The Door To This Wisdom is Difficult to Enter

The Door To This Wisdom is Difficult to Enter

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Sovereign, Teacher, Parent, Buddha

“Shakyamuni Buddha is to us a sovereign, a teacher and a parent, who alone works to save and protect us.”  (WND-1, p35)

 “[T]his threefold world is all my domain and the living beings in it are my children.  Now this place is beset by many pains and trials, I am the only person who can rescue and protect others.”
 Shakyamuni, (LSOC3, p105-106)

In this passage we see that Shakyamuni identifies himself as the sovereign (of this threefold world of suffering) , the parent (of all living beings) and the teacher (who can rescue and protect others).

With this in mind let’s look at some of the stages in Shakyamuni’s teachings: 


Parents hate to see their children in pain, and to stop them from getting hurt, some of the earliest teachings are don’t touch the kettle, stay away from fire and don’t talk to strangers. 

In a similar way, Shakyamuni the parent wanted to quickly stop the suffering of his early followers, and after identifying that earthly desires and attachments were the cause of suffering, Shakyamuni encouraged them to renounce such attachments.   Giving up attachments, or earthly desires, is not easy, but several schools of Buddhism have been founded on this principle and the followers have renounced material possessions and live simple lives in secluded accommodation and temples. 

In some ways, this kind of extreme practice, seems comparable to an adult today who remembering the words of his parents, still refuses to make a cup of tea, is unable to cook or use a fire, and still heeding warnings not to talk to strangers, is unable to find employment, make friends or interact with people within their community.
This may have been great "fatherly" advice for people new to the Buddha's teachings, but this teaching was always intended as an expedient means, and it still persists with some schools of Buddhism today.  This solitary practice may keep alive the Buddha's earliest teachings, which from a historic perspective may be worthwhile, but it's not a practice that is accessible to most people and has been upgraded several times throughout the Buddha's lifetime.


Once we know our children are safe from harm, we can start to teach them more useful skills.  We are still parents, but we are also starting to educate and teach useful life skills and patterns of behaviour. 

Simple things (even those that are quite profound like saying “please”, “thank you” and “sorry”) can be taught directly, but other things may need expedient means.  For example, when learning to ride a bike, balance may be an issue at first, and so our parents attach training wheels to our bike or when learning to swim, we may need the confidence of armbands.

In the same way, now that the Buddha knows his children are starting to break free from their ignorance, this next stage of the Buddha’s teaching is to help people to start making good causes for their future with simple precepts to follow in their daily lives. 

These training wheels of Buddhism are preparing them for bigger and better things, but some Buddhist schools today are still content to practise with these expedient means, rather than upgrading to the more profound teachings of the Lotus Sutra.

“In his heart he longed to preach the Lotus Sutra. He knew, however, that living beings differ in their capacities, and therefore he did not preach as his own mind dictated, but instead preached numerous sutras that were suited to the hearts and minds of his listeners.”  (WND-1, p35)

Returning to our own children, once they have gained confidence in swimming, we may then hire a professional coach to teach them to swim, or we may hire a piano teacher or take them to ballet class, football practice or to learn a foreign language.

In Shakyamuni’s case, he didn’t need to rely on other teachers, because as well as the qualities of a parent, he was also an excellent teacher who could lead people from complete beginners in their Buddhist practice, giving them the confidence to continue their studies and following up with more advanced lessons, guidance and practices.


As a wise sovereign, Shakyamuni also knew that it would take many, many years for him personally to reach every one of the citizens and lead them to Buddhahood, so he needed envoys to spread his teachings throughout the land.  This was the start of the Bodhisattva vehicle and his disciples sharing what they had learned with their friends, family and strangers.  This would benefit their own lives, their practice and their future enlightenment, but Shakyamuni the sovereign, also knew that as more people escaped from their chains of suffering, his kingdom as a whole would also benefit and become a more harmonious place to live. 


“… But then a time came when he preached the Lotus Sutra, declaring that he had fulfilled the vows he had taken earlier and he would now let living beings know how they could become Buddhas like himself.”  (WND-1, p35)

Finally, when the time was right, and Shakyamuni thought his followers were ready for his ultimate teaching, he taught them the Lotus Sutra which explained the true aspect of all phenomena, the Mystic Law of cause and effect and the one way to attain supreme enlightenment in this lifetime.

Prior to the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni was the parent, the teacher, the sovereign and the mentor that was leading people towards an understanding of what was in his heart and mind, but with the Lotus Sutra, he was finally able to fulfill his vow to “make all persons equal to me, without any distinctions between us” (LSOC2, p70)

The Lotus Sutra is a teaching that can “only be understood and shared between buddhas” and, because Shakyamuni's practice and that of his followers are now the same, this is also the start of the oneness of the mentor-disciple relationship.

Throughout most of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni is encouraging people to embrace this one Buddha vehicle, but he also understands that these earlier teachings may be necessary for his followers until they are ready to take this final step on their journey to Buddhahood.

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