Article Index

 

Lotus Sutra: Chapter 2

Skillful Means

At that time the Bhagavat arose tranquilly with insight out of samādhi and addressed Śāriputra: “Profound and immeasurable is the wisdom of the buddhas. The gate to their wisdom is hard to enter and difficult to understand. None of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas may be capable of understanding it. Why is this? The buddhas have closely attended innumerable hundreds of thousands of myriads of koṭis of other buddhas. They have exhaustively carried out practices with courage and persistence under uncountable numbers of buddhas, their names becoming universally renowned. They have perfected this profound and unprecedented Dharma, and their intention in adapting their explanations to what is appropriate is difficult to understand.

“O Śāriputra! After attaining buddhahood I expounded the teaching extensively with various explanations and illustrations, and with skillful means (upāya) led sentient beings to rid themselves of their attachments. Why is this? Because all the Tathāgatas have attained perfect mastery of skillful means, wisdom, and insight.

“O Śāriputra! The wisdom and insight of the Tathāgatas is extensive, profound, immeasurable, and unhindered. They are possessed of power, fear- lessness, meditation, liberation, and samādhi that is profound and endless. They have completely attained this unprecedented Dharma.

“O Śāriputra! The Tathāgatas can, through various methods, skillfully illuminate the Dharma with gentle speech and gladden the hearts of the assemblies.

“O Śāriputra! To put it briefly, the buddhas have attained this immeas- urable, limitless, and unprecedented Dharma. Enough, O Śāriputra, I will speak no further. Why is this? Because the Dharma that the buddhas have attained is foremost, unique, and difficult to understand. No one but the buddhas can completely know the real aspects of all dharmas—that is to say their character, nature, substance, potential, function, cause, condition, result, effect, and essential unity.”

Thereupon the Bhagavat spoke these verses to explain this meaning again:

The Heroes of the World are inconceivable,

Neither devas, humans, nor any other sentient beings Are able to comprehend them.

No one is able to discern the power, fearlessness, Liberation, samādhi, and

Other attributes of the buddhas. Formerly, under innumerable buddhas,

They have fully accomplished their practices

And the Dharma, which is profound and excellent, Hard to perceive and difficult to understand.

Having pursued these practices For innumerable koṭis of kalpas,

I attained the result on the terrace of enlightenment And understood completely.

I and the buddhas of the ten directions Know such matters,

Such as the great results and rewards,

And the meaning of various aspects and characteristics. It is impossible to explain this Dharma;

The powers of speech fail.

No other sentient being is able to understand it, Except for those bodhisattvas

Who, in their belief, are willing to understand. Even the multitude of the Buddha’s disciples,

Who have formerly paid homage to all the buddhas, Who have put an end to all their corruption

And are bearing their last bodies,

Are not able to understand it.

Even if this whole world

Were filled with those such as Śāriputra, And they tried together to comprehend it,

They still would not be able to understand completely

The wisdom of the buddhas.

Again, even if the worlds of the ten directions Were filled with such disciples

As Śāriputra,

And they tried together to comprehend it,

They still would not be able to completely understand. And even if the worlds of the ten directions

Were filled with pratyekabuddhas,

As numerous as bamboo trees in a grove, Who had keen wisdom

And were bearing their last bodies, Free from corruption,

Even if they tried together singlemindedly, For innumerable kalpas,

To comprehend the wisdom of the buddhas, Still they would not understand it in the least. Even if the worlds of the ten directions

Were packed as thick as stalks of rice, Flax, bamboo, and reeds

With bodhisattvas, recent aspirants to enlightenment, Who had paid homage to innumerable buddhas— Though they fully understood the meaning

And could expound the Dharma, Even with this subtle wisdom,

If they tried together singlemindedly to comprehend, For as many kalpas as the sands of the Ganges River, They still would not be able to know

The wisdom of the buddhas. Even if bodhisattvas,

As numerous as the sands of the Ganges River, Who had reached the stage of nonretrogression, Tried together singlemindedly to comprehend it, Still they would not be able to know.

