THE WONDERFUL DHARMA LOTUS FLOWER SUTRA
with commentary by
Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua
SARIPUTRA, YOU SHOULD KNOW,
THAT WHEN I HEARD THE SAGELY LIONS'
DEEP AND PURE, AND WONDROUS SOUNDS,
I CALLED OUT, "NAMO TO ALL BUDDHAS."
AND FURTHERMORE, I HAD THIS THOUGHT:
"I HAVE COME INTO A TURBID, EVIL WORLD
AND, AS HAVE ALL THE BUDDHAS SPOKEN,
SO SHOULD I FOLLOW IN ACCORD.
HAVING THOUGHT UPON THIS MATTER,
I WENT STRAIGHTWAY TO VARANASI
WHERE, THE MARK OF ALL DHARMAS, STILL EXTINCT
WHICH CANNOT BE EXPRESSED IN WORDS
BY MEANS OF POWERFUL EXPEDIENTS
I TAUGHT TO THE FIVE BHIKSUS.
SARIPUTRA, YOU SHOULD KNOW/Sariputra, you ought to know THAT WHEN I HEARD THE SAGELY LIONS/when I heard the Buddhas of the ten directions praising me in this way, saying that I was the number one, great guiding master, hearing their DEEP AND CLEAR AND WONDROUS SOUNDS; Their sounds were profound, clear, subtle and wonderful. I CALLED OUT "NAMO TO ALL BUDDHAS." The Buddhas of the ten directions having praised Sakyamuni Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha then called out in praise of the Buddhas of the ten directions. This is the Buddhas praising each other. AND FURTHERMORE I HAD THIS THOUGHT: I had this thought, "I HAVE COME INTO A TURBID, EVIL WORLD/I have now appeared in this Saha world. The Saha World is a world of the five turbidities, and it is the most evil world. AND, AS HAVE ALL THE BUDDHAS SPOKEN; Since I have come into this turbid, evil world, I should speak the dharma in the same manner as all the Buddhas of the ten directions; the ritual of speaking the Dharma is the same. SO SHOULD I FOLLOW IN ACCORD; I should follow along and do as all the Buddhas of the ten directions have done in speaking the Dharma; I should employ the same methods to do so.
HAVING THOUGHT UPON THIS MATTER; When I was done thinking this thing over I WENT STRAIGHTWAY TO VARANASI; Varanasi is the Deer Wild's Park. I have previously told this story:
Why was it called the Deer Wild's Park? Once, there were two deer kings living there. One deer king was a former incarnation, many births and many kalpas past, of Sakyamuni Buddha. He was a compassionate deer king. The other deer king was a former incarnation of Devadatta. At that time, the King of the country often went out in the hills of the Deer Wild's Park to hunt the deer, which ran in profusion there. Because he took a lot of people with him on his expeditions, he killed many deer on every hunt. So the two deer kings had a meeting. The deer king who was to become Sakyamuni Buddha said, "We should go present a petition to the king and ask him to grant us clemency."
"What kind of petition shall we present?" asked the other deer king.
The compassionate deer king said, "We should tell the king that every day we will send him two deer for his food and drink. Then our herds will not become extinct and the king will have fresh venison every day. I'm sure the king will agree to this. If not he will soon completely wipe out our herds. Besides, he can't possibly eat that much meat; much of it must just rot."
The deer king Devadatta said, "Okay, let's go ask him," and the two of them went to the king to present their request. When they arrived at the gate of the palace, they encountered the palace guard. When the guard saw the two big deer, he picked up his lance and made ready to slaughter them. But the two big deer spoke up and said, "Don't kill us! We have come today for an audience with the king and intend to present him with a petition."
"Very strange," said the guard. "Talking deer! Very strange..." So the guard told the king that two deer who could speak human talk had come. The king was quite surprised. "How can deer talk?" he said. "Tell them to come in. Let's see what kind of strange creatures they are."
