Wondrous Lotus Sutra 靜思妙蓮華
Uniting the Provisional and the True As One
From Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s notes:
>> "The Lotus Sutra speaks only of the principles of the ultimate reality of the One Vehicle. The wondrous Dharma is like water. [This sutra] uses the lotus flower as an analogy. This wondrous Dharma unites the provisional and the true as one. The Lotus Flower Sutra reveals the flower and fruit simultaneously. Thus, it is called The Great Vehicle's Wondrous Dharma Lotus Flower. It opens two doors, the intrinsic and the manifest, teaching both the provisional and the true."
>> "As for the precious garments worn by the heavenly maidens and the wonderful floral fragrances that adorn them as they wander around and play, they will know them all upon smelling their scents. Going upward in turn like this all the way up to Brahma Heaven, where beings enter and emerge from Samadhi, they will know them all upon smelling their scents." [Lotus Sutra, Chapter 19 - On Dharma Masters' Merits and Virtues]
>> "From Light-Sound Heaven and Universal Purity Heaven all the way up to the summit of existence, from the newly born to the fallen, they will know them all upon smelling their scents. The assemblies of bhiksus and so on are constantly diligent with respect to the Dharma, whether sitting or walking in meditation, whether reading or reciting the sutra." [Lotus Sutra, Chapter 19 - On Dharma Masters' Merits and Virtues]
>> From Light-Sound Heaven and Universal Purity Heaven all the way up to the summit of existence, from the newly born to the fallen, they will know them all upon smelling their scents: The second dhyana is Light-Sound Heaven. The third dhyana is Universal Purity Heaven. Beyond the fourth dhyana and the grounds of [infinite] space and consciousness is the summit of existence. Thus, [the Buddha] said, even when it comes to those newly born in heaven, or to the fallen, they will know them all upon smelling their scents. The newly born: This refers to those who have just been born into heaven. The fallen: This refers to those who have exhausted their heavenly blessings.
>> The assemblies of bhiksus and so on are constantly diligent with respect to the Dharma: The assemblies of monastics and others practice this Dharma with constant diligence.
"The Lotus Sutra speaks only
of the principles of the ultimate reality of the One Vehicle.
The wondrous Dharma is like water.
[This sutra] uses the lotus flower as an analogy.
This wondrous Dharma
unites the provisional and the true as one.
The Lotus Flower Sutra
reveals the flower and fruit simultaneously.
Thus, it is called
The Great Vehicle's Wondrous Dharma Lotus Flower.
It opens two doors, the intrinsic and the manifest,
teaching both the provisional and the true."
Let us mindfully understand this. What the Lotus Sutra teaches is quite simple. It simply talks about the principles of the ultimate reality of the One Vehicle. "The wondrous Dharma is like water," so we use the lotus flower as an analogy. [But though] this seems very simple, [it refers to] the principles of ultimate reality. Haven't we been listening every day? What is "the ultimate reality"? This world is impermanent, so what is "ultimate reality"? We cannot see nor touch it. We can only be mindful and earnestly seek to comprehend it.
The Lotus Sutra's teachings are all about the true wondrous Dharma. We can only get a sense of this true wondrous Dharma, and only with this sense can we find our direction. If we have no sense of it, we have no direction. [But once] we have a direction, we are able to clearly see all worldly matters and understand all principles.
This is like, when we want to look at something that is far away, we can use binoculars by holding them up against our eyes. When we focus them on our surroundings, we can see [things] from far away. The principle is the same. When it comes to the principles, we [must] expand our vision from near to far, for what we ordinary beings see is limited by our vision. We cannot see things very far away. For anything very far away, we must adjust our focus so it [appears] closer in order to see it clearly.
Likewise, "the ultimate reality of the one vehicle" allows us to understand what seems so distant from us, as if we were experiencing it right now before us. There is still much we must now consider. For instance, what is our vision of the future? We are now planning for the future that is a long time from now. So, we must [direct] our opinions and thoughts toward the future. This is like the pair of binoculars. When something is far away, we can adjust the binoculars to see it clearly. If we can clearly plan for our future goals, we can take into account both the past and future.
