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The Merit and Virtue of a Dharma Master
This is the nineteenth of the twenty-eight chapters of the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra. The previous chapter talked about the merit and virtue of rejoicing in accord with the Sutra. In this chapter we hear about a Dharma Master who explains and lectures on the Dharma Flower Sutra, who writes it out, receives and upholds it, reads or recites it aloud. The Merit and Virtue derived from these acts is greater than that of one who newly rejoices along in accord.
What is a Dharma Master? "Dharma" refers to the Buddhadharma. We take the Buddhadharma as our "Master." A Dharma Master takes the Buddhadharma as his guide. A Dharma Master also gives the Buddhadharma to living beings.
There are Five Types of Dharma Masters:
1. Dharma Masters Who Receive and Uphold the Sutras. They conduct themselves in accord with the meaning of the Sutras. They receive them with their minds and practice them with their bodies.
2. Dharma Masters Who Lecture the Sutras. They expound on the texts and speak the Buddhadharma.
3. Dharma Masters Who Read the Sutras.
4. Dharma Masters Who Recite the Sutras from Memory. They can do it without the text.
5. Dharma Masters Who Write Out the Sutras. After they write them out they may place them in a jeweled stupa, or print them and circulate them throughout the world. When the Sutras are placed in the stupa, people can come, bow and make offerings to them. The merit and virtue obtained by writing out the Sutras is inconceivable. If you can write out the Sutras and circulate them in the world, your merit and virtue will abide forever.
At that time the Buddha told the Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, Ever-Vigorous, “If a good man or a good woman receives and upholds the Dharma Flower Sutra, whether reading it, reciting it, explaining it to others or writing it out, that person will obtain eight hundred meritorious virtues of the eyes, twelve hundred meritorious virtues of the ears, eight hundred meritorious virtues of the nose, twelve hundred meritorious virtues of the tongue, eight hundred meritorious virtues of the body, and twelve hundred meritorious virtues of the mind. By means of these meritorious virtues, he adorns his six faculties, causing them all to become pure.”
D2. Explaining the first kind of merit and virtue as an exhortation to propagation.
E1. General listing of merits.
At that time the Buddha told the Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, Ever-Vigorous something more about merit and virtue. When he had finished chapter eighteen, he went on to chapter nineteen, which discusses the merit and virtue of a Dharma Master.
If a good man or a good woman, one who has taken the Five Precepts and practices the Ten Good Deeds, receives and upholds the Dharma Flower Sutra, whether reading it, reciting it from memory, explaining it to others, or writing it out, that person will obtain eight hundred meritorious virtues of the eyes.
Basically, each of the six sense organs has a potential of twelve hundred meritorious virtues. They divide into the three periods of time—past, present, and future—and the four directions of north, east, south and west. In the front there are three hundred meritorious virtues; in the back there are three hundred meritorious virtues; on the left there are three hundred meritorious virtues; and on the right there are three hundred meritorious virtues. That makes twelve hundred meritorious virtues.
Now why do we say that the eyes have only eight hundred meritorious virtues? Because our range of vision is limited. If we look straight ahead, we cannot see behind at the same time. While we are looking to our left, we cannot see what is to our right.
I do not believe that. You tell us that if one opens the Five Eyes, one can see in front and behind at the same time," you protest.
Yes, but that is a functioning of the Five Eyes. Here we are talking about our ordinary eyes, not the Five Eyes.
Although the eyes have a potential of twelve hundred meritorious virtues, they do not function at full capacity but are limited to only eight hundred:
250 to the right
250 to the left
300 to the front
making only eight hundred meritorious virtues for the eye.
Twelve hundred meritorious virtues of the ears. Whether the sound is coming from above or below, right or left, the ears can still hear it. They can hear from any direction, and so they are perfect and unobstructed and are given twelve hundred meritorious virtues.