The Buddha, still speaking to Śāriputra, said:

I have already attained the profound and subtle Dharma That is incorruptible

And beyond all comprehension.

Only I and the buddhas of the ten directions know this. O Śāriputra! You should know that the words

Of the buddhas are never inconsistent. You should trust fully in the Dharma That the Buddha expounds;

The Dharma of the Bhagavat

Has been in existence for a long time.

I will now definitely expound the truth. I address myself to the śrāvakas

And those seeking the pratyekabuddha vehicle. It was I who caused them to become free

From the bondage of suffering, and to attain nirvana. I have revealed the teaching of the three vehicles With the power of the skillful means of the buddhas So as to free the sentient beings

From their various human attachments.

 

At that time it occurred to the great assembly of twelve hundred śrā- vakas, arhats free from corruption, beginning with Ājñātakauṇḍinya, and the other monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen who had set out to become śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas: “Why has the Bhagavat just now so earnestly praised skillful means? For what reason has he declared that the Dharma that the buddhas have attained is very profound and difficult to understand? Why has he said that their intention in adapting their teaching to what is appro- priate is so difficult to comprehend that all the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas are not able to understand it?

“As long as the Buddha taught the meaning of the single liberation we thought we had attained that Dharma and achieved nirvana. But now we do not understand what he means.”

At that time Śāriputra, aware of the confusion of the fourfold assem- blies and himself also feeling confused, addressed the Buddha saying:
“O Bhagavat! For what reason and on what grounds have you so earnestly praised the unique skillful means of the buddhas and the profound and subtle Dharma that is difficult to understand? Never before have I heard such a thing from the Buddha. Now Bhagavat, I entreat you to explain this because the four- fold assemblies are confused. O Bhagavat! Why have you so earnestly praised the Dharma that is profound, subtle, and difficult to understand?”

Thereupon Śāriputra, wanting to further explain what he meant, spoke these verses:

O Great Seer, Sun of Wisdom!

Now, after a long time,

You have taught this Dharma, saying,

 

I have attained the inconceivable Dharma,

That is to say, power, fearlessness,

Samādhi, meditation, and liberation.

No one has ever questioned the Dharma

That I attained on the terrace of enlightenment.

No one has ever questioned my intentions,

So difficult to conceive.

 

Without being asked

You explained it by yourself

And praised the path you have practiced, saying,

 

The wisdom the buddhas have attained

Is extremely subtle!

 

The arhats free from corruption

And those seeking nirvana

Have all fallen into confusion.

Why has the Buddha said this?

Those seeking to become pratyekabuddhas,

Monks, nuns, devas, nāgas,

Yakṣas, gandharvas, and the others

Glanced at each other in confusion

And looking toward the Best of Humans asked:

 

"O Buddha! We entreat you to explain why this is so!"

The Buddha has said that I am the foremost

Among the śrāvakas, yet now I am confused

About my own knowledge and unable to understand.

Is it the ultimate Dharma?

Is it a path to be practiced?

The sons born from the mouths of the buddhas

Stand waiting with palms pressed together,

Looking at the Buddha.

I entreat you to proclaim the truth,

Speaking in the finest voice!

The devas, nāgas, and others,

As numerous as the sands of the Ganges River,

As many as eighty thousand bodhisattvas

Who are seeking buddhahood, and noble emperors

Who have come from myriads of koṭis of countries,

Are all standing respectfully with palms pressed together

Asking how to accomplish the path.

 

Then the Buddha addressed Śāriputra, saying: “Enough, enough! Speak no more! If I explained this matter, the devas and humans in all the worlds would be astounded.”

