The Lotus Sutra
Translated by Burton Watson
Chapter Fifteen: Emerging from the Earth
At that time the bodhisattvas and mahasattvas who had gathered from the lands of the other directions, greater in number than sands of eight Ganges, stood up in the midst of the great assembly, pressed their palms together, bowed in obeisance and said to the Buddha: "World-Honored One, if you will permit us in the age after the Buddha has entered extinction to diligently and earnestly protect, read, recite, copy and offer alms to this sutra in the saha world, we will preach it widely throughout this land!"
At that time the Buddha said to the bodhisattvas and mahasattvas: Leave off, good men! There is no need for you to protect this sutra. Why? Because in this saha world of mine there are bodhisattvas and mahasattvas who are as numerous as the sands of sixty thousand Ganges, and each of these bodhisattvas has a retinue equal to the sands of sixty thousand Ganges. After I have entered extinction these persons will be able to protect, read, recite and widely preach this sutra.
When the Buddha spoke these words, the earth of the thousand millionfold countries of the saha world all trembled and split open, and out of it emerged at the same instant immeasurable thousands, ten thousands, millions of bodhisattvas and mahasattvas. The bodies of these bodhisattvas were all golden in hue, with the thirty-two features and an immeasurable brightness. Previously they all had been dwelling in the world of empty space beneath the saha world. But when these bodhisattvas heard the voice of the Shakyamuni Buddha speaking, they came up from below.
Each one of these bodhisattvas was the leader of his own great assembly, and each brought with him a retinue equal in number to the sands of sixty thousand Ganges. To say nothing of those who brought retinues equal to the sands of fifty thousand, forty thousand, thirty thousand, twenty thousand, or ten thousand Ganges. Or a retinue equal to as little as the sands of one Ganges, half a Ganges, one fourth of a Ganges, or as little as one part in a thousand, ten thousand, a million nayutas of Ganges. Or those whose retinue was only one thousand ten thousand million nayutas. Or only a million ten thousand. Or only a thousand ten thousand, a hundred ten thousand, or just ten thousand. Or only one thousand, one hundred, or ten. Or who brought with them only five, four, three, two or one disciple. Or those who came alone, preferring to carry out solitary practices. Such were they, then, immeasurable, boundless, beyond anything that can be known through calculation, simile or parable.
After these bodhisattvas that emerged from the earth, they each one proceeded to the wonderful tower of seven treasures suspended in the sky where Many Treasures Thus Come One and Shakyamuni Buddha were. On reaching it, they turned to the two World-Honored Ones, bowed their heads and made obeisance at their feet. They also all performed obeisance to the Buddhas seated on lion thrones underneath the jeweled trees. Then they circled around to the right three times, pressed their palms together in a gesture of respect, utilizing the bodhisattvas' various methods of praising to deliver praises, and then took up a position to one side, gazing up in joy at the two World-Honored Ones. While these bodhisattvas and mahasattvas who had emerged from the earth were employing the bodhisattva's various methods of praising to praise the Buddhas, an interval of fifty small kalpas passed by.
At that time Shakyamuni Buddha sat silent, and the four kinds of believers likewise all remained silent for fifty small kalpas, but because of the supernatural powers of the Buddha, it was made to seem to the members of the great assembly like only half a day.
At that time the four kinds of believers, also because of the supernatural powers of the Buddha, saw these bodhisattvas filling the sky over immeasurable hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, and millions of lands. Among these bodhisattvas were four leaders. The first was called Superior Practices, the second was called Boundless Practices, the third was called Pure Practices, and the fourth was called Firmly Established Practices. These four bodhisattvas were the foremost leaders and guiding teachers among all the group. In the presence of the great assembly, each one of these pressed his palms together, gazed at Shakyamuni Buddha and inquired: "World-Honored One, are your illnesses few, are your worries few, are your practices proceeding comfortably? Do those whom you propose to save readily receive instruction? Does the effort not cause the World-Honored One to become weary and spent?
At that time the four great bodhisattvas spoke in verse form saying:
Is the World Honored One comfortable,
with few illnesses, few worries?
In teaching and converting living beings,
can you do so without fatigue and weariness?
And do living beings
receive instruction readily or not?
Does it not cause the World-Honored One
to become weary and spent?
At that time in the midst of the great assembly of bodhisattvas the World-Honored One spoke these words: "Just so, just so, good men! The Thus Come One is well and happy, with few ills and few worries.