There are eight hundred meritorious virtues of the nose. The nose has 400 meritorious virtues when breathing in, and 400 meritorious virtues when breathing out, which gives it 800 meritorious virtues. But in between breathing in and out, the nose does not smell and so it is deficient by 400 meritorious virtues. The nose is not a "perfect organ."
There are twelve hundred meritorious virtues of the tongue. No matter what comes in contact with the tongue, the tongue can taste it. Therefore, the tongue has twelve hundred merits.
There are eight hundred meritorious virtues of the body. The body feels touch. It has two conditions:
1. according, which refers to pleasurable contact.
2. opposing, which refers to unpleasurable contact.
Pleasurable touch carries 400 meritorious virtues, and unpleasurable touch carries 400 meritorious virtues. They add up to eight hundred meritorious virtues possessed by the body. Since touch does not take place when there is separation, the body id deficient by 400 meritorious virtues.
And there are twelve hundred meritorious virtues of the mind. We are talking about the sixth (mind) consciousness, not the eighth consciousness. The thoughts of the mind take place regardless of conditions, so it is very perfect and gets twelve hundred points.
The person who receives, upholds, reads, recites, writes out and explains the Dharma Flower Sutra derives six thousand meritorious virtues from the six sense organs.
By means of these meritorious virtues, he adorns his six faculties, causing them all to become pure. By means of these six thousand meritorious virtues, his eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind become clear and pure.
“This good man or woman, thus purifying the ordinary physical eyes that he or she was endowed with at birth, will see throughout the three thousand great thousand world system, inside and out, all the mountains, forests, rivers and seas, below to the Avici hells, and above to the Peak of Existence. Such a person will also see all the living beings therein, as well as their karmic causes and conditions, rewards and retributions, and places of birth. All of those he will see and know.”
At that time the World Honored One, wishing to restate this meaning spoke verses, saying,
“If, within the great assembly,
One speaks this Dharma Flower Sutra,
With a heart free of fear,
Listen to me tell of his merit and virtue:
This person will gain eight hundred
Supreme meritorious virtues of the eyes,
And because of this adornment,
His eyes shall be very clear and pure.
With the eyes given him from birth,
He will see throughout the three thousand
Great thousand world system,
Inside and out, Mount Meru,
Sumeru, and the Iron Ring Range,
As well as the other mountains and forests,
The waters of the great seas, rivers, and streams,
Below to the Avici hell,
Above to the Peak of Existence,
And all the living beings within--
All of this he will completely see.
Although he has not yet gained the Heavenly Eye,
His flesh eyes will have powers such as these.”
E2. Specific explanation of the merits and virtues.
F1. The eyes.
This good man or good woman thus purifying the ordinary physical eyes which he or she was endowed with at birth, will see throughout the three thousand great thousand world system, inside and out, all the mountains, forests, rivers, and seas.
The “ordinary physical eyes” are not the Five Eyes. A verse about the Five Eyes says:
The heavenly eye penetrates what is without obstruction;
The flesh-eye sees obstacles and does not penetrate.
The Dharma-eye can contemplate only the relative truth;
The wisdom-eye can contemplate and know true emptiness,
While the Buddha-eye blazes forth like a thousand suns.
Although the Five Eyes’ functions differ, their substance is of one source.
"Mountains" can refer to our bodies. "Forests" can refer to the hairs on our bodies. Our blood veins are the "rivers," and our inner organs are the "seas." A person who gains six thousand meritorious virtues to adorn his sense organs can, with his flesh eyes, see the three thousand great thousand world system. Arhats who have attained the Fourth Fruition can see the three thousand great thousand world system. First Ground Bodhisattvas can see one hundred Buddhalands. Bodhisattvas on the Second Ground can see twice as many Buddhalands. Sages have varying ranges of vision.
This person can see below to the Avici hells. "Avici" is Sanskrit and means "unspaced." This hell is a place of uninterrupted punishment. The Earth Store Sutra lists the five reasons why the hell is called Avici—“unspaced”. You can read about it in detail here.