Then Śāriputra again addressed the Buddha: “O Bhagavat! Please explain it! I entreat you to explain it, because in this assembly there are innumerable hundreds of thousands of myriads of koṭis of incalculable sentient beings, sharp in faculties and possessed of wisdom, who have previously encoun- tered the buddhas. When they hear the teaching of the Buddha they will trust, believe, and accept it.”

Thereupon Śāriputra spoke in verse to explain this again:

 

O King of the Dharma, the Best of Humans!

I entreat you to explain it.

Please explain it without hesitation!

In this assembly there are innumerable sentient beings

Who will trust and accept it.

 

Then the Buddha again tried to dissuade Śāriputra, saying: “If I explain it, the devas, humans, and asuras in all the worlds will be astounded, and arrogant monks will certainly go to their downfall.”

At that time the Bhagavat again spoke in verse:

 

Enough, enough! Speak no more!

The Dharma that I have attained

Is excellent and incomprehensible.

Though the arrogant hear it,

They will never accept it.

 

And again Śāriputra addressed the Buddha, saying: “O Bhagavat! Please explain it! Please explain it! In this assembly there are people like me and others, numbering into the hundreds of thousands of myriads of koṭis of beings, who have been led and inspired by the buddhas in their former exis- tences. Such people will certainly trust, believe, and accept it. And they will benefit, profit, and receive solace from it for a very long time.”

Thereupon Śāriputra spoke these verses to elaborate on what he meant:

 

O Best of Humans!

Please teach the ultimate Dharma!

I am the eldest son of the Buddha.

Please illuminate and explain it!

Innumerable beings in this assembly

Will certainly trust and accept this Dharma,

Because the Buddha in former existences

Led and inspired such people.

All of them will attentively listen and accept,

Their palms pressed together,

To the words of the Buddha.

I entreat you to illuminate and explain it

For the assembly of twelve hundred people like me,

And the others seeking buddhahood.

When they hear this Dharma

They will bring forth great joy.

 

Then the Bhagavat spoke to Śāriputra, saying: “You have now per- sistently asked me three times. How could I possibly not explain it to you?

Therefore listen carefully and pay close attention! I will now illuminate and explain it.”

When he said this, five thousand monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen in the assembly immediately got up from their seats, bowed to the Buddha, and left. What was the reason for this? Because the roots of error among this group had been deeply planted and they were arrogant, thinking they had attained what they had not attained and had realized what they had not realized. Because of such defects they did not stay. And the Bhagavat remained silent and did not stop them.

Then the Buddha addressed Śāriputra: “My assembly here is free of use- less twigs and leaves; only the pure essence remains.

“O Śāriputra! Let the arrogant ones go! Listen carefully and I will explain it to you.”

Then Śāriputra replied: “Indeed, O Bhagavat, I greatly desire to hear it.” Then the Buddha addressed Śāriputra: “Only very rarely do the Buddha Tathāgatas teach such a True Dharma as this, as rarely as the uḍumbara flower blooms.

“O Śāriputra! Trust and accept what the Buddha teaches! My words are never false.

“O Śāriputra! The real intention of all the buddhas in adapting their explanations to what is appropriate is difficult to understand. Why is this? Because I have expounded the teachings with innumerable skillful means and various kinds of explanations and illustrations. Yet this Dharma is beyond reason and discernment. Only the buddhas can understand it. Why is this? Because the Buddha Bhagavats appear in this world for one great purpose alone. O Śāriputra! Now I will explain why I said that the Buddha Bhaga- vats appear in this world for only one great purpose.

“The Buddha Bhagavat appear in this world to cause sentient beings to aspire toward purity and the wisdom and insight of the buddhas. They appear in this world to manifest the wisdom and insight of the buddhas to sentient beings. They appear in this world to cause sentient beings to attain the wisdom and insight of a buddha’s enlightenment. They appear in this world in order to cause sentient beings to enter the path of the wisdom and insight of a buddha.

“O Śāriputra! For this one great reason alone the buddhas have appeared in this world.”

