I tell you, Shariputra, you and the others are all my children, and I am a father to you. For repeated kalpas you have burned in the flames of manifold sufferings, but I will save you all and cause you to escape from the threefold world. Although earlier I told you that you had attained extinction, that was only the end of birth and death, it was not true extinction. Now what is needed is simply that you acquire Buddha wisdom. If there are bodhisattvas here in this assembly, let them with a single mind listen to the true Dharma of the Buddhas. Though the Buddhas, the World-Honored Ones, employ expedient means, the living beings converted by them are all bodhisattvas. If there are persons of little wisdom who are deeply attached to love and desire, because they are that way, the Buddha preaches for them the rule of suffering.

Then the living beings will be glad in mind, having gained what they never had before. The rule of suffering which the Buddha preaches is true and never varies. If there are living beings who do not understand the root of suffering, who are deeply attached to the causes of suffering and cannot for a moment put them aside, because they are that way, the Buddha uses expedient means to preach the way. As to the cause of all suffering, it has its root in greed and desire. If greed and desire are wiped out, it will have no place to dwell. To wipe out all suffering – this is called the third rule.

For the sake of this rule, the rule of extinction, one practices the way. And when one escapes from the bonds of suffering this is called attaining emancipation. By what means can a person attain emancipation? Separating oneself from falsehood and delusion – this alone may be called emancipation. But if a person has not truly been able to emancipate himself from everything, then the Buddha will say he has not achieved true extinction, because such a person has not yet gained the unsurpassed way. My purpose is not to try to cause them to reach extinction. I am the Dharma King, free to do as I will with the Dharma.

To bring peace and safety to living beings – that is the reason I appear in the world. I say to you, Shariputra, this Dharma seal of mine I preach because I wish to bring benefit to the world. You must not recklessly transmit it wherever you happen to wander. If there is someone who hears it, responds with joy and gratefully accepts it, you should know that person is an avivartika (non-regressing bodhisattva). If there is someone who believes and accepts the Dharma of this sutra, that person has already seen the Buddhas of the past, has respectfully offered alms to them and listened to this Dharma.

If there is someone who can believe what you preach then that person has seen me, and has also seen you and the other monks and the bodhisattvas. This Lotus Sutra is preached for those with profound wisdom. If persons of shallow understanding hear it, they will be perplexed and fail to comprehend. As for all the voice-hearers and pratyekabuddhas (lone Buddhas), in this sutra there are things that are beyond their powers. Even you, Shariputra, in the case of this sutra were able to gain entrance through faith alone. How much more so, then, the other voice-hearers. Those other voice-hearers it is because they have faith in the Buddha's words that they can comply with this sutra, not because of any wisdom of their own.

Also, Shariputra, to persons who are arrogant or lazy or taken up with views of the self, do not preach this sutra. Those with the shallow understandings of ordinary persons, who are deeply attached to the five desires, cannot comprehend it when they hear it. Do not preach it to them. If a person fails to have faith but instead slanders this sutra, immediately he will destroy all the seeds for becoming a Buddha in this world. Or perhaps he will scowl with knitted brows and harbor doubt or perplexity.

Listen and I will tell you the penalty this person must pay. Whether the Buddha is in the world or has already entered extinction, if this person should slander a sutra such as this, or on seeing those who read, recite, copy and uphold this sutra, should despise, hate, envy, or bear grudges against them, the penalty this person must pay listen, I will tell you now: When his life comes to an end he will enter the Avichi hell, be confined there for a whole kalpa, and when the kalpa ends, be born there again. He will keep repeating this cycle for a countless number of kalpas.

Though he may emerge from hell, he will fall into the realm of beasts, becoming a dog or jackal, his form lean and scruffy, dark, discolored, with scabs and sores, something for men to make sport of. Or again he will be hated and despised by men, constantly plagued by hunger and thirst, his bones and flesh dried up, in life undergoing torment and hardship, in death buried beneath the tiles and stones. Because he cut off the seeds of Buddhahood he will suffer this penalty. If he should become a camel or be born in the shape of a donkey, his body will constantly bear heavy burdens and have the stick or whip laid on it.

