The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Welling forth from the Earth
With Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
This is the fifteenth chapter of the twenty-eight chapters in the Dharma Flower Sutra. There are thirteen chapters left to explain. Why is this chapter named "Welling forth from the Earth"? The title refers to the Great Bodhisattvas who rise up out of the earth. How many of them do this? A tremendous number of them; six hundred billion, or as many as the number of sand grains in eight Ganges Rivers. Each of those Bodhisattvas also brings along six hundred billion members of his retinue. All these beings are disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha whom he taught and transformed in past lives. And so this chapter, number fifteen, has the title "Welling forth from the Earth."
At that time, in the great assembly, the Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas, who had come from other lands in numbers exceeding the grains of sand in eight Ganges Rivers, rose, placed their palms together, made obeisance, and said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, if you will allow us, after the Buddha’s Quiescence, here in this Saha world we will with ever-increasing vigor protect, maintain, read, recite, write out, and make offerings to this Sutra, and we will proclaim it far and wide throughout this land.”
B2. The fundamental door. Disclosing the near and revealing the far.
C1. Introductory narration.
D1. Welling up.
E1. Bodhisattvas from other lands ask to propagate the Sutra.
At that time, in the great assembly, the Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas, who had come from other lands in numbers exceeding the grains of sand in eight Ganges Rivers, rose. This multitude of Great Bodhisattvas came from other worlds and other lands to the Dharma assembly to see the Thus Come One Many Jewels and Shakyamuni Buddha. They placed their palms together, made obeisance, bowing to the Buddhas, and said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, if you will allow us, after the Buddha’s Quiescence, here in this Saha world we will with ever-increasing vigor protect, maintain, read, recite, write out, and make offerings to this Sutra, and we will proclaim it far and wide throughout this land.” They spoke to Shakyamuni Buddha, saying, “Please allow us to make this vow before the Buddhas. After the Buddha goes to Nirvana, we here in this Saha world will diligently increase our efforts in protecting those who are vigorous cultivators of the Way. We will protect the Bodhisattvas who read and recite the Wonderful Dharma Flower Sutra and who write out the Dharma Flower Sutra. We will make offerings to the Bodhisattvas who bring forth the Bodhisattva resolve to read and recite this Sutra. We will use the power of our various spiritual penetrations to protect such people in the Saha world, enabling them to explain the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra for all living beings.
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The mother of one of my disciples was here today for the Ullambana festival. Recently she was walking in the mountains and ate some sort of wild herb, which made her sick. At the time, she remembered that her daughter had told her that when she had been sick, she recited the name of Amitabha Buddha and her sickness was alleviated very quickly. Her daughter had even written out the name of the Buddha on a slip of paper and given it to her mother. She looked in her purse, found the slip of paper, and began reciting “Namo Amitabha Buddha.” After just a few minutes, she felt better.
Do you believe this? Some people might not. Some people might say that the Chinese are always telling unbelievable stories. But now Americans have such things happen to them, too. Actually, events like this are very common. You will hear of more as the days go by. Often when they happen, people do not know what to think, because the events are inconceivable, wonderful states. They happen whether you believe them or not. This disciple's mother is very happy that her daughter is studying here and is very supportive of her interest in Buddhism. That is why she obtained such a response.
After this, whenever something unusual happens, you can bring it up and tell everyone in the assembly. We can examine it according to the methods of Western logic and find out what kind of logic is behind it.
I will tell you a wonderful secret in one sentence: Those who have faith are saved. There is nothing more to it than that. Those who believe are saved; those who do not are not.
In Christianity, they say the same thing: "Those who believe will be saved." Those who believe get to go to heaven and be with God. The only problem with that is that the heavens are still within the wheel of rebirth. To be "saved" in Buddhism means to transcend the wheel of rebirth—to end birth and death. The Christian version of salvation is only a temporary arrangement; it is not eternal. It is true that if you cultivate according to their teachings, you can be born in heaven, but when your heavenly blessings are used up, you fall back down again. If you are saved according to the Buddha's teachings, you will be saved forever; you would not fall again.
Although the Christians claim that life in heaven is bliss eternal, it is only a claim. No one can prove it. People with wisdom would not believe that one cannot fall from the heavens. The Buddhist Sutras clearly state that if you are born in the heavens, once your heavenly blessings are exhausted, you will fall. There is no need to argue the point, however. Suffice it to say that there are differences in the Christian and Buddhist concepts of salvation.
In America there are weird people who lump the Buddhas, the gods, the spirits, and Jesus together, and say they are all the same. Why? To confuse the issue so that people cannot understand. Their aim is to keep you from understanding. My method is different. I want you to understand.
