Why Did the Buddha Enter Nirvana?
Lecture by the Venerable Master Hua
Editor's Note: For many people, the Venerable Master's passing into stillness seemed too sudden and too soon. However, Great Good Knowing Advisors and Patriarchs appear in the world and leave the world for good reason. The Dharma Flower Sutra in particular, in Chapter Sixteen, "The Thus Come One's Life Span," discusses why the Buddha manifests entering Nirvana. In explaining that chapter in 1970, the Venerable Master drew parallels which are applicable to the present situation. Excerpts from that commentary appear below.
Shakyamuni Buddha said to all the Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas:
All gods, humans, and asuras in the world say that Shakyamuni Buddha now, having left the palace of the Pure Rice King and gone to a place about five miles from the city of Gaya to sit beneath the Bodhi tree to cultivate, became a Buddha after sitting there for forty-nine days.
Good men, I actually realized Buddhahood a long time ago. If you want to talk about how long it's been since I became a Buddha, there's no way to calculate the time. It was limitless, boundless hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of nayutas of eons ago. All I can do is try to draw an analogy to give you some idea. What is it analogous to? Suppose a person were to grind into fine motes of dust five hundred thousand myriads of kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of three thousand great thousand world systems. Then, suppose he traveled to the east across five hundred thousand myriads of kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of lands, and there he deposited one mote of dust. Suppose he continued in this way, traveling to the east, dropping one mote of dust every time he passed through that many lands, until all the motes of dust were gone. Would you say that was a great number of worlds? If you had the best mathematician and the most advanced technology, could you find the total?
I shall now explain this clearly for you. If all these numberless world systems, whether a dust mote were deposited in them or not--this includes all the worlds in which a dust particle was dropped, as well as the five hundred thousand myriads of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of lands where a mote of dust was not dropped--now, if all those many worlds were ground together and reduced to fine dust motes, and if each dust mote were counted as a great kalpa, the time that has passed since I became a Buddha would exceed even that by hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of eons. From that time on, I have always remained in the Saha world speaking the Dharma to teach and transform beings. I have been speaking Dharma to teach beings not only in this Saha world, but also in other worlds. In hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of asamkhyeyas of lands, I use all kinds of methods, not fearing suffering, not fearing difficulty, to teach and transform living beings. Meeting with living beings with all different kinds of faculties, I speak all different kinds of Dharmas for them.
Shakyamuni Buddha, uncountable great kalpas ago, had already become a Buddha. Therefore, the Bodhisattva disciples he has taken across are so many. They fill up empty space throughout the three thousand great thousand world systems. The Buddha continued:
In the midst of that long period of time, I said, "At the time of Dipankara Buddha, my name was Good Wisdom. When I met Dipankara Buddha, he bestowed a prediction upon me. He said, 'In the future, you will become a Buddha called Shakyamuni.'" I also said that at such-and-such a time, Dipankara Buddha would enter Nirvana. But to tell you the truth, I was just speaking expediently. I spoke of such events to accord with living beings' faculties. You shouldn't think it was actually the case.
Good men, if a living being comes to where I am, I contemplate his faculties and his causes and conditions. For the sake of those I should take across, no matter where they are, I will personally speak the Buddhadharma. What's more, I will say my name, although the names by which I refer to myself are different. In America I'm called by one name. In China I'm called by another. In Japan I have another name. In Germany, France, in all the places I appear, I go by different names, but the person is the same in all cases. And my age may be older or younger. I appear in a body and speak the Dharma. I tell my disciples, "I am about to enter Nirvana."
Actually the Buddha has no birth or demise. Within Eternal Stillness and Light, he is always speaking the Dharma. He employs various expedient devices, speaking the wonderful, inconceivable Dharma to make living beings happy. The Buddha observes the dispositions of living beings. Then he speaks the Dharma for them. When he sees living beings who like the Small Vehicle Dharmas, he teaches them the Small Vehicle Dharmas. If they like the Great Vehicle Dharmas, he teaches them the Great Vehicle Dharmas. People of scanty virtue will not be able to believe the Buddhadharma if you speak it for them. Those with heavy karmic obstacles won't believe it either. One must have deep and thick good roots to believe the Buddhadharma. Shakyamuni Buddha continues:
To people whose foundations are shallow and whose good roots are scant, I speak expediently, saying, "I left home when I was nineteen. After I left home, I gained the Unsurpassed, Proper and Equal Enlightenment." In truth, however, I became a Buddha a long time before that. The length of that time is as in the analogy I explained before. I'm using expedient methods to teach living beings, enabling all living beings to change from the deviant and return to the proper, to change evil into good, to turn from the small and go toward the great, bringing forth the Bodhi mind. It's for this reason that I speak of having left home when young, having realized the Way, having spoken the Dharma, and having taught and transformed living beings.