The two deer came in and spoke to the king saying, "You've been hunting our herds and have killed too many of our deer. You can't possibly eat that much meat every day. But if you kill too few you won't have enough to eat. So we have a petition to present to you, King. Every day we shall send two deer for you to eat. Then you won't have to go out hunting and every day you'll have fresh venison to eat." At that time there were probably no refrigerators. "But if you continue to kill us at the rate you have been, you'll soon wipe us out and you won't be able to eat so much meat. It will simply rot."
The king was already surprised to hear deer speaking like people and he thought their request was logically very sound and agreed. "Every day, you can send us two deer," he said. And that's what they did. They sent two deer every day, just like clockwork, and the king found them delicious. Fresh deer meat every day!
One day, the deer king who was to become Sakyamuni Buddha himself appeared at the palace gate as food for the king. The king recognized the deer and asked, "You're the king of the deer. How can you offer yourself? Have all the other deer in your herd been eaten?"
The deer king said, "Not only do there remain deer in our herds, but their numbers are Increasing daily. We two deer kings each watch over five hundred deer. Of the five hundred deer, only one goes each day as an offering to Your Majesty. And every day many, many foals are born. So now, our retinues have redoubled several times over. There are more than ever. But now, for a special reason, I myself have come as the daily offering."
"What is the reason?" asked the King.
"It's because the deer from my herd came with no problems. But in Devadatta's herd the deer whose turn it was to go today happened to be pregnant. The baby deer was due in a day or two, so she begged Devadatta to let her trade places with someone, saying that when her foal was born she would gladly go to the King for food. But Devadatta would not permit her to trade places and so she came to ask me if a deer in my herd would trade with her. But among my deer, no one wanted to go out of turn. Since there was no other recourse, I myself have come today to take her turn."
When the King heard this, he thought, "How strange. Basically deer are also living creatures. Why should I eat deer meat every day?" And he said,
You're a deer-headed human
While I am a human-headed deer;
From this day onward,
I will not eat the flesh of living beings.
He said, "You have the head of a deer; however, your heart is extremely kind and compassionate. Your heart is even better than that of a human being. Although I have the head of a person, my heart is not as good as that of a deer. From today on, I will not eat meat, no meat at all." So the King was moved to become a vegetarian. That is the reason that this particular place was called the Deer Wild's Park. It was a place of Blue Mountains and sparkling streams, a place of extremely fine "wind and water," and so there were many cultivators there.
In the past, Sakyamuni Buddha had five attendants. Three were relatives on his father's side and two were related to him on his mother's side. They followed him when he left home and cultivated along with him. However, three of them couldn't endure the suffering. Sakyamuni Buddha, while meditating in the Himalayas, ate only one sesame seed and one grain of rice a day. Three of them couldn't take so much bitterness and ran off. "This will never do! How can cultivating be so bitter?" they wondered, and left. Where did they run off to? To the Deer Wild's Park. Three ran off and two remained cultivating along with Sakyamuni Buddha. At that time Sakyamuni Buddha was so thin that his bones looked like a heap of firewood. He was extremely thin. Then a maiden who herded cows brought Sakyamuni Buddha a carton of milk. When he saw the milk, Sakyamuni Buddha was very pleased, accepted the offering and drank it. As soon as the two saw him drink the milk, they exclaimed, "He's finished! He's useless! You'll never realize the Way, as gluttonous as you are! Someone gives you some milk and you go ahead and drink it. How can you cultivate the Way? Cultivating means enduring suffering and you can no longer endure it. So we're leaving! We're not going to stick around with a nobody like you." And so the other two left. So five accompanied him, and five ran off, and he was left all by himself. Later he went to sit beneath the Bodhi tree where, one night he saw a bright star and awoke to the Way.
Of his fellow cultivators, those who couldn't take suffering thought he was wrong and left. Those who were too intent on self-mortification also ran off. So in cultivating the Way Sakyamuni Buddha endured a long period of bitterness and hardship. And we run into a bit of difficulty in our cultivation and can't stand it. How do we measure up to Shakyamuni Buddha?
WHERE THE MARK OF ALL DHARMAS—STILL, EXTINCT/WHICH CANNOT BE EXPRESSED IN WORDS/When Sakyamuni Buddha went to the Deer Wild's Park he knew that all dharmas are marked with still extinction; they have no appearance. The mark of still extinction is inexpressible; it basically cannot be expressed in words. For this is where
The path of language is cut off;
The place of the mind's activity is cast out.
