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Buddha: The father and the burning house

Page history last edited by Peg Syverson 11 years, 8 months ago

"Shariputra, suppose that in a certain town in a certain country there was a very rich man. He was far along in years and his wealth was beyond measure. He had many fields, houses and menservants. His own house was big and rambling, but it had only one gate. A great many people--a hundred, two hundred, perhaps as many as Five Hundred--lived in the house. The halls and rooms were old and decaying, the walls crumbling, the pillars rotten at their base, and the beams and rafters crooked and aslant.


"At that time a fire suddenly broke out on all sides, spreading through the rooms of the house. The sons of the rich man, ten, twenty perhaps thirty, were inside the house. When the rich man saw the huge flames leaping up on every side, he was greatly alarmed and fearful and thought to himself, I can escape to safety through the flaming gate, but my sons are inside the burning house enjoying themselves and playing games, unaware, unknowing, without alarm or fear. The fire is closing in on them, suffering and pain threaten them, yet their minds have no sense of loathing or peril and they do not think of trying to escape!


"Shariputra, this rich man thought to himself, I have strength in my body and arms. I can wrap them in a robe or place them on a bench and carry them out of the house. And then again he thought, this house has only one gate, and moreover it is narrow and small.


My sons are very young, they have no understanding, and they love their games, being so engrossed in them that they are likely to be burned in the fire. I must explain to them why I am fearful and alarmed. The house is already in flames and I must get them out quickly and not let them be burned up in the fire!


"Having thought in this way, he followed his plan and called to all his sons, saying, 'You must come out at once!" But though the father was moved by pity and gave good words of instruction, the sons were absorbed in their games and unwilling to heed them. They had no alarm, no fright, and in the end no mind to leave the house. Moreover, they did not understand what the fire was, what the house was, what the danger was. They merely raced about this way and that in play and looked at their father without heeding him.


"At that time the rich man had this thought: the house is already in flames from this huge fire. If I and my sons do not get out at once, we are certain to be burned. I must now invent some expedient means that will make it possible for the children to escape harm.


"The father understood his sons and knew what various toys and curious objects each child customarily liked and what would delight them. And so he said to them, 'The kind of playthings you like are rare and hard to find. If you do not take them when you can, you will surely regret it later. For example, things like these goat-carts, deer-carts and ox-carts. They are outside the gate now where you can play with them. So you must come out of this burning house at once. Then whatever ones you want, I will give them all to you!'


"At that time, when the sons heard their father telling them about these rare playthings, because such things were just what they had wanted, each felt emboldened in heart and, pushing and shoving one another, they all came wildly dashing out of the burning house.


"At that time the rich man, seeing that his sons had gotten out safely and all were seated on the open ground at the crossroads and were no longer in danger, was greatly relieved and his mind danced for joy. At that time each of the sons said to his father, "the playthings you promised us earlier, the goat-carts and deer-carts and ox-carts--please give them to us now!'


"Shariputra, at that time the rich man gave to each of his sons a large carriage of uniform size and quality. The carriages were tall and spacious and adorned with numerous jewels. A railing ran all around them and bells hung from all four sides. A canopy was stretched over the top, which was also decorated with an assortment of precious jewels. Ropes of jewels twined around, a fringe of flowers hung down, and layers of cushions were spread inside, on which were placed vermillion pillows. Each carriage was drawn by a white ox, pure and clean in hide, handsome in form and of great strength, capable of pulling the carriage smoothly and properly at a pace fast as the wind. In addition, there were many grooms and servants to attend and guard the carriage.


"What was the reason for this? This rich man's wealth was limitless and he had many kinds of storehouses that were all filled and overflowing. And he thought to himself, 'There is no end to my possessions. It would not be right if I were to give my sons small carriages of inferior make. These little boys are all my sons and I love them without partiality. I have countless numbers of large carriages adorned with seven kinds of gems. I should be fair-minded and give one to each of my sons. I should not show any discrimination. Why? Because even if I distributed these possessions of mine to every person in the whole country I would still not exhaust them, much less could I do so by giving them to my sons!


"At that time each of the sons mounted his large carriage, gaining something he had never had before, something he had originally never expected. Shariputra, what do you think of this? When this rich man impartially handed out to his sons these big carriages adorned with rare jewels, was he guilty of falsehood or not?"