The living beings are readily converted and saved and I am not weary and spent. Why? Because for age after age in the past the living beings have constantly received my instruction. And also they have offered alms and paid reverence to the Buddhas of the past and have planted various good roots. So when these living beings see me for the first time and listen to my preaching, they all immediately believe and accept it, entering into the wisdom of the Thus Come One, with the exception of those who earlier practiced and studied the Lesser Vehicle. And now I will make it possible for these persons to listen to this sutra and enter the wisdom of the Buddha."
At that time the [four] great bodhisattvas spoke in verse form, saying:
Great hero, World-Honored One!
The living beings
are readily converted and saved.
They know how to inquire about
the most profound wisdom of the Buddha,
and having heard, they believe and understand it.
We are accordingly overjoyed.
At that time the World-Honored One praised the great bodhisattvas who led the group, saying: "Excellent, excellent, good men! You know how to rejoice in your hearts for the Thus Come One."
At that time the bodhisattva Maitreya and the multitude of bodhisattvas equal in number to the sands of eight thousand Ganges all thought to themselves: Never in the past have we seen or heard of such a great multitude of bodhisattvas and mahasattvas as these who have emerged from the earth and now stand before the World-Honored One pressing their palms together, offering alms, and inquiring about the Thus Come One!
At that time the bodhisattva and mahasattvas Maitreya, knowing the thought that was in the minds of the bodhisattvas as numerous as the sands of eight thousand Ganges, and wishing also to resolve his own doubts, pressed his palms together, turned to the Buddha and made this inquiry in verse form:
Immeasurable thousands, ten thousands, millions,
a great host of bodhisattvas
such as was never seen in the past -
I beg the most honored of two-legged beings to explain
where they have come from,
what causes and conditions bring them together!
Huge in body, with great transcendental powers,
unfathomable in wisdom,
firm in their intent and thought,
with the power of great perseverance,
the kind living beings delight to see -
where have they come from?
Each one of these bodhisattvas
brings with them a retinue
immeasurable in number
like the sands of the Ganges.
Some of these great bodhisattvas
bring numbers equal to sixty thousand Ganges sands.
And this great multitude
with a single mind seek the Buddha way.
These great teachers
equal in number to sixty thousand Ganges sands
together come to offer alms to the Buddha
and to guard and uphold this sutra.
More numerous are those with followers
like the sands of fifty thousand Ganges,
those with followers like the sands of forty thousand,
twenty thousand, ten thousand,
one thousand, one hundred,
or the sands of the single Ganges,
half a Ganges, one-third, one-fourth,
or only one part in a million ten thousand;
those with one thousand, ten thousand nayutas,
ten thousand, a million disciples,
or half a million-
they are more numerous still.
Those with a million or ten thousand followers,
a thousand or a hundred,
fifty or ten,
three, two or one,
or those who come alone without followers,
delighting in solitude,
all coming to where the Buddha is-
they are even more numerous than those described above.
If one should try to use an abacus
to calculate the number of this great multitude,
though he spent as many kalpas as Ganges sands
he could never know the full sum.
This host of bodhisattvas
with their great dignity, virtue and diligence -
who preached the Law for them,
who taught and converted them and brought them to this?
Under whom did they first set their minds on enlightenment,
what Buddha's Law do they praise and proclaim?
What sutra do they embrace and carry out,
what Buddha way do they practice?
possess transcendental powers and the power of great wisdom.
The earth in four directions trembles and splits
and they all emerged from out of it.
World-Honored One, from times past
I have seen nothing like this!
I beg you to tell me where they come from,
the name of the land.
I have constantly journeyed from land to land
but never have I seen such a thing!
In this whole multitude
there is not one person that I know.
Suddenly they have come up from the earth -
I beg you to explain the cause.
The members of this great assembly now,
the immeasurable hundreds, thousands, millions
all want to know these things.
Regarding the causes that govern the beginning and end
of this multitude of bodhisattvas,
possessor of immeasurable virtue, World-Honored One,
we beg you to dispel the doubts of the assembly!
