The Buddha as Rain

I am resuming my study of the Lotus Sutra lately, and decided to revisit something I posted in my old blog, but I am coming to this in a pretty different light than before.

Of all the chapters in the Lotus Sutra, I find that I’ve always considered Chapter Five: The Parable of the Medicinal Herbs my favorite. I am not saying that either because it’s short. :) Chapter Two, defines the notion of Skillful Means, or the idea that the Buddha taught the Dharma to each person according to their level of understanding, their background and so on. According to commentaries by Thich Nhat Hanh, chapters 3 through 9 reiterate this point using a variety of parables, similes and so on. Chapter Three and Four are more well known chapters, but I just find the examples don’t resonate with me.

It’s said that when you read the Lotus Sutra, you’ll usually find a chapter or two that will speak to you (hey, skillful means!), and in that light Chapter Five speaks to me most.

In the fifth chapter, the Buddha describes himself and his teachings like rain on parched land. The rain falls upon all plants and trees equally, but each plant drinks the water according to its size, need and so on. Or as the Buddha said in verse form:

Root, stem, limb, leaf,
the glow and hue of flower and fruit-
one rain extends to them
and all are able to become fresh and glossy,
whether their allotment
of substance, form and nature is large or small,
the moistening they receive is one,
but each grows and flourishes in its own way

This set of lines is basically the gist of Chapter Five, but there is one other interesting line I wanted to point out. Earlier in the chapter, the Buddha, again likening himself to a great rain cloud, said to the myriad beings:

Those who have not yet crossed over I will cause to cross over, those not yet freed I will free, those not yet at rest I will put to rest, those not yet in nirvana I will cause to attain nirvana.

I was kind of struck by this line, for it strongly reminds me of Jodo Shinshu notion of Other Power or tariki (他力) in Japanese. I prefer to translate tariki as “Other Strength” not “power” as power can take on magical connotations, and just sounds active, not passive. In any case, when I read this passage, it definitely resonates with me because I read the passage as “no matter how stubborn or deluded, I will help you to cross over to Enlightenment”, which is the same basic vow that Amida Buddha made to help all beings in the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life.

So, taken together, Amida and Shakyamuni Buddha, as well as other Buddhas, are all striving to lead beings out of cycle of suffering, rebirth and ignorance, but in different “forms” and means.

Anyways, all this is getting a little off-track, but I just found that sentence kind of fascinating. Recently, I had read how Pure Land Buddhists often study the Lotus Sutra, even though it’s not explicitly a Pure Land Buddhist text, and now I can see why. Rennyo Shonin, the 8th head of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, spoke rather highly of it. The themes presented in the Lotus Sutra include:

* Enlightenment for all beings.
* The Dharma is taught to each according to their ability (it should never be too easy or too difficult for someone).
* The Buddhas leave no one behind.

These are all hallmarks of Pure Land Buddhism as well, and is in keeping with the whole Mahayana notion that all beings will eventually be enlightened, even if it takes us countless and countless eons.

It’s not like I had much to do this weekend anyways. ;)

Namu Myoho Renge Kyo

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About Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.
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4 Responses to The Buddha as Rain

  1. Jishin says:

    My personal take on the Lotus Sutra is that when Shakyamuni Buddha reveals that he has been a Buddha from the immeasurable past he is in fact stating his oneness with Amida Buddha, something which Ananda sees for himself at the beginning of the Larger Sutra of Eternal Life when he encounters the wondrous light emanating from Shakyamuni Buddha’s face.

  2. Gerald Ford says:

    That’s an great explanation Jishin. :)

  3. Kyōshin says:

    I also believe that; provided that by ‘Amida Buddha’ Jishin means Amida as Formless Dharmakaya rather than the Dharma-body as skillful means. In other words the Amida that is not only Amida but the commonality of all Buddhas.

    Btw/ I have updated the Lotus Sutra page on my blog:

    http://jodoshinshubuddhism.wordpress.com/2006/12/22/jodo-shinshu-the-lotus-sutra/

  4. Jishin says:

    Yes. That’s a very important clarification, Kyoshin.

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