The Buddha addressed Śāriputra, saying: “The Buddha Tathāgatas lead and inspire only bodhisattvas. All the acts of a buddha are always for one purpose. The buddhas manifest their wisdom and insight solely to inspire sentient beings to enlightenment.

“O Śāriputra! A Tathāgata teaches sentient beings the Dharma only through the single buddha vehicle. There is no other, neither a second nor a third.

“O Śāriputra! The true nature of all the buddhas of the ten directions is exactly like this.

“O Śāriputra! All the buddhas of the past expounded the teachings for the sake of sentient beings, using incalculable and innumerable skillful means and various explanations and illustrations. These teachings were all for the sake of the single buddha vehicle. All these sentient beings, hearing the Dharma from the buddhas, finally attained omniscience.

“O Śāriputra! All the future buddhas who will appear in the world will expound the teachings for the sake of sentient beings, using incalculable and innumerable skillful means and various explanations and illustrations. These teachings will all be for the single buddha vehicle. All sentient beings who hear this Dharma from these buddhas will ultimately attain omniscience.

“O Śāriputra! All the Buddha Bhagavats of the present, in immeasurable hundreds of thousands of myriads of koṭis of buddha worlds of the ten directions, teach the Dharma to sentient beings using incalculable and innumerable skillful means with various explanations and illustrations to benefit many of them and cause them to feel at peace. These Dharmas are all of the single buddha vehicle. All the sentient beings who hear the Dharma from these buddhas will ultimately attain omniscience.

“O Śāriputra! These buddhas lead and inspire only bodhisattvas, because they want to teach sentient beings with the wisdom and insight of the Buddha, to enlighten sentient beings with the wisdom and insight of the Buddha, and to cause sentient beings to enter the path of the wisdom and insight of the Buddha.

“O Śāriputra! I too am now like this. Having understood the various desires and deep-rooted inclinations of sentient beings, I teach the Dharma according to their capacities through the power of skillful means, using var- ious explanations and illustrations.

“O Śāriputra! I do this in order to cause them to attain the omniscience of the single buddha vehicle.

“O Śāriputra! Since there is no second vehicle in the worlds of the ten directions, how could there be a third!

“O Śāriputra! The buddhas appear in the troubled world of the five defilements, which are the defilement of the kalpa, the defilement through desire’s confusion, the defilement of sentient beings, the defilement of views, and the defilement of lifespan. Therefore, O Śāriputra, in the period of the decadent kalpa, because sentient beings are filthy, greedy, jealous, and develop roots of error, all the buddhas illuminate the three [vehicles] with the power of skillful means in order to teach the single buddha vehicle.

“O Śāriputra! If any of my disciples declare that they are arhats or pratyekabuddhas, and do not listen or comprehend that all the Buddha Tathā- gatas teach only the bodhisattvas, they are not disciples of the buddhas, nor are they arhats or pratyekabuddhas.

“Again, O Śāriputra! If there are any monks or nuns who would declare that they have attained arhatship, that they are bearing their last bodies and are destined for complete nirvana, and yet who have not sought highest, complete enlightenment, they should be considered arrogant people.

“Why is this? Because there is no case in which a monk who has actually achieved arhatship does not believe in this Dharma, except after the Buddha has entered parinirvāṇa and there is no buddha present.

“What is the reason for this? Because after the parinirvāṇa of the Buddha it is hard to find people who preserve, recite, and understand the meaning of the sutras like this. But if they should meet other buddhas they will imme- diately understand this teaching.

“O Śāriputra! You should wholeheartedly accept and preserve the words of the Buddha. The words of the Buddha Tathāgatas are never false. There are no other vehicles, only the single buddha vehicle.”

Thereupon the Bhagavat, wanting to elaborate the meaning of this further, uttered these verses:

 

In the fourfold assembly there were five thousand

Monks and nuns who were excessively proud,

Laymen who were arrogant,

And laywomen who were unaccepting.

