The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law
Translated By H. Kern (1884)
Thereupon the Lord addressed the venerable Mahâ-Kâsyapa and the other senior great disciples, and said: Very well, very well, Kâsyapa; you have done very well to proclaim the real qualities of the Tathâgata. They are the real qualities of the Tathâgata, Kâsyapa, but he has many more, innumerable, incalculable, the end of which it would be difficult to reach, even were one to continue enumerating them for immeasurable Æons. The Tathâgata, Kâsyapa, is the master of the law, the king, lord, and master of all laws. And whatever law for any case has been instituted by the Tathâgata, remains unchanged. All laws, Kâsyapa, have been aptly instituted by the Tathâgata. In his Tathâgata-wisdom he has instituted them in such a manner that all those laws finally lead to the stage of those who know all. The Tathâgata also distinctly knows the meaning of all laws. The Tathâgata, the Arhat, &c. is possessed of the faculty of penetrating all laws, possessed of the highest perfection of knowledge, so that he is able to decide all laws, able to display the knowledge of the allknowing, impart the knowledge of the all-knowing, and lay down (the rules of) the knowledge of the all-knowing.
It is a case, Kâsyapa, similar to that of a great cloud big with rain, coming up in this wide universe over all grasses, shrubs, herbs, trees of various species and kind, families of plants of different names growing on earth, on hills, or in mountain caves, a cloud covering the wide universe to pour down its rain everywhere and at the same time. Then, Kâsyapa, the grasses, shrubs, herbs, and wild trees in this universe, such as have young and tender stalks, twigs, leaves, and foliage, and such as have middle-sized stalks, twigs, leaves, and foliage, and such as have the same fully developed, all those grasses, shrubs, herbs, and wild trees, smaller and greater (other) trees will each, according to its faculty and power, suck the humid element from the water emitted by that great cloud, and by that water which, all of one essence, has been abundantly poured down by the cloud, they will each, according to its germ, acquire a regular development, growth, shooting up, and bigness; and so they will produce blossoms and fruits, and will receive, each severally, their names. Rooted in one and the same soil, all those families of plants and germs are drenched and vivified by water of one essence throughout.
In the same manner, Kâsyapa, does the Tathâgata, the Arhat, &c. appear in the world. Like unto a great cloud coming up, the Tathâgata appears and sends forth his call to the whole world, including gods, men, and demons’. And even as a great cloud, Kâsyapa, extending over the whole universe, in like manner, Kâsyapa, the Tathâgata, the Arhat, &c., before the face of the world, including gods, men, and demons, lifts his voice and utters these words: I am the Tathâgata, O ye gods and men! the Arhat, the perfectly enlightened one; having reached the shore myself, I carry others to the shore; being free, I make free; being comforted, I comfort; being perfectly at rest, I lead others to rest. By my perfect wisdom I know both this world and the next, such as they really are. I am all-knowing, all-seeing. Come to me, ye gods and men! hear the law. I am he who indicates the path; who shows the path, as knowing the path, being acquainted with the path. Then, Kâsyapa, many hundred thousand myriads of kotis of beings come to hear the law of the Tathâgata; and the Tathâgata, who knows the difference as to the faculties and the energy of those beings, produces various Dharmaparyâyas, tells many tales, amusing, agreeable, both instructive and pleasant, tales by means of which all beings not only become pleased with the law in this present life, but also after death will reach happy states, where they are to enjoy many pleasures and hear the law. By listening to the law they will be freed from hindrances and in due course apply themselves to the law of the all-knowing, according to their faculty, power, and strength.
