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Buddhism's Sacred Scripture: The Sutra of the Lotus of the Wonderful Dharma, Chapter 2 P2/3    
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The Sutra of the Lotus of the Wonderful Dharma (Lotus Sutra) Shariputra, the Buddhas preach the Dharma (true teaching) in accordance with what is appropriate, but the meaning is difficult to understand. Why is this? Because we employ countless expedient means, discussing causes and conditions and using words of simile and parable to expound the teachings.

This Dharma (true teaching) is not something that can be understood through pondering or analysis. Only those who are Buddhas can understand it. Why is this? Because the Buddhas, the World-Honored Ones, appear in the world for one great reason alone. Shariputra,

what does it mean to say that the Buddhas, the World-Honored Ones, appear in the world for one great reason alone? The Buddhas, the World-Honored Ones, wish to open the door of Buddha wisdom to all living beings, to allow them to attain purity. That is why they appear in the world. They wish to show the Buddha wisdom to living beings, and therefore they appear in the world. They wish to cause living beings to awaken to the Buddha wisdom, and therefore they appear in the world.

They wish to induce living beings to enter the path of Buddha wisdom, and therefore they appear in the world. Shariputra, this is the one great reason for which the Buddhas appear in the world." The Buddha said to Shariputra, "The Buddhas, the Tathagatas, simply teach and convert the bodhisattvas (spiritual practitioners). All the things they do are at all times done for this one purpose. They simply wish to show the Buddha wisdom to living beings and enlighten them to it. Shariputra, the Tathagatas have only a single Buddha vehicle which they employ in order to preach the Dharma (true teaching) to living beings.

They do not have any other vehicle a second one or a third one. Shariputra, the Dharma (true teaching) preached by all the Buddhas of the ten directions is the same as this. Shariputra, the Buddhas of the past used countless numbers of expedient means, various causes and conditions, and words of simile and parable in order to expound the doctrines for the sake of living beings. These doctrines are all for the sake of the one Buddha vehicle.

These living beings, by listening to the doctrines of the Buddhas, are all eventually able to attain wisdom embracing all species. Shariputra, when the Buddhas of the future make their appearance in the world, they too will use countless numbers of expedient means, various causes and conditions, and words of simile and parable in order to expound the doctrines for the sake of living beings. These doctrines will all be for the sake of the one Buddha vehicle. And these living beings, by listening to the doctrines of the Buddhas, will all eventually be able to attain wisdom embracing all species.

Shariputra, the Buddhas, the World-Honored Ones, who exist at present in the countless hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, and millions of Buddha lands in the ten directions, benefit and bring peace and happiness to living beings in large measure, these Buddhas too use countless numbers of expedient means, various causes and conditions, and words of simile and parable in order to expound the doctrines for the sake of living beings. These doctrines are all for the sake of the one Buddha vehicle. And these living beings, by listening to the doctrines of the Buddhas, are all eventually able to attain wisdom embracing all species.

Shariputra, these Buddhas simply teach and convert the bodhisattvas (spiritual practitioners). They do it because they wish to show the Buddha wisdom to living beings. They do it because they wish to use the Buddha wisdom to enlighten living beings. They do it because they wish to cause living beings to enter the path of Buddha wisdom. Shariputra, I too will now do the same, I know that living beings have various desires. Attachments that are deeply implanted in their minds. Taking cognizance of this basic nature of theirs, I will therefore use various causes and conditions, words of simile and parable, and the power of expedient means and expound the Dharma (true teaching) for them.

Shariputra, I do this so that all of them may attain the one Buddha vehicle and wisdom embracing all species. Shariputra, when the age is impure and the times are chaotic, then the defilements of living beings are grave, they are greedy and jealous and put down roots that are not good. Because of this, the Buddhas, utilizing the power of expedient means, apply distinctions to the one Buddha vehicle and preach as though it were three. Shariputra, if any of my disciples should claim to be an arhat (saint) or a pratyekabuddha (self-awakened Buddha) and yet does not heed or understand that the Buddhas, the Tathagatas, simply teach and convert the bodhisattvas (spiritual practitioners), then he is no disciple of mine, he is no arhat (saint) or pratyekabuddha (self-awakened Buddha).