Shariputra said, "No, World-Honored One. This rich man simply made it possible for his sons to escape the peril of fire and preserve their lives. He did not commit a falsehood. Why do I say this? Because if they were able to preserve their lives, then they had already obtained a plaything of sorts. And how much more so when, through an expedient means, they are rescued from that burning house! World-Honored One, even if the rich man had not given them the tiniest carriage, he would still not be guilty of falsehood. Why? Because this rich man had earlier made up his mind that he would employ an expedient means to cause his sons to escape. Using a device of this kind was no act of falsehood. How much less so, then, when the rich man knew that his wealth was limitless and he intended to enrich and benefit his sons by giving each of them a large carriage."


The Buddha said to Shariputra, "Very good, very good. In is just as you have said. And Shariputra, the Thus Come One is like this. That is, he is a father to all the world. His fears, cares and anxieties, ignorance and misunderstanding, have long come to an end, leaving no residue. He has fully succeeded in acquiring measureless insight, power and freedom from fear and gaining great supernatural powers and the power of wisdom. He is endowed with expedient means and the paramita of wisdom, his great pity and great compassion are constant and unflagging; at all times he seeks what is good and will bring benefit to all.


'He is born into the threefold world, a burning house, rotten and old. In order to save living beings from the fires of birth, old age, sickness and death, care suffering, stupidity, misunderstanding, and the three poisons; to teach and convert them and enable them to attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.


"He sees living beings seared and consumed by birth, old age, sickness and death, care and suffering, sees them undergo many kinds of pain because of their greed and attachment and striving they undergo numerous pains in their present existence, and later they undergo the pain of being reborn in hell or as beasts or hungry spirits. Even if they are reborn in the heavenly realm or the realm of human beings, they undergo the pain of poverty and want, the pain of parting from loved ones, the pain of encountering those they detest--all these many different kinds of pain.


"Yet living beings drowned in the midst of all this, delight and amuse themselves, unaware, unknowing, without alarm or fear. They feel no sense of loathing and make no attempt to escape. In this burning house which is the threefold world, they race about to east and west, and though they encounter great pain, they are not distressed by it.


Shariputra, when the Buddha sees this, then he thinks to himself, I am the father of living beings and I should rescue them from their sufferings and give them the joy of the measureless and boundless Buddha wisdom so that they may find their enjoyment in that.


"Shariputra, the Thus Come One also has this thought: if I should merely employ supernatural powers and the power of wisdom; if I should set aside expedient means and for the sake of living beings should praise the Thus Come One's insight, power and freedom from fear, then living beings would not be able to gain salvation. Why? Because these living beings have not yet escaped from birth, old age, sickness, death, care and suffering, but are consumed by flames in the burning house that is the threefold world. How could they be able to understand the Buddha's wisdom?


"Shariputra, that rich man, though he had strength in his body and arms, did not use it. He merely employed a carefully contrived expedient means and thus was able to rescue his sons from the peril of the burning house, and afterward gave each of them a large carriage adorned with rare jewels. And the Thus Come One does the same. Though he possesses power and freedom from fear, he does not use these. He merely employs wisdom and expedient means to rescue living beings from the burning house of the threefold world, expounding to them the three vehicles, the vehicle of the voice-hearer, that of pratyekabuddha, and that of the Buddha.


"He says to them, 'You must not be content to stay in this burning house of the threefold world! Do not be greedy for its coarse and shoddy forms, sounds, scents, tastes and sensations! If you become attached to them and learn to love them, you will be burned up! You must come out of this threefold world at once so that you can acquire the three vehicles, the vehicles of the voice-hearer, the pratyekabuddha and the Buddha. I promise you now that you will get them, and that promise will never prove false. You have only to apply yourselves with diligent effort!'


"The Thus Come One employs this expedient means to lure living beings into action. And then he says to them, 'You should understand that these doctrines of the three vehicles are all praised by the sages. They are free, without entanglements, leaving nothing further to depend upon or seek. Mount these three vehicles, gain roots that are without outflows, gain powers, awareness, the way, meditation, emancipation, samadhis, and then enjoy yourselves. You will gain the delight of immeasurable peace and safety.'


"Shariputra, if there are living beings who are inwardly wise in nature, and who attend the Buddha, the World-Honored One, hear the Law, believe and accept it, and put forth diligent effort, desiring to escape quickly from the threefold world and seeking to attain nirvana, they shall be called [those who ride] the vehicle of the voice hearer.

They are like those sons who left the burning house in the hope of acquiring goat-carts.


"If there are living beings who attend the Buddha, the World-Honored One, hear the Law, believe and accept it, and put forth diligent effort, seeking wisdom that comes of itself, taking solitary delight in goodness and tranquility, and profoundly understanding the causes and conditions of all phenomena, they shall be called [those who ride] the vehicle of the pratyekabuddha. They are like the sons who left the burning house in the hope of acquiring deer-carts.

"If there are living beings who attend the Buddha, the World-Honored One, hear the Law, believe and accept it, and put forth diligent effort, seeking comprehensive wisdom, the insight of the Thus Come One, powers and freedom from fear, who pity and comfort countless living beings, bring benefit to heavenly and human beings, and save them all, they shall be called [those who ride] the Great Vehicle. Because the bodhisattvas seek this vehicle, they are called mahasattvas. They are like the sons who left the burning house in the hope of acquiring ox-carts.


"Shariputra, that rich man, seeing that his sons had all gotten out of the burning house safely and were no longer threatened, recalled that his wealth was immeasurable and presented each of his sons with a large carriage. And the Thus Come One does likewise. He is the father of all living beings. When he sees that countless thousands of millions of living beings, through the gateway of the Buddha's teaching, can escape the pains of the threefold world, the fearful and perilous road, and gain the delights of nirvana, the Thus Come One at that time has this thought: I possess measureless, boundless wisdom, power, fearlessness, the storehouse of the Law of the Buddhas. These living beings are all my sons. I will give the Great Vehicle to all of them equally so that there will not be those who gain extinction by themselves, but that all may do so through the extinction of the Thus Come One.


"To all the living beings who have escaped from the threefold world he then gives the delightful gifts of the meditation, emancipation, and so forth, of the Buddhas. All these are uniform in characteristics, uniform in type, praised by the sages, capable of producing pure, wonderful, supreme delight.


"Shariputra, that rich man first used three types of carriages to entice his sons, but later he gave them just the large carriage adorned with jewels, the safest, most comfortable kind of all. Despite this, that rich man was not guilty of falsehood. The Thus Come One does the same, and he is without falsehood. First he preaches the three vehicles to attract and guide living beings, but later he employs just the Great Vehicle to save them. Why? The Thus Come One possesses measureless wisdom, power, freedom from fear, the storehouse of the Law. He is capable of giving to all living beings the Law of the Great Vehicle. But not all of them are capable of receiving it.


"Shariputra, for this reason you should understand that the Buddhas employ the power of expedient means.


The verse form:

Suppose there was a rich man

who had a large house.

This house was very old,

and decayed and dilapidated as well.

The halls, though lofty, were in dangerous condition

beams and rafters were slating and askew,

foundations and steps were crumbling.

Walls were cracked and gaping

and the plaster had fallen off of them.

The roof thatch was in disrepair or missing,

the tips of the eaves had dropped off.

The fences surrounding it were crooked or collapsed

and heaped rubbish was piled all around.

Some Five Hundred persons

lived in the house.

Kites, owls, hawks, eagles,

crows, magpies, doves, pigeons,

lizards, snakes, vipers, scorpions,

centipedes and millipedes,

newts and ground beetles,

weasels, raccoon dogs, mice, rats,

hordes of evil creatures

scurried this way and that.

Places that stank of excrement

overflowed in streams of filth

where dung beetles and other creatures gathered.

Foxes, wolves and jackals

gnawed and trampled in the filth

or tore apart dead bodies,

scattering bones and flesh about.

Because of this, packs of dogs

came racing to the spot to snatch and tear,

driven by hunger and fear,

searching everywhere for food,

fighting, struggling and seizing,

baring their teeth, snarling and howling.

That house was fearful, frightening,

so altered was its aspect.

In every part of it

there were goblins and trolls,

yakshas and evil spirits

who feed on human flesh

or on poisonous creatures.

The various evil birds and beasts

bore offspring, hatched and nursed them,

each hiding and protecting its young,

but the yakshas outdid one another

in their haste to seize and eat them.

