Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma

translated from the Chinese of Kumarajiva by Leon Hurvitz

(Columbia Université Press, New-York, revised edition 2009)



AT THAT time, the Buddha declared to the bodhisattvas and all the great multitude: "Good men! Believe and understand the true speech of the Thus Come One!" Again he declared to the great multitude: "Believe and understand the true speech of the Thus Come One!" Again he declared to the great multitude: "Believe and understand the true speech of the Thus Come One!" At this time, the great multitude of bodhisattvas, Maitreya at their head, with palms joined addressed the Buddha, saying, "O World-Honored One! We beg you to speak it! We will accept with faith the words of the Buddha: When they had thus spoken three times, they again said, "We beg you to speak it! We will accept with faith the words of the Buddha." (1)

At that time, the World-Honored One, knowing that the bodhisattvas' plea, now thrice repeated, would not be stilled, declared to them, "All of you now listen with understanding to the power of the secret supernatural penetrations of the Thus Come One! In all the worlds, gods, men, and asuras all say that the present Sakyamunibuddha left the palace of the Sakya clan and at a place not far removed from the city of Gaya, seated on the platform of the path, attained anuttarasamyaksambodhi.

And yet, O good men, since in fact I achieved buddhahood it has been incalculable, limitless hundreds of thousands of myriads of millions of nayutas of kalpas. For example, one might imagine that in the five hundred thousand myriads of millions of nayutas of asarnkhyeyas of thousand-millionfold worlds there is a man who pounds them all to atoms, and then, only after passing eastward over five hundred thousand myriads of millions of nayutas of via ipkhyeyas of realms, deposits one atom, in this way in his eastward movement exhausting all these atoms. Good men! In your thinking, how Would it be? Could these world spheres be conceived of and counted? Could one know their number, or could one not?"

The bodhisattva Maitreya and the others together addressed the Buddha, saying, "O World-Honored One! These world spheres are incalculable, limitless, such as number cannot know nor the power of thought reach. No voice hearer or pratyekabuddha, with the aid of his knowledge without outflows, can think on or know their limit or their number. We, too, dwell­ing as we do on the soil of the avaivartya [point of nonbacksliding], cannot arrive at anything where this matter is concerned. O World-Honored One! So incalculable and limitless are these world spheres!"

At that time, the Buddha declared to the great multitude of bodhisattvas, "Good men! Now I will declare it to you plainly. If these world spheres, whether an atom was deposited in them or not, were all reduced to atoms, and if each atom were a kalpa, the time since my achievement of buddha­hood would exceed even this. For a hundred thousand myriads of millions of nayutas of asamkhyeyakalpas I have been constantly dwelling in this Saha world sphere, preaching the dharma, teaching and converting; also elsewhere, in a hundred thousand myriads of millions of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of realms [I have been] guiding and benefiting the beings. Good men! In this interval, I preached of the buddha Torch Burner and others (Dipamkaratathâgataprabhrtayah), and I also said of them that they had entered into nirvana. Things like this are all discriminations made as an expedient device.

O good men! If living beings come before me, I, with my buddha eye, observe the keenness or dullness of their faith and other faculties and, in keeping with their degrees of receptiveness to salvation, ascribe to myself names that are not the same and an age in years that is now great, now small. I also declare openly that I will enter into nirvana. Further, by resort to sundry expedient devices I preach a subtle dharma, being thus able to cause the beings to open their thoughts to joy.

O good men! The Thus Come One, seeing the beings' desire for a lesser dharma, their qualities thin and their defilements grave, preaches to such persons, saying, `In my youth I left my household and attained anuttarasamyak­sambodhi.' However, since in fact I achieved buddhahood it has been as long a stretch of time as this. It is merely by resort to an expedient device, in order to teach and convert living beings, to enable them to enter upon the buddha path, that I speak such words as these. O good men! The scriptural canon preached by the Thus Come One is all for the purpose of conveying living beings to deliverance. At times he speaks of his own body, at times of another's body; at times he shows his own body, at times an­other's body, at times his own affairs, at times another's affairs. Everything he says is reality, not vanity. What is the reason? The Thus Come One in full accord with reality knows and sees the marks of the triple sphere. There is no birth-and-death, whether withdrawal from or emergence into the world, nor is there any being in the world nor anyone who passes into extinction. [The triple sphere] is neither reality nor vanity, neither likeness nor difference. Not in the manner of the triple sphere does he view the triple sphere. Such matters as these the Thus Come One sees clearly, without confusion or error. Since the living beings have sundry natures, sundry desires, sundry actions, sundry recollections, notions, and discriminations; wishing to enable them to produce wholesome roots, by resort to divers parables and expressions in sundry ways he preaches the dharma. The buddha deeds that he does he has never stopped doing.

