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Recitation of the Lotus Sutra (Jpn. Gongyo), Part II

Setting: This is the climactic portion of the Lotus Sutra’s Ceremony in the Air, a gathering of three succeeding congregations that takes place in the transcendent Land of Tranquil Light — representing the domain of Perfect Enlightenment. At the beginning of this sutra, Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha (also referred to as the World-honored One and Declarer of Truth), is at India's Mount Vulture Peak (Skt.Grdhrakuta; Jpn. Ryojusen) where he is joined by a great assembly of hundreds of thousands of sentient beings [including his three-vehicle disciples, various elemental beings and universal forces]; next, the [physical] environment is transformed into a transcendent one to welcome a second assemblage composed of countless buddhas who accompanied by celestial bodhisattvas arrive from every direction in the universe; finally, a third group constituted of innumerable legions of eternally-enlightened Selfless Volunteers emerge at the behest of the Buddha from a sacred space below the ground. The Buddha then states that this last group constitutes his oldest disciples. With the exception of all the buddhas in attendance, the other members of the two earlier assemblies are bewildered. The celestial bodhisattvas, although possessing bodies of bliss capable of freely moving throughout space-time, report that they had never before encountered the latest arrivals. Moreover, Sakyamuni’s disciples are confused as they are under the impression that their sage-teacher had attained the buddha-state for the first time in his present lifetime — purportedly only after hundreds of thousands of eons of devoted aspiration.

Suspended in midair at the hub of this gathering is an ornate miles-high Tower belonging to Abundant Treasures, an extinct buddha whose virtual body is present so that he may bear witness to the Truth about to be revealed. He and Sakyamuni share a lion-throne inside this bejeweled Tower of boundless blessings. As the Buddha begins to speak, all are poised to hear his explanation. The ensuing soliloquy reveals that his manifestation as Sakyamuni masks a grander identity — that of an eternal Buddha. This chapter of the Lotus Sutra introduces the Declarer of the Truth [of Everlasting Life], the ultimate identity of all buddhas, who in this context speaks through the medium of Sakyamuni’s body and voice. The Declarer of the Truth [of Everlasting Life] proceeds to offer a revolutionary doctrine about the meaning and purpose of existence imparted herein as a universal message of unparalleled importance bequeathed to all mortal beings for all time.

 


English translation:
1999. EverLife Foundation.
Note: brackets [ ] are implied statements to be read as enhanced text.
Parenthesis ( ) are used for identifying proper names in Sanskrit or Japanese, and for definitions or points of clarification that do not read as part of the text.

 


Sutra Title: Myoho-Renge-Kyo
English: Sutra of the Perfectly Endowed Reality of Everlasting Life
(abbreviated title: The Lotus Sutra)

Chapter 16 Title: Nyorai juryohon dai juroku
English: The Declarer of the Truth of Everlasting Life

Text:
         At this time the Buddha addressed the [celestial] bodhisattvas and the great assembly, as follows: “Beings of good nature, I declare herewith, you must embrace with pure hearts and accept with open and receptive minds the incontrovertible revelations which the Declarer of Truth (Skt. Tathagata; Jpn. Nyorai) now commences to pronounce.”
        Then [to ensure that all had heard him], he repeated it a second time: “You must embrace with pure hearts and accept with open and receptive minds the incontrovertible revelations which the Declarer of Truth now commences to pronounce.”
        Then [to ensure that his words would be heard for all time], he repeated it a third time: “You must embrace with pure hearts and accept with open and receptive minds the incontrovertible revelations which the Declarer of Truth now commences to pronounce.”
        At this time All-Encompassing Loving Kindness (Skt. Maitreya; Jpn. Miroku — the bodhisattva designated as buddha-in-waiting of a prophesied future earthly paradise) led the [celestial] bodhisattvas and the great assembly in pressing their palms together while making the following vow to the Buddha: “World-honored One, we implore you to reveal [that which you have not yet revealed]. We pledge to you [now and forever] that we will embrace every word of it with the purest of hearts and accept all of the Buddha’s words with the most open and receptive of minds.”
        Then, [to ensure that their vow would be heard by all present and to seal it for posterity] they repeated their vow for a second and third time: “We implore you to reveal [that which you have not yet revealed]. We pledge to you [now and forever] that we will embrace every word of it with the purest of hearts and accept all of the Buddha’s words with the most open and receptive of minds.”
        At this time the World-honored One acknowledged the thrice-repeated request led by the [celestial] bodhisattvas with the following reply: “Now you must listen carefully as I hereby reveal the secret [threefold] identity of the Declarer of Truth to be one inseparable reality which is endowed with a universal power that at once transcends and pervades all of existence.”