The principles allow us to know that the way things seem from far away is the same as [they are] up close. For our [thoughts] to accord with the principles, or even just one of them, is not easy. If we do not clearly understand the principles, we naturally feel that they are invisible and intangible. If we can understand [the principles], then naturally, something [that is] far away will seem like it is right in front of us. This is like how, when we plan for the future, it [must be] solidly based on the present. It is the same principle. If we clearly know the past, we will not be confused in the future. This is the principle. The true nature, the ultimate reality of the One Vehicle helps us understand that the great Bodhi-path is direct. This is how the path was in the past, and it will be the same in the future. This is the true principle that helps us clearly understand.
Thus, "The wondrous Dharma is like water. Dharma is like water." Water can wash away all filth. We have layers of afflictions and ignorance, and only the Dharma, the Dharma-water, can wash them away layer by layer. When it comes to the teachings we do not know, once we eliminate some of our ignorance, we will gain a better understanding of the Dharma. If we do not eliminate our ignorance, we cannot draw near to the principles. Water can clearly wash away our ignorance. This is like the lotus flower. If the lotus flower is in the desert, it cannot bloom or survive. Only with sand, with earth and water, can we plant lotus flowers. But even with sand, earth and water, there are also contaminants in the pond. But within this muddy pond, the lotus flower absorbs all of the nutrients.
This is just like how we must go among people. As we [go among] people, each person has very complex views, and due to these complicated perspectives, [they develop] deviant habitual tendencies. This is why we have severe karmic afflictions and severe turbidities. Bodhisattvas go among people in order to transform these deviant worldly perspectives that have caused all these afflictions and the deviant actions that created our karmic forces. This is like the lotus flowers [in] the water. Even amidst these heavy turbidities, the lotus flowers bloom. Thus, the lotus flowers beautify the pond and its surrounding environment. And what about the lotus pond? The lotus pond, beautified by these flowers, provides the nutrients for them [to grow].
So, [likewise], Bodhisattvas must go among people to practice and train themselves. Sometimes, as we go among people, we will encounter some challenges, so we need a mindset of gratitude. We must be grateful for the challenges that help us focus our attention. Then, when we are among different perspectives, we can go in the right direction without deviating while also influencing and transforming others to correct their course. It is in this way that a Bodhisattva goes among people to transform the world. So, the lotus flower blooms because of the mud, and when it blooms, it also beautifies the lotus pond. It is the same principle.
So, "This wondrous Dharma unites the provisional and the true as one." Is this [analogy] skillful means or is it a teaching of the One Vehicle Dharma? This is True Dharma, but it is [in the form of] skillful means. When the Buddha awakened, if He had not [spent] more than 40 years to teach according to [our differing] capabilities, how would people's capabilities have matured enough [to attend] the Lotus Dharma Assembly, where He taught the One Vehicle Dharma? Thus, the provisional and true are actually one.
So, "The Lotus Flower Sutra reveals the flower and fruit simultaneously." The flower and fruit are revealed simultaneously. When the lotus flower blooms, we can see its seedpod, which contains its seeds. These seeds are the fruits [of the lotus]. As soon as the flower blooms, [it produces] fruits. This is a special trait of the lotus flower. "The flower and fruit [are revealed] simultaneously." This is why [this sutra] is called the Wondrous Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra. It is the same principle. The Wondrous Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra is the wondrous Dharma of the Great Vehicle; [it is] "the Wondrous Dharma Lotus Flower" [teaching of] the Great Vehicle Dharma. The Great [Vehicle] can encompass all Small [Vehicle] teachings. All teachings of the Small Vehicle are part of the Great Vehicle Dharma, which encompasses them all. The Great Vehicle makes use of the Small Vehicle.
To teach the Great Vehicle Dharma, we must likewise face sentient beings. We must teach with simple and obvious Dharma, so everyone can understand when they hear it. Teaching the Great Vehicle Dharma is inseparable from the skillful means of the Small Vehicle. The Small Vehicle's skillful means are encompassed in the Great Vehicle Dharma. The Great Vehicle uses the Small Vehicle to guide and transform those with limited capabilities. So, we must be very mindful of this. The Great and Small vehicles in parallel are "the provisional and true;" they are [taught] together. This is what we must understand.
