Lotus Sutra

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  The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law
Chapter 2 - Tactfulness
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At that time the World-honored One, rising quietly and clearly from contemplation, addressed Shariputra: "The wisdom of buddhas is very profound and infinite. Their wisdom-school is difficult to understand and difficult to enter, so that the shravakas and pratyekabuddhas cannot apprehend it. Wherefore? [Because] the buddhas have been in fellowship with countless hundred thousand myriad kotis of buddhas, perfectly practicing the infinite Law of all buddhas, boldly and zealously advancing and [making] their fame universally known, perfecting the very profound, unprecedented Law and preaching, as opportunity served, its meaning [so] difficult to understand. Shariputra! Ever since I became Buddha, with various reasonings and various parables I have widely discoursed and taught, and by countless tactful methods have led living beings, causing them to leave all attachments. Wherefore? [Because] the Tathagata is altogether perfect in his tactfulness and paramita of wisdom. Shariputra! The wisdom of the Tathagata is broad and great, profound and far-reaching; [his mind] is infinite;1 [his expositions] are unimpeded;2 [his] powers,3 [his] fearlessness,4 [his] meditations,5 [his] emancipations,6 [his] contemplations have enabled him to enter into the boundless [realms] and to accomplish all the unprecedented Law. Shariputra! The Tathagata is able to discriminate everything, preach the laws skillfully, use gentle words, and cheer the hearts of all. Shariputra! Essentially speaking, the Buddha has altogether fulfilled the infinite, boundless, unprecedented Law. Enough, Shariputra, there is no need to say more. Wherefore? [Because] the Law which the Buddha has perfected is the chief unprecedented Law, and difficult to understand. Only a buddha together with a buddha can fathom the Reality of All Existence, that is to say, all existence7 [has] such a form, such a nature, such an embodiment, such a potency, such a function, such a primary cause, such a secondary cause, such an effect, such a recompense, and such a complete fundamental whole."8

At that time the World-honored One, desiring to proclaim this teaching over again, spoke thus in verse:

"Immeasurable are the world's heroes.
[Embracing] gods and men in the world
[Among] all the living creatures,
None can know the buddhas.
The Buddha's powers and fearlessness,
Emancipations and contemplations,
And the Buddha's other laws
No one is able to measure.
Of yore I followed countless buddhas,
And perfectly trod the [right] ways
Of the profound and wonderful Law,
Which are difficult to perceive and perform.
During infinite kotis of kalpas,
After pursuing all those ways,
Having obtained the perfect fruit on the wisdom throne,
I was able perfectly to understand.
Such great effects as these,
The meaning of every nature and form:
I and other buddhas in the universe
Alone can understand these things.
This Law is inexpressible,
It is beyond the realm of terms;
Among all the other living beings
None can apprehend it
Except the bodhisattvas
Who are firm in the power of faith.
The disciples of all the buddhas
Who have offered worship to the buddhas
And have ended all their faults
And dwell in this last bodily state,
Such men as these
Have not powers equal [to such knowledge].
Though the world were full
Of beings like Shariputra
Who with utmost thought combined to measure it,
They could not fathom the Buddha-wisdom.
Indeed though the universe were full
Of beings like Shariputra,
And the rest of [my] disciples
Filled the world in every quarter,
[Who] with utmost thought combined to measure it,
They also could not understand.
Though pratyekabuddhas of keen intelligence,
In their last faultless bodily stage,
Also filled every region of the universe,
Numerous as bamboo in the woods,
[If] these with united mind
Through infinite kotis of kalpas
Wished to ponder the Buddha's real wisdom,
[They] could not know the least part.
Though newly vowed bodhisattvas
Who have worshiped countless buddhas,
Have penetrated all meanings,
And can ably preach the Law,
[Abounding] as rice and hemp, bamboo and reeds,
Filled the world in every quarter,
[If] with one mind by mystic wisdom,
Through kalpas like the sands of the Ganges,
All these were to ponder together,
They could not know the Buddha-wisdom.
Though bodhisattvas, free from falling back,
Numerous as the sands of the Ganges,
With one mind investigated together,
They too could not understand.
Again I say to Shariputra:
'The faultless and inscrutable,
Profound and mysterious Law
I now have wholly attained.
Only I know these truths,
As also do the buddhas of the universe.
Know, Shariputra!
The words of buddhas do not differ.
In the laws preached by the Buddha
[You] should beget great strength of faith,
For at length after the Buddha's [preparatory] teaching
He must [now] proclaim the [perfect] Truth.'
I address all the shravakas
And seekers after the vehicle of pratyekabuddhas,
Those whom I have freed from the bondage of suffering
And who have reached nirvana:
'The Buddha employs his tactful powers;
He shows [the Way] by the three-vehicle teaching.
All beings have various attachments;
He leads them to obtain escape.'"

