Wondrous Lotus Sutra 靜思妙蓮華
The Joy That Comes from Listening to the Sutra
From Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s notes:
>> "The Tathagata journeys upon the One True Dharma and responds to the capabilities of countless sentient beings. The Tathagata-nature of True Suchness is without appearance, yet it is true. He journeys on the path of True Suchness, neither coming nor going. He journeys upon the seed to come to the fruit, thus achieving perfect enlightenment."
>> "When we see others transcend suffering and attain joy, we give rise to joy in our hearts. When we see the joy of others, we feel joyful ourselves."
>> When others take joy in our actions, this is just like giving. The rich give money, while the poor give water and herbs. They each rejoice in their own way; this is all considered giving.
>> "At that time, the Buddha told Maitreya Bodhisattva-Mahasattva, 'Ajita, after the Tathagata enters Parinirvana, suppose there are bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, upasikas...'" [Lotus Sutra, Chapter 17 - On Distinguishing Merits and Virtues]
>> "...or other people of wisdom, whether old or young, who hear this sutra and take joy in it. They leave the Dharma-assembly and go to another place, perhaps a monastery or an empty and serene place..." [Lotus Sutra, Chapter 17 - On Distinguishing Merits and Virtues]
>> They cultivate the Bodhisattva-practice, uphold the precepts and remain pure, without making transgressions in body or speech. All people of wisdom take joy in praising others and do not disparage them.
>> [They] hear this sutra and take joy in it: They are able to hear this sutra and take joy in it. This means that when they see others benefit, they give rise to joy in their hearts and do not give rise to jealousy. When they hear the Dharma that others teach, their minds are amenable, and they do not go against it.
>> Whether they are old or young, whether they are men or women, whether they intend to come to the assembly or find themselves in the lecture hall by accident, whether they hear one chapter, one passage, one line or one verse, they directly give rise to joy. Thus, [the Buddha] says they hear this sutra and take joy in it.
>> They leave the Dharma-assembly and go to another place: They leave the Dharma-assembly and go to other places. They leave the Dharma-assembly and spread [the sutra] wherever they go to. In accordance with their abilities, they teach it to others.
"The Tathagata journeys upon the One True Dharma
and responds to the capabilities of countless sentient beings.
The Tathagata-nature of True Suchness is without appearance, yet it is true.
He journeys on the path of True Suchness, neither coming nor going.
He journeys upon the seed to come to the fruit, thus achieving perfect enlightenment."
Let us mindfully seek to understand. Indeed, "the Tathagata journeys upon the One True Dharma." [When He comes], He "responds to the capabilities of countless sentient beings." This means that when the Buddha comes to the world, He journeys upon the nature of True Suchness. True Suchness is intrinsic to us all, it is just that it is buried beneath our ignorance. By revealing the principles of the universe, the Buddha sweeps away ignorance. With the full understanding of the ultimate truth of the principles of the universe, He journeys upon the nature of True Suchness to come teach the Dharma in response to capabilities.
So, there is "the One True Dharma." There is one truth, not two. As for our intrinsic nature, in this, all sentient beings are alike; they are no different. Whether we are human or any other of the many living beings, although our individual karmic retributions, bodies and lifespans may differ, we all share this equal, intrinsic nature. Thus, the Buddha responds to the capabilities of countless sentient beings. "Countless" means infinite. There are countless millions. Since there are countless millions, it would be impossible to count all the different forms of life and all the different capabilities of sentient beings.
Just for us humans alone, when it comes to our physical appearance, though we all have this same human body, we still have different lifespans and habitual tendencies. Our lifespans differ in length, and our habitual tendencies are extremely different as well. Some people are intelligent, wise, benevolent and understanding of the lives of others. Others, however, are devious and cruel, and do not abide by the principles or the True Dharma. There will always be so many people who are impossible to reason with due to their way of thinking. These ways of thinking are countless; they are just as innumerable as all the different forms of life.