The Buddha spoke the Sutras, setting forth the Dharma-doors, in order to save living beings. Living beings have 84,000 varieties of afflictions. The Buddha taught 84,000 Dharma-doors to counteract those afflictions. The Buddha works like a physician curing illnesses. If someone has a headache, the doctor prescribes a certain kind of medicine. If someone has a sore leg, he prescribes another kind of medicine, and someone with the flu gets yet another prescription. In the same way, the Buddha "prescribes" Dharmas. To living beings plagued with much greed, he prescribes the contemplation of impurity. He encourages them not to be greedy, and he points out the impurity of desire. To living beings with big tempers, he recommends the contemplation of compassion. To stupid living beings, he prescribes the contemplation of causes and conditions. He uses these various methods to cure the illnesses of living beings. He may speak of his own deeds or of the deeds of another Buddha. He may manifest his own body, to personally guide living beings, or he may manifest a body of someone else as a guide. He may talk about his own deeds from this and former lives, or he may relate the causes and conditions of other Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Hearers, or Arhats, as an inspiration to living beings. But all that he says is true. There is nothing false in it whatsoever.
The Buddha's knowledge and views accord with truth and principle. On the Buddha's part, there is no birth or death, no retreating or advancing. There is no retreating into the triple realm and no transcending of the triple realm. On the part of the Buddha, there is no existence in the world or passage into extinction; there is no birth or death. Common people see the three realms as real. Whatever common people see, they take it as true. Even the false they consider to be true. Those of the Two Vehicles contemplate all dharmas as empty marks. They see the three realms as flowers in space, that is, as unreal, nonexistent, and empty. Common people take the three realms as real; those of the Two Vehicles take the three realms as unreal. To the Buddha there is nothing real or unreal, just as all things are contained within empty space but do not obstruct empty space. Empty space does not obstruct the myriad forms of existence, and the myriad forms of existence do not obstruct empty space. This is the same principle as True Emptiness not obstructing Wonderful Existence, and Wonderful Existence not obstructing True Emptiness. The Buddha is not like ordinary living beings who view the triple realm as something they must transcend. Having become one with empty space, there is neither oneness nor difference for the Buddha. The Buddha, unlike living beings, does not see the triple realm as the triple realm. To the Buddha, there is no birth, no death, and no triple realm. The Thus Come One is one who is truly awakened to all dharmas and who makes no mistake in what he sees.
Each living creature has its own nature. Each person has a human nature. Each person also has a Buddha nature, a Bodhisattva nature, a Hearer nature, and a Pratyekabuddha nature. And so a human being has the nature of a sage and a common nature--a wisdom nature and a stupid nature. Living beings also have various ideas, thoughts, and discriminations. Wishing to lead living beings to produce the roots of goodness, the Buddha employs diverse causes and conditions, analogies, and expressions to explain the various dharmas, carrying out the Buddha work without respite, day after day, month after month, year after year.
The Buddha's life span knows no birth or death. For limitless and boundless nayutas of asamkhyeyas of eons, he has been dwelling constantly in the Pure Land of Eternal Stillness and Light, neither produced nor extinguished. The Buddha says:
It has been such a very long time since I became a Buddha, yet the life span I realized when formerly practicing the Bodhisattva path is even longer than that. As I now proclaim that I am about to enter the stillness, I am not really passing into the stillness. I manifest entering the stillness only as an expedient to teach and transform living beings.
Why does the Buddha, although he does not become extinct, still announce his extinction? Why does he manifest production and extinction when for him there is actually no production or extinction?
If the Buddha were to stay in the world a long time, remaining long in the world and not entering Nirvana, those of scanty virtue who do not plant good roots would become even more lazy. Those with heavy karmic obstacles would not plant good roots. They would grow dependent on the Buddha, thinking, "The Buddha's here. I don't need to plant good roots right now. I'll get to it later." They would wait around. That is why the Buddha manifests as entering the stillness. Once he has entered Nirvana and people see that they have nothing to rely on, they will get busy and plant some good roots. This is a very obvious principle.
When I was in Manchuria, I had a lot of disciples. I taught them how to cultivate, yet they didn't cultivate. Some said they wanted to take their time. Others said, "I don't have time right now." After I left Manchuria, I started to get letters that said, "So-and-so, your disciple in Manchuria, didn't cultivate before, but now he is cultivating because his teacher isn't here. He's working very hard now."
When I was in Hong Kong, my disciples were pretty relaxed about their cultivation. After I left, they realized how hard it is without a teacher, and they all wrote letters to me asking me to come back. I didn't pay any attention to them, however. People are like that. If you see something every day, you don't think it's important. When it's taken away from you, you realize how important it is. So the Buddha doesn't remain in the world for a long, long time, because if he did, people of scanty virtue would fail to plant good roots. They would just choose to wait instead. But those who do not plant good roots or make offerings to the Triple Jewel remain poor and lowly, and they covet the five desires--wealth, form, fame, food and sleep.
The affairs of the world are just that strange. The "have-nots" are greedy, and those who have everything can't put it down. Shakyamuni Buddha, as a crown prince, had a surfeit of all the five desires, but he put them all down. People who haven't had their fill of the five desires are greedy for them. Whether a person "has" or "has not" is a matter of karmic retribution. If you don't have good roots and do no good deeds, you won't have a good reward. How can you get a good reward? Plant good roots and do good deeds, then you will reap a good fruit and gain a good reward. The poorer people are, the greedier they are. People who have a little money aren't as greedy.
People who are wealthy and are still greedy might as well be poor. It's said, "Good people don't hate others; hateful people are not good. Noble people don't get angry; those who get angry are not noble." Sometimes sages get angry, but not really. It's just something they manifest according to certain circumstances. People who get angry are stupid. Rich people don't grab for bargains. People who like bargains are poor people. Poor people are always looking for a deal, hoping to benefit themselves.
Because they don't plant good roots, they are poor, lowly, and greedy for the five desires: wealth, form, fame, food, and sleep or forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangible objects. Being greedy for the five desires, they are always plotting about how they can appropriate something they want or how they can hold on to something they have. They are opportunistic and take advantage of situations, using wrong knowledge and views. These schemes and false views are like a net that covers up one's genuine wisdom.
Seeing the Thus Come One constantly present and not entering the stillness, they would become arrogant and lax. They would not follow the rules, and they would act indifferent. If they see the Buddha every day, all the time, and the Buddha does not enter Nirvana, they get tired of him.
This is similar to how, before you came to the Buddhist Lecture Hall, you thought, "I must quickly go and study the Buddhadharma." But once you've been here for a few months or a year, you run away. "Studying the Buddhadharma isn't that great," you decide. "It's kind of boring. I'd rather go where I can be free and not have to listen to lectures every day. It's too hard getting up so early and not resting until late." Before you came here, you were really looking forward to it. Once you have been here studying for a while, you become dissatisfied with the lifestyle, and you get lazy. Perhaps when you first arrived here, you were more vigorous than anyone. You got up earlier and went to bed later than anyone else. You listened to the Sutras regardless of what else was going on. In all respects you were vigorous.
But after a while, because you are constantly surrounded by it and are always studying here, you are unable to think, "It's really difficult to encounter the Buddhadharma, especially now in the West. No one here in the West has ever really had a chance to study the Buddhadharma. How could I be so fortunate? Here I am so young, and I have met the real, true Buddhadharma. It has come here to the West! This is incredibly rare. I don't care if I eat or sleep, but I am certainly going to study the Buddhadharma--not for just a day or a week or a month or two, but always, year after year, remembering always how rare it is. If I were dead I couldn't study the Buddhadharma. Now, while I am still alive I am certainly going to study it." Keep in mind how rare it is to meet with the Buddhadharma.
Think of your grandparents and great-grandparents and ancestors for generations back who never had a chance to study the Buddhadharma. Now, all of a sudden, you have the chance! This is called "transcending your ancestors." Your ancestors never understood the Buddhadharma, but you are now studying the Buddhadharma.
You shouldn't let the Buddhadharma that you are studying pass by like wind blowing in one ear and out the other. You should make an effort to remember it, not like the verse I taught you during the Shurangama Sutra session that none of you remembered:
Intelligence is aided by hidden virtue.
Hidden virtue leads one along the path of intelligence.
Failing to do good deeds in secret, thinking yourself smart,
You end up outsmarting yourself.
If you cannot remember it, you are wasting your time. You should review it every day. Go over your lessons each day. For example, before you go to sleep you can reflect, "The Shurangama Sutra lessons--The Youth Moonlight, what samadhi did he study? Was it the water-contemplation samadhi?" And also review your new lessons. Granted all this is false thinking, but this kind of false thinking is helpful in the elevation of your Dharma body and wisdom life. The superior person takes the high road.
Don't review your bad habits, thinking, "I used to smoke marijuana. Should I try it again?" If you do, you have entered a demonic state; you have retreated. Don't have false thoughts like that. The things that you did wrong before, you should change. Once you have changed, don't slip back and do them again.