At that time the Buddhas who were emanations of Shakyamuni Buddha and had arrived from immeasurable thousands, ten thousands, millions of lands in other directions, were seated cross-legged on lion seats under the jeweled trees in the eight directions. The attendants of these Buddhas all saw the great multitude of bodhisattvas who had emerged from the earth in the four directions of the thousand-million-fold world and were suspended in the air, and each one said to his respective Buddha: "World-Honored One, this great multitude of immeasurable, boundless asamkhyas of bodhisattvas - were did they come from?"
At the time each of the Buddhas spoke to his attendants, saying: "Good men, wait a moment. There is a bodhisattva and mahasattva named Maitreya who has received a prophecy from Shakyamuni Buddha that he will be the next thereafter to become a Buddha. He has already inquired about this matter and the Buddha is now about to answer him. You should take this opportunity to listen to what he says."
At that time Shakyamuni Buddha said to the bodhisattva Maitreya: "Excellent, excellent, Ajita that you should question the Buddha about this great affair. All of you with a single mind should don the armor of diligence and determine to be firm in intent. The Thus Come One wishes now to summon forth and declare the wisdom of the Buddhas, the freely exercised transcendental power of the Buddhas, the power of the Buddhas that has the lion's ferocity, the fierce and greatly forceful power of the Buddhas.
At the time the World-Honored One, wishing to state his meaning once more, spoke in verse form, saying:
Be diligent and of a single mind,
for I wish to explain this affair.
Have no doubts or regrets -
the Buddha wisdom is hard to fathom.
Now you must put forth the power of faith,
abiding in patience in goodness.
A Law which in the past was never heard
you will now be able to hear.
Now I will bring you ease and consolation -
do not harbor doubts or fears.
The Buddha has nothing but truthful words,
his wisdom cannot be measured.
This foremost Law that he has gained
is very profound, incapable of analysis.
He will now expound it -
you must listen with a single mind.
At that time the World-Honored One, having spoken these verses, said to the bodhisattva Maitreya: "With regard to this great multitude I now say to you. Ajita, these bodhisattvas and mahasattvas who in immeasurable and countless asamkhyas have emerged from the earth and whom you have never seen before in the past - when I had attained anuttara-samyak-sambodhi in this saha world, I converted and guided these bodhisattvas, trained their minds and caused them to develop a longing for the way. These bodhisattvas all have been dwelling in the world of empty space underneath the saha world. They read, recite, understand the various scriptures, ponder them, make distinctions and keep them correctly in mind.
Ajita, these good men take no delight in being in the assembly and indulging in much talk. Their delight is constantly to be in a quiet place, exerting themselves diligently and never resting. Nor do they linger among human or heavenly beings, but constantly delight in profound wisdom, being free from all hindrances. And they constantly delight in the law of the Buddhas, diligently and with a single mind pursuing unsurpassed wisdom."
At that time the World-Honored One, wishing to state his meaning once more, spoke in verse form, saying:
Ajita, you should understand this.
These great bodhisattvas
for countless kalpas
have practice the Buddha wisdom.
All have been converted by me;
I caused them to set their minds on the great way.
These are my sons,
they dwell in this world,
constantly carrying out dhuta practices,
preferring a quiet place,
rejecting the fret and confusion of the great assembly,
taking no delight in much talk.
In this manner these sons
study and practice my way and Law.
And in order that day and night with constant diligence
they may seek the Buddha way,
in this saha world
they dwell in the empty space in its lower part.
Firm in the power of will and concentration,
with constant diligence seeking wisdom,
they expound various wonderful doctrines
and their minds are without fear.
When I was in the city of Gaya,
seated beneath the bodhi tree,
I attained the highest, the correct enlightenment
and turned the wheel of the unsurpassed Law.
Therefore I taught and converted them,
caused them for the first time to set their minds on the way.
Now all of them dwell in the stage of no regression,
and all in time will be able to become Buddhas.
What I speak now are true words -
with a single mind you must believe them!
Ever since the long distant past
I have been teaching and converting this multitude.
At that time the bodhisattva and mahasattva Maitreya, as well as the countless other bodhisattvas, found doubts and perplexities rising in their minds. They were puzzled at this thing that had never happened before and thought to themselves: How could the World-Honored One in such a short space of time have taught and converted an immeasurable, boundless asamkhya number of great bodhisattvas of this sort enabled them to dwell in anuttara-samyak-sambodhi?