At that time in the great assembly there were shravakas and faultless arhats, Ajnata-Kaundinya and others, twelve hundred in number, and bhikshus, bhikshunis, upasakas, and upasikas, who had vowed to be shravakas and pratyekabuddhas - all these reflected thus: "For what reason does the World-honored One now extol the tactful way so earnestly and say these words: 'The Law which the Buddha has obtained is very profound and difficult to comprehend. That which he proclaims has a meaning so hard to understand that all the shravakas and pratyekabuddhas are unable to attain it'? [As yet] the Buddha has declared only one principle of emancipation, and we also, obtaining this Law, reach nirvana. But now we do not know where this principle leads."

At that time Shariputra, apprehending the doubt in the minds of the four groups and also himself not having mastered [the meaning], spoke to the Buddha, saying: "World-honored One! What is the cause and what the reason for so earnestly extolling the paramount tactful method and the very profound, mysterious Law, difficult to understand, of the buddhas? From of yore I have never heard such a discourse from the Buddha. At present these four groups are altogether in doubt. Will the World-honored One be pleased to explain these things, why the World-honored One extols so earnestly the very profound and mysterious Law, [so] difficult to understand."

Then Shariputra, desiring to announce this meaning over again, spoke thus in verse:

"O Wisdom Sun! Great Holy Honored One!
At length thou hast preached this Law,
[And] declared thyself to have obtained such
Powers, fearlessness, and contemplations,
Meditations, emancipations, and other
Inconceivable laws.
About the Law obtained on the wisdom throne
No one [has been] about to utter any question,
And I find it hard to fathom [the meaning]
And also am unable to ask questions.
Without being asked thou thyself hast spoken,
Extolling the way thou hast walked,
That thy most mysterious wisdom
Is that which the buddhas obtained.
All the faultless arhats
And those who are seeking nirvana
Have now fallen into nets of doubt.
Why does the Buddha speak thus?
Seekers after pratyekabuddhahood,
Bhikshus and bhikshunis,
Gods, dragons, and spirits,
Gandharvas and other beings
Scan each other in perplexity,
And look expectant to the Honored of Men.9
What may be [the meaning of] this matter?
We would the Buddha will explain.
In [this] assembly of shravakas
The Buddha says I am the chief [of the disciples],
But I, now, of my own wisdom
Am in doubt and cannot understand
Whether it is the final Law
Or is the way to progress [there].
The sons born of the Buddha’s mouth
With folded hands wait expectantly.
Be pleased to send forth the mystic sound
And now proclaim the truth as it is.
Gods, dragons, spirits, and others,
Numerous as the sands of the Ganges;
Bodhisattvas aspiring to be buddhas,
Fully eighty thousand in number;
Also, from myriads of kotis of countries,
Holy wheel-rolling kings are here,
With folded hands and reverent hearts,
Desiring to hear the perfect Way."

At that time the Buddha said to Shariputra: "Enough, enough, there is no need to say more. If I explain this matter, all the worlds of gods and men would be startled and perplexed."

Shariputra again said to the Buddha: "World-honored One! Be pleased to explain it! Be pleased to explain it! Wherefore? [Because] in this assembly there are numberless hundred thousand myriad kotis of asamkhyeya living beings who have already seen the buddhas, whose perceptions10 are keen and whose wisdom is clear. If they hear the Buddha's teaching, they will be able to believe it respectfully."

Then Shariputra, desiring to announce this meaning over again, spoke thus in verse:

"King of the Law, Most High Honored One!
Be pleased to explain without misgiving!
In this assembly are countless beings
Who can respectfully believe."

The Buddha again [said]: "Enough, Shariputra! If I explained this matter, all the worlds of gods, men, and asuras would be startled and perplexed, and haughty11 bhikshus might fall into the great pit."12

Then the World-honored One once again spoke in verse:

"Enough, enough, no need to say more.
My Law is subtle and inscrutable;
Those who are haughty
On hearing would not believe it respectfully."

Then Shariputra once again said to the Buddha: "World-honored One! Be pleased to explain it! Be pleased to explain it! In this present assembly there are, equal with me, hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis who, in former lives, have followed the Buddha and been transformed by him. Such men as these can certainly believe respectfully and throughout the night will peacefully rest and in various ways be abundantly benefited."

Then Shariputra, desiring to announce this meaning over again, spoke thus in verse:

"Most High and Honored of the Living!
Be pleased to explain the paramount Law!
I am the eldest son of the Buddha.
Condescend to explain it discriminately.
In this assembly countless beings
Are able respectfully to believe this Law.
The Buddha already in his former lives
Has taught such living beings.
All with one mind, folding their hands,
Desire to hear the Buddha's words.
There are twelve hundred of us
And others aspiring to be buddhas.
Be pleased, for the sake of these beings,
To condescend to explain it discriminately.
If these hear this Law,
They will beget great joy."

At that time the World-honored One addressed Shariputra: "Since you have already thrice earnestly repeated your request, how can I refuse to speak? Do you now listen attentively to, ponder, and remember it! I will discriminate and explain it for you."

When he had thus spoken, in the assembly some five thousand bhikshus, bhikshunis, upasakas, and upasikas straightway rose from their seats and, saluting the Buddha, withdrew. Wherefore? [Because] the root of sin in these beings was so deep and their haughty spirit so enlarged that they imagined they had attained what they had not attained and had proved what they had not proved. In such error as this they would not stay; and the World-honored One was silent and did not stop them.

Thereupon the Buddha addressed Shariputra: "Now in this congregation I am free from [useless] twigs and leaves, and have nothing but all that are purely the true and real. It is good, Shariputra, that such extremely haughty ones as those are gone away. Now carefully listen and I will expound [the matter] for you." Shariputra said: "So be it, World-honored One; I desire joyfully to listen."

The Buddha addressed Shariputra: "Such a wonderful Law as this is [only] preached by the buddha-tathagatas on [rare] occasions, just as the udumbara flower is seen but once in [long] periods. Shariputra, believe me, all of you; in the Buddha's teaching no word is false. Shariputra, the meaning of the laws which the buddhas expound as opportunity serves is difficult to understand. Wherefore? [Because] I expound the laws by numberless tactful ways and with various reasonings and parabolic expressions. These laws cannot be understood by powers of thought or discrimination; only the buddhas can discern them. Wherefore? [Because] the buddhas, the world-honored ones, only on account of the one [very] great cause appear in the world. Shariputra, why [do I] say that the buddhas, the world-honored ones, only on account of the one [very] great cause appear in the world? Because the buddhas, the world-honored ones, desire to cause all living beings to open [their eyes] to the Buddha-knowledge so that they may gain the pure [mind], [therefore] they appear in the world; because they desire to show all living beings the Buddha-knowledge, they appear in the world; because they desire to cause all living beings to apprehend the Buddha-knowledge, they appear in the world; because they desire to cause all living beings to enter the way of the Buddha-knowledge, they appear in the world.13 Shariputra, this is why it is [only] on account of the one [very] great cause that buddhas appear in the world."

The Buddha addressed Shariputra: "The buddha-tathagatas teach only bodhisattvas. Whatever they do is always for one purpose, that is, to take the Buddha-knowledge and reveal it to all living beings. Shariputra! The Tathagata, by means of the One Buddha-vehicle,14 preaches to all living beings the Law; there is no other vehicle, neither a second nor a third. Shariputra! The laws of all the buddhas in the universe also are like this. Shariputra! The buddhas in times past, by infinite, numberless tactful ways and with various reasonings and parabolic expressions, expounded the laws for the sake of all living beings. All these laws are for the One Buddha-vehicle, [so that] all those living beings, who have heard the Law from the buddhas, might all finally obtain perfect knowledge.

"Shariputra! The future buddhas who are to appear in the world will also, by infinite, numberless tactful ways and with various reasonings and parabolic expressions, expound the laws for the sake of all living beings. All these laws are for the One Buddha-vehicle, [so that] all those living beings who hear the Law from the buddhas shall finally obtain perfect knowledge.

"Shariputra! The buddhas, the world-honored ones, at present in innumerable hundred thousand myriad kotis of buddha-lands in the universe, who are so greatly benefiting and rejoicing all living beings, these buddhas, by infinite, numberless tactful ways and with various reasonings and parabolic expressions, also expound the laws for the sake of all living beings. All these laws are for the One Buddha-vehicle, [so that] all those living beings who hear the Law from the buddhas finally obtain perfect knowledge.

"Shariputra! All these buddhas teach only bodhisattvas, desiring to show all living beings the Buddha-knowledge, desiring to cause all living beings to apprehend the Buddha-knowledge, and desiring to cause all living beings to enter the Way of the Buddha-knowledge. Shariputra! I, at the present time, am also like them. Knowing that all living beings have many kinds of desires deeply attached in their minds, I have, according to their capacity, expounded the laws by various reasonings, parabolic expressions, and tactful powers. Shariputra! Such [teachings] all are in order to secure perfect knowledge of the One Buddha-vehicle. Shariputra! In the whole universe there are not even two vehicles,15 how much less a third.16

"Shariputra! The buddhas appear in the evil ages of the five decays, that is to say, decay of the kalpa, decay through tribulations, decay of all living creatures, decay of views, and decay of lifetime. Thus, Shariputra! Because in the disturbed times of kalpa decay all living beings are very vile, being covetous and envious, bringing to maturity every root of badness, the buddhas by tactful powers in the One Buddha-vehicle discriminate and expound the three. Shariputra! If my disciples who call themselves arhats or pratyekabuddhas [will] neither hear nor understand that the buddha-tathagatas teach only bodhisattvas, these are not the Buddha's disciples nor arhats nor pratyekabuddhas.

