The Parable of the Excellent Physician and His Sick Children

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Tales from the Lotus Sutra

The Parable of the Excellent Physician
and His Sick Children

This month we will discuss the final parable from our series of Tales
from the Lotus Sutra, entitled Parable of the “Excellent Physician and
His Sick Children”. This tale appears in the sixteenth, or Juryo (“The
Life Span of the Tathagata”) chapter of the Lotus Sutra.
There was once a skilled physician long ago in a land far away who
had many children. One day, while the doctor was on a long and
distant journey, his children mistakenly ate some bad food or drank
poison. The physician returned home to find them writhing on the
ground in agony. When the children saw their father, the very skilled
physician, they called out, “Help us!”
The father immediately prepared and gave the sick children a
wonderfully flavored, sweet smelling and beautifully colored
medicine. However, a problem did occur in the process of getting the
children to take the medicine. Some of the children who had only
fallen ill to a lesser level of poisoning, drank the medicine and were
soon cured. Of the children who were more gravely poisoned, the
effects of the toxin were more severe and had consequently effected
their reasoning. The father could not persuade them to take the
wonderful medicine that he had prepared.
Even though the children were still suffering in pain, they refused to
take the elixir that would cure them. So, the father devised a plan to
coax them into taking the medicine. He said to the children, “One
thing I want all of you to know. I am getting to be an old man and I
may not have much longer left to live. So, I will leave this medicine
with its wonderful color, fragrance and taste here for you now. I
hope that you will take the medicine, because if you drink it, you will
have nothing to worry about. This medicine will cure your illness.”
The father then departed on a long journey. While the father was
away, he sent his servant back home who told the children, “Your
father has died!”
“No!” The children cried out in astonishment as they heard the news
of the death of their father. Greatly saddened about their father’s
passing, the gravely poisoned children who had lost their reasoning
due to the effects of the toxin slowly started to regain their senses.
Finally realizing that their dear deceased father had lovingly
prepared and left medicine for them, they took the medicine and
were cured of their illness. Upon taking the medicine, the father
suddenly returned home and the family was again joyfully united.
The children had been saved from certain death.
The father in this parable who is also a famous and skilled physician
is the True Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, Nichiren Daishonin.
The children in this tale who drank the poison, refused to take the
medicine and therefore remained scrawling in agony are all of us, the
people who were born into the age of the Latter Day of the Law.
The father, who saved the children who were suffering from the
effects of drinking poison, had prepared a wonderfully flavored,
sweet smelling and beautifully colored elixir to cure them of
poisoning. This wonderful medicine is none other than the Dai-
Gohonzon (and subsequently our own individual Gohonzons that we
have enshrined in our homes) to which we join our hands in prayer
every morning and evening as we recite the Lotus Sutra and chant
the Daimoku of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.
The actual action of drinking the medicine comes about because one
has faith that the medicine will work. Therefore, through belief in
the Gohonzon people are able to chant Daimoku and do daily morning
and evening Gongyo that then leads them to happiness. However, the
children in this parable who were heavily poisoned and lost their
senses refused to take the medicine. They are the people who have
slandered the Law and have turned their backs on the true and
correct teachings of Buddhism. They staunchly refuse to listen to and
embrace the words of the True Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.
This situation is somewhat like what we are witnessing with the Soka
Gakkai today.
At this point in the parable, the father deploys a method to entice
the children into taking their medicine. The father promptly
departed on a long journey, but (as a ploy to entice the children to
take the vitally necessary medicine) soon sends his servant as a
messenger back home to tell the children of his (feigned) death.
The action of the father’s using a servant as his messenger appears
written in the Lotus Sutra as the phrase “Ken shi gen jo”, or
“dispatching a servant who returned to report [the death of the
father].”
The servant depicted in this passage that has been asked by the True
Buddha of Mappo, is each successive High Priest in Nichiren
Shoshu.When the father was about to depart on his long journey, he
told the children who had been heavily poisoned, “So, I will leave
this medicine with its wonderful color, fragrance and taste here for
you now. I hope that you will take the medicine. Because if you drink
it, you will have nothing to worry about. This medicine will cure your
illness.”
The phrase “So, I will leave this medicine with its wonderful color,
fragrance and taste here for you now.” is written in the Lotus Sutra
as “Kon ru zai shi”, or in a more direct, word by word translation:
“Now I will stop and put it (the medicine) here.” Therefore, as one
recalls the passage Ken shi gen jo, one incidentally also keeps in mind
the sentence Kon ru zai shi, or “The father promptly departed on a
long journey, but soon sent his servant as a messenger back home to
tell the children of his (feigned) death.” and “So, I will leave this
medicine with its wonderful color, fragrance and taste here for you
now.”
Taking a closer look at this phrase “So, I will leave this medicine with
its wonderful color, fragrance and taste here for you now.” , the word
“now” signifies the current age of Mappo, or the Latter Day of the
Law. “I will leave this medicine with its wonderful color, fragrance
and taste here” means that Nichiren Daishonin left the Dai-Gohonzon,
the Great Object of Worship, at the Head Temple, Taisekiji in Japan so
that all humanity in their sincere and correct faith of True Buddhism
would be able to eradicate their evil karma accumulated since the
infinite past and obtain the great benefit of enlightenment in this
lifetime.
Let us conclude this last article in the series Tales from the Lotus
Sutra. Watch for our next installment of other Buddhist parables
when we will present a new series of Tales from the Sutras.

©1995 Nichiren Shoshu Monthly