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...
Thereupon the Bhagavat by addressing Bodhisattva Bhaiṣa jyarāja (Medicine King), through him addressed eighty thousand mahā sattvas, saying: “O Bhaiṣajyarāja! In this assembly do you see innumerable humans and nonhumans such as devas, nāga kings, yakṣas, gandharvas, asuras, garuḍas, kiṃnaras, mahoragas, monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen, those seeking the śrāvaka vehicle, the pratyekabuddha vehicle, and the buddha path? If, in the presence of the Buddha any beings such as these hear a single verse or line of the Lotus Sutra, and thereupon have even one thought of rejoicing in it, I will bestow upon them my prediction that they will attain highest, complete enlightenment.”
The Buddha addressed Bhaiṣajyarāja, saying: “If, after the parinirvāṇa of the Tathāgata, any being hears even a single verse or line of the Lotus Sutra, and thereupon has even one thought of rejoicing in it, I will bestow upon them the prediction that they will attain highest, complete enlightenment.
“If there is anyone who preserves, recites, explains, or copies even a single verse of the Lotus Sutra, or who respects this sutra as if it were a buddha, or who reverently offers it various flowers, perfumes, necklaces, fragrant ointments, scented powders, burning incense, canopies, flags, banners, clothing, or music, or who simply honors it with his palms pressed together, know, O Bhaiṣaj yarāja, that this person has already paid homage to tens of myriads of koṭis of buddhas of the past! Such people have completed their great vow in the presence of all the buddhas and yet they have been born as humans out of their compassion for sentient beings.
“O Bhaiṣajyarāja! If anyone should ask you what kind of sentient being will become a buddha in the future, you should inform them that it is those of this kind who will definitely become buddhas in the future. Why is this?
“If there are any sons or daughters of a virtuous family who preserve, recite, explain, and copy even a single line of the Lotus Sutra, or who pay homage to this sutra with various offerings of flowers, perfumes, necklaces, scented powders and ointments, burning incense, canopies, flags, banners, clothing, or music, or who honor it with their palms pressed together, such people should be respected by the entire world. They should be revered in the same way as the Tathāgata is revered. Know that these people are great bodhisattvas who are to attain highest, complete enlightenment. Out of their compassion for sentient beings they wish to be born among them in order to expound and explain the Lotus Sutra far and wide. How much more to be honored are those who completely preserve the entire sutra and pay homage to it with various offerings!
“O Bhaiṣajyarāja! You should know that after my parinirvāṇa these people will set aside the rewards of their pure karma and be born in the troubled world out of their compassion for sentient beings, and in order to expound this sutra far and wide. After my pari nirvāṇa, if there are any sons and daughters of a virtuous family who expound even a single line of the Lotus Sutra in private to even a single person, they should be acknowledged as the ambassadors of the Tathāgata. They have been dispatched by the Tathāgata and carry out the Tathāgata’s work. As for those who extensively teach among the common people, know that they are yet greater ambassadors.
“O Bhaiṣajyarāja, if there are erring people during a kalpa, those with troubled thoughts who always disparage the Buddha in his presence, their fault is nonetheless slight. Yet if there are those who disparage the laity or ordained people who recite the Lotus Sutra even with a single evil word, their fault is extremely grave.
“O Bhaiṣajyarāja! Know that those who recite this Lotus Sutra adorn themselves with the adornments of a buddha. This means that they will carry the Tathāgata on their shoulders and pay him homage wherever they go. They should be respected, revered, honored, and praised wholeheartedly with palms pressed together, through offerings of flowers, perfumes, necklaces, scented powders, ointments, burning incense, canopies, flags, banners, clothing, delicious food, music, and the best offerings that people can make. They should have heavenly jewels scattered upon them and offered to them. Why is this? Because these people joyfully expound the Dharma and those who hear it even for an instant will fully attain highest, complete enlightenment.”
Thereupon the Bhagavat, wanting to elaborate upon the meaning of this further, spoke these verses:
Those who want to abide in the buddha path
And perfect the wisdom of the Self-generated One,
Should always diligently pay homage
To those who preserve the Lotus Sutra.
Those who want to quickly attain omniscience
Should hold to this sutra
And pay homage to those who preserve it.
Know that anyone who preserves the Lotus Sutra
Is an ambassador of the Buddha
Who feels compassion for sentient beings.
Those who preserve the Lotus Sutra
Were born here in this world,
Withholding themselves from the Pure Land
Out of their compassion for sentient beings.
Know that such people are born
Where and when they will.
They are born in this troubled world
To extensively expound the highest Dharma.
Such expounders of the Dharma should be revered
With offerings of divine flowers, perfumes,
Heavenly jeweled clothing, and exquisite celestial jewels.
Those who preserve this sutra
In the troubled world after my parinirvāṇa,
Should be paid homage with palms pressed together
Just as one pays homage to the Bhagavat.
These heirs of the buddhas should be revered
With delicious food, various delicacies,
And a variety of clothing, in the hope of hearing
The teaching even for an instant.
If in the future there is anyone
Who preserves this sutra,
I will dispatch him to the world of humans
To carry out the Tathāgata’s task.
If throughout one entire kalpa
There is anyone with erring thoughts
Who always disparages the Buddha
With an angry countenance, the consequences of
His grave errors will be incalculable.
If there is anyone who speaks
A hostile word even for an instant
About those who recite and preserve this Lotus Sutra,
His fault will be even greater.
If throughout one entire kalpa
There are people seeking for the buddha path
Who praise the Buddha in my presence
With incalculable numbers of verses
And with palms pressed together,
The merits they attain will be immeasurable
Because of praising this buddha.
If there are people who praise
Those who preserve the sutra,
Their merit will be even greater.
You must pay tribute to those who preserve the sutra
Throughout eighty koṭis of kalpas
With the best objects, sounds,
Fragrances, flavors, and materials.
If you are able to hear the teaching for even a moment,
After having paid tribute in this way,
You will then become delighted, thinking:
I have now attained great benefits.
O Bhaiṣajyarāja! I now tell you that
I have taught many sutras;
Among these sutras, however,
The Lotus Sutra is the utmost and best.
Then the Buddha spoke further to Bodhisattva Mahāsattva Bhaiṣajyarāja, saying: “There are immeasurable thousands of myriads of koṭis of sutras I have taught in the past, which I teach now, and which I will teach in the future. Among them, however, this Lotus Sutra is the most difficult to accept and to understand.
“O Bhaiṣajyarāja! This sutra is the treasure house of the hidden essence of all the buddhas. It must not be distributed or heedlessly bestowed upon the people. Since times long past all the Buddha Bhagavats have protected it and have never openly taught it. Moreover, people show great hostility to this sutra, even in the presence of the Tathāgata. How much more so after the parinirvāṇa of the Tathāgata!
“O Bhaiṣajyarāja! You should know that after the parinirvāṇa of the Tathāgata, those who copy, preserve, recite, and revere this sutra and expound it for the sake of others will be clothed with the Tathāgata’s garments and treasured by the present buddhas of the other directions. Such people will have the power of great faith, the power of aspiration, as well as the power of the roots of good merit. You should know that these people have dwelled together with the Tathāgata, and his hand has caressed their heads.
“O Bhaiṣajyarāja! Wherever this sutra is taught, read, recited, copied, or wherever it is to be found, one should build a seven-jeweled stupa of great height and width and richly ornamented. There is no need to put a relic inside. Why is this? Because the Tathāgata is already in it. This stupa should be respected, honored, praised and rendered homage with offerings of all kinds of flowers, perfumes, necklaces, canopies, flags, banners, music, and songs. If there is anyone able to see this stupa and to pay it homage and honor it, know that such a one is nearing highest, complete enlightenment.
“O Bhaiṣajyarāja! Among the many people, either among the laity or the ordained, who practice the bodhisattva path, if they are unable to see, hear, recite, copy, preserve, and pay homage to this Lotus Sutra, know that they are people who are not yet properly practicing the bodhisattva path. If anyone is able to hear this sutra, such a one is skillfully practicing the bodhisattva path. Among sentient beings seeking the buddha path, if there are those who see or hear this Lotus Sutra and, after hearing it, are drawn to it and preserve it, know that they are those who are approaching highest, complete enlightenment.
“O Bhaiṣajyarāja! Suppose there were a thirsty man seeking water. He drills in search of water on a high plain, yet he sees only dry earth and thus realizes that water is still far away. But he does not cease his efforts until he turns up moist earth and gradually reaches mud. Now he is sure that water must be near.
“The bodhisattvas are exactly like this. If they have not yet heard, understood, or been able to practice this Lotus Sutra, they should be known as people who are still far away from highest, complete enlightenment. If they hear, understand, contemplate, and are able to practice it, they realize that they are certainly nearing highest, complete enlightenment. Why is this? Because the highest, complete enlightenment of all the bodhisattvas is within this sutra. This sutra opens the gate of skillful means and reveals the marks of the truth. The treasure house of this Lotus Sutra is deep and remote. No one is able to discover its depths. That is why the Buddha now reveals it, inspiring and perfecting the bodhisattvas.