        “Throughout the [various kinds of] worlds of existence, [various kinds of] celestial, biological and elemental beings, all believe that the buddha who is known [by name] as the Sage of the Sakyas (Skt. Sakyamuni; Jpn. Shakyamuni) is present here and now [speaks before you]. They know him as the one who attained unsurpassed Perfect Enlightenment after leaving the palace of the Sakya clan in his youth [as Prince Siddhartha] and in due course found the entryway to ultimate wisdom [while seated under the tree] near the city of Gaya.
        “Now, hear this, my beloved innocents! “In actuality, I [who now speaks before you] have dwelt in the buddha-state for an inconceivable and boundlessly remote span, numbering back more than ten-hundred-thousand-million-billions of eons (i.e., 1 eon equals the duration of a universe).
        “To illustrate [how long it has been since then], imagine that there are five-hundred-thousand-million-billions of universes and that they have all been ground down to their elemental particles. [Intending on using these grains of matter as markers] a traveler moves in an easterly direction [across infinite space]. On his journey he encounters myriads of living worlds. Each time he has passed five-hundred-thousand-million-billions of these lands he drops just one of these elemental particles. Continuing straight ahead on an eastward track, he repeats this pattern [of dropping one particle every time he passes five-hundred-thousand-million-billion worlds] until he has finished dispatching all the particles.
        “Pray tell, my beloved innocents! Is there anyone among you who is capable of calculating the number [of living worlds that this imaginary traveler has passed on his journey]?”
        All-Encompassing Loving Kindness Bodhisattva led the others in responding, as follows: “World-honored One! The number of worlds you have described is inconceivable and boundless, defies calculation and stretches beyond the grasp of thought. Even the most learned and visionary among us, including those who have secured a state of clear and pure wisdom, can not hope to imagine or fathom such numbers. Moreover, among those of us who reside in the stage of non-regression none can apprehend such scope. World-honored One! The numbers you have described are beyond conception, beyond all bounds.”
        At this time the grand audience of celestial bodhisattvas and others were compelled to listen further, as follows: “My beloved innocents! There is still more to divulge, if what I am saying here is to become clear to you. Suppose we were to collect all the worlds [our traveler had] encountered, including those he passed over and those he marked, and then ground them down into their elementary particles. Know this, the total number of particles accrued thusly still would fall short of my original buddha-state by more than a hundred-thousand-million-billion eons.
        “[Thus I declare that] ever since [beginningless time] I have been present continuously throughout the realms of enduring suffering, preaching [the laws], teaching [the means], and delivering blessings to mortal beings in more than a hundred-thousand-million-billion domains.

        “My beloved innocents! Over this vast span I have lived [untold lifetimes] wherein I have often referred to myself as a buddha named Eternal Flame, or some such [shape, essence and illuminating] appellation as I required in formulating [various permutations of] my buddha-identity — all in an effort to lead multitudes of mortal followers to the threshold of nirvana. [Whatever name my manifestation may undertake] it is always used as part of my tactful and expedient efforts meant to help them discern [the meanings and powers compressed into my sutras] and to distinguish [relative value] among my various teachings.
        “My beloved innocents! Whenever mortal beings have approached me [with a seeking mind], whether the quality of their faculties has been keen or dull, I have regarded them with a buddha’s [inner-seeing] eye to ascertain their desire to know [the Truth of the Reality of All Existence]. Whenever and wherever [among the various realms of existence] mortal beings seek the way to ultimate Truth, I repeatedly manifest before them as a sage-teacher using one name or another and, in each case, provide them with an appropriate means suited to their advancement. [As I have done in this lifetime] in certain cases, I announce my impending entry into nirvana [leaving the impression that upon my death I will be liberated from rebirth in the mortal plane forever more]. However, that concept is itself just another of the tactful means which I use in preparing mortal beings to receive the wonderful Truth of All Truths whose subtle and liberating power continuously graces [mortals] with the unparalleled joy of life.

