Stone Sermon


In the Lotus Sutra, one of the old ones, there is a sort of Buddhist prodigal son. He is not prodigal. He wanders away from the king’s palace when he’s small and forgets, and wanders back again when he’s much older – as a beggar. The king recognises him, when he sees him from the palace, sends out a guard to bring him in, but the beggar, when he sees the guard, runs away, and the king then has to gradually take him on in the humblest capacity in the farthest corner of the kingdom and gradually promote him up and then finally he declares, ’You’re my son, you’re the heir and everything here is yours!”

The son is really the heir to this vast power and wealth, but because he’s a beggar, and has forgotten his inheritance, and who he is, he’s afraid. Although invited to come and claim it, now he has nothing. When he sees the guard he knows what guards do to beggars, if they simply move them on, that’s very lucky, so naturally he runs away.

If he had something – some money, something to show, some sort of status, then he might be able to go with the guard, without fear, and into the palace where he would be recognised. So, these little pieces which are offered, are only words, nothing actual there. In a way, they are sort of imitation money, they’re imitation pearls, cast before someone, perhaps only one person here, who thinks that he is a beggar and it might give him the courage and the faith to make the jump and go direct to the palace.

The title of the talk is The Stone Sermon. Outside the temple in Japan there is a stone statue of the bodhisattva, Jizo, represented as a child of about six years old, in a robe with very long sleeves – no crown or anything like that. The child has a rod with some rings in one hand and a rosary, and it is stone.

When the temple is built, it may be very magnificent. It’s generally made of wood. Inside, there may be many beautiful Buddha images of wood and metal. Splendid golden decorations and outside there’s the stone child, Jizo. When the rain comes, he is not under shelter. When the storm comes he is exposed. When thieves come, they may steal anything from the temple but the stone is too heavy to carry away.

When the temple’s burnt to the ground, and all the artistic wonders in it – the paintings, the wooden sculptures, the Buddhas of wood, the Buddhas of metal are melted. All that remains is the stone Jizo and, if you have seen a temple after a complete fire, there is this one thing standing.

This image is speaking to us. There is something in us which is unmoved, untouched by this storm, by the fire. What would that be? It can’t be stolen away by thieves, can’t be struck by lightning. There’s a message for us. Now, one of the messages is this, that the stone Jizo will outlive the temple, will outlive the images and the decorations. We can say, ‘How will this apply to my life?’ One historical example is Bodhidharma who went to China by sea and founded the Zen there.The Indian records say, incidentally, that he was persecuted in India and almost driven out of India, and after he was driven out, Buddhism began to decay.

When he went to China, the records in China say those who had the spiritual eye recognised him, but those who did not saw their interests threatened and they persecuted him. It’s said that they poisoned him six times and six times he stopped eating. Six times they bribed the cook or perhaps threatened the cook, or they got one of their own men in, as a monk, to act as cook and six times he stopped eating. He lived to the age of an hundred and twenty. The poisoners all died of old age. He outlived them, like the stone Jizo, outliving the storms, outliving the fires, outliving the temple, outliving the people.

A sermon, which I heard in Japan, likened this message, this stone sermon, to a mountain, and the preacher said, ‘The mountain attracts storms and rain. Rain comes down on the mountain; the lightning, the thunder, pouring rain onto the mountain. The peak of the mountain is above it but the slopes of the mountain, the sides of the mountain are attacked by the storm. But when the storm has passed over, the mountain slopes are very fertile and the streams which run away from the mountain water the land for a long way around’. And he said spiritual eminence attracts venom and spite and persecution. But there is something which is above them. Still they come, but the end result of that persecution will be that the teaching will become very fertile and will give life to many people and to a large area.

© Trevor Leggett

Talks in this series are:

Part 1: Stone Sermon

Part 2: Jizo, the stone child

Part 3: We sweep up the leaves

Part 4: Brahma Viharas

Part 5: Ananda asked the Buddha


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