The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 17: Discrimination of Merit and Virtue
At that time Maitreya Bodhisattva rose from his seat, uncovered his right shoulder, placed his palms together, and said to the Buddha:
“The Buddha speaks the rare Dharma,
Such as we have never heard before.
The World Honored One has great power,
And his life span is without limit.
Countless disciples of the Buddha,
Hearing the World Honored One discriminate
And tell of those who gain the Dharma’s benefit,
Have been filled with joy.”
E3. Maitreya’s verses.
F1. The assembly gains understanding.
At that time, Maitreya Bodhisattva, or Ajita, the "Invincible" Bodhisattva, rose from his seat, stood up, uncovered his right shoulder, placed his palms together, faced the Buddha, and respectfully and sincerely said verses to praise the Buddha: "The Buddha speaks the rare Dharma. All the Dharma the Buddha speaks is rare, especially the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra; it is the rare within the rare, such as we have never heard before. The World Honored One has great power. He has the greatest powers of spiritual penetrations, and his life span is without limit. It cannot be counted. Countless disciples of the Buddha, countless sons of the Dharma King, hearing the World Honored One discriminate the principles of the Wonderful Dharma and tell of those who gain the Dharma's benefit, the many living beings who gained the benefit of the Dharma upon hearing the Buddha speak the chapter on the length of the Thus Come One's life, have been filled with joy.
Some dwell on the irreversible ground.
Some gain the dharanis.
Others gain unobstructed delight in speech,
Or myriads of millions of dharanis of revolution.
As many Bodhisattvas
As dust motes in a great world system
All gain the ability to turn
The irreversible Dharma-wheel.
Again, Bodhisattvas in number
To the dust motes in a middle world system
All gain the ability to turn
The pure Dharma-wheel.
Again, Bodhisattvas in number
To the dust motes in a small world system
Are destined to gain the Buddha Way
After eight more lifetimes.
Again, Bodhisattvas in number
To the dust motes in four, three, or two
Sets of four continents shall gain
Buddhahood after a respective number of lives.
Further, Bodhisattvas in number
To the dust motes in one set of four continents
Shall accomplish All-Wisdom
After one more lifetime.
Living beings such as these,
Hearing of the vast length of the Buddha’s life,
Gain limitless, non-outflow,
Pure reward as retribution.
Again living beings in number
As the dust motes in eight worlds,
Hearing the Buddha speak of his life span,
All bring forth the supreme mind.
F2. The discriminations made by the Thus Come One.
Some dwell on the irreversible ground. Hearing this Dharma-door, they now dwell on the non-retreating ground. Some gain the dharanis, the Dharma-door of hearing and upholding. Others gain unobstructed delight in speech. They gain the various kinds of eloquence:
1. Unobstructed eloquence in phrasing
2. Unobstructed eloquence in Dharma
3. Unobstructed eloquence in meaning
4. Unobstructed eloquence and delight in speech
Or they gain myriads of millions of dharanis of revolution. They gain the dharani-door where the one is limitless and the limitless is one, mutually revolving. As many Bodhisattvas as dust motes in a great world system, all gain the ability to turn the irreversible Dharma-wheel. They attain irreversibility of position, thought, and conduct.
Again, Bodhisattvas in number to the dust motes in a middle world system, all gain the ability to turn the pure Dharma-wheel. They certify to the Second of the Ten Grounds.
Again, Bodhisattvas in number to the dust motes in a small world system are destined to gain the Buddha Way after eight more lifetimes. Cultivating from the Second Ground up to the certification to the Fourth of the Ten Grounds of the Perfect Teaching, they gain the position of the Fourth Ground. At that stage they still have eight parts of subtle ignorance remaining. As they cut off one part, they ascend one Ground. They cut off one part and reach the Fifth Ground; they cut off two parts and reach the Sixth Ground; they cut off three parts and reach the Seventh Ground. When they have cut off four parts, they reach the Eighth Ground. Then they have four parts of ignorance that remain to be cut off. When these four have been destroyed, they become Buddhas. As they increase one part of the Way, they decrease one part of ignorance, which is very subtle.