Consider how difficult it is to meet the Buddhadharma. Young people who have been through traumatic experiences should especially bring forth real sincerity and consider how hard it is to encounter the Buddhadharma. Not only have you transcended your ancestors with your good roots, but in hundreds of thousands of ten thousands of great eons, it's not easy to meet the Buddhadharma.
Shakyamuni Buddha's realization of Buddhahood actually took place uncountable eons ago. And you should know that we have been ordinary beings for an equally unreckonable period of time. Think about how long you have wandered in a human body.
Although the situation in becoming a Buddha is, of course, not the same as continuing an ordinary existence, the time factor is similar. Although it has been such a long time since you met the Buddhadharma, consider this: In this world would you say that there are more people who encounter the Buddhadharma or more who do not? Figure it out for yourself. Even in Buddhist countries, many believe in Christianity, right? Even in Buddhist countries not everyone understands the Buddhadharma. Think about how many people don't understand it. They may appear to understand it, but they haven't penetrated the doctrines at all. It's not easy to meet the Buddhadharma. You should consider how rare it is to encounter. You should pay reverence to the Triple Jewel.
If the Buddha remained long in the world, people wouldn't think of the Buddhadharma as rare, and they wouldn't be reverent. Seeing that living beings weren't being reverent toward him, the Buddha said, "It's time to go. I'm entering Nirvana!"
Hearing that, someone is thinking, "Being a person and becoming a Buddha take the same length of time." They are happy and say, "That's not bad. I may not get to be a Buddha, but if I can be a person for such a long time, life after life, then I don't need to become a Buddha. I'll just be a person, eat some good food, wear some nice clothes, live in a fine house, buy a good car, a plane--or if I'm really rich and rocket technology develops to that point, I'll go for a vacation on the moon! That won't be bad at all."
That is a fairly intelligent plan, but you cannot guarantee that it will happen; there is no way to know with certainty if you can do it. I said that we have been people for a long time, but that was just an estimate. Actually, during all this time, not only have you been a person, but you've been everything else as well. You've been up to heaven and met God, and entered the earth to see one in charge of the earth. You've also roamed among human beings, meeting the leaders. You've been all around. In fact, you went to the moon a long time ago, too. But you forgot, just as you have forgotten a lot of things you did as a child. There are even times when you forget the things you do from one day to the next. In fact, sometimes by one o'clock in the afternoon you can't remember what you did at noon. If you forget the things you do in this life, how much more likely are you to forget the things you did in your previous lives.
We say that the Buddha does not change but accords with conditions, and accords with conditions but does not change. He is forever unchanging. But as a person, you can turn into something else anytime. You can turn into a cat, a dog, a little bug crawling around, or a pigeon flying through the air. Take, for example, the article in yesterday's paper in which people wanted to become animals--cats, dogs, tigers, lions, eagles, frogs, mice, and so forth. Everything is made from the mind alone; you become what you want to be.
"Well, I want to become a god. Can I do that?" you ask.
Yes, you can. You can be whatever you want. Because you have a wish and an intention, you can arrive at your aim. Based on this principle, if we want to become Buddhas, we can do so. If you don't want to become a Buddha, you won't. Being a person is very dangerous. Being a Buddha is very peaceful. If you like danger, then do dangerous things. If you prefer peace and quiet and happiness, then do peaceful and happy things.
For that reason, because of the doctrines just discussed, the Thus Come One uses skill-in-means in speaking the Dharma for living beings. You should know that it is difficult to encounter a Buddha appearing in the world. In a hundred million eons, a Buddha may not appear in the world even once. What is the reason? Those of scant virtue, who do not have good roots, may pass through limitless hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of eons--such a long time, so many great kalpas--during which time they may see a Buddha or they may not. If they have good roots, they may see a Buddha. If they don't, then throughout all that time they will not encounter a Buddha. Consider how difficult it is! Because of that, I tell them that the Thus Come One is difficult to get to see. Those of few good roots and little virtue cannot see the Buddha.
All these living beings, listening to the Buddha's words, will realize how difficult it is to get to encounter the Buddha. They will long to meet a Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. And so when they encounter the Buddha, they are extremely happy. When they meet the Dharma and the Sangha, they are also exceptionally happy. They were as if thirsty, and upon gazing at the Buddha, had their thirst quenched.
They will then, simply by virtue of cherishing that thought of longing and thirst, plant good roots. That is why the Thus Come One, although he does not really become extinct, still speaks of passing into extinction. In reality, the Buddha is presently on Vulture Peak speaking the Dharma. Not only does Shakyamuni Buddha speak Dharma in this way, all the Buddhas speak in this way. For the sake of teaching and transforming living beings, they speak such Dharma, which is entirely true and not false.
