5. The Causal Conditions of the Lotus Sutra
Why did the Buddha speak of the Sutra?
According to the analysis of Dharma Master Gui Ji, there are ten causal conditions:
5.1 The past causes and the present conditions experienced by Shakyamuni Buddha
The Buddhas have, in the past, drawn near to countless hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of millions of Buddha, exhaustively practicing the unlimited Dharmas of the Way of those Buddhas.
(Chapter 2 - Expedient Devices)
Firstly, Shakyamuni became the Buddha, not just because of his cultivation in this life, but also of his cultivation in numerous past lives, in accordance with the immeasurable Dharma taught by all Buddhas.
Shariputra, you should know
That in the past I took a vow,
Wishing to lead the multitudes
To be identifical with me. (Chapter 2 - Expedient Device)
Secondly, cultivation is motivated by will power. Shakyamuni made a great vow wishing to lead the multitudes to become Buddhas like him.
In many aeons, I was a king and vowed to seek the supreme Bodhi with an unretreating mind. (Chapter 12 - Devadatta)
One must pursue sincerely the supreme Buddhist Way when one makes a great vow. Though Shakyamuni was born in the royal family in ancient India, he renunciated all desirous pleasures, and pursued earnestly for the Buddhahood without any setback and turning around.
With all those Buddhist Dharmas, I receive, uphold and, read and recite, and speak the Suta for all those Four Assembles, therefore attain the purification of all the sensual organs of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. (Chapter 20 - The Bodhisattva Never Despairing)
One must uphold it when one pursues and attain the great Dharma. When Shakyamuni cultivated the Bodhi Way, he upheld, recited and received, explained what all Buddhas taught, therefore he could really benefit from the teachings.
....... entered the Samadhi of the Station of Limitless Principle ...... The Buddha emitted from between his brows a white hair-mark light. ........ there fell from the heavens a rain of flowers.......... All the Buddhas universes quaked in six ways...... (Chapter 1 - Introduction)
At present, Shakyamuni was in Samadhi (deep meditation), then he emitted bright light between his eyebrows.
All these auspcious phenomena indicated that the timing of speaking great Dharma was just right, and the causal conditions ripened.
Because he wishes to lead all living beings to hear and understand this Dharma which in the whole world is hard to believe.....
(Chapter 1 - Introduction)
Lastly, the audiences in the assembly were able to understand and receive the great Dharma.
The first four are the causes in the past. When Shakyamuni became the Buddha, he took the opportunity to speak the great Dharma, based on his cultivation, vow, pursuit and upholding in the past. The last two are the conditions in the present.
5.2 Upon the request of the three great disciples
(a) By Shariputra regarding the idea of provisional and real Dharma
In Chapter 2 - Expedient Device, Shakyamuni told Shariputra that the Dharma certified by the Buddha was very profound and difficult to explain. He had used many ways and analogies to lead us to understand the Dharma. These teachings were spoken as provisional and expedient devices. Actually, there had many Dharma that would be only understood by Buddhas, but not known by the Two Vehicles.
Shariputra made the first request. Though the Buddha might have many expedient ways to let Shariputra to understand the Dharma and attain the joy of it, he halted once.
Shariputra made the request again. The Buddha halted again. Upon the third request by Shariputra, the Buddha was finally impressed by his sincerity. The Buddha then spoke of the Dharma. However, when the Buddha started to speak, five thousand disciples of the Four Assembly left. Later on, the Buddha explained that the Tathagatta spoke of the One Buddha Vehicle for the sake of the sentient beings, but no other vehicles, such as the two or the tree. In other words, what the Buddha spoke of the Dharmas for the Two Vehicles or the Three Vehicles are only "provisional". Actually, there was only One Buddha Vehicle.
(b) By Manjushri regarding the practice of comfort and happiness
In Chapter 14 - Comfortable and Peaceful Practice, Manjushri Bodhisattva requested the Buddha to talk the Dharma. He asked if the Bodhisattva would speak of The Lotus Sutra in the evil worlds, how they should cultivate and uphold it. Thus, the Buddha spoke of the comfortable and peaceful practice.