Again, Bodhisattvas in number to the dust motes in four, three, or two sets of four continents shall gain Buddhahood after a respective number of lives. There are four sets of four continents, or three sets of four continents, or two sets of four continents. “Four sets of four continents” means that there are four Mount Sumerus, and four suns and moons; “three sets of four continents” means there are three Mount Sumerus, three moons, three suns, and so forth. “Bodhisattvas as many as the dust motes in four sets of four continents” refers to Eighth Ground Bodhisattvas who have four parts of subtle production-mark ignorance left to destroy. “Bodhisattvas as many as the dust motes in three sets of four continents” refers to Ninth Ground Bodhisattvas. They have three parts of subtle production-mark ignorance that they have not destroyed. When they have destroyed the three parts, they can become Buddhas. The two sets of four continents represent those with two parts of subtle production-mark ignorance that they have not destroyed. This is the Perfect Teaching's certification to the Tenth Ground. When they break through these two parts, they can become Buddhas.
Further, Bodhisattvas in number to the dust motes in one set of four continents shall accomplish All-Wisdom after one more lifetime. This refers to Bodhisattvas as many as the dust motes of one set of four continents who are at the level of Equal Enlightenment and still have one part of production-mark ignorance left. When this one part is destroyed, they will accomplish the All-Wisdom of the Buddha, that is, Wonderful Enlightenment.
Living beings such as these, hearing of the vast length of the Buddha's life, when they hear this chapter on the length of the Buddha's life, gain limitless, non-outflow, pure reward as retribution. They will obtain non-outflow wisdom and the pure fruition of Wonderful Enlightenment—Buddhahood.
Again living beings—ordinary people of the vast earth—in number as the dust motes in eight worlds—eight Mount Sumerus, eight suns and moons, eight sets of the four continents—hearing the Buddha speak of his life span, all bring forth the supreme mind. They make the resolve to gain Unsurpassed, Proper and Equal, Right Enlightenment.
The World Honored One speaks limitless,
Bringing many benefits,
As boundless as space itself.
Heavenly mandarava flowers
And mahamandarava flowers rain down.
From countless Buddhalands
Come Shakras and Brahmas like the Ganges sands;
Chandana and aloeswood incense
Filter through the air,
Falling in profusion
Like flocks of birds flying down from the sky,
Scattered as an offering to the Buddhas.
In empty space, heavenly drums
Make magnificent sounds by themselves,
While thousands of tens of thousands of heavenly garments
Come whirling and swirling down.
Wonderful censers studded with jewels
Burn with priceless incense,
Which naturally pervades the surroundings
As an offering to the World Honored Ones.
The great assembly of Bodhisattvas
Hold banners and canopies made of seven treasures,
High and splendorous, of a million varieties,
In a procession that reaches the Brahma heavens.
And before each Buddha
Hang jeweled flags and banners of victory,
As myriads upon myriads of verses are used
To praise and laud the Thus Come Ones:
All such things as these
As never have been seen before.
Hearing of the Buddha’s limitless life span,
All are filled with joy.
The Buddha’s name pervades the ten directions.
He vastly benefits living beings,
All of whom perfect good roots
And are helped to bring forth the supreme mind.
F3. The perfect benefits manifested through portents.
The World Honored One speaks limitless, inconceivable and wonderful Dharmas, bringing many benefits, as boundless as space itself. The World Honored One is Shakyamuni Buddha, who speaks countless, limitless, inconceivable wonderful Dharmas that benefit living beings. When Shakyamuni Buddha speaks the Dharma, many living beings gain great benefit. This benefit, like empty space, has no boundaries.
Heavenly mandarava flowers and mahamandarava flowers rain down. Small and large white flowers rain down from above. And from countless Buddhalands, come Shakras and Brahmas like the Ganges sands; powdered chandana incense and powdered aloeswood incense filter through the air, falling in profusion like snow, like flocks of birds flying down from the sky. These flowers are scattered as an offering to the Buddhas of the ten directions.
In empty space, heavenly drums make magnificent sounds by themselves, while thousands of tens of thousands of heavenly garments come whirling and swirling down to the assembly. The gods have tens of millions of kinds of clothing, which are not heavy like human clothing. Their clothes are extremely light. Wonderful censers studded with jewels burn with priceless incense, which naturally pervades the surrounding Dharma realm as an offering to the World Honored Ones: Shakyamuni Buddha, the Thus Come One Many Jewels, and the division body Buddhas of Shakyamuni Buddha.
