The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law
Translated By H. Kern (1884)
DURATION OF LIFE OF THE TATHÂGATA
Thereupon the Lord addressed the entire host of Bodhisattvas: Trust me, young men of good family, believe in the Tathâgata speaking a veracious word. A second time the Lord addressed the Bodhisattvas: Trust me, young gentlemen of good family, believe in the Tathâgata speaking a veracious word. A third and last time the Lord addressed the Bodhisattvas: Trust me, young men of good family, believe in the Tathâgata speaking a veracious word. Then the entire host of Bodhisattvas with Maitreya, the Bodhisattva Mahasattva at their head, stretched out the joined hands and said to the Lord: Expound this matter, O Lord; expound it, O Sugata; we will believe in the word of the Tathâgata. A second time the entire host, &c. &c. A third time the entire host, &c. &c.
The Lord, considering that the Bodhisattvas repeated their prayer up to three times, addressed them thus: Listen then, young men of good family. The force of a strong resolve which I assumed is such, young men of good family, that this world, including gods, men, and demons, acknowledges: Now has the Lord Sakyamuni, after going out from the home of the Sakyas, arrived at supreme, perfect enlightenment, on the summit of the terrace of enlightenment at the town of Gaya. But, young men of good family, the truth is that many hundred thousand myriads of kotis of Æons ago I have arrived at supreme, perfect enlightenment. By way of example, young men of good family, let there be the atoms of earth of fifty hundred thousand myriads of kotis of worlds; let there exist some man who takes one of those atoms of dust and then goes in an eastern direction fifty hundred thousand myriads of kotis of worlds further on, there to deposit that atom of dust; let in this manner the man carry away from all those worlds the whole mass of earth, and in the same manner, and by the same act as supposed, deposit all those atoms in an eastern direction. Now, would you think, young men of good family, that any one should be able to imagine, weigh, count, or determine (the number of) those worlds? The Lord having thus spoken, the Bodhisattva Mahasattva Maitreya and the entire host of Bodhisattvas replied: They are incalculable, O Lord, those worlds, countless, beyond the range of thought. Not even all the disciples and Pratyekabuddhas, O Lord, with their Ârya-knowledge, will be able to imagine, weigh, count, or determine them. For us also, O Lord, who are Bodhisattvas standing on the place from whence there is no turning back, this point lies beyond the sphere of our comprehension; so innumerable, O Lord, are those worlds.
This said, the Lord spoke to those Bodhisattvas Mahâsattvas as follows: I announce to you, young men of good family, I declare to you: However numerous be those worlds where that man deposits those atoms of dust and where he does not, there are not, young men of good family, in all those hundred thousands of myriads of kolis of worlds so many dust atoms as there are hundred thousands of myriads of kotis of Æons since I have arrived at supreme, perfect enlightenment. From the moment, young men of good family, when I began preaching the law to creatures in this Saha-world and in hundred thousands of myriads of kotis of other worlds, and (when) the other Tathâgatas, Arhats, &c., such as the Tathâgata Dîpankara and the rest whom I have mentioned in the lapse of time (preached), (from that moment) have I, young men of good family, for the complete Nirvâna of those Tathâgatas, &c., created all that with the express view to skilfully preach the law. Again, young men of good family, the Tathâgata, considering the different degrees of faculty and strength of succeeding generations, reveals at each (generation) his own name, reveals a state in which Nirvâna has not yet been reached, and in different ways he satisfies the wants of (different) creatures through various Dharmaparyâyas . This being the case, young men of good family, the Tathâgata declares to the creatures, whose dispositions are so various and who possess so few roots of goodness, so many evil propensities: I am young of age, monks; having left my father’s home, monks, I have lately arrived at supreme, perfect enlightenment. When, however, the Tathâgata, who so long ago arrived at perfect enlightenment, declares himself to have but lately arrived at perfect enlightenment, he does so in order to lead creatures to full ripeness and make them go in. Therefore have these Dharmaparyâyas been revealed; and it is for the education of creatures, young men of good family, that the Tathâgata has revealed all Dharmaparyâyas. And, young men of good family, the word that the Tathâgata delivers on behalf of the education of creatures, either under his own appearance or under another’s, either on his own authority or under the mask of another, all that the Tathâgata declares, all those Dharmaparyâyas spoken by the Tathâgata are true. There can be no question of untruth from the part of the Tathâgata in this respect. For the Tathâgata sees the triple world as it really is: it is not born, it dies not; it is not conceived, it springs not into existence; it moves not in a whirl, it becomes not extinct; it is not real, nor unreal; it is not existing, nor non-existing; it is not such, nor otherwise, nor false. The Tathâgata sees the triple world, not as the ignorant, common people, he seeing things always present to him; indeed, to the Tathâgata, in his position, no laws are concealed. In that respect any word that the Tathâgata speaks is true, not false. But in order to produce the roots of goodness in the creatures, who follow different pursuits and behave according to different notions, he reveals various Dharmaparyâyas with various fundamental principles. The Tathâgata then, young men of good family, does what he has to do. The Tathâgata who so long ago