parable of the three kinds of medicinal herbs and two kinds of trees ［三草二木の譬］ ( sansō-nimoku-no-tatoe): Also, parable of the medicinal herbs. One of the seven parables in the Lotus Sutra. Shakyamuni relates this parable to Mahākāshyapa and others in the “Parable of the Medicinal Herbs” (fifth) chapter to reiterate his teaching in the previous three chapters (“Expedient Means,” “Simile and Parable,” and “Belief and Understanding”) that the Buddha’s true purpose is the revelation of the one vehicle of Buddhahood, but that, because of the differences in people’s capacity, he first expounds the three vehicles and the five vehicles as provisional teachings. In the parable, a great cloud envelops the world and sends down life-giving rain equally upon all the grasses, flowers, trees, and medicinal herbs. Though the rain is the same, the plants, trees, and medicinal herbs absorb the moisture differently and grow to varying heights according to their individual natures. Similarly, the Buddha impartially expounds only the one vehicle of Buddhahood for all people, but they understand and benefit from it differently according to their respective capacities.
The three kinds of medicinal herbs appearing in the parable are inferior medicinal herbs, intermediate medicinal herbs, and superior medicinal herbs; the two kinds of trees are small trees and big trees. Based on the description in the text, T’ien-t’ai (538–597), in The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra, interprets the inferior medicinal herbs as ordinary people and heavenly beings, the intermediate medicinal herbs as persons of the two vehicles (voice-hearers and cause-awakened ones), and the superior medicinal herbs, small trees, and big trees as bodhisattvas. Among these, T’ien-t’ai says, the superior medicinal herbs represent bodhisattvas of the Tripitaka teaching, the small trees indicate bodhisattvas of the connecting teaching, and the big trees, bodhisattvas of the specific teaching.