"Again, Shariputra! [If] those bhikshus and bhikshunis who claim that they have already become arhats [and say]: 'This is our last bodily state [before] final nirvana,' and thereupon do not again devote themselves to seek after Perfect Enlightenment, you must know that this class are all extremely conceited. Wherefore? [Because] there is no such thing as a bhikshu who has really obtained arhatship if he has not believed this Law. [But] there is an exceptional case when, after the Buddha's extinction, there is no [other] buddha present. Wherefore? [Because] after the Buddha's extinction it is hard to find persons who [can] receive and keep, read and recite, and explain the meaning of such sutras as these. [Only] if they meet other buddhas can they, in this [same] Law, obtain [the] solution. Shariputra! You should with all your heart believe and discern, receive and keep the word of the Buddha. No word of the buddha-tathagatas is false; there is no other vehicle, but only the One Buddha-vehicle."

At that time the World-honored One, desiring to proclaim this teaching over again, spoke thus in verse:

"Bhikshus and bhikshunis
Obsessed by utmost arrogance,
Upasakas [filled with] self-conceit,
Upasikas with unbelief,
Four groups such as these,
Five thousand in number,
Perceiving not their errors
And faults in the commandments,
Careful only of their flaws:
Such small wit they showed,
These dregs of the assembly, who
Because of the Buddha's splendid virtue withdrew;
These men of little virtuous happiness
Are incapable of receiving this Law.
[Now] this assembly has no twigs and leaves,
But only those who are true and real.
Shariputra! Listen carefully to
The laws obtained by the buddhas, which,
By infinite tactful powers,
They expound for all creatures.
What they all entertain in their minds,
All the ways they practice,
How many kinds are their desires,
And their former karmas, good and evil,
The Buddha knows all these perfectly.
With various reasonings and parables,
Terms and tactful powers,
He causes them all to rejoice,
Preaching either sutras,
Or gathas, or former things,17
Or birth stories,18 or the unprecedented,19
And also preaching by reasonings,20
By parables21 and geyas,
And by upadesha scriptures.
The dull who delight in petty rules,22
Who are greedily attached to existence,
Who, under innumerable buddhas,
Do not walk the profound and mystic Way,
Who are harassed by all the sufferings -
Because of these I preach nirvana.
I [have] set up such tactful ways
To enable them to enter the Buddha-wisdom.
[But] I have never said: 'You all
Shall accomplish the Buddha-way.'
The reason why I have never [so] said
Is that the time for saying it had not arrived.
[But] now is the very time,
And I have resolved to preach the Great-vehicle.
These nine divisions23 of my Law
Preached according to [the capacity] of all creatures
Are [but] the introduction to the Great-vehicle,
Hence I preach this sutra.
There are sons of the Buddha whose minds are pure,
Who are gentle and clever-natured,
And who, in innumerable Buddha-regions,
Have walked the profound and mystic Way;
On behalf of these sons of the Buddha
I preach this Great-vehicle sutra.
And I predict that such men as these
In the world to come will accomplish the Buddha-way.
Through their deep-hearted mindfulness of the Buddha
And observance of the pure commandments,
These, hearing that they may become buddhas,
Are filled throughout with great joy.
The Buddha knows their mind and conduct,
And therefore preaches to them the Great-vehicle.
[If] shravakas or bodhisattvas
Hear the Law which I preach,
Even be it but one verse,
All, without doubt, become buddhas.
In the buddha-lands of the universe
There is only the One-vehicle Law,
Neither a second nor a third,
Except the tactful teachings of the Buddha.
But by provisional expressions
He has led all living creatures,
Revealing the Buddha-wisdom.
In the appearing of buddhas in the world
Only this One is the real fact,
For the other two are not the true.
They never by a smaller vehicle24
Save all living creatures.
The Buddha himself abides in the Great-vehicle,
In accordance with the Law he has attained,
Enriched with powers of meditation and wisdom,
And by it25 he saves all creatures.
I, proving the supreme Way,
The Great-vehicle, the universal Law,
If I convert by a smaller vehicle
Even but one human being,
I shall fall into grudging -
A thing that cannot be.
If men turn in faith to the Buddha,
The Tathagata will not deceive them,
[For he] has no covetous and envious desires
And is free from all the sins of the laws.
So the Buddha, in the universe,
Is the one being perfectly fearless.
I, by my signs-adorned body,26
With their shining illuminate the world,
And am worshiped by countless multitudes,
For whom I preach the seal of reality.27
Know, Shariputra!
Of yore I made a vow,
Wishing to cause all creatures
To rank equally without difference with me.
According to the vow I made of old,
Now [all] has been perfectly fulfilled
For converting all living beings
And leading them to enter the Buddha-way.
Whenever I meet any creatures
I teach them all by the Buddha-way.
[But] the unwitting [remain] confused
And, going astray, never accept my teaching.
I know that all these creatures
Have never practiced the fundamental goodness,
Are firmly attached to the five desires,
And through infatuation are in distress;
By reason of these desires,
They have fallen into the three evil paths;
Transmigrating in the six states of existence,
They suffer the utmost misery.
Received into the womb in minute form,
Life after life they ever increase and grow,
Poor in virtue and of little happiness.
They are oppressed by all the distresses;
They have entered the thickets of heretical views,
Such as 'existence' or 'nonexistence';28
Relying on these [false] views,
Altogether sixty-two,29
They are deeply attached to these false laws,
Firmly holding, unable to give them up,
Self-sufficient and self-inflated,
Suspicious, crooked, and faithless in mind;
During thousands and milliards of kalpas