was perfectly enlightened is unlimited in the duration of his life, he is everlasting. Without being extinct, the Tathâgata makes a show of extinction, on behalf of those who have to be educated. And even now, young gentlemen of good family, I have not accomplished my ancient Bodhisattvacourse, and the measure of my lifetime is not full. Nay, young men of good family, I shall yet have twice as many hundred thousand myriads of kotis of Æons before the measure of my lifetime be full. I announce final extinction, young men of good family, though myself I do not become finally extinct. For in this way, young men of good family, I bring (all) creatures to maturity, lest creatures in whom goodness is not firmly rooted, who are unholy, miserable, eager of sensual pleasures, blind and obscured by the film of wrong views, should, by too often seeing me, take to thinking: ‘The Tathâgata is staying’ and fancy that all is a child’s play; (lest they) by thinking ‘we are near that Tathâgata’ should fail to exert themselves in order to escape the triple world and not conceive how precious the Tathâgata is. Hence, young men of good family, the Tathdgata skilfully utters. these words: The apparition of the Tathâgatas, monks, is precious (and rare). For in the course of many hundred thousand myriads of kotis of Æons creatures may happen to see a Tathâgata or not to see him,. Therefore and upon that ground, young men of good family, I say: The apparition of the Tathâgatas, monks, is precious (and rare). By being more and more convinced of the apparition of the Tathâgatas being precious (or rare) they will feel surprised and sorry, and whilst not seeing the Tathâgata they will get a longing to see him. The good roots developing from their earnest thought relating to the Tathâgata will lastingly tend to their weal, benefit, and happiness; in consideration of which the Tathâgata announces final extinction, though he himself does not become finally extinct, on behalf of the creatures who have to be educated. Such, young men of good family, is the Tathâgata’s manner of teaching; when the Tathâgata speaks in this way, there is from his part no falsehood.
Let us suppose an analogous case, young men of good family. There is some physician, learned, intelligent, prudent, clever in allaying all sorts of diseases. That man has many sons, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or a hundred. The physician once being abroad, all his children incur a disease from poison or venom. Overcome with the grievous pains caused by that poison or venom which burns them they lie rolling on the ground. Their father, the physician, comes home from his journey at the time when his sons are suffering from that poison or venom. Some of them have perverted notions, others have right notions, but all suffer the same pain. On seeing their father they cheerfully greet him and say: Hail, dear father, that thou art come back in safety and welfare! Now deliver us from our evil, be it poison or venom; let us live, dear father. And the physician, seeing his sons befallen with disease, overcome with pain and rolling on the ground, prepares a great remedy, having the required colour, smell, and taste, pounds it on a stone and gives it as a potion to his sons, with these words: Take this great remedy, my sons, which has the required colour, smell, and taste. For by taking this great remedy, my sons, you shall soon be rid of this poison or venom; you shall recover and be healthy. Those amongst the children of the physician that have right notions, after seeing the colour of the remedy, after smelling the smell and tasting the flavour, quickly take it, and in consequence of it are soon totally delivered from their disease. But the sons who have perverted notions cheerfully greet their father and say: Hail, dear father, that thou art come back in safety and welfare; do heal us. So they speak, but they do not take the remedy offered, and that because, owing to the perverseness of their notions, that remedy does not please them, in colour, smell, nor taste. Then the physician reflects thus: These sons of mine must have become perverted in their notions owing to this poison or venom, as they do not take the remedy nor hail me. Therefore will I by some able device induce these sons to take this remedy. Prompted by this desire he speaks to those sons as follows: I am old, young men of good family, decrepit, advanced in years, and my term of life is near at hand; but be not sorry, young men of good family, do not feel dejected; here have I prepared a great remedy for you; if you want it, you may take it. Having thus admonished them, he skilfully betakes himself to another part of the country and lets his sick sons know that he has departed life. They are extremely sorry and bewail him extremely: So then he is dead, our father and protector; he who begat us; he, so full of bounty! now are we left without a protector. Fully aware of their being orphans and of having no refuge, they are continually plunged in sorrow, by which their perverted notions make room for right notions. They acknowledge that remedy possessed of the required colour, smell, and taste to have the required colour, smell, and taste, so that they instantly take it, and by taking it are delivered from their evil. Then, on knowing that these sons are delivered from evil, the physician shows himself again. Now, young men of good family, what is your opinion? Would any one charge that physician with falsehood on account of his using that device? No, certainly not, Lord; certainly not, Sugata. He proceeded: In the same manner, young men of good family, I have arrived at supreme, perfect enlightenment since an immense, incalculable number of hundred thousands of myriads of kotis of Æons, but from time to time I display such able devices to the creatures, with the view of educating them, without there being in that respect any falsehood on my part.