Thereupon Maitreya said to the Buddha: "World-Honored One, when the Thus Come One was crown prince, you left the palace of the Shakyas and sat in the place of practice not far from the city of Gaya, and there attained anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Barely forty years or more have passed since then. World-Honored One, how in that short time could you have accomplished so much work as a Buddha? Was it through the authoritative powers of the Buddha, or through the blessings of the Buddha, that you were able to teach and convert such an immeasurable number of great bodhisattvas and enable them to achieve anuttara-samyak-sambodhi? World-Honored One, a multitude of great bodhisattvas such as this - a person might spend a thousand, ten thousand, a million kalpas counting them and never be able to reach the end or discover the limit! Since the far distant past, in the dwelling place of immeasurable, boundless numbers of Buddhas, they must have planted good roots, carried out the bodhisattva way, and engaged, constantly in
Brahma practices. World-Honored One, it is hard for the world to believe such thing!
Suppose, for example, that a young man of twenty-five, with ruddy complexion and hair still black, should point to someone who was a hundred years old and say, 'This is my son!' or that the hundred year old man should point to the youth and say, 'This is my father who sired and raised me!' This would be hard to believe, and so too is what the Buddha says.
"It has in fact not been long since you attained the way. But this great multitude of bodhisattvas have already for immeasurable thousands, ten thousands, millions of kalpas applied themselves diligently and earnestly for the sake of the Buddha way. They have learned to enter into, emerge from and dwell in immeasurable hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of samadhis, have acquired great transcendental powers, have over a long period carried out brahma practices, and have been able step by step to practice various good doctrines, becoming skilled in questions and answers, a treasure among persons, something seldom known in all the worlds. And today, World-Honored One, you tell us that, in the time since you attained the Buddha way, you have caused these persons for the first time to aspire to enlightenment, have taught, converted and led them, and directed them toward anuttara-samyak-sambodhi!
"World-Honored One, it is not long since you attained Buddhahood, and yet you have been able to carry out this great meritorious undertaking! We ourselves have faith in the Buddha, believing that he preaches in accordance with what is a appropriate, that the words spoken by the Buddha are never false, and that the Buddha's knowledge is in all cases penetrating and comprehensive. Nevertheless, in the period after the Buddha has entered extinction, if bodhisattvas who have just begun to aspire to enlightenment should hear these words, they will perhaps not believe or accept them but will be led to commit the crime of rejecting the Law. Therefore, World-Honored One, we beg you to explain so we may put aside our doubts, and so that, in future ages when good men hear this matter, they will not entertain doubts!
At that time the bodhisattva Maitreya, wishing to state his meaning once more, spoke in verse form, saying:
In the past the Buddha departed from the Shakya clan,
left his household, and near Gaya
set under the bodhi tree.
Little time has passed since then,
yet these sons of the Buddha
are immeasurable in number!
Already for a long time they have practiced the Buddha way,
dwelling in transcendental powers and the power of wisdom,
skillfully learning the bodhisattva way,
unsoiled by worldly things
like the lotus flower in the water.
Emerging from the earth,
all display a reverent and respectful mind,
standing in the presence of the World-Honored One.
This is difficult to fathom -
How can one believe it?
The Buddha attained the way very recently,
yet those he has helped to gain success are so many!
We beg you to dispel the doubts of the assembly,
to make distinctions and explain the truth of the matter.
It is though a young man
just turned twenty-five
were to point to a hundred year old man
with gray hair and wrinkled face
and say, I sired him!'
And the old man were to say, 'This is my father!'
The father youthful, the son old -
no one in the world could believe this!
World-Honored One, your case is similar.
Only very recently you attained the way.
are firm in will, in no way timid or immature.
For measurable kalpas
they have been practicing the bodhisattva way.
They are clever at difficult questions and answers,
their minds know no fear.
They have firmly cultivated a persevering mind,
upright in dignity and virtue.
They are praised by the Buddhas of the ten directions
as able and adept at preaching distinctions.
They have no wish to remain among the crowd
but constantly favor a state of meditation,
and in order to seek the Buddha way
they have been dwelling in the space under the earth.
This we have heard from the Buddha
and have no doubts in the matter.
But for the sake of future ages we beg the Buddha
to explain and bring about understanding.
If with regard to this sutra
one should harbor doubt and fail to believe,
he will fall at once into the evil paths.
So we beg you now to explain.
These immeasurable bodhisattvas -
how in such a short time
did you teach them, cause them to have aspiring minds,
and to dwell in the stage of no regression?