The Buddha then brings up an analogy: It is as if there were a good physician, wise and intelligent, who can cure all illnesses. He is well-versed in the medical arts and skillful at healing the multitude of sicknesses. The man also has many sons--ten, twenty or even a hundred. "Ten" represents the Bodhisattvas of the Ten Grounds. "Twenty" represents those of the Two Vehicles--the Hearers and the Pratyekabuddhas. "A hundred" represents the Ten Dharma Realms times the Ten Suchnesses.
The excellent physician is called away on business, and he travels to a far-off country to heal someone, or on tour. Meanwhile, the children are not yet grown. It's a physician's home, and there are many medicines in it. The children get hold of some poisonous concoction and drink it, thinking that it is a sweet-tasting drink. Children don't know any better. They can't tell the difference between poison and something good to drink. They think it's a bottle of some kind of juice, and they drink it up. When it takes effect, the pain, which is unbearable, causes them to roll on the ground in delirium.
Just then their father, the good doctor, finishes his business and returns home. Because they drank the poison, some have lost their senses and are totally oblivious. Some of them still have some sense and recognition left. Seeing their father at a distance, they are all delighted. They bow to him, kneel, and inquire after him. "Welcome back in peace and safety. We are really fortunate to be able to see our father again." Those who have not completely lost their senses speak up and say, "In our foolishness, we took some poison by mistake. We thought it was syrup or apple juice or cola or something, and we swallowed it." Those who like to drink alcohol see the poison as alcohol. Who would have known it was poison? "We pray that you will rescue and heal us, and will restore our lives to us. Father, will you save us, so we can live for a while longer?"
Above we said this was an analogy. Who is the good doctor? The Buddha, of course. The children are all living beings. Maybe these living beings live at a time when the Buddha is not in the world, or maybe the Buddha was in the world but has already entered Nirvana and gone to some other world. The father's leaving refers to the Buddha's entering Nirvana, so beings have no chance to meet him. When the Buddha goes away, living beings are not careful about "what they eat." It is said, "Living beings take food as heaven." It's also said, "Food and sex come naturally." Children start drinking milk from the moment they are born. They don't know very much, but they know how to eat. They suck their thumbs or suck their fingers; whatever you give them they put in their mouths. And so, acting on this instinct, the children here managed to poison themselves.
What is the poison? The poisons are the deviant sects and cults and externalist ways, the teachings of nonultimate religions. If after the children have taken the poison, they know it is poison, then there is a chance they can still be saved. But if they've taken a lot of it and don't even realize that it's poison, thinking they have taken the nectar of immortality or something, they are hard to save. Having taken it, they are senseless, but they think they will never die. They think they have been born into some heavenly paradise. They are so deeply immersed in their confusion that they don't even know they have been poisoned. The poison has penetrated all the way to their bones and marrow. So some have lost their senses, that is, they don't recognize true principle. Others have not lost their senses, and they are still receptive to understanding the truth.
The doctor's returning is an analogy for the Buddha's appearing in the world. The Buddha, having finished his work of teaching and transforming living beings in other worlds, comes again to this world to teach and transform living beings. He sees that these living beings have been poisoned by adherents of deviant cults and outside ways, and are almost beyond help. Some of them, however, are fairly intelligent. When they see the Buddha, they are very happy. They bow respectfully to the Buddha and say, "We living beings are too stupid. Please be compassionate, Buddha, and give us some medicine to counteract this poison. We want to live a bit longer and don't want to die."
Seeing how pitiful living beings are, the Buddha uses various kinds of "medicines" to counteract their respective poisons. Some of them are happy to take the medicine, and they get well; they get rid of their deviant knowledge and deviant views. Others, however, do not wish to take the medicine. They do not expel the poison, which causes them not to believe in the Buddhadharma.
The Buddha is likened to a good doctor. But there are inept doctors who kill people. Good doctors save people. The quacks represent the leaders of deviant cults and sects and externalist ways. They may say they are Buddhists, but they don't act like Buddhists. Or they may say they are Taoists, but they don't act like Taoists. They may claim to be Confucianists or Brahmans or any one of the ninety-six externalist sects.
The good doctor sees that his children have taken poison. Seeing his children delirious and in such agony, the father consults his medical texts, which describe the properties of different medicines, and then searches for wholesome herbs possessed of good color, aroma, and flavor--not bitter, but actually very sweet--perfect in all respects. He then pounds, sifts, and mixes them together. This represents the Buddha using various Dharmas to teach and transform those of the Two Vehicles. Having passed through the Agamas and Vaipulya periods, arriving at the Prajna period is likened to "pounding, sifting, and mixing."