Humans are also sentient beings. The Buddha comes to this world to save and transform sentient beings. I am always saying this in hopes that everyone will understand it well. The word "sentient being" does not solely apply to humans. However, since we are human beings now, we can only speak with other people. Just from speaking with other people, we find that people are infinitely different with regard to their mindset, way of thinking, intelligence and so on. So, when we talk about transforming sentient beings, we are talking about [transforming] people.
People have countless different ways of thinking. You cannot just focus on a single kind. So, when the Buddha comes to the world, He finds ways to respond to them all. People have different ways of thinking and different capabilities; He teaches in accordance with their capabilities. [He teaches] these principles of the universe in such a way that He is able to help people strip away their ignorance layer by layer. As humans, we can be so foolish. We can bring so much suffering upon ourselves that the world may seem unbearable. This is because people's minds are enshrouded in ignorance. It is getting worse and worse now. This inescapable net of ignorance is spreading across the world.
How will we be able to find our way out of this inescapable net for our minds? We must make good use of our life in this world now. It is only through the principles that we can apply the myriad teachings. It is only through the principles that we can apply the myriad teachings to teach sentient beings in infinite ways. Thus, we "transform them with the Dharma." We often say, "Alas! There is no way to transform them!" If this is the case, we must think of another way to "use the Dharma to transform them." If we say, "there is no way to transform them," does this mean that they cannot be saved? The Buddha never gives up on anyone. There is no one who cannot be saved; we must save them all. Even though sentient beings are countless, so numerous that they are impossible to count, no matter how varied their ways of thinking and ways of living, the Buddha mindfully teaches and transforms them.
"The Tathagata-nature of True Suchness is without appearance, yet it is true." Where does this True Suchness lie? As I always say, the nature of True Suchness is intrinsic to everyone. What does this True Suchness look like? The Buddha tells us that it has no appearance, and this is what makes it true. Every day, we are [guided by] this invisible truth. It is here every day; we are just not aware of it.
Time has no appearance. At what hour do we clap the wooden sticks? If you look at the numbers [on the clock], they are clapped 10 minutes before 4 am. What do we do then? What do we start doing at exactly that moment? When we first hear the sound of the wooden sticks, does that sound have any appearance? It has no appearance. How can it have no appearance? There are two sticks, and there must be a person to clap these two sticks together. For the sticks to make their sound, someone must hold them in their hands and use both hands to strike them together.
[The sound] travels far, into so many rooms. It passes through walls and goes through windows. Everyone hears it, and they begin to stir and get out of bed. So, doesn't [the person clapping] have appearance? She does have an appearance. But the sound must pass through walls and windows. It is not as if she goes to clap the boards right in front of our face. It comes from far away. It is only because sound can travel so far that everyone in a place as large as this can hear it. Does that sound have an appearance or not? This is just a method [we use to wake people]. We want everyone to hear it, so we use this method of striking sticks together. When the sticks are struck together, the invisible sound is able to travel, traveling through the walls so that everyone hears it and begins to stir.
When did we begin to stir, and what time is it now? Time has no form or appearance; it passes by without us being aware of it. It is invisible and has no appearance, but it is ultimately true. If time were ever to stop, we would definitely not be able to keep existing.
The earth has always traveled along its orbit without deviating for even a second, but every few years, we add an intercalary month. How does our Chinese lunar calendar accurately keep track of the four seasons? It needs to be made accurate. We must adjust it so that it can keep track of the earth's four seasons without ever falling behind for even a second.
Every few years, it inevitably falls behind, so we must adjust it again. In the past, every five years, we added two months called intercalary months. This is how we adjust to time.
Everyone, if you really think about it, these are the principles, the true principles. As we go about our lives, have we ever thought about this before? Most people never think about these things and pass each day like this. We all have this nature of True Suchness. From just one of the Buddha's teachings, we can come to countless realizations. When the Buddha was in the world and began teaching the Dharma upon His enlightenment, there were so many sentient beings there. When He taught this Dharma, their capabilities were so different, so He likely had to repeat things over and over again.