In this way, since my attainment of buddhahood it has been a very great interval of time. My life span is incalculable asarnkhyeyakalpas, ever enduring, never perishing. O good men! The life span I achieved in my former treading of the bodhisattva path even now is not exhausted, for it is twice the above number. Yet even now, though in reality I am not to pass into extinction, yet I proclaim that I am about to accept extinction. By resort to these expedient devices the Thus Come One teaches and converts the beings. What is the reason? If the Buddha were to dwell long in the world, men of thin qualities would not plant wholesome roots, while the lowly and the poor would crave the objects of the five desires and enter into the net of recollections, notions, and unwarranted views. If they were to see that the Thus Come One is ever present and unperishing, then they would conceive pride and willfulness and harbor impatience and negligence, unable to produce notions of something difficult to encounter or thoughts of humble reverence. It is for this reason that the Thus Come One preaches by resort to expedient devices, `Bhiksus! Know that a buddha's emergence into the world is a thing difficult to encounter.' What is the reason? Men of thin qualities may pass through incalculable hundreds of thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas, some having occasion to see a buddha, others not. For just this reason I say to them, `O bhiksus! A Thus Come One cannot easily be seen!' These beings, hearing such words, will invari­ably produce the notion of something difficult to encounter, and they will harbor longing in their hearts, looking up with thirst to the Buddha; then they will plant wholesome roots. It is for this reason that the Thus Come One, though in fact he is never extinct, yet speaks of passage into extinction. Also, O good men, the dharma of the buddhas, of the Thus Come Ones, having the sole purpose of conveying the beings to salvation, is in every case reality, not vanity.

"For example, suppose there is a good physician, wise and of penetrating sensitivity, who intelligently refines medical herbs and skillfully heals many sicknesses. That man has many sons—ten, or twenty, or as many as a hundred or more. On an affair of business, he goes far off to another realm. His sons, left behind, drink some other, poisonous medicines and show agonized pain and confusion, rolling about on the earth.

At this time their father returns home. The sons, having drunk poison, and some of them having lost their sanity, though others have not, are all overjoyed at seeing their father from afar. They kneel worshipfully and inquire after him, saying, `Welcome back to peace and security! We in our folly have made the mistake of taking poisonous medicine. We beg you to heal us and restore our lives to us!' The father, seeing how acute were the agonies of his sons, searched for good medicinal herbs, colorful, fragrant, and tasty, perfect in every way, guided by the prescriptions in his treatises. He pounded, sifted, and blended them, then gave them to his sons, ordering them to take them, speaking these words: `Take these great and good herbs, colorful, fragrant, and tasty, perfect in every way, for you shall then quickly be rid of your agonies, and shall never again be subject to a host of torments.' Among the sons, those who had not lost their sanity, seeing that these herbs were good in both color and fragrance, straightway took them, and their sickness was completely removed and healed. The others, who had lost their sanity, though when they saw their father coming they, too, inquired after him joyfully and sought a cure for their sickness, yet, when given the medicine, still would not take it.
What is the reason? It is that through the deep entry of the poisonous vapors they had lost their sanity. They said that this lovely, colorful, fragrant medicine was no good. The father thought: `These children are to be pitied! Their thoughts, having been affected by poison, are all topsy-turvy. Though when they saw me they rejoiced and sought relief, fine medicine like this they will not consent to take! I must now devise an expedient with which to induce them to take this medicine.' Straightway he spoke these words: `You all should know that I am now aged and infirm, and that my time of death is already at hand. This fine and good medicine I now leave here for you to take. Have no concern about not recovering!' When he had given these instructions, he went again to another realm and then sent a messenger back to declare, `Your father is dead!' At this time, the sons, hearing that their father had forsaken them, felt much anguish in their hearts, and thought: `If our father were here, he would take pity on us, and we could be saved and protected; but now he has forsaken us, having gone far off to die in another country!' Thinking themselves forsaken and exposed, having nothing further on which to rely, they ever harbored feelings of sadness. It is only when at length their thoughts were awakened that they understood that the medicine was colorful, fragrant, and tasty. Then straightway they took it, and the poisons and the sickness were all healed. The father, hearing that his sons had all achieved a cure, then came back, enabling all to see him. O good men! In your thinking, how is it? Is there any man who can say that this good physician is guilty of the sin of willfully false speech, or is there not?"

"There is not, O World Honored One."

The Buddha said, "So, too, am I. Since my achievement of buddhahood it has been incalculable, limitless hundred thousands of myriads of millions of nayutas of asarnkhyeyakalpas. For the beings' sake, by resort to my power of expedient devices I say that I shall pass into extinction. Still there is no one who can, in keeping with the dharma, say that I am guilty of the sin of willfully false speech."

