The Lotus Sutra

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The Lotus Sūtra (Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra) is one of the most popular and influential Mahāyāna sūtras, and is known for its extensive instruction on the concept and usage of skillful means (upāya), the seventh paramita or "perfection of a Bodhisattva". The ultimate teaching of the sutra is implied to the reader that "full Buddhahoo...

Chapter III - A Parable

Thereupon Śāriputra stood up ecstatic and joyful, pressed his palms together and, gazing at the Buddha, the Bhagavat, said: “Now, hearing the words of this Dharma from the Bhagavat, my heart is full of joy for I have experienced something unprecedented. What is the reason for this? In the past when I heard this Dharma from the Buddha and saw the bodhisattvas receive their predictions, I was not included. I grieved because I thought I had been deprived of the immeasurable wisdom and insight of the Tathāgata.

“O Bhagavat! While I was dwelling alone under forest trees, whether sitting or walking, I was constantly thinking this: ‘Since we have also realized the true nature of the Dharma, why has the Tathāgata tried to save us with the teachings of the inferior vehicle?’

“The fault is ours, not the Bhagavat’s. Why is this? If we had waited for your explanation about the way to achieve highest, complete enlightenment, we certainly would have been able to save ourselves by means of the Mahayana. However, we did not understand that you were teaching with skillful means, according to what is appropriate to us. When we first heard the Buddha’s teaching, we immediately accepted, contemplated, and understood it.

“O Bhagavat! Since long ago I have reproached myself incessantly day and night. But now from the Buddha we have heard the unprecedented Dharma that we have never heard before, and it has removed all our doubts.

“I have obtained peace and tranquility in body and mind. Today I have finally realized that I am truly the heir of the Buddha, born from the mouth of the Buddha, incarnated from the Dharma, and that I have inherited a part of the Buddha-Dharma.”

Then Śāriputra, wanting to elaborate this meaning, spoke again in verse:

When I heard the words of this Dharma,
Experiencing something unprecedented,
My heart overflowed with joy,
And I was rid of all my doubts.
From long ago, ever since I heard
The teaching of the Buddha,
I have not lost the Mahayana.
The words of the buddhas are extremely rare
And are capable of ridding sentient beings
Of their suffering.
Although I had already attained
Freedom from corruption,
By hearing the Buddha’s voice,
I have also been rid of my anxiety.
Whether I was dwelling
In mountain valleys or under forest trees,
Whether I was sitting or walking,
Grieving and blaming myself deeply,
I thought incessantly:

How have I deceived myself!

I am also the heir of the buddhas,
Having entered the same incorruptible Dharma.
Nevertheless, in the future,
I shall not be able to explain the highest path.
The golden color, the thirty-two marks,
The ten powers, and the liberations
Are all in the same Dharma;
And yet I have not attained any of these.
Moreover, such qualities as
The eighty excellent and eighteen special characteristics
Are completely lost to me.
When I was wandering alone,
I saw the Buddha in the great assembly
Filling the ten directions with his fame
And greatly benefiting sentient beings.
I then thought:

I have lost all these benefits
Because I have been deceiving myself.

I thought about this constantly day and night
And wanted to ask the Bhagavat:

Have I or have I not lost these?

I always saw the Bhagavat
Praising the bodhisattvas.
That is why I pondered over such matters
As these both day and night.
Now I have heard the words of the Buddha,
Explaining to sentient beings
The incorruptible Dharma,
Which is difficult to comprehend,
And making them enter
The terrace of enlightenment.
Formerly, I was attached to false views
And was a teacher of brahmans.
The Bhagavat, knowing my mind,
Removed the false views and taught nirvana.
I got rid of false views completely
And attained the teaching of emptiness.
At that time I considered myself
To have attained nirvana.
But now I have become aware
That this was not the real nirvana.
When I become a buddha
I shall be endowed with the thirty-two marks,
And be honored by devas, humans, yakṣas, and nāgas.
Only then can it be said that I have
Permanently attained nirvana without residue.
Before the great assembly
The Buddha has proclaimed
That I will become a buddha.
After hearing these words of the Dharma,
I was immediately rid of all my doubts.
When I first heard this teaching of the Buddha’s,
I was greatly startled and thought:

I wonder if Māra, acting like the Buddha,
Is confusing me!

But the Buddha, who teaches skillfully
By means of various explanations and illustrations,
Has made my mind tranquil like the ocean.
While listening to him
I was freed from the web of my doubts.
The Buddha has said that immeasurable buddhas
Who have attained parinirvāṇa in the past,
Established in the use of skillful means,
Have also taught this Dharma.
Immeasurable buddhas in the present and future
Will also teach this Dharma
With various skillful means.
The present Bhagavat,
From the time he was born
And renounced household life
Until he obtained the path
And turned the wheel of the Dharma,
Has also taught through skillful means.
The Bhagavat teaches the real path,
But the Wicked One does not.
Therefore I know definitely
That it was not Māra acting like the Buddha.
Because I fell into a web of doubt,
I thought that Māra was impersonating the Buddha.
When I heard the voice of the Buddha,
Profound and very subtle,
Fluently explaining the pure Dharma,
I became full of great joy.
My doubts are completely and forever exhausted,
And I have achieved the true wisdom.
I will definitely become a buddha,
Honored by devas and humans.
I will turn the wheel of the highest Dharma
And lead and inspire the bodhisattvas.