BY MEANS OF POWERFUL EXPEDIENTS; He used the power of clever, provisional expedient devices I TAUGHT TO THE GIVE BHIKSUS. He spoke the Dharma, for the sake of Ajnata-kaundinya and the others. The five Bhiksus were the first to receive the Buddha's teaching when he went to the Deer Wild's Park after accomplishing enlightenment. They were the give who had accompanied him when he left home. Three of them ran off because they were afraid of the suffering. Two of them ran off because they were afraid of enjoying themselves. But they all ran to the Deer Wild's Park. Then, after the Buddha realized Buddhahood he saw the five Bhiksus there cultivating the Way and, having observed the causes and conditions, he determined that he should first take them across. So the first thing he did was to go to the Deer Wild's Park and preach to the Five Bhiksus the Three Turnings of the Four Holy Truths.
THIS WAS CALLED THE TURNING OF THE DHARMA WHEEL,
AND THEN CAME THE SOUND OF NIRVANA
AS WELL AS "ARHATSHIP," AND
"DHARMA," AND THE "SANGHA"—VARIOUS DIFFERENT NAMES.
FROM REMOTE AEONS ONWARD, I
HAVE PRAISED AND SHOWN NIRVANA'S DHARMA,
THE FINAL END OF BIRTH AND DEATH'S SUFFERING:
CONSTANTLY HAVE I SPOKEN THUS.
SARIPUTRA, YOU SHOULD KNOW,
I SAW DISCIPLES OF THE BUDDHA,
RESOLUTELY SEEKING THE BUDDHA WAY,
LIMITLESS MILLIONS OF THEM
ALL WITH HEART OF REVERENCE,
COME INTO THE BUDDHA'S PRESENCE;
AND THEY HAD HEARD, FROM FORMER BUDDHAS,
EXPEDIENT TEACHINGS OF THE DHARMA.
THEN IT WAS I HAD THIS THOUGHT:
"THE REASON THE THUS COME ONE APPEARS
IS TO TEACH THE WISDOM OF THE BUDDHAS
AND NOW THE TIME'S EXACTLY RIGHT."
SARIPUTRA, YOU SHOULD KNOW,
THOSE WITH DULL FACULTIES AND LITTLE WISDOM,
ATTACHED TO MARKS AND ARROGANT—
THEY CANNOT BELIEVE THIS DHARMA.
I NOW REJOICE AND HAVE NO FEAR,
AND AMONG THE BODHISATTVAS I
SHALL FRANKLY CAST EXPEDIENTS ASIDE
TO SPEAK ONLY OF THE PATH SUPREME.
WHEN THE BODHISATTVAS HAVE HEARD THIS DHARMA
THE NET OF THEIR DOUBTS SHALL BE RENT
AND TWELVE HUNDRED ARHATS WILL
ALL ATTAIN TO BUDDHAHOOD.
THIS WAS CALLED THE TURNING OF THE DHARMA WHEEL/What is meant by "The Three Turnings of the Dharma Wheel of the Four Holy Truths?" In the first teaching the Buddha gave the five Bhiksus, he said,
This is suffering; its nature is oppressive.
This is origination; its nature is seductive,
This is extinction; its nature is that it can be certified to.
This is the Way; its nature is that it can be cultivated. That was the First Turning. He said, "This is suffering. It has with it the nature of oppressiveness. This is origination. It is affliction. It has the nature of beckoning, seduction. It comes through craving. You bring the affliction on yourself. This is extinction. Extinction refers to the still extinction of Nirvana with its Four Virtues of permanence, bliss, true self, and purity. You can certify to the Four Virtues of Nirvana. This is the Way. You can cultivate it." That was the First Turning.
In the Second Turning, he said,
"This is suffering; I already know it.
This is origination; I have already severed it.
This is extinction; I have already certified to it.
This is the Way; I have already cultivated it.
