How does the message that Sakyamuni Buddha delivered to his disciples shortly before passing from this world and entering Parinirvana help you appreciate the marvelous events described in his life story?
Sakyamuni Buddha delivered four principles to his disciples shortly before passing from this world and entering Parinirvana. The four principles are: 1) relying on the dharma, not on people who teach it; 2) relying on the meaning, not on the words; 3) relying on wisdom, not on the working of the mind; and 4) relying on the sutras that fully express the meaning, not on those that do not.
To reflect how the four messages help me appreciate the life story of Sakyamuni Buddha, I would like to focus on 2) relying on the meaning, not on the words.
In general, the miraculous events described in his life story are sometimes regarded as an absurd stories. However, some descriptions of his life story have multiple meanings that have become precious messages for my daily life.
For example, when Buddha was born, he walked seven steps. JSCC Text said:
Immediately upon being born, the future Buddha is said to have taken seven steps...
Although the “seven steps” have various interpretations, my favorite interpretation is below:
The seven steps taken at the time of his birth represent the Buddha’s intention to transcend the six paths of rebirth and realize final liberation from the chains of birth and death. (http://sanmateobuddhisttemple.org/2017/04/01/seven-steps/ HYPERLINK "http://sanmateobuddhisttemple.org/2017/04/01/seven-steps/)")
This interpretation teaches me not only just his life story, but also my own story, which means I will transcend the six paths of rebirth.
Also, Buddha declared after he took seven steps:
and raising one hand to the sky, declared, “Above the heavens and below the heavens, I alone am the Honored One.
As you know, there are some interpretations regarding this declaration. In my understanding, his saying “I” represents not only Buddha but also all sentient beings. It means that I too should lead an honorable life. Thus, it seems to me that Buddha gave me a meaning for my life.
In the same way, the life of Shinran Shonin sent me lots of messages for my daily life. The life of Shinran also has little detailed information in the historical record; however, there are a wealth of traditional biographies. One of his life stories is his ordination at Kyoto, Japan:
The nine year old Shinran also was brought to a monastery by an uncle to become a novice. The legend knows however, that the abbot postponed the ordination to the next day, because it was already late in the night, when Shinran arrived. But little Shinran was dissatified, and looking at an blossoming cherry tree, which stood in front of the temple gate, he composed the following poem:
「明日ありと 思う心の仇桜 夜半に嵐の 吹かぬものかは」
(Reflecting about tomorrow:/ Will these transient cherry blossoms/ in the midst of the night/ not be blown away by the wind?)
It doesn’t matter if this legend is actual fact. It gave me the information that my life is finite. Thanks to this story, we are able to know an unchangeable and inescapable reality for all human beings. Thus, it seems to me that his life story has various meanings that have become meaningful messages for my own life.
Another key thing to remember is the relationship between “the words” and “the meaning.” JSCC Text introduced “a finger pointing at the moon” in a passage from Rely on the meaning, not on the words. Buddha said that words are not meaning itself, so we should not rely upon words. JSCC Text also said:
This teaching cautions us against clinging to a literal understanding of the scriptures. We treasure the words of the Buddha because they are a true guide for us through this world of confusion and strife. The scriptures point us in the direction of true reality, but are not true reality itself because the Buddha teaches that true reality is formless and transcends the limitations of words and ideas. The important matter is not the words themselves, but rather the meaning that they express.
It is obvious that the meaning is more important than the words because true reality is formless and transcends the limitations of words and ideas.
In conclusion, Sakyamuni Buddha’s life story is not mere a fairy tale, rather it is a valued message to a deep understanding of true reality. For the above reasons, I think that Buddha’s messages help me appreciate the life story of Sakyamuni Buddha.