The Lotus Sutra "opens two doors, the intrinsic and the manifest." The "intrinsic" is "true." The "manifest" is "provisional." The True Dharma and skillful means, these two doors, are opened at the same time. When these two doors open, it is like one person looking at objects with two eyes and breathing with two nostrils. This is the same idea. "It opens two doors, the intrinsic and the manifest. The Dharma-analogies reveal true mysteries." To expound the Dharma, we must use analogies. "Revealing true mysteries" is "teaching both the provisional and the true." The True Dharma is the truth, which is "true." Skillful means is "provisional." Previously, we often said, "It opens two doors, the intrinsic and manifest. The Dharma-analogies reveal true mysteries." This is the same as what we are discussing now. "It opens two doors, the intrinsic and manifest, teaching both the provisional and the true." It is the same principle. If we are mindful, we know how to walk the path.
This is like how, [in 2019], we have seen new Bodhisattvas from 10 countries gather at Jing Si Hall. They did not know each other before. They have their own countries, their own communities and families. Yet, they all came to Taiwan to gather at Hualien Jing Si Hall to find their collective path. They came to understand how Tzu Chi's spirit and ideals established the Four Main Missions. How do we go among people to help them? They came to learn and understand [all of this]. After they listened to Tzu Chi volunteers share [their stories], they were very moved and joyful. When they returned to the Abode, they gathered around to share their insights. I was touched by every sharing. One was from a couple from Xiamen, Mr. and Mrs. Zhang, who were very happy. They reported to me that, in Xiamen presently, there is a big group of Bodhisattvas demonstrating the Tzu Chi spirit. Before, we would often have meetings in Xiamen. Now, we are looking back at this affinity. One volunteer couple formed the aspiration to provide a large space, which they wanted to turn into a spiritual training ground and have it newly remodeled. Though it was being remodeled, we still used [items from a previous center] which were mindfully cherished and carefully taken down piece by piece, wrapped up and packed away.
Now, this spiritual center is complete. These items were taken there and moved in to decorate the new space. These old items have been used for new purposes. It took a lot of manpower to move these old items. Some were very big and heavy, such as metal shelves and wooden planks. There were many volunteers [who helped], including Honorary Board members and aspiring Bodhisattvas, both male and female. They rejoiced that our spiritual center could now become a better environment so that everyone can [feel relaxed] and practice together there, forever. Everyone was happy and put their strength to use.
For the upper floors, items were carried up, one by one. For the places without an elevator, many people came to move and lift [these items]. We can see how the empty space was slowly remodeled and decorated over time. We could watch the process because it was filmed. As we watched the video, in a few minutes, we clearly saw how this spacious center was magnificently renovated.
Despite reusing the old items, there were inevitably floors to put in and wiring to install. Everyone said, "Let me do it!" Everyone was looking forward [to the new place]. "This is our home! This is our home, so everyone has a responsibility." They were eager to show support for this spiritual training ground. Everyone saw it as their own home, where people can cultivate the Bodhisattva-path with peace of mind. This was the spirit [they all shared]. I was very joyful when I heard about this. They also made vows to me to put my mind at ease, that "the Jing Si Dharma-lineage and the Tzu Chi School of Buddhism" are there in this home, and they will earnestly protect and support them.
I also heard that during the [remodeling] process, it was sometimes so busy that they could not help but think, "Why must I be so tired? I should just rest a little." [One volunteer] talked about a dream he had. He dreamed that he heard my voice and saw three words, "Faith, vows and actions." He said that these three words kept appearing in his mind very clearly. These three words just kept appearing, so he was amazed. "Master is here!" He kept calling to me until he woke up.
