THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
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The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra

Chapter 18: Dejoicing in Accord with Merit and Virtue

During the Summer Session, we lectured from the "Jeweled Stupa Chapter" to this chapter. The Summer Session combined study with practice. If you only study and do not cultivate, it is like talking about food or counting other people's money. You can talk about food, but if you do not eat any, you would not get full. On the other hand, if you practice without understanding, you are cultivating blindly. If you want to cultivate, you must first understand how to cultivate.

There are 84,000 Dharma-doors. Even if you do not learn all 84,000 of them, you should at least learn eighty-four! Then, you will know how to go about cultivating. If you do not learn eighty-four, or even a Dharma-door, you would not know how to walk the path of cultivation. If you want to go on a vacation, you have to take along some provisions, money, and travelers’ cheques. Your understanding of the doctrine is like your provisions for the trip. You buy a plane ticket, or a bus ticket, or a boat ticket. Understanding is like currency while practice is like actually going. First you have to buy a ticket; then you can take the appropriate mode of transportation.

In cultivation, we must do the same. Not understanding is like not having money to buy your ticket. When you listen to the Sutras and understand, "Oh, there are so many doctrines!" then you can cultivate according to the method. Cultivating will enable you to arrive at your aim. We understand and practice at the same time. When we sit in Dhyana for several hours, we are cultivating; and when we listen to the Sutras, we are increasing our understanding of the methods of cultivation.

There is not just one method of cultivating; there are 84,000. You should always listen to the Sutras. Since the Sutras were spoken by the Buddhas, you should learn what the Buddhas said. Do not remain totally ignorant and assume that you can just cultivate, saying, "The Buddha just cultivated. What Sutras did he read? None, and he still became a Buddha." You become arrogant and fall under the influence of externalist teachings, saying things like, "Everybody is a Buddha! Everybody is a Buddha!" until you lose all sense of the meaning of the word. You do this to the point where it will be very difficult for you to ever become a Buddha.

Do not be arrogant and think you are higher than Mount Sumeru and more profound than the four seas. If you do not get arrogant, and if you study and cultivate the Buddhadharma, then you can be said to have understanding and practice.

During the first summer session, I said to one of my disciples, "We study and meditate. At most Way-places cultivators meditate in the winter and study in the summer. In the winter, they exclusively sit in meditation. In the summer, they exclusively study. They lecture on the Sutras in the summer, but only for two hours a day. The remaining hours go to waste. Those who are self-motivated may be able to learn some Dharma. Those who are not go to sleep after the Sutra lecture is over, or else they run off to play in the mountains.

This reminds me of myself. The "self" is very small; it is not very big. It is about the size of a mote of dust. But that little mote of dust is enough to keep me from being able to fly. Most dust motes can float through space, but mine cannot. Anyway, when I was studying the teachings, I was studying the teachings of playing in the mountains. (Do not imitate me in this regard.)

When the Dharma Master was lecturing, I listened to the Sutras. When the lecture was over, I ran off to the mountains to look at the trees, flowers, and water. I had a lot of fun. My fellow students watched me pretty closely. I never said a word all day long, so nobody knew what I was up to. When the time came for the daily review, most of the students read from their notes. I just recited the whole thing from memory. I repeated everything the Dharma Master had said, neither missing nor adding a word.

At that time there were thirty of us studying the teachings. Some had studied for over ten years. I was in my first year—three months into my first year, in fact. They thought this was very strange. "How can you repeat the lecture word for word like that? How can you remember it so clearly?"

What do you think I said? I said, "I studied it before." To say nothing of studying it, I had not even seen the books before. I said I had studied it because I remembered it immediately when I heard it. So I figured that I must have studied it before somewhere.

They said, "Oh, you studied the teachings before."

"Right," I said. "I have been studying them for a long time."

When I studied the Buddhadharma, I was very naughty, but I did follow the rules. I was not like you who are not very naughty but who do not follow the rules very well. Then, when the time comes, you cannot answer questions.

I said I was playing in the mountains, but actually I was not playing, I was in the "studying samadhi." I was up in the mountains, looking at the mountains, but my mind was not with the mountains, it was with the Buddhadharma. I was beside the water, but my mind was still studying the Buddhadharma, going over what the Dharma Master had said during the lecture, reviewing it very thoroughly. When the review came, I knew the material very well.

You students of the Buddhadharma do it differently. You study in American style—open book Buddhadharma, notebook Buddhadharma. It is not very useful. If you cannot remember it without the book, it is of no use. When you study the Dharma, you should review it every night and master what you were presented during the day. That is the real way to study the Buddhadharma.

"I do not have time," you say.

It is just when you do not have time that you should study! If you have lots of time, that does not count as studying the Buddhadharma. In your busiest hours you should pick up the Buddhadharma and remember it very clearly. You should also put it down. This does not mean forgetting it for months and years. Putting it down means that you put it down into your Treasury of the Thus Come One. Then when the time comes, you have total access to it. It is endless for the taking and inexhaustible in its use. Then it counts.

Now, we begin the chapter on "Rejoicing in Accord with Merit and Virtue."

"In accord with" means to comply with phenomena (specifics) and noumena (principles), to accord with the real and the provisional. "Rejoicing" means being happy with oneself and being happy with others, congratulating yourself and others. It also means rejoicing both in the cause and the effect.

According with phenomena means complying with marks. According with noumena means complying with the principle-substance of the Real Mark, the basic nature of the Dharma Realm. The basic nature of the Dharma Realm does not go beyond the mind's present thought. This present thought in the mind includes both the nature and substance of the Dharma Realm. The present thought accords with the merit and virtue of the Dharma Realm. That is what is meant by rejoicing in accord with the merit and virtue of the Dharma Realm. And that is no small amount of merit and virtue!

The Buddha's basic substance—the Dharma-body—is the noumenon. When the Buddha appears in the world in response and transformation bodies to teach and transform all living beings of the three periods of time and the ten directions, he is doing it on the phenomenal level. By means of the noumenon he accords with the phenomena; by means of the phenomena he accords with the noumenon. This is called the nonduality of phenomena and noumenon. The phenomena are not separate from the noumenon, and the noumenon is not separate from the phenomena. They appear to be two, but actually they are one. In fact, they are one, but they can be spoken of as two. This doctrine is the principle of the Middle Way.

Rejoicing with the provisional and real means to be happy with the merit and virtue of both the Buddha's provisional teachings and his real teachings.

Having planted this good cause in the past, you can now hear this wonderful Dharma. This is a cause for celebration. Due to this wonderful cause, you can, in the future, obtain the wonderful fruit of Bodhi.

Sutra:

At that time, Maitreya Bodhisattva Mahasattva spoke to the Buddha, saying, “World Honored One, if a good man or a good woman hears this Dharma Flower Sutra and rejoices in accord with it, how much blessedness will he or she attain?”

He then spoke this verse:

“ After the World Honored One’s ultimate quiescence,
If one hears this Sutra,
And can accordingly rejoice,
How much blessedness will he gain?”

Outline:

F2. An extensive description of the first kind of merit.
G1. The question.


Commentary:

At that time, when the previous chapter had been spoken, Maitreya Bodhisattva Mahasattva spoke to the Buddha, saying, "World Honored One, if a good man or a good woman hears this Dharma Flower Sutra and rejoices in accord with it, for a length of time or even for just a thought, how much blessedness will he or she attain?"

He then spoke this verse: After the World Honored One's ultimate quiescence, if one hears this Sutra and can accordingly rejoice, how much blessedness will he gain?