At that time the Buddha said to Śāriputra: “I will now reveal to you before the great assembly of devas, humans, śrāmaṇas, and brahmans that in the past, in the presence of two hundred thousand koṭis of buddhas, I led and inspired you constantly for the sake of the highest path. You have followed my instructions for a long time. Because I led you with skillful means, you were born in my Dharma.

“O Śāriputra! In the past I inspired you to seek the buddha path. Yet just now you had completely forgotten this and considered yourself to have attained nirvana. Now, because I want you to remember the path that you practiced according to your original vow in the past, I will teach the śrāvakas the Mahayana sutra called the Lotus Sutra, the instruction for the bodhisattvas and treasured lore of the buddhas.’

“O Śāriputra! In the future after immeasurable, limitless, and inconceivable kalpas, you will have paid homage to thousands of myriads of koṭis of buddhas, preserved the True Dharma, and mastered the path practiced by the bodhisattvas. You will become a buddha called Padmaprabha, a Tathāgata, Arhat, Completely Enlightened, Perfect in Knowledge and Conduct, Well-Departed, Knower of the World, Unsurpassed, Tamer of Humans, Teacher of Devas and Humans, Buddha, Bhagavat.

“Your land will be called Viraja. Its earth will be level and pure, ornamented, peaceful, and rich. The devas and humans will prosper. The earth will be made of lapis lazuli with a well-planned network of roads like a chessboard bordered with golden cords. Rows of seven-jeweled trees, which are always full of flowers and fruits, will line the borders of these roads. The Tathāgata Padmap rabha will also lead and inspire sentient beings by means of the three vehicles.

“O Śāriputra! When that buddha appears, even though his will not be a troubled world, he will teach the three vehicles because of his original vow.

This kalpa will be called Mahāratnaprati maṇḍita, meaning ‘Adorned with Great Jewels.’ Why will it be called Mahā ratna pratimaṇḍita? Because in that world the bodhisattvas will be like great jewels. The number of these bodhisattvas will be immeasurable, limitless, inconceivable, and beyond all comparison, known only by those with the power of the Buddha’s wisdom.

“When they want to walk they will step on jeweled flowers. And these bodhisattvas will not be those who are just setting out. Over a long time they will have planted roots of good merit and practiced the pure path of discipline and integrity in the presence of immeasurable hundreds of thousands of myriads of koṭis of buddhas. They will always be praised by the buddhas and continually practice the buddha wisdom. They will be endowed with transcendent powers and know well all the teachings of the Dharma. They will be honest, without falsity, and firm in recollection. That world will be filled with bodhisattvas like these.

“O Śāriputra! The lifespan of this buddha Padmaprabha will be twelve intermediate kalpas, not including the period after he becomes a prince and before he becomes a buddha; and the life span of the people in that world will be eight intermediate kalpas.

“After these twelve intermediate kalpas have passed, the Tathāgata Padmaprabha will predict Bodhisattva Dhṛtip ari pūrṇa’s attainment of highest, complete enlightenment and will address the monks, saying:

This Bodhisattva Dhṛti paripūrṇa will become the next buddha after me. His name will be Padmavṛṣabhavikrama, a Tathāgata, Arhat, Completely Enlightened. His buddha world will also be like this one.

“O Śāriputra! After the parinirvāṇa of the Buddha Padmap rabha the True Dharma will remain in the world for thirty-two intermediate kalpas and the Semblance Dharma will also remain in the world for thirty-two intermediate kalpas.”

Then the Bhagavat, wanting to elaborate on the meaning of this again, spoke these verses:

O Śāriputra! In the future
You will become a buddha of universal wisdom
Named Padmaprabha,
Who will save innumerable sentient beings.
Having paid homage to innumerable buddhas,
Perfected the bodhisattva practice,
And the qualities, including the ten powers,
You will attain the highest path.
After immeasurable kalpas have passed,
The kalpa will be called Prabhūtaratna,
And the world will be called Viraja,
Pure and without dirt.
The earth will be made of lapis lazuli
And the roads, bordered with golden cords,
Will be lined with variegated trees of the seven treasures
Which are always full of flowers and fruits.
The bodhisattvas in that world
Will be always firm in recollection.
All of them will be completely endowed
With transcendent powers and the perfections
And will have properly practiced the bodhisattva path
In the presence of innumerable buddhas.
Such mahasattvas as these
Will be led and inspired by the Buddha Padmaprabha.
When this buddha becomes a prince
He will abdicate his kingship
And give up his worldly fame.
Bearing his last body,
He will renounce household life
And attain the path of the Buddha.
This Buddha Padmaprabha will live in the world
For twelve intermediate kalpas.
And the lifespan of the people in this world
Will be eight intermediate kalpas.
After the parinirvāṇa of this buddha,
The True Dharma will last in the world
For thirty-two intermediate kalpas,
During which time many sentient beings
Will be saved.
After the extinction of the True Dharma,
The Semblance Dharma will last
For thirty-two intermediate kalpas.
The relics of the Buddha
Will be distributed widely
And devas and humans will pay them homage.
All that the Buddha Padmaprabha does
Will be exactly like this.
That very Best of Humans,
Who will be foremost and without comparison,
Is none other than you.
You should be delighted to hear this!

At that time the fourfold assembly of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen and the great assembly of devas, nāgas, yakṣas, gandharvas, asuras, garuḍas, kiṃnaras, and mahoragas saw Śāriputra receive his prediction of highest, complete enlightenment in the presence of the Buddha. They rejoiced greatly and became immeasurably happy. All of them removed their outer garments and proffered them to the Buddha as offerings.

Śakra, the lord of devas, and Brahma, together with innumerable devaputras also made offerings to the Buddha of their heavenly beautiful garments, heavenly māndārava flowers, and great māndārava flowers. Their heavenly garments floated and fluttered in the air, while in the sky the devas played hundreds of thousands of myriads of kinds of music together at one time. They rained down various heavenly flowers and said: “In the past the Buddha turned the wheel of the Dharma for the first time in Vārāṇ asī. Now he has turned the wheel of the utmost and greatest Dharma again.”

Thereupon the devaputras spoke these verses in order to explain this again:

In the past you turned the wheel of the Dharma
Of the Four [Noble] Truths in Vārāṇasī;
And you illuminated and explained the Dharma
Of the origination and extinction of the five aggregates.
You have now again turned the wheel
Of the subtlest, utmost, and greatest Dharma.
This Dharma is extremely profound;
Only a few will be able to believe it.
Since long ago we have frequently heard
The teaching of the Bhagavat,
Yet we have never before heard
Such a profound and supreme teaching.
When the Bhagavat taught this Dharma
We were all delighted.
And now Śāriputra, possessed of great wisdom,
Has received his prediction from the Bhagavat.
In the same way, we too,
Shall certainly become buddhas.
We shall become peerless,
Unrivaled in all the world.
The path of the Buddha,
Which is difficult to understand,
Is taught with skillful means
According to what is appropriate for sentient beings.
May the merits of our beneficial acts,
Whether of the past or the present,
And those acquired in meeting the Buddha,
Be completely transferred to the buddha path.

At that time Śāriputra said this to the Buddha: “O Bhagavat! I now have no further doubts. I have received the prediction of the highest supreme enlightenment in the presence of the Buddha.

“When all those twelve hundred who have attained complete mental discipline were still under training in the past, the Buddha constantly led and inspired them, saying: ‘My teaching overcomes birth, old age, illness, and death and it leads to nirvana.’ Both those who were still in training and those who were not thought that they were free from false views about the self, existence and nonexistence, and declared that they had attained nirvana. Yet now, in the presence of the Bhagavat, they have heard what they have never heard before and have fallen into doubt.

“Splendid, O Bhagavat! I entreat you to explain to the fourfold assembly the reason why, and free them from their doubts!”

Then the Buddha said to Śāriputra: “Did I not previously tell you that all the Buddha Bhagavats explain the Dharma with various explanations and illustrations using skillful means, all for the sake of highest, complete enlightenment!? All of these teachings are for leading and inspiring the bodhisattvas. “Moreover, Śāriputra, I will now clarify what I mean with illustrations. Those with wisdom will be able to understand through these illustrations.

“O Śāriputra! Suppose there were an aged and extremely affluent man, either in a town, city, or country, who has immeasurable wealth, abundant estates, mansions, and servants. He has a spacious house, yet it only has a single entrance. Suppose many people live there, as many as one, two, or even five hundred people. The buildings are in poor repair, the fences and walls are crumbling, the pillar bases are rotten, and the beams and framework are dangerously tilted.

“Suddenly and unexpectedly, fires break out everywhere, setting the house swiftly aflame. The children of this man, ten, twenty, or thirty in number are in the house.

“The affluent man, seeing the fire breaking out everywhere, becomes alarmed and terrified. He thinks:

I am capable of escaping through the burning entrance in safety, but my children are absorbed in play within the burning house and are not aware [of the fire], do not know, are not alarmed or terrified, and the fire is approaching them! They are not troubled about their suffering nor do they intend to leave the house.

“O Śāriputra, this affluent man thought:

Since I am still physically strong I could take the children out of the house in the folds of my garment or on top of a desk.

“He further thought:

There is only one entrance to this house and it is very narrow. The children, who are immature and still unaware, are attached to their place of play. They may fall into danger and be burned by the fire. I should now tell them of the danger; this house is already burning! They must escape as quickly as they can to avoid being burned by the fire!

“After considering this he urged the children according to his thought:

Children! Run out immediately!

“Although their father in his concern has given them the proper advice, the children are immersed in their play and do not accept it; they are neither alarmed nor afraid and have no intention of leaving [the burning house]. Moreover, they do not even know what a fire is, the condition of the house, or what they may lose. They merely run about, back and forth, looking at their father.

“Thereupon the affluent man thought:

This house is already engulfed in flames. If my children and I do not get out, we shall perish in the fire. I will now use skillful means to help my children escape from this disaster.

