Today my sermon is on the Parable of the Three Kinds of Medicinal Herbs and Two Kinds of Trees, which is contained in the Medicinal Herbs (Yakusoyu; fifth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra.
Previous to this parable, the four great men of Learning: Subhuti, Katyayana, Mahakashyapa, and Maudgalyayana listened to the Parable of the Three Carts and the Burning House, which appeared in the Parable (Hiyu; third) chapter of the Lotus Sutra. They generally understood that the teachings expounded separately for those in the worlds of Learning, Realization, and Bodhisattva were all expedient doctrines. They further understood that the one vehicle teaching of the Lotus Sutra represented the truth.
After this story, the Parable of the Wealthy Man and His Poor Son was set forth in the Belief and Understanding (Shinge; fourth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra. When this parable was expounded, they confirmed their understanding of the significance of the Parable chapter. The Buddha then expounded the Parable of the Three Kinds of Medicinal Herbs and Two Kinds of Trees in the Medicinal Herbs chapter to further strengthen their understanding.
What are the three kinds of medicinal herbs and two kinds of trees?
The three kinds of medicinal herbs signify the lesser, intermediate, and superior medicinal herbs. The two kinds of trees refer to small and great trees. The other metaphors in this parable signify the following:
1. The cloud enveloping the entire sky symbolizes the advent of the Buddha.
2. The falling rain denotes the Buddha’s teachings, which are impartially expounded to the people.
3. The lesser, intermediate, and superior herbs and the small and great trees represent the variances in the capacities of the people.
Our world contains mountains, rivers, valleys, and plains. These are covered with various grasses, trees, meadows, and forests. There are a great variety of medicinal herbs. The rain falls upon this terrain, which is covered with the different grasses and trees. The soaking rain falls indiscriminately upon everything. Even if there are differences among the lesser, intermediate, and superior medicinal herbs and among the small and great trees, the rain is impartial, as it soaks the entire land.
However, the grasses and trees that receive this rain naturally manifest discrepancies among themselves. They differ in size and in the environment in which they grow. Even though the rain falls from the same cloud, the amount a plant receives determines its growth at a rate different from the others.
The same is true in our faith and practice. There may be some of you who may feel that you see a real discrepancy in the amount of benefits you all receive, even though you are upholding the same practice. In the Parable of the Three Kinds of Medicinal Herbs and Two Kinds of Trees, the Buddha explained the essential nature of differences.
The significance of the Parable of the Three Kinds of Medicinal Herbs and Two Kinds of Trees
This Parable explains that there is one essential teaching of the Buddha, but there is a great variety of people whose capabilities are different. These people cannot understand that there is only one essential teaching of the Buddha. Moreover, their understanding is greatly affected by their individual karma and earthly desires.
The Buddha used various expedients in his effort to save all people. By contrast, the true teaching of the Buddha consists of only one doctrine. The benefits of this one true teaching are impartially showered upon all the people. However, the people’s capacities are all different, and therefore, those recipients of the one true teaching of the Buddha interpret it differently. Moreover, the benefits are manifested differently among the individuals.Even if the conditions seem different superficially, in effect, all humanity will be equally led to enlightenment.
The significance of the Parable of the Three Kinds of Medicinal Herbs and Two Kinds of Trees can be explained through the following two points..
First, the teaching of the Buddha is essentially singular and impartial, like the rain that falls from the great cloud.
Secondly, the people possess numerous differences, like the three kinds of medicinal herbs and two kinds of trees. From these two points we can conclude that, in the beginning, the Buddha expounded the Law according to the capacity of the people. Ultimately, however, he will enable all people to equally and impartially attain Buddhahood. In other words, even though there are no distinctions and discrepancies in the teachings expounded by the Buddha, there are plenty of individual differences among the people who are on the receiving end of those teachings.
The significance of this Parable is definitely not to focus upon the differences among people, as illustrated by the imagery of the three grasses and two trees. It is, in fact, to reveal the reason for the Buddha’s teaching of the various principles, such as the doctrine of the Three Vehicles. In essence, the parable explains that differences exist among the people, but even under these conditions, the Law is impartially expounded to everyone. This Law is none other than the Lotus Sutra, which enables all people to receive the ultimate benefit of enlightenment.
Here, the Lotus Sutra means the doctrine expounded by Shakyamuni in India. In the Latter Day of the Law, however, the Lotus Sutra refers to the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin. We must understand that it signifies none other than the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of True Buddhism.
The Lotus Sutra and the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin
In the “Orally Transmitted Teachings” (Ongi kuden), the Daishonin states:
Now, when Nichiren and his followers chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, differentiations are set aside. The twenty-eight chapters set forth distinctions, but the five characters of the Mystic Law do not differentiate [among the people].
(Gosho, p. 1741)
Compared to Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, the twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra still contain doctrines that differentiate among people. Shakyamuni’s Buddhism was appropriate for those who received the seed of Buddhism in the past and who amassed positive karma. However, Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism equally saves all individuals. Therefore, his doctrine does not differentiate among people.
All people in the Latter Day of the Law, by equally upholding the Gohonzon and by chanting sincere Daimoku, are able to expiate all sins from the past and overcome their difficulties. Furthermore, they are able to amass immeasurable benefits. There are absolutely no differences here — no discrimination based on social standing. All people are able to amass benefits through the impartial compassion of the Gohonzon.
Differences in Buddhism
Why, then, do differences such as those exemplified by the three herbs and two trees exist in this world? Nichiren Daishonin wrote the following in his Gosho, “The Opening of the Eyes, Part 2” (Kaimoku sho-ge):
“If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results as they are manifested in the present. And if you want to understand what results will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present.”
(Gosho, p. 571; MW-2, p. 197)
There is definitely a reason why the lesser medicinal herbs came into this world in their particular forms. Moreover, there is also a reason why the great trees appeared in their forms. Differences are manifested in this life as a result of past causes and effects. You may resent the household into which you were born, but you must realize that it is a result of the causes that you, yourself, made in a past lifetime.
In Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, benefits, like the rain that falls impartially on the world, will come forth to all people, regardless of their circumstances in life. The lesser herbs and great trees are different in their forms and in the blossoms they produce, but they are all nourished equally by the rain. All of these plants grow and produce their own beautiful blossoms. We must be absolutely convinced that, in the same way, those who base their lives on the Dai-Gohonzon and assiduously perform their daily Gongyo and Daimoku and devote themselves to the practice of shakubuku will be able to attain enlightenment, without fail, through the benefit of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.
In the Gosho, “The Fourteen Slanders” (Matsuno dono go-henji), Nichiren Daishonin wrote:
How great is the difference between the blessings received when a sage chants the Daimoku and the blessings received when we chant it? To reply, one is in no way superior to the other.
(Gosho, p. 1045; MW-3, p. 207)
There is absolutely no difference in the benefits received between the Daimoku that Nichiren Daishonin chanted and the Daimoku that we chant. Nichiren Shoshu is the only religion containing the teaching that the benefits of chanting Daimoku are the same for a Buddha and for the common people.
At a Daimoku session on January 22nd of this year, our High Priest Nikken Shonin stated:
When a person constantly performs the practice of chanting Daimoku, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, the proof of the Mystic Law, the resultant effect, is manifested in various forms within one’s life and his daily existence. This can vary according to the circumstances of each individual, but without fail, the benefits of the Mystic Law will be clearly manifested in one’s life.
(Dai-Nichiren, p. 709-56)
Regardless of the circumstances of a person’s life and environment, when one chants Daimoku, he will definitely manifest the benefits from the Dai-Gohonzon in his daily life. I ask you all to use this Parable of the Three Kinds of Medicinal Herbs and Two Kinds of Trees to confirm in your lives the benefits of the Daimoku chanted by Nichiren Daishonin. I would like to conclude my sermon for today by sincerely praying that you will devote yourselves ever more in your faith and practice.