Sutra:

The Buddha then told the Bodhisattva Mahasattva Maitreya, “Ajita! After the passing into stillness of the Thus Come One, if a Bhikshu, Bhikshuni, Upasaka, Upasika, or any person with wisdom, whether young or old, having heard this Sutra and rejoiced accordingly, leaves the Dharma assembly and goes to another place, be it a Sangha dwelling or a tranquil place, a city, a street, a town, or a village, and expounds it to the best of his ability to his father, mother, relatives, good friends, and acquaintances, and if, having heard it, they then rejoice in accord with it and further transmit the teaching to others who, having heard it, rejoice in accord and likewise transmit it, and this process goes on reaching to fifty people—Ajita, I will now tell you about the merit and virtue of that fiftieth good man or good woman who rejoices in accord. Listen well!”

Outline:

G2. The Buddha’s answer.
H1. Prose.
I1. The merit and virtue of one who rejoices in one’s mind.
J1. The last one to receive the transmission.


Commentary:

The Buddha then told the Bodhisattva Mahasattva Maitreya, "Ajita! After the passing into stillness of the Thus Come One, if a Bhikshu, Bhikshuni, Upasaka, Upasika…"

"Bhikshu" is a Sanskrit term that is not translated, because it has the following three meanings, is not translated:

1. mendicant
2. destroyer of evil
3. frightener of Mara

Above, the Bhikshus request the Dharma from the Buddhas; below, they request for almsfood from people. They frighten the heavenly demons and externalists. They also destroy the evil of afflictions.

"Upasaka" means a man who draws near and serves the Triple Jewel. Upasika is a woman who does the same. Or any person with wisdom. This refers to someone who is not a Bhikshu, Bhikshuni, Upasaka, or Upasika. Even though in this present life this person has not taken precepts, he planted good roots in former lives. Therefore, in his present life he has much wisdom and intelligence.

Such a person, whether young or old, having heard this Sutra and rejoice accordingly. If he or she sees someone explaining, reading, reciting, upholding or writing out the Wonderful Dharma Flower Sutra, he rejoices in that person’s merit and virtue. In Hong Kong, there was a Dharma Master named Tan Xu who liked to get people to recite the Dharma Flower Sutra. He organized a group of people to recite the Sutra. They could recite it at home if they wanted to, or in the Way-place. When they were done, they would all meet and transfer the merit.

Now in the text it says that this person rejoices in accord with any kind of Dharma Flower Sutra assembly, be it one of reciting, reading, hearing it explained, or writing it out. When the Dharma assembly is over, he leaves the Dharma assembly and goes to another place, be it a Sangha dwelling, a temple; or a tranquil place, a still and quiet place; a city; a street; a town; or a village, and expounds it to the best of his ability. He expounds the doctrines he has just studied in the Dharma assembly to his father, mother, relatives, good friends, and acquaintances and colleagues. And if, having heard it, they then rejoice in accord with it and further transmit the teaching to others who, having heard it, rejoice in accord and likewise transmit it, and this process goes on reaching to fifty people—Ajita, I will now tell you about the merit and virtue of that fiftieth good man or good woman who rejoices in accord. Listen well!" Pay attention!

One person hears the Sutra explained by a Dharma Master, and shares it with another, and this process continues, reaching up to fifty people. Probably by the time it reaches the fiftieth person, a lot of it gets explained incorrectly. The fiftieth person to explain it would not do as well as the first. Although this may be the case, still, his merit and virtue is very great, as we are about to hear.

Sutra:

“Suppose in four million kotis of asamkhyeyas of worlds, among living beings in the six destinies and of the four kinds of birth—egg-born, womb-born, moisture-born, and transformationally-born—those with form, those without form, those with thought, those without thought, those not totally endowed with thought, those not totally lacking thought, those without legs, those with two legs, those with four legs, those with many legs, and so forth, there is a person seeking blessings who gives to them whatever enjoyable things they desire, giving each being an entire Jambudvipa full of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, mother-of-pearl, carnelian, coral, and amber, rare and precious gems, as well as elephants, horses, carriages, palaces, and pavilions made of the seven treasures.”

