Chapter 6: “Prediction”
As the name of this chapter would suggest, chapter six is one in which the Buddha predicts the future enlightenment of four of his great disciples, namely: MahaKasyapa, MahaKatyayana, MahaMaudgalyayana, and Subhuti. These disciples along with Ananda and Sariputra, are among the great disciples of Shakyamuni (the best of the best if you will). The Buddha tells us (and these disciples) that they are assured future enlightenment provided they carry on with their practice as they are presently. The Buddha goes on to describe what their respective names as Buddhas will be, what their Buddha-Lands or Pure Lands will be called/ what they will be like, How long their lifespan as Buddhas will be, how long their Dharma will remain pure and true, how long the ‘semblance’ of their dharma will remain after it has lost its purity, and how long it will take their dharma to decline (i.e how long their ‘Mappo’ age will be). This is not the first time we have come across such predictions in the Lotus Sutra. In fact, The Buddha predicted the enlightenment of Sariputra in chapter 3.
First, the Buddha begins with the prediction of
MahaKasyapa’s future enlightenment. We are told that before reaching complete
enlightenment, he will pay respect and practice under “three hundred myriad kotis of world-honoured Buddhas”. Stop and
consider that number for a minute. A single ‘koti’ is usually understood to
refer to the number ‘one hundred million’. So we have before us, the suggestion
that MahaKasyapa will have to practice for a great deal of time before he
acquires complete enlightenment. However, the actual number is not particularly
important here. If we sit there counting how many years that figure adds up to,
we will probably miss the point of the passage. The point of the passage is to
convey an infinite number of years, beyond measurement. Why would this be so?
Apart from the obvious fact that Buddha-hood is very difficult to achieve. What
else might the Buddha be telling us here? In order to understand some of the
implications the Buddha is making here, consider who we are talking about:
MahaKasyapa was one of the Buddha’s finest disciples (the Zen schools trace their lineage back to Kasyapa) MahaKasyapa is said to have most deeply understood the Buddhas mind, and therefore to have received what might be called a mind to mind transmission from Shakyamuni Buddha. From this, we can conclude that MahaKasyapa was a pretty serious Buddhist practitioner. Therefore, the implications of the Buddha referring to one of his most ardent disciples practicing for such a long period of time in order to achieve enlightenment, is to convey the immense dedication, steadfastness, and perseverance that is required to make genuine progress on the spiritual path. The path to enlightenment, is not for the ‘fashionable meditator’. The Buddhist path should not be used as a mere psychotherapy that provides one with relaxation techniques on a casual basis. We should not approach Buddhist practice with the idea of ‘picking and choosing’ those parts which we like, discarding the rest…practicing when we feel like it, and neglecting the path when we don’t. The Buddha is clearly pointing out that if someone such as MahaKasyapa is required to practice so ardently for so long, how much more so do we need to remain steadfast!
The Buddha goes on to tell us the nature of MahaKasyapa’s service and respect:
“serving, revering, honouring, and extolling them and widely proclaiming the infinite great Law of the Buddhas”.
These are precisely the practices that we must undertake if we wish to achieve Annutara-Samyak SamBuddhi (Complete Enlightenment). So what does it mean to serve the Buddha? Of course in a very immediate sense it might means to assist, and work with/for the Buddhas. But how can we best serve the Buddhas? What shows that we genuinely wish to do the bidding of the Buddhas? By living the teachings, and practicing them assiduously, we best serve the Buddha. We must genuinely take this stuff on board, before we can legitimately be said to be of service to the Buddhas. The Buddha said that the greatest offering a being could make to him was by arousing ‘Bodhicitta’ within themselves (Bodhicitta is the heart which strives towards enlightenment). Any other service we might provide the Buddhas is secondary to this.
What does it mean to revere the Buddha? This is describing the right attitude we should have towards the Buddhas and Bodhisattva (and all sentient beings and non-sentient beings, by virtue of their possession of Buddha-Nature). In other words, it describes a mental or psychological position which we should have towards the World Honoured Ones. When we revere something, we approach it with a sense of awe, a sense of upward-looking caution. Why should we behave in this way towards the Buddhas? Does it really matter to the Buddhas whether you behave in this manner? Not really- they are beyond liking and disliking. Think about what the Buddhas have achieved. Think about how much you struggle to achieve even a small percentage of their accomplishments. That is why you should revere and respect the Buddhas. In some sense, they are incredibly awe-inspiring! To accomplish what they have is almost superhero-like in quality. It is also a way to show a genuine sincerity and openness towards the Buddhas and their teachings. Without the appropriate attitude, we could be in the presence of a thousand Buddhas and still learn nothing. Bring to mind the passage from the Innumerable Meanings Sutra in which Shakyamuni says: “according to the working of the minds of living beings: beings do not hear unless the mind is open.”
How might one honour the Buddhas? To honour the Buddhas would be to act in a way befitting the abovementioned attitude. To act in accord with a fundamental reverence for the Tathagatas. This includes behaving respectfully, and compassionately o all living beings, as well as practicing the path of the Enlightened Ones.
