To skilfully share the Dharma
just as the Buddhas do
is part of the path to Buddhahood.
According to the Lotus Sutra, then, Buddhas possess a supramundane and transcendental, indefinite nature; they also respond and cater to the needs of sentient beings according to their individual abilities. In chapter five of the sutra, the Buddha uses the similes of rain and of light to illustrate this point. He says that, just as rain falls on all vegetation–trees, shrubs, medicinal herbs, and grasses – without discrimination, and each according to its nature and capacity takes nourishment from the rain, so the Buddhas, through their appearance in the world and their teachings, nourish all sentient beings, each according to his or her individual ability – whether great, like the tall trees; middling, like smaller trees and shrubs; or low, like the grasses.
Just as each plant benefits from rain according to its capacity, so every sentient being benefits from the appearance of the Buddha according to his or her capacity. And just as the light of the sun and moon falls equally on hills, valleys, and plains, illuminating each according to its position and in its own way and time, so the Buddha’s presence sheds light on all sentient beings – be they high, middling, or low–according to their individual positions and capacities. It is in this sense that the infinite, supramundane Buddha appears in countless forms to benefit sentient beings: in the form of an Arhat, a Bodhisattva, a friend of virtue, and even in the form of an ordinary, unenlightened sentient being.
We know that it is difficult to know the ultimate nature of reality, the truth: the way things really are is not amenable to words… The ultimate nature of reality has to be realized by oneself. This is reflected in the distinction between the Dharma that one becomes acquainted with indirectly, through the help of others, and the Dharma that one realizes for oneself. But this realization of the truth does not come easily. It has to be achieved by oneself, and it has to be the result of a direct, inner realisation. Thus, motivated by great compassion, the Buddhas appear in the world to teach and help sentient beings achieve this realization of the ultimate nature of reality by stages. They do this through skillful means, according to the capacities and inclinations of sentient beings.