In the midst of the scattering of the small and large flowers, the myriads of priceless incense and clothing, come the great assembly of Bodhisattvas who have welled forth from the earth. They hold banners and canopies made of seven treasures, high and splendorous, of a million varieties, in a procession that reaches the Brahma Heavens. These banners and canopies are very high and also very wonderful, not something that human minds can conceive of. And before each Buddha, hang jeweled flags and banners of victory as offerings, as myriads upon myriads of verses are used to praise and laud the Thus Come Ones.
All such things as these—wonderful and inconceivable as they are—never have been seen before. Hearing of the Buddha's limitless life span, such a long time, all living beings are filled with joy.
The Buddha's name pervades the ten directions. All living beings of all the ten directions heard the Buddha's name. To hear the Buddha's name, however, you need good roots. If you have no good roots, you would not be able to hear his name. He vastly benefits living beings, all of whom perfect their good roots. Those who have not planted good roots, plant them. Those who have already planted them, nurture them. Those whose good roots have grown, ripen them. Those whose good roots have ripened, obtain liberation. And with their good roots planted, they are helped to bring forth the supreme mind, the resolve for anuttarasamyaksambodhi.
At that time the Buddha told Maitreya Bodhisattva Mahasattva, “Ajita! If there are living beings who, on hearing that the Buddha’s life span is as long as this, can bring forth even a single thought of faith and understanding, the merit and virtue they will gain is measureless and limitless.”
C3. Propagation section.
D1. Exhortation to propagate the Sutra.
E1. Four types of faith in the present.
F1. Thought of faith and understanding.
H1. The appearance.
H2. Merit and virtue.
I1. In general, it is limitless.
When Maitreya Bodhisattva had finished the previous verse, at that time the Buddha told Maitreya, "Invincible" Bodhisattva Mahasattva, "Ajita! If there are living beings who, on hearing that the Buddha's life span is as long as this, can bring forth even a single thought of faith and understanding. They do not have to believe it entirely, they just need to have one single thought of faith and understanding. The merit and virtue they will gain is measureless and limitless. There is no way it could be measured. Now I will make a comparison.
“If a good man or a good woman, for the sake of anuttarasamyaksambodhi, were to practice the five paramitas—dana-paramita, shila-paramita, kshanti-paramita, virya-paramita, and dhyana-paramita; all except prajna-paramita—throughout eighty myriads of millions of nayutas of eons…
J1. Comparing with the five paramitas.
If a good man or a good woman, who cultivates the five precepts and practices the ten good deeds, were, throughout eighty myriads of millions of nayutas of eons,to practice the five paramitas…Paramita is a Sanskrit word. It means "arrived at the other shore." One goes from this shore of birth and death, through the intermediate current of afflictions, to the other shore, which is Nirvana. Dana-paramita. Dana is Sanskrit and means "giving." There are three kinds of giving:
1. The giving of wealth
2. The giving of Dharma
3. The giving of fearlessness
As to the giving of wealth, there is inner wealth and outer wealth. Inner wealth refers to one's head, eyes, brains, and marrow. Outer wealth refers to one's country, cities, spouse, and children—all belongings and loved ones. You practice giving your country, house, land, and treasures; even your spouse can be given.
An example of the giving of Dharma is the present lectures being given on the Dharma. The giving of fearlessness takes place when one helps those who are afraid, by comforting them and making them feel secure.
Shila-paramita: Shila means "precepts." In Buddhism, the precepts are very important. In order to leave home to be a Bhikshu, one must take the precepts. If one has not taken the complete precepts, one cannot be called a Bhikshu. It is said,
When living beings take the Buddha's precepts,
They enter the position of all the Buddhas.
Their position is the same as that of the greatly Enlightened One.
They may be called true disciples of the Buddha.
If one can receive the Buddha's precepts, then no matter what kind of living being one is, one has a chance to become a Buddha.
"If one does not take the precepts, can one become a Buddha?" you ask.