Again, Shariputra, if there should be monks or nuns who claim that they already have attained the status of Arhat (saint), that this is their last incarnation, that they have reached the final nirvana (the highest paradise), and that therefore they have no further intention of seeking anuttara- samyaksambodhi (the highest wisdom), then you should understand that such as these are all persons of overbearing arrogance. Why do I say this? Because if they are monks who have truly attained the status of arhat (saint), then it would be unthinkable that they should fail to believe this Dharma (true teaching). The only exception would be in a time after the Buddha had passed away, when there was no Buddha present in the world. Why is this?

Because after the Buddha has passed away it will be difficult to find anyone who can embrace, recite, and understand the meaning of sutras such as this. But if persons at that time encounter another Buddha, then they will attain decisive understanding with regard to this Dharma (true teaching). Shariputra, you and the others should with a single mind believe and accept the words of the Buddha. The words of the Buddhas, the Tathagatas, are not empty or false. There is no other vehicle, there is only the one Buddha vehicle.”

At that time the World-Honored One, wishing to state his meaning once more, spoke in verse form, saying: “There are monks and nuns who behave with overbearing arrogance, laymen full of self-esteem, laywomen who are lacking in faith. Among the four kinds of believers, the likes of these number five thousand. They fail to see their own errors, are heedless and remiss with regard to the precepts, clinging to their shortcomings, unwilling to change. But these persons of small wisdom have already left; the chaff among this assembly has departed in the face of the Buddha's authority. These persons were of paltry merit and virtue, incapable of receiving this Dharma (true teaching). This assembly is now free of branches and leaves, made up only of those steadfast and truthful.

Shariputra, listen carefully, for the Dharma (true teaching) which the Buddhas have attained, through the power of countless expedient means they preach for the benefit of living beings. The thoughts that are in the minds of living beings, the different types of paths they follow, their various desires and natures, the good and bad deeds they have done in previous existences – all these the Buddha takes cognizance of, and then he employs causes, similes and parables, words that embody the power of expedient means, in order to gladden and please them all. Sometimes he preaches sutras, verses, stories of the previous lives of disciples, stories of the previous lives of the Buddha, of unheard-of things.

At other times he preaches regarding causes and conditions, uses similes, parables, passages of poetry or discourses. For those of dull capacities who delight in a little Dharma (true teaching), who greedily cling to birth and death, who, despite the innumerable Buddhas, fail to practice the profound and wonderful way but are perplexed and confused by a host of troubles – for these I preach Nirvana (the highest paradise). I devise these expedient means and so cause them to enter into the Buddha wisdom. Up to now I have never told you that you were certain to attain the Buddha way. The reason I never preached in that manner was that the time to preach so had not yet come.

But now is the very time when I must decisively preach the Great Vehicle. I use these nine devices, adapting them to the living beings when I preach my basic aim being to lead them into the Great Vehicle, and that is why I preach this sutra. There are sons of the Buddha whose minds are pure, who are gentle and of acute capacities, who under innumerable Buddhas have practiced the profound and wonderful way. For these sons of the Buddha I preach this sutra of the Great Vehicle. And I predict that these persons in a future existence will attain the Buddha way. Because deep in their minds they think of the Buddha and practice and uphold the pure percepts, they are assured they will attain Buddhahood, and hearing this, their whole bodies are filled with great joy.

The Buddha knows their minds and their practices and therefore preaches for them the Great Vehicle. When the voice-hearers and bodhisattvas (spiritual practitioners) hear this Dharma that I preach, as soon as they have heard one verse they will all without doubt be certain of attaining Buddhahood. In the Buddha lands of the ten directions there is only the Dharma of the one vehicle, there are not two, there are not three, except when the Buddha preaches so as an expedient means, merely employing provisional names and terms in order to conduct and guide living beings and preach to them the Buddha wisdom.