And when they had eaten their fill,

their evil hearts became fiercer than ever;

the sound of their wrangling and contention

was terrifying indeed.

Kumbhanda demons

crouched on clumps of earth

or leaped one or two feet

off the ground,

idling, wandering here and there,

amusing themselves according to their whims.

Sometimes they seized a dog by two of its legs

and beat it till it had lost its voice,

or planted their feet on the dog's neck,

terrifying it for their own delight.

Again there were demons

with large tall bodies,

naked in form, black and emaciated

constantly living there,

who would cry out in loud ugly voices,

shouting and demanding food.

There were other demons

whose throats were like needles,

or still other demons

with heads like the head of an ox,

some feeding on human flesh,

others devouring dogs.

Their hair like tangled weeds,

cruel, baleful, ferocious,

driven by hunger and thirst,

they dashed about shrieking and howling.

The yakshas and starving spirits

and the various evil birds and beasts

hungrily pressed forward in all directions,

peering out at the windows.

Such were the perils of this house,

threats and terrors beyond measure.

This house, old and rotting,

belonged to a certain man

and that man had gone nearby

and he had not been out for long

when a fire

suddenly broke out in the house.

In one moment from all four sides

the flames rose up in a mass.

Ridgepoles, beams, rafters, pillars

exploded with a roar, quivering, splitting,

broke in two and came rumbling down

as walls and partitions collapsed.

The various demons and spirits

lifted their voices in a great wail,

the hawks, eagles and other birds,

the kumbhanda demons,

were filled with panic and terror,

not knowing how to escape.

The evil beasts and poisonous creatures

hid in their holes and dens,

and the pishacha demons,

who were also living there,

because they had done so little that was good,

were oppressed by the flames

and attacked one another,

drinking blood and gobbling flesh.

The jackals and their like

were already dead by this time

and the larger of the evil beasts

vied in devouring them.

Foul smoke swirled and billowed up,

filling the house on every side.

The centipedes and millipedes,

the poisonous snakes and their kind,

scorched by the flames,

came scurrying out of their lairs,

whereupon the kumbhanda demons

pounced on them and ate them.

In addition, the starving spirits,

the fire raging about their heads,

hungry, thirsty, tormented by the heat,

raced this way and that in terror and confusion.

Such was the state of that house,

truly frightening and fearful;

malicious injury, the havoc of fire-

many ills, not just one, afflicted it.

At this time the owner of the house

was standing outside the gate

when he heard someone say,

"A while ago your various sons,

in order to play their games,

went inside the house.

They are very young and lack understanding

and will be wrapped up in their amusements."

When the rich man heard this,

he rushed in alarm into the burning house,

determined to rescue his sons

and keep them from being burned by the flames.

He urged his sons to heed him,

explaining the many dangers and perils,

the evil spirits and poisonous creatures,

the flames spreading all around,

the multitude of sufferings

that would follow one another without end,

the poisonous snakes, lizards and vipers,

as well as the many yakshas

and kumbhanda demons,

the jackals, foxes and dogs,

hawks, eagles, kites, owls,

ground beetles and similar creatures

driven and tormented by hunger and thirst,

truly things to be feared.

His sons could not stay in such a perilous place,

much less when it was all on fire!

But the sons had no understanding

and although they heard their father's warnings,

they continued engrossed in their amusements,

never ceasing their games.

At that time the rich man

thought to himself:

My sons may behave in this manner,

adding to my grief and anguish.

In this house at present

there is not a single joy,

and yet my sons,

wrapped up in their games,

refuse to heed my instructions

and will be destroyed by the fire!

Then it occurred to him

to devise some expedient means,

and he said to his sons,

"I have many kinds

of rare and marvelous toys,

wonderful jeweled carriages,

goat-carts, deer-carts,

carts drawn by big oxen.

They are outside the gate right now

you must come out and see them!

I have fashioned these carts

explicitly for you.

You may enjoy whichever you choose,

play with them as you like!

When the sons heard

this description of the carts,

at once they vied with one another

in dashing out of the house,

till they reached the open ground,

away from all peril and danger.

When the rich man saw that his sons

had escaped from the burning house

and were standing in the crossroads,

he seated himself on a lion seat,

congratulating himself in these words:

"Now I am content and happy.

These sons of mine

have been very difficult to raise.

