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)
16 - THE LIFE SPAN OF THE THUS COME ONE
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.
"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,
*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.