        “My beloved innocents! The Declarer of the Truth [of Everlasting Life] observes that when mortal beings are shallow in their desire for [greater] Truth, they display a penchant for self-serving motives and contemptible behaviors. To [inspire] them I preach that I first attained unsurpassed Perfect Enlightenment in this lifetime — after leaving my family at a young age [in search of the ultimate answer]. But as I have declared to you here, in actuality I have been dwelling in the buddha-state for all time, and only use such tactful and expedient constructs to inspire their desire for [greater] Truth and thus open their way to Perfect Enlightenment.
        “My beloved innocents! The Declarer of the Truth [of Everlasting Life] expounds [many] sutras for the sake of liberating mortal beings. [In them] he may refer to himself when speaking of others, or refer to others when speaking of himself; he may appear to be one thing when in actuality he is something other, or appear to be something other when in actuality it is him; and, he may present his experiences as those of others, or present the experiences of others as his own. Nevertheless, [have no doubt] that every one of his words, appearances and experiences are utterly true and devoid of any false airs.
        “Why is this [strategy] necessary? The Declarer of the Truth [of Everlasting Life] uses such means to reveal the true nature of threefold time (i.e., past, present and future). From his [eternally] panoramic vantage, demarcations do not exist — neither that of birth nor death, neither that of existence nor extinction, neither that of substance nor empty space, neither that of singularity nor diversity. Mortals [cannot see this as they] experience the passing of time from their place within time. The Declarer of the Truth [of Everlasting Life], however, clearly sees [the true nature of all things] without error.

        “As mortal beings possess multifarious natures, desires, experiences, and ways of perceiving and distinguishing value, the Declarer of the Truth [of Everlasting Life] enables all of them to extend the roots of faith [for the sake of their growth] by devising multifarious actions, concepts, comparisons, parables, phrases and doctrines. [Throughout all space-time] he has never neglected his role as a buddha — even for a single moment.
        “He has been doing so [for as long as eternity]. The actual age of his buddha-state, being so extreme, spans immeasurable numbers of lifetimes and extends over countless eons. And yet, never even once, during all that time, had the Declarer of the Truth [of Everlasting Life] chosen to depart the mortal world [for nirvana] in pursuit of his own extinction.
        “My beloved innocents! While [among] you [are those who] may think that after eons of exerting selfless devotion one who attains the unsurpassed buddha-state [upon death] retires into blissful extinction, the Declarer of the Truth [of Everlasting Life] now present before you [declares that he] plans to continue his presence [here] for more than twice as many eons as already have passed [since beginningless time]. In actuality, [I hereby reveal to you that] the nirvana a buddha refers to when he speaks of entering extinction is not real, as he always dwells in [real] nirvana. That [former] notion is yet another tactful method which he uses [temporarily] until mortal beings learn [how] to transform themselves [into their true selves] in the present moment.
        “Why is this [strategy] necessary? A buddha can not stay in the [manifest] world for too long, because it causes mortal minds to become spoiled. [If they see him by their side for an indefinite time] they grow complacent and neglect to deepen the root causes [of goodness, development and enlightenment]. Without realizing it, they become poor [in spiritual currency] and [in due course] curse with anger their eventual birth into downtrodden lives. [Caught in a downward spiral] they cling to the temptations of avarice and become rooted in the obsessions of the five senses. They wind up twisted and warped by ignorance helplessly struggling in a net of delusions and distortions.
        “[A similar outcome would be likely] if the Declarer of the Truth [of Everlasting Life] were to become ever-apparent — having ignored entry into extinction. [Constantly faced with the presence of immortality] the meek would develop an arrogant and aggrandized [sense of] self and aspiring seekers would lose their sense of urgency — resulting in their failure to progress [towards fulfillment]. Therefore, [it is critically important] for mortals who accomplish the difficult task of encountering [the Declarer of the Truth of Everlasting Life] to recognize it as a supremely rare event to be honored with a reverent and seeking mind [and never take it for granted]. As such, the Declarer of the Truth [of Everlasting Life] tactfully reminds reverent followers that: ‘It is a rare privilege to be born at such a time and such a place that a buddha chooses to make his appearance.’
        “Why is this [strategy] necessary? Because across countless eons — a number that is [beyond] innumerable multiples of hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and myriads of millions — mortal beings are born countless times before some of them may chance a glimpse of such a buddha and then again [countless lifetimes may pass during which] some of them never experience such an encounter. That is why I say to my devoted followers: ‘Seeing the Declarer of the Truth [of Everlasting Life] is a rare event that is difficult to accomplish.’
        “Hearing such an admonition, all mortal beings should appreciate the difficulty of encountering such a buddha and develop a longing [for his appearance] and a thirst [for his teachings] as these are vehicles for deepening the root causes [of goodness, development and enlightenment].
        “Whenever and wherever the Declarer of the Truth [of Everlasting Life] appears among mortal beings, some heed his teaching that extinction is not real [and are healed by it]. Others choose not to [heed it]. For their sake he sends the message that after entering extinction he will never return.
        “My beloved innocents! Whenever and wherever a buddha appears as the Declarer of the Truth [of Everlasting Life] he uses this [two-prong] strategy in an effort to heal all mortal beings — both the fortunate and unfortunate. Have no doubt that this is his purpose. It is utterly true and devoid of any false airs.”

        “Imagine, if you will, that long ago there lived a masterful healer — wise and caring — particularly skilled in compounding elixirs capable of curing all manner of illness. This physician was father to a large family of pure-minded, innocent beings, said to number as many as ten, twenty, or possibly more than a hundred. On occassion he would leave them on their own for a period of time whenever some matter required his attention elsewhere. During one such time, while he was away in some far off place, his innocent children all drank from a concoction that had spoiled with age. It had turned into a toxic poison [that attached itself to mind and body] causing its victims to experience maddening hallucinations and unleashing such pain that they would drop to the ground writhing in agony.
        “Their [extraordinarily gifted] parent had been able to view this disturbing scene [with his mind’s eye] as he hurried back to his homeland. Observing [from afar] that his children had lost their senses, he ascertained that most had fallen into a deep state of illusion, while a few had managed to hold on to the last semblance of [their pure] reality. As he approached his residence, the healer’s children ran to greet him, excitedly kneeling before him and pleading: ‘Oh, dear father, we are so thankful that you have returned safely for in your absence we foolishly drank from a contaminated vessel. Please cure us all so that we may regain the innocent lives we have [always] enjoyed!’
        “Identifying the perfect remedy for their suffering, the father begins its preparation by gathering the finest herbal components — each endowed with ideal qualities of color, odor and flavor. After he mills, purifies and carefully measures each ingredient, he combines them into an elixir and offers it to his children, saying: ‘The excellence of this antidote is testified to by its unsurpassed color, odor and flavor. As soon as you take it, you will be cured of your present suffering and immediately return to your natural state of good health.
        “Quickly, the [fortunate] ones with their [original pure] senses still [partially] intact were able to discern the exquisite quality of the medicine [with their eyes and noses] — seeing its beautiful hue and smelling its pleasing fragrance. As soon as they took it, they immediately returned to their natural state of good health.
        “However, the [unfortunate] ones with their [original pure] senses damaged [beyond recognition] refused to take the elixir. Although they had been among those who had greeted their father’s return with excitement and joined in imploring him to deliver them from suffering, the poison had penetrated their mind so deeply that they were no longer able to discern the value of his prescription. On the contrary, they were possessed by a demented aversion to the medicine — unable to see its beautiful hue or smell its pleasing fragrance.
        “Their father laments: ‘Oh, my poor [unfortunate] innocents! Their affliction has caused them to lose control of their minds. While they may be gladdened by my return and ask me to save them from their distresses, they turn away from the effective cure I have made available to them.’ Concluding that [for their sake] he must devise a way to compel them to choose his formula, [upon further reflection] he makes the following announcement: ‘You should be aware, my dear ones, that when a body wears the signs of old age, it is an omen that the time of death is at hand. [It is my final wish that] all of you should take the excellent elixir I now leave here for you — without the slightest doubt about its powers [to restore your natural state of good health].’ With these parting words he leaves again for a distant land and from there sends back a courier with a message that reads: ‘Your father has died.’
        “Thus confronted with the news of their father’s passing, they are grief-stricken and remorseful. [Obsessed with what will become of them now that he is gone], the sufferers mourn: ‘Now that our father is no longer alive, who will pity our painful lives? Who will rescue us [from this world of enduring hardships]? Who will care for us [as we are meek and desperate]? Oh, dear father, why have you foresaken us? Our hopes have died [with you] in a distant land and now we are doomed to live out our lives as orphans without shelter [from danger] or [guiding] wisdom to rely upon.’
        “Endlessly, they relive their desperate feelings until [eventually] they are confronted by the [buried] memory of their father’s legacy. Exhorted [by his parting wish] to take the extraordinary elixir of exquisite color, odor and flavor, they do so and immediately return to their natural state of good health.
        “Receiving word abroad that all his children have been restored [to their original pure state], their father makes haste to return home and reappears to the delight of all.

