The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 16: The Thus Come One's Life Span
Maitreya Bodhisattva and the others all said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, those world systems would be limitless, boundless, beyond calculation, and beyond the power of the mind to know. All the Hearers and Pratyekabuddhas, using their non-outflow wisdom, could not conceive of them or know their limit or number.”
“We now dwell on the ground of avaivartika, but we cannot comprehend this matter, World Honored One, and so such world systems would be limitless and boundless.”
L2. The answer.
Maitreya Bodhisattva and the others, the Great Bodhisattvas, all said to the Buddha—they simultaneously said to the Buddha—"World Honored One, those world systems, that large number of them you just now described, would be limitless and boundless, beyond calculation. There would be no way to use numbers to calculate them. And they would be beyond the power of the mind to know; nor is this something that the ordinary mind can comprehend. All the Hearers and Pratyekabuddhas—the Hearers and Those Enlightened by Conditions—using their non-outflow wisdom, by means of their wisdom devoid of afflictions and outflows, still could not conceive of them. Although their wisdom is quite lofty, they have no way to know this number. They cannot know their limit or number. They cannot know the range of this calculation. There is no certain number that can represent these world systems, no way to know exactly how many there were.
"We now dwell on the ground of avaivartika. We abide on the ground of no retreat." Avaivartika is a Sanskrit word and is translated as "the ground of no retreat." "No retreat" means:
1. Their position was irreversible. They would not retreat to the Two Vehicles.
2. Their conduct was irreversible. They would not retreat to the conduct of those of the Two Vehicles.
3. Their mindfulness was irreversible. They would not retreat to the thoughts of those of the Two Vehicles.
But we cannot comprehend this matter. We cannot figure out this number; we cannot understand this event. World Honored One, such world systems would be limitless and boundless. The World Honored One spoke of so many worlds. They have no bounds and no limit.
At that time the Buddha spoke to the great hosts of Bodhisattvas, saying, “Good men, I shall now explain this clearly for you. If all these world systems—whether a dust mote was deposited in them or not—were reduced to dust motes, and if each dust mote were an eon, the time that has passed since I became a Buddha would exceed even that by hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of eons.”
L3. Showing the remoteness.
At that time the Buddha spoke to the great hosts of Bodhisattvas, saying: Shakyamuni Buddha spoke to the multitude of Great Bodhisattvas, saying, "Good men, I shall now explain this clearly for you. You do not understand, do you? Do not be nervous. Now, at this time, I will clearly tell you. If all these numberless world systems, whether a dust mote was deposited in them or not—this includes all the worlds in which a dust particle was dropped, as well as the five hundred thousand myriads of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of lands where a mote of dust was not dropped—now, if all those many worlds, both those lands where a mote of dust was dropped and those where one was not, were taken and ground together and reduced to fine dust motes, and if each dust mote were counted as an eon, a great kalpa, the time that has passed since I became a Buddha, from the time I realized the Buddha-Way to now, would exceed even that. That number is even more than the number I have just described by hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of eons. The time since I became a Buddha is longer than this calculation of time by hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of eons.
“From that time on, I have always remained in the Saha World, speaking the Dharma to teach and transform beings. Also, in other places, in hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of lands, I have guided and benefited living beings.”
I2. Showing how the Buddha benefits beings in the three periods of time.
J1. Speaking of Dharma.
K1. Showing benefits proper.
L1. Showing benefits to beings in the past.
M1. The places in which he has benefited beings in the past.
From that time on, to now, I have always remained in the Saha World. I have always been in this Saha World speaking the Dharma to teach and transform beings. I have been speaking Dharma for living beings, teaching and transforming all living beings. Not only have I been teaching and transforming living beings in this Saha World, but also in other places. I go elsewhere to speak the Dharma for living beings. In hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of lands, I have guided and benefited living beings. I use all kinds of methods, not fearing suffering, not fearing difficulty, to teach and transform living beings.
By "guided" the Buddha means that when he sees a living being, he assesses what that being likes, and then he speaks an appropriate Dharma for him. If the being likes Great Vehicle Dharma, the Buddha speaks Great Vehicle Dharma. If he likes Small Vehicle Dharma, the Buddha speaks Small Vehicle Dharma for him. If he has the faculties of a Hearer, the Buddha speaks the Dharma of the Four Truths for him. If he has the faculties of One Enlightened by Conditions, the Buddha will speak the Dharma of the Twelve Causes and Conditions for him. For Bodhisattvas, he speaks the Dharma of the Six Paramitas and the myriad practices. Meeting with living beings with all different kinds of faculties, he speaks all different kinds of Dharmas for them. In general, "guided" means he directed and led them. "Benefited" means he did things to help them.
Uncountable great kalpas ago, Shakyamuni Buddha had already become a Buddha. This is why the Bodhisattva disciples he has taken across are so many. They fill up empty space throughout the three thousand great thousand world systems. In the Dharma Flower Sutra, this is the "opening of the provisional to reveal the actual." Shakyamuni Buddha tells us when he actually became a Buddha. But the time was so long ago that there is no way to calculate it. This is stated in the Dharma Flower Sutra.
The most wonderful and the longest Sutra spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha is the Great Means Expansive Buddha Flower Adornment Sutra. That Sutra was requested from the Dragon Palace by Nagarjuna Bodhisattva. That is why we are now able to encounter that Sutra.
The Dharma Flower Sutra has now been explained to the sixteenth chapter. There are twelve chapters left. I believe the lecture series will be completed soon. After we are finished, if you are not afraid of its great length and are not afraid of failing to understand it, we will explain the Flower Adornment Sutra. If you are afraid of its great length, then you do not have to listen. If you are afraid it will be too much for you, then do not listen. If you think "I only need to study a little Buddhadharma, and that is enough," then you do not need to listen.
But if you are not afraid of studying more Buddhadharma, you can come and listen. I believe that Guo Yi will not fear its being too much. She has such a good memory that if she gets a chance to remember more, that will be even better. If you are not afraid of there being too much, you can use your prajna-brains, your computer, to remember it. Do not fear it being too big or too extensive. And do not fear the length of time it will take. Consider how long it took Shakyamuni Buddha to become a Buddha—an incalculable amount of time—and he did not fear its being too long. I believe a big Bodhimanda is being prepared to be the Flower Adornment Way-place. There are very few places in the world where the Flower Adornment Sutra is taught. Those who explain the Flower Adornment Sutra are few, and yet the wonderful advantages of this Sutra are many.
Today I spoke just a few sentences in praise of the Flower Adornment, and the translator got so upset, he broke out in a sweat. I will tell you that I never heard the Flower Adornment Sutra lectured, because there are not many people who can explain it.
"Well, how can you lecture on it if you have never heard it lectured on?" you wonder. I cannot omit lecturing it just because I have not heard it. There are many things I have not heard. If it is the case that such things cannot be done by oneself, then one might just as well become a stone person. If you want to study the Buddhadharma, you must eat your fill of the Buddhadharma. In order to eat your fill, you must eat the Buddhadharma of the Flower Adornment. If you do not investigate the Flower Adornment, then you would not know of the Buddha's true wealth and honor. The Flower Adornment Sutra is the Buddha's true blessings and honor. I am now giving you this little bit of information. After the big Way-place is accomplished and I am happy, I will transmit the big Dharma, the bountiful Dharma, to you.
I will tell you a tale now. Although I have never heard the Flower Adornment Sutra lectured before, I myself have lectured it many times. But not in the present; I lectured it in the past. How am I able to know how to lecture on it? Because there are some exceptionally fine writings about it, especially those of National Master Qing Liang. I really like them; I have tremendous affinities with those writings. I read them once and will never forget them; I cannot forget them. That is because I do not want to be like a professor who lectures from his book, holding his book and copying things out of it. And so I am capable of explaining the Sutra to you.
I will tell you another tale. If I forget, National Master Qing Liang will remind me in a dream, saying, "This is how that sentence goes…" He will say:
Opening and disclosing the mysterious and subtle;
Understanding and expanding the mind and its states.