I always tell everyone that [the Dharma] is quite simple. The first time He taught the Dharma, He taught it to five people. He taught the Four Noble Truths three times. These were the Three Turnings of the Dharma-wheel. There were only five people there, yet He had to repeat Himself three times. How could He possibly respond to the capabilities of countless billions of sentient beings? Since these were the true principles, He had to keep teaching them over and over again.
[He taught] for 49 years, and for the first 42 years, the Buddha taught only in accordance with people's capabilities. He devoted Himself wholeheartedly to guiding everyone toward a common direction, teaching them the Buddha-Dharma and how to have right faith in the Buddha-Dharma. To familiarize them with it, or even just to introduce them to it, He had to use all kinds of provisional methods; He had to use skillful means. There were so many people [like this] that. He had to teach like this for 42 years. After 42 years, He "opened up the provisional." This is when He put skillful means aside and came back to teaching the One True Great Vehicle through the Lotus Sutra.
He taught the Lotus Sutra for more than seven years until right before He entered Parinirvana, whereupon He spoke of "great Nirvana." This adds up to [nearly] eight years. This is why we say that during this 49-year period in which the Buddha taught the Dharma, the Buddha truly spared no efforts. We are more than 2000 years removed from the Buddha now. From the true principles, we must seek to understand what it was that the Buddha awakened to. He awakened to True Suchness. When we speak of True Suchness, we say that it is "empty," that it is without appearance. Does it exist? Yes, it does! It is real! This is "wondrous existence in true emptiness."
I use the word "me" to describe myself right now, but this "me" right now is not the same "me" that walked in here earlier. Since the time I walked in, my body has already undergone metabolic changes. Has my appearance changed since I walked in? [It will change] with time, but at first glance, I still look like the person that walked in here earlier.
[Change] accumulates over time. If you look at a video of me sitting here in the past, you will see that I am not the same. I am in the same place, but I am not the same. Is this real? Does anything last forever? No. Appearances will never last, which is why they are ultimately empty. What happens to appearances? They are empty. But True Suchness has no appearance.
What is real? Was my childhood [self] real? No. If you look at photos of me, you will see what I looked like as a child. Were my middle-aged [self] real? No. You can see what I looked like in middle age. All this change happens with the passage of time, yet no one relinquishes their original self. You are yourself, I am myself and he is himself. Each of us has a self.
So, explaining these principles thoroughly so that everyone can understand them takes a very long time. Since we have been listening to the Dharma for such a long time now, we should understand from just a little. "Oh yes! I heard that before! It's true! There is wondrous existence in true emptiness." This is "responding to the capabilities of countless sentient beings." In accordance with our capabilities, we must constantly remind ourselves like this.
So, "The Tathagata-nature of True Suchness is without appearance, yet it is true." This is wondrous existence in true emptiness. "He journeys on the path of True Suchness, neither coming nor going." It is by this principle, this principle of True Suchness, that He comes and goes like this! He goes and He comes. Whether it is yesterday or today, time makes no difference. However, yesterday was yesterday, and today is today. Isn't there a difference between yesterday and today? There is a great difference. Take for example Taiwan's 921 Earthquake.
Thinking back on that day, when the huge quake was over, in some parts of [Taiwan], in the Central and Northern regions, especially in the Central region, in Nantou and in Dongshi in Taichung, the devastation was very severe. It began after 1 o'clock in the morning and continued until dawn, and then on through to the next evening. How did people make it through that day? It seemed as though [the earthquake] would never stop.
Why did an earthquake strike? Why did so many people come to suffer? Why did we have to mobilize so many people? If so many people had not taken action, what would the wounded and suffering have done? If so many people had not come to comfort their hearts, help them find shelter and help them settle down, how would they have ever gotten through it? During that time, Living Bodhisattvas began emerging from the earth. We all still remember how our volunteers in blue and white uniforms emerge from the earth.
