Have you read an article of "Happy birthday, Buddha" by the Garden Island newspaper lately? I smiled to the picture of my wife on the paper and I was also glad Mr. Fujimoto picked up some words from aspiration. However, at the same time, I was embarrassed to find inappropriate expression that "Ishikawa said" according to the paper. The truth was I didn't say in that way! but what I said was maybe not transmitted to the audience rightly and clearly, I thought.
So let me make an excuse today.
Well, first, if you read it very carefully, I don't think it's not mistake to say "more than 84,000 people" are practicing Buddhism today. Because one million or even more than a billion are still more than 84,000, right? in this sense, that's not wrong. However, when I think of the fact, Jodo Mission alone have 4 to 5 millions of followers in the world, this numbers of 84,000 is a way too small as for the great religion of Buddhism in the world.
Then the reason why I used the numbers of 84,000 was because I wanted to mention Buddhism had so many schools and diversities, yet we can get together and respect each other. So what I meant was, not 84,000 people but 84,000 teachings or denominations.
In Buddhism, this number of " Eighty-four thousand" is a very common expression , meaning "incredibly many." As its abbreviation, there are also an expression of 80,000. Both 84,000 and 80,000 are sometimes used to indicate a limitless number.
The number 84,000 came from the four basic poisons of the humans x 21,000 kinds of desires.
Four of them are,
1. poison of sexual desires
2. poison of blind passion
3. poison of anger
4. poison of ignorance.
According to Nagarjuna, each has 21,000 desires. So 21,000 x 4 = 84,000! Therefore the reason why 84,000 (incredibly many) teachings exist is because getting rid of these 84,000 kinds of desires.
Then where the number of 21,000 come from? That was I didn't know. So I googled.
According to the interesting site I found ( in Japanese)....there are 350 steps to attain enlightenment in Buddhism. Each step has six practices or perfections called Paramita (Dana or Generosity, Sila or proper conduct, Ksanti or Patience, Virya or Effort, Dhyana or contemplation, and Prajna or wisdom) and 10 kinds of delusions.
350 (steps) x 6 (practices) x 10 (delusions) =21,000 desires.
21,000 (desires) x 4 (poisons) = 84,000 desires
To get rid of 84,000 desires, there are 84,000 teachings exist.
I'm not sure if this is correct, but I thought it was very interesting to know where the numbers did come from.
According to this same site, frequency of the usage of "84,000" is pretty high. The word "84,000" were used 5119 times, while the word "Amida Buddha" were quoted 5269 times, in the Taishō Tripiṭaka. 大正新脩大藏經
I'm so grateful that large volumes of Mahayana sutras have been available online.