The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Blossom Sutra
by Bhiksu Heng Ch’ien
At that time Sakro Devanam Indrah with his following of twenty thousand gods; the Gods Lunar, Universal Fragrance, Bejeweled Light, and the Four Great Heavenly Kings, each with his following, ten thousand gods in all; the Gods Comfort and Great Comfort, each with his following, thirty thousand gods in all; the Great Brahma Heaven King Sikhim, Ruler of the Saha World, the Great Brahman Radiance, and others such as these, each with his following, twelve thousand gods in all; the Eight Dragon Kings, Nanda, Upananda, Sagara, Vasuki, Taksaka, Anacatapta, Manasvin, and Utpalaka, each with his following, several hundred thousands in all; the Four Kinnara Kings, Method, Wonderful Method, Great Method, and Upholder of Dharma, each with his following, several hundred thousands in all; the Four Garuda Kings, Majesty, Immense, Greatly Fulfilling, and Its Will Be Done, each with his following, several hundred thousands in all; and the son of Vaidehi, King Ajatasatru, with his several hundred thousands of followers all prostrated themselves at the Buddha’s feet and withdrew to one side.
At that time. This is just at the time when the Buddha was about to speak The Dharma Blossom Sutra.
Sakro Devanam Indrah with his following of twenty thousand gods. Sakro, or Sakra, is the heavenly ruler that most people know as God Almighty. His name means “capable” because he is a capable ruler of the heaven where he dwells, the Trayastrimsa Heaven. Although he is a capable heavenly lord, in the assembly of the Buddha he is just a Dharma protector and does not even have a place to sit. Why is it then that so many people believe in Sakra as the Creator of the World? In his own sphere, Sakra stands highest among the high, revered and venerated by a great many gods and men. He is like the mayor of a small, isolated village in a great nation. At home he tells everyone that in all the land there is no one more powerful than he, and because nobody knows any better, all revere him as the Father of the Country. They do not know that above him are governors, senators, and the president, and that the mayor is simply taking advantage of their isolation to make much of himself.
Common people who do not understand the Buddhadharma know only of the one God. They do not know that he still dwells in the realm of birth and death and that above him stand the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Arhats. They do not know, and Sakra does not want them to know, because then no one would venerate him anymore. How did Sakro Devanam Indrah become a god? In a previous life he was a poor beggar woman who believed in the Buddha. While out begging she saw an image of Kasyapa Buddha that had fallen into decay and although she had no money, she vowed to restore it. She gathered thirty-two other women together and they raised enough money to repair the image. The merit they reaped enabled each of them to be reborn as a heavenly lord, each with her own heaven. The woman who organized it all was born in the heaven in the center and eight of her friends were born into heavens in each of the four directions around her. The central heaven is called the Trayastrimsa Heaven, situated at the peak of Mount Sumeru, and Sakra rules there. When Sakra attended the Dharma Blossom Assembly, twenty thousand followers accompanied him.
The Gods Lunar, Universal Fragrance, Bejeweled Light, and the Four Heavenly Kings, each with his following ten thousand gods in all. Universal Fragrance emits an especially fine fragrance and Bejeweled Light emits a precious light, like the glint of jewels. These two Dharma protectors know that all-living beings delight in these things and they wish to cause them to rejoice and awaken to the inconceivable nature of the Dharma-realm. If Universal Fragrance did not perfume the world, the world would stink unbearably and it would be very difficult to cultivate. Bejeweled Light knows that living beings are greedy for jewels and so he emits a bejeweled light and fulfills their wishes, so that with their wishes fulfilled, they will set their minds on Bodhi.
The Four Heavenly Kings dwell halfway up Mount Sumeru, one King in each of the four directions. The Heavenly King of the East, on the eastern slope of Sumeru, is named The Heavenly King Upholder of the Country; in the south is The Heavenly King Increasing; in the West is The Heavenly King Broad Eyes; in the north is the Heavenly King Learned. These Heavenly Kings protect the world and so they are also called the Four World Protecting Kings.
The Gods Comfort, and Great Comfort, each with his following, "thirty thousand gods in all. Comfort lives in the Transformation of Bliss Heaven. The gods of this heaven obtain bliss through transformation and can transform the bliss from other heavens and bring it to their own. Great Comfort lives in the Heaven of Comfort Gained Through Transformation of Others’ Bliss.
Great Brahma Heaven King Sikhim, Ruler of the Saha World, the Great
Brahman Radiance, and others such as these, each with his
twelve thousand gods in all. Saha is Sanskrit meaning to endure. The
living beings of the Saha World are able to endure a great deal of
suffering. Basically the suffering of the Saha World is immeasurable, but
it is possible to speak of
The Eight Sufferings:
Because living beings endure suffering and refuse to forsake the Saha World, Saha can be interpreted to mean sweet. If Saha were not sweet why would living beings put up with so much suffering to live here?