“This great almsgiver in this way bestows gifts for a full eighty years. Then he thinks, ‘I have already given living beings these enjoyable things in accord with their desires. However, these living beings are old and worn out, over eighty years old, with white hair and wrinkled faces. Their time of death is not far off. I should instruct them by means of the Buddhadharma.’”

“He then gathers the beings together and expounds the Dharma to them to instruct them, bringing them benefit and delight so that they all at once gain the path of Srotaapanna, the path of Sakridagamin, the path of Anagamin, and the path of Arhatship, exhausting all outflows, obtaining comfort in all of the deep Dhyana concentrations, and perfecting the eight liberations.”

Outline:

J2. Bringing up the merits.

Commentary:

The Buddha brings up an analogy to help show how vast the merit and virtue of giving the Dharma is. Suppose in four million kotis of asamkhyeyas of worlds, among living beings in the six destinies and of the four kinds of birth. The four kinds of birth are: (1) egg-born, (2) womb-born, (3) moisture-born, and (4) transformationally-born.

1. Those born from eggs are born from thought.
2. Those born from wombs are born from emotion.
3. Those born from moisture are born from combination.
4. Those born from transformation are born from separation.

Beings are born from eggs because of thought. That does not mean the mother birds think about this today and about that tomorrow. They think about one single thing every day. They sit on their eggs continuously, thinking, "Soon my little pigeons will hatch." If they concentrate their thinking to a single point, eventually the eggs will hatch. Chickens are the same. They think of their brood day after day until the little ones appear.

Beings born from moisture are born from combination: Moistness combines with moistness, and there is birth. This category includes many varieties of maggots, bugs, worms, and so forth.

People can be born from any of those four. Some people are born from eggs! Some are from moisture or transformation. You should not think that people are born only from wombs.

Asuras can also be born in any of these four ways and ghosts can be born from any of the four kinds of birth as well.

Beings born transformationally are born from separation. They separate from their original form and turn into something else—like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. They were bugs, but now they can fly. They also transform nothing into something else. Another example would be bats, which can fly, turning into mice, which cannot fly, and mice transforming back into bats.

"Those with form" refers to beings of the Desire and Form Realm Heavens. "Those without form" refers to beings of the Formless Heavens.

Those with thought have no form. They have four of the five skandhas—feeling, thinking, formations, and consciousness—but lack the form skandha. "Those with thought" can also refer to beings at the Station of Unlimited Emptiness and the Station of Unlimited Consciousness. Those without thought are beings at the Station of Nothing Whatsoever. Those not totally endowed with thought and those not totally lacking thought are beings of the Heaven of Neither Perception nor Nonperception.

"Without thought" also refers to creatures whose spirit and energy have transformed into metal or stone.

An example of the first category is the varata, which is a Sanskrit term for a kind of wasp. This wasp takes silkworms and transforms them into its own young. It puts the worms into its mud nest and for seven days recites a mantra, "Be like me, be like me." At the end of that period, the change takes place. They are called beings not totally endowed with thought, because the worms do not initially think they will turn into wasps.

An example of the other category is the dirt owl. This owl does not lay eggs; it just sits on a lump of dirt until a baby owl comes out. The baby owl then eats its mother. It is very unfilial, like children who rebel violently against their parents.

Those without legs are creatures such as earthworms, which slither and burrow themselves into the ground. Those with two legs are creatures such as people or apes, which live in the mountains and walk on two legs. There are also such creatures as those with four legs, those with many legs, and so forth.

Suppose among these living beings there is a person seeking blessings—a blessed reward—who gives to them whatever enjoyable things they desire, giving each being an entire Jambudvipa full of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, mother-of-pearl, carnelian, coral, and amber—all the seven treasures. He gives rare and precious gems, as well as elephants, horses, carriages, palaces, and pavilions made of the seven treasures. People travel by horse or car, but the gods ride in palaces that are more elaborate than our airplanes. Their palaces can fly and take them wherever they want to go.