This is like the lotus pond [we just discussed]. We clearly know that we must make this world into a spiritual training ground, but to complete it is not so easy. During construction, the process was truly very difficult and emotionally exhausting. At that time, someone had [to consider], "It should be in this direction and this place." It took their physical and mental efforts to complete it, so they inevitably grew physically tired. But despite their exhaustion, with "faith, vows and actions," their spirits were immediately lifted, and they continued to exert their strength. They still formed aspirations and made vows. With faith, vows and actions, their resolve was firm, and they were able to complete this spiritual training ground for Bodhisattvas. This is inner cultivation and external practice. Their minds needed to have firm resolve in order to achieve the external practice of completing this dignified training ground. It is the same principle.
At the Abode, [through video conference], I could also see and hear Mr. Wang in the Jing Si Hall sharing his insights and his life experiences in detail. Truly, in his lifetime, for a period of time in the past, life was very challenging for him. For several decades of his life, his early life began in a wealthy family. His father was a very established [businessman], and he gave his sons a good business foundation. They lived a very stable and impressive life.
However, people's minds are never content. His father had great power, and all his children were very obedient and loyal. Whatever the father said or did, the children had to accept it. However, he expanded his business so ambitiously that he created serious financial problems. His father was not in Taiwan, so someone had to take responsibility. So, [Mr. Wang] shouldered many burdens. This was very difficult for him.
Speaking of that period in his life, when he was very successful, wherever he went, everyone around him would quickly flatter him. [But] when he was in trouble and needed help, [they would say], "Our Chairman is very busy, so he cannot meet with you." "That is fine, I will wait here." "It may be the whole day!" "That is fine, I will wait outside." Think about this social relationship. When he was doing well, people flattered him left and right. [But] once he failed, had problems and had to ask people for help, people turned him away. This is the reality of life.
Watching him speak, [I could feel] he was still emotional about this. Although he is liberated now, he still thinks about that period of time. So, why would he come to talk about these things? It is [because of] his Bodhisattva-mind. He personally came to share his story so everyone could see and learn. [Most] average people would have hidden their past failures, but he wanted to share his experiences with everyone. "I have been through this kind of situation. It was very difficult." He kept saying to everyone, "Do not keep endlessly pursuing things. In life, when something is enough, it is enough."
We listened to his words as he continued to sincerely appeal to everyone. He said, "I am the best example [of what can happen], so I came here to tell everyone [my story]. Since there are others who want to join Tzu Chi, I hope they will not follow in my footsteps." In Tzu Chi, everyone can "turn consciousness into wisdom." Before he joined [Tzu Chi], he had an affluent life. Then, he participated in "Jing Si Lifestyle Camp" and felt that Tzu Chi is a very good organization. He wanted to tell everyone [about us] so that [other] entrepreneurs could come and see what Tzu Chi is about.
During that time, He made the aspiration to get together with several businessmen to proactively invite and recruit volunteers from the business world to join. Thus, he put his heart into the "Jing Si Lifestyle Camp" and has participated over 70 times. This time, he said that he had not [participated] for several years, so this year he wanted to bravely show everyone that we must not let failure stop us from [showing up]. [When our lives are] very impressive, we must not continue to endlessly seek out new ventures. Even though this was his father's business, as his son, he has taken his father's mistake as a lesson. As a son, he had to shoulder his father's debt. Truly, he is also a good disciple of mine, because he kept saying, "I am fortunate to have encountered Tzu Chi because I was able to [train] my mind to overcome every obstacle, one by one."
So, we must know both the True Dharma and skillful means. These are the true principles of this world. What he experienced were all true principles. He had a time when he was very well off and a time when he had unexpected downturns. This is called impermanence. The Buddha always said the world is impermanent. Life is impermanent; worldly matters are even more impermanent. So, this is why we must earnestly take good care of our minds.
The Lotus Sutra continuously teaches us this; we are paving this road so that others can follow this path in the world, taking each step very steadily. Once we pave this Bodhisattva-path, we must go among people and lead them onto the path. In good times, which paths did we take? When we failed, how did we follow the path in hard times? And so on. This Bodhisattva showed us these true principles by revealing his experiences for everyone to see. This is True Dharma. He talked about what he has experienced and the teachings he realized [along the way]. This is real life, not illusory. I admire and cherish this disciple very much. He is truly a responsible Bodhisattva. I am very grateful.