I once had a disciple named Kuo Hsun who had been imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp. Because the Japanese treated him so cruelly he truly understood the nature of suffering and the Saha World. He said, "When I worked for the Japanese, I didn't have enough to eat or wear, or enough sleep. If people who cultivate could bear half that much suffering, they would accomplish Buddhahood." After he left the home-life he ate only once a day and never lay down; among all my disciples he was foremost in the cultivation of ascetic practices. Eventually, because he found the Saha World too difficult to endure, he burned his body as an offering to the Buddha. After he was burned, his body remained upright in full lotus, but when someone touched him he crumbled into ashes. If an ordinary person tried to burn himself in this way he would scream and jump about, but because Kuo Hsun has Samadhi power he did not move and his body remained upright. If he had locked skill in samadhi he would have fallen over.
The Great Brahma Heaven King Sikhim "head curls" governs and watches over the activities of the Saha World and therefore he is acknowledged as Ruler of the Saha World.
The Eight Dragon Kings, Nanda, Upananda, Sagara, Vasuki, Taksaka, Anavatapta, Manasvin, and Utpalaka, each with his following, several hundred thousands in all. Dragons were once a common sight but because there are so many people now they seldom reveal themselves anymore. Dragons are animals with spiritual penetrations, they can become big or little, visible or invisible. In previous lives dragons cultivated according to the Great Vehicle Dharma but did not maintain the moral prohibitions. Because they cultivated the path to Buddhahood vigorously, they obtained spiritual penetrations, but because they did not maintain the moral prohibitions, they were reborn as animals. Those who maintain the precepts but do not cultivate with any vigor can become people with a great deal of wealth and blessings but not much intelligence. Those who maintain the precepts and vigorously cultivate the Great Vehicle Dharma can be reborn in the Heavens or can attain to the sagely positions. Of course there are always those who neither maintain the precepts nor cultivate, even among those who have left the home-life. For such as these there is rebirth in the hells, for in the hells nobody has to work at all; from morning to night you can eat molten iron or perhaps boil in oil for aeon after aeon.
Although dragons have animal bodies and did not maintain the precepts in the past, it is still possible for them to take refuge with the Triple Jewel and cultivate. When I was in Northeastern China my disciple Kuo Hsun had built a hut of grass and requested me to open it for him. I brought several disciples with me to spend the evening in the hut. That evening ten dragons came and asked to take refuge with the Triple Jewel. Since there had been no rain in the area for some time I said, "Dragons take care of the rain, why has there been none for so long?" The dragons replied, "Sakra tells us how much rain to let fail, we merely follow his instructions."
"Tell Sakra that an old cultivator wants it to rain for forty (about 15 miles) around this hut. If you are able to bring rain tomorrow, then the day after I will give you The Three Refuges and you can become disciples of the Buddha." The next day it rained for forty li around the hut, but not beyond forty li. After the dragons took refuge they began to cultivate.
Nanda, Upananda. Nanda means bliss, and Upananda means wholesome bliss. They are the two dragons that Mahamaudgalyayana defeated when the Buddha was ascending Mount Sumeru on his way to the Trayastrimsa Heaven. After he subdued them they took refuge with the Buddha and became Dharma protectors in the country of Magadha, insuring that the winds and rains were always favorable.
Sugara "salt sea" was so named because he dwelt in a salty sea.
Vasuki "many heads" was so named because he had many heads. Some dragons have three heads, some nine, some twelve or fifteen.
Taksaka "poison thrower" is able to spew a poisonous gas.
Anavatapta means without anger.
Manasvin "huge body* had a huge body.
Utpalaka means green lotus blossom.
The Four Kinnara Kings, Method, Wonderful Method, Great Method, and Upholder of Dharma, each with his following, several hundred thousands in all. Kinnara means doubtful spirit. Kinnara are doubtful because they have the body of a man but have a horn coming out of their head so that there is doubt as to just what they are. They are the musicians in the court of Sakra in the Trayastrimsa Heaven. Method has many methods by which to play music. Wonderful Method has many especially wonderful methods, and the gods particularly like his music. Great Method plays loud music, and Upholder of Dharma plays music, which causes listeners to cultivate the Dharma.
The Four Gandharva Kings, Music, Sound of Music, Beautiful, and Beautiful Sound, each with his following, several hundred thousands in all. Gandharva means incense snifter. They are so named because they gain their sustenance by inhaling fragrances. Gandharvas are superb musicians, and whenever Sakra wishes to hear them play he need only light some incense and they flock to his court.
The Four Asura Kings, Balin, Khara skandha, Vemacitrin, and Rahu, each with his following, several hundred thousands in all. Asura means no wine. Asuras who dwell in the heavens do not have the authority of the gods, and they are not allowed to drink the heavenly liquor. Asuras like to fight. They appear in all the Six Common Realms, not just the heavens, and it may be said that anyone in any of the realms who likes to fight is an asura. They are also called 'deformed' because the physical features on their faces are blended together in a lump. This, however, is true only for the male asuras; female asuras are renowned for their beauty.
Sakra once took a fancy to the beautiful daughter of one of the heavenly asura kings. The asura king considered it politic to give his daughter to the great heavenly lord, and, so he personally escorted her to Sakra's palace. Sakra mustered his troops to welcome his new wife and her father, and the marriage came off in style. The show of military splendor intimidated him, and the suspicious natured asura king felt somewhat uneasy about his powerful son-in-law.