Even as the great cloud, Kâsyapa, after expanding over the whole universe, pours out the same water and recreates by it all grasses, shrubs, herbs, and trees; even as all these grasses, shrubs, herbs, and trees, according to their faculty, power, and strength, suck in the water and thereby attain the full development assigned to their kind; in like manner, Kâsyapa, is the law preached by the Tathâgata, the Arhat, &c., of one and the same essence, that is to say, the essence of it is deliverance, the final aim being absence of passion, annihilation, knowledge of the all-knowing. As to that, Kâsyapa, (it must be understood) that the beings who hear the law when it is preached by the Tathâgata, who keep it in their memory and apply themselves to it, do not know, nor perceive, nor understand their own self. For, Kâsyapa, the Tathâgata only really knows who, how, and of what kind those beings are; what, how, and whereby they are meditating; what, how, and whereby they are contemplating; what, why, and whereby they are attaining. No one but the Tathâgata, Kâsyapa, is there present, seeing all intuitively, and seeing the state of those beings in different stages, as of the lowest, highest, and mean grasses, shrubs, herbs, and trees. I am he, Kâsyapa, who, knowing the law which is of but one essence, viz. the essence of deliverance, (the law) ever peaceful, ending in Nirvâna, (the law) of eternal rest, having but one stage and placed in voidness, (who knowing this) do not on a sudden reveal to all the knowledge of the all-knowing, since I pay regard to the dispositions of all beings.
You are astonished, Kâsyapa, that you cannot fathom the mystery expounded by the Tathâgata. It is, Kâsyapa, because the mystery expounded by the Tathâgatas, the Arhats, &c. is difficult to be understood.
And on that occasion, the more fully to explain the same subject, the Lord uttered the following stanzas:
1. I am the Dharmarâga, born in the world as the destroyer of existence. I declare the law to all beings after discriminating their dispositions.
2. Superior men of wise understanding guard the word, guard the mystery, and do not reveal it to living beings.
3. That science is difficult to be understood; the simple, if hearing it on a sudden, would be perplexed; they would in their ignorance fall out of the way and go astray.
4. I speak according to their reach and faculty; by means of various meanings I accommodate my view (or the theory).
5. It is, Kâsyapa, as if a cloud rising above the horizon shrouds all space (in darkness) and covers the earth.
6. That great rain-cloud big with water, is wreathed with flashes of lightning and rouses with its thundering call all creatures.
7. By warding off the sunbeams, it cools the region; and gradually lowering so as to come in reach of hands, it begins pouring down its water all around.
8. And so, flashing on every side, it pours out an abundant mass of water equally, and refreshes this earth.
9. And all herbs which have sprung up on the face of the earth, all grasses, shrubs, forest trees, other trees small and great;
10. The various field fruits and whatever is green; all plants on hills, in caves and thickets;
11. All those grasses, shrubs, and trees are vivified by the cloud that both refreshes the thirsty earth and waters the herbs.
12. Grasses and shrubs absorb the water of one essence which issues from the cloud according to their faculty and reach.
13. And all trees, great, small, and mean, drink that water according to their growth and faculty, and grow lustily.
14. The great plants whose trunk, stalk, bark, twigs, pith, and leaves are moistened by the water from the cloud develop their blossoms and fruits.
15. They yield their products, each according to its own faculty, reach, and the particular nature of the germ; still the water emitted (from the cloud) is of but one essence.
16. In the same way, Kâsyapa, the Buddha comes into the world like a rain-cloud, and, once born, he, the world’s Lord, speaks and shows the real course of life.
17. And the great Seer, honoured in the world, including the gods, speaks thus: I am the Tathâgata, the highest of men, the Gina; I have appeared in this world like a cloud.
18. I shall refresh all beings whose bodies are withered, who are clogged to the triple world. I shall bring to felicity those that are pining away with toils, give them pleasures and (final) rest.
19. Hearken to me, ye hosts of gods and men; approach to behold me: I am the Tathâgata, the Lord, who has no superior, who appears in this world to save.
20. To thousands of kotis of living beings I preach a pure and most bright law that has but one scope, to wit, deliverance and rest.
21. I preach with ever the same voice, constantly taking enlightenment as my text. For this is equal for all; no partiality is in it, neither hatred nor affection.
22. I am inexorable, bear no love nor hatred towards any one, and proclaim the law to all creatures without distinction, to the one as well as the other.
23. Whether walking, standing, or sitting, I am exclusively occupied with this task of proclaiming the law. I never get tired of sitting on the chair I have ascended.
24. I recreate the whole world like a cloud shedding its water without distinction; I have the same feelings for respectable people as for the low; for moral persons as for the immoral;
25. For the depraved as for those who observe the rules of good conduct; for those who hold sectarian views and unsound tenets as for those whose views are sound and correct.