This person can see above to the Peak of Existence--the Heaven of Neither Perception Nor Non-Perception, which is the highest point in the three realms. Such a person will also see all the living beings therein, as well as their karmic causes and conditions, rewards and retributions, and places of birth. He will see what delusions they give rise to, what karma they create, and what retribution they must undergo. All of those he will see and know completely.
At that time the World Honored One, wishing to restate this meaning spoke verses, saying:
If, within the great assembly, one speaks this Dharma Flower Sutra, with a heart free of fear, listen to me tell of his merit and virtue: In this chapter concerning the merits and virtues of a Dharma Master, Shakyamuni Buddha talks about speaking Dharma in a large assembly. That is not particularly easy, because a great assembly has a kind of awesomeness about it. Unless you have a fearless heart, you will be frightened and unable to speak Dharma.
To be able to lecture on the Buddhadharma in front of a lot of people is no simple matter. But the person described here uses a heart that is free of fear because of the merit and virtue he has gained from listening to and lecturing on the Dharma Flower Sutra. If you are afraid, you would not be able to lecture on the Dharma properly. A Dharma Master like this, however, has no fear of the great assembly. He expounds on the Dharma Flower Sutra, explaining it so that everyone can understand it.
This person will gain eight hundred supreme meritorious virtues of the eyes. The eyes have only eight hundred meritorious virtues, because one's range of vision is limited. There are 250 meritorious virtues to the left, 250 meritorious virtues to the right, and 300 in front, making eight hundred in all. A Dharma Master who explains the Dharma Flower Sutra obtains these supreme and meritorious virtues of the eyes.
We all have eyes, but ordinary people's eyes have no merit and virtue. They just see things on the physical and material plane. But the merit and virtue of this person's eyes enable him to see throughout the three thousand great thousand world system--everything inside and outside. He does not need to gain the Heavenly Eye to see these things, either.
And because of this adornment, his eyes will be very clear and pure. The eyes he was born with will become clear and pure. With the eyes given him from birth, he will see throughout the three thousand great thousand world system. This is an inconceivable state. He will see the living beings both inside and out, as well as Mount Meru—“Meru” is a Sanskrit word which means “light”—Sumeru, and the Iron Ring Range. Sumeru means “wonderfully high.” Mount Sumeru is at the center of the world, and the Iron Ring Mountains are just beyond the fragrant seas.
He will see these as well as the other mountains and forests, the waters of the great seas, rivers, and streams; below to the Avici hell; above to the peak of existence. "Avici" means "unspaced." In this hell, if there are many people, it is full; if there is just one person, it is still full. One person fills it; a thousand people also fill it. Ten thousand people also can fit in this hell and make it just as full as one person would. It is called "unspaced" because there is no space there. What kind of people fall into the Avici hell? Those who commit the Five Rebellious Acts:
1. Killing one's father.
2. Killing one's mother.
3. Killing an Arhat.
4. Shedding a Buddha's blood.
5. Breaking up the harmonious Sangha.
"Breaking up the harmonious Sangha" occurs when one goes into a Sangha dwelling where everyone is basically getting along very well, and proceeds to indulge in a lot of gossip and get everybody upset. "Shedding a Buddha's blood" also includes damaging or destroying Buddha images. If a Buddha is in the world and you injure him and shed his blood, you fall into the Avici hell. If a Buddha has entered Nirvana, the offense is the same if you break or damage a Buddha image.
If you fall into the Avici hell, and try to get out, you won't be able to. There is no way out. It is not known when you will ever escape. A Bodhisattva or a Buddha might emit light to shine on you and you will be able to get out. But such things happen only very rarely.
The " Peak of Existence" is the Heaven of Neither Perception Nor Non-Perception--the highest place in the three realms. An astronomer cannot even think of a place like this, let alone get there. No matter how far advanced science gets, it is not going to get there! However, one who lectures on the Dharma Flower Sutra can see this place, the highest of the heavens.
