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 V - Herbs

Thereupon the Bhagavat addressed Mahākāśyapa and other great disciples saying: “Splendid! Splendid! O Kāśyapa! You have skillfully explained the real merit of the Tathāgata. It is exactly as you have said. The Tathāgata has immeasurable, unlimited, and incalculable merits. Thus even in a period of immeasurable koṭis of kalpas you will never fully be able to explain all of his merits.

“O Kāśyapa! You should know that the Tathāgata is the king of all the teaching. What he teaches is never false. He explains all the teaching using his wisdom and skillful means and what he teaches leads everyone to the stage of omniscience.

“The Tathāgata perceives the goal of all teachings and knows the underlying mental disposition of all sentient beings, perceiving all with no obstructions. He completely understands all teachings and displays omniscience to all sentient beings.

“O Kāśyapa! Suppose in the great manifold cosmos there are mountains, rivers, valleys, and plains where many kinds of grasses, trees, shrubs, and herbs of different names and colors grow. Dense clouds thoroughly cover this great manifold cosmos and rain falls at the same time everywhere, mois- 19b tening the small, medium, and large roots, stems, branches, and leaves of all the grasses, trees, shrubs, and herbs.

“The sizes of all the trees depend on whether their capacities are superior, mediocre, or inferior; and the rain falling from the same cloud makes them grow according to the nature of their various seeds. Flowers blossom in the same place and fruit ripens in the same place moistened by the same rain, yet there are differences among these grasses and trees.

“O Kāśyapa! You should know that the Tathāgata is exactly like this. He appears in this world like a great overspreading cloud. His great voice resounds over the devas, humans, and asuras in the world, just as the great cloud thoroughly covers the great manifold cosmos. He declares to the assembly:

I am the 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. I set free those who have not been freed. I enlighten those who have not been enlightened and bring calm to those who have not been calmed. I cause those to obtain nirvana who have not yet obtained it. I am the one who knows the present and future worlds exactly as they are. I am the All-Knower, the All-Seer, the Knower of the Path, the One who discloses the path and explains it. All of you devas, humans, and asuras! Come and listen to my teachings.

“At that time innumerable thousands of myriads of koṭis of sentient beings approach the Buddha and listen to his teaching. Then the Tathāgata, perceiving the faculties of sentient beings—whether they are sharp or dull, diligent or idle—explains the teachings according to their capacities in a variety of immeasurable ways, gladdening and benefiting them all.

“Having heard his teaching, all of these beings are at peace in this world and are born into a good existence in the future. Through this they will receive peace of mind and be able to hear the teaching. Having already heard the teaching they will become free from obstructions and be able to gradually enter the path to the Dharma according to their capacities.

“Just like the great cloud that rains upon all the grasses, trees, shrubs, and herbs, whose seeds are watered and which grow according to their capacities, the Tathāgata teaches the Dharma of one aspect and character; that is to say, the character of liberation, dispassion, and cessation which ultimately leads to omniscience.

“Those sentient beings who hear, hold, and recite the teachings of the Tathāgata and practice it accordingly will nevertheless not perceive the merit that they have obtained.

“Why is this? Only the Tathāgata knows the seed, character, disposition, and capacity of sentient beings. Only he knows what they contemplate, think, and practice; how they contemplate, think, and practice; what teachings they contemplate, think, and practice; and what teaching they obtain through what teaching. Only the Tathāgata exactly perceives and knows without obstructions the various states in which sentient beings reside.

“It is just like the grasses, trees, shrubs, and herbs that do not know their own natures, whether they are superior, mediocre, or inferior. Yet the Tathāgata knows the teachings of one aspect and character, the character of liberation, dispassion, cessation, complete nirvana, and eternal tranquility which ultimately leads to emptiness.

“The Buddha knows this and perceives the aspirations of sentient beings. For this reason, in order to protect them, he does not immediately teach omniscience.

“O Kāśyapa! It is a rare thing that all of you know that the Tathāgata teaches according to your capacities and that you believe and accept it.

“Why is this? Because the Dharma taught by all the Buddha Bhagavats, according to what is appropriate to sentient beings, is difficult to understand and difficult to know.”

Thereupon the Bhagavat, wanting to elaborate on the meaning of this further, spoke these verses:

