The Propagation of the Dharma

14. The Propagation of the Dharma

(Burton Watson) Then the Buddha addressed the bodhisattva Maitreya, saying, “Maitreya, I now take this Law of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, gathered over countless millions of asamkhya kalpas, and entrust it to you. In the latter age after the Buddha has passed into extinction, you must employ your supernatural powers to propagate sutras such as this, spreading them throughout the continent of Jambudvipa and never allowing them to be wiped out. Why? Because in the ages to come there will be good men and good women, as well as heavenly beings, dragons, spirits, gandharvas, rakshasas, and others, who will set their minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi and will delight in the great Law If they are unable to hear sutras such as this, they will lose the opportunity to gain excellent benefits. But if beings such as these hear these sutras, they will surely believe and delight greatly in them and set their minds on a rare achievement. Therefore you must respectfully accept these and, considering how living beings can best gain benefits from them, expound them far and wide.

The great Spiritual-Propagator of the Buddhadharma in this dharma-ending age (we are currently in the midst of that last dharma-cycle) has been designated to the Maha-Bodhisattva Maitreya (the Buddha-heir apparent of this saha-realm)—who, though presently in the Tushita-heavens periodically descends (wonderfully portrayed in Tozen’s Dharmakaya Sutra) to confer “annuttara-samyak-sambodhi” upon worthy recipients. Breaking it down somewhat, annuttara=superiorly incomparable; samyak=perfect; sambodhi=supreme-enlightened one who penetrates the depths of Buddha-gnosis. This honor is not just conferred upon humans, as we learned through our study of the Lankavatara Sutra wherein Ravana, the Overlord of the Yakshas, also received this Honorary Salutation.

“Maitreya, you should understand that there are two types of bodhisattvas. What are these two types? The first type loves varied phrases and literary embellishment. The second is not afraid of deeper principles and is able to enter into the true meaning. If there are those who love varied phrases and literary embellishments, you máy be sure that they are beginners in the bodhisattva way. But if there are those who, approaching these extremely profound sutras, with their teachings on nondefilement and nonattachment, are not timid or fearful but can enter into the meaning and, having heard the sutras, with pure minds will accept, uphold, read, and recite them and practice them as the Law directs, you may be sure that they have been practicing the way for a long time.

Étienne Lamotte translates these two as Beginner Bodisattvas, and Veteran Bodhisattvas. Sometimes the beginner just latches on to the surface-layer of a given Sutra, and the Buddhadharma in general; but, like in the Parable of the Sower wherein the bodhi-seeds just remains on the surface, they don’t take root, and something in their life comes along and gobbles them up. The Veteran Bodhisattva, on the other hand, takes great care and relishes in the gnosis of the Buddhadharma—they understand the profound nature of these texts and take great measures to assure that they are promulgated and not defiled in any way, shape, or manner.

“Again, Maitreya, there are two attitudes among those called beginners that prevent them from getting a firm grasp on these extremely profound teachings. What are these two? First is that of persons who, when they hear some profound sutra they have not heard before, are alarmed and timorous and, giving way to doubt, cannot bring themselves to comply with it. In their disbelief they speak slanderously of it, saying, ‘I have never heard this before! Where does it come from?’ Second is that of persons who, though there are those who guard, uphold, understand, and expound profound sutras of this type, are unwilling to associate closely with them, to offer them alms or treat them with respect, but at times may even speak of their faults before others. Where you find these two attitudes, you may be sure the persons are beginners in the bodhisattva way. They do injury to themselves and cannot train their minds to accept the profound teachings.

The beginner, being stupefied over the nature of these texts just shrugs them off…sometimes even speaking slanderously against them. Also, they neglect to show courtesy to those Veteran Bodhisattvas; instead they are disrespectful and oftentimes reap great ridicule and shame upon them. As the sutra states, these beginner-mindsets can bring great harm to aspiring adepts.

“Again, Maitreya, there are two attitudes among the bodhisattvas who, though they believe and understand the profound teachings, yet do injury to themselves and are unable to accept the truth of birthlessness. What are these two? First is that of persons who are contemptuous of beginner bodhisattvas and will not teach or enlighten them. Second is that of persons who, though they understand the profound teachings, seize upon surface appearances and make distinctions. These are the two attitudes.”

On the other side of the bodhi-coin, some of the Veteran Bodhisattvas can become quick-tempered and even contemptuous of the lackadaisical antics and attitudes of the beginning adepts…in so doing, they can reap great harm upon their young and still-developing minds. Also, the Veteran, too, can become lackadaisical—thinking that they have already attained annuttara-samyak-sambodhi, when in fact they are far from it…a good indication of this is when they still make mind-discriminations.

Maitreya assures the Blessed One that he will steer well-clear of these defilements by faithfully and resiliently upholding the Buddhadharma for all future generations. Following his lead, the rest of the bodhisattvas present in the assembly also promise to uphold the Buddhadharma to the best of their abilities. In closing, the Buddha addresses Ānanda and requests that he, too, “accept and up-hold this sutra and propagate it far and wide.” Ānanda says, “Sure-thing—what shall I call it?” and, of course, this sutra traditionally ends with the “naming of the new sutra”; the Blessed One replies that it shall hereafter be named and referred to as, “The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti.” (Thurman)

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