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Thoughts on the Lotus Sutra

KeromeKerome Love, love is mysteryThe Continent Veteran
edited October 9 in Buddhism Today

I was thinking I’d try a new tack on my explorations of Buddhism. I have been trying to touch the “peaks” of the tradition, and I thought I’d try and see what the search engines thought were the peaks. I got back the Lotus Sutra, among others, which came with some intrigueing references, so I thought I’d put together a little guide.

First of all, I’m to refer to the Wikipedia page and use that as a base, since I understand the whole Lotus Sutra is rather long.

According to Paul Williams, "For many East Asian Buddhists since early times the Lotus Sutra contains the final teaching of the Buddha, complete and sufficient for salvation."

Which sets some high expectations indeed.

The outline

I thought the outline of the Lotus Sutra presented on Wikipedia was interesting, it’s too lengthy to quote in full. It starts out by describing the earth shaking and emitting rays, which seems to me to be typical of texts which try to portray the Buddha as supernatural and powerful, rather than letting the teachings speak for themselves. Various parables are told by the Buddha and by senior disciples — I am not arrest fan of parables as a teaching method, they often rely on metaphors that are highly subject to different interpretations. The Buddha also prophesies the enlightenment of various students. I don’t see why that should be important to the listeners, it’s not a teaching which they can apply. Ch. 12 is a little intrigueing, as the Buddha there tells stories which say that anyone can become enlightened. There are 26 chapters in all, many are stories or parables.

The teachings

One vehicle, many skilful means. Here it is explained that many teachings of the Buddha are just skilful means, to be used like a raft to cross a river and then abandoned. I tend to think a little differently, I usually consider a problem and a solution, and then extend that solution to all similar problems. That the Lotus Sutra should be superior and required to arrive at full buddhahood seems so far illogical.

All beings have the potential to become buddha’s. This is a proclamation made through several stories, but the question is what does it do for you, how does it help you along the path? It seems to me it is very much an affirmation aimed at arousing faith, it is a promise to those who are not studying the path.

The nature of the buddha’s. This talks of the eternal nature of the buddha’s. Again it seems to me that this is a promise to the faithful, that if you achieve buddhahood you will last forever but not in samsara.

My conclusions

The Lotus Sutra May be important in how it talks about Mahayana and bodhisattvas, but in terms of making progress on the Buddhist path it doesn’t seem to have a key role. I didn’t find very much in it that inspires my practice or lends itself to new insight about my condition. I do think it is an important Sutra for the Buddhist laypeople in Asia though, in the way it teaches and the way it says things it seems very much aimed at inspiring their faith.

I am left with the question whether it is worth tracking down and reading the whole Sutra, given what you can gather from wiki.


  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    I’ve been going back through the history of the forum looking at various threads about the Lotus Sutra and it is interesting to see different people’s attitudes towards it. The people who were introduced to it early on seem to retain a fondness for it, while the more advanced students who encounter it later had a similar reaction to my own.

    I think for most western buddhists who are interested in learning about their own minds, in a meditation practice, in the precepts and the usual Buddhist path, there is a lot more to Buddhism than just the Lotus Sutra. For people who are into faith, who are into worship as a path to personal development, they might well connect to it a lot more.

  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    edited October 10

    All beings have the potential to become buddha’s. This is a proclamation made through several stories, but the question is what does it do for you, how does it help you along the path?

    It inspires faith! But not just in some external thing, but in your own practice. Faith in your own practice is quite important if you are actually going to make an effort. If you don't really believe you have the potential to become a Buddha, then you are probably not even going to try. Or, not going to make the effort that is necessary.

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran

    This is a good topic for a conversation, particularly in light of the East Asian tradition of "Sūtra Schools," that is to say, schools based around an exegesis by a master on a particular sūtra. There used to be countless sūtra schools in East Asia, including the Nirvāṇa School, which a poster here asked about a while back. The Nirvāṇa School was based around Venerable Kumārajīva's (AFAIK?) exegeses on the Parinirvāṇasūtra.

    Two of the longest-lasting sūtra schools were/are the Tiāntāi and the Huáyán, which are still active in different parts of East Asia. The Huáyán (Flower Garland) School bases it's praxy and doxy on a series of exegeses by patriarchs on the Buddhāvataṁsakasūtra. The Tiāntāi (Heaven's Peak) School is based on a series of patriarchs' exegeses (particularly Venerable Zhìyǐ's) on the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra, which is actually seen as a sister text to the Parinirvāṇasūtra, them both supposedly having come from the same series of before-death sermons. Neither sūtra is, of course, historical, as particularly the Lotus Sūtra is a mythological meta-narrative commentary on contemporary (for it's time) Buddhism-as-religion itself.

    I can make a larger more substantial post in time. Contextualizing the Lotus Sūtra involves exploring these Tiāntāi patriarchs and their exegeses (a lot of which cannot be deduced from the text of the sūtra itself, blurring the lines between exoteric and esoteric interpretation), but this is a tiny blub until I find myself with more time.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    Thank you @Vimalajāti for that, it’s interesting to see where such sutra’s of high renown sit in the larger corpus of teachings of the Buddha... there are those who hold that studying it is sufficient for buddhahood, but I find that hard to believe.

  • LionduckLionduck Veteran Veteran

    A key element of the Lotus Sutra is the idea that anyone, Man, woman, good or evil can attain the state of Buddha. An 8 year old Dragon King's daughter attained instantaneous enlightenment (Buddha). Devadata, the paragon of evil was predicted to become a Buddha. The people of the two vehicles, who were said to have parched their seed of enlightenment, were predicted to also become Buddhas). No other sutra opened the door to enlightenment to/for everyone.

    As this is a general, very light touching of the Lotus Sutra, I will chock back the temptation to "Deep Dive" and leave it at that.

    Peace to all

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