He will think only of water and grass and understand nothing else. Because he slandered this sutra, this is the punishment he will incur. Or he will be born as a jackal who comes to the village, body all scabs and sores, having only one eye, by the boys beaten and cuffed, suffering grief and pain, sometimes to the point of death. And after he has died he will be born again in the body of a serpent, long and huge in size, measuring five hundred yojanas, deaf, witless, without feet, slithering along on his belly, with little creatures biting and feeding on him, day and night undergoing hardship, never knowing rest. Because he slandered this sutra, this is the punishment he will incur. If he should become a human being, his faculties will be blighted and dull, he will be puny, vile, bent, crippled, blind, deaf, hunchbacked.

The things he says people will not believe, the breath from his mouth will be constantly foul, he will be possessed by devils, poor and lowly, ordered around by others, plagued by many ailments, thin and gaunt, having no one to turn to. Though he attached himself to others, they would never think of him; though he might gain something, he would at once lose or forget it. Though he might practice the art of medicine and by its methods cure someone's disease, the person would grow sicker from some other malady and perhaps in the end would die. If he himself had an illness, no one would aid or nurse him, and though he took good medicine, it would only make his condition worse.

If others should turn against him, he would find himself plundered and robbed. His sins would be such that they would bring unexpected disaster on him. A sinful person of this sort will never see the Buddha, the king of the many sages, preaching the Dharma (true teaching), teaching and converting. A sinful person of this sort will constantly be born amid difficulties, crazed, deaf, confused in mind, and never will hear the Dharma (true teaching). For countless kalpas numerous as Ganges sands he will at birth become deaf and dumb, his faculties impaired, will constantly dwell in hell, strolling in it as though it were a garden, and the other evil paths of existence he will look on as his own home.

Camel, donkey, pig, dog – these will be the forms he will take on. Because he slandered this sutra, this is the punishment he will incur. If he should become a human being, he will be deaf, blind, dumb. Poverty, want, all kinds of decay will be his adornment; water blisters, diabetes, scabs, sores, ulcers, maladies such as these will be his garments. His body will always smell bad, filthy and impure. Deeply attached to views of self, he will grow in anger and hatred; aflame with licentious desires, he will not spurn even birds or beasts. Because he slandered this sutra, this is the punishment he will incur. I tell you, Shariputra, if I were to describe the punishments that fall on persons who slander this sutra, I could exhaust a kalpa and never come to the end.

For this reason I expressly say to you, do not preach this sutra to persons who are without wisdom. But if there are those of keen capacities, wise and understanding, of much learning and strong memory, who seek the Buddha way, then to persons such as this it is permissible to preach it. If there are persons who have seen hundreds and thousands and millions of Buddhas, have planted many good roots and are firm and deeply committed in mind, then to persons such as this it is permissible to preach it. If there are persons who are diligent, constantly cultivating a compassionate mind, not begrudging life or limb, then it is permissible to preach it.

If there are persons who are respectful, reverent with minds set on nothing else, who separate themselves from common folly to live alone among mountains and waters, then to persons such as this it is permissible to preach it. Again, Shariputra, if you see a person who thrusts aside evil friends and associates with good companions, then to a person such as this it is permissible to preach it. If you see a son of the Buddha observing the precepts, clean and spotless as a pure bright gem, seeking the Great Vehicle Sutra, then to a person such as this it is permissible to preach it.

If a person is without anger, upright and gentle in nature, constantly pitying all beings, respectful and reverent to the Buddhas, then to a person such as this it is permissible to preach it. Again, if a son of the Buddha in the midst of the great assembly should with a pure mind employ various causes and conditions, similes, parables, and other expressions to preach the Dharma in unhindered fashion, to a person such as this it is permissible to preach it. If there are monks who, for the sake of comprehensive wisdom, seek the Dharma in every direction, pressing palms together, gratefully accepting, desiring only to accept and embrace the sutra of the Great Vehicle and not accepting a single verse of the other sutras, to persons such as this it is permissible to preach it.

If a person, earnest in mind, seeks this sutra as though he were seeking the Buddha's relics, and having gained and gratefully accepted it, that person shows no intention of seeking other sutras and has never once given thought to the writings of the non-Buddhist doctrines, to a person such as this it is permissible to preach it. I tell you Shariputra, if I described all the characteristics of those who seek the Buddha way, I could exhaust a kalpa and never be done. Persons of this type are capable of believing and understanding. Therefore for them you should preach the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Dharma.