 

They did not see their own defects,

Being faulty in self-discipline,

And clung to their shortcomings;

These of little wisdom have already left.

Through the virtuous dignity of the Buddha

The dregs of the assembly have departed.

Having little virtue,

These people were incapable of accepting this Dharma.

Free of useless twigs and leaves,

Only the pure essence of this assembly remains.

O Śāriputra, listen carefully!

All the buddhas teach the Dharma

That they have attained

Through the immeasurable power of skillful means,

For the sake of sentient beings.

Completely knowing their intentions,

Their various ways of practice,

Their wishes and capacities,

And the good and bad karma

Of their previous lives,

The Buddha gladdens all sentient beings

With the power of words and skillful means,

Using examples and illustrations.

The Buddha teaches by means of sutras, verses,

Stories of his past deeds, and of past events,

Miraculous tales, explanatory tales,

Allegories, poems, and exegeses.

The Buddha teaches nirvana

To those with dull faculties,

Who are satisfied with lowly aspirations

And attached to birth and death,

Who have not practiced the profound path

In the presence of innumerable buddhas

And are confused by suffering.

Having devised this skillful means

 

I enable them to enter the wisdom of the buddhas.

But I have never said

That all of you would attain

The path of the buddhas.

I have never said this

Because the occasion never arose.

Now is precisely the right time for me

To teach definitively the Mahayana.

I apply these nine kinds of teachings

According to the capacities of sentient beings.

I teach these sutras

Because they are the basis for entering the Mahayana.

I teach the Mahayana sutras

To those heirs of the buddhas

Who are pure in mind, mild, and receptive,

Have keen faculties,

And who have practiced the profound path

Under immeasurable buddhas.

I predict that such people

Will attain the path of the buddhas

In their future lives,

Because they keep the buddhas in mind

With profound thoughts

And practice pure conduct.

Hearing that they shall attain buddhahood

They will be filled with great joy;

Because a buddha knows their intentions

He teaches the Mahayana.

Those śrāvakas or bodhisattvas,

Who have heard even a single verse

Of the Dharma that I have taught,

Will all become buddhas.

There can be no doubt about it.

In the buddha worlds of the ten directions

There is only the Dharma of the single vehicle.

 

Apart from the skillful means of the buddhas,

There is neither a second nor a third [vehicle].

A buddha merely uses provisional words

In order to lead sentient beings.

All the buddhas appear in the world

To teach the wisdom of the buddhas.

Only this one thing is real,

The other two are not true.

In the end,

A buddha does not save sentient beings

Through an inferior vehicle.

The buddhas themselves Abide in the Mahayana;

The Dharma that they have attained,

Is adorned with meditation, wisdom, and power;

And through these they save the sentient beings.

I would be ungenerous

If I were to lead and inspire even a single person

Through an inferior vehicle,

Having attained the highest path,

The universal Dharma of the Mahayana.

This is simply not possible.

If anyone takes refuge in the Buddha,

The Tathāgata will not deceive him.

A Tathāgata has neither stinginess nor jealousy

And has detached himself

From the evils of the phenomenal world.

That is why the buddhas of the ten directions

Are the only ones who have no fear.

Having a body adorned with the marks of a buddha,

Emitting a ray of light that illuminates the worlds

And revered by immeasurable sentient beings,

I teach the signs of the true aspects

Of the phenomenal world.

O Śāriputra! You should now know

 

That originally I made a vow

To make all sentient beings my equal

Without any difference.

Now I have already fulfilled this vow

That I made in the past.

I will lead and inspire all sentient beings

And cause them to enter the path of the buddhas.

If I met sentient beings

And taught them till the end the path of the buddhas,

Those with little understanding

Would be confused and perplexed

And would not accept the teaching.

I know that these sentient beings

Have never cultivated the roots of good merit.