So, do we know how to enjoy this world? Recently, we talked about enjoying celestial music. The previous passage states,
"As for the precious garments worn by the heavenly maidens and the wonderful floral fragrances that adorn them as they wander around and play, they will know them all upon smelling their scents. Going upward in turn like this all the way up to Brahma Heaven, where beings enter and emerge from Samadhi, they will know them all upon smelling their scents."
We have talked about this. Continuing on, it says,
"From Light-Sound Heaven and Universal Purity Heaven all the way up to the summit of existence, from the newly born to the fallen, they will know them all upon smelling their scents. The assemblies of bhiksus and so on are constantly diligent with respect to the Dharma, whether sitting or walking in meditation, whether reading or reciting the sutra."
We can understand this text from reading it. "They are [from] Light-Sound Heaven and Universal Purity Heaven." This is the long-form prose section that we have discussed previously. The second dhyana [leads to] Light-Sound Heaven. In the state of the second dhyana, we are already in the place [of Light-Sound beings]. There, everyone's bodies radiate light. What they have to say is expressed through light, so they do not need to speak with words. As I am speaking now, it takes great effort to project the sound [of my voice]. When [we are all] talking, it is very noisy. But for those who attain the second dhyana, they use light to [express themselves].
"The third dhyana is Universal Purity Heaven." The third dhyana [leads to] "Universal Purity Heaven," [and the beings there] come and go freely, without making any sound, They communicate with their minds and spirits. "Beyond [this are] the fourth dhyana and the grounds of [infinite] space and consciousness." The fourth dhyana [leads to] the grounds of [infinite] space and consciousness, which is not a state we can comprehend now. This is the summit of existence, which is the highest heaven.
"Thus, [the Buddha] said, even when it comes to those newly born in heaven, or to the fallen," they will know them all upon smelling their scents. We know that regardless of how many pleasures heavenly beings have, once they have exhausted their blessings and have shown five signs of decay, they will likewise fall again. So, there are "the newly born" and "the fallen." "Newly born" refers to those in the Saha World, this coarse human realm, who have accumulated [enough] blessed karma to be born into heaven and enjoy heavenly blessings. These are "the newly born." When they have fallen, this means their blessings have been depleted, so they must fall [into the lower destinies]. So, "They will know them all upon smelling their scents." [Advanced] spiritual practitioners can tell this.
From Light-Sound Heaven and Universal Purity Heaven all the way up to the summit of existence, from the newly born to the fallen, they will know them all upon smelling their scents: The second dhyana is Light-Sound Heaven. The third dhyana is Universal Purity Heaven. Beyond the fourth dhyana and the grounds of [infinite] space and consciousness is the summit of existence. Thus, [the Buddha] said, even when it comes to those newly born in heaven, or to the fallen, they will know them all upon smelling their scents. The newly born: This refers to those who have just been born into heaven. The fallen: This refers to those who have exhausted their heavenly blessings.
Likewise, for us, when flowers bloom, we see the fruits. Although we spiritual practitioners practice among the Five Turbidities, the Dharma [still contains] the true principles. Are we living a life of success or failure? Are we living our lives correctly or improperly? Just by applying our wisdom and our nose-root to sense our surroundings, we can understand this. We are like a lotus flower in the mud. When it blooms, there will be fruits, meaning [the seeds] have matured. Regardless of what state we are in, we spiritual practitioners are like lotus flowers. "They will know them all upon smelling their scents." When flowers bloom, they produce fruits. Once we encounter [the Dharma], we bear fruit; we bear fruit as soon as we encounter it. So, [the lotus] is an analogy for [spiritual practitioners]. "Newly born" refers to "those who have just been born into heaven." "The fallen" are "those who have exhausted their heavenly blessings." They have fallen into the human realm. They repeatedly come and go in the Five Realms.
The assemblies of bhiksus and so on are constantly diligent with respect to the Dharma: The assemblies of monastics and others practice this Dharma with constant diligence.
"The assemblies of bhiksus and so on are constantly diligent with respect to the Dharma." We spiritual practitioners are different. Since we are spiritual practitioners who have received Dharma, we will be settled [in the place] where we should practice. So, we "are constantly diligent with respect to the Dharma." Once we connect with the Dharma, we will be constantly diligent. For monastics, although we have left our biological families and do not have our own relatives, we have joined the Tathagata's great family. The whole world is our family and our home. Thus, we enter the home of Tathagata and treat sentient beings as our family members. Sentient beings are our family. The Tathagata's home is the Buddha's heart, which encompasses all sentient beings.
The Buddha is the kind father of the four kinds of beings and the guiding teacher of the three realms. When we enter the home of the Tathagata, the four kinds of beings all become our siblings. The Buddha is the kind father of the four kinds of beings, and we are also the Buddha's disciples. [Since] the four kinds of beings are all the Buddha's children, the Tathagata's home is our great family. This is just like what we talked about in Xiamen. Everyone said, "This is our home. Every one of us must care for this home. Everyone must support and cherish this home."
We monastics also left our families and loved ones to enter the home of the Tathagata. This big family of sentient beings is also ours. We have a saying that goes, "Entering the Tathagata's home, we must shoulder the Tathagata's duties." Picking up and carrying our rice bushel is the same principle. "The assemblies of monastics and others practice this Dharma with constant diligence." We must train [to become] strong enough to earnestly shoulder the Tathagata's family mission. We have no choice but to be diligent. So, we must work diligently.
Whether sitting or walking in meditation, whether reading or reciting the sutra: Whether they engage in sitting or walking meditation, whether they read or recite the sutra, those who are capable of this all have these karmic conditions from past lives. Using the fruit to examine the seed, we will know where they come from. If we plant good roots now and use the seed to predict the fruit, we will know that our future place of birth will be better than our present life.
"Whether we are sitting or walking in meditation," whether we are sitting or walking, our minds must not be distracted. Even when we are reading or reciting the sutra, it is the same. This is very simple; everyone can understand this. "Those who are capable of this all have these karmic conditions from past lives." We are able to earnestly practice in the same spiritual training ground. If it were not for our past affinities, we would not be here together, cultivating the same Dharma. Since we have entered the Tathagata's home, we must shoulder His mission by going among people to transform sentient beings, all using the same Dharma.
Then, "Using the fruit to examine the seed, we will know where they come from." For every cause, there is an effect. When we look at the seeds of a lotus, we know that [they will produce] lotus flowers. This is the cycle of cause and effect. Examining the seed, we know it is from a lotus because, when a lotus flower blooms, it bears more of these same seeds. Thus, "using the fruit to examine the seed, we will know where they come from." We know where they come from, from a lotus pond, where the lotus flowers bloom in the mud. This is how we know where it comes from. When we have a pleasant environment, we know we have created blessings in past lives. Therefore, our hard work has led to our present success. This is all a cycle of the same principle.
"If we plant good roots now..." Having planted good roots now, [we can] "use the seed to predict the fruit." Since we have such good causes now, [we know that] we will have good fruits. What we are planting now is the cause that will predict the result. By seeing the seed now, we know [it will become] a lotus flower.
"We will know that our future place of birth will be better than our present life." If we plant good causes in this lifetime, through hard work and diligence, we know what our future lifetime will be like. As we diligently learn the Dharma, we will understand that no matter what, we will never depart from the Dharma in the future. We will carry an abundance of Dharma with us into our future lives. We have much knowledge and many experiences in this world, and they have now turned into wisdom. In the future, we will use our wisdom in order to judge [our experiences]. This means that if we understand the sincerity we have toward the Dharma in this lifetime and our contribution to others in this world, once we clearly understand all these things, we can understand our future lives.
Some people say, "My [relative] has passed away." So, I tell them, "Do not worry, they have come back again." We [can] know the family they are in now because, in the past, they had these kinds of causes and good roots. They planted these good roots and have created such good affinities, so they have gone to this kind of family. Of course, in the future, because the causes are still there, they will turn consciousness into wisdom and not deviate from the path. If we can use this kind of mindset to see the world and understand the principles, we will have no difficulties.