At that time, the World-Honored One, wishing to restate this meaning, proclaimed gathas, saying:

Since I attained buddhahood,
Throughout the number of kalpas that have passed,
Incalculable hundred thousands of myriads
Of million times asamkhyeyas,
Ever have I been preaching dharma, teaching and converting.
Countless millions of living beings
Have I caused to enter into the buddha path, (2)
Since which time it has been incalculable kalpas.
For the beings' sake,
And as an expedient device, I make a show of nirvana;
Yet in fact I do not pass into extinction,
But ever dwell here and preach dharma.
I, ever dwelling here,
By the power of my supernatural penetrations,
Cause the topsy-turvy living beings,
Though they are near, not to see. (3)
The multitude, seeing me passed into extinction,
Broadly make offerings to my sarira,
All harboring feelings of longing
And conceiving the thought of looking up in thirst.
The beings, bowed down in faith,
Straightforward and honest, their minds gentle and pliant,
Single-mindedly desiring to see the Buddha, (4)
Do not begrudge their own bodily lives.
At that time 1, together with my multitudinous samgha,
Emerge on the Mount of the Numinous Eagle.
I then tell the beings
That I will ever be here, not becoming extinct,
And that it was by resort to the power of an expedient device
That I made a show of extinction or nonextinction.
Other realms possess living beings
Humbly reverent and with faith desiring,
In whose midst also
And for whose sakes I preach the unexcelled dharma.
Not hearing this, you all
Did but imagine that I should pass into extinction.
I, seeing the beings
Sunk in a sea of woe,
And for that reason not displaying my body to them,
Caused them to look up in thirst.
When their thoughts aspired with longing,
Only then did I appear and preach dharma to them:
Such is the power of my supernatural penetrations.
Throughout asarnkhyeyakalpas
Ever am I on the Mount of the Numinous Eagle
And in my other dwelling places.
When the beings see the kalpa ending
And being consumed by a great fire,
This land of mine is perfectly safe,
Ever full of gods and men;
In it are gardens and groves, halls and towers,
Variously adorned with gems,
As well as jeweled trees with many blossoms and fruits,
Wherein the beings play and amuse themselves;
Where the gods beat their divine drums,
Making melodies most skillfully played,
And rain down mândârava flowers,
Scattering them on the Buddha and his great multitude. (5)
My pure land is not destroyed,
Yet the multitude, seeing it consumed with flame,
Are worried, and fear the torment of pain;
The likes of these are everywhere.
These sin-ridden beings,
By reason of their evil deeds,
Throughout asamkhyeyakalpas
Do not hear the name of the three jewels.*
Those who have cultivated merit,
Who are gentle and agreeable, straightforward and honest,
All do, however, see my body
Dwelling here and preaching dharma. (6)
At times to this multitude
I preach that the Buddha's life span is incalculable;
Then, at length, to those who finally see the Buddha,
I preach that the Buddha is hard to encounter.
Such is the power of my knowledge,
The rays of my wisdom having an incalculable glow,
My life span being of numberless kalpas,
Gained after cultivation of long practice.
All of you, who have knowledge,
Entertain no doubts in this regard!
You must cut them off and forever banish them,
For the Buddha's word is not vain.
As a physician skilled in expedient devices,
In order to heal a son gone mad,
Is in fact living but says he is dead,
Yet none can say he tells a willful lie,
So I, too, father of the world that I am,
Savior from woe and suffering,
Because ordinary fellows are set on their heads,
Though I really live, say I am in extinction.
Otherwise, because they constantly see me,
They would conceive thoughts of pride and arrogance,
Recklessly clinging to the objects of the five desires
And falling into evil destinies.
I, ever knowing the living beings
Who tread the path and those who do not,
In response to those who may be saved
Preach to them a variety of dharmas,
Each time having this thought:
"How may I cause the beings
To contrive to enter the unexcelled path
And quickly to perfect the buddha body?" (7)

*Buddha, dharma (in the sense of enunciated doctrine), and saingha.


1. By this count, the plea was made four times, whereas in the Skt. it was made only three.
2. "I take many bodhisattvas and set them up in buddha knowledge."
3. "Thereupon I preside over myself and over all living beings, / and deluded men, their understanding set on its head, though standing right there, do not see me. //"
4. "... their desires released."
5. "... and scatter them over me and the auditors and over whichever other wise ones have set forth for enlightened intuition. //"
6. The Skt. adds: "Nor do I ever tell them of this so unexcelled doing of mine. /"
7. "How now shall I lead them toward enlightened intuition? How shah they become recipients of the buddhadharmas? //"


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