The Bodhisattvas from Underground

We recall that in Chapter Eleven, “Beholding the Stupa of Treasures,” Sakyamuni had appealed from within the Stupa to the congregation. “Is there anyone here,” he asked, “who is willing to expound the Lotus Sutra in the world after my extinction? I wish to hand it on to someone so that it can be perpetuated.” In Chapter Thirteen, “Encouragement for Keeping the Sutra,” eighty thousand Bodhisattvas of superior quality, such as Medicine-King Bodhisattva, and eighty thousand billion other great Bodhisattvas respond to his appeal and offer to keep and spread the Sutra in our world. But Sakyamuni did not answer them. Instead, he went on to expound Chapter Fourteen, “Peaceful Practices.” As Chapter Fifteen begins, countless Bodhisattvas, “more than eight times the number of sands in the River Ganges,” stand up before the Buddha and reiterate their offer to spread the Sutra. “We are the ones,” they promise, “who will disseminate the Lotus Sutra in this World of Endurance.” But Sakyamuni gives them an unexpected answer:

“No,” he said, “You don’t need to protect or uphold this sutra, because there are (already) Bodhisattvas in this World of Endurance, as many as sixty thousand times the number of sands in the River Ganges, and they are the ones who will assume the responsibility for disseminating the Sutra in this Saha-world.”

No sooner had he spoken these words, when the ground quaked and cracked, and countless Bodhisattvas emerged from beneath the earth like clouds, and sprang up into the air. All of these extraordinary beings were golden colored. They emitted brilliant rays of light, and displayed the “thirty-two marks of Buddhas.”

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra