Wondrous Lotus Sutra 靜思妙蓮華
The Dharma Nourishes the Fields of Our Minds
From Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s notes:
"The mind is the vessel that receives all Dharma.
When we use the pure Dharma-water
to purify the vessel of a practitioner's mind,
the Dharma will nourish the field of their mind, and their wisdom-life will grow.
This is just like how the earth contains the seeds of Buddhahood,
giving rise to all wondrous Dharma."
We must mindfully seek to comprehend this. "The mind is the vessel that receives all Dharma." How many things are there in this world? How many things do we recognize in our mind? There are things that we understand, but there is much that we do not understand yet. Not to mention the principles of all things in the universe to which the Buddha has awakened. Of these, how many do we understand? We listen to the Dharma the Buddha taught, and we have heard many teachings. Yet, there is also much that we have not heard. Our minds are able to contain all Dharma. All Dharma can be completely contained within our minds, so the capacity of our minds is inconceivable!
It is only that, as unenlightened beings, our minds are confused. In our minds, [the amount of] True Dharma that we know is still not sufficient. As the Buddha and Ananda were asking by the Ganges river, the Buddha asked Ananda, "Ananda, is there much sand in the Ganges?" Ananda said, "Very much, very much." The Buddha bent down and placed some sand on top of his fingernail. He then asked Ananda, "Ananda, is there more sand on my fingernail or in the Ganges?" Ananda could not understand the analogy that the Buddha was using. Even a three-year-old child could know that the amount of sand in the Ganges is incalculable. How could the sand on His fingernail be compared to the sand in the Ganges? Ananda was a little unsure how to respond.
[The Buddha] paused for a moment and [turned] His eyes to look at Ananda. Ananda then replied to the Buddha, "Buddha, it is very simple. Of course, how can the sand picked out with one's hand be greater in number than the [amount of] sand in the Ganges?" The Buddha then flicked the sand back, and said, "Ananda, the things I want to teach everyone are as numerous as the sands of the Ganges. What I have taught thus far is so little, while what I have not taught is comparable in quantity to the Ganges' sands. What I have taught is as small as the amount on my fingernail. I have taught so little Dharma, but how much can ordinary beings accept?"
Indeed, through this analogy, we can understand just how big the capacity of our minds must be. The Buddha's mind contains so much Dharma. "The mind, the Buddha and sentient beings are no different in nature." In fact, however large the vessel of His mind, the minds of sentient beings are the same size. Yet, in the Buddha's mind, there is already. Dharma as numerous as the sands of the Ganges. With the minds of us ordinary beings, we receive the Dharma that the Buddha taught us. However, the vessel of our minds has leaks. So, how much can we receive?
"The mind is the vessel that receives all Dharma." Everyone's mind is like this, capable of containing so much. Unfortunately, the Dharma leaks from our minds. "We use the pure Dharma-water to purify the vessel of a practitioner's mind." If we had such clear and pure Dharma-water to wash this clear, pure mind, this Dharma-vessel, we could take the Dharma to heart without error. This takes a heart of utmost purity. [Then], the Dharma is like water inside a clean bucket without leaks that is clean and useful.
In this way, this clean water can "purify the vessel of a practitioner's mind." The minds of spiritual practitioners can become a useful vessels. The water that our minds contain is water we can put to use. This is like how the Dharma nourishes the fields of our minds, growing our wisdom-life. Using the analogy of the sands of the Ganges, the Buddha expressed that there was still much Dharma to be taught. He felt that the Dharma He had given us was only very little. It was so little, but how much more could we ordinary beings accept? Because the vessels of our minds are dirty, the water that goes in also becomes defiled. Once it is dirty, not much of it can be used. This is the same meaning.
"The Dharma will nourish the field of their mind, and their wisdom-life will grow." If we have clean and pure water and a clean and pure vessel to store it in, then the Dharma, the water in this analogy, can nourish the fields of our minds. Isn't this what I have been teaching the past few days? Every person contains a field in their minds, and we can nurture this piece of land. If we have water, we can continuously till the fields of our minds. If we can do this, then when we sow our seeds in the field, the water will not dry up easily. So, to grow rice in a paddy, there must first be water before sowing the seeds. When the field is plowed, the soil becomes loose and the water can enter the soil. The water and soil must be just right when the time comes to distribute the seedlings. If the field of our minds is well cared for, naturally, the water [in the] paddy will allow "one to give rise to infinity."
