Wondrous Lotus Sutra 靜思妙蓮華
The Blessings of Those Who Take Joy in the Dharma
From Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s notes:
"The Chapter on Seeing the Stupa of Treasures
describes how Many Treasures Buddha manifested in order to listen to the sutra.
It also explains how the state of the One Vehicle
encompasses the fruit of Buddhahood of past Buddhas.
This chapter describes how the World-Honored One
diligently practiced the teachings of the path throughout past kalpas to attain Buddhahood."
We must mindfully seek to understand this more. We should remember that time we talked about Many Treasures Buddha's stupa, how Many Treasures' stupa emerged at Vulture Peak. We spent a long time explaining how Many Treasures Buddha had come from far away in the east to listen to this sutra there on Vulture Peak. He even manifested His entire body in the stupa. We should recall what those sutra passages were describing, and how the past Buddha praised the present Buddha and supported Sakyamuni Buddha's Dharma-assembly.
If everyone still remembers, the meaning contained within those passages was very rich. They not only helped us understand how that past Buddha engaged in spiritual practice in that era, but also how He never got to realize. His aspiration and thereby made this vow. [He vowed] to take joy in others [teaching it]; wherever the Lotus Sutra is being taught, Many Treasures would be certain to go and listen in order to testify to the wondrous Dharma that was taught in this sutra.
So, besides describing those karmic conditions, "it also explains" that encompassed within this sutra of the One True Vehicle is the fruit of Buddhahood of past Buddhas. Our present Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha, taught this sutra, which is of the One Vehicle. [He taught] the principles encompassed within this One Vehicle and how past Buddhas attained Buddhahood. He expressed these in this sutra.
[The sutra] describes the World-Honored One's causes in past kalpas, how the World-Honored One first formed aspirations in the distant past. We often talk about this. "Past kalpas" refers to infinite, countless past kalpas. At that time, He had first formed aspirations, and that seed [persisted] until He attained Buddhahood in the present. Sakyamuni Buddha attained Buddhahood by earnestly practicing the teachings. So, as we learn the Buddha's teachings, it is not easy to attain Buddhahood. We must uphold our initial aspirations and also put the Dharma into practice. We cannot calculate how much we have put the Dharma into practice. This is what we need to thoroughly understand.
What karmic conditions caused. Many Treasures Buddha's stupa to emerge? We must first understand Many Treasures Buddha.
In the ancient past, there was a Buddha in the world. No one requested that Buddha to teach the Dharma, so He decided to enter Parinirvana. He lacked the conditions to teach the Dharma, so in this sutra, the stupa of Many Treasures Buddha emerged from the ground at Vulture Peak so that He could bear witness to the Dharma while Venerable Sakyamuni taught this wondrous Dharma.
"In the ancient past, there was a Buddha in the world." It was an incalculably long time ago, so it says "in the ancient past." This was long before Sakyamuni Buddha's time; it happened a very long time ago. "There was a Buddha in the world. No one requested that Buddha to teach the Dharma, so He decided to enter Parinirvana. He lacked the conditions to teach the Dharma." From this we know that at that time, Many Treasures Buddha had also become a Buddha and abided in the world. He was a Buddha in the world, but He simply lacked the karmic conditions whereby sentient beings took joy in the Buddha-Dharma and requested that He teach it. He had attained Buddhahood, but no one respected the Dharma or sincerely requested the teachings from Him.
We are now reviewing [a past chapter]. At that time, the Buddha kept praising the Wondrous Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra and how it contained the True Dharma of the One Vehicle. At the peak of the Buddha's praise, 5000 people got up and left. Later, as Sariputra kept hearing the Buddha continuously praise the wondrousness of the Lotus Sutra, Sariputra rose from the assembly and asked the Buddha to teach the Wondrous Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra. What kind of Dharma does it contain that made the Buddha mindfully protect and praise it so? He asked once, then a second and a third time. That was when the Buddha told him, "Since you have asked three times, how can I not teach it?" When He agreed to teach it, people stood up from the assembly; those 5000 people left. You should all remember this, since we have explained it all in the past.