And he will see all the living beings within—from the pits of hell to the highest of the heavens. All of this he will completely see. Although he has not yet gained the Heavenly Eye, his flesh eyes will have powers such as these. His ordinary physical eyes will have that much merit and virtue.
“Furthermore, Ever-Vigorous, if a good man or a good woman receives and upholds this Sutra, whether reading it, reciting it, explaining it to others, or writing it out, that person will obtain twelve hundred meritorious virtues of the ears.
With his pure ears he will hear throughout the three thousand great thousand world system, inside and out, below to the Avici hell and above to the Peak of Existence, all the various sounds and voices, such as sounds of elephants, horses, cows, and carriages; sounds of sobbing and sighing; sounds of conches, drums, gongs, and bells; sounds of laughter and talking; sounds of men, women, boys, and girls; sounds of Dharma and non-Dharma; sounds of suffering and joy; sounds of common people and sages; sounds of happiness and unhappiness; sounds of gods, dragons, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kinnaras, and mahoragas; sounds of fire, water, wind; sounds of hell-beings, animals and hungry ghosts; sounds of Bhikshus and Bhikshunis; sounds of Hearers, Pratyekabuddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas.
In general, although he has not yet obtained the Heavenly Ear, by using the pure ordinary ears given to him at birth, he can hear and know whatever sounds there may be inside and outside the three thousand great thousand world system. In this way he distinguishes between all the various sounds, and still his hearing is not impaired.”
Furthermore, Ever-Vigorous, if a good man or a good woman who keeps the Five Precepts and cultivates the Ten Good Deeds, or a Bhikshu or Bhikshuni who has taken the Complete Precepts, or a Bodhisattva who has taken the Bodhisattva Precepts, or a Shramanera who has taken the Shramanera Precepts, receives in the mind and upholds with the body this Sutra, whether reading it, reciting it from memory, explaining it to others, or writing it out, that person will obtain twelve hundred meritorious virtues of the ears.
The ear is complete in its meritorious virtues because it can hear sounds from all directions. With his pure ears, that is, the ones he was born with, he will hear throughout the three thousand great thousand world system, inside and out, below to the Avici hell and above to the Peak of Existence, all the various sounds and voices, such as sounds of elephants, horses, and cows. Hearing your sound he will know if you were an elephant in your last life, or if you are going to be an elephant in your next life; whether you were a horse in your last life or whether you are going to be a horse in your next life. Simply by hearing your sound, he knows your former causes and latter effects.
He can know, "Oh, originally that person was an ox in his last life, and so now his sound still has that bovine touch to it." Or he can tell, "Oh, no, that person sounds like he is on his way to being an ox in his next life." He does not even have to see the person. He can just listen with his eyes closed to the sound of the voice and know what a person is going to be in the future. He can also pick out the various sounds in one single voice: "Oh that voice contains human sounds, and horse sounds, ox sounds, pigeon sounds--all kinds of sounds rolled into one!"
He will hear the sounds of carriages and sounds of sobbing and sighing. Some people's voices sound very whiny, as if they are going to cry. There is no resonance to them. Some people sound as if they are sighing and whimpering every time they say something. This Dharma Master will know why they sound so miserable, too. He will know that they sound so miserable because in the future they are due for such and such an accident. Perhaps, they are soon to die in an automobile accident. Or perhaps at present they have some problem they cannot solve.
He hears the sounds of conches, drums, gongs, and bells. He hears the sounds of laughter and talking, sounds of men, women, boys, and girls. "Oh, that is a man talking, but in the future he is going to be a woman." Or perhaps someone was a man in a former life and is now a woman. Everyone sounds different when talking. There are sounds of Dharma and non-Dharma. "They are just rapping confusedly. Do not listen!" There are sounds of suffering and happiness, sounds of common people and sages. Just by hearing your voice, he can know you are a common person who has not been certified to the fruit; or "Ah! That person is a sage." So you cannot fool this Dharma Master.