Every day of every year, different stories describe how this is happening all over. So, how can you tell me that [Buddhas and] [Bodhisattvas] do not really come and go? They are still coming and going, throughout the past, present and future. All the things that happened in the past are over now; we have let them go, and we no longer think of them. They are forgotten, left in the past. However, we cannot forget our Bodhisattvas who walk this path in the world.
The Buddha teaches us to practice the Bodhisattva Way. This is also His one great cause. His one great cause for coming to the world is [to end] suffering and its causation. How can we eliminate people's suffering? We must find methods to help them. These principles are inseparable from all the things that happen in our lives. So, these things are still part of history; they are still part of the passage of time.
This is like that terrible earthquake in Mexico. It has now, [in 2018], already been a year. This is a very tragic anniversary for them. The world is full of so much hardship and suffering. This is the Buddha's one great cause. Because the world suffers from so many terrible disasters, the Buddha comes to the world for the sake of His one great cause, which is to teach the Bodhisattva Way and awaken the love within us all. Wherever some terrible disaster occurs, love must spring from the hearts of many in order to fulfill [this great cause].
[In 2018], Mexico suffered a flood. Because we had spent a year sowing the seeds of goodness there, we had a group of people there who were able to help. We can see from this that we must never stop spreading the principles. It is the same with sowing seeds of goodness. Why must we teach the Dharma? Why listen to it? Perhaps listening like this gets very tedious, but these are things we all need to understand. So, we should "journey on the path of True Suchness, neither coming nor going." In fact, the true principles are everlasting. The Buddha never stops coming to the world. He never stops to rest. This is because time is everlasting. Just like the universe, it is everlasting. It is like the way Earth follows its orbit. For the Buddha, time is everlasting. He has never left [this world]. These are the principles.
The principles are True Suchness. Our enlightened nature of True Suchness [is ever-present], neither coming nor going. It does not experience a childhood or become old like I am now. No, this nature of True Suchness always exists. In this life and the next, it will always be here. But will we keep letting our ignorance enshroud it? If it remains enshrouded in ignorance, as we come and go, we will create karma. If we manage to remain free of ignorance, then we will clearly understand our purpose in coming and going [from the world]. We will take the Bodhisattva-path and learn from the Buddha to journey upon the Tathagata-Dharma. He comes and goes with everlasting freedom. There is no real difference between coming and going for Him.
"He journeys upon the seed to come to the fruit, thus achieving perfect enlightenment." When His good karmic conditions ripened, He manifested the Eight Aspects of Attaining Enlightenment in the world. The future Buddha is the one we now call Maitreya Bodhisattva. He is the one who will attain Buddhahood in the future world. By human reckoning, this will happen another 5.67 billion years from now. This is such a long time.
This is such a large gap, such a long time that we must wait before the Buddha's karmic conditions will finally ripen, and He will manifest the attainment of Buddhahood. Although Sakyamuni Buddha attained Buddhahood over 2000 years ago, His Dharma truly still remains in the world. The most worrisome thing about this is that "a slight deviation can take us far off course." As time goes on, we go from the era of Right Dharma to the era of Dharma-semblance, then to the era of Dharma-degeneration. This is why we worry about the future.
We all must mindfully seek to understand this. These teachings are so true. And yet, there is not much we can do about this. From over 2000 years ago until now, how much has the Buddha-Dharma really changed? It is also changing imperceptibly. During the past era of Dharma-semblance, it was almost as if the Buddha was in the world, but that era has already passed. Now, we are in the era of Dharma-degeneration. The era of Dharma-semblance was very similar [to the Buddha's time], but now that era has ended. So, we are now in "the era of Dharma-degeneration." This is why we need to be very mindful. So, we must mindfully seek to understand this.
When the Buddha was about to enter Parinirvana, He was very worried. He was not worried about how He would die soon, but He was worried about "the lion's parasites." A lion never fears harm from the outside. What a lion fears the most are the parasites on its body, which are deeply disturbing. What disturbs the lion the most are the parasites on its own body. This is what worries the lion the most, but there is nothing the lion can do about it. A slight deviation has taken us far off course, so now we are in the era of Dharma-degeneration.
