He who conforms to the One Thusness while spreading his teaching is the Dharma king; he whose virtues permeate the four seas and transmit his influence among the people is the benevolent king. This being so, the Dharma king and the benevolent king work together to reveal each other's presence and enlighten all beings; the Absolute Truth and the secular truth rely on each other to spread the Buddhist teachings. It is for this reason that the profound writings of Buddhism fill the world and sage counsel overflows under heaven.
Now we foolish monks accept and obey the heavenly net of the nation's laws and respect and obey the emperor's severe decrees. There is no time for us to rest complacent.
There are three periods to the Dharma. There are also three types of people. Instructions concerning the teachings and precepts arise and disappear depending on the time, and words repudiating or praising the keeping of the precepts are employed or cast aside depending upon the audience. As for the fortunes of Fu Hsi, Wen Wang, and Confucius, the three ancient worthies of China, their rise and fall were not the same; as for the capacities of the beings of the five five-hundred year periods after the Buddha's decrease, their wisdom and enlightenment are also different. How can beings of different capacities be saved by identical means? How can all of the Buddha's teachings concerning the precepts be arranged under one principle?
For this reason, I shall detail the sucessive stages of the True, Imitative, and Latter Dharma and clarify the activities carried out by monks who break and keep the precepts during these respective periods. This work consists of the following three sections: (1) definitions of the True, Imitative, and Latter Dharma; (2) explanations of the behavior of monks who break and keep the precepts during the three Dharmas; (3) quotations from the Buddha's teachings and the comparison of them with the behavior of the monks of the present age.
First, the definitions of the True, Imitative, and Latter Dharmas. There are different theories concerning the length of the three periods. To begin with, one theory will be given. [K'uei-]chi of the Mahayana, quoting the Sutra of the Good Aeon, says:
"After the Buddha's nirvana, the True Dharma will last five hundred years and the Imitative Dharma will last one thousand years. After these fifteen hundred years, Sakyamuni's Dharma will perish completely."
The Latter Dharma is not mentioned here. According to another authority, since the nuns did not observe the eight rules of deference, and were lax and negligent, the True Dharma was not prolonged, Therefore we shall not rely on this theory.
Further, it is stated in the Nirvana Sutra:
"In the Latter Dharma there is a group of 120,000 great bodhisattvas who keep the Dharma, ensuring that it will not perish."
Since this refers to bodhisattvas of superior rank, it will not be used either.
Question: If so, what are the activities of the monks during these fifteen hundred years?
Answer: Looking at the Sutra of Maya, we find:
"In the first five hundred years after the Buddha's nirvana, the seven wise sages, such as Mahakasyapa, will successively uphold the True Dharma, ensuring that it will not perish. After five hundred years, the True Dharma will perish completely. After six hundred years, the ninety-five kinds of non-Buddhist teaching will thrive, and Asvaghosa will appear in the world to humble them. After seven hundred years, Nagarjuna will appear in the world and strike down the banners of erroneous views. After eight hundred years, the bhiksus (monks) will become self-indulgent and idle, and there will be only one or two people who attain enlightenment. After nine hundred years, menservants will become bhiksus and maidservants will become bhiksunis (nuns). After one thousand years, they will become wrathful when they hear of the Buddhist practice of contemplation of impurities and will not wish to practice it. After eleven hundred years, monks and nuns will marry and break and slander the precepts. After twelve hundred years, the monks and nuns will have children. After thirteen hundred years, they will wear the white robes of lay people. After fourteen hundred years, the four groups of disciples--monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen--will be like hunters and sell away the offerings presented to the Three Treasures. After fifteen hundred years, there will be two monks in the country of Kausambi who will quarrel with each other and eventually murder each other. Consequently the Buddhist teachings will be stored away in the dragon's palace."
These words are also found in roll eighteen of the Nirvana Sutra, as well as the Benevolent Kings Sutra, etc. According to these sutras' words, precepts, concentration, and wisdom will disappear after fifteen hundred years. For this reason, it is stated in roll fifty-one of the Great Collection Sutra (Mahasamnipata-sutra):
"After my nirvana, in the first five hundred years, the various bhiksus will abide within my True Dharma, and they will be steadfast in their liberation. ('Liberation' refers to the initial attainment of the fruits of the Holy Path.) In the next five hundred years, they will be steadfast in their contemplation. In the next five hundred years, they will be steadfast in listening to many teachings. In the next five hundred years, they will be steadfast in building temples. In the last five fundred years, they will be steadfast in quarreling with each other, and the pure Dharma will disappear completely. (And so forth.)"
