--Translated Bhiksu Heng Ch’ien
The Wonderful Dharma cannot be grasped by deliberation or discrimination, yet it is not apart from them. In the Surangama Sutra, Buddhas equal in number to the dust motes in all the ten directions simultaneously address Ananda, the Buddha's cousin, foremost among the disciples in learning, saying, "Excellent, Ananda. You wish to know the root of habitual delusion. It is nothing other than your six sense organs, which cause you to revolve in the bondage of birth and death. Moreover, you wish to understand unsurpassed Bodhi. It is also your six sense organs which enable you to quickly certify to the bliss, liberation, quiescence and wonderful permanence of nirvana."
To seek the Wonderful Dharma it is necessary to set aside the conscious mind and rely on the true mind. Most people mistake deliberation and discrimination for their true mind. Told not to discriminate, they discriminate even more, and told not to deliberate, they deliberate even more because they are incapable of concentrating their thoughts to transform consciousness into wisdom. Deliberation is the function of the seventh consciousness and discrimination the function of the sixth consciousness; both spring from the true mind, but they are not the same as the true mind. Living beings have transformed their inherent wisdom into consciousness and the wonderful has become common. Buddhas have turned consciousness back into wisdom and the common has become the wonderful.
The Wonderful Dharma is inexhaustible and unfathomable. After endless discussion, it is still not understood. So again it is necessary to call on a past incident to suggest the wonder of the Dharma.
There was once a bhiksu in Northern China who recited The Dharma Blossom Sutra daily, a task which took the entire day. Because he recited the section, which speaks of the inconceivable merit of writing out the Sutra, everyday, he resolved to do so himself, finishing on a cold day in the middle of the Manchurian winter. When he put his brush in a glass of water to clean it, a lotus flower of ice blossomed on its tip. Because of this the bhiksu took the name Ice Lotus Bhiksu. This response is just Wonderful Dharma.
There was another bhiksu in China who recited The Dharma Blossom Sutra, but he only recited the first roll. He served as advisor to the Emperor and traveled to the Imperial Court each day on horseback reciting the Sutra. In
the time it took him to get to the Imperial Court from the monastery, he could just finish the first roll.
One morning, as he was preparing to leave for court, the bhiksu's horse died, and at the same time a son was born in the house of a layman who lived nearby. The mother had dreamed she saw the bhiksu's horse ride up to her door and stand on her chest; immediately afterwards her child was born. She told her relatives to see if the bhiksu had left on his horse yet. When they returned they told her the horse had died just that morning and the woman knew then that it had been reborn as her child.
Not long after the child was born she sent him to the monastery to study. The bhiksus tried to teach him to read and write but he was so stupid he couldn't learn a single character. One bhiksu, however, began to teach him The Dharma Blossom Sutra by making him memorize it line by line. He mastered the first roll very quickly but could go no further. This was because in his previous life as the horse he had heard the bhiksu reciting the first roll of the Sutra every day on the way to the Imperial Court.
During the Chin Dynasty, there lived in Yun Nan a layman named Ch'en Tung Yuan who had great faith in the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. He made a pilgrimage to the Bodhisattva's temple on P'u T'ou Mountain in the South China Sea to pay homage. There was a bhiksu there who recited The Dharma Blossom Sutra, and the layman requested him to recite it once for his dead mother so that she might separate from suffering and obtain a good rebirth. The bhiksu consented.
When he arrived home, Ch'en Tung Yuan found that his cow had suddenly died. That night it came to him in a dream and said that it was his mother who had been reborn as a cow because of heavy karmic offenses. The merit from the recitation of The Dharma Blossom Sutra had enabled her to leave the body of the cow, but her heavy karma had now drawn her down into the hells. She asked her son to have the bhiksu on P'u T'ou Mountain recite the Sutra for her again. Ch'en Tung Yuan immediately set off to do as he was bid.
When Ch'en Tung Yuan related his dream, the bhiksu agreed to recite the Sutra again. He knelt before the image of the Buddha and began to recite, but by the end of the fourth roll his throat was parched. Although the bhiksu faithfully recited The Dharma Blossom Sutra, he had not been able to give up wine. He stopped to refresh himself with a glass, and then recited the last three rolls.
Ch'en Tung Yuan again saw his mother in a dream. She said, "0 Son, while the first four rolls of the Sutra were recited a brilliant light filled the hells and golden lotuses appeared. I was about to depart for a better rebirth but suddenly the aroma of wine pervaded everywhere and the last three rolls had no great effect. Please request the Dharma Master to recite it for me once again."
When the bhiksu heard of this he realized that what he had considered a minor indulgence was in fact a grave error, and he resolved to strictly observe the precept against intoxicants.
There are many such illustrations of the wonderful merit of The Dharma Blossom Sutra. However, to become infatuate with this great merit is to mistake the Wonderful Dharma. During the time of the Sixth Patriarch, a bhiksu named Fa Ta recited The Dharma Blossom Sutra more than three thousand times. When he went to visit the Sixth Patriarch, instead of making the customary bows of respect given to the abbot of a monastery, he merely nodded his head in greeting. The Sixth Patriarch said to him, "Courtesy is intended to subdue insolence. Why did your head not touch the ground?" Fa Ta bluntly replied, "Because I have recited The Dharma Blossom Sutra more than three thousand times.” The Patriarch replied, "When confused, one is turned by the Dharma Blossom; when clear, one turns the Dharma Blossom. You have recited this Sutra for a long time, but have failed to grasp its meaning, and thus you have made yourself an opponent of its principles." Those who understand the Wonderful Dharma are able to use the Dharma Blossom.
