“Parable of the Phantom City” chapter ［化城喩品］ ( Kejōyu-hon): The seventh chapter of the Lotus Sutra, in which Shakyamuni reveals the relationship he formed with his disciples in the remote past when he was the sixteenth and youngest son of a Buddha named Great Universal Wisdom Excellence. In the chapter, Shakyamuni describes the magnitude of time that has passed since then, a period referred to as major world system dust particle kalpas. That long ago, he explains, he and his fifteen brothers each expounded the Lotus Sutra, which their father had taught them. His present disciples to whom he now preaches, he explains, were among those to whom he taught the Lotus Sutra and converted at that time. In explaining this past relationship, Shakyamuni points out that the ultimate purpose of his advent is to expound the one vehicle of Buddhahood (the Lotus Sutra), and that it is only faith in the one vehicle that enables all his voice-hearer disciples to attain nirvana, or enlightenment. In this way, the “Parable of the Phantom City” chapter further validates the doctrine of the “replacement of the three vehicles with the one vehicle” set forth in the preceding chapters.
Those who heard the Lotus Sutra from Shakyamuni in the distant past when he was the sixteenth son of Great Universal Wisdom Excellence Buddha fall into three categories or groups: The first consists of those who took faith, embraced the sutra without faltering, and attained Buddhahood. The second includes those who at first took faith in the sutra, but later abandoned it and accepted lower Buddhist teachings. The third group includes those who heard the sutra, but did not take faith in it. Those of the second group were later reborn as voice-hearers in India with Shakyamuni, who again instructed them and finally led them to the one Buddha vehicle of the Lotus Sutra.
The same chapter illustrates the doctrine of the “replacement of the three vehicles with the one vehicle” with a parable. A leader is guiding a multitude of people traveling over a difficult road to a treasure land. Seeing that they are too exhausted and discouraged to continue, he employs the power of expedient means to conjure up a phantom city where they can rest. When they have recovered their strength and courage, he dissolves the city and leads them the rest of the way to their destination. In this parable, the guiding leader represents the Buddha, the phantom city indicates the three vehicles of voice-hearers, cause-awakened ones, and bodhisattvas, and the treasure land is the one vehicle of Buddhahood. See also major world system dust particle kalpas; parable of the phantom city and the treasure land.