At that time the bodhisattva mahasattva Great Adornment and the others of the eighty thousand bodhisattvas mahasattva, having spoken these verses in praise of the Buddha, all together addressed the Buddha, saying: “World-Honored One, we, this multitude of eighty thousand bodhisattvas, now desire to pose some questions regarding the Law of the thus come one. We wonder if the world-honored one will be kind enough to listen?”
The Buddha said to Bodhisattva Great Adornment and the others of the eighty thousand bodhisattvas, “Excellent, excellent, good men. You know when the time is right. Proceed with your questions! Before long, the thus come one will enter parinirvana, and he wishes to make certain that there will be no more doubts anywhere after he has entered nirvana. What do you wish to ask about? Now is the time to speak.”
Bodhisattva Great Adornment and the others of the eighty thousand bodhisattvas, speaking in a single voice, then addressed the Buddha, saying: “World-Honored One, if bodhisattvas mahasattva wish to succeed quickly in gaining supreme perfect enlightenment, what sort of doctrines should they practice? What sort of doctrines can cause bodhisattvas mahasattva to succeed quickly in gaining supreme perfect enlightenment?”
The Buddha said to Bodhisattva Great Adornment and the others of the eighty thousand bodhisattvas, “Good men, there is a single doctrine that can cause bodhisattvas to succeed quickly 12in gaining supreme perfect enlightenment. If bodhisattvas study this doctrine, then they will be able to gain supreme perfect enlightenment.”
“World-Honored One, what is the name of this doctrine? What is its meaning? What practices does it prescribe for bodhisattvas?”
The Buddha said: “Good men, this single doctrine is called the doctrine of immeasurable meanings. If bodhisattvas wish to practice and study these immeasurable meanings, then they should observe and perceive how all phenomena, from the beginning down to the present, are in nature and aspect empty and tranquil, without bigness or littleness, without birth or extinction, not abiding, not moving, neither advancing nor retreating, but like vacant space, without any dualism.
“But living beings in their vain delusions make wild calculations, saying, this is one thing, that is another, this brings gain, that brings loss, and give rise to thoughts that are not good, carrying out evil acts, transmigrating through the six paths of existence and undergoing sufferings and bitterness for immeasurable millions of kalpas without ever being able to escape.
“Bodhisattvas mahasattva, clearly perceiving that this is so, are moved to pity in their minds, and inspired by great compassion, wish to rescue these beings from their plight. They should then once more enter deeply into the study of all phenomena. If the aspects of phenomena are such, then such-and-such phenomena will be born. If the aspects of phenomena are such, then such-and-such phenomena will abide. If the aspects of phenomena are such, then such-and-such phenomena will change. If the aspects of phenomena are such, then such-and-such phenomena will undergo extinction. If the aspects of phenomena are such, this can lead to the birth of bad phenomena. If the aspects of phenomena are such, this can lead to the birth of good phenomena. And the same applies in the case of the abiding, changing, and extinction of phenomena.
“When bodhisattvas have in this manner observed the beginning and end of these four aspects and have understood them in their entirety, then they will clearly perceive that all phenomena, 13never abiding from one instant to the next, are constantly being born anew and passing into extinction, and then they will immediately perceive the true aspect of birth, abiding, change, and extinction.
“Once they have gained this perception, then they must turn to the capacities, natures, and desires of living beings. Because such natures and desires are immeasurable in variety, the ways of preaching the Law are immeasurable; and because the ways of preaching the Law are immeasurable, its meanings are likewise immeasurable. These immeasurable meanings are born from a single Law, and this Law is without aspect. What is without aspect is devoid of aspect and does not take on aspect. Not taking on aspect, being without aspect, it is called the true aspect.
“When bodhisattvas mahasattva rest and abide in this understanding of the true aspect of all phenomena, then the pity and compassion that they put forth will be based on clear understanding and not groundless, and they will be truly capable of rescuing living beings from the sufferings that they undergo. And once they have rescued them from suffering, they will preach the Law for them and enable living beings to enjoy ease and delight.
“Good men, if bodhisattvas are able in this manner to practice the immeasurable meanings of this all-embracing doctrine, then they are certain to succeed quickly in attaining supreme perfect enlightenment. Good men, this profound, unsurpassed great vehicle Immeasurable Meanings Sutra is true and correct in word and principle, worthy of unsurpassed veneration. It is guarded and protected by all the buddhas of the three existences. There is no devil host, no congregation of non-Buddhist believers who can invade it, nor can it be destroyed by any erroneous views or accidents of birth and death. Therefore, good men, if bodhisattvas mahasattva wish to gain unsurpassed enlightenment quickly, they should practice and study this profound, unsurpassed great vehicle Immeasurable Meanings Sutra.”
At that time Bodhisattva Great Adornment addressed the Buddha once more, saying: “World-Honored One, the Law preached by the world-honored one is beyond ordinary 14comprehension, the capacities and natures of living beings are also beyond ordinary comprehension, and the doctrines and emancipations are likewise beyond ordinary comprehension. Regarding the doctrines that the Buddha has preached to us, we have no more doubts or difficulties. But because confusion and misunderstanding arise in the minds of living beings, we wish to question the world-honored one further.