26. I preach the law to the inferior (in mental culture) as well as to persons of superior understanding and extraordinary faculties; inaccessible to weariness, I spread in season the rain of the law.
27. After hearing me, each according to his faculty, the several beings find their determined place in various situations, amongst gods, men, beautiful beings, amongst Indras, Brahmas, or the monarchs, rulers of the universe.
28. Hear, now, I am going to explain what is meant by those plants of different size, some of them being low in the world, others middle-sized and great.
29. Small plants are called the men who walk in the knowledge of the law, which is free from evil after the attaining of Nirvâna, who possess the six transcendent faculties and the triple science.
30. Mean plants are called the men who, dwelling in mountain caverns, covet the state of a Pratyekabuddha, and whose intelligence is moderately purified.
31. Those who aspire to become leading men (thinking), I will become a Buddha, a chief of gods and men, and who practise exertion and meditation, are called the highest plants.
32. But the sons of Sugata, who sedulously practise benevolence and a peaceful conduct, who have arrived at certainty about their being leading men, these are called trees.
33. Those who move forward the wheel that never rolls back, and with manly strength stand firm in the exercise of miraculous power, releasing many kolis of beings, those are called great trees.
34. Yet it is one and the same law which is preached by the Gina, like the water emitted by the cloud is one and the same; different only are the faculties as described, just as the plants on the face of the earth.
35. By this parable thou mayst understand the skilfulness of the Tathâgata, how he preaches one law, the various developments whereof may be likened to drops of rain.
36. I also pour out rain: the rain of the law by which this whole world is refreshed; and each according to his faculty takes to heart this wellspoken law that is one in its essence.
37. Even as all grasses and shrubs, as well as plants of middle size, trees and great trees at the time of rain look bright in all quarters;
38. So it is the very nature of the law to promote the everlasting weal of the world; by the law the whole world is recreated, and as the plants (when refreshed) expand their blossoms, the world does the same when refreshed.
39. The plants that in their growth remain middle-sized, are Arhats (saints) stopping when they have overcome frailties, (and) the Pratyekabuddhas who, living in woody thickets, accomplish this well-spoken law.
40. (But) the many Bodhisattvas who, thoughtful and wise, go their way all over the triple world, striving after supreme enlightenment, they continue increasing in growth like trees.
41. Those who, endowed with magical powers and being adepts in the four degrees of meditation, feel delight at hearing of complete voidness and emit thousands of rays, they are called the great trees on earth.
42. So then, Kâsyapa, is the preaching of the law, like the water poured out by the cloud everywhere alike; by which plants and men(?) thrive, endless (and eternal) blossoms (are produced).
43. I reveal the law which has its cause in itself; at due time I show Buddha-enlightenment; this is my supreme skilfulness and that of all leaders of the world.
44. What I here say is true in the highest sense of the word; all my disciples attain Nirvâna; by following the sublime path of enlightenment all my disciples shall become Buddhas.
And further, Kâsyapa, the Tathâgata, in his educating creatures, is equal (i.e. impartial) and not unequal (i. e. partial). As the light of the sun and moon, Kâsyapa, shines upon all the world, upon the virtuous and the wicked, upon high and low, upon the fragrant and the ill-smelling; as their beams are sent down upon everything equally, without inequality (partiality); so, too, Kâsyapa, the intellectual light of the knowledge of the omniscient, the Tathâgatas, the Arhats, &c., the preaching of the true law proceeds equally in respect to all beings in the five states of existence, to all who according to their particular disposition are devoted to the great vehicle, or to the vehicle of the Pratyekabuddhas, or to the vehicle of the disciples. Nor is there any deficiency or excess in the brightness of the Tathâgataknowledge up to one’s becoming fully acquainted with the law. There are not three vehicles, Kâsyapa; there are but beings who act differently; therefore it is declared that there are three vehicles.
When the Lord had thus spoken, the venerable Mahâ-Kâsyapa said to him: Lord, if there are not three vehicles, for what reason then is the designation of disciples (Srâvakas), Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas kept up in the present times?