They have not heard the name of a buddha,
Nor have they heard the True Law;
Men such as these can hardly be saved.
For this reason, Shariputra,
I set up a tactful way for them,
Proclaiming the way to end sufferings,
Revealing it through nirvana.
Though I proclaim nirvana,
Yet it is not real extinction.
All existence,30 from the beginning,
Is ever of the nirvana-nature.
When a son of the Buddha has fulfilled his course,
In a world to come he becomes a buddha.
[Only] by my powers of tactfulness
Do I manifest the three-vehicle Law.
[For] all the world-honored ones
Expound the One-vehicle Way.
Now let all in this great assembly
Be free from doubts and perplexities.
The buddhas do not differ in their statements;
There is One only and no second vehicle.
In the past countless kalpas
Innumerable extinct buddhas,
In hundreds, thousands, and milliards,
Whose numbers cannot be counted,
All such world-honored ones as these
With various reasonings and parables
And innumerable tactful powers
Have proclaimed the various laws.
[But] all these world-honored ones
Proclaimed the One-vehicle Law,
Converting numberless creatures
To enter the Buddha-way.
Moreover, the great holy masters,
Knowing that which all the worlds
Of gods, men, and other creatures
Deeply desire in their hearts,
In addition, by varying tactfulness,
Assist in revealing the first principles.
If there are any beings
Who have met the former buddhas;
If, having heard the Law, they have given donations;
If they have kept the commandments and been persevering,
Been assiduous, meditative, and wise;
Having kept these various ways of happiness and virtue,
Such beings as these
Have all attained the Buddha-way.
After the extinction of buddhas,
Men with good and soft minds for the truth,
Such living beings as these
Have all attained the Buddha-way.
After the extinction of buddhas,
Those who worshiped their relics
And built many kotis of sorts of stupas,
With gold, silver, and crystal,
With moonstone and agate,
With jasper and lapis lazuli,
Clearly and broadly decorated,
Handsomely displayed on every stupa;
Or those who built stone shrines
Of sandalwood and aloes,
Eaglewood and other woods,
Of brick, tiles, and clay;
Or those who in the wilds
Raised earth for buddhas' shrines;
Even children, in their play,
Who gathered sand for a buddha's stupa:
All such beings as these
Have attained the Buddha-way.
If men for the sake of buddhas
Have erected images
Carved with the [characteristic] signs,
[They] have all attained the Buddha-way.
Or those who with the precious seven,
With brass, red and white copper,
With wax, lead, and tin,
With iron, wood, and clay,
Or with glue and lacquer
Have adorned and made buddhas' images,
All such ones as these
Have attained the Buddha-way.
Those who have painted buddhas' images
With the hundred blessing-adorned signs,
Whether done by themselves or by employing others,
Have all attained the Buddha-way.
Even boys in their play
Who with reed, wood, or pen
Or with the fingernail
Have drawn buddhas' images,
All such ones as these,
Gradually accumulating merit
And perfecting hearts of great pity,
Have attained the Buddha-way;
Indeed, by influencing the bodhisattvas,
Have saved countless creatures.
If men to the stupas and shrines,
To the precious images and paintings,
With flowers, incense, flags, and umbrellas
Have paid homage with respectful hearts;
Or employed others to perform music,
Beat drums, blow horns and conchs,
Panpipes and flutes, play lutes, harps,
Guitars, gongs, and cymbals,
Such mystic sounds as these,
All played by way of homage;
Or with joyful hearts
By singing have extolled the merits of buddhas
Even though in but a low voice,
[These too] have attained the Buddha-way.
Even anyone who, with distracted mind,
With but a single flower
Has paid homage to the painted images
Shall gradually see countless buddhas.
Or those who have offered worship,
Were it by merely folding the hands,
Or even raising a hand,
Or by slightly bending the head,
By thus paying homage to the images
Gradually see innumerable buddhas,
Attain the supreme Way,
Extensively save countless creatures,
And enter the formless nirvana,
As [when] firewood is finished the fire dies out.
If any, [even] with distracted mind,
Enter a stupa or temple
And cry but once 'Namah Buddha,'
They have attained the Buddha-way.
If any from the buddhas of the past,
Whether in existence or already extinct,
Have heard this Law,
They have all attained the Buddha-way.
All the future world-honored ones,
Infinite in their number,
All these tathagatas
Also by tactful ways preach the Law.
All of the tathagatas
By infinite tactful ways
Save all living creatures
To enter the Buddha's faultless wisdom.
Of those who hear the Law
Not one fails to become a buddha.
[This is] the original vow of the buddhas:
'By the Buddha-way which I walk,
I desire universally to cause all creatures
To attain the same Way along with me.'
Though the buddhas in future ages
Proclaim hundreds, thousands, kotis,
Countless schools of doctrine,
In reality they are [but] the One-vehicle.
The buddhas, the honored ones,
Know that nothing has an independent existence31
And that buddha-seeds32 spring from a cause,33
So they reveal the One-vehicle.
All things abide in their fixed order,
[Hence] the world abides forever.34
Having apprehended this on the wisdom throne,
The leaders proclaim it in tactful ways.
Whom gods and men pay homage to,
The present buddhas in the universe,
Whose number is as the sands of the Ganges,
And who appear in the world
For the relief of all creatures,
These also proclaim such a Law as this.
Knowing the supreme nirvana,
Though by reason of their tactful powers
They display various kinds of ways,
Really they are [but] the [One] Buddha-vehicle.
Knowing the conduct of all creatures,
What they entertain in their deepest minds,
The karma they have developed in the past,
Their inclinations and zeal,
And their capacities, keen or dull,
With various kinds of reasonings,
Parables, and narrations,
As they could respond, so have they tactfully taught.
Now I also in like manner
For the relief of all creatures
By various kinds of doctrine
Promulgate the Buddha-way.
I, by my power of wisdom,
Knowing the natures and inclinations of creatures,
Tactfully proclaim the laws
[Which] cause all to obtain gladness.
Know, Shariputra!
I, observing with the Buddha's eyes,
See the creatures in the six states of existence,
Poor and without happiness and wisdom,
In the dangerous path of mortality,
In continuous, unending misery,
Firmly fettered by the five desires
Like the yak caring for its tail,
Smothered by greed and infatuation,
Blinded and seeing nothing;
They seek not the Buddha, the mighty,
And the Law to end sufferings,
But deeply [fall] into heresies,
And seek by suffering to be rid of suffering.
For the sake of all these creatures,
My heart is stirred with great pity.
When I first sat on the wisdom throne,
Looking at [that] tree and walking about it
During thrice seven days,
I pondered such matters as these:
'The wisdom which I have obtained
Is wonderful and supreme.
[But] all creatures are dull in their capacities,
Pleasure-attached and blind with ignorance.
Such classes of beings as these,
[I saw,] how can they be saved?'
Thereupon all the Brahma kings
And Lord Shakra of all the gods,
The four heavenly beings who protect the worlds,
Also the god Great Sovereign
And all the other heavenly beings,
With hundreds of thousands of myriads of followers,
Respectfully saluted with folded hands,
Entreating me to roll the wheel of the Law.35
Then I pondered within myself:
'If I only extol the Buddha-vehicle,
All creatures, being sunk in suffering,
Will not be able to believe this Law,
And by breaking the Law through unbelief
Will fall into the three evil paths.
I had rather not preach the Law,
But instantly enter nirvana.'
Then, on remembering what former buddhas
Performed by their tactful powers,
[I thought:] 'The Way which I have now attained
I must preach as the tripartite vehicle.'
While I was pondering thus,
All the buddhas in the universe appeared
And, with sacred voice, cheered me in response:
'Excellent! Shakyamuni!
The first of leaders!
Having attained this supreme Law,
Thou art following after all the buddhas
In using tactful powers.
We, too, have all attained
This most wonderful, supreme Law,
[But] for the sake of the many kinds of creatures,
We divide and preach [it] in three vehicles.
Those of little wisdom delight in petty laws,
Not believing that they can become buddhas,
Hence we, by tactful ways,
Divide and preach the [natural] results.
Though we also proclaim the three vehicles,
It is only for teaching the bodhisattvas.'
Know, Shariputra!
Hearing the voices of the Holy Lions,
Profoundly clear and mystic,
I saluted them, 'Namah buddhas,'36
And again reflected thus:
'Having come forth into the disturbed and evil world,
I, according to the buddhas' behest,
Will also obediently proceed.'
Having finished pondering this matter,
I instantly went to Varanasi.
The nirvana-nature of all existence,
Which is inexpressible,
I by [my] tactful ability
Preached to the five bhikshus.37
This is called [the first] rolling of the Law-wheel,
Whereupon there was the news of nirvana38
And also the separate names of Arhat,
Of Law, and of Samgha.39
From distant kalpas onward
I have extolled and indicated the Law of nirvana
For the perpetual end of mortal distress;
Thus have I continuously spoken.
Know, Shariputra!
When I saw the Buddha-sons
Bent on seeking the Buddha-way,
In countless thousands and myriads of kotis,
All, with reverent hearts,
Draw near to [me] the Buddha;
They had already heard from the buddhas
The Law which they tactfully explained.
Then I conceived this thought:
'The reason why the Tathagata appears
Is for preaching the Buddha-wisdom;
Now is the very time.'
Know, Shariputra!
The stupid and those of little wit,
The tied to externals and the proud
Cannot believe this Law.
But now I am glad and fearless;
In the midst of the bodhisattvas
Frankly put aside tactfulness
And only proclaim the supreme Way.
[You] bodhisattvas hearing this Law,
Having all got rid of the nets of doubts,
[You] twelve hundred arhats
Will all become buddhas.
In the same fashion that the buddhas,
Past, present, and future, preach the Law,
So also will I now
Proclaim the undivided Law.
The appearing of buddhas in the world
Is far apart and of rare occurrence,
And when they do appear in the world,
With [equal] rareness do they proclaim this Law.
Even in infinite countless kalpas,
Rarely may this Law be heard;
And those who are able to listen to this Law,
Men such as these are also rare.
It is like the udumbara flower,
Which all love and enjoy,
Seldom seen by gods and men,
Appearing but once in [long] periods.
So he who, hearing the Law, extols it joyfully
And utters but one single word of it
Has already paid homage to
All the buddhas in the three worlds.
Such a one is exceedingly rare,
[Rarer] than the udumbara flower.
Be you free from doubts;
I am the king of the Law40
And declare to all the assembly:
'I, only by the One-vehicle Way,
Teach the bodhisattvas,
And have no shravaka disciples.'
Know, all of you, Shariputra,
Shravakas, and bodhisattvas,
That this Wonderful Law
Is the mystery of all the buddhas.
Because the evil world of the five decadences
Only delights in sensual attachments,
[Its] creatures such as these
Never seek the Buddha-way.
The wicked in generations to come,
Who hear the One-vehicle preached by the Buddha,
In their delusion and unbelief
Will break the Law and fall into evil ways.
[But] there are beings, modest and pure,
Devoted to seeking the Buddha-way;
For such as these [I] must
Widely extol the One-vehicle Way.
Know, Shariputra!
The Law of the buddhas is thus:
By myriads of kotis of tactful ways
They proclaim the Law as opportunity serves.
[But] those who will not learn
Are not able to discern it.
[But] you already know
The expedient tactful ways of
The buddhas, the leaders of the world.
Have no further doubts;
Rejoice greatly in your hearts,
Knowing that you will become buddhas."*


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Kosei - The Gift of Life. The Power to Live.
1 "Infinite" indicates the four kinds of infinite mind or infinite virtues: benevolence (or kindness), compassion, joy, and indifference. See also p. 209, fn. 5.
2 "Unimpeded" (or "unlimited") indicates the four unlimited forms of wisdom listed on p. 32, fn. 4.
3 The ten powers.
4 The four kinds of fearlessness of a buddha: (1) fearlessness in proclaiming all truth; (2) fearlessness in proclaiming the truth of perfection, or freedom from faults; (3) fearlessness in exposing obstacles to the truth; and (4) fearlessness in proclaiming the way to end all suffering.
5 Dhyana, literally, "fixed abstraction": contemplation or exercises in reflection; one of the Six Paramitas.
6 The eight emancipations.
7 All laws or all existences. The word "Reality" does not occur in the extant Sanskrit text.
8 These ten categories, termed the Ten Suchnesses, are fundamental to the T'ien-t'ai sect of Buddhism. The most important doctrine of its founder, Chih-i (538-97), that of "three thousand [worlds] in one thought," arises from these categories. The extant Sanskrit text has only the following sentences corresponding to these ten categories: (1) ye ca te dharma, or "what those laws are," "such a nature"; (2) yatha ca te dharma, or "how those laws are," "such a function"; (3) yadrishash ca te dharma, or "like what those laws are," "such a complete fundamental whole"; (4) yallakshanash ca te dharma, or "of what forms [or characteristics] those laws are," "such a form"; (5) yatsvabhavash ca te dharmah, or "of what self-natures those laws are," "such an embodiment"; (6) ye ca, or "what"; (7) yatha ca, or "how"; (8) yadrishash ca, or "like what"; (9) yallakshanash ca, or "of what forms"; (10) yatsvabhavash ca, or "of what self-natures." These seem to correspond to the ten categories, but the sixth to the tenth, which are not found in Kern's translation, may be only a repetition of the first five. This extant Sanskrit original may be different from that which Kumarajiva used, or Kumarajiva may have translated these words according to their inner, esoteric meanings.
9 Literally, "the honored biped," or the most honored of living beings that have two legs; another epithet of the Buddha. The two legs indicate virtuous happiness and wisdom, commandments and meditation, and so on--the means by which the Buddha works in the universe.
10 Literally, "roots." Usually there are considered to be six roots, or sense organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. But here the "five roots" are meant, the roots of faith, zealous progress, memory, meditation, and wisdom. The five roots are also called the five powers.
11 Utmost haughtiness or arrogance, which possesses those who mistakenly think they have obtained the perfect Law.
12 This refers to hell.
13 To open, to show, to apprehend, and to enter the perception of the Buddha-knowledge are termed the four perceptions of the Buddha-knowledge. Every creature originally has the buddha-nature, but buried beneath his ignorance and earthly cares it is invisible. In this sutra the Buddha teaches that all creatures can realize their own buddha-nature and teaches these four perceptions of the Buddha-knowledge.
14 Also called the One-vehicle and the Buddha-vehicle. "Vehicle" (Sanskrit yana) means a vehicle by which one reaches the goal, the Law taught and practiced by the Buddha. It is interpreted as (1) the Law by which one obtains buddhahood and (2) those who practice that Law. The Buddha spoke of many kinds of vehicles--the two vehicles, the three vehicles, the five vehicles, and so on. The One Buddha-vehicle means the Law taught and practiced as the one and only Buddha-way, and also refers to those who follow that Law. This teaching includes two concepts of the vehicle, as relative and as absolute. The One Buddha-vehicle, considered as relative, is a vehicle that is explained correlatively with other kinds of vehicles. In such cases the One Buddha-vehicle refers to one of those vehicles; the term used in this sense is found in all the Mahayana sutras. In this chapter, however, the Buddha proclaims that such teachings are all temporary and expedient, for use only until he reveals the final truth. Here the absolute One Buddha-vehicle is shown as the final truth, comprehending all temporary and expedient teachings. After this absolute One Buddha-vehicle has been revealed, none of the other vehicles is to exist independently; all Buddhism is to depend upon and be unified in it. Only this sutra contains this doctrine, and is therefore known as the One-vehicle sutra.