Fathoming the principle and exhausting the nature,
Penetrating the result, which includes the cause.
“Good men, in that interval, I spoke of the Buddha Dipankara and others, and I further spoke of them as entering Nirvana. But those were just discriminations made expediently.”
M2. Casting away doubts about the past.
Good men: The character zhu here means many—many good men. Very many good men means there were very few bad men. In fact we can say there were not any, and so the reference is to many good men. That is one way to explain it. The character zhu can also be used as an expletive or auxiliary participle. As such, it can refer to many or to one.
Someone says, "Dharma Master, you have explained this incorrectly. I have always heard the character zhu explained as ‘many.’" Well, now you are hearing it explained as "few." If we explain this word as an expletive, then the text will read, "Good man." You, this good man. In that case, the one good man would refer to Maitreya Bodhisattva. Many good men would refer to all the good men, all the Bodhisattvas in the assembly. Now you should understand, and from now on when you encounter the character zhu, you should know it can be explained as "many" or as "one."
In that interval: In what interval? In the interval when the five hundred myriad kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of three thousand great thousand world systems were ground into fine dust, and then five hundred kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of lands were passed through and a mote of dust was deposited until all the motes of dust were gone. Then all those lands that were passed through were further ground into fine dust. Each of those fine motes of dust was counted as a great kalpa. "In that interval" is that period of time. How long a time could that interval be? No human being could calculate it.
I spoke of the Buddha Dipankara and others. In the midst of that, I said, "At the time of Dipankara Buddha, I was known as Good Wisdom Bodhisattva." And I further spoke of them as entering Nirvana. "At the time of Dipankara Buddha, my name was Good Wisdom. When I met Dipankara Buddha, he bestowed a prediction upon me. He said, 'In the future, you will become a Buddha called Shakyamuni.'" I also said that at such-and-such a time, Dipankara Buddha would enter Nirvana.
But those Dharmas I spoke of were just discriminations made expediently. I will now tell you the truth. What I said was expedient dharma; these causes and conditions, these roots and traces, were spoken in accord with living beings' faculties. But these were just discriminations made expediently.
“Good men, if a living being comes before me, I observe with my Buddha eye his faith and other qualities, as well as the keenness or dullness of his faculties, and take him across in an appropriate manner.”
M3. The appropriate manner in which he benefited beings in the past.
Good men, if a living being comes before me—he comes to the place where I, the Buddha, am—I observe with my Buddha eye. First I must look into it. What do I look with? I use the Buddha eye to investigate with. What do I look into? I regard his faith and other qualities. "And other qualities" refers to vigor, mindfulness, samadhi, and wisdom. Faith, vigor, mindfulness, samadhi, and wisdom are called the five roots.
I look into it and see if he has the root of faith. I look to see if he has the root of vigor. Does he has the root and power of being diligent and vigorous? Does he has the root and power of mindfulness? Is he mindful of the Buddhadharma? Does he has the root and power of samadhi? In his study of the Buddhadharma, does he study the Buddhadharma today and then tomorrow go to study demonic dharma? Does he study the Dharma of Bodhisattvas today and the dharma of ghosts tomorrow?
What is meant by "ghost-dharma"? Don't you know? Maybe you have not learned it before, and so you do not know the meaning of the term. It is whatever dharmas one does that one is ashamed to let others know about. They are secret dharma-doors. Secret dharma-doors have within them spirits and ghosts. Be careful! If you do not listen to me, I will send a ghost to punish you. If you fear ghosts, then you have to do the bidding of your teacher.
But first I must state clearly to all of you. I do not have this talent. Do not be afraid of me. If you scold me, I would not send a ghost to make your lips swell up. And so if people scold me, they would not have to go through a retribution such as this. Do not be afraid; I do not have any ghost-dharmas!
Samadhi and wisdom. Wisdom also has its root. If you do not have the root of wisdom, you would not be able to bring forth the sprouts of wisdom. If you have the root of prajna, then you can have prajna sprouts. These five are called roots because they derive their meaning from coming forth and growing.
