nirvāṇa.’
“Śāriputra, I wish to make you remember and understand your past conduct, prayers, and wisdom. So I will teach to the śrāvakas this great, extensive sūtra, the Dharma teaching of The White Lotus of the Good Dharma, which is an instruction for bodhisattvas, and is possessed by all the buddhas.
“Śāriputra, in this way in the future, during countless, innumerable, incalculable eons, you will be the holder of the Dharma of many hundred thousand quintillions of tathāgatas, make all kinds of offerings to them, and perfectly complete these practices of the bodhisattva, and then you will appear in the world as 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 tames beings, the teacher of gods and humans, the buddha, the bhagavān named Padmaprabha.
“Śāriputra, at that time, the bhagavān tathāgata Padmaprabha will have a realm named Virajā, [F.27.a] which will be level, delightful, good, beautiful, pure, prosperous, wealthy, peaceful, with an abundance of food,178 and filled with many humans and maruts. The ground will be beryl, divided eightfold like a checkerboard by golden cords,179 and within each square there will be jewel trees, which will always be adorned by flowers and fruits made of the seven precious materials.
“Śāriputra, the tathāgata, the arhat, the perfectly enlightened buddha Padmaprabha will teach the Dharma beginning with the three yānas. Moreover, Śāriputra, although that tathāgata will not appear during an eon of degeneration, he will nevertheless teach the Dharma in accordance with his previous prayers.
“Śāriputra, the name of that eon will be Adorned by Great Jewels. Śāriputra, why do you think that eon will be called Adorned by Great Jewels? Śāriputra, in that realm the bodhisattvas will be called great jewels (mahāratna), and at that time, in that era, in the realm Virajā there will appear so many bodhisattvas that they will be countless, incalculable, innumerable; only a tathāgata will be able to count them. That is why that eon will be called Adorned by Great Jewels.
“Śāriputra, at that time the bodhisattvas180 in that buddha realm will be stepping upon jewel lotuses when they walk. Those bodhisattvas will not be novices, but will have practiced the roots of merit for a long time, practiced celibacy with many hundreds of thousands of buddhas,181 been praised by the tathāgatas, been dedicated to the wisdom of buddhahood, given rise to the development of the great higher knowledges, become skilled in all the ways of the Dharma, and will be kind and mindful.
“Śāriputra, the lifespan of Tathāgata Padmaprabha will be twelve intermediate eons, not counting his youth. The lifespan of the beings there will be eight intermediate eons.
“Śāriputra, when those twelve intermediate eons have passed, Tathāgata Padmaprabha will say, ‘Bhikṣus, this bodhisattva mahāsattva named Dhṛtiparipūrṇa will be next to attain the highest, complete enlightenment of buddhahood and will appear in the world as 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 tames beings, the teacher of gods and humans, the buddha, the bhagavān named Padmavṛṣabhavikrāmin.’ After he gives to the bodhisattva mahāsattva Dhṛtiparipūrṇa the prophecy of his highest, complete enlightenment, he will then pass into nirvāṇa.
“Śāriputra, the buddha realm of Tathāgata Padmavṛṣabhavikrāmin will have the same appearance as that of Padmaprabha.
“Śāriputra, after Tathāgata Padmaprabha passes into nirvāṇa the Dharma will remain for thirty-two intermediate eons, and then the outer form of the Dharma will remain for another thirty-two intermediate eons.”
Thereupon the Bhagavān spoke these verses:
Then the fourfold assembly of bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, and upāsikās, as well as devas, nāgas, yakṣas, gandharvas, asuras, garuḍas, kinnaras, mahoragas, humans, and nonhumans, having heard directly from the Bhagavān this prophecy of Brother Śāriputra’s highest, complete enlightenment, were contented, delighted, elated, and joyful. With happiness and gladness they presented the Bhagavān’s body with their own clothing. Śakra, the lord of devas, and Brahmā, the lord of Sahā, and another trillion devas also presented the Bhagavān’s body with divine clothing. They scattered divine coral tree and great coral tree flowers. [F.28.b] They waved182 divine cloths in the sky above him. They played a hundred thousand divine musical instruments and beat drums in the sky. A great rain of flowers fell and they proclaimed, “The Bhagavān previously turned the wheel of Dharma in the Ṛṣipatana deer forest183 in the land of Vārāṇasī, and on this day the Bhagavān has turned the highest Dharma wheel.”