(c) By Maitreya regarding the attainment of the True Response Body
In Chapter 15 - Emerging from the Earth and Chapter 16 - Lifespan of the Thus Come One, Maitreya saw many Bodhisattvas emerging from the ground, then he asked the Buddha what were the causal conditions of this great event, and where the Bodhivattas came from. The Buddha said that they were his students in many many past lives. The Buddha also said that the life of the Dharma Body (i.e. the True Body) of Buddhas was infinitive, and it was only the Response Body of the Buddha that revealed Nirvana whenever and wherever necessary in accordance with conditions.
5.3 To break the doubt of the Arhats
If Sound Hearers or Bodhisattvas,
Hear this Dharma that I speak,
Be it but a single verse,
They will become Buddhas, without a doubt Chapter 2 - Expedient Device
After Shakyamuni attained the Enlightenment and became the Buddha, he spoke the Four Noble Truths, and taught his disciples how to understand "suffering" cut "accumulation" certify "extinction" and cultivate "way". The Buddha also taught the Thirty-seven Conditions of the Bodhi Way, which are divided into seven categories. One who follows any one of the categories will liberate from the cycle of death and rebirth, and certify the Arhatship. However, the Buddha had been said that a Sound Hearer could become a Buddha. Therefore, some Sound Hearers who wished to attain Buddhahood were depressed. They doubted and worried whether they could become Buddhas. In Lotus Sutra, the Buddha stipulated that the Sound Hearers would become Buddhas without a doubt, upon hearing the Dharma that he spoke, or even one single verse in Lotus Sutra. Thus, this kind of Sound Hearers were all delighted. They entered the path of Great Vehicle without any doubt.
Basically, there are found kinds of Sound Hearers:
The Arhats mentioned here are the first two kinds of Sound Hearers. They would receive the predictions from the Buddha, and become Buddhas in future. For the third kind, they prefer to liberate themselves, and are reluctant to cultivate the practices of Bodhisattvas. For the last kind, they regard Nirvana being the supreme. They do not stay when the Buddha speaks of the Great Dharma.
5.4 To break the attachment of the small Bodhisattvas
Small Bodhisattvas refer to those who have not cultivated to a state of irreversibility. There are two kinds of small Bodhisattvas:
(1) Bodhisattvas of sharp root and sudden enlightenment. Once they hear the Buddhist Dharma, they put forth the Bodhicitta of Great Vehicle, without undergoing the stage of Small Vehicle. They think that only those who put forth the Bodhicittas of Great Vehicle can become Buddhas, and the Arhats can never become Buddhas.
(2) Bodhisattvas of dull-root and gradual enlightenment. Though they return from small to great, they have doubts whether they can become Buddhas. Thus, they will lose their Bodhi hearts easily. Therefore, the Buddha states that:
Those who seek Three Vehicles
Should they have doubts or regrets
The Buddha will remove them now,
So that they vanish and none remain.
Chapter 1 - Introduction
When the Bodhisattvas have heard this Dharma,
The network of their doubts will be rent;
Twelve hundred Arhats will all attain to Buddhahood
Chapter 2 - Expedient Devices
Having heard what the Buddha said, all small Bodhisattvas, both sharp-rooted or dull-rooted, who sought the Three Vehicles had deep faith to attain Buddhahood.
5.5 For conferring predictions to his great disciples
Never did I say, "All of you,
Will realize the Buddha Way,"
I did not say as much because
The time to speak had not yet come
The time, now, is exactly right,
To speak the Great Vehicle.
The nine divisions of my Dharma,
Are spoken to accord with living beings;
Intending to lead them into the Great Vehicles.
In Hinayana (i.e. small vehicle), there are only nine divisions, namely Sutra, Geya, Gatha, Nidana, Itivrttaka, Jataka, Adbhuta-dharma, Avadana, Upadesa. However, in Mahayana (i.e. Great Vehicle) there has three more, namely, Vyakarana (i.e. prediction), Vaipulya and Udana, thus it is known as the Twelve Divisions.
Prediction is the Buddha’s prophecy regarding the attainment of Buddhahood by his disciples/followers. In Lotus Sutra, there has six kinds of predictions, which would be elaborated later.