“In the forty and more years since the thus come one gained the way, he has constantly expounded for the sake of living beings upon the principle of the four aspects of phenomena, the principle of suffering, of emptiness, impermanence, no self, no bigness, no littleness, no birth, no extinction, one aspect that is no aspect, the nature of phenomena, the aspect of phenomena, from the beginning emptiness and tranquillity, neither coming nor going, neither appearing nor disappearing.
“Those who listened to you were perhaps able to gain the heat stage, the peak stage, or the foremost worldly stage, to attain the stage of the stream-winner, of the once-returner, of the non-returner, or the arhat, to gain the way of the pratyekabuddha, to conceive a desire for enlightenment, to ascend to the first level, the second level, the third level, and so forth to the tenth level.
“The principles of these various doctrines that you have expounded upon in past days—how do they differ from those you are expounding now? You say that if bodhisattvas practice this profound, unsurpassed great vehicle Immeasurable Meanings Sutra, they are certain to quickly attain unsurpassed enlightenment. Just what does this mean? We beg the world-honored one to have compassion and pity for all, and for the sake of living beings far and wide to make clear the distinctions, so that all those everywhere in this present existence and in ages to come, when they hear the doctrines, may be free from the net of residual doubt!”
Thereupon the Buddha said to Bodhisattva Great Adornment: “Excellent, excellent, you great and good men. You have seen fit to ask the thus come one about the subtle and wonderful meaning of this profound, unsurpassed great vehicle. You should understand that by doing so you can benefit many people, assure 15peace and joy to human and heavenly beings, and rescue living beings from suffering. This is in truth great pity and compassion. And because it is true, it cannot be vain. As a result of this, you will without fail quickly attain unsurpassed enlightenment. And you will also make it possible for all living beings in the present age and in ages to come to attain unsurpassed enlightenment.
“Good men, in the past I sat upright for six years under the bodhi tree in the place of enlightenment and was able to gain supreme perfect enlightenment. With the Buddha eye I observed all phenomena and knew that this enlightenment could not be explained or described. Why? Because I knew that living beings are not alike in their natures and desires. And because their natures and desires are not alike, I preached the Law in various different ways. Preaching the Law in various different ways, I made use of the power of expedient means. But in these more than forty years, I have not yet revealed the truth. Therefore the ways they gained were not uniform but differed in different cases, and they have not been able to quickly attain unsurpassed enlightenment.
“Good men, the Law may be compared to water that can wash away dirt and defilement. A well, a pond, a river, a stream, a brook, a channel, a vast sea—all are capable of washing away all kinds of dirt and defilement. And the water of the Law is like this, because it can wash living beings clean of the dirt of earthly desires.
“Good men, water possesses a single nature, but rivers, streams, wells, ponds, brooks, channels, and vast seas each have their particular differences. The nature of the Law is like this too—in its ability to wash away grime and impediment, it is without differentiation. But in its categories of three doctrines, four stages, or two ways,1 it is not uniform.
“Good men, although all forms of water can be used for washing, a well is not the same as a pond, a pond is not the same as 16a river or stream, a brook or channel is not the same as the sea. And as the thus come one, hero of the world, enjoys complete freedom with regard to the Law, so the various doctrines that he preaches are like [these bodies of water]. What he preaches in the beginning, in the middle, and later, is in all cases capable of washing clean the earthly desires of living beings. But what he preaches in the beginning is not the same as what he preaches in the middle, and what he preaches in the middle is not the same as what he preaches later. The beginning, middle, and later preachings are identical in their words and phrases, but each is different in meaning.
“Good men, when I rose up from under the kingly [bodhi] tree, proceeded to Deer Park in Varanasi, and turned the wheel of the Law, preaching the four noble truths for Ajnata Kaundinya and the others of the five ascetics, I explained that the various phenomena are from the beginning all empty and tranquil, that they succeed each other without ever abiding, that from one instant to the next they are born and pass into extinction. During the middle period, both here and in various other places, for the sake of the monks and the host of bodhisattvas I expounded and set forth the twelve-linked chain of causation and the six paramitas, likewise explaining that the various phenomena are from the beginning all empty and tranquil, that they succeed each other without abiding, that from instant to instant they are born and pass into extinction. And now once more I am here expounding this great vehicle Immeasurable Meanings Sutra, again explaining that the various phenomena are from the beginning all empty and tranquil, that they succeed each other without abiding, that from instant to instant they are born and pass into extinction. Therefore, good men, though in what I preach at the beginning, in the middle, and at a later time the words and phrases are the same, the meaning is quite different. Because the meaning is different, the understanding of living beings is different. And because their understanding is different, the doctrines they gain, the stages they gain, the ways they gain are likewise different.
“Good men, in the beginning I preached the four noble truths 17for the sake of those who wished to become voice-hearers. At that time eight million heavenly beings came down to listen to the Law and conceived a desire for enlightenment. In the middle period in one place and another I expounded the profound teaching of the twelve-linked chain of causation for the sake of those who wished to become pratyekabuddhas, and immeasurable numbers of living beings conceived the desire for enlightenment or abided at the level of voice-hearers.