The Wonderful Dharma cannot be defined or described with words, and so the discussion of the title moves on, content to have conveyed the merest hint of the wonderful.
The lotus flower takes root in the mud at the bottom of a pool, but its stem rises through the water and blossoms completely above the surface of the pool. As the blossom opens the lotus simultaneously bears its fruit, for the fruit is the pod of lotus seeds within the blossom. Then the petals fall away and the pod remains alone.
The lotus root fixed in the mud of the pond represents all common people, entrenched in the defilement of existence. The lotus stem represents the two vehicles of the sravakas and pratyekabuddhas who dwell in the relative purity of emptiness. The blossom, which opens above the pool, represents the ultimate principle of the Middle Way, for it completely transcends the duality of existence and emptiness.
When the lotus blooms, the flower and the fruit appear simultaneously. Some types of flowers bear no fruit at all. Such sterile flowers are like those people who cultivate external paths, cultivate many different practices, but achieve no lasting results. There are other flowers which produce a single blossom but bear many fruits, like common people who cultivate the dharma of The Ten Wholesome Conducts, amass a great deal of merit, and then obtain a variety of benefits such as rebirth in the heavens or wealth among men. Still other flowers produce many blossoms, but bear only one fruit, like those of the sound-hearer vehicle who cultivate many dharmas but, unable to completely uproot ignorance, reap only the fruit of nirvana with residue. Some flowers produce just one blossom and one fruit, like the pratyekabuddhas who dwell alone in the wilderness contemplating the dharma of the chain of causation, and also realize nirvana with residue. Again, some flowers first bloom and only later bear fruit, like the Bodhisattvas who forgo nirvana to return to teach living beings.
Only the lotus flower blossoms and bears fruit simultaneously. In one action the seedpod is revealed and the petals fall away. This is analogous to perfect enlightenment in which cause and effect and the provisional and the real cease to be dualities. The cause of Buddhahood is identical with the result of Buddhahood. The provisional opens to reveal the real.
The Buddha spoke the provisional teachings of the Agamas, the Vaipulya, and the Prajna periods for the sake of the real teaching of The Dharma Blossom. When he opened Up the provisional, he dispensed with it, just as the lotus opens to reveal the seed pod and the petals fall away, leaving the pod to stand alone. The provisional teachings are like reflections of the moon in water. In the countless pools and streams countless moons appear; but these reflections are false and the moon alone is real. Even so, the provisional teachings reflect the real in many ways to suit the many needs of different living beings. When beings have the strength to view the real, they may dispense with the provisional.
In The Dharma Blossom Sutra, Sakyamuni Buddha states that he entered the Saha World solely to teach living beings to end birth and death. If the nature of birth can be understood, then death can also be understood. Confucius had a disciple named Wu Lu who once asked the Master, "What is the flavor of death?" Confucius replied, "You have yet to taste the flavor of life, how can you ask about the flavor of death." He meant that when life is clearly understood, then death is also understood.
Chuang—tzu understood the flavor of life. He said, "Life has a limit where knowledge has none; but limitless knowledge is pursued in a limited life. It is naught but vain striving." Chuang-tzu knew that life ends, but he did not know that after the end there is another beginning. He did not have the foresight of the toll collectors on the Golden Gate Bridge who know that anyone who leaves the city is likely to return the same way, and so they only charge to enter the city, but charge a double toll.
The specific name "Wonderful Dharma Lotus Blossom" distinguishes this Sutra from all other sutras in the same manner that a specific person's individual name distinguishes him from all other human beings. Furthermore, Sutra is the common name applied to all the discourses of the Buddha, just as "person" is a name commonly applied to all human beings, sutra is a Sanskrit word and it can be interpreted in many ways:
1. a road——the road from the realm of common people to Buddhahood,
2. basis—the basis of all Dharma,
a bubbling spring—the teaching pours forth from the sutras like
cool water from an eternally flowing spring.
a chalkline—carpenters use a chalkline to lay out guidelines. Just
as these guidelines must be followed to complete a building, the
guidelines of the sutras must be used in cultivation.
a garland of flowers—the principles of the sutras complement one
another just as the flowers of a garland set off one another.
to string together—the principles of the Buddha's teaching are
collected together much as pearls are strung together on the
string of a necklace.
to attract——sutras attract living beings who are ripe to be
permanent——the doctrine of the sutras is eternal and unchanging,
not a single principle can be changed or removed.
method——the sutras hold the method of cultivation expounded by all
the Buddhas of the past, present, and future. All Dharma-doors are
contained in the sutras, including meditation, study of the
teachings, morality, recitation of mantras, and mindfulness of the
tally—sutras tally above with the mind of all Buddhas, and below
with the nature of all beings. They tally above with the
wonderful principle of all Buddhas and below with the potentials
of living beings.