If you have the root of faith, as soon as you hear the Buddhadharma that the Dharma Master explains, you think, "Oh! The Buddhadharma is really good. I should believe it. People should follow the rules; they should not be lax in following the rules." You believe, and then every day you follow the rules. Others eat one meal a day, and so you eat one meal a day. Even if someone told you to steal things to eat, you would not do it. Why should you follow the rules? Although you may say eating things is a small problem, do you really think it is a small problem? I think it is a big problem. I you are unable to follow the rules in eating, how much less will you be able to follow other rules.
And so we start with the events of our daily life. We must have rules and regulations in our everyday affairs. You should have a standard, a goal in mind. I definitely want to reach my goal. Whatever I have decided I should do, I will do it. I will reach my goal.
You should not come to the Buddhist Lecture Hall to listen to the Sutra lecture, but once the lecture is over, it is as if it had been so much wind passing by your ears. It passes by and is not retained, nor is it believed. You happen to have some friends who go there, so you just go along to see what it is like. Such people do not come to study the Dharma; they come to "take a look" at the Dharma. One must have faith.
Once one has faith, one must then be vigorous. If you only have faith, and you do not do anything, it is of no use. If you have only the root of faith, and you do not have the root of vigor, you do not have what it takes. You must be vigorous. "When I hear one sentence of Buddhadharma, I put that one sentence into practice. I hear ten sentences, and I put ten sentences into practice. I must be vigorous; I must go forward with vigor." If you have the root of vigor but you forget to apply it—you do not keep your mind on the fact that no matter what you are doing, you should be cultivating—then that is also of no use. "Today I will be vigorous. I would not eat. I would not sleep. I will bow to the Buddha and be mindful of the Buddha."
You do that for one day and one night, and you feel very tired. "I need to rest." As soon as you rest, you sleep for three days straight. You were vigorous for one day and then slept for three. Or maybe you sleep for five, saying, "I am really tired. I think I will sleep for a few more days." You must keep your mind on what you are doing. "Today I will be vigorous, tomorrow I will be vigorous, and the day after, I will be vigorous." You should always be mindful of what you are doing and never forget. That is how it should be.
The root of mindfulness: When your mindfulness becomes long-abiding and irreversible, then you give rise to the root of samadhi. Once you have the root of samadhi, then you can have wisdom. Why is it that whenever something comes up, you never understand and are very confused? It is just because you do not have the power of samadhi or the power of wisdom. You have no root of samadhi or root of wisdom, and so you become confused.
When the Buddha sees living beings come, he looks into their five roots. Once the five roots are established, they can turn into the five powers. They are called the five powers because they have a certain kind of strength. The Buddha looks into each living being's causes and conditions, and he contemplates, "If I speak the Dharma for you, will you believe it? If you believe it, will you practice it? If you practice, will your practice be long-abiding? If it is long-abiding, will it be eternal? If it is eternal, will there be unmoving samadhi?"
He contemplates this. And so he says, "as well as the keenness or dullness of his faculties"—his faith and other faculties: the five roots of faith, vigor, mindfulness, samadhi, and wisdom. "Keen" means sharp, astute. It refers to intelligence. It refers to having the root of prajna. "Dull" means stupid; it means not sharp. If a knife, when used to cut through something, is sharp, then it is said to be "keen." But if you use the knife to try to cut through something and you cannot, if it is as if you were using a paper fan to try to cut through wood, then the knife is "dull." If you use a sharp knife, and with one slice you can cut through it, that is called "keen." This represents a person's intelligence. If you are intelligent, then no matter what kind of state you meet with, you will understand it. You will not be turned by the state; instead, you will be able to turn it around. Bad states will turn into good states. Adverse states will turn into favorable ones. You need to have unobstructed eloquence.
"Dull" means stupid. A stupid person can turn a good situation into a bad one; he can turn good matters into bad matters. Why? Because he is stupid. How does one get stupid? You should know. Stupidity comes from not having enough virtuous conduct, from lacking in virtue. That is why people are stupid. How can one become intelligent? By having virtue.
