We saw in the previous chapter that there is only one buddha for each age, that indeed, the universe cannot sustain more than one buddha in each age. Buddhas thus appear individually over the long course of samsara, with a new buddha appearing only when a new buddha is needed, that is, when the teachings of the previous buddha have disappeared.
This notion of buddhahood would be challenged in certain of the Mahayana sutras that began to appear in India some four centuries after the death of the Buddha. New visions of buddhahood would be set forth, and none more powerfully than in the Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapundarika sutra, which literally means ‘Sutra of the White Lotus of the True Dharma’), the eleventh chapter of which appears below.
Earlier in the text the Buddha has revealed that the nirvanna of the arhat, the goal that he preached in his first sermon, was, in fact, a fiction. There is but one goal, and that is buddhahood. Because there is only one goal, there is only one path, the path of the bodhisattva to buddhahood. The Buddha describes this path as the ‘single vehicle ’ (ekayana,) and the “buddha vehicle’ (buddhayana). Scholars regard this doctrine as an innovation of the Lotus Sutra, and it was perhaps so regarded by many at the time of its proclamation. However, the Buddha does not describe this view of the Buddhist path as something new, but as something very old. Indeed, he says that the Lotus Sutra has been taught by many buddhas in the past, and those who venerate the sutra now will gain great merit. This is where the chapter translated below begins.
The earth begins to quake, a huge bejewelled stupa rises out of the earth and stands suspended in mid-air. A voice is heard coming from inside the stupa, praising the Lotus Sutra and Sakyamuni’s preaching of it. Sakyamuni explains that this is the voice of a buddha named Prabhutaratna who had lived long ago in a distant universe. He had vowed that after he passed into nirvanna, his stupa would appear wherever the Lotus Sutra was preached. (Here we see an example, as in Chapter 5, of the benefits of believing in and worshipping a particular text being extolled in the pages of the text itself.) The assembled audience asked to see this buddha. Sakyamuni explained that he must first gather all of his emanation bodies to do so.
The Mahayana developed the doctrine of the three bodies of a buddha. The first was the dharmakaya, sometimes translated as *truth bodyit was not a physical body at all, but a collection of transcendent qualities of which all buddhas partook. The second body was the sambhogakaya, often translated as *enjoyment body’, a resplendent form of a buddha that did not appear on earth but only in pure lands. The third was the nirmanakaya or *emanation body’, the body to which the Buddha refers here. The form of a buddha that appears in the human world is only a manifestation, an emanation; the Sanskrit term also has the sense of a magical creation. Later in the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha reveals that he had not really gone forth from his life as a prince, undergone austerities, and achieved enlightenment under the tree. This was all a display meant to inspire the faithful. It was all just an emanation; he had in fact been enlightened aeons ago. Not only is the buddha that appears in this world an emanation, but there are multiple emanations of that buddha throughout the universe. It is these emanations that Sakyamuni summons to witness the opening of the stupa. As they arrive, our world is transformed into a pure land, with all gods, humans, animals, ghosts and hell beings transported temporarily to other realms, leaving only the emanated buddhas and their bodhisattva attendants.
When the stupa is opened, they do not see the relics of a cremated buddha, but the glowing body of the buddha Prabhutaratna (called *Many Jewels’), very much alive and undecayed. The potency of stupas and their power to bestow blessings was said to derive from the presence of the living buddha within them; later in the sutra,
Sakyamuni would proclaim that a buddha is eternal, and only pretends to enter nirvana. And as if to vividly demonstrate the multiple and simultaneous presence of buddhas in the world, the buddha Prabhutaratna moves to one side, and the buddha Sakyamuni enters the stupa and sits down beside him.