Ignorant, youthful, without understanding,

they entered that perilous house

with its many poisonous creatures

and its goblins to be feared.

The roaring flames of the great fire

rose up on all four sides,

yet those sons of mine

still clung to their games.

But now I have saved them,

caused them to escape from danger.

That is the reason, good people,

I am content and happy."

At that time the sons,

seeing their father comfortably seated,

all went to where he was

and said to him:

"Please give us

the three kinds of jeweled carriages

you promised us earlier.

You said if we came out of the house

you'd give us three kinds of carts

and we could choose whichever we wished.

Now is the time

to give them to us!"

The rich man was very wealthy

and had many storehouses.

With gold, silver, lapis lazuli,

seashells, agate,

and other such precious things

he fashioned large carriages

beautifully adorned and decorated,

with railings running around them

and bells hanging from all sides.

Ropes of gold twisted and twined,

nets of pearls

stretched over the top,

and fringes of golden flowers

hung down everywhere.

Multicolored decorations

wound around and encircled the carriages,

soft silks and gauzes

served for cushions,

with fine felts of most wonderful make

valued at thousands or millions,

gleaming white and pure,

to spread over them.

There were large white oxen,

sleek, stalwart, of great strength,

handsome in form,

to draw the jeweled carriages,

and numerous grooms and attendants

to accompany and guard them.

These wonderful carriages

the man presented to each of his sons alike.

The sons at that time

danced for joy,

mounting the jeweled carriages,

driving off in all directions,

delighting and amusing themselves

freely and without hindrance.

I say this to you, Shariputra-

I am like this rich man.

I, most venerable of the sages,

am the father of this world

and all living beings

are my children.

But they are deeply attached to worldly pleasures

and lacking in minds of wisdom.

There is no safety in the threefold world;

it is like a burning house,

replete with a multitude of sufferings,

truly to be feared,

constantly beset with the griefs and pains

of birth, old age, sickness and death,

which are like fires

raging fiercely and without cease.

The Thus Come One has already left

the burning house of the threefold world

and dwells in tranquil quietude

in the safety of forest and plain.

But now this threefold world

is all my domain,

and the living beings in it

are all my children.

Now this place

is beset by many pains and trials.

I am the only person

who can rescue and protect others,

but though I teach and instruct them,

they do not believe or accept my teachings,

because, tainted by desires,

they are deeply immersed in greed and attachment.

So, I employ an expedient means,

describing to them the three vehicles,

causing all living beings

to understand the pains of the threefold world,

and then I set forth and expound

a way whereby they can escape from the world.

If these children of mine

will only determine in their minds to do so,

they can acquire all the three understandings

and the six transcendental powers,

can become pratyekabuddhas

or bodhisattvas who never regress.

I say to you, Shariputra,

for the sake of living beings

I employ these similes and parables

to preach the single Buddha vehicle.

If you and the others are capable

of believing and accepting my words,

then all of you are certain

to attain the Buddha way.

This vehicle is subtle, wonderful,

foremost in purity;

throughout all worlds

it stands unsurpassed.

The Buddha delights in and approves it,

and all living beings

should praise it,

offer it alms and obeisance.

There are immeasurable thousands of millions

of powers, emancipations,

meditations, wisdoms,

and other attributes of the Buddha.

But if the children can obtain this vehicle,

it will allow them

day and night for unnumbered kalpas

to find constant enjoyment,

to join the bodhisattvas

and the multitude of voice-hearers

in mounting this jeweled vehicle

and proceeding directly to the place of practice.

For these reasons,

though one should seek diligently in the ten directions,

he will find no other vehicles

except when the Buddha preaches them as an expedient means.

I tell you, Shariputra,

you and the others

are all my children,

and I am a father to you.

For repeated kalpas

you have burned in the flames of manifold sufferings,

but I will save you all

and cause you to escape from the threefold world.

Although earlier I told you

that you had attained extinction,

that was only the end of birth and death,

it was not true extinction.

Now what is needed

is simply that you acquire Buddha wisdom.

If there are bodhisattvas

here in this assembly,

let them with a single mind

listen to the true Law of the Buddhas.

Though the Buddhas, the World-Honored Ones,

employ expedient means,

the living beings converted by them

are all bodhisattvas.

If there are persons of little wisdom

who are deeply attached to love and desire,

because they are that way,

the Buddha preaches for them the rule of suffering.