What does it mean to extol the Buddhas? By praising and talking highly of the Tathagatas. Again, this doesn’t really matter to the Buddhas themselves. However, by praising, talking highly of, and making well known the virtues of the Tathagatas, we allow those who come in contact with us to also come in contact with Buddha. Furthermore, those who respect us, might also by extension come to respect the Buddhas. This can only be the cause of benefit for both oneself and others.
And finally, if we truly value, and believe in the worth of the Buddhas teachings, we should proclaim them to all who wish to listen. This is our compassionate duty. If one does not pass the Dharma teachings on to others, how else might one repay the Buddha for teaching one in the first place?
We are then told that MahaKasyapa will be named ‘Radiance Tathagata’ when he finally achieves enlightenment. His Buddha-Land will be called ‘Radiant Virtue’, and his Kalpa (Era) will be known as the age of ‘Great Magnificence’. His lifespan will stretch across twelve minor kalpas (aeons).
“His Righteous Law will abide in the world for twenty minor kalpas, and the Counterfeit Law will also abide for twenty minor kalpas.”
Law here refers of course to Dharma. ‘Righteous Law’ is his pure dharma, undefiled and perfectly transmitted. ‘Counterfeit Law’ refers to the time when his dharma begins to be passed on imperfectly. The ‘semblance’ of the teachings are still present, but the essence begins to fade. Finally of course, Mappo or the Latter/Ending Dharma Age will begins.
“His domain will be beautiful, devoid of dirt, potsherds, thorns, and unclean ordure; its land will be level and straight, with no uneven places, neither pitfalls nor mounds, its ground of lapis lazuli, lines of jewel trees, golden cords to bound the ways. Strewn with precious flowers, and purity reighning everywhere.”
Above we have a fantastically vivid description of what his Buddha Land/ Pure Land will be like. In essence, the land conveyed to us is one of paradise. It is free from all those things which are not conducive to our comfort. It brings to mind descriptions of other Buddha Lands in other sutra- namely Amida Buddha’s Pure Land of Sukhavati. But it begs an important question. What is Shakyamuni Buddhas Pure Land/ Buddha Land like? He is he Buddha of our world and our age- surely he has a Buddha Land of his own? Indeed Shakyamuni Buddha does have a Pure Land. You are sitting in it right now. This might lead you to wonder why this world is not as pure as the one described above. In the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra, The Buddha is asked this precise question; to which he responds that his land (this world we live in) is and has always been perfect and pure. It is because of our delusion that it is not seen to be such. When the mind becomes pure, the land as it has always been, will be seen clearly, to be a Pure Land like the one described above.
Next, the future enlightenment of Subhuti is elucidated. After practicing with the same ardour as MahaKasyapa he will become a Buddha named ‘Name Form Tathagata’. His Land will be known as ‘Jewel Producing’, and is similarly lavish and beautiful. In much the same way as all World Honoured Ones, His Dharma will consist of a pure, a ‘semblance/Counterfeit’, and Latter/Mappo stages. MahaKatyayana and MahaMaudgalyayana are likewise given predictions and will be known as ‘Jambunanda Golden Light Tathagata’, and ‘Tamalapattra Sandal Fragrance Tathagata’ respectively.
But what is the point of this chapter? Why have the masters of the past gone to such lengths to ensure that we know these details? In what way does it affect us sitting here right now? As we have seen, one of the reasons this chapter is so descriptive is that it reminds us how much dedication and hard work is required if we truly intend to achieve Enlightenment. Additionally, it gives us an idea of what the world is really like, if we could only see it clearly. It shows us that Nirvana is Samsara; and Samsara is Nirvana. Nevertheless the most important part of the chapter is found in its closing remarks:
“You my disciples
Of perfect powers,
Five hundred in number,
All will receive their prediction
To become Buddhas
In the world to come.
Of my and your
Development in previous worlds
I will now make declaration.
Do you all listen well!
Now, in the context of the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha is
talking to those present which include five hundred disciples. But we must be
careful that we don’t get ‘caught up’ in the number and miss what is actually
being said. The Buddha is assuring ALL of his disciples, that they will attain
Buddhahood one day. That includes, you, and I, and anyone else who happens upon
his teachings. And so, part of the value of these descriptions is to reassure
us that we too will attain Buddhahood, to keep us fighting the good fight when all we want to do is lay down and
rest. It tells us to what Buddhahood is really like, to give us a ‘taste’ of
the beauty in-store for us. This is refreshing when things seem impossibly
difficult. In other words, the Buddha is giving us ‘a moments rest’ by telling
us about all the beautiful things that accompany enlightenment, in order that
we might be again renewed, re-motivated,
and continue our journey, striving ever onwards towards enlightenment. And it
is this same strategy, which we will see so vividly portrayed in allegory-form
in the following chapter (The Parable of the Magic City).
Rev Jikai Dehn