Question: Among the Buddhist teachers of China, there are some who give all their attention to the provisional Mahayana sutras and do not attempt to deal with the true sutra. What is the reason for this?
Answer: When the Buddha appeared in the world, he spent the first forty and more years of his preaching life expounding the Hinayana andprovisional Mahayana sutras, and only after that did he preach the Lotus Sutra. [In the “Expedient Means” chapter] he states, “If I used a lesser vehicle to convert even one person, I would be guilty of stinginess and greed, but such a thing would be impossible.” By this, the Buddha means that, if he had only expounded the pre-Lotus Sutra works and had not preached the Lotus Sutra, he would have been guilty of the error of stinginess and greed.
Later, when he preached the "Entrustment" chapter, he extended his right hand and three times patted the heads of the bodhisattvas who had gathered from throughout the major world system and from four hundred ten thousand million nayutas of lands in the eight directions and instructed them, saying, “In the future you must preach the Lotus Sutra. If there are persons who do not have the capacity to accept it, you should expound some of the other profound doctrines from p.233the sutras I preached in the previous forty and more years, nurturing their capacities in this way, and thereafter preach the Lotus Sutra.”
Still later, in the Nirvana Sutra, he repeated this message, saying, “After the Buddha has entered extinction, there will be four ranks of bodhisattvas who will preach the Law. And there will be four standards to follow with regard to the Law. But if in the end these bodhisattvas do not propagate the true sutra, then you should know that they are in fact manifestations of the heavenly devil.”
Therefore, in the period of five hundred to nine hundred years following the demise of the Thus Come One, BodhisattvaNāgārjuna andBodhisattvaVasubandhu appeared and widely propagated the sacred teachings of the Thus Come One.
BodhisattvaVasubandhu at first wrote a work entitled The Dharma Analysis Treasury, representing the doctrines of the HinayanaSarvāstivāda school, in which he set forth the doctrines preached by the Buddha over a period of twelve years in the Āgama sutras. He made no attempt whatever to elucidate the Mahayana teachings. Next, he wroteThe Treatise on the Ten Stages Sutra, The Commentary on “The Summary of the Mahayana,” and other works in which he discussed the provisional Mahayana teachings expounded by the Buddha in the first forty and more years of his preaching life. And last, he wrote The Treatise on the Buddha Nature, The Treatise on the Lotus Sutra, and similar works in which he outlined the true Mahayana teachings. The career ofBodhisattvaNāgārjuna followed the same general pattern.
The Great TeacherT’ien-t’ai, a Buddhist teacher of China, classified the teachings of Shakyamuni’s lifetime into the distinct categories ofMahayana and Hinayana and provisional teachings and true teaching.
With regard to the other Buddhist teachers, they explain to a certain extent the meaning and principles of the teachings, but their views are not clearly expressed or lack sufficient passages of proof to support them. Among the scholars, translators, and Chinese teachers of the latter age, there are those who distinguish clearly between the Mahayana and the Hinayana teachings, but within the Mahayana teachings they do not distinguish between the provisional Mahayana and the true Mahayana. Or, though in their words they may seem to be making such a distinction, in their hearts and minds they cannot free themselves from their attachment to the provisional Mahayana teachings. The situation is like that described [in the“Expedient Means” chapter] when it says: “If bodhisattvas who never regress, their number like Ganges sands, [with a single mind should join in pondering and seeking], they could not understand it either.”