15 The vehicles of the shravaka and pratyekabuddha.
16 The third vehicle is that of the bodhisattva.
17 Literally, "original events"; stories of previous lives of saints, such as shravakas and bodhisattvas.
18 Stories detailing the former lives of the Buddha.
19 Literally, "what never took place before," that is, marvels.
20 Literally, "causes and reasons," or primary and secondary causes; the chain of cause and effect of all existence, in which there are twelve links. This also refers to the three classes of sutras: those written because of a request or query, those written because of certain violated precepts, and those written because of special events that demand doctrinal clarification.
21 Literally, "comparisons of parables."
22 Literally, "small law." Here it means the Hinayana.
23 The nine divisions of Hinayana texts, arranged according to subject. The nine divisions are sutras, stanzas, former things, birth stories, the unprecedented, reasonings, parables, chants, and doctrinal discourses.
24 The Hinayana.
25 The Great-vehicle, or Mahayana.
26 This refers to the thirty-two signs that distinguish a buddha.
27 The seal of the Law, a system of magic gesticulaton. Here it means that the teaching of the Reality of All Existence in this sutra is the Buddha's seal.
28 "There is," or being, existence, and "There is not," or nonbeing, nonexistence. The former is the view that all is real, the latter that all is unreal. These are two schools of non-Buddhist thought.
29 The sixty-two views arise out of the above two views, that is, of existence and nonexistence.
30 Or "laws." These two lines may be read: "All and any laws from the very first have always been those of nirvana."
31 Literally, "laws [or beings] are always non-nature." This means that no existing thing has its own fixed or independent nature and body. That is to say, all existing things are inconceivable and mysterious.
32 The buddha-seed is the buddha-nature possessed by all things. This includes two concepts: (1) the natural seed, or nature-seed, is the buddha-seed that all existing things, even beings in hell, originally possess, but it has no independent power to appear of itself; (2) the vehicle-seed is the buddha-seed by which the natural seed is caused to appear. The latter is the Law of the One Buddha-vehicle revealed in this sutra.
33 The natural seed can only be developed through the teaching and practice of the Law of the One Buddha-vehicle. The buddha-nature of all beings depends upon this Law, climbs up by it, and appears through its help or by reason of it. Here "cause" may be read as "providence." The two lines from "Know" to "cause" differ from the extant Sanskrit text, probably because of a difference in the original texts used.
34 This translation follows the interpretation of the T'ien-t'ai sect, but it may also be read: "These stable laws and order [are] / Immovable [and] ever abide in the world," because the extant Sanskrit text reads: "dharma-sthitim dharma-niyamatam ca / nitya-sthitam loki imam akampyam." According to Chih-i, dharma-niyamata, law-order or fixed position, indicates suchness. That is, every law (or being) abide in suchness or reality. Because of standing on reality, all laws (or beings) abide forever, and therefore every phenomenon also has an unshakable and everlasting existence.
35 "To roll the wheel of the Law" means to teach the Law. The first sermon of the Buddha in particular is designated by this term.
36 This may be translated "Hail to the buddhas!"
37 The five ascetics who had been Shakyamuni's companions before his enlightenment: Ajnata-Kaundinya, Ashvajit, Vashpa, Mahanaman, and Bhadrika.
38 Literally, "nirvana-sound" or "voice of nirvana"; that is, the term "nirvana" (enlightenment) was uttered.
39 That is, the terms "Arhat" (Buddha), "Dharma" (Law, or Teaching), and "Samgha" (assemblage of monks) successively came into being.
40 "King of the Law" is an epithet of every buddha.
* The title of this chapter in Chinese, Fang-pien 方便 (Sanskrit Upaya-kaushalya), means an appropriate, expedient, or tactful method.