The Manifestation of the Jewelled Stupa
At that time there appeared before the Buddha a stupa [made of] the seven precious gems. It was a full five hundred yojanas [i.e., a unit of measurement; one yojana is approximately seven miles in length] tall, with a girth of two hundred and fifty yojanas, and it welled up from out of the earth and stood suspended in mid-air. All manner of precious objects adorned it. There were some five thousand bannisters and a full ten million niches. It was bedecked with banners and streamers beyond count, and laced with strings of precious jewels from which there hung billions of jewelled bells. The fragrance of tamdla leaf and sandalwood issued from each of its four sides, filling the entire realm. Its canopies and banners were made of the seven precious substances of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, sea-shell, coral, pearl and carnelian. Upwardly its spire reached to the palaces of the four divine kings. [From] the Heaven of the Thirty-Three the gods rained down divine mdnddrava blossoms in offering to the jewelled stupa, while an assembly of some thousands of ten thousands of millions of devas, dragons, yaksas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, humans and non-humans also made offering to the jewelled stupa with sundry flowers, incenses, necklaces, banners and canopies and orchestral music, paying reverence to it, honouring it and praising it.
Thereupon, from within the jewelled stupa the sound of a great voice boomed forth, which said in praise: ‘It is excellent! It is superb, Lord Sakyamuni, that you are able, by means of the great wisdom of perfect equality, to preach this Sutra of the Lotus Blossom of the Marvellous Dharma on behalf of the great assembly, a dharma of the bodhisattvas that is borne protectively in mind by the buddhas. It is as you say! Indeed it is so, Lord Sakyamuni. What you have said is completely true.’
When the fourfold assembly saw this great jewelled stupa floating, suspended in the air, and they heard the voice issue forth from its depths, they were all filled with delight and faith in the dharma. Awestruck by what they had never experienced before, they rose up from their seats, joined their palms in adoration, and drew back to either side. At that time a bodhisattva by the name of Great Joy in Preaching (Mahapratibhana), knowing the perplexities harboured by the devas, humans, asuras and other worldly beings, addressed the Buddha saying, ‘World-Honoured One, for what reason does this jewelled stupa well up from the earth and this voice issue from its midst?’
Thereupon the Buddha said to bodhisattva Great Joy in Preaching, ‘Within this jewelled stupa is contained the complete body of a tathagata. Far to the east of here, [across] some countless thousands of tens of thousands of millions of world-realms, there was once a land known as Jewelled Purity (Ratna-visuddha). In that land there was a buddha by the name of Many Jewels (Prabhutaratna). When that buddha was practising the bodhisattva path he made a great vow, saying, “If I become a buddha, [I vow that] after I have entered extinction, at any place throughout the lands of the ten directions where the Lotus Sutra is being preached, my bejewelled shrine will well up before those persons listening to the sutra, saying in praise, ‘Excellent!’ ”
‘After that buddha achieved his enlightenment and when he was on the verge of entering final extinction, he declared to the bhiksus among his great assembly of gods and humans, “After I have entered extinction, those who wish to make offering to my intact body should construct a single large stupa [for it].” By the supernatural power of that buddha’s vow, here and there throughout the realms of the ten directions, whenever people preach the Lotus Sutra, that [buddha’s] jewelled stupa will unfailingly well up before them. With his body fully intact within the jewelled stupa, he will praise them, saying, “Excellent! Well Done!” Great Joy in Preaching, because it has heard the Lotus Sutra being preached, the stupa of the tathagata Many Jewels now wells up out of the earth, praising, “Excellent! Well Done!” ’
Emboldened by the tathagata’s spiritual power, the bodhisattva Great Joy in Preaching thereupon said to the Buddha, ‘Lord, we wish to see the body of this buddha.’ The Buddha replied to the great being, bodhisattva Great Joy in Preaching, ‘This buddha Many Jewels has a profound and solemn vow, to wit, “When my stupa rises up before [the gathering] of the buddhas in order to listen to the Lotus Sutra, should a buddha wish to show my body to his fourfold assembly, then let him bring back and assemble in one place all of his emanation-body buddhas that are engaged in preaching the dharma throughout the worlds of the ten directions. Only then will my body be revealed.” Great Joy in Preaching, shall I assemble my emanation-body buddhas that are currently preaching the dharma throughout the ten directions?’ Great Joy in Preaching addressed the Buddha, saying, ‘World-Honoured One, we indeed wish to see the Lord’s manifestation-body buddhas, so that we may make obeisance and offering to them.’