[We hope] to "see others transcend suffering." At this point in the Lotus Sutra, we have reached the Chapter on the Merits and Virtues of Joy. We know the Tathagata's Dharma will relieve people of their suffering. Only by fully understanding this principle will we be able to relieve people of suffering. This is "using the Dharma to transform" [others]. To "use the Dharma to transform" [others], we must first cultivate our own mind.
"When we see others transcend suffering and attain joy, we give rise to joy in our hearts. When we see the joy of others, we feel joyful ourselves."
With this heart of loving-kindness, we will look upon sentient beings and rejoice. There is suffering, but there are loving people who seek to relieve others' suffering. I have seen people sharing in the joy of such merits and virtues right before my eyes. When our Tzu Chi volunteers returned from Mexico, they praised one another. When they saw these suffering people smile, when they saw them transcend their suffering, they gave rise to joy in their hearts. These people had gone there to comfort them, to relieve them of their physical hardships. They saw someone who needed others to assist him to come in to take his acupuncture treatment. After the treatment, he could stand on his own. Being able to do this made him smile. He was able to stand up and walk unassisted. He rejoiced, thanked them and left. Everyone rejoiced when they saw this.
It is true! Into that place of suffering went that group of Bodhisattvas. Though they saw so many people suffering, when they saw them transcend suffering, even if they smiled for just a moment, this lifted their hearts and brought them joy. I wonder if anyone here has ever experienced this kind of feeling? How did I feel? When I heard about this, it brought me such joy. I truly rejoiced with them, for I also felt joy in my heart. They felt joy when they experienced it firsthand, and when they came back and told me about it, this also brought me so much joy. Though this was something someone else had done, when they told me they just did the right thing, I also felt joy!
When others take joy in our actions, this is just like giving. The rich give money, while the poor give water and herbs. They each rejoice in their own way; this is all considered giving.
So, "When others take joy in our actions, this is just like giving." When we see others do something with great joy, this makes us want to follow them. Then, when we do it ourselves, even more people will take joy in our actions. By taking action ourselves, we gain joy. Since doing good deeds makes us joyful, even more people will come help us practice giving. When they come and assist us, how will they offer their support?
Rich people give us their money. Even if they give just a little, it still makes us very happy. When someone is very rich, they can make large donations and donate a lot of money. This also fills us with joy and gratitude. What about the poor? The poor can give water and herbs. Even if someone has no money, they can still give a little bit of water, for "drops of water will eventually fill a vat." This offering can quench the thirst of many. This also brings us great joy.
Although the people of Myanmar are very poor, they still set aside a handful of rice before every meal. I saw in the photographs they sent back how [the locals] save handful after handful of rice, saving up so much rice every month this way. Once a month, they pour it out on a plastic sheet laid out on the ground. They pour it out like this into a big pile. When these penniless people save handful after handful of rice like this, when 500 or 600 people do this, they can help 50 to 60 families [in need]. This is truly incredible! When I saw the report and the photos they sent back, when I looked at the photos, I was extremely moved! We must not disparage small [offerings], even if it is just a handful of rice, for this kind of giving can also bring joy.
"They each rejoice in their own way; this is all considered giving." As long as people have the power to give and feel joyful doing so, then we will all feel joyful for them. We will feel joy for each and every one of them. People who do this will come to eliminate "the self." Someone might say, "This big pile of rice is all mine. Because of me, there is this great pile. My rice is also in that pile." But which of those handfuls is theirs? No one knows anymore! It is all heaped together, and our rice is somewhere in that great pile.
By the same principle, when a single drop of water enters the ocean, the ocean will be one drop bigger. So, we must be joyful. If we are mindful, small amounts will turn into amounts large enough to help others. So, all we must do is share in this joy and follow what brings us joy, such as giving. This is a practice we all understand very well. So, we must mindfully seek to comprehend this.