“O Bhaiṣajyarāja! If there are bodhisattvas who hear this Lotus Sutra and are confused and frightened, know that they are bodhisattvas in whom the thought of enlightenment has only recently awakened. If there are śrāvakas who hear this sutra and are confused and frightened, know that they are people who have excessive pride.
“O Bhaiṣajyarāja! If there are any sons and daughters of a virtuous family who, after the parinirvāṇa of the Tathāgata, want to teach this Lotus Sutra to the fourfold assembly, how should they teach it? These sons and daughters of a virtuous family, after entering the abode of the Tathāgata, wearing the Tathāgata’s garments, and sitting on his seat, should then extensively teach this sutra to the fourfold assembly. The Tathāgata’s chamber is nothing but the great compassion toward all sentient beings. The Tathāgata’s garments are the thoughts of gentleness and perseverance, and the Tathāgata’s seat is the very emptiness of all existing things. After settling among them one should tirelessly and extensively expound this Lotus Sutra for the sake of the bodhisattvas and the fourfold assembly.
“O Bhaiṣajyarāja! I will dispatch transformed beings to other worlds who will gather the people together to hear the teaching. I will also dispatch
transformed monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen to hear this teaching. All these transformed beings will hear the Dharma, believe and accept it, and not reject it.
“If an expounder of the Dharma resides in a secluded place, I will then dispatch many devas, nāgas, yakṣas, gandharvas, and asuras to hear his teaching. Although I will be in a different land, I will periodically let the expounders of the Dharma see me. If they forget a line of this sutra I will explain it again, enabling them to master it.”
Thereupon, the Bhagavat, wanting to elaborate on the meaning of this further, spoke these verses:
If you wish to rid yourself of idleness,
You should listen to this sutra.
This sutra is rarely heard,
And it is also difficult to accept.
Suppose there were a thirsty man
Seeking for water by drilling
Into the earth on a high plain.
He sees only dry earth and knows
That water is still far away.
He gradually sees
The moist earth turn into mud
And knows with certainty
That water is near.
You should know that those people
Who do not hear the Lotus Sutra
Are very far away
From the Buddha’s wisdom.
If they hear this profound sutra
Which brings resolution to the śrāvakas
And if they hear this King of Sutras
And attentively contemplate it,
Know that these people
Are close to the Buddha’s wisdom.
If people want to expound this sutra,
They should enter the Tathāgata’s chamber,
Put on the Tathāgata’s garments,
And sit on the Tathāgata’s seat.
They then should face the people without fear,
So that they may extensively
Illuminate and explain it to the assembly.
The Tathāgata’s chamber is great compassion,
His garments are gentleness and perseverance,
And his seat is the emptiness of all existent things.
After settling among them,
They should expound the Dharma.
Even if, when they expound this sutra,
People disparage them with evil words,
Or attack them with swords, sticks, tiles, or stones,
Being mindful of the Buddha,
They should persevere.
I will manifest my pure and solid form
In thousands of myriads of koṭis of lands
And teach the Dharma to sentient beings
For immeasurable koṭis of kalpas.
If after my parinirvāṇa
There is someone who is able to teach this sutra,
I will dispatch a transformed fourfold assembly
Of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen
To pay homage to this expounder of the Dharma.
I will lead the sentient beings
And gather them together
To let them hear the teaching.
If anyone wishes to do ill to them
With swords, sticks, tiles, or stones,
Then I will dispatch those transformed ones
In order to guard them.
If there is any expounder of the Dharma
Who recites this sutra
In a secluded, tranquil place
Where there is no sound of human beings,
I will then manifest my body of pure light.
If they forget a chapter or a verse,
I will teach it to them,
Enabling them to master it.
If anyone perfects these qualities
If he teaches the fourfold assembly
Or, in a solitary place, recites this sutra,
Such a person will be able to see me.
If anyone abides in a secluded place
I will dispatch devas, nāga kings, Yakṣas, and rākṣasas
To be an audience to their teaching.
Such people teach the Dharma willingly
And explain it without obstruction.
Because all the buddhas protect them
They gladden the great community of people.
Anyone who closely attends an expounder of the Dharma
Will immediately attain the bodhisattva path.
Anyone who follows this expounder’s instructions,
Will be able to meet buddhas
Equal in number to the sands of the Ganges River.