The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Blossom Sutra


--translated by Disciple Bhiksu Heng Ch'ien

Sponsored by the Buddhist Text Translation Society




    Every sutra initially explains the circumstances which lead up to its speaking. In The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Blossom sutra the first of the twenty-eight chapters serves as a preface to the teaching.



    Chapter One: Introduction

    Thus I have heard. at one time the Buddha dwelt on Mount Grdhrakuta, at the City of the House of Kings, together with a gathering of twelve thousand great bhiksus. all Arhats, who had already obtained, the cessation o all outflows and had no further afflictions, thus gaining self-benefit. Having ended all bonds of existence. their minds were at ease. Their names we re; Arfnatakaundinya. Mahakasyapa, Uruvilvakasyapa, Gayakasvapa. Nadikasvapa. Sariputra. Mahamaudgalyayan Mahakatvayana. Aniruddha, Kapphina. Gavampati, Revata. Pi1indavasta, Bakkula. Mahakausthila, Nanda. Sundarananda. Purnamaitreiyaniputra, Subhuti, Ananda, and Rahula. Such was the multitude of wise men, groat Arhats. and others such as these.



Every Dharma assembly held by the Buddha satisfied six conditions:

1. believability

2. a hearer

3. a time

4. a host

5. a place

6. an audience

      Thus fills the condition of believability.  It certifies that the principles in the following text are exactly as the Buddha spoke them, so that by cultivating in accord with those principles, enlightenment will certainly be attained.  If the text were not an authentic discourse of the Buddha, it would not be "thus" and cultivation in accord with its principles would have no certain outcome.

      "Thus" means that the Dharma is just this way. Whether you believe it or not, it is"thus"; according with conditions it is unchanging. The Dharma is the expression of the knowledge of the Buddha, who dwells unmoving in omniscience, and is therefore called "thus."

      I have heard fulfills the condition of a hearer. It is to say “I Ananda, heard the Dharma of suchness just as the Buddha spoke it. It is not my own fabrication." When the sutras were compiled, Ananda recited them to the assembly of Arhats. Yet "Ananda had been born on the day of the Buddha's enlightenment and did not become a bhiksu until the Buddha had already preached for some twenty years. How could he remember sutras he did not hear?

     When Ananda left home, he vowed to remember and relate all the discourses of the Buddha, and beseeched the Buddha to repeat all his previous discourses so that he might remember them. The Buddha complied, and so by virtue of his prodigious memory, Ananda preserved all the Dharma spoken by the Buddha.  However, it was not just Sakyamuni Buddha's Dharma that Ananda put to memory, for he has served all the Buddhas of the past in the same way.  Basically, all the Buddhas speak the same Dharma; therefore, when Ananda opened enlightenment, he was able to recall not just Sakyamuni's Dharma, but all the Dharma of all Buddhas.

"I" refers to the third of The Four Types of Self.

These four are:

    1. The falsely attached self of the common person;

    2. the spiritual self of the externalists, who do not base cultivation on the Buddha nature;

    3. the false self of the Bodhisattva;

        4. the true self of the Buddha nature. Ananda uses the referent "I" to comply with worldly convention.

At the time the Buddha was about to enter nirvana,

Ananda felt such loss that he began to weep. The Venerable Aniruddha rebuked him.  He told Ananda that four important questions remained unasked, and that he, Ananda, as the Lord's attendant, was best suited to raise them. The Four Questions were:

    1. What phrase should be used to begin the sutras?

    2. After the Buddha's nirvana, where should the disciples dwell?

    3. Whom should we take as our master?

    4. How should we deal with unruly bhiksus?

    To the first question the Buddha replied that they should begin "Thus I have heard," to avoid three difficulties:

First, when Ananda sat on the Dharma seat at the sutra compilation assembly, he assumed all the characteristics of a Buddha, which caused three doubts in the assembly:

        First, they thought that perhaps Sakyamuni Buddha had not entered nirvana, but had returned to speak Dharma once again.

        Second they thought perhaps a Buddha from another region had come to take Sakyamuni's place since he had entered nirvana.

        Third, they thought that perhaps Ananda himself had accomplished Buddhahood. But when Ananda began, "Thus I have heard...", they understood that it was not a Buddha on the Dharma seat speaking Dharma, but Ananda repeating the words of Sakyamuni Buddha.

     Second, since Ananda was among the youngest, of the disciples, when he ascended the Dharma seat a great many elders and lesser disciples might have questioned his right to preside, causing a schism in the assembly. By beginning "Thus I have heard..." he assured them he was repeating the words of the Buddha, and put their minds at ease.