I already know about suffering. I have already cut off afflictions. As to extinction, the Four Virtues of Nirvana, I have already certified to the attainment of that doctrine. As to the Way, I have already successfully cultivated it, successfully cultivated the Thirty-seven Wings of Enlightenment." That was the Second Turning.
In the Third Turning, he said,
"This is suffering; you should know it.
This is origination; you should cut it off.
This is extinction; you should certify to it.
This is the Way; you should cultivate it.
This is suffering and you also should understand it. This is origination and this affliction is a 'guest dust'; it is not the host. It comes from outside and so it has the 'nature of seduction' and is the 'guest dust.' The Surangama Sutra talks about the 'guest dust.' It was because of the two words 'guest dust,' that Anjata-kaundinya became enlightened. "A guest!" he said, "So after all it doesn't stay forever. In the future it's going to leave." So Ajnata-kaundinya became enlightened because of the two words 'guest dust' and his name meant, 'the first to be released,' or 'understanding the basic boundary.' As to extinction, the happiness of Nirvana, you should certify to it too. And you should also cultivate they Way."
When the Buddha spoke thus to the Five Bhiksus, Ajnata-kaundinya on the spot understood and certified to the fruit. That was called the Three Turnings of the Dharma Wheel of the Four Holy Truths.
AND THEN THE SOUND OF NIRVANA/Because he had turned the Three Turnings of the Dharma Wheel of the Four Holy Truths, he had spoken of the happiness of still extinct Nirvana. There was then the sound of Nirvana. AS WELL AS "ARHATSHIP" AND/The term "Arhat" also came into being. There were first, second, third, and fourth stage Arhats. "DHARMA" AND THE "SANGHA"--VARIOUS DIFFERENT NAMES/The Dharma refers to the Dharma of the Four Holy Truths—suffering, origination, extinction, and the Way. The "Sangha" refers to the Arhats. So from the Dharma, there came to be the Sangha, and all manner of various appellations.
FROM REMOTE AEONS ONWARD, I, from distant ages in the past while cultivating the Dharma I HAVE PRAISED AND SHOWN NIRVANA'S DHARMA/I have lauded the dharma of Nirvana THE FINAL END OF BIRTH-AND-DEATH'S SUFFERING/If you can certify to the happiness of Nirvana, to that wonderful doctrine, then you will have severed for all time, the sufferings of birth and death. They will be gone forever. CONSTANTLY HAVE I SPOKEN THUS. I have told you this over and over, constantly; from distant aeons onward in every life I have spoken this Dharma for you.
SARIPUTRA, YOU SHOULD KNOW/You ought to know I SAW THE DISCIPLES OF THE BUDDHA/I saw all of the disciples of the Buddha RESOLUTELY SEEKING THE BUDDHA WAY/They had set their wills upon earnestly and diligently seeking the Buddha path. LIMITLESS MILLIONS OF THEM/How many were there? An unlimited number of them, millions of them. ALL WITH HEARTS OF REVERENCE/Every one of them had a heart full of respect. COME INTO THE BUDDHA'S PRESENCE/They all came to where the Buddha was. AND THEY HAD HEARD FROM FORMER BUDDHAS/In the past, in past lives, they heard the Dharma from the Buddhas EXPEDIENT TEACHINGS OF THE DHARMA/All the Buddhas had spoken for them the expedient Dharma doors.
THEN IT WAS I HAD THIS THOUGHT/Just now, I thought "THE REASON THE THUS COME ONE APPEARS/The reason why the Buddha appears in the world IS TO TEACH THE WISDOM OF THE BUDDHAS/Is to teach the genuine Buddha-wisdom. NOW THE TIME'S EXACTLY RIGHT"/It is the right time to speak the genuine Buddha-wisdom. SARIPUTRA, YOU SHOULD KNOW/Sariputra, THOSE WITH DULL FACULTIES AND LITTLE WISDOM/Stupid, dull-witted people with precious little wisdom ATTACHED TO MARKS AND ARROGANT--/They are attached to marks, attached to everything, and they are arrogant, thinking themselves to loom terribly large in the scheme of things. THEY CANNOT BELIEVE THIS DHARMA/They won't be able to hear The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra. And so there were five thousand, in fact, who did walk out.