We now know how large the spiritual training ground was on Vulture Peak. At that time, the population was not very large, and Vulture Peak was a very remote and not very large spiritual training ground. How could there be that many people? In those sutra passages, we also spent a long time explaining the meaning of those 5000 people [leaving]. The teachings contained in [this sutra] are very rich. So, we should be very grateful to Sariputra back then for requesting the Dharma for the sake of us later generations. We should be thankful for this. If Sariputra had not requested the Dharma, then after the Buddha's praise, there would not have been the karmic conditions for anyone to request the Dharma from Him; after He mentioned it, it would have been over. It was because someone requested the Dharma that the Buddha began teaching the Lotus Sutra. It took Him a long time. The Buddha talked about the importance of the Lotus Sutra and opened the two doors of the manifest and the intrinsic. He began with the teachings on the manifest, and we are now discussing the teachings on the intrinsic.
So, teaching the Dharma is very difficult. If [the listeners] do not have suitable karmic conditions, it will be impossible to teach the Dharma. But if there are karmic conditions for many people to listen to the Dharma whereas the one teaching the Dharma lacks various karmic conditions, then there will be no way either. So, "In the ancient past, there was a Buddha in the world. No one requested that Buddha to teach the Dharma." This was Many Treasures Buddha's one great regret. "So, He decided to enter Parinirvana." This was because He lacked the proper conditions to teach the Dharma. However, Many Treasures Buddha had yet to fulfill His vow. When He entered Parinirvana, He had a vow. [His vow was that] wherever anyone teaches the Lotus Sutra, He and His stupa of treasures [would appear]. The sariras of the Buddha's entire body would enter the stupa of treasures, and both His entire body and the stupa of treasures would manifest before the Dharma-assembly. This is what was described in the Chapter on Seeing the Stupa of Treasures.
So, the stupa of Many Treasures Buddha emerged from the ground. This fulfilled Many Treasures Buddha's vow. No matter where it may be, as long as someone is teaching the Lotus Sutra, as long as it is a place where a Buddha is teaching the Lotus Sutra, His stupa of treasures will certainly emerge there. To testify to the teachings of the Dharma, His stupa of treasures emerged there.
Where did it emerge? It emerged on Vulture Peak. The Buddha was replete with karmic conditions. The Dharma-assembly was magnificent, and those who listened to the sutra were earnest. It was during the Vulture Peak Assembly that Many Treasures Buddha's stupa suddenly emerged from the ground. He had come to bear witness while Sakyamuni Buddha taught the Lotus Sutra, to bear witness that what the present Buddha was teaching was the true, wondrous Dharma; those were true principles shared by all Buddhas. This was Many Treasures Buddha's objective in manifesting at Vulture Peak to bear witness; He wanted to bear witness to the wondrous Dharma taught by Sakyamuni Buddha, the wondrous Dharma taught in this sutra.
So, "At that time, from the stupa of treasures, came a great voice." We probably all still remember this sutra passage. This is what it said in the sutra. "At that time, from the stupa of treasures came a great voice that said in praise, 'Excellent! Excellent! Sakyamuni, the World Honored-One, can use great impartial wisdom to teach the Bodhisattva Way The Wondrous Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra that is safeguarded by all Buddhas is what He teaches to the assembly.'"
The Chapter on Seeing the Stupa of Treasures says, "At that time, from the stupa of treasures came a great voice that said in praise, 'Excellent! Excellent! Sakyamuni, the World Honored-One, can use great impartial wisdom to teach the Bodhisattva Way, the Wondrous Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra that is safeguarded by all Buddhas is what He teaches to the assembly.'"
Here, "safeguarded by all Buddhas" means that all Buddhas share the same path and safeguard [the Lotus Sutra], including Many Treasures Buddha. Although He never had the karmic conditions to teach the Lotus Sutra to the people in His era, still, in His mind, He safeguarded the Lotus Sutra and taught the Bodhisattva Way. All Buddhas share the same original intent. So, what the Buddhas safeguard is the Wondrous Dharma Lotus Sutra. Now, Sakyamuni Buddha had already begun teaching it, so [Many Treasures] appeared and praised Him there.
So, when it comes to this Dharma, [He said] "Indeed, indeed. It is true! The Dharma Sakyamuni Buddha teaches is true. This is how it is." The first "indeed" means that it is true, and the second "indeed" means that it truly is as Sakyamuni Buddha taught at this time.
The Chapter on Seeing the Stupa of Treasures says, "Indeed, indeed, it is as Sakyamuni, the World-Honored One teaches. It is all true."
When Many Treasures Buddha and His stupa appeared, a great voice came from inside the stupa and said this to the assembly, testifying that the Dharma. [Sakyamuni] Buddha taught is true and is safeguarded by all Buddhas. He went on in praise, in testimony, "Sakyamuni Buddha, what You speak is true. It is as You said; it is the True Dharma." This is the Dharma that all Buddhas teach.
Now let us go back to what Sakyamuni Buddha told Great Joyful Eloquence Bodhisattva.
"The Buddha told Great Joyful Eloquence Bodhisattva, 'In this stupa of treasures is the entire body of the Tathagata from long ago, from infinite trillions of asankyas of worlds to the east. The land was called Treasure Purity. In that land, there was a Buddha with the epithet of Many Treasures.'"
This was when the Buddha kept speaking to Great Joyful Eloquence Bodhisattva, in hopes that he would use his joyful eloquence; He hoped that after listening to the Dharma, [Great Joyful Eloquence] would be able to use his eloquence and his way of expressing himself to go among people and teach the Dharma. So, at that time, the Buddha kept hoping that Great Joyful Eloquence Bodhisattva would be able to comprehend [the Dharma].
Now, Many Treasures Buddha's stupa had already emerged from the ground to bear witness, so Sakyamuni Buddha addressed Great Joyful Eloquence. He specifically called upon Great Joyful Eloquence because he was the receiver of the teachings. The Buddha spoke to him, but actually He was addressing the assembly, with Great Joyful Eloquence as the representative. He said, "Great Joyful Eloquence Bodhisattva, in this stupa of treasures is the entire body of the Tathagata." The Buddha addressed a specific Bodhisattva to tell him that the voice that came from the stupa of treasures [was from] a Buddha.
As for that Buddha inside, He was "from long ago, from infinite trillions of asankyas of worlds to the east. The land was called Treasure Purity. In that land, there was a Buddha." There was a Buddha back then whose name was Many Treasures Buddha. He was called Many Treasures, Many Treasures Buddha.
"When that Buddha was practicing the Bodhisattva-path, He made a great vow." Lifetime after lifetime, He practiced the Bodhisattva-path and always made this kind of vow." After I attain Buddhahood and enter Parinirvana, in the lands of the ten directions, wherever the Lotus Sutra is taught, my stupa will, for the sake of those who listen to this sutra, emerge before them to stand as testimony. In praise, I will say, 'Excellent!'"
When that Buddha was practicing the Bodhisattva-path, He made a great vow, "After I attain Buddhahood and enter Parinirvana, in the lands of the ten directions, wherever the Lotus Sutra is taught, my stupa will, for the sake of those who listen to this sutra, emerge before them to stand as testimony. In praise, I will say, 'Excellent!'"
[He would say], "Excellent! Excellent! It is indeed like this; it is an extraordinarily good Dharma." This was the vow that Many Treasures Buddha made before He had attained Buddhahood, when He was still practicing the Bodhisattva-path.
While Many Treasures Buddha was still in the world, unfortunately, despite Him having become a Buddha, no one requested the Dharma from Him and so He could finish teaching the Lotus Sutra. So, He strengthened His vow; wherever someone is teaching the Lotus Sutra, He would [emerge] along with the stupa of treasures. He would emerge at any Dharma-assembly where a Buddha had attained Buddhahood and was teaching the Dharma to bear witness to it. Sakyamuni Buddha especially wanted to speak to the assembly, so He [addressed] Great Joyful Eloquence, who acted as the representative.