This great almsgiver in this way bestows gifts for a full eighty years. Then he thinks, "I have already given living beings these enjoyable things in accord with their desires. However, these living beings are old and worn out, over eighty years old, with white hair and wrinkled faces. Their time of death is not far off. What should I do? I should instruct them by means of the Buddhadharma. I should lecture the Buddhadharma. I should teach and transform them."

He then gathers the beings together and expounds the Dharma to them to instruct them, bringing to them benefit and delight so that they all at once gain the path of Srotaapanna, the first fruit of Arhatship, that of 'entering the flow.' They enter the flow of the Dharma-nature of the sages and go against the flow of the six sense objects of the common people. They then gain the path of Sakridagamin, which means 'once returner,' and the path of Anagamin, which means 'never-returner.' They then gain the path of Arhatship, which means the path of 'no birth.'

In this way they are exhausting all outflows, obtaining comfort in all of the deep Dhyana concentrations, and perfecting the eight liberations.

Sutra:

“What do you think? Would the merit and virtue of this great almsgiver be great or not?”

Outline:

J3. The question.


Commentary:

The Buddha asks Maitreya, "What do you think? Would the merit and virtue of this great almsgiver be great or not? How much merit and virtue do you think he would gain?"

Sutra:

Maitreya said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, this person’s merit and virtue would be extremely great, measureless, and unbounded. If the almsgiver had only given the beings all the playthings, his merit and virtue would be unlimited. How much the more so would it be if he enabled them to attain the fruit of Arhatship!”

Outline:

J4. The answer.


Commentary:

Maitreya said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, this person's merit and virtue would be extremely great, measureless, and unbounded. If the almsgiver had only given the beings all the different kinds of playthings, his merit and virtue would be unlimited. How much the more so would it be if he enabled them to attain the fruit of Arhatship—the fourth fruit of Arhatship!"

Sutra:

The Buddha told Maitreya,
“I will now tell you plainly: The merit and virtue obtained by this person, who gives playthings to living beings in the six destinies in four million kotis of asamkhyeyas of worlds and who further causes them to obtain the fruit of Arhatship, does not equal the merit of the fiftieth person who hears but a single verse of the Dharma Flower Sutra and rejoices in accord with it. His merit does not equal a hundredth part, a thousandth part, a hundred thousand myriad millionth part, and so forth until it cannot be known by resort to calculation or analogy.”

“Ajita! The merit and virtue of the fiftieth person who hears in his turn the Dharma Flower Sutra and who rejoices in accord with it is limitless, boundless, and uncountable. How much the more so is the merit and virtue of one who is among the first to hear it in the assembly and who rejoices in accord with it. That person’s blessings are even more supreme, unlimited, unbounded, and uncountable beyond comparison.”

Outline:

J5. The comparison proper.


Commentary:

The Buddha told Maitreya Bodhisattva, "I will now tell you plainly: The merit and virtue obtained by this person, who gives playthings to living beings in the six destinies in four million kotis of asamkhyeyas of worlds and who further causes them to obtain the fruit of Arhatship, does not equal the merit of the fiftieth person who hears but a single verse of the Dharma Flower Sutra and rejoices in accord with it. One person might speak Dharma and cause someone to become an Arhat. But that speaker's merit is not as great as that of the fiftieth listener in sequence who hears but a verse or so of the Dharma Flower Sutra. His merit does not equal a hundredth part, a thousandth part, a hundred thousand myriad millionth part, and so forth until it cannot be known by resort to calculation or analogy. There is no way to reckon his merit by means of calculation or to express it by means of analogy.”

“Ajita! The merit and virtue of the fiftieth person who hears in his turn the Dharma Flower Sutra and who rejoices in accord with it is limitless, boundless, and uncountable. How much the more so is the merit and virtue of one who is among the first to hear it in the assembly and who rejoices in accord with it. That person’s blessings are even more supreme, unlimited, unbounded, and uncountable beyond comparison.”

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