It is very difficult. The chances of it happening are very small. And so in Buddhism, great emphasis is placed on the precepts. On Zhongnan Mountain in China, the Vinaya Master Daoxuan held his precepts so purely that the gods were moved, and every day they brought him an offering of food. That was a result of his strict morality.
Upon taking the Buddha's precepts, one gains the same position as the Buddha and may be called a real disciple of the Buddha. Now to study the Buddhadharma, one must take and keep the Buddha's precepts. Those who keep the precepts cannot be lax and just do whatever they feel like doing. Keeping the precepts simply means following the rules. The laypeople have the Five Precepts; they can also take the Eight Precepts or the Ten Major and Forty-eight Minor Bodhisattva Precepts. Those who have left home take the Ten Shramanera Precepts, the 250 Bhikshu Precepts, or the 348 Bhikshuni Precepts.
The gods will revere a person who is pure in keeping the precepts. That was why the gods brought food to Vinaya Master Daoxuan. If you are strict about keeping the precepts, all the ghosts and spirits will bow and pay respect when they see you. Therefore, it is very important to keep the precepts. Precepts are just for the purpose of "stopping evil and preventing transgression." They insure that one does no evil but does all manner of good deeds.
Once one has taken the precepts, however, one must keep them. You must not break the precepts. If you break the precepts, it is as if you have sprung a leak in your life raft—you are headed for the bottom of the sea. If you take the precepts but fail to keep them, you will fall into the three evil paths—hells, hungry ghosts, and animals. If you do not intend to break the precepts, but some other cause or condition causes you to do so unintentionally, then it is excusable.
Precepts are discussed in terms of exceptions, restrictions, maintenance, and violation. Precepts may require one to refrain from certain actions or to actively engage in certain kinds of conduct. There are a lot of fine points to the precepts that everyone should look into in detail.
Kshanti-paramita: Kshanti is Sanskrit for "patience." Patience means bearing what you cannot bear. If you bear the bearable, that is nothing special. It is pretty ordinary. If you bear something that you just cannot bear, that is the perfecting of patience, of kshanti-paramita.
Virya-paramita: Virya is Sanskrit for "vigor." And dhyana-paramita: Dhyana means "cultivation of thought." Through the cultivation of thought, one gives rise to concentration power.
Precepts are of primary importance in developing dhyana concentration. In order to keep the precepts, one must have merit and virtue. In order to gain merit and virtue, one practices giving. If you have no merit and virtue, you may take the precepts, but you would not be able to keep them. Therefore, first you must do various meritorious deeds and give, and then cultivate the precepts. Then you can give rise to samadhi power, the dhyana-paramita.
All except prajna-paramita. Why isn't prajna-paramita mentioned here? Prajna is the mother of all the Buddhas. If you have prajna, you have the opportunity to realize Buddhahood. Here the text discusses merit and virtue, not the actualization of one's potential Buddhahood. Now, in this analogy, a person cultivates these five paramitas throughout eighty myriads of millions of nayutas of eons.
…the merit and virtue he or she would derive if compared with that of the previous person’s would not come to a hundredth part, nor to a thousandth, nor to a hundred thousand myriad millionth part, nor could it be known by resort to calculation or analogy.”
J2. The great merit of faith and understanding.
...the merit and virtue he or she would derive if compared with that of the previous person's would not come to a hundredth part, nor to a thousandth part, nor to a hundred thousand myriad millionth part. The merit and virtue of that person who cultivated the five paramitas for such a long time throughout eighty myriads of millions of nayutas of eons cannot be compared to the merit and virtue of one who gives rise to but a single thought of faith and understanding on hearing of the great life span of the Thus Come One. It is quite a contrast.
Nor could it be known by resort to calculation by the most talented mathematician or by analogy. No one could know, ultimately, how great that merit and virtue would be.
“For a good man or a good woman possessing merit and virtue such as this, to retreat from anuttarasamyaksambodhi would be simply impossible.”
H3. Not retreating in position or practice.
For a good man or a good woman possessing merit and virtue such as this, having given rise to a single thought of faith and understanding upon hearing of the vast length of life of the Thus Come One, to retreat from anuttarasamyaksambodhi would be simply impossible. It would simply never, ever happen.
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