Does One Size Fit All?


“At that time innumerable thousands of myriads of koṭis of sentient beings approach the Buddha and listen to his teaching. Then the Tathāgata, perceiving the faculties of sentient beings—whether they are sharp or dull, diligent or idle—explains the teachings according to their capacities in a variety of immeasurable ways, gladdening and benefiting them all.

“Having heard his teaching, all of these beings are at peace in this world and are born into a good existence in the future. Through this they will receive peace of mind and be able to hear the teaching. Having already heard the teaching they will become free from obstructions and be able to gradually enter the path to the Dharma according to their capacities.

“Just like the great cloud that rains upon all the grasses, trees, shrubs, and herbs, whose seeds are watered and which grow according to their capacities, the Tathāgata teaches the Dharma of one aspect and character; that is to say, the character of liberation, dispassion, and cessation which ultimately leads to omniscience.

“Those sentient beings who hear, hold, and recite the teachings of the Tathāgata and practice it accordingly will nevertheless not perceive the merit that they have obtained.

“Why is this? Only the Tathāgata knows the seed, character, disposition, and capacity of sentient beings. Only he knows what they contemplate, think, and practice; how they contemplate, think, and practice; what teachings they contemplate, think, and practice; and what teaching they obtain through what teaching. Only the Tathāgata exactly perceives and knows without obstructions the various states in which sentient beings reside.

“It is just like the grasses, trees, shrubs, and herbs that do not know their own natures, whether they are superior, mediocre, or inferior. Yet the Tathāgata knows the teachings of one aspect and character, the character of liberation, dispassion, cessation, complete nirvana, and eternal tranquility which ultimately leads to emptiness.

“The Buddha knows this and perceives the aspirations of sentient beings. For this reason, in order to protect them, he does not immediately teach omniscience.

“O Kāśyapa! It is a rare thing that all of you know that the Tathāgata teaches according to your capacities and that you believe and accept it.

“Why is this? Because the Dharma taught by all the Buddha Bhagavats, according to what is appropriate to sentient beings, is difficult to understand and difficult to know.”

Upon reading Chapter 5, “Medicinal Herbs,” for the first time, it seems that the Buddha apparently contradicts the previous teaching in Chapter 4—wherein all adepts of the Buddhadharma are “called to earn their spiritual inheritance.” Here the Buddha seems to be saying, “Don’t worry, regardless of your capacity, you too shall one day inherit the fruit of my teaching.” In that sense it is indeed a true and infallible statement; for ALL sentient beings will, at some point, come to the awareness of their own essential Buddha-nature. Yet, “the means” of coming to this Noble self-realization differ in kind and in temperament; in the right “medicinal-formulae” that will counteract the sundry maladies that afflict the different temperaments of sentient beings. So, in this sense—the sundry skillful means—one size does not fit all. Throughout time immemorial the Tathagatas teach the Buddhadharma in a variety of ways—ways that are appropriate for the varying propensities of living beings. This can be akin to the notion of “grace”. “For the rain from above falls on the good and evil alike;” indeed, the essential Buddha-nature is always there, yet for many it remains hidden—like mounds of rust hiding the pure-gold underneath. So, the procurement of the Noble-Life-Force of the Tathagatas will be available for all according to one’s spiritual-proclivity; and the sundry skillful means—different sizes for different folk—holds true as an undeniable reality. Yet—and this is a BIG YET—if the salvific-soil is not tempered and regularly tilled, then the Bodhi-seed will never take root and will wither and die. Nowhere here does the Blessed-One say that “one can do as they like” irresponsibly. While there are differences in receptivity to the rain of truth, the Life-Force of the Buddhas still needs to be embraced and allowed to sink-in and provide its nourishment for the spirit. St. Teresa of Avila had a similar analogy—that of taking-care of the “spiritual garden”; one can till-it in different fashions, yet the tilling itself needs to occur. She meant this in terms of “prayer”—different forms of praying, yet the prayer needs to be done, if not “you cannot have Life within you.”

It also needs to be underscored here how the Blessed-one sums up this particular-teaching. He states that it is very rare when one has the proper Buddha-gnosis for such an understanding…from Reeves’ translation:

“Kashyapa, you and the others have something most rare—you can understand that the Dharma preached by the Tathagata is appropriate, and you can have faith in it and embrace it. Why is this so rare? Because the Dharma preached by buddhas, the world-honored ones, according to what is appropriate is difficult to comprehend and difficult to understand.”

It is one-thing to want to embrace the teaching, but it is quite “rare” when one comes to know Its full-import. Yes, Buddha-gnosis is conferred on those who take the time and skillfully till the spiritual-soil of the Buddhadharma—getting the most out of its hidden nutrients thus producing healthy and lasting fruit—a rare skill indeed.

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