Then the living beings will be glad in mind,

having gained what they never had before.

The rule of suffering which the Buddha preaches

is true and never varies.

If there are living beings

who do not understand the root of suffering,

who are deeply attached to the causes of suffering

and cannot for a moment put them aside,

because they are that way,

the Buddha uses expedient means to preach the way.

As to the cause of all suffering,

it has its root in greed and desire.

If greed and desire are wiped out,

it will have no place to dwell.

To wipe out all suffering-

this is called the third rule.

For the sake of this rule, the rule of extinction,

one practices the way.

And when one escapes from the bonds of suffering

this is called attaining emancipation.

By what means

can a person attain emancipation?

Separating oneself from falsehood and delusion-

this alone may be called emancipation.

But if a person has not truly

been able to emancipate himself from everything,

then the Buddha will say

he has not achieved true extinction,

because such a person

has not yet gained the unsurpassed way.

My purpose is not to try

to cause them to reach extinction.

I am the Dharma King,

free to do as I will with the Law.

To bring peace and safety to living beings-

that is the reason I appear in the world.

I say to you, Shariputra,

this Dharma seal of mine

I preach because I wish

to bring benefit to the world.

You must not recklessly transmit it

wherever you happen to wander.

If there is someone who hears it,

responds with joy and gratefully accepts it,

you should know that person

is an avivartika.

If there is someone who believes and accepts

the Law of this sutra,

that person has already seen

the Buddhas of the past,

has respectfully offered alms to them

and listened to this Law.

If there is someone who can

believe what you preach

then that person has seen me,

and has also seen you

and the other monks

and the bodhisattvas.

This Lotus Sutra

is preached for those with profound wisdom.

If persons of shallow understanding hear it,

they will be perplexed and fail to comprehend.

As for all the voice-hearers

and pratyekabuddhas,

in this sutra there are things

that are beyond their powers.

Even you, Shariputra,

in the case of this sutra

were able to gain entrance through faith alone.

How much more so, then, the other voice-hearers.

Those other voice-hearers

it is because they have faith in the Buddha's words

that they can comply with this sutra,

not because of any wisdom of their own.

Also, Shariputra,

to persons who are arrogant or lazy

or taken up with views of the self,

do not preach this sutra.

Those with the shallow understandings of ordinary persons,

who are deeply attached to the five desires,

cannot comprehend it when they hear it.

Do not preach it to them.

If a person fails to have faith

but instead slanders this sutra,

immediately he will destroy all the seeds

for becoming a Buddha in this world.

Or perhaps he will scowl with knitted brows

and harbor doubt or perplexity.

Listen and I will tell you

the penalty this person must pay.

Whether the Buddha is in the world

or has already entered extinction,

if this person should slander

a sutra such as this,

or on seeing those who read, recite,

copy and uphold this sutra,

should despise, hate, envy,

or bear grudges against them,

the penalty this person must pay

listen, I will tell you now:

When his life comes to an end

he will enter the Avichi hell,

be confined there for a whole kalpa,

and when the kalpa ends, be born there again.

He will keep repeating this cycle

for a countless number of kalpas.

Though he may emerge from hell,

he will fall into the realm of beasts,

becoming a dog or jackal,

his form lean and scruffy,

dark, discolored, with scabs and sores,

something for men to make sport of.

Or again he will

be hated and despised by men,

constantly plagued by hunger and thirst,

his bones and flesh dried up,

in life undergoing torment and hardship,

in death buried beneath the tiles and stones.

Because he cut off the seeds of Buddhahood

he will suffer this penalty.

If he should become a camel

or be born in the shape of a donkey,

his body will constantly bear heavy burdens

and have the stick or whip laid on it.

He will think only of water and grass

and understand nothing else.

Because he slandered this sutra,

this is the punishment he will incur.

Or he will be born as a jackal

who comes to the village,

body all scabs and sores,

having only one eye,

by the boys

beaten and cuffed,

suffering grief and pain,

sometimes to the point of death.

And after he has died

he will be born again in the body of a serpent,

long and huge in size,

measuring Five Hundred yojanas,

deaf, witless, without feet,

slithering along on his belly,

with little creatures

biting and feeding on him,

day and night undergoing hardship,

never knowing rest.

