Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Parable of the Phantom City

Excerpt from the 7th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Phantom City.

Let us suppose there is a stretch of bad road five hundred yojanas long, steep and difficult, wild and deserted, with no inhabitants around, a truly fearful place. And suppose there are a number of people who want to pass over this road so they can reach a place where there are rare treasures. They have a leader, of comprehensive wisdom and keen understanding, who is thoroughly acquainted with this steep road, knows the layout of its passes and defiles, and is prepared to guide the group of people and go with them over this difficult terrain.

The group he is leading, after going part way on the road, become disheartened and say to the leader, "We are utterly exhausted and fearful as well. We cannot go any farther. Since there is still such a long distance ahead, we would like now to turn around and go back.

The leader, a man of many expedients, thinks to himself, What a pity that they should abandon the many rare treasures they are seeking and want to turn and go back! Having had this thought, he resorts to the power of expedient means and, when they have gone three hundred yojanas along the steep road, conjures up a city. He says to the group, 'Don't be afraid! You must not turn back, for now here is a great city where you can stop, rest, and do just as you please. If you enter this city you will be completely at ease and tranquil. Then later, if you feel you can go on to the place where the treasure is, you can leave the city.

At that time the members of the group, being utterly exhausted, are overjoyed in mind, exclaiming over such an unprecedented event, 'Now we can escape from this dreadful road and find ease and tranquility!' The people in the group thereupon press forward and enter the city where, feeling that they have been saved from their difficulties, they have a sense of complete ease and tranquility.

At that time the leader, knowing that the people have become rested and are no longer fearful or weary, wipes out the phantom city and says to the group, 'You must go now. The place where the treasure is is close by. That great city of a while ago was a mere phantom that I conjured up so that you could rest.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. What I got from this parable is that this "phantom city" is our existence now on earth. Many Buddhists have lived many lives, yet have not yet found the "treasure". (I should know because I feel this way.) What I don't understand though, is what is it we are seeking? Enlightenment would be the first thing that comes to mind, but then what? What is at the core of this "treasure"? Nirvana? But what exactly is it? Isn't it a freedom from desire? I thought that SGI Buddhism taught to go "the middle way"....or maybe this "Phantom City" and the journey we are all on represent the "middle way" The "diffucult terrain" represents our hardships and Hells as we work toward achieving Buddahood. The group leader represents our faith in SGI Buddhism and what it all entails. While the "Phantom City" itself represents our achivements and our earthly desires. The end paragraph may be interpreted as our faith, the leader, guiding us away from our desires in order to seek our Buddahood. Maybe. I hope I'm interpreting this parable correctly, because I can really relate to one of those group members that are tired of traveling, even if there is rare treasure. It may be embarassing to say, but I feel like my group leader in my life right now is Nina. We know each other as friends, and we continually support each other's lives. Besides me trying to interpret this parable, I wanted to comment on how I feel that Nina has made a haven here for "weary travelers" and those are strong alike. She has made a blog into our "Phantom City". I can't speak for everyone, but from the bottom of my heart, thank you Nina! Thank you for making me not afraid to carry on with my journey! Thank you for posting this blog where I can rest, just for a little while...

    Brad Jadwin

  3. Anonymous2:49 PM

    you are
    phantom city...


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  7. exerting oneself through diligent practice is the only way to find the three treasures.


  8. The phantom city is merely and expedient means. Do not think too much on it other than what Buddha has explicitly showed- merely an illusion to fool people into thinking they have reached their goal. Phantom city is nirvana. Nirvana is an expedient means to Buddha-knowledge. I believe this is a direct reference to the differences between Theravada/Mahayana Buddhism. Once you have reached nirvana, then you can "see" the treasure. The Lotus Sutra is clever this way so that it completely discredits Theravada teachings and that nirvana is the highest goal there is. Brilliant stuff.

  9. Anonymous3:11 AM

    In the Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, President Ikeda explained that the Phantom City is indeed also the Treasure Land which was the target of the caravan. The Treasure Land was never described fully because it is not a place, but a state of mind.

    For example, Kosen Rufu is like the Treasure Land. We never really ever declare that Kosen Rufu is achieved. But we set goals and targets, and have campaigns to chant, speak to, or visit fellow members to encourage them. These little goals are the phantom cities.

    The phantom cities appear to be steps towards the larger goal of treasure land, just as campaigns appear to be steps towards Kosen Rufu. But in actual fact, the struggle to achieve victories in these campaigns is the life-state of kosen rufu. To function as a bodhisattva of the earth is to manifest buddhahood.

    Loved this parable. Thanks for sharing.