In the Lotus Sutra, this is what the Buddha said previously.
"At that time, the Buddha told Maitreya Bodhisattva-Mahasattva, 'Ajita, after the Tathagata enters Parinirvana, suppose there are bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, upasikas...'"
We discussed this previously. Today we will start to discuss what He said next.
"...or other people of wisdom, whether old or young, who hear this sutra and take joy in it. They leave the Dharma-assembly and go to another place, perhaps a monastery or an empty and serene place..."
The Buddha went on to tell Maitreya Bodhisattva, "As for people in the future, whether they are old or young, if they always engage in spiritual practice, cultivate purity like this and make no transgressions of body, speech or mind, they will be people of wisdom. This is a cause for joy. You must truly take great joy in these people. You must praise them and never disparage them." This is what the Buddha told Maitreya. This is because Maitreya had asked Him, "How many blessings can be attained through the merits and virtues of joy?" This was the Buddha's explanation.
They cultivate the Bodhisattva-practice, uphold the precepts and remain pure, without making transgressions in body or speech. All people of wisdom take joy in praising others and do not disparage them.
This is because these people "hear this sutra and take joy in it." They hear this sutra and take joy in it. They take joy in whatever the sutra says. Later, when they see people put it to practice, they give rise to joy in their hearts because they know that people are being helped. Thus, they praise them, saying, "You are doing the right thing! You are doing great, and you teach so well! This means that when they see others benefit, they give rise to joy in their hearts." This is very good, for when they hear others being praised, this also makes them very happy. "They do not give rise to jealousy." They never get jealous [and say], "Why are you praising him? Why aren't you praising me? I also teach and express myself well, so why aren't you praising me?" We can never give rise to such jealousy.
"When they hear the Dharma that others teach, their minds are amenable." No matter what it is, they are always amenable, "and they do not go against it." We must try to be mindful of this.
[They] hear this sutra and take joy in it: They are able to hear this sutra and take joy in it. This means that when they see others benefit, they give rise to joy in their hearts and do not give rise to jealousy. When they hear the Dharma that others teach, their minds are amenable, and they do not go against it.
So, "Whether they are old or young, whether they are men or women, whether they intend to come to the assembly or find themselves in the lecture hall by accident," whether they are young or old, whether they come intending to hear the Dharma or find themselves in the lecture hall by accident or are urged but reluctant to come, if they hear a chapter or a section of the sutra, even just one line or even one verse, hearing it will bring them joy. They might never have intended to come listen, but once they hear it, a chapter, a line or even a word, they will be filled with joy. They might not have been prepared to come listen, but they will still take joy in it. Anyone who listens to this sutra will rejoice. Those who take joy in it may not have been prepared to listen to it or may have done so inadvertently, but take joy in it nonetheless.
Whether they are old or young, whether they are men or women, whether they intend to come to the assembly or find themselves in the lecture hall by accident, whether they hear one chapter, one passage, one line or one verse, they directly give rise to joy. Thus, [the Buddha] says they hear this sutra and take joy in it.
"They leave the Dharma-assembly and go to another place." Having heard the sutra, they will leave. They leave the Dharma-assembly and go elsewhere. When they get there, they will spread [the sutra] by word of mouth. They will pass it on to everyone they meet. "Listening to this brings me so much joy!" Like this, "In accordance with their abilities, they teach it to others. These things I have heard bring me so much joy! This phrase is so useful, I love it!"
They leave the Dharma-assembly and go to another place: They leave the Dharma-assembly and go to other places. They leave the Dharma-assembly and spread [the sutra] wherever they go to. In accordance with their abilities, they teach it to others.
It could be a monastery or an empty and serene place. It could be in a lecture hall, it could be in a dormitory, or it could be in an empty and serene place. Wherever people hear it, they will take joy in it. This is a joy that each of us must try to experience ourselves.
...perhaps a monastery or an empty and serene place...: In monastic temples, the serene dwellings of pure monastics are tranquil and quiet.