Between these two Buddhas, the ancient one was praising the present one, while the present Buddha expressed His gratitude to the past one. [The present Buddha] described how the past Buddha had also spent a long time in spiritual practice, and how He had formed vows like this to finish teaching the Lotus Sutra. So, although the past had been unsatisfactory, Many Treasures Buddha nonetheless would come to bear witness at all the Dharma-assemblies of Buddhas teaching the Dharma. By describing these past karmic conditions, Sakyamuni Buddha expressed His gratitude. So, He spoke in this way to Great Eloquence. Now, let us come back to discuss Sakyamuni Buddha teaching the Lotus Sutra.
The previous sutra passage says,
"Ajita, the merits and virtues of that fiftieth person from hearing the Lotus Sutra in turn and taking joy in it are limitless and boundless asankyas in number."
When someone teaches the Lotus Sutra, we should listen to and absorb it so that we can pass it down generation after generation to the fiftieth generation. Then, that person in the fiftieth generation can still listen to the Lotus Sutra. It will still remain accurate, and people will continuously pass down the Lotus Sutra from one person to another. They will still be able to praise and take joy in it. This is proof that it is very accurate and that it is Right Dharma.
This is like when Many Treasures Buddha manifested at Sakyamuni's Dharma-assembly to testify that the wondrous Dharma taught by this Buddha was true and that the path of every Buddha is the same. In a similar manner, after Sakyamuni taught the sutra, each succeeding generation must be very mindful; we must not deviate from it, and we must take it to heart. We have to know it, understand it and practice it in this way. We must know, understand and practice it, and continue in this way so that we can pass it down to the fiftieth generation. We should take joy in others' merits and virtues. Even those of the fiftieth generation can still hear people teaching the Lotus Sutra and still take joy in others' merits and virtues and praise them. It is like how Many Treasures Buddha came to share in the joy at the Buddha's Dharma-assembly and praised Him. So, "They are limitless and boundless asankyas in number" [refers to] how their merits and virtues are great. The merits and virtues of joy are great.
The next sutra passage goes on to say,
"This is to say nothing of those at the assembly who are the first to hear it and take joy in it. Their blessings are even more superior, numbering in limitless and boundless asankyas. They are beyond comparison."
An "asankya" is an infinite amount. "An asankya kalpas" is a very long amount of time. If we only talk about "asankyas," then it refers to an infinite amount; [it can be] an infinite amount of time, an infinite expanse of space or an infinite number of people. The merits and virtues of joy from seeing and hearing [the Dharma] are truly great. They cannot be described; they "are beyond comparison." They cannot be described or expressed; "they are beyond comparison." It is impossible to describe what they are like.
When someone teaches this Lotus Sutra, people can listen to and teach it without deviating. They can spread it, especially the first person. "This is to say nothing of the first at the assembly to hear and take joy in it." For people in the fiftieth generation to be able to take joy in [the sutra] is not an easy thing. This is to say nothing of those who listen to the sutra when the Buddha was in the world and teach and spread the Dharma all the way until the fiftieth generation. They truly garner superior merits and virtues, many times greater in number. Teaching the Dharma like this from the very beginning all the way down to the fiftieth generation entails great merits and virtues. Moreover, they are able to pass it down so accurately until the very end.
So, here [the passage] explains, "This is to say nothing of those at the assembly who are the first to hear it and take joy in it."
This is to say nothing of those at the assembly who are the first to hear it and take joy in it: The first person hears it at the Dharma-assembly and passes it on in turn until it reaches the fiftieth person.
Since the first Dharma-assembly, back when the Buddha taught the Dharma, since that time, people have passed it down like this. From those at the Dharma-assembly who heard it [in person], people have passed it down from person to person. It is not easy to pass on the Dharma, as I have been telling everyone. While Ananda was still alive, the Dharma already deviated. How can people keep it precise and accurate so that they can continuously pass it down to the fiftieth generation? This truly is not easy.
If they can do this, "Their blessings are even more superior, numbering in limitless and boundless asankyas. They are beyond comparison."