Sounds of happiness and unhappiness--all these he knows, and so the ears have twelve hundred merits.
He will hear the sounds of gods who inhabit the heavens of desire, form, and formless realms.
How does one get born in the heavens? By keeping the Five Precepts and cultivating the Ten Good Deeds, one will receive the blessings of the heavens. Just by hearing a person talk, the Dharma Master can tell, "Oh, that person is going to be born in the heavens in the future." Or he can tell, "That person came from heaven. It is a god who has become a human being."
He will hear the sounds of dragons. Hearing the sound, he is able to know what the dragon did in the past that caused him to fall into the body of a dragon. Or he can tell that a person is going to turn into a dragon in the future. He knows if one was a dragon in the past, is one now, or will be one in the future. Just hearing the sound, he can tell the former causes and latter effects.
He will hear the sounds of yakshas. Yakshas are "speedy" ghosts. There are earth-bound yakshas who can travel on the ground, and there are space-travelling yakshas that can fly. They travel very fast.
He will hear the sounds of gandharvas. He knows their past, present and future. Perhaps this was a person before, and now he has turned into a gandharva. Or maybe he is a person now, but will be a gandharva in the future. Hearing his sound, the Dharma Master will know his past causes and present effects, and his future effects, too.
"Gandharva" is also Sanskrit and means "incense inhaling spirits." They love to smell incense. The Jade Emperor has a certain kind of chandana incense, and when he lights some, the gandharvas all show up to make music in his court. They also dance.
This Dharma Master will also hear the sounds of asuras. "Asura" is also Sanskrit. It means "ugly." They are extremely ugly. They have the blessings of the gods but not the virtue of the gods. They are very feisty and love to fight. Just on hearing these sounds, the Dharma Master is able to know their past, present, and future retributions.
He will hear the sounds of garudas. The garudas are great golden-winged peng birds. They eat dragons in the same way that we eat noodles. Dragons are pretty large. They are one of the largest varieties in the class of worms. Birds all eat worms, you know. Small birds eat small worms, and big birds eat big worms. The wing-spread of this bird is 360 yojanas. With one flap of his wings, he can dry up the waters of the sea for a radius of 360 yojanas.
That leaves all the dragons exposed--perfect garuda meals! The garuda prefers the tender young dragons, and besides the older dragons tend to be better at concealing themselves. Seeing all their young being devoured, the older dragons decided it was time to start a "save the dragons" movement, but they could not think of what to do. They thought, "Shakyamuni Buddha is greatly compassionate. Let us go ask him to help us."
"Buddha," they said, "the golden-winged peng bird has been indiscriminately slaughtering our young for food. Our dragon-race is about to become extinct. Please be compassionate and save us."
Shakyamuni Buddha said, "Here, give each of the dragons one thread from my robe, and you will be okay."
The next time the garuda bird flapped the sea dry, there were no dragons to be seen. The sea was dried up, but all the bird could see was little threads. The garuda had a bit of spiritual powers himself. He knew that the Buddha must have helped the dragons. He went to the Buddha and said, "Shakyamuni Buddha, you are being very compassionate to the dragons, but you are not being compassionate towards the great golden-winged peng birds. If we do not eat dragons, we are going to starve. We eat a lot, and only dragons are big enough to provide us with sufficient nourishment. You are not being impartial and fair about this."
The Buddha said, "In my Dharma, we liberate life and stop killing. Eating dragons is a form a killing. You kill dragons now, and in your next life they kill you. Things just get worse and worse. You should quit eating dragons. You should be vegetarians. Do not eat meat anymore."