The good doctor says to his children, "This is an excellent medicine. It looks good, smells good, and is very sweet to the taste. It is exceptionally fine medicine. Quickly take it, children, and you will get better and all your pain and suffering will be relieved."
Among the children are those who have not lost their senses, but are relatively alert. Seeing the wholesome and aromatic medicine, they immediately take it and their sickness is completely cured. After the Prajna period comes the Dharma Flower/Nirvana period. The Wonderful Dharma of the Dharma Flower Sutra is called "excellent medicine." The children's sickness being "completely cured" means they have broken through the delusions of views, the delusions of thought, and the delusions of ignorance. Having done that, they gain enlightenment and have no more illnesses.
Although the others who were badly poisoned and who have already gone crazy rejoice in their father's arrival, inquire after his well-being, and seek to be cured of their illnesses, they refuse to take the medicine. The Buddha speaks the Dharma Flower Sutra, but they do not believe it. They are unable to believe, accept, and practice it.
What is the reason? The poisonous vapors have entered them so deeply that they have lost their senses. They are muddled and confused, and so they say that the medicine with good color and aroma is not good. They profess that if they take the medicine, they will not gain any advantage. They don't believe the Wonderful Dharma.
The Buddha, like the good doctor, speaks the Wonderful Dharma for living beings. He uses the most magnificent Dharma to try to teach and transform living beings. But if living beings do not believe him, the Buddha has no way to force them to believe.
The father then thinks, "How pitiful are these children. The poison has entered too deeply and has confused their minds, and they are unclear. Although they rejoice to see me and ask me to rescue and cure them, still, once I give them this excellent medicine, they refuse to take such good medicine as this. I should now set up an expedient device to induce them to take this medicine."
Immediately he says, "You should know that I am now old and weak, worn out, and my time of death has arrived. I will now leave this good medicine right here for you to take. You children who have ingested poison can use it. Don't worry about not getting well. Just take the medicine, and you shall certainly recover." Having instructed them in this way, he then goes away to another country and sends a messenger back to announce to the children, "Your father is dead."
The Buddha's manifesting entry into Nirvana is also like this. The Buddha prepared all these Dharmas to be good medicines because he sees that living beings are so severely poisoned that they are unable to believe in the Buddhadharma. For that reason he sets up the expedient Dharma-door of entering Nirvana. In reality, the Buddha does not undergo production and extinction. The Buddha's state is one of no production and no extinction, no defilement and no purity, no increasing and no decreasing. His entering Nirvana is an expedient device for the sake of saving living beings.
When the children who have been poisoned hear that their father, off in some other country, is dead, their hearts are struck with grief. Although they have lost their senses, they understand that their father has died, and they are extremely distraught. And they think, "If our father were here, he would be compassionate and pity us, and we would have a savior and protector. He really cherished us. He was so good to us. He would have saved us from our sickness. Now, he has forsaken us to die in another country. He left us and went somewhere far, far away. Now he is dead, leaving us orphaned with no one to rely upon. No one will save us now. No one will offer us support and protection." Constantly grieving, their minds then become awakened. They understand that the medicine their father offered them when he was alive has good color, aroma, and flavor. They take it immediately, and their poisonous sickness is completely cured. They believe in the Buddhadharma and no longer believe in the dharmas of externalist ways. As soon as they came to believe in the Buddhadharma, they got rid of all their deviant knowledge and deviant views.
The father, who really hasn't died, hearing that his children have been completely cured, then comes back. All the children who had previously been poisoned see their father.
Perhaps someone will say, "This good physician has committed the offense of false speech. He didn't tell the truth." Now, could anyone rightly say the good doctor has lied? The Bodhisattva who had been questioning the Buddha replied, "No, World Honored One." Shakyamuni Buddha said:
I, too, am like that. The Dharma I have spoken is that way as well. I spoke the Agamas, the Vaipulya teachings, the Prajna teachings, and then the Dharma Flower/Nirvana teachings in the same way, just like the good doctor. I realized Buddhahood limitless, boundless, hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of nayutas of asamkhyeyas of eons ago. For the sake of living beings, in order to teach and transform them, I speak expediently, bestowing the provisional for the sake of the real, and say that I am about to enter Nirvana. This is like the doctor going to another country and then sending back the message that he has died. And no one can say, "Oh, the Buddha was lying."
I attained Buddhahood limitless hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of asamkhyeyas of eons ago. During all those uncountable eons, I always speak the Dharma in different lands and countries, to teach and transform countless millions of living beings, so they enter the Buddha-Way.