I am now going to tell you something I have told you before. But I know you have all given it back to me already. That is because you are not greedy, and so you do not even want to retain the Buddhadharma. But even though you do not want to retain it, I cannot fail to give it. You can be devoid of greed, but I cannot renounce my resolve to give. Every day I am involved in giving. Every day I speak the Buddhadharma for you, and so I am practicing the giving of Dharma.
Of all the kinds of giving,
The giving of Dharma is the foremost.
I will explain slowly, and you can listen rapidly. Why do I say that? If I lecture too rapidly, you would not hear it clearly, and so I will explain slowly. Why should you listen rapidly? Because once you remember this word, if you do not quickly listen to the next word, you will forget the previous word. And so you need to listen rapidly in order not to forget the first word while trying to hear what follows. That is my advice to you.
As it is said:
Intelligence is aided by hidden virtue.
Hidden virtue leads one along the path of intelligence.
Failing to do good deeds in secret, thinking yourself clever,
You end up outsmarting yourself.
Why are you intelligent? Perhaps it is because in your previous lives you did good deeds. Printing Sutras is a hidden virtue; helping other people is a hidden virtue; making contributions to your country and to society is a hidden virtue; saving a person or rescuing an animal is a hidden virtue. An animal is about to die, and you use some medicine to save its life. The blind pigeon we have here would have starved to death, but you felt sorry for it, and so every day you gave it something to eat. After a while, it revived. Now if you tried to send it away, it probably would not go. Why? There are things here for it to eat. If you did not offer it food, then even if you wanted to keep it here, it would not stay.
Those are examples of hidden virtue. "Intelligence is aided by hidden virtue." If you are intelligent, hidden virtue is aiding you. "Hidden virtue leads one along the path of intelligence." "Hidden virtue" is another name for virtuous conduct. It is described as "hidden" because you yourself know what merit and virtue you have done, but other people do not. No one else knows. It is said, "Doing good with the hope others will see it is not true good." When you do good, it is not necessary for others to know. If you want others to know, then that is not good; that is doing it in order to become known—"bartering for a name and fishing for a reputation."
"Hidden virtue leads one along the path of intelligence." When one has hidden virtue, virtuous conduct, one is propelled along the path that leads to intelligence.
"Failing to do good deeds in secret, thinking yourself clever." Now you do not do virtuous deeds, you do not do good deeds, you do not do things to help other people. Instead, you always want other people to help you. You use your intelligence to manipulate other people, hoping thereby to gain petty advantages. You always try to get a bargain and cannot stand to take a loss.
That is what is meant by "one does not do deeds based in hidden virtue, but merely relies on one’s intelligence." You use your intelligence to cheat others, even to the point of cheating your own parents. You say, "Give me a little money, and I will go to school." Your parents believe you and give you a little money, thinking you will use it to go to school. They never guessed you would use it to go gambling or maybe to buy drugs. Or maybe you use the money to go dancing and do other improper things. Those are examples of not doing deeds based in hidden virtue, but merely relying on one's intelligence.
What happens then? "You end up outsmarting yourself." One abuses one's intelligence. If one were not intelligent, one would not be able to cheat one’s parents, cheat society, cheat one's country, and cheat the people. It is just because one has a little bit of intelligence that one is able to cheat foolish people.
In ancient China the Taoist philosopher Lao Zi, whose name means "the old child" said,
Once the Great Way declines,
there will be humaneness and righteousness.
Once intelligence appears, there will be great deception.
Once the six kinds of immediate relatives are not in harmony,
there will be filiality and kindness.
Once the country is in turmoil, there will be loyal ministers.
Only when the Great Way is gone do people start talking about humaneness and righteousness. When people with worldly intelligence make their appearance, then the world will also see masters of deceit come forth. Because they have intelligence, they will be able to cheat those who lack intelligence. Once families do not get along, then the filial sons and the kind daughters appear. When the country is in chaos, there will be loyal officials.
And according to the keenness or dullness of a living being’s faculties, the Buddha will take him across in an appropriate manner.
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