I NOW REJOICE AND HAVE NO FEAR/for all of those without good roots, all of the arrogant ones, have run off. I am now happy and fearless. I'm not worried at all. AND AMONG THE BODHISATTVAS, I/and among all the Bodhisattvas I SHALL FRANKLY CAST EXPEDIENTS ASIDE/I will not use the methods of expediency. I-shall now open the gate so you can see the mountain, frankly and straightforwardly speak the genuine wisdom. I'm getting rid of the expedients. I'll use them no more. TO SPEAK ONLY OF THE PATH SUPREME. I shall only speak the Dharma door of realizing Buddhahood. WHEN THE BODHISATTVAS HAVE HEARD THIS DHARMA/When they hear The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra, THE NET OF THEIR DOUBTS SHALL BE RENT. The network of their doubts will be rent, gone. AND TWELVE HUNDRED ARHATS WILL/ALL ATTAIN TO BUDDHAHOOD/In the future they will all become Buddhas. Here the Buddha gives all of his disciples predictions of future Buddhahood. So in the Dharma Flower Assembly there is not one who will not become a Buddha. Those who have attended the Dharma Flower Assembly shall in the future all become Buddhas.
The Wonderful Dharma is hard to meet, difficult to encounter. What is more, it is hard to hear it. In a hundred million aeons it is not easy to encounter The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra. Though one encounters it, it is even more difficult to be able to read and recite it. If you are able to read and recite it, then to understand the doctrines contained within it is hard to do in a million kalpas. So, having encountered it, to be able to hear it explained is also very difficult. Now, in the entire world, the places where this Sutra is explained are very scarce indeed. Although it is rare, we are now explaining it. In the future, we shall prepare to explain The Great Avatamsaka Sutra, which is even more difficult to encounter. In China during the past hundred years, or the past several decades, it would be hard to find one occasion when The Avatamsaka Sutra was explained. The doctrines in The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra are wonderful, ineffably wonderful. But the doctrines in The Great Avatamsaka Sutra are great, ineffably great—too big. They are so great that no one dares explain them; no one will talk about them. Once they spoke about them, they might not be as big. Besides, in order to explain The Great Avatamsaka Sutra, you must have a solid foundation in learning. Otherwise, you wouldn't even be able to understand it when you read it, to say nothing of expounding upon it. You wouldn't know what it meant. One passage says that those who cultivate Dhyana samadhi will emerge from proper samadhi in the East and enter samadhi in the West, will enter proper samadhi in the South and emerge from samadhi in the North. It says they will enter samadhi through the eye and emerge from samadhi through the ear. They will enter samadhi through the nose, and emerge from samadhi through the tongue. What does that mean? What does it mean to enter proper samadhi from the nose and come out of it through the tongue? Within the six organs you enter through one and emerge from another. You'd read the text and wonder what was going on. Whose coming in and whose leaving?
So in the future, if there are those who like to study the Buddhadharma and truly understand it, you will have to be clear about such points. But don't worry. If in the future you want to seek the Dharma you won't have to go all the way to India like China's Hsuan Tsang did. He ran off to India to seek the Dharma and ran until his feel broke open and he wore himself out. Now you can sit in your very own country and hear such wonderful Dharma. In the future your opportunities will be even finer than those of Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang.
1977 PUBLICATION: THE WONDERFUL DHARMA LOTUS FLOWER SUTRA
Volume One of a series containing the translation of Venerable Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua’s precise commentary into modern English. Volume One contains an explanation of the Five Periods and Eight Teachings, the Five Profound Meanings, the Translators, and the Sutra text proper. The commentary abounds with biographies of the great Arhats in the Lotus Assembly; detailed analysis of many Buddhist lists including the Twelve Ascetic Practices, Ananda's Four Questions, the Twenty-five Planes of Existence, the Eight Sufferings, the Six Types of Earthquakes, and so forth; and a clear and comprehensible discussion of profound principles regarding both mundane matters and transcendental truths. Also included arc a detailed outline and index. Contact Buddhist Text Translation Society, 1731 15th Street, San Francisco, California, 94105 for further information.