This means that in the first three five-hundred year periods, they will be steadfast in practicing the three Dharmas of precepts, concentration, and wisdom. In other words, these periods correspond to the periods of the True Dharma of five hundred years and the Imitative Dharma of one thousand years quoted above. The two periods beginning with the period wherein temples are built belong to the Latter Dharma. For this reason, it is stated in [K'uei-]chi's Reconciling the Inconsistencies of the Diamond Wisdom Sutra:
"The True Dharma lasts five-hundred years, and the Imitative Dharma lasts one thousand years. After these fifteen hundred years, the True Dharma, which had been current, will perish completely."
Therefore we see that the two periods beginning with the period of the construction of temples belong to the Latter Dharma.
Question: If this is so, then in which period does the present world fall?
Answer: Although there are many theories concerning the chronology since the Buddha's nirvana, we shall consider [only] two theories here. First, the Dharma master Fa-shang and others, using the Record of Extraordinary Events in the Chou Dynasty, says that the Buddha entered nirvana in the water-monkey year of the fifty-third year of the reign of Mu Wang-man, the fifth lord of the Chou Dynasty (1122-1115 B.C.) According to this theory, from that monkey year until now, the metal-snake year of the twentieth year of Enryaku, it has been 1750 years.
Second, Fei Ch'ang-fang and others, using the Spring and Autumn Annals of the country of Lu, says the Buddha entered nirvana in the water-rat year of the fourth year of the reign of K'uang Wang-pan, the twenty-first lord of the Chou Dynasty. According to this theory, from that water-rat year until now, the metal-snake year of the twentieth year of Enryaku, it has been 1410 years.
Therefore we can see that the present time is at the extreme end of the Imitative Dharma. The activities of the monks of this age are already identical to those of the Latter Dharma. Within the Latter Dharma only the written teachings exist. Their is neither practice nor enlightenment. If precepts existed, then it would be possible to break the precepts. But since precepts no longer exist, what precepts are there to break? And since it is no longer possible to break the precepts, how much less can one keep the precepts? For this reason, the Great Collection Sutra states:
"After the Buddha's nirvana, monks without precepts will be found thoughout the province. (And so forth.)"
Question: Throughout the various sutras and vinayas, monks are admonished to refrain from breaking the precepts, and those who do so are not allowed in the Buddhist community. If monks who break the precepts are admonished in this way, then how much more so should the monks without precepts [be admonished]! However, here you argue repeatedly that there are no precepts to be kept in the Latter Dharma. Why should one without a wound hurt himself?
Answer: Your reasoning is not correct. The kinds of activities prevailing in the True, Imitative, and Latter Dharmas are disclosed in various sutras. Whether monk or layman, Buddhist or non-Buddhist, can there be anyone who opens the sutras without finding such passages? Why should I, while being attached to my evil way of life, conceal the True Dharma that maintains the country?
However, the point under discussion here concerns the fact that in the Latter Dharma, there are only nominal bhiksus. These nominal bhiksus are the True Treasures of the world. There are no other field of merit where one can plant merit. Furthermore, if someone were to keep the precepts in the Latter Dharma, this would be exceedingly strange indeed. It would be like a tiger in the marketplace. Who could believe it?
Question: I can see that the True, Imitative, and Latter Dharmas are described in many sutras. But in what scripture does the arguement that the nominal bhiksu of the Latter Dharma is the True Treasure of the world appear?
Answer: In roll nine of the Great Collection Sutra, it is stated:
"For example, pure gold is considered a priceless treasure. But if pure gold did not exist, then silver would be considered a priceless treasure. If silver did not exist, then brass, a false treasure, would be considered a priceless treasure. If a false treasure did not exist, then cuprite, nickel, iron, pewter, lead, or tin would be considered priceless treasures. Likewise, in the entire world, the Buddha Treasure is priceless. If the Buddha Treasure did not exist, then the pratyekabuddha would be considered supreme. If no pratyekabuddha existed, then the arhat would be considered supreme. If no arhat existed, then the remaining group of wise sages would be considered supreme. If the remaining group of wise sages did not exist, an ordinary man who had attained a state of concentration would be considered supreme. If no ordinary man who had attained a state of concentration existed, a pure keeper of the precepts would be considered supreme. If no pure keeper of the precepts existed, then a bhiksu who kept the precepts imperfectly would be considered supreme. If no bhiksu who kept the precepts existed, then a nominal bhiksu who shaved his hair and beard and donned Buddhist robes would be considered the Supreme Treasure. This is because he is preeminent when compared to the practitioners of the ninety-five kinds of non-Buddhist paths. He is worthy of accepting the veneration of the people of the world and becoming the field of merit of the populace. Why? Because he is feared by sentient beings. The person who protects, cares for, and worships him will quickly attain the rank of insight in the birthlessness of dharmas. (This ends the quotation from the sutra.)"
This passage enumerates eight levels of pricelessness: the Tathagata, the pratyekabuddha, the sravaka, as well as the practitioners who have attained a state of concentration, the one who keeps the precepts, the one who breaks the precepts, and the nominal monk without the precepts. In this order, they all become priceless treasures during the time of the True Imitative, and Latter Dharmas. The first four belong to the time of the True Dharma, the next three belong to the time of the Imitative Dharma, and the last one belongs to the time of the Latter Dharma. For this reason, we can clearly see that monks who break the precepts and monks who do not keep the precepts are both True Treasures.
Question: Looking respectfully at the statement above, it has become clear that even monks who break the precepts and nominal bhiksus are none other than True Treasures. Why, then do the Nirvana Sutra, the Great Collection Sutra and other works state, 'If kings and ministers vernerate a monk who breaks the precepts, the three calamities, those caused by famine, war, and pestilence, will arise in the country, and they will ultimately be born in hell?' Since this is so for bhiksus who break the precepts, how much more so for bhiksus who do not keep the precepts! This would mean that the Tathagata sometimes admonishes and sometimes praises monks who break the precepts. How can the words on one Sage have the error of inconsistency?
Answer: Your reasoning is not correct. To begin with, the Nirvana Sutra and other sutras prohibited the monks of the True Dharma from breaking the precepts, and not the bhiksus of the Imitative and Latter Dharmas. Although they are called by the same names, there is a difference in the times. To prohibit or permit according to the the time: this is the purport of the Great Sage. Therefore, there is no inconsistency in the World-honored One.
Question: If so, then how do we know that the Nirvana and other sutras only prohibit monks of the True Dharma from breaking the precepts, and not those of the Imitative and Latter Dharmas?
Answer: The exposition concerning the eight levels of True Treasures in the Great Collection Sutra quoted above is the proof. It is because all become priceless treasures in their time. Only during the time of the True Dharma do the bhiksus who break the precepts defile the pure Sangha. For this reason the Buddha firmly prohibited monks from breaking the precepts and did not allow those who did so to remain in the Sangha.
As to the reason why it is so, it is stated in roll three of the Nirvana Sutra:
The Tathagata has just now bestowed the unsurpassable True Dharma upon kings, ministers, councilors, monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen. These kings, the ministers, and the four kinds of Buddhists should encourage and inspire the students of the Way and enjoin them to attain the highest precepts, concentrations, and wisdom. If there should be a person who does not study these three kinds of things, is lax and negligent, breaks the precepts, and destroys the True Dharma, then the kings, the ministers, and the four kinds of Buddhists should chastise him. Such kings, ministers, etc., will gain immeasurable merit. If there is a good bhiksu who sees a person doing things that subvert the Dharma, but leaves him alone and does not scold, expel, or dispose of him, you should know that this person is an enemy of the Buddha-Dharma.
Also, it is stated in roll twenty-eight of the Great Collection Sutra:
"If there is a king of a country who forsakes and does not defend the Dharma when he sees it being subverted, then the merits accruing from the charity, precepts, and wisdom that he cultivated in innumerable past lives will all disappear. The three types of unlucky occurances will appear in his country... At the end of his life, he will be born in the great hell."
It is also stated in roll thirty-one of the same sutra:
"The Buddha said, "O great king! Protect the one single bhiksu who follows the Dharma, and do not protect the innumerable bhiksus who have committed the various evil acts. I now permit you to care for and protect only two kinds of people. One is the arhat who possesses the eightfold liberation. The second is the srotapanna."
We find a number of such prohibitions. All of them are prohibitions valid only for the time of the True Dharma and are not the teaching for the Imitative and Latter Dharmas. The reason why this is so is because in the closing years of the Imitative Dharma and in the Latter Dharma, the True Dharma is not practiced. Thus there is no Dharma that can be broken. What could be called the breaking of the Dharma? There are no precepts that can be broken. Who could be called the breaker of the precepts? Also, there exists no practice that the great king of that age can protect. How could the three calamities appear? How could he lose the merits accruing from his charity, precepts, and wisdom? Also, in the Imitative and Latter Dharmas, there is no one who has attained enlightenment. How could the king be told that he is permitted to protect the two kinds of sages? Therefore you should know that all the above explanations are made with reference to the world of the True Dharma, when, because there exists the keeping of the precepts, there also exists the breaking of the precepts.
Next, during the first five hundred years of the one thousand year Imitative Dharma, monks who keep the precepts gradually decrease, and monks who break the precepts gradually increase. Although the practice of keeping the precepts exists, there is no attainment of enlightenment.
For this reason, it is stated in roll seven of the Nirvana Sutra:
"Kasyapa Bodhisattva said to the Buddha, "World-honored One! The Buddha has explained that there are four kinds of demons. How can I distinguish between the teachings of the demons and the teachings of the Buddha? Various sentient beings will follow and pursue the practice of the demons. There will also be those who follow and obey what was preached by the Buddha. How can I recognize these people?" The Buddha said to Kasyapa, "Seven hundred years after my parinirvana, these demon papiyas will gradually come into being and obstruct and subvert my True Dharma. The demon-king papiyas are like hunters who wear monks' robes. They will create a figure of a bhiksu, a figure of a bhiksuni, a figure of a layman and a laywoman; they will also conjure up a body of a srotapanna...they will conjure up a body of a arhat, as well the material body of a Buddha. By means of these defiled forms, the demon-kings will create undefiled bodies and subvert my True Dharma. These demon papiyas, to subvert my True Dharma, will say thus: 'The Buddha was staying at Jetavana Vihara (Monastery) in Sravasti. He permitted the bhiksus to receive and accumulate menservants, maidservants, servants, cows, sheep, elephants, horses ... copper and iron kettles and cauldrons, large and small bronze basins, and other necessities; to till the fields and plant seeds; to buy, sell, and engage in business; and to accumulate rice and cereals. Because of his great compassion, the Buddha pities sentient beings and allowed all these things to be accumulated.' These sutras and vinayas are all the teachings of the demons."
It is stated above that after seven hundred years has passed since the Buddha's nirvana, the papiyas gradually come into being. For this reason, we know the bhiksus of that time gradually come to covet and accumulate the eight impure things. These deluded teachings are taught by the demons. Within these and other sutras, the age is clearly indicated and the activities of the period are described in detail. Certainly they must not be doubted. Here we have just given one quotation to illustrate the age. The rest should be understood following this example.
Next, in the latter half of the Imitative Dharma, monks who keep the precepts decreaseand there are innumerable monks who break the precepts. For this reason, it is stated in roll six of the Nirvana Sutra:
"The Buddha said the the bodhisattva, 'Good son! For example, suppose there is a kalaka grove with a great number of trees. In this grove, there is just one tree called the tinduka. The fruit of the kalaka and the tinduka look alike and cannot be distinguished. When the fruits had ripened, a woman picked them all. Only one tenth of them were fruits of the tinduka while nine tenths were fruits of the kalaka. This woman unwittingly brought them back to the marketplace and displayed them for sale. Ignorant people and small children, again not distinguishingbetween the fruits, bought the kalaka and died after eating them. A group of wise men heard of this and asked the woman, "You! Where did you get this fruit?" The woman then told them where. The people then said, "At that place there are many kalaka trees, and ther is only one tinduka." The people, once they found out, laughed and threw them away. Good son! The eight impure things within the great Sangha are also like this. Within the Sangha there are many who receive and use these eight impure things. He knows that many monks receive and accumulate these prohibitive things, but he stays with them and and doe snot shun or leave them. He is like the one tinduka tree in the grove.'"
Also it is stated in the Sutra of the Ten Wheels:
"If a person, taking refuge in my Dharma, renounces the world and commits evil deeds, even though such a person styles himself a sramana, he is not a sramana; even though he styles himself a performer of pure deeds, he is not performing good deeds. Such bhiksus open and indicate the hidden treasury of merit of the all-virtuous Dharma to every heavenly being, dragon, and yaksa and become good friends in the Dharma to sentient beings. Even though they are not the kind of people who crave little and are satisfied, they shave off their hair and beards and wear the robes of the Dharma. Because of the causal relationship, they will nourish the sentient beings' good roots leading to enlightenment and open and indicate the good Way for heavenly beings... The bhiksu who breaks the precepts, even though he is [spiritually] dead, due to the remaining vigor of the precepts is like the medicinal cow's gallstone. The cow is dead, but it is like the musk of the musk deer, which is useful after the deer's death. (And so forth.)"
It is stated above that in the kalaka grove, there is one tinduka tree. This is a parable that the fortune of the Imitative Dharma has already abated, that monks who break the precepts fill the world, and that there are no more that one or two bhiksus who keep the precepts. Also, it is stated that the bhiksus who break the precepts, even though they are dead, are like the musk deer's musk, which is useful though the musk deer is dead. To be useful though dead means that they become sentient beings' good friends in the Dharma. You should know clearly that this statement, that at this time monks who break the precepts are gradually tolerated and become the fields of merit of the people of the world, is identical to the statement of the Great Collection Sutra above.
Next, after the closing years of the Imitative Dharma, the precepts do not exist at all. The Buddha, with insight into the destiny of this age, praised the nominal monk as the field of merit of the people of the world in order to save the people of the Latter Dharma.
Also it is stated in roll fifty-two of the Great Collection Sutra:
"Suppose there is a nominal bhiksu in the Latter World to come who has, within my Dharma, shaved off his hari and bear and donned a robe. If there is a donor who gives donations to him in faith and venerates him, the donor will gain an immeasurable and limitless amount of merit."
Also, it is stated in the Sutra of the Wise and Foolish:
"Suppose there is a donor in the future Latter World when the Dharma is about to expire. He must treat with respect a Sangha of over four nominal bhiksus, just as if they were Sariputra, Mahamaudgalyayana, etc., even if the bhiksus keep wives and have children."
Also it is stated in the Great Collection Sutra:
"The crime of striking and reproaching a monk who wears a robe but breaks or does not keep the precepts is the same as causing a trillion Buddhas to shed blood. If there are sentient beings who, for my Dharma, shave off their hair and beards, and wear a robe, they are all already sanctioned by the seal of nirvana, even if they do not keep the precepts. These people indicate the way to nirvana to various people and heavenly beings. These people are already within the Three Treasure, have give rise to faith and respect in their minds, and surpass the ninety-five kinds of non-Buddhist path. These people will invariably enter nirvana quickly. They excel all laymen and secular people, with the exception of the householders who have attained endurance. For this reason, heavenly beings and humans should venerate them, even if they break the precepts"
Also, it is stated in the Great Compassion Sutra:
"The Buddha said to Ananda, 'In the Latter World to come, at the time when the Dharma is about to perish, there will be bhiksus and bhiksunis who, within my Dharma, after having entered the monkhood, will wander from one wine-shop to another, leading their children by the arm, and who, within my Dharma, will commit impure deeds. Such people, even if they are given to wine, will all attain parinirvana with the present Good Aeon. In this Good Aeon, a thousand Buddhas will appear in this world. I am the fourth. Next, after me, Maitreya will take my place. This goes on in this way until the final Rocana Tathagata. The order will be like this. You, Ananda, should know that even if there are, within my Dharma, people who are sramanas in their natures only, and who defile the practice of a sramana, calling themselves sramanas and looking like sramanas, they are the ones who actually wear the Buddhist robes. Within the Good Aeon, with Maitreya at the beginning and so forth on down to Rocana Tathagata, these various sramanas, in the presence of these Buddhas in the nirvana without residue, will gradually enter nirvana and will completely disappear without a trace. Why? Because for every one of these sramanas, if he even once calls out the Buddha's name and even once experiences faith, the merit created will ultimately not be in vain. This I declare becuase I, through my Buddha-wisdom, am well-versed in the Dharma-realm.'"
It is stated in the Vimalakirti Sutra:
"Among the ten titles of the Buddha, if the Buddha explains them extensively, the merits of hearing the first three would not be exhausted, even if an aeon were to elapse. (And so forth.)"
These sutras all specify the age and say that the nomial bhiksu of the future Latter World will become the mentor of the people of the world. If one regulates these nominal monks of the world of the Latter Dharma using the precepts of the time of the True Dharma, then the teachings and the [monks'] capacities will be opposed to each other; the Dharma and the people will be incompatible. For this reason, it is stated in the vinaya, "Regulations that regulate what is not to be regulated would negate the Buddha's predictions." How can there be any crimes?
With the above, quotations of passages from the sutras for the three Dharmas conclude.
Finally, the teachings of the Buddha will be quoted and compared with the behavior of the monks of the presetn age. In the age of the Latter Dharma, the Latter Dharma is reality, and the True Dharma is destroyed. The three actions, physical, vocal, and mental, and indeterminate, and the four deportments, the correct ways of walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, are not followed. As the Sutra Settling Doubts Concerning the Imitative Dharma says:
"If, furthermore, there are people who construct stupas and temples and venerate the Three Treasures but do not arouse a feeling of respect and honor toward them; who invite monks to reside in temples but do not offer them drink or food, clothing or medicine; who, furthermore, turn right around to beg these things from the monks, and eat the monks' food; who whether rich or poor, desire in all they do to work solely against the interest of the Sangha, impairing and causing distress in it, such people will fall into the three evil paths for a long time."
Right now, surveying the secular world, we find that such deeds are widespread. But this is simply the destiny of the age; it is not due to the people. Donors do not have the true intentions of donors to begin with. Who can censure monks for not practicing as monks?
Also it is stated in the Sutra of the Teachings Bequeathed by the Buddha, "To ride on a horse or cart for one day disqualifies a monk for receiving meals from a donor for five hundred days." How can the wrongs of the practitioners of the present age reveal the virtues of those properly receiving ritual meals?
Also it is stated in the Dharma Practice Sutra:
"Even if my disciple receives a special invitation, he should not step on the king's land or drink water from the king's ground. Once he does, five hundred great demons will constantly obstruct his path, and five thousand great demons will constantly follow and revile him, calling him a great traiter to the Buddha-Dharma."
It is stated in the Mrgaramatr Sutra:
Even if one gives a special invitation to five hundred arhats, they cannot be called fields of merit. If one gives alms to one evil bhiksu who resembles a true monk, one will gain immeasurable merit. Inasmuch as the followers of the Way in the present age are fond of special invitations, where can merits be planted? Why should people who keep the precepts be like this? They cannot step on the king's land, nor are they permitted to drink the king's water. Five thousand great demons must surely revile them as great traitor. Alas, why does not the Sangha of monks who keep the precepts reform their errors?
Also it is stated in the Benevolent Kings Sutra:
"If any of my disciples serves the government, he is not my disciple. When the offices of major and minor superintendents of monks are established, the government and the Sangha will be bound together. When that time comes, the Buddha-Dharma will be destroyed. It will be the cause of the destruction of the Buddha-Dharma and the destruction of the country. (And so forth.)"
Judging from the words of the Benevolent Kings Sutra, etc., to venerate the superintendant of monks is a profanity destroying the community of monks. In the Great Collection Sutra, etc., monks who do not keep the precepts are praised as the Treasure for the salvation of the people of the world. Alas, why should one let the locust that destroys the country remain while casting aside the Treasure that protects the country? These two groups of monks should not be distinguished from each other, and they should all partake of the meal of identical taste. Then the monks and nuns will not disappear, and the temple bell will not lose time. If things happen this way, it will be in accord with the teachings of the Latter Dharma, which are the way of sustaining the country.
The Candle of the Latter Dharma by Saicho. BDK English Tripitaka Vol. 107-III. Translated from the Japanese by Robert Rhodes. Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research. 1994. For non-profit educational use only.