The Buddha then told the host of Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas, “Stop! Good men, you do not need to protect and maintain this Sutra. Why not? Within my Saha world itself there are Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas equal in number to the sands of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers, each of whom has a retinue equal in number to the sands of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers. After my Quiescence, all of them will protect, uphold, read, recite, and vastly proclaim this Sutra.”
E2. The Thus Come One refuses to grant permission.
The Buddha Shakyamuni then told the host of Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas, "Stop!" When he heard the Great Bodhisattvas, in number as many as the grains of sand in eight Ganges Rivers, express their wish to make a vow to read and recite the Dharma Flower Sutra after the Buddha's Quiescence, he said, "Stop! Do not make that vow! You do not need to protect and uphold my Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra. Good men, you do not need to protect and maintain this Sutra. Why did he stop them? Probably Shakyamuni Buddha wanted his own disciples to amass more merit and virtue, and so he objected to these Bodhisattvas from outside coming to protect and maintain his Dharma Flower Sutra. If these Bodhisattvas from outside protected the Sutra, his own disciples, whom he was teaching and transforming, would not have any work to do. Therefore he quickly said, “Stop, do not make that vow. I already have someone for this job. It is not necessary for you to do it. I do not need you to make this vow to protect and uphold the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra.”
Why not? Within my Saha world itself there are Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas equal in number to the sands of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers, each of whom has a retinue equal in number to the sands of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers. These are the ones I have taught and transformed. Each of these Bodhisattvas in turn has taught and transformed many other beings, who now make up their retinues. After my quiescence, all of them will protect, uphold, read, recite, and vastly proclaim this Sutra. They have already made this vow to protect and maintain the Dharma Flower Sutra, as well as to protect those who read the Sutra, recite the Sutra from memory, and who expansively explain this Sutra.
Just as the Buddha said this, the earth in the three thousand great thousand lands in the Saha world trembled and split open, and from its midst limitless thousands of tens of thousands of millions of Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas simultaneously welled forth.
E3. Welling up from below.
F1. Narrator’s observation.
G1. Welling up.
Just as the Buddha Shakyamuni said this, the earth in the three thousand great thousand lands in the Saha world trembled and split open. "Saha" refers to our world, which is "able to be endured." Within it there are three thousand great thousand lands. All of them quaked and split open. And from its midst limitless thousands of tens of thousands of millions of Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas simultaneously welled forth.
All at the same time, they rose from where the earth had split open. Would you say that was an amazing sight or not? Who were these Bodhisattvas? They were those whom Shakyamuni Buddha had taught and transformed in previous lives. That was why they all came to where Shakyamuni Buddha was speaking the Dharma Flower Sutra; they wanted to listen to the Dharma.
All of these Bodhisattvas possessed golden-hued bodies, the thirty-two marks, and limitless light.
G2. The appearance of their bodies.
All of these Bodhisattvas who rose up out of the earth possessed golden-hued bodies. Their bodies emitted purple-golden light, and they were replete with the thirty-two marks and limitless light.
They had been dwelling beneath the Saha world in the space belonging to this world.
G3. Where they lived.
They had been dwelling beneath the Saha world—the world we live in—in the space belonging to this world. Below the Saha world, the World That Can Be Endured, is the wheel of space, and that is where they had been staying.
Upon hearing the sound of Shakyamuni Buddha’s voice, all the Bodhisattvas came up from below.
G4. Hearing the Buddha’s voice.
Even though they were quite far away from our world, they could still hear Shakyamuni Buddha's voice as he spoke the Dharma Flower Sutra. Upon hearing the sound of Shakyamuni Buddha's voice, all the Bodhisattvas came up from below, from the wheel of empty space beneath this Saha world.
Each one of the Bodhisattvas was a leader who instructed and guided a great multitude. Each had a retinue numbering as many as the sand grains of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers. Still others had retinues numbering as many as the sand grains of fifty thousand, forty thousand, thirty thousand, twenty thousand, or ten thousand Ganges Rivers. Others had retinues numbering as many as the sand grains of one Ganges River, one half a Ganges River, one fourth, and on down to one thousandth of a ten thousandth of a millionth of a nayuta of a Ganges River.
Other had retinues numbering in the billions of nayutas. Others had retinues numbering in the hundreds of millions. Others had retinues numbering in the tens of millions, the millions, and on down to the tens of thousands. Others had a thousand or a hundred and on down to ten. Others had five, four, three, or two disciples, down to one disciple. Still others came alone, preferring isolation. And so it was that their numbers were limitless and boundless, beyond the power of calculation or analogy to make known.