        “Please, tell me, my dear innocents [of this great assembly]! Now that you have heard of the dilemma faced by the [immortal] healer [of this parable], what do you say? Should he be condemned for lying [about his death] and abandoning [all who are precious to him]?”
        [All replied:] “No, World-honored One!”
        [The voice that emanated from] the Buddha declared: “I am like this [immortal healer]. I [who now speaks before you] have dwelt in the buddha-state for an inconceivable and boundlessly remote span, numbering back more than ten-hundred-thousand-million-billions of eons. [Throughout it all] I have devoted myself to restoring mortal beings [to their original state]. Although I may tactfully employ expedient means — such as when I announce my impending entry into nirvana [in order to leave the impression that upon my death I will be liberated from rebirth in the mortal plane forever more] — given what is at stake, no one can accuse me of lying [about my death] or abandoning [all who are precious to me]!”

        At that point the World-honored One, intending to expand on this matter, chose to expound [this doctrine] further through these [glorious] verses:

“I [who now speaks before you] dwell
     continuously in a buddha-state
whose source is so remote as to be inconceivable
     and boundless;
[I have dwelt in this state] for so many eons that
     their total span surpasses
untold multiples of ten-hundred-thousand-
     million-billions and more.
Without interruption I devotedly illuminate the
     True Reality of All Existence
guiding countless numbers of mortal beings to
     transform [their state-of-being]
by inviting them into the [one direct] vehicle of
     Perfect Enlightenment —
[forever the entryway to the buddha-state]
     throughout these incalculable eons.

“In the process of rescuing all mortal beings,
I may tactfully employ such expedient concepts
     as nirvana,
although in actuality I do not ever disappear into
     timeless extinction.
Rather, I remain here always to reveal the Truth
     in the present moment.
While I am [inherently] everpresent,
my transcendental identity is such that
mortal beings engrossed in [various warped
     states of] illusion
are unable to discern my presence even though I
     am as close as could be.

“The human population may believe that I no
     longer abide in this world;
knowing me [under many names] across many
     lands,
they make [various kinds of] offerings at
     [various kinds of] shrines.
All of them yearn for me [to appear]
and thirstily pray that I deliver the hopes they
     harbor in their hearts.
Whenever mortal beings are truly ready to
     express an honest faith,
having cultivated demeanors characterized by
     respectful behaviors
and pursued their purposes with gentle regard
     for others,
if they resolutely focus on [the true image of] the
     Buddha [as he really is],
willing to forgo their mortal identities [for a
     greater one],
they can [always] see me in the company of this
     [sutra’s] Buddhist assembly
as I appear at the sacred [preaching ground of]
     Mount Vulture Peak [wherefrom I now
     speak to you].

“There and then, I appear and speak to all mortal
     beings to announce:
that my life is omnipresent and everlasting;
that the power of my tactful strategies [to
     transform mortals] is such that
I may appear to be extinct when that is required,
     and not extinct at other times;
that when mortal beings living among the far-
     spread regions of the cosmos
prove to be reverent [at heart] and [in their
     minds] aspire to believe [in Truth]
There I appear as one of them
To declare the Perfectly Endowed Reality [to the
     world].