Thus, [our minds] are like the earth, with seeds of the Buddha's [Dharma] stored within. His mind is pure and undefiled, and from one [awakened thought], He has already given rise to infinitely [more], which He willingly gives to sentient beings. If every sentient being is able to attain the Buddha's most essential teaching, hold onto it and understand it well, then it becomes like a seed planted in the earth. When the soil, water, climate and so on are all just right, this seed will enter the ground [of our minds] and naturally, "give rise to all wondrous Dharma." It will be like the rice seedling. If we plant a tree, we have to wait for it to mature, then bloom and bear fruit. This fruit actually [contains more] seeds, which are just like the seed that [we originally] planted in the ground.
We myriad sentient beings must wait for the seed that the Buddha gave us [to mature]. Have we held on to it? Have we let it slip away? This causes the Buddha [much] sorrow. The many things He wants to give us are all [contained] within that seed. Yet, when it comes to that seed, the source of the Buddha-Dharma, we truly have not yet attained it. The Buddha said that there is as much Dharma as there is sand in the Ganges but. He has only been able to give us a little bit because He had to teach according to capacities. The capacities of sentient beings are so dull, but after 40 years [of teaching like this], the Buddha could not wait any longer. Time was running out. So, He had to quickly change [His approach], setting aside the provisional to reveal the true. Time was very limited. Would this Dharma-seed be able to mature? This [weighed heavily] on the Buddha's heart.
The Buddha came to this world due to certain causes and conditions.
When causes and conditions arise, this is known as conditioned phenomena. When causes and conditions cease, and cease completely, they no longer arise. That which neither arises nor ceases is both empty and existent. Unconditioned Dharma lies at the essence of the principles and the workings of all things within the universe. The true principles are the wondrous existence in true emptiness.
"When causes and conditions arise, this is known as conditioned phenomena." When causes and conditions arise, [they create] what we call conditioned phenomena. Through the Buddha's affinity with this world, He came and awaited the opportunity to engage in spiritual practice, attain Buddhahood and teach the Dharma. When the Buddha taught, sentient beings listened. This is all "conditioned" [because] it has a form. There was someone to teach the Dharma, someone to listen to it and someone to practice it. This was a convergence of causes and conditions. During the Buddha's lifetime, these causes and conditions converged.
"When causes and conditions cease, and cease completely, they no longer arise." We must earnestly care for this seed of affinities and truly seize our causes and conditions. If we do not make use of them, we have seen what it was like during the Buddha's time. There were those who met the Buddha, had faith in Him, listened to the Dharma and engaged in spiritual practice. But although [they lived] at the same time as Him, some lacked the causes and conditions and were unwilling to accept His teachings, so they missed out on these causes and conditions, despite living at the same time as the Buddha. So, despite being in the same era [as Him], they ended the causes and conditions themselves. When these causes and conditions ceased, then for their whole lives, they were unable to encounter the Dharma again. The causes and conditions [for them] [to encounter] the Dharma were gone. Will they encounter it in future lifetimes? Indeed, it is very unlikely. Once those causes and conditions ceased, they were ended for good. Once the Buddha attained Parinirvana, they ended. The karmic conditions to see Him were no more. So, these conditions ended. In future lifetimes, will these causes and conditions come again? The chance is very slim. This serves as an example [for us].
Similarly, we often say that when the conditions come, we must quickly seize them, for once they are gone, we will lose them and never be able to get them back. It is like the time [we have now]. If we do not make good use of our time, it will pass, and we will never be able to get it back. It is the same principle.
However, time "neither arises nor ceases" and "is both empty and existent." Morning [comes] each day; there was yesterday's morning and today's morning. But is this [morning] the same as yesterday's? No, it is not. Yesterday is not today. The Buddha taught that, due to impermanence, we do not know what is coming in the future. Thus, [time] "[does not] arise..." We do not dare say tomorrow is [the same as] this moment. We must all mindfully seek to understand this. Thus, "When causes and conditions cease, and cease completely, they no longer arise."
"That which neither arises nor ceases is both empty and existent." Yesterday is already empty. Today has already [come]. And does tomorrow exist yet? Since yesterday is already empty, the time of yesterday has already ceased, will today's time still be there tomorrow? Once it has ceased, we call it empty. But even though it is empty, it still "exists." Yesterday is already empty, and today has come. But tomorrow, will it be empty or exist? This is the subtle and wondrous cyclic existence of time. But the Dharma teaches us about impermanence. [Time] is truly impermanent. Impermanence [brings] the suffering of emptiness. Will our plans today still be here tomorrow?