At that point, the Buddha put forth a single ray of light from the white tuft [between his eyebrows], whereupon all the buddhas throughout the lands of the eastern direction became visible, their number equivalent to the sands of five hundred tens of thousands of nayutas [millions] of Ganges rivers. The ground of these lands was made of lapis lazuli, and they were bedecked with jewelled trees [from which hung] jewelled clothing. Countless thousands of tens of thousands of millions of bodhisattvas filled their midst. All around were draped jewelled curtains, with jewelled nets suspended overhead. The buddhas of those lands preached the dharma with a great and marvellous voice, while countless thousands, tens of thousands and millions of bodhisattvas could be seen circulating through those lands and preaching the dharma to their multitudes. Whether south, west, north, the four intermediate, or upper and lower directions, wherever the light from the Buddha’s brow reached quadrants the scene was exactly the same.
Thereupon the Saha world transformed into a clean and pure [realm], its ground of lapis lazuli bedecked with jewelled groves. Ropes of pure gold were used to cordon off its eight highways.
Cities and villages, seas, rivers, mountains and forests were all gone. Mandarava blossoms and the smoke of precious incenses spread across its grounds, while jewelled nets and curtains, festooned with jewelled bells, spanned the sky overhead. Only the members of this assembly remained, all humans and gods having been transported to another land.
At that point, the buddhas began to arrive in the Saha world, each accompanied by a single bodhisattva who served as his attendant. Each proceeded to the foot of a jewelled tree. Each jewelled tree was exactly five hundred yojanas tall, with its branches, leaves, flowers and fruit arrayed in perfect order. Beneath the trees were lion thrones, five yojanas in height. They, too, were studded with magnificent gems. One by one, each buddha folded his legs and took his seat on this throne. In this fashion, they progressively filled up the entire three thousand great thousand realms [of the Saha world], and yet, even the bodies manifested by Sakyamuni Buddha in one of the ten quadrants could not be fully accommodated. Because Sakyamuni wished to make room for all of his emanation buddhas, he transformed an additional two hundred tens of millions of nayutas of other lands throughout each of the eight quadrants, making them all clean and pure. There were no hell-dwellers, hungry ghosts, animals, or asuras; and the gods and human beings were also moved away and installed in other lands.
The [newly] transformed realms also had ground of lapis lazuli, which was adorned with jewelled trees. The trees were five hundred yojanas tall, their branches, leaves, flowers and fruit all arrayed in perfect order. At the foot of each tree was a jewelled lion throne, five yojanas tall, which was studded with all manner of precious gems. Again, there were no seas or rivers, nor were there such kings among mountain ranges as the Mahamucilinda Mountains, the Iron Encircling Mountains, the Great Iron Encircling Mountains, or Mount Sumeru. The entire region was united into a single buddha land, its bejewelled ground perfectly level. Jewels strung in mist-like curtains festooned the skies overhead, from which there dangled streamers and canopies. The smoke of the most precious incenses and divine jewel-like blossoms spread across its ground.
Once again, in order to accommodate the buddhas who were coming to take their seats, Sakyamuni Buddha transformed another two hundred tens of thousands of nayutas of [buddha] lands in each of the eight directions, rendering them all pure and free of hell- dwellers, hungry ghosts, animals and asuras. Their gods and humans were again transported to other realms, just as before. The newly transformed land also had a ground of lapis lazuli, which was adorned with jewelled trees. The entire setting was united into a single buddha land, its bejewelled ground perfectly level. Jewels strung in mist-like curtains festooned the skies overhead, from which there dangled streamers and canopies, as the smoke of precious incenses and divine jewel-like blossoms spread across its floor.