“Then I preached the twelve divisions of the broad and impartial sutras, the teaching of great wisdom, and the Flower Garland teaching of the ocean-imprint meditation, describing the many kalpas of practice for bodhisattvas, and hundreds and thousands of monks and ten thousands and millions of human and heavenly beings, immeasurable living beings, were able to attain and abide in the stage of stream-winner, once-returner, non-returner, arhat, or pratyekabuddha, or in the doctrine of original causation.
“Good men, you should understand that in this sense, though my preachings are the same, they differ in their meaning. Because their meaning is different, the understanding of living beings is different. And because their understanding is different, the doctrines they gain, the stages they gain, the ways they gain are likewise.
“Therefore, good men, from the time I gained the way and first began to preach the Law down to the present day, when I expound the great vehicle Immeasurable Meanings Sutra, I have never failed to preach suffering, emptiness, impermanence, no self, not absolute, not provisional, not big, not little, from the beginning not born, at the present time not passing into extinction, one aspect that is no aspect, the aspect of phenomena, the nature of phenomena, neither coming nor going, living beings shifting from one to another of the four aspects.
“Good men, for this reason none of the many buddhas ever vary in the words they speak. They can use a single sound to respond to all the multitude of voices everywhere, can use a single body to manifest bodies as numerous as the immeasurable, countless sands of hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions 18of nayutas of Ganges Rivers. And each of these bodies in turn manifests different types of forms numerous as the sands of some hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of nayutas and asamkhyas of Ganges Rivers. And each of these forms in turn manifests forms numerous as the sands of some hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of nayutas and asamkhyas of Ganges Rivers.
“Good men, this then is the inconceivably profound realm of the buddhas. It cannot be understood by persons of the two vehicles, nor can it be grasped even by bodhisattvas in the ten stages of security. Only between one buddha and another can it be fully comprehended.
“Good men, for this reason I have stated that this subtle, wonderful, profound, unsurpassed great vehicle Immeasurable Meanings Sutra is true and correct in word and principle, worthy of unsurpassed veneration. It is guarded and protected by all the buddhas of the three existences. There is no devil host, no congregation of non-Buddhist believers who can invade it, nor can it be destroyed by any erroneous views or accidents of birth and death. If bodhisattvas mahasattva wish to gain unsurpassed enlightenment quickly, they should practice and study this profound, unsurpassed great vehicle Immeasurable Meanings Sutra.”
When the Buddha finished speaking, the major world system quaked and trembled in six different ways. From the sky various different kinds of heavenly flowers rained down of their own accord, heavenly utpala flowers, padma flowers, kumuda flowers, pundarika flowers. There also rained down countless varieties of heavenly incense, heavenly robes, heavenly necklaces, and priceless heavenly jewels that came tumbling and turning through the air and descended as offerings to the Buddha and the great assembly of bodhisattvas and voice-hearers. Heavenly vessels from heavenly kitchens heaped and overflowing with heavenly foods of a hundred flavors, heavenly streamers, heavenly banners, heavenly canopies, and wonderful heavenly playthings were ranged here and there, heavenly musical instruments played, and songs were sung to praise the Buddha.
Then in the eastern region the buddha worlds, numerous as 19Ganges sands, also quaked and trembled in six different ways, raining down heavenly flowers, heavenly incense, heavenly robes, heavenly necklaces, priceless heavenly jewels, heavenly vessels from heavenly kitchens, a hundred heavenly flavors, heavenly streamers, heavenly banners, heavenly canopies, and wonderful heavenly playthings. Heavenly musical instruments played and songs were sung in praise of the buddhas and the great assembly of bodhisattvas and voice-hearers, and the same occurred in the southern, western, and northern regions, in the four intermediate directions, and in the upper and lower regions.
In this assembly, thirty-two thousand bodhisattvas mahasattva gained the samadhi of immeasurable meanings, thirty-four thousand bodhisattvas mahasattva gained countless immeasurable dharanis, and all were able to turn the unregressing wheel of the Law of all the buddhas of the three existences.
When the monks, nuns, laymen, laywomen, heavenly beings, dragons, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, great wheel-turning kings, petty wheel-turning kings, kings of the silver wheel, the iron wheel, and other kinds of wheels, kings of states, princes, ministers, subjects, gentlemen and ladies of the state, and rich men of the state, along with the hosts of hundreds and thousands of followers accompanying them, heard the Buddha, the thus come one, preach this sutra, some gained the heat stage, the peak stage, the foremost worldly stage, the stage of stream-winner, of once-returner, of non-returner, of arhat, or of pratyekabuddha. Some gained the bodhisattva’s truth of birthlessness. Some gained one dharani, some two dharanis, some three dharanis, some four dharanis, some five, six, seven, eight, nine, or ten dharanis. Some gained hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of dharanis, and some gained an asamkhya of dharanis, immeasurable, countless as Ganges sands.
All were able to acquiesce and obey and to turn the unregressing wheel of the Law. Immeasurable numbers of living beings conceived the desire for supreme perfect enlightenment.