On this speech the Lord answered the venerable Mahâ-Kâsyapa as follows: It is, Kâsyapa, as if a potter made different vessels out of the same clay. Some of those pots are to contain sugar, others ghee, others curds and milk; others, of inferior quality, are vessels of impurity. There is no diversity in the clay used; no, the diversity of the pots is only due to the substances which are put into each of them. In like manner, Kâsyapa, is there but one vehicle, viz. the Buddha-vehicle; there is no second vehicle, no third.
The Lord having thus spoken, the venerable Mahâ-Kâsyapa said: Lord, if the beings are of different disposition, will there be for those who have left the triple world one Nirvâna, or two, or three? The Lord replied: Nirvâna, Kâsyapa, is a consequence of understanding that all laws (things) are equal. Hence there is but one Nirvâna, not two, not three. Therefore, Kâsyapa, I will tell thee a parable, for men of good understanding will generally readily enough catch the meaning of what is taught under the shape of a parable.
It is a case, Kâsyapa, similar to that of a certain blind-born man, who says: There are no handsome or ugly shapes; there are no men able to see handsome or ugly shapes; there exists no sun nor moon; there are no asterisms nor planets; there are no men able to see planets. But other persons say to the blind-born: There are handsome and ugly shapes; there are men able to see handsome and ugly shapes; there is a sun and moon; there are asterisms and planets; there are men able to see planets. But the blind-born does not believe them, nor accept what they say. Now there is a physician who knows all diseases. He sees that blind-born man and makes to himself this reflection: The disease of this man originates in his sinful actions in former times. All diseases possible to arise are fourfold: rheumatical, cholerical, phlegmatical, and caused by a complication of the (corrupted) humours. The physician, after thinking again and again on a means to cure the disease, makes to himself this reflection: Surely, with the drugs in common use it is impossible to cure this disease, but there are in the Himalaya, the king of mountains, four herbs, to wit: first, one called Possessed-of-all-sorts-of-colours-and-flavours; second, Delivering-from-all-diseases; third, Delivering-from-all-poisons; fourth, Procuring-happiness-to-those-standing-in-the-right-place. As the physician feels compassion for the blind-born man he contrives some device to get to the Himalaya, the king of mountains. There he goes up and down and across to search. In doing so he finds the four herbs. One he gives after chewing it with the teeth; another after pounding; another after having it mixed with another drug and boiled; another after having it mixed with a raw drug; another after piercing with a lancet somewhere a vein; another after singeing it in fire; another after combining it with various other substances so as to enter in a compound potion, food, &c. Owing to these means being applied the blindborn recovers his eyesight, and in consequence of that recovery he sees outwardly and inwardly, far and near, the shine of sun and moon, the asterisms, planets, and all phenomena. Then he says: O how foolish was I that I did not believe what they told me, nor accepted what they affirmed. Now I see all; I am delivered from my blindness and have recovered my eyesight; there is none in the world who could surpass me. And at the same moment Seers of the five transcendent faculties [the five senses], strong in the divine sight and hearing, in the knowledge of others’ minds, in the memory of former abodes, in magical science and intuition, speak to the man thus: Good man, thou hast just recovered thine eyesight, nothing more, and dost not know yet anything. Whence comes this conceitedness to thee? Thou hast no wisdom, nor art thou a clever man. Further they say to him: Good man, when sitting in the interior of thy room, thou canst not see nor distinguish forms outside, nor discern which beings are animated with kind feelings and which with hostile feelings; thou canst not distinguish nor hear at the distance of five yoganas the voice of a man or the sound of a drum, conch trumpet, and the like; thou canst not even walk as far as a kos without lifting up thy feet; thou hast been produced and developed in thy mother’s womb without remembering the fact; how then wouldst thou be clever, and how canst thou say: I see all? Good man, thou takest darkness for light, and takest light for darkness.
Whereupon the Seers are asked by the man: By what means and by what good work shall I acquire such wisdom and with your favour acquire those good qualities (or virtues)? And the Seers say to that man: If that be thy wish, go and live in the wilderness or take thine abode in mountain caves, to meditate on the law and cast off evil passions. So shalt thou become endowed with the virtues of an ascetic and acquire the transcendent faculties. The man catches their meaning and becomes an ascetic. Living in the wilderness, the mind intent upon one sole object, he shakes off worldly desires, and acquires the five transcendent faculties. After that acquisition he reflects thus: Formerly I did not do the right thing; hence no good accrued to me. Now, however, I can go whither my mind prompts me; formerly I was ignorant, of little understanding, in fact, a blind man.