Then, again, Sakyamuni transformed an additional two hundred nayutas of lands throughout the eight directions in order to accommodate the buddhas who were coming to take their seats.
The entire setting was united into a single buddha land, its bejewelled ground perfectly level. Jewels strung in mist-like curtains festooned the skies overhead, from which there dangled streamers and canopies, as the smoke of precious incenses and divine jewel-like blossoms spread across its floor.
At that point, the [buddha] bodies manifested by Sakyamuni in the eastern quadrant – buddhas from realms equivalent to the sands of some hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of millions of nayutas of Ganges rivers – gathered there, each preaching the dharma as he came. In this fashion, all the buddhas of the ten directions assembled and took their respective seats in the eight directions, so that each of the four hundred tens of thousands of millions of other buddha lands that comprised the assembly’s respective quadrants was filled to capacity with the buddha tathagatas.
Having taken his seat on the lion throne beneath his jewelled tree, each buddha thereupon dispatched his acolyte to pay respect to Buddha Sakyamuni. As he filled his disciple’s hand with jewelled blossoms, he told him, ‘Good Son, go to Sakyamuni on Mount Grdhrakuta and speak as I instruct you: “Are you free of illness? Are you free of affliction? Is your vital energy easeful; and are the bodhisattvas and sravakas at ease?” Take these precious blossoms and scatter them over the Buddha in offering. Then speak these words to him: “Buddha So-and-So requests that you open this jewelled stupa.”’ All of the buddhas dispatched their emissaries in this way.
Seeing that his emanation buddhas had all gathered and each taken their seats, and having heard all these buddhas express the same desire that the jewelled stupa be opened, Sakyamuni Buddha thereupon rose from his seat and stood in mid-air. The entire fourfold assembly likewise rose up and, with palms joined, single- mindedly gazed at the Buddha. Using the fingers of his right hand, Sakyamuni Buddha thereupon opened the door of the stupa made of seven-jewels. As he did so, it emitted a great sound, like the bolt being opened on a massive city gate. Thereupon, the entire assembly saw the tathagata Many Jewels, seated on a lion throne in the midst of the jewelled stupa, his body undecayed and perfectly intact, as though entered in meditative absorption. Moreover, they heard his voice say, ‘Excellent! Well done, Sakyamuni! I am delighted that you preach this Lotus Sutra, and I have come to this place expressly to listen to this sUtra.7
Seeing a buddha who had entered extinction some countless thousands of tens of thousands of millions of kapas [aeons] ago speak these words, the fourfold assemby praised it as something they had never experienced before. Taking bouquets of precious blossoms, they scattered them over Buddha Many Jewels and Buddha Sakyamuni. Thereupon, Buddha Many Jewels, still seated in the jewelled stupa, offered half of his seat to Sakyamuni Buddha, saying, ‘Sakyamuni Buddha, please come and sit down.’ Sakyamuni immediately entered the jewelled stupa and sat down on his half of the seat, seating himself in cross-legged posture. At that time, the members of the great assembly, seeing the two thataagatas seated on the lion throne in the jewelled stupa, legs intertwined in crosslegged posture, each had this thought: ‘The seat of the buddhas is so high up and far away. I wish that the tathagatas would use their supernatural powers to enable us to float in the air [so that we might have a better view].’ Employing his supernatural powers, Sakyamuni Buddha immediately caused the entire assembly to rise up and abide in the air. With resounding voice he announced to the fourfold assembly, ‘Who among you is able to widely preach the SUtra of the Lotus Blossom of the Marvellous Dharma in this Saha realm? Now is precisely the right time. Before long the tathagata will enter nirvauna, and the Buddha wishes to entrust this SUtra of the Lotus Blossom of the Marvellous Dharma to those of you who are present.’
Translated by Daniel Stevenson from the Kumarajiva version of the Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapundarika sutra); Miaofa lianhua jing, T 262, vol. 9, pp. 32b16-33c16.
Source: Lopez Donald S. (2004), Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin Classics; First Edition.