“Anyone who is unaware of this [impending
     eventuality],
[after hearing of my death] can only believe that
     I am extinct.
Those who believe so are mortals drowning in a
     sea of suffering;
the reason why I do not appear to them
is that they have yet to develop a [strong
     enough] desire to see me.
When their lives [truly] yearn for me,
I appear for them and unveil the True Reality of
     All Existence.
Possessing the power to be anywhere at any
     time,
For an eternity of eons
I am ever-present at Vulture Peak where my
     sacred domain is revealed,
as well as omnipresent — simultaneously being
     everywhere at once.

“As this mortal eon is born so must it end in the
     [distant] future,
whereupon this mortal domain shall be
     consumed on a great pyre.
[By contrast] my eternally tranquil light is
     forever a haven
for all beings in the cosmos.
In it all come together as one.
[Built of all that is ever envisioned] its palaces,
     pavilions, parks and gardens
are resplendent with precious wisdom-gems of
     all colors and sizes.
[Herein] bejeweled trees [of life] produce an
     abundance of fruit and blossoms
whose seeds are the cause of enlightenment and
     fragrance is peace for all.
[Herein] cosmic forces pound their drums [to
     sound the laws of existence]
ever concatenating the infinite expressions of
     music [that give life its diversity]
[Herein] crimson flowers rain down from the
     heavens in acknowledgment of
the everlasting presence of the [Eternal] Buddha
     and all the assembled.

“This pure [immortal] domain of mine is an
     indestructible Reality,
although it exists simultaneously in exactly the
     same place
as the [mortal] realm that burns with the flames
     of distress and fear
and is filled at every corner with the cries of the
     suffering.
All these mortals are engrossed in continuous
     misfortune
[repeatedly] planting the seeds of their own ruin
transmigrating for countless eons without ever
     encountering
my invaluable threefold secret [of Everlasting
     Life].
Those fortunate ones who meet and embrace its
     virtues
are assured of peaceful and blissful demeanors.
These faithful all see me [present] at this
     moment
here [in their lives] displaying the True Reality
     [of Everlasting Life].

“For the sake of all manner of beings throughout
     space-time
I have expounded [herein] the view that a
     buddha’s life is everlasting.
As you, [who are now listening] have met
     [herein] such a buddha,
you must be mindful of being among the
     fortunate ones, indeed,
to have merited such a rare honor and
     accomplished so difficult a task.
You who [herein] encounter the illuminating
     power of my [eternal] wisdom,
and now bathe in the infinitely brilliant rays of
     my sage revelations
also can acquire such a [fulfilling] lifetime of
     countless eons [as I have]
by devoting yourself for as long as it takes to
     purifying all karma.
You who now cherish this [eternal] wisdom
     should have no doubts about this!
There should not be any question left in your
     mind
as to whether the [Eternal] Buddha’s words are
     true or false.

“I am like the masterful healer [in the parable].
Because he tactfully uses whatever means
     necessary to cure his stricken children,
he sends word of his death even though he is
     actually alive.
Nevertheless, no one can accuse him of lying or
     abandon.
Likewise, I am the father of this [mortal] world
ever healing the miserable of their sufferings and
     afflictions.
[Here] where people as a matter of course lose
     control of their minds
I appear to be absent even though I am ever-
     present.
If seeing me was easy [requiring no yearning, no
     readiness, no effort],
all mortals would be spoiled by arrogance and
     self-aggrandizement.
Thinking that they [are immortal and as such]
     can do anything they wished,
they would become rooted in the obsessions of
     the five senses
and inured in the lowly ways [of violence,
     avarice, anger, and selfishness].

“I am forever tuned in to all mortal beings,
those who choose the noble path, and those who
     do otherwise.
Guiding them [patiently] as is appropriate for
     their salvation
I appear [here and there] as one or another
     preacher
expounding different doctrines [to further their
     advancement].
Throughout it all, I keep one constant thought in
     my mind:
‘How can I cause all mortal beings
to meet the Perfectly Endowed Reality [of
     Everlasting Life]
so that immediately they may obtain Perfect
     Enlightenment equal to my own.’”

 

Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo
Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo
Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo…

 

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