They are attached to the desires of the five senses,

Disordered by delusion and passion,

And have fallen into the three troubled states of being

Because of these desires.

They are wandering through The six transmigratory states,

Tormented by every kind of suffering.

They are continually being born as tiny embryos

In one world after another.

These people of few qualities and little merit

Are afflicted by various sufferings.

They enter into the jungle of sixty-two false views

Such as “This exists” or “This does not exist.”

They are so firmly and deeply attached to false teachings

That they cannot get rid of them.

They are arrogant, proud, deceitful, and dishonest.

They have heard neither the names

Nor the True Dharma of the buddhas

For thousands of myriads of koṭis of kalpas.

Such people are difficult to save.

That is why, O Śāriputra, I devised the method of teaching

 

The way to extinguish all suffering through nirvana.

Even though I taught nirvana,

It is not the true extinction.

Every existing thing from the very beginning

Has always had the mark of quiescence.

The heirs of the buddhas who practice this path

Will thereafter become buddhas in the future.

With the power of skillful means

I have presented the teachings of the three vehicles.

Yet all of the Bhagavats

Teach the path of the single vehicle.

This great assembly

Should now rid itself of confusion.

The words of the buddhas are not inconsistent.

There is only the single vehicle;

There is no other.

In the past innumerable kalpas

There appeared immeasurable and incalculable buddhas,

Hundreds of thousands of myriads of koṭis in number,

Who have attained parinirvāṇa.

All the Bhagavats

Taught the characteristics of all dharmas

With the power of innumerable skillful means,

Using various examples and illustrations.

All these Bhagavats

Taught the Dharma of the single vehicle,

Led and inspired immeasurable sentient beings,

And enabled them to enter the path of the buddhas.

Understanding the deepest desires of the entire world

Of the devas, humans, and other beings,

The Great Sage Lord has illuminated

The highest meaning

With diverse skillful means.

All those sentient beings

Who encountered and heard the teaching

 

Of the buddhas of the past,

And who accumulated various merits

Through acts of giving (dāna), integrity (śīla), perseverance (kṣānti),

Diligence (vīrya), meditation (dhyāna), and wisdom (prajñā)

(i.e., the six perfections)

Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

And after the parinirvāṇa of the buddhas,

Those sentient beings with well-governed minds

Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

After the buddhas attained parinirvāṇa,

All those who paid homage to the relics,

Who made myriads of koṭis of stupas

Extensively and beautifully adorned with gold, silver,

Crystal, mother of pearl, agate, ruby,

Lapis lazuli, and pearl;

Those who made rock stupas,

Stupas out of sandal, aloe, deodar, and other woods,

As well as brick, tile, mud, and other materials;

All those who made buddha stupas

Out of piles of earth in desolate places;

And even children in play

Who made buddha stupas out of heaps of sand —

All such people have certainly attained

The path of the buddhas.

And all those who made images of the buddhas

Carved with their extraordinary marks

Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

All those who made buddha images

Out of the seven treasures,

Decorated with brass, copper, pewter, lead,

Tin, iron, wood, mud, glue, lacquer, and cloth,

Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

All those who made or had others make buddha images

Painted with the one hundred embellishing

Marks of merit,

 

Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

This even includes children in play

Who have drawn a buddha image With a blade of grass or a twig,
Brush or fingernail.

Such people, having gradually accumulated merit

And perfected great compassion,

Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

Leading and inspiring the bodhisattvas,

They save countless sentient beings.

All those who paid homage to stupas, Sculpted or painted images,

Honoring them with flowers, perfumes,

Banners, and canopies;

Those who paid homage with all kinds of sweet music —

With drums, horns, conches, pipes, flutes, lutes, harps,

Mandolins, gongs, and cymbals;

Those who joyfully praised the qualities of the buddhas

With various songs or

Even with a single low-pitched sound,

Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

Those who, even with distracted minds

Have offered a single flower to a painted image

Will in time see innumerable buddhas.