“Since the father already knew that his children were attached to various rare toys and unusual things that each of them liked, he said to them:

The toys you are fond of are rare and hard to obtain. If you do not take them you will certainly regret it later. Right now, outside the house, there are three kinds of carts. One is yoked to a sheep, one to a deer, and one to an ox. Go play with them. Children! Run out of this burning house immediately and I will give you whatever you want!

“The children, hearing what their father had said about the rare toys, became excited and, in their eagerness to get to them they pushed each other out of the way in a mad rush out of the burning house.

“Then the affluent man saw that his children had got out safely and were sitting unharmed in an open area at a crossroad. He was relieved, happy, and joyful. The children said to their father:

Father, please give us the toys you promised: those [three] carts, one yoked to a sheep, one to a deer, and one to an ox!

“O Śāriputra, the affluent man then gave each child the same kind of large cart. These carts were tall and spacious, adorned with various jewels, and encircled with railings full of hanging bells. On the tops of the carts were canopies also decorated with various kinds of jewels. These carts were draped with jeweled cords and hung with flower garlands. They were thickly piled with fabrics, and red pillows had been placed about. These carts were each yoked to an ox with a spotlessly white hide. These oxen had beautiful bodies with powerful muscles, even gaits, and were as swift as the wind; and there were many attendants guarding them. Why did the affluent man give these carts? Because the man had great and immeasurable wealth and his abundant storehouses were full. He thus thought further:

Since my treasure has no limit, I should not give my children inferior carts. These are my children and I love them all equally. I have an immeasurable number of large carts such as these, decorated with the seven treasures. I should equally distribute them to each child without discrimination. Why is this? Even if I gave carts like these to everyone in the country, their number would not be exhausted. Why should I not give them to my own children?

“At that time, the children each climbed into a great cart and had an unprecedented experience, one beyond their original expectations.

“O Śāriputra! What do you think about this? This affluent man gave to his children equally a large cart decorated with precious treasures. Has he deceived them or not?”

Śāriputra replied: “No Bhagavat! The affluent man only tried to help his children escape from the disastrous fire. He saved their lives and did not deceive them. This is by no means a deception. Why? Because by saving their lives they obtained marvelous toys. Moreover, they were saved from the burning house by skillful means.

“O Bhagavat! If this affluent man had not given them even the smallest cart, it still would not have been a deception. Why is this? Because this affluent man thought before:

I will help my children escape with skillful means.

“This is why it was not a deception. How much more so, since the affluent man, knowing that he had immeasurable wealth and wanting to benefit them equally, gave each of his children a large [ox]cart.”

The Buddha said to Śāriputra: “Splendid, splendid! It is exactly as you have said. O Śāriputra, the Tathāgata is also just like this. That is to say, as the father of the entire world, he permanently dispels fear, distress, anxiety, ignorance, and blindness. He has attained immeasurable wisdom, insight, power, and fearlessness, as well as great transcendent powers and the power of wisdom. He has attained the perfection of skillful means and of wisdom. With his great mercy and compassion he incessantly and indefatigably seeks the welfare of all beings and benefits them all.

“The Tathāgata appears in the triple world, which is like a decaying old house on fire, to rescue sentient beings from the fire of birth, old age, illness, and death, anxiety, sorrow, suffering, distress, delusion, blindness, and the three poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance. Thus he leads and inspires sentient beings and causes them to attain highest, complete enlightenment.

“The Tathāgatas see all sentient beings burning in the fire of birth, old age, illness, and death, anxiety, sorrow, suffering, and distress. Because of the desires of the five senses and the desire for monetary profit they also experience various kinds of suffering. Because of their attachment and pursuits they experience various kinds of suffering in the present; and in the future they will suffer in the states of existence of hell, animals, and hungry ghosts (pretas). If they are born in the heavens or in the human world they will experience a variety of sorrows such as suffering from poverty and destitution, separation from loved ones, or suffering from encounters with those they dislike.

“Although sentient beings are immersed in such sorrows, they rejoice and play. They are not aware, shocked, startled, or disgusted nor do they seek release. Running around in the burning house of the triple world, they experience great suffering and yet they do not realize it.

“O Śāriputra! Seeing these things the Buddha thought:

Since I am the father of sentient beings I must rid them of their immeasurable suffering and distress. I will cause them to rejoice through the immeasurable and limitless pleasure of the buddha wisdom.

“O Śāriputra! The Tathāgata further thought:

If I proclaim the Tathāgata’s wisdom, insight, power, and fear lessness to sentient beings with my transcendent powers and the power of my wisdom alone, without using skillful means, it will be impossible to save them. Why is this? Because these sentient beings have not escaped from birth, old age, illness, and death; anxiety, sorrow, suffering, and distress; and are being burned in the blazing house of the triple world. How would they be able to understand the Buddha’s wisdom?

“O Śāriputra! Although that affluent man had physical strength he did not use it. He only earnestly employed skillful means to save his children from the disaster of the burning house, and later he gave each of them a large cart decorated with precious treasures. The Tathāgata is exactly like this.

