The following excerpt from the Lotus Sutra is the record of a discourse given by Shakyamuni Buddha in Rajagriha, India. The Buddha addressed a multitude of monks, nuns, and laypeople on the subject of emancipating living beings. He elaborated on this subject at the request of all present, who, led by Maitreya, the Bodhisattva of the future, asked the Buddha three times to share with them this discourse.

This passage, translated by Burton Watson, is reprinted from The Lotus Sutra with permission from Columbia University Press.


                                

Lines of the Lotus Sutra alternating with images of the Buddha, twelfth century, Japanese, Zentsuji, reprinted from Paintings of the Lotus Sutra (Weatherhill).
Lines of the Lotus Sutra alternating with images of the Buddha, twelfth century, Japanese, Zentsuji, reprinted from Paintings of the Lotus Sutra (Weatherhill).

“Good men, if there are living beings who come to me, I employ my Buddha eye to observe their faith and to see if their other faculties are keen or dull, and then depending upon how receptive they are to salvation, I appear in different places and preach to them under different names, and describe the length of time during which my teachings will be effective. Sometimes when I make my appearance I say that I am about to enter nirvana, and also employ different expedient means to preach the subtle and wonderful Law, thus causing living beings to awaken joyful minds.

“Good men, the Thus Come One observes how among living beings there are those who delight in a little Law, meager in virtue and heavy with defilement. For such persons I describe how in my youth I left my household and attainedanuttara-samyak-sambodhi [perfect universal enlightenment]. But in truth the time since I attained Buddhahood is extremely long, as I have told you. It is simply that I use this expedient means to teach and convert living beings and cause them to enter the Buddha way. That is why I speak in this manner.

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