5.6 Leading people to cultivate the One Buddha Vehicle
Previously, the Buddha spoke the Dharma, teaching people to cultivate themselves, i.e. to cut off afflictions, to contemplate the Four Noble Truths. The precepts they held were rules and disciplines in monastic life. They cultivated their mind to deal with the Three Poisons, i.e. greed, hatred and stupidity. They cultivated their bodies and mouths by upholding the Five Precepts. They thought they would not teach and transform others if they were not self-cultivated well.
Teaching and transforming others is a difficult task. If one does not resolve one’s heart to transform and benefit others, one will retreat and give up easily. It is whey the Buddha spoke of the Three Vehicles to accord with living beings.
In the assembly of the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha found some of the disciples were able to resolve the "great" heart and cultivate "great" practices, therefore he spoke of the great Dharma of One Buddha Vehicle.
For the Buddha’s disciples, pure in heart,
Who are compliant and have keen faculties,
Who, under countless Buddhas,
Have walked the deep and wondrous Path.
I speak the Sutra of the Great Vehicle.
Chapter 2 - Expedient Devices
5.7 For the benefits of those present in the assembly
In the assembly on Mount Grdhrakuta, there were many Arhats and Bodhisattvas. Later, as stated in Chapter 11 - Vision of Jeweled Stupa, there were division bodies of the Buddhas in the assembly, which was held in pure land. Furthermore, as stated in Chapter 15 - Emerging from the Earth, Shakyamuni Buddha and Many Jeweled Buddha sat side by side in the sky, where the Buddha continued to speak the Lotus Sutra.
For the sake of benefits of all those present in this great assembly, the Buddha spoke of the great Dharma, the Lotus Sutra. Some of them were enlightened. Some of them received predictions too.
5.8 For the merits & virtues of people in future
Not just for those present in the assembly, The Buddha spoke the Lotus Sutra for those who would have great merit and virtues by accepting, upholding, reading and reciting the Sutra in the future.
This point is elaborated in the following chapters:
5.9 For explaining the timing of speaking Dharmas
Generally speaking, there are three different periods of speaking Dharmas by Shakyamuni Buddha in his life.
(1) The first period - the period of turning
Before the living beings heard of the Buddha’s Dharma, they suffered in their living physically, as well as mentally In order to relieve them from suffering, Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Law of Cause and Effect. As the living beings understood that the effects in the present were determined by the causes in the past lives, and the causes in the present would, in turn, change the effects in the future. People can turn their fate from suffering to happiness by their own. The teaching is not ultimate but just expedient.
(2) The second period - the period of contemplating
In the period, the Buddha encouraged people to resolve the Bodhi heart (i.e. Bodhicitta) and cultivate the Bodhisattva’s practices. People should contemplate that all worldly conditioned Dharmas are dependently originated, impermanent and unreal. People should contemplate with their wisdom that all the living beings and physical matters are not independent and not permanent in this world. They exist only under certain conditions. Similarly, they extinguish if these conditions extinguish.
(3) The third person - the period of upholding
In terms of "false" mark, all matters are in existence. If people contemplate the reality with Right Wisdom (i.e. contemplative Prajna), people should understand that the nature of matters is still and unchanged, in which there is no distinction in mark. Moreover, if people can contemplate its emptiness in nature, and its existence in mark (false mark), they will understand what is non-existence and what is non-emptiness. The teaching is ultimate and supreme, on which we can rely. This period is known as the period of upholding.
The Lotus Sutra, of course, is spoken in the third period.
5.10 For showing the different levels of the audiences
As stated in The Lankavatara Sutra, there are five kinds of living beings by nature
(1) the Sound Hearers
(a) Unfixed in character
(b) Fixed in character
(2) Pratyeka-buddha - these seeking their own enlightenment.
(4) Those unfixed in character.
(5) Icchantika - unable to become Buddha.
(a) those with great compassion, e.g. The Earth Store Bodhisattva who vows not to become Buddha until all the living beings are crossed over, thus it is unknown when he becomes Buddha.
(b) those of unbelief or abandoned character. They have committed to serious offenses.
The Lotus Sutra is spoken for the Sound Hearers with unfixed character, Bodhisattva, those unfixed in nature, and Icchantika with great compassion, but not for the Sound Hearers with fixed character, Pratyeka-buddha, and Icchantika of unbelief on abandoned character.