The Parable of the Wealthy Man and His Poor Son
(Chōja gūji no tatoe)
Okyobi Sermon, May, 2005
Reverend Shogu Kimura
Today, on this occasion of the Okyo-bi Ceremony for May, I have sincerely recited the sutras and chanted Daimoku together with you. I have also offered my heartfelt prayers for the peaceful repose of all the deceased individuals for whom you have requested a memorial. Moreover, I have sincerely prayed for you to eliminate your sins and negative karma from this and past lifetimes; for you to redouble your faith; for you to enjoy a safe and long life; for peace and harmony to reign in your home; and for the ultimate continuation of the Law. I have also prayed for the further advancement of the Myoshin-ji Chapter of the Hokkeko.
The parable of the wealthy man and his poor son is the second of the seven parables in the Lotus Sutra. It appears in the Belief and Understanding (Shinge; fourth) chapter. Through this parable, Shakyamuni described how the four great men of Learning gradually came to understand the doctrines of the Flower Garland (Kegon), the Agama (Agon), the Expansion (Hodo), and the Wisdom (Prājna) periods, representing the first four of the five periods of Shakyamuni’s lifetime of preaching.
Shakyamuni expounded expedient doctrines and prepared them for his final true teaching – the Lotus Sutra. The four great men of Learning, such as Mahākāshyapa, understood this upon listening to the Parable of the Three Carts and the Burning House, taught in the Parable (Hiyu; third) chapter of the Lotus Sutra. They were sincerely repentant for not seriously seeking out the true Law. They then established their understanding of Buddhism through this Parable of the Wealthy Man and His Poor Son.
A Summary of the “Parable of the Wealthy Man and His Poor Son”
Let me briefly present a summary of this parable.
In a certain province, there was a wealthy man’s son who, as a child, ran away from his father and his home. He wandered from province to province for ten, twenty, and more than fifty years. He suffered from increasing poverty and roamed from place to place in search of food. Finally, he happened to return to his hometown.
The wealthy father had tried with great effort to find his lost son, but his whereabouts were unknown. Meanwhile, the father had built himself a splendid castle. His storehouses were full of tremendous treasures. He employed many servants in his home, and he controlled numerous subjects in his fief. Moreover, he possessed large numbers of elephants, cattle, and sheep. In spite of his wealth, for more than fifty years, the father was constantly troubled by the disappearance of his child. Not even for a day did he ever forget about his son. He was also concerned about how he would be able to pass on his vast wealth to him.
The aging wealthy man contemplated upon his life; his storehouses were full of treasures, but he missed his son. He thought, “When I die, I would have no heir to whom I could transfer my estate. Without a doubt, my wealth would be dispersed.” The wealthy man was constantly concerned about the well-being of his son. He continued to think, “If only my child were here. Nothing would make me happier than to be able to transfer my wealth to him.”
Meanwhile, the son wandered aimlessly in search of menial labor for insignificant amounts of money. In time, without realizing it, he finally came upon the entrance to his father’s castle.
From outside the castle, he peered inside and saw the vast luxurious structure. He also saw the handsome, dignified wealthy man. He thought, “Such an illustrious man would never take notice of someone like me. If I loiter around a place like this, people will become suspicious of me.” He hastily ran away.
The wealthy man recognized his son, and was overjoyed that he had returned. He sent messengers after him to convince him to return home. The son thought, “I have done nothing wrong, but I am certain that they will kill me.” He was extremely frightened and he fainted.
Seeing this, the father sought to find a good way to ensure his son’s return. He sent two servants dressed in rags to invite the son to the castle. They said, “You can earn a great deal of money if you work clearing away night soil at the wealthy man’s castle.” The son would not readily agree. When he received an advance payment, he finally agreed to work there.
The wealthy father was distressed to see the lowly condition of his son. He gradually led him to perform increasingly essential tasks.
The wealthy man told his poor son, “You can work here for as long as you want. You have all the things that you need, so don’t hesitate to use them. I am old but you are young. You must never become lazy or angry. Even so, I would never look upon you as a stranger, since I consider you to be family – my son.” He encouraged the poor man in this way for twenty years.
Twenty years later, the poor man – the true son of the wealthy man – had gained the trust of the wealthy man and freely went in and out of the castle. But, he continued to live in the humble servants quarters. Around that time, the wealthy man fell ill and sensed his death approaching. He entrusted the management of his tremendous estate to the poor man. The son still had the lowly spirit of a poor man. He continued to believe that he was nothing more than a common employee.
Some time thereafter, the wealthy father learned that his son was finally able to discard the miserable notion that he was merely a hired man. The father invited the sovereign of the province, the ministers, and the nobility and disclosed his son’s true identity, “Standing here before you is my son. He left home as a child and, now, after seventy years of searching for him, I was able to reunite with him. He is truly my son, and I am truly his father. I am transferring my entire estate to him.”
Hearing his father’s words, the poor son was overjoyed. He said, “Not even in my dreams could I have imagined that I am the wealthy man’s son. I never sought to gain this wealth, but now, I have been able to acquire this immeasurable estate of treasures.”
Explanation of the Parable
Needless to say, the wealthy father in this story represents Shakyamuni. The poor son denotes the four great men of Learning. However, the poor son collectively signifies all humankind.
The four great men of Learning, such as Mahākāshyapa, were attached to the Hinayana doctrines that were expounded prior to the Lotus Sutra. They experienced minor joy through the Hinayana teachings, and they were satisfied with themselves. In the parable, this satisfaction is exemplified by how the poor man was “satisfied with the money that he earned by clearing away the night soil at the castle.” Shakyamuni had not clearly revealed to the four great men of Learning (who completely embraced the Hinayana teachings) that, in fact, they possessed the same Buddha nature as that of the Buddha himself. This non-disclosure is illustrated in the parable by how the “wealthy man did not reveal that the poor man was, in fact, his son, who had the right to inherit the estate.”
Finally, the segment in the story revealing that “the poor man was, in fact, the true son of the wealthy man, and the son inherited the entirety of his father’s tremendous wealth,” indicates how the Lotus Sutra ensures the attainment of enlightenment for all people.
This “Parable of the Wealthy Man and His Poor Son” sought to illustrate that, even though people encounter the Buddha and learn about Buddhism, they do not realize that they possess the same Buddha nature within themselves. They are entirely controlled by their earthly desires as they suffer in their daily lives.
Realizing the lowly capacity of the people, the Buddha did not immediately reveal to them that they possessed the Buddha nature. Over a long period of time, he expounded various expedient teachings and instructed and encouraged them until, finally, he revealed that all people, without exception, were capable of attaining enlightenment. He used his “Parable of the Wealthy Man and His Poor Son” to illustrate this point.
In the Latter Day of the Law, the Buddha, exemplified by the wealthy man, is none other than the True Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin. The poor son represents us – all humanity.
Our world today is full of distrust and deception. There are many people who are confused about where they should place their faith and trust. They do not take the initiative to seek out the teachings of Buddhism. Many possess a mean spirit, as they curse society, and even curse their families. They become corrupt and are unable to trust anyone. These describe the very characteristics of the poor son in the parable.
Gaining Immeasurable Treasure Without Seeking It (Mujō hōju fugu jitoku)
In the Latter Day of the Law, Nichiren Daishonin, the True Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, made his advent into this world to save all humanity.
In the “Orally Transmitted Teachings” (Ongi kuden), Nichiren Daishonin stated:
Now, for the likes of Nichiren, the immeasurable treasure – the most immeasurable of all treasures – is none other than Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. The immeasurable treasure is, in fact, the Mystic Law. This treasure represents Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, the collective treasure characterized by the ten thousand – infinite – deeds and paramitas practiced by all the Buddhas of the Three Existences. (Gosho, p. 1739)
The common mortals of the Latter Day of the Law suffer from epidemics and famines. They suffer within their own circumstances and from irregular changes. The Buddha addressed these suffering people and taught them the true teaching that would save them from suffering. Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism and the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of True Buddhism form the fundamental core of this teaching.
By sincerely believing in the Dai-Gohonzon with a pure spirit and by assiduously doing Gongyo and chanting Daimoku without ever slackening, we can achieve in our lives, the supreme, immeasurable treasure of enlightenment. Regardless of the karma that we may possess, we will be able to receive continuous benefits without fail and lead a life of true happiness, by chanting Daimoku to the Gohonzon.
Nichikan Shonin, the Twenty-sixth High Priest of the Head Temple wrote:
The benefits of the Gohonzon are characterized by a mystic function that is vast and profound. If one believes in this Gohonzon and chants Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, no prayers will go unanswered, no sins will go unforgiven, no good fortune will fail to materialize, and no good reason and wisdom will remain unrevealed. (Gosho mondan, p. 189)
On the topic of the designation for this year as the “Year of Advancement with Unity between Priesthood and Laity,” our High Priest Nikken Shonin stated:
In his Gosho, “The Treasure of a Filial Child” (Sennichi ama gohenji), the Daishonin wrote: “All the various beings in the nine worlds and the six paths differ from one another in their minds. … Some prefer good and some prefer evil. People are of many kinds. But though they differ from one another in such ways as these, when they enter into the Lotus Sutra, they all become like a single person in body and a single person in mind.” (Gosho, p. 1475; MWND-6, p. 295-6) In the practice of the True Law, the virtue of singular unity is manifested in the hearts of people because each individual is capable of achieving internal enlightenment. You must believe this as you chant the Mystic Law. (Daibyakuhō, No. 660)
Let us uphold these instructions as our directions for this year, and let us establish perfect unity as priests and lay believers. Let’s vigorously advance the propagation of True Buddhism.