G5. Their retinues.
Each one of the Bodhisattvas was a leader who instructed and guided a great multitude. They were guiding masters who were teaching and transforming living beings. "Instructed" means they lectured on the Sutras and spoke the Dharma. "Guided" means they told beings what path to take, what method to use in their cultivation. These Bodhisattvas acted as eyes for living beings. And living beings looked to them to find out how to practice. Each had a retinue numbering as many as the sand grains of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers. Each of the Bodhisattvas, who were as numerous as the sand grains of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers, brought along retinues of disciples and students numbering as many as the sand grains in sixty thousand Ganges Rivers. They were like one Dharma family. We are one big family in the Dharma, regardless of where we came from. Those who have taken refuge with the Triple Jewel are all of one family. There were as many Bodhisattvas as the sand grains of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers, and each had as many disciples as the sand grains of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers. Can you count how many that would be?
Still others had retinues numbering as many as the sand grains of fifty thousand Ganges Rivers. Although it is said that each Bodhisattva had a retinue numbering as many as the sand grains in sixty thousand Ganges Rivers, some had less. Perhaps they had retinues numbering as many as the sand grains in forty thousand, thirty thousand, twenty thousand, or ten thousand Ganges Rivers. Others had retinues numbering as many as the sand grains of one Ganges River, one half a Ganges River, one fourth, and on down to one thousandth of a ten thousandth of a millionth of a nayuta of a Ganges River. That is a relatively small number.
Others had retinues numbering in the billions of nayutas. Others had retinues numbering in the hundreds of millions. Others had retinues numbering in the tens of millions, the millions, and on down to the tens of thousands. Others had a thousand, or a hundred, and on down to ten. Others had five, four, three, or two disciples, down to one disciple. If we explain these numbers as representing aspects of the Dharma, the "five" here could refer to the five skandhas; "four" to the four truths; "three" to the three non-outflow studies of precepts, samadhi, and wisdom; "two" to samadhi and wisdom; and "one" to the one true path.
Still others came alone, preferring isolation. There might have been a Bodhisattva who did not want to take disciples. "Too much trouble," he said. "They never do what you tell them to do!" Such a Bodhisattva might even have vowed not to take disciples. It is true! He might fear the trouble, because with disciples, one is laughing while another is crying, or one is crying while the other is laughing. Another one is getting angry, and yet another is crying. Then the one that was angry may start laughing and say, “I will think of a way to make you get angry, and that will prove that you do not have any samadhi either—that you are no better than I am.” Therefore the Bodhisattva may not want to take disciples. It is pretty nice, not having disciples.
These Bodhisattvas prefer isolation. They run off to the mountains to get away from everyone. Perhaps a man feels that women are just giving him a lot of trouble, so he runs to the mountains to get away from them. That is seeking isolation. But if you retire from the world, you should do it properly. Do not go into seclusion and then send a publicity package out, telling everyone to come and make offerings to you—the Great Hermit! If you do that, you will have even more company and more problems. People will flock to you seeking blessings, wisdom, and liberation, wishing for this and hoping for that, and you will be in a fine fix! Those who genuinely prefer isolation do not want others to know that they are isolating themselves. They are not concerned about whether or not other people know that they are cultivating. Cultivation is something you do yourself. Why tell other people about it?
Someone says, "But if no one knows, how can we teach and transform beings?"
You do not teach and transform beings in a single period of time or even a single lifetime. You have to practice the Bodhisattva Way life after life and time after time. Before you have realized the Way, your main responsibility is to cultivate the Way.
And so it was that trying to compare them in order to know their number could not be done. Their numbers were limitless and boundless. That was because the number was simply too large. Some numbered as many as the sand grains of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers, some as many as in five Ganges Rivers, four, three, or two Ganges Rivers, and if you tried to add them all together, how many Ganges Rivers' sand grains would that be? No one could know precisely what that number would be; it would be beyond the power of calculation or analogy to make known. It would have no limit, no end, no bounds, and you could not even make an analogy that would come close. The best mathematician could not count them. All you could say is that those Bodhisattvas were limitless.
A mathematician may not believe that they cannot be counted. "Any number, no matter how large, can be calculated," might be the protest. But even if you did get a count, it would not be one hundred percent accurate. It could only be an approximation. To say nothing of anything else, we cannot even count the number of beings here at the Buddhist Lecture Hall! We would also have to approximate that number.