And from the time I attained Buddhahood until now, throughout these limitless asamkhyeyas of eons, in order to teach and transform living beings, I expediently manifest Nirvana. This is like the doctor who went to another country and sent back a messenger to tell his children he was dead. When his children heard that, they no longer relied upon their father, but took the medicine instead. Thus I expediently said, "The Buddha is going to enter Nirvana. All of you should ask whatever questions you have. Hurry up! If there is something you don't understand, get it cleared up right away." But in truth I do not really enter Nirvana.
I remain here always speaking the Dharma, teaching and transforming living beings. I always stay right here on Vulture Peak in the Saha World and, using the power of spiritual penetrations, I cause inverted living beings, although near me, not to see me. That means that even though I do not really enter Nirvana, I make it so they don't have an opportunity to see me. Although they are right beside me, because they are upside down, they do not see me.
The multitudes see me as passing into extinction, and they extensively make offerings to my sharira. At this time, they all start thinking about how much they long for and admire me, and their hearts look up to me in thirst. They long to see the Buddha.
Living beings are then faithful and subdued, straightforward, with compliant minds. They are not stubborn any longer. They just single-mindedly wish to see the Buddha. "Now the Buddha has gone to Nirvana! Oh, if we could only see the Buddha once again!" They realize how rare the Buddha is and how difficult it is to encounter him. If they had to give up their very lives, they would do so without regrets.
When you seek the Buddha-Way and take the precepts, you burn some incense scars on your head. This represents that you are willing to give up your life for the sake of the Buddhadharma. If you still care for your own life, that burning will cause unbearable pain, and you won't be able to go through with it. To burn the body as an offering to the Buddha represents that you are willing to give up your life for the sake of the Dharma.
Why does the Buddha say that he doesn't actually pass into extinction? The principle works like this: For those who are enlightened, there is no extinction. Those who are unenlightened think that the Buddha enters extinction. If one is enlightened and has the Three Bodies, the Four Wisdoms, the Five Eyes, and the Six Spiritual Penetrations, then one is with the Buddha at all times; one is always right next to the Buddha. That is called "always seeing the Buddha." If you have not attained that state, then although the Buddha is actually right beside you, you cannot see him. The Buddha says he does not pass into extinction because he is always present for those who have been certified to the attainment of the Five Eyes. Those without the Five Eyes cannot see the Buddha, and they conclude that he has become extinct. Actually, the Buddha does not become extinct.
When people get to the point that they do not even care about their own lives as they seek the Buddhadharma, there is a response of the Way because of their extreme earnestness. At that time, Shakyamuni Buddha and the Sangha assembly of Bhikshus and Bhikshunis all appear together on Spiritual Vulture Mountain. Thus Great Master Zhi Zhe of the Tiantai School entered the Dharma Flower samadhi when reciting the Dharma Flower Sutra, and he personally saw the Dharma assembly on Spiritual Vulture Mountain still taking place--it had not dispersed. He obtained the "Dharani of a Single Revolution." That proves that even now the Buddha is still present on Spiritual Vulture Mountain, speaking the Dharma, teaching and transforming living beings. He has not passed into extinction. But using clever expedient devices, he manifests "extinction" and "nonextinction." He speaks of and manifests birth and passing into extinction, but they are not real. For living beings in other lands, those who are reverent, faithful, and longing to see the Buddha, he speaks the supreme Dharma. The Buddha says:
All of you have not heard this doctrine, and you think I entered extinction. For me there is no production or extinction, although I speak of it. I see living beings in misery, drowning in the five desires: wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep. Since they are greedy for the five desires, I refrain from manifesting for them. I do not manifest and speak the Dharma for them, because I want to cause them to look up in thirst. Then, when living beings are filled with longing, I emerge and speak the Buddhadharma for them.
Why is it that some living beings see the Buddha and others do not? Why is it that the Buddha says he is entering extinction and then does not? These are all transformations worked by the power of the Buddha's spiritual penetrations. So we say, "There is production and yet no production. There is extinction and yet no extinction. Those who have affinities with the Buddha can see him any time; those lacking affinities never get to see him." You say, "If I have no affinities with the Buddha and cannot see him, then what should I do?" Plant good roots, create affinities with the Buddha by making offerings to the Triple Jewel--the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. If you cultivate merit and virtue before the Triple Jewel, after a while you will naturally have affinities with the Buddha. If you do not plant good roots, you will never have affinities with the Buddha. So you ought to plant good roots.
When people who have taken refuge with the Triple Jewel visit other temples or monasteries, they should not think they can get a good deal by staying there without paying. As laypeople, whenever you go to a Buddhist temple, you should wish to make offerings to the Triple Jewel, not ask that the Triple Jewel make offerings to you. If you ask the Triple Jewel to support you, you will be bound to fall lower in each successive life. Why are some people so wealthy? They made offerings to the Triple Jewel. People who do not make offerings to the Triple Jewel become poorer and poorer in each successive life. Those of you who have taken refuge with me should always bring forth the initiative to make offerings at any temple you visit in the future.