At that time those devas recited these verses:
Then Brother Śāriputra said to the Bhagavān, “Bhagavān, I have directly heard from the Bhagavān the prophecy of my attaining the highest, complete enlightenment. Bhagavān, I have no doubt. I am free of uncertainty.
“Bhagavān, these one thousand two hundred who have gained self-control were previously established as students by the Bhagavān, and were instructed thus, were taught thus: ‘Bhikṣus, the ultimate conclusion of the discipline of the Dharma is the transcendence of birth, aging, sickness, and death,185 the goal of nirvāṇa, being absorbed in nirvāṇa.’ [F.29.a] Bhagavān, these bhikṣus, both those training and trained, have renounced the view of self, the view of production, the view of destruction, and all views. All of these two thousand186 śrāvakas of the Bhagavān think, ‘I reside on the level of nirvāṇa.’
“Having heard from the Bhagavān this kind of Dharma, which they have never heard before, they are puzzled. Bhagavān, so that the fourfold assembly will be without doubt, and without uncertainty, and so that these bhikṣus will have their worries dispelled, I beseech the Bhagavān to teach them well.”
The Bhagavān said to Brother Śāriputra, “Śāriputra, knowing the different aspirations and different thoughts and natures of beings, a tathāgata, arhat, perfectly enlightened buddha teaches the Dharma through various accomplishments, causes, reasons, parables, supports, definitions, and skillful methods in this way. Commencing with the highest, complete enlightenment, through all the teaching of the Dharma he inspires them to enter into this very Bodhisattvayāna. Have I not already taught you this earlier?
“However, Śāriputra, in order to teach that meaning extensively I shall teach you parables. Why is that? Some wise individuals will understand through parables the meaning of what has been said.
“As a parable, Śāriputra, in a village, a town, a market town, a district, a region, a country, or a capital, there was a householder who was old, an elder, advanced in years, aged, and was rich, wealthy, and had many possessions. His home was tall and extensive. It had been built a long time ago and had deteriorated. A hundred, two hundred, three, four, or five hundred people lived in it. It had only one entranceway. It was roofed with hay. Its terrace was crumbling. [F.29.b] The bases of its pillars were rotten. The walls and doors were disintegrating. A great fire started suddenly throughout the house from all sides. The man had many sons—five, ten, or twenty—and the man came out from the house. Śāriputra, the man then saw the great fire burning everywhere throughout his house. He was frightened and dismayed. He thought, ‘I have not been touched, I have not been burned by this great fire. I was able to quickly escape from the burning house through the door. But my sons, who are young, who are children, are engaged in enjoying themselves playing games inside the burning house. They are not aware that the house is burning, they have not understood it, do not know it, have not realized it, and so they will be burned in this great fire, and will experience great suffering. But they are not dismayed at the thought of being touched by that great fire, they do not think of that suffering, and do not think of escaping from the house.’
“Śāriputra, the man was very strong and had very strong arms. He thought, ‘I am strong and I have strong arms. I shall gather all the children together and carry them on my hips out from the house.’ Then he thought, ‘The house has only one door and that door is narrow. These young ones don’t stay still, are always running around, so I won’t be able to bring them out, and there will be the disaster of their agony in the great fire. So I should call out to them.’
“Then he called out to the children, ‘There is a massive fire burning the house! Everything inside is going to be burned in this great fire! You will suffer disastrously! Children, come here! Come out!’
“The man gave that command wishing to help them, but the children, not knowing what ‘burning’ meant were not dismayed, not frightened, and not terrified. [F.30.a] They did not think about it and did not come out, but ran and scampered around here and there, repeatedly looking out at their father. Why was that? They were like that because they were children.
“Then the man thought, ‘A great fire is burning this house. My children and I are going to be afflicted disastrously by this great fire. But if I use a skillful method I will be able to bring the children out of the house.’