Such, Kâsyapa, is the parable I have invented to make thee understand my meaning. The moral to be drawn from it is as follows. The word ‘blindborn,’ Kâsyapa, is a designation for the creatures staying in the whirl of the world with its six states; the creatures who do not know the true law and are heaping up the thick darkness of evil passions. Those are blind from ignorance, and in consequence of it they build up conceptions; in consequence of the latter name-and-form, and so forth, up to the genesis of this whole huge mass of evils.
So the creatures blind from ignorance remain in the whirl of life, but the Tathâgata, who is out of the triple world, feels compassion, prompted by which, like a father for his dear and only son, he appears in the triple world and sees with his eye of wisdom that the creatures are revolving in the circle of the mundane whirl, and are toiling without finding the right means to escape from the rotation. And on seeing this he comes to the conclusion: Yon beings, according to the good works they have done in former states, have feeble aversions and strong attachments; (or) feeble attachments and strong aversions; some have little wisdom, others are clever; some have soundly developed views, others have unsound views. To all of them the Tathâgata skilfully shows three vehicles.
The Seers in the parable, those possessing the five transcendent faculties and clear-sight, are the Bodhisattvas who produce enlightened thought, and by the acquirement of acquiescence in the eternal law awake us to supreme, perfect enlightenment.
The great physician in the parable is the Tathâgata. To the blind-born may be likened the creatures blind with infatuation. Attachment, aversion, and infatuation are likened to rheum, bile, and phlegm. The sixty-two false theories also must be looked upon as such (i. e. as doshas, ‘humours and corrupted humours of the body,’ ‘faults and corruptions’). The four herbs are like vanity (or voidness), causelessness (or purposelessness), unfixedness, and reaching Nirvâna. Just as by using different drugs different diseases are healed, so by developing the idea of vanity (or voidness), purposelessness, unfixedness, (which are) the principles of emancipation, is ignorance suppressed; the suppression of ignorance is succeeded by the suppression of conceptions (or fancies); and so forth, up to the suppression of the whole huge mass of evils. And thus one’s mind will dwell no more on good nor on evil.
To the man who recovers his eyesight is likened the votary of the vehicle of the disciples and of Pratyekabuddhas. He rends the ties of evil passion in the whirl of the world; freed from those ties he is released from the triple world with its six states of existence. Therefore the votary of the vehicle of the disciples may think and speak thus: There are no more laws to be penetrated; I have reached Nirvâna. Then the Tathâgata preaches to him: How can he who has not penetrated all laws have reached Nirvâna? The Lord rouses him to enlightenment, and the disciple, when the consciousness of enlightenment has been awakened in him, no longer stays in the mundane whirl, but at the same time has not yet reached Nirvâna. As he has arrived at true insight, he looks upon this triple world in every direction as void, resembling the produce of magic, similar to a dream, a mirage, an echo. He sees that all laws (and phenomena) are unborn and undestroyed, not bound and not loose, not dark and not bright. He who views the profound laws in such a light, sees, as if he were not seeing, the whole triple world full of beings of contrary and omnifarious fancies and dispositions.
And on that occasion, in order to more amply explain the same subject, the Lord uttered the following stanzas:
45. As the rays of the sun and moon descend alike on all men, good and bad, without deficiency (in one case) or surplus (in the other);
46. So the wisdom of the Tathâgata shines like the sun and moon, leading all beings without partiality.
47. As the potter, making clay vessels, produces from the same clay pots for sugar, milk, ghee, or water;
48. Some for impurities, others for curdled milk, the clay used by the artificer for the vessels being of but one sort;
49. As a vessel is made to receive all its distinguishing qualities according to the quality of the substance laid into it, so the Tathâgatas, on account of the diversity of taste,
50. Mention a diversity of vehicles, though the Buddha-vehicle be the only indisputable one. He who ignores the rotation of mundane existence, has no perception of blessed rest;
51. But he who understands that all laws are void and without reality (and without individual character) penetrates the enlightenment of the perfectly enlightened Lords in its very essence.