Or those who have done obeisance to images,

Or merely pressed their palms together,

Or raised a single hand, or nodded their heads,

Will in due time see immeasurable buddhas.

They will attain the highest path

And extensively save innumerable sentient beings.

They will enter nirvana without residue

Just as a fire goes out after its wood is exhausted.

Those who, even with distracted minds,

Entered a stupa compound

And chanted but once, “Homage to the Buddha!”

 

Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas. Anyone who heard this teaching,

Either in the presence of a past buddha Or after their parinirvāṇa,

Has certainly attained the path of the buddhas. The future Bhagavats, Tathāgatas, Immeasurable in number,

Will teach the Dharma with skillful means.

All the Tathāgatas

Will save sentient beings

With immeasurable skillful means,

Causing them to enter the wisdom of the buddhas

That is free from corruption.

Of those hearing this Dharma There will be no one

Who will not become a buddha. The original vow of the buddhas

Was to cause all sentient beings to universally

Attain the very same buddha path

That I have practiced.

Even though the buddhas of the future Will teach hundreds of thousands of koṭis Of innumerable paths to the Dharma, Their teachings will actually be

For the sake of the single vehicle.

All the buddhas, the Best of Humans,

Know that all dharmas are ever without substance And that the buddha-seeds germinate

Through dependent origination.

That is why they will teach the single vehicle. Having realized on the terrace of enlightenment That the state of the Dharma

Is permanent and unchangeable in this world,

The Leaders will teach with skillful means. The present buddhas of the ten directions,

 

As numerous as the sands of the Ganges River, Revered by devas and humans,

Appear in the world and teach this Dharma To make sentient beings feel at peace.

They know the utmost tranquility, And although they teach various paths With the power of skillful means,

Their teachings are actually for the buddha vehicle. Knowing the character of sentient beings —

Their deep intentions, past acts,

Wishes, persistence, and strength, Their keen or dull faculties —

The buddhas teach with skillful means

Using various explanations, illustrations, and words, In accordance with the capacities of sentient beings.

Now I too reveal the path of the buddhas

Through various paths to the Dharma To make sentient beings feel at peace.

Through the power of my wisdom

I know the dispositions and desires of sentient beings, And explain various teachings with skillful means,

Enabling them all to obtain joy.

O Śāriputra!

You should know that through the buddha-eye

I see beings wandering in the six states of existence

Who are poor, deprived of merit and wisdom,

Who are entering into the bitter path of birth and death, And are suffering repeatedly and without end.

They are deeply attached to the desires of the five senses, Just as yaks are attached to their tails.

Obstructed by greed, they are blind and cannot see.

They do not seek the buddha who has great power,

Nor the Dharma that cuts off suffering. Deeply immersed in false views,

They try to eliminate suffering through suffering.

 

I feel great compassion for such sentient beings.

Sitting on the terrace of enlightenment for the first time,

Looking at the bodhi tree

And walking about,

During those twenty-one days I was thinking thus:

 

The wisdom I have attained Is subtle and supreme.

But the faculties of sentient beings are dull.

They are attached to pleasures and blinded by delusion.

How can I save such beings?

 

Then Brahma and his devaputras, Śakra,

The world-protectors of the four quarters, Maheśvara and the other devas,

Together with a retinue of hundreds of thousands of myriads of attendants,

Paid their respects with palms pressed together

And begged me to turn the wheel of the Dharma.

Then I thought:

 

If I only praise the buddha vehicles,

Those beings who are submerged in suffering will not believe this Dharma.

Because they reject and do not believe the Dharma,

They will fall into the three troubled states of being.

I would rather not teach the Dharma and instead immediately enter nirvana.

 

Then I thought of the power of skillful means

Practiced by past buddhas.