     Finally, this phrase differentiates the Buddhist Sutras from the texts of all other doctrines. The scriptures of externalists invariably begin by speaking of existence or non-existence. The Buddha instructed his disciples to use these four words to indicate that the Buddhadharma did not fall into the duality of existence or non-existence, but spoke instead of true suchness.

In reply to the second question, the Buddha instructed them to dwell in The Four Applications of Mindfulness:

1. the contemplation of the body as impure,

2. the contemplation of feelings as suffering,

3. the contemplation of thoughts as impermanent,

4. the contemplation of dharmas as without self.

          How is the body impure? No matter how clean the body is, it still sweats and discharges unpleasant odors; if you don't clean it, it downright stinks. The nine apertures of the body, the eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, and the rectal and urethra 1 openings constantly exude impurities. From the eyes come tears and other serous fluids; from the ears come earwax; from the nostrils come mucus; from the mouth comes saliva and phlegm; and from the eliminatory orifices come excrement and urine. Sexual desire quickly wanes in those who are able to contemplate the impurities of the body, because however attractive a man or woman may seem, their bodies still ooze impurities. When this has been realized, the human body no longer seems worthy of desire.

      The second of the Four Applications of Mindfulness is the contemplation of feelings as suffering. All feelings, whether good, bad, or neutral should be regarded as suffering, because all feelings cause the mind to move and become enmeshed in the realm of duality and discrimination.  There are basically three types of suffering:

1. the suffering of hardship,

2. the suffering of deterioration,

3. the suffering of motion. Of the three realms, the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm, the desire realm has all three types of suffering, whereas the form realm has the last two, and the formless realm has only the suffering of motion.

Again, there may be said to be eight kinds:

1. the suffering of birth,

2. the suffering of old age,

3. the suffering of sickness,

4. the suffering of death,

5. the suffering of being separate from objects of love,

6. the suffering of encountering objects of hate,

7. the suffering of not realizing aspirations,

     8. the suffering of the raging of The Five Skandhas.

    When the realization that all feelings are suffering dawns, the yearning for bodily comfort vanishes.

    The third of The Four Applications of Mindfulness is the contemplation of thoughts as impermanent. When the present thought perishes, the following thought is born, just like waves on the ocean, utterly devoid of permanence. The Diamond Sutra states," Past thought cannot be grasped, present thought cannot be grasped, and future thought cannot be grasped."  All thoughts are false and impermanent and should be contemplated thus.

         The fourth of The Four Applications of Mindfulness is the contemplation of dharmas as without self. The Great Vehicle categorizes all elements of existence into One Hundred Dharmas: eleven form dharmas, eight mind dharmas, fifty-one dharmas belonging to the mind, twenty-four dharmas not interactive with the mind, and six unconditioned dharmas. All of these dharmas are without self, and should not be held as real. The Great Vehicle expounds the doctrine of emptiness to break the attachment to self and dharmas. Before studying Buddhadharma, attachment to self gives rise to impediments, and impediments give rise to delusion and fantasy. After studying the Dharma and realizing the emptiness of self, it is possible to become attached to dharmas, but dharmas are also empty and without self. Therefore the Buddha instructed his disciples to contemplate dharmas as without self.

     The Contemplations in The Four Applications of Mindfulness are complementary.  After contemplating the body as impure, contemplate feelings, thoughts, and dharmas as  impure.  After contemplating feelings as suffering, contemplate  the body, thoughts, and dharmas as suffering. After contemplating  thoughts as impermanent, contemplate the body, feelings, and dharmas as impermanent. After contemplating dharmas as without self, contemplate the body, feelings, and thoughts as without self.

     The exhortation to dwell in The Four Applications of Mindfulness was among Sakyamuin Buddha's final instructions to his disciples before entering nirvana. Therefore they are extremely important and should not be neglected for even a moment.

     To the third question the Buddha replied, "Follow the moral prohibitions."  The moral prohibitions, called the precepts or vinaya, are the basis of Buddhist practice. The Buddha told his disciples that as long as they established no new rules, but maintained and culti­vated in accord with the existing code of morality, the Dharma would prosper and not decline. The more people who abide by the code of morality, the more powerful the force of good in the world, and the more surely will the hordes of Maras be subdued and eradicated.

      Ananda asked a fourth question, "Once the Master has departed and no longer oversees the affairs of the Sangha, what should be done with evil-natured bhiksus?"

      The Buddha replied, "Do not dwell or talk with them." If a bhiksu is evil-natured and impossible to deal with, ignore him and strengthen the resolve to abide by the rules of training.

--to be continued.