Thinking back on the past, there have been many instances of impermanence. Many people plan for tomorrow and the future of the future, but when a moment of impermanence strikes, even the best laid plans will be wiped out. They will be gone. But if we look for the source of [those plans that] have been destroyed, if we look again, it exists. It is still flourishing, so how could it have been wiped out? It exists! This is all because, when things arise, they will cease. And when they cease, they will arise again. There is wondrous existence in emptiness and true emptiness in wondrous existence. This is all in relation to time. So, in this way, everything in this world arises and ceases endlessly like this, arising and ceasing, ceasing and arising. Such is the Dharma.
"Unconditioned Dharma lies at the essence of the principles." What is unconditioned Dharma? Unconditioned Dharma is true emptiness, but it also depends on karmic conditions. When the Buddha came to this world, there was no Buddha, no Sakyamuni Buddha. But when He came to this world, journeying on causes and conditions, He came into existence. [And] what about now? 2000 years have passed. Is the Buddha still here? Again and again, we call the Buddha and recite His name. Again and again, we speak of the Dharma He taught. Is the Buddha not here? He is here. Because of the Dharma, His Dharma-body exists. So, this is wondrous existence, which is the essence of the principles. He came to this world and taught the principles of this world. Now, this has ended, and His physical body has passed away. But the formless Dharma still exists.
It is like how myriad matters and appearances of all things in this world continue to exist. [This is like] the seeds we discussed; when a tree has matured, if we try to search the ground to find its seed, we will never [find it]. This is because that seed has already germinated, sprouted and turned into a large tree. We cannot find that original seed anymore, because it has become a large tree. [Yet] this tree can still produce a seed that is just like the original one. This is wondrous existence. So, there is true emptiness in wondrous existence and wondrous existence in true emptiness. The original seed is already empty, for it has become a big tree. This big tree can produce an infinite amount of seeds. Through this cycle, every seed ultimately becomes empty, and from this true emptiness, wondrous existence arises. The human world is like this.
"The workings of all things within the universe" [are like this]. When it comes to matters and appearances and the essence of the principles, the essence of the principles is "emptiness," and for matters and appearances, it is "existence." So, "The true principles are the wondrous existence in true emptiness." These true principles are truly empty, but they can give rise to shapes and forms of every description. This is easy to explain, but have we really been able to understand? The vessel of our minds can contain all Dharma, but is this vessel pure and clear? Whether this pure water can be reused depends on whether our mind is clear. When our minds are pure, we are able to take in the Dharma. But when the vessel of our minds is not clear, the [Dharma-]water that enters cannot be used, for it is [no longer truly] Dharma.
So, we must be very mindful of how we cleanse the vessel of our minds so that it can become filled with Dharma-water. If we can do this, [then even if] it is like the sand on the Buddha's fingertip, this sand contains an infinite amount of seeds. [Then], there will be no need for the Buddha to give teachings as numerous as the Ganges' sands, [for those He gave are already infinite]. This analogy of the sand on His fingertip [expresses that His teachings] already numerous. He used this analogy to explain that if we can understand names and appearances, we can comprehend the essence of the principles. It is the same idea. So, we must very mindfully seek to comprehend this.
The previous passage says,
"Also, when all Bodhisattvas read and recite the teachings in the sutras, teach them to others, compile and explain their meanings, they will be able to hear all these sounds."
This is an analogy. Bodhisattvas very reverently read and recite the sutras. After reading and reciting them, they become familiar with them and can teach them to others, continuously giving rise to infinity from one.
It is like the group of experienced Bodhisattvas in Yilan. These Bodhisattvas who are responsible for the functional team all came back to the Abode to share their experiences. Everyone was very dedicated in going among sentient beings and transforming them. When they brought up the spirit of the bamboo banks, the town mayor was standing there listening. After hearing them, he came up to one of the commissioners and said, "I would like to have some bamboo banks from you." The commissioner then said, "No problem. Here is one." He said, "No, I do not want just one. How about three? I do not want three. Then how many do you need? I need 300. Why do you need so many? This method makes a lot of sense, and I hope to promote it to everyone in the town hall [so that] everyone can receive a bamboo bank. Then, 'one can give rise to infinity.'" This was his mindset. Think about it; this is the Dharma, the virtuous Dharma. How can we call on others to awaken and "give rise to the virtuous Dharma each day"?
If we all can give rise to this mindset each day and "do good with more than enough blessings," wouldn't this society be most harmonious? Isn't this the Dharma that the Buddha came to this world to teach? He came to teach and transform sentient beings. This is the most important principle of the sutras we recite. These countless sutras and teachings are all to guide sentient beings toward doing good. This is what we call the virtuous Dharma. This is what our Bodhisattvas pass along. As we listen to, teach and pass along the Dharma, whether we are a monastic or not, when we accept the Dharma, we can all teach it to others.