Their blessings are even more superior, numbering in limitless and boundless asankyas. They are beyond comparison: [The Buddha] enumerates the merits and virtues gained by the last person. Going from the last person to the first person, [the merits and virtues] of the first person are many times greater. Thus, it says they are even more superior, beyond comparison.
Those at the Dharma-assembly who are the first to hear and take joy in [the sutra] have superior blessings that are truly limitless and boundless. Through such a long time and such a vast space and among so many people, to be able to teach it accurately all the while, [the merits] of this are truly "beyond comparison." There is nothing they can be compared to.
So, now it is talking about the merits and virtues gained by the last person. It goes from "the last person" and then looks toward the front. So, "[It goes] from the last person to the first person." It [compares] the last person with the first. How did the very first person in the beginning spread [the sutra]? For the last people to pass down [the sutra] so accurately and precisely is not an easy thing to do. They must have safeguarded the Right Dharma while passing it on generation after generation.
It is like when we are walking and those behind look at the people ahead [and think], "Oh my! That is not easy! At the end, we can look at the very front and see that every step they take is so accurate and in such order. This is also very praiseworthy." So, the steps taken by those behind and the steps of those ahead are all very accurate steps.
This is what it is like. This is describing the merits and virtues of the first and the last people.
These are the merits and virtues of the first person. The merits and virtues of all the rest all originate with this person, thus this person's blessings are beyond comparison.
When we describe the people further down [from the first], it is the same; the others [pass it down] accurately like this. They pass down [the Dharma] from one person to another, spreading it to more and more people. [It is not passed down] in a single line, but instead in many lines. It always goes from the front to the back. There are a second and a third line and so on. Each line is very orderly. This is an analogy we can make.
So, "The merits and virtues of all the rest all originate with this person." [The sutra] is not just passed down through one line. In a second line, it is also passed down like this. Simultaneously, they pass down the same Dharma very accurately. So, "The merits and virtues of all the rest all originate with this person." After the very first person, every person that came after him all followed in line like that. Every person who came later followed in an orderly fashion. So this is why it says, "The merits and virtues of all the rest all originate with this person." It is not just one person's merits and virtues; it is many people with the same aspiration who practice in the same way in the world, practicing the Bodhisattva Way. This is the origin of the merits and virtues of many.
"Thus this person's blessings are beyond comparison." If one person transmits the Dharma accurately, then the Dharma should be the same for everybody. This is how the very same Dharma is transmitted to many people. So, because of this, "this person's blessings are beyond comparison." These are very great blessings.
If one person, at one time, feels joy at the Dharma-assembly and takes joy in expounding even just one verse or one line [of the sutra], though this is a small beginning, they can often awaken people with long-standing roots of wisdom.
"One person, at one time, feels joy at the Dharma-assembly" [means] that at this Dharma-assembly, people share in each other's joy. They "take joy in expounding even just one verse or one line [of the sutra]." What everyone hears is the same Dharma. Moreover, the direction in their minds is all the same. With any line [of the sutra], everyone can understand it very precisely, thoroughly and accurately. When it comes to the Dharma, everyone can take joy in expounding it. Everyone can share the same aspiration and the same direction. We can all be the same in our knowledge, understanding and practice.
We should be able to do this; [we should be able to] take joy in teaching it and do what we say and say what we do. We can pass down [the Dharma] through listening to it. Whatever we hear is what we teach and pass down. Everyone does the same; we teach what we hear, practice what we teach and speak of what we have done. These are all connected. This is the Bodhisattva Way of entering among people. So, just by hearing a line or a verse, we can pass on the Dharma in this way and put it into practice in this way. So, this is "taking joy in expounding even just one verse or one line [of the sutra]." We pass it on at the same time as we expound it. Passing it on means putting it into practice.
So, "Though this is a small beginning," although this group of people began with one person passing it on like this, though he was just one person, many can now practice this Dharma together. This is just like when the Buddha was teaching the Dharma by Himself; so many people all came at the same time to listen. Many came to listen to the Buddha teach the Dharma. They orient themselves with the Dharma precisely and then pass it on again. Then, countless more people accept the Dharma. So, by passing on the Dharma like this, by taking joy in even a line or a verse, "this is a small beginning." It all starts from one person. From "one person," we can spread it to many people.