For countless asamkhyeyas of eons, Shakyamuni Buddha constantly speaks Dharma for living beings at Spiritual Vulture Mountain, as well as in other lands. Living beings may see the calamities of wind, water, and fire, or the eight difficulties, but Vulture Peak and all the other places where the Buddha is present are peaceful. They cannot be harmed by the three calamities but are always filled with fine gardens and groves, and halls and pavilions adorned with the seven treasures. In the adorned Bodhimanda of the Buddha, the beings wander happily.
The heavenly beings throughout the Three Realms make the heavenly drum resound throughout space, making music for the Buddha. And mandarava flowers, flowers which "accord with one's intent" and make people extremely happy as soon as they see them drift down, are scattered on the Buddha and the great assembly.
The Buddha's Pure Land of Eternal Stillness and Light will never be destroyed. But living beings with their afflictions see it being burned entirely, and they become worried, terrified, and miserable. They are miserable because of all their evil views. All these beings with offenses, because of their evil karma, pass through boundless, uncountable eons without hearing the name of the Buddha, the Dharma, or the Sangha.
Before the Buddha appeared in the world, no one knew about the Buddhadharma; no one had ever seen the Buddha or heard the Buddha's name before. When the Elder Sudatta heard the word "Buddha" all the hairs on his body stood straight up on end, although he did not know why. That was because he had never heard the names of the Triple Jewel before.
People who have practiced merit and virtue and planted good roots, who are compliant, agreeable, and honest--not crooked--will all see the Buddha. People with offenses cannot see him; they cannot even see a Buddha image. If you can see a Buddha image, it will lessen your offense-karma. In order to see the Buddha, the Dharma, or the Sangha, you must have merit and virtue. To those with good roots who always see him, the Buddha speaks of the length of the his life span. If it were not this way, how could they see him? For those who pass through long, long periods of time before they get to see the Buddha, he speaks about how the Buddha is difficult to encounter. Such is the power of his wisdom. The Buddha's wisdom light shines throughout limitless worlds, and limitless living beings bring forth the Bodhi mind.
The Buddha's life span of limitless eons was attained through long cultivation and work. The Buddha did the good work of liberating life. If you want to have a long life, you should liberate life. The more life you liberate, the longer your own life will be.
Those of you with wisdom should not have doubts about what the Buddha has said. Cut them off entirely and forever. Do not have doubts about the Buddhadharma. Get rid of them, for the Buddha's words are real, not false.
They are like the clever expedients of the physician who is knowledgeable about the different kinds of medicines--cool, hot, warm, and neutral--and who, to cure his insane children who had been poisoned, says he is dead, although he is actually alive. When the children think their father is dead, they finally take the medicine.
The Dharma spoken by the Buddha is like good medicine. As long as the Buddha remained in the world, living beings thought they would take their time about studying the Dharma; they were not eager to study it. When the Buddha entered Nirvana and they no longer had access to him, they decided to study the Buddhadharma and lecture the Sutras. As long as the Buddha was in the world, they could just listen to the Buddha, but they did not care to have Sutra lectures. So no one can accuse the doctor, who expediently tries to save the lives of his children by saying that he is dead, and say that he has committed an offense of false speech. The Buddha says:
I, too, am a father to the world, saving all living beings from suffering and woe. Basically, I do not enter Nirvana, but because living beings are confused, I say I am entering Nirvana. I say this because if living beings saw me every day they would grow arrogant and sloppy. They wouldn't follow the rules and cultivate according to the Dharma. They would be attached to the five desires of wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep, or else to forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangible objects, and then they would tumble into the three evil paths of the animals, ghosts, and hell beings.
I keep track of all the thoughts in the minds of living beings. I know what they are thinking, and whether or not they are practicing the Way.
As for those of you who have taken refuge with me, I also know whether you are practicing the Way or not. I know very well whether or not you follow the rules. Those who follow the rules come to the Sutra lecture every day, while those who don't go out every day. It's also this way in the Summer Session. Good students obediently attend every class, while unruly ones find other things to do during classtime. You should seriously apply yourselves to studying the Buddhadharma. Don't be casual about it. You shouldn't think it's such a simple matter for me to lecture on the Sutras. It takes a lot of energy.
If a person can be saved by means of a Buddha body, the Buddha appears as a Buddha and speaks Dharma for that person. If a person can be saved by means of another kind of being, the Buddha will take the appropriate form and save that person. The Buddha is always thinking, "How can I cause living beings to realize the supreme Way and to quickly attain the Dharma body of a Buddha?"