The Buddhist view of the cosmos is that there is not just this universe, but rather an infinite number of universes; and that not just Shakyamuni Buddha taught, but an infinite succession of Buddhas strive tirelessly, in innumerable world systems, to wake up consciousness to itself — the work of enlightenment. Just as there are infinite worlds where Buddhas strive to wake up beings, so, too, there are an infinite number of expedient means and teachings which must be employed, fitting with each particular consciousness.
In Buddhism, this particular mundane world is called “Saha world”. This is the world which we and all sentient beings inhabit. These lines from the Vimalakirti Sutra I read today really put so succinctly how the Buddha teaches. It is so simple and clear, not using force or threats of damnation. It is all reasonable, appealing to natural morality through the law of cause and effect. There is not the stink of religion about it, anywhere. Simple and to the point, it gave so much inspiration that it seemed right to share them today while still fresh:
Those bodhisattvas then asked the Licchavi Vimalakīrti, “How does the Buddha Śākyamuni teach the Dharma?”
Vimalakīrti replied, “Good sirs, these living beings here are hard to discipline. Therefore, he teaches them with discourses appropriate for the disciplining of the wild and uncivilized. How does he discipline the wild and uncivilized? What discourses are appropriate? Here they are:
“‘This is hell. This is the animal world. This is the world of the lord of death. These are the adversities. These are the rebirths with crippled faculties. These are physical misdeeds, and these are the retributions for physical misdeeds. These are verbal misdeeds, and these are the retributions for verbal misdeeds. These are mental misdeeds, and these are the retributions for mental misdeeds. This is killing. This is stealing. This is sexual misconduct. This is lying. This is backbiting. This is harsh speech. This is frivolous speech. This is covetousness. This is malice. This is false view. These are their retributions. This is miserliness, and this is its effect. This is immorality. This is hatred. This is sloth. This is the fruit of sloth. This is false wisdom and this is the fruit of false wisdom. These are the transgressions of the precepts. This is the vow of personal liberation. This should be done and that should not be done. This is proper and that should be abandoned. This is an obscuration and that is without obscuration. This is sin and that rises above sin. This is the path and that is the wrong path. This is virtue and that is evil. This is blameworthy and that is blameless. This is defiled and that is immaculate. This is mundane and that is transcendental. This is compounded and that is uncompounded. This is affliction and that is purification. This is life and that is liberation.’
“Thus, by means of these varied explanations of the Dharma, the Buddha trains the minds of those living beings who are just like wild horses. Justas wild horses or wild elephants will not be tamed unless the goad pierces them to the marrow, so living beings who are wild and hard to civilize are disciplined only by means of discourses about all kinds of miseries.”
The bodhisattvas said, “Thus is established the greatness of the Buddha Śākyamuni! It is marvelous how, concealing his miraculous power, he civilizes the wild living beings who are poor and inferior. And the bodhisattvas who settle in a buddhafield of such intense hardships must have inconceivably great compassion!”
The Licchavi Vimalakīrti declared, “So it is, good sirs! It is as you say. The great compassion of the bodhisattvas who reincarnate here is extremely firm. In a single lifetime in this universe, they accomplish much benefit for living beings. So much benefit for living beings could not be accomplished in the universe Sarvagandhasugandhā even in one hundred thousand eons. Why? Good sirs, in this Sahā universe, there are ten virtuous practices which do not exist in any other buddhafield. What are these ten? Here they are: to win the poor by generosity; to win the immoral by morality; to win the hateful by means of tolerance; to win the lazy by means of effort; to win the mentally troubled by means of concentration; to win the falsely wise by means of true wisdom; to show those suffering from the eight adversities how to rise above them; to teach the Mahāyāna to those of narrow-minded attitudes; to win those who have not produced the roots of virtue by means of the roots of virtue; and to develop living beings without interruption through the four means of unification. Those who engage in these ten virtuous practices do not exist in any other buddhafield.”