“The man knew what his children thought. He understood that they would wish for many different kinds of amusements, and many different kinds of things: a variety of delightful, desirable, pleasing, beautiful, and charming and pleasant things, which would be difficult to find.
“Then the man, knowing their thoughts, called to the children, ‘Those toys that you delight in and marvel at, and that you are unhappy not to have obtained, which have many different colors and shapes, such as an ox-drawn cart, a goat-drawn cart, and a deer-drawn cart, which you think are delightful, desirable, pleasing, beautiful, charming, and pleasant, those I have placed outside at the entrance door of the house outside so that you can play with them. So come, run outside, and I will give each of you whatever you want. So come quickly for that reason!’
“Those children, hearing that and the names of those things that they wished for, that they longed for, which they thought delightful, desirable, pleasing, beautiful, charming, and pleasant, in order to play with those things, quickly and zealously ran out from the burning house with great speed, calling out to each other, ‘Who will be first? Who will be first of all?’ And as one body they quickly came running out of the burning house.
“Then the man saw that they had come out safe and well, and were no longer in danger. Then they came to the village square, in the open air. He was delighted and joyful. He was free of sorrow, untroubled187 and unafraid. [F.30.b]
“Then the children went to their father and said, ‘Father, give to us the various kinds of toys for playing with, such as an ox-drawn cart, a goat-drawn cart, and a deer-drawn cart.’
“Then, Śāriputra, the man gave all his sons carts drawn by powerful oxen that were as fast as the wind. The carts were made of the seven precious materials. They had seats. They had strings of small bells attached. They were high and stable. They were adorned with marvelous, amazing jewels. They were beautified by strings of jewels. They were decorated with flower garlands. They had cotton-filled cushions covered with calico and silk, and red backrests on both sides. Yoked to them were dazzling white oxen that were swift and that were held by many men. They had banners. He gave to each of his children an ox-drawn cart that was as fast as the wind.
“Śāriputra, what was the reason for that? The man was rich, wealthy, and had many treasuries. He thought, ‘There is no reason why I should give inferior188 carts to my children. Why is that? All these children are my sons. All of them are dear and precious to me. If I have such great carts, I should treat them all equally, and not unequally. I have many treasuries, so not to speak of my own sons alone, I should give all beings this kind of great cart.’ Then at that time those children, astonished and amazed, climbed onto those great carts.
“Śāriputra, what do you think? In that way, the man first promised three carts to those children, but afterward gave them all such great carts,189 magnificent carts. Does that mean that the man would be a liar?” [F.31.a]
“No, Bhagavān, he would not be,” answered Śāriputra. “Sugata, it is not like that. The man through employing that skillful method brought those children out from the burning house in order to save their lives. That would not be a reason for his being a liar. Why is that? Bhagavān, it was only through saving their own bodies that they could obtain all those toys, and, Bhagavān, the man did not give just one cart to his children. Therefore, Bhagavān, the man was not a liar. Why is that? Bhagavān, first the man thought, ‘Using a skillful method I shall save the children from immense suffering.’ Because of that approach, the man would not be a liar. That man had many treasuries and he thought of his children with affection, and wished to delight them. Not to speak of just giving them a great cart, he gave each one a cart with the same colors. Therefore, Bhagavān, the man would not be a liar.”
When he had said that, the Bhagavān commended Śāriputra, “Excellent, excellent, Śāriputra! It is so, Śāriputra! It is exactly as you have said! In that same way a tathāgata, arhat, perfectly enlightened buddha saves from all dangers, all violence, troubles, harm, suffering, unhappiness, the darkness of ignorance, the obscuration of the dark of blindness, and being in bondage.
“A tathāgata has wisdom, strengths, fearlessnesses, and the unique qualities of a buddha. He has great power through miraculous powers. He is a father to the world. He has reached the perfection of the supreme wisdom of skill in great methods. [F.31.b] He has great compassion. He has an untiring mind. He wishes to benefit. He is compassionate. He appears in the three realms that are like a house with a ruined upper story and roof burning with a great mass of suffering, and he liberates from desire, anger, and ignorance those beings who undergo birth, aging, illness, death, misery, wailing, suffering, unhappiness, the darkness of ignorance, the obscuration of the dark of blindness, and being in bondage, in order to bring them to the highest, complete enlightenment.