In order to set forth this subject more extensively the Lord on that occasion uttered the following stanzas:
1. An inconceivable number of thousands of kotis of Æons, never to be measured, is it since I reached superior (or first) enlightenment and never ceased to teach the law.
2. I roused many Bodhisattvas and established them in Buddha-knowledge. I brought myriads of kotis of beings, endless, to full ripeness in many kotis of Æons.
3. I show the place of extinction, I reveal to (all) beings a device to educate them, albeit I do not become extinct at the time, and in this very place continue preaching the law.
4. There I rule myself as well as all beings, I. But men of perverted minds, in their delusion, do not see me standing there.
5. In the opinion that my body is completely extinct, they pay worship, in many ways, to the relics, but me they see not. They feel (however) a certain aspiration by which their mind becomes right.
6. When such upright (or pious), mild, and gentle creatures leave off their bodies, then I assemble the crowd of disciples and show myself here on the Gridhrakûta.
7. And then I speak thus to them, in this very place: I was not completely extinct at that time; it was but a device of mine, monks; repeatedly am I born in the world of the living.
8. Honoured by other beings, I show them my superior enlightenment, but you would not obey my word, unless the Lord of the world enter Nirvâna.
9. I see how the creatures are afflicted, but I do not show them my proper being. Let them first have an aspiration to see me; then I will reveal to them the true law.
10. Such has always been my firm resolve during an inconceivable number of thousands of kotis of Æons, and I have not left this Gridhrakûta for other abodes.
11. And when creatures behold this world and imagine that it is burning, even then my Buddhafield is teeming with gods and men.
12. They dispose of manifold amusements, kotis of pleasure gardens, palaces, and aerial cars; (this field) is embellished by hills of gems and by trees abounding with blossoms and fruits.
13. And aloft gods are striking musical instruments and pouring a rain of Mandâras by which they are covering me, the disciples and other sages who are striving after enlightenment.
14. So is my field here, everlasti.ngly; but others fancy that it is burning; in their view this world is most terrific, wretched, replete with number of woes.
15. Ay, many kotis of years they may pass without ever having mentioned my name, the law, or my congregation. That is the fruit of sinful deeds.
16. But when mild and gentle beings are born in this world of men, they immediately see me revealing the law, owing to their good works.
17. I never speak to them of the infinitude of my action. Therefore, I am, properly, existing since long, and yet declare: The Ginas are rare (or precious).
18. Such is the glorious power of my wisdom that knows no limit, and the duration of my life is as long as an endless period; I have acquired it after previously following a due course.
19. Feel no doubt concerning it, O sages, and leave off all uncertainty: the word I here pronounce is really true; my word is never false.
20. For even as that physician skilled in devices, for the sake of his sons whose notions were perverted, said that he had died although he was still alive, and even as no sensible man, would charge that physician with falsehood;
21. So am I the father of the world, the Self born, the Healer, the Protector of all creatures. Knowing them to be perverted, infatuated, and ignorant I teach final rest, myself not being at rest.
22. What reason should I have to continually manifest myself? When men become unbelieving, unwise, ignorant, careless, fond of sensual pleasures, and from thoughtlessness run into misfortune,
23. Then I, who know the course of the world, declare: I am so and so, (and consider): How can I incline them to enlightenment? how can they become partakers of the Buddha-laws?
Source: Reluctant Messenger
The Lotus Sutra: Saddharma Pundarika Sutra or the Lotus of the True Law (H.Kern)
The Lotus Sutra and its Opening and Closing Sutras: A Beautiful Translation with Deep Love from a Lay Buddhist Practitioner (Minerva Lee)