The Lotus Sutra - 15 Life span - 1 The Parable of the poisoned children
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
The Lotus sutra – translated by Burton Watson
"Suppose, for example, that there is a skilled physician who is wise and understanding and knows how to compound medicines to effectively cure all kinds of diseases. He has many sons, perhaps ten, twenty, or even a hundred. He goes off to some other land far away to see about a certain affair. After he has gone, the children drink some kind of poison that makes them distraught with pain and they fall writhing to the ground.
"At that time the father returns to his home and finds that his children have drunk poison. Some are completely out of their minds while others are not. Seeing their father from far off, all are overjoyed and kneel down and entreat him, saying: 'How fine that you have returned safely. We were stupid and by mistake drank some poison. We beg you to cure us and let us live out our lives !'
"The father, seeing his children suffering like this, follows various prescriptions. Gathering fine medicinal herbs that meet all the requirements of colour, fragrance and flavour, he grinds, sifts and mixes them together. Giving a dose of these to his children, he tells them: 'This is a highly effective medicine, meeting all the requirements of colour, fragrance and flavour. Take it and you will quickly be relieved of your sufferings and will be free of all illness.'
"Those children who have not lost their senses can see that this is good medicine, outstanding in both colour and fragrance, so they take it immediately and are completely cured of their sickness. Those who are out of their minds are equally delighted to see their father return and beg him to cure their sickness, but when they are given the medicine, they refuse to take it. Why? Because the poison has penetrated deeply and their minds no longer function as before. So although the medicine is of excellent colour and fragrance, they do not perceive it as good.
"The father thinks to himself : My poor children ! Because of the poison in them, their minds are completely befuddled. Although they are happy to see me and ask me to cure them, they refuse to take this excellent medicine. I must now resort to some expedient means to induce them to take the medicine. So he says to them: 'You should know that I am now old and worn out, and the time of my death has come. I will leave this good medicine here. You should take it and not worry that it will not cure you. 'Having given these instructions, he then goes off to another land, where he sends a messenger home to announce, 'Your father is dead.'
"At that time the children, hearing that their father has deserted them and died, are filled with great grief and consternation and think to themselves: If our father were alive he would have pity on us and see that we are protected. But now he has abandoned us and died in some other country far away. We are shelter-less orphans with no one to rely on !
"Constantly harbouring such feelings of grief, they at last come to their senses and realize that the medicine is in fact excellent in colour and fragrance and flavour, and so they take it and are healed of all the effects of the poison. The father, hearing that his children are all cured, immediately returns home and appears to them all once more.
"Good men, what is your opinion? Can anyone say that this skilled physician is guilty of lying?"
"No, World-Honored One. "
The Buddha said: "It is the same with me. It has been immeasurable, boundless hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of nayuta and asamkhya kalpas since I attained Buddhahood. But for the sake of living beings I employ the power of expedient means and say that I am about to pass into extinction. In view of the circumstances, however, no one can say that I have been guilty of lies or falsehoods. "