“As soon as he appears he sees the beings who are being burned, roasted, pained, and tormented by birth, aging, illness, death, misery, wailing, suffering, and unhappiness. For the sake of pleasures, with their desire as the cause and basis, they experience many forms of suffering. In this lifetime their grasping is the basis for experiencing in their next life many kinds of sufferings in the hells, as animals, and in the realm of Yama.
“The devas and humans experience the suffering of being poor, encountering what is unpleasant, and being separated from what is pleasant. While circling within a great mass of suffering, they take pleasure in amusements, are not afraid, are not terrified, and cannot be made to be terrified; they do not understand, are not aware, are not troubled, and do not wish to leave.
“They amuse themselves in the three realms, which are like a burning house, running back and forth. Even though they are afflicted by that great mass of suffering, they do not see it or identify it as suffering.
“This, Śāriputra, is how a tathāgata sees: I am the father of these beings. I will liberate these beings from this mass of suffering. I shall give to these beings the inconceivable, incalculable bliss of the wisdom of buddhahood, which they will delight in, enjoy, take pleasure in, and amuse themselves with. [F.32.a]
“This, Śāriputra, is how a tathāgata sees: it is said I have the strength of wisdom, the strength of miraculous powers, but if I had no method and instructed these beings to attain a tathāgata’s wisdom, strengths, and fearlessnesses, those beings would not become liberated through those dharmas. Why is that? Those beings are attached to the five sensory pleasures, and delight in the three realms. They would not become liberated from birth, aging, illness, death, misery, wailing, suffering, unhappiness, and disturbance. They would not escape from the three realms, which are like a house with a dilapidated roof and rafters that are on fire, and in which they will be burned, roasted, pained, and tormented. So how could they enjoy the wisdom of buddhahood?
“Śāriputra, the man with strong arms did not use the strength of his arms but used a skillful method to bring his children out from the burning house, and afterward gave them magnificent great carts. In the same way, Śāriputra, a tathāgata, arhat, perfectly enlightened buddha has the wisdom, strengths, and fearlessnesses of a tathāgata, but instead of using the tathāgata’s wisdom, strengths, and fearlessnesses, through the wisdom of skill in methods he teaches three yānas in order to free beings from the three realms, which are like a dilapidated house with its roof and rafters on fire. He guides beings through the three yānas, which are the Śrāvakayāna, the Pratyekabuddhayāna, and the Bodhisattvayāna.
“He says to them, ‘Do not take pleasure in the forms, sounds, smells, [F.32.b] tastes, and physical sensations of the three realms, which are like a house on fire. Through taking pleasure in these three realms and through craving for the five sensory pleasures, you will be burned, roasted, pained, and tormented. This is how one escapes from the three realms: obtain the three yānas—the Śrāvakayāna, Pratyekabuddhayāna, and Bodhisattvayāna. This I promise you. I shall give you these three yānas. Dedicate yourself to them in order to escape from the three realms. Beings! These yānas are those of the āryas, they are praised by the āryas, and they bring great joy. Perfectly amuse yourself with them, enjoy them, and delight in them. Experience great joy through the powers, the strengths, the aspects of enlightenment, the dhyānas, the liberations, the samādhis, and the samāpattis. You will become possessed of perfect happiness of mind.
“Śāriputra, those beings who are wise will believe in the Tathāgata, the father of the world. Having that belief they will be dedicated to the teachings of the Tathāgata. Some beings long to follow the way of listening190 to what is spoken. They are dedicated to the teachings of the Tathāgata in order to realize the four truths of the āryas as the cause of attaining nirvāṇa for themselves. They are called those who long for the Śrāvakayāna and they escape from the three realms. They are like the children in the parable who come out of the burning house because of their longing for a deer-drawn cart.