At this time, many of our Tzu Chi volunteers, after listening, then go on to share it with others. They sometimes get together and share, and sometimes they share during their study groups. These are all [examples] of how, after listening, people take joy in [the Dharma] and expound it to others. If one person passes it down and teaches it correctly, then this is a start in passing down the Dharma. This brings merits and virtues.
[People like this] "can often awaken people with long-standing roots of wisdom." When we keep spreading [the Dharma] like this, it makes a lot of people think, "Oh! I understand! So this is what the Dharma is like!" Some people may not understand the Dharma at all at first, but there are others who spread the Dharma accurately and allow more people who do not know about it to understand. This understanding can inspire people's roots of goodness and wisdom. There are a lot of people like this. We know that the merits and virtues of passing on the Dharma are great.
So, "From listening, we give rise to faith."
From listening, we give rise to faith. From faith, we give rise to understanding. From understanding, we give rise to practice. From practice, we attain fruition. The rich, abundant and great works of all Buddhas and great masters are all established in this way. Thus, the merits and virtues of a single person who teaches a single word of the Buddha-Dharma are truly limitless and incalculable.
"From listening, we give rise to faith." Because we listen [to the Dharma], we clearly understand and truly believe in it. We have deep faith and understanding in it and put it into practice. With deep faith and understanding [in the Dharma], we put it into practice. So, with faith, we give rise to understanding; from understanding, we give rise to practice. This comes from listening. Then, from practicing, we attain the fruit. Because we put [the Dharma] into practice, we can clearly see the landscape of our minds. Starting from the first step to these true realms, we have traveled through them. We have been very steadfast [along the path] and already understand everything.
This is like the description of the fourth fruit of the Arhat. There is the Srotapanna, the Sakrdagamin, the Anagamin and the Arhat. As we [advance through] these stages, we must listen to the Dharma with accuracy. "From listening, we give rise to faith. From faith, we give rise to understanding. From understanding, we give rise to practice," and then from practice, we attain fruition. This is how we must do it; we must follow this order. Bodhisattvas in the world encounter suffering people and realize "suffering, causation, cessation and the Path." They understand the Four Noble Truths. The principle is the same.
So, the Dharma of all Buddhas and great masters who passed it down through the ages has always been rich, abundant and great. So, that Dharma is truly rich, abundant and great. The Dharma that the Buddha taught began with the Buddha's enlightenment. For this Dharma to spread everywhere like this is truly incredible! It is very rich, abundant and great.
How do we [continue on] all the worldly matters that the Buddha did throughout countless kalpas in the past? He goes among people in every generation; the work of going among people to transform sentient beings continues on in this way ceaselessly. When it comes to us now, we must still accord with the Dharma and practice it, starting from faith and understanding. We can all do this and "are all established in this way." It starts with one person who establishes a firm foundation. So, all of us must be mindful.
"Thus, the merits and virtues of a single person who teaches a single word of the Buddha-Dharma are truly limitless and incalculable." We know that every one of us must [thoroughly understand] a true phrase, a single verse or phrase of the Buddha-Dharma. If we can clearly understand it and faithfully accept and practice it, if we can do this, then the merits and virtues from the Buddha-Dharma should truly be limitless. This is because it benefits so many people, helping them transform their various afflictions to get rid of their afflictions and confusion. It guides them back to the right way of living. This is very important.
So, transmitting Right Dharma in the world begins with faith, understanding and rejoicing. As we interact with one another with joy, faith and understanding, we attain infinite merits. This is because we can succeed in letting even more people understand [the Dharma] and in spreading it even further. We spread it universally among people. Only when we go among people and everyone puts the Dharma into practice will we truly be able to experience it. If we can all understand it, then the Dharma will flourish in the world. This is one great mission. So, this is doing the Buddha's work. This is the mission each of us should undertake. This mission is our responsibility. So, we must always be mindful!