“Although the Tathāgata has power and fearlessness he does not use them, but rescues sentient beings from the burning house of the triple world only through wisdom and skillful means, teaching the three vehicles to the śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and the buddhas, saying:

Do not take pleasure in living in this burning house of the triple world. And do not thirst after inferior objects, sounds, smells, flavors, and tangibles. If you are attached to these objects and have desires, then you will be burned. Leave the triple world in haste and you will obtain the three vehicles—the vehicles for the śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and buddhas. I definitely guarantee this to you. In the end it will come true. You should be diligent and persistent!

“The Tathāgata attracts sentient beings through this skillful means, saying further:

You should know that the Noble Ones praise the teachings of these three vehicles that are self-directed, unrestricted, and independent. When they ride in them, sentient beings will enjoy faculties free from corruption and also powers, paths to enlightenment, meditation, liberation, and concentration. And they themselves will attain immeasurable ease and pleasure.

“O Śāriputra! Those beings, wise by nature, who accept the Dharma from the Buddha Bhagavat, who are diligent, persistent, and wish to escape from the triple world quickly, and who are seeking nirvana, are all practicing the śrāvaka vehicle. They are like those children who left the burning house seeking the cart yoked to a sheep.

“Those beings who accept the Dharma of the Buddha Bhagavat, who are diligent and persevere in seeking the wisdom of the Self-generated One and enjoy tranquility for themselves, who profoundly know the causes of and reasons for existence, are all practicing the pratyekabuddha vehicle. They are just like those children who left the burning house seeking the cart yoked to a deer.

“Those beings who accept the Dharma of the Buddha Bhagavat, who are diligent and persevere in seeking the wisdom of the Omniscient One, the wisdom of the Buddha, the wisdom of the Self-generated One, the wisdom acquired without a teacher, the wisdom and insight, powers, and fearlessness of the Tathāgata; who are compassionate, put immeasurable sentient beings at ease, benefit devas and humans, and save all beings, are all practicing the Mahayana. Bodhisattvas are called mahāsattvas (great beings) because they seek this vehicle. They are just like those children who left the burning house seeking the cart yoked to an ox.

“O Śāriputra! That affluent man saw his children leave the burning house safely and arrive at a safe place. Knowing that he had immeasurable wealth, he gave a large cart equally to each child. The Tathāgata is exactly like this. As the father of all sentient beings he sees that immeasurable thousands of koṭis of sentient beings escape from the dangers, sufferings, and fears of the triple world through the gates of the Buddha’s teaching and attain the pleasure of nirvana.

“Then the Tathāgata thought:

Because I possess the treasure house of the Dharma of all the buddhas, which contains immeasurable limitless wisdom, power, and fearlessness, and because all sentient beings are my children, I will give them equally the Mahayana. I will not allow anyone to attain nirvana merely for himself but will cause everyone to attain it through the Tathāgata’s nirvana.

I will give sentient beings who have escaped from the triple world all the toys of the Buddha’s meditations and liberations, which are of one character and one kind, are praised by the Noble Ones, and which produce pure and supreme pleasure.

“O Śāriputra! At first that affluent man attracted his children with three kinds of carts, then later gave them only the safest and best large [ox]cart, adorned with jewels. Moreover, that affluent man was never accused of telling a lie. The Tathāgata is exactly like this. He tells no lies.

“In the beginning the Tathāgata teaches the three vehicles in order to lead sentient beings. And later he saves them through only the Mahayana. Why is this? Because the Tathāgata possesses the treasure house of the Dharma, which contains immeasurable wisdom, power, and fearlessness. And although he is able to give the teaching of the Mahayana to all sentient beings, not all of them can accept it.

“O Śāriputra! You should know that the buddhas, with the power of skillful means, teach the single buddha vehicle, dividing and teaching it as three.”

Then the Buddha, wanting to elaborate on the meaning of this again, spoke these verses:

Suppose there were an affluent man
Who had a large house,
And this house was very old,
On the verge of collapsing.
The halls were extremely dangerous,
The pillar bases rotten and disintegrating,
The beams and framework dangerously tilted,
And the stairways were falling apart.
The fences and walls were cracked,
The plaster was peeling off,
The thatched roof was falling down,
The rafters and eaves were coming apart,
The partitions were everywhere askew,
And the whole place was covered with filth.
Five hundred people lived there,
And moving around helter-skelter were
Kites, owls, hawks, eagles, crows, magpies,
Doves, pigeons, lizards, snakes, vipers,
Scorpions, centipedes, millipedes,
Newts, myriapods, ferrets, badgers, mice,
Rats, and other harmful creatures.
It was filled with stench,
And there were places overflowing with excrement.
All kinds of bugs
Had gathered there.
There were foxes, wolves, and vermin
Devouring, trampling, and gnawing on corpses,
Scattering bones and flesh about;
And a pack of dogs,
Forcing each other out of the way,
Rushed to the spot—
Frightened and exhausted from hunger,
They were searching everywhere for food,
Fighting among themselves, snatching at food,
Biting, snarling, and barking at each other.
This house was terrifying,
Corrupted to this grotesque condition:
Ogres of the mountains and valleys,
s, and demons were everywhere
Devouring human flesh.
There were various poisonous insects,
All kinds of harmful birds of prey,
And beasts who were producing, rearing,
And protecting their offspring.
Yakṣas were scrabbling and fighting to devour them.
And after sating themselves,
Evil thoughts would arise in them.
The sound of their fighting
Was terrifying.
The kumbhāṇḍa demons were crouching on the ground,
Sometimes rising up a foot or two.
Roaming about, pleasing themselves as they liked,
They would catch two legs of a dog,
Beat it until it could not bark
And grabbing the dog’s neck with their legs,
Terrify it for their own amusement.
There were also other demons living there
With large bodies, naked, dark, and gaunt.
They were screaming horrifying howls,
Crying out while searching for food.
Other demons were there,
Some with needlelike throats,
While others had necks
Like a cow’s head;
Some had those of human flesh-eaters or dog-devourers.
Their hair was disheveled like rank weeds
And they were destructive and malicious.
Driven by hunger and thirst,
They were crying and scurrying about.
, hungry ghosts,
And various malicious birds and beasts
Were peering out of the windows
And running frantically in all directions,
Driven by hunger.
In this house, with its immeasurable terrors,
There were many such horrendous things as these.
Now suppose this old and decaying house
Belonged to a man,
And this man came out from it a short distance.
Soon after, the house suddenly
Burst into flames behind him.
The fire instantly spread in all directions.
The frame, beams, rafters, and pillars exploded,
And shaking, split and crashed,
While the fences and walls collapsed.
All the demons screamed out loudly.
The hawks, eagles, other birds,
And kumbhāṇḍa demons, panicked and terrified,
Could not get out.
Malicious beasts and poisonous insects
Concealed themselves in holes.
There were also piśāca demons dwelling there
Who, because of little merit,
Were chased by the flames.
They were tearing at each other,
Drinking blood and eating flesh.
A horde of vermin had already died off,
And the large malicious beasts
Raced to devour them,
While the smoke of the stench flowed
And filled everywhere.
As the centipedes, millipedes,
And poisonous snakes rushed,
Burning, out of their holes
The kumbhāṇḍa demons devoured them
One after another.
The hungry ghosts, with their hair on fire,
Ravenous, thirsty, and suffering from the heat,
Frantically scurried about.
In this way, the house was extremely terrifying
With poison and fire,
And disasters more than one.
Then the householder, who was standing
Outside the entrance of the house,
Heard someone say:

Just a moment ago,
In the midst of their play,
Your children entered this house.
Being young and ignorant,
They are attached to playing games.

Hearing this, the affluent man was startled
And went into the burning house
To save them from the disaster of the fire.
As he thought fit, he warned the children
And explained the various dangers:

There are malicious demons, poisonous insects,
And the fire is raging everywhere.
There are endless horrors,
One right after another.
There are poisonous snakes, lizards, vipers,
Yakṣas, kumbhāṇḍa demons, vermin,
Foxes, dogs, hawks, eagles, kites,
Owls, and centipedes, all acutely suffering
From hunger and thirst
And all extremely terrifying.
These horrors are difficult to deal with,
How much more so the conflagration!

But the children, being ignorant,
Would not listen to their father’s warning.
Still attached to their games,
They kept right on playing.
Thereupon the affluent man thought:

My children by doing this
Increase my distress!
There is nothing to enjoy now in this house.
Nevertheless, my children who are absorbed in play
Will not accept my instructions
And so will be hurt by the fire.

Then he immediately thought
That he should advise his children
Using various skillful means, and said:

I have a variety of unusual toys
Such as fine carts adorned with beautiful treasures,
Yoked to sheep, deer, and oxen.
They are just outside the gate.
O children! Come out of the house!
I had these carts made for you.
Play with them as you like!

Hearing about these carts,
The children immediately started
To push each other out of the way
To get out of the house.
Arriving at an open area,
They escaped from the disaster.
The affluent man, seeing that his children
Had escaped from the burning house
And were standing at the crossroads,
Sat down on his lion seat.
Then he joyously said:

Now I am happy!
It is extremely difficult to raise these children.
Foolish and ignorant,
They entered a dangerous house
Full of various poisonous insects,
Terrifying ogres from mountains and valleys,
And a raging fire that broke out in all directions.
In spite of this,
These children were attached to playing their games.
But by causing them to escape from the disaster,
I have saved them.
Therefore, my people, I now feel at ease.

Thereupon the children,
Seeing their father sitting in peace,
Approached him saying:

Please, father,
Give us the three kinds of carts
Adorned with treasures
That you just promised us,
When you said that if we, your children, came out
You would give us three kinds of carts
Just as we like.
Now is the right time.

Give them to us right away!
This affluent man,
Who was extremely wealthy,
Had an abundance of treasures.
He had a number of great carts made,
Adorned with various precious things
Like gold, silver, lapis lazuli,
Mother-of-pearl, and agate.
They were beautifully decorated,
Encircled with railings,
And were covered with hanging bells
Attached to golden cords.
Over them was hung a net of pearls
With golden flower tassels
Hanging down everywhere.
They were all completely
Decorated in a variety of colors.
The bedding was made of soft silk
That was covered with
An extremely fine carpet of spotless white
Which cost thousands of koṭis.
There were large white oxen,
Healthy and powerful with beautiful bodies,
Yoked to the jeweled carts,
And they were guarded by many attendants.
When they were given these fine carts,
The children were joyful and excited.
They got on the carts
And drove delightedly all about.
Amusing themselves in play,
They mastered them without difficulties.