The King of the Dharma,
The destroyer of delusive existence,
Appears in the world
And keeping in mind the aspirations of sentient beings
Teaches the Dharma in various ways
According to the wishes of sentient beings.
The Tathāgata is greatly distinguished,
And his wisdom is profound.
He has been silent for a long time
And intentionally has not taught the essential in haste.
Those who are wise
Will be well convinced when they hear it;
Those who are not wise will have doubts
And remain confused for a long time.
That is why, O Kāśyapa, the Tathāgata teaches
According to the capacities of sentient beings,
And enables them to attain the correct perspective
By using various illustrations.
O Kāśyapa, you should know
That it is as if a great cloud
Arises in the world
And covers everything.
This beneficent cloud contains moisture
And bright lightning flashes from it.
The sound of its thunder shakes the earth afar
And gladdens the people.
It conceals the sun
And cools the earth.
The spreading cloud hangs so low,
As if it could be touched.
Everywhere, equal, and immeasurable
The rain pours down and moistens the earth.
Grasses, herbs, large and small trees,
All kinds of crops, seedlings, sugarcane, and grapes
Growing in the depths of the mountains,
In rivers and in precipitous valleys,
Are all watered and completely nourished by the rain.
The dry earth is moistened everywhere
And the herbs and trees grow up thickly.
Out of this cloud the same rain
Waters these grasses, trees, and shrubs
Each according to their capacities.
All the trees, small, medium, or large
Are able to grow in accordance with their capacities.
The luster and colors of the roots, stems,
Branches, leaves, and flowers
Are all freshened by the same rain.
Each of these, although receiving the same moisture,
Reaches a greater or lesser size
In accordance with their different
Dispositions, characteristics, and natures.
The Buddha is exactly like this.
He appears in the world
As a great cloud
Which covers everything universally.
Once appearing in this world
He illuminates and explains
The essence of the teachings
For the sake of sentient beings.
The Great Seer, the Bhagavat, expounds this
To the assembly of all the devas and humans.
I am the Tathāgata, the Best of Humans.
I appear in the world to nourish sentient beings
Just as the great cloud
Moistens all the withered trees.
I cause everyone to be rid of suffering
And attain ease of heart,
Worldly happiness, and the joy of nirvana.
So, devas and humans, listen carefully!
Come, all of you,
And look at the Highest One!
I am the Bhagavat.
No one is equal to me.
I appear in this world
To bring peace of mind to sentient beings
And to teach the Dharma of immortality
To the great assembly.
This Dharma has a single flavor
Of liberation and nirvana.
I expound its meaning with the same subtle voice,
Always making the Mahayana
The subject of my illustrations.
I see everywhere, and regard all as equal.
I have no feelings of like or dislike;
For me there is no this or that.
Nor do I have either love or hate.
I have no attachments and make no distinctions,
And so always teach the Dharma equally to all;
And teach the same thing to one person
As I teach to everyone else.
I always teach the Dharma and nothing else.
Going or coming, sitting or standing,
I never tire of satisfying the world,
Just like the rain that gives nourishment universally.
I tirelessly pour down the rain of the Dharma
Equally on those who are noble or humble,
Superior or inferior, who keep or break the precepts,
Who have good or bad conduct, right or wrong views,
Sharp or dull faculties.
According to their power to understand,
All sentient beings who hear my teaching
Dwell in various stages.
Those living among humans,
Devas, noble emperors, Śakra, and Brahma kings
Are like the small herbs.
Those who know the incorruptible Dharma,
Who are able to attain nirvana,
Have the six transcendent powers, and
Have attained the three sciences.
Those who live alone in mountain forests
Always practicing meditation, and
Who attain the enlightenment of the pratyekabuddhas
Are like the medium-sized herbs.
Those who seek the stage
Of the Bhagavat, thinking that
They will become buddhas,
And practice persistence and meditation,
Are like the large herbs.
The heirs of the buddhas
Who concentrate on the path of the Buddha,
Who always cultivate compassion within themselves
And know definitely without a doubt
That they will become buddhas,
Are like the small trees.
Those who are comfortable with transcendent powers,
Who turn the irreversible wheel [of the Dharma]
And save innumerable hundreds
Of thousands of koṭis of sentient beings,
Are the bodhisattvas
Who are like the large trees.
The Buddha’s equal teaching
Is like the rain of one flavor.
The sentient beings accept it
According to their different capacities,
Just as the grasses and trees
Each differently absorb the rain.
The Buddha reveals the single teaching
With illustrations, using skillful means
And explains it with various explanations,
And yet it is just a drop in the ocean
Compared to the Buddha’s wisdom.
I pour down the rain of the Dharma,
Fulfilling the world,
And the sentient beings
Practice the Dharma of one flavor
According to their capacities.
Just as the shrubs, herbs, and trees
Flourish in accordance with their capacities,
Reaching either a greater or lesser size,
The teaching of the buddhas
Is always of one flavor
And fulfills the entire world.
Anyone who practices it little by little
Obtains the fruit of the path.
The śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas
Living in mountain forests,
Who, in their last bodies,
Hear the Dharma and attain its fruit,
Are just like the flourishing herbs.
The bodhisattvas who are firm in wisdom,
Who completely understand the triple world,
And seek the highest vehicle,
Are just like the flourishing small trees.
Those who abide in meditation,
Attain transcendent powers,
Listen to the teaching regarding the emptiness
Of every existence with great joy,
And save sentient beings
By emitting innumerable rays of light,
Are just like the flourishing large trees.
In this way, O Kāśyapa,
The Dharma that the Buddha teaches
Is just like the great cloud that enriches human flowers
With the rain of one flavor,
So that each attains its fruits.
O Kāśyapa!
You should know that I reveal the buddha path
Using various explanations and illustrations
And that this is my skillful means.
All of the buddhas are just like this.
I will now teach the highest truth for your sake:

There are no śrāvakas who attain nirvana.
What you practice is the bodhisattva path;
And if you practice step by step,
You will all become buddhas.

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