Once upon a time, there was a group of people who lived in the woods. They
had lived that way for as long as any of them could remember. The dangers
and resources were all familiar to them. They knew where to find food,
how to build shelter, which animals were useful, which were a threat,
and which were simply a joy to watch.
Even with all this, not all of them knew everything. There was an older
woman among them who had spent her life learning from the woods. As a
young girl she asked questions of the adults. As an adult she learned
from her elders. As she became an elder herself, she was recognized as
the wisest among them.
She knew she would not live forever. She tried to find someone to
teach, someone to whom she could pass along what she had learned about
the things that didn't happen to everyone every day.
Nobody was interested. Everyone was so caught up in what they were trying
to do every day, they couldn't see the value in learning from this
old woman. They thought they could take care of it another day.
One night, without warning, she died in her sleep. People were very
unhappy. They all loved her dearly and knew they would miss her. Some
now regretted not learning from her when they had the chance.
Many days later, the group woke up in the morning to the smell of smoke.
They looked to see if someone had gotten up early to make a fire.
None of them had ever been in a forest fire before, but they had an
idea that this was what was happening. They knew they had to move,
but what direction should they go in? They couldn't tell where the
smoke was coming from. If they went in the wrong direction, they
might move towards the fire and get burned up in it.
Someone remembered that when she was alive and she needed help, the
older woman would go to a tall tree, and that would give her the
answer. So several people found a tall tree and went to it.
For a moment, they weren't sure what to do. Would the tree tell them
where to go? Did they need to offer some spells or incantations to get
the tree to talk?
Some started looking very closely at the roots, bark and lower
branches, trying to find clues to their predicament. Was there
something left over from an earlier fire that would tell them
about this one?
No answer came. The smoke got thicker. People got scared.
Finally, a small boy worked his way through the crowd and proclaimed:
"I know what to do." In what seemed no time at all, he climbed up
to the top of the tree, pointed his arm towards the source of the
smoke and cried, "There! That's where the fire is coming from."
In this story, the tall tree is the Dharma of the Buddha. As we
cannot hope to climb a tree without the foundation of the roots
and lower branches, we cannot have the Wonderful Dharma of the
Lotus Sutra without the earlier, provisional teachings.
At the same time, we must be aware of the limitations of the
provisional teachings. We cannot stand on the ground observing
the preliminary Sutras and expect the same results as if we climb
to the top and practice the Dharma of the Lotus Sutra.
This is another point of the story. It's not until someone uses the
Dharma as a practice rather than an object of intellectual inquiry
can they save living beings. The small boy understood that the
tree itself was meant to be used. It would not point them to some
The Dharma of the Lotus Sutra says: All beings will become Buddhas.
All those who read, recite, copy and most importantly practice the
Lotus Sutra will become Buddhas quickly and save all living beings.
It also teaches over and over how important it is to see the previous
Sutras as provisional, however wonderful and full of wisdom they may
be, no matter what benefits they may confer. They are not the whole
of the Buddha's wisdom.
We can have much respect for all those practicing the provisional
teachings, in whatever form they take. We should understand for
ourselves though what those teachings cannot do. There will
come a point when we will need to say: "This Wonderful Dharma
of the Lotus Sutra is what leads to Buddhahood. It is something
the Buddha meant for you to have. But so long as you cling to
the provisional teachings, the wisdom of the Buddha cannot be yours."
How can we tell the difference between a provisional teaching
and the Wonderful Dharma? Ask yourself, "Why am I studying and
practicing this Dharma? Is it to end some kind of suffering?
Or is it to become a Buddha?"