The Lotus Sutra
Translated by Burton Watson
Chapter Eighteen: The Benefits of Joyful Acceptance
At that time the bodhisattva and mahasattva Maitreya said to the Buddha: World-Honored One, if there are good men or good women who, hearing this Lotus Sutra, respond with joy, what amount of blessings do they acquire?"
Then he spoke in verse, saying:
After the World-Honored One has passed into extinction,
if those who hear this sutra
are able to respond with joy,
what a mount of blessings will they acquire?
At that time the Buddha said to the bodhisattva Maitreya: "Ajita, after the Thus Come One has entered extinction, suppose there are monks, nuns, laymen, laywomen, or other persons of wisdom, whether old or young, who, hearing the sutra, respond with joy and, leaving the Dharma assembly, go to some other place, perhaps a monks quarters, a spot that is deserted and quiet, a city, a community, the settlement or a village, and there in accordance with what they have heard they put forth effort and preaching in expounding for the sake of their parents and relatives, their good friends and acquaintances. These persons, after hearing, respond with joy and they too set about spreading the teachings. One person, having heard, responds with joy and spreads the teachings, and the teachings in this way continue to be handed along from one to another until they reach a fiftieth person.
"Ajita, the benefits received by this fiftieth good man or good woman who responds with joy I will now describe to you - he must listen carefully. Imagine all the beings in the six paths of existence of four hundred ten thousand million asamkhya worlds, all the four kinds of living beings, those born from the egg, those born from the womb, those born from dampness, and those born by transformation, those with form, those without form, those with thought, those without thought, those who are not with thought, those who are not without thought, those without legs, those with two legs, four legs or many legs. And imagine that, among all of this vast number of living beings, a person should come who is seeking blessings and, responding to their various desires, dispenses objects of amazement and playthings to all these living beings. Each one of these living beings is given gold, silver, lapis lazuli, sheashell, agate, coral, amber, and other wonderful and precious gems, as well as elephants, horses, carriages, and palaces and towers made of the seven treasures, enough to fill a whole Jambudvipa. This great dispenser of charity, having handed out gifts in this manner for a full eighty years, then thinks to himself: I have already doled out objects of amusement and playthings to these living beings, responding to various desires. But these living beings are now old and decrepit, their years over eighty, their hair white, their faces wrinkled, before long they will die. I now should employ the law of the Buddha to instruct and guide them.
"Immediately he gathers all the living beings together and propagates the Law among them, teaching, benefiting and delighting them. In one moment all are able to attain the way of the srota-apanna, the way of the sakridagamin, the way of the anagamin, and the way of arhat, to exhaust all outflows and enter deeply into meditation. All attain freedom and become endowed with eight emancipations. Now what is your opinion? Are the benefits gained by this great dispenser of charity many are not?"
Maitreya said to the Buddha: "World-Honored One, this man's benefits are very many indeed, immeasurable and boundless. Even if this dispenser of charity had merely given all those playthings to living beings, his benefits would still be immeasurable. And how much more so when he has enabled them to attain the fruits of arhatship!"
The Buddhas said to Maitreya: "I will now state the matter clearly for you. This man gave all these objects of amusement to living beings in the six paths of existence of four hundred ten thousand million asamkhya worlds and also made it possible for them to attain the fruits of arhatship. But the benefits that he gains do not match the benefits of the fiftieth person who hears just one verse of the Lotus Sutra and responds with joy. They are not equal to one hundredth, one thousandth, one part in a hundred, thousand, ten thousand, a million. Indeed it is beyond the power of calculation, simile or parable to express the comparison.
"Ajita, the benefits gained by even the fiftieth person who hears the Lotus Sutra as it is handed along to him responds with joy. His blessings are greater by an immeasurable, boundless asamkhya number, and are in fact incomparable.
"Moreover, Ajita, suppose a person for the sake of this sutra visits a monks quarters and, sitting or standing, even for a moment listens to it and accepts it. As a result of the benefits so obtained, when he is reborn in his next existence he will enjoy the finest, most superior and wonderful elephants, horses and carriages, and palanquins decked with rare treasures, and will mount up to the heavenly palaces. Or suppose there is a person who is sitting in the place where the Law is expounded, and when another person appears, the first person urges them to sit down and listen, or offers to share his seat and so persuades him to sit down. The benefits gained by this person will be such that when he is reborn he will be in a place where lord Shakra is seated, where the heavenly king Brahma is seated, or were a wheel-turning sage king is seated.