52. One who occupies a middle position of wisdom is called a Pratyekagina (i. e. Pratyekabuddha); one lacking the insight of voidness is termed a disciple.
53. But after understanding all laws one is called a perfectly-enlightened one; such a one is assiduous in preaching the law to living beings by means of hundreds of devices.
54. It is as if some blind-born man, because he sees no sun, moon, planets, and stars, in his blind ignorance (should say): There are no visible things at all.
55. But a great physician taking compassion on the blind man, goes to the Himalaya, where (seeking) across, up and down,
56. He fetches from the mountain four plants; the herb Of-all-colours-flavours-and-cases, and others. These he intends to apply.
57. He applies them in this manner: one he gives to the blind man after chewing it, another after pounding, again another by introducing it with the point of a needle into the man’s body.
58. The man having got his eyesight, sees the sun, moon, planets, and stars, and arrives at the conclusion that it was from sheer ignorance that he spoke thus as he had formerly done.
59. In the same way do people of great ignorance, blind from their birth, move in the turmoil of the world, because they do not know the wheel of causes and effects, the path of toils.
60. In the world so blinded by ignorance appears the highest of those who know all, the Tathâgata, the great physician, of compassionate nature.
61. As an able teacher he shows the true law; he reveals supreme Buddha-enlightenment to him who is most advanced.
62. To those of middling wisdom the Leader preaches a middling enlightenment; again another enlightenment he recommends to him who is afraid of the mundane whirl.
63. The disciple who by his discrimination has escaped from the triple world thinks he has reached pure, blest Nirvâna, but it is only by knowing all laws (and the universal laws) that the immortal Nirvâna is reached.
64. In that case it is as if the great Seers, moved by compassion, said to him: Thou art mistaken; do not be proud of thy knowledge.
65. When thou art in the interior of thy room, thou canst not perceive what is going on without, fool as thou art.
66. Thou who, when staying within, dost not perceive even now what people outside are doing or not doing, how wouldst thou be wise, fool as thou art?
67. Thou art not able to hear a sound at a distance of but five yoganas, far less at a greater distance.
68. Thou canst not discern who are malevolent or benevolent towards thee. Whence then comes that pride to thee?
69. If thou hast to walk so far as a kos, thou canst not go without a beaten track; and what happened to thee when in thy mother’s womb thou hast immediately forgotten.
70. In this world he is called all-knowing who possesses the five transcendent faculties, but when thou who knowest nothing pretendest to be allknowing, it is an effect of infatuation.
71. If thou art desirous of omniscience, direct thy attention to transcendent wisdom; then betake thy self to the wilderness and meditate on the pure law; by it thou shalt acquire the transcendent faculties.
72. The man catches the meaning, goes to the wilderness, meditates with the greatest attention, and, as he is endowed with good qualities, ere long acquires the five transcendent faculties.
73. Similarly all disciples fancy having reached Nirvâna, but the Gina instructs them (by saying): This is a (temporary) repose, no final rest.
74. It is an artifice of the Buddhas to enunciate this dogma. There is no (real) Nirvâna without all-knowingness; try to reach this.
75. The boundless knowledge of the three paths (of time), the six utmost perfections (Pâramitas), voidness, the absence of purpose (or object), the absence of finiteness;
76. The idea of enlightenment and the other laws leading to Nirvâna, both such as are mixed with imperfection and such as are exempt from it, such as are tranquil and comparable to ethereal space;
77. The four Brahmavihâras and the four Sangrahas, as well as the laws sanctioned by eminent sages for the education of creatures;
78. (He who knows these things) and that all phenomena have the nature of illusion and dreams, that they are pithless as the stem of the plantain, and similar to an echo;
79. And who knows that the triple world throughout is of that nature, not fast and not looge, he knows rest.
80. He who considers all laws to be alike, void, devoid of particularity and individuality, not derived from an intelligent cause; nay, who discerns that nothingness is law;
81. Such a one has great wisdom and sees the whole of the law entirely. There are no three vehicles by any means; there is but one vehicle in this world.
82. All laws (or the laws of all) are alike, equal, for all, and ever alike. Knowing this, one understands immortal blest Nirvâna.
Source: Reluctant Messenger
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The Lotus Sutra translated by Hendrik Kern (1884) (Hendrik Kern)