"Where am I going to get vegetables?" asked the bird. "After this," said the Buddha, "whenever my disciples eat lunch, they will make an offering of food to you, so you do not have to eat dragons anymore." And so the garuda and the Buddha signed that agreement. The dragons could live without fear of being eaten, and garudas did not starve to death. Even up to the present when we eat lunch we send out some food for the garudas. If you have opened the Five Eyes, when you send the food out you will see the great golden-winged peng birds come and eat it. Wherever they go, when Buddhist disciples eat lunch, they should send out a portion to the garudas.
Kinnaras are one of the eight-fold divisions. Translated from Sanskrit, "kinnara" means "doubtful spirit." They are also musicians in the Jade Emperor's court. When the gods have parties, they call in the kinnaras who make extremely fine music.
And mahoragas are big snakes, pythons, one of the eight-fold divisions. The Dharma Master who lectures the Dharma Flower Sutra can know all the sounds of the eight-fold divisions.
Sounds of fire, water, and wind. This means he knows the sounds of past, present, and future fires. He knows of the sounds of the three periods of time. He knows that a certain place was, is, or will be flooded. He can know the sounds of hurricanes of the past, present, and future. "Ah! A hurricane is approaching from ten thousand miles away." He knows why the wind is blowing and when it will blow in the future.
Sounds of hell-beings. Just on hearing a person's voice he can tell, "That person is going to fall into the hells," or "that person just came out from the hells." He can also hear the sounds of the hells at the present period of time.
Animals. Hearing a person's voice he can tell, "That person was an animal," or "That person will be an animal in the future." He can hear an animal's sound and know, "That one is going to continue being an animal."
And hungry ghosts have a hard time finding food. Sometimes for great eons they cannot find a drop of water, blood, or wine to drink. They are always starving, and it is really painful. You should not think about eating all the time; otherwise, you might turn into a hungry ghost. You should look upon food as medicine. Do not get carried away with how tasty or how nutritious it is. It is medicine, because if we did not eat, we would die. So we should think, "I take this food only as medicine, to cure this decaying body." This is one of the Five Contemplations one makes when one eats:
1. Consider the amount of work involved in bringing the food to the table.
2. Reflect on whether or not your virtuous conduct is sufficient to entitle you to receive the offering.
3. Guard against mental transgressions, principally that of greed.
4. Regard the food as medicine to prevent the body from collapsing.
5. Take this food only in order to accomplish your work of the Way.
If you hold these Five Contemplations while you eat, you will digest your food very well. If you do not, then, as the saying goes, "If the three minds are not ended, it is hard to digest water." If you have not ended the thoughts of the past, present, and future, you will have a hard time digesting even an offering of a cup of water. On the other hand, "If the Five Contemplations are understood, you can digest gold." So when left-home people eat, they recite the Offering Mantra and then hold the Five Contemplations. They do not indulge in polluted thinking, but instead "respond to offerings," as they eat.
Sounds of Bhikshus. He knows who was a Bhikshu in a previous life, who is about to become a Bhikshu in the present life, and who will become a Bhikshu in the future life, just by hearing his voice.
one of the largest varieties Perhaps she was a Bhikshuni in the past and is not one now, or is one now and will be one in the future.
Sounds of Hearers. Hearers awaken to the Way when they hear the Four Noble Truths: suffering, origination, extinction, and the Way.
Pratyekabuddhas awaken through cultivation of the Twelve Causes and Conditions.
This Dharma Master knows who was a Bodhisattva in the past but is now an ordinary person, who will be a Bodhisattva in the future, and who is now a Bodhisattva.
And Buddhas. Hearing a voice he knows, "That is the Buddha sound."
In general, although he has not yet obtained the Heavenly Ear, by using the pure ordinary ears given to him at birth, he can hear and know whatever sounds there may be inside and outside the three thousand great thousand world system. In this way he distinguishes between all the various sounds, and still his hearing is not impaired. Even though he hears all these sounds, he is not turned, defiled, or influenced by the sounds. Because he is not attached to them, his faculty of hearing is not damaged. If he were to get attached to them, his hearing would be harmed.