When the Buddha spoke the Flower Adornment Sutra, he entered the Sea-Imprint Concentration. He spoke through the Sea Imprint Samadhi, which emits light.
The “sea” refers to all the seas of perfumed water. “Imprint” refers to the imprint made by a seal. The sea’s ability to reflect all the mountains, rivers and the great earth is referred to as “sea imprint.” Surrounding Mount Sumeru are the seas of perfumed water, within which all the images of this world are imprinted.
An instance of this is the planet Earth. As the Earth rotates, the images of the moon and stars appear. These are functions of the “light-emitting sea-imprint.” Buddhas have this kind of samadhi which is called “sea-imprint samadhi.”
What is the “sea-imprint samadhi”? The seas of perfumed water are limpid and waveless—without a single ripple. However, the physical bodies of all living beings in the worlds of the ten directions appear within the seas of perfumed water in just the same way as a seal makes an imprint on a material. Sea-imprint refers to the seas of perfumed water manifesting all the phenomena of the world within them, hence the “imprint.”
All living beings in the worlds of the ten directions—their forms and characteristics—are reflected in the seas of perfumed water, much like as an imprint is made by pressing a seal on a piece of paper. Each of all the living beings of the ten directions has an imprint appearing in the seas of perfumed water, thus the term “sea-imprint.” The Buddha entered this kind of samadhi and spoke Dharma using the “sea-imprint samadhi.”
He spoke the Dharma in samadhi, and within samadhi, all living beings clearly appear. Why do all beings appear in the Tathagata’s treasury of light? Why does the Tathagata’s light makes an imprint in the minds of all beings? All these are the functions of the magical powers of the sea-imprint.
Why are living beings and Buddhas not different? Because they are the same. The Buddha has returned to the source and regained the nature of the Tathagata’s treasury. Living beings have not lost the potential nature of the Tathagata’s treasury.
For example, winds stir up waves in the sea, but waves and the seawater are both characterized by wetness. This nature of wetness is an analogy for the nature of Tathagata’s treasury. There may be waves, but the waves are in the water and have not lost their nature of wetness.
Therefore, living beings’ nature of Tathagata’s treasury is the same as the Buddha’s nature of Tathagata’s treasury. Since we do not understand and fail to return to the source, even we are replete with the nature of Tathagata’s treasurey, we remain unaware of it.
As we now listen to [the lectures of] the Flower Adornment Sutra and have come to learn that every one of us is replete with the nature of Tathagata’s treasury, we need to uncover our nature of the Tathagata’s treasury. How are we going to do that? By cultivating, by making efforts. If you apply efforts, cultivate and become enlightened, you will attain the nature of Tathagata’s treasure and understand your inherent Buddha nature.
It is said,
The Buddha speaks the Dharma with a single sound;
Each being understands it according to its kind.
Celestial beings hear it as the language of celestial beings. Bodhisattvas hear it as the language of Bodhisattvas. Arhats hear it as the language of Arhats. Humans hear it as the language of humans. Animals hear it as the language of animals. Hungry ghosts hear it as the language of hungry ghosts. Hell beings hear it as the language of hell beings. Thus, the Buddha employs one kind of sound to speak the Dharma, and all living beings of whatever category, upon hearing it, instantly understand, as if the Dharma had come right into their minds, as if it had fallen right into their hearts. It is said of each category of living beings,
Each has their own attainment;
Each has their own understanding.
As their understandings differ, accordingly the states they attain are also different. The Dharma Realm is very big, so big that nothing is beyond it. The Dharma Realm is at the same time very small, so small that nothing is within it. All of the Dharma Realm is just all beings; all beings are just all of the Dharma Realm. The minds of every category of beings are illuminated by the Buddha’s light, causing beings to understand all of the various dharmas so they can cultivate accordingly. By cultivating according to the Dharma, they will reach the other shore.
That is why in each of the Buddhalands, there invariably appear the seven places and nine assemblies [where the Flower Adornment Sutra was expounded]. That is, in those other worlds, there also appears the state of seven places and nine assemblies—the inconceivable state that expounds the great Dharmas of Flower Adornment, simultaneously proclaiming the principles of the Sutra.