The Buddhas appear in the world solely for this one reason, which is true; the other two are not the truth. Never do they use a lesser vehicle to save living beings and ferry them across. The Buddha himself dwells in this Great Vehicle, and adorned with the power of meditation and wisdom that go with the Dharma (true teaching) he has attained, he uses it to save living beings. He himself testifies to the unsurpassed way, the Great Vehicle, the Dharma (true teaching) in which all things are equal. If I used a lesser vehicle to convert even one person, I would be guilty of stinginess and greed, but such a thing would be impossible.

If a person will believe and take refuge in the Buddha, the Tathagata will never deceive him, nor will he ever show greed or jealousy, for he has rooted out evil from among the phenomena. Therefore throughout the ten directions the Buddha alone is without fear. I adorn my body with the special characteristics and shine my light upon the world. I am honored by numberless multitudes and for them I preach the emblem of the reality of things. Shariputra, you should know that at the start I took a vow, hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us, and what I long ago hoped for has now been fulfilled.

I have converted all living beings and caused them all to enter the Buddha way. If when I encounter living beings I were in all cases to teach them the Buddha way, those without wisdom would become confused and in their bewilderment would fail to accept my teachings. I know that such living beings have never in the past cultivated good roots but have stubbornly clung to the five desires, and their folly and craving have given rise to affliction. Their desires are the cause whereby they fall into the three evil paths, revolving wheel-like through the six realms of existence and undergoing every sort of suffering and pain.

Having received a tiny form in the womb, in existence after existence they constantly grow to maturity. Persons of meager virtue and small merit, they are troubled and beset by manifold sufferings. They stray into the dense forest of mistaken views, debating as to what exists and what does not, and in the end cling to such views, embracing all sixty-two of them. They are profoundly committed to false and empty doctrines, holding firmly to them, unable to set them aside. Arrogant and puffed up with self-importance, fawning and envious, insincere in mind, for a thousand, ten thousand, a million kalpas (one kalpa is a period of four hundred and thirty two million years of mortals) they will not hear the Buddha's name, nor will they hear the correct Dharma (true teaching) – such people are difficult to save. For these reasons, Shariputra,

I have for their sake established expedient means, preaching the way that ends all suffering. And showing them nirvana (the highest paradise). But although I preach nirvana (the highest paradise), this is not a true extinction. All phenomena from the very first have of themselves constantly borne the marks of tranquil extinction. Once the sons of the Buddha have carried out this path, then in a future existence they will be able to become Buddhas. I have employed the power of expedient means to unfold and demonstrate this doctrine of three vehicles, but the World-Honored Ones, every one of them, all preach the single vehicle way. Now before this great assembly I must clear away all doubts and perplexities.

There is no discrepancy in the words of the Buddhas, there is only the one vehicle, not two. For numberless kalpas (one kalpa is a period of four hundred and thirty two million years of mortals) in the past countless Buddhas who have now entered extinction, a hundred, thousand, ten thousand, million types in numbers incapable of calculation – such World-Honored Ones, using different types of causes, similes, and parables, the power of countless expedient means, have expounded the characteristics of teachings. These World-Honored Ones have all preached the doctrine of the single vehicle, converting countless living beings and causing them to enter the Buddha way.

And these great sage lords, knowing what is desired deep in the minds of the heavenly and human beings and the other living things throughout all the worlds, have employed still other expedient means to help illuminate the highest truth. If there are living beings who have encountered these past Buddhas, and if they have listened to their Dharma (true teaching), presented alms, or kept the precepts, shown forbearance, been assiduous, practiced meditation and wisdom, and so forth, cultivating various kinds of merit and virtue, then persons such as these all have attained the Buddha way.
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