This path that I have attained

Should now also be taught as the three vehicles. When I thought this,

 

The buddhas of the ten directions appeared

And with beautiful voices praised me saying:

 

O Śākyamuni! Splendid! O Supreme Leader,

You have attained the highest Dharma,

And yet still use the power of skillful means, Following all the other buddhas.

We too have attained the best and utmost Dharma And with discretion have explained the three vehicles For the sake of sentient beings.

Those with little wisdom Seek inferior teachings

And do not believe that they will become buddhas. That is why we use skillful means

And with discretion teach of various results. Although we teach the three vehicles

It is just for the instruction of the bodhisattvas!

 

O Śāriputra!

You should know

That when I heard this profound

And beautiful roar of the Noble Lions,

I chanted with joy, “Homage to the buddhas!” And I thought:

Since I have been born in this defiled world I will follow the other buddhas

And expound what they have expounded.

 

After contemplating this I set out for Vārāṇasī.

All dharmas have the tranquil character Of the Dharma:

This could not be expressed in words, So I taught the five monks

 

Through the power of skillful means.

This I named: “Turning the Wheel of the Dharma,” And immediately the word nirvana appeared in it And the different designations for Arhat (Buddha), Dharma, and Sangha.

From a great many kalpas ago I have always taught like this: I have praised and illuminated The teaching of nirvana,

Saying that it ends the sufferings Of birth and death.

O Śāriputra!

You should know that I see

Immeasurable thousands of myriads of koṭis Of the Buddha’s heirs,

Who, having set out for the buddha path,

And heard the Dharma explained with skillful means, Have respectfully come before the Buddha.

Then I thought:

 

The reason why the Tathāgatas appear is To explain the wisdom of the buddhas. Now is precisely the right time for this!

O Śāriputra!

You should know that

Those who have dull faculties and little wisdom, And those who are attached to mere signs and Are arrogant cannot accept this teaching.

Now I am happy and fearless.

Having openly set aside skillful means, I will teach only the highest path

To all the bodhisattvas. Having heard this teaching

The bodhisattvas and twelve hundred arhats, Freeing themselves from the web of doubt,

 

Will all become buddhas.

Just as the buddhas in the three periods Of the past, present, and future,

Teach the true nature of the Dharma, Now I too will expound the Dharma That is beyond conception.

All the buddhas

Appear in worlds far away And are difficult to meet.

Even if they appear in this world It is difficult to hear their teaching.

Even in immeasurable, innumerable kalpas It is difficult to hear this Dharma,

And those who are able to hear this Dharma Are also hard to find.

They are just like the uḍumbara flower Which appears only once in a very long while And, beloved by all,

Is considered a wonder among devas and humans. Those who, hearing this teaching,

Happily praise the buddhas By uttering even a single word

Have already paid homage to all buddhas Of the three periods.

Such people are even more extraordinary Than the uḍumbara flower.

All of you, have no doubts! I, the King of the Dharma,

Now proclaim to the great assembly:

I lead and inspire the bodhisattvas

Only with the path of the single vehicle; I am here without disciples.

O Śāriputra and all of you!

The śrāvakas and bodhisattvas should know

That this True Dharma is the hidden essence Of all the buddhas.

In the troubled worlds of the five kinds of defilement, Sentient beings are only attached to various desires, And ultimately do not seek the path of the buddhas. In the future the impure will hear

The Buddha teach the single vehicle,

But they will be confused and will not accept it. They will reject the Dharma

And fall into the troubled states of being. To those who are modest and pure,

And seek the path of the buddhas, I will praise extensively

The path of the single vehicle. O Śāriputra!

You should know that the Dharma Of all the buddhas is like this.

They teach the Dharma

With myriads of koṭis of skillful means, According to the capacities of sentient beings; The inexperienced cannot understand this.

You have come to know with certainty the skillful means Of the buddhas, the Teachers of the World,

That are expounded in accordance With people’s capacities.

All of you, have no further doubts! Let great joy arise in your hearts

And know that you will all become buddhas!