The Buddha said to Śāriputra:

I am also like this.
I am the father of the world,
The best of the sages.
All sentient beings are my children.
They are deeply attached to worldly pleasures
And have no wisdom.
There is no peace in the triple world,
Just like in the burning house,
Which is full of various suffering
And which is extremely terrifying.
There are always the sufferings
Of birth, old age, illness, and death.
Such fires as these burn endlessly.
The Tathāgata, who has already left
The burning house of the triple world,
Lives in tranquility
And dwells at ease in the forest.
Now this triple world is my property
And the sentient beings in it are my children.
There are now many dangers here
And I am the only one who can protect them.
Although I give them advice,
They do not accept it,
Because they are tainted with desires
And have deep attachments.
On this occasion
I teach the three vehicles
Using skillful means.
Realizing the sufferings of the triple world,
I reveal and explain it
To cause sentient beings to
Escape from the mundane path.
If these children are resolute,
They are endowed with the three knowledges
And six transcendent powers.
Or they can become pratyekabuddhas or
Bodhisattvas who have reached
The stage of nonretrogression.
O Śāriputra!
I explain the single buddha vehicle
To sentient beings, using this illustration.
If you are able to accept what I say,
You will all attain the buddha path.
This vehicle is subtle, pure, and peerless.
There is nothing superior to it
In all the worlds.
This is what the Buddha enjoys.
All the sentient beings should praise,
Honor, and revere it.
There are immeasurable thousands of koṭis
Of powers, liberations, meditations,
Wisdoms, and other attributes of the Buddha.
I cause my children to obtain such a vehicle
And let them play continuously,
Day and night, for kalpas.
I cause the bodhisattvas as well as the śrāvakas
To board this jeweled vehicle,
And lead them directly
To the terrace of enlightenment.
For this reason,
There is no other vehicle but
The skillful means of the buddhas,
Even if one seeks in all the ten directions.
I tell you, O Śāriputra:
All of you are my children,
And I am thus your father.
Since you were burned by the fire
Of various sufferings for many kalpas,
I saved you all
By leading you out of the triple world.
Although I have previously told you
About your parinirvāṇa,
You have only extinguished birth and death
And have not actually attained nirvana.
You should now seek only
The wisdom of the Buddha.
If there are any bodhisattvas in this assembly,
They should listen singlemindedly
To the real teaching of all the buddhas.
Those sentient beings
Whom the Buddha Bhagavats
Lead and inspire with skillful means
Are all bodhisattvas.
Because people have little knowledge
And are deeply attached to pleasures,
I teach them the truth of suffering (i.e., the First Noble Truth).
And those sentient beings rejoice,
Having attained
Such an unprecedented experience.
The truth of suffering taught by the Buddha
Is nothing but the truth.
To those who do not know the origin of suffering (i.e., the Second Noble Truth),
Who are deeply attached to its causes
And unable to abandon them even for a while,
I teach the truth about the path to its cessation
Using skillful means.
All the causes of suffering
Originate from excessive craving.
When this craving is extinguished,
The source is removed.
The cessation of suffering
Is called the Third [Noble] Truth.
One practices the path leading to its cessation (i.e., the Fourth Noble Truth]
In order to attain the truth of cessation.
Removing the bonds of sufferings is called liberation.
In what sense have these people attained liberation?
They have merely removed false views
And called that liberation.
But actually, they have not yet completely attained it.
The Buddha has explained that these people
Have not actually attained nirvana:
I do not intend to lead them to nirvana
Because they have not yet attained the highest path.
I am the Lord of the Dharma
And have mastered the Dharma.
I appear in the world
To cause sentient beings to be at peace.
O, you, Śāriputra!
Teach this my Dharma sign
To benefit the world!
Wherever you may go,
Never propagate it recklessly.
You should know that those who hear,
Rejoice, and fully accept it
Have reached the stage of nonretrogression.
Those who accept the teaching of this sutra
Have formerly seen the buddhas in the past,
Honored, and paid homage to them,
And also heard this teaching.
Those who are able to accept what you teach,
Will see me, you, the monks and the bodhisattvas.
This very Lotus Sutra shall be taught
Only to the profoundly wise.
Those of superficial awareness who hear it
Will become confused and will not comprehend it.
This sutra is beyond the comprehension
Of all the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas.
O, you, Śāriputra!
Even you understood this sutra only through faith;
It is no wonder that the other disciples cannot.
They accept this sutra
Because they believe the Buddha’s teaching,
But it is beyond their intellectual comprehension.
O Śāriputra!
Never teach this sutra
To those who are arrogant and lazy,
Or to those who hold
False views about the self.
Never teach it to those people
Of superficial awareness,
Who are deeply attached
To the desires of the five senses,
Since even if they heard it,
They would not understand.
Those people who will not accept
And who disparage this sutra,
Will consequently destroy the seed of the Buddha
In the entire world.
Now listen to what I teach
About the results of the errors of those people
Who frown upon and have doubts about this sutra.
Listen also to what I teach
Concerning the results of the errors of those people,
Who, whether at the time
Of the Buddha’s presence in this world
Or after his parinirvāṇa, disparage this sutra,
And despise, hate, and hold grudges
Against the people who recite, copy, and preserve it.
When such people die,
They will go to the Avīci Hell,
And after spending a kalpa there,
Will be born in the same way
Again and again for innumerable kalpas.
After coming out of this hell,
They will be reborn as animals.
If born as dogs or vermin,
Their bodies will be emaciated, dark-spotted,
Devoid of hair, with scabies and leprosy.
Tormented, hated, and despised by people,
They will constantly suffer from hunger and thirst.
With withered bones and flesh,
They will be in anguish while living
And covered with stones after death.
Because they destroyed
The seed of the Buddha,
They will suffer the consequences
Of their errors.
If they are born as camels or mules,
They will always have heavy burdens to carry.
They will be whipped repeatedly
And think of nothing but water and grass.
It is because they disparaged this sutra
That they suffer the consequences of their errors in this way.
If they are born as vermin and enter a village,
Children will beat them because they have scabies,
Leprosy, and perhaps a missing eye.
At times they will be tortured even to death.
After dying,
They will be reborn as giant snakes
With great bodies as long as five hundred yojanas.
Deaf, dumb, legless, slithering on their bellies,
Eaten at by small insects,
They will suffer day and night without respite.
They suffer the consequences of their errors in this way,
Because they disparaged this sutra.
If they are born as humans,
They will have dull faculties
And be runts who twitch and are crippled,
Blind, deaf, and humpbacked.
No matter what they may say
People will not believe them.
Their breath will always be foul.
They will be snatched at by demons.
Being poor and degraded and enslaved by others,
They will be emaciated from many illnesses
And will have nowhere to turn.
When they approach others,
They will be disdained.
Even if they manage to get something
They will immediately lose it.
Even if they study medicine
And cure themselves according to the correct method,
They will suffer from other illnesses again
And may even die.
When they get sick
No one will tend to them;
And even if they take the proper medicine
Their pain will increase.
Every hand will be turned against them,
Threatening them, pilfering and stealing from them.
They will fall helplessly into this plight
Because of their transgressions.
Such erring people will never see
The Buddha, the king of seers,
Preaching the Dharma and leading and inspiring people.
Such people will always be born
Into difficult circumstances.
Crazed, unheeding, and unthinking,
They will never hear the teaching.
They will be born deaf and dumb,
With defective faculties
For as many immeasurable kalpas
As the sands of the Ganges River.
Though they will always find themselves in hell,
They will feel as if they were playing
In a pleasure garden.
Although they are in other troubled states of being,
They will feel as if they were in their own home.
They will live among camels, mules, boars, and dogs.
These are the results of their error
In disparaging this sutra.
If they are born as human beings,
They will be deaf, blind, mute,
Impoverished, and decrepit.
Such will be their adornments.
They will have dropsy, gonorrhea,
Scabies, leprosy, and tumors.
Such diseases as these will be their clothing.
Their bodies will always be foul, filthy, and impure.
Their deep attachment to false views
About the self will cause
Their anger and passion to increase.
Their sexual desires will be insatiable,
With either birds or beasts as their objects.
These are the results of their
Errors in disparaging this sutra.