The new alliance did not go smoothly, Sakra is a protector of the Dharma, and to fulfill his duties he left his wife to attend daily sutra explanations given by an immortal. His wife was suspicious, being an asura, and felt certain that he was up to no good; "I go to hear sutras explained," he told her, but she was not satisfied. Convinced that she had a rival, she made herself invisible and accompanied him in his chariot when he went out the next evening. Upon his arrival at the Dharma assembly she revealed herself. "What are you doing here?" he asked, startled.
"What are you doing here?" she countered accusingly.
"I told you, I come here to hear sutras explained every night."
"I don't believe you." Sakra had no patience with this sort of thing. He took the whip from his chariot and lashed her furiously.
The daughter of the asura king went home to her father in a rage. The asura king, already suspicious of Sakra, welcomed the excuse to go to war and celled out his army. The asura troops fought well and Sakra's heavenly generals were at a loss to contain them. In desperation Sakra went to the Buddha for help. The Buddha told him to have his troops recite "Mahaprajnaparamita" (Great Perfection of Wisdom) and the asuras would be subdued. As soon as his army began to recite, the tide of battle turned.
The asuras and gods of the Trayastrimsa Heaven are an even match in battle, and neither is particularly wise. By reciting Mahaprajnaparamita, the gods gained enough wisdom to turn the tide.
Balin "bound up" is so named because he was bound up by the heavenly generals.
Kharaskandha means broad shoulders or evil shade.
Vernacitrin "many doubts" or, "pure heart" is the asura king who went to war with Sakra.
Rahu, "obstructer" can block the light of the sun and the moon with his hand. It can also be said that he blocks afflictions, so that there are none, or that he is blocked by afflictions, so that he wants to fight.
The Four Garuda Kings, Majesty, Immense, Greatly Fulfilling, and His Will Be Done, each with his following, several hundred thousands in all. Garuda means golden-winged. Garudas are golden-winged rocs with a wingspan of one million one hundred twenty thousand miles. With single flap of their wings they push aside the waters of the ocean, to reveal all the dragons therein, a favorite garuda meal. In Sakyamuni Buddha's time the garudas were eating so many dragons that they faced extinction. The dragons appealed to the Buddha for some method by which to defend themselves. The Buddha gave them one of his old robes, saying, "Each dragon should take a thread of this robe, then the garudas will not be able to see you." The device was so successful that the garudas went to the Buddha to complain, "World Honored One, since you helped the dragons we have nothing to eat. What are we going to do?" The Buddha reassured the garudas that he would have his disciples put food out for them each day, and since that time the garudas have been vegetarians. Of course it could be guessed that since the dragons have spiritual penetrations and the garudas eat dragons, that the spiritual, penetrations of the garudas are not inconsiderable.
The son of Vaidehi, King Ajatasatru, with his several hundred thousands of followers. Vaidehi "consider" bore Ajatasatru "hated before birth." Because he was deemed inauspicious prior to his birth, his mother was very unhappy with him, and when he arrived she had his finger cut off, so he is also called "fingerless." King Ajatasatru committed all five of the Five Grave Offenses. He killed his mother, killed his father, killed an Arhat, broke up the harmonious Sangha, and spilled the Buddha's blood. While still a prince, Ajatasatru fell in with Devadatta, the Buddha's cousin and archenemy. Devadatta persuaded the price to do in his parents and help murder the Buddha so that he, the prince, could become King and Devadatta could become the new Buddha; together they would rule the world. Ajatasatru locked his father, King Bimbisara, in a dungeon with seven walls and seven bolted gates. He gave him no food or water and allowed no one to see him. He did allow his mother, Vaidehi, to visit her husband, however, and she smuggled the doomed king grape juice in a necklace of large hollow pearls, which she wore. When she saw her husband, the two of them began to weep and said, "Sakyamuni Buddha, the omniscient one, must know of our plight, surely he will help us." The Buddha knew their thoughts and sent Mahamaudgalyayana to speak the Sutra of the Sixteen Contemplations to explain the Pure Land Dharma-door to them. They cultivated in accord with it and obtained birth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
King Ajatasatru committed The Five Grave Offenses, which basically cannot be repented, and was destined to fall into the deepest hell for countless aeons. However, he was able to truly repent and change his ways, so the Buddha lifted the offenses for him and he later attended the Dharma Blossom Assembly with his ministers and personal retinue. At the end of his life he fell into the Pindara Hell, but because he had repented his errors, he was able to leave that hell and be reborn in the land of a Buddha in the upper regions where he obtained the patience of the non-production of dharmas. At the time of Maitreya Buddha’s Dharma assembly he will once again be born in this world, fix his thoughts on Bodhi, and become a Bodhisattva named Unmoving. Later he will become a Buddha with the name Pure Realm.
Prostrated themselves at the Buddha’s feet and withdrew to one side. The great host of gods, dragons, and the other members of the Eight Divisions of Ghosts and Spirits made obeisance to the Buddha and withdrew to their places in the assembly.
--To be continued