"Ajita, suppose there is a person who speaks to another person, saying, 'There is a sutra called the Lotus. Let us go together and listen to it.' And suppose, having been urged, the other person goes and even for an instant listens to the sutra. The benefits of the first person will be such that when he is reborn he will be born in the same place as dharani bodhisattvas. He will have keen faculties and wisdom. For a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand ages he will never be struck dumb. His mouth will not emit a foul odor. His tongue will never been afflicted, nor will his mouth be afflicted. His teeth will not be stained or black, nor will they be yellow or widely spaced, nor will they be missing or fall out or be at an angle or crooked. His lips will not droop down or curl back or be rough or chapped or afflicted with sores or misshapen or twisted or too thick or too big or black or discolored or unsightly in any way. His nose will not be too broad or flat or crooked or too highly arched. His face will not be swarthy, nor will it be long and narrow, or sunken and distorted. He will not have a single unsightly feature. His lips, tongue and teeth will all be handsomely proportioned. His nose will be long and high, his face round and full, his eyebrows long and set high, his forehead broad, smooth, and well shaped, and he will be endowed with all the features proper to a human being. In each existence he is born into, he will see the Buddha, hear his Law, and have faith in his teachings.
"Ajita, just observe! The benefits gained merely by encouraging one person to go and listen to the Law are such as this! How much more, then, if one single-mindedly hears, preaches, reads, and recites the sutra and before the great assembly makes distinctions of the sake of people and practices it as the sutra instructs!"
At that time the World-Honored One, wishing to state his meaning once more, spoke in verse form, saying:
If someone in the Dharma assembly
is able to hear this sutra,
even just one verse,
and responding with joy, preaches it to others,
and in this way the teachings are handed along
till they a reach the fiftieth person,
the blessings gained by this last person
are such as I will now define.
Suppose there is a great dispenser of charity
who bestows goods on immeasurable multitudes,
doing this for a full eighty years,
responding to each person's desires.
Seeing the signs of decrepitude and old age,
the white hair and wrinkled face,
the missing teeth, the withered form,
he thinks, "Their death is not far off;
I must now teach them
so they can gain the fruits of the way!"
Immediately for their sake he employs an expedient means,
preaching the true Law of nirvana:
"Nothing in this world is lasting or firm
but all are like bubbles, foam, heat shimmer.
Therefore all of you must quickly
learn to hate it and be gone!"
When the people here this Law,
all are able to become arhats
endowed with the six transcendental powers,
the three understandings and eight emancipations.
But the fiftieth person
who hears one verse [of the Lotus sutra] and responds with joy
gains blessings that are far greater,
beyond description by simile or parable.
And if one who has had the teachings passed along to him
receives blessings that are immeasurable,
how much more so one who in the Dharma assembly
first hears the sutra and responds with joy.
Suppose someone encourages another person,
urging him to go and listen to the Lotus,
saying, "This sutra is profound and wonderful,
hard to encounter in a thousand, ten thousand kalpas!"
And suppose, as urged, the person goes to listen,
even though he listens for just a moment.
The blessings that the first person gets in reward
I will now describe in detail:
Age after age, no afflictions of the mouth,
no teeth missing, yellow or blackened,
lips that are not thick, curled or defective,
no fateful features,
a tongue not dry, black or too short;
nose high, long and straight,
forehead broad, smooth and well shaped,
face and eyes ball properly aligned and impressive,
the kind people delight to look at,
breath free of foul odor,
a fragrance of utpala flowers
constantly emitted by the mouth.
Suppose one goes to the monks quarters
expressly to listen the Lotus Sutra
and listens with joy for just a moment -
I will now describe his blessings.
In existences to come among heavenly and human beings
he will acquire wonderful elephants, horses, carriages,
palanquins adorned with rare jewels,
and will mount to the palaces of heaven.
If in the place where the law is expounded
one encourages someone to sit and hear the sutra,
the blessings he acquires will enable him
to gain the seat of Shakra, Brahma and the wheel-turner.
How much more so if one listens single-mindedly,
explains and expounds the meaning,
and practices the sutra as the sutra instructs -
that person's blessings know no bounds!