So, this sutra passage says, "When all Bodhisattvas read and recite the teachings in the sutras..." The Bodhisattvas referred to here are not only monastic bhiksus. Four kinds of disciples are able to give rise to great aspirations. Anyone can listen to the sutras, recite them and teach them. So, the Bodhisattva Way is the teaching from the sutras that all four kinds of disciples can practice. They can "compile and explain [its] meanings." They can tell others and write [about it] as well. "They will be able to hear all these sounds." Thus, it is [shared] from one person to the next. This is like what the [team] from Yilan shared. I will say this for everyone again; after hearing the teachings, we must continue to pass them on from [person to person]. It is the same principle. The Dharma practiced in this world is in accord with the Dharma taught by the Buddha. So, there is no difference between the minds of sentient beings and the Buddha. This is the true principle that the Buddha taught.
The following passage says,
"When all Buddhas and great sages who teach and transform sentient beings expound the subtle and wondrous Dharma in the great assemblies, those who uphold the Lotus Sutra will be able to hear all of this."
So, this passage mentions "all Buddhas and great sages." All Buddhas does not only refer to the Buddha of our Saha World. It refers to the enlightened ones of the present, future and the past, the great sages who teach and transform sentient beings. They are able to teach and transform [others], for the minds of these enlightened sages of the past, present and future have merged with the Dharma, [making them] Buddhas who can "expound the subtle and wondrous Dharma in the great assemblies."
When all Buddhas and great sages who teach and transform sentient beings expound the subtle and wondrous Dharma in the great assemblies: All Buddhas, in their compassion, teach and transform sentient beings. They expound the subtle and wondrous Dharma by means of both the provisional and the true.
Everyone must remember what was said before. The mind is our spiritual training ground, and we can expound the Dharma wherever our spiritual training ground is. When we teach the Dharma, we must do so prudently. With this subtle, wondrous Dharma, we must be very prudent. We often hear [the phrase] "Thus have I heard" and "Thus have I said," but most important is "Thus have I practiced." When we are able to practice it thoroughly, [we realize], "I have done this before, so now I can teach it to you." If we can do this, it is the most practical Dharma.
"All Buddhas, in their compassion, teach and transform sentient beings. They expound the subtle and wondrous Dharma by means of both the provisional and the true." When the Buddha came to this world, He first taught according to capabilities so that all beings could accept [the Dharma] according to their capabilities. But what about the Buddha's original intent? The Buddha's original intent was for us [to realize] we are the same as the Buddha, to comprehend and awaken to the essence of the principles and to give rise to wondrous existence. Thus, the Buddha's true teaching was to help us all take the Dharma as the essence of our minds. However, for us sentient beings to truly be able to comprehend and understand [the Dharma] was difficult. Out of His compassion for sentient beings, He "opened up the provisional" and now "revealed the true. All Buddhas, in their compassion, teach and transform sentient beings." He spent so much time slowly guiding us. In every moment, He taught according to sentient beings' capabilities, opening the provisional and then teaching the true. This was the Buddha's dedication. This is the subtle, wondrous Dharma. [He thought] of how to attract sentient beings to the spiritual training ground so that He could teach them the True Dharma. This was also very important.
In the great assemblies, [the Buddha] gave all kinds of subtle and wondrous teachings. He wished to demonstrate impermanence and the law of arising and cessation, so He proclaimed He would enter Parinirvana. He clearly revealed the intrinsic and the manifest, opening two doors. Expounding the Dharma through analogies, He taught the provisional [before] teaching the true. The wisdom of all paths is fully recorded in this sutra.
"In the great assemblies, [the Buddha] taught all kinds of subtle and wondrous Dharma." When people come, we must seize the conditions and "demonstrate impermanence and the law of arising and cessation" to them. We must know [how] to use different teachings, for they are all subtle, wondrous Dharma. We must demonstrate it for them and help them to understand this Dharma of impermanence, arising and cessation. Because of arising and cessation, [we experience] "suffering" and "accumulation." Since we know that our suffering accumulates, we must then "cease" [this from happening], for we realize that everything is impermanent. The Buddha already clearly understands this and teaches this Dharma to people in this world. Do people in this world pass the Dharma from one [person] to another?