“There are others who long for wisdom, self-control, and tranquility without having a teacher. They are dedicated to the teachings of the Tathāgata in order to realize causes and conditions191 as the cause of attaining nirvāṇa for themselves. [F.33.a] They are called those who long for the Pratyekabuddhayāna and they escape from the three realms. They are like the children in the parable who come out of the burning house because of their longing for a goat-drawn cart.
“Some beings long for omniscient buddhahood, for the wisdom of buddhahood, for self-arising wisdom, for wisdom without a teacher. They are dedicated to the teachings of the Tathāgata in order to benefit many beings, for the happiness of many beings, and—through great compassion for the world—for the sake of, the benefit of, and the happiness of devas, humans, and ordinary beings, as the cause for all beings attaining nirvāṇa, and in order to realize the wisdom, strengths, and fearlessnesses of a tathāgata. They are called those who long for the Mahāyāna and they escape from the three realms. That is why they are called bodhisattva mahāsattvas. They are like the children in the parable who come out of the burning house because of their longing for an ox-drawn cart.
“Śāriputra, in the parable the man sees that he has brought the children out from the burning house, and that they are happy, fortunate, and saved. He knows that he is very wealthy, and so he gives each of the children an identical magnificent cart.
“Śāriputra, in that way the Tathāgata, the Arhat, the perfectly enlightened Buddha sees many millions of beings liberated from the three realms, which are filled with danger, fear, terror, and calamity. These beings come out through the doorway of the tathāgatas’ teachings, and are freed from danger, fear, terror, and calamity and attain the bliss of nirvāṇa.
“Śāriputra, at the time when he becomes a tathāgata, arhat, perfectly enlightened buddha, he knows that he possesses many treasuries of wisdom, strengths, and fearlessnesses, [F.33.b] he sees all beings as his children, and therefore brings all of them to complete nirvāṇa through the Buddhayāna. He does not teach any being to attain nirvāṇa for themselves. He brings all those beings to nirvāṇa through the great nirvāṇa, the tathāgatas’ nirvāṇa.
“Śāriputra, the Tathāgata gives to those beings that are liberated from the three realms the enjoyable, delightful dhyānas, liberations, samādhis, samāpattis, and the supreme bliss192 of the āryas. All of these are of the same kind.193
“Śāriputra, it is like the man who promised three kinds of carts to his children and then gave each of them an identical great cart. He gave them all carts that were better than any other, that were made of the seven precious materials, adorned by all adornments, of the same color, and magnificent. Therefore he was not a liar.
“In the same way, Śāriputra, the Tathāgata, the Arhat, the perfectly enlightened Buddha, with this skill in methods, first teaches194 three yānas, and afterward brings beings to nirvāṇa through a single yāna. Therefore he is not a liar. Why is that? Śāriputra, the Tathāgata possesses many treasuries of wisdom, strengths, and fearlessnesses and he has the power to teach all beings the Dharma of omniscient wisdom.
“Śāriputra, it should be known that it is through this teaching, through the accomplishment of the wisdom of various skillful methods, that the Tathāgata teaches the single Mahāyāna.”
This concludes “The Parable,” the third chapter of the Dharma teaching of “The White Lotus of the Good Dharma.” [B4]
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.’
“Then, Bhagavān, the poor man, frightened and terrified by the thought of continuous suffering,223 does not stay there but runs far away.
“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!’
“Then, Bhagavān, that householder instructs another man, [F.41.b] ‘Hey, you there,227 go to that poor man and say to him, “Oh, you have been freed, go wherever you want to!” ’
“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, in the same way we are like the Tathāgata’s sons [F.43.a] and the Tathāgata, just like that householder, has said to us, ‘You are my sons.’
“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.
“The Tathāgata knew our inferior aspiration, and therefore the Bhagavān tolerated us233 and did not say to us, ‘This is the Tathāgata’s treasure of wisdom, which will be yours.’
“Bhagavān, through a skillful method you have bestowed upon us our inheritance of the Tathāgata’s treasure of wisdom.
“Bhagavān, we had no desire for it. We thought, ‘We have obtained a great deal,’ meaning nirvāṇa from the Tathāgata, which is like that daily wage.
“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.’ ”
Then at that time Mahākāśyapa recited these verses: