In Chapter 3, A Parable, in the discussion of what to do about the burning house, Śākyamuni says:
Śāriputra! Seeing all this, I [also] thought, ‘I am the father of all living beings. I will eliminate their sufferings, give them the pleasure of the immeasurable wisdom of the Buddha, and cause them to enjoy it.’
“Śāriputra! I also thought, ‘If I extol my insight, powers, and fearlessness in the presence of those living beings only by my supernatural powers and by the power of my wisdom, that is to say, without any expedient, they will not be saved because they have not yet been saved from birth, old age, disease, death, grief, sorrow, suffering and lamentation, but are burning up in the burning house of the triple world. How can they understand the wisdom of the Buddha?’
This idea that Śākyamuni is capable of eliminating our sufferings but holds back is an important point taught in the Lotus Sūtra: We have to gain enlightenment ourselves; no god will intervene on our behalf.
I’ve been looking for examples to illustrate this concept, and the other day my yoga instructor, of all people, brought up this tale:
A man found a cocoon of a butterfly.
One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to squeeze its body through the tiny hole. Then it stopped, as if it couldn’t go further.
So the man decided to help the butterfly.
He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bits of cocoon. The butterfly emerged easily but it had a swollen body and shriveled wings.
The man continued to watch it, expecting that any minute the wings would enlarge and expand enough to support the body.
In fact the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around. It was never able to fly.
What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand: The restricting cocoon and the struggle required by the butterfly to get through the opening was a way of forcing the fluid from the body into the wings so that it would be ready for flight once that was achieved.
Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our lives. Going through life with no obstacles would cripple us. We would not be as strong as we could have been and we would never be able to fly.
So we begin with this truth, told by Śākyamuni in Chapter 2, Expedients:
The Dharma cannot be shown.
It is inexplicable by words.
No one can understand it
Except the Buddhas
And the Bodhisattvas
Who are strong in the power of faith.
But we are not without directions on the effort required. This is how Lotus Path: Practicing the Lotus Sutra Volume 1, puts it:
We are given the perfect instructions in the Lotus Sutra for our individual attainment of enlightenment. It really doesn’t matter who we are, or even who we think we are. We can achieve the same enlightenment as all the Buddhas, though it will be unique to our individual selves. The directions are pretty straightforward. They are not complex, though they are difficult to maintain. Keeping, or upholding the sutra, reading it, reciting it, copying it and teaching are all we have to do. Praising the Lotus Sutra in all we do is fundamentally at the heart of each of these things.
Lotus Path: Practicing the Lotus Sutra Volume 1
And we do this practice every time we declare our devotion to the Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma.
As we struggle and chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo and struggle and study and struggle and practice we prepare ourselves to escape this cocoon of illusions and emerge is this true Pure Land.