I have always liked math. When I was a child I always wanted to figure out what the biggest number would be. I would write a "1" and then start adding zeros to make 10; 100; 1,000; 10,000; and so forth. I kept adding zeros, covering the floor, the ceiling, and everything in between, on and on until I had written zeros on everything between heaven and earth and filled up empty space as well. What do you think the total was? Could you figure it out? Essentially, that is what is happening here in the text. We just keep adding zeros, filling up all of space, heaven and earth, and the wheel of space beneath the world. Nobody knows what the total is. You could not even count the number of zeros, let alone what they represent! Numbers are endless. No matter how gifted you are in mathematics, you could not figure this one out.
Having welled forth from the earth, all the Bodhisattvas went to the Wonderful Stupa of Seven Jewels in space, where the Thus Come One Many Jewels and Shakyamuni Buddha were. Arriving there, they turned toward the two World Honored Ones and bowed with their heads at those Buddhas’ feet. They went on to where all the Buddhas were seated on lion thrones beneath jeweled trees, bowed to them, circumambulated them three times to the right, put their palms together respectfully, and praised them with various Bodhisattva praises. Then they withdrew to one side and gazed joyfully at the two World Honored Ones.
F2. Paying respects.
G1. Offerings representing the three karmas.
H1. The offerings proper.
Having welled forth from the earth, all the Bodhisattvas, the uncountable Great Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas, emerged from the ground and went to the Wonderful Stupa of Seven Jewels in space, where the Thus Come One Many Jewels was. Each Bodhisattva went up into space to the place where the stupa made of seven treasures was. They went to see Many Jewels Thus Come One and Shakyamuni Buddha. Arriving there, after they got to that place, they turned toward the two World Honored Ones, Many Jewels and Shakyamuni, and bowed with their heads at those Buddhas' feet. They made full prostrations with their five limbs on the ground. They were single-mindedly respectful, and they placed their palms together. They went on to where all the Buddhas were seated on lion thrones beneath jeweled trees. They went to the Buddhas who had come from the ten directions and who were seated on lion seats underneath jeweled trees. Each of those Buddhas from the ten directions was on a lion throne, and the Bodhisattvas went to where they were and bowed to them. They made obeisance to them and circumambulated them three times to the right. Walking to the right around them thrice was a gesture of particular respect. They put their palms together respectfully. Placing their palms together represents purity of mind karma. Their body karma was also pure, and they praised them with various Bodhisattva praises. They sang praises that Bodhisattvas use to mutually laud one another, as well as praises to Buddhas, such as the one that begins “Amitabha’s body is the color of gold.”
We, too, sing praises every day, such as the praise to Shakyamuni Buddha:
In the heavens above, and in all that is below,
Nothing compares to the Buddha.
Throughout the worlds of the ten directions,
He is beyond compare.
Of all I have seen in the world,
There is nothing at all like the Buddha.
We also recite the praise to Amitabha Buddha:
Amitabha's body is the color of gold;
The splendor of his hallmarks has no peer.
The light of his brow shines round a hundred worlds;
Wide as the seas are his eyes pure and clear.
Shining in his brilliance by transformation
Are countless Bodhisattvas and infinite Buddhas.
His forty-eight vows will be our liberation;
In nine lotus stages we reach the farthest shore.
Those are praises to the Buddhas. Since we sing them every day, we should be conscious of what we are doing. Some people just do things by rote, and they do not really know what they are doing. They do not know that they are praising the Buddha. They get all caught up in the sound of the singer’s voice, and forget what the purpose of the chanting is. Some leaders of ceremonies recite so beautifully that the women who hear them become infatuated. They pursue the leader so they can listen to him recite the Sutras. This happens more often than you would think. It is hypnotic. When they are doing their secret ceremonies they say:
Nan ya hong!
Nan wa zi la hong,
They take money and run!
Then they, these Bodhisattvas, withdrew to one side after they had made obeisance and sung their praises to the Buddhas. They gazed joyfully at the two World Honored Ones. The Bodhisattvas were happy. They liked to look at Shakyamuni Buddha and the Thus Come One Many Jewels. You see, Bodhisattvas also have attachments: They like to see the Buddhas. There is a certain amount of attachment at whatever level you have reached. Getting rid of those attachments is what is meant by "You should produce that thought which is nowhere supported."
Someone is having a false thought: “Who does secret ceremonies like that?”
I will tell you: Me!
Someone else is thinking, "You talked about men who felt that women were giving them trouble, and so they ran off to the mountains. What about women? When they run off to the mountains, who is giving them trouble?"
Do you need to ask? Men, of course! You should be able to figure that one out for yourself.
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