The Buddha has already taught so much Dharma. He has already taught what He could with the time He had. But have we [absorbed] what we have heard? This requires us to be very mindful. Life is impermanent, and [the Buddha] still had much left to teach. There was so much He wanted to teach, but there was not enough time. As sentient beings listened to the Dharma, they [developed] Leaks. The Buddha could not help this, so "He proclaimed He would enter Parinirvana." When He began [teaching] the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha told everyone, "I am about to enter Parinirvana. The time has come."
He is like a doctor who can always diagnose an illness. [This is like the parable of] the man who needed to prescribe medicine for his sick children. However, his children did not want to take it, [so their father] could only go out on his travels. When he returned, [he said], "Children, you are ill! You must take medicine." Yet, his children remained there, indulging in play and entertainment. Helpless, the father went out again and told someone to tell [his children], "Your father has died." When they heard their father had died, the children suddenly thought, "We are sick, and our father was a good doctor. Now that our father is dead, what should we do about our illness?" Then, they thought of the medicine that their father [prescribed] and decided to take it. [But] did they actually take it? Did they take it at the right time? And did they take [the right medicine] for their illness? How lamentable! Before the Buddha was about to enter Parinirvana, He taught [using] many analogies and stories. This is something we should know well.
The Lotus Sutra clearly tells how [He taught] "the provisional" by skillfully using various analogies. "The true" points directly to [how] the minds of all people intrinsically have Buddha-nature; we all have [access to] the same understanding and views as the Buddha. But unfortunately, we are unaware of this, and we are unable to comprehend it. This is how we unenlightened beings are.
"He proclaimed He would enter Parinirvana. He clearly revealed the intrinsic and the manifest, opening two doors." So, the Buddha revealed the intrinsic. He was about to enter Parinirvana, so He "clearly revealed the intrinsic." This is the true [Dharma]. He told them, "I am going to enter Parinirvana," and only then did He begin to let everyone know that the Buddha is always there. So, He continued on with the Chapter on the Tathagata's Lifespan, [about His] coming and going [to this world]. [He taught them that] this requires making use of causes, conditions and time. Once the karmic conditions and time have come, if we do not make use of our causes and conditions and do not seize our time, we will continuously remain in cyclic existence. The "manifest" refers to the door of the manifest. The door of the manifest [refers to] [the Buddha's] footprints as He comes and goes, lifetime after lifetime. Time is impermanent, and karmic conditions are [not easily] encountered. This is what the door of the manifest [shows us].
There is also the [door of] the intrinsic. The doors of the manifest and the intrinsic have always existed. When the Buddha [began] the Lotus Sutra, He helped everyone realize the provisional [using] skillful means. Now, He needed to teach the true [Dharma], that everyone can attain Buddhahood. Thus, He taught us the Bodhisattva Way, guiding us to the door to Buddhahood. This was His most essential [teaching]. So, "He taught the provisional" by making analogies of the Dharma. These were skillful means. Yet, over time, sentient beings' capabilities were still not uniform, but there was not enough time left. So, when the opportunity arose, [He began] to teach "the true." When He started to teach the True Dharma, this was teaching "the true." To teach "the provisional," He used skillful means, and to teach "the true," He taught the path to Buddhahood, in the Lotus Sutra.
This is "the wisdom of all paths." The Buddha has Three Kinds of Wisdoms; Hearer-wisdom, wisdom of all paths and all-encompassing wisdom. This is the Buddha's wisdom, which is all recorded within the Lotus Sutra for everyone to clearly understand.
Dear Bodhisattvas, "sutra" is a simple word, but in fact, even after discussing so much, we cannot fully explain it using simple words. It is truly hard to fully [explain] them. "All Buddhas and great sages teach and transform sentient beings." But how do they teach and transform? In the past, we have always spoken of causes and conditions, of time and so on, and how they leave and return over many lifetimes. There is also the parable of the famous doctor and his wondrous medicine, whose children at home were continuously ill. However, [he] experienced many difficulties when trying to treat [them], so he had to keep coming and going. In the end, he [had someone] tell them, "Your father died while he was out." Only then did the children cherish their father. After the children learned to take their medicine, their father returned.
This is the same idea. [The Buddha wanted everyone] to admire the Dharma and realize it is needed in the world. [Only then] would He return to the world, for His causes and conditions would have matured. [Yet] when people did not see the need for the Buddha-Dharma and did not try to cherish this Dharma, the Buddha declared that soon, He would enter Parinirvana. Since we know He will soon be gone, we must earnestly make use of [the Dharma]. We must all be mindful to keep the Dharma by our side. It passes away continuously before our eyes, so we must quickly seize it. So, we must always be mindful.