The Buddha said to Śāriputra:

If one were to explain
The consequences of the errors
Of those who disparage this sutra,
It would take more than a kalpa.
For that reason I am now telling you
Never to expound this sutra
To those who have little wisdom.
You should teach it
Only to those people of sharp faculties
Who are wise, learned, and understanding,
Who have good memories and erudition,
And are seeking the buddha path.
You should teach it to those who have seen
Hundreds of thousands of koṭis of buddhas,
Who have planted good roots, and are resolute.
Teach it to those who strive,
Always practice compassion,
And give unsparingly of their bodies and lives.
You should teach it to those who are respectful
And devoid of hypocrisy,
Who are living alone
In mountains and valleys away from fools.
O Śāriputra!
You should teach it
To those who have left their bad companions
And made friends with virtuous people.
Teach it to the heirs of the Buddha
Who have good conduct, are as pure as jewels,
And who are seeking the Mahayana sutras.
You should teach it
To those who are free of anger,
Honest, flexible, always sympathetic to everyone,
And who honor all the buddhas.
Teach it to the heirs of the Buddha
In the great assembly,
Who have pure thoughts
And who teach the Dharma without doubts,
Using various reasonings,
Illustrations, and explanations.
You should teach it to those monks
Who, always and everywhere in search of the Dharma,
Seek the Omniscient One,
To whom they joyfully press their palms together,
Touch their heads, and preserve
Only the Mahayana sutras with pleasure,
Who never preserve even a single verse
Of any other sutra.
Teach it to those who seek this sutra
As intently as they seek for the relics of the Buddha,
Who after obtaining it will accept it
Respectfully, with bowed heads;
And will not seek any other sutra
And will never think about heretical scriptures.
O Śāriputra! I say to you:
I have described the characteristics of those
Who seek the buddha path,
Though a kalpa would not suffice to do so in full.
You should teach the Lotus Sutra
To those who are able to accept it.

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