Because he slandered this sutra,

this is the punishment he will incur.

If he should become a human being,

his faculties will be blighted and dull,

he will be puny, vile, bent, crippled,

blind, deaf, hunchbacked.

The things he says

people will not believe,

the breath from his mouth will be constantly foul,

he will be possessed by devils,

poor and lowly,

ordered around by others,

plagued by many ailments, thin and gaunt,

having no one to turn to.

Though he attached himself to others,

they would never think of him;

though he might gain something,

he would at once lose or forget it.

Though he might practice the art of medicine

and by its methods cure someone's disease,

the person would grow sicker from some other malady

and perhaps in the end would die.

If he himself had an illness,

no one would aid or nurse him,

and though he took good medicine,

it would only make his condition worse.

If others should turn against him,

he would find himself plundered and robbed.

His sins would be such

that they would bring unexpected disaster on him.

A sinful person of this sort

will never see the Buddha,

the king of the many sages,

preaching the Law, teaching and converting.

A sinful person of this sort

will constantly be born amid difficulties,

crazed, deaf, confused in mind,

and never will hear the Law.

For countless kalpas

numerous as Ganges sands

he will at birth become deaf and dumb,

his faculties impaired,

will constantly dwell in hell,

strolling in it as though it were a garden,

and the other evil paths of existence

he will look on as his own home.

Camel, donkey, pig, dog-

these will be the forms he will take on.

Because he slandered this sutra,

this is the punishment he will incur.

If he should become a human being,

he will be deaf, blind, dumb.

Poverty, want, all kinds of decay

will be his adornment;

water blisters, diabetes,

scabs, sores, ulcers,

maladies such as these

will be his garments.

His body will always smell bad,

filthy and impure.

Deeply attached to views of self,

he will grow in anger and hatred;

aflame with licentious desires,

he will not spurn even birds or beasts.

Because he slandered this sutra,

this is the punishment he will incur.

I tell you, Shariputra,

if I were to describe the punishments that fall

on persons who slander this sutra,

I could exhaust a kalpa and never come to the end.

For this reason

I expressly say to you,

do not preach this sutra

to persons who are without wisdom.

But if there are those of keen capacities,

wise and understanding,

of much learning and strong memory,

who seek the Buddha way,

then to persons such as this

it is permissible to preach it.

If there are persons who have seen

hundreds and thousands and millions of Buddhas,

have planted many good roots

and are firm and deeply committed in mind,

then to persons such as this

it is permissible to preach it.

If there are persons who are diligent,

constantly cultivating a compassionate mind,

not begrudging life or limb,

then it is permissible to preach it.

If there are persons who are respectful, reverent

with minds set on nothing else,

who separate themselves from common folly

to live alone among mountains and waters,

then to persons such as this

it is permissible to preach it.

Again, Shariputra,

if you see a person

who thrusts aside evil friends

and associates with good companions,

then to a person such as this

it is permissible to preach it.

If you see a son of the Buddha

observing the precepts, clean and spotless

as a pure bright gem,

seeking the Great Vehicle Sutra,

then to a person such as this

it is permissible to preach it.

If a person is without anger,

upright and gentle in nature,

constantly pitying all beings,

respectful and reverent to the Buddhas,

then to a person such as this

it is permissible to preach it.

Again, if a son of the Buddha

in the midst of the great assembly

should with a pure mind

employ various causes and conditions,

similes, parables, and other expressions

to preach the Law in unhindered fashion,

to a person such as this

it is permissible to preach it.

If there are monks who,

for the sake of comprehensive wisdom,

seek the Law in every direction,

pressing palms together, gratefully accepting,

desiring only to accept and embrace

the sutra of the Great Vehicle

and not accepting a single verse

of the other sutras,

to persons such as this

it is permissible to preach it.

If a person, earnest in mind,

seeks this sutra

as though he were seeking the Buddha's relics,

and having gained and gratefully accepted it,

that person shows no intention

of seeking other sutras

and has never once given thought

to the writings of the non-Buddhist doctrines,

to a person such as this

it is permissible to preach it.

I tell you Shariputra,

if I described all the characteristics

of those who seek the Buddha way,

I could exhaust a kalpa and never be done.

Persons of this type

are capable of believing and understanding.

Therefore for them you should preach

the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law.


The Lotus Sutra, Chapter 3

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